Why Go Slow?

Thanks to folks like Jessamyn, the Slow Library idea belonging to Mark Leggott has had some buzz as of late. So has this blog. I had the highest traffic I ever had by far Yesterday. Not that I’m in this for the web traffic, but when noticed, I take notice.

In the earlier post, Jenny Levine made some very good comments. If I can summarize, I think she was defending the enthusiasm for Web 2.0 by the biblioblogosphere. For instance, she says:

Also, I personally don’t believe that showing Ann Arbor’s or Hennepin County’s fine work scolds libraries to “keep up.” Does showing Hennepin’s former cataloging work to update LCSH make other libraries feel like they need to keep up? Does highlighting Seattle Public Library’s building make everyone else feel like they have to keep up?

My answer to these questions is “by intention” no, but “by the nature of librarians” yes.   If I hear someone is doing something that I feel libraries should be doing just by course of fair, then, yes, I do feel pressured to keep up.   It’s human nature to set your own value up to a referent.   And I think most librarians want to excel in the same ways that Hennepin or Ann Arbor do.   That’s natural pressure.   And because of this natural pressure, I have seen many applications of the blog put to poor use simply because “that’s what people are doing these days.”  I’ve even seen RSS being applied to historical events archives — a totally wrong way to approach RSS, in my view.

That said, the “Slow Library Movement”[SLM] (all of two, so far, with some skeptical here and there) came from someone who I know understands and appreciates Web/Library 2.0 quite well.    So, while SLM speaks to the “2.0”s there must be something else that makes this appealing to me, otherwise, I’d just reject it in favor of L2.   It must speak to local problems that I, as a professional librarian, think needs addressing.   I sat down and thought about these problems today, and I have 3 important ones.   Here they are:

  • Information is becoming like fast food.

As the slow food responded to the fast food habit, I think slow library responds to the “fast information” habit.   There’s something about Web 2.0 that makes me think about Seneca’s 2nd letter to Lucilius where he argues that it is better to read one book many times than it is to read a little bit of a wide range of books.

Whether you believe this or not, there are some realities in my Web 2.0 world that have me concerned.   I have a gazillion bookmarks sliding from Firefox to Delicious and a social bookmarking network that far exceeds my capacity to read the pages.   Already
I used to really enjoy understanding how a piece of writing was put together.   Now I care less.  I just get the post, skim some paragraphs for interest and then move on.  I’m not 100 pages through a book when I  feel like I need to blog it [resisted mostly so far].   Why can’t I just sit down and read for reading’s sake?

This all just reminds me of that flavorless hamburger I stuffed into my face from a drive-thru as I was trekking from floor hockey to home.   Slow food thinks people should try for flavor more often.   Slow Library may respond to providing a little “information flavor” from time to time as well.   In practical terms, we can think of effective evalutation, checking sources, and enjoying a book enough to choose to read it more than once.   I don’t mean this as an anti-2.0 thing, but as a way of adapting to a 2.0 world, which is inevitability in my view.

  • Web 2.0 is not as ubiquitous as I usually imagine it.

The world I see in front of me, and the people I know face-to-face do not talk about Web 2.0 in any way.   They may own an ipod, but they really see it as a step up on the walkman.    Even the so-called millennials I know don’t fret about Web 2.0.   They just live their lives using the things they think make their lives easier.   And those priorities will change as age [and spouses and children] catches up to them.   People are using MyYahoo and Personalized Google pages without thinking about RSS (which, in the end, is just a way of organizing XML tags to make for easy syndication).

This is not to say Web 2.0 is not important to these people.    They *are* using Web 2.0, whether they know it or not.   They just don’t really care much about how the technology gives them what they want.   Meanwhile I hear that blogging is plateauing.  This makes perfect sense to me:  alot of people I know understand what a blog is — they just don’t care to have one.  If this is the case, then “bloggy” services (however defined) may simply be a way to target bloggers (however defined).   This is not a bad thing, just not part of an ubiquitous library strategy.
Then there is the profit motive implicit in some Web 2.0 services.   For instance, I am hearing criticism about the way reporters discussing Second Life count its millions of users.   Hype is hype and life is life.   Although the former is intriguing I like the latter in the long run.  The SLM may sidestep some of the hype if only by neglecting the 2.0 moniker.  Better yet, SLM doesn’t call for ubiquity, but local-formed strategies.

  • Organizations (and Libraries Especially) are Paying the Price for Not Having an In-Depth understanding of Technology

That the OPAC Sucks is a mantra in most library circles is one of the most shameful things I can imagine.   Having sold our souls to vendors to provide a core service that is broken in very very bad ways is something that keeps me up at night.   It’s pretty simple.   People should be able to type in something in the library website search and get access to the information they want, whereever it’s at — Google Style.   That someone would have to login to a “catalogue” and a “website” and a series of databases separately is just foolishness.   And even more foolish is that librarians are at odds to fix this sort of problem.  I don’t blame the vendors.   It is us librarians who did not get the skills we needed to solve this problem years ago.

But there’s more:   there are alot of expensive solutions that have a [usually free] open source response.    In some cases, the open source response is far, far superior.   In others, you are better off staying away.   Small businesses can benefit from people who know the answers to some of these questions.   So can not-for-profits.   So can your average individual.  A Slow Library would be looking this way to bring needed information to the people who need it.   Web/L2.0 don’t seem to have an eye to the open source community in the same way that Mark seems to be talking about.
There are so many other things I could add to this puzzle.   There are definite connects between L2 and SLM, with a few appendeds to SLM and a name that is not so connected to the tech industry.   But, if this discussion bring people into the world of effective and tech-friendly library service who otherwise would not have been, then I think it is worth it.

Things Noticed: RFID Firewall article Mentions Libraries

The Popular Science blog has an entry about an invention by Melanie Rieback called the “RFID Guardian.” Like a regular Firewall, it blocks attempts to access information via RFID unless you want them to.

It sounds like a neat invention, but the thing that struck me was this:

a personal firewall she’s developing [. . .] will protect your privacy in an world where your clothes, library books, and passport contain RFID tags.

It’s very interesting to me that library books were mentioned in this venue. We don’t have RFID at Halifax Public Libraries, but we are definitely talking about it. I wonder what are the ethics of a world where some people can blog RFID calls and others cannot, and most of it based on whether someone can afford a piece of technology.

A little bit scary to think of a world where only the few can reasonably expect to have something resembling a private life. Although, like most things, it will probably become affordable (and hackable) faster than we can say “Circ [everything under] de Soleil.”

SSP: My Article is a “Link of the Day”

I almost missed this today, but my article ‘”That’s ‘E’ for ‘Everyone'”:  The Future of E-Learning in Public Libraries‘ is the Library Link of the Day for December 27, 2006.    I never expected that article to be noticed.   A little self-validation is always a good thing.  Makes me think that my occassional blog posts are worthwhile!

A big shout out to Partnership and Heather Matheson for asking me to write something on this topic!

Five Things You Don’t Know About Me

Well, I’d like to say I was tagged directly, but I wasn’t. But Meredith did say “I think just about everyone on my blogroll has taken part in this meme, so I’m not going to tag anyone in particular. If you haven’t already been tagged, consider yourself tagged now,” and I am in her public Blogroll, so pathetic as this is, I am considering myself tagged. Here are five things you don’t know about me:

  1. I once sang in a choir for the investigure of Jeanne Mathilde Sauvé when I was 12 years old. I still try to sing here and there, but I haven’t been recently. I did participate in a jazz quartet we called “Sweetland” and was asked briefly to sing for the Novelty Salesmen. I couldn’t do it because I was in Library School. Drag. Big drag actually. Mostly because my “no” turned into Rick Gunn’s “yes” and Rick is immensely more talented in my opinion. Charlie A’Court eventually joined and then left the band for a successful solo Blues career.
  2. I lived in Toronto for both of the Blue Jays’ World Series victories. A grand old time for us Canucks who had never seen the World Series come to Canada before.
  3. Most of my family is Canadian military. My recently deceased Grandfather was quite the war hero, a member of the “Black Devils” or “Devil’s Brigade.” One of my aunts and two of my uncles all made it to CWO rank in the Canadian forces. One of those uncles was part of the Canadian inquiry into the death of four Canadians in a friendly-fire bombing incident. Another uncle fought in Vietnam for the United States and his son is in the US Army as well. My father was Canadian navy, and a bunch more sisters married army folks. I never took to the life though. I just couldn’t imagine myself in that sort of job.
  4. I love music, used to help teach a musical appreciation course, and have been asked to DJ at private parties are more than one occassion. The trick to DJ-ing is transition, not song selection. I have been known to get an under 30 crowd to dance to Tony Orlando‘s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.”
  5. I am absolutely in love with Ireland the country and would move to the West of the island in a shot.

That’s that. So now I will tag those who may already be tagged. How about Jenny Levine, Jennifer Macaulay, Heather Matheson, and two other people who haven’t yet been tagged you know who you are (or maybe you don’t).

Going to Hell. . .

Boyz o boyz!    Looks like I failed the big God Test and am being sent straight to hell.   This leaves me with a big conundrum.   Either I should reform and go to Heaven, but that would mean I would have hang around with nutty fundamentalist Christians which would be a hell unto itself.   Or I could just go to hell.   Yeah it’d be hot, but the company would be alot more interesting.

I have no beef with God or Jesus or Christians really.   But, I think everyone should read Bertram Russell’s Why I am not a Christian at least once.   Not to influence one way or another, but at least to understand the non-Christian view of Christians.   You can’t give me a fear-based argument and make me think you are a religion with a loving God.   Ugh!

Working for the Sally-Ann

So, I volunteered to handle a Salvation Army kettle for two hours at a liquor store. (For those non-Canadians out there, in Canada, all alcohol is handled by government-managed “liquor commissions” or, as we say in Halifax, the “LC.” Side note: if you listen to Sloan’s “Underwhelmed,” they make a reference to “the LC.”)

Well, I didn’t exactly volunteer — my wife volunteered and got sick, meaning I had to take over.

Anyway, I’m no Salvationist, but as I understand it, you don’t have to be to manage a kettle for 2 hours. And I think the Salvation Army can use some kettle-watchers this year. So, there it is. Why not 2 hours of your time to watch a kettle for a good cause. How’zaboutit? Go ahead and give them a call.

It was pretty amazing to see how well-received the SallyAnn is in the community. It was good fun and all I had to do was smile and say “Thank you” here and there. And actually, I have seen some of the work these folks do. Really, they are like a freakin’ army! If something needs getting done they do it on time and with hardly any budget. Putting a dollar there is like putting a fiver anywhere else.

The Critical Pastafarian: My Article in IMSA’s Information Fluency Project

IMSA, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, has published an article of mine that I called
The Critical Pastafarian: Evaluation by Authority in a Web 2.0 World (You may asked to create an account to access the article). Broadly, I try to tackle the issue of understanding authorship when you look at social software.

Check it out and please let me know what you think!

Ideas for Next Year — What I Would Like to Do in 2007

Sometimes you have to publically announce what you would like to do so that you can be accountable to yourself. Although it’s a little early for New Year’s resolutions, I thought I’d just list out the things I would like to do, both professionally and personally to make my world just a little bit better.

  1. New Website: I will have a new library website in the spring and I am very excited. All the planning, and architecture and look is done, we just need to build now. So far the people who are in the loop on this seem very happy with what we’ve proposed so I can’t wait. Finally, I will have a tangible accomplishment to show people!
  2. Contribute to or Create an Open Source product: I am learning some coding pretty fast and quick these days and I have an idea for an application that could do good things for non-profits I think.
  3. Have Visible (to my Wife) Abs: Confession — I hit 30 and my food is sticking to me in unpleasant ways. I used to be one of the lucky folks that could eat and eat and never gain. Not so anymore. I need to make a commitment to myself on this. For gosh sakes this is my health, life and family!
    1. continue playing floor hockey on tuesdays
    2. walk, walk, walk whenever possible
    3. maybe buy a bicycle
    4. force myself to turn off my computer and go outside at least once every two days
    5. do more sit-ups.
  4. Do Something Along the Lines of a Learning 2.0 for MPOW: theft is a good thing when it comes to knowledge sharing. I have some ideas to build on the project as well.
  5. Reduce my consumption of meat: This is not a crazy PETA thing, but I just feel that people eat too many animals in this world. This will be hard, because I love a burger as much as the next fella. But it’s about time I got more healthy and more animal-friendly with my food consumption.
  6. Publish something scientific in a journal: I always have these ideas to measure something somewhere somehow, but never seem to come through. That’s partly because us public librarians don’t really get that much credit for research-related stuff. But my ideas are good (I swear!) and I need to find out the truth about the world around me, if only in a small way. I am exploring some ideas with the brilliant Kathryn Greenhill.
  7. Go to a good tech-related conference — hopefully meeting some of the “blog people” in the mean time. Maybe there’s a presentation I can do.
  8. Be a once-a-month Second Lifer — I don’t know if this is possible, but I’d like to try and meet a few more folks in the Second Life world. But I also have a family and don’t want to take too much away from them either.
  9. Go to One or More of the Following Places: Cuba, Quebec City, London UK, Killarney IR, Savannah GA, Chicago IL or San Francisco CA.
  10. Go Out with a Friend once Every Two Months min — Fatherhood really put me into isolation the past three years. I don’t want to grow up to be the typical male who has no social network in his seniors years, and frankly, the way things stand now that’s exactly where I’m going to end up. Marriage and family is great — it just can’t be everything.

That’s that. Someone remind me of these promises come December of 2007!

Christmas Gifts from Your Open Source Community

One of the biggest gaps in the world is that there is a wide range of resources available to organizations and individuals and not a whole lot of awareness of them. That’s why I thought I’d list 10 open source products that every small business, non-profit or otherwise should be aware of.

In no particular order:

  1. Firefox — It’s an obvious one I know, but when you think of the gazillion possible extensions available (Zotero, Delicious, Google, just to name a few), there is just a whole lot of productivity to be generated in a series of simple three-to-five second download.
  2. Paint.Net — Photoshop for free, basically.
  3. LAMP — Web servers have never been so easy and flexible. Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP are pretty much the standard in the world these days for managing web sites.
  4. The Open Source Content Management SystemJoomla, Drupal, Xoops, WordPress. There are alot of really good CMSs out there, it’s just a matter of your needs and coding ability.
  5. MediaWiki — This actually belongs in #4 since it is really a CMS, but it is a wiki CMS ergo people think it’s different. In a way it is, I suppose.
  6. Open Office — This is a casual alternative to Microsoft Word, although I feel it may be taken out of commission by web-based productivity software like Google Docs.
  7. Xemacs — a pretty good application development system, and a great way to practice xml documents, in particular xslt.
  8. Open Source Games — Well, if you are into development, these games could give you an in-roads into understanding how to build a game. That’s a big power in a world where Gamer types are taking over the Internet.
  9. X-Forms Essentials — Well, it’s a book and x-forms is not really supported by most browsers right yet. But x-forms is a W3C recommendation and it does seem to have a future over standard HTML forms. So, I think people should start reading this stuff asap!
  10. Moodle — Really just another CMS, but this time the focus is e-learning and online courseware. I’ve been impressed with the developement community so far!

This is a starting list of course, and I’ve cheated a little in that some of these products are, in fact, groups of products working together. Still, you ought to be aware of these if you have any technical capacity in your organization. I’m not advocating of course — whether you use open source all depends on what you need to do and how well-equipped you are to manage products that don’t really have maintenance support the way commercial products do. But, you can save a lot of money and gain alot of productivity if you use these wisely!

Culture Before Governance

As I’ve said, I went to Toronto and noticed a few things that are bloggable. One of these is the Ontario Art Gallery. Actually, not the Art Gallery itself, but the community around it. Essentially, if you go to Dundas and McCaul (between Spadina and University) you are in Artsy-fartsy town. The small businesses organized themselves around the concept that you are in a “Art” area of town.

There are similar associations. Dundas and Spadina proper is China Town, for instance. College Street between Bathurst and Ossington is “Little Italy.” There’s a financial district and a fashion district. If you have a cultural interest, you generally know where to satisfy it in Toronto.

I live in Halifax. Halifax is still stuck on the idea that it is a number of small municipalities amalgamated into one. There are alot of different cultures in Halifax, but there is no “China town” or “little Italy.” Basically, you have good quality products and services “on the peninsula” (basically downtown Halifax) with some cultural icons (with broadly cultural names like “Historic Properties” and “The Waterfront”). Everyone else provides a “second tier” of services, struggling to survive.

My view is that a sense of culture in Halifax is being twarted by ties to political boundaries. Dartmouth has a slate of programs that imitates Halifax, but just doesn’t do it as well. Take the popular Natal Day Parade or the Dartmouth Christmas Tree Lighting. These programs are well-attended and good for politicians to show their community that Dartmouth is getting its fair share of tax dollars, but in the end, it’s not very good cultural planning.

Bedford has its comparable festivals and parties. So does just about every community. Politically, every community thinks it needs its own top-notch hospital, library, museum, art gallery, tourist trap, playhouse, heritage house, music hall, design studio, sports stadium, exhibition hall etc. The problem is, these all compete against “big boy” Halifax.

The status quo is that Halifax has the top money-earner; one of the outskirts, usually Dartmouth or Bedford has the second-place service (which sometimes breaks even) and then everyone else struggles to survive. Recently, some industrial parks have overtaken the peninsula business, but let’s not even talk about the sort of cultural offerings the “big box” stores have to offer.

A possible solution in my view is to give the community a heart-to-heart and say — Ok. What is it that Dartmouth does really well? What is the major theme of Dartmouth for which we can build a community on? I think Starr’s Bakery on Portland Street has the right idea. Like Toronto, it has chosen a cultural theme to build its business around, namely that of the Heritage Starr property (and old Skate factory). Today I saw it was selling calendars for the Dartmouth Heritage museum. This is a foundation for a good community theme. Downtown Dartmouth is about remembering old industry. It has the look of something out of A Christmas Carol, so why not? Why not develop community around the theme that Downtown Dartmouth is a Victorian/Georgian Mecca? Why not let Dartmouth handle “Historic Properties” and let Halifax handle the pub-life (like “historic properties already appears to be doing anyway).

Why can’t a place like Bedford be the “Theatre district?” And NorthEnd Halifax be the “home improvement” district.

But more importantly, Haligonians need to re-think their regional allegiances and give up dreaming about the “good ole days” when Halifax was all small municipalities. No way. Halifax is a growing city and it has to start behaving like one. Part of growing up is finding your special interests and establishing an identity out of what you already know and intend to know in the future. I don’t see why a community needs to be any different.