The Year in First Lines

There is a meme going on.   I am not going to tag you.   It never works anyway.   Just do it if you want to do it.  🙂

December: Oh yeah, there’s been a hiatus.

November: So, I can generally get funding for approximately one conference per year.

 October: I’m happy to say that the Halifax Public Libraries have launched their Learning 2.0 program with quite a bit of fanfare

September: I was absolutely astonished to discover that I am #22 on the Online Education Database’s list of the top 25 bloggers.

August: Ok.. It all happened on July 25th, but René Simon Deschamps was stuck in an incubator with a bili problem for the past little while.

July: Yes, one year of the Other Librarian as of 1pm July 5th.

June: At the CLA Emerging Technologies Interest Group Pre-Conference, Mark Leggott presented something he titled “Library 2.0: Threads in the Tapestry.”

May: The big story today was the Ontario government’s banning of Facebook from staff computers.

April:

Accident I took these pictures over the past week just up the street from my house.

March: Finally, Mark Leggott has responded and kicked the Slow Library off in the way that it should — with its originator!

February: Having invited a few people to play around with a test server and default version of Joomla, I figured I could start sharing what I know about this Content Management System (CMS) and how I think you should approach a website architecture with the knowledge that you are moving from a static website to a CMS.

January:  This is the exact way I met my wife. . .
(More or less) The only thing it needs is Michael Stephens wearing a bun.

Tell me what you think. . .

We are launched in beta with a new website over the holiday on January 17, 2008 and I would really appreciate your feedback. Your information will be really valuable to me because we are already looking at a review of the website just as fast as we launch it. True to principle, we may never get out of beta.

Untrue to principle, at least for the short term, there are no RSS feeds yet. They will be coming I promise — it’s just that there are some minor tweaks that need to happen and folks are doing vacations right now. Look out for them on the left hand side of the page, beneath the programs though.

I’d would also really like it if people could do a test using the following:

1. A mac

2. A screen reader or other assistive technology.

3. Non-Firefox or IE browsers.

4. Handheld browsers, especially the iPhone.

As any web designer knows, it’s really hard and expensive to cover every single base out there. We are using web standards, so most things should be fairly operable, but you can only be sure if you actually have a system in front of you.

A Month-Long Change of Theme. :)

Oh yeah, there’s been a hiatus.   Lots of real life going on these days.   But here are some interesting things:

  • I will be presenting at Computers in Libraries on the use of laptop labs in libraries.   This is exciting because fellow Library Society of the Worlders, Steve Lawson, Joshua Neff, and Rikhei Harris are going too.   And there’ll be more I’m sure, though I haven’t seen the whole schedule yet.
  • I changed the theme of my blog for a festive feel.  What do you think?
  • I’m moving my stuff into a new house this month, which is pretty exciting and sad.  I love this house, but for my kids I want to live closer to a school.

Carnival of the Infosciences #84

 So the big news for this Carnival post is that most of y’all were too busy eating turkey to send in submissions.   So this one’ll be fairly short and sweet.

Larry Ferlazzo thought the set of tutorials from the Calgary Public Library would be pretty useful.   I agree — it’s always good to show people where to find the good learning tools.

Anna Creech, the Eclectic Librarian sent in Mark Lindner’s article on DDC with this comment:  “I know it’s a little old, but I found it to be an interesting read. It’s rare that something about cataloging doesn’t make my eyes glaze over, and this addresses and important issue with traditional library cataloging structures. ”

 Kathryn Greenhill put in an interesting article of her own entitled “Website or Web Presence?” basically outlining how web design is very much like web marketing these days — in all its modes:  promotion, understanding the user and so on.

ANd finally, Katie of the Young Librarian sends in “LibWorld: Library and Librarian Blogs of the World” by the Filipino Librarian.  The biblioblogosphere definitely has a good lot of North Americans out there, it is nice to see that library blogging is catching on in other places as well.

An Other Carnival of the Infosciences (#84)

I just couldn’t resist joining in on the fun, so The Other Librarian is the host for the next Carnival of the Infosciences.

“So what?” you say.    “So what do you want to see in the next issue?” is my reply.

It works like this:  you tag something with “carninfo” in del.icio.us with a  little comment or something over the next week, and I’ll post all about it come next Monday.  That’s it.

And if you don’t want to del.icio.us, then you can use the submission form instead.

Of course, if you wanted to host the Carnival yourself, you can just find an open slot in the wiki, read through the hosting guidelines, and send Chadwick a message telling him your intentions.

Jerk: the Current Library Brand?

I found this to be an interesting quote from Tim Sanders, who wrote The Likeability Factor, in a news article I read today.

“In this bloggable, cell phone camera world, your brand on the inside is going to be your brand on the outside. If you have a bunch of jerks, your brand is going to be a jerk.”

I think libraries as a whole have to consider the “plays well with others” factor in who they hire — for sure.   It’s pretty simple, if libraries send jerks out to the community — the library is going to be considered a jerk too.   And, however stereotypical, it’s hard to say that “grumpy & scowling” has not been part of the library brand for quite a while now.   (Jerk?   Well, I’d agree with that too, but I won’t add a link for that because I might end up calling some nice guy or girl a jerk).    Thank goodness for efforts to change that image [snark].

This only goes to show that a user-centric library may have to also be fairly librarian-centric in the end.   If we want to change our brand to something positive, we will have to invest our time and energy in attracting positive non-jerk librarians in the end.   For alot of countries (and the U.S. is an exception to this) that are going to be looking at labor shortages in the next couple of years, this is going to be more and more difficult.   In other words, it goes to show that going on a manifesto of user-centricity is not going to be enough to satisfy the needs of our users in the end.   We have to consider the whole package.   We can’t be user-centric, if our employees are jerks.

Flocking to Flock?

A new browser, just out of beta!    I gave Flock a try and it’s pretty fun, actually.    The main feature I would say are the social-software integration.   This browser is intended to handle all of those accounts that you’ve booked into, whether it be Facebook, or Twitter or Flickr.

The big feature I would say are the sidebars.   There is a “People” sidebar that will store all of your social software friends’ info for easy access all the time (“no sir, I’m not on facebook — it’s just constantly hooked into my browser!”).  And then there’s a media sidebar that can remind you of all your favorite pictures, videos and whatnot.  There’s a “My World” tab which appears to be a built-in portal of all your favorite things.

flock.gif

There’s alot of fun to be had here.    Who says that the Web is platform?  It’s like we almost forgot that it’s the browser that helps us turn that web into a platform.   Flock seems to be a strong reminder of that fact.

The Ethics of Conference Attendance in a Networked World

So, I can generally get funding for approximately one conference per year.   I would have liked that to be Internet Librarian, but I did Computers in Libraries earlier on this year.

Now that IL is wrapping over and I’m reading all the great blogging about the conference, there’s an element in me that wonders if going to such conferences in the future would be useful to my employer.   If they pay to send me to the conference, they probably want me bringing something back — that’s totally fair and the way things should work.

The problem is that in a networked world, I can easily converse with any number of qualified professionals on the subjects most relevant to my world.   I can usually get it “on demand” and with a few added questions to go with it.   I do not have to put my hand up and hope the moderator sees me; I do not have to worry if someone will think my question is stupid; I do not have to crowd the presenter afterward like a groupie to say hello.    I also do not have to go to a presentation that is meaningless to me because there is nothing in a particular time-slot important to me.

And looking at the blogs of people who were at Internet Librarian, I get the gist of most of the key messages.     I can even follow Twitter and find out some of the not-so-conferency conference stuff going on.    It’s almost as if I was there without ever being there.

So, my main motivation for attending conferences is to see the faces of the people who I have IM’d before.   It’s a social networking game, or rather, a continuation of the social networking game, because I already social network with these folks.   I am not sure if this is a fair motivation for my employer to send me to the conference.

Now don’t get me wrong — there are some further spin-offs to going to conferences.   For instance, I can see the exhibits of the latest vendors.    This year I got a sneak-peak at LibraryThing for libraries, which was nice.   And sometimes I get something special out of a presentation that I thought I’d hate.    And other times, I just simply meet new people that I can add to my network.

And then there is the broader question — why should I lose out on great conference fun just because I know how to use the technology to keep up with my learning?

So, I guess I have more questions than answers here.   What are your purposes for going to a conference, and is it really an organization-improving activity in the end, with all the advantages to be gained from social networking?   What can I gain from an in-person conference that I cannot gain by through technology-mediated tools?

Will Universal Accessibility at Libraries Even Be Possible in 10 Years?

Libraries pride themselves on their ability to provide access for all.   We do not care how much money you have, what you look like or what you choose to have for breakfast — you can access information for free, most times.

In comes the Internet and the world of information becomes even more free.     Then all the value added provided by Web 2.0 tools.    And computers are getting cheaper as well, so we’re looking at a golden age for technology.

Then we look at what we can do for accessibility.   Ideally, we should offer accessibility software on all public access terminals.  You should be able to go to terminal, click a button and have the screen sized the way you like without difficulty.   Alternately, if you have no vision at all, you should be able to press a button and have a piece of software tell you what is on the screen.   Sounds like common sense, right?    It does to me.   Text-to-speech software has been around for quite a while actually, the production costs should be minimal.

But what does it cost really to make this happen?    Well, let’s use the industry standards — and by this I mean the products that are most supported by the agencies that provide services to people with low or no vision:  Zoomtext, Jaws and Kurzveil 1000.   Now first, I’ll admit I’m going to use retail prices — institutions can sometimes swing a deal with companies when they order in bunches.   But put it this way:  take the cost of your current PC, include a computer desk and chair, maybe an education license for a productivity package like Word, then triple it.   That money might provide a station with the minimum accessibility using the industry standard software.    Add the equivalent of that new number and you might be able to include a Braille embosser in the mix.

Clearly, assistive technologies are not gaining the same value to the consumer that the rest of the industry is enabling.    Faced with choices about hard numbers, libraries offering free public internet access try to be accommodating by having special accessible stations to provide the same access to people with visual impairments that the rest of us take for granted.  Of course, while appreciated, these stations can be less than appealing, since they single out persons with disabilities as in need of “special” stations, when in fact this does not have to be the case.

Singled-out Demand Equals Overpriced Equipment

In fact, it is this “single-out” factor that enables such exorbitant prices for these products.    If we all demanded that our operating systems had screen-sizers and readers as part of the suite and refused to buy the products without them, they would be available universally for perhaps only a little more than what we pay now for them.

But a “singled-out” software line for persons with disabilities creates a market where the price elasticity of demand is very low.   For those of you who were not tortured through microeconomics like I was, elasticity of demand refers to the impact a change in price has on the quantity of demand for a product.   A highly elastic product means that a small change in price will cause a large change in the quantity of demand for a product.   Products with elastic demand tend to have satisfactory alternatives.  Take for instance apples and pears.   If the price of apples goes up, people may just choose to buy pears instead.   That means the quantity of demand for apples goes way down with the change in price.

Not so with software to support accessibility.   Despite the price, the quantity of demand for the products is likely to remain pretty stable.   Why?   Because there are no viable alternatives.   If you want to access the internet, you have to buy the software.   That means that suppliers have no incentive to reduce their price.   If they raise the price, the quantity of demand for the product stays the same and they make more money.   If they lower the price the quantity of demand stays the same as well, and the supplier makes less money.   There’s no reason to reduce the price, so why would you bother — especially when the added money perhaps can help you build a better product and stay ahead of the competition?

Now you may say that there are government grants available for accessible stations, right?    No doubt the intention is fabulous and who could blame libraries for wanting to take advantage of these services?   But there is a bigger picture here.  Remember — we are dealing with inelastic products here.   Adding money to the accessibility software demand pile will artificially increase the overall demand for the product — which in turn will artificially increase the price of the software even more!   In the end, there’ll be more software out there, but the demand will be stratified — those who get the grants will have the software while those who do not will not.

In short, there are broad societal issues associated with the accessibility problem, and I haven’t even begun to discuss accessibility as it relates to website design.   It seems hopeless — what can libraries do?   Here are some things:

  • Look at open source — For instance Ubuntu offers a screen reader as part of the package.     If you offer an Ubuntu station, you very likely are also offering an assistive technology station — except without ever calling it that.    While there is a lot of work to be done in this realm still, I think libraries should start thinking about offering Ubuntu and then letting the linux community know about the experience.     If you are interested in Daisy readers, you may also like to hear that there is a product called AMIS that will read Daisy format on a Windows platform.
  • Partner with community groups so to insist that all OEM software includes a viable and easy-to-use accessibility system, including a one-click screen resizer and a screen reader.
  • Try your best to make existing accessibility stations seem the same as any other station.
  • Fulfill your obligations for free access, but do not forget about the big picture.   We can “should” at each other until the cows come home, but the reality is that our budgets are limited enough already.   We cannot afford to dump money into products with such high margins.   We need to start innovating our own ways to serve our visually impaired clients if we truly want to maintain our reputation of offering “Access for All.”
  • Look carefully at the development of surface technology (ironically, low accessibility warning for the link).   There is a lot of potential here for low vision clients.
  • As much as ethically and technically possible, refuse to purchase any product unless it is accessible for everyone.   The more we consider accessibility a “special” add-in, the more the costs of “specialness” get born on those with disabilities.

A Serendipitous 12 hours.

This is kind of like the “day in the life of” except it is a “night in the life of.” I can’t remember the times, but consider that most of this stuff happened between 8pm last night (Tuesday) until I posted the final blog post today.

  1. I logged onto Meebo for fun.
  2. I chatted with Amanda Etches-Johnson. Mostly, to tell her some feedback I received from a co-worker who saw her presentation at Access.
  3. I asked her for help in speaking to Medical librarians, because I expect to be doing that when CHLA comes to Halifax.
  4. Amanda mentioned that her audience really enjoyed playing with an online screencasting software. It turns out that a co-worker of mine just started using Captivate, and I was thinking about whether or not I needed to put in a request for myself.
  5. I found the screencast-o-matic software to be pretty easy to use, so I create a test screencast to show people on the Halifax Public Libraries Learning 2.0 blog. The topic was adding an RSS feed to Google Reader.
  6. While I was doing the screencast, I saw a blog post by Helene Blowers about Michael “The Machine is Us/ing UsWesch‘s latest video about the information revolution. And then another one, which is just as interesting about what students are thinking.
  7. I posted the screencast late last night.
  8. I watched the movies.
  9. This morning, I asked a co-worker to look at the screencast. He is technically more competent than I am, but he didn’t have his Java plug-in updated, which caused some interfacing issues for him. Fortunately, he knows enough about Java to upgrade the plug-in and see the cast. Goes to show how important architecture still is, even for website administrators.
  10. The co-worker with Captivate dropped by and I showed him the screencast I made.
  11. Jeremy later came into my office and told me, “oh yeah — I forgot to mention that there’s a product out there called Wink that available for free, but creates Flash films instead of Java. You might want to check it out. It’s not Web 2.0 though.”
  12. I thought that the screencast is an interesting artifact showing serendipity happening to me via Web 2.0.
  13. Lunchtime came along and I decided to post this experience.

I can’t explain how many times that this sort of thing would have happened to me after I decided to login to a collaborative tool, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Meebo Rooms, any number of Web 2.0 websites.

There are serious learning benefits coming from Web 2.0 — most of the time I don’t even realize it. This time I did — probably because I managed to record my information discovery in a screencast.

And when those medical librarians ask me what they can do to convince their IT departments that these tools are important, I may just tell them about this experience. I don’t know if it will work — but it might just affirm their suspicions that, yes, stringent policies blocking Internet sites for so-called “productivity benefits” is just wrong.

Not only did I learn a heckofalot in just 12 hours. I shared that information with a potential 400 staff and, hopefully, another potential 400 people who read my blog regularly. Loss of productivity my big patootey!