In With the New; In With the New.

Ten more ideas about how I can make my life better, in libraries and elsewhere:

  •  Plan an unconference — somewhere, somehow.

The field needs more unconferences, and I’d like to host/organize one for local librarians this year — probably in the summer sometime.

  •  More controlled and productive computer time.

No, this has nothing to do with social software.   I just found that the end of last year turned my computer into a television/gaming system.    I have nothing against gaming or entertainment, it’s just that my kids are growing up, and I definitely want to spend more time focussed on friends, family and physical fun.

  • Two good books a month.

I want to start tracing my reading just like Jessamyn does.   It’s been a good start though.   I just finished Evelyn Waugh’s Men at Arms, which is a great book and the first of the Sword of Honor trilogy.

  • 12 Beers (or other favored beverage) for 12 Librarians

Librarians deserve a beer.   12 librarians will get a beer from me.

  • More blogging, but with more citations and reading to go with it.

One of the most satisfying posts from my point of view was my review of Margaret Somerville’s The Ethical Imagination.    I disagree with many points that the book makes, I truly felt that Somerville gets a bad rap around town undeservedly for her views on same-sex marriage.   Further, I am glad Somerville is out there with the guts to say the unpopular thing that she believes needs to be said.   True ethics may just about the opposite of being popular, in my view.

Anyway, even though my online survey (there’s going to be a results post soon!) has suggested that book reviews are not really a priority for my audience, you’ll just have to accept my indulgences here, ‘k?

  •  More fiction/poetry writing, published or not.

I used to love writing fiction and poetry.   I even won the Clare Murray Fooshee poetry prize (first place) once.    I’d like to get back to some of that.   It was a great hobby and it brings back my memories of the rec.arts.poems usenet group (which, like many usenet groups, is a mere shadow of its former glorious self).

  • Pare down the social with social.

Libraries weed books that have lost their relevance over time.   I think I need to think about the relevance of my “friends” and look at doing some serious weeding as well.   Of course, I mean “friends” as in “Facebook friends,” which, in the end, can be likened to a reference source more than it can to a “real” friend.

If you can be of use to me, information-wise, I’ll read your blog.   If I can be of use to you, read mine.   If we have some mutual co-sharing thing going on, you will make my Twitter list.   And, honestly, I’m just about finished with Facebook.

  •  Less money waste.

It’s crazy how the local coffee shop will just eat away at my wallet.   And for what?   It’s not like there is a ton of nutrition there — and it’s not like I couldn’t just drink water.   That’s all money that could go to my kids’ RESPs or some of my favorite charities.

  • No gifts please, and clutter-free-me!

Another one that is just wasteful.    Please, no gifts.   None — except maybe a book I don’t have, or a donation to a charity in my name.

I do not want anything that will end up in a landfill within a year.   I do not want to pay to store stuff that I never use.  Whenever Big Brothers, Big Sisters asks me if we have any used clothing, furniture or appliances to give them, I will say “yes.”

  •  Increase my code-fu.

It’s coming along, and I want to learn more.   At this stage, however, it’s about doing — developing skills versus learning syntax.

That’s 10 and that’s enough.   I look forward to re-visiting this list next year to see how well I did/didn’t do.

What’s on your self-improvement list?


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.

Forget Web 2.0, I Bring You. . . the Semantic Web!

At the CLA Emerging Technologies Interest Group Pre-Conference, Mark Leggott presented something he titled “Library 2.0: Threads in the Tapestry.” If you have ever seen or heard Mark talk, you would know that he appears to enjoy using metaphors to organize his talks. This time it was the “Lady and Unicorn” tapestry that covers the six senses.

The theme of the day was the next phase of Library 2.0, namely what is being called “the Semantic Web” or “Web 3.0.” The wikipedia article on the semantic web is quite a bit convoluted, but the main premise is a web that not only contains great content, but also stores content that can be understood and/or processed by machines in ways that are meaningful to humans.

Even more specifically, semantic web products mine the data of already existing social softwares and uses that data to draw links and connections to other articles. Take, for instance, Freebase which is looking to provide rich information experiences by mashing up the wikipedia database with detailed metadata and a variety of other services. The result being that, if you search for James Cameron (say) you may be able to capture the links through which that person is known, say the movies he made, the people he is related to, restaurants he’s been said to favor, people who have criticized his works and so on. The result is a rich data experience where the web basically predicts the other things which may interest or entice you.

To consider the extent to which the semantic web can go for libraries, consider the following three (relatively) new technologies:

  1. Micropaper — visual output devices (ie. monitors) that have the size and flexibility of paper.
  2. The Surface Computer — a multi-touch interface that could basically turn the mouse into moose.   I discussed other possibilities for this technology before.
  3. Photosynth —
    and there’s more to be found in the TED talks presentation/demo.

So imagine this. A Micropaper monitor that uses surface computer technology for interfacing. Right there, you have paper that can be interfaced in ways that are very similar to a book — and then some, because you could manipulate the text, zoom in and out, rotate the items and so on.

Then add photosynth. You could conceivable have your new “book” that can store entire volumes belonging to any author. You could have it go audio and highlight the words as they are being spoken.

But let’s go further. You could have a scientific article with a footnote that is actually the entire cited article with the quoted text highlighted. That means you can check for context in ways never heard of before!

Or how about reading the Hunchback of Notre Dame with detailed information about the history of Victor Hugo and a complete tour of the Cathedral sitting right there in your little paper-like monitor!

There’s alot about this technology that is both exciting and scary for libraries. It’s like I get my mind blown just about every day!

Format and Learning — A Self-Analysis

While my life has its challenges and rewards, one thing I certainly believe has happened in my life is that my learning curve has exploded. Social software is definitely part of this equation, but I have to say it is not all of the equation.

Over the past few months my primary learning objective has been code. I am playing around with PHP, XSLT, AJAX and other languages. I even considered a bit of Ruby. I have also been very interested in ethics and change management.

Normally, when I pull out those acronyms, it’s because I want to establish myself with a bit of credentials. This time, it’s about how I learn and why I think format matters in a learning strategy.

I was thinking about how I learn best. What has worked to get me from where I was 6 months ago to where I am now (you will have to trust that these two “wheres” are not the same thing) .

So, what formats did I use to learn stuff, and how did they work for me:

Online tutorials (non-interactive)

For sure the W3 consortium tutorials have been a big help along the way. But really, there is only so much I could retain “next”-ing through each sheet of syntax. For instance, each function in PHP pretty much works like any function in any language. Re-describing each function, however important, would get pretty boring.

Remembering what each function does and when to use it is pretty difficult. In the end, you have to use the tutorials as a reference tool when you are stumped (as in, “my goodness there ought to be a pre-set function to handle form validation, I wonder where it is. . .”).

Online Tutorials — Interactive

These are pretty sparse and for good reason. They take a long time to create and usually don’t get much action in the end. If you want an interactive tutorial, it better be fun. But, code can only be so fun in the end.

That said, occasionally, the W3 (again) gives some nice demos (for example with CSS) on coding that work nicely. You can change the code and see the results in another frame. This is more helpful than ftp-ing files and refreshing screens all the time.

Blogs & Wikis

You can complain all you want about the reliability of the information on blogs and wikis, but one exception will always exist: technology. Wikipedia is excellent for technology information. A wide range of tutorials online via blogs have also been really helpful for me to learn things like form validation, xml schema, and sending mail via php.

I do have to state one exception, though. Sometimes people do not do a good job of testing their code samples. Sometimes this is a moral/ethical thing — as in the author expects you to use the tutorial to learn to do your own coding, instead of just stealing the code. Other times it’s just laziness. Either way, it’s always best to understand what the code is trying to do rather than just copying the file and sending away with it.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many times I had a techie try to baffle me with an acronym, I Google said acronym and within three minutes I am in the know. Google, Wikipedia and Technorati are definitely your friends.

Print-offs of Blogs, Wikis and Tutorials

Print-offs have been essential. I’m sorry, but I like to highlight and touch my knowledge for some reason. And scratch notes on the document. And splay them out for my own purposes.


I haven’t really tried to much podcasting for code-related purposes. But for broader schemes, ideas and the like, I have found Podcasting and Videocasting to be great.

One of my favorites is the CBC Ideas podcasts. There’s nothing like walking to work with an iPod in my ears hearing the likes of Charles Taylor, Theodore Dalrymple or Michael Blake discuss modern culture.

There have also been a great number of gems in video. A really good one is David Weinberger’s presentation on his new book: Everything is Miscellaneous.

I am an auditory learner, though so I like to listen to things alot. I learn best when I am able to iterate, discuss and hear knowledge. This is a fairly rare type — most people learn visually. Video, of course, is excellent because it covers both auditory and visual learning styles.

But video is not great for code learning. Who would want to watch a video of something doing code? Or worse make a video of yourself coding something. Blech!


Books have been an essential part of my learning. Online learning is too distracted to be effective in any depth (for me, anyway). While the online tutorials gave me a good overview of what I needed to know, the books helped me discover in depth.

Books have an added advantage (for now). There nothing like having the text demo in print format sitting on your lap, while you are practicing your code. Clicking back-and-forth on a computer is just hell, even with a big screen and multiple windows going.

Lastly, I find books very relaxing. Relaxing in a learning environment is so important. Just being able to slow down and absorb everything was so valuable to me and the book has helped me do that.

Gurus (real life)

For an auditory learner like myself, having a person to ask questions is essential. Sometimes the guru doesn’t even answer my questions — most of the time, I just talk about the problem and realize the solution as I am talking.

I would say this is the major reason that I would want to attend a conference.

Gurus (online)

Online gurus have also played a big role. A good source of these gurus can be found on the Library Society of the World Meebo Room, and Twitter. Thems librarians just love to share their success and failure stories online and I have to say that I’ve learned alot from these folks.

Doing It

Of course, hands-on is essential for alot of technology-related learning. I’ve tried to play my part by letting people have access to my test-server as a sandbox for whatever product they want to try. I’ve done the sandbox thing with WordPress, Joomla, and DrupalEd so far, and there are lots of other goodies there. Again, just let me know if you want me to install a CMS or other funky-web-server product. I’m willing to give it a shot.

Funny enough, a group of librarians discussed the whole “test server” idea after the Getting to Library 2.0 CLA Emerging Technologies Interest Group pre-conference. One of the conclusions we came to was that any new librarian ought to get him/herself a webserver to set-up a nice web service to show to colleagues. One of the reasons for this was the understanding that Systems folks cannot possibly spend time installing various sundry products for a “sandbox” — the interested librarians have to get some of this knowledge on their own!

The good news is that products like Joomla and WordPress are often provided as “one-click installs” for many hosting services.   Even if you have to download and install yourself, it’s not that hard.  For most services, all you need to know is how to create a database in MySQL and read the manual.


I realize the sources for learning here are all obvious ones, but there is a bigger point.  My learning strategy was not limited to format, and frankly, I do not think I cannot imagine that one format has been any better than the others.

In fact, I’d say the more formats for your learning, the better.   Each product has its own nuances that let those senses and neurons connect in new and interesting ways.   In the end, diversity is the primary format you should be focusing your energy on.  Don’t reject any format just for the sake of rejecting.   No format is too old, or too new; too cool or uncool; too hot or cold.   It’s all about getting your interest and helping you make information a part of you.

This discussion all brings me back to one of the most mundane discussions in all of librarianship — namely, making sure we have information available in as many useful formats as possible and/or economically feasible.     Even if books go out of style, there is no doubt that we will be printing information to help us learn in the near-to-far future.   We shouldn’t be too quick to sluff things off as obsolete!

Ok Public (if you are out there) — What do YOU think should be kept in libraries?

I do not know how many non-librarians read my blog (or even how many librarians), but I was thinking recently about more collaborative approaches to weeding books in public libraries.

The current paradigm for weeding items is to do it gingerly and not let the public really know that we do it. There is good reason for this — weeding, if put out in the public without context can end up being blown waaaay out of proportion.

But weeding is necessary and done mostly because of damage, inoperability (a DVD gets scratched up), relevance (people have no use for a World Book from 1982 thank you!) and plain lack of use. Storing books that carry little or no value is expensive, and gets in the way of the stuff that people want.

That said, I do think some things are sacred. Some books should remain on public libraries shelves even if they never circulate.

So, I have a question for the online world and I think all libraries should take the time to ask their communities the same thing:

What books/films/music/whatever do you think should never be weeded off a library’s shelf?

To be more specific, here is what you are saying to librarians everywhere:

  1. If this book gets old or damaged, you should replace it immediately.
  2. If the book goes out of print, you should spend lots of money to keep it in good condition.
  3. If a powerful lobby group thinks this book is offensive, you should go to the guillotine before weeding the item (and I’ll go with you).
  4. I don’t care if the book never gets borrowed.

I’m going to start with comments here. If thing pick up, I will move the list somewhere else where they can be rated etc.. Eventually, I will post the list for the benefit of libraries everywhere.

PS.   This blog is now at over 12,000 views.   My expectation was that 10,000 views would have occurred within a year of its existance (that would be July).   Wow.  Just wow.