Thursday, October 21, 2010

A new home!

Hi everybody - I have moved a lot of my blog content to Happy to have a new fun web home... come visit me there!

Monday, March 8, 2010

More Questions Than Answers: Month 3 of the Year of the E-book

First, a blog post got passed around on Twitter. Then the NYT picked up on it, and the following week this video was posted to YouTube:

(better version of this from Penguin's Digital unit)

Got your mind properly blown yet? (Yes? Good.)

This is just the start of what promises to be a really ground-breaking year of user experience with e-content. In fact, I think we may have to stop calling them e-books. I knew that the iPad would be a game-changing device because of its ability to connect content with video and touch as well as connectivity, but to see its ability to utterly transform content is AMAZING.

I know we're going to see more of this when the Microsoft Courier makes a debut, and as soon as the Asus eee Pad comes on sale later this year the market will be blown wide open. Just as the touchscreen smartphone became the norm in a little over 2 years, it will take even less time for tablets and "pads" to do the same.

But what else will be transformed? The evaluation of this content is going to be paramount for consumers - a traditional book or media review is not even going to start to cut it for interim consumers stuck between now, where we are in a real Wild West stage of development and innovation and the future, where (hopefully) standards for e-content will emerge... in some way or another. The same e-content could look radically different on one device than it does on another, and lose or gain functionality when ported to yet another.

I've said in the past that digital content needs to be device agnostic, and I'm willing to stick to that as an ideal for now. But things are getting very interesting, and it is nearly impossible to deny at this point that the publishing, reviewing, and bookstore/library industries are getting ready to pass through a fundamental change. Will consumers who bought a Nook only three months ago be satisfied once they see what their money could have bought in Apple's iPad bookstore? Can Kindle fanatics reconcile themselves to plain black and white e-ink when interactivity and animations are available on new-style tablets?

Let's see what Q2 of 2010 brings.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More Godin-ish thoughts

My co-worker Josh forwarded me a link to the Friendfeed conversation he started about my last blog post. I read the reactions with interest, and had a few thoughts in connection with this:

Another co-worker forwarded an email with this, that seems related:

"And these statistic(s) from another book, "Empire of Illusion: the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle," a third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives, and neither do 42 percent of college graduates. In 2007, 80 percent of the families in the United States did not buy or read a book."

While I think the above stat is a bit hyperbolic, it is however reflective of the larger culture’s widening gap between the literate and the illiterate.(Our regulars are nearly all power users, relying heavily on the library to supply them with a constant stream of materials.) It seems reflective – although not correlated – to the similar concentration of wealth in the country over the past few decades. A well-informed middle class may be going the way of a well-off middle class, IMHO. Instead of being able to divide our patrons up by socioeconomic class, we should probably be making distinctions between new "upper" and "lower" classes by their information consumption habits. Which group would Seth Godin be in, I wonder?

I’d be interested to hear what others think about our culture’s connection to information in an age of abundance (but not largess).

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Information is not free

Seth Godin blogged recently about his idea to transform libraries for the 21st century. Apparently he's been talking to librarians who are unhappy that their DVD circulation is up (as it would be, in this economy when people are looking for cheap/free home entertainment). But I think he has some things very wrong:

"They can't survive as community-funded repositories for books that individuals don't want to own (or for reference books we can't afford to own.)" I have yet to see the person able to afford all the books they will ever need in their lifetime. Or a personal subscription to all the magazines they might want to read, or all the databases they might need to consult. It reminds me of the quote by Malcolm Forbes: "The richest person in the world - in fact all the riches in the world - couldn't provide you with anything like the endless, incredible loot available at your local library."

I'm not sure I'd want to live in a world where we only had access to the ideas we could afford to buy.

"The information is free now." Information is never free. Libraries and librarians work to provide access (using your tax dollars) to hugely diverse, authoritative sources of information in many formats. Yes, there is more access to information than ever before but access is not equal for all. I know Godin's rebuttal would be "buy a cheap netbook & mooch off a neighbor's free WiFi" but there are still people who don't have the money or comfort level with technology to make that happen. Librarians are useful because we're professional searchers; able to help people formulate their questions, refine their ideas, and locate the best information to match those needs. Just because you can type into the Google search box doesn't mean you're an information expert.

My last thought: in many communities, the public library is the last truly democratic place. Anyone can come in, anyone can read for free, anyone can meet freely. There needs to be at least one place that is open to all in every community, and the library is as much a place as it is a collection.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built by Stewart Brand

From my last post - this was the only book referred to in the New South Wales matrix that I hadn't yet read. So I set out to grab a copy of How Buildings Learn and discover more about its metaphor for a potential library future.

I think I have always been interested in architecture - take me to any city and I am perfectly happy wandering around to see what I can see in the streetscapes. I knew why I had this interest after a 1997 college guest lecture by James Howard Kunstler. As deeply ashamed as I was at the audience, some of whom booed his talk and belligerently challenged both his ideas and authority in the field, I had a growing sense of excitement and identification. Kunstler was my kind of guy - someone who had figured out that people's relationships with their surroundings profoundly affect their sense of development as a people. "Is this a place worth caring about?" he shouted, showing slides of all-too-familiar suburban landscapes where big box stores held dominion over the horizon and token landscaping replaced once thriving & complex ecosystems. It's no wonder young people feel alienated and isolated, he claimed, pointing to the lack of sidewalks in housing developments and the proliferation of bland "places" that resemble nowhere in particular.

His ideas resonated with me and I was grateful to find the words for things I sensed but was not able to articulate. I found this to be true of Brand's book as well: although one can read this book through the photographs, illustrations, and captions alone, the narrative Brand created is a good one indeed. My favorite reading "moments:"

He quotes from Jane Jacobs on the costs of new construction: "Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must come from old buildings." (p. 28) This quote faces two photos - one of the carriage-style garage where Hewlett-Packard took shape in 1939, and the modest interior of a 1970s garage in Palo Alto where Steves Jobs & Wozniak invented the Apple computer.
In a strange way, libraries are always old buildings because we store the past - we are the metaphoric "old building" that provides a foundation for today's thinkers to build upon.
On p. 188, Brand points out the difference in philosophy of an architect who thinks of a building as a way to manipulate the power structure of those who inhabit it, and the actual inhabitants who will inevitably shape it the way their lives evolve: "A building is not something you finish. A building is something you start."
Libraries are changing organisms just as our users are changing organisms. Our future depends on being flexible, modular, and providing the raw space in which change can flourish.
"Anticipate greater connectivity always."
Beyond being an excellent example of Strunk & White style, this simple declarative sentence is what we should do for our institution as a whole and for the learners that come through our doors. Brand uses this as an introduction to a paragraph on the Berkeley's Wurster Hall conduits, built into the fabric of the building anticipating lots of lovely coaxial cable for television in every classroom. Instead, it proved to be a great way to network computers as the Internet revolution arose. What else could it have connected? Had this empty, "useless" space not been provided, there would have been no opportunity to help the building keep evolving with its inhabitants.

Architecture turns out to have a lot in common with libraries. We deal on a human scale, and help people create places worth caring about, worth inhabiting, and worth growing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bookend Scenarios - Public libraries 20 years in the future?

The State Library of New South Wales did a little future forecasting and compiled their results in a nice white paper called Bookend Scenarios (pdf). Although they were focusing on particularly Australian concerns, I was surprised by how applicable their vision is to American libraries. We face very similar challenges to our services, and it's worth taking a look at this report if you are concerned about the public library and its future incarnations.

Above is their matrix of change, with a sector for each of four scenarios named after seminal monographs: nonfiction for generalized scenarios, and fiction for the niche scenarios. The predicted outcomes of each scenario will depend on variables in our socioinformatic landscapes.

Right now, I'd say the average American public library is in the How Buildings Learn quadrant - technology is accelerating & formats are unstable but library services & buildings are expanding to meet community desires. Barring some global catastrophe after Peak Oil, I'd say American libraries are typically headed for a mashup between the Neuromancer and Fahrenheit 451 scenarios. In particular, I think that electronic formats will win the day for most sources of nonfiction and the physical paper-based book will become the province of fiction exclusively. I don't think that we will suffer from the lack of relevance forecast in the Fahrenheit 451 scenario, but I do believe we will find value in the Neuromancer prediction: people's skepticism of information could be tempered by situating librarians as arbiters of content, where we help users discern bias and conflicts of interest in the production of specific pieces of information.

Where do you think public libraries are headed in the next 20 years? We will surely follow society's lead, and the four visions in this fascinating project are distinctly possible versions of our collective future.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A little OT: buttons & widgets are helpful!

Stay home if possible when you are sick. Visit for more information.

I looked like this lady last week. Seriously, my friends, stay well and if you need some chicken soup or ginger ale I will bring you some while you stay AT HOME! The last thing I wanted to do was spread this junk around at the library while at a public service desk.

But where did I get such an attractive button? Why, the CDC of course! Many organizations (mine included) are starting to see the benefits of using and creating buttons, labels, and widgets for people to cut and paste into their websites. Keep your eyes peeled for more novel uses of this technology. Interactive widgets (like weather, headlines, etc) are a great way to provide fluid content to users who may not be visiting your website (yet).

Take a look at my sidebar to the right and see how many buttons you can spot. What would you add to yours, or your library's?