May 28, 2004

Human Kindness and the Internet

John Berry of Library Journal recently wrote, "I am troubled when I read all the whining about flaming and 'inappropriate' comments on the various discussion lists to which I subscribe." He encouraged librarians to let it all hang out, and scolded lists where informal rules of conduct preside.

I was reminded of his words this week, as someone took aim at me not once but again and again, on a list where it all hangs out. I believe in allowing adults room to design their own territories, and I haven't enjoyed those discussion lists where a list "parent" was so rigid about the rules that real discussion was impossible. But it once again became obvious to me how valuable a list without any guidelines or management is for people who are not hanging out, but acting out. With no repercussions for their actions, they can do what they cannot do anywhere else in life: say whatever they want, with no accountability or repercussion.

Problems with digital communications are not limited to discussion lists. In the last few weeks, I've seen colleagues I otherwise respect take wild, factually inaccurate shots through their blogs and then privately admit, oh yes, maybe they were wrong. I've seen librarians put their peers on the spot, in ways they never would face to face. I've seen colleagues use e-mail to lie about themselves and not get called on it.

It's telling that the digital environments where this behavior is not the norm are managed by library leaders who are Internet long-timers with extensive online experience, and that the lists that typify the nastiness I'm describing are managed by those who are Internet naifs. A couple of days ago someone tried to "explain" to me that because My Place Of Work is online and visible, these attacks are expected. I have been on the Internet for nearly fifteen years, and I am here to witness, with the fullness of experience, that there is never any reason for this kind of behavior, in any format, in any place, and certainly not on a list for a dues-driven professional association. For this I paid real money?

I've signed off the list in question because life is short and I only have so much room in my life--not enough room for this nonsense. I am sure someone will tell me that this list is "useful," but my response is that it no longer has enough "use" for my purposes. Once too often on this list, I've seen the kind of behavior that would shame me (or prompt me to take real action) if I experienced it in any face to face setting--work, home, church, neighborhood, a BART train. This list isn't an example of intellectual freedom in action. It's an example of what happens when people hide behind "principles" because they are unable or unwilling to do the hard work required to turn a frontier into a town center.

I thank my colleagues who gamely rose to my defense in so many different ways, and I acknowledge that their efforts were not only on my behalf, but on behalf of a much larger cause. And I pity those left behind, captives and captors alike.

I wonder if some of my writing colleagues would be willing to consider a code of ethics for communications in the digital environment--not an iron-clad set of rules, but principles to guide us in our actions in this new world. Or would that be "whining?"

Posted by kgs at 10:29 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 05, 2004

NYPL's New Face

Gorgeous. Makes me jealous!

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April 28, 2004

Comparing Apples and Rutabagas

Jessamyn wrote about the new Seattle Public Library: "Let's just say it: the more money you spend building your Big Beautiful Library, the less you have to pay for staffing, and open hours."

This is weird science: facility construction and operational costs are nearly always unrelated. Libraries are built with one-time building bonds and major capital fundraising drives (and sometimes, government grant assistance), while support for routine library operations comes from local government.

For supporting library services year to year, it is a well-supported truism in libraryland that you will be better off if you go directly to the voters for their support, taxing them directly for your services. Library staff hours are often first on the cutting block when cities need to make cuts, and I remember how tough it was as a rural library director to appeal to a tiny government for additional funding. Yet voters are often surprised into opening their pocketbooks when asked to make a relatively modest direct contribution for good local library services. A reporter for the Seattle Times, commenting about the service cuts at SPL, made this point eloquently if somewhat obliquely: "King County libraries are funded differently from Seattle's. Their operating costs come primarily from property tax revenues, while Seattle's come from the city's general fund."

My local public library in the city of Richmond, California can tell you all about that. Always poor, always underfunded, always begging for scraps, the library has now closed its three branches and may shut down entirely at the end of June. Having weary old pre-prop-13 buildings hasn't helped it any.

Don't begrudge Seattle its biblioedifice. The new facility draws much-needed attention and interest to library services at a most opportune time, and who knows what can happen for library services when all eyes are drawn to the building that houses them. Instead, let's just say it: learn the strategies that work for real library advocacy.

Posted by kgs at 08:39 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 23, 2004

How to Talk at Conferences, Continued

Following Michael's and Jessamyn's threads:

1. Before the talk, try to communicate directly with the technology people who will configure your setup. Mention these folks during your talk, and thank them afterwards. They will remember you. And they are the reason people can hear your voice and see your presentation.

2. Label any equipment you bring to the podium. I use tiny Hello Kitty stickers. It doesn't matter what you use: the objective is to be able to immediately distinguish your cords from those of your co-panelists or cords that are attached to local equipment.

3. I always ask for a lavalier mike, or at least one that isn't fixed to a podium. I like to walk and point, and you can't SEE me behind a podium, anyway.

4. Ask someone to be your timeclock, and request that they give you several warnings before your talk is up. You will be too engaged to look at a watch, and ten minutes is enough time to adjust your talk, if you have underestimated how long it will take to speak.

5. If you are on a panel with someone going way over their time, hand them a very large note. People often don't realize when they've busted their time limit, and you are entitled to your slice of the action. It's only fair to you, to the audience, and to the people who invited you (and probably paid for you to be there).

6. I am not sure what Michael and Jessamyn mean by "self-promotion," but if you've published a book, had a baby, or just figured out a cure for cancer, it's my advice to go ahead and brag. The audience will enjoy your excitement, partticularly if you don't go overboard. Try sharing a human moment about the experience, and it's o.k. to make fun of yourself--"I ate Stouffers' for six months while I finished this book."

7. Wear something nice. However, wear something you've worn before, so you're comfortable in it.

8. Praise your audience. (They were smart enough to attend your session, after all.)

9. Consider going post-Powerpoint during the presentation. Ask yourself if your lengthy pile of slides with bullets serves any purpose. By all means, do not show up and read from your slides. Increasingly, I am doing talks "unplugged," using Powerpoint primarily to make impressionistic or humorous visuals during the talk (and it's a great way to provide your contact information at the end). But if your talk consists of reading slides, think about using Powerpoint as a visual backdrop, then use your Powerpoint "notes" as an internal planning tool, to practice what you have to say. You have a story: what is it? How will you share it?

10. Of course, you may be using real-world examples from the Web, in which case, have good screen captures as a backup.

11. If it's a choice between my computer and theirs, I always pick theirs, because it's equipment they are familiar with. I bring mine anyway.

12. Remember the first rule? No matter who you are dealing with, never, ever assume the technology is "taken care of." Find out what the setup is, find out who your point of contact is, and if you have to be a nudge, be a nudge, however nicely. The talk you save could be your own. A couple of years ago, I had a presentation that crashed and burned because I assumed that the tech-oriented person arranging the talk had coordinated the technology. This person, in turn, had also simply "assumed." We were both wrong, and it was very painful (and a huge waste of our time). Your assertive engagement on this particular issue will go a long way toward a happy outcome for all involved.

Posted by kgs at 10:51 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 14, 2004

Please Do Not Googlebomb LII

(Update: Cohen has called off the Googlebomb.)

I woke up this morning to see a well-meaning request to Googlebomb LII (the place where I work... o.k., I know you know that, but there is a very intentional veil between FRL and LII). Not only that, Jessamyn has already critiqued the practice. Lordy, lordy... can't a girl do something other than the Internet for an evening?

I don't like the Googlebomb action (or "meme," to use a dreadfully worn word now trotted around), for exactly the reasons Jessamyn specifies. LII may have its marketing challenges, but we (and here I quote directly from the Karen G. Schneider who runs LII, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Free Range Librarian) would like to handle them ourselves; and as Jessamyn writes, it just seems wrong (not to mention so-last-year) to finegle with an index. More to the point, while we certainly don't control the universe, we at LII would like to control our own destiny. We should have been asked if we wanted this--and if that's how we wanted it, and that's when we wanted it. I know it was well-intended, but I'm asking you folks not to participate in this Googlebomb. It is so very, very not what LII is all about.

I'm proud of the increase in usage for LII that has happened during my tenure as Director, Senior Cheerleader, and Da Boss, even though my pride is really derivative from the profoundly wonderful work of the staff who make LII tick. Wendy Hyman, Jennifer English, Maria Brandt, Charlotte Bagby, Tom McGibney, Pat Fell, and a host of contributors--they are amazing. And I'd like to see usage statistics based on our efforts. And I'm very pleased people care about us enough to compare us to Library of Congress.

But please--if you have the energy to Googlebomb--you have the energy to direct your efforts toward Good Works. Go read to a child, or help out at a soup kitchen, or go help get out the vote for the November election. Or if you feel you want to "do something" for LII, share it with a library patron, a volunteer, a neighbor, or a local newspaper. Get us a radio spot on NPR--that's a "meme" we can live with. But Googlebomb LII? Please. Just Say No.

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April 08, 2004

GMail: Google Stepped In It

"All this handringing by librarians and others is ridiculous. Google is a commercial service and business. They clearly state what they will be doing. If you don't like it go someplace else. Also, remember the old internet adage: 'Do not send stuff in an e-mail that you would not want on the front page of the New York Times.'" -- Bill Drew, post to Web4Lib, 4/8/04

(Or on the front page of Free Range Librarian?)

Here's my reply.

When Google offers a service, they should first of all be up front about how they plan to (ab)use personal information. As an 800-lb gorilla, they have a particularly strong responsibility to behave appropriately on the Internet. If they can't, and I suspect that is true, then they should be regulated by the government to force them to behave responsibly, and if they don't like that, boo-hoo: they got a chance to get it right the first time. Being piggy gives commerce a bad name.

I hope other search engines are rushing forward to offer private, non-abusive e-mail services, big mailboxes or not. (There had to be a reason they were offering so much space. Of course they want you to keep all of your mail on their servers!)

Second, there is no strong connection between your "adage" and this situation. That adage, while apt, applies primarily to friends and colleagues forwarding/sending mail to others. It does not refer to the WalMart of Internet appliances skulking through our mail, automatically or otherwise, and bombarding us with advertisements based on our personal information, or about hovering up our email addresses to trawl for their own purposes.

Good on the Times (and other media who have caught this) to report on it.
The world beyond us should understand these privacy encroachments much better.

And one again (waving trifocals in air, thumping sensible shoes on floor) we digital librarians need to be not only having "hackfests," to reimagine librarianship, but also "ethicsfests," to port our values to a new platform, as it were. If there is one thing we can bring forward from the quaint old days of bound books and Gaylord charge machines, it is our historically fervent commitment to free speech, the right to read, and privacy. "Let them eat cake" is not in my vocabulary.

Posted by kgs at 10:24 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 17, 2004

Staple this to your forehead

Shared by a colleague:

Our boiler was failing. We decided that we loved steam heat and we wanted to keep it, so we started interviewing plumbers who knew steam. The house sat on a slab with a tight crawlspace around the perimeter and a small basement with the boiler under the kitchen. One of the plumbers took one look at this mud filled hole (the system leaked) handed me his hat and jumped in. We really liked him. When he came out covered is mud, he said; "I would really love to do this, but I would need help. I am sorry, but I work alone."

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