Did anyone else open Amazon this week to find they had a "Plog?" "Your Amazon.com Plog is a diary of events that will enhance your shopping experience, helping you discover products that have just been released, track changes to your orders, and many other things. Just like a blog, your Plog is sorted in reverse chronological order. When we think we have something interesting or important to tell you, we'll post it to your Plog."
My plog entries for that day were rather monotonous, as I had just ordered the same three books each for six staff. Amazon apparently thinks (not so far from the mark) that I might have difficulty remembering something I did yesterday, so it faithfully recreated this purchasing history, six times over.
It did make me wonder what the page would look like if I had ordered 100 books each for 600 staff, or if a user's Plog will unbeknownst to them show up on a public screen in, oh, say, a library.
Amazon included a page explaining blogging, and listing about a dozen blogs--might be nice to see a library blog on that list.
According to the pundits, "plog" stands variously for "product blog" or "project blog." Based on Amazon's use of the term, "plog" also stands for Ponderous Blog (my sister asked me, "what are these 'globs' you keep referring to?"). Of all the blogs I don't want to read, what I just did on Amazon is high up there. It's far too Crusoe for my tastes (Day 2,007: caught fish; cooked and ate). Not to mention if this were a family PC how my cover would be blown for holiday shopping (particularly how much holiday shopping is for me).
As Steve Oberg noted on Web4Lib, eagled-eyed Steve Cohen, our cub reporter in the blogging world, had mentioned plogs a couple of weeks ago. However, I may not be contextually grounded in the appropriate managerial perspective to appreciate the utility of perusing a plog within this development environment (to lift language from the management rag quoted in that post).
At my work place, we have a lot of change afoot. (One of you had once commented that I should link to "my work place" from my entries, and I think I'll go back to NOT doing that, thanks very much.) Contracts fluttering left and right, deep discussions with programmers and other gurus, workplans, and more... it's a bustle of activity. I'll blog more when we have more dried ink; right now I'm keeping the details within the organization, for the most part.
But as I watch my buddy Michael Stephens get ready for his PhD program, and as I move down the "back to camp" list for the MFA, I feel how refreshing change can be, particularly when it is realizing a "dream deferred."
I wanted to pursue writing and literature 20 years ago, but I was broke and disorganized and somewhat out of good ideas, so I joined the Air Force. In the same vein, the week after I took over the helm of "my work place," I took my first trip to talk to higher-ups about changes that now, after years of disappointments and cutbacks and "sure-bet" grants that didn't happen, are finally coming to fruition.
Not much to blog, since I've been plowing through work and resting up with good books late at night. I'm alternating between Fenton Johnson's Geography of the Heart and Frederick Taylor's Dresden : Tuesday, February 13, 1945. I had read Johnson's book years ago, and was pleased to see it on the reading list for the first class in my MFA program.
See the New Yorker article: http://www.newyorker.com/critics/skyline/?040524crsk_skyline .
Going by the pictures in the New York Times and other sources, I can't decide if this building looks more like a stapler made of ice or a Gaylord charge machine covered in disco mirrors. Regardless, the new Seattle Public Library is a handsome building with tremendous visual moxie.
No doubt in the years ahead we'll hear about the inevitable punchlist items, the things that should have been done differently, the signage that didn't work, and so on. And we will need to know if it works as a library, for its users as well as its staff. But it's not timid, trite, or boring, and for that, hats off to SPL.
LISNews needs money; Blake needs to upgrade the servers. A worthy cause.
Meanwhile, LISNews was critiqued in Library Juice, a newsletter I stopped reading the week Rory Litwin took a friendly comment I made at a party, twisted it, and then wrote an obnoxious post about it. He later apologized, but that officially put Library Juice on my "what's the point" list.
The gist of Rory's point is that the comments on LISNews are largely conservative. I wouldn't know; I don't read the comments on LISNews (and if people commented on articles in other news sources, I wouldn't read those, either). I just read the news itself, and it's often pretty good. It helps fill a gap between the traditional big-library stuff on LJ and ALA and the bellybutton lint on most library blogs. It's not really "news," in any journalistic sense (any more than a librarian blogger is a "journalist"), but quite often you can read it first on LISNews, and they find fun stuff.
Half the time, "reader's advisory" appears to mean "recommended fiction." Have you noticed that nonfiction often gets the short end of the stick in terms of reader services?
I'm glad to see that discussion has revived on NMRTWriter, the discussion list for librarian-writers hosted by ALA's New Member Roundtable. NMRTWriter is not a perfect list--I wish it were more private and invitation-only, and that we knew who was subscribed--but many established librarian-writers subscribe to it, something highly in its favor (although the newer writers are important members of this community, too). The limitations of NMRTWriter can be addressed as they are on other ALA lists: by getting to know people, and writing them off-list when you have something delicate or sensitive to share.
It seemed that no sooner had I, in my ignorance, proposed the idea of a list for librarian writers then at least two other lists sprang up like mushrooms after a rain. But the new lists simply repeated the shortcomings of NMRTWriter without offering any clear advantages. If I'm going to share my joys and concerns in a writers' community, it might as well be on a list that has struggled along for awhile.
I would encourage the people who created these lists--and any other librarian writers who feel the need for community and feedback--to bring their subscribers over to NMRTWriter. To subscribe, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following in the body:
subscribe nmrtwriter FIRSTNAME LASTNAME
Unless your mother named you FIRSTNAME LASTNAME, replace those words with your real name.
I admit to feeling a little silly about joining a list founded by NMRT, when I am really more eligible for OMRT, or at least MAMRT. But as Mehitabel said, "wot the hell, Archie, wot the hell." It's a nice group, and I have a feeling it will be a good place for me, particularly during these next two years. And why not for you, as well?
The response to my earlier post about librarian writers was fascinating. I'm trying to probe what it is we feel we need. I'm tossing out the following to see what resonates with you (and I'll create a new post on my blog, since many but not all of the respondents are already on NMRTWRITER):
* A blog to post successes/questions/failures/whatevers
* A discussion list oriented toward published writers
* An informal organization for librarians who write
* An entity not necessarily related to ALA (no offense there to ALA)
* A casual community of published writers
What needs are we trying to fulfill? I think they exist, but pinning them down may be another issue. I sense needs for writers who are already writing--something low-overhead (presumably, we're all busy writing), but a community to tap when you are struggling with questions such as is this contract o.k., should you try writing outside the library press, how do you market my book, how can you get past writer's block, where can you find an indexer/editor/illustrator, how do you get over a bad review, how do you organize time for writing, how to break into a new writing area, what kind of experience did you have with X editor or Y press, or even writerly questions about the mechanics of style, grammar, and punctuation. Not to mention the inevitable get-together at library conferences, or even very occasional chats by AIM or other low-cost means.
... Or even just to be able to list on your c.v., "Founding Member, writerlibrarians.org..."
I'll add that I was surprised to hear that NMRTWRITER existed, and that it is under the aegis of NMRT was even more surprising. Sometimes I am asked why I am not on such-and-such list, and I usually say, "because I have a life." But I would have been on NMRTWRITER a long time ago if I had known it existed. That said, without a Web presence or easily-accessed archive, I don't know if NMRTWRITER is more than ephemerally useful to us.
(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.
"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.
The city of Richmond CA, facing very serious financial problems, elected to "eliminate" the director's position, which has been vacant for over a year. A cursory review of the city's budget-cut plan suggests the library is the only department to eliminate its leadership as a cost-cutting measure. The budget does not indicate if the city plans to restore the position later.
The city elected to retain half of its funding for Channel 28, the cable access channel used to broadcast City Council meetings.
The latest Cites and Insights is a delight, as always, but Walt's comments about the Public Library of Science rocked my world.
After we added a record for PLoS to LII, a reader wrote to complain that our record description, pulled straight from the site, didn't match the actual content on the site, which to date is skimpy. Point very well taken, and record reworded.
The hype for the PLoS--certainly a nice venture--came close to another scantily-clad emperor, the International Children's Digital Library, which a year ago was trumpeted in newspapers and other media. It has improved since then--it's not bad--but at the time, this "global" resource featured a demanding Java-based interface rivaling the geekiest Sourceforge contributions in arcane and child-unfriendly design. The site now features a "basic" version, which is what it should have started with in the first place, and it now has some content--over 300 digital books.
Still, for every overblown product of some fevered flack's imagination, we get 30 more good sites, often from the most unlikely places: from mutual fund calculators emerging from a corner office buried in the SEC to tiramisu recipes from an ad exec who knows from mascarpone.
Thank you to the everyday Santas out there, in government program offices and nonprofits and wannabe startups and even the occasional dedicated and surprisingly good hobbyist sites... you also rock my world.
We are very fortunate to have two very highly qualified candidates running for ALA president. ALA has benefited from the many contributions of both Michael Gorman and Barbara Stripling. Both of them share core values I can identify with.
However, it is Barb's candidacy I am excited to throw my weight behind. Barb Stripling has the poise, presence, and just-in-time ability to articulate ALA positions, we need in an ALA president. I think of this year, when ALA president Carla Hayden so ably responded to Patriot Act issues. Barb inspires a similar confidence in her ability to handle hot-button issues, from digital rights to classic censorship challenges.
It's also good to see an ALA presidential candidate who is so up on technology. Barb is the first-ever ALA candidate to have a blog (and if the library press doesn't pick this up, fie on 'em--this is a red-hot scoop). This means Barb understands the Web is a place not only for posting positions--which she does quite well--but for interacting with people. She "gets it" in a way we haven't seen yet. Go see her blog, and post a greeting or question!
It's almost funny to say this--because school librarianship is one of the few places I've never worked--but it's also time we had someone with school library background in the ALA presidency again. Barb has a long background in this area, and it shows not only in her platform, but in her ability to connect with people and articulate issues related to young people and information access.
Barb Stripling is running on a platform called "Building Community." This is a natural concept for her. She has an innate ability to cross type libraries and move across issues with grace and articulate diplomacy. We need her leadership! I hope you will join me in supporting Barb Stripling for ALA President.
Walt Crawford is a charter member of the "I was dialing up Dialog on my 300-baud modem when Al Gore invented the Internet" club, and he's a great writer, to boot. He quickly dispatches Ashcroft's lies in the latest issue of Cites & Insights, and is also very funny about RSS, cataloging, OpenURL, and anything else that meanders across his plate.
I know he's committed to the PDF format... but if he published this newsletter in two formats, PDF and Web-readable, some of us could use Walt to relieve the dreariness of bad meetings by sneaking him on our handhelds. (Not that I would ever do that, of course.)
The library director who was canned due to her well-advertised extracurricular hobby as a sado-masochist dominatrix is at the top of my "Library Darwin Arwards" for 2003, leading even OCLC's attempt to sue the Library Hotel over using Dewey numbers for its hotel scheme. Still, it's fascinating that though the story has cropped up--oops, no pun intended--on librarian.net, we haven't seen it anywhere in the library press.
So let me revisit the issue of the Librarian Action Figure. Some of you have a really big issue with this doll representing librarianship, because we all know librarians are hip gals in Prada frocks and screw-me shoes. But still, we have to draw a line. Put her in fishnet hose, pierce her lower lip, give her a pushup bra, but whatever you do, don't overtly acknowledge her sexuality. For that matter, let's run from the s-word as fast as we can.
Here we are again, trapped in our own contradictions, somewhere between condemning a librarian who does her own thing sexually and getting our collective shorts in a bunch over a doll in a long blue dress. I'll stick with the middle ground: the gold standard for library sex appeal was established by the smoldering, mildly homoerotic bookish look perfected by Niles on Buffy the Vampire and continued by Nancy Pearl, in her prim dress, holding her copy of Book Lust. At least I don't have to work too hard to explain myself.
For some time I had wondered why I hadn't seen recent issues of "Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government," which ALA began publishing in 1981. I found out today that it ceased publication in 1998, when its author Anne Heanue, retired from the ALA Washington Office. Fellow ALA Councilor Bernadine Abbott Hoduski noted, "It is sorely missed."
(As I commented on the Council list, it would be good to update the reference to it on the ALA "Fact Sheet," "Your Right to Know.")
Jessamyn West lists a number of good Web resources on librarian.net.
AIDS inspired one of my first real-time, patron-in-front-of-the-desk Internet searches for reference, in 1993, when I worked at the science/business/government desk at Newark (NJ) Public Library. A man walked up to the desk and announced, "I've been diagnosed with AIDS." I walked to our reference shelves, and was horrified to see that our books on the topic were seriously outdated. (But we had twelve reference books about cats.)
We had one phone line at the reference desk, with several extensions throughout the reference area. That meant when I needed to use the Internet (and at that point most librarians could not fathom anyone "needing" to use the Internet to begin with), I had to holler "on the Internet!" and then during the search pop my head up like a prairie dog to guard the phone line from that tell-tale hiss and crackle that meant someone had picked up the phone and broken my connection. (Yes, we did have a computer, a dusty old Compaq placed there for catalog access and the occasional Dialog search.)
Several moments from that reference experience stand out for me to this day. I remember finding dazzling quantities of current, high-quality information from government sources. I remember the patron's surprise and amusement at my unorthodox reference methods. Most of all, I remember the sense that the patron needed me to minister to him even more than he needed the information; no matter how it is done--with a book or a computer, in person or across the Web, reference service, like any good public service, is its own sacrament.