It’s Trend Time Again

With my mind distracted by a new job, I feel my trends are a bit watery. However, a few readers have vastly improved what I will bring to the table, and I encourage you to keep putting lipstick on my piglet.

The one trend of mine I would underscore is the fledgling emergence of the open-source ILS, which is part of an interesting emergent trend of OSS for libraries–at last.

Most of us are aware that open source software is more like “free kittens” than “free beer.” It still needs to be maintained and updated, and I grit my teeth whenever a substandard, time-sink OSS product is explained away by someone saying, “But it’s free.” My time isn’t free, and my users’ time isn’t free, either.

But an open-source ILS has the potential of being the Apache of library software: the common-sense choice, maintained by a vast community.

In fact, thinking about Sarah’s post, I can see a world where the remaining ILS products are OCLC (for libraries that do not have the resources or need to maintain software) and an open-source ILS for nearly everyone else.

Program: Next Stop Blogging

Despite the crowded Monday 10:30 a.m. time slot, this program was packed to the gills, with over 160 in attendance and many more possible attendees who wandered up and then away as they saw how full the room was. My notes are spotty as I ran out of the room a couple of times for extra forms and for AV support (the microphone was squealing mightily).

The presenters were Jason Griffey, Karen Coombs, and Steven Bell. Jason talked about BIGWIG’s selection process for the blogging software we ultimately ended up with, Karen talked about useful add-ons, and Steven provided the “marketing and strategies” angles.

Jason began by explaining the major differences between hosted and installed software, pointing out that LITA selected the installation route because we’re LITA and we wanted the geekier approach, but that an organization’s “technology comfort zone” might point to another solution. He emphasized the need to figure out your requirements in advance. LITA’s needs included support for multiple contributors (including workflow), low purchase price, easy administration, compliance with Web standards, and a good development base. For LITA’s needs, that clearly pointed to WordPress.

Some other factors to consider include how well the blog handles images, audio, and video; and whether the blog’s URL is branded appropriately–in other words, if your library’s URL is http://realgoodlibrary.org, you may not want a blog URL that is http://blogsoftware.com/whatever.

Karen Coombs demonstrated how to prettify and extend an RSS feed with Feedburner, which at minimum can replace that ugly XML page with a humanly-readable page; how to install a Creative Commons license; adding tagging functionality; and tweaking stylesheets. The tagging example used the XYZ plugin. [Note: Movable Type also has a separate tagging plugin that reportedly works better than the MT keywords for tagging.]

Steven Bell began by saying that the library needed to decide “why we are doing this activity” and why that particular blog is compelling, particularly in a field crowded with thousands of blogs. He observed that library blogs are “all over the place in terms of content.” Steven underscored that the blog “needs to be where the users are,” reporting that a survey his library conducted revealed that only 5% of their student body would voluntarily subscribe to a library blog–and that led to Gutman Library integrating its RSS feed into his university’s courseware. His handout, below, provides tips for going that route; coordination is important. In the end, they found that only 15% of the students surveyed had taken action based on the library feed–but exposure and awareness was important, and as one person said later in the Q and A, 15% would be huge for direct mail.

During Q and A, one attendee pointed to Ann Arbor District Library as an example of innovation with blogging and RSS. Take a look and see for yourself!

Handouts and links…

Karen Coombs:

http://www.librarywebchic.net/presentations/ala2006/enhance_blog.swf
http://
www.librarywebchic.net/wordpress/2006/06/22/enhancing-and-extending-
your-weblog/

Jason Griffey:

http://www.jasongriffey.net/talks/litablog/

Steven Bell:

http://litablog.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/07/libraryblogpresenthandout.pdf

The ALA Cone of Confusion

This is the part of the conference where someone usually says, “Well… not too many posts yet on the LITA blog, ay?” And I usually mumble something like “soon you’ll see more,” and then the posts do indeed show up.

My own reality is that within hours of arriving at ALA I am flying over the cone of confusion, rapidly losing radio contact with the tower. I am in the event… and trying to encounter it. Even if I thought I could blog and run, most of the time I can’t. As Michelle Boule noted, outside of the convention center and in the hotels where we do most of our programs, the free wifi mesh network drops off and our laptops become 4-pound notepads. So I try to translate what I’m hearing into near-real-time coverage, the talk ends, I gather up my stuff and go to the next event, with just enough time to squeeze into a chair near the door in case I need to leave, and soon my laptop is filled with Word documents with cryptic notes such as (all dialog guaranteed verbatim):

Speaker–good
Library = Books
How judge information?
Green letters hard to read

So that’s my summary of the LITA President’s Program–or rather a commentary on the limitations of the overtaxed conventioneer’s brain at mid-afternoon: green letters hard to read.

I was halfway through the program, scribbling away on my laptop, when I realized that I was basically hearing a mashup of the last four big OCLC reports. If you didn’t read these reports–Perceptions, Environmental Scan, etc.–the talk would have been very enlightening; if you had read the reports, the presentation was a useful reminder of key findings. What I found most enlightening, however, was that it took me thirty minutes to realize I was jotting down concepts I was already quite familiar with. Still, Cathy DeRosa is always a pleasure, it was a chance to sit near some of my buddies, and the hour was worth the reminder that yes, green letters are hard to read.

Speaking of reading, aside from seeing my friends–the real reason I go to ALA–I also escaped to a reading by Chris Rose, a Times-Picayune reporter whose vivid, honest post-Katrina essays have been gathered in a small book, “1 Dead in Attic.” He was dynamic, funny, and magnetic, and the crowd shouted and hooted for two hours as Rose read from his book against a photomontage backdrop of photographs of Katrina and the wrath she unleashed. I think I was the only tourist in the crowd, which filed into the room with electric energy, settled into a stunned silence as the photos began flickering on the screen, and then exploded at the first refrigerator joke (just say “refrigerator” to a local and you’ll hear a long yarn worth the telling). All through the reading the woman next to me kept yelling, “Get on now!” while the man to my left, who had earlier settled in his seat with the grim look of a husband forcibly dragged to a Sunday afternoon event, tilted his head back and laughed and laughed.

At the beginning of the reading I chatted a bit with the women to my right. When they found out I was a librarian, they began asking me questions. Turns out that they don’t usually attend readings. Would the author read from his book, or ad lib? Would he introduce new material? If they had read the book, would they be bored? Indeed, for these two women Library = Book, and furthermore, librarians = trustworthy. Even after they learned I didn’t work in a traditional library (they politely nodded when I described my job, but I could tell they were baffled), they continued to press me with book-related questions. I didn’t tell them that my knowledge about literary events comes largely from my non-librarian creative writing life. When I mentioned I had bought three copies of Rose’s book, one woman said knowingly, with a warm smile, “Of course you did.” As in, you’re a librarian–you buy lots of books!

We in librarianship have many challenges ahead of us, but as we RSSify and 2.0 and blog and wikify and federate our information and un-suck the OPAC, I hope we do not lose touch with the genuine magic of reading, and I equally hope we continue to leverage the very generous levels of trust the public has with us as an institution to go to bat for principles hardly any other profession carries as core values: privacy, the right to read, the right to access to information. We have such a preciously narrow window of opportunity, and if we can’t translate librarianship into a service for this century and the many changes it will hold, we will have lost something very important.

My Trends… I know I put them somewhere

I did a rather belated, cryptic post on my personal blog, Free Range Librarian, but though it refers to something Eric brought up–a certain welcome restlessness with the state of “library automation,” to use an icky phrase, or an acknowledgement that the OPAC sucks, to be more direct–it doesn’t quite snap to the grid of what I’m trying to get across.

I’d quote from Buffalo Springfield–“Something’s happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear”–except whenever I get to the part where “there’s a man with a gun over there,” my practical librarian mind kicks in and begins worrying about guns in libraries, evacuating the premises, ducking for cover, etc.

So let me force myself to disgorge a few more random blips that might begin to frame some of my discussion this Sunday.

* An intentionally naive observation: the Web continues to increase in importance for people’s lives. (Alternatively, I think I can finally, irrevocably refute the librarian in the late 1990s who said he was just waiting for this Internet thing to blow over.) Following a small discussion list, I observed many librarians in the post-Katrina diaspora talk about using the Web to find one another, file FEMA applications, observe and analyse their environments, locate jobs, etc. Access to the Web is a life assumption. This may not seem like such a trend over a short period, but think back to 1996 and if you can, 1986.

* Another naive statement: social software environments are becoming places where people–a lot of them–hang out, and not just teen geeks. Places such as Second Life have hundreds of thousands of users. There’s even activity afoot to establish a Second Life Library. Flickr is another place where people hang out with a huge community of people with whom they have loose and strong ties. A cousin recently established a Google list for what used to be a paper letter chain; soon our entire clan was exchanging Flickr account information and swapping pet pictures. This, though most of my family members are very non-technical.

* Most new social software environments are born with social engagement features built-in, such as tagging, sharing, and the ability to create affinity groups, even the ability to refine affinity groups (family/friend/contact). Someone commented today that LibraryThing is a far more appealing environment than RefWorks. I use both, and I agree. LibraryThing is easy, friendly, and socially engaging. However more precise RefWorks may be (and there is no CitationThing alternative for organizing links to articles), the gulf between the two products to me feels exactly like the gulf between your typical library catalog and any currently popular social software.

* Attitudes toward privacy continue to soften. People seem willing to hand over a lot of personal information in order to use a service. On the other hand, some of the recent en masse thefts, such as the scandal with veteran’s data, point up how vulnerable we are becoming. For libraries that are offering online payment: how secure is your patron data?

* Recently the public intellectual/academic Juan Cole didn’t get a new job. Who cares, I hear you thinking. What is significant is that many people were shocked that his popular blog, Informed Comment, was apparently held in low esteem by the committee evaluating him for this new position. Quite a few people argued that his blog should have been weighed heavily–and favorably–in determining his fitness for this new position. This is not just an observation about blogging; it’s an observation about academia repositioning itself for public engagement through social software.

* People keep tinkering with the ebook concept; it reminds me of watching the early days of flight. Watch for Sophie, an ebook initiative from the uber-groovy Institute for the Future of the Book. Sophie 1.0 is due to be delivered at the end of August. Rather than literally translating the book to the screen, Sophie will offer engagement for the reader, so that the book is more of a conversation. If it works, Sophie could help usher in a new genre–something, like a heresy trial, that only happens every few hundred years. That’s fun! If it doesn’t work, I’ll still keep my eye on the Wright Brothers as they tinker in their shed.

* Speaking of brothers, one irritating trend is that so many of the digital pundits continue to be male. I’m not pointing fingers; I’m describing a concern about a trend that is hardly new. How we get more women to visibly engage in these debates, to be the faces on the panels, to be the voices in the aggregator–to be shameless hussies, as I’ve said in other contexts–is something that needs frank, and probably ongoing discussion in our profession.

Flickr with LITA!

Ladies and gentlemen, charge your camera phones!

Any erstwhile bloggers, LITA Exec/Board types, sundry LITA members, or staff who would like to post to LITA’s Flickr account, give me or Michelle Boule a holler. We have a special email address you can use for posting (good for cameraphones), or you can send pix to the group, below.

The Flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pix4lita/

Consider adding it as a contact…

The group: http://www.flickr.com/groups/litapix/

Consider joining the group…

Someone on another list raised the question of Flickr’s privacy policy. Is this an issue? Should we discuss it here and/or at ALA?

If you are a Flickr-a-go-go type, the Flickr account could use some prinking–a graphic, etc.–and we would love it if you gave the Flickr account some TLC!

Big Thanks to BIGWIG Machers

Michelle Boule, LITA Blog Scheduling Maven, has again done a great job (and keep those Midwinter posts coming fast and furious, folks!). We had dozens of high-quality posts which serve as info-tainment for current LITA-lubbers, lure for LITA wannabes and maybes, and a convenient archive for ensuring that usefully incriminating evidence such as past guesswork of the Top Tech Trendsters can be exhumed and chuckled over for decades to come. I also feel I know more about LITA IGs and committees from the voices on this blog.

I heard a passing comment at Midwinter that made me realize that some of the LITArati may not know how many people have been involved in the founding and ongoing work on maintaining the blog. Quite a bit has gone on behind the scenes–and will continue to do so, as this is no mere hosted blog, oh no, but a living, breathing, open-source, Creative-Commons-licensed way-tweaked-out WordPress installation!

I do this fearfully, aware in compiling this list we may have forgotten someone, but this blog could not have gotten off its feet without the development, design work, and/or theoretical input from Kevin Clarke, Genny Engel, Jason Griffey, Sarah Houghton, and Blake Carver. Kevin and Jason have been wonderful about updates and extensions to our blog, and as needed, they discuss and quickly implement improvements and updates. Aaron Dobbs, Ranti Junus, and Louise Ratcliffe are just three of the people who contributed heavily in the early discussions about products, licensing, and content organization. This blog is a real LITA baby!

Karen Coombs has advised us she’d like to get more hands-on with the blog, and we welcome that participation. I think we’ll see the roster of participants turn over again and again, but it’s great to witness the enthusiasm and ongoing engagement of those involved since its creation.

— Karen G. Schneider, on behalf of kgs and Clara Ruttenberg, BIGWIG Co-Chairs

Web Advisory Committee, the Dues Increase, and TANSTAAFL

Michelle Frisque, ALA WAC chair, will no doubt have far more fulsome coverage of this meeting later on, but as a WAC member, I wanted to share that we said our piece to Jim Rettig, ALA Executive Board member and WAC liasion, regarding the importance of ensuring that the ALA dues increase would support ALA’s technology infrastructure, and Jim strongly underscored that funding IT for ALA was indeed a priority. I buttonholed Keith Fiels on the same topic after our ALA-APA Council meeting this morning, and Keith pointed out that 25% of the strategic plan is technology-related.

The real question boils down to whether ALA members can give up three lattes next year to help ALA catch up after a decade of no dues increases. Many of us have informally voiced our concern that ALA needs to make a strong case for what we won’t be able to afford if the dues increase is defeated. ALA has trimmed and cut and scraped away at its structure to the point where there ain’t nowhere else to cut. Other revenue streams–primarily publications and conferences–have become increasingly slender as other costs rise, and as we know from Toronto (and New Orleans may remind us again) that some of the things that can compromise our revenue stream are unknown, unpredictable, and out of our control.

LITA Board has gone on record as stating that it the dues increase should happen at once, not be phased in, and I wish we had made that point much earlier, because phasing in the dues may not be good for divisions. But that’s not on the table (the official answer, when I asked why the dues increase was being phased in, was literally “That’s the way we did it last time”). What IS on the table is a too-small, phased-in increase that if it’s turned down will have bad repercussions for ALA.

I hope someone at 50 East Huron spells out just what will–or more accurately, won’t–happen if the members don’t support the dues increase. In the meantime, ask yourself where you’d be if your organization had been flat-funded for a decade.