Monday, December 28, 2009

End of year thoughts

In another forum, I was asked:

You have a less "books=sacred objects" view than many of the people we know in common. Would you say your view is common among librarians of tour acquaintance, or are you an outlier there (too)? Have you always felt that way about books or did you come to it along the way?

Excellent question. To be clear, I believe that individual books can be sacred objects - important/rare editions, religious texts, original manuscripts, individual inscriptions, etc. - but that the format of any physical manifestation of ideas isn't sacred in and of itself. Books are ultimately just collections of glue and paper and cloth; it's the concepts they hold or the meaning we imbue them with that can make them sacred.

In particular, I believe that everyday books are meant to be engaged with, interacted with and responded to. For someone who's a tactile and kinetic learner, this means that I have to write out my thoughts and responses for that engagement to happen; the most convenient, immediate and relevant place to do that is in the text itself. I write in books all the time, and prefer to own the books that really speak to me so I can do so without guilt. I've always worked this way, back into middle school; in college, I preferred to buy the most written-in, highlighted books I could find to continue the conversation the previous owner(s) had started. Marginalia fascinates me, and its place in history is vital. Writing in library books does have historical precedent, too, but I'm less okay with that due a strong "if it doesn't belong to you, you don't get to permanently change it" ethic.

Amongst librarians, there are far more folks in the "books are just paper" camp than you'd think. I'm certainly not an outlier there. Not everyone is as enthusiastic about it as I am, but most of us have to recognize that fact for the very practical reason that we cannot house all of the books in the world forever. Libraries are not warehouses and not all libraries are even archives or research collections. Each individual title that comes onto our shelves gets chosen for its relevance and usefulness to our patrons. Periodically, we review the evidence of that continued relevance and usefulness - number of total check-outs, most recent check-out, date of publication, wear and tear - and when it's become obvious that something's no longer useful, it needs to go, to make room for something that is. Even archivists don't keep everything (ask my friend at the Congregational Library Archive); librarians of all stripes use their best judgment to determine what stays and what goes as a collection changes over time.

When librarians choose to get rid of an item, we do try and see if it can be useful to someone else somewhere, either by relocating the item to another location or by selling it. Then, when it's falling apart beyond repair, or when mold or bugs or water or scratches have damaged it beyond use, the item gets recycled or trashed. Like any other object in our lives, books and DVDs and CDs can carry more negative weight than positive weight; when that happens, it's time for them to go in the most environmentally sound way possible.

All that said, it's occasionally fun for me to watch patrons squirm when I suggest that the paperbacks they've carefully stored in a New England fieldstone basement for the past 30 years are best off destined for the recycling box or trash barrel. Sure, some collector somewhere might want them and they might have some historical value....but they could also give everyone who touches them an upper respiratory illness or contact dermititis. People are more important than books, always. Not necessarily ideas (V for Vendetta and Farenheit 451), but always more important than the physical paper object.


After writing all this, I found a deeply practical (if occasionally defensive) article on What Books You Could Live Without in the NY Times. Read through it all, and the comments below, for some specific criteria in what might stay and what might go as you weed your own collections.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Who Am I Online? Part I at CMRLS

Here's the presentation link for tomorrow's workshop at the Central Massachusetts Regional Library System: "Who Am I Online? Part I: Creating a Consistent Personal or Institutional Identity."

I was very happy to note that all of my examples had either stayed precisely the same or improved (as examples good or ill) for my purposes. I'm happy to update a presentation with current information, but these were particularly good illustrations of my points.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Last of the Presentation Posts for a while

It's been a heck of a spring, with road trips and lots going on back in Boston. For now, however, the presentation season is over.

Tomorrow, I'll be running the Reaching Patrons: Online Outreach for Libraries workshop for the Boston Region. Presentation notes can be found here. Unfortunately, the slideshow is too big a file to upload to Google Docs, but I'll tweak it a little bit and post the link here soon.

On that note, given the increasing upsurge in demands on my time, I'm considering the future of this blog very carefully. Updating only once every other month is just Not Working, but there just hasn't been time for more. I haven't decided to retire Eclectic Library or put it on formal hiatus quite yet, but it's a possibility.

But now, it's very early in the morning and I've got a presentation to give in a few hours. G'night!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Taming the Infoclutter at CTLA!

Tomorrow's road trip (or, more precisely, train trip) is to fair New Haven, CT to speak at the Connecticut Library Association's annual conference. This is my first invited speaking engagement (based on my Cybertour back at Internet Librarian 2007) and though it's an old familiar topic, I'm nervous.

I'm also a vain creature who's found a natural home in the spotlight, so I'm sure I'll be fine.

All of which is to preface the notes for the presentation:

Taming the Online Infoclutter: Using RSS to Keep Current and Manage Overload


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Who Am I Online? Part I

Tomorrow, I'm leading a new workshop on online identities at the Boston Region. Your presentation links du jour:

Who Am I Online? Part I: Creating a Consistent Personal or Institutional Identity

(and some additional examples)

Who Am I Online? Part II: Using Personal Start Pages and Other Digital Identity Tools (first given March 25, 2009)

And now, time to make sure there's a well-rested trainer presenting tomorrow.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A small moment of Awesome

As a trainer and semi-evangelist for social computing (aka, 2.0), I'm often called to justify why it's important that library staff are familiar with and understand how this "2.0 stuff" works. Here's another example for the case file.

I'm the new Acting Head of my branch, and I just got a phone call from someone at the Massachusetts Rehab Commission. Apparently, for the past few weeks, if you searched on Google for the Allston Branch of the BPL, you got our listing...with the MRC's phone number. Our number is there too, but theirs is first and they've been getting a lot of calls for us. She asked me if I was the person who 'subscribed' to Google's business listings for us. heh

I asked her to walk me through the process, and I saw where the listing had gone wrong. I also saw that magic Edit button. A little bit of conversation revealed that the MRC had done a program here recently, and they'd put out a flyer with our address and their phone number. Some helpful participant had gone back and edited the Google entry for our branch with that "new" number. heh, again

Fortunately, what was done can be re-done, and I quickly edited the results myself and removed the number. It might take some time for Google's cache to clear, but most of the immediate onslaught of calls should stop. I asked the very relieved MRC admin to call me back if the issue persisted.

If I didn't know that anyone can edit those Google information boxes, I wouldn't have known what to do.

If I wasn't familiar with the tools and tricks of Google, I wouldn't have known what to do.

Certainly, if I wasn't familiar with the concepts and processes of how the internet works nowadays, I wouldn't have known what to do.

This is why it's important for library staff of all stripes to learn about this stuff. It's why I present lectures and teach workshops and 'coach' courses on social computing. So that when these questions come up, we know how to approach the problem and actually resolve it...not just throw up our hands in frustration and hope for the best.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Computers in Libraries...Day One-ish

In the midst of a spring full of travel, here I am in Crystal City, VA at Computers In Libraries. For budget reasons, I'm only officially attending the conference tomorrow, but I did manage to catch the last panel in the Collections, Communities & Collaboration track today. No online notes, as I left the laptop back in my hotel room, but an excellent presentation on Continuing Online Community Engagement.

After a sneak attack on the Exhibitor's Hall and a signed copy of David Lee King's new User Experience book, I headed out to Harar Mesob -- "The only Ethiopian restaurant in Crystal City" -- with a group of intrepid gourmands. A extremely tasty meal, and I made an impression on the server by asking her for a preparation of ayib that she'd never heard of.

A quick side trip to a cafe/gelateria on the way back to the hotel, and I've spent the rest of the evening drinking a latte and finishing off a mint chip gelato while catching up on some much-neglected social networking.

Tomorrow I'll spend most of my day in the Social Software: 2.0 Tools, Tricks & Tales track before jetting my way back to Boston tomorrow night. Zoom zoom zoom....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Who Am I Online? Part II

A quick post with the presentation link for

Who Am I Online? Part II: Personal Start Pages and Other Digital Identity Tools

presented today at the Boston Regional Library System.