Thursday, December 31, 2009

Abe Books Weird Book Room

And now for something completely different: the weird book room at Abe Brooks.

Included on the page age books about:

  • Jewish chess masters on stamps
  • 50 sad chairs
  • Farting proudly
  • Whether or not Karl Marx was a Satanist
  • Bowling better through self-hypnosis
  • How to survive a robot uprising

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More E-Books Than Print Books Sold On Christmas Day

Amazon claims that for the first time ever they sold more e-books than print books this Christmas Day, but they aren't sharing specific numbers. Interesting.

The absence of hard stats makes me think Amazon only sold more digital content than print with a bit of number fudging. Regardless of whether that's true, we can take the basic fact that Amazon sold a whole lot of e-content this Christmas, more than before, now that the Kindle is more available. Not to me, though! I just ordered a bunch of good old-fashioned print books with some Christmas cash.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Library Flash Mobs, Part Deux

Remember library flash mobs, the groups of students who go into libraries to have a party? Still a cool idea, but mind the pepper spray. Ouch.

Monday, December 28, 2009

All the Lovely Libraries

Seeing this collection of photographs from beautiful libraries makes me want to plan some sort of library-themed trip. Oh well!

Sunday, December 27, 2009


While the article is formatted horribly, a Vancouver librarian offers some Sherlock Holmes trivia for those interested in the movie. From what I understand, some 'purists' don't much like the looks of the movie. Having seen it, what I understand of their problems are unfounded. Hooray! So go out and enjoy it.

Some fun facts about Sherlock Holmes:
  • He played the violin (in the movie)
  • He came back from the dead (not in the movie)
  • He could be a little misogynistic (not in the movie)
  • He had a cocaine problem (not in the movie)
It makes me wonder which current books will achieve this level of popularity - numerous authors borrowing the characters, several movies filmed. It seems doubtful the Harry Potter books will have quite the same longevity and nigh impossible for the Twilight books. At least I hope the Twilight books never get retread, anyway.

In any case, the movie is good fun - even if you don't particularly think it's loyal to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

E-Reader Comparison

Jenn Northington will be writing articles for Shelf-Awareness about her e-reader experiences. In this article, she compares various e-readers via the hands-on approach.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book Theft

According to a New York Times article, book stores are experiencing more thefts during this period of recession. The Bible is a pretty popular steal, even at a Christian book store where anyone who asks will be given a copy free of charge. Supposedly, books by male authors are also targets. Anything recommended by staff is a goner. There's even an author out there somewhere in Denver who steals copies of his own books.

Monday, December 21, 2009

White Horse, Gold Dragon

The book White Horse, Yellow Dragon, an account of discrimination against Vietnamese living in the Czech Republic, was not actually written by a nineteen year old girl named Pham Thi Lan but a Czech guy named Jan Cempirek. The book was lauded in the Vietnamese community, though it has lost a little popularity with the lie exposted. A businesswoman in Kladno said,

If the author is a Vietnamese, it is of course a matter of pride for the community of Vietnamese here. But if the author is a native Czech, I still love him because he dared to reflect the society and partly defend Vietnamese people.

Sounds about right. A disappointment, but still a valuable book.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

LISNews: Ten Stories That Shaped 2009

LISNews has helpfully posted a list of their Ten Stories That Shaped 2009. The ten stories cover censorship (like the whole League of Extraordinary Gentlemen saga), e-books and Orwell, the decline of newspapers, Wikipedia, video games in libraries, the death of anti-censorship advocate Judith Krug, good ol' bookless Cushing, the Google Books settlement, Twilight's New Moon mania, and the economy and libraries. In the span of three months, Megducation has covered at least half these topics. That's pretty good for such a recent project. Now if only anyone read this!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mister Splashy Pants For the Win

This is a TED talk from one of the guys who created Reddit about how social media online can be very cool... as long as you're okay with the possibility of losing control.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Paper Is Here to Stay... But Different

Ficbot from TeleRead predicts which media types will move to e-format and which will stick to paper. Two items Ficbot thinks will remain in print are children's books and cookbooks. Agreed. My six month old niece, for example, likes to gum books as she's being read to. That wouldn't work so well with an e-reader. Nor would cooking be suited to smaller screens; it is very much a visual media. People want to see the whole page when they cook.

As for the rest of it - newspapers, magazines, textbooks, manuals, mass-market fiction... Again, I'm seeing the divide between people with computers e-readers and people without computers or e-readers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Library Video Game Collections

Here is a cool little article about video game collections and libraries. Video games are becoming more common in libraries, which I admit is a little puzzling at first but seems like a better idea with further thought. I'd rather a kid was in the library playing a video game than drinking or doing drugs. Which kids have always done, but it seems they've started doing earlier and earlier. They're definitely cheaper than arcades.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Container Neutral

Another piece on all-digital libraries, this one falling on the side of 'not quite yet'. A short article by Jennifer Howard, I felt the last paragraph summed up my feelings regarding e-books:

The conversations Ms. Spiro and Ms. Henry had with librarians also revealed how the culture of librarianship is evolving. They found evidence of a "container-neutral approach," in which it doesn't really matter how information is packaged, as long as it can easily be found by or delivered to users. There's less emphasis on "just-in-case collections," which keep copies of everything, and more on "just-in-time collections" that keep up with user demand... "Ultimately what matters is the service that's provided," Ms. Henry said.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Libraries are for Losers

A gentleman in New Jersey took advantage of his library's amnesty period to return an overdue book he took out... in 1955. The $1,750 dollar fine is waived. Lucky for him! It was an ancient-looking Spanish/English dictionary that, from the looks of it, might get weeded from the collection anyway. So that's interesting, but the part that really got my attention were the comments.

While it seems to be removed now, one commenter posted that libraries are 'for losers'. Just download books to read on your iPhone, okay! I liked some of the replies.

  • Libraries are for students and serious readers. Exactly how many complete novels have you read on your iPhone? That's what I thought.
  • First, in 1955 when the book was taken out, he [couldn't] use his iPhone, you dolt. Second, to say libraries are for "losers" epitomizes culture. Losers beat up their girlfriends like Chris Brown. Losers deify thuggery the way pop culture has. Losers sit on blog boards and get down on libraries. Jerk. How many of those books have you read on your iPhone? Bet you can't name a single one.
I declare the winner to be
  • I dropped my iPhone back in 1972! Its was my invention from a parallel universe. That damn Steve Jobs stole my ideas >:( I'd go back and fix it but I'm out of enriched plutonium. :/

Monday, December 14, 2009

Another Lady Saves Us All From Filthy Library Books

Can a man please pull something like this sometime soon? A judge in Lewiston, Maine, has ordered a woman to return two library books or go to jail. This woman at least sent cheques to cover the costs of the books she is not returning, which I guess is somehow better.

Why is it up to the ladies to protect us from pornographic sex-ed books and The Black Dossier? I'm starting to be concerned about the lack of men in the library. Where are the self-righteous grandpas?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Who Has the Rights to Old Books?

More continuing e-book drama! William Styron's family believes they own the rights to his books since they were first published before e-books existed. Random House, Styron's publisher, disagrees and intends to get some more cash off those e-books.

Is this being handled like a regular copyright? If a book goes out of print, does the owner of copyright change? Is Random House being legitimate here? My gut feeling says no.

And now, because I have an exam on Tuesday, here is a list of who can hold copyright:
  • the creator
  • the employer
  • the commissioner
  • someone else the rights have been transferred to
And here are some things that are not protected by copyright:
  • slogans
  • themes
  • ideas
  • names
In Canada, copyright generally expires after 50 years. The copyright offices are located in the Library of Congress.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Words?

While the concept of 60 Second Science podcasts sounds neat, I wish there was maybe a longer version that explains things more thoroughly. While this item about a metaphorical 'fingerprint' of an author using 'new words' sounds interesting, they neglect to mention what constitutes a new word. A word they haven't used yet, a word that's only just come into common usage by the public, a word they made up themselves?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Library Flash Mobs

Courtesy of another student in my class, some libraries at academic institutions have been the surprise hosts of dance parties. Students show up and dance. One place had a 'silent dance', where people listened to the music through headphones started at a certain time. That just sounds cool. I can't help but feel bad for the people trying to use the library for library things during the impromptu parties, but I still think it's interesting. Beyond that:

Edwins found the students' antics amusing, though also recognized that stress-relief strategies can play in important role during finals time. She said library staffers felt strongly that it was important to offer additional services to students during the period leading up to exams. The library has developed stress-relief programs, serving cocoa, bagels, and even sponsoring study-break massage sessions.

Massage sessions? Really? Wow.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

F#@K Yeah!

A librarian decided to get some swearing in as part of a lesson in the First Amendment curriculum. He (she?) apparently taught the kids about more than a dozen curse words. (I liked the note by the LISNews editor on the article - 'I bet the kids could have taught her a few more.') I'm with the LISNews editor on this one. Those kids already knew those words, and they got treated to a lesson they'll remember for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


So maybe 'RoboLibrary' is an exaggeration, but a library in West Yorkshire has a whole lot of automated machinery. It cost about 26 million pounds, which compares to about 45 million Canadian dollars. Ouch. On the other hand, it's good for old periodicals like newspapers. Those things are very heavy and hard on librarians, who often have problems with injuries caused by repetitive motions. Is that worth 45 million, though? It's not like they'll be building eighteen more like it, so maybe. In any case, all those robotics are pretty cool. (Link stolen from last night's class.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

12 Books to Get a Teen Started on Journaling

Stolen directly from the bibliography of a class assignment, here are twelve journal books a kid 14-16 might find interesting.

  • Alexie, Sherman - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • Cabot, Meg - The Princess Diaries
  • Filipovic, Zlata - Zlata's Diary
  • Flinn, Alex - Breathing Underwater
  • Frank, Anne - The Diary of a Young Girl
  • Juby, Susan - Alice, I Think
  • Pfeffer, Susan Beth - Life as We Knew It
  • Rennison, Louise - Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging
  • Runyon, Brent - The Burn Journals
  • Stewart, Sean, and Jordan Weisman - Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233
  • Stoker, Bram, and Maurice Hindle - Dracula
  • Townsend, Sue - Adrian Mole, From Minor to Major

Monday, December 7, 2009

Comic Book Artists Illustrate Sci-Fi Legends

Stolen directly from Wired News, Comic Book Artists Illustrate Sci-Fi Legends, an article about a website called Hey Oscar Wilde! It's Clobberin' Time!!. The illustrations are fun to look at and also educational. Look! Famous sci-fi writers! Though I'm a little unsure about the inclusion of Neil Gaiman, whom I'd identify with fantasy over sci-fi. I like him! I just don't think he's all that suitable for the list.

Then again, he did write the last Batman story... Bless you, Internet. I didn't even know about that one 'til I checked out the related links in that first story.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Google Search Customization Sans Logins

Minus ten points for me, I didn't even realize Google personalized the search results of people logged into their site. Now they're doing it for people who aren't even logged in via cookies. This has some people concerned, as using Google without being logged in was sort of a way to avoid Google's data collection.

According to the article, you can turn this feature off. I'm not sure if I will or I won't. For one thing, I have multiple accounts. I don't run my main email through the megducation address. Otherwise, I wonder if the same problem I have with Amazon's recommendations will come up. The recommendations are all well and good and sometimes useful, but should I happen to buy a book to send to my friend who likes vampires, I'm getting a lot of vampire-related book suggestions I really don't want.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Danish DVD Ripper

From Boing Boing: 'In Denmark, it's legal to make copies of commercial videos for backup or other private purposes. It's also illegal to break the DRM that restricts copying of DVDs. Deciding to find out which law mattered, Henrik Anderson reported himself for 100 violations of the DRM-breaking law (he ripped his DVD collection to his computer) and demanded that the Danish anti-piracy Antipiratgruppen do something about.'

Friday, December 4, 2009

More Library Porn

Now there's a woman in Pataskala, Ohio, wants a sex book banned from the public library. At first she wanted it moved out ot the eyesight of kids, but on further thought decided it shouldn't be in the library at all. Shades of The League of Extraordinary Porn! And just like Sharon Cook in Nicholasville, Kentucky, Marti Shrigley is keeping the book checked out and paying the fines. (Maybe they should find an eleven year old girl to put a request for the book on hold.) And here we go again:

Currently, parents or legal guardians must sign permission statements on card applications submitted by minors.

Other libraries follow similar policies, and Nojonen said libraries find themselves caught in a Catch-22 because what one parent objects to, another parent might not object to.

"Parental responsibility is the foundation of what does and what does not get borrowed," he said.

This is not a difficult concept.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Old Books

Some bits of conversations from the owner of a rare book store.

Hello. I have some old books for sale.
What kind of books?
Old ones.
OK. What subject areas?
Where does it say that?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Going West

I first saw this on Boing Boing and then again on LIS News. So! Excellent marketing from the New Zealand Book Council: Maurice Gee reading a bit from his book 'Going West' with a stunning papercraft video.

The Value of Library Services

Courtesy of a gentleman in my class, here is the Brockville Library's Value of Library Services Calculator. Just type in the amount of DVDs, books, CDs, or other items you've checked out and you will get a total for how much those items would be worth if you bought them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Andrew Carnegie

Courtesy of my Uncle John's Bathroom Reader calendar:

A 21-Flush Salute to Andrew Carnegie, Born On This Day in 1835

One of the 19th century's leading industrialists and richest men, by 1901 Carnegie's holdings in telegraphy, railroads, and steel manufacturing had earned him more thatn $250 million. Two years earlier he had written "The Gospel of Wealth", an essay stating his conclusion that the rich should live modestly and distribute their wealth to benefit the common people. True to his own belief, Carnegie devoted the rest of his life - and income - to building libraries. He put out the word that any town in any English-speaking country could request a grant for a free library. The criteria were minimal: a demonstrated need for a library, an agreement to pay the library's annual upkeep, and a vacant lot. Carnegie provided the money for raw materials, design plans, and a building crew. The first in America: Braddock, Pennsylvania, the location of one of Carnegie's biggest steel mills. By the time Carnegie died in 1919, he'd funded more than 2,500 libraries.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Article About Information Pollution That's Not Annoying

I never thought I'd see the day there was an article about 'information overload' I didn't find either condescending or arm-flapping woe-is-me, but here it is. Dustin Wax points out some common marketing strategies and offers suggestions regarding filtering your information. I was particularly interested in his theory about dumb parents in television:

Watch a kids TV show recently? Watch a few? You might have noticed a trend — dumb parents. Uncool, hapless, clumsy, dorky, way-out-there dumb parents. Remember the parents of yore? The Bradies, the Cleavers, even the Wah-Wah-Wahing parents of the Charlie Brown universe? They were pretty with it — voices of sanity and authority in an adult world kids struggled to grasp. Not any more — today’s TV parents are hopeless.

Why? Because that’s what media producers’ customers want. Not the kids — viewers aren’t customers, they’re product. You don’t buy Jimmy Neutron. The advertisers whose spots fill the commercial breaks during Jimmy Neutron buy you — the cartoon is just a way to get enough of you watching to make it worth the advertisers’ buck. Well, not you — your kids. You’re just a wallet with legs — what they really want is to show your kids really cool stuff that they’ll get you to buy. And of course, you’re going to say “No”. That’s where the show’s content comes in — your kids have just spent 4 hours learning that parents are uncool idiots who say “No” to all the coolest stuff.

Very true. My personal advertising bugaboo is dumb guys. Those bumbling fools, always needing a woman to save the day. I can say this is annoying; I'm a woman myself and I'm tired of men being presented as idiots. If it's insulting if I swap the genders, it's not good.

A History of the Internet in a Nutshell

A very educational article about the history of the internet. I only came into the picture in around '94. I could've sworn Hotmail was around before '96, but I suppose I could be wrong. I do remember only having a freenet address. All text bulletin boards and IRC chat. Fun times.

Judging a Book's Cover

Here is a look at some of the best covers of the '00s according to The Book Cover Archive.

My favourites are The Abomination one from 2000 and A Shortcut Through Time from 2004. One Perfect Day's cover is clever. The Abomination cover would definitely make me at least pick up the book out of curiosity.

Exile in the Kingdom from 2007 is just painful, while The Way Through Doors from 2009 is just annoying.

No Guns Allowed

In Knoxville, Tennessee, some guy brought a gun into the library. Apparently there weren't enough signs saying DO NOT BRING YOUR GUN. Why would anyone bring a gun into a library? To fight library bad guys? To be very very serious about people being quiet? Scary.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Petit Controversy

A controversial book about the Petit murders will remain in the public library of the Petit family's community of Chesire. In poor taste? Possibly, though yeah, it's censorship. The thing that had me scratching my head at the article was the mention of people's home addresses. Do you disagree with Mary Smith? She lives on 24 Grapenut Avenue. That just doesn't seem wise.

More On the League

A follow-up on this story: The Black Dossier threatens public safety. The Black Dossier being the name of Volume Four of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel.

The petition reads in part, "This community is known to have sexual predators, and works such as these encourage those predators to act out their desires or at the very least justify their desires."

Man, I hope they don't learn other things from graphic novels and comic books, like how to fly or shoot lasers out of their eyes. My favourite quote from all I've read about this case comes from an editorial at Omnicomic:

And here we are now. Cook and Boisvert personally attempted to withhold the book from the public in the "best interest" of kids. Which is basically censorship. Honestly, they have no right to do so and the library was completely within it's jurisdiction to terminate these two employees. It's so easy to forget with abortion, healthcare, war, economy, etc. that censorship used to be a big deal as well. Especially in comic books. Way back in the day of Dr. Wertham and his book Seduction of the Innocent comic books were actually burned in many southern towns. Why? Because of their perceived ill-influences on kids.

Aren't we past that? I understand the desire on the part of adults to want to protect kids. What are we protecting them from though? You don't think that if the book was removed that kids wouldn't see this stuff elsewhere? Even further it's the parents decision regarding what kids watch/read. Taking such a critically-acclaimed book and re-checking it out is almost bush league in it's immaturity. Cook and Boisvert had no right whatsoever to impose their views onto those of the library patrons.

Is The Black Dossier appropriate for an eleven-year-old? No. I can't come up with anything off the top of my head from Alan Moore that would be appropriate for an eleven-year-old. The issue isn't whether the book is appropriate, it's whether library workers can decide what's appropriate.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pushing Paperless

Christopher Dawson at ZDnet asks "Why aren't students pushing paperless?"

The digital divide for one.

Though phrased rather brutally, I found this comment from Dr_Zing interesting:

First of all, the poor in this country do not have 24/7 access to the internet. Anyone who thinks they do, like you Christopher Dawson, is an urban elitist I.T. snob who's been lucky enough to still have a job.

Second, a large number of children in this country don't have 24/7 access to a computer. While there are many households with a computer, and they can be found in libraries and at schools, there is not a one computer per child ratio. But then elitist snobs who've never seen the hoops that teachers go through just to get a few hundred dollars worth of paper and pencils for all their students, much less a $500 computer per child, wouldn't understand that.

Third, there's no standard media. A plethora of different document formats, on a myriad of different storage media is a terrible way to go. I remember a few years ago doing my Master's that we went through 3 professors with 3 different sets of requirements. Hell of a way to go. You might think a rich text format on a USB 2 stick would be acceptable for most papers but the funny thing is it's still easier to drag a dozen papers into the bathroom with a red pen to make annotations on them after school.

Fourth, instructors, professors, teachers aren't consistently demanding it. And as previously mention, they don't demand it in a consistent format. Speaking of that Master's program. You know the media they required for the thesis?



A separate copy for each member of the review board too.

My reply was more sedate.

I can think of a couple reasons, both of which have already been touched on.

Not every kid has access to a computer; nor does every teacher. Most libraries have computers, but they're heavily used and not always available depending on how many the library has.

Adding comments and corrections is a lot more difficult in a digital document; paper and a red pen are far more convenient. Many people still find it easier to read paper than they do screens.

What really bothers me is the assumption that everyone has access to computers. In an ideal world, yes. Maybe at some point in the future, sure, but definitely not now.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hocus Pocus Junior

Partly a reminder to myself to read it another time, but also of interest from BoingBoing: a really old example of plagiarism.

Although it's the earliest book devoted to magic as a performing art, it apparently takes its text almost exactly from a 1584 book called The Discoverie of Witchcraft. The Witchcraft book was meant to be a debunking text, proving to people that witches didn't exist and, thus, that we shouldn't go about condemning other people for witchcraft. Hocus Pocus Junior took the chapters on sleight of hand and slightly (heh) reworked them as an instructional manual.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How the Kindle is Like a Brown Paper Bag

This one just amused me. Two of the top five Kindle downloads are smut.

The Kindle does for erotica what the paper bag does for a 40 of O.E.: provide a respectable cover. Kindle owners are free to download anything, regardless of what’s depicted on the cover, and read even the sexiest office romp in, well, the office, with no one the wiser. Although I must warn that if you share a Kindle account with your spouse... you may get an incriminating email receipt forwarded to you. The Internet, depending on your perspective, has been the best or worst thing to happen to porn since VHS. Given the appeal of anonymity and quantity of free content, the Kindle might do the same for soft core fiction.

Mein Kamf App for One Day Only

Apple Inc. approved the sale of a Spanish language e-book version of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kamf, complete with a swastika icon. The application was pulled after one day. Apple's selection process is a little odd - they won't sell erotica, so even the Kama Sutra is banned from the store - but somehow a big ol' swastika-bearing Mein Kamf made it through... rated as appropriate enough for nine-year olds and up to read. Oops. Also, someone was making $1.99 a pop off this. At least libraries are free. Supposedly, Apple only has forty people reviewing applications. Maybe they just have thirty-nine now.

E-Book Readers Don't Grow on Trees

Which is better for the environment, an e-book or a print book? Most people would say an e-book, though Don Carli, Executive Vice President of SustainCommWorld LLC thinks print is still better ecologically despite being cast as wasteful and obsolete.

There is no question that print media could do a better job of managing the sustainability of its supply chains and waste streams, but it’s a misguided notion to assume that digital media is categorically greener. Computers, eReaders and cell phones don’t grow on trees and their spiraling requirement for energy is unsustainable.

Making a computer typically requires the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals including gold, silver and palladium as well as extensive use of plastics and hydrocarbon solvents. To function, digital devices require a constant flow of electrons that predominately come from the combustion of coal, and at the end of their all-too-short useful lives electronics have become the single largest stream of toxic waste created by man. Until recently there was little if any voluntary disclosure of the lifecycle “backstory” of digital media.

Sadly, print has come to be seen as a wasteful, inefficient and environmentally destructive medium, despite the fact that much of print media is based on comparatively benign and renewable materials. In addition, print has incredible potential to be a far more sustainable medium than it is today… and a truly digital medium as well. Despite its importance to business, government and society, print has been cast in the role of a dark old devil in decline. Digital media has been cast as the bright young savior on the rise.

E-Readers for the Blind

Intel introduces a digital book reader that reads aloud to the blind. It's about $1500 US dollars, but that's less than some Braille readers which cost $10000.

The device has several functions. It can read digital files aloud, obviously, but it also has a large colour display that can render large fonts for the visually impaired. It also has a high-resolution camera that can convert printed text to digital text and then read them aloud to the user. It can even, with a small amount of work, be used to read webpages.

This has uses for people with severe dyslexia as well. I wonder if libraries are going to start trying to acquire them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More on Science Fiction

Cory Doctorow writes about how science fiction doesn't so much predict the future as reflect the present.

Mary Shelley wasn’t worried about reanimated corpses stalking Europe, but by casting a technological innovation in the starring role of Frankenstein, she was able to tap into present-day fears about technology overpowering its masters and the hubris of the inventor. Orwell didn’t worry about a future dominated by the view-screens from 1984, he worried about a present in which technology was changing the balance of power, creating opportunities for the state to enforce its power over individuals at ever-more-granular levels.

It just turned out that 1984 was creepily on target, just not when it was actually the year 1984. I find the notion of science fiction writers trying to 'predict the future' kind of silly. Science fiction is a vehicle for stories that often reflect present fears and concerns, though I wouldn't mind some of that stuff on Star Trek.

The Digital Divide

Technology and education go hand in hand, or at least it seems like a good idea that they do. However, some kids are able to access things like computers and the internet, and others aren't. A New York Times article by Stephanie Olsen asks, 'Will the Digital Divide Close By Itself?'

Jim Steyer, chief executive of CommonSense Media and co-sponsor of the event, stressed that “every kid needs to be digitally literate by the 8th grade” and called for a major public education campaign to make that happen. He argued that technology and learning are synonymous and that schools, parents, and kids must get up to speed in the next five years.

Five years? Really? I don't think it can happen all that fast. Back when I was in school (the 80's to mid-90's), it used to be you hand-wrote your assignments. Somewhere along the line - I want to say grade eight or so - people would hand in their work typed up. Those people were the lucky ones, or keeners. My family still had a Commodore 64 at that point. Soon enough, some teachers began to request assignments be typed. Hand-written was frowned upon. Surely everyone could reach a computer. One of my teachers was fond of saying, 'beg, borrow, lie, steal' with regards to getting his demands filled. Back in the early days, I had to go to my friend Sharon's house. She had a computer and a printer. For a while we had a computer but no printer; we'd type things up, put them on diskettes, and my father would print them up at his office. People were impressed by laser printers back then. There was a lot of elbowing to get access.

Now it seems like there are laptops everywhere. I purchased my first laptop earlier this year, in March. It was a bit of a bend of finances to manage the refurbished one I'm typing this post on now, though I did want one that was also decent for gaming. Computers are such a big part of my life that when a fellow classmate handed my instructor a hard copy of her assignment, I was a little surprised. She could just e-mail it, after all. I'm spoiled, and I'm also younger than her by, I would estimate, at least ten years. E-mail was my first thought.

It really can't be easy for some families to have computers in the first place, or for kids to get time at their local library's computers. I am not an expert on the elementary/high school student's ease of access, but I do know it will take longer than five years to get laptops in every classroom.

Another thing I've noticed is that my handwriting has gotten worse since I started doing everything on my computer. I jot things down, I don't write, and I'm used to being able to click my cursor over to a mistake and redo it. My class notes are bordering on a scrawl with lots of bits impatiently scribbled out and sometimes I find myself wishing I'd brought my laptop.

Food for Fines

In an interesting twist of policy regarding overdue books, a library in Chicago is clearing one dollar of late fees from every customer who brings in a can of food. This is part of the library's annual 'Food for Fines' promotion, which is a pretty good marketing move. The food collected will be donated to the Salvation Army and Community Crisis Center.

Burlette said library staff has seen an increased need in Elgin this year for this kind of help. "There are a lot of people who have lost their jobs or who have had their house repossessed. There are a lot of difficult issues out there for our customers," Burlette said. "I thought this was a very good thing to do for the community."

An excellent idea for the community.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November is National Novel Writing Month

Every November I get very sick of people talking about NaNoWriMo, which is the abbreviation (sort of) of National Novel Writing Month. This is not because I'm against people writing novels - I like to read - but more that I get pretty tired of reading endless word count posts. Still, it is an event worthy of discussion.

Maybe I'm bitter; I tried it years and years ago and didn't get very far without throwing in the towel. Maybe that's why I don't want to hear about people's success. Maybe just a little.

I regret that I can never figure out something I'd like to write that much about. There are no plots in my head scurrying about wanting to get out. None. I wanted to be a writer when I was little (in between wanting to be a forest ranger and something else I forget) but it just never panned out. Maybe someday I'll have a story I want to tell. For now I content myself with writing a library science blog. It's almost daily! That counts, right?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What To Do With Old Catalogue Cards

Some kids have never even used a card catalogue. I never really liked them. I'm short and I was a short kid and the upper drawers were always annoying. Now there's a huge surplus of the cards. Librarians at the University of South Carolina are opening a contest to see what people can make with the obsolete cards.

I'd love to see some flip books, if the cards aren't too stiff for that. I made a couple in dictionaries when I was a kid. It might be cool to try again with more complex pictures. And I'd use catalogue cards as bookmarks. I have an old sign-out library card I'm using as a bookmark currently.

Multnomah County's Library Steps up Security

Apparently Multnomah County's library books haven't had any sort of security system in them for almost thirteen years. Wow.

The county has decided to install Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in the library books and hope to have the task completed by then end of 2010. At first I thought the library didn't have any system, but supposedly they just turned what they did have off when there were too many false alarms.

The move comes four years after a police officer discovered hundreds of stolen library CDs and DVDs at a patron's home and the public learned that staff annoyed by repeated false alarms had turned off the few security gates that existed in library branches. The discovery led to a study of library security released two years later that showed massive annual losses.

How many false alarms make you turn off security gates? For a while, I couldn't go into a local pharmacy in a certain pair of jeans because they would make the gate alarms go off. That bad?

Here is some info in the article regarding RFID that I found helpful:

RFIDs are small devices about the size of a nametag sticker that adhere to books, CDs and the other materials. They've been gaining popularity among libraries nationwide for the last five years and have been used in libraries in Europe even longer.

The tags store and retrieve data and contain antennas that enable them to respond to radio-frequency queries. They can't be removed from items without damaging them and will trigger an alarm at the door if the item isn't checked out.

RFIDs are favored because they're much more accurate than the magnetic strip systems often used by libraries.

Learning is fun.

Racy Sex Guides in the Ottawa Library

Courtesy of my course instructor: Ottawa Library Defends Addition of Racy Sex Guides. Go, Barbara Clubb, go! Apparently a couple emailed the library about the books, saying that they were 'pornography veiled as instruction' and 'harmful to children'.

Should kids be reading these books? Well, no. Again, adult supervision is still a good thing in my opinion. A seven year old does not need to see 'colour photos, illustrations and diagrams' of oral sex. Neither does a thirteen year old, honestly, but it's not like they can't look that up on the internet and really I'd rather they get it from legitimate sources that encouraged safe sexual practices. I really wish that sort of thing wasn't of interest to kids beyond the what's-that-curiosity we all had. Seems like kids are getting into sex younger and younger these days, but honestly it's been happening for a long while. I have to wonder if a guide to oral sex would deter a few teenage pregnancies.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hitler Loves Cushing and E-Books

More about Cushing! I previously mentioned it in my first real post in September.

Sounds like things went pretty much how I thought they would, except the thing where people compare the headmaster James Tracy to Hitler. I really should have seen that coming, though. Has fifteen years on the internet taught me nothing? People love bringing Hitler into any argument. Any argument. Back in 1990, a guy named Mike Godwin said, "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." Voila, Godwin's Law.

Here is an example from the article, taken from a blog at*:

"Save the books, fire the instigator of the book-burning. Let Hitler stay dead."

Contrary to the impression given back in September ("When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books"), James Tracy now says:

"If I look out the window and I see a student reading Chaucer, to me it's utterly immaterial whether it's a paperback or a Kindle. I'm just glad that they're reading Chaucer."

Scrolls are okay! Just not for research, which he says was what he was talking about. As for reducing his library staff, apparently that's not true:

Actually, he says, he has hired more librarians to help students navigate the electronic stacks and tell "what is valuable information or reliable from what is junk."

Not all the students love it. There's a comment by one student about giving people coffee in a library, and another about how annoying using an e-book version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was to take notes on.

While Kindles themselves are expensive, the books are less so:

Corbett [Tom Corbett, Cushing's director of Media and Academic Technology] says he can purchase many e-titles much more cheaply than traditional books. Often he pays just $5 apiece, so for the price of a $30 hardback, he now orders six e-books.

That's a pretty good deal.

More Hitler comparisons, from Paul Biba at TeleRead, who got it from someone named Danny Bloom: Amazing Luddite protest against ebooks. I saw this a while ago but was too astounded to comment or quote. If it's okay for Paul Biba, it's okay for me. Here is the Hitler reference in an essay, Protecting the Printed Word, by author by Alan Kaufman:

Which teen or twenty something in their right mind is going to opt for paper over electronic texts? No one of course. That's just the way of evolution, goes the narrative. Publishers and readers, writers and agents, are well-advised to get with this truth or perish. As to the bookstore, it is like the synagogue under Hitler: the house of a doomed religion. And the paper book is its Torah and gravestone: a thing to burn, or use to pave the road to internet heaven.

Surely book concentration camps are just around the corner. Sure, guy.

* No link for you. Look it up on your own!

Someone Plus Black Marker Equals Censoring

A library in Tennessee has a problem with censorship: someone is taking black marker and crossing out bad words.

Well, at least they're enterprising - at least, if it's just one person. One book at a time, they eliminate questionable words, like some kind of really crappy superhero. Thank you for protecting the rest of us from foul language!

How would you catch the person doing that? Are the books being checked out? If so, can an account be flagged as suspicious?

Monday, October 26, 2009

League of Extraordinary Porn

Two librarians in Nicholasville were fired for not giving a twelve-year old a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel. They felt it was 'filthy' and pornographic because the books 'contain lewd pictures of men and women in sexual situations that are inappropriate for children.' That doesn't really sound like porn. Porn's a pretty hefty word to sling about.

The Jessamine County Library director says it's against their policy to speak about employee terminations but he did give me a copy of their policy and it clearly states the responsibilities of the child's reading must lye with the parents and not with the library.

Well... yes. Of course it lies* with the parents. Just like with TV and movies. Was firing the librarians really appropriate? Could they have gone with a slap on the wrist? Was something stopping them from asking the girl if she could bring a parent or guardian to speak to them?

* Lyes? Time for a new copy editor.

The Siren Call of Infinite Knowledge

Peggy Orenstein wrote an article about an app that blocks internet for up to eight hours. At first I dismissed this article - I'm pretty tired of stories of people who can't exert enough self-control that they need a program to cut them off from the internet (which you can get around by simply rebooting, deemed 'humiliating'... come on). Further into the article, 'The Odyssey' was mentioned... specifically for Ulysses having to bind himself to the mast of his ship when encountering the sirens because he was helpless otherwise. Again with the helpless. Despite it being on my shelf, I haven't read The Odyssey (BAD librarian, NO COOKIE), and until now I always thought the sirens were tempting with nookie.

Those mythical bird-women (look it up) didn’t seduce with beauty or carnality — not with petty diversions — but with the promise of unending knowledge. “Over all the generous earth we know everything that happens,” they crooned to passing ships, vowing that any sailor who heeded their voices would emerge a “wiser man.” That is precisely the draw of the Internet.

I will admit to having lost quite a few hours to the endless links of the internet, the thing is the internet and its endless information is still there when I go away. I can pick up right where I've left off. Another point the article makes is that the internet isn't unending knowledge, it's unending information.

What's the difference between knowledge and information? Is knowledge the result of really thinking about information? Is it the practice of studying it instead of letting it all wash right over, in one ear and out the other? I'm not sure a library is so different from the internet that way. It's harder to be distracted by leaps away from the original subject at least. Physical books aren't linked together by the twitch of an index finger on a mouse button.

Still, I think that it's still up to the user to exert self-control. No one is helpless to the internet; there are such things, as with real books, as bookmarks, logging off and putting the book aside, page marked for later. I feel more obligated to read a physical book all the way through if I read just a part of it, but I don't so much have that problem with the internet.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sony Makes an E-Book Reader Available in Canada

Kindle vs. Nook has never really been an issue for me; I couldn't buy either of them anyway. At least Sony has some love for Canadians. Seriously. Large neighbour to your north, and you can't give us some books? There's an and everything.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Books vs. Screens

From Court Merrigan at TeleRead: The novel is screwed in the era of the screens. Tina Brown from the Daily Beast interviews author Philip Roth.

Roth thinks that in twenty-five years ("optimistically"), novels will have a cult-like following. Most people will choose the movie screen, the television screen, the computer screen. The video of the interview can be found here.

The logic seems to be that reading a novel takes more concentration than watching a movie or TV. Heck, sometimes I have a hard time focusing on a movie or show. When I can't focus on a book, it's time to turn the light off to get some sleep.

Is it really going to be reduced to a cult-like following? If so, I guess I'll be part of that cult. Reading a book provides full immersion in the story. All the actors are good actors; the way they say the lines is how you want to read them. Admittedly, sometimes the performance of the actor is better than what you can come up with, but most movies based on books I've seen, I've liked the book better. (With one exception: Lord of the Rings. I don't have the ability to concentrate on those books because of the writing style; I don't think that's necessarily a flaw on my part or Tolkien's.)

Part of me wants to say that it's just snooty to think people will read less because movies and television are 'easier', like it's looking down on the imaginations of others. Part of me thinks, however, that while special effects never used to be able to match what I pictured in my head when I read, they are now more than adequate - sometimes portraying fantastic things in a manner I would never have dreamed.

In any case, as long as the cult doesn't have to wear robes, I'm down with it. It'd be a shame, though, but isn't it already?

42 Essential 3rd Act Twists

Stolen from Boing Boing: 42 Essential 3rd Act Twists. I particularly like the Shyamalan and Double Shyamalan columns. What a TWEEST!

Google Fingers

Tiny, but it made me smile: scans of Google Books with fingers in them. The comments are maybe the best part. If you want to just check for yourself, here is the search for google books fingers.

The War on Science Fiction

Speaking of science fiction! I came across an article from The Spearhead called The War on Science Fiction and Marvin Minksy. It was so awesome I had to take several days to process it, or at least that's the excuse I'm using for now.

It starts out promising:

Science fiction is a very male form of fiction. Considerably more men than women are interested in reading and watching science fiction. This is no surprise. Science fiction traditionally is about men doing things, inventing new technologies, exploring new worlds, making new scientific discoveries, terraforming planets, etc. Many men working in the fields of science, engineering, and technology have cited science fiction (such as the original Star Trek) for inspiring them when they were boys to establish careers in these fields.

Okay. Sure. Science fiction is great and inspiring. Unfortunately, now boys won't get that inspiration because of the feminization of the genre. There are girls in space now and that just isn't cool, okay? Girls in space mean relationships and talking and fewer lasers.

Pro-Male/Anti-feminist Tech (that's the name on the byline of this article) quotes Marvin Minsky, a leading AI researcher at MIT. Minsky says,

General fiction is pretty much about ways that people get into problems and screw their lives up. Science fiction is about everything else.

I find that statement false; science fiction deals with the problems people make. Science fiction has held a mirror to modern problems with a setting of the fantastic. Racism, communism, ecology, cautionary tales... science fiction is the perfect forum for all these things.

All is not lost, however:

There is still a great deal of written science fiction that is real science fiction, so all is not lost. However, many boys who would have gone on to make scientific discoveries and invent new technologies will not do so since they will never be inspired by science fiction as boys.

Thank goodness for books! Science is saved! Just don't read any Honor Harrington books.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Science Fiction Books for Beginners and Others

I came across an article by Sarah Hope Williams suggesting good Young Adults (YA) books to start kids on. I have read exactly two of them: Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I approve of both those choices! I don't have a problem with the themes of Ender's Game, though I will agree the author is a little wacky. I'd kind of rather a kid was ignorant of just how wacky for as long as possible; I know knowing that kind of thing about authors will sometimes colour my enjoyment of the books (Dave Sim, I am looking at you).

I'll be looking at some of the other books on this list myself, as my science fiction knowledge is pretty crummy. Some books I do consider science fiction that I enjoyed:

  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, the novel being better than the movie in my opinion;
  • A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle, actually the first of her Time Quartet series I ever read and perhaps the one I enjoyed most;
  • All the books from the Ender's Game universe featuring Bean, whom I enjoy as a character more than Ender himself;
  • The Honor Harrington books by David Weber, which have a very positive female role model, even if they get slightly more ridiculous the longer the series goes on;
  • The Otherland tetralogy by Tad Williams, often criticized for going on too long and having too many characters, which I have no problem with, and the occasional lapse into semi-purple prose that I do have a very minor problem with when it pulls me out of the story to snicker. Once you get used to it, it becomes less of a problem.
  • 1984, one of those 'must-reads' of science fiction.

I have read some William Gibson and liked Virtual Light the best. I may be lynched for finding H.G. Wells' The Time Machine a little boring, but in my defense, that book is considered one of the forerunners to sci-fi and by the time I got around to reading it the ideas were old hat to me. While I consider the Pern books science fiction I can't necessarily say I recommend them. They did provide the main bridge between fantasy and science fiction and 'adult'* books for me, though the science aspect was introduced after I started reading the series. Also, Anne McCaffrey is another example of author weirdness you could do without having pointed out to you.

* Not that kind of adult.

Book Clubs

I was reading an article about why you should resist the lure of book clubs by Adam Sternbergh and I thought it was a little uncharitable. Or at least it made me think about book clubs in general and whether or not I would like to be in one.

I rarely seem to read the same books as my friends. The only time I get to talk to them about books, it seems, is when I borrow them directly from them. (The exception would be George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which most of my buddies have read and enjoyed. In my opinion, the series is fun because it's grittier than most fantasy novels out there and it has a way of going in directions you wouldn't expect if you've read a lot of fantasy novels. The first book, A Game of Thrones, demonstrates this extremely well. George R.R. Martin pulls something so unusual it hooked me on the series.)

Anyway, I like to talk about books when I can. I like to hear other people's opinions on characters I like and dislike, on plot twists, or their general observations. If you talk to other people about books, they can show you aspects of the story you may have missed. And that's cool, the sharing.

Would I join an actual book club? I'm thinking not. Mostly because of this:

...We talk about the chosen book for a few obligatory minutes before we move on to the part of the club I think most of us really look forward to, which is not talking about the book.

I like books, but I can really only go on so long about them. Some books have more I'm interested in discussing than other books. Agreeing to read a specific book and feeling obligated to come up with things to talk about kind of reminds me of school. I like it fine when I have opinions, but if I'm indifferent it's going to be pretty dull unless someone else is really passionate about the story. That, and I'm slightly too reclusive.

I think the article raises some a good point - that books should not be treated as an incomplete experience if they're not discussed in a group setting. There was also an interesting commentary on the intimacy of reading:

Which brings us back to the intimacy of reading. Consider something even as silly and modest as this article: I’m in your head right now. You have graciously allowed me to slip inside the private sphere of your consciousness, if only for a few minutes. (It’s like a twist on that hoary babysitter horror movie: The voice is coming from inside your head! ) This is very different from how we experience any other kind of art: no matter how much you enjoy a painting or revel in a symphony, there’s not a sense that the painter has hijacked your eyes or the composer has hijacked your ears. The writer, though, hijacks your thoughts. (Hello! Hello! — I’m making you say that right now.)

I've thought that was a little freaky myself.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Banned Book Reading Room

Cheap post for Saturday! The Henrico County Public Library in Virginia has a sassy display for Banned Book Week. Someone deserves a pat on the back for that one. The comments section is also somewhat interesting. Look, the slippery slope of what gets banned and how severely!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stop Talking About the Smell Already

I was reading this article by Gloria Mark in the NY Times online. The article was good, but there was one comment that made me roll my eyes:

No, no, no, no! E-books are Fahrenheit 451, long version.

On NYC and Boston subways, where you always see readers, I see only book readers. One guy had an e-book, and appeared to be skimming it, or embarrassed somehow, or both. Give us pages! Is that too much to ask? Fragrant paper pages that carry the author's words more closely to our senses, and our hearts. We do enough screen-scanning at work...please, let us keep real books for our leisure time!

I don't think I'd like an e-reader. I haven't tried it, but I don't think I'd like reading a little screen. Maybe I would; I'd have to test-drive one before buying. In any case, I am not necessarily pro e-book, so maybe someone can listen when I say stop talking about how important the smell and tactile sensations are. Just stop it. The smell thing is starting to get a little freaky.

The tendency to overreact to digital books is similarly annoying. E-books are not ruining it for everyone. There will not be a massive burning of paper texts even if it shifts toward digital copies. They will still be there.

The important part of reading is the actual reading, not what format it takes. Some people take exception to reading things on a screen; what about the people who would rather? There is a whole generation who look at computer screens not as something only for work. There are those who consider computer screens as a source of entertainment. A great thing about humans is their ability to adapt. Let's cross the no-physical-books bridge when we come to it, if we come to it. Right now, it's personal preference, and no one is forcing that commenter to start reading with a Kindle.

The book is important. The format of the book is not. And sorry, Dr. T from Atlanta, Georgia, for picking on you in particular. Not that anyone reads this blog!

I pity the fool who doesn't respect Dr. T.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

One at a Time, Please

More about digital books in libraries. The article mentions a girl in Florida who uses her library card to download books to her laptop. I approve of her selection of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' by Douglas Adams (and I forgot Towel Day again this year), though I find Laurell K. Hamilton trashy. I figure being able to pick up a copy of anything Laurell K. Hamilton writes without setting foot in public place would probably be helpful. Now only the internet is judging her and not her local librarian.

But here's a weird bit:

Most digital books in libraries are treated like printed ones: only one borrower can check out an e-book at a time, and for popular titles, patrons must wait in line just as they do for physical books. After two to three weeks, the e-book automatically expires from a reader’s account.

One at a time? Really? But... why? It's not as though it's limited by only having so many physical copies. Is that a move to appease book sellers?

Speaking of book sellers, some have decided not to offer their books in digital format to libraries, with the argument that 'soon everything will be free'.

And as for physical libraries becoming obsolete, here is some hope:

For now, the advent of e-book borrowing has not threatened physical libraries by siphoning away visitors because the recession has driven so many new users seeking free resources through library doors.

Though they also mention that most people don't know the digital collection even exists. I wonder if my local libraries have any.

Church Burns Christian Books

And now for something completely different: a North Carolina church has decided to burn Christian books on Hallowe'en. They will also burn music. That's how hardcore Pastor Marc Grizzard is; he feels all versions of the Bible other than the King James are Satanic. Did he warm up with anti-church books? Maybe some Golden Compass? I hear there's a talking polar bear. That's gotta be worse than Rick Warren.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

6 Ways We Gave Up Our Internet Privacy

It's actually only four ways if you're a Canadian as far as I know.

More of the same; another article urging readers to have a little common sense about what they post about themselves.

  • Google: Always with the Google. Using Google's calendar services and others like it makes it possible for people to know all kinds of information about you and where you're going to be. People used to keep organizers and physical calendars for this sort of thing; yes, Google can store it online where you can get to it from anywhere with an internet connection, but you could also just carry it with you or keep it on your desk and tell people you'll have to check your agenda and get back to them. Astonishing.
  • Social Networking: The same thing goes for Facebook and Twitter and using it to constantly update with what you're doing. How much could a stalker find out about your whereabouts from what you post up for the general public? Is there anything out there you wouldn't want your ex-boyfriend to know? Take it down. This isn't even getting into someone finding out a password or two.
  • RFID Cards and Loyalty Cards: I've never heard of RFID cards before this, but that might be because I just wasn't paying attention and not because I'm Canadian and this article is written by an American. Loyalty cards, maybe. I'm not sure how those are so much worse than using a debt or credit card, save for providing information about what you buy to the specific company you buy it from... don't they already get that, though? Okay, it's still information gathering, it's just old news.
  • The Patriot Act: Skip. Be assured security went up in Canada, too, but it's nowhere near the US.
  • GPS: Again with the creepy. Use a map.
  • The Kindle: I can see it providing slightly more information than just ordering a book through a website could - the article says it can process how quickly you read a selection, for example - and then it's back to the summer bugaboo of items being removed without warning.
Just read a spy or crime book and take some tips from what the bad guys do in them. Hooray for paranoia!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Savagery and Ravages of Technology

So it's a bit of a cheat on a library tech blog, but it's so darn interesting: For the last hundred years, rightsholders have fretted about everything from the player piano to the VCR to digital TV to Napster. Here are those objections, in Big Content's own words.

We are going to bleed and bleed and hemorrhage, unless this Congress at least protects one industry that is able to retrieve a surplus balance of trade and whose total future depends on its protection from the savagery and the ravages of this machine.

You know, the VCR.

Nobody likes a change in format. I have to wonder if one day there will be people specializing in transferring data from one format to the next, a rapidly building snowball of content that we strive to hold on to simply because we made it... nevermind the getting paid part.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Review: The Bodies Left Behind, Jeffery Deaver

It's a slow news day, at least for things I'm interested in talking about, so I'll trot out a book review, I suppose.

The Bodies Left Behind
Jeffery Deaver

Plot Summary: A deputy in a small town goes to investigate a brief 911 call that got cut off after one word - 'this'. She happens upon a murder scene and is forced to flee the two killers, who are still there. What follows is a long night trekking through the woods with a spoiled-seeming friend of the victims and playing tricks of misdirection and mind games with the pursuers.

Opinions: I liked the trickery involved on both sides. I liked the protagonist, Brynn, and the antagonists are written well with motives of their own. Brynn's husband is a kind of boring secondary character. From what I've read of Deaver, he likes to include at least one big twist of plot in every book, the kind where you don't see it coming but in hindsight it makes sense. The book goes on a little too long for a lack of real payoff action-wise, though there is character growth. One detail is left annoyingly unsolved, but the book is worth a read if you're fond of mysteries and books with cops. I would not be particularly interested in reading another book about Brynn MacKenzie.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Library of Congress' Digital Collection and a Plea for Steve Guttenberg's Help

Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and the Library of Congress; all three are scanning collections to be stored digitally. The Library of Congress is up to 700 terabytes of data, though only 200 are available on the internet due to copyright. (A terabyte is still a lot, trust me.)

Do people have the same problems with the LIC scanning as they do with Google? Does Project Gutenburg? Has anyone considered the merits of consolidating all three collections under the LIC or Gutenburg?

I'd say collect it under the Library of Congress, but I'd rather it be held by an international entity, as in, one not tied to the United States. Like maybe the United Nations?

Perhaps most pressing: why isn't Steve Guttenberg attached to Project Gutenberg? Is it the extra T? Can you get rid of that, Steven? Only you can fight Google.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Mister Congeniality

Proof people can be cartoon villains.

Constantine "Connie" Xinos is the president of the home-owners' association in a gated community in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook. He dislikes being near poor people (he successfully blocked a permit for a senior's home, stating, "I don't want to live next to poor people. I don't want poor people in my town"). He reportedly worked to elect an Oak Brook village council who would shut down the town library, which he also campaigned against. When local kids showed up at town meetings to ask that their library be left open, he is quoted as saying, "I don't care that you guys miss the librarian, and she was nice, and she helped you find books;" and to the library staff to "stop whining."

More here. Notice the lovely skylight in the library; it looks like a beautiful place. Most libraries I see are windowless caves with yellowy fluorescent lighting. I wish I had this library.

Now would be an excellent time for some random acts of kindness via the web to help this library out. Check out all this free publicity.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Relationship Between Public Libraries and Google

This paper by Vivienne Waller, a Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Research of the Swinburne University of Technology, explores the relationship between Google and public libraries. It's pretty interesting and raises some good points:

  • Google tends to 'perfect technology first' before 'working out how to make money from it'. This could mean ads. Google already insists it be the only search engine allowed to link to the content of the Google Book Project. Some libraries are balking.
  • Search engine bias and the idea of relevance to search queries.
  • What happens if Google, perish the thought, goes out of business and the archive is inaccessible?
  • The motives of Google's project.
She also discusses infogration, described as 'the integration of aspects of the world in to the medium of information into which targeted ads can then be placed'.

To be successful, infogration requires that we live more of our lives on the Web. Hence, Google has been actively encouraging us to live more of our lives in the “Googleverse”. Google wants us to not only use its search engine to search for information, and to read using Google Books but also to use Google products (a shopping site) to buy things, to plan to buy things using Google Shopping List (a Web–based list of intended purchases), to let friends know what we want for our birthday or Christmas using Google WishList (a public list of what we wish we could buy), to find out what is happening using Google News, to share tagged photos using Google Picasa, and to hang out with friends using Orkut (Google’s version of a social networking site, very popular in Asia and India), or connect with people with similar interests using Google Groups. The list continues and expands with each new Google product. Google encourages us to communicate using Gmail, to plan trips using Google Maps, to bring Google along for the ride with Google Maps integrated into our cars and giving us directions, to virtually visit other places using Google StreetView, to describe ourselves in blogs (using Blogger) and be updated with the blogs we are interested in using FeedBurner. Google suggests that we manage our financial information using Google Finance and that we manage our health using Google Health (a repository for all of our medical records and a way of keeping our doctors up–to–date about our health).

That doesn't sound at all creepy!

I think the most important point to remember is 'libraries need to pay attention to that which is concealed by Google’s search results and by digitised information. What is concealed includes vital aspects of human knowledge and culture and it is part of the task of the public library to preserve these things.'

Teen Reader's Advisory

A library in St. Paul, Minnesota, is allowing teenagers to help make some decisions about their local library.

The idea is that because teenage interest in the library has surged in recent years, the libraries would be served well to find out how to serve the demographic better. (Apparently, this means more copies of 'Twilight', which I wasn't going to mention but the reporter did. Twilight gets kids interested in reading; it gets some adults interested, too, and even if the series is drivel, at least there's that. Kind of like the Harry Potter phenomenon, only creepier. In the interest of being fair, I have not read the Twilight books, but what I've heard has been pretty awful. And I saw the movie.)

This is pretty cool. If I'd had this option as a teenager, I might've gone and pitched in, met some other bookish kids, that kind of thing. I would've lobbied for more Terry Pratchett books. What a good idea!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

E-Book Readers Are Being Marketed to the Wrong People

Jason Pinter says e-book readers are being marketed to the wrong people. I think he's right - currently, e-book advertisements are aimed at people who already read a lot instead of at reluctant readers. Why not aim it more toward that market? Maybe take a note from the iPod and design them to be a little more fun. I wonder if there could be some way to add in a kind of dictionary function that would help people read - when you don't know a word, you could click it and get an option to look it up in a dictionary on the reader itself.

Ebooks should expand the book buying market, not be used as an alternative for the print edition. Look at the ads for the iPod: they're fun, they're cool, they feature all sorts of (pastel-colored) people who are far funkier than anyone you or I know grooving to the licensed beat. Then consider the ads for the Kindle: the music is straight out of your local elevator. Hesitant readers aren't going to rush out to spend $299 for the reading equivalent of John Tesh. iPods sell the experience. E-readers are selling the gadget. And that's bass-ackwards.

The author of this article gets points from me for his hilarious insertions of pop culture history, like 'Informer'. Except now I want to listen to that song, which is less good and might cost me ninety-nine cents.

Monday, October 5, 2009

That Book Will Cost You $11K, Sir

An article by Jason Boog* informs us the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) revised their 'Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials'. Bloggers reviewing items to disclose whether they got it for free when giving an endorsement. Breaking the new rules can cost a blogger up to $11,000 in fines.

* Sorry about your childhood, man.

Text Markup

So Princeton arranged for fifty students to get free Kindle DXs with their course material for the semester already loaded on 'em. Apparently, most of them don't like 'em.

One point of dissatisfaction was that the texts couldn't be marked up; I'm kind of against marking books permanently, but there are some books I wedge paper bookmarks between the pages of or add sticky labels to. It's just easier. (I will admit to having a couple of books on my shelf used for research with hiliter marks. Gasp.) I didn't even think of this when I thought about having e-textbooks, and it's a big advantage of the physical textbook. There's also a thing I do where I will try to recognize text by sidebars or illustrations; when I'm not sure where the stuff I'm looking for is at and it's not very conveniently in the index, I'll flip through quickly. It also helps when I can see how close to the beginning or end of the book I am. There are visual cues that would be much harder on an e-reader.

Can this be overcome? Probably, though I think I'll never feel as comfortable with an e-textbook as I do with a hard copy. Maybe younger people could do it more easily, though I consider myself fairly young and technologically inclined. Do Kindles allow you to see the text of two books at once or flip between them easily?

Sunday, October 4, 2009


More of the same: Will Online Piracy Become a Problem for E-Books?

I think the term (and I use that 'word'* loosely) 'Napsterization' is kind of dated to begin with, but I suppose it's the case most widely shouted about, so fair enough.

Will people stop buying books if they can just download them? Where is the line between library and download?

I think there's less of a case for book sales dropping than there is for music sales. Many reactions to stories like Cushing Academy's move to a 'digital' library go on about how people like reading books better, and the smell of them and memories of comfort and safety and all that. Which I am not denying; I have lots of good memories of books and being contorted while propping them up somewhere to read. The point is, book lovers love books as much as they love stories, while music lovers don't love CDs, at least not to the same extent (though record collectors can be pretty outspoken). Affection is more likely to be applied to whatever device plays the music, and one device plays a lot of music whereas one book only contains so much text. So let's kill some more trees, stack them up on shelves, and not let anyone else read them without paying the author.

* I did it again!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Like This

I want to be a librarian like this. When I was younger, I wanted to be a teacher. I still do, I like helping people. Librarians do that, too. I think I would like to make a difference in someone's life. Probably in not such a dramatic way, but still. There are worse things to aspire to.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Social Media Policies

Do you really need a policy at your library or school regarding social media? Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. LiveJournals. There are all kinds of ways you can get yourself in trouble on the internet, yes. People have been fired over things they've posted, even.

Here is a simple rule: if you have something to say that might not be well received by the parties in question, do not say it online. Just don't. As secret as you think your Twitter account, Facebook page, blog, or LiveJournal is, you don't know for sure that someone can't find something incriminating online. That's just for personal stuff, like saying something snarky about your sister-in-law.

When you work for an organization and can be recognized, do not badmouth that organization. Don't post about it. If you simply must tell a story, give everyone a fake name or don't name names at all.

Be careful what you sign your real name to. Nothing on the internet ever truly goes away; you can write something that can get pulled up years and years later, and things that seem like a good idea when you're seventeen don't really reflect well on you when you're twenty-seven. Anything you post can be used against you. If you're going to use your real name, you had better be very professional.

Some of the suggestions in the article include:
  • Use a disclaimer. Agreed. The opinions expressed do not reflect on BigNameCompany.
  • Don’t share secrets. Agreed again. You do not want to be breaking news.
  • Be yourself. Not really agreed for all situations. You can 'be yourself' in the way your mom told you to be yourself without using your real name. There's always the option to reveal your real name later, but there are no takebacks. You may not want the kind of attention you can get.
  • Respect copyright. Don't pass someone else's stuff off as your own. Not articles, not blog posts, nothing. Always give credit when you can.
  • Respect your colleagues. And your friends. If your best buddy you went drinking with and got trashed with that one time and took pictures of can't friend his dear old Aunt Petunia when she asks, you need to take that stuff down. Or at least take it down if asked.
  • Avoid online fights. Debates? Mostly okay. Fights, definitely not. No matter how angry or annoyed you get, don't get into personal things with your opponent. And don't pick fights with people you don't like; the internet is full of opportunities for deception that might seem tempting but have serious consequences.
  • Post accurate information. Ever played the telephone game? One small bit of misinformation can turn pretty weird. See what happens when you don't get your facts straight. Bloggers get annoyed!
  • Consult the employee manual. Handy anyway. Really, I can't photocopy my rear end? No kidding.
  • Use good judgment. Well, yeah.
  • Provide value. It's not necessary. There are people who are happy talking about what their cat did that day and there are people who are happy to read it. If someone doesn't think what you're saying is valuable, they can choose not to read it. I personally hate Twitter. I choose not to read Twitter posts because I find the majority of people post just to post.
  • Accept responsibility. Seriously, this is an 'all the time' thing. If you mess up, admit to it. Apologize to offended parties. This one really annoys me.
I suppose policies are a good idea. Common sense just isn't common enough. Remember, lots of employers will put your name through a search engine before hiring you. So will people you date! Then again, maybe it's a good thing to know that nice guy you met is into wandering around in a fur suit before you get too attached to him. Or, you know, maybe that's attractive to you. I'm not judging you, as long as you're not hurting anybody.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Harvard Raises the Bars

One of the Harvard dormitories abruptly decided to bar their books. Nearly every shelf has two brass bars fixed to it lengthwise, preventing anyone from stealing the books on the shelf. Or, you know... reading them.

Apparently, some of the old, valuable books were being stolen, so the University needed a cheap way to secure the books. They've promised to move the less valuable books off the barred shelves. I can see bars being cheaper than chaining the books to the shelves, but I agree maybe some locked glass doors that a librarian could open would work well enough and actually allow the books to be read. I guess that doesn't happen with e-books.

The best part is how Harvard went about doing this without telling anyone they were going to. Like maybe the students wouldn't notice the brass bars or something, or would think the brass bar fairy left them there overnight.

Maybe the whole library was part of an elaborate heist and all the books on the barred shelves are just quick mock-ups, like furniture store displays! The university, having been robbed of millions of dollars worth of books, decides to save face by maintaining a ruse that the books are still there! I think I could almost respect that more than the real reasoning. Also, how cool a heist movie would that be?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Discovery Interface is Kind of a Crummy Name

Ever wish library catalogues worked more like Google*? You're not alone. Some libraries are trying to find better search software. More power to them! However, there are 'pockets of resistance':

'Some argue that new search products—sometimes called next-generation catalogs or discovery interfaces—amount to a dumbing-down of catalogs.'

What? A library catalogue that would help users actually find something? Horrors!

Very cool idea, but very expensive, and it seems another argument for librarians being computer savvy. (I don't mind that. I'm comfortable around computers. I think computers plus libraries equals brilliant.) Adjusting to a specific library's needs will require better strategies for organizing the information in the database and knowledge as to how to make the searches relevant. The article gives an example of how searching for a book on Thomas Jefferson got someone papers from a conference in Brazil. Not so useful.

Adjusting systems to specific needs instead of trying to cram it into the one-size-fits-all standard
isn't new; my current course instructor told us about a project organizing aviation materials. If it's all aviation, standard cataloguing doesn't work so well.

It seems that computer know-how is becoming a lot more important in the information sciences; I think programming experience could be of immense help and now I'm kind of interested in pursuing that avenue to help with my future librarianing.

* Again with the Google. I know.

Monday, September 28, 2009

UK Libraries and the Generation of Now Now Now

In a pleasant little news snippet, More than four thousand public libraries across the UK, Wales, and Northern Ireland now allow anyone with an existing library card or proof of address. If you have a library card in London, you can now use it in Cardiff and so on. (Assuming you want to go to London or Cardiff - any Doctor Who fan can tell you that's where all the aliens invade or attack or just horrible things in general happen.)

This is a pretty cool idea, and one I think will work. They're also considering allowing people to return the books at a library other than the one they took it from, the logistics of which make me twitch. If I'm looking for a book in Belfast, I really don't want to be told I have to go to Derry. I don't even like it if I have to go to two places in the same city. Does the second library ship it back to the library of origin? Is it limited to libraries in the same city?

The article mentions the system is very similar to British Colombia's existing BC OneCard. BC OneCard allows you to return a book in any participating BC OneCard library, which still makes me antsy about waiting times.

And really, isn't that a product of my generation? If I have to wait for anything, it's unbearable. Everything has to be instant or I'm unhappy. People used to (and still do) hand write letters and send them through the postal system. Now we're all about e-mail; we call regular old mail 'snail mail'. Even the instant world of computers and the internet make me fidget; my computer needs to load quickly. My connection speed has to be fast or I'm sitting there impatiently tapping my fingers and rolling my eyes. Maybe I should just slow down and read a book or something.

Internet Longevity and the Treehouse

Quentin Hardy writes for Forbes,

"If Google's actions seem entirely wrong, consider how we would feel if, in response to all the criticism, Google simply destroyed the 10 million-volume corpus. We would feel an almost irrevocable loss."

I would, I really would. I've only used Google Books once to poke around in it, but it's one of those things I intend to go back to, to poke at whenever the urge strikes. I think the immediate gut reaction to the notion of that database being erased is about on the same level as hearing about a fire in a library. The initial action, mind you. Buildings burning are lamentable in their own way as well.

Another part of me thinks that database that's already scanned in isn't going to go anywhere. One thing I liked about Tad Williams' Otherland series was its depiction of the Treehouse, a site with no set address, a networking of machines set up to be the last true place of freedom on the internet. Is the database too big to be stored elsewhere? I don't know. I just know that once something's out here, it seems like it's out here forever. And that is why I am very glad cell phones didn't have cameras when I was in high school, because the embarrassing stuff that happened to me that would have been captured and posted would never, ever go away. And that is why we all heed the tragedy of the Star Wars Kid.

As an aside, Jonathan Zittrain's TED Talk 'The Web as Random Acts of Kindness' mentioned that it's been agreed on not to post the real name of the Star Wars Kid on that Wikipedia article. You can find it easily enough, but just not on Wikipedia. The discussion page of the article points to a policy regarding the biographies of living persons.

"Wikipedia articles that present material about living people can affect their subjects' lives. Wikipedia editors who deal with these articles have a responsibility to consider the legal and ethical implications of their actions when doing so... Biographies of living persons must be written conservatively, with regard for the subject's privacy... This is of particularly profound importance when dealing with individuals whose notability stems largely from their being victims of another's actions. Wikipedia editors must not act, intentionally or otherwise, in a way that amounts to participating in or prolonging the victimization."

On the other hand, I bet 'Star Wars Kid' isn't even in the Encyclopedia Britannica.