An ongoing conversation about the changing landscape of public libraries.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Give Librarians Room!

This NYT article, The Google Way: Give Engineers Room, is an example of why I love Google as a model for libraries. We’re like siblings; libraries need to get past the fear and jealously of Google and really appreciate the innovative things they’re doing. If we use Google as an organizational model there is a lot we can learn.

Bharat Mediratta, a software engineer at Google, talks about “bottom up” change and the effectiveness of pushing innovation through grassroots initiatives. It’s almost like guerrilla marketing within your own company. I’ve heard from many librarians frustrated with the obstacles and slow pace of change within the field. It’s easy to get worn out by these barriers, but librarians are passionate people with innovative ideas – they just need to be unleashed!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Is Your Library USB-ready?

There was an article in The New York Times on Monday, “In Some Schools, iPods Are Required Listeningthat I think gives a good indication of where libraries should be going. My experiences with circulating equipment have not been pleasant. We currently have a stack of broken laptops in my library that were loaned out to patrons at one point. So given the budgets of public libraries I don’t think we’re ready to circulate iPods. But I do think that patrons should be able to use their own peripherals (mp3 players, digital cameras, and handheld video games devices) to interact with the computers in public libraries.

“How do I download music?”

“How do I email the photos on my camera?”

I’ve heard these question countless times. My response is usually “you don’t”, followed by some sort of embarrassed expression. Part of the problem is software. Maybe public libraries need to look at generic Open Source software that would allow patrons to utilize their devices on public computers, regardless of model, manufacturer, etc. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think we certainly need to be asking the question.

It’s fair to say that the computers in our public libraries are currently USB-functional. Many patrons are now entering libraries flash drive in hand. I’ve seen teenagers in the library viewing files on the PCs that they saved to their Playstation Portable (PSP). But there are still problems with using other devices, so I would argue that we need to become more USB-ready.

Today libraries are a place to use public computers, but tomorrow we may be a place to use other technologies. And if we’re not, then people will probably find somewhere else to go.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Emerging Technology Podcasts

Gaming (GLLS2007)

Lawley, Liz. Closing Keynote from GLLS2007. Presented July 24, 2007.

Neiburger, Eli. Tournament Games for Any Occasion: Choosing the Right Games for Your Audience. Presented July 23, 2007.

House, Martin and Mark Engelbrecht. Gaming for Adults. Presented July 24, 2007.

Source: ALA TechSource

Web 2.0

Udell, Jon. The Disruptive Nature of Technology. Presented August 3, 2007.

Source: Educause

O’Neal, Chris. Tapping into MySpace Minds (School 2.0, Part 5). Recorded January 11, 2007.

Warlick, David. Ed Tech is Exciting Again (School 2.0, Part 8). Recorded February 9, 2007.

Source: EdTechLIVE

Web 2.0 Learning Tools

Many public libraries offer free computer classes to patrons of all ages. As an instructor for such classes I’m constantly thinking about different ways to educate adult learners. Recently I started thinking about the benefits of using social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to help adults improve basic computing skills.

To adults who grew up in a world where black and white television was considered an advanced technology, the thought of learning to use a computer can be daunting. We need to help adults think of PCs as fun tools instead of scary tools. Social networking sites could offer them the opportunity to improve computing skills, including:

  • typing
  • using a mouse
  • formatting text
  • creating a blog
  • uploading images
  • and even learning basic HTML

Such a class would not be appropriate for beginners but might be a fun way to help intermediate students build on their skills.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Goodbye, Books! Hello, MySpace?

There’s been a lot of talk about the end of books, and the death of the printed word. But this doesn’t really concern me. I ride the packed subway trains to and from work everyday, and watch as sometimes half of the other commuters sit down and crack open a book. I serve lines of patrons looking for new books: popular mainstream fiction, urban fiction, mysteries, thrillers, romance, and science fiction. I distribute countless volumes of nonfiction: biographies, travel guides, historical accounts, test guides. Like the United States as a whole, New York is a city of immigrants, a city of lifetime learners. Reading is an experience that can’t be replaced by movies, music, or video games. The act of reading is here to stay, and printed books, well, they still have some time left.

But I’m concerned about libraries that seem to be ignoring emerging technologies, especially those associated with Web 2.0. There seems to be this trend in the library field of being traditional, rigid, and stubborn. It seems so strange to me, though, because by nature, libraries should be flexible. Libraries exist to serve the needs of their patrons and must change with the growing needs of the community.

I can’t imagine a better time to be a librarian. While the book is not necessarily going anywhere, we are also seeing the emergence of new literacies and new ways for people to learn and grow. I’ve heard the comment that people are only visiting libraries now to use the computers; as if this is somehow divergent from the mission of public libraries. Regardless of race, class, or age, people are packing public libraries and using computers to access information and, believe it or not, they are reading.

As Linda W. Braun notes in "Reading: It’s Not Just About Books Anymore" (2007), teenagers are logging onto MySpace and reading profiles, blogs, and comments. There is no shortage of streaming audio and video, but Web 2.0 is primarily text-based. Many librarians are embracing Web 2.0 with open arms, and hopefully many more will realize the potential for these technologies.

Citations: Braun, Linda W. Reading: It's Not Just About Books Anymore, YALS, Summer 2007.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


The last librarian is a joke, of course. I’m not the last librarian, not even close. But like many librarians, I’ve been told countless times that the field is dying, that libraries are being replaced by Internet-based search engines. Of course, this is far from the truth. The field of librarianship is changing, but instead of dying, the need for educators to assist people with navigating this information is growing.

On a daily basis, I deal mainly with the present of librarianship; I’m confronted with the information needs of the now. But my primary extracurricular interest is the future of libraries: where are we going? What are the changing information needs of our increasingly information-literate and tech savvy society? Who are our primary users and how do we continue to meet their information needs?

These are questions I hope to address here. And, you know, pretty much anything library, technology, and information related.