Today I went to a great jamboree of school librarians from all levels – university, high, middle, elementary, and a few in between (of course, I was my usual hybrid self). This was a first step towards more effective communication in order to facilitate college readiness among K-12 students, and there was a lot of sharing and venting and struggling to get on the same page. Lexiles and DIBELS and critical thinking– oh my!
I promised to share a fun tech tip on the College Readiness group wiki, and I will definitely post a link to this once my membership goes through. Ready?
How to Research a Current Event Without Breaking a Sweat
1) Make sure your cell phone plan is set to unlimited texting.
2) Sign up for TWO Twitter accounts if you do not already have one. You want a PERSONAL account and a RESEARCH account. Since you can only have one Twitter account associated with a single email address, you can open that second Twitter account using Gmail (use your Gmailusernamefirstname.lastname@example.org).
2b) FOLLOW the research account with your personal account.
3) Log onto Twitter with your personal account. Go into Settings and select Mobile. Verify your cell phone number. Make sure you follow the instructions on the right side of the screen with the phone icons – the ONLY account you want to have turned ON is your Twitter research account. (The default for phone following is OFF so this is usually not a problem if you already follow lots of accounts.)
4) Open a new browser tab. Go sign up for Twitterfeed. Give it your Twitter research account info.
5) Open another tab, and find a news site that has RSS feeds for different topics. NYT or the BBC are good starting points, or you can pick a specialized site like AllAfrica that will have just the right info you need. (Stymied? Use the criteria in Consider the Source to select a good online news site.)
6) Once you have an RSS feed selected, copy and paste it into your Twitterfeed account. It will test the feed and make sure that the new posts from the RSS feed will now tweet out THROUGH your new Twitter research account. You have effectively made a custom Twitter news channel!
7) Repeat steps 5 and 6 a few times as needed – don’t get too many, because you don’t want your phone blowing up constantly. (See @readersadvisory and @edunewsus as good/bad examples of custom Twitter news accounts I have created using many RSS feeds.)
8) By now, your phone should be texting you any new stories from the feeds you threaded through your research account. Not only will these stories be stored in your research Twitter account (and you can Favorite the ones you want to use!), but they will also come to you in real time – reminding you about the project on a regular basis and letting you have immediate access to new information.
It sounds a little complicated (especially if you are not a current Twitter user or RSS feed master). Yet this is a perfect example of how a typical social media site can be transformed into a powerful automated research tool! Twitter is not just for sharing with colleagues or chatting with friends – it has the ability to transform your cell phone into a critical support system for schoolwork.
(better version of this from Penguin’s Digital unit)
Got your mind properly blown yet? (Yes? Good.)
This is just the start of what promises to be a really ground-breaking year of user experience with e-content. In fact, I think we may have to stop calling them e-books. I knew that the iPad would be a game-changing device because of its ability to connect content with video and touch as well as connectivity, but to see its ability to utterly transform content is AMAZING.
I know we’re going to see more of this when the Microsoft Courier makes a debut, and as soon as the Asus eee Pad comes on sale later this year the market will be blown wide open. Just as the touchscreen smartphone became the norm in a little over 2 years, it will take even less time for tablets and “pads” to do the same.
But what else will be transformed? The evaluation of this content is going to be paramount for consumers – a traditional book or media review is not even going to start to cut it for interim consumers stuck between now, where we are in a real Wild West stage of development and innovation and the future, where (hopefully) standards for e-content will emerge… in some way or another. The same e-content could look radically different on one device than it does on another, and lose or gain functionality when ported to yet another.
I’ve said in the past that digital content needs to be device agnostic, and I’m willing to stick to that as an ideal for now. But things are getting very interesting, and it is nearly impossible to deny at this point that the publishing, reviewing, and bookstore/library industries are getting ready to pass through a fundamental change. Will consumers who bought a Nook only three months ago be satisfied once they see what their money could have bought in Apple’s iPad bookstore? Can Kindle fanatics reconcile themselves to plain black and white e-ink when interactivity and animations are available on new-style tablets?
Let’s see what Q2 of 2010 brings.
The State Library of New South Wales did a little future forecasting and compiled their results in a nice white paper called Bookend Scenarios (pdf). Although they were focusing on particularly Australian concerns, I was surprised by how applicable their vision is to American libraries. We face very similar challenges to our services, and it’s worth taking a look at this report if you are concerned about the public library and its future incarnations.
Above is their matrix of change, with a sector for each of four scenarios named after seminal monographs: nonfiction for generalized scenarios, and fiction for the niche scenarios. The predicted outcomes of each scenario will depend on variables in our socioinformatic landscapes.
Right now, I’d say the average American public library is in the How Buildings Learn quadrant – technology is accelerating & formats are unstable but library services & buildings are expanding to meet community desires. Barring some global catastrophe after Peak Oil, I’d say American libraries are typically headed for a mashup between the Neuromancer and Fahrenheit 451 scenarios. In particular, I think that electronic formats will win the day for most sources of nonfiction and the physical paper-based book will become the province of fiction exclusively. I don’t think that we will suffer from the lack of relevance forecast in the Fahrenheit 451 scenario, but I do believe we will find value in the Neuromancer prediction: people’s skepticism of information could be tempered by situating librarians as arbiters of content, where we help users discern bias and conflicts of interest in the production of specific pieces of information.
Where do you think public libraries are headed in the next 20 years? We will surely follow society’s lead, and the four visions in this fascinating project are distinctly possible versions of our collective future.
At Internet Librarian 2009, we got to hear Vint Cerf with Google as our Monday keynote. I found this great video by way of Alec Couros’ blog, which features Cerf talking about the importance of net neutrality.
Net neutrality is a super important concept for today’s Internet users to learn about. Here’s why you should support it:
— Right now, it doesn’t matter what you type into the address bar at the top of your browser. Whether you ask for this blog, Google.com, the New York Times, a friend’s Facebook page, or your mom’s recipe bookmarks on Delicious.com, your Internet service provider (ISP) will serve up whatever you ask for at the same speed. Every site is equal in the eyes of your ISP, and they are *neutral* when it comes to giving you access to these wildly different sites.
— Without net neutrality, the doors are open to wealthy corporations and other people with influence to pressure the ISPs into delivering some sites more quickly than others. Or not at all. Can you imagine paying for Internet access and not being able to go to the sites you want to visit? Or having to sit and wait while the “right” sites are being delivered quickly, and your ISP deprioritizes your choices because the site owners couldn’t afford to pay off TimeWarner, AOL, or (your ISP here)?
Net neutrality is something you should know about. It’s a wonderful thing, and it keeps the voices on the Internet flowing in a democratic and fair way. Your choice is what matters – not the choices of the wealthy or well-connected.
I’m excited to celebrate 2 years of blogging here! I wanted a new place to collect library thoughts so began this blog at IL2007 in order to do just that. This has been a great space for me to explore the random library, education, and literature-related ideas that flow through my head. Sometimes I feel like I should have named this blog schooling.ME because that’s a more accurate way to describe it 🙂 Having a dedicated blog space has really helped me to think deeply about all the bits and scraps I read about in my RSS feeds, tweet about on Twitter, and text about with friends.
That said, there are even more issues (relatively speaking) this year at IL as compared to two years ago. I have been following the Twitter backchannel chat and trying to pull out the themes that seem to be dominating the conversation this year:
THANKS. First, thanks to all who attended our presentation yesterday, with @lorireed & @librarianbyday & myself (@erindowney). For the lady in the audience who wanted to learn more about RSS, I recommend my wiki at http://cyber64edu.wetpaint.com/page/aggregators%2Freaders and to follow up with http://tinyurl.com/2rf25c . Good luck and drop me an email if you’re not feeling it gel for you!
PART ONE from Bobbi Newman
PART TWO from me:
NOSTALGIA. Despite our love of all things shiny & techno, there was a lot of talk in the keynotes about the solitary experience of reading, the scent of paper, and the sensory cues that tune us into this alternate world of deep contemplation. Although we acknowledge that libraries provide a new and wonderful node of community convergence, walking the line between preserving that singular & personal experience with information and the collective experience with the same is proving difficult for us emotionally. (Imagine how this affects how our patrons see us!)
CONTROL. Directors and other decision-makers are no clearer, according to attendees, about the fact that controlling dialogue online is at best illusory and at worst dictatorial. Transparency and extension of professional trust is the sentiment of the day. The boat has sailed: Internet communication means that we’ve created a sort of uber-democracy where voices cannot be stifled, no matter how much we may not want to hear them. The new proactive approach to service is to constantly scan the conversation and to become a part of it in productive, positive, and meaningful ways. Not participating is no longer a viable option.
LEARNING. Folks have expressed in various forums that libraries are still doing something very well – being one of those places where true learning can take place and personal passion can be pursued. Traditional schooling and the idea of teaching is transforming mightily, and the attendees here seem to be of the opinion that creating life-long learners is a process happening outside traditional institutions of learning. But this means letting go of our egos and seeing ourselves as coaches or facilitators rather than “teachers,” and is a point of friction.
RADICAL CHANGE/BUREAUCRACY. This dichotomy is not working for people. Librarians need to be set free to experiment, to fail, to try and dabble and poke about in order to bring about the change that’s needed to keep up with our users. The world is moving very quickly, and we stand the chance to exponentially lose street cred & relevance. Red tape, delays, paperwork, and other things keep us lumbering along like the dinosaurs (and many see us this way). Flexible, nimble, and ephemeral teams are more relevant as an organizational structure for today’s library.
From my perspective, these were all topics we were talking about 2 years ago at IL2007 but today’s conversations are much more intense. Transformative change only occurs when we can get our home institutions on board and gain critical mass with our own coworkers. If IL2007 was “try something new,” IL2009 is “DO something NOW!”
Since my last rather ranty post about e-readers & such electronic devices, the field has gotten crowded with competitors and announcements. 2010 is totally going to be the year of the e-reader!
LG’s solar powered reader has promising niche appeal, could be huge in remote/rural places & emerging markets like Africa, etc.
What this all boils down to, of course, is that computing is becoming even more mobile and interactive. Being able to manipulate interfaces directly a la the iPhone makes tablets ultra-droolworthy, and the emergence of a mainstream e-reader market has come from the desire of the contemporary reader to engage with text flexibly & digitally. Our silicon ways (wouldn’t that make a great band name?) have brought us to an interesting juncture – truly ubiquitous computing may be right at our fingertips.
One of the newest trends I’ve been following? Republishing older, public-domain works in installments online. This definitely proves that everything old can be new again! Ranging from the revered and famous to the unknown and pedestrian, people are rediscovering the pleasures of slowly getting a story in bite-sized chunks. Check them out below:
John Quincy Adams’ diary entries brought to you by the Massachusetts Historical Society:
Samuel Pepys can help you relive 1666 all over again:
Dracula is republished in real-time on this blog:
Tail-end of the Great Depression through the eyes of a girl in rural Illinois:
The Orwell Prize is republishing the writer’s diaries in blog form:
If you know of others, let me know and I will add them to this post.
I felt as though, after my last post, I should play more with electronic books so that I can speak from a position of experience. So, I fired up my Kindle app on my iPhone – downloaded only because it was free – and flipped through my purchases, such as they were. I had only downloaded a short story and a few sample chapters, so I had no real experience at extended reading on my phone.
Because I’ve been enjoying the TV show True Blood based on Charlaine Harris’ novels, I decided to try the first in her Sookie Stackhouse series. I had flipped through them years before, and thought I might give them another try. After all, reading tastes change and I needed an “average” book to try out: something I would have bought in paperback, not too long or too short, just an average sort of book in order to get an average experience reading using Kindle.
Well, that was a mistake.
Dead Until Dark was a fun little book. So fun, in fact, I was eager to see what happened next in the series. And with an electronic book, all you have to do is hit the download button. It’s like a direct delivery system for book addicts; Kindle crack, if you will. The rush of instant gratification was a little magical and a little thrilling. There I was, in the backseat of a car, and within moments I was reading the continued tales of a vampire-dating waitress from Louisiana. I was about as happy as a real book lover could possibly be.
But that feeling didn’t last very long after I was done. For me, books are just about as social as anything else in the world. So of course I started thinking of people I would recommend this series to. And I realized that I could recommend all I liked, but that I wouldn’t be able to lend them my copies of the books! I’d have to hand over my phone in order to lend out my “books.” And in my mind, that’s a big loss. One of my big readers’ advisory mantras is that recommendations are only as good as your ability to connect the reader and book as fast as possible. Nobody likes to wait, and there’s a reason why Big Chain Bookstores engage in the “here, let me hand you the merchandise” practice: it cements the deal.
So while the e-book version was convenient for me as a solitary reader, it led me into a dead end. Even if I was able to “gift” my digital copy to another reader, it would still only be able to be read on an iPhone or a Kindle itself. I think the experience left me a little poorer than it found me – although now I’ve read the books, I’m not able to share that with other people unless they are willing to pay about $6.00 and go out to find the books themselves.
I’m inclined to think that this hurts the publishing industry more than it supposedly helps them. I rarely lend out an entire series of books, but I frequently lend the first copy in a series to friends and colleagues who are willing to give them a try. How many subsequent sales does that drive? Also, the price point seemed pretty arbitrary to me. I could pay between $2.00-$6.00 for a used paperback copy for the same book locally, and have the residual value of the physical book left over for sharing, etc. In theory, e-books are so cost-efficient to deliver to the consumer that it totally disrupts the distribution model. You only need one copy of the book on a central server to make a copy of for each reader, so I hope more of the profits would go to the writer (but I strongly suspect this isn’t really the case). And finally, publishers are losing their cheapest form of free advertising. Nobody I encountered that day knew I was sitting there reading Dead Until Dark. They had no clue. When carrying around a physical book in public, I usually get at least basic questions from people I encounter like “is that any good?” or “do you like it?” Now those chance encounters are all closed off.
So in the pros column, we have convenience and portability as well as instant gratification. But in the cons column, I experienced a lot of frustration in trying to share my reading experience. E-books also seem expensive given their limitations and restrictions.
While I won’t be repeating this experience with downloadable audiobooks (I am notoriously unable to listen to books, so it wouldn’t be a fair experiment), I do feel like I’ve gotten more insight on the electronic reading experience. If anyone has thoughts to share, I’d like to hear what you have to say in the comments section.
I spent an hour with a patron the other day trying to figure out why, suddenly, her MP3 player refused to let her listen to audiobooks from one of our vendors. It worked before… and now, it wouldn’t.
She just wanted to lend it to her students, and let them listen. It turns out that the software installed on her player is a huge problem for nearly everyone, and she would have to reformat the player to even attempt to get it to work.
Digital Rights Management, in its current form(s), effectively prevents libraries from delivering the information people want and need. DRM controls how a digital copies of audiobooks, songs, and e-books are decoded by the consumer, and is seen as essential to preserving the rights of creators and distributors. While DRM prevents people from easily copying and distributing these works, it also prevents them from easily consuming them. The industry seems unwilling to agree on a single standard that would work on any device, instead choosing to elaborately encode digital files with competing technology.
And that’s where libraries come in. We are dedicated to bringing patrons the media they want and need, but now find ourselves at a crossroads: there are stories and information out there that are impossible for us to provide to our patrons because of DRM. The perfect example is the novella Ur by Stephen King. Since this story is only available on the Kindle reader from Amazon, we cannot purchase a copy to lend out. Some interpret the Kindle terms of service to mean that you cannot lend the actual device to another person to read the books, which is pretty draconian, but it is certainly well understood that it is a violation of their terms of service to transfer the purchase to another device – in other words, we couldn’t even buy a digital copy of the story to lend out to patrons on their own devices! That’s as ridiculous as telling someone that they are only allowed to read in certain rooms of their house, but it’s roughly the equivalent.
If we come back to my poor patron who could not wrestle her MP3 player’s software into submission, we can also see how DRM can ruin the audiobook experience as well. If you’ve never attempted to borrow a downloadable audiobook from a library, the pitfalls are many: computer issues, device issues, and software issues – oh my!
First, our library blocks downloading at patron computers. That means that when we are attempting to help a patron with their audiobook, we are typically coaching them over the phone or the internet. The process is especially challenging because the patrons may not be computer savvy in the first place, and may need help with basic tasks that are totally foreign to them. Then you have to determine if their cell phone, MP3 player, or other device is compatible with your vendor – we use NetLibrary/Recorded Books and Overdrive between the audiobooks we’ve bought and the ones we get through our State Library. Even if their device is listed as compatible, they may have some sort of strange software pre-installed by the manufacturer that cripples the process. Finally, there is usually some sort of download involved to the end user’s computer in order to translate the DRM coding on the receiving end – and that may not work perfectly and need additional troubleshooting.
While DRM is a component of digital files that can potentially protect copyright and ensure that authors aren’t missing out on hard-earned revenue, the industry has failed in its execution (especially where libraries are concerned). When I hand a(n) (audio)book to a patron, I don’t tell them that they can only read it in their dining room or in the bathtub. They can take it to the beach, listen on their commute, or read in bed for all I care. Using DRM to restrict digital files to certain devices or certain software is the 21st century equivalent of deciding the medieval monks got it right by chaining books to the shelves so nobody would make off with them!
While in the past there might have been merit in standing back and letting the industry develop a standard, as in the VHS vs. Betamax format war of the late 1970s, I don’t think today’s libraries have this luxury. Our patrons are depending on us to deliver information to them that works no matter which device they have purchased, not to sit around waiting to see what sort of highly restricted, totally proprietary system that various publishing industries will invent. It’s not out of the question to imagine Rhapsody and the Sony Reader e-inking an exclusive deal with one set of publishers/record companies, while another set decides to provide content only to Amazon Kindles and iTunes. How would we provide access then?
The future of publishing is content that is device agnostic. We need a standard that allows for both ease in downloading and copy protection. And libraries could make this happen sooner than you think.
If publishers want to know what’s in it for them, I can tell you right now that it’s spelled SALES. Adopt a common currency for distributing media files, make it easy for people to use them, and the money will certainly follow. Libraries are crazy about downloadables anyway because they eliminate the possibility of damage or inevitability of replacement that you get with physical copies of media. (Consumers like all that too, by the way.)
The American Library Association estimates that there are around 123,129 libraries in the United States alone. If each library were to donate just $5 to a common fund, we could start a competition much like the X Prize Foundation. That’s a pot of over $600,000 as a prize for developing the best universal DRM system ready for immediate and cost-effective adoption by the publishing industry. I’m willing to throw in the first Lincoln! I’ve been calling it my private Babel Wish, but I’m open to better suggestions now that I’ve gone public.
We have a professional obligation to collaborate in ways that expand access to knowledge. This would be one powerful way to do it. Are you in?
I gave a little talk today to folks from all over the world online! It was delivered via OPAL (Online Programming for All Libraries) and it’s still going strong – I’m definitely tuning in tomorrow for more awesome talks!
In these budget-crunching times, an online conference is a great way to network and learn without traveling and spending a lot of dough. I was pleased to talk about education, libraries, and technology… and pleased to see so many interested “faces” in the crowd!