Archive for November, 2007

The Biz

My brother (I would insert a link here if he had his own blog) asked me a while back to post something about the new librarianship. I usually don’t take requests, my reaction normally being “get your own blog” (sensing a theme here bro?), so I begged off saying that I couldn’t write coherently about my own profession.

That’s not entirely untrue. Librarianship is undergoing a massive change as the world begins to feel the full impact of the information revolution. I’m at as much of a loss to describe it as anyone. Honestly, I don’t think anyone in the profession has quite realized yet just how big a deal this revolution is going to be. Hell, I don’t think anyone in any profession has quite realized how big this is. Information has never been more readily available, and it has never been easier to let everyone in the world know what you think about any given topic. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what technology can now allow us to do.

To really understand what has happened to libraries, we need to go back a few years. In the days before information was this readily available, libraries were the Internet. When you needed any sort of information, pretty much the only place you could get it was at your local library. And to serve that need libraries built massive reference collections and trained their staff to be serious and studious. Libraries were sacred halls of study and learning, where everyone went to satisfy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge.

But then the world began to change. Information could be found in any one of a number of places. Libraries were no longer the only game in town. When your own bedroom can be your hall of learning, suddenly the whole “sacred” thing falls by the wayside. We always knew that by the time people came to us they had already asked everyone they knew; but now in addition to asking everyone they know, they’ve also gone to bookstores, watched the TV, and surfed the net. Now they’ve most likely gotten their answer before they have to turn to us.

But libraries didn’t give up their high seat. We had come to rely on the public’s good will so much that we didn’t realize that they weren’t coming to us for the same things anymore. They still liked us, but they didn’t need us the way they used to. The problem is that we knew that they did need us. Someone once described the Internet as the world’s greatest library with the books all piled on the floor. Librarians looked at this mess and said “we know what to do with all this! We can help! We know how to work search engines! We know how to evaluate sources!” Any decent librarian can get better results out of Google than Joe Normal. But Google seemed to work well enough, so no one was listening.

So now we find ourselves in the position of knowing that we can help, but not being able to convince anyone that we can. What do we do about this? We can’t just jump up and down and say “Listen to me, dammit!” They’re not listening, and they won’t. We need to show them that they need us. This has led a lot of old-school librarians to think that libraries are on the decline. They see the public turning to the Internet, and they see libraries building coffee shops and collecting DVDs and they think that we’ve thrown in the towel. But that’s not the point of changing how we present ourselves. That’s not why we adopt a retail model of customer service. We do it to make ourselves seen.

What we need to do is not assume that we are the preferred source for information (which we are not), but rather position ourselves so that when people are seeking information we are there. The fundamental difference between traditional library service and library service now is not about lessening the value of our professional expertise in the face of customer demands, nor is it about sacrificing our expertise in the name of meeting the customer where they are. It is rather about proactively placing ourselves where the customer already is so that when the customer needs information we are an assumed source rather than a last ditch.

Thus efforts to place the library online and to rearrange our spaces so as to be more appealing and become the “3rd place” are not playing to the lowest common denominator. They are an effort to bring customers to us so that when they need us we are already there. Even something as fundamental as collection development becomes part of this, as customers will not want to be in a place with ugly or outdated collections. By keeping our collections clean and up-to-date we are creating an environment that customers want to be in so that they do think of us first.

But the approach must be 100% integrated. If every aspect of our presence isn’t aiming at that one goal of putting ourselves right under the customers’ noses, the entire enterprise will fail. So collections, web presence, physical space, and customer service must all create a coherent experience that will place us in the customer’s mind as the preferred source for any information need over other options already available. We also need to remove barriers to using our service, since other sources are so simple to use.

So when I’m out on the floor, my goal is to connect with people. I don’t care why they’re in the library. I don’t care what they’re checking out. All I know is that they’ve decided to come see me. If I can build a relationship with that person, then when they need information they won’t turn on the local news. They won’t listen to their Uncle Merv who just got out of lockup. They’ll think “I’m gonna go ask that tall dude at the library. He’ll know what I need.” And I’ll help them find exactly what they’re looking for.

Librarians aren’t the gatekeepers of the Information Age as some have named us. We’re the guides. We keep the paths open, clear, and well-marked. We’ll visit new territory first and mark the way. We will provide a friendly and safe place to explore from where anyone can find help. We will show people how to get the most out of the most exciting time in human history.

And that is why I’m a librarian.

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November 30, 2007 at 9:26 pm 2 comments

Bah Humbug


I am most definitely NOT in the Christmas spirit.

For some reason this season has been less and less fun over the past few years. I used to think this was because I wasn’t a kid anymore, or that I wasn’t living in a place with a real winter. But no, this year I have finally decided that we have killed Christmas. It’s entirely our faults, and we should be ashamed of ourselves.

I remember, and I swear I’m not imagining this, that at one point in time there were no Christmas decorations or products in stores until after Thanksgiving. This year I saw Christmas items for sale in September. I remember a time when Christmas carols weren’t used as backing music for advertisements. I remember a time when the news wasn’t full of stories about how well the stores were doing in the Christmas shopping season. I mean, all of that was still there, but it wasn’t what it was about.

Now the only thing that this season is about is shopping. You’ve got to give people stuff. You’ve got to go out, find something that people may or may not like, wrap it up, and give it to them. And one present isn’t enough. The tree has to be full of presents. The bigger the better. And that’s all there is to it. Forget about altruism and giving and care and love and joy. It’s all about how many presents you’ve got under how big a tree.

I have too much stuff. I have too much debt. I’m tired of being told I have to buy things. I don’t want more stuff. I want a new pack for my bike and some new shirts. That’s it. And if I didn’t get them for Christmas I’d get them for myself anyway because I actually need them.

I know I’m still going to go hang my lights and trim my tree, because that’s what is done. Hopefully my own small tribute at a more appropriate time will help me to feel better. And I’ll do my best to tune out invitations to buy a Lexus for Christmas or the horrible R&B version of what used to be a lovely carol. I’ll try to steer clear of the stores and out of the maddening rush of traffic and people trying to buy, buy, buy. I’ll go to my midnight service and try to remember that what we’re supposed to be doing at this time of year is recognizing that joy is found in the most unexpected places, and that the light will return.

November 28, 2007 at 9:16 pm 1 comment

In Memoriam

In July our then newest cat, a 1 year old kitten named Gandalf the Grey, suffered a severe asthma attack and died. I’ve owned a lot of cats in my life, and I can say without hesitation that he was the sweetest cat I have ever known. He is still sorely missed.

Since then I discovered the joy that is lolcats. If you haven’t seen these yet you’re missing out. Some of them a pretty cheesy, but every so often there’s one that is perfect. My wife snapped a priceless picture of Gandalf that was made for lolcats, so I turned it into a lolcat picture.

Yes, he really was riding my bike.

November 27, 2007 at 10:23 pm Leave a comment

Aren’t You Glad?

It’s Monday night, I’m tired, and there’s only 5 days left in NaBloPoMo. I’m tapped out folks. So tonight I’ll just leave you to ponder the following:

Aren’t you glad you don’t live in a country where you can be arrested for naming a teddy bear “Muhammad“?

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if religious extremists actually read their holy books. Would Muslim extremists turn into peace-loving, altruistic intellectuals? Would Christian extremists turn into humble advocates for the poor and disenfranchised?

Sadly, I doubt we’ll ever know.

November 26, 2007 at 10:44 pm 2 comments

You Call That Music?

A piece from the 1970’s followed by a Bach chorale in church this morning got me to thinking about “classical” music. I’m not talking about actual classical music, composed between 1750ish to 1810ish. I’m talking about what Joe Normal probably thinks of as classical music. That is, stuff you hear in church, at the symphony, or at the opera.

I’ve been thinking about how inaccessible modern classical music is. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of modern classical music that I love. It’s just that unless you’ve grown up on it and trained your ear to hear what’s good about it, a lot of the time it’s just so much noise. The problem is that it’s virtually impossible to tell the good noise from the bad unless you know what you’re listening for. On top of that, there’s a lot of jokers out there who think they can write good classical music who frankly can’t.

What I can’t figure out is how we got to this point. Classical music written from around 1600 or so up to the early 20th century was the popular music of the time. Bach was well known all throughout Germany. Mozart was a child star that could have put Macauley Culkin to shame. Thousands lined the streets of Vienna for Beethoven’s funeral. Puccini was as close to a rock star as late 19th century Italy could have. And hundreds protested Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring when it was first performed.

So what the heck happened?

I suppose it could be that the music has simply gotten too complex. There a very few people who can sit through a contemporary classical performance without being completely turned off. Even someone with a fair amount of training like myself has to concentrate extremely hard to appreciate contemporary music. And part of me doubts that music you have to concentrate on is really worth listening to.

But another part of me laments the loss of the fabulously intricate music that requires massive amounts of skill to compose. Obviously I love rock music, and I appreciate the art form very much. But let’s face it: it’s pretty straightforward musically. What happened to the multitudes being able to enjoy the intricacies of a Bach cantata, or be transported by a Beethoven symphony, or cry at a Puccini opera?

It’s probably the fault of the composers themselves. There’s something of an attitude that if you can’t get it, you’re just dumb. To my mind a perfect example is Michael Nyman. His soundtrack for the movie The Piano was fabulously popular. It was just as difficult in many ways as his other works, but infinitely more accessible. Does that mean he wrote more music like that? No, he continued with his esoteric, avant-garde music. Another good example is the novel Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, which shows how a supposedly great composer can become so fundamentally self-centered that he loses touch with reality.

I guess all I can do is keep listening to the great works and hope that others will hear it too and try to find out more. There’s got to be a way to satisfy both the artists and the people.

November 25, 2007 at 11:36 pm 1 comment

Aquadotty

We’ve all gotten fairly used to recalls this year. It seems like we’d had a long run of nothing more than a few scattered cases of small parts causing choking when suddenly lead-tainted toys appear from China. As if credit woes and a declining dollar weren’t enough, now we can’t even buy cheap Chinese toys.

Well, the recalls reached a new “high,” so-to-speak, with the announcement that a company out of Canada has recalled the latest rage in grade-school crafting, Aqua Dots. Apparently what you’re supposed to do is put the beads into patterns, spray them with water, and presto they’re permanently stuck.

Yeah, small beads with a weird, water-reactive chemical on them, aimed at the 3 and up set. Couldn’t see this one coming.

I don’t want to make light of the fact that several children became seriously ill after ingesting these (I mean, what did they think kids would do with them? They look like frickin’ Jujubees!). But you can’t make this sort of stuff up. Apparently upon being ingested, the chemical coating the beads becomes… GHB.

For those of you who don’t watch Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, GHB is more commonly known as the date rape drug. It renders the person non-responsive but with some level of consciousness. Exactly the sort of thing you want your kids to have.

Of course, some people use the drug recreationally. (Why anyone would want to use what is essentially degreasing solvent or floor stripper mixed with drain cleaner is beyond me, but hey, whatever floats your boat.) Which leads one to wonder if the remaining Aqua Dots on the shelves might become hot commodities…

Despite this being a very dangerous and highly unfortunate turn of events for this company, there was very little chance that this could have been determined before the product was released. The GHB only forms after the beads are ingested. What kills me is the reaction some people have to this, making it seem like the company is out shooting kids. Even worse is that somehow this has gotten entangled with the Chinese lead-paint business and now it sounds as though the blame is getting thrown at China again. The Chinese manufacturers made the product to spec in this case. It was the product itself that was bad.

So even when people have a legitimate reason for concern they overreact. }sigh{

November 24, 2007 at 11:22 pm Leave a comment

Beware Black Friday!

A little bit of a cheater post today, but after watching local news provide 10 minutes of coverage for “Black Friday” including tips from the Columbus Police about how to not get mugged, this post from 23/6 was just too good to pass up. Apparently my local news missed FEMA’s update on how to protect yourself on “Black Friday.” Enjoy!

November 23, 2007 at 3:17 pm Leave a comment

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