This is powerful stuff:

And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.

Asimov on libraries

From Walking Paper.

I love this note from Isaac Asimov to the children of Troy, MI, which celebrated the opening of a new public library there in 1971:

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From Fast Company:

Netflix traffic, be it movies or TV shows streamed over the wires, now accounts for close to 30% of Net activity in U.S. homes in peak evening hours, according to a study by hardware/software net traffic experts Sandvine Inc.

In total, the “real time entertainment” share of Net traffic, which includes Netflix, takes up 49.2%—basically half of data flowing into homes. Web activity, presumably covering all other use cases including reading digital news sources or accessing social network resources, takes up less than 17%. We’re imagining the remaining 50% is taken up by digital traffic of other types like playing online games, reading email, making Skype calls, illegal file-sharing and so on … but the fact that a single provider has grabbed 30% of Net traffic is amazing.

A third of all internet activity during peak hours. Crazy.

This is especially interesting news, given what Seth Godin said recently about Netflix and libraries. If it is truly the case that “Netflix is a better librarian, with a better library, than any library in the country,” then can we figure out a way to jump on this bandwagon?

Amazon has finally indicated its openness to a library lending model for the Kindle, so is it just a matter of time before Netflix gets there, too?

I am very curious about the possibility of Netflix creating a streaming movie subscription service for libraries, wherein libraries pay for access based on population, cardholders, etc. Just like a database, it could be limited to in-library use, or preferably extended to accommodate remote access. It is also likely there would be price tiers for a one-viewer-at-a-time model vs. unlimited viewers. Checkout periods and automatic returns could function similarly to OverDrive.

Yes, this service would take us further from ownership of our collections—and make us increasingly subject to the capricious whims of corporations and their evolving licensing terms. However, it’s evident that streaming movies are quickening the demise of the DVD, so libraries need to be planning for what’s next.

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By day, Andy Woodworth is a mild-mannered librarian. By night, he’s still a librarian, just less mild-mannered.

Andy is kind of famous in the librarian community, mostly for getting the Old Spice guy to do a video about how great libraries are, and unsuccessfully campaigning to get Ben &…

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Libraries as ecosystems of innovation and creativity

This past Friday night I attended “Big Ideas For Busy People,” one of the events that opened the Cambridge Science Festival. Ten speakers, all of whom were either Harvard or MIT professors and several of whom were Nobel Prize winners and/or MacArthur geniuses, gave five-minute talks on a broad array of hot topics in science.

The talks touched mostly on things I knew next to nothing about: multiverses, the human microbiome, optogenetics, etc. Fascinating, but mostly beyond my comprehension.

I was very pleased, however, to leave the talks with an idea planted by the last speaker, Amy Smith, which has been incubating ever since.

Smith is a senior lecturer at MIT in the department of mechanical engineering. You can read all about her here and here. Please also take a look at what’s going on at the D-Lab, which she founded, and her TED talk.

Smith’s work deals primarily with appropriate design for developing countries. She talked about a 3-day design course she brought to remote villages in Africa which promoted creative capacity-building, co-creation and user-driven design. Rather than foisting “solutions” generated externally upon the community, the course empowers community members to create their own low-cost, sustainable inventions and ideas.

This program was tremendously inspiring, but it was a phrase Smith mentioned toward the end of her five minutes that really caught my attention. She spoke of the need to create “ecosystems of innovation and creativity,” rather than continuing to throw unsustainable development dollars at these communities.

How does this phrase apply to libraries? Well, given the uncertainty libraries face because of budget cuts, technological change and myriad other factors, and the identity crisis that necessarily ensues, we have the opportunity to reinvent libraries as ecosystems of innovation and creativity, a la the recent Make article on public libraries.

This is not to say that we give up on books (in whatever format) and reading. On the contrary, a vital part of this ecosystem would be collections of resources—in print, on the free web, on licensed databases—curated by librarians who know what makes their communities tick. Just as importantly, the library would function as a space for collaboration, engagement with new ideas and the creative practice of a variety of activities.

Skokie (IL) Public Library’s Digital Media Lab is one model of where this idea could go, but the great thing about this concept is that it is context-specific: the ecosystem will vary based on the specific needs of the community.

There is much work to be done to get us from here to there, but the creative capacity and passion of the library community itself gives me hope that this reinvention is possible and can be actualized.

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Taken outside the public library in Excelsior, MN.

Taken outside the public library in Excelsior, MN.

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This whole “let’s move librarians off public desks” seems like a step backwards for user experience by overly focusing on digital content to the detriment of face-to-face service.

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Tell us what you really think, Eli Neiburger.

Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have an MLIS and can maintain some emotional distance from the loving portrait we’ve painted of the monolithic “library” and “librarian.” Maybe it’s those cold Michigan winters. Whatever the case, our man up there in Wolverine country is not afraid to stir things up in libraryland:

Libraries are screwed.”

Reference is dead.”

Whew. You’ve got our attention, sir.

If you can get beyond these tantalizingly pithy, hyperbolic statements, however, what you find is a road map to where libraries might (and most likely should) be headed. Taking the positive opposite of “reference is dead,” for example, Neiburger says:

"If they are professionals, librarians should be behind the scenes and their time should be spent carefully. And you can get a lot of savings by staffing with a different level of support at the reference desk," Neiburger said.

Rethinking the support at the reference desk will free up resources to build storage infrastructure and the geeks to tend it.

"That means geeks who work for you, not for your vendor," he said.

I actually relish the idea that the present, passive reference model is dead, and that something more agile, flexible and proactive will replace it. My library is gearing up to experiment with roving reference, and hopefully a new iPad or some such gadget will aid us in the attempt.

And given the controversy concerning HarperCollins and ebook licensing, any move libraries can make to take greater control of their ____________ (content, infrastructure, you name it) is a step in the right direction.

It’s gotten to the point where I have this Pavlovian response (a hybrid between hyperventilation, anger and excitement) to seeing Neiburger’s name in an article, but I’m coping and challenging myself to think constructively about his ideas. If there were a cult of Eli Neiburger, I think I’d at least pay the membership dues.

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I’ve lost count of how many people have called the library and asked why our ebooks don’t work with their Kindle.

My answer to these queries usually begins with, “Well, Amazon has made the choice to take their toys and play by themselves.” Until now, I guess.

There are so many questions to be answered about this deal Amazon is apparently crafting with OverDrive, but this Library Journal article answers a couple of them. One question answered is about the issue of format:

In other words, the libraries—including schools, colleges and public libraries—will not have to add a new format, and the ebooks now available on the OverDrive sites will be immediately integrated with the Kindle.

This is a big deal. Amazon will apparently just flip a switch, and all of a sudden our present collection will work with their devices.

It’s also a bit scary, because opening up our OverDrive ebook collection to Kindlers means we (public libraries) are likely to see an overwhelming uptick in demand. We have ugly wait lists now; I’m worried what they will look like once this Amazon deal goes into effect.

If we were waiting for a cue to finally start spending serious money on our ebook collections, this has to be it. We’ll see what happens as more details emerge.

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I just got back from a two-day conference, and was very pleased to find that my iPad came in very, very handy. The event was held at MIT, so the wifi signal was reliable and fast — a big help. My little bugger is wifi-only, so I would have been up the creek if the signal had been patchy.

Nevertheless, being able to:

  • refer quickly to sites mentioned in discussion
  • take copious notes in Google Docs (and having changes saved automatically!)
  • bounce back and forth between my Hootsuite and the web to keep up with the conference’s Twitterstream
  • check work and personal email when the speaker got a little dry
  • take pictures of particularly interesting presentation slides
  • play Angry Birds when the speaker got really boring

Obviously, all of these things could be done with a laptop, but the fact that the iPad is feather-light (no back ache from having to lug a laptop around), has great battery life and a much more usable screen size than the iPhone makes the iPad a delicious option for conferences and working while traveling.

I was sold before, but I’m really sold now.

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