Category Archives: thinking

Cory Doctorow Came To Lawrence

Before the talkTonight, I went to the campus of KU and saw the one and only Cory Doctorow speak. This is the first time I’ve actually attended a speaking engagement of his, despite the fact that we both were at the Texas Library Association meeting a few years ago. I was busy with my speaking engagement, though, kicking off the inaugural hands-on computer lab sessions for TxLA that year and didn’t make it to his session(s) at all. This made me excessively glad to be able to go see him tonight!

He spoke on the issues of general purpose computers (PCs) and the fact that some – if not many – are now shipping as broken devices, already infected with the spyware and root kits necessary to make them less than fully functional computers (think anything that you can “jailbreak” or any console gaming device or any “internet appliance” that is locked down in any way). He talked about how DRM and other software locking schemes have weakened our ability to use computers and made them *less* secure. He gave a really, really excellent description of the SOPA law that nearly passed a couple of years ago – stating that the law itself would have worked. We know that because it does work – in Iran as well as China.

He spoke eloquently about the need to know what is going on in our computers and the need to be able to stop programs that work against our best interests. He talked about the fact that if the hearing aid – a general purpose computer stuck in a tiny device that will be implanted within his body – that he will undoubtedly need as he grows older isn’t open and accessible, anybody could do anything; keep him from hearing anything; make him hear things that aren’t there and more. Having open access to our computing platforms is the only sure way to knowing what is on our computers – something that will become ever more important as we have tiny computers implanted in us and as we get into large computers (airplanes, self-driving cars, etc) that ferry us around at great speeds.

Book Signing!

He made an impassioned plea to use the Ubuntu Linux Operating System – he pointed out that it is (finally) both beautiful and easy to use and is fully and completely open. He advocated Android phone OS’s and just generally being aware of what we are using in our computing lives. He also talked about how mean nerds are to their grandparents – grandmothers in particular, I think, and told the story of his grandmother who had no interest in computers, until Cory’s child was born (in England) and his grandmother (in Canada) decided she wanted to see her more often than once a year, so she got on Skype. It wasn’t that she couldn’t before – she just had no real reason to do so. The same can be said for the use of Linux-based operating systems – we can all use them and use them fairly easily; we just need a reason to do so.

Cory’s talk tonight gave many excellent reasons to do so! I’m very glad I went – it was a great reminder that we are at the beginning of the battle for control over our computers and that we need to work on making sure we retain control (see Lawrence Lessig’s RootStrikers – instead of dealing with copyright laws, Lawrence decided to strike at the root of the legal problem – the fact that corporations pay for so many election campaigns and laws are written to benefit those corps so that they will continue to contribute to re-election campaigns, ad nauseum. Fix election contribution issues, fix the root of the issue).

 

 

Notes from an eGathering (Rich Harwood) and a realGathering (Daniel Pink)

Yesterday, I participated in Lyrasis’ yearly meeting via webinar – what they branded as an eGathering – along with a few other NEKLS staff and librarians. The main part of the eGathering that I wanted to see was Rich Harwood’s talk about the Work of Hope. He talked about how to get community involvement in organizations  – not just libraries, either – he’s seen some excellent progress on community involvement with public broadcasting, too – and how to stay “relevant” to your community today and into the future. Basically, he asked librarians to pay more attention to:

  • Basics – igniting a greater sense of compassion for our communities
  • Openness – more humility in the ways we engage with each other
  • Common Good
  • Small Local Actions

The one central task for the entire country consisted of restoring our belief that we could come together to get things done and make a difference. We need to be more concerned about action than just doing activities without regard to how they actually change our culture and our communities. More concerned with progress as opposed to just the process of doing *something*.

He gave 4 steps to strengthen community and enhance relevance for all libraries, too:

  • Talk to people, in their language, about their aspirations. What do they want, not what you want to do.
  • Focus on changing the conditions of the community – the underlying culture
  • Help people to engender the belief that together, we can get things done
  • Pay more attention to the narratives in our communities – not just stories, but narratives (he gave the example of a narrative of a community being that teens are troublemakers and up to no good – that narrative needs to be changed!)

Rich provided listeners (and any other librarians interested in the ideas)  Conversation Materials for Libraries. That will get you started on the idea of community conversations that change the narratives in your community.

All that is well and good – and there were a lot of great ideas in the presentation – but what struck me was the similarity and overlap of Rich’s ideas to the ideas in the Daniel Pink book “To Sell Is Human” that was the topic of my book club meeting the night before. A group of Kansan library-related women (we had a librarian who works for a vendor, a librarian who does freelance training, a librarian who directs a library, a librarian who works on a web team for a local library system and a librarian who works for the regional library system here in NE Kansas – and me) read and discussed the book. First off – my impressions of the book were varied. I think the ideas were sound and many of them practical. I think some of the exercises were interesting and the stuff he talked about doing in order to perfect your “pitch” were very interesting. Others were a little on the cheesy side, but there were a lot of exercises to choose from, so that’s ok. The book is about moving people to do what you need them to do, but without resorting to “salesman” tactics. In libraries, we frequently want to move people to do things – everything from reading a book we are enthused about to writing a check to support the library and its programs.

We also want to move the community to support their library – and this is where Daniel’s and Rich’s ideas intersected for me. They both talked about doing more listening and less talking and more understanding and less imposing. Daniel’s ideas on questions and asking “good” questions really seemed to be echoed in Rich’s talk about listening to the community and understanding what they want, not what we want to give them. The webinar coming so soon on the heels of the book discussion was a revelation for me – the ideas are still swirling around in my head! I feel much better equipped to go out to the libraries in my system and talk about how to meet the needs of their communities than I did before – so the koolaid has been drunk and we’ll see what the results will be!!

My much delayed treatise on G+

So, I’ve been on G+ since June 29th and have had a chance to interact, join a hangout or two and generally play around with it as it’s grown. My general impressions are that it is a happening place – 10 million users in the first month or so of life indicates that it had some initial traction, though as more people use it and become familiar with it, those numbers have leveled off a bit (more about that later, I promise). As with most new social networking sites, the initial phase was all about G+ all the time – people were figuring it out, trying to find ways to make it useful to them and generally kicking the tires a bit. As it has gotten older and more settled, the posts are less about G+ and the features people love/hate/want and more about life and sharing bits of it with people in your circles.

While I appreciate the ease of the circle implementation on G+, I’m still spending too much time rearranging and reconfiguring my own circles. Heirarchical circles (the ability to place a circle of close friends into a circle of “general” friends so that all friends posts go to everyone, but I can choose to send only close friends the really personal posts, for example) would be nice, as would a way to permanently choose a “default” posting configuration. Most of my posts should be classed as “public” and I’d prefer to be able to set the public circle as my default, changing it to a more limited circle as needed. Others, of course, would prefer the most limited range to be their default – either way, we should be able to set that kind of thing easily and I haven’t found a way to do it yet.

Though I haven’t spent much time on it yet, the Hangout feature is by far my favorite – just in terms of sheer possibilities. My favorite use of a hangout so far has been an interactive cooking demonstration. All the ingredients were posted ahead of time, a time was set and the hangout was started. As people gathered in the hangout (and their kitchens), the “lesson” began and everyone started cooking together. The hangout continued through the cooking stage and into the eating and enjoying a bit of converation after dinner stage. Those who joined the hangout learned a new recipe, maybe some new cooking techniques and had a social experience while still having all the comforts of home. I’ve also heard of people having jam sessions over G+ hangouts. I’m sure I’ve missed other hangouts that were just as creative and interesting, too…

Of course, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is the way in which Google is choosing to run its service. Google has a real/common names policy – you must use either your real, legal name or the name you are commonly known by, which may be why the numbers of new users have been leveling off lately. I’ve seen it explained both ways and it’s not really clear which one Google is actually enforcing – but they are enforcing something, that is for sure. Many people have been critical of the decision and are choosing not to use G+ until they allow pseudonyms and being able to hide behind “fake” names. This is, of course, their right to do so – and there are good and valid reasons why someone would decide to never use their real name on the Internet. That doesn’t change the fact that Google pays the bills and Google gets to make the rules. I read an explanation of the reasoning behind the rules the other day and they make sense, to me at least… ;) Google knows that keeping people’s privacy on the Internet is a near impossibility – they cannot guarantee without a shadow of a doubt that if you post something to G+ under a pseudonym that they can keep it from ever being traced back to your real name, so they choose not to pretend that they can. They are being up front and realistic about the Internet today – it’s pretty crazy out there (see BART vs. Anonymous for more on that one…) and they have chosen to go the way of full disclosure. Of course, the way it’s being handled and the way Google is responding to feedback is occasionally clumsy, but this is a beta product and they are feeling their way along, just as we are. One of the reasons they give (besides the inability to guarantee privacy) for requiring real names is to put a stop (or at least a pause…) to spammers. This is pretty much failing – spammers are there, they just use plausible sounding names and create an account. They may eventually be found and deleted, but for a while they are going to be a problem for everyone – real names requirement or not.

Libraries have much to consider when contemplating using this service for anything – we have to decide if we want to “endorse” the real names requirement and make it mandatory for our patrons to sign up with a real name on an Internet site to interact with us (of course, Twitter still allows psuedonyms, so there are options…). We need to consider whether offering hangout-enabled programming or classes will be of any use to our patrons – and will be doable by our staff. I’m personally a bit reluctant to make it a *requirement* to join a class or attend a program (no G+ only classes at my library – at least for a while), though making it an alternate way to attend might be acceptable. Each library is going to have to consider the pros and cons and make those decisions for themselves. Until then, though, I still have a bunch of G+ invites if anyone wants to give the service a try – just shoot me your Google email address at robin.hastings@gmail.com!

Creating content on the iPad

One criticism I see about the iPad is that it’s software-based keyboard is difficult to use and unpleasant for long-form writing. I will agree that it takes some getting used to and that I still make more mistakes when using it than I do in a traditional, hardware keyboard, but it is still quite useful for me. I’ve written 2 1500 word articles, a 12 page chapter that will be published in an upcoming book, numerous blog posts (using the fabulous WordPress app!!) and more using nothing more than the software keyboard that the iPad comes with. I did shell out the $60 for an iPad dock/keyboard combo that I never use, because it is unusable with the iPad’s standard case (too much extra stuff around the edge of the case keeps the iPad from being able to connect to the dock at all… I need a new case, clearly!) and it’s more hassle to pull the iPad out of the case than it is to prop it up and start typing away. I’ll admit that I prefer typing in landscape mode – portrait is both a bit cramped and hard to do with the case being configured the way it is (again – new case for me – I’ll put in my Remember The Milk account now!), so landscape is the only way I create text on the iPad.
Now, to be honest, I have pretty small hands – my reach is pretty limited and my fingers are fairly small – so the keyboard that works for me may not work so well for you, depending on your hand size.
The reason I’ve posted all of this is to say that while some people may find it difficult to create text on the iPad, not everyone does. I wanted an alternative voice out there for people with small hands and a willingness to make a few mistakes in return for the convenience of being able to write where ever you are!

Breaking things and making progress

One of the big “themes” in the libraryland literature (and conference programming) is failure in libraries. One of my friends, Amy Buckland, is moderating a “Failcamp” at Internet Librarian this year with Krista Godfrey, Jan Dawson and Char Booth and, though I won’t be able to attend, I do have some thoughts on the matter.
I attended the NAGW annual conference last week in St. Louis and heard Jared Spool give the opening keynote. In it, he said that “risk averse organizations produce crap” – a very twitterable statement if ever I’ve heard one – in the context of spending an hour and a half talking about a study he and his company did on organizations that produce good stuff.
Between those two themes, there are a lot of good ideas to take away. One, the fact that you have failed in a program or project does not mean that you, or your library, is a failure. Two, failure is the best way to learn. If you succeed, there is no incentive to discover the cause of the success – failure practically begs you to discover the cause and learn from it. Three, if you are afraid to fail, you will be unable to do the risky work required to truly succeed.
All of these points are applicable to everything from creating programs and events for our libraries to coding and network maintenance. I quite regularly break our Drupal installation by doing something a bit risky and I learn more about Drupal and its inner workings every time I do it. One of the major things I’ve learned is how to *very quickly* recover from a system meltdown in Drupal…
We could be scared and unwilling to try anything new and let the status quo stand, but that will never get us anything but more of the same. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results – if we want to improve ourselves and our libraries, we have to be willing to try new things. Those new things come with the risk of failure, but, as the many articles, blog posts and conference programs show – failure isn’t the worst thing that could happen to your organization. In my opinion, not trying anything new and not innovating is.