Libraries and Open Source

Photo Credit: Kuzeytac (will be back soon) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Kuzeytac (will be back soon) via Compfight cc

In an article about how the use of Inkscape can possibly reduce the number of incarcerated people by Phil Shapiro, there is the following paragraph:

There are many excellent free software programs for audio and musical creativity. You see, to reach a more inclusive society, we need to be using and teaching a lot more free software programs. These programs can spur a culture of creativity, design, and invention that can bring about an economic rebound. You know that $17 trillion debt we’re facing? Greater creativity—widespread creativity and invention—is our best hope of reducing that debt.

He talks about how the use of the free and Open Source product Inkscape in classes can help give people who can’t afford the latest and greatest graphics software a way to create and produce that is not text based. Many people have much to contribute, but they aren’t wired to do well in a heavily text-based system. Allowing some students the freedom to create a story or essay in images (using Open Source products that they can then use on their own for no cost at home or at their local public library) would be one way to help students succeed in school. Success in school tends to depress the amount of illegal activities one does, so the basic premise is that using Open Source graphics software like Inkscape to allow students who are not textual learners to learn along with those who are more comfortable writing long essays.

All that being said, this is an excellent argument for libraries to put Open Source software – not just Inkscape, but GIMP and Open Office and any others that patrons might need to learn to use in order to make use of a hand-me-down computer that has nothing going for it but the ability to run light-weight programs like the ones listed above. If we are going to take on, as part of our mission, the teaching of technology, we need to do it in a way that is as accessible to those without resources to get the latest and greatest as it is for those who have those resources.

Libraries NEKLS thinking

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!!

Libraries MRRL Personal

Scared? Check. Excited? Check. Must mean I’m starting something new!

I put in my notice today at my current POW (Place of Work), the Missouri River Regional Library, in order to move to Lawrence, KS and take the position of Director of Technology for NEKLS (North East Kansas Library System). December 21, 2012 (I never realized – that’s the Mayan date, isn’t it?) would have been my 14 year anniversary at MRRL. That makes this a pretty big move and makes the “scared” part of the headline understandable, I hope. Heading out to Kansas to help Kansas libraries with their technology issues and to support what appears to be a *very* forward-thinking set of member libraries? That’s where the “excited” part comes in. I may be quiet for a while as I tie up loose ends at MRRL and begin to figure out just what I’ll be doing at NEKLS, but I’ll be around on my social network sites, I’m sure!


Watch out!! Something on the Internet is WRONG!

So, I’m reading the Seattle Times Op-Ed on libraries (not because I live in, or even have ever been to, Seattle, but because I have a Google Alert set up for libraries that I actually do peruse occasionally) and steam started coming out of my ears. The idea behind the op-ed is that libraries are relics and that library spaces and staff need to be redesigned to become “Library 2.0” (the gentleman doing the writing doesn’t realize that Library 2.0 has been done? Pick another name, sir…). There were a couple of quite simply *wrong* statements that he makes (without any sources cited, of course) that I shall refute (with sources! and anecedata!!) that I wanted to bring to your attention.

First – “The entirety of human knowledge is never more than a few clicks or taps away.” (top of the page at In 2007, it was estimated that 94% of the web can’t be accessed from search engines because it’s behind a paywall or otherwise hidden from view. These are the kinds of resources that individual people find hard to pay for – stuff like hundreds of dollars a year for a subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary or thousands of dollars a year for access to journal and magazine article databases. The sort of things that libraries can get by pooling everyone’s tax dollars and buying them for everyone to access.

Second: “Nowadays, people come to the library to gather with friends and neighbors, to study in a peaceful environment, to watch DVDs and flip through magazines or to browse the Internet for free. As any librarian will tell you, they rarely come to read books.” – all completely true, until that last statement. Unless he means it *literally* – as in nobody comes to sit down in the library chairs and read, though the next sentence (where he discusses removing “dusty” shelves and “crusty” books) seems to argue against that interpretation. In Library Journal earlier this year, there was a story entitled “Book Buying Survey 2012: Book Circ Takes A Hit” which does say that after a decade of soaring book circulation statistics, they’ve suddenly gone flat. If you read all the way through the article, though, the author admits that if you add in circulation of ebooks, the picture looks much rosier and circulation is still up.  I know that in my occasional shifts on the circulation desk, I see MANY books being taken out of the library and MANY books being returned – there has been no dip in circulation at my particular library!

Third: “Specifically, we need to create a librarian portal, where each librarian is tagged with his or her specialty (history, sports, cooking). Whenever any patron asks a question in-person, over the phone or online, the librarian with the most expertise is automatically alerted.” Uh. This actually might be a decent idea for larger public libraries or consortia. I’ll grant him this one.

He ends by saying he’s the 22 year old son of a librarian and he’s a ” a Kindle-reading, Wikipedia-surfing, smartphone-tapping member of my generation.” and that he knows – as we all should – that the library is dying. I disagree. I think the library is changing, but not dying. People still read and they still want to use the library’s resources. Some of those resources are different than the ones his father likely presided over, but they are still valuable and still used.

I’m a 39 year old Kindle-reading, Wikipedia-surfing, smartphone-tapping member of my generation too. And some of the apps I have on that smartphone direct me to my local library. That’s the future of libraries.


Libraries and Content Creation

At the Tame The Web blog, Ben Lainhart talks about Print On Demand services and how they can be used to make libraries more of a content creation laboratory than a content consumption warehouse. This is a grand idea – but the use of a very expensive Print On Demand machines isn’t necessary. After reading Walt Crawford’s most recent book, The Librarian’s Guide To Micropublishing, (disclaimer – I contributed a “blurb” to the cover of the book, but I have no financial stake in the book whatsoever – other than wishing my friend Walt well), there are many, many ways that a library can support content creation without investing a crazy amount of money to do so. From following Walt’s advice on self-publishing support for patrons to setting up a media creation station with a Mac and some hardware and software, libraries can do a lot to support their patrons in both consuming and creating content at the library.

Libraries Personal travel

NOLA – Here I Come

I’m getting ready to head out to the Big Easy this weekend. It’s a vacation combined with a bit of work-related socializing. This weekend is the beginning of the national ALA conference (the American Libraries Association, for those of you who aren’t in libraries but are still reading this blog…) and I’m heading down to tour the town, see folks that I only see once or twice a year and get wined (maybe?) and dined (definitely) by Neal-Shuman. They are taking all of the authors of the Tech Set books (those of us that will be in New Orleans, at least) to Emeril’s on Sunday night. Sort of a celebration for winning the Greenwood Publishing award for best library literature of 2011. I’m looking forward to the whole weekend, but that will be a lovely cap for my trip.

We’re heading down there Thursday and coming back on Monday, so it will be a quick trip and without any ALA-related blogging, probably. I’m not registered for the conference, so I won’t be attending any sessions, but I will be hitting the Exhibits (free stuff!!) and will be taking pictures of both my touristy stuff and my ALA get-togethers. Those will show up here, I’m sure!

business Drupal Libraries

North Kansas City – a new Drupal-based library site

I’ve been spending some of my free time lately working on another library’s Drupal-based website (don’t tell my library’s site that I’m cheating on it!!). The North Kansas City Public Library just went live with their new website last week. As with all websites, the site isn’t *done*, but it is ready for the public, so I thought I’d point to it and discuss, briefly, what I did to help get the site ready for prime time.

When I started work on the site, they had the Drupal backend installed and a theme chosen, but they wanted a couple of things tweaked. The first thing they asked for was the slideshow that you see on the home page. I did that with Views Slideshow and a wee bit of CSS trickery to get it to sit so tightly against the sides. Now all the staff has to do is create a slideshow content node and it automatically shows up in the slideshow! One of the other things that they wanted was some modification of the Sky theme that they are using.  I took out most of the thin grey lines that border the content and a lot of the extra space between blocks and various bits of content. Let’s just say that I got to know Sky’s CSS files very well…

Another thing that they asked me to set up for them was the News and Updates blocks below the slideshow on the home page. That was done by creating a News View, getting it set up to grab all News content types (a new content type created through CCK – the Content Creation Kit) and publishing it. When I had it the way I wanted it, I cloned the View and created the Updates block very easily!

The only big challenge that I faced with this site had to do with the Event calendar. On the big calendar of events (they use the Event module to make that happen), repeating events were being displayed once in a particular month, but none of the repeats were shown later in the month. This seems to be a weakness of the Event module and I couldn’t find a good solution for it, so they enter each event as a separate event – no repeating… If you have come across this issue and figured out a better solution, please let me know!!

I also set up event sign-up capabilities for them through the sign-up module that works with the Event module. That was a little less straightforward – the sign-up module requires that you actually edit the PHP array that produces the form if you want more information than it gives you. I did so, but for people who are using Drupal because they aren’t comfortable with editing code, this could be a deal-breaker. Other than that, though, the sign-up and Event modules work nicely together!

While I did much of the backend development, the content and graphics were provided by the North Kansas City Public Library. They have a very talented graphic designer on staff (Nicole Parigo) who made all of the gorgeous icons, slideshow images and other graphical bits on the site. It’s easy to make a site pretty when the images are so very well done! Steven Campbell worked on the content and had installed and put into place many of the modules needed for the site to function before I started work on it, which meant I didn’t have to start from scratch!

The three of us working together put a, if I may say so myself, very nice site together for the North Kansas City Library – one that will be easy to update and maintain for the staff and useful for the library’s patrons.



Seth Godin on the future of Libraries

The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.

This! What Seth Godin sees as the future of libraries is very similar to what I see. It’s not the container of information we should be worried about – it’s the information itself. If it comes in e-book format or through an online database or via a very old, very delicate manuscript, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that people (our patrons) can access that information and the knowledge and skills to wrangle it (in the form of a librarian, of course). I’ve written before about making the library co-working friendly and have long advocated for more and better technology to be put in place for our patrons so that they can “coordinate and invent projects woth working on together”. I’ve been pushing collaboration between librarians, patrons and the library and between patrons themselves for years! I can’t say that I agree with everything that Seth said in his post – it seems like his reference to a librarian helping someone use a soldering iron is a nod toward the recent article in Make about libraries being tool shops. I’m not so sure about that one… The idea that libraries should provide a community space that is full of information – in whatever form it takes – is one I’ve been advocating for a while and I’m very glad to see others thinking the same way.


In The Library With A Lead Pipe or What A Library Should *Be*

Besides having one of the best blog titles EVAR, In the Library with a Lead Pipe also has some of the most thought-provoking, long-form blog posts out there. In the post made on Wednesday the 20th, What Are Libraries For?, guest author Hugh McGuire says:

I’d like to propose a loose definition of what libraries are for, which comes out of something of a trope: that the central problem for big institutions when the environment around them is changing (as it is for libraries with the arrival of ebooks) is that they falsely assume that how they do things defines why they exist. In fact, the inverse relationship should dominate what they do: why they exist should define how they do things. Put another way, institutions must understand what they are for in order to properly understand how they should be, especially when the foundations upon which they were built are changing.

The rest of the post discusses the eventual overtaking of adult casual reading by ebooks and the difficulties libraries, at least those that define themselves as “the place to get books” will face when that happens. This made me look over at my wall where I’ve posted a large-print version of my library’s mission statement. It is as follows:

The mission of the Missouri River Regional Library is to make available to the residents of Cole and Osage Counties a diverse collection of human wisdom, experience, and ideas. The library makes accessible and promotes the use of informative and creative resources and cultural programs by which people of all ages, abilities, and circumstances can pursue their educational, professional and recreational interests.

(the red color is my addition; I wanted to highlight the verbs – the stuff I need to remember when I’m posting new information on the blog and other social sites)
I’d like to point out that this mission statement never uses the words book or magazine. The point of my library is to provide information in whatever format or style happens to be available. If ebooks are the dominant form, we’ll provide access to ebooks – however we can do it. If holographic lectures overtake journal articles as a way to provide information to our patrons, we’ll make it happen. The message that libraries will be irrelevant when print becomes a less dominant format is just wrong. Libraries will adjust, adapt and come out swinging – mostly because the people that make up libraries (the librarians, staff and those dedicated patrons who support us) will continue to provide access to information. Period.


Something new in the library world…

Blake Carver, that collector of domain names, has found a use for yet another LIS domain – This site features Libraryland conferences and other events – and has a section for people who organize conferences to find speakers (yours truly included, of course). If you want to find an event or a speaker for your event, this is the place to look! If you want to follow all the added events, you can follow the LISEvents twitter feed, too.

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