Joho the Blog » libraries

November 9, 2013

Aaron Swartz and the future of libraries

I was unable to go to our local Aaron Swartz Hackathon, one of twenty around the world, because I’d committed (very happily) to give the after dinner talk at the University of Rhode Island Graduate Library and Information Studies 50th anniversary gala last night.

The event brought together an amazing set of people, including Senator Jack Reed, the current and most recent presidents of the American Library Association, Joan Ress Reeves, 50 particularly distinguished alumni (out of the three thousand (!) who have been graduated), and many, many more. These are heroes of libraries. (My cousin’s daughter, Alison Courchesne, also got an award. Yay, Alison!)

Although I’d worked hard on my talk, I decided to open it differently. I won’t try to reproduce what I actually said because the adrenalin of speaking in front of a crowd, especially one as awesome as last night’s, wipes out whatever short term memory remains. But it went very roughly something like this:

It’s awesome to be in a room with teachers, professors, researchers, a provost, deans, and librarians: people who work to make the world better…not to mention the three thousand alumni who are too busy do-ing to be able to be here tonight.

But it makes me remember another do-er: Aaron Swartz, the champion of open access, open data, open metadata, open government, open everything. Maybe I’m thinking about Aaron tonight because today is his birthday.

When we talk about the future of libaries, I usually promote the idea of libraries as platforms — platforms that make openly available everything that libraries know: all the data, all the metadata, what the community is making of what they get from the library (privacy accommodated, of course), all the guidance and wisdom of librarians, all the content especially if we can ever fix the insane copyright laws. Everything. All accessible to anyone who wants to write an application that puts it to use.

And the reason for that is because in my heart I don’t think librarians are going to invent the future of libraries. It’s too big a job for any one group. It will take the world to invent the future of libraries. It will take 14 year olds like Aaron to invent the future of libraries. We need supply them with platforms that enable them.

I should add that I co-direct a Library Innovation Lab where we do work that I’m very proud of. So, of course libraries will participate in the invention of their future. But it’ll take the world — a world that contains people with the brilliance and commitment of an Aaron Swartz — to invent that future fully.

 


Here are wise words delivered at an Aaron Hackathon last night by Carl Malamud: Hacking Authority. For me, Carl is reminding us that the concept of hacking over-promises when the changes threaten large institutions that represent long-held values and assumptions. Change often requires the persistence and patience that Aaron exhibited, even as he hacked.

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October 25, 2013

[dplafest] Advanced Research and the DPLA

I’m at a DPLAfest session. Jean Bauer (Digital Humanities Librarian, Brown U.), Jim Egan (English Prof, Brown), Kathryn Shaughnessy (Assoc. Prof, University Libraries, St. John’s U), and David Smth (Ass’t Prof CS, Northeastern).

Rather than liveblogging in this blog, I contributed to the collaboratively-written Google Doc designated for the session notes. It’s here.

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[dplafest] Dan Cohen opens DPLA meeting

Dan Cohen has some announcements in his welcome to the DPLAfest.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The collection now has 5M items. These come from partner hubs (large institutions) and service hubs (aggregations of smaller providers). Three new hubs have joined, bringing the total to nine, from NY, North Carolina, and Texas. Dan stresses the diversity of contributors.

The DPLA sends visitors back to the contributing organizations. E.g., Minnesota Reflections is up 55% in visitors and 62% in unique visitors over the year since it joined the DPLA.

He also announces the DPLA Bookshelf, which is a contribution from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab that I co-direct. It’s an embedded version of the Stacklife browser, which you can see by going to DP.LA and searching for a book. (You can use the Harvard version here.

Dan announces a $1M grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to help local libraries curate material in the DPLA and start scanning in local collections. Also, an anonymous donor gave $450,000. [I don't want to say who it was, but, well, you're welcome.] Dan Cohen suggests we become a sponsor athttp://www.dp.la/donate. T-shirts and, yes, tote bags.

There have been 1,7M uses of the DPLA API as of September 2013. Examples of work already done:

Dan talks about DPA Local, and idea that would enable local communities to use the services the DPLA provides.

Dan says that all of the sessions have Google Docs already set up for collaborative note-taking [an approach I'm very fond of].

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October 20, 2013

[templelib] Temple Univ. library symposium

On Friday I had the pleasure and honor of attending a symposium about libraries as part of the inaugural festivities welcoming Temple University’s new president, Neil Theobald.

The event, put together by Joe Lucia, the Dean of Temple U. Library, featured an amazing set of library folks. It was awesome to have some time to hang out with such an accomplished group of people who not only share values, but share values that are so core to our culture.

I liveblogged the talks, with my usual unreliable haphazardness and cavalier attitude toward accuracy and comprehension. Here are the links, in chronological order (which of course is the reverse of blogological order):

  1. James Neal: 26 truths about libraries

  2. Siobhan Reardon: Renewing Philadelphia’s public libraries

  3. Nancy Kranich: Engaging the academic community

  4. Rachel Frick: Innovation outward

  5. Anne Kenney: Cornell’s hiphop collection

  6. Bryn Geffert: Libraries as publishers

  7. Charles Watkinson: Univ. press partnerships

  8. Craig Dykers: Architecting libraries

I led off the session with a talk about why the networking of knowledge and ideas, especially in college communities, should encourage libraries to develop themselves as platforms in addition to being portals.

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[templelib] Craig Dykers: library architecture

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Craig Dyker‘s company — Snøhetta — is a transdisciplinary group of architects of various sorts. (Snohetta is where Valhalla is.) They have offices in NYC and Oslo.

He points out that half of the people who come to the charging bull statute in NYC (next to his office) pose at the front and half come to the back. We are irrational creatures, he says. And tactile things are very much a part o who we are. (He has us shake hands with our neighbors.)

“There seems to be a liberal attitude couples with professional angst” among librarians. He’s been told that librarians have the most tattoos and skin piercings. There are many sites for librarians with tattoos. “Librarians won’t go away because we have this deep rooted fetish for libraians. It’s a fetish.” [TMI, Craig, TMI.] He’s not sure where it comes from except librarians are interesting people and you have intimate conversations with them.

If you ask people to describe a library, you get different answers. “As soon as you design for the state of the art, the art changes.” As architects, Snøhetta designs for versatility versus flexibility.

Their first library job: designing the new library in Alexandria, Egypt. He shows the building, which looks beautiful. It’s completely accessible. There’s a 4 acre plaza open to the public. “Libraries don’t stop at the door.” The police and the military wanted a wall around the plaza with guard towers. “We fought for six years” to build it without one.

During the uprisings, the students at the university and other citizens formed a human chain around the library to protect it — people on both sides of the argument. The plaza became a place for prayer and open debate.

Books and computers are just lumps until people interact with them. Libraries have always been about these interactions. This affected the design of the Hunt Library at NCSU. The existing library was foreboding, scary. The inside looked like a bank. The librarian decided to replace the furniture, but through a screw up, there wer 6 months when it had no furniture. So they bought 300 $10 bean bags…and library attendance tripled.

Then they decided to build a new library, on the engineering campus. Snohetta wanted to tie it to its place, which has rivers, weaving. They wanted natural light and fresh air, for the sake of the users but also the people who work there. There’s a balcony at the top where people congregate for fresh air and the view. Gardens are fed by rainwater from the roof. The building looks like it’s looking somewhere.

Books are fetched by a “robot,” whih people enjoy watching.

They want people to take the stairs, so they painted them yellow and put an inviting “Ask Me” sevice at the top. They put the elevators in a dark, less convenient place.

There are lots of types of chairs, but the swivel ones are very popular; bodily movement is really important, Craig stresses.

[He gives a guided tour which I can't capture. You need the photos.]

“Libraries are as much about making as about taking,” so there are 3D printers, etc.

Einstein said that our technology has exceeded our humanity. Craig loves tech, but if tech manages his life, he becomes inhuman. Nothing we’ve invented in the past 30 years isn’t an elaboration of something before there were computers.

Library furniture and equipment looks like it’s for dental offices, so they put glass on top of regular tables, etc. “If you write on something you feel like you own the place.”

The NCSU library is designed for walking. But, you need a place to walk to. So, they had an arresting mural created.

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[templelib] Charles Watkinson: “The Library in the Digital Age”

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Charles Watkinson is Director, Purdue Univ. Press. He says he wishes everyone were like Bryn [see prior post]. But univ. presses generally only receive 15% of their income from the university. So, Bryn’s model isn’t generally applicable.

His toddlers watch Dinosaur Train. “I know you perceive university presses as dinosaurs” but as in the show, some dinosaurs are different from others.

John Thompson in Books in the Digital Age talks about “publishing fields.” He says it’s complex but not without order. We’re seeing the emergence of several different mission-driven publishers: university presses, scholarly societies, library presses. He will talk about univ and library presses. (He points to Envisioning Emancipation as a univ. press at its best.) He goes through some of the similarities and differences between the two presses.

He takes as a case study the Purdue U Press and Purdue Scholarly Publishing Services as an example of how these types of presses can be complementary. (He mentions Anne Kenney’s partnering of Cornell Library with DukePurdue U Press on Project Euclid.)

The aim, Charles says, is to meet the full spectrum of needs, ranging from pre-print to published books. He points to the differences in brand styles of the two and how they can be merged.

So, “What can we do together that we couldn’t do apart?”

“We can serve campus needs better.” He points to the Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research, which combines library skills (instruction, assessment, institutional outreach) with publisher skills (solicitation for content, project management, editing, design).

Also, together they can support disciplines. E.g., Habri Central Library skills: bibliographic research, taxonomy, metadata, licensing, preservation. Publisher skills: financial management, acquisition of original content, marketing.

Also, solve issues in the system. E.g., the underlying data behind tech reports, e.g., JTRP. Library skills: digitization, metadata, online hosting, linked data, preservation. Publisher skills: peer review administration, process redesign, project management.

Questions for these merged entities: What disciplines can best be served together? How to build credibility? How to turn projects into programs? What is the future role of earned revenues? Will all products be Open Access? What is the sustainability plan for OA?

Maybe libraries should turn to university presses for advice and help with engagement since “that’s what university presses do.”

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Bryn Geffert: Libraries as publishers

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Bryn Geffert is College Librarian at Amherst.

Imagine a biologist at Amherst who writes a science article. Who paid for her to write that article? Amherst. But who paid Amherst? Students. Alumni and donors. US funds.

Now it’s accepted by Elsevier. The biologist gives it to Elsevier as a gift, in effect. Elsevier charges Amherst $24,000/year for a subscription to this particular journal. It’s Looney Tunes, Bryn says. There isn’t a worse imaginable model.

Since 1986, serial [= journal] prices have increased 400%. Why? Because a few publishers have a monopoly: Wiley, Elsevier, Springer. With increasing prices for serials, libraries have less money for books. In 1986, academic libraries spent 46% of budgets on books. Now it’s down to 22%. And the effect on book publishers is even worse: when they can’t sell books to libraries, they shut down publishing in entire disciplinary fields. The average sales per academic book is now 200 copies. Since 1993, 5 disciplines have lost presses. E.g., the number of presses sserving British Lit have dropped by about half. More and more academic works are going to bad commercial presses — bad in that they don’t improve what they get.

These these are just the problems of wealthy institutions. How about the effect on developing countries? He gives three examples of work of direct relevance to local cultures where the local culture cannot afford to buy the work.

University presses are dying. Money to purchase anything except journals is dying. Academic presses are dying. And we’re paying no attention to the world around us.

Why does Amherst care? Their motto is “terras irradient”: light the world. But nothing in this model supports that model.

What do we have to do? He goes through these quickly because, he says, we are familiar with them:

  1. Open Access policies
  2. Legislation that mandates that federally supported research be Open Access
  3. Go after the monopolies that are violating anti-trust
  4. Libraries have to boycott offenders.

But even so, we need to design a new system.

Amherst is asking what the mission of a university press is. Part of it: make good work even better and make it as widely available as possible.

What is the mission of the academic libraries? Make good info as widely available as possible.

So, combine forces. U of Mich put its press under the library. This inspired Amherst. But Amherst doesn’t have a press. So, they’re creating one.

  • Everything will be online, Open Access (Creative Commons)

  • They will hustle to get manuscripts

  • All will be peer reviewed and rigorously edited

But how will they pay for it? Amherst’s Frost Library is giving two positions to the press. In return, those editors will solicit manuscripts. The President will raise money to endow a chair of the editor of the press. They’ll take some money from the Library to pay freelancers for copy-editing. Some other units at Amherst are kicking in other services, including design and building an online platform.

People say this is too small to make a difference. But other schools are starting to do similar things. This means that Amherst is a recipient of free content from them. Bryn can imagine a time when there’s so much OA content that the savings realized offset the costs of publishing OA content.

The goal is to move away from individual presses looking out for their own interests to one in which there’s free sharing. “I want to see a world in which the students at a university in Nairobi have access to the same information as students at Columbia.”

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[templelib] Rachel Frick. Digital Library Federation

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

[I came in late. Sorry!!]

Rachel Frick is talking about the importance of the Commons. Too often, she says, librarians come into the conversation as if they’re from a bounded place. We keep producing the same solutions to different problems. (She recommends Steven John’s Where Good Ideas Come From. She earlier recommend Networked by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman. [I concur with these recommendations!])

Rachel says she likes SxSW for idea sharing. She was talking with Bonnie Tijerina and they came up with the idea of the Idea Drop house for librarians at SxSW for livestreaming conversations. [I did one last year! It was a very cool venue: an AirBnB residence with librarians and refreshments. What more could you want?] They had 800+ visitors. [*This is even more impressive since the house was not on the main campus of SxSW.]

She worked with DPLA, Europeana and OpenGLAM on “Culture Hack”: use our data! Also meetups at SxSW. Also, LibraryBox: an instant wifi distribution point run on a battery for distribution of library content. They used it to distribute tons of open content at the conference. It was a great way to engage people in conversation about libraries.

Jason Griffey wanted to upgrade the LibraryBoxes. He needed about $3K. He needed to make a case for its need. So what are some non-ilbrary-centric use cases? Health care info in remote areas. Unmonitored conversations. He raised $13K in 4 days on Kickstarter. At the end of 30 days, he’d raised $33K. Because he could reach beyond the library space, and because it spoke to open access to info, it succeeded.

Now is the time for creators and makers, she says. Bess Sadler talks about the hacker epistemology: adopt a problem solving mindset, the truth is what works, solve for interesting. Bethany Nowviskie at Code4Lib a few years ago talked about the creative mindset: meticulous, practical, an impulse to build and maintain, and to suffer fools gladly. Kathy Sierra talks about how you get over The Big Frickin’ Wall between incremental changes and transformation. John Voss, who works for HistoryPin [and organizer of LODLAM], says you get over the wall by connecting what we do to a greater purpose.

“The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities” David Lankes, Atlas of New Librarianship. This is how Linked Data will be made real, Rachel says. She cites the LODLAM conference, and DPLA: intracommunity conversation.

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[templelib] Nancy Kranich, Rutgers Univ: “From Collecting to Connecting: Engaging the Academic Community”

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Nancy Kranich at Rutgers School of Info and Library Science (and she’s a former president of the American Library Association) begins by quoting Alfred Lord Whitehead:

“The task of a University is the creation of the future so far as rational thought, and civilized modes of appreciation, can affect the issue.” What does that mean for libraries?

We need to think about how the library can be a co-creator of the future. We lack a collective narrative. People don’t have any idea what librarians are really about. Wendy Lougee says that we are transitioning from focusing on the products of scholarships to support the processes of scholarship. There’s a paradigm shift underway:

  • Product > Process.
  • Scarcity > Abundance.
  • Outside in > Inside out.
  • Push > Pull.
  • Just in case > Just in time.

Librarians have an “edifice complex,” she says; they don’t get outside the building enough. We’re not having the same conversation in the library that we’re having outside the library. E.g., we spend forever on deciding on which Web discovery system to use, but no one uses our Web site. We need to get over this gap. “How do we get people from different disciplines and locations to work with one another…” (citing John Seely Brown.) For this we need a compelling narrative.

Libraries use the word “engage” all the time. We have to engage with particular communities, not just one size fits all. But we don’t know how to. We need to listen. Convene conversations, as they have at Rutgers. Identify shared aspirations. These conversations give the library more authority, and also makes it more accountable.

It’s important to start these conversations with aspirations rather than with problems. If you start at problems, the conversation generally doesn’t get past them.

As an example of the lack of a narrative, Nancy shows a graphic produced by Rutgers that shows undergrad education as a pathway through the campus. No library is in the graphic. So, the library started having kitchen table conversations across the community about their aspirations for under grad education. Themes emerged:

  1. Build informal relationships
  2. Teach critical thinking
  3. Embbrace diversity and inclusion to engage across differences
  4. Engage when and where students convene

These conversations lead to public knowledge. Then they instituted monthly discussions, which lead to “pockets of change” that ripple out.

Turning outward toward the community has been difficult, but an “amazing experience.” They are much more inclusive in public discourse.

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[templelib] Siobhan Reardon: Renewing the Free Library of Philadelphia

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Siobhan A. Reardon is president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia. [So awesome!] She came in 5 years ago when the system was facing serious financial cutbacks. She brought in a consulting group to help the library come up with a strategic plan. The consultants took the Library through an extensive and well-structured process. [Siobhan gives us a lot of info; the following is at best an outline.]

They looked at four scenarios for where the economy and the state of tech access might be, from booms in both to busts in each. Since we don’t know what the future will be, how do you create an organization that can shift from one scenario to another?

Key success factors include not only operational effiiciency and marketing, but also the possibility of offering a premium service for a fee. Also, partnerships, virtual presence, facility design, and specialized talent.

Vision: Building an enlightened community devoted to lifelong literacy. Mission: advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity.

This works out to a dozen operational goals, which include focusing on providing especially strong support for: children under 5, new Americans, jobseekers, and small businesses.

Key takeaways from the study: Every project needs an owner.

  • Marketing has to be amplified.
  • Staff training is imperative.
  • The library must have a robust virtual aspect.
  • Each of the 48 neighborhood libraries have to be focused on its community.

They have a set of new potential programs. One is fine-free cards for children. (The library takes in $800,000/year in fines, so this will affect its bottom line.) The most progress has been in reaching jobseekers. They’ve also focused on users with special needs (which includes people with emotional issues and the homeless).

They then went through an organizational restructuring. After studying 14 other libraries, they realized that the Philadelphia Library is not sufficiently focused on customer engagement. Also, they’ve clustered libraries geographically, with shared staff and shared specializations.

Siobhan shows the layout of a re-designed library. Books are on the perimeter, with social space in the middle. Plus quiet rooms. Plus a cafe. She points out that libraries traditionally don’t like food near books, but people take books home and read them while drinking coffee and eating donuts. “Go figure,” she says.

She quickly cycles through photos of other libraries, each of which address some problem or opportunity. Beautiful.

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