Reflections on ageism

September 27, 2011 | Comments (37)

I remember when I was in my early 20s how old, experienced, smart, and amazing I felt.  I could take on the world.  I knew my stuff and was going to show everybody.

Recently I had occasion to meet a 21 year old who seemed, to me, like he was still in grade school.  He’s a smart guy with a world of experiences I’ve never had, but oh…my…gosh.  He seemed so, so young to my mid-30s mind.  Just looking at him I felt like I was looking at a kid I would babysit, not hang with.  And when he said he was born in 1990 I just about spit out my drink.  Sweet baby Jesus, I was in high school in 1990.  And I’m sure many of you were already through grad school or working in 1990.  Scary stuff, the passage of time.

Here’s the good thing that came out of that experience.  I now kind of (just kind of though) understand why all of my colleagues treated me like a child when I got my first librarian job at 24.  I must have looked to them like this person looked to me–too young to work, too young to be good at what I did.  It doesn’t excuse the abhorrent behavior I was subjected to on many occasions (the whole “Why don’t you leave and let the grown-ups talk, Sarah” comment at my first librarian job comes to mind), but it does make a little bit more sense to me now.

Now…twenty-somethings are smart.  I would argue they might actually be smarter than we are, because they’re so much closer to all of that wonderful intensive intellectual exploration we call school.  Most of us have let the learning slip out of our heads and haven’t put a whole lot back in.  We’ve gotten lazy, and probably less smart in the traditional sense.  We have built-up knowledge and experience, which is also profoundly helpful, but I would give credit where credit is due to the super smarts of our young friends.  We need to look past the baby fat on their still smooth faces and actually listen to them.

But we still do look at our young counterparts differently…and for the first time I understand why that happened to me.  It’s a gut instinct, an unconscious reaction to another being so much younger than you that you feel protective instead of on equal footing.  I don’t accept it in myself, and I hereby pledge that I won’t do it ever again to anyone else.  But I understand it now.  And that’s the learning I take with me today in my old codgerly brain.

And I swear, if anyone leaves some “but you’re only 34, you’re still a baby yourself” comments I will throttle you.  Seriously…I’m a librarian.  I can find out where you live.

Selfish Weekend Redux

September 14, 2011 | Comments (7)

If you follow me on the social networks, you might have seen that I decided to dub this past weekend “Crazy, Selfish, Indulgent Weekend.”  I chronicled my activities this weekend on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.  I got a lot of questions in all these media about the origin of the weekend, why I was choosing to be public about what I was doing, etc.  I even got an email from a journalist asking me if I was trying to start a meme.

I wasn’t, but that being said, I think everyone needs a “Crazy, Selfish, Indulgent Weekend” every now and again.  So here’s the skinny: I was feeling spent.  I have been giving a lot of myself to others lately, sacrificing a great deal to make others happy, putting myself in a position where I know I’m going to not be happy.  And one can only do that for so long…  I think many of us in public service tend to be like this — give, give, give…until it damages us.

To rectify that, on Friday night I spontaneously planned my weekend to include as many of my favorite things as possible.  There were 13 parts to my two days of awesomeness (and no, I didn’t plan for 13 to be all goth-y and stuff; it just happened).  I decided to be public about it for a number of reasons, chief of which was to encourage others to be selfish too…even if only for a little while.

Here is a chronicle of my self-indulgence, copied from my Google+ posts. Judge me if you will, but you know what?  It was probably the best weekend I’ve ever had in my life.  Feel free to copy and remix! 🙂

#SelfishWeekend Part 1: This is what a blissed out post-massage-with-hot-guy Sarah looks like. That’s right…I picked the hot guy on purpose. It is #SelfishWeekend, after all.

#SelfishWeekend Part 2: Walking straight past a library branch & not going in to look around.

#SelfishWeekend Part 3: Favorite meal #1 (@ Cha-Ya) – fresh handmade udon noodles w/ vegetable tempura & genmai cha tea.

#SelfishWeekend Part 4: Walking thru the Castro looking at all the beautiful gay boys.

#SelfishWeekend Part 5: Favorite meal #2 (Lilah Belle’s) – organic roasted veggies & hummus (best I’ve ever had).

#SelfishWeekend Part 6: Favorite meal #3 (Herbivore) – soy chicken shawarma.

#SelfishWeekend Part 7: kitten loooooooove

#SelfishWeekend Part 8: Dancing at the Cat Club in SF. Getting my 80s groove on.


#SelfishWeekend Part 9: Snuggling in a warm blanket w/ my kitties, eating a vegan hot fudge brownie sundae for brunch, & watching Mad Men.

#SelfishWeekend Part 10: Driving Highway 1 along the West Marin coast, listening to Bon Iver.

#SelfishWeekend Part 11: Hiking in the redwoods of Mt. Tamalpais.

#SelfishWeekend Part 12: Wading in the icy tidepools of Muir Beach.

#SelfishWeekend Part 13: Attending the Marin Shakespeare Company’s steampunk production of The Tempest.

So yes…that’s what I did.  And I’d do it again.  I might, perhaps, do all the hiking and other physical activity first, before staying out until 3am dancing 😉  I think the decadent food day would have made more sense post-drinking-dancing night.  Seriously, though…I think we could all use some more self-love and inward focus.  Nurture yourself so you can nurture others.  Take some time for yourself.  You’ve earned it.

This is the third post in my new Sarah’s Gadget Showcase series. #1 (Audio Gadgets) and #2 (Cooking & Food Gadgets) are also available.


I started reading at the age of three and haven’t stopped since.  I find power in words, solace in them, pain, despair, joy, inspiration, but most importantly, I find life in words.

I am, believe it or not, traditionally a bookish sort.  I started library school wanting to be a rare books librarian, actually, which is kind of funny when you think about what I do now (high tech and futurist trends are pretty much the polar opposite of old, decaying, dusty books).  Of course, my focus in rare books librarianship was on digitization of the materials for open and free dissemination on this relatively new thing they had back then called “the internet.”  So I guess even then the techie bug had bitten me.  But it was, and is, all about the information not the technology that carries it.

There is a weight to a physical book, and I don’t mean a physical heft.  Books have a meaning, a significance in our culture.  They hold untold promises and infinite possibilities. Books are objects of art.  Carrying or owning books implies that you’re intelligent.  Books = good things.

And for all of the years that I’ve been talking about digital libraries, using technology to improve yourself and your community, and even about eBooks specifically…I privately hated eBooks.  I hated the technology that locked them down, I hated how they worked (or rather didn’t), I hated the thought of reading on a screen, just…hated…them.  I clung to my printed books.  I did not advertise this little love-hate relationship with the eBook; only a few people close to me ever knew.

And then (as is wont to happen) the technology got better and I had to eat my own words.  The consumer-level experience of finding and obtaining an eBook got better (sadly, the library eBook experience is still pretty crap).  E Ink was invented and revolutionized the eReading experience entirely. E Ink is the screen technology that makes the Kindle and other devices work–ultra low power consumption, high resolution, and not back-lit. I don’t know about you, but after reading a lit computer screen all day, I honestly do not think my eyes can stand staring at another one for pleasure.

There is a lot that is still jacked up about the digital reading experience. Don’t get me started on digital rights management or we’ll be here all day and you’ll leave with bleeding ears.  But there are some things that work just fine, at least for me.  Most of these aren’t hardware gadgets per se, but apps/software/services.  So how do I read digitally? Let me count the ways…

The Kindle (& its bouquet of assorted hacks)

Yes, I own a Kindle. And I love it. Hate me later library purists; listen to me now.  The E Ink display is fabulous. The reading interface is good, annotating works, sharing passages is nice, battery life is remarkable…it’s all good.  And you can hack it.  Read on.

To me, the Kindle is like a seductive box of dark chocolates: a tasty, wonderful, yet guilty pleasure that I know I shouldn’t indulge in but want so badly.  I am confident there is something amazing in there to be had; I just have to find a gentle and creative way around existing obstacles (in the case of chocolates, my guilt at eating an entire box in one sitting).  And just as with those very few guilty pleasures that I have desired and couldn’t have right away, I’ve been pretty persistent in trying to get what I want with the Kindle.  I am patient and I try to figure out a way to make things work for me even if at first blush it doesn’t look promising.  My instincts are generally good and I usually end up being right and getting what I want.  Just ask my Kindle.

As you may know, the Kindle is a closed ecosystem and you only “license” books from Amazon–you don’t own them as you would with a printed book (same w/ other eBook vendors too).  Rejecting these principles as complete and utter bullshit, I hacked my Kindle.  I absolutely hate that the Kindle is a locked down system, a completely isolated bubble of content and delivery mechanism (just like the iPad and iPhone ecosystems, which I shun on principle b/c I can’t hack them…yet).  Locking down information goes against everything I stand for as a librarian.  Let me be clear: I do not do anything illegal on my Kindle, other than the hacking itself (which is a grey area, imho, even if you adhere to the DMCA to the letter).  I’m not stealing books or giving away books.  I hacked my Kindle so I could do with my device what I want with the books I paid to “license,” when I want, and in what format I want.  And that is the right of every reader, dammit.

“Hack the Kindle?” you ask.  “Do tell!”  All righty then.  Without getting myself into any more legal difficulties, here are some fabulous resources to get you started on hacking your Kindle into the dirt.  Share these with your co-workers, family members, and (if you’re braver than I am) with your library users.

And for the nerds, a detailed series of posts from an anonymous hacker on the ins and outs of some of the hacks.


Kindle app on Android
The Kindle app for Android is great.  As long as you have wi-fi enabled on your actual Kindle device, your bookmarked spot is synced up automatically.  I prefer not to read on the small, back-lit screen of my phone (an HTC Thunderbolt), but there are cases when it comes in handy.  Case in point #1: Standing in line at the grocery store.  Instead of being angry and wanting to stab the person in front of me, I whip out my phone and start reading my book.  Case in point #2: In a darkened airplane cabin where turning on the light above you to read might result in you getting stabbed by your seat mate.  You get the idea.  Small screen reading prevents homicides.


Google Reader
I do a lot of my reading online still–usually on my laptop at home, or my desktop at work.  I’m generally reading blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc. that I find through Google Reader, an RSS aggregator that has stood the test of time and continues to work.  I love the folder system, the interface, the speed, and the app for Android is great.


Book Sharing
I use both LibraryThing and GoodReads.  I am a member of a science fiction book club on GoodReads, which has me going back there more than to LibraryThing.  I wish I actually remembered to update one or both sites with all the books I’ve been reading.  Anyone have a good trick for that?  Or is it just sheer willpower that I lack?

Book Discovery

Scout’s honor, I actually do use NoveList to find new books if I’m looking for something in a particular genre.  NoveList is an online resource that many public libraries subscribe to, and I’m glad mine does.  It is a-w-e-s-o-m-e.  From the first time I tried NoveList years ago, it has always made me happy and gives me good recommendations.  Tell it what authors you like, or a book you like, or just keywords you want to read about.  Boom!  Book recommendations.  And I love using it with family members, non-library-world friends, or library users and showing them how to browse around.   You can get lost in there for hours following thread after thread and finding more and more books to put on your “to read” list.  The K-8 version is great for kids too.  I actually found a long-lost-childhood-favorite-book using NoveList after every other method had failed–describing the book to long-time children’s librarians, searching by keywords on search engines and other book sites, no dice.  Love it.
What do you use?

What do you use to read, to share, to transport, to revel in your bookish nerdiness?  Share with us!

This is the second post in my new Sarah’s Gadget Showcase series. Post 1 (Audio Gadgets) is also available.

Disclaimer: The following has nothing to do with libraries, unless you’re holding cooking programs 🙂


Like many people, I love to cook.  I tend to stick to the basics.  I am definitely not a kitchen appliance purchaser.  I do not own a bread machine–if I make bread, I’m going to knead it by hand like nature intended.  I’m old-fashioned that way.  That being said, I do have nifty tools that I love.

Sarah’s Love of Foooooooood

Let me start by explaining why I love to cook.  Cooking is love.  There is nothing in the world like creating a wonderful dish and seeing someone you care about enjoy it.  Seeing the person smile and make that scrunched-forehead-while-chewing “OMG this is amazing” face…  Seeing a hand reach for more…  Sharing your techniques…  Beautiful.  You’ve created something that not only pleases the palate, but sustains the body. Magic.

I was taught as a child by a cast of amazing women in my family.  I learned to make cookies and a killer pie crust from my great-grandmother when I was so small I still needed a step stool to reach the counter.  My dad’s mother taught me how to make salad that didn’t include iceberg lettuce and how to cook vegetables properly (read: not over-cooked, gray, mushy Midwestern vegetables like I was served growing up).  My mom’s mother taught me how to make fudge, chocolate sauce, apple butter, and to can peaches and tomatoes.  And my own dear mother taught me everything else I learned as a kid–lasagna, casseroles, cakes and frosting, cacciatore, potatoes a thousand different ways, on and on.

I became vegetarian in my teens and vegan a few years ago. With those changes, I learned to cook differently.  I learned to cook dishes I had never heard of growing up, much less eaten — quick pickled cucumbers, pesto, scones, risotto, beer-battered mushrooms, potato tempeh sausages, congee, baby bok choy in garlic sauce, haupia pie, tempura, curries, even (*gasp*) how to properly cook white rice that did not come out of an Uncle Ben’s box.

I love my diverse diet, and I love cooking for myself.  Last night? Pesto and gnocchi, both made from scratch.  A few nights before that? Black bean and pumpkin tamales made from scratch with homemade salsa and guacamole. Oh yeah.

And with all this cooking, I need tools that make the job easier or better.  Here are my favorites.

The Gadgets

American Innovative quad timer ($29.95): You can set four separate concurrent timers that can all be adjusted, paused, or reset independently.  The large LCD display shows up to two of the timers at once.  Easy to control click wheel and buttons makes the timer priceless when your hands are covered in flour or oven mitts. Because I cook multiple things at once quite frequently, this is a lifesaver.  I used to time one thing on the microwave, one thing on my phone, one thing on the oven, etc.  Ridiculous. This is perfect.  Just imagine how much easier Thanksgiving will be!  Well, the dinner cooking part. I can’t help with the family drama.  That’s all part of the traditional celebration, no?

OCD Chef Cutting Board ($24.99): Speaking of family drama, yes–there is an OCD Chef Cutting Board. I mean no disrespect to people with OCD (trust me) but it is what the device is called.  A 9″ by 12″ beechwood board with measurements down to the millimeter, including various angles of cuts as well. Super, super precise and it makes me feel like an engineer while I’m chopping veggies.



Pixel oven mitts ($16.99): *tee hee*  Fairly good oven mitts, and they make you look nerdy. With that extra boost they become really good oven mitts.





Oster automatic wine opener ($19.99): One-push of a button and your bottle of wine is opened up, cork drawn up into the opener. Push another button and it ejects the cork. Rechargable, works every single time, and is easy on the hands and wrists (which is why I bought it).




JA Henckels International knives ($varies): They start sharp and they stay sharp. They don’t rust, bend, or loosen from the handle.  They have a lovely weight, a perfect balance.  I love how these knives feel in my hand.



Kapoosh knife block ($39.99): And to put my lovely blades in, Kapoosh! I’d seen these on gadget blogs and blown them off, but then I tried one in a store and literally said “Ooooooh!” aloud to no one in particular.  It’s a whole bunch of little teeny tiny rods (think very small dowels). Slide the knife in wherever you want in the block, and poof! It sticks. Better for the blades too — less wear and tear than in a traditional knife block.



Air Bake cookie sheets ($15-$20): Best cookie sheet on the planet. End of story.  Stuff cooks evenly and doesn’t burn on the bottom. I will never go back to a normal cookie sheet again. Ever! You can pry this one from my cold, dead hands.  Then I’ll probably reach up at least once, B-horror-movie style, and grab it back.



Circulon cookware ($varies): Circulon evenly heats things and doesn’t burn them. Simple as that.  I notice this particularly with the larger pans and pots, cooking chili or sauces.  Evenly distributed heat is key when you’re someone who may from time to time forget to “continuously stir.”




Wonder Plunger measuring cup ($5.99): Suction-based, plunge the cup down to the exact measurement you need, pour liquid in, plunge the liquid out.  Nothing wasted, no need to scrape the sides of a measuring cup with a finger (ahem, spatula, of course).  This is a huge effort saver when it comes to viscous liquids like molasses, brown rice syrup, oils, etc.  Best $6 I’ve spent of late.





Zojirushi Mr. Bento Stainless Steel Lunch Jar ($42.88): Bento! In a canister! In a little shoulder bag with cutlery! Cute, dishwasher safe, and perfectly sized.  Downside?  I wish I remembered to use it more.  Laziness rules sometimes, and I just grab something portable and throw it into a container. This requires a modicum of forethought. It does make you look cool though.






Butter Boy butter (or vegan margarine) holder ($9.05): I <3 corn on the cob. I do not <3 putting margarine/butter on the aforementioned corn.  Except when I use Butter Boy. Jam some margarine down into his neck, then push the plunger underneath him to push out exactly what you need.  Curved perfectly for corn, no need to have messy hands ever again. Thank you Butter Boy!






Grandma Witmer’s Old Fashioned Peanut Buter Mixer ($9.95): Yes, I eat natural peanut butter. Go ahead and crack the left-coast-vegan-Californian stuff now.  It is yummier and better for you. So there. But it’s a bitch to mix up the first time. This mixer screws on top of the jar in place of the lid, and then you just turn the handle. I’m excited now to crack open a new jar of peanut butter whereas before it induced cold night sweats hallucinating about spilling oil all over the floor and being too weak to stir a fork in the hard-as-rock peanut part. When I bought mine, there was just the one model. Now they have tons of choices with better ergonomics and for various jar sizes. Nice!


What do I still want to buy?

Breville Juice Extractor  ($200-$500) – I like juicing. Veg, fruit, all mushed up…all good.  But I hate pulp like the plague and the nasty airy chalky frothy junk you get on top of a lot of fresh juices makes me kinda nauseous. Voila! The Breville Juice Extractor even has a “foam separator attachment.” Nice! At the cost though, this one’s going to have to wait a while.

And…a good espresso machine – I was also recently exposed to a most excellent low-profile table-top espresso machine that I now want. Must…get…make…and…model.  The problem is–home or office?  Or both?  Decisions, decisions.

Update: The espresso machine is an illy Francis Francis Y1 iperEspresso Machine.  $295. Definitely want. Low profile, pretty, and *gasp* it comes in black!

Time to talk back! What are your favorite kitchen gadgets?  What do you recommend to friends and family?  What would you never give up?  Pray tell.  I have about negative $1,000 budgeted for kitchen gadgets for the rest of the year, and that debt ain’t gonna spend itself. So bring it!

I get asked a lot what technology I actually use, as opposed to all the cool stuff I show people or talk about.  So I started looking around and thinking about it.  What do I use? What do I have? Do I like it or love it?  And I decided to start posting about it by subject area of gadget (insert nerdy librarian joke here).  I thought we could start with audio–how I create and consume audio (music, podcasts, webinars, etc.).  Other areas I’ve thought about are video, cooking/food, reading, internet/data, and the ever popular “random miscellany.”  If there are other categories you’re curious about, let me know and I’ll see what I have lying around.

So we begin with audio!

–First off: What do I consume?–

I listen to music a lot.  At home, in the car, at work, on the go.  I also listen to a lot of podcasts.  No audiobooks (I think the reader’s voice changes my interpretation of the words, and puts a spin on images or characters in my head).  I also create audio content for live webinars and I’m just starting to create a podcast series which may or may not have video.

Second: How do I consume it?

At home

Sonos system: I have a two-room Sonos system set up in my apartment.  It’s a wireless music system that feeds in whatever collection you have on your local computer as well as multiple streaming services (Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, etc.), plus radio stations.  It’s pretty cool. You can also control it w/ your smartphone so I turn the music on from outside the house so that something nice is playing when I walk in the door. It’s expensive, but totally worth it for music-heads like me.

Android HTC Thunderbolt smartphone: As stated, I control my Sonos subscription with my amazing Android HTC Thunderbolt phone.  I <3 this phone.  I use my phone for audio in other places too, in other ways, which I’ll prattle on about later.

Audio Receiver: I have my entire sound system in my house running through a pretty upscale Samsung audio receiver. I don’t know WTF I’m doing with it, to be honest, but I at least figured out how to get the speakers and various components hooked up. That does mean I need to keep it on at all times if I want to do the “turn on the Sonos from outside” trick.  I’m okay with that. And yes, I cabled everything up myself in my apartment from raw speaker cable. I am proud of that (w00t!), as evidenced by my ‘home audio porn’ shot on Flickr.

The speakers: I have four Bowers and Wilkins bookshelf speakers hooked up–two in the living room, two in the bedroom. These little tiny guys pack a heck of a punch. Awesome sound, great bass, probably enough that my neighbors want to throttle me. The sound in the bedroom is particularly good–probably because it is a somewhat smaller space, less echo-y.

Music collections and services: I use the iTunes library on my MacBook (which I have to have on for the Sonos system to be able to access it, logically), and I also subscribe to Spotify (all streaming music anytime) and Pandora (how to describe Pandora…customized streaming internet radio?), and also use the free Google Music service (which lets you upload your downloaded songs into the cloud and then access them from anywhere).

Podcast service: And I use Google Listen to subscribe to podcasts.  Love it.  Shows up in my Google Reader as a feed, and as an app on my phone.

At work

Heartbeats earbuds (Beats by Dr. Dre): I work in a large room with 4-6 other people, depending on the time of day.  So usually I use these lovely Lady Gaga Heartbeats earbuds to listen to music through Spotify or Google Music or my podcasts through Google Listen.  I like the Beats headphones for the bass, as I am an electronica fan and bass is a must.  I don’t give a crap about who made them, or that Lady Gaga put her personal brand stamp of approval on them.  I really thought they sounded the best out of all the earbuds I tried. I detest over-ear headphones as they end up hurting my head after a while. I don’t know why. I’m weird.

X-Mini Capsule Speaker: OK, this is one of those gadgets that I use in a crowd and people get all excited and go out and buy the next day.  This little X-mini external speaker (a mere $29.99  @ ThinkGeek) has the best sound of any small speaker I’ve ever encountered.  I use it to play music before classes, to play off my phone or laptop when I’m traveling, etc. It’s seriously that good.  You can also buy sets of more than one, and daisy chain them up for stereo or surround sound.  But just one will do you.  I bought a couple for my dad, a true audio nut, and he is in love with them too. That’s all the stamp of approval I need.


In the car

Android HTC Thunderbolt smartphone: I just hook up my phone through my nice little audio cable which goes into my MP3-in port on the car, turn on Spotify, Google Music, or Google Listen, and go. Easy peasy.

On the go

Android HTC Thunderbolt smartphone: I do not own an MP3 player. My phone is my music player. I have multiple audio apps on the phone (Pandora, Spotify, Google Music, Google Listen, Soundcloud, Slacker Radio, Sonos, and until recently Rdio too [before I decided to choose Spotify for sound quality]).  So I can get pretty much any song, podcast, or other audio entertainment when I want it.  The phone is small and lightweight enough for taking it on hikes, for workouts, etc.  Plus, it’s my phone so I already have it with me.

Heartbeats earbuds (Beats by Dr. Dre): Again, love these. Highly recommend.


And third, how do I create audio content?

Yeti microphone: I love this microphone.  It’s big.  It’s heavy.  It’s powerful.  It has easy-to-learn controls. And the sound quality is astonishing. You can hear each and every breath in, whisper, and tonal change.  It also folds down for storage and then pivots up for use (more than slightly phallic).  I love this microphone…after having unsuccessfully tried several others.  I got it a while back during some crazy one-day Amazon sale (for $90 instead of $199 if I recall).  So glad I bought it.

Audacity: Record into Audacity. Edit and mix in Audacity.  And you’re all done.  Whenever I show people how to record and edit audio for the first time, they’re super scared and don’t believe they’ll be able to learn how to do it.  But once you see that it’s really just highlighting, copying, pasting, dragging, deleting, and adding effects (just like in a Word document) all of a sudden they’re audio ninjas!  Ninjas, I say!  If you’re scared of audio or video editing have somebody show you the basics and I promise you that fear will go away.  I was scared.  But I learned, and so can you 🙂  I promise!  Sarah’s personal guarantee, good for your money back (oh wait, all this was free…umm, good for a cup of coffee?).

So what did I forget?  What devices do you use for audio consumption and creation?  What do you love?  What did you buy and later learn to dislike?  Bring it on!  Bring on the gadget wars!

I’ve been an Rdio user and fan for a year now.  For those of you who don’t know Rdio, it’s a streaming music service available on computers and mobile devices.  There is a monthly fee (two tiers) but you can listen to just about any music anywhere you want, when you want, from any artist — no owning the MP3s necessary.  I wrote a review last September and although I was quite the cheerleader then, I’ve become much more of an Rdio devotee as time has passed.

And then Spotify launched in the U.S. about a week ago.  I’ve used the free and paid versions of Spotify for the last week, both the desktop & mobile apps, and I now have a pretty good idea of the pros and cons of each service.  I compared the premium Rdio subscription ($9.99 a month) to the premium Spotify subscription (also $9.99 a month).

The overall verdict?  I don’t know!  I’m still thinking about which key features are more important to me–since neither service has everything I want.

I’m plotting ways to bring one or more of these services into the library, and have some ideas which may or may not be legal.  We shall see exactly what the Terms of Service say.  But for my own personal listening pleasure, here’s what I think.


  • Music selection (overall size) – Spotify offers 15 million songs while Rdio has 9 million songs.  Objectively speaking, Spotify has more music.  Although, see the first bullet point in Rdio’s section for more on how that actually works for my tastes.
  • Sound quality – The big plus for Spotify is the quality of the streaming audio.  Spotify’s sound quality is noticeably better than Rdio’s.  What I hear most is the difference in the bass.  If I play Spotify loudly, the bass is there and sounds great.  If I play Rdio loudly, the lower register of notes is muffled or even missing.  As I listen to a lot of electronica, bass is rather key to my music enjoyment.  Various songs by Crystal Castles has that nifty audio trick where the sound “whoomp whoomps” from the right to the left.  I played Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” on both, and could hear a definite difference in the lower register of her voice.
  • Free version – Spotify has a free ad-supported version that you can use, along the lines of what you’d see with free Pandora or accounts.  You get ads between songs, some of which are annoying.  But hey, at least there’s a free version.  For the first six months of free service there is also a 20 hour per month listening limit, which decreases to 10 hours per month after six months.  Rdio has a 7-day free trial, but after that you have to pay.
  • Integration with iTunes – I like that Spotify harvests you iTunes catalog and lets you play your locally-stored iTunes music from the Spotify interface.  Rdio will crawl your iTunes catalog and “add to your collection” all the songs you have that they also have.  But when listening to them, they come through streaming even if you have a higher quality copy stored locally.
  • Discographies – I like that Spotify delinates between full albums, singles, and albums the artist “appears on.”
  • Social – Spotify’s auto-connecting you with people you know through Facebook was easy (though I’d like integration with other services too…like my Google Contacts or Twitter).  Plus on Spotify you get the ability to browse their public playlists, top artists, and top tracks.  I like it, even though I learned that some of my friends really have awful taste.  Sharing of tracks on social sites (like Tweeting out what you’re listening to) is equitable between the two services.
  • Immediate play – Spotify songs always play within a couple of seconds of you clicking or tapping on the song, on both the desktop and mobile apps.  Rdio generally takes 2-5 seconds, sometimes as much as 10 on the mobile interface.  I’m not that impatient so it’s not that big a deal, but it is a noticeable difference.


  • Music selection for my tastes –  Rdio has almost everything I’ve ever looked for.  It has enough that I don’t feel deprived.  On the other hand, Spotify had music that I hadn’t seen in Rdio (e.g. Cold Blood’s discography).  Spotify also had many remix albums, live albums, and compilations that weren’t in Rdio.  But for certain artists Rdio was oddly and inexplicably lacking in completion of their catalog.  For example, Rdio has Ladytron’s complete catalog.  But Spotify only has a few albums, big gaping holes in Ladytron’s discography.  Weird.  For me, I’d still lean toward Rdio for music selection for the stuff I tend to listen to.
  • Mobile app interface – Rdio’s mobile app is just so much better interface-wise in every respect.  I have an HTC Thunderbolt in case anyone cares.  Spotify’s app has some really unintuitive and unnecessarily redundant navigation (“Menu” takes you to options to repeat, shuffle, your play queue, and track options…but if you click on the “Info” icon you get to a screen with options to repeat, shuffle, or add to playlist).The Rdio’s “playing now” bar is always at the bottom, which I prefer to the Spotify pop-up drawer (which confuses me sometimes…especially after running a search and being returned to the drawer, which you have to minimize to actually see your search results).  Rdio’s app is clean, straightforward, and just works for me.
  • Desktop interface – Rdio’s interface on the desktop (or laptop) just works better for me.  First off, you don’t have to install anything – it’s all browser-based.  Spotify requires a download and installation, making it not work for many people at work who can’t install programs.  Rdio has a downloadable mini-program, but it’s not necessary and I prefer the browser interface anyway.  Simple things like the ability to tap/click on an album title to play the whole album (Spotify doesn’t do this).
  • Music discovery – Rdio’s music discovery is far superior to Spotify’s.  On Rdio you can see what’s in heavy rotation among your friends or all Rdio users, browse new releases or top charts, review recommendations (based on what you listen to and what’s in your collection), and browse through artists similar to those you like.  I’ve found dozens of new bands this way.  Spotify offers some browsing and recommendations, but it’s harder to find, harder to use, and not as accurate.
  • Reliability – Rdio rarely flakes out.  On rare occasion the network seems overloaded and a song will stutter a few seconds or stop.  Spotify seems to stop randomly every few songs — and stop for up to a minute, then just start again.  That’s getting really annoying and since I’m supposedly on Verizon’s “4G network” (which isn’t really 4G, but that’s another post) there’s no reason I shouldn’t get good streaming.  Logically, the higher sound quality and resulting larger file size is probably the reason.
  • Sound integration with mobile device – If I have an audible notification (e.g. a beep to tell me I have a new text message), Rdio will pause momentarily, the notification beeps, and then I’m back to the song immediately.   Any time I get a notification Spotify stops completely and doesn’t start again until I manually re-start the play.  That’s super uncool.

Google+ LogoTwo days ago I taught the first of two public classes about Google+ at my library.  Three days after the private beta opened on June 28th, I scheduled the classes…figuring that by the time the class dates rolled around, I’d have something to say.  They became part of our library’s summer Tech Boot Camp class series–20 tech classes from July to September.

I didn’t realize that I was the first librarian teaching a Google+ class until people started pointing it out to me and asking for my class outline,  learning plan, slides, etc.  Good news: I’ll share what I have.  Bad news: I have only an informal outline, and no learning plan or slides.  I’m a public librarian, dude.  I fly by the seat of my pants with this stuff.

The class was a one-hour true introduction to the social network, giving people a tour of the profile set-up, privacy options, and many features.  We had 6 people show up for the first class, and I’ve had a dozen others contact me to tell me they’re coming to the repeat session on Monday.  For our small town library, that’s pretty good.

So here’s how I did the class.  It really wasn’t too difficult.

I distributed two printed handouts to the class:

I first explained what Google+ is, how it was a private beta (& offered invites to all attendees), and I also explained how I saw Google+ fitting into the social media universe, that it wasn’t a replacement for any other site but rather a “next step” or evolution, and for now at least it’s one more place to be.  The single sentence summary was this: “Google+ is what would happen if Facebook and Twitter had a baby and all the negative traits of both parents were removed…at least for now.”

I pulled up my own profile (with a caveat that I didn’t know in advance what my contacts had posted).  I walked through how you set up you profile, and what shows up where (including how you can choose not to fill out certain fields).  I talked quite a bit about privacy settings located in both the Google+ Settings and the Edit Profile page.

The whole class talked a lot about Circles — a big issue was understanding that you choose who you put in your circles, but that others choose if they add you.  Google+ is more like Twitter in that regard–that the decision of “following” doesn’t have to be mutual.

We looked at the Stream, Photos, Huddles, and Hangouts…though not in great detail due to time constraints.

We looked at how to post to Google+ (including adding links, photos, or video) and how to decide who you’re sharing each post with.  People really liked the granular idea of sharing posts with specific people or Circles.  I posted to “Public” at the start of the class, and by the end showed everyone how we had 15 +1s and 12 comments.

We talked about Notifications, about which there were a number of questions–generally things like “Why on earth would you want a text message when someone adds you to their Circle?”  My response was “I wouldn’t.  Sounds like you wouldn’t either.  The nice thing is Google lets you choose.”

And we talked about how to use Google+ mobile and some of the more useful Google+ Chrome Plug-Ins (Facebook & Twitter stream add-ons, etc.)

The last 10 minutes of the class was questions and discussions.  I was interested to hear one class member say “After seeing all of these features I can totally see why it’s 100 times better than Facebook.”  Another was super excited because she’s only starting to learn about social media so she can participate in the spaces her teenagers are participating, and she’s on Google+ before they are…hitting that bleeding edge first.

We concluded with the idea that Google+ is changing every day and will likely continue to change, but that it’s worth being there to be on top of what’s going on.

What would I do differently?  I’d probably spend more time on Hangouts and Huddles and actually try them out live.  I would talk about how you mention people in posts with the little + symbol before their names (I just totally forgot to say that).  If I had time I’d build a resource list for people with more tips and tricks, but since these are so easily found with a Google search I just left the students with that tip for the time being.

The second session of the class is Monday afternoon.  I hope to learn more during that class too.

If you’ve taught a class on Google+, or given thought about how to teach it, share your tips in the comments below.  Let’s crowdsource an actual learning plan *wink*

The library eBook scene, indeed the eBook scene for consumers too, is ever-changing and unpredictable.  Any library trying to plan more than one year out for eBooks is playing a losing game.  Don’t sign contracts for more than a year and don’t invest huge amounts of time in what might be dying models.

For the most part, right now libraries feel like we have two choices for eBooks:

  1. paying beaucoup bucks for high-demand eBooks to third-party aggregator companies like Overdrive and 3M (for more on for-profit companies’ recent eBooks offerings, see David Lee King’s excellent post on what he saw at ALA Annual)
  2. pointing users to the many free, lower-demand eBooks out on the web on sites like Project Gutenberg or Librivox

But there is a third choice, and it’s one that I think can change the landscape of library eBooks forever…and for the better.

Open Library is a project from the Internet Archive, a non-profit that has given us amazing web content like the Wayback Machine (historical snapshots of websites), the Audio Archive, the Moving Image Archive, and the Software Archive.  The Internet Archive is also technically a registered library, and they have long collaborated with local libraries for services and collections.  IA is based in San Francisco and I was lucky enough a couple of months ago to visit the headquarters for a stunning tour that included the “hands-down-most-awesome server room ever” and the most efficient book scanning workflow I’ve ever seen.

And that book scanning project has yielded Open Library.  Open Library is a digital library built partially from paper books from physical libraries.  Anyone can access the 1,000,000+ free eBooks through their website.  But wait, there’s more!  A new project with 1,000+ currently participating libraries, including mine, is the Lending Library, a swiftly growing collection of 100,000+ eBooks from the 20th century, including many popular titles (though not those from the most recent 15 years or so).  Did I mention that it’s currently 100% free for your library to participate in the Lending Library?  All you have to do is send at least one paper book to the IA for digitization.  That’s it.

Users can access the entire collection in-library or from home with remote access, as long as you set up authentication on your end through EZ Proxy, WAM, etc.  Books are added two primary ways: they are scanned in from discarded copies sent to the IA from member libraries -or- IA has arranged a lending agreement directly with the publishers.  Books do operate on a one-user/one-copy model, in keeping with copyright holder rights.

Here’s what it’s like on the user’s end: You click on the link from your library’s website, as you would for any other eBook collection, and log in with your library credentials.  Now Open Library knows you can borrow from the Lending Library.  If you access from inside the library, you will see this message alerting you that you have access to even more eBooks.

Browse or search for a book, then choose whether you want to borrow an “in-browser” version (which you view using the super smooth Internet Archive’s BookReader web app) or downloadable formats like PDF, ePub, Daisy, plain text, and Kindle.  One thing I really like is how all the various editions of a work are aggregated into one record.  Here’s what you see when you go to the “digital holdings” for the Scarlet Letter.

Each person can borrow up to 5 eBooks at a time for up to 2 weeks.  You can read these eBooks on the device of your choice: Mac or PC, laptop or desktop, tablet or smart phone. Read and smile: NO COMPATIBILITY ISSUES!

From Open Library’s About page:

One web page for every book ever published. It’s a lofty but achievable goal.

To build Open Library, we need hundreds of millions of book records, a wiki interface, and lots of people who are willing to contribute their time and effort to building the site.

To date, we have gathered over 20 million records from a variety of large catalogs as well as single contributions, with more on the way.

Open Library is an open project: the software is open, the data are open, the documentation is open, and we welcome your contribution. Whether you fix a typo, add a book, or write a widget–it’s all welcome. We have a small team of fantastic programmers who have accomplished a lot, but we can’t do it alone!

I <3 Open Library.  And I don’t <3 a lot of things.  So you know it must be amazing.  Here are some of the reasons that I think Open Library is a successful future model for library eBooks:

  • Open Library is an eBook library built by libraries, with library collections, for libraries.
  • A printed book in the public domain that is currently accessible to only one library’s users in a physical format gets turned into a digital book accessible to all participating library’s users. This is the ultimate in resource sharing.
  • The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization, so if they can arrange more contracts with publishers directly the cost to libraries will necessarily be less than it would be with the for-profit companies we’ve been dealing with so far.
  • It’s open: the code, the collection, everything.
  • Reading is a smooth, device-neutral user experience.
  • This solves the “last copy” syndrome in many libraries where we might hold on to an outdated printed item if it’s the last one in our catalog.  Send your last copies to the Internet Archive and share with other libraries while freeing up valuable shelf space at the same time.

Freaking awesome, period.

Libraries interested in partnering in this program should email [email protected].  You can read more about the technology behind the project and the librarianship that built this collection as well.  And to learn more as things develop, keep track of what’s new with the Open Library through their blog.

Mark my words.  This is the future of eBooks for libraries.

I am honored that this website was named the Salem Press Library Blog Award for the Best General Interest Blog.  It means a lot to me that my peers think that what I write is worth reading. It also makes me just a tad nervous and self-conscious.  No pressure to perform, right?  That being said, it’s always fun to say “Hey, I won something!”  And apparently I get a plaque, which is kinda cool.

There were some other truly amazing nominees and award winners.  Go to the Salem Press site for a complete list.  There are so many smart people writing in our profession and their words and ideas are what inspire me too.

Librarian in Black has really changed in the 8 years since I started the site (OMG, has it been that long?!?!?).  It started as a near-Twitter-esque site sharing 3-5 new websites, articles, or tools every day.  Then it became a somewhat longer form site, where I shared fewer new finds in more detail.  And, of late, it’s become more of a professional pulpit from which I’ve stated my core professional values, looked to the future of libraries, and tried to effect change where I feel it’s needed most.  As many have pointed out, the posts I write that seem to get the best and most responses are those where I’m rather upset about something.  Apparently, I am good at, errrr, what?  Railing?  Being grouchy?  Calling bullshit on people?  Complaining?  Being pissed off at injustice?  I don’t know.  Call it what you will.  But I love writing, and now that I have a bit more time in my day I am hoping to write more often.  I can only hope that it will be worthy of your expectations.

So, cheers everyone!  Go change something!

Geek PrideToday, May 25, is Geek Pride Day.  So get on out there and celebrate your own ferocious nerdiness my fellow geeks!

Ars Technica, one of the smartest tech news blogs out there, had a geek origins post today in which the Ars staff wrote about “the experiences that turned us into the savvy, nerdy people we have become.”  Inspired by their fun stories, here is my own geek origin story, such as it is.  Enjoy this random collection of geeky anecdotes spread out over my brief geeky life.

First Computer Experience

As a kid, I grew up with some of the earliest computers in school, but definitely not at home.  We would take typing tests in the 3rd grade on Macintoshes with a little cat that you raced across the screen.  I think that’s why I type so fast now.  I’m still racing that virtual cat.

Early Days of Gaming

The first computer I used at home was a Tandy my dad had discarded from his business.  In 6th grade I played a lot of Planetfall on it, which was one of the earlier science fiction computer games, text only of course, and it ran off of a 5 1/4″ floppy disk.  I loved that it was interactive, and that there was a choose-your-own-adventure kind of storyline unfolding like magic from a computer.  I remember typing naughty words into the command line to see what would happen, and the game yelling at me.  Ah, childhood.  Now I type naughty words into my computer and nobody yells back.  Planetfall led to a long line of PC games: Zork, Myst, Diablo, American McGee’s Alice…on and on.

OMG, the Interwebs!

During the last month of my senior year of high school, the computer science teacher excitedly gathered a group of us geeky kids (it was all the Literary Magazine kids, if I recall correctly) and took us into his office to show us this magical new thing called “the internet.”  He was so pumped when he got connected to the BBC website.  I still remember all of us sitting on the ground around his desk, trying to get close enough to see the screen, and him turning around and saying “Check it out! We’re connected to England right now!”  That feelingof amazement and incredulity at a concept so seemingly preposterous is something I recapture every time I try a new groundbreaking technology.

Uhh, Email?

I’d been enrolled in college at the University of Illinois for about a month in 1995 when a friend said “I sent you a few emails and you haven’t emailed me back.”  I still remember my moment of blankness and mental panic as I finally stammered “Uh, I have an email address?”  Apparently all students got them, but I didn’t get the postal letter telling me about mine.  Yes, a postal letter telling you about an email address.  Once he showed me how to log in, though, I got super excited and started emailing everyone I could find in the student address book as well as my friends across the country at Stanford.  That seemed so cool and futuristic.

Fun with College Boyfriends

My college boyfriend taught me a lot about computers.  No thanks to him for breaking my heart, but I still owe him big for upping my geek quotient.  He was a computer science major, and I remember late nights helping him build a computer from scratch, debug C code, and diagram a network.  All that was a good balance to my English major workload of reading and writing non-stop.  He also introduced me to MUDs (multi-user dungeons), early online games that were (*gasp*) text only if you young’uns can believe that.  I played BatMUD like a madwoman for years, and thus was introduced to people living all over the world and the idea of a truly international net.  I can still remember my shortcut commands for various in-game tasks, like “mm bunny” for “attack bunny with a magic missile.”  Don’t ask me why they made bunnies the enemy, or why bunnies left gold and other items after you killed them.  I always pictured them with little bunny fanny packs.

Webmaster by Default

I worked for the University of Illinois Undergraduate Library while in Library School and one day my boss (the truly kick ass David Ward, still at U of I) told me I was the webmaster for the library’s Question Board (a type of “ask us anything” Q&A website).  So, I figured it out.  I was taking the sole web design class offered by the library science school (we weren’t allowed to cross-enroll in the computer science classes).  And thus I learned HTML the best way — by just doing it.  It’s how I tackled all other coding languages from that point on (jump in, flail about, and hope for the best).  David also obtained super cool status for implementing one of the first ever chat reference programs at a library, something that we graduate assistants got to staff and which was my introduction to live online communication.  If David hadn’t given me that web project or encouraged us to provide live online reference, I know for a fact I wouldn’t be doing what I do today.

Librarians Encouraging Librarians

I’d been a librarian for less than two years in late 2003, and I saw a conference presentation from Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephens about this amazing new thing called blogging.  I went up to talk to them after the session was over and I remember gushing like a fan girl about how cool this all was and how amazing they were. And then I remember Michael saying “You sound like you have something to say. You should start a blog.”  A month later I started Librarian in Black.

My Geeky Thank Yous

So, thank you, little cat typing game, for making me type faster.

Thank you, Dad, for bringing home a computer with a game.

Thank you, high school computer science teacher, for showing me the internet in its early days and for sharing your sense of wonder with us.

Thank you, random college friend, for having the patience to show me how to use email (and patience was indeed required).

Thank you, college boyfriend, for being really smart and teaching me stuff and helping me avoid being PKed in BatMud.

Thank you, David Ward, for being an awesome librarian who encouraged his library school graduate assistants to do groundbreaking things.

And thank you, Aaron and Michael, for taking the time to talk to a newbie and encouraging me to have a voice.

Without these people and experiences, I wouldn’t be the geek I am today.