Bless me, O Biblioblogosphere, for I have sinned.

I have betrayed the trust of my librarian people by *gasp* loving my Kindle like I am told I would love a child if I had any interest in being a parent, which I don’t.  But I do have an interest in reading digital content on a sleek, affordable, and easy-to-use device.  Thus the Kindle.

In true geek fashion I recorded my Kindle unboxing (complete with Space Invader wall clings in the background).

Let me tell you why I love my Kindle so.  But before I gush like a schoolgirl in love with Edward Cullen, let me tell you that I feel guilty for loving it.  I boycott the Kindle as a librarian but love it as a consumer.

  • Stellar User Interface Design: The Kindle has a gorgeous form factor.  It’s easy to hold in your hands — light, smooth, and perfectly sized for my hands anyway.  The user interface is easy and intuitive, end of story.
  • Smooth Content Delivery: The simplicity and speed of getting content is amazing.  I’ve been using the Kindle app on my Android phone for months now, and it literally takes you 5 seconds to buy and start reading a book from the Kindle Store. How long does it take to start reading a library eBook from the point you decide to download it? On the Kindle itself it’s just as easy.
  • Cross-Device Content Delivery: Amazon was brilliant in being the distributor for the device, the content itself, and the interface/software used to access the content. But they were doubly brilliant in offering the content & interface on other devices through Kindle Reading apps, so you can use your desktop, laptop, iPhone, iPad, Android phone, etc. to access the Kindle universe of eBooks.  The Kindle device itself is secondary…they really covered their bases.
  • Seamless Syncing: Amazon’s Whispersync technology syncs up your library and where you left off in your books without you having to do anything. Not having to think is good, yeah?  Steve Krug would be proud.
  • Public Domain Title Access: You can get free public domain titles onto your Kindle through free eBook sites like Project Gutenberg, all linked to with instructions from the Kindle website.

Now that we’ve covered the pros, here’s why I detest the Kindle as a librarian:

  • No Access to Library-owned eBooks (for shame): As you probably know, the Kindle is the only eReader devices that doesn’t allow library digital content onto it.  The nook, Sony Reader, the sad little kobo, and even the iPad all allow library digital content.  Amazon would rather only sell you their stuff.  In the case of eBooks, Amazon does not support the standard EPUB format.  It only allows for content that is in one of its approved formats: their proprietary DRM-format (.azw), plain text files (.txt), unprotected (read: no DRM) Mobipocket files (.mobi or .prc), unprotected (read: no DRM) PDF files (.pdf), and this odd and not-often-used Topaz format (.tpz). There are programs (like Calibre) that can convert non-DRMed EPUB files into unprotected Mobipocket files so they can go on your Kindle.  And since there are scripts you can run to convert DRM-ed EPUB files into non-DRMed EPUB files, you can indeed get these books on your Kindle…but illegally unfortunately.  The fact that Amazon doesn’t allow library-owned eBooks onto its devices is a travesty.  It’s wrong on every level.  But Amazon has no real motivation to open it up.  They make money from selling people books.  If people could get those same books on their Kindles for free and without paying Amazon, just by logging in with a library card number, Amazon is going to lose some business.  And losing business for the sake of looking like you love libraries is sadly not a winning proposition in our society.  Here are some straight-forward instructions to help you get around the idiotic DRM rules and get some library eBooks (MOBI only) onto your Kindle.  This does clearly violate Kindle’s terms of service, the library eBook vendor’s terms of service, and even copyright law.  But you know what?  All you’re doing is accessing an eBook your library owns and wants to check out to you on a device of your choosing.  Goddess forbid we can actually provide content that isn’t device-exclusionary!  So you know what?  Go for it.
  • No Sharing or Selling (err, legally): Update: You can now share selected titles (none of the 13 on my device now, sadly), share a title once with another Kindle or Kindle app user for 14 days, and only U.S. residents can share their titles). As with almost all consumer-purchased eBooks, Amazon’s Kindle eBooks forbid the transfer of the book to any other user or to a different (non-Amazon) device.  This is a violation of the First-Sale Doctrine which guarantees someone like an individual or a library to share the book once it’s purchased, loan it out, or sell it.  None of us can do this with eBooks or other digital media like movies and music.  It’s wrong and many people find ways around it because, frankly, the Kindle was not that hard to crack.

Perhaps someday I will make peace with the fact that the Kindle universe makes me happy.  Perhaps someday Amazon will allow digital content from libraries onto its devices, will accept industry standards, and stop being an inbred walled garden of capitalist greed.  But I’m not holding my breath.

W00t!

You can now see my appearance on the #TWIT Network’s Tech News Today show at: http://twit.tv/tnt145 The main part of my appearance starts at 9:45, but I show up periodically after that main part too.

The TWIT Network, This Week in Tech, is based up in Petaluma CA (not far from my house) and has the tagline “netcasts you love from people you trust.”  It’s an all-internet-based technology news network with over 20 different shows that you can watch live (& participate in live interactive chat during the show), stream later in audio or video, or download as podcasts or videocasts.  I listen to about a dozen of the shows religiously, using my 3-4 hours in the car every day to catch up on what’s going on with technology of all different sorts.  It definitely helps me do my job a lot better.

So, as a fan of TWIT, I was all aflutter when they opened up a contest for an open mic show where fans of the show could go onto the Tech News Today show as guests.  I applied and somehow by the grace of the binary gods was accepted, along with the other two guests (Joshua Caleb and Derrick Chen) who are likewise geeked up.  The experience was a ton of fun and I’d welcome the chance to do it again.

And really, people, if you bother to read my blog or follow me on Twitter and don’t yet watch or listen to any of the TWIT shows, you are missing out.  Check out This Week in Tech & Tech News Today first and then build your healthy addiction from there.  Because addiction will follow….and the voices of Leo Laporte and Tom Merritt will be like honey upon thine ears, and music to thy soul.  Well, at least you’ll learn stuff anyway :)

Privacy and Freedom of Information in 21st-Century LibrariesThe newest ALA Library Technology Report, of which I am a contributing author, was just published: Privacy and Freedom of Information in 21st Century Libraries.  I wrote the chapter on internet filtering, which like the other chapters is kind of a Cliff Notes version of the major issues with filtering and intellectual freedom issues for libraries.

The cover is truly awesome. Good job ALA!  Also, let me acknowledge the other authors for their stellar work: Jason Griffey, Eli Neiburger, Barbara M. Jones, Angela Maycock, and Deborah Caldwell-Stone.  I read through it and learned a lot about intellectual freedom in today’s digital libraries.  I think you will too!

government censorship

The Library of Congress has blocked access on all of its computers to Wikileaks.  This action was taken, according to the Library of Congress blog, in direct response to a memo from the White House Executive Branch.  According to a New York Times article, the White House has since said that it issued no such directives to block Wikileaks in any government agency.  I am unconcerned with the “he said, she said” childish finger pointing of the different arms of government.  I don’t care who said what to whom in a memo, an email, or in a hallway conversation.

I am, however, gravely concerned that the leading library of the United States has willfully and arbitrarily blocked access to information.  Blocking access to information, any information, is censorship. This action is unconscionable.

I condemn the Library of Congress action in every way, and like others I fully reject their attempt at justifications or defenses of their action.  There is never a justification for blocking access to information in a library — never.

The Library of Congress’s decision is a violation of the First Amendment and a violation of the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights.  Moreover, it is a violation of the professional ethics of librarians to always provide free access to all information.  The Librarian of Congress has violated our ethics knowingly.  I am horrified.

The documents leaked on Wikileaks have been posted on the free and open web for some time now, and are therefore pieces of open and free information on the web, as is all other information in the United States.  These documents are not illegal.  So why, pray tell, does anyone have the right to block access to them in a federal government institution?

In this case particularly, access to this information is even more critical to the continued success of an open democracy.  The documents contained in the Wikileaks collections often expose the federal government’s dereliction of duty, incompetence, poor judgment, and even criminal actions.  Exposing our government’s actions is a matter of concern for every single citizen.  Is this not a golden case study for why we need freedom of information in a democracy?  Is it not a golden opportunity for the Librarian of Congress to stand firm with his professional ethics, and say “Hell no, I won’t block access to information!” ?

Interestingly, there is already a functional problem with this decision for the Congressional Research Service within the Library of  Congress.  The CRS researches government and public information to inform lawmakers of current important issues.  The CRS will now be unable to access Wikileaks to include the leaked material’s primary content in their reports to Congress.  So now Congress won’t know what’s in Wikileaks?  Oh yeah, that’s good for democracy.

The Progressive Librarians Guild has called for formal condemnation from the American Library Association.  I second that motion.  From the PLG’s post:

We call on the American Library Association (ALA) to condemn unequivocally this move by the Library of Congress to actively conspire in preventing access to information in the public interest. Blocking access to this published information is censorship, plain and simple, and supporting sanctions against reading is endorsing abridgment of intellectual freedom. The documentation’s open publication by an agency of the free press, Wikileaks, renders its government classification status irrelevant.

It would seem that someone was more concerned about saving his relationships with politicians than he was about upholding Constitutional rights and his professional ethics.  This is a deeply disturbing precedent and an affront to all librarians everywhere.

The Library of Congress should be ashamed of its action of pure censorship, reverse the block immediately, and be censured by the American Library Association for malfeasance.   I also encourage President Obama’s administration to get involved in the fray immediately.  If Obama is still “committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government” as stated in 2009, then this is a perfect opportunity to re-emphasize that commitment.

It’s no secret that I think internet filters are not only unethical and counter to everything librarians believe in, but that filters also don’t work for crap.  And now the filters are finally fighting back.

Some customers of FortiGuard, WebSense, and Barracuda (filtering products marketed to schools and libraries) are reporting that the internet filters are blocking the San Jose Public Library’s new website, sjpl.org, from their customers and marking our library’s website as spyware, spam, and/or “inappropriate.”  Why?  No way to know and no ideas why.  Filtering companies don’t tell their customers or anyone else how and why things are classified the way they are.  It’s considered a “trade secret.”  This lack of transparency is one of the problems I have with the technology behind filtering software–you don’t know what’s there and never will.

While of course I don’t actually believe the filters targeted me (in case anyone missed that), this is a lovely and personal case example of how filters don’t work.  Filters mis-classify sites and block constitutionally protected content all the time.  And in case anyone is going to argue that perhaps the people who owned our domain before we did perhaps mis-used it, they did not.  There was nothing at the domain for over two years before we had it–it was simply empty and unused. Before that it was a squatter site for a couple of years…one of those nasty link-ridden sites we all hate so much.  And before that, it was the library’s website (they lost the domain somehow before I was hired).

If you want to read more about how much I think filters are unethical and ineffective at doing what parents and politicians think they do, you can read my chapter on internet filtering and intellectual freedom in the brand new Library Technology Report I coauthored with by Jason Griffey and Eli Neiburger: Privacy & Freedom of Information in 21st Century Libraries. Or you can read the two longer posts I’ve written about filtering: “SJPL Internet Filtering Study – Testing Results,” and “Why internet filters don’t work and why libraries who filter are wrong.” Or view the presentation I gave at the 2009 Internet @ Schools conference: Trying Not to Filter.

The new website for the San Jose Public Library has finally launched!

You can see the site at SJPL.org.

The major changes that this new site represent:

  • a new URL, sjpl.org
  • a split from the combined website we previously had (with the SJSU Library)
  • a new design, created by our web librarian Nate Hill
  • new site content
  • new information architecture
  • new content management system (Drupal)
  • a new way for staff to update content directly through a customized, simplified WYSIWYG editor

So you know…it’s not like it was a huge project or anything.

Other significant highlights of the site:

  • Every single staff member at SJPL has been asked and empowered to create blog posts for the new site.  That means everyone.  No limiting by classification, specialization, or degree-holding nonsense.  We’re all smart.  We all have things we know about and want to share with our library users.  We currently have over 300 staff set up to create content and I couldn’t be happier.
  • Content is not pre-moderated by any web staff.  When staff click “Save,” it goes up.  And rightly so.
  • We offer commenting as a function on almost every part of our site, and user comments are not pre-moderated either.  Again, rightly so.
  • We strove for minimalism and simplicity in both design and content whenever possible.
  • We don’t use the words “database” or “OPAC.”  We chose words that our users actually told us they wanted us to use.
  • We are making  heavy use of RSS feed content.  Take our branch library webpages as an example, e.g. West Valley.  You’ve got RSS populating the next upcoming events, the blog posts from the staff, and the newest items in that branch library’s collection.  Go dynamic content!

This launch is the culmination of a three year project.  I want to thank the current members of the Digital Futures web team (Tim Reif, Hilary Langhorst, Nate Hill, and Robert Sese) for busting their rear ends to see this thing through.  I know I bribed you with food and caffeine on occasion, but hey–a manager’s got to have her tricks.  Every ounce of energy we possess has gone into this project, and it is beyond satisfying to see it go live.

There will be more changes and enhancements in the days and months ahead, but for now – a *deep* sigh of relief.  And a beer.  Or two.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately doing the final stages of project planning and management for the launch of the new San Jose Public Library website (launching soon, I promise!).  This is the culmination of a 3 year project, from the earliest stages of planning and hoping to the final stages of a completely redesigned site (courtesy of Nate Hill), running on a new CMS (Drupal of course), with mostly new content and a lot of content removed, and we’ve turned over all content maintenance directly to the staff.

The coolest thing, in my humble opinion, is that we’re asking all of our staff to write content (in the form of blog posting) that shows up throughout the site.  Why is that cool?  First, I do mean all–pages, librarians, aids, managers, clerks, library assistants…from all branches and departments.  We’re not choosing who gets to write based on classification or degree-status.  To me, that’s only right, but for some reason it seems to surprise a lot of library people.  Second, we’re a rather large library and have 300 staff already signed up to write for us.  That is a lot of staff!  Oh, did I mention we’re not pre-moderating either?  When staff click ‘Save,’ it’s up live on the site.  We trust them.

What I’ve discovered about myself as a project manager as I work through this gargantuan project is that I am rather informal in the way I tackle things.  We’ve got an actual to-do list, which changes daily.  People sign up for what they’re responsible for, do it, and I talk to everybody daily to see where we’re at.  This too is informal, e.g. over coffee at Philz in the morning.  But no project management software is being used, no fancy tracking spreadsheets (I started with one but gave it up).

We currently have an 8 page to-do list for our Digital Futures team right now, with the scary big issues listed at the top (also listed on my white board — see photo) and the more detail-oriented stuff listed below that.  And you know what?  It works.  And what is the lesson I take away from all of this?

It doesn’t have to be fancy to work.

I think there is an inherent expectation that we’re supposed to use fancy tools to track projects, progress, and staff time expenditures.  And granted, those tools are cool…and make for impressive show-and-tells to the management.  But if doing something simpler works, don’t choose the complicated option just to look more impressive.  Simple is always better.

The other thing I’m learning about myself as a project manager is the following:

Trust your staff.

I realized the other day that I do actually trust my staff to be doing what they’re supposed to be doing.  I’m not asking them for a checked-off list every day of what they’ve accomplished, or riding them on arbitrary sub-deadlines.  They know when we go live, they know the work that needs to be done, and they’re budgeting their own time, burning the candle at both ends to meet that deadline, and letting me know when it doesn’t seem possible.  Our staff, all of them–not just Digital Futures, were hired because they had a skill set we wanted.  They are professionals and we trust them to do their jobs.  And that’s my job–to trust them to do their jobs, and to remove any and all barriers as they pop up along the way.  And there have been a few.

It’s weird to me that my job no longer involves the direct creation of content.  I’m not coding any more.  I’m not writing for the web any more.  I’m the way-maker, the barrier-smack-down-er, the black ops ninja style manager who gets things through that no one thought would get through.  There must be something to this whole ‘trusting your staff’ phenomenon, yes?  To keeping things easy, straight-forward, and efficient.  So, to all the fancy management theory and software to make you more efficient and track your employees better, I say: Screw it. Do your job and let others do theirs. We all get more done.

Internet Librarian 2010: The Community: Most Important Part of Our Collection

Erik Boekesteign and Jaap Van de Geer

Erik & Jaap work for the Innovation Department of the dok library concept center in Delft, Netherlands.  dok won the Netherlands library of the year this past year.  They have an annual report that is put out as a high quality glossy magazine.  Very awesome looking – we’re talking Vogue or Rolling Stone quality.  They showed us a brief LBI Shanachie Tour video introducing the dok library.  The library offers a bluetooth-powered device that will deliver audiobooks to users’ mobile phones.  (Sarah’s comment: Why the heck can’t we do that here in the U.S.?)  The library has a download station in their airport library.  The dok Library Concept Center was named as a nod to the nearby IKEA Concept Center (a testing outlet for IKEA’s stores).  dok is a merged library with the local art library as well (a condition for the city council building their new building).  They had an architect and a designer.  The glass stairs and windows set off the simple concrete walls and floors.  One of the main features of the building is the light — the reading room is covered by a 60 meter long glass roof.  The administrative offices are connected to the reading room through the glass windows on the second floor.  Signage is important.  They hired university students to do a lot of work in dok, one of whom approached the signage issue in the library–simple color-coded words on walls and floors.  The bookshelves are made of very cheap material so that if they need to destroy them or move them, it’s not as big a loss.  The shelves have no top shelf (the top shelves only gather dust)…and all the shelves are angled slightly backwards.  The youth department shelves are all on wheels and can be moved around very easily.  They emptied out this area for a 48 hour LAN party for the teens — nice!  They have music chairs from Germany — little egg chair-type pods that they got through an external grant.  You only hear the sound inside the chair, and you can use the included Mac to download whatever you want, including full access to the library’s collection.  They’re rebuilding one as a Spotify chair (oh holy sweetness — can I move to Delft?).  Comfortable furniture was a big part of the interior design, and they did a great job.  They’ve got a huge art exhibit and museum area.  The high schools in Delft have screens in the classrooms and a new piece of local art comes up every few days.  After a few months, the students come to the library to see the real live works of art they’d been seeing in the classroom.  They love their floor — colorful cement.  It’s weird to them that we have lots of carpeting in the states.  In Europe, they prefer the hard floor – it keeps clean and lasts longer and looks better.  And as Jaap says “the beautiful floor serves as a serving tray for the content, and highlights the content even more.”  Yes!  They went looking for a new ILS 3 years ago and couldn’t find anything they wanted or liked, so they built their own.  Now they sell this ILS to others, and it does include a 30 percent open source component.  In the Netherlands, libraries are funded through subscription fees — $45 a year or so per adult.  If you don’t have a job or are 65+, it’s free.  Erik pointed out that here in the states, people are deluded into thinking they aren’t paying for libraries but they actually are.  Jaap talked about how they have a small single service desk, but what’s more important is the staff walking the floor with library staff tool belts to identify them as staff.  Their signage runs off of the Nintendo wii.  There are 12 screens in the library.  The wii channel is used to push out the signage, but they can be flipped around and used as a gaming device.  The reading cafe includes a huge set of all-face-out magazine displays.  Branding is very important.  Everything you do, brand it.  They have an old VW bus branded with dok’s logo.  Everything in the library was designed with minimalist design, simple geometric shapes and colors, and is just plain gorgeous.  I want to live in dok.  I don’t think they’d like that much though.  They have been doing gaming since 1996.  They work with a small Dutch gaming company.  Big gaming companies provided them with the consoles for free.  They developed a simple solution for libraries for gaming — the Gaming Flightcase.  It’s a single box on wheels, with a single plug that starts up the consoles inside — multiple consoles..everything’s on.  And there’s a remote that brings up a flat screen LCD screen out of the back.  All the controllers are included, and that’s it.  You’ve got all the consoles already connected and you start playing.  Here’s my question–why has no one developed something like this and marketed/sold it?  dok also has a surface table in their library.  They connected users’ library profiles to information in the city archive.  You place your library card on the table, the table reads your card, and goes into the archive and brings up pictures of your local address’s street going back to 1910.  You can interact with the maps, magnify them, look up streets…it’s a pretty awesome implementation of the Microsoft Surface Table.  dok also allows for renting of cubicles in the library too, pretty neat!  Jaap recommends that we use industrial and user experience design to develop new services in libraries.  Designers will help libraries look and operate better.

Here is my presentation for the best free web stuff for broke libraries from Internet Librarian 2010.  Enjoy!

Here is my augmented reality presentation for Internet Librarian 2010.