Below is my presentation for my keynote at ALIA Information Online in Sydney.  Enjoy all of my lovely new Australian library friends!

UPDATE: I POSTED THE WRONG VERSION OF MY PRESENTATION EARLIER – SORRY! THE RIGHT ONE IS BELOW NOW.

Below is my presentation for my pre-conference at ALIA Information Online in Sydney.  Excellent group, and a wonderful conference!  Enjoy the presentation.  Hopefully you’ll learn one or two useful tools for your own library.

cover of Behemoth by Scott WesterfeldBelow is a description of a library from a user’s perspective, an excerpt from the most excellent steampunk teen novel Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld.  This book is the second in the series that started with Leviathan.  (Westerfeld’s website is really quite nicely designed incidentally, and properly steampunky of course).

Look to the text below for three negative user experience themes that we hear over and over again in libraries (and sometimes ignore to our detriment):

  • the intimidation factor of libraries
  • closed information systems means no serendipity or independence (and users like these things)
  • privacy concerns about information requests made to staff

An hour later Deryn was standing on a broad marble stair….Before her stood…the newest and largest library in Istanbul. Its huge brass columns gleamed in the sun, and its steam-powered revolving doors gathered and disgorged people without pausing. As she passed through them, Deryn had the same jitters she’d felt in the saloon car of the Orient Express. She didn’t belong in any place so fancy, and the bustle of so many machines made her dizzy.

The ceiling was a tangle of glass tubes, full of small cylinders zooming through them, almost too fast to see. The clicking fingers of calculation engines covered the walls….Clockwork walkers the size of hatboxes scrabbled along the marble floor, stacks of books weighing them down.

A small army of clerks waited behind a row of desks, but Deryn made her way through the vast lobby, headed toward the towering stacks of books. There looked to be millions of them, surely a few were in English.

But she found herself halted by a fancy iron fence that stretched all the way across the room. Every few feet there was a sign that repeated the same message in two dozen languages: CLOSED STACKS–ASK AT INFORMATION DESK.

….Did every wee sliver of knowledge have its own number? The system was probably quicker than wandering through the ceiling-high shelves, but what other books might she have found, doing it herself?

She looked up at the calculating engines that covered the walls, and wondered what they were up to. Did they record every question that the librarians had been asked? And if so, who looked at the results?

Now: here is my task for all of you. Think about your library. Think about how some of these factors might be barriers for your own users. What can you change about the physical environment to lessen these concerns? What about your digital environment? What can you change about policy or procedure? Staff training and instruction? The way-finding and workflow of you users’ experiences?

My guess is that there is a lot you can think of right now that you can change. And despite what you may think, you do have the power to effect change in your organization. Talk to your co-workers. Share this excerpt and think about what would make someone feel this way about your own library services and staff. And then start to change it, one step at a time. Just start. The rest will follow.

Sarah’s New Job

January 11, 2011 | Comments (45)

I am pleased to announce that I recently accepted a position as the Assistant Director for the San Rafael Public Library, my hometown library.

Earlier this year San Rafael voters approved a $49 parcel tax specifically for the library which is allowing the library to increase staff positions, hours, and more.  I look forward to finding innovative ways to spend some of that money (of course with the permission of the Library Director, David Dodd — who I’ve known for 9 years and who was incidentally my boss at my first librarian job out of library school).

This means that I will sadly be leaving the San Jose Public Library after 3+ years working as their Digital Futures Manager, a job I love and passionately pursued.  My team is amazing.  We’ve done a lot of things (a mobile app, a new website, Database Delight online training, halfway through an augmented reality site/app, etc.).  It’s been a very interesting and exciting ride, and in many ways I am sad to be leaving.

At the same time, I really look forward to the opportunities a small library brings.  San Jose has about 1 million residents while San Rafael has 60,000.  San Jose has 19 open locations while San Rafael has 2.

This is a big change for me, but I will definitely be managing my new library’s digital presence.  There are so many things I want to do, so don’t count me out of the uber-tech game yet.  I am going to have to re-learn my coding skills, since I have left most of them un-used as a tech manager (one of the hazards of moving into management at a large system).  So I’m inviting coding resource recommendations from all of you for CSS, PHP, MySQL, HTML5, etc.  Bring it on because I’m going to need a refresher for sure.

My work here on LibrarianInBlack will continue, as will my other writing, training, consulting, and speaking for libraries and other institutions.  I’m not really going anywhere–not virtually, at least.  So, yes.  That about covers it.  Wish me luck and stop by San Rafael sometime.

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.