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,, 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

The major changes that this new site represent:

  • a new URL,
  • 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!

Internet Librarian 2010: Augmented Reality: A Primer for Libraries

October 27, 2010 | Comments Off on Internet Librarian 2010: Augmented Reality: A Primer for Libraries

Here is my augmented reality presentation for Internet Librarian 2010.

Internet Librarian 2010: Internet Tools & Services to Enhance Learning & Inspire Participation

October 27, 2010 | Comments Off on Internet Librarian 2010: Internet Tools & Services to Enhance Learning & Inspire Participation

Internet Librarian 2010: Internet Tools & Services to Enhance Learning & Inspire Participation
Chad Mairn

Chad polled the audience about “what libraries are” via text & Twitter live.  “Centers for Learning” won with 96%.  Chad looked at the time between major communication inventions.  He asks: will Google soon know what you want before you even know what you want?  With Web 2.0, you see things that are dying and not being used, but new things replacing them all the time.  To create their Facebook page, Chad did so without administrative participation or approval.  He recommends that you always respond to users, regardless of whether their comments are positive or negative.  Vivox just moved into vroom, which allows you to have voice conferencing within Facebook.  He recommends contacting Foursquare about offering a special offer for check-ins to the library (may take some time for Foursquare to respond).  Like me, Chad didn’t like Twitter so much when it first came out.  He says you should take the risk and show a live Twitter feed from your session during a class or session.  Tristan Perich wrote a 5-movement symphony in assembly programming language, and the music is embedded into the microchips directly. They use Primo for their catalog and eContent which lets people offer book reviews.  Why not use Twitter to solicit book reviews from your users?  Put a recent Tweets widget onto your website.  He uses Twitter for class conversations and sets up polls, as well as using direct messaging for reference service.  You can use Social Oomph to automate and schedule his Tweets.  Discovery – this is what all of this social media in the library is about.  Chat took through all of the library’s CDs and loaded them into iTunes.  Students can just walk up and listen to music on two different stations, and if they want they can check the CDs out and (err) rip the tracks themselves.  You can take the XML file iTunes creates and add a pretty wrapper on top of it and put a collection list up online for your users.  Their collection website offers 30 second samples of all of their songs.  He also recommends Pandora for use in the library.  Spotify isn’t in the US though, but he likes mSpot for his Android phone.  He also recommends The 61 as a site to check for alternative music.  He says don’t have “no cell phones” signs in your libraries.  They offer a website widget that if you’re on the site more than 3 minutes, a little window pops up asking if they can assist people.  Chad argues this is not intrusive – this tool (Instant Invite) pushes you to the user.  They also use Yuuguu as a way to computer-share with their users, including being able to control the user’s computer to help them access information on the library’s site.  We want our users spending more time reading and thinking – not jumping through hoops.  What do all of these tools do?  How do we measure success?  Chat says that they offer improved access to information via sharing tools.  Marketing services and resources provides more visibility.  The tools are instant and inexpensive or free, and help the staff and users communicate.  It provides interaction, and arguably enhances the learning experience.  Chad wants to start an app band, joining people together through all of the different music creation apps on smart phones.  He wants to use Voice Thread to allow voice and video commenting on blog posts…which is great!

Internet Librarian 2010: Failcamp

October 26, 2010 | Comments Off on Internet Librarian 2010: Failcamp

Internet Librarian 2010: Failcamp
Amy Buckland, Jan Dawson, Krista Godfrey, and Char Booth

Jan Dawson had to stay at her library but offered up a video presentation for us.  AskON CALL VOIP chat software for reference services.  The software they used for the pilot project did not work, but they decided to forge on anyway.  They tried Skype then, and set up best practices for the 18 week pilot project.  The staff forgot to fill out the operator survey, and the users weren’t filling out the exit survey.  So they had to look at actual transcript data directly instead.  Some of the fails: the visitor didn’t want to use/install Skype, the user was somewhere that Skype was not allowed to be installed, or the user didn’t have headphones/speakers available, etc.  100% reported positive feedback, that Skype improved the interaction.  Switching between live chat and Skype was too cumbersome in the end.  Lessons learned: younger generation staff was less comfortable with the immediacy of voice, while the older generation staff were more comfortable (perhaps due to phone interaction familiarity).  For the future they’d like to see voice-to-text translation services to provide valuable transcripts to the user after the session.  They’d also like to provide recording and video capabilities.

Krista Godfrey talked about failure in Second Life reference services at McMaster University.  They offered reference in Second Life for about a year, going up as high as six volunteers for staffing the service.  They were offering about 10 hours a week and discovered they didn’t have enough time to do IM reference, email reference, & Second Life reference.  They encountered a number of technical issues with SL — the learning curve when you first start using it is rather high.  They couldn’t update SL themselves, so they had to have IT do that regularly for them (another point of failure).   Some of their users though Second Life was “for girls” since it wasn’t a fighting game (apparently that’s for boys).  There just wasn’t enough promotion, and not enough pick-up of the service by their students.  The anonymity of SL was also an issue, as they couldn’t readily identify if the people they were helping were actually McMaster students.  They didn’t have a lot of distance programs at the U, so there wasn’t demand coming to them from that potential user group.  “Not everybody’s failures are going to be your failure.”  There are universities with strong SL presences: University of Texas, San Jose State University’s SLIS program.  But for McMaster, it was a failure.  If you don’t have the people already there and don’t do user research beforehand, you’re not going to be able to serve your users as well as you could.

Char Booth talked about a massive fail project involving video chat from her days at Ohio University.  A lot of the discussion about failure and why it happens is really the narrative that you, the speaker, spins about it inside your own head.  The internal narrative about how you perceive your own efforts and your own failures is important.  If you’re trying to build fail-safes into your perceptions of your own work, that can help your final outcome.  Instead of thinking about who caused a failure, think about how you’re going to mitigate it.  What is your contingency plan.  The video project at Ohio University that Char was a part of did not do well.  A kiosk would be set-up at entry points to the library showing video chat of a librarian elsewhere in the library, to extend the presence and availability of the librarian’s services.  There was a lot of blow-back from staff about the scheduling and not liking their disconnected heads being displayed on screens in the library.  The kiosks were not being used for reference, but instead for basic public relations.  Students were taking the web cams and making out in front of them, but the library tried to take some of those fail moments and putting a positive spin on the oddness.  Being able to speak to lessons learned from all the thousands of small failures is more important than the big fails.  Admit that you are vulnerable in certain professional situations, and fake it til you make it baby!  Come at projects with the attitude that you can make it, and if you don’t you can gracefully admit just that!

Internet Librarian 2010: Learning from Failure

October 26, 2010 | Comments Off on Internet Librarian 2010: Learning from Failure

Internet Librarian 2010: Learning from Failure

Bobbi Newman
One of the hardest things we have to do is admitting that we failed.  She was charged to create a new digital branch website for their library, but she had to nix the project because it wasn’t the right choice for the library anymore.  Admitting that something you put a lot of hard work into failed is horrible.  The first part of the process is to give yourself some distance from the project before you’re able to look back and see what you learned from it.  Plan for the fall-out too.  Don’t beat yourself up, and instead give yourself a timeline to look back at what didn’t work but set a cut-off point after which you move forward.  Then start all over again from scratch and look toward a successful future project.  This can sometimes be hard if you just failed.  But it’s all about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and trying again.

Matt Hamilton
Anythink has gotten a lot of press recently about its un-Dewey-ing of their collection.  The “cynics in the library field” have had a lot to say about their approach.  “We generally change ourselves due to inspiration or desperation.”  Anythink’s buildings were a cross between a post office and a prison, and the poorest library district in the State of Colorado.  Their website was horrible too, and were getting local front page stories with headlines “Adams library system worst in state.”  They went out for two bond measures and both failed.  One of the library’s board of directors members said: “We didn’t know what we were doing, so we just held hands and jumped.”  They hired Pam Smith as a director, who was not only a visionary but a disruptor.  She knew that to have a vibrant library system, they needed to have employees that were happy to be there.  The old way hasn’t worked, so how are we going to establish the personality of the 21st Century Library?  What are you hearing from your customers?  They came up with new titles and new job descriptions.  They came up with a new mission statement: “We open doors for curious minds.”  And they created a staff manifesto for all Anythink employees, that starts with “You are not just an employee, volunteer, or board member.”  The other big risk was just changing their brand to Anythink, including their doodle logo (a doodle is the beginning of an idea).  They started with one of their smaller libraries first as a test site.  They got a new building that did not look like a prison or a post office!  Then they got to re-classifying the collection at that location by topic, not Dewey.  They built 4 new buildings in a year (boo-yah!).  They also went fine-free which takes staff out of the role of being policemen.  They have lost a lot of materials this way, though.  That may end up being a failure.  Anythink shoots for 80%.  They also questioned library programming, including the traditional summer reading program.  They had a plan for summer reading plans and booklists.  No sign-ups, no prizes, but you did get badges you could get if you came to some of the programs during the summer that tied into various subject areas.  But they did find that people were interested in sign-ups still, so this is an area for change in the future.  They haven’t gotten to the website yet – The site is missing a lot of information, they haven’t upgraded their ILS yet and the catalog is almost unusable!  The website doesn’t mirror the staff and patron participation that you see in their physical buildings.  They operate very lean.  They have about half the budget of comparable library systems.