Things for Libraries

May 15, 2007

Stack of book bottoms

I love LibraryThing. I know not every library-type does, but I had a ton of fun entering in all the books from my library, uploading cover shots, and making a little blog widget of my books that pops up every time I refresh my blog. I even use the list of ten random books from my library to decide what to read next!

I got on the LibraryThing bus over a year ago, and since then a lot of things have changed. There are way more users, way more books, which makes for better automatic recommendations (better than Amazon for sure), and some interesting reviews. There is a well developed forum section (that I don’t use that much, but I’m glad it’s there), and a seriously intense tag library. I like that the developers are open to suggestions, responsive, and creative. New features are added at least monthly, and often more than that.

And if all that wasn’t enough, LibraryThing has just rolled out its first actual implementation of LibraryThing for Libraries at the Danbury Library in Danbury, CT. Read the article for all the details, and be impressed with how easy (and free!) the implementation of Web 2.0 funstuffs alongside regular old OPAC technology can be. Obviously there are still some bugs, and this is the first rollout, so not everything is going to be perfect, but I’m already excited about the implications for combining traditional and tag-based cataloging, as well as the recommendations that lead you to recommended books that your local library has on the shelves.

Don’t we all need more library things in our lives?


mobile tools, form, and rewriting the web

April 24, 2007

One of many who was remotely following the Computers in Libraries conference last week, I was intrigued by the notes I’d seen on Megan Fox’s presentations on mobile tools. Everyone says that mobile devices are going to change the way we use the internet, either by presenting the web in smaller scale or bringing the browsing capabilities of a laptop to an affordable tiny device. It’s totally exciting to see this- Frontline’s piece on briefly discussed how the organization is working to facilitate micro-loans with mobile tools.

These past few weeks, my local hip-hop station has started using Meebo as their default line of communication with listeners. “Be the ninth Meebo message and win tickets to see Pretty Ricky!”

It’s exciting to witness rapid changes, but I’m so ambivalent. I worry that the digital divide isn’t going to go away, just permutate into something we have even less of an idea of how to fix. I worry about a version of the Web on mobile devices that exists mainly to sell things and exploit poor people. So I think it’s important to address information delivery across platforms, but I worry about hasty experiments, new glosses on old, bad tools. Why make a mobile adaptation of your library Web site when no one really knows how to use the old one? I also wonder about who we’re really serving- the advantage, and the duty that non-commercial enterprises have is that they can be thoughtful-and thus reflect the social ramifications of shifts in technology.

At a party last weekend, I met Tristan Perich, who had just performed at the Media Archeology festival. He carried with him his Portable Telephone, a working cell phone housed in a classic push-button phone. It’s a clever yet unobnoxious experiment in form and technological function. People peer at someone carrying around a bulky plastic telephone, but Tristan is happy to demonstrate its functionality. “These telephones are really well designed,” he said, “it makes people really happy to see that it works. “

making museum standards, making communication make sense

April 19, 2007

I spent the morning at a neighboring museum’s board meeting, where part of the discussion centered on the American Association of Museums’ Standards and Best Practices document, which proscribes accreditation guidelines for collection control, one of which states that backlog can’t exceed 20% of the collection. While it’s yet to be determined if this is an effective way to eliminate backlog, it’ll be interesting to see if this impacts the way that the museum community does accessions and processing, and if it has any echoes in libraries or archives. has a post today about outreach and context in new social technology, which pretty much puts together a lot of what I’ve been trying to figure out how to say. (It goes without saying that we have heaps of respect and admiration for Jessamyn.)

What is it about Twitter that’s such a lightning rod? Maybe it’s that it is by far, the most unadulterated social tool to come out- Danah Boyd put this in perspective last month- it’s Myspace bulletins without the calculated effort of profiles. There’s virtually no context building in it, and really not much incentive in lurking. So to take it up, you either have to be pulled in by people who are important to you, or you have to decide that the people or stuff going on on it is important enough to devote energy to. Unless it’s the norm for you, it’s useless.

(I think about my Mom’s reaction to IM: “Am I supposed to make new friends who use this?”)
Which is all really prickly for librarians, who need to balance what context makes information relevant with what’s effective in actually delivering information. And in terms of actually learning from this, facilitating open discussion needs to be a key part of building dynamic professional communities.

is the web female?

February 21, 2007


This piece, “Say Everything,” from last week’s New York magazine has gotten a bit of play in library blogs, with some of the usual “look at what web 2.0 means for young people” talk. To be fair, New York‘s readership isn’t Middle-America’s librarians, and nor should it be. I read Emily Nussbaum’s stuff from time to time, and she usually handles gender with about as much tact and class as journalists can. But what I found missing from this article was just that- any mention of what Web 2.0, and “young people revealing their lives on the internet” means in terms of gender and power.

As libraries ape the commercial web, we talk about how we might adapt Web 2.0 tools in a way that empowers our users. It’s an odd choice of rhetoric, because in my mind, we want to promote social justice, not just give more consumer options. As the Web looks and works now, as Nussbaum portrays it, I want nothing to do with a library organization or a professional community that buys in without critique.

I’m someone who has grown up with the web, opted into the prevalent social web, scanned Cobrasnake for friends’ pictures, and has, as all these articles say, come to see the internet as integral to social life. So I feel like I’m not a naysaying adult when I say, some aspects of the social web are downright pernicious, and that aspects of the commercial web are really dis-empowering to young women. I think I can also speak from experience (because I have absolutely no data to support this) to say that women and girls are documenting their lives in fuller, more particular detail on the social web than men, and that this is the driving force behind many, if not all of the major Web 2.0 trends. Lastly, the internet is becoming some large exercise in the male gaze- whether it’s corporate behemoths owning Myspace thus owning a generation’s self representation, or party scene sites giving opportunistic ogling dudes unprecedented social power.

Nussbaum does a decent job of showing , rather than telling this, with her subjects being largely female, and her narrative of how the social web came to be starting with viral sex videos. With suprisingly little horror, she tells how the dudes who started CollegeHumor (basically low scale Girls Gone Wild) are now running Vimeo (a “hipster You Tube”, she says).


As a librarian, I do relish the occasion to seem priggish. But I also wonder what we can do to navigate, and maybe, preserve, the document of global society that is the social web. Can we, a profession that is largely female, and ambigiously dedicated to promoting social justice, conscionably adapt without question trends that are rooted in exploitation and greed? There has never been a more complete snapshot of female life than there is now on Myspace, Facebook, and livejournal. But who owns them, and who will own them in the future?