early adapters

May 13, 2007


The mighty information aesthetics featured this Good Magazine video today, an infographic illustration of how porn underlies internet culture and economy, starring a porn performer, with the information writ upon her very flesh! No duh, we all say, and how 1968 Miss America Pageant protest turned horribly wrong.

This is the point I don’t get about librarians’ ambiguous role as arbiters of new and emerging Web technologies, when illicit content plays a large role in spurring and spreading the mass adaptation of such. I think it probably goes without saying that I’ve been conditioned by generation and profession to be both relentlessly sex positive as well as new-technology positive, so I want nothing less (and fear nothing more) than to be a naysayer. But I think that we need to acknowlege the complicated nature of techonology delivery. Almost every tech innovation we talk about now had a pall of the adult industry a few years ago- porn has driven major technological shifts, from VHS to web cams, to teledildonics. Look at Second Life- casual projections put its sex industry at 30 per cent of the total economy. And in the weird socially conservative world we live in, it’s not proper to critically respond to exposure to porn culture, because that’s too direct a mention of sex.  Can we talk about how this might be a barrier to conceptualizing service, or how pushing something hard without talking about how people have experienced it might be a little insensitive?

And again, what’s up with Good Magazine? Sweetly totalitarian ethics?!


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 Kiva.org 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.

Librarian.net 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.

documenting tragedy on the web

April 17, 2007

Most librarians spend at least some part of their working lives in places that are to varying degrees, public, and I think it’s no exaggeration to say that faith in public spaces is an implicit part of the profession. In the wake of the events at Virginia Tech yesterday, it’s hard not to see the public spaces in the library and university where I work with a certain degree of weariness.

The public spaces on the internet served as the most important arena for exchange of information on the events yesterday. Almost every news story cited a Facebook or Myspace page or a livejournal entry as a source. The Wikipedia entry and discussion on the event hashed out validity of sources and the semantics of tragedy. And then the jarring cell phone footage on Liveleak was among the realest indicators that this gruesome event had actually happened. The events as documented on the social web became the authority.

MTV was among the first to track web reactions, and the Washington Post has a fairly full blog roundup. Mydeathspace.com, a site that tracks online profiles of the deceased, has links to Facebook and Myspace profiles for many of the victims at Virginia Tech. The New York Times is soliciting comments and photos of the victims. After 9/11, the print edition of the NYT ran photos and profiles of victims, which at that point felt immediate and personal- it’s clear now that rapid coverage is essential, and that anything not interactive would be useless. These past two days have made it ever so much more apparent that our social lives on the web are intractable, crucial, and part of the news and the historical record.

Fiction–see cartoon

April 5, 2007


Check out Bruce McCall’s page-sized illustration in this week’s New Yorker’s “The Reading Room: A seasonal look at books?” In it he has envisioned the wackiest library ever. If one were to squint, it would look like your run-of-the-mill vaulted reading room.  Like many a spread in Highlights, however, it is actually a Hidden Pictures Playground. I don’t want to ruin your morning bus ride fun by picking out all the incongruities–but cell phones and iPods are strewn about, and there’s funny signage like, “Bums Only,” “Books on Cell Phone,” and “Autobiography see Myspace.com.”  There is also a victim. A white haired granny (with cane) being manhandled by a head phoned security guard for–get this–READING. Beyond the physical violence to which she is subjected, she’s further alienated by a ghastly combination of technology, ambivalence from fellow library users, and architectural grandeur.

The image left me feeling a little sour. I suppose one should expect this kind of old-fashioned Libraries These Days attitude from the New Yorker. Maybe I was just dazed by the Prince article a few pages earlier…

geeks and cheerleaders

March 15, 2007

Reconceptualizing librarianship, reinventing the profession, blah blah blah. I think a lot of folks are rightly interested in changing the work model for librarians. But from my viewpoint, when we do this, we too often whitewash or downplay the fact that we do spend much of our days doing service and administrative oriented things like removing staples, being nice and helpful, and cleaning up vomit, and for generally low salaries. So, despite the fact that our professional discourse is tech-wise, we’re not quote-unquote geeks, we don’t work like them, and we don’t get paid like them. So, seriously, read the insanely widespread “8 Things Intelligent People, Geeks, and Nerds Need to Work Happily” post from Nomadishere with a good sized grain of salt. While flexibility and lifestyle considerations are the key tenets of this thing, they’re presented as they apply to well-paid young white guys with tattoos, not to working mothers or anyone else who may not fit into office norms for reasons other than their dislike of sports.

There’s also a growing number of media studies of women in service jobs, namely, the recent fascination with cheerleaders-turned-drug reps. We can and should read ourselves into these types of stories, even if there are rarely cheerleaders-turned-librarians. The Times feature brings up many points, such as the prevalence of sexual harassment in the field. The Brazen Careerist picked up on this story, with her own take on gender in sales and service jobs. I find her frank take on sexual harassment informative, if a little horrifying. I’m willing to admit that I’m fascinated by Penelope Trunk and her brand of career advice, and her closing bit to the cheerleader article is something that ambitious librarians should keep in mind, despite its emphasis on attractiveness.“Outgoing, good-looking women can have great careers in sales — or anywhere else they want to go. So go into the workforce with talent and ambition and create the life you want. Really.”

keeping up, respectfully

March 11, 2007


I started on a quick post about the Computerworld article Top Five technologies you need to know about in 07, and pointing out that it wasn’t as much one of those snappy articles that tells you what you need, but that, despite its imperitive title, it is an accessible intro to emerging trends in web use and development, which is useful for those of us that facilitate public and workplace computing, natch.

But then I felt the need to disclose that it came across Signal vs Noise,  the blog from a commercial software developer (the developer of Ruby on Rails, mentioned in the article,) and to say, snarkily, how much I appreciated Basecamp‘s role in eliminating seriously tedious meetings. Which lead to rethinking this all, because I’ve begun to bristle at declarations of old/wrong ways of doing things, and new/right ways of doing things.

While I’m behind the thinking in The Cluetrain Manifesto (as much as anyone can be behind a catchphrase-intensive market phenomenon book and still respect themselves), I really resent the way that it’s caught on, rhetorically, as a way to designate who’s on board with an agenda, and who’s not. Because, especially in libraries, you can’t just write off people who have different priorities, and you can’t promote anything using just arrogance and know-it-allness. It writes off collective memory, and it’s annoying. It’s not just a generation gap in the workplace issue. Archivists get maligned all the time for “not having a clue”, but all the sneering and bad rhetoric won’t lead to fixing that. Rather, there’s going to have to be some consensus on what a group wants, and what they need. I don’t think it’s as arbitrary as faux-business jargon. Moreover, libraries just don’t work the same way that businesses do – the getting left behind is a perpetual, arguable state. And it’s not like innovators in our world can just set out on their own- job hopping is an unsure option if you’re looking to make effective changes.

I’ve been thinking and talking alot about project management lately, and how libraries can’t make things get done in the same way as businesses, and that they shouldn’t just adapt to a business model, but need to figure out project management on our own terms and for our own purposes. I don’t want to work for a corporation, and I don’t want to work like I work for one. But I want to do work that has an impact, and I want to be able to work hard, get effective direction, and get recognized for it.