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Saturday
Jul182009

AASL and Amazon learning the hard way

Two interesting happenings this week on the long march toward an all-digital information future:

Chris Harris started quite the discussion about what he considers to be AASL's overly restrictive protection of its student standards. (Joyce Valenza's in her NeverEndingSearch blog does a great job of catching the tone of the conversation on AASLForum listserv here and here.)

AASL is in a Catch 22 situation - it wants its standards widely seen and used, but it also wants to control how they are used and wants them to earn the organizationrevenue. (Oh, despite these being written by "volunteer members," such standards are expensive for organizations to produce.) Judging by the tenor of the discussion on various library lists, the ill-will being generated by the controversy is costing AASL a lot in lost membership and good will. A quick (oh, I forgot that that quick is not in AASL's vocabulary) policy reversal, placing a share-alike, non-commercial use CreativeCommons license on the standards would show it listens to its membership. (#FreeTheStandards ) AASL and ALA will need to move into the 21st Century someday, whether they want to or not.

The other step back comes from Amazon that has deleted some Kindle titles, not just from its online inventory, but apparently from users' actual devices. (David Pogue's take here.) According to the NYTs, the publishers did not have the rights to offer these titles. Some critics have compared this move of Amazon's to waking up and finding books missing from your bookshelf with check for their value in their place. Personally, I see it more like turning on your television and finding some of your cable channels gone. Amazon doesn't sell e-books; it leases them to readers as long as they have a working Kindle reader. Adjust your thinking.

As anyone who has ever implemented a new way of doing business knows, even the best planned, most thoughtful transitions ever go off without unexpected hitches. All membership organizations like AASL will eventually find that they need to give very liberal copyright permissions to their materials if they really want them to be widely used - which in turn increases the power of the organization. A model for compensating authors that does not involve the use of DRM schemes like those used by the Kindle will happen and all publishers will realize that all their materials will need to be made available in scary, easily stolen electronic formats.

The directions seem clear - fewer restrictions, digital formats, alternate forms of revenue generation for producers. But these little detours are interesting!

(Added July 21 - E-book banning's potential demo'd by Amazon <http://bit.ly/11t2IC> - Manjoo writing in Slate. OK, ALA OIF - where are you? Maybe this is more serious than I first thought!)

Friday
Jul172009

Miles's Library - Part Five and Final

I have been asked to write a chapter on "future libraries" for a book being put together by an Australian colleague. While I had meant to write a short scenario to introduce the chapter, the scenario took over.

Below is the fifth and last part of what a school library might look like in 2025 - the approximate year my youngest grandson, Miles, will graduate from high school (assuming one still graduates at the traditonal age of 18 - a big assumption.)

The ideas here are a combination of extrapolation of current happenings, wishful thinking and maybe a little dread. Your comments are always welcome.

Miles’s Library: A Day in the Life, 2025 - Part Five and Final

4:00 PM

As Miles walks in the front door, his dad calls out from his home office, “Supper’s at six – I blocked it off on your calendar. Attendance is not optional. Oh, and when is that lawn going to get mowed? The grass gets any longer you’ll not only have to mow, but bale as well.”

Sighing at the hopelessly agrarian reference, Miles acknowledges his dad and heads to the family room. Rather than use the smaller, 54” screen on the computer in his room, he decides to go holographic for his meeting with Dr. Shahada. He grabs a soda from the fridge, gets comfortable in one of the big easy chairs, and opens the connection to the University of Jordan. The family room fades and is replaced by a holographic multiuser virtual environment. Dr. Shahada is already at his desk and Miles finds himself sitting across from him. The image is good enough to read the text on the diplomas displayed on the wall behind the professor’s desk.

Salaam lakim, Doctor,” Miles begins, happy to have a chance to practice his Arabic, a language he has studied both formally and informally for ten years. (The rest of the conversation is conducted in Arabic.) One of the reasons Miles’s parents chose his current school was that its staff recognize that multi-lingual professionals are at an advantage in the global economy. In 2015 when Miles chose Arabic as one of his "focus" languages (along with Tagalog), his parents wondered if other languages would have been more beneficial. But the rise in democratic governments and a permanent peace settlement in the Middle East in the 2010s led to the region’s growth as a world economic and educational leader.

“The blessings of Allah upon you as well, Miles,” Dr. Shahada replies with a smile. “I’ve been looking forward to our conversation today. To get to the point, one of the librarians here at UJ spotted some of the avatar-represented search bots you’ve been creating and also noticed your proficiency in Arabic. Our library in collaboration with the computer science department here at UJ would like to offer you a summer internship with us. You would be working with our librarians to improve our own library portal by adding idiomatic Arabic-speaking avatars.”

“It sounds exciting!” remarked Miles. ‘Would I be doing this work in Amman or telecommuting?” He and Dr. Shahada continue to discuss this opportunity until nearly 6.

One of Miles’s school library’s major services is to provide and support “learning portals.” While text-based portals have been a common library offering for over ten years, the virtual environment interface is relatively new. When Miles logs on to his library portal, he sees a 3D representation of his physical school library. His avatar moves through it easily, looking far more natural than the funky Second Life-like creations of early MUVEs. He can see which members of his PLN network are online, check for messages (audio, video and text), do real-time video/audio communications with those both in and out of the library, and view his selected and school-required news feeds. Around the library at various stations are librarian avatars with whom Miles can engage. While one sits behind a general information desk, others are subject-specific, offering guidance in languages, science, mathematics, history, communications and other areas. Virtual doorways lead to teacher, advisor and guidance virtual offices and to the school’s virtual museum of permanent student project displays. There is also a doorway to Miles’s “warehouse,” a visual depiction of links to all the projects he has undertaken as a student.

What makes the portal especially valuable to Miles and others in his school is its customizability. Using open source APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and programming scripts, Mile has re-arranged the standard library layout, deleting some components like the annoying electronic posters and adding features like a real-time Arabic translation avatar, a collection of rare Tagalog documents, doorways to several research labs, and hidden door to a representation of his bedroom at home where he can work on personal tasks.

It is, however, Miles work in creating custom-search bots represented by avatars that excites him. The library provides a set of tools that allow students to create “librarians” who will follow carefully composed search parameters, following ever more sophisticated semantic rules.

6:00 PM

During his conference with Dr. Shahada, Miles received a message comprised of several ideograms. It was Jenny keying from her phone, asking Miles if he wanted to meet her for a jog. He discretely replied that he was busy, but suggested they meet in the 20th Cent game after supper. After mowing the lawn with a push mower, Miles sits at the kitchen table where his mom, dad and 10-year-old sister Maggie are already engaged in conversation.

Maggie tells about the latest version of Oregon Trail that she and her team are playing in their U.S. History Class and about the research she is doing on animal rights of the 19th century; Dad shares his day of F2F pastoral visits to his elderly parishioners and how nice it was to get out from behind a computer screen. But it’s Miles’s mom’s reflections about her day as the town's public library director that really interest him.

“I am always surprised at just how popular our “Edit Yourself, Market Yourself, Support Yourself” workshops are – even after all these years of holding them. It seems it’s take some people a long time to realize that the DataBank and payment plan changed the model of making money from one’s intellectual property. While many creators choose to contract with editors and marketers – often people who once worked for large publishing companies – even more people have added editing and marketing to their own job skill sets. It’s really gratifying to see the public library be an effective community and personal development resource in this way.”

While Miles and Maggie visit their public library rarely, they both take advantage of its online presence. Maggie is a part of an active gaming group sponsored by the children’s section and relies on its recommendations of new games. Miles attends the public library’s seminars online and often consults its resident personal branding guru – “Purple Cow” Smith.

“I suppose it’s time to hit the studies,” Miles says after finishing his last bite of dessert.

“Time to talk mushy to Jenny is more like it,” teases Maggie. “And don't forget, it’s your night to do the dishes.”

7:00 PM

After the last spoon is dried and put away, Miles spends 30 minutes playing virtual lacrosse – the cancellation of his regular athletic practice is making him feel a bit sluggish. He checks his vital stats on the game station after his workout and sends them to his data storage locker in the library.

Back in his room, Miles logs into the MMORPG, 20th Cent. His regular avatar easily moves from one virtual environment to another, quickly morphing when the situation calls for it. Jenny is already online.

“My friend Winslet just finished a challenge this afternoon and asked me to beta it." 20th Cent, like most popular games, relies on users to create quests, puzzles and adventures for each other. Both Miles and Jenny prefer “amateur” created content to that designed by self-designated professionals. “Think you can survive the sinking of the Titanic this evening?" Jenny asks. "You know, you look a little like a young Leo DeCaprio.”

“Let’s try it. If I am going down with the ship, I can’t think of anyone I would rather have with me.”

Jenny’s and Miles’s avatars, now looking like Leo and Kate, teleport to the White Star docks where they board the ill-fated ship – Miles playing steerage, Jenny, first class.

Jenny and Miles are capable readers. Due to an early educational program called NCLB, both, in fact, could read before entering kindergarten. But like the majority of their peers, they nearly always choose other media for nearly all their information and entertainment needs. Even video and audio are increasingly less popular than gaming. Miles and his peers demand engagement – not just entertainment – and engagement requires interaction.

Games themselves have evolved becoming an art form and are considered a medium of serious commentary on human nature. The Pulitzer Prize in gaming reflects the respect now paid to the creators of serious games for their plots, characters, settings, tones and themes. The library helps its patrons discover and understand this still relatively new medium, offering game discussion groups, organizing game fan clubs, and arranging game developer talks and seminars. And games, of course, are an accepted and effective pedagogical tool – especially for elementary students.

It takes Miles and Jenny almost three hours and a dozen attempts before both are rescued before freezing in the icy North Atlantic waters. Jenny notes several anachronisms that Winslet might want to fix before public release of this scenario. Miles gives Jenny a virtual kiss good-night, logs off the game and heads off to brush his teeth.

10:30 PM

There is a quiet knock on Miles’s bedroom door.

“Hi, Mom. Come in.”

“What are you reading, sweetie?” Miles’s mom asks when she sees him propped up in bed with an actual paper book on resting on his knees. As an avid reader herself, Mom is always a little disheartened by how little all three of her children read for pleasure and is delighted when actually picks up a book.

“Oh, it an antique paperback called The Diamond Age by a 20th century writer named Stephenson. Pretty interesting how he predicted the OLPC movement that Negroponte and his cult began. Uh, Mom, can we talk a minute?”

‘Sure. What’s going on?” Mom asks, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Don't faint, but I think I might major in library science next year instead of computer programming. Jenny was teasing me this morning about how much time I spend in the library and it got me thinking about how much I do like working there.”

“Well, that is a surprise, Miles! The field and training has changed so much since I got my MLS 25 years ago, and it has really changed since your grandpa got his library degree almost 50 years ago – long before the personal computers were common place, let alone the Internet,“ Miles’s mom observed. “My training seems obsolete, now. Good thing I'm in management where I don't need many technology skills.”

“You know I talked to Grandpa just now, bouncing this idea off him. He said about the same thing – that the tools and roles of the librarian have changed so dramatically, especially in the last 20 years or so. But then he added something. He said that the tools librarians use change, the importance certain tasks librarians perform change, and even the services libraries offer to support their schools and society change. But some things, like the librarian’s mission and values, remain constant. Librarians still support intellectual freedom and fight censorship. Librarians are still about open inquiry and access to information and ideas. Librarians are still about helping people find and use information that is reliable and help them use it to improve their lives. And librarians have always been about helping people help themselves by learning how to be life-long learners and informed decision-makers.”

Miles’s mom rolled her eyes. “Did he also go on about how it’s a librarian’s interpersonal skills, not his technical skills that are the most important?”

“Of course. But you know he also said that he thought I’d make a great librarian and would be proud to have me in ‘his’ field.”

“Well, that’s your grandfather – always trying to recruit the best and the brightest.”

Miles yawned. “Thanks, Mom. I need to get some sleep. My senior project is one day closer to being due so I need to really get cracking on it tomorrow.”

“Good night, baby.”

As his mom left the room, Miles put down his book, switched off the bedside lamp, and spoke to his avatar, “Please wake me up at 7, Marian. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Miles, my love.”

“I’ve gotta turn down those affection settings!” Miles muttered as he rolled over and closed his eyes.

Thursday
Jul162009

Miles's Library - Part Four

I have been asked to write a chapter on "future libraries" for a book being put together by an Australian colleague. While I had meant to write a short scenario to introduce the chapter, the scenario took over.

Below is the fourth of several parts of what a school library might look like in 2025 - the approximate year my youngest grandson, Miles, will graduate from high school (assuming one still graduates at the traditonal age of 18 - a big assumption.)

The ideas here are a combination of extrapolation of current happenings, wishful thinking and maybe a little dread. Your comments are always welcome.

Miles’s Library: A Day in the Life, 2025 - Part Four

1:00PM

“I’m very pleased with the progress you’ve been making on your senior project, Miles,” said Dr. Li with a smile. “Explain to me again why you believe that your sims are showing signs of free will.”

“It’s their preferences, Dr. Li!” Miles reports, “Kurzweil, one of my oldest sims, is choosing blue clothing at a rate outside statistical probabilities. In fact, even though he has a choice of several dozen colored garments from which to choose each day, he almost always chooses blue. He also seems to not like anchovies on his pizza.”

“And you are sure this is not a programming bug?” asked Dr. Li.

“I’ve gone over the selection routines about 20 times and asked three others in my PLN to do independent audits of the code. Everyone agrees that Kurzweil should be making random choices.”

Dr. Li and Miles confer for nearly an hour, once bringing in Ms King, a Hong Kong librarian who specializes in science fiction in popular culture and its treatment of religious and moral dilemmas. She quickly produces a qualitative list of works in which self-aware technologies are featured.

“Here’s one last dimension you might want to consider,” suggests Dr. Li. “What might be the meaning of this discovery on how we as humans view ourselves? That we humans may be merely “sims” in a great cosmic programming plan?”

Miles checks to make sure his audio note-taker caught this question.

“Oh, before you go, I also want to check how the composition of your PLN is working for you. I understand that you did not accept my suggestion of dropping your grandfather's membership in favor of adding a second programming expert.”

Miles considered his PLN. The school requires that all students have a “formal” personal learning network of twelve members. (Like other students, Miles’s informal PLN has over one hundred members at any one time accessed by a variety of networking tools.) For their formal PLN, some students create expert groups from specialized fields of high interest; others form a group with as diverse a representation as possible. Librarians are a part of nearly every student’s PLN and they take this responsibility seriously.

“With all respect, Dr. Li, I did keep Grandpa Doug on my PLN rather than choose another expert. I recognize he knows little about my major areas of study and is hopelessly out of date on anything technology related, but because of his advanced age, he sometimes adds a sense of perspective that I don’t get from other students or experts,” Miles maintains. “He’s also good for a joke now and then.”

Dr. Li nods. “Perspective is valuable, I will admit. But I've seen his jokes - pathetic!”

Miles thanks Dr. Li, and asks his librarian avatar Marian to send his advisor’s last question out to his PLN for input, thankful his senior year and this project are nearly complete. Miles is looking forward to his first year as a North Dakota State University Bison. His older brother Paul, however, has warned him that his first year of college will tough since many professors still lecture, He advises making sure his PDA has a full battery charge for multitasking during the core courses.

________________________________

2:00PM

Miles uses the next hour putting the finishing touches on his report on Reinhold Niebuhr that’s due the next day. Luckily, Marian was able to schedule Miles a full hour of time in the 3-D rendering computer lab. This is one of the few individual projects for which Miles is responsible this term so he has chosen to examine his favorite 20th century theologian’s influence on US government policy. After listening to and viewing over eighty hours of materials on the topic, Miles’s final project will be pseudo-discussion with Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Barak Obama, each discussing major Niebuhrian beliefs in relationship to their administration’s social policies.

Miles hopes that this project will be judged to merit inclusion in the school’s student research “virtual museum.” Miles older brother Paul holds the record number of pieces of student work in the museum with three projects. Miles’s goal is to get one more of his projects added this spring – giving him four. The permanent addition of student work to the museum is considered an honor.

Like his fellow students, Miles writes very little, choosing instead to convey his ideas and research using the more natural communication methods of sight and sound. Technology makes it simpler to create audio and video reports than written ones. When a teacher does require a written “paper,” Miles uses a speech-to-text conversion program to create his first draft and then edits that version. Most video and audio reports can be done using his personal computing device, but now and then Miles likes to explore more sophisticated modes of communication like the 3-D rendering software that requires a more powerful processing. The library’s labs supply equipment for this purpose. Miles and his fellow students can write very well; they simply choose to communicate in what they feel are more powerful ways.

At one point, Miles get stuck on highly complex task he asks of the rendering program. In answer to an online call, the support librarian pops up in a window in the lower right corner of the screen and  efficiently helps Miles over the rough spot. Visual literacy is considered as, if not more, important than textual literacy for Miles and his classmates in this post-literate work environment, educational system and society. Librarians view the communications portion of information fluency models as a critical part of their curriculum.

Satisfied at last, Miles stores his simulation in his digital warehouse along with all other work he has created since he was in elementary school.  He glances at the clock on his screen and decides that he has time to get home and do his MUVE conference with Dr. Shahada there.

To be continued and concluded...