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Monday
Nov142005

I Hate Books

It’s fun to watch the expressions on librarians’ faces when I start a talk with the statement, "I hate books!" I had the chance to do that yesterday at the National Library Board of Singapore conference when giving the abbreviated version of my presentation, "E-Books, E-Learning, E-Gads." (Handouts)

I back off the statement pretty quickly, by explaining that what I hate about books is their current cellulose format. Paper books are heavy, get dirty, get lost, go out of print. I need to find my reading glasses before I can access them. Printing, storage, shipping and remaindering make them more expensive than they need to be.

I then extol the virtues of a truly practical e-book and the challenges it may bring to schools and libraries. I am not sure I made many converts to silicon over cellulose, but I think I had the group’s attention.

The day started with a keynote by futurist, Paul Saffo, who everyone seems to have heard of but me. Good speaking style. Some intriguing points from his talk:

  • Even the most anticipated futures arrive in unexpected ways.
  • Given that technology use increases exponentially and human expectations rise linearly, the magnitude of change brought about by a technology is always overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term.
  • Drop “information” from your vocabulary. It’s all about “media” – information and knowledge that surrounds us, is intimate, and ubiquitous.
  • There is a huge shift from “mass” to “personal” media. The US is losing its common or shared knowledge. Republicans and Democrats almost exclusively read different books. The same folks who read the DaVinci Code are unlikely to have read the Left Behind series and vice versa.
  • When new media arrives, there is always the concern that too much of it will make us crazy. Popular novels and romances were blamed for both Don Quixote’s and Emma's (in Madame Bovary)  problems.
  • Libraries' future customers may be machines, not people.
  • Were it a country, the online game, Everquest, would have the world’s 70th largest GNP.
  • We need to have librarians populating the online world, 2nd Life.

Saffo’s session was followed by an architect explaining the design of the new National Library Building which sits across the street from the conference hotel (I hope to get over there today.) The attempt has been made to make it a complete ecosystem with the careful selection of plants distributed through out the giant structure.

After lunch, a cataloging guru talked about things like quality of metadata, the Dublin core, and other things that I probably should be deeply concerned about. Sorry, I didn’t take notes on this one. The director of the National Library of China gave a talk about his organization’s efforts to make all information available to China’s citizens. Then my talk ended the day.

I did workshops in Malaysia a few years ago, and had forgotten how much this part of the world loves to eat. (Wouldn’t know it by looking at their waistlines.) Along with lunch, the conference offered both a morning and afternoon tea that were reminiscent of the coffee breaks given to the men putting up hay when I was a kid – sandwiches, cookies, etc. – nearly full meals in themselves. My friend George, who sponsored my trip here before, said conferences are highly evaluated on the quality of the food. A manager may send an underling to the conference to check the food out the first day before he himself will attend on the second day.

Oh, last evening the president of Singapore had me over to the palace for supper. Nice of him. Of course, there were about 200 other people there as well and he didn't actually let me in the house. I did get the chance to say "So, how you doin' then?" and he, too, said he loved Minnesota. Damn, I think more people from Singapore have been to Minnesota than Americans!

singprez.jpg

President, front and center. Me, back far right.
(Didn't want you to get confused.)

Looking forward to today’s sessions that start in a couple hours. Thanks to jet-lag, my days always start about 4am if there is more than a 6 hour time zone difference. I hope to be over this before I head back tomorrow, so I can experience jet lag going the other direction too.

 

Sunday
Nov132005

Sunday musing uploaded on Monday

Lessig on Google Print
Lawrence Lessig (author of my favorite book on copyright issues, Free Culture), adds his two cents on Google Print at Wired.

While Google Print will be another challenge in relevance for libraries, Lessig is right when he asks:

Think about Google's core business: It copies whatever content it finds on the Web and puts that content in an index. It doesn't ask the copyright owner first, though it does exclude content if asked. Thus, Google wants to do for books exactly what it has always done for the Web. Why should one be illegal and the other different?

Read Joyce Valenza's interesting comments on Amazon's plan to sell the partial content of books. She rightly bemoans the fact that students don't take advantage of the vetted materials now provided by state databases, especially magazine articles and reference sources available online through subscription services. Ironic that some of the first accessible edited materials on the web, magazine and journal articles, are now among the least accessible since the reader needs a paid subscription to get to them. Where is Google Periodicals?

Getting spoiled
My hotel here has high speed Internet access. You’d think I’d be happy. But no, there is no wireless and I’m chained to the desk by an Ethernet cable and the comfy chair is across the room. Poor me.

Gala Dinner
Speaker at the event was Professor Tommy Koh, Singapore's Ambassador at Large and former Singapore ambassador to the US and UN. Short talk about his fondness for libraries (of course) which was  given before the dinner. I visited with him about the US briefly  and asked if he had ever been to Minnesota. He beamed and said he loved the place , describing it as a place of "cold weather, warm people." (The ability to say something like this instantly  is probably why he is an ambassador.) I added and "it's where all the children are above average." He quickly said, "Oh, I love Garrison Keillor, but people don't get him here." Better go easy on the Minnesota jokes during my talks.

Also visited with Michael Keller, library director from Stanford. He’ll be keynoting on Tuesday on “The Knowledge-Based Web.” Asked him about Google Print and it’s implications for libraries. He hastily pointed out that Stanford is one of the initial libraries involved in the project – at his urging. Glad he did that before I said something really embarrassing.

Gala table talk

  • Singapore parents are worried about their children's blogging. 
  • Singapore will be ‘piloting” broadband to the cell phone here soon.
  • New national library (opened last Saturday) has RFID tags in all its books and has full wireless access.
  • One Singapore fellow observed that Singapore is a country of NUTS - the No U-Turn Syndrome and the US is not. When nothing is posted, Singapore drivers will assume U-turns are illegal; US drivers assume they are. He thinks "rule-breakers" not "rule-followers" will be more successful in the global economy. I explained the common US belief that is it no harder to ask forgiveness than permission. Is thoughtful "rule-breaking" a knowledge-worker skill?

In many ways this trip has been time travel – into the future.

Saturday
Nov122005

The Jane Goodall of the Library

Review of Frances Jacobson Harris’s book I Found It on the Internet: Coming of Age Online. ALA, 2005.

Our professional literature is replete with how-to manuals for teaching with technology and running technology-based libraries. But we still must come to terms with the way kids perceive the world, a result of growing up with digital technology. They experience a ubiquitous connectedness that was impossible to imagine even ten years ago. By listening to teens and learning from their native perspectives, we stand a much better chance of harnessing the power of technology in ways that enhance core library services and systems. - Frances Harris
With the powers of observation of Diane Fossey and jane Goodall’s ability to inspire trust in the observed, Frances Harris describes in compelling detail, the habits, activity and culture of teenagers in their digital environment. Ostensibly written for librarians, the real audience for this book is any adult who works with teens or who makes policies related to their use of technology. It’s one of but a handful of books that will make my “must read” list this year.

Harris uses both numerous research studies and her own personal experience as a high school librarian to examine how and why teens use libraries and how technology is changing information access. A short primer of communication technologies is given with examples of the unique student uses that meet academic, social and developmental needs. (After reading this, I am convinced teens and adults blog pretty much for the same reasons, as much as we old people hate to admit it.) Harris examines the dark side of the force: the misuses, problems, and threats technology use entails. A last short section called “Next Steps,” outlines practical means for creating libraries teens will find relevant.

And it is all written in a personal, readable and often humorous voice. (I brought it on the airplane to help me fall asleep. Didn’t work. Dammit.)

Folks, libraries are the bell-weather of schools. What’s happening in libraries today will happen in your classroom tomorrow. If you want to stay relevant in kids’ lives, not just as a librarian, but as a teachers, parents, and policy makers, find and read I Found It on the Internet. You know who ask if you need help.

Quotable quotes from the book (stuff I wish I had said):
“Libraries become places to look for information other people want you to find, not for information that your yourself find intrinsically compelling or valuable.”

‘We are not facing an either-the-library-or-the-Internet dichotomy, a future in which the choices either belong to the Luddites or the technonerds. The Internet is now in the library and the library is in the Internet.”

‘In the act of contributing their own content, [teen’s] comprehension of the nature of other online content deepens.”

“I tire of two-camp dichotomy – the split between those who condemn ICTs outright and those who regard them as the great modern panacea. Such positions are neither helpful nor illuminating. Technology makes communications and other aspects of modern life different. Yes, some things are better and, yes, some things are worse, but mostly things are different.”

“From the teenage perspective, the Internet is a gateway to independence. From the parental perspective, the Internet is a morass of unknowns over which they have no control.”

“The Internet is a great public square. The values that inspired its creation do not discriminate among belief systems.”

“… it is relatively easy to find information on policies and acceptable use documents, on computer security and effective system administration, on filtering software issues, and on school discipline. My main interest lies in integrating the pedagogical approach, in learning how to give students the tools they need to make more thoughtful choices and to achieve a deeper understanding of the issues. Because teens use ICTs away from school, in unsupervised, unregulated environments, they need to learn to be their own filters, their own barometers of acceptable and intelligent use of the tools.”

“High standards of staff behavior are easy to mandate, but tricky to realize.”

“Today, librarians have the power to make the merger of information and communication technologies work for people in ways that are humane and enriching. Teenagers are our partners in this endeavor. They are the innovators whose imaginations we must value.”

Disclaimers:
  1. Francie is a friend and colleague. But the book is still that good.
  2. My own work is cited. But the book is still that good.
  3. Any errors in the quotes are my typos. They are not in the book.