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EdTech Update





The fate of libraries - an international question

When we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings. Wendell Berry
National Library Board of Singapore conference – Day 2
Michael Keller, Stanford University,  began the day with a keynote, "A Knowledge-Based Web." One of the key things he mentioned was the emergence of what is being called Web 2.0, as described by O’Reilly. (A little reading for when I get home – why am always the last to know about these things?) Keller elaborated on the challenges of describing and organizing the web and is a champion for the Google Print book digitalization project.
After the keynote, I headed to the new National Library of Singapore building that recently opened, accompanied by my able guide, Mr Lau Kai Cheong, Director of Infocomm for the NLB. He gave a great tour including a visit to the “Pod,” an observatory at the top the building that gives commanding views of the city – even from the women’s restroom. (Don't ask.) The building is 16 stories tall and houses the library offices, a drama center, a public library area, traveling exhibits, and outstanding collections of Far East materials.

The architecture’s white, geometric structure is tempered by green plants throughout, including “sky gardens,” visible from the exterior of the building. It was interesting watching people do self-check-in and self-checkout of materials – a process using the RFID chips in the books. The kids seemed to enjoy the process especially. Despite the it’s high tech approach to library services, Dr, Varaprasad, the CEO of the National Board, believes his library is not cutting edge. (“But we  are not using RFID to do sorting for reshelving of materials!”) Cutting edge or not, Singapore has a world-class library that is obviously the end product of both visionary and humanistic thought.
After the tour, Mr. Lau treated me to lunch at the library’s café where visited about jobs, kids, and housing prices. Yup, we are more alike than different. We worry about our kids and think health care costs are too high. Mr. Lau exemplifies the spirit of hospitality (and even honor – deserved or not) I encountered in Singapore. There is a talent to making a guest feel welcome, especially one so far from home. Singapore may well serve as a model for the post-industrial age. It a country (city-state) without raw materials or a large cheap labor pool. It's vibrant economy is built entirely on the intelligence and creativity of its citizens.

The afternoon’s sessions revolved around the Knowledge Worker of the future. Some real commonalities among the three presenters:
  • Putting information into context and being able to use it purposefully and creatively are the hallmarks of the successful “knowledge worker.”
  • All librarians will need to see themselves as teachers.
  • And it is our EQ and interpersonal skills, as much or more than our technical skills, that will separate the successful from those less so.

A major thread of the conference was speculation (and concern) about the future role of the librarian. As one participant asked,  “When everyone is a “knowledge worker,” where does that leave us?" A great question that I hear everywhere I go – and asked not just by librarians, but by teachers as well. (I closed my part of the Q&A session with Wendell Berry’s great quote at the beginning of this entry instead of a pat answer - which I surely do not have.)

International conferences such as this one, are fascinating events.  Try one some time. (IASL is in Lisbon this summer and Sydney in 2006. Great excuse to see some places you've always want to see.)

Oh, I learned that one needs be accurate in one’s blog, even when reporting about a distant event. Another set of reactions to the conference can be found on Ivan Chew's The Rambling Librarian blog. Interesting to see another (valid!) perpective of the sessions as well as how one is perceived as a presenter. I was blown away  to read his posts! Thanks, Ivan!

Back in Mankato. Reflecting that two places where boredom is preferable to excitement are on airplanes and at the dentist office. 


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!


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 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.