When we talk about “searching” these days, we’re almost always talking about using Google to find something online. That’s quite a twist for a word that has long carried existential connotations, that has been bound up in our sense of what it means to be conscious and alive. We don’t just search for car keys or missing socks. We search for truth and meaning, for love, for transcendence, for peace, for ourselves. To be human is to be a searcher.
In its new design, Google’s search engine doesn’t push us outward; it turns us inward. It gives us information that fits the behavior and needs and biases we have displayed in the past, as meticulously interpreted by Google’s algorithms. Because it reinforces the existing state of the self rather than challenging it, it subverts the act of searching. We find out little about anything, least of all ourselves, through self-absorption.
Pair with neuroscientist Gary Marcus’s vision for what the future of search should be.
Why librarians are the perfect search engine; they help lift us out of our self-absorption so that we find the information we really need.(via willywaldo)
Society, at least the American, educated, technological society that I inhabit most of the time, has a problem with gender. I’m probably not best placed to identify and describe this problem, so I’ll just point to three examples. The first is explained clearly by Rebecca Solnit in 2008 Men Explain Things to Me. This piece has circumnavigated the Internet several times and each time it comes around again it has been heavily linked, liked, and retweeted. It has become the seminal work on mansplaining. My second example is the twitter hashtag #1reasonwhy. Each #1reasonwhy tweet relates one reason why there aren’t more women in the video game design industry. Third is Roy Tennant’s Library Journal piece : Fostering Female Technology Leadership in Libraries. Looking at them in reverse order, these examples explain that libraires need more women in positions of technology leadership, that women in technology fields are often treated poorly, and that men (such as myself) may not be best placed to articulate or remedy this problem. It’s the third point that gives me trouble. The first two seem well established. So let’s work backwards through these and see if we can uncover additional insight when we get back to the sticky point.
New hires need to be able to dig deeper than the first page or two of Google results, need to tap into human information sources, and need to share the search process with colleagues, who often can help refine and direct the process of searching and winnowing. Students, in turn, feel that skills they learned in college are absolutely critical to their work life, but are thrown by tight deadlines, lack of specific guidelines, and the sheer ambiguity of looking for information when the answer isn’t already known and published somewhere. One lesson from all this is that students need to learn that information isn’t something that exists out there. Information is social, and so is the process of creating knowledge.
My least favorite aspect is some of the stereotypes we face as librarians. I long for the day when I tell someone that I’m a librarian and he says, “Oh so you must like technology” rather than, “Oh so you must like books.” I like both, by the way.
— Erin the Programming Librarian, this week’s Five Question Friday interviewee
Soon most if not all libraries will be facing quandaries similar to that of the NYPL, owing to the devices on which more and more people are doing more and more of their reading. Already at least a fifth of all book sales come from e-books, and the numbers are rising fast. Total e-book sales in January 2012 came in close to twice those of a year previously, and were more than ten times the figure for January 2009. The Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that 21 percent of all Americans have read an e-book in the past year, with the proportion predictably higher among the young. Nearly all of the most popular English-language titles are downloadable, including millions of free books in the public domain, mostly digitized by Google Books. Amazon and Barnes & Noble sell hundreds of thousands of copyrighted titles for a price similar to or lower than that of the equivalent paperback. When the Harry Potter novels finally appeared in electronic versions this spring, they racked up $1.5 million in sales in just three days. This technology cannot simply substitute for the great libraries of the present. After all, libraries are not just repositories of books. They are communities, sources of expertise, and homes to lovingly compiled collections that amount to far more than the sum of their individual printed parts. Their physical spaces, especially in grand temples of learning like the NYPL, subtly influence the way that reading and writing takes place in them. And yet it is foolish to think that libraries can remain the same with the new technology on the scene.
The great beauty of e-books means that all this stuff is suddenly trackable—how much time people spend reading, how people engage with their books. Which means, finally, there might be a way to measure consumer tastes and habits like there is in most of the rest of the world of entertainment—and the publishing industry has a lot more information available to help them create more books that people want to read. On the down side, are books better, really, just because writers and publishers know more about what readers like? All good fodder for debate, but mostly, I’m glad e-books have helped us determine the perfect romantic hero: he “has a European accent and is in his 30s with black hair and green eyes.”
INFOGRAPHIC: U.S. Public Libraries Weather the Storm
"Strategic vision and careful management have helped U.S. public libraries weather the storm of the Great Recession, supporting their role as a lifeline to the technology resources and training essential to full participation in the nation’s economy.
However, a new report underscores the competing concerns that face America’s libraries: cumulative budget cuts which threaten access to libraries and services, increasing demand for technology training, and the chronic presence of the digital divide. [MORE from Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study]”
Librarianship has, as far as I’m concerned, walked a long way out of its way in a sad, desperate attempt to become something else, something hip, edgy, and shiny that will, ultimately, appeal only to the privileged few who can afford to enjoy it when the for-profit model prevails. It is long past time to come back a short distance correctly, to become, once again, the repository of myth and magic, the sacred shrine of story, the domain of democracy, the labyrinth of legend. -Leigh Anne Vrabel, A Short Distance Correctly
This is some good food for thought for libraries, which these days seem to worry more about becoming cool and hip and all techie without actually doing their core work. This is something a colleague and I have talked about before as well, though we do not have the attention or traffic other more famous Librarianville Bloggers.
Found at the blog All the Birds with Teeth, “Quote That”
I do think there’s a danger, in situations like at my library, to jump straight into trendy newish technology, like ereaders and self-checkout, when many of our patrons simply aren’t there yet. We need to remember to focus on other libraries with populations like ours, instead of glomming onto whatever the sexiest libraries are trying and leaving our patrons and their needs (a Spanish language collection, GED prep books, computer literacy classes) in the dust.
This was talked about a little bit during LJ’s Day of Dialog. You can read the write up from the panel on Best Digital Practices here.
We are a particular group. Many of us happen to be twentysomethings. (Of course, we may also be thirty- or fortysomethings.) We have pursued librarianship for all the right reasons. We know this career path will be about working with and for others. We like books and technology, but we also like people. We can recall a time before computers were in every room, but we were also the first to get on AIM and Facebook. We can easily form friendships with people we’ve never met. We have smart phones in our pockets and laptops in our book bags. We read full-length novels. We are active library users: “power patrons,” switching between print and ebooks without regret.
Internet usage, studies have suggested, can improve older people’s mental and emotional wellbeing. And yet, for many seniors, the shiny machines sitting on their kids’ or grandkids’ desks (or in their hands, or on their laps) are just that — machines, foreign and cold. Nearly 80% of all Americans, Pew says — and nearly 80% of all baby boomers — use the Internet; only 42% of seniors do.
The digital divide, in other words, has a corollary: the generational divide. […]
So it’s both ironic and fitting that the young company that made its name simplifying the web is now trying to bring that simplicity to the web’s oldest users. In a pilot program at its Dublin offices, Google has rolled out classes that pair up older people with (generally, much younger) Googlers, providing instruction on everything from email-sending to photo-uploading to searching for information to, in general, navigating a not-always-intuitive Internet.
Read more. [Image: Cambridge Community Television]
All librarians now rely on software to do our jobs, whether or not we are programmers,” Ms. Goldman said. “Most libraries don’t have an I.T. staff to set up a server and build you a Web site, so if you want that stuff done, you have to do it yourself.
I think this is the new way, folks. Computers and people.
The $3.25 million Leon Levy Information Commons will have a 30-seat wireless training center where librarians teach patrons computer literacy and research techniques — and show them how to tap into online databases that are available only at the Central Library.
There will be 25 personal computers loaded with pricey video editing and graphic design programs, and a seating area for laptop and other mobile device users to access the library’s wi-fi.
“Information is the great equalizer,” said John Bernstein, president of the Leon Levy Foundation, which is footing the bill for the project.
“These are resources that exist in the great research libraries of the world,” he said. “We want to teach the people of Brooklyn how to access and use these wonderful resources.”
PLA has been my favorite library conference since I attended my first in 2010. I relished the show’s focus—the granularity and prescriptiveness of its sessions; the moxie and optimism of its presenters. I bonded with a group of Connecticut librarians I now call friends, and I met a future Multnomah County mover who would become my surrogate mother, all while soaking up the weirdy beardy energizing Zen of Portland, our host city.
This year’s conference in Philadelphia made a vastly different impression. Maybe it was my own fatigue from weighing the ebook question, but I detected a friction among public librarians that wasn’t present out West two years ago. My schedule mixed sessions about readers’ advisory (RA) with digital migraines, and as I moved from one to the next, two camps took shape: those pros and parapros who believe popular books remain public libraries’ leading brand and that the face-to-face, librarian-patron interaction is at the core of library services, and the technologists who argue that survival depends on being able to code—literally—library infrastructure and publish content independent of established houses.
— Heather McCormack sums up last week’s PLA with Exquisite Informational Immersion: Fusing the Visions of Readers’ Advisory and Technologist Librarians.