information wants to be expensive

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other

Stewart Brand, 1984

This week, Amazon.com unveiled Singles: short pieces by well-known writers that are — you guessed it — available exclusively for Kindle.

The New York Times, not wanting to be left out of this small exclusive market, just released its own short ebook, currently available through the Kindle store and Barnes & Noble but “coming soon to the iBookstore and Google eBookstore.”

At the moment, none of these ebooks are very expensive: they range in price from $0.99 to $5.99. But looked at another way, these titles are all very expensive, especially if you are a library.

Let’s say you have a patron who wants to read one of those $0.99 Kindle Singles. Since it’s a Kindle exclusive, it’s not going to be available through Overdrive or NetLibrary, the two main vendors of ebooks to public libraries. If you’re a library that loans Kindles (and there are some, although as far as I can tell it’s still a dubious practice according to Amazon’s Terms of Service), you could of course buy a copy for one of your circulating Kindles. In theory, although this might also be dubious, you could buy a copy and have it on a computer dedicated as an in-library Kindle book reader, or, I suppose, as a loanable laptop Kindle book reader. Of course, those options require that you have a Kindle or a laptop to loan, or a computer to set aside. All of those things are considerably more expensive than the $0.99 ebook.

Get over it, Crossett, I hear some of you saying. It’s $0.99 cents. People can afford to pay that themselves for something they want to read. Well, sure. If they can afford the device or computer to read it on, they probably can afford the $0.99. But libraries — public libraries in particular — are about providing access to everyone, not just to those who can afford it.

Basically, I look at these ebooks and I think, The newspaper of record has published a book on a hot topic that I cannot provide to library patrons. This sucks.

Libraries not just about access: they are also about preservation. Digital preservation is doable. There are libraries and librarians working hard to do it right now. But we can’t preserve something we can’t access and — I’m speaking beyond my technical expertise here, but I’m going to go out on a limb — my guess is that the digital rights/restrictions management software installed on these ebooks would make it damn hard for the digital preservationists to do their thing without, like, breaking the law. Not good. It makes one think that the real censors will turn out not to be the government book burners of Fahrenheit 451 but the corporations that make a profit by restricting access.

Of course, none of this really matters to the ebook makers and publishers and sellers. They are, like the big information vendors, playing a different game. It’s fine with them if library econtent is a wasteland.

I deal on a daily basis with patrons whose lives are made more difficult by technology — who have to accomplish all the things that modern life requires us to accomplish online in hour long sessions on public library computers. If I’d had to work like a patron today, I wouldn’t have gotten much of anything done. The rise of emedia means that not only is information inconvenient for our patrons to gather — it’s downright impossible. Can I interlibrary loan an ereader from some library that loans them? ‘Cause I’d like to read that book about Wikileaks. Thanks.

girl meets copyright

The other day, a friend called to tell me that she was getting published in an international journal. The first words out of my mouth were, “Be sure you read your copyright agreement.” Yup. Not “Congratulations,” not “That’s great,” not “When can I get a copy?” Nope. I am such a librarian that the first thing I told her to do was to check her copyright.

I spent my formative years, as most people do, blissfully unaware of the intricacies of intellectual property. In fact, I’m fairly sure I didn’t run across that term until I was in graduate school (my second graduate school). Oh, I’d looked at the copyright statements in books from time to time, to see when they were written, and I’d realized that sometimes the copyright date didn’t really tell you that, because it was the date the copyright was renewed, or it was a copyright for that edition or something. I’d seen the battered paper sign taped up by the copy machines at the public library that gave dire warnings in small print about photocopying copyrighted material. I knew that when my favorite used record store put up a cutout of Garth Brooks saying you shouldn’t buy used CDs, it was making fun of the movement started by Brooks and other artists to clamp down on the sale of used CDs because they supposedly cut into their profits. But on the whole, copyright wasn’t something I ever thought about. The phrase “public domain” had not yet entered my consciousness.

How I got from those days copy ignorance to my current state of copyawareness is an interesting, and, I hope, instructive story.

This blog has had a Creative Commons license on it since it started back in 2005, which is around the same time I learned of the existence of Creative Commons, and since all the hip librarian bloggers were doing it, it seemed like the Thing to Do. And it resonated with me–I liked the idea that I could specify how people used my work, though it wasn’t something I had ever thought about before.

About a year later, I got asked to contribute something to a special issue of Counterpoise being edited by the Homelessness, Hunger, and Poverty Task Force. Graduate school, multiple jobs, and life being what they are, I ended up deciding to give them not something new, as I’d hoped, but rather a column I had written back when I wrote for the Daily Iowan that I thought would be appropriate. I had been in library school for long enough at that point that I had a dim idea I ought to ask the paper about reprinting it. I did, and they said, “oh, yes, you can do that; there’s a form to fill out and the publication that wants to reprint it will need to pay a $10 fee.” Um.

So I asked for the form, and I filled it out to the best of my knowledge, and I sent the company a check and thought, “well, I guess I got paid $16.50 for this, so I still made a profit on it.”

Several years later, when I was fully employed as a librarian, the Iowa thesis and dissertation open access policy came out. Basically, it required everyone submitting a masters thesis or doctoral dissertation at the University of Iowa to submit it electronically and make it part of an institutional repository that would be fully searchable and available online. Iowa’s was not the first such policy, but it was among the more controversial, largely because it aroused the ire and wrath of the writers.

Before I became a librarian, I was a dog-walker, and before that, I got an MFA from the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa, which is the unfamous cousin of the much more widely known Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I was a heavy library user. I loved books! I loved bound periodicals! I even loved that I could find newspaper articles via LexisNexis, via dialup, from my home. I loved libraries! But I did not know diddley-squat about them, or about copyright, and neither did most of my writer friends. And so when that mandate came out, my old graduate program listserv, which I still subscribe to, which is mostly a sleepy little thing with occasional posts about residencies or calls for submissions or announcements about readings, went crazy.

Graduates who had written essays using the real names and identities of people went apeshit at the idea that those essays might get digitized and the people might find them whilst Googling themselves. People who’d had things published fretted about the consequences of having those things, often in earlier draft form, digitized. People who hoped to have things published worried they’d never be able to because no one would publish stuff that was already out there on the web. To some extent, these concerns are legitimate (although to the “I used real names” people I wanted to say, “and you were not concerned about the people who could walk into the library and take your thesis off the shelf and read it? Or find it in a library catalog and request it?”–neither of these is, of course, comparable to late-night ego-surfing, but it would be enough to give me pause when mentioning people in a piece of writing), because most mainstream publishers are still freaked out about electronic text and believe that no one will ever pay for things any more if they can get them for free somewhere else. And their concerns were, eventually, listened to — the current policy allows MFA students to choose open access electronic deposit only if they want to, and there is strong language about how paper theses will never be scanned.

Recently, an old friend asked if she could get a copy of an essay of mine that she wanted to teach as a part of one of her classes. Library geek that I am, I immediately went off to see if the journal it was published in was indexed anywhere and if full-text from it was available. Somewhat to my surprise, it was, but not until a few years after my essay was published. So I fetched my copy of the journal from home and scanned a copy and then, good librarian that I am, went to check out the copyright situation.

If you’ve ever watched a VH-1 Behind the Music documentary, you know that there are several things that happen in the life of any musician. There are drug and/or alcohol problems. There are a succession of drummers. There are breakthrough albums or songs and later disappointments. There are quarrels with bandmates. And there is financial ruin brought about by the fact that the band was so excited that someone wanted to sign them that they didn’t bother to read the contract that says that all their money is going to their agent and their record label. Writers are much the same way, at least in my (limited) experience. You want to publish me? Oh thank you thank you thank you! And then you call all your writer friends, or at least all the one who you think won’t hate you, and you go out and drink toasts, and you get some paperwork from the journal editor and you send it back, and many months later, you get a few copies of this journal with your essay in it, and, well, there is no high like the high of seeing your name in print. I have never had a book published, but I’m guessing it’s a similar thing on a much larger scale. Oh yeah, there was that paperwork I signed about them printing my essay or publishing my book, but I just kind of glanced at it.

Well. Ha. I knew better now. I was a librarian. I had been reading Dorothea Salo religiously since library school. I knew you did not just glance at your publishing agreement. But of course back in 2003, that’s all I did. So this time around I went to go look it up. Literary journals, generally speaking, as I now know, retain the copyright on your piece until it is published, and then it reverts back to you. So sent my friend a PDF of my essay and told her the copyright was mine and she could use it with my blessings. She thanked me, in a slightly baffled fashion, and it was then that I realized that while I’ll always bridge two worlds, I will also always be a librarian.

Other people have written about open access and the humanities, and about why humanists, of all people, should be cheering the California Digital Library on in its boycott of Nature Publishing Group.* My librarian friends are mostly still afraid to talk about these issues when it comes to the creative writing types, though. But I’m not. I am a creative writing type, or at any rate, I was, and I can tell you that this stuff does matter, even for the creative folk.

So you want to complain that open access will destroy the marketability of your work? Okay. Fine. But then don’t complain when books cost money, and when that course packet of essays you want to put together for your class turns out to cost a lot of money, and when the library and the department send you nasty notes about the illegality of making multiple copies of copyrighted work for your classes. Because you know what? All those other writers want their work to be marketable, too, and their publishers all told them that the only way to do that was to clamp down on all these people trying to steal their stuff for free.

Do you want your school to go on subscribing to The Georgia Review and Granta, not to mention the little little magazines — all those obscure journals where you got your start? Then it’s very much in your interest to support things like the CDL’s fight against NPG, because library budgets are not forever expandable. Librarians want to give you access to the things that you want. It’s what we live for. Well, that and watching David beat Goliath. If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance that in addition to buying books, you use, or have used, a library heavily at some point in your life. There’s a good chance that you have generally positive feelings about libraries, albeit mostly as places that contain books. We are that, and we will continue to be that, at least in part. We want to do for your work what librarians have always done: collect it, preserve it, and make it available, in whatever ways are best suited to the time and the place and to patrons’ needs. (Translation: yes, we are looking at digital stuff. Yes, we may some day want your work in digital format, too. Yes, we think this is a good thing. Yes, we understand that you have concerns, and we do take those seriously. And we really don’t think you want to go back to the days of books in closed stacks findable only through searching gigantic tomes. Do you also want your book not to appear on Amazon.com?) But in order to do all of this, we need money, and right now, we are being gouged. California has decided they aren’t going to take it any more. I hope you will support them.

*As Dorothea notes, the CDL vs. NPG thing is only very tangentially an open access issue, and I realize I’m conflating a lot of things here that shouldn’t all necessarily be conflated. But they are related, and they are all often equally scary, and so I am treating them as kind of a big IP monolith for the sake of this particular exercise.

equal employment: having my say

One of the many unpaid jobs I have had over the years was that of staff writer for an alternative monthly paper in Chicago called Third Coast Press. The first big story I did for them [available as a giant PDF, if you are really interested] was about a couple of studies done by a couple of professors from the University of Chicago and MIT and by the Chicago Urban League concerning race and hiring. The first study [PDF] used just resumes — some sent out with “white” names with addresses in predominantly white neighborhoods, some with “black” names and addresses in predominantly black neighborhoods. You can guess which set of resumes got better responses. The other study [PDF] involved sending white and black candidates, where the blacks were actually better qualified than the whites, to in-person interviews and, once again, the white candidates fared much better. What interested me the most, though, was that it was the largest corporations — the Targets and Wal-Marts and Gaps of the world — that showed the least discrimination in hiring. What all those places had in common was that they had very strict standard hiring procedures, and there were thus fewer opportunities for the interviewer to say, “Oh, you went to Valparaiso? So did my best friend!”

I was thinking about these findings again in the light of the much-discussed Clay Shirky rant wherein Shirky says that women should act more like men — or at any rate adopt more of what he sees as male traits: assertiveness and risk-taking, if you like what Shirky says, or arrogance and outright lying if you don’t.

I live in a state that has the highest disparity in wages between men and women. Wyoming calls itself the Equality State on the strength of having been the first territory to give women the vote, not on anything it has done since. Most initiatives in the state that seek to address that problem are focusing on getting more women into traditionally male professions, most notably the energy industry. While I believe strongly that women should be encouraged to pursue those jobs, I don’t think that getting women into the energy is the solution to wage disparities in the state. Women already hold important jobs as nurses, childcare providers, and teachers. These are all jobs at least as crucial to the functioning of the world as energy industry jobs, but we do not pay them accordingly. Until we do, until we recognize and support the vital work that women do, we will never have any kind of equality.

Shirky is probably right in individual cases: if a candidate in the resume study had lied and given herself a “better” address, she might well have stood a better chance of getting a job. If a woman acts more “male,” that may well help her break into a profession. The tide of assertiveness — or arrogance — will lift those two ships. But when it comes to improving conditions for everybody, which is what I am really interested in, I think Shirky is dead wrong. As long as we treat “lifting people out of poverty” as “getting them better jobs” and “getting more pay for women” as “getting them into traditionally male occupations,” we will never solve the problem of poverty or inequality. There will always be scut jobs that need to be done no matter what kind of economy you live in. I have a good job, and my interests lie not in getting everyone a good job but rather in making everyone’s job good.

visiting libraries

Back in October, I went on vacation, and, somewhat unusually for me, I took a bit of a busman’s holiday while I was there and visited a number of libraries. I saw the zine library at ABC No Rio. I got a tour of the SUNY Maritime library (which is in a fort!), courtesy of a friend who works there. I strolled through the library at Vassar, where I went to college. One of my hosts, Jenna Freedman, showed me around the Barnard library, including its zine collection, and John Blyberg very kindly gave me a grand tour of the Darien library, where I also got to meet a number of other staff members (hi, all!), who are all just as great as Kate says they are.

Walt Crawford has talked about not being a fan of the “one big library” concept. I must admit I’ve always had a fondness for it, probably at least in part because of its echoes of the IWW and their “one big union,” but Walt’s point is worth taking: libraries are — and should be — as different as the communities they serve. There are a lot of neat things that I could point out about all these libraries, from the kinds of periodicals they have at SUNY Maritime to the automated book return system at Darien, but what I’ve been thinking about most in the weeks since I returned is how radically different these communities are and how the library not only reflects the community but also shapes it.

As I have noted before, I never once spoke to a librarian when I was in college, and though I spent over an hour wandering around there, I did not talk to any librarians at Vassar on this visit. In part, that’s because I didn’t set anything up ahead of time and didn’t want to bother anyone, but largely it’s because I still have no idea where the librarians in that building are.

I love the Vassar library. It is everything people say libraries shouldn’t be these days. It does not have much in the way of comfortable furniture (though there is more than there was when I was there, but there are still plenty of long wooden tables with hard wooden chairs). There isn’t much in the way of group study space (or if there are such spaces, they are well hidden). It is one of the most confusingly laid-out places I have ever been. It’s made up of a few large rooms and then a series of interconnected small rooms. You’ll be following along with a call number just fine, until suddenly you’ll get to the end of one of these small rooms, and then you have to figure out where the rest of your call number continues. I think the continuity is somewhat better than it was when I was there, but it looked to me as though there were still some big jumps. And, as I’ve mentioned, the librarians are conspicuously hard to find.

But you know what? I love that place. When you walk in the door, you go up a few steps, and you’re standing in a sort of central courtyard. In front of you is one alcove with a gigantic stained glass window depicting the first woman to get a bachelor’s degree. To either side are longer alcoves with long tables running down the middle (long tables with rows of green-shaded lamps that look just the way you think an old, woody library should look) and rows of stacks on either side. There are mysterious staircases and all sorts of nooks and crannies. I have a recurring dream — one of my very favorites — wherein I discover a set of stairs I’ve never seen before, and it turns out to lead to a whole other section of the library that I’ve never been to, and it is even more gorgeous than the rest of the building.

Now, I’ve been to a lot of college libraries, and in many of them, the whole reference and instruction and group study stuff is much more apparent. But I didn’t choose to go to those colleges. I chose this one with the gothic architecture and the weird nooks and crannies and the leaded windows, and I learned to find my way around it, and though I never spoke to a librarian, I ended up being one. There’s a place in this world for the library as beautiful place filled with interesting books. It’s not the hippest, to be sure. But it’s still legitimate.

The Darien library has some architectural similarities (I have a semi-annotated photoset on Flickr). It’s been made to look like a sort of old-fashioned library with new-fashioned accoutrement (the Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs, IL has the same kind of feel). But it is also very consciously designed to be a community space, and a particular kind of community. Thus you’ll find many of the things you’d expect in a great new library — new books front and center, lots of information about programming for all ages, a teen room with comfy furniture and Rock Band, and kick-ass technology everywhere. But also caters to — or shapes — the community. There’s a room called SoHo, which, if you are into office equipment and supplies, will just make you drool. Computers, fax machines, scanners, paper cutters, staplers — they’re all there for the use of patrons with small offices or home offices (hence the SoHo name). All that equipment, out there and available, made me think that the library really is a place to make things, and it made me think — how ever incongruously — of the zine library and activist space I visited on the Lower East Side, ABC No Rio.

When we talk about libraries as community centers, it is places like ABC No Rio and various infoshops around the country that immediately come to my mind. Why? Because these are places that are about making things: making zines, making music, making art, even making food for Food Not Bombs. No, I’m not advocating that all libraries immediately open up their kitchens (though that would be cool — but it would also quite probably be a disaster). I would kind of like it if every public library had a sign that said PROPERTY OF THE PEOPLE OF ____, because our libraries are the property of our communities, and communities should be given pride of place.

What I am advocating is that people think about their libraries not only in terms of how they reflect their communities but also in terms of how they shape them. I was shaped by that Vassar library. I was shaped by the group study rooms at the Iowa City Public Library and by their public LP and CD players (you could even combine the two — if you took a stack of CDs to the circulation desk, they’d put them on and pipe them into your group study room for you) and by their wall of flyers and pamphlets from all the sorts political and social community groups that now show up now in their local associations database. And I hope that the people who come to the library here are shaped by it — shaped to consider the world as wide and vast and varied, even in this tiny little town.

open argument 101

I’ll admit it: there’s almost nothing I like more than drama and action on the internet, and the past 24 hours or so have provided plenty.

Yesterday afternoon saw the release of the much-hyped Library 101 video and its attendant website, which was largely, but not exclusively, lauded. Yesterday evening my FriendFeed brought me the white paper on open source ILS systems [pdf] by SirsiDynix VP of Innovation Stephen Abram, which has been largely, but not exclusively, criticized and ridiculed. (ILS, for my non-librarian readers, stands for Integrated Library System — basically the software that runs your public catalog and your backend record-keeping — cataloging, aquisitions, circulation, statistics, the whole works.)

Along with 64 or so other people, I tuned in to the UStream broadcast of the Library 101 presentation yesterday, or at least the video part of it. My connection was a bit shaky, and while the video itself seemed to work fine, I couldn’t hear much of what the presenters were saying. I’ve watched a few things from Internet Librarian this year on UStream, and in general it is pretty great, so my thanks to the folks who set it up. Since then, a couple of people have said to me that they didn’t think it was really that great, or that they didn’t really understand it, or that they had some other reaction that was not entirely positive — and they felt that because their reaction wasn’t entirely positive, they couldn’t say anything. And that made me really, really sad.

I read the white paper last night and participated in some of the early online commentary, and I’ve had several discussions about that with people, too, and today I read Stephen Abram’s blog post on the subject, where he seems to be quite hurt by the pileup of criticism. Reaction has so far not been terribly sympathetic.

Two events, two commentary pileups, two very different tones. Why? We’ve talked in the biblioblogosphere in years past about uncritical me-tooism and how it stifles conversation and shuts down thoughtful, critical voices. We have also seen plenty of trainwrecks: comment threads rife with personal attacks and you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists mentality. (In this particular instance, Abram’s paper has a bit of that quality to me — you use a standard ILS (preferably SirsiDynix’s) or you’re stupid (“Proprietary software has more features. Period. Proprietary software is much more user-friendly.”) — but then it is a piece of marketing material from a for-profit corporation, so to some extent, that’s to be expected.)

But I digress.

I was underwhelmed by the Library 101 video. It was neat to see so many faces in it (although, like Jessamyn, I would have liked to see them in the credits), and it’s clear from the video that Michael Porter and David Lee King care about it deeply and are enthusiastic about libraries and the future to a degree that few of us can manage. The site, although somewhat annoyingly slow to load, has a lot of good resources, and I look forward to reading the essays that people have submitted. I don’t really get pouring that much of one’s time and money and effort into an online video project, but if it gets some librarians to think about their skills and what they need to move into the future, and if its creators had fun doing it and there are people who enjoy watching it, that’s all to the good. Despite what readers of this blog may think, I actually think there’s a great deal more to being a librarian than being tech-savvy, and I’d like to focus more on some of those things, but I know there are a lot of people who still need to hear the tech message, and perhaps this video and its attendent resources will reach some of them.

So maybe you can’t in fact really criticize Library 101. It’s a labor of love and a labor with a message. The message is hard to criticize, and while you can critique the artistry, you have to remember that it’s a couple of guys doing this in their spare time. They’re not out to make money — in fact, from what they’ve said, they have lost money on this thing. I don’t want anyone to feel that they can’t criticize the video, but at the same time, I don’t think there’s much damage done by the pile-up of compliments.

But it is entirely legitimate to criticize Abram’s paper. ILSs are big money, and they are sold largely by for-profit companies and paid for — in the public and state university library worlds — with public money. I am not an expert on open source ILSs, but I think they are an important and worthy development. It’s possible that the flaws Abram cites exist. I could point out a number of flaws that are present in SirsiDynix systems, too. But the existence of flaws is not an argument against development — if anything, it is an argument for it. I value open source projects because they are, to my mind, ideologically aligned with libraries in a way that corporate enterprises never will be. That doesn’t make them perfect; that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think long and hard before adopting any given ILS. But it makes them worthwhile — and worth defending.

i sent my raise to the louisville library

Today happens to be payday for me, and it also happens to be the first paycheck we got that reflects our annual cost-of-living raise (thank you, Wyoming energy industry, for continuing to flourish in these scant times).

Today is also the day after a flash flood hit the Louisville Free Public Library, where my friend Greg Schwartz works. He posted some pictures yesterday (and here’s one from the newspaper), but perhaps what got me the most (oddly, because despite my frequent postings about technology, I really think of myself as a book person) was his tweet from this morning: “Watching the h2o being poured out of our servers. Depressing.”

Libraries aren’t just stacks of books: among other things, they are stacks of findable books, organized books, books that can be checked out and checked in again, books that can be loaned to other libraries. Servers are part of what make that work possible, and one of the things that Greg does is look after them.

A lot of people want to send books to libraries who have been hit by disasters. This is a noble thing to want to do, but it is a very bad idea, because, as Catherine notes as Rachel notes and Catherine echos, your idea of what they need and what they actually need may not always match up. If you would like to help, though, you can send money. Checks can be mailed to The Library Foundation, 301 York Street, Louisville, KY 40203.

Steve Lawson has also started a Library Society of the World fund drive for the library. If that link isn’t working, the details are also available at Iris’s place. The gist of it is that Steve is collecting money (send donations to lsw.lfpl@gmail.com via PayPal or checks made out to Steve to the Library Society of the World Clubhouse, PO Box 7893, Colorado Springs CO 80933.

I just sent in the amount that my paycheck increased by because of my raise, but any amount at all will help get books back on the shelves — and, just as crucially, get the servers that help keep the library running dry, safe, and back to doing their work. And while you’re at it, why not run through Dorothea’s little checklist and see how secure your data is in the event of a catastrophe. I know our data curation could use some work.

on first looking into the Darien Statements

One evening in junior high I was sitting at our kitchen table (which was my great grandparents’ kitchen table and is now my kitchen table) studying for a test on the explorers, and at some point I asked my mother if she’d quiz me. Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Ponce de Leon, all that was fine. But then we got to Cortez. “Oh,” said my mother, and went off to fetch a book. “Listen to this,” she said, and then she read me

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
. . .
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific

Now of course Cortez did not discover the Pacific. (Neither, technically, did Balboa, who usually gets the credit — the Pacific did not require discovering — it was there already, it’s just that Europeans hadn’t run across it quite yet.) In any case, I pointed out that this poem, however lovely, was unlikely to be of much help to me, since it was inaccurate, and my mother said that it did not matter that it was inaccurate because it was so good. Such was the danger of asking my mother for help with school work. In high school, our geometry textbook asked us at one point why the Greeks considered the 30-60-90 triangle to be the most beautiful triangle. I thought my mother might have something pithy to say on the subject, so I went to ask her. Several hours and multiple volumes of C.S. Lewis and Plato and probably something else I’m forgetting later, I still didn’t have a pithy answer, but I had learned quite a bit.

“On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” is one of the first poems I ever deliberately memorized, and so it floats through my head fairly often. I’ve said to myself while waiting in lines or trying to fall asleep. I said it the first time I ever gazed on the Pacific, standing on Ocean Beach in San Francisco the summer I was twenty.

The poem ends not simply with Cortez staring at the Pacific, for there are others with him:

— and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

As I’ve read The Darien Statements, and the various reactions to them over the past week or so, Keats’s lines have been floating through my head a bit more often, and so has that evening when I was trying to remember the date Magellan circumnavigated the globe and my mother first read those lines to me.

Some days it’s important to remember the dates and places and times. Some preliminary knowledge about the world and its shape and its features and its history is useful — even necessary — for getting by in it. But some days — not all days, perhaps, but some — it’s also important to stare at the Pacific, to glance around at your compatriots with a wild surmise, to stand silently and contemplate the awesome mysterious wonderfulness of it all.

Similarly, it’s important to run your library. It’s important to get the books on the shelves correctly, to have a diverse and up to date collection, to provide timely reference services to your patrons, to keep your public computers running. That’s all important. But sometimes it is important to stand back from that for a few moments and think about what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If the Darien Statements do anything, I hope they help us all feel for a moment like the men on that other Darien, as though we’ve discovered a new old world, or an old new world, all over again and ought to contemplate just what it is and what we are and what we should be doing and why.

So go read the Darien Statements, if you haven’t. And if you’d like, you can read the rest of Keats’s sonnet, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation. The Wikipedia page on it is not half bad, either.

serving the margins: a social exclusion linkdump

I have been very tired and hence am very behind and thus am going to give you this fabulous link roundup instead of an actual post.

Radical Reference did a Library of Congress Subject Heading Suggestion Blog-a-thon last week that I managed to miss. If you did, too, you can read a write-up of the event — and I’m sure late entries are allowed.

The NYC Radical Reference Collective held a salon about library services to incarcerated people. That prompted me to go poking around our state library website, where I found a whole page about library services in Wyoming’s state institutions.

I don’t work in a large urban library (or even a medium-sized one), and I therefore cannot speak with much authority about the issue of homeless people in libraries. If you do work in such a place or if you are at all interest in library services to the disenfranchised, I urge you to check out the Working Together Project, which I found via LibrarianActivist.org. It has already gotten me started thinking about who in my community is socially excluded and what role the library might have in their lives.

A Fuse #8 Production points to a story about a women’s strike at Macmillan in the 1970s. It will both raise your feminist ire and bring joy to your activist heart. It did to mine, anyway.

And last but not least, speaking of activism and social exclusion: My mother is in the process of becoming a deacon in the Episcopal Church, something she got into in part because of helping out with the overflow housing that some of the local churches do in the winter when there isn’t enough room in the homeless shelter in Iowa City. Right now she’s spending a month in Boston helping out with Common Cathedral, which is a ministry that brings church services outside of the church in an effort to provide for those (including the homeless) who would like to come to a service but feel unwelcome or unable to come into the church. She’ll be talking more about what she does there on her blog, Called Judithio. Please stop by and check it out.

solidarity, virtually: my CiL2008

I’ve been watching Computers in Libraries (and Internet Librarian) from afar for three years now, starting with the OPML file Steve put together for CiL in 2006. I’ve watched the conference tags make it into Flickr’s hot tags list every year, and I’ve seen hundreds of sea lion photos from Monterey. I’ve read the complaints about internet access, read scores of blog posts about conference sessions, and I’ve watched attendees plan dinner dates via an ever-evovling series of technologies, from wikis to Twitter.

But there was something different about this year. Usually, as much as I love following the action, I get depressed looking at all the pictures of people having drinks and fun because I’m not there and I’m sure I’m missing out on things. This year, for some reason, I didn’t feel that way. Maybe it was the increased level of wifi that meant more people were Twittering. Maybe it was the back channel in the LSW Meebo Room. Maybe it was that I got to be at the conference by being in the LSW Room when Josh, Steve, and Rikhei were talking about it. Maybe it was that I got mentioned in that presentation. Maybe it was that at least one person I talked to via some medium thought I was at the conference. Whatever it was, though, it left me feeling as though I was in fact there, and today, it’s giving me that post-conference let down, where you suddenly realize that you have to take all your great ideas back home and deal with the 179 emails you’ve accumulated and the garbage you forgot to take out and making dinner instead of going out for sushi with your friends, and you’re exhausted because you haven’t slept much all week.

I’ve been trying to place the sense that I got while the conference was going on, and it finally dawned on me: it felt like the sit-in.

While we were at Weeg, we ran through Heidi’s e-mail accumulated over the past day, almost all of it from the USAS listserv. It’s not just us and Purdue, it’s all over–and spreading like wildfire. Kentucky, Tulane, Michigan, Oregon, Yale, Wesleyan–they’re all holding buidlings or camping out or hunger striking or something, and I know there are schools I’m forgetting. This movement is national, and though the national media haven’t picked up on it yet, we know it (thanks to the wonders of modern technology). But sitting there, reading all those posts from all over–somebody compiled all the letters asking for support and sent them out in one mass e-mail–we felt it. All over America right now people are sleeping, but some of those people–a critical mass of those people–are college students and supporters, camping out on lawns and in libraries, in hallways and on doorsteps, demanding change, demanding a voice, demanding a better world.

Well, not exactly like that, of course, but it had much the same energy, much the same silliness promanading with serious intent.

I’m happiest when I think I’m changing the world. I’m not certain that Information Today Inc. is changing the world, or not in exactly the ways I would like it to, but I’m certain that the people in the Library Society of the World are changing librarianship, and I like thinking that I’m a part of this amazing group of people who are all tinkering away in our own corners of the world. Someday I hope to meet more of you in person, but I think it’s a testament to the power of the intertubes that you all feel like comrades already.

radical thinking

I realized earlier today that although I mentioned it in passing on my other blog (which is read by about three people–what the world needs now is not another RSS feed, but I try not to let that stop me), I haven’t actually gotten around to talking about it in this rather more visited, and relevent, venue.

Tomorrow I’m flying to Salt Lake City to attend Thinking Ahead 2008, a conference put on by the Salt Lake City Public Library and the Weber County Library. I’ll be there on behalf of Radical Reference and will be one of a number of far more accomplished Topic Facilitators. My topic is Democracy in Libraries, and you can read a little about some of the things I’ll try to talk about with regard to Rad Ref, many of them suggested by other volunteers. I’m looking forward to see what develops in many of the conversations at this conference, and I’ll report as much as possible here.

If by any chance you are reading this and are going to be at the conference, please come say hello. I will be the one who sounds like she’s getting over a bad head cold/sinus infection, which, in fact, I am.

Also, can I just say that I love that I’m going to a conference whose website url is thinkinglibraries.org? I love it.