Technology in Libraries

Freedom and #Diversity in #Libraries

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I read Marshall Breeding’s May 2017 “Library Systems Report 2017” way back when it was published in American Libraries magazine – but something struck me this morning while reading a completely unrelated article on politics/culture in the US…

systems-report

(accessed from American Libraries magazine, 27 July 2017)

That if, as Breeding states, in the internet age, libraries are moving toward increasingly centralized, for-profit “solutions” for their tools and services – from technical services, authority syncing, reference chat tools and vendors for research materials of all formats (and I think he is correct), then libraries are moving away from their democratic ideals towards arrangements with a more fascist bent.

This trend in libraries of course simply reflects the state of culture at large that works by default with the internet.

But the end result, as I see it, is at least twofold:

  1. That the number of librarians and interested connected professionals are able to engage less and less in the design and implementation of those technologies across almost every front- This not only affects those people’s ability to engage in deep-dive lifelong learning, but it also means that “design local” as a guiding metaphor is being thrown out the window. Even as libraries’ staff talk about how much they like to serve their patrons/community/users (whatever each library wants to call its local constituents, it is actually less able over time to to design solutions built specifically for those very people.
  2.  That one major result of the above trend as partially commented upon in bullet # 1 is a significant decline in diversity – this even as diversity & inclusion committees and working groups are being formed across libraryland in the United States. We talk about diversity and intellectual freedom in libraries. But we define those ideas in increasingly narrow terms if we do not take into consideration the elaborate tools that might be built if local libraries maintained their own servers, ILSs, and well defined privacy policies that could be much better managed if local libraries (of all types) maintained a higher level of control over their own systems.

The result of this trend migrates thinking & tinkering away from local decision making, policies, technological innovation towards a totalitarian model wherein diversity is discouraged and intellectual freedom is hindered across several important fronts – especially meaningful fronts in the information age.

A few thoughts…

Thank you for reading.

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Surveillance & Privacy Publication at Library Journal

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colldevlambertson

My collection development article, Careful, You’re Being Watched: Surveillance & Privacy, has just been published at Library Journal.

The print edition is out in August and will feature more information and resources.

Please click on over to read this version and subscribe to Library Journal or head on over to your local library to peruse the print.

Thank you for reading.

Jesse

#Metadata Production and Privacy in Libraries

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#Libraries and Social Media Pt. 2: Metadata Production and Privacy*

(A Thought-in-Progress)

By Jesse A Lambertson

Social Media Applications

In a previous post, I tried to gather my thoughts on the state of library-use of SOCIAL media and web 2.0 technologies and applications. There are so many in use I did not feel the need to list all of them in that post, just draw attention to their existence within the system and flow of information organization from different type of libraries.

I produced a list here (where you can find the link to download my reference sheet) of major and minor OSNs (Online Social Networks) platforms and their statements on either advertising structure, their mining of user-data and privacy. Obviously, these platforms and applications are used in a much wider context than libraries and cultural heritage institutions. In my search around the internet in English, I found a lot of applications that I’d never heard of before. I am positive other countries and other languages have developed their own.  I would be happy to receive information on any SOCIAL platforms from around the world or any others I missed in my collecting. If you find any, please e-mail the links to jesse (at) meta21st.com or reply below. Thank you much.

These applications are mostly free (in certain versions) to their users – though most also have advertisements either built into the applications from their creation or from other more traditional modes such as pay-per-advertisement models which promote or push that promoted content toward the top of a feed, add it to a video, add it to a certain page etc. This is not a bad thing. When people get together and invest in their ideas, they do so often with the intent to make money. The model now, across some investment areas, is to offer free tools and applications which are paid for either by direct advertising or the selling of metadata and some user data to clearinghouses that deal in such a thing. Many people have commented on this fact as being the most profitable feature of SOCIAL media applications and web 2.0 technologies. I won’t compile those articles here, but this is an area for future information collection.

Libraries

American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) (librarians are well versed in the use of acronyms) has made several statements and resolutions on one’s use of a library with freedom to pursue all angles of ideas and that their freedom to pursue such ideas should be protected from unwarranted surveillance by polices and routines designed to hide user data from anyone other than the library user and the librarians who assist and provide reference services. This last part is mostly out of necessity because librarians work in libraries (of course). The ALA OIF has made statements viewable here and here on the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) justified by the USA PATRIOT Act and its renewal/reauthorization in which they do not deny the use, theoretically, of NSLs, but rather that the Letters are submitted only with very specific evidentiary requirements.  The ALA OIF states, “WHEREAS, the ALA is committed to preserving the privacy rights of all persons in the United States, especially library users and library employees…” I mention this statement, and link to the ALA OIF, not to rage against NSLs, but to get the conversation into the open about privacy and one’s use of the library. Issues of national security NSLs and governmental control/collection of user data in libraries a connected but separate topic – one I have touched upon here in this draft-like student whitepaper from University of Illinois’ DSpace digital repository.

Conflict of Interests

I see a conflict of interest inherent in the system right now with regards to increased traffic on ISNs, user-generated content and library’s encouragement of new media. All media is new when it comes out, but we love our terms. Everyone must categorize and provide schema for knowledge. This is why we like libraries – to put forth tools and thinking processes on how to work our way through the ever increasing subject areas and specializations. But categories and organization models have been in-use in libraries, both special and public, for a long time now and won’t go away with the internet. In fact, talk to any coder and page designer and you will hear about the increased use of tags, keywords and indexing – all of which fall under various definitions of use, value and debate themselves – depending on trends and context. Much of this has to do with the context of machine read information systems. But this context is precisely the point here. My context is libraries and their seemingly complete embrace of digital tools encouraging library users to “connect,” “engage,” and “interact.”

The very nature of these words changes in the internet age. No problems here. Words change. Have doubts about that? Head on down to your local library and access their subscription to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) – which you will need to do because that dictionary, the gold standard of English usage and its history, is only available via subscription and is no longer available in print. Once a user has gotten access to a digital tool, there are records of these connections and usage metadata. Some of this will never be escaped for the reason that libraries also need to exhibit their use and tools like the OED use that to market their value. This fact might be conundrum. But one thing about subscription databases is that they are making money by subscription models instead of simply by collecting data by users of free applications and selling that data through the clearinghouses I mentioned above. As the “market” model gathers more and more steam in areas where it was not the regime, we could easily see an uptick in data collection, sharing policies and privacy issues. Time will tell.

But from the point of view of library users and OSNs, most libraries sign off on ALA’s privacy statements (the ones I linked to above) by joining ALA’s membership ranks. These privacy policies in current popular discussion are dealing mostly with NSLs, now the NSA, Section 215 of the USA PATIOT Act and new variants of Total Information Awareness. But I see a slightly more insidious context developing in this current context. OSN’s make no bones about their advertising and their corporate for-profit structure and legal status. Good thing too. When someone starts a business, they want to do with it what it takes to make the most profit from it they are able to make. Carry onward. But libraries are not structured with this legal and declared ideology. If anything, there is one statement after another with the intent to show libraries exist to allow for the move into a different direction. But these same libraries advocate the embrace of OSNs and web 2.0 applications to accomplish the goals I mentioned above, engagement, connection and interactivity. Except, the very use of these technologies now monetizes personal activity online, shreds even thinner the demarcation of privacy between person and their intellectual pursuits and moves that data to more and more interested parties way outside of any one OSN or library “interactive” instance. The ALA has information about usage of OSNs here – including a PPT here which highlights some of these points.

I see this single point and its as yet un-elucidated sub-points as a major conflict of interest for library usage and patron visits. And there are so many reasons to go to libraries. Not all those need to be marked in databanks and sold.

Please take heed. More will come on this in the future.

Thank you for reading.

Jesse L.

*All links and sources associated with this post were rechecked as of 07 February 2014.

If anyone wants to converse on this topic, don’t hesitate to e-mail me above or submit your information below.

#ALAMW14 in Philadelphia

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I went to Philadelphia in the snow and the cold to meet and learn at American Library Association’s Mid-Winter Conference.

logo-alamw14

(Image courtesy of http://alamw14.ala.org/ <accessed 27 January 2014>)

The conference was held in the Philadelphia Convention Center right downtown on Market St and 11th St. I met many great librarians and library advocates from all over the United States. Besides searching for academic library jobs, I also got to talk about my own start-up, Metamedia Management, LLC and our work as 21st Century Librarians in document management and technology solutions to that end.

Besides meeting all my library colleagues and learning about applications being put into action in libraries and archives all over, I also took in an important discussion on the social construction and intersectionality of gender, inclusion, race, ablism, hiring practices and technology in libraries. I heard from people such as Coral Sheldon-Hess, Eric Phetteplace, Cecily Walker , Chris Bourg and Myrna Morales from Community Change, Inc. I live-tweeted from @meta21st (our company Twitter acct) and @jlibraryist (mine) as the discussion went back and forth between live-in-the-room to Twitter. I was happy and impressed to see librarians and library advocates bring together such important notions. Don’t hesitate to get involved in the ongoing chat on Twitter with the hashtag #libtechgender.

I learned about so many important technology and standards in use, but I want to draw attention to two intriguing online educational companies: First,  JoVE, Journal of Visualized Experiments, a video collection of science experiments meant to bring lab results and processes into the open in order to encourage continually tackling those processes to double-check, rethink and verify results.

jove_logo_copy1

The second company I got to hear about was EducationonDemand, a K-12 subscription service meant to deliver time-saving video education collections to teachers. They can be likened to a mix between PBS Learning Media and Khan Academy.

Education-on-Demand

Take a look at either of these sites and see if they will work for you. It is good to see so many people adopting so many approaches and platforms toward connecting library work and education. These notions go together.

It was a good conference.

Thank you for reading.

Jesse L.

E-Reader Implementation Issues

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E-readers have become standard objects used by patrons of libraries – academic and public alike. There are a slew of devices with which one can read and listen to their electronic audio and text-based books. Interfaces vary, variations in digitizing touch-to-action exist and screens are different. Some, such as the Nook by Barnes and Noble Booksellers and the Kindle by Amazon, are marketed specifically as internet friendly readers. Then there is the mini-Ipad, the Kobo reader and different builds of hardware on the Android platform such as the Nexus. The Nook even has ‘apps’ designed to work on its platform – a hybrid of Android and proprietary software. Each of these readers and/or features is not unimportant. I could even bring up differences in tablet readers and e-ink devices. I won’t. I want to talk about differences in implementation of reader software. I want to look specifically at real differences in e-publication formats, how they change what reading is as an activity on an electronic device and how formats are tied to reader software. No, I’m not here to break down code or look at processing algorithms. Fascinating stuff of course. But that analysis goes elsewhere.

There are many formats in which to read publications electronically. There is HTML, EPUB, Kindle and PDF (and a few others for readers popular around the globe). PDF works with lots of reader software, though not all. Kindle, of course, works only within the Kindle device or reader app because it’s a proprietary code. EPUB is not. It will work with readers as far afield as the NOOK, any Android Device and readers such as Kobo or the one sold by Sony. There are lots of publishers who, in an effort to expand the range of creativity in reader choices, publish only in EPUB. It’s generally considered an “open-source” coding for text. There are differences, however, in implementation of use of EPUB or PDF – wherein we note the crux of this piece of writing.

EPUB is designed to work with many readers. But the way it works with different readers changes depending on the vender of the electronic item. For example, two popular reader software applications that are compatible with EPUB and PDF and have been used by public libraries in my area: the first is the most popular eBook vender, Overdrive (which is a vender and a reader application); the second is Bluefire (which is a reader only with built in links to online spots to buy books or to download public domain titles).

overdrive.         bluefire

I currently read on a Google Nexus 7, touchscreen obviously (though I use my stylus to turn “pages” a lot) and I use both the OverDrive and BlueFire applications for EPUB and PDF texts. OverDrive is not as convenient a reader to use as Bluefire because it is tied to its connection firstly as a reader of books borrowed from the library. The application itself has a GET BOOKS tab through which books can be searched in libraries’ eBook collections. OverDrive works as a portal to the library’s catalog of eBooks. BlueFire is not as tethered. It operates as a third party option available to the reader to choose which reader to use if the option is allowed by the objects being considered or publisher controls etc. OverDrive does not list the actual format of the books in its library while Bluefire does – to the right of the title OverDrive just says eBook while Bluefire lists EPUB or PDF. The difference is no inherently wrong. Bluefire simply has slightly fuller metadata while OverDrive probably sees itself (just a guess here) as a reader use by the populace who (they think) don’t care about “technical” aspects of the text in front of their eyes.

The issue of metadata certainly marks a difference between these two readers. But it does not mark the most important distinction in my fBook (f for figurative 😉 ). The most important implementation variant between these two readers is the difference between content/quantity representation models in use – specifically the way in which each reader represents pagination in eBooks. OverDrive DOES NOT use page numbers – a fact which I believe to be problematic for reasons of making reference to books read, annotations made for future reference and ability to cite. In fact, this is an even more problematic feature of OverDrive because as more and more texts are being consumed in eFormat, if one’s ability to cite books for reference and scholarly purposes (professional or amateur researchers) is restricted, the reference to other books and facts built for new writing will be challenging. Bluefire does not have this issue. It lists the eBook as containing pages 1-whatever). OverDrive chooses instead to subdivide every section of the eBook into page sections that are counted as percentages.

For instance, instead of showing the first page of Chapter 3 of a book I am reading on Physics starting on page 40 as it does in the paper text, it represents this “page” as “Page 1 of 19” with Chapter Progress of 5.3% and whole book progress as 13%. The page number itself really means nothing in relation to the whole eBook and percentages have nothing to do with reading page-to-page. The lack of ability to cite this text – again, a feature tied to its use by the populace who OverDrive believes does not care to do reference work – is a major problem. But it’s also a contradictory stance because I bet the same popular reader is just as happy to be able to know what “page” they’re reading. I can’t imagine anyone really cares about what percentage of each chapter is finished within the overall book except as an arbitrary number to call out. These percentages smack of computer modeling and lack the granularity of real page counts. Bluefire does not have this problem. It has some of the same ability to jump from section to section by using a dropdown contents tab. But it makes reference to pagination within the overall structure of the content being read. This feature increases the granularity of the reading experience and makes citation possible with the use of as few marks as possible in the citation.

Thank you for your time. Take a look at different eReaders and don’t hesitate to reply here or at Twitter. I am always open for discussion and learning.

Book Review: The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Ed.

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Technology in the Library and Lifelong Learning

Review of Nicole C. Engard’s (with Rachel Singer Gordon) The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition. Information Today, Inc. 2012. ISBN: 9781573874533

tasl.bookcover

One of those ever-famous quotes from library school is that librarians and librarians-in-training must be life-long learners.* The reason for referencing this quote in this review is one of the methods through which Nicole C. Engard gathered anecdotes and examples for her work, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition (TASL) was via a survey sent out to libraries and systems librarians. A general response suggested by many of the respondees was they never expected to be bored. Engard deliberately makes this point 2 or 3 times across the book in varied contexts because one of her main points is systems librarians may go by different titles at their respective institutions, but they are also in charge of teaching staff, teaching patrons, spending a chunk of their scheduled time at the reference desk or some other task in “traditional” library services and keeping current on all kinds of tech services – a task which shows every sign of continual exponential change. Engard’s goal is to explain the types of issues that may fall under the description for Systems Librarian and also the real work/learning load associated with the position.

TASL is divided in two major sections: The first four chapters, titled Systems Librarianship 101 – 104, are followed by 8 chapters with specific titles focused on subtasks and the granularity of higher level involvement and projects. I would suggest one justification for this structure is a quote by Eric Morgan in his penned Forward, “Working with technology is as much about collection development as it is about knowing how to use computers” (xvi). Technology in libraries is not about adding more “stuff” for staff and patrons to learn – though more learning is hopefully the inevitable result. Technology is built into more facets of library work and library services because it reflects the types of resources that are in current use and in demand by patrons. As a pathway to being involved in culture, learning about whatever topic, or checking e-mail, networked systems of all kinds must be maintained in order to make that pathway easier to traverse. Hardware, web applications and other e-formats are simply used in tandem with resources such as magazines, newspapers and books.

Engard makes clear, however, throughout the book the need for constant education. Not simply personally in efforts for life-long learning. This notion we have already mentioned and will be touched upon once more below. Rather, education designed to bring all staff in-line with expectations held by patrons. In other words, many patrons need help with various aspects of devices, software and some hardware. Many libraries (or library systems), including the one at which I currently work, schedule technology classes in order to teach patrons skills as diverse as how to use subscribed databases for genealogy, how to navigate their e-readers to use the library’s e-collections and how they might use social media to collect ideas for new reading interests. And there are so many others Engard details in the book. The point is it takes educated staff members, confident with these same technological resources in the library’s collections/services arsenal to assist patrons. Also, when a patron comes to ask a question, it is okay for the librarian and the patron to learn something together. But, honestly, the staff member should be the “expert” up to a point and Engard suggests it’s up the systems librarian to collaborate with the rest of the staff and make sure this is the case.

How the local Systems Librarian works and what he or she accomplishes is partly up to her and how distributed the technological work load is in the librarian’s respective setting. There are no set tasks declared in the book. There is not an absolute description of what A Systems Librarian is supposed to do because needs vary so greatly. And in this, Nicole C. Engard’s book, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition, has its greatest strength. Sure it lists a ton of web, journal and book resources to learn network troubleshooting, research techniques and modes of instruction. But it emphasizes life-long learning as the mode of interaction across technological “borders,” changes and constant problem solving which fine-tunes that learning.

A strength indeed.

*This is a phrase I come back to pseudo-regularly as I find it of high value to my own motivations.

PS: A copy of my review has also been published at LibraryThing.