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The Myopia of Techy Librarians February 18, 2010

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Today I (virtually) attended the second Handheld Librarian Conference. I had the opportunity of watching three sessions:

1. “This is Now: The Mobile Library” by Joe Murphy from New Haven, CT.

2. “Developing Library Websites Optimized for Mobile Devices” by Brendan Ryan of Providence College.

3. “Mobile Trends and Social Reference” by Alison Miller a Doctorate student of Professional Studies in Information Management at Syracuse University, School of Information Studies.

Overall, the conference did exactly as advertised–the sessions explained the current trends in mobile technologies and how to apply them to library services. The second session, “Developing Library Websites Optimized for Mobile Devices”, was the most straightforward, giving detailed instructions on how to build a mobile web site, including lists of resources and web sites, barriers, challenges, lessons learned, examples, etc. The other two were highly informative as well but I have a problem with this subject matter that I think needs to be discussed in greater detail.

From Toban Black's Flickr stream

My first problem with libraries embracing social media is Twitter. I love Twitter; I use it for this blog and also have my own personal account. But report after report says that young people don’t use Twitter. As an academic librarian, Twitter is not going to do much for my patrons. Is it going to do anything for my fellow librarians? Joe Murphy suggested we use it to facilitate committee chatter. I heartily agree with Joe that, harnessed correctly, Twitter can boost professional development and sharing. But the learning curve is extreme, especially for those not born into the digital revolution. I can’t blame Joe for his enthusiasm over augmented reality, QR codes, and location-based gaming because I think they’re great as well, but I do blame him for falling into the trap of “techy librarian myopia.”

Those who are addicted to technology and use it throughout the day, every day, often forget that most of the world does not use technology in the same way. One of the statistics Alison shared was that 63.1% of mobile users sent a text as of December 2009. She, and many others, acted as if this number was astoundingly high. I though it was low. If only 63.1% of mobile users in America have texted, how many have Tweeted? How many have gone on Facebook? How many are going to text a reference question? It’s easy to forget that we, especially as librarians, are not the general public and don’t use technology the same way they do. We are constantly in danger of being too cutting edge. I think this conference teetered on the edge of that precipice. I remember when I first discovered Mashable and threw around Peter Cashmore’s name like he was my BFF. Turns out 95% of my friends still have no idea who he is. Just because we have become a profession of netizens and social media junkies, doesn’t mean our clientele has the same needs as us.

The second problem I had is what the presenters referred (fleetingly) to as the “mobile divide.” For years we have been hearing about the digital divide, and trying to decrease it. That is the library’s job–providing equal access to information and media for everyone in a community. One of the commenters in the chat room mentioned that the mobile divide will be smaller than the digital divide because cell phones are cheaper than computers. This is greatly simplifying a multifaceted problem. Cell phones may be cheaper but smartphones are not that much cheaper than netbooks. And both “divides” are about so much more than owning technology. They are about being raised in a culture that embraces technology, research, and learning. Two people may both have iPhones, but depending on their socioeconomic background, education, and the way they were raised, they may use the iPhones in completely different ways. The challenge for us as librarians is the same–teach people how to find reliable and current information. Mobile technologies do not bridge the divide. Using Twitter, Facebook, various augmented reality apps, Foursquare, QR codes, etc. require learning and support.

My final issue, and one the conference understandably ignored, is cost. The point of the conference was to explore and share technologies, not to discuss whether they were feasible. While Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, and many programs that turn sites into mobile sites are free, the time dedicated to embracing such technologies is not. And time is one of our greatest resources.

I think that it is important that we discuss these trends and I think the presenters did a great job of doing just that. It is my hope that participants will closely examine their user population before jumping into any kind of relationship with these trends. If there is someone techy on staff who can set up a Facebook page in ten minutes and show colleagues how to use it in a 20 minute powerpoint presentation, then go ahead–nothing is lost. But if you have to spend hours upon hours creating a mobile site when half of your patrons don’t even know what an “app” is, then focus on something else, like building your collection. It is and has always been the librarians’ job to meet the needs of their user population.

A Candid Convo with the Infomavens on Google Buzz February 11, 2010

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Okay, so I am totally taking the easy way out with my post today and just posting the g-chat Dataduchess and I just had about Google Buzz. It somehow seems appropriate. I also wanted to post this because I get a little sick and tired of hearing about how “Millennials” use technology. It makes me feel like a lab rat or some newly discovered species in the depths of the ocean. So – this is how some Millennials use technology:

From computerworld.com

Dataduchess: Hey – what do you think of Google Buzz?
Pupfiction: OMG – I was really about to chat you the same thing.
I really like the layout. I just don’t like having to update another thing.
Dataduchess: I don’t like it so far – but the only messages I’ve seen are millions of comments on Mashable’s posts.
Pupfiction: I don’t really understand what the notifications are about.
Ohhh – do you have it hooked to Twitter or your RSS?
I just have my friends so far, which is like 20 people.
Dataduchess: I like all this social media stuff, but I don’t want another place to update – I’m already way overloaded and over stimulated.
It’s mostly just my friends from my gchat addresses – but yesterday Mashable posted a link so you could follow them, and I did it, not really understanding what it would look like (since I didn’t actually have the function yet).
Pupfiction: Oh no!
Dataduchess: So today, it was unveiled, and all I had was 17 posts by Pete Cashmore, with hundreds of comments on each; overwhelming for a start!
Pupfiction: It’s like Facebook only you are forced to see and know about all the comments.
Dataduchess: Yeah – that’s how it seems.
Pupfiction: Whereas you could get the post without the comments in Twitter.
A bunch of my friends have posted pics and I really like the format for that.
Dataduchess: I don’t know, I’m willing to give it a chance, but it really doesn’t seem to add to the Google experience, and it just overlaps the bad parts of Twitter and FB.
Pupfiction: And what happened to Wave?
Are people using that or is that over?
Dataduchess: idk – I haven’t opened that in weeks.
I don’t think it caught on.
Buzz seems to replace that too.
Pupfiction: So much hype for nothing.
Dataduchess: I think “invite only” puts a damper on things.
Pupfiction: And there was too much of a learning curve.
It was too complicated.
I feel compelled to use Buzz because my friends are.
Dataduchess: Haha, you’re such a follower.
Are they friends who also use FB and Twitter, or are they starting from scratch with Buzz?
Pupfiction: They use FB and a one uses Twitter – you know – our head of advertising – dirtyern12.
A lot of my friends still don’t “get” Twitter.
Dataduchess: Yeah, I know very few people who “get” Twitter.
Every time I tell anyone something I heard, they’re like “oh, where did you hear that?” and I feel dumb saying, “uh, Twitter.”

What do you think about Google Buzz?

And in case you are like the Infomavens and value privacy (in contrast to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s beliefs) here’s an important article to read to make sure that your gmail contacts aren’t made public. Some of us Millennials still treasure a little mystery.

Can Social Media Break Through the Paywall? February 5, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in InformationIssues.
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Newspapers have been struggling to maintain revenue and readership, as readers have replaced their print subscriptions with free online resources. Notably, the New York Times recently announced it was considering putting its online content behind a paywall, meaning it would only be available to subscribers. This comes following a number of other print media sources installing paywalls, including the Wall Street Journal.

But these days, social media plays a huge role in the spread of all kinds of media, whether it is a video going viral, or a news scoop breaking on CNN’s Twitter feed, or an announcement of award nominees on the Oscars’ Facebook Page.

That’s because people like to be connected and find things in common. Before the Internet, before TV, before radio, before paper even, people would gather and spread the news or stories. The only reason some of the ancient classics have survived was because of the oral tradition of gathering together and repeating stories over and over through the ages.

Now, I’m not even remotely trying to claim that we need to be able to share news through social media for posterity, just pointing out that it is in man’s nature to want to share the things he finds interesting (at least that’s how it seems to me).  Whether it is through Facebook or Twitter, or even e-mail, sharing links to interesting stories or funny pictures, or current events – its a way of connecting with each other.

For better or for worse, more and more the electronic connections are replacing the face-to-face connections, or even the voice-to-voice. It’s not just kids and teenagers either – email and instant messaging have replaced walking down the hall in offices, and texting has replaced phone calls for many people. With many of my friends (if they can even still be called that) the only interaction we have any more is sharing articles and bits of information found on the internet with each other, via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or even this blog.

You might be surprised to know that I am actually a proponent of Intellectual Property Laws. I understand why and how they are are intended to work to promote progress and the proliferation of information, when not abused to prevent it. Maybe I’ll try and explain it someday, but for now, lets just say I get why the newspapers feel not only the need, but the right to limit access to their content. And I’m not going to argue that I would feel differently if it was my company that was hemorrhaging profits while giving away product for free. However, knowing how people interact with their news and their media, and their sharing sites, it still seems to me refusing to allow users to share content is a mistake.

This article points out that newspapers who put their content behind a paywall, do in fact see a drop in traffic to their site, which in turn leads to less revenue from advertising. Can the revenue generated by subscription fees make up that difference? We’ll have to wait and see… But, the problem of sharing still remains… how many users will want to subscribe and support a site that doesn’t allow them to share their favorite topics?

The Double Life of the (Academic) Librarian January 29, 2010

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Libraries everywhere continue to adopt Web 2.0 technologies, embracing sites like Facebook and Twitter to assist in outreach. Often, librarians are asked to become an active part of this community, creating their own user pages. This is true in any kind of collaborative, wiki-type environment. Participants are prompted to create a profile in order to create a sense of community. In a single day, I am unable to avoid the proliferation of social media into my job as an academic librarian. And while this is a positive improvement for the library I find myself facing the same dilemmas that teachers face when they set up a Facebook account: what are my parameters for accepting friend requests; what should I/should I not post; what kind of privacy settings should I adopt?

From Jazz Modeus's Flickr Stream, Creative Commons licensed

Public libraries have certainly embraced the image of the hipster librarian, bespattered with tattoos, perhaps even a piercing, and carrying an organic tote bag displaying though-provoking literary quotes (excuse the stereotype). Not so for the academic librarian. Academia prefers a little more conformity. While our employers may want us to show our individualism and personalities in reference and information literacy sessions, it is not hard to forget that we are professionals working in a professional environment. Working so closely with college students is a sticky situation in itself, especially for those of us who are younger. What role do we adopt? While you may say – librarian and librarian alone, it is not always that easy. We work closely, on a daily basis, with student workers who are far closer in age to us than our co-workers. We share more in common with them as well. Facebook is not a foreign place for us – it has been our mode of communication for some time now. So when our colleagues decide that we should attach our Facebook page to the library’s Facebook page, what do we do? Create two pages – one for the public and one private? This is the exact scenario that my colleague faces.   And while we may not have pictures of us guzzling beers or setting fire to couches, don’t we have a right to keep pictures of our latest camping trip between friends? How do we keep our individuality and our privacy in a world that demands we share?

Which came first: lack of privacy or lack of privacy settings? January 11, 2010

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TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington recently interviewed Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg on where Facebook is going, what new acquisitions it hopes to acquire, and its recent changes to privacy settings. This article by the New York Times Technology section, chooses to focus on the recent privacy changes which have been making waves online and in the news world for months now. As the Infomavens have recently been exploring the issue of privacy versus security both on the internet and in the “real” world, I thought it interesting that Marshall Kirkpatrick (from ReadWriteWeb and author of the Times article) should take such a cynical look at Zuckerberg’s seemingly innovative argument on privacy. Zuckerberg argues (you can witness in this video of the interview) that Facebook has changed to reflect society’s changing view on privacy. But Kirkpatrick believes that Facebook is the one who has sculpted this change in society’s beliefs. He insinuates that Facebook’s privacy changes are not want people want, but rather a way for “the company [to] shift[s] its strategy to exert control over the future of the web” (New York Times). I agree with Kirkpatrick that Zuckerberg’s argument (that blogging and other social media platforms have decreased privacy) is a flimsy one, but wonder if Facebook’s privacy settings have far more to do with advertising and revenue that anything else. Perhaps the most shocking part of the TechCrunch interview is when Arrington asks Zuckerberg “Nexus One or iPhone?”. With a wry smile, Zuckerberg responds, “Blackberry.” If that isn’t an endorsement I don’t know what is.

Disappearing in the Digital Age January 6, 2010

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I recently reviewed the fictional work Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, in which a teenager tries to evade the prying eyes of the Department of Homeland Security while still maintaining an electronic presence on the web. Then today, I stumbled across the real-life story of someone attempting to do the very same thing, albeit for fun and with a monetary reward. Writer Evan Ratliff decided, with the help of the magazine Wired, to disappear for a month, offering readers $5,000 to try to locate him. The impetus, Ratliff notes, was to answer “a series of questions, foremost among them: How hard is it to vanish in the digital age…People fret about privacy, but what are the consequences of giving it all up, I wondered. What can investigators glean from all the digital fingerprints we leave behind? You can be anybody you want online, sure, but can you reinvent yourself in real life?” (Wired.com).

from Wired.com

Ratliff then embarks on a cross-country jaunt, setting up fake email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, as well as a fake office, an alias, and investing in numerous untraceable credit-card like gift cards for larger purchases. He routinely changes his appearance and uses the web to follow those trying to locate him, many who have set up groups on Twitter and Facebook and who manage to unearth every detail about his former life including hobbies, dietary restrictions, former habitations, purchases, and the name and phone number of his cat sitter. One of Ratliff’s most useful modes of cyber anonymity is using The Onion Router (TOR), which hides his true IP address and is also frequently mentioned in Little Brother. When Ratliff is finally caught a week from the end of the contest, it is because he attends a book reading that could have been in held in two places and was embedded in a New York Times crossword puzzle. By that time, his alias, Facebook and Twitter accounts had been compromised and it is likely he would have been caught soon, regardless of the clue.

Is is possible to disappear in our age? Of course it is. One women explains her fascination with Ratliff’s attempted disappearance:

Why would a middle-aged woman with virtually no technical knowledge be interested in following the Evan’s Vanished story on Twitter? You see, my father walked out one morning in Sumter, South Carolina, kissed the wife and two young children good-bye as if he was going to work as always, and disappeared for 12 years. He was around Evan’s age. He sent the family a telegraph a few days later asking them not to look for him. To this day, no one knows anything about his personal life during those years. I guess I’m hoping to have some clues to some of my questions (Wired.com).

People disappear all the time. But Ratliff didn’t try to disappear. He just tried to change and to change his electronic identity. Could he have lived in the woods, cultivating his own food, and never using a computer again? Sure. But that wouldn’t have been half as interesting or draw attention to the amount of information that is easily hackable, traceable and public. Ratliff doesn’t argue about the dangers of the information age like Doctorow’s Little Brother does, but he certainly draws attention to the reality of a real Big Brother.

Make sure to read the whole article here. It is fascinating to hear about Ratliff’s mental and emotional changes as well. Or check our his website: www.atavist.net.

New Facebook App Allows Book Sharing December 28, 2009

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The Random House publishing group has developed an application on Facebook titled “Random Reads” which enables users to read free chapters and excerpts, search the text, and make suggestions to fellow friends and users. It would seem from this article by TeleRead, that the application will also foster relationships between the users and authors, enabling authors to share additional excerpts and suggestions. As the application is from Random House, it obviously only offers their titles, but as of early December had over 7,000 titles available. I checked out the application myself, and with only 28 fans and 86 monthly users, I have to question whether this application is worth investing time in or if it has just been poorly marketed.

Has anyone used this application yet? What do you think of it? Is it just another marketing ploy or truly innovative?