One man mobile “library”

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I haven’t really posted much of late as I’ve hit a really busy patch at work and haven’t really had time.  Evenings have been spent recovering from a hard day in front of the computer.

However, I couldn’t let the day pass without a quick mention of  this story about a Japanese gentleman who has dropped everything to listen to his social conscience.  Initially he planned to try to persuade Japanese libraries to stock certain books on the environment and social issues, but because he received a negative response from many of them he took on the mantle himself.  He now distributes these books himself from… wait for it… his customized bicycle, complete with waterwheel-shaped bookshelf!

I’m sure his stock must get soggy quite quickly!  Still, it’s nice to see someone making the effort to promote a cause they feel passionately about – and the eccentric manner in which it’s done only makes it more interesting for the rest of us!

P.S.  I’ve been playing around with MS Dewey today.  It’s quite interesting, and seems to present me with some very relevant results to my searches, but bl**** h*** can that woman nag!! 😉  I’m glad she’s got a mute button!

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O… “they’ve done it, they’ve really done it!!”

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Ok, so we’ve established that there may be a little bit of misguidance in the MSFT camp – heck, they’ve got it in for one of the most enduring and popular forms of media ever invented!! They do, however, employ people with a sense of humour. That’s right! Don’t believe me? Well, not to be outdone by one S. Jobs’ iPhone, the boys and girls at Microsoft have apparently been working on a little project of their own.

*Drum roll*

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the oPhone!!!

The end is nigh… five years until the demise of the printed word?

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Information World Review reports that Bill Gates is effectively predicting the end of printed media in the next 5 years, suggesting that reading on-line is superior as “It’s up to date, you can navigate you can follow links”.

The death of the printed word has been predicted for years now, but funnily enough I still don’t have any difficulty getting hold of a book, newspaper or magazine from my local library, bookshop or newsagent.

He certainly has a point when he notes the decline of newspaper circulation. There can be no doubt that Internet news sources (and the existence of 24/7 TV and radio news stations) have the edge when it comes to current affairs. Newspapers simply can’t be as effective at keeping up with the global news agenda – it’s just not practical.

Similarly, more and more students are taking advantage of online journals to supplement their learning. An increasing emphasis on blended learning styles within higher education combined with the growing popularity of distance learning will inevitably read to the growth in the electronic resource market in comparison with printed journals and monographs. This is particularly true in the sciences where fast-moving research can lead to articles being obsolete almost as soon as they have been published. In such cases the immediacy of an electronic resource comes into its own.

However in my opinion, the suggestion that books will one day be a thing of the past is taking things a step too far. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite! Electronic resources are great, particularly when it comes to current awareness issues, and I’m usually the first to laud the use of new technologies for such means. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t be reading the blogs of so many forward-thinking members of the library profession if I were anti-technology. Likewise, I wouldn’t be focusing as much attention as I do on developing Internet-based remote services for my library users if I were of that mindset. But is the end of the book really conceivable? I would suggest not.

Reading a short article on your laptop is one thing, but personally I don’t see the appeal in settling down on my sofa with a coffee and my PDA to enjoy the next chapter of War and Peace! My eyes are dropping out of my head at the end of a long day staring at my computer at work. Continuing the theme when I get home isn’t exactly my idea of unwinding, and I doubt I’m the only one who thinks this way. Admittedly, I’m not what you would term a “digital native” and I’ve had to work hard to become comfortable using new technologies. Those growing up with the Internet may well be less comfortable reading printed documents in the future, and the decline in printing may continue. Nevertheless, more than five centuries of tradition, experience and heritage will not disappear overnight. There will always be a demand for it, be it for scholarly purposes or just nostalgia.

So Bill, if you’re reading this *hysterical laughter*, you’re evidently a very clever chap and an astute business man, but realism isn’t your strong point is it?! Online information is great and I wouldn’t be without it, but the book is here to stay. I’ve held books (manuscripts in this case) that are 11 centures old – I’ve seen the craft that went to making them and the care that is now taken to preserve them. They will outlive both you and I, and so will the concept of the book-as-object.

Oh, and they don’t suffer from power cuts or flat batteries do they?! 😉

Pimp my… erm… special collection

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Apparently the Vienna State Library has come up with a new outreach programme to bring the joys of one of their special collections to a wider audience.  That’s right, they’ve set up a premium rate hotline so people can pay €0.39 per minute to hear the dulcet tones of Austrian star Anne Bennent reading a selection of 18th-20th century erotic literature from their extensive collection.  Now that’s what I call classy!  I wonder whether she’s got a husky voice, and they play bad saxophone music in the background as an accompaniment?  😉

A number of American news services and bloggers are reporting this (not sure what that says about them), claiming the revenue raised is going to go towards library remodelling and expansion.  However, the head librarian (interviewed today by Eddie Mair on the BBCs PM programme) insisted that no money was being made, and that this was just one of the library’s cultural activities.  Not sure which is most believable… I’m still trying to get my head round a state library running an “0898” service!!

“The Hollywood Librarian”

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This is very cool, in a geeky kind of way!

A number of people have got together in the US to make a film-documentary about the work that librarians do and the lives they lead.  They use footage of interviews with librarians, interspersed with glimpses of how Hollywood and the small screen have portrayed the profession over the years – some good, some not so good.

It’s apparently going to be released in the States fairly soon – should be interesting.  I hope it’ll be available in the UK sometime, because I think it would make interesting viewing.   A sneak preview of some of the interviews can be seen below:

iGoogle – beneficial tool or corporate “spyware”?

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The Librarian in Black wrote this post several days ago regarding Google’s (relatively) new iGoogle personalised homepage service. This is, of course, actually just a modernisation of something Google have been running for some time now. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, if you have a Google account (i.e. Gmail or one of the other services) you can now sign in to your own “homepage” (based, inevitably, around the Google search engine), with options for adding widgets (often 3rd party software), RSS feeds and alike to show up on the same page when you head for “home” in your browser. Basically, it’s mash-ups made easy. As far as I can see, the biggest difference between the previous Google personalised home and “iGoogle” is the addition of personal themes (banners, etc.) and the option to add your post-code so that the “weather” in the theme changes with the predicted weather in your postcode area.

If you read the linked post above, you’ll see the scepticism with which LiB treats this development. Fair enough – I see her point. She’s concerned that the uber-corporate giant that is Google is taking over the world and you’re helping them to do it by signing up to these services which allows “our data to be harvested” even more than it is currently. I sympathise to a certain extent – the retention of personal details, be it the searches we conduct (particularly in combination with our location details) or whatever, is something we’re all suspicious about (to varying extents) when on the Internet. Hence the mass of firewalls and anti-malware gadgets many of us run in order to prevent intrusion and hacking on our own PCs. I don’t think anyone likes the idea that they’re being spied on, watched, studied, call it what you will – that’s a perfectly understandable, natural reaction I’d say.

However, let’s look at this from another perspective – a user perspective, a “consumer” perspective. What Google have done here is make it easy for anyone with one of their accounts to centralise services that they use on a regular basis. You can have a little box showing your Gmail inbox (without logging on) so you know if you’ve got new mail, links to Google maps, AltaVista’s Babel-fish translator, news stories from varying sources, and even “sticky notes” that you can write on to remind you of your daily tasks. Oh, and it looks nice!! Always a bonus. Personally, I find the benefits of having a plethora of services I use on a regular basis in one place far outweigh the worries I have that Google know I’ve been searching for Oakley sunglasses and cheap flights to the continent. I suppose it’s a matter of convenience. The fact that I can get my regular services in one place, at a glance, means that I can maximise the time I spend on other things like work, or writing this post, because I don’t have to faff about flicking between windows or tabs. I guess I value anything that helps me be more productive.

Furthermore, as far as I can see (looking from the outside in) Google isn’t exactly queuing up to give away our data, as their rejection of a US government attempt to access a week’s worth of search results shows. I’m sure someone can (and will) argue the case against Google in the civil liberties arena (most probably in relation to their conduct in the Chinese market), but my limited knowledge on the subject hasn’t yet freaked me out to the point where I’m locking my computer in a safe and sending all my correspondence by snail-mail.

I could draw parallels with other big businesses, and indeed I will! The UK superstore giant Tesco has been around for years. I remember going as a kid, picking up the weekly shop with my parents. Since then they have grown and developed into the market leader, with massive growth (in both profits and in terms of the markets they compete in). This didn’t just happen over night. There has to be a reason for this growth. Of course there is… it’s you and me, and the millions of other people who have shopped, do shop and will shop there. People go back to somewhere for a service or as a consumer because they cater for demand. They’ve listened to their customers, analysed data about purchases, trends and alike and offered people what they want at prices they can afford/are willing to pay. This isn’t an advert for Tesco or Google, just in case you’re wondering. It’s just what is happening. Google are evidently no different. I doubt they would have offered the “iGoogle” capability if they thought no-one would use it. Supply and demand shape markets, and it’s just the same in the information/Web-based world.

O f course, if people don’t use these services they will eventually cease to exist – that surely stands to reason. If you object to Google’s approach to providing services for us then it’s very simple – don’t use them. Go somewhere else. Nobody’s forcing you to, say, have an iGoogle account, a MySpace page or whatever, but give those of us who do use these services a little credit. Just because we make use of something that’s available to us doesn’t mean we haven’t thought about the consequences of our actions. For those of us that have taken into account the pros and cons and taken the easy option (as some will no-doubt brand it) it isn’t out of laziness or through some form of herd mentality. It’s because we’ve seen something that’s useful for us and taken advantage. It’s a matter of choice.

Maybe I am lazy, maybe I’m naive… or maybe, just maybe, I’m just a little less paranoid than some. You decide!

Rocking the stacks…

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Pam Thompson (posting on the IAML mailing list) draws our attention to this article in the Daily Express about Stewart Parsons’ Get it loud in libraries initiative at Lancaster music library.

This story has been around for quite a while now (as the Guardian’s story from 15th April testifies) but it’s gradually doing the rounds of the print media.  If you haven’t seen this already, basically Stewart arranges for bands such as The Long Blondes to play live gigs in his library, no doubt raising a multitude of eyebrows from traditionalists and distressing those like to maintain the hideous shushung librarian stereotype.

Now, I have no doubt that the idea of live music in a library is enough to drive some people ga-ga, but frankly this is a fantastic scheme that should be applauded and encouraged.  This is the Lancaster music library after all – why shouldn’t there be live music events there?  Far from straying from the library’s remit (which is surely to engage users of all ages and backgrounds, facilitate their exposure to new ideas and new experiences, and generally encourage learning) Stewart Parsons is merely finding bigger and better ways of fulfilling it by introducing a new and (frankly) unexpected dimension.  As Stewart himself says, commenting on a typical library gig audience in the Guardian article, “It’s a diverse crowd: we’ve had girls of 10 on the front row and old musos in their fifties loitering at the back. I don’t know where else you’d get that”.  He’s right – where else could you get that age range enjoying some of the finest bands around in the same room?  By finding a new use for the library space, Lancaster librarians are tapping into new markets, reaching new audiences and encouraging fledgling users to explore the library and its many other services in the process.

Not satisfied with taking the real world by storm, Get it loud in libraries has also got its own MySpace page and is developing quite a significant virtual following!  This is a great example of a library using social networking and Web 2.0 to reach out to new user groups.  Some would call it jumping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon that’s rolling through the library world at the moment, but this would be an unjust accusation.  If we as librarians refuse to adopt new technologies to keep up with demands of our users and, importantly, offer new services relevant to the 21st century library patron we are lost as a profession.  The use of MySpace by Lancaster librarians actually shows that the Get it loud in libraries project isn’t simply a flash in the pan to gain cheap publicity, but a well thought out, well planned strategy for developing new markets and appealing to a wider audience.

Admittedly, the scheme has attracted quite a bit of national media attention in the UK because it flies in the face of the stuffy librarian stereotype that most journalists seem incapable of ignoring, but it isn’t something to be ashamed of!  It’s about time we started shouting about all the great things we do for our patrons, the exciting work we are engaged in and the innovative steps we take to make a difference.  Librarians do a lot of good work, but if we don’t tell people no-one else will.  I just hope to see many more similar success stories in the national press in the future – it’s time the movers and shakers in all library sectors get the credit they deserve!