Monday, June 27, 2011

Public Libraries: unprofitable, yet undefeated.

How does one measure success when discussing public libraries? Cardholders? Circulation? These measurements mean almost nothing in the business world.

Compare cardholders to cardholders and your library might feel like a business. Companies have credit card accounts that might mean something, unless the shoppers aren't buying, just as libraries have library card holders who may not be borrowing.

But item circulation? How does that compare to selling products? The only thing a library has for sale is... the professional librarian and library employees. The library doesn't sell paper towels and coffe; the library sells skillz.

You could say that the library sells FREE. That the books and computers and movies are free, and that's why people come. But if that were true, then how long could a library remain open after everyone looted the place? Librarians don't give away the things people want; we are caretakers for what people want. We are educated people who are motivated and committed to preserving this ongoing social experiment called the public library.

We are not Borders. We are not Kmart. We are not a company where shareholders need to be satisfied by some increase in their earnings or else they shut us down. For the most part, we are THE GUMMINT. We take your money and we do whatever the hell we want with it. And we went to school to know how.

Which brings me to Google Health and how it got the axe. Google shut down this very library-like service because "we weren’t able to create the impact we wanted with Google Health."

Here is a service that could benefit its users greatly. But it didn't do what Google expected, whatever that was. One opinion was that Google Health apparently failed because people want "something fun and engaging."

So people want social networking and cool stuff. Predicable. It doesn't matter that their health records could someday save their lives.

So where Google Health failed is that they didn't make tracking illnesses a game. Like FarmVille. But with viruses and cancers and blood-borne pathogens and erectile dysfunction.

So Google, since you know better now, why not make a game? If someone has their avatar hop around the board sleeping with all the other avatars, you could calculate what the odds would be for them to get AIDS, chlamydia, genital warts, whatever. So the game is for them to "sleep around" until they get sick. You could send vaccines to friends. And maybe they could buy power-ups like condoms or nutritional supplements or prayer to keep from getting knocked up or getting someone knocked up.

Or maybe your avatar could pursue perfection by getting tons of cosmetic surgery until your avatar goes insane. Or obesity, you could never exercise and get diabetes. Or take all the vitamins in the world, become vegan, do yoga, and still get hit by a bus. That sounds like a great game. Call it BodyFarm. But I get 5% of all ad revenue.

And that's the difference between for-profit corporations and libraries; the librarian doesn't need for you to be entertaining. We help, regardless.

The librarian is already there, being paid to present programs, to purchase materials, to preserve, collect, organize, index, categorize and whatever else that needs to be done to keep the information flowing. Thank THE GUMMINT.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

the Librarians who say MotherFacebook

I heard a story that some large corporations have begun devoting all their time to their Facebook presence, to boost their Likes as if they have real value.

And then I heard a story about an author who had her manuscript turned down because she didn't have enough friends on Facebook. The publisher figured that the book would sell better if the author had more FB clout.

So, really, wft?

So I'm wondering if any libraries have moved their main online life to Facebook.

Yes, your library has a Facebook, but is that the page you update first? Is that the page that's on all your publicity? Is that where your patrons go to communicate with you?

I don't advocate using Facebook for anything. But I'm curious. I believe that libraries and social networks go together like oil and water.

I think that libraries should create or host limited social networks, but I don't think that the privacy and freedom that libraries have attempted to protect for the past 100 years mixes with today's openness, lack of privacy, disrespect, voyeurism, rudeness and bullying.

So, anyway, that's the question: are any libraries devoting all their resources to Facebook and/or to trying to generate more Likes?

and reply to my damn tweet:!/effinglibrarian/status/83558904499412992

Monday, June 13, 2011

Change. For the fuck of it.

I just read the latest post from the Annoyed Librarian and I am inspired.

She.... okay, we'll pretend we don't know she's a She, or He, says that bad managers pursue change. Continuously.

Change can't be quantified, so how can Change ever fail? Change is about Change and so long as Change Happens, then everything is a WIN. AL concludes that continual change is barely more than havoc wrought.

But libraries are about people. And people are havoc in a meat sack. People will find ways to circumvent any rule. No amount of Change can ever keep up. Even adopting a "we change for you" attitude can't make it happen fast enough. You're broke; we fund you. You're dirty; we clean you. You're hungry; we feed you. You're guilty; we absolve you. We're always a step behind.

Change is always about trying to catch up, but never making it. You act; we react. How can we ever win?

But I want Change. I want to become a Change Agent. Without actually doing anything. I'm just going to wait until the People do something and then I'll take credit for it.

When the People create their havoc, I will be there as the Agent for Change with my new Change slogan: "We're trying something new."

Your library sucks.
"We're trying something new."

Your carpet's on fire.
"We're trying something new."

Why is there baby shit on the self-checkout station?
"We're trying something new."

Someone just stole my iPad!
"We're trying something new."

I can feel it. This is it. Librarians will look back on this day and say, "The effing librarian is a fucking idiot."

That's not new.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Light and Dark of Lit

I was totally confused by the outrage I read expressed last week at the Wall Street Journal article on young adult literature. So much anger expressed toward the author. You would think these people were influenced by the all the darkness in teen fiction.

But this is what I took away from the article: "The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn't be daunted by cries of censorship."

I am not a parent. I was one, but I traded my children a long time ago to a witch who lived in the woods for the power to give David Caruso his comeback. I admit it was a stupid thing, but man, I really thought he deserved another chance. Ironically, I've never seen even one episode of CSI Miami. Is it any good?

I am not a parent. That's not my job. But the librarian's job, my job, is to support the freedom to read.

So my job is not to be a parent. My job is to buy quality books. And if not quality books, popular books that may or may not be of any great quality.

Librarians are continually stating that it's the parents' responsibility to monitor what their children read. But how can parents make these judgments if they get criticized for making these critical decisions? Even the recent NPR article criticizes parents who keep kids from reading what they want, "Banning is banning, not guidance, and if the suggestion is that that's the parenting role, it has to be done ... regretfully, I think. Even for parents acting with regard to their own kids, the act of one human being actually preventing another human being from reading a book is a grave decision." Even though the next sentence says, "Obviously, not everything is appropriate for every audience..."

So if something isn't appropriate, how is the parent supposed to direct the teen toward something else without seeming like a monster?

But this isn't my battle. I still feel that this is an area for parents only. I would never criticize a parent for judging a YA book as inappropriate for her child. It is only my job to find books which ARE appropriate for my patrons.

But for these parents who want to keep their kids from reading literature that's too dark, maybe they can find a way to do it while avoiding any of the intellectual freedom "black list" terms:
Don't say you won't let your teen read the book because it has too many vampires, zombies or werewolves; say it's not vegan friendly.

My job is to help people find something to read. And if your library has teen reading lists for "dark" books but can't offer a parent a similar list for books that don't dwell in the darkness, then I'd say you need to work on that part of your job because there's one patron your library isn't helping.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It's the location, not the converstation.


Facilitating conversation is extremely time-consuming. I know I don't have the time to do it. I can't sustain communication through my blog or even on Twitter. I post something and then I'm off onto something else. Either I don't have the attention span to follow through, or frankly, I don't really give a fuck. I said my part as concisely or as cleverly as I could construct it. And unless some truly groundbreaking new information surfaces, I'm done with that topic. I can't sit around all day, congratulating myself if someone comments on what I said.

I'm not paid to guide online discussion. My bosses bosses bosses, that's from how high up the decision comes, don't want us wasting time assisting people who are not taxpayers. We've been told not spend time on questions that originate from outside of our area. And that's what the digital world is, outside my local area.

I get emailed questions all the time from people in other states or even other countries who want me to research some topic. But I can't do it. I don't say refuse outright, but I also don't spend more than 10 minutes thinking about the answer. You can argue that it's a gesture of goodwill to answer the question, and I would agree, but as a professional, I consider what that goodwill is worth compared to what it's worth to my local patrons who live and work right here in the city. I'm not going to spend all day researching the question for the distant user, when I have people right here who need my help.

A true digital citizen knows that conversation is global. Unfortunately, funding is local. Funding is the foundation of my library. Without money, I'm not a librarian. I'm not going to stand at the intersection with a cardboard sign that reads, "I'll look it up for spare change." And tell people to drive around the block and come back for the answer. Or give their phone number to the homeless librarian on the corner so I can text them.

But that being said, I'm not an idiot. I know that tools exist to automate some of this work. And then the job would be mostly hands-off. I could set up Twitter streams to filter content and direct it to our library site. I could try to direct conversations through Twitter #hashtags. This wouldn't take much time at all. The only problem is that there is a public perception that whatever appears on our library website is endorsed by the library, and the local government, so I'd need to post some long and complicated disclaimer that could cancel out the fun of participation. "No, the library is not selling llama Viagra. No, I don't know how to convince your male llama to mate. No, we don't have erotic llama DVDs."

Please don't make me Google "erotic llama DVD."

And since I work for government, I also have a whole slew of ethical rules I need follow if I don't want to end up in jail. So if I create a conversation and then ignore it as local businesses use it for their own benefit of if it's used to slander local elected officials, it's my ass. Most librarians won't tell you about their ass. But I'm always the first to point mine out. You'd know this if you ever met me: "Hi, I'm the effing librarian. Check out my ass!"

Everything about my job is local. For proof, you should read the transcripts from my chat reference sessions. Almost every question is about that person's local library or their local library account.

Also, I don't have the ego to think I can control the entire freaking Internet. There are other librarians out there who do and are trying to change the library world. I have enough trouble with this one crappy blog that nobody reads. Which is why I quit blogging. Yet I still have shit I need to get out of my system. So I post stuff like this.

Anyway, if you love cat-wrangling, I'm sure you'll figure this out. But my phone is ringing and there's a kid standing here who wants volume 27 of Yu-Gi-Oh!, so I gotta go.

Good luck with that Internet thing.