If you want to know what is happening in the small town where I live in upstate NY, then you read the local weekly paper. It has been that way since the 1800′s. The papers in the nearby cities do not carry local information the residents here need. For things like gatherings, obituaries, wedding announcements, awards, &tc, residents of Sidney, NY (and the surrounding few towns) rely on the Tri-Town News.
Across the country this remains true in many areas, especially many rural areas. These papers are a valuable source of historical information and I fear that in many places, due to lack of education or funding, these resources are at risk of being lost.
So, about 6 months ago I started thinking and brainstorming a project that involved borrowing approximately 120 reels of microfilm from the local Historical Association to digitize and make available online and in our library. Not only would this project preserve the information in another format, it would also make it more accessible. And I think that access is the best form of preservation. The more people can access, view, and copy information, the longer life it will have.
It quickly became clear that this was not a project I could do in my spare time. There is too much information and even if I had all the required skills and knowledge to do it, I would not have the time without sacrificing too many of my other projects and responsibilities.
The First Steps
The first part of the process was the research. In December 2012 I began looking into companies and getting quotes for the project. I wanted to find a company that would scan, OCR, and index the newspapers. Since I wanted to eventually make it available online, I also got quotes from companies that offered different levels of support for that.
Once I had some numbers, I met with someone from the Historical Association to talk about the idea. I was invited to give a presentation there the following month. There was some heated debate from a few of their members who had concerns about letting the microfilm leave the building for the purposes of scanning. I answered questions and gave my opinion before backing off to let them talk about it for the next month. At their next meeting they agreed to the project with an unanimous vote.
Finding the Funds
Now that the Historical Association had agreed to the project, I started looking for ways to fund it. I applied for a $5000 O’Connor Foundation Matching Grant. In March they agreed to release the funds provided I find a $5000 match. By this time word had spread around to a few places in town and I got word that the Sidney Central Schools Alumni Association might be interested in donating towards the project. So, in early April I presented to their board, who approved to give $2500.00 towards the match. Then in mid-April the Friends of the Libraries agreed to give the other $2500.00 towards the project.
Advantage Preservation will be handling the project. They gave the best quote, will build and host a website where the papers will be easily searchable, and were generally the most pleasant to deal with. Additionally, they provided many examples of libraries who have used them and the quality of their work is impressive.
I shipped the first box of 30 reels of microfilm to them last week. Within a month or so that information will be on the website and I’ll be shipping out the next batch of reels.
Over the Long Term
The plan is to ship the reels for scanning in a couple of batches over the next few months. All of the ~120 reels will be completed in about a year or so. The Tri-Town now puts all of their papers online, which should make the process going forward much easier.
The papers included in the project are the Sidney Record, Sidney Enterprise, and the Tri-Town News. The Sidney Record began publishing a weekly paper in December 1882. The Sidney Enterprise ran concurrently with the Sidney Record from 1914 – 1958. In 1968 the Sidney Record folded in with the Bainbridge News to form the Tri-Town News, which remains the local paper of record today.
In the beginning I sat down and wrote out the major objectives of this project. This helped when I had to present to the Historical Association and Alumni Association. It also made the grant writing go more smoothly.
1. Increase the ways in which people are able to access historical information
a. Provide on-demand access to local papers in more than one location (Library, Historical Society, Website)
b. Liberate content that cannot always be physically accessed
i. Make content available for those who cannot visit Historical Society during the four hours per week they are open
ii. Make content available online for those who are no longer living in the area, are researching relatives from area, etc
c. Increase potential amount of users
i. Information accessible in different locations and mediums means more people can use it
d. Eliminate hybrid systems and confusion
i. Put all the content of the papers into one easily searchable and uniform format
e. Add classification and indexing systems for easier searching
i. Greatly reduce research time and make information more useful
2. Preserve the information stored by updating the storage devices
a. Content can be copied ad infinitum without degradation
b. Original microfilm handled less
i. Less of chance of damage or loss
c. Disaster back-up
i. Information stored in separate buildings and online to prevent total loss in case of flood, fire, etc
d. Create additional format to store information
i. Information spread across formats (microfilm, hard drive, website) saves data if one format becomes obsolete
3. Enhanced the services offered by the library
a. Resources can be used and searched in different ways
b. Increase productivity
c. Rebuild local history collection
4. Teaching Tool
a. Promote digital literacy
i. Using the new Public Computing Center the library can teach users through classes and one-on-one training how to research in new mediums (digital, website)
ii. Users will not just be learning how to find historical information; they will also learn valuable computer and searching skills in the process
During spring break earlier this month I created a QR Code Scavenger Hunt in our library for tweens and teens. Since I was busy with other commitments that kept me out of the library or working on different projects that week, I couldn’t devote much time to specific programing for that age range. However, the scavenger hunt served as a fun way to get kids into the library when they had free time during their vacation. As long as they had a clean library card, they could borrow one of our iPads and attempt to complete the hunt. Everyone who successfully completed it had their name entered into a drawing to win one of two $10 iTunes gift cards. The drawing was done after a Stop-Motion Animation with iPads program on Friday afternoon, which brought more kids to both.
Though there are always improvements that can be made, the hunt went over well and the feedback from everyone who participated (and their parents) was positive. Using the iPads and scanning the codes made learning about the library a lot more fun. Searching the catalog, finding information in books around the library, and solving simple problems changed simply because of the tech they got to play with.
So it bothers me that so many librarians hate on QR Codes. Just because it might not be something that is appropriate for your library doesn’t mean that it might not have a place elsewhere. Even if QR Codes are just a fad, which they very likely might be, so what? If there is a fun and informative way to use them, then do it. Let’s stop focusing on the negative.
The tools we use are only limited by our creativity. They are as good or bad as we make them.
I got to show off all the stuff I’ve been working on the last few months to the local Chamber of Commerce members. I wrote NY State Senator James Seward and Assemblyman Clifford Crouch a letter of invitation a few weeks ago and they came! It was a successful event.
Below is a picture of Senator Seward, the Library Director, and I talking about the library. It was especially nice to have him attend as he is an advocate of libraries and serves on the Senate Select Committee on Libraries. From the local paper last year:
“In our rural areas, libraries are truly community centers, serving as the hub for countless activities,” Seward said in a media release. “Along with traditional book lending and research opportunities, our libraries help job seekers who come to use the Internet to search for employment or refresh their resumes.” LINK
Now we just need to get him to support equal marriage rights….
More pictures HERE.
I spend a lot of my time teaching basic technology workshops at my library. Many of the participants in these workshops have never had the opportunity to learn about computers or technology. For some, sitting down at one of our laptops may be the first time they have even touched a computer.
In my first workshop I always warn them away from frustration. Think of it, I say, like you’re learning a new language, which in many ways they are. This usually puts them at ease. When learning a new language there is never an expectation that the student start out at a certain level or with a basic understanding. If someone takes a beginning French class, no one is going to judge them for not knowing the meaning of merci. This starts to erase the stigma around technological illiteracy and relaxes the classroom. Things can progress (slowly!) from here.
However, there inevitably reaches a point where we get to the more abstract terms. Everyone has heard of the “cloud” but how can I explain it to someone with a very basic understanding of technology or the Internet? More importantly, how can I explain it without making them feel stupid? How can I explain it well?
My answer to those questions are as simple as they are obvious: First, with patience. Then, with repetition.
But sometimes it’s more complex than that. Here is where language comes back. Many of our terms – our metaphors – are so abstract that they are difficult to understand. Like the “cloud”. It’s a catchy term but it misses a lot and confuses our understanding. Emails are not floating around our atmosphere.
But confusing our understanding isn’t the most insidious thing that some of our metaphors do. Frank Chimero reminded me of this the other day. He says:
I think there’s a strong likelihood that metaphors like “The Cloud” and sayings like “It Just Works™” reduce a user’s appreciation of the software/hardware they are using. “Magic” is a great word for selling product, but it also can cheapen all the sweat it takes to get there. If the seams have been covered, you can’t admire how things connect.
John Palfrey recently gave a short TEDx talk about his work with the DPLA. It’s a good introduction to the project and why it is needed.
More info at DPLA
I just posted this on Facebook but thought I’d share it here too.
I found myself returning to this article over and over during the last two days. It’s a rather chilling yet perspicacious examination of the increasing bifurcation of our society into a rich upperclass and underprivileged lower class (or, as put in the article, “Perfect world travelers versus people who don’t have passports. The drone owners versus the drone targets. And, strangely, those who can move freely in physical space and those who can’t.”) and the extent in which tech can play a role.
The sci-fi author M John Harrison recently blogged about how the traditional rhetoric of disaster (think The Road) is worn out – those issues are no longer the important issues – and that there is some other kind of disaster ready to be written. I tend to think that this is it – the ability of technology to either democratize everyone or fuel the machinations of the powerful elite. In which case, access to, knowledge of, and education about technology may need to be thought of differently, maybe even as a “human right.”
Cory Doctorow’s recent talk at the EBLIDA-NAPLE 20th annual conference in Copenhagen is worth spending 14 minutes on. He addresses the issues that librarians should be thinking about in regards to the future of e-books in our libraries. The first 13 minutes lead up nicely to his final plea to librarians (emphasis mine).
It is a feature and not a bug of ebooks that two people can read them at the same time…We are the people of the book and it’s time to start acting like it.
In conclusion, I have a simple but radical proposal for you. Stop buying ebooks with DRM on it. Period. I know it’s not easy, librarianship is not easy, librarianship has never been easy – ask the people at Alexandria. You are, after all, the specialists who safeguard information in the information age. Access to information has always been a radical political act. But you wouldn’t accept a publishers demand that its representatives be allowed to put hidden cameras in your collection to discover who was reading which books. You wouldn’t accept a publishers demand for access to your circulation records. You wouldn’t accept a journal publisher who said that your physical copies had to be confiscated and burned if you terminated your subscriptions. The digital equivalents are no more acceptable than the physical ones.
Imagine if a patron came into the library and asked the following question:
What’s the phone number of the office where this picture was snapped?
Maybe you think the answer is close to Impossible? But this is the exact question that Daniel Russell put to his audience of investigative journalists during a recent talk on Google Search Tips. Luckily, John Tedesco was in attendance and has written an interesting and helpful list of notes from the talk that should help with finding the answer.
A few of my favorites:
*Think about how somebody else would write about the topic.
Search is all about someone else’s language. Think about synonyms and use OR operators. Google’s “related search” feature on the search page also offers suggestions.
“Part of the skill here is being fascinated about language,” Russell said. “You’ve got to think about equivalent terms.”
*Force Google to include search terms.
Sometimes Google tries to be helpful and it uses the word it thinks you’re searching for — not the word you’re actually searching for. And sometimes a website in the search results does not include all your search terms.
How do you fix this?
Typing intext:[keyword] might be Google’s least-known search operations, but it’s one of Russell’s favorites. It forces the search term to be in the body of the website. So if you type:
intext:”San Antonio” intext:Alamo
It forces Google to show results with the phrase “San Antonio” and the word Alamo. You won’t get results that are missing either search term.
*Find relational search terms.
What if you’re curious about search terms that are near each other on a website?[keyword] AROUND(n) [keyword] is incredibly handy for finding related terms such as “Jerry Brown” near “Tea Party.” (“n” is the number of words near the search terms.) Typing “Jerry Brown” AROUND(3) “Tea Party” will show you all the websites where the phrase “Jerry Brown” was mentioned within three words of “Tea Party.”
*Think like a reporter.
When Russell teaches his students search skills, he tells them: “Think like a reporter.” What do you know, and how can that information help you find what you need to know?
A big part of a reporter’s job is knowing where to find information. Which state agency regulates the issue you’re interested in? How might that information be documented? Who would know more about the issue?
“You have to have a concept about what’s possible,” Russell said.
A common argument against libraries is the specious appeal to the fact that everything is a Google search away. The above would seem to support that claim. Of course, Google can’t perform a reference interview.
I had a patron come in this week with a simple request. He wanted to know the name of a woman featured in a segment on Good Morning America that aired over the weekend. The woman collects blankets and sends them overseas to countries in need. He had searched and searched and found nothing. Thinking the answer was just not available, he was ready to give up.
Even with the little information he gave me I thought this would be a simple answer to find. I pulled up Good Morning America’s website and hit a few of the keywords into their search bar. Nothing. I then broadened my search a bit. Nothing. Okay. Something is wrong.
“When exactly did you see the show?” I asked.
“9 am on Sunday morning.”
So, we hop on over to the local Channel 12 website and check their programming guide. From 9 to 10:30 am on Sunday morning they air CBS Morning News, not Good Morning America. Of course, it was easy to find the answer from there.
Who knows how long he searched before he asked me. Google does not say, “Wait a minute, something is not adding up.” But librarians do.
Last Sunday’s Ethicist column in the NYT’s featured a question about eBooks and the lending loopholes for Kindle users.
Through my public library, I can check out a book on my Kindle for 21 days. Then the system sends a signal to erase the book and make it available for someone else. But there’s a loophole: if my Kindle is offline, the book isn’t deleted and is still available for another reader. So if I need another day, I leave the Kindle offline and continue until I’m done. When I go back online, the book is deleted. I say that’s fine. But my co-worker says that I promised to return it after 21 days — just like a physical book — and I must honor that promise.
The Ethicist uses an excellent example to approach an answer to this question. To paraphrase: Suppose your physical library book is due on Sunday, but you do not return it until before the library opens on Monday as you know that it the book is not counted until then. Is your reading of the book on Sunday afternoon wrong? It seems rather clear that most people would say this is acceptable; your holding it through Sunday evening in no way impacts your agreement with the library (to return it in a certain amount of time) or hinders another person from checking it out.
However, I think that this question and how one answers it gets to another point about eBooks in libraries: the seemingly arbitrary idea of lending limits on something that is not subject to the same scarcity problem that a physical copy is. Leaving out the real world matters (libraries pay the publisher for rights to a certain number of eBooks, &tc, &tc…), limiting access to digital content feels strange and antithetical to the times we live in today. It feels like the dying swings of an institution trying to keep content “institutional” when everything in the world is pushing in the opposite direction – towards openness.
This is why I would expect that the co-worker, the one who wanted the woman posing the question to turn her Kindle on and allow her book to be deleted after 21 days, is probably in a small minority with her opinion. This worries me for another reason. On a certain level, agreeing with the woman’s use of the loophole says everything libraries need to know about patron’s view of lending limits on eBooks: it is an artificial limitation not worth full compliance.
This is a small but important point. Perceptions of libraries and librarians are changing. Information is no longer limited to the physical. It’s no longer hidden behind walls or cloistered in a room somewhere. What happens when patrons embrace this faster than libraries?
** I realize that there are important and difficult questions libraries need to deal with in regards to digital content and I do not mean to make a simple or reductive point. But, in the end, the point is both rather simple and reductive (maybe libraries need to get better at phrasing the issue?) for many people: making it difficult to access or imposing seemingly arbitrary limitations on content is not acceptable. Patrons, especially of the younger generation, will not even put up a fight about this. They will simply find what they need elsewhere, legal or not.