Philosophy, in the final analysis, is the art of thinking clearly. And even if we are all amateurs when it comes to our own lives, this does not preclude thinking clearly about those lives and what is important in them. – Mark Rowlands
Last month I wrote a post highlighting some of the topics I was thinking about during March. It was an endeavor inspired by Claire Creffield and her blog post discussing the important reflective properties of blog written with the “imagined eyes of another” in mind. Adhering to the notion of blogs as public journals with powerful self-reflective properties, I am writing a post at the end of each month to summarize a few of the main ideas that were important or interesting to me.
These posts are for my future self; however, since I keep this as an open and public space, I hope that anyone else who stumbles in here will find some of what I record interesting and edifying.
On The Philosopher and the Wolf, Animal Rights, and Eating Meat: Three years ago, in April of 2009, I unexpectedly happened across Mark Rowlands’ The Philosopher and the Wolf while browsing in B&N just a few weeks after its release date. After reading the first few pages, I decided to break my rule about purchasing hardcover books from chain stores. Since then The Philosopher and the Wolf has made a perennial appearance on my reading list. Rowlands combines many of my interests in this philosophical memoir and he does it with style and moving prose, which is not always easy to find among philosophers.
When I returned from Mongolia the previous summer (2008), I drastically reduced my meat consumption in an effort to work towards a more ethical and healthier diet. Before that I had been an on and off again vegetarian at several different times in my life but was never able to fully commit. Then came my fortuitous discovery of Rowlands’ book. It was exactly what I needed to read, the final catalyst required, to push me into full acceptance of and commitment to the ethical principles I was dancing around for years.
What is interesting is that Rowlands’ book is not about animal rights or vegetarian/veganism, per se. But, as he says in his 3:AM interview from earlier this month, his book approaches the way we differentiate ourselves from animals and the “stories we tell to convince ourselves of our superiority.”
Each story, I argued, has a dark side – each story casts a shadow. And in each case, what is most revealing is not the story itself, but the fact that we believe it and think it important. I focused on three common stories. The first is that we are better other animals because we are more intelligent. The second is that we are better because we have morality – we can understand right and wrong – and they do not. The third is that we are superior because we, and we alone, understand that we are going to die. Intelligence, morality and our sense of our own mortality were the three major themes of the book. I am far from convinced that to any of these stories can establish or underwrite a critical gulf between us and other animals.
This was the first time I looked at animal rights from a justice perspective. I immediately picked up his more rigorous and philosophical work on the topic, Animals Like Us. The lucid and carefully constructed arguments in this book impressed me a lot. Here was Rowlands taking the philosophical arguments (Justice as Fairness) I had most closely studied and adhered to as an undergrad and applying them to animal rights. How had I missed this? Finally I had a deep and convincing philosophical perspective from which to approach the issue.
Motivated by Rowlands’ latest interview (linked above), I spent many nights this month rereading Animals Like Us and revisiting the arguments. Now, as we are nearing the second half of 2012, I am getting more and more excited for the release of his newest book, Running with the Pack.
On the Future of Libraries: My post about library e-books sparked some excellent conversation on my Facebook page. What started out as a discussion about lending e-books morphed into a debate about the future of libraries and why many people no longer find them relevant. The entire thread is too long to share here but I was able to engage with several of my friends – all young, educated, and articulate people – who are not library users.
One of my ongoing frustrations is that we, as librarians, are struggling to offer services that this demographic wants. This is where we need to explore new models of service – content creation, maker space, &tc. Not only should librarians be doing user surveys, but they should also be talking to non-users too. As I said in the Facebook discussion, this is a very interesting time for librarians who are willing to test the boundaries of the traditional model. We need more experimentation and less standardization, more proactivity and less reactivity.
Here’s a key quote from one of the comments made by my friend Mark in that discussion:
…without innovation, patronage will shrink and with shrinking patronage comes shrinking budgets. The last time I used a library for anything was the basement of the one you work in for opening day of blood bowl league 2 years ago, because the game store hadn’t expanded their playing space yet. I can’t remember when I needed a library before that. When I was a kid, I used the library constantly, daily in the summer. I used it all the way through college. For me the change is partly caused by the changes in my life, I don’t write papers anymore, although I still do research, but more because of changing technology. Most of the time I spent in libraries was leisure time or a mix of leisure and work. Now I can accomplish all the same things from home and I have no compelling reason for a library. I would love to have a reason to hang out there again. I really think the reality is change or die.
On My New Job: I am a month and a half into my new job at the GFJ Library and I LOVE it a lot more than I expected. It is so satisfying to see the help I give someone make a measurable difference. Even something as little as teaching a patron how to attach a résumé to an email – a task most of us take for granted – has a big impact on them. When living in a world of constant connectivity, playing with all my different devices and gadgets, it is easy to forget that the digital divide is real and that a whole group of people are being left behind (even in this fairly affluent area) because of it. I am glad I play a part, no matter how small, of ameliorating this problem.
On Reading (Comics and Kindle Singles): I spent much of April catching up on comics. The standout is Mike Carey’s The Unwritten. It is some of the smartest writing being done now. Anyone who admires the powers of storytelling needs to follow along. I find myself in awe at least once or twice every TPB and getting genuinely excited about the start of a new issue.
This month I also read a few Kindle Singles on my iPad. I enjoy this publishing model because it offers a way to pay for quality content that is not quite book length but longer than an essay or article. I am not sure that writing like this would have much of an outlet otherwise – unless, perhaps, as collected in books or anthologies. It certainly would not gain the same audience.
In addition to Kindle Singles, I started to check out some stuff published by The Atavist. The first book I read from them was Mother, Stranger. It is an oddly compelling story about the author, Cris Beam’s, relationship with her mentally ill mother. A soundtrack that strums softly in the background and in-text additions of map locations, notes, noises, and photos enhances the e-books.
On Gardening: April brings garden prep and unpredictable weather. I started some tomatoes and cucumbers by the window under my makeshift growing lamp (2 bulbs and a cut furnace shield). The first few weeks of May will be for starting herbs, squash, zucchini, and beans. I usually buy one or two pepper plants and sow greens and radishes right into the ground towards the end of the month.
On My Favorite Reads From Around the Web This Month:
- Infinite Reading – an interesting blog post by Sarah Werner about reading DFW’s Infinite Jest on the iPad
- The Rise of e-books – fascinating results of a survey from Pew Internet about e-reading
- Libraries as software: dematerializing, platforms and returning to first principles – important and thoughtful blog post about ways for libraries to move forward
- The Crisis in American Walking – the first essay in a series about walking and pedestrianism in the US
- Tree of Life: The missing link discovered – an answer to the CGI dinosaurs in Terrence Malik’s Tree of Life
- How tiny Estonia stepped out of USSR’s shadow to become an internet titan - Internet done right
- The Maniac in Me - a NYT’s Magazine essay about living with anxiety
- The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future - The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal urges entrepreneurs to look beyond the Facebook model
- Why I break DRM on e-books - a publishing exec explains why DRM is a bad model
- Services More Meaningful than Ebooks - a call from Aaron Schmidt for librarians to focus their energy on places besides the already-lost e-book fight
- Craig Mod’s three satellite posts on the digital-physical divide (note: that link is to the first of three)
On Living Meaningfully: Last August I read David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. It was the most influential and disturbing book I read that month (year, actually) because it dealt with a feeling that has lurked around the edges of my thoughts for the last three or four years. A quote from that book has gone around the Internet lately.
True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.
For a long time I felt that living a meaningful and ethical life meant you had to do something big, make an impact in a large way. But over the years I have come grasp the obvious fact that there is no one path to a meaningful life. An accumulation of the little things matter too. How you approach your days, treating your friends and family with generosity and kindness, learning new things, and cultivating empathy and understanding on a day-to-day basis are where a solid foundation to a good life begins.
Sometimes I fear that the pervasive cynicism, irony, and self-absorption that our culture (and especially my generation and those younger) is so steeped in obfuscates such a simple fact’s verity. We often can’t talk seriously about any of this and it makes me sad.
So, I listen to this:
Which brings me to…
On The Cheese of Accomplishment:
Ze Frank is back! Here’s his Invocation for Beginnings:
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.
Two of my Film Club friends, Jason and Adrienne, are librarians at the Webster Public Library up in Rochester, NY. Today Adrienne posted a video of Jason playing guitar and singing an original song during story time at their library. The song is super catchy. I’m going to be humming it the rest of the night.
Check out the rest of Adrienne’s post about their story time adventures.
Last night I put up a short post at Tame the Web. Reproduced below:
Clive Thompson recently gave an excellent interview on the findings tumblr as part of their “How We Will Read” series. In the interview, Thompson discusses his ideas on eBooks, social reading and the future of print. But I think that his thoughts about print on demand books are the most interesting.
What you see with print on demand in the last couple of years is that there’s been explosion in the number of things printed, but they’re printed in small quantities: three, four, five copies total. They tend to be things like very specialty books; weird memoirs only three or four people want to read; mementos: people put together photographs of their vacation with a little writeup. You get books that get updated in curious new ways. The University of Calgary hosted the former prime minister of Canada, Kim Campbell, and offered to sell copies of her book at her event. But her book was out of print. So she got the digital file, wrote two new chapters, a new introduction, and they printed 50 copies of it for the event.
Justin Hoenke‘s recent webinar has me thinking about the idea of libraries as “content creators.” This is probably why I get so excited to read Thompson’s thoughts and then connect them with the video from the Sacramento Public Library that I’ve embedded below. The possibilities with a print on demand machine in a library are many, and the programming and communities that could spring up around it would be fun, creative, and informative – for all ages.
During his Keynote last night, Micheal Stephens mentioned that he thinks this conference (Library 2.011) is a “game changer” in the world of conferences and connectivity for LIS professionals. After spending time yesterday and today participating, I couldn’t agree more. For the last few months I’ve been mired in a depressingly difficult job hunt but this conference has re-sparked my interest in the profession and reminded me of all the positive and innovative people in the field.
I hope that others are participating and enjoying the conference. There’s still plenty of sessions today. If you have missed any, the recordings will be available soon.
And remember Stephens’ advice to librarians from last night’s Keynote:
A library was established in Zuccotti Park at the very start of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, and it has received a good deal of attention. Several more sprang up as the protests spread. With the occupation movement, decentralized improvisation is the name of the game, so it’s impossible to tell just how many libraries have sprung up. But they exist in Boston and Philadelphia, in Portland, Ore. and Halifax, Nova Scotia, among other places. They are staffed by a mixture of professional librarians and activist volunteers, with “stacks” created through donations from publishers, bookstores, and individuals. – Scott McLemee Guerrilla Librarians in Our Midst
The Occupy Wall Street protests are, by far, the most exciting populist movement in the United States in a long time – and certainly since I have been politically conscious. I have always viewed libraries as subversive and an exercise in social justice. So, it is no surprise that a lot of librarians are getting involved in the movement and bringing their passion for the free-flow of information with them.
There is also a lot that librarians can learn from the protesters. There is no shortages of lessons that struggling libraries can try to take with them to their community – from the nature of community space and how it is used/viewed, social interconnectivity and democratic involvement and coordination. Remember, libraries were built for the 99%.
This is the post-artifact system. A system of unlocking. A system concerned with engagement. Sharing. Marginalia. Ownership. Community. And, of course, reading. - Craig Mod
This morning Craig Mod published another beautiful and thought-provoking essay called Post-Artifact Books and Publishing: Digital’s effect on how we produce, distribute and consume content. Like his other writings, this essay examines the future of the book vis-a-vis traditional and new publishing models. The essay addresses ideas about social reading, where and how books will live and the best format for digital books. All said, it is a sprawling but inclusive essay that, I think, all librarians need to read. Now.
In the opening Mod quotes Matthew Battles Library: An Unquiet History. After that little is expressly mentioned about libraries, forgivable since Mod, primarily a writer, publisher and designer, is not a librarian nor writing about what role they should play in shaping the future of books. However, the essay contains concepts that libraries are going to struggle with in the near future (if they are not already struggling with them now).
A few questions:
Libraries have always been somewhat social but what happens when the social is moved to the digital realm? How can libraries be a part of this. More importantly, how can libraries shape and connect this?
Mod points to several examples of how books are being created and published by alternative publishing formats largely through reader interaction. How can libraries be sure that these important books that are either POD or produced by smaller publishers are made available?
What are libraries doing to help shape the new systems in which books and ideas will be distributed? Working for rather than reacting to (or against)?
How can libraries promote the de-emphasis of authority surrounding access to information and materials?
Hack Library School recently had an interview with Maggie Johnson. As a senior librarian at Los Angeles Public Library she discussed how budget cuts are affecting the library. In this short TMI (two-minute interview) Maggie talked about the sad fact that a lot of libraries do not have the funding to hire new LIS professionals. This is bad for anyone currently pursuing a LIS degree, but it is also bad for libraries that will miss out on a whole generation of librarians.
A lot of my fellow students are going to end up working outside of a library setting – taking all their new ideas, technological knowledge and excitement for innovation somewhere else. In my view, this condemns libraries to continual struggling under the old paradigm.
As I have been thinking about this interview, I can not help but wonder if there might, at least, be a silver lining here. Now hear me out. I do not want to see libraries fail, but I do want to see more awareness about the usefulness of LIS professionals. I encounter a lot of people who ask me why they need librarians now that there is Google. Of course, the reasons are myriad and all of us in the profession know them – but why does this question persist? I think (hope) that as LIS professionals begin to branch out and impact other areas – publishing, editing, design, writing, media, etc – we put ourselves in position to become so much more than we are currently considered. The more LIS professionals impact other disciplines, the more we can bring people back to the library. Even bad situations have their benefits. It just requires a little creativity and a willingness to try something new (and maybe fail!). We live in an age defined by information, connectivity and collaboration – all things that LIS professionals traffic in on a daily basis.
This brings me around to the very notion of a library. For those LIS graduates lucky enough to get a job in a library, I urge you to enter it with a radically different mindset. I think that what I would like to see is a strong group of “Contrarian Librarians.”* By this I mean LIS professionals who stand a bit outside the norm. They question and challenge not to annoy but to “disturb the established categories of truth and property and, by doing so, open the road to possible new worlds.”** I would argue that change has always started from this position. Great ideas are often initially considered weird and they sometimes fail a few times before they take hold.
The role libraries will play in the future is a hot topic these days. No doubt they are going to have to change and adapt – and I’m talking beyond social media, virtual worlds and Web 2.0. Embracing these is a given. Going to the library will have to become a richer experience. Libraries no longer have a hold over information like they did in the past and, because of this, they need to foster collaboration, community interaction and creativity as well.
There will always be the need for books and quiet space, but what about collaborative space where local artists, writers, activists, musicians, designers, etc can get together to work on projects and share ideas? Why are libraries not lending more than just books? Anything that will benefit the community is fair game – bikes, musical instruments and recording/editing devices are just a few of the easy examples. How about some programs where people (this would be great for kids) in the community collaborate to write and illustrate books that they can then sell to patrons via some sort of print-on-demand scheme? How come more libraries do not host Farmers’ Markets where they can set up their own booth and engage the passionate citizens who shop there? Is a monthly “art night” out of the question? Ask for a modest donation, serve cheese and crackers and let the community browse local works of art. The library could even take a bit of the selling fee. Focus on different groups every month – local schools, nearby university and community colleges, local professional artists. Here is one of my favorite ideas that would not be very difficult to implement: The Social Physical Library. The possibilities are really endless. Is there something that is missing in your community? Why can’t the library provide it? Some ideas will be better than others, some will fail miserably. But a few might just stick. And that is how libraries will move forward.
Frank Chimero recently tweeted something that I think all new LIS professionals and students should keep in mind:
*A Google search for “Contrarian Librarians” leads to this blog by the same name.
**This quote is taken from Lewis Hyde’s fantastic book Trickster Makes This World.
Of course, the perennial question about funding comes up here again. If libraries can not even hire new graduates, how are the few that get hired going to make new changes? The answer: I don’t know, but they have to. If the traditional methods of obtaining funding have or are failing, then let’s look somewhere else. How about trying some Kickstarter projects? If $62,000 can be raised for Detroit to get a Robocop, surely some creative ideas can help bring some $$ and support to a library.
Book sales are great but maybe some libraries need to put in (gasp) coffee shops where people can gather (remember libraries need to embrace the idea of a community space). Why is Starbucks packed every time I go there but large sections of the library sit vacant?
This post is meant as a starting-off point for my thinking about the future of LIS professionals and libraries. Input welcome.
Note: some interesting Kickstarter projects to check out.