Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ferguson Library Goes Open Source

This is big news! I think the Ferguson Library in Stamford is the first stand-alone Connecticut library to migrate to an open source ILS--Koha in this case. Bibliomation, a consortium based in Middlebury, is already working on a migration to the Evergreen ILS. Who will be next?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Use it or lose it

In New Hampshire, at the end of the calendar year any unused public library allocations are supposed to go back to the city, town, or other taxing authority from whence they came. (In reality, I don't think they actually seize your checking account, but ...) Because our director position was vacant for nearly 6 months, we have some money left over, so the end of year spending spree is on. Today I ordered a video camera and all the fixins' (spare SDHC cards, camera bag, 72" tripod, USB adapter for the SD cards), and a blu-ray DVD player. I've already bought a Windows application called ConvertXtoDVD, which converts from many video formats (the X in the name) to a format suitable for burning to a video DVD that the typical home DVD player will recognize. I'm also buying a still camera, but there are so many choices in the $200 range that I will probably just go to Staples and Target and see what's on sale.

The new director is getting quotes to set me up with a real workbench down in the basement, complete with bench-level power outlets and additional network drops. (Right now there is only one network drop. Yeah. And that's for the OPAC server.) And he's going to get some quotes to double the number of network drops all over the building. Ten years ago I guess it must have seemed perfectly adequate to have two network drops in the staff room, two at the circ desk, one at the children's desk, a couple for OPACs, and a scattering of singletons in the public areas. Sort of like the way Intel thought that no one would ever need more than 640K of address space.

I've also gotten a go-ahead to start getting quotes for a website re-design, but I don't see how that can happen before December 31st. And we're going to do something for the Youth Computer Room; I don't have a dollar amount for that yet, but I'd like to see what we can do with Linux and our existing equipment, with help from a company like Userful.

Good times!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ray Bradbury on public libraries

"Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries, because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years." Ray Bradbury, 2008.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Instructional design 101

I took a one-semester class in instructional design, but I have a hunch that this 4-minute YouTube video was more helpful to me than the project I did for class was to my former co-workers. I was able to swap the original CD-DVD drive in my laptop for a new DVD burner, and it took me only a little longer than it took to watch the video. Thanks jgc731!

Sometimes low tech is best

I love technology. I wouldn't be the Technology Librarian if I didn't. But I also like helping people solve problems, and sometimes the "low tech" solution is best.

A couple came in this week, he on Monday and she on Tuesday. They wanted to make a purchase from a certain retailer that has both an online and a brick'n'mortar presence. They don't have a computer at home, don't have an email address, and have no need of either, except for this one transaction. He insisted that I had helped him with a previous online purchase, but I have no memory of this and would have given the same answer then as I did this week. I certainly would not have let him use my own email address, as he suggested I had done.

I started to explain to him that it is still possible to begin purchases online and then complete them by phone. Many online retailers do this for customers who are understandably reluctant to entrust their credit card numbers to the dangers of the Internet. But to find out if we could do that with this particular retailer, we might have to go through the steps of starting the transaction, putting items into a virtual shopping cart, and saving the contents of the cart. Then we could find out what information was required to complete the transaction and what our options were. But before I could finish, he waved me off and left the library, clearly unsatisfied and convinced that I was "not willing to help him."

On Tuesday, she came in, clearly more experienced with using a computer and the Internet, but still without an email address. When she got to the screen for billing and shipping information, she asked for my help.

"Do I have to give them an email address?" Yes.

"Why?" It's a required field. It has a red asterisk next to it.

"What do they need that for?" They'll send you an order confirmation and, when your order ships, a shipping notification.

"Can't they just call me?" It doesn't work that way.

It looked like we had once again reached an impasse, but she at least recognized that there was no point in opening an email account if this is all she was going to use it for. She allowed me to help her locate a phone number for customer service, then she pulled out her cellphone and started calling the retailer, at which point I retreated to my desk. I didn't see her leave, but the staff member who was at the Circulation Desk told me she appeared to leave satisfied.

I hope she went home and told her husband that those mean old librarians were very helpful after all, and I hope that a Christmas surprise was not spoiled by the recipient having to purchase her own gift.

(photo of old-fashioned phone dial by Leo Reynolds,

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Librarians at Woodrow Wilson provided an excuse note for 15-year-old Juan Henriquez after he lost an eight-page paper on the Bill of Rights because his computer session timed out before he'd saved his work."

Please, please, PLEASE, can we get the word to these kids and these librarians about using Google Docs, or Zoho, or some other web-based productivity tools, so no one ever loses hours of work again?

Gowen, Annie. Lack of computer access hampers some students., Sunday, December 6, 2009.

(Photo By Susan Biddle For The Washington Post)

Friday, December 4, 2009

This Island Home

I was surfing the web this evening and an article about the declining quality of television included a quote from a July 2009 op-ed piece by Tom Wolfe, which reminded me of a quote from Babylon 5, voiced by Commander Jeffrey Sinclair. I remember the excitement over Alan Shepard's maiden flight in Freedom 7 (which lasted about as long as it took me to get from home to school that morning), John Glenn's flight in Friendship 7, and of course Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins in Apollo 11. In those days I read a lot of science fiction—though still not keeping up with the prodigious output of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Ellison, Sturgeon, et. al.—and I fervently believed that the destiny of the human race lay beyond our little solar system. Now, I'm not so sure.

"Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics, and you'll get ten different answers, but there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us. It'll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-Tzu, and Einstein, and Morobuto, and Buddy Holly, and Aristophanes, and - all of this - all of this - was for nothing. Unless we go to the stars." ~Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, "Infection," Season 1, Episode 4

"I remember him saying something like this: 'Here on Earth we live on a planet that is in orbit around the Sun. The Sun itself is a star that is on fire and will someday burn up, leaving our solar system uninhabitable. Therefore we must build a bridge to the stars, because as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in the entire universe. When do we start building that bridge to the stars? We begin as soon as we are able, and this is that time. We must not fail in this obligation we have to keep alive the only meaningful life we know of.'" ~Wernher von Braun, as recalled by Tom Wolfe

If we really believed that this precious Earth is the only place in the entire universe that supports sentient life, would we continue to treat it the way we have been doing?

Sarcasm ...?

... or just the painful truth? Every new librarian, everyone who's thinking of becoming a librarian, and everyone who's a librarian but is thinking of switching careers, needs to give this some thought.

The Blacklist

Here's an interesting story about the Blacklist era. Note especially the link at the end to a copy of the CBS loyalty oath.

I wrote a paper on censorship back in my first year of library school, using as examples Dalton Trumbo's "Johnny Got His Gun" and Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse 5." (Word 2003)

And here are some books on the McCarthy hearings from our collection:

New Hampshire Is Different

The scene is the first visit to a new internist.

Nurse: Do you use a seatbelt?
Patient: Yes.
Nurse: Bicycle helmet?
Patient: Yes.
Nurse: Is there a smoke detector in the home?
Patient: Yes.
Nurse: Is there a carbon monoxide detector?
Patient: Not sure about that. I rent.
Nurse: Are all fire alarms secured?
Patient: Excuse me?
Nurse: Fire alarms.
Patient: I'm sorry, I .....
Nurse: Fire. Arms. Are there any firearms in the home?
Patient: Oh. No. No, there aren't.

Note to self: Find out the annual rate, by state, of death or injury due to firearms in the home.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Adventures in DVDs

Today I made my first DVD, one that is recognized as a playable DVD both by my computer and by the 5-year-old DVD player in the community room at the library. The Friends of the Library had a program a few weeks ago on the history of farming in Rye, NH, in conjunction with the historical society. Partly as an outreach effort, and partly to get the Friends to give me money for our own camcorder, I borrowed a camera from the middle school up the street to record the program. The camera I borrowed records on miniDV tape, and the only outputs are Firewire and standard a/v outputs. I don't have a computer with a/v inputs, so I borrowed a staff member's Macbook and transferred the tape to .dv files. On the Mac I used iMovie to make an .m4v file, but couldn't figure out how to get iDVD to write it to a DVD. My friend Bob took the .m4v file and converted it to a burnable format on a Windows PC using ConvertXtoDVD. Then I took the resulting files back to the library (I don't have a DVD burner on my laptop, but I will in a couple of weeks) and burned them to a DVD with Roxio MyDVD on a Windows PC.

It was another Learning Experience, but a satisfying one. Now we have a DVD of the event that we can loan out to people who couldn't be there, and we can start to build up a little library of these. Maybe we can start an oral history project and interview some of the old-timers before they're gone.

Monday, November 30, 2009


An old friend and former co-worker told me that H-1B visas are still being doled out, even with unemployment figures as high as they are. This topic was of great interest to me just a couple of years ago. While I was a software engineer, I watched as jobs in my field were alternately outsourced, sent overseas, or undercut by immigrants with H-1B visas who typically worked for far less than the average American-born software engineer, at least during their first year or two here. This isn't a new phenomenon, but it only started becoming painfully obvious about 10 or 15 years ago. Just last year, I heard of a public library that hired a webmaster and sponsored his H-1B visa. So I thought it might make an interesting self-directed research project to find out how H-1B visas relate to unemployment in the technology sector and how the allocation of H-1B visas is decided.

I'll start with some figures from the Statistical Abstract, aka The National Data Book, a publication I discovered a few years ago at the Ruth Haas Library at Western Connecticut State University. Of course, it's all online now, but it was so much fun to flip through the pages of the Abstract from 20 years ago and discover a table of the employment figures for various professions, including engineers. That's the kind of serendipity that's hard to duplicate in an online database.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Got Windows 7?

My first Microsoft operating system was DOS, and after that Windows 3.0. From what I've heard so far about Windows 7, anyone who was using Windows Vista is very happy to upgrade to Windows 7. I've been reasonably happy with Windows XP; it's a stable product. I stuck with XP through the short life of Windows Vista, as did our ILS vendor, which hasn't yet had anything to say about Windows 7 compatibility.

But for once I am looking forward to trying out a new Windows operating system. Windows 7 could solve all my problems with the three wired public computers; they're running Windows XP but, as is so frequently the case these days, we have no media for them. Lenovo has a pretty neat setup by which they store an installable image on the hard drive, accessible only by a key combination and optional password. It provides a time-consuming but reliable recovery for a computer that has been hopelessly compromised by malware. A couple of our public computers have the security password set; I've tried all our standard passwords, but none of them work, so I'm pretty sure a patron must have set it, whether accidentally or deliberately I can't say. Both these machines have problems that make a reinstall necessary, but without media and without the password I can't do much. Buying Windows 7, with the media, solves two problems at once.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Think renters are immune?

When I was fortunate enough to sell my house in Connecticut this summer, I thought I would be insulated from most of the trickle down effects of the banking and mortgage crisis. And so I am—for now—but not because I'm a renter. I live in a building that has been in the same family for nearly 140 years. I'd hazard a guess and say that there is no mortgage on the property, and that it probably pays for itself and then some. It's in a neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes; Senator Judd Gregg lives around the corner, and author Dan Brown lives down the street. I'd hazard another guess and say that a multi-family dwelling like this one could not be built in this community today, nor could it have been for the last 70 or 80 years. So I'm safely housed. For now.

The History of the Internet In a Nutshell

Where are the serious Republican politicians?

I don't usually read Ross Douthat, but this headline caught my eye. Can serious politicians--of any stripe--get a fair hearing in this age of politics-as-entertainment? Are there any leaders in the Republican Party who are more interested in leadership than in celebrity? Douthat doesn't name anyone who fits that bill.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving menus

Mine will include barbeque brisket, barbeque beans, corn casserole, and hot artichoke dip. It will definitely not include any unfermented soy products.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to identify a phishing scam

An experienced patron who has had an email account for over a decade told me the other day that he'd received an email asking him to "verify" his account. He had created an "anonymous" account--not given his full name--and the message said that the service was purging these to make room for new accounts. I said to him, "You didn't answer it, did you?" and he said "Yes, I did." So he showed me the message, which asked for his password and his birth date. I had him change his password and his security question and answer, but the damage was already done, I'm sure. "They" now have his birth date and the contents of his address book--more people to phish. I asked him to call Equifax and put a three-month freeze on new credit accounts opened in his name, and I think he did do that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Library videos

The videotaping went well. And it really was a "taping." The Sony DCR-HC28 that I borrowed from the librarian at the junior high records to tape. The newer digital video cameras record to internal memory and/or SD cards, and can record for many hours. I had to change tapes after about an hour, and lost a few minutes of the program. A better spot for the camera would have been right on the center aisle, but the slide projector already had that spot. The room was packed, standing room only, or I would have thought about moving the camera after the slideshow was over.

The camera has two outputs: Firewire, and A/V (red/yellow/white, aka video plus left and right audio). I don't have easy access to a device that accepts either output. I could connect the A/V cable to the television, but I don't want to just watch it again, I want to get the tapes into a digital file on a computer so that I can edit it and burn it to a DVD. So one of my co-workers agreed to bring in her MacBook which, of course, has a Firewire connector built-in. I plugged the camera into the MacBook, started iMovie, connected iMovie to the camera, and off we go. I would have been awfully disappointed if I'd had to consult a user's guide for either the camera or the Mac. Say what you will about Apple--it's more expensive, it's a closed, proprietary system, etc.--but the out-of-the-box experience is great for most of the things that most people want to do with a computer. I had to give my co-worker back her computer for the weekend--I know how I'd be if someone took away my computer for a whole weekend--so the editing and burning will have to wait until next week.

Sony is having a sale today--right now--on the current generation video camera, the HDR-CX100. It's only $499, down from $599. I don't know how long the sale will last, but I will call the Friends president first thing tomorrow and see if she can release $500 now instead of $600 or $700 later.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In which I become a videographer

We're going to jump on the video bandwagon tonight and record a program being put on by the local Historical Society on the history of farming in this community. That's assuming that all the participants will consent. My goal is to produce a DVD of the event that we can then put into circulation. If it goes well, this could turn into a local history project. I've been wanting to do something like that ever since I started working in public libraries four years ago, and especially when I was taking Digital Libraries, but no one ever wanted to take me up on the offer. Maybe they thought it would take up too much staff time to support.

Monday, October 26, 2009 now powered by Drupal

Pretty exciting stuff. This short article explains a few of the advantages of open source software over proprietary software.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Houston Public Library has started a trial program where books are carried out to patrons' cars at two of the system's more parking-challenged branches. At least one public library in CT has had a drive-through window for some time now, similar to the drive-through window at a bank. In fact, the building may have been a bank in a former life.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New job, new town, new state

On June 6th, I started a new job as the Technology Librarian at Rye Public Library in Rye, New Hampshire. This blog started out as my contribution to the 23 Things/Learning Library 2.0 program at New Canaan Library in Connecticut, but now that I'm a "dropout" from that program, I'm hijacking this blog (can you hijack your own blog?) to become a log of my adventures in managing the technology needs of this small, rural library.

We only have 12 public access computers, but they're a challenge in that they are all Windows machines (or were until a few weeks ago, when I installed Ubuntu on 2 of them) and we have no domain server to enforce group policies or serve up other means of locking them down. Five of the public computers are actually laptops, because we don't have enough space to set up permanent stations for them. We also have a number of staff computers, of course, but my primary focus for the last 10 weeks has of necessity been the public computers.

All of the laptops were running Windows XP, which is astonishing when I tell you that 3 of them--the cute little ThinkPad R40 pictured here--only had 128MB of RAM each. After adding an additional 512MB of RAM to each, disabling all the background programs that run at Startup, canceling all Scheduled Tasks, and installing and running Malwarebytes, Spybot Search & Destroy, and Spyware Blaster, all three are running a lot better now. More on this next time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

#8 Blogging About Technology

The New York Times reports that the problem of pirated books has ballooned in recent months on file-sharing sites such as Scribd. Author Ursula K. Le Guin was browsing the Web one day and was surprised to find a complete copy of her 1969 Nebula and Hugo award-winning classic, The Left Hand of Darkness.

Authors Cory Doctorow and Harlan Ellison expressed two opposing views. Doctorow, author of the 2009 Hugo-finalist novel Little Brother, has long been a vocal opponent of DRM and has routinely, with his publisher's blessing, released his new novels onto the Web under a Creative Commons license, on the belief that free versions will entice new readers.

Ellison, also an award-winning science/speculative fiction author, has seen his work routinely pirated in print in many languages, and has spent a lifetime defending his copyrights. Ellison is 74, Doctorow is 37. Ellison just wants to get paid for his work. Doctorow says that obscurity is more to be feared than piracy.

Question 1: Who do you agree with and why?
Question 2: Why is it always science fiction authors?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Drum Roll, Please

This morning I submitted my MLS portfolio to the department at SCSU for archiving and review. The graduation ceremony is Thursday, May 28th.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

#7 More Flickr Fun


Oh, the possibilities!

#5 Locating Useful Feeds

I tried searching for interesting blogs using both Bloglines and Technorati. Using the "search for posts" option in Bloglines with the search term "calligrapher" turned up no results. Changing the search option to "search for posts" turned up a few results, but nothing that interested me. I changed the search term to "calligraphy" and tried both options again. This time "search for feeds" turned up posts on a Japanese calligraphy blog and on BibliOdyssey, a blog on books, illustrations, book history, and other aspects of the book arts. Finally I tried the "search the Web" option, and that turned up the most interesting and relevant results, although not all of them are blogs and may or may not have an RSS feed. Interesting to note that Bloglines has partnered with for its "search the Web" option. Google has so pervaded the Web that it's easy to forget that there are still several other very useful search engines.

I repeated the exercise using Technorati, searching both posts and blogs for "calligraphy" and "calligrapher," and got an entirely different set of results. I found public domain (mostly) illustrations From Old Books, and Arabic Calligraphy. The posts are mostly in Arabic or romanized Arabic, but the illustrations are still very enjoyable. Technorati also turned up the blog on the website of a calligraphy supplier in the UK.

I first had the impression that Bloglines was only searching the feeds and posts of blogs that other Bloglines subscribers had already subscribed to, but then I saw that some of the blogs it found for my search had zero subscribers. So I can't quite account for the differences, but my overall impression is that Technorati did a better job of finding "what I really wanted," as opposed to "what I asked for."

I forgot which one found Chainsaw Calligraphy, which is most decidedly not about calligraphy as I know it. One of them found the website of the Society of Scribes, the real pros, but it doesn't have an RSS feed. One of these days maybe I'll have time to take a class with them.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Library ethics

"I’m a librarian. A regular patron, a man in his late 40s or early 50s and virtually technologically illiterate, asked me to print a few e-mail attachments for him — photos of a young and attractive Russian woman. Many of the messages were titled “I Love You” or the like and included explicit requests for money. I believe he is being scammed. May I intervene, or does that violate his privacy and my professional boundaries? N.P., LAWRENCE, KAN."


Suzie Gilbert-Flyaway

Suzie Gilbert, author of "Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings," and Melanie Pearson, Director of Animal Care at the New Canaan Nature Center, with Topper and Socrates. New Canaan Library, Sunday, April 26, 2009.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Got Spell-check?

Patron asked for title "Origin," author "Malouf." After coming up empty a few times, I did what I usually do, which is go to Amazon. The author's name is actually Maalouf, and the title is "Origins." When are our proprietary ILSs going to incorporate a feature that's been available on other web sites for years?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

#6 Flickr

New Friends School, Dallas, TX 1961

Dallas TX, 1961: That young fella in the striped shirt in the center of the front row is Stevie Ray Vaughan, future electric blues guitarist extraordinaire. Also on the front row, third from the left, is my sister, and to her immediate right is her best friend who is still her best friend today.

Austin, TX, 2005

Stevie Ray died far too young. Decades later I visited this memorial to him in Austin, TX, where he made his name as one of the finest blues guitarists of all time.

Click on either photo to see the full-size original.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Library websites that use WordPress

WordPress is a blogging application similar to Blogger, and you can set up a free, hosted account at But it's different from Blogger in that the source code is free and can be downloaded and installed on your own web host.

Here are some libraries that are using WordPress to build their websites. No FrontPage, Dreamweaver, Contribute, or other applications to buy and learn. Just "type in the box and publish."

Library Sites That Use WordPress

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

#4 RSS Feeds

Here's a link to my Bloglines public subscriptions:

I've been using an RSS reader for about 3 years now, ever since I got my first Gmail account. RSS is the only sane way to keep up with the amount of information coming from the "biblioblogosphere"—the legions of librarian bloggers: Jessamyn West, the Librarian in Black, Michael Stephens, Jennie Levine, and Meredith Farkas, just to name a handful of the many who write about Library 2.0, Web 2.0, and other technology issues. Then there are all the libraries that are blogging: Danbury Public Library, New Canaan Library, Cheshire Public Library, just to mention three that are of particular interest to me. If it weren't for RSS, I would have to visit a dozen websites each morning, besides the New York Times, to find out everything that's happening.

Libraries that have blogs, like New Canaan, already have RSS feeds for their blogs—that's usually built into the blogging platform. Blogs like Events of the Week are a great way to publicize events at little or no cost. One of the challenges is making patrons in that intermediate level—the ones who are comfortable with email and using a browser—aware of RSS feeds and showing them how to use them.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

New England Carnegies

Derby Neck Library

A website that documents the Carnegie-funded libraries in New England—maintained by a librarian, of course—has been updated to include academic libraries. Of the 95 public and academic libraries that Carnegie money helped to build in New England, all but 3 are still standing. If we add in the Carnegie-era libraries that have preserved the original building even as they have been added on to—like New Canaan, Ridgefield, and many others—the number would be even higher. That says something about the enduring value of libraries. Think about it the next time you see a 20-year-old strip mall being torn down to build a new strip mall.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

#3 Hello New Canaan Library!

This is my first blog post for the Learning 2.0 program. Thank you Alice, for initiating this, and thank you, Maura, for being our guide.