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.