I’ve been having some bandwidth and storage issues with this site and in my efforts to clean it up, I think I might have accidentally deleted some legitimate comments. If your legitimate comment was deleted, I am so sorry. It was not intentional.
A favorite theme of mine is the utter cluelessness of the privileged when it comes to the way the rest of us live. I keep seeing a common theme when it comes to whether people who are struggling on their current incomes should have internet and phones. One person posted that she got along fine without a cell phone in 1999, so poor people now should also be able to get along fine without cell phones. Considering that cell phones are cheaper than landlines, I’m not sure if this person is saying poor people should have no phones at all, or if she is oblivious to the expense of a landline compared to a burner phone.
As for the internet issue, we in the US now live in a society where internet access is essential for many basic functions. “Sure,” say the Marie Antoinettes. “Just go to the public library! The internet is free!” Let’s ignore that these are often the same people who think that we don’t need libraries any more because we have the internet and these are often the same people who will vote against more funding for the libraries, and look at the practical issues of what these people are suggesting. I often wonder if these people have ever been to the computer area of their local public library. Have they seen the waiting list? Are they aware of the half-hour time limit?
If the person they’re judging needs to fill out a job application, she will need longer than half an hour. Using my computer at home with high-speed internet and all my data on hand, it takes between 45 minutes and an hour to fill out a typical online job application. I am college educated and know my way around forms. How long would a person have to stay in the library in order to be able to fill out one job application? And what of using social networking to get a job? It is apparently a trend of the future, but it takes time and access to update a Linked In profile, and it takes time to maintain the social network. Should people be denied access because of bad luck, bad health, or bad decisions?
If the person they’re judging is trying to improve her education level so she can apply for better jobs, I wonder if they’re aware that many traditional universities have unavoidable online classes. I have personal knowledge of programs that require applicants and students to have high-speed internet access at their homes in order to take classes. Perhaps the Marie Antoinettes believe these people deserve to be denied opportunities to improve their lot since they lacked the good sense to be born rich.
If the person they’re judging has small children, she gets to figure out how to wrangle the children while using her precious thirty-minute allotment on the computer. (“Then she shouldn’t have had children she couldn’t care for. But we don’t believe in comprehensive sex education. And we shouldn’t have to fund her birth control.”)
If the person they’re judging works fast food or retail, it’s likely she is working during the hours the library is open.
Most libraries are doing the best they can with the limited resources the public allows them to have. This is not a critique of libraries. It is a critique of people who do not know what they are talking about when they say a person needing assistance should get rid of at home internet and “just use the library internet.”
Self-Serve Information: Now we’re all passive aggressive. I think there are two elements at play here, for me at least.
1. RTFM. How many of us have had the RTFM experience? (Read the F* manual!) This experience encompasses incidents like asking a worker at the library to recommend a good novel and having them wave dismissively toward the fiction section (which recently happened to a friend of mine and which I have observed happening to others), or having a computer problem and being snarled at by the IT people (either you did too much trouble-shooting or not enough.) How many active Internet users have asked a question on a forum only to be directed to a generic FAQ that usually doesn’t answer the question? Asking questions is a habit that gets shut down pretty early in life– the message is sent early on that if you have an information need, you’d better take care of it yourself. “Look it up!” And how many of us have walked into a library and been pointedly ignored? When the people at the reference desk won’t make eye contact, it sends a message that you’re on your own.
2. Upselling. In my experience, sales people are aggressive, pushy, demanding, and won’t leave you alone. Once you give them an opening, they will hound you until you die. Buying a car– what you want isn’t important. They have a green car with chrome trim and 900 miles on the lot and that’s the one they want to sell you at MSRP plus mark-up, although if you had been the one to put the 900 miles on the car, it would be worth half of what they’re currently asking. And you don’t even like the chrome, which costs extra.
You tell the realtor that your price range is 150K and you want an older home and she insists on showing you brand-new 200K Stylecrap houses with rooms the size of closets or worse, trying to convince you to custom-build. (No, we didn’t buy the green Saturn Vue, and yes, we finally found a realtor who got us into our 40-year-old dream house.) Even when you’re getting your habitual soy latte, the cashier has been ordered to try to upsell you on a baked good. It doesn’t matter what you want- it matters what they want to sell you.
It’s not a partnership where you find a mutually agreeable solution to your problem– rather it’s like being chained to a needy toddler who’s not even yours and who wants all your cookies. I would love to have interactions with salespeople where they’re not intent on upselling and getting me into something I don’t want. Although I am an introvert and I do like the choice not to interact with someone when I am feeling overwhelmed, I do find myself seeking out people when I am running my errands. I don’t use self-checkout unless it’s the only option. Sometimes, I even ask for advice (though this is difficult because I hate being upsold to and I can see it coming a mile away.) So if we have become a nation of passive-aggressive DIYers, it’s because we did this to ourselves.
3. I don’t know. Occasionally, despite my internalization of RTFM and my dislike of upselling and/or being urged to buy something that’s not what I want, I do find myself asking people for information. “Do you have a list of sewing machines compatible with this bobbin type?” (No.) “Where can I find a tool for removing a stripped screw?” (I don’t know. Do they even make those?) We get exactly the kind of information that minimum wage pays for.
Sometimes it seems like everything in our culture steers us toward DIY information.
Speaking of doing this to ourselves: Forbes asks if the library of the future has books. (Typical of Forbes, the writer makes assertions that make me wonder if he has ever been in a library, let alone understand how a library works: “While most of the 100,000+ libraries in the U.S. will likely continue to function as they always have, moving books around shelves and holding areas, to and from patrons — at least for the foreseeable future — some libraries around the world are changing and this could be the start of a trend.”) I’m not sure how the general public has gotten the idea that all that happens in libraries is books being moved around, but each time that assertion is repeated, it strengthens a misunderstanding of what libraries do. I suspect that the libraries of the future will indeed have paper books. They might not be the institutions currently considered libraries, but I would be surprised if book trading and book lending went away, not just because of significant and expensive problems with electronic book contracts. I’m fully aware of my tenuous “ownership” of my significant e-book library. I’m aware that these books can be removed from my device’s library and that all I can really consider them is permanently lent. I mitigate it by using the ebook for back-up or travel copies of favorite books, for free e-books, and for books purchased through deals like Humble Bundle, which I also receive in other formats.
To me, one strength of e-books for libraries is the ability to make available obscure and esoteric works that haven’t really earned a place a public library shelf. Electronic storage is cheap and plentiful. Unfortunately, that’s not the way I see e-books being handled. A reader who does like those obscure and esoteric books is better off scouring booksellers for the few paper copies and then hoarding them.
Meanwhile, a friend posted a link to this article for me: The Independent: How Spain Fell in Love with Books Again. The article focuses on a library that was closed two years ago, but reopened recently by volunteers and restocked by donations. I think this story is going to happen more and more often and that these kinds of citizen-organized libraries will be all over the States, especially if libraries keep making assumptions about what people want.
Most writers love libraries. (Neil Gaiman, Phillip Pullman) Most writers love librarians even more. You only have to go to one ALA conference to feel the love swirling all around you. Not Terry Deary, though. It seems he believes the 500,000 UK readers who checked out his books from libraries last year would otherwise have bought them, meaning he believes libraries have taken 180,000 pounds out of his pocket. He claims, “The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?” He believes libraries are responsible for book shops closing down, apparently because everyone who checks out a book from the library is hoarding pockets full of money that they would otherwise be using to buy books. (Perhaps then, librarians should stop stealing from him by buying his books for their collections.)
And, because he has absolutely no idea what is going on in compulsory schooling nowadays, he apparently has the charming idea that compulsory schooling gives the impoverished access to books. (“Oh, they can’t afford to buy books? Let them go to a local school and borrow them.”– my paraphrase) Once you’ve graduated or been shuffled along, no more books for you!
Deary’s interesting take on libraries came to my attention within minutes of my reading this blog post: Final Post. Gail Briggs is also a writer. She also lives in the UK. She has a disability and foresees a time very soon when she will have to rely on a library to fulfill the government’s requirements for her to continue her Job Seekers Allowance (which she wouldn’t need if people weren’t so close-minded about hiring workers with disabilities.) Unfortunately, those libraries will not be there for her, thanks, in part, to the advocacy of people like Terry Deary.
Oh, and lest you think libraries, librarians, and library users are the only objects of Deary’s contempt, I bring you his charming views on historians.
I would not be the reader I am now, nor the book buyer and hoarder I am now, without libraries. I belonged to any library that was foolish enough to give me a card and let me check out books. I’m currently pondering getting a card to a library 70 miles away from my home because I’ve almost used up the small and terribly underfunded library in my town. I’m not saying this to be sentimental about libraries, though I will not deny that I am sentimental about libraries. I’m saying this because access to books and time to read CREATES readers. People who are readers buy books. People who are not readers don’t buy books. But people who are readers cannot buy every book they want to read (I know, I’ve tried.)
I’m being very careful with my budget right now, which means not buying myself every book I want. It means relying on the library. I’m also looking for a job as a librarian. This means I’m facing the damage of attitudes like Deary’s from the perspective of both a voracious reader and of a librarian. I’m seeing the limited hours, libraries closed more than two days a week, a lack of jobs for trained librarians; at exactly the same time we have a great need for the services provided by libraries. Job seekers like Gail Briggs are losing their home internet (which many people still insist on seeing as a luxury) at the same time that the government is going entirely online and libraries are closing early and charging for internet access. I’m fortunate that my husband is working in defense (we can always find money for war) but I’m not going to ignore the challenges that so many others face. Challenges that can be ameliorated by access to a properly funded and staffed library.
Since I began teaching reference, I have discouraged students from using Google for their treasure hunts for a variety of reasons, mostly because I know they already know how to search Google. As Google changes, though, my new reason for discouraging students from using Google is that their new attempts to personalize and socialize search results are leading away from “objective” understandings of a page’s quality*. For many reasons, this is not good for library use.
I was one of the early adopters of Google. It was refreshing after the cluttered pages of Yahoo and Lycos to see that simple expanse of white. As they perfected their algorithms, the searches got more and more precise. I knew I could get a balance of precision and recall that was satisfying to me. At some point, the search results began to get less and less satisfying. I could tell when they were messing with their algorithms because it would get harder to get good results with the same search strings I had been using all along. Here is one person’s example. I was getting irrelevant results like this all the time. (In fact, I just searched for “precision and recall” on Google and got pages of SEO pages, along with wikipedia and scholarly articles I don’t have access to at home without jumping through hoops.) Part of the reason for this is that Google has been “personalizing” my search results, sometimes based on where I am (though it thinks I am in a large city with the same name in another state, so those results are generally useless), sometimes based on what I have searched for previously.
Here are some pages focusing on changes at Google and why it might become a less useful search engine as it tries to become more social:
First, we’ll start with Google’s own explanations of the current changes to search: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/search-plus-your-world.html. Notice the adorable hand-drawn graphics and quirky search examples. This is to distract you from what is really going on. While they are personalizing and socializing your results, they are also gathering information about you. Worse than that, though, they are limiting what you can find using their service. I honestly don’t mind trading some anonymous data that will be aggregated in order to get good search results, but I mind very much that their limited understanding of who I am will dictate what they show me. I’ve long been concerned about the effect of the Internet on the availability of information– I contend that the amount of information actually available to many of us goes down if we rely solely on the Internet/Web. I guess that’s a post for another day.
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/01/25/145830858/googles-new-privacy-policy-will-allow-tracking-across-services An NPR article about Google’s new privacy plan.
http://techland.time.com/2012/01/17/why-googles-biggest-problem-isnt-antitrust-with-search-plus-your-world/ and http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/01/google-search-is-dead.php These articles trace Google’s decline from the “simple white box and search results that made the search engine such a joy to use in the first place” to where it is now. (The discussion of the Olympics search reminded me of my futile attempt to use Google to find out where and when a conference happened last year so I could do a write-up on it.)
http://gizmodo.com/5875571/google-just-made-bing-the-best-search-engine This is just a quick article by one tech writer explaining why he has switched to Bing as his main search provider. Interestingly, the commenters support Google limiting its results to Google properties because they say it makes sense financially for Google.
Here is the way one organization is fighting the new Google: http://gigaom.com/2012/01/23/dont-be-evil-is-not-a-slogan-nor-a-browser-extension/: a browser extension for Firefox that compares search results from Google and from other search engines. “Don’t be evil” is Google’s motto, but like the author of this piece, I’m certain Google no longer lives by that motto.
http://searchengineland.com/examples-google-search-plus-drive-facebook-twitter-crazy-107554 This is an interesting article from a different point of view… not that of a searcher who wants the best results, but that of a consultant to companies who want to rank higher on Google results. Notice that a key to having the best results is no longer being most relevant, most linked, or most popular, but being a member of Google’s network. In his example, Britney Spears’ Facebook page does not show up in search results for her, while her Google+ profile does show up. What happens to those companies who have their primary online presence on Facebook?
One point I’ve had about getting too comfortable with Google has been that when it inevitably goes South, the lazy search habits it encourages will keep us from being able to get good results out of other engines. Over-reliance on Google will also cause us to overlook quicker ways to get information, such as through an online directory or in a print resource. For individuals, this might not be a big deal, as long as you know you’re making that trade-off. For librarians, though, who are providing information for others, it’s important that we challenge ourselves and keep our skills up.
As for me, I’m switching back to the Firefox browser from Chrome, staying logged out of Google +, and using alternative search engines, including meta-search engines. I’m currently experimenting with Bing. On Safari. (And a commenter on one of the above articles mentioned Duck Duck Go.
*I don’t believe there are true objective measures of a page’s quality or relevance, but I do believe that commercial consideration is NOT a good measure of quality!
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like book awards. (Someday, I might write a post about that, but not today.) Therefore, I usually don’t follow book awards except those which I am obligated to know about because of my job. That’s why I pretty much missed the drama last week over the accidental shortlisting of Lauren Myracle’s Shine
for the National Book Award. I do know that if I had heard her name being announced, I would have been pleased. I’ve met her in person and she is a wonderful, charming, generous person, in addition to being a person who writes about and FOR young people in an original, daring way.
Today, the news broke that she had been pressured to withdraw to preserve the “integrity” of the award and the judges’ work. On one hand, I understand that the judges did not select the book, but on the other hand, this is both a worthy book and a real human being that they have humiliated and hurt to preserve the “integrity” of their work. Also, what does it say about their “integrity” that they first said they would consider the book in addition to the other five and then changed their mind and tried to privately shame her into withdrawing from consideration? Did they think that would make things better? Why didn’t they just say last week, “oops, we made a mistake and named the wrong book and forgot to fact-check before making the announcement.” (Let’s not even go into why phones are terrible media for important things.) I think that would have been easier to stomach than this.
My heart aches for Lauren. I can imagine how horrible it feels to have something like this dangled in front of you and then snatched away. I hope that she gets lots of sales out of this and her book gets the attention it deserves. As for the award itself, I will continue to ignore it and read books based on their own merits.
By now, most everyone has seen this list of gripes that some Borders employees believe they had hidden from their customers. Accompanying the legitimate complaints against customers doing appalling things (like tearing up the store or leaving their children alone to tear up the store) are the complaints that bother me enough to write a post about it. The anonymous former employees don’t like your taste in books. They don’t like helping you find a book with very little information to go on. They don’t like that you’re confused because the store changes every week. And frankly, they would rather you shop elsewhere. They might have thought they were keeping these opinions a secret, but they weren’t. Underlying many of the comments posted to the various sites that have featured this picture is the idea that there is such a thing as being too good to work retail.
The reason I even bring this up here is because librarians have chimed in agreeing with many of the points on the list, including the frustration of finding a book with little information. In some ways, I understand the booksellers being frustrated, since they might not have been trained in reader’s advisory or reference. But librarians? Librarians who should know how to ask questions to find out what the patron is really looking for? The real problem I see is that patrons can tell if the librarian feels inconvenienced or is looking down on the patron. Patrons can tell if the librarian would really rather you go elsewhere. We can’t take patrons for granted. Patrons who feel slighted or unwelcome in the library will just go away. They might not make a grand fuss about it, they might not ever tell you why they’re not coming back; they’ll just find themselves too busy to go to the library. They’ll buy all their books, or borrow them from friends and family, or just stop reading. Do we have such a glut of patrons, of readers, that we can afford to alienate them? And why would we want anyone to leave the library feeling like an inconvenience?
Please note that I am NOT advocating allowing people to trash the library (or bookstore) or leave their children unattended. This is unacceptable behavior. What is NOT unacceptable behavior is: looking for the latest Oprah Winfrey book, reading Twilight, remembering only a few details about a book you heard about on the radio last month, or being confused because the corporate overlords dictate moving everything around every week so customers CAN’T find anything without your help. (The last one is bookstore specific– I hope libraries don’t get into that habit!) It’s a real Catch-22 to the customer, who knows he’s inconveniencing you by asking questions, but who has to ask because everything is different now.
I know how appalling some people can behave in public. I have cleaned up after my fair share of them (both as a worker AND as a fellow customer.) But we HAVE to recognize the difference between the horrendous, thoughtless behavior that is unacceptable and the normal human behavior that allows us to have a job.
Seth Godin says something I probably need to hear every day. Write every day, in public. This is very hard for me because I worry about the repercussions that follow speaking one’s mind. It’s not that I worry about my writing not being good enough– I wrote professionally for years and I know my writing is at least adequate. It’s that I worry that if I express the wrong opinions, I could put my career in jeopardy. Pretty ironic when my career is studying and teaching librarianship. I also pay attention to discourse and how policies are shaped and how they then shape the people who have to enforce them. In other words, I think too much.
I do agree with Seth Godin and I am going to try to write more, publicly, every day. I think it will help my writing for publication as well. I’m working on several articles and a couple of research projects. One article is on culture shock in school libraries and the other is a narrative of my experiences doing institutional ethnography in a school. I want to write it in a way that would be useful to a librarian who wants to examine work processes and discover how to change them for the better.
This semester, I’m teaching Teen Lit, Children’s Lit, and Cataloging. I am going to try to get back into the blogging habit to see if I still have anything to say. I have a lot to say, but I try to answer the three questions: is this true, is this kind, is this necessary? Will it improve the world? I don’t want to add to the noise– there are a lot more blogs out there than there were when I first started blogging 12 years ago.
It’s been a long time since I last posted. I’ve been off earning my PhD in Library Science. Some people might be able to continue blogging while earning a PhD, but I’m not that energetic!
I focused on school libraries and youth services in my research and classwork. This blog will focus on issues of library services to youth and the underserved. I’ll also look at technology and new media in connection with how it shapes library work with and by youth.
This semester, I’m teaching Youth Services and Internet Reference, so it’s likely most of my posts will be related to those two topics.