Archive for the 'Stuff' Category

NAQ on me and public library research

Posted in Stuff on March 19th, 2014

A little followup to yesterday’s post–and if you didn’t already guess, “NAQ” is what a great many FAQ’s should really be called–that is, Never-Asked Questions.

IMLS has released the 2011 public library figures. Wouldn’t your work be more popular if you updated it?

To IMLS’ considerable credit (and I have only good things to say about IMLS and NCES), it put up its survey figures when they were available–not when it had its commentary ready. $4 to $1…is based on the 2011 IMLS data, the most recent available (and makes comparisons to 2009 in some areas).

Do you blame anybody for the lack of public library attention and sales?

Other than myself? No. I admittedly hoped for word-of-mouth publicity, since there’s not a lot I could do directly without spending substantial sums of money, but that clearly didn’t happen. Nor is there any good reason it should have.

Why were you doing public library research anyway?

First, because my heart is in public libraries (although, unlike my wife the librarian, I’ve never worked in one). I thought and hoped that an analysis making it fairly easy to show that public libraries are enormously good values even if you only count the easily countable, and that better-supported libraries offer even more value to their communities, would be valuable to librarians and consultant–and maybe to Friends, to help get better support for libraries.

Second (the selfish reason), because I hoped to get enough feedback and ongoing support that I could do some deeper number-crunching, including longitudinal research (time series), of aspects of countable public library performance that might be worth knowing about. I have a bias toward treating small public libraries as seriously as large ones, and I think that bias would be useful. (In case you weren’t aware: in 2011, three-quarters of America’s public library systems served fewer than 23,000 people, and more than half served fewer than 9,000. Most public libraries are small libraries.)

So why not keep doing it anyway?

First and foremost, because if only four librarians, libraries or others were willing to buy the 2011 book, I’m not reaching anybody with this stuff–and particularly not the smaller libraries. There’s not much point in doing it if it’s of no use. That may be the most important reason.

Second, because while it can be fun, it’s not enough fun to make large efforts reasonable with no income at all. If I had 1,000 fans kicking in $100 (just to be silly), or more plausibly 100 supporters kicking in $50 per year, I’d be inclined to ask them what they thought was worth doing…and pay a lot of attention to those wishes. If half or one-third of those supporters were public library people, I’d probably keep doing some of this, possibly even making it available for free. But I don’t see that happening: an Indiegogo drive was absurdly unsuccessful (and even then, several times as many people were willing to commit money as turned out to be ready to buy the book); my Cites & Insights sponsorship drive is stalled in neutral, having crept forward only 3% of the way toward a plausible goal.

Why don’t you line up a sponsor or grant support?

I did a little looking into grant possibilities. I have no institutional affiliation. Next question? (I could go into more detail, but that’s probably enough.)

Sponsorship would be a great idea. Dunno how that would happen, though–especially since I’m neither an extrovert nor an entrepreneur.

What next?

On the academic library side, I did find a way to make some pointed research both much more widely distributed and worth my time to do.

In general…well, I’m still doing C&I (for now at least), and there are always future possibilities…

Bitter or discouraged?

Bitter, no. Nobody promised they would buy this stuff. Nobody recruited me to do it.

Discouraged–well, obviously, when it comes to this sort of public library research.

Mostly a little disappointed.

Meanwhile, on to the supplementary research on aspects of academic libraries that may interest some librarians, in addition to the core research that’s already done and will appear in late spring. And, to be sure, to reading, TV, polishing the essays for the next C&I, hiking, chores, all that other retirement leisure stuff…

 

Some days you gotta dance

Posted in Stuff on February 12th, 2014

Emerging from the projecthole I’ve been in, at least a little, with an odd post…

Vacuuming today, wearing ear protectors with built-in headphones, playing the “mix tape” 6GB of my favorite 380-or-so songs (on a Sansa Fuze). I don’t much dance, and I don’t have much rhythm…but one tune got me going, at least a little. Not necessarily dancing, but moving at least.

You can see the title above (“Some days you gotta dance” if it’s too much work to look), but not the backstory.

To wit: I knew the version I was listening to was James Taylor’s cover, from his Covers album–but I didn’t know what it was a cover of. And with the tight Tower-of-Power-style horns absolutely driving the song, I assumed he was covering some black group, possibly mid-60s, possibly Oakland, certainly with horns.

So I finally checked today. And, sure enough, it’s urban blues–woops, country? Really? First recorded by Keith Urban, best known from a Dixie Chicks recording? From the ’90s?

Taylor comes by it honestly: Look at Youtube and you’ll find a Crossroads episode with Taylor and the Dixie Chicks, which begins with that song, Taylor singing lead. (Apparently Keith Urban played guitar on the Chicks recording: everything connects to everything.)

And, you know, now that I’ve listened to the Dixie Chicks version(s) (the recorded one and the Crossroads one) and Keith Urban’s version…

Damned if I still don’t think this is a horns-driven urban pop song from the ’60s or ’70s. There’s just an edge to that version that the guitar-driven versions don’t have. (Also: Urban rushes the song.)

I’d point you to the James Taylor version, but the ones I see on Youtube are live versions without the tight full horns. They’re OK, but not the same.

Update next day: I don’t know genres for s**t and I’m not particularly up on recent music. Could be late ’50s rockabilly but with an infusion of more recent horn sections. Or not. In any case, to me, Taylor’s version (a) isn’t country and (b) is superior. Nothing against good country, to be sure.

 

Hello goodbye

Posted in Stuff on January 21st, 2014

So the Making Books series is done, for now.

Meanwhile, don’t expect much in the way of other posts for three or four weeks. I’m doing a two-month project in a month (or less), and it’s an important project, and that demands some attention.

There will be a March 2014 Cites & Insights right around February 1, because it’s already written.

Otherwise…well, see you when I see you. (Obviously not in Philly for Midwinter, but even if money and time allowed, I’ve done Philadelphia in January at least once more than suits me.)

Meanwhile, know what you could do if you care about C&I and think I offer a valuable service? Help underwrite it, right here. 

Codes and levels

Posted in ALA, Stuff on January 3rd, 2014

I haven’t written anything about the ALA Statement of Appropriate Conduct so far. In some ways, “Freedom of speech” relates to some of the issues, but it was mostly inspired by a separate, wholly ludicrous “controversy.”

I don’t anticipate that I will write much of anything about the Statement, and I am not tagging posts and articles toward a future essay about it.

Which does not mean either that (a) I think the statement is addressing nonexistent problems or (b) I’m in fundamental disagreement with the statement. Neither of those is true.

Of course there’s a problem

ALA conferences don’t have any instances of attempted silencing, sexual and other forms of harassment (verbal and otherwise), that sort of thing? Bull. I can’t think of a medium-to-large conference I’ve been to where I didn’t see at least one or two situations that were at least borderline harassment, silencing or unwanted attention. With 12,000 to 25,000 people and a huge variety of formal and informal social events as well as sessions, it’s essentially not possible that ALA conferences would be paragons in this regard, and they’re not. (Of course they’re not as bad as a lot of tech and entertainment and other conferences. That’s a different issue.)

More to the point, perhaps, many of the more insidious and dangerous instances won’t be visible, because they’ll be one-on-one.

Hey, I’ve even been the subject of attempted silencing and unwanted attention. But I’m also…well, we’ll get to that in the next section. Let’s say the odds of my being the subject of such stuff are maybe 1% of those of, say, a 25-30 year old woman.

The Statement strikes me as a reasonable start

I wrote about a proposed Code of Conduct in June 2007 (C&I 7:6). I didn’t believe the particular code made sense. If I revisited that issue now, I still probably wouldn’t believe the code made sense. (As far as I can tell, it disappeared without a trace.)

ALA’s Statement does make sense. It isn’t a solution for which there is no problem–there is a problem, and even shining light on the problem may reduce it.

Could it be improved? I’m not the one to say, but I’m certain that there will be efforts to do so. I’m certain the people involved in crafting it put informed and intelligent effort into it.

It’s not censorship. It doesn’t attack freedom of speech. (ALA isn’t the government, and the meeting spaces, exhibit halls and social events of ALA aren’t inherently public fora. In any case, I don’t see anything forbidding specific language. Telling people it’s not OK to intimidate or harass other people is quite a different thing…and I find the argument that this somehow impinges upon free speech unconvincing, to put it mildly.)

A number of people have written about this eloquently and reasonably. I won’t give you a list, but Andromeda Yelton has at least a couple of relevant, worthwhile posts. On the more general issue of appropriate conduct and the need for codes to deal with harassers, John Scalzi has done a fair amount of writing, as have others.

Why I’m not the one to write about this

  •  I’m a middle-aged (OK, aging) straight white male of mostly Anglo-Saxon/Northern European extraction who grew up in a healthy family, never went hungry and have no obvious disabilities*. I operate at the lowest level of difficulty (or did until I turned 60 or so and ageism became a factor), so maybe I’m not the one to be arguing these things.
  • I’m no longer an active ALA participant. It’s unclear how often I’ll be attending any ALA conferences in the future (or whether, for that matter), for fiscal and other reasons, so this doesn’t affect me directly.
  • There are plenty of library folk who (a) are more directly affected, (b) operate at different levels of difficulty, (c) write and think as well as or better than I do.
  • I have no reason to believe that what I say would carry much weight.

So that’s it: Probably all I’ll say about this. Not because I don’t feel strongly about it, not because I’m not reading about it.


*Introversion may be a slight disadvantage in some work and professional areas, and may make me a bit more likely to be shouted down, but it’s far from being a disability or a real level-changer.

Walking half a mile to school

Posted in Stuff on November 21st, 2013

Today’s paper (yes, it’s still the paper, even if I read it on a Kindle) has the usual weekly “what’s not working” feature.

This time, it was a particular city bus line (not my city) that is apparently somewhat unreliable at one particular time of weekday mornings.

The problem? If the bus wasn’t there, some kids would have to walk to school. A school described as “more than half a mile away,” which presumably means less than two-thirds of a mile away.

Half a mile? Really?

I’m not inclined to say anything negative about today’s kids (although this may be about today’s parents). There may be many reasons why we seem to be suffering an explosion of overweight, getting even worse among younger folks. But one reason is probably a general lack of ordinary exercise–like, for example, walking.

Half a mile at my full walking pace is an eight-minute walk. But I walk fast. Let’s say 12-14 minutes. I’m guessing that’s less time than it takes to stand there waiting for the bus, ride the bus, and walk to school from the bus stop. And, while it’s not a lot of exercise, if done twice a day it’s more than a mile, which is at least a decent start.

This is where I should bemoan that when I was growing up we walked three miles each way to and from school, in the snow, uphill in both directions. That isn’t true, of course. I lived fairly close to my elementary school–more than half a mile but probably less than a mile. A little bit of downhill going, uphill coming back, but not enough to be significant. (The daily “walk around the block” my wife and I take–every day except hiking Wednesday–includes a *lot* more and steeper uphill. It’s also around 1.3 miles.) Never, ever in the snow: In the nearly 16 years I lived in Modesto, it only snowed once with the snow sticking for more than an hour, and I was a high school senior at the time.

Half a mile (or “more than half a mile”) is really too far for schoolkids to walk? That seems sad.

Making Book 9: Technical Standards, Second Edition

Posted in Stuff on November 18th, 2013

With MARC for Library Use, the virtues of a second edition were clear: the book was widely used, format integration made a big difference, there was lots of new material to cover—and a 6″ x 9″ book is generally more readable than a single-column 8.5″ x 11″ book.

With Technical Standards: An Introduction for Librarians, the case wasn’t quite so clear. The first edition did well but was no best-seller. The underlying information hadn’t changed all that much.

On the other hand, the book was a few years old and—as founding editor of Information Standards Quarterly—I was now much more familiar with NISO’s structure and workings. People within NISO argued for revising the book rather than withdrawing it, and G.K. Hall agreed.

The new version omitted the discussions of selected ANSI X3 standards that were in the first edition—but also, unlike the first edition, discussed every NISO (Z39) standard, including draft standards and standards under review for revision or deletion.

The book appeared in 1991 (sleeved hardcover and paperback) and was current through early 1991. I produced the camera-ready pages in Zapf Calligraphic using Ventura Publisher. It did acceptably well, as I remember. My involvement in technical standards started waning about that time; no third edition was plausible.

Crawford, Walt. Technical Standards: An Introduction for Librarians, Second Edition. Professional Librarian Series. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1991. ISBN 0-8161-1951-1. ISBN 0-8161-1950-3 (pbk.)

Making Book 7: Marc for Library Use, Second Edition

Posted in Stuff on November 13th, 2013

Shortly after G.K. Hall purchased the Professional Librarian Series from Knowledge Industry, the series editor asked me whether the time was ripe for a revised version of MARC for Library Use, which was still selling reasonably well. I responded that the completion of format integration (moving from a group of format-specific MARC formats to one integrated USMARC format) would be a good time to do that.

To some extent, a secondary motivation for the original book was to promote the idea of format integration. RLG staff began preparing proposals for such integration in 1984 and worked with others (at OCLC, LC and elsewhere) to refine those proposals over the years. The proposals were turned into reality during the MARBI sessions at Midwinter and Annual 1988—but, after having worked on the proposals for years, I was not at those two MARBI sessions. Because of changes in my position at RLG and other factors, I declined reappointment to MARBI for 1987-89 and moved from being an active participant to an interested observer.

Thus the subtitle of the second edition: Understanding Integrated USMARC. I refreshed and updated the earlier material—and also added occurrence tables for commonly-used fields in each material type, based on the test runs done for Bibliographic Displays in the Online Catalog and a new test run of over 600,000 records done in August 1988.

In addition to extensive updates and refinement, the second edition also added a chapter on format integration and a chapter on nonroman text (with samples from RLG cataloging, since RLG was a leader in establishing nonroman character sets, eventually working with a number of companies to establish UNICODE).

I’m guessing that most of you (if there are many of you!) who’ve seen or used MARC for Library Use used this edition—a 6″ x 9″ 358-page book (hardcover and paperback). It appeared in 1989. It did very well.

A note on production: While I’m pretty sure I produced camera-ready copy for some of my earlier books, I’m 100% certain of that in this case: there’s a colophon on the last page. It was set in Zapf Calligraphic, an updated version of Palatino designed by Hermann Zapf (who designed Palatino) for Bitstream as one of a series optimized for digital typography. Except for a few figures (added later), I prepared all pages using Ventura Publisher and an HP LaserJet Series II printer. (In some ways, I miss Ventura Publisher—but it didn’t play well with Windows, especially after Corel took it over. I do not miss the brutally expensive HP LaserJet, which ran hot and noisy, but it produced high-quality typography at a time when that was difficult to do on a budget.)

Crawford, Walt. MARC for Library Use, Second Edition: Understanding Integrated USMARC. Professional Librarian Series. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989. ISBN 0-8161-1887-6. ISBN 0-8161-1889-2 (pbk.)

Making Book 2: Technical Standards

Posted in Stuff on October 31st, 2013

Until I read the final page of MARC for Library Use (while preparing the first in this series of memoirish posts), I’d forgotten that KIPI contracted for another book even before the first one was publicly available.

That book was Technical Standards: An Introduction for Librarians. It appeared in 1986—a 299-page 6″ x 9″ hardcover and paperback. (That’s actually about the same length as MARC for Library Use, around 100,000 words in each case: more smaller pages.)

Background

For reasons that still escape me, the first ALA or LITA committee I was formally involved in was TESLA, the Technical Standards for Library Automation Committee, originally part of ISAD (Information Science and Automation Division, which changed its name to LITA). I started attending the meetings in 1976, and served as a committee member from 1978 through 1982 (chairing the committee from 1980 to 1981).

Beyond that, my formal involvement in technical standards was pretty minimal (until somewhat later, when I agreed to be the founding editor for NISO’s new ISQ, Information Standards Quarterly, which I did from 1989 through 1991). For a while, I was RLG’s “alternate representative” to NISO (the National Information Standards Organization, Z39, which did and does prepare technical standards in library and related areas—it’s an accredited ANSI standardization organization)—but that didn’t mean much, because RLG’s primary representative, Wayne Davison, who was very active in NISO. (RLG had a long history of supporting technical standards; it was also a founding member of the Unicode Consortium.)

I had, however, published articles on technical standards—one in Library Trends in 1982 and another, a column arguing against a proposed standard (a Standard Library Patron ID), in LITA Newsletter in 1985—but by then I was also working on this book.

Foreground

Sandra K. Paul’s foreword to the book begins “Standards aren’t sexy.” True enough, which may be why there wasn’t much in the way of approachable literature explaining technical standards—especially from a librarian’s perspective, as opposed to that of a scientist or engineer. With encouragement from some key people, I tried to improve that situation.

RLG helped by permitting me to use a wonderful anecdote about precision and technical standards—although it wasn’t so wonderful at the time. RLG used to produce millions of catalog cards—remember, this was the early 1980s! In 1982, RLG moved from an IBM line printer to a Xerox 9700 laser printer, using prepunched sheets of card stock that held four cards each and were guillotined after printing. The people ordering the cards assumed a 3″ x 5″ card size. And RLG members/users started complaining: The cards didn’t fit.

They didn’t fit because the standard for library cards (Z85.1, one of few library-related standards not bearing a Z39 number) didn’t specify 3″ x 5″: it specified 75mm x 125mm, and that’s actually been the size of catalog cards for a very long time. 75mm x 125mm works out to 2.95″ x 4.92″—which means that well-made catalog card drawers wouldn’t quite hold the 3″ x 5″ cards. RLG ordered a new set of card stock and reprinted the faulty cards. It was an expensive lesson, but a useful one.

The book covered quite a few aspects of technical standards in general—among other things, noting the number of technical standards you’re likely to benefit from in a typical day—and considered varieties of “standards” other than formal consensus technical standards, a discussion I continue to view with pride. I discussed motives, implementations, problems, dangers, the standardization process and standards organizations, with some emphasis on NISO. I discussed each Z39 (and Z85) standard in existence at the time and a handful of others.

The book did well—certainly not as well as MARC for Library Use, but well enough that KIPI invited a second (revised) edition down the road. More on that in a later post.

This was another book that required a number of trips over to UC Berkeley, mostly to the Engineering Library with its extensive set of published standards. As always, quite a few people helped with the book—reviewing drafts and providing additional insights.

Crawford, Walt. Technical Standards: An Introduction for Librarians. Professional Librarian Series. White Plains, NY: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1986. ISBN 0-86729-192-3. ISBN 0-86729-191-5 (pbk.)

How Not to Be the Expert

Posted in Stuff on October 28th, 2013

Some tips for those who really, truly want to avoid becoming known as The Expert on any single topic (or The Guru, or The Obvious Speaking Choice…) while being professionally active.

These tips come from decades of experience.

1. Don’t specialize

You’ve prepared an important article or book or blog post on a significant topic in your field?

Time to try something else!

Delving deeper into that topic, refreshing your work for newer audiences, or—worst of all—showing how that topic applies elsewhere (even if it’s stretching a point): Don’t do that. You’ll wind up on the speaking circuit, in demand, known for your expertise.

Repeat as necessary: If you do important work in two fields, you may still wind up known as The Expert on one or both.

Better to change topics frequently. Mark Lindner owns the phrase “habitually probing generalist,” but that’s the general idea.

2. Don’t broaden your exposure on a single topic

You’ve done that significant piece—call it a book, just for fun.

The obvious next step would be to do a related article, and maybe propose some speeches on the topic.

Don’t.

This is related to Rule 1, but not quite the same. It’s also related to Rule 3:

3. Don’t propose speeches on your topic(s)

If you show up at CIL/IL, Charleston, state library conferences, ALA, ASIST speaking on your topic, you’re likely to become known as The Expert even if you have other topics.

If somebody really wants to hear from you, let them come to you: Don’t go looking for trouble!

4. Don’t go on the speaking circuit

If you’re following Rule 3, you’re halfway there—but if you’ve made the mistake of doing a couple of good speeches or papers on your topic, you may find a stream of speaking invitations coming in.

If you accept as many as you can plausibly handle (and if your workplace favors professional activity), that can wind up being quite a few…maybe to the point where you’re on the speaking circuit.

Set an annual limit. (I used eight trips or ten speeches a year. That seemed to work effectively. Depending on the situation, you might still consider that being on the speaking circuit—four speeches might be a better limit. Don’t worry: If you’re following the other rules, you won’t have to turn down invitations after two or three years—they’ll shrink on their own.)

5. Don’t act as though you’re The Expert

Rule 5 may be key.

The expert makes sure that her knowledge is available for interviews, etc., and pipes up whenever somebody posts or says something related to his topic.

6. Prefer precision to hyperbole

Avoid “all” when the facts say “most” and “most” when the fact say “some.”

Avoid speculation about certain futures when you really don’t have much basis for such speculation.

Never say “inevitable” unless you’re talking about mortality.

Don’t confuse anecdata with studies, and be aware of the limitations of most studies.

7. Avoid the bleeding edge

Focus on topics that need further exploration and explication, rather than the Hot New Topics.

It’s particularly useful to do something deep and comprehensive at roughly the point that an area is becoming irrelevant or obsolescent. (I would say obsolete, but that’s really tough…and you might become the Expert on curiosities of the past.)

If you are compelled to look at The New, try to make it something people don’t really care much about.

8. Be an introvert

This is a valuable addition to all of the tips above; it will help you to avoid the spotlight.

Where are #9 and #10?

To be a proper listicle, this post needs to have at least 10 items.

A proper expert would always find a couple more things to say, if only by repeating an earlier rule with slight rewording.

But, what the hey…

9. Don’t create or promulgate infographics

What more need be said?

10. Understand your data, and make sure your readers get plenty of it

Numbers! Librarians love numbers! You can never have too many numbers!

Conclusion

These rules have stood me in good stead, as evidenced by the fact that, after 16 (or so) professionally published books, half a dozen (more than that) self-published books and several hundred articles and columns, I am the recognized Expert on…nothing.

Next?

Maybe, possibly, Gaia willing and the creeks don’t rise: A multipart discussion of how some books (all on topics about which I am not The Expert) came to be written.

Unless, of course, I decide to read Crime & Punishment instead. (Then again, maybe not…)

Dear Fed: Why do you hate us (and other savers) so much?

Posted in Stuff on September 18th, 2013

This is a serious post. Probably the most serious I’ll post all year.

My wife and I did what we were told we should do. We saved our money. We lived less considerably below our means so that we could save our money.

Now we’re retired (somewhat earlier than planned, through no fault of our own, but never mind…)

And now the Fed is essentially saying “Screw you. We hate savers. You are required to invest and borrow. Saving is for idiots.”

Which is to say: We can’t get decent rates on CDs or other guaranteed savings–because the Fed plans to keep interest rates at essentially zero for what sounds like pretty much forever.

Would we be happy to get interest rates equal to inflation? Not really–but I don’t even believe we can count on doing that at this point.

We don’t much like risk. We spent less money–a lot less money–so we wouldn’t have to cope with risk.

That apparently offends the Fed.

As far as I can tell, the methodology being used by the Fed basically enriches Wall Street, as it forces more people to invest regardless. It’s doing a pretty good job for bankers, too. Basically, those who were already getting richer are getting even richer.

I don’t believe it’s bringing lots of people back to work. Companies that can borrow at no interest seem to keep enriching their owners, managers and shareholders, and hiring the absolute minimum number of workers they can. (If zero-interest loans were only for small businesses, which create most new jobs, that would be different.)

But for us and, I believe, a few millions or tens of millions of other people, it looks like direct punishment for not being massively in debt and for not being gamblers: Making sure that we can’t earn decent return on savings.

And I think it stinks.


I forgot to add this crucial point:

If we could get decent rates on savings, we’d spend more.

As it is, fear of long-term major issues and knowledge that we’re getting crap on our savings–and that it’s likely to get worse, not better–is keeping our optional spending lower than it should be.


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