Archive for June, 2008

What’s that interest group doing in Anaheim?

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Before I pack up to fly out tomorrow, I did a last-minute check on one of several things that concerns me about LITA (and it will be, to some extent, part of my agenda as incoming LITA Publications Committee chair–just as fair warning).

To wit, what are the LITA Interest Groups planning to discuss during ALA Annual?

As far as I can tell, there are 19 active LITA Interest Groups (and another 17 inactive).

I was able to get some information on 10 of the 19…but only by going to four different resources. I’m also being generous–in some cases, the only info was on formal programs, with nothing about business meeting or discussions.

  • The LITA database, seemingly the most natural place to start, and the place you get to from ALA as the “key resource” if you search LITA: Zero. Not one IG had notes on Annual 2008 plans.
  • The LITA blog: Two interest groups had posts that related to ALA 2008, and both were appropriately tagged.
  • The LITA wiki–seemingly the second most natural place to go, as you’d assume there would be a nice neat page with links: Two interest groups (not the same two as in the blog) had notes relating to ALA 2008.
  • LITA-L, the LITA list–seemingly the least likely place, especially if LITA’s trying to attract newbies to the fold, and especially since you have to do some work to find this stuff: Eight, but two of those were also in the blog. Six new.

In the division of ALA that should be most concerned with effective communication through technology, barely over half the interest groups provided any information. (Maybe they did on their own lists, but that really doesn’t count: IGs should not be closed circles.) And only four out of 19 provided such information in “contemporary” formats.

LITA doesn’t lack for the tools–hey, there’s a database, a blog, a wiki, a list! What more could you ask for?

What’s lacking is the content. I sometimes wonder whether unused or barely-used tools are worse than no tools at all…

Well, that’s my final pre-ALA grump. And for my frends in ERM, Internet Resources, NextGen Catalogs and Open Source Systems: Congratulations. You’re the few and the proud.

Now to pack and make ready for Anaheim, sun screen and all. See some of you at the LITA Happy Hour? (Not at the beginning, but eventually.)

The devil or lack thereof is in the details

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

So 21% of atheists believe in God?

That’s the way the San Francisco Chronicle reports it in a front-page story based on the new Pew Foundation on Religion and Public Life report, but that’s not what the study actually says.

See, the survey didn’t ask “Do you believe in God?” It asked a very different question: “Do you believe in God or a universal spirit?”

That boils down to “do you believe in something more than yourself,” basically. Believe in Gaia? You’d answer “Yes” even as a wholehearted atheist. Believe in human consciousness as something greater than the individual? Another “yes.”

Improbable Research reported on this in a post yesterday, “Social Science Lesson: What Americans Believe.” But IR quoted a story in the Boston Globe–and the Globe seems to have labeled its graphic sidebar correctly, even if the story turns “God or a universal spirit” into “God.” The Chronicle–and, I suspect, most media–just reduces it to the one word.

Ask everyone in my household, “Do you like apples or some other fruit?” You’ll get 100% “Yes.” Ask “Do you like apples?” and you’ll get 100% “No.” But if you ask the first question and rely on typical lazy journalism, you get headlines all over–“Everybody likes apples.”

Oh, Improbable Research updated the post–quoting a Pew Foundation researcher who essentially says atheists and agnostics are stupid:

Smith said some people may identify with the term atheist or agnostic without fully understanding the definition, or they have a negative view of organized religion, even though they believe in God.

Or maybe they answered the question that was actually asked.

Between ambition and stupidity

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

I said previously:

It’s partly, to be honest, thinking about impact and reality–wondering whether the work is still worth it, and particularly whether any ambitious ideas are good ideas or just plain stupidity. This is a complicated area, one I might (or might not) write about between now and ALA.

The ambitious ideas? At the moment, the most obvious ones are two possible longitudinal studies of actual blogging behavior–one for liblogs (blogs by library-related people), one for library blogs (public and academic).

I wrote about the first of those possibilities here, and noted the second possibility here.

Of course, this whole situation didn’t help matters a lot–but did encourage me to think about the models that seem plausible today. (Hey, I shouldn’t complain–in addition to an essay in the current Cites & Insights, that bit of nonsense indirectly resulted in a forthcoming “disContent” column for EContent–and, of course, I do get paid for those columns.)

So here’s my thinking:

  1. I know that I’d find either or both projects interesting to do–but also that each one would take a couple of hundred hours (where “couple” means anywhere from 1.5 to 5).
  2. I believe I bring a certain rigor and objectivity to such studies, but I could be fooling myself.
  3. Based on existing book sales and near-total lack of interest, I can’t really project any significant number of sales–and, if the “if it’s digital, it SHOULD be free” crapola is spreading, it could get even worse.
  4. I could take two other courses:
  • Do the shorter numbers-only portion of followup studies and publish the results as issues of Cites & Insights–or, if possible, base some submitted articles or paid columns on them.
  • Say the hell with it and spend that time either writing freelance articles (where my past record suggests I’d sell at least half of the articles, which doesn’t yield Big Bucks but does yield some income) or just becoming more retired, reading, listening to music, telling kids to get offa my lawn…

This all raises, to some extent, the ways independent niche researcher/writers can get enough yield from their work so that they’re not literally better off greeting people at Wal-Mart. If Andersonomics (“Free!”) really is the wave of the future, I see three possibilities…

  1. Advance sponsorship. If someone (some agency) wanted to sponsor either or both studies, or–retroactively–the work represented in the two library blog books–I’d be delighted. And, for the right sum, the downloadable results would indeed be free, and the print book could be priced at cost of production. The question is: Is there any group likely to sponsor that sort of thing? I think I know the answer…but I could be wrong.
  2. The 1,000 True Fans model. This supposes that there’s a significant number of folks who find my stuff so valuable that they’d go out of their way to pay for it. I suppose the way to test that would be to do a $50 Lulu item that consists of nothing more than a full-color cover and the text “Thanks for being a fan.” Given sales of the Cites & Insights trade paperbacks, my rough estimate is that “1,000 true fans” in my case is off by at least two orders of magnitude…and it’s not worth annoying those ten (or fewer) folks.
  3. “Freemium” models. The base line is free, but there are special super-duper options that come for a price. Well, again, that’s part of what the two Cites & Insights trade paperbacks are–and total sales there are four of one, two of the other (in both cases, more than expected). I already do something slightly along these lines, but not involving money: Namely, the My Back Pages section of most Cites & Insights is a premium for those who download the PDF (my preference) rather than HTML sections. Here again, I’m not sure what I would do for a “freemium” model.

At present, Cites & Insights is (modestly) sponsored. My two columns are paid. One of the three books has yielded enough revenue to be so-so. The two library blog books are both relatively recent; neither one has sold enough to justify the work on any plausible basis. Of course, both were interesting to do…

So, tossing this out into the void between the intertubes, I wonder:

  • Whether I’m being ambitious–or just stupid?
  • Whether there are compensation models I haven’t thought about?
  • Whether I should leave the research stuff to people who either have appropriate institutional sponsorship or are working on theses?

Some time after ALA, I’ll have to make decisions. Thoughts welcome.

Hoping for inspiration in Anaheim

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

I had a great two-week vacation (discussed briefly here), sorely needed after two years without a real vacation. Didn’t do any writing (didn’t have a computer). Other than checking on work email every couple of days, didn’t do anything involving the web or computers. Read seven books–three nonfiction, four fiction–and three SF magazines. Saw lots of glorious scenery. And so on…

One off note maybe told me something: For the first week, every night I was having truly boring and irritating dreams–“procedural dreams” that went on and on, not nightmares–and they all involved the workplace (a composite of the few places I’ve worked full time). The second week, not so much.

Got back, refreshed in body–but still a little down, both in energy and (more important) in inspiration. Not so much as to be hopeless, but enough to be tired and to find it tiresome. The last two-three days, I could use the unseasonable heat as an excuse, but “excuse” is the right word. (Looks like the hot spell has subsided; we’re back to the mid- to high 70s from the mid to high 90s, and supposed to stay there for a week+..)

I think I know what’s going on. The dreams are a clue. I’m finally processing last year–what happened and what didn’t. I learned a lot about the worth of two careers, the library systems one and the writing one. ALA Annual 2007 was in some ways a defining moment, and that was probably unfortunate.

At the time, I was involved with enough different projects and enough ongoing ideas that momentum carried me for a long time. The challenges of a new editing gig helped as well (and the PALINET Leadership Network continues to be worth my time and your attention).

So it took a while for it all to sink in. I think–I hope–that’s happened. I hope–I believe–it will start getting better. For the moment, though, there’s sort of a lull. It’s partly timing. It’s partly inspiration. It’s partly, to be honest, thinking about impact and reality–wondering whether the work is still worth it, and particularly whether any ambitious ideas are good ideas or just plain stupidity. This is a complicated area, one I might (or might not) write about between now and ALA.

I’m hoping ALA Annual 2008 will mark a turning point, that I’ll emerge with more inspiration and recovered energy. Maybe just as a milestone; maybe because ALA can be inspiring in its own odd ways. Based on past experience, I assume that this, too, will pass. If not, of course, there’s plenty of time to think about what does make sense for the future. I’ve always said I’d keep writing (and, when invited, speaking) as long as people continued to be interested in what I have to say. Raw numbers suggest you still are, although there are fewer links and comments than in the past–but that formulation leaves out one other “as long as”: “and as long as I’m still inspired to write.”

See you in Anaheim? Say Hi. I’m terrible with names and still an introvert, but I’m almost always approachable and ready to chat. And if I seem to be in a hurry…that’s just the way I walk, and shouldn’t carry any deeper meaning.

It’s Friday

Friday, June 20th, 2008

And, given the heat and my lethargy, any serious post is out of the question.

Wordle, however…

That’s my vita (through December 2007, I think). With the default 150-word limit (200 words makes for a very crowded picture).

I have to say, I like Wordle’s output a lot better than most word clouds I’ve seen. As for deeper significance…

You can click on it for a larger image.

A little bit later: Thought about those months, did 12 global replaces in Word, and I like this result much better:

Bloggers Salon: Palisades, not Avila

Friday, June 20th, 2008

You may note a change in my ALA schedule–not in the events, but in one key location.

To wit, the OCLC Bloggers Salon (which is a salon for all bloggers, hosted by OCLC–no invitation required, no registration) is Sunday, June 29, 2008, 5:30 to 8 p.m., in the Hilton Anaheim–but in the Palisades room, not Avila.

That’s a change from the announcement at It’s All Good. I spotted it in Roy Tennant’s ALA schedule, and it’s now been confirmed by Roy Tennant, Alice Sneary and George Needham.

Remember: That’s Palisades, not Avila. (Probably not a big deal. They say they’re right around the corner from one another, OCLC also has events in Avila, and there will be signs…)

If you’re one of those going and you’re blogging about your schedule, you might spread the word. And I’ll see you there. (I’ll be one of the ones without mouse ears…and also without a computer. Maybe with an LSW ribbon, or a LITA Former President ribbon, or both, depending on what connections I manage to make…)

Cites & Insights 8:7 available

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Cites & Insights 8:7, July 2008, is now available.

The 26-page issue is PDF as always, but most essays can also be downloaded at the Cites & Insights home page or from the links below.

This issue includes:

Experient, ALA, and treating first-class mail as junk

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

If you’re going to Anaheim and get an envelope from Experient–it’s almost certainly NOT junk mail.

It’s probably your ALA badge and exhibit card.

And you’ll notice that it has $0.59 postage, which junk mail would almost never have.

Yes, I know, I’m as likely as anyone else to discard junk mail unopened–but that gets a little tricky:

  • You should probably open solicitations for credit cards and shred the actual application form–and those tend to show up as first-class mail.
  • Similarly, other very individualized “junk” mail may included pages that you don’t want someone fishing out of your garbage.

One simple rule of thumb is that you should always open first-class mail. Sure, some of it’s still junk, but you’re only out a few seconds to open the envelope and scan the contents. Unless you get a lot more of it than we do, this won’t cost you more than an hour a year, and probably not that much.

In case you haven’t heard (over and over and over…)

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Firefox 3 is now available. You should find it here.

Mozilla is apparently aiming for a record for first-day downloads. I didn’t blog about it earlier because I had no idea whether I’d try to download it today.

I did–successfully–about three hours after the official release time (10 a.m. PDT/1 p.m. EDT). The download was a little on the slow side (but not really bad); the install was very quick. And FF3 does seem to start and run faster than FF2.

Otherwise? The toolbar’s a little more Vista-y (on Vista), there are a bunch of little changes that I might or might not ever notice, it picked up my preferences and all but one add-on smoothly (and I wasn’t even aware I had the incompatible add-on; I certainly don’t need it).

Some day, I’ll get the acid test: Will it print Six Apart blog posts better than FF2 did, or will I still have to use IE for that form of printing? In any case, I’m happy, and will continue to use FF for almost all my web work.

Get the Word Out: an ALA program you might consider

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

The name: “Get the Word Out: How to Do It; Marketing for Small and Rural Libraries”

The time and place: Sunday, June 29, 2008, 1:30-3:30 p.m., Hilton, Pacific Ballroom B (but check the final schedule)

The sponsor: Public Library Association (PLA) Library Development Cluster (LDC)

The description:

No matter how small your library, effective marketing is the key to success. Hear how small libraries across the country are leveraging simple marketing techniques to make their libraries vital to their communities. Marketing basics and practical tips for developing a strategy, executing that strategy, and measuring effectiveness will be provided.

I’m speaking (based on the articles on “The Storied Library” I wrote last year for WebJunction), but there are also four experts on the program: Diana Bitting (PALINET), Edward James Elsner (Delton District Library), Beth Nicholson (Clarksburg-Harrison PL) and Annette Wetteland (State Library of iowa). I expect to learn something…

For reasons that escape me, the preliminary program (and, thus, Library Journal’s set of program picks) describes me as “Creator, Author, Publisher, OCLC.” I don’t know where “creator” came from, and I haven’t worked for OCLC since September 2007–but I’m certainly a publisher (Cites & Insights) and author. I should note that that odd word gave John Berry a chance for a shot. Quoting from “Shifting with the Paradigm,” Berry’s set of program choices:

[The speakers] will preach that effective marketing is the key to success and to your library’s future. They promise marketing basics and practical tips. When the “creator” preaches, who dares not to listen?

I certainly don’t plan to do any preaching and I don’t call myself the creator, but that’s OK. It should be a good program, and I expect to be the least interesting and informative speaker there–but I’ll do my best..