Archive for October, 2011

Maine done; on to Nebraska

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Continuing the saga of expanding my state-by-state survey of public library use of social networks… (AKA “getting in the occasional post while I’m mostly doing other, directly library-related, stuff”)

Maine done

From Abbot Public Library to Zadoc Long Free Library, I’ve now checked the 269 libraries (that is, public library agencies that report to the state library and IMLS) in Maine for activity on Facebook and Twitter.

For anyone who read the previous post and wondered why my sense of alphabetic order is so bad: I’m doing the remaining states in alpha order by state code, so Maine (ME) does come after Massachusetts (MA). Just as, in a couple of weeks, Virginia (VA) will come before Vermont (VT).

What I see in Maine as compared to what I saw in Massachusetts also reminds me that, for public libraries sampled by full states as for many other wildly heterogeneous cases, you could make lots of different cases as being valid–depending on which states you choose. So, for example, I can use two states to support the erroneous claim that “almost all” public libraries are already on social networks (if you define “almost all” as “slightly more than three-quarters”) and I can use four states to support the equally erroneous claim that less than one-third of public libraries are on social networks.

I think the 25 libraries I already surveyed represent a reasonably fair sampling–but I’ll be even happier with 38 states, and I’m nearly certain the overall numbers will change somewhat.

Nebraska next

So now I’m on to Nebraska–which, as I already noted, has exactly the same number of reporting libraries as Maine (269). I’ll start with Agnes Robinson Waterloo Public (serving 961 people) and, in a few days, get to Yutan Public Library (serving 1,198)…

As always, it will be interesting to visit the websites (when there are websites), see what’s happening, and appreciate becoming more aware of America’s vital and wildly varied set of public libraries.

Chapter 5 of the draft manuscript is “done,” and given other deadlines next week Chapter 6 (the penultimate chapter before doing the four-month followup survey and completing the additional survey) probably won’t get started next week and certainly won’t get finished.

C&I? Not yet a formal hiatus, not yet at the point where the 2011 volume is effectively done…if anybody cares, that is.

Massachusetts down, Maine next…

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

If there’s anyone out there who wonders why Cites & Insights hasn’t appeared for five weeks now (and isn’t likely to for quite some time), and who doesn’t read posts such as this one, here’s an update of sorts.

Massachusetts down…

I’m currently interleaving work on the draft text for Libraries in Social Networks (working title, from ALA Editions, some time next year with luck) with work on expanding my survey of actual public library presence on Facebook or Twitter from the current 25 states and 2,406 libraries to a total of 38 states and 5,957 libraries (or, if energy runs out, 36 states and 4,963 libraries).

I’m doing the remaining 13 states (all of them I hadn’t already done and that have readily-available spreadsheets of library names and population served) in alphabetic order–except that, regarding the parenthetic note in the previous paragraph, I’ve now moved Pennsylvania and Texas to the end, since those are the two with the largest number of reporting libraries.

I’d already done Alabama and Indiana. A few minutes ago, I finished Massachusetts (and the first three libraries in Maine, since I stopped at a “20 multiple” convenient spot).

Which means I’ve looked at the websites and other evidence of social networks for all the public libraries, memorial libraries, free libraries, incorporated public library associations, city libraries, town libraries, just plain libraries, reading rooms, citizens’ libraries, social libraries, athenaea (what’s the plural of athenaeum?)…and, last but not least, the Young Men’s Library Association in Ware, which has both Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’ve even managed the cases where two libraries in two different communities have exactly the same name (I think there were three of those), with a little help from Wikipedia.

Now on to Maine (and Chapter 5)

So now I’ll start in on Chapter 5 of the text…and interleave that with Maine’s libraries. (Odd coincidence: The number of reporting libraries/library systems in Maine is exactly the same as the number in Nebraska, which will come next. Whereas the numbers for New Hampshire and Ohio, the next two after that, differ by one.)

And that’s the news from South Livermore…in the heart of one of California’s lesser-known (but also one of the earliest) wine countries.

Relevance and reward, 1

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

For many years, I said “I’ll keep writing as long as people keep reading what I write.”

That may be a bad formulation. Here’s a better one:

I’ll keep writing (in a particular area, in a particular manner) as long as it continues to be relevant and rewarding.

“People keep reading what I write” is one measure of relevance and reward, to be sure, but it may not be one that works very well at this point. It worked fine when I earned my living doing something else that was both relevant and (usually, and always financially) rewarding. It worked great when the combined package of paid columns and articles, paid speaking invitations, citations and discussions based on what I was writing, and other linked measures made it clear that my writing (and speaking) was relevant to a reasonably large group of library folk.

Now? I’m wondering.


I hadn’t thought about it explicitly, but when I lost my full-time position, I was as much concerned about remaining relevant as I was about financial rewards.

At that point, Cites & Insights still seemed pretty clearly relevant to a fair number of people (based on feedback and the extent to which items were cited elsewhere). While speaking invitations were on the decline, there were still some of them–and I still had two paid columns in print magazines.

And I was offered a part-time position that, while never well paid, yielded results I considered highly relevant and valuable to the field, doing something I thought I could do exceptionally well. So, all in all, I was happy enough with relevance, and there were enough rewards overall to keep me reasonably happy.


The last 18 months or so have been a little more difficult. The part-time position went away and, in the process, the work I’d done was scrapped entirely, as though it was of no importance to anybody.

Look: My day job was library systems analysis, design and programming for five decades. I knew that very little I did would survive long after I left. I doubt that any of the code I wrote anywhere is still being used; I’m not sure much of the design work survives in any fashion. That’s OK–it comes with the territory. Abruptly deciding to deep-six an entire interlinked body of professional literature with no real warning, two or three months after updating of that body has ended: That’s something different.

Cites & Insights has always been a little tricky. It was sponsored for several years (continued thanks to YBP!); it was clearly being quoted and cited for several years. Apparent readership (based on Urchin statistical reports) was strong, and each issue or essay continued to gain readers over time.

Meanwhile…well, speaking invitations dried up completely. (That might change–given at least one of the books that’s coming out, I hope it will.) The “freemium” model wasn’t working: C&I wasn’t yielding speaking invitations and attempts to produce something special for a fee were essentially useless. (Four copies of the hardcopy limited edition sold. Four.) And, while the numbers still seem reasonably strong, I’m not seeing much of any secondary recognition–not much sign that C&I is part of the ongoing professional conversations. And, of course, there’s essentially no revenue (I believe donations this year total two digits before the decimal point).

I tried something mildly interesting in producing the Library 2.0 Reader for a PDF and hardcopy price that yielded a nominal $4 in revenue–and adding a slight speedbump to the original C&I issues, both of which were still being downloaded–apparently–hundreds of times each month. The speedbump, a substitute PDF, suggested buying the book, but also gave the very brief URL for the continued free copy.

That’s been extremely discouraging. Not only has the Reader barely sold at all–five copies in June 2011, two in July 2011, zero copies (also true for all C&I books) in August, September, and so far October 2011–but Urchin statistics show that, while there have been 783 downloads of the stub issue since July 1, there have been only 16 PDF downloads of the new version of the original essay and 7 or fewer of the more recent ones. HTML hasn’t done much better: 17 of the original, 13 of the followup, 11 of the more recent essay. In essence, not only won’t people pay a nominal sum for these essays, all but a handful aren’t even ready to copy-and-paste a URL. I can only assume that, for 90+% of the downloads/clicks on the PDF, there’s no real relevance there.

Oh…and my print magazine columns dried up, one at the end of 2009, the other at the end of this year. In both cases, I think the editor’s decision was right: The column had run or has run its course.

I’ve said most of this before

True enough, including the Bibs & Blather in the August 2011 C&I. There I talked about relative priority of various projects, with C&I going back to a lower priority level.

I also said “It’s still here. I’m still here” and that C&I was likely to continue, “Possibly with less regularity. Probably with less intensity.” I said I was nearly certain to reach issue 144 (one somewhat natural stopping point, a gross of issues) and better than 95% likely to reach issue 150. (I also made some changes and, I believe, improvements in the layout and in the HTML versions. For what those changes are worth…)

C&I has reached issue 144: the current issue, dated October 2011. It actually appeared on September 17, 2011; that’s on the late side for relation of actual appearance to issue date, but not by much.

What’s changed?

Maybe nothing. On the other hand, it’s now October 19, and not only isn’t a November issue imminent, I haven’t written anything toward such an issue.

Something curious happened toward the end of last week and early this week. I turned around a second round copyediting draft of The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing, the book (to be published by Information Today, Inc.) that I regard as something every public library would benefit from–and yes, “every” does include some very small libraries–and possibly the most important and relevant book I’ve ever written in the field, up to and including MARC for Library Use, although it’s a very different kind of relevance. I won’t be doing anything on that book for at least another week and a half, and remaining steps are quite small…

Meanwhile, work’s well begun on my 2012 book for ALA Editions, on public libraries’ use of social networks. I’d completed the first pass survey of libraries in25 states. As of the end of last week, I was about a third of the way through the draft of the book itself.

It would have been a perfect time to turn some attention to Cites & Insights, printing lead sheets for an essay and starting work on the actual writing during breaks in working on the new book.

Instead, I decided to expand the social network project: Building a new spreadsheet with public libraries in another 13 states (all the remaining states with readily-available spreadsheets of library names and service areas), some 3,600 of them, and starting a slightly more efficient survey of social network use in those libraries. That, combined with an already-planned “quarter later” rescan of the original 25 states (which may now become a four-months-later rescan), pretty much takes up library-related energy, one reason there have been so few posts.

Where does that leave Cites & Insights?

Caught in relevance-and-reward limbo, at least for now.

I  know Open Access: What You Need to Know Now is and should be relevant, even if it’s gotten a lot less attention than I was hoping.

I know The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing is relevant and should be rewarding.

I know Libraries on Social Networks (working title) will be relevant and, I hope, rewarding.

Doing the substantial amount of additional research for that project will add slightly to its value. “Slightly” is probably the operative term. And yet, when faced with the choice of working on that slow, slogging, slow process or working on C&I essays, I chose the research.

Is C&I defunct? No, at least not yet. Is it on indefinite hiatus? I honestly don’t know at this point. (You could put that another way: Will there be a November/December 2011 issue? Damned if I know…)

Could this change? Of course. But for now, that’s where things stand. Or sit.

Relevance matters. So do rewards, of which relevance itself is an important (but not the only) one.




Idle thoughts on completing a revision

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, I sent a PDF back to Amy Reeve at Information Today, Inc.–namely, The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing: Helping Patrons and Communities Use Free and Low-cost Publishing Tools to Tell Their Stories. ISBN 978-1-57387-430-4. (Since it’s listed in the latest ITI catalog, I’m comfortable using the full title.)

It’s a PDF because this book is an example of what it’s about–using low-cost software most patrons already have (Microsoft Word or, if not that, LibreOffice/OpenOffice) and low-cost service providers (primarily Lulu, but also CreateSpace) to produce micropublications: Books, such as family histories, geneaologies, oral histories, microniche items, etc., that will have a market of from one to 50 copies. While the book will be published traditionally, the PDF used to publish it will come entirely from Word 2010 on my computer (albeit with title page design supplied by ITI).

This PDF is the third version, following Amy’s superb copyediting. I’m not sure I accepted 100% of her editorial suggestions, but it was close to that. As a writer who’s published more than a dozen books traditionally (with editors, copyeditors and the whole process) and more than half a dozen via Lulu (with only my own flawed editing), and who’s also published a couple hundred columns in print magazines where editors are involved, I really and truly appreciate high-quality editing and copyediting. The second version followed John B. Bryans’ editorial suggestions, which resulted in considerable improvements. I’m certain Amy Reeve’s work has also improved the book. (Let me not forget M. Heide Dengler, who worked with me to refine the Word template I created for the book–a Word template that will be publicly available as part of the methodology described in the book.)

There are still more steps. There may be a proofreading step. There’s certainly an indexing step (done by professionals at ITI, for which I’m especially grateful, as I’m not a competent indexer). In a few weeks, the results of those steps will come to me and be combined with the existing (or further revised) document to create the final PDF.

Meanwhile, and really, I’m not just procrastinating a bit longer on starting to actually write my next book, truly I’m not…

A few idle thoughts

  • For every ten textual changes in a book–no matter how small those changes are (down to and including changing an em dash to a comma and space)–there will be at least one new bad break (line-breaking hyphen that doesn’t follow agreed layout rules), orphan word or other layout problem
  • There is no substitute for high-quality editing and copyediting. You can do a good job on your own, but an independent mind will bring more to the table.
  • Adobe Acrobat just may be a tool of the devil. While the book discusses using Word’s own PDF output with PDF/A selected (which assures that all typefaces will be embedded, thus meeting Lulu’s upload rules), I was using Acrobat as a “printer”–with explicit inclusion of all typefaces–because I thought it would yield a smaller file, as it has in previous cases. For some reason, I’m still not sure why, I could never convince Acrobat to embed Lucida Bright and Lucida Sans (used as examples of possible typefaces)…and, when I reverted to Word’s PDF/A output, there was no significant difference in file size. Not to mention the fact that Word’s output process is a whole lot faster than Acrobat’s “printing” process.
  • This stuff is fun. It’s also work, but it’s an oddly satisfying form of work. And, once you’ve done page-by-page checking and handling of orphan words and other layout issues, you become very aware of how many big-publisher books apparently haven’t had that level of attention (three-quarters of a sample of 40 recent Big Six books I checked at the library, for example). Independent and smaller book publishers (definitely including ITI and ALA Editions) really do try harder, and it shows.

I’m sure I’ll be writing more about the book as it nears real production. (One private copy, without index and final title page and with a very odd cover, is being produced as I write this–I wanted to make absolutely sure I was walking the talk. And, hey, Lulu’s still offering a “create a new book, get one copy free” deal, so the private copy’s only costing me the $3.99 postage charge.)

Now, on to libraries in social networks…

Two isn’t quite zero

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Here’s a first-world “problem” for you.

On Sunday, our bidirectional PG&E electricity meter read 2 (preceded by a bunch of zeros).

But that was before doing a bunch of laundry and cooking.

Today, it turned dreary (not “bad” weather by any means, just dreary): Overcast and rainy. Which means very little generation from our photovoltaic system (5.42 kWh, which is better than I expected but one-third of a really good day)–and also using a little more power for lights. Right now, the PG&E meter is at 16.

Trivial numbers, but a target

My wife really wants to hit zero–to see the PG&E reading be all zeros. That would mean we’d essentially used the grid as a giant battery all year–sending surplus electricity out on sunny days, getting it back on overcast days and at night.

Technically, zero wouldn’t do it: We were at -22 at last year’s “truing up,” the annual point at which PG&E will actually charge us for the electricity we’ve used, if any. (Or, starting this year, theoretically pay us a little if we’re net negative.)

If we’d forgone baking & laundry on Sunday, we would have been there–but that’s silly.

Not done yet

The truing-up reading will be taken somewhere between October 15 and October 18. Right now, the ten-day forecast (ha!) says rain today through Wednesday, but clear from then through October 11. (The three-day forecast is probably right. The seven -day Weather Underground forecast is plausible. AccuWeather’s 10-day forecast? Really? 10 days ahead in the weather biz is a very long time.)

Chances are, if it’s clear almost every day from Thursday through October 15, we’ll wind up at zero at some point. Maybe.

Silly in a way

This has very little to do with money–after all, we’ll wind up paying for, say, 10 to 50 kWh for the year, at the lowest rate, which means a bill of around $5 (for 50 kWh). For the year. (Well, plus the $4.50/month metering/grid connection charge we’ve been paying along with our gas bills.)

It’s just a number, but it’s an interesting one.

I should note that our next-door neighbor is having a photovoltaic system installed. Little by little, these rooftop installations do make a difference.

That’s an odd topic: Turns out UC Berkeley is working with SolarCity, our vendor, on a study of the actual impact of household solar on electricity loads–which involves changing the frequency with which our system’s output is reported to SolarCity via wifi from once every 15 minutes to once every minute. The study’s just getting going…it will be interesting to find out the results.

Still busy: Another quick update

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

My weekend list of must, should and could goals includes “one good post,” by which I mean one post in this blog that actually says something. It’s also a standing item on my weekly to-do list (the weekend list is handwritten, and when I run out of slowly-yellowing 4×6 index cards, I might stop doing it; the weekly list is a Word file and kept to one printed page. In both cases, I just love crossing things out as completed–and in certain cases, putting an item on the weekly list and, after two or three weeks, bolding it, will keep reminding me to do something I’d just as soon postponed).

As I was saying…I aim to do one good post a week at a minimum. Lately I’m missing that aim. That may continue. You can partly blame FriendFeed. You can partly blame my being old and lazy.

You can mostly, at this point, blame a confluence of events:

  • I thought I’d finished the first-phase research for the social networks book and was just about ready to start actually writing the draft in the middle of this week. Well, I did start writing the draft…and found after two pages that I wanted to think about it a little more.
  • In timing that couldn’t be better, the managing editor at ITI sent me the PDF of my micropublishing books with loads of copyediting suggestions just at the point where I had to admit I was procrastinating, and that took priority. I’ve now gone through all the suggestions, sent back a couple of small questions and one larger question, and am just about halfway through revising the draft. (I love good editing: while ITI is clear about editorial suggestions being suggestions, not mandates, I’m likely to accept somewhere between 95% and 99% of the suggestions, maybe a little higher than 99%.)
  • You don’t do this two-screen revision (the book in Word on the larger left screen, the PDF on the smaller notebook screen over to the right) all at once. Or at least I don’t–it leads to new mistakes and irritability. I’m doing one chapter at a time, with substantial breaks in between. I could be using those breaks to start the other book–but I don’t really want to do that. Fortunately, it turns out there was one more metric that I needed, one that requires a few hours (literally “a few”–no internet searching involved) scanning. So I’m interleaving that scanning (and occasional pure fun stuff) with the revisions.
  • The scanning has to do with “currency” of the most recent post or tweet on a library’s account, as of the date I did the checking. For some reason, while I saved recent tweets and posts, I didn’t actually record currency (although I planned to do so on the second pass in late fall). I’ve come up with a sortable single-character code that gives me a useful hierarchy of currency without much effort.
  • One reason to check currency has to do with the many library Facebook accounts (and some Twitter accounts) that don’t show up as links on the library’s home page. While I went into this project believing that no model of social network use would suit all libraries equally well, I had sort-of assumed that direct links on the home page would be one typical sign of active library use. Until, just for fun, I checked out the library website where one of the field’s better-known and more thoughtful advocates of library social networking works (it’s in one of the 25 states I didn’t survey)…and found that there were no obvious links. But, searching for and checking the Twitter and Facebook accounts, there was also no question that these were active, well-read, viable accounts. So I sent an email inquiry to the person involved–and received a response that convinced me that my assumption was wrong: That even “put links on the home page” isn’t necessarily an obvious choice for every library. That, in turn, is leading me to rethink my definition of “active” accounts, or at least to add a new category.
  • In other words, lots’o’activity, and I don’t really feel like doing long, thoughtful, coherent blog posts at the end of the day. Some day…
  • Oh, as for early work on the November Cites & Insights… Well, it’s possible there will be a November/December C&I, which could come out any time up to, say, December 10. We shall see. (The current issue is #144. That’s one of the magic numbers for calling it a day…I’ve done a gross of issues, just as Buffy did a gross of episodes. I don’t believe the October 2011 issue is the final C&I…)

Hmm. I guess this will do as “one odd post” until a good one comes along. Oh, and given recent comments about blind sources: The person involved is David Lee King, and I found his thoughtful response to my clumsily-worded question convincing and, well, thoughtful. Thanks, David.