Ohio County Public Library - 1950s

 

Yesterday was the first time I’d step foot in a public library as a patron (not for a meeting or class) in over a decade. I went to check out the newly renovated branch near my house and to get a library card. Yeah, it had been so long I either lost my library card or it had expired. It had been several addresses ago anyhow. So I went in to be a good neighbor and citizen. I left feeling out of place but also thinking about how weird MPOW must seem to people.

While I stumbled about the place, trying to get my bearings on what one does in a public library, I had the line, “Cause everybody hates tourist, especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh,” from Pulp’s “Common People” going through my mind. The exercise (and it really did seem like an exercise) was like going to another world and seeing how they do things. It reminded me somewhat of when I first used the library at Göttingen – I knew how libraries worked, just not how German libraries worked. A decade later it was more of the same – I knew how libraries worked, but having spent most of my time recently in the niche of special and academic libraries, I didn’t know how public libraries actually worked. I just wandered around observing the people using the library and the people working in the library, and while it didn’t seem all that different than MPOW, it clearly wasn’t the same.

The first thing I had to wrap my head around was Dewey. I haven’t thought about it much since the requisite assignment in a cataloging course. Then there was the issue of the size of the physical collection. It was perfectly adequate for a small branch, but I had to first adjust my notion what stacks should be like. Once I got my bearings it became clear that I hadn’t actually used a library for anything other than work in a long time. I was determined to check something out to use my new card, but what would that be? I joke how much I don’t read books, but it’s true. I have recently read some books, but they were mostly about football, and the branch didn’t have any books on the topic. I browsed fiction and settled on a short book by Victor Hugo that looked depressing. When I went to the desk to check out, the librarians politely escorted me to the self checkout machines and showed me how to use them. They were eminently nice but as I approached them for help, I had the feeling as if I were grossly out of time. I was out of time, decades out of time. I wanted to joke with them about it all, a librarian being unable to use a library, but I  didn’t think they’d care and it wasn’t really relevant.

The reason I decided to share this very mundane story, other than to make fun of myself, is that it reminded me to think outside my situation. Libraries are very diverse entities and while I rant that we’re more than just books, there are some who are still very much books. There’s not one size fits all model. It also reminded me of what services people expect. Universal paging is becoming a standard service that people expect, will self checkout be the next such thing? I sort of hope so.

I do plan on going back when the books I paged come in. Hopefully this won’t be a once in a decade thing.

 

 

One thing that stuck with me from IDCC14 was the issue of training and continuing education for digital curation for people out of school. Mid career, early career, established career professionals could benefit from continuing education in the field.

There was a session at the conference that focused on improving SLIS curricula to prepare new grads to be equipped for the future. Some bullet points I took away from the panel:

  • Comparing CS and LIS grads – CS degress are more in demand (read: jobs) than LIS. LIS programs continue to produce more degrees than jobs.
  • LIS grads want more programming, change management, and engagement with scientific communities.
  • There is work to be done wrt keeping skills up-to-date, and drawing distinctions and roles within jobs.
  • Who should we be attracting to data curation? Most STEM grads want to be researchers, not curators.

My main takeaway from the session was the implicit mindset that for most people already out of grad school the ship had sailed and we’re a lost cause. Well, not all of us. Some already had the background (STEM, programming, tech) or were curious and self-motivated enough to develop the skills. Everybody else, they were out of luck.

Then today I saw this tweet from @LibSkrat:

 

It addresses the same problem from a different angle. We need change and new skills? Let’s just hire out of that problem. In some situations, such as natural attrition through retirements, this is happening. But what about the rest of us? Do we have to go back to school?

That’s one option, especially with certificate programs popping up at several SLIS programs. For those with the money and time, this could be a good investment. For people who can’t fully commit yet, there are MOOCs, which is also good. I think ultimately there will need to be many approaches to fit the different needs of the group.

Ultimately though, it’s the attitude that these skills must be formally taught and developed in school is disappointing. It lets people off the hook for their own professional development by implying they can’t do it informally. It’s a cop out in a way. I can easily see a colleague shrugging their shoulders, “I can’t do digital curation because I didn’t learn about that in school.” And while there is some work being done to educate current professionals on how to translate their skills to this new area, as long as there is the attitude of “we can hire for innovation, ” we’re going to hold ourselves back. Is this what happened when library automation stormed on the scene? I really hope not.

While we do need to revamp SLIS curricula to meet the changing needs of the workforce, we also need to encourage, support (with time and money), and promote learning within our profession. Of course, there are some people who push back, and I think it’s appropriate to call them out on their abdication of professional development. This means we need opportunities to grow, so let’s get on it.

(This isn’t even touching the false assumption that all new SLIS grads are tech geniuses who want to hack everything.)

Entering the Subway by rosemarie_mckeon
Entering the Subway, a photo by rosemarie_mckeon on Flickr.

Last week I attended IDCC14 in San Francisco, where I was immersed in digital curation. Naturally, things like peer-review and domain knowledge/expertise were on my mind, as things to consider with research (data) publishing. Then I saw this story about a Twitter data scientist “hacking” BART. I immediately retweeted it with a remark about not understanding how BART works (which is true). Right now, particularly in the Bay Area, there are a lot of “hacks” to solve problems that aren’t actually problems. It’s just that the people who perceive the problems don’t have the full picture and “hack” the solution for them, which in the case of public transit is only a small segment of the users. Joe Eskenazi wrote a good column about this in SF Weekly that looks at both sides. (Disclosure: We play futsal together, or did until I broke my finger in a game. Miss you Kamikaze!)

Reading Haque’s paper on arXiv, it’s clear to me he’s got the math and science stuff down – it’s the transportation that he’s lacking. A common issue with data scientists is that they often have the analytic and technological skills, but lack the domain expertise. So they have to work with experts or learn enough to become an expert (which takes time). Even if he just ran some of these ideas past a transportation engineering or planning masters student, they could have helped him refine the “problem”. Haque seemingly wrote this in a vacuum, so when it saw the light of the internet the transportation folk just picked it apart based on the faulty assumptions of how commuter rail fares work. (Note: Everybody thinks they’re an expert on transportation because they use it. Sorry, you’re most likely not.)

This is where peer-review could have been a good thing. I looked at the paper on arXiv to see if it was published elsewhere, such as a journal or conference. arXiv is often used as an open access repository for pre-publication manuscripts. Haque’s paper was not (as of yet) published or submitted elsewhere, which means there’s been no obvious peer-review which explains a lot.

Peer-review would have pointed out the flaws in Haque’s methodology (assuming the reviewers had the expertise). Instead, he got the open peer-review of Twitter and lots of transportation professionals and advocates, many of whom are tired of tech workers “hacking” transportation in a way that doesn’t really help. (Seriously, fare evasion with the help of an app and surge pricing on transit? BART isn’t Uber!)

There is a lot broken with peer review, but this is one case where it could have helped. I really hope Haque can hook into the very passionate and knowledgeable transportation community here in the Bay Area and start “hacking” some real problems. Let’s do it!

records by Jack Emerson Garland
records, a photo by Jack Emerson Garland on Flickr.

This weekend, while organizing my records and putting them into Discogs, I had an epiphany — “Digital piracy can be a form of preservation. The ultimate LOCKSS.” The distribution isn’t organized, but it definitely helps preserve the “long tail”. Once something is on the internet, it’s very difficult to lose it.

This morning I stumbled across this piece about vinyl records, mp3s, and preservation questions. Basically, from an archivist’s perspective, vinyl and other analog musical formats aren’t great for long term preservation, especially compared to digital formats. Again, piracy saves the day!

Then something else happened this weekend… I watched this Beatles live performance from 1966 and remembered that they’re alright. No, I still don’t think they’re the best thing ever or deserve all of the praise, adulation, and obsession they’ve received, but they’re good and significant. Then I remembered the bootlegs they released last year on iTunes (of course it’s iTunes!) as a response to changes in EU copyright. (One cynical Guardian reader summed it up: “Another income source for McCartney, lovely.”) So the Beatles, such as they are now, get to retain copyright on those recordings another 20 year but had to publish/sunlight them in the process. Well, they’re out now. And thanks to certain torrenting sites, they’re not going away anytime soon. Preservation to the masses!

Music Library. by Pitseleh Pitseleh
Music Library., a photo by Pitseleh Pitseleh on Flickr.

Earlier this week @LibrarySherpa sent me this article about UT Austin accepting and processing the KUT music library.

Thanks to its purchase of the entire physical library of the university’s public-radio station, KUT, the university’s Fine Arts Library has 60,000 CDs and 4,000 LPs to process and store—400 boxes’ worth. The archive comprises music of all genres, including albums by little-known bands that were at one time or another part of Austin’s long-thriving music scene.

My initial thoughts were:
1 – That’s a small collection.
2 – How will the DJs use it if it’s circulating with the whole campus?

Then I finished reading the whole article. KUT is now a news and talk station, so the collection is fairly useless to them. As for the logistics, in a normal year the UT library processes donations of 800 CDs and 4,000 LPs. This makes the KUT collection a bit of a stretch. Will be interesting to see how it pans out despite my concerns about the future of college radio.

This isn’t the first time something like this happened in Texas. In 2010 Rice University sold the license for KTRU to University of Houston, which turned it into a classical radio station, effectively killing KTRU. Thankfully (?) their music library is now part of the Rice archives.

Closer to home, the University of San Francisco sold its FCC license for KUSF to USC so that now in the Bay Area 90.3 FM is also a classical music station. KUSF lives on via online streaming and the library is intact.

This all interests and concerns me as I’m co-director of the KALX music library. We have a collection of about 100,000 pieces of music — 45% LPs, 45% CDs, 10% 7″s. We’ve been collecting records since we started in 1962 and throw nothing out. If a KALX DJ says we should keep it, we do. The value of the collection is not only the size and the breadth, but also the reviews and comments scrawled on almost every record and CD. This is the history of KALX. Our copy of Nirvana’s Nevermind has a dialog about “selling out”, the grunge explosion, and the role of college radio. For some reason the original Star Wars soundtrack was also contentious. While it would be interesting to open this up to the public, it’s a working collection for the DJs, and the primary value is it being at the DJs’ ready at all times. KALX has a culture that really appreciates this, almost revering the library as a sacred collection, which is why theft is so low. KALX is an atypical college radio station in many respects, but the library is one of the better ones. If by a cruel twist of fate we become a classical station, I would hope the main library would take the collection, but I really hope that day never comes.