Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Libraries, Beer, and Lobbying in Washington, DC

On Monday, May 5th and Tuesday, May 6th hundreds of librarians will descend on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress for funding. National Library Legislative Day is in its fortieth year, and one need not be in Washington, DC to participate.

But what if it were thousands? Tens of thousands?

Every year craft brewers arrive in DC to throw a party called SAVOR. The event takes place in DC in no small part because the brewers can have a legislative day, reminding Congress that breweries are small businesses that employ Americans and use agricultural inputs. The one year that SAVOR skipped DC, the Craft Brewers Conference was here instead, affording yet another legislative day.

I understand that politics, lobbying, and asking for money strikes some as distasteful, but if you are in a position of leadership in a library, or even if you're not, this is something you should be doing. The money you're asking for supports your communities and if you want to speak the neoliberal language of return on investment (ROI), libraries have you covered there, too.
  • Every dollar spent on an academic library returns about four dollars.
  • Every dollar spent on a public library returns between three to six dollars (page 3-4 of this pdf for both those numbers, though other dollar amounts are available elsewhere. Sorry, I don't know if there's research on special, law, governmental, and other libraries).
Lobbying and asking for things doesn't always work, but sometimes it does. For example, the Food and Drug Administration wanted to test the spent grain of breweries for various pathogens, and it wanted either breweries or the farmers who use that spent grain to feed livestock to foot the bill. Costs would no doubt be passed on to consumers, too. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY, and more importantly Amy Schumer's uncle) and Mark Udall (D-CO), among others, intervened, citing the economic impact to craft breweries that donate spent grain to farms. Two bills, the Small BREW Act and the BEER Act, probably won't pass, but to quote Lifehacker, "you don't get shit you don't ask for." Asking is important, as are building relationships within our admittedly broken political process.

And that brings us to the American Library Association. The ALA Annual Meeting, or at least the Mid-Winter one, should be regularly held in Washington, DC for the same reason that craft brewers come to town. We need more advocacy, we need it more regularly, and we need to build relationships over the long term. The Congresspersons in the House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms. What if at least once a term thousands of librarians from all over the country met with them?*

What's at stake?
  • Net Neutrality
  • Funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services
  • Funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (these two via Rep. Paul Ryan's, R-WI, proposed budget)
  • Open access for taxpayer-research
  • Online privacy
  • A whole host of education-related issues
  • And much much more.

Speaking of SAVOR, here is's coverage of the event, which takes place on May 9th and 10th. Craft brewers will be on the Hill on the 8th and 9th. The National Beer Wholesalers Association held their annual meeting, again, always in DC, last night. There was beer and ice cream.

SAVOR Behind the Scenes: How the Brewery Selection Process Works
I also wrote a few profiles of some breweries:
Crux Fermentation Project
Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery
Societe Brewing

Anyway, more lobbying and advocacy in DC, and in state capitals, which means state library association meetings in capital cities, too, please.

* And yes, as a DC resident, it is selfish of me to ask for this. I'd also add that DC has no "stand your ground" law, same-sex marriage, some of the more robust transgender protection laws in the country, a human rights commission, and many minority-owned businesses, among others. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Confessions of a Book Killer

Gather round, and I'll tell you a story.

In 2001 I worked for a large Midwestern research university on a grant from the National Science Foundation. I was tasked with digitizing a collection of books on non-Euclidian geometry.

Hang on. I'll wait here.

You were going to go to this page anyway, right? 

Do you have any questions?

Via Reddit.
Didn't think so.

Some of the books were old, dating back to the seventeenth century. Most were published in the nineteenth century, when non-Euclidian geometry was first recognized as a field worthy of study in Europe.

Back in those heady days, digitization was also called "digital conversion" or "digital preservation," though how these texts were preserved made those phrases sound rather Orwellian. I separated content from container, meaning, I took the books apart. I removed the pages from the covers and spine, and then I took the pages over to a book guillotine, which is exactly what you think it is.

Something like this, via Reddit's r/oddlysatisfying
When the blade of a book guillotine presses down the middle pages of a book sometimes bulge out, and text too close to the spine can be lost, so I often had to break up the books into more manageable batches of pages, which I learned the hard way. Text literally cut off by the guillotine had to be obtained via interlibrary loan.

After cutting, I shrinkwrapped the pages, and shipped them to Nogales, Arizona. Then they were trucked across the border to a land that labor and environmental standards forgot, the "other" Nogales in Sonora, Mexico.

Weeks later, I'd get the pages back, along with a CD-ROM full of .tiff (Tagged Image File Format) files. One page per tiff, as you might imagine. Sometimes there was enough room between the text of the cut pages and the spine to rebind the books, but not always. And not usually. And once some of the mathematics faculty found out, they were concerned.

I would perform quality control on these tiff files, making sure they were legible and level, which sometimes included holding a protractor up to a computer monitor. Really. From there, I sent the tiffs to colleagues who ran optical character recognition (OCR) on them, making them text-searchable, or, in today's parlance, discoverable. It took multiple passes through OCR to turn these files into text-searchable files, and the process was fraught with errors. Umlauts, for example, turned any letter below them into two "i"s. Other accent marks turned "e"s into "6"s. It wasn't always pretty. And once some of the mathematics faculty found out, they were even more concerned.

However, no one was as concerned as Nicholson Baker, who was so concerned he wrote a book about the seemingly haphazard ways in which libraries digitized material without regard for the source. Baker's book, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, was published as I was chopping up these texts. In Double Fold, Baker cited my boss' boss multiple times, often, according to my boss' boss, out of context. Have a look.

Baker's book sparked a firestorm in the library and information science fields, culminating in an appearance at the American Libraries Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco that June. It was the first ALA Annual I attended.

Anyway, if you come across some nineteenth century non-Euclidian material in a database, that was probably me. You're welcome.

Where are they now?
  • My then-boss' boss is now head of the preservation department at the University of Maryland. 
  • It later came out that Baker was storing archival materials in a high-humidity environment, a you-store-it warehouse site next to a river in New Hampshire. According to one library listserv, he also used Post-It Notes as bookmarks. He also wrote a book on pacifism and World War II, Human Smoke, that was widely criticized. The Association of Research Libraries website maintains a page on preservation that is, in large part, because of Baker. 
  • I felt bad about cutting up some of the books, so I put several third edition texts by Isaac Newton and a first edition Gottfreid Wilhelm von Leibnitz aside. 
  • Technological advances: the spread of sophisticated book mounts and cameras, and declining costs associated with them, have limited the above practices.

Elsewhere on this site:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Computers in Libraries Day 3: Ebooks and Content Management

While my first day at Computers in Libraries had the discrete theme of discovery, and I returned to the library to get some work done on day two, day three was spent bouncing around between tracks.

I attended Jennifer Waller's presentation on Google Glass. I'm a noted skeptic, for reasons that are hard to articulate. I find wearable technology with a built in camera creepy (and I'm not alone in that; a search for "google glass is creepy" in that search engine is chalk full of the same sentiment), yet at the same time I understand that in the past peoples' reactions to then-new-now-ubiquitous technology mirror my reaction to Google Glass. Wearable tech may be a bridge too far for me (us?) at present, or, as Polly-Alida Farrington put it

I appreciate that the Glass is an ice breaker, a conversation starter, something that gets a community excited about a library, and even a tool to start discussions of privacy, but I'm not sure if these benefits outweigh the risks. Does using the Glass to teach privacy subvert Google or further empower it? There are some tough conversations to be had concerning giving a community what it wants when technology like this comes into play, and I appreciate that Waller not only raised these questions, but engaged them. I suspect I'll have more to say about Google Glass later.*

Miami's excellent Shelvar application also made an appearance. It has the potential to liberate our student workers from shelf-reading.

I jumped over to Track C for a discussion of students' use of ebooks. This presentation had an impressive amount of quantitative data that corroborates the qualitative data I've seen: students do not like ebooks. They'll use them if they have to, and some will use them if they deem it convenient. Purchasing both an electronic copy and a physical copy of the book is, based on the data presented, a waste of money.

Survey results from Delaware County Community College (PA), however, countered the first half of the presentation. Even though DCCC's students often use mobile technologies, they prefer either print or a choice between print and electronic. Im sum, different communities have different wants and needs, and it's important that we library staff ask and listen.

At the 1:30 session for Track C I (re)learned that what we ask ourselves and faculty to do in order to embed or link content to within a Course Management or Learning Manage System (CMS or LMS) is nothing short of sadistic, wrought with friction.

I grabbed two cookies on the way out and went back to work.

Elsewhere on this site:
Computers in Libraries Day 1: Discovery
The BeerBrarian's Guide to Computers in Libraries

* Full disclosure, Waller and I are friends and she bought me lunch. I owe her at least a beer.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Computers in Libraries Day 1: Discovery Track

For the first day of Computers in Libraries, I attended presentations on discovery services. (I also presented a modified version of this in the expo hall between sessions.)

Mary Ellen Bates' "Super Searching" kicked off the discovery track, which was a slightly awkward fit. Bates presents this every year, and I try to go at least every other year to see what's out there in terms of tricks and tips that I don't know about topass along to students, faculty and staff. She's helpfully posted her slide deck online

Some takeaways from that session: has servers based in Germany, away from the prying eyes of the National Security Agency and Google. It also has robust search functionalities for twitter. is potentially useful for searching social media. 

There's more that wasn't new to me, but may be new to you. It's worth a look, especially if you spend time on the reference or circulation desks. 

Marshall Breeding plugged the Open Discovery Initiative, which is worth keeping an eye on as it promotes transparency, and presented survey data that showed discrepancies between how discovery systems are viewed as effective, yet at the same time seen as biased. Given the data, a non-trivial number of librarians seem to think that effectiveness and bias are not mutually exclusive. 

In the first post-lunch session, Summon's Eddie Neuwirth presented data that shows how their product is used. In sum, that looks a lot like Google, complete with natural language searches, 45% of which are three words or less. Other search engine-esque uses of Summon include users not looking beyond the second page of results and typing typos when searching.

What's next for Discovery? Letting members of our community personalize and customize 

For more "future of discovery" fun, I took a pic of a slide from the next presentation, because I am "that guy." 

And then there was food. And beer. And more food. And beer. 

Crabcake, pretzel, decent beer? That'll do. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Third Time's a Charm: The BeerBrarian's Guide to Computers in Libraries 2014

Since I live in DC, I thought an insider's perspective might be useful for the upcoming Computers in Libraries 2014 conference, which meets at the Hilton just north of Dupont Circle.

I'll be speaking about discovery services, vendor relations, and open access in the Expo Hall on Monday, April 7th, from 11-11:15am. It's a modified version of From Here to Discovery. Come say hi.

A brief word about the guide:
With a few exceptions, anything posted below have been vetted by me. These are places I frequent, or at least have been in. Not mentioned is that west of the conference there are many embassies, which would be a nice walk during breaks, or after the sessions have ended for the day.

There are some dine arounds, but they're at very pedestrian restaurants, though I've heard good things about Banana Leaves and Sette Osteria. I understand the distinction between a good meal and good food, so if you're doing one of these, it's for networking and the company, and not what's on your plate.

The Washington Post's Going Out Guide is a bit unwieldy, but comprehensive.

I write for on the side. Here's their guide to beer in the area.

If you're familiar with Dupont Circle and think I missed anything, please let me know.

View Computers in Libraries in a larger map

For the second year in a row, the conference is supposed to coincide with the cherry blossom bloom. The Washington Post has information on the peak of the blossoms, April 8th to 12th, and a map, but note that the excellent Capital Weather Gang puts the peak a few days after the conference.