The end is near!

I’m writing this longhand first because I decided to do it at the Hunterdon County Library, where this whole adventure started. It’s fitting that I left my computer’s power cable at home; without it, I have approximately four minutes of battery life, if it’s not running any programs. So then I tried charging my mp3 player on the AC charger – no juice flowing from that outlet anyway, so it seems. Thus it’s down to a piece of paper, a pen I scrounged from my car, and silence. Just the way nature intended.

It’s been an up-and-down sort of semester, the way they usually tend to go. My heart goes out to those who manage to maintain full-time jobs, full-time spouses, and/or tiny humans while enrolled in graduate school. The volume of responsibility in my life seems to fluctuate wildly, but then again, a regular 9-5 every day seems meh. Your mileage may vary.

So long, Core 2, and hopefully I’ll see many of you fine folks again in Seminar 1.


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Amelia the Spy

I never did post my Nook notes, did I? Here goes –

A few weeks ago, my local-ish Barnes & Noble had one of their weekly Nook workshops. I noticed their flyer as my evil ebook fiction idea was taking shape and I decided to infiltrate the tablet/ereader culture.

I was the first workshoppee there. I lurked around the Nook kiosk until a sharp-looking little man walked in as I asked a nearby Nook-seeking patron if her family was there for the workshop, and the man said he was teaching it. So I followed him, creeper-like, to a circle of folding chairs. Meanwhile, he scooped up two folks who were also in attendance. He unlocked the store model tablet for me, as I do not have these things in my possession at all.

The first thing I noticed about the children’s section, near to the chair setup, was the complete lack of books. Actually, that was the second thing. The first thing I noticed was an excellent candidate for my one-year-old faux-nephew’s birthday present: a toy. (I went back the following week and got a hardcover edition of Treasure Island for the parents to read to him). So even I fell for the whole booklessness of the children’s section, and died a little inside.

The Nook leader described all the features the tablet style reader had, given the store model I was borrowing and the one the other couple brought with them. Though the death of e-ink with this particular incarnation was a disappointment, Nook Guy offered a workaround: I could dim the screen slightly and change the background to a vellum type of color. Yeah, it’s still a screen. Hurty eyes after awhile.

He also said something very interesting about the limitations of app availability: unless the app originator clears it with the parent company, content is strictly controlled for “appropriateness.” For example, there’s no YouTube app because B&N can’t control what YouTube sends to someone’s device. I checked and there’s no Ravelry app, ostensibly because someone can put a photo of a knitted penis up and B&N can’t stop it. Nook Guy even used the words “we can’t control it.”

Meanwhile, Pandora and Hulu+ are “allowed” to pick ads – the understanding with B&N I alluded to earlier.

They also offer free ebooks on Fridays, but after a few days the content disappears from your device. Yoink!

This whole session raised a LOT of content ownership questions for me, and the readers of my first draft some weeks ago got to see some of the concern come out (albeit roughly) via my downtrodden characters. In fact, I started part of my rough draft in my field notebook a few pages after the workshop.

This photo is from a different field notes session, but it pretty much sums up the whole note-writing experience:



It says, “People shut up when I start scribbling.”

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Respect mah authoritah!

My final and other main interview subject was Carrie Russell, the American Library Association director for the Program on Public Access to Information. I figured she may be more used to a question-and-answer type of format, so I prepared a list of topics to discuss. Sure enough, it came in handy. Here are some of her answers.

Me: Do you think “e” will ever fully replace print?

CR: Print will be around for awhile. People want it. Publishers known the print model.

Me: What advantage does “e” have over print, and vice versa?

CR: Print has been going down in numbers. There are more ebooks, but with print, you get more money per unit. Publishers also wait to sell first-run books to libraries. The sense of insecurity has increased – they don’t like libraries. Even the New York Times ran an anti-library editorial by Scott Turow.

(link to editorial; link to ALA response) (My response to this matter: Turow is clearly more anti-e than anti-library. However, he incorrectly frames the publisher/library dispute over e-books.)

CR: Library users ARE book buyers. “Library Journal” did a patron profile study, and publishers can’t prove otherwise.

Me: How does electronic versus print affect how people view information?

CR: Contemplation. People take less time to think deeply when reading. Libraries are fundamental to a free, democratic society. The founding fathers knew this.

Me: What are your views, and perhaps the law’s views, on the ownership of information?

CR: Licensing agreements are the problem. We don’t really know how they can be used. There are strings attached; the technology is out of the user’s control and can be taken away for whatever reason.

Me: Who are really the gatekeepers of information, especially when libraries and free access to information decrease?

CR: The most unfortunate people suffer most – people with disabilities, the elderly, the poorer public schools – they’re going to suffer the most when it’s harder to get information. It’s still there, just harder to get.

CR: But we’ll survive.

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I took a trip to my local library and milled around for about an hour. I chatted with a few of the librarians and picked up some material about their e-book program, and took 11 pages of fieldnotes. My poor little phone doesn’t have enough battery to take photos AND last two days without getting charged up again, so pics of the notes are going to have to wait.

The reference desk librarian wasn’t nearly as talky as Rowan’s, but did give me the e-book handout. Basically, four of the “Big Six” publishers are extremely stingy with their licensing. Penguin discontinued sales to libraries entirely, Macmillan and Simon  Schuster never did it to begin with, and Hachette stopped selling titles more recent than April 2010. That’s pretty much every popular book; many of the titles which would otherwise be in high demand from patrons.

Though she was generally mum, “Sharon’s” eyebrows were raised the whole time as if to say “this is ridiculous.”

Downstairs, a librarian guarding the periodicals also shied away from talk of the digital age. She kept emphasizing that she (like Dina!) was old-school and people mainly came to her to access genealogy information. Their magazine holdings are slowly shrinking because the magazine either goes digital or the budget gets cut a little more. I thanked her and wandered back up. Ironically, her office was located through the recently established “coffee shop;” basically a few comfy chairs and a coin-op Keurig. Between that and all the new-ish looking programs scattered around the main floor, I wondered, is this was libraries have to do to survive? Diversify in non-library ways?

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Playing catch up

My second interview subject is a library assistant at the university library. I explained a bit about my project and her ears perked up a little. The librarian-on-duty seemed to be listening in as well, but was obviously sympathetic because she chimed in from time to time  in utter agreement.

I asked “Dina” about libraries’ transition into the digital age, and she responded simply “We don’t like it. We’re old-school.” She then explained the built-in bureaucracy of certain processes, such as having to process fines three different ways per fine, and the precarious electronic catalog. She said that when the network goes down, so does the catalog, and if they want to check something out in that time, the systems might not communicate with each other. Student records must be entered in two different places, and their working system, “Voyager,” gets glitchy. She added that juvenile items are stored by their Dewey Decimal number, but everything else is Library of Congress.

Her main concern lies in the frequent changes and updates in technology. Oftentimes, their systems aren’t compatible and their equipment gets obsolete quickly. Dina mentioned the roomful of VHS tapes upstairs, and the miraculously still-functioning microfilm/microfiche viewers. “Older formats much be kept accessible.”

“We have multiple technologies,” she said. She motioned to the wall of DVDs, and spoke briefly of the DVD digitizer the library was in the process of acquiring. Meanwhile, access to  a consortium called New Jersey Vid was an additional expense.

“I direct people to Youtube half the time,” she said with a sigh. “Universities have to be ready to put money into the libraries, but our budget is cut to the bone.”

“What does the university expect from leadership?” she asked. “We have a lot of concerns. The collection is becoming outdated, more like an archive than a library.”

She expressed enthusiasm for EZBorrow and ILLiad, and wished that more of the tech budget could go into a “virtual library that everyone can use.

“Instead of six DSMs, how about shared digital copies?” she asked.

I’m posting this late; a few weeks after the actual interview took place. Since then, my project has taken a radical turn into the science fiction realm. I can thank Dina for the initial idea-seed, and indeed earlier in the week I saw her in the library and did mention it. She remembered me, and our conversation, and seemed happy to be an unlikely source of inspiration. Maybe I’ll even give her a copy of the story when it’s done, depending on how the alternate world’s events turn.

Speaking of the story, I hammered out about 1,300 words last night. Thank you, Manbearchef, for being a breathtakingly awesome, intelligent, insightful, and responsive person to bounce ideas off. Sweetheart, I couldn’t do any of this without you.

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Note taking

Before I get caught up on my interview posts, here are my notes from watching digital_nation, a Frontline DVD special I picked up at the library. Might as well watch it before I have to return it on Wednesday.

Feb 2 2010, so maybe it’s out of date already, depending on what sorts of technology you’re considering. The producer brings up the point that everyone in her family is playing with a different device so they’re all in different worlds while in the same room, but Manbearchef counters with his belief that his book or my yarn isn’t any different.

One MIT professor makes a comment about multitasking, namely with technologies in the classroom, being a bad thing, but I think she’s generalizing a bit.

But one of the first studies on multitasking (rife with images of confused-looking young people) strongly suggests that the first victim is analytical reasoning skills. FYI – WordPress doesn’t recognize analytical as a word.

Also FYI, I’m doing five things at the moment – watching the video; pausing to take notes; knitting Shetland lace; tweeting Greg; and exchanging snarky comments about technophiles with my technophobic life-mate.

Douglas Rushkoff: youngsters spend 50 hours a week with media. Sounds like a conservative estimate to me. But I’m sick of the young-person-undeveloped-brain-changing argument, as valid as it is for many developmental things – THEY always make it sound like their older, wiser brains are impervious to change despite their own tech addictions. Maybe Manbearchef and I are more immune than our peers.

described the rows of Internet cafe users in South Korea as “expressionless”

“internet rescue camps,” a two-week-long treatment. Rushkoff says it’s “surprisingly low-tech” – uh, why would it be high-tech? They’re trying to rescue them from high-tech! Fresh air and exercise!

“net has changed from a thing one does to a way one lives” – Rushkoff

some lady from IBM is singing Second Life’s praises – but from this vantage point, Second Life never took off in any real. large-scale way.

implanting fake memories in children with virtual reality o_O

Okay that was thoroughly terrifying.

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The quiet, loquacious ones

Don’t mess with the librarians.

I have a few libraries within range, namely the school’s own academic library where I tend to hide for several hours a day between classes. But silly me, I didn’t even think to do a field notes exercise there, nor were any of their librarians on my list of potential interviewees. THIS WILL ALL CHANGE.

Librarians have all kinds of stereotypes surrounding them, but I can tell you right now that they are highly opinionated folks; fighters who love their jobs and communities; hard workers who are on the front line the battle between information and knowledge, local budgets and short-sighted public officials, technology and traditional research methods.

I’m not sure which Rowan librarian with whom I should speak, but I bet a minimal description of my project will set one of them off into many fascinating tangents. Guiding a conversation from Chapter 4 of Postmodern should apply even better to a talky book guardian, and may even generate more ideas for the insano fiction piece starting to form in my mind.

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Checkin’ mah email

…that post title is for anyone who remembers Strongbad Email. Welp, Teen Girl Squad is a DECADE old now. Where does the time go??

Anyhoo, I emailed DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF the other day after my nerdmembranes flailed in utter joy as Marty Moss-Coane introduced him on Radio Times last Wednesday while I was driving to school. Note to others: Do not nerdflail while driving down 295.

Result: He’s too busy to answer questions due to tons of book-related things but still, I had a real email conversation with DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF! The only way my nerdcells would be happier is if I has been a comm studies major.

My next Twitter-sourced email contact is Nancy Sims, a copyright librarian at the University of Minnesota. According to her staff bio, she’s a lawyer and academic librarian who assists with copyright and research issues. I initially spotted her on the Twitter via a retweet of the story of Dalek Egg, an inventive (and seasonal!) interpretation of a Doctor Who mainstay. Here’s Dalek Egg:

Dalek Egg has been making the Internet rounds for a couple of years now, and Nancy’s post goes into the creative commons rights of images and fair use of characters and post-repost of other people’s photos. These concepts relate to my project (well, the reinvention of it still in progress) because who owns information? What happens when someone can take ownership of an image and not want to let it go? How has information, in the larger sense, changed with the digital age? (Because she’s a lawyer), how has digital information affected copyright law?

These are all things I intend to ask Nancy! I may have gone slightly against the leaving one’s subject in the dark rule, according to Postmodern Interviewing, as it’s been more than a day since the successful tweet, but it’s a holiday weekend.

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Conversations, from memory

Now that I have an email interview lined up and am pondering some major changes to my project, I thought I might as well write the follow-up post to my original interview prep.

Jean and I met on what was my first official day of spring break. It was actually a great motivator for me to keep doing things throughout the week off, as I otherwise would probably have stayed in bed and/or hibernated 100% of the time as opposed to about 75%.  Jean had a bit of a conundrum on her hands as well.

The book sale’s sorting phase was well underway. Volunteers had already boxed up an ungodly pile of books, one of the largest first-day hauls they ever had, the day after their first donation drive weekend. They were supposed to have three. The facility, Jean informed me, had just informed her that no, really, they need the building on the weekend of what would have been their third book drive.

“We’re in crisis mode!” she exclaimed. I thought everyone looked rather orderly, well-organized, purposeful, and energetic.

From time to time, a volunteer would come up and show Jean a book, many of which were set aside to be placed in the “Boutique” section of the sale.

“From time to time we’ll find one which might be worth $300,” Jean said. “We check on these, of course. Everyone has Internet on their phones these days.”

I forged ahead on this interview with only two specific questions in mind – my first impression of Jean was that she had the company line down pat with plenty of Jean-energy  exposition to spare. Sure enough, the active interviewing chapter of Postmodern assisted in guiding but not stifling the interaction with questions. As long as I found out a bit about how the book sale had changed over the years and got a few contacts for people or companies who take “leftover” books, I thought I would be set.

Turns out it was an offhand comment another volunteer made which most firmly stuck in my head.

“I hope the Kindle doesn’t hurt us this year.”


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