dream of the children’s materials OPAC

Tomorrow morning I leave, not exactly bright and early, for the WYLD Annual Meeting in Sundance, Wyoming. Sadly, this is not the site of the eponymous film festival, which is actually held in Park City, Utah, but it is near Devil’s Tower, the U.S.’s first national monument, which I probably will not have time to visit.

I will learn various things related to the OPAC, but not, I suspect, why it sucks, or more importantly, what we might do to fix it. Oh well.

At work today I was reminded of another aspect of the suckiness of OPACs, one that I haven’t seen discussed (although please correct me if I am wrong–I read fewer blogs than I might like, and I’m being lazy and not hitting the search engines–bad librarian!”). A patron came in looking for picture books with princesses in them. Now, I know there are children’s librarians out there who can take a request like that, do a little dance through the stacks, and hand you a stack of books a foot thick. I am not one of them. I rely instead on a) asking my colleagues (pages are particularly good at this sort of thing, since they see all the books on a far more regular basis than the rest of us), b) hitting the invaluable A to Zoo: A Subject Guide to Children’s Literature and then going through the tedium of figuring out which books our library actually owns, or c) trying my luck at keyword and subject searches of the catalog. And here, as you might guess, is where we get to the Why OPACs Suck for Children’s Materials bit.

People who have not worked in youth services are often intimidated by the children’s room, which, truth be told, can be quite confusing. There are a lot of catagories: picture books, easy readers, J fiction. Sometimes you also find board books, intermediate books, series books, book kits, and any number of other things separated out. The physical layout is confusing enough: what makes it worse is that almost none of these distinctions are searchable in the catalog. For instance, take today’s patron, who wanted picture books involving princesses. You can try doing a keyword search of the catalog for something like “princesses juvenile fiction,” and you should get a list of children’s books involving princesses that are fiction, but you then have to go through and separate out the picture books from the J fiction, the easy readers, and whatever other catagories may have shown up. If you wanted just nonfiction on princesses, the search string is actually “princesses juvenile literature.” I’m not kidding. That’s a trick I learned from the wonderful ESSL Children’s Literature Blog: in children’s materials (though nowhere else that I can tell), the subject term that indicates nonfiction is literature. Go figure.

In my dream children’s materials OPAC, you wouldn’t have to know arcana like that, though. You’d have a search interface that would give you options: fiction or nonfiction? picture book or easy reader or chapter book? I realize that dream kind of conflicts with the Dream of the Single Search Box, it would, I think, make the lives of library patrons and the jobs of youth services workers much easier. Of course, in my dream world, every library would also come equipped with that mythic children’s librarian, the one who can reel off a list of books on any given topic for a particular age at the drop of a hat. But some days those librarians need a vacation–and the dream children’s materials OPAC would help the rest of us not make muck of their domain.

privacy: another chapter

Update: the first link should actually go to the post in question now–thanks to Mark for noticing the error.

Awhile back I wrote a preface.

I just got back from teaching my final digital photography class of the season at the library. Our summer hours start on Tuesday, and we won’t be open again in the evenings again until after Labor Day. I’m scheduled to do the class up at the main branch in Cody over the summer at least once; we’ll see if they want me back.

I’ve done the class three times, and it’s been a little different each time. The first time, many of the attendees were over 70 and mostly not very comfortable with technology, and we spent a lot of time just learning to take pictures and getting over the fear that film was being wasted (“remember, there is no film!” is the mantra). The next class was pretty down with taking pictures (though it also had some people looking to try out a few cameras before they bought one), so we spent more time playing with Picasa and e-mailing and uploading pictures to various sites. Tonight I just had one student. We spent part of the time getting the student’s camera (a Kodak Easy Share) set up with batteries and a memory card and taking some pictures with it. (We also attempted to put together the fancy base that came with the camera, which apparently lets you charge batteries, transfer pictures to your computer, and look at your pictures on your TV, but it seemed to be missing a piece, so we gave up on that.) Then we took the card out again, stuck it in the multi-card reader I have hooked up to one of the computers, and watched the computer magically import them into Picasa. We played with them there a bit and then took a quick look at Flickr and KodakGallery and loaded a few pictures on to each.

My insanely long handout gives a bunch of different options for online photo-sharing and storage. During class I usually show people Flickr and KodakGallery, as those are the two I’ve used and have accounts with. I say that I use Flickr because I have a lot of friends (plus “imaginary friends,” as Steve Lawson calls them in the first comment on this excellent though unrelated post) who use it, and because, frankly, I mostly take pictures of my cat and stuff around my house and of places I go hiking, and I don’t really don’t much care who sees them. I tell people that if they do care who sees their pictures, a service more like KodakGallery or Shutterfly might be for them. (It is, I know, possible to make photos private or friends or family only in Flickr, but it requires that the people you want to show your pictures to have Flickr accounts, be on your friends and/or family list, etc. etc. That’s often a little more complicated than I want to get into in an introductory class.)

Some students have been very interested in learning about the level of privacy afforded by different sites. Like everyone else, they’ve been bombarded with MySpace hysteria. They’ve heard that social sites on the internet just a haven for pedophiles, and they don’t want their kids serving as fodder. And I can’t blame them.

I don’t have kids, but I’m aware that, quite frequently, you think about a lot of things differently when you do. I suspect that if and when I do have children, I’d follow the same policy with them that I use for other pictures I put on Flickr that have other people in them–unless they’re people I know don’t mind having their picture out on the web, I make them “friends only” pictures. I have lots of people marked “friend” that I don’t know personally but know from their blogs. But for some people, I suspect, knowing someone from online doesn’t seem like enough.

A couple wees ago, This American Life did a show called “How We Talked Back Then” (Elizabeth Meister–you offer so many wonderful things on the site! how about some permalinks?!), which rebroadcast, among other things, some stories about how people were using Internet in 1997. As Ira Glass noted, back then it was kind of odd and scary to think about meeting someone you only knew from online. To many of us now, that’s not a big deal at all. But when I say “us,” I don’t really mean it generically. In this context, “us” means people reading this blog–people who for the most part (I think) already have a fair amount of online life. That’s still not true for everyone. I suspect that for a lot of people, the Internet is kind of the way it was for me back in the mid-1990s–cool but kind of overwhelming.

I realize as I’m writing this that I’m pretty much repeating what I’ve said before: that I don’t have any problem putting my life out there on the web, but I’m reluctant to force that on other people, and that what “we” think of as a normal level of interaction with technology may be pretty extreme for some people–and in that respect, maybe this post has more to do with Luke’s than I originally thought. I’d like to think of myself as Library 2.0 friendly (or, at any rate, generally not L2 hostile), but I’d hate to have to be L2 compliant–it sounds far too much like a test.
For a more lengthy, and thoughtful, consideration of L2 and privacy, go read Rory’s post on the subject, if you haven’t already. I may have more to say on it all in another five months or so.

keep your laws off MySpace

Once in awhile, ALA does something well, and it is largely because of that (well, that and that I’m still a student and so my dues are cheap) that I am still a member. One thing they’ve done nicely is the new Legislative Action Center. Okay, so it’s not all 2.0. It doesn’t have RSS feeds. It doesn’t have permalinks to its different pages. It’s got a very long and funny looking url to its FAQ sitting there and running off the edge of the site. And it doesn’t validate (or doesn’t validate well?–I must admit that, although I know valid code is important, I have only a very dim idea of what it means).

So why do I like it? It’s got good information. The information is fairly easy to find (unlike, say, any given information on the main ALA website). Like most political action websites nowadays, you can set up a nice little account for yourself that will remind you who your elected officials are and a little bit about them. It even includes state legislators. It has a fairly comprehensive list of media outlets for your region (though I’d like to see a few more of the smaller papers listed–where are the Powell Tribune and Northern Wyoming Daily News?) Most importantly, however, it deals with timely and important issues and gives you good, solid talking points for phone calls to Congress and letters to the editor.

The hottest topic there right now is H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA (summary and analysis from Andy Carvin and LibraryLaw Blog), which is an attempt to withold e-rate funding from any school or library that doesn’t block social networking sites–you know, those things the kids are all so crazy about–MySpace, Facebook–could Flickr be next?

A couple weeks ago, the Powell School District here in Wyoming decided to block MySpace on all school computers. I wrote a letter to the editor, which was published in last Thursday’s Powell Tribune. It’s not available online, and I am reprinting it here in full, with some hyperlinks added for online consumption. If anyone from the Tribune has objections, please feel free to contact me. Thanks to Aaron for championing MySpace in librarians and for looking the letter over.

To the Editor:

I was sorry to read of the Powell School District’s decision to ban MySpace.com on school computers.

It is true that there is a lot of dross on MySpace.com (just as there is on the rest of the Web) and that it can be dangerous to get into detailed conversations with people you meet on MySpace (just as it can be dangerous to talk to strange people in the physical world). But there is also a lot of good to be found. Many young adult authors, including Sarah Dessen, Brent Hartinger, Lauren Myracle, and John Green (who won the 2005 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature,
given each year by the American Library Association), have MySpace accounts. Even some libraries have MySpace accounts–check out the one for the Denver Public Library, http://www.myspace.com/denver_evolver.

Today’s teenagers, often referred to as “digital natives” are often as at home in the virtual world as they are in the real one. Sites like MySpace give them a place to socialize virtually, to try out new ideas and to make something of their own–to decorate their virtual space in the same way they might their room or locker. As school officials acknowledge, new sites like MySpace pop up almost every day, and schools cannot expect to keep ahead and ban them all.

Instead of banning MySpace, schools should embrace the possibilities of this new medium. Instead of trying to protect young people by sheltering them from the world, we should encourage them to explore it and educate them about how to do so safely. Whenever I hear of attempts to keep teens and kids away from online content, I’m reminded of the old rhyme, “Mother dear, may I go for a swim?/Why, yes my darling daughter/Hang your clothes on a hickory limb/But don’t go near the water.” You wouldn’t try to keep a child safe from drowning by not teaching her to swim. You cannot keep kids safe online by trying to keep them off certain sites.


Laura Crossett

Now get out there and say the same to the powers that be.

so much for spellcheck

or, adventures in book ordering. . .

I just searched Amazon for Specters in the Smoke, which is how the title was spelled in the May 1st issue of Booklist.  These results were not terribly helpful.  A search for the author, Tony Broadbent, revealed that the book was actually Spectres in the Smoke.  I guess it’s nice to know that sometimes the big guys don’t do any better than the OPAC.

happy belated, and many more

I’m not quite sure how I missed it, but lis.dom turned 1 year old the Sunday before last. Its purpose has changed somewhat since that first post (for the real wayback feel, here’s the Blogger version), but then, my life has changed somewhat in that time, too. Here’s a brief year in review:

May 2005: I finish my first year of library school

June 2005: I go to ALA in Chicago and meet all kinds of cool people

July 2005: books they don’t want on display in Hillsborough County, Florida, one of lis.dom’s greatest hits
August 2005: a post on my other blog wins “Best Overall” in the EFF Blog-a-thon

September 2005: I got a Flickr account

October 2005: My display for Teen Read Week is featured in the PLA Blog.
November 2005: I have a telephone interview for a job in Wyoming.

December 2005: I turn 30!

January 2006: I fly to Wyoming for another interview and get offered the job, and I move from Blogger to WordPress
February 2006: packing, moving. . .

March 2006: I start my new job!

April 2006: I give my first presentation as a professional librarian and finally get around to updating my about pages

May 2006: I finish my first year of lis.dom blogging and find out that I’m definitely going to ALA

It’s been quite an exciting year, and I look forward to the one ahead. I plan to learn enough to be dangerous, go on more hikes in my new home state (I am beat after 8 miles on the Greybull River on Saturday), read more books and magazines and blogs, take more pictures, finish my MLIS, do more off and online writing, and have more fun. I wish the same for all of you.

the techie mission and the library mission

I don’t consider myself a techie, much less a geek or a nerd, by these definitions or any others. That’s not meant to denigrate any of the terms–I simply don’t feel skilled enough to claim any of the titles. I’m still at the “take the server out of the box” phase.

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology and libraries, though. I’ve been teaching a Digital Photography 101 class at the library (you can see the Web version of the insanely long handout). People bring their cameras, and we practice taking some pictures, and then we load their pictures onto the computer using the handy card reader that the library bought at my urging. Then we play with them a little in Picasa, and then I show them a couple of online photo sites, usually Flickr and Kodak Gallery. Then they ask questions, and sometimes I can answer them, and sometimes I have to say, “Let me look into that and I’ll get back to you.”

I often think of myself as in some weird trough between technical know-how and technical incompetence. I can talk about blogs and wikis, and I did all the html for my website by hand. But then there are days (which I like to blame on my being more familiar with Macs than PCs) when I have IM conversations like this one:

me: stupid question. . .
friend: yes?
me: what do you use to unzip files in Windows?
friend: WinZip
me: duh. . .

I am as excited as everyone else by ventures like EngagedPatrons.org and Pay IT Forward, but sometimes I think the techie help that our libraries need is at an even more basic level. Not just, “What do I do once I’ve taken the server out of the box?” but some of the questions people ask me that I can’t always answer. What are the security risks posed by letting patrons use various peripheral devices on the computers? Can we let them plug in their digital cameras? Burn CDs? I know we can let patrons do these things, because I know there are libraries that do, but I don’t know how to explain why it’s safe, or how to make it safe.

I’m trying to learn, though. Many of the reference questions I get in the small rural library where I work are technology related. As a librarian, it’s my mission to answer those questions as best I can. In more and more cases, answering those questions means learning more about technology. And that makes me grateful to my techie friends: the people out there, some of them librarians, some not, who know that part of their mission is helping to make technology work for people, not the other way around.

If I thought that the whole of the techie mission was getting everyone to develop technolust, I’d probably have a problem with it. But I haven’t seen that. Instead, I’ve seen techies working their tails off to make libraries and library services work better. Whether they’re hacking around the OPAC to make more functional or teaching people to use e-mail or contributing to online conferences or the Library Success Wiki or the Library Instruction Wiki or projects like Pay IT Forward or answering my stupid IM questions, they’re all furthering the library mission of helping people find, use, and enjoy information. I think that’s a good thing.