Sunday, September 28, 2008

The best argument for book banning...

... would be based on science.

Hard data definitively demonstrating a causal link between exposure to a book/ideas/images, which for at least some individuals directly leads to changes in behavior which we as a society would find intolerable/criminal.

(i.e. a causal link was found between exposure to certain ideas, thoughts etc. which for at least some individuals directly lead them to steal, kill, etc).

Now, before I get into this thought a couple of disclaimers:
1. WARNING: This may get your blood boiling.
2. Consider this a devil's advocate argument. I certainly don't necessarily subscribe to any of the following, but I think it's important to discuss it - if nothing else to at least prepare for any challenges that will likely come in this vein (if they haven't already).
3. Book-length treatises (somewhat ironically) could and indeed have been written on this subject, so this hastily-written, undocumented post doesn't pretend to be comprehensive in nature.

OK, back to the argument:
I don't think we are anywhere near conclusive scientific proof to support book banning, filtering etc. (and perhaps a definitive link will never be found) however, if I were out to ban or restrict exposure to material, this is the argument I would use (and it would be backed up by documentation of course):

Reading I've done recently indicates everything we think, do, see, etc creates changes in our brain. Exposure creates or reinforces neural pathways which wire our brain to act in a certain way. This is why repeated practice of a new task makes it easier for us to perform that task.

Yes, you say, but just observing something isn't the same as doing it. Watching someone kill another person in a movie isn't the same as actually killing them.

Well, believe it or not, there seems to be evidence that watching someone committ an act and actually personally committing that act causes the human brain to fire and wire in the same way.

Of course this doesn't mean that repeated observation of any act/image/thought will lead anyone directly to personally perform the observed action, but one might argue it does predispose our brains to fire in the same way in the future when presented similar stimulus, and as a result make us more likely to take that action in the future.

Killing is of course an extreme example, but what about something like cheating? Or something "beneficial" - exposure to charitable acts of giving? Science seems to indicate observing those kinds of acts wires our brains and predisposes the brain to fire in that way in the future, thus making in-kind action more likely.

Thus, the argument would conclude:
Science, as best we can tell, is telling us exposure to information/actions/ideas primes our brains (and of course our children's brains!) to fire and wire in a way that predisposes us to act in that way in the future.

As a result, we must carefully select what we expose ourselves and our children to, and filter/remove this "damaging" material which predisposes us to criminal behavior. (Let's say for the sake of argument, the concern is about exposure to ideas/information which might predispose our brains to criminal behavior.)

End argument. I'll hold off on my thoughts on counter-arguments for now, but what are your thoughts? How would you respond to challenges of your material brought in this vein?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Would we invent wikipedia if it didn't exist?

Ever hear someone say something like this at a conference:
"Well, if they would have consulted librarians when they were designing the Internet/wikipedia, then [insert positive benefit here]...."?

OK, let's cross that with: "If the Internet/wikipedia didn't exist, it would have been necessary to invent them."

Let's take that hybrid and do a thought experiment. If the Internet/wikipedia didn't exist and librarians somehow were the only ones who had the power to bring either into existence (assume we had the necessary resources) - would we have done it? Or would it have looked too risky and messy? - Even for all the amazing advances in knowledge and information dissemination each would bring?

What lesson does this thought experiment leave us with as we stare down an uncertain future where we might find ourselves deciding whether or not to try some new, perhaps messy, less than perfect project?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why we need to be in the experience business....

Hi all,
Check this out:

It's Comcast's new on-demand website. Not only can you watch nearly any episode of many contemporary TV series (The Office, 30 Rock, Amsterdam, The Simpsons as well as classic TV series, Arrested Development, A Team, MacGyver, Firefly, Buffy etc) but you can also watch a limited number of streaming, full-length feature films, all apparently absolutely free with no need for registration. Movies now available include Sideways, Ice Age, and one of my favorites, The Big Lebowski).

This train seems to be a comin'...

What will we be offering if a "perfect storm" of digitization comes together in the next 5-10 years (or sooner!) and patrons no longer have to come to us through any medium to checkout DVD's, music and perhaps books? (Which is probably actually a good thing for many patrons...)

At the very least, it looks Fancast and Joost point to the video portion brewing on the immediate horizon, and Google certainly has designs on making the world's text available online...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rebranding the Library Card

Is anyone calling their library card anything but a "library card"?

"Discovery card"? (Not sure how the folks at Discover Financial Services would feel about that one...)
"Learning pass"?
"Growth card"?
"Exploration passport"?
Other ideas?

Seems it's high time we take control of what we name the old library card to put what we offer in the best light.

"The words we use are powerful, they make reality."
(Readers of an earlier post will not this is not a Sting or Police lyric! It turns out it's, of all things, Wang Chung!)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Zipcar, Goloco and Social Learning

So I watched an interesting talk on many fronts the other day by Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar (the American automobile sharing service) and now Goloco.

Goloco is a "a service that helps people and communities create their own personal public transportation network" - seemingly enabled via a social software application (like Facebook etc - and there does appear to be a Goloco Facebook application).

Goloco pitches itself as "a better way to travel. Driving together reduces CO2 and raises your spirits at the same time."
Of course the environmental benefits of ride-sharing are obvious, but it was the fun part that got my attention.

With the enthusiasm of a new economy start-up entrepreneur (although one who seems to be a bit nervous) Ms. Chase paints a picture of a future where the social experience of getting there is half the fun. Through services like Goloco, traveling would once again be a richer, social, more enjoyable experience (think of the depth of experience and satisfaction of say, pioneering settlers (minus the hardships of course), as opposed to the lonely, devoid of meaning drudgery "commuting" can be today). Well, personally I'm not betting too much money on the Goloco vision emerging in the near term, but the talk did get me thinking about the experience of learning.

Learning can take place in both social and solitary contexts, and although the balance is no longer as absolute as it once was, libraries for the most part seem still predominantly to facilitate solitary learning (sure information commons/collaborative spaces are popping up, but most libraries are still centered around the usually solitary book).

This post is getting a little long, so let me cut the the chase: Is anyone using social networks to actively pair users with similar interests in an attempt to create social learning contexts (with the permission of each individual user of course)? In effect to perhaps actively create richer learning experiences in the same way Goloco is trying to create a richer traveling experience?

I know a lot of libraries have a somewhat passive presence in social networks, but is anyone (ONLY with the permission of all involved!) actively pairing previously unknown patrons with similar interests in an attempt to enrich their users learning experiences and thereby smashing through the privacy boogeyman that still somehow exists when our patrons give permission to share information?

The technology seems to be there, but is anyone regularly using it in this way? What have the results been?

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Apologies, it's been a while since the last post, hope this will make up for it:

What mindless, rote activity is performed hundreds or perhaps thousands of times every day through most individual libraries across the globe that should easily be automated requiring no human intervention by either the patron or staff members? (OK, the post-title gave it away....) Renewing checked out items.

Manual renewal requires a patron to:
1. Remember to make the effort to renew
2. Make time to go online to renew
Make time to phone to renew (and a phone call may or may not require additional staff assistance)
Make time to take a trip into the library where additional staff assistance may or may not be required

Multiplying the individual effort above by the number of patrons renewing items daily (not to mention situations where multiple items are being renewed) adds up quickly.

Automating this process would free up a good deal of extra time which could be more productively used by patrons and likely staff members.

Additionally, an AutoRenewal setup is more patron friendly. Traditionally if a patron forgets to make the effort to renew that means the item is likely overdue and perhaps fines accrue. In an AutoRenewal setup, if a patron forgets to manually renew before the due date or return the item, depending on your circulation policies, AutoRenewal could swoop in and save the day for the patron by extending the due date.

Sure this is all fine and good you say, but why not just extend the initial loan period or go to a recall system rather then setting up a process to the same effect?
My response is that if your circulation policies are anything like the ones at my library, the effect isn't quite the same.

At the Arlington Heights Memorial Library if an item has an outstanding reserve request on it, items on loan cannot be renewed. In an AutoRenewal setup if an item cannot be renewed because of outstanding reserve requests, the borrower receives an email the day the item is due indicating the item is due today as it could not be renewed. Consequently, as opposed to an initial longer loan period, the item isn't kept out of the hands of other desirous patrons as long.

In the case of a recall system (and I have to admit I am not as familiar with the various shades of this animal) it's my impression the patron would have to be more aware they might need to return their item at any time, perhaps after a guaranteed initial period. With regular, guaranteed loan intervals, it would seem the borrower is more likely to be on top of the situation at or around the various due dates.

Recall systems incorporating an unlimited loan period are another situation all together. If your library isn't interested in loaning items out for an indefinite amount of time, there is no reason why an AutoRenewal setup could not limit the number of times an item can be renewed to 1 or 2 or however many maximum renewals are desired.

So why does it appear ILS's just don't offer AutoRenewal? Not sure. At AHML we are experimenting with a home-grown script (written by script virtuoso Harvey Hahn) which works on top of our Innovative ILS to affect AutoRenewal - complete with a maximum of 2 renewals, the ability to manually renew before the due date if desired and notifying emails when an item can not be renewed. Those that have been "experimented on" love it, and we hope to roll it out to our entire patron population in the near future.

AutoRenewal may not be for every library given it's individual collection, patrons and circulation policies, but I think it could benefit a great number of libraries - but most importantly patrons.

Is anyone aware of libraries offering some sort of AutoRenewal? Some cursory research uncovered an online intra-academic library service in Israel that seems to do the same thing, but no other comparable AutoRenewal services were uncovered.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A School of Doing

Is anyone aware of a library school where students actually run, staff and are responsible for a working library?

In theory an unserved or under-served area could be paired and served by a school of aspiring librarians who learn by doing (often the best way to learn).

This model seems to work well for the culinary arts, automotive, cosmetology, advertising etc, professions - Is there any reason it couldn't work in Library Science? (or Information Science - where perhaps "real world" project work could be offered at a discount to outside organizations? )

After being introduced to the principles of librarianship, and guided along the way by complementary class work (and perhaps the class of students ahead of them who get practice training), wouldn't having students run, staff and be responsible for a working library (along with all of the user interaction that entails) go a long ways towards satisfying those who feel current curriculums don't do enough to prepare students for "real-world" work?

Logistics of course would need to be worked out - perhaps the community served, the educational institution and if needed, a corporate sponsor could contribute to funding such a school of doing (and all at a discount from what would be needed if each were the sole funder of a traditional library), but creating this kind of environment would seem like a great way to further the profession's mission (providing access to information), while at the same time providing students with a "real world" education that would improve upon already invaluable educational experiences like practicums.

Above a one-time practicum or exercise, a school of doing would provide students with a more holistic picture of the contemporary library environment while immersing them in interaction with a vital element of our profession that is increasingly getting the attention it deserves - users.

What are your thoughts? Are you aware of any such schools? Any overriding reason why this wouldn't be a good idea or couldn't be done? Could existing schools transition to this model?