December 2004
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Month December 2004

too much fun

Rajat Paharia at his blog rootburn posts about what he calls the “Digital Photo Effect.”

I’m finding that the “digital photo effect” is starting to make its way into my music and video experiences as well. What’s the DPE? My ability to produce and acquire has far outstripped my ability to consume. Produce from my own digital camera. Acquire from friends, family, Flickr, etc. This has a couple of ramifications:

1. I feel behind all the time.
2. Because there is so much to consume, I don’t enjoy each individual photo as much as I did when they were physical prints. I click through fast.
3. Because of 1 and 2, sometimes I don’t even bother.This phenomena has come up in a number of conversations I’ve had with people over the last few months. I know a number of people that have more music then they know what to do with. They have only a vague idea of what is cached on their hard drives, and seem to be not to enthusiastic about most of it.

I mention this for two reasons:

A) Libraries do a great job preventing this from happening to people with our materials. People value having a choice when it comes to the consumption of our reading (and viewing and listening) materials, but often they like having less choice over more. Things like book displays, bibliographies of select materials, and books placed face out on a shelf help prevent the DPE in libraries.

B) We face an increasing amount of competition for people’s attention and time. Because some of our patrons have access to all of the content and technology they desire (and perhaps more people will be over-info-saturated in the future), we need to be mindful of our role in adding value. Things like Reference work and book discussions have the power to snap people out of their DPE slumber. People can get all the content they like from the Web, but it is not necessarily as interesting as we can make it.

serving two masters

My previous few posts highlight the quagmire in which many public libraries find themselves. On one hand there are many public library users that are not terribly adept with technology. On the other hand there are public library users that work with technology on a regular basis and have fairly high technology expectations. If we had unlimited fiscal and temporal resources there wouldn’t be an issue; we could collect resources and equipment appropriate every skill level. In the real world, however, with limited resources, libraries are forced to make decisions pertaining to all aspect of the library. This of course includes technology.

What, then, is the best course to take? Clearly there isn’t one answer that will apply to all situations. PubLibs are accountable to their communities, and every community is different. There are certain things to keep in mind, however, that can guide your library’s decision making process related to technology.

Include technology in community surveys. These don’t happen very often, but when they do they can be useful in painting some broad strokes about the technology in your community. A survey might tell you whether you’d be better off investing in more computers for internet use or a wireless network.

Mine public services staff for information. These are the folks that have first hand experience with people’s technology skills. They can give some more details about people’s tech skills. They should also tell you if there are things about the technology in your library which constantly trips up your users (e.g. many people looking for usb drives on the front of your computers and not finding them (something that we’re experiencing as of late)).

Do trial projects. Dip your proverbial toe in the water. Sufficiently promote the project, and if it takes off, expand it. The trick with trial projects is finding a balance between putting in too much effort and so little that it is automatically dead.

Spy. Look at other places in your community and what they offer people. If there’s a coffee shop in town that offers wifi and people are using, copy their idea and do it better. If a nearby library is getting more people using their internet computers because they have an easy going sign-up policy, realize that you have a choice to make.

It is most realistic for libraries to aim to be as current as their surrounding community. Less realistic but perhaps more appealing is the notion of libraries being their community’s technology mentor. While I think certain situations warrant that the majority of a library’s attention be given to making sure people’s basic needs are met, I think there are some scenarios in which libraries could lead their communities by purchasing certain types of technology. More on this later.

In conclusion, libraries have the difficult mandate of trying to make everyone happy. Being attentive to the basics of technology while remaining interesting to those that have mastered them is a good challenge and keeps things interesting.


A colleague sent me a sad email regarding Instant Messaging at her library. Evidently she was experimenting with it, hoping to increase communication within her library. The IT department found the IM software on her computer and took it off. The gall!

While this might be a lesson for others highlighting the advantages of an administrative approved program (programs won’t be taken off of your computers if the admin want them there), this incident could also highlight another route. Since this route is already familiar to many of the younger people that use computers at school and in libraries, librarians should know about it too: AIM Express.

AIM Express is a web-based version of AOL Instant Messenger that can be used from almost any computer. There is no download necessary, therefore, there’s nothing that can be erased from your computer. If you don’t have IM programs installed on your public computers, I’d bet that people have circumvented this shortcoming by using AIM Express.

Those computers that don’t meet the system requirements for AIM express can use an older version of AIM Express.

Walking Paper supports surreptitious use of IM programs for positive endeavors but isn’t responsible for any possible resulting hot water.

do i know you?

Something struck me as my friends and I were killing time during the (god-awful aneurysm inducing) commercials before a film last night. We were paying absolutely no mind to each other (nor the commercials). I realized that we were all using our phones when one friend exclaimed to another, “My tetris is better than your tetris.” Looking up from my screen, I saw that we weren’t the only people on our phones.

I think that this anecdote affirms what Jenny wrote the other day:

A bet: if you’re under age 35, you probably will do just what the survey says and take your phone, use it during parties, and communicate while multitasking F2F (face to face). If you’re over age 35, you probably view this behavior as rude and you don’t want to be interrupted by phone messages (text or voice) during F2F parties.

A generalization that will naturally have exceptions, but I think we’re getting to the point where the U.S. is starting to catch up to the numbers in this article….

Meanwhile, there are reports of kids ignoring more than commercials.

This is a film that invokes awe, but totally fails to induce it. At the screening I attended, most of the young audience spent the second half text-messaging friends.[via]

Libraries have a significant opportunity to increase their cultural relevancy by responding to this information trend. How should we respond? A start would be having mobile friendly websites and reference availability via text messaging.