Friday, July 29, 2011

What makes a hack.

You are a hack author if any of your major characters is [a/an]:

sea monster
talking dog
regular dog
holocaust survivor
omniscient voice
coconut macaroon
meat packer
homeless person
porn star
historical figure
rock star
terminally ill
geometric shape
part of speech
inanimate object
the color orange
chronic handwasher
drug addict
fashion designer
pool of water

So shame on you, shame on you all. You should be able to come up with something better that this.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Library Scabs

If your local Friends group loves your library so much, then why are they getting your librarians fired? Or forcing them to work at much lower salaries.

Library volunteers are scabs, not because they break picket lines, but because they'll do a job for free that should be done by a paid employee.

Not all volunteers are bad. Look at Wikipedia. But then, if the Wikipedia volunteers don't show up on Tuesday, it's not like you can't find the entry for Lutynia. If the library volunteer doesn't show, that hilarious DVD of Failure to Launch doesn't make it back on the shelf.

Library jobs are some of the most vulnerable public sector jobs in the country. Why? Because it's considered normal that we allow volunteers to perform so many of the library jobs.

People come in right off the street and we let them into the staff areas and let them use library computers that can access user personal information, and all we ask is if they can come in on Saturdays.

We don't do background checks on volunteers, then we let them work around children, regardless of whether this kindly old grampa was known as The Playground Killer back in the 1950's.

Oh, we love our library volunteers, you say now. But wait until your library decides to turn its money over to a private company, then see how you feel when those same volunteers are doing your job and you're applying for a part-time position at Home Depot.

Think of any other job where they allow volunteers to do the work... is it skilled labor? Maybe volunteers built your 1977 Chrysler Cordoba, but hell, we didn't even wear seatbelts in the Seventies, and children could buy cigarettes, so clearly we didn't give a shit.

People volunteer at the hospital delivering flowers. My mom volunteers at the hospital. Which is run by a large corporation whose goal is to make a profit. And she provides free labor when some other person could perform that job for at least minimum wage.

One simple strategy with privatization is to cut library hours. Then wait for the outrage. And then ask for volunteers to work to keep the library open regular hours. Easy.

So you cut staff. You reduce full-time positions to part-time. You reduce salaries. And then exploit the good name of the public library to convince people to work for free.

Who the fuck do you think you are?

Yes, you can fool lots of old people into volunteering. They don't know any better. But let WalMart try that.

The library could do this themselves; they don't need a private company to pull this scam.

Look at this job ad: "Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI) has an opening for a Part-Time, 30 hrs/wk, Friends and Volunteer Services Coordinator located in the Santa Clarita..." Your volunteers are cutting off your tits! Your hours are cut so you can become a Lagerf├╝hrer.

According to this NYT story, "the volunteers are still showing up — even if their assistance is now aiding a private company. ...Jim Ceragioli, a board member of the Friends of Shasta County Library,... says, 'We volunteer more than ever now.'"


Would you volunteer to work for free at Target? You might, but AARP or some other senior protection group would sue and get you an hourly wage. But somehow this is okay at the RUN FOR PROFIT library. Yes, you volunteer when the library is a public entity because you feel like you're helping the community, but how the fuck can it be legal to solicit free labor when the company is private and for profit?

That same NYT article says, "Officials would not discuss the company’s profitability." HOW THE FUCK LEGAL IS THAT? We have to report every fucking dime we spend now. It's taxpayer money. It's called transparency. But suddenly, when you sign a contract with a private library management firm, the public no longer has a right to know where their money goes?

And this is not like some contract to purchase automobiles where I say we need transparency with the company selling the cars, this is because, like many local governments, ours collects library taxes as its own line on the tax bill. Just like for schools. Your tax bill says, Public Schools: $1000, Libraries: $50. So this money now goes directly into a private company that has no accountability back to the taxpayer.

But getting back to the volunteers. How the fuck can a company claim that using volunteers is part of it's business model? Does McDonalds go to your local city council and say, "We want to open 25 restaurants and provide no jobs, but use volunteers to manage them"? And your local council says, "Fuck, yeah! Volunteers pay the bills around here! No salaries, no taxes, no disposable income to spend on goods and services!!!"

The first thing these private companies ask is, "What can we get away with? Will people work for free?" Yes. If the choice is no library or work for free, many people will choose to work for free to keep the library running. But how fucking legal is that? And not even how legal, but how stupid!

Imagine any other company trying to get away with that. "It is the determination of an independent consultant that the position you currently hold will become an unpaid position starting tomorrow. You may continue in this position an an unpaid volunteer. And you will be beaten with sticks." How much shit do you think you'd be stealing when you opened that letter? How big of a fire would you start in your cubicle?

When the Parks department gets their budget cut, they don't run it on volunteers. Why not? Because some grandma would drive a lawn mower over a child. Or half the kids would drown in the pool because the volunteer had to be as her granddaughter's birthday party. So why not? Because some shit is too dangerous to rely on volunteers.

But also because these privatization pimps rely on the good name of the public library to get all this slave labor. The library has spent, in many cases, 20-50-100 years building these community relationships, and then some private company swoops in and takes all that goodwill shoves it right up the librarians collective ass by eliminating professional positions and using more paraprofessionals and volunteers to boost their profit.

But the saddest thing is that most people would never notice the loss of librarians. All they want is their new books or movies and they don't care who gets it for them. We could be grinding up baby seals in the back and using the blood to power the computers and they wouldn't make a peep. "Baby seals, you say? Whatever works. Is my copy of the new Danielle Steel in?"

I wish this was something we could complain to the Department of Labor about so they could document the amount of unpaid workers, elderly men and women, Hispanics, African-Americans, all bending and lifting for hours without compensation or benefits. Oh, wait, it is, and calling 1-866-487-9243 could help.

So the next time some smiling senior citizen comes into your library asking about volunteering to read to children, I expect you to scream right in her face, "You would steal food from the mouths of my children? Get the hell out, you fucking scab! Now, somebody grind up some more of those baby seals and get this line moving."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Future for the Library is Fucked.

We make many assumptions when it comes to civilization. At the top is the assumption that it's here to stay. But the truth is that civilization is fragile. One hiccup in our supply chain and we're all squatting in open air toilets. But at least we'll have iPads.

But one simple mention on LISNews tells me how fucked we are. Someone wrote that their library in New York has had to turn off the A/C on some summer days to avoid crashing the power grid and causing a brown-out in the city.

And therein lies our fuckededness.

We need electricity. We need wired and wireless networks. We need hardware. All these things erode the foundation of the future of libraries. But mostly, all these things need money.

Compare this to the guy who lends books from the back of a donkey to see why modern libraries are destined to fail.

Our supply chain for moving information is weak. When it works, it's magically fast. But it's fragile as hell. I'm not talking books because books are stable. But the future isn't about books.

There are many who feel that libraries can't survive without ebooks and streaming media. Not only do I disagree with that thought, I feel it's the library's mission to survive without them. I'm not opposed to digital content, but I think my library shouldn't devote more than 12% of our energies to providing access to it.

We also have the closing of bookstores.
And Amazon's ability to avoid collecting sales tax.
And the privatization of public libraries.
And the closing of some libraries.
And the cyclical devaluation and revaluation of school librarians and media specialists.
And mobile communications patent disputes.
And streaming media.
And library futurists.

Add all these things and the future for all libraries looks pretty crappy.

But the real reason libraries are fucked is that I've discovered how to run any and all libraries for practically nothing. And if I've figured that out then it won't be long before someone with evil designs figures it out, too. I won't go into details, but the bottom line is that you seal up the bathrooms.

To run a proper library, you have to serve people with people. I don't know what the ratio should be, but one librarian for each 100 people who visit the library is probably okay. We usually have around 150 people sitting around here so we have 2 librarians. And I don't need to tell you that this other guy isn't really pulling his weight when he says that I have to handle the first 100 and he'll handle the rest.

But the library of the future is just going to be about delivering content, not about people. So when all the librarians are fired, except for that one guy who said he had your back but was secretly negotiating to keep his job, you'll look back on these days and think of how the fuck you didn't see it coming.

If I have a digital library, then why would I need a library building? And without a library building, why would I need staff to keep it running properly, to keep things in order and to keep it clean? I wouldn't.

All I would need is wireless internet located at inconvenient, dangerous-after-dark locations around the city. I could run my whole library system, from 2 to 50 branches, with a grand total of 2 or 3 librarians. My patrons would need some sort of portable wireless device and our app. And I would push content to them, as needed, whether it's prerecorded storytimes or ebooks or movies or live help or Q&A or whatever. And when their batteries ran down, they'd go home.

But, you might say, what about all the people who don't have these devices or don't know how to use the internet? Well, they'd better step up. Right now, your library is filled with books and there are people in your service area who don't know how to read them; what the fuck are you doing about that? So screw anyone who can't figure it out. Because the digital library, by definition, isn't about people.

And gadgets are getting cheaper. I can get a cheap tablet for $129 that will let me do almost anything that is worth doing. And haven't you been saying that If you're not on the internet, you might as well be a dog?

So in the digital future, I don't see that any librarian will have a job. Unless you are amazingly awesome or a brown-nosing motherfucker. And since I know my boss takes her coffee with two sugars, you can guess which side I fall on.

But I oppose all of this. I don't want to see my library become all digital all the time. Because then, why would you need us? The internet isn't successful because it has millions of people greasing gears and shoveling coal to keep it running. It's success exactly because it doesn't. So if the public library is meant for people, why would you do something that eliminates people from the service side of the people equation?

We know that some people don't really need other people. Facebook and Twitter and MMORPGs prove we don't really need to meet people to feel like we have friends. We only want a reasonable facsimile of a person and any reasonably competent AI program will satisfy most people's needs for human interaction. Or we could video conference. But we don't really need a physical person to make us feel human.

If left to their own choices, would any of these people choose to support the library? Probably not. So why give them that power? Why give them everything they could ever need through their computers and devices? Because these people don't need us.

Each choice leads us toward different paths. Yet some paths will make it impossible to go back to choose another. The path toward a 100% digital library is one that may not destroy libraries all together, but one that I think will destroy librarianship as a profession.

So check your corners. The role of the library building is much more important than you can imagine. Sure you can have a digital presence, but keep it small. Focus on your relationships with the people who visit the physical library because those people will scream and be heard when that library is threatened. By comparison, I don't think many people scream when our digital library is down for a day or two. They might tweet, but they don't scream.

I would rather die a noble death serving people than live a thousand lifetimes serving machines.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Public Library Social Network

Circles. Tribes. Groups. Clubs. I always hear about how libraries need to become more involved with social networks, but I never read about how libraries are already social networks.

Granted, my library doesn't pry into the lives of 500 million people or allow private companies to build databases from a billion photos that can be used to find images of each and every one of us and link them to our online profiles. To sell us crap.

Sure, our library utilizes facial recognition software, but it's extremely buggy and only runs properly when I'm at the desk with the other librarian who can spot every trouble making patron we have. "You see that guy?" he asks, "I saw him take all those magazines from the shelf and dump them on the floor. And then he walked away and left them there."

So the social network meta data or tagging for that patron might include: asshole, magazines, sloppy, disrespectful, problem, etc. Libraries could use the same tools as other social networks if we chose to.

But the difference between the major online social networks and the public library is that we keep your activities to ourselves. We don't go blabbing about every book we've seen you scan on the shelf. We don't talk about your behavior in the restrooms. We don't link your name to your car to your address to your property records to your court records to your online identity. We could do it easily, but we don't. Because we're professions who value your privacy. Besides, there's nothing in it for us. Maybe if TMZ wants to send me a couple hundred bucks, I might change my mind, but since we don't have any local celebrities using our library, that'll probably never happen.

On a normal day like yesterday, our library had over 500 visitors. It could have been more like 800, but some people were too hideous to count, so I ignored them.

So 500 beautiful, or moderately attractive, or tolerably ugly people visit our library daily. And on a hot day like yesterday, a few of the really awesome members of the human race wore almost nothing so that from my seat at the desk, I could see almost everything.

But no one took any pictures. And no one blogged it or tweeted it or liked it. Because the public library is the social network that keeps your secrets. Even when your thong is completely out there.

So if you want a real social network that includes other people like you who read the same books and watch the same movies, then support your local public library.

Or else I'm showing everyone the photo I found stuck inside the book you just returned. You're disgusting. Call me.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

because it's funny.

@sweet_steffy Lady Like

Boobs will NOT get you anything you want. I've been rubbing this crossword puzzle across my chest and still don't have the answers.!/sweet_steffy/status/89338100169453568

yeah, but somewhere Will Shortz is getting a chubby.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Libraries: Widening the Digital Divide.

So I don't know if you've noticed, but there seems to be a digital divide. The reason why I ask is because I don't know what the digital divide is supposed to be. I thought the digital divide was about access to digital and electronic resources. But if that's the case, then why are libraries working to make access to information even more difficult for anyone without the technology to access it?

I don't understand how it happened, but libraries are actually, make that ACTUALLY, widening the digital divide.

First, a little simple understanding: I feel, and I feel this is a truth, that the more steps it takes to reach a goal, the farther that goal is from achieving.

So if information is shared from person to person, the steps are small. We should speak the same language and not be insane or not eating food or any other logical thing that normally happens when people communicate. Remove idiotic barriers and we communicate.

If we print out the information, similar rules apply. We don't print the information in the sand inches from the rising tide that begins to wash it away; we don't spell it out with breadcrumbs so that birds eat it; we don't brand symbols into another person's skin with hot iron, unless they've signed a release, and we don't intentionally scribble the text in characters that others can't understand.

So in this world, we print with inks onto sheets of paper and we share those ideas with others who understand the languages we use. And that, I think, is a very short path between having information and sharing it with others.

And this used to be the method that libraries preferred. For years. Libraries made all of these printed pages available to others by collecting, organizing and storing them.

And if there was a technological divide, it was only there because visiting the library might have required a long trip of some distance.

But then libraries began purchasing digitized online products and texts. Or leasing. And by giving money to these products, they encouraged publishers to digitize more products. And these products were only accessible through the use of a computer with online access.

Thus, the digital divide was born. Actually, it was born when the publishers decided to digitize the data, but if the data didn't have a buyer, then would it have been digitized in the first place. It's a chicken and egg thing. Did the product exist before the market demanded it, or vice versa?

And so now libraries continue their complicity in the perpetuation of the divide by supporting every step that separates the user from the information.

Books require few steps between the user and the information.

Online information adds more steps in technology and online connectivity.

Ebooks add another step based on the various file formats and another for registering for DRM and even more if the content requires a specific ereader device.

And now The Cloud adds another step as it requires the user to have ongoing wireless connectivity that could cost $$$ per month in bandwidth fees to access content that could just as easily be downloaded and accessed locally.

Digital content can also be limited to specific applications that only run on specific portable devices such as iPads or Android tablets with the latest OS. And since portable devices are not as easily upgraded as desktop PCs or laptops, whole groups of users can be shut out from accessing information unless they purchase newer and better hardware.

And libraries encourage this. Proudly. Robustly. As if the librarians have forgotten that information should be accessible to everyone. Which, if true, forces me to question why the hell I'm working to keep information free when clearly, these other librarians want there to be some cost.

If these librarians are attempting to bridge the digital divide, then they must be building one longer than the one at Jiaozhou Bay. And God help anyone who breaks down in the middle.