January 19th, 2012 Brian Herzog
I thought it was great how many websites participated in yesterday's blackout protest of the SOPA and PIPA bills. Partly, because I ended up explaining what was going on to quite a few people.
BoingBoing has a quickie recap of the effect the protest had on some Senators and Congressmen, and SOPATrack.com allows you to view, by State, who supports, opposes, and is undecided about the bills - also, how much money they've accepted from pro- and anti-censorship lobbyists. According to FightForTheFuture.org, there are now 35 Senators publicly opposing PIPA. Last week there were 5. Huge success, but it takes 41 to stop the bill completely.
For what it's worth, here's a few anecdotes from my day:
- A couple weeks ago, I used Senator Scott Brown's contact form to request a meeting with him to talk about PIPA. Nothing happened until yesterday, when I got a call from someone in his Boston office, thanking me for contacting them and saying Sen. Brown will oppose PIPA. That's great.
- Next I tried to contact Senator John Kerry. I called his DC office and got a busy signal, then went to his website to get the number for his Boston office - but the website was down. I found the number elsewhere online, but when I called it rang and rang then went to voicemail, but then a message said the voicemail box was full. I was disappointed I couldn't contact my Senator, but hopefully that meant that so many other constituents were contacting him that his methods were just overwhelmed.
But it's not over. The Senate vote on PIPA is still scheduled for Tuesday, Jan 24th, so keep contacting your Senators and ask them to explain the bill. Also, it looks like SOPA is scheduled to be revived in February, so also contact your Members of Congress. XKCD had a great shortlist of links to check out:
Of course, the funniest part of yesterday were all the tweets from people who didn't know what was going on - lots of desperate students unable to do their homework, but of course it's bigger than that. Still, they're worth a skim.
January 14th, 2012 Brian Herzog
I found this question interesting, even though I couldn't help much. An older woman came up to the desk one afternoon and said:
I have message from my granddaughter on my cell phone that I would like to save. How can I record that to a CD so I can listen to it whenever I want?
As you might suspect, I'm decently competent when it comes to tech questions, but I know nothing about cell phones. However, I suspected there must be some web interface she could log into and see all of her account's voicemail as mp3 files or something - at least, I hoped there was. Short of that, there was always the low-tech method of simply holding her phone close to a tape recorder.
Her carrier was AT&T, so I called the local AT&T store and asked them about downloading voicemail files - this is the guy's response:
No, we don't have anything like that - just tell her to hold her phone up to a tape recorder*.
Man. Yeah, I'm sure it'll work, but the quality would probably be pretty bad. So, I tried searching online for recording voicemail from cell phone and after reading a few posts, I found the obvious answer of using the phone's headphone jack to plug into a computer and use that to record.
The Ask MetaFiler post was particularly informative, as it provided multiple options including a list of the different hardware and software options available. Of course, we didn't have any of this in the library, so I couldn't help the woman directly. But it did provide me with enough information to call around to a few local computer repair shops, and ask them if they had the equipment and ability to record her message for her.
Of the shops I called, one said they'd do it for $10 and one said they'd do it for free, and the woman was very happy. She said she's try the free one first, and if it didn't sound good enough, she'd try the other.
It's kind of too bad we didn't have the right cable to do this - now I'm really curious to see if it works (but not enough to actually get my own cell phone).
*The guy at the AT&T store also did say that if the woman was being threatened she should take it to the Police, but that wasn't the case.
Tags: cell, cell phone, cellphone, headphones, libraries, Library, message, phone, public, record, recording, Reference Question, voice mail, voicemail
January 12th, 2012 Brian Herzog
This is the last cause I'll promote (for awhile), but it's a big one. Hopefully by now you've heard of the two bills in Congress that threaten the future of the internet - SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate.
If you're not sure how either of these will affect you (and libraries), here's a few quick descriptions I've seen recently:
From BoingBoing's SOPA and everyday Americans:
The harm that does to ordinary, non-infringing users is best described via a hypothetical user: Abe. Abe has never even so much as breathed on a company’s copyright but he does many of the things typical of Internet users today. He stores the photos of his children, now three and six years old, online at PickUpShelf* so that he doesn’t have to worry about maintaining backups. He is a teacher and keeps copies of his classes accessible for his students via another service called SunStream that makes streaming audio and video easy. He engages frequently in conversation in several online communities and has developed a hard-won reputation and following on a discussion host called SpeakFree. And, of course, he has a blog called “Abe’s Truths” that is hosted on a site called NewLeaflet. He has never infringed on any copyright and each of the entities charged with enforcing SOPA know that he hasn’t.
And yet, none of that matters. Under SOPA, every single one of the services that Abe uses can be obliterated from his view without him having any remedy. Abe may wake up one morning and not be able to access any of his photos of his children. Neither he, nor his students, would be able to access any of his lectures. His trove of smart online discussions would likewise evaporate and he wouldn’t even be able to complain about it on his blog. And, in every case, he has absolutely no power to try to regain access. That may sound far-fetched but under SOPA, all that needs to happen for this scenario to come true is for the Attorney General to decide that some part of PickUpShelf, SunStream, SpeakFree and NewLeaflet would be copyright infringement in the US. If a court agrees, and with no guarantee of an adversarial proceeding that seems very likely, the entire site is “disappeared” from the US internet. When that happens Abe has NO remedy. None. No way of getting the photos of his kids other than leaving the United States for a country that doesn’t have overly broad censorship laws.
A much more succinct description, from Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro (also via BoingBoing):
[SOPA is championed by] politicians who are proudly unfamiliar with how the internet works, but who are well familiar with favors from well-heeled copyright extremists.
And Stephen Colbert explains it well too:
Of course there's lots more reading to be done on this if you're interested:
No call to action will work unless people actually take action. Right now many Congressmen and Senators are still at home on vacation, but will be back in session in the next week or two. Now is the time to contact them, as them to explain what these bills are, and urge them to vote against them. Here are some things to help:
But most importantly, if you're not already familiar with SOPA and Protect-IP, read through some of these links - it's worth it. Thanks.
Tags: bill, bills, censored, censorship, congress, house, libraries, Library, oppose, pipa, protect-ip, public, senate, sopa
January 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog
As we have come to expect over the last couple years, the first few weeks after the Christmas holidays means a rather dramatic spike in the number of questions about ebooks. The effect this year seemed more profound that usual, which led me to this conclusion:
This year, my library planned a program on using ebooks with library resources for the first Saturday in January. The plan was for me to talk about Overdrive, and give live downloading demos for a Kindle, iPad, and Nook. Also, we invited a sales associate from the local Radio Shack to come talk about the non-library aspects of ereaders - buying ebooks, the differences between the devices themselves, and hopefully answer a few hardware tech support questions.
Our meeting room is big enough, and ereaders are small enough, that I didn't think just holding one up would really help people in the back see which buttons to press. I got the idea of using a camera, pointed at a Kindle or Nook, to project what I was doing to it up on a screen, to make it more visible. I have a little external webcam that I plugged into a computer, and clamped it so it's pointing straight down at a table (where the ereader will sit). Then I found this software called FSCamView which does nothing but take the feed from the webcam and display it full-screen on the laptop. Then, plugging the laptop into a digital projector shows whatever I put in front of the webcam up on the big screen. How could that go wrong?
And since my library is lucky enough to have two digital projectors, I also plan to have a second computer to project the Overdrive catalog. This way, hopefully, people (even in the back) will be able to watch me search the Overdrive, checkout an ebook, download and transfer it to the ereader, and simultaneously see it actually show up on the device.
Here's what the setup looked like 20 minutes before we started:
We presented from the podium in the right corner. Slides (and websites) on the computer were projected onto the wall in the center by our in-the-ceiling projector, and the webcam/projector/ereader setup was on a little table next to the podium, projecting onto the screen on the left side of the photo - you can see an iPad up there now.
It worked well enough for our purposes, and I think people were happy to (sort of) see what we were doing. The problems we had were that the camera wasn't very high resolution, and the lighting was tricky - not to mention glare off the devices.
Even still, the program was a huge success. We had over 100 people in the room (which seats 80), and had to turn people away. On the spot we decided to hold a repeat program in a couple weeks for all the people who couldn't attend this one. I think everyone learned something, and many said that after seeing the steps it takes to download ebooks from Overdrive, they now understand and can do it themselves. Yay for that.
I'm going to keep fiddling with the webcam/projector setup, because there's got to be an easy way to improve that. Then it'll be fun to think of other programs that might benefit from projecting physical objects up on the wall. Hmm.
Tags: ebook, ebooks, ereader, ereaders, kindle, libraries, Library, nook, overdrive, public, Reference Question, sony
January 3rd, 2012 Brian Herzog
On my drive to Ohio for Christmas, one of the audiobooks I listened to was Douglas Adams' The Salmon of Doubt. In addition to sort of being one of his stories, this book also contains numerous interviews he'd done and various bits and ideas of things he'd saved in his computers.
The following little bit came on somewhere in the middle of New York state, and I kept thinking about it for miles:
I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
Douglas was very good about drawing attention to, or even giving names to, things that happened or were true without people really consciously knowing they were, in fact, actual real things. I think that is definitely the case with the above approach to technology.
It also made me laugh to think this might be applied to libraries - and librarians - with a few minor changes:
- Anything that is in the library when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the library works.
- Anything that’s developed while you're in library school is new and exciting and revolutionary and is definitely the future for libraries.
- Anything developed after you’ve worked as a librarian for awhile is against the natural order of things.
Obviously this is tongue-in-cheek, but I liked it because I definitely find myself being more skeptical of the application of innovations than I was just a few years ago. Although maybe that's because I'm still working on implementing some of the projects I started a few years ago.
December 15th, 2011 Brian Herzog
There was an article in our local paper this week about a resident's experience volunteering in the community. Nice, but what I especially like is that he cited http://www.chelmsfordvolunteers.org as the way he found his volunteer opportunity.
This stood out to me (and others at the library) because this website was created and maintained by the library - yay us! The article doesn't mention the library at all, but it's still a win because the resident found what he was looking for.
I'll be the first to admit that the Chelmsford Volunteers site isn't a marvel of design. We created it a few years ago to be a centralized listing of organizations in town that have volunteer opportunities, because this is something we get asked about a lot. It's evolved over time, and now a simple WordPress website, with a calendar of upcoming events, and one page for each organization so that it's easy for people to search.
The reason I bring it up here is because I was curious if any other libraries maintain websites under a domain different from the main library's website. My library also maintains the website for our town-wide history project.
Our logic for creating these as separate websites includes:
- branding: it's easier to remember "chelmsfordvolunteers.org" than "chelmsfordlibrary.org/volunteers" or something else
- shared resource: the chelmsfordhistory.org is a project involving other organizations in town, and I think having a non-library website makes us all co-owners of the project, instead of the other groups just contributing to a library project
- focus: the library does a lot of things, but each of these separate websites are very focused on one specific area - having standalone websites lets visitors see only what's relevant to that topic, instead of all the other stuff we do, which might be a distraction
- it's easy: all our websites are hosted at bluehost.com - creating a new website is a matter of buying a new domain and clicking a button, and it's ready to go
I'd be very curious to hear about other libraries' experiences with maintain websites beyond the primary web presence - how you do it, why, is it successful, etc. If this is something you do, please leave a note in the comments with a link to your website - thanks.