Archived posts for Hyperlinked Library class precede this
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All posts preceding this this one originally appeared in a blog for the San Jose State University Class LIBR287 The Hyperlinked Library, Spring 2014. These were developed as a project required for that class. The original site was wiped clean at the end of the semester, so there may be a few links that are now dead. There are some references to statements made by classmates that may seem out of context now. However, I think you will still find much here of interest. Try it, you might just like it.

Life After Hyperlib: Final Reflection Post

 

Poster-like picture of a summer country scene with a road stretching into the distance. Text says :life after hyperlib" and "my reading list"

Like many of you, I find it hard to believe that we are nearing the end of our road in the hyperlinked library. Now begins the task I have both dreaded and anticipated eagerly, for so long. Dreaded, because I will miss this place. You have been a great bunch of warm comrades. The class has been very engaging and stimulating. And Michael has done a fantastic job steering us along the hyperlib road. But, I am eager to get to summer too, and move on to the next phase.

One reason that I am looking forward to summer, is that I am taking a break from classes. I’ll still work part-time helping to keep up the SLIS/SJSU Drupal-based web site. Aaron Schmidt’s UX class is calling me, and it is only offered in summers. But if I tried to take a class this summer, I think my family would disown me.

Not being in a formal class always gives me time to learn on my own—which is just about my favorite thing. I have a lot more to learn about Drupal and other web tools, and a backlog of tutorials to watch. Then there are all the cool apps and tools that folks in here used for the symposium project. I feel like I should really take a longer look at some of those. I have always wanted to experiment around with designing graphic images for the web—and have begun to try my hand at that (see this page, for two initial attempts).

And then there is the issue of my gigantic backlog of unread books. I really must make some progress on those. This leads me to this thought:

Do you all have any recommendations for hyperlib books you would like to pass along? I have in mind anything that may not have been on the reading list for the semester, but that you think would be good for our personal growth as hyperlibrarians? I would love to see them in the comments if so.

I have some. (You don’t seem surprised.)

At the top of my list is one I have mentioned before. It is the book I chose for the Context Book Report. It wasn’t on Michael’s list, but he is pretty flexible, as you may have noticed. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online by Howard Rheingold, fits really well with the topics we discussed in here. It’s all about how to use the web optimally, but not allow your mind to go on automatic pilot, so that you stay in control, not simply bouncing from one web-based stimulus to another. It is full of good tips and great discussions about what some pretty smart folks are thinking about the internet.

One I have wanted to read for some time is Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together:
Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.  She has studied computers and what they mean for society since the first PCs appeared. She knows the tech world, and teaches at MIT. She completely “gets” what modern information technology is about. But she has some very valid warnings and concerns about its appropriate use. Here is a Ted Talk as a teaser. I really need to find time for this book.

Remember David Weinberger? You know, the Cluetrain Manifesto dude, who also wrote Everything is Miscellaneous? His Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room, is by my chair waiting to be read. It looks fascinating. The subtitle says a lot about the book’s topic. He can drive me crazy—too Utopian sometimes. But his stuff is nevertheless brilliant.

Grid of book covers discussed in the test

For an old-fashioned antidote to Weinberger (and similar folks like Clay Shirkey), try Thomas Mann, who works at the Library of Congress. I really find his traditional approach to research has a lot of value in an age where people think there is no reason for to continuing the “authoritative” approach to organizing knowledge. His defense of books on shelves and detailed cataloging, in the face of those who think Google-type searches are sufficient, provides some much-needed balance. See this article for starters. If you ever plan to do any serious library research, or to work at a reference desk, you could benefit from his The Oxford Guide to Library Research. I, frankly, am surprised that it isn’t used more in reference classes here at SLIS/SJSU. Another fascinating article by Mann is here. Thomas Mann, what a great name for a librarian, huh? Has a literary ring to it.

Lately the possibility that the FCC will undermine the concept of “net neutrality,” has a lot of us worried. Anyone else just a little confused about the details on this? Vox does a good job of explaining what it is all about, in 17 short snippets or “cards.”

There are some books that I have thought about reading that deal with similar issues to those in the net neutrality controversy—basically about how powerful big businesses (say cable companies, for example) or ill meaning governments, could keep the internet from reaching its true potential. Here are three on my list: (1) How to Think about Information by Dan Schiller, (2) Digital Disconnect by Robert McChesney, and (3) Consent of the Networked by Rebecca MacKinnon.

An older book that I read last summer deserves mention. It is Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age by David M. Levy. Levy used to work at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). (Apple “stole” its ideas for the Mac’s visual interface and the mouse from PARC.) Levy has a Ph.D. in computer science, but took a long time off to study calligraphy and bookbinding. This book puts information technology in a fascinating context. It is about the future of the document, but it pulls together a lot of interesting ideas about the interplay between print and digital formats. Levy teaches at the iSchool at the University of Washington and currently has a fascinating research agenda dealing with attention, mindfulness meditation, and information overload.

Do you have suggested readings to keep us learning about how be hyperlinked, lead with the heart, manage in a participatory fashion, or something similar? I would love to see them in the comments.

I will see you guys on Twitter, or Facebook, if that’s the kind of thing you do. Stay connected and engaged, but don’t forget to unplug once in a while and smell the roses too. (At least until Google comes out with “smell-o-glasses.”)


Unplug and Restore

ok to restore

Source: Created by Bob Lucore

Wendy Derman (@wderman) did a nice job in a recent post, arguing that Casey N. Cep has misunderstood the “unplugging movement.” I wholeheartedly endorse Wendy’s argument that unplugging is about seeking balance. I want to add a thought of my own regarding what I think Cep is missing when dismissing the movement to unplug.

I am no expert on the National Day of Unplugging. I wish I could claim that I had taken part in the day at least once, but alas, it has always passed under my radar. However, I suspected something was wrong because Cep’s rejection seemed so dismissive and flippant. So I did a little research of my own.

(Warning: I am going to talk about an idea rooted in religion. Please don’t let this make you skittish. I am a very “secular” person—the closest I can come when asked about my religion is to say I am a Buddhist without belief. I really have no business acting like I know something about the concept of Sabbath. However, I do think there is a lot to be said for some of the wisdom that has been passed down in human society for the last 100 generations or so, since the dawn of our major religions.)

The National Day of Unplugging’s web site says that their call for people to take a break from hyper-connectivity—for one day, or even part of a day—has its roots in something called the Sabbath Manifesto. Both the manifesto and its related project, Reboot, are an effort to restore an ancient Hebrew idea—that we should take one day a week as a day of restoration. I recall reading about this in the book of Genesis, where God is said to have created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.

I’ve been told that the notion of unplugging from work, and the hectic pace of life, probably had its beginnings with the advent of agriculture based on land cultivation. Human’s discovered that soils could produce massive quantities of food, but if land was not allowed to lie fallow every few years, soils would become depleted and lose their fertility. Apparently it wasn’t a huge jump from that discovery, to the discovery that human minds and hearts could also be restored by regular periods of rest, contemplation and reflection. The link between restored soil (by lying fallow every seventh year) and restored people (by taking every seventh day off) is made explicit in Exodus 23:10.

Am I saying that because this is an ancient Jewish law, we must obey it? Goodness no. There is some stuff in the Old Testament that most modern people would find hard to stomach. I am suggesting that this idea has survived because it has proved quite useful. Perhaps societies that have adopted this practice have survived and prospered (in part) as a result. There may therefore be some wisdom in it. This isn’t only a Jewish an idea—Islam and Christianity also adopted the practice. Buddhists also, place great emphasis on the importance of regular “unplugging,” in the form of meditation, concentration and contemplation, as part of leading a skillful life.

Our greatest institutions of higher education still recognize the importance of restoration through regular unplugging from the pace of teaching, committee work and the like. It is called a Sabbatical, and the word has the same ancient roots as the term Sabbath. In a sense, it is meant to restore the fertility of the professor’s mind every seventh year.

Cep and others find it ironic or even hypocritical that those who unplug wish to return to the plugged-in world. Why would you unplug only to claim that, as a result, you can perform better in the plugged-in world? I think Cep has misunderstood the entire point. One lies fallow in order to restore. One does not lie fallow simply for the sake of lying fallow. There is no irony or hypocrisy involved. Cep’s argument takes on a straw man, and misleads readers about the nature of the National Day of Unplugging.

I agree with Wendy. It’s about balance. I would add: It’s about restoration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Ubiquitous Life-Long Learning

This week’s topic, Infinite Learning, seems incredibly timely to me. This notion that libraries contribute to learning, everywhere and always, has been on my mind. It has hovered in the background, peeking out once in a while, all semester.

During our first blogging assignment—to introduce ourselves—I thought about my life-long learning path, and about the timeline that has brought me to this class and made me want to investigate the concept of the hyperlinked library.

Later, when writing my context book review on Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, I was also thinking about the importance of constant, consistent personal improvement through life-long learning. Rheingold isn’t shy about discussing his own learning path—from the early days of personal computers to his involvement in the first virtual communities, to his current work to promote web-smart literacies that are so important to today’s learners. Before reading Rheingold, I don’t think I had been exposed to the term Personal Learning Network (PLN), but it is a topic that he has much to say about.

This put me in the frame of mind to write my next post, For All Who Wish to Learn, about my exposure to much earlier forms of information technology at Denver’s Emily Griffith Opportunity School. When I wrote that blog, I had little idea of the ideas that were to come in this week’s lesson, but I think some of my points there foreshadowed the ideas of participatory learning outside of the typical walled garden of the conventional classroom. Writing about Opportunity School, reminded me of a number of people who were influential for me in those days. They were model lifetime learners and had a remarkable ability to surf the wave of change that took them from repairing TVs or designing World War II bomb sites, to understanding the most intricate details of digital technology.

For my community engagement project, I specifically focused on creating a sort of infinite learning lab for teens (thought I didn’t call it that). I wasn’t really aware that I was carrying forward a theme that would reach a pinnacle of sorts with this week’s readings and lectures.

I am sure that my life-long love of libraries comes, not just because of my life-long love of books, but from a broader life-long love of learning. Here is how my typical library-use pattern has looked over time:

  1. Often, I will serendipitously stumble upon a topic that I find interesting. As a kid it was topics such as Space Exploration, Robin Hood, the Circus, Baseball, Shortwave Radio, and Gambling. I would latch on to the topic and be unable to let go until I had read everything I could find in the Denver Public Library that related to it. Then I would find a new obsession.
  2. In college, the thing that excited me the most was having access to big library. Throughout my undergraduate career I would find a new interest and, once again, try to read everything the library had on the topic. My academic obligations were always getting in the way of this learning.
  3. After college I worked a variety of odd jobs, but was especially thrilled when I found one cleaning labs at night on campus. As a staff member, I had the same library privileges that professors had, and this may have been the most productive period of my life for self-directed, library-supported learning.

You get the picture. I have always depended on the kindness of librarians to support my self-directed learning. My current obsession is with Drupal, and I have spent tons of time that I probably “should” have devoted to my SLISS classes perusing the King Library’s e-books on the topic.

Over the years I have known a number of people in the political activist and labor movement communities who have followed a similar pattern. An early role model for me was Michael Harrington, who wrote the best seller, The Other America, which inspired the War on Poverty 50 years ago. He had an MA in English, but was self-taught sitting in libraries reading about economics, politics, the history of philosophy, the history of the socialist movement and many other topics. Similarly, Jim Zarichny, a friend I used to know in Boulder, worked by day at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, but spent nights and weekends reading about social and political issues and inspiring others to activism. Also, over the years I have met several people from New York, who praise the New York public library for making broad and deep knowledge available to generations of self-educating immigrants in that city. That great library encouraged many “public intellectuals,” who did not always have a lot of formal education or a university affiliation.

Libraries have a long, and (to me) glorious, history of making learning ubiquitously available. I feel I am part of this tradition. Many others have been similarly affected. I love the way that this week’s module carries this tradition forward, and extends it into a new and changing era when knowledge has become both more abundant and move accessible.

Seeing UX in the Most Unlikely Places

The more I read and hear about User Experience (UX), the more I become a fan. I am a long way from becoming an effective analyst of UX—and I am even further from being someone who knows how to design good UX environments. But once the UX virus infects your brain, you start to notice that a lot of things that used to make you feel dumb, or clumsy, are actually artifacts of poor design. They are a result of a lack of empathy on the part of the designer for the eventual user.

Here is a super simple example. From time to time, I go to a local restaurant for coffee and breakfast while I work. Coffee leads rapidly to a side effect—sooner or later I need to use the restroom. I’ve noticed that it affects other customers this way too. The same is true for the employees.

So, if one were to take all of the “touch points” where a typical customer comes in contact with the restaurant, one would have to take note of the bathroom. This particular bathroom is quite serviceable in almost every respect. It is clean, large, has appealing lighting, the plumbing works as it should, and it is pleasant to wash one’s hands at the sink. However, getting a towel out of the towel dispenser is, frankly, extremely difficult. Somehow the dispenser was installed improperly, so that there is a thick wire bar that keeps the next towel from being exposed. It also blocks the customer’s hand from being able to reach up into the device in order to get a towel out. My female friends confirm that this isn’t a problem in the women’s room. My male friends agree that this is a problem for them, and that it isn’t just me.

To me this is a huge UX fail. I still go to the restaurant fairly often, but the idiocy of the towel dispenser comes to mind whenever I consider it. It is a continuing, if minor, problem that spoils an otherwise wonderful experience for male restaurant customers.

My question is: How does this happen? All of the male employees must encounter this problem on a regular basis. Presumably, they have learned ways to deal with the awkwardness of the dispenser. But has it never occurred to any of them that, for the customer’s sake, it needs to be fixed?

As Aaron Schmidt might point out:

http://vimeo.com/72766459 1

I have no doubt that employees who have to deal with this dispenser have developed workarounds, and that those have become so routine that they never bother to approach the device thinking about how it must be for the first time customer. To me there is a flaw in a workplace culture if employees are not constantly reevaluating every touch point where the customer interacts with the service or facility from the standpoint of how it will make a customer feel. I assure you that this dispenser can make customers feel a range of emotions, from frustration to anger. I’ll admit that at first it made me feel stupid, like everyone but me must understand how to dry their hands.

There are related reasons why this situation might persist. Perhaps employees have mentioned it as a problem to the boss, but no action has been taken. In this restaurant, the manager and the franchise owner are the same person. She is female, and would not have a regular reason to encounter the problem. It is possible that she was told, but didn’t understand the importance of addressing the issue.

My experience is that most restaurants have pretty pitiful boss-worker communications. The normal pattern is for the boss to expect employees to listen and follow orders, not to suggest or speak up. Perhaps everyone is aware of the problem, but has just dismissed it, thinking that the restaurant is in the business of providing a good meal, not providing a good restroom. (Come to think of it, bad restrooms are not at all unusual in restaurants, are they?)

Schmidt points out just how important it is to listen to the library users. This is an example of what can go wrong if management isn’t listening to library customers. By the way, I have pointed out my frustration with this dispenser, to the cashier who takes orders. He expressed recognition and sympathy, and mentioned that it wasn’t the first he had herd of it. But the problem has not been fixed.

Is there such a thing as usability testing for restaurants? Something tells me that there probably is for the really good companies. Clearly it has not taken place in this case. Or perhaps someone constructed a “journey map” for a prototype customer, but somehow forgot the stop at the restroom?

I love Schmidt’s metaphor “a reservoir of good will.” If customers experience a hassle with any part of their interaction with an institution—be it a library, a restaurant or any other organization—it will deplete whatever good will the person has in their reservoir. If that reservoir gets drawn down too far, they won’t bother to return.

I have not written this so that I can have an opportunity to vent, fun as it has been. My point is to illustrate that when you start thinking seriously, and empathetically, about the experience that a user (or customer or member) has with your organization, you start to see opportunities for improvement almost everywhere. Then the important thing is to maintain the motivation to change these irritants before they deplete any more good will.