Saturday, April 25, 2009

It's A Convoy ...

Perhaps the new phrase, replacing "put the pedal to the
metal", should be "use a flashdrive, not a hard drive".
The Sacramento Public Library rolled out, literally, its Overdrive offerings of books, music and video via the travelling Overdrive semi at Franklin Library.

The Overdrive system allows users to download books, audio books, music and videos (to include popular television programs) onto their home computers and then onto MP3 devices, to include iPods. It's free, relatively simple and users do not have to worry about returning items as the files self delete after the set borrowing time. As a bonus, many of the items are no longer copyrighted, allowing borrowers to burn them onto CDs for their permanent collections.

Just another service of your 21st Century library.

But you still have to be quiet!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

RSS? Wasn't That A Camaro?

OK, now I've moved onto the next step, RSS feeds. It is true that a great many sites have RSS feeds; sports, media, oddities. Among those sites, many offer differing feeds, fine tuning (supposedly) the information sent out. Powell's Books (a great firm if you'll pardon the plug) has seven different feeds.

Perhaps bucking the trend, I remain unimpressed with the
phenomenon of RSS feeds. If I'm that busy that I can't visit the
websites I'm interested in, perhaps I could quit my day job and concentrate on those things that interest me. Like magazine subscriptions (which seem like a good idea when you fill out the card to mail in), they have the potential to snowball, causing an information overload that cannot be managed.

Or maybe, just maybe, it's just me.

Oh, and the sports scores? Just a service we provide.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lest We Forget

Technology is a tool, a methodology to accomplish more, faster, more efficiently. But, like fame, technology is fleeting; what was once cutting edge is quickly obsolete.

This was brought home to me Sunday afternoon as I was working in the yard. Since we live near the former Mather Air Force Base, it isn't unusual to hear a lot of aircraft of all sorts. The sound was a prop plane but louder than I normally hear. Thinking it might be the Coast Guard's C-130 that occasionally does flyovers, I waited to see it. But, no, what flew over was a B-17 Flying Fortress; the plane that won the war in Europe. The plane that destroyed the German war machine.

The B-17, crammed with a crew of nine and powered by four prop engines, is roughly about the same size as the current Air Force F-15/F-16 or Navy/Marine F-18, all single seat fighters. It had nominal radar, little armor, relied upon machine guns for defense and the only thing remotely stealthy about it was if it flew at night in a thunderstorm. But from 1942-45 it was, second only to its larger kin, the B-29, THE BOMBER.

And now? It provides rides and nostalgia. Much like the cell phones of the late 80s (except for the rides part).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I Go To Pieces

Given that the hockey game went into overtime last night, making it a LATE night, this will be short. While interesting and usually entertaining, the Thunder are NOT the Rangers!

Inspired by fellow blogger Bibliocrone and her discovery of very cool effects available online, I checked out other offerings and discovered this one: a puzzlemaker at It appears there's no end to what one can do on the internet though, clearly, not all are as beneficial as others (to be polite). One thing is certain, through the lens of the internet, one gets a very different perspective of the world around us.

Thanks, Doris.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Please Wait, I'm Blogging ...

Our subject this week is technology, its ability to enhance our lives and promote communication. As part of that study, we are to incorporate it into a blog.

This week is also the beginning of customer service classes, designed to improve our skills at serving and dealing with the public.

I concede that a part of our service necessarily entails use of modern technology to assist our customers but at its core, customer service means face to face listening which, ideally, leads to understanding the customer's wants resulting, ideally, in the application of service skills to provide to the customer what s/he seeks. We aren't going to e-mail the customer or read the customer's e-mail; we're going to talk to them. We aren't going to tweet them their wants; we're going to show them where it is or how to obtain it.

My point, and I do have one, is that technology is a tool to enhance our service to the customers. It isn't an end in itself. All the technological advances in history are meaningless to our customers unless and until that technology helps them obtain what they need. From the customer viewpoint, it doesn't matter how we satisfy their request, just that we do. And the better or faster we do it, the faster our customers will expect it. When our systems are down and we cannot access the catalog or internet, our customers don't care; they still expect results from us, not from technology.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This Is An Improvement?

It would appear that a measurement of progress is the speed at which something can process information or disseminate information. Given the old American proverb bad news travels fast, spreading bad news faster does not seem like much of an accomplishment.

A tearful, well thought out, edited missive expressing sympathy and support, while slower, beats the heck out of an e-mail "mom died. we're orphans." Granted the news is faster but gee!

Maybe it's that the need for speed (with apologies to Top Gun) outstrips the need for language and consideration, though I personally don't see the need. Texting begat twitter which will end, presumably, with simple dots or icons; perhaps a 21st century Morse Code? It is difficult to imagine shelves of books in the post-Twitter era; how long will it take to read 140 characters? Taken to extremes (which I'm wont to do), there shouldn't be any books since the author(s) will have tweeted the construction of the book all along and thus there's no point in printing it. Right?

At least the budget crunch will ease since library facilities will be able to be reduced to the size of a phone booth.

Maybe it's just a bad day! Cleveland 10, Yankees 2.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Information Overload

While the rate of information and its dissemination are expanding exponentially, my branch has just taken delivery of two (not one but one more than one) newspaper stands. Yes, newspapers.

Coincidentally, proving that it is more than a mere coincidence, I've received a missive stating that there are 540,000 words in the English language which is, assertedly, three times as many as during the Shakespearean era. Note how I worked that in! Those words are constantly in use and being transmitted in one form or another.

This same missive advised that the Japanese are working on fiber optic cable capable of transmitting 260 cell phones at once, assertedly a total of 40 terabytes (which has, I'm told, nothing to do with turtles) of information. Less when people hunt and peck during texting. Where does all that information go? What do people do with it?

Libraries should provide information in all formats to its users, whichever they prefer. While the internet is fast and amazing, can it compare with the New York Times Op-Ed page? Or the New York Post's "composition" not to mention the London papers and their "inserts"? If you read comics online, how can you clip one to paste on the refrigerator? Sure, some people like their fish and chips wrapped in LCD monitors but for the rest of us traditionalists ...

Information is only valuable when it's competently disseminated so that people can act upon it. We, libraries, make it available; we don't guarantee results. This same missive stated that in 2011, a computer will be constructed that exceeds human computational abilities. Based upon my random viewing of folks, we may have already done that. It is said that by 2049, common computers will have abilities far outstripping human computational abilities. While I personally won't care, again it seems like overkill.

Newspapers, internet, CD, DVD, inplanted chips, whatever. Libraries will be there to provide access to information and, hopefully, folks will be able to ascertain what it is and use it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When Life Hands You Lemons ...

I think it only proper that you say "thank you", even if you don't mean it. This might be difficult if, say, you wanted tomatoes for an omelet and some twit provides a lemon.

That said, I question "whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take up arms against a sea of troubles" or, in this case, lemons. Things, especially technological ones, don't always work as expected or when expected. I find that ranting and railing against the gods lets off steam but rarely does it fix the problem. The pace of technology seems to outstrip nearly everything else and, like Alice in Wonderland, you have to run simply to keep your place.

And it isn't just new technology. How often is one asked whether you want to download the latest version of a program? I can't remember the number either but we all know it's a lot. And what happens when we succumb to the temptation to see what version 8.45678 does over version 8.4567? It doesn't work or screws up the files we've already saved! If only software companies subscribed to the credo that if it ain't broken, don't fix it. But NOOOOOOOOOOO.

On the plus side, in Rhode Island, where I grew up (sorta), a summer staple is Del's Lemonade. It's found in virtually every restaurant and if you can't get there, there's always the Del's trucks, circling every neighborhood, providing lemons to get you through the heat and humidity of a Rhode Island summer. Thus, it isn't always a bad thing to have life, or the Del's guy, hand you lemons.

As for the Shakespearean quotes, I'm listening to Fool, Christopher Moore's latest opus and his take on King Lear.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ollie, Ollie, In Free

April 11th marks the beginning of Amnesty Week at the Sacramento Public Library. Actually it covers eight days but who's counting?

The theory is that folks have not brought materials back because they're overdue and those customers can't or don't want to pay for them. The emphasis should be on "theory". There may be some truth to that but I suspect the items don't come back because they've become invisible within the customer's sight. Once newly brought home, they're read or viewed but then ... nothing. Just another book/DVD/cd around the house.

As Gilles Ménage says "the reason why borrowed books are seldom returned, is that it is easier to retain books themselves than what is inside of them." There is truth to that.

Let us hope that in addition to the return of library items, library customers are revisited by appreciation for all that libraries freely provide and the desire to share those materials with others, foresaking their literary nightstands or endtables.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Learning Curves

Working within the library system provides numerous, almost innumerable, opportunities to learn. Some lessons are those I'd rather do without but many are surprising, the kind that make you ask "why didn't I know that?"

For example, I made it to middle age before I learned that there is Attila the Hun, the female one. Who knew? Further, that for a better grade, teachers like photos of Plato. The parable of a camel passing through the eye of a needle is exactly that: a parable. However, it's much more effective with photos of the camel passing through the needle and why don't we have them?

Libraries are more than an accumulation of published materials. It is that plus the human experiences that both made them and utilized them. While we cannot read nor listen to all of our catalog, our customers do and they report back to us. Listen to them and you'll be amazed at what you learn. Not everything is as stated but then again, you learn how gullible some people can be and how unobservent you can be.

A Japanese proverb states that aging begins when we stop learning. So far, not a day has gone by when I didn't end a shift learning something I didn't know when the shift started. At this rate, I'll live forever. Though I might learn otherwise.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Come a great number of substances, not all cutesy or attractive despite the adoring looks of their mothers upon returning the mounds of items to the library. It is often a cause of mystery to discern what creature (dog, cat, rabbit or baby) has chewed upon the covers and pages of our books. And apparently these chewings can be or often are invisible to the parent. "What? My/our/the child didn't do that! It was like that when we checked it out. What are you suggesting?"

Truthfully, what I am suggesting is a) feed your dog/cat/rabbit/baby more often and b) supervise the items we've lent to you such that they return to us in roughly the same condition. Apparently what I'm thinking places the word "roughly" in a position of prominence.

Oddly enough, despite the drool/food/etc left on our books, our keyboards, open to the same hordes, are relatively clean, as proven by a science fair entry from one of our juvenile patrons. Taking samples from shopping cart handles, gas station handles, the mouth of his dog, the bottom of his shoe and a keyboard, he proved, with Nobel aspirations, that our keyboards are cleaner than suspected and more so than the other locales. The loser? Bottom of his shoe but I'm convinced he sampled it before coming into the library.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Time Waits For No Man

As expressed by St. Marher in 1225, it is essentially true. However, the good Saint never met the IT folks at Elk Grove Unified. Approximately 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, time (ably assisted by the IT elves) reversed itself, thus adding an hour to what was hopefully a seven hour day.

Oddly, while customers will remark upon nearly any subject and ask for anything (no qualifiers here), no one noticed the clocks. What can be gleaned from that? Either no one cares what time it is or no one cares when the library ostensibly closes since it cannot (per their understanding) close without their desires being met.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

So, this is 27 Things? Normally that would be my assessment of a "to do" list, be it at home or at the branch.

Apparently the Elk Grove Unified School District didn't get the memo about the change of date for commencement of Daylight Savings Time. April 5th would have been the traditional start but as most of us, EGUSD aside, it began earlier. As a result, the clocks within Franklin are now, uniformly, an hour ahead. Only time will tell whether this yields a bonus with customers leaving at 7:00 instead of 8:00 p.m.