Interdisciplinary Sharing: A Special Post

Sometimes pieces are solicited for LISNews. The recent LISNews Summer Series is an example of that. Below is a piece from openSUSE community manager Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier that is a bit of interdisciplinary sharing of experiences as some public libraries are getting ready to go to the polls for tax levies in a couple months.

When working on a marketing campaign, you may suffer the temptation to "go negative" and go on the attack against something rather than using a positive message for your point of view. We see this frequently in political campaigns, and it's occasionally effective -- but should be avoided when you have alternatives.

Case in point: recently, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) set off on an anti-Windows campaign called "Windows 7 Sins". The campaign is higly negative, and completely disregards its target audience.

It's relentlessly negative. It offers few, if any, alternatives. It doesn't consider the perspective of the "average" users who don't view software as an ethical consideration. It's like a PETA campaign, but based around software. While I may agree with some of PETA's goals, the tone and general negativity push me away -- and so does this.

The FSF has many, many positives that can be used to "sell" the concept of free software. Instead, the organization is taking the lazy approach and hoping to play off of users' frustration with Windows to lure them to free software. All well and good, except that this doesn't persuade the audience that free software is something to be desired, only that Windows is something to be avoided.

Not only is the message wrong, but it's also delivered in a ham-fisted and generally off-putting way. The site looks like something thrown together by a fringe political group. The political fringe approach is hardly going to appeal to the mainstream audience that the FSF is trying to reach. Love or hate Microsoft, it has (more often than not) been successful in persuading its audience to keep consuming its software by selling the benefits of its products.

An effective counter to this would be to look at the negatives that the FSF has identified, and craft a positive message that addresses the same issues -- but with an entirely different tone. If the organization has identified issues that users care about, it will be far more succesful if the FSF helps tell the audience how to solve their problems.

To be fair, negative messaging does work sometimes -- but on the whole, it should be avoided as much as possible. Convince your audience of your positives, and you'll have a far stronger reaction than persuading your audience that the alternatives are to be avoided.

Creative Commons License
This work by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Libraries and Linux: The Strange Parallels of Stacks and Software

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

There are some obvious similarities between the quintessential Linux user and the classical image of the librarian, covering the gamut of good, bad and indifferent. Librarians foster the curiosity and intellectual growth of diverse patrons, connecting them with reliable sources of information and suggesting entertaining books, music and movies. The Linux community encourages users to examine, change, and take the operating system further -- regardless of whether "further" works out as modifying a kernel module or creating a new scalable vector graphic icon set for the desktop.

Linux users, when faced with a question that's been asked millions of times throughout the ages -- one with an easily discovered answer, if the soul asking had only taken a few seconds -- often respond with a resounding "RTFM" (read the f****** manual). Sometimes this response will be shaken up with a stray "Google is your friend." Librarians, by matter of course, prefer to teach a man to fish rather than feed him -- and sometimes patrons, quite capable of fishing when pointed towards the appropriate body of water, would really prefer to be fed their fish, with a couple side dishes, butter, lemon, dessert, and valet parking for good measure. That's when they tend to be greeted with the response, "Look it up." And yes, sometimes this response will be shaken up with a stray "Google is your friend."

By and large, the quintessential Linux user and classical librarian persona are stereotypes. Stereotypes generally have a grain of truth buried in there somewhere. I think what's most awe-inspiring about these two demographics -- similar, yet simultaneously so utterly different -- isn't the kindred philosophies or the occasionally pointed terms used to encourage others to seek answers on their own. It's the shocking way that skills learned in one setting (librarianship, fooling around with Linux in nearly any capacity) are so complementary and transferable.

In its elemental form: These settings are complementary because neither places high value on knowing the answer right from the start -- the value, the knowledge, the ability arises from understanding what question actually needs an answer, and then knowing how to track that answer down.

Think of troubleshooting an error as a reference interview. Think of a reference interview as troubleshooting an error. It works reasonably well both ways.

I've not transformed any Linux users I know into librarians, but I've found there's a healthy appreciation of the skills required in the stacks. The library just isn't where they see themselves seeking employment. That's fine. I know many librarians who use Linux in some capacity -- to play around and learn, to develop applications, or some mix of the two. I know many librarians who appreciate the skills required in software development (or general system maintenance). They don't pursue it, it's not their thing. And that, too, is fine. But there's a response encountered just a little too frequently to sit right, "I could never do that. It's too [insert phrase that thinly veils the notion that computers are magical and completely undocumented creations]."

Troubleshooting is a reference interview. In many ways, it's the easiest reference interview you'll ever conduct. While Linux error messages and logs seem cryptic, or complete to the point of superfluity, it doesn't take long to narrow down the log files and specific lines that'll help identify the source of the problem. Yes, you'll likely get more information than you need from this interview, but you're going to get the information needed to find an answer and believe me, the system won't question why the hell you're asking all these follow up questions and not just providing a solution to the question raised.

The best part is, of course, you don't have to know what the error really means. In a general sense, perhaps, but that can also be rooted out fairly quickly by searching help files. Not knowing exactly what wlan0: disassociating by local choice (reason=3) means isn't a problem. If the time of a system glitch (say, a lost wireless connection) corresponds to the message, it's a fine place to start searching the most suspect looking phrases. We're librarians. We do this all the time.

And by the way, my wireless card doesn't have a superiority complex. The error was the product of a dodgy driver update.

Kristin Shoemaker ("shoe") is the collective effort of the Simmons GSLIS development project. Constantly in need of either a warm reboot (or at least a Ctrl-Alt-Bksp and restart of the graphical server), she is a contributor at OStatic, the GigaOM network's open source portal.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

Scripting, oh scripting...

This is a small tool I am working on:

# Snatch -- Script to take a show post URL and derive PDF, PS, TXT,
# and sanitized HTML versions for deposit at Internet Archive. The script
# also downloads the related MP3 podcast file and creates an Ogg version.
# This script assumes that Enscript dumps its output to standard out
# instead of the default printer. Lynx and Ghostscript must also be
# installed for this to work as well as sox and aria2c.
# 7 July 2009 -- Stephen Michael Kellat
# This script is released under a BSD license variant. To review it,
# visit
# Usage:
# [Text URL to download] [common file name for derivative formats] [Podcast URL for download]

lynx -dump $1 | enscript --margins=50:50:50:50 --word-wrap -G --color --media=letter -o - | ps2pdf - $2.pdf
lynx -dump $1 | enscript --margins=50:50:50:50 --word-wrap -G --color --media=letter -o - > $
lynx -dump $1 | enscript --margins=50:50:50:50 --word-wrap -G -whtml --color --media=letter -o - > $2.html
lynx -dump $1 > $2.txt
aria2c --split=16 -o $2.mp3 $3
sox $2.mp3 -C8 $2.ogg

Inch by inch, row by row the need to archive the run so far of LISTen grows. The likely depository besides LISNews itself would be Internet Archive.

Yes, the script is a wee bit messy. It is a work in progress. While I hope I will not have to use it, I am not holding my breath either while waiting for Godot.

Two Institutional Repository Providers Merge

An announcement dated today notes that the entities behind DSpace and Fedora Commons have merged. The new organization will be called Duraspace and will compete against other packages such as Greenstone which most recently announced that it ported its package to Android after making such work on iPods.

(h/t pmlozeau)

LISTen: An Podcast -- Episode #71

This week's episode is varied as to topics. First up is an interview with Jono Bacon, community manager for Ubuntu. Bacon talked to us about his upcoming Community Leadership Summit where librarians would be welcome as librarians. Also discussed was the nature of the Ubuntu release parties and how they help hold a community together.

After the chat with Bacon, a reading of the proposed Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act is presented. A brief round-up of comment out there on the bill currently in the United States House of Representatives is also raised. Following that further coverage of censorship in Fiji is presented through the relay of reports by Radio New Zealand International. Fiji was a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth of Nations prior to the military coup in December 2006.

Related links:
Direct link to Profile America source audio for May 11th
Jono Bacon
Community Leadership Summit in San Jose in July
Direct link to Linux Outlaws promo
Text of H.R. 1966 at THOMAS
Defense on the Huffington Post by Representative Linda Sanchez of H.R. 1966
First look at H.R. 1966 by Wired's Threat Level blog
Second look at H.R. 1966 by Wired's Threat Level blog
Discussion by Colorado Springs Gazette of H.R. 1966
Discussion by The Guardian of H.R. 1966
Discussion by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh of H.R. 1966 in response to Representative Sanchez
Multiple posts by Volokh on H.R. 1966
Direct link to Peace Corps source audio for the utilized PSA
Page including reference to RNZI's audio use permission grant
Story about two journalists being held in Fiji
Direct link to story audio used in the podcast, entitled: "Fiji school principal sacked after calling for elections"

28:22 minutes (8 MB)

LISTen: An Podcast -- Episode #59

Let's try out a different approach to show posts this week. Timings are approximate. Related links are interleaved.

Due to length this is broken so as to not take up the entire main page which requires one to click "read more". Readers and listeners seeing this via RSS or a FeedBurner e-mail subscription are encouraged to visit LISNews itself to get the show break-down as well as the related links. -- Read More

20:58 minutes (8 MB)


Things are a little crazy on this end in the Las Vegas metro. Around 7 PM Pacific tonight I'll potentially end up "going dark" online. With luck this shouldn't last more than 24 hours. Considering the way things go, it may well be anybody's guess. If you're wondering what might happen with LISTen please don't worry, I've already got that covered.

I haven't formally put together a press release quite just yet for a new project. Since folks will see this via e-mail on the LISNews Podcast feed over FeedBurner, I figure I'll leak some details. Try this link to see something that I am not quite satisfied with yet: . I suggest considering that a "release candidate" for now.

New CD image of KNOPPIX released

DistroWatch reports that there is a new release of KNOPPIX. Release notes are posted. KNOPPIX is a LiveCD that is most often loaded with recovery tools. While great for IT personnel to attempt recovery on systems, the disc also allows for front-line library staff a chance to see if a comatose system can be booted before calling IT. A download manager such as wget or wget for Windows is needed for optimal downloading of the disc image from one mirror or another.

LISTen: The Podcast -- Episode #58

Not only is this episode longer than usual, it is a bit more varied relative to topical matter.

Tony Millett, a member of LIANZA's Copyright Taskforce and a spokesperson for the association, spoke to LISTen about the unique copyright situation arising in New Zealand. Joshua Ferraro, Chief Executive Officer of LibLime, spoke to LISTen about the new service launched by his company. Due to an equipment failure that interview was partially truncated although the surviving part is aired in the podcast. The final interview was with Andrew Breitbart, the owner of, where there was discussion about the creators of their mediums of expression libraries care for.

The podcast wraps up with an abbreviated Linux report.

Show-related links:
New Zealand Computer Society on the copyright issue there
InternetNZ on the copyright issue there
Article from The Independent on the copyright situation in New Zealand
LIANZA Press Release on the copyright situation in New Zealand
Press release on the boot camp for all librarians, not just IT people, referenced in the episode
Press release from LibLime about their service
Opinion piece by Andrew Breitbart that led to the interview news portal
Big Hollywood site
Piece by David Harsanyi about dissent referenced in the interview with Mr. Breitbart
Release announcement for Ubuntu 8.04.2
Release announcement for CrunchBang Linux 8.10.02
Release announcement for FreeBSD 7.1

Other related links:
Morgan Webb announces the end to WebbAlert, which was recommended to librarians by LISTen in early 2008
"An Essay in Opposition"

43:39 minutes (8 MB)
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