It’s been a while since I talked about my library visiting in earnest. Vermont has a 251 Club, a pretty informal group who have the aim to visit all of Vermont’s 251 towns. I love the idea (I’ve been to all the towns, now going back to photograph them) and have extended it to libraries. The Passport to Vermont’s Libraries project that VLA did for three years was basically an outgrowth of this. But now it’s just me and my list and map and car.
Yesterday I gave my Practical Privacy talk in Richmond Vermont (pop. 4000-ish) and had the day free beforehand. I figured I’d go for a drive. I started with VLA’s map of all the public libraries in the state, then used a new tool I’d just made, a list of all the public library websites in the state. From there I made a list of which libraries would actually be OPEN (this is more challenging than it might seem in a library where some libraries are only open 14 hours) and charted my course. I managed to see seven libraries in one long day, had two meals with interesting women–Mary the director of Fletcher Free, and Julie a techie powerhouse who does coding and coaching and public speaking–and gave my talk in the big upstairs room of the Richmond library which had previously been both a church and a basketball court. Here’s where I went.
- Warren Public with its beautiful giant tree painted in the children’s section
- Joslin Library in Waistfield was a quiet Carnegie-esque building where I caught up on email
- Carpenter-Carse Library in Hinesburg where my neighbor’s Mom (who I had just met on Memorial Day) had recently retired and they’d named the Large Print section after her.
- Charlotte Library where I got a tour from Margaret the director and we schemed about ways to make the VLA website better and more useful
- New Haven Community Library where I watched a kid watch a woman on YouTube talk about Taco Bell for 15 minutes
- Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol where I met Nancy and she let me go up to the creepy attic, a place she’d never seen even though she’d worked there for 27 years.
- Richmond Library where I talked about internet privacy for two hours to an attentive audience
I peeked in a lot of old books, talked to a bunch of nice people, stayed on top of my email and really felt like I’d gotten to know more of Vermont through its libraries. And it gets me jazzed about figuring out ways I can do more things that are helpful, that use my particular skills to get things done for libraries. My little photoset, which should eventually have 183 photos, is over on Flickr.
From a local librarian:I get to take over the duties of someone very beloved by patrons who recently left us and this includes computer help. I’m trying to create a repository of ‘self-help’ documents both for staff who often need it and for patrons to take home with them when we do something like set up an email address and they need the steps repeated. I’d rather not reinvent the wheel… it occurred to me that maybe you already have some that you can share? If not, can you provide me some pointers on what to include?
I’m also charged with cleaning up the staff file system on our server and coming up with good practices for file naming, document organization, and teaching our staff how to do it…. I’m hoping you know of some examples of local libraries with excellent file management in place or a set of best practices somewhere so I can give more models of what I’m trying to fix. Where might I find something like this?
Those sound like challenging tasks. I am happy to help as I can. Some of it is really going to be moving people to a “digital readiness” place where they feel deputized to do some of this themselves and that is challenging and needs to be as much an emotional task as a physical one. Lots of positive “you can do it” feedback and lots of “ok let’s try this again….” sorts of stuff, patience, etc. Trying to view improvement as improvement, even if it’s ever-so-slight as opposed to “Man, this is just a MESS.” I know I’m not telling you things you don’t know, but I have found that if I reframe some of the “work” as just being supportive and patient, I can feel better about what I do manage to get done.
I’m not sure I have those documents in print, though I have a few that are a little outdated. I often dig around in the NYPL Tech Connect site to look for handouts.
Usually the biggest thing is making sure they know
- How to go to a URL, any URL
- WHAT THEIR LOGIN AND PASSWORD IS (sorry to shout but my gosh this one is harder than it should be – I send them home with it written down, privacy be damned)
- How to troubleshoot if the two things above don’t work
I don’t know a lot about how libraries manage their files but as someone who is basically organized, I usually tell people a few things
- Make sure whatever system is in place, it works from all computers basically the same (i.e. make sure there’s a shortcut on the desktop or something from every staff computer)
- Make sure people either can search for stuff (the Google way) or can understand the file/folder system (the librarian way) pretty effectively
- I’m a big folder fan, putting things either in thematic folders (summer reading, trustee minutes, etc) and then inside those by date, or doing something like file types (images, PDFs, word documents) and going from that. Depends on what people are expecting and how much work they are willing to do on this.
- Think about whether an offboard solution like Dropbox would be simpler. Doesn’t work for everyone but they have some “version
control” types of things that can be helpful sometimes
This would be a great question for the VTLIBRARIES list. Happy to be a continuing help with this, I know it’s a process and not a one and done deal.
Context: I wrote a column for Computers in Libraries magazine about practical technology tips. Here is an email from a reader.
Your December 2017 column, “Money Matters” doesn’t seem to contain any information that would advise or reassure a person who, like me, avoids online banking because she is, frankly, somewhat paranoid about identity theft. As you yourself point out, I’m not the only one who worries about that. Would you consider writing a column that specifically addressed those concerns?
That is not a column I am likely to be writing. Not because I’m not interested in the topic, but because ultimately my column is a tech column and the solutions to not using online banking often involve offline stuff. Which is good! But at the same time, as much as I respect your own personal choice to not use online banking, I feel that it’s not the weak point in the complex system of electronic transactions that permeate our life nowadays. I feel like those are more like
- debit cards which get stolen with alarming regularity and are used, sold, and traded
- non chip-and-pin credit cards though most banks have done away with those
- social engineering to obtain access to bank accounts through phone banking.
While it’s totally true that not having online banking can limit some of the access points, I sometimes feel that having and securely locking down ones online banking (using something like two-factor authentication, a good long password, and not logging in from anywhere other than a home computer) is actually safer than not having it and risking someone else potentially activating it.
All of this is not to try to sway you from your position which is yours and, as I said, I respect everyone’s agency to make the personal choices that work for them. At the same time, a lot of what I do is to slowly nudge people to make better and more secure choices that allow them to use technology, even as I acknowledge that they may choose, ultimately, not to. runetkix.top
Excerpt from an email from a librarian in the Midwest: One of the goals for the new [library] strategic plan is that “Patrons will find support and expertise in technology instruction.” I’ve never taught classes before but I do like to mess around with technology.
I don’t know if it is my perception or not, but your drop-ins seem like a great community building atmosphere where disparate characters can come together and learn about tech and get help. I’d love to know how you have designed/fostered their growth.
I do drop-in time work within the context of a technical high school not the public library, just as an FYI. I started there ten years ago after my last library job had ended (it was grant funded) and I was like “I am taking some time off and will not take a job unless I open the paper and there is a ‘teach email to old people’ job listed…” and well, there was! The vocational school was hiring a VISTA volunteer to help with community tech work. Basically it’s a regional school so all the “sending towns” send kids and money to the school but don’t get as much back as the town that houses the school. So we thought about how to fix that.
In the early days it was three separate things:
- visiting tech help to small libraries (I got mileage paid by the school and hours were part of the VISTA program). Show up max twice a month and help them with whatever. This was maybe eight small libraries, some became regulars some were not
- teaching adult ed classes
- drop-in came as a result of these classes
We found that there were people signing up to take the Intro To Computers class, for example, who didn’t know how to use a mouse. And… how were they going to learn? So we set up drop-in time as a way for people who needed a little extra help (since Adult Ed classes pay by the hour, teachers aren’t paid to come early or stay late) or if we needed someone to evaluate if someone had enough of the skills they needed to take a class. And what we found was a lot of people didn’t NEED a class, they just needed someone to help them get their login working, or sign up for an email address and then they were good. At first we did it two afternoons a week, then it got dropped to one after the VISTA position ended. The funding right now comes from some of the money that comes in from both the Department of Labor and Department of Ed. The school offers space, admin time, some laptops that people can use, free (filtered, but not heavily filtered) wifi, heat or AC, and places to plug in computers. Clean restrooms. People can bring their dogs. There’s a whiteboard and an overhead but I barely use them. It’s really mostly tables and chairs.
A few things we do as part of our thing
- Sometimes Vocational Rehab will send someone to drop-in to “learn computers” as part of work-related activities, this works out well usually
- A lot of people are “regulars” and they just like coming to work in a setting where they know someone is there in case they hit a wall
- It’s a small community there, a lot of people know each other at least a little
- I have a local kid who is 14 and comes to help out because it’s interesting and he’s super smart but doesn’t have the best people skills. We work on his people skills and people are very forgiving/understanding since the help is free
- I sometimes do some low-level teaching at the school for continuing ed (“Help us learn to use Google Classroom” types of things)
- We have sign up lists so we track basic stats but not more than that
And a few oddball things:
- If people need one on one help, we have a computer shop in town or I will sometimes meet people at the coffee shop and they can put money on my tab (I do not advertise this)
- under NO circumstances do we do house calls
- I’ll help people with basic stuff over email, I do not take phone calls
We used to offer coffee and snacks and found there wasn’t much uptake. We stress that it’s NOT A CLASS “just an opportunity for learning” I get paid like $20-25/hour (depending on funding sources) for when I am there, so total cost for the program is basically $50/week and I work probably ~30 weeks a year (we take summers off, NO ONE came when we were there in Summers). It’s very fundable assuming you have a place with loaner laptops.
A lot of what I do lately, as you can see, is help people with a lot of basic stuff: Apple ID, iTunes, their phones, using a new website, buying/selling things, downloading an ebook or music. Sometimes they need to buy a thing and want advice. Sometimes Facebook confuses them (rarely Twitter or Instagram). Sometimes it’s digital photography or software apps but not so much lately. Some things that are challenging are when people have questions about their printers or at-home desktop computers or “how do I make a backup?” and you have to sort of talk them through what to do when they get home. A lot of people have ANCIENT technology and while some of them could be gently encouraged to buy something newer, most are dealing with what they can afford, so having practical solutions that aren’t just “Buy new shit!” is helpful. Attitude is a lot of it. People mention often how patient I am. I am not necessarily a patient person but patience is effective so I use it.
A big thing is that it’s clear that drop-in, and me, are a shared resource. I encourage people to come with projects or questions. I make it clear that I deal with people first-come first-served and spend time “circulating.” This often encourages people to speak with each other even though I never would have considered this something I intentionally did. People who are inclined to come to something like this are, I think, a little bit more community-minded than folks who just sit at home and swear at their computer (or make promises they’ll get to it “someday”) so it does self-select. Which is one reason I am in favor of this model even though I know a lot of libraries who do a “schedule time with an expert” thing which is another way of managing it but maybe not as community-minded. We advertise in all the usual places. Getting on the regular calendar in the newspaper has been helpful. Nearly all of it nowadays is word of mouth. I’ve been doing this for ten years.
So this is top of the head stuff. If you have specific questions or something I didn’t address, do let me know.
I love to visit libraries. Every year I make a list and think about it at year’s end. This year I went to 48 libraries in seven states and three Canadian provinces. Eighty-seven library visits total. Previous years: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and some reviews from 2003.
It was a weird year. I spent more of it away from home than usual, needing things to distract me. I followed more well-trodden paths otherwise. I was planning to visit ALL the Harvard libraries before my fellowship expired, but things don’t always go like I plan.
Libraries I went to a lot
- Kimball (VT) – My local
- Hartness (VT) – The local academic
- Chelsea (VT) – Over the mountain, I worked some shifts this year.
- Boxboro (MA) – Library that my mom went to, I probably went there more than twice but that’s all I wrote down
All the rest of the libraries
- Woodstock (VT) – stopped by on a snowy day
- Brooklyn Central (NY) – gave a talk and got to open one of those BIG windows out front
- Barre High (VT) – said hello after my CRAAP talk
- Bryant (RI) – RILA talk, such a nice library
- Acton (MA) – the library I spent the most time in as a teenager
- Baraboo (WI) – cute and lovely Carnegie
- Rockingham (VT) – gave a privacy talk, enjoyed the Hetty Green exhibits
- Hartland (VT) – did some Passport planning
- Strathcona/EPL (Edmonton AB) – a lovely old building in Edmonton
- Toronto Ref (Toronto ON) – The Ref, so big, so grand, got the full tour
- Belcher/Gaysville (VT) – a live-in library with a lot of funky stories
- UToronto/Fisher (Toronto ON) – big and bold
- Rutherford/UA (Edmonton AB) – lots of places to wander in this library, love the engagement work they do
- Cumberland (RI) – full tour including the roof!
- Toronto/Gladstone (Toronto ON) – a lovely and PACKED public library
- Aurora Hills (VA) – this library is not accessible to people in wheelchairs
- Alburg (VT) – on my way out of the country, they loan snowshoes
- Westport (MA) – did not manage to get here much
- Norwich U (VT) – haven’t been here in a while and was happy to go back
- VT State Library (VT) – they are moving to a new building! maybe my last time here
- Montreal PL (Quebec) – wide-ranging and somewhat opaque to someone who doesn’t speak good French
- Montpelier PL (VT) – love all the wood in this place
- Springfield (VT) – stopped by to see Amy
- Randall/Stow (MA) – raptor show!!
- Harvard Public (MA) – really great renovation at this place
- Brown/Northfield (VT) – stopped by on a cold day
- Brookfield (VT) – a classic one room library
- Widener/Harvard (MA) – the library to end all libraries, spent a lot of time in the basement
- Library of Congress (DC) – the other library to end all libraries
- Toronto/Palmerston (Toronto ON) – a small branch, very busy
- Toronto/Robarts (Toronto ON) – big and wide ranging, hard to get in and out of
- Maynard (MA) – killed some time here and enjoyed it
- West Acton (MA) – never been to this tiny library before
- Bethel (VT) – taught a class and it went well
- Wayland (MA) – the library near the hospice, under construction
- Arlington popup (VA) – seemed to be the antidote for the other non-accessible library. very hard to find
- Tozzier/Harvard (MA) – open a lot, wish I could have spent more time here
- Quechee (VT) – old and classic, we looked at bird books here
- Rochester (VT) – privacy talk and hang out time, new kids space is great
- Goodnow/Sudbury (MA) – also close to hospice and a much better/bigger and more welcoming library
- Saratoga Springs PL (FL) – a great place walking distance from the conference
- Tiverton PL (RI) – did not get here as much as I wanted either
- Whiting/Chester (VT) – stopped by to drop off passports, met some nice men and we had a great talk
- Niceville PL (FL) – quick stop to say hi to the fish tank
I remain eternally grateful to people who took time out from their jobs to show me around, tell me their stories and share with me what is special about their communities.
I started 106 books this year and finished 102. I seem to have some sort of aggressive attachment to reading serendipitously. Which means no matter what I set out to do, I read whatever the hell I want because I read for fun and can’t really queue up books I want to read. This means it’s hard for me to choose to read more diversely, or read more titles by women. I got some good suggestions from people last year and then watched myself basically ignore them this year. I need to work my actual reading habits in to my aspirational reading life. That said, here’s how the year shook out. It was a good year for reading, but that was also sort of because it wasn’t a great year for me. We muddle forward…
average read per month: 8.83
average read per week: 2.04
number read in worst month: 5 (Oct)
number read in best month: 11 (Sep)
number unfinished: 4
percentage by male authors: 55
percentage by female authors: 45
percentage of authors of color/non-Western: 18
fiction as percentage of total: 65
non-fiction as percentage of total: 35
percentage of total liked: 88
percentage of total ambivalent: 11
percentage of total disliked: 1
I only read one book that made it to my Best in Show list which was The Encyclopedia of Early Earth: A Novel. A great graphic novel with some awesome female characters and strong drawing and storytelling. Otherwise, finished up the Maisie Dobbs series and started reading Daniel Silva which is a weird fit for me (sort of violent thrillers) but I find I like reading my same old genre topics but with Jewish characters. I’ll probably branch out. More non-fiction this year, more female authors, and a lot more non-Western authors mainly because I have been seeking out sci fi from other countries and it’s been worth the effort. Notable books included one about historic theater scenery in New England and one about conscientious objectors who starved for science during WWII. Currently reading but have not yet finished a great book about eggs!
Librarians: please unlink or nofollow sites you don’t want to lend your authority to.
Librarians have a few staple websites we go to when we teach information literacy, especially lately when people talk about fake news. There’s the tree octopus. And there’s MartinLutherKing.org, a site that looks like it might be informative at a glance but is actually run by white supremacists. We put these links in our teaching materials and show people how to evaluate information they find online. However, there’s a problem with this approach. When libraries link to other websites, even if it’s just to say “This is garbage.” search engines see this inbound link and say, in a way only a dumb robot could “Oh hey, this authoritative site is linking to this other site. That must make that other site fractionally more authoritative than we thought it was.” The robot can’t, or doesn’t, read the context of the link, the part that says “This is garbage.” What this means it that our inbound links to this racist website are actually causing it to rank more highly in Google search results; it’s usually on the first page of results when you search for Dr. King. Watch this short useful video for more specifics on what is actually happening.
If you run a page that links to this site, please consider doing one of two things
- Removing the link. You can leave the words, just remove the link.
- Adding a “nofollow” tag to the link. Here’s what that means and how to do it.
If you see other libraries or websites linking to this site, encourage them to do the same. We helped cause this, we should help fix this. Thank you.
This is a theme update. I was looking for a way to sort of merge this blog and my newsletter. I have not managed that, but I did get this site looking fairly decent for now and maybe like it was designed in the last half of this decade. If you see anything looking broken, let me know.
Email from a library worker, paraphrased: I am deeply committed to social justice and anti-oppression principles. I am radical in my politics. I am interested in literacy as a feminist issue. I am also interested in knowledge, access, critical thinking, community impact, etc. I worry there isn’t room to work at the intersections of these interests in library spaces…. Is there room for me in librarianship, and if so, where?
I feel like librarianship is a “big tent” sort of profession, especially public librarianship, so I often feel that there is space for people, but some of it depends not only on politics but on temperament.
Like you, I have what I consider to be radical politics, I am pretty anti-capitalist and have strong feelings that US politics is essentially a con game. I hate this president but did not love the last one, even though I think he made great strides in some social pathways (significantly more acceptance and security for GLBTQ folks, but also still bombing etc, the fuck?). And so part of the issue with librarianship is that there are a LOT of librarians in it who have left-leaning but what I would consider more mainstream liberal politics and who also think of their own political opinions as highly evolved (I don’t think my politics are better than other people’s, but they are mine) and it can sometimes be weird to be around people who are so self-congratulatory about their own awareness without maybe considering some other ways in which liberalism as expressed by libraries is not necessarily liberating.
Anyhow, so part of being able to work in libraries requires tolerance, of co-workers as well as the public who comes from any manner of backgrounds. And then to your question of whether you can find a space for you… it depends. I see a lot of fairly fulfilled public librarians who I think can bring their own politics to the job, particularly if they work in outreach or work with populations who really need the help. I also know librarians who work in deeply radical spaces (Julie Herrada is one, but there are others, often within academic librarianship or the non-profit or activist worlds) and really add a lot to the discourse by being very good at librarianship.
So if you think you can work within a structure that is left-but-not-radical in order to get across your own work which may be radical-and-not-left, I suggest it. I think there are a lot of good ways to participate and really get some good things done. If you feel
like you really need to be immersed 100% among fellow radicals, you are going to have a harder time in librarianship, though I think it can still be done.
As far as school, my general feeling is that the best place you can go to library school is the place you can afford, if there is one. I think some library schools are a bit more activist than others, but overall it’s more about the things you study and the work you do. A few options
– I went to the University of Washington (a long time ago) and was happy with the education I got there. They have TASCHA now which
deals with a lot of inequality issues and the people there are good. Also there is a PhD program so you can possibly get funding
– David Lankes is righteous and he has recently moved to SC’s LIS program (from Syracuse I think?) and he’s worth working with though I
don’t know if I’d move to SC.
– Toni Samek is one of the most radical Canadian LISers that I know, after Normal Horrocks passed a decade ago. She is in Edmonton and it
might be worth dropping her a note.
(this is a slightly amended reprint of an article I wrote for Computers in Libraries magazine in 2016 and I’m putting it here because it’s timely. Original title: Practical Technology – Digital Privacy is Important Too. If something seems inaccurate, let me know.)
This month’s column is amplifying the signal on a movement that has been brewing in the library world: getting libraries to make patron’s digital activities as secure as their lending records. There are a few ways to do this but I’m going to focus on using HTTPS.
You’re probably familiar with the http:// prefix from web addresses. You may not know that it stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol but you don’t really need to. HTTP is a method of exchanging information, mainly web pages, online. The information that is exchanged goes over the internet in plain text, unencrypted. This is fine if you are just trying to look at a website about caves or bats, but less fine if you are sending passwords, banking information, or other things that you’d prefer to be more secure.
Privacy-conscious individuals can use browser plug-ins for Firefox, Chrome or Opera such as HTTPS Everywhere on their own computers which will let them use an encrypted channel for sending information when possible. However if libraries are in the privacy business, shouldn’t we be offering HTTPS to our users as much as possible?
Eric Hellman who runs the popular library blog Go To Hellman has been working with the Library Freedom Project to get libraries to commit to digital privacy by signing the Library Digital Privacy Pledge. Simply put, it asks libraries to commit to using HTTPS to “deliver library services and the information resources offered by libraries.” in 2016.
Historically this has been an endeavor that came with associated costs since purchase of a digital certificate was required to verify the security of the connection. Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has started the Let’s Encrypt project with sponsors like Mozilla and Cisco in order to lower the costs and the technical hurdles involved in getting set up with HTTPS.
Last year was the year for HTTPS. The White House made a statement in June of 2015 directing “all publicly accessible Federal websites and web services only provide service through a secure HTTPS connection” by the end of 2016. They have also created a web-friendly version of their memo along with an extended explanation about how and why they created this mandate. On their page entitled “Why HTTPS for Everything?” they explain
Today, there is no such thing as non-sensitive web traffic, and public services should not depend on the benevolence of network operators.
When properly configured, HTTPS can provide a fast, secure connection that offers the level of privacy and reliability that users should expect from government web services.
The big reasoning for pushing for this in libraries is twofold. First privacy is our business. It’s in our professional bill of rights and it’s certainly in all of our marketing materials. The ALA’s Code of Ethics is very clear “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.” That “transmitted” part is the key.
If we say we keep your reading list private, shouldn’t we be able to say the same about your internet browsing habits? Our users are getting their information not just from print materials but from databases that we provide as well as internet connections, and possibly computers, that we offer. If we’re in the privacy business it’s our responsibility to make these channels as secure as possible. This means managing these systems in our own libraries and urging, if not requiring, our vendors to do the same.
Major companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook as well as my employer the Internet Archive, have made the switch recently and if you haven’t really noticed that’s the good news. All major browsers should be able to handle this transition seamlessly. Users have a browsing experience that feels the same, but is much more secure. Libraries can offer their patrons public wifi access and also assure them that the data they send over that wifi isn’t “sniffable” by third parties. This is good PR for libraries.
And this brings us to the second reason, clarity. There are many different ways that internet content tries to make itself look reputable and authoritative. As librarians we’ve seen them all. However, telling a user “Look for the lock icon on the browser.” or “Look for https in the web address.” is a straightforward and simple way to make this additional security clear to users. This can help users resist phishing attempts and give them more confidence when interacting with sites that require their personal information.
Where and When
There are a few steps involved in making this change and some of it is dependent on the IT system the library is using. A very simple first step is contacting the vendors your library does business with and ask them if they use HTTPS and, if not, if they would consider implementing it. OverDrive, EBSCO and Elsevier have already made this change.
The next step is doing an assessment of the web services you offer and look into making the transition. This can be as simple as updating your website and inspecting your internet connection but possibly as complicated as rebuilding some of the code you have been using or looking at your content management system’s tools for implementing HTTPS. Sometimes this can be as simple as using a plugin.
The good news is that the last few years have seen a surge of companies and websites who have been moving to HTTPS so many of the starting points are Googleable. There are also people from the Library Freedom Project willing to help libraries get set up with HTTPS if you simply lack the resources to undertake this project on your own.
This pledge is also a chance for us to model good behavior for other users who may not understand how packets move across the internet. By showing that we care about their privacy and presenting privacy as a thing to be valued, we can help other people make good decisions about their own web content and internet habits. Join us.