Friday, October 26, 2007

Grrr, Hillary, Grrr

Hillary likes to remind us that the Right has thrown everything they could at her. In fact, that vast right wing conspiracy threw multiple kitchen sinks at she and Bill and somehow, miraculously, they emerged virtually unscathed. They've got nothing left in their barrels but raw disdain. But what lengths will Republicans go to ensure Hillary isn’t elected? Sam Brownback, who recently dropped out of the race, has long been a fierce, fire and brimstone pro-lifer, as good a representation of the social conservative wing of the party as you’ll find. But he seems, recently, to be thinking more pragmatically. Who, when it gets down to it, he's asking himself, has the best chance of defeating Hillary? The answer is Rudy, who, as the Catholic News Agency reports:

Many social conservatives consider Giuliani to be a very weak candidate. They cite his pro-abortion positions and connections, which include support for federal funding of abortions, making abortion available at any stage of pregnancy, support for partial-birth abortion and receiving several donations from Planned Parenthood. Giuliani’s approval of homosexuality is another reason that he is seen as an unfit candidate for the Republican nomination by many.

And let's not forget the cross-dressing! There's so much to dislike. Later, however, the same article had this to say,

According to Jay Heine, Brownback's political director in Iowa, an endorsement could happen because Brownback and many of his supporters believe Giuliani has the best chance of defeating Senator Hillary Clinton, the expected Democratic nominee.

How about that? At this rate the social conservative wing may be willing to throw their support behind a gay Republican candidate when Chelsea makes her own bid for the Oval Office. If Hillary really is the Democratic nominee will the Right, especially the social/Evangelist wing, be able to swallow so much of its platform wholesale and mobilize their Hillary hatred around Rudy?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Suburban Trees

Wednesdays, between my Internet Publishing and Library 2.0 classes , I have a 6 hour stretch, at least two of which I spend walking from campus to the local Whole Foods for lunch, roughly 2 miles away. I take to the back streets, attempting to walk a different route each time. I have a big soft spot for old suburbs like River Forest--the majestic canopy of old trees, the oftentimes exceptional architectural variety of the homes, the high octane manicure of their lawns, the lazy solitude of their weekday afternoons.

The trees may still be about a week out from offering their best displays of color, but some, like the one above, are in peak bloom.

I couldn't do justice to this tree. It was was monster, branches sprawling this way and that, leaves still obstinately green. What kind of tree? An oak? I don't know my trees!

I realize that my notions of suburbs are both idealized and nostalgic, willfully discarding the rapacious consumption they've encouraged and the entitlement they so often exhibit. Of course, the suburbs are an easy target for the disdain of those of us who gladly left them for a more urban experience. And it's a complex, fascinating dichotomy-- urban vs. suburban--and one not easily unpacked.

I've long been meaning to read Kenneth Jackson's history of the American suburb, Crabgrass Frontier, which tantalizingly offers chapters on suburban idealization (Home, Sweet Home: The House and the Yard) and suburban development between the two wars, which, based off my own experiences, yielded many of the suburbs like River Forest that I find so appealing. Perfectly fine, at least, for a leisurely afternoon stroll between classes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

From the Useful to the Inane

I joined Facebook late this summer after some gentle coaxing from my friend Joe. After creating the account I went about searching for friends (the 35 and over demographic, while growing, is still somewhat unrepresented), adding applications, joining groups, uploading some photos and wondering if I shouldn't poke the Facebook doppelgangers who share my name. Perhaps I'll start a group for my fellow Chris Breitenbachs, if anything to discover where the Christopher Breitenbach from Poughkeepsie, New York picked up the fantastic Spiderman shirt he's wearing in his Profile picture.

An article in last weeks Economist had this to say:

Facebook has made two genuine breakthroughs. The first was its decision to let outsiders write programs and keep all the advertising revenues these might earn. This has led to all kinds of widgets, from the useful (comparing Facebookers' music and film tastes, say) to the inane (biting each other to become virtual zombies).... Facebook's second masterstroke is its “mini-feed”, an event stream on user pages that keeps users abreast of what their friends are doing—uploading photos, adding a widget and so on. For many users, this is addictive and is the main reason they log on so often. Jerry Michalski, a consultant, calls the mini-feed a “data exhaust” that gives Facebook users “better peripheral vision” into the lives of people they know only casually. This mini-feed is so far the clearest example of using the social graph in a concrete way.

That seems about right. Seeing what films my friends have checked out or what books they're currently reading offer small but intimate glimpses into their lives. I like that. Should they desire to turn me into a virtual zombie, that's fine. The "mini-feed" is even better, an aggregate of everything my friends have posted. Just today, for example, my friend Dennis updated his Profile picture, Joe and Heath saved some links on and I took a look at what book Jeanne is reading.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Comment Enabled Blogs: Are Libraries Really Having Conversations?

Casey and Savastinuk write that the "participatory Web seeks to harness the power of its users in order to enhance content" (p. 59). They go on to write that "participatory service seek to do for library services what the participatory Web has done for the Web itself. Users and their knowledge have the ability to reshape library services, but libraries must first change the way they craft their services and tools so that users have a clear and open avenue on which to communicate and participate" (p. 61).

There are, of course, numerous routes through which libraries can and have attempted to encourage this kind of participatory service ethic. Casey and Savastinuk, along with many of their Library 2.0 peers, have written broadly about the potential of library blogs (both internal and external), catalogs, wikis and any number of the rapidly expanding body of software applications as exciting new platforms through which libraries and their users can "talk and communicate as never before" (p. 75). With dependable regularity, the example most Library 2.0ers use as their demonstration model to exemplify this is the comment enabled blog. "As librarians," Casey and Savastinuk write, "we know that a give-and-take conversation is critical to being understood...With blogs, when a question comes through, it no longer lives in seclusion..."(p. 84).

That is, provided a patron actually does post a question through the library blog.

I've read about this a lot over the last year and I've made a habit of checking the comments of the various library blogs I've visited. Rarely, if ever, do I see patrons making use of these comments, leading me to wonder just how effective this kind of conversation is. I think library blogs can serve an important purpose but I wonder if it isn't perhaps time for us to reevaluate if conversation is one of them. What libraries are truly having sustained comment enabled conversations with patrons?

Surely Casey and Savastinuk would provide us with effective examples. Libraries like "Waterboro Public Library in East Waterboro, Maine," they write, "are creating blogs that allow customers to comment on library happenings in their community" (p. 62). But a visit to Waterbro's library blog reveals that it isn't currently comment enabled. Perhaps it once was but the blogs archives aren't available to check. What happened? Why did they stop? Is this the best example Casey and Savastinuk can muster? Offering another example, Casey and Savastinuk go on write that other libraries, "such as Darian Library, are creating blogs on which their directors post news and field questions and comments from the public" (p. 62). But while the director, since the blogs launch in July of 2006, has sporadically posted (she starts of strong but hasn't posted any new content since July of this year) and received roughly a dozen comments, none of these rise to our authors' claim of providing valuable feedback to "be discussed in meetings, and used to improve existing services."

What, I fear, Casey and Savastinuk are positing/inflating is the ideal while neglecting the reality of what's really happening on library blogs. It would be brilliant to see library directors, staff and patrons engaged in a rich, sustained current of blog enabled conversations but I've yet to see it. Are there blogging libraries truly having such conversations?

Earlier this summer John Blyberg, one of Library 2.0's most lucid and critical writers/thinkers, wrote of the "fairly severe disconnect between what the 2.0 pundits say (among whom I count myself), and what is really happening." The 2.0 pundits have been writing for over 2 years now of blog enabled conversations between library staff and their users. I don't doubt that the one way conversation is happening--there are plenty of libraries regularly updating their blogs, offering convenient RSS feeds, and passing along valuable information regarding a stunning array of services and programming. But perhaps it's time, as the 2.0 pundits so often remind us, to reevaluate this claim. The comment enabled library blog, as it now stands, doesn't seem to be encouraging a two-way conversation.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Pancake Girl

We made pancakes this morning. Or, as is usually the case, Cathy made pancakes with her enthusiastic munchkin assistant while I hovered about in anxious anticipation.
According to Alan Davidson's mighty Penguin Companion to Food (written with the "intention that browsing through it should be a pleasure," and it is!), it was the English who did the most to advance the griddled brilliance of the pancake as we in the West have come to know it. "An English culinary manuscript of about 1430," Davidson writes, "refers to pancakes in a way which implies that the term was already familiar, but it does not occur often in the early printed cookery books. It seems to have been only in the 17th century that pancakes came to the fore in Britain." If only for this, I am a dedicated Anglophile. Thank you for the pancakes!

When I was a child, a few years older than Abby is now, my Dad would take me along on Saturday mornings to bum around the sawdust and Formica scrap strewn rooms of the family business. For lunch we'd walk a few blocks down to a restaurant run by a Greek couple who served breakfast all day. When we'd enter the owner would receive me from behind the counter with a warmhearted salutation of "It's the Pancake Boy!" And of course that's what I'd order, marveling that such a place existed where pancakes were no longer confined to the tyranny of the morning hours.
A Vietnamese restaurant is there now. Their cinnamon beef ball soup is said to be quite good.

Not just pancakes with strawberries, but bacon too! The salty, redolence of bacon on an early autumn morning is life affirming. Writing Alexander Donald from Paris, Thomas Jefferson, heavy with the burden of his times said, "I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give." Of course, he's lying. Try as he might, Jefferson couldn't resist "the most splendid post" of the presidency and he was both petty and fiercely tenacious in his quest to claim it. And he loved pancakes as much as bacon. Still, relaxing in a modest cottage with good friends, some books and bacon while the world rolls on by sounds mighty nice. I'd add a few bottles of wine though. And a badminton net.

Abby has begun humming again while she eats. She did this for many months but it abruptly stopped not long after her first birthday back in December. The hum returned a few weeks ago though. It's the hum of foodstuff approval. A hum to accompany the delicious, both savory and sweet. It's not subtle, this hum, but emphatic and assertive. She hummed through each and every bite of pancake and bacon this morning. I'm glad it's returned.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Skokie Meebo

I headed over to the recently meebo me widgeted Ask a Librarian page at Skokie Public Library and had the following conversation:

meeboguest376001: Hi there! I'm a LIS student at Dominican University and hoping to ask a few questions regarding IM'ing at your library. Is now a good time?

ask skokie: We just began the IM link this past week so I don't know how much info we have to offer you yet. Do you want to talk with one of the librarians who set it up, if yes I can give you their names and let you know when they are scheduled to be in the library.

meeboguest376001: No, I don't think I'll need to talk to one of them. If you don't have info, that's fine. Do you know how it was integrated into your system?

ask skokie: We are using the Meebo aggregator so we can serve people with the various IM providers such as AIM Yahoo Google etc

meeboguest376001: Yeah, meebo is a nice IM aggregator. Have you noticed a lot more reference questions coming in?

ask skokie: We have just placed the Widget this week. Have not really publicized it yet. Soft rollout. We will be doing flyers, bookmarks articles in newsletter later in the year.

meeboguest376001: OK, I didn't know it was so recently--though it's great that you guys are rolling it out. Any idea as to how you'll go about evaluating it?

ask skokie: Keeping Stats on sessions--will keep archives of transcripts stripped of any personal identifiers. We consider it another way to make contact---like the telephone. Will treat requests as we treat any other request for information. If we cannot answer completely via chat will ask for email or phone for more detailed followup

meeboguest376001: Was there any staff training involved in rolling it out?

ask skokie: Not much---had a short intro session and did a cheat sheet. We have been doing AskAway Virtual Reference---so concept not new. Software is easy--not much to learn just type rather than talk

meeboguest376001: Ok, last question (you've been very helpful!): Any plans to place meebo on every results page of your lib's search interface--to be at the point of need for your users?

ask skokie: We are considering this---Heard Michael Stephens suggest it & he's right. We will be expanding placement, though our site has literally thousands of pages--so not sure will be on all but definitely will eventually be on many more

meeboguest376001: Oh, that's funny! I'm taking Michael's Lib. 2.0 class this semester!

ask skokie: He's great---knows his stuff- interesting speaker too!

meeboguest376001: Thanks again for your help!

ask skokie: Good luck in your classes. feel free to contact us again any time we're open

-All in all a very good experience, and I'm ashamed to say one of the longest, no make that the first! IM conversations I've ever had. I know that the PewInternet and American Life Study revealed that, contrary to what many thought, adults are actually using IM. Still, there is a huge generatin gap according to a similar AOL study of IM use.

Anyone with teenagers knows already that there is a huge generation gap in IM usage. In AOL's survey, IM usage ran 90 percent among those age 13 to 21; 71 percent for ages 22 to 34; 55 percent for ages 35 to 54; and 48 percent for 55 and older.

More than half of those over 35 are using IM? Where have I been? Probably all those years I resisted using a cellphone, no?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Museum Of Apples

If the apples haven't already been baked in this freakishly tropical October heatwave Chicago's presently wilting under, we're hoping to round up a few of the 20 different varieties of apples Kuipers Family Farm's grows tomorrow morning. But reading Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire has me aspiring to one day make it over to Geneva, New York. It's here, as Pollan writes,

...on the banks of Seneca Lake, in excellent apple-growing country, a government outfit called the Plant Genetic Resource Unit maintains the world's largest collection of apple trees. Some 2,500 different varieties have been gathered from all over the world and set out here in pairs, as if on an a beached botanical ark. The card catalog of this fifty-acre tree archive runs the pomological gamut from Adam's Pearmain, an antique English apple, to the German Zucalmagio. In between a browser will find almost every variety discovered in America since Roxbury Russet distinguished itself in a cider orchard outside Boston in 1645.

A museum of apples. Imagine the apple pies you could make! The apple fritters!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Would You Like to GPS the Location Of This Book?

The great library crisis of the 21st century is one of relevance. Hands are wrung, shoulders are shrugged and ideas are sprung in hopes of offering patrons the tools necessary to fulfill their various information needs. Tools, one might add, many patrons are already using in their daily lives and have come to expect of their libraries and other public institutions.

And so we behold Maricopa's Dewey eviction. Out with the outmoded and in with the new? The fascinating flurry of comments found at the end of Karen Schneiders Techsource post regarding Maricopa are well worth reading--exhibiting passions about this issue that I find hard to muster. At best, I'm agnostic. At worst, indifferent. I understand and respect the history and merits of Dewey but I'm not entirely convinced of its irrevocability. If Maricopa's patrons were discouraged by Dewey and hankering for a new, friendlier classification system that encouraged and facilitated browsing--then by all means--if BISAC supports that need, fantastic. It certainly seems to, though I was especially encouraged by Maricopa's readiness to revert back to Dewey if their experiment failed.

Certainly there are some questions that need to be explored. Would this work for larger libraries? What about those patrons or reference staff who don't want to browse and want to find a specific book? Could Dewey be kept if the natural language signage was improved or expanded?

Ideally, in the end, my hope is that with all the telecom convergence activity currently underway, I'll soon be able to use my phone to access a library's catalog in addition to taking advantage of the catalogs GPS application which will conveniently lead me directly to the book I'm looking for.

Monday, October 01, 2007

In the Library

In the Library

for Octavio

There's a book called
A Dictionary of Angels.
No one had opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angles were once plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be filled with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She's very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

-Charles Simic

Who says librarians don't have special powers? I wonder if one of the singular strands that runs through all librarians, both present and future, is the quiet joy we've experienced drifting up and down those aisles of whispering books.