Monday, September 26, 2011

Netting the ephemera

This is not a video about a library in the accepted, modern sense of a public or semi-public institution whose primary goals include the organization and dissemination of information.  I know.  It's a private library--a place for one woman to think, reflect, read and write.  It makes the private library from my first post look a little paltry, but it's something to shoot for, and I think it's important to remember this other side of the library paradigm: that's it's a place that fosters creation and beauty, for the community and for oneself.  The term 'library,' as we've all been learning, signifies something bigger than the brick-and-mortar building filled with books, something bigger even that the electronic grooves in the air around us that contain, more and more each day, the sum of human discovery.  A library is something internal and private, too; each of us carries a library that serves as laboratory and workshop, as sounding board and depth finder, as the seismograph of the soul.  Our inner libraries are the fount of art.  This woman, with the help of architect Andrew Berman, has externalized her internal library, bringing forward the subtle stuff of her heart and connecting it to the idea of the traditional brick-and-mortar, but with whimsy and personal taste and, in a way, an eerie inaccessibility.  There's her mind, there's her soul in corporeal form, but its beauty is forbidding, as impermeable as the planes and ridges of her skull.

And a commenter on this video brings up a good point: "It's a beautiful job, but with a empty meaning. If this library was a part of a huge comunity of people, who try to live in a different way, it would be outstanding. But its just a job for a very rich writter. It's empty." That's Guilherme Cianfarani on the vimeo version of this vid.  He's right; if every public, school, academic and special library in the world were as much a piece of art as this one is (and more relevantly, if they were all as ecologically sustainable as this one appears to be), that would be a tidal shift in the existence of libraries; they'd be not just repositories and distribution centers, as they often seem to be now, but also creative inspirations and dynamos of environmental sustainability.  They would play an active role, as never before, in the creation and sustaining of beauty and of life.

The concept of 'library' seems to exist on a spectrum that ranges from an unfeasible and largely non-existent utilitarianism (think warehouses of books being shipped out by robots to suit humans' practical info-gathering needs), through the median ground of libraries as they exist in the real world, and on to the type of ideal realized in the video above--an ideal which, in attempting to capture the ephemeral 'personal library' of one woman, succeeds only in underscoring the narcissism and egotism of creative endeavors.  So, let your inner library float free, I think; catch its reflections in the sunshine rippling off the warped spines of your favorite volumes.  Let it echo down through your pen or typing finger.  But don't plunk it down in the middle of a perfectly good field, aloof and alluring.  Be ready and able to share the beauty that your libraries, real and otherwise, inspire you to make.

oh and PS: I love YouTube and Viemo; been using 'em for years.  I can always count on someone posting "Hell's Kitchen" all year (nobody tell me who won!!!).  But I suppose my criticisms of podcasts apply to self-published video stuff too.  Not to mention copyright issues that I should really be more concerned about...but the huge corporations that own TV shows seem capable of defending their interests.  (Moral dilemma: is it hypocritical to turn a blind eye to copyright stuff when its victims are the soulless megalopolies whose existence I loathe?  Answer: yes, very.  Working on it.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Podcasts on trial

Alex here with another Learning/Library/whatever 2.0 experience, this time on the murky and trending world of podcasts.  Okay, well, I feel like this is going to become my refrain around here, but podcasts are something I've heard a lot about and had a little experience with, but which I've generally maintained an intentional distance from.  Why?  Well, for a reason that has come true in spades since the start of this LIS program in my life--I have had doubts about the sheer volume of information that my brain can handle in a sitting.  And by sitting, I mean a day, though I'm trying to push that threshold up to express the measure of information I can handle in a week--I keep needing to think macro, macro, macro as my attempted info-intake swells and slides down the slipstreams of my brain.

Case in point, the RSS feed I established for myself over the last week or so, on the advice of several of my LIS instructors.  Oh my God. I mean, it's cool, it's great--I no longer have to check Huffington Post 12 times a day!  All the latest news on the Game of Thrones series is being sent to me! Awesome!  But maybe my eyes were bigger than my brain-ports because my google reader absolutely overflows with new RSS entries every hour or so.  It's overwhelming and makes me not *want* to wade through it.  So, what was once a simple matter of sifting through the HuffPo numerous times a day, but very casually flitting past the stories of no interest to me, now carries the weight of an emergency room triage unit.  "International news?  Is it related to Libya, or is it domestic British politics? Okay, better put it over there. Ah! reviews for the revival of Follies on Broadway!  I'll need to gush over Bernadette Peters, stat.  What? The Bills game score?  CAN'T YOU SEE THAT THIS IS AN EMERGENCY ROOM?!"

*Ahem*  Well, getting back to podcasts.  I knew based on previous experience that there'd be similar troubles on that front; my best friend signed me up for a bunch of current events casts a few years ago.  I listened to the first one or two, but as soon as I had a busy Sunday, I missed one, and then there'd be two waiting for me.  Then three, then seven, etc.  And these ain't five-minute digests.  It's just too much to wade through.  So, I sacrifice some of the depth of my potential knowledge in favor of breadth.  That's always been my style, for better or worse, and podcasts don't really fit in.  Unless I can find the ones that will offer me useful tidbits on the issues I find important, or the obscure stuff that might tickle my fancy, this might be one Web 2.0 element I'll have to eschew, at least during school.  But I think such identification, even, would be difficult without sorting through a lot of 'casts (especially since these sites the 2.0 activity page linked to--one of which is a dead link, btw--don't tend to give much in the way of descriptive info on the style or format of the show before you dive in).

That little parenthetical, I guess, brings me to a specific review of a 'cast I did find and listen to (well, currently on-going with the listening).  I found 'A Podcast of Ice and Fire' (, a weekly 'professional fan' roundtable discussion of George R.R. Martin's fantasy series 'A Song of Ice and Fire' and related projects.  (By 'pro fan,' I mean these are mainly guys who have started and run large, well-regarded fan discussion forums and sites and are sort of considered experts in the field of this particular piece of literature.)  It's literary in nature, on a topic I'm interested in, and, I feel, points to an opportunity for libraries to harness some Web 2.0 energy, which I'll discuss presently.  But first, my thoughts on the format and the pros and cons of the medium.

Well, mostly cons.  As I have already hinted, podcasts are sort of difficult to know without just listening in; there isn't a lot of useful metadata connected with them.  Most of those I looked at don't even list the lengths of archived episodes, and I was surprised to find my listening stretching into the hours--never wanting to stop because the next moment could bring that brilliant insight or piece of unknown lore I'd been looking for.  This is generally because these are amateur productions; these people have probably never taken any communications courses, or studied what information the consumers appreciate having before committing to a listen.  Another function of the amateur nature of these shows is that the content itself is very haphazard and sometimes painful to listen to; they have more the character of a talk among friends, recorded and posted on the internet, with no regard for ease of comprehension.  There's a lot of crosstalk, a lot of laughter and goofing around, lots of abstruse tangents.  Yeah, that happens on professional news and opinion panels too, but at least those tend to have a moderator whose main concern in getting things back on track. (Also--I'd have to check with my psychologist roomie on this--I assume that it's easier for our brain to sort through that kind of stuff when we're seeing what's going on.  Not so readily possible in a purely audio format.)

I think, in short, that my issue with podcasts is that they don't follow whatever the audio equivalent of Krug's maxims would be.  They're not user-friendly; they're not self-explanatory; they're not laid out prettily; none of the things you'd want and expect in a medium of information dissemination.  (Which isn't to say that I think *accessing* them is difficult; that seems swimmingly easy.  But accessing the *information intended for consumption* is where I think they fall short.)

But all is not lost.  The thing that podcasts have going for them is excitement.  The people who take time out of their lives to record their conversations--they're really jazzed about their subject matter.  This Ice and Fire cast was just bubbling with energy and creativity; literary criticism was happening in real-time.  Contributors were bouncing ideas off each other, coming to conclusions, and questioning their preconceptions.  All that was pretty awesome.

And libraries can use that.  'Ice and Fire' is big with a relatively isolated population, but imagine if your local library identified the next Harry Potter or Twilight or Dan Brown, and ran discussion forums on them that they streamed and posted on the internet.  My little podunk library, I know, has ins with all sorts of local minds, from authors to instructors at the college to who knows what all; it would be very easy to assemble a panel of smart, local people with constructive thoughts on such things, and let their discussion loose on the community.  These things have a tendency to snowball if they're successful in the first few runs.  And even as the library enlightens and entertains, it gains currency as a curator and cultivator of culture in the community, rather than just a repository of books and a place to read the paper on Sundays.

So what's my verdict on podcasts?  With semi-professional standards of moderation and appropriate marketing, they could be a huge boon to libraries great and small.  But I'm just going to keep trying to wrap my head around my RSS feed, for now.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

And since I couldn't figure out how to upload two pics at once...

IMG00327-20110910-1456 by decgem
IMG00327-20110910-1456, a photo by decgem on Flickr.'s my li'l bookshelf in the library :-D I'd move my stuff over to the Third Man's shelf, but there's no telling when he'll be back to claim it.

Visit my photostream!

I've always been pretty solidly a Facebook photo album sort of guy, but I'm liking some of the features on Flikr--especially the ability to map where your photos were taken.  I love mapping, and I love linking my experiences to my travels!  So maybe I'll be wasting a lot more of my precious studying time sloooowly adding all pics to this.  We'll see.

EDITED TO ADD, post readings, with a little more depth----

I've been tinkering around with flikr and some of the other web things, and one thing I think they don't succeed at is simplicity of use, as Krug defines it.  Granted, his bar is pretty low--simplicity means "so easy I don't really need to be sentient to operate the thing"--but even so, the complications of the the flikr interface, in particular, seem a bit much.  And I'm a guy who's reading this text of ours and thinking, "I get your point, but I don't like the lowest-common-denominator subtext, and I actually enjoy puzzling out how things work, so you're not really speaking to me."  So for me to be a bit nonplussed by the thing is saying something.  I mean, it's cool; there are a lot of features.  Tagging.  Geo tagging. Albums.  Yadda yadda yadda.  But i think it's too much.  And it's all on different pages, and all the pages look slightly different, as though it's several different utilities that have been linked together.  Coming off of the extremely slick Facebook albums experience, Flikr is overcrowded.  And yeah, I don't think Krug would approve--but streamline it just a little, smooth out the rougher edges, and I think I'd be happier.

The sad state of a private library on Merrimac Street

IMG00326-20110910-1456 by decgem
IMG00326-20110910-1456, a photo by decgem on Flickr.
We thought we'd have it all.

Take three high school friends, add an exciting move to Buffalo together for higher education, and spice liberally with the books collected by the undergrad majors we had assembled between us: two philosophy majors, a psych guy, a mathematics guy, a creative writer, and a wannabe francophone. Let stew in the sunny, airy front room (a walled-in former porch) and you have the makings of a very interesting, eclectic private library.

Alas, it wasn't to be. My stalwart companion Scott has seen this transition through with me, but we've lost our Third Man to a combination of baseless neuroses and a perhaps well-founded case of good-old OCD. I guess it was never to be.

But oh, how beautiful our library would have been! For now, Scott and I will have to content ourselves with tracts on Freud and Marvel Comics trade paperbacks. That empty shelf sure would have looked good, loaded up with a lot of Michel Foucault texts that no one would want to read.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

7 1/2

Allow me to dispense with preamble and jump right into the prescribed Web 2.0 activity, dear readers.

I found the  7 and 1/2 lifelong learning habits e-presentation to be a bit hokey, but its heart is in the right place; I assume as a graduate student, the concept of lifelong learning is, by this point, innately familiar to me, but I get that that's not the case for every resident of the Charlotte and Mecklenberg County Public Library system area.  Despite my kneejerk condescension at its style and presentation (bad Alex), there are rather large nuggets of truth in there.

I think the biggest tip that I use regularly, and which works well, is the idea of setting a goal.  It really does help to make the final product of whatever you're going for seem more concrete, and thus attainable.  I hate the feeling of battering away at ephemera, and it's always comfortable to work within defined boundaries.  ("This pillar of marble will soon be a naked dude named David" rather than "Well, I'll just start chipping and see what happens.")

I have more difficulty with the tip that involves viewing problems as challenges to be surmounted.  I definitely engage in a period of wallowing whenever my blade is turned--I love a good sulk.  Excellent excuse for procrastination.  On the other hand, the perception of crisis sometimes jump-starts me, so I guess it could go either way.

I think one of these tips that I've completely skipped is the idea of having a toolkit.  I tend to start from scratch on every project or goal.  Maybe I have some mental tools tucked away that pop up without my realizing it, but I could definitely use some more conscious shortcuts, templates, appendices and such.  Maybe by the time I graduate, I'll have developed a set!