Tuesday, October 31, 2006

To Game? Or not to Game?

The Waterloo and Cedar Falls public libraries provide patrons with high-speed Internet access on a total of 49 Pentium class computers. There are some days when as many as 80% of the boxes are monopolized by gamers. This leads to complaints from non-gaming patrons as well as loud sighs from staff.

Many public libraries go so far as to ban game playing on public computers, presumably so that the machines could be used by patrons doing more worthy tasks--such as online dating, gambling, shopping, or pornography--more typical "adult" activities. Such controversy is not new to the public library world. When the free public library concept was getting its legs, back in the mid-19th century, it was pitched as a way to help the lower classes uplift and separate themselves from misery and ignorance.

The result of this noble intention? The Carnegie foundation's prescribed opening day collections consisted mostly of non-fiction works with very few novels or periodicals. Very soon, librarians realized that the bulk of their circulation was generated by a very small proportion of the collection: fiction and periodicals. So, from the very beginning, public libraries have struggled with how they should allocate resources: recreation or education?

Education theorists are now suggesting that maybe gaming is a way of learning and that multimedia gaming might become the way of the future, thereby melding the allure of gaming with the desire for educational achievement. In fact, some speculate that notion of universal text-based literacy is an aberration. They have a point. Prior Guttenburg's press most people learned by memorizing either poems or songs. Rather than record information as text, they "recorded" it in their memories. Maybe sitting around the hearth, memorizing songs and poetry was a combination of recreation and learning.

One might note that while text based illiteracy is indeed the historical norm, according to Hobbes, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" lives were also the norm. If the rise of text-based literacy also led to more pleasant lives, any transition back to multimedia literacy should be watched with caution--if not alarm. Let's hope that the use of computers will allow the reluctant readers to maintain high levels of intellectual function through the more normal multimedia means of sound, pictures, and motion.

Meanwhile, it looks as if games are here to stay, and rather than drive the gamers away, libraries should look for ways to service their recreational and intellectual needs. My favorite site for monitoring gaming activity in public libraries is the wiki, "Gaming," which is the best clearing house for library gaming topics that I've been able to find thus far. If you see something better, or as good, beam it over as a comment. And while you're at it, be thinking about what we can do to serve all of our patrons fairly: gamers and non-gamers alike.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

RSS: Why should we care?

The Iowa library world is still buzzing from a great conference earlier this month in Council Bluffs. Keynote speaker Michael Stephens wowed the crowd with his discussion of how Web 2.0 is leading librarians towards Library 2.0. Stephen's presentation Implementing Blogs and the actual keynote address are in sub-directories of his website.

If you actually go to the site's home page, www.tametheweb.com, you'll see that it's a very sophisticated and dynamic blog--in other words, perhaps the most influential of the Web 2.0 applications: The web log, where Stephens regularly posts commentaries on his RSS enabled site.

With the advent of RSS, followers of websites need no longer check the site each to see if something has changed. Instead, they use their RSS aggregator to collect URLs (links) to pages which have been "pushed" out by website of interest. Had Stephens posted the content of his "Implementing Blogs" and keynote address to the actual blog, instead of to a non-RSS enabled sub-directory, the links would have appear to have been "pushed" out to his subscribers.

In a nutshell, RSS allows readers of multiple websites to check just one page to see dynamic content. Waterloo Public Library staff members will soon see a couple of new in-service training selections: Blogger Buzz and RSS Aggregators. Participants in Blogger Buzz will create their own RSS enabled blogs. During the RSS Aggregator session they'll learn to create RSS subscriptions so that they can read new content.

As time goes on, I expect that most of the Waterloo Public Library's dynamic content will be delivered via blogs; and the blogs will point at conventional webpages with their static content. We're just getting started with Web 2.0; I wonder what Web 3.0 will bring!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

WPL staff attend 8th Annual Latino/a Conference

The 8th annual Latino/a Conference, held at the Fort Des Moines Hotel in Des Moines, Iowa Friday and Saturday, was attended by WPL Diversity Administrator Claudia Ramirez, Circulation Assistant Carolyn Sallis, and myself, Mike Dargan.

The conference theme, Strengthening and Valuing Latino Families, was reflected in each of the three sessions I sat in on. Jorge Zaballos' presentation, "Cosmic, Race, Rainbow People, and other Myths: An Exploration of Latinos/a as Racial Identity," reminded attendees that the majority of african slaves found themselves in South, not North, America. Dr. Zaballos' thesis focused on the mythology of racial harmony south of the border. He notes that Latin American has a long history of racism that persists to this day. This guy has a lot of good things to say; too bad he had to jam two hours of content into a mere 50 minutes of session.

The keynote speaker, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sonia Nazario, shared the harowing story of Enrique's Journery, a central american boy's 2,000 mile search for his long-lost migrant mother. Much of it was hard to hear. I had no idea that as many as 100,000 children a year attempt reunions with the mothers.

And finally, DMACC instructors Mary West and Carrie Mulvihill presented "Why YOU should Learn Spanish," a persuasive discussion of why almost anyone would benefit from second language acquisition--especially if that language is Spanish! If only I could roll those "r's."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Old Tech Too!

As the WPL alpha geek I'm obligated to admire the newest and coolest electronic gadgets. But I'm also an old farmer who grew up with, and worked for decades on, old-fashioned electro-mechanical equipment. The public elevator house of the Waterloo Public Library, with its massive relays and mechanical switches is fascinating to guys like me.

The elevator's travel is controlled by the switchboard that you see on the wall behind the cable wheel. When someone on the first floor hits the call button, that information is stored on the board and the "logic" of the system decides whether the car stops, or passes, a floor as it delivers its riders.

Modern elevator control systems are the size of a loaf of bread, but do pretty much the same thing with about the same level of reliability. This device was last over-hauled in the 1950s and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President when the major hardware is installed. Will the fancy electronic controls still be working when Chelsea Clinton turns 70? Maybe, but maybe not.

The Waterloo Public Library is a fascinating place--inside and out!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

All this new tech...

I know we've been discussing the potential role of blogs, RSS feeds, wikis, podcasts and social networks in a library setting. A discussion on this same topic is underway on DIG_REF, one of the listservs that I follow.

R. David Lankes, posted the following to the list:

"We're preparing a technology brief for ALA on social networks and the like. It is currently available for public comment. It may be helpful:

I haven't gotten through the entire thing yet -- it's 56-pages long -- but it's interesting reading so far. I especially like their concept that libraries are in the "conversation business," meaning that we are responsible for facilitating "conversations" between patrons and books, patrons and other patrons, patrons and databases, etc. The idea is that our role is to hook our patrons up to the information that they need, whatever its source.

Check this out!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Busy Sunday!

Sunday, October 22, 2006, set a record for sessions on the Reference Department Public Access Computers (PACS). During the 3 hours and 50 minutes (the system shuts down 10 minutes prior to closing), WPL patrons completed 88 sessions with an aggregate total of 4,122 minutes--that's nearly 70 man hours of computer use! Computer users also found time to collect 89 print jobs with a total of 286 pages. There were times when as many as 20 patrons were on the automated waiting list.

We've also had a very busy month. In the last 30 days the system has provided 4,976 sessions consuming nearly a quarter of a million minutes. The printer has been used 3,923 times to generate 14,303 pages. Laid end-to-end those print jobs would reach nearly 2.5 miles.

Since mid-summer the WPL Reference Department has increased its pool of pacs by about 25%. By mid-December we expect to have a 50% increase over the beginning of the fiscal year. We've also increased bandwidth from a shared 3 megabit pipe to a dedicated 10 megabyte ethernet connection.

Keeping up with patron demand is difficult, but we'll the best that we can with what we have. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Readers' Advisory at the Waterloo Public Library


Imagine that you've just finished Janet Evanovich's most recent novel, Motor Mouth, wanted more of the same but didn't want to wait for Janet's next book: What would you do?

That problem is solved if you visit the Waterloo Public Library website, click "Resources," "Ebsco Host," and then choose "Novelist."
From the Motor Mouth page choose "Author Read Alikes," and be treated to a discussion of Evanovich's works as well as comparisons to the works of five other writers of "humourous murder mysteries."

Novelist also provides reviews, as well as links to other books by the author as well as to author websites.

If you're using a workstation at the Waterloo Public Library you'll be able to click and go. If you're off-site, have your library card ready to log into the Novelist services.

Whether you're in the library or browsing from home, give Novelist a try--it's the latest Readers' Advisory tool from the Waterloo Public LibraryPosted by Picasa

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Free Computer Classes at the WPL

Information Literacy specialist Kim Van Deest is now teaching free computer classes in the WPL Learning Center. Today's class covers the details of using a mouse. Later she'll be teaching "Computer Basics" and "Internet Basics."

For more information, visit the Waterloo Public Library webpage and click on "Free Classes."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chess at the WPL

The WPL Reference Department is a well-known chess playing hotspot. Stop by any Saturday morning and play the "regulars."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

WPL Public Access Computers II

Public Access Computer users who wish to print their work may take advantage of our Kyocera color laser printer. Prints are 5 cents/page for monochrome and 25 cents/page for color.

The computers print monochrome duplex (two-sided) by default, with color available as an option. Printing is easy. Send your print job(s) to the printer of your choice. The jobs will remain in the system for up to two hours. When you're ready to collect your work, go to the print release station, scan your card, select your jobs, depost your money, and click the "print" button. This high quality printer at low price is provided by our generous Friends of the Waterloo Public Library.

Staff members at the service desk will be happy to assist you, should you get stuck.

Monday, October 16, 2006

WPL Public Access Computers I

The Waterloo Public Library Reference Department provides 23 public access computers. Patrons may scan their library card at the reservation kiosk near the stairway. The kiosk will first check to see that the card is active. If the card is active, a computer will be assigned and displayed on the screen.

The patron may then proceed to the assigned PC, enter his or her library card number at the login screen, and enjoy 60 minutes of high speed access to the Internet, as well as to a full Microsoft Office Pro suite. At the end of 60 minutes, if the waiting list is empty, the session may be automatically extended 30 minutes or until there is a waiting list.

Patrons without cards may obtain one at any service desk. Cards are free to Iowa residents and temporary privileges may be extended to out-of-towners. If you have any problems connecting, be sure to ask a librarian for help!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

What's Spanish for "Blog"?

Late this afternoon, Waterloo Public Library (WPL)Diversity Coordinator, Claudia Ramirez, launched the library's first spanish language blog, La Biblioteca WPL. Ms. Ramirez's blog is RSS enabled: point your aggregator at http://bibliotecawaterloo.blogspot.com/atom.xml and you're set for life.

Many WPL computer users also enjoy Instant Messaging (IM) but are stymied by the fact that the clients are not installed locally. This morning I ran across a web-based client that solves that problem: MEEBO. Login, create your account, and you have server-based access to four different IM services: AIM, Yahoo, Messenger, and Jabber/GTalk. When my sidekick, Kim V does her next round of upgrades, I'll ask her if we can install the Google Talk IM as well.

Are you weary of waiting in endless queues for Internet access? If so, consider visiting us on Saturday mornings. The picture above was taken around 11:00 a.m. and shows that we were pretty quiet.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Back Home

LSA Consultant Ken Davenport, WPL Diversity Administrator Claudia Ramirez, and myself finally made it back from our long road trip to ILA 2006 in Council Bluffs. Of the 11 conferences I've attended since 1996, this one might have been the most interesting.

The first day and second morning were devoted to Library 2.0. Look for the WPL to be implementing several new technologies over the coming months. The second afternoon was devoted discussions of the cultural divide between librarians and academics. Cooperating with local schools and providing support for students has always been an interest of mine. Reference staff have noted that many of our college student patrons have difficulty coping with their online assignments; it's time to reach out schools to discuss how we can provide better assistance.

And, today's sessions dealt primarily with the concept of "Information Literacy." In other words, how well equipped are our patrons to find, evaluate, and use information? How can the library help to improve Information Literacy?

I'm looking forward to hearing comments and brainstorms. I'm also eager to get back to the library to apply some of the things I've learned.

ILA 2006 Wraps up

Good morning!

Today starts off with a general session devoted to a talk on Information Literacy for a Lifetime by Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe. My first concurrent session will then be a panel discussion: Information Literacy: How can Librarians work together to assure Student Success? I'll finish up with Information Literacy: A Conversation. For the first two days I focused on Library 2.0 and the cultural conflicts between teachers and librarians.

You'll be hearing more about each of these topics later in the week.

I'm going to be packing up in a few minutes and won't be back on line until I get home tonight. I'll try to get some pictures posted.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thursday at ILA 2006

It's about time to hit the sack, but I'd like to let you know what we've been up to today. Michael Stephens' keynote address and presentation on blogs for libraries was as impressive as we expected. It's one thing to read about wikis, flikrs, and blogs, quite another to see them discussed in the context of "Library 2.0."

Stephens' articulation of the unique characteristics of the "Millennial" generation, why they're alienated from public libraries, and how we can reach out them caught the attention of a lot of librarians who, until today, didn't quite get it.

For more details, take a look at Michael Stephen's website.

As I see it now, the WPL Reference department has several tasks to accomplish over the next few months:

Start a regular blog presence that is available from the current website
Start offering IM Reference
Aggressively plan strategy for teen gaming
Create a "sand box" where staff can examine new technologies such as Flikr, Wiki, and You Tube

Stay tuned!


ILA 2006

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