Does Your Library Need the New Wii U?

Nope. Too easy?

The “Wii U” is Nintendo’s next-generation console, with high definition graphics and a slate of new games. Sony’s Playstation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 have new versions coming out in the not-quite-foreseeable future, though they’re on the way. Nintendo is the first to get a new console onto the shelves.

I have no complaints with what I’ve seen of the Wii U, even including the name (an exclamation made after coming across a piggy smell?). It’s the controller that will probably keep this out of libraries.

That’s a picture of the Wii U GamePad on the box. Nintendo is using the screen on the controller to enhance gameplay on the TV. So while you’re wandering through a videogame on the TV, the GamePad’s screen might show a map of the level. From the game previews I’ve seen, it looks like the GamePad is necessary for playing the games, not just a fun add-on.

The GamePad is $150. That’s the estimate based on the price in Japan, and it’s the real kicker. The Wii controllers aren’t indestructible, but they can definitely stand up to some abuse. I doubt that’s true of the GamePad. Broken or stolen, it looks like it will take the whole system offline.

This isn’t a dealbreaker for the Wii U as a whole. If you trust your kids (or yourself) with a handheld game system like Nintendo’s 3DS or Sony’s PSP or and iPod Touch, you can handle the GamePad. Its second screen looks like it will add a lot of fun to games, and although the system’s $300 starting price is high, it’s not much higher than the Wii’s original price when adjusted for inflation. Its new TVii system also streams TV shows from Netflix, Hulu, and other sources and can take the place of other set-top boxes. You may well want one for your home. But for your library? Probably not.


Get Uncomfortable: A 48-Hour Film Project Report

I got an email from my friend, Mike Fleisch, a couple weeks ago inviting a group of friends to do a 48-hour film. Or something like that. Between work and a baby at home, I don’t have a lot of attention span left. It sounded cool, but I wasn’t sure I could square much time for it.

But it turns out that the 48-Hour Film Project is a real thing. Last weekend, 28 teams in Cincinnati made a film in 48 hours. That is, they got assignments on Friday evening (genre, a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue you must use). They had until Sunday evening to write, shoot, edit, and output everything related to their 4-7 minute film. Want some music in your film? You’ll have to record that sometime over the weekend.

It’s a crazy project. I’ll try to show up for crazy. I got over to the meet-up around 8 p.m. and spent the next 7 hours spinning story ideas that met the requirements (drama, a magician named Tom Rococo, a fan, and “What have you done for me lately?”). We also talked about what we’d been up to. One of our crew gave a poetry reading the week before, and we’ve done a Poem Depot type thing at Northside’s Second Saturdays a couple times (watch the video). Mike knew a magician. That was our start.

“The magician and the poet” suddenly became completely understandable as our main characters. We talked about who they were, pitched backstories, looked for conflict and decision points, what happens. Then we split off for 15 minutes and individually wrote up a story outline with these two characters. They had things in common and divergences. It got late, and several people had to head home. The three of us still there at 2 a.m. quartered some sheets from a legal pad and described the main scenes. Our story had a plan.

Seven hours later we were filming the first scene. As we shot, and crew members came and went, the story changed. We’d forget to shoot a connecting scene before an actor left, or we’d realize while filming that we wouldn’t have time to use much-if-any of that scene. When one plot point changed, it changed others too. As the story developed, we could see the story’s climax better and steer toward the strongest version of it we could find.

The critical final scenes were shot Saturday night, but I wasn’t there. I was home with the dude while my dear wife went out with some friends. I’d volunteered to try to create some music and planned to do that while the dude was sleeping. I’d heard Eliza Rickman at Chase Public (the crew’s space) recently. She played solo but accompanied herself with a loop pedal. I thought I’d try to do something similar in Garageband.

It turns out I only had an hour to work. Dude’s been teething, so he woke up upset and couldn’t get settled enough again to be put down. I was able to record one repeated bass-like vocal line, doubled (two recordings of the same notes). For percussion I tapped on a glass jar with a wooden spoon and added a shush from rubbing two of the dude’s wooden puzzle pieces together. It was about 40 seconds long.

In the morning I edited down the takes, picking parts that kept the beat the best. I looped them out so that the total “song” was about 1:30. I also saved versions with just the glass jar, and just the glass jar and puzzle pieces. Between all the parts, hopefully there were usable bits. Here’s the “music” I made:

I send the files to Mike, and my work on the project was done. Other stuff happened, Mike did an enormous amount of editing, and the film got turned in under the deadline. (Cue exhausted sigh.) I’m not a “film guy,” and I’m not close to turning to a life of film. That’s why it was a great project to join. On the next blog post, thoughts on short-order creative projects.

How Do You Do It?

If you’ve been to a conference of any kind, you’ve probably been in this session: The Tour. At The Tour, you see lots of photos and read plenty of lists off the screen. You may even see a video with a techno soundtrack as a miniature tour within The Tour.

I tend to check out of these sessions pretty quickly, if what they built isn’t something really new or unique. If I can understand what you’ve done by visiting your website for 10 minutes, I didn’t come for The Tour. I want to know how you built the thing you’re showing off. How did you get funding? How did you decide how to spend it? Do you have one-time or ongoing funding? How did you decide how to set your goals? How did you identify your audience?

To be fair, these are difficult questions, and they’re often pretty personal questions, too. But just because they’re local questions or issues doesn’t mean that they can’t be instructive to others. Sometimes these are the key questions others struggle to answer. All your funding came from one very generous family? I can’t replicate that, but maybe I will consider grants differently if I see that that’s funding my project in other cities. (That’s a good thing to mention to possible funding orgs, too.)

Like one of the speakers this morning said, I’d rather try and fail than not try at all. Similarly, I’d rather hear specifics that I might not be able to apply than get The Tour and walk away with nothing but pictures.

#CILDC Day 1 Keynote: Innoventing

Jeffrey Phillips, VP of OVO Innovate on Purpose. Already sounds like one of the programs we’d have at the library, right? His talk was about innovation, not innoventing (which is a word made up by Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s character on “30 Rock”). 

If the speaker’s title alone makes you want to striking a finger-gun pose, hey me too. And thinking about the range of libraries SWON represents, I want to shoot those finger-guns up in the air. Lots of our libraries don’t have an Executive/Middle Manager/Staff setup like a Fortune 500 company. So I don’t think there’s a direct translation for a lot of his ideas to libraries.

But I do think we need to build innovation in to what we do. That is, we need to create processes around innovation. How do we describe new ideas? What vocabulary goes with them? How can we allow ourselves to entertain questions that don’t match up with answers we have in place already? How do we discover new trends and look for ways to build off of them? Without processes, these activities will come as a surprise. We won’t be sure how to respond to them. And coming up with a way to respond will burn energy that should go into the idea process.

Building processes builds a culture that accepts and searches for innovation. If we create a way to talk about it, we create value for the process. And we need to talk about it. It’s great to see front-line staff on Twitter, talking about the new ways they’re engaged with patrons and technology (to barely begin a list).

We need library leaders, whatever their title, to be vocal about changes they see and changes they want to drive forward. This doesn’t need to take place on Twitter, but it needs to take place where people can see it. That is, not just in board meetings or private conversations. If you want this to be part of the mission of your library, show it by telling people about it.

The next session’s about to start. To quickly end, this process-building isn’t up to each of us individually. Let’s work this out together.

You’re not really a librarian

The K-M The Librarian blog comments on a recent discussion between a school librarian and student. Here’s how it begins:

“The other day I got into an ‘argument’ with a student about whether or not I was really a librarian. His position was that I wasn’t a librarian–I was actually a teacher who happened to have an office in the library.”

K-M says she thinks the student was trying to wind her up a bit, but librarians sure feel the friction of people who don’t really understand what librarians do. I don’t think librarians themselves are having a crisis of identity by a long shot, but I think public perceptions of librarianship are more important than ever.

I have a crazy friend who likes to tell me that libraries are on their way to extinction. He says it partly to wind me up, too, but I don’t think he’s kidding. To him, libraries and books are almost synonymous. As the importance of physical books declines, he argues, so do libraries. Ask a librarian for help? What could librarians offer him, a PhD candidate? He says this with a straight face.

Libraries are about a lot more than books on shelves. But let’s be honest, there are a lot of books on shelves. A lot-lot. It does take a fair amount of effort to keep all those books in the right order. But what can creep in is a perception that a library is like a stable, with books instead of horses. Librarians keep books well groomed and in the right stall, and now and then they let the books out to get some air and exercise on the condition that they’ll come back soon. But there’s also a lot of wheeling carts around.

This is nonsense. It’s turning a library into a hotel that’s run exclusively by housekeepers. Or a Starcraft match of teams that are only made up of workers. But it seems clear that people don’t really know what librarians do. Or they know some of what librarians do–some of what goes on in libraries–but not all, and certainly not how librarians really spend their times.

As our information continues its shift to digital, I think public misperceptions of librarianship have increasingly dire implications. Images of the shushing librarian aren’t positive, but images of an irrelevant librarian are much more damaging.

We do tell people what libraries are about. We need to do it a lot more. We have to give lots of examples. We have to share those stories everywhere, and we need those stories to be current. That probably means sharing work that isn’t as highly polished as we might like it to be, or work that’s a little more personal than we might prefer.

We can’t wait for people to ask us what we do (Hint: If they aren’t asking, they think they already know the answer). We have to tell them. We have to show them. And we can’t wait for the ALA or another nation-wide group to start a campaign. A librarian is a teacher? Absolutely, and lots more. Let’s keep writing the new definition of librarianship, but let’s do that where everyone can see.

So I says to the survey

The SWON 2012 Teen Reading Challenge is up and running. Right now we have over 180 participants. Since Wednesday, they’ve reported having read a combined 16,000 pages already. Not a bad start.

We’re expecting to collect several thousand Reading Reports from Challenge participants, so we had to interview several survey applicants before choosing one. In past Challenges, SWON used a SWON-built MySQL database to collect information on the books people read. In terms of the Challenge, it collected everything it needed: book information (including number of pages) and the reader’s rating of the book as a bonus.

When I sat down in front of that data, there seemed to be an opportunity to collect information that would improve its usefulness for Readers’ Advisory users. Adding their opinions about the book could help others discover books they’d like to read. So I wrote a short-list of questions and got some feedback from Actual Readers’ Advisory Librarians. I’m no DBA, though. Modifying the current MySQL database is more than I know how to do, and a short timeline meant I needed to find a different solution.

So I looked at a couple different survey tools. The first was Survey Monkey. We have a Basic (read “free”) account there. That only allows for 100 responses. There lots of situations where that limitation would be fine, but the Reading Challenge isn’t one of them.

Next I looked at Google Docs. You can build your own survey there, which is linked to a spreadsheet that you can use or download to Excel. I built a quick survey there, including a question about genres. It seems like genre is the king of subjectivity. Put a couple CDs into your computer and watch with horror the genre names that come up. (Sure internets, I have 40 CDs that match “Alt. Country/Folk”) To be useful info, people need to be able to select multiple matching genres. So that’s what I built in my Google Docs survey.

That’s what broke my Google Docs survey. When I added some sample data, which selected multiple genres, Google put all that data in one cell. For example, let’s say that I chose to enter a book with the genres Historical, Mystery, and Science Fiction. Google’s spreadsheet would record that in one cell as “Historical, Mystery, Science Fiction” under the column heading “Genre.” If I want to create a formula that counts how many books matched the genre “Mystery,” I’m going to have to write some fancy scripts to discover Mystery in the middle of a text string. I’d rather not.

It’s much easier if the spreadsheet creates a column for each genre. You end up with a lot more columns, but who cares. A very simple formula will tell you how many books matched the genre “Mystery.” It’s also easy to find how many books matched “Mystery” and “Historical,” or “Mystery” but not “Science Fiction.” I didn’t quickly see how to set up Google’s spreadsheet this way, so I moved on.

We have a paid account with Constant Contact, which includes a survey builder. A quick test build there confirmed that selecting multiple genres was no problem–each genre is given its own column. I’m not a huge fan of Constant Contact’s WYSIWYG tools, and that counts for the surveys as well as their emails. Look at the HTML they generate to see what a mess it is.

The formatting for the survey was screwy too, with lots of blank paragraphs making for long pages of blank space. When I emailed their tech support about it, their fix was to edit the survey questions in IE or Firefox 3. Uh, okay. There’s evidently no HTML editor for surveys as there is for emails. In IE, I had to edit each question twice. The first edit removed some paragraph breaks and added others; the second edit finished the job. Yikes.

Constant Contact won’t let me update the questions once a survey has been published. This makes sense in some ways, but it means I can’t update the list of teams in the survey, which is too bad. It’s up and running, though, and I’ve exported data from it to make sure it works (and get that 16,000 pages number). Are there other survey tools you’ve used that are worth considering?