Photograph Archiving

Are your digital pictures important to you? “Yes,” you say while you roll your eyes. Of course they are. Have you planned for the day that your hard drive dies? “No,” you say while looking slightly guilty. Well it’s not like this is easy unless you’re willing to put some money down. If your pictures are important, though, it’s probably time to put some money down.

Here’s a post by someone who’s saving all their pictures to Dropbox. Dropbox uploads everything in the “Dropbox” folder to your private Dropbox account. So the pictures are on your computer, but they’re also secure in the cloud. And Dropbox now recognizes when you’ve plugged a camera (including a smartphone) into your computer and can be set to copy those images to your Dropbox folder automatically.

$99 a year for 100GB of space sounds pretty good for something this important.

The 1940 Census & the Name Index

Last Monday, the National Archives opened the doors to the 1940 Census. For the first time, instead of being available on microfilm, the archive includes digital images of the 2.8 million census pages. With a few clicks, you can find a snapshot of your family’s life in April, 1940.

It’s an easy task if you know where your family members lived then. That’s because census data is collected by geographic area, divided into enumeration districts. At the archive, you can search by state, county, city and street name. But even if a general area is all you know, you can view a county map that shows the enumeration district numbers.

In Huron County, Michigan, the Winsor district’s enumeration district is 32-45. Open that set of images in the archive and you can browse the 36 pages of hand-written census records. Here are my great-grandparents, Dan and Mary Swartzendruber, and their 20-year old son Lloyd, my grandpa:

It’s pretty amazing to see their names there and imagine Daniel coming to the door to answer a few questions on a day in April.

This page was pretty easy to find, but it’s a whole different thing if your family lived in a city. You could end up looking through dozens of enumeration districts and hundreds of pages. That’s because there’s no index that lets you search by name as well as location. To build the index will take a lot of volunteers a lot of hours, to put it mildly.

The work is already underway at Three large genealogical companies are hosting a mirror of the archive and providing indexing software to help volunteers type up information from every page. When this work is complete, “[t]he free index of the census records and corresponding images will be available to the public for perpetuity.”

The reason this isn’t a great deal, and the real reason I think we need a national digital public library, is that these genealogical companies will own this name index. Or rather, owns the license to the index. This is made plain enough in the indexing software’s license agreement:

Ownership of Your Work: Although you are working as a volunteer, without monetary compensation, you acknowledge and agree that your work in creating indexes of Images or otherwise performing related tasks using the Client or the FamilySearch Indexing Web site (such indexes and related work together called your “Work Product”) shall be deemed a work made for hire under U.S. copyright law, and that your Work Product will therefore be entirely owned by FamilySearch.

I contacted The 1940 Census project, asking if this license covered the name index and if so, would it really be free “for perpetuity.” has advised that the license to the 1940 index being created by volunteers belongs to FamilySearch as the license owner. The index is sublicensed to other 1940 community project sponsoring parties. Those we have sublicensed the index to can provide it for free or may charge for the access at some future point.

So, yes, it is licensed, and yes they intend it to be free. But they could charge for it in the future or restrict the ways in which people can use the index, if they choose to. Without placing the index under a license like Creative Commons, there’s no guarantee that the index will remain free. And although “free” may mean you won’t have to pay to run a search, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be free to use the index in any way you like: copying part of the index to share information about your family, for example.

We need a name index that’s free for the public to use, remix, and share as they choose. Am I crazy, or does this sound like a job for libraries?

Pinterest and Podcasting

It’s always nice to see my last name spelled right, especially when it’s done by the AP. I was mentioned in a recent article about Pinterest, where I put in my shout out to libraries. You can read it at the Wall Street Journal, for one: “Interest spikes in Pinterest, notably from women.” Yes, you read that correctly. I got two sentences.

How did I get my freight train of a name mentioned? Twitter. The AP tech writer was asking on Twitter for Pinterest users to tell her their story. I’m not even sure who retweeted it in my feed, but when I saw it I sent her a quick message about libraries using Pinterest. That was an angle she hadn’t heard mentioned yet, it seemed. We set up a call about a week later and talked for twenty minutes or so.

My brief paragraph in the story mentions that Pinterest doesn’t require you to be friends with other users to see their pins. Add something to your board that others find appealing, and without even knowing who you are, they can re-pin and comment on the pictures you post. So without having cultivated a friends list on Facebook or a followers list on Twitter, you can reach the public eye. That’s pretty cool.

With “The Hunger Games” movie about to be released in theaters, that seems like a great opportunity for libraries to get people interested in the book (and the next book people might want to read after they’ve finished the series).

There’s also been a fair amount of concern about copyright issues with Pinterest. That’s actually one of the topics I’m covering in the March edition of SWONtech News. SWONtech News is a monthly, hour-long podcast that covers tech topics from the past month. I work hard to get past the press releases and share first-hand reports. So whether that’s Pinterest, the new iPad, or ebook publishers, I look for news that’s of interest to libraries. And if you’re a contributing member to SWON, this program is free. Register here.

Libraries, Google, and Space

At the Letters to a Young Librarian blog, Jessica posted today about the reason she’s not worried that Google is ringing the closing bell for libraries. To quickly summarize, she says that Google can’t compete with libraries because a library is a physical place. People get together there. You can’t get together at Go read her post, and then come back.

Here’s why I’m not as comforted by this thought than I’d like to be: Google’s not a place, but it’s in other ways an every-place. Google is in the coffee shop or cafe or wherever community life is happening. Some people will accept the lesser information and assistance of Google if they can choose the place to use Google services. I think that’s a poor trade-off when it comes to doing good work, but I can understand why people might make that decision.

When I’m in coffee shops near campus, I always see students at work on their laptops with headphones plugged in. The coffee is part of the pull, but it’s not all of it. I chose coffee shops to work in myself, sometimes, to get away from the too-quiet of studying by myself at home or in the library. I wanted a hello and half-conversation with the barista. I wanted the opportunity to run into a classmate for a friendly interruption.

It’s not that libraries don’t offer this kind of community, but there are an awful lot of people walking past the front desk. A lot of times there may not be an interaction until the person has a question or is ready to check out–very late, compared to buying a coffee when you enter a cafe–assuming they aren’t using the self-check-out scanner. It’s a challenge to make personal connections, and I’m not sure those connections rank highly on library priority lists.

Community connections like this are vital to coffee shops. Without a vibrant community, a coffee shop will close. This happened in my neighborhood. Our corner coffee shop quickly became the central hub of the community. We’d see friends while walking to it, catch up with friends and meet new people when we were there. It was open early, but little parking made it difficult for the morning crowd, and it was never open late enough for the college crowd. Despite lots of traffic, volunteer workers, and love, it couldn’t stay open. It’s been closed a couple years now, and although people from the community still meet to try to reopen it, it still hasn’t happened.

It’s not that libraries aren’t under cost pressures. Certainly they are. But it doesn’t seem that they’re under the same month-to-month risk of running in the red and closing their doors for good. Libraries don’t have the same pressure to build community, or at least it seems that they don’t feel that their lives depend on it. Having a space isn’t enough.

Having an espresso bar isn’t enough either. But having open doors doesn’t mean that a community will adopt it as their space. I don’t think libraries should replace coffee shops as a Third Space, but I do think they’re often have the same audience. If it were vital to get college-age students into libraries, the coffee shop challenges would be familiar: what hours are the doors open, what events take place there, what room is available for interaction and study, what vibe does it have?

Libraries can take on Google any day of the week when it comes to useful information. But with Google available every place that has a WiFi network, libraries and Google aren’t just competing for ideas. They’re competing for space. And that puts libraries into competition with unlikely contenders.

SWON 2012 Teen Reading Challenge

SWON 2012 Teen Reading Challenge logoThis morning we lit the fuse on the SWON 2012 Teen Reading Challenge. We have 160 participants and counting this year, all reading young-adult-oriented books for fame and glory. Okay, the fame would be pretty local. The glory…. They’re doing it because they love to read, and we’re excited to host the Challenge again this year.

I’ll be writing some posts here about the Challenge. It’s about the reading, for the participants, but here at the blog is about the tech behind the Challenge. As I’m in touch with Challengers, and as data starts to roll in, I’ll share the view from SWON.

For example, I was included on an internal team email (nothing covert, it was their idea). The person who sent the email mentioned that she’s recording the books she’s reading this year on Pinterest. With several people on the team already using Pinterest, it will be pretty easy for them to see what other people on their team are reading. Plus, those book covers will pop up for other Pinterest users. It’s a pretty low-energy way to share what you’re reading. Shoot, it says you read books period. That’s no bad thing.

Anyway, more updates as events unfold.

Reader’s Advisory: Secrets Hurt

Last week, when SWON’s Readers’ Advisory special interest group met, I got to join them. The group was doing a run-down of their favorite books from 2011, and I did my best to live-tweet the meeting. That is, I wrote up book titles and author names and abbreviated comments. You can read these mini-write-ups at the SWONtech Twitter page.

In the two hours that the meeting lasted I wrote up over 40 books, and I missed a couple that flew by too quickly. The books ranged from young adult to sci-fi to non-fiction to mysteries and literary fiction. They covered a lot of ground, and I walked out of the room with a list of books I wanted to read. What happens to all these great recommendations? What happens to all this great information?

The 5(?!) librarians in the room aren’t keeping it a secret. They talk to patrons and to each other. That’s what this special interest group is about. And I’m sure that their in-person recommendations are way more helpful than the 12-word description I was able to type up. They get to ask questions and have a conversation. A one-on-one chat seems like the best way to give readers’ advisory advice. But I think the next best way is Every Other Way.

I’ll admit that I like to think about top-down approaches. I like to think about ways tech can help people find books to read. SWON’s Teen Reading Challenge is doing this. We’re challenging librarians to read as many young adult titles as they can between February 1 and April 30. Read the most pages and earn bragging rights among your peers and, more importantly, collect a lot of first-hand knowledge of YA titles.

The way participants show that they’ve read a book is to submit a “Reading Report.” This includes basic stats about a book but also collects the reader’s impressions of the book: what they liked and disliked about it, matching genres and audiences, and read-alike titles. I’d like to put this into a database they could easily search and use after the Challenge is over. Year over year, this could turn into a pretty hefty resource. But I can’t turn this into a GoodReads- or LibraryThing-scale project.

We’re a small team, and we have to think on a small scale. So the plan, at the moment at least, is to make the Reading Reports available in whatever ways we can. We don’t have the resources or visibility of a site like GoodReads. But if we’re willing to share information with lots of people, in lots of formats, we can still reach a broad audience by word of mouth or word of tweet or however the word spreads.

But being willing to share information isn’t enough. We may not want our recommendations to be kept secret, but if we only give them to people who walk up and ask us, that’s pretty close to a secret. People who walk into the library looking for a book who walk out empty-handed? That hurts. It hurts the case libraries are always making for their relevance and utility. This may not be the kind of hurt the cues slow-motion videos of teary-eyed children, but it still smarts.

I’m not giving up on the idea of a searchable database for our Reading Reports. In the meantime, I’m going to try to say yes to sharing that information in every other way. Make a flyer of books that received lots of positive reviews? Sure thing. Send out an email of boys-interest books? Yep. Blog about it, tweet about it, talk about it? All-three-yes. Let’s see what it’s like to say yes and invite people to use our information in their own inventive ways.

Who speaks for your library?

This past Wednesday, I gave my first SWONtech News webinar. Log in for an hour and you’ll find news and research that relates to libraries. I’ll be blogging about some of the stories that I covered there, especially since the story topics (like e-readers and ebooks) will continue to develop for a long time to come.

One topic I discussed was social media use by libraries. We looked at screenshots of Twitter’s redesigned website. For new users, especially, it makes important features (@Replies and #Trends) more visible. I encouraged (pushed?) listeners to engage on Twitter in a professional capacity. By that I mean connecting to peers and patrons.

While I was speaking someone typed into the chat bar, “Our library doesn’t have a Twitter account.” Believe it or not, this may be good news. Publishing announcement-type posts to Facebook from the library as a whole might be done by several different people on staff. In that case, it’s the news that’s important, and not which person posts it. These announcements are important, but they aren’t very personal, and it’s not very surprising that they don’t receive many comments.

You can use Twitter to supplement announcement-type posts by tweeting as a human being. Use your picture in your profile, not a picture of your library. Follow other librarians. Follow news organizations. Retweet (share) the information you find, and be open to sharing some of your personal responses and activity. You represent your library, but you aren’t its official and only voice.

Who speaks for you library? Lots of people do. Libraries are part of communities of people, whatever type of library they happen to be. Twitter is an easy way you can speak for your library as an individual. If you’re willing to field comments and questions (whether directly or simply with links to current information), your 140-character tweets can accomplish a lot. They can also help patrons build relationships with libraries–with the people who work there and not just the building they visit.

Tweeting from your own account, instead of the library’s, is a great way to complement the communication efforts of your library. Yours isn’t the only voice speaking for your library, but it’s a voice that counts.