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.

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.

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?

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.