Sunday, January 27, 2008

Public Computer Police (or, Who the f*%$# are you?)

There's been some discussion this week at work about whether or not content blocking software is appropriate on the public computers in the library. I think most librarians see this as an access issue -- that we should be promoting rather than preventing access to information online, and that so long as the computers are being used for something related to the school, anything goes.

The philosophic part of me tends to agree and would go as far as saying that since so much learning is incidental we shouldn't even limit the computers to scholarly pursuits. If library computers are supposed to substitute as home computers for those who don't have one, why should librarians object to instant messaging or shopping or social sites? I also think that librarians should try and foster happy relationships between patrons and technology, and users are happier when the technology does what they want it to.

On the other hand, I had an interesting talk with a former computer lab supervisor recently, who recounted various unpleasant experiences when trying to enforce the college's reasonable use policy. (The alternate title to this post is one of the reactions he reported to me). Using content blocking software avoids this type of direct confrontation with students.

So, on one side there's the content blocker which allows librarians to worry about other things besides what trouble students are getting into online, and on the other side librarians can strap on the riot gear and personally enforce whatever they interpret 'appropriate use' to mean.

The second way is harder, obviously. And less fun for the librarian. But as much as I hate to say it, I'm slightly more in favor of taking the blame personally than allowing a program to control patron habits. I guess it's just one more item to add to the ever-changing job description...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Things I Carry

Well, Tuesday begins the massive amounts of driving again, mid-May being the light at the end of the tunnel. And as I prepare to embark on this project again, I've been thinking a lot about the physical artifacts that I end up trucking around. I have a huge shoulder bag that I carry from work station to work station, and sometimes I feel like a peddler. The life of an adjunct I suppose.

There's the aspect of an explorer preparing for an expedition in all this: Before leaving home I make sure I have everything I need for both jobs. (TC3 has massive construction going on so everything is in flux, and I don't have a filing cabinet at BCC.) I count five different computers that I use regularly -- six if you count my lappy at home. This has made igoogle a natural tool -- I still sigh with satisfaction every time I open a browser and log in to see the same settings and preferences everywhere I go. It's like I'm carrying something around without having to physically carry it. 

In the back of my mind I've been trying to categorize the things that are so essential I'm willing to add their weight to my trek. Most of my needs can be met by a networked computer, but here's where that fails:

1) Food. I guess I'm a little particular about what I like to eat & drink. Not to mention it's cheaper to BYO.

2) Administrative junk. My passwords, my identification cards, my parking passes. Can't wait for thumbprint or DNA recognition.

3) Non-computer entertainment.

4) Back-ups? I guess the cell phone, my paper calender, and my flash drive fall into this category. As well as the mess of papers I always seem to have. 

I'm glad I sat down and wrote this, because I wonder if I can offload some weight from category 4. On the other hand, the Boy Scout motto just appeared in my head, and maybe I'll stick with the redundancy and paper copies after all. Better to Be Prepared. 

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Thing about Books

I started a new job description this week, and I'm surprised to find myself working with books. Maybe this will sound strange coming from a librarian, but I thought books were obsolete. As a recent grad from Syracuse's ischool, books never made it into my consciousness all that far. I thought everyone was spelling the end for the book, that publishing houses are expected to go out of business, etc., etc., etc.

But at work this week, there they were -- a bunch of new books for the library's collection. I mean, if you can get the information from lots of other places, who's writing these books, and why are we buying them?

If buying books is more than just a matter of habit, I wonder if it's because they are actually an intrinsically valuable medium and are at times preferable to online-based information. (I haven't heard anyone suggest this before.) I mean, they're durable (more durable than this blog, for example), you only buy them once instead of having to subscribe, and then once purchased & catalogued you can stick them on a shelf and basically forget about them until you need them. And books just sit there and wait for you, always accessible no matter if the power is out or the computer is broken or the network is down. It's true there are much faster ways to find and retrieve data, but a book is durable and easy to use. 

The more I think about it, the more annoyed I am that I've only heard books discussed dismissively, as if it's been books versus computers and computers won a long time ago. I thought I was the only one who liked books for their functionality, and that I was just being sentimental. But I wonder if I've been hoodwinked by the technology economy. 

I'm starting to realize there may be a practical use for books still, and that paper and ink can exist side by side with ones and zeros. I wonder who thinks this is blasphemy (-:

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Resisting my Second Life Avatar

I've been doing very little commuting over the past few weeks (this will change mid-January), but I have been doing a lot of thinking. 

And one of the things I've been pondering is my complete lack of interest in participating in Second Life. Second Life seems really  silly to me. There, I said it. I keep reading about how fantastic it is, but I just can't get myself to join. I don't want to analyze this too deeply right now, because I'm trying to be open minded and would like to overcome my present skepticism. 

What I've really been thinking about is not how ridiculous Second Life is, but how participation in it may not be a complete waste of time with regards to library technology. I feel roughly the same about a lot of neat online tricks and tools -- that some day I may think of a highly  useful application merely by being exposed to them now.

This is why I need to take a deep breath and join Second Life, and it's also why I'm taking a computer programming class this spring. Both of these will help me understand how things work, and hopefully they will reveal possibilities I wasn't aware of previously. 

I know not all librarians have this attitude toward what is essentially play. But I wonder if that's somewhere they're missing. Admittedly it's a strange thing to expect from a manager -- tolerance for participation in activities that are usually considered for leisure time only. (But then again those boundaries are changing rapidly -- who says I shouldn't look at facebook at work if I regularly check my work email from home?) I'm lucky in that tomorrow I start a new job description with a boss who I'm pretty sure understands this.