Experience & Context

Some years ago, when I was still doing theater work in Chicago, I had gotten off a job late one night and found myself craving a pint of ice cream. So I stopped by a corner market on my way home. Another gentleman—a complete stranger to me—arrived at the same time I did. We approached the door just in time to see the proprietor throw the lock and change the sign to “Closed”. He shrugged at us, pointed to the sign listing the store’s hours, and walked off.

I was disappointed and somewhat miffed. The other guy proceeded to throw a spectacular tantrum.

I stood there nonplussed, unsure what to do. Once this strange man had stopped yelling and stomping around, I asked him, “Are you OK?” (Inane question, I know—clearly he wasn’t—but it was late and I was tired and hungry.)

He proceeded to tell me a Tale of Woe for the Ages. All about his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, very bad week, very bad month. Everything that could go wrong in this guy’s life had gone wrong. All he wanted now was some potato chips—crunchy bites of salty comfort. Is that too much to ask?

So I took him to a local bar and bought him a beer.

He apologized for making such a scene. He knew it was a ridiculous overreaction. I assured him I totally understood. And I did understand: for me, having the door locked in my face was annoying. For him, it was ONE MORE THING in a long line of crappy things that had happened to him lately.

For him, it was the one thing too many.

This experience taught me something important:

Context matters.

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When People Ask Me about My Favorite Authors

In my continuing quest to find my way into and through the world of Readers’ Advisory…

Sometimes people will ask me how to get started on a particular author. They haven’t read anything by this author, but they know I have and they want to give ’em a try. They ask me which of the author’s books is my favorite, or which they should read first.

My initial impulse is to tell them which book is my personal favorite by the author. But I also know that what appeals to me might not be what appeals to them, and so my favorite might not be theirs. Learning which is my personal favorite might tell them something about me, but it might not be their best entrée into the author’s body of work.

Continue reading “When People Ask Me about My Favorite Authors”

Book Reviews in the Age of Goodreads

A few weeks ago, I read Reza Aslan’s book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and I loved it. I went to my Goodreads account and posted a glowing review.

I recommended this book to some historians I know and they both read it. I’ve been speaking to them about it and I was surprised to learn that they’re far more critical of the work than I am. Not because of their religious beliefs but because they don’t think it’s very good history.

Both of them have advanced degrees in history. One of them works as an administrator in higher education. They’ve both been trained in the work of history and both have expectations molded by the standards of academic work.

They see significant flaws in Dr. Aslan’s book. If someone expects to challenge the orthodox historical consensus on a subject (as Dr. Aslan does) there are standards that must be met, the work must uphold a certain level of academic rigor.

Zealot fails to meet these standards. As my friend suggested—he can’t believe that this work would ever survive peer review.

After hearing what my friends had to say about the work I decided to do what a good librarian should do and find out more about Dr. Aslan’s qualifications, his authority to speak on this matter, and the critical reception his work has received from professional historians in the field.

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The Unnatural Phenomenon of Using a Mouse

My first real encounter with a usability challenge in a digital environment happened when I worked as a file clerk in a medical records office. We converted our office from paper records to electronic and had to learn a whole new computer-based record keeping system. One of the women who worked in the file room had never used a computer before. It was my job to teach her this new electronic system.

I’ve told this story before…

The biggest challenge for me was that I failed to comprehend the depth and breadth of my coworker’s digital illiteracy.

She didn’t know how to use a mouse. How do you teach someone to use a data system which functions through a GUI when they don’t know how to use a mouse?

Before I could even begin to teach her the new record keeping system, I had to teach her how to use computer peripherals.

Continue reading “The Unnatural Phenomenon of Using a Mouse”

Stop Calling It a “Bookless” Library

In his critique of the new “bookless” library in Texas, Adam Feldman states the essential value of libraries and librarians better than I’ve ever been able to:

This Librarian Is Not Impressed With Your Digital, No-Books Library (posted on Next City on August 8, 2014)

I’ve been following the development and launch of the BiblioTech Digital Library from the beginning. I have my own issues with it but there’s one thing in particular that bothers me:

Why do we keep calling it a “bookless” library?

This bothers me all the more because, as best I can tell, the people who created the BiblioTech library are the ones who first decided to call it that.

Let me make this as clear as I can:

Ebooks are books.

They’re legit. They’re not “less than” or ersatz or denigrated versions of books. Ebook collections at libraries aren’t “bookless” just because they’re digital.

It does libraries a disservice to devalue ebooks this way. Our patrons want ebooks and we devote significant time and effort to try and supply them. When we talk about ebooks as though they’re intrinsically second-class items, it demeans the wants & needs of our patrons, and it demeans our efforts & our work on this front.

If ebooks aren’t real books, then how do we justify the expense of maintaining e-collections?

We must get away from calling this thing a “bookless” library.

Amazon Unlimited

Last week, Amazon launched their new Kindle Unlimited service—$10 a month for unlimited ebook & e-audiobook loans direct through Amazon.

American Libraries Magazine wrote a reaction piece about it:

  • Amazon Unlimited by James LaRue (posted on American Libraries on July 18, 2014)

And Forbes posted this deliberately provocative op-ed piece:

A Google search turns up many more blogs and opinion pieces from librarians reacting to this. As one might expect, the Forbes post generated a tremendous hue-and-cry.
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The Real Challenge of the Digital Divide

This article raises an essential point about efforts to overcome the Digital Divide:

Technology Is Making Achievement Gaps Bigger by Annie Murphy Paul (posted on The Brilliant Blog on June 25, 2014)

The real issue we face when we address the Digital Divide isn’t access to technology.

The real issue is digital literacy.

Our most important task isn’t merely to provide access to technology. We also have to teach people how to use it effectively and safely. People who don’t have the opportunity to use technology on a regular basis also don’t have an opportunity to develop effective digital skills. To quote the article above:

Not only are affluent kids more likely to know how to Google; they’re more likely to know what to Google for.

More than that—digital literacy is about teaching people why technology matters, how it can help to make their lives better. People who have gotten along without technology so far may not always recognize why access to it matters now.

It does no good to hand technology to someone who has no idea how to use it. Any attempt to overcome the Digital Divide must go hand-in-hand with digital literacy education and development.