ALA 2010 Report

This year was my first year attending the ALA Annual Conference down in Washington DC.  It was a mostly good experience that was a little overwhelming given the shear amount of stuff that is going on at any given moment.  As usual with a conference atmosphere I was reminded at how wonderfully terrible I am at interacting with strangers, despite having common professional interests (and in many cases common interests outside the professional).  It is annoying and frustrating.  Despite that there was a ton of interesting events and fascinating people at the convention and the couple of sessions I attended were interesting and many left me excited and energized to explore new ideas at work.  This post is long so hit the jump for the rest…..

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On Reviews and Being a Librarian

I caught the tail end of the twitter back and forth that prompted Mark C. Newton’s recent post on review blogs, but then disappeared for four days only to return and find a lively discussion on the nature of blogging and reviews.  In addition to the comments on Mark’s original post there have been a number of response posts on other blogs as well, including Fantasy Book News and Reviews and Neth Space.  If you’re interested in reviewing and reviews (and well books and reading) I highly recommend you check out Mark’s original post, the comments there, and the above linked response posts for some fascinating reading.

I’m not going to get into specifics here on each of Mark’s points but offer kind of a third perspective on Mark’s sixth point: “You can’t love every novel” as it pertains to me.  Mark’s post, and the subsequent responses deal very much the relationship between author and reader and, in this specific case, the reader is also the reviewer.   It is a point that Ken over at Neth Space and Jeff C. of Fantasy Book News a Reviews agree and one that I struggle with.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever given a completely negative review.  Does that mean I haven’t reviewed books I didn’t particularly like?  No.  I mean, I reviewed both Twilight and New Moon without dissolving into vitriolic fits of apoplectic rage.  I’m going to say something, and feel free to blast away in the comments, but there is no so such thing as a bad book.

That isn’t to say a book can’t be written poorly, or suffer from bad editing, or any number of other things that might scream bad book, but I honestly and truly believe that there are no bad books.  Maybe it’s because I’m a librarian.  When I’m reading a book I don’t particularly like I can never really stop myself from trying to envision the type of reader who would enjoy that book.  I suppose that’s because if someone walks up to the reference desk and asks for a book recommendation I would be extremely limited if the books I could recommend were only the books I liked or didn’t like.  Sure I can use my own personal experience as the starting point for a reader’s advisory (as it’s known in the library world) question but I will inevitably run across a reader whose personal reading style is completely at odds with my own (you should have seen the deer in headlights look a gave a recent preteen looking for vampire fiction that a.) was actually available to check out, and b.) not something she had already read, which was most of what we had).

In 1931 one of the “fathers” of library and information science, S. R. Ranganathan, proposed a theory  known as the “5 Laws of Library Science.”  Of those 5 laws it is the first three that tend to inform my review process:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.

Can I not like a particular book? Most certainly. But as a professional whose job it is to connect a user with information I struggle, especially when writing reviews , to wholly dismiss a book based on my own personal experience.  Sometimes I think this sets me apart from other reviewers, but maybe I’m wrong.  Sometimes I think that as a librarian I’m this nebulous third party that hovers on fringes of the book/reader relationship.  Even when I’m reading for my own pleasure I can never wholly shirk that perspective.

Finally…we’re live!

Our new library website is LIVE!

I’ve been working on this for what amounts to a year or more now.  Long, I know, but I learned as I went. While I knew basic HTML when I started, enough to put together a simple page, I had to learn XHTML, CSS and, eventually PHP.  The site has seen multiple iterations prior to the final design but I’m pleased with how things have finally turned.

The main page uses SimplePie to display a couple of RSS feeds as content generated by the amazingly useful listgarden generator.  The calendar is a bit of damn useful PHP developed by James Cridland.  Some areas are still a work in progress, some are simple movement of old content into a new package, but overall I’m happy with how things turned.

Browser compatability isn’t perfect.  An advanced CSS3 selector used to pick out Children’s events on the calendar only works in Firefox, Opera, and IE7.  However in most instances everything should work in IE6, IE7, Firefox 2 (and FF 3 beta 5), and Opera 9.x.  Give it a whirl and feel free to leave comments/suggestions/thoughts.

One last note, not everthing is standards compliant….yet.  PHP is a pain in the ass to validate for that, at least as far as I can tell, so if anyone has input I’d definatley appreciate any advice in that regard.

This represents my first “real” website design and I’m pretty proud of it so try not to bruise my ego too much.

Video Games make you dumb…

Dave Gibbons, of the American Chronicle, wrote this little gem about video games, libraries, and literacy.

This correlation=causation angle has been pretty well abused in “video games are bad” argument and no one (I’m looking at you Mr. Thompson) has managed to pin down accurate numbers to support their argurment.   Mr. Gibbons is no different.  He gives us tons of numbers on literacy but none whatsoever on how, or if, video games impact literacy.  That fact alone should render is argument null and void.

However, from a slighly less crumudgeony position, one might ask how the enticement of video games in the library increases teen (or even adult) awareness of other library services.  It’s all well and good to hold a Guitar Hero or Rock Band tournament but finding a way to tie those things into the greater context of literacy, learning, and library service is another matter entirely.

I have no doubt that fans of Halo 3  or Gears of War would enjoy Andy Remic’s War Machine, or that those old school adherents to the Max Payne series would enjoy the fisticuff laden adventures of Phillip Marlowe, or that fans of Rock Band might enjoy the manga series RePlay. Yeah, Gibbons doesn’t support his argument very well, he offers criticism without discussion but I do think that further investigation into the relationship between libraries, teens, and video games is certainly warranted.

A Slight Frustration- Libraries and the ‘Net

I’ve been working on redesign of our library website.  Now I’m not a professional…at all and nearly everything I’ve learned about web design is stuff I’ve picked within the last year so take whatever I have to say with a (very minuscule) grain of salt.  I’ve gone from a straight HTML design to xhtml to PHP (which is where I’m staying dammit!) all three enhanced and spiced up via CSS.  Now one of the main tenets of CSS is the obligatory “Tables are Bad!”  At least from a design perspective.  Tables are to house data/information and SHOULD NOT be used in the LAYOUT of a web page.  Which is where CSS comes in.  Admittedly designing a layout via CSS that is accessible and (nigh) identical across a variety of browsers IS a bit of an uphill battle but the payoff, especially in terms of code simplicity,  is absolutely worth it.

In order to fuel my erstwhile designing I’ve been visiting a number of (mostly local) library websites in order to get a feel not only for how they have their websites laid out but for how they handle their coding as well.  Unfortunately what I’ve noticed is an increasing divide between current Web Design (from the professional world) and Web Design (in the library world).

Take a look at Princeton Public Library’s web page. I admit their design is attractive but a glance at their code reveals that, while readable, it lacks in some areas.  Most of the major content is delivered via tables, contains a fair amount of inline styling (again with the tables in particular), and a uses bunch of repeated code (header and footer).  Even if you didn’t want to use CSS for layout you could move the inline table styling to a style sheet (especially since most of the tables are contained in a div with a unique id).  Furthermore switching to PHP would allow a simple include once call for both the header and the footer leaving only the major content of each page.  I simplify of course, it is probably slightly more complicated than that, but designing an elegantly coded well designed page is within reach.

In terms of content PPL is a great example, I’ve seen some truly disgusting designs out there, and melding design with content, especially for libraries in this age of integrated services, isn’t exactly an easy task but that doesn’t mean that current web design practices and standards are inapplicable to libraries.  I’ve developed almost a perverse habit of running library websites through the W3C Validation service and have been almost universally disappointed with the results.  I suppose I’d have more to complain about if the choice in coding actually interfered in the operation of the web pages in question, as of now it doesn’t, but I still find it a little depressing that, if not out right ignored, current Web standards seems to be such a low priority for library web pages.

There is more I could say on this, but I’m already rambling and I have a stack of magazines that need to be checked in and shelved, so maybe more later.

Also if anyone knows of any literature, from either side of the information world (web designers/analysts, librarians, etc.) that discuss this please feel free to point in that direction.