FCC and the speed of “Broadband”

As a resident of a “Rural American” state (Maine) I was spurred into action recently when I read an article from Wired magazine, recently posted on twitter by a fellow librarian Jessamyn West, about the FCC considering reclassifying what internet speed actually constituted broadband. This article highlights a discussion currently going on at the FCC that would change broadband from a minimum of 25 mbps (Megabits Per Second) to 10 mbps.

Since I not to long ago completed a dual masters degree program completely online, I know how much of a bandwidth hog I was (and probably still am when playing video games), and how much a difference that 15 mbps makes to my speed and productivity.

Below is the comment I sent in to the FCC in regards to this, for lack of better words, corporate attempt to not provide equal service to rural areas.

“As a librarian and resident of “Rural America” I can assure you that lowering the speed of broadband will not fix the connectivity problem this country faces, and will more than likely make it much worse in the long run.  This idea is like putting a smaller gas tank in a car to lower exhaust emissions even though the driver still needs to go the same distance to work.

Many Americans…27%*… don’t even have broadband internet at home yet. (*see Pew research at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/02/09/digital-divides-feeding-america/ ), and here we are telling them that slower speeds and smaller data capacities are fine.  While in truth digitization is increasing every day. More and more bandwidth is required for modern technologies and this does not even take into consideration what the future holds.  20 years ago, we were overtaxing the phone system with 54k modems now 54k bandwidth will not even load a single modern webpage.  Please stop and think what bandwidth will be required in the next 20 years.  Feel free to read “The Second Machine Age”, by Erik Brynjolfsson, and Andrew McAfee for a good look at what is coming in our future.

As a librarian, I can assure you that we are working hard every day to fill in the digital divide by providing access and education to those 27% of Americans that do not have access anywhere else.  The needs these people face are real and growing as more and more essential services are shifted onto online only access methods.  These citizens of “Rural America” are still American citizens and many will one day have no choice but to get home based internet just to survive daily life.  So, I ask again please stop and consider how this reduction in bandwidth will affect their and all our futures.

Thank you.”

I can only hope they listen to me and the over 1000 other folks who’ve commented on this issue.

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Free Educational Resources

I’ve added a Educational Resources section to my free stuff page.  Colleges, universities, MOOC’s (massive open online course), online academies, and more.  Some of the sites I listed have both free and pay sections so be sure to choose the free options.  Of course if you want the pay content that’s always a decision you can make too.  Education is something no one can ever take from you and is always useful so there is no such thing as “over-educated”.  It’s a bit cliche now but I’m going to type it any way….It’s never to late to learn.   Enjoy the free learning resources and have fun!

More free stuff.

I’ve added a couple links today to some other free online resources to my Free Stuff page.

One for free public domain movies appropriately called Public Domain Movies.net.  They have a wonderful collection of free to download or edit movies that are in the public domain.  I know I’ll be busy checking out their cartoon section (cartoon fan that I am).

I also added a link to the Free Music Archive which isn’t quite as free as public domain stuff but many of the songs in their massive collection are free to download and listen to if you would like to use one in more creative endeavors you’ll want to check the usage rights or contact the creator for permission.

I hope to add more to these segments soon, so if you know of some great free (and legal) resources in any category please post a comment and let me know.

Happy viewing and or listening.

New Site Section for Free Stuff

Hello Everyone.

Being a public librarian I get asked for free resources for all kinds of different things all the time.  I’ve decided to share some of my favorites with all of you in a brand new page on this site simply titled Free Stuff. I’m going to have links and short descriptions to all kinds of free online (and maybe Real World) resources there.  You can think of it as an old school web portal from before there was such a thing as Google.  Yes you could Google (verb) any of these sites on Google (noun) but I’m trying to save you a bit of  time by not having you hunt through the millions of results you would get.

So far I’ve started with free E-book and free online libraries…you know being a librarian I just had to start there.  I’ll add more soon and post here as I do so.

So what are you waiting for go check out my Free Stuff page and find a great free E-book to read.

Enjoy.

Fake or Fact

Fake news and fake websites, and the controversy around the debate, are causing Google & Facebook to consider filtering / vetting every post and or sites information.  A herculean task if ever there was one.  As a librarian I can say that no one has ever been 100% successful in doing this.  Libraries have many sources on their shelves that have been proven false over time.  Some are kept on purpose to show the history of a given subject for the “what people used to think” type research, and others are kept because no one has discovered that the facts contained inside are wrong.  So I applaud any company (or individual) that attempts to tackle this problem, but I also think that we consumers of information need to know how to spot the fact from the fake too.  To that end I’m going to link you over to a fellow librarians presentation on that exact topic.  Jessamyn West is a noted advocate for libraries and filling in the digital divide, and her presentation “Is this CRAAP? How to evaluate internet sources” is a great guide and starting place for those unfamiliar with spotting all the signs that the site you are reading is fake and or biased.

That said some of the quick tips from your school days still help.

  1. Is this a trusted news source or not.
  2. Is this a reputable author or an unqualified individuals opinion.
  3. Does this person have any bias (or an ax to grind) toward the topic

If your unsure about any answers to the above three questions you’d  better do a bit of research to answer them before you start believing it…or worse quoting and spreading the information around.

Smokey the bear always said it’s up to you to prevent forest fires…well as a librarian I can say that fake news & fake websites are the forest fire of the internet and we the readers can help put it out.

 

 

 

Using Tech to Learn About Tech.

I know that the title is a bit of an oxymoronic statement, but it’s none the less true.  In this day and age of online education (and in some cases ridiculous amounts of college debt…thankfully not my case) there are tons of options out there for folks to learn just about anything from some amazing sources.  Many educational institutions are offering free online resources to teach people all sorts of interesting things.

In my line of work (librarian) I get asked all the time where some affordable places are to go learn about technology.  In this post, I’m going to list some amazingly affordable options for you to check out, and by amazingly affordable I mean FREE!

Totally Free!

Free…but you’ll want to avoid the ads…(don’t we always want to avoid ads.)

  • Mooc List: Massive Online Open Course: Free online courses (note: skip the ads)

“Mostly Free” options:

  • Edx: Pay & Free online courses (note: Verified courses are free, but certifications & professional education courses cost $).
  • Udacity: Pay & free online courses on many subjects (note: Be sure to click the “free” checkbox).
  • Udemy: Pay & Free online courses. (note: Once you search for a course you can easily sort out the free courses by using the “price” menu and checking the free box).

Now I’m sure you noticed some big-name universities in the list above… Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Yale…that’s not by accident.  Many large universities are working on open course initiatives where they help not just their students and staff but the general public as well by providing free learning resources for everyone.

So go forth and learn something new and exciting, and don’t forget if you need help with getting to this kind of information feel free to ask your friendly neighborhood librarian.

A Bit About Library Websites

I’ve taken this recent (self imposed) quite time in my employment to do a bit of re-education and reading on various subjects related to libraries, usability (uxd), and graphic novels in libraries (planning something).  I’ve recently finished reading “Usability Testing: a practical guide for librarians”, by Rebecca Blakiston.  It is an interesting read, and you can see my review of it on Goodreads (widget over there on the right).  But there was a great paragraph in the book that I thought I’d share with everyone.

“…Historically, institutions have put significant funding into website redesign projects, but haven’t built the infrastructure to then maintain and iterate on those new websites. All too often, especially for libraries that have small if any web design and development staff to join in,redesign efforts are contracted out to web design firms.  These expert design teams can conduct usability testing as part of their process, perhaps inviting library staff to join in,  and can create great websites that provide an excellent user experience.  Yet, once the website is launched, the library staff doesn’t have the tools, people, or workflows in place to keep it going.  Websites being what they are, they eventually become problematic.  Perhaps content becomes outdated and inconsistent, design elements don’t beet the new brand, and the site isn’t accessible on new types of mobile devices.  needless to day , a few years later, library staff and administrators find themselves again talking about the need for a redesign.  So the redesign is then repeated again and again, every few years.  This model of focusing effort on your website just once every few years is clearly unsustainable.  it doesn’t treat websites as the ever-evolving entities that they are, and doesn’t give them the attention that they deserve.” (page 109)

Basically all that says that (some) libraries don’t put nearly enough planning into on going maintenance and updates of their websites.  Having worked in different libraries where this pattern (redesign-wait-broken website-redesign-repeat) was the norm I can say that it doesn’t work in our modern WiFi enabled, mobile downloading, streaming world…at all.  The author goes on to say that usability testing should be involved in every step of the redesign (and in my opinion maintenance) process…and she’s right.

A libraries website, in my opinion, should not be considered a digital duplicate of the library.  It should be its own digital entity that happens to inform users about not only its offerings but the real world libraries offerings too.  Being a digital entity it also needs constant maintenance and updates to keep functioning properly.  I know it will probably never happen but I would love to see libraries have dedicated web designers on staff to keep their digital doors open…and opening properly.  Usability testing staff or user experience design staff would also be nice but maybe I’m a bit biased on that point.

So to any library out there planning a website redesign please have some usability people involved in the process, and please please make a plan (and stick to it) for constant website updating and maintenance.

Blakiston, R. (2015). Usability Testing: A Practical Guide for Librarians. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Freelance Librarian(ing)?

(not sure if Librarianing is a word…but with the rules of English it probably can be.)

Either way due to some personal decisions (and a currently tight job market) I’m spreading my wings a bit and becoming a self employed Freelance Librarian.  Now I know what your thinking how can you be a librarian with no library to work at.  Answer = Librarians have a lot of strange, interesting, and marketable skills.

Skills I possess:
Typing, basic web design (HTML5 & CSS – nothing fancy), customer service, research, writing, computer tutor, computer repair (minor), information organization and retrieval, Survey creation & analysis, Statistics gathering and analysis, room layout planning (computer labs), AV equipment usage, readers advisory.

Knowledge I possess:
MS-Office 95 – Office 10, MS-Dos – Windows 10, Dewey Decimal System, Library of Congress System, Open Office, Library Management Systems (III – Millennium & Sierra), 3D modeling software (Bryce 7, Learning tinker-cad), popular fiction, non-fiction, movies, comic books (graphic novels), video games, local history (Maine & Lewiston / Auburn), User experience design, and a half dozen or so (rusty) computer programming languages.

And that is just a small list of my skills and knowledge’s.

I’ve met librarians who are (or were) professional artists, actors, musicians, teachers, editors, authors, news paper columnists, lawyers, EMT’s, nurses, and even a roller derby racer.  As librarians we do a bit of everything and we draw in people from many other professions.  And because we are librarians we talk, trade knowledge, teach each other new skills, and learn to network like no one else (because we need to know how to get information on any topic imaginable).

So the next time you talk to your local librarian maybe you should stop and ask them what they learned about – besides libraries – being a librarian.  I’m willing to be the answer may surprise you.

Wish me luck – I’m off to learn how to make a business plan…because I know whom to ask for help. *smiles*

 

A Bit about E-Books

A bit about E-Books, Ownership & Issues

The legal gray area around e-books is changing again, and some of the less than positive changes have come home for my local libraries in Maine.  Maine has a download library consortium and we’ve recently decided to switch providers for a number of reasons both good and bad.  With this switch (from Overdrive to Bibliotheca), comes a bunch of new legality and transfer nightmares.  One of which is the focus of this post.

How much of the current Download Library collection will transfer to the new platform?

Our current Download Library Collection will be transferred to the new platform with a few exceptions. The vast majority of our collection will be able to be moved to new licenses within the cloud Library system. The exceptions are primarily items that were purchased previously, but are no longer available for licensing due to publisher restrictions on availability. The more recently the titles were purchased the more likely they will transfer.”

OK so for those that will read this and don’t know this already…Technically when you buy and e-book you don’t own it.  You’re leasing rights to use it from the publisher. (There are a few publishers who don’t follow this *cheers*.)  So when you change platforms, devices, or software and try to move your e-book collection over you may find that some of the items won’t transfer because the licensing they were released under doesn’t allow it.  So basically you’ve purchased an e-book and now you can no longer read it because the publishers says they don’t want to update, migrate, allow you to do so…or whatever other reason they decide to toss in.   This is all because e-books are treated as software and not as books under copyright law.

The most famous instance of this so far was Amazon (ironically) pulling the title 1984 from its devices. This was due to the distributing publisher not actually having the rights to distribute the e-books. Amazon was sued over this and did give refunds and a settlement to the suing parties, but this only highlights the fact that e-books are currently different animals from normal books.

Now I get it this is the publishers’ way of preventing mass hacking, copying, and distribution of their intellectual property.  I’d be angry if someone was stealing from me too, but if I legally bought something from them I’d expect to be able to use that item for as long as I want and on any device I want.

The good news is that this is starting to change.  EU (European Union) court just ruled that e-books should be treated as normal books not software when it comes to libraries lending items.  This is a big shift for our fellow librarians in Europe who now have a lot less gray in their legality governing e-books.  I can only hope that this ruling with push a similar ruling through here in the US.

American libraries had a great article about the future of e-books, libraries, and bookstores too.

So I’m crossing my fingers that the law will eventually catch up to the technology and allow libraries, and individual people, to do what they want with e-books after they’ve purchased them.

Tech with interesting potential for libraries.

This post is sort of an expansion on a post from Jason Griffey’s blog Pattern Recognition (original post: Estonia E-Residency).  So you may want to start by reading it.

In Mr. Griffey’s article he shows how the government of Estonia is allowing for digital citizenship to their country, and as part of the process each digital citizen is issued an electronic identity card.  This card interacts with a portable USB device to allow access to government services such as starting a business in Estonia.

My brain took one look at this tech and it’s potential and said “Whoa…imagine what libraries could do with that!”.

If you stop and think about it a library card, with a digital smart chip (like the ones being added rapidly to credit cards here in the US), could allow access to all of a libraries e-resources remotely from anywhere in the world.  Yes I know your going to be sitting there saying “But Jim many libraries already do that with someones library card number.”  which is absolutely true.  However have you ever tried to remember your (in my libraries case) 14 digit library card number an hour before bed when you just want a new e-book to read not to mention your username password and or pin number?…I can tell you it’s not easy.

Not to mention in the case of the Estonian citizenship card imagine if it allowed access to not only the digital resources of your local library but to your national library as well. The National Library Estonia for example who’s starting home page lists wondrous amounts of e-resources.  This would eliminate the need for usernames and passwords, (which frankly don’t we have to many to keep track of already) and it would allow for anyone whom is a citizen / library member to have a simple means of accessing their libraries resources from anywhere in the world.

That’s some serious potential in my opinion.

Needless to say I’ll be keeping an eye on this tech and it’s further developments.