Thursday, December 1, 2011

Over at, a post about my neighborhood

“My house is about equidistant from the Young’s brewery and the Fuller’s brewery. This is no accident.”
— Michael Jackson

Unlike Michael Jackson, it’s happy accident that my neighborhood is in the middle of the first three production breweries in Washington, DC in about 60 years. My wife and I bought a house in Brookland eight years ago, and now we live about ten minutes from Chocolate City, DC Brau, and 3 Stars, and yes, I’ve timed the drives. This probably isn’t a reason to move to Brookland, but consider it a contributing factor. Read the article here.

* Neighborhood boundaries in DC, as in many cities, are contentious. My apologies if this map, from, offends you.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Road Trip: From Blog to Conference

I’ll be presenting at two conferences in early 2012 on topics that began as blog posts in 2011. Prior to those posts, each was an attempt, successful, I’d say, to improve the library where I work. Also, it’s not a real road trip. These conferences are in Washington, DC, so they won’t require any travel. In fact, both are on the same Metro line, and the first conference is about half a mile down the street from where I work.

At Catholic University of America’s School of Library Science Bridging the Spectrum 2012 Symposium I’m presenting on using QR codes to link digital holdings to print. More details are here.

I’ll be exploring QR codes a bit more in depth at the 2012 meeting of Computers in Libraries as part of a panel. At that conference I’ll also be presenting on transforming library spaces, the subject of this post.

In both cases, the blog posts served as rough formats for abstracts that were accepted at these conferences. I used more academic language, of course, but the content and structure are otherwise unchanged. My staff and I identified problems, then thought of solutions. QR codes can be tracked, numerical data on building and space usage collected, so defining success was relatively easy for each project. What makes for a good read here makes for a good one on a conference submission form as well. I think these experiences are applicable elsewhere, and I’m eager to be part of the conversation on these topics.

Standby for witty and irreverent slide decks closer to each of the conferences.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Elsewhere: A Guest Post on Research Methods in Libraries and Library Science

I wish Jessica Olin's blog, Letters to a Young Librarian, was around when I was in library school. Both she and guests post on things you weren't told in library school, but should have been, and when she asked if I was interested in writing something, I jumped at the chance.
Those who know me know that a pet peeve of mine is a lack of rigor, of scientific methodologies, in libraries and library science. I've written about it here as well. Please go read it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The #StoutDay Post: Anatomy of a Beer Stakeout, or, The Canadian Breakfast Stout Post

Beer is for drinking, not for fetishizing, and yet last month I found myself in line waiting to buy a bottle of Founders Brewing Canadian Breakfast Stout, probably my least favorite of their Breakfast Stouts (and yes, it felt ridiculous to type that; if you must know, regular, and then Kentucky, then CBS). Why did I spend my lunch break in line for this beer? Because I could. Because I really did get an adrenaline rush from this experience. Because I’m curious to see what CBS tastes like after being cellared, something I’ve been able to do already with Kentucky Breakfast Stout.

There’s a certain, seemingly-illicit thrill in leaving work to buy alcohol, especially in the middle of the day, and especially if the alcohol in question is scarce. But it's a slow day, and we've got more than enough front desk coverage, so away I go. Against my better judgement, I take the advice of Google Maps, which states that the trip will take 23 minutes. It takes twice that. Goodbye lunch break. I get to the store, hoping that CBS hasn’t arrived yet, and it hasn’t. So I wait, and wait, and wait. I’m the second person in the store anticipating CBS’s arrival. Clearly he’s also a beer geek, and just as clearly, it’s a he. The only female who enters the store buys cheese and leaves. I introduce myself to the person in charge of beer at the store. We’ve actually “talked” via twitter many times, but this is our first meeting in real life. We pick up the conversation where it left off online: beer and 1990s rap. Just like us, he’s waiting for the shipment of CBS, all the while fielding phone calls from other beer geeks.

The other guy in line is wearing a Cigar City shirt. We talk shop. Did I hear that a keg of CBS at Churchkey was kicked in under 15 minutes? I had not. We shake our heads, and the talk naturally turns to Hopslam, the other sought-after Michigan beer. A few more people enter the store, and join the conversation. We all scan the wall of beer: what have we had, not had, liked, not liked? And we wait some more.

The wine people stare at us. Apologetically, I tell one of the wine people that I like wine as well, just not enough to wait in line for it. He laughs and says “sure you do.” I scan the wine, getting hungry since this is technically still my lunch break, yet I’ve brought no lunch. More waiting.

Cheese samples! An excellent Gruyere, and a well-aged Gouda. It’s something. The cheese monger and I chat for a bit and he brings me a few more samples. But then it’s more waiting, back to scanning the walls of wine.

I approach the same wine person, inquiring about a bottle the shop doesn’t have from a producer the shop carries. This is a mix of boredom, curiosity, and defensiveness. I must show him I know what I’m talking about. I’m disappointed that he’s not caught off guard, but says he’ll look into it. More waiting.

I fill out a form for that bottle of wine to get a sense of its price and availability. Someone else is at the cheese counter discussing cured meats. I sidle up so I can leech a sample off this conversation. It works, I get a fantastic domestic chorizo, pimenton is dominant, yet more cheese appears, and I’m happy.

Finally, the distributor shows up. We form a surprisingly orderly queue based on who arrived first, which means I’m second in line. The Founders boxes don’t come off at first, though, so there’s more waiting. I’m getting irrationally giddy about this. It’s a 750mL bottle. I can’t drink that much imperial stout, I probably only want 6 ounces of it, at the most. I resolve to cellar it and then show up to a DC Homebrewers meeting with the bottle, arriving every bit the hero.

I purchase the bottle of CBS, along with a 4-pack of Founder’s wet-hopped Harvest Ale. I take my route back to work, not Google’s. It takes 22 minutes. It’s been 2.5 hours since I left work. Would I do it again? Of course. But first, I have some hours to make up at work.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Digital and More Traditional Literacy

My 10th grade social studies teacher, Mr. Schweidel, is my favorite teacher ever. He mocked, prodded, and harassed us into learning in a variety of inventive ways, some of which I try to use when I'm in the classroom, though I doubt I have the same results. When I read this article, a takedown of digital literacy, I thought back to Mr. Schweidel's class. One day, in an attempt to get us to not be mindless drones writing down whatever he said, Mr. Schweidel told us a story about how Hannibal invaded Italy with elephants, using snow chutes to transport the elephants through the Alps. While he was telling this obviously tall tale, I looked left and right, watching dumbfounded while my classmates wrote it all down. At the end, Mr. Schweidel asked the class what was the most amazing thing about what he had just said. When he was greeted with blank stares, he began to yell. "The most amazing thing is that this never happened!," he roared, and then lit into us for being so gullible. The message was clear: I am an authority figure, but I am not perfect. There is truth out there. Seek it. Find it out. Don't believe everything you hear, no matter who it's from.

And that brings us to the internet.
Annie Murphy Paul, the author of the article that got me thinking, notes that the Internet, which is an authority in the eyes of many, allows people to manipulate and misrepresent. But as the above example from my youth shows, you don't need Internet access to do that. Is there a more permissive environment for such hijinks online? Perhaps. On a listserv I belong to that discusses information literacy, someone asked a question about using websites that are patently false to teach website evaluation. A lively discussion ensued; there are a lot of purposely inaccurate websites out there. But I'm not worried about those. Anyone can do a little digging and debunk those for themselves. I'm more concerned with innocuous websites that have bad information. Ones written by self-proclaimed experts that are anything but. Ones that a library patron might actually use.

Overall, Paul draws a false dichotomy between digital and more traditional literacies, when really they are mutually constitutive. You can't have one without the other in 2011. The Internet is not going away, and people need to know how to use it, how to evaluate online sources just as they would print or oral ones. Below is a brief discussion I had with the author via twitter. Here's a link to it, and here's a good blog post from 2009 that touches on some of the same things.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I'm back at it again over at This time with a post about pumpkin beers, which seem to provoke people, hence the video above. While the article is mostly about local pumpkin beers, I do mention some of the more popular offerings from around the US. Enjoy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Great American Beer Festival Winners: Daytrips

A new post over at on breweries that won GABF awards and are within driving distance of DC for a daytrip. Enjoy, and congrats to all the winners.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Beer Snobbery, Part II

Last week I wrote a piece for on what happens when craft beer gets "too popular." This week I defend, sort of, macro beers, like those made by InBev (Budwiser) and MillerCoors. Do check it out.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Transforming Library Spaces

The library where I work is old. Not geologically, and not even all that old in terms of years. It was built in 1963, on a campus where at least one building dates back to 1897. It's old in the sense that it's out of date. Every wall in the building, every last one, is a load-bearing wall. In this environment, change is difficult.

While fancier digs are hopefully on the way, we're not standing pat. I've worked with stakeholders across campus to modernize the facilities, adding computers, and making the most out of the spaces we've been given by noting how those spaces are used and then acting in ways that complement and accentuate their usage.

For example, library staff noticed both students and faculty congregating in a ground floor space that also houses our microfilm and bound back issues of journals, magazines, and other serials. At the same time, our School of Continuing Education was looking for more space to hold classes. It just so happened that these students and faculty were primarily Continuing Education, and so a partnership was born. We moved the microfilm against a wall, installed two whiteboards, and brought in some classroom furniture from elsewhere. A drop-down screen and a hanging projector are en route. This space, so popular that adjuncts have asked to use it for office hours, is now going to be a classroom, and a place where students, faculty, and other patrons can come together to accomplish things. What began with qualitative evidence on the part of library staff became a partnership with another campus organization. Together we fought for that space, and in particular that projector, when some on campus wanted to skimp on materials. I can see how proud Continuing Education is of that space. These students are commuters and there's not much that "theirs" on our campus.

Math labs are all the rage on many campuses, and ours is no exception. A math professor proposed one someone on campus. I proposed the library, thinking that anything that gets people in to the library is a win. The professor agreed, and in a space that previously held empty shelving, we now have five computers and two white boards, with weekly math sessions and daily tutoring available. Thanks, math department!

Finally, an extra blackboard and an empty wall became a match on the 2nd floor of the building. Students were quietly using the Religion/Religious Studies room (our stacks are broken into rooms, I told you it was an old building) to study, so an uninstalled blackboard found a home.

Lessons learned from these experiences:
  • Observe how space is being used, then act on it - the data we compiled for these spaces began as anecdotal evidence. Library staff members telling each other what they noticed in the building. Without open communication and a staff committed to constant improvement, this will be difficult.
  • Find allies where possible - this doesn't happen unless there are regular lines of communication between the library staff and the rest of campus. Keep your eyes and ears open, as well as at least part of your budget. Be part of the greater community, because you'll find something
  • Be the squeaky wheel - I've been pushy as a library director, and I'm sure there are lines that people think I've crossed. I understand that and I'm conscious of it, but at the same time, I want results. This isn't a science, and it's not even an art, but if you don't ask for something, you won't get it (lifehacker link). It helps that asking is easier if you have other campus organizations and institutions supporting the endeavor.

Monday, September 12, 2011

On Beer Snobbery, Part I

I've got another beer post up at, do check it out. I may be spending more time over there with beer-related content, but as always, I'll link to it over here. As the above title suggests, the post is about that line you can't always see, but you know you've crossed, when you engage in snobbish behavior.



Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Power is On!, or What failure looks like, and what it doesn’t

Due to Hurricane Irene, sometime between the close of business on Saturday and our opening on Sunday, the library lost power. Conferring with the powers that be and staff on the ground, we closed the building for Sunday, hoping that we could reopen in time for the start of the workweek and the second week of courses. So we waited. And waited. We were without power for about 80 hours, and this is what happened, and what we learned.

On Monday library staff were relocated to a basement classroom in another building. It seemed that nobody missed us. We had a few e-mails, but no walk-ins, nobody asking about reserve books, even. It looked like a failure; a library goes dark and nobody notices.

But the next day, after finally persuading the higher ups that we needed an all campus e-mail about the situation (??), and word got out. We had a few visitors in our new digs, and I lead an impromptu reference session on the steps of the library via a laptop and wifi. Our reference librarian visited the bookstore, where students asked about us and when the building might reopen.

Wednesday morning was slightly busier, and finally we got power back on Wednesday afternoon. The library is hopping, so I am happy.

We don’t do a lot of marketing here. We’re an academic library and there aren’t any public libraries within walking distance; students are somewhat stuck with us, which is a lousy choice of words, but it’s true. They’ll continue to use Google and Wikipedia first, and then the library databases a distant second, but I was struck by how quiet our makeshift library was while the power was out. I didn’t like it.

This situation became, for me, something of a test run. What might a library look like without books, without a building? We went to other locations on campus, we interacted with students in locations they wouldn’t expect to see us, like the dining hall, the bookstore, and even outside.

And so a power failure shed light on what were were and weren’t doing as a library, and as librarians. A marketing failure became an opportunity, one that we’ll continue to explore. On my shelf I have a few books on library marketing. It’s time to take a look at them.
  • Marketing Today’s Academic Library, Brian Mathews (2009)
  • The Accidental Library Marketer, Kathy Dempsy (2009)
  • Building Bridges, Monty McAdoo (2010)
  • Academic Library Outreach, Nancy Courtney, ed (2009)
Another failure was our disaster plan. Chiefly, we didn’t have one. We will now. Laptops with all the software we need, a projector, a power source, and if the building is safe (and it wasn’t for a time here, as the power surge damaged one of our air conditioning units, threatening a fire) we’ll close the stacks and retrieve books for patrons.

And so what began as a loss of power became something beneficial by exposing what needed to be done. It’s post hoc, but it’s a start.

Monday, July 25, 2011


A smallish post for now, just a reminder that the seventh iteration of the Library Day in the Life Project begins today (7/25, Monday) and goes through Sunday (7/31). You can follow along, and contribute, using the hashtag #libday7, and you can view my tweets (insert shameless plug to follow me here) to the right of this post.

What's on tap for the week over here?
  • Vendor relations
  • Paying bills
  • Interviewing at least one candidate for a part-time job
  • Working on the website
  • Investigating social media options for the library
  • Expanding our use of QR codes
  • Collection development
  • and much, much more.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Google+ is Your New LMS

Learning Management Systems. Blackboard. Moodle. Sakai. Something in-house. The first and last options are expensive. The middle two are open-source, but will require a lot of training and other costs up front. There’s a reason people make a living based on getting schools and other workplaces set up on them.

Google+, however, is relatively intuitive. You’ve likely seen, and used, Facebook. You’ve at least heard of twitter (a subtle nudge to follow me), if only to make fun of Charlie Sheen, or wonder why Lady Gaga has so many followers, and if that might be the decline of Western civilization (hint, it’s not). Yes, Google+ does these, but it can do more.

  • Circles. Sure, you can create groups in Facebook, and then grant or restrict access based on those groups, but very few people do this. I did it, then Facebook changed this process, and it’s less intuitive. In Google+, modifying access is easy. If you teach several classes, create a circle for each course. Post something to your stream (or “feed” if you prefer to use Facebook’s terminology) and then choose which circle or circles get to see it.
  • Spark. I’m a bit unclear on how this works at the moment, but I see great potential. You list your interests, and Spark brings them to you. Curation made simple, similar to Google Reader, or an RSS feed, in your social media platform. Between Spark and Circles, you can push out articles and posts of interest to a class, or other category of users (something like a listserv, perhaps).
  • Hangout. Got a webcam? Create a hangout, a place to video chat. It’s not asynchronous, but if you’re snowed out, cancelling class; want a review session before an exam; or if you and an out-of-state colleague are working on a project and want to talk, this is useful.
  • It’s Google. You’re already there. You use search. You might use gmail personally, and maybe your place of employment uses a gmail app. You know this company, or at least you think you do.

  • There’s no gradebook in Google+. That might be the biggie. Sure, you can create a Google doc spreadsheet (and input your grading formulas if you’d like), but then everyone can view everyone else’s grades, or you can lock it down, and no one can see them.
  • Your data. Google doesn’t make stuff for you or me. It makes stuff so that when we use it, it collects data on what we do. This data is very useful to a great many organizations. Corporations, governments, terrorist groups, NGOs... you get the idea.
  • Exclusivity. Joining Google+ is difficult now. It’s in beta, and locked down. I don’t understand why the former affects the latter (note: this is Google’s argument, not mine). Gmail was in beta for years, yet everyone could join. I also imagine that Google has the bandwidth for this. Make it happen. Open up G+ to everyone. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
Like Google+, this post is also in beta. After all, I’ve only been on it for a week. What did I miss? What did I plain get wrong? Got anything to add to Google+’s functionality as an LMS? Got another caveat? Let’s talk.

Monday, June 20, 2011

So You Want to Work With Me...

Background: we’re hiring, but calm down, unemployed librarians, and there are a lot of you, because it’s for a part time position. Initially my place of work (MPOW, because why not) conceived of this job as an intern position. It’s paid, and intern doesn’t quite cover what the people in this role do. They are often the senior staff in the library. Under my leadership I haven’t been able to expand full time staff (someday, someway), but I have been able to double the number of part timers. I suppose in this way, we mirror the rest of higher education. Think of them as library adjuncts, and yes, that sounds better than “intern.”

Posting a library job in this economic climate leads to a lot of applications. For two intern positions MPOW received over 65 of them, and quite a few of the applicants had more experience than I. Then again, quite a few did not. All in all, the (virtual) pile of resumes and cover letters paint a depressing picture of the job market for librarians and library science students.

More depressing, however, is the picture of the applicant pool. Many lacked cover letters, one otherwise qualified candidate misspelled her location, right below her name on the top of the resume. That prospective employee did not make the cut, simply because of that typo. I have thick enough skin to be called shallow, but attention to detail matters in a library. We’ll teach the person in this position how to catalog, for example, and if there’s a glaring error at the top of a resume, I’m not letting you near a MARC record.

About that cover letter, read these first. Then, it’s not about you. Your resume is about you. The cover letter? That’s about us, in that, “what can you do for us?” Answer that and you’re well on your way to a call back.

We don’t score the applications, mostly because we don’t have to. It’s obvious to library staff and I who we’d like to interview and who we wouldn’t, often within about 15 seconds of opening the application package. We showed one of our interns this process, going through about 10 resumes in under 4 minutes, and she was mortified, but then again, she passed the eye test, and the interview (more on that below). I told her to tell her MLIS friends: know that this is what’s happening with employers. You’ve got about 15 seconds of my time, and if I’m not interested after that, you won’t be considered. This doesn’t mean you have to resort to gimmicks (and they're out there), but it does mean you need to be qualified and competent at presenting yourself on paper, which means you’ve checked out the library website, thought a bit about the library, and how you might fit in, among other things.

The people we’ve offered the job to had a clear narrative in the interview. They stuck to that narrative and presented themselves in terms of what they could do for us. They asked questions of us, about my management style, about the future of the library, and about a world without books, among others. And yes, I asked about retail experience, which netted us some great stories about the life of a flight attendant (job offered and accepted!), and how working at the Smoothie Hut isn’t really about smoothies.

In sum, folks in libraryland looking for work
  • Be competent. Just by doing that you’ll separate yourself from the pack.
  • Show interest in us. We may be just another library to you, on your 4th cover letter of the day, but your application doesn’t have to reflect that.
  • Sell yourself in the interview. What can you do for us. Ask questions, be curious.

Best of luck out there, recent MLIS grads. Those of us with jobs, we’re rooting for you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Saturday, June 4th I had the good fortune to attend the second evening of SAVOR. I was able to get the tickets, which sold out in something like 20 minutes, thanks to a librarian friend who’s also a member of the Brewers’ Association. It was my first time at SAVOR and I had a blast, although it was a bit overwhelming. My thoughts follow.

SAVOR bills itself as a place where fine food and craft beers are paired, but very few people are there for the food, which was fine. Think high-end wedding Hors d'oeuvre (what, you’ve never been?) getting lukewarm and you’re in the ballpark. That being said, a few pairings really stood out. Serving Alaskan Brewing’s Smoked Porter with smoked salmon doesn’t win any points for originality, but it was delicious all the same. I went back for seconds, then thirds. Odell Brewing Company’s sour fruit beer, Friek, was paired with Carr Valley bread cheese, and the vinegar-esque sourness from the beer cut through the dairy fat of the cheese. Like Greg Kitsock, who writes for the Washington Post, I paired Moon River’s Swamp Fox IPA with pork belly on a biscuit instead of a tiny mushroom tart. The dank woodsy flavors of the beer, rosemary is a featured ingredient and this beer does taste a bit like fresh forest floor undergrowth (this is a good thing, trust me), complimented the spices in the biscuit and the earthiness of the pork belly. This pairing had something like terroir, an impressive feat.

Each brewer pours two of their beers at SAVOR, and because I’m a guy and I’ve read High Fidelity, everything not only can be ranked. but must be. The best breweries, based on each brewery's two offerings,
were Yazoo Brewing (a rye saison and a porter named Sue) and Captain Lawrence Brewing (a smoked porter and a tripel aged in applejack barrels). I also enjoyed the aformentioned Friek from Odell, and their second beer, an oak aged quad called Woodcut #5, packed a wallop.

Other standouts included

Avery Brewing Company’s Dihos Dactylion, a spontaneously fermented ale that’s hard to describe, but easy to drink. If you like red wine, maybe, just maybe, this will get you into beer. And if you like beer, but aren’t sure about sours, maybe, just maybe, this and Odell’s Friek will convince you.

Funkwerk’s Wit, a Belgian-style white ale brewed with lemons, oranges, ginger, with ginger dominant. You could drink this with brunch, you could drink this with Southeast Asian food, you could drink this by yourself.

Tank 7 from Boulevard Brewing, a saison infected with brettanomyces, which creates a slightly funky aftertaste that really does taste a bit like a farm, the origin of this style of beer.

Buckbean Brewing Company’s Orange Blossom Ale, a pale ale with a sweet and honeyed, but not syrupy or cloying, aroma of orange blossoms. For some reason it’s sold in 16 oz cans. Yes, craft beer in tall boys.

Trinity Brewhouse’s Decadence, a double IPA aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. Based on that sentence you should be interested. (Note: I feel dirty for linking to Beer Advocate. It won't happen much here. Promise.)

RJ Rocker’s Son of a Peach Wheat Ale. An American wheat ale, but with peaches.

If you’re noticing a trend above, there were an awful lot of excellent beers with fruit in them this year. I, for one, welcome our new fruit overlords.

The dark side of SAVOR is that too many breweries ran out of beer, often only half-way through the event, while the kitchen didn’t fare much better.

Also, an observation: it’s probably not a surprise to hear that the far majority of the attendees were white males between the ages of 25-50, but wow. With about 2000 people in the building, that’s a lot of white males.

Finally, it was great to be able to talk to the brewers themselves; with only a few exceptions they were the ones pouring the beer. That’s not something you’ll find at most other festivals, and many of the brewers I talked to were genuinely excited and appreciative of my interest and support. Well done, SAVOR. Until next year, cheers.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Staying Pretty in DC, or, In Which I Attempt Journalism

At a time when pulling out of markets is the new black (IPA), I’ve got some good news. “Gypsy” brewer Pretty Things, based out of Cambridge, MA and brewed in Westport, MA (for now) is coming to DC via Legends Ltd as early as next week.

I spoke to Erin Tyler at Legends, and a certified cicerone, who reached out to Pretty Things about eight months ago, before withdrawing from territories was all the rage, and to Dann Paquette, Pretty Things’ brewer. The first two beers DC will see are Baby Tree, a Belgian style quad brewed with plumbs, and St. Botolph’s, a rustic brown ale that tastes like Newcastle, if Newcastle was handmade with care rather than by a heartless multinational corporation. By late June (via Legends) or mid-July (via Pretty Things) we’ll see their flagship beer, Jack D’Or, a saison hopped with citra that’s a personal favorite. We won’t see any of their offerings on draft, though, so you’ll have to settle for bombers, the only bottle size that Pretty Things uses.

I first had the pleasure of drinking Pretty Things Jack D’Or at Deep Ellum in Allston, MA in June, 2009 and was immediately hooked. I’ve been bringing their bottles from New York every time I’m up there. In the meantime, Greg Jasur at Pizzeria Paradiso has taken advantage of strange DC regulations that allow retailers and restaurants to self-import, so some Pretty Things’ products are already available at the two DC Pizzeria Paradiso locations.

Nice to know that more good beer will be available down here. DCBeer also has some information on this, and should be the first place you turn to for any and all beer news in DC. Stay pretty, DC beer drinkers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

QR Codes: Quick, Easy, Cheap

A quick and easy use for QR codes at the library: take your online serials to the print serials. Here’s how.

1. You’ve got a master list of all print serials you subscribe to, right? If not, make one.
2. For each print serial, use your link resolver (my place of work doesn’t have one of these, which is a problem. I’m working on it) and/or database and/or OPAC (yeah, I just used that term, I'm old) that holds the online version, and get a stable URL for each title.
3. Use these URLs to create QR codes, for free, at Feel free to pretty them up.
4. Get yourself a smartphone, even if you’re borrowing one from another staff member. Install the free app ATT Scanner on an iPhone, or the QR Droid app, also free, on an Android phone.
5. Quality control: make sure even first generation smartphones, like my 3G iPhone, for example, can read the QR codes. Expand or contract the size of the codes as needed.
6. Print out the QR codes, and make sure to protect the paper, which might include laminating (expensive) or well-deployed packing tape (cheaper). Perform more quality control.
7. Place the corresponding QR code next to where each print serial is shelved. Post instructions in clearly visible locations. Don’t forget the details; at some libraries patrons may have to join a wireless network to access online serials.
8. Shamelessly promote it. Library blog posts, table toppers, posters... you get the idea.

Why do this?

1. Having the ability to search past issues of a title next to the more current paper issues can help patrons conduct research.
2. QR codes are hip, modern, and interactive. Making your library a hipper, more modern, more interactive place to be will pay off for you.
3. Many of the patrons at MPOW (my place of work) don’t have internet access at home, except for smartphones. It’s a tool that they’re comfortable with. We as librarians should be comfortable with it as well, and as we see smartphone use on the rise, I hope that vendors begin to design easy to use mobile sites alongside more traditional interfaces. In the meantime, let's bring the library to our patrons, via QR codes and mobile computing.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

How I Got Over

Radio silence on the library front since March 22nd. Wow, how did that happen? Here’s how.

At home we’ve been on a mad dash to upgrade and repair. Carpets, bathrooms, bedrooms, and oh yeah, iTunes crapped out during a hard drive failure, so I’ve been reorganizing 143 GB of music into playlists (ever the librarian!).

On the work front, I went from something titled Acting Senior Library Manager, to Director of Library Services. How’d I do that? Glad you asked. Both those positions above report to our Provost, also the Vice President for Academic Affairs. The person in that position, who I get along with quite well, took a medical leave, and I sprung to action. I presented to faculty on some of the many alternatives to textbooks, I invited the university president to the library to see what we had been up to (she came by when the library was busy, always a plus), and as it turned out, I was being watched, if not groomed. I'll expand on this later.

So what’s next? Glad you asked. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Welcome to DC (Brau)

Note: cross-posted at

DC and I, it’s complicated. I was born here, at George Washington Hospital, the old one that’s now being developed as Square 54, and my son was born at the newer version of the hospital across the street. I may as well go public with this and say that I’ve got one more on the way, and he or she will be born there, too (knock on wood). So if I want to, I can claim native status, and I do it when it suits me, but I was raised in New York City, and I came down here for holidays and summer trips to see my extended family. I moved back here in 2002 and immediately began to feel local pride. I’ve got more roots here now: a son in a charter school, a house in northeast, a job, family, and friends.

But growing up in New York, DC was “too hot”, “too quick to cancel school”, oh, and by the way, the mayor smoked crack. It was funny when Jeffrey Maier caught that fly ball over Tony Tarasco’s head, turning an out into a Derek Jeter home run, giving me more ammunition with which to taunt my DC cousins who grew up rooting for the Orioles (DC couldn’t even keep a baseball team!). When my parents visit me from New York, they always bring bagels by request, because the ones I’ve found down here don’t pass muster. A few of the above are still true, and here’s one more truth: by and large, nobody in DC makes anything. What I mean is that there’s not much in terms of a tradition of industry here. Baltimore has the docks and the Domino plant, or had them, Philly, New York, Boston, even Trenton (it makes, the world takes) all have industry. Up and down the east coast, things were (and are) being made, but not here. DC was different, is different. It’s not even DC, it’s “Washington,” a place that’s the butt of jokes because the federal government did this or that, and politicians who want to get elected elsewhere talk about an “inside the beltway” mentality like there aren’t real people here doing real work that most other Americans would recognize. And so it hurt when the Nats went with “Washington” instead of “DC.” Those of us who live here, we live in DC, not Washington. Washington is for tourists and politicians, DC is for us.

DC Brau gets that. Brandon and Jeff are from here. They understand. Every can of the Public Pale Ale, the first offering from DC Brau, is a political act, mentioning that we in the District are taxed without representation at the congressional level and features a link to DC Vote, an organization devoted to obtaining representation. Each pint pulled represents DC, not Washington. I could talk more about the Public, an IPA kindly masquerading as a pale ale, but it’s been talked to death. I’ll pause to note that it’s very good, although I think the mango and pineapple aromas from the Falconer’s Flight hop pellets are more pronounced on draft than in the can, and you probably should pour the canned beer into a glass to experience a wider range of flavors.

The point is that DC makes something, lack of industrial tradition be damned, and with Chocolate City and 3 Stars on the way, DC is going from a great place to drink beer to a place that makes great beer. In warehouses in northeast and Takoma, places that are DC, not Washington, we’re making something.

Welcome to DC. We make beer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What We Mean When We Talk About Measurements and Metrics: CIL Day One

I’m on record as complaining that library schools and MLS/MLIS programs aren’t rigorous enough. It seems that anyone can get in, GRE scores aren’t required for most programs, and once you’re in, it’s hard to get less than a B (or 3.0) average. This has real world consequences.
First, much like other post-graduate programs that involve education and teaching, there’s a lack of respect when it comes to libraries and librarians that stem, in part, from this lack of rigor. We’re easy to pick on and an easy target.
A second consequence was on display at the first day of the Computers in Libraries conference, here in Washington, DC. Both sessions I attended were marred by a lack of measurement, or by a lack of anything resembling social science, in its many forms. Of the 62 ALA-accredited schools that grant MLS/MLIS degrees none require a research methodology course. Zero. None. (UPDATE on 7/6/11: take a bow, University of Washington! You require methodology coursework.) The end result is that we graduate without knowing how to know. Assuming that there is a knowable world out there, a positivist conceit on my part throughout this post, I’m dismayed by how much librarians don’t know about designing experiments and measuring their results.
Take social media as a hypothetical example. Prior to implementing a social media strategy, one should take the current state of affairs as a baseline. There are many ways to measure this, and, in fact, it should be measured in many ways because most things out there are multifaceted. So, how many unique hits does your website get per month? How about overall visitors? Are programs at the building well-attended? What qualifies as well-attended in the first place? Are patrons satisfied, based on conversations with them (something like a focus group) or surveys? This isn’t exciting, but it’s important. Next, what does success look like? We ask this question regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya, and it should be asked for less serious matters as well. Once you implement a program, what do you expect to happen, and why?
Are your users on Facebook, Twitter, both, something else? Do they express a desire to “tag” the catalog via LibraryThing or something similar? How do they want to interact with your library? Implement your program based off what you've found, and compare data with the previous state of affairs. That's science.
Every single one of our daily interactions in a library is a data point. It’s a piece of information that tells us something. Leverage that. It doesn’t have to be a number. I know that math, and statistics, can be scary sometimes, and that ethnographic research can be nuanced and illuminating. There are many roads to Damascus.
So if your library wasn’t on Facebook and now it is, tell me what changed, and why. Did you get more visitors, both virtual and physical? Are the patrons more satisfied, as measured somehow? That’s science, and it’s time library schools put it back in “Library and Information Science.” It’s also time that conferences asked presenters for some rigor and analysis, instead of just telling stories (Update: I'm not anti-story; stories are emotional, I mean this in a good way, and help us connect to patrons, donors, and the outside world. They're great in annual reports, as are metrics. Stories with data are the best of both worlds). Although we’re not all academic librarians, being a librarian is an academic enterprise. Isn’t it time we acted like that?

UPDATE: 3/9/12 - a new post on a related topic, the rigor of MLIS programs.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

#hcod and Academic Libraries

The main source of outrage over HarperCollins decision to limit e-book checkouts came from public libraries and their staff, which makes sense since the market for circulating e-books comes more from their neck of the woods than mine. However, it's not difficult to envision a scenario in which academic libraries, even ones that don't loan e-books, are affected. That's one reason why I was surprised to see this post from the Annoyed Librarian, which challenges the big tent that is the American Library Association. I'm not going to get into the commonalities that all librarians share, mostly because Andy Woodworth does a good job with that, but also because I can see both sides of this debate. I think that the Annoyed Librarian's piece makes some good points about what separates academic, public, school, and special librarians, among others from archivists, and I saw these divisions from the start of my MLIS program, which were reified in the courses offered. So the following is done in the spirit of "If you tolerate this, then your children will be next."

The library where I work, the library that I now run, I guess, doesn't really do the book thing. We've got books, but they're books from the 70s, when the core of the school was arts and sciences. In the last fifteen years, four of which involve me, the school has expanded, moving from a college to a university with several professional schools. For a variety of reasons, all of them depressing, the library did not keep up. As a result, we've got a great collection of Victorian literature... and nobody to teach about it. We've got books in French and German... languages no longer offered. You get the idea. We're getting better, more current, but we've got a ways to go. We're starting a distance-learning, online-only program in the fall, and we push patrons towards electronic and digital resources because we think that's where the world's headed... but this make us more vulnerable. We provide access to information, to knowledge, that we don't own. E-books are different from books that way; we don't lease any physical copies of books, although students can do that through the campus bookstore.

What if the next move of other, more academic, publishers is to limit access to e-books in a way similar to HarperCollins? What if an e-book could be accessed or viewed, analogous to circulating, as I see it, 26 times? What would happen to our distance learning program then? What about e-books placed on reserve to be accessed via course management software? A class of 20 students wouldn't last half a semester under that regime, and thus the library's budget wouldn't, either. So you see, Annoyed Librarian, we're all in this together, we're not so dissimilar. Let's hang together instead of separately on this issue.

New York Times enacts pay-per-view

I got this in my inbox a minute ago. Yeah, on St. Patrick's Day, on the first day of March Madness, perhaps when the NYTimes thinks we won't be paying attention. Well, are we?

An important announcement from
the publisher of The New York Times

Dear New York Times Reader,

Today marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications.

This change comes in two stages. Today, we are rolling out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The New York Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and the rest of our rich offerings on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access up to a defined reading limit. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber.

This is how it will work, and what it means for you:

  • On, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site.
  • On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to all other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.
  • The Times is offering three digital subscription packages that allow you to choose from a variety of devices (computer, smartphone, tablet). More information about these plans is available at
  • Again, all New York Times home delivery subscribers will receive free access to and to all content on our apps. If you are a home delivery subscriber, go to sign up for free access.
  • Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.
  • The home page at and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.
For more information, go to

Thank you for reading The New York Times, in all its forms.


Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Publisher, The New York Times
Chairman, The New York Times Company

As a loyal reader of, you will receive a special offer to save on our new digital subscriptions. We will e-mail this special offer starting on March 28, the day we begin charging for unlimited access to our Web site and mobile apps*. We truly value your readership and look forward to bringing you the world’s finest journalism every day.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Who's a Bully? A reply to Martin Taylor and more on #hcod

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the HarperCollins affair has lead to a wider discussion about e-books in libraries, access versus ownership, and the role that DRM plays in our lives. After all, HarperCollins decision wasn’t made in a vacuum; they have interests to protect and those interests aren’t relevant to just HarperCollins, but to all publishers, especially the Big Six, and to authors as well, who deserve to be compensated for their work.

Librarians, for their part, have advocated resistance (I assume that there’s also a silent majority or plurality out there that’s going to carry on as they did before HarperCollins decision), ranging from a boycott of DRM, a boycott of all of HarperCollins, a boycott of just HarperCollins e-books, to lobbying. But we haven’t heard much from HarperCollins or their supporters… until now.

Martin Taylor is the managing director of Addenda Publishing in New Zealand and has long had an interest in digital publishing. He founded the Digital Publishing Forum and claims both authors and publishers as shareholders and works with the New Zealand copyright regime.

No surprise, then, that Mr. Taylor writes

In spite of the heat HarperCollins can expect to receive from its library customers, I hope they stand their ground. Librarians need to shift their thinking as digitisation transforms the reading landscape. They are doing authors, publishers and ultimately themselves and their patrons no favours by this stance.

The fact is that rightsholders do have serious concerns and librarians have not managed to address them… In the face of rightsholders’ concerns, librarians must listen not bully, and they should be willing to experiment with new models that will ensure libraries and other channels can co-exist in the emerging, all-pervasive digital world. No-one has all the answers yet but we won’t solve this issue by denying the existence of the problem and closing off avenues for fresh thinking.

There are some good points made in his article, and I think that librarians need to hear alternative perspectives, away from the #hcod echo chamber, but to this reader two words jump out, “rightsholders” and “bully.” Let’s take these in turn.

Taylor is, I think, absolutely correct about the difference between print and electronic books, and what this difference means for the relationship between libraries and publishers, “the potential ease with which borrowers can get a free ebook is a quantum shift, not merely an incremental change” (italics in original). He also points out that it is print copies of books that sell when libraries circulate e-books, and publishers would like library patrons to buy e-books as well as print. Fair enough. But the distribution model for e-books and e-book publishers compared to print is also a quantum shift, one that is not addressed here. I may as well start with the inflammatory statement and proceed from there, so here goes: who needs publishers anymore?

We’ve seen traditional distribution channels circumvented in music publishing and distribution for some time now. Radiohead, a popular and critical success, has managed to make millions by selling mp3/wav file downloads directly to consumers, and then partnering with publishers to sell traditional materials. Hundreds of other bands don’t get rich using this model, but they make a living, and maybe even a career out of it, which in the end is their goal. I like to think that most authors don’t dream of millions of dollars, but of millions of people discussing their works and their ideas therein. Maybe that’s overly romantic of me, and so be it, but then again, I know a lot of writers, and I don’t think any of them would trade places with a cash-obsessed hack (no need to name names, insert your tastes here). Authors can sell e-books via Amazon’s Kindle store, something less than a publisher, something more than the Radiohead model. It’s already happening. And it's not entirely a good thing. Look at Borders.

Taylor's use of “rightsholders” is telling. Publishers create nothing; they share the rights with authors because of their ability to distribute and promote, and increasingly, authors can self-publish (many have self-promoted for eons). Taken in this context #hcod seems like the last gasp of a dying industry, doesn’t it? Publishers last comparative advantage is separating the signals from the noise since there are so many potential self-published and -distributed creators. Being published by a firm is a stamp of approval to the rest of the world. But outside of that (admittedly powerful) normative and intersubjective milieu, HarperCollins and other publishers will be left behind.

Now, this is the extreme, not very nuanced position. But tell me I’m wrong. Use the comments below, or use an excerpt on your blog and let’s have a conversation on the middle ground.

As for bullying, we didn’t land on #hcod, Mr. Taylor. #hcod landed on us. Librarians are not the bullies here. Bullies pick on the weak, using positions of strength to force their terms on others. HarperCollins capricious and arbitrary decision to limit check outs of e-books to 26 times was unilaterally imposed on libraries, without consultation or negotiation. Who’s the bully here?

In the end, however, I think the author and I agree on how this is going to end for many public library systems, at least in the short-term: some of the costs of e-books are going to be passed along to patrons. Librarians don’t like charging for services, but given the budget cuts, it’s going to happen. Right now most e-reader owners are affluent and can afford these costs. As e-readers' costs approach $0, though (and that’s going to happen soon), more people at all income levels will have them, at which point lending e-books for a fee may be a only temporary fix.

Maybe by the time we revisit this conversation, there won't be a Big Six, and that's what HarperCollins decision is all about.