Thursday, August 17, 2017

Broadband continues to be a challenge for underserved areas

The FCC had set new goals for what actually constituted high speed broadband Internet - 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. The goals were higher for schools and libraries and pretty much required fiber connections. This presented a challenge for many rural and underserved urban areas but it was also an aspirational goal. And as there was some federal money available through E-rate and other sources to help with fiber build out costs, we were seeing some improvements in bandwidth particularly to schools. And once the fiber is in a community, it can reach other anchor institutions, and eventually business and home users.

Now, with a new administration and new leadership at the FCC, they're reassessing these goals and whether or not fiber or even cable is really necessary. Perhaps cellular at slower speeds will be sufficient.

Rather than Expanding Broadband, the FCC Wants to Count Cell Service as Internet

There was no mention in the paper of libraries. But we can probably assume they're not a priority. The FCC needs to hear from people who will be impacted by this decision. Is your cell phone good enough for your Internet access needs?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Libraries collect and share stories

Libraries have always been in the business of collecting and sharing stories. What's changing in 21st century stories is whose stories are being collected and how they're being shared.

Reading Room of the Library of Congress
Traditionally, libraries have been the warehouses for the world's cultural and historical stories. They've housed religious texts, epic poetry, accounts of kings and noblemen. These were most often the stories of a few made available to the few. Closed stack temples stored knowledge.

New York Public Library
Accessibility changed with the advent of the modern public library. People could walk in and gain access to a wide variety of stories just by asking. The assumption was that sharing these stories would lead to the betterment of society. People who read the cultural and historical stories of Western civilization would become more literate, better educated and be better informed citizens and voters, particularly in the U.S. democratic process.

It didn't take long for some disagreements to arise over just what stories should be shared. While the great works of Western civilization certainly had merit, what many people actually wanted to read was more popular fiction. By collecting and sharing these stories, were libraries abdicating their responsibility toward improving society by educating citizens? Or were they meeting the needs of their public by providing stories that entertained and resonated with their lives?

In recent years, the debate over the role of libraries has intensified. It's all too common to hear people say libraries just aren't necessary any more as people can get their information and entertainment from the Internet. I would argue that libraries are still performing their role of collecting and sharing stories and are perhaps serving an even more important role.

West Chester Public Library
Now, the stories shared may be in a multitude of formats: hardcover, paperback or large print books, graphic novels, audiobooks on CD, downloadable audio or ebooks, DVDs. In the case of downloadables, people don't even need to come into the library to find stories to read or listen to. They can do so from wherever they happen to be via their computer, smart phone, tablet or other device. Yet the library continues to be a hub for sharing.

Multnomah County Library
Librarians are still sharing their expertise via traditional reference interactions and readers' advisory services. Some libraries like Multnomah County Library have found innovative ways to promote these services. In addition, libraries often share space for people to come and participate in book and craft groups, lectures and discussions. They may provide space for volunteers to help with income tax or health insurance questions. Libraries in the 21st century are still places for people to share knowledge, ideas, expertise. And what are the free alternatives?

Montana State Library and other libraries are working with pilot programs such as Makerspaces and Share Your Story as part of a continuing effort to move from a strictly expert - learner model to one of more collaborative and cooperative sharing. This move along with providing access to user generated content is producing some controversy in the library world from those who see the key role of librarians as gatekeepers of quality. And it also differs somewhat from the original role as keepers of the dominant culture's history and civilization. But it might encourage a resurgence of an even older tradition of story telling.

Billings Public Library 
People come into libraries today not just to learn about the stories of their culture, but also many others from around the world. In addition, they are learning how to share their own stories whether its by honing computer skills that will enable them to apply successfully for jobs or perhaps to connect with friends and family across the world. They might also take part in classes that will help them write memoirs or poetry or fiction and share their thoughts and experiences with others.

These works may not all join the ranks of great literature but they may be invaluable to future historians or descendants. Libraries are providing a service by enabling people to connect and create within their communities today by linking them with stories from the past. Hopefully, by helping people share their stories and collecting these, we will be facilitating the collecting and sharing of stories into the future as well.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Promoting digital literacy and inclusion in a post net neutrality world

Few would argue that it's not an important role for 21st century libraries to promote digital literacy and inclusion. It's hard to see how libraries can do this successfully in a world of data caps and tiered access.

As you might imagine, there's a lot of Internet coverage of the implications of the net neutrality decision. I thought I'd include some links to news and opinion sources about the decision so we can all better understand what it might mean for ourselves and our communities.

Personally, I'm concerned because I'm a cord cutter whose Internet access comes from a cable provider. I'm well aware that their main business comes from selling cable content. I've decided I don't want their packages and tiers of cable tv content, I'd prefer to subscribe to content from independent providers like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon. The end of net neutrality is probably not ever going to be a problem for them because I presume they can afford to pay for better access for their content and/or they'll pass along the increased costs to me. But what about smaller independent Internet content providers like TWiT or Fandor or Vimeo (where our MSL videos are housed). Will I continue to have access to their content or will they be throttled? Will cable providers throttle all competitors' content unless I become a cable subscriber?

And what does this mean for libraries? Will we be forced to decide on which tier we can afford to provide to our communities?

I'm interested to hear your views on the topic as well as ideas for how to protect access to content from other than big providers.

One thing you can do is contact the FCC and share your views. Send an e-mail at the FCC’s website. Or tweet @TomWheelerFCC.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Customer service in a digital world

I did a post some time back looking at Apple store customer service as a model for libraries. They make it so easy to come in and find and purchase whatever it is you're looking for. You connect with one staff person and they see you through the entire process. It makes for a very nice experience.

This morning I started wondering how we could learn from online businesses how to make our online catalogs and ebooks more welcoming, easier and a more satisfying experience for our users.

First of all, let me say that overall I LOVE online shopping. You get to browse all you want, pick out what you want and have it arrive at your doorstep. When you're an Amazon Prime member, it comes with 2 day free shipping. But what about when you have questions or problems? I've noticed lately that occasionally when I'm shopping a chat box will pop up. So, there's someone out there available in case I need to interact with a human being. Today, I was browsing a new ebook subscription site and up came the chat box offering to help and/or answer questions. I decided to take him up on it and told "Corey" I was a librarian checking out the competition and we started a chat. Turned out Corey was actually Bryan, the founder of the company. He was helping out with customer service since they were busy following the rollout of their service. We had a very pleasant exchange and I got his contact info. He'd like to find a way to work with libraries. He also said he was learning a lot by working on customer support. Don't we all!

Another innovative customer support approach is Amazon's "Mayday" button available on their new Kindle Fire HDX. If a customer has a question about or problem with their new device, they can just hit the Mayday button and be connected with "an Amazon expert 24x7, 365 days a year." Almost makes me want to buy a Kindle Fire HDX so I can check it out.

I can't help but contrast this approach with that of most libraries. I went to the website of my library to look for information about ebooks. Now, the good people at Billings Public Library know I love them even though I frequently use them as an example. And actually, I think their website is pretty usable. There are a number of ways to get to the ebooks, particularly if you're web and/or ebook savvy. But if someone doesn't understand the lingo of downloads and/or Montanalibrary2go, it might not be easy for them to figure out where to go to even get started. Once they do find their way to the MontanaLibrary2Go page, there is a lot of self serve assistance available, links to how to information and tutorials. But there doesn't seem to be much for the person who really wants to just get started. Wouldn't it be nice for someone like that, if a chat box magically popped up with an offer "How can I help you?"

So much of our online services seem to mirror the old reference desk model. Come and find us if you need assistance. As we're moving away from that to the roaming information assistants, wouldn't it be nice if we had a way to roam around our websites and online resources to seek out people with questions? I know we tried Ask a Librarian a few years ago and that wasn't successful. But I think, once again, we relied on people to find us and ask for help. It's a bit different to just be there unobtrusively available.

Have you seen good online customer service in libraries? If not in libraries, what about good customer service from online businesses? Are there models we can learn from?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What new services would you like to see in libraries in 2013?

The end of one year is always a good time to start thinking about things you'd like to see changed in the next.  I've started thinking about tech developments I'd like to see in libraries in the near future.  And as I'm looking at some upcoming presentations on library futures, I'd love to hear what you'd like to see.

Location, location, location - We've been seeing more and more happening in location based mobile apps over the past several years.  There's Foursquare, where you could check in.  Now, Foursquare tells you about what's going on nearby.  Google has Google Now, providing information on where you should be and how long it will take you to get there based on current traffic conditions.  Passbook on my iPhone alerts me whenever I'm within a few blocks of a Starbucks.  Wouldn't it be great if my phone would let me know when I'm near a public library?  And if I'm near mine, I'd love to be reminded that there's a book on hold waiting for me.  Or how about an alert that a library program is coming up that day?  Are there any other library location services you'd like to see?

Google Now

Library card phone app - I would also love to be able to check out books and use other library services with my smart phone.  I've had apps that would keep track of store card loyalty cards, but not library cards. I have an app that lets me pay for Starbucks drinks and goodies with my phone (this is also the one that alerts me when I'm near a store).  The ultimate for me, would be to be able to check out books from the library using an NFC (Near Field Communication) chip.  But even being able to store my library card barcode on my phone would be a big advantage over having to haul cards around.

Augmented library maps - How often have you walked into a library and found yourself somewhat disoriented.  Not knowing what's available, you're not even sure where you want to start.  Do you need to get a library card first?  Should you get an idea of the resources available so you know whether or not you want a card at this time?  Google has been working on Indoor Maps.  Reportedly you can provide them with a floor plan and they can integrate it into their maps.  You can also walk around with a camera and provide photos.  I think this is only available for Android at the moment.  So I tried looking up some of the places listed as having indoor maps on Google but wasn't able to figure out how to get inside.  TWiT does off a walkaround of their studios in Petaluma.  But it was actually pretty confusing.  I got trapped in one corridor.  Still I can't help but think how nice it would be to see some maps and visual tours of libraries made more accessible.  I expect this will be even more useful as devices like Google Glass come on the market.

Google Indoor Maps for Museums

What do you think of my Top 3 for 2013?  What would you like to see?