Living on the LibraryEdge

LibraryEdge logo

March 2011 is when it began: an effort on the part of a number of organizations to create a set of technology-related benchmarks for libraries. This coalition and its efforts are known as the LibraryEdge. Several states have already participated in a “soft launch” of the LibraryEdge benchmarks, and in January 2014, the full suite of resources will be made available to all public libraries.

The obvious question is, why should I care? What impact does this have upon my library? Fortunately, the answer is a simple one: as much of an impact as you want. Let me be clear. This initiative is NOT intended to be applicable to any and every library, and it carries no weight with regard to the Maine Public Library Minimum Standards. It can be thought of as a structured set of goals, even ideals, that may be helpful when it comes to developing a long-term vision for your library’s technology, services and staff training.

Fortunately, this is not purely an intellectual exercise. When January hits, a number of tools will be made available, including instructional webinars, self-assessment tools, resource guides and more. TechSoup, one of the partners, maintains a LibraryEdge blog describing the Edge at work in public libraries. Libraries will be able to track their progress and compare other libraries within the state and nationally, not competitively but to see how other libraries are being successful in making technology and digital literacy a reality for their communities. There are already a couple case studies showing how libraries large and small (though not as small as many Maine libraries) have fared taking on the Edge Initiative.

As I said earlier, these benchmarks are definitely not meant to be held as the standard for all libraries. Instead, libraries may want to review them with an eye for thinking about the next small step to take in staff training, long-term goals around technology maintenance, or how to engage their community in new ways. When January 2014 is upon us, it will be interesting for libraries to self-assess and really begin to take advantage of the resources of this national effort.

How do you think your library measures up? What is your next technology-related goal?

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Making the jump to lightspeed: E-rate 2.0

lightspeed

In the halcyon days of 1996, a few visionaries in our Congress (including our very own Olympia Snowe) shaped the law that would found the Universal Service Fund, enabling schools and libraries to receive broadband Internet access at reasonable rates for their areas. Soon after that, MSLN was created to network schools and libraries throughout Maine, and now makes high-speed Internet connectivity a reality for nearly 1000 schools and libraries.

These days, we’re presented with a challenge very similar to that of 1996. What “high-speed” meant back then is very different from what it means in 2013. Moreover, both the demand for data and the raw amount of data available have increased by orders of magnitude, making it increasingly difficult for schools and libraries to be able to operate off on a connection that would have been considered overkill nearly 20 years ago. Streaming HD video to a single classroom or having a few users downloading large files might consume almost all the available bandwidth for an entire school or library, reducing it to the equivalent of a dial-up connection by 1996 standards.

This is why the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation recently convened a hearing on E-rate 2.0 (begins at 33:44). During the hearing, several witnesses (again, with Maine leading the charge by way of Linda Lord, State Librarian on the witness panel) bore very compelling testimony to the committee for the desperate (and growing) need to revitalize E-rate. This implies a great deal more funding (seeing as the original funding cap has already been reached for basic telephone and internet service), and will likely include many other changes to the application process.

What does this mean for libraries? First, fiber. Fiberoptic connectivity is much faster, as it relies on pulses of light for communication rather than electrical conductivity along long copper wires. This means truly achieving “light-speed Internet”, on the order of gigabits instead of megabits. Even one gigabit per second may be enough for the next ten years. This means libraries will need to take a serious look at their own infrastructure, such as their network backbones, so that they could benefit from this capacity.

It will also mean a serious look at the wireless networks offered by libraries. To move high-quality video from the Internet to a smartphone user in a library, every step of the way must be able to handle that sort of volume. For many libraries, having a gigabit connection may be like having a fire hydrant with a hose the thickness of a straw. E-rate 2.0 will hopefully change to allow schools and libraries needing to upgrade their wireless access points and controllers to receive reimbursement with few hurdles, but it requires some thinking ahead to be ready if and when the E-rate program should be ready to deliver.

Also, high-speed Internet can mean an end to telephones as carried by copper; VoIP may well become the standard method for carrying and managing telephone calls. Now that the technology is widely-used and regarded as solid (certainly solid enough for most consumers), it may simply be a matter of time before libraries will need to seriously consider the question of converting to VoIP.

Is your library ready for E-rate 2.0?

Branch and Vine: New tools for cultivating your library’s story

Twisted_Branch_2

We’re all familiar with names like Facebook and Twitter in varying degrees, and I’ve talked about the importance of self-promotion before. These were among the first tools to see popularity and widespread use. However, they’re far from the last, and I’d like to talk a bit about some others that are building momentum, both in the business world as well as ours.

First, let’s look at Vine, an extremely new addition to the social media world, but already with millions of users. It’s the audiovisual analog to Twitter (and is in fact owned by Twitter), and instead of 140 typed characters, the limit is six seconds of video. What could you possibly do with six seconds of video? Glad you asked! Most cellphones and smart devices can take at least ten seconds of video, which is more than enough for this service, and the short time-limit encourages the creativity to say more with less. A little clever advertising with video can go a long way to promote your services and events, or just convey a humorous or interesting message (5secondfilms.com does this very well. No direct link because of its occasional NSFW-ness).

Next, Branch. This form of social media revolves around the idea of conversation, to solicit feedback, answer a question or simply talk about some topic of common interest. For example, Justin Hoenke (formerly of Portland Public Library, now at the Chattanooga Public Library) hosts a collection of Branches pertinent to libraries. Branch encourages an ongoing discussion to which anyone may contribute. Companies like Hyatt are asking how to improve their own services, while others such as Frontline are using Branch to discuss politics. Still others are creating campfire-like discussions, not seeking anything more than to build community.

Finally, in addition to the first two, let’s talk a bit about Storify. Storify centralizes social media (such as video, articles, tweets and so on) for consumption. Rather than needing to point your library’s followers to several resources, Storify aggregates them to create a single page. For example, the blog Musings About Librarianship reveals several successful implementations. The Library Marketing Toolkit blog likewise offers other ideas for libraries using Storify for self-marketing.

What sorts of ideas spring to your mind about how you could use these resources to promote your library’s awesomeness?

Ahhhh! It’s a MOOC!

MOOCs & Librarians Poster. (Image Credit: Valerie Hill)

MOOCs & Librarians Poster. (Image Credit: Valerie Hill)

They’re out there, with millions of people already in their thrall and more each day. Soon, it could be you (if the MOOC hasn’t got you already). But don’t start packing your loved ones into suitcases just yet. A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course, and by “course” I’m talking about the sort that you normally find kept behind the walls of colleges and universities. These are the ones that have broken free, and are seeping onto the Internet.

Last November, the New York Times described 2012 as “The Year of the MOOC“, with organizations like edX, Udacity and Coursera putting classes from MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Brown, CalTech, Johns Hopkins, and dozens of other universities all around the world up for grabs to anyone who might like to sit in. Education that had previously been sequestered behind rigorous entrance requirements, high tuitions and ivy-robed edifices is now available to anyone with a computer and Internet connection. And you thought Khan Academy was pretty cool.

(True story: a long-time friend fresh out of the Army began furthering his education through an online degree program. One of the classes in the program was a basic calculus course, for which he sought my assistance. I pointed him to Khan Academy, which he claims made up for the fact that his teacher wasn’t doing the teaching part of the job.)

It’s not just calculus that’s on the roster. Check Class Central or CourseBuffet for subjects and you’ll find things like jazz improvization, technology enterpreneurship, historical methodology, even philanthropy among the standards. Also, here’s a relatively recent list of MOOC providers to browse, some from other countries and in other languages.

Of course, this is something that intersects with the role of librarians and deserves some consideration. One problem is the question of certification and cost. Not all classes are free, and many that are will only provide certification of course completion if a fee is paid. Another issue is the digital literacy required to engage in such classes. It’s great for those already familiar with many of the technologies needed to participate, but learning such technologies is a course unto itself. Plus, there’s the concern of isolation and the student-teacher ratio. When you open a course up to an unlimited number of viewers online, how can any one teacher be expected to answer follow-up questions from a class of thousands? These are questions as yet unanswered for MOOCs as a whole, but are being addressed as the platform itself matures.

Do you think MOOCs have a place in our public libraries? If so, how can libraries as a whole integrate MOOCs into their services?

The White House invited to a meeting at nation’s libraries

President Barack Obama visits a classroom at Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama visits a classroom at Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The Obama administration is moving forward on initiatives that naturally dovetail with the mission of libraries, and two are especially prominent over the past few weeks:

First, the ConnectED initiative. Here is a challenge and promise to the nation to make high-speed Internet access available almost ubiquitously within five years. Doing so will bring America into the 21st century (we currently rank 15th in broadband subscriptions per capita worldwide – Excel spreadsheet behind this link), opening doors for students and engaging them in a modern way of learning. President Obama’s speech singled out Mooresville Middle School in North Carolina as one of the schools embracing technology in the classroom. Due to their innovations, they rank number two in their state in performance, but are in the bottom 10 for the amount spent per student.

This approach does not pertain only to schools, but also to libraries. If libraries are going to adequately support their local students, they need to be adopting some of the same ideas and innovations. For Maine libraries, offering broadband access is pretty easy — Networkmaine has that part covered for most — but keeping pace will be harder. How many libraries are offering training on search skills, use of databases or Internet safety? (Hint: there are resources out there to help you.)

Secondly, at ALA this past weekend, President Obama thanked libraries and librarians in helping Americans enroll in the Affordable Care Act. He intends for libraries to act as gateways where citizens can walk in off the street, learn more about the Act and actually submit the necessary forms online right from the library, starting October 1st of this year. This is another opportunity for us to demonstrate our value to our communities, particularly the underserved, in making this process as effortless as we can.

Hopefully, we can recognize these as boons to promoting our value. Along with DigitalLearn, Connect2Compete and EveryoneOn, this is a time for libraries to truly shine. Do you think these national initiatives will make an impact in your library and community?