Monday, February 25, 2008

Brewster Kahle at USF

Brewster Kahle gave an excellent talk at USF last Thursday as part of the Davies Forum. His mission is universal access to all knowledge: he wants to create a library like the (former) library of Alexandria, but digitized and online. He showed us, medium by medium, that this it is doable and not crazy to think we can digitize all texts (in the broad sense). The Internet Archive is that library, which stores hundreds of thousands of digitized books (and other written texts), audio files, moving images, web pages, and software. He successfully convinced me that it is possible, but I still don't know if open content (which the Internet Archive promotes) can beat Google (which uses proprietary formats).

I am excited about all the Old Time Radio files they have. I love OTR. It's engaging on an entertainment level and fascinating on a historical level. Lots of cigarettes and war and blatant sexism. The mysteries are the best.

But back to the talk, he answered the question I posed in an earlier blog post (about how easily digital media can be erased) without me even having to ask it. They back up all their stuff on servers far far away (in Alexandria!), so when a giant earthquake puts San Francisco underwater, the Internet Archive will still exist. Excellent.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

St. Anthony Foundation visit to USF

On Friday I had the privilege of spending a bit of time with a group of staff and clients from the Employment Program/Learning Center at St. Anthony Foundation. The Office of Service-Learning and Community Action, where I work, invited them to come. So many USF students serve at St. Anthony's that my office wanted to give the people at St. Anthony's a chance to see where the students come from and hear why they do service. I gave them a tour of the USF campus and was part of a panel with two other ACEs, talking about what we've learned from our service experiences. One of our main focuses was the community as educator. They teach students just like professors do.

On the panel we were talking about how much we enjoy doing service, and one of the men from St. Anthony's said he eats in the dining room there regularly, and he's noticed that USF students always look like they're enjoying themselves. He said it's really nice just to see happy people, and that it's a blessing to have them there.

Remember to smile at people, no matter who they are or whether you're having a bad day, because you might be the only smiling person they see that day.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Preliminary thoughts on Brewster Kahle

Okay, this is going to have to be a short post because it is getting very late, but after reading this interview with Brewster Kahle, I am completely stoked on libraries. I love this question and answer:

As a “digital librarian” and an Internet pioneer, how do you view the library system?

I see the library system in this country as a $12 billion industry dedicated to preservation and access of materials that are not mediated through a corporate experience. You don't have to sign a nondisclosure form to come up with a new idea in a library. In libraries, materials are preserved in original form, uncensored. The alternative is that the materials people learn from are forever mediated by a relatively small number of commercial companies in terms of selection and presentation. This is one of the biggest issues facing libraries in the future: what services will they perform, and what services will be performed by companies or by nonprofits acting like companies. If all content is moderated by a few companies in the digital world, we'll have a giant bookstore rather than a library system.

He knows how to go straight to my heart: Pro-free, uncensored, unmediated information and anti-commercial.

I have mixed feelings about Google. One the one hand, it is a wonderful search engine, and they have lots of really awesome stuff, like Gmail. On the other hand, they have so much power, and while they haven't been too irresponsible so far (I don't think), I am very wary about one company having so much control. I'm sure many of Google's employees have excellent intentions, but as a for-profit and publicly traded company, the primary goal is to make money, which can lead to lots of problems. I haven't spent of a lot of time on the Googlization of Everything, but I'll be interested to read more about this specific issue of Google's power.

Back to Brewster Kahle, the Open Content Alliance sounds wonderful. Books should be digitized, and we need to make it open, free of digital rights management, and accessible to all.

Random information I have learned about Brewster Kahle recently: He is a major donor to Streetside Stories. Also, he (or his people) are able to make an exabyte of space fit in a shipping container. (A terabyte is a thousand gigabytes, a petabyte is a thousand terabytes, and an exabyte is a thousand petabytes. That's a lot, folks.) I'm not sure what the implications of this are, but judging by the reactions of the computer science people I was with, this is impressive.

Another quote (also from "Scan This Book!"):

We have to recognize that it's not only possible but it is our responsibility to bring digital services to the world. If we can build this next generation in the open, the same way the open network and the open software infrastructure of the Internet developed, it will be the librarians' day. Media companies, the Googles and Microsofts, they will play their roles. They'll bring things to hundreds of millions. But they will never bring things to our patrons the way we can as librarians.
I'm really excited to hear him talk. One question I have is what do they do to protect all this data they're archiving? What do they do to make sure it won't be lost? Do they back it up all the time? Do they have servers spread out geographically? I can just imagine a giant magnet falling on their roof and erasing everything (okay, that probably wouldn't happen, but something along those lines). It's a lot easier to erase digital information, especially accidentally, than it is to destroy a paper book (which this article brings up). This is something I've thought about when people talk about blogs as future historical archives. How do we know it will stay online, especially if someone else is hosting it? Google is doing pretty well for itself now, but things change so fast that it could disappear, along with every blog hosted by Blogger, in just a few years. People who are careful will save it and post it somewhere new, but think of all that could be lost. Web pages can require active maintenance - I know I've had web pages which no longer exist, and many of the web sites I frequented in my early teens aren't there any more. This is why something like the Internet Archive is so wonderful, but they'll have to guard their data carefully. This is another reason it's so good that their work is DRM-free, so if something happens to Internet Archive, their work can still be used by other people.

Sarah Houghton-Jan on the Future of Libraries

For my Digital Literacy class this Tuesday we attended a lecture at the San Francisco Public Library by Sarah Houghton-Jan, a.k.a. the Librarian in Black. She is the Digital Futures Manager at the San José Public Library, and the focus of her talk was on the future of libraries. She identified some of the issues that libraries are facing and talked about some things she sees for the future of libraries.

She talked about a lot, so this is a selection of some of her main points. I'll look forward to reading other people's accounts of/thoughts on the lecture.

She said that libraries aren't used to change, and when technology began to develop so rapidly, libraries were slow to catch on. In the meantime, many companies and the population in general moved way ahead. As a result, libraries lost their role as primary sources of information, being replaced with online resources. At the same time, however, the number of digital library users is growing exponentially. Those are users which only use the library's online resources and never come into the physical library building. She said that libraries are not doing a very good job of counting those people because they never see them. These users are becoming unhappy because their needs are not being addressed. Her advice to libraries: listen to the digital users.

She went through quite a few reasons people don't like or don't use libraries. One problem is that if you want a popular item, a new item, or something the library doesn't have, it's a long and potentially expensive process to get a hold of it. If the library has it but it's checked out, you can put a hold on it, but then you have to wait till that person returns it, and one or more people could have put holds on it ahead of you, meaning you'll have to wait that much longer. Another option is interlibrary loan (ILL), which is slow, complicated, and often costs money (when I worked at Gleeson Library, I would process ILL requests occasionally, and it was simpler than she described, but it is a slow process). She said that she and her husband, who both work in libraries and could literally have materials delivered to their desks, often resort to buying things online so they don't have to wait for them from the library. Something that some libraries have experimented with is when a patron wants something the library doesn't have, the library orders it from Amazon and has it shipped directly to the patron. Apparently Amazon will do some preliminary processing (e.g. barcode, labeling) for the library before sending it. It's turned out to be cheaper and faster than ILL. She has a blog entry dealing with this here. Be sure to read the comments. Even if this became common, I still see an important place for ILL. This is probably more applicable in academic libraries than public libraries, but a lot of things aren't available on Amazon (*gasp*). Many of the ILL requests I processed were for journal articles, for example. I would go up in the stacks, find the bound volume of periodicals, make a photocopy, scan it (most of the time), and send it to the library that requested it. We had this nifty software that is standard enough that most libraries had it, and we could send the document electronically straight from the scanning software; otherwise we would fax or snail mail. I asked her her thoughts on alternatives like Link+ (similar to ILL but among a smaller number of libraries geographically close to each other, way faster, very easy, and free), and she seemed to think it can be good, but if users don't find what they're looking for there, they tend to give up and think that's their last/only option, which is not good.

I wonder how common it is for people to buy stuff when they can't get it immediately from the library. Besides books for my classes, which I usually need for a long period of time, and may need to mark up, I have a really hard time buying books when I know I can get them for free. It has been rare for me to want a book that was not available through any of the libraries I can access (including the Link+ network). Usually that's only been when I'm researching obscure topics for a class. When I do buy books (usually for school), I rarely buy books new if it's possible to get them used for cheaper. If I thought to myself, "Hey, I'd like to read ____" and my library didn't have it on hand, I would not just go ahead and buy it, especially not if I could order it through Link+ and get it within a week. Even if that weren't available, books are expensive, and I wouldn't spend $20 on a whim, especially one I would only want to read once. Maybe I'm just cheap/poor. (As my dad says, "You already have a book." Next time I'm home, I want to take pictures of the huge numbers of books in my house to share with the internet. We have a building in our backyard that used to be a garage, but we converted into a "library room." It is filled with books. I'll save that for a later blog entry.) However, if the only option to get a book a library doesn't have on hand is to buy it, that brings up serious issues of access across economic levels. That's what's so great about libraries: they're free. They bridge economic divides, making information available to everyone. Libraries should do whatever they can to maintain and promote that.

Moving on from that, something interesting she said was that digital rights management is a huge problem for libraries in terms of home access to digital materials. I never would have thought about this, but it makes a lot of sense. She thinks libraries can play a big role in changing this. Along similar lines, she told us that libraries have a very few choices for where to buy their catalog software, and they have to keep paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to continue using it - not because they're getting new features or upgrades, but just because the companies say they have to. Because of this, libraries are starting to develop open source catalog software. This is something else she sees for libraries' futures. Nice.

Another thing she says libraries need to do is embrace the democratization of information and expertise. Librarians need to let go of telling people the "right way" to do things. Libraries need to allow the user to have more control and incorporate things like tagging, social labeling, decentralized data creation (such as user-created reading lists), and social organization of data. This is interesting and potentially cool, but the little librarian inside me keeps saying "no, no, people will mess stuff up." Fortunately, the little librarian inside of me is probably wrong because people have shown that they're good at this sort of thing and they'll improve what's already there. It's also a really good way to engage people with their libraries.

This is really just a smattering of what she covered in her excellent talk, but I'm sure the things she spoke about will come up again, and I will blog some more.

Digital Literacy Taskforce

I have an exciting opportunity for USF students, especially if you are not graduating in May (though even if you are I don't think it's out of the question):

We invite you to serve on the University of San Francisco's Digital Literacy

The Digital Literacy Taskforce (DLT) is made up of faculty, staff and students and meets monthly. The DLT is chaired by the Assistant Dean of Students.

Knowing that any kind of media can be used well or can be misused the University of San Francisco will take a mission driven proactive approach to teach faculty, staff and students to make the best use of technological resources while limiting the negative consequences that can be attributed to misuse.

Create sustainable goals in the area of digital literacy that will be integrated into the larger University community.

Please contact Julie Orio,, if you are interested.

I have been on this taskforce for a while, and I really enjoy it. It's interesting, you get the opportunity to give a really important student perspective, and it's not a big commitment in terms of time. I'm the only student on it right now, and it would be great to get more students on board, especially since I'm graduating this semester. Feel free to ask me any questions if you have them.

Monday, February 18, 2008

But I Love You

I took this photo a couple weeks(?) ago. Someone spray-painted "BUT I LOVE YOU" on the fence along the driveway onto the USF campus that goes by Malloy Hall. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, and the facilities guy sandpapered it off, but you could still see it faintly. I would love to know the story behind it. I have a proposal for my readers (all, uh, eight of you, if you're paying attention): Write a story that leads up to someone spray-painting "BUT I LOVE YOU" in big letters on this fence. Bonus points if you include the thoughts of the facilities guy as he sanded off the paint.

Another reason for this post is I am experimenting with blogging photos directly from Flickr. Does anyone know if it's possible to do it with more than one photo in a single post?

Ivan Chew, the liblogarian, comes to USF

Last Thursday, the Davies Forum was lucky enough to have Ivan Chew, a librarian from Singapore, as a guest lecturer. Ivan is a prolific blogger (with nine blogs!) and works for the Singapore National Library Board. He was a very interesting and engaging speaker. He focused on three topics in his presentation: his personal reasons for blogging, the Singapore Public Library's digital experiments, and senior citizens and blogging (follow the links for abbreviated sets of his presentation slides).

Instead of a general summary, I'm going to touch on a few points that stuck out for me.

First, I was mortified to discover that I did not know specifically where Singapore is. General area, yes, but specifically, no. I stand educated and appropriately embarrassed. In general I like to think of myself as more geographically aware than the average American (with the possible exception of U.S. geography, probably because I homeschooled). Anyway, thanks Ivan!

He talked about some of the history of blogging in Singapore, from early on when people were wary about the possibilities of inappropriate content and misinformation, to now, when the Prime Minister has encouraged people to use new media, and all National Library Board employees are required to take new media classes. They even did a call for citizen journalists to cover the closure of one of their libraries. This was interesting and very cool. They (Ivan especially) are recognizing the importance and potential of new media.

I especially like how the libraries are using the blogs to "publicize" and "engage." I love libraries and I love the internet, so I was glad to see the successes that they are having in meshing the two together. I asked him what he thought about the future of the (paper) book, and he asked whether it matters. Very interesting point, and one that's come up in a slightly different context in our class discussion - how important is the medium of the information? Aren't the content and the way we read it the most important? Of course, the medium is related to those, but maybe we shouldn't get caught up on whether a word is made of pigment and fiber or 1's and 0's.

Since Ivan works with young people, someone asked what age he thought kids should be introduced to the internet. He said "As soon as they have something to say." So cool! It's a shift from when I first began to use the internet, when I was 10. Back then, everything was about cybersafety, not getting "lost" on the information superhighway (that never made sense to me), and always asking a parent's permission. Cybersafety for kids is still really important, but his response is a shift from "old enough to know better than to give an ax-murderer her address" to "old enough to participate and create." I love it!

He talked about a conversation he had in which someone asked him if he thought there would ever be a point when there were no more wars. His response was no, but they could be a lot fewer and far-between if the memory of the horrors of war stayed in people's consciousness for longer. This, to me, is an excellent reason for people, especially senior citizens, to blog, and is an excellent reason for us to blog about the war in Iraq. And then when we're old (or probably before then), and the U.S. is trying to get into another ridiculous war, let's look back through our blog archives, remind ourselves what a bad idea war is, and do something to stop it.

And finally he closed his presentation with a cool music video that he made, Dolphins Galaxia.

Here's a nice picture of Ivan, Professor Silver, and a librarian from the USF Gleeson Library.

A quiet weekend

So, instead of doing homework, my JVC application, or my job, this weekend (Friday afternoon through this afternoon, Monday), I went on the Ignatian Silent Retreat offered through University Ministry. While I am not always impressed with the practices of UM, I've done this retreat before and loved it, and I was not disappointed. The retreat was at the lovely El Retiro Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos, CA. Unfortunately I didn't take my camera, but you can take my word for it that it was beautiful (well, the parts where I couldn't see freeways, rich people's ugly houses, or the Palo Alto skyline). I saw deer and a little lizard, which was exciting.

Here are four things I got out of it (in order of importance):

1. A deepened faith and relationship with God.
2. The liberation of silence.
3. Lots and lots of sleep.
4. Dessert with every meal. Seriously. The food was delicious.

Number 2 might need some explanation. For me, silence is/can be liberation for the mind. I spend too much time thinking about what other people are thinking, especially how they think of me, whether what I just said was stupid or annoying, or maybe it was witty or insightful. I'm not saying that thinking about other people is bad, and I'm not saying listening to what other people have to say is bad. I wouldn't want to be silent forever, but it's freeing to be released from the pressure of conversation and social interaction.

This is a random note, but I managed to start out a retreat that is all about Jesuit-ness with a little rant about the Jesuits (this was before we went into silence). We were saying that the Jesuits know how to take care of you, and take pretty good care of themselves too. One woman said she had been to the Jesuit residence at Santa Clara University, and they have a freezer filled with those little individual-size Ben and Jerry's ice creams. I couldn't restrain myself and said I had some issues with how the Jesuits choose to use their resources. Maybe I said it a little harsher than that, but I implied/stated that it was not in alignment with their values of social justice. I think my table-mates got a little scared. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) this was not in front of any of the present Jesuits. There are many good things about the Jesuits, but "vow of poverty" is not one of their strengths. They're good people, but they have some things they could work on.

At the end of the retreat I got some St. Ignatius bling. Woo! Here are pictures with and without flash. They don't show the size, but you can take my word for it that it is one and a half inches across (I promise I do have better things to do than measure medallions, but, you know, the world wants to know).

Fun fact: Before he was St. Ignatius, he was Íñigo Oñaz López de Loyola

On an unrelated note, don't read The Secret History of the English Language, says the Language Log, which knows what it's talking about.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Story of the Sad Snowman

Sometime last year I was sitting in my living room at home with my sister, and she told me to tell her a story. Here it is, with illustrations:

Once upon a time there was a snowman. This snowman was very unhappy with himself.

He had a serious problem: he didn't like to be cold. He began to engage in very self-destructive behaviors like smoking and standing next to fires.

Eventually his friends intervened and made him go see a counselor. Through these sessions he determined that he did not identify as a snowman, so he had reconstructive surgery and became a scarecrow. From then on he spent his days happily in the sun with his arms outstretched.

The end.

Names and Gender Issues

I have a request for all people discussing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (that's a lot of people). Please do not refer to them as Hillary and Obama. You may say Hillary and Barack or Clinton and Obama. I get that there may be a need to distinguish between Hillary and Bill, but no matter who you want to win, it's really messed up to refer to the woman by her first name and the man by his last.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Mary Madden and my online presence

On Thursday evening, Mary Madden, a researcher at the Pew Internet and American Life Project came and spoke to my Digital Literacy class (and the many other people who showed up!). She give a very interesting talk, with a good question and answer session at the end. On Friday she was nice enough to make herself available and a few of us met in Crossroads Cafe to have a more informal conversation.

One thing she talked about which is really interesting to me is online identity management. Increasingly, we have more and more information about ourselves available online. That can be good or bad, depending on the level of visibility we want (some people want it to promote themselves), and depending on the quality and type of the information. I might be happy to put my name, my major, my interests, my activities, and a list of my friends online, but I don't want my phone number or address to be so readily available.

Professor Silver has mentioned a couple of times that by the end of this class, the number of Google hits with our name will go up dramatically. To see if this is true, I searched for "amber mcchesney-young" in quotation marks in Google, and got 10 hits.

All of them are about me - as far as I know there are only four other McChesney-Youngs in the world, and they are my immediate family. If you search for my dad's name you get 4,460 hits because he is a very active member on lots of archived email lists. My mom gets 46 hits, my older brother has 19, and my younger sister has 6 - I will always be the middle child. ;-) Anyway, there's kind of an interesting variety there. Most hits are relatively recent, since I've been at USF. One of the more obscure ones is results from a Bay Area Orienteering Coalition activity I did, I think with my Girl Scout troop, on the UC Berkeley campus. We had to navigate around the campus, and answer things like "Which direction is the bear statue facing?" (East, by the way.) Two others, which are fun and just a little embarrassing, are guestbook entries I wrote when I was ten years old (that's almost twelve years ago!). Remember back in the day when people had their Geocities and Angelfire pages with random information, animated GIFs, and guestbooks? They always said "Please sign my guestbook!" and sometimes I did. It's similar to the comments we now leave on blog entries. In these guestbook entries, I told the person that I was 10 years old and liked synchronized swimming. It's from 1996, the year my family first got the internet. Very magical and exciting. Check out Kate's Twenty Second Guest Book. It's fascinating - totally a blast from the past.

In addition to my Google hits, I have a MySpace page (which only includes my first name on the page, but does have pictures and says that I go to USF), and my Facebook page (which is only visible to people in the USFCA network and my friends in other networks). My MySpace page has very little on it, but Facebook has a fair amount of information (no address or phone number). I don't think there's anything I wouldn't be okay with an employer seeing, though. So to sum up, at this point, I'm pretty cool with my online presence. If someone wanted to find me in person, I'm sure they could, but it would take a bit of effort. They can find out a lot about me, but it's stuff I'm comfortable with. Yay.

Just a note for accuracy, the 10 hits that show up are with "very similar" results omitted. When those are included I get 19. Some are the same page over and over, but there are some distinct hits there. Let's see if Professor Silver's prediction is correct and my number of hits goes up.