inocybe blues

How to Argue for Something That You Don’t Really Believe in Too Much

A couple of days ago I had a great time being in the York University Libraries Blog Vs. Book debate where, weirdly enough, I argued against the “Be It Resolved”, viz, against the notion that the blog should replace the book. Counterintuitive, maybe, and I admit that I had to really think about it before I could make a convincing argument. My side won, but listen, it was a totally stacked deck, see? A debate about the worthiness of books taking place in a library is going to attract the kind of audience that likes books. Not to mention the fact that my partner was A) really prepared and B) laid the nostalgia trip on heavy, pulling the proverbial Cat out of the Hat to argue the point that something about books, their very container and format, is a kind of magic. The other side made all the great arguments about speed of dissemination, accessibility, fluidity of commentary. In the end, where who won was determined by applause, they had a single, brave badass on their side and would have had one more but I would have felt super awkward banging my own hands together while sitting at the “BOOK” table.

Make no mistake, I understand the nostalgia/magic argument. I am of a Certain Age, and a great deal of you reading this right now are probably twelve, and so I remember in a way that maybe you don’t about wandering the stacks and finding stuff by serendipity. In 1995-ish, it was in a tiny weird cramped bookstore in Singapore’s Holland Village where I found Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase, and who knows how much stuff I found just wandering the stacks of various libraries growing up. Depending on this nostalgia to move support for libraries works now but will have vanishing returns in the future.

So, the debate. I argued on the only grounds that I could; technological and ethical. I talked about scarcity – scarcity of access to tech and economic scarcity, I talked about the immutability of print. I talked about power (in this case, electrical power). I talked about obsolescence and how tech isn’t really replaced all that easily unless new technology completely obliterates the old. TV didn’t kill radio, the Internet didn’t kill TV. But radio probably did kill the telegraph. Disruptive technology makes everybody jostle for a new position, sure, but it rarely kills anything off.

LibTechConf and Agitprop

Last week I was at Macalester College’s Library Technology Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This marks my third year presenting there and I just wanted to thank them and everybody who showed up for putting on yet another completely awesome conference.

A few words about LTC: LTC is a weird duck – it’s just about the only library technology conference that regularly takes place in the upper Midwest plus it takes place in late winter. This probably serves to winnow down the folks who might otherwise be primarily interested in a work-paid trip to a popular vacation spot coughmontereycough and that, plus the minimal vendor presence (vendors are there, they’ve got tables set up, but they don’t have input into what presentations are selected, nor do they make presentations themselves) really makes it for me. My talk’s here – this marks the second LTC presentation I’ve done with Scott Chacon’s awesome showoff framework and I’m really starting to groove on it.

I’ve come to a realization over the past few months that the sorts of conferences I really enjoy going and learn the most out of tend to be smaller in size and more along the lines of unconferences like Great Lakes THATCamp or Code4Lib. In particular, I find myself distinctly uncomfortable with for-profit vendor-organized conferences and try to avoid them. I’m mostly okay with for-profit vendors themselves – though not really okay with aggressive lock-ins and proprietary products – and understand fully that they have a role to play in the library ecosystem, but I’d prefer that role be limited to, well, a commodity relationship (I need a product, I can’t make it myself, I give you money, you give me product) and not as an arbiter or influencer of scholarship. So I’ve done things like sign The Cost of Knowledge (natch!), and I think I’m on the brink of saying that I’m not going to patronize or submit proposals to for-profit vendor oriented conferences either. Going to have to think about it a bit more though.

What’s the Matter With Cambridge?

Full disclosure on this one: I wrote and rewrote and rewrote this post as events from the Harvard Library Town Hall flowed in from twitter, mostly because the situation as it was presented via the backchannel changed significantly as the day progressed – basically from “everyone has been fired” to “nobody’s been fired (yet)”. True to the trail, reorgs foster mis/disinformation at near light speed.

Librarians: Unspoilt by Progress

Like a lot of technical people, I’ve been pretty aware of the SOPA mess in the United States. I even blacked out this blog on the eighteenth, which, since I hadn’t actually started posting here yet didn’t really mean anything to anybody maybe, but symbolic gestures still count, right? But as the day progressed, I started getting pretty damn bummed out about things. Not because my favourite sites on the internet were unusable, but for something else.