Thursday, December 27, 2007

8 Kick-Ass Movies You Didn't Know Were Based on Books

8 Kick-Ass Movies You Didn't Know Were Based on Books: Nobody reads books these days. After all, what's the point? There's no way some novel could ever kick as much ass as, say, watching Sylvester Stallone punch a guy's head off his shoulders. Or, could it? Believe it or not, a lot of the most kick-ass movies were adapted from kick-ass books. No, we're not just talking Lord of the Rings here. We're talking about ...

The Rambo Movies

The Film:
First Blood is a somber reflection of the hardships that faced Vietnam War veterans upon their return to their native country, in which the protagonist blows up a helicopter with a freaking rock.

The Book:
No really. There were Rambo books. Seriously. No, they weren't composed entirely of onomatopoeias meant to represent the sound of explosions.

First Blood was written by author David Morrell, who wrote a lot of books that had pictures of knives on the cover.

In the book, Rambo is not the good guy, as he basically flips out and kills a whole town because the Vietnam War drove him insane. Also, the book's ending is depressing, as Rambo stops his totally awesome rampage to be shot in the face.

That's right; Rambo dies at the end. Hollywood decided to change that, too, paving the way for three sequels. Even stranger, Morrell wrote a sequel to the book to coincide with the film, which somehow portrays Rambo as still alive, without so much as an opening chapter where a necromancer summons him from Valhalla.

For the book version of Rambo: First Blood Part II The writer had to share a co-author credit with James Cameron and Sly Stallone (who helped dream up the story for the sequel) which is kind of sad, or not, depending on how much he got paid.

The Thing

The Film:
Yes, The Thing. The one where the guy's torso grows teeth and bites another guy's arms off.

The Book:
It was actually a novella (that's where the writer didn't feel like writing a whole novel and just wrote part of one) called Who Goes There? and it was written way back in 1938 by John W. Campbell (the whole thing is online here). Yes, it even has that scene where they're poking at the blood and it comes to life and goes flying out of the dish and we poop our pants.

It's considered one of the best science fiction novellas ever written, and you can thank the writer for all those elements of paranoia and tension that made the film great. On the other hand, the movie has that scene where a guy's head turns into a crawling spider monster and you probably need to see that one to get the full effect. Also, Kurt Russell.

Gah! Did that seriously just happen?

We'll admit it, those sorta fake-looking puppets freaked us out. If you ask us, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth would be much more effective if he just screened this movie and followed it up by saying, "See that? It lives in the Arctic. If you keep driving your SUV, that thing is going to thaw. And, it's going to be pissed." Of course, the Nobel Prize Committee probably wouldn't go for that.

The Film:
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the zany story of a cartoon bunny's madcap antics as he battles a corrupt legal system that has framed him for a brutal homicide.

The Book:
Well, we asked the librarian for Roger Rabbit, and apparently, she gave us a William S. Burroughs novel instead. This thing is just plain bizarre. Seriously, when we buy a book about a cartoon rabbit, we expect a little bit more lightheartedness and a lot less "Oh, dear God, NOOOOOOO!"

The book is called Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary Wolf (whether that's his real name or cartoon name, we can't be sure). Oh, did we forget to mention that Roger Rabbit gets machine gunned to death?

No, seriously. That actually happens. Apparently, he never learned the old "rabbit season, duck season" trick. When's the last time that you saw that happen in a Disney movie? Aside from Bambi's mother. Or, the mom from Finding Nemo. Or, Mufasa from the Lion King. OK we guess Disney's sort of messed up too.

The Film:
This chilling and suspenseful tale recounts the crimes of a cross-dressing recluse who enjoys tormenting innocent people, which may or may not have been based on the life of J. Edgar Hoover.

The Book:
Remember how Hitchcock was called a genius, because of the amazing twist in the story, namely that (WARNING: 47- year-old spoiler ahead) the main character gets killed not long into the film? Yeah, he didn't come up with that. It was in the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch. So, why do people remember the film and not the book? Well, mostly because of this:

In 1960, that scene scared a nation off of taking showers, which inadvertently created the hippie. We don't care how many times you write the words "stabbity, stab, stab, stab" on the page, it just doesn't have the same effect as it unfolding in front of you. No, not even if you pay an orchestra to follow you around and make the shrieking violin noises.

Bloch wrote a sequel, called Psycho II (you don't often see novelists just stick a "II" at the end of their sequels, do you?) which the studio hated and refused to adapt to film, despite its awesome cover.

Instead they followed up the classic with a series of cheesy sequels in the '80s that were totally unrelated to his book. The studio reportedly didn't invite him to any of the screenings, in a great example of Hollywood "What-have you-done-for-me-lately" douche-baggery.

The Film:
Dr. Strangelove is Stanley Kubrick's darkly comedic masterpiece that uses his witty and cutting brand of satire to boldly assert that the destruction of Earth is, in fact, bad.

The Book:
Dr. Strangelove is actually based loosely on the 1958 novel Red Alert by Peter George, which differs from the film slightly in that it is not a comedy at all.

That's right, the inspiration for one of the funniest movies of all time has about as many laughs as the average Wayans brothers movie. Can you imagine a dry, mirthless and completely joke-free Strangelove? That would be like ... well, actually, it would be like about half of Dr. Strangelove. But the other half is, like, really funny.

The book doesn't end with the destruction of the world, as the rogue bomber gets shot down before it can drop its nuke on the Russians. You have to admit the film's ending is superior, because otherwise the message becomes, "Nuclear brinksmanship is a dangerous game, but it will probably turn out Ok in the end."

The Film:
This classic parable provides the audience with a moral that resonates with all of humanity: If you put monkeys in charge of society, don't be surprised when everything explodes. Meanwhile, Charlton Heston overacts, punches aliens and nails attractive women in a way that would make Capt. Kirk proud.

The Book:
The book was written by Frenchman Pierre Boulle, who also wrote The Bridge Over the River Kwai which itself became a classic war movie. His title (originally in French) actually translated to Monkey Planet, which we can all agree the studio should have kept.

If you look around, you actually find that they sell the book and DVD as a single set ... which, by the way, is sold with a cover that spoils the ending:

Above: Spoilers

The author's actual life was probably more interesting than either of those books. Boulle joined the army in French Indonesia during World War II, then became a special agent to help resistance movements fuck up the Nazis wherever they went. He got captured by Nazi loyalists and somehow this inspired him to write. Maybe the prison camp was run by armed monkeys, we're not sure.

Either way, he deserves credit for creating antagonists that were taken seriously, even though they're animals wearing people clothes. Science has conclusively proven that to be adorable.

The Film:
Charles Bronson fights a one-man war on crime by standing in dark alleys, waiting to be mugged, then shooting the muggers. One seriously must wonder why Batman never considered this approach. That would have saved him some time.

The Book:
No, the movie this was based on wasn't a Punisher comic book. There's actually a freaking Death Wish novel. The book is the same premise, with hilariously contrived justification for vigilantism and graphic depictions of the protagonist-killing scumbags. Though, to be fair, the novel only inspired the first Death Wish which sort of addressed the issues of victimhood and vengeance, and not the numerous sequels in which Charles Bronson strapped on a machine gun and killed every jaywalker within a 10-mile radius.

The author (Brian Garfield) was actually a Pulitzer nominee (not for Death Wish, though that would have been awesome). The book he wrote before Death Wish was called What of Terry Conniston?, which we're assuming taught him the importance of not giving your book a retarded title. He proved it by following up with Death Sentence, Tripwire, Fleshburn and Death Blood, only one of which we made up.

Death Sentence, by the way, was just made into movie; it's also about a mild-mannered man who goes on a rampage to avenge a terrible crime. How was it? Well, let's put it this way: They traded Charles Bronson for Kevin Bacon.

The Film:
It's Die Hard. Do we need to recap this for you? Yeah, we didn't think so.

The Book:
That's right, Die Hard, one of the least bookable films of all time, is loosely based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever, by the obviously fake-named Roderick Thorp. That book is a sequel, so you'd assume the first one was called Nothing Lasts Forev, but it was actually given the imaginative title of The Detective. It was itself adapted as a film in 1968. In that movie, the John McClane role was portrayed by ... wait for it ...

Frank Sinatra.

Go ahead. Look at Die Hard the same way again. We dare you.

Anyway, while no book in history can possibly top Die Hard (which we believe Roger Ebert described as "the cinematic equivalent of Hulk Hogan wrestling a bear. While on fire."), it does have the same premise (though all the character names were changed for some reason). A later book the guy wrote, Rainbow Drive, got turned into a 1990 movie starring Peter Weller ... the guy who played RoboCop. That movie isn't as well known, because the title made it sound like a film about a gay resort.

In some alternate universe, we like to think this connection led Mr. Thorp, Bruce Willis and Peter Weller to sit down for drinks one day. The three would walk away from this meeting in our alternate 1991 with an agreement to make Die Hard vs. RoboCop. In this alternate universe, the 1993 Academy Awards had to be canceled, because one film won every single award.

If you like this article, check out Rick's The 10 Best Animated Movies for (Traumatizing) Kids.

Or you could...

Spread some holiday cheer with this e-card from and IFC's Whitest Kids You Know.

Libraries Continue to lure teens

by Blake

This One From Last Week caught my eye. Why must we "lure teens" into the library? Doesn't it make us sound creepy? A quick search of some newspaper archives shows me we've been doing it for years! Do reporters do this on purpose? Some other goofy headlines:

USC library's lure: Modernized facility attracts By: Hammond, James T.. State
Warren library branch lures teen readers with style and clothing show By: Dunn, Andrew. Herald-Sun Books aren't the hook when libraries lure kids to video-game events By: Newman, Heather. Detroit Free Press Books aren't the hook: Video game events lure young people -- especially boys -- to local libraries By: Newman, Heather. Detroit Free Press
Library is 'more of a cool place' now: Video games, once shunned, are being used to lure teens By: James, Douane D.. Sun-Sentinel Library lures girls to books with looks: Beauty tips focus of event for teens By: Cuniff, Meghann M.. Spokesman-Review

8 bold predictions on Google's next moves

There's little doubt that Google Inc. is indeed king of online media. In August 2007 alone, Google captured 57% of worldwide market share among search engines, with more than 37 billion search inquiries, according to analyst firm comScore Inc. in Reston, Va. Add to that a mind-boggling stock price of $711 per share on Nov. 5. Not surprisingly, this dominance has led to endless rumors about where Google is headed next.

To live with books, perchance to read them

An apology may be in order. How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, the slim French bestseller which has become a sleeper hit in English translation this fall, may have a fantastic but faulty title. That's because unlike, say, the news summary magazine The Week, or the chic advice guide In the Know: The Classic Guide to Being Cultured and Cool, How to Talk... is not intended to help you cheat at life by appearing more sophisticated or educated than you really are. Indeed, the author Pierre Bayard has a sheepish admission to make. Has The Review/Interview.

Project to produce comprehensive digital archive of 60 million pages of federal government documents

Public.Resource.Org, the Internet Archive, and the Boston Public Library announced the commencement of phase 1 of a project that aims to create a comprehensive digital archive of 60 million pages of government documents over the next two years.

Phase 1 of the project will produce a minimum of 2.5 million pages of digital text using a scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) technology suite developed by the Internet Archive. The Boston Public Library is the first Contributing Library in the program, and has agreed to lend a 50-year run of Congressional Hearings from 1936–1986, as well as a complete copy of the Catalog of Copyright Entries. Scanning will take place at the Boston Library Consortium's Northeast Regional Scanning Center.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

OLA: The First 100 Days

ALA’s newest office, the Office for Library Advocacy (OLA), became official at the start of ALA’s fiscal year, September 1, 2007. Its existence is a direct response to ALA member needs identified through a number of surveys over the last several years. Advocacy is one of six goal areas in the ALA Ahead to 2010 strategic plan.

The purpose of OLA is to support the efforts of library advocates at the local, state and national level. The office works to create resources, training and peer-to-peer networks to help local advocates fulfill their local advocacy goals for the improvement of libraries of all types. It provides tools to help local advocates make the case for increased library funding, new and expanded buildings, getting bonds and referenda passed, and fighting library budget reductions and closures. Working with the Chapter Relations Office, the new office will help support statewide advocacy efforts, and will work with the Washington Office to strengthen grass roots advocacy at the national level. The office will also work closely with the Association for Library Trustees and Advocates (ALTA), Friends of Libraries USA (FOLUSA), and with other ALA groups advocating for specific types of libraries and/or library issues. The Office has grown out of the advocacy function within the Public Information Office will continue many initiatives begun there.

Under the direction of interim director Marci Merola, the office has hit the ground running!

  •, an advocacy website launched in June 2007, continues to develop. On average, the site receives over 60,000 page views monthly–and in September, ilovelibraries drove more traffic to Booklist Online than Google™ searches!

    As a result of efforts by the Chapter Relations Office and the Chapter Relations Committee, 25 state chapters are now using Capwiz advocacy software, which allows viewers (members and the general public) to contact state and national legislators via Special 2010 funding will allow the remaining chapters to use this software. Further discussion among Chapter Relations, Washington Office and OLA will address incorporating more library issues into the site and seamless use of Capwiz for both state and national issues. has begun promoting the Youth Media Awards, which will be presented during the Midwinter Meeting (Monday morning, January 14). (Use as your bookmark!). YALSA partnered with to promote Teen Read Week.

  • Three Advocacy Institutes took place, with a fourth planned for January 11, just prior to the Midwinter Meeting. There are still a few places left!

    A bit of history: In May of 2005, the Ford Foundation awarded ALA $80,000 to be used towards advocacy efforts. Counting the hree Advocacy Institutes presented during the fall of 2007, a total of 17 were presented under the grant. Although the Ford Foundation grant ends December 31, 2007, the Advocacy Institutes will continue using funds budgeted to the Office for Library Advocacy, both at the national and regional level.The Advocacy Institute Task Force (AITF) of the Public Awareness Committee (PAC) was created to oversee the Ford Foundation Grant and to help institutionalize the Advocacy Institutes into the work of the Library Advocacy Now! (LAN!) Subcommittee of PAC. This Task Force will continue to oversee the Advocacy Institute, looking for ways to increase collaboration and looking for new funding streams. Three Final Advocacy Institutes took place under the Ford Foundation grant in fall of 2007.

  • Work has begun on Advocacy University (Advocacy U), an online resource to help advocates at the local level. The ultimate goal of this project is two-fold: to have a variety of resources and tools available on each topic and to provide increased trainings at the local level throughout the country. Content for Advocacy U will most likely be divided into these sections: a bibliography of articles, websites, case studies; a tutorial on how to use outcome measurement; a syllabus for teaching others about advocacy; and a network of experts in this area that can be called upon for help, or to come and speak in local libraries or communities.

  • The Office for Library Advocacy worked with the Office for Research and Statistics (ORS), the Washington Office (WO), and three divisions, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) to create the Advocacy Statistics for Youth Project. The impetus for this project is that there many reports “out there” containing relevant statistics to help make the case for school libraries, but they are often difficult for an advocate or member in need to access quickly. The Advocacy Statistics for Youth initiative, funded by special 2010 funds, will allow partners to hire a researcher to pull statistics from these lengthy reports and create a web-based tool for members and advocates to use. It will be categorized under headings such as early literacy, closing the learning gap, relationships between school libraries and academic success, and relevancy of 2.0 tools. This will be positioned on the Advocacy University resource, but can be multipurposed as needed. It will serve as a template for similar projects through ORS and for Advocacy University. The goal is for it to launch in time for ALA’s 2008 National Library Legislative Day.

  • Finally, the Office coordinated ALA’s participation in the National Book Festival on September 29, 2007, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The booth was located in the Pavilion of the States, along with state libraries from around the country, D.C. and U.S. Territories. With a focus on the general public audience, the ALA booth featured, Book and Media Awards, Banned Books Week and Teen Read Week. Volunteers for the event included Pat May and Mark Bard of the ALA Washington Office, as well as YALSA members Pam Spencer Holley, Priscille Dando, Debbie Clifford and Kathy Fitch. OLA was grateful to the ALA Washington Office, PIO, OIF, YALSA, ALSC, and ALA Publishing for their assistance and donation of materials.


A Librarian's Worst Nightmare

Yahoo! Answers, where 120 million users can be wrong.

By Jacob Leibenluft
When it does battle on the Web, Google rarely loses. Last year's closure of Google Answers, however, marked a rare setback for the search giant. An even bigger shock is that Yahoo! succeeded where Google failed. Yahoo! Answers—a site where anyone can post a question in plain English, including queries that can't be answered by a traditional search engine—now draws 120 million users worldwide, according to Yahoo!'s internal stats. The site has compiled 400 million answers, all searchable in its archives. According to the Web tracking company Hitwise, Yahoo! Answers is the second-most-visited education/reference site on the Internet after Wikipedia.

The blockbuster success of Yahoo! Answers is all the more surprising once you spend a few days using the site. While Answers is a valuable window into how people look for information online, it looks like a complete disaster as a traditional reference tool. It encourages bad research habits, rewards people who post things that aren't true, and frequently labels factual errors as correct information. It's every middle-school teacher's worst nightmare about the Web.

The site's home page, which offers a real-time snapshot of the dozens of questions posted every minute, provides a good sense of users' favorite topics: relationships, computers, homework, pregnancy. These queries reveal why something like Yahoo! Answers might draw so many visitors. The questions—"Why does the stomach make funny noises when it's hungry?" and "How do stoplights sense a car?" for instanceare difficult to answer with a traditional Web search. If you're looking for advice on your new haircut or help on the third question on your precalculus problem set, Yahoo! Answers might be your best option. Most strikingly, Answers draws a large enough crowd that you're likely to get an answer almost instantaneously. Post a semicoherent question and the responses will come within minutes, if not seconds.

For educators fretting that the Internet is creating a generation of "intellectual sluggards," the problem isn't just that Yahoo!'s site helps ninth-graders cheat on their homework. It's that a lot of the time, it doesn't help them cheat all that well.

Take a popular question asking about common customs and beliefs among Native Americans. In theory, this is the kind of query Yahoo! Answers is made for. It's more easily asked in the form of a complete sentence rather than in a series of search terms, and it has a factual answer some users might know.

How did Yahoo! Answers do? On the plus side, the question received an impressive 97 different answers, including a few knowledgeable responses and helpful references. But several of the postings were misleading, confused, or just plain wrong. If you started off uncertain, it's hard to imagine you would read the responses and feel any more confident. To top it off, the answer eventually chosen as the "best" was, enigmatically, "American pie."

In some academic areas—physics is one I've noticed—the Answers community consistently does an impressive job of providing accurate answers and a clear explanation of how to get them. But in other disciplines, the site's record as an educational tool is, to put it charitably, unreliable. A recent question about dual citizenship attracted 12 answers in just two hours; some of the responses were nearly accurate, many partially true, and others entirely false ("yes it is true they outlawed dual citizenship in 2001 due to people going to canada and the uk for free health care while they were not paying taxes in that country"). Another thread on the relationship between Iran, Saddam Hussein, and Osama Bin Laden offered a few insightful responses about Sunni-Shiite politics surrounded by enough noise—"No one really cares except for people like yourself!"—to confuse or annoy anyone who might pose the question earnestly.

Some people might look at this mixed record and think that Yahoo! Answers is just like Wikipedia. But the differences between the two sites say a lot—about why Wikipedia has been such a success, why the Web's leading reference site is so hard to replicate, and how Yahoo! Answers has become so popular despite its flaws.

Like Yahoo! Answers, Wikipedia isn't perfect. But for savvy browsers who know how to use it, Wikipedia is an invaluable source of factual information. In the last two years, there's been a heated debate over whether Wikipedia is as trustworthy as Encyclopedia Britannica. This obscures a crucial point: Wikipedia is at least reliable enough that such a question can be asked. Take my word for it—no one is going to make any such claims about Yahoo! Answers any time soon.

Wikipedia's greatest virtue is that it is self-editing and self-correcting. The site's draconian efforts to consolidate pages and remove entries that aren't deemed important have a crucial side effect: They focus users' energy on revision rather than addition. By contrast, Yahoo! Answers is more devoted to quantity than quality. It struggles to prevent repeat questions from appearing over and over again. And unlike Wikipedia, the Yahoo! community expends far less energy trying to hide dubious or just plain incorrect contributions, despite a community rating system designed to flag them. Often, a correct answer will be hiding somewhere on an Answers page, only to be obscured by a tide of wrong or off-topic material that never gets erased. Wikipedia pages are subject to constant revision. If a vandal screws with an entry, one of the site's busy janitors cleans it up. If new information becomes available or a new user devotes energy to making improvements, then a Wikipedia article will get better even years after it's first posted. Yahoo!, by contrast, "closes" questions to new answers after a week, although users occasionally post comments afterward. While the site's answers live forever on the Web, each question attracts only seven days' worth of collective wisdom.

The small, almost obsessive community that built Wikipedia created a culture of reliability. For contributors to see their writing on the site, they must submit information that's clear and accurate enough to survive the scrutiny of other users. Yahoo! Answers has created a more formal, yet far less successful, reward structure to identify top users. Every time you post an answer, you earn two points. If you win a "best answer" distinction, you get 10 points. (The person who asked the question gets the opportunity to select the best answer; if they choose not to, it is selected by community vote.) This system highlights the site's greatest strength and its greatest weakness: Everyone gets credit for answering, but there's not a huge push to make sure the answers are right.

As its devotees would point out, Yahoo! Answers allows you to ask questions Wikipedia would never touch. Many of the site's users are simply looking for advice, local knowledge (like a restaurant recommendation), or an opportunity to start a discussion. But for these questions, too, the quality of the responses varies widely, and users can be stuck struggling to separate the good answers from the bad.

Even though Yahoo! Answers is so frequently sloppy and inaccurate, it's still the juggernaut in its field. Despite a rapid proliferation of answer-giving sites—'s recently inaugurated Askville just joined a crowded field that includes Answerbag, WikiAnswers, AnswerBank, and Ask Metafilter—Yahoo!'s is still by far the most popular. And in the question-answering game, size matters. While the others have a few clever features (like Answerbag's efforts to separate "educational" and "conversational" questions) or a more specialized community, the sheer magnitude of Yahoo!'s community gives it the upper hand.

After all, while Yahoo! Answers and its peers are classified as reference tools, what they actually provide is social networking. The thrill of Yahoo! Answers comes in the instant interaction: the scores of questions, the immediate back-and-forth discussions, the opportunity to feel like an expert, and, eventually, the promise a query will be labeled a "Resolved Question" no matter how difficult.

For a passive reader, this has the same value as listening to two random guys at a bar talk about what to do if you are driving during a tornado. You may not learn very much by eavesdropping—and you certainly shouldn't trust what you hear if disaster strikes—but that isn't really the purpose. The lesson Yahoo! Answers teaches is that, for millions of people on the Web, it's less important to get a good answer than to get someone to listen to your question in the first place.

Jacob Leibenluft is a writer from Washington, D.C.

Article URL: Puts a Bet on Privacy

by Blake

The folks over at continue to do some good work, and get very little notice. The NY Times took notice of AskEraser, which allows users to make their searches more private. and other major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft typically keep track of search terms typed by users and link them to a computer’s Internet address, and sometimes to the user. However, when AskEraser is turned on, discards all that information, the company said.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Books Go High-Tech

by Blake

Books go high-tech is a nice summary of all the high-tech challenges to the humble paper book. Audiobooks and E-books may just now finally be making some gains. Is this the beginning of the end for the printed book? Not yet. With $24.2 billion in sales in 2006, according to the Association of American Publishers, the traditional book industry still dwarfs audiobook and e-book sales. But if you are simply seeking to engage with the content of books, regardless of format, technology is providing alternatives.

As the different formats evolve, we're getting closer to knowing how we will "read" on future commutes. But the turf wars, you might say, are to be continued.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Congress Rushes Through Law To Protect The Children... And Make Open WiFi A Huge Liability

From the congress-folks-at-work dept

Congress was apparently busy on Wednesday moving forward with incredibly bad laws that are designed to look good to certain constituents, but are highly questionable in real terms. We already discussed the new PRO IP bill, but the House also rushed through approval of the SAFE Act, which is one of those ridiculous bills that everyone feels compelled to vote for to "protect the children." Only two Representatives voted against the bill (and, yes, for his fans, one of them was Ron Paul). As Declan McCullough's report makes clear, the backers of this bill rushed it through Congress for no clear reason. They used a procedural trick normally reserved for non-controversial laws -- and made significant changes from an earlier version, never making the new version available for public review prior to the vote.

So what's so awful about the law? Well, like most "protect the children" legislation, it goes way overboard in terms of what people are expected to do, and like most legislation having to do with technology, seems utterly clueless about how technology works. The bill would require anyone providing an "electronic communication service" or a "remote computing service" to record and report information any time they "learn" that their network was used for certain broadly defined illegal activities concerning obscene images. That's double trouble, as both the illegal activities and the classification of who counts as a service provider are so broadly defined. McCullough notes that anyone providing an open WiFi network, a social network, a domain registry or even a webmail service probably qualify under the law. Glenn Fleishman describes what the law could mean in practice, points out that anyone who runs an open WiFi network for the public is now basically required to snitch on anyone they think may be doing anything deemed "illegal" in this act, including viewing or transmitting certain obscene drawings, cartoons, sculptures, or paintings. As Fleishman notes, it "sounds like viewing an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog could qualify." Even worse, part of the snitching is that beyond sending a report and the images to the gov't, you're supposed to retain the "illegal" image yourself -- which would seem to open you up to charges of possession as well if you somehow screw up (if you follow everything exactly to the letter of the law, you are granted immunity).

If you don't snitch on anyone suspected of viewing or transmitting these images, then you, as the network "operator" are suddenly liable for huge fines. Honestly, the liability is so big that anyone offering WiFi is probably better off no longer doing so. This is one of those laws that politicians love to pass, because they think it makes them look like they're protecting children -- when all they're really doing is creating a huge and unnecessary headache for all kinds of service providers, from open WiFi operators to social networking sites to webmail offerings. But, of course, it moves forward -- with no public scrutiny and no discussion -- because almost no politician wants to allow a politician to accuse him or her of voting "against" protecting the children.

Friday, November 30, 2007

An Open Letter to the World, From Your Local Librarian

posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken

Dear library user,

Your local librarians are delighted to welcome you to the library. We are happy to help you find whatever you need (except for you porn surfers--you know who you are). There are, alas, some limitations to what we can do for you. Most of those limitations involve computers. As for the rest, well, we're talking humans here...

First, I have to point out that those of us in middle age were trained in the Dark Ages when computers were the size of dump trucks and Bill Gates was in preschool. When I went to library school, there was one computer course, on programming in Basic, and I didn't take it. Considering that, my fellow over-50 librarians and I are doing pretty well coping with technology that didn't exist 30 years ago and changes daily.

We can figure out where Pacific Palisades, California, is located by using Google maps. We can locate a copy of a small press book available for loan from a library network 1000 miles away through World Cat. In a matter of seconds we can unearth dozens of Van Gogh "Sunflowers", using Google image. Using library subscriptions to online databases, we can find you the full text of an article from some arcane periodical and we can point the way to today's local newspaper's image edition, exactly as it appears in print form, but without the recycling hassle. We can demonstrate downloading unabridged audiobooks to your tiny MP3 player so you can listen to three books on your around-the-world flights and still have room in your carryon for a sandwich, some fruit, granola bars and (depending on those ever-shifting regulations) even some bottled water.

But we librarians, alas, only appear to be miracle workers. We can't get you all the materials you need to write your senior thesis by tomorrow if you don't get to the library until 5 minutes before closing. We don't have time to pull 14 Pile_of_books books for you and leave them at the desk so you can grab them between work and a theater date. (We might still do it sometimes, but admittedly we grumble.) We can't baby sit your kids after school while you are at work. We don't have a public address system to page your missing teenager who swore s/he was going to the library to study. We can't proofread your English homework. We can help you find online stock trading sites, but we can't suggest hot picks for your portfolio. We can help you find the forms but we can't do your taxes for you--and believe me, you don't want us to. No matter what your teacher or professor said, everything is not available on the internet.

But alas, we cannot fix the internet. If your e-mail account is "not available because the server is busy" and suggests you try later, we can't make it un-busy for you. The messages you receive about going into and out of secure sites are not an indication that the FBI, the CIA, the KGB, or the IRS is keeping an eye on you. Some online photographs and images have printing blocked, and we can't override that. If the form you are trying to fill out online is confusing or has conflicting instructions, we can't figure them out any better than you can. If the power goes off briefly and you lose the e-mail you had been writing for half an hour (don’t you hate that?), we can’t get it back. We can't make all the ads go away, although we might be able to eliminate the annoying ones that pop up and obscure your screen. If the CD or "floppy" disc you used to save your resume won't load on our computers, we're sorry--we really are!--but perhaps we don't have the software you used at home, or the CD had coffee spilled on it, or we just plain can't make it work. Computer_keyboard We can't teach you to e-mail or surf the Internet if you have never used a keyboard.

Most of all, we can't "fix" Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Gateway, Google, Internet Explorer or any of the other computer giants that control what happens on computers and the internet.

I know what URL stands for, and html, but I don't text message, RSS, or most of the other up-and-coming gizmos. Maybe soon. Probably about the time they become obsolete.

For now, if it's on the Internet, I can probably find it--fast. Which is apparently surprising for some of our patrons. A few years ago, a forty-something fellow watched me work my internet magic and pull up information he needed.

"Wow!" the guy said, looking at my graying hair. "Where did you learn to do that at your age?"

The Librarian Paradox

Though I'm sure this isn't something new for many of you, The Librarian Paradox is new to me:

A librarian is wandering round her library one day and comes across a shelf of catalogues. There are catalogues of novels, poems, essays and so on, and some of these catalogues, she discovers, list themselves, while others do not.

In order to simplify the system, the hard-working (and rigorously logical) librarian makes two more catalogues. One lists all those catalogues that list themselves; the other lists all those that don't. Once she has completed this task, she has a problem: should the catalogue which lists all the other catalogues which do not list themselves, be listed in itself? If it is listed, then by definition it should not be listed. However, if it is not listed, then by definition it should be.

[Love this comment]

paradox not

that's why we have metadata... something which refers to something doesn't need to refer to itself... some people think these sorts of paradoxes are fun to contemplate: I never invite those people to my parties.

Libraries Need To Deliver The Wow Factor

If you haven't been reading the Designing Better Libraries blog you're missing some good ideas. Libraries Need To Deliver The Wow Factor is a good example.

As in so many other areas of our profession that need change, another critically important one is to change our own ways of thinking about how to do business. We absolutely must pay more attention to how we can impress our user communities, and what must be done to leverage that to increase our visibility, community buzz and word of mouth about the library.

Canadian School board pulls ‘anti-God’ book

Halton's Catholic board has pulled The Golden Compass fantasy book – soon to be a Hollywood blockbuster starring Nicole Kidman – off school library shelves because of a complaint.

"(The complaint) came out of interviews that Philip Pullman had done, where he stated that he is an atheist and that he supports that," said Scott Millard, the board's manager of library services.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Public Libraries For Profit

By Akito Yoshikane

More and more, public libraries are being managed by private companies.

In late October, Jackson County, Ore., re-opened the doors to 15 of its public libraries after a lack of funds had forced them shut on April 6—the largest library closure in U.S. history. However, as patrons returned to the bookshelves in the southern Oregon county, they learned that their libraries are now under private, for-profit management.

Oregon suffered a $150 million budget shortfall—and Jackson County a $23 million loss—in fiscal year 2007, after the federal government failed to renew a $400 million annual subsidy designed to help rural communities suffering from the decline in timber-logging revenue. Though Congress eventually extended the funding by one year, Jackson County commissioners, strapped for cash, voted to outsource library services to the Maryland-based Library Systems & Services (LSSI), which specializes in library management. Founded in 1981, the company initially operated federal libraries during President Reagan’s era of privatizing government services and contracts. LSSI now privately manages more than 50 public libraries nationwide.

Companies like LSSI focus on counties that are desperate to keep their public agencies afloat but lack sufficient funds to do so. In the case of Jackson County, officials offered LSSI a five-year contract worth $3 million annually, with an additional $1.3 million reserved for building maintenance. The deal cuts in almost half what the county previously spent.

Public libraries in Dallas, Riverside, Calif., and Finney County, Kan. have also hired LSSI staff.

But the trend of farming out public libraries to a private, profit-oriented business has raised concerns. For one, private companies are not subject to the same oversight as are public institutions. More importantly, libraries have long been considered democratic bodies built on the cornerstone of information diversity, transparency and intellectual freedom.

“Libraries tend to reflect the communities they serve,” says Loriene Roy, president of the American Library Association (ALA). “[They] respond to community needs and they do so within their budget, but they are not set up to make profit. A company coming in that doesn’t exist within the community that is profit-making, you can see that there is a different attitude and there is concern about that.”

Under public management, transparency tends to be clear. As much as 80 percent of public library funding can come from local tax support, making libraries accountable to a board of trustees with representatives from the community.

While municipalities have for years contracted “non-library services,” such as janitorial duties or photocopying, the outsourcing of “core” library services—cataloging and use of automated systems and material acquisition—has increased.

This prompted the ALA to create an Outsourcing Task Force and conduct a study on privatization in 1999. Two years later, the ALA council adopted a stance opposing outsourcing, stating that libraries are “not a simple commodity” but “are an essential public good” that should be “directly accountable to the public they serve.”

LSSI makes its money from the difference between the budget and what it spends—or does not spend. It typically downsizes staff, centralizes accounting and human resource services, and buys books in bulk, all while passing down administrative costs—sometimes as high as 15 percent—to patrons as general handling fees. (The company does not disclose its earnings.)

“They operate entirely with our tax dollars but they have no transparency,” says Buck Eichler, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 in Jackson County, whose organization represented the public library employees. “They’re completely secretive about their books. We no longer know where our tax dollars are going.”

Although the total cost of running the libraries was cut, so, too, were library hours. Now, most libraries in Jackson County are open at half the normal operating times and are closed on Sundays, totaling only 24 hours a week, down from the 40-plus hours before the April shutdown. The exceptions are the libraries in Ashland and Talent, which will stay open for 40 hours and 36 hours a week, respectively, after local residents recently voted in favor of a levy on monthly utility surcharges in order to pay for the extra hours.

While counties still own the buildings and retain control of library policies, LSSI is in charge of hiring employees, which has caused mixed reactions.

“I don’t have any problems with it at all,” says Kim Wolfe, manager of the Medford branch. “I think it’s a personal decision for each individual. The community is thrilled to have the libraries opening again. They’re thanking us and they’re glad they can come in and use our services.”

SEIU’s Eichler, however, has said some workers have refused to go back to work under a private employer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice living wages at the expense of workers,” says Eichler.

LSSI brought back about 60 of the 88 people who were laid off, according to one library staffer. But now that they are no longer union employees, they’ve been subject to contractual changes in rights, benefits and disclosure information.

Although salaries are comparable to what they were before, employees in the Jackson County Libraries are now no longer part of Oregon’s pension system, which has been replaced with a 401(k) program. Medical benefits have also been cut, and salary levels have been “adjusted depending on market conditions,” says Anne Billeter, a former Jackson County library manager.

“I’m not saying that LSSI has a goal of union-busting, but it is certainly the net effect,” says Eichler.

Some areas have seen a backlash. In Bedford, Texas, after a community-wide petition campaign to oppose library outsourcing gathered 1,700 signatures in four days, city council members voted 4-3 to reject privatization in August. “If our library dies, this community dies,” said Mark Gimenez, a local resident who attended the board meeting.

But not every public library is celebrating victories. In Jackson-Madison County, Tenn., even after a community group lobbied against privatization, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled in April that the county board has a legal right to outsource.

Thomas Hennen Jr., director of the Waukesha County Federated Library System in Wisconsin, says, “It is the urgent duty of public librarians to put the ‘good’ back into the ‘public good’ of the public library movement.”

Woman sentenced to 10 days in jail for library theft


It's ten days in jail for a former Iowa City woman accused of stealing more than $1,000 in materials from the city's public library -- by using her children's library cards.

Fatima Perkins of Harvey, Illinois, pleaded guilty to third-degree theft. She was also ordered to pay a $625 fine as well as restitution, court costs and attorney fees.

Perkins used her four children's cards to check out 51 items from the library last year and moved out of town without returning them.

She was arrested in July.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Small but Important Victory for Free Speech and Political Organizations

by Fresno County Peace and Freedom Party
Wednesday Nov 28th, 2007 3:58 PM
All political parties and organizations will now be able to use Fresno County Library facilities for meetings.
November 28, 2007 - Today, the Peace and Freedom Party - with the assistance of the Greater Fresno Area Chapter of the ACLU - won a small but important victory for free speech and political organizations. The Fresno County Public Library has been continually denying the Peace and Freedom Party the right to use library facilities to hold its general meetings. The denial cited a Fresno County ordinance against using its facilities for campaign or political activity in connection with any election.

In a phone call to the office of Fresno County Librarian Karen Bosch Cobb, Attorney Richard Runcie (member of the Board of the Greater Fresno Area Chapter of the ACLU) and John Crockford (chair of the Fresno County Peace and Freedom Party) explained that denying the Peace and Freedom Party use of library facilities was contrary to Library policy regarding free speech. Messrs. Runcie and Crockford said that Library staff were misinterpreting the prohibition on election activities and wrongly denying Peace and Freedom Party use of library facilities.

In a phone call to Fresno County Peace and Freedom Party chairperson John Crockford, Ms. Bosch Cobb acknowledged the error and said she would direct staff to allow the Peace and Freedom Party to use Fresno County Library facilities for its general meetings.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Terror Suspect’s Lawyer Says FBI Tracked Library Use Without Warrant

Norman Oder -- Library Journal, 10/12/2007

A library angle has emerged in the case of a terrorism suspect indicted in July 2006 (along with a confederate) on charges of going through paramilitary training in Georgia and plotting to attack various targets in the region and elsewhere. The lawyer for Syed Ahmed, 21, a former Georgia Tech student, filed a document in federal court in Atlanta Thursday that FBI agents followed Ahmed to the Chestatee Regional Library, Dawsonville, GA, and searched the computer he had worked on without a warrant, according to the Associated Press.

U.S. Attorney David Nahmias responded in a statement to the AP that "The FBI's actions were lawful and appropriate as we will demonstrate when we respond to the motion in court," adding that "public libraries are not safe havens for terrorist-related activity."

(The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom advises librarians
, “If the agent or officer does not have a court order compelling the production of records, the library director should explain the library’s confidentiality policy and the state’s confidentiality law, and inform the agent or officer that users' records are not available except when a proper court order in good form has been presented to the library.”)

Ahmed's lawyer, Jack Martin, said in court papers that an investigator used the computer’s history function to check web pages and e-mail addresses Ahmed had accessed. (Many libraries have equipped their computers to automatically clear each user’s history after a session.) "The actions of the government agent, contrary to the policies and procedures of the library, including policies to ensure the privacy of its authorized library users, violated the defendant's reasonable expectations of privacy," Martin wrote, according to the AP. He seeks the evidence to be suppressed. In the indictment last year, the government said that Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, 19, were motivated by the "defense of Muslims or retaliation for acts committed against Muslims." Both are U.S. citizens; Ahmed is Pakistan-born; Sadequee, of Bangladeshi descent, was born in Virginia. Both have pleaded not guilty. The government alleges that the the plot involved meetings, discussions, and training exercises; Martin has said the evidence was "imprudent talk."

Monday, November 19, 2007

New Readers Coming Soon Look To Launch Ebooks Finally

Those fortunate enough to traverse the halls of Embedded Technology 2007 could've seen Seiko Epson's latest wonder up close and in person, but for the rest of us, we'll have to settle for the picture and a drool-worthy description over at Engadget.

Meanwhile, as Gary Price pointed out, Amazon is betting that e-books aren't a total e-bust. On Monday, the online retail giant will unveil its Kindle e-book reader at a high-profile event in New York, an industry source told CNET Thursday. CEO Jeff Bezos is expected to be present for the announcement, to be held at the chic W Hotel in Union Square.

The biggest library ever built

Ben Macintyre Says Ptolemy's great book collection at Alexandria had nothing on what is being compiled on the internet: "This digitising of human knowledge is the most profound cultural event since the invention of the printing press itself. In the third century BC the librarians of Alexandria sought to collect “books of all the peoples of the world”, and amassed perhaps half a million scrolls. But even the library at Alexandria was thought to contain perhaps as little as a third of all the books then written."

Friday, November 02, 2007

Librarians Say Surveillance Bills Lack Adequate Oversight

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007; Page A06

A little-remarked feature of pending legislation on domestic surveillance has provoked alarm among university and public librarians who say it could allow federal intelligence-gathering on library patrons without sufficient court oversight.

Draft House and Senate bills would allow the government to compel any "communications service provider" to provide access to e-mails and other electronic information within the United States as part of federal surveillance of non-U.S. citizens outside the country.

The Justice Department has previously said that "providers" may include libraries, causing three major university and library groups to worry that the government's ability to monitor people targeted for surveillance without a warrant would chill students' and faculty members' online research activities.

"It is fundamental that when a user enters the library, physically or electronically," said Jim Neal, the head librarian at Columbia University, "their use of the collections, print or electronic, their communications on library servers and computers, is not going to be subjected to surveillance unless the courts have authorized it."

Under the legislation, the government could monitor a non-U.S. citizen overseas participating in an online research project through a U.S. university library, and gain access to the communications of all the project participants with that surveillance target, said Al Gidari, a lawyer with the Perkins Coie firm who represents the Association of Research Libraries and the American Library Association.

The bills, which would replace a temporary law amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, would not require the government to demonstrate "probable cause" that the foreign person targeted is a terrorist or a spy or to let the FISA court, which grants surveillance warrants, know that the tap will be on a library. Under the Senate bill, a general surveillance program may be authorized yearly by the attorney general and the director of national intelligence. The House's version would require the FISA court to authorize surveillance directed at people overseas.

The librarians said their concern about such monitoring is rooted in recent history.

In the summer of 2005, FBI agents handed an administrative subpoena called a national security letter (NSL) to a Connecticut librarian, and demanded subscriber, billing and other information on patrons who used a specific computer at a branch library. NSLs can be approved by certain FBI agents without court approval. The agents ordered the librarian to keep the demand secret. But he refused to produce the records, and his employer filed suit, challenging the gag order. A federal judge in September 2005 declared the gag order unconstitutional.

Librarians cried out over the issue and in March 2006 won language in the reauthorized USA Patriot Act that specified that libraries acting as book-lenders not be subject to NSLs. But FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said, in written remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2006, that "a library is only subject to an NSL if it provides electronic communication services."

Today, many universities -- and by extension their libraries -- can be considered Internet service providers, because they run private Internet networks allowing students and faculty to send e-mail, conduct online research and engage in online chats without touching the public system, experts said.

Many universities also have branches overseas, where users can log onto the school network and gain access to the library's server on U.S. soil. Moreover, university research -- especially in the scientific arena -- is frequently conducted online and in groups, often internationally, by accessing shared databases and advanced private Internet networks, librarians said.

"For me, the issue is if somebody is going to follow the research thread of a faculty or student, that may be something that needs to happen to protect all of us, but it needs to be done under judicial review and with a warrant," said Larry Alford, dean of libraries at Philadelphia's Temple University, which also has campuses in Rome and Tokyo. "The transactions that used to go on inside of a classroom and inside of a library building now can go on electronically and virtually."

For Neal, who has been a librarian for 34 years, the issue is not academic. He recalled his time working at Penn State University in the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, when the FBI demanded information about the reading habits of international students. The staff refused, but the experience jolted Neal, who said he felt that library users' privacy rights had been "violated."

Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said: "The librarians have fingered an issue that is particularly problematic in the Senate legislation. When a group of Americans communicate with one targeted non-American abroad, everyone's privacy is at risk. We are not saying the government should have to seek a warrant for every overseas foreigner, but court oversight is essential."

The Association of Research Libraries, representing 123 institutions, the American Library Association, with more than 65,000 members, and the Association of American Universities, representing 60 U.S. institutions, each say they seek to amend the draft bills to make clear that the term "communications provider" does not include libraries. Although a report by the House Judiciary Committee states that libraries are not meant to be subject to the provision, it does not have the force of law, according to Prudence S. Adler, associate executive director of the research library group.

House intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.) said the House bill, produced by Democrats, would protect Americans' constitutional rights. He noted that the measure would allow the FISA court to "review the targeting procedures to ensure that Americans aren't targeted."

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), the intelligence committee vice chairman, who helped craft the bipartisan Senate bill, said librarians need not worry. The government, he said, would seek to monitor only "suspected terrorists." If a surveillance target communicates with a U.S. citizen or a resident who is not a target, the latter's communications would be "minimized" or blacked out, he said, and the bill would require a court to approve the minimization procedures.

"You know what happens if that [library exception] gets into the bill?" Bond said. "You would have your libraries filled with al-Qaeda operatives."

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to specify which institutions might qualify as "electronic communications service providers," calling the question hypothetical. But he said the administration opposes exceptions for libraries or others, because they "could lead to an unworkable patchwork of legal authorities" and impede effective intelligence gathering.

At a public library in Santa Cruz, Calif., signs posted in 2003 inform patrons that their borrowing is subject to federal surveillance.
At a public library in Santa Cruz, Calif., signs posted in 2003 inform patrons that their borrowing is subject to federal surveillance.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Actress Jessica Biel Options Film Rights To Book With Librarian Heroine

Biel says she was smitten with Megan Abbott's book Die a Little, and it is likely she will play the blond femme fatale with the dark past, rather than the other protagonist, a seemingly normal librarian. Hollywood is unwilling to pay for a period piece set and costumes, so the adaptation will bring the Los Angeles local into the modern era, rather than 1954, as it was originally.


By Josh Getlin, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 1, 2007
The book

"Die a Little" by Meg Abbott

The buyer

Jessical Biel

The deal

Actress Jessica Biel options the film rights to Edgar-nominated writer Megan Abbott's "Die a Little," a Los Angeles noir novel set in the 1950s with an intriguing character twist.

The players

Biel (recently in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry") and her producing partner, Michelle Purple, sign an option for a film set up at United Artists that also includes screenwriters Geoffrey and Marcia Blake and producer Richard Gladstein. Abbott was represented by Paul Cirone from the Friedrich Literary Agency and Shari Smiley at Creative Artists Agency. The novel, pulp cover and all, was published by Simon & Schuster.

The back story

Imagine a noir novel set in Los Angeles, 1954, a bleak landscape of drugs, prostitution and murder, where a private investigator is trying to unlock a terrible secret. Nothing you haven't seen, right? Except the two main characters are women, and the story is told in women's voices. "Die a Little" is one potboiler in which dames won't take a back seat. And the movie that's taking shape, based on the book, will be faithful to the original.

When Biel first read Abbott's 2005 thriller about a quiet, outwardly normal librarian and a blond femme fatale with an unsettling past, she was smitten. And the pitch she made to bring a major studio on board was direct: Think "L.A. Confidential" with two women. United Artists signed on, in a deal that was put together over several years by CAA's Smiley, among others.

"I was thrilled that Jessica wanted to do this movie," said Abbott, a New York-based noir novelist and a scholar who has published a book on the subject. "And it was great to think that she wants to play the darker role of the blond instead of the more wholesome character of the librarian. . . . It could be a major departure for her."

So move over, tough guys. Although many women have written L.A. noir, not many female-dominated movies come to mind. "Die a Little" is a genre-bending project, and Biel was passionate about the book. She paid for the option herself -- not always the case when celebrities seek film-worthy material.

The story will be updated to present-day Los Angeles because there had been studio resistance to the original period setting, which could drive costs up considerably. Beyond that, "Die a Little" could look similar to the novel.

"There wasn't a major role in this movie for a male star, which made it difficult to pitch at first," said a source close to the negotiations. "But people saw the strength of the original material. It's going to be a great vehicle for two women."

California library's internet filtering strategy

posted by michelle c

Popular blog Boing Boing points to one library's interesting method for dealing with library filtering, utilizing large signs designating "filtered" and "unfiltered" internet access. Says the submitter of the photo, "The 'unfiltered' side faces the reference desk so the librarians can monitor usage but they say it has reduced abuse and given adults uncensored access to the internet." Pic and entry here. An interesting comment debate follows, discussing whether the signage constitutes a privacy invasion.

Haunted Libraries Around the World: The Complete List; JupiterimagesIn the fall, a journalist’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of ghosts. Newspapers and magazines that haughtily refrain from printing news of the paranormal for 11 months of the year eagerly jump on the Halloween coach in October to regale their audiences with dubious tales of the preternatural. Bleak mansions and somber castles usually spring to mind when we think of haunted places, but ghostly phenomena—whatever the cause—can manifest in well-lit, modern offices as well as crumbling Carnegies. Of course, it helps if you inadvertently build your library on top of a graveyard.

Haunted libraries fall into two types. First, there is the “building with a reputation,” where a convenient murder, curse, or other tragedy has occurred. Library staff can then blame the odd noise, the occasional book falling off the shelf, or glitches in the air conditioning on the resident “scapeghost.” No one reports anything too spooky, and the children’s librarians have a good time with it at story hour.

Second, there are libraries where credible, responsible people observe enigmatic human shapes, hear disembodied voices, and witness other classic parapsychological events. Glib explanations about how the building must be settling ring about as hollow as those mysterious footsteps late at night on the upper floorboards. The library staff learns to live with the phenomena, usually by accepting the paranormal as a normal working condition and the wraiths as superhuman resources.

Like other public buildings that have seen long years of human activity, some libraries are allegedly haunted by the ghosts of former staff, patrons, or other residents. Most often the manifestations involve odd noises, cold spots, or objects moved; other times a visual apparition is reported. In many cases, phenomena can be attributed to the sights, the sounds, and the aura of a historic building. However, libraries offer such dynamic mental and sensual stimulation that if haunts are truly evidence for postmortem survival, I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather spend my earthly afterlife than in a library. (Beware, Ohio State!)

The following list represents a fairly comprehensive list of current and former library haunts. But if I’ve missed anything, or my list needs correction and even updating, please send along your comments and suggestions. The paranormal demands precision!

Haunted Libraries in the U.S.: Alabama - D.C.

Haunted Libraries in the U.S.: Florida - Maryland

Haunted Libraries in the U.S.: Massachusetts - Missouri

Haunted Libraries in the U.S.: Nebraska - Oregon

Haunted Libraries in the U.S.: Pennsylvania - Texas

Haunted Libraries in the U.S.: Utah - Wyoming (and Canada)

Haunted Libraries Around the World: Europe, Asia, Australia, Mexico

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet Gives Poor Families Books

posted by birdie

As reported in The Economist, the President of Chile, a medical doctor and breath of fresh air after the cruel rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, has instituted a project to give a box of nine books to over 400,000 impoverished families. Her choices, among others, are Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye".

In today's The Lede (blog) from the New York Times...If You Had to Pick Nine are welcome to view other reader's opinions, and offer your own choices if you so desire. What would you choose?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Eight laws of library technology

by John Miedema

Greetings. I have worked in the information technology industry for over a decade, mostly as a web developer for IBM. One day I was in my local library, looking at the library OPAC, thinking, ‘Why isn’t this more like Amazon?’ That thought took me to library school. It turns out librarians were thinking the same thing, and they are busy reinventing the OPAC. To my surprise, what I learned at library school was that I was less interested in library technology than librarianship. I have recently launched a new blog,, where I intend to focus more on reading research and practices in libraries and in culture. But I have a number of thoughts on information technology that I have not unpacked. I wanted to do small justice to them by summing them up in a single post. I hope they are useful to somebody in the library field.

1. It all comes down to data and rules. Anyone beginning their journey into information technology must feel overwhelmed. The industry is so diverse, with so many vendors and products and jargon. No one can learn it all. So just dive in and learn something; in time you will see that it all comes down to two things: data and rules. Remember in the eighties when you learned WordPerfect 5.1? Then they made you switch to Word. Turns out the switch wasn’t that hard; the products were fairly similar. In short order, you found yourself learn Excel, then intuitively picking up on other software programs. Next thing you knew, you were building web pages. There is a snowball effect, and it keeps going. Maybe you’re at the point of designing an Access database, or picking up some JavaScript. Before long, it all blends. You hear talk about .Net, Web 2.0, web services, SOA, and the semantic web — cakewalk. In the end, there is not much new under the sun. It all comes down to data being sloshed around by the application of programmatic rules. Content and syntax. I hope that helps describe the big picture, and gives you courage to try anything in the field.

2. Organized information is handier than disorganized information. Just like closets. It sounds obvious, almost a definition of cataloging. Now let me offer this slant — any degree of increased order is helpful. There are many methods of increasing order: back-of-the-book indexes, full-text indexes, controlled vocabularies, taxonomies, etc. The thing all of these tools have in common is that they reduce the state of disorder or chaos in information to some degree. This is especially helpful as the quantity of information being managed increases. The task of a librarian in the information age isn’t necessarily to bring high-end classification systems to the web. Things like social tagging are catching on because they bring just a measure of order to large bodies of content. Do you have any innovative ideas that simply bring a little more order to information? You may have a major invention on your hands.

3. The rate at which data is being recorded is accelerating faster than our ability to manage it. Call it information entropy or info-glut. It seems that the ability to record information has necessitated it. How did organizations ever get by without all the data they now record, one has to wonder. The information technology industry keeps inventing new ways to cope with the situation — content management, business intelligence, tagging, and so on — but there is another practical option: collect less information. Will we be less informed? Not if we apply an old-fashioned solution, the scientific method. Scientists collect a finite number of observations from the natural world, apply scientific rigor (repeatability, etc.), and make valid conclusions more often than not. They don’t try to record everything. I’m just waiting for the day that some vendor clues into this, and packages it up as the next best thing. Maybe library science should pick up on this first!

4. Librarians should not build their own software systems. Librarians should experiment with every new technology out there. Librarians should become very technically literate … in order to know what they want, and what they are getting when they go to a vendor to purchase a system. System development is deep water. If a new technology makes it easy to get started, it will be all the harder to finish. You can’t build a system out of Web 2.0 widgets. Forget technology; go conceptual. Think very hard about what patrons want; most don’t know. There is an old joke among developers that systems would work great if it weren’t for the users. Users complain more about font-size than function. In truth, design is a two-step between users and experts. Once you designed it, hand it over to the vendors and their code-jockeys for development. I’ll make one significant exception; open source development has the potential to harness all levels of development skills into a worthy product; it just takes longer.

5. These days there is only one way to acquire a system: buy a package, and two, custom build it. No one does custom builds anymore, right? It’s too costly; buy a package. It’s the 80-20 rule: get 80% of what you want, and configure it for your organization. That’s the sales pitch. More often you get 50-50 or worse. Just because it’s shrink-wrapped doesn’t mean it’s a package. Think configuration. Ask your vendor how much configuration is required. Is it custom programming in disguise? That’s where the dollars drain out. Coding is not just keystrokes. Don’t treat developers like mechanics and they won’t treat you like business executives. The technologies are young compared to the automotive industry and there are few truly standard solutions; everyone is learning on the job. They are not building cars, they are building the assembly line.

6. RSS and XML are cooler than you think. RSS is a simple Web 2.0 technology that completely changes our relationship with the web. Instead of having to go to the web, the web comes to you! If you learn nothing else about Web 2.0, learn RSS. It’s a great step toward what’s coming next. If you want to learn the next most important thing, learn XML, god’s gift to the web. XML is a character based data format that allows disparate systems to talk to each other. It is the heart of Web 2.0, which is righteous on so many levels. It is easy to get started; at no cost anyone can micropublish through a blog. These technologies are just the beginning. Keep your eye on these buzzwords: web services, service-oriented architecture, and the semantic web. Librarians are already talking about semantic libraries. There’s lots coming down the pipe.

7. Print is the next evolution in information technology. If technology evolved in the order of its importance, then print would be the next big thing. There’s no question that digital technology is better for finding information. Scan those books, bring it on. But finding information is only half the picture. What is preferable for reading information? People talk about the continuum of data to knowledge. Data is something out there, on the web perhaps; knowledge is something in your head. We go through of process of taking information that’s out there, and internalizing it. That’s where print is so important. When it comes down to serious reading, especially of challenging material, there is no equal for print and books. There are many more examples where print has persisted where personalization matters. The business world still prefers print for signatures. Print has something that the greatest quality e-Book cannot have, fixity, the quality of unchangingness that we need to evaluate ideas. In the final analysis, we require something in our hand to make it real. It’s just the way we’re made.

8. Library technology is less interesting than librarianship. It is important to remember this. It is becoming a more distant memory now, but remember that not so long ago it was believed by many that digital technology would replace libraries. Librarians were told they could become knowledge workers in the private sector. I’m glad that seems quaint now. In the final analysis, information technology is just infrastructure. Want to code; go into computer science. Think back to why you went to library school. Librarianship is much more than technology. I’m sure you can speak to that.

Librarians Can Be Very Nice People

posted by birdie

OK, we've reported on the ghost in the library, now here's a dear little story about a library angel in Kansas City.