Alexa, Jelly, and Web 3.8

Forget Web 2.0! That is so 2005! Now we have Web 3.8. Wow!

What is that? Remember ‘six degrees of separation’? Well, according to Biz Stone, the guys who came up with that theory have done more research and found that in this digitally connected era, the degrees of separation have reduced to just 3.8.

Rich Roll interviews Biz Stone in an intriguing interview where Biz explains his newest website and system – askjelly. Biz Stone is one of the guys who co-founded Twitter. Oh – that Biz Stone!

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Askjelly is a systemised knowledgebase that uses people for answers instead of text-based information on the Internet. As Rich and Biz spoke I realised that Librarians might finally be out of a job. The famous quote by Neil Gaiman: ‘Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.’, might finally be defunct. Biz has found a way to crowd-source the subjective questions.

So I put askjelly to the test and posed the question: “What will happen to Librarians in the age of knowledge-bases, ‘jelly’ and AI?

And shortly thereafter I received two thoughtful replies:

From CallKathy:

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And from Chris:

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Biz’s theory is that there are not really unique questions, and that someone on this planet will have the answer for you.

He then went on to show how this technology works with Amazon’s Echo and Alexa and it evoked similarities to the AI robot in the movie Her.

Rich Roll has kindly listed a lot of the relevant articles and links in the show notes of his podcast information and it’s well worth a look.

As for the success of #askjelly and the future of Librarianship – only time will tell.

 

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Tell me

A realization struck me as I sat in the audience listening to Doctor Bruce Wells talk about happiness: I am living my life aligned to my passions and values. My employed work is to plan and organize library related events for the interest and benefit of our local community. It is a privileged position and while, in general, library work does align with my values associated with ethics, morals, and liberty, Dr. Wells made me realize that for me there is something deeper.

 

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Dr Bruce Wells at Frankston Library 16 April 2016

I love reading and books. I love being exposed to new ideas. I love to imagine other worlds and lives that exist between the pages. I love being told a good story. I love feeding my hunger for exploration and discovery. I love sitting at home in a comfortable chair absorbed in the latest good read. Working in a library, invites, supports and encourages others to read a good book and learn new things.

But it is my work that takes this one step further. What good are books full of treasured stories if they sit idly waiting on shelves gathering dust? What makes people pick it off the shelf and open the cover? It relies too heavily on serendipity. Library staff create displays and programs to highlight and celebrate books and themes in order to help people see what they don’t always know is there. (I read ebooks too and I am well aware of the new consumer habits associated with obtaining ebooks, but for this post I am focussing on our public libraries and print books. Many people don’t know that you can borrow an ebook for free from a public library; but that’s a whole other post).

But I go one step further. I invite authors to come along and speak at our library. What better way to bring books to life than to have the author there before you, in the flesh, to tell you more about their ideas?

Being told stories is a cherished human activity that goes back before books. Campfire stories are still a favourite thing to do when we can. The popularity of TED Talks is no surprise. We all love to hear something interesting. Then we might follow up this interest by exploring more on the topic.

So my realization was that I am able to share my own love of reading, books, and storytelling, by inviting authors to come and speak in person at our library. Local people can enjoy hearing stories told, and the writing craft explained, by the authors themselves. Books are thus brought to life. It is a true privilege for me to be in this position to be able to bring about this unique alchemy.

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Ali MC and Abe Nouk at Frankston Library 19 March 2016

These are the authors that I have organized speaking events for over the past year:

And these are the events that are coming up soon:

Choose Your Own Library Adventure

In this exciting politically incorrect episode you get to Choose Your Own Library Adventure based on two possible scenarios:

Scenario 1 – The Community Lounge Room

The automatic doors open on time and in you hustle with the crowd of others from the community: seniors; pensioners of all ages; those needing care and their carers; the unemployed; homeless people; parents; children; babies; toddlers; teens; students; the aimless; business people; travellers; visitors; group members attending meetings; and the curious.

The people carry bags, phones, backpacks, coffee, water, food, shopping, books, DVD’s, CD’s, coats, laptops, hats, toys, and not a pen amongst them.

Many arrive on wheels: strollers; walkers; motorized scooters; shopping trolleys; wheel chairs; and skateboards.

This community library is inclusive, caters for all, is paid for by taxpayers, and welcomes everyone without obstacles, barriers, judgment or discretion.

Everyone makes themselves at home settling in for a few hours or the day. There is shelter, warmth, comfort, food, hot and cold drinks, and others to interact with. Everyone is free to eat, drink, talk, read, play games, surf the Internet, laugh, gamble online, shout, scream, run, dance, play music, run a business, study, research, argue, and put their feet up without concern or bother. Indeed they are entitled to do so.

This is The Community Third Place; the lounge room for the town; a makerspace; the library of the present, hopefully morphing into some similar version of the Library of the Future where community wellbeing predominates.

Personal hygiene in this community lounge room differs notably and is commented upon by customers and staff. What to do about this while remaining ‘pc’?

Random screams punctuate the day with too much frequency. These erupt from over excited children, and unfortunate adults forever anchored with the minds of toddlers.

Derelict and homeless people shuffle to their daily corner, rummage through their plastic bags for snacks, before sleeping the day away.

Damaged and disappointed people approach the library staff for assistance with a mixture of fear, bravado, entitlement, envy, and try to persuade or bully their opinions, complaints, and excuses, to further bend the flimsy policies to suit themselves. The “SHUSH” disappeared and the avalanche of guidelines for good behavior followed. Do what you want – make this space.

Custodial protection of our precious printed and digital words and knowledge is deemed to be of no real worth or value. Come take it – it is yours afterall.

Scenario 2 – The Quiet Study

This unassuming small shop/office has small quaint signs to let you know this is a “Library”. It is unapologetic in the retro feel that values books, ideas, and knowledge. It requires a membership application to join; beyond the usual personal ID with current address, a questionnaire is filled in, a deposit for the annual membership payment is made, and then the potential member must wait until the application is successful on approval by the management. A typical question might be: Name the title of your favourite book when you were a child. And: Name ten of the books you read in the past year, and please provide a short review of each. Etc.

Once approved, paid-up, signed the agreement to the terms and conditions, and have your library membership card, you are free to use the services. So you enter, sign in at the front desk, leave your bag, phone, and all belongings in a locker-room. There is water available in the foyer, but no drink or food is allowed in the Library. You are allowed to bring in a notepad (print or digital) and that is all.

The inner library has shelves full of books. There is no WiFi. There is not Internet access, other than pc’s with the digital resources provided by the library. There are no DVD’s, no music CD’s. There are pc’s for the library catalogue. There is a separate room for the printer, photocopier, fax machines available for the usual fees to library members. There are desks and seats scattered around for research, reading, writing, and study purposes.

There is no talking allowed. SHUSH reigns supreme. Talk and you are out. Repeat offenders have their memberships cancelled with no refund. Conversations with Master Librarians are done in whispers at the front desk.

The Library closes at lunch-time for everyone to go and have an unhurried meal. The Library reopens in the afternoon and then again in the evenings.

Although just offering books for browsing and borrowing, these include fiction, the classics, non-fiction, beautiful coffee-table books, books in a variety of languages as well as English, journals in print and digital format, and small collections for children and teens.

This is a place for quiet study and reflective practice. It is for personal enquiry and discovery. The resources are cared-for and protected. If you run, destroy property, speak loudly, act with entitlement, not pay your dues, or interfere with others, your membership will be cancelled for the year with no refund.

Choose Your Own Adventure Library

So do you want the maker-space, community lounge room complete with screaming people, for random, multi-purpose, entertaining, every person, public library/asylum?

Or are there some quiet unassuming people out there who want to return to the days of library shush, for a quiet space to study, learn, read great literature, and formulate new knowledge? And you would happily pay the annual membership?

Perhaps there is another alternative that I have not considered, apart from our excellent Academic libraries where students are the members.

What do you think?

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I have just studied the subject Creating and Preserving Digital Content through Charles Sturt University for the successful completion of the Master of Information Studies. And it has got me thinking….

All of those family photos held in a variety of forms in a variety of containers need some sorting. There are old printed photographs in photo albums and in boxes. There are digital photographs that reside in cameras, phones, devices, SD cards, CD’s, and computers. There are digital copies of photos sitting in random digital file folders on computers. And we keep producing more each day adding to the digital heap.

So now I know how to go about organising all of this stuff, I need the time to actually sit down and apply myself to the mammoth task of sorting it out.

Once I comprehend the enormity of the task I begin to ask myself – why? For what purpose? Who cares? How many photographs of wind-swept beach scenes are too many?

Then there is the question of the integrity of the captured image: if a filter is applied to an image from a Smartphone app then this should be noted in the metadata or description. But that adds another level of tedium to the task, and yet if it is not done then what does that say about the authenticity of the resulting image. Is it then art or photography? Or both?

The notion of transience emerges too when considering the purpose of such an exercise. With ease and speed of connected social media channels through smart devices, a photo shared across networks among friends and family is enjoyed for the moment, in the context of that moment, and then swept into the ever-moving stream of data creation. Sure it is still ‘there’ somewhere in the digital ether, waiting to be retrieved for future embarrassment; like a baby photo shown by smirking parents at their child’s 21st birthday party. Other than for nostalgic amusement, is there value in spending so much time and effort in sorting out the family photos for ‘the future’?

I can hear the archivists and historians stirring on their leather chairs, leaning forward, fingers cracking, ready to post a heart-felt reply. I welcome it because I need a good reason to justify this effort.

The term ‘digital dark age’ was used in Creating and Preserving Digital Content to illustrate a possible scenario where data is lost through poor preservation techniques. I get it. I wrote an essay about it, elaborately describing the scenes from the original movie version of The Time Machine, where the vacuous stares of the future Eloi people are the result of lost knowledge from crumbling pages in books left to decay.

I appreciate the words of former Prime Minister Harold Holt at the Stone Ceremony March in 1966:

We cannot understand the present or plan for the future without the knowledge of the past.

danielle_susan_margaret_alice_1984And yet significant family portraits containing four females spanning four generations might be worthy of preservation for sharing amongst immediate and future family members, but how many “selfie’s” must we have to delete before we gain a representative portrait of one individual.

My thoughts are a jumble between process, content, and value. The process is complex and needs to be worked out to establish some kind of system that works and fulfills preservation standards. The content contains so many variables and raises questions about authenticity. The value is difficult to judge because it is not easy to project into the minds of some future person and decide if this image is worth the effort of the time invested in preserving it.

This article about one family’s preservation project describes some of these issues with a heart-warming narrative and a positive outcome, but concluding that it is “never done.”

My aim is to begin. I have the relevant information about how to approach the task. I have a large external hard-drive. I will gather the photos in all forms. I will start sorting, naming, describing, storing, backing-up, and hopefully one day in the future I will have some kind of result that’s purpose will be apparent.

In the words of Francis Kilvert, as quoted from this article: Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist by Richard Cox:

Why do I keep this voluminous journal? I can hardly tell. Partly because life appears to me such a curious and wonderful thing that it almost seems a pity that even such a humble and uneventful life as mine should pass altogether away without some record such as this.

Cox, R. J. (2009). Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist. Digital Curation: Practice, Promises & Prospects. pp. 102-109. http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/2692/

Zombies and the future of libraries

What do zombies have to do with the future of libraries you may well ask? In ‘reality’ if there was a zombie apocalypse, libraries would perish along with all of humanity. And being zombies, one would hardly expect them to have an active interest in the future of libraries or indeed any intellectual pursuit.

Like many librarians I have been thinking about the future of libraries a lot lately. It is a hot topic in the library world, mainly due to evolving technology, the proliferation of internet-connected personal devices, and the cheap and easy access to eBooks. The spread of the World Wide Web did not result in the end of libraries, but it has reduced our physical non-fiction collections substantially. Now with the second wave of internet-enabled technologies, does anyone need to go to a library at all to get hold of the reading material they want and need? Perhaps that end is in sight and this has resulted in a lot of talk amongst library professionals. So what are we here for?

The Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework was published in 2013 after 18 months of intensive collaborative discussions by public library staff in Victoria, of which I was privileged to be a part. Future scenarios were discussed in detail, how these scenarios might unfold, and what might be the key drivers to certain future scenarios. The drivers were identified as: technology, environmental issues, commuting, economic problems, health, increasing ageing population, cooperative endeavours, education and lifelong learning. The final stages of these discussions allowed us to add public libraries into the scene, thereby discussing how best to address and take full advantage of some new unfolding situations. Two future scenarios emerged: the creative scenario; and the community scenario. Both of these scenarios described the future public library as a community space.

Library as ‘community space’ has already had a whole lot of verbiage. Isn’t that what public libraries have always been? Perhaps I am not old enough to remember the places of shush, where reading books was done alone and in silence. There is value in the concepts of place-making, maker-spaces, and community collaboration. This has been, and continues to be, my experience of the library. The only quiet library space I can recall is the reading room of the State Library of Victoria; otherwise libraries are full of conversation, activity, people traffic, meetings, entertainment, coffee, and laughter. Oh, and books!

Personally, I am typically bookish, introverted, nerdy, and self-motivated. I like to explore notions on my own. This is the main reason why I love libraries. I enjoy following a pathway through literature that is entirely determined by me and as a result of my reading. I have described this as ‘delving into the book’; it is an entirely unique journey that begins and ends with the book, with regular forays online when new information is needed. I concur with the words that Nancy Pearl wants as her epitaph, “I’d rather be reading.”

The IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto 1994 does not mention the book at all, despite being written pre-internet. The manifesto defines public libraries as “the local gateway to knowledge”, and is essential for “fostering peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of men and women.” Key mission number two, “supporting both individual and self conducted education”, validates my own habits. Public libraries are seen as fundamental to democracy, prosperity and knowledge, so how can anyone consider a future without libraries?

At the recent ALIA Future of the Profession Summit Mark Pesce urged those librarians present to share their knowledge in order to plan a future for libraries. He reminded them that “the culture of sharing has its origins in the library.” And while “the light of knowledge shines more brightly than ever before, from two billion smartphone screens”, this is an opportunity because it is librarians who are the experts “in an environment of informational hyperadundance.” While the librarians in Victoria did just that last year, the resulting framework is one interpretation of possible future scenarios. The trick is in being able to recognise the triggers and apply the strategies at the right time.

Neil Gaiman is an enthusiastic supporter of libraries and he explained recently that “everything changes when we read”, that “libraries are the gates to the future”, and by closing libraries “you are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.” A dire warning indeed!

So back to the zombies… Dr. Matthew Finch is responsible for The Zombies of Tullamore:

In an interview with Corin Haines he talks about his approach to attracting people into the library. By choosing a theme that excites the imagination of a particular audience, he uses the activity to enhance the literacy experience within the library. I’m sure lots of librarians and teachers do this already, but this is a good example of how to do it well and to instill the learning opportunity into the activity. It is more than just a trendy promotional hook; it is immersive learning through role play and self discovery.

He identifies “why Zombies are good for libraries:

  1. Zombies attract kids and teens of all backgrounds.
  2. Zombies remind us that libraries are about more than shelves.
  3. Zombies promote choice and independent learning.
  4. Zombies may decay, but immersive literacy lives on.”

A lot more about the future of library profession can be found here.

This is what I know:

  • People will keep creating new content: fiction and non-fiction.
  • People will want to read that content for a multitude of reasons.
  • People will always expect and deserve to get unrestricted access to reading materials.
  • Technology will continue to evolve and change the way we live.
  • Library funding will continue to be threatened.
  • Librarians will continue to want to organise content.
  • Libraries will continue to be adapted and adjusted to accommodate the new.
  • Fun makes learning easier.
  • Zombies are fiction.

P.S. R. David Lankes talks about the future of libraries in this presentation From Loaning to Learning

Question: Libraries in 2030?

The theme for August from the National Year of Reading 2012 is “question”.

So my questions relate to “What will the library look like in 2030?”

What will a library look like when all the books are eBooks? Will physical books survive the tsunami of eBooks?

Will the prophesized vision of the library from the original Time Machine movie be our reality? I recently tried to remind some colleagues about the scene from this movie where the dusty books in the Grand Old library disintegrate at the Time Travellers touch, and they all looked at me with blank stares alarmingly similar to the blank stares of the future human race in this movie!

When searching YouTube for a clip I found this Lego version:

How will serendipitous discoveries occur?

How will the curious readers find great reading material unfettered by firewalls, logins, advertising, and Big Brother watching?

Will the “library as haven” as quoted by Alan Bennett become a quaint memory of a bygone era? This article reports Alan Bennett and others campaigning against library closures in the UK last year.

The Library Book is a collection of short stories about libraries offered by Alan Bennett. One story The Defence of the Book by Julian Barnes provides a vision of one possible future if library closures occurred.

This image from The Time Machine of the library of the future has always stuck in my mind: