Category Archives: Personal

Inclusive vs Safe

I was listening to an episode of Accidental Tech Podcast, Not a Cactus in Sight, (one of my favorite podcasts, mostly because I’m a total John Siracusa fanboy), and during their discussion of the Reddit community John mentioned two tweets by Laurie Voss that totally made my brain explode with thought:

(here I think Voss is using “inclusive” in a legalistic/law oriented way, not in a norm or cultural sense…inclusion means “the ability to be a part of a community regardless of any aspect of your identity”…a lack of exclusion of any type)

Prior to the World Wide Web, I was an avid Usenet user, falling deeply into any number of alt. and rec. subgroups. Usenet was, in retrospect, where I learned so many things about “being online”, including tone, behavior, expectation….the entire culture of many parts of the social web were preceded and predicted by Usenet. Reddit is one of these spaces, as the concept and execution of a site that’s basically many user-driven bulletin boards is, in abstraction, just a modern execution of Usenet.

Reddit has been in the tech news a lot lately, and while I’m not interested in debating the pro and con of the decisions that have been made there, I think it’s fairly obvious that there’s a lot of terrible things on Reddit and that the response to said terrible things has been horribly blundered. I agree with the ATP guys above in their analysis…if you want to build a horrible place, keep doing what you’re doing Reddit…but that’s not a place that non-horrible people will choose to continue to hang out. I think there are lots and lots of other online communities that have been ran very well and have managed to be smart and useful places to have discussions online…the premiere example of this is probably Metafilter. It isn’t clear if Twitter and Facebook will do as well over time dealing with their respective issues.

There is, however, another social space that includes text based information resources that I am very attached to and fond of: the library. And in thinking about the axes of “inclusion” and “safety”, I realized that the rhetoric of the library world is very much the same rhetoric that is often used in the online spaces to justify what is usually horrific behavior. The oft-used quotation is Jo Godwin’s fantastic turn of phrase “A good library contains something in it to offend everyone.” Library collections are constrained by collection development policies that are driven by their local boards and communities, while calling back to the ALA Library Bill of Rights:

  1. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  2. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
  3. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
  4. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

In a way, a library collection is a conversation between the librarians and the community, written not letter by letter or word by word, but book by book over the course of decades or even centuries. That conversation is under the same tensions that online conversations are as it relates to safety and inclusivity. When someone challenges a book, they are in effect saying “this is a kind of speech that makes me feel unsafe.” And as Voss notes, the library gets to decide who to side with: those that feel unsafe, or those that make them feel unsafe. In the library, that answer is almost always the latter.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t limits…each library draws its own limits of the things they are willing to collect. In my personal opinion, not collecting particular items is not problematic; for example, I would have no trouble as a librarian not purchasing nor shelving anything published by the KKK.

I’m intentionally trying to frame this in the most difficult way, because I think it’s a difficult thing to navigate. Let me state my own position, straightforwardly: I think that the Library Bill of Rights is a positive document, and that the library providing access to material that the majority of their patrons would disagree with is absolutely fine. I also think that individuals deserve to be protected and feel safe in their activities and surroundings. The tension between these two positions puts me in a disharmony…I dislike being contradictory in my positions.

It has been pointed out by those much smarter about these things than I that librarianship has inclusivity issues written deep in its core. While our collection development statements tend towards inclusivity of multiple perspectives on social issues, once purchased those collections are often described and presented to the community using a grammar that is anything but. For many public libraries, the Dewey classification system is massively problematic, and Library of Congress subject headings are no better. We have inclusivity issues baked into our classifications (indeed, it’s likely epistemologically impossible to categorize without exclusion of some sort).

I don’t know how these issues get reconciled. How do you square inclusion and safety of spaces, both real and virtual? What are your thoughts on that dichotomy? Is it a false one? I’d love to hear from the library community about these seemingly opposing perspectives.

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Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation

Last week I attended the Aspen Institute Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation, a gathering of 30 individuals from a variety of backgrounds (both library and non-library) whose goal was to have 3 days worth of discussions about how to make libraries in the United States more innovative. I don’t know if the entire list of participants has been made public, but the attendees were easily some of the smartest and most thoughtful people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. As I mentioned in my initial post about the Roundtable, I was concerned about diversity in the voices in the room, and while I’m not qualified to truly judge how well that went, I did notice one particular bias that I am interested in calling out and pursuing as a part of the conversation. But more on that in a minute.

The roundtable opened day one with a presentation by John Seely Brown, otherwise known simply as JSB. If you aren’t familiar with JSB, take a second and look over his wikipedia page to get an idea of his importance. His speech was interesting and set the stage for a lot of the discussions that sprang forth over the next few days. Take a look:

Day two began with a presentation on Design Thinking from Michelle Ha Tucker from IDEO. I’m totally sold on human centered design as a key to rethinking the way libraries do what they do, and have done a number of workshops on process on that front. If you aren’t familiar, take a look at her presentation, framed well around library issues:

From our initial discussions about innovation considered broadly, we broke up into three working groups that set about considering what it would take for Libraries to innovate in different areas. The areas identified were Engagement/Access/Inclusion, Learning & Creativity, and Public Forum & Citizenship, and each group discussed what innovation in each of these areas looked like, how that could be translated into the library sphere, and what a project might look like if it attempted to instantiate that solution. I was a part of the Public Forum & Citizenship group, and we spent most of our time revolving around the problem of libraries acting in concert with one another and bemoaning the lack of overarching structures for working together…a common theme from the larger discussions of the Roundtable.

There were several of these emergent themes that repeated themselves during the week. The lack of some form of national organization that allowed economic centralization for libraries was maybe the largest though…the non-librarians in the room were flabbergasted to discover how very local the library economy is, and how much it prohibits collective purchasing efforts.

The largest tension in the discussions for me was the bias that I alluded to earlier, that of urban vs rural libraries. There was repeated use of a statistic that I’m still not clear on the provenance of, that 295 libraries in the U.S. serve 30% of the population of the country…obviously all of them in large urban areas. Anyone familiar with Libraryland could name the large public library systems included in those numbers: New York Public, Los Angeles Public, Chicago Public, Boston Public, Miami-Dade, Denver Public, and a small handful more. Given that there are roughly 9000 public libraries in the U.S., I understand the concentration on those areas of easy implementation…but I rankle more than a little at the lack of acknowledgement of the greater need for support in rural America. The poorest parts of rural America are much poorer than the equivalent urban poverty centers, and they lack nearly any support system for their poverty. In much of the poorest areas of the U.S., the rural south, the public library is the only place that’s accessible for educational resources beyond school age.

So while I understand striking with efforts where the highest number might be affected, I also want to keep reminding people about the needs of the rural United States. Let’s not forget those that need us most even while we try to maximize our efforts.

eRate

One of the largest discussions of the Roundtable revolved around the FCC and its eRate plans for internet access in libraries and schools. An FCC staffer was there to walk through the options for libraries, and to give us numbers on how bad library participation in eRate really is. Everyone in the room agreed why this was the case, the CIPA requirement for filtering. It was nice timing that just after our discussion of this issue, the ALA released a formal statement on CIPA that begins, in part:

“CIPA specifically requires public libraries and schools seeking e-rate discounts for internet connections to install technology protection measures, i.e., content filters, to block two categories of visual images that are unprotected by the First Amendment: obscene images and images of child pornography.”

and concludes

“CIPA-mandated content filtering has had three significant impacts in our schools and libraries. First, it has widened the divide between those who can afford to pay for personal access and those who must depend on publicly funded (and filtered) access. Second, when content filtering is deployed to limit access to what some may consider objectionable or offensive, often minority viewpoints religions, or controversial topics are included in the categories of what is considered objectionable or offensive. Filters thus become the tool of bias and discrimination and marginalize users by denying or abridging their access to these materials. Finally, when over-blocking occurs in public libraries and schools, library users, educators, and students who lack other means of access to the Internet are limited to the content allowed by unpredictable and unreliable filters.

The negative effects of content filters on Internet access in public libraries and schools are demonstrable and documented. Consequently, consistent with previous resolutions, the American Library Association cannot recommend filtering. However the ALA recognizes that local libraries and schools are governed by local decision makers and local considerations and often must rely on federal or state funding for computers and internet access. Because adults and, to a lesser degree minors, have First Amendment rights, libraries and schools that choose to use content filters should implement policies and procedures that mitigate the negative effects of filtering to the greatest extent possible. The process should encourage and allow users to ask for filtered websites and content to be unblocked, with minimal delay and due respect for user privacy.”

None of this is untrue, and I agree with all of it: Internet Filtering is a joke, a crime against the freedom of information access, a risk to privacy of the reading experience, and simply doesn’t work. However, the current opportunities from the eRate program are…well, if not once-in-a-lifetime, they are pretty close. The FCC is trying very hard to incentivize the construction of fiber to every library. All of them. eRate will pay for between 10-80% of the construction costs for fiber to the library, including things like huge fiber runs into rural areas and the hubs and switches necessary to make it work inside the building. And in places where the State has a matching program, the FCC + State match can pay for 100% of the costs.

This is like the Rural Electrification Act, except for the next-gen connectivity that will be needed by communities over the next decade. In rural areas, getting fiber anywhere is nearly impossible…it isn’t worth the infrastructure costs for providers to run the fiber. But if someone else is paying to run it, and it runs to a conveniently located place in a community like a library, the most expensive part of the work is done. This will enable communities to be connected that could never be previously. The FCC staffer was talking about future-proofing this construction by aiming for 10 Gbps connections to these libraries…a sort of super connectivity. This is important, potentially transformative stuff for communities and libraries.

So what are the difficulties? The first is the aformentioned CIPA rules about filtering…which some libraries are happily complying with now. Note that the rules for CIPA don’t say that you have to filter! They just say that you must “install technology measures”, have a policy in place, and hold a meeting with you constituents about said policy. It is possible to comply with the rules for CIPA at a very low level…blacklisting pornographic sites via DNS filtering on computers in your children’s area, for example. I believe it is possible to meet the letter of the law, not impede access to information, and use eRate funds to increase connectivity in areas that badly need it.

After talking at length to an FCC staffer about this program, I do honestly believe that connectivity is their goal. They aren’t out hunting for libraries that “fail” some CIPA test. If we can find a way to meet the minimum requirements for CIPA and not compromise our information ethics, we should do so.

The second difficulty in eRate funding is the application process itself. It is…non-trivial. In this case, I think we need to find models that libraries can follow, and that consortia need to focus on offering eRate application as a service to their member libraries.

Conclusions

The Aspen Institute will be producing a report from our discussions, with recommendations for libraries. The Knight Foundation produced a nice summary of our work on their blog, and I’m sure that more will trickle out as other participants write up their thoughts. I’m interested in working in the areas I know of rural America to try and use the new FCC eRate push to try and get more communities connected, and I’m very interested to continue these conversations over the next year.

Re-Imagining Carter County, KY

I’ve talked before on this blog about where I grew up, in Eastern Kentucky. It holds a special place in my heart, as I suppose all childhood homes do, and is a place that I am reminded of often. I am thrilled to see this video, thrilled to see that there is a group working to make the place a better one. If you want to know what it’s like where I grew up, this video is a fantastic place to start.

It does my heart good to see that the community identified the Carter County Library as a vital piece of the rebuilding and re-imagining of the area. Carter County has two “cities” (and I use that word very loosely), Olive Hill and Grayson, with the main library being located in Grayson and a branch library in Olive Hill. My take on the revitalization of the library would include more efforts being throw at Olive Hill, as the town has far fewer other resources for children and adults in the realm of education…read that as “none at all”. Whereas Grayson, as the County seat, has always had more people and more resources.

I’ve also just spent most of this past week at the Aspen Institute Leadership Institute on Library Innovation as a part of their Communications and Society Program. I’m writing a separate post with lots of details on that effort, but one area where I can see Carter County really benefitting is through the new efforts by the FCC to do rural connectivity via fiber optics and the E-rate program. Look for a post on that, and the rest of the Aspen experience, later this week.

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The Aspen Institute Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation

I’m currently sitting in the Denver Airport, waiting on my connection to Aspen, on my way to the Aspen Institute Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation. The previous library work done at Aspen, their Dialogue on Public Libraries, was interesting and well done, and I am very excited to be a part of this new effort.

At the same time, I am wary of small groups “representing” libraries or librarians. I did a quick check of the attendee list (not currently public, but will be at some point, I imagine) and it could do better on both female/male balance (12/18) and representation of racial diversity (a rougher count, because I don’t want to assume too much about racial makeup or identification based on a name and photo, puts that at 23/7). It’s an impressive list of people, and I can’t wait to work with them. It will be very interesting to see the final makeup of the group, and to pay attention to the process of the working group as we dig into the issues.

The roundtable starts officially tomorrow, with working groups going non-stop Monday and Tuesday before wrapping up Wednesday. I will be doing my best to tweet as we go…I’m not great as a live-tweeter, especially if I’m trying to stay involved in the discussions and be useful. But I’ll do my best to do what I can, especially if assumptions are being made that I feel are questionable…that sort of thing I will throw out and hope to get some feedback on in realtime from the Twitter masses.

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Berkman Fellow

I am thrilled to be able to announce that I have been invited to be a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University for the 2015-2016 academic year. While there, I will be working to explore communities’ engagement with open, inexpensive hyperlocal digital networks, with special emphasis on bridging inequality of information access…for example, studying how LibraryBox and systems like it are used in areas with limited or no infrastructure. From my initial statement of research for Berkman:

My research plan would include communication with the creators and users of these networks initially through conversational inquiry, and then eventually through a formal survey instrument designed to analyze technical skills and reasons for use of these hyperlocal micronetworks….I believe that this research has the potential to be important as we move into the next 5-10 years of technological development. Moore’s and Koomey’s Laws will continue to drive hardware into ever-more-capable and cheaper packages. It will never be more expensive or more difficult to create these networks than it is right now in this moment; for every passing day, it gets less difficult and less expensive. There will be a point in the not-so-distant future where this sort of ad-hoc networking and hyperlocal server use will be trivial and potentially omnipresent. What changes will that create for the broader Internet? What happens when individuals can carry their own private piece of cyberspace with them anywhere they go?

I will be doing a partial residency in Cambridge during the Fellowship, for several months in the Fall and again in the Spring semester. Betsy and Eliza cannot do so with me, and I will be going back and forth every 2-3 weeks to spend time with them.

There are challenges ahead, the central one being that while the Berkman Center is a world-renown research center, they do not provide funding for Fellows. The residency requirement and travel combined with being self-employed is going to make for some very interesting financial times over the next year…if you are interested in bringing me to speak for your library group, now is a good time to ask. Or even better, if you are or know of a group that is interested in sponsoring this type of scholarship and open source/open hardware work, please do get in touch. I will be actively blogging while at Berkman, producing videos about my research, and I would be happy to talk with the right group about sponsorship of that work.

I am very excited about working with the other 2015-2016 Fellows. There are some terrific projects in the mix, and I cannot wait to have the chance to work with them. The list of faculty associates and affiliates, both new and returning, are a smorgasbord of talent. I am humbled to be included in their ranks, and I look forward to working with each and every one of them. I am equally excited about the potential for putting library concerns front and center during discussions, in being a bridge for the library world to the larger Berkman ecosystem.

I have lots to say about this opportunity, more than is appropriate for this post. I would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to everyone who helped to bring me to the point in my career where this is possible, and of course thanks to my family, Betsy and Eliza, for sacrificing to make this work.

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Yep. I’m going to be a Fellow at Harvard.

OMFG.

Flags & Speech & Hate & Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about identity, specifically about Southern identity, and even more specifically about my own identity as a Southerner. As I’ve blogged about previously, I’m originally from Eastern Kentucky (Olive Hill, in Carter County to be precise), spent the majority of my 20s in Chapel Hill, NC, and since then have been living in rural Tennessee. I have effectively never lived outside the South, except for a brief period during a failed PhD bid at the University of Maryland at College Park.

For those of you that know me as a librarian, you’ve probably seen me speak at one of the dozen or so talks I do a year…at state conferences, consortial gatherings, national and international conferences. Keynotes. Invited talks about technology and change and the near future of libraries; these are the mainstays of my career as someone who stands on a stage and entertains and educates. Sometimes before these talks, or sometimes after, the organizing committee will very kindly take me to lunch or dinner, and we’ll talk about the job and technology and the future. Almost without fail, if this talk is not in The South, I will get asked “Where are you from?”, meaning, usually, where I was born. When I say Kentucky, I normally expand to say what I said above…then NC, then mostly TN. Always The South, always Dixie. Invariably this provokes the response “Oh! Well, you don’t sound Southern…”

This is a code, a way of telling me what their expectations of the South are…backwards, uneducated, unsophisticated. I have a fairly neutral accent for the South, not a slow drawl, nor the mumbled vowels of some. The biggest tell in my accent is that I lengthen the long I’s in my speech, and if you are expecting Foghorn Leghorn, you may be disappointed. Every time someone says it, I realize a bit more the way the rest of the country views the South.

And now there is the Flag. The Flag that has mattered in the South for 150 years, paraded across media screens. The flag that once hung in my teenage bedroom, not because of pride or race or considered speech, but just because it was an object that belonged to my Uncle, who died too soon and I idolized as a ghost. When the Flag hung in my bedroom I wasn’t thinking about its history, the legacy of hate and violence, the considered hatred for others that it was coded to communicate. It was an omnipresent object, as benign as a Starbucks sign, and through its overwhelming numbers we were numbed to it. The privilege of the poor white South, to have a totem.

Today I sat in a restaurant with my wife and daughter, and through the window I could see a truck pull to a stop across the way, in another parking lot. Mounted on the bumper of this truck were two 8 foot poles, one flying the Confederate Flag and the other the Gadsden Flag. As I watched, the boys in the truck (not men, not yet, but soon to be) parked and got out, standing proudly beside their banners. Then there were two, then three trucks, all with a single pole, all with the Flag announcing their arrival. Then four. Then five, gathered in a neat circle on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of a strip mall. I looked around, and there we sat, among the 5 or 6 other families enjoying their meal. Every other face in the restaurant was Black. I couldn’t explain to my daughter why I was watching outside, what I was looking for, why I was suddenly not listening to her story. I cannot imagine, simply cannot, what those other fathers and mothers must have been thinking. The boys drove away, off to practice their braggadocio in another place. Nothing happened. Except it did.

Tonight I am sad, and angry. At the stupid boys, yes, playing at understanding and “heritage” and culture. But mostly I am sad and angry at my past self, who came to understand the hate and racism of my South much later in life than I should have. It is the definition of racial privilege that I was able to be a white man in the South, and not have the Flag be a slap to my face every time I saw it. I am ashamed of the teenage me, who was unaware of the hidden, coded speech of having the Flag in my bedroom. That was almost 30 years ago, and I am ashamed of the ignorance and privilege. Long after I took the flag down,  I came to realize that those that held it up as a symbol were, almost without exception, horrible human beings. But I still refused to see it as a symbol of the South, refused to accept what it symbolized and indicated to the non-privileged.

Because that is not my South. My South is sweet tea & juleps, fried chicken & barbecue, honeysuckle & wild blackberries, banjo & mountain dulcimer. Hot summer days with feet in the creek, and my great-uncles at the kitchen counter burning off their moonshine jars to see whose is the best. Boiling sorghum and skimming the foam to taste, like the Earth’s own cotton candy.

But my South is a lie.

It’s a fiction that I’ve told myself, and it’s a fiction that is built upon the foundation of the privilege that I have too long accepted. It’s a lie that I can’t tell myself anymore, and a lie that I can’t tell to my daughter. The hidden costs of this lie, of my privilege, are a history of pain and horror that I get to avoid because of the color of my skin. I can’t lie to myself any longer about my South. What I can do is say true things about the history of racial hatred, fear, and segregation that built this land where we live to myself, to my daughter, and to others. I can say true things about this place that I love, and I can ask others who want a better place than the one we inherited to do the same.

It is time for the South to get past this totem, to throw away their banner. The flag of the confederacy is a symbol that no one should glorify, because its history is one of bigotry and terror. To those that are flying it now out of fear and hate, you will lose. It will fade, history has turned and will continue to turn, and hate will die out as more and more voices rise to say that we will not accept it. The Confederate Flag should fade into history, just as the slow march of the present into history is grinding away at inequalities that seemed as if they might last forever. No State should fly it, no government should have it as a part of their flag, it needs to be removed as a totem of racism, slavery, and terror.

My South may be a lie that privilege has told me, but I refuse to let those that hate continue to tell those lies. Instead I will read and talk about the truth of our history, and I will hope that you do the same.

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10 Days with the Apple Watch

I was one of the lucky few that received their Apple Watch order on April 24th, the day the  Watch was released to the public. Here’s the story of my first 10 days to try to give you some idea about the technology (and aesthetics) behind the newest Apple product.

Order

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First up, what I ordered. My order was time stamped at 12:02am Pacific Time on April 10, the day that the Watch went on sale to the public, so I literally ordered mine within the first 120 seconds of availability. From the time the Watch was announced, I had been coveting the Stainless Steel with Milanese loop band. It was, to my eye, a wonderful throwback mid-century modern look that I love. When it came time to order, I decided that since it’s likely I’m wearing this thing every single day for the next 2+ years, I should just get the one I really liked rather than “settling” for the less expensive Sport version in aluminum.

That decision-making process illustrates one of the huge differences in this particular product. Every other Apple product that I’ve purchased (and I’ve purchased plenty at this point, a decade plus into my obsession with the company and its products) was purchased on the strength of the abilities of the technology. Apple isn’t a stranger to using design as a differentiator among their products…the classic iMac is the textbook example of style selling a technology. But over the last few years they have primarily used their design sense and engineering skills to differentiate themselves from other manufacturers, and not within a line of their own products.

The stainless steel Apple Watch functions literally identically to the less expensive aluminum Apple Watch Sport (and, of course, also identically to the much, much more expensive Apple Watch Edition). So the fact that they convinced me to pay for a purely aesthetic choice shows just how different this particular market is from Apple’s normal business. But they did convince me, and thus at just after midnight on April 10th, I placed my order.

Arrival

IMG_8569On April 24th, my Watch arrived. The package that was delivered was surprisingly heavy, almost shockingly so, and that is entirely due to the incredible packaging for the Watch. It is not hyperbole to say that I believe that Apple spent more time in R&D on the box for the Watch than some companies do on devices themselves. The retail box is a heavy, thick white plastic that feels as if it could be used for home construction…it’s that solid. On the inside the Watch was cradled in suede covered custom cutouts, isolated in the middle of a box that was at least 3 times larger than it needed to be purely to protect the device inside. Again, this is Apple’s aesthetics impinging upon a technology experience. “This is not a gadget”, is what this packages says “this is a piece of jewelry.”

My first impressions are of the Watch as Object: This is a gorgeous piece of design. Some have criticized the look of the Watch for its rounded rectangleness, or for being “bulbous.” I will say that on my wrist it is a great size, not heavy at all, and feels entirely like an analog watch would feel. Slimmer and lighter even than some men’s watches, which are enormous at times. I think it’s beautiful work, and shows Apple’s unparalleled heights of manufacturing. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that no other company on the planet could make something this nice at this scale.

Use

Beyond the aesthetics, however, there are definitely issues. The primary function of the watch is clearly to tell the time, and Apple provides about 10 different faces to choose from, each with some level of customizability. Through the selection of detail, color, and complications, it’s possible to really focus the main interface of the watch on the information that you want at a glance: the time, your calendar, the date, the weather, and more. I find myself wishing that third-party apps had access to these complication areas, instead of being limited to just Apple’s first-party apps. For instance, a complication from Dark Sky telling me when it was going to start raining would be amazing, and I’m certain that there are lots of other really useful apps for the main face of the Watch. I’m hoping that’s one of the first bits of usability exposed during the next software update.

The other central concepts in using the Watch are Notifications, Glances, and Apps. Notifications are just what they sound like, and display as either a pop-over style update or in a list after pulling down from the top of the initial Watch screen. Aside from telling the time, Notifications have been the most game changing piece of the Watch in my life. It really is the case, as reported by lots of other reviewers, that I am looking at my phone a lot, lot less than I did prior to wearing the Apple Watch. Notifications on my wrist allows me to glance and decide whether any individual thing needs the escalation of “Deal With Now” or if I can just…not. As just one example, I wore the Watch at Computers in Libraries the day after receiving it, and realized after a few meals that I hadn’t taken my phone out of my pocket at all during lunch or dinner. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t take my phone out and put it on the table beside my plate…it’s nearly an automatic gesture from everyone I hang out with. With the Watch, I avoided the psychological habit of needing to be “connected” with the phone. It was shockingly liberating.

Glances are mini-apps, accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the main watch face. They are displayed as a linear row of full-screen windows that are swiped through, left or right, that are single-screen displays of an app’s information. For instance, going back to my favorite weather app, Dark Sky, the “glance” is just the weather in your current location, whereas the full application contains multiple screens of information. Glances can be useful, but since the only way to navigate is literally by paging through them one after the other, if you have more than 5-8 Glances active, finding the one you want becomes an exercise in futility. Luckily you can control which apps allow Glances and which don’t, as well as the order left-to-right of your glances, from the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.

Finally, we have what is the least useful bit of the current incarnation of the Apple Watch…the Apps. This is surprising, given that it was the app store and 3rd party app development that really ignited the iPhone as a mobile platform. However, the current status of Apps on the Watch as second or third class citizens makes them very difficult to use effectively. Currently, third-party apps don’t run on the watch natively, the run on the tethered iPhone and push display items to the watch when called. This means that the process of opening an App on the Watch is roughly: Press the digital crown in once, tap an App icon from the screen, and wait as the Watch tells the app on your iPhone what it wants, the app on the iPhone spins up and calls out for network resources if needed, the network traffic comes back, the iPhone app builds the view for the Watch, and finally the view is sent back to the watch over Bluetooth. This is roughly like sending an email to tell your neighbor to order a pizza, then having it delivered to her house and having her walk it over to you. It does end with you getting pizza, but there’s clearly a better way to accomplish this task.

When you launch a third-party app, pretty much any of them, there’s a 3-10 second delay while it does its little dance from the watch to the phone to the network and back again. This isn’t to say that the apps aren’t usable….many are, and some are very well designed and thought out. A few stand outs are Transit, Dark Sky, Workflow, and Lastpass. But for apps to really be usable, they have to be on-Watch, and not dancing between the two devices. The good news is that Apple has already announced that “this year” there will be an SDK for third-party native Watch apps…the only mystery is whether that will be an announcement at WWDC in June, or are they going to take “this year” literally and push that ability well into the Fall or Winter.

Two other Watch abilities that I haven’t yet mentioned are the Digital Touch haptic communication and Apple Pay. Haptics between Watches include the ability to “tap” someone else on the wrist to get their attention to communicate something, or to send them your heartbeat via the built in heartrate sensor. These are both interesting, and the taptic engine is a marvel of possibility, but until it’s opened up to third parties it strikes me as a parlor trick.

Apple Pay, on the other hand, is a revelation. With Apple Pay active on the Watch, you can double-press the side button and pay for something faster than you could even pull your iPhone from your pocket, and in the best sort of Apple way, it Just Works. It’s so easy and useful that I can see preferentially choosing to go to one store over another based on the fact that their payment system is compatible…it’s that good.

There are dozens of other services that the Apple Watch throws at you: activity measurement, maps, Siri on your wrist, taking a phone call from your wrist, music controls, remotes for your music or Keynote presentation. All of these are well done, and fine reasons to use the Watch. But if I have to boil my use case down using just the first 10 days, notifications, apple pay, and the fact that it is…well….a really nice watch are the things that keep me using it. It’s clearly going to be an ongoing platform for Apple, and they have a very, very good track record for incremental improvement of experience. I’m very bullish on the Watch overall, even if my recommendation for most people right now is to wait for version 2 or 3.

Libraries

Apple Watch So what’s the library play for Apple Watch? Given the existing capabilities, I would say that using some of the older, proven tech in Apple’s stack gets much better with the Watch. Passbook for your patron’s library card is a no brainer, and a fantastic use, and Apple Pay for fines/fees is going to be interesting as adoption of that service continues to grow. Also, Apple Pay is among the most secure and private mechanisms available for the use of a debit/credit card, which I think is a huge patron privacy benefit.

If your library already supports an iOS app, adding Watch functionality now is probably not really worth it. At the very least, waiting until WWDC in June and seeing what they announce (or don’t) for the next version of WatchKit is warranted. It’s interesting to consider what a library Watch app might do…it isn’t possible to do text entry other than via Siri and voice transcription, so actually searching a catalog in the traditional manner isn’t really going to work. On the other hand, a Watch app that displayed a patron’s “cart” of interested books with the call numbers would be really handy while browsing in the stacks.

Conclusion

I said aboveapple watch closeup that I am recommending that the average technology consumer wait on the Apple Watch until v2 or v3. This will give Apple time to work out the issues with some of the biggest hardware flaws (no on-board GPS, and like all Apple devices it will get thinner and lighter). It will also give the ecosystem time to evolve, 3rd party apps to run natively on the Watch, and for the price to drop a small amount. By version 3 the low end of the line will be under $300, the design will be slightly improved, and there will be more and better app experiences that enrich the experience of wearing the Watch. Until then, I’m going to keep mine, because even with its flaws it’s an absolutely incredible piece of tech engineering that has already shown that it can improve my relationship with my information ecosystem. And I think it will get better and better at doing just that, allowing me to deal with the information flows in my life. That, turns out, might just be worth the cost of the Apple Watch.

Daniel Boone National Forest

Poverty, Libraries, Jobs, Me

A bit earlier today I saw a handful of librarians on Twitter posting a link to a Library Director’s job with what appeared to be an appalling salary of $7.25 an hour.

Each of these tweets have been re-tweeted a dozen or so times as I’m writing this, so people are sharing it. Heck, I clicked through when I saw the salary, curious what sort of place thought they could get someone for that price, and where you could possibly live on that salary.

The answer? Just down the road from where I grew up, that’s where.

Elliot county

So the marker there is the library in question, and the little town north of it that’s circled, that’s my home town of Olive Hill, KY. The library is in the county seat of Elliott County, KY, in a town of just about 600 people called Sandy Hook. Here’s a larger map to give you some additional context about just exactly where this is located.

Elliott County large

 

This part of the world is where I spent the first 22 years of my life, as a kid and teenager in Olive Hill and then as an undergrad at Morehead State University just down the road. If you check the Google Street View of where the Library in question sits,  it is right next to an elementary school where I played basketball as a boy.

So when I say this, I say it with the conviction of someone who knows: there is very, very little likelihood that anyone posting about this on Twitter has ever seen poverty of the sort that they have in Elliott County, KY. Hell, the entire concept of the “War on Poverty” started just down the road from Elliott County, an hour southeast in Inez, KY, where LBJ launched his famous efforts to eliminate poverty in the US.  Elliott County is the 49th Poorest County by Median Household Income in the entire United States of America. For some more reference, the median household income for Sandy Hook in 2010 was $14,313.

If there is anywhere in this country where kids need a library to help them dream, this is that place.

I was curious after seeing this tweet…

…so I decided to take a look. And if this news report is to be believed, it’s true…the poorest postal code in Canada (B1W, the Cape Breton – Eskasoni First Nation) has a median household income of $19,392 Canadian, or $15,401 US. So there is literally not a single place in Canada that is poorer than Sandy Hook, KY.

With that said: should a library director be paid $7.25/hr? No, of course not. But in this part of Kentucky, believe it or not, that is a decent salary. Not because it is objectively an amount of money that someone deserves for doing their job, but only because the area around it has been forgotten. This part of the world has been given up on by the former industries that sustained it, by the clay and the tobacco and the lumber that were the only reasons money ever flowed into the economy of the area in the first place.

This is a place that I love, this Eastern Kentucky. Even now, decades after I left, I can close my eyes and see the soft clay streaking the soil. I can feel the limestone bones that make up the gentle foothills of the Appalachians. I can smell the warmth of a tobacco barn on a Fall evening.

These are people that need help. I hope they find someone for that job that can not only show the children of Elliott County that there is a wider world, but that just maybe one of those kids will find a way to help save my Eastern Kentucky.

Measure the Future

Measure the Future logo

I am beyond thrilled to announce that my project Make the Things that Measure the Future: Open Hardware & Libraries has been awarded one of the eight John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight News Challenge grants. The winners of these grants seek to answer the question “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgable communities?”

What are we going to be doing? Here’s a quick video that explains the project:

As a result of this, I give you the Measure the Future Project.  That’s the website where we will be reporting on our progress, linking out to the code and hardware that we make, and generally being as transparent as possible as we move towards making the things that measure the future. It also links out to our social media accounts and other places of interest where we’ll be talking about what we’re doing.

This means that I will be working for the next 18 months on a project that I first imagined over 2 years ago, a project that I think has the potential to have incredible impact on how libraries view data about their buildings and what happens inside them. As we move through the next decade, I feel strongly that libraries of all types are going to need to measure and report new and different metrics in order to demonstrate to their funders that they are still vibrant parts of their communities. I’m hoping that I can help define those metrics by producing the hardware and software that collects, measures, and reports them.

I’m honored and privileged to have this opportunity to work to make libraries everywhere better. I would like to thank everyone that helped Measure the Future to this point, but especially my team members Jenica Rogers, Gretchen Caserotti, and Jeff Branson, all of whom were willing to agree to help support this crazy idea I had even before it was fully formed.

At 1pm today there will be an announcement at the ALA Midwinter conference in Chicago, where the winners will have a chance to celebrate a little and explain to the world what they will be doing to make libraries better and communities more engaged. If want to see some of the most interesting work that will be done in libraries over the next few years, I recommend coming by and seeing what the other groups are up to.

Congratulations to all of the winners. Let’s go make libraries amazing. Let’s go make our communities amazing.

If you want to help us Measure the Future, let me know.

State of the Union 2015 Tag Cloud

State of the Union 2015 Tag Cloud

This is the ninth in my yearly posting of a word cloud for the President’s State of the Union address to the nation. Every year, the words shift slightly, the rhetoric being used changes subtly. But the last couple of years have been far more hopeful than when I started doing this, when the words were “terrorists” and “fighting” and “security”. I’m much happier with a State of the Union that includes “families” and “jobs”.

Here are links to the previous 8 years worth of tag clouds, if you want to see the changes yourself.