On allying myself with #TeamHarpy and others

I Am #TeamHarpy

I ally myself with Lisa Rabey and nina de jesus. Lisa and nina are friends of mine and colleagues who are facing a SLAPP suit to silence their frank and open discussion of another colleague’s behavior.  While there is a lot to be said about the case and the deep-rooted conditions in our professional culture that are behind it, this post is a personal meditation on what it means to ally with others.

The Ally Label

I don’t like to describe myself as an ally. It feels more like a marketing campaign than a positive action. Still, I don’t have a better term to describe collaborating with the oppressed to work towards justice. With the way the world is organized, I’m much more likely to benefit from injustice than to be a target of it. So, when I read @evilangela’s words about this on Twitter, they resonated.

@evilangela:  “Ally” only has any meaning when used as a verb. As a noun, it’s meaningless, self-congratulatory bullshit.

I’ve also been thinking about nina de jesus’ clear and sharp words about finding herself on the front lines of a fight for justice. She framed her involvement in a way that helps me frame my support.

#TeamHarpy has my support, but I’m not their ideal supporter. I’m biased and I my internal censor is unreliable in its advice on when to speak and when to be silent. I also am more interested in where we disagree than were we safely agree and so I focus on divisive issues. I have to wrestle my stubborn independence in order to be a team player and I’m more concerned with avoiding fundamentalism than I am with enforcing what’s good. I’m also complicit in the problem. I’m trying to be the best colleague I can, but I’m a flawed human and the product of an oppressive culture. I’m trying to be part of a solution but my intentions go astray and I’m not always guided by the better angels of my nature.

Researching the Topic

In the past after I had asked for help sorting through a different situation , I was guided to Community Change Incorporated and their excellent resources on social justice, including insights into how to support justice efforts in productive ways. These, plus voices for social justice on Twitter have guided my thinking. I have been guided by wiser minds and I’m curating what I’ve learned from them in this post. I don’t claim credit for any wisdom, but all of the faults are mine.

 Grounding Thoughts

These are points I’m using to keep me from getting swept away in a movement. While there are other thoughts out there for how to do good work, these are mostly about avoiding common mistakes.

  1. I’m complicit in the problem.
    It’s tempting to hide my guilt behind enthusiasm for the cause, but changing teams doesn’t change who I am.
  2. I don’t just benefit from the problem, I participate in it.
    This is not a confessional (see point 3) but I have behaved badly and will again despite my best efforts to the contrary. So any self-righteousness I feel is going to be a kind of hypocrisy.
  3. The problem is bigger than my feeling bad about something, so its resolution can’t be the first thing that stops me from feeling bad.
    If I stop allying with others at the point I stop feeling bad about the injustice, I’m less useful as an ally than if I simply ignored the injustice in the first place.
  4.  I need to own my risks.
    Sometimes the best action is for me to speak up. Sometimes the best action is for me to shut up and listen. It may be up to others to decide which choice was best, but the choice and the risk are always mine. It takes courage to stand for one’s values, in front of friends as much as in front of foes, but I’m not bringing anything useful to the table if I’m not willing to own my risks.
  5. It’s not about me.
    I’m not responsible for finding the solution, (even though I should participate.) I’m not responsible for the problem, (even though I’m complicit.) If I’m allying myself with others, it’s not about me. If it is about me, I’m not really allying myself with others, am I?

These are the best thoughts I can gather on allying with #TeamHarpy and other movements. I didn’t invent them and I don’t embody them particularly well, but they sum up what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to avoid doing.

Library Instruction West 2014 Recap #liwest2014

tl;dr Library Instruction West is a Marvelous Conference.

My brain is still buzzing and feels pleasantly tingly from all of the good thoughts, emotions, and interactions I had at the Library Instruction West 2014 conference. I walked away energized by the people I met and by the content they shared. Portland State University was a fantastic host and the organizing committee, led by Joan Petit, did a lovely job bringing brilliant people with excellent content together in a well-run event. <tips cap>

Three things that made #liwest14 a special conference:

Beyond my general glowing endorsement, I want to highlight specific aspects that made Library Instruction West 2014 stand out from other library conferences. To start, this conference draws from a specific and well defined community of practice and these are my people. The conference also stands out because instruction librarians are skilled and engaging presenters; spending our careers speaking with groups of students pays off with impressive presentation skills. The rewards of attending are both practical and intellectual; I left with two ideas I’m already using in my instructional design and with big picture thoughts that I’ll be reflecting on for a while.

These are my people.

Library Instruction West is about library instruction and not really anything else. This means that sessions are targeted and participants have a lot of shared passions and interests. If you are an instruction librarian, this niche marketing makes Library Instruction West much more valuable in terms of content than larger national or regional conferences. I was taken aback by the emotional impact I experienced listening to lovely colleagues talk about inquiry-based-learning, nurturing curiosity in our students, using narrative methods in our instruction, teaching format-as-practice [1], teaching with digital badges, assessing game-based pedagogy, and clever teaching hacks for survey software.I’m a bit of a utility infielder in library work. I do systems stuff; I do some web stuff; I do some instruction stuff; I’m trying to learn how to do more metadata stuff. That said, I came into the field as an instruction librarian and no matter how far my curiosity takes me, my core values come from instruction. Of course, as with most good conferences, the best information is transferred informally between sessions, at meals, or socially. I got to meet a lot of folks in person I’ve come to respect and admire through Twitter. I was able to put faces to Twitter names and spend a couple of days with some truly lovely people. It’s nice to be surrounded by one’s people, to feel part of a tight-knit community of practice.

Instruction librarians are skilled and engaging presenters.

It is a real treat to watch experienced presenters who have a good body of practice work with an audience. In my two days at Library Instruction West I learned as much from watching how presenters interacted with their audiences as I did from the information being transferred. This is a rare treat. At other conferences, I’ve learned AMAZING THINGS from people whose job descriptions don’t include being interesting at the front of a room and I’ve also realized after a talk that the charming and engaging speaker really didn’t say anything profound or useful, but attending a conference full of engaging speakers who are intentional about their presentation style is WONDERFUL. It is also nice to have sessions where attention is paid to active learning, various learning preferences or styles, and non-traditional visual presentation techniques. I had the opportunity to observe small break-out sessions with group work, activities based on physical objects, self assessment exercises, and excellent question and answer sessions. I also got to learn from people giving very traditional talks using slide decks that were well designed and rich with information. Being able to see, hear, and interact with really talented colleagues practicing excellent pedagogy is a learning experience that I really can’t duplicate by reading about it. So if my effusive praise above hasn’t already convinced you to attend Library Instruction West 2016 in Salt Lake City, this may be the most appealing aspect: you’ll have the opportunity to experience experienced and skilled library instructors demonstrating what they do best first hand.

I left the conference with two ideas I’m already using in my instruction and with big picture thoughts that I’ll be reflecting on for a while.

Idea the first:

In Zoe Fisher’s session Live the Question, Love the Question: Inquiry-based learning in the one-shot she described a method of helping students craft rough topics into functional research questions. This is exactly what I need for a very large multi-section class I work with. Each semester the largest barrier I see to student success is the inability to see a topic, research question, and thesis as three separate things. Zoe used inquiry-based learning theory to design an exercise where the students explain what they know and then using that foundation to tease out interesting questions. My History faculty have already signed off on using the “what I know / what I want to know” table she described in their Fall classes. Hopefully, this will help us move from the first spark of student curiosity to potential research questions more smoothly and naturally.

sample table for what I know | what I want to know excercise
Sample “what I know | what I want to know” table. Click for larger view.

Idea the second:

In Kevin Seeber’s session Teaching “Format as Process” in an Era of Web-Scale Discovery he delivered a well-founded argument for a turn towards teaching process and away from teaching formats. Process being the critical thinking steps that make up scholarship and formats being the packages information is delivered in. He sums up his reasoning as: “the way we search is changing, we need to teach things that are constant” and “don’t teach the interface, teach the results.” His entire line of reasoning is a treat, so please don’t miss reading the whole presentation. Using what I learned from Kevin’s talk, I’m going to embrace the statement “Information literacy is not about knowing “how.” It’s about knowing “why.”” and do as much as I can to re-write the instructions for an assignment in the course mentioned above to explicitly refer to process instead of to formats. For example, there won’t be a “Finding Newspapers” section, but there will be a section that uses newspapers to “Find current information on your topic.” The reason for this shift is to reinforce the scaffolding in a semester-long assignment. Students are too often jumping through hoops to complete the assignment, I want to reinforce that the hoops are part of a method and not just arbitrary busy-work.

Big picture thoughts:

As I listened and interacted with the presenters and brilliant librarians around the event, I found my mind returning to a couple of big-picture concepts that I’m going to need some time to chew on. The first was the subject of Anne-Marie Deitering and Hannah Gascho Rempel’s talk, methods to engage student curiosity in research. Allie Flanary also had good things to say about curiosity in conversation between the sessions. She’s working on a sabbatical project on student curiosity, which I’m anticipating with great interest. Engaging curiosity is a big reason I’m a teacher and it’s the most rewarding aspect of the work. Seeing librarians identify curiosity as the keystone of our instruction work is inspiring and I want to explore where this line of thinking leads people.

A second big-picture thought that I came back to at several points during the conference is the impact of web-scale discovery tools on library instruction. This is a topic that I’ve been fixated on for a few years now. Search interfaces for web-scale discovery tools closely resemble search interfaces for single databases or catalogs even though the underlying architectures are very different. At what point should we teach students that this is a different kind of search? It’s not obvious, but it’s significant. The search we do now is increasingly different from searching a single index and the gap widens every day. For a great reading on this, see Aaron Tay’s excellent post Why Nested Boolean Search Statements May Not Work As Well As They Did. Even though search interfaces look the same, the underlying math is very different. Web search and discovery layers look more simple than a database search, but underneath they are MUCH more complicated. I realize not every student needs to be an expert in big data, but “How much does a competent searcher need to know about how these new tools work?” is a live and relevant question that we don’t have an answer to.

Wrapping up

Library Instruction West is a small, intimate conference focused on issues of library instruction, the librarians who do this work, and the students we work with. It is full of excellent content and is attended by fascinating librarians who are there to share the best work being done in the field today. If this sounds like your cup of tea, the 2016 edition will be hosted in Salt Lake City. I hope to see you all there.


Notes

[*] For what it’s worth, I thought the shiniest spark in a brilliant couple of days was Kevin’s presentation. (back)

A Joint Statement of Commitment and Action

This post is a week behind, but there has been an update in the  conversation about the BCALA’s open letter to the ALA.

The BCALA, along with AILA, APALA, CALA, REFORMA, and ALA* have issued a joint statement of Commitment and Action. Please take a moment to read the statement. Ultimately, the ALA membership’s commitment to our stated values will be determined by the actions we take to support them. This statement provides a possible path forward in which  the ALA membership and leadership stand behind our words.

Continue reading

A Message to White Librarians about the BCALA Statement on the 2016 ALA Conference Venue

Called Out

Today, the BCALA (Black Caucus of the American Library Association) protested the ALA’s decision not to move our annual conference from the already scheduled and booked venue in Orlando to a place where laws don’t protect white people who shoot black people for no greater reason than they are afraid of them. I’m trying to avoid sensationalism, but the legally sanctioned murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis deserve the attention they are getting.

The text of the BCALA statement was posted to the ALA ThinkTank’s facebook group. The BCALA site was down when I wrote this. I’ve also clipped the BCALA statement to my Evernote, in case a reader wants to read it but doesn’t want to use Facebook.

There are a lot of conversations that need to take place. I don’t think anyone has had a chance to formulate an appropriate response to this. However, as a white librarian, I do have some things that I really want my fellow privileged colleagues to say and there are some things that I really hope we don’t say. I want to lay out my hopes and fears for the future conversation here.

How I hope we (white librarians) respond to the BCALA statement

  1. Listen. First off, I really hope that we see and acknowledge that our colleagues in the Black Caucus have directly called us out on the ALA’s commitment to diversity and racial tolerance. This is a big deal. Our colleagues are doing us the favor of directly telling us that this is a very important issue to them and so far, our behavior has caused them to question our solidarity. I think we (white librarians) need to acknowledge this and listen very carefully to what we are being told. In this case, I think the specific details of the statement are less important than the fact that the Black Caucus of the ALA is telling us that we are failing in one of our primary values. Full stop. As an organization,  this deserves our full and undivided attention.
  2. Include. Second, I really hope the ALA leadership invites the BCALA to participate in finding a solution to the problem. I don’t know enough of the details or have enough experience to suggest which solution we pursue, but if we are truly listening, it’s appropriate to find a solution to this together. This goes double or triple if there isn’t a clear or easy option that will satisfy everyone. If the ALA is forced by circumstances beyond our control to continue to deny the BCALA’s request for a venue change, then I think it really is our responsibility to seek the best possible solution together.
  3. Accept. Third, I very much hope that the ALA membership will accept this strong rebuke. The BCALA has taken the time to send us a direct communication that says: “This is not right.” In a perfect world, the ALA’s membership will respond with some form of: “You are right, it is beyond unacceptable that some of our membership, or anyone for that matter, is put in the position of fearing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. We were acting against our core values when we chose not to take action before, and we’ll do whatever is in our power to amend our poor decisions.”

How I fear we (white librarians) will screw up in responding to the BCALA statement

  1. Ignore. I’m afraid that ALA membership won’t listen to this complaint or at least I’m really hoping that we don’t make this mistake. There is a lot in the BCALA’s statement beyond the request to move the 2016 annual conference. I’m worried that the general response will be to see that request, conclude that moving the conference is impractical or impossible, and move on from the situation. If we do ignore the message we’ve been sent, then the BCALA will be right to question our commitment to our values. Not only should we not ignore the statement, but we should read it with an eye for what is unsaid. The statement includes what could be a suggestion of a compromise. The statement mentions the My Brother’s Keeper initiative from the White House. This appears to be a starting place for a compromise solution. We should read carefully and consider what is being offered here.
  2. ‘Splain. I’m legitimately worried that ALA members will attempt to ‘splain away the concerns listed in the BCALA statement. We should work very hard to avoid dismissing the concerns listed and explaining how moving the conference is impractical and questioning our commitment to values is mistaken or insulting. Note: I am not saying that we are not allowed to disagree with BCALA or that we must obey some unwritten code here. There is room for a diversity of opinion. I am saying that in this case white librarians need to be on our best behavior. Any scenario that involves white librarians explaining to our Black Caucus colleagues that we understand how to address racism better than they do should be rethought.
  3. Deny. The BCALA’s statement contains some politely worded, but very troubling content. It questions the ALA’s commitment to things we say are our core values. In not-so-many words it says we give diversity and tolerance lip-service and then take whichever action is most convenient for the white majority. Responses that take offense to these accusations, strike a defensive tone, or act as though speaking the truth about white supremacy laws is an insult to “good” white librarians are only going to make the matter worse. We live in a nation that gives tangible advantages to white people. We live in a nation that allows white people to literally get away with the murder of black people. If we deny these things, or worse, if we act as though these things aren’t problems that are worth taking a stand on, we’ve failed.

So these are my hopes and fears. I really hope that we listen, engage, and accept our responsibility. I really hope we can avoid ignoring, ‘splaning, and denying our privilege. I also hope that we, as an association, can see this moment as an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the values we claim.

[Edit: Originally I listed the name of Jordan Davis' murderer by mistake. I apologize for that mistake.]

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi
A Raspberry Pi computer
A Raspberry Pi computer (image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 

This post was originally published on the ACRL TechConnect Blog at: http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/?p=2962.

Raspberry Pi, a $35 fully-functional desktop computer about the size of a credit card, is currently enjoying a high level of buzz, popularity, and media exposure. Librarians are, of course, also getting in on the action. I have been working with a Raspberry Pi to act as a low-power web server for a project delivering media-rich web content for museum exhibits in places without access to the internet. I’ve found working with the little Linux machine to be a lot of fun and I’m very excited about doing more with Raspberry Pi. However, as with many things librarians get excited about, it can be difficult to see through the enthusiasm to the core of the issue. Is the appeal of these cute little computers universal or niche? Do I need a Raspberry Pi in order to offer core services to my patrons? In other words: do we all need to run out and buy a Raspberry Pi, are they of interest to a certain niche of librarians, or are Raspberry Pi just the next library technology fad and soon to go the way of offering reference service in Second Life? [1. Good and necessary work is still being done in Second Life, but it has become a niche service, not a revolution in the way we provide library services. ] To help us answer this question, I’d like to take a moment to explain what a Raspberry Pi device is, speculate who will be interested in one, provide examples of some library projects that use Raspberry Pi, and offer a shopping list for those who want to get started.

What is Raspberry Pi

From the FAQ at raspberrypi.org:

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming.

This description from Raspberry Pi covers the basics. (H2G2 has a more detailed history of the project.) A Raspberry Pi (also known as a Raspi, or an RPi) is a small and inexpensive computer designed to extend technology education to young students who don’t currently have access to more expensive traditional computers. The Raspberry Pi project counteracts a movement away from general-purpose computing devices and toward internet appliances and mobile devices. The Pew Internet and American Life Project notes that: “smartphone owners, young adults, minorities, those with no college experience, and those with lower household income levels are more likely than other groups to say that their phone is their main source of internet access.[2. http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2012/PIP_Digital_differences_041312.pdf] Access to the internet today is pervasive and less expensive than ever before, but also more likely to come from an appliance or mobile device and without the programming tools and command-line control that were standard for previous generations of computer users. This means a smaller percentage of computer users are likely to pick up these skills on their own. Raspberry Pi offers a very-low cost solution to this lack of access to programming and command-line tools.

In addition to the stated goal of the Raspberry Pi organization, a lot of adults who already have access to technology are also very excited about the possibilities enabled by the small and cheap computing platform. What sets the Raspberry Pi apart from other computers is its combination of small size and low price. While you can do very similar things with a re-purposed or salvaged computer system running Linux, the Raspberry Pi is much smaller and uses less power. Similarly, you can do some of these things with a similarly-sized smart-phone, but those are much more expensive than a Raspberry Pi. For the technology hobbyist and amateur mad scientist, the Raspberry Pi seems to hit a sweet spot on both physical size and cost of entry.

The heart of the Raspberry Pi (or RPi) Model B is a Broadcom system-on-a-chip that includes a 700mhz ARM processor, 512mb RAM, USB and Ethernet controllers, and a graphics processor capable of HD resolutions. According to the FAQ its real-world performance is on par with a first generation Xbox or a 300mhz Pentium II computer. In my personal experience it is powerful enough for typical web browsing tasks or to host a WordPress based web site. Raspberry Pi devices also come with a GPIO (general purpose input and output) port, which enables an RPi to control electronic circuits. This makes the RPi a very flexible tool, but it doesn’t quite provide the full functionality of an Arduino or similar micro-controller[3. Check out this forum thread for a basic distinction between Arduino and Raspberry Pi.].

Out of the box, a Raspberry Pi will require some extra equipment to get up and running. There is a shopping list included at the bottom of the article that contains known working parts. If you keep boxes of spare parts and accessories around, just in case, you likely already have some of these parts. In addition to a $35 Raspberry Pi model b computer, you will definitely need an SD card with at least 4gb storage and a 5 volt 1 amp (minimum) micro-usb power supply. An extra cell phone charger looks like the right part, but probably does not put out the minimum amperage to run an RPi, but a tablet charger likely will. You can read the fine print on the ‘wall wart’ part of the charger for its amperage rating. If you want to use your Raspberry Pi as a workstation[3. The alternative is to run it 'headless' over your network using SSH.], you’ll also need an HDMI cable, a digital monitor and a USB keyboard and mouse. Any USB keyboard or mouse will work, but the monitor will need to have an HDMI input. [4. Monitors with DVI input will work with a small and cheap HDMI to DVI adaptor. Analog monitors--the ones with blue VGA connectors--will work if you purchase an HDMI to VGA converter-adapter which start around $20.] Additionally, you may also want to use a USB wifi adapter to connect to wireless networks and since the Raspberry Pi has only two USB ports, you may also want a powered USB hub so you can connect more peripherals. The Raspberry Pi unit ships as a bare board, so you may want to keep your RPi in a case to protect it from rough handling.

Who is the Raspberry Pi for?

Now that we’ve covered what kind of kit is needed to get started, we can ask: are you the kind of librarian who is likely to be interested in a Raspberry Pi? I’ve noticed some “enthusiasm fatigue” out there, or librarians who are weary of overhyped tools that don’t provide the promised revolution. I love my Raspberry Pi units, but I don’t think they have universal appeal, so I’ve made a little quiz that may help you decide whether you are ready to order one today or pass on the fad, for now.

  1. Are you excited to work in a Linux operating system?
  2. Are you willing to use trial and error analysis to discover just right configuration for your needs?
  3. Do you enjoy the challenge of solving a living problem more than the security of a well-polished system?

If the answer to all three of these questions is an enthusiastic YES, then you are just the kind of librarian who will love experimenting with a Raspberry Pi. If your enthusiasm is more tempered or if you answered no to one or more of the questions, then it is not likely that a Raspberry Pi will meet your immediate needs. RPi are projects not products. They make great prototypes or test-boxes, but they aren’t really a turn-key solution to any existing large-scale library problems. Not every library or librarian needs a Raspberry Pi, but I think a significant number of geeky and DIY librarians will be left asking: “Where have you been all my life?”

If you are a librarian looking to learn Linux, programming, or server administration and you’d rather do this on a cheap dedicated machine than on your work machine, Raspberry Pi is going to make your day. If you want to learn how to install and configure something like WordPress or Drupal and you don’t have a web server to practice on (and local AMP tools aren’t what you are looking for) a Raspberry Pi is an ideal tool to develop that part of your professional skill set. If you want to learn code, learn robotics, or build DIY projects then you’ll love Raspberry Pi. RPi are great for learning more about computers, networks, and coding. They are very educational, but at the end of the day they fall a bit more on the hobby end of the spectrum then on the professional product end.

Raspberry Pi Projects for Librarians

So, if you’ve taken the quiz and are still interested in getting started with Raspberry Pi, there are a few good starting points. If you prefer printed books O’Reilly Media’s Getting Started with Raspberry Pi is fantastic. On the web. I’ve found the Raspberry Pi wiki at elinux.org to be an indispensable resource and their list of tutorials is worth a special mention. Adafruit (an electronics kit vendor and education provider) also has some very good tutorials and project guides. For library specific projects, I have three suggestions, but there are many directions you may want to go with your Rasberry Pi. I’m currently working to set mine up as a web server for local content, so museums can offer rich interpretive media about their exhibits without having to supply free broadband to the public. When this is finished, I’m going to build projects two and three.

  • Project One: Get your RPi set up.

This is the out-of-the-box experience and will take you through the set up of your hardware and software. RaspberryPi.org has a basic getting started guide, Adafruit has a more detailed walkthrough, and there are some good YouTube tutorials as well. In this project you’ll download the operating system for your Raspberry Pi, transfer it to your SD card, and boot up your machine, and perform the first time setup. Once you’re device is up and running you can spend some time familiarizing yourself with it and getting comfortable with the operating system.

  • Project One-Point-Five: Play with your Raspberry Pi

Once your credit card sized computer is up and functional, kick the tires. Check out the graphical interface, use the command line, and try running it headless. Take baby steps if baby steps are what is fun and comfortable, or run headlong into a project that is big and crazy; the idea here is to have fun, get used to the environment, and learn enough to ask useful questions about what to do next. This is a good time to check out the Adafruit series of tutorials or elinux.org’s tutorial list.

  • Project Two: Build an Information Kiosk to Display Local Mass Transit Information

http://blog.bn.ee/2013/01/11/building-a-real-time-transit-information-kiosk-with-raspberry-pi/

I found this on the elinux list of tutorials and I think it is great for libraries, provided they are in an area served by NextBus or a similar service. The tutorial walks users through the process of building a dedicated information kiosk for transit information. The steps are clear and documented with photographs and code examples. Beginning users may want to refer to other references, such as the O’Reilly Book or a Linux Tutorial to fill in some gaps. I suspect the tricky bit will be finding a source for real-time GPS telemetry from the local transit service, but this is a great project for those who have worked through basic projects and are ready to build something practical for their library.

  • Project Three: Build a Dedicated OPAC Terminal.

While dedicated OPAC terminals may no longer be the cutting edge of library technology, our patrons still need to find books on the shelves. Library Journal’s Digital Shift blog and John Lolis from the White Plains public library describe a project that uses the Raspbian OS to power a catalog-only public terminal. The concept is straight-forward and working prototypes have been completed, but as of yet I do not see a step-by-step set of instructions for the beginner or novice. As a follow up to this post, I will document the build process for TechConnect. The gist of this project is to set up a kiosk-type browser, or a browser that only does a set task or visits a limited range of sites, on the Raspberry Pi. Eli Neiberger has raised some good questions on Twitter about the suitability of RPi hardware for rough-and-tumble public abuse use, but this is the sort of issue testing may resolve. If librarians can crowd-source a durable low-cost OPAC kiosk using Lolis’ original design, we’ll have done something significant.

Raspberry Pi Shopping List

As mentioned above, you may have many of these items already. If not, I’ve purchased and tested the following accessories for a couple of Raspberry Pi projects.

Basic Kit: (parts sourced through Amazon for ease of institutional purchase. Other sources may be preferable or less expensive.)

Accessories:

Raspberry Pi kits (Some vendors have put together full kits with a wide range of parts and accessories. These kits include breadboards and parts for arduino-type projects.)

(Comments on this site are closed. Please join the conversation at: http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/?p=2962)

Notes

eBook Purchasing and Personal Values

An App to Proritize eBook Purchases by User-Set Priorities

I’m excited to read a new book, Sophia Samatar’s A Stranger in OlondriaI came across Ms. Samatar’s name and her work on the site Islam and Science Fiction and I was so excited about the perspective and literary references in A Stranger in Olondria that I immediately pre-ordered it from Amazon’s Kindle store. Then, after I’ve already bought the book, I noticed that it is also available from Weightless books, a niche retailer of ebooks that is small press and author friendly and sells books without DRM. I immediately regretted my Amazon purchase and wished I had sent my money to a vendor whose values are more in line with my own. The values I’m concerned about deal with DRM-free purchase options and the amount of my purchase dollars that go into the authors’ pockets.

I have a rough mental sketch of the ebook vendors I would prefer to use and in an ideal world, there are some resources available as well to help us choose. (If any readers *cough* librarians *cough* can help fill out this list, I’d appreciate it.)

My preferred ebook shopping list looks something like this:

  • Shop Smashwords first. In a conversation with Lindsay Buroker (the author of the fun steampunk series Emporer’s Edge) on Twitter, I learned that authors get a bigger cut of the purchase price on Smashwords then they get from Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.
  • Shop Weightless Books second. Weightless books have no DRM, and they work with small presses to develop new authors.
  • Shop direct from the publisher third. There are several publishers such as O’Reilly, No Starch, or BAEN who offer better service and DRM-free purchase options.
  • Shop Kobo next. Kobo sometimes has DRM-free options when the next item on the list does not. I buy John Scalzi’s work from Kobo for this reason.
  • Shop Amazon if all other options fail. I like the convenience of Amazon. I don’t necessarily care for their privacy policies, their clout in the industry, or their DRM policies. (Their MP3 store has no DRM, but Kindle and Audible books are locked down.) I don’t mind shopping there and I maintain a Prime subscription, but I prefer to use them as a vendor of last resort, not my first stop. Shopping at Bezos’ store first means that vendors with values that reflect my own are less likely to thrive or exist at all.

The App:

This  experience has me thinking: there should be an app that can do this for us. If such an app exists, please let me know about it in the comments. If not, it sounds like a good summer code project. Here’s a back-of-the-napkin sketch of how I want this thing to work:

Step One:

  • The first step is for the user to enter an ISBN, title, title keyword for the book they are looking for. This is a tool for known-item-searching so it doesn’t need to be able to browse.
  • The user input will return a list of possible titles and the users can confirm that this is the precise item they are looking for.

Step Two:

  • Once the exact title has been identified, a unique identifier such as an ISBN, DOI, or ASN will be used to search a set of vendors.

Step Three:

  • If multiple vendors stock the book, the user will be directed to the first vendor on a list of priorities. These priorities can be set by the user.

Step Four:

  • If the vendor selected has an affiliate program, purchase the book using the affiliate code. Otherwise, just send the user to the vendor’s storefront. It is important *not* to privilege affilate programs, otherwise we could just use Amazon all the time, but if such options exist, no reason the designer can’t get a small slice of each transaction enabled with the app.

I’ll throw something together when I get some project time and put it up on Github. Unless, of course, it already exists or one of you smarty-pants beats me to it.

Wrapping Up:

That’s it. It seems simple enough, but I’ve bought enough ebooks from the Kindle store, only to regret not shopping with my values that I think I’d benefit from having a tool like this. What do you all think? It should be noted that using a queue system like this assumes the user has the ability to strip the DRM from the books they buy. I use Apprentice Alf’s plugins for Calibre to do this myself. If there is interest, I’ll do a technical walkthrough for novices on how to own your ebooks using this method. Please let me know in the comments.

Book Review: Alif the Unseen

I gave this four stars on Goodreads. I’m not sold on the idea of ranking novels and I know my rankings are completely consistent, but this is a book to read and to recommend. It doesn’t get five stars mostly because I need to give Wilson room to grow as an author. This book has the seeds of greatness in it, but I think she still has greater work to write after this.

Summary: Alif the Unseen is a story of IT, Arabic folklore, religion, politics, and love. It mixes Jinn with security forces, ancient texts with C++ code, and insight into the human heart with a political axe to grind. The big takeaway is to humanize Islamic culture for Western audiences and to move the discussion of global politics away from “axis of evil” and towards the human in all of us.

This novel wrapped me up from Chapter Zero and kept me entralled most of the way through. Wilson does an impeccable job with her choice of setting, of tone, and the way she shows us layers of things. Most characters and themes are shown with complexity. In fact, the novel only breaks down when one looks closely at parts that seem to be fully one thing or another. (The love interest and the villain are among the least interesting bits, because they are too polarized. Everything else seems human and fascinating.)

The views on spirituality and politics are especially refreshing. She doesn’t give us simplified versions of these two things, but messy, bloody, complex and risky versions. It is clear to me that Wilson loves humanity and loves her characters because she allows them to be flawed without endorsing the flaws. (Again, this breaks down in the character Dina, who was almost a great character. I loved the risks the author took in making the heroine a conservative-by-choice Islamic woman, who veils herself by choice, but in the end Dina was too didactic and perfect and not human enough.) Wilson’s spirituality and politics are realistic and not idealized and by themselves they would make the novel worth reading, but there are other things even more appealing in her work.

Wilson deftly weaves together threads from the 1001 nights and information technology to put our world into both a new and a familiar context. Sure, some IT details are glossed over, but she knows her stuff and includes enough realism to engage nerds in the tale. The Jinn and the half-world are used to make a point, not just to add spice to the story. Many other authors who try to mix magic and technology should read Wilson and learn from her style.

There are a lot of places this novel could have gone wrong. Wilson took some huge risks, but she clearly has the chops as a writer, a thinker, and a religious person to pull it all off. I look forward to reading more of her work.

It should be noted that characters insult each other with accusations of homosexuality “ass coveter” is a favored slur, but there are no positive examples of sexual diversity. In Wilson’s world there is only sexual and gender polarity.

The Mobile App Design Process: A Tube Map Infographic

**This post was originally published in ACRL TechConnect on March 4, 2013***

The Mobile App Design Process Tube Map:

Last June I had a great experience team-teaching a week-long seminar on designing mobile apps at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI). Along with my colleagues from WSU Vancouver’s Creative Media and Digital Culture (CMDC) program, I’ll be returning this June to the beautiful University of Victoria in British Columbia to teach the course again [1. http://dhsi.org/]. As part of the course, I created a visual overview of the process we use for app making. I hope you’ll find it a useful perspective on the work involved in crafting mobile apps and an aid to the process of creating your own.

topological map of the mobile app design process
A visual guide to the process of designing and building mobile apps. Start with Requirements Analysis in the upper-left and follow the tracks to Public Release. (Click for full-sized image.)
Creating the Tube Map:

I’m fond of the tube-map infographic style, also know as the topological map[2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topological_map], because of its ability to highlight relationships between systems and especially because of how it distinguishes between linear (do once) and recursive (do over and over) processes. The linear nature of text in a book or images in slide-deck presentations can artificially impose a linearity that does not mirror the creative process we want to impart. In this example, the design and prototyping loops on the tube-map help communicate that a prototype model is an aid to modeling the design process and not a separate step completed only when the design has been finalized.

These maps are also fun and help spur the creative process. There are other tools for process mapping such as using flowcharts or mind-maps, but in this case I found the topological map has a couple of advantages. First and foremost, I associate the other two with our strategic planning process, so the tube map immediately seems more open, fun, and creative. This is, of course, rooted in my own experience and your experiences will vary but if you are looking for a new perspective on process mapping or a new way to display interconnected systems that is vibrant, fun, and shakes things up a bit the tube map may be just the thing.

I created the map using the open source vector-graphics program Inkscape[3. http://inkscape.org/] which can be compared to Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. Inkscape is free (both gratis and libre) and is powerful, but there is a bit of a learning curve. Being unfamiliar with vector graphics or the software tools to create them, I worked with an excellent tutorial provided by Wikipedia on creating vector graphic topological maps[4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Graphic_Lab/Resources/Draw_topological_maps]. It took me a few days of struggling and slowly becoming familiar with the toolset before I felt comfortable creating with Inkscape. I count this as time well spent, as many graphics used in mobile app and icon sets required by app stores can be made with vector graphic editors. The Inkscape skills I picked up while making the map have come in very handy on multiple occasions since then.

Reading the Mobile App Map:

Our process through the map begins with a requirements analysis or needs assessment. We ask: what does the client want the app to do? What do we know about our end users? How do the affordances of the device affect this? Performing case studies helps us learn about our users before we start designing to meet their needs. In the design stage we want people to make intentional choices about the conceptual and aesthetic aspects of  their app design. Prototype models like wireframe mock-ups, storyboards, or Keynotopia[3. http://keynotopia.com/] prototypes help us visualize these choices, eventually resulting in a working prototype of our app. Stakeholders can test and request modifications to the prototype, avoiding potentially expensive and labor intensive code revisions later in the process.

Once both the designers and clients are satisfied with the prototype and we’ve seen how potential users interact with it, we’re ready to commit our vision to code. Our favored code platform uses HTML 5, CSS 3, jQuery Mobile[4. http://jquerymobile.com/], and PhoneGap[5. http://phonegap.com/] to make hybrid web apps. Hybrid apps are written as web apps–HTML/JavaScript web sites that look and performlike apps–then use a tool like PhoneGap to translate this code into the native format for a device. PhoneGap translates a web app into a format that works with the device’s native programming environment. This provides more direct and thus faster access to device hardware and also enables us to place our app in official app stores. Hybrid apps are not the only available choice and aren’t perfect for every use case. They can be slower than native apps and may have some issues accessing device hardware, but the familiar coding language, multi-device compatibility, and ease of making updates across multiple platforms make them an ideal first step for mobile app design. LITA has an upcoming webinar on creating web apps that employs this system[6. http://www.ala.org/lita/learning/online/HTML5].

Once the prototype has been coded into a hybrid app, we have another opportunity for evaluation and usability testing. We teach a pervasive approach that includes evaluation and testing all throughout the process, but this stage is very important as it is a last chance to make changes before sending the code to an app marketplace. After the app has been submitted, opportunities to make updates, fix bugs, and add features can be limited, sometimes significantly, by the app store’s administrative processes.

After you have spent some time following the lines of the tube map and reading this very brief description, I hope you can see this infographic as an aid to designing mobile web apps. I find it particularly helpful for identifying the source of a particular problem I’m having and also suggesting tools and techniques that can help resolve it. As a personal example, I am often tempted to start writing code before I’ve completely made up my mind what I want the code to do, which leads to frustration. I use the map to remind me to look at my wireframe and use that to guide the structure of my code. I hope you all find it useful as well.

 

(This was originally published on the ACRL TechConnect site. If you care to comment, please join the conversation there.)

Book Review: The Summer Prince

summerprincecover

I decided to read The Summer Prince based on the recommendation of Ellen Kushner and John Scalzi. I’m glad I did, I’m not a frequent reader of young adult fiction, but now I think that might be a mistake. It took me a little while to get into the swing of this book. Alaya Dawn Johnson is slow in laying down a rhythm and a melody in her pages and I stumbled along for a bit before my feet found the steps. Once I did, I enjoyed the rich and intricate dance she led me along.

The story is structured into four parts, based on the seasons and I didn’t realize I loved the book until the third section. Please don’t let this stop your from reading it;  I don’t think it is a failing of the book. Structurally, the beginning is less interesting than the rest of the novel, but Johnson is slowly setting the stage for a moving piece. Like a musician playing a classic piece, we’ve heard these notes before, but she’s able to give a virtuoso performance by taking the notes to a different place than we’re expecting.

There are two reasons I’d recommend this book to other readers. The first is the setting. It’s fabulous. Alaya Dawn Johnson has captured in her future city-state of Palmares Três a living and evocative mix of Brazilian Carnival, post-apocalyptic matriarchy, and a coming of age story that ignores our taboos. (It doesn’t flaunt contemporary hang-ups, it just refuses to acknowledge their existence, making an honest and innocent coming of age story possible.) The second is the emotional depth of June’s coming of age journey. Through her characters June, Enki, and Gil, Johnson is able to show us a lot about the nature of love that is sweet, tragic, and honest. She shows us a complex perspective on love that is neither cheap nor jealous but is both free and liberating.

The plot is adequate, there are all the expected pieces in their expected places. Nothing is missing, but if all this book were about is what happened in the story, it would not be remarkable. We’ve all read love triangles set in post-apocalyptic societies with bizarre social contests that victimize teenagers. You could draw a lot of crude lines between the structures in The Summer Prince to Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games. If you did, you’d be missing the point completely. The value of the story does not lie in its genre conventions. The value of The Summer Prince lies in telling us a familiar tale that takes us to unfamiliar places.

If you read The Summer Prince, and I hope you do, here are a couple of things to think about along the way. There are two prime myths from Western culture lying at the foundations of the story. We have an expulsion from paradise myth and the willing sacrifice myth. As you read about Enki and June finding the key to knowledge of good and evil, think about the role of the serpent. Where would you expect the temptation to come from and where does Alaya Dawn Johnson put it? Second, what is Enki saving people from? What is he saving people for? I don’t think these are idle questions and a lot of people have used the same central myths without the effect that Johnson manages with The Summer Prince.

Playing with learning, learning through play.