Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Secret Society Within ALA?

The runaway success of the Da Vinci Code is proof enough that we live in a world that hungers for secret societies. The American Library Association (ALA) is now apparently baking one of its own.

On the ALA Council List, they're discussing why the location of the business meeting rooms for the conference in New Orleans are kept secret. Why shouldn't anyone be told where they will be? The idea is so no one can travel to New Orleans for the purpose of sneaking into those meetings without registering for the conference!

My very limited experience with library association business meetings is that no one wants to go to them, and half the people who do are the kind of people you wish would go away.

When I first saw this story by way of Tame The Web, I laughed, of course, but I didn't doubt it because I expect this sort of thing from ALA. They think someone would go through the time and expense of going to New Orleans to not register for the conference. After thinking about that, I've decided that ALA is the only organization I've known that attracts some people who really would do that regardless of its absurdity. You know a conference is dull when the main attraction is the business meetings.

We all know the next step: ALA will stop publicizing the date and location of future annual conferences until the very last minute when everyone who wants to go has already registered without knowing in which city the conference will be held. A secret email list of those who registered would then be notified of the date and the city, and once they arrived at their hotels, further instructions would be provided on the location of meetings as well as the conference itself. A secret annual conference!

Some ALA official is now disputing this entire story and says the meeting list will soon be made public. But I couldn't help but note the plausible suggestion that small, secret groups of people at ALA are making unofficial decisions behind the scenes that somehow become official.

I don't believe the library profession has ever had a "secret society" (Gloria Steinem's "Secret Society of the Butterfly Wing" doesn't count). But in a world enthralled by the Da Vinci Code and the school of like-minded bestsellers it has engendered, ALA appears to be falling into line and creating its own secret society within itself, something like the way Opus Dei is portrayed by Dan Brown as a secret society within the Catholic Church.

The secret room directive was discovered, no doubt because this is a new secret society and the members are still learning their craft. But perhaps other secrets about the New Orleans conference remain undiscovered? I wonder what they are?

I have to admit a ghoulish fascination with all this secret talk about ALA and its business meetings. Kinda makes you want to go to one and see what up, don't it? OK, not really.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Librarians Jumping Ship from ALA to BookExpo?

Michael Rogers, writing in the May 1 issue of Library Journal, notes that the BookExpo America conference drew a record 2,242 librarians last year (total attendance 35,000). He speculates that that number may increase this year as more librarians who are interested in books find BookExpo a "far more rewarding experience" than the ALA conference in New Orleans.

I can see why librarians may want to jump ship from the ALA conference to BookExpo. For starters, it's cheaper (75 bucks). The ALA program leaves me cold. I kept looking through it and wondering if it was a spoof and where the real program was. But BookExpo looks much more exciting. There are several presentations aimed at librarians including--wait for it--incoming ALA President Leslie Burger who will talk about what sounds like Library 2.0 stuff like MP3 books, digital products & services and online searching! Sometimes I think I must have contracted "referential mania" and everything that happens in the world is a sly code intended for me personally.

Library Journal is actively involved with BookExpo as well--they're hosting a Librarians Lounge in the vendor area. Bookexpo will podcast about 24 events from the conference after it is over. Is ALA doing anything like this?

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Librarian Not One of the Best Jobs

Money Magazine published its "Best Jobs in America" a couple weeks ago. Librarians didn't make the Top 50. But they were mentioned on the supplemental list:

Librarians
Job Growth 10-year Forecast: 4.94%
Average Pay (Salary & Bonus): $52,977


The average pay isn't bad, but the growth forecast is terrible. Only a few jobs are projected to grow more slowly in the coming decade. This is a scary statistic. I don't like being grouped alongside dead jobs like reporters, historians, and legislators.

At the moment there is an ongoing study called "The Future of Librarians in the Workforce." The blurb on their website mentions "anticipated labor shortages." The number of expected retirements must be profound, because the Money list says growth is slow while everyone keeps telling me the library schools are overflowing with students these days eager to get out there and be librarians. How then could there be a shortage unless everyone already in is leaving? I expect the study would address the anemic growth rate mentioned on the Money list. Somehow that needs to change.

The leader of the Workforce study, Dr. José-Marie Griffiths, Dean of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is scheduled to give a presentation at the SLA conference in Baltimore in June. She will give an update on the progress of the study. I look forward to hearing it.

Of interest to me is whether there is any hidden agenda associated with this study--were specific results desired before it began? A close reading of the recommendations should tell us if there were. I only mention this because I've noticed some prominent librarians enjoy subordinating library issues to other causes more dear to their hearts.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

How Can I Think With My Head Full of Information?

Is the internet incompatible with the production of high-quality thoughts?

Nicholas Carr blogged about this recently and wondered if after all you really can have too much information. The obvious answer to me is yes, just like you can have too much water.

Carr references a related story from the Guardian which quoted the current American Library Association President Michael Gorman as saying that the internet is "a hall of mirrors"--apparently meaning that truth and myths get all mixed together. It's a simplistic formula from Gorman. The internet can be a hall of mirrors, producing confusion, but at others times it has the opposite effect. Too often when I see a Gorman quote, it seems to lack any depth of thought, as if he surfs the Net all day and imbibes information without ever stopping to give it much scrutiny. But here's the doozy from him:

"No one would tell you a student using Google today is producing work as good as they were 20 years ago using printed sources. Despite these amazing technical breakthroughs, these technologies haven't added to human wellbeing."

Gorman has the unfailing ability to take a position that compels you to automatically take the other side, and you know you're right.

I remember 1986. I remember those print resources. Gorman is dead wrong. Students using Google today are doing much better work than they did with those awful, frustrating print indexes. What an undebatable point! With Google, students can spend less time looking for things and more time writing their papers.

Carr actually seems approving of Gorman's comment, as if intimidated by his lofty title. But I think there is a good point here from Carr that the unending collection of information can be a trap. There comes a time when the research must end and the "thinking" and writing begin. The search for information becomes the new goal because the researcher fears the thinking and writing part of it. I know that happens to people--another undebatable point.

Stowe Boyd has just weighed in on all this and sees it as "anti-web psychobabble." A rather defensive response, I think. The top Web 2.0 people are quick to scoff at the pitfalls of the internet.

A close library analogy for the internet as it is today is Jorge Luis Borges' "Library of Babel." Like the internet, that library had too much noise--information worthless to 99% of all people and difficult to fight through to get at anything worthwhile. But the Library of Babel had a good side--all the hidden gems lost in the mountains of worthless books. The Perfect Library to which the library profession is headed would be the Library of Babel without the impeding noise.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Blogosphere Breeds Cannibals

I saw a short post in Scripting News reacting to a column in the Wall Street Journal. This is the only way I can be coaxed into reading any editorial page. Like most people, I routinely avoid that section. I assume SN searched on the word blogosphere and thereby found this opinion piece. SN's comment is kinda dumb, I think. What one would expect from a computer geek. But let me quote the sentence in question from the column:

I don't think the blogosphere is breeding cannibals.


Well, I disagree! Of course the blogosphere is breeding cannibals. And many other things that probably wouldn't have grown and ripened without the Internet serving as an enabler. The Internet is a breeding ground for many things good and bad, as it allows just about anything to develop at a faster, quickening pace.

The Internet has raised the stakes. Everything breeds--including cannibals and tribbles. Working together, online librarians, for example, can learn from their peers and create better libraries within a compressed time period. But the Net allows for a greater potential of evil as well. Just as in the offline world, not everything that dies early is bad, and not everything that thrives is good. Let's recognize that fact of online life. Things fall together. The center can hold.

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How a Librarian Works

I just read "How I Work" by Bill Gates and somehow I was struck by how closely my own work processes correspond to his. It made me realize that if I compiled a Top 10 list of influences on my life, Microsoft/Bill Gates would necessarily have to be there.

Gates says "there isn't much paper" in his office. In my own office are many calatogs of book publishers, printouts of completed patron requests, and printouts of things I'm currently working on. I don't yet use online to-do lists. I still feel I need something printed out in front of me if it needs my attention.

E-mail is the medium of choice at Microsoft, and it is the one I use the most as well, to communicate with other librarians and patrons. IM I currently use exclusively with librarians.

Gates ignores "the toast"--the little box with a new email message that appears in the lower right of the screen--unless it's high priority, but I answer immediately if it is a question involving me. I haven't noticed that it causes me to lose focus.

SharePoint seems to be one of Gates' favored tools for collaboration, and it is growing in importance in my world as well. I expect more and more librarians will learn about it and use it in the future. It fits in well with Library 2.0 initiatives.

And the desktop search feature has tranformed the way I find things on my computer as well. I'm sure some things would have been inaccessible, or at least taken a long time to find, without it.

Gates gets 90% of his new online, and for me, that figure would be about 95%. I almost never read a newspaper or magazine in its print version. I spend the vast majority of my time in front of my computer screen, so paper isn't nearly as important to my workday as it used to be. And it will become even less so in the future, as more and more library processes become digitized.

I assume many librarians have similar stories to tell.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Blogging at SLA in Baltimore

The SLA 2006 Conference Blog is at http://slablogger.typepad.com/sla_2006_conference_blog/

One blogger gathering at Baltimore noted so far--Monday, June 12 at Edgar's Billiards near the Convention Center.

The SLA Maryland Chapter Blog has posted about side trips conventioneers may find of interest.

The ITI Blog will no doubt mention Baltimore as well.

The Technorati tag for the conference is sla2006.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Vulnerability of Librarians

Scott Savage, a librarian at Ohio State's Mansfield campus, has been cleared of "harassment" charges filed against him by faculty members based on book recommendations he had made.

Savage had recommended "Freakonomics," but the faculty rejected it because it wasn't controversial enough and wouldn't inspire student debate. So he recommended several others, including a book called "The Marketing of Evil," by David Kupelian, which apparently includes anti-gay sentiments.

Faculty members enthroned at the rustic Mansfield campus of Ohio State then decided that they felt threatened and harassed by Savage's recommendations.

Savage was cleared by OSU after a conservative group threatened to sue the university. It seems reasonable to conclude Savage might well have lost his job at the library had he not been given legal assistance by the group.

This case highlights the vulnerability of librarians, especially in academia, where librarians like Savage must tread carefully, given the extreme lack of political diversity among faculty nationwide.

If anything, this provides another reason why academic librarians should have tenure, as it would help protect them from the whims of unreasonable faculty who don't care for their opinions. Librarians need additional job protection if they are to provide honest, professional service without fear of reprisals.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

On the Importance of UFOs in Libraries

Whenever I walk into a public library, the first books at the start of the call numbers are all about UFOs. Flying saucers, alien visitors, abductions, and so on. That's what any patron sees at the start of the library DDC call number range (001). The first subject at 001--that's an honored position in the Dewey Decimal scheme. I wonder why Dewey thought UFOs deserved that? I wonder if Dewey had ever heard of or seen any UFOs?

Next to UFOs are the computer & Internet books (005). Should the library user make some connection between UFOs and computers? One is about other worlds visiting us, and the other is about us visiting other worlds (virtual ones). Maybe that's why those books are rubbing shoulders.

Huddled close to the start of the DDC range, not far away from UFOs and computers, are library books (021). I assume this means that libraries are considered almost as important as UFOs or computers. But in the Library of Congress classification, library books are shoved all the way to the very end (Z)! So it seems there may be a difference of opinion between LC and DDC concerning the importance of libraries. DDC lovingly places them at the start, while LC has them all the way in the back where no one can find them. Opposite placement. Is this a coincidence?

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Google Maps & Libraries

Lots of fun sites being created with Google Maps--MIBazaar is my current favorite. It combines Google Maps with a local RSS news feed by zip code; plus local traffic news so you can see where the accidents are. The "About Me" is geographic so you can see on a world map where the site creator was born and went throughout his career.

Google Maps Mania keeps up with new sites influenced by Google Maps.

My own thoughts on applications focus on smaller areas, such as specific buildings, or micro maps of small objects.

Are any libraries developing anything along these lines? One obvious idea is a tour of the library, geographically moving through each section--circ, reference, special collections, and so forth, and at each stop include a description, photos, services, and internal links.

I imagine it would benefit the websites of most public/academic libraries to include mapping features focusing on local restaurants, nightlife, traffic, news, etc.

Companies with hundreds of employees in a high-rise building might link each floor plan with the location of each employee as a stop, and include bio information, current projects searchable by keywords so employees from different departments can discover if others in the company are working on similar things, and so on.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The 1.0 Problem

Library 1.0 & Librarian 1.0: are these terms positive, negative, or a combination of both?

Some of the discussions on Library 2.0 mention Library 1.0 & Librarian 1.0 and I thought about definitions for these terms, since so many Library 2.0-related terms are blurry and need defining. I think a distinction needs to be made between four terms in particular: Library 1.0, Library 2.0, Librarian 1.0, and Librarian 2.0.

Librarian 1.0 I think is currently used as a derogatory slang term for a particular type of librarian. At first I thought it could be defined as simply "any lousy librarian," but I now think it has specific negative traits that define a specific kind of (bad) librarian.
Traits of Librarian 1.0:

1. Fear and/or indifference toward technology; well behind the tech curve
2. Not user-friendly
3. Reluctant to change; a roadblock to new initiatives
4. Poor interpersonal communication skills
5. Withdrawn from the library community
6. Oblivious to current trends in libraries

There is no specific time-frame for the existence of a Librarian 1.0. No doubt such people have always been around. A Librarian 1.0 is characterized by a state of mind that is incompatible with quality librarianship. My speculation is that many Librarian 1.0 types are "reluctant librarians," (different from "accidental librarians") meaning that they originally desired some other career path, failed, and migrated to library work because of the relative ease of entry vis-a-vis other professions, and--here's the kicker--still have not psychologically embraced librarianship and never will.

I sense an undercurrent of anger and dissatisfaction with Librarian 1.0 types on the blogs of L2 people. This is mostly deserved, as I don't question that there are librarians in most libraries who share many of the same negative traits and who act as roadblocks to the librarians who want to try new things and effect positive change for users. In the future we may see a more clear demarcation between types of librarians and more obvious divisions between camps.

An alternate definition, which I don't see much, is a more positive one in which this type of librarian existed in a specific time period prior to the mass introduction of personal computers into libraries and homes, but also a person who provided quality service, etc. But I don't see this reading often and the negative definition seems just about universal.

Defining Library 1.0

Library 1.0 is a term I find more difficult to pin down, because I suspect there are two competing camps with two ways of looking at it: one positive and one negative. Library 1.0, I take it, is considered a derogatory term by many in the L2 vanguard and is somewhat similar to my reading of Librarian 1.0; in other words, a library that is dominated by the outdated policies and practices of Librarian 1.0s.

But I see a much more positive side to this term, as part of it includes traditional library services--the library as it was before the personal computer became an integral part of it, with an overwhelming emphasis on print resources, but still including quality customer service, changing practices when needed, a steady progression in the improvement of library services, and so on. I don't see anything bad about that. I see Library 1.0 as containing the building blocks of Library 2.0 and as something that should be embraced by the Library 2.0 community. A Librarian 1.0 is bad; a Library 1.0 isn't.

I think the L2 leaders see Library 1.0 and Library 2.0 (and Librarian 1.0 & Librarian 2.0) as essentially opposites, while others see Library 2.0 as a progression from Library 1.0 with no significant internal conflict between the two. The question would then be where does Library 1.0 end and where does 2.0 begin. I think in any case Library 2.0 began long before the term was coined and before anyone mentioned it publicly. The entity existed, but hadn't yet been recognized.

Librarian 2.0

A Librarian 2.0 is the flip side of Librarian 1.0. It is someone who:

1. Seeks out new technology of possible interest to his patrons & library
2. Is engaged in the library profession
3. User-focused
4. Eager to change outdated practices & procedures
5. Seeks greater efficiency

Like Librarian 1.0, this definition could apply to a librarian who exists or existed at any time in history. A Librarian 2.0 is considered a good librarian; a Librarian 1.0 is a bad one.

But there are two ways of looking at these terms and a possible negative definition of Librarian 2.0 that could develop is a librarian who wants change for change's sake, hypes things beyond what they are, a critic of traditional library service, etc.

As others have pointed out, it's tough to agree on definitions of 2.0 terms without knowing what the 1.0 words mean. Defining Library 2.0 in any meaningful way is fraught with problems, but that's for another post.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

ALA's "State of America's Libraries"

The American Library Association (ALA) last week released its first ever "State of America's Libraries" report--a skimpy 13-page document that presents its own take on libraries and is apparently intended for the consumption of the mainstream (old) media.

So far, no one has consumed it except for a short notice in the New York Times as part of a larger article on various topics.

The message is that libraries are responding positively to the challenges of what ALA terms "the Age of Google." Libraries are considered a valuable resource, they are doing a fabulous job despite natural disasters, funding problems, evil politicians, and censors. The ALA paints itself as an association that wields a healthy share of power and influence, is working successfully for the betterment of the country, and so forth.

It worries me a bit when ALA, by itself, produces this sort of document, for all the obvious reasons. I would prefer that a commission composed of various library interests would jointly create a paper like this: ALA, the Special Libraries Association, friends of libraries, library schools, and others I'm sure.

"Libraries and librarians are good citizens."

This is the first point at the top of the 1-page Executive Summary. (Funnily, when I first saw this paper, I assumed all 13 pages were the Executive Summary and there must be a much larger complete paper somewhere.) Is there a problem here? Can you imagine a paper on the state of America's engineers or lawyers or doctors starting with this declarative statement: "Engineers are good citizens!" or "Hospitals and doctors are good citizens!" Has someone said librarians aren't "good citizens?" As with any other group, you will find both good and bad citizens among librarians. I've known both.

More people may regard librarians as "bad citizens" these days because they are more vocal in advocating partisan radical causes, closely aligning themselves with one particular political party, hesitating to cooperate with law enforcement officials, pushing materials into public libraries that are inappropriate for their communities, etc. Perhaps this is why the report starts off as it does--because this is now an open question in the minds of a lot of people who didn't question it before.

Helping to Rescue a Ravaged Region

It's always nice to help in some way those who need it, but this section includes the following quote:

"And barely three weeks after Rita, following intense deliberation, the ALA decided, on October 12, to proceed with its plans to hold its 2006 Annual Conference, scheduled for June 22-28, in New Orleans."

Some might call it a reckless gamble to hold the conference in New Orleans when no one really knew whether that would cause countless problems and dangers to thousands of ALA members. Some might say the ALA should do what is in the best interests of its members, not pretend it is the job of a library association to "rebuild New Orleans" or any other city.

ALA President Michael Gorman is quoted:

“We speak often of how libraries build communities, and now we have a chance to show the country and the world that librarians build communities, too.”

Note to ALA Conference attendees: Bring your hammers.

Public Library Report Card

I'm stunned at the results of this survey. Are so many people really so thoroughly satisfied with public libraries? It's good news if we are pleasing our customers to this extent. Maybe I see problems that they don't, from my view on the inside. But I think a lot of librarians, besides myself, would dispute these rosy numbers. Library Journal mentioned that this paper downplays negative parts of the survey that showed one-third of adults hadn't visited a library in a year (although I'm not so sure that's necessarily a bad thing).

Let's not gloss over all the problems we know exist, regardless of any face-saving survey:

1. Many librarians act as if they don't want to be there; the patrons see it, and we know it.
2. Many librarians are not highly skilled, and don't want to be.
3. Many librarians have no interest in keeping up with the standard technology used by many patrons.
4. Many librarians are not friendly.
5. Many libraries are not "comfortable."
6. Many libraries are not "modern."
7. Many libraries are not user-friendly and show no interest in becoming so.

Library education

The library profession doesn't attract higher quality students. I'd say that's due to the historically low salaries and the image of librarians as not ambitious, living in the past, etc. A greater emphasis on technology in the curriculum (not to mention a few basic courses on customer service) can help to raise up the profession and push out the undesirables among us who are "reluctant librarians."

The Continuing Battle Against Censorship

My impression on reading this section is that it is drenched in emotion inappropriate for such a document. Not all books belong in libraries. Communities usually have very good reasons for not wanting certain types of materials in their tax-funded public libraries. Many banned books deserved it. From the report:

A mother overwhelmed the city schools' materials-review procedures by requesting the removal of 70 titles she considered sexually explicit.

So a taxpayer who funds school libraries and goes through proper legal channels to challenge offensive materials should just shut up because the "materials-review procedures" can't handle the terrible workload? Or is it that they don't want to review questionable books? Or should patrons not question anything librarians inflict on them to satisfy their own personal obsessions?

From my vantage point, it's a somewhat odd report. We'll see what the mainstream media makes of it, if anything. It might be time for a report on "The State of the American Library Association" by an independent panel. It's been my feeling that ALA doesn't always work in the best interests of the library profession. For one thing, it needs to plot a centrist political course and keep the doors open on both sides of the political aisle. We all know that isn't the case today.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

The New Sony Reader for Ebooks

My initial response to the announcement that Sony has developed a new handheld ebook reader to be sold by Borders (but not by some other bookstores) was negative. I thought it would suffer a quick death because most people, especially the younger crowd, already carry two electronic devices--an MP3 player and a cell phone. And now Sony thinks they'll carry a third?

But I'm starting to change my mind because I'm wondering myself if it would be a good thing to have. It weighs about half-a-pound, the screen size is apparently similar to the average paperback, supports PDF, MP3 and JPG, and can accommodate memory cards. I think that's the one that changed my mind somewhat: I could carry an entire library with me wherever I go. A library in my pocket. But is there the same pleasure in turning epages as in turning paper pages?

But another downside is the price: $300-$400. I think you would have to do a lot of traveling for it to be worth that investment (not much reason to use at home). This looks to me like it's going to be a tough sell.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Library Melodrama 2.0

Having restarted this blog after a lengthy breather, I was looking around for some other librarian blogs to follow, and stumbled upon a melodrama involving A List librarian bloggers that jostled me into realizing something I think is important.

The original post that led to this seems rather tame to me. Nobody got shot or killed. Nobody cheated out of their life savings. No duel at 20 paces. But then it's easy for me to say that since I'm not involved, not an A List blogger, and don't know any of the principals or commenters.

But what strikes me about this brief soap opera, and the Library 2.0 discussion (hah, I almost wrote "debate") in general, is that a number of name librarians are actually discussing/debating/arguing about something related to libraries and librarians. They're not arguing about politics or social issues with little if any direct impact on libraries, which is what I've come to expect. But this is about libraries, librarians and their reputations and opinions on our profession--not someone else's.

At the risk of being branded a negative cynic, I see this as a good thing. They aren't debating about a library resolution condemning Bush or praising Clinton, but are showing real emotion about the library business! Can I be the only one who sees this as a positive development? Methinks we need more of this and less of the other.

This also suggest to me that, with regard to Library 2.0, there is a there there. A core exists, we just don't yet understand what it is. Something is at stake, and those closest to it know it. No one has a good definition of it, no one agrees on what it is, and no one seems to know when it really started (excepting who coined the term and when it was first discussed publicly, but those are separate issues). The term may not be the best, but it will have to do for now, until it is examined more closely and most agree on what it is all about.


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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Blogging Again

I note here, as if it weren't obvious, that I'm now adding new posts to this blog after a hiatus of something like a year (previous posts were deleted). I decided to break tradition and mention this fact because usually when I post something after a long time has gone by, I do it "without apology or comment." And then I read Walt Crawford's "Library 2.0 and 'Library 2.0'" where he applauded John Blyberg for posting at his blog "without apology or comment" after a silence of merely 2 months! I'm not sure 2 months away from a blog is long enough to be remarked upon.

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