31 July 2007

Getting a Second Life

How can we know what we think about games, virtual worlds, and technologies unless we play, right? That was the overarching theme at TechSource and since every other session discussed the importance of Second Life, I thought I would give it a go.

I spent two hours getting my avatar dressed.


And frankly, that was enough for me. I decided to be a buff, black woman with purple hair. And I loved making that decision.

And while I still haven't made it off the Orientation Island yet, and honestly am not sure if I will have the time to do so over the next week, I think my experience dressing my avatar touches on the very essence and purpose of this virtual world. It was empowering to decide how I would appear in this world. It was a chance to try something new, to experiment, to imagine, to be something other than me. I can understand the attraction, especially to teens who are struggling to identify who "me" is in this world.

But that is the part that continues to bother me. The idea that more time is spent being someone you wish you were rather than developing or working on who you actually are, or are becoming, is disconcerting, especially among young people, but also for adults. I fully support exploration, reinvention, dreams, wishes...anyone who knows me, knows that I am a dreamer. But the creation of an alternate reality seems self indulgent, at least at first glance. Perhaps one might argue that you will be more extroverted in SecondLife than you are in real life. But if you aren't taking that forthrightness and bringing it out into the real world, then so what?

Perhaps my perspective on Second Life will change once I figure out how to get off the Orientation Island. But I must admit, I am skeptical and feeling like it is a great procrastination tool. Frankly, I barely have time to enjoy or maintain my first life, why do I need a second one?

26 July 2007

Expanding the definition and my view of Gaming

TechSource's Symposium on Gaming and Libraries might be the best conference I've ever been too. Seriously.

The amount of energy and enthusiasm for not just gaming but for learning, for expanding the role of the library in our patron's lives and for the role of the library in society is inspiring. People at this conference wanted to learn and to share and I loved it.

And there was good food.

I have pages and pages of notes and comments to go through over the next few days (I will never attend a conference like this without my laptop again) but a few things stuck out:
1. Come Out and Play. This concept of Big Games was shared byGreg Trefry, manifested in this festival he started that turns New York City into a giant game board! Greg came out and riled up librarians to re-envision our spaces and remember that there is such a thing as physical space to play in too. What a relief! What I got from his preachings was to involve people, use your local space in ways that are silly and surprising to educate. Get up, get out, move. I love it. It reminds me of the glorious days of summer sleep away camp. And that is quite a wonderful memory to start developing library games from.

2. Jim Gee spoke about using principals of gaming in our educational methods. What I most appreciated about this lecture was his call for us to understanding the complexities of both gaming and learning and to recognize the inherent connectedness between them. It was a fascinating talk and one that reads some time in the head to really articulate. More on it in a later post.

3. Second Life. I have a lot of thoughts on this one, and a lot of them are quite mixed. But if there is anything I learned from this conference it is that games are going to played, whether we like them or not. I think the issue I have with building spaces in Second Life is that I'm not sure there is any true purpose in it other than to be cool. And I am all for that. But at least at smaller institutions like myself, I cannot validate spending valuable time and money in Second Life when we have a first time coping with our first life. I am intrigued by it and curious how other libraries will develop it over the next few months/years, but I am certain that for both practical and philosophical reasons, Second Life is not on my plate.

4. Liz Lawley gave a phenomenal speech to close up the conference that really put it together for me. She essentially said that whether we like games or not, whether we play them or not, our patrons do. And if we don't start providing a space for them to play, resources to support play, and even more importantly, resources to evaluating games (as we do for evaluating books, journals, dvds, and all of our other resources) than we, essentially, are not doing our jobs. Her example was if you google "recommended books for kids", we get a slew of reputable, credible organizations (NYPL, ALA, PBS, etc) helping us figure out what to suggest and why. Now, substitute books for games. No such similar guidance. Great example, no. While, as an academic librarian, I have a slightly different role in my patrons' lives, I think her point is compelling.

And that's just it, this conference made a very compelling argument for the role of games in libraries and in education in general in a variety of shapes and sizes. It also points out how much gaming is already a part of our daily lives, it's just that we often don't realize that we are playing. But this conference expanded my definition of "gaming" and I feel all the more enriched because of it. I am looking forward to sifting through more of my notes and parsing more of the experience with my thoughts on our ever-changing profession.

24 July 2007

I did not win the Wii

No well wishers, I did not win the Wii.

Woe is I.

Coming home tomorrow and ready to blog like crazy.

Stay tuned.

23 July 2007


I saw it.
I touched it.
I played with it for half an hour...
yup, an iphone.

I'm at TechSource, which is crazy good and has me thinking way to many thoughts to process and therefore blog about so instead of theorizing and responding to the likes of Jim Gee and Henry Jenkins, I am decompressing my day of theorizing about and constructing implementation strategies for gaming in libraries with this tactile moment.

Perhaps this is nothing new to you city folk but the iphone is not available in Vermont because we don't have AT&T. So this was my first experience with this phenomenon.

And it was cool.
Very cool.

I loved that YouTube is an automatic part of the main menu. I love that you can scroll across the weather in your and other cities of your choice. I just love the finger scroll instead of pressing buttons. It's so simple. So elegant. So Apple.

The screen was so bright, as I know everyone has talked about. And so clear. Like David Pogue, pointed out, the keyboard is difficult at first to manuever...but even after a few minutes, my fingers naturally adjusted to amount of pressure and space of the screen.

And that's the thing....I adjusted so fast and immediately felt at home with it. Looking down at my regular, boring phone was depressing. And I tend not to be a gadget freak. But now, I want one.

It's a good thing they aren't available in Vermont or else Jon would be accusing me of reckless spending.

Yes, yes...TechSource stuff coming soon.

20 July 2007

Chi-Town, here I come

Leaving on Sunday for Chicago and the TechSource symposium on Gaming and Libraries. It is looking good! Secretly I am hoping I win the Wii...I played it at a friend's place in Boston a few weeks ago and was amazed at how much I enjoyed it. Especially the boxing.

I am looking forward to hearing Henry Jenkins, in particular. We just got his most recent book in at the library, and after reading the intro and first few chapters, I think I will really get a lot out of his lecture.

So, the Sheck is out of town for the next few days. I will try to return with interesting stories, good ideas, and some pics on Thursday.

And yes, Harry Potter will be accompanying me on my plane ride.

18 July 2007

Harry Potter as Literature?

I love Dickens.
I love Milton.
I love Thomas Hardy.
I love Sherlock Holmes.
I love Harry Potter.

Perhaps you say, "Harry Potter? Harry Potter doesn't belong in such a distinguished list, does he? Come on", you might say, "is Harry Potter really literature?"

That is indeed what this article from Inside Higher Ed asks. Emphasis on the word higher, for the author really does seem to take a high art road in his analysis. As example:
It seems as [Matthew] Arnold and [Theodor] Adorno would prefer that kids learn to appreciate forms of cultural creation that will not in any way ever come to the attention of a cable television network.

Come on into the 21st century.
Sure, the book is always better than the movie. Yes, your imagination and the connections drawn from visualization and independent thought is unparalleled. But come on. Are all of my beloved authors to be discredited because a movie or TV executive found the story compelling enough to be shared on a mass scale?

What I think it so obviously missed in this article is that despite the creation of the films, the books have not lost their appeal. Thousands of children and adults are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the BOOK. Thousands of children have been introduced to to the likes of CS Lewis, Philip Pullman, and JRR Tolkien because of Harry Potter (all of these authors are heavily indebted to Milton, by the by). Children, and adults who might otherwise say they are "too busy to read," are reading and finding it enjoyable. Could that not lead to reading more and all that it entails?

Perhaps I am missing the point. As I asked initially, is Harry Potter literature? How do we define it? The Oxford Literary Dictionary takes a crack at it:
literature, a body of written works related by subject‐matter (e.g. the literature of computing), by language or place of origin (e.g. Russian literature), or by prevailing cultural standards of merit. In this last sense, ‘literature’ is taken to include oral, dramatic, and broadcast compositions that may not have been published in written form but which have been (or deserve to be) preserved. Since the 19th century, the broader sense of literature as a totality of written or printed works has given way to more exclusive definitions based on criteria of imaginative, creative, or artistic value, usually related to a work's absence of factual or practical reference (see autotelic). Even more restrictive has been the academic concentration upon poetry, drama, and fiction. Until the mid‐20th century, many kinds of non‐fictional writing—in philosophy, history, biography, criticism, topography, science, and politics—were counted as literature; implicit in this broader usage is a definition of literature as that body of works which—for whatever reason—deserves to be preserved as part of the current reproduction of meanings within a given culture (unlike yesterday's newspaper, which belongs in the disposable category of ephemera). This sense seems more tenable than the later attempts to divide literature—as creative, imaginative, fictional, or non‐practical—from factual writings or practically effective works of propaganda, rhetoric, or didactic writing. The Russian Formalists' attempt to define literariness in terms of linguistic deviations is important in the theory of poetry, but has not addressed the more difficult problem of the non‐fictional prose forms. See also belles‐lettres, canon, paraliterature. For a fuller account, consult Peter Widdowson, Literature (1998).
---Oxford's Literary Dictionary

Perhaps difficult to swallow for some but I think clearly indicative that Harry Potter, who deals with terrorism and political corruption as well as the never tiring woes and wows of intellectual and emotional development, is perhaps the greatest representative "meanings within a given culture."

Finally, let's remember that both Dicken and Conan Doyle were serialists and their characters, especially Holmes, were popular figures that might have been discredited if we were to apply these criteria. Where would we be without Holmes? Surely lacking popular phrases and iconic imagery. Where would we be without the muckraking literature of Oliver Twist and Bleak House?

Dickens, Doyle, Rowling: Popular, accessible, influential, essential literature.

17 July 2007

The One, the only...the amazing librarian

Finally, a discussion of librarianship that actually looks beyond the physical strucutre and considers the value of librarians as a disseminators, arbiters, and creators of information. It is affirming and reassuring to read a non-librarian who steps outside past experience and look ahead at the world in which we live and the significance of our profession in it!

Thanks Elaine for sharing this post with me...and how exciting to see the Incredible Greg Schwartz being cited.

Rohit's list of why he believes in Library 2.0 is awesome:
1. Everyone is a content creator and creating content is easier than ever.
2. A new wealth of content online means finding things is more difficult.
3. Algorithms and automated methods of search are no longer adequate.
4. People are relying on each other to catalogue information and make search better.
5. The professionals dedicating to indexing content, trying new search tools and generally helping connect people to information are the librarians.

Rohit studies and writes about social searching and human filtered search. Funny how librarians have been performing similar searches under the guise of reader's advisory for quite some time, although now with so much information and so little indexing, it is harder than ever to find what we're looking for. And that is where librarians can come in handy. That is not to say that we hold the keys to the kingdom, as I think we are sometimes perceived as doing (per the Research Divide post). But we do spend a lot of our time playing with, discussing, and trying to improve access to information. That's what we get paid for.

Between becoming hip, using new and exciting tools through Technology, and improving our image, librarians are finally getting their due: we're amazing!

13 July 2007

Medium is the Message

Graphic, explicit with an excessive use of profanity...yes. But focus in: the message is still strong and considers the audience. Once again, from YouTube, we get a call to the audience Boondocks to "Read a *#$&%*@^%*# Book."

Or perhaps it really is for those that don't watch Boondocks but should.

WARNING: This video could be rated R for profanity. Hence, it is linked rather than embedded.

Thanks to Jessamyn for pointing it out.

I couldn't ask for a better example than this to illustrate the power of YouTube as a vehicle for social change. This is clearly quite different than the 802 boys but the use of repetition and animation creates a propaganda quality video but one that questions and criticizes, I think, the use of rap as propaganda. The content of the video is shocking but in large part because of the medium of the message.

Try the comparison: here is the same lyrics but without animation. The slideshow's barage of books that the rapper clearly thinks are necessary for his audience to be reading is still powerful but is it honestly as thought provoking as the one with animation? Or, would it be to young, black, urban youths?

Admittedly, I am reading McLuhan right now in preparation for teaching in the Fall. But as I try to think about how to make something like McLuhan as powerful for students, YouTube seems to have shown me again that its uses are endless.

11 July 2007

A face with a name

Tonight is my first night as a Library Commissioner for the City of Burlington. I am really looking forward to getting to know another side of our local library, the Fletcher Free, and to dip my feet into the murky waters of public librarianshhip.

So Steve Bell's post in my Feevy about being lucky to be an academic librarian seemed perfectly timed to the day ahead. I agree with Steve that academic libraries are fortunate in that we have an immediate audience: students and faculty. However, I think Steve has been fortunate to work at institutions where the library is imbedded in the intellectual and academic culture of the college. I think that community college librarians might know what I mean. At small, growing institutions like mine, the library is trying with all of its might to not stay relevant but become relevant to our professionally focused students and faculty in the first place. So our outreach is extensive, creative, and constant.

One of the methods of outreach I rely on most is getting out on campus. I go to stuff. I introduce myself to new folks. I always chipper that "come up to the library to find that," or "I just saw a book about that at the library," or someother such quip. Getting out around campus is a way for people to put a face with the library, to feel like there is someone there that they know and can approach, either virtually or physically. It seems that librarians are so often chained to our facility, only getting out when we are invited to class sessions or for necessary meetings. But if we showed our smiling faces, or our thoughtfulness and intellectual curiousity (which seems a prerequisite for our jobs in many ways), our standing among faculty will rise, thereby bringing them to our lecture series, our brown bag lunches, our introductions to new databases, our meet and greets...and then our website, our stacks, our instruction sessions. Wouldn't that be something?!?

I chose to be an academic librarian because I wanted to work with a specific audience and because I wanted to know I always had a budget line, even if less than I wish it were. I applaud public librarians for their open-mindedness, their courage, their creativity, and their problem solving. But let's not give away the store. We all have issues with audience. As I pointed out last post, even in an article about how cool librarians are, we still are rivaling Google.

I will keep you posted, loyal readers (?), about how the Library Commission goes and my first foray into public service. And I hope that those of you that are sitting at a desk, working hard but browsing the blog, will head out to the cafeteria, the student union, wherever to say hi and put a face with your library.

09 July 2007

Sassy, smart, maybe even sexy. What do you mean you're a librarian?

Yes, I too am going to throw in my two cents about the New York Times article on librarians. To start off, it is currently holding the most e-mailed article from the Times. Perhaps that explains why I had a total of 12 emails and 4 phone calls alerting me to its presence. Or perhaps that just shows us that while it is no surprise to the library community that we are "hip", techie, sexy, cool (is that the name of an album?), it clearly is a surprise to everyone else. And hey, if you don't have the Sheck or someone like her in your local library, it's no wonder that this might come as a surprise to you. If I had a dollar for every time I hear "you don't look/act/seem like a librarian"...I'd have a library of my own!

All in all, I think it's a great article for us. Yeah, I hated reading "The myth prevails that librarians are becoming obsolete." It seems clearly oxymoronic in an article that touts rising LIS program enrollment and tries to elucidate on how librarians do a lot more than read books and put them on shelves (oh, wouldn't that be nice).

Many other bloggers had far more difficulty swallowing the public's perception of our work. To me, it just shows, yet again, how library friendly the New York Times really is. At least in the Sunday edition. Over the last few months that we have taken advantage of a sweet deal for getting the Times on Sundays, I've been amazed by how many articles show librarians and libraries in a positive light.

But I also am reminded of picking out my new specs this weekend. Jon and I went to the hip glasses shop in town and I walked around trying to find something that could accomodate my near blindness so on occasion I could not wear contacts. And as I moved from pair to pair, the shopkeeper remarked that one of them seemed funky librarian. Indeed they were, and they are also mine strarting tomorrow. But funny isn't it that there needs to be the adjective "funky" in front? Aren't all librarians (distributors of free information, protectors of privacy and our rights to information, knowers of the next good thing to read) funky? Bun or not?

06 July 2007

YouTube as a vehicle for Social Change

I know I just wrote about YouTube but I recently started thinking about it as more than a method for reaching out to our patrons but as a vehicle for social change. Perhaps you laugh. Yes, there are a lot of ridiculous videos on YouTube. At first glance, this video by two kids in Vermont seemed ridiculous:

My personal favorite...."you mess with our cows/we'll break your knees."

But seriously, this video is clever, illustrates pride in these kids' homestate, and gives us a giggle. Social change, you ask?

Those same kids have created a new video addressing global warming and Vermont's environmental pact:

Wow. Stand up and applaud these guys! Locally, this video gets into the serious implications of climate change on Vermont's economy (the maple syrup and ski industries) but also on a national and global level. But their call for Vermont to act: efficiency within the state, to use "methane from manure" or biomass to create energy and lessen our dependence on foreign oil...the list goes on. But most importantly, these guys recognize that it has to happen in our homes (drive a Hybrid) but in our government. Their call to our governor (Jim Douglas) to regulate and to pass H250, a bill that sets a goal for reducing emissions in our state. I could go on because they do: use solar, get wind, BIKE.

This video incites us to educate ourselves, vote, and think. With the number of people in 802 that loved their first video, these kids have taken their popularity and turned towards something important and necessary. Using their creativity and YouTube as a vehicle for social change...I'd say so.