Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thing #15: online gaming, part II

I'm a little less murky today and so feel more prepared to explore the topic of online gaming. So without further ado...

1. It is our responsibility to provide resources that are useful and/or desired to our users. It is not our job to dictate to them what they should find useful, or what they should desire. This stance on my part probably comes as no surprise. Years back, when I was in grad school, there was a spunky DIY lass named Violet who handcrafted an amazing zine called The free-press death ship. I was and remain a huge admirer of Violet because I'm sure it was no small feat to create this publication. Violet was a prickly pear and she saved the bulk of her ire for the institution of the public library. That's right--she hated public libraries something fierce. But I admire the hell out of anyone who's willing to devote what must have been hundreds of hours to a publication the bulk of which was spent on complaining about the Dewey Decimal system, or ISBNs. I distinctly remember that one of her contributors reported that a public library had de-accessioned (weeded) most of its classical LP collection to make room for Spanish language materials. This made the whole FPDS bunch hopping mad. That LP collection had some gems in it! And those dumb mouth-breathing librarians weeded it to make way for some stupid Spanish trade fiction! Or something! Well, now, you see where I'm going with this don't you? I have a hunch those LPs weren't racking up the circulation numbers. I have a hunch the ethnic demographic of that certain branch had seen some big changes. And I bet those librarians were just audacious enough to provide their user (taxpayer) base with materials they wanted and needed. There's a connection here. Libraries are always saying they want to draw in the youth audience. We do great with kids and adults, but there's a big gap in between and we need to do more than just hope that the little ones that were at story hour when they were 5 come back again someday in adulthood. Online gaming is one way to do this. For the youth audience, online gaming is what they are using. Whether we like it or not is irrelevant.

2. We should like it. Online gaming is, indeed, literacy activity:

"In recent years, researchers and educators have put forth the notion that playing videogames requires learners to enact a form of literacy that is qualitatively different from, yet as sophisticated as traditional academic literacy (Gee, 2003a; Squire, 2005, 2008; Steinkuehler, 2008). On their way to becoming videogame-literate, players engage series of complex problem-solving activities that require them to think strategically as well as engage on highly interactive cycles of hypothesis generation and testing akin to those that take place in science and good composition (Gee, 2003a, p. 90)."

Note the Steinkuehler reference. The Metronet lecture I attended was conducted by her (Constance Steinkuehler) and Kurt Squire. They are professors at the University of Wisconsin--Madison.

Here are her Powerpoint slides:

Steinkuehler makes an incredibly compelling argument for the value of online gaming in general and, in particular, for online gaming in the public library. Slide 74 of her presentation annotates a typical online gaming exchange and makes clear its relevance as a literacy activity.

3. But aren't online gamers crazy? Aren't they always screaming for Mountain Dew and playing until they drop from exhaustion? At the Metronet lecture, someone in the audience asked a question along these lines to Steinkuehler and without missing a beat she shrugged and said something to the effect of: addictive behavior is addictive behavior. People get compulsive about knitting. That's a behavior issue, which the library needs to have policies in place to address. It is not, in and of itself, an issue around online gaming. In many ways this is a simplistic answer--I'm aware of that. But I think she has a point. Misbehavior is misbehavior.

Let's also not forget that the bulk of online gamers are, in fact, NOT annoying teenagers. The teenagers are just the loud ones.

There's a lot going on here with this issue. But I do think that providing people with a controlled space for online gaming in the public library is a good thing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Party Girl goes off

Thing #15: online gaming

This Thing is concerned with online gaming in libraries. I actually attended a Metronet event a few years back on this topic that was great and how I wish I could just link to that and be done.

I'm for encouraging gaming in libraries. There. I said it.

Can you tell I'm tired? Can you tell I feel I have nothing more to say on this topic?

And now, for your viewing enjoyment, the Ninja Librarian:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Thing #14: LibraryThing

LibraryThing is a hoot. I've actually been a member since early 2007, but it's been ages since I visited. I will need to make it a regular stop once again.

LibraryThing is, to start, an online cataloging tool. Amazon or Library of Congress can be searched and titles loaded into your online shelf. But what makes it so fun is all the discussion groups, of which "Librarians who LibraryThing" is the largest. There are all the standard groups you would expect--YA, sci-fi and so on, but then some real niche ones: BBC Radio 3 listeners, tea drinkers, self-described heathens. Then you can always feel bad for the communities with one member, like the "emo/goths can read" group that the creator describes as "We can prove to people thet [sic] we are not as dumb as people think even non emo/goths can join to help protest" Note to emo/goth can read group founder: my friend, you are on your own. Oh, but you knew that.

Apparently some libraries use LibraryThing as their catalog. This makes sense to me as a cost-effective way to get it done, and that it may be particularly well suited to the small specialized collection.

I must confess I somehow got sucked into Good Reads at the expense of LibraryThing. Good Reads is kinda-sorta the same thing. I feel a little shameful about it, now. I feel like the good-looking jock in a John Hughes movie who knew the dorky girl and liked her fine but then pursues and becomes besotted with the cheerleader only to find at the conclusion of the film that the cheerleader has no soul and the dorky girl is actually what he wanted all along. Yes, that's exactly what I feel like.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Thing #13: Productivity Tools

These are all organizational tools--online calendars, task lists, personalized starting points from Google, etc., and as such they would primarily be useful in libraries as an aid to library administrators to assist them in keeping their act together. Other than this rather abstracted notion of helping our users (through our own increased efficiency) I'm not sure what the direct application would be. But then, I'm tired. Who knows--maybe I'm missing something obvious. Ummm, helping users track when their books are due? Seems like we've got that pretty well covered. I get automatic email reminders when items are coming due, which is a great service.

Starting off with iGoogle: I fell in love with this instantly. It is, however, the opposite of a productivity tool. When you set up iGoogle as your Google search page, you get all sorts of personalized tabs. I have Home, Minneapolis, News, Cooking, Politics, Business and Art. Each is its own page. You can customize what portlets you view on each page. For example, I removed Fox News from my news page. Then I moved the remaining portals around so CNN and NY Times were organized front and center. I believe I mentioned recently that I'm elitist, so this action will come as no surprise. For the Cooking page I added the "World's Healthiest Foods" portlet (for today: swiss chard). A surprisingly fun thing to do is change the "theme" of the header for each of your pages. There are lists and lists of themes, each by a different artist. You can also add a zillion gadgets wherever you like. I added a portal that displays the current phase of the moon. (Waxing Gibbous, one of the lesser known American Transcendentalists.) I say it's the opposite of a productivity tool, though, because it's very easy to get sucked into any one of the portals. And God forbid you add the Tetris gadget. (Does anyone else remember Tetris? I know people who flunked out of college because of Tetris. Well, at least partially because of Tetris.) So, for the self-disciplined a big thumbs up. For those like me, iGoogle should probably be avoided in the workplace.

Online calendars: very nice, but I use my Outlook calendar efficiently enough, thank you. This also reminds me of a blurb I saw years back for an amazing information technology--it was lightweight, easily portable, had a finding tool built in, easy to navigate, easy to mark. It was a book. A printed book. So let's not get carried away here. I also use a real, honest-to-goodness calendar to track my activities.

Ditto with the list managers. I tried out the one called Remember the Milk. This is useful, but isn't a piece of paper also very useful? And lighter? And doesn't require a power source? Am I missing something?

Summary: I'm an iGoogle convert. I'll wait on the rest until the capability to just plug into the hive mind is fully functional.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Not a Thing

Fooling around with inserting images.

Thing #12: Social Media Sites

Okaaaaay. That's about enough of that.

Thing 12 is concerned with the social media sites Digg, Reddit, Newsvine, and Mixx. Reading though the description of what these sites do, I could see potential usefulness. These sites allow web viewers to post stories they've read there. Visitors to the sites then rate them. Highest ratest stories swim to the top. Theoretically, these are useful meta tools. They filter web content and draw out the high quality stories (in theory). Then--theoretically--librarians can go to the site and take a quick look to see what's of interest to web users and get a jump on reference needs.

But, oh, oh the humanity.

Quick overview: Digg receives a B+ for interface design and clear instructions for use.
Newsvine receives a B for okay design and okay instructions for use.
Mixx is awarded a C for being mediocre.
Reddit receives a C- for appearing, in every way, as if it were designed by and for 15 year olds. Admittedly, 15 year olds nowadays can make some damn cool stuff on the web, but still. Still.

Here's a story I am both compelled and embarrassed to share: a few years back I took one of those online quizzes to determine where I fell on the political spectrum.* You know these things--you get asked all sort of questions about where you stand on gun control, social welfare programs, etc. And then came the fateful question. It was: "I think most people are too stupid to know what's good for them." Friends, there was only a Yes button and a No button. There was no hedging allowed. And I stared at this for quite awhile, and I desparately wanted to click No but I know in my heart the answer was Yes. Yes, I think most people are too stupid to know what's good for them. There, I said it. And I clicked it.

The point to this anecdote is that, being the elitist that I clearly am, I am forced to conclude after viewing these sites, that perhaps the world is not ready to know what the masses consider the top stories. It's a scary world out there, friends, especially when the content is dictated, apparently, by a demographic that generates advertising revenue around women in too tight t-shirts.

But then again, I am a librarian, after all, and so perhaps my lofty stance is informed at least slightly by the fact that my profession is largely defined as being one that determines information content. Useful content. Quality content. Content that only sometimes includes a crotch shot of a Japanese schoolgirl.

*Social Democrat.