I've been thinking a lot about what ought to be architecturally designed into public library spaces in the future. As physical books play a lesser role, we can rethink the best use of library space.
Recall, the mission of public libraries is to nourish the mind. As it happens, the mind lives within the human body. When the human body gets hungry, it often leaves the library. In a knowledge economy, we can't let that happen. We need all brains on deck, so to speak. To nourish the mind, you've got to nourish the body. When you're hungry, your mind starts wandering. Soon after, your body starts wandering.
Libraries sometimes deal with this conundrum of food availability by setting up a snack machine in a hall outside the library. Snack machines are not food, though. Snacks, by definition, are nonnourishing. They defer hunger cravings by thirty minutes or an hour, but they do not nourish the body in any real way.
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Screencasting programs are most often used to explain how to use a computer program or a Website, but they can also be used for other purposes. A few years ago, The New York Times published an article describing how the digital divide -- the divide between those who have access to technology and those who don't -- was no longer a major concern. I work in a public library, and that article was some of the best fiction I'd read in a long time. Almost nothing in the article was true, and I needed a way to tell this to the author of the article, as well as the rest of the Internet.
So I fired up Camtasia Studio, an excellent screencasting program, and reached for my guitar. With the help of a public-domain melody -- an old folk song titled, “Whiskey in the Jar” -- I created a short multimedia piece that explained my reaction to this article. I used a screengrab from the article itself as the background of the piece.
I uploaded the presentation to the Internet Archive, which provides free Web hosting for media files. And then I went looking for the e-mail address of the author of the article. His e-mail address was nowhere to be found. The author of an article about the digital divide was not reachable by e-mail. Imagine the irony of that. So I sent a link to the piece to a tech reporter at The New York Times and asked that reporter (based in San Francisco) to forward the link to the author of the article.
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One of the most interesting uses of wireless Internet technologies is something called a mesh network.
The economics of mesh networks is fascinating and holds out the promise of bringing basic Internet connectivity to all residents of a neighborhood at a minimal cost – and for some residents, at no cost. When I heard about Google's plans to bring gigabit fiber-optic Internet to a given number of communities in the United States, I started monitoring which communities had existing plans to roll out mesh networks. Such networks are often grassroots projects, organized by tech-savvy community activists. One of the most interesting of these is WasabiNet, organized by some good people in St. Louis. A quick perusal of this project's Website reveals that this project is for real and has been well thought out.
It's interesting to note that the original WasabiNet proposal dates from 2008, two years before Google's gigabit experiment was announced. The organizers of WasabiNet don't need Google's involvement to bring connectivity and empowerment to their community. Their project, though small, is already a success. Google's gigabit fiber could take WasabiNet much further than its organizers ever imagined and could teach the rest of the world what's possible when a community self-organizes in this way.
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Suppose you have an idea for a new digital services business – a business that delivers some value to others over the Internet. No matter how good your idea might be, getting such a business off the ground requires a given amount of capital. And this business might require business skills that you do not possess. You could check around with friends to see if any of them are interested in joining you in such a venture, but you could spend months finding the right friends who are interested and available.
Every business is a jigsaw puzzle that requires just the right pieces to fit together. To help those pieces fit together, the concept of the business incubator was born. The function of a business incubator is to identify promising business ideas and then assist entrepreneurs in supplying the missing pieces to their jigsaw puzzle.
Traditionally, business incubators have existed completely separate from public libraries. In the age of manufacturing, this made a lot of sense, but in the digital age – the age of information – public libraries are ideally situated to assume the role of business incubator. Why? Smart people congregate at public libraries to learn and share ideas. Public libraries are where questions are formulated and answers are found. Public libraries are set up to promote wondering. Wonder how libraries could develop greater sustainability? Well, yes, a digital services business that was incubated at a particular library could have a business plan where 20 percent of all proceeds from that business were returned to that library.
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A year or two ago Casio released a very interesting digital still camera with some amazing video capabilities. The Casio Exilim FH-20 does a very nice job of shooting high-speed video in the range of 200 to 400 frames per second. (It can shoot higher speeds, too, but not in any visually appealing way.) This camera sells for about $260 (after you add it to the shopping cart at this online vendor's site.)
Casio has since come out with a smaller, less expensive version of the FH-20, the Exilim EX-FC100, that has most of the same features as the FH-20. Marius Diethelm Kienle, from Heimsheim, Germany, decided to show what the FC100 camera can do. A video he posted to YouTube shows the camera at its best – and also shows Marius's considerable gymnastic abilities. You probably don't want to risk doing that double trampoline trick at home, but it's sure fun to watch it on YouTube.
Equally impressive is this video from three very talented fellows in the United Kingdom.
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In the current recession, many public libraries are laying off staff, slashing budgets, and closing down. Library supporters respond by becoming more vocal, insistently demanding greater funding from legislators. You can't squeeze blood from a stone, though. It's not as if legislators don't care about libraries. There is no money to be allocated. The money isn't there, no matter how loud you shout.
A better use of time and energy is to get creative. We're on the verge of a second Renaissance that will make the first Renaissance appear half-hearted. Libraries and library supporters should be looking for ways to place their surf boards on the top of that digital wave -- to ride it for all it's worth.
How do you reach the top of that wave? You start using the library space as a collaborative space to make things: books, music CDs, instructional videotapes, screencasts, art, inventions, software, and so on. And then you start selling those creative things to fund the library's operations. You sell those creative products via Amazon's Create Space, Apple's iBookstore, Lulu, and countless other Websites that have sprung up to empower creative producers.
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Google announced today that starting in Fiscal Year 2011 it will begin merging its operations with the the Internal Revenue Service. This move will streamline the operations of both entities, yielding greater efficiencies and customer satisfaction. What will change for consumers? Nothing at first, but over time, consumers will notice that they'll be able to both manage their finances right within Google Docs and to submit their taxes via a choice on the File menu, “Submit taxes now.” Eventually, even that last step won't be necessary as Google will have all the information it needs without any action by consumers.
A spokesperson for Google explained, “Having all the money in our country in two places just didn't make much sense in an information economy. Consolidating it into one place was the logical next step. Now when Congress passes an appropriations bill, the funds will be immediately available after putting in a request to Google. Here at Google, our engineers are hard at work making the tax system more intuitive and more fun, so stay tuned to hear about all the cool new stuff we’re working on. We want to thank you all for being great users of the Internal Revenue Service and keep your eyes out for the colorful, bouncy balls coming to your local IRS office.”
Also, keep your eyes out for Google ads appearing discreetly along the side of 1-dollar, 5-dollar, 10-dollar, 50-dollar and 100-dollar bills. As part of its merger with the Internal Revenue Service, Google will be monetizing the deal using money.
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