June 30, 2008

ALA2008 Privacy Revolution Panel

does anyone care if their library records are being tracked? should they?
ALA OIF has received a grant from the Open Society Institute/Soros Foundation to explore the issue of privacy in the digital age

Panelists: Dan Roth (Wired), Cory Doctorow (CrapHound), and Beth Givens (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse)

Dan Roth
no one ever talks about privacy in his world unless he asks the questions
the only time it has ever come up that he can remember was in 2005 when a company lost 600,000 employees’ info (Time Warner) – happened to his parent org
he talked to corporate communications, who hadn’t told anyone; they had lost the info a month before
they said “we’ve only lost tapes 4 times this year”
everyone at work was upset for days
no one ever talked about it again & people stopped talking about it
and these were journalists
how can your reach the public if journalists don’t care?

little incentive for consumers to care about privacy – not sure why they should care (except for the people in this room)
beyond just the question of will a company get spanked for losing information, will consumers use it as a criterion for which companies they will deal with?
some companies have said we have better privacy policies than google – you should trust us
ask.com decided last year that privacy rights would set them apart
– offered askeraser, where users could configure what was stored by the company
but this wasn’t meaningful, and ask is still 4th or 5th in the market
if you use the google toolbar, it’s collecting information about you – steve ballmer tried to make a big deal about it, but consumers didn’t care

cited a survey in which 75% of privacy execs said they don’t share data
however, marketers share the info (some even share SSNs), so the CEOs don’t know their companies are doing this

the idea of the free economy – free as a business model
you get something great in return for info about you
they all count on ads being served up to you
thinks there will be an arms race to offer more info about users, which means more collecting and more sharing
this will build up to a point where we’re all completely findable online
phorm – ad survey company that teams up with ISPs; tracks their users as soon as they log in until they turn off their computers and serve up ads the whole time
there is no real way to opt out of it
it will be very popular and is being tested in the US by Charter

it’s time to decide where we stand on this
if we don’t want to get stuff for free in exchange for data, we need to figure out some way to tell business that we do care about it and how we want to handle it
it all looks hopeless, because it looks like americans don’t care
but think about 7 years ago, when only a dedicated group cared about the environment
now more people care, and the same could happen with privacy
hopefully we won’t have to wait a decade to find out

Beth Givens
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse was established in 1992
two types of privacy – informational privacy and constitutional privacy
they concentrate on the former (ACLU and EFF concentrate on the latter)
lines are blurred in reality, but there are too few of us all the way around
provide practical information about how people can protect their identity in credit offers, medical privacy, government records, debt collection, etc. and from identity theft
librarians can turn to the PRC for help with questions such as “how do I get rid of all of those credit card offers I get in the mail?”

a few years ago, Sun CEO Scott McNealy said “you have no privacy, get over it already”
he said visa knows what I bought, someone has my medical records, someone has my dental records, etc.
1967 definition of privacy – when someone can decide what information about them is transmitted to others
“informational self-determination”
Canada & EU do a much better job than US; they have privacy commissioners and we don’t have that (no comprehensive data privacy law)
instead, we have the sectoral approach – a law for this industry, another one for that industry, etc.
HIPAA isn’t a privacy law, it’s a disclosure law
it’s a swiss cheese approach and there are lots of holes
Fair Credit Reporting Act was enacted in 1970 – wouldn’t make it out of congress today with the shape congress is in these days
gives you a right of access to your credit report
only creditors, employers, and landlords can access your credit report – if others access it, you can sue

Fair Information Practices – FIPs
when she analyzes an information bill, she has a mental checklist of these things (usage, collection, access, etc.) for evaluating it
most privacy policies are not really privacy policies at all – they’re disclosure policies because there’s no omnibus privacy bill on the books
usually in legalese it’s difficult to understand
throwing up your hands and declaring you have no privacy is not a valid option
instead, we need to take every opportunity to opt out – they have a guide on their website
take control of uses of your personal information
that way, lobbyists can’t say to legislators that we don’t need privacy legislation because only a few people opt out
in fact, let legislators know this is important to enact

librarians are the pioneers – use the PRC resources
we can all do a better job of making sure our privacy is more protected, rather than less protected
put books like Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother – as well as nonfiction – prominently on your shelves and help guide people to resources
encourage users to visit the nonprofit advocacy group websites

Cory Doctorow
when we say do we need to care about the privacy of our patrons in light of the fact they’re already giving away their information on social networking sites, at least sn users are deciding when to give out their personal information
how can you say info is private if other people know it?
well, we have private but secret acts (going to the bathroom, having sex) – this is no different

the further up the ladder you go and the higher up you are, the more power you have to selectively reveal information
the lower you go, the less power you have to hide your info

is this because of bureaucrats or our technology?
why do we enter the skinner box? go online and give away our information?
the system architects create the system, but others create the norms for us just giving away the info without thinking about it

london is ground zero in the privacy wars
wanted to use rfid passes instead of paper tickets – convert everyone over
gave discounts to new rfid users by tripling the cost of paper tickets
same thing with grocery loyalty cards
aimed at people with the least choice

thinks there are businesses who have manipulated the field
this has raised a generation where this is now par for the course and this happens all day long, and not just in commercial settings
it’s become the norm because you have to know what you’re doing to turn off the logging
rfids are set up so that users have no ability to configure, read, or block them
vendors say this would raise the cost of rfid, which is true – the same way seatbelts, brakes, etc. raise the cost (a company couldn’t offer a car today without those things)
it wouldn’t be a market correction when that company went out of business – regulators would take care of it

creates a climate where we have less respect for our own privacy
also where malicious people can read your data and decide what to do with it

libraries are the last bastion of DRM – they’re not treated as first-class citizens
DRM – consumption of material – a word-by-word capacity to track what people are reading
we should be deeply skeptical of these technologies
libraries have a moral imperative to block technologies that expose user data (embodies a snitch)

an information economy based on accessing information isn’t viable
it’s a business model that no one wants
no one woke up this morning asking to do less with their music

at the end of the day, this surveillance undermines our personal security and our national security
surveillance societies are ones where people don’t trust each other
they undermine our security because it makes our haystacks bigger without making it easier to find the needles
our information officials had everything they needed to know about 9/11
the mad response since then has been to make the haystacks bigger
we collect the information to fill the government databases to make it harder for the government to find the critical info
can’t spot the important stuff in the unimportant stuff we’ve collected

in the remote rail stations, we’ve replaced the guards with cameras, which are only forensic
when you have that many cameras, no one watches them
they don’t prevent crimes – they only help you solve them afterwards
cctv is not a means to securing society
crack addicts who mug and kill you for your cell phone don’t have long-term plans and cctvs don’t help with those scenarios

these systems that we build that provide access to this information will determine the societies we build in the future
our decisions as information professionals will determine whether our descendents curse us or praise us

Q&A

Q: what is at stake here overall?

Beth: there’s a huge amount at stake. if we don’t somehow succeed in getting our message across about speaking out and protecting our privacy, we’ll lose it. so much data is gathered about us, and profiles are being built now; the movie “Minority Report” is a great example of ads being tailored to you. worries the most about when all of these cameras are outfitted with biometric readers that identify the shape of our face, which hooks into the drivers license database – this is very possible and is high on her list to worry about. worried we’re heading in that direction without asking the questions and putting up the barriers

Dan: we’ve seen some of this already – what happens when our health records can be read by insurers and employers? what happens when you apply for a job and they can read those things? when you can’t get a drivers license because of what they know? when you can’t get married? once all of this info is out there, and if we don’t care, what happens when we develop into a nation of niches? you’re the kind of guy that shops for this one thing? as we move away from mass culture to atomization, how does having this private information out there affect us?

Cory: one of the important things to recognzie about this data acquisition is that it’s like uranium. you can buy it on amazon for your science project, and it’s perfectly legal. but you can refine it into plutonium and this is a problem. a little of your private information is one thing, but you can quickly amass a lot of private information in the public domain without even knowing it. the internet will never unlearn what paris hilton’s genitals look like. these things never go back in the bottle. you will never be able to not look up what CEOs of companies were posting on usenet in the 90s. as we confront the potential of our society in 20 years, all of this info will be like smog and we won’t be able to destroy it

dan: we’re in a golden age right now where most companies don’t know what to do with all of this info they have. they just keep collecting it, but at some point they’ll figure it out. if something is going to happen, it has to happen now

cory: or it’s like the breakup of the soviet union, where you could buy the plutonium easily. cited a situation where selling blade servers came with the info on it. you’re loading the gun and handing it to successors forever

beth: recommends the “Dig Dirt” report/survey about how employers are using social network sites and other information as a hiring tool (more than 50%) and making value judgments about individuals and keeping this to themselves. doesn’t apply to privacy or employment laws. old laws are inadequate for covering this kind of thing. let young people know, even though it might not do any good because they may not listen

Q (Jessamyn): these databases exist – we know that. at what point do we either have to say the horse is out of the barn or that there are assurances about things happening? if we’re just waiting for the processors to hit the point where they can use the data, do we need a new strategy about serious top-down legislation? is there any purpose to doing something other than top-level stuff

cory: calls it “turning forward the clock,” not “turning back the clock.” we’re going to regulate how this is used and teach people how to use it. respecting the awesome power of information and regulating this activity. could trivially build a skinner box that rewarded people for protecting their privacy and in fact justin hall is working on this with pmog – the passively multiplayer online gaming (http://pmog.com/)

dan: looking for the transparency side. if we care about this as a society, we have to keep at this and find ways to make it happen. use game theory to your advantage to encourage people to do this. consumers don’t have any idea why they should care about this and you have to teach them why they do

beth: very few people take advantage of the opportunity to view their credit reports. try to get the right of access into law now, because it doesn’t exist. PRC tried to do this last year but failed in california because of the information and credit industries. couldn’t get past the committee hearings. have to keep trying. counting on a “data valdez” doesn’t work because we’ve had one after another (their website keeps track of these security breaches – a running tally). when more people realize that the decision made about them (job, insurance, etc.) was caused by personal information that is out of their control, it will help energize them, but it’s difficult. california is a trendsetter in terms of legislation, but the information broker industry is fighting & blocking this legislation

cory: other tips and tricks that make it easier to game the system – skipxxip (sp?) generates fake logins for registration sites. every time he gets a postal solicitation, he writes “deceased” on it and sends it back

Q kate sheehan (blogger): about 8-9 years ago, Wired ran an article about how to be invisible online. is it even feasible anymore? is it even a good idea to try to make yourself invisible or to manage it? how do you buy a house then?

beth: “how to be invisible” book. can’t be invisible because then someone else has to manage your mail. that’s why she’s a public activist. remember the unabomber? he owned the cabin so records showed that and even he couldn’t be invisible

cory: thinks it’s just bad tactics; shift over the last few years is that “green can be glorious” – doesn’t involve suffering or eating food that tastes bad; being green can actually help us personally – there’s an imaginative opportunity to come up with cool ways to make privacy luxurious

dan: would like to see a point where you can figure out what is being trapped and what you’re giving away. try to read the privacy policies of a lot of websites and they’re incomprehensible

beth: that’s why the right of access would be very valuable – to see what is held about us

dan: the one story he did about privacy, he talked to HP’s chief privacy officer. she described the amount of work HP does to keep user data private in the EU, but not in the US because we don’t require it. wasn’t a no-brainer to just do it here since they were already doing it there

cory: defaults matter. if a router came with logging off by default (or apache) and you had to explicitly turn it on, we’d have a very different world. push legislation and best practices. firefox could do more to surface what information about you is being given away. linux could expose info. the open source world in particular could help with this by setting the defaults to off. there’s a really good inflection/leverage point there by just talking to some geeks in the right way

Q: as librarians, people come into our institutions, how do we convince our users that privacy is important in the age of facebook? what do we do?

cory: friend of his is a hacker who built the “hackerbot” – a robot sat on the floor on the ground with a router on it and it would sniff the area networks and grab unencrypted passwords. it would roll up to your feet and show you all of the passwords you just transmitted; a library that had over the door a printer that showed all of the info you disclosed would be very powerful. having slider bars that show red/green for amount of disclosure

beth: described a game that could be used in libraries. it’s a town square where you’re challenged about privacy data and questions you can answer. can come up with creative ways to educate and inform people; use the library as a launching pad

cory: in a few years, teachers will be able to datamine info about their students as a very instructive lesson

dan: require that everyone check out cory’s books

Q kate sheehan: we’re very concerned about privacy, so we don’t let users see everything they’ve ever checked out. we’re protecting their privacy, but they want to access that info. her library has the ability for the user to turn this on so they see it and staff don’t, but most libraries don’t have that. how do we balance this?

cory: demand of vendors ways they collect information for only the user to access. maybe the data resides only on their library card and not on your server. stuff can live on the edges – doesn’t have to live in the middle, and it can be encrypted. it’s utterly conceivable that if there was demand for it, vendors would produce the solutions

cory made an explicit statement that all of his remarks are in the public domain!

q: how do we argue for this when privacy protections cost money?

beth: could try scare tactics. the more you collect, the more the risk it can get breached. larry ponemon (sp?) has calculated the cost of data breaches ($100-200 cost per name per data breach). the lesson many of these entities have learned is that if we hadn’t collected all of this stuff, we wouldn’t be in trouble now. don’t keep data for very long

cory: has a friend who described a conversation with a self-defense instructor. what do I do if I’m in a dark alley when two guys are following me and I’m alone? answer – don’t go to dark alleys alone

q: as a consumer, i was better able to manage my privacy before 9/11 and before I bought a house. now my info is everywhere. how do I manage this?

beth: in terms of property, create a living trust and don’t put it in your name – this will protect you from real estate ledgers. start young on this one. this is good in general – just have a PO box – so that it becomes habitual. this is why working with young people is so important.

q: but traditional things like banking require a physical address and a Social Security number

cory: need to take control of your technology; jailbreaking drm; take control of debate & learn to speak intelligently about this; danah boyd shows a slide on online predation and how rare these occurrences are – knowing how to speak about the issue is key. third thing is regime change – if you don’t participate in the electoral process, it will participate in you

q: one of the big worries we’re facing today is that after 9/11, there is increased access by government to library information. there is a certain logic to the idea that we’ll be safe if we just give up our privacy. how much safer would we really be if the government knew everything everyone was reading?

dan: thinks people are starting to say that all of data collection this hasn’t helped us at all

cory: safety and security are not platonic universals. you can only be safe by definition from something. if you’re going to be made more safe from terrorists, you have to be less safe from government. this is at odds with the founding principle of this country. if you believe the former, you should go back to the soviet union. saying we are taking away your freedom to keep you safe from terrorism is a fundamentally unamerican premise

q: we have this huge cult of celebrity that everyone feeds into where it’s a cool thing to divulge this information. there has to be a shift for librarians to educate people if there’s a drive to not give out that info. would need a celebrity campaign to counter the norm

beth: that’s a great idea, especially for the long-term consequences

dan: saw this happen in a story about a secretive billionaire. guy purchased a company and never talked to the press. his daughter had a blogging site, though, where she talked about her parents and the fights they’d get into, what she overheard them saying. it revealed a lot about this guy and it enabled dan to approach him to say here’s what I know about you. that blog *stopped* as soon as the guy found out about it

q: transparency has ebbed and flowed across history and we’ll never have absolute privacy. we need to assert positive rights for privacy. how do we watch the watchers and take care of the positive ways?

cory: his daughter is 5-months old, but their first game will probably be 10p for every cctv you spot. wants to make a campaign of post-it notes with closed eyes on them that people can put on cctv cameras – “don’t watch me”

jessamyn: demystifying the media and telling people that it’s okay to not always believe the newspapers and magazines

q: it would be useful for us as a community to look at the successes of the green revolution and how it evolved, maybe piggyback on it. is our “inconvenient truth” “information footprints” instead of “carbon footprints?” get our own al gore and make our own movies. let’s build on that

dan: will have a problem convincing people not to opt-in to things they use everyday, though

cory: there’s a third option between refusenik and throwing up your hands – take control of your habits; use “google commander” firefox extension; in the library, we could redirect doubeclick URLs to 0000 so that library users are not tracked

dan: digital vandalism would make this info useless – a friend clicks around aimlessly to deliberately create false data

q: how can we work better with our IT people? and our vendors? what would be persuasive to the geeks who design our systems?

cory: is a former sysadmin and geeks believe really strongly in privacy for themselves. if you can get those people to expand the universe of people whose privacy they want to protect beyond themselves, they can understand it’s part of their mission

q: the EFF has the Tor program that can be downloaded for free to anonymize web surfing and can be used on library computers, too, if your IT people install it

cory: it was originally intended for naval communications

http://privacyrevolution.org/

– additional liveblogging of this session at the Loose Cannon Librarian


1:27 am Comments (7)

June 26, 2008

Reblogging the ALA Privacy Panel

I’ve been invited to liveblog and solicit questions for an Annual Conference session about a newish ALA grant project designed to educate the public about privacy rights. More info will be up soon at their site, Privacy Revolution, but for now, they have a top-notch panel speaking about this subject at Annual (Cory Doctorow, Dan Roth from Wired, and Beth Givens, the director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse), and they’re soliciting questions from those who can’t attend the session. If nothing else, there is a survey available on the site that they’re hoping you’ll take in order to collect data about information privacy policies and practices.

Jessamyn West has a longer explanation on Librarian.net, and I think it’s probably easier if everyone just posts their questions there, although I will definitely ask any relevant questions posted here, too. If you’ll be at the conference, we’ll be in room 201D in the convention center from 1:30-3:30pm on Sunday, so please join us.

As soon as there is more info about the project available online, I’ll post a note about it here. I’m hoping good things will come from this, as I think this country needs to have a serious and frank debate about privacy issues, and I believe libraries are a good forum for this.


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June 25, 2008

Literally, Where I’ll Be Gaming at ALA

I’ve finally had a moment to collect room numbers, and since I see that some of the gaming stuff isn’t listed in the program guide, here’s a quick run-down.


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June 24, 2008

Implementing the Prototype (Thinkering Spaces III)

Having explained what the Thinkering Spaces project is about and how it works, I want to wrap up some thoughts on it by noting next steps. Using the MacArthur grant, the Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design folks are going to implement two installations in the Chicagoland area so that they can monitor them closely. While they hope to put one in Chicago itself, they’re also looking at putting the other in a nearby suburb in order to get usage data from a range of demographics. According to the grant’s timeline, this will happen around September and will last for a few months, as this is phase is a temporary one. Then project staff will analyze and publish the data in 2009.

We all agreed that there needs to be some starter content for users to play with from day one, and while the intent is to provide an unstructured, informal learning environment, I think there’s also some hope that students will be able to use it to collaborate on schoolwork, too. So they’ll need to find some content partners, especially for the long haul. One of the things I like about this project is that it’s another way for libraries to generate and provide access to local content. I’m thrilled that the trial will be in this area since Chicago has such great history. In fact, a meeting we had the next day reminded us that 2009 will be the centennial celebration of Daniel Burnham’s plan for Chicago, which is a natural fit from every angle – recreational, informational, and educational. In addition, residents could build resources about the community and attach to books information that, as TJ noted, can’t be found on the web or on Amazon when you look up a title online.

Personally, I wonder if teaching media literacy has more impact in this type of environment where users are mashing up content from disparate resources, and I think there are natural tie-ins for teaching both kids and adults about privacy, fair use (using Creative Commons licenses), and digital identity. Unfortunately, it may be too late in the cycle to plan a content module around politics and the election, but maybe the users will do that themselves (especially with a presidential candidate from Illinois). When there are more of these installations in libraries, it’s easy to imagine a network springing up where librarians curate content and post it online for other Thinkering Spaces projects to download and [re-]use. Imagine having something like this in place in New Orleans and surrounding states so that victims of Hurricane Katrina could record their stories and add to the body of knowledge that will be published in print. As the IIT folks said, the book becomes the patron repository, and it is no longer a passive object. It’s not just open source space, but open source content, too.

Obviously it will take time to scale this up in terms of numbers, so IIT is designing a plan. I would hope to start regionally, building statewide in Illinois, and then expanding across the country. In fact, with the right funding, a partnership with IFLA would make it possible to do this internationally and tie sister cities together through the installations to let users collaborate across geography. And maybe ALA’s Public Programs Office could integrate this type of space with its exhibits, and when it travels from one site to the next, user-generated content goes with it, available for users at the next site to remix. So many possibilities.

But right now the work is focused on getting those first two test installations up and running. I’m hoping to track this project very closely, visit the libraries where they are implemented, and report back periodically. I’m optimistic about the potential for interactions and partnerships within the community, although I’m worried that the short timeframe can’t possibly expose all of the possibilities. I think just seeing how users play with content in these new ways will be enough to spark our collective imagination (as it did mine) and give us a glimpse of the future.

See also:


8:36 am Comments (7)

June 23, 2008

Where I’ll Be Gaming at ALA

I’ve alluded to the fact that ALA is doing a lot with gaming these days, some of which is happening at our Annual Conference (which starts June 27), some of which I’ve helped organize.

The biggest one is the – wait for it – “big” game, “California Dreaming.” I posted about this on the ALA Marginalia blog so you can get the details there, but I’m thrilled to see that more than 100 people have already signed up. I think this is going to be a lot of fun, and my only regret is that I won’t get to see all of the clues myself and play. Well, actually my biggest regret is that we don’t have enough prizes to award to the extra teams who have joined. I had high hopes that attendees would get into the game, but I didn’t realize they would do it so enthusiastically before we even started. You folks rock. 🙂

If you’re attending the conference, the game is free to play, and you can sign up all the way through Sunday if you get inspired as you start seeing clues around the convention center. Watch for other attendees with your team’s color on their badges to identify your teammates to collaborate and win. You can pick up your colored sticker at the California Myth Authority game HQ in the new Games Pavilion on the exhibit floor. I’ll be hanging out there whenever I can given my schedule, so if nothing else, come by and say hi.

Another milestone at Annual will be the first meeting of the Games and Gaming Member Interest Group (MIG) since it was officially approved at the 2008 Midwinter Meeting. There were far more than the 100 signatures required to start the group, and it’s great to see it form so quickly based on member interest. Dr. Scott Nicholson is the organizer, and he’ll be convening the meeting at Annual, which will take place at 10:00 a.m.-noon on Saturday, June 28, at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Plaza A/B. If you’re at all interested in gaming, come to the meeting to get an update from our expert panel from the Verizon Foundation grant, exchange tips and tricks, hear what others are doing, and learn more about ALA initiatives in this area. In fact, we also have a big announcement to make at the meeting, so there’s even some mystery to it.

I’ve also helped organize ALA’s first ever open gaming night for all attendees, which will rock out on Friday, June 27, from 7:30-10:30 p.m. Come play Boom Blox, Dance Dance Revolution, Mario Kart Wii, Rock Band, and Wii Sports, with no pressure. We’ll also have boardgames such as Hamster Rolle, Ingenious, TransAmerica, Wits & Wagers, and more. The event is sponsored by The Verizon Foundation, so we’ll even have snacks. Friends, fun, and food – you can’t ask for more than that. We even have some prizes from The Cartoon Network, Electronic Arts, and Microsoft to give away for the videogame winners.

The other gaming-related activity I’ll be involved in is running a Dance Dance Revolution setup during the Wellness Fair on the exhibit floor on Sunday, June 29, from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. I’m getting back into DDR at home (which may be a whole other future post) because it’s such great exercise, so if you’ve never had a chance to play and you can’t make it to open gaming night, you can come by the Fair to try it for yourself.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on at Annual around gaming, and you can get an overview of the rest of the sessions on the Gaming News blog.

In addition to all of this fun stuff, here are some other places you can catch me to say hi:

  • the Virtual Communities & Libraries Member Interest Group meeting on Saturday, from 4:00-5:30 p.m. at the Anaheim Marriott in the Marquis Ballroom NorthEast
  • the Empowerment Conference on Sunday, from 8:00-10:00 a.m., speaking with Michael Stephens about technology trends
  • the panel on privacy on Sunday, from 1:30-3:30 p.m., in Room 201D of the Convention Center, which I’ll blog more about later this week (I hope to have Cory Doctorow sign my Kindle at this session)
  • the Web Advisory Committee meeting on Monday, from 8:30 a.m.-noon, in Room 202B of the Convention Center

see you at ALA Annual Those are the highlights, although I’ll be racing around to other meetings and sessions, too. I’m looking forward to another fun-filled, action-packed Annual and hoping for a little downtime here and there to catch up with friends. It’s strange being on the staff side of the conference, as I don’t get to hang out as much, but it’s exciting being able to help connect attendees with each other, as well as good content. I hope to see you there.


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June 18, 2008

Mashing Up Content in the Library (Thinkering Spaces II)

Yesterday I gave an overview of the Thinkering Spaces project, so today I want to explain a little more about how we were able to manipulate content using the various technologies and objects.

TJ puts this book with an RFID tag in it on the reader RFID is a big component of the system, as it identifies content and allows it to travel with an object. To start, the TS folks put a book with an RFID chip on the reader, which triggers a process that displays the cover on the screen, along with a keyboard for typing text to associate with the title. In this case, the container is the book, and the user can draw or type to add content that will travel with it. To illustrate this, they remove the first book and put a second one on the reader. A new cover image appears, along with some information that’s already been added by a previous user. Take that book off and put the first one back on, and the content we added reappears. The whole thing is very cool, and I immediately started thinking about local history collections, schoolwork, and reader reviews. All of which is the point – your librarian mind starts hopping with possibilities.

Then they showed us a library card with an RFID chip in it. This one happened to have information about me stored on it, so putting it on the reader brought up information about me, which rotated with books I recommend. Others in the Thinkering Space could see all of this about me, which would be great if I was working with a group I’m mentoring, coordinating, or collaborating with. The IIT folks understand the privacy issues involved, though, so they’re exploring different ways to handle this. Alternatives include using avatars without personally identifiable information, having the group build a persona to achieve certain skills, and using special cards for collaborative clubs rather than embedding the information in standard library cards (this would provide an opt-in system). None of this is set in stone, but it demonstrates one way in which library users might share information about themselves in the physical library.

hey, that's me! hey, that's me!

Next, we began playing with the story of The Wizard of Oz by placing a Rubik’s Cube with RFID chips on it on a reader. The starter Oz content is attached to this container and it can include the text and images from the book itself. Placing a second, blank, paper “storycube” on the reader brings up a template where someone can use a wand to drag and drop images into a template to tell a story, which can then be saved to another object (in this case, it was a small doll). Putting a second doll on the reader brought up someone else’s story. The container could be anything that uses RFID or barcodes. Turning the cube produces other content, such as weather maps (watch for tornadoes), and putting a camera on the reader brings up pictures and images related to the book, all of which can be manipulated on the screen.

storycubes put a different doll on the reader and get someone else's story TJ turns the cube and a different weather map appears

TJ then took some pictures of the group and other objects in the space, and since his digital camera had an Eye-Fi card in it, the pictures began appearing on the screen as well. We could then mash up these pictures with text, sounds, and other digital content to create a narrative, a presentation, a document, or just explore them all together. The space also has a digital microscope and a webcam that can project images onto the screen as well.

We also played with a collaborative drawing table that just does a basic coloring demo right now. However, the idea is that there might be some projects where users can work on their own pieces separately to build a larger whole, or they may have to collaborate and work together as a team to create something. Sometimes they might have their head down working, but other times they might have their head up, interacting with the other participants. Pretty much everything in the space is based on collaboration, as opposed to single users.

What I like about these ideas is that they expand on existing content in the library, using the library’s collection, and mashing it up with users’ ideas to create something new. It’s Jon Udell’s remixed physical library, not just the online one. Or the users create something new from the beginning, based on their interactions with our collections and services. The community can contribute content and knowledge, and the library could archive it.

And it doesn’t have to be just for kids or students. For seniors who have trouble using a mouse and a computer, a setup that lets them use a wand (or even better, their fingers) to drag objects might allow them to play with digital content (especially local history) in different ways. Could families create genealogical histories this way and mash them up with community resources? The Shanachies in the Netherlands intend to build a giant screen in the DOK Library Concept Center where residents can post their own stories and pictures. Imagine combining that with library cards that let those residents update their stories and remix them in a Thinkering Space.

It will be interesting to see what happens to things like narrative and copyright in these types of environments. One of the questions now is will libraries be one of them? This project gives me hope that the answer is yes, and honestly, what better institution do we have in which to discuss, explore, and implement the answers?

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10:25 pm Comments (8)

June 17, 2008

Thinkering Spaces in Libraries

Today I saw one possible future for libraries, and it has me pretty excited. I can look back on my professional career and see a progression of advocating for shifting services to where our users are, making our spaces more collaborative, and reinvigorating libraries as the community center (regardless of type of library). It’s why I’ve explored technology, blogging, RSS, social networks, gaming, and collaborative spaces. Today, many of those pieces came together for me in a pretty amazing package that has the power to reimagine the library as third place, cross some digital divides, and integrate participatory culture into our service model. Even better, it involves people and books, not just technology.

Thinkering Spaces prototype So what did I see today? A project called Thinkering Spaces, conceived of by some very smart people at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design and funded by the MacArthur Foundation. After quite a bit of initial visioning and research, this group has built a prototype for a relatively cheap, portable, collaborative space that can be put up and taken down in libraries of any size on the fly. It’s built using an out-of-the-catalog Steelcase frame, and uses Johnny Chung Lee’s Nintedo wiimote hacks to create an inexpensive, drag-and-drop environment. The technology is as plug and play as it can be to create an open source, open content space where any future technology that is built on these standards can be easily integrated.

The point is to bring spaces into libraries that let people collaborate around the content that already exists in in our buildings, add new content to the mix, mash it all up to create something new, and share it with the community. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a way to connect people with the physical world and help them make sense of it by interacting with and changing it. It’s another instance where the library adds value to the equation (the same way it does with books and now games), offering an experience you can’t replicate at home, borne of the community. TJ, the programming wizard behind the curtain, called it a “human interface environment,” rather than a “human computer interaction.” It takes the focus off technology and puts it back onto the people.

dragging images on the left into the story frame on the right The various pieces are designed for different types of interactions, including:

  • asynchronous
  • synchronous
  • subscribe to a mentor (one-to-many)
  • collaborative storytelling/joint commentary
  • cumulative experience (see what others have done and build on it or change it)

Because the space is scalable down to 5’x5′ or expandable up to 12’x12′, it should fit in most buildings in some form. Libraries could assemble the full version one day and only certain pieces the next week. It could be used at specific times for certain programming and then broken down and stored until the next session. It has its own contained wireless network, or it could access the library’s wifi. It’s designed to create a distinct, exploratory environment that doesn’t require anyone to run it.

collaborative drawing table Out of all of the discussions and demonstrations today, TJ summed it up best when he said the project is about ” ‘look at what I did,’ as opposed to ‘look at what I bought.’ ” To provide that type of interaction in the safe, non-commercialized third place of the library for the entire community is a pretty exciting prospect. No other entity in the community could provide the breadth and depth of this type of experience. The team at IIT – Dale Fahnstrom, Greg Prygrocki, Heloisa Moura, and TJ McLeish – has created a working prototype that dazzles the imagination for the next generation of library services.

Over the next few days, I’ll write more about the details, the plan, and what I hope is the future of the project, but for now you can see my Flickr set of pictures from today’s visit to get an idea of what it looks like and what it can do. Keeping in mind that it’s still in the prototype phase, it’s still pretty inspiring.

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11:20 pm Comments (18)

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