Wednesday, September 23, 2009

cushing academy just doesn't get it

Cushing Academy, a prep school in Ashburnham, Massachussetts, is replacing the books in its library with computers. Completely. They're getting rid of a good library of 20,000 books, carefully collected over decades.

This is just one school library, one might argue. But the danger to society at large comes from making the unthinkable thinkable.

Libraries have always grown to include new forms of media. But before this they have generally kept the previous forms. The exception has been replacing items which could only be accessed by machines most people no longer owned with a form accessed by machines most people, by that time, do own. (E.g., records were replaced by cassette tapes which in turn were replaced by CDs.) When they got records, they didn't throw out the books. When they got books on tape, they didn't throw out the books. When they got videos, they didn't throw out the music or the books on tape -- or the books. They just kept adding media, enriching the overall information experience.

Books are usable anywhere they can be carried. They need no special technology. Even if the lights go out, a book is readable again as soon as the sun rises. And people like the paper format. Many people prefer the format. Some refuse to read anything of length any other way -- including many young people. In my library experience, most students with a reading assignment that's already checked out will change their choice (if possible) or go out and buy the book rather than read it at a computer, even if it's available for free from The Gutenberg Project.

I actually like to read books from a computer sometimes. (It's a playing-Star-Trek thing; it's fun because it feels futuristic.) But I also love my books and would never part with those dear friends. And I certainly would never presume to take the pleasure of holding a volume and turning the pages away from others.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

the big move: a cautionary tale

Cloud computing has its perils. One of those is analogous to renting vs. homeowning. In renting and in putting your documents on a cloud, someone else -- in the best case scenario, someone with more resources to to it well -- has the burden of responsibility of keeping your stuff safe.

But the landlord can choose to have the building torn down, leaving you to look for shelter. This is what is currently going on with GeoCities, the granddaddy of all web hosting services. As happens when an apartment is razed, neighbors scatter, destroying the community in which you once knew where to find people.

This could happen with any cloud service or application, including blogging, photo sharing (major brands Yahoo and AOL both recently stopped their free services), and yes, even online word processing. You could wake up one day to find that your documents are going to disappear. Or, if it's only the free service that's being stopped, that your stuff is being "held hostage" for money.

So, I have moved my former GeoCites sites.

Public Free Library, which includes links to free e-texts of books and documents, music, and a page of quotations is now at

Everallyn's Jefferson Pages, a Thomas Jefferson biographical site, is now at

Thursday, September 17, 2009

basic inherent drawback of blogging

(Or updating your social page status or tweeting.)

When there's nothing going on there's nothing to write about. (Duh, obvious.)

But when you're in the middle of a busy patch, in order to get something up, you tend to post in haste, often something poorly written (certainly not your best) and sometimes grouchy in content (because when you're over-busy you're annoyed at the world). Certainly not an in-depth discussion of whatever important project or event you're in the middle of; there's just not time to give that proper attention.

To make matters worse, because you're busy, you don't have time to put anything else up, so the lousy post hangs there for days, in prominent view at the top of the page.