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High School Library, the Game

My friend Albert brought this to my attention: High School Library.

There's not too much say about this, except I find it fascinating that a new medium, such as the Flash video game, promotes such an outdated image of librarianship.


Bart Simpson, Scientologist

Now here is an interesting question: Can the voice of a character be trademarked? If so, who owns the rights to it, the voice actor or the show on which that voice became famous?

This question might be answered in the coming months, because Nancy Cartwright, the voice of one of the most famous cartoon voices in television history, used her distinctive vocal rendition of Bart Simpson in a robocall promoting Scientology, which she apparently has been a slave to follower of for many years.

In case the Village Voice's post on the subject is stolen by Thetans mysteriously disappears, or you're too lazy to link through, I offer the YouTube clip:

A Masterclass in the Art of the Complaint Letter

I have a friend who works customer relations for a major airline. This friend has shown me some crazy things over the years. Of course there have been the standard letters of complaint written by people with, at best, a tenuous hold of written English language, and others written by some poor souls with a tenuous hold on reality. This friend has seen letters written in crayon, on toilet paper, and even some sent with handmade props.

This, however, is how you write a proper complaint letter. Disgruntled flyer Oliver Beale's letter to Virgin head Sir Richard Branson is entertaining, witheringly funny, includes photographic evidence to support its vivid language—and it elicited a personal response from Sir Richard himself.


Touchy Feely

The central idea of Media Ecology is that the tools and media we surround ourselves with and use to extend our natural abilities deeply affect how we think about and interact with our environment. Marshall McLuhan framed this concept as, "We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us." A folksier way of thinking of it is, "When you're a hammer, the world looks like a nail."

Researchers from Ohio State University and Illinois State University have added evidence to support McLuhan's observation. In their study, they held an auction for a simple coffee mug. The bidders were divided into two groups: one was allowed to examine the mug for 10 seconds, the other for 30 seconds. The results of bidding suggest that those who held the mug longer formed a stronger attachment to the object. According to ScienceDaily:

The average bid in the open auctions was $2.44 for people who touched the mug for 10 seconds and $3.91 for those in the 30 second experiments. This finding was also consistent for those in silent auctions, with people in the 10 and 30 second experiments bidding $2.24 and $3.07, respectively.
On two occasions, bidding among those who held the mug for 30 seconds reached $10, even though the mug's retail price was less than half that.

So, it turns out humans are tactilely oriented creatures, and we're ruled by emotional attachment at least as much as reason, which Wes Anderson Spike Jonze brilliantly satirizes in his 2002 Ikea commercial.

Apple certainly understands this human tendency—all of their newest products not only beg to be fondled but have to be in order to work. It's also why the book has dominated as a medium for centuries and will continue to survive (albeit on a much smaller scale) amidst digital technologies. What book lover, after all, doesn't speak warmly of a book's heft and feel and smell?

How is this understanding of human nature and our interaction with objects something that we, as librarians, can use to benefit our libraries and provide better services in all media to our communities?


Katha Pollitt Reads The Playful Librarian

No she doesn't. Well, maybe she does, but I have no way of knowing it. However, it's clear that she and I think alike. And I don't know what to think of that.


Gratis versus Libre

The Guardian's Hermione Hoby makes an interesting comparison between Ann Patchett's recent praise of American libraries in the Wall Street Journal and then-Senator Obama's keynote to the 2005 ALA Annual Conference.

Are we a model of free public services or free expression? Both, really, though anyone who knows how most libraries are managed might disagree with the former. Let's face it, library service models are far from perfect and often get outstripped by a constantly shifting information environment.

Yet even as we continue to struggle to provide better, faster, more efficient information services, we must remain intensely focused on why we continue the struggle: free thought, free expression, and the individual's right to privacy as he or she explores them.


Library Bailout Package

History repeats itself, as libraries across the country see record circulation increases in the midst of a rapid economic downturn.

It is well established that public libraries have a significant positive impact on their local and regional economies [links to a PDF]. So in a time when everyone is tightening their belts and governments from local to state to federal must decide where to make the tough cuts—even as the architects of our current financial crisis get billions of taxpayer dollars to right their ships—isn't it about time that libraries are at least spared, if not reinvested in, as they so richly deserve?


Public Image Ltd

As more and more people get caught playing hooky through Facebook—and, undoubtedly, will continue to get caught—it's clear that digital communications technology is having an impact on our sense of privacy and public image.

Perhaps we think we are immune to getting caught. Perhaps we think such public displays don't really matter. Perhaps we don't think anything at all when we hit SEND or PUBLISH. Regardless, potential consequences are obviously the furthest thing from many people's minds as they post images of themselves passed out drunk or doing foolish things, or write distasteful things about their acquaintances or bosses. And it has something to do with the perception of insulation we feel when sitting behind a screen.

Take, for instance, the example of Jamie Peck. She is a staff writer—make that former staff writer—at H. W. Wilson. I also worked there, though not contemporaneously with her, and I imagine we could trade similar stories. She wrote this piece about our former employer.

Jamie is right: Wilson hasn't changed much over time. But did she think Wilson was stuck in the actual—as in, not metaphorical—nineteen fifties and, thus, did not have the Internet and could not find out she had written the article (which, incidentally, she signed with her own name)? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe she was frustrated by her job and just wanted to let off steam, as we all do.

The problem with letting off steam on the Web is that it's public, and it tends to stick around for the police, adoption agents, small business lenders, and current and future employers to find. The very real—as in, not metaphorical—consequences of Jamie's actions, no matter what she thought as she pressed PUBLISH, is that she's out of a job at a bad time to have to be looking for work.


Fear and Loathing in 2009

December is the Playfullest month. But for bloggers it's the cruelest month, what with end-of-year deadlines and seasonal festivities keeping us away from the warm glow of our monitors.

Thus, it seems appropriate to recover from too much eggnog by facing the uncertainties that the coming year brings. And don't these uncertainties—a faltering economy, the continued shadow of terrorism, political instability in the Middle East, and a new president who is at least physically unlike any other prior resident of the White House—seem a little scarier than any of the other uncertainties the still-living generations have faced? Somehow the Cold War, a nuclear threat, and the graffiti-filled subways of 1970s New York City just don't stack up to the present, right?

The novelist Douglas Coupland explores this phenomenon in an op-ed for yesterday's Globe and Mail and concludes that the real difference between then and now is digital media:

Marshall McLuhan tells us that "terror is the normal state of any oral society, for in it, everything affects everything all the time." What he perhaps didn't foresee was that terror didn't turn out to be Winston Smith's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Terror turned out to be a friend's grandmother bingeing on conspiracy websites during a late-night browsing jag, triggering days of pension freak-out e-mails with her daughter, Sarah, down in Human Resources, who then installs a real-time Dow Jones ticker widget in the top right-hand corner of her work screen, and when Sarah goes home, she and her husband browse online real-estate listings wondering when the bottom's going to hit.
In other words: information overload.

We have all the information we could ever want—and certainly more than we could ever need or handle—at our finger tips all the time every time. Yet this seeming wealth is also the cause of a deficit: in perspective, in certainty.

And even as digital communication creates this wealth with its brutally efficient ability to disseminate information, it is rendering whole species of cultural and informational curators—writers and editors and librarians—less relevant in the collective public mind just when the public needs them most.