John Hubbard

Steve Thomas: John Hubbard, welcome to Circulating Ideas. How did you get started in librarianship? What was your interest in the field initially?

John Hubbard: Kind of stumbled upon it. Like most people really don’t really grow up saying, “I wanna be a librarian when I grow up.” I’ve always kind of liked using technology, helping people find what they need. I stumbled around a little bit after my undergrad degree, didn’t do a whole lot with it, and it was a former roommate of mine who one day said, have you thought about library school ? And the rest is history. I got my MLS at Drexel University in Philly and started on a career that’s now over 20 years, mainly using technology to aid the mission of libraries, which of course the technology involved has changed considerably over the years. And so that has made the positions I’m in a bit of a lightning rod. There’s been some learning opportunities for me along the way, coping with change management and figuring out the best way to enact change in organizations that, at least historically, are kind of change averse. You know, there’s a lot of stability in how the traditional library role operates, and I think that has to do with us preserving information. A big part of that is just kind of maintaining the same way we do things. 

There is now a need for us to evolve and get with the changes if we’re to survive. In academia, for example, there’s this overblown emphasis that we can never change much of anything at all during the middle of the semester. It’s always like, “well, I’ve just taught 20 students how to use the old website, so we can’t change it now to benefit the other 10,000 students because they’ve learned the old website, so we can’t change it. We can’t redo any sort of interface. We can’t upgrade the catalog, we can’t do this.” That to me just is not the right way to approach things. If it’s a better overall system, it’s worth shifting. These are the same clientele we have that log into Gmail one day and boom, it’s different. People can get used to change fairly well. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah. There’s that fear of change from staff a lot of times and there’s a fear of change with our users as well, but we can walk them through that. That’s part of our processes, so you can’t use that as a reason not to. I always say if you get the “That’s how we’ve always done it!” response, that should be a cue in your head of, well, maybe I should think through that. That should never be the reason that you do something. Now, maybe how you’ve always done it is the right way, but go back and look at it again and see why is it that we do it this way and is that the best way?

John Hubbard: Yeah, and I definitely think we need to do more of that constantly reevaluating how we’re currently doing and whether or not it’s best to keep those models because there might be better systems. That’s the tricky thing. Humans are kind of hardwired to view changes as a threat. If there’s something that we used to do where a lot of people found their purpose, they found their calling, they have a sense of worth of helping people do something and needing to be the source where people have to come to, to explain to them how the library works. If we switch to a newer system, that role is then eliminated, where people can figure it out on their own or something else where that role that they have is no longer needed. There’s kind of a fear of obsolescence there. I’ve been a librarian long enough that I remember getting a lot of phone calls and a lot of walk-in traffic, just ready reference questions, you know, “What’s the phone number for this?”, “What’s the capital of this?” and stuff like that. By and large, you don’t need libraries for anymore, that that role is fulfilled elsewhere by other information sources. People can go in and directly get the answer to those questions themselves and we don’t really have a calling as much to to do that sort of work.

Steve Thomas: Like you said, people think of that as obsolescence then, but what you need to be thinking of is how then do we evolve our missions and our services to meet what people actually do need? Just because you can plug in directions to Google Maps now and it tells you how to get there, you don’t have to have the librarian get out the big fold out map and show you how to get somewhere.

John Hubbard: And there’s a computer that’s just looking at lines on a map, and giving you driving directions that involve you driving off a fishing pier. There’s a lot of analogous things there. Maybe don’t get your medical information from a Facebook anti-vax group. There’s a lot of trade offs with more and more information being out there that there’s a lot of more dubious stuff in the mix. 

And so it’s all the more important for us to help people, not for us to do it for them. That’s the old model. We would pick out good sources. They’d be on the shelf and say, “Okay, this is peer reviewed, this is on our shelf, this you can trust, and the other stuff, don’t use Wikipedia ever no matter what!” That that was a bad way of doing things. The better system is to realize that there’s kind of a continuum of what you can trust and what you should be a little more, at least dubious about, and always kind of apply that no matter what you’re looking at, since there’s been, you know, fraudulent studies published in scientific journals, there’s been bogus interviews published by newspapers. You can’t trust anything, really. 

Steve Thomas: Right. Yeah, yeah. As you said, you have to take everything with a grain of salt , even a peer reviewed journal. The whole anti-vax movement came from a peer reviewed article that was later withdrawn, but… 

John Hubbard: Retracted, but the damage was done. And as things like YouTube are constructed to maximize engagement, you can really fall down the rabbit hole in those types of platforms more and more. Type a search into YouTube for “faked moon landing”, and sure enough, eventually even your Google News feed is probably gonna be filled up with a lot more crackpot things. So you have these blinders on to a more objective view of reality. I think that’s pretty dangerous what can happen. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah, and I think with change management, you need to have an understanding of your organization of how fast to go or how slow to go. You don’t wanna just jump on the newest hot thing just because it’s the newest hot thing. You want to make sure that it’s the best thing for your organization. 

John Hubbard: Yeah. I mean that’s the catch-22. The riskiest thing of all in the long term, of course is never changing. That is the surefire way to obsolescence, but there is course a risk in trying new things, which you don’t know by definition if they may or may not work out. So you need to have what organizational texts call the freedom to fail. You need to try new things and see if they work and as you look at the switch from going back to card catalogs to the web OPACs to now discovery layers, it’s a big change in really just the methods for going and searching and finding and getting stuff.

It’s nothing to get, from a library user’s perspective certainly, excited about in and of itself. It’s merely a means to an end, so we can’t really get hung up. And this is where we’re hurting ourselves because we’ve, of course, devoted our careers to figuring out how these things work and configuring them and customizing them, and putting our little mark on them, and when a newer method comes around that makes things, by any practical definition better, easier, more accessible, a better way for people to find and get what they need, you see some weird counter-arguments coming outta the woodwork. You know, people cherry pick flaws in new systems, they just say, “Well, we just can’t change that!” There’s this kinda righteousness and zealousness that comes into that. And we were talking before we start recording about vocational awe, that there’s this excuse that we give ourselves, that when we idealize what we do to the point of making the status quo and other outdated or oppressive systems beyond reproach, that’s dangerous, and saying, “We’ve always done it that way” is not a meaningful counter-argument.

Steve Thomas: And that’s the danger cuz I mean it, I can see how we, and probably I’m sure there are other professions that have vocational awe, any profession where you feel like if there’s a calling I guess, is where you’re gonna fall into that, because we are a service industry, so you can see where people start down that path, but you have to know where the limit is. And I think those are tied together, vocational awe, and “that’s how we’ve always done it” cuz it’s sort of, “well, we already made that decision and of course we’re wonderful and great and so of course we know how to do this already” so I think those are probably tied together a little bit. 

John Hubbard: Yeah, and when I think back to the more contentious arguments I’ve had about interface design or just service philosophies, it’s usually when I’m butting up my head against someone who just has no rational basis. It’s not based on data. It’s not based on any particular evidence. It’s just like, “Well, we have to collect library fines because we have to.” It’s this circular reasoning that has no factual basis, and when you’re dealing with someone who has this belief that is not based on any particular real world data that you can then have a rational argument with them to change. It’s frustrating.

Steve Thomas: As far as I know, there’s no studies that show that having library fines actually get materials back earlier than they would without library fines. 

John Hubbard: Of course, it’s an barrier to access and libraries that have eliminated fines have gotten a lot of things returned that they’ve otherwise gotten lost. It’s not the best press to see people arrested and have mugshots in the media for overdue library books. There’s just a slew of arguments that counteract that hundred dollars a year that you get in your revenue stream, but it’s just more people are stuck with what they’ve had. And this happens, like I said before in design debates where if someone wants something a certain color and I’ve designed it a different color, battle lines get drawn, people get dug in just just cuz they get emotionally invested in particular design choices, and it’s not really based on like, “Well, we did useability testing, this is not good color blind friendly scheme,” or something like that. It’s not based on that sort of stuff. It’s just based on, you know,” I’m right. I want to do it my way.”

Steve Thomas: Well, you mentioned discovery layers earlier, and that’s one of those things that, I mean, it was a third party opportunity I guess, but it’s, like, our catalogs stink, so somebody had to create another project to go on top of our catalogs to actually make them usable and good. That’s how I’ve always kind of seen it. I think they work well. They do what they’re supposed to do, but it seems like if the initial ILS vendor had actually made their catalog do these things, you wouldn’t need this extra layer on top of it. 

John Hubbard: Yeah. And the marketplace is, of course, a mess right now. You have all these different vendors that are all being bought out by different holdings companies. I know Marshall Breeding was one of your guests. He’s done a lot of documentation, has some really distressing looking charts in particular about all the monopolies that are essentially forming around these systems. So you have all these legacy catalog systems. Discovery layers are 10, 15 years old now. It’s not like they’re the new kid on the block or anything, but the way that they work is more like Google, compared to a Telnet interface where you need to know all these archaic commands, so it’s more accessible. So if step one is maybe getting students to realize, don’t just use Wikipedia, use the library as well. Step two is saying, Hey, check out this essentially search engine that we have. 

And that’s why I hate using terms like OPAC or even catalog. People think it’s the course catalog or something. It’s the library search engine. It’s not the end-all, be-all. It’s not one-stop shopping, but it’s a good place to start to find what you have. There’s a lot of stuff in there, up to billions of record. It just kind of mixes them all together. The relevancy ranking isn’t always the best. We touched before on things like algorithmic bias are certainly a thing even in library discovery layers. But they can be a further stepping stone and a gateway to searching more dedicated kind of subject heading, like you have a particular academic subject you want. There’s a chemistry database where you can go in and draw chemical bonds. You can’t do that in a discovery layer. Or, you know, court case numbers like that. You can’t do that in discovery layers.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. In my interview with Marshall, that chart that he’s got of all the things, he’s been keeping it, you know, for decades now or whatever, and the colors get less and less because people just get bought up and bought up and bought up, and that’s where we are now with consolidation. And the worst thing is when they are increasingly, I think you mentioned not just that ProQuest in EBSCO or whoever owns everything, but then on top of that, it’s just a financial group or whatever that owns it. And they’re just trying to eke out profit.

John Hubbard: And they’re not interested in anything more than shareholder value. They’re not focused on long term things. For example, the holdings company Clarivate owns like eight OPACs. There’s no reason for all of those multiple product lines to exist. You need one, at most. And so it’s interesting, and I’ve had a support ticket with Primo where they refer to something with our Sierra OPEC as a third party integration. And the punchline there is, well, Sierra and Primo are owned by the same company now. There is a neat product, unfortunately it’s kind of vaporware right now, called FOLIO, which is designed to be an open source ILS. And in some ways it’s even more vaporware because they’ve tethered the front end to EBSCO, so EBSCO has kind of co-opted like, “Hey, buy this open source system from us!” It’s like, wait, what? So not only is there no, like modern capabilities for it to, as I understand it, manage electronic collections, which like, Hey, you kind of need to do this this day and age. It’s essentially coupled with, just like Primo, it’s coupled with a commercial product that’s still under development. So it’s been kind of encouraging to see something like that take off, but also kind of like a head scratcher like, this is destined to just be an EBSCO product, isn’t it?

Steve Thomas: Right. I’m so surprised that Clarivate owns just so many products. I keep expecting them to start collapsing them and saying, “Oh, well there’s no more Sierra, there’s no more, whatever”, you know, and get it down to like maybe two or three so that, you know, one’s for the academic market, one’s for the public market, or something, but yeah, why they still have all of them, I’m not sure. I mean, I’m sure some people are happy with that cause they don’t wanna change catalogs, but… 

John Hubbard: Yeah. And I think that just is a, like I said, that’s a shareholder value issue. Yeah. That requires a different type of thinking when you’re not trying to just look at this quarter’s profit lines to, to say like, look, let’s invest in streamlining this, in migrating things, so you have all these different platforms. Now they’ve done a little work. They’ve combined the Primo and Summon backend a little bit, but they’re still separate products. So it’s messy.

Steve Thomas: We’ve had third party discovery layers for a long time, and then also the ones by the vendors themselves, I think they’re trying to use those discovery layers to go across their various products. So like this discovery layer, will work with this catalog and this catalog and this catalog, so maybe long-term. That’s how they’re trying to get things together? But yeah, I don’t see a lot of evidence of long-term thinking there.

John Hubbard: Yeah. We mentioned algorithmic bias before where, of course, the computer itself isn’t prejudiced. It’s just how it has been programmed to look at the frequency of words being paired together and stuff like that, it can present very biased results, and the related issue with that is, I’m not sure the best term for this, but just bad subject headings, bad terminology, the illegal aliens is the most famous, and this is a tricky issue. There’s a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of different ways you can approach it.

My beef with this type of setup is that, well, from the discovery standpoint, people aren’t typing in “microcomputers” into the search box anymore, if they ever did. And that was a long standing, Library of Congress subject heading, and the only way to change that was to get the Library of Congress to change. Now people started changing illegal aliens at the local level before the Library of Congress over a decade could change it, and I don’t know the best answer there. You know, if someone enters now “illegal aliens” into the search box, what should happen? How do we deliver matched results and label things in the best way? That’s a lot of legwork. Do you want to keep tabs on the thousands of geographical boundary disputes in the work today with all the different labelings of, you know, Tibet or a lot of different things like that. It’s such a thorny issue. It makes me think it might someday be possible that controlled vocabulary could become more trouble than it’s worth, there’s just such a can of worms there. I know in some EBSCO databases, you can go in and just freestyle type a few keywords like “children” and say map keyword to subject heading. So it will show results with the juveniles tag. Maybe a further step would just be, let’s just do away with… and there’s a lot of kind of tech hand waving here of whether we would be capable of doing this in a non-biased way, but is there potential at least to, to get rid of the human element of cataloging, that’s something that’s very sacred to a lot of human catalogers. “We do things better than the computer and a computer will never be able to match that. And I think with whether it’s true AI or not, but what’s called AI and the way more things are becoming automated, it can be less meaningful for humans to continue doing it. It used to be an open question if machines would be better at certain tasks than us, and just like a hydraulic press is stronger than any human now, you know, software programs can reliably beat any human at chess. And so it just becomes a question of is this a meaningful activity for humans to be doing if it can be automated? 

Steve Thomas: Yeah. The computers are good at math, and chess is kind of math at the core.

John Hubbard: Yeah, and it’s not like a strategy, it’s not conscious, like these chatbots that have made headlines, they’re just pulling together stuff they farmed, like this AI generated artwork. Weird hands with six fingers and stuff. That’s because it doesn’t know that it’s drawing a human that should have five fingers. So the ways that it messes up are still quite alarming and it shows that it’s not really thinking, but it’s definitely something to keep on the radar.

Steve Thomas: Right, cause they keep getting better and so at a certain point, I mean, you wrote in your blog about the uncanny valley. You could always tell like that. I mean, the Polar Express movie is kind of the big “Oh, those children are scary looking because they have dead eyes,” but nowadays they’re making like real people and putting them out, and you can tell still, but it’s not Polar Express anymore. 

John Hubbard: Yeah. And humans want to have, and this goes back to finding your calling and meaningful work. You don’t wanna have to do something that you’re just working on an assembly line because it’s cheaper to pay you than to automate. There was an interesting thing in gaming about a decade ago where the online game Warcraft was structured around a lot of menial methods to level up your character. And so they made a bot that would go in and just click on things and have your character automatically fish or craft or whatever called Glider. And the response by the software developer was of course to sue the person who made that. And there’s just an an interesting case there to me because to have meaningful gameplay shouldn’t be something where you click on this recipe 8,000 times, or you kill this same monster 10,000 times because, 0.001% drop rate the item generator to do that. I don’t have time to do as much gaming as I did in my youth, but that’s part of the problem is that there’s a lot of kind of grindy aspect, the online gaming, it’s been very much perverted by… you wanna talk about business models, this “pay to win” mindset where people can just buy accelerated leveling and things like that.

Steve Thomas: And that’s especially egregious in mobile gaming where it’s free to download, but then, oh, well if you wanna get through this to this level, you have to have the Sword of Dookapak or whatever, and you had to buy it for $2!

John Hubbard: And like I said it’s predatory, but this definitely is a parallel to how Google is built from the ground up with a different purpose than a library. Google is at its core an advertising company to maximize revenue. Giving you funny cat videos and the like is incidental to their true mission. And so a library, and this is where you can see why people fall into this vocational awe trap, but we are different. We are built to help people find and get factual information and what they need in the best way. And that’s kind of a different purpose. 

Steve Thomas: And there will be, just as Google got rid of some of those ready reference questions, there will be things eventually probably that these little chat bots or whatever that will be able to take parts of our jobs as well, but just like with the chess, initially, the computers could not beat Grand Masters, but eventually they could because the Grand Masters before had these strategies that maybe had they’d never done before, and so they can sneak around whatever, but now computers know every possible move and what the best move is every single time. But our mission is not necessarily to do those grinding tasks. I know in gaming there was even like a little subculture of people doing those tasks, not just bots, miners or whatever that would go in and just get gold or coins or whatever they could get.

John Hubbard: Yeah. It was called gold farming and it was outsourced to third world countries that would employ real live people for pennies to go in and kill that same monster all day long and other people would go in and buy those items back. It’s a very strange…

Steve Thomas: Yeah. Technology takes us in good places and odd places. 

With the objectionable subject headings, before we get away from that too much, I did wanna emphasize that I agree that it’s hard to get away from those objectionable terms because, like you said, somebody might use those terms to find that even if they are bad and objectionable, you know, don’t you still need to help a horrible person find a book? How do you make that line? 

John Hubbard: Right. “Illegal aliens” is still the official term. So it’s certainly used in a derogatory way. I don’t argue against that either, but it’s a thorny problem because it’s like the, “who decides?” issue. Who gets to say, if you have this old yearbook photo up on your website that has someone in blackface, should that be online? Should you either proactively on your own or just wait till, say a person in the photograph is a politician running for office. “Hey, could you do me a favor and take that down?” 

Steve Thomas: Yeah, I know the EU is on the edge of that kind of stuff more than the US of really doing the right to be forgotten kind of stuff.

John Hubbard: Yeah. There was a new article. I think a colleague at at UWM of mine wrote, a while ago about how the right to be forgotten is inherently in conflict with the mission of a library, to preserve their information. If someone wants to know information about someone and that certain someone says, “Hey, I’m on the witness protection program” or whatever, something like that, but you know, at some point maybe they have rights to say like, “Hey, don’t include this information. Withdraw this book that I wrote.” 

Steve Thomas: Well, I do wanna talk about digital preservation in a minute, but first, let’s talk about what a lot of people might know you from the most, which is Library link of the Day, which it’s completely coincidental, but you’ve been doing it for 20 years now, so I didn’t mean to be this on your 20th anniversary, but happy 20 years of doing Library Link of the Day.

John Hubbard: No Spring Chicken. I looked back and, and sure enough, my first link went out, I think to all of two people on January 15th, 2003. And just to take you back, that was before Facebook existed. Social media was not really on the scene. Our methods for disseminating library news amongst colleagues involved the print current issues being routed around the building, and the librarians would check out their initials, and so I started sending email links to colleagues, “Hey, check out this article” on this and that. That kind of grew into let’s have it more opt in. I don’t wanna bug people, so I made this website. It posted and you can subscribe to get it in your email inbox as well, where day in, day out, almost 20 years now. I have chosen a library story, in some way related to libraries, on the web, usually a recent news article, and it just goes out day in, day out. So yeah, going on 20 years now.

The upswing swinging of this, of course, it’s not done for purely selfish reasons. The main component of why I keep doing it is it forces me every day, you know, I can queue things up if I’m going on vacation or something, but I have to go in and look around and do some kind of low level research. Most selections you’d be kind of disappointed here are just from Google News searches of relevant keywords. I do follow some social feeds on things like Twitter. I try to avoid being in a professional echo chamber, but it’s kind of helped me stay calm because, back again in 2003, this is when blogging hit the mainstream. A lot of librarians were out there kind of making a name for themselves, just posting commentary on news of the day about what was going on at the time with, like, how OPACs suck. Well, that’s still a thing, just other privacy related issues, then it was more about the Patriot Act than about what companies are doing now. 

I just found it easier just to pick a news story rather than to add commentary about it. I’ve since found a little cause to write about things. And you mentioned I do have a little blog that I’ve put in a few posts about mostly about frustrations that I have with what I’m feeling at work. So that’s been a good outlet as well. But it’s just one of those things where I’ve just stuck with it. I don’t know how much longer it’ll be around. I’m going on 20 years, but it’s a pretty low investment. It’s on my personal web host, on my personal webspace. I have some basic scripting, which styling that I’ve updated a little bit over the years. It’s to the point though, where I look at the code, I’m like, “Who wrote this?” when I have to update it, but it’s been pretty stable. And I use, there’s what’s called an announcement list feature of my web host where you can just say I want to email this many people, this every day at midnight. That’s when I queue up the list. 

Steve Thomas: About how many subscribers do you have?

John Hubbard: Well, I can’t say for sure because some people might just be checking the website, or this is probably less so now, but there is an RSS feed that, back when feed readers were in their heyday, a lot of people probably access through there. And of course, based on, just attrition. I don’t know how many people just delete the email or I think bounces are supposed to unsubscribe automatically. 

The link this morning was sent out to 14,112 email addresses. The subscriber account has kind of plateaued recently. I think there’s only so many people in the profession. I get a nice email every few months from someone to say, “Hey, I’m retiring. Please unsubscribe me.” Or ” I’m changing jobs” or something like that. You can do that automatically, but in the early years before I had it configured properly, I would get the bounces. Every morning, I would get 20 vacation messages, and things like that, or just people replying saying, “Hey, this is a neat story!” Or there’s been stories that people have not liked either. I think one that got the most criticism was, this is a long time ago, but I posted a story that was about the Vatican Library Archives that were being kept secret and the article included some pretty harsh and personal attacks about the Pope, and that upset people. Which is weird because I try not to choose rage bait and click bait that much, but I’ve had other stories about why libraries shouldn’t exist, and then things like that.

A few people send me link suggestions every now and then, and maybe 50-50 take ’em. The most recent one, someone sent me a editorial on a tabloid about why getting rid of library fines was a bad idea. So I skimmed it. It was very clearly something that was posted to maximize engagement, done to be kinda inflammatory. I’m like, “Yeah, this isn’t really productive.” 

And I think over the years, I’ve gotten probably a little carried away when things became super popular, like 3D printing. I know there was a few months where like every other link was that. Obviously the selections are biased based on things in the United States, things in academic libraries, things having to do with technology. The past few years, half the links have been about book ban challenges to library materials, because this is unprecedented. The ALA just announced that this is the greatest number of challenges in the past year ever, and it’s gone beyond drag queen story time and things like that, it’s gone beyond that. It’s saying, “Hey, we should be able to censor our collections because it’s not enough that I don’t like this book. I’m not gonna read it. I’m not gonna allow my kid to check it out. No one else should be allowed to check it out either.” 

Steve Thomas: “My child’s not gonna check that out.” That’s your purview as a parent, but… 

John Hubbard: Yeah. It’s kind of this perverse flip side to the “libraries aren’t neutral” argument because it’s the right wing in this case taking a page from that philosophy and saying, “Okay, well if we’re not gonna be neutral, let’s flip that on its head and say, well, if you’re gonna ban Nazis or whatever in meeting rooms then you need to ban these other books because they’re saying that racism is still a thing.” They’re crazy stuff. 

Steve Thomas: Well, it’s funny though, when I went back to look at the first stories that you had posted, they’re about copyright extension, electronic surveillance, open access, patrons complaining about porn in libraries, and book banning. And it’s, like, we’re still talking about all that 20 years later!

John Hubbard: Yeah. And that’s depressing that, that open access in particular, and yeah, there’s still privacy struggles, but we haven’t had a whole lot of traction on these issues, so that can be disappointing. There is a news website called LISNews, and as a companion piece to my daily link, every December 15th since 2003, I have posted the top 10 library stories of the year. And yeah, the list is about the same 15 stories over the past 20 years. Some have been more notable, some haven’t. But yeah, the top story of course, the past several years has been the craziness about the challenges to library collections. 

Steve Thomas: It’s getting more organized now, so it’s not just a random person that wants to do it. These groups are getting together and planning how they’re gonna do it and trying to do it in a more organized fashion. 

John Hubbard: Yeah, it’s scary. And I think we need to find a way to fight back, to assert our rights. There’s a lot of challenges. We mentioned privacy a few times more and more companies and governments are taking an effort to curtail the right to read things particularly anonymously. 

The whole issue that’s fascinating to me is of the concept of controlled digital lending. That’s where a library essentially scans a book and checks it out electronically, just like how you can do through Overdrive. Only the library is maintaining the checkouts, and this of course, gets publisher groups’ hackles up because they’re not cut in on the moneymaking apparatus there, and I don’t know the ins and outs of whatever statutes you can quote to support that, but the biggest way to summarize it to me is, “Should libraries be allowed to continue to exist in the Electronic Age?” Because if we can’t do this, if we can’t check out a book, if we can only check it out on the physical format, we can’t check it out electronically, we’ve essentially lost our purpose. That’s gonna be totally monetized by, as any librarian can tell you, the licensing agreements on electronic unlimited access to information are ridiculous. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah, for whatever reason, I don’t know why first sale doctrine does not apply to digital materials.

John Hubbard: Well, that’s an open question. There’s an open court case against the Internet Archive that could certainly also argue a little carried away with how they opened up things over COVID to not even be throttled. “Everyone can download everything!”

Steve Thomas: Yeah. I feel like they may have undermined their own case there.

John Hubbard: Yeah, but it’s an interesting idea.

Steve Thomas: Speaking of the Internet Archive, I had to use the Wayback Machine actually to find a lot of the links because they’re dead links. What role do you think libraries can play in that kind of preservation of information? Is there a place for libraries in that? 

John Hubbard: I mean, you can’t digitize it. You can’t store it. Not everything, not every tweet needs to be archived by the Library of Congress. That was a failed project. And with those links going back 20 years, I pretty much hope that that link works for that day. Sometimes there’s problems with, especially if I’m finding the link at work or something like that, I might get in through our subscription, so I need to make sure. And the most annoying one is become the New York Times, cuz that’s one of those freemium sites where you get a few free articles a month where I try to pick New York Times articles at the beginning of the month because they’ve gotten a little tighter with their paywall that you used to be able to get in through Google or get in through a browser’s anonymous mode a little more easily, and things are getting locked down a lot more. But of course, I try to pick the best news I can from a site that’s free. I’m not gonna deliberately at least choose something that’s paywalled. But that’s the problem nowadays is that Fox News is not paywalled. They’re happy to get that information out there. A lot of times the better sources of information are paywalled. It’s an unfortunate distinction. 

Steve Thomas: You mentioned Google News, I know you mentioned also that people send you links, but how do you keep up with the library news? 

John Hubbard: The greatest source, like I said, a subscriber every now and then will, cuz I have my contact info, I post it on the website for the link of the day. It’ll just say, “Hey, you know, I found this story interesting!” Or a lot of times it’s self-interested, and as an aside to that, when I have published occasionally an article myself or hosted a presentation, there is a vanity component there that I have probably a good dozen times or so by now, chosen for the link of the day, something that I wrote. Self promotion’s a little weird in our profession. I think it’s frowned on as a faux pas just because it’s kind of tacky, but it’s like, these are things that I wrote that I would like to share. How else are you supposed to get that out there? Now, I don’t do that every time. It hasn’t become like the apparatus to just promote my own work, but it’s kind of interesting. I do a double take every now and then when I pick something that I’ve written as a link selection. It’s like, “eh, do I really wanna do this?”

Steve Thomas: Well, we’ll have to decide how meta you wanna get if there’s gonna be a link to this episode in Library Link of the Day. 

John Hubbard: Exactly! I’ve already thought about that. It’s like, well, I’d like to promote this podcast. So it does happen every now and then where I have a busy day. I’ve literally at times gone to bed like, “Oh shoot. I didn’t queue up a link.” And I get back up and that’s when you see the quick and dirty, “oh, this was the top Google news search for library” so I go ahead and post something like that. 

In doing my news searches, and this is something I’ve never taken, cuz it’s to me the epitome of low hanging fruit, the thing that I regularly see is the cliche library news story. And this is on like BBC News, you name it, of the library book that was returned a hundred years after it was checked out. It’s like this old-timey newspaper filler where they tried to fill the physical space on the newspaper page. It’s like, how is this news? But with regularity, every now and then I see one of these stories, so you’ll know I’m fully out of ideas if you ever see that kind of news story posted, but like I said, other things, I just come across through email that just in news groups I’m subscribed to that that could posted or things that show up because I’ve signed into Google. It knows what I like so all little topics that I’ve searched for over the years show up in my newsfeed. I think that’s a great exercise, by the way, to just get two people and have them look at each other’s YouTube homepage because I think, you and I know what’s going on there, but people kind of lose sight of that. Like, you are not being given the same YouTube list of videos that anyone else is. It’s skewed, which is largely a good thing, you could argue, but there’s definitely some downside. You buy one part through Amazon of something. You’re done with the house project, but now YouTube or whatever thinks you need, you know, 28 other things like, “Oh, here’s how you do this plumbing project!” No, I already did that. I don’t need to see plumbing videos anymore. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah, I bought a dining room table. I don’t need 20 more, Amazon. 

John Hubbard: But see that that’s the type of grasping at straws that just points out that this isn’t really, not at least in any sort of human way, this isn’t an intelligent system. Works very well with some things, but YouTube doesn’t know what this video’s about. It doesn’t know what’s in the video. It just knows that people who watch the videos you watched are likely to look at this video as well. 

Steve Thomas: What keeps you motivated to continue doing Library Link of the Day after 20 years? 

John Hubbard: Wonder what the last link will be, right? So, I don’t know. It’s just like I said before, it’s a great way that forces myself to stay current. There is some self-interest there. It hasn’t landed me any huge jobs or deals or anything, but it’s just something that I’ve enjoyed doing and it’s pretty minimal upkeep too, of course, because some days it’s something that I come across in my normal course a day, like, “Oh, bookmark that for queuing up later,” or something like that.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. The last link should just be a link back to your own site, so just back to the Library Link of the Day site, so it’s just circular. 

John Hubbard: Just say, here we go. Or, I mean, it’ll be the hundred years late books. 

Steve Thomas: That is how you know John’s done.

John Hubbard: I’m out of ideas.

Steve Thomas: John, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I appreciate it. I think we covered all kinds of different topics here today. 

John Hubbard: Well, thanks for having me.

Steve Thomas: If anybody had any questions about anything and wanted to follow up with you, how can they get in touch with you? 

John Hubbard: If you could include a back link on your podcast to Library Link of the Day, at the bottom of the page, there’s just a little contact form that has my personal email address, also has a little form you can fill out to contact me.

Steve Thomas: Listeners can find that link in the show notes. 

John Hubbard: And I mentioned, call it a blog, it’s something on, which is a little strange platform. There’s a lot of kind of clickbait and tech bro kind of stuff there, but it’s a free blogging platform, so what are you gonna do? So it’s and I’ve slowed down on it cause I’ve kind of run outta stuff to say really. But that’s where a lot of more punditry kind of stuff that I’ve had to say about, like we said before, things like privacy and and other issues that I have something to say about. 

Steve Thomas: Well thank you so much for coming on and thanks for Library Link of the Day. I learn a lot from that.

John Hubbard: Have a good one!