Hi, welcome to Circulating Ideas, the librarian interview podcast hosted by me, Steve Thomas. My guest today is Sarah Houghton. She’s the Assistant Director for the San Rafael Public Library in California. She blogs at librarianinblack.net, and you can find her on Twitter @TheLiB.
The first thing I wanted to ask you was a little bit of a silly question. I saw on the picture you posted on Flickr a couple of months ago where you were showing off your AV setup, that you had put up in your apartment.
And you had your Captain Kirk chair, and your Roomba.
It reminded me of somebody on Twitter a little while back asked if the Enterprise had a cleaning crew, or just a bunch of Roombas roaming around, and [laughs].
[laughs] That’s a good question. I would vote for a cleaning crew because we never see the Roomba, so I’m going to vote for a human underclass of some type. [laughs]
It has to be an underclass doesn’t it. Maybe some sort of alien race or something since humanity is supposed to be perfect on that show.
Right, well that’s the whole thing, I think that there’s the seedy underbelly to the Star Trek universe that we just never see. The Federation is just all too perfect so I think they’ve got slaves hidden somewhere. Maybe in the holodeck when they’re not using it, I don’t know.
[laughs] I got to that link when I was looking at the gadget showcase link post that you’ve been doing recently. Do you plan on doing any more of those on other things? On video or anything like that?
Yeah, I do. I’ve got one half written on video, and I’ve got one that’s half written on kind of like miscellaneous household type gadgets, you know, like the Roomba, like my self-cleaning litter box [laughs] You know, just little, my cool little.
I like that you only did three of them, but one of them really has nothing to do with libraries, that you’ve just let it kind of be whatever gadgets you like. I mean like you said unless you’re doing cooking programs it’s really not applicable for libraries.
No, it’s not, but you know we all live outside of a library, or so I’m told, so it’s good to remember that we are full human beings, and not just librarians all the time. You know, I started out being very, trying to divide my personal and professional lives quite a bit, and I think that line has just broken down over the years, as it has for many people. I think in maybe the last year or two, I’ve just subscribed to the idea of living in public, and living out loud, and the things that I enjoy that have nothing to do with my job, you know, still make up who I am. And, so many other people that I interact with professionally I also consider to be friends. There’s so much overlap there, you know the people who want to know what I’m doing Saturday night are the same people who want to know what I think about the Kindle books on Overdrive. You know, it’s a, I think it’s too blurry a line to draw anymore, and while I think years ago people would maybe even set up two profiles, a real work one and then a “fake” personal profile that only their friends knew about
I just don’t see that happening as much anymore. So I try to make everything that I do more blended, and more open, in all respects, and hopefully I don’t do anything that embarrasses my employer or my mother too much.
[laughs] And you always have the disclaimer that it’s you speaking, not your libraries.
Yeah, well I do, that is true, that is definitely true, but occasionally I’ll post things. A couple recently that I posted on Twitter I was just thinking “I’m so glad my mom’s not reading Twitter.” [laughs]
It sounds like though that you get your thoughts, while obviously not reflective of your organization necessarily, but you do blend pretty well it sounds like with your organization, with the San Rafael Library. It sounds like you guys, you match up pretty well, like you hooked the libraries do in the HarperCollins boycott.
We are, yeah we are still boycotting all of their digital content, as many libraries are actually.
I think that, what’s been nice is that the director for our library, David Dodd, and I get along really well, and have known each other for almost a decade, and when he hired me he knew what he was getting. There were no facades there that I was trying to get put up. He knew that I was going to be mouthy, and I was going to get in trouble, and I was going to be unpolitic, but that I would also push boundaries, and try to put new things into the library, and I think that’s why he hired me. So, I think we’re getting to that transition phase now that I’ve been there for about eight months now where I think my vision for what a library is and the way that the, his vision for what a library is are starting to blend together and take form which is great.
And does that tend to, you get a lot of, you said that he knows that you could get in trouble, do you get “in trouble” at all? Or does your community match up pretty well with what you guys are trying to do?
With what I do officially through the library [laughs] I think it matches up really well. Our community is extremely diverse, we’ve got a lot of new immigrants, many of whom do not speak any English, we’ve got a fairly large group of people who are living below the poverty line, and then we’ve got uber uber wealthy people who live in $10 million homes up on the hill, all within a mile of the people who are living off of $100 a week. So it’s really interesting to kind of see the diversity of the community, and the diversity of the people who come into the library, and I think uniformly what they’re looking for is stuff that’s going to make their lives easier. And so everything that we do is predicated on that. So, the classes that we offer are trying to make people’s lives better, or easier, or more enriching and the things like the Harper Collins boycott, we got quite a few questions from the community about why we were doing that, and when they found out they became enraged, and they said “What could we do? Who can we write to? What can we say? because that’s not fair, we had no idea.” And then it opened up the larger discussion about other publishers like Simon & Schuster or McMillan who won’t even sell e-books to us at all, and again they said I had no idea. So, I think it’s been a really good match up between, I guess, David’s and my desire to be very open, and transparent, and pushing the boundaries, and the community’s willingness to listen to that and to learn, and to be engaged with us, which just is wonderful, and I think most libraries are lucky enough to have users who love them wholeheartedly.
Now that the Kindle, I know you wrote a long post about the Kindle coming on Overdrive back when it was first announced. Do you have any thoughts on it now that it is actually here? Of how it has matched up to what they said it was going to be? And if it’s better or worse than you thought it was going to be?
And have you already used it at all yet?
No, I’ve used it. I have some very, very strong feelings about what Overdrive and Amazon did, and I’m trying to craft them right now into a videocast that doesn’t involve me cursing every other word, and that’s been the challenge. [laughs] I think that Overdrive either willfully misled us by leaving out details of how this was going to work, and the pitfalls that were in place, or through pure negligence they chose, or forgot, to tell us all of these really critical things that were part of this package deal that are screwing us. The three that really stand out for me are the fact that that it’s only the books that are in PDF that we’re getting on Kindle, and since those are not the books that we buy, like our consortium pretty much doesn’t buy PDFs, we only buy e-pubs, that’s it. You know, And so now do we have to buy two formats? Two copies of the same frigging title just to accommodate the Kindle users? And we probably do, and that’s to me that’s unacceptable. The second issue is the emails that everyone is in a tizzy about, and when I got my first one as a library user, I actually threw something against the wall.
Is this the one where it asked you to buy the book?
Right, where it’s three days before it’s due, it’s like your book’s going to expire in three days, buy it now! And then when it doesn’t expire you get another one. And I find that to be a violation of many library’s rules about corporate sponsorship or endorsement. I think that people in many communities could make the case that that’s what’s happening. And for me the third issue, which is the biggest one, is user privacy, and who’s keeping records of who’s borrowing what, in this case Amazon’s keeping everything, they’re not responding to our questions, Overdrive’s not responding to our questions about this issue, and I find that to be very frustrating. But, I think even if users don’t really think about it, for us it’s our job to think about that fact their reading habits are being tracked, and California just signed into legislation a digital content privacy law for libraries basically saying that your borrowing habits as an e-book reader are just as protected as they are as a print book reader, and I’m of the opinion, and I would love for some lawyers to weigh in on this, that what Amazon and Overdrive are doing is a violation of that new California law. And, again, how can I as a California librarian, someone who is, someone who’s now the man, one of the administrators, how can I say that that’s an okay service for my library to provide when I know it’s violating a core tenet of my profession and also the state law. So, I think that’s going to jump up as a big challenge as well.
Yeah, I found that for a long time, I’ve found that’s sort of a, I don’t know if I want to say problem, but with our profession in general is we kind of have these moral outrages about things, but then we still end up being on the short end of the stick. We’ll let the publishers, the content providers, the vendors set the rules all the time, and this time it seems like we’re standing up for this, but we kind of lost the databases for articles, we kind of lost that battle of access versus ownership thing, and I’m glad to see librarians are standing up now for this, for e-books at least, that maybe we can make a difference this time.
I hope so.
I don’t know if it’s like that timid stereotype librarian or what, but.
Well, I think we’re timid, I think we don’t like to make people unhappy, and so if we have a choice of taking something that’s kind of crap, and that we know isn’t real good, but at least being able to have something to offer our users, versus saying “Well if we can’t get it the way we want it then we’re just not going to offer it at all,” and we’re afraid of making the users upset, and so we tend to just offer what we’re given. Where I’m happy to have those conversations with the users about why we don’t have online magazines any more, or whatever the case may be, because I think it is important to make sure that in the long term we do preserve access. And the sad thing is there’s so few people willing to stand up like that, or the people who would get backing from their parent organizations, whether it’s a university, or a municipality, or a school, so I think we just end up never having that unified front of hey, this is not okay! And unless a group like ALA takes leadership, or some other organization to unite everyone and present a clear message, then it just won’t happen.
And I feel like the problem with ALA is just because they are a large organization, it takes a long time for things to get through them, and they’re doing some good things now, but we needed to be having this fight a couple of years ago. [laughs]
But, that’s sort of just the nature of the beast of a large organization like that, you have to get so much cleared through committees who only meet twice a year, and blah blah blah, it’s just.
But, I think it just speaks of the efficacy of ALA as an organization, and its ability to respond to trending issues, and right now stuff moves so fast, and we know that, you know things move too quickly for things to be decided through a two-year committee process, that’s just not acceptable any more, and I think, I know for a fact that there are parts of ALA, people working there who know that very well, and are trying to make things more flexible, more able to respond quickly because we have to, otherwise we don’t even have to take part in the conversation, and that’s what happened in e-books, and that’s why we’re so late to the game now that we are playing catch up because all of these decisions were made without our voice being heard in the first place. And I hope that that doesn’t happen with whatever the next big thing is which is probably going to be the same issues, but surrounding how we are able to offer music and video in our libraries.
Right, along with that, you and Andy Woodworth put together the e-book bill of rights, and that’s one way that people can do things, and I think that’s just individual librarians working together to just try and push things through, and not having to go through the infrastructure of ALA.
Right, it raises awareness, and with a lot of the things that I do, they might be considered, I guess, I don’t know, sensational, or coarse, or whatever. I don’t even care, the point is people are starting to talk, and if it makes two or three other people have a conversation about an issue that’s important for libraries and for our communities and for the future of freedom of information, I’ll do whatever I have to do to make myself look like an idiot, as long as people will continue to have those conversations.
And, I know you guys, your library are supporting a program called Open Library. Can you talk a little about that? About what that is? And what they offer?
Yeah, Open Library is a project from the Internet Archive, which is the parent organization of so many wonderful, wonderful online services like The Wayback Machine, for example, and Open Library is basically an e-book collection. There’s two parts. There’s one which is kind of the open access collection which is all of the stuff that’s out of copyright, and anybody can access, and download in a variety of formats which I find great. So you can get stuff in PDF, or HTML, or e-pub, or plain text, or Daisy, or many other things, and they’re also building a collection of books that are in this gray area of copyright, so they’re still protected sort of, kind of, maybe under copyright, and so what they’re having libraries do is to become a partner. All you have to do is send them one book to digitize, and then you’re a member. And, you know we’ve sent them a number, I’ve got about 20 more boxes in our library that I have to drive over to their facility soon [laughs] to get digitized.
But, they’re digitizing books from libraries, and then they take the physical copy and warehouse it, and then they make the digital copy available for all member libraries and their users to view online and check out. So it’s turning a physical copy that would be discarded from a library into a digital copy that’s now accessible to everybody. And that’s just, to me, truly, truly, truly amazing. They’re working right now to try to figure out a way where they can make this available to as many people as possible, and how to get as many users and, I guess, access to this huge collection. I’ve just been super, super impressed with the way that they’ve tackled this, and get as much participation as possible. You know, right now it doesn’t cost anything to send your books to them to digitize, they’ll digitize up to 100 for free, and I’m super excited to see how this develops as a potential solution simply because it is built by libraries for libraries and that’s amazing.
Yeah, no, I mean it really is, and it kind of speaks of something else that I was going to ask you about that I’ve, I kind of want to ask you about anyway, but I saw on your list of presentations that you have given, and you will be giving some presentations on just the future of libraries. The core thing to me always seems to be what is, what is it that librarians are, and we are not just people who work in a warehouse full of books.
Right, definitely. Well, I think there’s two things I focus on in my talk about the future of libraries, and one is going back to our core values as libraries, which is something I think that we forget from time to time. We’re so caught up in “Oh we got to get the latest this, and we’ve got to keep the collection going, and we’ve got to do programming, that we forget why are we doing all of this again?” “I mean, what did we sign on for when we became librarians? I can’t remember!” So things like the Freedom of Information Act means access for everyone. Anyone can access the information that they want, when they want it, on their terms, that their access of that information is kept confidential, that we’re not some Big Brother tracking agency, you know information and research services have always been a core part of what we do, and is that still something that we’re committed to? You know, looking at protecting user privacy, providing complete and balanced information, I think just not judging people on what they want to get access to, so if they want to be entertained that’s just as valid as if they are trying to teach themselves French, it just doesn’t matter. So, really looking at all of those core values, and then looking at what’s available to us today as a way to live out those values, and to support them in the community. And so technology is a part of that, digital media’s a part of that for sure, people want access to entertainment digitally, we can’t just give it to them right now in a way that works for us, and so I think we’re just crossing our fingers to see if other vendors start entering the fray, and I think it’s going to be interesting to see what comes out of this partnership between Recorded Books and Rdio in terms of providing live streaming music to libraries and library users, and whether or not their access and their pricing models will work for us, so that will be interesting.
Yeah, the other thing I think I focus on in the Future Libraries presentation is really, we try to be everything to everyone, and what I would like us to do instead is to focus on three or four things that we could do really, really, well. That are useful, and applicable to the bulk of our community, and do that instead. I have ideas for what those three or four things might be for my community, maybe they’d be different for someone else’s, I don’t know.
I think that would help in sort of the fights for funding, to be able to say we do this, this, and this, and not well we do this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, I mean you can just go on. I mean if you give somebody a huge block of text they might be able to figure out, I mean we’re trying so hard to go “Oh, but we do all these things”, but, as you said, if you could say we do these three things really, really, well and nobody else can do them, we need funding for this, and that can be a powerful tool I think.
Right, and so one example that I think would be applicable in every library is to have an extremely robust network, Internet network, you know to have a fricken kick butt connection speed with access points that spew out way, well beyond your walls, and to have a facility that has enough comfortable computing spaces, ergonomic seating, ergonomic lighting, collaborative spaces, you know places where people can then use that network to build things, to work, to study, to learn, to play, whatever it is they want to do. I think that those things are pretty universal in our community, as a role that we could fill that no-one else is filling. Right now it’s like Starbucks is as close as you get to that right? [laughs] It’s like “Well they have wifi, yay,” or Panera, or Pete’s or whatever. You know if we had something where you don’t actually have to buy something to come use our stuff, and it was comfortable, and you can talk with your friends, or you can just sit there by yourself in the sunlight, whatever, that’s an excellent role that we could fill but we haven’t because we haven’t invested in our network infrastructure, or because we’re still trying to spend money on a hundred other things, and I don’t know. Someone asked me this this past weekend, I’m part of a geeky librarian book club, where we read non-fiction because we’re dorks [laughs], and one of the people asked each of us what our vision for libraries is if we ruled the world. And it was weird, like my answer was that I’d really like to do for libraries what Virgin America did for airline travel. To just really focus on a couple of things that you can do that can set you apart, not worry about the rest of it, and then that way make yourself a valuable brand, make yourself a desirable brand to your community, and that’s probably the best way that I can sum up what I would like to do. Yeah.
And I think it’s important for us to be, important to the community in have being that community hub would be really important to, I mean important to the community not only just because, like you say, when we’re in library school that’s what we learned to do, that’s sort of why we became. Some people will say “Oh I became a librarian because I like to read,” but that’s not really why you become a librarian. You become a librarian because you want to, there’s sort of a need to help people, and I think that’s inherent in our profession. I mean, I don’t think I know any librarians that don’t like to help people. [laughs]
Right. And I think that’s why we’re so good at what we do. We genuinely care about providing useful services to our communities, and we genuinely want to make people’s lives better, and all of us, do that every day. And in that way there’s so many heroes that we never hear about or see. People who are working the front lines and busting their rear ends to give the best possible service.
Right. And I think that’s why librarians tend to, I was trying to think of the other professions that were, cause librarians tend to get into social activism, I mean not even about library issues necessarily, but I mean just in general get active in whatever they believe in, they’re very passionate about that, and I think it’s just because we are passionate about ideas, and it doesn’t matter if we agree necessarily with the ideas of other people, but we want to get out there, and I think that’s why the library community were back behind the Occupy Wall Street thing recently.
Yeah, very much so, I’ve been really, really proud of the librarians, particularly in New York, and also here in San Francisco for really getting out there, and being engaged, and being, I guess, among the more articulate members of the occupiers. To be able to say “This is why we’re here and here is the real information, and we hope that you can grasp it, and what can we do to help you, and make this a more positive or enriching experience for you.” It is interesting that you mention that so many of us are socially active, I’ve never really thought about that before, but I think you’re right. It also has to do with that desire to help and to make things better. That’s really interesting.
I wonder, how do you decide with new technologies, is it just sort of when you’re going to train staff or the public on things? Is it just whenever it’s sort of whenever you see an application for it personally? I’m thinking Google+ in particular that you were really the first person that I’m aware of to really jump right out there and do training for the public when it was still in beta I think is when you did the training.
What did you see in Google+, or what do you see in technologies that make you think this is something that I need to let my staff, this is something that I need to let my public know about?
It is hard to decide when to jump on something. In a few cases over time I’ve seen a new technology and just recognized this is going to take hold, and this has growing potential and power. And sometimes I do the opposite, and I see something and I don’t see a use for it straight away. So my big embarrassing story is I thought Twitter was going to be stupid and useless, [laughs] when it first came out. I was like “Who the heck is going to, this is dumb, it’s like blogging for lazy people, like you can’t even write a whole paragraph so you’re just going to write a sentence, forget this.” I really didn’t see the professional application for it. Which is in its core to how I operate now, you know, between Twitter and Google+ that’s where I get almost all of my information now.
It’s hard in the beginning stages, I think, sometimes to know what’s going to be a Google+, what’s going to be a Twitter, and what’s going to be a Google Wave [laughs], Second Life even like now I think is something that had this potential, but has just sort of waned at this point.
Oh yeah, I mean, I’ll be proud of saying that I said Second Life was bunk from the beginning, but you know, whatever.
Yeah, I was on that boat too so.
It makes me sad, it has potential, the technology’s just not robust enough yet to do what it’s trying to do. But, I think what made me want to teach Google+ was I could see that it was a marriage of the best qualities of Twitter, with the best qualities of Facebook, and all the junk kind of left out of it. And throughout the beta, and now that it’s released publicly they’ve added more features that have made it even better, and so I just saw it as something that could be useful for people that work, or at home with their families or friends, keeping up with whatever it is they care about, and we’re in the middle of teaching a technology bootcamp series of classes where we were talking about other social networks, and I thought “Oh, I’ll just add this one on, you know, I’ll put a couple of sessions towards the end of the series so I’ll give myself a week to prepare [laughs], and that’s what I did, and it worked out really well, and people were super interested in it cause they’d heard about it, and wanted to know what this new thing was. And they were so happy too because at the time it was invitation only, so they were so happy that their nice, friendly, community librarian was going to give everybody invitations too. So, I got to serve that function as well, build a little community goodwill.
Have you heard from other librarians? I know you offered your slides to other librarians. Have you heard from other people who wanted to do similar sort of training?
Yeah, there are a few others that I think have just started to do it, mostly on an ad hoc basis, the way I did, just kind of like “Here it is, yay, here’s all the stuff it does.” I am partnering with another few librarians to talk about the application of Google+ at a Web 2.0 conference, and how you can really use it in a library, both professionally and personally, and how you can teach that to your staff and to your users. I think it’s going to start to take hold more, I’m really excited to see if libraries start using it internally as a way to communicate amongst themselves.
Yeah, my library recently, we have an Emerging Technologies team that sort of meets and just talks about new stuff all the time, they used the Hangout feature to have their last meeting, and it was pretty nifty.
That’s awesome! Oh congratulate, that’s cool, I’m glad. It’s stuff like that, those features, I think that do stuff for us for free that we’ve been paying for for all these years, so, that’s why I think it has that potential, because we’re poor, and free stuff is good. [laughs]
I think even in the best of times libraries never just rolling around in the big Scrooge McDuck kind of money bin thing.
No, and if anyone is rolling around in Scrooge McDuck money bags kinds of things, yeah let me know, I’ll take some of that off your hands.
[laughs] It’s just weighing you down too much.
Yeah, exactly, exactly.
So, I’ve noticed, I don’t know if, I think it was on the T Is For Training podcast, somebody mentioned once that they were amazed when you were in one of their sessions because you were typing notes, like you were sort of keeping an almost liveblog of the session they were in. Do you still do those kind of posts when you go to conferences? Because I was looking back on your blog and I didn’t a lot in the past six months or so that you’ve done a lot of those.
Yeah, I think the last ones that I did was probably Computers In Libraries back in the spring time. I don’t fully attend a lot of conferences, the only one that I’ve been to since then was ALA, and at that conference I did not, I didn’t want to spend my time doing that. I wanted to spend my time kind of meeting with people, talking with the vendors, so I actually didn’t go to a ton of sessions at ALA. But Internet Librarian is coming up this week, and I’ll be live blogging that, so we’ll have quite a bit more coming out soon.
I remember, whoever it was that was talking about, I can’t remember who it was now, but they were just amazed at how well, how fast you typed number one, and how you can also, were obviously paying attention to, and how you were splitting your attention, and they were just amazed that you were able to do that.
[laughs] Yes, I think that comes from.
You still engage and ask questions and everything too.
Yeah, I think it comes from having English degrees where you had to learn to type 15 page papers in one night, you know, so you had to process the information and have it kind of at your fingertips at the same time, so yeah, so I type at about 120 words per minute, so I don’t even have to think about it, I just let what’s going on in my head come out through my fingers, and then I post it, and if some it doesn’t make sense then that’s just too bad I guess.
Yeah, but it’s good, you know I’m glad that it’s been useful to people over time, and I’ll keep doing it as long as my poor little fingers hold out.
[laughs] And you’ve been doing the, I think you said earlier you’ve been doing the blog for about eight years now, and you said, when I was reading over some stuff, that you had first gotten the idea to do the blog because you attended a session that Michael Stephens and Aaron Schmidt did.
Are there any other people that, sort of, that you can think of, that really pushed you professionally, in an inspirational way, kind of like that? That really, that if it wasn’t for that presentation that you still may have become a blogger, but that you have it in your head that that’s a moment that pushed you ahead. Is there anybody else in the profession that’s particularly inspirational for you right now?
Oh there are so many. Jessamyn West particularly because I think she’s always been a strong voice for people who don’t always get remembered. She’s a big proponent of the digital divide and intellectual freedom, and seeing how she could present those issues in a way that was strong but informative, I think was a huge inspiration to me in terms of the tone that I started taking with my writing. I think other people that I’ve just met through my career encouraged me to keep writing, Karen Schneider was incredibly helpful and inspirational in the early days where I would have writer’s block, and she would help me through that. And there are just so many people that I think inspire me in little ways. I see one thing that they do, or one thing that they say and that gives me a kernel of inspiration to keep going, and I think that so many people find that, they just, we absorb so much of what’s around us that it’s kind of like a group collective inspiration. I think that’s kind of where I’m up right now, I try to listen to as many voices as possible, including people that I totally disagree with, or I detest their ethics, I still find inspiration from them because they make me so mad that I have to say something back.
Yeah, I always think that you don’t necessarily, you’re not going to learn something if all you ever read is people that you agree with, because there’s nothing to challenge your mind.
Exactly, I mean some of the people that I find most rewarding to have conversations with are people who have different life experiences and different points of view than I do, and as long as we both remain respectful and can have an intelligent argument, and not one based on, you know, just pure emotion or reflex, those conversations can be so informative. And I think also to help really ground both of us in the fact that our own little bubbles of what we think are not reflective of our entire community. And I think that’s helpful. Yeah, it’s just become easier to isolate yourself in a bubble now, primarily because of the communications technology that’s out there. You don’t have the whole newspaper in front of you anymore, you can just selectively say I only want to get this column from this place, and this column from that place. And that’s all you ever see, and there’s a lot of danger there I think, that whole concept of the filter bubble is very real and one that ah, maybe it’s partially a library’s role to help educate our communities about the fact that that’s happening, and what they could do to maybe open their minds back up a little bit.
I did have one question someone on Twitter wanted me to ask you. They said that at one point you had said something about when you make a post when you’re really angry, that you can tell that you’re angry about something, that you actually get a lot of results from that, a lot of hits from that, and sort of how do you balance, how do we balance being angry with being positive in order to get results.
Hmmm. That’s a good question. Yeah, when I post about something and there’s definitely, you can tell that I’m passionate, let’s say, about what I’m writing about.
I’m thinking in particular, like maybe the Freegal post that you posted.
Oh that’s the quintessential example, those posts are the ones that people will mention when they see me, they’re the ones that get the most comments and conversation going on the site, they’re the ones that do get the most trackbacks, the most hits, everything, I mean it’s just what sparks engagement, and that’s true of everyone I think. You know, people will write sensational things just for the hits, you know, they’ll say something, or use a word, or a phrase in their title that they know is going to make a group of people angry because they know it will then get attention. And I don’t think about it that way when I’m doing it, I’m just pissed off and so it comes out, but I do think if all you do is say things that are negative, and all you are is angry, and you never say anything positive, people aren’t going to want to listen to you anymore. That’s not interesting, you know, if all you do is spew negativity that makes their lives negative. So I try to balance things that are providing positive with things that are negative, services that I like with services that I don’t. Things that work for libraries and make me happy, and things that don’t. And I think in that way, hopefully the things that I do get really grumpy about, people will actually say “Oh, she must be really upset because she’s willing to rail out against a company, and put herself in harms way.” [laughs] I guess, in the line of fire, and the Freegal post is a perfect example of that. I mean I got so much negativity directed at me from the company as a result of that post that I actually found it kind of amusing. Instead of positively engaging with me as a customer, they didn’t, and the result of that was I got mad as a private librarian, and instead of positively engaging with me and all of the readers in that forum, they had the same response which was to respond really negatively and defensively. So, you know, I think it does open people’s eyes, and I think many, many, many of us are so afraid of saying anything negative, because we’re afraid of our employers getting upset with us. “Well, we do business with these people, you can’t be talking smack about them publicly.” So many people just talk about what’s good, and we never do talk about what’s negative except at conference sessions, behind closed doors, or late night karaokefests, or something. That’s when you hear the real dish is when we’re not on the record, and I think that’s a mistake, because I think that does allow us to get taken advantage of, and we’re not sharing information about what works and what doesn’t work for us, and so the more open we can be about what’s awesome, and what is not awesome, the better for all of us.
Right, I wanted to finish up by asking, first of all keeping in mind that I try not to have an explicit tag on the podcast, but can you tell me about your new business cards? [laughs]
[laughs] I can tell you about my new business cards. So, I needed to get new business cards because some of my information had changed, my name had changed predominantly, and so I needed to get some cards that were representative of me, and so on the back of the cards it says “Say No To No”, which is something that I’ve been saying in a lot of my presentations and talks with people is if someone says no to you, just say no right back, and ask them to justify their no, just don’t take it at face value and give up, if you really believe in something fight for it. Now the front side I think is what you may be more interested in. [laughs] So Josh Neff had an idea, I don’t even remember what I had posted, I had posted something on Google+, I don’t even remember what it was any more, and he wrote a comment, and he said “Please tell me that your business cards say ‘punk as f###’.” And I said “Oh, okay that’s interesting, they don’t, but I do need new business cards.” So my business cards now do say “Sarah Houghton: ‘punk as f###’.” Or “punk as F” if you have to edit the podcast.
Well, Sarah, thank you again for talking to me for the show.
Oh, no problem, thanks.