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David Rothman

The limits of “Hack the library”: Don’t aim for too much more with too much less—and try harder for more
April 18, 2014 | 10:25 am

Hack the LibraryLess than 12 percent of U.S. public library spending goes for books and other items. Doubt the need for “hacking the library” through ingenious tech upgrades and reinvention of processes, missions and plenty else? I don’t. Nor do the organizers of the 29th Computers in Libraries conference named after the magazine. Much to their credit, this Information Today event borrowed from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and made “Hack the library” the theme at a gathering of well over 1,000 library professionals at the Washington Hilton. A keynoter, the ever-stimulating David Weinberger, lab co-director, told them April 7: “Libraries are getting squeezed a...

Should public libraries give away e-book-friendly tablets to poor people? $38 tablet hints of possibilities
January 10, 2014 | 4:54 pm

NextYoung people love suitable paper books, ideally new, that they can own. Could the same idea work for econo-tablets that public libraries gave away to low-income families---with a big, fat, e-book-related icon smack in the middle of the home screens? Yes! Don’t just hand out gizmos, though. Let the tablets come with old-fashioned encouragement from public and school librarians. Technology is no panacea. Kids should be able to own paper books, too, in fact, not just gadgets. But e-book-capable tablets, especially with national digital library systems in place, could multiply the number of books matching students’ precise needs. Paper books could serve as gateways to...

The most urgent digital library needs are those of Lady Gaga and the Kardashians
December 15, 2013 | 1:07 pm

Lady_Gaga_BTW_Ball_Antwerp_02Just a dream. But what if I really could write the headline above—and not as a joke? Would more Americans, inside and outside the media, care more than they do now about the Hispanics, African-Americans and poor people mentioned in LibraryCity’s latest digital library commentary? Of course, as is evident from the post, you don’t have to be in a minority to benefit from full-strength digital libraries. The challenge is to let people know, “We can make full-strength national digital libraries happen. We don’t have to put up with a crappy $4.20 per capita spent each year on public library content in all...

Voice Dream reader app can now play audiobooks
December 8, 2013 | 12:15 pm

Voice Dream reader appThe new version of the Voice Dream reader app, a superb iOS text-to-speech app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, can now play audiobooks, too. Even at $10, costlier than the typical app, Voice Dream is a Buy, capital B, at the Apple App Store. Voice Dream 2.9.2 can handle zipped MP3s as well as audiobooks in Daisy, thanks to help from a Swiss library organization, and navigation and general usability are excellent, just as in the regular text-to-speech mode for ePub files and others. Dozen of optional voices in common languages work with the app, and my favorite is the UK-accented “Peter” voice...

National digital libraries for Carmela Hernandez and family—not just the American elite
December 6, 2013 | 2:15 pm

national digital librariesLibraryCity has just posted a major series telling how an initiative for national digital libraries could serve ordinary people here in the U.S., not merely the American elite. Sounds like a given. But it isn’t, alas. The Digital Public Library of America is a wonder, but judged by the Five Laws of Library Science, it is more for academics and others in the elite than for the country as a whole. I’m reminded of the old Literary Digest poll saying that Alf Landon would wallop FDR in the 1936 election. The Digest relied too much on well-off respondents and was out of...

Family literacy and K-12 success: How a well-stocked public e-library system for the U.S. could help our students catch up with ‘The Smartest Kids in the World’
October 21, 2013 | 5:48 pm

smartestkidsvideoAmanda Ripley, who has written on education for Time Magazine and the Atlantic, is out with a new book that might upset some traditional PTA stalwarts and other boosters of after-school activities if they don’t pick up the nuances about literacy here. No, Ms. Ripley, a fellow at the New American Foundation, isn’t anti-PTA. She appreciates “the contributions” that a local PTA chapter can make to a “school's culture, budget, and sense of community." But in The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (video here), she asks whether American mothers and fathers shouldn’t increase time for another activity---enjoying...

How to get the most out of library ebooks via the right gadget, text to speech, and otherwise
October 18, 2013 | 6:26 pm

FireVergeWant to hear text to speech from free library ebooks on your 50-mile commute? Even if you own an Android machine and the usual OverDrive app can’t do “read-aloud” unless audiobooks count? Also, what if you haven’t even bought an e-reading gizmo for library use, but want to? Which model to go with? In those cases and others, the guidance here is for you. Most tips will work even with low-cost, no-name tablets. But let’s pay special attention to the new Kindle Fire HDXes. They are among the top choices if you care more about reading than about tech and can stomach...

The DPLA and the risks of gentrifying America’s public libraries
August 29, 2013 | 9:26 pm

DPLAJim Duncan, now executive director of the Colorado Librarian Consortium, offered some needed candor about the Digital Public Library of America for NPR reporter Laura Sydell’s August 19 segment on the DPLA. The reaction from certain NPR commenters online? Nasty bashing of Duncan and other public librarians. One listener, for example, accused public librarians of "hopping on board the ‘library patrons only read trash and would rather make this a rec center’ train.” Now back to reality. Duncan himself used to be an academic librarian, and he hopes that the DPLA will succeed hugely and offer a wealth of cultural and historical riches, in line with his...

E-Books and the Miami-Dade Library Crisis: One way to help thwart the misers
August 28, 2013 | 1:19 pm

libraryAll of Miami-Dade’s library branches will remain open, apparently, despite Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez's earlier talk about closing 22 branches in the Miami-Dade system. But 169 librarians will lose their jobs, and hours will shrink under his newer plan if this foolishness becomes reality. The public uproar against Gimenez’s stinginesss goes on. Please join more than 5,000 library fans in "liking" the Save the Miami-Dade Public Libraries page on Facebook, no matter where you live. Might greater reliance on e-books and other digital content end the crisis instantly? Of course not. Even now, it isn’t as if the Miami-Dade system has ignored all the possibilities. Still, according to...

Free ePub Book Shows Potential of Local Librarians as Content-Providers (Video)
August 16, 2013 | 3:28 pm

librariansWhale Bombings, Pearl Harbor and Other Stories Enliven Q&A with Now-Dead Airman * * * Some unlucky whales died in certain stretches of the Pacific because inexperienced U.S. airmen mistook the long shapes in the water for Japanese submarines. More than a few offbeat recollections of this kind liven up an extended interview with the late Attilio F. Caporiccio, a B-17 crewman before and during World War II. The Q&A is now a free ePub book licensed under Creative Commons; just click on the link to download it. "Cappy" also recalled seeing the faces of Japanese pilots attacking Hickam Field—next to the Pearl Harbor naval base—because...

On Jillian the Tiger Cub and the Power of the American Ego
May 22, 2013 | 2:15 pm

Never underestimate the power and glory of the American ego. Granted, it can show its bizarre sides—for example, in the antics and hairdo of Donald Trump. And yet I see the good, too. We have the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the rest, not “Library Donors Anonymous.” At least some might bristle at this quest for publicity and immortality, as opposed to pure altruism. But let’s remember that despite all the government-and-corporate-enforced conformity around us, we are still in many ways a nation of individualists. Didn’t Walt Whitman title a poem "Song of Myself," notwithstanding such lines as...

A national digital library endowment: More details
March 26, 2013 | 10:00 am

National Digital Library endowmentLibraryCity inspired mentions on The Atlantic magazine’s website and elsewhere with a call for a national digital library endowment for the United States. Endowment funds would come entirely or almost entirely from philanthropists, in the beginning at least, given the hostility of so many politicians toward new programs. The endowment would be just one source of library funding, but it could make a huge difference. Ahead is a follow-up, an informal FAQ, to which you can speed instantly; and LibraryCity will welcome your own questions, suggested answers, and other ideas via email or in the comments area. But first, some background for newcomers to these issues. Who says...