Digital Library Branch – The Time is Now

At the Imagine.Create.Innovate conference held at Rochester Public Library, there was a lot of talk about the future of libraries. Where we are now. Where we might be going. What we need to do if we are to move in a direction that helps libraries and, more importantly, helps our communities.

Jamie LaRue was keynote speaker for the first day of the two-day event. The short version of his speech: “The mission of the public library is to gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual content of our culture.” Wait, that’s big. Let me repeat that.

“The mission of the public library is to gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual content of our culture.”

This means not only curating and preserving, but also enabling those who create the intellectual content of our culture. Providing free access to it. Publishing it. And of course, sorting it and cataloging it all.

The “threat” of ebooks has many wringing their hands wondering if libraries can remain relevant going forward. Jamie did extensive research before embarking on the creation of a digital library branch for his community. He found that 20% of his readers prefer ebooks. Despite this, his library’s ebooks comprised far less than 20% of the collection. He noted that his collection of ebooks is always checked out. The same is true in Rochester – we just don’t have enough ebooks yet to meet the demand.

The fact is, publishers are making it very difficult for libraries to circulate ebooks. The restrictions are high. The costs are high. And many publishers won’t sell ebooks to libraries at all.

So what is a creative, innovative solution to this problem? If you ask Jamie LaRue, he’ll tell you to spend less time worrying about the Big Six publishers and focus your efforts on independent small press publishers and self-publishing authors.

He set up an Adobe Content Server for ebooks that his library would purchase. He set up a second server at for items in the public domain. He dug up Creative Commons content. And then he set up agreements with publishers.

The result of all this is a ebook catalog that pulls together all econtent to one place. Adobe Content Server attaches DRM, and regulates the check out to Adobe-enabled devices in order to restrict the use to one user at a time, and to disable the content at the end of a due date.

Take a look at Douglas County Library’s digital branch. They have set a precedent with this, which is useful to all of us.

Using Art and Wonder to Spark Interest in STEM

Have I mentioned lately that I’m the luckiest person on the planet? It’s true. I am part of a team that is building a Mars Rover Art Car.

The MRAC crew is building a fully functioning, larger than life replica of the Mars Rover, not only in homage to the real Rover, but also as an educational tool. The idea is to imitate Curiosity, by analyzing soil samples and broadcasting from the desert, and giving people a chance to see a Rover replica up close and have their questions answered by knowledgeable people who are enthusiastic fans of NASA and JPL.  It will also be used to educate about permaculture and sustainability and to encourage thought about future colonization.

From the crew:

“Our mission is to spread knowledge about space, wonder about Mars, conscious thought of environmental impact on Earth, and spark interest in science, engineering, and art.

“While Burning Man is the first stop on our mission, we plan make appearances year-round at schools, science fairs, tech conferences, and environmental talks. Our dream is to provide tangible access to what humans dream of… space exploration, permaculture, sustainability, unity through community, and the strength of self-expression.”

The Mars Rover Art Car will have a fully functioning set of scientific instruments similar to those on the real Rover: robotic sampling arm, GPS tracking system, weather station, simulated crowd-sourced navigation, on-board cameras and sensors. The back of the Rover will feature a permaculture rocket stove which we will use to cook food, as well as using as an example of how to use energy virtually waste-free.

And it’s going to be fun! The debut event will be at Burning Man 2013. The MRAC crew is currently in the process of scheduling school visits, as well. Imagine the excitement for kids to climb on board and explore and learn, while taking a ride on a Mars Rover!

We’re currently up on Kickstarter, working on our last few days of fundraising. Please show your support for our project by donating and sharing our project:

And follow our progress on facebook:

And twitter:

*Disclaimer: This is a citizen funded art car. Any employees of NASA or JPL who are working on this project do so on their own non-work time.