Sikh and Ye Shall Find

Our first day in Delhi…the day started at 6 a.m. being awakened by a flock of parrots in a tree outside my room. At 7:30 the doorbell rang with a cup of chai delivered to the room. We met up with Evelyn and decided to hire a driver for the day (Jag Jeet). He made a point for us to start our day at “his temple” – one of 16 Sikh temples in Delhi. It was a fascinating glimpse into a religion that I knew little about. We started in a visitor center where we were instructed to take off our shoes and the lady in charge then tied scarves around our heads to cover our hair.

The tour began in the museum with the history of Sikhism told in a series of paintings that showed significant events in gruesome detail. The Sikh faith was founded in 1469 near Lahore Pakistan. They believe in one God and the teachings of ten gurus combined into the Sikh Holy Book. Sikhs are represented by 5 symbols being: long and unshorn hair, a special comb, a steel bracelet, a sword, and a holy undergarment.

We followed our guide down a long tent covered corridor that was full of people coming and going. On one side there were men handing out glasses of water that people were standing and drinking. We continued on past a place where people were being served some food that looked like semolina that was scooped out onto a few leaves that would cover one hand. People were also buying marigolds to take in the temple to get blessed.

We approached the temple and went up about 5 or 6 steps. People were reaching down and touching the steps and then touching their forehead. As we entered the temple people were milling about. Some families were sitting in small groups. There were three men playing music and chanting facing an altar that was covered in a gold canopy. There was a large pillow on the alter holding the Holy Book. A priest was waving what looked like a feather duster over the book. He was also laying many silk cloths on top of the book. Our guide said that these cloths would later be sold as they were then purified because of the proximity to the book.

We circled around behind all of this and then passed a glass room with what looked like a canopy bed where our guide said the book was put away every night.

Our guide then took us outside and downstairs to look at the kitchen where they prepare and serve meals for 15,000 to 20,000 every day! The faithful come in to do the cooking and put in two-hour shifts. Our guide said that anyone can eat there and there is no charge. It was truly amazing to see.


Pushing a taxi

We arrived here in Delhi at about 9:30 last night after a 14.5 hour flight from Newark. The flight was long – really, really long - but uneventful. The airport is under construction so not the best welcome. Getting processed through immigration was surprisingly efficient. My bag came right away, but we had to wait for Becky’s for a while.

We looked for an ATM upon arrival, but found none. There was a station that resembled an ATM, but it turned out to be a suggestion box – labeled “Touch and Opine”. We did neither. We decided to change some money to have enough cash to get us to the Guest House. We each changed 60 dollars and received 2400 rupees.

After exiting the arrivals hall, we looked for the prepaid taxi stand. We were told to insist on using the one run by the police. Sure enough there was a counter labeled “Police Prepaid Taxi”. There were two guys sitting on the floor eating behind the desk. They popped up as we approached the counter. We told them where we were going – Chanakyapuri near the Chanakya Cinema” and we were issued a ticket for 248 rupees – about $6.30.

As we exited the airport it was CRAZY with cars and people everywhere. We had the number of the taxi to look for and there was a guy in an orange vest that helped us find the right car. We loaded up and were on our way. It was about 11:00 p.m. by this time but traffic was still very heavy. The overwhelming smells seem to be diesel and smoke.

After about a half hour drive we pulled up near the Cinema but since that was only an approximate address there was no guest house in sight. I had an old email with a more specific address on it and our driver left us in the car and went in search of directions. When he returned the taxi would not start! He started pushing the car to try and pop the clutch but with both Becky and I and our luggage aboard there was no way that was going to happen. So we both got out to help him push. What a sight. He finally got help from a passerby and could gain enough speed to get it started.

Evelyn had sent us some more specific instructions about finding the North East Council Guest House from the State Guest House (which our driver found) so we eventually got to the correct place.

There were 4 or 5 guys at the NEC Guest House with registration papers with our names attached to them. They handed Becky hers along with a key and then mine disappeared. None of the guys spoke English and did not seem to understand when we inquired about the other paper and key. Finally a guy came out that spoke a little English and one of they guys went and retrieved the other paper. Still no key. After lots of pantomime the guy with the security uniform on pulled my key out of his pocket!

We made it to our rooms finally at about 12:30. Becky pulled out two little bottles of Cabernet - yea for her! We lost a full day in getting here, but we are here.


What is a book?

There has been a lot of talk (for years) about the "death of the book". How does online content impact the availability of the physical object? What does a device like the Kindle mean to users and libraries? I heard a report yesterday (maybe on BBC America? I'll have to look for a reference) that a publisher was going to stop releasing it's books in hardcover format.

I think about kids and how different technology is making the world for them. I came Lookybooks yesterday - a site with a stated purpose to get more books in the hands of children. The site has links from every book so you can buy the books. Essentially this is a test drive for kid's books.

Then there is the International Children's Digital Library with a mission to encourage tolerance and respect for cultures and languages by making the best of children's literature available online. The team working on this project is devoted and committed. They made a great presentation at last year's JCDL meeting in Vancouver.

Here is an example from Lookybooks below. One I particularly like because of my affinity to animals in clothes. Getting more books in the hands or hearts of children can never be a bad thing.


No time to waste

I know it may be hard to swallow, but I think our current budget woes may, in fact, present an opportunity for us to actually do what we have been reluctant to do for a long time. Maybe this is just the push we need to become excellent. We need to seriously look at what users expect from us and how we can do it better. We have talked a user centered services for a really long time, but too often we are unwilling to make the changes that users want. How many times have we said things such as:

The users don’t fully understand the issues involved in what it would take to {insert user’s idea here}.

We are information professionals and we know best.

We provide a valuable service that we need to tell more people about.

While we as librarians have been collectively wringing our hands about bad searching, incomplete cataloging, the behemoth Google, declining reference statistics, lack of enough staff, lack of respect, etc. the way that people interact with information has fundamentally changed. In case you haven’t noticed the information environment has changed so much that if we don’t make some fundamental changes immediately we can very soon call the game over.

At the risk of offending, here are some thoughts to get a conversation started…

  • If it is not online it isn’t. People want access from their laptop, iPhone, other mobile device and they want it now. They do not want to wait or to walk.
  • We must fundamentally change the way that users interact with our online content. This is our front door and the interface should be intuitive and welcoming. We can’t try to replicate a physical library on a web page and think we have succeeded. Many users coming there will have no concept of physical library and it is a waste of time to try to make them conform.

  • Big effort should be put into designing tools to anticipate user needs and to make the user successful even if they have not attended a training session.
  • Our content must integrate into other content in a seamless way. People must be able to get to our content when they do a Google search.
  • We need to leverage the unique content we have and get it online as fast as possible. This is our competitive advantage and is what will set us aside from other institutions.

  • We need to find ways to be helpers and not hinderers. Lose the stupid rules that get in people’s way. We can’t afford to lose even one good library user.

So where does that leave us? As quickly as possible we need to identify things to stop doing in order to free up resources to do the things that we need to do. It will be painful, but we need to let go of some things that have been near and dear to our hearts for a long time. This is no time to be sentimental.

It wasn’t that long ago when we thought that users could not possible do a search in an online database as well as we could. OK, maybe we were better, but users believed that they were good enough and they were right. And they are right about wanting information presented to them in a seamless way.


Catching up...

OMG, it has been almost a month since I last posted. I have been really busy with a lot of projects and ideas brewing, visiting friends, enjoying family, getting ready to go to India, etc., etc, etc. Almost all of it good but time consuming in a good way.

I have been thinking about and planning for the trip to Manipur. I am participating with a research team to go work with some very old manuscripts that are endangered both physically and intellectually. I will write more about this project here as it develops. I have a camera that I am learning to use so we can take some really good photographs of the manuscripts. At the same time I hope to document our trip with photos and post them here and on Flikr. OK, so now I need to figure out more features of the camera. It will take video, too so maybe I can experiment with that. It will be good subject matter - I hope I can do it justice.

A little about Manipur. It is in northeastern India bounded by 3 Indian states and the country of Myanmar. It is definitely not on the tourist circuit as special permission is required to go there. We are flying to New Delhi from Lexington via Newark. We will stop over in New Delhi and then will continue on to Imphal.

The team going includes Somi Roy, a flimmaker who is from Manipur; Evelyn Knight from the UK Appalachian Center, Becky Ryder, my colleague in Preservation and Digital Programs, Rachel Roberts from the British Library, Alex Gardner from the Rubin Foundation, and me. There are more people involved in the project, but they are not going on this initial visit. It will be interesting and hopefully these manuscripts can be documented and saved.

More soon...