Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This Book Is Overdue! or The Future of Libraries (On Our Bookshelf)

Ever wonder about libraries and whether they will be around 10, 20 years from now? How about librarians? What do they really do? How do they manage to survive in the current economic climate of cutbacks, cutbacks, cutbacks? And of course there is the problem of low pay. In fact libraries have been closing or due to fiscal cutbacks in cities and states, their hours may have been slashed and book budgets reduced and yet librarians have a strong will to serve to provide access to all regardless of background.

Then there are the trends in libraryland towards online libraries, shifting from books and magazine to electronic access to information. There is the challenge of new and multiple technologies, which libraries must adjust to and master, and master they do. Libraries are often in the advance guard techologically and, after all, indexing and subject analysis are what libraries have been good at and these skills are fundamental to online databases, even Google in its massive search indexes.

But it is a fact, libraries are changing with the rest of the society. So, now, along comes one of best books of 2010, This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, by Marilyn Johnson, author of Dead Beat. She wanted to know where libraries are now and where are they going. While Ms Johnson is a journalist, her report represents several years of research, interviewing and doing participant observation work much as a sociologist or anthropologist. What she has produced is a definitive work on libraries and where they are going and she provides a very readable experience that allows behind the scenes appreciation of the struggles librarians undergo to provide continuous service and access now and into the future. She puts a human face to libraryland, cuts through stereotypes, and shows the marvelous diversity of libraries, librarians and displays it warts and all.

Reading Johnson's book you will learn about problems associated with computerization, the migration from library automated system to another, life in public libraries, specialized libraries, large Public Research libraries such as the New York Public, reductions in space forcing collections out, the discarding of previously sacred Reference materials, the struggle to maintain and archive for future readers and researchers critical primary sources, the effect of forces attempting to invade privacy of library card holders, the effect of the Patriot Act and libraries at the Connecticut State Library who fought to maintain First Amendment Right even under threat of possible jail time. She tells the story of Radical librariians, tattooed librarians and Second Life librarians.

Libraries have always fought to preserve access. Your library card and what you read is protected by libraries. Marilyn Johnson writes about the history of libraries and their struggles.
Second Life is an online community, where people develop their characters and avatars. Johnson focuses on a group of real life librarians who decide that it would be found to stake out a part of the Second Life community and created avatars and characters along with a Reference Desk in Second Life. Who were these real life librarians playing their roles in the virtual world as well as the physical world? Johnson created her own character and avatar and started playing a role and investigated Libraryland in Second Life. Finally she was able to meet in the physical world some of these role players. It is a fascinating story.

Whatever Johnson tackles in This Book Is Overdue, she provides indepth, accurate coverage and there is never a dull moment! This is an extremely fine work and hugely entertaining. If you are curious about librarians and libraries; if you love libraries and want to see them preserved; if you are interested in what makes libraries tick, then READ THIS BOOK! It provides loads of insight and represents where we are now in the physical, online, and virtual road.

Marilyn Johnson will be at the Forbes Library in Northampton, Wednesday, September 15, starting at 7pm. She'll do readings from her book, answer questions and sigh your book. For librarians and non librarians. Find out where libraries are going.

And now I have to go because This Book Is Overdue! You'll find it at the Berkshire Athenauem and other libraries.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

BP and Gas Prices

News about BP ( the former British Petroleum ) is everywhere since the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil well explosion and resultant millions of barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf since June affecting the livelihoods of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida residents, businesses, and workers. The recently capped well has slowed the spilling but the impact and clean up will likely go on for years.

BP ( www.bp.com ) issued a press release today noting they have already paid out $256 million in claims and have set aside 30 plus billion dollars for clean up, restoration of the Gulf, and further claims. The BP website has much information on it soliciting ideas, help, and providing round the clock access to video feeds on the oil well site. There you will find news of former CEO Tony Hayward stepping down in October 2010 and being replaced by American born and former Louisiana resident Robert Dudley, who is currently in charge of BP's cleanup operations. And there is extensive coverage on the site of BP efforts and responses to the ongoing disaster.

In light of the ongoing Gulf crisis many are wondering about the larger oil situation, namely the effect of the Gulf disaster on gas prices. What has been the effect? What will be the effect in the future? This disaster is not a natural one, such as a hurricane or tornado, but a result of human error, mistakes and lack of foresight to say the least. It is not the result of oil futures speculation that was rampant 2 years ago this month, when gas prices at the pump rose to over $4 a gallon of regular and a barrel of oil rose to $150 and brought about the collapse of the American auto industry.

So what is the effect? The answer is not what one would expect with the loss of so much oil. There has been almost no effect on gas prices. Summer is the season when gas prices generally increase. Not so thus far this year. Gas prices since Memorial Day have changed little, hovering between $2.60 and $2.80 per gallon of regular. See gasbuddy.com's Massachusetts Gas Prices for up to the minute prices in your area. This link provides current Pittsfield area's lowest prices, which are between $2.65 and $2.69 per gallon. Average Massachusetts price is $2.68. And the national average on this day is $2.74. Gasbuddy also displays a barometer measuring the direction of gas prices; currently they are going up.

Why has there been no effect on the market for oil? Future traders who traded up the price per barrel dramatically 2 years ago are laying in wait. So far prices per barrel of oil are less than $80. While prices are increasing, it's very slow, and there has been a surplus of oil. The demand has not been there. That's the lesson of the past 2 years. Consumers have conserved and cut back on their appetite for large gas guzzling cars, are investing in more economy minded cars, and taking shorter vacations. And there has been government pressure on the auto industry to supply cars with higher gas use efficiency. The recession has produced high unemployment, housing foreclosures, and stabilized gas prices.

The continuing Gulf oil crisis demonstrates forcefully the impact of spills on the environment, wildlife, tourism, local businesses, and the overall quality of life. Still oil touches every sphere of life in the global economy. Oil byproducts produce clothing, plastics, electricity. It is a foundation commodity for modern life and is why wars are fought, to control who has access the these resources. Of course, there is the current thrust from government to wean ourselves from dependence on oil, but it is likely that it is economic development and competition between governments such as China, the United States, Japan, and Europe for this resource that will determine our future. And that competition is over oil resources. Ultimately this competition will determine prices and quality of life far more the Gulf oil spill.

Oil companies have seen that the future will depend on more diversified resources such as Natural Gas. Still Exxon Mobil, which has been investing in natural gas, recently announced its 2nd quarter net profit as $7.56 billion, a 91% increase over same quarter in 2009.

So it appears that the Gulf of Mexico crisis has had little effect on oil company profits beyond that of BP, which is still profitable, though weakened.

Gas prices this summer have been remarkably stable.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Business Magazines on Twitter and Facebook

In our last About Business posting "Top 5 Social Networks for June 2010", we noted Facebook had more than 400 million members and Twitter more than 80 million. This represents a stunning potential and opportunity for Businesses and business marketing. Business magazines are employing Twitter and Facebook to reach, keep, and expand their audiences.

There currently is no directory listing access to Business Magazines' Twitter and Facebook accounts. In the interest of providing access to these accounts, we have researched and compiled the following listing:

1) Business Week, now called Bloomberg Business Week as of January 2010:
http://twitter.com/bw; www.facebook.com/BloombergBusinessweek

2) Entrepreneur Magazine:
http://twitter.com/entmagazine; www.facebook.com/EntMagazine

3) Financial Times (daily newspaper):
http://twitter.com/financialtimes (At the time of this post could not locate a
Financial Times Facebook page.

4) Forbes Magazine: http://twitter.com/FORBES; www.facebook.com/forbes

5) Fortune Magazine:
http://twitter.com/Fortunemagazine; www.facebook.com/FortuneMagazine

6) Inc Magazine: http://twitter.com/incmagazine; www.facebook.com/Inc

7) Kiplingers Personal Finance: http://twitter.com/Kiplingermedia;

8) New York Times: http://twitter.com/nytimes/business-news
http;//twitter.com/nytimesbusiness; (No Facebook page found at time of this post.)

9) SmartMoney Magazine : http://twitter.com/smartmoney;

10) Wall Street Journal (Daily newspaper; no Sunday): http://twitter.com/wsj;

It's worth noting that these are the main twitter and facebook accounts for these publications. Editors and writers of these publications have their own twitter and facebook accounts and some are quite prolific. But these are the official twitter and facebook accounts. They are both promotional, newsy, and afford direct interactions in all the ways of social media. It shows commitment to the social media world and is transforming business media and the way we interact. With facebook a real face is put to these formerly anonymous and distant enterprises. And comments are invited as is participation in development of business ideas and articles.

You may freely subscribe to, follow and befriend these business magazine twitter and facebook accounts. You will be able to keep up to date with business news using these sites. You may easily start your own twitter and facebook accounts as well and have your customers, family and friends follow your business enterprise as part of your overall business plan.

Publications named above are also part of the Berkshire Athenaeum subscription holdings, where we invite you to read them at your leisure.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Top 5 Social Networks For June 2010

The continuing and expanding influence of social networks is undeniable. EbizMba continues to track social network statistics and they are very impressive. Click here for their most recent report on 20 top social networking sites. Here for About Business we're going to focus on the top 5.

The top 5 sites for June 2010 are:

1) Facebook (www.facebook.com). Facebook claims more than 400 million members. That's more than the entire population of the United States. According to EbizMba, Facebook receives 250 million unique visitors a month. That's alot of friends and family keeping in touch with each other. Tracking site Alexa places Facebook as the #2 most visited site in the world. Google is #1. People are probably using google to get to Facebook. At 250 milion visitors per month Facebook provides a very large opportunity for any business enterprise.

2) MySpace (www,myspace.com). While not given the media attention that Facebook and Twitter receive, MySpace is holding its own with 122 million unique visitors per month and ranks #17 on Alexa's most visited sites per month. So it seems Rupert Murdock's investment in MySpace is paying off at least in terms of popularity.

3) Twitter (www.twitter.com). Twitter can claim 80.5 million unique visitors per month. That's more tweets than Tweety Bird could imagine. In June 2010 it's the 11th most visited site on the Internet. Twitter is a micro blog (limited to 140 characters) and would seem to go hand in hand with Facebook or MySpace for that matter.

4) LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). LinkedIn, as the 4th most popular social networking site, will be a surprise to many. However, LinkedIn is receiving 50 million unique visitors per month. This site is for networking professionals or anyone looking for or offering a job or contract. Major and minor, large and small businesses are all represented on LinkedIn, including every Fortune 500 company. According to Alexa it is the 29th most visited site on the internet.

5) Ning (www.ning.com). Ning is new to me. It characterizes itself as a network for organizers and "influencers" and is quick and easy to use in the same way as Facebook and Twitter. While new to me, it is attracting 42 million unique visitors per month. That's a lot of people interested in social change. More on Ning in a future post. It is the 128th most visited site on the Internet.

The continuing expansion and popularity of social networking sites means that your business neighborhood is now global and that it would be in your business interest to be represented on these sites to get the word out about your enterprises. There is enormous opportunity in this marketplace.

In my next post I'll show how Business Magazines are using these social networking sites.

As an aside, I'll add that Libraries, such as the Berkshire Athenaeum. now have blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts and feature workshops enabling others to become active participants!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Dow and Marketplace Happy Music!

In our March 20 post about The Dow, we mentioned the evening reports from National Public Radio's Marketplace program where every time The Dow is down for the day, that they play the song, Stormy Weather. And during the past week there has been lots of Stormy Weather from The Dow.

A correspondent, who had read our post, asked what song does Marketplace play when The Dow is up at the end of the day? We're happy to bring you the answer to that question. When The Dow is up at the end of the day, Marketplace plays I'm In the Money, apropos for the daily winners! They will be playing I'm In The Money tonight about 6:45 p.m. That's because The Dow today closed at 4 p.m. on the New York Stock Exchange at 10,259, 284.54 point over yesterday's closing of 9974.

For what these numbers mean see our previous post here. When The Dow is up as today's results indicate, it means all 30 stocks showed increases in the number of sales. When The Dow is down as it was yesterday, it meant those 30 stocks were by their owners, meaning momentary losses to these bulwark companies, of which locally, General Electric was affected. When looked at over the past year all 30 Dow stock companies increased their value 20 to 30 per cent.

Day to day trading means little in the long term unless downs continue or ups continue for long periods. Otherwise in following The Dow daily you will be subject to the yo-yo effect or daily ups and downs that day traders feed on. Winning investors are those quite often in for the long term and who see long term benefits and value.

For short term investors and day traders, you have 'know when to hold'em and know when to fold'em!' to avoid the Stormy Weather music.

For those interested in learning more about investing, its risks and rewards, the Berkshire Athenaeum has several books available for loan, including Investing 101 by Kathy Kristoff, Wall Street's Buried Treasure: the low priced value investing approach to finding great stocks by Harry Houtkin, The Bogleheads' guide to Investing by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, Michael LeBoeuf with Introduction by John Bogle, and many others. And you will want to consult the Investopedia link on our sidebar or go directly there.

Always consider your local public library as a possible source for your financial information.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Do You Follow the DOW?

If you are in business, have a pension or retirement plan, or are an investor, then DOW or the Dow Jones Industrial Index is part of your everyday vocabulary.

If you watch the News on Television, listen to the Radio, or view News Online, then you know the daily DOW numbers are reported all the time, often many times during the day.

A change in the DOW results in a great adrenaline rush. When the DOW goes down, the National Public Radio program, Marketplace, plays the song Stormy Weather. Lately there's been a lot of Stormy Weather and DOW has been falling from its recent 11,000 highs down to 10,100s.

In Feb 24, 2009 we wrote Dow Up, Dow Down! What Does It All Mean? At that time the DOW was at 7100 and a crash was apparent. So 11,000 or even 10,000 is better than February 2009. The DOW has increased by more than 50% since those lows. For what's behind these numbers click on the article.

The DOW is made up 30 carefully selected companies, selected by the Wall Street Journal editorial boards. These stocks are highly valued and fairly stable, but when General Motors and Citigroup dipped below $10 a share they were removed from the DOW and replaced by Travelers Companies and Cisco Systems.

When we want to know what's happening on the DOW, we check out 2 websites that are particularly good. The first site is Bloomberg.com where there are updates every 15 minutes and it lists ongoing activity for the 30 DOW stocks that make up the Index. (It also answers the reference question, What companies make up the DOW Jones Industrial Index?) The second site we like is MarketWatch.com, where it gives you minute by minute trading results and fluctuations on the DOW (not for those with heart conditions if volatility causes you great concern) like a ticker.

All kinds of people try to figure out what these ups and downs mean and commentators make regular prognostications. But there are no fixed answers and all the activity feeds into those fascinated with numbers games, statistics, and real life gambling.

When the DOW closed today at 4 pm Eastern Time, it had fallen to 10,068, 376 points from the previous day's closing of 10,444. Does this mean crash or correction or nothing at all? Such is the Market and only Time will tell its ultimate effects. But after 2008 the economy did go into a dramatic spin and now foreclosures, state bankruptcies, 9.9% unemployment rates, and dramatic 1st quarter 2010 profits were the effect. And financial reform after 2 years has still not happened.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Twitter Meets the Library of Congress

At first the pairing of the venerable old Library of Congress(founded by Thomas Jefferson) with the vastly up-to-date social network and micro blog Twitter seems most unlikely. Yet yesterday, April 14, each, in separate postings, announced their highly significant partnership.

The Library of Congress disclosed in its twitter feed and in its blog that the world's largest library would house the digital archive of all twitter tweets since its inception in March 2006 and continuing. Title of their twitter and blog posts: "How tweet it is!" A takeoff on Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners phrase from Ralph Kramden, "How sweet it is!"

If you have ever "tweeted" your tweets will be archived there and, eventually, searchable. The twitter blog post "Twitter Preservation announced on its site its partnering with the Library of Congress with a great deal of excitement. Twitter estimates over 50 million tweets per day and growing. Each tweet is only 140 characters in length. If only 1% of these tweets per day were business related (and it's probably considerably more), that would be over 500,000 tweets for business each day. This indicates to me that daily tweets from your business "must" now be a part of any business plan.

The significance of this announcement cannot be underestimated. It puts the full prestige of the Library of Congress behind the supporting and archiving of major social networks and puts libraries in the forefront both as tweeters and preservers of this cultural phenomenon. You can follow the Library of Congress tweets @librarycongress. You can follow twitter's twitter account @twitter.

Twitter is only 140 characters in length and that is the title of a new book that is bound to the bible of twitter style. 140 Characters,A Style Guide For The Short Form, by Dom Sagolla is a book well worth investigating. It is endorsed by Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and author of the first tweet. Sagolla provides an instructive history of twitter, how the name came about, its originators, how 140 characters was decided on, major players, and its rapid evolution of being one of the top 10 goto sites in the world. It really is a style manual with do's and don'ts. Like twitter it has hundreds of short takes and is often amusing.

If you want to know about twitter in all its ramifications, you will want to read and keep this book as a working reference and style guide. You'll learn how to write effective tweets and you'll have fun too.

Twitter and Library of Congress announcements this week come during National Library Week, April 12 through April 17. It is a time to celebrate all libraries.

140 Characters by Dom Sagolla can be found at Pittsfield's Public Library, the Berkshire Athenaeum and at your local library.

Kudos to Twitter and the Library of Congress!