How many librarians are in the witness protection program?

“They hired a new librarian and she got rid of all the books.” That was the gossip around town shortly after she arrived, said one of my tablemates at lunch. Books about our perennial adversary the Soviet Union, about how Man was going to live in Space, about how lasers were going to transform our lives. And children were going to come home from school and have their snacks heated by a miraculous new device called a microwave oven. A good school library has to throw books out. And bring in new things that aren’t necessarily books.

If you think about libraries as repositories and curators of learning rather than places where people go to get books, then it makes perfect sense that the Vermont Department of libraries should sponsor a conference with such sessions as “Citizen Science”, “Scratch”or “Hacking Sketchup with Ruby”. Or that librarians should be hosting makerspaces and organizing classes on robotics or squishy circuits. And making plans to stock microcontroller kits as part of their lending inventory. They are, according to Sparkfun’s Jeff Branson, teaching people to write as well as to read.

This is not your usual hackercon. Almost everyone here seems to have a story of how co-workers and acquaintances look at them a little sideways for being interested in this kind of stuff. Almost all of them are women. It’s a refreshing change from the more conventional vibe in the technical community, where there’s sometimes just a little too much background whiff of testosterone. (Albeit at the morning plenary there was plenty of time for the first three men who spoke and only a few minutes for the woman who went last. And gave them just a bit of heck for it.)

And now it’s time to nip over to the basement of the next building and join everyone playing with all the toys presented in the sessions and workshops. I can’t wait to see if Ardublock is as ready for prime time as my 9-year-old thinks it is.

(About the linkbait: At registration, conference organizer Mara Siegel  — of whom one can hardly avoid using the term “irrepressible” — was urging everyone to sign their photo releases, then stopped for a moment to wonder aloud how many librarians had previously led criminal careers that might endanger them if they were identified in a picture. No one standing around the desk seemed quite sure.)


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