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Heroine for an Hour

I’m sure I’ll be in the doghouse soon enough, for towels left on the floor or checking email when I was supposed to be listening, but right now I’m a heroine. All I did was install iTunes on Sandy’s laptop.

A year ago she migrated from an aging laptop and a really senile desktop to one laptop with a docking station, monitor, and external hard drive. Since then she’s been complaining that her “iPod software doesn’t work.”

Buried in work and a thesis, I just nodded whenever she brought this up. Whatever, I thought. I don’t have an iPod–I’m kind of an ambient sound lady, and on long flights I have noise-canceling headphones that create a pleasant buzz–so I didn’t think about it. “Reinstall iTunes,” I kept telling her.

Sandy is a fantastic minister, a great administrator, someone who is comfortable with the sick and the dying and the bereaved and confused; but she is scary around most hardware, particularly computers. I don’t even like to see her get on ladders. It turns out that telling Sandy to reinstall iTunes was a little like asking her to inspect the foam on the space shuttle. She had no idea how to start or even why she needed to do that.

“But I have that external hard drive,” she told me late this afternoon. “You put everything on it when I moved from the old computer.”

I paused. Suddenly I needed to explain the difference between an inert storage device and an active CPU. I opened a beer. I sat down in front of her computer.

Several downloads later (her iPod needed firmware upgrades, iTunes needed to be installed, and so forth–endless fiddling and rebooting), I sat Sandy in front of her computer and told her to enter her credit card information.

“Can’t you do this for me?” she asked.

“What if I’m captured and tortured and they want the security code on the back of your credit card?” I responded. She entered the information.

First she tried to browse the iTunes store, which makes sense, because the search box is eensy teensy cutesy Apple-y on the upper right-hand side of the menu, hardly looking like a search box at all. “They don’t have Michael Feinstein?” she asked.

“Try a search,” I said, and pointed her to the search box. She entered two words. She came back with a pile of good results.

“Buy a song,” I suggested.

“I want to buy five,” she replied.

“Buy one song,” I emphasized. “I don’t want to be here all night.”

She bought one song, Teddy Bear’s Picnic. (Yes, she has owned an iPod for several years and never actually bought music for it. She had imported CDs to iTunes, and that was it. For the last year she’s been listening to the same music.) We practiced playing the song, viewing it on her playlist… success.

“Why would anyone buy a CD any more?” she asked a few minutes later. She recited the music she found: rare Cole Porter tunes, interesting hymns, you know the drill–the fabulous long tail of online music.

“I don’t know,” I replied. But she was busy buying music.

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28 Comments

  1. Steve Lawson wrote:

    This is a good story, and worth remembering how many very smart and capable people just aren’t confident enough or don’t have enough “basic” knowledge to do tasks that seem so simple to those of us who are glued to the keyboard (he said, typing his comment on a Friday night…).

    “Why would anyone buy a CD any more?” So they could rip to MP3 without Apple’s DRM? She might want to take a look at eMusic: they don’t always have the most current/popular stuff, but they have a lot of great music, good price (pay by the month for X number of downloads), and the downloads ar MP3s with no DRM.

    I think you’d have to install an eMusic downloader app, so there is another chance to be a heroine again.

    Friday, July 7, 2006 at 9:37 pm | Permalink
  2. Mark Lindner wrote:

    While I agree that some albums are not worth having in their entirety, or at all, I still find that some are. Here are some quick reasons for buying CDs:

    1. You want it.
    2. You appreciate the artistic effort put into creating a whole musical experience.
    3. You want the complete liner notes.
    4. You dislike excess choice.
    5. Exposure to the artist(s).
    6. You want to ‘own’ your purchase (within the *full* limits of copyright law)
    7. You want your collection covered by insurance in the case of loss.
    8. Physically changing CDs burns more calories than clicking a mouse.
    9. …
    10. You are old school.
    11. You don’t know any better.

    Are there other ways to accomplish 1 – 8? In some cases, yes; in some, perhaps; in others, probably not.

    I was given a $10 iTunes gift certificate in December and have yet to buy a song from them, although I did download a couple free ones over a year (or 2?) ago. I have been meaning to get around to finding 10 interesting looking artists to try a song each from, but I just never remember.

    My iPod is not yet synced to my Powerbook. The iTunes software simply disappeared from my PC. I generally use my iTunes library on the PowerBook to drown out noise in various places. It basically serves as a tertiary music device. So for me the question becomes, “Why buy individual songs from iTunes?”

    But the larger point, as Steve points out, is remembering “how many very smart and capable people just aren’t confident enough or don’t have enough “basic” knowledge to do tasks that seem so simple to those of us who are glued to the keyboard.” It is one I see every day trying to help LIS students, staff and faculty navigate the tech realm.

    Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  3. kgs wrote:

    Mark, to me the interesting part of that question was that Sandy asked it. She has frequently commented on how the single-song-purchase model would allow her to do what she did as a teen: buy songs one at a time. She’s not that interested in the whole-artist-experience, except in a few cases.

    The idea of the album as experience is interesting, but in the history of music, it has also been very short-lived. I have that experience, myself. I even remember thinking as a teen that there was much pretension going on about sitting in a living room listening to Dark Side of the Moon from end to end.

    We’ve had to pack up our CDs several times for major household moves, and when a CD has only one song on it that you care about, you do think twice.

    Steve, I’ll show Sandy that site, but I’m betting she’ll politely browse it and go back to the iTunes superstore. I am tepid about Apple’s draconian DRM, but I won’t impose my views on her. She may point out that iTunes is where she can get what she wants.

    Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  4. Paul Mills wrote:

    Another wonderful thing to do would be to demonstrate how easy it is to subscribe to podcasts via iTunes. I look forward to the Slate podcasts every day.

    Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 10:56 am | Permalink
  5. Mark Lindner wrote:

    Oh, I certainly agree that it is an interesting question! I have no doubt I could have come up with a list almost as long for only buying music by the song. And I agree about the historical contingency of the ‘album.’ I also have no doubt that my buying habits will shift at some point. And considering that I am in the process of moving (again!) I fully understand the pain of having (too much?) music in physical media.

    Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  6. kgs wrote:

    True; I’ve been hunting around for some liberal Christian podcasts…

    Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  7. Amy wrote:

    Hi Karen — Off-topic, but I’ve been wondering for weeks if you have any thoughts to share about our new Presiding Bishop-elect and the goings-on at General Convention?

    Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 6:47 pm | Permalink
  8. kgs wrote:

    There is no topic truly off-topic for Free Range Librarian. :-)

    I have to say as of late I have only followed All Things Episcopalian at a distance. The bishop-elect sounds interesting, and she may be someone to lead the *Episcopal* church (as opposed to the Anglican Communion) toward some peace and unity. I think my denomination has to decide what it’s about.

    What do you think?

    Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 9:40 pm | Permalink
  9. Steve Lawson wrote:

    Well, I buy from the iTunes store from time to time too, so please don’t take my comment as a criticism; I just thought I’d throw out a pretty good reason that some people avoid shopping at iTunes.

    As for packing the CDs, ours are now in binders, with the cases in boxes in the garage. Much easier to store.

    Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 10:52 pm | Permalink
  10. kgs wrote:

    I’m with you, Steve, I have so far avoided the Kool-Aid.

    On the CDs, if you were to pack up and move, would you take the jewel cases? Also, how do you organize the CDs so you can find them? I have a little in-home system (five categories, alpha in each category) though I’m sure it wouldn’t scale much past what we have…

    Sunday, July 9, 2006 at 4:00 am | Permalink
  11. djfiander wrote:

    There’s one problem with storing CDs in binders: it’s bad for the discs. The music library at MPOW was stoing CDs in the little plastic sleeves, to save on space. Then they found out that after time the artwork on the CDs would stick to the sleeve. So they went out and bought a couple of tons of jewelcases (because, of course, they’d saved the liner notes and thrown out the original cases).

    Then they had to reorganize the entire collection space, to put the CD cabinets closer to the walls, since the floor wasn’t rated for the dead load of a couple of tons extra, and the library’s on the second floor of the building.

    Sunday, July 9, 2006 at 4:51 am | Permalink
  12. kgs wrote:

    OMG, djfiander… what a story. Reminds me of my boss at my last brick library who told the tale of a tiny, tiny repair she was making in a bathroom at home that snowballed into a $10k renovation.

    I still don’t get the value of putting CDs in binders in the first place–reminds me of crocheted toaster-oven covers–but that story cured me of any residual interest in it.

    In coding my CDs, I did get a reminder about ontology and long-range planning: I used “C” for classical… then found I had to use “X” for Christmas. Whew. (We have no porn…) S is for Spoken Word, P and J are Popular and Jazz…

    Sunday, July 9, 2006 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  13. Ruth Ellen wrote:

    I don’t bother catagorizing. I use strictly alphabetical order. Mostly by artist, unless it’s by composer. Then I don’t have to remember if I put it under World Music or Folk Music or Blues. The only pull-outs are the big box-sets that don’t fit on my cd shelving.

    Monday, July 10, 2006 at 9:25 am | Permalink
  14. kgs wrote:

    I appreciate that, but I only have four or five categories, and it’s helped. Particularly when I may not remember a title and just want to browse for something-good-to-listen. (Christmas is a prime example; I wouldn’t want to fish through my entire collection to find the Xmas recordings.) Popular is by far the biggest collection, but the smallest, spoken word, is helpful for when I want to grab something for a long drive.

    Same with my books: not too many categories, but I have my lesbian lit, my travel books, my creative nonfiction shelf, my geeky books, etc.

    Monday, July 10, 2006 at 9:34 am | Permalink
  15. Dale wrote:

    I’m glad you were there to ask. I’m terrible with things that seem, to me, mechanical. My good friend somehow caused the Internet to be available wirelessly in my New York apartment. (I have a bit more understanding than that, but not a whole lot.) There are many advantages. And a big disadvantage–to him! “Juan, I know it’s one in the morning, but the screen says…” After wasting time feeling frustration, I’m now using this to remind myself that folks who use libraries come with all different sets of skills. The “digital divide” can’t be solved with only computers and money. I’m completely comfortable with technology, have been usiing computers in libraries since the mid-1980s, own a laptop, etc. But I would have been equally stopped in my tracks by “reinstall iTunes”.

    (BTW, I don’t like to listen to music on headphones, so I do still have CDs. They’re in binders, though I know that can be damaging. But, as I have several hundred, I can’t imagine how I would keep them in order and live a nomadic life without the binders. I’m totally open to suggestions! They’re not classified, but are in order by composer, performer, or title–composer if only 1, performer if only 1 main performer, title if neither of the above are true. I do have a database of all the CDs and tracks….I’m always far behind the technology curve at home, though not at work.)

    Monday, July 10, 2006 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  16. I’d never buy an ipod for myself, but I won a nice 30GB one in a wacky post-graduate survey, and I love it.

    Quote of the day:
    “It plays music, videos and it looks good doing it.”

    I have been listening to great classic books off the gutenburg project on the walk to work. And CBC podcasts. And a “latest videos” videocast from some public library (Providence maybe?) — not because I care about the videos, but because I thought it was cool they were offering a videocast.

    I showed it to my some family members who are not techies in the least and now they want one too. The saved storage space alone is a life saver. I don’t have those messy grease-stained CDs hanging all over my kitchen counter anymore!

    Anyway, I think this:
    Isn’t there a place somewhere for an information management session at the reader’s advisory/reference desk in public libraries?

    Couldn’t we have a tech-wise librarian ask relevant questions about user needs and then advise on resources (RSS feeds, podcasts, open source software) that helps them get their needed information on a regular basis? Sounds to me like there is a need in the world for the IT learning/set-up activities that (right now) “gurus” offer only to their friends.

    Monday, July 10, 2006 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  17. kgs wrote:

    Ryan, that would be a fun virtual job for someone…

    Monday, July 10, 2006 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  18. Wow! Look at all those comments! And I was just going to pop in to say that Heroine is very addictive.

    Monday, July 10, 2006 at 6:01 pm | Permalink
  19. kgs wrote:

    *groan* :-)

    Monday, July 10, 2006 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  20. If the story were about setting up a Blackberry, I think Karen could legitimately be considered a pusher.

    There you go for a job title: Our library is looking for an energetic, creative and enthusiastic heroine to become our new “Virtual Technology Pusher III.”

    Monday, July 10, 2006 at 9:36 pm | Permalink
  21. JSS wrote:

    I know everyone else has commented, but here are my observations:

    I have several friends who need lots of hand-holding with computer issues. Upgrades in operating systems and/or software are h*ll for them. These are bright people, but they just had the time to sit and play with their pc’s to figure out how to do what.

    I don’t like binders for cd’s or dvd’s, even though I have a lot of dvd’s in binders to save space.

    I love liner notes. The first thing I do when I buy a new cd is to look at the liner notes. The good ones have the lyrics plus a personal message from the artist or group. The best ones have lyrics, a personal message, and a brief note at the top of the lyrics about the song.

    Some albums are meant to be heard in a certain arrangement. Frank Sinatra’s “In the wee small hours” comes to mind, as does Rosemary Clooney’s “Brazil”. The Indigo Girls often arrange their albums by alternating songs penned by Amy and Emily.

    Having lost a hard drive with over 40 GB of MP3′s recently, I’m very glad I have the original cd’s. I still haven’t managed to re-rip everything. I really need to get Diana Krall back on my PC.

    That’s all.

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 7:38 am | Permalink
  22. Laura wrote:

    Sheesh. . . I’m so old school that not only do I still buy CDs, I still listen to (and make!) tapes, sometimes using tracks from LPs. I do have an iPod, and I do use it (though in two years I still haven’t gotten all my CDs ripped to iTunes and loaded in). I don’t have a CD burner, though, and I just have a tape deck in my car (and I haven’t gotten around to buying one of those gadgets that will play your iPod through your radio), and I often like listening to music on the stereo, and. . . it’s all massively confusing.

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 8:22 am | Permalink
  23. Ruth Ellen wrote:

    Can we start a game of “More Luddite Than Thou?” My computer runs on Windows ME. iTunes doesn’t work on Windows ME. (And I have been advised not to try to upadate my operating system.) My 9-year-old car doesn’t have a CD-player. I still make tapes of my CDs so I can play them in the car. Not particularly proud of any of this – just not willing to buy a whole new computer just so I can have iTunes or a whole new car just so I can have a CD-player in the car (which I wouldn’t have to do if I had iTunes, because then I would have an MP3 player and could get one of those car adaptors…).

    Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 4:09 pm | Permalink
  24. I’m an incorrigible browser and (yet?) a geek. I browse online stores and yes, after 18 months with an iPod I finally bought something from the iTunes store (well, ok, I had to wait for the Australian version to open … ), but I love music stores – physical ones. I’ve decided that humans are tactile creatures as much as we are visual, and that seeing something in 3D – even something as 2D as an album cover – helps us make decisions. How often do you wish you could just touch the CD cover you’re about to buy? In reality, what difference does it make? – and yet, for me at least, it generally makes the difference between buying and not-buying. You touch it, and hear the sound of your touch, and smell the item (this is _really_ relevant with books and vinyl which, yes, I also still buy – I love the smell of vinyl records), and then decide.

    I adore the convenience of iTunes (or Amazon, or anywhere else) and the range of stuff available – instantly! Now! For ME! – is wonderful. But for me, it still can’t beat the serendipity of physically walking through a store, flipping vaguely through album covers and sale tables and then finding that album you always meant to buy and somehow never remembering to.

    Which is why I always say online shopping is complementary to, not a replacement for, physical shopping. :)

    Oh, and on music order? I used to be a music librarian … keeping my subject headings under 10 is a strain :). Even so, I rearrange them a lot, partly because it’s terribly hard to decide whether Loreena McKennitt is folk/roots or world music or pop/rock, whether Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble goes under jazz or early music, and whether jazz and blues should be separate or together. (And if I create a new section called “minimalism” to house Gorecki and Part and Taverner, do I put Nyman and Glass in there or keep them in soundtracks???) Thank goodness for good ol’ pop/rock being straightforward :)

    Oh, and because rearranging one’s book and music collections is soothing ;)

    Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  25. kgs wrote:

    Ruth, are you bragging or confessing? Girlfriend, we need to pull you forward. You’re library admin–we gotta make sure you can grok the walk. We gotta 2.0 your digital wardrobe, honey!

    Fiona, I actually am much happier browsing online. Honestly. I know some people are really into CD covers. But even when I could read the covers–because they were on LPs and therefore not munchkinized–there wasn’t anything there for me. I remember squirming on a couch as people passed around the latest Pink Floyd and nodded very seriously. Play. The. Album. Please!

    Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  26. Hey I bought Saucer Full of Secrets from iTunes recently — the whole album. I like the pod more than the tapes. Nothing like having your walkman gradually turn Roger Waters into Barry White and then into Alvin from the chipmunks as the tape gets all messed up from you fast forwarding and rewinding.

    But the tapes were always better than the CDs. You could always make your own collections and they never (well, almost never) skipped.

    Ok. The sound of a voice running at variable speeds can be endearing for nostalgic purposes, but I like Pink Floyd at regular speed thank you!

    The whole tactile thing about CDs — Now that my CD collection has been reduced to two data DVDs, I can be _more_ tactile with them (now I can throw them like ninja stars without losing the music). And they will collect more dust than they ever would at a music store!

    Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 9:04 pm | Permalink
  27. Ruth Ellen wrote:

    Neither braggin nor confessing. Just stating the facts, ma’am.
    “You’re library admin–we gotta make sure you can grok the walk. ”
    Nah – middle management. And I grok it, just don’t walk all of it. Sort of skip through. (Yesterday’s walk was challenging the notion that YA librarians shouldn’t put up a site on MySpace. Their argument was that somehow this would be endorsing the use of MySpace. Sigh.) When this computer goes kerflooey I’ll get a new one. (I also drive a nine-year-old car with 150K miles. It should go another 150k. I LOVE my car.) Then I’ll get an MP3 player. And I will, I am sure, love IT. And, hey, by the time I get a new car I’ll bet it has a dock for the MP3 player!
    I, too, like shopping online for music – partly because you can search for stuff you really want, and partly because you can hear the snippets. I like to buy whole albums because there’s always something you didn’t know you would like on it. Also, sometimes you need a couple of minutes of down-time from listening hard to all the great songs. Makes them stand out more.
    Ramblingly yours,
    -R

    Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  28. kgs wrote:

    If you’re middle management, you’re admin. ;)

    I drive a 12-year-old car with 160,000 miles on it, but it runs like a champ. If I couldn’t cross bridges with it, or I had to take back roads because it wasn’t fast enough for the highway, then I’d find a way to replace it, if possible–but like you, I’m not planning to trade in my car any time soon, because it does what I need it to do.

    But a nine-year-old car is not like a nine-year-old computer. You don’t need the latest and greatest, but I appreciate how having a reasonably late-model computer with a fast connection makes it easy for me to explore the online world on my personal time–to grow beyond whatever limits The Job sets for me.

    Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

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