September 21, 2015
— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD
This is a story about a mouse. (This isn’t a bedtime story; it’s an election-time story. Oh, and it’s a true story.)
The mouse was born and raised here. There was nothing remarkable about this mouse when it was a little mouse. It got into the usual kinds of mischief that over-confident teenage mice get into — stuff like totaling his dad’s truck. (I tell you, he wasn’t a happy mouse when his dad grounded him for weeks.)
In any event, he went off to the University of Rochester and earned a BA in History, then SUNY Oswego for an MA in History, then SUNY Geneseo for something called an MLIS degree. Which stands for “Masters of Library & Information Science.”
Whereupon he became a librarian. (He was the librarian & media specialist for many years at Franklin Academy. You probably noticed him there. He was also Associate Librarian at SUNY Plattsburgh for years, and ended his career as Executive Director of the Ogdensburg Public Library.)
Before going further, let’s get this straight. “What do librarians do?” If you’re thinking, “They gather, organize, and make available information on virtually every topic under the sun” — you’re right on the money! The key words are “gather,” “organize,” and “make available.”
Next question. “How do they gather, organize, and make information available?” If you’re thinking something like this — no cigar, you blew it!
The card catalog, above, is away out of date. A dinosaur.
Today’s librarians are cool. They’re cyber navigators. Navigators, guides, and custodians of the data of the Digital Information Age.
Recall Michelangelo’s painting of Creation on the ceiling of Rome’s Sistine Chapel, shown in the lower right-hand corner, above. Today, the God of Information reaches out and touches us with a cyber finger. The world our ancestors knew, indeed the world I was born into, has coalesced into a digital community with a common, universal language — the “ones” and “zeros” of computer language. By means of this language, anyone with a laptop and a mouse can “log” into and particpate in the World Wide Web— as I am doing with this blog you’re reading.
The web is “knowledge” on steroids. To be effective, however, knowledge must be gathered, organized, and shared.
This is the role of 21st-century librarians, who call the above task, “information science.”
“Information science” knows that nothing spreads knowledge better than a computer. (For convenience’s sake, let’s just call it a mouse, since the mouse is the thing you move around to select information — all the information under the sun — on a screen.)
Which brings me back to my mouse story. One day, the mouse began thinking about the Malone Town Office. (Yeah, the drab brick building next to the airport, across the road from Walmart.)
“How well is the Malone Town Office gathering, organizing, and sharing information with us taxpayers?” he asked himself one day.
He began to imagine City Hall (let’s call it) as a kind of box.
Every Monday through Friday at 8 am the box opens its doors to the public. Then closes them for an hour at noon, reopening at 1 pm. Then closes them at 5 pm, till 8 the next morning. (I may have the hours wrong, but I’m close enough.) Weekends and holidays the box is closed. If anyone needs to conduct business with any of the departments at City Hall, he’s got to wait till Monday.
Being an information scientist, this troubled the mouse. “What if I need to find out something when it’s closed?” he reasoned. “Since we live in the digital age controlled by mice like me, why do I have to drive my mouse car over there at all? Why can’t I access every application form and license and notice, and submit forms and make payments, online? After all,” he realized in a kind of “lightbulb” moment, “town governments are no different from libraries. They’re both repositories of information that people require and seek out!”
Being a library mouse (rather than a door mouse, church mouse, or “quiet as a mouse” mouse), he found himself sizing up City Hall the way he sized up libraries where he’d worked: “How well is City Hall making information available?”
After a little probing, he discovered the answer was: “Not very well!”
“What if I want to see an Annual Citizens’ survey, or report town problems and issues online, or receive town alerts and notifications in my Inbox?” he asked himself. He discovered none of this is available on the Malone Town website. And yet, Ogdensburg does all this for its taxpayers.
“What if I want to pay bills, such as tax bills, and other fees online, and what if I want to find links to useful information and locate organizations of general interest?” Nope, not on the town website. And yet, Plattsburgh does this for its taxpayers.
“What if I want to see council meeting agendas and the current adopted budget online?” Nope for Malone. And yet, Saranac Lake does this for its taxpayers.
“What if I want to access the Municipal Code and NYS Building Code online, and meeting dates online?” Once more, nope. And yet the Village of Malone does this for its taxpayers.
These are just some of the shortcomings the mouse found in the way our town makes information available and gets input from residents. He also discovered there’s no list of town officials’ cellphone numbers or individual email addresses, like most other towns and cities have, across America. In fact, all things considered, the Malone Town Office is stuck in the 20th century when it comes to handling information and communicating with residents. Almost nothing is digitally “on demand” 24/7.
“No wonder there’s little interaction between town residents and town government!” he concluded.
One day, not long ago, he got up in the morning and announced to his wife, “I’m going to run for Town Board! They need an information specialist! Malone needs a professional computer mouse. Like me!”
He’s right. This is why Wayne Miller is running for Malone Town Board. (Click here for his resumé and here for his Facebook page, where he elaborates on his campaign objectives.) May he bring his skills to bear on the village government, as well, as a “shared service” by town and village.
The genius of digitally shared information — the greatest achievement of the 21st century. Let’s fully avail ourselves of it.