Three Random Words

How many passwords do you have for all of your online accounts? 10, 100, 1000?

I calculated my own situation and found over 200 passwords on my list. Nowadays it seems that every web site you visit or service you use requires setting up an account with a password. On top of it, many sites have complex protocols, such as requiring numbers, capital letters, or special characters, which make those passwords hard to remember. Is it possible to find a simpler way to create passwords that are easy to remember, but hard to hack?

According to a recent article in The Guardian, science editor Robin McKie pointed to a recent study that claimed the best passwords are phrases composed of three random words. Her article begins:

It is much better to concoct passwords for online accounts that are made up of three random words as opposed to creating complex variations of letters, numbers and symbols, government experts have said.

In a blogpost, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – which is part of Government Communications Headquarters – said a three-word system creates passwords that are easy to remember. In addition, it creates unusual combinations of letters, which means the system is strong enough to keep online accounts secure from cyber criminals. By contrast, more complex passwords can be ineffective as their makeup can often be guessed by criminals using specialist software.

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Of course, many sites still have strict character requirements, but if this idea is true, we can all move away from odd rambling passwords composed of letters or numbers that are impossible to remember. Instead you can go with such combinations as: Tree-Car-Garlic; Rose-Titanic-Algae; River-Doughnut-Tornado; or Sewer-Stop-Gloat. (A random number could be added at the end if needed.)

To learn more, read the rest of the article on the Guardian’s web site.

Libraries are an “investment that’s well worth it”

Those who work and frequent public libraries are well aware of the value they provide to their local communities. However, one challenge public libraries face is getting awareness of their value out beyond their core customers. So it is always great to see a national publication or program talk about the positive role that public libraries play in their community.

On a recent episode of NPR’s Marketplace, host David Brancaccio interviewed reporter Chris Farrell about the return on investment that libraries provide to their local residents.

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Brancaccio: Well, do we know that? It’s a decent return on investment?

Farrell: Well, there’s this recent study — this one grabbed my attention — [by] three economists [from] Montana State University, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Miami University. And they calculate by some measures a healthy return on investment. So among their findings, library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkout of items by 21% and total library visits by 21%. Now, OK, that’s interesting, but increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts.

Read or listen to the rest of the interview online at the Marketplace web site.

Are We Reaching the End of Library DVD Collections?

DVDs have been a mainstay of library collections for the past twenty years. These little plastic discs are often the most borrowed items every year. However, as with all technology, times change to potentially render them obsolete. In this case the rise of online streaming services threatens to push DVD collections to the trash bin alongside the VHS cassette and music CD.

Last month I surveyed members of the Urban Library Council to gain insight into the future of DVD collections. The results of my findings were posted in a new article on the Public Libraries Online web site, a publication of PLA. Below is an except from the article.

An informal survey of over a dozen Urban Library Council member libraries conducted for this article shows a more complicated picture. Based on checkouts, demand for DVDs across North American libraries has dropped. For example Migell Acosta, Director of San Diego County Library (CA) reported that they “Have seen a gradual decline in DVD/Blu-Ray circulation over the past 5 years or so, but not as steep as physical music and audiobooks.” 

This drop in borrowing has local variation. In Pima County Public Library (AZ), Director Amber Mathewson noted that demand remains strong. “In one of our more affluent neighborhoods the children’s DVDs were overflowing …. Our hypothesis was that neighborhood has switched to Disney+, but other locations in our county are still circing DVDs pretty heavily.”

The situation is different in Johnson County Public Library (IN). Kelley Gilbert, Collection Services Manager reported they may need more DVDs. “DVD circulation has been really steady throughout the pandemic, and our patrons are always requesting titles that we’ve managed to miss.”

To find out more, including the perceived diversity benefits of maintaining DVD collections, please read the rest of the article.

Will Libraries Get Credit for their COVID-19 Response?

As vaccines are now widely available and many people have had their first shot or both, life across the United States is returning to something like pre-COVID days. This includes libraries. In Florida, library service has been amongst the most available in the country, such as The Palm Beach County Library System which has been open for over a year! Other libraries across the nation have only recently opened their doors. However, that did not mean they were on the sidelines. Throughout the crisis, library staff were constantly working to help our public in this time of need.

In a recent article on CNN, public libraries across the country were profiled for the great work they did to assist their communities during the pandemic. One example was the work of Ramses Escobedo of the San Fransisco Public Library.

For more than a year, however, Escobedo hasn’t been lending out books. Instead, he’s worked with a Covid-19 contact tracer team for San Francisco’s Department of Public Health.

Covid has affected American schools, hospitals and businesses. But libraries — which often serve people who have nowhere else to turn — have responded in unprecedented ways. Like many of us, they’ve had to pivot, going from providing extensive in-person services and programming onsite in branches to quickly establishing virtual lectures and classes, and contact-less material pickup, as well as services that were strictly Covid-related like Escobedo’s assignment.

As a city worker, Escobedo’s contract states he can be activated in an emergency. After his library closed in March of 2020, Escobedo was reassigned to a disaster service detail.

As well as special duties, libraries also took advantage of their position in the community to help people.

In Hartford, Connecticut, some public libraries became Covid-19 vaccine administration sites. Librarians there also cleared obstacles to allow patrons to use outside electrical outlets to charge cell phones. In Leominster, Massachusetts, about 50 miles west of Boston, librarians installed mobile hot spots at the city’s senior and veterans’ centers, both of which have large parking lots, enabling many more people to log onto the Internet.”Anyone can go to the parking lot and connect to the WiFi for free,” Nicole Piermarini, the library’s assistant director told CNN.

Read the rest of the article on CNN to learn other ways that libraries made a difference.

Public Library COVID Restrictions

This week I provided an article for Public Libraries Online regarding the current status of library COVID-19 operating restrictions across the country. Here’s the opening of the piece:

Fourteen months ago the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country. By the beginning of April the vast majority of public library buildings were closed to the public. Over the subsequent months, some libraries dipped their toes into offering curbside checkouts before opening their doors for limited services. Other systems remained stuck in a full closure aside from virtual services. Now that vaccines are available and virus transmission rates are dropping, public library service is largely being restored across the United States, but at vastly different timelines.

To read more about the current operating restrictions in New York, Florida, California, and Missouri, which following recent CDC guidance are fast changing, read the full post on Public Libraries Online.

When Will Amazon eBooks Come to the Library?

Libraries and publishers have had a long complicated history over access to eBooks. Libraries routinely pay multiple times more per copy for each title than the regular public, face limited availability for the number they can order, and have their copies expire after a fixed number of uses or a set time frame. However, did you know that one of the biggest eBook publishers in the world still refuses to sell their eBooks to libraries? That publisher is someone everyone knows very well: Amazon.com.

Recent developments indicate that pressure is building to change this situation. An article in The Hill found that many organizations and even elected officials are working to convince Amazon to change their practice. It might be having some positive effect.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company is in “active discussions” with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to make its e-books available for library distribution.

The company expects “to be testing a number of different models” early next year, the spokesperson added.

“We believe libraries serve a critical purpose in communities across the country, and our priority is to make Amazon Publishing eBooks available in a way that ensures a viable model for authors, as well as library patrons,” the spokesperson said.

Amazon declined to provide details regarding pricing or the lengths of licensing deals it plans to test in 2021.

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If Amazon does not create a viable model on its own, it may face legislative pressure to do so.

Two states have proposed legislation that would seek to regulate Amazon’s ban on selling e-books to libraries. State senators in Rhode Island and New York proposed bills this year that would require publishers to offer licenses for electronic books to libraries under reasonable terms.

A spokesperson for state Sen. Rachel May (D), sponsor of the New York bill, said the senator will pursue the legislation in the next legislative session.

“New York’s public libraries are one of the state’s greatest assets. In order to fulfill their democratic function, librarians must be able to access the materials their clients need on fair and equitable terms,” May said in a statement.

Read more about the current status of the Amazon eBook situation.

What Your Brain Really Does

The human brain remains one of the deepest mysteries in biology. It is the most important part of our body, but even with all the advances in neuroscience we still don’t fully understand how it works. In productivity circles it is often assumed that better knowledge of brain function might improve efficiency and creativity.

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In a recent interview in GQ magazine, neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett reveals surprising facts about how our brains really work. For starters she reveals what the brain’s most important role is:

The brain’s most important job is not thinking or seeing or feeling or doing any of the things that we think of as being important for being human. Its main job is running a budget for your body—to keep you alive, to keep you healthy. So every thought you have, every emotion you feel, every action you take is ultimately in the service of regulating your body. We don’t experience mental life this way, but this is what is happening under the hood.

Read the rest of the article on the GQ web site or pick up her new book: Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain.

Top Ten Challenges Facing Public Libraries

Public libraries have survived many ups and downs over the past century. Throughout it all they are remained core institutions in communities large and small. However, their survival going forward is not guaranteed. Right now COVID-19 is the biggest challenge facing libraries today, but even after a vaccine is widely distributed other problems await.

In an article from last year, Mark Smith of the Texas State Library wrote about the top ten challenges facing libraries going forward. The very first one listed has been on prominent display the past few years: a growing distrust in government.

As a unit of government, typically at the municipal or county level, it should be of concern to public libraries that the percentage of Americans who mistrust government is rising sharply. In 1958, 73 percent of Americans said they trusted the federal government to “do what is right” just about always or most of the time. In 2015, that figure was 19 percent (Pew Research Center 2015 “Beyond Distrust”). This appears to be a trend across demographic and ideological lines even as it shifts along partisan lines depending on who is in power in Washington (Pew Research Center 2017). … Currently, the public library is the rare public institution that bucks this trend. … As managers and workers of public-sector organizations, this trend should strike us as deeply alarming.

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Read about the other nine challenges facing public libraries in the article.

The Positive Effects of Growing Up with Books

As a librarian I naturally appreciate the value of a personal library of books at home. While my daughter was growing up we bought many classic and favorite books to supplement the ones I borrowed from the library. This lead her to become a proficient read and excellent student. While my daughter clearly benefited from a robust home library, it raises the question about the impact that access to books at home has on children across the population.

In a Smithsonian Magazine article, reporter Brigit Katz points to a study that “suggests that exposure to large home libraries may have a long-term impact on proficiency in three key areas.”

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The study, published recently in Social Science Research, assessed data from 160,000 adults from 31 countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Japan and Chile. Participants filled out surveys with the Programme for the International Assessment of Competencies, which measures proficiency in three categories: literacy, numeracy (using mathematical concepts in everyday life) and information communication technology, (using digital technology to communicate with other people, and to gather and analyze information).

Learn more about the results of the study on the impact of home libraries on children’s development by reading the rest of the article.