Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Risks and Discovery

When I go out to dinner or drinks or even a movie with my friends, it seems that someone has to pull out their iPhone or other internet capable device to either get directions, find a review, answer a text, answer an email, or something else along those lines. Granted the whole directions thing is awesome and putting aside the rudeness of talking/texting/emailing while eating dinner, I miss the days when you could sit at a bar with friends, make up a random fact about Robert Goulet and no one could Google it to prove you wrong! Honestly!

The wish jar's latest post asked a question that I can't get out of my head: Has the internet stopped us from taking a risk? Kari Smith uses her book buying habits to illustrate this. Before the internet, we had to rely on the book jacket. Now, however, everyone and their aunt Meryl can comment, critique and affect the books we buy.

Though not in an economic situation where buying new books is all that feasable, I have noticed that the internet has also affected the decisions I make in the library and in the used bookstore. And, in all honesty, this fretting hasn't had any noticeable affect on the quality of my reading.

This conversation reminds me of an article I read today (I can't find it now, but I'll keep looking) that mentioned the Web 3.0 world. It postulated that the next step in the development of the internet is going to focus on organizing all of the data and information out there better.

Now we have content, it is time to organize it better.

I wonder what effect this will have on our ability to search?

Discoverablity is the title of a paper, written at the University of Minnesota, that seeks to understand the way patrons are searching. The blog, Lorcan Dempsey's Weblog, has a great summary here so I won't bore you with that.

What struck me was the notion that our patrons are searchers already. They have skills and minds that already think about search terms and keywords. That is no longer the Librarian's special gift. However, it is the librarian's responsibility to guide the users to the right sort of search results. This must change the way we teach our students/patrons about our resources.

If our main way to access the internet is going to be through mobile devices, then how do we step up our game? Helping the people discover things better. Everything needs to be findable and librarians should be able to make that easier, more efficient.

That is what they are trying to do at the UW with Reference Extract. I hope to see more along those lines.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

There Will be Much Mistletoing and SEO Bashing

I'm listening to Christmas music... I'll pause a minute to let that sink in.

Earlier today I was killing time before I saw my weekly Tuesday movie (sounds silly, but you all need to go see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs NOW!) and, behold, Christmas decorations are out and available to purchase. It was rather entertaining to be picking through ornaments and lights while a real autumn tempest raged outside.

Then I got to work and things went south - how come IT can make me feel like an idiot with five words, "Next time check the FAQ," and ruin my whole day? For the love of Pete! Of course I checked the FAQ! The reason I emailed you was because it didn't help, which I made clear in my first email! Argh! Look at that - I'm turning red just thinking about it!

Thankfully Bing Crosby and David Bowie are here to save me, as always. With the brisk air and the cooling temperatures, this sort of music is exactly what the doctor ordered. It makes me feel as though there is a whole, beautiful world outside my anger at IT.

Another interesting diversion today was a post (via BoingBoing) from Derek Powazek about SEOs (Search Engine Optimizers) and their vial, black hearts that ruin the true meaning of the Internet... sorry, turning the Christmas music off now...

Three things struck me about this particular post:

1) Librarians wont admit this, but we Google things all of the time. And those charlatans who think that swindling Google into giving them high rankings quite mistake the matter! Lately it seems as though I automatically ignore the first 10 results, focusing on those on the second or third page of my search. This is not cool, not cool at all. I was getting angry at Google, but I should have spread my net wider - SEOs!

2) I think Derek is wonderfully glib about the creation of the Internet and what a massive nebulous thing it once was. Immediately I thought of Dewey and his fight to organize everything into a system.

Our Library Director, for an orientation video we created this summer, monologued about the early travails of library organization. First there were places that called themselves Libraries, then they organized books by height/color/date of purchase, and then, after frustration and headaches and complaining long enough, an organizational system developed that made sense. Perfect? Of course not, but it worked.

That is exactly what can be said of Google. There was this thing they called the Internet with all of this information, then they had to organize all of the information. Google filled that need, the need for an organizational system. Sure, it has some issues, but the basic principles are there.

The chicken sometimes comes before the egg.

Goodness! Can you imagine if there were SEOs out there for libraries that finagle their books' call numbers? How much money for a spot next to Harry Potter?

3) The moral of Derek's tale: "Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again."

That is not just something that should be applied to what you put out onto the web, but in all aspects of your lives! In the library our web presence is becoming more and more important to establishing a following, a loyal patron base. If our system technology is hard to use, cumbersome, or not geared to our target audience (college students, grad students, seminary students, and all of their professors) then what are we doing with our time?

The most recent upgrade to our online catalog added many new features that put us light years ahead of other academic libraries our size. My personal favorite: My Lists. It is a place to organize and store searches so that you can walk into the library, get the books you need, and walk out. Amazing! I can see that our Systems Librarian is carrying Derek's banner because each update is better than the last.

And, that has a precipitous effect on everyone in the workplace... much like Christmas music. Alright, that was far fetched, but it did lighten my mood!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Power of Words, Spoken and Otherwise

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art-
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors-
No - yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to near her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever - or else swoon to death.
~ John Keats

We are just going to pause a moment to wrap ourselves in the blanket of those words for a moment... Ending a love poem with the word "death" is gutsy, but bright stars fade the fastest so I should expect it though I never do.

Every Tuesday, without fail, I take myself to a movie before work. Though alone, Tuesday quickly became my favorite day of the week. It is liberating to be able to name exactly which film you are going to see when, without having to negotiate with your co-viewers horrible tastes in film (of course I always blame my friends when a movie is rotten). Last week I had an internal tug-of-war about which movie to see: 9 or Bright Star. I knew that this would be my last chance to see 9 in the theater, but I've been holding my breath for Bright Star.

Bright Star it was!

Armed with Paul Newman's Peanut Butter Cups and a book for that awkward pre-movie lull, I voyaged into the theater for what I had hoped would be my new favorite hopelessly Romantic, beautifully costumed, period film. Unfortunately that was not the case.

But I refuse to write any disparaging remarks about this film (it was really nice, but not awesome) for one reason: the closing credits.

Over the scrolling names, the actor who played Keats read a poem, not the one lovingly quoted above but one with equal power. His soft and breathy voice, sometimes faint and sometimes sharp, read and read. By the time the credits were rolling up the screen for the production group, I was leaning back in my chair with my eyes closed and my gaping mouth was obscured by my hand.

Even though I have read Keats' poems many times before, I had never heard them read aloud. My profession and demeanor give me a passion for the power of the written word (just see the latest free e-book from NetLibrary, Burn this Book - very interesting perspective on the power of the written word), but I often forget the heart stopping quality of the well-spoken word.

I think that is the part of me book readings speak to and is a reason I should seek them out more often. The written word without voice is dead - be it a true physical voice, or a more mental one.

So, I thank Bright Star for reminding me of this and for having such spectacular costumes - quite lovely, really, with all of the pretty dresses and coats and what-have-you.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Public Radio Exchange

Public radio, though not exactly like a library, seems to face many of the same problems: funding, usability, funding, content concerns, funding. However, over at the Public Radio Exchange, they are doing something about most of those concerns and I am hooked!

Here is the promotional video that sold me on the idea:

The ability to use the web is not something new, but I love when people, companies, and communities find ways to not only use it effectively, but strengthen their missions and further their goals by providing vastly superior service.

From the little I have played around with the PRX, I am impressed! Everything is easy to use, easy to find and you have to love how much material is already up.

If you enjoy Public Radio but like listening to some different things, I suggest you sign up - it is free, after all.

Now I am wondering how this connectivity could be best applied within the library? It puts to mind the WorldCat program that connects all libraries together in one search, but the PRX is able to do all of their work digitally - something the libraries have yet to work out.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Contest for People who Write Goodly

I must hesitate here in sharing with you this link... this link to a contest. My dad pointed it out to me with this note: "here is a contest designed for Heather."

The Washington Post is auditioning for a new Op-Ed contributor. The prize? To be a pundit for 13 weeks in one of our nation's largest papers.

How could I pass that up? I've got opinions, I've got interesting things to say. Sign me up!

Many/Most of you are more intelligent and loquacious than I could ever hope to be. Truth owned, there are two of you in particular (K. and T.) whom I try to emulate on a daily basis. In your abilities to use the English language to its fullest. That is why I don't really want to share this - I don't want the competition!

But then I realize that the best person should win, even if the best person is not me.

Good Luck!

... oh wait, you wanted the link! So sorry, I must have forgotten! Here it is.

Monday, September 28, 2009

For the Russian Speakers Out There!

I'm totally geeking out right now! Ask any of my co-workers, I am babbling at a mile a minute!

All because I discovered the coolest website EVER!!!!! - Lib.Ru - that is all I need to be happy in this world.

This site is a collection of Russian stories, in the original Russian, and by famous Russian authors. Not to mention the interesting, if eclectic, assortment of international authors (now I know where to go to read Emily Dickinson's Poems in Russian).

For the class I've been helping out with, I needed to find the last paragraph of White Nights in order to take a look at a particular tense change. That is how I stumbled upon this site - bam!

Not only does it have the full text of many classic and new Russian tales, it provides links to secondary sources in Russian about the works and the authors.

And now I am totally convinced that I am going to be studying Russian a lot more with the help of this site.

Eeeek! Massive geeking!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Creating Competition

I came across something the other day, something I am sure that many other managers have noticed and commented upon and written up and exploited: some people work better with healthy competition.


When I first started working at the bookstore, we had to try to sell memberships. It is not that they are hard sells, but they do cost money meaning a bit of an effort was needed to move the items.

My first Christmas season approached and our store manager decided to have a contest: the person who sells the most memberships within a set amount of time will receive a $100 gift certificate to anywhere. With that my friend and fellow newbie-cashier were off to the races!

There was no hope that I was going to win - my friend is the type of person who could talk a drowning man into a glass of water - but I had something to work for, something to grab at. Though I didn't win (second place with a $50 gift certificate was nice enough for me!), I still remember the contest and the motivation it inspired.

Just before I left permanently the memberships took a turn for the worse. Instead of them being used as something to be proud of, they were becoming something to dread. If your numbers fell below a certain level, you would be fired. I had always been happy with my numbers and excited to try the hard sell, but I grew to resent the you-must, negative reinforcement that was starting to cloud this practice.

Anyway, I had to come up with a way to get my student assistants interested in boring tasks, such as shelving, so that they would be more willing to give it the proper time and attention. This is why I started allowing them to use music devices (iPods, etc) while shelving, for example.

But the greatest challenge were the Search Requests - when a book is not where it should be, we have to search the likely spots it was miss-shelved. This is a process that takes time, concentration, and a bit of creativity. On an whim, I decided to create a "contest" - find a Search Request book and you get your name written on a poster for all to see. The person with the most found gets a prize at the end of the semester.

I did not anticipate the level of exciting response to all of this!! Two students in particular are begging me to give them all of the SRs that I have - they are in active competition with each other and are working hard to find these missing titles.

Big win! Some people must just respond well to the healthy competition! I'll have to wait to see where this goes, but I have to admit that I am overwhelmed at the success!!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Illness at the Library

Shock of all shocks, the school year is already more than a month over! When I was in school, I remember how slowly it all passed, but the freshmen are already old hands at this college thing and I feel as though I barely blinked an eye. My mother always said that life just keeps speeding up and now I believe her, whole heartedly.

Today is my Monday - working nights and weekends tends to shift ones perspective on "weeks" - meaning I spent the first half hour of my day reading email, most of which held information already expired.

That is when I came upon one that held a link to this site: LibraryLaw Blog. Just as the name suggests, it is blog where you can ask all sorts of questions about the law and libraries (maybe that is why they named their blog that - hehe!).

N1H1 (aka - Swine Flu) was the topic of the post the link directed me to. In the post, the author discusses what rights library staff have in throwing out people suspected of being ill... in short: none at all. Personally I think this essay is spot on and lends exactly what I hold to be true about libraries a touch of legal backing.

Perhaps it is because I grew-up in a home with a doctor on hand who never believed we were sick enough to go to the doctor unless we severed a limb or perhaps it is because I have had Norwalk virus which was so horrible, painful, and gross that death being an end to the suffering sounded like a great, comforting idea, but I have been a cynic of this Swine Flu hoopla from the beginning.

Washing your hands with warm soapy water and using, occasionally, hand sanitizer, is the best way to prevent illnesses. End of story. I am sure that I am not alone in receiving countless emails and directives from higher up that contain N1H1 prevention methods that ring of verge-of-the-abyssness.

It has gotten to the point that I feel I need to apologize in class or at work for coughing - "I swear, I don't have swine flu!"

But back to libraries... my justification for not kicking people out or even giving them dirty looks when they cough or sneeze has always been that it is their personal choice and need to be there, and it is our duty as librarians to continue to provide this public service (hand sanitizer in tow, of course) for all. Who knew the law was on my side?

In the post, I think that the author drives home the more universal issue by saying "But the fact remains that librarians are not doctors, and cannot diagnose H1N1." And, as a colleague of mine aptly put it in a response to the link email, "Setting any legal issues aside, since the symptoms of N1H1 are just like any other influenza or cold, it would be impossible to determine who has it just by looking at their symptoms."

On that note ~ stay healthy but, more importantly, sane!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Having Dinner with Mr. Penumbra

SciFi is fun, and, I think, its authors, readers, and enjoyers (enjoiers??) are some of the most creative minds in the world - looking to both the past and the future with equal hope and tribulation.

A while back I discovered (as much as I could discover something that has been around for a while and already has a wide readership, but whatever) a podcast-based Sci Fi magazine, Escape Pod, which finds interesting short stories and creates audio recordings of them. Not only is it interesting because of the science fiction aspect, but what a wonderful idea! Bringing together, from different sources all sorts of stories and presenting them in yet another media - audio. (written word-digital world-audio presentation)

The reason I bring up this particular episode... the title got me! Yes, I was sucked in by the title: Mr Penumbra's Twenty-four Hour Book Store, written by Robin Sloan.

Imagine working graveyard shift at a 24-hour bookstore!! Now that has to be a little slice of heaven! But the story that develops out of this tingle-worthy title has given me pause as, of all things, a librarian.

Libraries pride themselves on being the eternal (or as close as we can get) depository of information, ideas. If you listen or read this story, you will discover that the author is fascinated with the notion of living forever through and in ones work. Writing "Make something that will last... and you will live forever."

How does something last? Through the author's own words and images in a passive way? Or through someone elses active, thoughtful efforts?

That is actually not a particularly interesting set of questions, so I'll leave them there like dangling participles.

A little further in the story Mr. Penumbra says: "Just because it is changing doesn't mean it is over."

My frustration with other librarians not willing to see (? create ?) a place for themselves in the future, amongst digital collections and podcasts, is that they seem to see this change as the end. But, as I've written here, here and elsewhere, without the change we have no future - it is an opportunity to redefine ourselves and our trade in this world.

Creativity, reading, writing and even librarianship are not dead, not done - they are changing, that is all.

So, if you have an hour, listen to this story - I still can't get over the awesomeness that would be that book shop... though you would have to staple me to a chair to prevent me from reading the books!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

www - Wild Wiki Web

Time to get back to business...

Part of my position in the library is liaison between our building and the on campus Art Committee. When I started working here last year the organization was still new and not quite eased into their own rhythm as a group.

Now, a year later, I've become the unofficial technology guru... that title being bestowed because I "built" the website (using the campus template of course). The website battle was easily won - I'll do all of the work in setting it up and we get increased exposure. Done.

The difficult part is the communications between members. With forwards, replies, and new threads making my head and Outlook hurt, I've created a new way of communication with the crew: a Wiki.

Though it is still being built, I'm already running into walls miles thick with the group. Most have never heard of a wiki, some don't want to join yet another group, and still others think email is the best way to communicate. For a group of people that never sit in the same room, ever, it is difficult to address these issues and convince them that the wiki is the best plan.

In his article, Control and Community: A Case Study of Enterprise Wiki Usage, Matthew Clark breaks wikis down into three types: public, enterprise (the focus of the article), and team. The later being the type with which I am dealing.

The few lines he dedicates to team wikis conveys all of my hopes and frustrations for the future of this effort.

For example: "In contrast to public Wikis, where self-selection guarantees that the vast majority of users are technically savvy and keen to be involved, the people contributing to a team Wiki may not be doing so voluntarily or with much enthusiasm. It may well be a required part of their work that they would prefer to avoid. The need to make the Wiki as easy as possible to use becomes even more important in this context."

That is it exactly! Most have never been exposed to this, nor really think that it is necessary.

My only option at the moment is to keep pushing, slowly, while making the wiki the easiest I possibly can. Eventually, if all goes well, my patience will be rewarded... if not, well then I'll have a great looking wiki to put on my resume.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Thought - I Saw It!!!

In my capacity as librarian, I try to keep atop information about careers - finding them, keeping them, etc - so that I can help direct people to helpful books and sites in their quest. More personally, my sister just graduated from college last May. Unfortunately for her, she graduated at the wrong time and in the wrong city. She is doing everything right, now she just has to wait.

Anyway, much of what I have been reading focuses on finding something you are willing to do for free - then go do it. Eventually your passion will lead you to a career, not just employment.

Since starting this guest lecturer gig, my mind has been racing! Racing with different resources, thoughts, plans, etc. In fact, I was grinning like a fool today as I walked to class... and we weren't talking about anything I am particularly interested in. What is it going to be like when we get to the 1800s? Squeal.

But that is not what I want to talk about...

I saw something in class today, something that startled me and brings me to tears, now, thinking about it: a true learning moment. What a stupid name for such a revolutionary event, but that is the best I can do.

This student asked a seemingly off topic question and as the professor and I (mostly her though) answered, a change took place. Neither of us knew it at the time but the student had asked THE big question. As she listened her eyes grew wide and her mouth tightened a little on the sides - more than just understanding the answer, some pathway in her mind was rewired or at least affected in some way.

A tiny little change... yet I saw it, the instant, the moment. There in her eyes, in the response we gave forced her to see the world differently or to fill in a blank in her understanding. And I had no idea that was going to happen!

It was there! I saw it! I played a part in that! Me!

I've never really known what I wanted to do before. Sure, I always had an answer whether or not I believed it. But now when I say "I want to be a professor" it is less of a calm statement, and more a battle cry with three exclamation marks behind it!!!

Man, if only I get to see that moment once more in someones eyes, then all of the schooling and hard work will be worth it. More than worth it, actually.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Another Free Book to Check Out

I am often struck by the creativity and wit of others, especially those that choose writing (or it chooses them, I suppose).

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland
, a young adult fantasy novel that is available online, is just such a thing!

Not only is the story cute and quarky, but the way which the author decided to publish it is too.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Real New Years!

The school year is about to start again, tomorrow actually, and my schedule is going back to 'normal' this week too. Excitement, energy and momentum are my predominate emotions; however, shortly, when faced with getting home at midnight and answering the same two questions about printing all day, those feelings will be replaced by tired, trepidation, and tediousness.

But, as I am the queen of compartmentalizing, lets leave those thoughts alone for now.

Now seems like a natural time to make changes and resolutions. The weather is changing, the students are returning, and fall is always a time to reevaluate (much better than in January - by the dead of winter I am pretty entrenched in my ways, waiting to move until the spring thaw arrives).

Looking back over the last year, I am struck with the amount of changes that have occurred!

First of all - this library gig. After being out of the library for a while, it was nice to move back in. Stepping into the role of manager and supervisor, and, as I realized later, caregiver and hard-nose, was difficult but now it just feels right. This was the first job I've ever had that I knew had no end date in mind, so I've educated myself on all things Circulation Coordinator-y and branched out into general library items to get a better idea about how it all works.

Thanks to the help of the Reference Librarian, who has walked me through all of the databases and student questions that I couldn't answer with patience and clarity, the former User Services Librarian, who sparked an interest in all things computer that must have laid dormant before, and the others who have answered my plentiful questions.

I wasn't sure before if I wanted to make librarianship my career, and I still have reservations. However, I do know that books will continue to be a part of my life and that the preservation of materials is where my passion really lies.

Secondly, quiting the book biz. It was a long, hard battle, but it is done. Selling books to people was more fun than I could have imagined! Talking to them, figuring out what they wanted or what they would like made going to work fun. The rest of the job, I could have done without.

Though this part is over, the lessons I learned there (and of course the valuable friends I made) continue to affect the way I live and work. Two things stand out: 1) learning to work, successfully that is, with difficult people, and 2) using business and marketing principles in my approach to the library, personal financial decisions, and being a boss.

Finally, the upcoming Guest Lecturer version of me. Something I have always wanted to do or to be is a professor. That is one of my main reasons for focusing on academic libraries: helping and teaching students. So when I was asked to guest lecture a few times next term I almost burst with excitement! I hope that I can look back at this next year, around this time, and see how it has effected me (though I already know that it has).

Now that I have done the reflecting, it is time for the goal-setting:
  1. Surviving my temporary stint as a Guest Lecturer (keep your fingers crossed on this one).
  2. Finally following through on applying to grad school (every year I stare at the application forms and wish that it would complete itself - I feel like this is the year).
  3. Be pro-active in projects in the Library - find something (like the archives downstairs???) that needs an advocate and organizer, and be that.
  4. Start being a better mentor with my student assistants - spend time with them, get to know them better.
  5. Start volunteering or get an internship with another library (a public one?) to continue to broaden my understanding of the library world.
Five goals, that sounds do-able to me!

Here is to the real New Years!! and all of the resolutions therein.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kseniya Simonova - Seeing the Past Differently

Anyone who knows me also knows that I have a particular passion for the Russian and Central European world. And, when added to my equally powerful passion for the library and information technology sometimes my interests stretch the limits of this blog.

This is another post that tests those limits, but please bear with me.

Sometimes something just moves you - like the following video of Kseniya Simonova on Ukraine's Got Talent. A friend of mine posted this link on his facebook account and I have not been able to think about anything since.

Please take a look now, but do me a favor and watch the whole thing.

Quickly, for people not familiar with Ukrainian history, Kseniya Simonova is recounting the dramatic invasion of Ukraine by Germany in 1941 (as part of the grander Operation Barbarossa).

Besides the obvious reasons to be moved by her performance, I was enthralled in how she found a way to convey the powerful emotions of this event and, in doing so, created her own way of conveying it and connecting with her audience.

The "making it her own" - that is a phrase I use often when discussing materials with students who are stuck for a research topic. Taking the information and using it in a way that makes the reader/watcher/listener pause.

Art has power.

Now for the library themed questions:
  1. How can we preserve this?
  2. How can I foster this in others?

Monday, August 24, 2009

xkcd - How a Librarian's mind works...

This morning I was greeted to a new xkcd.com cartoon in my Google Reader, which is always cause for celebration!

Though many of them are even too advanced for me to understand (speaking about the ones that talk about math and science - two subjects I like to pretend don't exist), today's struck a cord and is now printed, pasted, and mounted on my wall next to my computer!

Why did I find this cartoon so compelling and so applicable as to make me giddy all day?

Well... I am glad you asked!

1) Part of the new Information Service approach to Library Sciences is that we are now gateways to the new forms of information. These new forms all need access to a computer and, often, this access is hindered when the computer itself fails us. I would say that the majority of my time spent with patrons is of the troubleshooting type. In fact, I'm a big proponent of libraries, especially ones on campuses, working closer with IT departments and convincing them that they need better training and (fingers crossed) better technology. However, this is something they need to be convinced of and most of my suggestions have fallen on deaf ears... but I digress.

2) What shocked me most, however, about this is how easily you could switch out the reference to IT for Librarian. For any non-library people: this is exactly what we do! We just make some educated guesses and when that doesn't work, we refer it to others who do the same.

As the edited cartoon would say: "We don't magically know how to find everything in every subject. When we help you, we're usually just doing this..." Something to think about!

-- -- --
Does this remind anyone else of The IT Crowd? "Hello IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again? ... OK, well, the button on the side. Is it glowing? ..."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On Not Screaming

As always, Seth Godin's blog post, "Willfully Ignorant vs. Aggressively Skeptical," seems timely.

In it, he describes the current debate about health care very astutely. About how we listen to the people who scream the loudest and how this is detrimental to the future of the organization because, as Godin writes, "screaming is often a tool used to balance out the lazy ignorance of someone parroting opposition to an idea that they don't understand."

Lately I have been reading a lot by and dealing with librarians that are set in their ways. The time when librarians only had to know about the books on the shelves and the card catalogs. They are mad at the new and screaming it from every bell tower.

I like what Seth says here, because I feel that is what many librarians are doing - screaming into void. However they have not taken the time to learn the technology, like figuring out the allure of Google beyond the simple students-are-lazy explanation, exploring the role blogs, twitter, etc can play in their library, or determining how the demand for video games can draw attention to the rest of your collection.

I am willing to listen to these points of view, and I often share much of their trepidation and concern; however, Godin's post reminds me that I too need to be more informed on the issues and ready to listen to all sides.

"Be skeptical, but be informed" ~ Now that is my new motto!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Little of Everything...

Falling out of a habit is much easier than creating a new one, and that is all of the justification I have for not publishing much over the past week.

The school year is about to start and I am frantic to finish those grandiose plans that I promised the library I would do this summer.

So today, I would like to draw your attention (and clean out my bookmarks) to a few different articles and sites that have captured my attention over the past couple of weeks.

1) Where I Write is a photography project that is looking at the different places authors do their work. This part of the series is focused on SciFi and Fantasy authors. There is something wonderful (voyeuristic?) about seeing places where people create. All of the spots are different and varied, like the authors themselves, but there is one uniting feature - personality reigns! It gave me pause to think about my office/creative space - I wonder if this space is created or comes about organically.

2) Shortly after writing about two particularly good shopping experiences, Chris Brogan wrote about Warming the Mug - something a wonderful waitress did for him once. This is about how, when you are doing your job well, you are passionate for it and you put yourselves in your customer's/user's/patron's shoes. All of that goes into making a perfect experience, making them feel welcome, taken care of, and appreciated. Who thinks to warm the coffee mug? Now I am going to have to start doing that for myself!

3) An experiment took place, a few months ago now, letting poets and authors take over the news for one edition of the Haaretz newspaper. This article is fascinating for anyone who is a journalist (might make you mad) or an author with a more creative bent (might make you say "Darn right!"). I found it interesting because I am neither! Shaking up the business, any business, is always an eye-opening experience. And, though I have some serious issues with this particular example, I think that it at least gets the discussion going.

4) And, finally, here is a great slide presentation from Murdoch University about using emerging technologies, specifically in a university classroom. Though not much of the information was particularly new, some of the visuals were impressive and helped me to understand some of the concepts in a different light.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Say What? He Reads, She Reads

One of the tiny luxuries I afford myself at work it Booklist. I will horde the latest edition until I can curl up in a comfy chair with my cup of fresh coffee, my Booklist, and read it from cover to cover.

For people who do not know, Booklist is just as its title suggests, a list of books. It is a magazine where they list reviews of the most recent book releases and spotlight the notables. When I was an active bookseller, I used this to keep abreast of new titles so I could talk with customers with better knowledge of the book and new developments in the publishing world.

Despite my overwhelming joy from reading last month's edition, there is one thing that bothered me about the journal. Something that brought a sudden frown on my face and contempt to my eyes every time I read it... The "He Reads/She Reads" section, where they highlight some of the best books for men and for women in a particular genera.

Really? Really? He reads and She reads, because we read different things? What?

I could understand if it was a book on being a good Father or on breastfeeding, but these were your run of the mill beach reads.

When I was a bookseller (wow! I can say that in the past tense now!), I wouldn't hand-sell something to someone based on their gender. I would sell it to them based on their past reading habits and interests! Now that I am a librarian, I don't help people find particular books because they are girls or boys - I get them what they are looking for, whether it is a non-fiction about baseball heroes or a good novel about traveling pants.

No! For a seemingly understanding profession (the book biz, that is), how and why are we continuing to fall into the same trap?

I think that my aversion to this has more to do with the language itself than the concept of classifying books. If this section were framed in the context of "People who like Carrie Bradshaw, would also like..." or "For the History buff..." not only would it reach a more targeted audience, but it would also not alienate those who don't fit into the stereotypical mold. That is taking the gender exclusivity out of the equation and focusing on the important part, their interests.

A disclaimer is needed here: I am a woman and I have never read Twilight or Shoppergirl, neither have I read anything about baseball. I love scifi and hate fantasy, though I will get drawn into historical romances from time to time.

Everyone's taste is different and if we are marketing to those differences, shouldn't we focus on this and leave gender out of it?

This past weekend I was helping out the PNWA at their annual conference. One particularly interesting person, Elin, was one of the few self-proclaimed Chick Lit authors. She commented that people kept calling her brave for proudly waving that flag, but something she said struck a cord. She said, "Chick Lit is what I write, it is just the name for my sub-genera and you have to call an apple an apple."

She was quick to add, "I don't pretend that every chick is going to like my books, and I also don't pretend only chicks are reading them. A certain person will enjoy this book, that is it."

Am I being overly sensitive here? I feel like I am just writing common sense stuff, but if I am totally off base here, let me know.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Using New Technology in the Library

I might have had one of those oh-my-I-might-be-in-the-right-field moments when I read the most recent Shelf Talk post... I got a happy, queasy feeling in my stomach and wanted to shout "Hurray!"

Having the call numbers of the books texted to your phone - no need for paper, no need for a pen, no need to worry about forgetting it at home... it gave me goosebumps!

Granted, this blog is put on by the Seattle Public Library and was written to promote their service, but I think that we need more people shouting about the awesome tools that are out there to make your library experience better, easier and more tech-cool.

Many libraries are making iPhone compatible websites, for example, which too will help patrons find materials.

This is yet another example of how libraries are making advancements, not trying to make new habits but fit their technology into the pre-existing habits of their patrons.

In our last Staff Meeting, one of the librarians mentioned her father-in-law, who is currently bicycling from Seattle to San Francisco. He was bemoaning being cut off from the internet for that long. The librarian in her spoke up, saying "Just go to the public library. They'll let you use the interne!"

Something so obvious to people who work in the field, like using the internet at the library, is not obvious to our patrons.

These little tech-savvy moments or movements are necessary and pretty cool. Hopefully I'll continue to hear about them, see them, and/or use them!

Ooops - Pardon My Mental Lapse

A month or so ago I read a blog post, from Chris Brogan of course, about making the most of your blog. (If you are a blogger, it is a must read!) The most important thing I took from it was the importance of writing daily. That is something that I have aspired, though frequently failed, to accomplish.

What is the point, Heather, I hear you asking?

Well, I forgot to post yesterday. But do you want to know why?

I was lost in this blog... Contrariwise, a blog for literary tattoos. Seriously, if you love quotes and literature, please take a second to take a look. It is from this article, with thanks to Bibliophile Bullpen (a great Book-lovers blog).

Before mentioning the librarians' efforts in Texas with their Tattooed Ladies of the Library calendar, I had not realized how many there are. It is truly fascinating to see!

So, as an apology, I offer you the Contrariwise blog - bonus points if you can name the book the term "Contrariwise" is from!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Boredom and Book Hoaxes

Today was, to put it mildly, slow. Two patrons... total, all day. That was fine by me because I was spent from a bookstore event I've helped out with the past few days. I was content to, uh, how should I put this, explore the library's collection a bit more closely so that I could make better informed recommendations.

Ooo, I like that description of sitting in the comfy chairs reading library books.

Anyway, I was looking though one of my favorite random, happy, fun-time blogs, Boing Boing, when I found this gem of a story!

I think all book lovers will get a kick out of the strange book collection that never was.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Problems, Creative Measures

Not often do I find enlightening reading about libraries in The Stranger! So imagine my surprise, a few months ago, when I read about something happening in my own field, one bridge away. But read it I did: "Not Keeping Quiet."

Every day there are more libraries closing, more schools phasing them out (the entire Bellevue School District, for example), and more desperate librarians and patrons trying to find creative measures to solve the problem of shrinking budgets with growing demand for service.

New problems call for creative measures... though I don't think this is the type of thing most of us had in mind, Tattooed Ladies of Texas Library Association Calendar (which my good friend at This Decaying World pointed out, knowing I would get a kick out of it - Thanks!), I am in awe of their unique, fun approach to fund raising and my hat is off to their beautiful tattoos.

Thinking out of the box is the only way to survive, the only way to thrive in today's library market. It is something that I have been struggling with for a while, particularly this past week.

As of yesterday, at 4:05pm, I've made it my mission to extend the library into the resident halls. Now, though it wasn't my idea at all, I am going to take it and run! Getting the information into the dorms on campus and bolstering word-of-mouth would significantly bolster the effectiveness of our programs.

We'll see how this goes! Any thoughts?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

La Vie!

I've spent the morning arguing with many of T-mobile's fine customer service representatives, all of them very friendly but not helpful with my problem - a problem that makes me incommunicado for a while due to a dead battery and an incorrect SSN. Needless to say, I am a little stressed, so I chose to dedicate today's post to some lovely things... French things!

The photos are of my petite maison, the room I let when I was teaching English in Nantes. Just seeing them makes me calmer already!

"But Heather!" you shout, "what does this have to do with libraries and books?"

Well, as a devoted francophile, I have been compiling a few information resources that I love - all things French! Both of these sites are great places to visit when you need some beautiful French visual documents!

Mostly art and culture related, these sights and others like them are unique expressions of information services. I've been researching the best use of visual archives in attempting to tackle the mess of photos we have stored in the basement. Now librarians have, at their finger tips, more photos and other visual media than ever before. Media that our students and patrons can use, if they only knew it existed!

à votre santé!

1) Elliot Erwitt not only took many of the iconic photos of 1950s France, but many of America too. Please, if you have a few minutes, take a look at this beautiful slide show of his work. Many you already know, but others might be new and soon-to-be beloved favorites. This site was something the wonderful gourmand, Dorie Greenspan, noted in this blog post (which you should check out - she is so kind, witty, and lovely!).

2) Need some French Ephemera? This photostream is where you should go! Complete with high quality advertisements and beautiful vintage designs. (Funny! it was mentioned today: Dinosaurs and Robots, this post).

Those are my two current favorites! Any others?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Building a Loyal Following

I'm one of those unfortunate people who constantly have the script of The Office running through my head - whether it is because it is always applicable or whether I just watch it too often, is up for debate.

There is one scene where Ryan the temp is quizing Michael about business (I believe it is in the fire episode) and asks him something like, "Which is more cost effective, getting a new client or maintaining an old one?" For most business-minded people, this might seem like a moot question, but it something that runs through my head when I think about loyal followings.

When I made the move from retail bookstore to library, I was amazed how important building that loyal base still was, always assuming it was a retail/sales based issue only. At the store, we focused on return sales with our membership- and gift card-focused sales pushes.

But libraries are the same! We rely on remaining valuable to the community and our funding is based upon how much of that community we are able to sell on our services.

This is what leads me to two different business interactions I have had recently:

1) I was cat sitting for a friend and at some point, during a tv-inspired nap, the cat decided to eat the nose piece to my glasses. This made wearing them uncomfortable, resulting in a trip to Bella Vision (Bothell, WA). The staff helped me immediately and fixed my specks while I waited. What else is there to do but browse the wonderful selection (I LOVE their glasses, it is where I bought my current pair)? Of course I found the most spectacular pair that only my lack of money prevented me from buying. A few minutes later, my glasses were fixed and when I went to get my wallet out, I was stopped short as she said "You are good to go, have a great day!" Shocked, is what I must have expressed on my face because she quickly followed with, "We always do that type of this for free - it keeps our fingers nimble." As I walked out of the store, all I could think about was how I am going to afford those glasses that I am certainly going to come back and get?

2) The other night, I was returning home from a friend's house in the city when my front tire blew (random shout out to AAA - THANK YOU, and if you ever need them in the greater Seattle area and Andrew comes to help, tell me he is not the sweetest, handsomest person you have ever met!). A trip to the tire store was now in order, but I have never done that before. Shocking, I know. Anyway, a call to my mother started her on a 20 minute rant about the horrors of a certain tire chain and the blessings and praises of Discount Tire, Co (also in Bothell, Wa). Though not that close to me, I decided to make the trip, armed with all of her wonderful stories about how many times they have helped us and how wonderful the staff was. This was what was running through my mind when they informed me that the tire could not be saved (4 nails, 2 giant screws shredded the thing!) and I would need to get 4 new ones - I knew that they were not lying and that they were honestly trying to help me the best they could. That is why I didn't bat an eyelash when they, successfully, up-saled me a better tire.

In both these cases, the honesty, kindness, attentiveness, and effort these companies exhibited created a return customer. Actually, not only that, they created an evangelist. Isn't that who bookstores and libraries need?

A few years ago, a major book retailer started acquiescing to consumer demands for search terminals and new visual standards. That company took a beating because they lost sight of their true customers - loyal evangelists - who, whether or not they thought they wanted it, fell in love with the store because they were greeted, interacted with, and listened to.

Wow, if you read through all of that, then I thank you for putting up with my rambling stories... now to the real question: how do you build this in libraries?

Off the top of my head... 1) Caring staff, 2) Helpful staff, and 3) Honest staff. It is about the people!

Any other examples?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Book Clubs, with Prejudice

When I was in high school and college, I often dreamt of the day when I would have more time to read for pleasure and join book clubs (preferably those in some forgotten back corner of a dusty used book store, with a cat that runs around... but I digress).

Now that seems beyond laughable! I barely have time for coffee with a beloved friend, let alone a project that requires reading a book then talking about it! Ha! The silliness!

A few weeks ago, I picked up the book The Dante Club from the library - one of those impulse check-outs. The reason I had avoided it in the past was, what I would like to call, "The Book Club Factor." At the bookstore, I would pass this title on to the customer who wanted "something light and easy for the book club that has read every other book-club-book, one that they could read in a week, but that was serious and thought provoking, had no naughty scenes... oh, and in paperback." It was forever stained with this in my mind.

Perhaps this is a bookseller/librarian thing or some sort of book elitism (which is probably closer to the truth), but the title, cover and tag line of such books make me want to throw them across the room. Is this the type of thing that all book clubs read?

Thankfully not, but at the same time, yes!

Slate.com, one of my favorite places to go for news and thought pieces, has a book club - The Audio Book Club, that is. One that takes these "book club books" and other reads, and tears them apart both for better and worse.

Have I been prejudiced? Yes. Am I going to go out and buy Eat, Pray, Love? No.

The only podcast I have listened to, so far, was for Omnivore's Dilemma, which I have read. I found the hosts' comments valid, important, and sometimes frustrating (in a good way).

This is what caused me to pull The Dante Club off of the shelving cart and take a look at the back, giving it a chance... then I read that some "New England Saints," my favorite authors, were solving a crime where the murder was reenacting the circles of hell from Dante. SOLD!

Currently I am halfway through (hey, I was on vacation! And that, for someone who works and loves books, means little reading and lots of tv watching) and enjoying it. Funny thing is, basically, the book is about the powerful impact of book clubs. How discussing and debating books with like- and differently-minded people dramatically increases the effect of the material.

Lesson learned: Book Clubs can inspire good reading, or, at least, an enjoyable bashing of a popular book... and if that fails, you might be able to solve a murder along the way.

As I move through some of the books that I have recommended to hundreds of customers and patrons with less prejudice than before, maybe I'll find a group of like-minded paraprofessionals who alternate between the light (popular) and heavy (depressing) reading. But who, most of all, meet in an abandoned corner of a used bookstore... preferably with a cat.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The First Words in Ghostbusters... "HAAAAA!"

Oh, vacation is so close... I and the stack of books on my coffee table are longing for some serious, quality time together. The hopes of profound thoughts next week are making my current thoughts a bit lazy.

However, earlier this week, I was working on one of my summer projects in the basement archives, elbow deep in dust, mold, other things - all of which should not be in an archive, but are. I was pushing a large book cart down the dark stacks when it suddenly hit me! What I had been thinking about without knowing it... the whisper of deja vu I had been fighting to name.... I was living the opening scene from Ghostbusters!

What? You don't remember that pivotal scene in the best movie ever made?

Well, not to give too much away, it involves a librarian, a basement, a ghost. But there was something about the sound of the cart I was pushing, the dimness of the overhead lights, the oldness of the books that brought it all back.

Something that the videos I've been watching lately (we are redoing our Orientation Video, so there is a lot of YouTube-ing going on) have made me think about is the traditional stereotypes of a librarian and his/her work. From time to time, these versions are right - like in Ghostbusters, but not always.

Though I have been a bit video heavy this week (remember, I am lazy), I couldn't resist sharing this clever one.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gorilla Librarian

Continuing the theme of fun for the week and, after all, no self respecting librarian can go a day without playing this clip in their minds: I give you Monty Python's Gorilla Librarian.

As the library's fine enforcer (I forgive no fines!), I always think of this when a student wants their $7.50 back for returning their book 3 months late...
"I love seeing the customers when they come in to complain about some book being damaged, and ask to see the chief librarian and then ... you should see their faces when the proud beast leaps from his tiny office, snatches the book from their hands and sinks his fangs into their soft er ..."
Sometimes I start quoting it, but, sadly, very few people get the joke.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Librarian Militant

In honor of my lack of concentration...

The librarian must be the librarian militant before he [or she] can be the librarian triumphant.
~Melvil Dewey

In our User Services meeting today, our librarian quoted Melvil Dewey - randomly that is... well, you know, that is how we roll.

Anyway, I was looking for that exact quote he referenced when I came across the above line. Anyone else laugh at the notion of "librarian militant?"

Probably Dewey didn't mean something like this...

...but we do have to raise our barcode scanners and DEMCO labels and tattle tape to declare something, anything really, triumphantly!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pushing the Carts

Coming back from a week off (not a planned week off) and heading into another week off (this one oh-so planned), I am finding it hard to concentrate. Let alone think creatively about issues facing libraries and the future of the book world.

So, with that being said, I think this week should be about fun things! Librarians are often portrayed as sticklers for the rules, uptight shhhh-ers, but that is certainly not the case. Even we need to find ways to occupy our more... uh... down moments.

Here is a great link to the application for the ALA Book Cart Drill Championship contest that my friend Brenda pointed out. Now being an expert Book Cart Driller - that is some dedication to our craft!

An example of the high caliber work, from last year, that may have graced the championship hall last weekend...

This past June, during the Pride Parade in Seattle, I was so excited to see the Seattle Public library put on quite a show with their amazing feats of synchronized showmanship... a little clip I found... Go home team!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

FREE - the book

I'm back, after a little jaunt to warmer climates... yes, I went somewhere warmer during the summer. Who says Librarians are smart? Not me.

So, to give me some time to clear out my inbox and get thinking again, I am just providing a link to something particularly interesting.

Chris Anderson's new book, FREE, is now available, free, here.

Why should you read this? It is free.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Librarians of the Past

Very beautiful and still rings true!

Friday, June 26, 2009


He has done it again! Steven Harris of Collections 2.0 has come out and said, in a much more exact and succinct manner, exactly what I would love to say about the future of newspapers. In fact, I was working on a post which is now rendered null and void because all it requires is a link... "Newspaper Nostalgia."

There, now you have it! Go read it.

I like the idea of newspapers, in the format that we now know them, as being the best use of the medium. However, now that we have different mediums, we need to make the best use of them. Long, thin articles are great for skimming on a cheap piece of paper, but they reek havoc on the screen.

Perhaps I am a bit bias - one of my summer jobs in college was to hang newspapers on those long bamboo poles, getting ink on my fingers and clothes.

I think I would take nicely to sitting at my table in the morning, drinking my coffee, and reading the paper on my kindle. I'd take very nicely to that indeed.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What Rare Books Mean to a Library without Them

So I lied... the newspaper rant is not ready to go, but in the mean time... Rare Books!

In my opinion, there is little that the library world has to offer that can match the thrill I had as an intern in the Grand Rapids Public Library Special Collections. Yes, that sounds ridiculous and stupid, the more so when you discover that they had very few rare books - none of particular note.

It was that perfectly environmentally controlled room that I fell in love with!

A recent blog post from Wynken de Worde about rare book patrons, started me thinking about the role these book-care techniques play in smaller libraries that have few, if any, rare books to worry about.

My summer task is to shift our sub-standard, basement storage up three inches. Recently we had a flood that, were it not for the willingness of the librarians to wade ankle-deep in questionable water, almost claimed the bottom row of our archived periodicals, uncatalogued photos, and, most importantly, our modest collection of antique to old Bibles and Torahs. (Please don't tell anyone that I am really, really excited about working down there this summer!)

All libraries have one or two books that are precious and, if they are anything like my library, they are never used. That is the greatest shame!

If we could promote our ownership of the items while protecting them, we would have to worry about their preservation. Unlike many people, I think this is a good problem to have.

What use are the books in the basement if there is no one to read them?

This is where the post in Wynken de Worde comes in. The author writes:
What does it mean to us, as readers in libraries, to be a reader of rare materials? What are our responsibilities to those materials, to the library, and to the other readers?

These are good questions that even smaller institutions should be asking themselves.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sometimes I Forget...

Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to the future of libraries - eBooks, Kindles, death of newspapers (oh! wait, that is coming tomorrow!). In fact, the webinar that I participated in today about wikis will be a great tool for some projects I am working on now.

This is all well and good, but sometimes I am caught forgetting the past. What struck me most about this fun post from the News in Print was how much I have forgotten to keep this past in mind!

And what a great past it is!

I remember watching the history channel as a child and seeing a piece on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Great Library of Alexandria being, in my mind, the most wondrous of them all - imagining walking through those halls, browsing those books, seeing people from around the world converge in this center of knowledge. From then on I read everything I could and marveled at artistic renderings of the structure.

Passion, that is what it was. I had become passionate about the idea, place, and people of the Alexandria Library.

It is that passion and awe that I sometimes loose when I am dealing with an angry patron and a miss-shelved book or an angry patron and a late fee or an angry patron and... well, I think you get the idea.

This is just not an awe of libraries, but of bookstores too, that I struggle to maintain! A few days ago a group of students from a local elementary school reading club came in for a tour of our store. To see how fascinated they were by the less-than-impressive stacks of books and the different carts made me smile with their sincerity.

Though I have little hope of regaining that awe of hot-carts or the massive stack of Stephan King's latest, I can try to remember the awe that books inspire! Whether they are in bookstores or libraries, they are why we are here. Working with knowledge and helping others access this knowledge.

Passion for the books: that is something I will need to remember!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reading History... the Fun Kind

The Seattle Public Library's reading blog, Shelf Talk, is one of my favorite places to go when I am looking for reading inspiration! This post's focus, "Viewing History through a New Lens," is on reading history books that take a different look at the events described.

As someone with a history background, I love when authors try to put an interesting spin on history and, as a result, make it much more accessible. That is one complaint I hear often: "But it is so boring!"

Being an historically minded person, I have never really understood this complaint. However, in the past two years I have noticed a marked increase in the number of popular history titles - from The Forgotten Man to anything by Doris Kearns Goodwin - and, I would like to think, that it is making people hungrier for the topic.

Kudos to all libraries and bookstores that are promoting fun, historical reading!

On that note, I would like to close with one of many great Dorris Kearns Goodwin interviews on The Daily Show!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Doris Kearns Goodwin
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

Friday, June 19, 2009


Recently I have been asked to guest lecture a few times for a Slavic Lit class next fall (*squeal*) and a few months ago the professor and I sat down with the first draft of the syllabus and, most importantly, the book list. This was the first time that I saw how much thought and effort professors put into these lists. She was very concerned about cost and we both rejoiced at the inexpensiveness ($40) for the main text of the class!

When I wanted to add another title (the text only had Gogol's The Overcoat and what would a Slavic lit class be without The Nose?), I found a free eBook copy offered through the library and I am excited to see how this is going to work in the classroom setting! I'm wondering how the eBook format will impact the students and how many of the students will bring in hard copies of the book or their computer.

So, with that in mind, I noticed an pairing of articles in the ALA bulletin that interested me exceedingly: the Textbook Rant from Seth Godin's blog and "6 Lessons One Campus Learned about E-Textbooks."

What I found intriguing in these articles, especially when taken together, was the conviction that once the "eTextbook" revolution begins, it will take everything by storm! Both Young and Godin write with a (correct) tone of inevitability.

I was surprised, however, at the disparaging tone of Young's take on this university's attempt to make the big switch, often critiquing the president of the university for being overly excited and eager about these changes. This was a pilot program, there were some hitches, but, if it proved anything, it showed that it can be done!

Often times we need something like this university's experiment to guide us in the right direction and using these mediums (personally I stand behind the specifically designed book readers) is a big step in that direction. That is why I applaud Godin's blog post, for its energy in that vein.

The technology is getting there, but not quite yet.

As more people, students from an increasingly varied economic background and students who do not remember a time before the computer revolution, every attempt must be made to get the information to them cheaper and in a format that would be the most beneficial.

This is something that librarians have been talking about a lot lately, and I have a few other articles about this issue to review in the next few days.

Once the technology catches up and becomes more affordable, universities are going to be jumping for eTextbooks; however, it is the people who are taking those steps now that are doing the academic world a good service! Thanks!

PS: I'm sorry, I completely respect Godin, but he is severely underestimating the amount of work professors have when he suggests that they write their own material and publish .pdfs for the class - yikes!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Future of Books - Library Perspective

I'll be upfront and honest here: I work in a library, I help out in a bookstore, and last week alone I bought six (yes, 6) books. I love having books laying all around! But, I want a new Kindle and I am willing to embrace eBooks.

So pairing a love of books with a love of technology, I like to think, has given me a reason to be particularly interested in one of the many debates that is raging in the book world: what is the future of book publishing?

In a report from "The Future of the Book." In the report, Keir Graff writes a good summary of an event he attended which he thinks could have been called the "End of Books as we know them, 101." I have to admit that I laughed when I read that! I've felt a lot of what is coming out of the industry is more in line with The-End-Is-Nigh sandwich board clad people preaching on the streets.

It is time for people, and libraries in particular, to come to terms with the changes that are going on. Electronic and web-based formats are here and consumers are currently defining how they are going to be best used. Does it do us any good to complain and claim that these formats will not survive? No. That is not for us to determine!

What libraries should be focusing on is figuring out how our patrons are using their Kindles and iPhones - then give them what they need to keep us being a valuable part in their educational pursuits.

The thing I liked about this report was Graff's comment about how having a book-editor and a web-manager on the panel doesn't do a good job at reflecting some of the more nuanced aspects of this question. It is up to the individual library to strike that balance within their own collection, that between the electronic resources and print.

Interesting implications - what role should libraries play in the widening gap between these two worlds?

The Pain, aka Legal Documents

I know what a pain it can for college students to find information legal cases! In fact, I was that unfortunate student on more than one occasion - trying to navigate the gov docs section of our library, attempting to find credible online sources for a particular case, or even just wanting to see a particular transcript from the Supreme Court. There is never an easy way to do this!

That is why this article, "Legal Technology - Get Your Free Case Law on the Web," caught my attention.

There are many useful links for a librarian who is guiding a student through their legal case research - I bookmarked more than one!

Of particular note...
1) AltLaw - an interesting project which I found to be particularly easy to use. You can tell it was created by a librarian, or at least someone very sensitive to the needs of researchers, because this site offers the most comprehensive searching tools that would be helpful to all levels of researchers.
2) PreCYdent - this is a great, new tool (still in beta) that has the cases, but also has a social networking feature. This is a great way for today's university students to share resources and may promote a loyalty.

Hopefully, as the digitization of these materials spreads, locating and using them will get easier... or is that just a hopelessly idealistic pipe dream?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Proper Google Usage

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Google is the smart librarian's secret tool!

This post, "Conjugating the Verb to Google," from one of my favorite book-loving blogs, Bibliophile Bullpen, reminded me of this because it is an excellent example of how Google is best used.

Often I am asked to defend the work of librarians in the increasingly Google-able world. Many in the profession shun these advancements, but do not realize that our future is going to be defined by them.

This "tiny adventure in time travel" is exactly what Google and other search engines are for. The author rightly wonders how long a more traditional search would have taken him or her.

How long would it have taken? Too long to satisfy a mild interest, that is for sure.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Today its all Google, no Gogol"

Alright, so we live in a Web 2.0 world in which, if we are being honest with ourselves, we have finally started to feel comfortable. I am wondering if I am falling victim to this hyper-new world, where attention spans have been halved and blinking lights are the only attention holders worth a darn. (I am also wondering if this is a stupid thing to keep thinking about considering how long The Golden Notebook, and its 500 pages, has been sitting on my bedside table!)

That is why this article from the Chicago Tribune caught my attention: "Technology and Books: Is the Novel Too Much for our Technology-Addled Minds?" In it, John Keilman seems just as torn as I and offers no real solutions or conclusions.

I'm not as willing to blame technology as the author of the article and I do not suffer from the shake-your-head-slowly-at-the-youth-of-today mentality for one reason, and one reason alone: The Twilight Series. If the youth of today can get through that, they can get through anything.

Yes, I sometimes can't help but to check my text messages while having dinner and I love to Google (or Bing!). The problem is we haven't realized what the children are looking for - their own voice. They are just as able to read War and Peace as I was or as my parents were, but they are looking to define their reality, their creative effect on society.

As a librarian and bookseller, I commend them and look forward to attempting to meet their needs. More audio, more eBooks, quicker response times, full text articles - bring it on!

Sure, we are going to loose some personal contact, some pleasures (the smell of old books that people, myself included, wax eloquently about), but what we are going to gain... well, that I am eager to see.

For any generation who can read the entire Twilight series, well, I don't think I'll have to worry so much about their short attention spans. Just about their taste!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Transferable Skills and the Librarian

With the job market the way it is, I am almost sad to send students out into the horrible job market. And, honestly speaking, Seattle's economy is no where near as bad as most other places in the country.

Students often, before graduation, ask us librarians for help in finding jobs. The short answer is, beyond showing them the places to look, helping them write resumes, and pointing them to some (?hopelessly outdated?) books on interviewing, there is not much we can do.

That is why this post, "The Power of Transferable Skills," from The Simple Dollar caught my attention.

Though not a simple, quick fix, it does give some excellent advice about how one job or one skill is a brick in your wall. That, through cross training and creative thinking, you are making your future career all the more achievable.

This started me thinking about my career path - basically, why am I employed today? In my current position, paraprofessional in the User Services department of an academic library, I use the administrative skills learned from being an office assistant in a law firm, the customer services skills I learned from working in a large bookstore, the marketing skills from years networking as a babysitter/nanny, and the library-specific skills from four years as a Tech Services student assistant in college and as an intern in a public library's archives.

More importantly, however, how will I be using the skills from this job in the future? The most important thing I am learning is management, and that is a skill that will only become more important as I move on (and up).

So, I hope that this article will help people, as it helped me, see the bigger picture. And though this will not help my patrons today, maybe it will be a comfort when they look to the future: the crap job of today is a transferable skill of tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I think this is a great video and would look good on any academic library's website - something short, simple, and cute that the visitors could see.

In this year's evaluation, one of the comments we saw was that there was no assistance if there was not a librarian at the reference desk. But, as the video says, all they have to do is ask.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Civil Politics - Helping Students with the Dialogue

Despite which side of the political fence you fall, one thing we can all use (myself included) is a more balanced approach to the political dialogue we find all around us. An interesting op-ed piece by Nickolas Kristof led me to this website: Civil Politics.

You cannot "win" an argument without listening, which is something that we rarely do. But there is another important aspect of this: To listen, we need to understand the ideology and logic behind our opponent's perspective. Civil Politics is a group of people who are trying to understand the ideology.

Why am I bringing this up in a library blog? Easy!

I work with students, students who are being asked to defend their believes - political, spiritual, etc - for the first time. What I have noticed is a surprising inability to see that behind most arguments there is logic, there is a life, there is an understanding, however flawed, of the world.

I think that this site, especially the helpful links in the Resources section, would be a great way to get them to dive into their papers, speeches, and lectures a little deeper. Though they may not get the person to change their opinions or have their opinions changed, any discussion where there is a bit more understanding between the parties can only be helpful.

(If you are interested: the Kristof's piece, "Would You Slap Your Father? Then You are a Liberal," is well worth a read!)

Fun Blog of the Day: Awful Library Books

How have I not seen this blog before?

Awful Library Books - the name says it all!

I've worked exclusively in older, academic libraries and this is a common problem. I've seen books that should have been weeded in the 1970s, let alone in the 2000s.

Luckily most of those places have been eager and willing to weed out the stacks; however, I remember working for one librarian who was intent on keeping some of the most racist, sexist, and un-literary material in the collection - simply for "reference points."

Granted, I am anti-censorship of every type and if your library's focus is on counterpoint materials and you have the time and resources to keep this material available, that is a different story. However, when the institution is an academic, research library that prides itself on being up-do-date and valid, you have to actively weed materials that only cheepen your collection.

Get these things out of our libraries! Now! Because women can be doctors too!

(Image from Awful Library Books Blog)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

ILL-ing eBooks

In a staff meeting, just the other day, we were discussing the changing focus of the library - evaluating the benefits of eBooks. For once we were all in agreement that our students want more eBooks and better access to the ones we have. However, one thing that we did not consider is the importance of ILL and how this move to electronic resources will affect our ability to lend to other libraries.

It was not until I read Steven Harris' blog post called "Interlibrary eLoan," in which he discusses the possible benefits and the many road blocks we face in approaching ILLing in a library with more and more eBooks, that I gave this pitfall any consideration.

How are we going to continue to have the ability to help other libraries when we cannot loan out our eBooks? The DRM and other copyright considerations are mind-boggling, but Harris points out a few ideas - incorporating eBook reading devices into the equation and getting the licencers of the eBook databases (NetLibrary, etc) to change their licencing plans - would work, but their implementation is far beyond us and the immediate needs of our library.

The promising answer, though it too is not an option... yet, is to provide what Harris calls a "DRM-protected PDF" that "[e]xpires after a given time period."

I like considering the scanned PDFs of articles that we send out: they are understood to be imperfect, temporary, one-time copies of particular resources that we own which are to be used for educational and academic reasons only. If we could get that concept and apply it to the ILLs - we'd be ready to go!

There are a few implementing problems - well, more than a few. The eBook databases we use make creating a PDF of the file nie near impossible, not to mention the part about making the files temporary.

But, my biggest concern is that we do not own the eBook in any sense of the word. We lease our materials from the database. When we stop paying for their services, we stop being able to access the information. It is not for us to make a copy, no matter how temporary, because we are not seen as the owners of the material in the first place. Until we get the mp3s or buy the actual eBook without the assistance of the database, our hands are tied.