Friday, May 25, 2012

Google "Research" Tool

First off, let me have a slight panic moment: why is Google trying to make librarians obsolete? Since they don't necessarily even understand what we do?

Having said that, let me tell you a little bit about a new "research" tool on Google. I read an interesting (depressing) review on the Chronicle's ProfHacker blog about Google docs' addition of a Research Tool (official language). Basically, users can highlight select portions of text in a Google doc, click on the Tools menu, and have Google try to find a matching citation on the web. Recent changes to the feature allow users to limit to Google Scholar and make citations in APA, MLA, and Chicago. I will also state that at least two people in the comment fields had written reviews earlier in the week only to have Google update the Research Tool, thus rendering their reviews obsolete. So as you read this post, keep in mind some of the features may have changed.

The research tool has pros and cons.

Students really struggle with citation.
Having a tool to show them how to do it will help
Will students actually learn the citation style for their discipline?
And how important is that?
Students will have help doing research with tools that are familiar to them.Information literacy is an important component of an academic library.
Using this tool is no proof that students actually understand the concepts of information literacy.
Students can limit their search to academic resources.What guarantee is there that the students will read more than the abstract if they can't access the article?
Might help cut down on plagiarismBut will students do the research themselves and then write the paper?
Or will they write the paper and then try to find sources that fit what they wrote?

I'm sure there are more pros and cons than what I listed.

What I found most shocking were the comments from the faculty members at the bottom of the page. I felt as though none of them addressed the possible pitfalls of the tool. Granted none of them were librarians, and perhaps I am being reactionary.


Monday, May 21, 2012

College Librarians and Media Specialists of Washington State Spring Conference

Last week I attended the CLAMS conference at South Seattle Community College in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. It was a two day conference entitled Library Advocacy Success Stories. I couldn’t attend all sessions because of my work schedule, but I had a few nuggets I thought I’d share.
The first day featured a “library success” presentation by Pierce College, mostly about their recent remodel of the library space. It really turned out beautifully. They focused on creating clearly defined spaces for different types of learning – collaborative, individual, multi-media, instruction – and different “vibes” – absolute silence, coffee-shop, whisper-level, interactive etc.

This photo from Library Journal terms it as “zoned” for different types of interaction. The signage is all one-word. The reference desk just says ASK and the circ desk says BORROW. You can kind of see them in this photo:

I’m not sure if I’m 100% sold on those terms, but the effect is striking and definitely closer to meaning something to a student than REFERENCE and CIRCULATION. (As I just read somewhere the latter terms are what WE do and the others are what the STUDENTS do – shouldn’t we be using signage that speaks to the user not us?)
One of the key phrases I took away from the presentation was the idea of “facilities as pedagogy.” We are having an impact on learning through our layout, facilities, signage, and yes, even furniture, and we should remember that if we’re ever lucky enough to have money to remodel J
Another important piece of their presentation was that the way they were able to get the money to remodel was by “proving their worth” in our favorite way… assessment. Oh, Pine Tree will never leave us. They were able, through surveys and analysis, to positively correlate interactions with a librarian with a higher student GPA at Pierce College. This really hit me – this is probably true at all of our institutions, but we have to create the data for anyone to know or care. No one is going to come along and create this data for us; we have to take the initiative. But when we do, our reward will be the irrefutable evidence that we matter to student success and (hopefully) the guarantee that our positions will exist in perpetuity. They left us with: “assess what you value, don’t value that which you can assess.” This is easier said than done, but something to think about.
Day two featured a series of shorter presentations on a variety of topics. I’m running out of steam so I will make them another post. Hope to see you all at ALA2012!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Preservation Tidbit

I am currently taking an online course in textile preservation through the Northern States Conservation Center. A little tidbit from my readings, related to the importance of environmental monitoring in museum and library areas with exhibits:

"One person can release approximately the same heat as a 60 watt light bulb and approximately a wineglass-full of water per hour." (Standards in the Museum Care of Costume and Textile Collections, 1998).

Which can, really, have a large impact on your collection if you have lot of people coming to an exhibit! Yikes!

Monday, May 7, 2012

What would Alanis Morissette say?

A few weeks ago I was helping a student with her research paper for Freshman Composition. In her paper, she wanted to argue that pit bulls have gotten an unfair reputation as a breed, and that they really make excellent pets. As we talked about her research and why she chose this topic, she told me over and over again about her own dogs, and how her pit bulls are incredibly sweet and well-behaved. Since she couldn't build an entire research paper around describing her pets' behavior, she thought she might look for some sources about dog behavior and training in general, to make the argument that training has a major influence over inherent breed characteristics.

All right, great. Our college has a strong veterinary science program, so there were a number of dog behavior books for her to choose from. One of the ones she checked out was "Cesar's Way," by the Dog Whisperer himself, Cesar Millan. The book came back from its trip to her home (with her sweet, well-behaved pit bulls) looking like this:

Of course I realize that one mutilated book doesn't exactly invalidate her argument, nor does it necessarily indicate that her dogs are out of control. But since I know what her research was about, I just find it so deliciously... what's the word? Does it start with an "I"?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Computers in Libraries: March 23

Conference: last day
I could only attend one session on Friday, but it was so well worth it! The presenters are doing some pretty cool stuff! It also doesn't hurt that I don't really like reference shifts....

Redesigning Reference Models
This was one of my favorite sessions! The tag for the session was #undesk. The Millersville University librarians who presented this session had to find new ways to reach students. Their library building is undergoing renovations, and the new, smaller space the library was moved to does not have offices or room for a reference desk. There solutions were innovative. Most of the librarians are now physically embedded in their academic subject building, and they hold office hours. They make use of chat, phone/SMS (Google Voice), Jing (screen captures answer reference questions), digital signs, iPads, and being a visible presence at campus events and organization meetings. The librarians realized that forming relationships with faculty and students inside and outside the library is essential. Questions they feel they’ve had to address:
  • How do we connect with students?
  • How do we encourage and support experimentation?
  • What does it mean to be a librarian?
They’ve had to really rethink their definition of librarians though, and I liked their summation: “We provide the building, but the building does not provide us.”

Computers in Libraries: March 22

Conference: Second Day

Ebook Publishers and Libraries: Win-Win Solutions
Led by Canadian librarians, this session was informative but not particularly applicable to me. Canadian libraries have been able to personalize license agreements with ebook publishers due to the Canadian book market, Canadian laws governing book purchasing rules, and the unity of the Canadian libraries. I didn’t get as much from this session because I don’t think American libraries have the unity needed to demand the same terms as the Canadian libraries.
They are doing some really neat stuff up north with ebooks, and I wish American libraries could copy some of their model.

Tinkerers: Maker Culture and Libraries
Maker culture was something that I have never heard of before this conference, so it was particularly interesting. Maker culture is essentially hacker culture: taking existing devices and software and re-appropriating them to meet a specific need. Most of maker culture happens in hacker spaces; maker culture can also be seen as a way to informally learn about technology. The speaker stated that although maker culture started as activists and continues to believe they work against “the man,” many of the hackers are white males, between the ages of 20-40 who make over $100,000 a year. Many of the products that they make can’t be used by the general public and actually have no economic value for their communities. The speaker argued that if libraries got involved, makers/hackers from different communities would be able to work together in their communities in a free access space. By bringing in librarians and libraries, the end products would be better tied to the local communities because it would be the local community members who made them. This talk was so insightful. I’m not sure that it would be something that worked at King, especially due to limitations from other departments, the administration, and space considerations, but it would be cool if it could!
Examples: FabLab (Fayetteville Free Library, MIT), HackDC

Open Source Trends & Migration
I had certain expectations about the session because my library will be migrating to an open source ILS is the next year or two. The first presenter simply read the results of his survey about what library perceptions of open source are. I would have been more interested if he discussed why libraries make the decision to move to open source or stay with a proprietary ILS, but he didn’t cover those topics. One interesting fact that he did share was the number of libraries adopting cloud-based ILSs, like Sierra. I wasn’t aware that this was a trend, or that libraries were considering it.

Integrating Tablets and Apps Into the Library
Hosted by two public children’s librarians and two academic librarians, this session gave me more insight into integrating tablets. At my library, we are interested in purchasing tablets for reference and instruction. Most of the information provided by the public librarians wasn’t especially relevant; they did mention considerations that had not even occurred to me: data privacy and restricting access to features. The academic librarians talked about their decision to get a droid based tablet v. iPads, using the tablets in instruction, and student reactions to the tablets in instruction. Droid was cheaper and open source. The student reaction was actually not overwhelmingly positive; the students were frustrated by the technology and having to learn a new technology on top of learning research skills, and they worried about damaging the tablet. The librarians ran into their own problems: compatibility of browsers, weak wifi, printing considerations, and wiping devices of data. Another big consideration is the importance of staff training on the devices so that they can assist students and other users.

Computers in Libraries: March 21

In the following three posts, I will provide a brief synopsis of sessions I attended at the Computers in Libraries Conference in Washington, D.C. this past week. It was a pretty awesome conference, and I would recommend any e-resources or web librarians attend. I also enjoyed that it was a conference full of technology librarians, so none of us really wanted to meet new people.

I went to 4 sessions the first day.

Strategic Approaches to Mobile:
Presented by a reference librarian, a systems librarian, and a vendor, this session focused on doing environment scans of existing mobile interfaces, library user analysis for smartphones / tablets, what libraries can learn from business created mobile interfaces, and three ways to make a mobile site (stylesheet, mobile website, and native app). I learned so much in this session. I think mobile website development is key. I hope to use what I learned here to create a mobile website or stylesheet redirect for my library website this summer.

Getting Ready for the Semantic Web
This session taught listeners about the basic differences between the existing web and the semantic web, how RDA as a standard would enable library information to work on the semantic web, and current projects in libraries to work with the semantic web. I knew the least about semantic web and programming, so I learned the most at this session. I enjoyed learning about the cataloging standards, and how the semantic web will change searching.
  • RDA: uses FRBR and FRAD standards
  • Open Metadata Project (OMR): RDA vocab is published on the OMR
  • MulDiCat: Authoritative IFLA standards translated into different languages
  • OCLC’s Faceted Application of Subject Terminology (FAST)
  • OCLC’s Virtual International Authority File (VIAF)
Getting to Know HTML5 and CSS3
An introduction to changes in markup languages hosted by a head of technical services at a Montana university. This session covered changes in tags, how HTML5 will work with the semantic web, HTML5 and microdata, HTML5 and media formats, Javascript API (application programming interface) compatibility, CSS3 response to web design trend changes, and tools to play with the changes. This session as really interesting, and it answered many of my questions about HTML5. I don’t do much of the website backend programming at my library, but it will help me understand what our IT staff does. I belive it will also enable to me code my own mobile website or mobile redirect stylesheet, which is something I hope to implement soon.
  • Marcotte, E. (2010, May 25). Responsive web design. A List Apart, 306. Retrieved March 28, 2012, from
  • Ronallo, J. (2012, February 2). HTML5 microdata and code4lib. Retrieved March 28, 2012, from
Quick Quantifiable QR Codes
This session had too many presenters, in my opinion. The presenters (all academic librarians) discussed how to make QR codes, the importance of shortening the URL, using Google URL shortener to track analytics, and ways to use the QR code. Some of the ideas I liked were a QR code in the stacks that leads to LibGuides to help the student research, a QR code in the stacks that leads to a list of comparable ebooks (merging print and electronic), and using QR codes in place of print maps.

I do have more detailed notes, if anyone is interested!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

investing in ourselves

A story from the iSchool flickered into my Twitter feed today: Is a Master's Degree in Library Science a Poor Investment? A Counter Perspective to Forbes Magazine.

(The Forbes story in question was pretty ignorable; coming from Forbes, of course it's going to focus on the financial benefits of your master's, and of course our degrees aren't going to make us rich. We knew this wasn't a good investment in the traditional meaning of the word "investment," so blah blah whatever, Forbes.)

But then the iSchool student winds up making the exact same point as the Forbes story.

"[I]f your desired profession requires a master’s degree, that’s a good reason to pursue it.”
"An MLIS is often required when applying for professional librarian jobs, especially in regards to the more advanced positions such as director or manager. This is why I am pursuing my Master’s degree: In looking at job postings and talking with people in the field, I quickly discovered that a lack of educational credentials would quickly eliminate me for consideration for the director or manager positions I was seeking."

That's not a real reason.

It's a valid short-term explanation, but it's not a reason. "Because they said so" isn't good enough for toddlers and teenagers, and it shouldn't be good enough for our profession, either.

Why are we all so afraid to ask the real question: What, exactly, do we learn in library school, and do we need it to be librarians? 

I've questioned my Syracuse degree -- and its $40K price tag -- loudly and often, but the further out I get from library school, the more certain I am that I did, in fact, need to go to library school. It wasn't because of anything I learned in classes or from readings or from professors; some of that was helpful and important, and some of it wasn't.

The reason I needed to go to library school was that I needed to meet other people in the same stage of their careers as I am. 

I needed to have daily contact with people who were navigating the same things, figuring out where and how to work in this field -- and, now, having jobs that are similar to what I'm doing or am going to do or might want to do someday. Just in Klub Kat, we have public librarians; academic librarians at schools of all sizes and stripes; archivists; early-career administrators; people working at vendors; people working at "special" libraries; people working in non-MLS staff positions.

All of you push me to think about things way outside my comfort zone (proper spit-cup signage, say, and bugs and rodents in public spaces) and how we're shaping this profession. Our generation isn't shaping it enough yet, but we have to start somewhere. And we're doing things together, too -- brainstorming, venting, helping each other find job posting, presenting together, co-authoring academic papers.

That is what I needed, what I couldn't get on my own. Were there other ways to find these people, ways that didn't take two years and cost every cent that some people make in an entire year? Maybe, but I don't know them, and the more graduation recedes in the distance, the more I value what I did get out of library school: you guys.

P.S. That said, people shaping MLIS curricula? Please keep asking that Big Scary Question: What, exactly do we learn in library school, and do we need it to be librarians? If the answer is no -- and it is, too often -- get rid of it, please, for the sake of our future and our sanity.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interesting Post from Will Manley's Blog

Please take time to read all the comments. They provide some interesting food-for-thought, particularly for us as we are at the beginnings of our careers...

From Will Unwound
February 16, 2012

WILL UNWOUND #684: “From the Tavern Mailbox: Goodbye to Librarianship”

Note from Will:  On a regular basis I get emails from librarians who want to drink deeply of the collective wisdom found in our Unwinders Tavern.  If you have an issue that is bugging you feel free to send me an email at and I will run it in this blog so that our Unwinders can comment on it.  Feel free to change identifiable details so as to protect your identity. I received this email last month.  Please give your best advice to anonymous.

Hi Will,

Just writing to thank you for your last Manley Arts piece about meeting librarians’ needs. Particularly the part about librarians not having taken a vow of poverty. I wasn’t going to rant but you did say you have a lot of free time… I am about to leave the field because the pay is so much lower than the modest ALA-recommended minimum my alma mater touted as de rigeur when I was looking into grad school. The professional satisfaction promised as a trade-off is not happening, either.

The other payoff missing from public librarians’ lives is the professional dignity I was expecting when I became a librarian several years ago. I thought being a librarian would be great, given my aptitude for technology and the written word combined with my social altruism. Whoops. Most of the young librarians I know regret their choice. The most ambitious of us are the most miserable because we know that we could, as they say in the dating game, “do better.” I can make databases, but here I am un-jamming the photocopier and repeating program dates and times for callers who don’t have a pen handy. (It’s not that I need to pay my dues and work up the ladder: this is the highest position under Director.) Patrons are disrespectful, clerks talk to us like we’re pages, and managers struggle to keep a straight face when we suggest salaries should reflect value delivered rather than time served. There is a stark difference in the types of personalities and demographics the field attracts today vs. the era of my coworkers’ entrance to the field. Our colleagues make us pariahs for so rudely writing them an e-mail when they are in the building. They have worked here forever and half of them can barely use computers, forget that PCs have been widely accessible for over fifteen years. We are smart, enterprising, eager professionals. Projects fail miserably because none of my dear elders know how to conduct a productive meeting or start and complete a project. Our ideas are met with “that’s very neat but this is how we’ve always done it” and our attempts at competitive salaries are met with “well you knew going into this you wouldn’t be making a fortune.”

What’s broken? Is it a clash of power structures? I theorize that in a women-run organization like a “traditional public library” the structure is like a family, where authority comes from physical age instead of from your job title which you earned with your ability, like how us Gen X-ers came up. Is it that the civil service system has ruined the money-for-work model, leaving us hard workers feeling cheated? I felt a moment of clarity the day I realized “this doesn’t have to be my problem.” Much as I love social programs, I am industrious and don’t need the system to provide for me.

As you say, basic needs must be met. After looking these last four years for one of these elusive “real-pay” jobs I have given up on librarianship as a career and switched directions to focus on a consulting business centered around journalism and web design. Sometime before my biological clock stops ticking I will type up that resignation letter and say: I cannot raise a family and pay my student loans for $15 an hour. You will have to find another “professional” librarian.

For a long time I was worried it was me: I interview poorly? I don’t know the right people? Wouldn’t you know, less than a year into Project: New Career and I already have a couple freelance clients. Stranger still, none of them have balked over money or yelled at me because they don’t know how to make a photocopy. Perhaps the libraries here will miss my abilities, but life is too short to stay on this train.

I imagine you field lots of letters like this so I won’t ramble any more. I’ll just say thank you again and maybe at least the donut thing will catch on.



Monday, February 13, 2012

Information Literacy and Safe Sex

I've been working on a new in-class activity to teach MLA citation. My latest idea involves having students construct citations using our MLA Format handout and withdrawn books and periodicals in which I've marked the information necessary for the citation (author's name, page numbers, volume number, etc.) in colored highlighter. I don't know how it's going to go over; my class is tomorrow, but as I prepared this exercise, I debated about whether or not to include websites. I printed out screenshots so that I could highlight the title, sponsor, and so on as I had with the books and articles, but I really want to discourage them from just going to Google for their research.

As I mulled it over, I realized that my attitude toward teaching proper website citation was exactly like the logic behind handing out condoms in schools. Most arguments I've heard for teaching safe sex go something like this:

We really don't want to encourage teens to become sexually active, but we know that we can't do anything to stop them. If they're going to do it anyway, we may as well educate them so they can do so safely.

Here's how I feel about teaching my students to cite websites:
  • Using websites for research can be helpful and legitimate.
  • I don't trust that most college students can make good choices about what constitutes a reliable source of information on the Web, but I know they're going to go to Google anyway, no matter how many library databases I show them.
  • Since they're going to use websites as sources for their research papers, they should at least be taught how to cite them properly.

I realize that in this analogy, I've equated plagiarism with STDs and/or unwanted pregnancy, and this might seem a little extreme. But hey, both can have serious consequences for your academic career.