Tag: library technology

Save the CT state library plus thoughts from the 2011 Connecticut Library Association Annual Conference

Update: the state library may be safe, but the details aren’t settled yet.

As I write this post, Connecticut is facing the elimination of funding for its state library. While the mission of the state library is “to preserve and make accessible Connecticut’s history and heritage and to advance the development of library services statewide,” it does that in such important ways. From the CLA website:

If the State Library goes away there will be no more:

If you are a Connecticut librarian or resident, please please please call Governor Malloy at 800.406.1527 and tell him that you are a Connecticut resident, that you’re concerned about the elimination of state library funding, and that you want the state library to continue to be funded. Here’s a longer description of what the state library does and what will be lost [PDF] and some talking points [PDF] if you feel like you need them. At the very least, please sign this petition.


The 2011 CLA Annual Conference was last week, and I was able to attend on Tuesday, the second day. It was kind of fun because for the first time, I had an employer who paid my registration, and for the first time I knew people at the conference and didn’t have that awkward moment at lunch surveying the tables and trying to decide who looked friendly enough to welcome a stranger.

I attended four different sessions, checked out the exhibit hall, and then listened to the keynote speaker. Here are a few notes from the sessions I attended. (more…)

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2 Comments May 13, 2011

Show ’em what we’ve got: the Fairfield (CT) Public Library’s “Tech Petting Zoo” and ebooks and ereaders at the library

Two weeks ago I was listening to NPR as I drove to a nearby town. They were discussing ebooks and their impact on book selling and publishing. Near the end of the segment, they had one listener ask about ebooks at the library:

This from Lynn in Grand Rapids, Michigan: Do you foresee a time when I can get an e-book from my local library? What will the move to electronic books do to our libraries?

And Lynn, we’ve had a lot of inquires about those who, well, can’t afford a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad.

NEARY: Well, that’s an interesting question, and to be honest, I don’t know the answer – that libraries would start lending them out. I think you can download books from libraries but – not on a Kindle, but on some of the other devices, you can. But as far as lending out an e-reader, that I don’t know about.

Mr. OSNOS: Well, I can answer the question as far as my local library in Connecticut. You can easily access e-books. Now, you won’t get them for the Kindle because that’s a proprietary system. But now that there’s a…

CONAN: That’s if you have your own reader, though.

NEARY: Yeah, he…

Mr. OSNOS: Yeah, you can read it as a PDF on a reader, or you can put it – actually convert it into – and use it on your iPad or on your Sony Reader. There are – the range of choices is expanding enormously.

I was glad that one of the guests at least knew that his library (a Connecticut library, woo!) had ebooks–and that they weren’t compatible with the Kindle, since Amazon doesn’t seem to want to play nice with libraries–but I was so disappointed that the other guests weren’t aware of what their libraries had to offer them. And I feel like that’s one of the biggest challenges we face on a day-to-day basis; getting the word out about all of the genuinely awesome things that we do at the library seems like such an uphill battle.

(Tangentially related: my husband and I just finished watching the most recent season of The Amazing Race and I was flipping out when, in the final episode, the contestants were trying to figure out some clues to decipher where to go next and one team called Information and another one desperately looked for a way to do a Google search when all they needed to do was call a library!)

Anyway, as I was listening to this segment, I really wanted to call in and explain that yes! many libraries already have ebooks available for patrons to download either through their own collection development efforts or because they’re part of a consortium or because they have access to ebooks through their state library. But more than that, I wanted to tell America that yes! some libraries even have ebook readers available for patrons to check out! My library in particular has three Kindles, three Nooks, and three Sony Readers that patrons can check out with preloaded titles as well as one title of their choice for three weeks. But alas, before I could call in, they were moving on to the next segment.

And double alas, it seems that patrons are always asking in surprise, “Oh, we can borrow ereaders?” Advertising that the library does have this technology–and that patrons can use it to see if they like it–has been tricky. The problem often isn’t what the library does or doesn’t have; it’s whether or not anyone knows we have it.

But one library in our area that’s doing a great job demonstrating that it’s at the forefront of new book formats and changes in the way people read books is the Fairfield (CT) Public Library. They have this awesome technology petting zoo that’s highly visible where patrons can handle a Kindle, a Nook, a Sony Reader, and an iPad. Everything’s locked down and staff members are on hand to answer questions patrons have about the devices. Our director was so impressed with Fairfield’s tech petting zoo that we’re hoping–no promises, though, as this is still in the figure-it-out-first stage–we can develop one of our own.

Our patrons not only expect us to be tech-savvy; they also want (and sometimes need!) our guidance in figuring out how to use new technology and new devices, and just as we offer classes on different kinds of software or databases, we should also be demonstrating these devices. Having ereaders available in the library gives us the opportunity to do hands-on instructions with curious patrons, and letting patrons check them out gives them the opportunity to take them home and use them in a comfortable environment.

But we need to not just have ereaders available in the library or for checkout; we’ve also got to let people know that we have them, that we’re still relevant, that ebooks aren’t killing the library. And Fairfield’s tech petting zoo is such a great way to do that!

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4 Comments January 3, 2011

Over thirty years of librarianship: an interview with Phebe Kirkham

About a month ago the head of reference at my library announced that she’d be retiring at the end of the year. We have a very low turnover rate and Phebe had been with us for thirty years (!) and just did everything, so the idea that we would be losing her was shocking. Over the last few weeks, she’s imparted to our administration and reference staff everything she can about how she does her job and how the library works and today will be her last day with us.

Yesterday Phebe agreed to let me interview her about her time at the New Canaan Library and about the changes she’s seen in librarianship over her career. Here are the highlights.

Phebe first started working in libraries in 1972 when she got her first professional position as the Chatham County Librarian in North Carolina. Although she’d never worked in a library before that, she said that she always knew she wanted to be a librarian–although she originally envisioned herself working in rare books where she’d be able to combine her love of history (she has a bachelor’s degree in history, after all) with how much she enjoyed exploring and researching. In 1981 she began her tenure at the New Canaan Library, and today she’s the Head of Reference.

When I asked her what in her thirty years with us she was most proud of, she thought for a while and then responded, “The way we serve the population in this town. The way we answer their needs, challenge them, and brought new technology in.” And can I tell you how much I loved that answer? It’s not just one project, one accomplishment that stands out in her mind–it’s the service the library provides to the community.

One of the reasons I wanted to interview Phebe before she left is that I am so new to this field that I have no lived sense of what librarianship was like before the Internet changed things so much. I mean, I know about looking things up in card catalogs and how much original cataloging used to be done and that reference used to be incredibly different, but because I’ve grown up with computers so integrated into my life, I can’t really emotionally understand what librarianship used to be like. Phebe’s not just lived through a lot of changes–she’s been the one leading the library through those changes (she not only maintains the library’s Twitter feed but actually tweets on her own time!), and I wanted to be able to understand the perspective she’s been able to develop over all of those experiences and years.

So when I asked Phebe what the biggest change was she’d seen over the last thirty years, I wasn’t surprised that she responded, “Computers.” She said that they’ve not only completely changed the way we look for information: they’ve also completely changed the way we access the collection. Far from seeing technology as something that ruined libraries and their glory, she pointed out how much more convenient keyword searching is than using subject headings that might use vocabulary that’s completely different from what people are thinking about as they try to find a book. She also pointed to the OPAC as a great help since now we can look up a record and know that it is, in fact, checked out and not missing, and we can even tell patrons exactly when that book is due back. However, Phebe did say that she misses the interaction she used to have when they were doing homework, and she worries that they may not be getting the best information, adding, “We still know where there’s secret stuff they should have used!” (I love love love this sentence.)

In talking about technology and the Internet, there was one thing in particular that Phebe said that sort of surprised me–except that in thinking about it more, I suppose it shouldn’t. She mentioned that while Alice, our director, credits her with leading the charge to bring the Internet to the library, it was actually a much more gradual process that started with indexes being made available on CD-ROM and then those indexes later being available through the fledgling Internet. She also mentioned that as those technological advancements came to the library, the reference staff was always teaching classes about the new tools–and that kept the staff at the forefront of what was available.

When I asked about how librarianship generally had changed, Phebe continued to pull through the thread of technology, saying that librarians today need to be much more technologically savvy than their predecessors were. But she worries that some of us who are new to the field and who are so steeped in technology might be losing contact with old reference materials and techniques and things like just knowing in detail what’s going on in the local community and being able to connect patrons with those events and resources. She also pointed to the difference in how we seek information now: rather than a student sitting on the floor and paging through twenty books about the Civil War to find what he or she wants and occasionally running across interesting things he or she wasn’t expecting to find, students now do a Google search and if what he or she wanted doesn’t come up in the first two pages, the student just quits. She lamented that loss of browsing and serendipity–but did concede with a laugh that being able to just do a Google search was much faster!

I was also hoping that Phebe could identify some of the overarching values and practices in librarianship that hadn’t changed over her career. Phebe pointed out that patrons still want information–and they still need help finding it. She also said, “People still want a good book to read. Whether they read it on a Kindle or they listen to it through their headphones, they always want a good story.”

And just because you can’t do a retrospective without also looking to the future, I asked Phebe where she thought librarianship was going. She said that the library has much more become a community center–and stepped up to do things like be an emergency shelter during storms–and that programming has exploded. In light of that, Phebe predicted that the brick and mortar structure of libraries will remain, but what we do within those walls will continue to evolve. In fact, she thinks that “astonishing things will be going on inside.” (Another sentence that I love! I think I might turn that into a slogan. “Your library: astonishing things are going on inside!”) And at the end of this bit of our conversation, Phebe laughed and said that one innovation she hopes we’ll get soon are better laptop batteries or some sort of wireless electricity so that patrons won’t have to constantly be asking where they can plug in their laptops.

During our holiday party this year, our director said some lovely things about Phebe and where the library has gone under her direction, and when Phebe got up to accept her gifts, she talked about how hard our staff works and what an impact we have on the community. As she stepped down, she closed with the following: “We help people–and that’s all I ever wanted to do is help people.” We’re absolutely going to miss Phebe steering the library through all of the changes in society and in information in the years to come, but I think what we’ll miss most is her passionate dedication to helping everyone in the community.

This interview was mostly to satisfy my own curiosity about the changes to librarianship over the years; NCAdvertiser.com has a much better portrait of Phebe (including an actual photograph!). We–both the staff and the patrons at the library–really are going to miss her.

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4 Comments December 30, 2010

Some library tech notes: online catalogs, accessibility on mobile devices, tech vs info literacy, and digitized comics

Just a few quick links and thoughts about libraries and technology:

Online and mobile library accessibility
Fiona of A Work in Progress recently wrote about library catalogs and touched on how library catalogs online often don’t behave the way Google does in that if you don’t formulate your query exactly correctly, you may get zero results. Amazon and Google will correct misspellings or suggest alternate searches, but plenty of electronic library catalogs force you to figure it out yourself. Ross Singer’s super-long post at In the Library with the Lead Pipe from about a year ago examines some similar issues in user-friendliness and accessibility. Even I frequently Google a book title or look it up on Amazon if I’m not sure I know the author or if I’m not sure I’m spelling things right because using library catalogs can be such a hassle. I know that we’ve come so far from the cards-in-drawers model of a catalog (and the accessibility of records with that model), but as average users become more comfortable with computers and grow to expect search tools to behave like Google and Amazon, we need to be able to keep up.

One library that’s doing a great job with making the catalog (and the library in general) accessible and friendly is the San Jose Public Library, which recently launched its cross-platform mobile app. Sarah, the Librarian in Black, reports on the app’s features (including a smart search with predictive text, the ability to reserve and renew, access to magazines and newspapers, upcoming programming, and more!), reflects on working with Boopsie and the Apple Store, and emphasizes the importance of having a good mobile-friendly website above all else when it comes to mobile accessibility. What kinds of mobile access does your library offer? Do you have a mobile-friendly website? A mobile app? Do you offer reference via text? Notifications that holds are available via text? Access to periodicals and eBooks from users’ home computers? From their mobile devices? It’s hard to talk about what public libraries as a whole “should” do since there can be huge differences in the communities they serve, but for communities with patrons who are glued to their phones, mobile access is an important part of library access.

Technology literacy vs. information literacy
Last month one of Brian’s Reference Question of the Week posts at Swiss Army Librarian dealt with advanced Googling techniques. While Google is most people’s search engine of choice (they have about a 63% market share) and its suggested searches help correct mistakes like misspellings or adjust for alternate verb forms, there are still advanced tricks you can use to refine your searches. Search engines have come so far from their Boolean operator-bound roots (even I remember being taught how to use AltaVista in middle school!) and are a lot more user-friendly, but there’s still room for information and technology literacy skill instruction in using them. Google offers a cheat sheet that covers different operators, and their basic search help and more search help pages offer lengthier explanations of how to refine a search query. These can, of course, also be helpful for older users who may not be as comfortable with the Internet and need more assistance.

Brian links to a ReadWriteWeb report that claims that digital natives might not be as media-savvy as people think, citing a study that found that many students never went further than “it was the first result on Google” when assessing a website’s reliability. But it’s not all doom and gloom:

Another interesting finding from the study involved the use of Wikipedia. Perhaps because of teachers’ insistence over the years that the user-generated encyclopedia is not a credible source of information, only a third of the students used Wikipedia to search for answers when given particular tasks. This is a drop from earlier studies (like Raine & Tancer, 2007) which showed Wikipedia use at 46% among students.

Other popular trusted sources included SparkNotes (a study guide site), WedMD, Planned Parenthood, CNN, BBC, Microsoft (specifically Encarta and Office-related resources) and those sites with a .gov or .edu extension. Some students even thought that .org domain name meant a site was inherently trustworthy – they weren’t aware that the .org extension can be freely registered just like .com and is not for nonprofit use only, as may have originally been intended.

Technology literacy doesn’t automatically impart information literacy. Young people still need to be taught how to evaluate the veracity of a source–maybe even more than their parents did when they were growing up–and they are receptive to those lessons. Frank Wescott at Tech & Learning discusses using intentionally misleading websites (Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is my favorite!) to help students determine whether or not a website is a reliable source. Wikipedia’s recently published FAQ for librarians is also a good resource.

Digitized comics
And in more fun news (via Metafilter), the Digital Comic Museum is a collection of Golden Age comics that are now in the public domain and are free to download. Cool!

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1 Comment September 13, 2010

Miscellany: preservation at the Library of Congress, YA book cover design process, and more library videos

A photograph depicts a young woman leaning over to place a large roughly gun-shaped device against a very old book cradled in a stand. She works for the Library of Congress doing preservation research.

Rob Beschizza toured the the Preservation Research and Testing Division and the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center of the Library of Congress recently and posted gorgeous high-res photos (and a couple videos) and descriptions of a lot of the preservation technology on BoingBoing. He talks about both the preservation of old print materials and digital items–everything from the Gettysburg Address and the 500-year-old Waldseemüller world map to nitrate film and RCA Selectavision and DVDs–touching on some of the issues involved (damaging an item to learn about it, DRM, digitizing vs maintaining old technology) and explaining some of the different tools and the science of preservation. Preservation nerds will love this, but everyone should click through just to check out the photos.

A piece of strange, sad news: a public library in Dover, New Hampshire recently discovered 5,000 anti-public school bookmarks tucked into books in their collection; staff spent 30 hours removing all of them. The bookmarks espoused the ideals of the School Sucks Project and Freedomain Radio and were strategically placed in books in certain sections of the library. Other nearby libraries have also found the bookmarks in their own collections. And lest anyone think the library was trying to censor the School Sucks Project’s message,

Although Beaudoin said she didn’t want library patrons to think the library supported the messages on the bookmarks, she wouldn’t have denied a request to post a poster or literature on a public board or display.

But library policy prohibits the dissemination of information through bookmarks in books, she said.

“If I had found 5,000 bookmarks staying ‘Stop the oil spill in the Gulf,’ a message I think everyone can get behind, I still would have pulled them,” she said. “It’s not what it was about, but that the act was done.”

A long time ago I linked to a blog post by the designer of the cover of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ISLAND describing the design process and showing some of the alternate cover designs. If you liked that, a post on Jacket Whys collects some more examples of designers’ blog posts about YA book covers they’ve done.

Brigham Young University recently took a page from Old Spice’s book and put together this fantastic video, “New Spice: Study Like a Scholar, Scholar,” in which BYU student and comedian Stephen Jones extolls the virtues of studying at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library. So many elements of the Old Spice commercials are nailed so perfectly and it’s a great mix of silly and accurate and man I love this video.

And if you just can’t get enough library-related videos, the Huffington Post rounds up what they think are the nine funniest videos out there, including Librarians Do Gaga and Improv Everywhere’s recent video recreating the library scene from Ghostbusters.

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2 Comments July 20, 2010

Thoughts on Thomas Mann’s LIBRARY RESEARCH MODELS

I mentioned in my recent post for the YALSA blog that since I’m between jobs, I’m reading (among other things) more academic or intellectual library science textbook sorts of books to get some more of the theory in the field. I recently finished Thomas Mann’s LIBRARY RESEARCH MODELS: A GUIDE TO CLASSIFICATION, CATALOGING, AND COMPUTERS.

In it, Mann (a reference librarian at the Library of Congress) explains some of the mental models people use when approaching research in a library. He writes, “a large number of people tend to ask not for what they want, but for what they think they can get” (p6). So what people think the library is and has will shape what kinds of research questions they can ask. Knowing the different mental models people use lets us know what the blind spots in their research methods are and can help us point them toward sources that will make up for those resources they’ve missed.

He outlines five common models and proposes a sixth that he thinks libraries can implement to improve researchers abilities to find the information they need:

  1. With the Subject-Discipline Model, researchers have a list of resources specific to their subject. This allows deep research into a narrow field and promotes browsing but neglects interdisciplinary work and resources and precludes researchers from finding items that are classified and shelved somewhere else even though they’re about a related topic.
  2. The Library Science Model has three components: the classification scheme, a vocabulary-controlled catalog, and published bibliographies and indexes. It’s essential to use all three of these components; many people only know about the classification scheme (that is, they know about call numbers and physical arrangement of the library), but not using the other three components cripples this model.
  3. The Type-of-Literature Model is often taught in library school programs. The idea is that all fields have things like dictionaries and indexes and chronologies, so you need to determine the type of question that’s being asked, and that’ll tell you what kind of resource you need to consult. You don’t need subject experience; you just need to know what kind of resource you’re looking for. (The free-floating subdivisions in the Library of Congress Subject Headings system include things like –Dictionaries, so you can just browse by subject and then look for those subdivisions and you’ve found the resource you need.)
  4. The Actual-Practice Model is how most researchers actually approach their research: through a combination of browsing the shelves, talking to colleagues, following footnotes, and doing keyword searches on a computer. This isn’t systematic and researchers are often told that if they’re real scholars, they shouldn’t need a librarian’s help, so they don’t discover a lot of things the library has to offer.
  5. The Computer Workstation Model centers around what computers provide, including a digitized catalog, full-text searching, and being able to catalog journal articles with the depth that we do monographs (which was previously infeasible since you’d have to have multiple cards in a physical card catalog for every single journal article you held). But this model runs into problems with cost, predictability, feasibility, and preservation. (He goes into a lot of detail on this.)
  6. Since all of these models have benefits and drawbacks, Mann proposes the Method-of-Searching Model in which reference materials are arranged by how you search them:
    • Controlled-vocabulary searches
    • Keyword searches
    • Citation searches
    • Searches through published bibliographies
    • Searches through “people sources”
    • Computer searches
    • Related-records searches
    • Systematic browsing

    This model shows users that they have lots of search options, allows for point-of-use instruction, and is cross-disciplinary and cross-format.

But beyond just talking about these research models, Mann talks about other important issues in library work, like the Principle of Least Effort, which states that people do what’s easy even if it produces low-quality results, so we need to make the best way of accessing information the easiest.

He also points out that the presence of information does not guarantee access to that information. Imagine if libraries still arranged their books by the order in which they were purchased–it’d be impossible to find information on a specific subject without already knowing the contents of every single book the library owned. While that’s an extreme example, there are other cases in which we sometimes confuse information being available in the library with information being accessible to users.

Mann also argues that system design shouldn’t just be a technical problem: we also need to consider the behavior of the people using the system. And studying information-seeking behavior and implementing things based on those findings is a part of library science–one that’s often neglected.

But one of the most compelling parts of the book is when he talks about research in the age of computers when people think “everything” is available online, even though it really isn’t, and how the online research experience is different from the physical.

One of the simpler examples that he provides is that of doing keyword searches instead of using vocabulary-controlled subject headings. If you’re looking for information on the death penalty, you can search the library’s catalog for “death penalty” and turn up a lot of items. But what if the title (or table of contents or even full-text) of the item uses the term “capital punishment” instead? You’ll miss that book and it might have had what you needed. With a vocabulary-controlled list of subject headings and books that are cataloged with that system, you can find the subject heading you need (“Capital punishment”) and then get a list of every single book in the library on that subject, even if those books use different terms or are in another language altogether. You just cannot do that with keyword searching, and that’s why keyword searching is an avenue of access and not a system of access. It’s why we still need cataloging and classification. It’s why researchers using the library need to know how and why library systems work the way they do–and in a lot of cases need an expert in using those systems to help them find what they need.

Mann talks a lot more about what computers can provide that greatly expand research possibilities, but he reminds the reader that computers will never completely replace libraries, at least when it comes to doing deep research. (He also provides interesting parallels between what people predict will happen to libraries because of the rise of computers and what people thought would happen to libraries because of the advent of microfilm technology that I found very interesting.)

So while this book is most useful to academic or special librarians rather than public librarians, I still found it thought-provoking, and I found it especially useful because we didn’t really talk a lot about using LCSH to do research in my reference class and we didn’t talk a lot about why vocabulary control is important in my cataloging class (which apparently isn’t as uncommon as you’d hope–Mann bemoans the lack of familiarity with the Library Science Model even among graduates from library school programs).

So in Thomas Mann’s view, the responsibilities of librarians are these:

  1. Acquiring knowledge records
  2. Cataloging knowledge records
  3. Making resources available in a systematic manner
  4. Preserving knowledge records

We can use technology to help us achieve these aims, but we cannot abandon these as our responsibilities as information professionals because no one else is attending to them.

The only disappointment I had with this book was that it was published in 1993 and there haven’t been more recent editions. I think that Mann’s principles are solid and that his discussion of them is clear and helpful (I really like his writing style), but a lot has changed in the last seventeen years like Google’s ability to massage keyword searches (if you search for the singular, you get results with the plural; if you search for the infinitive form of a verb, you get conjugated forms back) and the lowered cost of online access (databases used to be accessible via telephone for a certain price per minute).

Even if the book hasn’t been updated, though, Mann is still advocating for sanity in technology use and a strong model of library research and I’d encourage you to read his stuff.

So although this book is most useful for people doing or assisting with more in-depth research, I think there are principles we can all take away and use. Namely,

  • There is a set of principles behind the way the library works. Knowing these principles and the rationale behind the systems we have make us better researchers and better librarians.
  • Information can and must be systematically classified, and having using systems of access to those classifications and catalogs is essential for research.
  • People’s expectations of the library shape what they’ll ask of it. We need to be attuned to how people perceive the library so we can help them fill in gaps in their expectations.
  • When we design library systems, we need to consider the expectations and behaviors of the people who will use them.
  • Online research has benefits over using physical resources (like the ability to do keyword searches on full-text documents), but it also has drawbacks. “Everything” is not available online and “everything” never will be available online.
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    4 Comments June 21, 2010

Miscellany: cakes, a calendar, a storefront library, and more

Graduation photos are starting to show up on Facebook; one of my classmates’ cake included a bookcart, and fellow SLIS-Indy alumna and Oath-swearer Shellie had a cake at her graduation party that was just books books books:

A photograph of a cake that looks like a stack of books. The books include the Intellectual Freedom Manual, Mockingjay, The Wind in the Willows, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Shellie's graduation cake

(I love her selection–she had me with MOCKINGJAY, but to have the whole pile topped off with the Intellectual Freedom Manual is the best!)

Cake Wrecks normally features reader-submitted photographs of cakes that have gone terribly wrong, but on Sundays, Jen features Sunday Sweets” cakes that are beautiful, clever, or well-constructed. This week she must have been getting our librarian graduation vibe: she showcased “Reading Sweets,” books modeled after or inspired by books. The featured books include the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings books, and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. About a year ago, Jen had a similar post, “Reading Rocks” with lots of Seuss and other children’s books.

The Swiss Army Librarian recently showed off a due date calendar made by Aunt June on Etsy. I love Brian’s idea to laminate them and sell them as fundraisers.

My husband and my mom both have iPads and it’s been fun to play with them and see the way the user interface and user experience have changed from the iPhone. While I think we’re still figuring out how libraries can use things like the Kindle and the iPad, it’s interesting to see what experiences people are coming up with for books on the iPad. Penguin shows off their vision of interactive books, but even more awesome is Alice for the iPad.

Former supermodel and talkshow host Tyra Banks will be writing a fantasy series about an academy of super-elite models known as Intoxibellas. The first book, MODELLAND, will be out in summer 2011. While the reaction at Bookshelves of Doom is disappointment? horror? exasperation? I don’t think it’s surprising. America’s Next Top Model is still going strong (it’s in cycle 14 now and has been renewed through the 16th and it’s the CW’s top show) and Tyra has been moving through different media (reality television, music, her talkshow, and now books) trying to capitalize on her fame. With such a Tyra following among teens, tweens, and young twenty-somethings, of course a publisher is going to agree to release her books. The only question is, will you buy them for your library? (Related: did you know that former supermodel and ANTM judge Paulina Porizkova wrote a book about a young girl in the modeling world, A MODEL SUMMER? It is for grownups, though.)

The Boston Public Library closed its Chinatown branch in 1956. Tired of waiting for the library system to respond to community demand for a library, Leslie and Sam Davol (of Boston Street Lab) and Amy Cheung created the Chinatown Storefront Library, a collection of donated books, computers, programming, and space that was open for three months at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010. While it was always intended to be temporary, a second iteration will be open this fall for a projected two years. As Rebecca Miller wrote, “Perhaps most significant, the project offered real alternative insight into how to give the community a place to land and learn when full library service is out of reach.”

Way back when I was first starting this blog, I wrote about library service areas in Indiana. The State Library recently updated that data and provided a new map of those service areas. A few of the contract areas were dropped, but other previously unserved areas are now covered under contracts. While I’ll be leaving the state soon, I hope everyone at the State Library will continue to work hard to get every Hoosier access to a library.

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1 Comment May 17, 2010

Patsy Allen on corporate librarianship

On Friday we had our third and final ALISS Luncheon Lecture of the semester. Patsy Allen, an IU SLIS grad and the research librarian at Roche Diagnostics, talked to us about her career as a corporate librarian.

She actually began as a part-time contractor before her position was developed into a full-time one four years later. When Roche was creating the position, there was a lot of debate about what to call the position before they finally settled on “Research Librarian.” Many people in the company handle information of some sort, so they wanted what she is available for to be very clear. She said that some of the older employees didn’t like the name because they still regard librarians as the shushing guardians of the stacks, but that the younger employees who were being hired straight out of school were excited to know that Roche had a librarian for them to come to with their information needs.

Patsy described her position as being “a solo librarian in a global environment” since she’s the only librarian in a company that employs thousands of people. Employees of Roche ask her to find articles and papers, patent data, and lots of other highly specialized information to assist them with their research in biology, chemistry, and engineering, mostly via email (which can be tricky when she’s trying to tease out exactly what a client needs!).

Her manager isn’t a librarian (he works with patent information), so she has a lot of autonomy in her work, which she said she really enjoys. Like Ellen Summers of the NCAA Library, Patsy emphasized the importance of the Special Libraries Association in feeling connected to the profession and having other librarians to help her, although she did point out that corporate librarian positions can be radically different from one company to another. She also talked about how important continuing education is for her, whether it’s through courses at a university or seminars through SLA.

She talked a little bit about how she can’t talk about a lot of her work. Since she works for a corporation that does scientific research, she’s privy to a lot of information that she can’t disclose. The work Roche does is also highly regulated, which introduces further restrictions on what she can talk about. Patsy also talked about the importance of professional integrity: while she may know that two people are working on the same sort of project based on the questions they’re asking her, she can’t tell them about each other.

Patsy spends a lot of energy monitoring copyright issues and explaining them to her clients. Many of them come from an academic environment and are used to being able to pass information to other colleagues fairly freely under the Fair Use guidelines, but copyright rules in a corporate environment are much more restrictive. The general guideline she gives clients is “assume the answer is ‘no’ unless I tell you otherwise.” She also showed us some of the different levels of permission different publishers grant for copying and distributing articles–some allow only paper copies to be made while others allow for electronic copies to be distributed. Roche can be sued by a publisher if an article is posted to the company intranet without permission, so complying with copyright restrictions is really important, and she’s the primary person to educate employees on what they may and may not do. The library also won’t order reports for employees since it requires the recipient to sign off on how they’ll be using the document. She’ll get a client a complete citation, but their department must be the one to order it. She also has to be careful about exactly what she advises people to do, since in Indiana offering legal advice counts as practicing law, which you can’t do unless you’re a lawyer.

Patsy also talked about some of the tools she uses in her work including Medline, Embase, Biosis, SciSearch, Current Contents, ScienceDirect, Wiley InterScience, Google and Google Scholar, PubMed, OCLC FirstSearch, FDA, EBSCOhost Databases, and other STM, business, and legal resources. She said that she works to be really proactive in constantly scanning the media and news alerts and blogs for items of interest and then forwarding them on to clients who might find the information useful before they even ask for it or need it. She said that this not only reminds them of the library’s usefulness but also gives her a chance to show potential new clients what the library can do for them.

Despite Roche being on the cutting edge in their industry, they are by necessity technologically cautious in some ways. Since Roche is a gigantic company, they need to be reserved in how quickly they adopt new technology and new versions of software, so she’s trying to make do with Internet Explorer 6 and old versions of other software packages. She’s also lost her physical library: she used to work in a room full of books but was moved to a cubicle with a computer and a book cart. While lots of information–especially the most recent of research–is available online and she does conduct most of her correspondence via email, she said that she missed being in a proper library.

Although the slow adoption of new technology and constant assessment of copyright compliance seemed at times exasperating, Patsy said that she loves her job. Since she’s helping clients with their scientific research, she learns new things every day just by seeing that information go by. She did emphasize knowing one’s limits in a special library and being able to tell clients that what they wanted was too advanced for her to do, but that she could put them in touch with another person or resource that could help them. Her job is fast-paced and she never knows on a given day what she’ll see thrown at her and she loves being kept on her toes. She also mentioned the social aspect of her job, pointing out that her life isn’t just research and information all day long, but that there’s a human element, an opportunity to help people and to teach them. The analogy she provided was that of being an information bartender–I think that’d be a great thing to put on a business card!

Patsy closed with a quotation from Neil de Grasse Tyson that’s appropriately scientific but also blends with the librarian’s life:

In life and in the universe,
may your signal be high
and your noise be low.

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4 Comments April 26, 2010

Links: girls on book covers, a Twilight novella, and the Lambda Literary Awards

I wrote a little earlier on the depiction of larger female characters on book covers and touched on the “disembodied parts” look that seems popular on books intended for girls. Karl of Txt-based Blogging wrote a post on the depiction of boys vs. girls on YA book covers (inspired by Codes of Gender, which I watched earlier this year!), concluding that, as in most media depictions, girls and women are shown as passive and off-balance whereas boys and men are given more active, strong poses. He posted a link to this post on YALSA-bk and it generated quite a bit of discussion. What do you think?

Last week it was announced that Stephanie Meyer would be releasing a 200-page “novella,” THE SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER, in June. One dollar of every $13.99 purchase will go the American Red Cross. If you’re reading this for yourself and not buying it for a library, I second Leila’s suggestion at Bookshelves of Doom to read the free downloadable version and donate more than $1 to your charity of choice instead. She suggests Kiva and I encourage Heifer International, but mostly I just want our money to go somewhere meaningful, wherever you decide that is.

Did you see OCLC’s announcement earlier this week about an iPhone app, pic2shop, that lets users scan book barcodes and then see which local libraries have the book? I know that this won’t benefit all library patrons and that the digital divide is very real, but it’s still a neat way to get people who do have iPhones to consider the public library when they’re looking for a book–and for libraries to keep their WorldCat records up to date.

The finalists for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award were announced earlier this month; since 1989 the award has recognized “the finest lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans literature available in the United States.” Miriam at Feministing has a writeup with some thoughts on the categories in which awards are given.

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Leave a Comment April 4, 2010

A visit to Eckhart Public Library

I’ve written a little bit about my directed readings course this semester that I’m doing with Andrea Japzon and four other students in the program. On Saturday we took a trip up to the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana to see their collections, work out some details of the project, and share our best practices research.

The William H. Willennar Genealogy Center
We started at the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center where we met Gregg Williamson, the Manager of Genealogical Services (and a SLIS-Indy grad!), who gave us a tour of their building. We started off with the print collection, which has the largest collection of genealogy materials dealing with DeKalb County, and includes yearbooks for local schools dating back to 1905, family histories for local families, phone books, and individual files of research people have done on their own families. They also have a large microfilm collection of local newspapers, microfilm readers and scanners, and computer stations where patrons can use online resources to do genealogy research.

The seating space in the main room of the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center at the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana. Photo taken by Erin Milanese.

The seating space in the main room of the Genealogy Center. Photo by Erin Milanese.

The shelving area for the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center at the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana. Photo taken by Erin Milanese.

Part of the print collection. Photo by Erin Milanese.

Gregg then took us through the staff workspace and talked about the people who work at the Genealogy Center (they’re mostly part-time employees and volunteers) and showed us the basement archive and the permanent archive upstairs. The basement archive is mostly local newspapers; some date back to the 1800s, but the collection also includes recent issues as well. As Gregg explained it, we’re very fortunate to have those two hundred-year-old papers, and people two hundred years from now are only going to have resources like that if we save current newspapers now.

A shot of archival boxes in the basement of the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center at the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana. Photo taken by Erin Milanese.

Archival boxes in the basement archive. Photo by Erin Milanese.

The Genealogy Center has a lot of really cool technology and tools; one of the ones I found the most interesting was the microfilm camera. EPL still sends some of its things out to be microfilmed since it’s such a labor-intensive process and they do depend so heavily on volunteer work, but there are some items that they scan themselves. I can’t remember what the exact claim to fame was, but this may be one of the only microfilm scanners in a public library in Indiana. It was something really impressive like that.

The microfilm camera at the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center at the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana. Photo taken by Erin Milanese.

EPL's microfilm camera. Photo by Erin Milanese.

The upstairs archive is the permanent archive and contains records that are available upon request but aren’t immediately available to the public (e.g., old gradebooks from local schools). We had a short but interesting conversation about balancing privacy and access; Gregg said that rather than siding with archivists who’d be more interested in privacy and protection of the physical materials, he tends to err on the side of making things open to people, reasoning that it’s a public library, so their holdings should be open to the public. He did say that there are some things that aren’t available to the public at all because of privacy concerns, like old library card registrations from earlier decades that include people’s names and addresses.

We also got to check out the digitization lab. Alaina Ring is in charge of the metadata for the library’s photo archive and database and she walked us through the creation of a database record. The digitalization lab has some neat technology, too, including a 35mm slide scanner, and what’s really cool about it is that it’s open to the public. They’ve done a lot of grant writing to build their collection and the tools they have available to them. It’s really impressive.

Two computer workstations in the digitization lab in the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center at the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana. Photo taken by Erin Milanese.

Two of the computer workstations (and the slide scanner) in the digitization lab. Photo by Erin Milanese.

This trip also gave us all a chance to better understand the specifics of and our own roles in this project. The Genealogy Center already has an extensive collection of photographs and documents, but most of it is of historical materials–which makes sense, since the people who use the Genealogy Center are doing research into their family’s history or into local history in general. But in the same way that Gregg is saving local newspapers now for the researchers of the future, Andrea wants to start saving the digital content of today for the researchers of tomorrow.

What we’re hoping to do with this project is to target some people whose stories reflect what’s going on in the community now: the woman who owns a local cafe, a teenager growing up in Auburn, a prominent politician, the factory worker who recently got laid off because of the economic downturn. We’ll solicit from them real and digital objects that represent their lives in the community and then figure out how to ingest that content into the library’s digital collection (or find a home for it at the DeKalb History Center or return it to its owner after scanning or photographing it). We’d also like to collect oral histories (maybe even on video) and find a way to include those in the library’s database. After an initial pilot program this year, we’re hoping to expand the project to include more community members in future years, and to promote the collection during Auburn Pride Week.

Andrea’s big on co-created community resources and on knowledge exchanges, so since we (both we students and the public library) are learning from community members with this project, we’ll also be doing workshops this summer to give some knowledge back to the community. The library’s done programs before on creating scrapbooks and preserving photographs and they’ve brought in outside speakers to talk about preserving digital information, but we’re hoping to build on what they’ve done before to help teach people about collecting, organizing, and preserving their digital content. We’ll also do workshops on privacy and copyright issues when dealing with digital content.

During our discussions, I was thinking about the different people we’re going to recruit for the pilot program and it really struck me how people of different ages understand digital content in completely different ways. Most teenagers are very at home in a digital world and are very nearly swimming in digital content. But maybe there’s also an older person in the community who doesn’t have his own computer and comes to the library to check his email where his granddaughter has sent photos from her latest birthday party. He understands those digital photographs that just live in his inbox in a totally different way than the teen understands the photos he texts to his friends. I think I’d like to learn more about that.

Now that I’ve got a more detailed idea of how the People of Auburn project is going to go and I’ve actually seen the physical facilities and gotten to know the library a little bit, I’m even more excited about this project. I have to admit that normally I find genealogy and archives only mildly interesting, but the more Gregg showed us on Saturday, the more interested I got. They’ve got so many unusual and unique resources and technology. I’m also very excited about the team we have assembled for this project!

A group photo of five of the six people from IUPUI working on the project plus two library employees. Photo by EPL's Gretel.

Back row: Andrea Japzon, Erin Miller Milanese, Gretchen Kolderup, Alaina Ring, Gregg Williamson. Front row: Katie Nakanishi, Eve Grant. Not pictured: Angela Slocum. Photo by EPL's Gretel.

Eckhart Public Library is unusual in that it actually comprises three separate buildings all on the same street. We conducted most of our business on Saturday at the Genealogy Center, but we also visited the main library building and the teen library. Oh yes, EPL has a completely separate building for its teens–and it’s totally awesome. It’s open after school and on the weekends and it’s got comfortable furnishings, really striking light fixtures, computers, and a space for programming and games. Adults are only allowed in for fifteen minutes at a time if they’re not accompanied by a teen. When we walked into the building, the teens sitting at the computers turned around to stare at us; Darcy, the librarian I talked to, said that’s one of the things the teens like best about having their own space, feeling like they belonged and anyone else was an outsider. She did acknowledge that sometimes the people in adult services were too quick to send teens away from the main library building but said that overall, having their own space was great. I was impressed with how current their fiction collection was and how large their non-fiction collection (homework resources and teen-interest stuff like gaming guides and yoga books and things like that) was. I think it’s really important for teens to have their own space in the library–and it’s even better when they can have a space where they aren’t constantly being told to keep their voices down.

The Third Place, the teen library at the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana. Photo taken by Erin Milanese.

The outside of the Third Place, EPL's teen library. Photo by Erin Milanese.

We also visited the main library building, which was built in 1911 and is on the National Register of Historic Places and has a lot of interesting touches. It was originally going to be a Carnegie building, but Charles Eckhart, a local businessman, said he’d build the library on the condition that the contract with Carnegie be severed. The library has a fountain in the yard outside, stained glass windows, and a fireplace. It’s very comfortable and it really feels like a homey place the community can gather.

The snow-covered fountain on the grounds of the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana. Photo taken by Erin Milanese.

The fountain outside the main library. Photo by Erin Milanese.

A stained glass window and bookshelves with books in the main library building of the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana. Photo taken by Erin Milanese.

Stained glass and bookshelves in the main library building. Photo by Erin Milanese.

I also took a trip downstairs to check out the children’s area. They have puppets and toys available for checkout and their storytime room is decorated with a Secret Garden theme and has an adjacent room with kid-sized tables for craft time. I was so impressed with the creative touches throughout the whole library. It seems like a really fun place to be able to go!

The story room at the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, Indiana is decorated with a Secret Garden theme. This photograph shows the leafy tree built into one wall of the room. Photo taken by Erin Milanese.

A tree in the storytime room in the children's department. Photo by Erin Milanese.

EPL has internship opportunities available for SLIS-Indy students. If you’re interested in working in the Genealogy Center processing materials for the digital collection, in the teen library, for information services, or in technical services, email Gregg Williamson. Don’t forget that internship applications are due to Marilyn Irwin in the SLIS office by 15 March for the summer semester and 15 July for the fall semester.

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8 Comments March 2, 2010


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