Friday, October 12, 2012

Al Que Quiere

What has caught my attention this week?

Writing with Miles Davis

Aaron Gilbreath, questioning the value of lengthy, extended and verbose sentences in prose, holds up Miles's economical playing as a model for writing.  Miles was famously quoted, "Play what's not there," and the author offers several musical examples  "show how measured, uncluttered phrasing increases rather than decreases the impact," and explores how other writers effectively communicate a lot through brevity.  (Contrast this with John Coltrane, Miles's bandmate during the 1950s; "Once in a while Miles might say, 'Why did you play so long, man?' and John would say, 'It took that long to get it all in.'" Quoted in Jack Chambers, Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis.)
(Source: Monica McCarthy)

How Studying Body Language Changed the Way I Socialize

Phil Dhingra, a former game company employee, now mobile app developer, describes how a former boss taught him empathy through observing others' body language, understanding context and the unsaid, and learning to get away from the conditioned response.
(Source: Hacker News)

Study faults most colleges and universities for not having stronger general education requirements

Evidently college students don't succeed on tests measuring general knowledge, which is another quality employers seek along with technical skills.  In other words, people who are culturally literate.  
(Source: Academic Impressions)
Related: And while we're at it, a Census Bureau publication reports the correlation between college major choice and earnings. 
(Source: Inside Higher Ed)

Data Scientist: the Sexiest Job of the 21st Century

Hard to imagine?  The sought after employee appears to be someone mastering computer programming/development and statistics, with doors opening in business, health and medicine and life sciences, or even in settings and careers we haven't yet imagined.  

QR Codes: A Back Door for Malware

Too bad.  They're fun, actually, with a mobile and an app to scan and read.
 (Source: Academic Impressions)

Pay it forward and paying tribute: talking to undergraduates at my alma mater

A fine piece by Bonnie Swoger, science librarian and blogger, telling how she talked to students about her career in libraries and honored one of her professors at a festschrift. 
(Source: Bora Zikovic)

What i was born for

Lindsey Mead, one of my favorite writers, quotes a marvelous Mary Oliver poem reflecting the themes of  awareness and reading. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"C'est la vie say the old folks"

Helping my friend Carol, who is in her sixties, buy a computer, brought back memories of my boss, another sexagenarian, and assisting her to navigate her PC (this was back in the mid '90s.) What seemed for me then and now to involve quick mouse movements or keyboard macros to accomplish a task (cutting and pasting text, opening and closing an application, switching between windows on the desktop,) caused some degree of bewilderment to both women. Things I take for granted cause others anxiety and frustration.   I found it hard to explain what I was doing in simple steps.  In my friend's case we opted to buy a mouse since the touchpad on the laptop enervated her.  All she wants to do is write verse using a word processor, and perhaps send her literary output to her sister via email, while at the same time she does have some curiosity about the online world, particularly online music.  No simple machine, however, presented itself, and most everything we looked at required additional software or hardware to accomplish what she wants. 

Then there are many older people who have no problem with technology for a variety of reasons, many having acquired some facility through everyday professional use.  My mother, a career reference librarian is a great example, and in her early working years dumb terminals were just beginning to appear.  She has a wide knowledge of internet resources and curiosity about social media sites and tools.  And from what I see on Twitter and Facebook there are many like her. 

But what about the people coming to our libraries to use a computer for the first time to fill out a job application or a government form or set up an email account?  Maybe they get some assistance from us or they avail themselves of a class at a particular time, but what they encounter on the computer screen must make no sense at all, never mind small print and unfriendly web design and inexcusable information architecture (let's not get started down that road.)  Librarians who navigate internet sites on a daily basis take for granted what mystifies relative newcomers to say, Yahoo, for instance, trying to attach a Word file to an email or verify that something was saved or sent, all new and mysterious to one library user who I helped with his email account to accomplish similar tasks.

You may wonder, if our libraries provide the computers pretty much as is, and due to staffing limitations must ration support to patrons (and a recent survey indicates many rely on libraries for computer access, ) then what?  Maybe these technology "newbies" are doing and will continue to do just fine and don't need our help.  Maybe they have to do it our way or the way it is now and catch up and get with the program.  Granted, among our libraries there is so much variation, from resource-rich to comparatively resource-poor, well-funded to under-funded, busy and less personal to a small staff/patron ratio and more personal service.  Maybe we don't want to know what our patrons are doing online, maybe it's a question of privacy and allowing some space, or maybe I will be asked a question about some application I don't have experise with and feel stupid and exposed.  And yet I sense that our future may lie in facilitating patron use of technology, in ways we may not have even encountered.  This might not sit well with some of my colleagues who prefer to provide a comparatively wholesale rather than a retail service operation, from perhaps the concern that giving too much attention to any one patron will cause others to demand the same and overwhelm the staff.   However, if we don't help those in need, where will our advocates be when our funding and space are at stake and through lack of tears the atmosphere is arid and the silence high frequency?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Open to the unknown

 (Cross posted to Quit Taking It Personally. Sorry if anyone is offended by the duplication.)

Today's #Trust30 prompt by Jonathan Fields asks: “What alternative opportunities, interpretations and paths am I not seeing?” In a field facing potentially drastic changes, librarianship, this is extremely relevant for me. So rather than defining myself as a librarian or information specialist, person, whatever it is, I have to ask, what do I like to do, what am I good at, what new abilities might I want to acquire? Maybe I don't know the answers to any of these questions right now.

Take computing. I had great difficulty using a computer when I was younger, had to rely on help from my father to pass a math course, or from more skilled peers just to type a college essay into a word processor. I knew nothing of commands or programming, could barely play games even, and for me a computer was little more than a sophisticated typewriter.

This all changed with the world wide web, software developed to browse it and information placed on remote servers for me to find using these tools to help me in my library work and answer questions for the people I served as well as for my own personal interest. And all this was completely unknown to me several years before, I could not have conceived of it, even as others were working hard to turn it into reality. And what followed has been a long fascination with information discovery on the internet. Finding. I think of the Latin word invenio, I find, I come upon, from which comes our word "invent."

So the path for me in the future may or may not involve a library building. It may involve skills used in finding and organizing and presenting information, connecting people with people and information, or it may be something I haven't even thought or heard of. My colleague Bill Mayer is known to say that the distinction between the library and IT in organizations or the distinction between the library and the network is dissolving. In a place, be it a business, educational institution or municipality, where these things are conundrums, this can present an opportunity for someone interested in information and knowledge, making things accessible for people and putting them to use. And I once worked with a scientist who told me it was my job to make myself obsolete, and if I did, and did it well, there would potentially be other opportunities and rewarding work for me. I believe he is right.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Follow up on the video culture

Considering yesterday's hit and run post on video games and libraries, here are a few more thoughts (in another quick and dirty post).

I don't heed the studies that purport to show negative effects of video games on youths, that they become aggressive or socially isolated or addicted.  The studies seem to be inconclusive, contradictory, and one has to question the methods, the sample size, it may still be too early to know the effects.  I'm interested in Jane McGonical's point about World of Warcraft containing enough crowdsourced information to rival Wikipedia, as she describes in her TED talk.  How could we apply gaming principles or activities to resource creation and development on a similar level?  Maybe this has been attempted with Second LifeJenny blogged more about gaming and libraries fairly recently, also David Lee King. Other's thoughts?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Likes games

Notice of an event at ALA, via 8bitlbrary, came through my  ews reader recently, describing best practices on video game collection. The emphasis is on public libraries but why not other kinds of libraries developing an interest in this phenomenon?  For example, check out the University of Illinois' Gaming Initiative, featuring material on gaming research, gaming resources and careers using gaming technology. Or consider the MASS Digital Games Institute, launching at Becker College and including a partnership with Massachusetts and companies from the game industry.  An article from earlier this year in Fast Company demonstrates how we're already playing video games with many of the apps we use for health and other information uses.  There's also a TED talk by Jane McGonical, Director of Game Research and Developement at the Institute for the Future,  discussing applications of games to real world problem solving.  What can we bring to the table?  Can we collaborate with gamers for library apps?  Provide information and data infrastructure?  Thoughts? 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Confession of a librarian

I have a confession to make, even as I'm a librarian with twenty years plus experience in the field.

I'm a terrible reader.

It takes me forever to finish a book.

And there are huge gaps in my learning, "classics" I've never read, contemporary works many of my colleagues and acquaintances know that I haven't cracked.  I look at my bookshelves (well all my books are in storage now) wistfully thinking there are many titles I may never read.  And I still buy a few more, but not like in my younger years when I would think this is something I will want to read, or this is something I should read, or get this edition before they muck it up with a barcode (imagine.)

And for the most part, I am not inconvenienced by not having a book at hand.  That's where libraries come in for me and it's astounding how much is available on the web from the Gutenberg Books Project to the Internet Archive to what's just been uploaded anyhow (especially poetry, can often find what I want on another person's blog.)  And I'm not ashamed to admit that I haven't read something.  I can learn from someone who has, or put it down to read for a later that may or may not arrive.

So it is with a little amusement that I read, via Alison A, on the WebJunction LinkedIn group, that an article was published in Wired pointing out the shortcomings of ebooks at the present time.   I admire ebook technology (even as I don't have an ereader myself, except for the free app that comes with the iPhone, which leaves something to be desired, but what do I know, really).  Being able to store a library of books in a device or even just a full number is cool.  But I don't even make time for print books (or dead tree books as I hear from Shirl and others.)  What would I do with it?   Carry around more books to not read?

At the same time, as a librarian pointing people to tools and information, it is incumbent upon me to learn as much as I can about ebooks and ereaders to provide access and solve problems.  It is an evolving technology.  (See the WebJunction group for a lively discussion of preferred ereaders, and Paula Hane's overview of free ebook and ereader software sources.)

And when I reflect on my reading life, the books that have stayed with me are few, that is I can recall much of what I read and certain phrases or incidents well, mostly through rereading.  And rereading again I surprise myself that the text is different from what was in my memory.  How little I know.  I think of Gombromowicz's Ferdydurke, his description in the fourth chapter of the author's toil and ultimately the reader's distraction: "Might not just a phone call, or a fly interrupt his reading precisely at the point where all individual parts unite in a dramatic resolution ... Is this why we construct a whole, so that a particle of a part of the reader will absorb a particle of a part of the work, and only partly at that?"  Yes, this rings true with me, who reads much online and scans mostly at that. Then there are the words of Ecclesiastes.

Nobody has to read anything, but if I do, and remember it, and even act on it, I can gain something and help others, potentially.  And as far as the technology, the gain and the loss, I think of a book I didn't read but saw the movie version, No Country for Old Men, the old sheriff tells Tommy Lee Jones, "You can't stop what's coming."  And I can't, can only make the best of the situation, today and in the future.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Librarians as thought leaders

Learned of an intriguing project, via Twitter?, today, TEDxLibrariansTO (as distinguished from TED, I'm told,") calling for videos to discuss the theme "Librarians as thought leaders."  The key word is inspiration.  So what breathes life into me and how can I breathe life into others?  And what's a thought leader? 

As a model,the site offers Library 101 video by David Lee King and Michael Stephens.  I have to admire these gentleman for putting it out there and availing themselves of rock, punk and rapper styles, rapid-fire imagery and polished production.  They tell us what libraries should have but not necessarily how to get it or incorporate it.  "We're still about books, meeting rooms and story hours," they sing (or something to that effect,) but incorporation of social tools and collaborative spaces are the direction they advocate.  How will this work?  I'm starting at a college where many students I'm told don't have smartphones, let alone laptops.  Getting more computers into library spaces is important, but what kind of machines, and for what use?  For this college, there has to be a larger conversation about technology.  Where do the faculty want to go with it.  How can the library facilitate learning and collaborative spaces such as have been created here and here and here and here and here.  I'm indebted to Bill Mayer for this information.)  All involve creative use of space for technology, "flexible" environments, places for teaching, for students to work together on projects, try out new or unfamiliar software, all connected somehow to the library where they may otherwise be disinclined to venture.

Does scholarship matter any more?  What is scholarship, other than asking appropriate questions to gain insight, and maybe even scholarship practice is evolving.  How to accommodate it and support it? 

Maybe there is no one right way, but many ways, many futures, many skills evolving into many abilities.  Know what I can do, know what I need to learn, know what I want, and reach out and accept help.

Maybe the thought leader intention is for librarians to direct the conversation, articulate values, rather than be subject to decisions of larger institutions, municipalities. Another aspect of adapting to the future?