March 20, 2006

Ten Ways to Lose Your Techie Librarians

There's an interesting thread that has been spreading throughout several blogs in the last few days about how not to treat your techie librarians. Michael started us off here, and followed up with an update that points to some other conversations taking place around this topic.

Because I work at a library and information studies school, I regularly get to chat with librarians-to-be. Given that I’m a fairly new librarian myself, I’m often asked about what's involved in becoming a techie librarian. I've been mulling over the ten ways lists and thinking about how these very frank and honest insights gleaned from years of collective experience might be helpful to LIS students who are getting ready to embark on the job hunting process. Even though the spin is not, ahem, particularly positive, lists like these can be hugely beneficial to a new librarian who doesn’t have past job experiences to rely on when interviewing the interviewer, so to speak. An employer’s willingness and/or ability to speak to issues such as these can provide valuable insight into the culture of a given place and their attitude toward technology and innovation more generally.

As far as my thoughts on the matter, there is something that is both interesting and very bothersome to me: the tendency to think that ‘technology’ is a recent, newfangled addition to libraries and the work that we do. It’s not. Technology in the broadest sense comprises the tools we employ to provide services to our users, whether that involves creating mash-ups for a digital library or an incredibly sophisticated card catalogue system, many years ago. I just don’t get it when people value one over the other (see Rochelle’s excellent post Standing on the Shoulders of Giants for some observations on just this thing) given the resources available at the time.

Sure, the technological landscape has changed a lot, and yes it requires new skill sets (after all, I’m not trying to write myself out of a job!), and yes we need systems librarians to do their thing and keep libraries on top cutting edge technological and digital advances. But just as we should all share in the recognition that ‘technology’ has played throughout the history of this profession, we should all also share in the ongoing responsibility for keeping current in the profession and maintaining currency in the tools of the trade: i.e. basic technological competencies.

So I guess what I’m saying in a very roundabout way is that one sure way of losing your techie librarians, the ones whose responsibilities extend beyond basic tech competencies, is to dump everything and anything having any kind if technical implication on them, because this a happy techie librarian does not make.

Posted at 6:37 PM| Permalink

November 16, 2005

I want my long tail

I can see that I'm going to have to start a new category called 'misc rants.' I've just read that Fox, in all of its infinite wisdom, has cancelled Arrested Development, one of the funniest (and one of my favourite) shows on the air. Yes, an Emmy Award-winning show is getting the axe in its third season after much critical acclaim due to poor ratings (i.e. not making enough money for FOX). Of course this is to be expected in an industry built upon pure profit and not necessarily what its viewers (at least some of them) want. Then to top it off, I discover that LUSH has cut the three products (1, 2, 3) that I buy regularly. Grrrrrrrrr . . .

Maybe this is one of the reasons why I love libraries so much: they facilitate access to the 'good stuff': things that don't necessarily rise to the top of popularity ratings which are fuelled by profit margins, majority rule and Oprah. I'm not being naive, and I realize that there are huge problems and pitfalls involved in the way that library collections are built. But there is definitely more of the tail to be discovered and enjoyed in libraries.

Posted at 1:07 PM| Permalink

August 9, 2005

On process & procedures . . . and the merits of 'mixing it up'

I just love Creating Passionate Users, if not only for the witty cartoons. The writing tends to, ummm, cut to the chase, if you will. It is thoughtful and articulate, even with the occasional addition of some colourful language : )

The latest posting, When process goes bad, is no exception. The argument is not a new one, and certainly not new to the libraryland blogosphere.


"So... think about your policies and systems and procedures and process. I have this terrible fear that I'm going to be doing the same thing -- justifying staying with a production process -- even when it would be better for the user (or the author) to allow for more creativity, flexibility, and change. If today's business mantra is "change or die", we should all be looking for ways to make sure we don't fall asleep in the comfort of our working systems. And boy do I know how seductive those comfort zones can be..."

It's definitely worth a read!

Posted at 9:34 AM| Permalink

August 5, 2005

Editorial rules to be enforced on Wikipedia?

Reuters reports that the founders of Wikipedia are considering measures that will tighten up the editorial process in an effort to prevent "vandalism of its content."

"There may soon be so-called stable contents. In this case, we'd freeze the pages whose quality is undisputed."

Hmmmm . . . the concept of 'stability,' especially when applied to knowledge and information, can be preeeeetty slippery. The article does discuss the idea of creating a 'commission' that would be charged with deciding when entries should be frozen, and thereby bringing forth a less top-heavy approach to deciding on stability than could otherwise be chosen. In addition to its collaborative nature, one of the most promising and exciting aspects of Wikipedia is (IMHO) the fluidity afforded to the information that lives there. Wikipedia is a model for an alternative representation of how thoughts, ideas and facts are constructed and disseminated, and moves away from the concept of capital 'K' knowledge (though this is also precisely what many folks object to). How do we know when a 'fact' is stable and when its fate should be sealed in perpetuity? How do you know that a given definition or explanation is undisputed? That's a tough call, and I'd love to learn more about how Wikipedia plans to resolve that very issue, because to me it flies in the face of the very fundamentals of what Wikipedia represented to me.

Posted at 12:13 PM| Permalink

May 16, 2005

The (sad) State of Entry Level Jobs in Librarianship

/* begin rant

If you haven't yet read the LJ article The Entry Level Gap by Rachel Holt and Adrienne L. Strock, you should. It's a sobering look at the much-debated issue of (non)availability of jobs in LIS. Much-debated indeed. So much so that I finally had to cancel my subscription to NEXGENLIB-L because it was, well, becoming overwhelming if not depressing.

I was spoon-fed the library job hype all while attending library school from 2000-2002. In fact, it was one of the preeminent marketing tools used to recruit people into the program, and the 'hype' simply doesn't bear out. The article focuses on the US, and I would also argue (anecdotally, of course) that the situation is even worse in Canada (notice where I'm working?) Library schools need to shake the candy-coated groupthink and stop misleading LIS students into thinking that they're going to graduate and land jobs paying $50 000 (I was told this on more than one occassion). Give people the straight goods and let them make informed choices based on accurate information - surely not a foreign concept to . . . librarianship!?

I was very fortunate when I graduated and landed a two-year internship at the University of Winnipeg. I was immersed in all aspects of academic librarianship, and had the elbow room to learn while growing into the profession without all the tenure and publishing pressures. I can't stress strongly enough how crucial the internship experience was to my ability to find a job, and I'm constantly amazed that more libraries don't offer the same opportunity. Here are the two programs that I'm familiar with:

University of Winnipeg Library Internship Program

University of Alberta Academic Library Internship Positions

More libraries should follow their lead . . .

end rant */

Posted at 9:38 PM| Permalink

May 3, 2005

My unCaptivate-ing presentation [update]

I blogged a while back about some issues I encountered while making my first Captivate project. Thanks to my kind friends at the University of Winnipeg Library, I now have some webspace capable of hosting the rather huge file that I made from a PowerPoint presentation. At the very least, now I don't feel like it was a complete waste of time. But there were definitely some lessons learned : ) Be forewarned, even on a very fast connection, this will take a while to load.

As I mentioned previously, many of the examples used were derived from Clay Shirky's excellent talk given at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference held in San Diego, California, March 14-17, 2005: Ontology is Overrated.

Ordering Reality Through Classification: Making the Case for Tags and Folksonomies
[Captivate file with audio: 17 mb] | [regualr 'ole ppt file: 2.72 mb]

Posted at 4:17 PM| Permalink

April 11, 2005

Putting the 'performance' to work in online learning

I came across an excellent article in the current issue of First Monday by Doug Brent, a Professor in the interdisciplinary Faculty of Communication and Culture at the University of Calgary titled: Teaching as performance in the electronic classroom. I liked it not only because Brent steeps his discussion in SCOT theories, something near and dear to my heart, but he asks fundamentals such as "why do teachers sometimes become more possessive about their intellectual property when they develop online materials?" He argues that this extends far beyond the issues of copyright and intellectual property.

The crux of the discussion revolves around the fact that educational technology is, right now, 'unstable,' or as the SCOT folks like to say, in a state of 'interpretive flexibility.' Brent looks at the social forces that are driving and shaping the direction of educational technology, and distinguishes between teaching as performance (à la Plato, oral traditions) and teaching as thing (byproduct of textuality, printing press). He gives a interesting account of the stabilizing effect of the printing press on oral traditions, and how the 'knower' became separated from the 'known,' but that teaching itself has almost entirely resisted textualization to this day. So where do we stand now that online technologies and courseweare bring increasing textualization to teaching?

The real value in online education is in the performative aspect - using tools to collaborate in real-time and interact with students that support the performative act of teaching. Many people refuse to let their lecture notes or online syllabi fall into someone else's hands to do the teaching, which Brent calls 'valuing textulaization over performance.' If the value is in the social life of the course and interaction between participants, why are we so hung up on not sharing our course materials? Courseware and other online teaching tools are and can be so much more than simple repositories of stale course outlines and links. However, as Brent points out, we need laws that support revision while respecting the rights of creators (precisely what Creative Commons has been working toward).

Posted at 3:18 PM| Permalink

April 8, 2005

My unCaptivate-ing presenation

Humpf. This is not how a Friday afternoon should end. I spent quite a bit of time converting a powerpoint presentation to an interactive (audio-enriched) Captivate file. I gave a presentation to UNLV Libraries' staff on Tuesday about classification theory, and thought I'd share it here. Well, the file, once compiled, turned out to ginormous - like 18MB ginormous. I should have read Library Web Chic's post before embarking on this little project.

For what's it worth : ) here's the abstract. If anyone wants to chit-chat about social software and library applications, please do!

Information professionals make choices every day in how materials are classified according to established and ingrained conventions. In addition to the professional aspect of classificatory work, people practice and experience classification everyday through standards, prescriptions, and objects which have been assigned specific characteristics that describe their properties. Built taxonomies permeate every aspect of how we think and do things, and classifications carry with them their own 'social baggage.' Conventional classificatory systems have been described as rigid and unrepresentative to the multitude of voices, histories, and knowledges that exist. This presentation will look at the recent emergence of tags and folksonomies on the web used in social software applications such as blogs, del.icio.us and Flickr to classify information by the content creators themselves, or, 'folk.' The creation of these taxonomies highlights the potential for opening up classification practices and addressing issues of multivocality by not adhering to the fixed representations that we find in traditional schemes.

Many of the examples used were derived from Clay Shirky's excellent talk given at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference held in San Diego, California, March 14-17, 2005: Ontology is Overrated. It's a must-listen!

Posted at 4:06 PM| Permalink

April 2, 2005

Ethics in cyberspace: the 'distancing' effect

There is an interesting article in the current issue of Innovate: The Journal of Online Education. In his article The Distancing Question in Online Education (free registration may be required), Glenn Russell ponders issue of physical distance and consequent loss of empathy due to low bandwidth technologies, which he calls distancing. He argues that in online education, we are not easily able to identify and react to students' affective or emotional states (true). The flip side of this is that with a diminished sense of mutual respect, congeniality, and empathy, we are witnessing sometimes inappropriate, rude, and even abusive online interactions.

Librarian in Black recently posted about the implications involved in blocking belligerent IM chat patrons, and whether this is something we might consider when dealing with abusive or rude or offensive people – an interesting and thought-provoking question in an of itself. But reading Glenn Russell's article got me to thinking about why it is that technologies that put physical distance and increased anonymity between us can often elicit behaviours in people that you might not otherwise witness, at the desk, for instance. I experienced this first-hand while completing my undergraduate degree. My department required that we all post interesting and thoughtful comments to the class newsgroup each week. One chap, oh, let's call him 'Travis,' took it upon himself to launch personal attacks on his fellow classmates that were grossly inappropriate. In class, however, he never ever spoke, and we met face to face three times a week. It was truly bizarre.

Not to say that outcomes are always necessarily negative, though. I've had some amazing chat experiences where the anonymity provided by a virtual chat service has allowed people who otherwise wouldn't ask for help to get exactly what they need. But will higher bandwidth technologies bridge the gap and bring us 'closer'? Sure. Will belligerent patrons go away? Probably not. I guess we'll find out . . .

Posted at 3:27 PM| Permalink

March 21, 2005

Task-based digital library design

Library Web Chic posted some comments about Steve Abram's talk at CIL, and what caught my eye in particular was mention of the "transition to service-oriented architecture" as predicted by Gartner for libraries by 2006/2007. I'm assuming since I wasn't there to hear it myself (and can't find a link to a presentation) that this is referring to what is often called task or action-based design.

I'm currently involved in a campus-wide (not library–specific) portal project. The momentum appears to be moving toward an organizational model of portal development. Creating content and navigation that is based around organizational layout and hierarchy doesn't make good sense, in my opinion. With the proliferation of digital libraries and services, students perhaps aren't associating physical locations and services as readily as they once did. The organizational structure that once may have been more obvious and apparent is now blurring with the increase in the numbers of students who engage with the institution/library online, such as distance students and even on–campus students who prefer to work online. In many cases, students don't know that they need to navigate to 'library departments' and then 'collections' in order to find inter library loans: it has little intuitive value for them when trying to access information quickly and efficiently. The organizational model is one that is very much rooted in 'physicality' and how we in the organization think of ourselves, but is not especially helpful for our users. To create a different architecture would require a greater understanding of how users themselves conceptualize online services and resources, and engaging with them in the design process.

Posted at 11:22 AM| Permalink

March 8, 2005

Canadian Feds considering VoIP - will higher education follow?

An article in today's Ottawa Business Journal reports that the Canadian Government is looking into VoIP, a move that some are saying could prove to be the "bellwether moment for VoIP." Veeeery interesting.

I've had VoIP phone service with Vonage at home for the past 8 months and can't say enough good things about it. The service is nothing less than excellent (who ever heard of a phone company lowering its rates?!), and the sound quality is on par with what you'd expect from a traditional land line. Oh, and I get to call Canada anytime of day with no long distance charges above and beyond what I pay for my rock-bottom cheap monthly plan.

I got to thinking about how distance students can benefit from this technology. We don't have a toll-free number at the library where I work, and students have to rack up long distance charges to talk to us. When Skype came on the scene, I was immediately excited (and still am) about the possibilities, including the fact that it's absolutely free for student to use - all they have to do is add me to their contact list. And if the Jyve presence server script ever works properly (!), then even more opportunities are available for distance librarians to 'embed' themselves at the point of need. I'll be incorporating Skype into the distance education library portal that I'm currently developing.

But think about the possibilities if an educational institution decided to go VoIP at an enterprise level. Concordia did. Besides the fact that costs would be greatly reduced, planning for the future with VoIP opens up possibilities for affordable video conferencing, or something along the lines of virtual office hours using an online whiteboard or a Breeze-like application and telephony, perhaps. I'm just scratching the surface here I'm sure . . .

There are other VoIP-ish applications out there in production. Take Video Furnace, for example. They use IP devices to direct streaming content and television, what they like to call 'video over IP'. It's not internet-based, so unfortunately no immediate application for distance students because of bandwidth requirements. However it's something to watch for. Check out how Northwestern is using Video Furnace:

Broadband Networking >> The 'Other' VoIP

It's a VoIP VoIP world!

Posted at 9:28 AM| Permalink

March 2, 2005

Why I love Plasma – or – Ruminations on better search interfaces

I could go on and on about how much I enjoy using liveplasma. I knew and loved it back in the days when it was simply known as 'musicplasma,' a search engine for music. The name has since changed to liveplasma to reflect the addition of a movie search capability.

Using liveplasma the other day to search for my favourite band of all time got me thinking about search interface design, in general. I've always thought that there is much to be learned by stepping outside one's own discipline or sphere of expertise, and I think that liveplasma (and others) proves the point.

The beauty of liveplasma is that it is a visual resource discovery tool that is premised upon finding other related things based on spatial relationships and proximities. I've always liked this kind of serendipitous searching. I can't say much about how the engine works, as there aren't many details provided on the website. It's done in flash, and so far, there isn't a way to share maps with other users (other than emailing them a url) in the tradition of some of the other social software apps on the scene (think Flickr or Wists).

With the folksonomy phenomenon taking off and the increasing popularity of 'tags,' searching and classification conventions are changing and interface design has to keep up. Interfaces like the one liveplasma uses hold some promise of where things could go.

To bring this around to libraries and our search interfaces, some such as Andre Pace have argued that we need to start from the ground up, and deconstruct the behemoth otherwise known as the opac (see: Dismantling Integrated Library Systems, Library Journal, February 1, 2004). I wonder how a system comprised of a typical opac overlaid with a 'visual' search interface that included the option to perform a parallel search of tags created by students that made sense to them would work in a practical sense? Hmmmm . . . From the visual/clustering perspective (not tagging), I'm thinking of how xreferplus's Research Mapper (a tool with visualization capabilities) works, which returns results in the form of a cluster maps with related concepts, people and places for the user to see and explore.

In the meantime, the following is a list of search engines that are working on the clustering/visual idea:

KartOO
Clusty
Mooter

Posted at 1:03 PM| Permalink

February 25, 2005

Archives in the age of copyright and copyfight

I tune in to CBC Radio One every morning while sipping my tea thanks to live streaming radio (though I hate the fact that they've adopted Windows Media Player as their standard - tisk tisk tisk!). I heard a great piece yesterday on the current state of archives and 'the cultural record' vis a vis copyright on The Current.

The discussion focused on one of the most celebrated documentaries ever made on the American civil rights movement called Eyes on the Prize. The 6 parts of the film trace the history of the civil rights movement using archival footage and interviews with participants in the movement. However, because the rights to much of the archival material used in the series has expired, you'll be hard-pressed to get your hands on a copy because there could be lawsuits for copyright infringement if it's shown publicly.

Listen to The Current: Part 2, from Thursday February 24, 2005

In response to this, the group Downhill Battle has launched its own offensive by encouraging nationwide screenings of the film, citing 'fair use' to get around the issue of infringement. They are also encouraging the use of file sharing networks (p2p) to distribute the film. Wikipedia has an entry about Eyes on the Prize and some background on the efforts of Downhill Battle to make it available.

It's a sad day when the collective 'we' lose rights and access to our own histories due to the increasing privatization of archival (and other) materials. Copyright seems to be getting so out of control that all that will be left for public consumption is a homogenized view of the world put forth by those who can afford to 'own' it. Who will have the resources and capital to purchase these rights? Certainly not the documentary filmmakers, archives, libraries or schools.

Posted at 5:44 PM| Permalink

February 22, 2005

Google Scholar and RedLightGreen need a sandbox

There's been much buzz in the past couple of days about Google Scholar's Scholar Preferences, which provides support for Institutional Access. Probably a hundred or more librarians (like myself) have already bombarded Google Scholar with emails to have their respective institutions added to the list. Many people have noted, and rightly so, that Google Scholar will eventually bump up against issues of scale: who and how many institutions will make it to the coveted institutional list?

My suggestion is that Google Scholar and RedLightGreen get a sandbox. And play. I'm not advocating that the two necessarily amalgamate in any way. I'm thinking that Google Scholar could take some pointers from the way that RLG customizes searches to local institutions.

'Get It' customization from RedLightGreen

Unless of course Google Scholar intends to maintain the list as-is. I'm hoping that won't be the case, and that they take Paul up on his idea.

Posted at 11:49 AM| Permalink