Are You a Google Power Searcher?

Physical Search Box by Josh Ellingson, via Flickr user WillowGarage: http://www.flickr.com/photos/willowgarage/4788324036/

While I considered myself fairly adept at online searching in general and using Google in particular, there were things lurking behind the Advanced Search options that made me balk.  Date ranges and searching within websites, but filetype?  Those colour options in the Image Search?  Some features had been added since I’d focused on mastering online searching skills (aka grad school), and while I was picking up tips and tools through Google-a-Day, I discovered that far too often, I found the answer and then moved on, without looking at the tricks recommended by Google.

So when I saw announcements last year for a free online course titled “Power Searching with Google“, it sounded like a great opportunity.  Taught by Senior Research Scientist Daniel M. Russell, the course uses online videos, exercises, and assignments to help users learn more about how to effectively and efficiently search and retrieve valuable results using Google. There were Google+ hangouts, and Google+ was used as a forum on which participants could share strategies, experiences, and insight.

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Recharging when getting away is not an option

sign at swap meet indicating facilities closed till October

“Swap Meet” image cc license from Flickr user LukeJNovak: http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2715/4030129420_ece87539ce_b.jpg

I remember when I used to look forward to summer — warmer weather, longer days, no homework, family vacations and time with friends. Even when I started working during the summer breaks, there seemed to still remain ample time to read and relax after work was done in those long months between school terms. Even when I had summer school, it would last only a fraction of the whole holiday period, leaving weeks to relax and recharge.

Now, I look forward to summer for some of the same reasons — the warmer weather and longer days — and some new ones — travel takes a bit less time without the traffic of parents driving children to school and fewer colleagues in the office means a slightly lighter load of internal requests.

Although I miss the family vacations, the biggest loss in the transition from school to work was the chance to decompress and relax that those summer months offered.  That time was fairly sacred and it was unlikely it would be scheduled over or co-opted by classes or meetings; one would dread catching a summer cold that seemed to suck up those valuable days of summer holidays, but never thought about a time in the future when unexpected work events or deadlines would force retraction of vacation days and a premature return to work.

As I cannot take off the several months I dream of to rest and relax during the summer, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the “Five Ways to Recharge During the Summer” recommended by Jamie Corcoran in her June post at Gradhacker.   Read the rest of this entry »


Time

Sign and clock for Time Deli and Catering in San Jose, California

Image cc license from Flickr user Thomas Hawk: http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4011/4440874971_5fce369d98_b.jpg

Time is running out. Time keeps flowing like a river. It’s just a question of time.  A query of iTunes reports that I have 42 songs with the word “time” in the title.  I have it on good authority that it would be possible to write a few lines of code to figure out how many times the word “time” appears in lyrics from the 18.6 days of music and audiobooks in my iTunes,  given the appropriate skill set, files of all the song lyrics, and enough time.

However, time being limited and deadlines looming, this experiment remains hypothetical because I simply don’t have the time to spend on it. Earlier this year, I bookmarked and clipped articles on time from Grad Hacker (February’s “Setting time boundaries”) and Hack Library School (“It’s OK to not have time,” also from February), thinking I would read them as soon as I had time. Fast-forward four months and here I am, finally reading posts on time, trying to find some solution to my situation of feeling over-extended, overwhelmed with work, and wondering how much more I could get done or how much better I’d be faring if I only had more time.

As previously discussed on this blog, I keep statistics for our library, in an effort to quantify what we accomplish and what we produce. X number of publications catalogued, y number of reference queries of z duration. However, I could not use this same tool to effectively estimate how much time I spent on a given subject or activity. Following a recommendation, I created an account with Toggl.com and started using the Toggl app for iPhone to try to answer a very important question: where does the time go?

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New Resources: World Bank Open Knowledge Repository

Best Price in Town font style

Image cc license from Flickr user fontplaydotcom: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fontplaydotcom/2574716668/

Who doesn’t like a good deal?  Some deals are better than others, some are too good to be true, but who doesn’t like to get something that is good quality for very little or no cost? With the launch of the World Bank’s Open Knowledge Repository, such a deal is now on offer.

In April 2012, the World Bank announced the adoption of a new open access policy and the launch of their Open Knowledge Repository (OKR), the first phase of this policy.  The Repository gives access to more than 2100 books and papers produced since 2009 and issues from 2007-2010 volumes of the World Bank’s two journals — World Bank Research Observer (WBRO) and World Bank Economic Review (WBER).  Starting in 2013, the repository will include links to datasets used for publications and over time, there are plans to add translations of those publications originally published in English.  Along with the launch of the Open Knowledge Repository, the World Bank has launched a revised Policy on Access to Information.  This policy governs information relating to World Bank projects, meetings, and advisory activities.

Rendering such a large variety of World Bank products open access is a boon for researchers, because of both the sheer volume of information now available for free and also the large range of topics covered, from agriculture and energy, to development and health.  Additionally, included among the monographs now available for free are the World Development Report and other flagship publications for which access was previously more limited.

The Open Knowledge Repository interface is user-friendly and the layout uncluttered.  Visitors can query the collection using a single Google-esque search box and filters to modify or restrict queries.  Records for publications include complete metadata (handy for cataloguers though perhaps of less interest for other users), abstracts, and links to publications in the same series, by the same author(s), or on similar subjects.

Libraries of all kinds are always on the lookout for new resources to help support the needs of their patrons and the discovery of free resources offers added benefits.  While some users will still prefer to consult the print versions of these publications, the availability of these monographs online for free means that the portion of our budget previously allocated to their purchase could now be liberated and reassigned.

While this resource may be of greater use to researchers at academic or special libraries, this new open access policy may have more wider-reaching effects that could benefit.  Publications are now to be covered by Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) copyright license, which allows distribution, reuse, and building upon the World Bank’s published works, even commercially, as long as credit for the original publication is given to the World Bank. One of the most flexible and permissive licenses offered by Creative Commons, this license allows wider dissemination and use of the publications and data produced by the World Bank. Perhaps more organizations, including those who already make many of their publications available online, will follow the World Bank’s lead to make even more information and even better resources available for online and for free.

Source: World Bank, Press Release No. 2012/379/EXTOP, “World Bank Announces Open Access Policy for Research and Knowledge, Launches Open Knowledge Repository.” Permanent link: http://go.worldbank.org/VOS0JQ0VK0.


Not a Battle nor a War, but a Quest for Balance

poster reads "Keep Libraries and Learn Stuff"

Image cc license from Flickr user LaurieJ

Friday afternoon, we received a phone call from another library.  While this is a not a memorable event on its own, what was surprising was the caller’s request — could we please send them one of our organization’s knowledge products, specifically a print version of an enormous online database?

Although the library regularly receives requests for publications, which we fill or forward to the appropriate party for fulfillment, the problem was that, while publications have been produced using content from this database, no print version of the database’s full contents exists. It has been deemed impractical to try and reproduce the entire database in print format, for a number of reasons. One reason the product exists only as a database is that content is updated and added on a regular basis, meaning a print version of the product would quickly become outdated or incomplete. A second reason is that the key feature of the database is the system’s ability to allow users to play with the information, generate maps, analyze data and produce graphic interpretations of the information, features that could not be reproduced in a print document or on a single CD-ROM.

The most surprising aspect of this call, though, was the insistence of the caller, a librarian, that we should provide this product in print format, that we were in fact obliged to do so;  by choosing to not produce this product on print format, we were forcing libraries to print the entire thing themselves. Even though we explained the reasons the print format did not exist and the benefits of instead using the database with it’s up-to-date content and analytical features, all accessible online from anywhere in the world, the caller was persistent and nearly irate — we must provide this information, in both analog and digital media or we were failing our constituents and neglecting our responsibilities.

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Living in a digital world, part 7 — in which our heroine joins Twitter

Blue bird graffiti on a light post box in Winchester

Image cc license from Flickr user R_rose: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/53/113353654_446ec6af9d_b.jpg

Back in 2010, I attended a presentation given by Michael Stephens on libraries and social media entitled “The Hyperlinked Library — Trends, Tools and Transparency”.  As I had followed his blog Tame the Web for few years and had also read a few of his papers and presentations, this was possibly the first time I was looking forward to an event co-sponsored by our library association. I was impressed by his straight-forward, animated and engaging way of speaking and the fact that the presentation left us feeling excited and encouraged to try and use these tools in our libraries.  Although many of the newer staff had personal experience using LinkedIn and Facebook, our library was only just starting to create a Facebook presence and there was only a weak interest among staff and administration to take steps forward with social media, particularly Twitter.

I changed jobs and my new post overwhelmed me. I postponed thinking further about using Twitter or any social media for the library, hoping to get my feet beneath me before taking such steps.  So it is with a bit of sheepishness that I admit that I only finally joined Twitter last week. I feel a bit like a Johnny-come-lately, to say the least.

In addition to Michael Stephens’ inspiring presentation, SES and my husband had both made convincing arguments in favour of my joining Twitter.  Twitter could give me entrance and access to a wider community of similar interests, both academic and professional, with whom I could share information and experiences and from whom I could gather advice and ideas.  I would be able to have interactions and connections with other librarians, invaluable for a solo librarian if only because it would help me step beyond my home library and my personal echo chamber. I could gain better familiarity with a technology whose usage is still increasing and whose applications could be both personally and professional useful.

But still I dragged my feet.

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Escape from the Library Echo Chamber

sculpture by Jeff Koons outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao

Image cc license from Flickr user Nicolas Nedialko Nojarof, some rights reserved: http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4100/5433459369_5a55c06b06_b.jpg

It has fewer explosions and fight scenes than Escape from New YorkSadly, it does not feature Steve McQueen, James Coburn, or James Garner. But the argument could be made that this escape is no less important than the adventures described in either film.

Sally Pewhairangi’s post “20 Everyday Ways to Escape the Library Echo Chamber” at Finding Heroes has some great ideas about how to escape the library echo chamber.  As had been discussed in a previous post here are Research Salad, there are dangers to being stuck inside an echo chamber, sharing ideas only with individuals of similar opinions and experiences. Instead of talking only to other librarians and information specialists about issues facing us and how they might be addressed, Ms. Pewhairangi suggests that much can be gained by looking outside our domain. The first step to escaping the library echo chamber, she asserts, is to take an interest in what is happening outside libraries.

The list’s recommendations are diverse and intriguing: watching TED talks on subjects with which you have little to no familiarity and examining interactions in retail settings, checking out signage in supermarkets and conversing with “the weirdest person” you know about what he or she is working on. Using what is learned and the responses received, policies can be better devised or revised and practices for serving library patrons improved.

One supplement to this list which I would recommend is to travel.  While leaving the region or country may not be a practical or everyday activity, adventuring outside the city in which you and your library are located is easy enough and can give you new and additional insights. As the list already includes going to a park and talking to fellow plane passengers about their library experiences, travel farther afield simply takes things one step further.  To illustrate this point, I will present three travel destinations to which I escaped from the library and a few insights I gained while there.

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A blog post about a blog post about the decline of blogging

image of Mark Twain created by Flickr user DonkeyHotey

Image cc license from Flickr user DonkeyHotey

“The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” — a misquotation of a Mark Twain quotation

During grad school, I wrote a paper on e-books and why they had not risen to popularity as quickly as anticipated and why the technology had not progressed more rapidly. I think I probably referenced this quotation in that paper because my conclusion was that, though e-books had not yet taken off as trend-trackers had expected, they should not be discounted. They were not dead yet.

In the last year, there has been a whole lot of discussion on the Internet regarding whether print books are dead and whether libraries are dead.

Earlier this month, a report from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research stated that, for the first time, an overall decline in blogging has been registered in the 500 fastest growing organizations in the U.S. In announcing the report, Information Today Europe produced an interesting post entitled “A blog post about the decline of blogging”, which in turn inspired the choice of title for this post.

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Living in a digital world, part 6 — end-of-year review posts

The reopening of the Library in January meant digging my way through my inbox, checking in journal issues that had piled up in the intervening weeks. The colleague who delivers the mail had filled the box as full as possible and left the rest on my desk.  Normally, as I prepare the tables of contents for distribution, I browse and find at least one or two articles of personal interest to me. At least three periodicals had December or January issues with “best articles of 2011″ or “most important x of 2011″, and as these articles traditionally provide good synopses of 2011 from different perspectives, I had expected these issues would provide rich and intriguing content.

They didn’t.

Instead, I found myself trotting over to Google Reader (which I still use as I am still evaluating some of the options SES suggested in “Google Reader Fail”) and scrolling. It was a mixed bag, but there were some very good and helpful year-in-review style posts that might have been otherwise overlooked in the first month of the year, when suddenly one realizes that there are hundreds of new e-mails and thousands of new posts and one really needs to invest in a better strategy to manage information overload.

Now that February is giving me a chance to breathe, I wanted to share the few end-of-year review posts that I think are not to be missed.

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Living in a Digital World, part 5 — Help me, Wikipedia! You’re my only hope.

As you may have noticed, on Wednesday, 18 January 2012, Wikipedia didn’t work.

Male with black tape across mouth bearing words "content blocked"

Image cc license from Flickr user brianjmatis: http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7145/6723758731_f8a9f8c7ab_b.jpg

Wikipedia and a wide range of other sites including blogs like BoingBoing went black and many other sites including Google and Flavorwire used censored logos and content in protest against legislation proposed in Congress to protect copyright.  The two pieces of legislation, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), would ostensibly block sites that illegally provide copyrighted content for free, but would also have a detrimental effect on access to websites and information legally and legitimately available on the Internet.

On Wednesday morning, I received one request from a colleague for clarification on why Wikipedia wasn’t available.  For another user, I tried unsuccessfully to track down the posts I’d seen the previous day about how to make one’s blog go dark;  the posts themselves were difficult to find because the blogs supporting them were on strike. For my own benefit, I found myself visiting sites I knew were down, simply to see what was up in place of the usual content.  A couple library-themed online comics and most of the library-related blogs I follow had messages in protest and links to resources for learning more about the laws and contacting government representatives. I eagerly read the information posted on the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and thoroughly enjoyed the LOLcats protest video with appropriate lyrics set to the tune of Don McLean’s signature song “American Pie.”

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