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is that content is updated and added on a regular basis, meaning a print version of the product would quickly become outdated or incomplete.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.
It has fewer explosions and fight scenes than Escape from New York. Sadly, 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.
As you may have noticed, on Wednesday, 18 January 2012, Wikipedia didn’t work.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.”
“A scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar.” – Lao Tzu
Graduate school is a large life decision that can both enrich your life and frustrate you. Like our friend Lao Tzu alludes, it’s not the pursuit of comfort that you exercise by entering graduate school, but the pursuit of knowledge. As I put the close on this semester and look back, I think about how many challenges and triumphs we had this Fall. For one, my husband recently completed his first semester of graduate studies. Now, I have been a student or worked in an academic environment for the last 11 years, so I took for granted the struggle of a professional coming back to school for the first time in a decade. In this blog post, I want to give a little “Grad School for Beginners” for those who might be needing a little refresher in the basics. Some of you may be seasoned veterans who are teaching a class for the first time,. I hope this post serves as a good starting point for your students. For others, you may be dipping your toe in the grad school waters, taking a class this Spring semester. As we get ready to get back in to the swing of things, here are some of the best lessons and resources that I’ve learned to help get you through it.
‘Twas the last Friday before the holidays
and silence reigned in the stacks.
There were no patrons nor queries,
not a call, e-mail nor fax.
The books were all shelved
in their places with care
in hopes that, undisturbed,
they would stay there…
(with apologies to Clement C. Moore)
For some libraries, the holiday season means a massive rush to the finish, followed be peace and calm and an opportunity for inventory, staff training, and wearing jeans to work. In the last week before the holiday break, there were some important lessons learned which I thought might bear sharing as they apply for librarians and library patrons, beyond this stressful period and into the rest of the year.
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” — unknown
“If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it, and it hits a mime, does anyone care?” — Gary Larson, The Complete Farside 1980-1994
If a TV show host and political commentator states that libraries are irrelevant, that no one needs or uses them, should we freak out, disregard him as ignorant, or take a different tack?
While playing tourist this weekend, I passed one of the city’s larger libraries and peeking in, saw the sight that inspired this post. The wind had picked up and a sunny day had turned grey, blustery and chilly, decidedly unsummery. Just inside the sliding glass doors of the library entrance and past the check-out machines, however, was a little piece of summer. Patches of astroturf lay on the library’s linoleum floor, beneath brightly coloured garden umbrellas. Folding plastic chairs and small tables stacked with books were arranged around the space.
And unlike in the other study and work spaces scattered throughout the library, every chair in this little oasis was occupied. Read the rest of this entry »
Sometimes I am asked why I became a librarian. When asked by aspiring librarians, I feel obliged to have a good answer, something lofty and noble; I could say I chose to become a librarian to serve the public, but like many of my classmates at library school, early on I was apprehensive about interacting with the sometimes frustrating and vexing members of the general public and thought I might prefer to be a cataloguer, working alone in an office.
When asked by curious friends, I feel obliged to be humorous instead, maybe claiming that it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Some days it is difficult to remember why I made this choice; these are usually the occasions when the everyday frustrations have piled up to the point where they are towering and overwhelming and hinder my ability to see the best parts of the job. The reason I wanted to become a librarian is easy to overlook when I am weighed down by the mundane, chasing down missing copies of periodicals or erasing pencil markings from a recently-returned book.
The most honest explanation for why I became a librarian happens to be the reason I am contributing to this blog: I love learning, research, aggregating information and sharing what I have learned. I love encountering new ideas and facts, but it is an incomplete joy if I cannot share these with others. I want to share that clever line from the latest book I’m reading or the interesting fact I have learned while assisting a user with research. The basic attraction for me is that, in order to help people, in order to do my job, I need to learn at least a little bit; I must learn in order to assist. How can I tell someone where to find the restroom if I don’t first take a tour of the facility? How can I help someone learn to use a particular search engine or database if I don’t experiment with it myself? How can I assemble a bibliography of journal articles on tar sands if I don’t first learn what tar sands are? I might not have the opportunity or the impetus to become an expert in all fields of use to library patrons, but I have the chance to dabble and expand my own knowledge base while helping others do the same.
On average, at least once per week, a library patron asks me about electronic resources, generally looking for access to full-text commercial databases such as those available through ProQuest and EBSCO or log-in information to use archives for individual online journals.
After working in much larger and better funded libraries, I was accustomed to having online full-text databases as a matter of course. Staff members have similar expectations, based on their experiences as educators and students or staff at larger international organizations. When I first started receiving this query, I felt compelled to be apologetic and self-effacing — I’m terribly sorry, I would say. I understand this is very inconvenient — as though I were entirely responsible, through some error or misjudgement, for this oversight or absence. I felt sheepish and embarrassed by the fact that our institution could not provide access to materials that could support the work of staff because I had always assumed these resources were indispensable and assured. With the experience and confidence I gained over the past year, my response has changed. While I do still apologize, if only to be polite, I quickly explain why we do not have these resources (no budget) and then give more attention to the alternatives.
My new tactic? “No electronic resources? No problem.”
My post on Cliffort Stoll’s book, Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage, started me off on a “Clifford” tangent. I realized that three Cliffords, all related, in my mind at least, to reading, books, early literacy, the Internet, Red stuff (yes, the KGB was paying the hackers Stoll tracked) and libraries, are worth writing about.
The first Clifford of course is Stoll who went on after Cuckoo’s Egg to write cautionary tales about over dependence on technology including Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway. Doing something else just now reading about scholarly publishing in the Journal of Electronic Publishing, I fell upon the “Editor’s Gloss: Silicon Snake Oil and Branding” the editor refers to Stoll’s point of view when she explores digital publishing worries from the 1990’s. How publishing has changed since 1997!