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.
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 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?
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.
My distractions at this moment:
- Cars passing and the fact that, though the streets are dry, it sounds like the roads are wet
- Someone playing video games in the other room
- The cats, one trying to sleep on my lap between me and the laptop perched at my knees, the other staring at me from the floor by my feet
- The plethora of other things I’m supposed to accomplish today
- The Internet
The cat in my lap has now moved to sleep on my wrists. Obviously, she doesn’t see this as a distraction; in her mind, it’s the computer and whatever I’m typing that must be distracting me from what I should be doing, namely, paying attention to her. When she gets really irritated, she puts her paws across my hand and flexes her claws, then turns to stare at my over her shoulder with that look that cats have perfected, a cross between boredom, disdain, and eye-rolling irritation. This post, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently less important than this furball.
In the book The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook, on the topic of distractions and handling them, the responses from two different authors express very well the delicate balance in dealing with distractions.
‘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.
“You can’t think yourself out of a writing block, you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.” — John Rogers, Kung Fu Monkey, 06-25-11
Everyone gets writer’s block — although the phrase’s Wikipedia entry suggests that it’s a condition primarily associated with writing as a profession, writer’s block can afflict anyone. Trying to write a message in that birthday or holiday card, but unable to find the right words? Spent so much time researching for your dissertation that you’re unable to figure out where to begin? College students, journalists, CEOs, and writers of jingles, letters, and blog posts, writer’s block is a dangerous and frustrating malady that can strike any person, at any time.
To help combat this condition for which modern medicine has not yet found a cure, we have compiled a list of selected resources to fight and demonstrate that, while writer’s block might last a little or a long time, it does not have to be a permanent condition.
As I wrote in my first post at Research Salad, we compile statistics at our library. We track number of visitors, number of queries, number of consultations and loans, and number of publications catalogued and uploaded. In previous libraries, we’ve had Access databases to help us track and process this information. Where I currently work, without time to develop a similar system, I have a series of spreadsheets to collect the same data. However, these numbers are not all I collect.
When I started work here, I received a very good piece of advice: remember to thank those who help you and keep track of the thanks you receive.
Hock (2004) asserts that “there is no right or wrong way to search the Internet. If you find what you need and find it quickly, your search strategy is good.” This statement is true but makes one major assumption: that you have a search strategy already. Easily as important as the tools you use to perform your online and print searches is the method used for organizing and performing these searches. Search strategies can reduce the time spent searching by helping identify the most appropriate resources to search and the most efficient methods to use.
What is Your Question?
According to a survey by About.com, individuals perform searches for one of three reasons: to find an answer to a precise question, without unnecessary additional information and as quickly as possible; to become educated and learn as much as possible about a single topic, so as to gain multiple perspectives and insight to all sides of the matter; and to browse for ideas and become inspired.
Members of the first group of searchers are kin to those who arrive at a traditional library reference desk with directional questions (“Where is the bathroom?” or “Where is the nearest post office?”, for instance) or ready-reference questions (such as “What is the population of Iceland?” or “How tall is the world’s tallest building?”). These searchers know exactly what they want and need and sometimes even know already where to go for their information — Google and Wikipedia, for example, are popular starting places for such queries.
However, finding answers to satisfy the second and third categories of users requires a different approach — a search strategy. Search strategies will forever in my mind be tied to Marchionini and his publication Information Seeking in Electronic Environments (1997), particularly chapter 5, required reading for students in courses on online searching and reference services; the names of the different approaches were so easy to visualize as to be almost unforgettable — “building blocks”, “successive fractions”, “pearl-growing”, and “interactive scanning”. Read the rest of this entry »
A meeting with the chair of my committee and my qualitative advisor last week yielded the kind of reading recommendations that make you appreciate why experts are called experts. Annette Lareau’s qualitative work on social class and family engagement with school would relate directly to my dissertation topic and methodology. And, to make matters even better, Lehigh’s library had both. The e-brary offered the kind of instant gratification to which most of us have become accustomed: the first book was available and with a quick click took up residence on my electronic bookshelf. Wandering the stacks for the second book had pleasures of its own, instant and otherwise: finding it amidst an array of fascinating titles on the neighboring shelves, dropping all the grad student paraphernalia on the nearest comfy couch, kicking off my clogs to curl up like a cat in a patch of sunlight, and diving into its contents right away.
Home Advantage: Social Class and Parental Intervention in Elementary Education (2000) is an account of Lareau’s time spent in two schools, one in a working class neighborhood and the other in an upper middle-class neighborhood. Building on French sociologist, Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital, her data and analysis demonstrate that middle class families activate a wider variety of resources and choose to intervene at key points in their children’s education than do working class parents, resulting in a substantially different (read advantaged) educational experience for their children.