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is that content is updated and added on a regular basis, meaning a print version of the product would quickly become outdated or incomplete.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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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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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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Grad School for Beginners

Image Courtesy of Flickr User Jason Verwey

“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.

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Pre-Holiday Library Lessons Learned

Outside the Southeast Anchor Branch of the Enoch Pratt Library, there is a statue of Frank Zappa with Santa hat on his head for the holidays

Image cc license from Flickr user tigerlillyshop: http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7145/6578988197_eccb05d7c4_b.jpg

‘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.

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Re: Bill Maher on Libraries

graffiti of Bill Maher and Real Time

Image cc license through Flickr user wallyg

“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?

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Thinking about… Work Space

Bibliothèque de la Communauté de l'agglomération d'Annecy, Bonlieu

Bibliothèque de la Communauté de l'agglomération d'Annecy, Bonlieu.

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 »