GradHacker Contest: Swag for Wisdom

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I am sure that many of you are familiar with, if not avid readers of, GradHacker.  The online community hosted on Inside Higher Ed also covers the lived experience of the graduate researcher and academic.  For the summer, the blog quiets down (as I’m sure everyone else is recovering from the academic year).  However, they are taking the opportunity to host some interesting contests, and the most recent is one which I participated.  “Swag for Wisdom:  A Fair Exchange” asks readers to share their best advice for incoming graduate students for a chance to win some GradHacker swag.  Prize or not, I love sharing lessons learned.  So, here was my advice:

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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 »


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 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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Distractions

Grey and white cat in lap, with paws on laptop

Image cc license from Flickr user pjmorse: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/212/500139740_5046965fa3_o.jpg

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.

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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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