Monthly Archives: August 2011

Mardi Gross

I was emptying the return bins this morning, when suddenly I reached in to lift some books out and… ewwwwwww.

My hand was icky. The book was icky. It was all very, very icky.

God I hope that was toffee…

Suffice to say, a student (we know who you is) had decided to return their Social Sciences textbook (sorry AY, but it’s always social sciences) in a less than satisfactory state. It was covered in a sticky substance with an orangey-brown hue, resembling some sort of syrupy confection.

Although we couldn’t be sure it was toffee.

It could have been anything really.

Why anybody would think it acceptable to return a book in that condition is beyond me.

I’m not surprised that they used the self-service machine- they obviously couldn’t bring themselves to come to the issue desk. Actually, I must commend their use of the selfcheck machine; they even managed to scrape the barcode clean so that it would scan properly. Rather unfortunate for them though- by using the selfcheck machine correctly, it was extremely easy to identify them.

If only I could be a fly on their wall as they open the email informing them that they have been charged for their efforts. Or should that be my efforts for scrubbing the book clean?

The going rate for indeterminate goo is £5 by the way.

 

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Right Royal Randomness

“So, how was your day at work?”

“Well; we all dressed in black, wore white roses, and then went to the pub, in order to mourn a dead monarch famous (or infamous) for being a loser/murderer/misrepresented victim.”

Definitely the most bizarre occurrence since I started working here.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally on board with the idea of fun in the workplace, a relaxed and engaging atmosphere, and strong team relationships (and let’s face it, I’m not going to complain about spending an hour and fifteen minute lunch break sat in the sunny pub beer garden, having drinks bought for me). But there’s no way to contextualise today’s happenings to outsiders; in the same way that it’s impossible to prepare newbies for their first encounter with the office porter.

It’s all about context. And the beauty of today was, at no point did it bother me that other people might wonder what on Earth was going on. In fact, I quite enjoyed observing the reaction of the bloke sat nearby, who stared at our wake, and then stumbled towards the bar with a look of bemusement/confusion etched across his face.

I’d much rather work somewhere with character and personality, as opposed to a bland corporate office full of disenfranchised, miserable & superficial individuals.

Do I have strong feelings about the sovereignty and historical representation of the last Plantagenet? No. Did that matter? No. Did I think it was worth joining the collective randomness? Yes.

Today tapped into everyone’s inner eccentric self, that part of us which doesn’t care whether people think we’re different.

So, not only did I raise my glass of lemonade to the memory of Richard III, but also to the joy of non-conformity. Long may it continue.

(Having said all that, we were bullied into wearing black under threat of death, and I’m writing this during the dying days of fashion freedom, before a new dress code is foisted upon us. Oh well, as long as I get a free drink out of it, I’ll do anything. My needs are simple. And if you want cogent, considered thought, go and read Aristotle or whoever. I’m more Katona than Kant…)

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Informatic Engineering

[Warning: this post is far too lengthy and boring. I thought about segmenting it into separate posts and decided not to, on the grounds that, well, that would be long. Just skim through and note the salient points. Or just look at the pictures. Either way, if you’re reading this, you’re probably extremely bored anyway, in which case, this post is doing you a favour by filling time- approx. 30 seconds of listless scrolling…]

Why don’t we just scrap Search Engines and ask a Librarian instead?

This question was surmised by my learned colleague Oli, during a discussion on the merits (or lack thereof) of the most popular search engines currently available online. Of course, the workload would be unbearable, and stress levels would elevate to such an extent that the average life-span of a Librarian would decrease exponentially. I imagine waiting times for information retrieval would also surpass that of trying to book an appointment with your local GP.

But it is an interesting point to consider- the role of Librarians in a Googley World.

Effectively, Library workers are human search engines. Visitors to the Library pose us questions; we interpret their inquiry, sometimes offering alternatives to aid their search; we then instantly compute all of the avenues and possibilities available, based on our personal database of knowledge and experience; then we present an array of results and strategies, which the inquirer can choose to utilise, pursue or ignore.

However, despite the odd alter-egoes here & there (not to mention a penchant for dressing up) Librarians aren’t superheroes. They don’t have special powers. They need help too. Like everyone else, Librarians use search engines. And, like everyone else, I suspect most of them use Google.

Google has become common parlance for searching the internet. “Why don’t you Google it?” “I’ve just Googled…” etc. But is Google’s dominance of the search engine market justified? Are there any realistic alternatives?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, there are alternatives. But am I realistically going to use them? No, probably not. Like most people, I’m lazy.

Certainly, there are specialised search engines which undoubtedly suit the needs of niche groups better. But for general day-to-day internet searches (at least until the backlash comes) Google will remain the default choice. Which sadly reflects on the information society we live in. Can you imagine suggesting to a student that they go and browse the Encyclopaedia Britannica to answer their question? People want things instantly, and for most queries, search engines meet this need. And once you’ve discovered Google, why are you going to experiment with other sites? Information professionals undoubtedly find the science of information (and subsequent comparisons between search engines) fascinating/interesting/mildly diverting; but I suspect very few ordinary internet users are actually bothered by such matters.

Thankfully for the disinterested, when it comes to needing assistance with more detailed information searches, Librarians are at hand to step-in and offer valued wisdom. Libraries are houses of guidance for knowledge seekers. Worship us! (Or, at the very least, keep us open and staffed by professionals).

Anyway, muddled ranting over, now on to the week’s Things.

For my Search Engine Comparison, I entered Walthamstow into each of the big four’s boxes of truth, and then assessed the outcome:

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To be fair, each search engine brought back much of the same results- the key differences being in aesthetics and quirks. All of them highlighted key information sources about the town and local area, and a couple found this amazing news story about Brian Harvey.

For all you stats fans (geeks) out there, Google unsurprisingly won in terms of nominal retrievals:

  1. Google: 4.8m
  2. Yahoo: 611,000
  3. Bing: 595,000
  4. Ask Jeeves: n/a*

Google: Winner on stats, and winner on appearance for me- clear, tidy and refreshingly lacking in advertisements. Though, when you think about it, what does Google seriously expect me to do with 4.8 million results? There are good options to further your search, and the image gallery was substantial. However, as expressed before, I have a real problem with Google’s interface and interaction with keyboard controls. I hate the predictor as I type; it’s annoying and symptomatic of a world where nobody is required to think for themselves. I don’t like the way using the arrow keys renders you stuck in the list of results rather than scrolling the page. And I do get frustrated with the way Google identifies results based on popularity.

I’m also unhappy with the way Google is stalking me. It seems that exploiting my personal information isn’t enough to satisfy their own nefarious needs; now they seem determined to track my location and to let me know that they’re doing so. 6 weeks ago Big Brother Google told me I was in Camden. Today, it told me I’m in Tottenham. Am I the only person freaked out by this?

Yahoo: I’ve decided not to comment on Yahoo as a matter of principle, after noticing on the bottom of the results page that Yahoo is powered by Bing.

Bing: What a stupid name. Visually awful, with far too much blue text. Lots of advertising, including one titled: Walthamstow Cheap. That might well be the case, by I’m not happy with those connotations being so immediate. Good image selection.

Ask Jeeves: No thank you, I’d rather not. Two things attracted my attention with Ask. The first was “Might Jeeves suggest the Hackney Gazette”- erm, no, thank you. That would be in Hackney; clue’s in the search term, moron. Secondly, the link offering me search results from Excite, which proved a complete waste of time and clicking.

[*Jeeves wouldn’t tell me how many search results he generated. Whatever.]

In other Things:

  • I found a really good explanation of how search engines work on the Berkley guide (I admit it, I didn’t really understand the finer points of this issue).
  • Having perused the Search Engine List, I urge you to click on this to see Goo. Amazing.
  • I immediately assumed that Wolfram Alpha was evil, based solely on an irrational desire to add “& Hart” to the name. (Ok, so it wasn’t Buffy, but it was a good show and I enjoyed it, even though I never saw the final season, don’t tell me what happened!) I actually really like WA, particularly as I adore useless trivia. I rather self-indulgently searched for the 5th August 1983, and found that I was born on a Friday during a Waning Crescent Moon. Says it all really.
  • Have I missed the point of Dogpile & the Meta Search Engines? Okay, so it tells me some results were found exclusively on specific search engines. But so what? If I was carrying out research, I wouldn’t only use the list of results garnered from 1 search as the entire basis for my work. That would be dumb. Or maybe I’m being dumb? I suppose if Zuula and other Meta Engines are searching across a variety of search engines, some of which focus on material unobtainable by Google (such as social network sites) then I could potentially carry out my research all in one place in 1 go = easier for me? I think my brain is struggling to cope with all this information about finding information.
  • Google A Day was fun, but I became extremely frustrated with the answer input recognition; basically, unless you word your answer EXACTLY as needed, it tells you you’re wrong.
  • Lastly, here is my Search Story:
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Things Aint What They Used To Be…

 

Ok, I’ve shamelessly opened with a tenuously pun-related music video, completely stealing from Library Apocalypse’s project ethos. It’s an homage Library Apocalypse, really…

Anyway, here comes the science bit:

Books are dead. Front-line staff are unnecessary. Everything’s prefixed by an ‘E’. The traditional Library, as we know it, is dying:

slowly, painfully, lingeringly.

Ok, I don’t believe this for a second. But despite my traditionalist approach to such matters, I freely acknowledge that the world of information provision has changed, and continues to do so:

quickly, substantially, dramatically.

Supporting one’s education, and learning independently, are now vastly different concepts to what they once were; it’s central to our role, as academic library staff, to reflect this through the services we make available.

In the higher education sector, information literacy is about understanding: what information is, and how to go about using it.

I appreciate this is a loosely undefined definition; I don’t think I’m qualified to provide a better one. Unfortunately, many students seem unaware of just how important information literacy (and general library-related) skills are in a wider context. The Library is not merely a means to an end. The thought processes, learning/research skills, and ability to learn independently are both highly transferable and key to achievement. I am not sure this message- that using the Library is part of a degree/study programme- is always adequately emphasised.

When championing the work of the Library, we tend to focus a great deal on e-resources, and how these can facilitate remote user interactions; rightly so, because this self-service mechanism has increased educational opportunities tremendously. But, advocating information literacy is much more than merely offering up technology and content filled platforms. Being able to successfully adapt to suit specific learning styles, skill requirements, and time/economic/access constraints, can only be achieved through the efforts of people.

Unless the day of the super android has arrived (and last time I checked, it hadn’t) it remains the case that people are the defining factor when it comes to teaching and learning support.

It is essential for Libraries to be able to engage with Web 2.0 technologies in order to meet the expectations of the modern learner. To do this, it is up to Library Staff to stay ahead of, or at least in touch with, the game hand.

I believe that Web 2.0 Things, like those we looked at this week, could have an important role to play in the context of forming an institutional identity.

The University sector is becoming increasingly competitive, with pressure being placed on recruitment numbers, budgets and statistical outcomes. In libraries, we constantly benchmark ourselves against rivals in terms of staffing hours, resources and study space allocations. However, all universities face the same problems. All universities want to invest in e-journals, e-books and e-support.

The thing to bear in mind is, for students looking to plan their academic pathway, the criteria for decision-making is often tightly focused: reputation, history, job prospects, facilities, social life. I know from my experience of working on Open Days, when it comes to the Library, most students (and parents) want to see a traditional Library, but expect to hear about a Modern Library.

One of the ways in which we, as an institution, can attempt to differentiate ourselves from the competition, is to work at marrying these concepts more effectively. Utilising Web 2.0 tools innovatively could really transform perceptions of the services we provide; particularly as using mechanisms such as YouTube and Audioboo, would intrinsically involve real people connecting with real people.

Students and academics know they can be self-reliant. But they can only be self-reliant because of staff making it possible. Perhaps one way in which we can create a service USP is to find a way of personalising the experience of independent learning? Many of these exciting Web 2.0 Things we are examining not only provide an opportunity to showcase our creativity and ingenuity; but also represent a fantastic way for visitors and service users to explore the personality of the institution they are planning on investing their time and money in.

……….

Ok, the fun stuff.

YouTube: Video overload. Firstly, I had a look at the videos on the 23 Things blog. I wasn’t overly wrapped in the University of Sydney one (sorry); though I understood the point it was making, it felt a little laboured to me- by the time they got to the overhead shot of the pamphlets and croissants (a neat device) my interest had waned and I’d switched off.

Latrobe? God, what an awful video. It irritated me soooooooooo much, I lasted for about 30 seconds, and then I was like “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”

Liverpool’s Reading List Fever was less feverish for me, though I liked the concept.

Despite being overly long, I sort of enjoyed the Dr Who themed video (the Doctor made me chuckle) but, to be honest, I’m a Star Trek man…

 

I’ve selected a few YouTube finds to share with everyone, for different reasons:

This made me smile, and shows how crucial Libraries are to community life:

Although this next one is interminably long and dull, I really like the clarity of message/purpose being conveyed:

I’ve included this one on the basis that it feature Sesame Street:

This made me chuckle, even though it shouldn’t:

Lastly, I commend the organisation here (I’m sure we could pull off something similar, maybe to GaGa..?!):

I also urge you to Google ‘Library Ghostbusters’…

This is the only podcast I’ve ever bothered to download (stupid working on Fridays).

I found the Conclusions from this article fairly revealing…

I’m desperate to use Audioboo, but my lack of smartphone (and not having connected microphone to laptop at home) precludes me (stupid organisation fail).

Finally, music aint really my thing, but I had a lot of fun with Grooveshark: I’ve put together a playlist which, if you’re really bored (or are desperate to explore the horrors of my iPod and then judge me) you can check out.

It’s fairly reflective of my mental state recently. Having said that, I’m suddenly reminded of conversations at the start of the 23 Things project about revealing yourself/oneself/the self online (see Twinset & Purls for extensive, spot on, coverage of the topic…) Don’t read anything into that last bit. There’s nothing to see here people. No conclusions to be drawn. They’re just songs I like. Oh God, stop digging Chris.

Crap.

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Questions That Need Asking: The Results

From the title, you might be forgiven for expecting this follow-up post to be hosted by my cheaper and slightly prettier co-host: but no! I’ve still got it baby, yeah. Or at least, enough of it. Whatever it is. (And I should point out that for personal reasons, this portion of the blog has been pre-recorded; transparency at all times…)

Anyway, enough of this embarrassing song & tap-dance of a preamble- let’s get on with the show!

The results.

Firstly, I need to state that this is in no way scientific, or conclusive, in terms of establishing the opinions and personal preferences of Library staff. Secondly, in terms of the number of participants in the survey, to call this a ‘snapshot’ of Library thinking would be overselling it. Thank you, though, to all 3 of you who responded.

So, here we go.

The tension mounts.

Nails are chewed.

Edges of seats are occupied.

What will the recriminations be? Let the debating commence!

Finally, I couldn’t end this results post without giving in to public demand. Remember- you voted for it. It’s your own fault:

(All I’m saying is- the hair and the keyboard player…)

And They All Lived Happily After Evernote…

Once upon a time, in a library far, far away, there worked a sad Information Assistant named Christopher.

Christopher was sad because on Saturday, having sat in the sunshine sipping coffee and eating cake till 5, he returned home to discover that he was horribly sunburnt! This made poor unsuspecting Christopher sad.

Furious at his own stupidity, and aghast at looking like a cross between ‘White Van Man’ and Peter Schmeichel, Christopher didn’t know what to do?!

“My nose hurts, and my face hurts, and my arms hurt!” cried Christopher.

“Who’s been a silly little Information Assistant?” retorted Christopher’s patronising & distinctly unhelpful parent, wallowing in her son’s solar demise.

“What am I going to do?” asked Christopher.

A caring and sympathetic response proved too much for the evil old woman*, so Christopher decided to turn to his trusty, reliable friend- the Internet.

Firstly, Christopher logged-on to SlideShare, and found some helpful (and scary) presentations on the dangers of sunburn and possible remedies; including a fascinating slideshow concerning Ultimate Frisbee:

Christopher also came across a presentation entitled: 101 Ways To Cook Lost Children by the Candy Cottage Witch. Knowing that his friends, Hansel and Gretel, have had a problem recently with their parents ‘accidentally abandoning them in the woods’, Christopher decided to share this presentation with them via Twitter.

Secondly, Christopher came across this neat page on Wikipedia: Sunburn. Reading about the dangers of sunburn frightened Christopher so much, that he decided to spend time registering with UK Library Blogs in order to take his mind off things. Christopher also came across WikiPiggy, a specialised Wiki detailing construction techniques for building houses to withstand Wolf attacks.

Thirdly, Christopher decided that it might be helpful to bookmark the websites containing information about sunburn. So, he wondered if Delicious could be a helpful option, and who else might be using it already. Christopher discovered that Birkbeck Library had a small list of bookmarks, but none on sunburn. Then he discovered that one of his former lecturers had a medium-sized bookmark collection online, but with nothing about sunburn. Finally, Christopher searched for the term Sunburn on the Delicious website, generating a large amount of results, and found some information about treatment which was just right.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, thought Christopher, if I could store all of this information in one handy notebook, which I could access anytime, anywhere.

“Well,” said Granny, “my grand-daughter uses Evernote.”

“What’s Evernote?” asked Christopher.

“Evernote’s amazing,” said Granny. “It allows her to store loads of stuff, like websites, text and images in one place. She can access this information from home and on the go, using her Smartphone.”

“Wow,” said Christopher, “do you think she’d mind showing me how it works?”

“Not at all,” replied Granny. “In fact, she’s on her way through the woods to visit me now- said something about bringing me a basket of food.”

Ding-dong.

“That must be her now,” said Granny. “Early too, which makes a change.”

Christopher was curious as to why Granny’s grand-daughter had so many whiskers, really sharp teeth, and seemed desperate to get him out of the house as quickly as possible. Still, one mustn’t judge, he thought.

That night, Christopher slept peacefully; safe in the knowledge that, thanks to the wonders of Web 2.0, he need never worry about sunburn ever again.

The End.

(*Approval to use the term “Evil old woman” was agreed prior to publication.)

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