Tag Archives: Internet

Theses Just The Beginning

Let’s talk about Theses, or “Fuds” as my manager calls them. Think about it…

Until I started at my present job, I never really thought about the fact that PhD and Masters theses were submitted to academic libraries and catalogued in the same way that books were. Obviously, I’d seen hard-bound theses before (at least, I think I had…) but I’d never really paid that much attention to them. People write their dissertations, I thought, and then just sort of handed them in.

Imagine my surprise when I found out this wasn’t the case!

In my present guise as a cataloguer, it is my responsibility to catalogue and process our theses submissions, and I actually rather like doing so. There’s something satisfying about opening up these grand texts, casting my eye over the research and tremendous commitment on display, before adding them to our system for others to peruse. It goes to the heart of academia, to the exchange of information and ideas, themes which sadly are becoming increasingly dismissed in favour of targets, money and statistics. Universities and libraries should be about something more than just churning out graduates.

Of course, I can’t lie, some of the titles I encounter look extremely boring. But every now and then, a little gem passes in front of me, with a catchy title or intriguing premise, and I marvel at the work and dedication needed to produce such results. My particular favourite so far was a music PhD.: a volume of research, plus CDs and a dozen pamphlets filled with scores and lyrics, beautifully illustrative and full of artistic ideas, experiments and above all passion for a subject.

What I actually do to/with the theses is rather clinical- tattling, barcoding, data-inputting. Sometimes, especially with the music ones, I actually feel a little guilty about writing and sticking things on other people’s work, like I’m flagrantly scribbling over canvasses in the National Gallery or defacing a textbook (things which of course I NEVER do).

What’s interesting about theses though is what happens afterwards. In many ways my role is secondary to the work of our Online Repository team, who receive the electronic copy and add it to our institutional resource. Suddenly, the tangible, physical thesis transforms into this fast, fluid, open access resource, available to researchers, students, academics and the public worldwide.

As a media studies student, I’m fairly familiar with some of the debates surrounding the evolution of new media technologies, and it will be interesting to look back in a few years time and reflect on the ways in which open access information has changed our world.

But for now, all I need to concentrate on is sticking, scanning and stamping, in the good old-fashioned library way.

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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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Why Don’t You Come Up Sometime And CC Me?

Creative Commons: Sensible solution, or accidental antithesis?

I’ve spent some time trying to understand Creative Commons and the arguments in favour of its usage. As a traditionalist, I believe in paying for access to creative product: I use iTunes, feel uncomfortable borrowing dodgy DVDs and, despite encouragement from friends (and an increasing resentment for all my favourite TV shows being gobbled up by SKY) have no intention of going Torrenting. I don’t understand why it’s seen as acceptable for artists to be devalued and their talent undermined simply because we have the Internet. Why should a writer be denied financial security and profitable recognition for their work, merely because technology makes it possible?

We appear to live in a society where an obsession with cost has overtaken an understanding of value.

I also (and this probably flies in the face of both modern thinking and the information industry as a whole) have some reservations towards the concept of open access- be it information or software- as a panacea of learning and progressive educational advancement. I’m probably coming across as a 21st Century King Cnut, waving my sword in pitiful defiance at the waves of reality crashing into my feet.

Sigh.

Anyway, my point is, I’m supportive of the notion of trying to safeguard the rights of an individual in regards to their intellectual property and artistic integrity; therefore, I think Creative Commons is a potentially meritorious project.

However, like my Cnut-esque protestations about the modern world, Creative Commons is an extremely idealistic concept, raising all kinds of questions in terms of its legality and practical enforcement. And, let’s be honest, we’ve all borrowed a CD from a friend, a book from a colleague and, in our darker moments, taped stuff off the radio (ah, the days of cassettes and pressing pause/record at the same time…). The fact is, if people are going to illegally share/copy/download, then they’re not going to pay much attention to a little symbol on the corner of a website, especially when the full force of the law has proved so clumsily inadequate as a deterrent.

I actually feel that the concept of Creative Commons contradicts itself in its own terms. Creative Commons seems to have been setup in order to encourage responsible free sharing of content online. Yet CC admits that it only works in concert with existing regulations. Rather than opening up content and information sharing, Creative Commons is actually helping to reinforce the established (flawed) boundaries between those who generate original work, and those who take advantage of the work of others. Copyright law is already floundering under the weight of the Internet, and yet Creative Commons wants to add another layer of, frankly, inept restrictions, on top of the problem.

I also noticed that on Flickr, many people are using the more restrictive licenses, and actually transferring their licensing controls to a corporate entity (Getty Images) in order to protect their commercial interests. In this instance, Creative Commons is failing to meet the challenge of the Internet; in addition, the Flickr/Getty setup serves as a reminder that the Internet is continuing to be colonised by major commercial stakeholders.

Apologies, I’ve probably mangled my points here. I knew what I wanted to say as I started typing, and then sort of got jumbled up in the argument. Essentially, I like the idea of CC, but don’t think it’s the perfect answer to the online copyright question.

Anyway, enough of this! Let’s get to the fun part:

This week’s first Thing was about Creative Commons, or CC as it’s known. So, I thought I’d present a tribute to some of the other famous CC’s who have gone before (extra prize if you can guess who/what they are without cursor-hovering for the answer!):

(1) Popstar: CeCePeniston3.CPF.WDC.11jun06

(2) Actress*:

(3) Popular music group: 10cc

(4) Motorcycle**: 1973 Triumph Tiger

(5) Religious figure: St Francis of Asisi

(*Actress: CCH Pounder)

(**Motorcycle: It’s 750cc…)

I must admit, I found the CC searching on Flickr awkward- sometimes it was more helpful to use the normal search as it yielded greater options. I found formatting the images on WordPress quite fiddly & time-consuming (maybe I was doing something wrong) and must say a massive Thank You to Library Apocalypse and Twinset & Purls for their discussion about using Flickr; it really helped!

(I spent ages reading the CC explanations, trying to make sure ‘I got it’- seriously, if anyone notices that I’ve applied the license instructions incorrectly: TELL ME, and I’ll remove them immediately. It’s stupidity, not an attempt to infringe anyone’s copyright. I found it a real minefield, particularly when you factor the Getty license into the equation.)

Finally, the Cool Extra Thing. And what a thang. I wish I had a better photo to use, but I had to make do. That’s not to say the results aren’t hysterical (or indeed freaky…)

Thank you for introducing me to PhotoFunia. Love it!

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