Tag Archives: Personal

A Blog Post Comes But Once A Year

So, the last time I posted to this blog was less than a year ago. That’s less than a year. Not a year, less than.

Okay, again I’ve been a little tardy. Work shy. Slipshod. There have been reasons.

Reason 1: I’m lazy.

Reason 2: Erm, well, there is a reason two. It’s that life sort of got in the way, except that, the bits of life that got in the way are sort of linked to my erstwhile career as a blogger, so in effect I’m really just making excuses. (I did finish the final year of my degree, and work has been *crazy* what with the ‘restr_____ing’). Mostly excuses.

Anyway, you rejoin me (or I rejoin you) with an imminent rotation: away from the joys and delights of Inter-Library Loans and Acquisitions, and into the lap-of-the-Gods that is Academic Services (Subject Librarians). It should be exciting/fun/new/scary, and already I have a diary brimming with activities to help keep me occupied in my first week.

Firstly I’m sitting-in on a talk with an Erasmus visitor, who will be learning about the way the Library markets itself from my talented colleague who co-ordinates all of that for us. Then later in the week I’m learning about editing the new version of LibGuides- which, given that I haven’t learned how to edit the old versions, should be a fresh learning opportunity. Or shot in the dark.

I am in the process of moving desks, and will now be facing a wall. A white wall. A plain one. There will be posters.

My equipment is being adjusted for me (ba-dum-tsch) and hopefully everything will actually be ready to go I.T.-wise ahead of schedule, as I’m sure everything will all work properly and there will be no problems. Ha ha ha ha ha ha etc.

In the meantime, I have been wrapping up stuff and doing all of those little tasks that you set to one side to be done later and never do, like replacing those crappy plastic wallets, or updating those notes, or shredding the evidence.

It’ll be sad to leave Technical Services (it’s been re-branded since last we spoke) and even sadder when one of my managers, who’s worked here for 40 years (that’s not a typo) retires in a couple of weeks time. But on Monday, following the closure of one of our other sites, a load of new shiny people will arrive, completely changing the dynamic of the workplace. A workplace that, in light of the institution-wide plans and reconfiguration, has seen so many people leave, and continue to leave, and actually hasn’t really felt the same for a while.

It’ll be good to have more people around, and less empty seats.

 

 

 

 

 

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Out of the Frying Pan & into the Fire

After 12 happy months in Public Services, I am about to embark on a journey into the unknown- Cataloguing. I have not been to Library School. I am wholly unqualified. You say Dewey, I say Uncle Scrooge:

What can possibly go wrong?

Yes, in the crazy world of my Library, I am about to be rotated for the second time- from the dark, murky corners of the illuminati to the, well, lighter (and temporarily more spacious) corner of ‘proper Librarianism’.

I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for this last comment.

It’s just that, Cataloguing strikes me as pretty much the closest I’ll ever get to being part of that classic, nostalgic, rose-tinted world of tweed, dust and good old-fashioned stamping. Yes I know, Libraries are about e-resources, and iPads and fancy tools, and information literacy. And yes I know that dealing with customers, equipment and systems is crucial to building a successful learning environment. But Cataloguing, well, it looks sort of librariany. There are reference books involved.

With just a few days to go, I’m filled with excitement and trepidation. Excitement in that I’ll be learning something new, and sitting somewhere different and changing the whole tempo of my daily work. The trepidation comes from a genuine fear that I’ll be useless at it. I really am starting from a low knowledge base. No, lower. Lower than that. Keep going. Yep, that low.

From what I can tell so far, grammar and punctuation are big themes in cataloguing which pleases me. I’m obsessed with both, love rules and think everyone should read Lynne Truss’ masterpiece. However, it also looks like it involves computer systems and someone called Marc. This pleases me less. I don’t like numbers or technical things. Boo science. And I don’t like meeting new people. On the up side, I’ve already re-written the title of this blog post three times; first, as I would normally, second as it should look on the catalogue, and third as above which breaks both mine and AARC rules. At least I think it does. Is it even called AARC? No wait, it’s AACR isn’t it? Haha! See, I was paying attention. What? I’ve missed out a number? Really?

Anyway, I also found out today that Mr Dewey (allegedly) had a thing for Max Mosely-style alleged shenanigans (allegedly). In conclusion, I plan to document my journey through Cataloguing in the hope that some good will come from the metadata damage I will undoubtedly do.

In the meantime, I’m in the process of wrapping up my time in Public Services which, contrary to the indications of colleagues (whose doomsday utterings left me concerned that I was headed into the jungle with Martin Sheen) has proven rather fun and uplifting; and I don’t think this is entirely down to the gallows humour either. The fact is, Public Services is both challenging and rewarding. You’re simultaneously managing your workload, motivation levels, personal discipline, professional manner and general ability to be social. I’ve felt under pressure to be ‘on’ most of the time. You get asked more questions than you have answers for, and the sense of treading water and frustration at being powerless to solve certain issues can be a little overwhelming at times. But then, the sense of achievement when something works, when customers are satisfied, becomes even more intensified- even the smallest, littlest success, like finding a missing book, or answering a colleague’s question, suddenly becomes magnified into a much more emphatic win. I’ve also learned a lot from my Public Services colleagues about problem-solving, thought processes, strategic planning and attention to detail; not to mention the skills of personal resolve in handling extremely difficult/challenging scenarios with dignity and care. I’m actually sad to be saying goodbye to a job I’ve enjoyed, and to the tasks I never quite got round to finishing.

But all things must end, and in that spirit I shall stop now.

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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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“Okay, Let’s Have A Threesome!”

Who knew impromptu Irish dancing could be so much fun?!

On Friday I went to a closure party which, on the face of it, sounds like some sort of dreadful post-break-up group therapy meeting. In fact, it was the closure party for the building where I used to work before joining City: the Whipps Cross Campus of London South Bank University. LSBU decided to axe the site prior to Christmas, leaving all of my former colleagues facing redundancy (so, I suppose you could call it a bad break-up of sorts…)

I first joined LSBU in 2001, when I decided to work for a year after leaving college. I rejoined again in 2004 after dropping out of university (don’t ask) and at the time, the plan was to go back to uni within a couple of years; instead, I worked there until May 2010.

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I loved my job at WX. Working at the site, which was little more than a glorified shed, was like being part of an intimate community. Everyone pulled together in the face of the unique challenges faced by an external campus. We were able to build relationships with the students and nursing staff, many of whom became ‘regulars’ over the years. And, I’m happy to say, I’ve made some lasting friendships with the people I worked with too.

It was because of these friendships that I went on Friday, to share in the experience of saying goodbye.

I was less than thrilled when I realised that I’d arrived just in time for the speeches… but, listening to staff members recounting tales from the 1970s (when the building was the local Nursing School), and recalling memories from the days when the PCs were BBC and not Dell, was fun; and hearing from students was especially touching, to know that they valued the support and experience they’d received/had. There were some special mentions, parting gifts (including for the site cleaner) and even a surprise vocal solo from one lecturer (just the right side of embarrassing), before the buffet was opened, the booze poured, and the music kicked into gear.

The whole event was sweet and parochial, which was about right. 

It was good to catch up with everybody, and hopefully there’s going to be a meal at some point in the near future, when we can properly reminisce about all of the fun, weird & crazy times we had. And oh yes, there were crazy times. It’s impossible for me to adequately cover everything in one mere blog post; however…

Here are my Top Ten WX moments:

  • TeaspoonGate
  • Cupboard of Doom
  • Mouse in the House
  • The Dead Body
  • Snowpocalypse
  • AppraisalGate
  • Making a Meal of it.
  • J’Accuse!
  • The Case of the Disappearing Librarian
  • To Catch a Thief (and let him go again)

Some people may have heard a few of these before. From my perspective, my experiences at WX, both good and bad, are framed and viewed with a huge dose of ironic satisfaction.

Even the bad times were good- particularly as they’ve kept me in a surplus of anecdotes for years!

Finally, I should explain- for some reason, the live entertainment was provided by an Irish folk band. At the end of the evening, I found myself roped in to taking part in the ‘last dance’, which turned out to be some sort of group Hoedown. First we formed a circle; then various characteristics were beckoned forwards to the middle (“All those wearing skirts” [clap] etc.); then we were ordered to “Swing with a partner”; then “Promenade with your partner”; and then, after several circuits to a jaunty Irish beat, for some inexplicable reason, the woman on the microphone shouted, “Okay, now let’s have a threesome!”.

Needless to say, it took some of us somewhat by surprise. I laughed so hard my sides hurt. Oh the havoc ignorance and Cava can wreak…

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A Classy Little Number

I loathe shopping for clothes.

I find it a soul-destroyingly miserable endeavour, punctuated by moments of intense rage and bitter resentment.

Take yesterday as an example:

I decided to hit Oxford Street in an attempt to find something to wear at a family wedding on Saturday. There’s no formal dress code (in fact, quite the reverse) and, given that I wasn’t intending to put that much effort into the outfit (I’m attending out of obligation; frankly, I’d rather stay home and poke my eyes out with acid-laced knitting needles), I felt relaxed and untroubled by circumstance.

I know, I’ll by a jacket. Or a blazer. Something blazery, in a jackety kind of way.

And then it begins.

Ooh, that looks nice. Do they have a Medium? Excellent. Right, let’s see how this fits… oh, bother; the sleeves are a bit short. Oh well, I’ll try another one. Oh, there are no more Mediums. Maybe I’ll try another store.

I quite like that one. I’ll put on the Medium, no wait, too big. Ok, let’s see. Ah, a Large- great. Hmm, it feels comfy, it looks good oh, nope; too short at the back.

Wow, I really like this linen, I think I’ll try one on. Just search for my size… ah, they’ve decided against S/M/L and opted for a number-based system, with multiple fits and length combinations.

Sigh.

Cue the forlorn trudge home, via the overcrowded sweaty delayed train, and the untimely blustery downpour.

As you can see, not fun.

It’s bad enough having to suffer the indignity of walking through TOPMAN being judged, let alone discovering that, as you thought, nothing here fits or is in your size. In fact, you shouldn’t be in here at all. Please leave.

Then, out of nowhere last night, it suddenly occurred to me-

What these shops need is a Cataloguer!

We all know the clothing-size-identification-system is flawed and has been for years; so, why hasn’t anyone tried broadening it out a little?

Let’s Dewey-ify Westfield!

100: Mens casual sweater.

100.1: Mens casual sweater- Small

100.11: Mens casual sweater- Small, but with slightly longer arms.

100.110: Mens casual sweater- Small, with slightly longer arms but shorter in body.

100.2: Mens casual sweater- Medium.

etc.

(Apologies to our Metadata Co-ordinator, who would undoubtedly gasp in horror at my un-educated, slapdash approach to the craft).

The more I thought about it, the more I realised how much High Street fashion could benefit from Higher Education.

For starters, with Dewey (and orderly shelving) you’d actually be able to find what you’re looking for in H&M (seriously folks, it looked like Primark yesterday).

Imagine having self-check returns?! No more agonising queues, crossing three departments of insurance, luggage and lingerie, only to suffer the impertinent faux-cross examination by an accusatory & suspicious Customer Service assistant intent on declaring you a fraud, as the garment has “clearly been worn.”

No it hasn’t; give me my money back.

I’m not saying I’ve entirely thought this one through- I’m sure there are many drawbacks to my idea.

But, just ruminating on the notion stopped me from opening my front door, exploding in an eruption of vitriol and expletives, before collapsing in a heap of tears and self-pity, all because I couldn’t find anything to make me look nice; and, from despairing over having to return the emergency panic purchase which, in hindsight, doesn’t fit, and I hate it anyway.

Basically, I’m imagining ways in which my work could impact on other industries, in order to avoid a cycle of self-perpetuating emotional torment. I’m clearly growing as an individual.

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