Tag Archives: Rant

No Way Out

Excuse me, how do I leave?

You can exit through the middle barrier.

Yeah, but, how do I leave?

It’s okay, you don’t need to swipe, you can just walk right through and the barrier opens automatically.

Yes, but, like, how do I leave? Where do I come out at?

What do you mean?

You know, when I walk through the barrier, how do I get out? How do I exit the building?

In hindsight, the question I should have asked was: How did you get in here in the first place?

I mean, really. Even if you’re having a really, really, *REALLY* bad day; surely the floor-to-ceiling windows offering a stunning view of the Square (i.e. the outside) serve as a slight clue. Perhaps the stairs down to the floor below could be a starting point? Try thinking about it logically maybe? You know, common sense? Sigh.

Sadly, that’s precisely the problem- not thinking.

Much debate (and ranting from me) has ensued this week about the noticeable shortcomings of some of the new crop of students. Unfortunately, a (thankfully, minority) proportion of them appear incapable of thinking for themselves.

Of course, everyone needs a little help sometimes; and that’s what we’re here for- to help.

We enjoy helping. It’s a wonderful experience to offer assistance, impart knowledge, or offer an understanding ear to somebody; and then to watch them grow in confidence as a result. And, quite understandably, certain students (e.g. from overseas, or new to higher education) take a little longer to adjust to our academic surroundings.

But too many of our newbies are, well, frankly (I hate to say it) lazy. They’re increasingly reluctant to listen to advice, they walk away before you can give them the information they need, have no patience whatsoever for anything more than a soundbite inquiry and, perhaps most disappointingly, have little regard for the need to learn how to learn. Many of them seem so used to being spoon-fed their education, that they don’t see the need/importance/necessity of learning how to use the Library, explore resources or work independently. They apparently think we are an extension of the support services, here to do everything for them. Is the new culture of increasing fees is, in turn, fuelling the notion that students expect to be given their degrees?

Is education fast becoming an economic exchange?

If you think this is just the bitter Friday ramblings of someone tired and emotional (cough) I offer this example:

As well as working, I study part-time, and have recently begun my academic year. Over the last two weeks, I have been shocked by the complete inability of some of my classmates to think for themselves. I’ve lost count of how many minutes have been wasted by inane discussions about which items are core texts, which are background, how this tutor did it like this, and how it’s not clear where we download this week’s reading from, etc.

At one point this week, several classmates freaked out when they realised the lecturer’s bullet points were different to those on our handouts. It didn’t occur to them to just make a few more extended notes. No. They interrupted him to complain/point out the error, then wasted 5 minutes discussing the point.

Astonishing.

I’m not the world’s best student. I’m not the world’s best Library worker. Sometimes I’m lazy. Sometimes I do dumb things. I have a memory like a sieve. I ask really stupid questions. Everyone does, from time to time.

But it seems independent thought and effort are fast becoming disposable commodities; much to the detriment of my desk-side manner.

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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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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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