Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blog post: An Update: What Skills Does a Digital Archivist or Librarian Need?

This blog post in the The Signal is a must read because it presents the results of a survey that asked about qualifications a successful job candidate needs.  I'll not repeat it go read it for yourself!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Importance of Physical Space

On Saturday night, while reading graduate student papers, I was also tweeting thoughts and ideas that came to me from them.  Students in my one class had to tour four libraries of their choosing, pay attention to specific details in those libraries, then write-up what they found along with a personal reflection.  While several of my tweets seemed to be about space, this one started a Twitter conversation:

Into the conversation jumped a number of librarians and LIS students from across the U.S.  The conversation was quite lively and even continued after I had gone to bed.

Since there is overlap between the libraries that the 25 students visited, I cannot say that I read about 100 different libraries, but I can say that I read about 100 different experiences of libraries.  (I would guess that I read about 50-75 unique libraries.)  Even when two students visited the exact same library, what they noticed was different and how they felt about the library often was different.  From their library visits, they got a sense of how space matters.  Some libraries have been blessed with the ability to see how to use their limited space in a way that makes it welcoming, while others have not. There were a few comments about libraries where these LIS students really didn't want to spend any time because they didn't like the space. (And if an LIS student feels that way, what must the community members feel?)

Grocery stores, large department stores, "big box" stores, theme parks, and hotels are among the institutions that recogize the importance of space to their financial success.  For example, a grocery store wants you to move through the store in a specific way, so that you will pass by foods that they want you to purchase.  They also want you to shop in a specific order. You will notice that a grocery store (and not a small family-run store on the corner) has you enter and go through the produce section first.  That is on purpose.    Aisles are wide and uncluttered, because clutter causes us to move quickly by whatever it is. the way...the entrance to the store isn't cluttered either, also on purpose.

When you look at the shelves in a store, items are placed intentionally.  This is not a haphazard arrangement.  Sometimes the arrangement annoys us, but they wouldn't do it if it didn't make them money.

How do we arrange our libraries?  Do we think about the best layout for the goals that we have?  If we want the library to be a community center, have we laid it out with that goal in mind?  If our focus is on literacy, does the layout and placement of material support that?  Are our aisle wide and uncluttered?  Do we make it easy for people to linger?  For those that linger, can they find the things that they need (restrooms, power outlets, water/food)?  Is our signage big and easy to read, even from across the room? 

In Twitter, people commented on libraries that were making their spaces more flexible.  Two academic libraries were noted as having purchased furniture that is movable, so that the students can rearrange it at will.  Students who want to study together, work on large project, etc., can move the furniture to meet their needs.  (Yes, sometimes it will seems as if they do it just to have fun, but we'll never know if that creative endeavor sparked something important.)

As the tweets flew by, I remembered visiting the public library in Telluride, CO.  This library had placed specific items in its entry way, including a place to sit and the restrooms.  From the entry way, you could look inside the children's room.  This means that a parent could be on her phone in a noisy area, while still keeping an eye on her child.  The children's section was closest to the front door, which meant that they didn't run all through the library to get to their own space.  And from the front door, it was easy to see how the entire library was laid out. Is this the ideal layout for every public library?  Perhaps not, but it is interesting to see how they considered their space and then how people use it.

I know that there are architects that work specifically with libraries.  If you are going to renovate your library space, I encourage you to work with library architectural firm.  I also encourage you to learn about space design on your own.  Don't just rely on what the architect tells you!

Also recognize that how your libraries decides to configure its space may indeed be different that what others do, but that it should not be haphazard.  Quoting David Weinberger from his book Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder (page 2):
More typical merchandisers use physical space against customers so the customers will spend more money than they intended... When Medill talks about making it easier for Staples' customers to get out of the store fast, he's a bona fide revolutionary.
With that all in mind, I found these books that you might want to read or skim through.  Even if you think this is malarkey, I bet you'll find something that could be useful.

Finally, I should note that one of my students wondered why we - not-for-profit libraries - would want to take clues from for-profit businesses.  Just because we don't make sell things doesn't mean that we can't learn from those that do.  Businesses spend millions of dollars to create spaces that people will enjoy and that they will come back to.  Shouldn't we take what they have learned and use it, so people will enjoy and come back to our spaces?

And because this topic has consumed me, as I've been writing and revising this, I found this video of a the new Surrey City Centre Library (Canada). Obviously, they had the funding to pull this all off!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wayback Wednesday: Digitization - Ubiquitous?

When I first got involved in digitization, we called it scanning.  It was a slow process, compared to today, and fraught with finicky and expensive hardware and software.  What we could scan in an hour, we can now do very quickly on a photocopier with scanning capabilities. (And I'll note that the photocopier of today does a better job then the scanners I had access to around 1990.)  Over time, were developed terms, techniques, and processes around digital curation, preservation, etc., and it became much more than just scanning.

Walkway at Governor's Island, VAFast forward to 1998-2000 and efforts to get more cultural heritage organizations involved in digitization.  Clearly they all have content that should be more widely available.  Clearly digitization is something that they could benefit from.  Clearly, though, small organization then - and now - do not have the budget or manpower to embark on something like this.  Thankfully, some larger organizations have worked with smaller organizations to get their materials digitized.  For example, in Central New York, the Central NY Library Resources Council has LIS interns working with small cultural heritage organizations to digitized their content

I am tempted to write that digitization is not ubiquitous today, yet that is not true.  I have a multi-function printer at home that scans and I know others do as well.  So the act of turning paper into a digital file is ubiquitous.  People likely do it daily, but never think of the word "digitization".  Nor do they think about what could happen after that paper is made digital.  And that is where we can make a difference.  Not only with people in our communities, but with staff at cultural heritage organizations.  We can be their advisors, their guides, their manpower...but we're not.  Why? Is it that they do not value our skills, don't know about our skills, or that we are looking for bigger/better opportunities?

As I look at my LIS students, I see people who are excited by digital technologies and about areas of study such as data science.  I see them interested in aspects of digital libraries and digitization, but their focus is shifting.  A growing number are interested in the preservation of cultural heritage, which has digitization as one of its electives.    

I am reminded of when I took a course in Cobol (around 1988).  My boss told me that I was taking a history class, because Cobol was a thing of the past.  Today corporations are still looking for Cobol programmers and people who know other "archaic" programming languages.  Will there be a time when the same will be true for digitization?  We will be looking for people who can get down and dirty with the basics?  Who can work with people who are at the beginning of their thought process on making things digital?

Jill...where are you going with this post? Dunno.  I've labeled this post "Wayback Wednesday", which is a label I've used when I've pulled older content from this blog forward into the present.  This post, however, is me ruminating on where we've been (wayback) and where we are today (Wednesday!).  And I don't think I have answers for my questions.  Perhaps I need to continue to think about "digitization" in terms of skills, curriculum, job opportunities, etc.  Like learning Cobol, perhaps I need to find ways of making those basic skills important for today. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

NYLA12: Should we break with doing things a specific way?

Bernie MargolisThe New York State Librarian, Bernie Margolis, held a session at the New York Library Association Annual Conference in order to hear from his constituents. Since the session was entitled "Grill the State Librarian", Bernie decided to dress appropriately!  He remarked at the beginning of the session that "to grill" is an activity and that he would look for this to be a two-way conversation.

If you know Bernie, then you know that he likes to tell stories (and use props).  One story is about the width of railroad tracks. (I'll note upfront that this is great story that may or may not be true.)  The punchline has to do with something that occurred hundreds of years ago influencing how we do things do.  Why didn't we break with "tradition"?  Why didn't we look for and invest in a better way?

In libraries, we as guilty as the next organization in terms of always doing things the same way.  Even when shown a new, more exciting, more effective, or more efficient way of doing "X", we generally resort to the way it has always been done.  It turns out that change is hard.

Matthew GunbyNYLA made several changes this year to the conference.  Most noticeable was that it used some newer spaces in the  Saratoga Springs City Center and Saratoga Springs Hilton Hotel (which are attached to each other).  This led to a little confusion and also joy since we didn't have to trek between buildings for specific sessions. [By they way, this convention center does not have the best signage.  With the renovations that they have done, I would think they would have improved the signage too.]

The other very noticeable change was having pecha kucha talks instead of a poster session.  Both practitioners and students gave short six minute talks in the exhibit hall on Friday.  The talks were very good and it was interesting to see how the presenters dealt with their surroundings.  (And even if they stuck to the strict pecha kucha format.)  This format reminds me that our presentations are often too long.  What if we shortened them and left more time for questions?  And what if we made our presentations such that they encouraged questions?

Univ of Albany pecha kucha presenter
NYLA has been in Saratoga Springs for three years in a row.  Even though there were changes to the conference this year, we've grown quite comfortable with Saratoga and what it has to offer.  Things will get shaken up next year when NYLA returns to Niagara Falls, NY (September 25 - 28, 2013). The Convention Center is walking distance from the Falls and from Niagara Falls, Canada.  It is in an area that has continued to be renovated, which means we will all be learning something new and will be doing things differently!  Some who attend may have never seen the Falls and so this will give them a prime opportunity.  Yes, we may all break with doing things as we have in the past!

Pecha kuchaOh...I've gotten ahead of myself.  BEFORE NEXT YEAR...can we take a moment to think about what we can do differently now? Did we all learn something at NYLA that we should be implementing now?  Did we learn something that we should be communicating to others now? During informal conversations, I learned more about how libraries interact with friends groups.  During two sessions, I learned more about how libraries are chartered in NYS and some of the implications. I need to create opportunities to discuss that information with my students.  Likely students do not consider how a library is chartered, when they are looking for a job, yet the library's charter (type) provides useful information about its environment. 

If you were at NYLA, what changes are you doing to make in your practice based on something you learned?  If you weren't at NYLA, what changes are you doing to make in your practice based on another conference that you attended?  Are you ready to break with how things have always been done?

Syracuse University students blogged the conference. Here are links to some of their posts (and as more are published, I'll add them):

Call me maybe? (Business cards)

Business cards
To the right are a few of the business cards that I received at the New York Library Association Annual Conference.  Five of them are from LIS students, while the one in at the bottom is from a seasoned practitioner.  What stands out to me are two things. (BTW to prevent spamming, I have purposefully obscured their contact info.)

First, we still value "the card".  It remains the easiest and consistent way of transferring contact information from one person to another.  Yes, I'm all for using QR codes and, in fact, two of these cards have QR codes on the other side.  Yes, I'm all for capturing people's Twitter names rather than exchanging business cards.  However, those two (and other) methods don't work for everyone.  The card is still the thing.

Second, if we're still going to use business cards, we want to have fun with them and we want them to stand out.  How do you know, though, if your card will stand out appropriately?

When I got my first set of business cards for my consulting practice, two colleagues tested my cards in ways that I wasn't used to, but that quickly made sense.  One colleague had worked in a print shop for a number of years and so she took one of my cards and picked her teeth with it!  What she was testing was the quality of the card stock.  Thankfully, my card passed that test.  The other dropped by card on the floor and looked down at it.  Was it interesting enough...readable want to pick up? I passed that test, too.

For those reading this that are designing your business cards (like students), you might want to keep those tests in mind.  Yes, it is better to have a business card on card stock rather than on copier paper.  Yes, the information should be accurate and relevant.  Yes, the format of the information should be clear and easy to read. Yes, it is okay to have a non-traditional design. should give them to people!   (And ask for one of theirs.)

Monday, November 05, 2012

Using Copyrighted Works in Teaching: A Guide for Syracuse University Faculty

In August 2012, Syracuse University published its "Using Copyrighted Works in Teaching: A Guide for Syracuse University Faculty."  This guide contains information on using copyrighted works specifically in teaching and does not provide advice for using copyrighted materials in other situations.  The 27-page guide is written in plain language.  It has been made available on the SU web site for its own instructors and for those outside of the SU community that may be interested in it.

Amazingly, it has take a couple of months for me to sit down with a cup of tea to read the booklet.  Now that I've done so, I'm pleased with how it conveys the law and the options available to an instructor.  It does, though, leave the question of "now what?" 

In every university that is implementing guidelines for their instructors, there are instructors that need help transitioning from how they have done things in the past to how they should do things in the future.  This is not a "just do it" moment.  This is a time where individual faculty members may need or want specific guidance, and extra sets of hands to help with re-making their courses. I wonder if any universities are deploying staff to help with this?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Paper still matters

Draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on display in SyracuseIn celebration of the 150 anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation toured New York State. This was the first time in decades that this document had left the State Archives. In Syracuse, people viewed it from 9 a.m. until midnight on September 27, with some standing in line for 2.5 hours just to get a glimpse.

I went at 9 a.m. before heading to work and am thankful that the line was short.  Still I didn't have forever to stand and read this draft, which contains President Abraham Lincoln's handwriting.  Rather than standing there and reading the text, I later went to the State Archive's web site where a digitized copy of the document resides.

I had not heard of a "preliminary" Emancipation Proclamation.  Its existence was not taught in school, yet now that I know it exists, I realize how important it was. 100 days before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, Lincoln signed the preliminary which signaled his intent. If the Confederacy didn't comply, he would free their slaves.  On January 1, 1863, he did just that.

There is much that I don't know about my ancestry.  I do know that one set of great-grandparent lived and died in North Carolina.  It is likely that their parents were directly affected by the document that Lincoln wrote and signed.  Yes, that document - and the final version signed on January 1, 1863 - changed the course of my family and of my own life.

The other thrill for me, when I saw the document, was knowing that it has been digitized.  Digitized!  That actually meant that none of us needed to stand in line. We all could have gone to the web site instead.  Yet there is something special about seeing the paper and the ink there in person.  The lines of people in every city across New York State were a testament that in our digital world, paper still matters.