Friday, June 01, 2012

Two Hats

I wear two hats at work these days - librarian and knowledge manager. It's interesting to observe which term people prefer to use in referring to me and my job. My peers at the junior staff level almost exclusively call me a librarian when introducing me to new people. The senior management on the other hand wants us to be only called knowledge management staff, and to not use the phrase "library staff" (I haven't asked how they feel about "librarian" since I suspect I already know the answer to that question). I'm not sure why they don't like the "library staff" label, but it does make for some awkward wording when we make announcements about library events or issues.

Personally, I call myself a librarian when talking to non-librarians outside the organization about my job, since it's far easier for people to grasp what I do than trying to explain in just a few words what knowledge management is. People get what a librarian is, and what I do, and generally think it's pretty cool. When I talk to other librarians then I'll mention the knowledge management part of my job and they understand that and get that I'm doing both types of work.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Reader on Reading

I'm a little over midway through Alberto Manguel's collection of essays called A Reader on Reading, but I wanted to review it now anyways to get some thoughts on paper before a book club discussion of it later this week. Unlike his previous volume, The Library at Night, this book is a collection of items previously published in a variety of other places, so it's not quite as coherent in form. An attempt has been made to tie all the pieces together using Alice in Wonderland as an organizing metaphor, but I don't know that it's particulary successful. That aside, many of the pieces themselves are excellent. I especially appreciate Manguel's ability to be both deeply in love with the act and form of reading, while simultaneously aware of its challenges and defects. I rarely mark up the books I read, but fairly soon into this one I felt the need to pull out a pencil and start annotating and underlining various passages that I wanted to remember or comment upon. To me, that's the mark of a successful author, one who makes you want to engage with their text.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Magic Powers

Due to various staff changes, I'm now working in the library again, doing traditional library things. I am somewhat irrationally excited by this, because no one else around me seems to think that Interlibrary Loan is as exciting as I do. It's sort of magical, this ability to request a book from literally anywhere in the country and have it show up a few short weeks later. Suddenly people are much happier to hear from me, because I'm calling to say that I have the thing they want (instead of asking them to do work they don't like).

The mere existence and huge scope of the Interlibrary Loan system is something of a testament to the enduring power of the printed word and of physical books. Perhaps some day it will all be replaced by electronic transfers (something that's happening already for journal articles), but for now there are still thousands of boxes and envelopes winging their way around the world, carrying books to their readers.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Google+ First Impressions

Thanks to my awesome brother, I snagged one of the early invites to access Google+, the new social networking service from the search engine company we all know and (sometimes) love.

Despite the fact that it's feeling a bit like a ghost town over there at the moment, since they're limiting the number of users for now, my first impressions of the service are generally positive. The highlights so far:
  1. A clean interface. Google has always been good at fairly minimalist, clean web design, which I really appreciate.
  2. Easy integration. Since Google+ is connected to my Google account, it will be really easy to add people already in my Gmail contacts list. Also, a new top-of-the-page menu bar now shows up on all my Google pages (Gmail, Reader, iGoogle, etc.) with the Google+ share box and notifications info. Since I spend a lot of time on Google Reader this is great for me. It's also connected to Picasa, so if you already use that site for photo storage it'll be easy to share those pictures.
  3. Privacy control. Every single post lets you easily pick who to share with. No more defaulting to every person you've ever met. You can also decide for each piece of information in your profile who has access to it. Want to share your favorite food with the whole world but keep your job title private? No problem! You also don't have to be a sleuth to find the privacy controls, they show up at the point of editing your information.
  4. Circles. These are a little like Facebook's lists of friends, but they're so much easier to manage, with an easy drag-and-drop interface. They let you group people so you can easily share with that particular group. Unlike Facebook, which only lets you exclude lists of people, Google+ lets you decide which circles to include when you share something.
In general, the major difference between Google+ and Facebook is that Google has listened to all the complaints about Facebook's ridiculous privacy settings (and learned, no doubt, from their own experience with Google Buzz) and has given people the ability to easily share what they want, with exactly who they want. Is it ultimately not Facebook that's just like Facebook? For now, probably, and that's okay, particularly if it forces Facebook to quit doing some of the stupid things they do, but I can't wait to see what Google can do with this new toy.

Edited to Add: TechCrunch has a good review that sums up my experience pretty well.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Silence in the Library

Because all of our library staff people were out for various reasons today I covered the library for them. In the eight hours I sat there, I had an actual, library-relevant conversation with exactly one person who came in to look for a couple of books. I don't know if this is a typical day in the library, since I haven't worked there since I was an intern two years ago, but it was somewhat disheartening. In our new building, the cafe space has become the central staff gathering place, where people go to eat lunch, do some work away from their desks, or just have informal meetings. This space is bright and airy, with lots of tables, a nice view, and a few plants. The library, by contrast, is dark and feels a bit claustrophobic, and isn't a particularly welcoming place. It's so rare these days to even have a physical library that it seems like such a waste that it's not being very well used. I fear that this may lead to a downward spiral of library gets less appealing space > library gets used less > argument is made to move library to even less appealing space > lather, rinse, repeat.

(Bonus points to anyone who recognizes the source for this post title.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Let's Eat!

The National Archives is opening a new exhibit that looks like it will be really interesting:
What's Cooking Uncle Sam?
Food. We love it, fear it, and obsess about it. We demand that our Government ensure that it is safe, cheap, and abundant. In response, Government has been a factor in the production, regulation, research, innovation, and economics of our food supply. It has also attempted, with varying success, to change the eating habits of Americans. From the farm to the dinner table, explore the records of the National Archives that trace the Government’s effect on what Americans eat.
I don't get over to the Archives very often, but I've really liked the special exhibits that I've seen there, and of course I love food, so I'm definitely planning to check this out. Also, if you're not already following it, David Ferriero (the Archivist of the United States) has a great blog.

SLA Annual 2011

On Monday I went to this year's SLA Annual Conference (my first time at SLA) in Philadelphia. Having gone to ALA several times, and to other library conferences, I had a pretty good idea what to expect, but it was still exciting to attend.

SLA has a different feel as a conference than some of the other events I've been to - more slick, corporate polish, fewer children's books - but not in a bad way, just as a reflection of the types of librarians who attend and the places they work. I went to several excellent sessions (for which I'll try to write up posts later), and got to talk to lots of librarians that I know but don't see regularly.

Most of all, I appreciated the conference for allowing me to get out of the office and away from my desk. The last several weeks I've spent almost every minute of every work day on a very detail-oriented micro-level project and the chance to think about big-picture things was a welcome break.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Tomorrow is moving day for my organization. This means that we have all spent at least part of this week packing up the contents of our desks and offices in order to be ready for the big move. The office is full of plastic crates stacked four or five high with all our stuff in them. What is also taking up room are bins - garbage bins, recycling bins, shredding bins - the quantity of stuff that has been discarded in the last week alone (not to mention the dozens of bins that were filled in February and last August during pre-move clean-out days) is somewhat astonishing. If I had to guess I'd say a third of all the stuff in everyone's office is being disposed of rather than moved.

Besides thinking about the obvious environmental implications of all this waste, it also makes me wonder about the psychological implications of it all. If we have so much unnecessary, unwanted stuff in our personal spaces, how does that affect our ability to get our jobs done? My job involves spending a lot of time getting people to clean up their digital clutter, by putting things in databases or making a single version of a document available on our intranet, in the hope that it will make their jobs easier. But too often I think we forget that our physical environment can have just as much impact on our productivity as our virtual one, and frequently the only time we bother to clean things out is when we're leaving a job and it's too late to do us any good.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Book Club!

The DC/SLA non-fiction book club is meeting on Tuesday, April 26 to discuss Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers

Location and RSVP details are available on the DC/SLA chapter website. It's usually a great discussion so I encourage people to come and check it out.

Recommended Fun Stuff

My friend Emily and her husband have started a new creative writing blog/journal/project thing - Dr. Hurley's Snake-Oil Cure. Knowing them both, it promises to be very interesting, so you should all check it out.

Eventually, they plan to include:
  • Fiction: short or long, serious, silly, or poetry
  • Non-fiction: articles, reviews, history, opinion, aphorisms, etc.
  • Art: drawings, watercolors, photos, comics, etc. 
  • Multimedia: if you have audio and video content, we're happy to post it online, and link to it in print
  • Dr. Hurley specials: Tonics (i.e. drinks or faux-medicinal recipes - see Dr. H's No. 1 as an example)
  • Biographical information on the mysterious Dr. Hurley (first-person accounts, portraits of the doctor, historical information, correspondence to or from the Dr. - see the first installment of his Biography on the blog here.)

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Diverse Universe

I recently wrote a guest post for the DC/SLA chapter's blog. They've started a new series called Diverse Universe, about the variety of jobs that members of the chapter have - my guest post is up now, so go check it out.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Books, of the E- and other varieties

One of the things that many commentaries about the new e-book readers mentions is that they will be the death of print books. However, in one hour this afternoon I performed the following actions: downloaded a handful of e-books to my Kindle (one pay, several public domain for free), pre-ordered one hardback book and bought one hardback and one paperback from Amazon, and put a hold on one book via my local library system.

If other e-book reader owners are having similar experiences to mine, then I think the future of the physical book is not in any immediate danger. I won't argue that the business model of publishing won't change, as fewer copies of those hardback books may be sold, but I suspect that it might end up looking more like the recording industry, where die-hard fans of a band buy CD's online or at shows (because no one can autograph an .mp3) while lots and lots of other buy the digital downloads.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


I got a Kindle for Christmas this year. I've only had the thing for a week, and I'm already convinced that it's one of the best things ever. I probably wouldn't have ever gotten around to buying one for myself (I tend to be really indecisive about buying new technology because I'm always afraid that as soon as I do the next generation will be released), but now that I've got it I love it.

Probably the fact that I do a lot of reading on the subway makes me love the thing the most because even with the case it's small and lightweight - about the size of a thin trade paperback, it's easy to turn the page with one hand (even with gloves on), and it will lay flat on a table without being held open so it's easy to read while you eat in a restaurant or coffee shop. No longer do I have to only read paperbacks on the train because hardback books take up too much room in the bag. I also don't have to worry about being out and not having anything to read because I've finished my book.

There's a fair amount of free content if you want to read older classics, but I do suspect that I will end up spending more on books now, in much the same way that I started spending more on music when I could buy albums on iTunes with one click and didn't have to go to the store to get a physical CD. The Kindle seems like the perfect solution for reading books that I don't mind paying for but don't value enough to allot them space on my overcrowded bookshelves.

I still have reservations about the intellectual property issues involved in the Kindle, and the level of control that Amazon has over the content, and I'm very annoyed that the download-able e-books offered by my public library work on every device in the world except the Kindle. I also think that for certain favorite authors whose books I've collected in print I will continue to buy physical copies. Despite these things, I now consider myself an enthusiastic fan of the e-book reader.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bad Timing

It's unfortunate that the times when I have the most interesting things to talk about are also the times when I'm far too busy to find the time to write about them.

We're hurtling full speed ahead towards our big move in the spring, and many projects are rushing to get completed before then. Document scanning is finally getting underway, well after the planned summer start date. This wouldn't be such an issue if it weren't for the fact that the two departments we're starting with both have major deadlines at the end of this week which kick off their busy seasons. They had staff members sitting around practically begging for work for weeks, and now they're having to cut some of the metadata entry for the scanned documents because they don't have the staff time for it. In some ways, it's actually a good thing, because it means that they have to be more realistic about what can be achieved, but it's unfortunate that the delay in contracting with the scanning company means that they can't be as thorough as they might otherwise have been. We've been working closely with them to make sure that at least the most important information is captured, and everything will be full-text searchable, but hopefully we won't be regretting the shortcuts later down the road.