Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Using the web changes your reading habits.

Gregory Lamb writes for The Christian Science Monitor an article on how the web changes reading habits. The article at first sounds promising and very suggestive, but it is nothing more than a brief report on a couple of theories for artificial intelligence systems that basically try to predict what you would be interested in reading. One of these theories is the theory of ScentHighlights. From the article:

The reading experience online "should be better than on paper," Chi says. He's part of a group at PARC developing what it calls ScentHighlights, which uses artificial intelligence to go beyond highlighting your search words in a text. It also highlights whole sections of text it determines you should pay special attention to, as well as other words or phrases that it predicts you'll be interested in. "Techniques like ScentHighlights are offering the kind of reading that's above and beyond what paper can offer," Chi says.

While readers might not feel a need to use ScentHighlights with the next Harry Potter novel, the software could help students, academics, and business people quickly extract specific information from other written material.

ScentHighlights gets its name from a theory that proposes that people forage for information much in the same way that animals forage in the wild. "Certain plants emit a scent in order to attract birds and bees to come to them," Chi says. ScentHighlights uncovers the "scent" that bits of information give off and attract readers to it.

I like the idea that reading online should be a better experience than on paper. I think right now a lot of people get turned off from technologies like e-books because the experience is not as pleasant as reading the book, even with the little extras like better searching in the text. I have to admit the idea of foraging is intriguing. I know that for work related reading I often "forage" to find the essential stuff I need. I am not sure about finding a "scent," but I am sure other readers may have different insights. I guess I was disappointed in the article because I wanted to learn more about actual readers and how their habits are changing. While the theories discussed are intriguing, the headline left me wanting more. A misleading scent?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

U.S. has a serious trade deficit. . .in literary translations

The June 2005 issue of Gale's Literature Community News has a piece written by Chris Jackson on the deficit in translated works. The essence of the article is this: the U.S. has a severe shortage of works from other nations translated into English. In the meantime, the world does a good amount of translating works from English into various languages. The opening statistic in the article provides a good wake-up call:

50% of all books published in translation are translated from English. Only 6% of all translated books are translated from another language into English. What does this mean? For one, it means that the works of several Nobel Prize-winning authors still aren't available at your local bookstore. For another, it means there's "a one-way mirror between America and the rest of the world. They get to see what we're doing, but we don't get to see what they're doing," according to Hyperion editor-in-chief Will Schwalbe.

Personally, I have always known that a lot of the cool and fun stuff to read is written overseas in various languages. No offense to United States writers, there are some excellent ones, but overall, I love to explore stuff from around the world, which is often better and just more imaginative. As I said, the United States has produced some fine writers like Hemingway and more recently Toni Morrison, but overall the U.S. production, at least recently, does not seem to have as much diversity and daring. I am speaking literary fiction; popular fiction is a whole other ballgame, so to speak, and I read my fair share of the popular too. But in terms of literary fiction, offer me someone like John Updike, and I just think "blah." Offer me Isabel Allende, Jose Saramago, Salman Rushdie, Chinua Achebe, and others from around the world, and I am thinking "oh yea." I am sure readers would love to suggest their own American favorites. As I said, there are excellent writers, but I think they are rare.

My only regret at this point is that I am not fluent in at least two or three more languages so I could read more. I am fluent in Spanish, and I read anything originally in Spanish that way. Works from Portuguese writers, like Saramago, I pick up in a Spanish translation. This is a bias on my part, but since they are both Romance languages, I think a Spanish translation will likely be closer to the original. I took two years of French as an undergraduate, and I actually managed to pick it up quite well (being a Romance language made it easier for me). Sadly, lack of practice and time means I have lost a lot of that knowledge. Who knows? Maybe some day I will get the guts to pick it up again so I can read Victor Hugo as well as contemporary French writers, not to say those of other Francophone nations. Overall, the world offers a diverse set of literary genres and forms. It seems to me we are missing an awful lot here in the States. In the meantime, I pick up any works translated into English (or Spanish) I can get my hands on.

In addition, as Arts and Humanities Librarian at my library, I select books on Foreign Languages (pretty much anything other than English; we have an English selector). So, I pick up works written in Foreign Languages (not many, since our programs are pretty small). I also get to pick translations into English from around the world. Recently, I have selected anthologies of Arab women's writing, writers from the Amazon region (many of which write in native languages), some Eastern European, etc. I have to be very selective, in part because I know the interest may be low. But I do it in the belief that I need to broaden the horizons of my patrons as well as I need to build a more diverse collection.

Here is another good quote from the article:

A study by the National Endowment of the Arts found that in 1999, only 300 of the 10,000 works of poetry and fiction published in the U.S. that year were translations from any language. But get this: According to Esther Allen, head of PEN American Center's translation committee, in 2002 more than 330 books were translated into Arabic. Turns out those supposedly hostile-to-the-West countries are doing a better job of incorporating international literature into their culture than English-speaking countries.

I hate to say this, but this country has a serious lack of understanding when it comes to the rest of the world. Back in April, I wrote a post about how Social Studies is losing out to Mathematics and Sciences. I am not saying that we should teach less Math and Science, but we should also be teaching more Social Studies, including Geography. The post has a link to the National Geographic Global Literacy Survey, which highlights how dismal such knowledge is here. This article about translated literature just makes me think of that further. I find it very interesting that at a time when the U.S. is at war in the Middle East that they over there are translating and reading more works from here than viceversa (ok, so the number is close, but it is more). Hostile as they may be it seems, that if nothing else, they adhere to that old maxim about knowing the ways of the enemy. I would like to think that there is some interest besides "understanding the enemy." And literature can be very revealing about a particular society. It can open all sorts of doors to better understanding. On a side note, I do wonder how much of this flux of works into Arabic from English is affected by the fact many regimes in the Middle East are repressive when it comes to the freedom to read, and readers get their copies of English stuff underground (or have to seek it out more aggressively. Here, we just go to Borders or online to buy it, but this is a whole other topic). Personally, I think there is never enough literature to read and discover. So, I would urge publishers and translators to keep making works accessible to readers around the world. I, for one, will be reading.

Update note (6/30/05): The Guardian has published an article listing ten overseas writers that we should be reading. The article was prompted by the awarding of the International Man Booker Prize to Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare (who? Yea, I know, they actually typed the question on the article, and I had the same reaction). As for the list of ten, I only knew of one. So, it looks like I have some reading to do.

Links to tips on better writing for blogs

I got these links from Library Voice here. B.L. Ochman provides suggestions on both how to write good blog posts as well as how to write comments on other people's blogs here. She points out that commenting on other blogs can still be an important part of the conversation. You can find more tips here and here, out of To-Done, blog on productivity and other workplace issues.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Puerto Rican Novelist Enrique Laguerre Dies

Through the REFORMA discussion list, I got an article that reports the death of Puerto Rican writer Enrique Laguerre, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999. He died on June 16th, and he was 99 years old. The people of Puerto Rico had led a letter writing campaign at one point to the Nobel Committee to get Laguerre nominated. El Nuevo Dia features a special report on the author, in Spanish. All I know that this is a sad day for letters as well as for Puerto Rico and its people, including myself. Laguerre was a novelist, playwright, college professor, poet and literary critic. In 1975, he received the National Literature Prize from the Instituto de Cultura Puertorrique~na. (They have a section on the author as well). Among his works are La Llamarada (1935), La Resaca (1949), and El Laberinto (1959). I had the opportunity to present a paper on his novel El Laberinto, a novel about an immigrant's labyrinthine travel through New York and then the Dominican Republic, when I was working on my first master's degree. Anyone who is interested in immigration studies should be reading this novel. Overall, he published 15 novels that portray and trace the history of Puerto Rico from the 18th century to the present day.

REFORMA cited a short article out of, but unfortunately the actual article did not appear to be available when I looked it up. I would urge readers to look over El Nuevo Dia's coverage if they are able to read Spanish (heck, run parts of it through a translator if you have to). I tried locating a report in English for readers, but I can't seem to locate one at the moment. Laguerre's work was often read in schools as part of the curriculum. I wrote that paper for a class in Latin American literature mostly seeking to write about a unique author, and I found a most interesting writer with an excellent vision of Puerto Rico and the challenges the island faces. I always wanted to revise that essay for submission, a discussion of the labyrinth imagery in his novel, maybe now it would be a good time. He deserves to have his work studied in more depth, likely more than someone like me could do. Then again, Don Enrique was a humble man, and a writer of the people whose works constantly depicted people of humble backgrounds. I feel kind of awful I did not find out until today, but I do admit I have not kept up with news back from my little island as much as I would like to since coming to live in the States. As I type this note, my eyes are watering, and I am sure many other Puerto Ricans away from their little island are in sorrow as well with the loss of a great man and humanist. I am finding that words are failing me, so I am going to stop for now and look over the coverage. Descanse en paz, Don Enrique (Rest in peace, Don Enrique).

Update note (3:05p): English speakers can get a quick entry on Enrique Laguerre from an article in Wikipedia here.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Booknote: _The Woman I Kept to Myself_

This book is so good that I could not resist recommending it to one of my colleagues right away. As soon as I check it back in, I am passing it to her. Julia Alvarez, known for novels like How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, now gives us a new volume of poetry. The title is very appropriate as she is writing about her inner life. The book blurp says that "these are not poems of a woman discovering herself--Alvarez might say that's what her twenties were for-- but of a woman returning to herself." That is a pretty accurate description as her poetry takes us from moments of childhood through youth and and then adulthood.

The book is divided into three sections. Her themes are varied, and her images are colorful and evocative. She uses a simple, yet elegant language to convey a range of emotions and passions that any reader will appreciate. In a way, it is as if she was sitting addressing the reader, or better yet, as if you could hear her as she writes the lines, reading them to herself and reflecting upon them. The first poem, "Family Tree," tells of her mother writing her name down on the family tree and then how she writes her stories based on where she came from. It makes for a good opening to a great little book (it's only 156 pages). From there, she continues to write about a photographer ("El fotografo"), hairbands ("Hairbands") and signs ("Signs"); she wonders why we don't see Jesus laughing ("Why Don't We See Jesus Laughing?"), and finally notices Spring for the first time ("Spring, at Last!"). For me to choose one favorite poem is a difficult task; they are all very good. There is a bit of humor, a bit of reflection, and even some bittersweet moments. Poetry readers will find a bit of everything here. I will pick part of one poem to share, maybe because it is about the craft of writing, and how can I not like it? I see myself as a writer, but whether I get to be anywhere near as good as someone like Julia Alvarez remains to be seen. Anyhow, the poem is "Why I Write" and here is part of the first stanza:

"Unless I write things down I never know
what I think, no less feel, about the world.
I found out first in print that I prefer
white wine to red, the blues to rock,
the winter's terseness to the spring's green gab--
conclusions reached in short stories or poems. . . ."

Maybe a few lines like these are part of the reason I like this author and her work so much. These lines speak to me as a writer and as a teacher. I have learned over time that writing is a process of discovery; that is something you can use to develop your thinking, to let the ideas out to play, see where they lead. Very often I think as I write, and I use it to see what I can learn. There are things I would not know if I had not reflected about them through writing. That is a powerful bit of knowledge, in my humble view. I think many readers will find a little something that will speak to them in these poems. So, I highly recommend the book for both regular poetry readers as well as readers who might not consider poetry.

Weblogs Survey, going on 'til end of July

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

I got a link to the MIT survey through the Cranky Professor. Go make some science as well if you have a blog. It only takes a few minutes. You even get a choice of nifty link images, like the one above, once you are done.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Marketers looking at blogs for ideas

The Wall Street Journal for June 23, 2005 features an article by William F. Bulkeley detailing how various companies are using blog analysis to gather market and brand insights. in "Marketers Scan Blogs for Brand Insights," the author reports how various companies are hiring blog watching firms and new technologies to see what bloggers out there are saying about their brands. (Note on the link. The article is free today, but the usual caveat applies, which is why I give enough so readers can get it in print or off one of the databases at their library.)

For instance, one of these studies helped a company determine that teens were anxious over exceeding their minutes on their cellphones, which explains why we are seeing more campaigns geared to teens emphasizing more leeway on minute for instance. According to the article, "marketers say bloggers' unsolicited opinions and offhand comments are a source of invaluable insights that are hard to get elsewhere" (B1). The article does caution that what bloggers say does not always correlate to how a brand is perceived. The article also mentions Intelliseek's BlogPulse as an example of a website useful to do word searches and see how they compare. The basic tools are word searching and counting links, which places like BlogPulse and Technorati can do. However, marketers will pay big companies for more in-depth analysis.

Government Report on U.S. Public School Libraries.

Through, I found a link to a federal report on public school libraries. According to the description provided, the report:

"Drawn from more than 25 sources, mostly federal reports and surveys, this booklet presents a history of federal legislation and national standards affecting school library media centers and key characteristics of school libraries at the national level, from 1953–54 to 1999–2000. This booklet is based on the report Fifty Years of Supporting Children’s Learning: A History of Public School Libraries and Federal Legislation from 1953–2000 (NCES 2005-311)."

Readers can go to the website, and they can download the report for free as a PDF or order a free copy from EdPubs. It may be of interest to those involved with school libraries, but also to those in Library and Information Science. I will be taking a look at it later, and I may post more on it if time allows.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

High School Student Argues Against Banning of Books

Through, this link to a newspaper column written by Kaitlin Clark, a high school student in Durham, NH. She argues that banning books is not necessary. This piece is a good proof that you can trust young people when it comes to reading choices. The piece makes some good points, and it is well presented. Not only does she present her personal experience, but she also uses facts and figures from the ALA and other experts to reinforce her argument that book banning by school boards is unnecessary and a way to deprive students of their First Amendment rights. At the end of her column, she writes,

"Book banning shouldn't be an action to eliminate certain elements in reading, such as offensive language, racism, magic and/or wizardry. Besides violating our first amendment rights, it is impossible to ban everything that some believe. Every person is unique and this includes the choice of materials they like to read.

Let's respect diversity and stop banning books. Let us make our own choices about what we want to read. As long as we like what we're reading, we'll be readers. What's the problem?"

Monday, June 20, 2005

Promoting collaboration between researchers and practitioners

I would like to point readers to this small editorial from Library Review 54.5 (2005). Nicholas Joint writes "Promoting Practitioner-Researcher Collaboration in Library and Information Science." Readers who subscribe through Emerald can access it that way, or they can locate the print journal. The article is on pages 289-294. What follows is a short summary.

Practicing librarians may be concerned how research may affect issues of performance in their library. Researchers can address this concern by reassuring the practitioners and demonstrating that research gathered will be handled with solid standards for accuracy and discretion. Both parties must agree that the applied research addressing issues of service will be handled openly and accurately. The author believes that practitioners have an obligation to help with research in order to gain the benefits for their libraries and for the professional community. This is a debatable question to some practitioners, but it is a statement that the author firmly believes in. He argues that the profession should be engaged in active reflection and self-criticism in order to gain credibility as well as continue its growth. Another issue are the requirements many government agencies place on libraries in terms acountability. This may create concerns for practitioners as well who may not feel as competent in terms of compiling data for various reports. Regardless of local culture, the author overall argues for the benefit of openess when it comes to library functions and roles.

Practitioners may also be concerned about workload increases due to invitations, or requirements, to research. In this case, if librarians see that a researcher can help them meet any accountability obligations in an efficient way, they may see the research as advantageous. Researchers need to keep in mind that different types of research can take up different amounts of time to complete. Researchers need to keep in mind that just because libraries compile a lot of data for accountability or for the library's use, it does not mean that data can automatically be used for research purposes. Overall, the author concludes that there are good reasons for researchers and practitioners to collaborate.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The model of the computerized librarian

Caveat Lector links to a little ditty about what is a computerized librarian. The scary thing, if it can be called that, is that I can do a few of those things. It may cause a giggle or two. Here is part of the lyrics:

I quickly search the Internet or grab the right book off the shelf;
Then give the patron answers or I teach him how to search himself,
I speed through every database like Galenet, ProQuest, Dialog,
My records are all organized, just try my on-line catalog;
My homepage is a marvel of well-documented, helpful links,
It points to sites on modern jazz, hang-gliding and old Egypt's Sphinx!
I know just how to catalog in Dewey and in L. of C.,
I know the best books you should buy and those you wouldn't want for

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The changing role of libraries

The Cincinnati Enquirer (online) for Friday 5/27/05 reported on its online edition about the changing role of libraries as they begin to cater more to patrons who want more DVD films and audiovisual materials. In "Libraries Turn the Page," readers will find a summary of the ongoing issue for libraries: as they face budget cuts and hostile governments, they have to find ways to become relevant. The article also discusses how many patrons view the library as a convenient place to get a good current DVD for the kids or themselves. While one of the library trustees as the Public Library of Cincinnati is quoted as saying that the solution could be "don't carry movies less than a decade old," the reality is that this is not going away. The trustee argues, as many administrators do, that the public library should not be competing with the video stores. However, librarians can argue that providing the DVDs is another way of providing access to information as well as entertainment. The article also discusses how some places are considering charging for videos as a result. In a rare moment of agreement, I have to agree with President-elect of the ALA, Michael Gorman, who is quoted in the article. He makes the comment on the context that some suggest videos like Spider-Man 2 have no educational value and therefore there should be charges for such. "Gorman asked what makes a Danielle Steele romance novel more educational than "Spider-Man 2." 'Once you start making that kind of judgment, what you're really doing is imposing your taste on a community,' he said." I have to admit, it is a good question. And while I am not one of those librarians who believe blindly in "give them what they want," I can certainly see two things. First, the value of collecting items from popular culture for entertainment as well as for access and preservation of a cultural record (I believe we can learn a lot from popular culture, not to mention it is fascinating to study it). Second, libraries are about service, and providing these materials not only provides recreation, but it is a service as well. I think the parents that can find something good for their children with some convenience provide more than enough reason to continue such efforts. Havind said, I don't think libraries should be buying the 68 copies of Spider-Man 2, then again, I don't think they should be buying dozens of Harry Potter either. You have to draw the line of fiscal responsibility somewhere. As for charging for internet access, that should not be even considered. This is one of the true examples of public libraries providing a service to everyone in the community. The public library should be the one place where anyone, regardless of income, should be able to have free access to information. To begin charging for services does amount to segregation: those in the upper social classes will pay for it, and those who can't will be deprived. A public library is exactly that: a public library. It should be for the benefit of all in the community, not only those with a good pocketbook.

At the end of the day, issues like this come down to a balance. Libraries should not be competing with video stores; that is not their mission. Yes, they should however provide some access to items that serve the recreational needs of their community, be they in print, online, or on DVD. That does fall within the mission of a public library. I don't use my public library as much as I could. In part because I work at an academic library, so I end up getting a lot of my reading material there. But we often take our daughter to the public library to find her books to read and the occasional video. It is a great comfort to us as well as a pleasure to know that there is a place where the family can go, find things to watch, a book to read, maybe a CD to listen to as well, check the e-mail. There are not that many places left that are as family friendly as a public library, and where a small family, who is by no means wealthy but making ends meet, can find some entertainment as well as information. Do we forgo renting movies at the video store? Not really. We understand a public library will not have everything; we don't expect it to. But we understand there is a place, a good place to find many things. And I like the idea that at the end of the day, a public library is the great equalizer; it is the one place where anyone with a library card, regardless of wealth, class or any other traits, can find something to be educated as well as entertained.

Note: Reminder as always, that newspaper article links usually expire after a while. However, you can often get an older article from a library. Another thing libraries provide is access to many databases. Let us hope they keep that access free as well.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

On Bringing the Library to Patrons

While this seems mostly applicable to public libraries, it is nonetheless something that everyone in a community should be interested in: how to take library services to those who can't get to the library. The Lethal Librarian links to a post by Michael McGrorty of Library Dust. Not much more I can add after such good piece of writing. The idea suggested by a commenter on McGrorty's blog about the need to continue or make new studies on serving those who cannot reach the library sounds intriguing, and very relevant. Too bad I am not pursuing a PhD; it would be tempting.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Gypsy Librarian Visits G.H.W. Bush's Presidential Library

In a previous post, I mentioned that I had done some local travelling; this is one of the places I visited, and it took me a while to gather some of my thoughts. So, here goes.

Two Saturdays ago (June 4th, 2005), my family and I visited the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas. To me, this seemed like one of those sites that locals often take for granted. People know it is there, and they often intend to visit it at one point, but they may not get around to doing so. That day, we were travelling up north so my wife could attend a family reunion. As it turns out, a large branch on her father's side live in Texas (that is another story, likely for my personal journal). At any rate, we drive past College Station, so we decided this time to get out of the highway and go in. By now, my wife is used to these sudden impulses to see places on the side of the road. I don't consider myself a gypsy for nothing; this wandering curiosity is a big part of it. I see a good side trip, and I go for it. Also, this sense of curiosity is why I like to drive to conferences whenever possible (not to mention to avoid the atrocious service on planes). I usually try to take an extra day when I do professional travel to allow for some sightseeing. Besides, I have been to some conferences where the side trip was better than the conference itself. I will qualify that I have not attended a librarian related conference yet; all my conferences have been related to my other academic interests, mostly literary studies. I also clarify that I have been to some pretty good conferences. Overall, I just like the idea that I can learn something new and see something different when I get off the main roads.

To get back on track, travelling to College Station is actually a pretty pleasant drive from where I live. The library's location is very nice with some good green areas. Visitors only get to see the museum part; you have to be a researcher to have access to the archives. We were told that the former President and hiw wife keep an apartment on the grounds, but as it is hot in Texas, they are now spending time in Maine. After you empty your pockets and go through the metal detector, visitors find themselves in the lobby area. To the right, we found a display of gifts the President had received from various Middle Eastern dignitaries. There is also a small theater where visitors can watch a short (17 minutes) biopic/orientation film about the President and his library. The film is actually well made and pretty interesting. It gives a good overview of his life and work, especially for people who may not be as familiar with Mr. G.H.W. Bush. After the film, which runs every half hour, you can go into the museum itself.

Presidential Libraries usually serve the communities in various ways besides their role in preserving the legacy of a President. Providing educational experiences is one of those forms of community service. To that end, this library, like the others, has a couple of side exhibition spaces that provide changing exhibits on various topics. During our visit, there was a exhibit of works by Peter Sis, a children's writer and illustrator. The exhibit features his illustrations, but copies of his books are available as well for people to peruse. The exhibit will be there until July 4th.

The museum itself features a chronological exhibition of the life and achievements of President George H.W. Bush. Among the artifacts is a restored World War II bomber, the same type he flew during the war. There are photos, documents, memorabilia, portraits and regalia, and various interactive exhibits. My daughter found the exhibit with the sand clock particularly neat. The exhibit itself is a short film explaining the events leading to the First Gulf War, using the image of the sand clock to show how Saddam's time was running out. Other interesting exhibits include the recreation of his office at Camp David, the section of Air Force One, and the piece from the Berlin Wall.

Currently, the Presidential Library System consists of 11 libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, an independendent federal agency with the mission "to ensure ready access to the essential evidence that documents the rights of American citizens, the actions of Federal officials, and the national experience" (from the NARA website). Initially, Presidential papers and records were seen as the President's personal property. This changed with the 1978 Presidential Records Act that "established that Presidential records that document the constitutional, statutory, and ceremonial duties of the President are the property of the United States Government. After the President leaves office, the Archivist of the United States assumes custody of the records." In 1986, the Presidential Libraries Act began requiring private endowments in relation to a library's size, which NARA then uses to offset some of the costs to maintain a Presidential Library. This information can be found on NARA's website section about the Presidential Libraries. These details, for one, explain about the gifts a President receives from dignitaries, which are often part of rituals or ceremonies. Even though the individual President receives the gifts, he does so on behalf of the American people, and it is one of the President's "ceremonial duties" (as a Head of State). I mentioned at the moment there are 11 libraries. The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace is about to become the 12th library of the NARA system. NARA maintains a Nixon Presidential Materials Project, and then there is the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, which is currently run by a private foundation. This may happen as early as 2006. Then, when George W. Bush leaves office, he will eventually build a library as well, so the number of Presidential LIbraries will continue to grow. Oh well, it's one down and ten to go (or 11, or 12 down the road, etc.).

I am hoping to eventually visit all of the Presidential Libraries, which is a goal many Government Documents librarians share. I learned about this when I took my course in Government Documents. I had a very inspiring GovDocs librarian who made me want to go run a Depository Library someplace just to assure access to government information for the people. Even though my career path took me elsewhere, I am still very fascinated by GovDocs and access to information and keeping the government accountable. I use GovDocs whenever I can in my reference and instruction work.

Overall, these Presidential Libraries are definitely places everyone should see, regardless of political affiliations or beliefs. I got a feeling from my visit that these places hold a piece of history, a moment in time. Places like the G.H.W. Bush Presidential Library let us see not only a Presidency but a part of history. These library/museums are an excellent educational experience for the young and the not so young. When you show your child that piece of the Berlin Wall, she asks why did those people build that wall. It can be a moment of epiphany depending on what you tell that 8 year old, letting her read a little on her own as well. I think I may have told her something along the lines of some people did not want other people to leave a city and be free. I know, maybe a bit too simplistic, but it worked. In the end, the people locked up eventually brought the wall down. I am of the generation that saw the wall come down, but it was already up when I got here, so to speak. That moment is just one example of the opportunities that visiting places like this can provide. So, I urge readers. Take a trip back in time, whether it is the newest library, President Clinton's, or any other, go and learn something. Maybe you can recall a President from your time, or you learn about one before your time. At any rate, it is something well worth exploring. Do note that these libraries are often located either in a President's birthplace, their state, or a place that holds some sentimental value to the President, so you may have to travel a bit to get to places like Independence, Missouri, where President Truman's library is located. I know that I am looking forward to the next one.

Some items on Chinese Government Censoring the Internet

Given that I have an interest in Intellectual Freedom, I found this initial report from the Associated Press interesting. It reports how MSN has to cooperate with the Chinese government to implement censorship of blogs and websites. It turns out that the word "freedom" is a taboo word in China, along with "democracy" and "human rights." The article reports that putting up with the restrictions is a cost of doing business in China for companies like Microsoft. Microsoft still believes that it can foster expression within the restrictions. Time will only tell. In the meantime, readers interested in more, may want to look at another report in The Guardian on China's Internet Police that the government uses to spread its propaganda in chatrooms and public boards. The end of the article has some interesting links including a link to a Chinese government web portal (English version here), and to Amnesty International's report on state control of the internet in China. The BBC News is also reporting on Microsoft in China. Their piece features some sample comments from readers reacting to the story, some condemning the company, others seeing is as part of doing business. Personally, I would like to believe that in time the Chinese government will simply not be able to stop the freedom of expression as more and more people discover it. I absolutely disagree with the Chinese government's behavior. Sure, they can use filters and monitoring software and internet cops, but the numbers will likely favor the people, and it will be a matter of time. At least, I hope so.

Friday, June 10, 2005

On Blogging Safely. . .

With all the recent news stories about people losing jobs over their blogs for various reasons, some of which I have noted here at one point or another, there is interest in "safe" blogging. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a very useful and clear article on blogging safely. Their main point is if you are going to blog about something sensitive (or anything for that matter), do so anonymously. It provides some very useful tips. Since for me, this blog is part of my professional as well as educational development, I don't feel a need to be anonymous. I do some posting while at work as I read some of the professional stuff, but I do quite a bit outside as well. And as far as I know, some of the people I work with know about it already, which is fine by me. I am at a point where I am more than willing to stand by what I write. If I ever decide to "dish", I am definitely not doing it here. Anyhow, a little more information that readers out there may find useful.

On an update note (6/14/05): The EFF has launched a Legal Guide for Bloggers. I found the link through The Blog Herald here.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Booknote: _Tales from Jabba's Palace (Star Wars)_

Continuing with my reading of older Star Wars series books, I just completed Tales from Jabba's Palace. The book will be enjoyed by fans of the genre, but for those wanting some exposure to the original Star Wars (by this I mean the first trilogy, which I guess is the second chronologically, though it came out first. . .you get the idea), the book will be of interest. My previous reading, Tales of the Bounty Hunters, was composed of longer works, one for each bounty hunter. Tales from Jabba's Palace includes a broader range of characters, with stories that vary in length from about three pages or so to much longer. With the broader range of characters to work with, the authors provide a diverse selection of fiction. I think this book has something for almost every taste. Readers who like endings with a twist or a surprise will find such tales here as well as fans who like narrow escapes or more suspense, for instance. Fans of Boba Fett, the notorious bounty hunter, will find a tale for him. The interesting element for fans of the genre is to see the various characters found in Jabba the Hutt's palace, many of whom only appear briefly. Each character has its own story, and as the blurp on the back cover says, some will actually live to tell about it. I am not telling who lives or not. Readers who have seen the film The Return of the Jedi are familiar with the events in the palace. The stories in the book relate those events, and they give various points of view, which adds to the interest. Some of the tales, though written by different writers, are interconnected, meaning events from one tale reappear in another, only for the tale to then move in a different direction. Overall, the book is recommended for fans as well as for readers looking for a light and entertaining reading. So far, this volume held my interest more than Tales of the Bounty Hunters. However, I do plan on reading the last volume of this series, Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, down the road. I will make a note as well when I finish. As I mentioned before, I picked up the books in a second hand store. For readers, this would be a good option, but some public libraries may still have copies as well if they have a good collection of popular science fiction and fantasy.

And yet another blog writer gets it??

Rochelle Mazar points to an article in her blog in Inside Higher Education about a professor who withdrew as chair of his department as a result of controversial remarks he made as a private person. Read the article, then read her response, which is very well made. At the end of her post, she writes, "I don't think he should have to tone down his politics. But he should be using respectful language. Post an actual argument about why religion provides a moral vaccum if you will, but don't just insult the faithful. Random potshots aren't particularly smart or political." It becomes a matter of balance. A blog is a public space. On the one hand, one should not have his freedom of expression attacked for it. On the other hand, one has to be ready when the criticism comes along. Overall, the situation does have a chilling effect.

Professors getting up there in age, and place your bets on philosophy professors

Two more items from the June 3, 2005 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Since I read it in print, and links change or go behind the wall, I will settle for giving the details for those who want to venture to look.

Piper Fogg writes "Advancing in Age," which discusses the increasing numbers of old professors in campuses. Old here is defined as over 55, but mostly refers to professors who are 60 and up. The article discusses the advantages and disadvantages of this situation. For instance, it is a disadvantage to younger scholars seeking work if these people don't retire and open a position. Also, without new blood, there is no fostering of diversity in the faculty or in ideas. In addition, the lack of younger faculty can make it difficult to attract new faculty when a position does open. Let's be honest, if you are a 30-something scholar, you want people you have something in common with. Spending lunch listening to your peers talking about who had a colonoscopy is not exactly appealing. The article actually describes such a situation. Furthermore, older faculty tend to resist teaching introductory classes since faculty tend to specialize more with age, so this hinders the ability of departments to offer a full course load. On the advantages, older faculty have experience, but this seems applicable to those who have a stellar position. In other words, losing a senior prominent scholar can have significant impact on a department in terms of prestige as well as fundraising. The article struck a cord with me given all the recent discussions about the job market for librarians. One of the issues often discussed is asking when those old librarians will retire so we can get their jobs. Things are not that much different in other parts of academia; however, when it comes to deadwood, the term for tenured faculty who stopped producing scholarly work and barely teach, it's time for them to go. As someone who was in the scholarly maze for a while, I had my mixed feelings over tenure. I still do since I have potential to change jobs and end up someplace on a tenure line. On the one hand, it is some security once you run the gauntlet. On the other hand, it does seem to discourage productivity once you get it done. I am all for collective experience of my elders, and I am a believer in tapping that experience, but not at the expense of bringing in new ideas. A professor who teaches the same lecture since 1972 with the same notes cannot be efficient no matter how good he is with students. They would argue otherwise, and there is an example of that in the article, but pedagogically speaking, the act of teaching is something that needs renewal and reflection, and you can't do that if you don't at least review a lesson plan once in a while.

The second article is written by Robin Wilson. "Deep Thought, Quantified" discussed the Philosophical Gourmet Report that covers rankings of Philosophy Departments based on their professors' reputations and academic credentials. The site is put together by Brian Leiter, a professor of law and philosophy at University of Texas at Austin. He also has his own blog. The website features speculation on comings and goings of prominent philosophers and how they can affect a department. It does have its detractors, but the rankings are done every other year, and they have an advisory board. On the one hand, it is kind of like handicapping. On the other hand, graduate students are known to use it in deciding where to go pursue their work.

File under "Another Anonymous Website Busted," or on poetry contests

Some readers may be familiar with the recent outing of the author of the Phantom Professor blog. You can read a story about it here. While this example I am highlighting is different than the Phantom Professor, it is interesting to see this outing of anonymous internet writers happening a bit more as of late. Maybe a message to those who think they can remain anonymous that sooner or later they may have to stand up to what they wrote? Or that they need to be more careful? I know if make anything anonymous, I am working on covering my tracks better.

Anyways, The Chronicle of Higher Education for June 3, 2005 features an article by Thomas Bartlett about librarian Alan Cordle. The article, "Rhyme and Unreason," discusses Mr. Cordle's website, a website that claims to be a watchdog for poetry contests. Now I am sure as librarians we are likely pretty sceptical about these contests. I know I am, and I know that during my time as an educator, had a student come to me asking, I would have likely steered them away. I personally don't like the idea of having to pay to have someone read your work or have it published. The publishers claims of economic necessity notwithstanding, it seems like vanity publishing to me. At any rate, Mr. Cordle, of Portland Community College, exposes on his website, according to the article, "corruption in poetry contests, many of which are run by university presses" (A12). Those in the poetry "industry" of course hate him, but it seems he used his skills a librarian to make "use of open-records laws to force presses at public universities to hand over documents related to their contests." He would then track down leads and reach conclusions. One of the conclusions is apparent cronyism in the contests. The article makes for an interesting read. This issue of the Chronicle also features a response article to Foetry written by John T. Casteen and Tel Genoways. Their article, "Contesting Poetry Contests" is featured in the Review section of the Chronicle. They decry the Foetry website as "reprehensible." They explain how the presses reached the point of having to charge for contests in order to get revenue. However, the article seems to focus then on advocating certain reforms. The one reform I like is the elimination of the reader fees. However, as a pragmatic person, this seems more like idealistic wishful thinking. I get the impression that even if Foetry was a bit harsh, that the presses got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. That is my humble opinion given that the authors seem to be calling for reforms that the website author has been calling for before. However, I recommend for readers to read both pieces, visit the website like I did, and then decide for themselves. Obviously, Foetry has caused quite a bit of commotion. On their website, there is an update note of at least one contest that changed their guidelines for judges as a result. The website does seem to note when wrongs have been righted, so to speak. However, as I said, take a look at the various articles and decide.

Update note (6/28/2005): Adding to the Foetry controversy, Gale's Literature Community News for June 2005 features an article on Foetry and the controversy, which has a nice summary of who did what and so on.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

So, Is It Reading or Not?

The New York Times for May 26th, 2005 had a story on listening to books. I would link to it, but NYT is one of those newspapers you have to register in order to read anything. I got a hold of it through Lexis-Nexis Academic. The story is written by Amy Harmon, and its title is "Loud, Proud, Unabridged: It Is Too Reading!" The story discusses how listening to books on tape (or CD or IPod or MP3, etc.) is on the rise. It also discusses the debate of whether listening to the book is the same as reading. Some will argue that reading takes more concentration than listening to a book while on a treadmill, so therefor you may not be really reading while you workout. Others will say that the format does not matter and that there is the pleasure of being read to. If you ask me, I think the only catch is the book has to be unabridged. It has to be all of the text, not the abridged shorter version. That seems to me like reading the Cliff Notes. Other than that, sure, go for it. When I took my Readers' Advisory class in library school, we had to read books in various genres, and one of those genres was an audiobook. I chose to read Stephen King's memoir On Writing. I have to say, the man has an engaging style; it seems like you are sitting with someone who tells it like it is in a relaxed, easy going style. But it did not feel like I was missing anything out. The book was unabridged (this was a class requirement). Having experienced it, I can strongly recommend audio books. Additionally, one of my colleagues here at work has an interest in audio books. She says that the reader makes a difference. A poor reader can easily ruin the reading experience. The article also mentions this issue of narrators. One point that I liked about the article, and that I find very significant as an educator, is the one about different people learning in different ways. A woman in the article says her husband remembers more of the books he listens to, "perhaps because he's simply wired that way." This seems like a little more evidence of multiple intelligences. Some people learn better by listening, and audio books can serve them better. And then, of course, there may be readers who may need audiobooks due to disabilities (not mentioned in the article, but something to be considered). Overall, whether you read it yourself, or someone reads it to you, go forth and read. It's all good.

On the other hand, under the "micromanagement department," The Sacramento Bee for May 27th, 2005, features a report on legislation in the California Assembly that would "ban school districts from purchasing textbooks longer than 200 pages." Yes, that is the effect of the ban they voted on. If it is longer than 200 pages, it won't be allowed in classrooms. The consolation, if one can look at it that way, is that they can supplement with materials from the internet. Of course, this brings the whole argument of what is on the internet and how to evaluate it. The legislation, AB 756, "would force publishers to condense key ideas, basic problems and basic knowledge into 200 pages, then provide a rich appendix with Web sites where students can go for more information." The vote was approved 42 to 28. The bill also states that this measure could reduce cost and weight of textbooks. The article does present many of the questions this bill raises: can you really cover what you need in 200 pages? Can't publishers simply make books multivolume to get around the requirement, then charge more for them? What about kids without internet access? The title of the article is "Assembly Says Shorter Books Would Help Kids," and it is written by Jim Sanders. I had to pick it up on Lexis as well since the Bee is another of those register to read newspapers.

Student Population in the U.S. at its Highest Level

ABC News provides an AP report by Ben Feller on the fact that the student population in the United States is at its highest level. Acording to the report, "a total of 49.6 million children attended public and private school in 2003, beating the previous high mark of 48.7 million set in 1970 when the baby boom generation was in school." Mark Mather, a demographer for the Population Reference Bureau, called it "a classic echo effect." Basically, this means that the baby boomers went and had kids of their own. This creates some opportunities and challenges. In terms of challenges:

  • Teacher recruitment. More teachers and administrators will need to be hired for the new schools being built. Given funding situations, difficulties in getting certified (actually this varies. Some places are real permissive in giving out "emergency" credentials while making it hard on those who pursue the license by actually getting a teaching degree, for instance), NCLB, just the challenge of finding good teachers overall, this is definitely a challenge.
  • Helping kids who don't speak English. A large factor in the larger number of students is immigration. One additional consideration, which people who are anti-immigrant tend to forget, is that immigrants have children too. It is not so much children who may be here illegally, but children born here (who are thus citizens) and children of immigrants who are actually here legally too. And we are not just speaking of immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, but from Asia and other places as well.
  • Managing class sizes. I think this is self-explanatory.
  • Finding financial aid for future college students. The article explains this nicely as well. Part of the situation is that, unlike the boomer generation, people today need and expect a college degree to have a good job. Someone has to pay for all that tuition.
Another quote from the article: "In districts outside Atlanta, Houston, and Las Vegas, enrollment has soared more than 20 percent in the last five years, said Bruce Hunter, who directs lobbying for the American Association of School Administrators." I know I can testify to this in a small measure. I live outside the Houston metro loop, and the school district my daughter is in (not HISD. I was warned when I moved in to avoid it at all costs, which I did, and I am glad. She is in a good school) gives an illustrative example. Her building is a little over a year old, making it brand new. They are building at least one more elementary school and a middle school. Additionally, housing developments are sprouting all over the place.

The various projections are based on Census data, which can be found on the link below. The article provided the link:

Making reading into a sport

The Grand Rapids Press (Michigan) reported that a school in Wyoming is considering the idea of making reading into a varsity lettered "sport." The school may model the program on an existing program in San Diego. Too bad my high school back in the day did not do this. I could have had a few letters, and way before I even discovered I would be a librarian. I am always reading. By the way, the site that links to that newspaper seems to link to other Michigan newspapers as well, which may be of interest to people in that area or anyone who needs or wishes to read up on events in Michigan. The site is Mlive, and it is a portal to various Michigan items like the newspapers, business listings and some other things.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Subject Librarians as a libraries' "secret weapon"

The Brigham Young University (BYU) NewsNet features a piece on "Librarians, the Library's Secret Resource." It gives a nice little note of how students can find help with their classes and assignments by consulting with a subject librarian. The piece promotes subject librarians for students as well as faculty, making some good points along the way. It is brief but well worth taking a look.

Reference Services Review: Articles of interest

The Reference Services Review 33.2 (2005) seems to have a few items of interest to those involved with information literacy. That would be all librarians in one form or another, but I think those in instruction will be specially interested. I would link, but the journal is kept online by Emerald. However, chances are your library has it or may get articles for you.

The viewpoint essay by Ilene F. Rockman, "ICT Literacy," provides a note on a new assessment web tool created by ETS (yes, the testing folks) to assess Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literacy skills. The article, citing a document from ETS, defines it as:
"ICT literacy proficiency is the ability to use digital technology, communication tools, and/or networks appropriately to solve information problems in order to function in an information society. This includes the ability to use technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate, and communicate information and the possession of a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information. "

The tool was developed in collaboration with other IHE's, including Rockman's own CSU. According to the article, the advantages of the tool include that it is scenario based, meaning students have to solve problems rather than simply complete a multiple choice form, and it is interactive and web-based. General release of the instrument is scheduled for 2006. It must be noted that the tool includes elements to assess ethics in information and communication technology use. Overall, the viewpoint essay is favorable to the tool, but I would like to see it in action. However, so far, seems like a positive step in assessment.

Bruce Stoffel and Jim Cunningham, in "Library Participation in Web Portals: an Initial Survey," discuss the results of their research into libraries collaborating with campus portal development. The article discusses some of the portals, but it does state that more research is likely necessary. It does highlight the need for librarians to collaborate with various campus segments to develop a library presence in the campus portals that offer users a customized experience. They point out that collaborating with the campus rather than creating a unique library web portal may be more feasable in terms of resources and funding.

Steven W. Sowards discusses library use of websites for ready reference resources in "Visibility as a Factor in Library Selection of Ready Reference Web Resources." Chances are that readers who are librarians provide such resources through their libraries' websites, so this article may be of interest. We provide some ready reference web items on our website, and I have a healthy interest in providing these resources. In part because I think it is one of those things "we ought to have" like an encyclopedia or a good dictionary. The article asks how well do libraries perform when it comes to selecting these resources and what factors influence the choices. The author's survey suggests that factors such as visibility may come into play as well as quality of the resource. In reviewing the literature, the author looks at the criteria that is used for selecting these resources as outlined by standards such as those provided by RUSA. The article makes an interesting note: "Like the C&RL News articles, the RUSQ lists tend to publicize, rather than detect, new and interesting online tools." It notes that the discovery usually happens through tools like the Internet Scout Report project. By the way, I highly recommend Internet Scout Report. The author notes that visibility and prominence are not listed in the usual criteria; however, these appear to be significant factors considering how easy it is for librarians to look over lists of bests and even borrow from other libraries' websites. I can see this point. I am sure librarians can make independent and informed judgments when it comes to selection, but very often we borrow from each other as well. In education, we teachers are adept at not reinventing the wheel. If you find a good handout for a lesson, you ask for a copy from your colleague and modify it for your class. I am sure this goes on as well for librarians selecting websites for their ready reference. They see a site on another library, and they may decide to use it based on the fact so and so is also using it. Or, they may consider it but decide it does not meet local needs as well. It is a very organic process, and what I see in the article is validation for a process that I know is already happening all around. Among the findings of the research: dot-coms dominate the lists, very low number of dot-edu sites, a good number of dot-gov sites, and free resources dominate. The article includes in an appendix the list of "50 Ready Reference Websites Most Frequently Selected for Library Websites." A second appendix provides a list of "20 Ready Reference Resources that Deserve Greater Attention." The article deserves a look, and the lists are interesting, not just for those who like lists, but to those doing reference work as an evaluation as well as development tool.

Martin P. Courtois, Martha E. Higgins, and Aditya Kapur discuss assessing how useful online library guides are in their article "Was This Guide Helpful? Users' Perceptions of Subject Guides." Since I am a strong believer in subject guides and pathfinders, I wanted to read this article. The article reports on an online survey that the Gelman Library of George Washington University placed on their web-based guides. The method of the survey was to simply ask if the guide was useful and to provide a space for comments. While they found that 52% of respondents provided a positive rating to guides, 40% found the guides not useful or a bit useful. Based on this, the library has been working on various improvements. At my library, we are not at the level where we can devote six people to a committee on guides like the Gelman Library does. As Instruction Librarian, I am sort of the informal committee, making new guides as I see the need. The need is often based on what I see in the classes I teach. Other librarians make guides for their subject area. For instance, our library director, who is also one of the two business librarians, has an excellent guide for the business classes she teaches. However, there is no real systematic upkeep of the guides. They get done as needed and updated as the librarian who authored them remembers (or I gently remind them if I become aware of it). There is a stock of "premade" library guides on the "usual" topics such as online resource evaluation. By premade, I mean they were here when I got here, and as far as I know, they are still to be used, but these are on my "honey do" list of items to check for updating. We do have a display, but it is a little underused, and as for putting guides online, the business guide is online, but others more could likely be put online. Overall, there is a lot of work to be done, and we are gradually getting to it. In the short time I have been here, I have authored five guides, closer to pathfinders, on various topics to support undergrads. Anyhow, the article served to give me a good perspective since I often wonder how useful are the guides I make. The little sense I get is often when a student comes to the Information Desk, and they bring a guide, often marked and annotated, so I know they are doing something with it. As for remote users, we would likely face the same question Gelman librarians face. However, anecdotal evidence from the director tells me her guide does get quite a bit of use from the business classes that are distance education. My intuition, with as little as I have here but with the experience of an educator, is that the closer a guide is geared to a specific educational need, such as helping with an assignment, the more useful the guide will be. Anyhow, food for thought.

Pamela Jackson's article on "Incoming International Students and the Library" is valuable for the findings and recommendations it provides that may be useful to other librarians in campuses with incoming international students. Her survey is significant in that it looks at the incoming international students rather than those continuing. The survey took place at San Jose State, the author's institution, but its insights are very applicable to other places. I found particularly interesting its recommendations for instructional programs.

Finally, Abbie Landry provides a "Ten Must Reads for New Academic Librarians." This is another one of those "file under things they don't tell you in library school." The article features a list of books, article, and websites that provide insights and guidance to new academic librarians. The list ranges from C.W. Cubberley's book on tenure and promotion to making sure new librarians read things like their university requirements through items like the Faculty or University handbooks. It is true this applies a bit more to those academic librarians who go on a faculty track, but it is still valuable for those who become professional staff. The list also features items for surviving the first year of employment as well as how to locate places to either publish in or read on a regular basis. This is an excellent summary that they should be passing out to library students who are planning on an academic job. Out of the whole RSR issue this time, this is the must read. I am sure even veterans will find it useful.

Gypsy Librarian travels. . .more to come

It was a weekend of wandering and discovery for the Gypsy Librarian and his family. I was off work yesterday, so I am catching up with e-mail and so on (yes, I do actually leave the e-mail behind when I wander off). At any rate, I will be writing up a few things throughout the week, so stay tuned.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Working on the next newsletter

Our newsletter made a comeback last Spring, and I feel it is time for the next edition. So, I am in the process of gathering some materials together to put in it and make it an informative piece for the campus. The newsletter is meant for our patrons, so we don't really include staff recognitions or other things that would go in an internal staff newsletter. Since we have had a few changes in access policies, I have to include that, as well as hours, and other basic library information. But the newsletter also allows us to put various things on reading, instruction, searching techniques, and other little items of interest. I am having fun so far, even if I am doing it as I am balancing a couple other things. The Spring Newsletter can be found here, and as soon as the new one is out, I will likely put in the link.

Update Note (7/20/05): The Summer edition is finally here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Food, the one thing they don't tell you about in teacher training.

This article by Steven W. Simpson, PhD talks not only about the importance of kids in schools being well fed for success. It also talks about how food can bring a teacher and a student together, but more importantly, it talks about trusting the students as well. The article can be found here, and it is definitely worthy reading.