Friday, September 30, 2005

Links and Power and Currency

This post is part of a set of three I will posting in the next few days discussing some articles I read out of the Library Trends issue for Spring 2005. The citation for this article is as follows:

Walker, Jill. "Links and Power: The Political Economy of Linking on the Web." Library Trends 53.4 (Spring 2005): 524-529.

The topic of linking is another topic that has plenty of steam in the blogosphere. A search on a tool like Technorati will likely yield a variety of results. These results may range from people looking at the economic implications of linking to just casual bloggers discussing how to use links to enhance their posts. The article argues that "links are seen as objective, democratic, and machine-readable signs of value" (525). While the article is not just for bloggers, it is of interest to them since links are seen as currency in the blogosphere.

The article discusses how Google uses not only keywords but also links to rank websites in search results. It explains that the presence of links on websites is seen by the search engines as endorsements of a particular site. The key idea is that "links between Web sites are assumed to provide an objective measure of value and to be a sign of peer endorsement" (526). This is the assumption the article seeks to examine, and it does so by looking at linking as an economy. Basically, the principle is the more links you get from other people, the higher your value in the currency scheme. If people link to you, your value goes up in terms of reputation and authority, and for those making money with a blog, it has economic potential as well. Overall, this little article provides a basic overview of how the linking economy works. For very experienced bloggers and webmasters, this is likely common knowledge, a given. For more casual readers and web surfers, it makes a basic reading with a clear explanation of how the process works as a currency not only to increase commerce but also to enhance the cultural capital and reputation of the one getting the links.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I learned the meaning of chronemics, and other things today

Marcel Danesis's Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media, and Communications (ISBN 0-8020-4783-1) defines chronemics as the "study of how cultures 1. divide time into regular periods, 2. arrange events in the order of their occurrence, 3. assign dates to events" (48). I had a student today come to the Information Desk asking for articles that presented empirical studies about chronemics. It was for a Communication Studies class. She barely knew what it was, but we both knew it had to deal with how cultures and groups perceive time. Based on that, we embarked together to locate some answers. The term itself was rare in the databases we used (Communication and Mass Media Complete, the Sage Communication Collection). However, doing searches on concepts like chronobiology (yes, that term, which would include the concept of the biological clock), time, social interactions, and cultures, we managed to find a couple of article dealing with how groups of people look at time or arrange time. For instance, we found an article on perceptions of time for workers, having to do with that old idea of time going faster when busy. We also found at least one article with time as perceived across generations (older versus younger people). These gave her a small start. As soon as I was done with that reference transaction, I rushed to look up a more official definition for myself, which is the one readers see at the opening of the post. It is one of those definitions I will not forget anytime soon.

What else did I learn today? I learned to a little about empirical studies on sexual orientation. Same student as above, different class. A good search in PsychInfo and PsychArticles helped with that since it allows for narrowing by empirical studies. Based on what she wanted, which was studies done with groups of people, samples and such, empirical studies seemed a better choice than the case study report option that usually covers accounts of how a particular patient was treated for a condition or evaluated. We were looking more for articles about determining or discovering orientation, at least that is what the patron requested.

I also met a new faculty member teaching organic chemistry. I will be providing library instruction for his two sections later in October.

Additionally, I learned that sometimes we can have wonderful technology, but that the personal touch can work better. I had another faculty member call me on the phone for some assistance with a database. I was trying to walk her through the process of using Academic Search Premier to locate articles on her topic. She is not technologically impaired, but she often needs a little guidance in narrowing topics, choosing keywords, and then accessing the articles whether full-text or not. My library is considering adding a Jybe toolbar to our library page (I may write about this later as things move along), but in this case, I don't think even the ability to co-browse would have helped. So, what did I do? I made sure she was in her office and told her I would be there as soon as my Information Desk shift ended, which was about ten minutes from the end of the call. The nice thing about a small campus where most of the rooms are in one building is that most everyone is only an elevator ride away. I went upstairs, sat down with her, had a pleasant time talking over her needs and giving her some ideas on searching. The small communication problem came with the use of TDNet, which we use for linking to full-text and identifying what we carry as full-text. Once I showed her what TDNet meant (in that case, that we did not have it full-text) and that she needed to do an ILL request, which can be done also online, she was more than happy. True, I could have showed her this with a tool like Jybe or other virtual reference tool, but I think the small effort of going to her office and showing her was well worth it. For me, it was also worth it on another level. When I got to her office, she told me, "remember the last time you helped me out? I went on to write a proposal for it, and it has been accepted for publication." It does not get better than that. Another day, another buck.

The "Old Rule of 1965"

My director recently pointed out the following article to the librarians:

Hyman, Karen. "Customer Service and the 'Rule of 1965.'" American Libraries. (October 1999): 54-58.

From the article's opening discussing how technology is used to actually provide poor service (54), I can only hope that we have progressed since then and that libraries enjoy a better reputation for using technology to provide service. Before we go on, the article defines the Rule of 1965 as dictating the following: "anything the library did prior to 1965 is basic, and everything else is extra; any new service must be offered begrudgingly--for decades; patrons must jump through hoops to get it" (54).

While I think that there is still work to be done in libraries, the fact that libraries provide blogs, rss, good internet access (with support), reference in virtual ways from use of IM to tools provided by companies like Docutek is evidence that libraries are moving to provide services and actually make the users jump less hoops.

The article has this little section on "what's wrong with this picture" that I found, well, condescending to say the least. Now back in 1999, I was back in graduate school working on my other graduate degree, so who knows, maybe libraries were as bad as Hyman describes. Though, I will say I was a user of both the academic library and the local public library, which, while it could have used more funds, overall provided good service. Somehow these little vignettes Hyman provides seem to be more nitpicking that ignores or misunderstands the realities libraries face in terms of funding and/or resources. For example, the author points to libraries having limits on access to the internet, "such as up to one hour if people are waiting or two hours maximum" (56). Actually, given some places I have been to, that seems generous. While the author does this with a little exaggeration to illustrate that the rules can be excessive at times, it does miss the fact at times you do need to have rules. A free-for-all is not the answer to providing good library service. In an ideal world, there would be a computer for every patron that wanted one at their moment of need. In the real world, libraries usually have more demand on computers than actual computers and funding to acquire more. A rule on time would serve as a measure of fairness to provide access to as many patrons as possible. The author also looks down on libraries that ban internet use for chat or other personal communication (57). Actually, more public libraries seem to be following this trend. One example comes from a report in LISNews about the Hawaii Public Libraries banning such activities. In that case, the decision was actually made in part due to complaints from patrons that access was slow. While I personally have mixed feelings about it (I think e-mail is fine, but like the patron in the article, you want games, get a PlayStation), I do tend to be fairly laissez faire with what patrons do with their internet access during their alloted time. I can however see the argument for such decisions.

Another example from Hyman's article I had an issue with was the example of a policy: "internet access is a privilege, not a right, which may be revoked at any time for inappropriate conduct" (57). The author suggests replacing "internet access" with "checking out books" to see how ridiculous it would sound. And it would indeed sound ridiculous. The problem is the author is comparing apples to oranges. For one, there are already inappropriate behaviors that are illegal, such as seeking child porn. It is a given that doing so will not only likely result in loss of access privileges, but it will also lead to the patron's arrest. Libraries make this type of decisions all the time. In fact, I think at times simply saying access should be fully free is the sort of thing that gets people thinking that librarians favor things like perverts looking at kiddie porn in a public terminal. And no, I am not saying I want to become the internet "police," but if a patron comes over to my reference desk complaining he or she is being subjected to someone else's porn surfing, I want more than to say "sorry, but that is his or her right to do so." Now I know some libraries use special screens to darken the screens so onlookers can look over a shoulder with ease. Maybe that is one solution. I know filters are not. And I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I do believe a little common sense goes a long way. Maybe in this regard, academic institutions have it a little easier because their mission of serving an academic purpose is clear. Academic libraries, and the campus computer labs, usually have very strict rules of appropriate and inappropriate use of resources in an academic setting. Consequences usually mean loss of access, and for students who need the access to do classwork and so on, that loss can be a disaster. So, they tend to take the rules pretty seriously. I suppose this is something that librarians will struggle with long after I am done writing this post, and longer after anyone out there reads it. I believe the truth is somewhere between privilege and right. Do I believe everyone should have access to the internet? Sure. Do I think they should have some measure of responsibility when they do so? Absolutely, and it goes twice for parents who should be supervising their children. That's their job, not mine. I bet we would need less filters, or none at all, if parents did their job. Just an extended thought.

The article, bad examples aside, does provide some excellent questions to reflect on and suggestions to move towards better service. The basic notion seems to be leadership: moving forward in spite of obstacles and inspiring others along the way. I had some thoughts on leadership that readers can look over later. For now, this is how I read the article. I did like a particular reminder Hyman gave: "treat every customer like a person. When we categorize people--problem patron, angry mother, deadbeat borrower, greedy computer user--we feel free to ignore their feelings and their messages and transform ourselves into hall monitors or victims" (58). My hall monitor days were left back in my high school teaching days, and I am not about to be anybody's victim. However, I will clarify something. I am not a believer of "the customer is always right." My father taught me that, and he was pretty successful with the businesses he ran over time. I think people can be wrong, but they still deserve to be treated as a person. However, this also means that you give respect and expect the same in return. This I think is a little detail that many "service advocates" as I label them tend to forget. I treat people as I expect to be treated, and I always strive to behave in a professional manner. But, threats and abuse, verbal or otherwise, are things I will not tolerate. Now, some readers may say that is common sense, others may say I should take whatever a patron dishes out. Well, that is my boundary. To me, that is common sense; it is a matter of basic courtesy and civility. And it is something that should be made clear to students in library school. I don't think they really address this. Often in classes they tell you about how to serve a patron in spite of themselves (having to figure out exactly what they want in a reference interview for example), but they never tell you about knowing when a difficult patron has gone too far. And I don't think saying there is such a thing as a difficult patron falls under the labeling Hyman has in mind. Ask any librarian in any library, and no matter how charitable they are, they will have their stories. My two cents? It is not unlike teaching where an educator needs to discover his or her boundaries and stick to them. For me at least, such limits are part of the values I was raised on. For the rest of the readers, I leave this as a bit more food for thought.

But this took me away from the focus of the article, which is technology. The author says that technology can be a two-edged sword (58). The idea as I see it is to be a leader without falling for technolust. Sometimes, just because you can do something, it does not follow you should be doing it. Don't be afraid of new challenges, embrace them, welcome them, learn from them, and use what you learn to serve others well. But there lies the key: you have to be able to serve others well. You have to make sure that if you implement this or that technology, that you can support it and that you are ready to show others how to best make use of it if need be. So, bring on the rss, the blogs, the podcasting, and the many other wonderful toys, but do make sure they serve the patrons and their needs. And keep on learning and growing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Boldly Celebrating the Freedom to Read: Banned Books Week

I think over time, I have read a fair number of banned or challenged books. This week is Banned Books Week, which prompts me to think a little about this. Some of those books I read intentionally, much like a child does something because they are told not to do it. So, I do it anyhow and read the book anyways. A few others I have read without knowing they had been banned or challenged somewhere. There are many books and many more ideas out there waiting to be written (or expressed in other media). Some place, someone will likely find something offensive or disagree with it, and that is fine in a diverse and free society. But when they seek to deprive others of books and ideas just because they disagree, it becomes censorship. At that point, it needs to be denounced.

I proudly proclaim that I read banned books. As the saying goes, I make no bones about it. But to me at least, it is more than just trying to sound smart (or "smart-alecky"). I cannot imagine myself not being able to read what I want. I cannot imagine myself not being able to learn from books (or other media. Movies get challenged too, you know?). I cannot imagine myself not being able to explore ideas, to educate myself, to be informed, and to make up my mind through reading. Yet there are certain arrogant people who would take this and more from me. There are certain people who feel threatened by knowledge and ideas, folks who would prefer the darkness of ignorance lest their poor ideas and oppressive ways be exposed. These are the censors who think they can hold on to power by trying to suppress knowledge and ideas. I always go back to words I heard in my youth: a free person is one willing to read anything. It is not just reading anything. It is being willing to do so.

Maybe, and bear with me here a moment, just maybe, the censor has it easy. The censor can burn and destroy anything that is unpleasant or offensive. It is easy to do this; it is easy to live in a bubble where everything is comforting and conforming. It is easy to remain in the coccoon of safe ideas, but it is also the way of the coward. It is the way of the unimaginative; it is the way of the oppressor who in the end will become stagnant. But it is an easy way.

However, those who are willing to read freely are the ones facing the challenge. True, they face the challenge of the censor that would take away their freedom if allowed. This is the challenge that we raise awareness for this week. But I suggest that free readers face another challenge. It is a challenge that is much greater than any the censor could implement. It is the challenge the reader may face when he or she opens a new book. It is the challenge of new ideas. It is the challenge of learning new things. It is the challenge of making meaning of the world. It is the challenge that a book (or other media) might persuade us to see the world differently. We may find our deeply held beliefs and values challenged and confronted. We could end up questioning ourselves. We might agree with what we read, or we might disagree. Even more, we could even decide to change our views or embrace new ideas and values based on what we read. This is why I say free readers are the ones facing the challenge of reading freely. It is clear to see that this powerful and life-affirming experience scares the living daylights out of censors. They are not up to the challenge; they take the coward's way out. Free readers are willing to face this and other possibilities when they open a book. They risk being challenged, questioned, provoked. This is not easy. It is not easy to confront new ideas and maybe decide to to change or modify your views, or leave your views as they are. That is what free readers do, and I say it should be my choice and the choice of other readers to face such challenges. Free people should not allow small cowards to take away the opportunities to learn and grow. Free people should confront such cowards, not with violence, but with better ideas. Or such cowards should be relegated to the dust heap of ignorance while the rest of us boldly move ahead.

I could post a lot of quotes about censorship and books, but folks who are more eloquent than I could ever hope to be are out there. Go and find them in books, on the internet, on other resources.

As Banned Books Week comes around one more time, I celebrate it by telling others that yes, I am free because I willing to read anything. I am affirming my commitment to learning, to discovering new ideas, and to embrace new ways of thinking if need be. As Banned Books Week comes and goes, I ask other readers, are you willing to be challenged? I ask writers and creators of ideas, are you willing to challenge us readers? Or will we allow the cowards to extinguish the lights that dispel the darkness of ignorance? How will you celebrated the freedom to read, not just this week, but every day?

Some resources for Banned Books Week and on censorship:

American Library Association's page on Banned Books Week. The ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom also has various resources for dealing with challenges and reporting them. You can look it up from the link.

American Bookseller's Foundation for Free Expression's page for Banned Books Week.

National Council of Teachers of English page on censorship. The NCTE is also a good resource to help in facing challenges, especially for teachers.

Update note (10/04/2005): Here is another great example of a reader celebrating her freedom to read and doing her best to stamp out censorship and ignorance. Nadia, of the late blog Kinky Librarian, does a guest post over at pantiespantiespanties. She writes, for one, "in a free and democratic society we need to have free access to materials - good bad, and indifferent - so that we may all choose to read what we'd like." The usual caveats of "it may not be safe to view at your workplace" or "not for the easily offended" apply. However, if you are like me and willing to just dive in, go read some more food for thought.

Update note (11/09/2005): Here is yet another example of someone advocating the freedom to read. This one takes the form of a letter to intolerant people written by a teacher in public schools. It is a bit strong, so for readers who are sensitive, be advised. Having said that, this letter is the type I would like to write to some people at times.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Booknote: La Quinta Montaña

Title: La Quinta Montaña
Author: Paulo Coelho
Publication Information: New York: Harper Books, 1996
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 236
Note: This is the Spanish edition. It can be also found in English translation under the title The Fifth Mountain.

My mother introduced me to the works of Paulo Coelho when we were at a bookstore. She had mentioned the author before, and when there, I bought her a copy of another Coehlo novel. I don't recall the title; I think it was A Orilla del Rio Piedra Me Senté y Lloré (By the River Piedra I Sat and Wept). At any rate, the author's name stuck with me and later on I went and read EL Alquimista (The Alchemist), for which I later made a note. When I found a second hand copy of La Quinta Montaña, I just went ahead and bought it. My mother reads in Spanish; I have never seen her reading in English unless she has to. I personally prefer to read certain works in Spanish. Coelho writes in Portuguese, so I figure a Spanish translation is likely closer to his work. Call it a bias of mine.

This novel is set in biblical times. It basically tells the story of the prophet Elijah. Most of the plot takes place in the city of Akbar after Elijah flees there from Israel after Jezabel, a Phoenician princess who marries King Ahab, comes to power and begins to kill the prophets. The novel covers the three-year span Elijah spends there before returning to Israel and performing the famous miracle of the burnt offering (see 1 Kings 18). During his time in Akbar, Elijah struggles with God and himself as he learns what his true destiny is and faces difficult choices. Readers of The Alchemist will likely enjoy this tale as well.

I don't think a reader needs to be versed in the Bible to enjoy the novel. However, those readers who are closer to the Bible by faith or belief will likely see Elijah in a new or different light. The fable Coelho presents is moving at times; it is enlightening as well. In terms of pacing, the book is a very easy and light read; Coelho's works are actually known to be light on the prose. I found it inspirational and thought-provoking at times. Reader's of Coelho's other works will likely see elements from his other works here as well. I recommend the book, but I think The Alchemist is his best so far.

Additionally, readers interested in learning more about Paulo Coelho himself may want to look at the book Paulo Coehlo: Confesiones del Peregrino by Juan Arias. It is an interview that Arias did with Coelho. Very interesting and pretty light to read.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Some notes from LE@D Workshop on Library Privacy

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has this little program known as LE@D (Library Education at Desktop), which provides online tutorials and workshops on various topics of interest to librarians. I recently completed the online workshop for the topic of "Library Privacy and Confidentiality Law and Policy." This post is mostly for me to keep some notes; if others find it helpful, then so much the better. For the most part, these little workshops are free and do not take longer than an hour to complete. They make for a nice simple way to get some professional development and learn a thing or two.

  • Privacy is implied from the Bill of Rights, from the 1st, 4th, and 5th Amendments. The right to privacy is not mentioned until the Warren and Brandeis article "The Right to Privacy," published in Harvard Law Review (1890). They introduced the idea that we have the freedom and right to expect our tangible possessions as well as our intangibles (personal information: thoughts, beliefs, sayings, reading) "to be safe from public intrusion."
  • Various rulings have explored and expanded this idea of privacy.
  • In legislation, there was the 1966 Federal Freedom of Information Act and the 1974 Federal Privacy Act.
    • FOIA allows persons to request access to federal agency records. It includes provisions for protecting private individual information in those records. In response, states adopted their own open records laws.
    • 1974 Privacy Act: ensures protection of individual privacy from data collected by the government. Prevents agencies from sharing the data. Allows individuals to view, copy, and correct their own records.
  • 1986: Electronic Communications Privacy Act updated wiretapping to electronic medium, protecting en route communications.
  • 1994: Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act: forces telecommunications carriers to design systems so law enforcement can tap them if necessary.
  • 2000: COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act). Requires commercial websites to document parental consent to collect "personally identifiable information from children." It does not mean librarians must reveal what a child views on the Internet or reads.
  • 2000: CIPA. Passed on December 2000, it was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003. This is the one that requires filters of Internet terminals in institutions that receive federal E-rate or Library Services and Technology Act funding.
What librarians need to know: protocols, cookies, and transaction logs. On logs, they keep IP addresses, dates, times of visits from a user. This, combined with a sign-up sheet, can track a user's internet movements.

PATRIOT Act (2001).
  • Two sites to look over: and
  • Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act allows the Fed access to library records.
  • Section 216 allows for monitoring of computer use.
The library should have a privacy policy in place. It should explain clearly and concisely:
  • that following ALA Policy, the library aims to provide confidentiality for all its users.
  • that library use is protected by state law. The library policy should give concrete examples of privacy protections. For example, when books are returned, the circulation record is erased.
  • that personally identifiable information is gathered or logged, such as e-mail, and this information is covered by the library.
  • that someone from the library (state a name and a job title) can answer questions about privacy and the library.
Some sample privacy policy topics librarians may need:
  • library internet/e-mail use
  • children's records
  • children and then internet
  • privacy of borrower records
Other policy related items that librarians need to know:
  • ALA privacy related policies
  • State public information laws
  • Specific guidelines to follow in the event of a visit or inquiry from law enforcement agents regarding user records.
  • Specific guidelines to follow for receiving court orders, such as search warrants and subpoenas (there is a difference. The warrant has to be executed right away; a subpoena you can wait and pass on to legal counsel to reply).
The library administration needs to assure that a privacy policy is in place and available to all users. It also needs to be posted on a website, if the library has one.

Overall, this is quite a bit of information to think about. Given some current events, issues such as this become more important, so librarians may want to be asking questions, checking on their policies, and seeing what is done at their libraries and what needs to be done.

Update note: As if they knew, I just found this through Docuticker, a link to a white paper on how the War on Terror affects your right to know. The paper is here. By the way, when it comes to government related stuff, Docuticker is a great place to keep up. I may read this and post on it later. In the meantime, readers feel free to go over and have a look.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Booknote: New Sherlock Holmes Adventures

Title: New Sherlock Holmes Adventures
Author: Various, edited by Mike Ashley
Publication Information: Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2004
Genre: Short Fiction
Subgenre: Detective/mystery
Note: The book was previously published as The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures
Pages: 524, including appendixes and notes

If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan who has read everything Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, this is definitely the book for you. Out of the various books out there claiming to continue the adventures of the great detective, this one makes an effort, and succeeds, in providing new adventures that are convincing in terms of the characters as well as entertaining and enjoyable to read. As avid readers of this genre know, new stories are usually presented as some tale that Dr. Watson recorded but did not publish. Maybe it was a tale found in his safebox or in some other place that needed to be edited for publication. From the Foreword:

"The apocryphal Sherlock Holmes story need not be a great detective story, but it has to be a convincing story of the great detective. The character is more important than the case. . . .[The volume] contains an impressive array of cases that Watson mentioned and it has a scholarly status as it is arranged in chronological order with a connecting narrative that provides a biographical background."

The anthology is excellent. The stories are overall good detective stories, and they capture the essence of Holmes and Watson from the detective's forgotten first case to the last one as he was in the twilight of his life. In this, the editor did a great job with the introductions and connecting narratives, which serve as a little biography of the detective's life. Those notes are just as good as some of the stories, which make this book fun to read. Note that the stories are based on events that Watson mentioned in the stories Conan Doyle wrote. So, if Watson mentioned that Holmes was involved in such and such a case, but he could not write it down at the time, you will likely find the case here finally revealed. The book includes a good array of writers and readers who have researched the life of Holmes and Watson, maybe uncovered a new case and wrote it up for our enjoyment. Some of the names readers may know include Stephen Baxter, John Betancourt, and Michael Moorcock. Additionally, the book includes an appendix with "A Complete Chronology of Sherlock Holmes Cases" and another appendix, "The Tales of Sherlock Holmes," with a list of the tales in the canon (the ones Conan Doyle wrote) and the apocryphals (those written by others, a selective list). This second appendix makes a great list of items if readers are interested in other things to read. Overall, the pace of this book was good and steady. I don't think it had a bad story in it, which is a rare thing to say for any anthology of short fiction. I especially liked the one where Holmes meets H.G. Wells, and I was delighted by the tale of Holmes' first case while he was still in college. I highly recommend this collection, which I read cover to cover (I often skip supplementary things like appendixes unless they seem relevant). So, if you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, give this book a try. It's not just a collection of stories; it really works well as a "Life of Sherlock Holmes."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Some thoughts on leadership

A post on leadership? I have been seeing a lot on leadership as of late. Some of it comes as a result of Hurricane Katrina's disastrous aftermath and the lack of leadership from certain so-called "leaders." This is also a topic that is present in the literature of librarianship. Some topics you may find in the literature of librarianship include, but are not limited to: the need for leaders in the profession, the need to groom new librarians for leadership positions, and separating and distinguishing leadership from management. And by the way, manager does not automatically equal leader and viceversa. Actually, at times, I am thankful for that little detail. Many good leaders can get ruined by being shackled in a management position. I think the many example of bad hierarchical bureaucracies, in some libraries, as well as other professions, are more than enough of an illustration.

A leader does not wait. True, money may be tight, and society continues to devalue what we do, but we work and move forward in spite of the obstacles.

The observation has been made that many major associations and organizations are nothing more than the same folks taking turns at the same leadership positions. The Filipino Librarian asks about this, and I will too now: are there really so few librarians with leadership potential, or willing to take on leadership roles? By the way, as a brief aside, I found his post through the 5th Carnival of the Infosciences. If you are a librarian, or in an infosciences field, you should be following the carnival. The 6th edition is currently being hosted by the thoughts are broken.

So, back to my small post. I would ask though how welcoming are the major associations to potential new leaders. Sure, I have seen the appeals here and there advocating service through committee work. I do wonder how many new librarians go through that route. Here's why I wonder. Many new librarians are people with experience. They may or not have library experience, but they bring in a wealth of experience from workplaces, the military, and life (a.k.a. as the School of Hard Knocks). Many likely bring leadership potential that could serve our profession well. But if they see some of the organizations as indeed nothing more than certain individuals taking turns, why bother? I don't know about some readers out there, but I personally left cliques behind in high school. Add to this the "politics" of some organizations (and I don't mean right or left; I mean the actions of organizational politics that seem nothing more than squabbles), and it turns off a lot of good people. My guess, and it is only a guess based on experience, is many librarians may choose to exercise their leadership in a more quiet way. They do so in their institutions, in their communities, on their campuses, and on their special libraries. They may stay away from the larger professional organizations, and they make a difference where they are needed.

Last week, General Wesley Clark (ret.) was blogging over at the TPM Cafe. I usually just scan some of the political blogs, but what he wrote on leadership simply caught my eye and made me think a little. While he was writing in the context of Katrina, he made some good observations on leadership. He wrote, "I learned and taught that leadership means lifting people up; challenging them to push themselves to succeed where they before thought success was out of reach." This is what teachers, educators, and librarians, the good ones, strive to do in their classrooms, to lift people up, to reach out to others whether to dispel ignorance or heal pain and suffering. Very often these leaders are quiet leaders. No one acknowledges them. The news will not carry their exploits, yet they lead by their actions and their example. These are the people who make a difference where it is needed. Usually, if you ask them, they will point to someone else they see as a leader, rarely if ever at themselves. And I will add that they usually do not accept excuses or nonsense from others they may see as part of a problem.

So, when it comes to it, what have I learned? Hmm, I do believe in leadership as inspiring and lifting others. Someone once said that the "trick" to leadership is to get others to do the things you need done. One of my colleagues defines it as the "Tom Sawyer School of Leadership." She recalled the part of the Mark Twain novel where Tom gets neighborhood kids to whitewash the fence for him. I get the feeling that colleague of mine will write a book someday on the topic. In the meantime, I think leadership involves a little of that, a little of lifting others, and more of a desire to inspire others. The inspiring part goes along with working. A good leader leads by example, by his/her actions. When I was a composition teacher, for instance, I would not assign a writing task that I could not or would not be able to do myself. If I asked my students to keep a journal, I would keep one myself and share it. One has to note also that such leaders are busy people. They are busy working and helping others. I think we have a good share of leaders in librarianship. It falls now to the high powers that be in organizations and the managers in institutions to show them how to serve and what is needed. Not "groom" them (you "groom" your pet), but sincerely bring them in and allow them to do what they do best. Or, the directors and presidents can continue taking turns, see their organizations gradually become irrelevant while the leaders go on without them to do what really needs to be done. Just a few thoughts.

Friday, September 09, 2005

What kind of reader are you? Some thoughts

I saw this question a while back, and I cannot quite recall where. However, I made a note of it to maybe toy with it, see where it led me. I think when asked I would have to say that I am a very picky, yet very eclectic. Allow me to explain. On the one hand, I am fairly particular about what I will read. I have certain favorite genres that I favor. I am sure most readers can say something similar. I enjoy science fiction, some fantasy, some literary fiction, and a variety of nonfiction. I read in both English and Spanish. In terms of literary fiction, this is an area I have been favoring less over time, at least when it comes to American Literature. I could care less about most contemporary white American writers. When it comes to my literary fiction, by which I mean the mainstream stuff that gets often nominated for awards like the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and others, I usually take a pass unless it is really outstanding or someone recommended it to me. In terms of literary fiction, I tend to prefer items written overseas; I just prefer to explore stuff from around the world. I have written before that my only regret as a reader, if I can have one, is that I can't read three or four more languages. That just happens to be my taste, and I am not apologizing for it. It's in the Reader's Bill of Rights. Here is where the eclectic part of me as a reader comes in. I very often will read a book based on a good recommendation, especially if the recommendation comes from someone I know. I may take the risk of finding the book is not the type of reading I favor, but I take the chance. I figure people who recommend a book do so in good faith, and they are taking a chance in revealing their own tastes by telling you, so I figure they at least deserve a chance from me. Anyhow, that is just some of my little ways when it comes to what I like. I am betting a few readers out there may be cringing at reading this, perhaps one or two may think less of me, "oh, but you mean you do not read such and such?" I guess it is the risk I take in writing about this. But this does not totally answer the question of what kind of reader I am.

I think I try to be as open minded as possible. I also try to read as much as possible not just for pleasure but also for work. Reading is an essential part of my life; it is not only a learning tool; it helps define me and helps me make meaning of the world around me. I am also a reader who likes to share what he reads. That is part of the reason I try to make notes on things I read in blogs; additionally, I often recommend books to others, and I love giving mini-booktalks to anyone who will listen. I keep book lists. All sorts of book lists. I don't get through all of them, but I like the idea of keeping them to give me ideas of what to read next. Further, lists often give a sense of what other people may be reading, which I always find interesting. I am the type of reader who during the commute tries to see what else other people on the bus are reading (there is another little post waiting to happen).

Are there things I won't read? Sure, there are a few. But usually I have decided not to read something after having tried it out at least once. I am believer that someone condemning a book should at least read it for themselves. Taking the word of someone who probably did not read it either other than some conveniently selected passages is not a valid way to assess a book. Read it then decide for yourself. I am that type of reader; I like to be able to read what I want and to decide for myself. If it is not within the types of things I like, I don't read it. It does not mean it is a condemnation; it means it is not the book for me (see Ranganathan's Laws on this). However, if I am to condemn something because it is a bad idea or a poor argument, or it promotes hate/discrimination/intolerance, I will at least try to know what is in the pages. As for the last category, hate/discrimination/intolerance, I can be very vocal about denouncing such. I believe people may have the right to say it, but we have the right to denounce and counter them. To be able to do so, you have to be a good and well educated reader. This means knowing where you stand and where they stand. Sometimes you have to read what the enemy writes in order to know how to counter him/her.

So, what have I learned from this little exercise? Well, for one I read a lot. Two, I try to keep it diverse, but I don't always succeed. I think that is ok, that is part of striving. The best part I think is this: I am a defiant reader. Yes, I want to be able to challenge what I read as well as those who write it, those who favor it and those who oppose it. What I read is my choice and my business, not anyone else's unless I choose to share it with them. I am defiant, but I hope I am also fun. After all, there is an element of fun in being defiant. By the way, I wonder if the label "Defiant Reader" is open, sounds like a great blog title.

And since I like to share things about reading, allow me gentle readers to share a couple of other things:

  • As many readers may know, it was recently revealed that Victoria Beckham declared that she had never read a book in her life. The Guardian had a recent article reflecting on the choice not to read, which is also found in the Reader's Bill of Rights. Some food for thought. As an update, she has later said that she has read books, she just never finishes them.
  • The Christian Science Monitor for August 11, 2005 featured an article about our all time favorite Readers' Advisor Nancy Pearl. This reminds me I have to run out and buy her new book. I loved the first one. Anyhow, she reassured me it is ok to have categories you do not get into; true crime is one of hers. She also believes, and I agree, that one should not finish a book one is not enjoying. Way I see it, the world has too many good books to waste your time on a poor one. She mentions the 50 page rule, which I suppose works for some people. I personally have no rule when it comes to that. In the article, she is quoted as saying, "'believe me,' she says, "nobody is going to earn any points for slogging their way through a book they aren't enjoying but think they ought to read." She finishes probably one book for every five she starts.'"Hmm, I never really counted my reading completion ratio. Something to think about? Anyhow, happy readings to everyone.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

When students just show up

"It was Tuesday, September 6. It was hot in the city. During the semester, the library provides all sorts of instruction and orientation sessions. Professors can schedule a class in various ways, and the library can be very flexible in handling requests. Now and then, however, a professor simply sends her class to the library with some vaguely defined objective. When that happens, I go to work. I am an Instruction Librarian."

(Play theme music from Dragnet)

The story you are about to read is true. The names were changed to protect the (not so) innocent. . .

"I was working out of the Information Desk when the note came on the electronic mail. A professor called another librarian to inform her that about 100 students would be descending on the library. This would happen in two waves sometime in the morning. No further details were given.

At about 10:30am, the first group of students showed up. 35 young men and women just gathered themselves at the library's entrance. I was called by one of the Assistant Directors to ascertain the situation. There was not much to ascertain. When I asked one of the students what the teacher had told them, they gave different accounts. One young lady claimed the teacher simply sent them to the library to do research. Another young man said, "our professor said we could come here, and someone would show us what to do." He did not define what it was that needed to be done. Chaos was about to ensue as the crowd was getting restless. It was a busy time, and most of the computers in the reference computer area were full. Something had to be done. The boss simply said, "why don't you take them to the classroom and show them some things." I just nodded, and then I told the students to follow me to the Instruction Room.

At 10:40am, we gathered in the Instruction Room. By "law," I could not force any students to stay since it was not my "jurisdiction." However, most did choose to stay for a demonstration of resources available for them to complete their research. I just wanted the facts, but I soon realized they would not be forthcoming. When I asked the students if they had an assignment they were working on, another young lady with brown hair replied, "we have to write a short paper, I think two pages or so, after we read the chapter." She was soon met with a different reply, "you must be taking a different class." I knew then I had my work cut out for me. It was a Political Science class, American Government as I could tell from a textbook. The closest I got to finding out their needs is that they were working on current political issues. One of the sample topics had to do with gas prices. With that in mind, I proceeded to open the library's homepage and show them how to use Lexis-Nexis Academic and Academic Search Premier. It always helps when you have some ideas on stand-by. Students were mostly attentive; some actually took notes, and one or two asked questions. It was clear they had been left stranded by their professor, and yet, they had to hang on to every little word that professor said.

11:35am, the cycle repeated itself, this time with 40 students. I was better prepared having done the lesson once before. They were lucky no classes were actually scheduled in the Instruction Room at the time. We managed to provide some assistance, give students some things to work from, and with luck, they learned a thing or two."

(Cue theme music for end of episode. Place professor in "mug shot" position with drab grey background)

"The professor called later that afternoon. She revealed that the students will actually be working on a research paper and that they would need to use at least four sources. It turns out that the resources we covered worked well.She was grateful for the library taking her students in, and she was gently reminded to actually schedule a class next time."

(Roll credits)

Note: Just my attempt to poke a little fun at this "improv" moment. That, and I like when Joe Friday says, "Just the facts, ma'am."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A little note on librarians collaborating with faculty

Citation to article I refer to in the note:

Rader, Hannelore B. "Building faculty-librarian partnerships to prepare students for information fluency." C&RL News (February 2004): 74-76,80,83,90.

Last month, shortly before the semester started, our library participated in the university's New Faculty Orientation. As part of the program, the new faculty came to visit the library, and they had the opportunity to meet with their subject specialists as well as learn about services the library has for them. For me, it was a bit of double duty since I am the Arts and Humanities specialist as well as the Instruction Librarian. Overall, it was a nice informal setting. The Director introduced the librarians and their areas, then the faculty could meet with who they wanted to learn about things like checking out journals, make purchase suggestions, and accessing the databases and online resources from their offices. The activity was productive for the instruction program as well given the good number of requests for sessions I got from faculty that mentioned attending the event.

This event, as I take a moment or two to reflect on it, made me think back to the small article I cited above. I read it last summer during the time I was looking for work. In one of the places I was invited to interview, the prompt for the oral presentation was to discuss ways to build collaboration with faculty. I suppose at some point, I should look up the powerpoint I made for it and post it someplace. For now, I just want to make a brief note on the article, which was very timely last summer.

The article mentions that technology and electronic information has a larger, more significant presence in higher education. According to the article, faculty experience pressure from this situation as they need to acquire new skills or update the skills they already have. This is where librarians have an opportunity to build collaborative relationships with faculty.

The article goes on to discuss information fluency and how it applies to teaching. It argues that professors will need to adjust their teaching to address the goals and skills of information fluency. It then offers a list of examples for establishing good information fluency and competency. The article concludes with a call for academic librarians: "it is the time for them to become aggressive and dynamic participants in the campus community's teaching, learning, and research agendas. They must share their information expertise with their campus community and build productive partnerships with teaching faculty" (80, 83). Given I have made it through my first year in an academic setting, I can testify this takes time and effort. It takes some outreach, some tact and diplomacy, and some willingness to work. Though a short article, it outlines a good philosophy for academic librarians, and it considers the needs of faculty and students, which librarians need to know in order to work with the academic community.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Librarianship can be so dramatic: see article from portal: Libraries and the Academy

Citation for the article:

Quinn, Brian. "A Dramaturgical Perspective on Academic Libraries." portal: Libraries and the Academy. 5.3 (2005): 329-352.

It is accessible on Project Muse if available.

I finished this article a few days ago, but I needed some time to just think about it a little and reflect on my practice as a librarian and teacher before making a note on it. The title right away caught my eye, and since I studied some drama theory in my previous incarnation as an English studies major, well, it was just up my alley. For readers who work in academic libraries, I think this article will be insightful. I also think it allows us to look at the profession with a different perspective we may not consider too often. The article argues as follows for the importance of dramaturgy in library services:

"Dramaturgy is important because it challenges our assumptions that user activity is motivated largely by logical, rational, instrumental process of information seeking and assimilation, as if users operated in a social vaccuum. It suggests that people in academic libraries are inclined to act the way they do, at least in part, because they are in the presence of other people" (330).

I think that I knew this by instinct as a teacher, so it is nice to see it articulated. Much of what we do, if not all of it, is a performance, and it is a performance dictated by those around us. The article provides an overview of the origins of dramaturgy in the literature review, leading to a discussion of Erving Goffman's book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. In the book, Goffman looks at social interactions that constitute dramaturgy. He argues that social life is inherently theatrical, and I am bound to agree to an extent. Goffman further would say, according to Quinn, that role playing is a crucial part of socializing, a process that starts early in life (331).

The article then provides a description of various performances that can occur in an academic library. This part of the article is worth reading not only for the insights it may provide, but it is also worth reading it for the humor of some of the situations. These are situations that librarians have encountered at one point or another, so I am sure many readers will find them amusing as they think about how they interact with patrons and coworkers. For instance, there is the student who comes to the reference desk who only want an answer; they do not want to learn how to actually do a search. If they realize they can get the librarian to just give an answer, they may "play dumb" in order to force "the librarian to spoon-feed the answer by documenting the search in such detail that the answer becomes obvious. Students who are able to play dumb convincingly are able to save themselves the work of searching by making the librarians do it" (333). I am sure a fair share of librarians have fallen for this, heck, I may have fallen for it once or twice. One way to counteract it may be if you go over to their computer terminal and have them do the search as you tell them where to go and give suggestions. Basically, I "supervise" as they do the work. The point here is not to condemn students who may do this performance; it is more to make librarians aware that things like this happen.

Other elements discussed in the article include dramatic realization and concealment. Dramatic realization involves activities "that a person engages in to convey his or her legitimacy and appropriateness in claiming a particular role" (333). For librarians, these are things we do to establish that we are authentic librarians, in other words, show that we know what we are doing. Thumbing through reference books, our presence at the reference desk, teaching are all examples. Concealment, on the other hand, are the things people do not see. For instance, when I teach a class, all the preparation I did in terms of search strategies, including the mistakes I may have made in the process, are not seen by the audience when I do the class itself. I personally find the notion of concealment quite fascinating. I think it is similar to a magician. A magician performs a trick, but a lot goes into the trick that the audience will never see, and if the performance is good, there will be a sense of wonder and no worry over what may have been concealed. Well, just a thought anyways. I have seen teaching as involving a little magic, a little wonder, and a lot of preparation to make it work. This goes along with another idea the author mentions, and that is the idea of mystification, where a performer will try to enhance parts of certain performances while downplaying others. "By maintaining a degree of social distance, performers appear more mysterious and idealized to their audience" (336).

Other interesting ideas from the article include:

  • On teamwork: The author argues that teams will try to convey a sense of harmony and collaboration. They will do their best to hide any disagreements from outsiders. This is common sense. One interesting aspect is the concept of accountability for directors. The argument is that roles become more dramatic as one moves up the command ladder. The interesting idea is this: "in general, the higher up the performer's role in the team, the more accountable the performer will feel to the audience and the less accountable to the other members of the team" (338).
  • On regions and areas of the library. I think this is a bit of an overgeneralization, so I will leave it to readers to decide: "The front regions of the library tend to be clean, comfortable, and tastefully appointed--often in marked contrast to the backstage regions, which may be disorganized, dusty, and full of old furniture and equipment" (339).
  • On library users. This I found very interesting, and I can confirm it from personal experience both at the reference desk and from my close work with students. The author writes, "at times, library users tend to treat librarians like bartenders and provide more information about their information needs and themselves than any librarian would hope--and perhaps care--to extract during a reference interview" (342). If only I could dispense drinks, I think a lot of my work, and theirs, might go along better (haha). I will add that at times, a librarian's role may be closer to that of a confessor. Actually, I have given thought to writing a little piece on how librarians are like confessors.
  • On attributes of skilled performers. As a librarian, you have to be able to think on your feet, especially for times when you may have to cover for a colleague for any number of reasons. You also have to be able to exercise self-control. You also need dramaturgical cisrcumspection, that is, "the ability to understand how to stage an optimal performance and to anticipate any difficulties that may arise. It also entails the ability to select the kind of audience that will be most receptive to one's performance" (344).
  • On information technology and dramaturgy. It is important to be perceived as state of the art (even if you are not). Now, Mr. Quinn says this of some library directors. I leave it to readers to see if they have seen this before: "administrators may be outfitted with the most powerful computer equipment regardless of whether they have any real need for it in their work because the equipment is used for dramatic effect to convey the importance in the library hierarchy" (345). In a worst case scenario, you can think of Dilbert's boss. However, if you see an administrator walking around with a PDA when no else has one, it would be a good example. In this case, the idea is that the equipment conveys power. This part of the paper also discusses the use of computers in the library, in general, and how Web pages are now theatrical pieces.
  • More on information technology and dramaturgy. This one deserves a line by itself. It is the use of e-mail, especially coming from certain people at certain times of the day. One example is this: "thus, the librarian who is anxious to develop a reputation for being industrious and hard working will take care to time his or her e-mail so that it is sent in the early hours of the morning before work or late at night when everyone else has gone home" (347). I bet this sounds familiar to many people. Another way to look at it may be in terms of Star Trek. In the original series, Scotty, the engineer of the Enterprise, once confessed that you never tell your captain how long a repair really takes. If it takes one hour, you say four or five. That way you keep your reputation as a miracle worker. It does not get more dramatic than that.
The author concludes that viewing libraries from a dramaturgical point of view helps us understand ourselves, our patrons, and our libraries. It may help us to see all of this from a new and fresh perspective. I highly recommend the article.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Volunteer Opportunities in Houston Area in Response to Katrina

One of my colleagues passed along this link, which I am now passing along. It is a pretty comprehensive list of volunteering options to help for the weekend and later.

5 things librarians should be reading. . .just five?

I am not sure where I got this prompt from, likely one of the many blogs I read. I just made a note of the question, what are five things librarians should be reading, and I marked it as a draft for later. That is one of my writing tricks, I am always saving little prompts and notes for later. Seeing drafts on the cue does add a little incentive to have something to write later. Anyhow, enough with the musings.
My initial reaction to this question was to ask "just five things?" I read so many things, yet I feel there are so many things I should be reading or could be reading. Saying that is taking the long philosophical approach, and I can do that in a later post. Since the prompt is asking for five things that librarians should be reading, here is my list, however imperfect it may be:

  • The professional literature of librarianship. This is not rocket science for librarians (though, if you are a rocket scientist or a librarian for rockets scientists, you should be reading the literature of rocket science). Librarianship is a field that is constantly changing; it is a field that faces many challenges as well. So, how to keep up with what is happening? Read the journals and other periodicals. While I may have my differences with the American Library Association (ALA), they do put out some very good journals in various fields. If you are a member of ALA, you should fine tune your membership to get the journals in your field. I am an Instruction Librarian at an academic institution, so my choices reflect that. If you are a school media specialist (or librarian. Yes, I know, another contested term), then get the journals that address the issues and needs of your profession. However, ALA is not the "end all, be all" of librarianship, so seek out other journals and periodicals relevant to you. This can be a lot of reading, and often you will be scanning things. One way to do so is with alerting services. Project Muse and other providers often have alerting services to let you know when new content is added to the database. This includes new issues of publications they cover. I read articles from journals like Libraries and Culture through such services. I get a nice e-mail when there is new content, and since we subscribe to it through the database, I can then read online the articles I find interesting and relevant. I think this is something that is underutilized, and I cannot recommend it enough. A final note on this topic: you should also be reading some of the books in your area of librarianship. For instance, in my case, I would be looking for books in information literacy, bibliographic instruction, and similar topics, among other things.
  • News: A good librarian needs to be well informed about his/her world. This includes local, state, national, and world news. The nice thing today is that you have very broad choices when it comes to getting your news. For instance, I read The Wall Street Journal in print since we get it at work. I will admit I don't read it every single day, but pretty regularly over the week. A lot of my other news I get online. One way to do this is with a My Yahoo! page where you set up a customized page and choose what news sources to read, along with any other stuff you want on that page. If you have Yahoo for your e-mail, you already have a page, just set it up. Other online portals do similar customization, such as MSN. I just use Yahoo! since I have had it a long time (heck, pretty much way before blogs were on the radar, old habits die hard, and it works). I have on it things like Reuters, Associated Press, some national newspapers, the Houston television station news, and some global items. For more local news, since I am not too thrilled with the local major newspaper, I get the headlines on an aggregator. I know in many places, the local newspaper leaves a lot to be desired. Very often other media like television stations will have news sections online, many now with rss. It's another option. I use Newsgator for that, but I suppose I could have put the rss on Bloglines. I was just trying out Newsgator and figured I might as well put something on it I have to look at fairly often. I am still seeing how Newsgator works for me; I do love Bloglines (more on that below). In terms of news, I also try to read some of the local Spanish language newspapers. For public librarians, I think reading the local news is crucial. For my line of work, I don't do as much local stuff, but it helps to at least have a sense of things. In terms of world news, you should try to read more than the usual U.S. sources that cover the world. Try out and seek new sources. If you read in another language, try some news from other parts of the world. I read Spanish, which means I can look at things from Latin America and Spain. The internet is a wonderful way to locate news sources from all over the world. Many often do have an English edition, and it is interesting to see other points of view. It can also be interesting to see them cover an event in the United States. Overall, this does require some balance. You can't read everything. I still tweak my reading in this area. If I find something new, I may add it. If I find something I have not been reading in a while, I remove it. My bet is many librarians already do this. This area also includes things like newsmagazines. And, as an afterthought, if you are in academia, you have to read the campus newspaper.
  • Books: I bet some reader out there read the word "books" and said "duh." Allow me to clarify. This includes books in your areas of interest (the profession as well as other areas. This probably goes more to academics who often research other things). It also includes your leisure reading (pleasure and hobbies). I know librarians read a lot of books for work as well as outside of work. An example of this are the many Readers' Advisors who read so much in order to serve their patrons. I think what I am really saying here is to read for yourself, read for pleasure, take care of yourself, read to escape. Whatever the reason, it is your reason. Go read some books.
  • Blogs: Now another reader out there may say, "blogs? is that serious reading?" Again, allow me to clarify. For blogs, I make some distinctions based on my needs and desires. I am sure some out there will likely disagree, some vocally, but this is an area very open to tweaking. As a note, Bloglines is my main tool for reading them, but I am trying other things, and I may post on those attempts at some point. Finally, if someone asks me to recommend specifics, I will admit to a little self-consciousness in saying I like A or B given I have a large list. Readers really want to know, they can drop me a line; it is not a secret of state. Then again, they can also see the five blogs I recommended for Blog Day. Not the only ones I would recommend, just five that caught my eye at the moment.
    • Librarianship blogs: Many librarians out in the blogosphere make and compose blogs that amount to a great public service for the rest of us. Some librarians, and other information professionals, have blogs dedicated to highlighting articles and current events and readings. Others write thoughtful pieces on the profession. Others do some research, and others provide humor. Recently, Mr. Walt Crawford conducted a study of librarian blogs. His spreadsheet, which he provides for others to look over, includes a list of over 200 blogs with their URLs that can be used as a resource to add items to your reading list or aggregator. My suggestion is for readers to try a few blogs, look at who they blogroll, try some from the roll, and so on. Actually, a lot of my blogroll was built from what others placed on theirs. For readers starting out, the blogroll is a list of blogs that a blogger will feature on his/her blog that they consider important enough to make prominent. As a metaphor, think of it as that blogger's "honor roll" of blogs. However, not all bloggers make their blogroll public. I have my list on Bloglines, and I have not made it public. There is some debate on whether making a blogroll public is a social act or not with ramifications, and I will leave that to others. Overall, follow the trails and create a list that appeals to your needs and interests as a librarian.
    • Blogs about books and reading: I am a reader, and I do some readers' advisory for some of the reading classes on campus. Overall, I look for blogs reviewing books as well as reading reflections.
    • Miscellaneous blogs: This is my "everything else" place. I would include blogs dealing with other academic interests as well as some news, politics, and other things. On this, find what works for you.
  • The literature of your specialty areas. If you are a school librarian, for example, I would expect you to be reading on school issues, pedagogy, technology, and children's and YA literature and literacy. What do I read to cover myself on this? Readers can look at my previous posts on my reading lists for work, noting that those are works in progress. As for my academic areas of interest, they include Ethnic Studies, with attention to Latino Studies, Science Fiction, Popular Culture, and Latin American Literature. These are outside of pedagogy, instruction, education (in general), and librarianship. They are the things I would be researching extensively if I had an actual faculty position. However, I do some writing on them still.
These are some of my ideas. There are probably more than five items, but if nothing else, it at least gave me a snap in time to what I am reading, may I may do without, and what I may want to add. Happy reading.

Booknote: País que fue será

Title: País que fue será
Author: Juan Gelman
Publication Information: Buenos Aires: Seix-Barral Biblioteca Breve, 2004
ISBN: 9507314342
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 89

According to the book jacket, Juan Gelman is considered one of the best Argentine living poets. His work has been translated into English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Czech, Turkish, and Portuguese. However, as of this post, I am not aware that his particular book has been translated into English. The book collects a short series of poems. The front page says Mexico 2001-2002, so I am guessing he wrote them there during that year, but there is no note in the edition to clarify this. All the poems are short; none of them take longer than a page, and they are free verse. Gelman approaches various topics, but at times the poetry does not quite seem to connect. While rich in imagery, at times I am not quite sure what the subject is, and since the poems are short, at times you wonder "that's it?" It is "ok" poetry, but it is certainly not the best poetry I have read. However it is a very easy book to read, so for poetry readers looking for something different, this may be it. There are some neat lines, such as this poem, "Saberes" (loosely translated as "Things we know." I have included a translation below:

"Pasé junto al árbol que da flores blancas en invierno
y supe que moriré antes que él.
En mi puerta el sol dora"
pasados por venir."

"[I walked by the tree that gives white flowers in winter
and I knew then that I would die before it.
At my door the sun warms
past times yet to come]"

I think that is a very powerful image; it evokes a strong sense of vision, well, of knowing. Overall, the book has little gems like the poem above, which makes it worth reading, but other poems are of variable quality. Thus my sense that the book is "ok." Unfortunately for English readers, I have not found it translated, but Spanish language readers may want to pick it up.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: Give money to Red Cross, and some information

(I am placing this post in both of my blogs)

I have steered away from posting about the hurricane since so many places have been doing it. Also, reading the news only angers me as I see a lot of incompetence at high levels of government and things that should have been done that were not done. My thoughts go to the victims. One of the things I thought about doing was putting together a little list of information resources, after all, being a librarian, information is something I know a thing or two about. However, finding this information is not as easy as it sounds. After doing some searching, here are some things I have learned, and if in some measure, they help others, so much the better:

  • For people who are not there or anywhere near it, probably the best thing they can do is donate money to the relief organizations. I personally recommend the American Red Cross, but there are other organizations as well that are looking for donations.
  • Often people wonder why it is that organizations ask for money and often turn away goods and volunteers. The Red Cross has an excellent explanation here. Basically, it has to do with logistics and cost. Often, transporting goods to far away places costs too much to be effective. The money helps in various ways, including giving people cash vouchers, buying stuff locally, and other needs.
  • Another resource is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They have various information items, including the list of places to donate money listed above as well as some information on avoiding donation scams. Yes, it sounds terrible, but there are actually vultures out there (actually, I could put in some choice expletives for those low life forms, but I won't) who prey on the victims and what little they may have left. They also prey on the goodwill of those of us who want to help. In terms of donating money, do so to reputable charities and agencies such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. They also have some tips on how to locate relatives. This is also another thing to be careful about as some people will use this as a scam.
  • Locally, states often have state emergency management agencies. Here are the links for the ones in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana. These are places that will list items such as shelter locations. Sometimes they have a list; other times they will give a phone number to call. Also, the Red Cross site I have linked above, if you enter a zip code, you can get local information. However, the Houston Chapter of the Red Cross where I am at does not seem to have as much yet. Either that, or not as easy to find.
  • Which leads me to the next place to find information: the local news. I jumped at some of the local television stations and the newspaper, and I found listings of local shelters available, where to make donations, who is taking supplies, and who may be asking for volunteers. By the way, I just picked one of the local stations as an example. The other local affiliates of the big networks will have similar information as well. I have found that these are a lot quicker to get information out on community information.
  • My bet is that down the road, as people get somewhat settled (if anyone can get "settled" after such a horrible disaster), people will be looking for other information sources. Down the road, many of the victims may not be able to go back home. Some may well realize they have to make a new home someplace else. This is where libraries, especially public libraries, come in. We should probably be preparing lists of local information and resources to help refer people to shelters, agencies, jobs, places to live
Update note (at 5:30p): American Libraries (online edition) has a report collecting short articles and pieces on libraries affected by the hurricane. The site promises to keep adding updates.

What teachers, including me, want for their students

Through the Carnival of Education over at the Education Wonks, I found this entry submitted to the midway on what top teachers want for their students. You can find the list over at Polski3, who found it on the San Diego Tribune. This is an excellent list, and as I read it, I found that these have been things that over time, I have wanted for many of my students over time. Since I think it is an important and thoughtful list, I have taken the liberty to post it here as well:

1. Know you are important.

2. Have high expectations of yourself; establish personal goals and commit to
accomplishing them.

3. Ask questions, lots of questions, anytime, no matter what.

4. Treat others with respect.

5. Be good to yourself by getting enough sleep and making good choices when eating
and exercising daily, even if it is just walking the dog. It's a great way to
relax and help you focus on your studies. Try out for a sport at school.

6. Every day, share something you've learned with someone at home.

7. Try to be at school every day. If you miss school, you miss out.

8. Read every day, whether it's magazines or books. The more you read, the better
reader you become. Try to choose something new to read that you haven't tried
before; challenge yourself; explore.

9. Volunteer in your community; being involved will make you a better citizen
and a better student.

10. Have confidence; believe all things are possible; excel to the best of your

As a new school year starts, to all students at all levels, I wish you the very best. May you keep these ideas in mind as you move on in school and life. Polski3 also mentions that the article he read featured some additional suggestions to parents. Take a hop over there and read the rest. It should be required reading.