Tuesday, May 31, 2005

On Wikipedia, passing on some thoughts.

The exploded library blog points to a post by Karen G. Schneider, author of the Free Range Librarian blog. Ms. Schneider makes an excellent argument to why librarians object and have concerns over Wikipedia. If it makes her a gatekeeper to be concerned, then so be it, she says. You can read her post here. I like the idea of being subversive gatekeepers, and we clearly have to embrace that role. Patrons and people come to us with their information needs, and they trust us with what with provide. They expect us to have standards even if they don't actually say it. I don't know about the rest of the profession, but I happen to take that trust very seriously. I have faith my colleagues do as well. Anyways, Ms. Schneider articulates much of what many librarians think and would like to express, so hop on over and read for yourself.

On the other hand, Time has published an article about Wikipedia and its founder. It does include the comparison from an Encyclopaedia Britannica editor that compared Wikipedia to a public toilet seat because you never knew who used it last. I had not heard that before today (it sounds quite harsh). In the article, the former editor in chief of Wikipedia makes some interesting observations and explains why he does not allow his students to use Wikipedia as a source on their papers, "partly because he knows they could confirm anything they like by adding it themselves." I found the reference at the Library Stuff blog which provided the link to the article.

Booknote: _En Esto Creo_

Carlos Fuentes has written a collection of short essays on various topics; these little pieces provide an insight into the writer's mind and beliefs, but they also provide some things for readers to consider and read about. The entries are arranged alphabetically, much like a dictionary or an encyclopedia, and topics range from amor (love) to educacion (education) to Zurich. For instance, on education, he writes (and I am translating from the Spanish right after), "La sabiduria clasica nos dice que de la diversidad nace la verdadera unidad. La experiencia contemporanea nos dice que el respeto a las diferencias crea la fortaleza de un pais, y su negacion, la debilidad" ("classical wisdom tells us that true unity is born from diversity. Contemporary experience tells us that respect for differences creates strength in a nation, and its negation [creates] weakness") (62). Overall, the book is recommended for anyone wanting insight into this great writer, but it is also recommended for anyone wanting to read a little about all sorts of topics. En Esto Creo is available in English translation, usually under the title This I Believe: An A to Z of a Life.

Booknote: _Inventario Tres_

Mario Benedetti's book collects his poetry published between 1995 and 2001. The Uruguayan poet has arranged the volume by providing his most recent work first, then working backwards chronologically in the hopes that the reader will find his work accessible through the newest door and that the reader then may be tempted to gradually open other doors. He writes on various topics such as love, poetry, and even a poem on Windows '98. There is humor and whimsy and some reflective pieces. In his poem, "Guitarra," he writes about the guitar as a lovely woman. Among the books included in this collection is his 1999 Rincon de Haikus (Haikus' Corner), which features all sorts of little haikus with nuggets of insight, observations, and ruminations on life, love, peace, war, and so on. Unfortunately, as far as I know, Inventario Tres has not been translated into English, but various other books by Benedetti have been translated into English, and it would make good reading for anyone in the mood for poetry. For Spanish readers, yes, there are an Inventario Uno and an Inventario Dos.

Friday, May 27, 2005

A little spelling challenge.

The Guardian has put together this little spelling quiz. See how you do. I got a 17 out of a possible 23. Warning, it looks deceptively easy. Thanks to Jane at Wandering Eyre for pointing it out.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A bit more on weeding

As we find ourselves during the intersession between the end of the Spring Semester and the start of the Summer Terms, I get to work on some projects. One of the ongoing projects is weeding. I wrote some thoughts on weeding previously. Given that my library has a severe crunch when it comes to space, I have an extra incentive for weeding. At any rate, I am going at a steady pace. I look over some books, then double check them on the cataloguing system to see when was the last time they were checked out. If they have not been checked out between five to ten years ago, they are gone. Also, if there are copies of the books in other libraries in our system, it is likely our copy goes too, unless it is some standard work in its field. So, what else do I consider when it comes to weeding? Well, there is the age of the book. Now, in Arts and Humanities, my areas of collection management, some older books are actually desirable due to their value in the scholarship or their status as standard works. However, for the most part, I am parting ways with anything before 1980 or so (and I think for some, that may be generous, but I am being safe for now. I can always revisit later). I also look at the condition of the book. If it is falling apart, it has to go. However, one also has to consider if it is better to replace the book in question. How much would a replacement cost, especially if it is something out of print? Sometimes, you may have to send the book to the bindery instead. I also look at what similar materials are on the shelf. If I have five or six lives of Mozart, chances are half of those can go once you apply some of the other criteria I have been listing so far. In our case, we also see if there is an electronic version of the book. We have been acquiring a good set of e-books through services like e-brary and NetLibrary. Now, a lot of the old stuff won't be there, but if push comes to shove, if I have it electronically, the hard copy will likely go. Again, in this case, it is a matter of saving space.

When you look at the process, it is a lot of little questions and details a librarian has to ask about books before moving them to be discarded. And before anyone out there I am doing something horrible like other libraries, no, the books won't end up in a dumpster in the middle of the night. The State of Texas does have some strict guidelines for academic institutions when it comes to discarding what is in essence state property. Yes, the books will be discarded eventually, but there are processes in place. Also, before I discard anything, two other librarians have to sign off on it. If three of us agree, we move them to Technical Services so they can be removed from the catalogue and then sent to be discarded.

Is it a subjective process? Yes, it is. My library is trusting my expertise and experience to do this task. This is one of the jobs where you probably prefer to have a professional librarian. I know in academia, you certainly want a librarian doing it, preferably one with some academic discipline background as well. I am not saying I am perfect, since no one is, but I am very confident in my expertise and skill to do this. Also, not everything I choose right away goes. Sometimes I find out it has circulated, or I find there is nothing similar to it, so it goes back. But by now, my instinct and expertise are tuned enough I can move at a good pace.

Again, this is the type of thing no librarian really likes to talk about. In an academic library, certain books go out of date very quickly, so the process should be more swift. However, it depends on the size and mission of the library. A large research library likely collects at very comprehensive levels, so they are bound to keep almost everything they collect. A smaller library like mine, that serves a smaller and more diverse population (diverse in the sense of less specialized), needs to likely be more selective and weed accordingly. Public libraries? That is another ballgame, so to speak, but I am sure they have their criteria as well. I bet they are not as different as what I use. However, public libraries very often will sell items removed from the collection through Friends of the Library organizations or on their own. In academic libraries, this varies. Overall, it goes back to Ranganathan's Laws, the one where he said a library is an organism. Like any organism, it needs to be nurtured and cared for. Like a flower garden, you do have to remove the weeds now and then. So, I find myself weeding, a little bit at a time.

P.S. You have to admit, there may be something between wrong and guilty pleasure when as you wrap up the weeding for lunch, "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen comes on the internet radio. As I am checking items in the catalog, I am listening to the radio on the internet.

So these were the "old days"

Through the Shades of Mediocrity blog, I found a link from the Internet Archive to a 1947 Vocational Guidance film about librarianship as a career. It is interesting if nothing else to see how librarians were viewed back then. We definitely have come a long way. You will pretty much see every stereotype of librarians in this film, but if you can get past that, it makes for interesting viewing. It is only about ten minutes long. You can view or download, but I warn people they use QuickTime as the preferred player. Anyone with an interest in the history of our profession may be interested in this as well.

More on summer reading and the importance of reading.

The lates issue of the NCTE Inbox came with links to a few more articles on summer reading lists and the importance of reading. Some of them seemed interesting enough to highlight here.

  • Peter Schworm, writing for the Boston Globe, discusses about how reading lists are becoming more diverse. It seems that more and more teachers are substituting the usual blend of dead white males with various authors. Classical, canonical writers like Twain and Hemingway are giving way to contemporary writers like Kingsolver and Morrison. The diversity takes various forms. In some places, some of Shakespeare's works get dropped; in others, they drop Hawthorne and Dickens. Still, in other places, 20th century works like Catcher in the Rye and SlaughterHouse Five get dropped. However, some question the quality of the newer works placed on the lists. According to the article, "in the end, creating a reading list that balances literary merit, personal resonance, and suitable difficulty invariably involves some bias, teachers said." Article provides some commentary on how lists are created and what young readers may prefer.
  • Valerie Strauss writes that the "Odds are Stacked Against Pleasure Reading" in an article for The Washington Post. Sherre Sachar, daughter of Louis Sachar, is tired of reading. She says that getting through required reading lists leaves her no time for pleasure reading. "The extensive required reading in her high school classes -- including Advanced Placement English Literature, where she flew from one classic to another -- left her with no time to pick up books she thought would be fun. And she was frustrated by teachers who offered either too little help in understanding the complex texts or conducted tortured efforts to wring symbolism out of every word." Her father wrote the award winning book Holes. Her story prompts the article. The challenge for teachers is to foster individual reading in an era of standardized testing and tight curricular requirements. Sherre mentions that over Christmas Break, she had to read two hefty novels: One Hundred Years of Solitude and Midnight's Children. (Readers who know me know that Garcia Marquez's novel is my all time favorite, and I did like Rushdie's novel when I read it for a college course. But I have to say as good as the books are, making them required forced reading over Christmas would ruin the enjoyment of the books for even the best reader. It probably would have ruined it for me if I was in her place.) Another challenge that teachers face is that they often have to select books for reading lists from lists pre-approved by the school district, which often means books that meet certain criteria, namely that will raise no objections. A lot of good books would then be left out as a result. Also, there is a benefit to letting students choose what they read. According to the article, "allowing students to pick their own books is more than a democratic reading experiment. Studies show that reading achievement is significantly improved when students have an opportunity to choose from a selection of interesting texts rather than being dictated to." It is interesting to note that elementary and middle schools are doing a better job at allowing children to choose what to read than high schools. This is according to James Blasingame, an expert on children's literature at the University of Arizona.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On the value of libraries, in case anyone asks

Jumping around through a few blogs I keep up with, I came across the article written by Mr. Stephen Abram, VP for Innovation at Sirsi on the value of libraries. The article makes for great reading and provides plenty of evidence of why libraries are valuable to society and how much they give back to their communities. The article is specially noteworthy as it makes a good effort to include other types of libraries besides public, such as academic and corporate libraries. Michael Stephen's Tame the Web links to it with a couple of other items, and Alice of It's All Good, a blog maintained by three OCLC staff members, also links to it with some commentary. This is the type of material that librarians need to keep handy for when someone asks why do we need a library. A bibliography of mostly free web resources is included in Mr. Abram's article.

On increase in college dropouts.

The Kept-Up Librarian, an excellent resource for, well, keeping up with all you want to read but don't always have the time, has pointed to an article in the New York Times about college dropouts increasing. Be warned the link to the NYT requires registration. If you don't wish to register, you can likely locate a copy of the article through your library. I got to read it through Lexis-Nexis Academic, which we have in my library. The article opens with the tale of Andy Blevins, a young man in Virginia who quit college to keep his job at a warehouse. He enjoyed working hard and getting a paycheck, and he found that college was not really a place for him. He represents, according to the article, one of the fastest growing groups in the United States. The statistic that should make people think is that "almost one in three Americans in their mid-20's now fall into this group, up from one in five in the late 1960s. . . ."The article also notes that most of these young people come from poor and working class families. Mr. Blevins's experience provides the frame of the article. It seems colleges are reinforcing the class divide. Campuses that enroll poorer students tend to have the low graduation rates while the colleges with the highest graduation rates tend to enroll students from the higher income brackets. The article goes on to discuss other findings. For example, last year, the Department of Education found that 41% of low income students entering four years schools graduated within five years. There are various barriers for students in this situation as well: a lack of a good college preparation in high school, the outrageous costs of tuition that either make an education totally out of the question or leave students saddled with debt for years, and the lack of good role models; many of these people do not know anyone who has completed a college degree.

I work at an open admissions university. It means we pretty much admit anyone, and we do so throughout the year. It also means many of the students I work with fall in the category the article describes. From personal experience, I know these students face great odds to make it: family, work, commutes, lack of a good educational preparation, income, so on. These are students who need a lot of encouragement, but on the other hand, once they make it here, they tend to be very motivated. I know I will lose many of the students I see, but I also know a good number of them will defy the odds and make it. Part of the reason I came here is because I have the opportunity to work very closely with students that need to have someone with dedication and willingness to help out. Being an Instruction Librarian, I see many students through my BI sessions, but I also see many of them outside of class, and my desk has become a sort of stopping station for students working on papers and such. I don't mind. I give them my e-mail, tell them where I am at, and they actually come. I don't think I could find this as much in an "elite" institution. These students have very specific needs, but when given motivation, encouragement, and they see someone interested in their progress, they will blossom. For me, at least, it is a very exciting place to be in, even if at times not everything is as perfect as those other places. Having one student once in a while come and tell me, "I went from a D to a B in my English class, thanks for the help" definitely makes it worth it.

On an interesting note, the article notes further that some of the higher income kids are now concerned "that the system has moved so far from its old-boy history that they are now at a disadvantage when they apply, because colleges are trying to diversify their student rolls. To get into a good college, the sons and daughters of the upper middle class often talk of needing a higher SAT score than, say, an applicant who grew up on a farm, in a ghetto or in a factory town." Actually, this perception does defy the conventional wisdom, but the perception is there nonetheless. The "elite" colleges also face certain obstacles: risk of lowering their SAT average scores if they admit lower income students, less spots for alumni's children, higher tuition for those who can afford the price. It looks like a very delicate balancing act will be needed to assure that this nation lives up to its ideals of equality and opportunity. Just something to think about.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Cronin-gate: It's the "gift" that keeps on giving

I wrote last time that it looked like things would heat up again. Through the Redhaired Librarian I found a good discussion of Cronin's latest. Of particular interest is how J. Michael Arrington, the author of the post, considers Cronin's lack of web etiquette and how the author actually takes the time to illustrate how the dean took a series of quotes from other blogs out of context to further his attack. It makes for very good reading, and it is much more compelling than anything I could write. So hop on over and read. Over the weekend, I was looking over some of the journals I get at home, and along with those, I saw the SLIS Alumni letter that had Cronin's first "pronouncement." (You can tell it takes me a while to look through some things). It just made me wonder how many SLIS alumni like me are actually reading that. What kind of impression does such a publication, geared to get alumni to donate money to the school, make on those potential donors? I would actually be interested to know if any alumni actually keep blogs and what do they think about their dean actually attacking their writing?

Heck, they are even blogging about this all the way in Australia, thanks to the explodedlibrary blog. I am sure Cronin may be thrilled with the attention. I think the fact that bloggers around the world are posting about it speaks more volumes than any attack the dean may throw our way.

On "closing that pesky privacy gap"

The Naperville Public Library (IL) will be implementing a system of fingerprinting library patrons who want to use an internet computer terminal. The Free Range Librarian provides links to the story as well as some interesting commentary in the form of the Q&A that the library should have provided. So much for libraries standing up for privacy and the freedom of patrons to read what they wish. This is definitely not the way to go. Jessamyn of Librarian.net also writes on the topic of fingerprinting at Naperville, especially insighful is her comment, which goes, "Note the obligatory library pervert tossed in to the article just to make people think that this level of increased security is necessary for some crime-fighting reason." A nice example of fostering hysteria so the masses will just go along without actually questioning what is going on.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Cronin Strikes Back

Just when I thought things had cooled off in terms of Gorman and Cronin, I find through the Lethal Librarian that my old dean is at it again. I was just casually looking over my blogs list when I came across the item. I am not going to add to it anymore because by now I don't think it worth it to grace him with an answer. I do however note that I am not in agreement with some of the uncivil insults he received, simply because I think using such lowers people to his level. I think good librarians and library students who blog, as well as other bloggers, are better than that. Having said that, he really should try to actually look at both the literature on blogging as well some well made objections to his remarks which he seems to ignore. He claims IU has been researching blogs for years, yet he gives the impression he has not looked over the research done in his own school. Anyhow, you can find the Lethal Librarian's note here, and you can find Cronin's editorial here. I will let the readers decide. Librarian.net also has a note, which I found at about the same time, so this tells me things are about to heat up again.

Update note: Readers can find a thoughtful note on this topic over at the Redhaired Librarian. And if people do the "ego-search" as she suggests, it looks like the topic will keep expanding. I found it day after this post.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Booknote: _Tales of the Bounty Hunters (Star Wars)_

With the last movie coming out, I got in the mood to read a little "popcorn" literature, or as one of my colleagues used to call it, "potato chips." She said it in the sense that it was like having some chips, you took some now and then but you did not eat a whole bag all the time. At any rate, yes, I do read lighter stuff now and then. I have read some Star Wars novels, and I enjoyed the trilogy written by Timothy Zahn when Lucas first opened his creation to other novelists. However, I did not keep up with it because I found the quality to be erratic; some books were good; some were, well, not so good and clearly marketed for fans, and I only mean this in the sense that the books seem clearly more focused on marketing than on a good story. Also, there are so many now, that it has become like Star Trek novels; you have to be a hardcore fan to keep up, and I am just a casual reader. If you ask me Star Trek or Star Wars, it is Star Wars. Seeing the first film in the theater as a child when it came out is one of my fondest memories.

Tales of the Bounty Hunters (1996), edited by Kevin J. Anderson, is an easy piece of reading. It is five tales for six bounty hunters (Zuckuss and 4-Lom are partners, so they get one tale). I picked up a copy in a second hand store, along with the other two tales anthologies, which I may make a note for later. The tales vary in quality. I personally enjoyed the tale of Zuckus and 4-Lom, and I enjoyed the tale of Bossk the least, mostly because there was not enough of the Trandoshan bounty hunter, but the tale does give glimpses of the religion the Trandoshans follow, and I always find little things like that interesting. Boba Fett's tale has an open ending, so readers who prefer closure in their fiction will likely not enjoy it. With the understanding that quality is variable, I can recommend the book for readers who want something very light and easy. Star Wars fans will likely enjoy it, and they will likely debate the merits of each tale. Non-fans may enjoy the book as an easy entrance to the novels of Star Wars if they are curious. Actually, I did a search in Amazon for the book to get another glimpse at the date, and the webpage features some reader reviews. I think some of those reviews give a sense of what it is fans looked for in the book, what they liked and disliked, so it could be another thing to look for.

As for the new film, I am planning on seeing it. I will admit, I am one of the believers in the first trilogy that disliked the second trilogy. But I am willing to take a chance and see how things wind up. I am going to wait until the lines at the theaters diminish though, so it may be a while.

An aside on a comment.

On an aside note, I got my first comment from an outsider, namely anonymous, to a note I made on a book two months ago. Not exactly friendly, but anonimity I suppose makes people a bit more "brave" to let go. Anyhow, I did post a friendly reply. I will note that I will reserve the right to delete anything overly rude or inappropriate. Having said that, keep the comments and the conversation going.

Don Quixote's 400th Anniversary--Part Two

I met Don Quijote duirng my senior year of high school. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and reading Don Quijote's tale during senior year Spanish is almost the equivalent of reading a major English language novel. I say almost because in talking to other teachers as well as during my time as a high school teacher myself, I have not heard about nor was required to teach a novel of the scope of Don Quijote. Many AP English classes may read it, but it is often an abridged version. As for Spanish classes in the United States, it is usually reserved for the more advanced classes, and the option again may be to read it abridged. When I taught high school Senior English, the options were George Orwell's 1984 or Bronte's Wuthering Heights. It was British literature, and back in my day, they did not have extensive reading lists like some classes have now. There was a very fixed curriculum, and as a teacher you made the best of it. So, in my case, I chose Orwell's novel since it offered various possibilities, and a dystopian work held a bit more appeal. At any rate, I am not debating the merits of the texts offered in the United States's public schools. That topic can be be the subject of another post. My point is to simply note that I had a different experience. In my Senior English when I was in high school I was reading Shakespeare and some American fiction selections, mostly short fiction and very canonical (read Dead White Males).

As I mentioned in Part One, I started this small piece simply to post some resources for readers and kind of celebrate in a small humble way the 400th anniversary of a great work of literature. As I started doing some research to select some items to link, I started recalling my own experience with the errant knight.

Mrs. Delgado introduced us to Don Quijote during our senior year. I think, that like many teens, I groaned at the idea of reading a 1,000+ page book that "wasn't written in real Spanish." Readers can think of this in terms of the teenager who complains about having to read Shakespeare because it "is not written in real English." Actually, when I taught English in high school, I had at least one student ask what language Shakespeare was using. It made for a teachable moment about how languages evolve. At any rate, one must note that complete novel Don Quijote is written in Baroque Spanish, which can be challenging even to an adult. So, Mrs. Delgado had her work cut out for her. With a blend of coaxing, tight reading assignments, and a lot of enthusiasm on her part, my classmates and I got through the novel.

I don't think that I really came to appreciate Cervantes's work until I wrote my senior research paper in that Spanish class. My chosen topic was "The Influence of the Amadis de Gaula on Don Quijote de la Mancha." It sounds like a simple enough topic. Cervantes pokes fun at chivalry novels, and Amadis is one of the novels mentioned prominently in Cervantes's text. As I began my research, I found myself very engaged. I actually read the Amadis de Gaula, which turned out to be pretty good. In the process, I could see the conventions of chivalry novels. I felt that if I was going to see how Cervantes was breaking the rules of the chivalry novel, I had to know what the rules were in the first place. The more I read and then compared the works, the more I came to appreciate what Cervantes was doing.

It has been years since I completed that assignment, but I still remember it as one of the most interesting ones I did in high school. I have not reread Cervantes's novel since then though. In large measure because it is a demanding book. At this point in my life, I can say that I actually read it, as something you can check off one of those great works lists one hears about. But what does this say about the book if it is so big and daunting that once you read it, you are done with it? It is a good question, and it has prompted me to reread the novel this year, along with many others who may be rereading it or reading it for the first time. So, stay tuned as I may do little notes here and there on my experience as I go along. This will take time for the novel is best read a couple of chapters at a time. I am going to rediscover Don Quijote. Some critics have said that the reader's perception of the protagonist changes as the reader gets older. The younger reader sees an idealistic knight. The older reader sees a man disappointed with how his life has turned out. I want to find out who much of that may be true, but even if it is or not true, I am sure it will be a different reading. In any case, it will be an interesting travel for the Gypsy Librarian.

Don Quixote's 400th Anniversary--Part One

I have been writing a draft of this for a couple of weeks now. When I thought about it the first time, I just wanted to make a little note and maybe provide some links for readers. As I began to reflect on my experience with the book, it became more of a little essay. So, here goes. I will put a few items of interest here, and then my reflection on part two.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote De La Mancha, (you can find a complete Spanish version here, thanks to the site of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain, part of the 400th celebration). The novel is known simply to most folks as Don Quixote (you can find an English text here through Bartleby.com. If the link does not work, a search will bring various results). The celebration is taking various forms throughout the world. One example is Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is promoting the free distribution of one million copies of the novel to the people in a campaign dubbed Operation Dulcinea. In academia, various scholarly publications are presenting special editions devoted to Cervantes's novel. One example is the issue of Hispania 88.1 (March 2005) Special Quijote Issue. Hispania is the journal of the Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. Another project online that may be of interest is the Projecto Cervantes out of Texas A&M in collaboration with others including the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha. The site is in Spanish, but there is also an English menu.

Readers can also run searches in Google on the topic of the 400th years of Don Quixote. For the readers who may prefer a Spanish language portal, they can use Terra.com and seek "Cuarto Centenario Don Quijote" It seemed better than Google for Spanish language users. Yahoo! in Spanish also has some decent results.

There is also a short article published in the Times Literary Review, April 22, 2005, by Jeremy Lawrence. He is reviewing two new editions of the novel out in time for the celebration. He writes that "the purpose of this review has been to suggest that Don Quijote is eminently readable, but that absolutely nothing can be got out of it without reading it. The book amply repays dipping--perusing a single chapter is better than all the repackaged substitutes--but in the end, only reading will do. . . ." The article makes for an interesting little piece on reading the work and its significance, and it gives a little commentary on all the repackaging of the novel that will be going on as well. He observes that "these forms of repackaging all share the conviction that though everyone should be invited to bend the knee before the incomparable Don and his one-armed creator, we must be spared the trouble of reading a thousand-page Spanish Baroque novel." I hope some readers out there will take the "trouble" of reading the novel, maybe just to discover the knight for themselves.

In addition, I came across a few quotes speaking about the novel. They are in Spanish, but I have provided a free translation, in parenthesis, for readers who may not read in Spanish.


FRASES CÉLEBRES SOBRE EL QUIJOTE
(Famous phrases about El Quixote)

“Siempre pienso que una de las cosas felices que me han ocurrido en la vida es haber conocido a Don Quijote.”
("I always think that one of the happiest things I have had in my life is having met Don Quijote."
--Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian writer

“Si hay una novela que hay que leer antes de morir, esa novela es Don Quijote.”
("If there is one novel to read before dying, that novel is Don Quixote."
--Ben Okri, Nigerian writer

“Es muy interesante la locura de Don Quijote, porque es un personaje que se hace loco cuando no puede aceptar la realidad de sí mismo.”
("Don Quixote's madness is very interesting because it is a character that becomes mad when he cannot accept the reality within himself.")
--Carlos Castillo del Pino, Spanish psychiatrist

"El libro de los libros."
("The book of books.")
--Gustave Flaubert, French writer

“Esa flor de Caballería, Don Quijote de la Mancha, sigue siendo para todo el mundo el único Hidalgo genuino y eterno.”
("That flower of Chivalry, Don Quixote de la Mancha, continues to be the only knight, authentic and eternal.")
--Joseph Conrad, British novelist

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Booknote: _The House of the Scorpion_ (2002)

Nancy Farmer's novel about the clone of a drug lord makes for interesting reading overall, though it seems to drag a bit in terms of pace towards the end. The novel won the National Book Award in 2002. The novel falls in the science fiction genre, and it does have elements of science fiction to it, but I think it classifies better as a dystopian novel. The plot is the story of Matt, the clone of El Patron, the centenary patriarch of the Alacran Family and an opium drug lord. As a clone, Matt is pretty much nothing more than mere cattle, and actually he is pretty much created to provide spare parts for El Patron as the old man ages and needs transplants to stay alive. However, the story is also a story of a boy coming of age and discovering who he is along the way, and this sense, the novel is no different than many other juvenile tales of boys coming of age. The concepts of cloning, the use of microchips to control people, and the idea of an established drug empire between the United States and Mexico are intriguing, the type of stuff that makes good science fiction. However, the plot slows down towards the last part of the book, as Matt makes his escape from the Alacran Estate. To some readers, the ending may seem a little contrived. It is not quite a Deus ex machina, but close to it. More like a last minute way twist that wraps things up fairly well. Not unlike some dramas where all the characters one knows about come together to tie the loose ends. I think I did not enjoy that as much given the rest of the novel. Watching Matt grow was interesting, but the escape comes very late in the book. His new brief bondage after the escape seems to slow down the pace of the novel. That aside, I do recommend the book not just for young readers. Some adults may enjoy it as well. The book is an award winner, and many reviews have been positive.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Summer reading and the importance of reading

The Council Chronicle (NCTE), dated online May 10th, features a piece on the importance of reading over the summer for kids to maintain their reading skills. While I have mixed feelings about giving out homework over the summer (I never had summer homework, and I turned out fine. In large measure because I was raised to enjoy reading, not see it as something you had to do), I do like ideas that encourage reading. The article recommends that kids should be reading four to five books over the summer. Ideas to encourage reading include: " making presentations about books, giving students a choice in what they read, finding ways for students to connect with books and others, and ensuring students have access before summer begins."

Richard Allington, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee and author of books on reading for young adults, sees the following problem:

". . .that most schools don't own the literature or magazines that adolescents most want to read. 'The books the teens are interested in aren't even in the building, much less on a department reading list. So schools might have to make a choice. Do you want [students] to read over the summer? Then open up the recommended list to a much broader array of texts and introduce those texts before the end of the school year."

Allington also recommends adding more informational texts, a move that he thinks will appeal to boys. I can clearly see the problem, which seems to me a blend of schools often being out of touch with what kids are actually doing and a reluctance of many schools to take some risks when it comes to collection development. However, I suppose much of this may be reflective of the litigious society we live in where no school wants to get sued by some unhappy or unruly parent, let alone have to face a book challenge. From what I have seen, the assumption is school libraries is to let them get it at the public library. But the problem Allington highlights does bring into question how much reading can kids get done if they only get a list. Without access to a good public library, chances are slim unless the kids' parents are able to afford some of the selections. I suppose something to think about further.

At any rate, the NCTE Inbox Newsletter, which led me to the article I am referring to, also provides some examples of what some schools are doing in terms of reading list. I am linking a few to illustrate. The Dallas one does not look too bad in terms of the titles selected once you can get to the actual titles. It has a lot of layering of how they want the kids to read, what books not to read (yes, they have restrictions, mostly because the restricted titles will be read in school at some point and God forbid a kid actually reads a book before the teacher has covered it in class), and how to respond to readings in writing exercises. So, once you get past all the curricular stuff, the list itself is not half bad. Same goes for the other lists and others readers can likely find with a Google search or a similar tool. The fact that you have to give assignments to make sure kids read is usually labeled as accountability, but I always wonder how enjoyable is reading if you are more worried about making sure you get the assignment done. I think usually the teachers that encourage more reflection about reading and response over a formal and structured writing prompt will be more successful. This is where taking a page or two from ideas like booktalks probably pays off.


Episcopal School of Dallas Upper School: List of 2004 Summer Reading.

Altamont School (Alabama) Summer Reading Lists: Grades 5-12. This one seems to be heavy on translated works, at least at the 12th grade level. I am all for reading international works, but I wonder if they ever read anything in Spanish for instance.

Elizabeth Juster's lists for her high school students at Londonberry, New Hampshire.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

When professors just show up

The university has finished its Spring semester, and we are now in intersession until the Summer session starts after Memorial Day. As a result, things in the library are slow, which has given me a bit more time to catch up on some reading and writing as well as work on some projects. At our small library, since things are slow for now, we make the Reference Desk schedule more flexible by adding in some people from Circulation and other support staff. Usually what happens is if a patron needs some detailed reference help, they can call on one of the librarians. I think the idea is to free up the librarians a bit so they can do other projects. Personally, I think we should just let the librarians handle it, not because I don't think the other professionals are not capable, but because if they are going to call on me anyways, I might as well be there. However, I can see the other side.

Since things are slow, librarians are not the only ones with a little bit of time on their hands. The faculty also have time on their hands now that the semester is done, and they have finished grading essays and so on. Some of them leave for the summer, but others stay around whether to teach over the summer or work on their own research. So, a few of them eventually realize there is a library and that they probably should at least drop in. Ok, I am exaggerating a bit, but not by much. They usually have a few reasons such as they want to suggest a purchase (they need to speak to their liaison), they heard we do classes or sessions for students (aka BI sessions, I do those), or they simply want to know what we have available for them in their area (they need a brief tour and/or demo). Today, a Communications adjunct came in with a mass e-mail promoting the Sage Collections, and he wanted to know if we had such a thing. One of our Circulation supervisors was at the Reference Desk at the time, and she came into the Reference Office to see if one of the librarians would tell her yes or no. While I could have simply told her to tell him, yes, we have the database in question, I think that would have been too easy, not to mention "off putting." What I ended up telling her was that I would come over and meet the professor myself.

I was glad that I came out and met him. He was a very pleasant fellow for starters. I explained to him that we did not list Sage as a database, but that it was a product, and the particular database would be found under the appropriate subject area. I asked what was his area, and I learned it was Communications, which also happens to be one of my Collection Development areas. I then was able to tell him that we had Communications Studies: A Sage Full-Text Collection, which is one of the products Sage makes. He was happy to know we already had it; it was not going to cost extra, and he was even happier to know he could access it from his office as well as at home. I gave him a a quick demo of the interface so he could see how it worked and what kind of results were available. This drew further interest since Sage provides good full text coverage; it is a tool students can use as well to locate more current readings for their classes. We had a very pleasant conversation in the meantime where I was able to learn about his classes as well as needs and interests, and we showed him a little about what was available and even suggested he may want to bring his classes when he was teaching again. It was a nice moment, the type that I really like because it gets me out of my desk to actually meet people. It was also a learning moment for both of us, and it was yet another way to serve a patron.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Interesting little items: on baseball and on blogs

  1. Friday's Wall Street Journal features an article in the front page about baseball's tradition with numbers on players' uniforms. It specifically looks at pitchers, who by tradition, avoid wearing single digit numbers. I am sure most baseball hardcore fans know this, but to the casual observer like me, it is an interesting little piece of trivia and history.
  2. The Indianapolis Nuvo Newspaper featured a little "story" on the lack of popularity of blogs. For a little chuckle or two, read the story here. It turns out the average Joe does not give a hoot about blogs, haha.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A bit on trading card art

Gale's Arts & Humanities Newsletter had a little piece by Tom Pendergast on the merits of trading card art. He writes about his son collecting the cards, and in the process, tells a little about the phenomena of trading cards. It makes a nice little note for those who may not know much about it, but it is also something that parents out there who have kids who collect cards of some kind (Magic: The Gathering, Marvel, Yu Gi Oh!, etc.) will likely appreciate as well. And in case anyone is wondering, I have a small Magic: The Gathering collection started after someone got me a starter set. I do have to admit that they do have pretty good art. Anyhow, you can find the article here. The Gale Newsletter is one of those little newsletters that librarians now and then get from publishers mostly for them to market new products. Gale's newsletters now and then feature little interesting features as well.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Now and then, we probably should log off

Now, bear with me a moment. Given that I am blogging and that as a librarian I spend a lot of time online (not to mention the time outside of work), this may sound a bit radical. But in seriousness, it is not a bad idea. Just decide to take some time off and actually turn off your computer, do not log into the internet. The Chronicle of Higher Education, in its April 22nd, 2005 issue, features an article by Jeffrey R. Young entitled "Knowing When to Log Off." The argument is that wired campuses actually cause information overload. Information overload is certainly not new, but the idea is to disconnect for a while in order to make some time for reflection and contemplation. In other words, take some time to recharge the batteries before getting back on a computer. It seems like a very good idea. When I read the article, I recalled when I interviewed the Head of Information Services at one of the libraries I used to work at. I did it for a management class in library school. One of the things she mentioned was that she spent a large part of her morning checking e-mails and responding to e-mails. Now, e-mail communication is a big part of her work; I know it is a big part of mine, but I wonder if she at times wished she could just turn it off for a while, just decide not to check e-mail for a day, like the article suggests. Chaos would likely ensue in her case, but then again, would it really be so bad when it has the potential to help her, or me for that matter, regain some serenity? Thge article mentions that e-mail is one of the culprits for stress as people tend to look at them as soon as they pop up on Outlook or such. At any rate, a little food for thought.

Public Speaking Skills are Important for Librarians

Stephen Cohen's blog, Library Stuff, posts an item about the importance of public speaking skills for librarians. He bases his note on the note from Caveat Lector blog, which has a nice little commentary on why public speaking skills are important. Both bloggers emphasize the importance of this skill to librarians and those aspiring to become librarians. I could not emphasize this more as well. However, I will add a couple of thoughts from my experience. As the Caveat Lector writes, having libraries provide a prompt for a presentation is a very common thing to do. It is particularly a given if you are applying for a position as an Instruction or Information Literacy Librarian, but for any public services job, it is not uncommon. During my time interviewing, I had all sorts of presentation requests. A common one was simply to deliver a mock lesson plan: basically demonstrate how I would run a BI session for a Freshman Composition class. Freshman Composition being often a big client of BI programs, this is a very common request. In this case, I had at least two demonstrations prepared: one for a literary based class doing research on literary criticism and the other for a current events or argumentative based class. I also had specific topic requests. For one interview, they wanted me to give a presentation on Developing Collaboration between Faculty and Librarians. On another, I had to do a presentation on philosophy of undergraduate education, and another one I had to discuss the link between reference services and instruction. I had a couple of other topics I don't recall at the moment, but I did manage to build up a set of powerpoints I could modify at a moment's notice. For some of the topics, some research was involved because the topics pretty much boiled down to the equivalent of giving a conference paper presentation, only without actually writing the paper. For others, the ones based on lessons, it was more easy to me since I am very comfortable with teaching. Overall, this was not difficult for me since I am very comfortable with publc speaking and presenting. But it still requires preparation on the part of the candidates. If anyone wants to know about specifics of some of my presentations, let me know, I would be happy to share the knowledge.

Caveat Lector makes a brief point that publishing is widely addressed for librarians. I have to disagree with that point. Nowhere in library school was it addressed when I went through the program, and other than the faculty librarians at the library I worked at while I went to library school mentioning something about working on an article to make sure they met tenure, the topic was not brought up. The only time you see publishing addressed is when you go to interviews at jobs where the librarians are classified as faculty. In those, they often do sit you down with the tenure committee (P&T, it has other names), and they literally go over the requirements. In some places, they are more condescending than others, but their intentions for the most part seemed sincere (except for one place I went to that shall remain nameless). However, for the average candidate, finding out about this during an interview may be too late. I mentioned this issue previously when I wrote about the librarian shortage myth since it is a concern of mine. For me, publishing was not an issue since I did graduate work in English, so writing for conferences and publications was a given anyhow. But for others without such background, it may come as a suprise, and the little research I have done on curricula shows coursework addressing this is minimal. I would be interested to see what others out there say about it.

In the meantime, do hone those public speaking skills.

Booknote: _El Club Dumas_ (1992)

This novel is simply one of the most interesting ones I have read this year, and Perez-Reverte is definitely an author I will be looking up again. The novel is also available in English translation, the title is usually The Dumas Club. Fans of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code will likely enjoy this. However, I will risk the wrath of some Dan Brown fans by saying that Perez-Reverte's book is a much better novel than The Da Vinci Code in many levels. For one, Club Dumas is actually legible. By this I mean it has a plot that moves along and draws the reader in from the start. Once I started this book, I was not able to put it down, putting aside the other books I was reading at the the time. I tried reading The Da Vinci Code to see what the big hoopla was about, and after five attempts to get into its weak and slow plot, I just skipped to the end. It was some of the most hideous prose I have subjected myself to. What people see in that writer is honestly beyond me. But, as Ranganathan says, each book its reader. Second, the attention to detail is superb. Perez-Reverte brings the world of rare books and its collectors to life with careful descriptions and a strong sense of ambience. Third, characters are very well developed in this book; some of them you have to learn about them along the way, and at least one, the character of "Irene Adler" you are left wondering a bit who or what is she. I have an idea, but I leave it to readers to discover it for themselves: who is that woman whose mission is to protect Lucas Corso as he investigates about two rare books? Perez-Reverte has a way of bringing characters to life. You can really visualize the regal nature of Taillefer's widow. The characters stay with you after finishing the book. Fourth, there is a puzzle involved, and this is where I say that fans of Dan Brown may enjoy the book as well. Lucas Corso is a book hunter, and his job this time is to find out if a copy of an Alexandre Dumas manuscript is authentic or not. While he is at it, he also has to investigate the three existing copies of a demonology book known as the Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Darkness. Is there a connection between the two books? Will he be able to solve the mystery? What secrets do the books hide? To give readers a better sense of the mystery, Perez-Reverte includes various engravings with the text. The Dumas manuscript is a part of the novel The Three Musketeers. I am sure people who have read The Three Musketeers will enjoy seeing the various references to it in this novel, but it is not necessary to have read Dumas's novel to enjoy El Club Dumas. Readers who like to read about secret societies and codes will not be disappointed by this book.

On a final note, this book was the basis for the 1999 film The Ninth Gate, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Johnny Depp in the role of Lucas Corso. Except in the film, he is named Dean Corso. Some people who watched the movie have found the ending to be somewhat vague. While not as good as the book, the movie is enjoyable if you like mystery thrillers. However a significant number of details from the book are completely left out from the film. I would recommend read the book and make the movie optional watching.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

"But my professor said it has to be in print, not from the internet..."

I hear that line from students coming to the library looking for an article more than you can imagine, unless you happen to be an academic librarian as well, in which case you hear it too I bet. A professor, who shall remain nameless (but it can be any professor pretty much), sends students to the library with instructions such as this, or a few variants:

"You have to find an article. It has to be from a peer reviewed journal, and it cannot be from the internet."

Now, as many librarians know, periodical indexes with full-text may be accessed through the internet, but they are not the "internet" in the usual sense of Google or Yahoo!, which is I am sure what the professor is trying to avoid. Nowadays, a lot of these databases feature PDF files of articles, which are just as good as the print item itself. Now, you can explain this to a student. You can show them what the actual PDF looks like, how it is an exact reproduction of the article they may want with exact page numbers. You can even point out that if they make a photocopy (since journals do not check out), it will look about the PDF. However, the problem is I am offering to print it out of the computer, so therefore, it is bad, and they will be in trouble with their professor.

Many blogs and academic articles as well have pointed out the issues of journal pricing, its increases, and the need for libraries often to go to an electronic format for periodicals due to cost or space restrictions. In fact, I made a note about this upon reading an article about the same topic in Collection Building. But very often, no matter how much you try to reassure the students, there is always the one student who feels I am not serving her well unless I get her something in print from the actual stacks. So, in the end, what do I do? Well, I just say "yes ma'am (or sir)" and try to find them a journal issue we have in the stacks. In the case of today, I managed to find a couple of titles, so I gave her two choices. I like whenever possible to send them to the stacks with at least two citations, just in case.

P.S. In what can only be described as an ironic twist of fate, that young lady came back with the bound issue of the journal. When I saw her approaching, I thought she was maybe going to ask, "where is the photocopier?" or "Can I check this out?" So, what was the question? She asked in a soft voice, "Do you have this particular article online so I can print it out?" I just smiled and said, "sure, let's check." I checked; we had it, and I printed it out for her. It was a PDF, so she felt better it looked just like on the page she had. Thus we have another happy customer, in spite of what the professor said. I wonder what the advocates of "give them what they want" would say to this?

Quick read: some undergraduate views about libraries

Library HiTech News 22.4 published a short piece by Julia Gelfand entitled "Library as a Changing Place: Viewpoints from Univesity Undergraduate Students." It is only a couple of pages, but it summarizes nicely what undergraduates students see as the role of academic libraries these days. The author was invited to speak to an undergraduate writing class about the role of libraries, and this provides the frame for some of the student comments found in the essay. Overall, the concept of space seems to be the main issue, the desire to have a place that is quiet, free of distractions, and with the resources at hand. While checking out books was not as crucial, providing good spaces to study and get work done as well as access to technology were important. Not just providing computer terminals, but also ways for students to be able to bring their laptops in whether ports or through wireless. They also did mention the need for quiet reading only areas. The article makes for a quick way to get some insights on what students like and dislike. Overall, they do value libraries for providing safe, quiet places with access to information.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Education and cars reference question

Finally, I got around to posting my reply to the reference query I referred to back in April. So here goes. A librarian at another library, called on behalf of a patron that wanted to know about percentages of people who went to college and who owned cars during the decades of the the 1960s through the 1980's. This would not have been as difficult had it not been for the fact they wanted to know it for Europe as well as the United States. As I understood it at the time, this was for some comparative study, so any form of this information I could find would be helpful. After much research, I sent the following. Note that in lieu of percentages, I sent actual numbers. Cross referring to actual population numbers would likely yield a percentage, but I did explain that population numbers could vary. The Census Bureau does give one number that includes civilians in the U.S. only and another that counts the military overseas as part of the U.S. population for example.

  1. The percentage (%) of college age people enrolled in United States colleges versus European countries (Great Britain, France, and Germany) for 1980 and 1960. For the most part, I located totals.
    1. For 1980, there were 9,547,000 students enrolled in Public Colleges and 2,640,000 enrolled in Private Colleges. The source cited by the Census Bureau is the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics. The table that provides this number can be found in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2004-2005 edition. Table #202 provides School Enrollment: 1970-2012 (from 2001 onward, the results would be projected).
    2. For 1960, the numbers get a bit trickier since the Census asked different questions. For 1960 then, there were 3,216,000 enrolled in Higher Education. It is broken down by 1,832,000 in Publicly Controlled Colleges (Publicly Controlled being the label used) and 1,384,000 in Privately Controlled Colleges. According to the table’s note where I found the information, this excludes Schools of Nursing not affiliated with institutions of higher education. The source cited by the Census for these numbers is the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Office of Education. The table that provides this information can be located in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1970. Table #146: School Enrollment, By Type of School: 1930 to 1968.
    3. To provide a context, the total resident population in the United States for 1980 (this means excluding Armed Forces abroad) was 227,225,000, and the total resident population of the United States in 1960 (this means excluding Armed Forces Abroad) was 179,992,000.
  2. For the three European countries in question. I was not able to find specific percentages, but I did find total enrollments:
    1. I did a search on USAID’s Global Education Database, which charts data from UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics. I was only able to go back to 1970, so I do not have data for 1960 readily available. Also, there was no data available for Germany for the year of 1980. Very often these kind of statistics depend on whether the particular nations report them or not. It is possible there was no report for Germany that year.
    2. The term used by GED is Tertiary Enrollment, which is briefly defined as students having gone above a secondary education.
    3. For 1980, the total tertiary enrollment was 1,076,717 in France and 827,146 in the United Kingdom. In 1970 (as far back as I can go), the totals were 801,156 for France and 601,300 for the United Kingdom.
  3. For car/automobile ownership in the United States, this can take a couple of forms. I tried looking at asset ownership rates for the years in question in U.S. Data.
    1. For 1980, I used Table #1280: Appliances Used by Households, By Region and Family Income: 1987. This table is found in the Statistical Abstract, 1990 edition. It is based on the Residential Energy Consumption Survey: Housing Characteristics: 1987 created by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It is one of those surveys that get made between the decennial censuses. Use is defined as “possessed and generally used by the household.” According to the table, for 1987, 30.8 million households, 34% of the total number, had one vehicle. 48.6 million, 53.7% of the total number, had two or more vehicles. For purposes of the survey, motor vehicles were defined as “all motorized vehicles used by U.S. households for personal transportation excluding motorcycles, mopeds, large trucks and buses.” The total number of households in 1987 for context was 90.5 million. The question of actual ownership was apparently not asked at this time, but it is found in later censuses under asset ownership.
    2. For 1960, the Statistical Abstract, 1970 edition, cites The University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumer Finances to answer the question of auto ownership. This is listed in Table #843: Automobile Ownership, Age, and Financing: 1950-1969. IN 1960, the total number of families for the survey was 53.4 million. 77% of families owned automobiles. This breaks down to 62% owning one vehicle and 15% owning two or more vehicles.
  4. For the European countries, I was only able to locate information for 1999, which is the most current year provided by the resources I used. The place that provided the answer was NationMaster.com, which cites World Bank, World Development Indicators 2002. The information is presented as cars per 1000 people in 1999. In United Kingdom there were 373 cars per 1000, in France, there were 469 per 1000, and in Germany there were 508 per 1000 people.
  5. The online resources can be found as follows:
    1. The Statistical Abstract of the United States can be accessed online at http://www2.census.gov/prod2/statcomp/index.htm . The editions I used are available on this Census Bureau website.
    2. The Global Education Database is available here: http://qesdb.cdie.org/ged/index.html . One can set up specific searches through various pulldown menus. The database then provides specific tables based on a request.
    3. NationMaster can be access at: http://www.nationmaster.com. Like the GED above, one can set parameters to create specific tables for the available data.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

On the librarian shortage, and while I am at it, some thoughts

In looking over the Bloglines feed I have set up, I came across Meredith Farka's blog entry about a recent article published in Library Journal regarding the mythical shortage of librarians. Her entry provides a link to the article itself as well as some comments, so feel free to go take a look. As I read over her note, and I then read the article itself, several thoughts came to mind, especially since I recently went through the gauntlet of trying to find a librarian job. Ms. Farkas does mention the shortage of mentors that aspiring librarians often face, which was what prompted me to start thinking and writing.

I should count myself as one of the lucky few. For one, I do have a job and a pretty good one at that (though not perfect, but then again, I am good). I also had a librarian serve as a mentor in an informal way during the time that I was job hunting, and to her I owe a debt of gratitude that I can only hope to repay over time by being a good librarian and maybe someday doing what she did for me for someone else. One of the things that my mentor told me as I was applying for jobs was that it was likely that I was competing for jobs not so much with other recent or soon to be graduates but with librarians already in the field who were looking to do a lateral move. I have to admit that for a moment I wondered about this, why would a highly skilled librarian in an established position wish to make what would basically be a lateral move, namely not moving up, but sideways in terms of career? Of course, I reached the conclusion there could be a myriad of reasons, some of which might be interesting to explore, maybe a small research study even? For a very brief moment, and I mean brief, it was a bit good for the ego to know that I was in the same league with those veterans. However, that brief puff of illusion vanished soon as I saw that in reality that meant that the odds were heavily against me in terms of finding a job. That I am where I am now is the result of a grueling experience that often tested my resolve and even made me wonder if it was all worth it. Maybe someday I will write details of my job search from the highs to the lows and in between, but back to the topic at hand. At any rate, I do have to agree with the authors of the Library Journal article and ask why are so many jobs that are clearly entry-level going to those with substantial careers already under their belts?

In my case, for the type of position I was looking for, an Instruction and/or Information Literacy Librarian, I had other experiences to compensate for the lack of the seemingly obssesive requirement of three to five years of professional experience. I was a school teacher, and I was also an adjunct college instructor, so I had a lot of teaching experience, which made me desirable for the type of position I was looking for. The fact I had an a second master's degree, and postmaster's work added to my market value as well as the fact that I had worked in libraries both before and during my time in library school. I should note that I would be what the article describes as a career changer, and even though I am 35 now, I am as enthusiastic as any 25 year old. To be honest, I tend to resent a bit being in the upper borderline of NextGen since I can see that view as well as the view of the older veterans. Sometimes I wish I could do without the label, but the point is I know what it is like to compete with the other NextGen's. And while we are at it, we should note that those like me are probably more common than much of the literature gives us credit for. All I had to do was look at my classmates, many of whom were former elementary teachers, maybe another high school one, a couple middle school veterans, business people, salespersons, and even a lawyer. Yet, people who bring such diverse experiences are often treated like they have never held a job before because of the obssession with three to five years of "professional work." In my case, this was a mixed blessing. Some places wanted to talk to me right away because I had experience as an educator; others would not even look at my resume.

I did get a number of phone interviews and a good share of campus interviews, so again, Lady Luck (along with a lot of hard work on my part) smiled on me somewhat. I got a lot of rejections for jobs that can be labeled as nothing else than entry level. In some cases, the jobs were so basic I wondered what exactly were they looking for if I was not good enough to man their reference desk as a "generic" reference librarian. By this I mean exactly that, the job advertised for a generalist reference librarian with some collection development, not even mention of instruction. The type of job most students coming out of library school with minimal work experience could likely do. I remember my mentor wonderered about this as well. As I mentioned, I had quite an experience in my job hunt, and I applied all over. I had the good luck I was able to move if I needed to, which I did. I know many good librarians are not working due to the geographical restrictions.

One statement that concerned me, and I think it should concern anyone who reads the article and Ms. Farkas' blog entry, is the one the authors of the article make about the threat to the profession:

"The evidence strongly suggests that new librarians are neither sought nor considered for even entry-level librarian positions. The evidence also suggests that the jobs that new professionals need to gain vital experience are the very jobs being cut or greatly reduced. This population is being squeezed from both sides. They cannot find viable jobs to apply for nor can they get hired when they do apply. The threat to librarianship is clear: many qualified individuals will abandon the profession if the situation does not improve."



The LJ article also links to another article detailing the trend to hire PhD's as subject specialists without a library degree. During my search, I recall seeing a fair number of advertisements for this type of non-MLS librarian posts. Usually the ads asked for someone with a doctorate in a particular subject field, or what they would often call "equivalent experience."

It reminds me of some readings I did while working on my other graduate degree about how community colleges were getting more picky about hiring faculty given the excess of Humanities Ph.D's; they could afford to not hire the usual people with just a master's degree. Similar situations it seems, and it seems while there has been some mentions of both fields problems with the job market, no concerted connections have been made. I tend to be a bit more conscious I think because while I had my Modern Language Association Membership, I always read the annual Profession issue they published with its reports on the dismal state of the job market in English and Foreign Languages. I am very familiar overall with the situation of Humanities doctoral graduates, not only from knowing some personally, but because I almost became one myself. I left a doctoral program to pursue library school, a decision I never regretted. In part, I did it for the slightly better odds of being employed, in part because I fell in love with librarianship while working in one. There is another story I may have to tell someday, but for now, suffice it to say I can be very sympathetic to those folks. While I am on this topic, I think we should be adding more content based coursework to the library school curriculum. IN order to be subject specialists, we need to know the subjects. While obtaining such knowledge from other degrees is good, there are principles of librarianship you do not learn in that other degree. I managed to get a few good courses, but only because my timing was right since the courses were not taught regularly. For instance, the course on Readers' Advisory was taught my last semester there. The person who taught it left, and so the course has not been offered again.

As for what is clearly the gutting of professional librarian jobs in public libraries in favor of cheap paraprofessionals working part time, it is just shameful. You get what you pay for. I have a healthy respect for the paraprofessionals (paralibrarians, whatever you wish to call them, I wish they had a better label), but such breaking down of professional positions demeans the profession as well as the work of the paraprofessionals who support the professionals.

The reading did raise a good question regarding expectations of having work experience. This is a given, and I cannot emphasize it enough. I am sure most job seekers cannot emphasize it enough either. I got my practical knowledge working in a library. Library school coursework, with a couple of good exceptions, was mostly very theoretical. I am learning so much now that I am in the field, I could likely go back and teach a thing or two. But I am not ready for that, not yet anyhow. There is too much to learn and do for me here.

A short note on academic librarianship, which is my area. I am in a position where I am classified as professional staff, but I could have just as easily (ok, maybe not as easy, but bear with me) ended up in a faculty classified position. This type of position usually requires a person to work towards tenure, and for the most part, that means the old "publish or perish." This concept is rarely mentioned in library school, not in the classes, not in the workplaces, and not even in the career advising there may be available. As a result, writing for scholarly publication or conferences is not taught or broached at all, and this is a serious disservice to those who may be considering a career in academic librarianship. I mention in part because I found it surprising that nowhere in my library school program this was mentioned. The only reason I am comfortable with academic writing is because I have done some myself. I have presented at conferences, and I have a small publication credit. I learned this in my graduate program in English. I mentioned this need around my library school a few times, and other than a shrug here and some indifference there, nothing really was done. We need to work on this. For academic librarian jobs, very often they do expect that you know this already. I think I was able to interview for some of those jobs precisely because I had a curriculum vitae with academic writing experience. And yes, I do have a cv, as well as a resume, another little distinction that is not always taught. How do I know? From the few classmates of mine that came to me asking what the heck was a cv? When I told them what it was and why they were asking for it, I got a few blank looks. On the other hand, I also had classmates with cv's that could put many a college professor to shame. Again, proof that we librarians are a very diverse group of talented people. I just hope those doing the hiring don't make the threat come true and force these people to leave the profession.

Finally, from the article: "To paraphrase one new professional, librarianship is a profession that focuses obsessively on past accomplishments and not on future potential." I hate to agree, but this seems to be true. My experience in searching, for one, tends to confirm it. Maybe it's time those doing the hiring got over themselves and opened their minds to the possibilities and potential of the best candidates, not just the "experienced" ones. Nothing wrong with experience, but a bit of potential can go a long way as well.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Some items of interest from _ARTNews_, April 2005 issue.

I just read through the April 2005 edition of ARTNews as part of my professional reading lists. Some items of interest:

The magazine reported that a recent exhibition by artist Leon Ferrari made leaders of the Catholic Church upset. The archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, declared the exhibition to be blasphemous, which then sparked protests and acts of violence as some protesters broke into the exhibition; there were also bomb threats. The 84 year old artist is a controversial figure. During the period of the dictatorship, he was exiled in Brazil because of his views. One example of his work is the piece titled Western and Christian Civilization (1965). It was made as a protest to the Vietnam War, and it depicts Christ crucified to a fighter jet. According to the article, the retrospective exhibit is based on the artitst's opposition to the concept of hell, which he defines as "the belief by part of the population that others deserve to be punished simply for not sharing their beliefs. It is the mother of all discrimination" (62). On the other side of the issue, Catholic priest Xavier Ryckeboer lobbied to have the exhibition closed using the argument that art cannot be used as a form of aggression. A judge did close the exhibit for 18 days, but it was reopened after an appeal. The article also points out that the Catholic Church has protested other art exhibits in Argentina. In one case, the head of a Buenos Aires art foundation resigned after "alleging in the press that she had been told not to exhibit any works related to 'sex, politics, or religion'"(62). The directors of the foundation deny any censorship but they do state they plan to reduce the number of offerings in terms of exhibitions.

So, no exhibitions featuring sex, politics or religion. So, what is left if you take out all the good stuff? Are they afraid of a little bit of subversive art? I am all for people choosing what they want or not to see, and if it conflicts with their religious views, it is their right to express themselves against it by not viewing it or sponsoring, and even protesting, but doing so in a peaceful way. To use the excuse of art causes aggression, given that all art at one point or another can be aggressive, is just that, an excuse. I am definitely not for people who want to censor and deny others the right to view or read or hear something and decide for themselves if it is for them or not. In this case, it is the Catholic Church, but that institution is certainly not the only one proposing censorship of works they can't stand. This seems to be another good illustration of why the concept of separation of Church and state seems like a good idea, but also it is another example why free thinkers should be aware and willing to denounce such efforts to stiffle creativity and intellectual pursuits. Anyhow, this is my little moment of passion over censors.

Another interesting piece is the feature piece by Linda Yablonsky, "What Makes a Painting a Painting?", that asks what is a painting in an age of hybrid forms of art. The article includes various statements by artists on what defines (or redefines, or simply does without definition) painting. Just keep in mind the last line provided by Russell Ferguson, senior curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, who says that ". . .every time you come up with an answer, you can think of something to contradict it."

Finally for now, Barbara Pollack's article "The Opening China" provides an overview of the growing art scene in China as more art galleries are opening and new millionaires are supporting the art.

So that's how they score those essays, or just add monkeys?

The online edition of the St. Louis Dispatch reported on Sunday about use of a software program to grade essays written for a Sociology class. The professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia created his own software for students to submit their essays for grading by a computer. He does state that his TA's and him still grade all the final essays, but even then, he encourages them to turn the papers in to the machine to get a higher chance at an A. Of course, those in favor of such systems praise its efficiency and speed at providing a result. Those against argue that something as complicated as grading an essay is better done by humans given the subjective nature of the task. After all, all writers are individuals, or so argue many writing teachers and experts. What caught my eye and prompted the title of my essay was this little passage:

>>When the University of California at Davis tried out such technology a couple years back, lecturer Andy Jones decided to try to trick "e-Rater."

Prompted to write on workplace injuries, Jones instead input a letter of recommendation, substituting "risk of personal injury" for the student's name. "My thinking was, 'This is ridiculous, I'm sure it will get a zero,'" he said.

He got a five out of six.

A second time around, Jones scattered "chimpanzee" throughout the essay, guessing unusual words would yield him a higher score.

He got a six.

In Brent's class, sophomore Brady Didion submitted drafts of his papers numerous times to ensure his final version included everything the computer wanted.

"What you're learning, really, is how to cheat the program," he said.<<



So, add a few monkeys here and there, and the very smart computer figures out you have a nice elevated vocabulary, and therefore gives you a higher score. I know I am oversimplifying a bit here, but the fact that you can so easily fool the computer says a lot about why this may not be such a hot idea. While it is accepted in composition studies that educators can agree on what makes a good paper or not, I don't quite think the machine can detect the nuances and subtleties in an individual piece of writing. True, teachers create rubrics and other basic scales to decide on how good a paper is. I used to use rubrics in some of my classes back in the day, but often these rubrics were discussed in class as part of the learning process, negotiated somewhat with students, and students would learn how to recognize good writing through practice. This took time, then again, anything worth doing right takes time. And maybe that is what makes me wonder about using software to replace something that takes time and effort for the sake of efficiency and savings. Sure, you can feed a rubric to a machine and program it to look for certain traits, but unless the computer can actually "read" the essay rather than scan it for certain things, the results may not be the most desirable. Anyhow, this seems something interesting to keep an eye on as more and more administrators and bosses look to cut corners with automation for the sake of saving money.

As a note, the link to the article leads to the newspaper's website. The usual caveats about access after a while apply.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

So, the latest on Dean Cronin

Seems my old dean has a penchant for speaking against people who use blogs, to put it mildly. To put things in perspective, I found out about this myself through some of the other fine bloggers out there that help me keep up. It does not surprise me however that Blaise Cronin would hold such an attitude considering that outside his little niche in strategic intelligences, he does not seem to get out much. This is a library dean who would come to the library only when he absolutely had to, and if he actually had to ask a reference question, the pain was quite apparent on his part.

I found out initially from a posting in the Free Range Librarian, who provides a brief commentary and then some links to where he found it. Actually, it is a bit more than a brief commentary, a passionate piece of writing, but when you have one of your favorite worktools slammed by a library school dean who seems more centered on Informatics than actual librarianship, you just have to get passionate. As I type this, I am trying not to get too passionate about it since I just graduated last year from the program at IUB, where I thought Cronin would be retiring only to find that he was actually invited back. So much for undoing the damage. The Free Range Librarian links to Tame the Web, Mr. Michael Stephen's weblog. He has a link to the news item in the SLIS Newsletter, so I went and took a look as well.

After reading the piece, I don't know if I should be angry, offended, outraged, disappointed, or a mix of any of the above. Since most of what he wrote has been cited in other places, I will leave it to any readers who visit here to look at the text and decide for themselves. What struck me as smug is the last line where he says librarians know better? Librarians know better??? What kind of condescending attitude is that given all the librarians out there that blog for a variety of reasons? So, are the blogging librarians all narcissistic and crassly egotitistical exhibitionists? I don't think so, but I do think it is time Dr. Cronin takes another look at the blogosphere and check out some of the fine librarians blogging out there (this is where I remind myself to maybe add some of those fine blogs to my list of links). Here I thought that Michael Gorman was an exception rather than a rule regarding those in high library science positions, only to have the dean of my own school go and pull a "Gorman" to the nth degree. I wrote a few thoughts on Gorman last month, and I thought I would be able to take a break from that, only to see it come back and hit close to home.

From what I have seen, most of the library bloggers out there blog not only for themselves, but for others, whether they do it to educate, as a public service, to show how technology can be better implemented, or for other reasons. Why do I blog? Well, in my case it started as a small experiment. I was fully aware of blogs, just never thought of myself as being able to say anything let alone post it out there for others to see. So, I took my plunge. Now that I have been at it for a short while, I can see it as a useful tool. For one, a place to document some of my experiences as a librarian, and if in some small measure those experiences help out another librarian or an aspiring one, so much the better. For another, it helps me think. I have always been a believer in the power of writing and reflection. I still do keep a personal journal in print (yes, there are some things that are really private), but blogging has allowed me some freedom to explore ideas. By reading and exploring other blogs, I learn from others and bring some of that knowledge back to my own experience. Do I know better? Only in the sense that as a librarian I am a professional skilled in evaluating the information I come across, including blogs, websites, print, etc. But any librarian can tell you this, and they likely take pride in providing such a valuable service. Now, I definitely don't "know better" in the sense Dean Cronin means of being higher than thou. Also, blogging allows me to share ideas about things I read and things I reflect on. Do I think all those things are the best thing out there? Heck no, but I hold the hope as I stated before that maybe someone will find them helpful or interesting. It boils down to a combination of something I do because it is helpful to me and something I do because as a librarian it is another extension of my role in public services.

I often note that people like Gorman and Cronin always find some apologist for them, someone who will say something along the lines of "if you look at it differently," or "he was only doing a satire." You can find Cronin's apologist here. While I do agree with that writer that Cronin makes a couple of decent statements, the overall tone is not excusable for someone in his position. Somehow taking such a condescending tone about others diminishes any credibility Cronin may have had. And if it means I have to rant a little, then so be it. The nice thing about blogs is you can get away with some ranting. Who says it has to accomplish anything? I think arrogant academics like Gorman and Cronin need to be called on it, not apologized for or made to look as if "they just did not mean to say it that way." Anyhow, there goes my little moment of rant.

A final note. In my explorations of blogging, I have come across various composition teachers who use blogging with their classes for various projects from class pages to ways to give their students new ways to express their voices. I wish I had some links to put here now (makes note to look into this). My point, or one of them, is that, yes, there can be some really "crappy" bloggers out there who as an educator would make me cringe, but even those often have something to say. But more importantly, blogging can be a very powerful tool, a way to empower those who did not have a voice before, a way to engage learners who might not be able to otherwise. In Dean Cronin's eyes, I am betting those composition students are just another bunch of narcissistic egotists with nothing worthy to say. Maybe in addition to stepping into a library now and then, and looking at blogs now and then a bit more, he can actually step into a real classroom (other than the highbrow strategic classes he may be teaching) and learn a thing or two. Then again, I can always hope. In the meantime, I will keep on blogging and urge others out there to do the same. To close, I would like to post a comment by Mr. Jeff Humphrey that he posted to the Tame the Web blog. He wrote the following about librarians who blog, which I think summarizes quite nicely some of the reasons why we do it:

"I see two common traits of librarians in the blogsphere. 1) They are actively finding and implementing technology to better serve their users. 2) They use every means possible to share their technology experiences with others. Overall, they are driven by action followed by observation, which leads to "publishing" their views via blogging, some of which will eventually be studied in a more academic fashion. This runs counter to an academic model of observation followed by publishing which hopefully leads to action."


As I look at it, not far from the ideal of the National Writing Project and the teacher researcher. Probably why becoming an instruction librarian seemed so natural to me. I am interested in action, then learning from it. For now, that reflection will have to wait for a later blog entry.

On a P.S. note, I found this last blog as I was wrapping up this post. I think it helped me keep a bit of perspective. Does it still make me upset the dean of my school said what he said? Yes, it does. But maybe time will prove us right, or at least vindicate us somehow. At any rate, the writer does give an interesting reminder about being a bit more thick skinned and about the value of opinions (some opinions). A different view I could not leave out as I saw it if nothing else to at least strike some balance.