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Month: May 2005

Phone Reference Goes Corporate

Phone Reference Goes Corporate

And from the “You’ve got to be kidding me” file comes askgod.com:

To capture all the information off the Net, all you need is the one thing you already have – Your Cell Phone. Put your stylus down, stop searching the streets for Wi-Fi spots and call ASK GOD. ASK GOD saves you the one thing you need and can’t ever buy – Your time.
In June of 2005, our company will allow you to ASK GOD. As our name implies, ASK GOD will supply you with every answer imaginable, twenty-four hours a day. Furthermore, our service does not rest on the Sabbath.

To use ASK GOD’s Phoneternet, all you need to do is call our toll-free number and, within seconds, our live angels will be able to answer any questions you may have. Our ASK GOD angels are trained web experts, giving callers instant access to any web-based information.

I mean, I knew library services were hot, but I didn’t know they were so hot that random people on the interwebs would try and sell them back to people as if they don’t already exist.

[Via Metafilter]

Edited to add: Apparently the creators of askgod.com are also responsible for this. Down with the pacisfists and the libraries! It takes all kinds, I guess.

More Hodgepodge

More Hodgepodge

Great news from Google Scholar: all libraries can now get their own results to show up in the Google search, with the right link resolving software. Fantastic! Of course, librarians in general are wary. Hey, if we had something better to offer the public, I’d be fighting for that, but we don’t.

Case in point: Lipstick on a Pig by Roy Tennant: library OPACs are one gigantic failure.

We are focused on making our own lives easier rather than the lives of our patrons. The user-focused enhancements that do make it through generally reflect incremental changes rather than deep, systemic improvements that will create the systems our users need.” I’m cheering madly from the crowd for him, until he says this: ” For that kind of leadership and courage, only the vendor can devote the required resources.”

Uh…what? Why are we relying on for-profit industry to create what we need? Why can’t LIS as a discipline pull itself together long enough to produce some open source product? Why can’t we, as a community of libraries, pitch together to create something that will work for all of us and for our patrons?

Gdrive: get rid of your user interface, your operating system and your folders; just search for things! Hm. No, i still like to put things in their rightful place. I don’t care what order my books or my cds are in, but dammit let me organize the files I create on my computer. There’s something to be said for keeping like near like, isn’t there, Mr. Dewey?

Meanwhile, yet another Canadian library school opts to remove the word “library” from it’s name:

Terri Tomchyshyn (Dalhousie class of ’81), Librarian/Manager at the Department of National Defense, says “The integration of the Master of Library and Information Studies programme into the Information Management model adds breadth and opportunities for those graduating from such a programme.” Stephen Abram, President of the Canadian Library Association adds that “around the world librarians are embracing and leading the change in their profession. Librarians are involved in all aspects of the Internet revolution, managing the transition of many enterprises and governments to address the strategic implications of new technologies. The name Dalhousie School of Information Management is wholly appropriate to reflect and represent the changes at the Dalhousie School and in our profession.”

Right, so the future is to get out of libraries altogether. Fantastic.

Bitch Ph.D reacts to the news that an adjunct professor was ousted because of her blog. I really wish this kind of topic got more attention from faculties in general. Universities are supposed to be a bastion of intellectual freedom, but apparently that’s just a lot of hot air. Yes, it’s just looking for more reasons to encourage my faculty friends to blog, I admit to some bias here.

And on that note, Teleread suggests that high-ranking managers and professionals tend not to keep blogs because it’s not a good way to hide lies and general BS . So maybe top execs (and anyone working for an ad agency in Quebec) should be required to blog.

Xanga infuriates edubloggers…again. Kids put too much personal information on their online journals, police say. This is always a tricky situation for people, kids or adults. Is there something we can do to help develop some sense of information literacy in this area?

While I can see a good educational purpose to the podcast, I am still not impressed with Duke and Drexel’s ipod giveaway. I’ll keep thinking about it, but what exactly is the pedagogical advantage of portability?

And here ends my hodgepodge. Onward and upward.

Pharmacists and Reference Librarians

Pharmacists and Reference Librarians

I’ve been thinking about pharmacists lately. They’ve been in the news lately, since Plan B (another drug in the line of “morning after” pills) was recently approved for use by women in Canada without a prescription. No prescription required, but the drug will be held behind the pharmacist’s counter, and women will need to ask for it. There’s been some controversy around the role of the pharmacist in that transaction. Why put a barrier in the way of women trying to control their own fertility? Who is this person who stands in place of a doctor, who guards the more dangerous drugs, even though we have a legal right to them?

Why exactly does one need a degree in pharmacy in order to guard drugs?

Pharmacists, it seems to me, are in very much the same position as reference librarians. Technological innovation and the commercial exploits of big business have altered their respective roles so severely that the intense, arduous education required of both fields seems to have been rendered nearly useless.

The medieval and early modern apothecary did not just to dispense the drugs prescribed by a doctor, he made them. Apothecaries harvested medicinal plants, dried and treated them, and prepared the concoctions as directed according to the instructions passed down from master to apprentice. The apothecary knew two languages; the Latin terms for medicinal plants, cited in the ancient texts of Hippocrates and Galen and in the prescriptions from physicians, but also the vernacular names, the local names for herbs and flowers that were often different from region to region. The local physician would pride himself on not knowing anything about the vernacular terms; that was lowly labour-related knowledge, not fit for the elite, university-trained physician. Erasmus tells a story about asking a table full of learned physicians to identify one of the greens in their salads; they all passed it around, and claimed it was some foreign vegetable they couldn’t name. A passing maid told them it was parsley.

So apothecaries were the interpreters, the ones who could understand what the doctor’s theoretical prescriptions meant in the real world. They matched theory with an actual physical plant or mineral. That interpretive role made them a threat to the medical establishment, who often felt that the apothecary could easily take advantage of the physician’s ignorance and feed the wrong medicine to a sick patron, making it look like the physician’s fault. They worried that those apprenticed apothecaries might start guessing about humours and their interaction and doling out medications on their own.

At one time, the pharmacist was a powerful person with a crucial role in local life.

Even in Norman Rockwell pictures, the pharmacist is mixing up cough syrups and pain medications tailored precisely to each patient. The profession clearly required a lot of training, and the community who appreciates his work certainly wouldn’t want him to be poorly-trained or under-paid.

Today Big Pharma makes the drugs. Pharmacists, highly trained all, are reduced to basic retail work. The act of actually counting out the drugs and pouring them into a plastic bottle isn’t even performed by a pharmacist these days.

There was a time (not long ago) when your local reference librarian was the only search engine you would have access to. If you needed information, you would go straight to her. She would go through the involved and complicated search procedure for you and make sure you leave with what you need. She was the interpreter, the map-maker into this world of information. With the internet, with Google, that work has been outsourced and made free for all. The reference librarian’s role, like it or not, has been vastly reduced (or, at least the stats show dwindling user questions asked per annum). Librarians have had to face the possibility that they are being phased out by an algorithm. Librarians are currently facing the challenge of accepting the new technologies that have largely made their skills obsolete and choosing a viable path into the future, one where the library will still have a crucial place in public life. Librarians need to find ways to make themselves relevant to their communities.

But the pharmacist is in a worse position; pharmacy as a real community service is possibly just a bit further along the road to annihilation than librarianship is. Here we have these well-trained, intelligent, knowledgeable professionals standing behind rows of antihistamines, overseeing paperwork and restocking Viagra bottles, and anxiously awaiting any question from customers milling around the drugstore. Is this the future of the reference librarian?

Perhaps all is not lost. At least reference librarians can (and have) become experts at finding information in whatever medium is best, fastest, and most robust. At least librarians can tackle big concepts like information literacy and computer core competencies, getting meta about what it means to need and get information. Academic librarians can become experts on database management, archiving digital documents, instructional technologies and undergraduate outreach. Public librarians can focus on services like toddler and teen programs, turning their facility into real community space rather than book storage, and refocusing on becoming excellent reader’s advisors. (A good reader’s advisor is, after all, worth her weight in ipods.) Fortunately there is space here to rescue and reinvent the profession.

It would be interesting to see the same kind of movement among pharmacists.