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Month: February 2006

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Yesterday afternoon, the university library system through a party to introduce the new information professionals to the rest of the staff (there are some 250 librarians across the whole library system, so that’s saying something). It was a little overwhelming, but an amazing experience, and I had a great talk with a librarian who had been working in the same library for 31 years. She told me stories about the kind of changed she’d seen in libraries since she was a new librarian herself. It was completely fascinating, and I may have to take time out to go back downtown and seek her out to hear more.

That shift from card catalogues to where we are currently is really something; not just in terms of databases and OPACs, but in terms of the way we can serve users and how much more streamlined our processes have become. I heard a story about how smaller libraries in the system had a dedicated phone line to the main library reference desk in order to get information out of the single copy of the union catalogue, so they could tell a patron which library they needed to go to to get their book. Talk about librarian as interface!

I love stories about old library technology and service methods, but here’s something I don’t understand; why do people think those stories are funny? I really don’t find them funny at all. I find them fascinating. Librarians have always pushed the limits of the technology at hand in order to do their jobs as well as they could, no matter what that technology was. Card catalogues don’t strike me as funny; they were the absolute best method of organizing and sharing a morass of information without a keyword-searchable database. They were the only way to empower users to do their own searching. They were anticipating the database in ways no one else could have done. I certainly don’t take current technology for granted, but hearing about how librarians stepped into the breech between what patrons needed and the limits of data organization before databases and digital catalogues makes me very grateful to be a new librarian now rather than then; I can sense that there must have been a certain level of frustration when the only interface you can use to determine whether or not a book was at one college or the next, at the main library or at in department collection, was a telephone call to a another busy reference desk. But they really pulled out all the stops, and I can only applaud them for that.

So, tell me, why are stories about old technology funny? I feel like people laugh because of how low-tech it is (like ditto machines and monstrous computers that accept punch cards), and how silly it would look next to our current tiny laptops and cell phones and bar codes, but that doesn’t seem fair. You can’t really compare technology backwards like that; people did what they could with what they had, and to be perfectly honest I think they managed to come up with more creative and thorough public services based on the technology they had access to than we have. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants, after all; both the technology and the librarians got us to where we are now. We don’t have to call up a larger library in order to determine the location of a book. With that extra energy, we should be providing a higher level of service than they did back in the early 70s. But are we? I guess it remains to be seen who gets the last laugh.

Four Things

Four Things

I got tagged, and while I rarely participate in memes, I can’t pass up a real honest-to-goodness professional tagging, so here I go:

The idea here is to list four things from each of these categories, presumably to share more about yourself. Or something like that.

Camp Counsellor
Mail Girl
Academic Programmer

When I was 18 I was a Page in our local public library (children’s department). I sorted books, I put them on shelves, I shelfread. Little did I know that my first job was going to be so closely related to my career. (Not that I ever have any actual contact with books in my current job, but hey, I do still work in a library!)

I was a camp counsellor for many many years. Through high school and through my undergrad degree. I loved it. I can’t express enough how much I loved that job. I worked primarily with 12-15 year old girls, the ones in that difficult stage. They were amazing, they were inspiring, they were energizing. Those many summers I spent living in a tent and living at a considerable distance from flush toilets is the reason I can play the guitar. Also why I know so many ice-breaker games, but I don’t pull that skill out very often these days.

During my first master’s degree, I delivered mail for Harvard Divinty School’s staff, students and faculty. Best. Job. Ever. First off, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as sorting mail. I mean, once you know who everyone is, you can just do it like you’re flying through it. Also, I delivered the mail, and got to put little post-it note smiley faces on the packages. I knew everyone, and everyone knew me. It was great.

What the job title “Academic Programmer” doesn’t tell you is that to do it you need to live in a residence hall full of 18 year olds. I did this when I was 29. I helped them with their academic issues, directed them to services on campus, that sort of thing. It was fantastic, and really taught me a lot about radical reference service in higher ed.

Six Degrees of Separation
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Being John Malkovich
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Four Places I’ve lived:
Guelph, Ontario
Ottawa, Ontario
Cambridge, Massachusetts
London, Ontario

That’s leaving aside Toronto (and Mississauga), of course.

Four TV shows:
Star Trek: The Next Generation (well I am a geek, what can I say)
The Collector (I’ve been watching this one lately)
America’s Next Top Model
Ellen (it’s on when I get home!)

Four places I’ve vacationed: I’m not sure I’ve ever properly vacationed, but I’ll give this a go.
Norway (don’t ask)
New York, NY
Duncan, BC
My couch (eventually I will add London, UK to this list, but so far, I have never taken an official vacation)

Four of my favourite dishes:
Breakfast (at any time of day)
Fish and chips (in spite of my deathly fear of fish)
Butter chicken
Turkey dinner

Sites I visit daily:
Livejournal (to read my friends list)
Defamer (don’t judge me!)
The Zokutou word meter (I’m obsessed with my word count, what can I say)

Places I would rather be:
With my nephew
On a long walk with my ipod in my pocket
in front of my computer (Wait! I’m already there!)
My bed. (Wait! I’m already there too!)

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, Julian Barnes
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Christopher Moore
Green Grass, Running Water, Tom King
Our Lady of the Lost and Found, Diane Schoemperlen

Songs: (This one changes every week or so!)
Liquify, The Servant
The World you Love, Jimmy Eat World
Your Legs Grow, Nada Surf
Everybody’s Changing, Keane

None yet. I don’t know how to drive.

Four bloggers I am now hereby tagging:
Jason Nolan

Blogging: The Podcast

Blogging: The Podcast

A couple of weeks ago, my buddy Jason Nolan, Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Ed at Ryerson, came up to my place of work to do a talk with me about blogging.

There were a lot of ways we could go with this talk. Jason and I have been talking about blogging since 2000, so we have a lot of years of natter and thought to distill down into 50 minutes. We opted to go with the conceptual rather than the practical. This talk involved no powerpoint slides, no how-tos, no demos. We talked about why we thought blogging was good for higher education, but from the point of view of good pedogogical practice and the quality of the student experience. There were millions of things we wanted to spend more time talking about but couldn’t.

That talk has now been turned into a podcast by Jason; it’s a 44 meg file, however. But if you’re interested in hearing us blather on and hopefully make a point here and there, you can download the podcast here: Blogging: It’s good for you.

If you do, please let us know what you think! It’s the beginning of a lot more talking we want to do on this subject, so stay tuned!