Wednesday, April 9, 2014

And We're Back!

It’s time to start blogging again. I’m two weeks into my new job as the Science Reference Services Librarian at Old Dominion University. Virginia is lovely, the university is dynamic, and the libraries are filled with dedicated faculty and staff who’ve made me very welcome. At this point, the bulk of my orientation meetings seem to be concluding, and I’m starting to take on my true responsibilities.

In the coming months, I have a lot of projects to work on, and I’ll be musing on those projects, librarianship in general, and the ideas that get me fired up on this blog.

So far, I’ve been immersed in training and orientation. Unsurprisingly with a new job, I’ve had plenty of paperwork to complete, but I’ve also had a chance to sit down with most of the other subject specialists and start looking at the resources we can use to answer questions. In the coming weeks, I’ll meet with the department heads throughout the library to get an overview of the entire institution.

I’m the new kid on the block, so I’m laying low--I’m learning, observing, and absorbing everything I can. That said, don’t doubt for a moment that I’m back in the game! I’m looking forward to upcoming conferences, new projects, and the exploration of some old projects applied in new ways. ODU seems to be a wonderful environment to explore, and I’ll be talking about those explorations here in the coming months. I’ll chronicle my training, my crazy ideas, and my work, and hopefully enter the greater dialogue in the field.

I already have ideas--what are yours?

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Librarian’s Arsenal: Git & GitHub

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 10 October 2012.

Prompted by a fantastic talk given by the iSchool’s own Michael Fudge, I’ve been exploring Git, GitHub, and the ways librarians can benefit by using a version control system.
Librarians should know how to code. This isn’t news; coding is simply another form of literacy. This post won’t spend any time rehashing the reasons that coding is a vital skill in today’s society. Learn it, teach others, improve society.
What’s this “Git” thing, anyway?
Git is a tool for keeping track of code–any type of code, from HTML/CSS to high-level programming languages. Specifically, Git provides a “version control system” that allows you to save a file directory (called a “repository”) exactly as it stands at a certain point in time. While this is useful if you want the ability to revert to a previous version of the various documents in the repository, the real strength in Git lies in the ability to branch your code.
“Branching” is a way to create a figurative “tree”, which splits the saved files for any number of reasons down two or more paths. For example, it’s possible to have a branch of a website that is the current “production” version, and another up-and-coming “development” branch. Or perhaps there’s a branch for a current project, and each person working on the code has a slightly different way of approaching the problem. By merging branches back together, the best possible code can be distilled.
Ok, but how does GitHub factor in?
GitHub takes the ideas behind Git and makes them social, providing cloud storage for repositories and allowing for collaboration between coders of all levels. Most exciting, GitHub expands the branching abilities of Git into “forking,” which allows users to clone code into their own repository. Some librarians might be familiar with David Darts’ PirateBox, and Jason Griffey’s fork of the source code that resulted in the LibraryBox. Forking code makes it possible for librarians to tailor other projects to the specifications we need. It’s a shared, open-source way of co-creating content that librarians should take advantage of.
So why should librarians care?
Librarians can be some of the best liaisons between “geeks” and people who don’t code–we’re naturally positioned at the intersection between technology and the analog world. Tools like Git can help us facilitate when we’re managing multi-headed projects with coders, information architects, administrators, and the public. GitHub is even better because it allows us to open up our code, getting input from others as we build systems to use for the future.
Git lets people keep track of their code, and by having excellent revision management, it’s a lot easier to recover from mistakes, allowing people to get in and play with their code with less fear. Librarians get to have more control when projects are done within a Git system. The openness of GitHub is even better, and plays strongly to librarianship’s core values. As transliterate librarians operate in our program-or-be-programmed world, tools like Git & GitHub help us keep our work transparent, which can help showcase our value to the public.
Git and GitHub both deserve a place in the arsenal.

Monday, September 30, 2013

R-Squared: A Game-Changer for Library Conferences

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 19 September 2012.

Last week, over three hundred librarians transplanted themselves from their home locations and gathered in Telluride & Mountain Village, Colorado for R-Squared: the Risk and Reward conference. Self-declared risk-takers, they spent three days at high altitude forging a new dedication to entrepreneurial thinking in the library setting.
Joining one of four custom tracks – Creative Spaces, Culture, Abundant Community, and Customer Curiosity – they prepared for a journey that they knew would be a dynamic experience, but no one could have expected just how excellent the conference would be. The conference generated a lot of buzz, fully deserved, and I expect that as time goes on we’ll all start seeing disruptive ideas that found their incubator up in the mountains this September.
At more than 9,500 feet above sea level, Mountain Village, Colorado provided a stunning backdrop for the conference. A short gondola ride up over the mountain from Telluride, we found ourselves surrounded by phenomenal views and low population density. By choosing Telluride as the location, the R2 organizers forced participants to take their first risk: getting there. My trip involved a series of flights on progressively smaller planes until I ended up in the 19-seater headed over the Rockies to Telluride. Soon enough, we were on the ground and settling in, trying madly to acclimate to the change in altitude and playing “spot the librarian”; remarkably difficult with this subset of the profession!
I’ve made it to a number of library conferences this year, and they all attracted their own populations. At R-Squared, though, the attendees self-selected into a vibrant, active population, all of whom were willing to dive right in, get their hands dirty, and figure out a course of action. The conference was designed to be a unique experience, and all of the tracks took people out of their comfort zones in one way or another. The difference here, though, is that everyone leapt from their comfort zones with a vengeance, chasing risks to enjoy their inherent rewards.
Every track allowed for that sort of exploration; every track pushed participants to strive for lofty goals in little time, learning just how much can be accomplished with a plan, a team, and a deadline. In my session, we explored the entire pre-brainstorming process and transformed a week of library events, all in a single morning! Other sessions hunted for information spaces out in Mountain Village, explored the possibilities of community expertise, and looked for disruptive innovations to challenge staid thought patterns. The keynote speakers that opened and closed the conference implored us to remember that we are the voice of change–and we should be.
Those changes are going to build, slowly, but R-Squared was the catalyst. We’ve all returned home, some with longer trips than others, and now have to begin the process of applying what we learned in the mountains. The real reason R2 was such a fantastic event is not because of anything that happened in Colorado, though the adventures we had will not be forgotten easily. Rather, R2 brought together an incredible group of people, and showed them what a difference can be made when we all work together. The ongoing conversations will change the nature of librarianship.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Toads and Tinkering

Lots of ideas swirling around my head at the moment, so I'd better begin at the beginning.

Tonight, I found a toad in the garage. I grabbed it to take it outside, and on the way to the yard I stumbled across a red-back salamander. My brain supplied the binomial nomenclature, the product of a few too many hours spent drilling Latin into my head for my classes at Franklin Pierce, and I had a brief moment of longing to be back in undergrad.

It's a cliche that the four years of college are "the best years" of life. Ignoring the incredibly depressing idea that the six or seven decades after age 22 can't approach the same heights of "glory," not to mention the fact that many college experiences are filled with stress, depression, insecurity, and confusion.

What really gets to me is the idea that we can never recapture the attitudes and experiences of undergrad. Certainly, my experience was formative--college was the first time I really had a chance to be on my own, with all the decisions about how I wanted my life to look. I was able to try many things, fail at some, succeed at others, and with still others decide halfway through that I didn't like the look of things and change course.

In library school, I was exposed to the maker movement. While I'd come across mentions of it before, only in the last two years have I been surrounded by people with a constant aim to tinker with the world. It's been refreshing, and inspiring, but it was still "school" again. Does the "best years" cliche somehow require an educational environment? Now that I've graduated, is it all downhill from here?

No. Making/hacking/tinkering is all about curiosity, and the same attitude I developed while crawling in the woods looking for salamanders in undergrad will continue to keep me learning, keep me hunting for more. Others might find a path to the same realization from a particularly inspiring professor, a chance DIY project, or the understanding that by simple, direct action the world came be improved in a thousand tiny ways. Wondering what those ways might be can only give fuel to the fire.

Libraries are a natural place to serve that curiosity, to feed the flame until it becomes an inferno. Certainly, the recent surge in library makerspaces shows one side of that train of thought. Libraries in general have a responsibility to provide access to the information a community needs, and the information a community holds, even intangibly. More than that, I believe that librarians have a duty to inspire. Now, it requires a deft touch--"teachable moments" will be detected and ignored--but we can succeed. We must! Librarians are a corps of people dedicated to lifelong learning, and our very presence can assist (if not cause) great things. We tend to hack our communities, connecting the people who need to be connected, and paying attention so as not to miss anything.

In conclusion, I choose to believe my "best years" are still to come--and that there will be lots of them. I'm still curious, and through librarianship I hope to find plenty of others who want to follow their own curiosity. Wanna join me?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Welcome, New Librarians!

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University on 3 September 2012.

I’ve seen a bunch of posts across the blogosphere welcoming the new class of librarians; who am I to buck the trend? Congratulations! You’ve embarked on an exciting career in the information world.
That said, I remember how overwhelming the first month can be. Here’s how I handled it.
Look for Advice
Checklists are useful. There’s a lot to do during the first semester, and many people have different ideas of what to prioritize. Hack Library School has a series of Library School Starter Kit posts; When I started out, this one was super-helpful.
Besides looking for blogs, get to know your adviser, and the other faculty members you like. Having someone to ask when you aren’t sure exactly in which direction to head can be a lifesaver.
Get Connected
Network with your classmates, as soon as you can. You never know who might end up giving you a reference someday, and library school is better with colleagues you enjoy.
See if there’s a student chapter of ALA or SLA at your school. It’s never too early to get involved with a professional organization! Everyone you meet will be an example; hopefully, most will be good examples, but don’t get discouraged if you encounter some negativity. Joining ALA and/or SLA will give you access to librarians who are already working, and most people I’ve met through the professional organizations enjoy giving advice and sharing their experiences.
I mean this in two different ways. First, there’s no one true way to find success in library school, just as there’s no single path to follow once you’re in the field. Take an experimental approach; what works for you? Where does your passion take you? Tech? Education? Early Literacy? If you don’t know where you want to end up, start trying things, early and often. You’ll figure it out.
Second, librarianship needs people willing to experiment. Desperately. Don’t be shy: question everything. “We’ve always done it that way” should NEVER be an acceptable answer. Ours is an ancient occupation, but change is a constant. Newcomers have the freshest eyes; you’ll see things that “seasoned” professionals will take as writ. Stick to your guns if something doesn’t make sense to you, and find an answer.
Have Fun!
This is the most important part. Enjoy what you do. Library school is an adventure–it should be worth embarking upon.
What else are you doing to get adjusted to library school? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, September 16, 2013


This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 3 August 2012.

What do you get if you take five eager students with diverse interests in librarianship, mix them up with some carefully-chosen readings and classwork, and transplant them to Tuscany for two weeks in the summer? You get a fantastic experience! Led by the fantastic Dr. Sarah Webb, Alec, Ben, Danielle, Sarah, and I all signed up for the iSchool’s Florence pilot program. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I think I can speak for all of us when I say the reality is exceeding our wildest dreams.
This past Saturday, we assembled our merry band at the doors of Villa Morghen, nestled in the hills northeast of Florence. In less than a week so far, we’ve toured five libraries and a museum in two cities, joined a multinational course on digital librarianship, and still had time to have our own class discussions over gelati.
Every day, as we add more information zones to our list, we gain more context for our discussions, and the value of studying out in the field becomes apparent. When talking about the value of original documents, it helps when you’ve spent the morning looking at the Raphaels and Botticellis you’ve studied throughout your life, but hadn’t seen in person. Talking about the need for preservation becomes somewhat more apparent when you’ve held a book or six from the 17th century. Talking about world heritage gains a new meaning when you’ve stood amidst a multinational, multi-century collection of books that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Taking action is easier when you’ve seen what issues you can address/what problems you may be able to solve/what solutions you can offer, firsthand.
I’m sure you’ll be hearing from all of us in the coming weeks as we spend our time here discussing International Librarianship, visiting every library and museum we can get our hands on, eating some AMAZING food, and writing about the whole thing for credit!  Keep an eye on our personal blogs and on the Twitter hashtag #SUiSchoolFirenze to find out what we’re up to.
We’re looking forward to the rest of the journey–I hope you’ll look forward to following our trip!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Disconnessione per una pausa: Staying out-of-touch in Italy

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 30 July 2012.

iSchoolers are all over the place this summer! Many of us are finishing internships far from the bounds of Syracuse proper, Sam is backflipping his way across the globe, and I’m one of five students studying and talking about international librarianship for two weeks in una delle più belle città del mondo: Florence, Italy. Unlike Sam, though, I deliberately chose to disconnect when I left the states. Here’s why:
Traveling abroad, for work, study, or pleasure, requires a change in perceptions–a change that can be harder to make if the old ways are reinforced by regular contact with them. The five of us (Six, if you count our professor) are already going to be an enclave of Syracuse patterns in Europe, no matter how much we might wish to expose ourselves to solely Italian language and culture. I thought that having a smartphone or a tablet would serve as just another barrier to true immersion.
We’re encouraged to stay in contact, to work publicly, to keep tweeting; but I’m a proponent of living in the moment. Yes, I’m reflecting on things, and writing, and sharing my thoughts as blog posts, but there’s something to be said for lingering over a conversation for hours, enjoying the company of my fellows, and digesting the topic at hand (along with some phenomenal food) without rushing off to get it on twitter. Staying device-less during the days requires me to be present in a way I never am when there’s an entire network to jack into just waiting in my pocket.
I’m so reliant on the network, constantly available as an information source, news feed, and entertainment system, that it’s good to have a reminder that I can live without. In fact, if it comes right down to it, I have to admit that my smartphone is a distraction–I do better work when I’m not constantly checking for notifications. While I enjoy the half-dozen or so smartphone-facilitated conversations I’m involved with most days I’m in the states (Email, SMS, or Tweet-based), taking a short sabbatical from them lets me focus on the things I want to do. As with meditation, half the battle is clearing away extraneous influences and letting the unheard voices take their turn. In our world of information overload, bucking the trend keeps me sane.
Admittedly, I do have contact–a trusty netbook and a wifi connection for the evenings and early mornings–but if I wasn’t required to do some writing and research for class, I’d likely have left that at home as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love being connected; sometimes, though, leaving the tethers behind and reveling in the freedom of being on your own is pure, unadulterated joy.
Have you considered going on a communications hiatus? What decisions did you make? Let us know in the comments.