Monday, July 29, 2013

Three Awesome Databases to Browse for Fun

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 27 December 2011.

Part of the fun for a college student on winter break is having time to explore.  The databases available through the Syracuse University Library are manifold, and I’ve been having a great time poking through the ones that have nothing to do with my current degree. Part of the reason librarianship is such a great field is that it allows for multi-disciplinary learning and varied approaches to problem-solving. However, the downside to this is that the only way to be a good librarian is to know something about nearly everything. It’s the challenge, and the best part, of my vocation.
Information is meant to be shared! I want to highlight some resources that can grab you, and keep you clicking-through and checking out more images, more sound files, more articles—the sort of databases that can make you say, “Cool!”
Here are three fun databases to check out:
ArtStor Digital Library:
The ArtStor Digital Library “provides more than one million digital images in the arts, architecture, humanities, and sciences with accessible suite of software tools for teaching and research.” It’s a searchable archive of images, and collections span a sizable range of topics. The native interface takes a bit of getting used to, as with most databases, but it’s time well-spent.  This database aggregates some phenomenal collections, but also provides a host of other tools to get you started. Be sure to check out the subject guides, which can provide some search terms and collections of note in most areas of interest. I looked at the ‘Maps & Geography’ and ‘History of Medicine & Natural Science’ guides—from Renaissance navigational charts to anatomical illustrations from the dawn of modern medicine, I found some cool stuff!
Smithsonian Global Sound:
My undergraduate background is in music, among other things, so I was incredibly excited to stumble upon this database while working on a project this year. Smithsonian Global Sound hosts recordings of music from around the world, including,
“music owned by the non-profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label and the archival audio collections of the legendary Folkways Records, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, Monitor, Paredon and other labels. It also includes music recorded around the African continent by Dr. Hugh Tracey for the International Library of African Music (ILAM) at Rhodes University as well as material collected by recordists on the South Asian subcontinent from the Archive Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE), sponsored by the American Institute for Indian Studies.”
What this means for us is a searchable archive of world music, available to us whenever we please. It’s great for musicians trying to tackle music from a new culture, or for listeners who want something a little different. There are a number of recordings that sound like they’re straight out of the songcatchers’ equipment—check it out!
National Agricultural Library:
The National Agricultural Library, an arm of the US Department of Agriculture, maintains a number of special collections on their website that are worth checking out. Their “spotlights” show off some of the resources that the government can bring to bear, and I found myself reading articles and other content about things I didn’t think I’d find interesting (Entomologist C. V. Riley & Integrated Pest Management, for example). AGRICOLA, the online catalog for the NAL, is also worth checking out, and has been recommended to me by a number of people as a good resource for those interested in nutrition & food science, and agricultural studies. Also of note are the image galleries—enjoy!
What are your favorite resources, and how did you find them? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Top Five Things for LIS Students to Enjoy Over Winter Break

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 13 December 2011.

Here at the School of Information Studies, the semester is rapidly coming to a close, and I’m sure I’m not alone in starting to look forward to the winter break. Besides visiting with friends and family, and celebrating a number of holidays, here are the five things I can’t wait to do:
  • Catch up on reading! Life in the iSchool is a constant series of things to read, and I’m definitely looking forward to taking some time for more casual reading over break. That said, I’m also looking forward to catching up on the various blogs I read—librarians, I’ve noticed, tend to write a great deal. I use Google Reader to aggregate all of the RSS feeds I’m subscribed to. I love the simplicity of the user interface, and it’s great to have everything I want to follow in one place. I use it for web comics, my classmates’ blogs (and my own), library (and library-school) blogs, (such as the iSchool’s own Dave Lankes’) and a few other things, too.
  • Figure out internship opportunities! It’s time for me to update my resume, start building a CV, and start applying for summer internships. (Any suggestions? Let me know in the comments!) The iSchool has lots of resources for me to use, including our very own Career Services office, and I look forward to discovering the best fit for me.
  • Have fun! The holidays wouldn’t be complete without a celebration or two, and I can’t wait to enjoy them! I’m already getting good at answering the question, “So why do we need librarians around?” and I’ve been surprised a few times by people who are very familiar with information science in a number of venues—it never hurts to network! There’s nothing wrong with talking about the things you’re most passionate about, and I’ve already found that people will come out of the woodwork to give you a hand when you’re excited about something. I have every intention of taking advantage of each opportunity to meet someone new—you never know who might have exactly the advice you need.
  • Visit libraries! It’s a funny thing about doing a degree in Library & Information Science—I haven’t had much chance to visit other libraries! Sure, we’ve gone on tours in most of my classes, and I’ve seen great “example” libraries in the academic, public, school, and special-library worlds, but nothing can really compare to just poking around the stacks, hanging out, and getting a feel for the way a particular library actually works (or doesn’t!). Now that I have a little bit of experience under my belt, I’m going to start visiting libraries to see what makes them tick, and start talking with more librarians to find the ones for whom it’s more than just a job.
  • Relax! Break is, after all, meant to be a break. I have some plans, and some goals, but I also want to be sure to recharge the ol’ batteries before next semester begins. When I’m in school, I stay plenty busy, and even when I’m OUT of school there’s no shortage of cool stuff to do. So I’m planning in time to not-plan—crazy, right? Even just a day, with no phone, no computer, just me. It’s just the ticket!
Do you have any exciting plans for break? Let us know in the comments.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Thanksgiving: Information Science for Hungry People

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 24 November 2011.

Things are gearing up for the Thanksgiving meal, and I’ve recently realized that Thanksgiving can work as a pretty perfect analogy for information sciences. At the risk of stretching my metaphors beyond all recognition, let’s take a trek through a feast of information…
There are five things required for a good celebration:
Good Friends: Information is social! Just look around at Facebook, Twitter, G+, and any of the niche networks, and you’ll get a sense that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. People are creating and sharing content every chance they get, and the conversations that spark up are every bit as good as those around the thanksgiving table.  Holidays bring us together, and the culture of sharing we’re immersed in can spread that togetherness into the virtual realm. Conversations have been happening over meals for centuries: why stop now?
The Main Meal: Just as good turkey needs an experienced chef, good information is “roasted” from raw data—and the result is delicious! (Don’t forget to baste.) The raw ingredients (data) are blended in particular ways according to specific recipes, and the product (information) is worth consuming. Information scientists work with different kinds of data all the time, but at the core, they’re each learning to cook them into more palatable forms.
Side Dishes: Accompanying that information is a host of other skills; information organization, evaluation, and access, to name just a few! Look at it this way—for thanksgiving dinner, (and the rest of the year) I can’t get nearly enough cranberry sauce. Standard canned, Cranberry-Orange Relish, sugared cranberries, take your pick! I wouldn’t call cranberry sauce a meal, but neither is the meal quite finished without it. In the same way, information is great, but unless you’ve got the skills to accompany that information then you’re not quite ready to serve it up.
Presentation: Information design is just as important as content—bad design will turn information into mush. On the same wavelength, tables look nice if they’re set properly, and they can be set for different people, different meals. Information design and user experience can be and should be tweaked for every situation, but if it’s a well-designed information experience, people will “come back to the table” again and again.
Pie: The sweet finish, and one of the best parts of Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone has their own style when it comes to pie—there are tons of recipes for crusts, fillings, toppings, and more, and it really comes down to personal preference whether you pick cherry, mincemeat, apple or pecan. (I generally try all of them. You know, to be polite.) Information can be handled the same way. Library scientists, information managers, database specialists, and network administrators all have a slightly different flavor when it comes to work style, but they all try to accomplish similar goals. Information scientists want to curate their world, and help their chosen communities access the information they need. We’re the pie—not a piece of it, but the whole thing. We complement the rest of the information world, just as dessert is the perfect finish to a holiday feast.
How are you sharing your feast? What information are you serving up? How have you set your table? Let us know the answers (and what kind of pie you are) in the comments!

Monday, July 8, 2013

48 Hours at NYLA: A Student’s Trip to the 2011 Library Conference

 This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 9 November 2011.

I’ve just returned to Syracuse after two packed days at the 2011 New York Library Association conference. The trip was great, Saratoga Springs has a beautiful downtown, I met a bunch of great people and I learned a lot! People have been asking me why librarians bother going to conferences, but I think my schedule speaks for itself.
THURSDAY, November 3rd, 2011
12:00 PM: Arrived at the conference center and headed straight for the exhibition hall. Said hello to the SU School of information Studies booth, then talked with vendors about their offerings—learned about audiobooks, library bindings, jobbers and acquisitions assistance, digitization and tracking tools—too much for one visit!
1:45 PM: “21 More Ideas for 21st Century Libraries,” a presentation given by Kimberly Bolan Cullin (SU alumna ’95) and Rob Cullin.  We looked at some of the coolest ideas showing up in libraries worldwide, from collaborative workspaces to specially-zoned teen, children’s, & reference areas, and started to re-envision the library!
3:00 PM: Got food, explored the area around the conference center. Headed back just in time for the next workshop.
4:00 PM: “Sex in YA fiction: How Far is Too Far?” Lecture by Eric Luper, author of numerous YA novels. Learned a litmus test for sex and other questionable content in Young Adult fiction, and how to judge whether or not a scene is gratuitous. We explored the issues surrounding graphic content in YA that will face librarians as authors explore more radical subject areas.
5:15 PM: Back to exhibition halls to meet up with the iSchool contingent (a bunch of us attended!), and headed to a networking reception at a local restaurant. Met great librarians in every facet of librarianship, and connected with them for the future!
8:00 PM: Homeward bound—Friday’s another long day!
FRIDAY, November 4th, 2011
9:00 AM: Arrived, stopped by the exhibition hall to say hello, and headed to first session!
9:30 AM: “Building a Dynamic Website ROCKS!” This workshop presented a number of tools and strategies for website creation that libraries might find useful. I had already explored most of the tips and resources that were presented, thanks to the coursework here at SU, so I left the presentation a bit early and headed back to the exhibition.
10:15 AM: Spent the rest of the morning concluding my information-gathering in the exhibition hall, but was also excited to see the poster sessions! Two of them especially stood out:
  • LibraryPalooza at the University at Albany, SUNY. It was great to see how the library is introduced to incoming first-years. I was also really glad to see a presentation using the “lightning talk” Pecha Kucha model (Similar to the Ignite format, and a presentation style I can’t wait to try).
  • The Fayetteville Free library has recently embarked on a new venture: the Fayetteville Fab Lab. It’s designed to help people become creators of information, not just consumers, and will feature all sorts of cool gadgets to help people create–with librarians there to guide them!
12:00 PM: Went to get lunch with a few other iSchoolers. It’s great to get to know classmates in the conference setting; it’s very energizing, but casual as well. Then I spent some time with the SU volunteers. NYLA was full of SU alumni this year, and most of them stopped by at least once to say hello. It’s wonderful to see the sort of network I’ll have upon graduation!
2:15 PM: “Teen Spaces Reimagined,” with two SU alums on the panel, discussed the implications on community and library use when teenagers are given their own library space. This was a great panel because both school and public libraries were represented, and all of the presenters mentioned again and again how connected their libraries were to each other. This panel drove home some of the ideas I’ve been hearing in my classes about participatory librarianship—we’re all connected, and librarians are rapidly becoming guides to digital creation and collaboration, not just assisting patrons looking for a new book.
3:45 PM: In keeping with the participatory librarianship theme, my next panel was “Making Music at Your Library,” presenting ways to get libraries involved as venues for the archiving, creating, and presenting of music. I think there’s great potential here—the Far Rockaway branch of the Queens Library has recently introduced a recording studio, and is training young people to use it!
5:00 PM: After the last presentation of the day, I headed down to Mouzon House, a local restaurant, for the Syracuse University iSchool reception. It was wonderful to spend time with alumni, students, faculty, and staff, the food was delicious, and it certainly helped my time at the conference end on a high note!
All in all, NYLA was a great way to get my feet wet, and start learning about professional conferences in librarianship. Can’t wait for next year!

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Little Free Libraries Project Comes to Syracuse!

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 20 October 2011.

I arrived at the Warehouse this weekend not knowing quite what to expect; I was looking forward to a day of conversation and preparing to create Little Free Libraries in Syracuse’s Near West Side. My head is still buzzing with ideas, hopes and designs for the project. The Syracuse Little Free Library Project is a collaboration between the School of Information Studies, the College of Visual & Performing Arts, and the Near West Side Initiative. As part of the interdisciplinary team on the project, I’m excited to be working with people outside of the iSchool, and those inside it too!
9:45 am: Arrive bright-eyed & bushy-tailed (get coffee), meet the other participants as they’re coming in (drink coffee, get more) and get settled in (with coffee).
10:00 am: Greeted by the facilitators (Jaime Snyder, Zeke Leonard, Maarten Jacobs and Jill Hurst-Wahl), we get right to work. After a quick introduction to the concepts behind the Little Free Library Project, and the Syracuse incarnation in particular, we break into smaller groups and start discussions. It’s important to note that every one of the groups included community members, design students from VPA, and iSchool students as well–we kept changing groups around throughout the day. Every facet of the project was represented in every group, every time, throughout the day. The collaboration between members of such different backgrounds was great to see and take part in! We problem-solved as one unit, and could often make up for weaknesses in ways that single discipline teams couldn’t have managed.
Our first topic of conversation was books–classic library material, right? Interestingly, we didn’t start trying to organize them or figure out what books to recommend, but instead the conversations focused on ways that books had affected us. Many of us brought examples of “desert island” books (ones we’d never want to be marooned without) and those helped to spark memories of other books we’d all loved. In my section, people spoke again and again about old favorites or even books to “fight with” because of characters or situations that challenged our perspective.
12:00 pm: Lunch and more brainstorming! This time, the topic was location; we discussed spaces that would make perfect homes for these potential Little Free Libraries. I was surprised to see how similar the “perfect locations” tended to be. Most people agreed that they should be placed in highly-visible locations with plenty of traffic, areas to sit and read, and where you could join neighbors and friends in sharing the books you love. We still have some questions to answer, but we’ve found plenty of common ground for now.
1:00 pm: At this point, we split into small groups and started to work on the next step: the design process! Our interdisciplinary teams came up with some fantastic ideas, and once again we discovered that we had more in common than we thought. We considered colors, materials, shapes, sizes, dimensions, and talked some more about what these Little Libraries might hold (Books? Magazines? Games?). The design team from VPA had plenty of supplies on hand, and each group was able to create a map of their ideas and designs for possible prototypes.
2:30 pm: We reconvened as a large group for the last time to reflect on the day’s work and talk about the next steps. Librarians are armed and ready to consider the collections to “seed” these libraries, designers have the prototypes to make, and residents are hard at work deciding where these libraries should be hosted. The day was deemed a great success, and we left excited for more!
We’ll be meeting together once all of the “homework” is done, so check back to Information Space for more updates on the Syracuse Little Free Library Project.
Do you have any ideas to share about Little Free Libraries? Let us know in the comments!