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Archive for the ‘LIS (Library & Information Science)’ Category

A typo in the subject line of an email I received this week got me thinking about the physical and virtual spaces in which we engage with information (what we might have referred to in the past as “conducting research”), the language we use to describe those spaces, and what exactly we do there these days. OK, I admit that I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about these things anyway, but the typo prompted me to share some of my musings on the subject.

When I saw the word “labrary,” I chuckled at the clever term, and wished I’d thought of it myself. Even after I realized it was a typo, I was sure someone out there in libraryland had come up with this reinvention before. To my surprise, a quick Google search yielded mostly more typo labraries. One exception was LABrary: A Seed Resource.” Based in Nottingham, England, LAB describes itself as “a creative and open space for experimentation, collaboration, exchange and critical play between artists, creative producers, curators, hackers, designers and social agitators.” The LABrary is “an emerging resource” for these folks, an evolving online collection of “tutorials, blueprints, code, recipes etc.” As I read more about LAB’s vision for itself, familiar phrases started to jump out at me:

“A social space for knowledge/skills transfer”
“a space for communities/public to learn skills”
“where people can access and share equipment and resources”

This was sounding more and more like a LIBrary to me. Of course it also sounded like one of the zillions of social networks designed to welcome people with a common interest into a virtual gathering space to share information, resources, and some sense of community feeling. But the fact that LAB is (or was – it’s internet presence seems to have been very short-lived) both a virtual and a face-to-face space which embraces its collaborative and evolving nature, along with the fact that “labrary” is just a really cool and thought-provoking term, made me want to petition to change the name of the physical and organizational structure in which I work from “the library” to “the labrary.”

When I refer to “the library,” most non-librarians usually assume that I mean the building itself, along with its physical contents (mostly books) and staff (helpful librarians who have memorized all the world’s information, including the mysterious locations of each individual book in the library, and can produce it for you at the drop of a hat). When I introduce myself to new acquaintances as a librarian, they are far more likely to wax rhapsodic about how much they love the books, the quiet spaces of libraries, and their childhood librarian, than to mention their favorite database or engage me in conversation about emerging technologies or critical approaches to information.

Even in higher education where I work, and even among those who use the library regularly, I find that a surprising proportion of faculty are still attached to at least a few nostalgic ideas of what a library is and what librarians do. They might complain about how noisy the library is these days, or bristle at policy changes like allowing food or at innovations like the check-out of tools such as iPads or Kindles. They might be reluctant to see me as an educator, or to see information literacy instruction sessions as more than “tours” of the locations of particular items within the building. They might squirm uncomfortably when I suggest that a database would serve their students better than the Readers Guide and our print periodicals collection for research on current controversial issues, or when I don’t ban Wikipedia outright but offer it as useful as a jumping off point if not as a main source, or when I spend more time engaging students in learning about and evaluating the variety of information sources available than in teaching the mechanics of searching a single database. Even those who embrace online databases as modern conveniences might be reluctant to think differently than they did ten or twenty years ago about how they teach students to engage with the library and with information itself.

As an academic librarian, I’m especially interested in creating and promoting the library as a collaborative space (physical and virtual) in which librarians, faculty, and students grapple with notions of information literacy, media literacy, and technology literacy together. So I devote a considerable amount of professional energy to attempting to reshape people’s (mis)understandings of what an outstanding library is today. For the most part, I engage in this pursuit happily because I love outreach, I love what libraries can become when we allow ourselves to think outside the box of their historical structures, and I believe that it is through envisioning libraries’ ongoing evolution and welcoming innovation that we best honor their history as vibrant places of learning and discovery. But, like most librarians who consider themselves forward-thinking, I am sometimes frustrated by the amount of resistance I encounter from patrons – and even some librarians – when they come up against an experience or idea that challenges them to reconsider what a library is.

So it’s appealing to consider sidestepping the problem by saying, “Fine. You can go on believing that a library is quiet, serious place with a whole lot of books, minimal interaction between the individuals bent over them in grand hushed rooms or dark silent corners, and whispering gatekeeper librarians who will instruct you in the proper ways to find the right book if you entrust yourself to their direction and commit yourself to maintaining the solid, immovable notion of the library’s identity we all seem to have inherited. But this place you’ve just walked (or linked) into, THIS isn’t a library. This is a LABrary – a whole different animal – and you’re going to have to leave your ideas about libraries at the door.

Using the labrary goes way beyond learning where the information is and how to use a specific machine or process to find it. The labrary is a growing organism who inhabits both physical and virtual space, who is co-created by you and the labrarians who work here. In the labrary, you are invited to collaborate not only with the labrarians, but with each other, whether or not you meet face-to-face. You are offered resources and services – many of them not so different from those offered in the library – but you are asked to take responsibility for your own learning, whether you are a student or a faculty member. You are invited – and expected – to experiment in the labrary. You are asked to experiment with and think critically about every aspect of how you engage with information – what is is and how it is created, where it is, how it is collected and organized and by whom, how you find it and evaluate it and analyze it and use it and adapt it and create it yourself. You are asked to become a co-creator and co-critquer of information as well as of the machines, processes, and interactions through which you engage with it.

Sound overwhelming? I can see how it might be for someone who just wants to check out a book – and you can do that, just like you could in a library. But consider sharing your own online review of that book for other labrary visitors as well. And consider exploring and experimenting a little further. How cool would it be if someday, when a labrarian introduces herself at a party, her new acquaintance tells the story of going to the labrary for a book and coming away with a whole new approach to critically engaging with information? This kind of transformation is what a library can offer and librarians can facilitate. But we must expect it – of ourselves and of each other. If thinking of the library as a labrary can help move that process along, I’m all for it.

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It looks like I’m getting caught up!

I’ve been using del.icio.us to manage my bookmarks for a long time now. I can’t imagine going back to browser-based bookmarks though. I hated being bound to a hierarchical structure (unless I wanted to nest the same link in different sets of folders)  and it was a nightmare to try to manage my bookmarks on multiple computers.

But I haven’t really gotten into the social networking aspect of the site. I share most of my bookmarks, but I can’t say I’ve explored the sites other people have bookmarked. We created a del.icio.us account for our library, and one of the projects on my long to do list is to add the reference resources I’ve bookmarked on my own account to the library account so we can share them with our patrons more easily.

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I love the idea of LibraryThing, and I like its features better than the similar tools I’ve looked at (like Shelfari and Goodreads). I created my LibraryThing account a few years ago, and set about cataloging my entire personal library. But I ran out of steam and I haven’t been able to get back to it. For a while I was cataloging all the books I borrowed from the library, so I could have a record of what I’d read, what I wanted to purchase someday, etc. But after a while it just seemed so time consuming – probably in part because I was way more meticulous about cataloging the right edition and tagging consistently than most non-librarians would be. I do like that LibraryThing tags and similar books are now included in the C/W MARS libraries catalog.

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The more I explore this tool, the more I see it’s relevance for our library. We have an online “Virtual Reference Center” that is now basically a collection of links to websites. We’d tried to create Google search boxes for each of the categories, but the coding was cumbersome and we never got it to work properly. Rollyo seems waaayyyy more user-friendly, and it seems you can have just one search box with a pull-down menu that allows you to select which “searchrolls” to search (I have to check on that), which would be a big improvement over the Google search we were trying to set up.

In searching for ways to link my del.icio.us bookmarks to Rollyo, I came across Addictomatic which also seems like a cool tool. It’s sort of a hybrid of an aggregate search engine like Dogpile (does anyone still use that?) and a feed reader, with results appearing in an easy-to-read layout. But I still want to know how to create a Rollyo searchroll from all of the urls I’ve given a particular dag in del.icio.us, without having to do it manually. Possible? Anyone?

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I’ve had several LIS blogs bookmarked in del.icio.us, but I rarely read them. Maybe I will now, once I add them all to Bloglines. I was a little overwhelmed by the process of searching for more LIS blogs.  Is it just me or have they multiplied like bunnies in the last few years? It seems every grad student/recent grad has a blog now….not to mention all the libraries that have blogs.

One of the most intriguing things I found  (through Technorati) is a blog listing LIS jobs in India. Hmmmm, I always wanted to work overseas at some point in my life!

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I’ve been meaning to set up an RSS reader account forever, and now that I have I don’t know why I didn’t do it years ago! I guess I was waiting to find the “perfect” feed reader. I’m already a bit irritated with the bugs in Bloglines (couldn’t log in this morning, couldn’t access my clips after that, etc., etc.) But those irritations are outweighed by the incredible convenience of having all the blogs I want to read funneled to one place. I’m actually reading them now! I don’t know how long that will last though. Bloglines makes it more convenient, but reading all the blogs I’m interested in still takes an enourmous amount of time that I don’t really have. And I’m guessing that I won’t really find the time to get back to the clips I’ve saved to read later, especially as they start to accumulate over time.

I think the best use of Bloglines for me will be to make sure I’m not missing anything LIS related that I might want to think about for my library. I already emailed a couple stories to myself to remind me to add some websites to our Virtual Reference Center pages on our website.

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I have a love/hate thing with technology in general….or maybe love/ambivalence is more accurate. I’m very curious by nature and always interested in learning new things, so I’ve often been the first among my friends to adopt a new technology (I got my first PDA about fifteen years ago). It’s only since becoming a librarian (about five years ago) that I’ve been regularly exposed to people who are way more up on the latest technology than I am. I have one librarian acquaintance, for example, who tweets about new technologies multiple times a day. When I read her posts I think I must be falling far behind and I wonder if I’ll be able to learn all the new technologies quickly and efficiently enough to stay competitive in LIS alongside digital natives. It’s funny that I have that fear though, because my aquaintance is at least my age (mid 40s). While I will always be operating in a “second language” when it comes to technology, she demonstrates that it’s possible to become almost as fluent as someone who’s grown up speaking technology.

The other issue for me is that there is some tension between my own interest in learning all the latest techie tools an my aversion to spending so much time glued to a computer living a “virtual” life. An example: last Friday I went to 4th of July fireworks in South Hadley with some friends. I took pictures on my iPhone and uploaded them to my brand new Flickr account today. It’s fun to be able to share my very amatuer snapshots that way, and to be able to manage my photos online in a way that allows me to use all the cool tools we’ve been exploring in this class. But as I was taking the pictures, it occurred to me that trying to get good pictures to share with anonymous people online was forcing me to watch the fireworks through my little iPhone screen and distracting me from interacting with the friends who were right there with me. When I worked in Harvard Square a dozen or more years ago, I regularly saw tourists walking around Harvard with video cameras glued to their eyes. The thought of being disconnected from the immediate experience like that turned me off. Yet I did the same thing at the fireworks. On the other hand, my brother’s serious mountaineering accident a few years ago dramatically changed my ideas about bringing cell phones into the wilderness. After falling over 40 feet and shattering his leg in the mountains north of Vancouver, BC, my brother was able to use his cell phone to call for help, enabling a helicopter rescue to get to him at least a day sooner. If he’d had to wait for his climbing partners to hike out for help, he may have lost his leg.

So while I could list and discuss my favorite tools – and even get very excited about some of them and the possibilities they offer for creating and sharing our experiences with each other in new ways – the big question about technology for me is more philosophical. Will I, as someone who didn’t grow up with computers and cell phones and digital cameras (or even answering machines or cable television for that matter), ever reach a point where I feel technology can fit seemlessly into my “real” life? A point when choosing to take photos of fireworks or tweet about a lecture I’m hearing doesn’t distance me from the actual experience of it? A point when I can embrace relying on a cell phone or GPS in the wilderness instead of seeking wilderness in part as an escape from technology?

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