Digital Commonwealth Conference 2018

I was delighted to be a presenter at the Digital Commonwealth conference for 2018 (taking place today: I’m waiting for the next session as I type.)

I presented on accessibility (focusing on online materials, rather than physical access, because of the nature of Digital Commonwealth). My notes and explanation are online, with plenty of links to further resources.

CopyrightX and this librarian

I just completed the CopyrightX course and that means it’s time for me to write up my thoughts about it, and specifically whether I recommend it to other librarians.

Short version: If you’re deeply interested in learning more about the foundations of copyright (both theories and key cases and decisions), and are willing to invest the kind of time and mental energy you’d expect of a law school class, I highly recommend considering it.

If you’re not sure about it, or are only interested in specific parts, the lectures (with transcripts) and readings and supporting material are available for free online, and they’re great. The part you get by being accepted to the course are the sectional discussions and ability to take the exam (and get a certificate).

Many more details follow.

Continue reading CopyrightX and this librarian

On the length of cover letters

Since I made a comment about this elsewhere online, and people found it really helpful. Someone had asked about length of cover letters.

My major determining factor has become how long the job description in the ad is. (Once you take out the necessary boiler plate and other more general stuff.)

If you have a description that runs the better part of a page, you’re going to need at least that much space to talk about it in your cover letter. Some things can be combined, of course, but on average, my cover letters were the length of the list of specifics about the job, plus a brief opening and closing paragraph.

This usually came out to about four or five paragraphs plus the intro and closing, depending on what the duties of the job were and how it made sense to group them. It was common for me to do a paragraph about reference tasks, one about instruction or training, one about technology, and one about supervision, for example. When applying for my current job, it made a lot of sense to take a paragraph to talk about my interest in accessibility, even though I didn’t have specific background in the field of blindness and visual impairment.

Opening paragraph was a basic “Hi, I am interested in This Job You Have Here.” and a sentence pr two about the kind of job or library or whatever made sense as a way to get into my main content “The position’s focus on reference is a particular attraction for me…” or whatever. Closing paragraph had any logistical notes (my last hunt, interviewing on Friday was much easier for me than other days), plus general “Thank you for your time and attention, I hope to hear from you soon.” or something similar.

If it’s a more general ad, with duties that are common in the field (and also obvious from the resume) then you obviously need a lot less space to say “Yes, I can do that thing.”  though my letters usually still run about three-quarters of a page or about four moderate paragraphs.

Related: I have a longer post about my 2014-2015 job hunt, but I keep forgetting to check stats on files on my computer when I’m home. Mostly because I never did write up the summary at the time – moving on a tight time frame and then launching into a job where I had a lot of content learning to do will do that to a person – and it’s come up a couple of times recently. You should see it in the next couple of days.

So you want to be a librarian?

This week has brought several questions from people who maybe want to be librarians into my life, so it seems about time for another round of my advice for people considering the field. I’m mostly going to be talking here about people who are interested in MLIS requiring positions in libraries (including special libraries) but I’ll touch on other roles in libraries as well.

My advice is also US centric: I gather much of it is also true in Canada. While I think the general ideas apply other places, the specifics might not, so research your own location.

Continue reading So you want to be a librarian?

Accessibility apps of awesomeness

So, earlier this year, Perkins got funding from Google to develop an app to solve a problem people who are visually impaired have: finding the bus stop. Basically, the issue is that GPS is good to about 35 feet of where you want to go, but not reliably more precise than that. And 35 feet is not enough to get you to the right bus stop and be visibly waiting for the bus.

The goal was to provide an app that could (via crowdsourced info) provide additional location details to help someone navigate to the precise location, and ideally also help with when a bus was coming.

It just launched!

If you’re in the area served by the MBTA (greater Boston), you can download BlindWays on iOS (it’s designed to use VoiceOver). There’s a map of bus stops that indicates which stops need more clues. (Which right now is basically all of them.)

Clues are things that will help someone navigate. For example, on the closest stop to the Perkins campus, here’s what the clues say:

Approaching the stop with the street on your left

1) Before the stop, there is a fire hydrant.

2) Closer to the stop, there is a tree.

3) The bus stop sign is on a square pole, along the curb.

4) Beyond the stop there is a driveway.

5) Further past the stop, there is a metal pole.

On stops without clues, you can pick from predetermined options or do free form text entry clues. There are tips on the website for entry, and I believe also in the app. You can also edit clues or confirm them in the app.

The plan is, I believe, to test it in the MBTA, and then broaden it out from there, once they’ve got a solid chunk of geographic data and can test for bugs. It will also provide information about when the next bus should arrive at that stop, so useful if you are sighted, as well.

Cover letters

Recently, we went through the hiring process to hire a new assistant (after our previous assistant became our Archivist.) This lead me to have some advice about job hunting and libraries, though a fair number of the general ideas here are also relevant outside of libraries.

Here’s what I want in a cover letter (mileage may vary for other people reading them, but many of the things here are also true for other people I know.) I should also note that every example here was done by more than one person in our hiring pool.

1) Apply for the job we’re hiring for.
2) Show me you understand what this job does.
3) Show me you’ve done a bit of research about the institution.
4) Tell me why you’re interested in this particular job.
5) Answer any obvious questions posed by your background.

Continue reading Cover letters

Tools that make my life easier

Welcome to a post about five techie things I do that make my life a lot easier, and which are not horribly expensive (or at least, pay back the investment in cost handsomely.)

1) Car mount for my phone

What: This mounts (via a suction cup) on the dashboard on the passenger side. It holds my phone (in its case) up where I can see it easily.

Why: I got it when I was doing a tremendous amount of driving for interviews (which is what happens when you job hunt, you’re 3-4 hours from the state you’d particularly like to end up in, and that state is also the closest easy terminal point for most flights and trains.)

I still use it all the time, because navigating in the Boston metro is complicated. (I know my actual commute now, but I use the Waze app to alert me to unusual traffic so I can take alternate routes.)

Anyway, it keeps my phone where I can see it for directions easily, without being in the way.

Cost: Variable, but mine was $25 or so.

2) Radio transmitter for my phone

What: I have a 2007 car, with a CD player, but no tape deck (so I can’t use one of the common methods for playing things from my phone) and no media jack (so I can’t use the other.) The solution? A radio transmitter that uses an unused radio frequency to do a short-distance broadcast.

I’ve actually had a couple: the current one (a recent generation iTrip when I bought it about 18 months ago) is still going strong, and gives me less static than previous versions.

There are some tricks to using it – if you’re doing a long drive you may have to rummage for a different radio band. (For routine driving, I have found one that works reliably along my usual routes, saved it as a station on the car radio, and just flip to it when I want it.) Also, if someone else is driving near you using the same kind of thing on a nearby frequency, you may get their music (or they may get yours) which can be kind of weird.

Mine comes with a USB thing that lets me plug my phone in at the same time, which I recommend, since it can burn battery. (As can using it for navigation, as in point 1)

Other things to know: If you’re listening to podcasts, set up a playlist or sequence in advance for long drives. (During my regular commute, I usually hit a couple of stop lights, so if I want to change what I’m listening to, I do it then.)

Cost: Variable, but I think my current version was about $60. Very well worth it.

3) Second screen for my office computer

AKA: thing that made me think I should do this post.

A couple of weeks ago, I put in a request for a second monitor for my office computer, and I’ve had it set up for a week now. It’s lovely! I have one screen directly in front of me, and the second at about a 30 degree angle to the right. I mostly work on the one in front of me (better ergonomics) but can use the second one to have a copy of something I’m referring to up.

I actually requested it because our catalog backend really likes to be a full screen window, and this has made it annoying to go back and forth between an email of titles someone wants (our catalog front end can tell us if we own the books, but not if they’re all checked out). Also handy if I’m typing info from a window into an email. Or keeping someone’s email up while I do research on their question.

So very handy. And while it’s the most expensive thing on this list, second screens are down to a few hundred dollars these days, and can be a huge boost to productivity and just generally not losing things in a pile of computer windows.

Incidentally, I’m also finding that I get distracted less – when I have to sift through windows to find something, there’s a decent chance I’ll go “Oh, yeah, I had a thought about that” and write a sentence or two that could have waited, before going on to the thing I meant to do in the first place. When I can keep two or three things visible without rummaging, that’s happening a lot less.

4) Extra phone charging cords

One trick I started doing a while ago was buying extra USB phone charging cords, enough to have one anywhere I might reasonably want to plug my phone in.

This means:

  • Two on my computer (shared by phone, iPad, and rechargeable trackpad)
  • One at the head of my bed (used for charging overnight)
  • One in the car
  • One at work
  • One attached to my portable battery, so I never have to rummage for one.

5) More storage on my phone

I recently got the iPhone SE (which I’m loving – I’d previously had the 5s, and I’m appreciating the response time to the fingerprint sensor, and just general speed of doing things. Also the battery life has been really great.)

But as part of that, I took the leap from 16 GB to 64, and am currently living in a world where all the music I regularly listen to is on my phone and all my ebooks. I like that part very very much. Picking the ‘less fancy smaller screen’ option in my case is nto actually a problem, because I have small hands, and one of the things I use my phone for heavily is reading, so being able to read with one hand while about to fall asleep, or on a bus, is great, and I was concerned that the 6 and 6 plus were going to be too big for my hands.

Basically, my summary of this one is ‘get the technology that best suits your actual life, as much as you can’.

A year at work (and a day in the life)

Today is my one year anniversary working at Perkins. I am still amazingly happy here! I thought it might be a nice time to do a day in my work life.

It turned out to be a slightly atypical day, in that I had a cluster of complicated reference questions, and didn’t get a lot else done, where normally I’d spend a bunch of time in the afternoon working on some project or another. But I think it gives a good look at scope of work.

Continue reading A year at work (and a day in the life)

Fluid Choices : Accessibility and Reference

I did a presentation at LibTech 2016 yesterday, which remains my favourite library conference. (Enough that I go to Minnesota in March for it! Ok, so it’s also a good chance to see friends from the 12 years I lived here and drink my favourite root beer and it’s the same week as something else I’d want to come back for.)

My slides are up on my SlideShare, but a few other notes (and I’d love to answer more questions or go home and figure out some solutions if you have questions.)

I also did a post just before coming to Minnesota with a few more notes about Perkins and the Research Library, for anyone curious.

Continue reading Fluid Choices : Accessibility and Reference

About my job

I’m doing a presentation at the LibTech conference in St. Paul on March 16th (which would be today), and wanted a post with some background on my job I could point people to. (Standard disclaimer applies: I’m speaking for myself, not for my employer.)

I’ll be posting notes from the presentation sometime soon, but it may be when I get home next week,

Continue reading About my job

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

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