Links of interest – September 17, 2010

danah boyd had an interesting post earlier this week on a different side of the question of online identity: do your name your child something that’s uniquely identifying (meaning they have to learn about managing their online identity very early), or something more common (where there could be a number of people with that name.)

As someone whose first name – Jennifer – was the most popular name for girls in the entire decade I was born, but whose last name is a lot less common, at least in the US, I sort of split the difference. But it did mean I started using other user names in places where I didn’t necessarily want to use my last name pretty early on, because knowing my first name and last name and general area of the country was, for about a decade, a pretty easy way to dig up my address.

Not So Distant Future has a great post about who we should be including in the conversation when we talk about education – more specifically, a letter to NBC about not having included actual teachers in their upcoming series.

The copy this blog has a post on some common myths and misperceptions about copyright – fairly complex ones. The link in the first paragraph to a previous post on a similar topic is also well worth reading.

I’ve been fascinated by web usability for a long time, and there’s a recent new detailed post about why some of the things that have been common wisdom in usability may be changing (or not true in the first place). With links to data and studies and other useful things of that kind. It gave me a kick to go plan the redesign of a site I maintain for a community education organisation for better usability. Jessamyn, who linked to this post as well, also has a recommendation for a document from Usability.gov .

Ask This Librarian – folklore, witches, and vampires

A friend with some plans around fiction writing asks:

I’m thinking of researching the parallels between vampires and witches, mostly from folkloric/superstitious claims (as opposed to historical witchcraft/modern Paganism). I don’t know that there are any resources on both together, but reliable information on both individually, especially where categorized by culture/geographic location, would be glorious and much appreciated.

Continue reading Ask This Librarian – folklore, witches, and vampires

What is a reference question, anyway?

I’ve had a couple of interesting responses to my Ask This Librarian project (all in other spaces, not directly here): in both cases, the people asking (neither of whom are library staff of any type) were interested in what I’d call the liminal space between the reference question and the information literacy/instruction experience.

What is a reference question?

Think of it like a classic fantasy novel quest story. The reference question is the journey to the Quest Object (Grail, ring, spear, mystical statue. Whatever.) An arc of story and narrative. It’s not:

  • the worldbuilding behind the setting.
  • (nor created languages, as nifty as they can be.)
  • the deep dark secrets of every secondary character who wanders into a scene.
  • even necessarily about what happen *after* you find the Quest Object. That might be the next book.

It’s not that the worldbuilding, or the secondary characters, or the ‘what happens after’ aren’t important to the overall situation. They’re just not the focus right now.

People on a Quest can get cranky if you try and halt their quest so you can dump a long speech in their lap. Tolkien could get away with inserting long speeches and council sessions and all manner of other things into his quests while holding many people’s attention. But even with the ability to edit and revise, he still lost people.

Most of us are not Tolkien. (And dropping substantial information into a conversation on the fly, with no editing or chance for revision is even harder than doing it in writing.)

So, what do we do?

Continue reading What is a reference question, anyway?

Links post: September 10, 2010

Presentation Zen linked to a fabulous talk by John Cleese about creativity. It’s only 10 minutes, and well worth listening to (and the rest of the post has some good additional food for thought on the topic. I’ve been thinking a lot about this basic issue the past few weeks: how to create space for particular kinds of possibility and creation and deeper understanding.

I’m very fond of the Big Idea posts on John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever. Not only are they reliably some of my best reading, but they’ve pretty regularly been big wins with people I’ve recommended them to with my librarian hat on. (In part because the author’s writeup of their idea makes it very easy for me to share why the book is cool.)

One of the recent ones is a book description that could have been written for me – “The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse” by Jennifer Ouelette. I suffered from math education that was not nearly as well-done as my other classes, and so never made that leap from being able to do well on tests to really being able to understand and play with the concepts. Ten years of eating lunch with fascinating math teachers made it clear I was missing something – but without an easy way to go back and relearn what I knew had to be in there.

I’ve got the book on reserve at the library, and will likely post about it when I’ve read it. (Speaking of zombie apocalypse, it was a Big Idea post that convinced me I had to read Mira Grant’s Feed, as I am not usually a zombie-stuff reader. Glad I did, and am still thinking about it a month and more later.)

Librarian in Black has a great post about the challenges of music in libraries called “Music in Libraries: We’re Doing It Wrong.” Really nice summary of the current options out there, and how all of them have some real limits.

I’m very fond of the current Unshelved Answers library discussion forum – it’s a great mix of different types of questions. However, the software they’re using is being phased out next April, so they have a proposal in with the creators for a new library answer space. You can help! You can read some about the process in the post here. Currently, the proposal is in the Commitment phase: they need people to commit to making the site viable by promising to check in regularly to ask and answer questions.

  • You can see the proposal (with sample on and off topic questions)
  • If you want to commit, create an Area51 account, and follow the instructions to commit to the project.
  • The commitment process is based on reputation on Area51 and their various subdiscussions, so if you or people you know are already active on one, please consider supporting the proposal with your commitment!

Ask this librarian – BPA study summaries

(again, part of the continuing series in my Ask This Librarian project)

Today’s question:

Both sides of the BPA debate love to mention studies. This usually takes the form of “studies actually show…” rather than useful cites. How can I track down these studies, and has anyone done a findable summary of the studies that at least appears to attempt to analyze the data before finding its conclusion, instead of vice versa?

This is, as one might imagine, a rather complicated question to answer.

Continue reading Ask this librarian – BPA study summaries

Ask This Librarian – After a beloved pet dies

One of the questions I was asked is what the recommendation is on getting a new pet after the death of an older, much loved, pet.

Continue reading Ask This Librarian – After a beloved pet dies

Links of the week: September 3, 2010

It’s the beginning of the school year in many places, so conversations about intellectual honesty and avoiding plagiarism are springing up all over the place. During one, someone linked to a particularly nice resource from the University of Queensland that includes links to other useful sites.

I’ve been following an interesting conversation on the PubLib email list about how to talk about books that a patron asks about, but that weren’t to our taste for some reason. Part of the reason this came up was an article about the latest book in Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series (which has some spoilers for the plot, but which is mostly focusing on how grisly might be too grisly, as it were.

An article at the Chronicle of Higher Education looks at the strengths that people on the autistic spectrum bring to academic work, and other benefits of neurodiversity.

Brian, at Swiss Army Librarian, has a great post noting that someone put together a way to search library and librarian blogs. (I’ve added this one…)

GeekFeminism had a recent post of interest about getting diversity among conference presenters. In particular, they link for a couple of resources for people interested in speaking to list themselves.

DearAuthor.com (a site focusing mostly on romance reviews, but with periodic great pieces on publishing, books, genre reading in general, and all sorts of related topics) has a great post up about democracy in book reviewing, both how to have more reviews from wider perspectives, but also more reviews in the big mainstream review sources of a wider range of books. Fascinating discussion.

Finally, a new search engine, SweetSearch, focuses on material selected by research experts, and librarian and teacher consultants. I’ve tried a few searches with interesting results, and they also have links to other resources and ideas on teaching information literacy.

Ask This Librarian – Beaded bookmarks

Today’s question is about creating beaded bookmarks. The person asking says:

I wanted to bead a bookmark. What resources would I need to start learning how to do this? (I’ve only beaded jewelry before).

My first thought, looking at this with the intention to answer it, was “What kind of beading?” – there’s beading on string, on wire, or bead weaving. I sent a note to ask which – though if I hadn’t had an easy way to do that, I would have just given some general information on all three.

She said:

Bead wire or bead weaving. What’s bead weaving? That sounds cool.

Continue reading Ask This Librarian – Beaded bookmarks

Ask This Librarian – Dog years

Today’s question, from a friend who just put a much beloved elderly pet to sleep:

I found out from a chart at the vet’s that Kelty, a 15-year-old Chow/Malamute mix, was, in human years, 99 years old! I want to know how the idea of “dog-years” got started, who figures it out, what kinds of information is added to the mix when they decided how it worked, etc. All about it…

My answer below…

Continue reading Ask This Librarian – Dog years

Ask This Librarian – DIY help

One of my friends got me started on this project by asking:

My question, if you don’t mind: I’d like to improve my DIY skills. I know how to use a screwdriver, drill, hammer, and other usual simple tools, but have very little hands-on experience. Can you point me at some simple and small handyman projects for practice, and/or references to read and learn more, that are just above the level of total clueless newbie?

My answer:

Continue reading Ask This Librarian – DIY help

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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