Where we learn

I’ve had people ask me, as an adult, whether there’s anything I don’t know something about. And they ask me how I got interested in technology, and what it means for our world.

The answer to both of those comes back to my father.

Today is the twenty-third anniversary of my father’s death. (I was 15.) Last year, my brother wrote a lengthy post on his own blog about our father, and especially about his wide-ranging tastes and interests. I’ve been thinking about it on and off since.

I think about how I am my father’s daughter, and about all the ways that his influence threads through my life, in so many ways, even though I never had a chance (as my brother and sister did) to know him as an independent adult.

My father was a technophobe. But at the same time, he knew that it was something I was going to need to understand.

When I was nine, my parents got me an Apple IIc (because the schools had IIes, and I could get help if I needed it.) It was primarily mine – my mother used it for office work when I wasn’t, but I had first dibs. And from that, I learned to try new things. (And I wrote, and I played with BASIC and LOGO, and I played games, and I learned that if computers break you can fix them, and that rebooting fixes a lot of things.)

Despite the fact my father wouldn’t touch it. Wouldn’t even read off the screen. Anything I wanted him to read, or proof, or do anything with, I had to print out, for him to make notes on (fountain pen, and in entirely idiosyncratic handwriting.)

Somewhere in there, I learned that there’s power and grace in supporting something you don’t fully understand, or don’t want for yourself, but that you realise is important. And how you can do that and be honest to your own self (and your own interests).

My brother has talked about our father’s wide-ranging tastes. My list of things he introduced me to is a bit different – but I have my own memories of coming home from something on a Saturday (listening to the Met on the classical radio station) and then curling up to watch Doctor Who. Or watching Yes, Minister with him, and demanding explanations of the politics. Of his love of mysteries, and how I’d have to wait for him to finish reading the comics section of the paper before I could read it.

Or when I was younger, when he’d walk me to and from school (and on dog walks) telling me story after story. We’d begin with the birth of the Greek pantheon, work our way around through to the end of the Odyssey, take a side step into retelling of Lovecraft and Bram Stoker, and then start over again at the beginning. In between all sorts of other conversations, about what I’d learned in school, and why it was interesting, and stories of how the history I learned in elementary school was so vastly simplified, and I shouldn’t be content with the simple versions.

That there was fascination in all sorts of places. And that limiting your sources just meant less interesting things. That academics were often right, but they could be wrong, and that the solution for bad information was more conversation, more learning, more knowledge.

More than anything, I feel his touch every time I stand up to work with a class, or do a presentation, or give a workshop. My father was an amazing teacher – he’d do a full hour lecture on some particular part of theatre history without notes, quoting (correctly) from various texts, responding to the pulse of the audience, taking time to explain something. He had a knack (one I’ve done my very best to cultivate) of explaining complicated things clearly without losing the complexity.

I hold myself to the same standard: the desire to know my material backwards and forwards, not to rely on notes, so that I can talk about what’s needed, in that moment, with those people, to help them understand the core of what we’re doing. I believe strongly that people can (and will) look up the details, once they can put the arcs together. The details matter, but the shapes they make matter even more. People understanding, being able to take another step forward, matters most.

And all of that, I learned from him. In the big ways and the little ways. All of how to be the person in the world who keeps learning, who keeps being interested. Who is passionate about several things, not defined by one and only one.

Still learning. Always learning. Always up for something new.

Oyster update

Per their blog, there are several notable things today:

1) The iPad app is out, so if you prefer reading on the iPad, have fun. (You do need to be running iOS7 – the join page, linked below, has device specifics info.)

2) They’re removing the invitation system (and you get a free month trial) – you can join here.

3) They’ve added the ability to browse their catalog on the website (you still can’t search, but if you’re trying to decide if there are enough books you might want to read, the browsing will be a big help.)

I’m still very happy with it, but I know there’s a number of people who were interested in finding out more, or who were waiting for the iPad app.

Email, an update

This week’s Thing in my work projects is talking about managing email. While I talked about this back in January, I’ve changed enough of my methods that it’s probably worth talking briefly about it again.

Continue reading Email, an update


I mentioned last week that I intended to do a review of Oyster, so here it is, because I know more than a few people who are curious about it.

The basics: It’s been described as like Netflix for books, which is fairly accurate. Their FAQ and help info is on their website.

  • It is currently iPhone and iPod Touch only: they’re working on an iPad version, and then expect to work on other platforms.
  • Cost is $9.95 a month.
  • They have signed agreements with HarperCollins and a number of smaller publishers, they are actively working on others. The current catalog is about 100,000 titles.

It is invitation only, but they are rolling out invites steadily (I got mine about 6 days after requesting one.)

My take: For my reading patterns (more below the cut) this is a worthwhile service for me right now (and I’ll note that I do almost all of my booklength reading on my phone). It may or may not be the right fit for you, or right now.

It is clearly a service in process: there are some things about the interface it’s taken me a while to get used to, and there are some glitches (described below) though none of them have been dealbreakers for me. Obviously, too, whether they have content you want is going to be a good question. (It is probably not the right fit for you if you only read in a couple of specific genres, or read a book or less a month from their catalog, or mostly read very recently released work.)

I’ll also note that I expect to use Oyster the way I use Netflix and Spotify: I take in a bunch of content (and love having the chance to try things out without having to store it – even digital storage takes management!) but I continue to buy things I know I want to keep or have access to even if licensing agreements change, or when I want to make sure the creators get encouraged to make more things like that.

The biggest note I’d make is that books you read are default public (you can mark individual titles private) in their sharing service. I am extremely weird about sharing what I’m reading with other people, and I wish you could default to making things private.

Onward in much more detail

Continue reading Oyster

Link roundup: September 27, 2013

Finally picking these up again: I miss how they make my life a bit easier to keep track of. (Coming up here sometime next week: a review of Oyster, the ebook subscription service you may be curious about.)

Continue reading Link roundup: September 27, 2013

Handy resources

I’m working on a new project at work, that we’re calling “14 things” which is modeled on the 23 things type projects a number of libraries and schools have used. (Why 14? Because that’s the number of posts that fit in our academic year, at a post every other week, and leaving out vacation breaks.) You can see all the posts in this series over at the work blog.

Our first one is up today, and I wanted to list a few resources I find helpful, but I didn’t want to do it in that post directly (for length and focus reasons.) So instead, you get it here, on my personal blog. (If you find these useful, you might also find my link roundup posts handy. I haven’t been doing them for a while, but there’ll be a new one up tomorrow, September 27th.)

I use Feedly, an RSS aggregator, to keep up with a number of blogs (currently 114, but a number of those update infrequently, and that includes both personal and professional interests.) Some of the professional ones:


  • ProfHacker is a joint blog hosted on the Chronicle of Higher Education that talks about technology and academia. As you can guess from the title, it’s focused on the faculty side, but they have lots of great posts just as applicable for students or staff.
  • David Lee King is a great source of information about the intersection of libraries and technology.
  • Blue Skunk Blog: Doug Johnson is the director of libraries and technology at the Mankato MN school district, and he writes regularly about how you make all this stuff work in K-12 education. (He’s also been blogging for a long time, and will pull out old posts and revisit them.)
  • I’ve been following Personal Knowledge Management, a blog doing something similar to our 14 things project, only about productivity in specific. (It comes from three librarians at Georgia Tech.)
  • Nancy Sims is the copyright librarian at the University of Minnesota, and she has a great blog, with very coherent explanations of copyright and intellectual property issues, especially around Internet use.


I read a variety of library blogs, but particularly recommend Librarian in Black, Swiss Army Librarian, and Librarian.net as good general resources for people who aren’t librarians themselves, but want insight into the issues affecting libraries and the library profession. The Unshelved comic is also often funny and pointed all at once.

General reading:

Longform searches out excellent long-form journalism. Many of the pieces they link are recent, but they’re also sharing older or archived pieces. They post a handful a day, and I’ve found it’s a great way to learn a little about a bunch of interesting things. I also read Metafilter (which has user-posted links to and discussions about various things online and offline) though it can be a little like drinking from a firehose. Their subsite, Ask.Metafilter is one of my starting points for questions where I want anecdotes or personal experience to help with a question. I also just discovered Now I Know which does a daily explanation of some interesting and obscure thing.

Finally, if you are job hunting (or know someone who is), have a job, or just like really practical (and often amusing) conversations about the working world, I highly recommend Ask A Manager - she has great advice, but also an awesome comment section.


(picking up this series again, really)

I haven’t owned a TV since 2006.

This is not, let me rush to assure you, because I think the TV is not useful. I just haven’t owned the physical object. In 2006 I moved in with housemates who had a perfectly nice TV when I was around to watch it (that was also the year I was working full time, starting grad school again, and working on several community projects, so my free time, it was not exactly vast.)

And then I moved into a tiny little 400 square foot apartment with no convenient place to put one, and then 18 months ago, moved across the country (when I got rid of anything I didn’t absolutely love enough to move that far.)

These days, however, I do watch a fair bit of visual media – TV series, movies, random other things. And I do it entirely on my computer, as I have since 2006. Mostly, I do this while I’m knitting, and very long series work wonderfully for this – two episodes of whatever are about as long as I want to spend knitting most evenings, and that’ll get me 8-10 rows further in my current blanket project.

(I just finished watching The West Wing, which I’d seen about the first half of around when it aired, but where the last two seasons were entirely new. It’s aged remarkably well as a show, given that it’s ten years old.)

Continue reading Watching

Links of interest : April 5, 2013

Trying to get this out before I head off to Computers in Libraries this weekend, as I suspect I’ll acquire further links.

Libraries and Librarians:

  • People keep asking me for advice about the profession. There’s a thoughtful (and thorough) article from Library Journal that addresses a lot of the things I try to talk about. 
  • In the course of my wandering on the ‘Net, I found this post from 2009 that’s a reminder that not everyone has hot and cold running Internet at home. (This is a reality for a bunch of people where I live.)
  • There’s a really interesting alternative for OPAC terminals – I don’t think it’s hugely relevant for my place of work (because we use ancient machines because they still work, and we’ve got them), but I find the idea fascinating.
  • There was an interesting NYT piece on the problems of online college classes (I continue to say “Idea decent, but can we talk more about how people use or don’t use the Internet before relying on this as the Next Big Thing, please?)
  • John Scalzi’s personal history of libraries.
  • The Northstar Digital Literacy modules test basic computer skills in a really well-done way. (Free, but site sponsoring has some additional options/benefits)
  • “Just stand there in your wrongness” has a great take on learning from mistakes (and being smart people who mess up sometimes) via lessons learned from the West Wing.
  • Doug Johnson revisited his “tech skills for incoming freshmen” (as in high school) recently, with an update for 2013. How many of these are you good with? 
  • Jenica Rogers has very smart things to say about the librarian tech skills gap. (And I really want to come back to this topic. When I’m done going to library technology conferences twice in a month.)
  • Nancy Sims talks about releasing images to the wild, and the weird things people ask her about permission to use them.
  • I have a bunch of saved links about the Edwin Mellen press issues (brief recent events version: they asked a blogger to take down posts that included criticism of the press. It gets more complicated after that) but rather than try and sort them out today, TechDirt has the best one-stop summary I’ve seen.

Google Reader: 

As you’ve probably heard by now, Google Reader is shuting down as of July 1. I currently very much like Reeder (which has said they intend to have a non Google Reader dependent version by July) but I’m still considering what I want to use for the professional blogs I read. Everyone and their cousin has an opinion about the options: if you’re looking for ideas, check out posts from LifeHacker, Doug Johnson, Steven Abram, CNET, Bryan Alexander, and the Gypsy Librarian.

Keeping track of all the bits:

  • My current favourite version of explaining citation and how you do it (and why you care)
  • I’m in the slow stages of poking at a project that will involve lots of reference and cited materials. I found this post on using Zotero and Scrivener (my long-form writing tool of choice) handy reading.
  • I’ve also been doing more with Evernote. This post on tips and tricks and this student guide to Evernote both had some new things for me. And this LifeHacker post had some good bits too.
  • I’ve been spending more time with Excel than I used to – here’s some interesting tips for manipulating date and time data.
  • Someone on one of my harp (as in instrument) lists has been doing video tutorials of ForScore, a digital sheet music app for the iPad. (Digital sheet music was the “Ok, that’s why I actually need an iPad” thing for me, though I have not been as diligent about getting music on the iPad as I’d like.)
  • One of the better descriptions of microbarriers in sharing information I’ve seen recently .

Information is good: 

  • I didn’t know that the PhD Comic had a YouTube channel, but they do, and there’s fascinating stuff in there. 
  • Is giving to get ahead good? Fascinating article, both for the research and for the presentation.
  • Want a map of every meteorite strike on Earth? Here you go!
  • Interactive historical maps, and historic maps of cities.
  • I’ve been meaning to link to the really awesome info about the discovery of Richard III since it happened, so here, have the departmental website and data. (I’ve been pro-Ricardian since reading Elizabeth Peters and her Murders of Richard III in high school.)

Very pretty things:


LibTech 2013

I have just finished a wonderful two days at LibTech 2013 – it’s always a pleasure to be in what is pretty much my Platonic ideal of a professional conference (500 people is a size where I feel like I can talk to people, and it’s great, I know enough people that I don’t feel totally lost) and the chance to catch up with various Minnesota folks is always fun.

It’s a superbly run conference, they did an awesome job this year with keynote speakers, about whom more when I can be coherent, and it’s always a conference that leaves me excited about my job and what I can do, without making me feel badly that I’m not always on the cutting edge.

This year, I got to present! Thank you to the committee for letting me do so, since my topic was a little off the beaten track: it was Accio Data: Collaborative Projects Using Free Tools, in which I talked about the ways that a project near and dear my heart uses a wide range of collaborative tools to manage a truly massive amount of data (often in ways those tools were not exactly designed for.) People seemed to like it, and I’ve seen at least one tweet complimenting my slides. (Thanks! I work hard to make my slides thematically appropriate and useful!)

You can see my slides, and download my handout (which is a slightly less narrative version of my presentation), and information about Alternity, the project I used as my example, over on its own page at http://modernhypatia.info/accio-data/ . I’d love to talk more about the stuff in there.

Beyond that, I went to a bunch of really great presentations this year, and I want to do them more justice than I’m going to manage tonight, so I’m going to mull for a day or two and then write them up. I came away with tons of links and tools to explore.

I was at LibTech because I was going to be in Minnesota this week on vacation (it happens to line up with another thing I’d be here for), but it was not actually my official work-sponsored professional development for the year. I’m also going to Computers in Libraries, in Washington DC. If you are reading this, and you’re going, or you know someone who is who might be interested in chatting/lunch/whatever, drop me a note (you can reach me at jen at this domain)

Links of Interest : February 19, 2013

It’s been a while since my last one of these. Sorry!

Continue reading Links of Interest : February 19, 2013

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 Information Technology Librarian at the University of Maine at Farmington, the small liberal arts college model campus in the University of Maine system.

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