Creating a screencast

A conversation earlier this week made me decide that it was time to pick up a project I’d been meaning to play with for a while – creating a screencast. And since I’m doing that, why not talk about the process.

Below, you’ll find my step-by-step how I went through this, and what I learned.

Continue reading Creating a screencast

Links of interest: May 20, 2011

Welcome back after a hiatus (due to a combination of various things, including not having that many links I wanted to share for a week or two.)

Continue reading Links of interest: May 20, 2011

The power of the ‘Net

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why it’s so important to figure out how to manage our digital lives more thoughtfully – and it’s been highlighted by two different job applications that came up recently (one for a school that’s very thoughtful about screen time, and another where I was talking in my cover letter about how I tie my love of the library and my love of technology together.)

Now, before we go any further, it’s probably obvious that I’m a passionate reader of books. I can count on the finger of both hands the number of times I’ve gone to sleep without reading for at least a few minutes. I read widely and deeply and broadly, in a rainbow of genres.

And I think, the same way, that there are lots of things that are part of our traditional images of libraries and learning that still matter – doing sustained reading, larger research projects, presentations, all those things. But I don’t think that’s enough.

When I’m talking about technology in either an educational or technology setting, I see books as one tool, but not the only one, and maybe not the major one. The larger question is something different: it’s not about simply how to use the tool, but about what the tool can and can’t do for us.

Which brings us to the Internet:

I’ve been online since 1994, when I first got to college. In that time, I’ve made friends, gotten frustrated, planned projects, taught classes (including teaching music theory in a pure-text environment, which was an interesting trick!), learned leadership skills, taught myself about any number of things. And that’s before we get into any of my actual professional or formal educational work – all those things are just the things I did on my own, self-directed, because they were interesting.

Every major news story in the past 15 years, I learned about online before I heard about it from TV or radio news. (There’s one exception: I learned about the 35W bridge collapse while sitting in the computer lab at grad school working on an assignment, as someone walked in having just heard it on the radio before the online stories were up – but I would have seen an online story through my usual haunts inside of five minutes.)

The Internet has kept me in touch with friends – that’s the thing everyone knows it’s good for, especially in our current Facebook era. But it’s more than that: it’s making new connections.

In a job hunt where I’m being very geographically flexible, I’ve found time and time again that if I say “Hey, looking at a job in [wherever]” someone I’m linked to through my personal online accounts will know useful things about the area, or is glad to put me in touch with someone who’s just as glad to share. Or they’ll know someone who graduated from there. Or something else that lets me dig more deeply into what’d be like to live and work in that place. (And it’s been true even for places where I would have sworn it’d be unlikely.)

As someone who did a major cross-country move in 1999, when these tools weren’t nearly so wide spread, I’m delighted by that every time.

And it’s in making other connections – running into someone in a discussion in a forum about our shared religion, and discovering we’ve got academic and professional interests in common. Learning about someone through their hobby, and finding out they write great and passionate and amazing blog posts about another topic that I happen to be helping someone with. And much more.

But it’s also in my professional life.

One of the stories I tell about the power of the Internet goes like this. In the fall of 2009, a student – someone I knew was a brillant, engaged, amazing student – came to me looking for some reference help.

She was taking AP European History, and she wanted to argue, for one of her papers, that you couldn’t consider an era truly ‘modern’ until it had consideration for the role of women and minorities in the culture. (Not that they’d solved the problems – but that they were part of general public conversation and political discourse.) She needed some sources to support her argument.

I looked at that, went “Hey, great topic.” and she and I sat down to do some digging on it. We tried a lot of different approaches, but we kept not finding the right thing. She had to go to class after about 20 minutes so I promised I’d keep working, and I did about another 25 minutes (and brainstormed with my assistant, and tried a few other things) before deciding I needed a different approach.

I posted a request to my personal journal, basically saying “I know various of you have a particular interest in women’s history and diversity studies – any ideas?” and with a few notes about what was accessible in a useful timeframe.

I posted it at 10:55. By 11:15, I had a response with the perfect essay to solve the source problem. (In an older but classic collection that the library owned, even!) Within another hour, I’d had a couple more suggestions, and another reference to the same title’s usefulness.

Now, I could have spent hours poking at that – and likely have found the book, but only after skimming through other titles that might be relevant first (and not having time to spend on other good and useful things that were good for other students, the library, etc.).

With the shared knowledge of my friends, it was a much faster process, and I could get back to a busy and highly engaged student at lunch, and say “Hey, here’s this great book, and here’s some other suggestions, and now that I’ve got those classic articles, here’s a couple more ideas of things to try in JSTOR and other databases.” She thought it was pretty awesome, too.

This is – again – one of those things we’re not really teaching, as technology education professionals.

It’s not just about the tools, and how to use them.

It’s about how we choose to use them, and what we can do in small pieces, now and going forward, that build those connections and create those interactions, so that ‘news’ is not a thing we listen to at 6pm, but a thing that’s flowing around us throughout the day, or that research is not just something we ask a librarian (though there are lots of times that’s a good thing to do) but where we’ve got connections to friends with a wide range of expertise and knowledge in many places.

That’s not easy. For one thing, learning how to sort out all those different sources of information, and figure out which ones are useful or reliable or meaningful gets pretty complicated. But at the same time, can we afford not to have these skills?

And perhaps most importantly, it’s about how we dance with the technology in our lives, in this time of ‘always on’ access. What happens when we turn off the phone, or take a break from the screen? What happens when we want time for focused work, or extended play? How do we recognise our own personal temptations, and find ways to manage them? There are lots of good conversations about these things out there already – but we can use more.

The more I think about this, the more I think that it’s probably the essential question schools need to answer in the next decade or so – and particularly, how to help students for whom various parts of this (creating healthy, balanced connections with others, having access to technology tools but not living under their control,  being comfortable with complexity and issues that don’t have easy answers, and much more) doesn’t come naturally.

My personal set up

Here’s the thing: when you go looking at comments about different tools, you’ll probably find what I did: lots of people talking about the tools, but not as many talking about the meat and bones of how they set things up. (There are a few, but not, in my opinion, enough!)

So, I wanted to do a detailed overview of exactly how my system’s set up. (It got long, but I think having it all in one place is easier than splitting it up.)

Continue reading My personal set up

Links of interest: April 29th, 2011

(As you can guess by the gap, travel last week did mean I didn’t get other things done that I would have liked, including the links post. Onward! This week’s links cover a fascinating case study in information literacy, online communication in several directions, and some other interesting resources.)

Continue reading Links of interest: April 29th, 2011

Links of interest: April 15th, 2011

Living online:

Comments to one of the posts I linked to last week (Denise’s post about why LiveJournal has been such a major free speech tool in Russia) brought up a link to another great post, this one from a 2008 speech from Ethan Zuckerman (formerly of Tripod) about how technology use can shift – the Cute Cat Theory of Activism. It’s well worth a read.

The future of libraries:
Several interesting posts this week about the future of libraries.

Other ways to teach:

Michael Stephens posts comments about what’s working and not working for two different MLIS students in online programs, and solicits ideas from others – some interesting stuff!

Gwyneth posts a great series of library orientation exercises using QR codes that were particularly accessible to ESOL students.

And Cat Valente (author and prolific blogger) shares a really great story from her own education, and about how a week of class time had a lifetime impact on her sense of story and narrative.

Copyright resources update:
I’ve added two new links to the copyright video resources page – one from YouTube about copyright (as you might guess, pretty heavily on the side of content creators, not remixers), and one from Rocketboom about how to dispute a takedown challenge (and what kinds of uses might be fair uses.) More on the copyright videos page. I have some more additions planned, but due to other commitments, it may be about two weeks before I get a chance to both watch the new videos and write them up.

There may or may not be links post next week: I have a day-long interview in a totally different city on Thursday, so it’ll depend on things like travel delays and the amount of focus I have after that.

Task management: tools

Step two in the task management series: figure out which tools are going to work for you. (Part 1: a summary of theories and approaches is a good place to start.)

Starting points:

There are so many things to consider when picking a tool. If you’re like most people, it may take a couple of rounds of trying different ones out, before you find the one that really clicks. Here’s some things you might think about.

Some people really want a satisfying user experience (whether that’s the scratch of a good pen on good paper, or a beautifully designed user interface for the program.) Some people want the bare bones: a plain piece of paper or the blank possibility of a text file. Likewise, some people have a strong preference for specific features or tools, and other people have no need for those same things. So, in this post, we’re going to look at some general questions you might want to think about, and then a couple of different tools, so you can see a range of differences.

There are a ton of free options out there, so if you have trouble figuring out what you like, you can play around with different tools and see which features matter to you, even if you settle on a paid option eventually.

Continue reading Task management: tools

Links of interest: April 8th, 2011

Problematic editorial responses:

There’s been a lot of discussion in the past week or so about Wicked Pretty Things, a young adult anthology focused on ‘dark fairy romance’. Seanan McGuire, originally part of the anthology, posted a very good summary of the problem: namely, that the editor had rejected a story that included a gay romance (in ways that were otherwise tasteful and appropriate to the age group.) As Seanan says:

And here’s the thing. There is absolutely no reason to censor a story that was written to the guidelines (which dictated how much profanity, sexuality, etc. was acceptable, as good guidelines should). If Jessica had written hard-core erotica, then rejecting it would have made perfect sense. Not that kind of book. But she didn’t. She wrote a romance, just like the rest of us, only her romance didn’t include any girls. And she didn’t get a rejection; she got her story accepted, just like the rest of us. Only while we got the usual editorial comments, she got “One of your characters needs to be turned into something he’s not.” And that’s not okay.

She continues to talk powerfully about why she feels the need to stand with the people who resist bullying through exclusion.

But the story doesn’t end there: along with a lot of other online discussion, and statements from the anthology editor (not particularly satisfying) and the publishing house (ditto), the publisher used an opinions essay in Publisher’s Weekly to scold the original author (misrepresenting what she’d done, for people who didn’t know the background, in the process.) That part? Really not cool. Good thing there’s a ‘Net with more information, really.  Dear Author has a post about this, including a link to the essay and additional background.

Cleolinda has been doing a series of posts with far more exhaustive links: part 1, part 1.5, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

Professional challenges and changes:

Joyce Valenza links to a great project from the librarians at McPherson College, who came up with a short graphic novel called Library of the Living Dead to explain library services to new students. It has me thinking of all kinds of great ideas (and glad that generally libraries are not zombie-infested.)

Doug Johnson has a post on the reality of paraprofessionals taking on roles previously filled by MLS-degreed professionals brought on by an email asking for help. This is one of those painful situations where everyone’s got a point, but I always wonder who we’re serving by pushing people into a role they’re not prepare for. Many paraprofessionals (as I was, when I was one) are great at the day to day stuff, and I suspect everyone reading this knows places that would never work without them.

But where the MLIS degree focuses is on looking at larger issues and how to navigate them over years or decades. As with most things involving learning a new way to look at the world, that’s not an easy thing to pick up on the fly, while trying to do two people’s jobs. Some people will manage – but what happens to those served by the people who don’t? I’m not just talking here about them not offering the kinds of services our students need and deserve – but also about the costs to them in trying to do a complicated job without adequate staffing, support, training, or time for reflection and renewal.

Jessamyn West, Fiona Morgan, and Justin Grimes did a presentation at SXSW 2011 on the digital divide in rural areas. Lots of great notes and resources, too.

Brian Herzog talks about some of the challenges and triumphs of dismantling their reference section – and why they did it.

Social media:

Troy Swanson has a great guest post at Tame The Web about how libraries need to look at how they use social media a bit differently – and how it can bring employees in a library who don’t get to see each other in person into a common community.

Denise, one of the co-founders of Dreamwidth had two great posts recently. One, in her formal managerial hat, is about development decisions there, and specifically how they’ve been spending a lot of time paying down technical debt (that’s the stuff you do because you need to get it done, but knowing it’s going to need to be fixed later). It’s got me thinking a lot about the equivalent in the library world (and I hope that’s going to gel into some writing sooner than later.)

She’s also made, from her personal account, a very powerful post about recent issues with LiveJournal, where she worked for a number of years (and where I volunteered under her direction.) I’ve had a number of online homes over the years, but LiveJournal is one of the longest-lasting: I’ll have had an account there for 10 years in May, during which time I’ve posted thousands of entries that help me follow threads of information and connection through my life. (These days, I focus more on Dreamwidth, because I want to specifically support some of their priorities, but due to cross-posting and other tools, still am around LJ a lot.)

Anyway, LiveJournal became, for various reasons, the pre-eminent free press outlet in Russia, both before being bought by the Russian company SUP, and since. Denise explains some of why this was, how it raised complex issues questions on a practical level, and how the site’s contributed to free expression in Russia in a variety of ways. (The reason this is relevant this week is that LiveJournal’s been under substantial DDOS attacks and other problems that have made use of the site more complicated (like lots of spammers.))

Task management: theories and approaches

I’ve been promising a series of posts about task management for a while now. Welcome to the first one, where I’m going to talk about some of my own background, and then some different basic philosophies. I’ll have links to resources as I talk about different approaches. (Next post will be looking at some different tool options, and then I’ll talk about my actual system.) I’ll also touch on some things we as educators are not really teaching students about these topics in various places.

Many task management systems were originally designed for use by business executives – or at least people with offices (and doors that close), appointment calendars, assistants, and who could plan on at least some chunks of focused time. As a librarian and educator, that’s not reliably a part of my work life (and it isn’t for a bunch of other professions, either), so one thing I’m going to particularly focus on is creating a system that works for those of us who are frequently interrupted, regularly have to switch priorities, or who have variable amounts of energy and focus for whatever reason.

As with other posts in this file and information management series, this series on task management is going to be about half general theory and things to think about, and half “here’s what I do, and why”. I promise screenshots when they’re useful, too!

Continue reading Task management: theories and approaches

Circles, what we tell ourselves, and schools

I’m spending the weekend at a gathering of my co-religionists, talking about fascinating things.

(Actually, I’m one of the people running the event, which after two years of planning is actually a real thing, and so wonderful: all our glitches have been small and fixable so far, but enough to convince me I am not in fact dreaming). But I’m also an attendee. We’ll come back to this.)

One of today’s talks centered around a couple of things that immediately made me go “Must blog about that on ModernHypatia!”

Stories we tell ourselves:

Cultures tell stories. More than that, we tell stories about how the world works, and those stories then shape how the world actually is. Because people listen to the stories.

I’ve been applying to a lot of jobs this year, and one of the things that has fascinated me about the process (and kept me going through the harder bits) has been looking at the stories places that are hiring tell about themselves. It’s particularly true in the independent school community (where the major part of my experience is), but it’s also true in the public libraries and the colleges and the other positions I’m looking at.

Some people call that a mission statement, or a vision statement. But those things are simply reflections of the story, reflections of the narrative, condensed down. Every time we say “This place welcomes diversity” and then act on that, we’re adding to the story. Every time we select books for a display or to add to the collection, we’re adding to the story. One of my library science professors talked about collection development – the art of deciding what to buy (and what not to buy) – as the relationships between an item, other items in the collection, and the people who use them. I definitely agree with that, but I think it goes further: it’s about the stories that become more obvious, when we put them in the same space.

Anyway, part of the talk tonight focused on the narrative of our culture, which is in large part the narrative of progress. That civilisation begins at some distant, dark, and probably unpleasant beginning, goes on through a bunch of stages, and then ends up with us, moving forward through us into some better, brighter, future.

It’s a story where each day must somehow be better than the last, or we’ve failed. It’s a story more and more people I know are less and less satisfied with. It’s lacking. Some see various points that cannot be sustained.

Circles:

It’s also not actually how the world works. Yes, things progress, but they also decline. We have lived in a world that has seen entire classes of beings rise and fall (dinosaurs, for example, or North American and South American megafauna.) And we’ve lived in a world that has seen empires rise – and fall again. A few of those falls have been rapid and catastrophic, but many many more of them have taken place over months, years, decades, centuries – even millenia.

And the world goes on.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few days, because of some other reading. You see, I’m currently reading a mystery series by Frank Tallis, set in Vienna in the very early 1900s. It’s a time when my grandfather and his brother were infants in that same city, and when their father and mother were running a thriving business. It was also a time when the Austro-Hungarian empire covered a substantial portion of the map.

Times change, and that empire – and the glittering, rich, highly musical and artistic and creative and scientific life of the city has changed. But Mom and I travelled to Vienna and Budapest a few years ago: they are still lovely cities, rich in history and culture and feeling and wonderful things going on. They have not gone away, they have not failed, they have not ceased to exist. They have simply moved into another portion of their lives, as summer moves into fall. Fall will move into winter, which, yes, has some downsides (as anyone living in a city like Minneapolis that has had a high snowfall this year can attest). But winter moves on to spring, as well.

In other words, a circle. Not a line. A different way of being, not a failure.

One question that’s come up in almost every job interview is how I feel about ebooks, and their role in the modern library. My answer is simple: right now, the rights and the practical issues are still complicated. I expect that will get sorted out sooner than later: my bet is that the landscape 18 months from now will be substantially easier, from a user point of view, and from a library point of view. I think there’s wonderful things in these tools, including opening up a wider range of what it means to read, and how we read.

But that doesn’t mean the books are going away, any more than Vienna or Budapest somehow faded from the map when there was no more empire. The books we have will still be on the shelves. Some kinds of books work better than current technology allows, for at least some uses. (And I don’t know about you, but as a committed reader-in-bathtubs, I’d much rather drop even a $30 hardcover in the tub than a device costing many times that much.) Some people prefer them, for all sorts of reasons. I welcome the new tools and options, but I think there’s still a place in the world for the older ones.

Circles. Cycles. Keeping the best of the old, but being open to what new stories, what new narratives, may come along. And asking questions about our old stories, and how well they’re actually serving us.

The question of schools

One thing I got asked this week was “Why schools”. I’ve been thinking about my answer quite a bit, in part because it comes back to this in a weird way: I love the opportunity to watch students grow up, grow into the selves that are most magnificent and glorious and amazing in offering their particular insights to the world.

But at the same time, while that’s a progression, at least in terms of age, I also see it as a circle: it is a chance every year to begin at a (fairly arbitrary, honestly) point, and to try some new things, and to do some old thing that are loved and tried and tested and helpful, and to see what happens this time. I love the sense of self-reflection that can bring.

And yet, having known many bright and wonderful people for whom ‘the best college’ was not the best goal, I desperately want a narrative that encourages these people to find the things they’re brilliant and magnificent at and share it with the world – something I think our society at large desperately needs. If we move from a model of the straight line of progress, to the curves of a cycle, more people can be more brilliant at more things – and maybe the things we don’t know we need yet, as a culture, a community, and a world.

The last thing:

The last thing from this particular round of conversation is that so much of this begins with the individual.

My goal, not just as a librarian, as an educator, as a sharer of nifty things, but as a human, is to help people find information that makes their lives better, that helps connect them to options and possibilities in a way that’s meaningful to them. Sometimes it’s just standing there waiting to be helpful if I’m needed. Sometimes it’s problem solving and answering questions.

But I think a lot of it is really about my willingness and interest in improving the world, one question at a time. I’m not perfect at this: like everyone, I mess up, or get sidetracked, or have a bad day. But I try always to move along a circle that’s about more choice, more information, more options, in a way people can manage to deal with.

Two years ago, I started going “Hey. We could do this thing. I think it’d be cool and useful and meaningful.” to the board of the organisation running this conference. After about six months of that, they finally said “Well, I think we can do it.” Eighteen months later, we’re here, with amazing people, having great conversations. And it’s only Friday night.

This is not all about me: this event would not exist without the work of dozens of people (just the same way that a school, or a workplace, or anywhere else, should never be about just one person.) But right now, I’m really pleased that I started out, those months ago, saying “Hey, could we, I think it’d be awesome if…”

We all have the chance to nudge the stuff along that we care about – whether it’s by taking on a big project, or whether it’s by chiming in, sharing a quick thought, showing up for something, passing along a resource. That’s what I do my best to work towards at work, and in my personal life, and all the times that are neither and both.

What I want, the next place I work, and the places I live, and the places I share my friendships and thoughts, is a chance to be part of a circle, part of a cycle that honors the rise and the fall, that can explore new things without rejecting the older truths that still work, that takes time for reflection and conversation, and choice. And one that offers people different ways of being within the community, of offering the things only they can offer, as well as those things many people can do. That’s hard (there is nothing quite like running a volunteer-run event to remind you of that!). But it’s worthwhile. And I know those places are out there.

Where do you find them?

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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