Links of interest : November 5th, 2010

Today is Guy Fawkes Day which always reminds me of how people interact with information, and how what we know about an event can shift with bias. (And which, if you know some of the history, is a really fascinating example of how to evaluate information about an event.)

Anybody for…? Emily Lloyd at Shelf Check (one of my favorite library comics) has a fascinating post about creating a social physical library – allowing people in the building to connect with other people who are there doing similar things, or would be interested (a spontaneous story-time, a chance to practice a language, play a game of chess, etc.) Folks in the comments there mentioned a related conversation at thewikiman, with more ideas in the comments.

Let’s try that again. Related to some of the posts last week, Iris has a post about a discussion at her college’s Learning and Teaching Center about Harvesting Our Mistakes. Both some of the specific there – and a reminder to keep up with the process of reflection and adjustment – spoke to me.

First attempts: Scott McLeod (who focuses on technology in K-12 education, and who does a lot of work with administrators trying to figure out how to implement technology in their schools) has an interesting post on how to look at the first steps of technology practice.

More things we’re not teaching: His post made me realise that I missed something in my Things we’re not teaching post: how many schools are teaching students how to find a task management technology that works for them that goes beyond “Write it in your planner”. These days, kids with access to their own tech devices (whether that’s a phone, mobile device, laptop, or home computer) have a lot more choices in figuring out how to manage deadlines and assignments – and it might be good to talk about them, show off some options, and so on.

What’s getting asked: Brian Herzog has been writing about his experience at the NELA 2010 conference, and has a great post about changes in reference questions in public library settings, based on Pingsheng Chen from the Worcester (MA) Public Library presentation.  Summary: libraries are getting fewer of the easy questions, but more of the time consuming or challenging ones. (Since people are tending to do their own searches for the simpler stuff, and only coming to the librarians when they get stumped.)

Community concerns: The Disruptive Student series at ProfHacker (a Chronicle of Higher Education blog) has an interesting post today on dealing with bullying in academic settings. While focused on teaching settings, there’s some interesting stuff in there for people in libraries to think about too.

Understanding other experiences: While browsing around ProfHacker, I found a couple of posts on dealing with students with disabilities or other access needs, with some useful information for anyone who teaches.

For another take on this situation, FWD/Foward has a post this week on how teachers and professors can help students with disabilities. (FWD focuses on an intersectional approach to disabilities.)

The problems with copying: Seanan McGuire, author of a number of books (the October Daye series, and as Mira Grant, the NewsFlesh series) made a post this week about Internet piracy and who it hurts. She has a follow-up post with a few clarifications and additional points, too.

In a related area, my reading lists have been full of people talking about a really blatant example of why copying is stupid. Author writes an article (a comparison of apple pie recipes.) A small local newspaper publishes it – without permission or recompense. Author writes politely, requesting a donation to a program of her preference, in lieu of payment.  Editor responded that, well, it was online, so it was in the public domain – and oh, by the way, she should be grateful for publication and badly needed editing.

You can guess at the outcome, but John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, has the best overview of it: The Stupidest Thing an Editor With Three Decades of Experience Has Said About the Web Today. (With links to the author’s original post about it, including a copy of the relevant email.) He has a follow-up post, too.

Dear people: stuff on the ‘Net is not automatically in the public domain. Please share with anyone who has not yet learned this.

Links of interest: October 29, 2010

Learning outcomes : Iris Jastram talks about an insight she had about using learning outcomes to do better user instruction, and Jenica Rogers has some more ideas about applying that to the work of the library as a whole.

Technology and the librarian : Michael Stephens, on the MLIS faculty at Dominican University, has begun writing a new column for Library Journal. His first column talks about the need for library students (and librarians) to be comfortable using (and use) online communication, beyond the closed systems of classes and workplaces. Various people, including Angel Rivera have commented about it. (I’ve got more thoughts about this one, but they’re still gelling.)

Steampunk considerations: Nisi Shawl has a great article at on some of the issues of steampunk in terms of reflecting the experiences of people of color in that reimagined world. She talks about what she’s writing to explore that, and also links to a bunch of other fascinating resources.

When the library’s not handy: Hugo, Minnesota (a suburb of St. Paul) which has no town library has instituted a Library Express program: programmed lockers outside of City Hall which allow residents to pick up books they’ve reserved. A Wall Street Journal article talks about this and some other similar programs in other places, which also talks about the complications of shorter library hours due to funding cutbacks, and library patrons who still want to use resources.

Conference notes: Sarah Houghton-Jan of Librarian in Black went to the Internet Librarian 2010 conference and made lots of useful posts on presentations – everything on learning from failure to the community as center of the community, to great free tools for cash-strapped libraries.

Time-consuming reference: Brian Herzog talks about doing triage on reference questions in a public library setting. Not only having circulation staff handle some things, and then refer to reference librarians for more detailed needs (common if the reference desk is not obvious or as available as the circ desk) but also how to handle the much more complex questions that take 15 or 30 minutes to handle.

How much management is just right? Jenica Rogers has a great post on what she’s learned in her first 17 months as Director of Libraries. She focuses on the problems of micromanaging – or more specifically, how she doesn’t want to, but other people want her to give more direct guidance and direction on a day to day basis, and how that needs to be balanced against her own work.

Interesting resources:

  • Two additional ways to search Flickr: FlickrStorm goes beyond your initial search by finding other items that might fit and Compfight makes it easier to find creative commons items and original images.
  • OpenFolklore is a project of the American Folklore Society to make materials more widely available for study and learning.
  • The Wisebaden Codex of Hildegard von Bingen’s work is now available digitally. Click the manuscript page image to get into the document reader. (Things that make the medievalist bits of my brain happy!)

What we’re not teaching

I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks, reading various of the ‘back to school’ blog posts, about how much we’re still not really teaching.

What would change if we built “How do we find the online experiences we want to have, and make them work better for us?” into what we teach, and what we learn? Not the fear-based online safety lectures, not the online privacy lectures – as important as that last one is. But the bigger question: how do we do the stuff with this information source that improves our lives?

What would it look like if our information literacy classes didn’t just focus on writing an academic paper, and instead included how to find and evaluate resources for regular life tasks. Which recipe sites are good – and how do you pick a good recipe from them? Whose DIY instructions are great, and whose leave out important safety tips? Where do we go for good financial advice for a particular goal? And oh, yes – where do we find good consumer health information? Evaluating news sources, too.

It’s not that learning to write an academic paper is a bad skill: it’s worth teaching, and worth experiencing, and there are lots of other good skills and experiences it ties in with really well.

But let’s be realistic here: out of a class of 20 kids, how many of them are going to go on and write academic papers for the rest of their lives (i.e. go into academia)? Maybe one, and chances are, that one would have figured it out pretty fast with a little guidance. And how many of them are going to going to cook dinner, buy a car, need to figure out their budget, make a medical decision, or need to find out what happened in the news? Pretty much all of them.

I wonder if something’s skewed in our perspectives and proportions, and what would happen if we focused more on general evaluation of information, and brought in the academia-specific bits when they apply, rather than the other way round.

And, on that note, how often do we teach how to avoid scams and phishing online? Probably not as often as we should.

My favorite quick quiz is SonicWALL’s (found at because it includes actual sample emails. But rummaging around for that link, I came across a US government site, . They’re a little uneven in terms of their audience (some things are clearly aimed at teens, others are clearly aimed at adults), but there’s some fun Flash games, some good short videos, and some other good information.

Links of interest: October 15, 2010

General links of interest:

The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom sponsored a machinima contest in Second Life (for those not aware, a machinima is a video or film shot using digital footage from inside a game or virtual setting.) They’ve posted the winner and two runners up.

A great resource on making a website more accessible can be found at Dive Into Accessibility.

When you delete an image, is it really gone? Apparently not on Facebook. In July 2009, the Ars Technica blog did a piece on this. 16 months later, the photo is still there.

A discussion on cyberbullying included a link to what one of the poster’s wives did when she discovered bullying in her classroom. (I can think of situations where it might not have worked so well, but in this case, it was a great solution.)

And of seasonal interest, Kerri Miller, the host of the Minnesota Public Radio show Midmorning, just did a great hour called “Vampires and Zombies and Werewolves, Oh My!” talking about the recent (and not so recent) rash of books featuring them. The link takes you to the page for this show, where you can listen or download, but you might also want to to check out the list of titles that came up during the discussion (currently the second bold heading down.)

Harassment, Internet spaces, and reality

Someone I care about is having problems with a stalker who’s both harassed her in physical space and online. That reminded me that I haven’t talked recently about my approach to dealing with that kind of situation.

It’s a subject I’ve been thinking about every since I got online, 16 years ago now. I’ve had my share of mildly worrying experiences (people who just wouldn’t give up), but I’ve also had more friends than I can count who’ve had everything from persistent harassment and fixation to outright threats of major violence.

I also spent about 18 months as a volunteer on LiveJournal’s Terms of Service (Abuse) team, which handles everything from DMCA copyright reports to concerns about harassment to requests from the police, to parents trying to figure out how to handle their child’s online interaction. (And I did this in 2003-2004, when there was a lot less info out there on most of these topics.) Add to that ten years working in a high school library and helping educate parents, kids, and teachers about different issues, and you get a lot of interest in the subject. It also means I have a lot of opinions – but I’m always interested in learning more.

It’s all real:
You’ll notice that below, I don’t say ‘real world’ and ‘online’. This is, in my experience, a particularly damaging way to look at it. Many people have very meaningful connections with others online. Whether those are old friends who live far away now or people they’ve met online through shared interests, the emotions, conversations, and interactions are still very real. When they go wrong, they still hurt just as much.

Beside that, online harassment, insults, and threats do affect us in our physical lives. They add stress, they take time to deal with, they may require changes in our behavior and where and how we spend our time. How is that not ‘real’? So, here, I use ‘online’ and ‘physical world’. A little clunky, but much more clear.

Harassment is the fault of the person doing the harassing.
If you are being harassed, it is not your fault, and you are not to blame. That said, knowing some things can make your life easier if you do have a problem. You have a better idea what steps to take, you know what information you need to have ready to make a report, things like that. Sometimes information and specific tools can help you descalate a situation or make you less appealing to a stalker, too.

Continue reading Harassment, Internet spaces, and reality

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!

Locational privacy

There have been a number of posts recently about the issues of locational privacy with the rollout of Facebook’s new Places feature. (There are other sites out there that do similar things: FourSquare is one of the better known.)

The issues with locational privacy are complicated. Some are fairly obvious (people who have stalkers or other people harassing them obviously don’t necessarily want to be found.) Some are related to pranks that can have long-lasting effects (being ‘checked in’ to a location that would look bad to your boss – even if you were nowhere near there.) And some are complex: no one really has the stats on whether burglaries happen more to people who ‘check in’ far away from home, but do you really want to trust that one?

And even if you do want some people – your closest friends, the people you’d want to tell anyway – that doesn’t mean you want to tell the whole world. If you only friend people on Facebook that you are quite close to, no problem. But if you have people friended who you’re not as close to – or maybe don’t even know very well – then you probably want to change things from the default ‘Friends Only’ setting. Here’s a great article on changing the Facebook Places privacy settings.

There’s a great article from the EFF about the issues of locational privacy (that go far beyond these kinds of ‘checking in’) sites – they also talk about the implications of transit passes, electronic toll paying devices, and other ways to match up a specific person with a specific location. The Center for Democracy and Technology also has a good article.

And finally, if you’d like a totally different way to understand some of the issues with locational privacy, I recommend Cory Doctorow’s YA novel Little Brother. You can download a copy for free from Cory’s site – or, of course, get it from your local library or bookstore.

Tracking things to read

Tracking books I’ve read is much easier – I’ve played with various options, including a nice straight plain text list, but I’m currently using GoodReads, because it’s got the nicest integration with WordPress in my opinion. (Just take a look at my sidebar…) But tracking what I *want* to read is a lot trickier.

Like most avid readers, I usually have a long list of books I want to read. But those lists can get complicated.

  • Some books aren’t out yet.
  • Some I want to get from my library (most)
  • Some I’ll need to buy (things not readily available from my library, or just plain books I want to own.)
  • Some might be out of print.
  • Some are going to be very popular, and I’m going to sit on the reserves list at the library for quite a while.

And most importantly, I want to read a wide variety of different kinds of books: when I’m looking for something new to read, I try to keep a balance between them. My basic categories include genre reading (fantasy, science fiction, mysteries), non-fiction, professional reading, books related to my religious interests, and I don’t like the list of one type of reading complicating finding titles of other types. Also, I sometimes have the “I want to read a mystery…” moments and don’t want to wade through dozens of other entries to find the mysteries.

There’s no really great solution for this. I’ve looked at various discussions – this discussion from the Unshelved Answers site on tracking books to read and this one from AskMetafilter on tracking books to read are both focused on tracking books already read, but include comments on tracking things to read as well. I’ve played with a few of the iPhone/iPod apps, and find them useful, but a bit cludgy: it takes me a long time to enter and move data around, and I read enough books that that’s problematic. (The one I like best is BookCrawler, though, if you’re looking…)

But I think I’ve settled down into a spreadsheet – in my case, in iWork’s Numbers, which I prefer to Excel when I get the chance. I have one page for fiction, and one page for non-fiction right now, but may split those out in other ways later.

My columns are:

  • Title (the thing I’m most likely to remember about the book, personally.)
  • Author (because it is also useful)
  • The publication date, with conditional formatting I’ll explain in a moment
  • Genre
  • And a brief notes field

The publication date is the trickiest one for me. I often hear about books a good while before they’re coming out, sometimes long before I can put a hold in on them at the library. Likewise, there are times I want to focus on recent titles (especially those that are getting a lot of conversation right now) so I can join in discussions about them.

My publication date column is therefore set up so that I can tell at a glance how recent a title is. I divided things up into books more than 5 years old, books 1-5 years old, books 3-12 months old, books out in the last 3 months, and books not yet out. This way, it’s easy for me to see what I might want to go and request at the library (or go and get from the bookstore.) and an idea of how long the reserve list might be. I can easily sit down once a month and add a reminder in my task management program for forthcoming books once they might be in the system, too.

Links of interest: June 18, 2010

First in a series of collected links of interest, of posts I’ve found particularly intriguing over the last week or so:

The myth of browsing (an article from American Libraries, the journal of the American Library Association) takes on the idea that being able to browse a collection is essential for scholarly knowledge. I’m of two minds: I adore browsing for the sheer joy of it, the things I find that are also of interest to me, outside of my research in a particular focused topic. But I do agree with the issues of storage and practicality, and the point that a browseable collection of 20,000 volumes might do very well in almost all circumstances.

I’m a huge fan of danah boyd’s writing, and particularly liked her recent post on How COPPA fails parents, educators, youth for a clear explanation of why all these websites require you to be older than 13 – and why it’s not as helpful as you’d think.

For people who love both libraries and lists (via Jessamyn at comes an article from American Libraries about a new book by George Eberhart called The Librarian’s Book of Lists. Check out the lists article for a few samples.

Starting accounts on various sites can be complex, but so can leaving them. A nice round-up of the steps and relative complexity of deleting accounts on a whole bunch of commonly used sites is a handy thing to have around. (I like their explanation of why you can’t delete accounts on some sites, and what you can do instead, too.)

And, in the realm of ‘being better humans helps everyone’, a link came across my line of sight that’s been making me think ever since: it’s about how sick systems develop, how to recognise them, and ways to remove yourself from them. Most people I know have been in such a system at one point or another in their life (whether that’s in a relationship, family of origin, work, or some other commitment), but I found the description and analysis here particularly clear and of potential use. Check out How to keep someone with you forever .

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

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