Thursday, October 17, 2013

Managing My Own Information Overload

Anyone trying to keep track of what is going on in librarianship (or any other field) has a whole mess of information they could consume to keep up, and if you are a crazy, psychotic information junkie like me, you do end up reading a whole lot of stuff. Stuff you will never remember all of. Stuff you would like to keep track of for later. Stuff that probably requires some sort of management software to actually keep track of. This is what I use.

For journal articles, books, conference proceedings  and other "things I should be citing when writing formally," I use Zotero. I won't say too much about Zotero since there is so much out there already on using it, and I figure most librarians are at least familiar with it. There's even at least one book targeted in part towards librarians on it. What I can say is I had been bopping back and forth between Zotero and Mendeley, and there were really three things that finally convinced me to stick with Zotero.  First, I discovered how to annotate a PDF in Adobe, which took away one of Mendeley's major attractions for me. Second, Mendeley was bought by Elsevier, and Elsevier is gross (that's a professional judgement right there), while Zotero is open source and cool. Third, and most importantly, was Zotero Standalone and the Chrome and Firefox plug-ins that go with it. I use Chrome a lot more than I do Firefox now, so the ability to actually use Zotero in it really made me happy. But, even in Firefox I love Standalone and the new plug-in more than what came before, since I can download the citation and often the PDF full text with one quick click up by the URL. It makes me happy. 

So, what about the rest? There is a whole lot more out there about librarianship than books and articles, large amounts of it either web-native or readily available on the web. For that, I use Diigo to keep track of it. Diigo is a social bookmarking tool, and while social bookmarking doesn't have the sexy sheen it did a few years ago, I love Diigo. Again, I use Chrome and Firefox primarily, and Diigo has an extension and toolbar, respectively, for those two browsers that let me automatically add and tag bookmarks really easily. There is also a toolbar for IE, and some possibly third-party add-on for Safari, in addition to a bookmarklet that can be added to any browser. They also have Android and iOS apps. Okay, I can't say I use the iPad app much other than pulling up recipes I've saved (I use Diigo for a lot more than library stuff), I never use the Android app on my phone, and I dislike that I cannot add a highlighter to mobile Chrome in iPad (you can for Safari). Still, I'm mostly in apps on my iPad and Galaxy anyway, and I've got a solution there. I get almost all of my library information from Feedly and Twitter, whether in the web versions or in apps, and I use IFTTT to automatically send things from those tools to Diigo. I have recipes to automatically add private bookmarks, which I go back to tag and make public later, whenever I save something in Feedly, favorite something on Twitter, or tweet out a link.1

Now, of course, gathering a whole bunch of stuff is one thing. Getting back to it is another. Thankfully, Diigo does not require you to go to to get at your library. The Chrome add-on automatically includes a box with Diigo results every time you search Google, and the Firefox toolbar has a search bar that also searches Google and Diigo simultaneously. You never need a separate search, which is great because I'd never remember to do so. 

But wait, there's more! The Chrome add-on and Firefox toolbar also let you annotate webpages. You can both highlight text and add comments. There is also a setting to allow you to see other Diigo users' annotations, but I can't say having that on has been really beneficial for me, so I keep it off so I'm not distracted. You only get 1000 highlights a year with the free version, but I haven't even come close to that. If you do go a little crazy with the highlighting, or want to cache a lot of pages (which I never do even though I get 30 free), you might look into one of the paid versions. I'm sticking with free for now, though if the full-text search that comes with the Basic plan is really great I might try that out, but I'm not testing it myself (or at least not until I'm off a grad student's income). I also do not take advantage of the social options in Diigo, since I don't know anyone else who uses it, though you could totally change that by signing up and following me. Which would give me even more information to read and then manage, and that would make me oh so happy.

1) If I follow you on Twitter, and it seems like I'm always favoriting things, it's because I'm saving it to Diigo.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Emotions!

Our benevolent god of the animated GIF, Buzzfeed, has graced us with another multimedia listicle thing-y, this time on what it is like being a new TA. They get it basically right, though what they describe isn't really limited to new TAs. The shifting feelings of despair, frustration, euphoria, and ambivalence have not gone away, at least as long as I teach. Sure, there's a little less despair as I grow more comfortable teaching, and probably a bit more frustration as I realize that just because I'm a better teacher than last year does not mean now I can get all of my students to actually care, but it's the same mix. 

It also got me thinking about the different feelings I get from being a reference librarian and being an instructor. My assistantship has me doing two things: working the reference desk at the main branch of a large academic library and teaching a couple sections of a weekly, for-credit information literacy/research skills course, primarily targeted at freshmen but with the occasional upperclassmen looking for a one-credit class. Looking at the emotions I feel during both parts of my job, I'd say they are similar, but everything that comes from the teaching part is just more intense than from the reference part.   

The sort of extreme pride and satisfaction that you get when the students finally get something? You only get that from the repeated interactions you get in a class. That's not to say I never get done with an extended reference interview and feel great. I do, and sometimes I really do feel that I've taught them something they will remember. But, when you realize from teaching a course that you have to explain the same concept or skill to freshmen for four straight weeks before they get it,1 you figure out that what you show them at the desk one time probably isn't sticking for most. But when you are tracking the same students week after week and you start to see them applying what they've learned? Fantastic. Things go similarly for the negative feelings. Those students who come up to the desk, want you do everything for them, and refuse to be taught? Annoying. But in 10 minutes they'll be gone. You get the same type of student in a course, they give you the same attitude week after week, and eventually you probably fail them? Much worse. 

But, at least in my experience, it's been worth it. The successes make the failures worth it. 

1) Or longer. Boolean!!!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Student Leadership: Actually Getting People on Board

Army recruiting poster from World War I with Uncle Sam pointing at the view and stating "I was YOU for U.S. Army"
Photo public domain, copied from Wikipedia
Two days ago, Steve Ammidown over at Hack Library School wrote a great post about how great student organizations are in library school, the great skills you can pick up from them, but also the difficulty they often have keeping enough people involved. I know the struggle. I'm heavily involved with two of our organizations, our graduate student group LISGSA and our chapter of Progressive Librarians Guild. And it has often been a struggle keeping people involved with these two. I cannot talk about other programs, though they probably have similarities, but I can speak to why I think it's difficult to get people involved where I go to school and what can be done about it. 

So, why don't people get involved? A lot of us are working 1-2 part-time library jobs trying to cultivate experience, and many students who are transitioning to librarianship from other careers are still working full-time in those other careers while they get the degree. When we have free time, we don't all have it at the same time, so scheduling face to face (or even synchronous online) meetings can be a chore. So we have a time issue. 

We also have a place issue. Oh, do we have that. Our program has multiple campuses across the state, and since most of the classes are either hybrid or entirely online, even those who are technically on my campus may live an hour or so away and only visit it a few times a semester. So, in addition to having a distinct lack of free time overlap, when we can all meet a lot of people would need to travel to meet up, and some are just too far away to make that possible. So, out of all the people in the program, the actual recruiting pool for our organizations is just a fraction: people who are in-town, and usually only full-time students who only have, say, one part-time job. There are exceptions, but that's most of those involved, including me (okay, I have two part-time jobs, but one is very, very part-time).

How does an organization survive and get people involved in such a context? People need to take it upon themselves to be recruiters. When getting involved takes a lot of scarce time and doesn't, at first glance, seem to be so high a priority, it takes people who are willing to, again and again, make the hard sell for why it's important. It's how I got involved. I, traditionally, have not been a joiner. At all. But when I moved to a new town knowing zero people to start the program during Spring of 2012, I was kind of hurting for friends, so I started going to the LISGSA Happy Hours. There, among other great friends, I met Kyle, who was then LISGSA President. Without Kyle's recruitment, I would probably have stayed only "guy who goes to Happy Hours." But he encouraged me to do more, talked about the cool stuff they were doing, explained the personal and professional benefits I'd get by being a joiner for once, and got me involved. With his encouragement, I even ran for president for the 2012-2013 year.1 

Because of how important Kyle's recruiting was for me, I took it upon myself to pay the favor forward. Conveniently, as Programming Coordinator last school year, my job for LISGSA was basically "create events, make sure people show up." We held our first-ever conference this past spring, and one of my jobs was encouraging people to be presenters. Of the six executive board members serving this school year, I was heavily involved with recruiting2 four of them to serve. This year, our PLG chapter is a bit on the ropes, so when the treasurer position became empty, I signed up to serve for this semester (my last), setting myself the goal of recruiting3 a replacement by spring, along with convincing others to get involved with PLG long-term. Oh, I've also targeted a couple students I think should be LISGSA Exec Board members next school year. Hopefully, some of those I've got involved previously are also doing the same, taking on the recruiting role. These organizations would die without it.

1) I lost, but thanks to the difficulties of getting people involved, the Programming Coordinator position was empty so I was slotted in there.  
2) They may say that more accurate terms would be "cajoling," "badgering," "brow beating," etc.
3) See 2) above.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Power of Literacy

I got to a bit of a late start on R. David Lankes's New Librarianship MOOC, so I missed participating in a lot of the initial conversation, such as the Twitter arguments on the validity of conversation theory. However, I haven't seen anyone on Twitter (I'm not even attempting the discussion posts) really dig into the parts about power, so I'd like to. Starting at about 5:30 in the Facilitation: Knowledge/Training video, as well as in the book starting p74, Lankes makes the claim that literacy is about power. We read not necessarily because it's fun, but because it gives us the power to do things and get what we want. New Librarianship, in its promotion of literacy  should be increasing the power members in our community, especially those without power. Now, Lankes also includes fiction reading as power enabling. His examples in the book, however, are a little weak, with talk of what characteristics books cultivate and how reading Danielle Steele teaches us about ourselves. In the video he talks about learning to question authority with fiction without really getting into it. It leaves him open to critiques like Lane Wilkinson's on the issue of fiction in New Librarianship. Wilkinson points out, almost assuredly correctly, that most people don't read fiction to gain knowledge. We do it for enjoyment, culture, aesthetics maybe, but rarely explicitly to learn. Wilkinson doesn't really get into it, but if Lankes's point about fiction reading being empowering is based on fiction reading as knowledge creation, and Wilkinson is right that usually fiction reading isn't about knowledge creation, then fiction reading doesn't fit into New Librarianship's focus on facilitating power.

However, just because Lankes doesn't do a great job on explaining how fiction, literacy, and power go together doesn't mean they don't. You could argue it multiple ways, but luckily on my part, I ran into this TED Talk1 today on the importance of stories and power that tackles it from one perspective:

Clearly you should watch the whole thing, but just in case you don't I want to try to summarize Adichie's basic point, which is about the danger of the single story and why having multiple stories is important. It's something she ran into as a child, where all of the books available to her for a long time were American and British, with white skinned children playing in the snow and talking about how nice it is when the sun comes out. As a result, when she as a child started writing, she thought all stories were about white skinned children playing in the snow and talking about how nice it is when the sun comes out, so that's what she wrote. Access to only a single story left her for a time without the power to tell her own, because she didn't see her story as the type of story that fiction tells. It comes up again and again, where only having access to a single perspective, through both fiction and non-fiction, convinces her roommate that no Africans could speak English or use a stove, convinces Adichie before a trip there that Mexico is a place where everyone is unhappy and destitute, convinces a student all Nigerian men were abusive because the only perspective she had was one of Adichie's novels where one of the men is abusive, and so on. Having access to only one story about a people flattens them into a stereotype and robs them of their power. In response to the student, Adichie drolly points out that reading American Psycho didn't convince her that all American men are serial killers, since she had access to many stories about American men. At 17:40, she really drives the importance of stories and power:2
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to disposes and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of people, but stories can also begin to heal that broken dignity. 
I think it also begins to address Wilkinson's critique. I think he's right that most of us do not read fiction first and foremost for creating knowledge. Yet, whether we want to or not, our fiction reading creates knowledge (or in some cases "knowledge") that we rely on. I don't disagree with him that I'd like to see "aesthetic enjoyment, cultural enrichment, or emotional connection" talked about. But what we read, or don't read, creates knowledge that we will either use to see people as the flattened stereotypes of a single story or humanize through many stories.Therefore, a librarian should be concerned with facilitating power through literacy by selecting diverse collections,3 providing safe spaces to discuss multiple perspectives, and creating a compelling case to read fiction that provides a fuller picture of people and cultures. Those that are not are instead help to teach people the knowledge of the single story, even though they are probably not doing this consciously. Either way, like it or not, fiction is part of the knowledge business. Which, to be fair to Lankes, he hints at in the video around 6:35 when talking about pushing "proper" books and removing the banned books, but that's not something we needed New Librarianship to push against. 

1) I know, I know, but this isn't the TED Talk stereotype.
2) By "stories" she means more than fiction, but, since fiction is unquestionably included and she repeatedly using it as an example, I think "fiction" can be safely subbed in.
3) Yes, access to outside things is deemphasized in New Librarianship, but I believe that, though we talk a great deal about it, libraries really aren't yet truly great at offering diverse collections.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Party Hard. Make It Happen. Scream at Each Other.

It's said that when you don't have anything nice to say you shouldn't say anything at all. But when you just have to say something negative, perhaps it's best to do so on your blog which gets maybe two dozen readers per post.

Over the past few months, my opinion of the the library profession, of which I'm not even a member yet, has sunk a lot. Now, I'll admit I joined library school with a naive image of librarians, but I think that was mostly sorted out in my first year. So this is not that. This, I think, comes almost entirely from the flame wars that erupt on the ALA Think Tank Facebook group. I joined because I expected a lot of great conversations about libraries, and there still are plenty of these. I learned so much after I asked people about their weeding policies following the Urbana Free Library weeding disaster. But there are an increasingly number of threads that devolve into screaming matches that make me hate both sides. It's gotten to the point where, in spite of all I've learned there, the toxic environment is making me hate librarians. Considering 99.99% of librarians are not people who are posting on these threads on ALATT, this is unfair, and I think the only way to get myself back on balance is to get the hell away from that place.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Shall I Keep Blogging?

I've had a blog for almost a semester now. It's been class-mandated, and soon we'll see if I keep it up. Would it be worth it? What do I get out of blogging? Luckily, at the end of said class we had a few articles on scholarly blogging, and there was one in particular that had good framework for me to use when reflecting on the future of my blog. Which I will do now. In blog form.

Sara Kjellberg (2010) interviewed 11 blogging researchers on why they maintained blogs. These people ranged from humanists to natural scientists, and ranked anywhere from PhD. student to professors. Not librarians, but I think what she found holds well enough. She identified six functions of scholarly blogs in their responses: disseminate content, express opinions, keep up-to-date on material in their fields, write, interact, and build networks of relationships. So, which of these am I getting out of my blog? 

I don't particularly pass along much I'm doing in my blog in terms of content I've created, whether it be research or library practice, though perhaps that will change at some point. I do like showing things I've read that I've found worth engaging. Right now, these things are often article read in this class, though I'll often pull in other things I've found interesting, such as my last post where I brought in a great blog post from Scholarly Communications @ Duke. I imagine what I pass along will grow in breadth of both form and topic if I keep the blog going after this class. As for expressing opinions, well, I have them, I like using the blog for it (see my attack on Google Scholar or totally non-expert opinion on the White House OA policy), and I definitely would keep using the blog for it. So, big check mark here.

The "keeping up-to-date" function was that some of the bloggers would pay more attention to developments in and related to their field in order to have something to blog about. I'm an info addict, so I really don't need my blog to motivate me to read constantly. Though, for the few weeks I did The Best Things I was much better at keeping track of what I read. This fits well with Kjellberg's sub-function of the blog as a notebook. Also, if I ever did want to go back and see what I thought was so import that I had to blog about, it's all there. 

Many of the researchers blogged to practice their writing skills and work on articulating their ideas. I love blogging for this. I don't have the worse writing, but I also don't think it's great, nor do I feel I've really cultivated my own distinct writing style, so I really appreciate the practice. I can't say it has always improved my writing (I still overuse parentheses [PARENTHESES!]), but I appreciate the practice all the same.

Interaction and relationship-building are very entwined. I also don't see much of them happening with my blog. I don't get many comments. Most of them are Joe, who is forced to comment on my blog until this class is over, though there was that one time Walt Crawford dismantled a number of my presumptions about APCs. I also don't see many comments on library blogs that have many more followers than me, so I don't see a lot more interaction in the future. I can't say this blog has built any new relationships will others in the library world, though this could partially be because I'm terrible at promoting this thing. Still, having a blog really hasn't changed much in the two virtual places I make connections with other librarians: Twitter and ALA Think Tank.

I do think I'll keep my blog, in spite of the name I gave it and now find to be annoyingly twee. I get a lot out of it, and I think I could get a lot more the more I use it. Of course, I say all this, but it wouldn't be the first time I've flaked at keeping a blog going when not forced to...

Kjellberg, S. (2010). I am a blogging researcher: Motivations for blogging in a scholarly context. First Monday, 15(8). Retrieved from
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