Sunday, August 13, 2006

Blog Post #6: Final Project

Here it is!: My final website project for LIS 753. This is an introductory pathfinder to the field of Urban Studies. Enjoy! (And please provide feedback; I'd like this to eventually become a usable source for UIC undergraduates)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Post #5: Meta-techno-scary-data

Ok, I figure I’ll make my final post a personal one. I recently interviewed and was hired for a knowledge management position. I’ll be starting at the end of the month, and my primary job at M(New)POW will be to create and maintain an internal search engine on the company’s Intranet. I will be a “Content and Search Specialist,” working with employees to create metadata and then ensuring that all of the language and tags are consistent. Cool, right?

Well, yeah it would be if I knew how exactly I’ll be creating this thing. Apparently the software (a Microsoft product) is really easy to use, and “the IT guys do all of the serious tech work,” but I’m doubtful that I’ll just be able to sit back and escape all interaction with serious technology. To that end, I am making it my personal mission to learn as much as possible about metadata creation and best practices over the next few weeks and months. I’ll be taking Gertrude Koh’s course, “Metadata for Internet Resources” this fall, and scouring the internet for any and all information on the topic (looks like IFLA would be a great place to start) in an attempt to become a self-taught knowledge management guru.

We’ve talked in 753 about being on the “front-end” or the “back-end” of technology in libraries, and even though the job isn’t technically in a library, I think this position will allow me truly experience both sides. I’ll be actively involved in creating a usable search engine, while also working with employees to answer their search questions and learn which aspects of the site work the best. As someone who has always been reluctant to learn new technologies because I think they’ll be too hard to understand, this is truly the ultimate leap for me as I’ll actually be responsible for the content used in conjunction with the technology. I only hope those “IT guys” are ready for all of my questions!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Blog Post #4: O(PAC) Captain, My Captain

In response to Michael’s TTW post directing us to Karen Schneider’s series on “Why OPACs suck”, I want to argue in favor of the OPAC.

While I do agree that the current format of OPAC’s might not be the most user-friendly thing in the world, I do have admiration for its basic functions, and for just how far we’ve come technologically. I mean, was the card catalog easy to use? Hardly! But there were some who did master it. It would indeed be wonderful if OPACs came with search engines and other bells and whistles, but for a relatively recent innovation, OPACs are surely be a huge step up from any non-electronic format. Some features Schneider outlines as ones that “OPACS wish they had,” would of course be lovely, such as the ability to search “inline” within only one domain (such as .edu or.gov) or refine an original search, but am I really so lazy that I can’t just hit “New Search” and perform another search with a greater level of specificity?

OPACs are certainly not perfect and alas, people are lazy, so if they’ve picked up habits from Google (good or bad), I suppose we shouldn’t try to re-invent the wheel; rather, respect the skills gained and provide another platform for their use. But maybe, just maybe, we’re expecting too much? Library technology has grown by such leaps and bounds in the past ten years compared to the previous hundred, so why is there this expectation to continue hurdling forward at light speed? Yes, yes, to keep up, stay competitive, be in the “know,” but as I’ve read over and over, just because great, speedy new technologies exist, each individual library must evaluate what to purchase, and how exactly it will fit into their library. Perhaps some libraries operate just fine on a simple OPAC, with the librarian truly helping patrons to both learn to search the system, and fill in the gaps. It seems to me to be a rather large assumption that just because there is an “easy” search link from a library OPAC posted on a MySpace page, that students might actually use it. Yes, it’s there, and of course, by being there, there is a much greater chance that it might actually get used, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Most people have wonderful things to say about libraries in general, but does anybody “really” get as excited about libraries as librarians? We might be expecting just a bit too much from people who aren’t….exactly like us! There will always be library users who embrace whatever system is available, and there will always be library users who have no interest in learning any type of system, and would rather wander around aimlessly looking for something they’re not even sure of, than attempt to use the catalog or even (gasp!) ask a librarian. But for most people, the OPAC is fine. Now I know it sounds like I’m settling for less, but in a day where library budgets are being slashed, professionals in our field are getting more tied up in political issues than ever before, it might be sufficient for some aspects of the library to just be “fine” (as long as it works), and for efforts to be concentrated in more highly-needed areas like user services, online collection/resource development, and access. So, to the OPAC, I enjoy using your friendly services. True, sometimes it takes a few tries to exactly get where I’m going, but sometimes wrong turns are an equally important part of the learning process.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Post #3(ish): Mind-Block

Ok, I’m going to be honest – I’m just not “feeling” the blogging this weekend. I’ve been doing a lot of reading/listening about podcasting for my group project, and although I’m finding a lot of it to be fascinating, I’m having a rough time actually getting a post together about it. Sooooo….I’m gonna temporarily cop-out here and use my trading card (post #1.5) as my post #3 until I can get over this temporary mind/writers-block and actually come up with something interesting and coherent to say!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Food Deserts

For those of you interested in our discussion on Saturday at Chipotle regarding the lack of access to grocery stores, the rise of obesity, easy availability of fast-food, etc., this article is a great follow-up. I actually wanted to go to the seminar about it this morning at the Palmer House, but alas....It is sad, though, that many Chicagoans have greater access to fast-food than to grocery stores.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Post #2: Technology a Plus, Coordination a Must

A group of friends and I have a tradition of camping at the Richard Bong campground in Wisconsin during the weekend each summer when the Dave Matthews Band plays at Alpine Valley. Our 2006 trip occurred this past weekend, amid Fourth of July barbecues and fireworks, and in the aftermath of rainstorms which brought out the mosquito population in full force. There were a couple of die-hard football (soccer) fans in the group who desperately wanted to watch the England-Portugal match on Saturday morning, so we trekked over to The Brat Stop in Kenosha to eat some breakfast (try the “Egg von Brat”, trust me) and watch the match. Now, I could go on and on about the kitschy factor of The Brat Stop for quite sometime, but luckily I found something much more exciting to distract me.

Someone had left a copy of that morning’s edition of the Kenosha News on our table. Right there, on the front page, was a picture with a caption saying: “Librarians Do ‘Cart’ Wheels,” and depicting a group of librarians pushing library carts decked out in red, white, and blue patriotic regalia. The accompanying article (which I cannot find a link to…grr….) tells of the new drill team, “the Kartwheelers,” at the Kenosha Public Library, consisting of 11-library workers who do cart races and formations while singing “We will, we will, read books” to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. They were to make their public debut at the annual Fourth of July parade.

Wow. I can’t decide if the entire concept is ingenious, hokey, absurd, or just hilariously funny. Most likely it’s a bit of each. The article continues to say that there is actually an annual drill team competition each year at the ALA convention where 14 teams compete against each other to help rid the world of negative librarian stereotypes, get some exercise, and have a whole lotta fun in the process. Most importantly, it seems that these competitions are essentially designed to bring library workers, patrons, and supporters together to promote the library, its collection and services.

What is of interest, however, is how un-technologically advanced this is. I presume that libraries have had carts for well over 100 years now, and that some volunteer, student, or librarian in need of blowing off some steam has at some point decided that racing the cart would be a fun and acceptable library activity. (I’m equally sure that all of us have done something similar with grocery carts as well, either as children or fun-loving adults.) It strikes me that sometimes a flashy web page, large audiobook collection, or complicated automated checkout system does not always bring libraries and their users together the way a good old-fashioned cart race can. Obviously, technological services and advancements are a necessity for all libraries, but they often lack the human touch (absurdity and all) that an event such as the cart-race brings to the community. I’m certainly not judging between tech- and non-tech-based programs, as almost any mechanism that boosts library-user activity is a plus in my book. I do, however, get a chuckle thinking that early 20th-century librarians just might have engaged in similar activities, and that current-day librarians can most certainly relate.

Monday, July 03, 2006

In "print"

The July/August 2006 issue of Print has two great features. The first is a cute graphic spread about the “chick lit” genre. The covers of many popular “chick lit” books (Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, etc) are featured along with their various points of connection to each other (main character obsessed with shoes, ethnic chick lit, vices such as alcohol play a large part in the book, etc.). The piece is meant to showcase the “fluffy” aspects of the genre, and is enticing for those of us who know full well that these are not great literary works, but are a whole lotta fun, nonetheless.

The second article, “Bound for Glory”, is a brief homage to the printed book, written to illustrate just what exactly will be lost if the printed book goes the way of the dinosaurs in favor of digital formats. The article presents little new information, as most librarians have discussed this repeatedly, however it’s nice to know that we’re getting some backup from those working in the print media industry, and that there are others out there getting a thrill from the tangible feel of pages between your finger and thumb.