Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Resource Wednesday: Chat reference

Ever wondered about that chat box on the right side of our website? That's our chat reference tool.

When a librarian is available (it'll say "Reference Desk Online"), you can ask your questions in the chat window, without having to come to the library (or ask at the access services desk...) It's a great way to get some quick help, or get started on a research question. Even for complicated questions, where you need to come visit us to look at resources, we can probably get you started online.

This semester, we've scheduled chat reference more regularly, and with extended hours compared to last year.

You can find help via the chat tool:
  • 9am-3pm every weekday
  • 5pm to 9pm Monday-Wednesday
  • 6pm to 9pm on Thursday
(We have fewer staff in the building on weekends, so we can't staff chat in the same way.)

Take some time to explore the chat tool this semester, and let us know how it works for you! We want to make it as easy as possible for you to get help with your research needs and questions, so we'd love your feedback.

And of course, we always love to help people in person - just stop by the main access services desk (on your right as you enter the library), and the staff there will answer your questions or help you connect with the best person to help you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When Websites Change

I went on to Amazon today and discovered to my dismay that they'd changed their site design again. And I was planning on blogging about something else today, but that just had to be addressed: dealing with change and the web.

We've all been there. You get to know a site well. You know how to find what you want in the wink of an eye. Everything's all good. Sure, it might be a bit dated, but it's like an old pair of jeans: ragged in a few places, but familiar and comfortable as all get out.

Then they change it.

Suddenly, you don't know where anything is. You're lost in a sea of "Huh?" And the feeling you have more than any other is frustration. You've been betrayed by your old, friendly site. How could they do this to you?

This is something you see happen all the time with Facebook. As soon as they make one tweak, thousands of people are up in arms. "Bring back the old Facebook!" There are groups formed that promise that if they get enough people signed up in them, Facebook will have to go back to the old design. Of course it never works out like that.

And from a big picture perspective, it's easy to see why. All you have to do is look at old versions of your favorite sites (Amazon or eBay or Facebook or Google), and you see how dated they look. How silly and unmodern. But if we never let those small changes--and yes, even big site redesigns--take place, then that's what would happen. Our favorite pages would become stagnant, boring, and unusable.

So my message today is simple: change is good. Yes, it can be frustrating, and yes, occasionally some sites get it wrong and have to revert to the old, but in the end, it's a learning process, and the web gets stronger for it.

Now if I could just find what I was looking for on Amazon . . .

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mantor Monday

Welcome, new students and faculty!

Are you ready to untangle the Mantor Maze? We're all geared up (and dressed in spiffy library staff t-shirts) for two sessions of our library orientation activity, today at 1:15 and 3:00.
With it's bewildering staircases and multiple floors, Mantor can be a confusing place to navigate. The Mantor Maze activity is a fun way to explore the building, learn about the resources available to you here, and of course - meet the friendly staff! Oh, and did I mention candy and prizes? Master the maze, and you will be showered with rewards.
And if you get lost in the attempt, we will come find you, and we will still give you candy. It's all win!

A reminder about library hours - we return to regular academic year hours - open weekends and evenings -, on Wednesday. We will be closed next Monday in observance of Labor Day.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Review Friday: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

This book is one of my favorite recent looks at the world of science. (And it's available in our Discoveries collection, found in the Browsing Room opposite the Access Services desk of the library.)

The first question on your mind is probably "Who is Henrietta Lacks?" The initial answer - that she was a poor African-American woman who was treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins in the early 1950s - is probably not too exciting.

But what if I told you that she, in a very pragmatic way, helped with the following?
  • testing the 1952 polio vaccine, which protected millions of children.
  • proving that we have 23 chromosomes, helping with the diagnosis of a wide range of genetic conditions.
  • providing the initial spark for scientists to figure out how to keep a single cell alive and grow a line of cells from it (used for everything from in-vitro fertilization to cloning).
  • offering ideas for creation of anti-cancer drugs now in clinical tests.
What did she do? Her cells were taken to create a cell culture that has become the longest-lasting human cell line used in biological science, long known as the HeLa line.

Here's the thing, though: she didn't give informed consent. (She wasn't even asked, which was common at the time for everyone.) She died in poverty. Her extended family, many of whom are still alive, continued to live in poverty, unable to afford the technological advances that her tissue helped doctors create. They spent many years not knowing what that cell culture meant, or what she'd contributed. And for decades, her very name disappeared from the record.

Henrietta's story is about a lot of other things. What right do we have to our own tissue, even after it's removed from our bodies? What does it mean to be an informed health consumer? What does access to health care really mean? What is the intersection between personal choice, research, and commercial profit? And what should happen if - like Henrietta Lacks - our cells turn out to have some unusual quality?

Rebecca Skloot takes this complicated story and makes it readable, interesting, and compassionate as she begins by figuring out why the HeLa culture was called that and winds up diving deeply into the life of the Lacks family (to help them find answers). It's a fascinating read, with clear language that's friendly to the non-scientist, and it's sure to get you interested in other questions of bioethics, health care access, and science.

If you'd like to learn more, Rebecca's website has lots more information, including an extensive FAQ (and a movie is in the planning stages.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

9/11 Ebook Collection

In recognition of the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11, ebrary is offering free access to a collection of relevant ebooks. A press release from ebrary states: "We hope that this collection provides a valuable resource to anyone hoping to learn or understand more about this tragic event, or reflect on it's world impact."
The 9/11 titles will be available through the month of September.
To view the collection, click here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Facebook Privacy Gets an Upgrade

One of the great things about competition is that it helps the consumer. When companies compete, we win. Case in point? Facebook and Google. As you know, Google finally came out with a social network that actually works: Google+ And they're doing their darndest now to differentiate themselves from Facebook and prove to everyone why they should switch over to Google's offering.

The only problem for Google, of course, is that Facebook can sit back and watch what Google does well, then imitate that on their own site. In some ways, it's like Facebook didn't get a competitor, they gained a free R&D branch of their company.

Just take the recent development of Facebook tweaking their privacy settings. Google+ had some privacy settings that ended up being admired by many (namely, the ease with which users could choose what information was available to whom on Google+). Then again, Google also has some privacy settings which people don't like at all (being forced to use real names, for example). So what did Facebook do? It casually adopted some of the things Google had figured out worked.

Gee, thanks.

Some people are making fun of Facebook for doing this, but in the end, it's just good business. They have the high ground, and as long as they keep being open to change and willing to adapt, that's a very difficult thing to lose. (But it can be done--just look at Internet Explorer.)

My advice? Don't be too in love with any one online offering. If/when Google+ beats the pants off Facebook, I'll make the switch. For now, I haven't been blown away, and I'm still happy with FB. But only fanboys get so enthralled with a service or company that they ignore better products elsewhere. In the end, competition means innovation, and innovation means the consumer wins.

So by all means, FB and Google, fight on.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mantor Monday

The 2011-12 academic year is almost here...and we're ready! We've been busy updating computers, setting up new equipment, and welcoming new staff. Tomorrow, Tuesday the 23rd, the library will be closed for the day. Library staff is flying the coop for an all day retreat: food, fun, and team-building at Pineland Farms.

Next week, the year kicks off at Mantor with our Orientation activity for incoming new students on Monday, August 29. We piloted "The Mantor Maze" - a treasure hunt that has students learning about the library's resources as they travel our three floors, mezzanine, and basement in search of clues - back in June with Summer Experience students, and it was a big hit. We've tweaked it a little bit, based on feedback from the trial run, and we're excited to see if the changes make the Mantor Maze experience even more fun for all.

The library has been running on our summer hours schedule, but will resume "regular" hours on August 31. Those hours are:
Monday - Thursday 7:45 am to 11:00 pm
Friday - 7:45 am to 5:00 pm
Saturday - 9:00 am to 5 pm
Sunday - 11:00 am to 11:00 pm

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Time's Top 50 Websites

The Ultimate Book of Top Ten Lists: A Mind-Boggling Collection of Fun, Fascinating and Bizarre Facts on Movies, Music, Sports, Crime, Celebrities, History, Trivia and MoreTime Magazine just released its yearly "50 Best Websites of 2011" list, and it got me thinking. There's such a variety of websites on the list: everything from hipmunk (a new airfare search engine that utilizes a cool graphical interface to display flight results) to Khan Academy (a new teaching tool that just might revolutionize the way our country approaches education). I follow technology fairly closely. I read about upcoming trends, explore new websites, and generally do my best to keep up to date on anything that might affect universities, libraries, students, or librarians. And yet many of these sites were new to me. As in, I'd never heard of them.

Why is that?

The answer is simple: there's just too much information in the world today. There's so much information that even the best tool for keeping on top of it all and sorting through it (Google) isn't up to the task of actually finding you the best information. Don't get me wrong--Google (and other search engines) does a fine job at finding you information.

It's just that there's a difference between information and the best information.

I don't know about you, but when I search Google these days, a lot of the same sites keep cropping up into the top levels of my results page. Wikipedia. eHow. Things like that--unless I'm searching for a specific website, like the home page of a company. The problem with search engines is that they so often give you what's popular--they give information that's "good enough." But things can be so much better when you get really valuable information.

There's a famous quote by Donald Rumsfeld (which he got made fun of for making), but it applies in this situation:
[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know.
 When you know what you don't know, then it's fairly easy to go out and find it. When you don't know what you don't know, no amount of googling will help. If you don't know a website exists, you can't very well search for it--you have to rely on finding it through other means. Means like Time's top 50 list.

But with so many different great websites coming out each year, the top 50 list approach turns into a revolving door--you see a great site one moment, then forget about it when the next great site is presented to you.

Ideally, that's where information professionals step in. People whose job it is to know what's out there and how to get to it. People who can identify a problem and know where to find the solution, all in one fell swoop.

This post has sort of rambled on by this point, so I'll wrap it up by encouraging you to get out there and explore the internet--check out the top 50 list. And support your local librarian. :-)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Woodstock

On this date in 1969, nearly half a million people descended on Max Yasgur's dairy farm for the concert that became a defining moment for a generation.

100,000 tickets were sold to the event, but tickets quickly became irrelevant - it was impossible to stem the tide of spectators who had come to be a part of the happening. Roads to the farm became so clogged that the performers had to be flown in by helicoptor. And what a list of performers it was: Santana, The Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, The Who, Joan Baez, Sly & the Family Stone, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, to name just a few. And on the morning of August 18th, the fraction of the crowd who had outlasted the rain, the mud, the food shortages, and the sanitation issues witnessed the finale, a two hour set by Jimi Hendrix that included this electrifying version of the Star Spangled Banner:

If you'd like to learn more about this pivotal moment in music history (Or, if you were there, and need some - ahem - memory reconstruction) we have a couple of resources for you. Come check them out, and celebrate three (plus) days of Peace & Music.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The eBook Wars Continue . . .

Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope (1977 & 2004 Versions, 2-Disc Widescreen Edition)In the continuing saga in eBook land, another salvo was made today. In case you lost track of where we are in all this mess (and who could blame you?) allow me to recap:

First, you've got a mess of eReaders. Some of them are dedicated readers (the Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, Kobo, etc.) Some of them are multitaskers (the iPad, iPhone, etc.) Or you can just use whole computers (laptops, desktops, netbooks, etc.)

Second, you have eReader software. This usually corresponds to a flavor of eReader. So you've got Kindle Reader, Kobo Reader, iBooks, web browser applications--you name it. Most of these function on various devices: Kindle has apps for iPhone, iPad, computers and more.

But here's the rub: it's all about money. Up until recently, you could download a Kindle app on your iPad and use it to buy Kindle books using your iPad. Apple wanted none of this: it wanted a piece of the pie. So it banned apps that included links to take you to content that could be purchased outside Apple's App Store. (Apparently in hopes that this would divert sales to its App Store, where Apple gets a 30% cut of everything that's sold. No wonder they're making so much money.)

Kindle has now fought back with a new announcement today: the Kindle Cloud Reader. Using it, users can search, buy and read eBooks from a variety of browsers instead of apps. So you can use Safari on your iPad to use Kindle books.

I'm sure all of this makes sense to someone, but to yours truly, it all smacks a bit of kids playing on a playground and arguing over a prized toy. Next thing you know, we'll see news releases along the lines of "Apple: Liar Liar Pants on Fire."

I wish we could just skip this awkward eBook stage and jump straight to a uniform standard we all agree on, but that's just wishful thinking . . .

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mantor Monday

Big news: our new IT librarian is here! Here's the official scoop on Jen Arnott:

Jen is delighted to return to New England. Born and raised in the Boston area, she spent 12 years living in Minnesota, where she loved the lakes and rivers, but missed hills, mountains, and the ocean a great deal. Her work life has been solidly centered around libraries and technology, especially user support and education. She has worked helping faculty create technology projects, doing user support for a consulting company, and for 10 years at an independent high school in Minneapolis, both as the library paraprofessional and then as the Teacher Librarian. She's a graduate of Wellesley College (BA) and Dominican University (MLIS).

Jen is particularly interested in how we support creative projects, use our online time in a way that feeds our lives, and in issues around online privacy, digital citizenship, and meaningful interactions that include online settings. Other interests include reading anything that sits still long enough (with a particular fondness for SF, mysteries, and narrative non-fiction), music (voice and folk harp, mostly), fiber arts (spinning and knitting), and baking (bread, but also cookies). She has a blog at
where she talks about various library and technology interests.

Jen is going to be serving as the front line person for technical support in the library, as well as guiding us in the implementation of emerging technologies. The library world is changing rapidly, and we're lucky to have a librarian as "plugged in" as Jen is to help us make informed decisions about the the products, services, and technology we offer patrons in the future. Welcome, Jen!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Review of Spotify

High Fidelity A new (in the United States) music streaming service launched a bit ago: Spotify. I've downloaded it and put it through its paces, and I thought I might share my thoughts with you, the general public.

We've come a long way from the days of the CD. Now, most people have their music on everything from their computer to their cell phone. But all that music takes up a fair bit of space on a hard drive. That's where the cloud comes in. The next big thing in digital music is being able to play songs directly from the internet--no need to store all the music on your own device. Some services (like Amazon) let you upload your songs to their servers. This takes a lot of time, but it can be effective. Others (like Pandora) let you stream "radio stations" online for free--songs that are similar to a certain artist or song.

Spotify is a service that's been going gangbusters in Europe for the past while. I essentially lets you listen to any song for free--regardless of whether or not you own it. You have to have an internet connection and a computer, but that's the only requirement. (You can, of course, purchase the song to be able to listen to it without a connection, and for a fee, you can be a premium Spotify member, which lets you stream your music to an iPhone or other device). It's taken forever for it to come over to America (mainly due to music licensing issues), but it's arrived at last. I signed up right away.

How is it?

I'm honestly not blown away by the service. In theory, it should be really cool. The ability to share music with friends on Facebook, post public playlists, listen to your music on any computer--all very nice. But the sharing seems like the biggest offering, and its execution is clunky at best. When you share a playlist, not everyone can see all the songs on it. They can only see the songs in it that they already own--unless the subscribe to the playlist, at which point the songs become visible.

I think.

That's the thing--I'm not sure. The user interface leaves much to be desired. I've used it, read about how to use it, experimented with it, and I'm still not sure I'm doing everything with it that I can. That's frustrating, especially in an age where I'm so used to having something made in such a way that it's so intuitive, the manual seems redundant. Not so with Spotify. It doesn't help that their online help section leaves much to be desired, too.

It seems to me I should be able to add music freely to my library--the one I can listen to on a computer for free. I guess you can, as long as you add them to a playlist first. I'm sorry for seeming so confused--it's just a reflection of my frustrations working with the program.

In the end, I'm not sure how much I'll use Spotify. It feels to me like an over-hyped summer blockbuster. You hear and read so much about it, that by the time it's released and you get to see it, you can't help but be disappointed.

How about you--anyone out there already use Spotify and love it? What am I doing wrong? Do share . . .

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mantor Monday Sneak Preview

Guess what we just got.
Go ahead, guess.
Did you guess a fancy-schmancy new microfilm and fiche reader that makes our old reader look like a relic of the Pleistocene?
If you did, well played. (If you guessed pony rides you're wrong but it's still an excellent suggestion.)
Our new Scanpro 2000 was delivered today, and it's not ready for prime time, but stay tuned - we'll be offering much more information when it's available for use.

Speaking of ready to use: have you seen our "On Our Minds" garden lately? Kale, cabbage, basil, nasturtiums and Lemon Gem marigolds all ready for salad-on-the-fly grazing. The Sungold cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen and will soon turn into a bright orange tidal wave of tomatoes: help yourself as you walk by.

And last, as a special First Day of August treat for you, I invite you to escape your Monday and lose yourself for a few moments in a land of books: