Thursday, September 27, 2012

Streaming Books

Installation artist Alicia Martin's works make me a little uncomfortable. Not because they aren't beautiful: they are. Or ingeniously crafted: they are that, too.
No. They make me uncomfortable because on some level, I'm afraid that if I keep on acquiring books, this is going to happen at my house some day:


Or maybe this:


For more of Alicia's work - guaranteed to induce nervousness in book hoarders like me - go to Designverb.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pornography in Libraries

I've seen a few jokes popping up here and there online about how public libraries (and libraries in general) are a place people go to surf the internet for porn. And speaking as a librarian who's worked in both places, it's true: a number of people come to the library for that purpose. We don't filter our internet access (though some public libraries do, depending on the local regulations.)

And I've had a number of people ask me why the library doesn't filter. Why is it that the American Library Association is dead set against it? That link gives some excellent reasons, but I wanted to give some of my own insight.

The main goal of a library is to provide access to information. As soon as someone--a librarian, a politician, a parent--starts trying to limit that access, bad things happen. What sort of bad things? Well, what one person might consider obscene, another might consider art. Obscenity is a hard thing to define, and it changes from one person to the next. (Again--this is experience speaking here.) Even if we could all agree on what was obscene and inappropriate for a library, actually filtering just that content is extremely difficult. Technology inevitably filters out some things that shouldn't have been, and misses some things that should have been, if that makes sense.

So then staff are constantly fielding questions from patrons about why _________ site was filtered or why ________ site wasn't. In many ways, filters give people a false sense of security. They feel like the computers are "safe," where in reality, they're just "safer." In the end, it's better to leave the decision up to the patron. Let them decide what is appropriate and what isn't. Yes, I realize it's taking things to extremes, but all you have to do is to look to more totalitarian regimes like Iran or China to see what government-mandated internet filtering can lead to--and then realize that wherever you draw the line on what "should" be filtered, there are going to be people who disagree with you.

And at the heart of the matter is the single driving fact that libraries exist to inform people. Filters exist to keep information away from people. The two don't usually get along very well. Better to have an informed group of users who know what they're searching and why.

Any questions?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mantor Monday

The Access Services department has two shifts remaining open that we would like to fill with dependable work study students. (Or student, if one person can do both shifts.) The hours are Wednesday afternoons 1-4, and Thursday afternoons, 3-6. These are the ONLY two shifts available, all other shifts have been filled for this semester.
We are looking for people with good communication skills, and who have the ability to learn the Library of Congress call number system.
If you have a work study grant, and you think you would be a good fit for the library team, contact Janet Brackett via phone: 778-7211, or email: janetb@maine.edu

Friday, September 21, 2012

Looking up

Tomorrow is the fall equinox, which always gets me (at least) thinking more about the stars.

Let me pause here for a moment: I moved to Farmington just over a year ago, after living all my previous life in either suburbs or cities. I still can't get over looking up at the night sky, and seeing so many more stars, and how fascinating they are.

So, today's video is a talk from TEDxPhoenix, from Lucianne Watson, talking about light pollution, citizen-science (and how various projects are crowd-sourcing it - want to help discover a galaxy or a planetary system? You can!), and why we should care about how many stars we see in the wild, as it were. (11 minutes.)


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Inconsistency of Technology

We keep having troubles pop up with computers around the library. This is to be expected, but it still is a massive pain to have to constantly be dealing with things that no longer work, or at least don't work as they used to. This is a problem I sometimes have with innovation. You can innovate so quickly and so drastically that--even though the final product you end up with is great--it's a pain to users to actually use.

These days, updates to programs are coming faster and faster. For years, Windows XP was the standard operating system for PCs. Now Windows 7 is taking over, and from a tech support perspective, that can be a real pain. Not only do you have to learn the new ins and outs of the operating system (while not forgetting how to support the now dated one), but you've got to find software solutions to problems you never had before. You'd been using XP for so long, it was like a nice comfy pair of shoes. You knew what to do, how to do it, and when. With the new OS, you've got to find new approaches to a lot of tasks that hadn't troubled you for years.

As I think on this, I believe some of the problem might have to do with the fact that the software is all virtual. You can change the control scheme without changing anything. I'm reminded of the switch from Office 2003 to Office 2007, when the Ribbon was introduced. Imagine the same sort of thing happening to cars. The gas pedal and the brake are suddenly in different places. The steering wheel is operated by your knees, and the radio has been replaced by a television. (Taking some ideas at random.)

The designers might have done a ton of research. They might have designed an even more efficient way to drive. but at the same time they've alienated all the current drivers out there. Everyone has to relearn how to drive. It really can feel that disorienting (at least to me--maybe I'm alone?)

Or what if the update made it so that cars don't work at all anymore, and now you're forced to choose between a bike and a Segway?

I don't know. What I do know is that technology makes a lot of things much simpler, but it can also make many things more complicated, even if it doesn't seem like they should be any more complex.

I just hope the end result is a net gain in time for us, right?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tattoos and Porn

I couldn't decide whether to bring you librarian tattoos or Bookshelf Porn today.  I mulled it over for a while, but once I gave up trying to choose, I realized that the combination was going to provide me with an irresistible title.  (Made you click, am I right?)
So, without further ado:

A humongous collection of photos of every size and style of bookshelf you could possibly imagine, including this, one of my favorites:




And for the tats, go here.   There isn't a Librarian card in the Major Arcana of the Tarot, but that is clearly an oversight. There really should be - and even if I'm not sure what a beekeeping skeleton has to do with librarianship, I'm willing to vote for this one:


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Tablet Wars Finally Heat Up

Things are starting to get interesting in the tablet zone. If you haven't heard already, Amazon announced a new version of its Kindle Fire last week, and where last time, it was mainly the price difference that stood out, this time around, things are more intriguing. The specs are starting to look equal, and the price is still wildly different--cheaper in favor of Amazon, by a good margin. The Kindle Fire HD has a cheap data plan with no monthly payments, stereo sound, a sweet screen, faster wifi, 4G technology--it's looking like a robust tablet, and it's more than a hundred dollars less than a comparable iPad.

How can Amazon do it?

They're very upfront about it. They're not in the tablet business. They're in the content business. They want to sell as much content as possible. Movies, books, products--you name it. They don't need to make money on the tablet, as long as they make money on the content people buy for that tablet. It's a valid approach, and I'm sure it's going to make them a lot of money.

Of course, I personally am all in favor of equal competition. Any time any one company starts getting big enough to bully others around, the consumer loses. Unfortunately, it's getting harder and harder to tell who to root for. In the Amazon/Apple tablet wars, do you gun for Amazon, so that Apple is pushed to do more and innovate? But if you do, what happens in the Amazon/Apple eBook wars, where Apple's been trying to challenge Amazon's stranglehold on the market? There are no easy answers to these sort of questions. Ideally, companies wouldn't gobble up every other company, until it was just super companies vs. mega companies, but that's not the reality we live in.

Tomorrow, Apple will announce its latest round of iPhone and other iWhatevers. I'll be watching closely to see what they end up offering, and to see if Amazon's announcement causes any ripples. There are rumors of a mini iPad. (Isn't that what an iPhone is?) We shall see . . .

Friday, September 7, 2012

Video Fridays: Changing Education Paradigms

Back to our series of TED and other short-video talks. This is from 2010, but it's one of my favourites, not just for the content (not all of which I agree with, but which all makes me think about how I learn best and why), but for a totally fascinating method of presenting information.

Take a look at Sir Ken Robinson's Changing Education Paradigms, as animated by RSA Animate. 12 minutes.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Get your Boolean on!

Not sure what Boolean searching is, or what it can do to make your academic life easier? Relax! Sit back and enjoy this Prezi tutorial I put together for a guide on how to get started with research.  (The whole guide, with more swoopy-fun Prezi tutorials, is here.)
You can click on the "play" arrow to move through the tutorial one frame at a time, or you can click "More" and then "Autoplay" to let the tutorial do it's thing. Want it larger than life? Watch it in Fullscreen view.
If you like (or don't like) the Prezi experience, I'd love to hear from you!



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Welcome to Mantor

Bagpipes were skirling on High Street this morning, leading the way to the Convocation of the class of 2016.  That's a very happy sound for library staff, banishing the weeks of summer quiet and announcing the beginning of a busy new year with Gaelic panache. Hooray! Welcome, class of 2016! And for old friends, welcome home. We hope you had a fantastic summer.

You'll find some changes around here if you're a returning member of the UMF community. Some are complete, and some are still in the works. Here are some highlights:

  • We have a new web page! A cleaner, simpler design that we hope will make navigation easier.
  • A new chat reference interface. It's still right there on the homepage. When a librarian is logged in to live chat, it will say "Chat with a librarian", and the little light bulb icon will be yellow.
  • More large group study rooms! There has been such a demand for larger group spaces, we have reconfigured the conference room to become a study area that can accommodate a dozen or more people. We will also have another group space in what was Project Zone 2 on the first floor. This new study space will have a Smartboard: how cool is that?? 
  • The Archive has moved from the basement of Mallett to our new digs in Scott South. It was a huge job, but the UMF facilities crew were absolute troopers in helping us get it done.
For our new friends, we're hosting one of our ever-popular "Master the Mantor Maze" events as part of Orientation.  This treasure hunt activity is a fun way to learn to navigate our confusing stairs and layout ("It's like Hogwarts in here" is a comment we frequently get from Summer Experience maze runners!)  as well as learn about the resources we offer. The event is this Friday from 11:45 to 1 - come play if you can:  you'll enjoy yourself, learn a lot, and even win a prize for mastering the maze! (New faculty as well as new students are welcome. For that matter, even if you're a returning student, and you had so much fun the first time you want to play again, we'd love to see you!)

See you at Mantor!