25/11/2013 § 4 Comments
As programmer and tech journalist Ciara Byrne noted in her op-ed “No–You Don’t Need to Learn To Code”, learning to code is not always fun, easy, or even useful for every career path. Nonetheless, programming can develop several soft skills that translate across a broad range of professions. In addition to increasing your digital literacy, learning to code teaches you to solve problems, to seek out collaborative solutions when you are stuck, and (in my experience) to endure lots of frustration for the sake of future rewards.
The benefits of learning to code are especially tangible for information science students. Programming knowledge equips you to customize content management systems, create sophisticated reports in an integrated library system, develop mobile apps, manage databases, implement open source software, navigate user experience design, customize or create a web presence for your institution, and collaborate more effectively with IT professionals.
You may be thinking, “But Sam, I am not a programmer. It just doesn’t come naturally for me.” Well, join the club. My undergraduate degrees are in history and political science! Although I grew up in a very tech-friendly home, I never had any ambition to be a programmer. After I started working in libraries, however, I found that some kind of coding knowledge is necessary for many of the jobs I want to pursue. It hasn’t always been fun and it has rarely been easy, but I have made it a priority to learn these skills. Over time, I have actually learned to enjoy coding.
Here are some guidelines that have helped me endure the tough times:
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18/11/2013 § 3 Comments
Although I’ve been working on an MLS for a little over two years, I’m still trying to improve my study space. While I plan to work IN a library when I graduate, my default study space is at home. One thing I’ve learned in talking to my library school classmates is that there isn’t necessarily one best study space for every LIS student, or even for every assignment. How do you figure out your best study environment?
Where do you do your most productive studying?
During my first year of library school, I spent more time studying in the library, especially for the classes in cataloging and reference. Since then, I haven’t spent as much time in the library, studying instead in my home office, my cubicle at work, or at the home of one of my classmates. I’ve tried other places too, from coffee shops to parks to different libraries, in an effort to balance the need to focus with a change of scenery. The change of scenery is motivating sometimes, but distracting at other times. I never paid much attention to the music in coffee shops until I tried studying in one. In my neck of the woods, the coffee shop music is too loud for my studying style. I was surprised—and a little disappointed. So, I spend most of my study time at the desk in my home office.
The desk in my home office is a wide one (my sister says it’s perfect for writing The Great American Novel–maybe after I finish library school!), with a lamp near the right corner and lovely painting of colorful flower pots hanging above it. My laptop is flanked by office supplies in a cup, my iPhone, and either a diet soft drink (one of the vices I’m having trouble giving up) or a cup of hot tea. My desktop is rarely as neat as it should be, but I try to start each new semester with a clear desk.
Does music help you find your study zone? (If so, what’s on your playlist?) Do you study with the television or other background noise? Or do you insist on quiet when you’re studying? I usually prefer to have a quiet environment, unless it’s a breezy assignment. When I’m studying at home, sometime I find that a running washing machine and dishwasher help provide a comfortably domestic “white noise” while knocking out some chores at the same time.
Do you study better alone or with others?
Being an introvert (but just barely) on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I’m usually more productive studying alone. Sometimes, having a study buddy has been motivating and helpful, but other times, we’ve ended up chatting about school and other things. One of the best decisions I’ve made in library school, though, was becoming part of a study group during my first semester. The conversation started with one classmate, and the group grew and morphed as we took different classes over the past two years. Our group has small, ranging from 4-6 classmates, which helped keep study sessions manageable and often fun, meeting for dinner before our study sessions. Although only three from our original study group (including me) are still in library school, we still meet for a “study group reunion” lunch when we can, a great way to network by staying in touch in person, encouraging each other, and celebrating graduations and new jobs.
What are your favorite tools of the (study) trade?
I do most of my word processing and spreadsheet work on a laptop at my desk, with my iPhone often nearby. Sometimes the iPhone can be a distraction (in which case I put it in another room), but often it helps. Right now, I have the Pomodoro Technique timer iPhone app running to help me stay on task, and it usually helps a lot. I also use Remember the Milk (the app and the website, which sync with each other) for task management, often creating tabs/lists for specific classes or projects. I love checking things off a to-do list.
For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve had a thing for school supplies, especially pens! I must’ve enjoyed back-to-school school supply shopping from the get-go (who doesn’t love a fresh box of Crayolas?!), and I remember it being a big deal when we were finally allowed to use ink pens in school. So, I always have a cup of colored pens and highlighters, as well as pencils, near my laptop. I do get the irony of having writing utensils next to my laptop, but I also keep Post-its nearby too, for that fleeting idea that needs writing out, rather than typing on a list. My favorite pens? The Sharpie Ultra Fine Point and the Pentel R.S.V.P. are my tops on my list right now. Much like reading a print book instead of an e-book, I still enjoy holding a pen and writing things out by hand sometimes.
What tools do you use for studying? What supplies do you like to keep nearby?
While a fair number of “Study Space” resources online are geared toward children’s spaces, here are some of my favorites that other grad students may find useful too:
Where’s your favorite place to study?
21/10/2013 § 11 Comments
It is Monday morning, and I’m polishing this piece from a coffeeshop, about 900 miles from my university after working on it periodically from 3 cities on 2 continents. The file is being automatically updated to the cloud ever time I save, just in case my battery or computer dies and I need to access it remotely from elsewhere. It is a mobile world in which we live and a fair number of us are working and earning our degrees mostly if not entirely online. I personally spend a great deal of time on the internets or using surrounding technologies for my Grad program, work and life.
18/09/2013 § 2 Comments
When evaluating which courses to take, students often start with the list of undeniably library-specific courses: reference, cataloging, archives, etc. But as the profession continues to evolve it has become more and more interdisciplinary. Library students today take end up taking everything from web programming to marketing, from database design to educational/instructional theory.
The question I’ve been trying to tease out lately is: is it more effective to take library-ified versions of these courses within our library schools or to take them in their true departments? For instance: will you learn more from a marketing class that is taught by a library school faculty member and focuses specifically on library issues? Or would it be more broadening and beneficial to take a marketing class in the business college?
07/06/2013 § Leave a Comment
Ruth Tillman doesn’t like to be bored. In addition to being a full time library paraprofessional and part time library student, she has embarked on a number of projects that many of us might see as full-time jobs unto themselves. I wanted to talk to her about one of her explorations in particular- EADiva. This website sets out to improve upon a system that students in archival concentrations across the country view with equal parts suspicion and dread- Encoded Archival Description, or EAD. I asked her about EAD, and what she hopes to accomplish with EADiva.
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m an archives student at the UMD iSchool, with one semester of coursework to go. Between college and library school, I spent a lot of time doing various kinds of web work. A lot involved HTML/CSS/PHP, but some involved XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and SQL. I discovered EAD and Archivists’ Toolkit in my first semester of library school and, since then, I’ve been working on learning more about it. Last fall, Molly Schwartz (who just graduated from the iSchool, congrats!) and I presented a paper at MARAC on using Archivists’ Toolkit to learn EAD.
When I have free time, I’m a crafter when I can be, I’m a bit of a geek, and I’m a gamer—Xbox and tabletop. Right now I’m playing through the Mass Effect series to celebrate my summer break. I’m also interested in accessibility for libraries and doing a self-directed summer study on disability and accessibility.
Can you explain for the uninitiated what EAD is?
EAD stands for Encoded Archival Description. It’s an XML schema designed by archivists, for archivists. It’s used to encode or “mark up” data about archival collections, generally for finding aids.
To break this down even further, EAD is a list of XML tags which you can put around information about archival collections. For example, an item about me might be encoded as <persname normal=”Tillman, Ruth” source=”local”>Ruth Tillman</persname>. The tag tells any search system that my name should be handled as Tillman, Ruth, but display systems will show it as Ruth Tillman. It also tells the system that this is a locally-generated name, not from LCSH or some other naming authority.
Once a finding aid is encoded in EAD, a lot of things can be done with it. It can be transformed and displayed as HTML. It can be transformed into PDF. There are a lot of things one can do with XML to extract and transform data from the EAD file into other files. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to learn any of this transformation or scripting, unless you specifically want to get into that kind of work.
Is EAD just for archivists? Or do you think it’s something librarians and other metadata professionals should understand as well?
It’s primarily for archivists. I think metadata and systems librarians should not only be aware that it exists, but be aware of the kinds of elements it has and how it approaches description. Archival materials are quite different from most library holdings, which is reflected in EAD. A site like EADiva might be an good place for one to get an overview.
As for non-metadata/systems librarians, I wouldn’t say there’s an especial need.
What prompted you to create this site?
I was working on a paper and some projects to teach myself more about it and became aware of some of the improvements that could be made to the Library of Congress’s EAD tag library. Since no one else was doing it, I did.
Specific improvements I made are: linking to other elements when they’re mentioned (LoC’s tag library has no internal links) and defining Attributes every time they’re mentioned (LoC uses a DTD format—if you don’t know what it means, that’s kind of the point for why I didn’t—and requires one to check one of three pages for attribute definitions). I also tried to write it in a fairly approachable style, but I think the interlinking and attributes were the biggest improvements.
What lessons did you learn from trying to interpret EAD in plain language?
Well, I learned that there are a LOT of tags and that it’s impossible to remember all of them, but that’s ok. I think my biggest takeaway was that EAD really is designed by and for archivists. It’s completely unsuitable for cataloging library books, but it truly reflects the nature of archival materials. It’s not like Dublin Core, which, the longer I studied it, the more dissatisfied I became with it for its purposes (non-archival, I just saw a lot of problems related to displaying different materials types).
I also learned that it’s quite difficult to translate from tech into non-tech. I’ve done my best and I hope people will ask for clarification if something is too technical for them. I’ll make edits as I can to improve the quality of the description. I had to accept, for example, that people will have to know a few very basic things about XML in order to use the site. However, I put together a page about understanding EAD and XML with some of the basics and a link to another description of XML.
Are there any complementary resources you would point new EAD users to?
I’ve linked each element on my site to the Library of Congress’s EAD tag library. I also really suggest their EAD homepage and its links. For people looking for even more context, I recommend the LoC’s EAD best practices page.
I strongly recommend that, as well as looking at the elements themselves, people learning EAD use a program like Archivists’ Toolkit or the upcoming ArchivesSpace. Simply creating a basic finding aid in the Archivists’ Toolkit sandbox (explained further on their site) and then exporting it as EAD can help one see how that information will look when marked up.
Because of the tools available, one rarely has to create one’s own finding aid from scratch. But that doesn’t mean people should just ignore EAD. It just means that we don’t have the memorize it, thank goodness.