Google and the Librarian: Best Frenemies Forever

27/12/2013 § 8 Comments

I hope each one of you have had a happy holiday season, and warm wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!

Perhaps it’s the end of the year, or the end of the semester, but I’ve been reflecting quite a bit lately on my work over the past few months and trying to get a clearer picture of what lies ahead for me in LIS. Although I’ve met many wonderful, smart, hardworking people in my program and beyond, I’m worried about a certain lack of vision and ambition. We also seem to thrive on anxiety about changing technology and society, and all too often our responses sound like something out of The Desk Set: Big Bad Business wants to replace librarians with machines! They nearly succeed! But machines are flawed, and librarians save the day with their special human touch!

More than fifty-five years later, this storyline clearly continues to resonate with us. Yet I’m concerned that we’re still on the crisis phase, and I think an important task for us right now is to direct as much imagination as possible toward creating new roles for ourselves — what, exactly, do we bring to the table that an algorithm doesn’t?

This semester, I’ve seen that professional anxiety directed especially toward Google. In my core introductory class, we were assigned a final paper on Stephen Levy’s 2011 In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes our Lives, and were asked to discuss the ramifications of Google for librarianship. Although the book has a positive spin, my class focused, almost to a person, on negative aspects of Google: privacy, poor search skills, and more. Google absolutely has its problems, but I believe we cannot continue to use it as a labor-saving device on the back end while decrying it as an evil empire devaluing our work on the front end. I have a lot of ideas about how we can think about our relationship to Google a bit more productively, but this post is really meant as a brainstorm-starter. I want to hear from you about how we, as a profession, can build off Google’s successes and add real value to the services they provide. Please add your thoughts in the comments — I’ll be checking in as often as my work schedule allows to foster the conversation — and please also note that my words, as always, do not necessarily reflect the views of Hack Library School as a whole.

After reading through Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s 1998 article introducing Google (it’s a good read, and surprisingly accessible — I recommend checking it out) I fundamentally believe that Google developed to tackle the exact same problems that librarians are trying to handle right now: information overload, reliability, discoverability, and neutrality. They’ve got exponentially smarter people on it (sorry, but it’s true), and they’ve figured out how to make gobsmacking loads of money from it. Whatever Google’s problems may be, it’s hard not to admire that.

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A Liberal Arts Major’s Guide to Coding

25/11/2013 § 8 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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Hack Your Study Space

18/11/2013 § 4 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?

Resources

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:

27 Inspirational Homework Stations and Study Areas

How to Make a Study Space

Pinterest “Study Space” Keyword Search Results

YouTube Results for “How to Create a Study Space”

Where’s your favorite place to study?

Web Apps 2.0

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.

"Evernote" by John Larsson under CC via flickr.

“Evernote” by John Larsson under CC via flickr

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When Do We Need a Translator?

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?

When is the original appropriate and when do we need a translation? (CC licensed image from Flickr user gcbb)

When is the original appropriate and when do we need a translation? (CC licensed image from Flickr user gcbb)

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