Ab’s Blog Archive

On Projects & Learning

One of the things I really enjoyed about working at Binghamton was the fact that I got to work on a wide variety of projects and activities – library newsletters, website development, metasearching, collections budget planning, collection development – all in addition to bread and butter e-resource management.

One of the things I really enjoyed about working at Ex Libris was the fact that I got to help customers with all aspects of their ERM implementation: training onsite, training on the web, project management, technical configuration, sales demos, troubleshooting.

Since we got our new ERM up and running at Harvard, I’ve been able to work more variety into my schedule, so that I’m currently juggling a virtual reference implementation*, training development for the ERM, some Aleph support,  a small project related to Harvard’s Google Books participation, and custom reporting for our ERM data, among other things. This is just the way I like it.

What’s next? I continue to feel that my technical skills are not up to snuff compared with real systems librarians (as opposed to the impostor I’ll be outed as any day now!) even though I myself have been a bona fide Systems Librarian III for well over 18 months now. So, in the spirit of not doing anything half-*ssed, I’ve decided to sign up for Intensive Introduction to Computer Science Using C, PHP, and JavaScript via Harvard’s Extension School.** My hopes are that I have just enough scripting/programming experience to meet the recommended prerequisite and not feel in totally over my head, that the class will prepare me for some projects I wouldn’t otherwise be up to, and – maybe most importantly – that it will help me communicate better with my more experienced librarian and developer colleagues.

Wish me luck!

* The virtual ref implementation is LibAnswers from Springshare, so I cannot honestly claim the implementation itself is taking any of my time. They make everything so darn easy!

** $40 courses at the Extension School is one of my favorite Harvard benefits. So far I’ve taken course in Museum Studies, Anthropology, and Religion.

Reading Experiences: Kindle App

After years of purposely ignoring ebooks, seeing readers come and go out of the corner of my eye – and library collections and packages tried and rejected – I’m finally experimenting with a few new ways of consuming monograph-length content.  Today, I consider the Kindle App for iPhone.

Why lug around a separate device that costs hundreds of dollars when you can get a free app for the device that’s already attached to your person 24×7? I guess some people have their reasons, but after hearing a Kindle-owning colleague say that she was thinking about selling her Kindle because she usually uses the app, I decided it was time to give it a try.  And you know what?  I like it!  Here’s what I like, after reading one full-length monograph and starting a second:

  • I can read the beginning of books before I decide to buy. Not the standing-in-the-aisle kind of reading, which might get me all of one page in, or flipping-through-the-chapters kind of reading (which would be nice to have, a la Look Inside the Book), but enough of a first chapter for me to figure out if I really want to read it, and read it now. If I read to the end of excerpt and want to keep going, it’s a good indicator that my money would be well spent. I’m buying the book at “point of read.”  If it looks interesting, but I’m not ready to keep going, I’ll keep the excerpt to remind me to revisit it later. So far, this model works better for me than the 30-second song snippet as a good predictor of my interest.
  • I can annotate and highlight with abandon. It’s a fact: I cannot bring myself to write in or highlight most of the books I own, no matter how useful the notes might be. Occasionally, I read with a pencil in hand, ever-so-lightly marking spots of interest, never to find them again. Most of the time, I don’t need to make notes or highlight, but when I do, it’s great to feel free to go crazy without defacing an object.  Plus, the Kindle app treats my highlights as bookmarks, allowing me easy access to them later.  I’d like to read a book club book this way to see how it affects my contributions to the group. 🙂
  • I can travel more lightly. At this time of the year, I’m frequently lugging a pair of shoes in addition to my lunch, plus maybe some Yak Trax, an umbrella, or pilates gear. A paperback more or less may not seem like a big difference, but for one less thing in the bag and one less thing to remember, it’s nice to use the phone.  Even if I intended to take something in print, there’s always content on the phone that doesn’t require the internet.
  • I can read it easily wherever I want. OK, I haven’t taken my phone to the bathtub and have no intention of doing so anytime soon, but otherwise, the phone is stacking up pretty well against a typical trade paperback. I was talking ebooks with some family members at Thanksgiving and my aunt expressed reservations about reading an ebook during, say, a quiet dinner for one.  But think about trying to eat and read for a minute.  A magazine works pretty well: it’s a reasonable page size and it lies flat. (For the record: The New Yorker is not on the list of things I’ll prefer in e-format anytime soon.) A print newspaper? Forget it – I’ve never understood the allure of reading the paper over breakfast. SO unwieldy.  Then we have books.  When it comes to paperbacks, I don’t see too many advantages for print over the phone.   I can set the phone beside me and scroll at my convenience. I don’t have to hold onto it throughout my meal or keep turning it face down to hold my place while I cut my veggies. Curling up in bed with it? Why not? The beach? Show me an upper-middle class professional who doesn’t take their smartphone to the beach and I’ll show you one who never leaves the office. Perhaps if I had an expensive, dedicated ebook device I’d think twice about the beach, but the reality is that the phone is going to go with me anyway.

So, what don’t I like?

  • I miss browsability. I don’t mean the browsing that happens when you see what’s shelved next to a print book.  I mean the experience of scanning and flipping through a book – that I  haven’t found any e-substitute for.  My eyes are terrible, but they’re still great at quickly taking in information from the printed page, almost as fast as I can flip through a book to find a passage that caught my eye. Is that passage early or late in the text? Was it before or after another point of interest?  The place in a book and its context can be quickly constructed and ascertained.  This loss is the number one thing I dislike about reading on the Kindle App.
  • The DRM thing. I believe in fair use and first sale.  I don’t like purchasing items under contract or with terms of use that limit copyright law. This isn’t a post about the thorny issues of intellectual property and electronic formats. There are real issues and I think they’ll get worked out, but until that happens, my purchases will be very limited. For the foreseeable future, I expect to download a lot of free samples and then buy them in print.

NEASIST Fall Program Coming Up

The NEASIST fall program, “The library is dead. Long live the library! The rebirth of libraries in the 21st century,” looks great: speakers from libraries and publishing will be talking about meeting user expectations, success stories from libraries in a time of change, and changes in publishing – and it looks like there might be some crystal-ball gazing, too.  Plus they promise “breakfast, lunch, and network access for all!”

While you’re at the site, check out the other events. I called this the “fall program” ’cause it’s the big one, but there are other events throughout the year.

Info Overload

I enjoyed viewing the Librarian in Black’s presentation slides from her talk about information overload at  Internet Librarian 2009.  In her blog post about the talk, she alludes to the fact that some people seem to think information overload is a myth.  I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s a myth, but it does puzzle me when people refer to it like it’s something completely out of their control, as though they had no agency or free will when it comes to deciding how to allocate their attention.  It’s true that there are some “inputs” that we have to pay attention to whether we want to or not – such as our work e-mail.  But we do have choices as to how we decide to handle that e-mail, and other things, and fortunately that is what Sarah’s presentation is all about.

A few items that particularly resonated with me:

  • Schedule yourself (including unscheduled work and tasks) AB: I find it so helpful to block time on my calendar if I need to work on a particular project. It serves as a reminder to me as well as (usually) preventing people from scheduling meetings when I thought I had free time to Get Things Done. Committee work is work, but projects are work too, and they deserve recognition as such on my calendar.
  • Weed, weed, and weed again AB: In my blog reading, in my wardrobe, and in my personal library, my approach is, “will I miss it if it’s gone?”  Sometimes this means unsubscribing or sending something to Salvation Army, and sometimes it means putting it in a “holding area,” where I can retrieve an item if I think of it and need/want it. I tend to be more brutal with feeds since they are still out there to pick up again if I want them or my interests change.
  • Check when you want to [re. phone, texting, IM, twitter] AB: turning off my email notifier is one of the best things I’ve done to be more efficient. Yes, sometimes I still check it every five minutes, and that’s usually an indicator that I’m not into what I’m doing and should do something else if possible. There’s almost always something waiting, so why bother with the notifier? It simply interrupts, usually more important work.  If there is a true emergency, it won’t be long before someone reaches me another way!
  • Let it ring [re. phone] AB: It is a pet peeve of mine when people don’t do this in a meeting, President Obama excepted. I’m in a meeting with you. If we were having this meeting elsewhere, you wouldn’t be here to answer the phone! Your answering the phone signals that our meeting is not really that important, which might be true, but it’s still rude. Of course, there are also times you might not be in a meeting and still choose to skip picking up.
  • Filter your messages [re. email] AB: This is another valuable tool for my email management.  I filter well over 50% of my mail into folders other than my inbox. I even filter some automated system messages that I don’t need into my trash. If you’re on a number of lists – internal or external – filters can really be a lifesaver.  My webmail client doesn’t support filtering and I always cringe when I login at home.  It’s so much harder to pick out what’s most important with one long list of unread messages.

There are many, many more useful tips in LiB’s complete presentation – check it out!

DeepDyve: Something You Should Know About

Dubbed “Netflix for researchers” by ReadWriteWeb, DeepDyve has expanded from deep web search of STM literature to an article rental service: for $.99 an article, you can have read access for 24 hours. Will researchers go for it?  Even independent researchers can frequently gain access to literature through the interlibrary loan service of their public library.  Will those connected with a well-stocked research library pony up for convenience if they want something not otherwise immediately available at their desks?  Whether or not this particular venture succeeds, it’s illustrative of the trend away from ownership to access for everything from purses to cars (see Bag Borrow or Steal and ZipCar respectively) and it opens up discussion on the market worth of a journal article. See analysis by Phil Davis at the Scholarly Kitchen.

NISO Forum – Trends and Thoughts

Earlier this month, I went to the NISO Forum on library resource management systems, which was conveniently located right here in the Financial District of Boston.  The program was fantastic, and the presentations are now available and well worth a look, even in slide format.

A number of words, themes, and ideas resonated throughout the two-day program:

  • Agility: The real-time web is here. Terabytes are here. E-books are here. What are we going to do and and can we do it fast enough?
  • Collaboration: Dare I say, 2.0?  Not the traditional library consortium, but ad-hoc, dynamic, and extending beyond libraries to the broader research and education communities. Data curation, network-level services, putting the library where the user is – all these require collaboration beyond the traditional scope of library consortia or collaboratives.
  • Context: Lorcan Dempsey has a wonderful graphic, used by Rachel Bruce of JISC in her presentation and included in a blog post by Dempsey about the forum, that gets at the importance of context, and Kevin Kidd describes work that Boston College is undertaking in this area.  It is no longer enough for the library to operate in the library environment; we must be present and relevant in the library users’ workflows elsewhere: in the open web, in institutional systems, in the personal tools researchers use in their daily lives.  This requires reconsidering and rethinking what it means to be committed to privacy. How can we collect, aggregate, and use user data to provide services that are quickly becoming essential to our users, while still respecting and guarding privacy? Is it possible?
  • Network level: “work at the network level as far as possible” (Bruce), “working at the highest appropriate level” (Kyle Banerjee, speaking about large consortial system implementation of resource sharing and delivery), “cloud library as a shared network resource” (Kat Hagedorn, speaking about Hathi Trust’s cloud library project)
  • Open source: Experimentation and adoption for both small and large systems and services, from the consortial implementation of Evergreen discussed by Grace Liu to the Annette Bailey’s experience using open source to develop tools that work with vended systems.

(Heh, I didn’t intentionally put those in alphabetical order!)

My head was really spinning by the end, and I haven’t even mentioned all the sessions here.  Follow the link through to see Oren Beit-Arie’s keynote, Judi Briden’s presentation about the latest anthropological research at U of Rochester, and more.

Customer vs. container, content vs. service

Lots of interesting ideas floating around this week about the future of publishing, much applicable and relevant to libraries.

First up, the Scholarly Kitchen’s blogging of the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s IN conference keynotes, with an interesting comment about “diffintermediation” in between.

Keynote 1 by John Wilkins of Creative Commons

Keynote 2 by John Maeda of RISD

The tweet stream is worth a look, too: #SSPIN09

Next up, the write up at Personanondata of Seth Godin’s lunchtime talk to the Digital Publishing Group.  Excerpt of write up: “The major error being made by established publishers (and agents and authors I would add) using conventional business models, Godin says, is to see new technology and the internet as a way to make old business models work better instead of as an opportunity to destroy (no sentimentality here) and reinvent the old.”  Video excerpts here (see also tweets: #digpub)

Finally, the post “a clean well-lighted place for books” at if:book – the book as a place, the evolution of bookstores, and publishers’ brands.  Plus a response from a bookseller at Vroman’s Bookstore in Southern California, who also references Godin’s talk.

*Bonus: fantastic set of slides putting the use of social media in the larger context of being customer-focused from author Tara Hunt (via Lorcan Dempsey)

Day in Life: Thursday 7/30

No update for Wednesday. I stayed home with major sinus pain plus no sleep after our power went out at 9 p.m. and stayed out ALL NIGHT. As in, 9 (nine) hours. 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. On one of the muggiest days of the year. But I’m not bitter. On to Thursday…


Put on a new pot of coffee. Review accumulated mail from Wednesday and answer some. Follow a link to a libraryish news round up one of the libraries puts out and review what’s included this week. Browse a few articles. Follow up on a few miscellaneous items from earlier in the week.

Work on Verde documentation for e-resource staff. I drafted the docs earlier and had left the tough parts for later.  Now the tough parts need to be figured out.  Work on documentation for running a trial and bounce between the doc and Verde as I try to figure out the best way to do things and the best way to write it up.  I’m also thinking through the best way to make all the docs available: on our share drive, via the web, etc.


Download and start reading the OLE Project report while I eat some lunch.  IM with boss about upcoming projects and meetings.

Chat with my assistant, a library school student who’s been doing Verde migration work for the past few months. Today is her last day with us, boo. Compare notes on our respective museum and library classes.

Review slides for Ex Libris URM focus group I’m participating in and write up long-overdue comments.

Meet with training and doc librarian to discuss training program for Verde. Find out that we might be able to do a web tutorial for Verde.  Cool. Also learn lots of useful Aleph acquisitions background info from her.

Send follow up info to training and doc librarian and investigate a couple things related to our meeting.

Decide that I need to get out of the building, rope in assistant (who, bless her, wants to finish what she’s working on) and colleague to go get frozen yogurt.

Back in the office, catch up on and reply to e-mail, wrap up things with my assistant and say goodbye. Head home.