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Monday, 13 June 2011

Working in a library that rocks

I've been meaning to write something like this for a month or two, and being sent home after another 5.5mag aftershock (an hour before a 6.0) seems like a good occasion to finally get around to it...

[DISCLAIMER: This is about my personal experience: everyone's experiences are different. Also I take no responsibility for facts: reality changes on a daily/hourly/minute-ly basis and I can't always even keep up-to-date with the current situation let alone remember the past.]

After September, it was I think almost a week before we staff were allowed back to work to start tidying up, and I was chomping at the bit to get there and be able to do something instead of being stuck at home.

After February, it was... longer. Even when we could get back to campus, the libraries themselves were closed, and we only had a half dozen desks between us. So we had only the very occasional shift there -- and that suited me just fine. Granted work had clean water while at home I was still traipsing to the Red Cross water tanker and boiling everything. But my old 30-minute bus-trip to work was now 90 minutes or so, driving over broken roads, past broken buildings, around the perimeter of the broken city. By the time I'd got to work I'd already be on the verge of tears.

So for some weeks I worked mostly from home, through the power of the internet. Our virtual reference service proved wonderful for communicating with students, and for communicating among ourselves. We could do a lot to get our e-services and e-resources operating at a distance. And I could be home to answer the door for visitors from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Australian police, EQC inspectors, etc. Not to mention tradespeople - I needed a chimney taken down and I'd been in the middle of getting the house painted. Water came back on but sewerage remained dodgy; I took delivery of a chemical toilet.

At work we got our smallest branch open; then another branch. Not my own branch, but we could actually work in a library. It was still nothing like normal. All the tutorials I'd normally teach in first semester were cancelled (many of the classes they taught into had been cancelled due to lack of facilities.) At some point around here I took two weeks' leave -- leave which I'd needed even before the quake.... Two weeks later I came back to work much rested and refreshed: it was a full two hours before I burst into tears.

But things settled down. Most importantly for me, my manager gave me projects to do: day-to-day business is one thing, but moving beyond survival mode I need something I can get a sense of accomplishment from, so this helped tremendously. One day I was able to visit my office to retrieve some files, and found my umbrella there from February. (My potted mandarin seedling, alas, was past its best-by.) When our temporary office space caused my RSI/OOS to rear its head again, my new manager got me a semi-permanent desk to work at. We got part of Central Library open so I even got some regular desk shifts where I could interact with real students again, face-to-face. My buses got more reliable, so getting to and from work was now only 60 minutes, and I bought an e-reader to keep myself occupied on the way.

There are still (as of the morning of the 13th June) two and a half branches closed out of the five. One and the half are/were in the process of working towards reopening. The other one -- my one -- there's no timeframe for. (The building itself is safe, it's the neighbouring buildings that there's concerns about. In the meantime we can at least make daily retrievals of requested books.) An aggregate of rumours was leading me to the impression that it would be a long time, perhaps on the order of the rest of this year or so. <-Note all the qualifications and vagueness here: this is nothing more than a concept I've put into my head so that I've got one less thing to feel constantly uncertain about. Uncertainty is tiring; an unpleasant certainty is far less stressful. So I've taken to thinking of myself as a librarian in earthquake exile.

The team whose library I'm working in are wonderful, and have been fantastic. But I miss my team, who've been broken up and scattered around. Having desk shifts again is also great. But I miss having desk shifts in my branch, serving the students and staff in my subject areas. I'm constantly thinking how tough it is for them to be without their branch, especially for those who 'lost' their branch just a year before that in a merger with ours, and especially after we were shut so off-and-on for renovations and after the September quake. I'm almost used to the new routine; but it's hard; and even without these latest quakes it was going to change again in a couple of weeks or a couple of months.

The shaking itself doesn't scare me. (I must admit I've always been fortunate in which buildings I've been in -- some sound a lot scarier.) Evacuating a library leaves me just a bit shaky afterwards. Wading through liquefaction to get home is an absurdity that makes me laugh, and seeing families gathered, on a sunny winter day, on porches and lawns and at mailboxes watching the traffic crawl by -- really it's a beautiful thing.

But the days, weeks, months ahead -- the day-to-day of a world turned upside down -- that is challenging; and rewarding; and all in a day's work; and a long hard trudge.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

5 Reasons Why Print Books Don't Cut the Mustard

(With apologies to Wired.)

No-one can dispute that print books have been pretty popular over the last several centuries. But really they are fundamentally flawed. Unless they can precisely duplicate the experience provided by an e-reader they're doomed, because all people want the exact same reading experience and never compromise on some criteria in order to fulfill others.

Let's skip a page of boring context and cut to the bulletpoints that are the only things anyone cares about anyway.

1. An unfinished print book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.

You know the drill. You pick up a print book, start reading it, get distracted and leave it next to the sofa. Next day, when your eye's caught by another print book on the wooden bookshelf and you open its cover, the print book doesn't display the page of the print book you were reading yesterday to remind you where you were at. Two weeks later you've got a dozen half-read print books in a dozen obscure locations of your house (some of them with scraps of paper marking the point you left off - that's right, even if you pick up the same print book you were reading yesterday, it won't automatically remember your page number). Eventually you realise you're never going to finish any of them and in a tidying frenzy you dump them all back on your wooden bookshelf.

2. You can’t keep your print books all in one place.

Print books on the wooden bookcase, beside your bed, in your handbag, at work, in the car, at the physical library - it's impossible to keep track of them all. And if you finish reading a print book at the start of a commute, you can't just open it again to choose and start reading a new print book, because all the other print books are at home, on the wooden bookshelf.

Worse yet, you can't keep your print books all in two places. There's no app for syncing a print collection between two locations. If your print books are on the wooden bookshelf at home, they can't be in your handbag at the same time.

To add credibility and pathos to my opinions, I shall here mention a friend who lost access to her house post-earthquake and with it her entire collection of print books. When she got the occasional half hour to retrieve items she had to rapidly choose which to spend her time rescuing. If they'd been electronic they'd have been in her iPhone all along -- and if she'd lost that, she could have retrieved her computer on which they'd have all been synced.

3. Notes on paper margins are pointless

You spend hours reading a print book and making ink notes in its paper margins and what have you got at the end of it? All that useful information is still stuck inside the print book. You can't click and drag it into your word processor where you actually need it. You could cut and paste it and make a nice collage, but even librarians who appreciate marginalia are likely to look askance at that.

4. Print books are priced as disposable, but aren’t marketed that way.

I talked with someone today who had some print items he no longer wanted and wanted to donate them to the library. The library didn't want them and I couldn't think of any library or used bookstore that would. The best thing to do would be to throw them in the recycling bin. But he hesitated, and I found even I hesitated to make this suggestion in so many words. Because we've developed this utterly idiotic idea that the print book, each with runs of thousands or millions, is nevertheless a priceless artefact whose destruction is a kind of sacrilege.

5. Print books can't be used as a clock.

Look at the bottom of your print book and you won't see the time - only a page number. You can't go back to the title page and open up a game of sudoku. Storing too many polaroids in it makes the pages bulge. If you want to check a definition, you have to fetch an entirely different print book. The only thing a print book does is let you read that one novel.

Well, not quite the only thing. It does make nice kindling.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Links of interest 2/6/11 - collaborating with students

Reading my RSS feeds sometimes a theme emerges from the chaos - this time it was ways in which academic libraries have collaborated with students to enhance both library services and student learning.

Students Studying Students: An Assessment of using Undergraduate Student Researchers in an Ethnographic Study of Library Use "reports on the use of undergraduate students enrolled in an Applied Anthropology course as researchers for a library use study at Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library".

Similarly, Brian Mathews writes about Exploring graduate student use patterns of the UCSB Library.

Experimentation in an Academic Library: A Study in Security and Individual Student Engagement
"The Special Collections and Rare Book Department at Western Michigan University collaborated with a student worker to develop a system to improve security and employee performance. The student was taking a course in psychology that required him to develop a workplace behavioral intervention with a client and modify an important behavior for employee performance."

Library instruction
Building a Participatory Culture: Collaborating with Student Organizations for 21st Century Library Instruction - literature review and summary of some events where the library hooked into student association events, or initiated their own in collaboration with the student association, to teach library skills.

Brian Mathews again: Reframing the Concept of Plagiarism, Or What I Learned From Banksy - on art projects in the library.

A Friendfeed discussion on Our library posts a newsletter called "Stall Times" in our bathrooms. A student using the pseudonyms "Mike Koch" and "Hugh Jass" recently made a parody called "Small Times." Our creative manager contacted him and invited him to collaborate. The conversation doesn't go further in depth but does include links to archived bathroom newsletters from this and other libraries.

Back to Brigham Young University - they're also famous for their parody of the Old Spice commercial, made by the Harold B. Lee Library Multimedia Production Crew, consisting of two full time employees and ten student employees - see their behind the scenes.

There's lots of scope for collaboration with journalism, media, music and film students. Language students could translate subtitles. History/literature/etc students could work with digitisation projects. Computer science students could work on components for open source library software. The sky's the limit...