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Wednesday 26 January 2011

Library day in the Life January 2011 – Wednesday

Tuesday was more or less like Monday.

Today I started at the desk, which was surprisingly busy, with grad students and academics coming down to collect books they'd requested and renew books they had out. Someone else did the first lot of retrievals, but I went hunting for a disputed return (a book we'd send an overdue notice about, but the borrower said they'd returned it) – I found it, checked it in, and e-mailed the borrower.

Among the other little morning tasks was posting a blog entry about some e-book titles we have access to for the next week. And there was filling out an ACC form – when you get RSI apparently the first, second, and third things they make you do are fill out forms.

Just before 11 AM, I left with a colleague to go and do an Endnote tutorial: he taught while I hung in the background and helped the students keep up, as it's a fast paced introductory class. At the end of the class, one of the students asked me a question about interloans too.

On the way, my colleague and I talked about an issue that had come up in a meeting last week. So then I sat down and wrote an e-mail to our wider colleagues proposing a solution by a third colleague; I wanted to run it by her before sending, and we ended up not running into each other until after 4 PM.

In the meantime I had an e-mail exchange with a colleague in another branch about a meeting tomorrow, then lunch. At two o'clock I ran the retrievals report then was reminded about some RFID training, so I went to that and then did the retrievals.

The last couple of hours were quieter – more e-mails and reading, and a grad student asking if he could put his paper in our institutional repository if he published with a certain journal, and checking hours we can cover another branch which is shortstaffed next week, and discussions about workspace after my colleague reported back from a meeting she'd attended, and tidying up in time to go home.

There's some collections work I really want to do, but it's going to involve a lot of cutting and pasting, and I can tell my hands aren't up to that yet. Another day…

Monday 24 January 2011

Library Day in the Life January 2011

My bus gets me to work quarter of an hour early, and I spend the extra time catching up with colleagues and reading a bit more of my commute novel. We start at 8:30 at the moment – summer hours – and I catch up with the e-mails that have come in over the weekend.

Actually, my routine at the moment isn't the same as usual. (Although for one reason or another it's probably been a year since anything recognisable as “usual".) For about a month I've been wrestling with some mild RSI so when I sit at my keyboard I put on my wrist braces and I don't do any any type of work for more than an hour at a time. And I'm dictating this post with the voice recognition software I have on my home laptop.

So at nine o'clock I go and do our retrievals which someone else would normally do. These are the books that our users have requested from the areas upstairs being renovated after the earthquake. Earlier this summer the stacks were covered in black plastic, but that's been taken down now, so I don't need the torch any more.

At 9:30 I walk across campus to another branch where I can work on the front desk, which is busier than ours. I do my stretches on the way. It's still fairly quiet this morning, mostly students borrowing textbooks.

After an hour I walk back, and arrive in time for an impromptu meeting with a new supervisor and a tour of construction progress (even before the earthquake we were planning to renovate the entire ground floor. All except two small spaces at the back of the building which we've been working in over the summer while they've gutted the rest of the floor – our temporary main entrance is normally a fire escape).

I do the retrievals again, scan some blogs, and then it's time for lunch. I take my book out into the sun and by some miracle don't get sunburnt in the glorious weather.

Checking my twitter alerts, I notice a news article about the library, which I forward onto our Facebook page. Then I go back to the other branch, where we get engineering students asking about earthquake damage and a phone call with an Endnote query from a desperate student with a deadline.

II getback in time for afternoon tea, then retrievals again, and then join my colleagues with a trolley full of books that have thrown up errors in the RFID conversion process (another project going on above our heads at the moment) to determine what's causing the error in each one and whether we should be keeping each item. Most of them are terribly old, and half aren't even on the catalogue. One of my colleagues comments that we come alive when weeding, and it's funny because it's true. Between this, and issuing books to the occasional borrower who manages to find us, we fill the time to 5 o'clock, and home.

Oh, and I've made it through the day without any twinges of discomfort from my wrists. :-)

Friday 21 January 2011

Links of interest 21/1/2011

Library instruction
I've recently been pondering the idea of database searches as an experiment - hypothesis, experiment, evaluate, modify the hypothesis and try again. This might make a useful way to introduce sci/tech students in particular to the idea that you're not going to necessarily get your best results from your first search; I'll have to see how they receive it when I've actually got a class to test it on.

Incorporating Failure Into Library Instruction (from ACRLog) discusses the pedagogy of learning by failure and talks about times when it's more or less suitable for library instruction.

Anne Pemberton's super-awesome paper From friending to research: Using Facebook as a teaching tool (January 2011, College & Research Libraries News, vol. 72 no. 1 28-30) discusses Facebook as a useful teaching metaphor for databases.

Don't Make It Easy For Them (from ACRLog) - with caveats in the comments that I think are at least as important as the main post.

Heads they win, tales we lose: Discovery tools will never deliver on their promise - and don't miss the comment thread at the bottom of the page, which segues into the dilemma of increasingly expensive journal bundles and possible (vs viable) solutions.

Research data
There's a whole D-Lib Magazine issue devoted to this topic this month.

Web services
The Web Is a Customer Service Medium discusses the idea that "the fundamental question of the web" is "Why wasn't I consulted?" - that is, each medium has its niche of what it's good at and why people use it, and webpages need to consider how to answer this question.

Library Day in the Life
Round 6 begins next week, in which librarians from all walks of librarianship share a day (or week) in the life.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Wild ideas free to a good home

1.You know in sf you get to say "Oh hi computer, calculate this for me / find me information about this thing / make me some hot Earl Grey tea!" and the computer says "Sure thing, my friend!" and does it?

Here's how that could work in the near future:
  • speech recognition - this is fairly well developed already (I've recently started using it myself for navigating and dictating on my home computer) and will continue to improve
  • + a search engine
  • + a whole lot of aps for different functions, with associated metadata which can be matched against what the user's asked for.
The computer, like a librarian, doesn't have to know everything, it just needs to know where to find everything. Ask it a calculating-type question and it gets a Wolfram|Alpha-style widget that can calculate the answer. Ask it an encyclopaedic-type question and it brings you an answer from a Wikipedia-type source. Ask it to convert your word processing document into pdf and it finds the appropriate ap to do that. Tell it you want a pizza, it finds the aps from the local pizza places, asks (or remembers) your price/quality/toppings preferences, and places the order for you. In due course, your doorbell rings.

I wouldn't be surprised if something like this was working within five years. I also wouldn't be overly surprised if it wasn't; while we've got all the pieces, gluing it together mightn't be quite so straightforward as an idealist would think.

2.Dynamic/adaptive website navigation. For sprawling websites: instead of having the traditional static navigation links, have the server generate the links based on the most popular recent destinations for visitors to the same page.

This one's easier to program (I think, if I put the work in, I could come up with a clunky implementation myself) - you just need server-side scripting with access to stats of a) links clicked and b) keywords searched. I'd weight keywords searched a bit higher than links clicked (partly to keep things dynamic but mostly because people will tend to click a link first if it looks even halfway relevant, so just the fact of searching will indicate that the current links are useless).

So when you go to (say) the uni library's homepage at the start of term it'll show links to the catalogue, and tutorials, and computer workrooms. Towards exam time people will start searching for "past exam papers" so that'll soon appear on the homepage, while "tutorials" will drop off, but people will click the "computer workrooms" more so that'll stay on.

There are obvious downsides to this approach. Confusion about links shifting around, for one. Also ideally it should be customisable so postgrads can see a view which isn't overwhelmed by the preferences of undergraduates for most of the year. But. It would be interesting. I'd like to try it sometime (or see someone else try it).