Tag Archives: books

So you want to be a librarian?

Books from dr_tr via flickr CC

I’ve been involved in a review of some material in our Library & Information Science collection and in the process have come across some gems from the past. I’ve already highlighted one book that devoted a (short) chapter to the role of women in libraries. Today I bring you a short quote about the future of libraries from 1964.  The book is called Teach yourself librarianship and is from a series that includes titles such as The teach yourself guidebook to Western thought, Teach yourself journalism and Teach yourself to teach.

It is unlikely that the book will soon be superseded as the medium for escape, entertainment and intellectual stimulus. Television is thought to have encouraged quite as much as it has discouraged reading for pleasure. But if machines can be taught to read, summarize and, at man’s will, regurgitate technical information (and this now seems to be within the realm of practical possibility), then the information services of libraries may well be revolutionized…The profession today thinks less in terms of books in chains and documents in custody than of the active liberation and circulation of information as the intellectual life-blood of the community.

In some ways, not much has changed, has it?

Kyle, B.R.F. 1964, Teach yourself librarianship. The English Universities Press, London

Specially for maidens

Children’s librarian (1962) by Kingston Information and Library Service via flickr CC

I would like to share with you a few lines from a book I found in the LIS collection at MPOW. Bear in mind that we have not taught LIS here for more than 15 years – so our collection is dated to say the least. This particular gem comes from a 1961 book called ‘Librarianship’, from a series called The Sunday Times Career Books. Chapter 15 is really called ‘Specially for Maidens’. It probably won’t come as any surprise that this book was written by a man! Here we go:

Librarianship, too, is a profession with a distinct appeal to the female sex and the work is well-suited to women. It requires at many stages such personal characteristics as accuracy, persistency, neatness, orderliness, and a liking for work with the public…Many women, of course, do not enter the profession as a long-term career. Marriage is the ultimate objective (and incidentally work in a library has its advantages in this direction too) but until then at any rate they are able to earn a reasonable salary…

The work is interesting in all its aspects, but that which is particularly attractive to women is work as a Children’s Librarian…Cataloguing work, too, is well suited to the feminine temperament, for it demands great accuracy and consistency…On the other hand, many women seem to fight shy of the administrative posts, which carry more responsibility and need greater organising ability. Perhaps this is one more reason why the majority of such positions go to men!

I don’t think there’s really anything else to say.

Corbett, E.V. 1961, Librarianship. The Sunday Times, London.

Wait until I tell you about e-books

I love this. Like most Unshelved offerings it gets to the ‘good bits’ of an issue in 3 simple steps.  Do you have to work in libraries to appreciate Unshelved I wonder?

Pushed for time today – this, I am afraid is my post for the day. However, it signals an intention to get back to the subject of e-books. Hopefully during June.


Journal or book – does it matter anymore?

Discarded Ideas 02.04.2008 by mskogly via flickr CC

Today I put out on twitter

Does it really matter if students know if their source is a journal or a book? Why/why not? #infolit #crowdsourcing

as this is something that has increasingly had me wondering. This has been prompted in part by a discussion on twitter yesterday about whether as undergraduate students ourselves we ever used the library or contacted a librarian (most of us said no) and partly as a result of a discussion at MPOW about what the journal subscription model may look like in the future. I think both of these discussions are worthy of further investigation and thinking in their own right at another time.

So, back to the point of this post. As stated in the tweet, I was crowd sourcing, looking for some ideas, possible arguments for and against this position & trying to gauge the mood of my potential audience before putting this post out there.

I’m very grateful to my PLN for their responses, including:

still think it’s important because they will need to know for reference formatting. so boring but true

[important for] selecting sources, eg. book provides overview, journal more likely to be orig research…good scholarly practice

journals still regarded as “better” for some subjects

I don’t think it matters if the info is relevant to their topic eg history uses a lot more book references than info science

if trusted source (lecturer) is pushing papers to students distinctions b/w source types not key – all abt content

If students (& by this I am referring mostly to the average UG student, who make up the bulk of the student population at most universities) are given a list of readings or citations to look up, then yes, it’s helpful if they can tell the difference between a journal & a monograph. It certainly makes our job in reference much easier if they know that.

However, my point is slightly different – and here I run into the fact that at times it’s hard to express myself adequately in 140 characters. I think I am really asking “Once having arrived at the source, does it really matter what the source is?”

Let me explain further. At MPOW, we put a great deal of energy into helping academics generate stable links to our online resources.  These links can placed into the Learning Management System (LMS) usually Blackboard or Moodle, and they route students via the library proxy server to land them at their article, e-book, digitized chapter or AV resource without the student having to navigate any of the path along the way – other than to authenticate themselves as our students at some point if they are off campus. So increasingly, students are not being given a list of readings or citations to look for and often their further reading from the subject can occur as a direct hyperlink provided in the document they were originally sent to read.

In my experience, the academics generally like these links and while it’s a slightly complex process to generate them it’s usually a one-off investment of their time. While some are concerned about what they see as the loss of student research skills, the feedback from most is that they want the students to read, absorb & synthesize the material. Many feel that unless it’s made easy for the students, they will just not bother reading it. I have also had academics tell me that the time spent generating these links pays off in terms of less time spent further down the semester track answering emails & phone calls from students who can’t find the citation from a list.

This situation of course causes an instant librarian dilemma! On the one hand, if the link is provided as a ‘click here’ service, without citation data being included then students arrive at the reading with no context whatsoever and this has the potential to bring an information professional out in spots. However, the point of this post is to stop and ask myself ‘why is this so?’

Even when academics attach the hyperlink to an actual citation, aren’t students still just going to click & not notice the context? Many e-records include a copy & paste ‘how to cite this’ – and while I understand that this may not meet the requirements of a particular referencing style, it still means students don’t really need to have context to create a citation for the information they have just used. It might look wrong and the student may lose a few marks for not following instructions, but let’s face it, an academic can still find & check the source document even if it’s formatted in Harvard when they really wanted Chicago or APA.

On the other side of this argument, supporting our academics is my role – and if this link generation makes their lives easier & enables them to help students focus on the skills of critically evaluating the content then isn’t that a good thing? Is this actually a similar argument to the print vs e? Is content king rather than the container?

Increasingly, the publishing gap between monographs & journals is closing. Traditionally journals are more agile, more reflective of current practice, published faster and peer reviewed journals are seen as more authoritative. The different publishing models, rise of open access publishing and the increase in academic blogging are all pushing the boundaries of the traditional model. I’m in no way suggesting we stop helping students understand how to evaluate their sources, I’m just wondering if the model for that is coming to its use-by date. Is the issue of format in publishing becoming irrelevant in that evaluation?

The obvious elephant in the room here is the serious researcher, whether post-grad or academic, as context is bound to be more appropriate or relevant to them, but they are not really who this is about. I think there’s a lot more to say on this topic and some others that float around it in a more or less connected way. Another time perhaps.

Browsing in the digital world

SFMOMA Artscope Visual Artwork by pushandplay via flickr CC

This post was inspired by a Mashable post on the importance of browsing to content discovery.

To me browsing is essentially a visual activity and inextricably linked with allowing my eye to make visual links between items – such as similar books or CDs on a shelf in a shop or library.  One of the things I struggle with in the move to digital information is the loss of browsing in that way.  Following links on web pages and discovering more information can be fun but it’s a process that often takes me further away from what I was looking at, not just a little way either side of it.

I am not a luddite about electronic collections and don’t advocate browsing or serendipitous discovery as a justification for keeping vast quantities of print material sitting on shelves, but I think browsing in the sense that I know it is definitely harder to do in a digital world.

To be fair, I grew up as a browser. I leafed through atlases, encyclopedia and my dad’s record collection. I browse cookbooks, coffee table books and other people’s book shelves. There’s something very tangible about browsing the physical object and serendipitous about coming across unexpected finds.

Mitchell Whitelaw said in his presentation to TEDx Canberra in 2010 that search is great if you know what you are looking for and you know what’s in the collection.  I’m paraphrasing slightly – to find out exactly what he said and more, check out this (17 minute) video:

(Co-incidentally, TEDx Canberra 2011 is next weekend folks. It’s sold out but the team has successfully arranged for it to be streamed live – great for those of us who can’t get there this year!)

I digress. You can read more about Mitchell’s visualisation projects at his blog The Visible Archive.  Hearing Mitchell speak was the first time I realised that it might be possible to have something approximating that old habit of browsing in the digital world.

Other examples of visual browsing in the online world that appeal to me include the ‘cover flow’ view of the digitised Australian Women’s Weekly collection on Trove at the NLA and Flipboard for the iPad.  The fact that projects like these are being developed by people with technical skills of which I am in awe and used by ordinary, information hungry folk like me gives me hope that I’m not the only person who misses browsing.

5 books meme

Gimme five! by Funkdooby via flickr CC

With thanks to @flexnib for this one:

1. The book I’m currently reading:

Thud by Terry Pratchett.

2. The last book I finished:

Jingo, also by Terry Pratchett (I’m going through a phase)

3. The next book I want to read:

On my bedside table is The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf. It’s been sitting there a while as the storyline is about 2 missing little girls and the unravelling of a community, so I’m not sure if I’ve got the internal fortitude to read it….

4. The last book I bought:

52 Suburbs, the book of the blog.

5. The last book I was given:

I got Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks for Mothers Day 🙂

Overdrive(n) to despair

readinglist by wsmith via flickr CC

This is not meant to be a rant about Overdrive, more a discussion of my experiences (ok, frustrations) navigating this e-landscape.  I haven’t really taken up the e-books challenge yet, I like physical books, I love audio books and don’t really have a ‘need’ at this point to outlay for an e-reader.  I get all the arguments for and against, I really do, and I can see a future with an e-book reader, but at this point I’d rather spend the money on something else.

I’ve had a few forays into Kindle for the iPhone, and apart from the iPhone screen being too small for serious or long term reading, have found that to be a very positive experience.

However, my main interest at this point is audio books (well, it’s always been an interest as has already been discussed here) as I have some bus travel in my daily commute to work and I can’t ‘read’ on a bus due to travel sickness.

I prefer to borrow my audio books rather than buy them and my local library has an Overdrive service that I use regularly.  However, as most of the audio books in Overdrive seem to be in wma format, they can’t be downloaded to my Mac laptop. Before the Mac, I used to download them to my (Windows) laptop, then transfer them to my iPod or, more recently, my iPhone.

Now, I can only use audio books in mp3 format and that’s about 10% of the audio book collection on offer. I’ve given up on the Mac version of Overdrive and now download them via the iPhone app direct to my device – which method I had been avoiding because of the previously mentioned limitations on format….

I also can’t return them when I’m finished with them, which means they sit on my account (and therefore unavailable to anyone else) for the full 21 days, in spite of the fact that it only takes me about 7 to get through an average audio book (I know that sounds like I do nothing but listen to books, but in my new job I am commuting up to 3 hours every day). If anyone knows of a way to make that happen by the way, please, please let me know in the comments!

There is of course an up side to all of this.  I have to have an audio book to listen to, and because my choice is so limited I’m listening to a lot of books I probably would not have normally chosen, in genres that wouldn’t normally be my preference.  I think this is a good thing.  I’ve only given up on an audio book once, whereas I give up on print books easily if they are not grabbing me or I become bored with the story.  This is also a good thing. (The only reason I gave up on the audio book in question was the narrator’s voice – drove me crazy).

Am I getting something wrong? To use (another) of my favourite phrases: Is it just me?

Travelling suitcase library

suitcase of memories by libookperson via flickr CC

I stumbled across The Travelling Suitcase Library manifesto and was fascinated to read about this concept. This is more or less how my book club has operated over the past 10 years or so and I decided that Blog Every Day in June is a good time to tell the story.

When a group of my friends decided to start a book club, we all had small children, husbands who worked long hours or travelled, and part time jobs ourselves. The thought of having to read a particular book in a particular month seemed to be an imposition on ourselves and each other that couldn’t be supported. Book Club was meant to be relaxing ‘me time’ for us, not provide yet another pressure to get something done.

So we set up a private library. The first time we met, everyone brought a book along that they wanted to share with others and the host for the evening put in 2 books. That is the genesis of our collection and yes, it travels around in a suitcase from house to house as we take turns to host Book Club. Each month is held in a different person’s house and that person puts 2 new books into the collection. Over time, good discussions happen as there is usually 4 or 5 people in the group who have read any particular book. We developed a rating system out of 5 for the books, with 1 being ‘couldn’t finish it’ and 5 being ‘I would read it again it was so good’ and kept the records of each reader’s rating on index cards stapled into the back cover of the book. This was a crude sort of ‘reader recommendation’ system – pick up a book to read and find someone else’s opinion there ready to go.

More than 10 years on, 8 or 9 of the original 12 bookclubbers are still meeting more or less monthly and we’ve collected a few extras along the way – but there’s usually only 8 or so at any one month’s meeting. Our suitcase library, despite several culls, books returned to members who have left and a few months of “let’s not put any books in this month” is unwieldy and almost impossible to lift.

Last year we flirted briefly with getting everyone to read the same book in a month but we’re really not disciplined enough – although the kids have grown up and many of the husbands are no longer around, most of us are now facing other life-gets-in-the-way moments such as working fulltime, caring for elderly parents or battling ill health ourselves.

So this month, we’re trying something new. The group has chosen 3 books and asked us to choose one of them and read it before Book Club next month. I wasn’t at Book Club last month and didn’t have any input into the book list that was set but by chance, one of them is Caleb’s Crossing and I’m already reading it, having been given it for Mother’s Day.

A book related hobby

I love books.  I love print books, e-books, audio books, old books, new books, kids books and all the books in between.  This, incidentally, is not why I am a librarian – but that is a story for another post.  Growing up I wanted nothing more than to own a book shop (or a deli, food being another of my obsessions) – I am more or less over both of those now you will be pleased to hear.

At the moment I particularly love audio books.  I don’t need my glasses, I don’t need an extra bag to carry my book, I can ‘read’ from the moment I walk out of the front door to the moment I arrive at my desk, without having to worry about being run over on the way to the station because I have my nose in a book.  I’m not that fussed what I listen to and am more likely to finish an audio book, simply because it’s harder to succumb to the temptation to flick to the last page to see if it’s worth persevering with a difficult or just plain bad book.  I can ‘borrow’ them free from my local library or at a pinch, buy them from iTunes if necessary.

As another free source, I’ve recently discovered Librivox – their goal is to record all public domain literature as audio books and push them out there for anyone to listen to.  As a librarian in a college full of ESL students I am all for free access to audio books, they are a great way for students of another language to improve their listening skills and we don’t have the budget at MPOW to supply licensed ones.  Now, the catch is that as Librivox is only working with public domain material, effectively this means only books published before 1923 in the US.  However, there is a great collection of literature that falls into this category and as a way of accessing and comprehending some of our ‘classic’ literature, audio books are a good way to go.  I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of understanding Shakespeare in high school much better by hearing it read in parts during our English class than by studying it alone at home in silence.  My son tackled  The Hobbit at quite an early age, by reading the book with the audio book playing at the same time.  The same son recently struggled in Year 12 with Pride & Prejudice and used the same tactic – listening to the book freed him up to do something else at the same time (playing pool if I remember rightly), allowing him to see it as an acceptable activity rather than resenting having to sit and read the book.

So, a new project for me (the ultimate point of this post).  I’m investigating becoming a volunteer reader with Librivox – it combines two of my skills (reading and talking!) and gives me the warm and fuzzies you get from contributing to a worthwhile project.

image: No 315 25 Nov 2009 MP3 by mcfarlanemo via flickr

Musings on a meme

I have been reading with interest the responses to the various memes, but have chosen not to participate for all the reasons already discussed by lots of people about the choice between personal or professional content in the blog.

The responses that have entertained me the most are the ones about whether to mark or not to mark a book.  So, when this post about ‘marking your books and returning them unharmed’ from Lifehacker Australia dropped into my in box this morning, I just had to contribute.   Maybe I’m way behind in knowing about these kinds of things, but I do think these transparent post-it-note style tabbed stickers are really cool.