“What if everything in the world were a misunderstanding, what if laughter were really tears?”
-Soren Kierkegaard Either/Or: A Fragment of Life
I took this picture on July 12, 2007 and put it on my old blog coupled with the above quote. I was 23, had just graduated from Binghamton University, was generally confused about the world, and was reading a lot of Kierkegaard. The blue sky and gentle humming of early July always reminds me of that summer when, paradoxically, hope and cynicism blew in equally strong. Past thoughts can have a certain poetic power.
Imagine if a patron came into the library and asked the following question:
What’s the phone number of the office where this picture was snapped?
Maybe you think the answer is close to Impossible? But this is the exact question that Daniel Russell put to his audience of investigative journalists during a recent talk on Google Search Tips. Luckily, John Tedesco was in attendance and has written an interesting and helpful list of notes from the talk that should help with finding the answer.
A few of my favorites:
*Think about how somebody else would write about the topic.
Search is all about someone else’s language. Think about synonyms and use OR operators. Google’s “related search” feature on the search page also offers suggestions.
“Part of the skill here is being fascinated about language,” Russell said. “You’ve got to think about equivalent terms.”
*Force Google to include search terms.
Sometimes Google tries to be helpful and it uses the word it thinks you’re searching for — not the word you’re actually searching for. And sometimes a website in the search results does not include all your search terms.
How do you fix this?
Typing intext:[keyword] might be Google’s least-known search operations, but it’s one of Russell’s favorites. It forces the search term to be in the body of the website. So if you type:
intext:”San Antonio” intext:Alamo
It forces Google to show results with the phrase “San Antonio” and the word Alamo. You won’t get results that are missing either search term.
*Find relational search terms.
What if you’re curious about search terms that are near each other on a website?[keyword] AROUND(n) [keyword] is incredibly handy for finding related terms such as “Jerry Brown” near “Tea Party.” (“n” is the number of words near the search terms.) Typing “Jerry Brown” AROUND(3) “Tea Party” will show you all the websites where the phrase “Jerry Brown” was mentioned within three words of “Tea Party.”
*Think like a reporter.
When Russell teaches his students search skills, he tells them: “Think like a reporter.” What do you know, and how can that information help you find what you need to know?
A big part of a reporter’s job is knowing where to find information. Which state agency regulates the issue you’re interested in? How might that information be documented? Who would know more about the issue?
“You have to have a concept about what’s possible,” Russell said.
A common argument against libraries is the specious appeal to the fact that everything is a Google search away. The above would seem to support that claim. Of course, Google can’t perform a reference interview.
I had a patron come in this week with a simple request. He wanted to know the name of a woman featured in a segment on Good Morning America that aired over the weekend. The woman collects blankets and sends them overseas to countries in need. He had searched and searched and found nothing. Thinking the answer was just not available, he was ready to give up.
Even with the little information he gave me I thought this would be a simple answer to find. I pulled up Good Morning America’s website and hit a few of the keywords into their search bar. Nothing. I then broadened my search a bit. Nothing. Okay. Something is wrong.
“When exactly did you see the show?” I asked.
“9 am on Sunday morning.”
So, we hop on over to the local Channel 12 website and check their programming guide. From 9 to 10:30 am on Sunday morning they air CBS Morning News, not Good Morning America. Of course, it was easy to find the answer from there.
Who knows how long he searched before he asked me. Google does not say, “Wait a minute, something is not adding up.” But librarians do.
BoingBoing’s LibraryLab has a great post about how Douglas County Libraries are experimenting with eContent in a way that is simple and easily accessible for their patrons. I love it.
The digital branch allows patrons to view and explore digital content using their hands and eyes the same way they might explore a traditional collection, with added functionality like immediate access to staff recommendations, most popular titles, and new content. Digital branch technology and features will change and improve as Douglas County Libraries’ eContent collection grows and patron use of digital content evolves.
Philosophy, in the final analysis, is the art of thinking clearly. And even if we are all amateurs when it comes to our own lives, this does not preclude thinking clearly about those lives and what is important in them. – Mark Rowlands
Last month I wrote a post highlighting some of the topics I was thinking about during March. It was an endeavor inspired by Claire Creffield and her blog post discussing the important reflective properties of blog written with the “imagined eyes of another” in mind. Adhering to the notion of blogs as public journals with powerful self-reflective properties, I am writing a post at the end of each month to summarize a few of the main ideas that were important or interesting to me.
These posts are for my future self; however, since I keep this as an open and public space, I hope that anyone else who stumbles in here will find some of what I record interesting and edifying.
On The Philosopher and the Wolf, Animal Rights, and Eating Meat: Three years ago, in April of 2009, I unexpectedly happened across Mark Rowlands’ The Philosopher and the Wolf while browsing in B&N just a few weeks after its release date. After reading the first few pages, I decided to break my rule about purchasing hardcover books from chain stores. Since then The Philosopher and the Wolf has made a perennial appearance on my reading list. Rowlands combines many of my interests in this philosophical memoir and he does it with style and moving prose, which is not always easy to find among philosophers.
When I returned from Mongolia the previous summer (2008), I drastically reduced my meat consumption in an effort to work towards a more ethical and healthier diet. Before that I had been an on and off again vegetarian at several different times in my life but was never able to fully commit. Then came my fortuitous discovery of Rowlands’ book. It was exactly what I needed to read, the final catalyst required, to push me into full acceptance of and commitment to the ethical principles I was dancing around for years.
What is interesting is that Rowlands’ book is not about animal rights or vegetarian/veganism, per se. But, as he says in his 3:AM interview from earlier this month, his book approaches the way we differentiate ourselves from animals and the “stories we tell to convince ourselves of our superiority.”
Each story, I argued, has a dark side – each story casts a shadow. And in each case, what is most revealing is not the story itself, but the fact that we believe it and think it important. I focused on three common stories. The first is that we are better other animals because we are more intelligent. The second is that we are better because we have morality – we can understand right and wrong – and they do not. The third is that we are superior because we, and we alone, understand that we are going to die. Intelligence, morality and our sense of our own mortality were the three major themes of the book. I am far from convinced that to any of these stories can establish or underwrite a critical gulf between us and other animals.
This was the first time I looked at animal rights from a justice perspective. I immediately picked up his more rigorous and philosophical work on the topic, Animals Like Us. The lucid and carefully constructed arguments in this book impressed me a lot. Here was Rowlands taking the philosophical arguments (Justice as Fairness) I had most closely studied and adhered to as an undergrad and applying them to animal rights. How had I missed this? Finally I had a deep and convincing philosophical perspective from which to approach the issue.
Motivated by Rowlands’ latest interview (linked above), I spent many nights this month rereading Animals Like Us and revisiting the arguments. Now, as we are nearing the second half of 2012, I am getting more and more excited for the release of his newest book, Running with the Pack.
On the Future of Libraries: My post about library e-books sparked some excellent conversation on my Facebook page. What started out as a discussion about lending e-books morphed into a debate about the future of libraries and why many people no longer find them relevant. The entire thread is too long to share here but I was able to engage with several of my friends – all young, educated, and articulate people – who are not library users.
One of my ongoing frustrations is that we, as librarians, are struggling to offer services that this demographic wants. This is where we need to explore new models of service – content creation, maker space, &tc. Not only should librarians be doing user surveys, but they should also be talking to non-users too. As I said in the Facebook discussion, this is a very interesting time for librarians who are willing to test the boundaries of the traditional model. We need more experimentation and less standardization, more proactivity and less reactivity.
Here’s a key quote from one of the comments made by my friend Mark in that discussion:
…without innovation, patronage will shrink and with shrinking patronage comes shrinking budgets. The last time I used a library for anything was the basement of the one you work in for opening day of blood bowl league 2 years ago, because the game store hadn’t expanded their playing space yet. I can’t remember when I needed a library before that. When I was a kid, I used the library constantly, daily in the summer. I used it all the way through college. For me the change is partly caused by the changes in my life, I don’t write papers anymore, although I still do research, but more because of changing technology. Most of the time I spent in libraries was leisure time or a mix of leisure and work. Now I can accomplish all the same things from home and I have no compelling reason for a library. I would love to have a reason to hang out there again. I really think the reality is change or die.
On My New Job: I am a month and a half into my new job at the GFJ Library and I LOVE it a lot more than I expected. It is so satisfying to see the help I give someone make a measurable difference. Even something as little as teaching a patron how to attach a résumé to an email – a task most of us take for granted – has a big impact on them. When living in a world of constant connectivity, playing with all my different devices and gadgets, it is easy to forget that the digital divide is real and that a whole group of people are being left behind (even in this fairly affluent area) because of it. I am glad I play a part, no matter how small, of ameliorating this problem.
On Reading (Comics and Kindle Singles): I spent much of April catching up on comics. The standout is Mike Carey’s The Unwritten. It is some of the smartest writing being done now. Anyone who admires the powers of storytelling needs to follow along. I find myself in awe at least once or twice every TPB and getting genuinely excited about the start of a new issue.
This month I also read a few Kindle Singles on my iPad. I enjoy this publishing model because it offers a way to pay for quality content that is not quite book length but longer than an essay or article. I am not sure that writing like this would have much of an outlet otherwise – unless, perhaps, as collected in books or anthologies. It certainly would not gain the same audience.
In addition to Kindle Singles, I started to check out some stuff published by The Atavist. The first book I read from them was Mother, Stranger. It is an oddly compelling story about the author, Cris Beam’s, relationship with her mentally ill mother. A soundtrack that strums softly in the background and in-text additions of map locations, notes, noises, and photos enhances the e-books.
On Gardening: April brings garden prep and unpredictable weather. I started some tomatoes and cucumbers by the window under my makeshift growing lamp (2 bulbs and a cut furnace shield). The first few weeks of May will be for starting herbs, squash, zucchini, and beans. I usually buy one or two pepper plants and sow greens and radishes right into the ground towards the end of the month.
On My Favorite Reads From Around the Web This Month:
- Infinite Reading – an interesting blog post by Sarah Werner about reading DFW’s Infinite Jest on the iPad
- The Rise of e-books – fascinating results of a survey from Pew Internet about e-reading
- Libraries as software: dematerializing, platforms and returning to first principles – important and thoughtful blog post about ways for libraries to move forward
- The Crisis in American Walking – the first essay in a series about walking and pedestrianism in the US
- Tree of Life: The missing link discovered – an answer to the CGI dinosaurs in Terrence Malik’s Tree of Life
- How tiny Estonia stepped out of USSR’s shadow to become an internet titan - Internet done right
- The Maniac in Me - a NYT’s Magazine essay about living with anxiety
- The Jig Is Up: Time to Get Past Facebook and Invent a New Future - The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal urges entrepreneurs to look beyond the Facebook model
- Why I break DRM on e-books - a publishing exec explains why DRM is a bad model
- Services More Meaningful than Ebooks - a call from Aaron Schmidt for librarians to focus their energy on places besides the already-lost e-book fight
- Craig Mod’s three satellite posts on the digital-physical divide (note: that link is to the first of three)
On Living Meaningfully: Last August I read David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. It was the most influential and disturbing book I read that month (year, actually) because it dealt with a feeling that has lurked around the edges of my thoughts for the last three or four years. A quote from that book has gone around the Internet lately.
True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.
For a long time I felt that living a meaningful and ethical life meant you had to do something big, make an impact in a large way. But over the years I have come grasp the obvious fact that there is no one path to a meaningful life. An accumulation of the little things matter too. How you approach your days, treating your friends and family with generosity and kindness, learning new things, and cultivating empathy and understanding on a day-to-day basis are where a solid foundation to a good life begins.
Sometimes I fear that the pervasive cynicism, irony, and self-absorption that our culture (and especially my generation and those younger) is so steeped in obfuscates such a simple fact’s verity. We often can’t talk seriously about any of this and it makes me sad.
So, I listen to this:
Which brings me to…
On The Cheese of Accomplishment:
Ze Frank is back! Here’s his Invocation for Beginnings:
Last Sunday’s Ethicist column in the NYT’s featured a question about eBooks and the lending loopholes for Kindle users.
Through my public library, I can check out a book on my Kindle for 21 days. Then the system sends a signal to erase the book and make it available for someone else. But there’s a loophole: if my Kindle is offline, the book isn’t deleted and is still available for another reader. So if I need another day, I leave the Kindle offline and continue until I’m done. When I go back online, the book is deleted. I say that’s fine. But my co-worker says that I promised to return it after 21 days — just like a physical book — and I must honor that promise.
The Ethicist uses an excellent example to approach an answer to this question. To paraphrase: Suppose your physical library book is due on Sunday, but you do not return it until before the library opens on Monday as you know that it the book is not counted until then. Is your reading of the book on Sunday afternoon wrong? It seems rather clear that most people would say this is acceptable; your holding it through Sunday evening in no way impacts your agreement with the library (to return it in a certain amount of time) or hinders another person from checking it out.
However, I think that this question and how one answers it gets to another point about eBooks in libraries: the seemingly arbitrary idea of lending limits on something that is not subject to the same scarcity problem that a physical copy is. Leaving out the real world matters (libraries pay the publisher for rights to a certain number of eBooks, &tc, &tc…), limiting access to digital content feels strange and antithetical to the times we live in today. It feels like the dying swings of an institution trying to keep content “institutional” when everything in the world is pushing in the opposite direction – towards openness.
This is why I would expect that the co-worker, the one who wanted the woman posing the question to turn her Kindle on and allow her book to be deleted after 21 days, is probably in a small minority with her opinion. This worries me for another reason. On a certain level, agreeing with the woman’s use of the loophole says everything libraries need to know about patron’s view of lending limits on eBooks: it is an artificial limitation not worth full compliance.
This is a small but important point. Perceptions of libraries and librarians are changing. Information is no longer limited to the physical. It’s no longer hidden behind walls or cloistered in a room somewhere. What happens when patrons embrace this faster than libraries?
** I realize that there are important and difficult questions libraries need to deal with in regards to digital content and I do not mean to make a simple or reductive point. But, in the end, the point is both rather simple and reductive (maybe libraries need to get better at phrasing the issue?) for many people: making it difficult to access or imposing seemingly arbitrary limitations on content is not acceptable. Patrons, especially of the younger generation, will not even put up a fight about this. They will simply find what they need elsewhere, legal or not.