“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.
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:
During his Keynote last night, Micheal Stephens mentioned that he thinks this conference (Library 2.011) is a “game changer” in the world of conferences and connectivity for LIS professionals. After spending time yesterday and today participating, I couldn’t agree more. For the last few months I’ve been mired in a depressingly difficult job hunt but this conference has re-sparked my interest in the profession and reminded me of all the positive and innovative people in the field.
I hope that others are participating and enjoying the conference. There’s still plenty of sessions today. If you have missed any, the recordings will be available soon.
And remember Stephens’ advice to librarians from last night’s Keynote:
In less than one week, on June 8th, I will have turned in the last of my school assignments. On June 11th, even though I’m not attending the commencement, I will officially be a MLIS graduate. Working on this degree over the last year and a half has, at times, been inspiring, frustrating, boring, emotional, difficult, fun and challenging.
My last semester at Binghamton University, where I double-majored in Philosophy and Pre-Law (PPL), I wrote a meta-philosophy paper as part of an independent study. I wanted to know exactly what I had just spent four years of my life thinking about and studying. Was it really important? What, if anything, did I learn from the experience?
My paper was really not that impressive and essentially said that philosophy is important even if it does not provide concrete answers because it still asks questions, advances the dialogue, blah, blah, blah. It was very abstract and, looking back, relied on a lot of weird rhetorical and creative flourishes that did not necessarily make sense and that I would never have attempted in a class assignment as it would have been a sure way to receive a poor grade in a department full of ethical philosophers.
So, the paper kind of failed on a philosophical level. However, it still is one of the most important tasks that I undertook while at BU. It was only a semester long but it was mostly self-directed. I got reading suggestions from my advisor and was allowed to write and explore in whatever way I chose. I gained a lot personally from this paper and it made me really think critically about the degree I was receiving and what it meant – and would mean – in my life. Those were the things I could not write about – yet they may be the most important.
Now that I am at the end of my MLIS I find myself wishing that I was given a chance to explore the degree in the same way. What would a meta-MLIS paper look like? It is difficult to really think critically about the MLIS degree from inside of it. Drexel is on the quarter system. So, I took five 10-week quarters starting in March 2010 and ending June 2011. The breaks between quarters I spent catching up on things that would get pushed aside during the busy 10 weeks before it. There was not much time to look inward and assess what I was learning.
But now that I am graduating and facing an unsure job market I suspect that I will have some free time for just such an endeavor and I plan to document it here. More than just writing about LIS education, I really want to figure out what I gained from it on a different level. Sure, I learned about metadata and information architecture and web design. But what else? What did I learn that is not specifically taught? How has the last five quarters changed me?
I think that a blog (specifically, this one) is a good way for me to start exploring the thoughts I touched on above. I am not necessarily saying this because I think that what I have to say is profound or even important to anyone but me. But blogs allow for conversation – even if that conversation is only perceived. They are dialectal in nature. Lacking any sort of advisor or professor as I had during my undergrad, a blog is a decent substitution.
Claire Creffield recently said this much more eloquently:
Blogging might seem (has always seemed to me) like a hideously public way of conducting personal reflection, but its saving grace is its joyful acknowledgement of the inescapably communicative nature of thought. Blogging puts into practice a recognition that, if a private language is an impossibility, so, too, it is impossible to pursue self-knowledge by means of a wholly private use of language.
In addition to blogging about my MLIS experience, I also hope to write more about education in general and comment on some of the ideas that Michael Stephens brought up in his recent LJ column.
What are the common ways that people cite information online? How do you do it? Do you use a full bibliographic citation? Probably not. That is because writing for the web is different than writing an academic paper, a book chapter, an essay or something else that requires proper citation.
Online most people tend to be relaxed and informal about citations because web writing lends itself to a more conversational format. Only a real snoot* would want everything discussed in a blog post displayed in proper MLA Works Cited format. Usually a hyperlink, an @ or, my favorite, a h/t is common. I have been thinking a lot about this idea since a discussion came up in one of my classes, International Issues for Info Professionals, recently. The professor, Deborah Turner, requires that all students properly cite sources in Blackboard discussions. Since she is running this class as an e-seminar, she discussed having torn feelings about this. It has been my experience that most professors do not require full citations. Or, if they do, I have managed to maintain a GPA of 3.9 without ever once doing it.
The more I think about this issue, the more I realize just how relaxed I have become in regards to proper citation and giving credit online. It is probably a product of my many years of blogging and participating in online forums where informal citations are, to borrow Professor Turner’s words, “e-cultural norms.” Nevertheless, I am about to become an Information Professional. Or, at least, I am going to have an expensive piece of paper saying I am qualified to be one in some capacity. Should I not begin holding myself to a higher standard on this issue? How can I be serious about respecting ideas or protecting intellectual property if I myself do not practice it?
But here is the problem. Full bibliographic citations do not work on the web. I tried doing it in this blog post for everything that I hyperlinked and it looked silly and awkward. In Blackboard it is easier and makes sense due to the nature of the discussions there (btw, my newest project is to include sources from outside LIS and attempt to relate them to as many of the discussions as possible on Bb in order to make things more interesting. I’ll probably blog about this at some point).
Everyone deserves credit for their work. What is the best way to ensure this on the web? Does anyone have any references about this topic for me? Is there any literature about it? Any thoughts? Is this even something Information Professionals should worry about? I’m curious.
* For an explanation of “snoot” please see David Foster Wallace’s (2001) essay Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage.
The inclusion of the open-source codebase from Readability is one of my favorite features of the Safari 5 browser. Clicking on the “Reader” button strips the webpage to just the essential text. This makes reading long pieces on the web so much more enjoyable – as you can see in the example pictured below.
This morning I read Paul Ford’s Notice of Advisory Relationship and something he said really resonated with me.
I’ve learned that the web has countless ways to say “no,” or to say “meh.” It has fewer ways to say “yes.” Readability looks like a way to say “yes” to people doing hard work—whether they’re journalists, essay and fiction writers, publishers, editors, fact-checkers, illustrators, photographers, proofreaders, circulation specialists—or the people who write the checks. The web needs more “yes.”
This is why I decided to sign up and start using Readability as more than just a tool to easily read long articles (the free version). I appreciate the fact that 70% of my monthly subscription ($3.50 of my $5) goes directly to the writers and publishers of the content that I read. I am excited to see people who are passionate about quality writing on the web and want to see it flourish.
Here is a video explanation of Readability:
In a post a few days ago, I ranted a bit about how LIS schools need to take a more active role in embracing new technologies.
Though there is a lot of potential for great communication and collaboration in emerging technologies, it is important to shut down every once in a while for thought and reflection. These last few weeks I have been “on” more than I have been “off.” There have been times – while running in the dark late at night – that I realized my entire day had been mediated through a screen. These are the instances when I have to consciously remind myself to reconnect with the world around me.
In Program or be Programmed Douglas Rushkoff writes:
Our computers live in the ticks of the clock. We live in the big spaces between those ticks, when the time actually passes. By becoming “always on,” we surrender time to a technology that knows and needs no such thing.
The ticks are so much richer when we occasionally shut down and remember to explore the “big spaces between.”
As we are seeing the role that the Internet and social media are playing in Middle Eastern countries right now, I think that it is time we get serious about the notion of the Internet as a Human Right. This does not just mean for countries around the world, but it means making a serious effort to bridge the digital divide here in the US as well.
Kostas Grammatis discusses his ideas about this and what we can do to get involved at the recent TEDxAthens event.