Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quiet Please!

It'll be great when we no longer work in a building site (not on a building site, but in it). The new library has been surrounded by jack hammers, bulldozers, drills, lorries and plenty of shouting for some time now.

In addition, of course, we have adopted a 'modern' approach of letting people eat, talk, receive mobile phone calls, etc. Indeed, we get people coming in who seem baffled - "Where's the quiet area?"

Although I am all for libraries not being precious places designed to scare people away, I have to say that when travelling I have visited libraries, museums and art galleries the way other people visit churches, for a peaceful moment of retreat from the hustle and bustle. In fact, I guess (as a Humanist) I perceive libraries as a place where we show respect for human knowledge and achievement, as well as a place for contemplation of the big ideas.

So I do think the designers missed an opportunity when they didn't build in a quiet spot. We can't even offer Muslims a place to pray any more (they often ask for the quiet corner).

I remember when I did a hard hat visit to the British Library when it moved to St Pancras - and there was a little glassed-in room. I asked what it was for, and they said for people using those new-fangled laptop things, as the tapping of keys annoyed other users. By the time the library opened almost everyone was using laptops, and the little glass room was set aside for the pencil pushers!

Of course, as staff and users were not asked for their opinion these things seem not to have been considered.
Some kind of compromise might have been best. For instance, you could have had a mixture of
  • collaborative spaces where group conversation is allowed
  • considerate areas, where quiet exchanges should be kept to a minimum
  • quiet areas where conversation and mobile phones are forbidden.
Such arrangements can be found in some US university libraries. Why did our award-winning designer not think of these things? Far too late now that we live and work in a open-plan space where I can say something loudly on the 5th floor and be heard on the Ground Floor. Hey ho. So it goes. (Vonnegut)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Searching Questions

I do find it odd that people still treat the Internet as an unreliable resource for facts. Many library staff don't seem to trust Wikipedia, for instance.

Of course, in a market place you have to watch your purse, not buy any old thing unexamined, or get too excited by someone on a soapbox, but generally you can find what you want if you take your time.

As ever, I don't think of things in black and white. The OED and Encyclopedias may well have gone through fact-checking editors, etc , and can present relatively objective facts - but even Encyclopedias don't always agree on those 'facts'.

“Certitude belongs exclusively to those who only own one encyclopedia.” - Robert Anton Wilson

I do use these old reliable resources for simple matters of fact like the date of a king's coronation.

Bare facts, or fine detail?

For detailed research, however, the internet (taking Wikipedia as a perfect example) has compilations of detail that Encyclopedias (in their necessary compression and brevity) can't possibly compete with.

Taking an example from my own knowledge base, I checked out 'Juggling' (no entry, but found 'Juggler') in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and got a not very helpful 289 words or so, mostly about circus.

In Wikipedia you find a Juggling entry written by experts - with not only the speculative history of origins, lists of famous jugglers and their feats, but also the history of the last few decades when this obscure skill or art form became a hugely popular pastime as well as developing rapidly in both the entertainment world (skill levels have rocketed) and in the nutty, obsessive Guinness Book of Records mode. Links to animations and videos on how to learn; links to books, classes, and other deeper resources like the Internet Juggling Database (which includes lists like 'every film ever made with a juggling scene in it, or even a background character juggling).

Contribute to knowledge

Now not all those facts prove accurate (I had to correct the number of people at the first juggling convention, because I attended as one of the participants, and had first-hand knowledge). But the wiki structure means I CAN correct and tweak these facts. And yes, I gather people sometimes get territorial about certain areas of Wikipedia (much the way academics used to form a closed shop to alternative theories, while writing up their 'objective' encyclopedia entries!)

Learn to assess information

So even if some 'facts' online have got lazily copied and pasted around, have lost their source reference, or become misquoted - for inspiration justifying further search and verification it seems hard to fault the Web.

Training in assessing results, judging and estimating the value of information sources and resources, etc seem an extremely useful part of any future educational projects. Surely the combination of detective and investigative journalist could appear inviting to inquisitive children, if their exams didn't get based around finding 'the right answer' or 'the truth'.

The sooner people discover that 'hard facts' rarely prove that simple or obvious, and we all learn to hold back from jumping to conclusions or relying on just one Book or source of knowledge to the exclusion of others - and see what we know in terms of probabilities rather than certainties - the sooner we may achieve a more intelligent, tolerant, generous world. IMHO.

I thank you for listening to this rant.

[The speaker climbs down from his soapbox, picks it up and walks away].

Monday, August 10, 2009

E-Books and PDFs

As a researcher I don't have an either-or attitude to books and e-books. I love the feel and smell of tangible books, and the fact that I can read them on the bus, in the bath, in the garden. They are (in McLuhan's terms) read with Light On (bouncing off a surface) rather than Light Through.

The Virtual McLuhan on 'Light Through'
Digital McLuhan on 'Light Through'

At the same time, searching through text with even a reasonable Index and a list of Contents seem inadequate at times - when with a PDF you can search for any phrase, keyword or 'character name' you remember. Unbeatable. Just as the electronic OED lets you do complicated things like 'find all English words with Arabic origins' which you can do in mere moments...

e-book readers reviewed
Anyway - for discussion of e-readers (not something I have invested in yet) you could (for example) look at this page, from Lybrary - a site which sells e-books - comparing the different e-book readers currently available.

Adobe Digital Editions
For those of you not yet intending to invest a couple of hundred pounds in a portable reader you might find this FREE offering from Adobe interesting and useful. Digital Editions offers a way to organise your PDF e-books into libraries, shelves and annotate pages, etc.
Read about it, and Download here.

Here are a couple of quotes from that website, to give you an idea:

Interface designed for digital reading

Take advantage of a clean, well-organized interface, expressly designed for reading digital publications. Use the Reading View to view bookmarks, annotations, and a table of contents. Display your PDF files in a double-page, single page, or fit-to-width view — or specify your own custom fit. You can also increase and decrease text size with EPUB content.

File organization

Organize your digital publications and manage devices in the convenient Library View. Sort by title, author, and publisher, and view the covers of your favorite eBooks. You can also create custom bookshelves to further organize and manage your content.

And here's an interesting detail (not one our library has got involved in yet...

Borrowing eBooks

Borrow eBooks from many public libraries for use with Digital Editions. Downloading digital publications from libraries is very similar to buying eBooks online except for the payment process.

I'd love to hear from any librarians with experience of this process for information delivery.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Groups or Pages

I have started looking at Facebook in a little more depth - having originally joined purely to be able to assist users in the library (and to that end, joined under a non-de-plume, which I believe broke one of the first rules, but hey - half my friends in show-biz have stage names which they are often known by, in addition to their 'birth certificate/passport' name.  I think of it as a useless distinction.

I suspect they got vaguely worried about the MySpace tendency to invent satirical versions of Dubya and Tony Blair, (I found at least 80 God Profiles over there). Still, and all - ID theft for satirical purposes seems like a different threat from the emptying of one's bank account.  Um.  Tricky, that.

Anyway - it has led me to realize that in addition to thousands of Groups, from the serious to the trivial, you can find another level of Facebook - the Pages.

Pages can represent an individual, like Derren Brown, or an institution like Manchester Library and Information Services, who seem to have mastered the art.  Pages can acquire 'fans'.

Groups (open or closed to all except invited members) can form around silly and/or transient issues, or serious and on-going ones.  How about the paradoxical group "Let's All Leave Facebook" or a discussion group like "Libraries Using Facebook Pages"

Some discussion of the differences appear on Tim Davies's blog.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Librarians having fun - the Bookcart Drill Team

Good to see that the ALA Conference doesn't only consist of talks and presentations.

The Fifth Annual Bookcart Drill Team World Competition works to infiltrate the media - it even reached our free paper - Metro - in the UK: under the Ridiculant column

Goto Demco for a bit more detail.

Or check out the Library Journal

Way back when (the 70s) I worked in Fringe Theatre, and one of the groups (whose name escapes me for the moment) did formation wheel-barrows as part of a park show.

You can see the tradition continues with The Red Barrows. Here's the BBC story.

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