Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

ALA Demo Hell

I usually avoid the orchestrated demos many vendors offer at ALA – you know the ones I mean. There is a small seating area and there’s an infomercial-type presenter – or even worse an annoying robot or Elvis impersonator. My preference is to have a rep take me through a one-on-demo where I can interrupt with my questions. But I wanted to find out what the vendor was doing with a new platform rollout, and they said “We’ll be starting the theatre demo in a few minutes”. I needed to take a rest anyway, so I sat down.

The “theatre host” (I don’t know what you call these people) came over and said hello and announced my name to everyone within 50 yards since their sound system broadcasts to several aisles away. Who needs Foursquare to let everyone know where I am? Ms. Theatre Host (MTH) just took care of that. After a few other folks sat down MTH delivered the canned speil about all the great new features. Then MTH asked us if we were ready to “get in the zone”. What? I just want a damn demo.

Turns out there was no theatre demo. We all just shifted over to one sales rep who gave a canned demo on a 20” monitor. It took all of two minutes and didn’t yield much information. Why are you making seven people watch the demo on this tiny monitor when you’ve got a 72” flat panel right over there? They did give away a $25 gift card just for taking time to suffer through this. I didn’t win. Overall I felt like a loser. Is there anyone who actually enjoys these things?

A Post-ALA Tip For the Hungry

Prior to ALA you’ll find all sorts of “how to get the most out of the conference” tips being offered. Beyond the “carry a snack” tip I don’t see many suggestions for satisfying one’s hunger – which gets worked up quickly walking the exhibits or sitting through an interminably boring presentation. It’s true the library mags offer lists of “nearby” eateries, but when I’m in the middle of a busy conference day, I just want to grab something fast and cheap – and those magazine articles tend to list pricier restaurants that are farther away and chew up more time. Did you see the long lines and prices at any food booth in the DC convention center? Wait 20 minutes for a $6 cold and dried out hot dog? Forget that.

Did you know there was a great supermarket exactly three blocks and a five-minute walk from the convention center? Nowadays most decent supermarkets have lots of prepared food options. I walked over there and got a custom-made sandwich for $4.99, a huge orange for $.70, and a bottle of cold water for $.79. You could barely buy a bag of chips for that total amount in the convention center. I was back in the convention center eating my freshly made, healthy lunch in an air-conditioned room 15 minutes after I stepped out to buy it.You were probably still in line waiting to buy a stale, overpriced burrito. So the next time the library mags prepare their articles on food options for the conference, I suggest they scope out any supermarket or convenience stores within a 3-5 block radius of the convention center. That will do all of us a favor – hey – the bus folks might even include it on one of the routes.

They Still Don’t Get Us

A favorite librarian past-time is locating an instance of a journalist or author using “librarian” in some way – a metaphor or otherwise – that demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what we really do or the skills we use in our work. For example, “Once she mastered speed reading, she could read more books in a day than most librarians could read in a week of sitting at the desk while they checked out books”. That sort of stuff tends to make our blood boil because whoever wrote it clearly has no idea what we really do and is just buying into that same old stereotype.

I made that one up (Ok, it’s not that great but you get the point), but here’s a real one I came across that’s a bit more sophisticated. In an NYT article about the opportunity cost of the wasted time people spend searching for things on the web (that is, there’s much free information, but is it really free if you spend 15 minutes trying to find it – what was the opportunity cost of your time), the author, Damon Darlin wrote:

Google makes it easier to get search results by suggesting possible search terms as a query is typed. (Engineers there, who must measure just about everything, had noticed that query lengths were becoming longer as we turned into a nation of research librarians.) Typing some queries gives you the results right on the top of the search page. Type in “poison center,” for instance, and you get the toll-free phone number for poison emergencies.

But he couldn’t have used “research librarians” more incorrectly in this context while trying to make his point. It’s just the opposite in fact. If we were turning into a nation of research librarians all the searching would in reality become incredibly compact and efficient – resulting in vast amounts of saved time. We’re not the ones typing statements such as “I need to find the phone number for a poison emergency center because I just swallowed some Drano” – that’s what everyone else is doing. Research librarians – knowing how Google is structured – would just type “poison center drano” or even more likely “antidote drano” (even in dire emergencies we can’t help but think smart). So while we all appreciate the power of search suggestions – it wasn’t needed because we turned into a nation of research librarians. It was needed because we are mostly a nation of search dummies.

Sheesh, will they ever get it?

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Sign of the Times

Here’s an interesting new blog started by the Chronicle, “Campus Cuts“. Too depressing maybe? On the other hand, when posts to this blog grow few and far between that will be a good sign. If you do need some cheering up stay away from the Chronicle and just stick with this.

Something is Just Wrong About This

I know it’s great to do marketing for libraries and to toot your horn and all that stuff. But is there such a thing as an inappropriate gesture? When I saw this press release from Capella University it just sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I think it’s great that the librarians there created a useful tutorial and decided to share it with others by submitting it to ACRL’s PRIMO repository of learning objects by and for librarians (and anyone else who can find a good use for them). But then issuing a press release that makes it sound like your library just won the equivalent of an Oscar or a gold medal at the Olympics – that just seems, well, not right. Sorry, but I can’t quite picture any non-profit higher education institution putting out a press release like this. Maybe you think they should. You could ask, “Why don’t more higher education institutions value their libraries and the work of their librarians the way that Capella does?” That’s a good question- unless you regard Capella’s press release as making a mountain out of a molehill for the sole purpose of getting any sort of attention from anyone. I applaud those who have their learning object accepted for addition to PRIMO, but is it an amazing feat worthy of an institutional press release? I don’t think so but maybe I’m just cynical. Here’s the odd thing though. If Capella is so proud of the online tutorial and their library – why doesn’t their press release link to either of them – or PRIMO. All the links are to – you guessed it – Capella University.

It Pays To Be Social Before Your Presentation

It used to be that you would just get to your presentation, set things up, give the talk, share some handouts, get done and then move on to the next thing. That won’t do anymore, especially if you want to get the audience to care about your topic – before you even talk about it.

The way to go now is to make your presentation “more social” according to a post over at Mashable. There are five things you can do to achieve this higher state of social connectedness. Consider discussing your presentation and sharing it on Facebook and Twitter in advance of the talk; invite your friends to comment on and critique your presentation. Be sure to give those tweeting in your audience sound bites that they can tweet easily. And you certainly keep it going after the talk by tapping into your network and delivering more content about your talk. I did question this particular piece of advice though:

Make sure you can see comments on the backchannel as they come in. While that can make for some complicated multi-tasking –- delivering a presentation, inviting interactive polls, and monitoring real-time backchannel comments at once –- it’s crucial for presenters to see what’s being said about them.

Perhaps you are a great multitasker, but for myself, I don’t think I could manage concentrating on my presentation plus what’s being said on social networks. And what if, like me, much of your presentation is getting away from the lectern and just talking. Are you supposed to run back to your computer to keep checking the backchannel? Seems rather awkward.

I have sensed that an indicator of a successful presentation these days is the number of librarians who become your Twitter follower within 48 hours of your presentation. I suppose that the way to gain even more followers is to be social before, after and during the program.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

The Mezzanine is Where?

I was really excited when the sign installers delivered a new directory totem for our library. It’s only about 46 years late. I am sure that most of your library buildings have some sort of quite obvious building directory near the entrance so that visitors can immediately get a sense of the layout to aid their wayfinding. For some reason our main library building never had a clear floor plan directory indicating all the major spaces. So better late than never. So I was really disappointed when the installers delivered the directory to our library and I observed that the mezzanine level was mounted at the very top of the totem – above the top third floor. It was that way in the draft design, and I clearly remember pointing out that it was in the wrong place. Well, anyone can make a mistake I figured, and the installers were really nice about it and they took the sign apart and re-ordered all the floors so the mezzanine was rightfully between the 1st and 2nd floors.

And then I thought, hey, wait a minute. While it’s not true that the mezzanine is always between floors one and two, a mezzanine is always located BETWEEN two main floors of any building (I checked a reliable source on such matters). So I’m picturing the guy/gal who is fabricating the directory and then putting the piece for the mezzanine at the top. Didn’t this person step back and ask “Hey, is there something wrong with this picture?”. It’s kind of sad when the professionals who make building directories don’t know where the mezzanine goes. Now what about our students who we constantly find on the mezzanine thinking they are on the second floor? We can only hope that if they become sign makers, they’ll have learned at least one useful thing in college.

World’s Tallest Library

I will usually take a look whenever the Chronicle has a story about a new library building (in the “Building & Grounds” section of the daily “Afternoon Update”). So this headline really caught my attention:

Ryerson U. Plans 21-Story Library in Downtown Toronto

What the…? A 21-story library building? Was that right? Have you ever seen, let alone heard of, a 21-story library building. I read the article twice but nothing about 21 stories. Further, the building, an addition to an existing structure, would be a 160,000 square foot facility. My current library is just slightly larger – at only 5 stories (one is the above mentioned mezzanine). Perhaps the building is on a very tiny piece of ground. The tallest library I’ve ever seen was 12 stories. Now when I read the story I noticed it mentioned how this would be a 21st-century library (Um, what century would it be? Maybe we should start going back to “state-of-the-art” library – or does “21st-century library” deliver a message we need to maintain?) Is it possible the writer meant “21st-century” and not “21-story”. I don’t know, but I did leave a comment asking about it. So far, no response. Maybe it’s right. Have you seen a 21-story library? BTW, a multi-room corporate library at the top of a skyscraper doesn’t count.

No Chip Off the Old Block

For my son’s birthday my spouse and I made the drive to Brooklyn for a visit and small celebration. Brooklyn is pretty great and we really like to walk through the different neighborhoods but given the cold weather that wasn’t possible. So we hung around his studio apartment (for which he pays a king’s ransom in rent). Now my son was never the neatest person but I always hoped my meticulous attention to book organization would rub off on him. As the photo below shows – apparently not.

This is how my son organizes his book collection - quite a system.
This is how my son organizes his book collection - quite a system.

So maybe the organization isn’t all that great, but at least he likes to read books – and he’s got good taste.

We’re Gonna Make It After All

Librarianship may be the only profession where we can have simultaneous conversations about how bright our future is and how we have no future at all. So if you were looking for a reliable sign that we may actually still be around just a few years from now, then look no further than a recent post by Female Science Professor. In this post the FSP asked her readers “What tradition or other general characteristic of academia would you like to see eliminated completely?” I scrutinized the lengthy list of comments in which anything and everything we hold dear to us in academia appears to be up for total extinction, and I was relieved to find that not a single one mentioned eliminating the academic library. What more do you need to know about our secure place in higher education. However, fencing teams and students should be worried.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Good Example of Having Presence

In a previous post I wrote about the important of having presence if you want to be a leader in or beyond your library, and if you want to be perceived as a leader by others. If you are called upon to deliver a spur-of-the-moment, extemporaneous explanation of why your library matters, and all you can do is sputter a few cliched, incomprehensible, overly technical or downright dull statements, your stature as a leader will be seriously weakened. Though the post communicated the importance of presence, it failed to deliver a good example of presence. Well, I just found one. Watch – and listen to – New York Public Library President and Chief Executive Officer Paul LeClerc in this video clip. Then you’ll understand what it means to have presence.


In a recent post I pondered the value of powering done, whether for days at a time or even just an hour here and there during your day. Thanks to colleagues who shared their ideas for or experiences with powering down. For those interested in exploring additional ideas for how to slow down I recommend taking a look at the latest issue of Good magazine which is titled “The Slow Issue“. It contains a series of articles that explore the value of living life at a slower, sometimes “off the grid” pace. If you only have time for a quick look, try “Hurry Up and Wait” in which several futurists share why they think slowness might be just as important as speed to the future. If you are still not sure what it means to slow down, maybe you need to watch this video.

What’s Your Semester Plan?

And speaking of time, have you given thought to how you want to use your time this semester, especially if you want to position yourself to do more writing or proposal preparation? It definitely helps to have a personal plan for what you want to accomplish and how you plan to get it done. If you find yourself continually challenged to begin projects or complete them, a plan with specific goals may help. What works for me is something similar to what Kerry Ann Rockquemore offered in a column that advocated semester planning for faculty. What it comes down to, I think, is setting some realistic goals for yourself, setting the priorities, committing to a daily routine of writing and reading – and scheduling it, and working with a partner if you need the support. Have a back up plan. That way if project A drags to a halt for some reason you will have Project B to shift your energies to – and it’s less likely you’ll drop the routine to which you committed.

Keep An Open Mind About The Skills We Can Use

The Library 101 project received a fair amount of attention, but I felt no particular need to endorse or condemn it. Personally, the project does not resonate with me. If its creators enjoy the project and other librarians find it of value, that’s all good. Along with a video, the creators provide a list of Library 101 skills. That list includes some useful items and some questionable ones. Again, no one is forcing this on any of us. It did come to my attention that the mention of HULU as a recommended “skill” for librarians was the object of ridicule. When I heard this I was somewhat skeptical myself. But recently our Media Services Librarian gave a workshop for our campus community on finding and using video resources. Many resources were identified, and I was surprised to see HULU among them. After all, who doesn’t know about HULU, and isn’t most of the content television shows? Turns out most of the faculty there didn’t know about HULU. I learned that HULU has content with educational value. Whether it’s Jon Stewart interviewing a political figure or popular author or providing access to a classic film or short feature (yes – you do have to watch some commercials), faculty thought that HULU had content with value. We also learned some tips and tricks for making better use of HULU. Turns out there was something worth learning here after all, and that it took a skilled librarian to share that with faculty. It pays to keep an open mind to new possibilities.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Cooperation or Duplication

Here’s an interesting project from a few libraries out west that have decided to cooperatively build a library of video instructional tutorials. So far the tutorials cover the usual things, such as popular vs. scholarly journals, why you need to cite sources, and how to develop search terms. The Cooperative Library Instruction Project makes sense because why should every library be creating its own tutorials. Why not just have one generic tutorial, not specific to any library, that can be locally customized for use by many; wasn’t that the point of TILT. That saves time and faculty could also be directed to the site for incorporating the instruction into their courses. But isn’t the idea of sharing academic library tutorials the whole point of ACRL’s PRIMO repository of instructional materials? And why create new tutorials when there may be perfectly good ones out there? For example, I think this tutorial on scholarly versus popular is quite satisfactory. Why wouldn’t the cooperative include this rather than create a new one? Isn’t that the point of cooperation – not to reinvent the wheel? All that said, take a look at the Cooperative’s tutorials. You might prefer them to others you’ve tried.

Overheard on the Quiet Car

I recently took the Acela to Boston, and was able to get on the quiet car for the 5-hour ride back to Philadelphia. I couldn’t help but notice the conductor’s announcement: “This is the quiet car. There is no cell phone use allowed. All conversation must be kept at a whisper. In the quiet car we like to keep a library-like atmosphere.” I can’t say for sure but I’m guessing it’s been a while since that conductor visited a library.

Does This Mean They Liked Me?

It used to be that when you made a presentation at a library conference or symposium you’d get a few polite “nice job” comments after the talk, and if an attendee really enjoyed it he or she might send you a note afterwards – just as a token of appreciation for a job well done or to follow up with a question or two. Times have changed. After a recent presentation, when I next logged into my gmail account I saw I had eight new followers on my Twitter account. Now, I don’t know for sure if they all attended my program, but at least one or two of the names looked familiar and it seemed more than just a coincidence. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I’m just not sure quite what it means. I’m guessing this is the contemporary way of signaling that someone’s presentation resonated with you. It’s kind of interesting in a way. In the old days we just exchanged notes and had it done with. There’s something more permanent about following someone. Sure, you can always stop following, but how often does that happen. It’s a commitment. It’s flattering (I think), but on the other hand I feel like I”m going to disappoint these folks because my tweets are far from stimulating and are rather few and far between. Perhaps I need to pick it up and deliver more. Ah, the pressures of modern life.

News for ALA Swag Whores

Heard something interesting on the radio today. The simple pen is no longer the number one swag item being given away by corporate exhibitors. It looks like 2009 was the year of hand sanitizer. That’s right. Exhibitors have replaced their cheesy pens with little hand sanitizer bottles emblazoned with their corporate logos. So if your main reason for going to ALA is to stock up on all the pens you’ll need to keep your family and friends well equipped with writing instruments for the year, you may be disappointed in 2010. Then again you could become everyone’s go-to-guy/gal for hand sanitizer. I will be looking closely for those truly savvy vendors who put two and two together and think creatively when coming up with swag that will keep those librarians coming back for more.