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

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

What About That Other Academic Librarianship Journal

If you asked most academic librarians to name “the” scholarly journal for academic librarians I believe you’d get one of three responses: College & Research Libraries; Journal of Academic Librarianship; and portal: Libraries and the Academy. Those are probably the top three, but does that show our American bias? I’m probably guilty of this myself because I never really even considered the New Review of Academic Librarianship, which has some pretty interesting articles. In this issue I came across a good article by Derik Law titled “Academic Digital Libraries of the Future: An Environment Scan” – well worth reading. I hope you’ll expand your academic library journal horizons and take a look at an issue of New Review of Academic Librarianship.

Listen to My Podcast with Sarah Long

If you like ACRLog you’ll probably like this podcast I did with Sarah Long. You might be surprised to find out which one of my ACRLog posts caught her attention – and why. Then we got into a conversation about different blog posts, and Sarah asks me about the inspiration for the posts. It’s a pretty good conversation – and Sarah thinks I’ve got talent. She is a very nice person – and a darn good podcast interviewer!

Looking for the NEXT BIG THING

Do you ever think about the next big thing? Will it be Google Wave? The Semantic Web? The Apple Tablet? A communication device implanted in your body? And wouldn’t you like to get your hands on it, and be the first person in academic libraryland to put it to some good use? I suppose we’re all wondering what the next big thing is, and how we can find out about it – and possibly make some use out of it. That’s why I enjoyed this post I found over at the blog Not Just Admissions. It makes me realize that librarians aren’t the only ones in higher education that are always on the lookout for the next big thing. It’s a fun post with a point, and perhaps the most important one is that a good idea can come from anywhere in your organization.

What Are You Planning for National Information Literacy Month

It’s about time. I may be wrong with my date here (and I’m sure a librarian will correct me) but I believe information literacy dates back to the 1970s – I’m vaguely thinking the term information literacy was coined in 1974. That makes me ask how come it took so darn long for a president to declare National Information Literacy Month. This calls for a celebration of some sort. Perhaps a party in the library with lots of cake. Maybe a banner in the library instruction room. I just wonder if getting its own month means that information literacy is finally an acceptable term – or do we have to keep coming up with ways to talk about information literacy without having to actually use or say “information literacy.”

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

More on Dan Ariely

I’ve been to more than a few ACRL President’s Programs. These programs take place at the ALA Annual Conference. Many of them I really do not remember. But one that I remember well is the 2008 program at which Dan Ariely was the speaker. Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and the presentation was based on his book Predictably Irrational. I enjoyed the presentation so much that I wrote a post about it. Since then I’ve taken note of Ariely who seems to be showing up all over the place these days. Since the ACRL program I’ve found myself enjoying most of what Ariely has to say, and it’s a good reminder about how irrational we humans can be when it comes to decision making. So I was pleased to come across his blog and promptly subscribed. You may want to as well.

Does Access To Social Networks Lead To Greater Narcissism – Not Us

So Generation Me – that’s our current crop of traditional 18-22 year olds – finally admits that it is most narcissistic generation of all times. Maybe this news doesn’t surprise you. This news comes from a survey of 1,068 students concerning their use of social networks by the organization YPulse. The study reports that 92% of the respondents said they used MySpace or Facebook regularly. Two-thirds said their generation was more self-promoting, narcissistic, overconfident and attention-seeking than others.

So if using social networks leads to more self-promoting, and narcissistic and attention-seeking behavior, how come I haven’t seen any evidence of that among our profession. After all, we are pretty heavy users of all of these social netwwork technologies. I guess we just must be immune to that sort of thing, being humble librarian types and all that sort of thing. Nope, no evidence of greater narcissism here.

More On The Real-Time Web

If you enjoyed my post on Real-Time Libraries and would like to explore the Real-Time Web concept in more detail, take a look at series of articles on the Real-Time Web published at ReadWriteWeb. At the time of this writing only parts one and two are available, but you can keep an eye open for part three to come soon. Interesting that the author says there is no one definition for the Real-Time Web and that there is even still some question of what to call the trend, but he identifies five characteristics of the Real-Time Web:

1. is a new form of communication,
2. creates a new body of content,
3. is real time,
4. is public and has an explicit social graph associated with it,
5. carries an implicit model of federation.

This is worthwhile reading, and offers more insight into how the academic library should be re-imagining itself for the Real-Time Web.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

No, Everyone Really DOES Like to Search

I admit to, at one time, having had a slight problem with Roy Tennant’s statement from 2001 that “Only librarians like to search; everyone else likes to find”. Admittedly it is a cleverly stated and catchy phrase. It’s no surprise it caught on with any librarian giving a talk or writing a paper who wanted to make a sound-bite observation about students gravitating to Google rather than using a library search system. I pointed out that while it sounds good and is catchy, it may not make all that much sense. After all, can anyone find anything without doing some sort of search? You might say that librarians like the challenge of searching more than non-librarians. On the other hand, the reason I prefer to search native language DIALOG is precisely because I find what I need really fast and can report it out in exactly the way I want it. As a librarian I don’t want to spend any more time searching than I absolutely need. But I’d never try to convince the layperson to try using DIALOG.

So I found it really interesting to discover this article about how much people – not just librarians – really do like to search. In fact, according to this article “Seeking: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting” from Slate “when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.” Apparently searching for information fulfills some primordial need to hunt and find – and that doing so may actually create a sense of arousal in humans. That may explain why you can’t stop yourself from constantly checking your social network accounts to see if there’s anything new and interesting there. Roy gave our profession a thought provoking phrase, and it definitely struck a chord with us. But given this new research it may be time to update it to “Everyone likes to search, but librarians like to do it better”.

Good Advice on Being a Good Colleague

This blog post over at Center of Gravitas is geared to faculty but I thought there were some insightful observations about what it means to be a good colleague – and what it means to be a jerk. Go read it. You may think you don’t need to be reminded about being a good colleague, but take my word for it – we all need to be reminded about this on a regular basis.

Some Librarians Still Don’t Get Blogging

I came across Thomas Leonhardt’s column in the June 2009 issue of Against the Grain (sorry – not available in full-text) in which he explains “Why I Don’t Blog”. While it’s not as anti-blogging as the infamous Michael Gorman Library Journal column, it too mistakenly uses generalizations that illustrate a lack of understanding about the benefits many blogs provide to the library community. Problematic generalization number one. Leonhardt gets things off to a bad start by implying that all bloggers have big egos. Sure, some librarian bloggers do like to brag about shamelessly promote their latest article or an offer to present at a conference, but that’s hardly a reason to write off librarian blogs. If anything, Leonhardt reveals that he doesn’t get that self-promotion is an accepted practice among the newer generation of librarians. He may find it unsettling (I did too at one time) but it’s not about big egos. Problematic generalization number two. Leonhardt uses the Annoyed Librarian as an example of the typical librarian blog, and he makes no secret of his dislike for what he finds there. But he uses this one blog to justify his “I won’t be back to this site or any other blog site” mentality. That doesn’t seem particularly open minded for a librarian. If I read one book I didn’t like, would it then make sense to conclude that I should never read a book again?

Leonhardt then veers off into conflating blogging with communicating with family and friends. Most librarian bloggers are dealing with issues, not personal communications with friends. This failed observation gets back to the lesson we should have learned from Gorman’s column. Don’t criticize blogging if you haven’t taken time to really get to know different librarian blogs. Base your opinions on experience (and not just a single blog) rather than what you’ve heard or read elsewhere. So if you are a regular reader of ATG – and I hope you are – just ignore Leonhardt’s advice when he cautions against blogging. If you have something to say, consider blogging about it. There are loads of librarian blogs, but I imagine there are still plenty of ideas out there just waiting for a good blogger to come along and share. Here’s what I find especially ironic. ATG promotes blogging by its regular columnists by offering them blogging space. Perhaps Leonhardt ought to begin a serious exploration of librarian blogging by reading the ones written by his fellow ATG columnists. Then again, maybe he’s already moved on to writing his column explaining why he doesn’t have a Twitter account.