Sunday, April 19, 2009

Maybe Not...

I'm beyond a bit late to the party for this, but the newest song on repeat of the moment.

Look for the Bathroom version of "Some Fantastic". Excellent.

Today was ridiculously bright and sunny and warm, so very little was accomplished in the way of work. There's been running and cleaning and laundry and a flurry of posting to the message boards, but I've yet to work on drafts of anything. AK and I took a long walk after the sun went down and the topic turned to places we could eventually move. While we both like Seattle, we agree that we need some place that has more sun, not less, than Portland. He will continually lobby for San Diego, which I think is still too expensive a place to live (even with the housing market bottoming out). The iSchool is pretty heavy on the Australian connections, so maybe that would be a possibility. Unfortunately my knowledge of Australian fencing begins and ends with an expat who fences at NWFC, so some research is in order.

Since my sisters came out to visit, I've been thinking a lot about the East Coast. I don't know if I could ever live there again. The Hudson Valley is unrecognizable to me now. Public transport is nonexistent outside of a major metropolitan area (essentially anywhere except NYC and Boston). The energy is different too. As much as it pains me to admit it, I don't know if I'm cut out for East Coast living (or at least southern New York/Tri-State area living). Right now I can't think of anywhere I'd want to be other than Portland, but unless the state schools find money and people start retiring, I'm not sure of the job prospects. Economy, you have three years to get it together!

I never thought that this would be a place that I would be reluctant to leave.

The Return of Running

Before grad school started up, I was on a running regime of almost 20 miles a week - typically two shorter runs during the week and a long one on Sunday mornings. I peaked on a ten mile run in the blazing heat and decided that really a half-marathon would be my breaking point. I had planned on keeping up my running when grad school started with the idea that simply grabbing my shorts and sneakers would be a quick and easy break from the grad school grind. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case when I discovered that 8 credits a quarter (if broken up into 4 courses) made me insane and overloaded. After surviving Fall Quarter, I had plans to run again, but the Snowpocalypse of 2008 hit and kept us buried until well after the start of Winter Quarter. And I didn't run during winter quarter because I'm lazy. I get home from work and spend an hour making dinner, paying bills, cleaning up the place, or sitting on my butt not doing anything after working all day. Then I plunge into homework until 10 at night.

This is not to say that I've been a complete schlub the entire time. Yes, fencing had to give since AK coaches almost every night of the week and making it to an OFA practice is nearly impossible for my schedule. Almost every day I take a long walk, at least half an hour. I'm a twitchy type of person and I have to move. This is especially true when too many large projects are looming or the message boards look intimidating. I must move.

But I've been feeling the need for something more, for a proper sweat. I miss the pleasant exhaustion that follows a good workout. I miss feeling lean. So when a book on beginning running appeared on the new book shelf at work, I checked it out. There's a 14-week program in the back for people who are no longer beginners (you could run a 5k) but who aren't exactly out there on a half-marathon track. This morning I began session one of week one with a quick cycle of speedwork. It hurt only slightly (mostly my lungs). I absorbed so much wonderful sunlight and now I'm here on my bed, still in the sunlight, and ready for a day of laundry and literature reviews. Though listening to the birds and the stream outside my window, I'm a bit loathe to add to the background the thumping of the washer. An excuse? Perhaps, but at least I moved my butt today.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Access and the Supercatalog

There's a lot running through my head at the moment. My husband and I bought a proper used car, my family is visiting me on this coast for the first time ever (I have a younger sister next to me on the couch reading Coraline and asking me "What does this word mean?"), and the new quarter is currently destroying and rebuilding mental concepts.

I just finished an article* by Cerise Oberman on the supercatalog and the "Cereal Syndrome" that many patron face in light of this massive increase in information. The cereal syndrome is essentially the issue of "more being less". Consumer studies showed that an overwhelming selection of goods in a store can actually lead to an increase in anxiety among shoppers, instead of a sense of pleasing bounty (190). This information overload and the anxiety that it brings is increasing prevalent in the library world, as we are adding more and more resources and databases and things to the catalog.

Oberman, writing in 1991, spoke of the creation of a "supercatalog", a "totally integrated information network" (190). I believe this is nearly embodied in entities such as WorldCat Local. One search and, at least in my library, you receive hits in the UW libraries, the Orbis Cascade Alliance, and everything that anyone has cataloged and affixed a symbol (like Harvard and their reserve articles....). That is, quite simply, a ton of stuff. Students need to be taught to think critically in order to slog through a multiplicity of hits, databases, and other resources.

While I deeply appreciate Oberman's proposed methods (grounded in my dear Kuhlthau), I think she missed one vital part of instruction, namely evaluating access. Oberman alludes to this in her first point on the online environment, namely that students should understand the function and purpose of the catalog. In doing so, students should be taught how to get to the materials they're locating, once they've figured out that the material is appropriate for their needs. At work we talk a lot about how students just want to click one button and have the materials appear, but right now that's not feasible with current catalog functions. Students have to decide if a material is local, in Summit, or in WorldCat. They then have to decide if they want to order it, how to order it (there are two different logins students have to use to order materials) and then how long it will take/how soon they need it. At work we try to provide good customer service by getting things as fast as we can, but often students shoot themselves in the foot by not understanding how to locate materials. If students order on ILL a book in Summit, we're going to cancel the request and order it via Summit, but they have to sit and wait for an ILL person to look at the record and run the search. If they pick a record with 3 holdings, they should maybe emotionally prepared for not getting the materials or should seek out new resources.

I suppose I'm wondering if this is a burden that should be on the student or that should instead be on the catalog developers. I think the question should be not can we make the catalog one click, but should we make it that way? As long as students have to rely on courier trucks and the US Postal Service to ship books and materials, information will not be instantaneous. Should we leave students with that impression of immediacy or instead teach them about the limits of the system? While it might not make us feel that great about our product, it's a valuable piece of information for students who need to make quick and important choices about material selection.

*Oberman, C. (1991). Avoiding the Cereal Syndrome, or Critical Thinking in the Electronic Environment. Library Trends, 39(3), 189-202.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


I should probably be finishing the last lecture I need to listen to for class tomorrow, but I'm feeling rather excited and alive at the moment, so it's best to write now. I'm typing from a table at the top of my hotel, looking out on the university. I spent four excellent hours this morning in class for LIS 560 (Instructional and Training Strategies for Information Professionals). My professor is as excellent and articulate as I remember from my first quarter. Once again, I'm happy that I have some knowledge to help me ground the material, though in this case I'm relying on what my husband does for living --teaching-- instead of library experience. Throughout the lecture and discussion this morning, I kept noting bits that I wanted to share with AK (either because he might be keen to know something or because I was learning something he'd already discovered and shared). Because the 560s tend towards youth services, I was a little hesitant about this course, since working with children is not anywhere close to what I want to do for a living (I know my limits). so I'm glad that I'll be able to come away with something that will help me in my training of students or future job talks.

But I'm just as glad that I'll have a better sense of what it is that AK does. Yes, he gathers up small children and adults and teaches them to fence, but he's never just stopped at that. He's always considering how to approach the material, how to best present the material and engage the student to both make the class enjoyable and to make better fencers. He's truly interested in the pedagogy of fencing, not just how to best win a touch. While he always has a plan for his class (6 week intro versus 1 week camp, epee versus saber etc.), it's never exactly the same. He's always considering his methods, looking at how to change and improve what he's doing. And while I think it's possible to chalk some of that up to his need for constant creativity (which isn't necessarily a flaw), a great deal of it comes from just wanting to do it better, to give the students a better experience and more knowledge. Since I've often been placed in the frustrating role of guinea pig when he's trying out some of these theories (which can be good or bad, depending on the idea... and on my mood), it's nice to think that I'll finally have the perspective from the other side of the piste.

After class and lunch with the awesomest workshop group ever, I visited with my advisor. Since this is the last residency ever, I wanted to touch base with her about my future, something beyond the core courses. We had a great chat, which is why I'm feeling somewhat pumped and excited about the future. We discussed how I could gain perspective of the field outside of the academic library world. Academic libraries, especially small liberal arts colleges, is the bulk of my library experience, both as employee and user. When I have to think about a career that doesn't involve becoming a systems librarian at a similar institution, I'm blocked. I really don't know my options yet. Really, that's because I'm still new to this field as a professional and I haven't yet developed the skills that will dictate my options. She feels that once I get through the beginning 530s I'll have a clearer sense of where I'm headed. The idea of doing a directed fieldwork in a similar, but non-academic environment was proposed. If I could track something down, that would be perfect - building skills and an idea of where I'm headed all at once. After that we just chatted about life and the world and other tangentially related topics. She's a very cool person and I hope to find the excuse to get up to Seattle again, if just to talk with her.

So now I'm back at the hotel, in the middle of the aforementioned lecture. The lecture and my meeting this afternoon lead me to think more on why I'm attracted to the organization of information. It's more than just a compulsion for order - I have often seen offices of catalogers that do not bespeak of a mind geared towards controlling chaos. Before I followed the path of Victorian Studies, I felt very drawn to the sciences, especially chemistry. I loved the precision of it, certainly. What I really loved was how you could write things down, how a simple collection of words and numbers could tell you so much. Entire reactions, creation and destruction, in a single line. If you could read it... Making things useful, making things accessible and easy, even if on the back end they're terribly complicated, is a lot of what we're doing now in libraries and a lot of what I want to do. There's so much possible data, but how do you get to it and how to do you render it in a way that people or machines can do what they need to do? That's the sort of question that I find interesting, though I doubt my ability to answer it. Well, at least my ability at this point in my career. But the question will still be there in three years.