Monthly Archives: May 2009

Wolfram Alpha

Maybe I’m missing something.  

I’m afraid I’m completely underwhelmed by the new search site, Wolfram Alpha.  A number of blogs have mentioned the site and have been fairly positive about the site and what it can do.  I’ve tried a few things, and the results have been spotty at best.

I tried Henry VIII as a search (I’ve been watching The Tudors) and it came up with very basic information: full name, date and place of birth, dateand place of death.  

Nothing else?  Protestant reformation and the birth of the Church of England?  Six wives? Daddy of Elizabeth I? Nothing?   

I added “wives” to the search, and it told me that “Wolfram\Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.”   Tried “wives of Henry VIII.”  Nothing.  “Six wives of Henry VIII.”  Nothing.

For a site that’s supposed to have a wealth of knowledge, it’s not very knowledgable.  

They have an area of searches to try, and those are kind of handy; for instance, you can enter two different companies and the site will put up a comparative chart of their financials.  

Perhaps this will be more inclusive in the future.  Maybe it’s just for financial and mathematical stuff and not social science stuff.  In any case, I’m not sure that it’s particularly helpful…or, any more so than other tools.  

I guess you can put me in the “we’ll see” camp for now.


Filed under Miscellaneous, Techie stuff

Library, reconfigured

It’s the summer break here at MPOW, and boy, is it quiet. I’ve gotten rather used to the constant stream of students in the library and I miss them. I’m also wrapping my mind around the fact that these patrons that I’ve gotten to know are suddenly gone – and many of them won’t return. That’s par for the course in an academic library, of course, and is what should happen. But as a former public librarian, I’m used to developing a relationship with a patron that would last a lifetime.

I feel like a mother bird whose chicks have flown the nest. Bon voyage, all.  I’ll miss you.

In the interim, I’m reconfiguring the library space. The library is the Quiet Space on campus, but at the moment is rather full of desktop computers making it look more like a computer lab. Since our incoming freshman class will be armed with laptops, I’m removing half the desktops and replacing them with comfortable chairs and a few tables. I think the ambiance of the library will be quite changed. For the better, hopefully.

We’ve also started a Book Exchange, requested by staff. I’ve brought in a bag full from home (and there’s more where those came from) and others will join in. I had thought to do this for the students, since my collection development doesn’t include recreational reading material. A couple of staff members approached me last week and asked if we could do this in the library, much to the delight of the rest of the faculty and staff.

It’s been an educational, entertaining, and invigorating year. I can’t wait to see what’s to come.

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What the….?

In the category of boneheaded decisions comes this gem:

ACADEMICS at Oxford University have banned step-ladders from its world famous Bodleian library – because of health and safety fears.

The ban means students are unable to reach books on the top shelves but dons refuse to bring them lower because it would remove them from their “original historic location”.

Students travel to libraries as far away as London to view other copies.

Step-ladders have been used by scholars to reach books in Duke Humfrey’s reading room for decades.

But the university’s health and safety officer put his foot down and they were removed two weeks ago.

Books on the top shelves include tomes about art history and poetry.

Art history student Kelsey Williams, 21, said: “Access to these books is necessary for my research.”

Laurence Benson, the library’s director of administration and finance, said: “The library would prefer to keep the books in their original historic location – where they have been safely consulted for 400 years prior to the instructions from the health and safety office.”

Words fail.

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Filed under Libraries and Librarianship, Things that make you go, "Hmmm..."


“For him that stealeth a Book from this Library, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with Palsy, and all his Members blasted. Let him languish in Pain crying aloud for Mercy and let there be no surcease to his Agony till he sink in Dissolution. Let Bookworms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye.”

Curse Against Book Stealers Monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona

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The perils of Facebook, or how to scam a sister-in-law

I’ve just installed a nifty IM aggregator that connects all of my various networks, including Facebook, and alerts me when someone is trying to chat with me.  So far, I’m liking it quite a bit.  

So, I get an IM from my brother-in-law, Thom.  This is fairly unusual, but a welcome surprise.  He’s not good – he’s stuck in London.  Here’s the transcript of our chat:

Thomas Hi Mary  [All of my brothers call me Mary, rather than Mary Beth.  My grandfathers did, too.]

Mary Hi there!

Thomas how are you doing ?

Mary Good – how are you? Quiet day here at the library…

Thomas I’m not good

Mary How come? What’s going on?

Thomas I’m in stuck in london right now

Mary Well, there are worse places to be stuck! Why are you stuck there? Are you at the airport?

Thomas I was mugged at gunpoint and have my cash, credit card and other valuable stuffs stolen off me

Mary WHAT????? Are you OK?

Thomas nope in my hotel room and my flight leaves in 3 hours from now.  Mary, please I need your help urgently

It was at this point that I started to get suspicious.  That phrase would never come out of Thom’s mouth.  But I continued, just in case.

Mary What do you need?

Thomas I need you to loan me some $$$ so I can settle my unsettle bills so I can check out.  the hotel won’t let me check out without settling the bills I owe

Mary How should we do this? How much are we talking about?

Thomas you have the money sent to me via western union money transfer

$800 will be okay

I will pay you your $ back as soon as I get home, I don’t mind paying you back with interest

OK.  I’m more than willing to help out my brother-in-law.  Thom does travel quite a bit and it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that he would be in London and find himself in this unfortunate situation.  But just to make sure, I decided to ask a question that Thom should have been able to answer very easily.

Mary alright – just to make sure you’re who you say you are, what’s my granddaughter’s name?

Thomas don’t you trust me ? Is it because I need your help thats why you asking me this

please my flight leaves in 3 hours from now

Mary Not at all – it’s because your stuff was stolen and I want to make sure you’re really Thom and not some thief.

No problem – then tell me my granddaughter’s name

Thomas mary come off this I can’t remember that now, not in a good mood at all

Ah-hah.  At this point, I decided to call Thom.  He answered.  And surprise of surprises, he wasn’t in London, but at work.  In Wisconsin.  

Mary Interesting – I’m talking to you on the phone right now. And you don’t seem to be in London.

Thomas I’m in London Mary..Why are you doubting me

Well, I certainly give whomever points for persistence.  Sticking with the story, at least.

Thomas are you there ???

Mary I’m here

Thomas Please I need to get out of here as soon as possible

Mary Then explain how you can be in London when I just talked with you on the phone, and you’re in Wisconsin.

Mary Interesting, no?

Thomas I’m in UK now mary

Mary Dude, get serious. I just TALKED to Thom.

Thomas I’m in UK now mary

Whomever it was gave up at that point.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is, except that there are people out there that will try anything to scam money.  Apparently, Facebook is a new venue for this.  I wrote to all of Thom’s Facebook friends and told them what happened, in case this person was going down the list.   (Luckily, Thom isn’t very active on Facebook and so there weren’t that many people to contact.)

It’s a whole new world out there, people.  Be careful out there.

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Filed under Me and mine, Things that make you go, "Hmmm..."

Studying Students

The undergraduate research project at the University of Rochester.  Keynote speaker: Katie Clark, Associate Dean, Public Services.

Two year project to study undergrads – how they work and how they live.

From the “other Rochester.”  Campus has no non-traditional students; all students live on campus for all 4 years.

Project background:

IMLS grant to study faculty work practices.  Libraries hired an anthropologist; used ethnographic methods.  Results made them want to use more.

Decided to then study undergraduates.  Not grant funded; hired the anthropologist to staff – Dr. Nancy Foster.

Methodologies: retrospective interviews, photo surveys, mapping diaries, interviews in student union, late night dorm visits, design workshops for web page, design Charettes.

Retrospective interviews – interviewed students that had just written a paper.  Students would make a sketch of the process.  At the end, had a video tape of the interview and the graphic representation.  Learned that individual students studied in many different places.  (In the dorm, in the library, in the study lounge, etc.)  Saw the library over and over – librarians, not so much.

One of the things that surprised them a lot was how involved the parents are in the writing of the paper.  Freshmen talk to their parents all the time about their papers.  

Students: worked on papers in chunks, with days or weeks in between.  Asked family and friends for help choosing a topic or editing their papers.  Use Google, but not only Google.  Did evaluate resources – just not all the ways the librarians recommend.  Didn’t remember who gave their library session.

Used disposable cameras – gave students a list of pictures to take.  Some were social – take a picture of something funny, or your friend.  Some were academic.  They didn’t have the nerve to go to the dorms themselves – thought it was kind of creepy.  Asked the students to take the dorm photos.  Later interviewed the students to tell them about the pictures.

Shows a photo of a dorm room – it’s an unbelievable mess.  Amongst all the mess is a laptop.

Picture of “something you couldn’t live without” – one took a pic of her daily planner.  

Pic of “your favorite place to study” – dorm rooms, and the library.  Found that the same student would like to work in many different places.  Perhaps they come to the library because it’s quiet, it’s clean, and it’s a way to get away from the mess.

Pic of “what do you always carry with you?” – cell phones were ubiquitous.  Nothing unusual.  One thing they noticed was that the students weren’t carrying their laptops.

Pic of “what in the library is confusing to you?” – stacks.  Not only did one student find them confusing, she was actually afraid of the stacks – she had gotten lost in them.  

Mapping diaries – traced where the students went all day, using the campus map.  Were interviewed afterwards about the process.

Found that students: are on the go for hours at a time. Do more than just attend classes.  Eat quick meals, at odd times, sometimes just snacking wherever they are.  Carry their belongings with them.  Use technology everywhere.  Peak study time 11pm to 1am.

Late night at the student union: have no problem finding materials for their papers; if they have problems finding materials, they just switch topics.  Have some problems organizing and writing their papers. Knew about the college writing center.  Ask professors and TAs for help – didn’t ask librarians, as they were strongly tied to print books and not help in papers.  

Finally did go to the dorms, and were welcomed by the students.  Students were flattered to be asked for their opinions.  Went to two dorms at 10:00 on a weekday night.  Were invited into the rooms.  Impression of the dorms was that of chaos – lots of noise, music, gaming, movement back and forth.  Meanwhile, lots of multitasking going on.  

Surprise that students were not as technology-savvy as they thought.  Some were very geeky, but most weren’t.  Students would have interesting ways to get themselves offline – would unplug their computers and move to a place where there wasn’t wireless.  Many students used the library as a place to disconnect and focus.

Webpage – has students circle the things they liked, cross out what they didn’t, and add postits for things they wanted to add.  Add – IM, Facebook, email, scrolling news link.  Liked catalog search box, article search box, borrowing information.

Brought students into an empty space that was due to be renovated.  Asked students if they could have anything in the space, what would the space look like?  Some students spent over an hour drawing very complex pictures.  Students wanted windows, long tables with barstools, fruit and other healthy snacks, someone to staff,  “the sun should be shining all the time”, meeting room with tables and chairs but comfy and not utilitarian, “overall atmosphere is quiet but not silent, lots of bright colors and semi-modern but not too weird-looking furniture”, computers with rolling chairs, glassed-in super-quiet area, etc.  

Renovation of new student space: collaborative study spaces, 24/7, power and data, importance of food, comfortable seating, lots of big tables.  

Issue of helicopter parents: have a breakfast for the parents, because they knew the students were talking to the parents.  One message: every class has a librarian.  Not sure whether it works or not, but they’re a much more attentive audience than the incoming freshmen.  (big laughter on that one.)  

Impications: understand how undergrads work and live, understand undergrad use of the library, high staff participation and engagement, new organizational culture – stopped the whole “when I was in college” thing.  Project was great fun.

Book available as free download.


Filed under Academia, Libraries and Librarianship