Category Archives: Academia

Connections

It’s been a busy few weeks here at MPOW, with school starting up again and an influx of worried, excited, nervous, and hopeful first-year students.  It’s fun to watch as they gather and make friends, and it’s equally as fun to see the students who are now upperclassmen strut about as they flaunt their inside knowledge. It’s all fun.

I’ve been asked to be the faculty adviser for both the acapella singing group and the African cultural group, both of which I readily and humbly accepted. While I’m pretty conversant with singing, I’m much less so with African culture. I look forward to the opportunity to learn more about the the different cultures, about how we might be similar and how we are surely different. (One of the students was telling me yesterday about a dish they remembered with great fondness, describing it so wistfully it was obvious it was a cherished meal. Given that it was a fish that contained roe and was cooked – and served – whole, I was not at all convinced. Of course, their reactions when I described lutefisk were equally horrified.)

It occurs to me that these opportunities are what much of society is lacking of late. We are, most of us, so intent on looking at our various devices that we don’t look up and chat up the person next to us. (Well, I do. Just ask DBF.) We are mostly aware of our own culture and heritage, but don’t inquire as to others. Is it a lack of curiosity? A fear of looking foolish? Or offending? In any case, the fact that we don’t seem to talk to each other anymore is making us insular, and suspicious of those unlike us.

It’s as if we’ve traveled back in time, when you were wary of those not from your village. Short of yanking phones out of the hands of passersby, how do we bridge that gap?

Libraries help, of course. They’re gathering spaces and gatherers and disseminators of knowledge. They have programs that allow you to meet your neighbor and get to know them a bit.

With the almost incomprehensible events of the last few days, I can’t help but wonder whether the lack of connection with each other didn’t play a part. We hear all too often that the perpetrators of this kind of carnage were loners, they had few friends, they were quiet neighbors. I don’t know whether connecting with someone like that would help or not, but I can’t help but think that it wouldn’t hurt.

In any case, I’ll be learning about Ghana and Ethiopia and Liberia in the next few weeks. I can’t wait. And maybe I can pass along a bit about German and French and Irish and Norwegian culture, as well. Connection is a good thing.

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Spell it out

There have been website updates recently for a couple of organizations with which I am associated. In one case, the web person forgot to put the name of the organization on the main page. (Oops.)  It’s too soon to tell with the other as it has yet to launch, but I’m sure there will be something.

Why?  Certainly not because the person in charge of the site is slipping. It’s simply that these sites are so big, it’s hard to see the details when you’ve been slogging through them for weeks and months.

It is imperative, therefore, to have someone that isn’t you or your staff or your web person take a look at your site to see where you might have missed something. Case in point, I’m doing some research for MPOW involving higher education conferences. In my research I’ve come across a number of sites that are Exceedingly Acronym Happy. One of these EAH sites has an acronym for its name….and never says what the thing means. I have no idea, even after looking in the “About us” section and the “FAQ” section and the “Contact us” section.

There’s something about this that makes me suspicious.  Perhaps you’re trying to sell me something and you’re hiding your real identity for unknown reasons. (Perhaps I’ve been reading too many mysteries and thrillers.) In any case, if you have an acronym on your site, at some point early on you need to spell it out.  This is one of those times when having an outsider take a look at your website would be helpful, especially if they’re not in on the acronym game. The first time someone says, “What’s that?” you have a clue to something that needs to be clarified.

Rant over. Back to searching for swell higher ed conferences. And, by the way, if there’s a conference you’ve attended that you recommend, please let me know!

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Common Sense

….or not.  The new Health and Safety Officer at Oxford has issued a decree that stepladders may no longer be used in the Bodlean Library:

Stepladders have been banned from part of Oxford University’s historic Bodleian library – because of health and safety fears.

The ruling by officials means that students cannot use items on the higher shelves of the Duke Humfrey reading room.

Wait, what??

Stepladders have been used by scholars to reach books since the library was built more than 400 years ago.

But no more, apparently. So there are now parts of the collection that are rendered unusable. Are modern librarians particularly clumsy? Beyond ridiculous.  Let’s hope someone develops some common sense, and fast.

 

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

Mindset, 2012

It’s that time of year again. It’s two weeks before the beginning of the semester here at MPOW, and I’m starting to think the quiet is feeling more like the calm before the storm.

To that end, Beloit College has again given us a list of the things that help to form the Class of 2016:

3.        The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.

Interesting. I wonder, then, if we use the term “Good Samaritan” if they know what we’re talking about?

9.        They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”

13.    They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.

I remember the first time I saw a piece of luggage with wheels on it. Thought it was the Best. Idea. Ever. All this as I was schlepping my luggage through the airport.

48.    They grew up, somehow, without the benefits of Romper Room.

Frankly, I would have thought this applied to many classes before this one.  It didn’t go off the air until 1994!

Have a look for yourself. It’s a fun trip down memory lane, if nothing else.

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Morsels

We’ve been trying to beef up our communication at MPOW, with some efforts more successful than others. One of the things I decided to try was a site where I would post some of the tidbits of information that I inevitably gather as I go about my week. I’m not sure how many people (if any) and reading it, but it’s out there.

I thought I’d share some of the tidbits here, too.  Enjoy.

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Mindset 2011

If it weren’t obvious that fall is rapidly approaching, the Beloit College Mindset List is out.  As usual, there are a few that hit the spot, at least for me:

2. Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents.

9. “Don’t touch that dial!” What dial?

There are many more. Check it out for yourself.  While the list isn’t definitive, of course, it does give a glimpse into the world that our incoming freshmen know as their own.

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Too much time

There’s a story making news of late about a hacker that “broke into” the JSTOR database and “stole millions” of articles.   Apparently the guy is a Fellow at  (irony warning) Harvard’s Center for Ethics.  He is accused of sneaking into a closet at MIT and downloading a bunch.

There are so many issues with this, I’m not sure where to start.  First of all, why was he doing this at MIT when he presumably had access via Harvard? (And the fact that he’s in the Center for Ethics is just too delicious.)

Secondly,the numbers don’t jive:

The programmer reportedly broke into a computer-wiring closet at the campus to access the university network and downloaded thousands of files from JSTOR—an online database of scholarly articles and journals. The university pays a subscription fee for use of the database.

A  commenter pointed out that these files are in PDF format; if he “stole millions” of articles, there should have been millions of files downloaded, not thousands.

Thirdly – and this is what has serious implications for academia – he is seemingly being charged with downloading too many articles. Granted, the number (thousands? millions?) is high, but who gets to set the bar?

And finally, it’s not JSTOR that’s bringing the suit; it’s the Federal Government.  As a point of fact, JSTOR has asked the government not to prosecute.  It seems that the government has decided that,

downloading said articles is actually felony computer hacking and should be punished with time in prison.

Wait.  What?

I’m assuming that this was done rather deliberately, making a point about freedom of information and free access.  He did break into the computer closet at MIT.  And is accused of,

 various attempts by Mr. Swartz to mask his identity while downloading the information, including setting up fake university accounts and obtaining new IP addresses after JSTOR and the university blocked access to his laptop computer.

Those are both no-no’s.  But deciding that the downloads of articles is computer hacking????  Uhmmm, no.

It appears that our government has too much time on their hands. It’s not like they have anything better to do. </sarcasm>

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What not to wear

I’m at a library conference in Philadelphia, specifically geared to academic librarians. (ACRL.)

It’s always fun to people-watch at these things, and I’m focusing on fashion primarily because the closing keynote is Clinton Kelly, of “What Not to Wear.” Unfortunately, I’m going to miss him.  I wonder what he’ll say.

As I’m people-watching, I’m noticing that most of us are dressed pretty well.  The notable exception, it finally came to me, was the population of overweight women. Almost universally, these folks need Clinton’s help.

However, as an overweight woman myself, I can relate to the struggle these women have in finding clothes that a)fit and b)look good.

SO my question is this: where are the designers for fat broads?

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Houston, we have a problem.

DH is in the final stretch of his MBA from a fellow institution here in Minnesota. He’s doing research and watching the game, and is getting increasingly frustrated with the library interface to the various databases.  He finally got so frustrated that I stepped in and asked if I could help, and was able to get things working for him.

It’s a good thing he happens to have a librarian at his disposal, and one that’s familiar with academic databases and their quirks.

DH, as many of you may remember, is an IT guy. Dealing with computers and programs is hardly novel to him, and he’s not afraid to go mucking about to make things work. He finds library database and journal access incredibly irritating and has the experience that, more often than not, that it doesn’t work. Or it’s a tedious process. Or it’s both.

I can’t really fault this institution’s interface, because it’s not much different than ours at MPOW – or that of any other academic library, for that matter.  The problem is that ALL of these interfaces are incredibly unfriendly to the average user.

We think we’re making things easier. We probably are – I would imagine this stuff was even less friendly without the tweaks we’ve made to the systems. But is this the best we can do?

When an information technology professional has trouble getting through our library interfaces, we have a problem.  When we spend huge money subscribing to these databases and their interface is almost impossible to beat into submission, we have a problem.

Academic libraries are increasingly moving towards virtual collections, especially of scholarly journals.  If our only access to these materials is in digital format, then the format should lend itself to easy searching and retrieval. If this isn’t as simple as browsing through the stacks and reading an article, then we have a problem.

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Crankypants

I’m turning into a cranky librarian.

I know there is a lot of information out there about how libraries are changing, how we’re not shushing patrons anymore, how the libraries are filled with joyous teens playing Guitar Hero and having a wonderful time.

Bleah.

There is a value in having a Quiet Space.  There is value in having a contemplative space. There is value in having a space where you can sit in a comfortable chair and just think.

We have some students that seem to understand this.  And then there are the students who don’t seem to have an “inside voice.” They are loud. Just in general conversation, they’re loud.

I find myself getting increasingly irritated with these types, and would dearly love to stride up to them and shush them.  I don’t, unless there’s a student taking an exam.

But boy, I really, really want to.

How do I create a contemplative study space without being the Crankypants Librarian?

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