Category Archives: Things that make you go, “Hmmm…”

Journalistic ideals

It has been a very, very long time since I’ve written here. I write almost daily on Facebook and Twitter, but haven’t wandered over to this blog. I’m not sure why, exactly, though the modern urge to communicate in 140 characters is beginning to be the norm. And yet, I’m feeling the need to express myself in a more complete – if less concise – form.  In any case, if you’re still with me, thank you.

I’m teaching at the local high school this week. I’ve been a visiting presenter at the invitation of the English teacher, and we’ve been talking to the students about research and how it may be more intense in college. In addition to the things I usually talk about, the teacher has asked me to talk about blogs and journalism and how the two may differ, and when it might be appropriate to cite a blog.

This took me on a path to research what blogs are out there these days, and I was a bit surprised at the “legitimate” organizations that now have blogs as part of their media reach. I’ve been blogging for a while now, and when I first started (cue the, “Why, back in my day…”) blogs were dismissed as being the ramblings of people unknown. Blogs were considered entertaining and perhaps informative, but in most cases not authoritative. That seems to have changed.

A thousand years ago, I switched majors in college from music (voice) to journalism, largely because of the influence “All the President’s Men” had on my young crusading spirit. (On a side note, I have discovered that I am descended from real Crusaders…but that’s another post.) I loved the idea of researching stories, uncovering misdeeds, righting wrongs, saving the world…you get the idea. Journalism rode in on a white horse, saving the day from tyranny and preserving the American Way. In my mind, the Fourth Estate was essential to democracy, ensuring that the other three branches of government were doing the things they were supposed to do and bringing to light abuses of power.

I’m not sure I believe that the Journalism I admired as a young woman exists any longer. These days I see the mainstream media as part of an entertainment complex rather than as a heroic and patriotic enterprise. The biases in media are insidious, and are all the more dangerous because – for the most part – they are hidden. When I teach students about research and biases and how to determine whether a source has an agenda, it’s difficult to talk about the mainstream media.  In doing a search on NBC, Fox, and CBS news channels, all three talk about entertainment, rather than journalism.

In contrast, news-related blogs – especially those that are politically driven  – tell the reader what their bias is, without equivocation. Daily Kos tells us that, “This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog.” Right Wisconsin (as if the name isn’t enough of a hint) tells us that, “We are a new distribution channel for conservative ideas.” This, I tell my students, is exactly what a site should say. It’s okay to have a bias, as long as you tell the reader up front that you have this lens through which you’re seeing the world.  If a site doesn’t tell you what their bias is, if they purport to be unbiased in their views but have a tendency to lean one way or the other….that’s when you should be a bit suspicious.

This all makes me think that the growing trend of citizen journalism will continue to grow, and perhaps is closer to the ideal as put forth in the constitution. I still believe that the Fourth Estate is essential to democracy. I’m not sure who inhabits that Estate, however, and who will take it into the future.

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Maturity

There’s a new survey that’s getting a bit of attention from “mature” librarians.  It’s not good attention.

The survey is for The Mature Librarian, and purports to uncover the challenges we mature folk have doing our jobs as librarians. Interestingly, none of the challenges I face are included. Instead, the possible problems are insulting at best. To wit:

4. What do you feel are the four greatest challenges to you as a mature librarian? Please rank them with 1 being the greatest, 2 the next greatest and so forth
1 2 3 4
Keeping up with technology
Working with younger employees
Keeping track of meetings, trainings, appointments and other library business.
Feeling obsolete
Participating in work related travel
Attending meetings
Adapting to new initiatives, such as “makerspaces”, “learning commons”, etc.
Learning new procedures
Other (please specify)
Oh, sweetie.  You really don’t want me to fill in the “Other (please specify) box.
The survey goes on to ask whether mature librarians should retire, so that younger librarians could take their place.  The survey invites you to elaborate on your answer, should you choose to do so. I would do so, but I try not to use that kind of language in public.
What the hell? This kind of ridiculous stereotyping is unhelpful at best, and vicious at worst. I am, as many of my “mature” counterparts are, rather skilled in using and adapting to new technologies, thank you very much. (And by the way, just what generation do you suppose invented all this stuff??)
I am not alone in my disgust.  It will be interesting to see how long the survey stays online.
Update: The survey is being run by two librarians, one at Belmont University in Nashville, TN and the other at Jackson State Community College in Jackson, TN.  Here’s the program description for which they’re conducting the survey:
"The story of the mature librarian will be discussed. How can the 55 and over librarian remain relevant? How can the older librarian keep up with new technologies and work with much younger colleagues? Learn how to stay current, cope with all the changes that are taking place in the workplace and remain vital  to the organization in which you work if you are over 55"
Update, part two: Some librarians are having great fun with this.

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3-D, redux

I’m beginning to change my mind on the topic of 3-D printers.  There have been stories of wonderful things people have done with these printers, one of which started to revise my opinion.

Now, someone has published a children’s book with the option to print the characters on a 3-D printer.  That, my friends, is seriously cool.

It’s enough to make me want to run out and get one for the library. Or me. Who knows?

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Best. Headline. Ever

From my wonderful home state of Wisconsin, a judge has banned a Racine man from “all the libraries on the face of the earth.”

Read about it here.

Well, done, Your Honor.  Well done.

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Bedbugs

I read an article from The Daily reporting that the University of Washington libraries are now free of bedbugs. <shudder>

I’m  in the frozen north, where it started the day at -15 degrees and probably won’t see zero. The good news for libraries in my climate is that, if you happen to have a bedbug problem, Mother Nature can help you. Turns out the little buggers can be frozen.  According to the Mayo Clinic,

Freezing. Bedbugs are also vulnerable to temperatures below 32 F (0 C), but you’d need to leave the items outdoors or in the freezer for several days.

So go ahead. Put your collection outside for a day or two. Tell the patrons you need to give them fresh air.

At least there’s some benefit to sub-zero temperatures!

 

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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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Phone phishing

I got a phone call on my cell this morning, from a ‘blocked’ number. I took it because I was curious, wondering who would call me with a blocked number?

I was informed, via a robotic voice, that my credit card information from Somewhere Community Credit Union (I missed the first word) had been stolen. If I would please press 1, I would be directed to a security representative.

Yikes.

Needless to say, I did not press 1. I don’t have a credit card from any community credit union. What makes me nervous, though, are the people that do have a card with a credit union and are frightened into pressing 1…..where I’m guessing some slimeball will ask for sensitive information.

I have no idea how these people got my cell phone number. I have no idea how many cell phones are being called, especially if it’s robotic calling. You don’t even need to be doing the calling yourself; you simply wait until some unsuspecting person presses “1” and the game is on.

Please pass this story around, especially to those who may be a bit naive to scams like this.

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Secret shame

I have a confession: I love trashy romance novels.

I also love murder mysteries, and forensic science novels, and many, many other genres, but every now and then I’m compelled to read a bodice-ripper. They’re like book candy. And, like candy, you can’t read too many of them at once, or you’ll feel a bit ill. But occasionally, they’re a fun retreat.

The problem with bodice rippers lies in their covers. They’re embarrassing. Shirtless men, lots of cleavage, lots of wind blowing lots of hair. Ridiculous. It’s enough to get you to making book covers like your teachers made you do in grade school. (Side note: do they do that anymore? I wonder.)

Cue the e-reader.

Now, you can read any number of embarrassing trashy novels with no one the wiser. And I can’t help but wonder if it’s this phenomenon that is fueling the popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” (Disclosure: yes, I bought it for my Nook, but haven’t read it yet.)

Before the e-reader, a woman might be embarrassed to be seen reading a book that has been described as porn. Or soft porn. Or erotica. Or whatever. The cover, at least, is tasteful. But for anyone who knows what the book is about, being seen reading it might raise questions about the reader.

I wonder what other books might be more popular in electronic formats?

 

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Well-read?

There’s a new CNN story that lists the most well-read cities in the United States. The top city? Alexandria, Virginia. Cities in Minnesota and Wisconsin don’t even make the list.

Here’s the problem: the metric they’re using is the number of books and magazines and such that were purchased from Amazon.com.

Amazon.com customers in Alexandria, Virginia, bought the most books, magazines and newspapers in the past year, making it the most well-read city in America on a per capita basis, according to rankings from the popular e-commerce website. Two other Virginia cities were in the top 20: Arlington ranked seventh and Richmond 20th.

Ahem.

I am rather well-read, but I don’t purchase books from Amazon. (Their personalization algorithm creeps me out.) I tend to purchase books from Barnes and Noble, both in paper and for my Nook. And – gasp! – I use a library. I wouldn’t even make the list, but my collection of books scattered throughout our home would tell you a different story.

By comparison, there is a study of the most literate cities, in which Minneapolis ranks third. Their criteria includes number of bookstores and library resources. Seems to me that’s a better benchmark than what is being purchased from one retailer.

Purchasing power shouldn’t be the criterion for being well-read. After all, that’s what libraries are for.

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Consequences

I had the opportunity yesterday to hang out at one of the local high schools and teach a group (well, five groups) of English students about databases, identifying good sources, and general research skills. All of this was done in a 50-minute class period, so it barely skimmed the surface.  It seemed well-received, though, and I think the students came away with a few tidbits.

In the course of the day we got to talking about their school library.  They have a librarian one day a week.  One. Day. That is a travesty.

The students also talked about the paraprofessional (who they assumed was the librarian) and mentioned how cranky she is. In her defense, the teacher talked about how this woman is now responsible for policing the library (and computer usage), and that there are fewer “labs” and so the library’s usage is exploding.

So here we have a high school with an overworked paraprofessional, who is trying to shelve books and police computers and answer reference questions as best she can, while the scope of her job has gotten so big that the woman is perpetually cranky. And we have a librarian available to the students on only one day, and it’s a day in which their classes are divided up into 40-minute increments, so the students have at most 40 minutes a week to talk to a librarian.

And we wonder why the research skills of incoming college freshmen are so weak.

 

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