Friday, August 29, 2008

Love those obscure reference books

How can you not love reference books? My co-worker was sitting at the desk laughing with a faculty member about a page in an old reference book from our archives. It has data on causes of death in 1797. These include such strange causes as:

  • evil (2)
  • grief (3)
  • head ache (5)
  • water in the head (66)
  • itch (2)
  • lunatic (94)
  • mortification (206)
  • sore throat (12)
  • teeth (935)
  • dropped down dead (6)
  • killed by a cow (1)

Sports illustrated

Does anyone else have a problem with labeling Michael Phelps the "Alltime Olympian" or the "Greatest Olympian Ever"? I do not want to downplay his achievements, please understand. But how can you be labeled the greatest Olympian ever when you happen to be in a sport where it's even possible to win multiple medals? What about volleyball, or figure skating, or bob sledding, or curling... There aren't multiple events in which to compete for many (most?) Olympic sports.

I guess most of these news sources are targeting audiences with less-developed critical thinking skills, or at least who don't want to turn their critical thinking skills on at the moment.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Pilot Who Didn't Know

I was informed by a student in an instruction session today that some of the library's printers print double-sided. I kept asking her, "are you sure?" Another student confirmed it. So later this afternoon I tried it, and it's true!

I told the library director, who called IT, and she was informed that we were a pilot for double-sided printing. We were supposed to let them know what students' reactions were to it, and if there were any technical problems.

Isn't it usually a good idea to let a pilot know he/she is a pilot?!?

RefWorks' Customer Service

I am always so impressed with the customer service that RefWorks provides, other than seeming to hide their non-800-phone number. Our former dean, a historian, is working on the history of the college. He has been writing out all of his notes directly into RefWorks for a year now. This morning, suddenly two days worth of work disappeared. Not the entire record, just the notes field. I don't know if it was user or technical error.

Anyway, I called and got transferred to an account rep rather than their tech support, but a techie called me back within 15 minutes, was very knowledgeable, listened well, and gave me his direct number. Then I went down to the former dean's office and he called that number and they talked while I sat back. Users can restore deleted references themselves, if it was deleted within the last 30 days. But this wasn't the whole reference. Everything gets backed up each midnight (Pacific Time), so they were able to restore his notes as they were at 3 a.m. and he only lost a few hours worth of work rather than a few days.

They have excellent people skills for techies, and once again, I am impressed.

Instruction Handout

There's an interesting conversation going on in the ILI listserv about handouts in library instruction classes. In my two years of teaching, I couldn't imagine not giving them something in print to take with them, do what they may with it. It seems that is the consensus from the respondents on the listserv.

It's interesting to see the variation in what they put in those handouts, too. I am planning to use more PowerPoint presentations in my upcoming classes and wasn't sure what to do with the handouts. I have some good ideas, and for the first time the handouts won't be just the outline of the class, and should bring in some active learning elements. I'm getting excited about teaching now that I've started to prepare! I do like teaching, I love the one-on-one time towards the end of the session, but I hate the prep work. The two classes I have started working on are fun, though, and I'm bringing in lots of pictures from I Can Has Cheezburger... though my husband is terrified I will embarrass him when I told him I have cute cat pictures in my presentation.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First day of classes

Classes start today. I have mixed emotions about this, even though summer really was over two weeks ago. I think most of my negative emotions come from people around me, and aren't really as negative as the words they say. The professors never feel ready, and to listen to them, sometimes they sound like they dread the students coming back. But most of them love teaching, or else they wouldn't be at a college like this. It's mostly just the dread of having to get back on a schedule and come into the office regularly.

I have been on a schedule all summer, but it has been relaxed. We only have to work until 4, we don't have to work nights and weekends, we don't have to sit at the reference desk, and we can easily leave here and there if we need to take care of something.

I'm dreading sitting at the reference desk. I'm wondering if admitting this publicly is safe. I love working with students one on one, or in small groups, more than any other part of my job. I love helping them solve their research problem, educate them, and make them realize there are friendly people who would just love to help them. The reason I dread it is because we sit at the desk for so long without anyone come up to us. I then tend to slouch, day-dream, or get so into my computer stuff that I know I look unapproachable. That's not what I want...

In grad school I worked as a reference assistant for distance learning students. Usually, there was a steady stream of people contacting us for help... not because they were more willing to ask for help, but because 20,000 students' library needs were entirely served by our tiny little office. I was the sole reference assistant the entire day on Sundays. Some days I would come in and have over 100 e-mails to answer, and many of their questions were really hard. It was absolutely exhausting, but I loved it and I miss it very much.

I know many librarians feel this way about reference. I wonder if the students realized this, would it make them approach us more readily?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Some good news on a lousy day

My friend Jen defended her dissertation today and passed. She is now officially Dr. Knapp!!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I will probably be talking about censorship more and more as it looks like I will be co-speaking with an education professor in a few weeks on banned books at a fireside chat. I will be doing a lot more reading about the issue as we figure out what we will talk about... and look up some good recipes from banned books to serve that night (suggestions welcome!).

I have mixed reactions to a young woman's essay on censorship, which was featured on LISNews. The blog is called Safe Libraries, and is dedicated to undermining the ALA's stance on censorship. The describe the purpose differently, of course. Hey, even I support not forcing pornography on children!

Whenever I bring up the issue of censorship, I feel the need to point out a few things. During my junior year of high school, I complained to my parents about having to read The Chocolate War based on the discomfort I felt within the first few pages, which did not seem to have any point. My father read it and talked about my objection with the teacher, who gave me a different book. I believe every book she had us read that year was on the banned list, and almost all were classics that I am very happy to have read, I just couldn't do this one.

There is a very clear line, though, about a high school teacher requiring to read a book and the library offering it. There are books that are age-inappropriate. As much as I dearly, truly love The Lovely Bones, the rape scene at the beginning of the book is very graphic. It's important to the story, but I'm not sure I would give it even to a high school class unless they were warned and the entire class approved. But it should be in the school library, and it should be in every public library except maybe the smallest ones.

I can't remember what is objectionable in Catch-22 or Catcher in the Rye besides excessive profanity, which you can't avoid anymore. This young woman is wrong to think these were mere tricks to sell more books. She is not so bright as she claims to be if she simply labels these books "garbage" without respecting the opinions of so many others. Sticking to the literature that doesn't offend anyone will deprive the rest of the class, and reduce the course content to mere fluff. The thing that terrified me most about Fahrenheit 451 was the utterly mindless television programming. That's what our schools will be like if we go overboard on this issue. And who decides? Where do you draw that line?

I furthermore feel that while high school students and parents should be able to make reasonable claims for alternative books, that all bets are off in college. Perhaps if she attends Brigham Young, her view will be sheltered enough that this won't be an issue. But back to my comment from a few weeks ago, no one has the right to live an unoffended life, especially now that you are an adult.

Totally Unrelated

So this doesn't have much to do with libraries other than I moved to Williamsport, PA for this job as a librarian. Actually, if my family weren't so far away, I think I would probably stay here by choice, especially with a new house I love so much.

Anyway, I digress even further. This is the third Little League World Series I have been in Williamsport for, and I finally went last night with my husband and some friends from the college. It was a lot of fun, even though our team lost.
The atmosphere was very different. We were sitting on the Louisiana side (that's who we were rooting for), but the Maryland team had some amazing catches and one of the home runs was particularly impressive. Instead of booing, our side clapped. Also, the mascot (seen above) had the boys dancing together before the game, something you would never see at a professional game. I would love to go back this week, but work is so demanding this week, and the final weekend is supposed to be insane. I hate crowds, so I think I will skip that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Interesting Day at Teaching Effectiveness

First of all, let me start by complaining and then I will move on. I have been to several workshops and discussions about the "millennial" generation. What exactly is the birthday cut-off for this generation seems to be under debate and sometimes includes me, but more often does not. In each of these discussions, they talk about how the audience's experiences aren't relevant because we all went to college in a previous century. Speak for yourself! I graduated college in 2002. Why my college experience wasn't relevant not because of my age, it is because I was a complete nerd with more interest studying or foreign language activities than I was in alcohol and boys. I was sitting next to someone who is three years younger, and by their definition, the first class of millennial students.

Okay, the complaining is done. Now I want to say that despite how much I have been dreading today's six-hour teaching effectiveness workshop since in the past they have been irrelevant (and because of the first year I was still recovering from a week-long hangover), I was very impressed with this year's speaker. I have to look up her name, she is the dean of students somewhere in Delaware. But it was about "Understanding the Students We Serve" and she was really funny.

I was very impressed with some of the statistics. Here are some examples:
  • 34% of students say a parent is his/her best friend
  • The call their parents 10x per week on their cell phones
  • 48% of high school graduates have an A average, but SAT scores are dropping

Lycoming Students:
  • Only 18% reported having looked up scientific articles and resources in high school (and the number would surely be lower if this weren't self-reported).
  • 32% of incoming students spent 3-10 hours "partying" per week on average, 8% 11-20 hours.
  • 68% of incoming students believe they are in the top 10% of their class academically (this fits with nation-wide trends and is a precious statistic).
  • 72% of incoming freshmen expect to get an advanced degree, including 22% expecting to get a Ph. D.
  • And incoming freshmen claim to be concerned about the environment. 85% believe the government is not doing enough to control pollution (but you should see how many plastic water bottles are in the campus trash!).

Of course there were other interesting parts of the talk, but these statistics were the highlight. We have been promised to be given more of this data soon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Faculty Program Ideas

I was at a party on Saturday night with a bunch of Dickinson College faculty. Dickinson is a really good school and has a lot more money than we do, and the library is supposed to be great from what my director says.

So one of the biology professors was talking about a program the library puts on there on helping faculty with Web 2.0 tools in their classes. It is a very intense program, with a lengthy application, intense courses, meetings throughout the fall semester, then they have to incorporate what they've learned into their spring course. In exchange for all of this effort and time, they get a $1,000 stipend.

I don't think we could come up with a lot of money for a stipend, but I'm intrigued with the success they seem to have on getting people interested. I wonder if we did a smaller-scale version of this without offering a stipend, if I would get any takers among our faculty.

I have contacted someone at Dickinson, though not the teacher (who I can't find on their staff list). I will post any details I find here in case anyone else is interested.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Harry Potter Costumes

Here is a picture of the Gilderoy Lockhart coat, though I still need to put some bright yellow star buttons down the front. Here is also another picture that's a clearer picture of the Harry Potter Where's Waldo poster I drew.

Real Podcast

Here is my first attempt at interviewing a professor about a book that changed his/her life. I have edited it down a bit and I think it's really good now. It's so easy to edit voice with Audacity, and downloaded the file I needed to turn an Audacity project into an MP3 since I had trouble finding a widget to play WAV files. I am so excited about this and can't wait to get it up on the library's blog in a few minutes. Take a look at the real think on our library's blog with the picture and everything...

Thursday, August 14, 2008


The timing of the Pegasus Librarian's post on training couldn't be better, and I plan to re-read it again when I'm not feeling like a zombie due to staying up too late several nights in a row painting my living room. The living room looks nice, but I don't think I've accomplished much today. But as we spent almost three hours on SMART board and Senteo training, I didn't have to accomplish much. This trainer was soo much better than the last guy they sent who showed up late, couldn't put the equipment together, was unprofessionally dressed, and started his speech with, "I don't know much about technology." No kidding, and it just went downhill from there. Still, I thought this woman should have known more than she did, and I don't think it required two hours to show us what she showed us. The third hour was us playing or watching each other playing with it. The software is very cool, but it could have been done and training is painful no matter what.

Why do I want to re-read her post? Because no that we're down to the wire, I really need to do better with instruction this year. I'm perfectly good at lecturing, but I really need to bring more active stuff into the classroom, and think of good ways to do assessment.

It's time to go home. Remind me of how tired I am if I try to go to the fabric store to get curtain fabric to match my pretty new wall color. Or just shoot me. Really, I don't need any new projects!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It's sooo slow

I always forget when I start doing heavy-duty Web site development how slow the process is. Some people are probably more organized than I am. I muddle up the coding, design, and information architecture, and going back to my Web development books to remind myself how to do something. Here's the site I'm working on:

I get very proud of my sites, no matter how simple they are. I now need to figure out how to make links not turn blue and purple. I know that's simple, but I'm not sure which keywords to use. And I don't know if that goes in the style sheet or the HTML document...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Technical Problems and Harry Potter Poster

I spent almost an hour and a half wondering why I couldn't get a web form to work, and it turns out IT was having e-mail problems and it had nothing to do with my lack of competence with Java Script. I thought I knew plenty to cut, paste, and manipulate, but was getting worried.

Here is a picture of the "Where's Waldo" picture I drew for Harry Potter Night. There's an object hidden in it the students will have to find. I had a lot of fun coming up with every obscure reference I could fit into a single sheet of posterboard. We're expecting this to be the most difficult challenge.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Amazon's MP3 Player

We watched a movie called Saint Ralph last night that my parents have been raving about for months. At first we didn't like it, but when the story started picking up, we got into it. It still ranks a bit high on the cheese factor, but the more I think about it (and I haven't stopped since it ended last night), the more details I draw out. I guess that's the sign of a good movie. During the climax scene, they played the song "Hallelujah," which I have heard on other TV shows before by various artists and I think it's one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. I had looked for it online before, but with such a generic name, and without being able to spell it correctly, I never did find it.

This morning I had no trouble, and to boot I found that Amazon now sells individual MP3's. I downloaded Allison Crow's version for $.89 in a matter of a few seconds and nothing could be easier. I am perfectly happy to pay a dollar per song to be legal and retain my holier-than-though attitude on copyright (I'm kidding, I've still got lots of CD's other people burned for me), but couldn't get the Napster software to work on my computer.

I'm always worried that everyone else in the world knows anything I say already, but I hope it helps some people who are willing to buy individual songs but not tech-savvy enough to use other sites. Amazon's is very easy to use, and they're likely to already have your credit card information, so try it out!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

First Podcast

Here is my first attempt at a short and pointless podcast... I'm not having any luck getting it to play through a widget directly from this blog though :(

Outrage on censorship

I hopped onto LISNews for a few minutes this morning and found several stories that caught my attention and got my blood boiling. It's usually censorship issues, human resources, and general stupidity that get me all riled up, and today is no exception.

There is a story in the Wall Street Journal about an author who did a lot of research on one of the prophet Mohammad's wives, then wrote a historical fiction novel about her. The author has had a two-book deal with Random House that just recently got pulled because of stuff flying around the Internet on how offensive her book was. Only one person involved has actually read the book, a professor of Islam (who is not Muslim). The worst she could say about how offensive this book was, was just a scene where the wife consummates her marriage to the prophet. It describes it in a little detail, though much less racy than many of the historical fiction novels I read (my favorite genre). This one woman has incited near-riots by telling a large number of people how offensive the book was, and this in turn was spread by bloggers all over the Internet. For fear of violent repercussions, Random House pulled its offer.

Why do certain groups hold priority in the right to live an unoffended life? I'm going to sound like the privileged Christian white girl that I am in this rant. However, I think it is ridiculous that you can smear feces on the Virgin Mary and call it art or get rich off a poorly-written, poorly-researched book like The Divinci Code that is incredibly offensive to all Catholics, while a person can't write a well-researched historical novel on an important woman in Muslim history. Even if it turns out the research is awful and the writing is awful, bad books deserved to get published if the publisher thinks they will sell.

The KKK is still allowed to march publicly and gets police protection when they do... that offends me, but no line can be drawn between that and less-offensive examples of free speech. I think those people are morons, and go on with my life. To heck with any Muslim, atheist, or ACLU member who thinks it's okay to offend the majority while minorities shouldn't tolerate the slightest, most accidental offense. I do believe racism is a real problem and that it makes many lives a struggle that I will never understand. However, over-reactions such as this example make people like me terrified of interacting with people who don't look like me in a simple, honest desire to not offend them. Isn't that counter-productive?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Smoke-free campus gone too far?

I quickly browsed through an e-mail from Miami University of Ohio for its alumni. At the bottom, there was a news story on Miami becoming a smoke-free campus. This ban on smoking extends to all university grounds, not just buildings and doorways! Has anyone else heard of any other such bans? I respect dry campuses, and I am a cheerleader for smoke-free restaurants, work places, and not having to walk through other people's smoke when I go through a door. However, this means any smoker has to walk off campus to get relief! Miami has about 17,000 students and is a fairly large campus that is surrounded on two or three sides by woods. For students who live on campus, this means they will struggle 24 hours a day, or at least many 40-minute round-trip walks. I guess their bodies will be in good shape even if their lungs aren't (please imagine a sarcastic tone to that).

Give smokers reasonable options (including shelters away from main doorways), but it's not the university's job to force someone to quit.

Banned Books and Pill Pockets

I'm nearly finished with a brief Banned Books animation, plus did an image map for the top of the page... though we're having some strange problems with TLC (the catalog company) where the persistent URLs I used go to a page that looks exactly like our normal catalog, but does not contain the call number. Some are also referring to our staff PAC, which I also don't understand as I never use the staff PAC. Anyway, here is the version of our library's home page with the Banned Books Week animation (warning: it has sound!):

Cat update: Kim suggested here on my blog that I try something called "pill pockets" to help my cats get their medicine down. I bought some last night and they work wonderfully. They are absolutely genius, I hope their inventor is a rich person.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tintentod & cat update

I am anxiously awaiting the release of Cornelia Funk's latest book, Inkdeath. While she now lives in the U.S., she is originally German and I believe she writes in German. The book is scheduled to be released in the U.S. on October 7, one day after my birthday! When I was looking this up this morning, Wikipedia said the German edition of the book has actually been out for a year already. If it were French, I would order it now, but I think I am too lazy and awful at German (even if I majored in it), to tackle a 500+ page book. I guess I'll just have to be patient and pre-order it at my local indie bookstore. I hope these books become big after the movie comes out, they are so good and I can't find anyone over the age of 12 that has read them. But when I convinced a friend to read Inkheart, she couldn't put it down.

My younger cat spent Friday morning at the vet getting bladder x-rays. He does not have stones, but that makes his urinalysis results a complete enigma. They are now both on antibiotics, special food, and he's on an anti-anxiety medication to help relieve bladder inflammation (and reduce stress). He seems pretty doped-up to me, and that pill must taste awful because he will do just about anything to keep it from going down. He drools all over the place, spits it across the room (I'm not kidding), and foams at the mouth as if he had rabies. He gets so slobbery, his mouth is too slippery for me to pry open. I even tried coating it in peanut butter last night, and he was not fooled.