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Posts Tagged ‘library’

Yo-yo

Moving: the past few weeks have been a series of ups and downs.

We were excited to get into the new house!

The old house has to be cleaned.  Oh, and the new house has to be cleaned, too.

I had a snow day the day after we finished with the old house and got to spend the whole day watching the storm and enjoying the new house.

More cleaning… lots! Ugh.

The landlord hired professional carpet cleaners.  Yay!

The laundry room drain was clogged and the water from the washing machine flooded the room where we had all of our boxes of books stored.  Boo.

The Preservation class I took in library school, plus the extra 20-hour disaster management for librarians training workshop, came in handy.  I knew how to deal with the situation.  Plus, it’s not summer, we live in Colorado, and we heat the house with wood– all pluses when you’re trying to dry a couple dozen books.

And life goes on… hopefully the yo-yo is out of momentum now.

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Access

One of the main parts of my job is connecting people with the information they need.  A major obstacle to this is the commercial aspect of information– in other words, the publishing industry.   Information costs money, and it takes energy and time to figure out ways to get people linked to it in the most seamless way possible.

Library science students also spend at least a few months, if not a whole semester, learning about copyright law and the rationale behind it.  So, even though some of us might come across as having an attitude that “information wants to be free,” in general, librarians are quite knowledgeable and respectful of the law.

But golly, we want information to be free.  We want that information to be in the hands of the people who are going to make good use of it, to create more really good information and make the world a better place.  Not to mention that we really dislike having to represent a profession in which you have to click multiple times or go through lots of contortions or non-intuitive steps to get where you need to be (ironically, our profession is one that is most successful when the people we serve don’t even realize we are going through those contortions behind the scenes so that they don’t have to, which is a whole other blog post in itself).

At my library, we just installed a “discovery system”, which allows users to enter search terms into one box and simultaneously look for materials from our library catalog and electronic article databases.  Except that the vendor who sold us the new system doesn’t play nice with (or vice versa) some of the vendors who sell us database subscriptions, so those databases aren’t included in the one-box search.  Or, they can be included, but you have to log in to the system (think: contortion).  Still, it’s better than our old system with all the separate silos people had to navigate.

Now, just to make things possibly a bit more challenging, the Research Works Act has been introduced in the House of Representatives.  It would make it illegal for publicly funded researchers to be required to make the results of their work publically available.  One of the main targets is the National Institutes of Health: four years ago,the Consolidated Appropriations Act directed that this agency would make all federally funded research articles available to the public through the PubMed portal.  The RWA would negate this act, and pre-empt any other government agency from making similar requirements of their federally funded researchers.  In other words, citizens who don’t have access to an academic or research library would lose the ability to read the results of research that they paid for with tax dollars.

The RWA came about due to the lobbying efforts of the Association of American Publishers, who argue that they add value to the end-products of the research: the articles.  But, as Michael Eisen points out in the NY Times, the peer reviewer process costs publishers very little, as it is carried out by academics and government researchers who volunteer their time (or are required to do it as part of their job).

Perhaps our business-friendly Congress and executive branch will see fit to pass this bill, but I hope not.  There’s enough bad, biased, and flat-out crazy medical information on the internet, and the balance doesn’t need to be made that much worse by the removal of the meat of PubMed material.  It does seem like the SOPA and PIPA bills are losing traction as representatives realize that the constituents are against them, or that they just don’t understand information technology well enough to be ruling on these matters.  In the public outcry over these bills, I hope we don’t lose sight of the Research Works Act and let it slip through.

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Last week marked a period in the academic quarter that I’ve begun to look forward to. It’s the week when many of the humanities classes on campus require the students to come to the library and pick out an item to study individually.  Depending on the class, they might be searching for a novel, a set of short stories, a book of landscape painting, a movie, or something else literary or artistic.

As you might expect, Oregon Institute of Technology does not offer many classes in the humanities. Nor does it recruit students driven by great interest in the humanities (those students are over at Southern Oregon University, on the other side of the mountains). As a result, reference librarians come in handy when students are looking for their humanities materials.

I’m not sure what it means about me and my choices, but ever since I did my degrees in English, I’ve immersed myself in jobs that require knowledge not in the humanities, but in the sciences.  So, it’s gratifying to be asked for help in finding a book about art, history, or literature.  OIT library doesn’t have rows and rows of literature in the stacks, but it has a fair amount for a tech school, as I found out a few weeks ago as I picked out poetry volumes for a National Poetry Month display.

Librarians who know their literature can be helpful in that the Library of Congress subject headings, which are used to categorize books and other materials into groups based on what they are about, do not always apply so well to literature.  Fictional works are often “about” so many different things that it’s impossible to peg them in a handful of short, pre-determined phrases.  So, librarians with familiarity with literature and literary history can serve as a shortcut for students searching for particular kinds of fiction.  Several students that I helped last week were searching for fiction written by Native American writers, and being able to go to the online catalog and distinguish the names of Native American authors from people writing about Native American authors from the list of results helped save time; from there, we were able to look at a record, find the exact subject heading (“Indians of North America– Fiction,” in this case), and find all the other books assigned that subject heading.  Leslie Marmon Silko’s book Storyteller contains poetry, essays, and short stories, so it wasn’t assigned the subject heading above.  But it suited the young woman who needed to find short stories by Native American authors.  Pulling from the shelf a book of short stories by American authors, I pointed to the name D’Arcy McNickle in the table of contents.  “That’s a Native American author?” the student asked skeptically, seeing a name that didn’t look right.

Of course, people without advanced degrees in the humanities can do this too: do a Google search for something like “Native American writers,” copy-paste one of the author’s names into the library catalog box, see what subject heading is assigned to that author’s works.  But for me, it felt good to be on the trail, working quickly and easily through the catalog and the stacks with the students, verbalizing my thoughts aloud as I homed in on the materials they were seeking.  The students– maybe they learned something about how librarians organize books, or about how some books are inherently difficult to organize, or that the messy machine that is a librarian’s brain is sometimes the fastest search engine out there.

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