Read This: NYPL is ‘Shelving Its Past for High-Tech Research Stacks’

The books will begin arriving in April, and by the end of spring library officials expect to be using a new retrieval system to ferry the volumes and other materials from their 84 miles of subterranean shelving, loaded into little motorized carts — a bit like miniaturized minecars carrying nuggets of research gold.

To fit all the books in the allotted space, the library will have to abandon its version of the Dewey Decimal System, in which shelving is organized by subject, in favor of a new “high-density” protocol in which all that matters is size.

Question: What will the librarians do without Dewey!?

Read more at “Beneath New York Public Library, Shelving Its Past for High-Tech Research Stacks

What I’ve learned after earning my Masters in Library and Information Science

At the beginning of this month, I finally finished. After a two-year hiatus from real life (or, that’s what it felt like, anyway), I finally graduated with my Masters in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University, in Detroit.

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This was a long time coming. After struggling for several years in a career that I didn’t love, I had to figure out where I was going next. I knew I needed to get out my job, but I wasn’t sure if I just wanted to jump into a similar job in the same field (journalism). Even though I still love to write and tell stories, I knew I wasn’t passionate about being a reporter or editor. I didn’t have that same drive to be in the news business. In fact, after several years in, I was pretty disillusioned and not exactly impressed. It was a tough decision, coming to the conclusion that I wanted to shift careers: I had a degree in journalism, I worked for years as an editor at my college newspaper (and I liked doing that!), and even though I felt like I was struggling in a lot of ways, I was doing a good job at my job. I was a success in a lot of ways, but I didn’t care. I wanted out, and after I eventually got over the fear that this would make me look like a failure, I started looking at my options.

I had a certificate in book and magazine publishing from New York University, so there was always that to fall back on. And a degree in English, mind you. But I always saw the publishing industry in Metro Detroit as lacking in opportunities, so I didn’t think I could easily shift into that track. I knew I wanted to pursue additional education – namely, a Master’s degree – but I had never been sure in what.

The day I realized that a Master’s in Library and Information Science was exactly what I needed was a great day. I started exploring the programs in my area, and I was happy to discover that I had two of the best programs in the country in my backyard. I also discovered that you can do so much more with a MLIS than I ever expected – we’re not all children’s librarians and book-stampers, you know. There were classes in technology and information management, digital preservation and metadata. I found careers and jobs that felt like they were written for me, and I realized that all of this had been waiting for me, patiently. As a reader and bibliophile, of course I loved libraries. I worked at one during college. I patronized my local library all the time and as a local journalist, I made my best friends with the librarians and directors there. What had I been waiting for?

Of course, I will say that I wouldn’t have figured all this out if it wasn’t for where I had been before. This has been particularly true as I start a new career in … wait for it … educational publishing, an opportunity I was only able to learn about because of my MLIS, internship experience I picked up while earning said MLIS, my publishing experience, and yes, my copyediting and management experience that I gained as a journalist. It all comes full circle in the end, and no matter how frustrated we may get trying to “find ourselves” and land on our feet in the adult world, nothing you do is a waste. Everything matters, and even the most inconsequential experience you may have had in the past may be the one thing that gets you to where you want to be.

Now, two years after I made that decision, quit my job, and went back to grad school, I’ve graduated, I’m done, and I’m ready to move on to a new stage of my life. One in which I finally feel comfortable with myself, confident in my abilities, and proud of my accomplishments. It’s been a humbling experience – being an unpaid intern at a job where you know you could easily do your boss’s job is frustrating on the best of days, and discouraging on the worst. It’s also been tough financially and time-wise. I’ve missed a lot of roller derby practices, scrimped and saved and swore off a lot of little luxuries, and I’ve spent nearly every single weeknight during the past two years either writing a paper, watching lectures online, working on projects, or reading for school. I took two classes a semester – every semester – for two years. It’s been a grueling and exhausting pace. For a big part of that time, I actually did work the equivalent of a full-time job. I was a bookstore manager, and I balanced a part-time job with part-time internships. By the end of it, i was very, very tired of school.

But I can definitely say it’s all been worth it. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people younger than I am about the value of school in recent years, most notably during my time managing a big bunch of young 20-somethings at the bookstore. So many of them spoke about how much school costs, or how their classes seemed worthless, or how it all didn’t seem worth the effort.  What I told them then I still believe: it’s always worth it. Yes, it’s hard. And no, not everyone is going to be “good” at certain subjects. Sometimes, you really have to work for it. But, given the state of the job market, a degree is so valuable and even if it doesn’t magically open all the doors, it will give you the leg-up. Hardwork and dedication and skill are important, but education is proof that you’re able to take those qualities and work toward a set goal in order to better yourself.

That’s what my MLIS has done. Sure, I don’t have a “library job”, and when I tell people about my new job, they seem to look at me askance and ask, “Wait, didn’t you want to be a librarian? Isn’t that why you got that MLIS?” I tell them, yes, I wanted to be a librarian.  But I also wanted to work with publishing, and digital content, and information, and education. My job enables me to do this. Plus, while earning my MLIS, I decided to take a class in metadata, which is where I first learned about XML code. That enabled to me get an internship at my library system’s digital publishing department, where I worked intensely with XML in a publishing environment. Now I work at an educational publisher in their e-books division, and guess what I work with? XML. So thank you, Master’s degree. I literally couldn’t have done this without you.

The need for mediators in the “age of information”

This article is interesting on three fronts.

First, I was just reading an article about the rise of MOOCs (massive open online courses) in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and this article from the New York Times opens with an anecdote about a 52-year-old who essentially acquired a degree in philosophy by taking advantage of the wealth of educational resources now available – for free – online.

Mr. Haber’s project embodies a modern miracle: the ease with which anyone can learn almost anything. Our ancient ancestors built the towering Library of Alexandria to gather all of the world’s knowledge, but today, smartphones turn every palm into a knowledge palace.

And yet, even as the highbrow holy grail — the acquisition of complete knowledge — seems tantalizingly close, almost nobody speaks about the rebirth of the Renaissance man or woman. The genius label may be applied with reckless abandon, even to chefs, basketball players and hair stylists, but the true polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin seem like mythic figures of a bygone age.

They don’t make geniuses like they used to.

Also, this is cool:

Google estimated in 2010 that there were 300 exabytes (that’s 300 followed by 18 zeros) of human-created information in the world, and that more information was created every two days than had existed in the entire world from the dawn of time to 2003.

Also, didn’t the author of this piece realize that he finished his piece with a rallying cry for librarians?

For many who don’t share that kind of vision, the response to information overload is simple: Just search and forget (repeat as necessary). Even more ambitious absorbers of knowledge like Jonathan Haber will most likely find that the key to lifelong learning is a human mediator, someone who has engaged in the ancient task of searching and sorting through knowledge.

read thisCheck out In the Age of Information, Specializing to Survive in The New York Times.

Help needed saving the sounds of history

The British Library is currently asking for donations to help raise the $60 million it’ll take to digitally preserve their entire collection.

At their current rate, he says, it would take them 48 years to digitize all of their recordings. The recordings are spread out among more than 40 different audio formats, some long dead.

Read From Wax Cylinders to Records, Saving the Sounds of History at NPR

Wise words on career development from…a library textbook?

I’ve read a lot of fluffy, inspirational essays on career development over the years, but I couldn’t help but be struck by this list from the textbook I’m using for my Academic Libraries course this semester, Academic Librarianship by Camila A. Alire and G. Edward Evans. Doesn’t this sound like an excellent list to live by?

  • Know yourself, both the strengths and the weaknesses
  • Have high standards, both personal and professional, and demonstrate them in your daily work.
  • Demonstrate commitment to whatever job you have.
  • Cultivate clear thinking and maintain an objective viewpoint.
  • Be reliable.
  • Be adaptable.
  • Cultivate and never lose your sense of humor.
  • Understand the way that others think.
  • Show a concern for others in your professional and personal life, but in unobtrusive ways.
  • Keep at the cutting edge of change.
  • Develop good communication and influencing skills.
  • Acquire political skills.
  • Extend managerial knowledge and know what is best practice in management thinking.
  • Ensure that you are working effectively as a member of a team at all stages of your career.
  • Know how to make decisions and change them if the situation demands.
  • Delegate.
  • Maintain control over your own time.
  • Recognize mistakes that you have made and learn from them.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Understand that career development requires an investment of time and money.
  • Enjoy the job you are doing – if you don’t enjoy the one you are in, find another.

New career goal: learn scripting languages?

My career goals entering library school were relatively straight forward: I was going to specialize in what Wayne State calls “Digital Content Management”, while also taking classes in academic libraries.

A former journalist, I was still interested in media and how the news business works. But after working as a digital journalist for a few years and realizing how unstable the industry really is – and knowing how uncomfortable I would feel trying to make that minefield a career – I knew my calling lay not in being a reporter or editor, but a librarian. After a few “re-designs” of the CMS my company used to publish our stories, my colleagues and I were distraught to learn that hundreds of the stories we had published were suddenly missing. Our company assured us that “they were there” – they just required a little advanced searching. What they didn’t tell us was that some of those stories were truly, honestly lost to the great mysterious gods we call the Internet. Not deleted, just lost.

Now, major newspapers have “libraries” – basement storage rooms with yellowing newspapers going back decades. Archives will preserve newspapers going back centuries. But what about digital news content?

Anyway, that’s a long story to explain why I went to library school, but there it is. I thought “Digital Content Management” would be a good specialization should I want to pursue this interest further, and I thought working at an academic library would be a great way to open doors to research. Plus, I thought I could possibly work as a library liasion to a journalism department at a university, which would be super cool.

As I’ve made my way through library school, however, I’ve picked up new interests that I’d like to integrate into my eventual career. Digital preservation, for one. Metadata and cataloguing. At my job at the university’s law library, I’ve been introduced to the world of technical services, and I just love it. Being “behind the scenes” has always been a preference of mine – I think I’m stronger in these roles – and it’s good to know all the opportunities I could have working in the library industry.

But there are things I still need to learn. Throughout my time at Wayne State, I’ve hand-picked the classes I thought would be the most pertinent to my future career, taking classes that I knew would challenge me. But one can only take so many classes, and given that I’m paying for this master’s degree using student loans, I can only take the classes I need to graduate. And I graduate next year, in May. I’m taking two classes now, and only need two more  to graduate. I know what those classes are.

But again, there’s STILL things to learn. Like scripting languages, for example. I’m currently working an internship with the library system, in their digital publishing department, and my boss recently told me that a librarian looking for a position in his department would do well to know PHP, PERL, and other scripting languages. I would love to work in his department. I do not know scripting languages.

And it’s because I’ve never considered myself a “computer person”. Yes, I know computers pretty well, and I’ve taken multiple classes in HTML. But scripting languages? That’s like, for computer science guys, right? And I say “guys” not because I want to be sexist, but if I’m being honest, traditionally (or at least in my experience), computers have always been the  domain of “geeky guys”. Kind of a no-girls-allowed club. Now, I know that’s not true, but after living a life in words and books, I’ve grown comfortable being around people who are like me. It’s intimidating knowing that, in order to pursue the career I want, I need to break into the boy’s club. Plus, it means opening my mind to concepts that are WAY outside my comfort zone. It’s a little…scary.

But I’m going to try. I know I’ll never be an IT gal, but I’m hoping that if I can acquire even a basic knowledge of computers, scripting, and programming, I can make a space for myself in this boy’s club (and a boy’s club in the world of librarianship is rare, so what does that make me?). Who knows where I’ll end up – in a technical services department, as a reference librarian, as a digital archivist. All I know is that I want to be prepared. I was intellectually prepared for journalism, but not mentally, and that meant I wasn’t happy. I know I’ll be a great librarian, but I just need to get the other half up to snuff.

But unfortunately, that means teaching myself…scripting languages? Ah! Where do I even start? Do I even know what a “scripting language” is? According to Wikipedia, it’s:

A scripting language or script language is a programming language that supports scripts, programs written for a special run-time environment that can interpret (rather than compile) and automate the execution of tasks that could alternatively be executed one-by-one by a human operator.

Um, maybe that made sense. Until it does, I guess I’m open to book recommendations or web tutorials? Are there any scripting guys/gals out there? Help?

 

‘When Irreplaceable History Lives On in Obsolete Tech’

Another fascinating story on important historical and cultural artifacts in danger of disappearing because of obsolete technology. Again, why I am in library school:

How much more irreplaceable information, whether historical treasures or family moments, resides on obsolete formats, decaying in archives and closets? And even if the information is salvageable, what happens if we’ve already lost the software or hardware needed to read it?

And:

Magnetic formats are beginning to decay, and early generations of computer disks and videotape are wearing away as you read this. And as we’re just beginning to understand, optical media such as the first generation of compact discs are beginning to degrade, which begs the question of whether or not DVDs are far behind. In other words: All formats are decaying. And in the process, so are memories and archives and first-hand accounts. As the clock winds down on some of the formats, it’s important to archive them before they’re lost forever.

Read the entire story at Popular Mechanics.