I haven’t written as much here in the last two years as I did in the years before that. Part of that is because most of the conversation happens on FriendFeed these days, part of that is because I’ve been sick the whole time. I have all kinds of post stubs in my drafts that I just didn’t have the energy to flesh out into real posts with, you know, full sentences and maybe a paragraph break.
In that time many of my favorite blogs have petered out, a few have blown up, and a couple people whose opinions I respect a lot have told me that blogging just isn’t worth it any more, that they kind of wish people wouldn’t keep throwing posts into the void. And for a while I was inclined to agree and acknowledge that it’s perfectly likely that people see Pegasus Librarian pop up in their aggregators or on FriendFeed and think “Aw man, her again? Doesn’t she know she’s boring? *mark as read*”
But lately I’ve felt more and more like posting mundane little things here again, and maybe soon I’ll start working through a few of the more promising post stubs from the dark period of the last two years. For me, worrying about the death of blogging and worrying about whether anyone cared that I post here seems to have been more tied to my feelings about other things in my personal life than it was to the actual act of posting here. For me, realizing that I care again that I own and archive my thoughts, that I’m ok with this not being a conversation space if conversation doesn’t happen, and that it matters more that I have a thinky space for me than that I have one for anyone else — these things are all making me feel less like I’m clinging to nostalgia or that I’m in denial whenever I post. When FriendFeed dies, I still want to have access to some of my thoughts.
Of course, I say this just as Fall Term is about to start, so there’s no telling when I’ll have time to write much. But you never know.
I was just talking with an English professor about his upcoming Argument & Inquiry seminar on the Gothic story. I’ve really be so heartened by these early-stages planning meetings we’ve had so far. The combination of having really engaged faculty, really new syllabi, and a requirement that the courses should “clarify how scholars ask questions, and teach students how to find and evaluate information in reading and research and to use it effectively and ethically in constructing arguments” means that we’re getting the chance to do some really creative thinking about how to foster intellectual independence in first year students.
Anyway, my Ah Hah moment of the day was when this professor said that searching is a fundamentally empathetic tasks. That crystallized for me a lot of my thinking about searching — how you have to not ask a search interface a question (usually) but instead think of terms that your ideal article would have in it or associated with it. So, not my terms for a concept, but my ideal article’s terms for the concept. When I can get my students to make that leap, their results usually get much better.
I don’t know how useful it will be to use “empathetic” as a term when I teach (it’ll depend on the class), but it sure does help me think about the process.
I normally think of an academic reference desk as a pedagogical space where I use reference interviews to tease teachable moments out of mundane and intricate questions alike.
I normally think of vendors and technology-types who tell me “you only want the interface to work that way because you’re a librarian” as offensive, dismissive, supercilious… Well, you get the picture.
Last week I realized that these two ideas are actually related, and that neither I nor the vendors realize the other half of what’s going on at the reference desk. Neither of us realized that I watch students navigate a whole host of interfaces day in and day out — clean interfaces, cluttered interfaces, interfaces with facets, interfaces with single search boxes, interfaces with menus, Google, L’Année Philologique, Zotero, EndNote, ARTstor, Wikipedia. Neither of us realized that year upon year of watching students use or fail to use all these different kinds of interfaces means that I have a pretty good sense of what students at my institution are looking for in their research tools. Every single shift at the desk is a mini-usability study.
And sure, I’m expected to intervene in these mini-usability studies and guide the students toward the functionality they’re looking for. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not learning what constantly trips them up, or what I never have to point out.
So as it turns out, the desk is a two-way pedagogical space. And as it turns out, the vendors should take me more seriously when I point things out about their interfaces.
I'm flying! At a conference!
Tomorrow and the next day, I’m attending a conference.
A virtual conference.
A virtual conference in a Second Life environment.
I’ve heard of having newbie orientation to large conferences (ALA and ACRL do this, for example), but I’ve never attended those. I did, however, attend the newbie orientation session for this conference and learned such useful things as how to talk to people, how to sit, how to jump (“in case you get stuck behind a bench or something”), and how to wear clothes.
During this orientation session, the people around me would randomly dress and undress, grow or shrink, or suddenly start flying. During this orientation session, the most confusing thing for everyone was how to talk to everyone else either publicly, within the group, or privately.
This should be interesting.
For those of you who don’t know OAIster, if you have any reason to search for digitized primary sources, you should check it out. It’s a union catalog of digital library holdings. It’s chief asset is wonderfully descriptive metadata. And like with other collections of collections, I recommend searching OAIster to find which digital collections contain the kinds of things you’re interested in, and then searching or browsing those collections individually.
For those of you who know OAIster, you know that it recently stopped being its own unique entity and started being an OCLC-hosted entity. It’s now available on the FirstSearch interface and the WorldCat.org interface. (Here’s more on the history of the catalog.)
Enter the oddness. My co-worker ran some identical searches on both interfaces and came up with startlingly different numbers of results for most of her searches. Confused, I contacted OAIster and have just heard back from them why this is so. Apparently, the “keyword” search in the FirstSearch interface searches through the Source, Subject, Title, and Notes indexes. The keyword search on the WorldCat.org interface searches all available fields and all indexes.
So now we know.