Skip to content

Month: March 2010

15 Things About Me And Books

Photo by Lin Pernille

A while back, some other librarians revived an old meme. Way back then, I started this list. Today, I found it in my drafts.

  1. I was a late reader. I don’t remember exactly how late (being home schooled at that point was probably a blessing). I do remember being a little mortified when my younger sister and I were both reading the Little House books at the same time. She’s six years younger, and was a very early reader. I think she was four at the time.
  2. Part of our normal school day included my mom reading aloud to us. She did this well into my middle school years (at which point my youngest brother was probably 4-ish). She read everything from Charlotte’s Web to the Lord of the Rings while we kids did quiet crafts on the living room floor.
  3. The saddest I’ve ever been at the end of a book was when the dogs died in Where the Red Fern Grows. Mom was reading it aloud, and we kids were scattered around the room trying not to look at each other as we each bawled softly. What a day. I remember being curled up under the coffee table and pretty sure I’d never come out again.
  4. Dad tried to read to us at bedtime up until I was about 11. He was insanely busy getting a PhD from Harvard, though, so books would take us an astonishingly long time to finish. To this day I think of Great Expectations as a 1000+ page book. Each time we sat down to read, Dad would have to recap the entire book up to that point and then read a chapter. Luckily, Swallows and Amazons fell at a time when he could read to us at least a couple times a week.
  5. The first librarian I ever knew worked in the children’s section of our public library in Dorchester, MA. She had a cupboard way up high where she’d hide new books that she thought I’d like so that I could be the first one to check them out. I remember my mom also arranged for me to spend some time learning about things like the Dewey Decimal System from her.
  6. I read a lot in high school. A lot. I’ve never read as much as I did back then. My mom had been an English major, so the family bookshelves were packed with classics, and we all trouped to the public library every week or two. If you’d told me back then that I’d love to write and have a hard time finishing books when I became an adult, I’d have known you were talking about some other person. Life is weird.
  7. I finished David Copperfield while home sick with a really high fever, so I have basically no memory of the book — just of its never-ending misery. Or was that my misery? Either way, I have no desire to try to rectify that impression because shortly after that I realized that it was ok to dislike most of Dickens’ novels. (Though I do still like Oliver Twist. Or rather, I did last time I read it, which is probably 10 or 15 years ago.)
  8. I’ve burned a book. It was when I was in college, and it was my math text book. Seemed appropriate.
  9. Majoring in English in college was great. I got to spend my days reading (mostly) good books that I (mostly) enjoyed. But unfortunately it made reading feel like work, so during the first week or so of summer breaks I’d have to read utter fluff to get myself back in the habit of reading for fun. My bookshelves still have the second-hand fantasies, mysteries, and thrillers that I bought at Half Price Books after my last finals each year.
  10. Graduate school was more of the same, only more intense. Grad school killed my ability to read for fun much more completely than undergrad did.
  11. Commuting to and from grad school (45 minutes each way), I learned to love audio books. We’d listened to them on long family car trips, so I don’t know why it took me a while to figure out that I’d like them for shorter daily trips, too.
  12. When I started living on my own, I realized an odd thing: I have a very hard time reading in silence and solitude. I’d always thought I was pretty into silence and solitude, but as it turns out, I’m into the kind of silence and solitude you can get in a family of six where everyone is sitting around reading. That’s the kind of reading I love.
  13. I have a shelf devoted to “books I’m reading right now.” Some of those books have been on that shelf for a couple of years. Maybe it’s time to admit that I’m not going to finish them.
  14. I don’t read much non-fiction. That said, two of my favorite books are non-fiction: 84 Charing Cross Road, and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.
  15. I recently moved, and now all my bookshelves are out in the main living area rather than tucked away in the back bedroom. It’s like being reaquainted with old friends. Hopefully soon I’ll have the mental wherewithal to pick one of them up and sink into it for a day or so.

Close Reading Data Visualizations

As is often the case with such TED talks, I watched Gary Flake’s demonstration of Pivot with a mixture of awe and jealousy. I want that kind of thing for the deep web as well as the free web!

Go watch it, then come back.

No, really. I’m about to reference a specific visualization, so you should see it first. If you get bored, just watch the first sequence (until the flying people-graphs are done).

Ok. Wasn’t that cool?

The instructor in me, though, noticed an implicit message in the visualizations that I think would reinforce incorrect assumptions that my students make all the time. My students are constantly looking at census data, for example, and hoping that they can make talk about how many of these people from this chart in their hands that describe educational levels — how many of these people died in that other chart on accidental deaths. They’re wanting to track individuals rather than talk about probabilities and percentages. And the initial example that Flake uses to talk about mortality and age absolutely reinforces that faulty understanding of the data. Icon-people fly from one column to the next as he filters for different characteristics, making it seem like if you just concentrated enough, you’d know everything there was to know about that one blue guy who started off 3rd from the right of the 4th row.

I really wish the visualizations had figured out a way to make each one appear to be exactly what it was: a snapshot of a sample. Right now it looks like they’re drawing on incredibly detailed longitudinal data.


How Big Is My Library?

Image by the CCAC North Library:

I’ve been mulling over Steve’s latest post about some of the ways in which knowing the number of books in your library is either impossible or not very meaningful. And I imagine that for most of the parents on these college tours this number really isn’t very meaningful at all. For it to be meaningful you need to know how that number compares to other libraries, and what the collection’s strengths are. I freely admit that I really haven’t a clue how many “books” we have in our library. I think of it as a medium-sized college library. I know that we have one of the strongest collections of “big name” critical editions of renaissance scores in the state. I know we have almost nothing in our collection about topics that aren’t actively taught on campus.

“Number of volumes” is one of those standard measures that libraries use to describe themselves, and I started wondering what was useful and what wasn’t about that measure. Like Carol in Steve’s comments (and actually like Steve says in his last non-bulleted paragraph), I think that there’s more to having more books than simply having more books. It makes lots of kinds of things possible that simply aren’t possible with smaller collections.

On the other hand, when that’s the number that we give to people who are, in effect, asking “how good is your library,” I think we’re missing the boat. And when the parents of prospective students ask “how many books do you have” they are actually asking you “how good is your library.” It’s a classic compromised question (for those of you familiar with the reference interview). They’ve already decided on a specific measure that they hope will help them figure out the answer to the larger question, not realizing that there are probably better ways to get answers to their real question. And they’re asking for this measure because back in the day, back when information was hard to come by, having a lot of it in your library was a huge deal. Period. Now the library’s actual holdings are not only hard to count, but they’re really only a portion of the information that’s available to our communities. The free web is bursting at the seams with fantastic sources of all kinds, and I make it my business to help my students navigate those as well as what’s actually in my library.

And so now, no matter how useful knowing the number of volumes in my library may be in some circumstances, I think that the worth of the library is measured in the people who work here and the relationships we have with our campus community. I think that “we have 35 employees on a campus of under 2000 students,” “we conduct about 1200 individual appointments with students each year,” “we have the most popular computer lab on campus, this one printer does a quarter of all printing for the entire campus, and 10% of all students log into one of these 20 computers every day,” “we have 8 subject specialist librarians and one is assigned to each one of your classes,” all of these are more meaningful measures of the library’s value than a count of volumes. Now that getting your hands on information isn’t the driving problem, now that learning to filter and evaluate the information you find is the primary struggle, now it’s the people who work here that are the key, now it’s the ways in which those people can help you not only find but also evaluate information that seems to be the most relevant measure of worth.



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 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 interface searches all available fields and all indexes.

So now we know.

Comments closed