More Portable Apps Fun

Note the circle on the OpenOffice Writer toolbar. That would be the one button .pdf exporter, and it made a patron very, very happy yesterday.  The patron asked if she could save her word document as a pdf file in Word. Even though this is something that is possible in Word 2007, it requires a download which we can’t do because computers are locked.   So, I had the patron save her word document to a disk, I opened it up with OpenOffice Writer and then poof…it was a pdf file.  She was happy, and I don’t know what I did before I put Portable Apps on my jump drive.

Adventures in Portable Apps

A while ago I downloaded Portable Apps to the staff jump drive, and then didn’t really think about it much after that.  This week it all changed when a patron wanted to access a certain article on The Wall Street Journal that wasn’t part of the free website. He wanted to know if we had a subscription to the WSJ online, but I had to tell him that we didn’t . Then I remembered reading on a blog somewhere that there was a way to get WSJ articles through the backdoor.  I did some researching and came up with two different ways.  The first was to do a google search for the title of the article, but that didn’t work. The second way was more complicated and required Firefox, something that my IS locked down computer didn’t have. But then it hit me! Firefox was part of Portable Apps, and Portable Apps was on the jump drive, so I booted it up and one add-on later we had the article he was looking for.

After this, I realized that I could use the jump drive to use firefox at work. (Take that IS lockdown!) And then I started playing around with some of the other features on portable apps.  Turns out, creating a pdf document in Open Office is as simple as clicking a button. (It’s even easier than creating a pdf with my Mac.) I put a staff member to work on some of the other Open Office programs, and she discovered that open office draw is comparable to Microsoft Publisher and in her words, “I think I might even like it a little bit better than publisher.”   Even though I’m not as much of a techie as I would like to be, I get really excited when I think about Open Source Software.  The idea that it is out there for people to use, and that users can help make it better  mirrors the way I feel libraries should be approached.

I’m guessing that many of our patrons who can’t afford Microsoft Office don’t even know that there are free alternatives like Open Office, and I wonder if offering classes on programs like that would be even more helpful to patrons that the Microsoft classes we offer now.  Always stuff to think about.

  • Click here to download and/or find out more about portable apps.

Customer Service

Over the past week I have had several positive customer service transactions at the Reference Desk.

Transaction #1

A woman came to the reference desk and stated “I remember reading in Reader’s Digest in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s about this man who was kind of famous when he was diagnosed as having three months to live. He checked himself into a hotel and then watched all of these funny movies he liked when he was little, like the Three Stooges. After three months he wasn’t sick anymore.” Can you tell me who this man was? I guess if one was familiar with the time period you might know straight off. I was born in 1981, so I had to probe the question a little bit further. I found out that she was pretty sure it was cancer and that he had definitely been given “Three months to live”. I took the woman’s number and let her know I would research it and give her a call back later. So I started to research using ‘cancer’ and ‘three months to live’ as my jumping off point. (This would prove to be red herring) After scouring the historic new York times from the 60’s and 70’s looking in some timeline books, I finally decided to try some new search terms and focus on “laughter cures” and “comedy cures cancer” in Google. I finally reached some headway and discovered the name Norman Cousins. After looking him up in our biography database I concluded that this was in fact the man the woman was searching for. I printed out his biography, put the book that he wrote about his illness on hold for her and gave her a call back. Later that day when she came back I gave her the biography and let her know that I put the other thing on hold. She was thrilled that I was able to figure out this man’s name and that I had taken the time to print out his biography and put his book on hold for her. When she came back to pick up the book, she came back to the reference desk and said she was so happy with her information she wanted to do something special for me, and she gave me a necklace.

The Lesson

It is easy to get caught in a red herring even if you properly do the reference interview. Although I was eventually successful in finding the answer, a few things would have made it easier. First of all, I spent too much time focusing on his illness and the three months to live. I asked a leading question, “Was it cancer?” to which the patron responded “yes”. (His illness turned out to not be Cancer) The important detail I missed was how important the funny movies were to his recovery. Once I hit on that I was easily able to find his identity.

Continue reading

That pesky Wikipedia

I was recently asked to “describe a recent reference question and the source(s) I used to answer it”. Since the question came up early in the interview, and I was still a little bit nervous and trying to get my interview groove on I retold the first thing that had come to mind.  The day before the interview a woman had come to the desk asking for a list of books in an Elizabeth Peters series that was not the popular Amelia Peabody series (The Vicky Bliss series), and she wanted them in the order of publication.  Simple enough question. However, as I started to recount the story I realized that I was going to have to admit to that thing librarians are not supposed to admit, especially in a job interview. “To answer this question I used Wikipedia”. Now that isn’t all I said.  I qualified it by stating that it may seem like an odd choice and that as I gave the information to the patron I let her know the positives and negatives of Wikipedia, but a little voice inside my head was saying “You should NOT have said that.” 

But then I started thinking about it, and here is the thing: For that particular question Wikipedia was genuinely the best source.  I couldn’t count on our catalog or OPAC because it would only give her the items that we have available in our system. We might have all of them, but we might not. I guess I could have used Novelist, but I just tried to search using that and was not able to easily access a list of Elizabeth Peter’s work divided by series.  Another source might have been the author’s website, which I also just checked.  Hidden away in barrage of Amelia Peabody information was a broken down list of other works including the Vicky Bliss series, but it did not include publication dates or information on the upcoming august installment of the series. 

Now I am going to quote from the Wikipedia entry:

The Vicky Bliss novels follow the adventures of an American professor of art history who keeps getting involved in international crime and her love interest, a charming art thief known as Sir John Smythe. Another Peters novel, The Camelot Caper (1969), while not technically a Vicky Bliss story, features Smythe. The novels can be enjoyed in any order, but the stories are highly sequential in nature and are probably better appreciated if read in order of publication.

This information was followed by a list of the Vicky Bliss novels with year of publication including the latest installment set to be released in August.  It was exactly what the patron was looking for and as I printed it off for her, she told me so.

So why should I feel bad about admitting that I used Wikipedia? My goal is to give the patron what they are looking for. The Wikipedia entry had exactly what the patron was looking for, including a reference to a book that features a character from the novels, but is not in the series. This is a piece of information that wasn’t in any of the other resources I checked.  I wonder, exactly how taboo is Wikipedia in the library world ? I know plenty of librarians who use it, and I think that there are many benefits to such a wide ranging resources. But how long will it be before I can freely admit that I am skilled in determining the best resource to answer reference questions and sometimes the best resource is Wikipedia?

The 3rd Place

I love the concept of the library as a 3rd place, and even more than that I love the idea of the library as a center for lifelong learning and culture. As I research, I’ve found several progressive European libraries that make me incredibly jealous.

Delft Public Library-The Netherlands
Since I’ve never been here, I’m relying on the description provided by Jenny Levine. I love, love, love the video gaming kiosks. The signs using images from popular culture are pretty great as well.

Kulturhuset-Stockholm, Sweden The kulturhuset is more than a library it is a destination that happens to include a library. I love that so many cultural activities can be found in this one location. And it houses The only library in Sweden specializing in comic books and graphic novels

The Idea Stores-London, United Kingdom
The Idea Store has three things:
1. Library – a wide range of stock including best-selling books, CDs and DVDs
2. Learning – day, evening and weekend courses for a range of interests and abilities
3. Information – access to extensive reference and information sources including online resources and a local studies and archives collection.

In my mind these three things make up what a library should offer the community.

I’m a big fan of giving myself big goals. Maybe someday I’ll be able to work in one of these amazing libraries. Guess I should start learning dutch.

Librarian blogs I couldn’t live without

Jessamyn West’s blog
One of my favorite librarians. One look at her wikipedia entry and you’ll know why.

The Shifted Librarian by Jenny Levine.
What is a shifted Librarian you ask? Jenny answers on her blog:

a “shifted librarian” is someone who is working to make libraries more portable. We’re experimenting with new methods, even if we find out they don’t work as well as we thought they would. Sometimes, we’re waiting for our colleagues, our bosses, and even the kids to catch up, but we’re still out there trying. And please don’t think I don’t love books and print, because I do. No amount of technology will ever replace them, and libraries will always be a haven for books. It’s the extras that I’m concentrating on, especially as we try to serve our remote patrons.”

LibraryBytes by Helene Blowers(Of learning 2.0 fame)

Librarian in black by Sarah Houghton-Jan.
This blog focuses on tech related library issues

Philosophy of Information Literacy

As I was updating some files recently, I stumbled upon a statement I had to write for one of the jobs I applied for last year.  In addition to submitting the standard cover letter, resume and references, I was asked to submit a “philosophy of information literacy” statement.  As I reread my statement today I was surprised to realize that were I writing it today it would be different.  

This is the statement I submitted:

We, as librarians, need to know and understand the Competency Standards set forth by the Association of College & Research Libraries in January of 2000. This document sets forth the standards by which students can be called information literate. It is our job to make sure that students are exhibiting the performance outcomes and exhibiting characteristics of information literacy.

In order to do the job, we need to be aware of the new information seeking behavior of students. Joan Lippincott notes that current students are part of the Net Generation . She writes, “The most common [disconnect between students and the academic library] is students dependence on Google or similar search engines for discovery of information resurces rather than consultation of library Web pages, catalogs, and databases as the main source of access.” This reliance on web-based inforamtion provides a specific challenge to us, and illustares the necessity for Information Literacy classes.
We need to impress upon students that the usefulness of sources offered by the library is far greater than those found by a quick Google search. In order to be able to do this we need to be familiar with what resources are offered by the library, and with the resources that are shared amongst libraries. In the state of Ohio, the OHIOLink system connects most universities statewide, and allows for inforamtion sharing on a grand scale. Once we are familiar with available resources, such as OHIOLink, we are better prepared to teach students how to use them. At the same time it is important to be familiar with online resources in order to be able to provide guidance in the use of such sources. We need to be able to recommend authoritative web information for students to use.

Lastly, the librarian needs to be aware that the way students are using the library is changing along with the ways they seek inforamtion. Students come to the library not only to check out books, but to find a place to hook up their laptop or to use computers with multimedia capabilities in the computer lab. By understanding how students use the library, the librarian is better able to develop an Information Literacy plan that will ensure that students are able to meet the performance outcomes set forth by the ACRL competency standards.

If I were writing it today, I would focus a little bit less on the challenges of working with the “Net Generation” and focus more on the opportunities.  Rather than quote the Lippincott article, I would quote a more recent article by John Seely Brown that discusses the concept of social learning and applies it to the new generation of students.  I might also bring up some of the creative ways librarians are connecting with students to teach information literacy.  One of the most innovative of these involves applying fantasy football to the ACRL Information Literacy Standards.