Way to go Bard!

I love my alma mater, the tiny and eccentric Bard College on the Hudson River in New York, and I love it even more after reading this Slate article about its new admissions option. The new option allows applicants to bypass the Common Application and instead submit four 2,500-word essays.

Bard commencement, 1998

Bard commencement, 1998

When I was applying to Bard, I was a college admissions dream. I had really good SAT and ACT scores, AP classes, and extracurricular activities, and I was valedictorian. One of the things that appealed to me about Bard, though, was that it didn’t require SAT or ACT scores. I knew plenty of good students – students who went on to excel in college – who had mediocre SAT scores. I liked that Bard seemed to be looking at the whole student, not just data points.

The Specialist: now accepting submissions

I have been appointed to the new editorial board of Journal of Library Administration and am editing a column on special libraries, “The Specialist.” The first column, “What’s So Special about Special Libraries?” has been published. (If you don’t have access and would like an author e-print, please contact me.)

If you are interested in contributing, I am accepting submissions:

Though special libraries share concerns with their more general academic, public, and school counterparts, they also have unique characteristics which merit separate consideration. Libraries of all types are evolving, and just as special libraries can learn from the general literature on libraries, practitioners in general libraries can learn from the experiences and methods of special libraries. “The Specialist,” appearing in even-numbered issues of this journal, will address the administrative concerns of special libraries. The column welcomes contributions from practitioners and scholars. Interested authors are invited to contact the editor at tmurray@stamps.org for submission guidelines.

What does a liberal arts education get you?

Lots of people seem to think the answer these days is not much. Employers are looking for more specific, more technical, more professional degrees. Students fear a degree in philosophy or language will doom them to working in food service trying to pay off their student loans.

There certainly have been times when I wished I had learned a practical skill rather than spending four years delving into German language and culture, but on the whole I think my degree has prepared me well. For one thing, it (combined with experience working at the college library) got me into library school. But even without that, I learned transferable skills. Computer office suites have changed drastically since I graduated, and yet I have not only readily adapted to each new version but have often become that person in the office everyone brings their word processing and spreadsheet questions to. (Yes, I know – “to whom everyone brings their word processing and spreadsheet questions.”) Likewise, learning about the concept of information retrieval has helped me be a pro at searching all manner of online search engines – and has also helped me retroactively adapt to card catalogs and paper indexes in my current job.

Barbara Fister’s post What Can Higher Ed Learn from Libraries? is right on the mark. There is value to a general education – perhaps more than ever with the pace of change and the growth of new fields and careers today. Gone are the days when you got your liberal arts degree, started a job, and worked your way up within the company until retirement. The job and career mobility today’s young adults can expect is all the more reason to give them a well-rounded education rather than teaching them a limited set of currently relevant technical skills. But I suspect most librarians already know this.

Comic con in Centre County

In my local newspaper this morning, there is an article about Nittany-Con, happening this weekend (March 24) just down the road from me in Milesburg. It caught my attention first because – hey cool, a local comic-con! I kept reading because it’s about an 8th-grade art teacher who has managed to get a table for her students to show their work.

I think this is cool not only because the kids are learning about comics in their art class, but because their teacher has made an effort to teach them the business side of comics as well. I’m all for teaching art for its own sake, but I wish in my own education I’d been more exposed to the business side of things (and not just art). It’s great to have artistic ambition or enjoy solving equations, but you do have to pay rent and buy food. I wish I had learned a little earlier that, even if you don’t own your own business, you have to think of yourself as an entrepreneur. The days of getting a liberal arts education and getting trained on the job and advancing up the ladder until you retire are pretty much gone. I hope these kids have a great experience and sell some prints. (The proceeds go to charity.)

I was also reminded about the show by a tweet from local illustrator Jason Lenox. Unfortunately, my schedule won’t allow me to attend the show myself but I hope it is successful!

The price of competition

Nittany Valley Half Marathon

Nittany Valley Half Marathon, 2010

This is the kind of post I should probably write as a note on Facebook rather than a blog post – but, as mentioned in my last post, Facebook notes lack organization. So, even though this isn’t about libraries, I have this blog and this post doesn’t fit anywhere else, so here it is.

I write a monthly column about running for my local newspaper, so I think and write a good bit about the sport, but I don’t know that I have time or energy for yet another blog. I used to co-write a running blog for the paper, but when they switched blogging platforms, our old posts got erased and we never started up a new blog.

I originally wrote the following as a letter to the editor of Running Times, but I’m not very prompt about reading my magazines. By the time I had read the article and drafted a letter, the next issue was already in my mailbox.

The no-frills races Pete Magill is nostalgic for (“The Price of Competition,” Running Times, November/December 2012) are still here. Last weekend, I ran the Nittany Valley Half Marathon in State College, PA. It has a measured 13.1-mile course with mile markers and four water stops. The race director’s brief speech as 700 runners toed a line in a field was something along the lines of, “Run that way and watch for cars.” Chip timing ensured accurate times. For all this plus a t-shirt, I paid $25. If Magill is worried about losing a non-refundable fee, you can even register the morning of the race, although you might not get a t-shirt. The race is small, but it has attracted some very good runners. In 2011, local runners Luke Watson and Rebecca Donaghue used it as part of their preparation for the Olympic Trials marathon. The race quietly donates proceeds to a local charity.

There are plenty of other races like this out there. If you want to run with thousands of other people in a big city, expect a spectacle. If you just want to toe a line and see how fast you can run, check your local running club’s race calendar. It’s a lot more fun than running by yourself with your Garmin.

Facebook killed the blogosphere?

I don’t blog here as much as I used to. Part of it is just life and work taking up a lot of my time, and part of it is the energy that goes to the other blogs I contribute to.

Another part of it, though, is the other outlets I now have access to.

A post by Aaron Stanton about using Facebook as a personal blog got me thinking about this. If I just want to share a link without lengthy commentary, I can post it on Twitter or Facebook. (A good portion of my Facebook posts are public, so feel free to subscribe – or friend me if you know me.) If I want to start a discussion, I increasingly find LinkedIn groups or Facebook better places to do it than this blog. I use these outlets to share things I think are interesting, or to refine my thoughts on a topic.

I also don’t read blogs as much as I used to. I find links on Twitter and Facebook, and I follow discussions on LinkedIn. When I do read blogs, I’m more likely to follow a link to a post from Twitter or Facebook than from my feed reader.

That said, and despite the title of this post, I don’t think blogging is dead. It has changed significantly, though. Back when I started blogging (in 2003), if you wanted to publish something online, blogging was the way to go. My blog was primarily professional, but a lot of personal and silly things got posted there as well, because there was nowhere else to post them. Now there’s no reason to write a whole blog post just to share a photo of my dog. Overall, I think my blogging has improved. It’s more focused and thoughtful.

Microsoft “education”


Photo by Stephen Downes

I’m making a poster (to be presented on Tuesday at the Pennsylvania Library Association conference), and was researching examples of timelines when I stumbled across a Microsoft tutorial on creating timelines in Word. The tutorial is intended for teachers. Here’s hoping teachers are only taking Microsoft’s advice about using Word features and not about how to do research.

The tutorial’s narration begins:

Start by researching your subject on the Internet..

OK, not the worst advice in the world, but why does Microsoft feel qualified to tell teachers where to do their research? It gets worse, though, when the tutorial shows teachers how to place images in their timelines:

Find the image you want on the Internet, then right-click and select copy…

I’m sure Microsoft won’t mind if I just right-click and take a bunch of images from their website to illustrate my poster. Right?

Truly DIY libraries

Little Free Library

A Little Free Library made from a newspaper box in Seattle. Photo by Josh Larios.

Lots of stories have been popping up lately about the Little Free Library movement.

Back in March, Lane Wilkinson wrote a blog post on Sense and Reference about what institutional libraries can learn from these DIY libraries.

More recently, my dad shared an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Little Free Libraries in the Atlanta area.

I first stumbled across a DIY library in a park in Madrid about 10 years ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of it, but it was a small stone structure with a shelf for books.

Earlier this week, BBC News posted an article about a rather large free library run out of a man’s house in Manila.

Clearly, in the Manila case, the DIY library is helping to fulfill a need that is not filled by institutions. Altanta is a very different case, though. Are DIY libraries popping up there because the public library system isn’t fulfilling people’s needs? Or are people just looking for something more local and more social than their local branch library? Or, perhaps, do people harbor a secret desire to be librarians?

One thing is clear: people like to share books.


Some thoughts on SLA

Elections for the SLA Board opened today. I’m a candidate for Division Cabinet Chair-Elect. (If you don’t know what that means, you might want to read my post, What is Division Cabinet?)

If you are an SLA member, please take the time to learn about the candidates and cast an informed vote. Over the past few months, all of the candidates answered a series of 5 questions on the SLA Blog. I’ve enjoyed reading my fellow candidates’ thoughts about SLA.

Here are my answers to the 5 questions:

1. What sort of advice would you give to professionals, both newly minted and more seasoned professionals, who might be interested in nontraditional career paths?

Advice to someone interested in a nontraditional career path

2. When did you first join SLA? What made you decide to join then, and why do you still belong today?

Why I belong to SLA

3. What is the newest “techie” gadget that you have/would like to have, and how do/would you use it to improve the work relationship that you have with your primary clientele?

The only gadget I need

4. How has your work with SLA over the years helped you grow professionally and personally?

SLA, for everything I didn’t learn in library school

5. SLA is an international organization. How can SLA involve and reach out more to members outside of North America?

Making SLA truly international


Goodbye RSS?

I’ve noticed that I’m using RSS feeds less and less often lately. Sure, I still have hundreds of feeds in Google Reader, but I’ve gone from checking them daily to weekly to I can’t remember when I last checked them. It’s not just because I’m busier. I’m getting a lot of the information I used to get via RSS from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. I used to look for the bright orange RSS icon to follow blogs, but now I look first for the little Twitter bird or the Facebook F. I’m just starting a new blog project (more on that soon), and I suppose I will need to create Facebook and Twitter accounts for it.

It seems I’m not alone – and this change is not without consequences, according to Ken Varnum at RSS4Lib. We’re moving from an open standard to mediated discovery. And it’s not just that people aren’t using RSS. It’s becoming more and more difficult for the consumer to find.

Ironically, I did find Ken’s post using my RSS feed reader.

How do you follow blogs?