Monthly Archives: January 2014

Evernote is blowing my mind

I have a confession to make.

I know what Foursquare is, I can generate a QR code, my streaming Netflix queue is huge, and I could download an app in my sleep. But for all the shiny new technology I can easily use, I am in the minority of Americans who don’t have a smartphone or tablet.

It’s not at all that I don’t like new technology – on the contrary, I love when I can play with something new and get familiar with what’s out there. But I’ll never be the first person in line to buy something. It’s just not a priority. (I blame in no particular order: my modest upbringing, the economic collapse, Henry David Thoreau, and my life decision to marry a graduate student.) I always wait until a technology is established in the market, and even then I have to reach a certain level of resentment with my current technology before I start shopping for something new. I spent years trying to read blurry movie credits on a hand-me-down dorm-sized TV before finally throwing up my hands in frustration and upgrading to a low-end LCD TV in late 2012.

Now it’s January of 2014, and like flat screen TVs, smartphones and tablets are no longer a brand new technology. They’ve become the norm, and they’ve grown so sophisticated that the newest version of Windows was designed to work with tablets. I’ve even been tossing around the idea of getting a smartphone at some point, but my ancient Samsung Solstice just doesn’t frustrate me enough to make smartphone shopping a pressing concern.

I do have frustrations, though. My digital organizational systems at home have become way too complicated. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 is to make sense of the archived emails, Firefox bookmarks, half-deleted OneNote files, private blogs with single posts, and other things just sitting around and languishing in digital limbo. I also use a number of little paper books to keep track of things like grocery lists and my weekly schedule, but carrying around all those little notebooks is getting to be too much.

Evernote love

Enter the one-on-one tech help program I ran yesterday at the library. A couple coworkers and I spent the last week playing with iPads, Kindle Fires, NOOKS, and a Samsung Galaxy, then blocked off some time to help any patron who walked in the door with technology questions. In the process of preparing and implementing the program, I learned that it’s not just grad students in the midst of research who are using Evernote. Apparently, everyone seems to be using Evernote to store to-do lists, passwords, and anything they need. After a little research, I dove in today and started transferring all my clutter to Evernote.

I found myself in the middle of copying some online recipes to a new note when I stopped and thought, “Whoa, wait, what are you doing? Aren’t you just going to have to make a formatted Word document of this to print it for your recipe notebook? How will you give it to your mom if she wants a copy?” And right then, weighing the decision to use Word or Evernote, to forcibly mold digital information into a fixed physical form or to leave it digital and malleable, to stick with the old time-consuming method of hard drive space and file names and file formats or to give up some control and put my faith in the cloud, is when it hit me. Things just got real. This isn’t just a new way of using technology – it’s a completely new approach to the way we think about technology.

Sure, I’d used the cloud before for social media and email and creating budgets and writing blog posts, but it never occurred to me that every bit of my digital life could theoretically transcend format issues and live untethered in the cloud. Upon this realization, I took to Google to find out if files and folders and cares about a particular machine’s storage space were obsolete. I turned up a short article by Jan Senderek of the cloud storage company Loom, and he articulated how we’ve shifted from worrying about how to organize content to focusing on the content itself. It made me think of how l used to be the technology guru of the house way back when I was a teenager. If something malfunctioned with Windows 98 or XP, I understood the processes and could step in and fix it. Then Vista happened, and now that I have Windows 7, I no longer know what the guts look like. Windows automatically updates itself and fixes itself, so I don’t really need to know the guts anymore. Heck, Windows is even relaxed about where my self-created files live. But as long as they can be found, should it matter to me where they make their home? Am I fixating on it too much?:

We’ve trained ourselves to think in a file system approach… In fact, while using the traditional file hierarchy approach, it’s easy to go overboard with file creation and create redundant information by having too many files and folders, regardless of how organized your file management system is.

Guilty as charged. That person who spends hours formatting and reformatting their music folders? That’s me, unnecessarily swimming against the current.

I like to imagine that my organization means I’m cutting down the time I spend staring at computer screens, but I’m not. I’ll jot online lists down manually or make printouts, but I’m staring at a screen the whole time that I’m copying those lists or formatting the printouts. And when I misplace the printout or can’t read my handwriting, it’s back to the screen to retrieve the information. Why not just stick with the screen in the first place? After all, Evernote’s “Simplify Formatting” and “Remove Formatting” buttons are making recipe organization a much quicker, simpler, better process than Word and its finicky tables ever did. With so many processes of my daily life and my work relying on computers, the reality is I will never be able to divorce myself from screen technology as much as I’d like to.

The second best choice, then, is to embrace the more efficient cloud technology. No more messing around with Word documents or e-mailing links to myself when I can just log into Evernote and enter the information right there once and for all. And it presents the content so attractively, too!

old

new

I mean come one, which organizational system makes your mouth water more?

The only drawback I see (aside from not having a smartphone or tablet quite yet, of course) is whether all my info is truly safe out there in the cloud. I got an alarming e-mail from Target this past holiday after a huge security breach exposed shoppers’ credit card information to hackers, and Evernote has been the target of attacks as well. If I put my passwords and financial information in Evernote, will somebody else see it? Moreover, is it any more or less secure than keeping a list of passwords in one’s wallet or purse that could easily be misplaced or stolen? Does the easy access outweigh the risks?

And should I even bother with my other New Year’s resolution of backing up my files to an external hard drive, or did the cloud make external hard drives obsolete, too?

Dewey Free.

So apparently the director of Darien Library is retiring. Why is this significant? Aside from me really, really wanting to get down there a couple years ago for a book signing by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame (I had to work instead… or possibly I chickened out at the thought of walking in an unfamiliar town after dark and waiting on the train station platform in late November*), it’s one of the most innovative public libraries out there today. I’m under the impression that Darien is the curve breaker of CT public libraries, and sometimes at big meetings I’ll hear somebody end an idea with the phrase “like what Darien Library did.” (Sometimes that phrase is followed by a jealous scoff from someone in the crowd.) Darien is known for its extreme customer service, and a few years ago it sort of got rid of Dewey in favor of a “glades” system that groups similar subjects together. Under Home, you’ll find gardening, cooking, crafts, and home repair, and Places is where travel and language books live. They’re still using the Dewey numbers to an extent, but they’re reorganizing the physical locations in a way that is much more apropros of browsing.

Public libraries without Dewey seemed to be like exciting magical unicorns, mentioned in library school as living in some far-off location, but never seen and without a live specimen to prove their existence. Sure, there are the roaming herds of academic horses using LC’s classification, and sometimes you’d come across a zebra like the Oriental Institute’s archives, whose organizational system was designed by a past archivist / historian for that particular collection. But now there are lots of unicorns, and one of them (at least, one that’s got the wings but hasn’t grown the horn yet) is less than 40 miles from me.

The idea of moving away from Dewey and coming up with a more browseable classification system like that of bookstores is thrilling to me. Libraries are paying attention to the usability of their websites, and it’s extended into exploring the usability of the library’s physical layout. Why not explore a more usable classification system? However, according to a 2009 online survey of public librarians, almost half of librarians still want to use Dewey, and more than a quarter believe that patrons should be able to find what they want simply with better signage. Nevermind that the resources on alcoholism, mental illness, and improving your mental well-being are at three different call numbers.

Less than 12% of respondents were in favor of going Dewey-free. There were some people who viewed leaving Dewey behind and moving towards a bookstore-like organizational system as a violation of librarian ethics:

Tom Eland, a librarian at Minneapolis Community and Technical College who teaches courses on the politics of information, thinks that turning to business as a model for libraries shows an uncritical acceptance of market capitalism. “Unlike customer service, which is done by private sector corporations on behalf of the profit motive, public service to library patrons is done on behalf of the civic duty of library workers to serve the interest of citizens and residents of the community who patronize the library.” He’s not surprised that libraries that drop Dewey often display materials using ideas from retailing. “Too bad for the people who are trying to do real research, or who want to explore a specific domain of knowledge by going to the shelves and browsing by classification area.”

Um, no. After working in retail for more than five years, I can say that libraries absolutely should be looking at corporate customer service models for examples of how to best serve the public. The profit motive is driving companies to innovate in customer service. I wouldn’t be half the public services librarian I am today if I hadn’t first learned how to build relationships with customers on the sales floor. Sure, it was great to make a huge sale, but it was more satisfying to me and my coworkers to make people happy and help them find exactly what they were looking for – which is the exact same end goal I have when I’m working with patrons at the reference desk. I could go on forever about how my retail jobs helped me learn how to get patrons to notice our hidden collections, and how to develop hype around our programming. Successful retailers are successful because they’re awesome at responding to customers’ needs, and Darien is successful because it’s also awesome at responding to customers’ needs.

Let’s not forget the reality that government officials and board members like seeing numbers just as much as corporate execs do. We’re here for the community, yes, but when the month ends we still need to come up with those circulation stats to justify our existence (and those numbers have gone significantly up in libraries that moved away from straight Dewey). When it comes to our bottom line, we do need to protect our funding. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take a look at what businesses do to make a profit.

I would also argue that most patrons who are utilizing the physical collections at public libraries, especially branches, aren’t trying to do research – they’re coming in to pick up some entertainment and go on their way. Patrons who want to do serious research are theoretically more likely to show up at colleges and universities or central urban libraries with research-oriented holdings, like Harold Washington Library in Chicago – places that have enough holdings to fully benefit from the complexity of Dewey or LC. Again, it’s all about the customers’ needs.

I’m not even sure why Dewey is used in public libraries, but somehow it’s become one of those sacred standards of What Libraries Are Supposed to Be that we have had to completely break down to stay relevant. Maybe this is the wife-of-a-historian voice in me, but Dewey is an artificial, subjective system with no intrinsic superiority over any other system. In our diverse and globally connected 2014, it’s definitely showing its age and its Eurocentrism. It’s telling to see in which order Dewey lists literature and languages: English gets the first 10 subjects, then German, Romance languages, Latin and classical Greek, then the hundreds of other Indo-European, Semitic, African, East Asian, etc. languages have to share 10 subjects. Not to mention the 200s Religion section: there are 70 subject numbers for Christianity, but Judaism is relegated to number 296. And Islam shares number 297 with Babism and Baha’i. Maybe I’m completely overthinking it, but what sort of message is it sending our patrons when church furnishings are found at 247, and the Quran is at 297.122 like an afterthought? At best Dewey is slightly outdated, and at worst it’s helping to reinforce biases such as racism. (Not that I can readily propose a better system, mind you.)

Plus, Dewey wasn’t even made for public libraries – it was designed in the late 19th century for academic libraries. Almost all academic libraries, from my little undergrad up to major research collections like Yale, have moved to the more sophisticated Library of Congress at this point.

I’m not saying that all libraries should totally abandon Dewey, but that Dewey is far from sacred. What is sacred in the library is the patron, and we could definitely serve our patrons better by looking at alternatives to Dewey that would make it easier for them to find materials they care about, and would better reflect our diverse communities. I’m really excited to see where Darien and other partially and fully Dewey-free libraries will take their classification systems and how we’ll revise them over time, and it would be awesome to someday witness a major classification change from the front lines.

* TANGENT: I’m still hung up on the cold train platform thing. Chicago does it right in winter. Metro North, take heed and start thinking of installing these:

inline_winter_heatlamps

Sometimes you’d share a lamp with a pigeon.

And in the search for a photo of the L’s heat lamps, I came across this awesome time-wasting page of L trivia. It answers all your burning questions about Chicago’s mass transit train system, questions such as Are the CTA railcars shorter than that of the NYCTA (New York City Transit Authority) or other cities? To me they look a lot shorter in length. and Why aren’t there public restrooms in “L” stations? I did always wonder that.

650.7 Collection Development

So I’m trying to weed out all our old books on job hunting and replace our way outdated books. Library Journal’s website isn’t helping me out much, just returning articles on library job outlooks and landing librarian gigs and things of the sort. Nothing on best job hunting books. Then again, Library Journal seems to focus on academic library resources more than anything else. Then again, aren’t there significantly more public libraries in the U.S. than there are academic libraries?…

So I’m using Amazon and going through the informative but very, very time-consuming method of searching our OPAC, going to our shelves, looking at what we have and what circulates, and trying to combine all of those. Also just going Google searches on best job hunting books of 2013 and such. One of the best resources so far has been a reference librarian who usually works downtown – he could tell me a little on what circulates and what people are asking for, and we do have a brilliant guy downtown who specializes in small businesses and the job resources. Wish I didn’t have to wait until Wednesday to talk to him. Oh well, doing what I can with the time I have.

If I had my way so far:

  • Occupational Outlook Handbook – newest version, 2 copies, one for reference and one for circulation
  • What Color Is Your Parachute? – newest edition
  • Knock ‘Em Dead – newest edition
  • Knock ‘Em Dead Resumes – newest edition
  • 301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview (2010)