Upgrade!

Remember the last post where I lamented my dinosaur-age personal technology? Well, every once in a while – usually around the end of winter before spring really kicks in and it’s miserable outside – I have sudden bouts of feeling like I’m in a rut personally and professionally. I mope around for a couple days, convinced that I’m some sort of 21st-century version of the Lithuanian stockyard workers from The Jungle, and I’m perching on the edge of personal disaster. (That book was ridiculous IMO, and so is my train of thought.) Then suddenly I say “screw it, I’m going to be financially irresponsible!” and I end up doing something totally worth it. Like taking a week off to see my family. Or buying a car that enables me to live in a better apartment and get better part-time jobs in other towns and visit state parks on a whim. Or, in the case of last Tuesday, getting a Samsung Galaxy S4.

wpid-20140325_162929.jpg

At any rate, it’s not like the initial $100 at Best Buy and the extra $30 a month is really going to catapult me into bankruptcy / homelessness / spiraling into alcoholism and then becoming a socialist.

As an information professional, it was about time I take the leap (my mother concurred when she called me on her iPhone). And I’m so glad I just finally did it! I’m still using a paper planner because I love having the “coherent mental map” of my schedule (see this super-interesting article), but I’ve almost eliminated the handful of other little notebooks that used in an attempt at organization. Shopping lists, DVDs to see and books to read, and even my recipes are already in my pocket when I go to the library or the grocery store. With the GPS, I no longer have to print / handwrite directions, attempt to read them while driving, and hope there won’t be construction or traffic or I won’t make a wrong turn. I no longer have to spend an hour recreating my routes in MapMyRun so I can figure out my pace. Instead of half-assing my food diary and wasting time looking up the calories in broccoli, Lose It! does all the calculating and holds me accountable to a firm number each day. I’m still spending time staring at screens, but I’m reading Julie and Julia with my Kindle app instead of mindlessly refreshing my email. I have a good camera with me all the time, and instead of sitting there, uploading, then emailing or posting the photos, I can immediately share them with friends and family. My day-to-day life is honestly better with the smartphone.

I also see now that just about everything on the Internet is optimized for viewing on mobile devices. Buzzfeed’s simple page setup, for example, works well for quick reading on the phone, and Facebook’s notifications and news feed finally make sense. Candy Crush Saga, which seemed cheesy and way too slick on my laptop, is somehow gorgeous on the S4, and it’s much more fun to tap those little pieces into place than to drag and click and hope I don’t have to hit refresh. And it’s a lot easier to keep up with blogs and news feeds when apps are automatically collecting them. Not to mention the popularity of image-focused websites with infinite scrolling, like Pinterest and some Tumblrs.

I’ve downloaded and played with and deleted many apps in the last week, and here are my favorite so far:

  • Google Keep – shopping lists, short-term lists, and memos in one place, and I like the interface better than Wunderlist, Out of Milk, and S Memo
  • Google Calendar – since I still use a paper calendar as my workhorse, but I like the agenda view for my special appointments and little memos. I don’t need the power of BusinessCalendar, and the Google agenda interface is nicer than Jorte or S Calendar.
  • Lose It! – food and fitness tracking, much easier than MyFitnessPal to enter custom foods like homemade dinners, but still does calculating for me unlike Simple Calorie Counter. Plus I love the cute little icons.
  • Evernote – just because I have it already.
  • Amazon Kindle – Overdrive Media Console has nothing on the Kindle app.
  • Feedly – it’s free and unlike Flipboard and Instapaper, lets me do my own thing and doesn’t seem interested in telling me what everyone else is reading.
  • Clock – it’s just so simple to set and alter my alarms, and I like that the timer is built-in. The clouds are cuter than the morose dark colors of Alarm Clock Xtreme Free.

And I typed the entire post on the S4 as well!

(April Fool’s… I made it to about 30 words before switching to the laptop. Typing a 750-word blog post on a smartphone would be maddening.)

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)

In da Club: Book Discussion Wins and Fails

Boss came to me a few months ago with an idea: patrons had approached her who couldn’t make the current club’s Monday afternoon meetings, or who couldn’t finish the 400+ page selections before the club met. They had constraints on their time, like jobs during the day, kids, etc. So could Boss and I work on a book club for the busy adult, with short selections and a more convenient meeting time? Thus was born the Short on Time Book Club, meeting Saturday afternoons to discuss books and plays of 250 pages or less.

It’s truthfully been a bit slow to start out. Last month I led the discussion on The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. It’s a 1959 short novel that has influenced the likes of Stephen King, and it’s one of the most terrifying novels ever. So it’s got lots of street cred. However, we only have one skinny little copy in the entire system, and the rest of our copies of the text are wedged in an 832-page monster anthology that will bring shudders to most and perhaps PTSD flashbacks to former English majors. (Ugh, I hated that early American gothic literature class so much…) I’m sure the intimidating packaging of Hill House contributed to the small turnout:

My home copy and the thin library copy, which looks cool and Hitchcockian.
My home copy and the thin library copy, which looks cool and Hitchcockian.
"No no, you only have to read 174 pages of this!"
“No no, you only have to read 174 pages of this!”

Were there lessons to be learned from my first book discussion? Absolutely!

  1. Judge a book by its cover – the cover the library has the most of. If it’s not portable or it looks like a textbook / torture device, people aren’t going to pick it up.
  2. Classic authors’ shorter works are often anthologized.
  3. Newer authors’ shorter works are generally not anthologized. Or if they are, their covers are sexy.
  4. Don’t feel obligated to choose a title that’s familiar. Take a risk with something new and interesting, read a couple reviews online, then dive right in and discover the book along with the book club.

But despite my book selection missteps, I was really happy with the discussion questions I compiled! Here they are, starting with some general book club questions and moving more into Hill House:

  • Icebreaker: Talk about another creepy book you’ve read, a movie you’ve seen, etc.
  • What did you think of the book?
  • What did you like and dislike?
  • Was it a quick and engaging read?
  • Who was your favorite character and your least favorite character?
  • What are some major themes, and how are they similar or different from other horror stories?
  • What was the most terrifying moment to you?
  • How do the different characters perceive the house?
  • How do the characters relate to one another? What sort of social groups do they form, and why?
  • What are the expectations imposed on each character by family, gender, age, etc.?
  • The house is described as having an oppressive atmosphere. How do the characters, specifically Eleanor, experience oppression in other ways?
  • Why does the house seem to focus on Eleanor?
  • Is the house evil inherently, or is the house only affecting Eleanor’s own perspective?
  • Was Eleanor unhinged before coming to Hill House? What caused her final unhinging?
  • Who or what is responsible for the paranormal activity? Does it exist at all?
  • Characters acknowledge that they could just leave. Why do they stay?
  • The narration shifts several times over the course of the novel. When and how does it shift, and why?
  • The first page states that “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolutely reality.” How does this tie in to the overall story?
  • Several times, Eleanor has the thought “Journeys end in lovers meeting.” Does she meet her lover?
  • Do you think Eleanor was a good caretaker of her mother?
  • Dr. Montague has a certain approach to the paranormal, and so does his wife. Do either of their methods work?
  • Horror is an individual experience. How do the characters experience Hill House differently?
  • How does the novel make use of color?
  • What does the house represent to the characters? To you?
  • Aside from her horror stories, Jackson also often wrote about raising her four children, and she published her stories in women’s magazines like Woman’s Day and Good Housekeeping. How does this knowledge enhance your reading of Hill House?
  • BONUS LIT CRIT NERDINESS: discuss themes of family dysfunction, sexuality and sexual oppression, the nurture versus nature debate, the construct of the hysterical female in psychology / media / other horror narratives.

For further reading:

  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • Further watching: The Haunting (1963) directed by Robert Wise

If you’re familiar with the text and can think of any other discussion questions or further readings, please leave a comment! Happy clubbing!

(P.S. – I do not apologize for the post title. Somebody had to make sure that donated 50 Cent CD played okay and didn’t skip before we gave it to tech services for cataloging!)

22,226: the Home Broadband Survey 2013

So Librarian in Black let me know recently about a report put out by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which shows where the U.S. stands in terms of home broadband connections.

According to the report, which breaks down the results by gender, age, race, education, income, and urbanity, about 70% of the country has a broadband connection at home and 56% of the country has a smartphone. Of the smartphone owners, about 10% have no broadband connection to a computer. So, combining the smartphone owners and home broadband owners, it’s fair to say that 80% of the country has ready and fast access to the Internet. There’s also still a small 3% out there who still have a dial-up connection.

The study didn’t mention any overlap between the 3% of dial-up users and 10% of smartphone-only users, so just for fun, let’s pretend they don’t overlap and thus 83% of our population has some sort of connection to the internet in their home. That still means a whopping 17% of our population does not have any home internet connection whatsoever. That’s nearly 1 in 6 people! They either are not connecting to the internet at all (which is probably fine for about half of them), or they’re finding ways to connect to the internet outside the home: friends, relatives, school, work, wireless in restaurants and cafes, leeching from their neighbor’s unsecured wi-fi connection, or – you guessed it – the public library.

Now, let’s make this data a little more real by applying it to the city where I work. Remember, 83% of people are connected in some way. (It would actually be really fun to sit and compare the broadband data against the census data along age, education, and income for the city and for my branch’s neighborhood, but then this post would never get done.) The Census Bureau estimated the 2012 population at 130,741 residents, so if 17% of city residents don’t have a home internet connection, that equals 22,226 people who are offline. That in itself is the population of a small city. For those 22,226 people, our five library locations are the only free, secure, and oftentimes convenient way to get online. On top of that, there is always assistance from tech-savvy staff and free computer literacy classes. No other body of government is providing free computer literacy classes to the public except the library.

Even if half doesn’t feel a need to be connected (another blog post for another date, that one), there are still 11,113 people who are interested in connecting and are looking outside their homes to go online. And that number doesn’t include many of the undocumented immigrants in the city, nor people travelling from out of state, nor the usually-connected residents whose connection is temporarily down (if that’s 0.5% of the population and 1/4 heads to the library to get online, that’s 163 patrons muttering to themselves about how long it takes Comcast to send out a maintenance van), nor the seniors who normally don’t use computers but get a letter from a government agency directing them to fill out a form on the agency’s website, or they want to see Facebook photos of their new grandchild who was born in another state. Does that bring the number to 12,000? 15,000? 25,000? With this in mind, why are budgets still shrinking when it’s obvious that public libraries are providing such a vital service to populations that are at a great technological and social disadvantage?

Kids’ RA, and some professional development

The last few months have been crazy busy, both in Libraryland and personally. The dust has finally settled after moving to a new place in June, last month I visited PA to see family and friends, and after nearly four years of relying on public transit, I have my own set of wheels. Being sans vehicle wasn’t a big deal in Chicago, and even in New Haven I could get around with the buses, walking, and the occasional car rental, but I feel like my world has expanded about 3000%. One of the biggest barriers preventing me from being more professionally active has now been removed. No more futile playing with Google Maps looking for public transit routes that don’t involve a taxi ride, or walking along highways without sidewalks, and no more worrying about returning rentals on time with full tanks of gas! On Friday I went to my first association meeting, which was a great experience – I got to talk / listen to other professionals and see what’s going on outside of my own librarian system, and find out there are lots of opportunities to get involved that I didn’t even know existed. I don’t get to use my web design skills much nowadays, and I’m itching to get out from behind the library walls and go out into communities. Hopefully, it’s going to happen in the next few months.

The branch has been closed on Saturdays for the summer, so Mondays are even crazier than before, with an overflowing DVD cart from four days of an unattended book drop, stacks of children’s books of unknown provenance hanging out on every available surface, summer reading prizes to give out, and an outdoor concert series and piemaking contest in the park right next to the branch. And insatiable young readers, who have been coming out in higher numbers than ever before, seeking out their next book with quite specific criteria in mind, criteria that doesn’t necessarily come in subject headings.

I’ve added some new weapons to my reader’s advisory arsenal lately: AR BookFinder US, which I discovered as a bookmark on a computer at the main branch, the Barnes and Noble website, and even Pinterest. AR BookFinder and Barnes and Noble are great because you can narrow results down by age, something that isn’t built into our catalog. AR BookFinder also has a TON of topics you can choose under their advanced search, such as Adventure-Fantasy and Disabilities-Speech Impaired. The downside to such detailed search criteria? You’ll have to sort through every title in the big series, like Magic Tree House, to get standalone books or smaller series in the genre. Perhaps AR can fix this with a “does not contain” search limiter.

RA of the Day: A few weeks ago we had a super little patron who had just read Close to Famous by Joan Bauer, and she wanted to follow it up with more food fiction. I wasn’t getting many chapter books with the “Baking – Juvenile Fiction” heading in our catalog, so I took to the Internet, where I found Barnes and Noble has categories for food, recipes, agriculture, miscellaneous food fiction, and cooking and baking within their children’s books. Score. Five minutes later, she was happily using the self-checkout to take home Pie by Sarah Weeks.

In my search I also came across a Children’s Food Fiction board on Pinterest. It never even occurred to me that while I’m drooling over cookie recipes and creating my virtual dream home, I’m essentially making pathfinders. This is such a great library tool and it would be so easy to find a book, write a sentence, and BAM! it’s up there for patrons. I’m drooling thinking about how easily I could make a board recommending memoirs and dystopian fiction and old classics and standalone graphic novels. The emphasis on visuals means Pinterest is especially helpful for children’s titles, where the cover design clues you in on the age of the intended audience.

The caveat: to directly link to the library catalog, Pinterest has to be able to pull images from it. It’s not working for our catalog, so that means I’d either have to A) create a usability nightmare with links to Amazon instead of the OPAC and branch availability information that will change as soon as I hit “paste,” or B) abandon Pinterest as a possibility for now. In reality it’s been a struggle finding the time to do any sort of pathfinders, especially with higher priorities like developing our adult health nonfiction collection and weeding history. But one day, though, I’ll get to make them!

It’s Spring! There are birds!

After a winter that seemed to drag on forever, spring has finally arrived in Connecticut. Crocuses are out in full bloom in more colors than I can count, and tulips are pushing their leaves out of the detritus. But more importantly for me, the birds are finally coming back and singing over the cold mechanical din that never ceases in the city. Yesterday I saw a scarlet tanager (I haven’t seen a tanager since my honeymoon in Costa Rica in November – that’s 4 1/2 months) and a small hawk that was sitting low enough in somebody’s tree for me to startle it as I walked by. And this morning, I woke up to calls I couldn’t place.

As a kid in rural Pennsylvania, whenever I wanted to identify a bird, my mom would crack open her old copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds and we’d set upon the range maps and call descriptions. I would spend hours paging through that guide, and when I began college in North Philly there was an instance involving Orientation Weekend Jeopardy, John James Audubon, and a frustrated comment from a freshman which led me to the horrible realization that many people can’t name the things that inhabit their backyard. Anyway, I live 200 miles away from that guide, and the information is way past its 30th birthday anyway. So what can I use right now to help me find out who is making that three-note reedy call?

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has consistently has great websites for bird identification, I have been using All About Birds for years. The title is misleading to me and reminds me of amateur informational websites that don’t go beyond the basics, have an agenda, and look like they haven’t updated their design since 1997 (I’m looking at you, Dog Breed Info). However, All About Birds is well-laid out, professionally run, and insanely simple to use.

All About Birds - Scarlet Tanager

It’s image-driven instead of text-driven, which is the downfall of a number of other identification websites out there. Maps and sounds are just below the fold, and you can click on tabs for more in-depth information and several sound recordings. I’m finding the “Related Species” link more helpful than the “Similar Species” link. “Similar Species” takes you further down the page to the elements “Field Marks” and “Similar Species,” but “Field Marks” is on the lefthand side and takes up two-thirds of the space, so it takes a few seconds (or revisits) until you realize no, that thing in the skinny column on the right isn’t an ad, it’s the “Similar Species” element you were trying to access.

Similar Species

…Or wait, is “Similar Species” the three image photo gallery, or is it the heading to the text that’s two-thirds of the way down the page?…

… Or is the “Field Marks” part of the whole “Similar Species” element? Yep, that’s the one. You can look through some example photos and put them side-by-side with similar species so you can see how to tell them apart.

“Related Species,” on the other hand, takes you to a scrolling list of roughly a dozen other species in the same family. At a glance, it’s not completely clear how AAB differentiates between “Related” and “Similar” birds. I only learned after playing around with the identification tool, and looking at the page title for the “Related Species” link let me know that the page is actually “Browse by Bird Family.” Do many people look at the page title nowadays, though? I’m even one of the tab-happy ones who would be the most likely to pay attention to the titles, but I tend to memorize the placement of my tabs and scan for the proper icons instead of watching how the titles change.

related

ANYWAY, usability nitpicking aside, it’s a great little website.

This morning I discovered their audio and video library, the Macaulay Library, which focuses on birds but has extended to include other members of the phylum Chordata, a number of arthropods, and a handful of miscellaneous recordings. Birds are still the primary collection here, with almost 116,000 sound clips and nearly 38,000 videos (by comparison, the generally sexier mammals category has a paltry 7450 sounds and 2700 videos).

You can browse by taxonomy, or type in a search by taxonomy or field name. Instead of typing away and blindly hitting enter, though, you need to select an item from the dropdown list, similar to Google’s autocomplete. Once you select your species or family, you can organize the list of results based on type of sound (if noted), location, date, and quality, among other headings. The video tab defaults to a thumbnail view, but selecting list view is much more helpful. It displays the videos the same way the audio clips are displayed, and you can then search based on types of behaviors displayed. Which is awesome. And every sound and video I’ve encountered so far is very high quality.

macaulay

Of course, it is a library, so there is some incomplete cataloging. Videos and audio clips with behavioral values or sound type values are fewer than those with blanks. But the fact that they note behaviors at all is wonderful, and sometimes they’re noted in the Notes tab once you go to the individual videos. Items with near-complete cataloging have notes on the bird’s age and sex, the equipment used, and a Google map of the location. A Google map! There is really superb cataloging going on here, and I’m excited to see how this website evolves.

If you’re not sure which bird you’re after, though, you really need to start at All About Birds and narrow it down. Then, once you have a species or two, you should be following the links to Macaulay Library and double-checking the videos and other sound clips. Which is what I did for my bird of prey. I clicked around the falcons and hawks on AAB until I narrowed it down to three species, then I watched videos of them on Macaulay Library. With a couple Google image searches for juveniles of my species, I think I saw a young Merlin.

If you’re not hellbent on identifying a bird, and you’re only looking for a way to waste some time, then Macaulay Library you can also spend hours jumping around the videos watching sockeye salmon building nests. Which is partially why it took me all day to finish writing this. That and the 78 degree weather beckoned me outside for a few hours.

***

Now then. If I wanted to buy a physical guide instead, something I could take out in the field, it seems that Sibley is the top recommendation.

sibley

However, Peterson is still a close second, and many birders will go out and buy both.

petersonfieldguidetobirds

Looking at the popularity of bird guides on Amazon it appears that National Geographic and Stokes are also popular, but the birdwatching sites I’ve read have pointed to Kaufman as one of the top three.

Looking for public domain / open content media?

I’m having luck with the Creative Commons Image Search. You type your search term into the box, then select one of thirteen sources for images, sounds, videos, and written content. Based on my extremely thorough research (which consisted of typing “corgi” into the search box, playing with the permissions, selecting a source, and cooing) it seems that Flickr and Wikimedia Commons have the best quality photos. Flickr perhaps requires a little more patience, though. Since it’s a social sharing site, you tend to get rows and rows of similar photos from people dumping out the contents of their SD card. However, there are some gems from amateur photographers that make it worth sifting through the search results.

Corgi by stijnbokhove
By stijnbokhove
Corgi by mccoughlin
By mccoughlin
Corgi by evocateur
By evocateur