Archive for April, 2009

Classy — Cal Edition

[I maintain that anytime someone says “classy” to refer to a person or behavior, there is no way to make it sound unironic. Here, though, I am making an adjective about courses that are being taught, and this is not intended to be a comment on the tackiness or non-tackiness thereof.]

Here are some classes I aspire to take:

Mixing and Remixing Information at UC Berkeley’s ISchool

Oh, man, this is so beautiful, I don’t even know what to do with it. 1) The title is gorgeous! 2) Using XML and web services to make already-available information more accessible, which is exactly my aim! 3) Course description employs the word “exploiting”.

Interface Aesthetics, also at Cal’s ISchool

I think that I’ve expressed my love for aesthetics a bit already, but I want to add, also, how important this is to me, in terms of ease of use and “exploitation” of pre-existing user instincts.

Information Access — this one is at Cal’s ISchool!

Exactly! This is the reason I want to go to such an innovative program! Basically: information retrieval practices, including new practices, and their social impact.

The Politics of Piracy, an undergraduate class in the ISchool

I am not sure if I’d be allowed to take it, if I were a grad student, but it is so exciting to me! It is what it sounds like. It is student-led and pass/no-pass. Lots of discussion. I think it’s an important conversation to be having. I think I especially need to be having conversations with people about this. I like the question “Is there such a thing as ‘good’ piracy?” Another question for myself: why do I not pirate, if there is any way for me to pay for something official, while not condemning others for piracy? And why are we calling it piracy, particularly since the pirated object is still available to others? And also if we don’t want people to do it, as pirates are widely considered to be “cool”? Were they foreseeing a (very near) future when pirates are passé?

Has the moment already passed?

Has the moment already passed?

Fresh Goes Better!

(As I can’t link in the title, afaict, here’s this (warning: audio, also in German)

I haven’t had the greatest week. My awesome cat, Sparky, aka Sparkles, Parky, Samantha Parkington, Parkles, Sparkleton Pie, etc. (she’s got quite the criminal career, actually) awakened me at dawn this AM. By knocking books out of our library bookshelf (i.e., the bookshelf which houses an overflowing three shelves of books my fiancée has checked out + the books we’ve borrowed from others.) Awake as I watched the room filling with light, I realized I am feeling pretty miserable. There’s a lot of stuff going on — family stuff, neighborhood crime, a very sick family friend — but the background noise to all of this, for me, is my continued unemployment.

”insert

Unemployment has been good for me. I am: learning a lot about myself; clarifying my career goals; finding the time and energy to go deep into personal issues and also to learn to play drums; doing laundry during the daytime (in fact, I originally blogged this on the papernet while washing clothes).

OTOH, I am: feeling sad about not working; not practicing my work skillz; not “advancing my career” (to my eye– I think it remains to be seen).

I am planning to go back to school, either this fall or next (ojalá). How do I stay competitive here?

… continue reading this entry.

Google Labs Delights Me Yet Again

[Apologies for my lack of online presence hier. My computer screen is on its way out, and my fiancée’s computer was stolen from our home while she took a bath!!!!!!!! So, no compupter. I swear, it is bad enough to be robbed and to be afraid for the safety of one’s home but then to not even be able to USE THE INTERNET is like the poison cherry on the top of the, um, bad-tasting flavored sundae. /end ill-worded simile]

So, on the 20th, Google’s blog reported two new tools in development, Similar Images and Google News Timeline.

Similar Images works thus: you type in the words that you think will get you an image you are looking for, say, Rihanna, and it pops up a screen with a variety of Rihanna pictures. (If you click that link, you’ll get the idea. All my examples, by the way, are coming from Google Labs.) If you are trying to find an image that is like, say, the third result on the list, you click “Similar images” and it takes you to a screen of you know, similar images. It looks like it might be infinitely recursive, because you can click “Similar images” on those images as well. I guess that that would be an excellent refining tool, which would, maybe, one day, get you to the exact picture you had in mind.

Bonus: you can now limit your search by image size, content (i.e., news source or clip art or whathaveyou), and color! Look what Google did at my behest!

A pink medium picture of Rihannas face! Google=magic!

A pink medium picture of Rihanna's face! Google=magic!

(Oh, if you go to the page where I got that photo, the website will pop-up and under all over the place and children’s disembodied voices will tell you about paper towels and you will FUH-reak out and frantically close tabs until you figure out where the sound is coming from. Warning!)

I am even more excited about the wonderful Google News Timeline. One of my biggest complaints about regular old internet search engines (I am so sorry I called you that, Google! You are the best!) is that it is nearly impossible to get freakin’ time-stamped material. Like, if I don’t care when it happened, I can find out anything I like about murders in Oakland. If it happened down the street from me yesterday, no info.

GNT (may I call it that?) is brilliant because now I can actually narrow the search to a specific time and to specific sources. So, awesomely, I can search for “Gay marriage Iowa” in April 2009 and get this:

I could’ve found a video on that without GNT, but! When I go through the regular channels, “Gay marriage Iowa April 2009” video search does not bring up that Associated Press video on the first page of search results.

I predict that this will be monumental for news-seekers but also for traditional news sources. This is a great place for newspapers, in fact, to use the internet instead of lamenting its success.

[I was just telling my fiancé about GNT. She used to work for Google, as a temp, and, apparently, one of the things she did was test the timeline. Quoth she: “It didn’t work very well” when they first gave it to people to test. Which makes sense. And also, how awesome is that! She is all, history in the making, man. (Warning: noisy.)]

The Library Scene Part the Second

Yesterday I talked about the Bücherrad(-rad-rad &cetera) portion of the awesome scene (in Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion in Wolfenbütten (thanks to Dani and Emily for the coding!), wherein Leibniz and Fatio explore the library that Leibniz inherited from Duke August and is now cultivating with his new-fangled cataloging and classification plans. Yesterday was cataloging. Today: classification.

“Observe– each book is identified by a number. The numbers are arbitrary, meaningless– a kind of code, like the names Adam gave to the beasts. Duke August was of the old school, and used Roman numerals, which makes it that much more cryptickal.”
Liebniz led Fatio away from the center of the floor toward the rugged stone walls, which were mostly barricaded by high thick ramparts covered in canvas taurpaulins. He peeled up the edge of one and flung it back to reveal that the rampart was a stack of books, thousands of them…

How hilarious would it be if that was what a library was, actually. A nice big pile of books covered in a tarp? Also, how funny is it to imagine that that is what digital information storage is like? A big pile of information covered by a tarp. Only here the tarp is that the stuff is invisible until you retrieve it? (Did I stretch that too far? Or JUST FAR ENOUGH?!)

Also, I love the shout-out to the arbitrariness of classification. Yes, it is organized in a fashion, but that organization, even if it is “intuitive,” i.e., sciency books together in Dewey in 500s, is arbitrary, because, of course, “500” doesn’t mean science anymore than “fhqwhgads” does, but also because where do we cut off science? Computer science is in the aughts. Medicine is in the 600s. We are cutting the whole damn thing into chunks, pretty much wherever we understand it. Which is why the whole thing is constantly in flux. When I left my last job, I left a list of reclassification projects, just as my predecessor had done; there wasn’t time in nine years to finish them all.

And, shout-out to Saussure, calling Adam’s naming of the animals arbitrary. I guess it would’ve been a bigger shout-out if he’d clarified that Adam also had to pioneer taxonomy at the same time by deciding which animals were different enough that they got their own names. (Incidentally, taxonomy isn’t just used to describe biological taxonomy but any kind of classification– ours included!)

Continuing:

“Now [the books] are in a heap, later they shall be on shelves– either way, how do you find what you want?” Leibniz asked…
“I suppose one would go by the numbers. Supposing that they were shelved in numerical order.”
“Suppose they were. The numbers merely denote the order in which the Duke acquired, or at least cataloged, the volumes. They say nothing of the content.”
“Re-number them, then.”
“According to what scheme? By name of author?”
“I believe it would be better to use something like Wilkins’s philosophical language. [ed. note: this is a reference to the language I mentioned that the Royal Society was trying to develop in which it was impossible to speak Untruth.] For any conceivable subject, there would be a unique number. Write that number on the spine the book and shelve them in order. Then you can go directly to the right part of the library and find all the books on a given subject together.”
“But suppose I am making a study of Aristotle. Aristotle is my subject. May I expect to find all Aristotle-books shelved together? Or would his works on geometry be shelved in one section, and his works on physics elsewhere?”
“If you look at it that way, the problem is most difficult.”

Word. I think that it is pretty common for libraries to fudge the Dewey a bit to keep books by the same author together. Of course, not to the extent of putting geometry and physics together, but to the point of, say, simplifying a call number down to one or two decimal points beyond the whole number so they will fit. I had to do this all the time, and often it involved rearranging and reclassing things.

Also, the part about putting the books in numerical order of when they were cataloged or acquired reminded me of a story I heard about someone, in a library class, cataloging books by the color of their covers. (Actually, the books in my bedroom are arranged in color order. We haven’t cataloged them yet.)

And on–

Leibniz stepped over to an empty bookcase and drew his finger down the length of one shelf from left to right. “A shelf is akin to a Cartesian number-line. The position of a book on that shelf is associated with a number. But only one number! Like a number-line, it is one-dimensional. In analytic geometry we may cross two or three number-lines at right angles to create a multi-dimensional space. Not so with bookshelves. The problem of the librarian is that books are multi-dimensional with their subject matter but must be ordered on one-dimensional shelves.”
…[ed. note: this is still Leibniz]
“…Consider the following: Suppose we assign the number three to Aristotle, and four to turtles. Now we must decide where to shelve a book by Aristotle on the subject of turtles. We multiply three by four to obtain twelve, and then shelve the book in position twelve.”
“Excellent! By a simple multiplication you have combined several subject-numbers into one– collapsed the multi-dimensional space into a uni-dimensional number-line.”
“I am pleased that you favor my proposal thus far, Fatio, but now consider the following: suppose we assign the number two to Plato, and six to trees. And suppose we acquire a book by Plato on the subject of trees. Where does it belong?”
“The product of two and six is twelve– so it goes next to Aristotle’s book on turtles.”
“Indeed. And a scholar seeking the latter book may instead find himself with the former– clearly a failure of the cataloging system.”
“Then let me step once again into the rôle of Simplicio and ask whether you have solved this problem.”
“Suppose we use this codimg instead,” quoth the Doctor, reaching behind the bokcase and pulling out a slate on which the following table had been chalked– thereby as much as admitting that the conversation, to this point, had been a scripted demo’.

2 Plato
3 Aristotle
5 Trees
7 Turtles
2×5=10 Plato on Trees
3×7=21 Aristotle on Turtles
2×7=14 Plato on Turtles
3×5=15 Aristotle on Trees
[etc.]

“Two, three, five, and seven– all prime numbers,” remarked Fatio after giving it a brief study. “The shelf-numbers are composites, the products of prime factors. Excellent, Doctor! By making this small improvement– assigning prime numbers, instead of counting numbers, to the various subjects– you have eliminated the problem. The shelf position of any book may be found by multiplying the subject-numbers– and you may be assured it will be unique.”

Oh, man. This part is just incredibly rich. Firstly, I love prime numbers! In fact, one of my favorite things in the world is trying to determine in my head whether a number is prime or not! And I’m no savant; it takes work! Two, I love his classification scheme! It makes as much sense as any other, as far as I can tell, with the obvious problem that I will address below. Three, I think it is an interesting proposal to factor in the author at the same time as the subject, instead of, as both Dewey and Library of Congress do: subject first, author second. Fourth, people are still tackling the issue of multi-subjected books. And with the proliferation of subject headings (and their sub-headings), subjects are being broken down minutely (which I think is to the good of all involved), while the classification systems don’t have room to accommodate the growth (which I think is just the sad truth of it all. I can memorize a string of numbers up to ten digits pretty reliably, but that is mostly because of my cataloging work. I think most people do well with three to five digits, again, reliably. Also, where would you put a sixteen digit string on a book? Across the title?)

[ed note: Fatio: ]”I predict that you will find success, Doctor Leibniz, and that one day there will rise up, in Berlin, Vienna, or even Moscow, a Knowledge Engine on a titanic scale. The shelves will extend for countless leagues and will be crowded with books all arranged according to the rules of your system. But I fear that I could very easily become lost in the bowels of that place. Looking at a shelf I might see some number, eight or nine digits long. I would know this to be a composite number, the product of two or more primes. But to decompose such a number into its prime factors is a notoriously difficult and tedious problem. There is a curious asymmetry about this approach, in other words, lying in the fact that to its creator the structure and organization of the great library will be clear as glass– but to a solitary visitor it will seem a murky maze of impenetrable numbers.”
“I do not deny it,” Leibniz answered without hesitation, “but I find in this a sort of beauty, a reflection of the structure of the universe. The situation of the solitary visitor, as you have described it, is one with which I am familiar.”

Beautiful! Of course it is insane to imagine people walking around doing complicated factoring in their heads in order to figure out what the hell section of the library they are in. But! Is it somehow more intuitive for people to find themselves at the end of the 700s looking for books about sports? People may be less lost if they have spent a lot of time in libraries or if they are familiar with the process of looking up books in catalogs and then scanning the shelves for that particular call number. But, honestly, if one were a “solitary visitor” to a library (one that didn’t explain on the ends of the stacks what kinds of books are housed within), how easy would it be for one to find a book on the subject of one’s choice or even to determine what section one was in? What would intuitive classification look like? And how would we shift to it?

In closing, I just want to say how indebted I am to Neal Stephenson for entertaining me thus and for awakening parts of my brain that had been long un-exercised. And, of course, the materials I have been quoting are copyrighted to the teeth, and I hope I have been applying fair-use in my blogging. (A subject I have yet to explore, which I know I REALLY MUST!)

The Library Scene

So, I am in the middle of The Confusion by Neal Stephenson, the second book in The Baroque Cycle. I know I keep talking about these books, but I am right now totally engrossed. I can’t read anything else. (Except for websites and trashy magazines.) Also, I haven’t been sleeping well for about six months and twenty-one days, and I have been experimenting with getting up at 5:00 (or whenever I wake up) and reading in the Serenity Room until I fall back asleep.

The other night I was delighted to find:

“Leibniz and Fatio at Wolfenbuttel” (actually, there should be an umlaut over the “u.” Anyone interested in cracking WordPress for me to tell me how to umlaut it up?)

The context: Leibniz is Leibniz. (Also, man, that is not who I was picturing!) Fatio is Fatio. And what is happening here is Fatio, a “very” “close” “associate” of “Isaac Newton” (oops, the last one didn’t need quotes), is visiting Leibniz to do some “investigating,” of which sort we don’t yet know. And Leibniz takes Fatio to the library he is creating and describes to him his vision of the future:

“Behold, the Bucherrad!” [ed. note: there’s an asterisk leading to the footnote: “Wheel of Books”] Leibniz said.
Viewed end-on, the Bucherrad was hexagonal, and nearly as tall as Fatio. When he worked his way round to the front, he saw that it consisted mostly of six massive shelves, each one a couple of fathoms long, bridging the interval between hexagonal end-caps that were mounted on axles so that the whole apparatus could be revolved. But each of the six shelves was free to revolve on an axis of its own. As the Bucherrad spun, each of those shelves counter-rotated in such a way that it maintained a fixed angles with respect to the floor, and did not spill its load of books.
Going round to the other end, Fatio was able to see how it worked: a system of planetary gears, carven from hard wood, spun about the central axle-tree like Ptolemaic epicylcles. [ed. note: like you do.]
Then Fatio turned his attention to the books themselves: curious folio volumes, hand-written, all in the same hand, all in Latin.
“These were all written out personally by one Duke August, a fore-runner of the lot you just met. He lived to a great age and died some twenty-five years ago. It was he who assembled most of this collection,” Leibniz explained.
Fatio bent slightly at the waist to read one of the pages. It consisted of a series of paragraphs each preceded by a title and a long Roman numeral. “It is a description of a book,” he concluded.
“The process of abstraction continues,” Leibniz said. “Duke August could not keep the contents of his library in his memory, so he wrote out catalogs. And when there were too many catalogs for him to use them conveniently, he had woodwrights make Bucherrads– engines to facilitate the use and maintenance of the catalogs.”
“Very ingenious.”
“Yes– and it is threescore years old,” Leibniz returned. “If you do the arithmetick, as I have, you may easily demonstrate that to hold all the catalogs needed to list all the world’s books would require so many Bucherrads that we would need some Bucherrad-rads to spin them around, and a Bucherrad-rad-rad to hold all of them–”
“German is a convenient language that way,” Fatio said diplomatically.

Oh dear God! I realize that this is fictional dialogue, but the truth of the matter is that Leibniz presaged the library cataloging system, as it is used today. We have a series of engines doing the work of storing the abstracts (though most library records don’t include 520 fields and should!), and we have a series of engines to organize those engines, etc. And, in this country, the Library of Congress does the work of collecting “all” of the books published in this country, and OCLC does the job of collecting “all” of the records for published books around the world (that are submitted to them) (which is a lot) (most?).

At any rate, this is all making me think about the origins of library and information systems as we use them today. They don’t seem to me to be intuitive so much as prescribed, and their roots are from the Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment obsession with organization of knowledge and learning. Like I said on Friday, this is the era of the encyclopedia and strangely, relatedly, of landscape gardening, wherein the wild becomes tamed by the careful pruning and defining of terms and plants, respectively. So, the entire basis of library science, as we know it, is based on the assumption that knowledge is this big mess (probably true) that we can organize (maybe?) and classify (??) and control (non).

If not that, then what?

[Next, part II of the Library Scene, wherein complicated and confusing classification systems emerge and the shortcomings thereof are revealed–]

Three Sciency Books and Why

The Minds I

The Mind's I

The Mind’s I edited by Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett

Awesome book on consciousness and cognition. I totally loved this book right before I came into recovery (though I am certain I love it now, too.) Basically, a series of essays/stories/one play about the nature of consciousness. Do we have souls? What is a soul? That sort of thing.

The part that fascinated me so much about this book at the time was the question of artificial intelligence. If “soul” is a byproduct of a biological processes dependent upon an “observer,” what would happen if we could replicate that experience in a non-biological entity? What would that be? Could we actually do it?

The last page answers all the questions the book, not to mention millennia of philosophical ponderings, bring up, so if you do want a glimpse into the Ultimate Truth, be sure to skip to that last page. (I may be misremembering that.)

Arcadia

Arcadia

Arcadia by Tom Stoppard (you could also watch this one)

I read and then watched this one when I was in high school, and oh, how I cried at the end! (Spoiler alert!) (Though I admit that I cry at the end of nearly every episode of Friends, so make of that what you will.) I hadn’t put together before now that this play may have influenced my decision to study the Eighteenth Century (by which I mean the Long Eighteenth Century) in college and grad school! Lookie there! Learning all the time!

The play moves between the early 1800s (LONG!) and the present day. I won’t burden you with plot details that I don’t remember at all, but I will say that the play brilliantly rhapsodizes on, then enacts Chaos Theory in a way that might move one to tears. The heroine (okay, fine, this is pretty much a four-person play with no one protagonist) is this awesome thirteen-year-old girl, who basically breaks down the Second Law of Thermodynamics during her study sessions with her tutor. Like you do.

Quicksilver

Quicksilver

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

There is so damn much going on in this book, which is the first in The Baroque Cycle, I don’t even know where to start. Long Eighteenth Century, again, but this time at the front end of it. A lot about the beginnings of commerce and the figurings-out of science stuff that laymen now take for granted. I think that I will recommend the second book even more highly. (Next blog post: The Confusion’s library classification chapter. Not making this up.)

Why: I am still kind of trying to figure this stuff out. The first one is about the mind and how it works– important as I’m trying to get to a place of creating intuitive grouping/sorting systems. Arcadia is about how the mind works but it is also a great metaphor for internet, right? You can’t unstir what’s been stirred in. (Nor should you, say I.) Libraries are pretty much about fighting entropy. Is there some other relationship to have with it that would be more enriching? Quicksilver is a history of everything. I am especially tripping on the part about the creation of money, which is a big theme in my life right now. So much of the Enlightenment was about categorizing and classifying. This is where the encyclopedia, as we now use it, was invented. So, there are these awesome scenes of the Royal Society trying to put together a language that will only consist of truth! Amazing! Also awesome: codes, which makes me want to go encode something…

Why I Run, Why I Drum, and What It Has to Do With Work

As I write this, the crowd is still cheering for me. ‘Cause I just killed “Drain You” (Nirvana) and “Girl’s Not Grey” (AFI, who are noisy, so, warning). On Rock Band (2!!) During the workday.

Of course, as one who is currently looking for a job “workday” = flexible, but I try to keep my work limited to the 8 to 5 hours, as much as possible. I like that I can go for a run or play the drums during the middle of the day with no real fuss. It keeps me sane.

Yes, I said that. I need Rock Band (warning: audio), drum lessons, running, and their ilk to keep me sane, just in general. Right now, though, I need them to keep me sane during the workday. I had the privilege of working in a place where I could run during my lunch hours (which is one of my top lines around my next job), and it kept me sane then too, but right now, in this stressful situation, it is crucial that I a) stop what I am doing and do something completely different, b) do something physical, and c) have real fun (as opposed to reading something fun, which is also awesome but not what I am talking about here.)

a) All right, stop what you’re doing!

Cause I seriously am about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to. I am a seriously hard worker, and my tendency is to keep on going “until I’m done” or to do “just one more thing.” And it is pretty neverending. There will always be one more thing to do, until, you know, I die. (Sorry to get morbid there, but it is true.) (Oh, hey, maybe I should turn off the AFI?) (Apparently not.)

I know this about myself: unchecked, I will work until I cannot do another thing, and then I will be ruined for the day or I will get sick or my body will somehow, lovingly, force me slow down. You know, like when you (I) get (got) sick for a week (and a half)? It is so much better when I stop myself before I get that far, and it is easiest for me to stop if I actually like what I am stopping for.

b) Man In Motion

(Jacob mentioned this song in a recap I read today, and I was like, OH GOD I LOVE THAT SONG in all caps and everything. In my head. Sigh.)

I think differently when I am flailing about. And when the scenery is changing. When I am doing something routine and physical at a steady beat. Don’t know why this is. Scientists do. I just know it works.

I can be freaking out because Yahoo thinks I’m a spammer ’cause I can’t read their damn squigglies and I can’t send off the resume I just fixed for the hundredth time and I don’t even know if it is a good resume at all anymore and imagine that in all-caps, because I don’t want to scream at you (again.) But when I put on my shoes and my feet hit the pavement, I start to think different things, even if they are like, Hey, is that group of high schoolers going to run me off the sidewalk? or, Wasn’t there a mailbox here last month? Eventually it turns into Yay, a dog! or, OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS SONG (if wearing iPod Shuffle). And for some reason, when I turn around to head home, I am always thinking something completely different and awesome than when I went out.

(With the drums, this tends to be: if Rock Band, I AM AWESOME! if drum lessons, OH MY GOD THIS IS THE GREATEST!) (Apologies.)

c) [I can’t think of a “fun” song]

Reading is really fun. As is watching TV. And reading internet. Facebook. This is a list of things that are not quite enough for me, in the course of a day, to actually relax and get out of my head. I have to be doing something with my body that is so totally unlike work I cannot possibly confuse it with work.

Like, if I were a bike messenger, watching TV would be very different from my job, so it would be a fine break. But going for a bike ride mightn’t work as well for me.

Watching TV is like watching computer screen. Reading is reading, for whatever its purpose. So, if I start flailing my limbs about, my body is like, OH! Not Work! I remember this! Sometimes it doesn’t start out being fun for me. Sometimes I have to kind of push myself and be like, Self, is trying to navigate the Missoni site enjoyable to you, or would you rather change into a Life Is Good shirt and be among your peers on the sidewalks.

I vote for peers!

Schoolin’

I have been a paraprofessional for years, kind of ambivalently. (And before I say anything else about schooling, I want to acknowledge that a) there is schooling for paraprofessionals; b) paraprofessionals often do the job of a librarian at c) a fraction of the pay. I left my last job because I had hit the [whatever material a library ceiling might be made of] ceiling. They told me that if I got a Masters in Library and Information Science (actually, I am certain they said either “MLS” or “MLIS,” because who talks that way except people who are trying to give you the definition of the abbreviation up front), I would be able to advance. (I found out that there wasn’t anywhere to advance to later, but that is a different story, probably outside of the scope of this blog.) (Maybe.)

At any rate, I wasn’t willing to get the degree until I’d gotten some perspective. Did I already call my adventures in animal care a palate-cleanser? Because it totally was. I went into college, like many people, ready to explore and figure out who/what I wanted to be. Unfortunately, I found myself on my own trying to make a living shortly thereafter, and day-to-day concerns were the driving force for me. (Well, my addictions were my driving force until I got into recovery. But that is really outside the scope of this blog.) (Really.) So, what I ended up doing, probably also like many people, was becoming something and then trying to figure out what to do with that.

I had already done some exploring by studying French and getting an MFA in Creative Writing, but taking the leap and leaving my stable job for a “stable job” (oh, Christ. Very sorry) gave me some serious perspective. I realized that caring for animals was what I wanted to be doing with my free time, not my paid time, that I actually needed more money to make that vision (and others) manifest, and that I don’t have to start over from scratch to create a career for myself.

Cause I was working in stables?

Cause I was working in stables?

So. School. My boss and supervisors at Mills were absolutely right. I could continue in my career as a paraprofessional and cataloger, but if I wanted something more (and it was clear I did), then I would need a library-specific degree.

Jobs tend to want the ALA-accredited MLIS, and I decided to go for that.

I applied to San Jose State’s School of Library Science. This is the nearest library school to me. (Though, apparently, that is no longer relevant.) I have several friends and acquaintances who went/go there. Good good good. I have heard nothing back from them yet.

I also considered Washington State’s program. It is a bit pricier, requires once a quarter trips up north for the first year, and it is a distance program. (So is SJSU now, of course.) It is also among the top 5 library programs in the country. It requires a GRE, and I was feeling pretty impatient to start school this coming fall, which tipped the scales against it. I have a friend who really likes the school, and I trust her judgment. This is a definite possibility.

I thought not to go to Berkeley’s ISchool, and I’ll tell you why: Cal’s program is <gasp> non-ALA-accredited! (I didn’t realize that it was because the program is so new. I’d heard talk that it was because the program was so radical. And it pretty much is.)

BUT! The more I explore my ideas and desires in re: librarianship and information management, the more I realize I am looking for something that shifts the paradigm away from the traditional. (Not that it matters, but I want to go on record: I love books and I love traditional libraries. They meet a need in our communities that isn’t really met anywhere else, and I think that their usefulness will continue to grow, probably indefinitely. I especially think that libraries are vital for outreach and services to people who don’t have their own access to information technology and those who need help sorting through things. Also, for teenagers and people who want to read new hardcover books.) I don’t want to be a Trendy Mendy (trademarking that!), but I do want to move things forward here.

Here’s what I am going to do. Take CompSci classes and the GRE. Apply to Berkeley’s MIMS (aw!) for next fall. Consider the possibility of PhD once enrolled.

Yeah, I said that.

Oh, hey!

Three things:

Thing the first, I am sorry I did not post yesterday. I realized at 9:30 when I got home from my meeting that I needed to make hotcake batter more than I needed to blawg, for today to run smoothly.

Secondofly, the term I was looking for in Friday’s post is “Information Literacy.” My dear friend, Clarence, literally spent years studying and teaching this, and yet– the words escaped me.

And c) I had a revelation over the weekend. To wit: my passion appears to lie not with traditional librarianship at all! As I’ve been exploring job opportunities and blogging and talking animatedly with friends about libraries and information and cetera, I am realizing that I want to do something paralibraryish. I would like to get some programming skillz and dream bigly about a) ways to make information more accessible and b) ways to organize information so that it is searchable, retrievable, and analyzable.

This is pretty much blowing my mind, and let me tell you why. While I was not exactly a Luddite, when I left for college I bought a really old word processor instead of a computer, because I enjoyed the typewriterliness of it. (When it “printed,” it just triggered the typewriter ball to type the paper without me. It was genius, though I couldn’t print papers while my roommate slept. Also, it had no accent punctuation, so, after I printed, I hand-wrote my accents ague and circomflexes.) I was pretty devoted to a picture of myself as poet and artiste, sans need for something so lowly as a “computer.” I underestimated my nerdliness by a lot!

And it works!!!

And it works!!!

This is a bit more on the personal tip, but I think it is relevant. I am still a poet and a memoirist, and my house is full of my paintings. But I think I have been selling myself short for many years in the world of doing. And everybody’s got their own stories and motivations. Here is part of mine: my mother left my family, ostensibly to practice her art (she was a musician). She wasn’t “successful,” in the way she wanted to be at least, and I was left with a portrait of the artist as struggling and romantic. (Check out The Artist’s Way for information on how not to harm yourself artfully.) I disdained my father’s practicality, and, though I excelled at math and science, I was pretty committed to deriding them on a regular basis.

So, I developed really far in one way, went to a liberal arts college, and studied things I don’t regret studying. In fact, I adore literature and speaking French and writing theory and breaking apart texts and revealing their soft underbellies (what just happened?) Just like I love raising animals and growing veggies and digging in the dirt. But I don’t think I want to get paid for that.

Libraries made sense in a paraliteratural career kind of way, esp. at the same liberal arts college where I earned my degrees. I am really grateful for the experience I have had. But my soul somehow longs for something less poetic, more practical, and more mathy. Surprise!

I am surprised. Pleasantly so.

You can’t go back…

you can never go back.

I’ve been thinking about my last post, and I am seriously asking myself what I did before the internet existed. And I realize that what I did was live a completely different life.

I am actually in that gap between Gen X and Gen Y, and basically, I get to decide where I want to land. So, I was in high school when people started to use e-mail, and it wasn’t until I was well into college that I started to use the internet for some of the things I do now: to find out what happened on TV last week when I wasn’t looking; to download music; to chat with people; to take quizzes that end up pissing me off; and to watch videos.

I don’t know when I made the transition into using the internet as my primary reference tool (by, in descending order of frequency, typing a question into Google; checking Wikipedia; IMing someone; or using an online database) and my primary mode of communication. It was a slow progression, aided by my purchase of a laptop in 2006. Like I said yesterday, I didn’t really do any of these things before the internet. If I didn’t know something, I either called my sister, looked in the encyclopedia (which has the same number of errors, at least in nature articles, on average, per entry as Wikipedia), or said, eff it, who cares.

Now, though, I don’t want to wait, I don’t want to say eff it; I want to know where my high school biology teacher is, I want to know whether Sufjan Stevens ever says anything in interviews about his sexuality, and I want to know whether what I felt was really an earthquake and if so, where it was. My brain is now attuned to this, and I really can’t go backwards here, nor do I want to.

So, are you?

So, are you?

So, here’s where libraries come in: libraries, as research institutions, are operating from an old model. This model says that librarians are the keepers of the knowledge, and yes, that they can show patrons how to do their own research, but that there are certain places where reliable knowledge can be got, and few valid sources. Which, I get. There are things that are “empirically true,” and there are reliable sources.

BUT! This is like the spider/starfish thing. Telling people that the spider has all the knowledge is presumptuous at best. I am looking for instant gratification, in terms of information. And I know that print media or even up-to-the-minute databases aren’t going to give me quotes from Alf.

Which is why I see the role of reference librarian shifting toward something more like information-evaluation librarian. (Note to self: come up with pithier name for job.) People have a clearer idea how to search for information on their own, and how to contribute their own information to the collective wisdom of the internet, but many people don’t have the skills to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources and information (which is why Snopes (make sure you’ve got pop-up blocker enabled) is awesome and necessary). I envision library and information science professionals as instructors but also as creators of new search engines, new ways to index, and how about something so new I can’t even imagine what it is! Give us some new code that will blow our minds entirely!

(I just want to acknowledge that I am coming from a really privileged position, what with having a computer, and internet access and, hey, even basic literacy, not to mention computer literacy. So, as a result, I get to have another code to use to figure things out. And I think it should be available to everyone who wants it.)

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