Library Day in the Life: Friday

Assisting from Afar

Today I was scheduled all day to monitor email reference, which means that I was also expected to reply to any queries that came in via our email reference form and to also followup on chat reference sessions that had been marked as needing more work. Since today was the official first day of classes at Baruch, the questions that I was handling were mostly from students wondering whether a specific textbook was in the library. I did get a really juicy question that first went to the interlibrary loan department (for reasons that are a little unclear) and was passed along later to me. A professor needed help completing citiations for some books published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was fun to dive deep into searches in WorldCat and Google Books to track down the missing information. After receiving my detailed email reply, the professor wrote me a great thank you note.

(By way of explanation for the heading for this section, I should note that I was always taken by an idea frequently expressed by Anne Lipow, reference librarian extraordinaire, who with a wonderful service ethic reframed the picture of digital reference as “remote reference” by noting that it’s not that the patron is remote from us when they use digital reference services, it’s we in the library who are remote from the user.)

Planning a Mobile Services Page

I met with the head of collection management, Mike Waldman, to talk about what I’ve gotten done so far in my semester-long project to put together a mobile-friendly website that links to all the databases we subscribe to that happen to have interfaces designed for mobile devices. I’ve been slowly building up a page in our LibGuides system, as the pages automatically render themselves in format optimized for mobile browsers any time you visit a page in a phone’s browser. So far, I’ve set up the mobile interfaces for all the EBSCOhost databases. Some of the other major platforms we get important databases on–ProQuest, Factiva, LexisNexis–have mobile interfaces yet, nor does our Ex Libris Aleph catalog (although we’re looking into options for that). I can’t wait to finish the page I’m working on and release it to our users, as it will be surprising to them (and to some of my colleagues) to see how many resources already work on phones (and by work, I mean you probably wouldn’t want to do much more than known item searches even though exploratory search works in fine albeit tedious fashion).

Petting Gadgets

At our regular Tech Sharecase (a twice a month, informal discussion group of mostly library staff), a bunch of us brought gadgets and gizmos to share. We had iPads, Kindles, smarthphones, MP3 players, digital cameras, digital picture frames, and a cool pen that records audio and captures electronically all the notes you write. I haven’t written the blog post about this event yet but will early next week (you can see what else we’ve talked about at previous Tech Sharecase meetings).

Tweaking Our Federated Search Tool

I spent some time in the afternoon looking at various admin options in BearCat Search, our federated search tool powered by Serials Solution’s 360 Search. Recently, the chief librarians at each of the CUNY schools decided that we’d sunset the name we’ve long used for our shared union catalog, CUNY+, and instead just refer to it as “the library catalog.” One thing I tweaked in BearCat Search was to make sure that CUNY+ was changed over to “library catalog.”



Library Day in the Life: Thursday

When I woke up this morning, I discovered the nineteen inches of snow we had gotten overnight had earned me and my school-age children snow days from our respective schools (Baruch College, PS 87, and the Brownstone School). Instead of work and school, sleds were sledded on, snowballs hurled, and snowmen constructed. Before bedtime, I did check into my library’s chat reference and email service so I could review chat sessions that had taken place over the past few days, followup with any users whose chat sessions didn’t provide enough assistance, and answered a few email reference questions.



Library Day in the Life: Wednesday

As has been the case with my previous two posts in this Library Day in the Life series this week, I’ll leave off indicating all the times that I checked email, Google Reader, online social networks, etc. unless it was tied to some major project or event from my day. It is safe to assume that times spent in between (and often during) the tasks detailed in this post involved jaunts to check messages, respond to threads, scan new blog posts, etc.

Planning for Catalog Outages

The union catalog we share with all the other libraries from the colleges in the City University of New York system has occasionally gone down from anywhere between an hour to a day or more. A colleage from library administration stopped by my office to see what sort of documentation we had in our reference wiki about what front line staff should do when the catalog was down. We talked about two distinct things: how we can continue to assist users in reference when we no longer have access to our catalog and how we should go about reporting any problems to the CUNY Office of Library Services (which maintains the union catalog). As it turned out, the reference wiki already had pretty good info about the first concern (continuing to help users) and not much on the latter (reporting). Add another item to the to-do list.

Sharing Ideas about Writing Assignments in Our Credit Courses

One thing that makes our library notably different from many other academic libraries is that, as a department on campus, we offer not only a basic information literacy course that earns students the standard three credits (which I’ve taught in spring and fall 2010) but we also offer seven other courses and have an information studies minor. This morning, I joined about seven other colleagues in an informal discussion group led by Randy Hensley, the head of information services, in which we talked about the strategies we’ve tried with writing assignments in our credit courses. Aside from the many excellent ideas I got from my fellow librarians about new ways I could craft more engaging assignments, the other high point of the meeting was the idea of the meeting itself. In terms of professional development, I have found that the less formal and scripted the event, the more valuable it tends to be to me. Impromptu office and hallway conversations and regular, loosely planned discussion groups are often more useful to me than some half-day workshop in which I’m lectured at by the sage on the stage (or, increasingly, the star in the webinar).

Brainstorming for a NEH Grant

I was thoroughly flattered to be asked by the director of the Schwartz Communication Institute to join him as he and a colleague convened a group of faculty to talk about a NEH grant in the digital humanities that he and his staff want to apply for. The grant would focus on taking the institute’s VOCAT tool to the next level. As described on the VOCAT website, the software:

is a highly flexible and extensible, open-source web application designed to help students become confident, dynamic public speakers. It enables students to easily access videos of their oral presentations and to review and respond to instructor feedback. VOCAT aggregates videos and instructor comments for each user and offers an informative snapshot of a student’s progress over the course of a given term or even an entire academic career. Since 2007, over 5,000 undergraduates have used VOCAT in a wide variety of courses at all levels.

Developing a LibGuide for Baruch’s Writer in Residence Program

Our college hosts a writer-in-residence program that consistently brings amazing authors to the college every semester (this is probably easier to do at a college located in Manhattan than at a school in a small, rural area). After years of talking about how the library really should create each semester a subject guide page for each author, I finally had a tool at my fingertips last fall that made this ideal easily realized: LibGuides. My guide for last fall’s writer, Richard Price, was well enough received that I started work on the guide for this spring’s writer, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, well before the semester started. I was happily surprised recently to get an email from the author herself in which she offered to lend a hand in suggesting articles of hers to spotlight. Today, I worked on the guide a bit more and emailed her a link to a draft of it. I hope to publish the guide shortly now that the semester is due to start in two days.

Another Retirement Party

One of my favorite people in the library, Stanton Biddle, retired after a long and effective career here at Baruch. Well known and highly regarded in the ALA through his past leadership of the Black Caucus of the ALA and on campus here for his outstanding service as the head of the campus’ recent accreditation process with Middle States, Stanton is the kind of librarian who makes everyone feel like his friend. He’ll be very missed.




Library Day in the Life: Tuesday

So yesterday, I should have mentioned in my post that I’ve never done Library Day in the Life before. A few notes before I dive into what my day boiled down to. First, it’s worth noting that I check my Google Reader account repeatedly throughout the day: some days it’s about once an hour, other days its once every three or four hours. I’m on Twitter and FriendFeed fairly often, engaging in or sometimes starting conversations, but it’s in Google Reader that you can best see the traces of my blog reading, as I share and sometimes comment on things I read. What I share in Google Reader is fed automatically into FriendFeed, which in turn generates lots of interesting discussions there. It’s fair to say that I live and die by my social network of colleagues in libraryland.

Here is what my day looked like.

Getting Back What I Put into the Sharing Economy of Social Networks

After finally getting around to reading an article by Gardner Campbell on setting up a personaly cyberinfrastructure for incoming students that had been sitting in my read later collection (using the Instaper service), I decided to share it with the head of instruction, Randy Hensley, via email. Then, I decided that the article was really worth sharing more widely and posted a note about it on Twitter. A librarian who works at the same university where Gardner Campbell teaches saw my tweet and sent me a reply in which she pointed to a video of Campbell talking about the same subject he wrote about in the article I liked so much. I wasn’t following her on Twitter, but I guess had been following me. Since she sent me such a useful reply, I decided to follow her back. I have FriendFeed set up to automatically republish all of my tweets, so it was nice to see that at least one person on FriendFeed noticed my pointer in Twitter to the article and “liked” it. I also bookmarked the article in Delicious (which also feeds into FriendFeed) so that I could find it again later.

Serendipitous Discovery in the Stacks

No, I’m not talking about unexpectedly finding a book collocated on the shelf with the one you were looking for. Instead, I’m referring to a pleasant run-in with an English professor who was pulling together some materials for a class he’s going to begin teaching in a few days. My fellow liaison to the English department, Chris Tuthill, and I were chatting up on the 5th floor when we noticed a professor we had met over a year ago when we made a presentation about new library services at a meeting of the English department. The opportunity to chat with this professor led to a nice opportunity to build up a relationship with him and to discover that the college has a new minor that we’ll probably want to start collecting materials for. After our impromptu meeting with the English professor, my colleague Chris and I continued to talk about our efforts to buy on a scheduled basis literature books that have won prizes; one issue we’re still wrestling with is whether we should also buy books that were finalists but not winners.

Sticker Shock

Earlier in the morning, I had gotten a price quote for Early English Books Online, a database that an English professor had wanted me to look into as a possible subscription option for the library. Both of us had a sense of how pricey it would be, but I still found myself shocked by the actual price when I saw it in an email from the vendor. Realizing that there was no way we’d be able to afford either the purchase + annual hosting fee option or the annual subscription option, I wrote a message to the English professor that detailed the actualy price quote and offered suggestions for other libraries in CUNY that have on-site access she could use. I also noted that the four research libraries in the New York Public Library where she or her students could use the database. I’ve found myself wondering lately if perhaps libraries shouldn’t put the actual subscription or purchase costs on their database descriptions, if only to help communicate to our users the often outlandish prices we pay for things.

Adding Database Links to the Mobile Services Page

Yesterday, I was submitted a request to EBSCOhost support for help figuring out how to get direct URLs for each of the mobile interfaces for the dozen-plus databases we get on that platform. This afternoon I was more than pleasantly surprised to get a reply (I was expecting not to hear back for a couple of days); even better was that the support rep didn’t just point me to some web page of instructions or type them up for me, he went ahead and gave me the URLs for each database. All I had to do was copy and paste them into the LibGuides pages that I’m building up to be a mobile services page.

One quandary I’m having is whether it really makes sense to list both PsycARTICLES and PsycINFO, as the former is a subset (I am mostly sure) of the latter. I started a thread on the Library Society of the World room in FriendFeed about this but have yet to get enough feedback to know for sure if I can leave PsycARTICLES off the list.

Saying Goodbye to Some Great Colleagues

Thanks to all sorts of budget messes in the CUNY system, and especially at Baruch, the college has seen a number of people jump at its early retirement package. Today, we had a retirement party for a colleague who helped run the access services division for more than two decades. Her boss, the head of access services, is also taking early retirement and attended the party. In the past six months, we’ve seen close to six (maybe seven or eight) staff and librarians take the early retirement offer. This week alone, four people will be having their last day. Next week, when the spring semester is just really getting steam, I think we’ll be missing a lot of those folks.

Learning about Ebooks

The last hour of my day was spent listening to the first day of a two-day webinar on ebooks led by Sue Polanka, whose blog, No Shelf Required, is essential reading for anyone trying to keep up with ebooks in libraries. About a dozen of us in my library listened in and took notes. Here are Polanka’s slides:




Library Day in the Life: Monday

Ordering Books

As one of the two liaisons to the English department, I’m jointly responsible for acquiring materials to support the department’s curriculum and the faculty’s research needs. Most of my monograph purchases come from direct requests from faculty and from my sense of what different professors need for their own work and for the work of their students; I use reviews in Choice and some analysis of WorldCat Collection Analysis to help me move from that sense of what is need to actual orders. This morning, though, I did some checking of all the prizes and competitions in fiction, poetry, etc. to buy some more recently published works, some of which I hope will endure long enough to merit the attention of scholars and course work and some of which I just hope will catch the eye of the leisure readers I know we have on campus.

After placing a bunch of orders for books that won Pulitzer, Nobels, etc., I created a spreadsheet that I will share with my fellow liaison, Chris Tuthill, so we can periodically eyeball of a list of important literary prizes and whether or not we’ve purchased anything as a result of those annual events. I also decided to add info on that same spreadsheet that lists each issue of Choice so my colleague and I can indicate which ones we’ve worked through for acquisition ideas and thus prevent any duplicate efforts.

Thinking Through Open Access Options

An article I wrote about how the New York Public Library responded to the pressures of McCarthyism was officially accepted today for publication by Library and Information History. As soon I heard the news, I began to comb through the publisher’s pages about copyright, open access, etc. so I could determine whether or not I’d be able to post on my website my uncopyedited pre-print of the article as a Word document and whether I’d have any other rights for self-archiving. Thanks to my ever helpful friends in the Library Society of the World room in FriendFeed, whose input answered a number of questions for me, I’m pretty sure I’ll get that Word document version of the article up soon and, eventually, have a PDF from the journal as well that I can share. I’ll also be depositing a copy of the pre-print version in DLIST, a subject repository in library and information science maintained by the University of Arizona.

Editing the Reference Wiki

We’ve long maintained a password protected wiki for reference staff where we can capture all the inside dope about policies and procedures that in the past tended not to ever get written down. Late in the morning, the head of information services, Randy Hensley, and I worked together to completely overhaul a page that details a system whereby library staff can refer their patrons to other libraries in the New York metropolitan area that hold items not found in the public libraries or in the library for the institution that the patron is affiiated with (i.e., if Columbia University has a book not in my university and also not in the New York Public Library, I can issue a card to my patron to get them into Columbia for the day to read that book on site). After the editing was all done, I posted an entry on our reference blog to announce the major rewrite of this page.

Answering Questions in Chat Reference

After a late, brief lunch at my desk, I started a two-hour shift monitoring the academic queue on the QuestionPoint cooperative chat service. During my first hour, I didn’t get a chance to pick up too many chats, as there were a greater than normal number of librarians also online at the time, all waiting to pounce on any questions that came in. Eventually, I some questions from students and faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Brandeis University, and Northeastern University. I found myself navigating the course reserve systems, A-Z journal lists, SFX menus, and database lists from these schools as I helped the users get answers. I’ve been doing chat reference for close to ten years now and still find it one of the most rewarding parts of my job, as it regularly challenges me and teaches me a great deal about how other libraries work.

Setting Up a Mobile Interface for EBSCOhost Databases

I’ve been helping the head of collection management with some mobile search projects lately. Today, I was knee-deep in the admin options for EBSCOhost as I worked through the process of setting up a separate mobile interface for all the databases we get from that vendor. I was able to set up the basic page that lets user pick from a long list of databases which ones they want to search from their mobile device (i.e., a smartphone), but I was unable to figure out by 5 pm how to get direct URLs for the mobile interface for each of the databases we get in EBSCOhost. I did a lot of searching through the support knowledgebase and scanning the pages that seemed to help, but nothing quite explained it, so in the end I had to submit an email request for support. I hope to hear back in a day or two.

Off the Books Work

After my kids were in bed, I thought I’d knock of a few small tasks from home just now:

  • Ordered the new Patti Smith memoir, Just Kids, for the library.
  • Went to the draft mobile services page for the library and edited the link to the mobile EBSCOhost interface so that the link passes through our proxy server first


Android App Review: AppBrain

Last December, I finally gave up my ancient phone and got a Samsung Intercept that runs Android. I’ve been madly adding apps (and occasionally removing the ones that are better characterized as crapps). I thought that with this post, I’d begin writing up quickie reviews of the apps I’ve got, noting in particular those that might be interest to folks who work in libraries.

The first app I’d like to begin with is AppBrain, which improves on the default ways that Android lets you manage apps on your phone and the way your phone works with the Android Market. To get started with AppBrain, you’ll want to install the app on your phone first and then go to the AppBrain website and create an account there. What the website offers is a way to browse and search for Android apps, read reviews of them, and then record which ones you want to install on your phone. After you’ve selected an app in the AppBrain website that you want to add to your phone, you later go to the AppBrain app on your phone and sync it to the website account. After you sync it, you can then see an option in the AppBrain app to install that new app you just found. Being able to browse apps on the web is a much better experience than relying solely on the mobile interface in the Android Market app; being able to wishlist them for later installation is unique to AppBrain.

The other notable feature with AppBrain is that you can share your list of apps with the world if you’d like. This can be hugely useful if you’d like to show someone with a brand new Android phone all the apps you’ve got on your device that they might want to consider adding. Here is what is on my phone currently:


stephenfrancoeur’s Apps on the phone

Phone: Samsung Intercept
37 total, 36 free (97%), 1 paid (2%), 61MB total size, $2.74 total price

View this Android app list on AppBrain

Should Video Games Be Cited Like Other Works?

Why doesn’t the MLA require that the titles of video games be set in italics, as is the case for many other things? On page 88, the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers instructs italics be used for titles as follows:

Italicize the names of books, plays, poems published as books, pamphlets, periodicals (newspapers, magazines, and journals), Web sites, online databases, films, television and radio broadcasts, compact discs, audiocassettes, record albums, dance performances, operas and other long musical compositions (except those identified simply by form, number, and key; see 3.6.5), works of visual art, ships, aircraft, and spacecraft.

The Awakening (book)

The Importance of Being Earnest (play)

The Waste Land (poem published as a book)

New Jersey Driver Manual (pamphlet)

Wall Street Journal (newspaper)

Time (magazine)

PMLA (journal)

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Web site)

LexisNexis Academic (online database)

It’s a Wonderful Life (film)

Star Trek (television broadcast)

What’s the Word? (radio broadcast)

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (compact disc, audiocassette, record album)

The Nutcracker (dance performance)

Rigoletto (opera)

Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (long musical composition identified by name)

Chagall’s I and My Village (painting)

French’s The Minute Man (sculpture)

USS Arizona (ship)

Spirit of St. Louis (aircraft)

Challenger (spacecraft)

On a recent episode of NPR’s On the Media (31 December 2010), guest Jamin Warren-Brophy, the editor of Kill Screen Magazine, argues that:

They treat them like a Toyota Prius, right? We would never put a Prius in quotation marks, or…Windows Vista, right? And I think that that distinction is very important, and it changes the way that people think about video games. They think about them as technological product, as opposed to something that was created, that there were artists, that there was a team of people who were responsible for it. And I think that that gesture is symbolic of how most mainstream publications think about video games.

Although I’m not much of a gamer now, I think I buy the argument that video games are deserving of being treated the same way as other artistic creations. MLA requires that you italicize even the lowliest TV show. Shouldn’t video games be accorded at least the same treatment (not that I would put all video games at the same sorry level as, say, TV fare like Small Wonder or Punky Brewster)?

Check out the rest of the segment, “The Culture of Gaming,” especially for its interview with Nicholson Baker, who talks about his time spent looking deeply at eight of the most popular video games of 2010.


Unfortunate Changes to the ProQuest Platform

This week, my library has begun working on moving over from the old ProQuest platform to the new one. As we work our way through the set up options, we've been keeping an eye on the discussions on the ERIL-L mailing list about the "challenges" in migrating over (this thread on FriendFeed is also useful). So far, we haven't experienced any real problems yet but there is one complaint that I'd like to mention here. On the new interface, the space reserved on the screen for custom links and custom logos has moved from a so-so location to a really crummy one. Check out these annotated screenshots that show where our links and logos are now and where they will be. By way of comparison, look at how EBSCOhost's platform gives up much more prominent link and logo locations on the page. What is really useful, though, about the EBSCOhost interface is that the search results page can have an embedded widget appear alongside the list of found items (we use that space for a chat with a librarian widget).

I doubt that ProQuest is going to be able to do anything about this but I hope they'll take note of it when they inevitably start tinkering again with the interface in the future.