Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Introducing the Open Music Library!

The Open Music Library is a new initiative from Alexander Street to build the world’s most comprehensive open network of digital resources for the study of music.

Curated by a community of music scholars, students, teachers and librarians, the Open Music Library brings together peer-reviewed journal articles, books and music scores from the world’s digital collections.

Leveraging shared ontologies, linked open data and principles of the semantic web, the Open Music Library integrates disparate digital collections and establishes meaningful links between the items they hold.

By aggregating, enriching and integrating valuable primary and secondary sources, the Open Music Library aims to not only advance the state of the art in music knowledge discovery, but also increase opportunities for creative reuse, and promote new possibilities for research and collaboration.

Visit the Open Music Library

E Pluribus Unum, an American National Song, Arranged by Edward Pendleton


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is the Catalog just too hard to use?

Wired posted this article last year, about what Millennials want from their technology.
Dude, where's my Internet?

I came across it when somebody shared a few articles complaining that the current generation are poorly educated and lazy. Debate that at your leisure, that's not what I'm talking about.

Millennials, Wired says, want technology, especially interactive technology
"to provide the most usable, self-guided, hiccup-free, efficient user experiences in history."
What does this mean for libraries?
"Millennials prefer to be in the driver’s seat, and will generally not seek assistance over live chat, email, or phone to get answers to their questions. They need self-service solutions; if they can’t quickly resolve their own problems, they will give up and go elsewhere, knowing that many alternatives are just a Google search away."
What this may mean is that when library web sites aren't as slick or self-service as they expect such services to be, they will decide not to use it. Their preference for the Now, the immediate, will trump the need for more thorough, more scholarly resources. The "everything is available online" meme will live on.

I have no problem using our library's catalog to find books, e-books, DVDs etc. But then, I've been professionally employed doing this for over a decade. How well does our library catalog compare to finding a book at Amazon.com, I wonder? Probably not so well. I can use either, and do, regularly, but I'm by practice more tolerant of having to 'work' a system to get what I want from it.

How well do library web sites translate to the small screen of mobile devices?  Millennials prefer the mobile interface, although many still use laptop/desktops. I think it is unlikely that libraries will be able to devote as many resources to web site presentation as an online retailer can, but surely work can be done to maintain or improve accessibility from mobile devices. Our systems librarian tells me that our catalog does not work well at all with smartphone-sized screens. A user will have to scroll side-to-side as well as up-and-down to see a record. The library's web site is optimized for small screens, but a big problem is that we link out to a lot of third-party sites.

A frustrating part of this for libraries is that we have no control and possibly no input into how library vendors construct or arrange their content platforms. A user may find our website mobile-friendly, but what will they find when they link out to Factiva or Lexis-Nexis? Again, my systems colleague tells me that many vendors do not have mobile-friendly designs on their sites.

Maybe we librarians could position ourselves as the help desk for wonky vendor platforms.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Politics of Librarians

This just puts some statistics behind what I already knew - I am a stranger in a strange land. I'm a white male, religiously very conservative registered Republican. Most of my chosen profession is not any of those things. 

But there's no way we're biased or anything, right?

Nope, just strict fidelity to the pursuit of knowledge.

Graphic source:


Monday, March 14, 2016

The Skeuomorphic Library

Barbara Fister, of Library Babel Fish at Inside Higher Ed, wrote a piece recently about, well, I'm not entirely sure what she's getting at. But it has a cool-looking obscure word in the title.

For those of you who don't know (like me) the word skeuomorphic refers to an object that has characteristics shared in common with and based upon some other object, usually made of a different material than the original. Ms. Fister uses it to describe aspects of library collections and organizational schema that belong to earlier periods. Why, for example, does our modern online book catalog, still use the big long MARC record format that was intended to streamline the production of physical catalog cards? For that matter, why do we still refer to the database of books & physical media as the "card catalog"?  Even sticking the word "online" or "digital" in front of it conveys no more meaning to current students who have, in all likelihood, never seen an actual card catalog.
Even I barely remember ever using one of these at the public library

Fister is not recommending (I think) that we abandon all of these reminiscent relics of earlier ages of librarianship. Good, I say. Keep the old until something can be shown to do it better. Things that last long enough to get old have something of value to offer, that's why they last.

The latter half of the essay talks about the importance of helping undergraduate students understand the significance of scholarly or academic journal articles, and the utility of citations as "chains of association" that help students conduct this new activity called "Research".
"learning how to read a citation and go from it to a source remains a huge challenge for undergraduates once they realize that fine print is actually good for something other than a kind of plagiarism liability insurance."
So it remains one of the librarian's principal responsibilities to open up the students' eyes to the larger world that they have entered. Help the students understand not just how to do research, but what the research is for. If they will be professionals in the sciences and other fields of intellectual life, they have to understand those fields, how they operate, and particularly, where they came from. The library connects current practice to historical understanding, without which students can't grasp the width and depth of their chosen field.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Western Civ as a College Requirement?

The Stanford Review has announced that a petition to reinstate the study of Western Civilization as a core requirement for all students has collected 
"over 370 signatures, qualifying it for the spring ASSU elections ballot in April."
The Review‘s petition will be voted on between April 7 and 8 by the Stanford undergraduate population. Vote for Western Civilization!
Sure, Western Civilization produced more than weapons. But it got your attention, didn't it?

After more than 20 years without this requirement, Stanford may now return this study, that of our own history, to the curriculum. Nothing occurs in a vacuum, certainly not education.  Whether a student is planning to be a psychologist or a chemical engineer, they deserve to know from whence their disciplines came.  Surely other civilizations played roles in the history of knowledge, but it is through the lens of Western Civilization that we perceive them; as the US is a product and a producer of Western Civ.  

Image credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/34294


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Remarkable and Sobering Observation

The following quote came from the comments section of a blog I read, written by an author of sci-fi and a devout Catholic. 
Otherwise, another great essay. I was struck by your point that the young SF/F reader is far more detached than we were (I was born in the same year as you) from the history of the genre, going back well over a century even before you look at the deep roots that go back over millennium. They have been carefully trained either not to realize this fact or to regard it as no loss. Their imaginative pallets are therefore inevitably impoverished.

Comment by Andrew Brew, on http://www.scifiwright.com/2015/10/my-elves-are-different-or-erlkoenig-and-appendix-n/

Wow. Just wow. Detached from the history of a thing they claim to embrace, and either don't know or don't care that there's so much more to be experienced. That is a heart-achingly sad idea, but I have no doubt that the commenter is correct. And not just about science fiction & fantasy. 

I see this as equally true about modern American Christianity. So does Rod Dreher, writer for (among other things) The American Conservative. In an article entitled  Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and the Failure of Church Leadership  Dreher writes:

"I was around not long ago when [this] teenager was talking about how bored he was with church, and thought, yep, this kid is going to walk away from church when he’s a senior, or when he goes to college, and is going to think he has figured Christianity out, and it’s boring and stupid, when in fact she was barely even introduced to real Christianity."
 And that should make you weep.