A Plea For Some Sanity

November 27, 2006

During the last week, I have been feverishly working on school assignments. With the end of the semester looming like a big, nasty storm cloud, I have had to buckle down and concentrate on my school work. For ILS565-Library Management, I had my in-basket exercise (a management simulation exercise where we pose as a library director who comes into work on a Monday morning and has 12 items waiting to be addressed in the “in-basket” before having to leave for the afternoon) due on Sunday. While working on that I happened to read through the syllabus to learn that the final project for ILS530-Information Systems Analysis & Design was due today (27th). While I did kind of know this, it had slipped my mind. As such, I started spending every waking moment working on this project.

Fortunately, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving – and only did a little bit of homework in the morning. However, the rest of the holiday weekend was schoolwork followed by more schoolwork. I was able to finish the in-basket exercise early Saturday afternoon. I emailed it to the professor (who returned it graded by about 5:30PM). I then spent all day yesterday continuing to work on the systems analysis project. I even took today off – since it was supposed to be due today. Now, I will admit that I am a tad bit grouchy – maybe even irritable and/or irascible. However, when the professor for ILS530 posted the assignment tool for the final project today, the due date was listed as December 4th. On one hand, I’m glad that I am mostly done with the project and that I have some time to work on refining it – however, on the other hand, I’m not very happy. I’ve been working hard not to complain too bitterly about this particular class, but my patience is wearing quite thin. Really, I need to get the project finished and turn it in so that I can consider this class over and done.

I definintely need some time away from school!!!!!!

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I’ve Found A New Way To Procrastinate

November 21, 2006

 . . . which would be to catalog all of my books on LibraryThing. I’ve had an account since July – and had a great deal of fun playing around with LT during the summer. However, life demanded my attention elsewhere after I entered about 40 titles. After listening to a presentation given by Abby Blachly at Nelinet’s Annual Bibliographic Services Conference (on Friday, November 17th) on LibraryThing, I was inspired to put some serious effort into getting all of my books cataloged. Over the past three days, I’ve gotten about 475 more titles added. I’m thinking that I will need to resist the urge to keep adding books since the end of the semester is rapidly approaching.

On a more serious note, Abby Blachly’s presentation at Nelinet’s conference was great. She is very enthusiastic about LibraryThing – and that definitely came through while she was at the podium. I was already very familiar with LibraryThing, but definitely learned some new things. There were many people in the audience who had never heard of LibraryThing – and I sensed that people were interested in the product. I actually had a great discussion with some people at my table who were really intrigued and wanted to know more.

I so want to keep adding books to LibraryThing even though it is way past my bedtime . . .


A New Breed Of Personal SPAM

November 21, 2006

Catching SPAM for either email or blogs is a never-ending battle that is constantly in flux. SPAM seems to be reduced when filters learn patterns and develop successful blocking strategies. At this point, of course, SPAMmers then change their strategies in order to circumvent filters and see that their massive amount of wicked useful content is delivered to end users. It is a cycle that can be humorous when I am in the right frame of mind. Today, I have to admit that I was highly amused by the following SPAM email disguised as a personal missive (which did not get labelled as SPAM by the mail filter at work):

Hey,

It’s no secret the gifts you’ve gotten your partner over the last few years have been not so great. Most people at the office know you don’t like to spend. That is fine but you get a bit of a bad reputation for being so cheap.I have an idea if you are willing. A few of us have bought off this one website the last few years. The products are charming and work awesome. Everyone who has gotten/given a gift like this has been super thrilled. The selection is very affordable for the quality and name you get. I know everything I have bought over the past few years works great. I will put the website below so at least you have any idea of how to spice up Christmas this year and get some credit you probably finally deserve.

NOTE: URL for spicing up Christmas was originally here.

We should also hookup for dinner and a few drinks after the staff Christmas party this year. I’m sure we can swap some stories about that. Talk to you soon.

Mike

Of course, I wasn’t as amused a couple of weeks ago when I received a similar message from a SPAMmer masquerading as a coworker who felt the need to confidentially tell me that everyone in the office wanted me to know that I am fat and need to go on a diet. Supposedly the URL that the sender was pointing me to was a suggested weight loss plan. That one I promptly deleted. Several days later, there was a SPAM email about the fact that my coworkers didn’t really like me very much – the sender was offering to help me fit in around the office better.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this new breed of SPAM in which I am called cheap, fat or unlikable. The emails themselves are pretty comical. However, do we really need people we don’t even know insulting us? Don’t any SPAM type people think they might make us happier with praise? Send me all the SPAM you want if you are willing to tell me that I am a good gift giver, skinny and/or well-liked by my peers. Anyway, I’m sure that I will have plenty of time to mull this over while I’m waiting for this mysterious Mike to show up after my work Christmas party so that we can go out for dinner and drinks. I hope he has some good stories to tell me. Maybe I will learn something from him and be able to make all of my family and friends “super thrilled” this holiday season.

UPDATE: For what it is worth: while writing this post, I received 15 SPAM emails (fortunately none with personal slights to my character) and 2 SPAM comments on this blog.


The Challenge Of Technology

November 20, 2006

Recently, K.G. Schneider asked for people’s technology wish lists – in order to put together a post on ALA’s Techsource blog. People had some great suggestions, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading both the posts and the comments. I thought about the subject quite a bit to try and figure out what my biggest technology challenges are on a day-to-day basis. After a while, I started to think about the ways in which technology presents barriers to our customers (and staff) and makes life more difficult. Sadly, there are far too many ways in which technology interferes in the flow of information. Interestingly, in the midst of my thinking about this, Jason Griffey posted about helping a student – or trying to help a student – print out documents from a jumpdrive in the library. The student couldn’t print out the documents because the jumpdrive required that the student have administrator rights on the computer.

These types of problems are on the rise as operating systems, browsers and software respond the challenges of viruses, phishing attacks and user problems. The trend is to create software that may be easier to use (I think this may not actually be the end result), but that is more difficult to “mess” up. For businesses and institutions, operating systems are being locked down in order to reduce maintenance time and costs. Permissions and access rights come into play – and IT departments naturally want to use these tools to reduce system crashes and software corruption. This adds a great deal of complexity to systems – and frustration for users.

The sad fact is that incidents like Jason Griffey described with the student’s jumpdrive are all too common. It is getting more and more difficult to actually provide services to students on institution-owned computers. We have many software programs that require administrator rights to actually run correctly. At the college where I work, we end up creating local admin accounts on the computers and installing the software on each computer – by hand. Students then have to know that in order to use certain programs, they need to use different accounts (and log into the local machine rather than the domain). This is becoming more and more prevalent. As browsers add functionality to disable web pages running things like ActiveX, to identify phishing attacks and to protect users from unauthorized downloads, they add complexity for things such as downloading and opening PDFs. PDFs are one of the mostly commonly used file types in libraries – and with IE7 (IE is our college’s supported browser) one has to continuously click all over the place to actually download the file. Additionally, students bring CD-Rs, CD-RWs, DVDs, DVD-Rs, DVD-RWs, floppy disks, zip disks, etc. to the library with no idea of which computers have which types of removable drives. Sometimes, students bring in their laptops with their modem cables (and we don’t have any active phone jacks). The stories of technology-related frustrations are seemingly endless – and create the exact atmosphere that we do not want to provide to our customers.

I guess the point to all of this is that what I really want (and what I really think would benefit libraries) is technology that does not erect barriers between our information and our users. Ideally, shouldn’t technology enable the free flow of information? All of this talk about library 2.0 and improvements to library services can only take us so far. It isn’t only our library systems and services that are creating problems, but the direction of technology in general. Things like DRM, software conflicts, incompatible file formats, hardware conflicts, etc. cause huge problems for us in libraries. It isn’t just ILS vendors that we need to be talking to about better systems, but software providers in general (and hardware vendors, too). For patrons to have good experiences in libraries all of our technologies much play well together – library systems, DRM, Windows & Mac operating systems, browsers, removable devices, portable devices, and any other technology-related item that our patrons want to use in the library.

Technology that provides barriers is not user-centric in nature. There has to be a better way to use technology to provide a user-friendly library experience that is inclusive of those with differing levels of technical knowledge, different portable devices, different software requirements, and different information needs. Today, because of barriers, we are often unable to meet the basic needs of our students without serious staff intervention. I want better technology that enables our patrons to be self-sufficient  and frees library staff from having to spend time rebooting computers, reformatting documents for printing and trying to get laptops connected to the network rather than helping patrons find information that they need.


School Musings

November 19, 2006

I got my grade back on my cost finding exercise and did well – YEAH!!!!!! I really needed to do well on it after the last assignment that I did for ILS565-Library Management (and on which I did really, really mediocre). I thoroughly enjoyed the assignment and getting a decent grade also helped to boost my spirits. This will help me get through the next three weeks to the end of the semester. Next, we have an “in-basket exercise” to complete. In this assignment, we are to act as a library director, take a prescribed set of personnel to design an employment scheme for a library and deal with a variety of problems and issues. We have to choose which problems to delegate, which to deal with and how exactly to deal with those problems that we do not delegate. I find this very, very, very challenging. I have been working on it, mostly in vague terms – meaning that I have been pondering options in my head. This assignment is due next Sunday (November 26th). Then, we have a final in this class.

For ILS530 – Information Systems Analysis & Design, I’m not really sure how it is going. We have had three papers due – and I have only received one grade. I do know that some of the others in the class have received a second grade – which is extremely frustrating. However, many may remember that I took this professor over the summer and had the same issues. Despite, the fact that I have no one to blame but myself for the predicament I find myself in, I am extremely frustrated and annoyed with this class. I cannot wait for it to be over.  I have tried not to dwell on it – and just make the most of the class. I love the material, and think it is of utmost importance for those interested in library systems.  ARGHHH!!!!!! Meanwhile, I just keep plugging away at everything – and smile at the thought that the end of this semester is in sight!


Bridging The Gap

November 15, 2006

I really enjoy discovering new blogs by students in MLS/MLIS programs. The students often offer great insights into their programs and into other issues that concern libraries. In a recent post by a student taking a library systems course, the student asks What makes a systems librarian? The author writes:

While systems librarians can have many roles, the one thing they appear to have in common is an ability to bridge the gap between the library and techie worlds. So the big questions becomes how do you learn both languages? And are library schools providing the courses to enable graduates to fulfill this role?

This is right on target. I have to say that in my role as a systems librarian, this is one of the most important things that I need to be able to do. Libraries have complex systems, and they rely a great deal on technology. If the library is part of a larger organization with an information technology department, someone has to be able to talk intelligently about the unique ways in which technology impacts library systems. I go to weekly IT meetings, volunteer to help with deployments and testing of new technologies (upgrades to operating systems, upgrades in email, new content management systems, hardware configurations, etc.), talk to IT staff before I do something that might be different from the accepted standard and try to sit in on as many demonstrations and training sessions as possible. I often joke that my aim is to really make the IT staff think of me as one of them.

To be able to talk the language of the techies, one has to really become one – or at least give the illusion of being a techie. I listen to their conversations, admit when I don’t understand some technical concept (usually about networks, packet transmission or code), read lots and lots of articles on technology and mess around with new technologies as much as possible. I have found that the IT guys are usually quite willing to discuss things – and to explain things when I ask. After a while, I was able to contribute (with intelligent conversation no less) and participate in the discussions about providing solutions to problems. I like to believe that I have been successful in developing a close working relationship with our IT department. I still have to remind them that technology changes may well impact the library (changing internet service providers or re-addressing IP ranges have huge implications for us, yet, I have to remind the IT staff of this over and over). However, they often ask for my opinion and include me in decision making.

One thing that I have found to be incredibly valuable is to remember that we must have a give and take relationship. I need their expertise for many things – especially those things that have implications for our physical network. I also need them for hardware replacement since all computer purchases come out of IT. To balance this, I help with things like re-imaging the computer labs in the library, troubleshooting issues with lab software for students working in the library and testing new software applications. Because I am the technical support for one physical building, it is often easier for me to upgrade all library staff to something like Outlook 2003 and see what type of problems occur than for the IT staff to find their own test group. I have offered up the library staff for this type of test environment several times. This means that the IT staff help me out – and I help the IT staff out. I highly recommend this type of approach.

As for systems librarian education in MLS/MLIS programs? I would be really interested to hear what type of class this particular student is taking. At SCSU, there is no class specifically targeted for systems librarians – at least none that I can see.  I haven’t seen any evidence of a class that encourages librarians-to-be to speak the language of techies as well as librarians. Maybe part of this has to do with the newness of the systems librarian position. Have we actually defined its parameters well? If we haven’t defined it well, how can we teach others what they need to know to become systems librarian? These librarian positions can vary widely from institution to institution. So much of systems is learned on the job – and I’m not sure that will change in the near future.

To succeed in this line of work, one needs to understand computer hardware, operating systems (including detailed information about services and processes that run on Windows machines), HTML,  imaging computers and networking concepts like bandwidth (calculating bandwith use), TCP/IP, IP addressing, NAT, VLANs, wireless, DNS, DHCP, switches, etc. There are of course other concepts that may be important. However, listening to techies is one of the best ways to figure out what concepts one needs to understand – and to help one gain confidence. Many people allow themselves to believe that they just don’t know enough to talk to IT people. My best advice is to believe in yourself – don’t be intimidated by the techies – and fight for what you believe you need. Remember that IT staff don’t understand libraries and/or the complexity of technology in the library. Systems librarians need to be the bridge that connects library technology to information technology.


One Of My Favorite Things . . .

November 13, 2006

Is the day after an assignment is due – when I usually take a day off from school. It is such a wonderful feeling to be done, even if it is only for a little while. I got quite a bit done today including a good workout. Now, I’m going to go have some of my birthday chocolate – and then I expect to get a good night’s sleep. Yeah for Monday, November 13th!!