Thursday, August 30, 2007

I used a Thing in real life

Remember 23 Learning 2.0 Things? New Things are still being added on the Learning 2.1 blog so I've been keeping up, more or less. I'm not continuing to try everything out, but I'm at least reading the posts.

Earlier this week at work a patron was trying to open a .wps file and could not. I remembered seeing something on Learning 2.1 about file conversion and after a quick Google search I recognized Zamzar as the tool I read about. (dear Google, is there any problem you can't solve?) It worked fantastically and the patron was able to open and print the files she so desperately needed. Triumph!

It's really nice to be able to apply some knowledge for a change. Usually it just clunks around in my brain, forlorn and unused, until it eventually disappears. But using my knowledge on the job makes learning feel worthwhile! Now if only I could find a use for all that algebra...

Monday, August 27, 2007


Have you heard of qiviut? It is a fiber from the downy undercoat of musk oxen, and the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers' Co-operative in Alaska uses it to create beautiful knitwear. Donna Druchunas visited Alaska and met some of these talented women and learned about the native cultures of Alaska as well as the Co-operative and their work. She has shared this knowledge in her book, Artic Lace: Knitting Projects and Stories Inspired by Alaska's Native Knitters.

The instructive part of the book contains a section on the qualities of qiviut, as compared with other yarns. It is finer than cashmere and, because so little is harvested each year, it is far more expensive.* The lace knitting workshop contains techniques, guidance on reading charts, and instructions for basic stitches, seaming, blocking, and fixing mistakes. She has included several projects inspired by the work of the collective, as well as instructions to design your own lace patterns and garments.

Based in Anchorage, items to be sold by the cooperative are knit by women in remote villages, so remote that the author was only able to visit one village. The only way to travel to these areas is by plane, and there is little or no guest lodging available once you get there. Still, she was able to put together a fascinating, informative work including many pictures of the villages and people of Alaska and recounted stories told by those she met and corresponded with.

One of those stories is of an Inuit woman in the 1920s who joined a team of Arctic explorers as seamstress and was the only member of the party to survive. Intrigued, I found a copy of the book Ada Blackjack: a true story of survival in the Arctic by Jennifer Niven. From the outset, the expedition to Wrangel Island was fraught with controversy, greed, and poor planning. The story continues long after the trip is over, with media distortion, accusations, lies, and scandal. A gripping story that I would highly recommend to anyone at all interested in Arctic exploration or women in history. An excellent read!

*as an approximate comparison, a skein of good quality wool is around $8; cashmere around $20; qiviut around $50.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Creating the Customer-Driven Library: a review

Jeannette Woodward begins her book by comparing libraries to bookstores and examining why people enjoy spending time at bookstores. She then makes suggestions for libraries based on these comparisons. She has some great points about making libraries more useful and relevant to patrons. Many of her suggestions are related to design (I'm glaring at you, Seattle Public Library) but she also makes a number of helpful suggestions that existing libraries could implement:

-expanding hours
-eliminating overdue fines
-including more information in library catalogs that is helpful to patrons, such as reviews, and excluding a lot of the MARC data which is not helpful
-having a cafe
-marketing the library
-creating effective displays
-when budgets are strained, taking resources from areas that are not visible to the public

Many libraries have had success with these innovations and have added cafes and comfortable furniture and increased displays and signage. At least one library has integrated their catalog with LibraryThing. When a patron searches for books at the Bedford Public Library in Texas the record contains recommendations for similar books, links to other editions of the title, links to reviews and excerpts, and tags which are more patron-friendly than LC subject headings. All of these make the library a more pleasant place to visit and more relevant to what the public wants.

Although this book is filled with some creative and helpful suggestions, it also contains some unfair generalizations about libraries and patrons.

For example, Woodward says that library patrons are middle-class white women over the age of fifty, and that patrons are homogenous. I think I actually laughed out loud at this. Is this based on actual data, or on her experience in libraries in her area? This doesn't come close to describing the patrons at my library, and I don't think we are an anomaly.

In addition - and this is my big gripe with this book - she has an unrealistically optimistic view of how much control librarians have over their libraries. She says that librarians "lay the blame on their city and county administrators" and "What they seem to forget is that they got themselves into these messes with their eyes wide open."

There is a reason why librarians lay the blame on the city - the city ultimately has control of hiring, budgets, and many other aspects of management. Woodward contrasts public libraries with college libraries by pointing out that public libraries are not beholden to a larger organization. In this way, she says, we can make changes to improve our libraries more easily than academic libraries. As far as I know, public libraries are ALL run by some governmental oversight, either the city or the county. Are there libraries who do have the freedom to do what she suggests without the bureaucracy?

My library can't make the decision to eliminate overdue fines because the city insists we collect them (because, of course, they get the money). We cannot buy anything without going through the city and having every charge scrutinized. Custodians are assigned from the city's Department of Public Works. Hiring part-time workers with benefits to fill expanded hours, as she suggests, would need to be approved by the city and probably the union. We can't hire without the city's input. (In fact, our new Director was just hired by the Trustees with absolutely no input from ANY of the library staff, but I hope that's not typical!)

She goes on to say that few librarians really try to improve the image of the library (which is probably true) and that "Few make sure that decision makers know how important the library is." But this responsibility lies with the community and libray patrons. Librarians can do everything in their power to tell city officials how important the library is, but we aren't the ones they are going to listen to. They want to hear this from voters and taxpayers.

Libraries who have a lot of community support and the freedom to be innovative and make big changes would probably find this book very useful. As for me, I will just fantasize about working at one of those libraries.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Baudelaire Sock Progress

Since I'm the only knitter in the world who doesn't bring projects on vacation I missed over a week of knitting, but I'm still happy with my progress. The end is in sight. Except for the second sock, but we shall not speak of that.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Quiz

Which of the following pictures were taken inside a giant model heart, and which were taken inside the Seattle Public Library?

You had to think about it didn't you? The implications are disturbing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What is this strange object?

Ah, a mystery! The secret will be revealed once the object is finished and has been presented to its intended recipient.

I will say that I'm quite enjoying the Bernat's Cottontots, which is machine washable AND dryable. Miraculous, wondrous yarn!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Three Good Things

I won a knitted-item naming contest! I suggested the name Gretel for this pattern, designed by the lovely Ysolda Teague and won a free copy of the pattern. This is exciting as I rarely win anything, especially anything that requires creativity. Let's hope this isn't as close as I get to designing knitwear. Be sure to check out Ysolda's other patterns, as she is quite talented. She is also possibly the cutest knitting designer ever.


Also, I just had a letter published in the Somerville News. The paper ran a rather insulting cartoon about a librarian from Tufts University who is running for mayor. My letter isn't on the paper's website, so here it is:

In his cartoon in the July 18 issue, Matt Stone asks "Does Somerville need a librarian as mayor?" The cartoon depicts the overdone stereotype of a librarian – a stern-looking bespectacled woman with her hair in a bun, surrounded by shelves of books, stamping a book with the word "LATE." I suspect that Stone is trying to imply that librarians are somehow antiquated and irrelevant to our modern lives. Instead he is only showing how uninformed he is, and that he clearly hasn't visited a library in a good long time.

Modern libraries are vital community centers, filled not only with books, but with computers, DVDs, CDs, and practically every format that can hold information. They provide meeting spaces, storytimes for children, movie nights, English classes, and workshops. Mr. Stone should visit his local library - he might be surprised at all it has to offer.

Librarians are educated, organized, detail-oriented and devoted to public service. We help people find what they need, learn new technologies, and try to squeeze necessary resources out of strained budgets. We welcome everyone who walks through our doors, regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, level of education, and socioeconomic background. I'll turn the question back to you, Mr. Stone: Aren't those qualities we want in a mayor?


The third good thing is that on Saturday I'm leaving for a 9-day vacation! So, no blog posts next week but I'll be sure to have something interesting when I return. Woohoo! Vacation!