Recently I’ve been importing the ancient Librarian Avengers archives to live within WordPress. Because the site goes back to…hrm… 1997, there’s some data munging to do.
Right now I’m concerning myself with the period after Graduate School, when I moved to Ithaca, NY for an ostensibly-cool digital library fellowship. I couldn’t talk about how much I hated it at the time so the entries are mostly tangential to the work I was doing, but there’s still some fun stuff.
Importing ancient blog posts involves a bunch of tagging, titling, category-setting, and general modernization. I’ve been progressively making my way through the old posts, adding images, fixing spelling mistakes, and generally adding a bit of polish.
Part of the reason I’m taking on data scrubbing as my One Designated Personal Thing to Do this evening, is that today has been a study in helplessness. My daughter has a (small) fever. It’s the first time she’s been sick, and I’m trying to direct my need to control something (anything!) in a positive direction.
Also, cleaning data is pretty therapeutic after some of the body fluids I’ve encountered recently.
Someone asked me where I found the art for my nonexistent biopsy scar-covering tattoo, and I thought you guys might be interested… This came from a series of 18th Century bookbindings. It’s too elaborate for reality, perhaps, but I liked the idea.
This was intended to cover a scar that I have grown rather fond of. The tattoo plan was scrapped, but the concept was good.
I sampled my skin color from a photo, isolated two different florets from book covers I found in a digital library collection, overlapped them, messed with transparency, did a color mask to match a brown ink, and then chickened out at the last minute.
I have an information science degree. I’ve been working for fourteen years, my entire adult life. Most of my jobs have been in libraries.
I am a librarian. I am not a librarian.
As a student at Michigan State University, I learned Library of Congress serials cataloging.
I walked through secluded aisles surrounded by rare books, incunabulum, alternative newspapers, and gay pornography.
I cataloged comic books in the world’s largest archive of comic art, radicalism, and popular culture.
In the course of my work, I learned that Spiderman serials change their volume as often as many Spiderman readers change their underwear. By graduation, I could walk into any comic shop in the country and pick a fight about whether X-Men film adaptations should be considered canon.
When I went to graduate school (Michigan ’03), my program had recently transitioned from “Library Science” to “Information Science.” In the process, they picked up a bunch of renegade computer science professors and expanded to include information architecture, information economics, archival theory, and a bunch of crazyass dot com bubble refugees like myself.
We discovered that the term Digital Library can be used to describe an entire array of cool shit, including the Internet itself.
One of my professors, Sue Davidson, tells the story of how Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang called to ask about the subject guide to the web she had created for the Michigan Electronic Library. Sue answered: “that’s what librarians do, we organize information.”
Librarianship, defined as the act of organizing information, is a broad and inclusive field. Librarianship as a profession, is not. There are strict professional guidelines determining who is and is not technically a “Librarian,” but there is also a strong case to be made for the authenticity of self-identification.
There are librarians who work in libraries, and there are librarians who just Are.
It’s the difference between being a Jew by Religion, and being a Jew by Ethnicity. Both groups contribute to the cultural whole.
While a Librarian by Profession is inherently a Librarian by Ethnicity, the opposite may not be true. A trained librarian can sport a different job title, but her clarity and understanding will still contribute to her work.
I’m a librarian by ethnicity.
Right now, I work as a user experience designer on a software team. I wrestle with ship dates, dependencies, conflicting user requirements, and engineering constraints. I design interfaces and help identify how the software should behave.
But somewhere, deep in my soul, I am doing the work of the Library.
I’m a librarian by ethnicity, regardless of the job I take. I don’t make my living as an ALA going, patron-helping organizer of resources, but I’ll be damned if I don’t use Librarian skills to battle confusing groupings of information.
Librarians bring order to chaos, and so, with a little luck, do I.
Wanna enrich some data? Got OCD? Tired of trying to get a foot in on popular Wikipedia entries? Try helping out with Freebase.
It’s a database. Of stuff. Free stuff. You can mush it however you like. You can compare stuff. You can edit it. And this week? This week you can join a few hundred of your fellow data nerds and join a data mob.
Thanks for all of the kind comments on the previous post. They really helped balance the freaking out I had to do when a kind well-meaning soul posted this link as an example of a REALLY GOOD children’s website.
Ok. Let’s go through this again. Slowly. This time I’m going to spell it out.
Anyone can make a website. The web is the most democratic publishing forum ever conceived. But, unfortunately, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you are the best person to do it. It is an unpleasant fact that mostlibrarywebsites, most digital libraries, most catalogs and electronic collections arebadly designed.
And by badly designed, I mean this. Ugly. Ill-conceived. Verbose. Inaccessible. Acronym rich. Confusing. Lofty. Unnecessarily complex. Deprecated. Self-absorbed. Low-quality. Pointless. Patronizing.
Are you still with me? Remember, I’m being a bitch so that you don’t have to.
There is a tendency in the library community to blow sunshine up each other’s asses, as though our intent to do good were enough. As though our good works shouldn’t be held to the same standards as commercial products because we are Nice. People don’t seem to criticize each other’s work in this profession. Which makes for a perfectly lovely working environment where you can find yourself producing piles of junk because all you have heard is happytalk from supportive colleagues. And that’s not Nice. Nope. Not at all. That’s painful and embarrassing and rather cruel.
You would tell a friend if she had toilet paper on her shoe, right? Gentle criticism (not my specialty, obviously) has a place in any relationship, especially when the stakes are high. When your TP-shoed friend is about to go up on stage in front of a bunch of elementary school kids, they probably aren’t going to listen to her charming and educational speech. They are going to see the toilet paper and turn into a pack of hyenas.
And it’s a shame, because the Internet Children’s Digital Library (and the gajillion sites like it with smaller budgets) have the potential to become popular resources if they will only make the connection between quality of content and quality of interface. Like so many digital collections, they have great ideas, like sorting books by color, but they don’t have the skill or the perspective to realize these ideas. And they don’t have the humility to hire someone who does. So up they go in front of the auditorium with a big wad of TP dragging behind them.
Sorry I haven’t updated in a few weeks. I’ve been busy downloading music from this quasi-legal Russian mp3 site. But not at work (hi library colleagues). And there was some vacation involved. And dog-sitting. And basement wall dry-locking.
Speaking of the theft of intellectual property, at work recently I’ve been looking at online digital collections and identifying nifty interface elements we can borrow for the cataloging/digital library software we’ve been making. There’s some pretty rad stuff out there.
I’ve been liking the NYPL’s Picture Collection Online, in spite of it’s bass-akwards name. (Adjective Adjective NOUN, people. We don’t call you the Public Library New York, do we?) Plus, it’s the only library search interface I’ve seen to contain the word “bollicky” in the source code.
You all might know about this already, but coolperson Marguerita clued me in to the new TNT movie “The Librarian“. Unless April fools came early this year. Or USA Today isn’t a legitimate news source…