New Site!

It all started at the South x Southwest conference this spring. I sat behind a fellow who had written a piece of weblog software called WordPress. The very mention of WordPress made the open-source and webstandards geeks at the conference go all gushy, so I figured it had to be pretty good software. Well. I installed it for a project at work and my heart went pitterpat. Great interface, tons of plugins, complete control over templates, open source, and a slick layout converted me.

Blogger has been good to me, but I’d like to experiment with this software. I’ll keep my old weblog up so your links will work (you will always be able to click on archives 2003-2005 in the right column to get to the ancient stuff), but this change of venue means you’ll have to update your RSS and bookmarks. I’m going to start writing about the books and media I’m consuming, in addition to the usual collection of rants, antecdotes, gloating about my cool job, and library related things.

Soon, I’m going to start writing about some of the nifty things we’re coming out with at my workplace, The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I’ve been able to watch and help build an insanely complex audio-video digital library over the last year, and I think there might be some stuff of interest to you guys from what we’ve learned in the process. We’re doing a big launch at the end of the summer, so I can show you the payoff then.

Thanks again to everyone who has posted and helped this site out along the way. Grouchy librarian kisses to all of you.


I’m liveblogging from the WDIL web conference, conveniently held where I work. I got shanghaied into this. I just wanted to meet the Wikipedia guy, but somehow I ended up going to the entire thing.

I’m no huge fan of conferences, as a rule. Usually the signal-to-noise ratio is insanely low, and I’ve got the attention span of a gnat when it comes to listening to ill-prepared speakers. Mercifully, coworker Rafe loaned me the office laptop, which is running Ubuntu, a very cool flavor of Linux, so I’ll be talking to you guys all day.

Turtles and Tornadoes

What a strange day. I got to work, and the building was closed. No water, and thus, no air conditioning. The Big Software Launch was today, so we intrepid few stayed anyway, fighting the clock and 95 degree heat whilst the servers politely melted.

Then the tornadoes came. Or tornado warning, which is unusual enough around here. Power lines down, benches blown over, little whorls of  litter in the street.

And to top it off, I rescued three snapping turtles from the road. It’s egg-laying day in snapping-turtle-land, and several turtlemammas thought our dirt road looked like ye olde ancestral breeding ground.

Ever try to pick up a snapping turtle the size of a garbage can lid using only a cattail and your shoe? Ever pick up a CD-sized snapping turtle in the act of bravely stomping out in front of a BUS, only to have it kick you and pee on your foot? Ever pick up a mousepad-sized turtle from the edge of the road, and reveal five ghostly white ping-pong ball eggs in a hole beneath her? This was my day.

Also, the cow-orkers and I saw a spotted fawn and his mom hanging out in the parking lot. Nature preserve librarian, y’all. It gets no better. Except for the turtle pee, which stains.

Big Bird

There’s big excitement here at the Lab of Ornithology this morning since we announced the rediscovery of a once-extinct bird. You can read all about the Ivory-billed woodpecker hoo-ha at It’s been fun to watch all of this from the inside. The Lab kept it quiet for a long time, rapidly trying to raise funds for land conservation efforts before the news leaked and the entire state of Arkansas becomes birder-Disneyworld and someone starts selling Ivory Burgers.


image from the Million Book ProjectTwo baby librarians were born to my wonderful friends from the Cornell library. Laih and Anika are both nine and a half pounds, super-smart, and will be entering the University of Michigan’s Information program in 2028. Congratulations Kim and Brian, and Clay and Mike!

I attended a seminar on the Million Book Project last night. There were a buncha computer science folks there, and the usual gang of library folks. I was horrified by the scale of the project, which involves sending hundreds of shipping crates of books to India and China for scanning, and wrangling terabytes of information that takes a week to even copy. Yow. One thing I found curious was their decision to do bitonal scanning instead of grayscale. I’m told that this results in “no real information loss” but many of their pages are really hard to read because of the lost grayscale info. In many cases the entire nature of the page is lost, and the resulting image looks like a rubber stamp of the Mona Lisa. Does anyone with more experience in these matters have thoughts on the subject? They scan at 600 DPI, so it can’t just be a matter of storage space.

In other news, there was a duck in one of our trees this morning, female mallard who was driven to extremes by an ardent male duck. She was up there for about five minutes, wobbling around until she finally fell into the pond.

Index This

Did you know that there is an American Society of Indexers? How meta is that?

In a similar vein, our fearless leaders here at the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds recently spearheaded the creation of an animal behavior ontology. I was browsing through the list of behaviors and have concluded that librarians are predisposed to aid-giving behavior, and perhaps homeostatic postures.

Dear Ms. Avenger…

Because my name is on a list in the office entitled “Huge Suckers”, I sometimes get letters from current attendees of my graduate school. After writing a few replies, it occurred to me that I would have to type less if I posted responses for all to read. So, without further ado…

Hi Erica,

I found your contact information through the mentors database on the SI web site. I have an amateur interest in bird watching (thus the interest in what you are doing at Cornell). I would love to hear how you came across your dream job. I am in the midst of my own job search and I was wondering what pointers you have for finding one’s dream job. -Bird Librarian In Training

Hi there BLIT,

My dream job story goes something like this:

I graduated from SI, and was offered a fellowship doing digital library stuff in the main Cornell library. It wasn’t exactly what I was interested in, but the position looked really good on a resume, and Ithaca was on the shortlist of places my boyfriend and I wanted to live. We moved out here, and the job, as expected, was less than inspiring. However, while I was putting my time in at the Not Dream Job, I was busy attending Cornell Web Forum meetings, and meeting people who were doing what I wanted to do. I hadn’t heard of the Lab of Ornithology before I moved out here, but after living in town for a bit, I realized that it was the neatest place to work on campus. It’s located out in the middle of a bird sanctuary, is well-funded, and has a heavy IT/Communications leaning. I kept my eye on the job openings, got a tip from a friend, and by the time this job opened up, I was an established Cornell employee (it is much much easier to get university jobs from within – they tend to hate paying moving costs) and was able to transfer over.

I guess this is all to say that I found a great job by taking an impressive-looking terrible one. Most importantly, I was living where I wanted to be, and was able to take my time until the right thing opened up.

If you are interested in interface design for wildlife organizations, I might suggest compiling a list of the places where you wouldn’t mind working (WWF, Nature Conservancy, zoos, etc.), and then monitoring their online job postings. Beyond this, you might consider targeting the place you want to be, going there for a non-dream job, and then looking around for the best place to work in the area. In many cases, it isn’t the slick, impressive job that becomes a dream job, but rather the one with interesting projects and good people running the organization. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to tell these things from a job description, or even from an interview. Burrowing in and observing seems to be the best way.

I hope that helped. If you are interested in positions at Cornell, you can check out our online listings here. I don’t know of anything HCI-related coming open here at the Lab soon, but there are plenty of other university bird and animal programs out there too.

Good luck!


New job, new G5

Yes, the rumors are true. I recently took a job at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library. The Macaulay Library is a multimedia library housing the largest collection of animal behavior recordings in the world. As you can tell from the number of zoo visits I’ve described, an animal behavior library is the place for me. I’m their new interface designer, and despite my being the only staff member with a “library” degree, these folks are the most amazing collection of biologists, digital archivists and multimedia geeks I’ve ever come across. Seriously, this place is amazing in scope, ambition, and accomplishments. Expect big things. Big!