RisingWithTheMoon has a new URL!

Dear readers,

I have a domain now :). Please bookmark www.novataire.com, where I will be continuing to update this content.

The new site will have all of the past content, as well as future content. I really want to make an effort to continue to have a web presence and share my work, and I feel that hosting this site myself will allow me more flexibility.

I hope I am not shattering your world with the name change of this site :). The concept of Novataire is something that has been with me for many years. It is very personal, which is why I have been hesitant for some time to promote it on the web. I like to think of Novataire as an enchanting and imaginary place where all my creative pursuits – art, writing, and (hopefully soon) music – will come together.


What courses should / shouldn’t I take in my MLS program? My experience…

I realize it has been a while since I have posted to this blog, but since it has been a little over a year since I finished library school and have been working in the field for a while, I wanted to reflect on my decisions to take certain courses while getting my MLIS.

If any current or prospective students are reading this, I am sure you are experiencing an overwhelming array of tempting course options. However, not all classes are created equal, and you might find there are better (and cheaper) alternatives. The goal is to maximize your coursework and your tuition money so that you are in the best position to get hired :).

Please note that what I will state below is my subjective experience, and that the classes I took at my MLIS program might be different from the curricula at other programs.  However, I will be listing some general course categories that I took (whether I felt they were useful or not), or classes that I wished I had taken.

I also point out that my focus in library science (digital content management), will be different from others, so my response will be somewhat tailored to this area. However, in talking to people in the field, and my experience on the job, proficiency with new tech is vital to getting hired, as Laura Krier bluntly puts it. She also lists some course ideas that are beneficial to digital content management.

Classes I did not regret taking:

1) Relational Databases and Data Modeling

Despite the fact that my course had less than 15 people enroll, which is pretty sad for a school that spits out the 2nd most MLIS’s per year, this was one of the most informative classes I ever took. Relational databases serve as the backbone to nearly all applications that librarians use, no matter what area of the field, so knowing how they work provides a huge understanding to troubleshooting application issues, finding information in databases, and even providing the foundational knowledge for writing your own programs. Since we librarians are always designing with the user in mind, being able to model and implement our own database applications is a real asset as the field becomes more technological.

2) Metadata / Electronic Information Retrieval

In addition to the mandatory cataloging class, knowing how to apply metadata fields in the right circumstances is  key to managing content (more of which will become electronic as time goes on). While cataloging classes often reiterated the importance of standard entry rules and validation rules for standard schemas like MARC, it does not really discuss issues such as how to export your data, how to incorporate your data in another system, and how to create metadata that will help preserve your data.

Since the growth of technology is not getting any slower, this is key knowledge if we want to be stewards of tomorrows information. After all, don’t forget that only 10 years ago, we were storing data on floppy disks. Now the only thing a floppy disk is good for is a coaster….those 1.44 MBs relics  cannot even hold one iTunes song, but they certainly keep my Coke Zero from sweating  ;).

3) A subject area reference course, preferably  in the sciences or business

Any library job you take will require the keen skill of extracting the information from your user and translating it into something you can use to find the answer, you don’t want to leave library school without having this down pat. Every library school on the planet offers some variant of Reference 101, but it won’t provide the opportunity to delve into a subject, and to really learn how to utilize the various databases and tackle more challenging questions.

Science/technology reference class are in higher demand, especially in medical libraries, pharmaceutical companies. Business research skills are also highly in demand, especially if you want to work for a law firm, corporation, or other special library. As the private sector picks up, these places are likely to hire  (hint, hint), assuming we don’t have a double-dip recession. And academic and public libraries will find this reference skill set useful as well.

Courses I wished I did not take

1) HTML/CSS (or any programming language)

Unless you have been living under a rock before considering library school, you know that knowing at least a little HTML is basically a requirement to get a job in this field. However, I would not recommend taking this course through your MLIS program. Not that the course is not useful, but that there are several other alternatives that are much cheaper and much better. Ed2Go offers an HTML class for less than $200,  and lynda.com offers unlimited tech tutorials for only $25 a month. Lynda.com not only offers HTML courses, but programming courses, software application courses, etc. as well (which will probably be more current than what you would take in class anyway).  The tuition cost for an HTML class in grad school is the same as 5 years or more of a membership to Lynda.com. And you can learn a lot in 5 years…. ;). Plus, don’t forget all the free stuff like MIT’s Open Courseware and Google Code University! 🙂

2) Library Management

In my experience, I felt that these classes were a waste of tuition dollars, even though they required very little work. While they are great for an easy “A’, you don’t really need an easy “A” in library school…since most of your classes are not particularly challenging (strongly depending on where you get your degree, of course). Any manager will tell you that management and leadership are learned on the job, and many of the theories you will learn in these classes fall apart in the real world. Becoming an advocate for your profession and your staff has to come from within;  no excessive knowledge or theory is going to magically give you the resolve to be a good leader.

For what is is worth, I took 2 management classes, and I found neither of them to be very beneficial…

Classes I wished I took

1) Collection Development / Acquisitions

I deal a lot with vendors in my job, and I deal a lot with questions regarding how much subscriptions cost, license agreements, etc. A lot of people do not realize that the acquisitions budget of a large company or university is likely in the 7-figure range (though many are getting slashed…). That’s some serious cash money!

License agreements are convoluted, and publishers can be ruthless about price increases. While I would say that, like the management courses, much of what is learned in acquisitions is learned on the job, I wished that I had at least had some background knowledge before being thrown in with the sharks without a life jacket.  If you know how to be economical with an acquisitions budget and to negotiate sweet deals, and that skill is better than sweet liquid gold and a titanium cherry on top :).

I hope that this information is helpful. Again, please realize that this reflects my experience, but I wanted to share my knowledge. I read a lot of people’s perspectives on what people should / should not take in library school, and I hope that this provides some unique information, especially for those interested in pursuing the digital track.


Cobb County Libraries in Trouble!

I read about library closings all over the county. Since 2008, every issue of ALA’s American Libraries mentions some article about library closings…11 branches shut down in New Jersey…another 13 shut down in Nevada…etc etc etc.

However, a colleague of mine who works for the Cobb County Library system recently posted on Facebook that, in order to balance the budget, Cobb County officials are going to shut down all but FOUR libraries in this very large and populous county.  This really hit close to home. While I no longer am a Cobb County resident *sniff* I felt that I had to say something.

The Cobb County libraries were such an integral part of my life.  I spent so much time there, especially during my school years.

While I cannot attend any meetings in person, I wrote the following missive in hopes that it will make the Cobb County Commission chairman rethink his budget strategy:

Mr. Lee:

Please reconsider your proposed closing of Cobb County libraries. Thousands of Cobb residents depend on the libraries for internet access, reference materials, and critical information. In doing so, you will be cutting off many people from this. Cobb is a huge county, and 4 libraries are not enough.

Each day, Cobb County librarians and staff are harried and busy, helping people with filing tax returns, apply for jobs, assisting patrons with major purchase decisions, and pointing students in the direction of the right sources for school projects. This is a typical scenario that I have witnessed each time I was at the East Marietta Branch or Vinings Branch libraries, two of the libraries that you propose shutting down.

I grew up in Cobb County my entire life, and the library was an integral part of it. As a child, I remember story-time and voraciously reading about topics of interest at the East Marietta Branch. I worked as a page at the Vinings branch during high school, and as an adult, I have utilized Cobb County libraries to do the following: register to vote, research for the purchase of a new car, teach myself programming languages, learn about traveling in a new country.

You probably think that you can get “everything on the Internet” these days, but it is not free and not cheap. When you find the NY Times upping its digital subscription prices (which it already is), and you are flabbergasted you have to pay to access stuff like Consumer Reports online, you will wish you have some place to go where you didn’t have to pay so much for basic reference materials (which, by the way, are getting more expensive that even the affluent citizens of East Cobb will not be able to afford).

Libraries do a lot more than store books and offer a few terminals to people who cannot afford their own PCs. They offer programs to educate and equip people to gain skills and knowledge that will enable them to become more informed citizens…to equip them to find work so that more people can pay the taxes which will then support your infrastructure. I am sure you are aware that the reason you are in the predicament that you are in is because of the lack of jobs in Georgia, which in turn reduces the amount of revenue-generating taxpayers. It amazes me that Georgia officials are often turning to education for their biggest cuts. Cobb County alone laid off hundreds of teachers last year, resulting in class sizes that are too large to provide quality education.

While I understand  there are probably many, many critical things competing for your small budget, closing libraries and massive education cuts will not ameliorate this problem. In fact, you are only digging yourself a larger hole in the long run.”

I will be keeping my fingers crossed for my colleagues who currently work in this system. I really do think that GA officials are really wrong to cut as much from education as they have been.  And people wonder why the US in general is lagging behind in education…


New Look, New Job

I am really liking this Clean Home theme!

Since I am too cheap to pay for CSS editing ;), this theme allows customizable colors, background AND header! And it just has a much nicer, larger, and more readable text than my previous theme. The background image used is courtesy of WebTreats. They have a great Flickr gallery of icons, Photoshop patterns, etc.

In other news, and the reason for the lack of posting, is that I have secured a new professional position. I have been working in my new job a little over a month now. And, like many of us in the library field, I relocated so that I could take it. I am very thankful. Moving is very, very tough, and it was not particularly easy, but I definitely think it was worth it. And I have a great apartment in a great location :D.

The job is right in downtown Washington, DC, and I am working for a huge, international law firm with a variety of different practice groups. I do a lot of different aspects in this position, but my overarching theme is utilizing technology to assist the attorneys with their law practices and client development. I am getting some great experience and skills in this position, and I have always liked the DC area. There is a lot more variety here, and it’s a good place to start my career (FINALLY!).

I am eternally grateful that I was able to find something relatively quickly after graduation. I figured I would be searching and searching for months…especially with my lack of direct library experience. However, this job was a good fit for me and for my supervisor, as she was looking for someone who had my unique combination of random skills (legal experience, comfort with technology). So, even if you have a hodge-podge of skills, eventually, there is a place for you! :p


College and the Millenials Who Never Really Left It

Although I am ashamed to admit it, one of my favorite sites is http://www.collegehumor.com.  I cannot begin to tally the countless hours I have wasted on this site…watching funny videos, reading articles about Facebook fails, sexual frustration, and second adolescence. However, I am 27 years old…and now 5 years out of college! Yet why does this site seem to pinpoint and satire so accurately the intricacies and nostalgia for those of us who graduated college in 2003 – 2009? After all, for the most part, we are all pretty well out of college.

Take a look at some of the videos:

The Roast of 8-bit Mario

If Games had Super-Easy Mode

DuckTales Theme Gone Horribly Wrong

One thing that baffles me is that most kids who are in college today were either not even born to remember the glory of growing up with just an NES. Or the excitement about the Game Genie and the Contra cheat code. Some of this audience may be too young to remember DuckTakes…at least the incoming freshman.

A lot of articles in recent years have mentioned this strange trait of my generation, The Millenials (or Gen Y): We just don’t grow up as fast, but why should we? I look back on my parents. They married at 22, bought a house, got their careers and the kids by their early 30’s. And now, they are divorced. Many of my young friends today have divorced for the same bottom-line reason: they thought they had figured out “what they want to be when they grow up”…but then they changed. The 20’s is a time of spiritual and value shifts, and nebulousness about the future. We got mixed messages from our parents: “you are special and can do whatever you want.  College is for fun! Worry about the career later” …but then look perplexed when you want to go to art school. They tell us “life it short, you are young”…but then turn around and ask why at 25 we are not married and have no prospects. Just 3 years ago, teaching was the safest job…now many friends who have pursued that career have been laid off, or are competing with applicants in the hundreds. Who would have thought?

The future of our nation – especially considering these still uncertain times – is frightening. So why  not return to those things that made us happy as kids? During the “bubble”, dot-com success stories, and the Clinton years. To0 bad we were too young to see it coming…

September 11 happened on my first day of classes at college. How ironic. Our country has never been the same since then, and I honestly think we have never recovered.

A large portion of my friends live at home. Not because they are lazy, but because who can afford to live on their own in this economy?

I do live on my own, but I am not going to lie. Money can be very very tight, especially since salaries have not kept up with inflation in the past 10 years, and the college degree is now yesterday’s HS diploma. When I got my first one-bedroom apartment in 2006, I paid $650/month base rent. That same apartment costs around $750 or $800/month today.  This was in Atlanta. If I were 17 today and trying to get into my undergrad institution with the credentials I had in HS, I would have been flat-out rejected.

At 27, I can finally say I my career is finally starting. Thank God. I may never own a house. I may never retire. I may never get married. However, I can say with more certainty that I will never see a dime of social security than I can say that the sky is blue…despite that large sums of money were taken out of my entry-level paycheck to support the voluminous amount of Baby Boomers. Single professionals whose entry level salaries keep them too rich for food stamps, but too poor to own property, are taxed though the nose.

The youngest Millenials are now of voting age. If we are as large as they say we are, then where is our political power?

We don’t bother voting when the candidates don’t give a damn about us. In the past election, all both candidates appealed to the “nuclear family” when referring to the “middle class.” Many of us are not able to get married and start families right now just so we can earn the nest egg to even start a family. Many of us will never make it, more than ever before. So let’s pray that we continue to recover so that our dreams hope for the future are not crushed, and we can become the middle class that drives this country. And that our parents can enjoy the retirement they for which they worked so hard because, let’s face it, these times have hit them just as hard.

For my generation, who has been launched into a constantly morphing, global economy, our definition of the American dream has been modified. Forget the beach house and the fancy vacations when we retire. It is not about the money, but about quality of life and career satisfaction. Money is only  important as a way to meet basic needs. And if that means a bit of college humor as we approach our 30’s, then so be it!

 


User-centered Spaces: Part 2

In my last posting, I introduced the new Learning Commons areas at the Georgia Tech Library & Information Center, and how these new renovations assisted with user tasks.  In this post, I will provide my thoughts and reflections on this space…

One of the most effective methods for determining how users utilize the space is  simply taking a step back and observing how they interact. In our hyped-up, fast-paced, “git-r-done” culture, we sometimes miss out on important details when we rush to implement things before questioning…is this what users really want, or is this what vendors and articles tell us users want?  Because each library has its own user community, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

In the fall of 2008, Charlie Bennett, Commons Coordinator at the GA Tech Library, utilized observation methods to take objective measurements such as how many students were using the commons, what kind of computers they were using,  how they tended to group together, etc. For example, he noticed that many students brought their own laptops; this indicates a different grouping dynamic than having students huddle around a library desktop computer.

Charlie also engaged in more common data collection methods, such as distributing surveys and hosting a forum where users could post their comments. However,  one of the most interesting data collection methods Charlie utilized was placing a whiteboards next to a group of sample chairs that students could sit in and evaluate.  Each chair had its own whiteboard and marker where users could write comments about each chair such as:  “This chair is very comfortable” or “This chair color reminds me of puke.”  I found this method innovative because it brought the data collection  right into the user’s environment, rather than asking a student or faculty member to take time out of their busy schedule and go to a survey link or web forum. It reminded me a lot of the whiteboards that undergrads would post on their dormitory doors for people to leave them messages and comments; this has also extended into the digital realm with tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

Overall, the use of multi-modal data collection methods are very beneficial to ensuring a positive user experience in a STEM library commons. Charlie has taken great care and consideration with making  sure the Commons is a peaceful, user-centered space. The GA Tech Library is a very busy place where students will often spend hours studying, or simply taking a snooze break in one of the library’s comfortable chairs.  Students and faculty in a science and engineering institution work on many long-term and collaborative projects, and the library is a beneficial tool in helping these users with their research and education.

For more information on the GA Tech Library and Information Center commons:

Library Commons Main Page

Library Commons Project Documents

Main Page for GA Tech Library and Information Center


User-Centered Spaces: Part 1

This blog post is part of an assignment I am doing for my Reference Course for the Sciences disciplines. The purpose of the assignment is for us to pick a science-oriented library that has recently undergone a renovation to meet the needs of the users. So, I decided to discuss the recent learning commons renovations at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where I just completed my Spring practicum. In this post, I will introduce the learning commons at Georgia Tech and describe some of the highlights.

2 West Commons

2 West Commons

While I was interning, I met with Charlie Bennett, who is the Commons Coordinator at the library. Charlie is responsible for monitoring the commons, ensuring that it is functionally designed for user tasks (i.e. independent studying, group collaborations, etc.). He also gave me a tour of the Georgia Tech library commons area. The Commons actually consists of 3 areas: the east and west commons on the first floor (LEC and LWC respectively), and the newly renovated 2 West area on the second floor.

LWC

Library West Commons terminals

The LWC contains a wide space of desktop computers provided by the library. Whenever I was at the library, this area was always packed, and it was very difficult to get a computer.  There is a screen upon entering the library that shows which computers are in use (in red). Users can also go to the library website and see available terminals. Now, of course, since it is the summer and it is almost 11:30 PM (up late as usual!), many computers are green (but this is not the norm!).

LEC

The East Commons is a very interesting area of the library, and has a lot of innovative aspects. The area has a more modern and “hip” feel. It contains a cafe and vending machines (including ones that sell coffee), so users can get that extra bit of fuel to get through the school’s intense curriculum.  This space is also used for the campus film society to host events, as well as other campus-related exhibits.

This area is very focused on collaborative group work. It also contains computer stations with large monitors so multiple students can share a workspace, as well as a small DVD library.

Library East Commons

A key theme that Charlie wanted to focus on in this area is flexibility – to give the user control of how he/she utilizes the space. Thus, furniture is lightweight and easily movable.  One feature that the commons has serendipitously acquired was movable extension plugs that hang from the ceiling.  These were actually left by the electricians during the renovation, but Charlie decided to keep them so that laptop users were not restricted to areas where there was an outlet. I cannot tell you how many times I have been frustrated going into a Starbucks , bookstore, or other WiFi hotspot and not be able to use my laptop because all the seats near an outlet were taken. During long study hours, a laptop battery usually will not last.

Students even have flexibility over the lighting.  Charlie implemented RBG overhead lighting (similar to what is used in stage lighting), instead of fluorescent lighting. Students can customize the amounts of red, green, and blue in the lighting to something that is easier on their eyes.

2 West Commons

This area is located on the second floor. It is a very open workspace for collaborative projects. It contains large, restaurant-size booths and tables for study groups to meet, or for individual studiers to spread out (especially for the architecture students).  Collaborative work areas are partitioned by translucent screens to give the study groups a sense of solidarity without making the area seem too claustrophobic.  I have also seen students here utilize whiteboards to work on complex  math problems or tutor others.

What’s next?

In the next post, I will discuss my thoughts about the renovation and how these improvements have affected users.