Category Archives: technology

libraries and the culture of busy – a reflection on the hospital blogging meme

(How’s that for a descriptive title?)

I’ve been terrible about posting recently, I know. Part of that is due to the fact that I didn’t feel I had anything particularly interesting to say, part of it is because my del.icio.us account is really my blog, and part of it was because I have been avoiding computer use at home like the plague due to recent overuse injuries and paranoia that I’m getting carpal tunnel. (Are all medical librarians hypochondriacs? That’s a post for another time, I suppose.) In any case, I would never say that it is because I am too busy. Lazy, sure. Too busy? No.

And why is that? Frankly, because saying that you are “too busy” to do x, y, or z just insults the people around you who are doing x, y, and z. I read an article quite some time ago called “Librarianship and the culture of busy.” I really liked it the first time I read it (I mean, really now, who ISN’T annoyed when everyone around you keeps talking about how busy they are?), but events of late have made me particularly attuned to the whole “I’m just too busy” mantra.

Here’s a quote from that article:

Librarians engage in this battle for superiority, based not on individual accomplishments, we’re far too modest for that, but rather on one’s “volume of busy”. The point of this battle is to prove that we do more and have less free time than our peers, and are thus more important. We have so much on our plates, we cannot possibly take on another thing, so we are increasingly forgiven from additional contribution by nature of our busy excellence.

In the days after reading this article, I came across this same theme over and over again, both in the blogosphere and in my own life. In the blogosphere, it most seems to relate to being too busy to learn or too busy to use social software tools.  Here’s a sampling of some posts:

  • More on community (David Lee King) – He says, ““I’m too busy” – this isn’t the fault of front-line staff. I think this excuse (that’s what it is, after all) falls squarely into management’s lap. Is a blog important to your library? Is the interaction and growth that can be had via a social network part of your library’s strategic plan?”
  • Creating a technology tutorial (Library 2.0 – An Academic’s Perspective) – The discussion covers more of the actual references to time and learning, but the whole post is very interesting
  • Making time (Academic Librarian) – “The difference between these librarians and some of us more kept-up librarians isn’t that some of us work like we’re in a library sweatshop and others of us just goof off playing around with social software or something. It’s a difference of priorities.”

Of course the ones I am really interested in are the ones that have cropped up after the MLA Task Force on Social Networking Software survey results analysis was released.  For those of you who read David’s blog and the Krafty Librarian blog, or even for those of you who follow the task force’s blog, you will have seen that hospital librarians were not only less likely to use blogs professionally and personally, but that they were much more likely to think that blogs were of little importance to MLA’s sections, chapters, SIG’s, and etc.

The responses to the task force results in the blogosphere, particularly in the comments on these posts, mention one or more themes, the biggest one of which is time–hospital librarians don’t have the time to learn or use these tools.  First of all, may I remind everyone that David, Michelle, and Mark are all hospital library bloggers?  And that David and Michelle are both solo librarians?  Clearly, even if you are incredibly busy, you can make the time–if you want to.  T. Scott made what I think was the best point of the whole discussion in a comment on the Krafty Librarian’s blog.  He said,

“Hospital librarians feel they are always pressed for time.” So do academic librarians. Ask the most productive folks in my library and they will tell you they always feel they are running behind, they’re always working extra hours trying to catch up, and they never feel that they have enough time to get the essentials done, much less have time for the “extras”. That being said, with more people, it is possible to specialize some and spread the work in different ways. And there is probably also a culture in academic institutions that supports experimentation more than is the case in hospitals. So academics may end up having a little more flexibility over how they distribute their time (depending on how much support they have from administration); but they don’t feel any less pressed.

One of his points is exactly the point that the “Culture of Busyness” article made–everyone is busy.  Let’s all just realize we are all busy.  Academic librarians don’t sit around all day, and those of us who do keep up to date with new technologies aren’t slackers who don’t have anything else better to do.  It is a question of priorities, and though there may be good reasons why hospital librarians don’t use blogs (restricted access, hospital guidelines, a culture that doesn’t support experimentation, less flexibility, etc), busyness or lack of time as the reasoning is just an excuse and frankly an insult to those people who make time.

This post has largely been a gut reaction to the blog malaise post on the UBC Google Scholar blog, and though I can’t nicely tie in my commentary here, that whole post is ripe for discussion.  One of the things that he mentions is that there are very few top names in medical librarianship blogging.

In some of their recent posts, Michelle Kraft and David Rothman have pointed out that there are very few hospital librarians who blog or care to blog. Do you know very many top names in medical librarianship (with the exception of T. Scott) that blog? Furthermore, with the exception of Mark Rabnett in Winnipeg, I know of very few new hospital librarian bloggers. We’ve had maybe a handful of new medical librarian bloggers in the last calendar year.

I’ll just point out that Jane Blumenthal blogs, Mark Funk blogs, practically all of the tech-oriented medical librarians are blogging at the Task Force blog or elsewhere, and I have seen multiple new medical librarian bloggers who don’t just have link blogs.  I may personally have gotten blog malaise, but I think there has been a huge upsurge in medical librarian blogging in the past few months.  And I find that really exciting.

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new crop of medical students orientated

All excuses for not blogging recently aside, I have been quite busy with a number of things at work, including welcoming the new class of medical students and giving them homework.

I’ve already discussed what I do for the incoming students: library case studies/scavenger hunt and the PubMed tutorial.  This year I did the same.  The actual orientation itself, the scavenger hunt, went well again this year, though it was definitely not received with the same enthusiasm as last year.  For one thing, we weren’t giving out gift certificates to Chipotle as prizes for the winning team.  Another thing was that the students had the mornings to shadow physicians, which meant they were dressed to the nines, some of them (high heels and exploring the campus do not go well together).

This year, I went through their “cases” very carefully after they turned them in so that I could see if I could improve on anything for next year, something I neglected to do in the party atmosphere surrounding last year’s mad dash. I noticed that many teams seemed to have skipped several cases, likely due to the lack of explicit assignment on the case.  That, I can easily change.  One team brought back a photocopy of an article (what, not everything is online?) that was from the right journal, but was the wrong article.  Not sure what to do about that.  One of the teams completed their hunt in full in 45 minutes, and another took two and a half hours, a whole hour after their classmates’ teams.  Do we set a time limit in the future?  Weirdly, the 45 minute team completed all the cases fully and completely–a definite A plus.  The two and a half hour team, who took their time and spent a lot of time at each library investigating, didn’t complete three cases as I would have expected, anyway.

Activities that the students had to accomplish to finish:

  • photocopy article from journal that was only available in print
  • request an article that is in storage (accomplishes two tasks–getting them familiar with requesting articles, plus alerts them to older journals being in storage)
  • look up three books at different libraries in the catalog, find the libraries in question, and locate the “book” on the shelf
  • talk to a reference librarian other than me (for times when they have emergency requests and I am not there)
  •  etc

I start out the scavenger hunt with a tour of the library web site and the medical school library, to familiarize them with how to begin some of these things.  Next year, I think I might do a couple of things differently.  For instance, I might create a passport for each team that they would have to get stamped at each library they visit.  I might also add a requirement to find an article online and print it, or to use one of the online textbooks to look up something.  Any thoughts from anyone?

The PubMed tutorial bit of the orientation is not yet fully completed, but will be except for stragglers by Monday.  This year, I was amazed by the students.  When I have everyone introduce themselves to me in the orientation session, I always ask them to indicate their level of familiarity with PubMed.  This year, there was only ONE student who hadn’t used it, and I’d say that at least half said that they were extremely familiar with it.  More than one made claims like, “I live and breathe PubMed” or “PubMed is my savior.”  So, we all know the literature saying that people have an inflated opinion of what their competency really is, right?  (Marie Ascher and Diana Cunningham had a really interesting poster (PPT) at MLA talking about this kind of response bias, by the way.)  So, I have to admit, I assumed they were all exaggerating their skill.

Apparently not.  By the following day, one of the students came up to me letting me know that she had completed the quiz, but that PubMed’s MeSH Database was on the fritz.  And it was–I emailed them and they have since corrected the problems, which ranged from the search holding box not showing up to having the sent search all of a sudden switch Boolean operators on you to it misbehaving when you chose subheadings.  But, in any case, I decide to run a report of the quiz scores and check.  Of the twenty or so students who had completed the assignment within 5 days of my orientation, almost every single one of them got two questions wrong–the questions where PubMed’s misbehavior was basically making it nearly impossible to complete the assignment.  If they had gotten a chance to do those right, almost every single student would have gotten 100%.  I think that is pretty amazing.  Last year, only 2 students got 100%.  This year, I’ve already seen 5, not counting the ones where MeSH influenced the outcome.

In many ways, I think this speaks to the tenor of the various classes.  This class is just far more serious than last year’s class, and perhaps there were even more science majors than last year’s.  Or at least, they seem superficially more familiar with PubMed.

This year, I put my PubMed tutorial into DrupalEd.  Yes, I managed to convince the tech guys that DrupalEd was the bomb.  And it is, let me tell you.  I am not thrilled with its bookmarking features, and I wish that we could pull up a whole list of everyone on the system, but overall, it is sweet.  They did a great job customizing it for us.   And, because it has built-in wikis, an assignment calendar, blogs, and more, I foresee us using it for practically everything in the future, from class assignments (already has been used for one class in addition to mine, and it has only been live for 3 weeks) to student group organization space to a place to put study guides that students create.

various bits of stuff

Another library system has entered the Google Library project, the CIC libraries. Here’s a news release that a friend sent me, and here’s the Google announcement. Lorcan Dempsey also provides coverage. I find this interesting for a number of reasons: 1) a library near me will be one of the libraries in Google, and 2) the Authors Guild just sued the Google Print project, even though publisher after publisher has admitted that Google Books IMPROVES sales. Sigh.

My library system is apparently investigating SecondLife. This amuses me to no end, since we have no programming staff who could devote their time to do this, and since many, many library staff still aren’t comfortable with some of the other social software staples like blogs, wikis, and RSS. My supervisor ran across something about the Learning 2.0 program and suggested I look into it for the library staff, and though I’d been thinking about it on my own for months, I just don’t think it will be possible to get the institutional support to really do it right. Maybe I am just a cynic. In any case, I am already planning to do a bunch of classes on RSS.

Sometimes I really wonder how on earth I could ever have the time to do what I want to do, much less what I need to do. For instance, my Google and Google Scholar classes are the most recently developed classes for the libraries. I would like to do more, especially as regards RSS and other social software technologies, but I also have to get all those other pesky things like reference and collection development and library management done. I don’t know how solo librarians do it. My hats off to them, starting with David.

My second year (soon to be third year) students were back today after departing to places hither and yon for the USMLE Step 1. It was great having the library noisy and energetic again! They now have started down the path where they get separated. The MD/PhD’s started their PhD track today, and the group of MD/JD students are about to leave for another state or have already left. This came after 2 years (of course) of being together practically non-stop. If I miss them already, I can only imagine how they all feel. Judging by the enthusiasm of their afternoon in the library, they were overjoyed to see each other again.

I love Ritter Sports. By the way. I lust for Voll-Nuss Ritter Sports.

This probably deserves its own post, but I am feeling like the blog people Michael Gorman so lovingly described today–like I can’t concentrate on a large chunk of text. Anyone following the medical blogging world knows that medical blogs all over have started disappearing or getting shrouded behind cloaks of secrecy. Dr. Flea is the most famous, the doc who yanked his blog over a lawsuit. Fat Doctor went under at the same time, though she has thankfully resurfaced. Her post on the patients who were obsessed with House is legendary. Today, I followed a link to one of the medical student blogs I had posted about and found it walled off. Patient privacy, HIPAA, and ethics have all been called into question by recent newspaper articles. Some medical bloggers have advised only blogging under one’s real name. To me, this is depressing. Why should health professionals have less of a right to express themselves freely? I suppose the answer is twofold: 1) health professionals have a more stringent ethical code they must adhere to than, say, librarians, and 2) they get caught. Maybe I just feel extra defensive because I blog pseudonymously. A friend whom I am collaborating with a project on asked me if I’d be listing my authorship under my real name or Ratcatcher, and I immediately said my real name. But I have no intention of blogging under my real name. Does this mean I live my life in fear (yeah, probably), that I am embarrassed about my blog (only somewhat likely), or that I know I am posting stuff I shouldn’t (well, yeah, I guess). Online anonymity is an oxymoron, of course, but it is nice to have an outlet to express one’s self, even if the veneer of anonymity is thin. I admire T. Scott all the more for not having a distinction between his personal and professional life.

more on the presidential inaugural speech

(Before I get to that, I just got back from the Mutter Museum–yay!)

Probably the other blogs have already covered this, but as I haven’t checked my reader in a couple of days, I will take the liberty of pretending no one has. Mark Funk’s presidential theme is Only Connect!, a quote from Howard’s End. He talked at length about why people associate (i.e., why are we all at MLA?), including an amusing look at some of the goofy and off-beat associations listed in the Encyclopedia of Associations, such as the International Sand Collectors Club, the Bowling Writers of America, the Northern Nut Growers Association, and the Association of Professional Piercers. The latter drew a lot of laughs from the audience for its health and education emphasis, which I thought was rather bizarre, since infected piercings, bloodborne diseases, and etc. are in fact major health concerns. (Physicians and health professionals should know how to remove piercings, basically–and if you want to help your health professionals learn how to do this, there is a book).

Anyway, he concluded that it is a fundamental part of human nature to associate, and then moved into a diverting simulation of a cave man giving a presentation at a cave man association meeting (complete with bulleted list).

The goal of his presidency of MLA is to expand the reach of the association and stop the isolation of librarians, spread out across the country and the world as we are. He talked about how only a minority of MLA members get to come to MLA–there needs to be a way to include all members in decision-making, educational efforts, and the community of MLA meetings, even when members can’t make it. This way, all members would be able to participate, share knowledge, and connect with each other.

He sees technology as the first step towards this goal–specifically social software and Web 2.0 technologies. He mentioned specifically blogs, wikis, and RSS, even naming boing boing as a top blog in addition to T. Scott’s blog. There was a lot more to this section of his talk, but overall, he just was encouraging using these tools as means of increasing the conversation and building participation in decision-making, along with making the association transparent.

He went through a mock-up of what a personalized myMLANET might look like, complete with member profile (no real social networking functionality was mentioned, though I would think his task force would look at that), RSS feed aggregator, auto-populated profile information (like what sections you belong to), AHIP points documenter, “tags” (which could be to a number of things, but he specifically mentioned del.icio.us and Flickr) and virtual conference materials, like videos and more.

He went through an example of how new members could then feel instantly connected to MLA, like their membership and opinions count, even if they just joined that day. For example, the profile he showed belonged to the cave man from the earlier simulation (Cyril Kaufman). Cyril logs on and sees in his aggregator page a post to the Public Services blog about a saber-toothed tiger loose in the stacks–Cyril could immediately post a response due to his specialized saber-toothed tiger knowledge. (The saber-toothed tiger infested library was in Kansas–where as we all know, evolution never happened…did I mention Mark Funk’s speech was hilarious?)

The final bits of his speech were talking about the speed of implementation of these ideas, which he realistically noted probably wouldn’t be in his tenure. He did encourage the association to reject the culture of perfect and stay in permanent beta, which got cheers from the audience. He got a standing ovation at the close of his speech–really, it was that good.

bugs and comraderie

Since I just spent the last day doing electrical work around my house (I now have not one, not two, but eight new grounded outlets, plus a light in my closet and living room), I am a bit peaked and have little of interest to spout on about.  So, I am going to show just how geeky I am (pretty darn, yet surprisingly unskilled) and talk about the bugs I have encountered using free online tools for work.

It seems like eons ago that I first noticed del.icio.us’ problems with capital letters.  All of a sudden one day, I stopped getting stuff in my network–and since I was getting regularly told about all the great stuff sig. other or b.f. at work were sending me, that was a bit of a problem.  I figured out what was going on fairly quickly, because the change happened right after del.icio.us implemented some upgrades to the networking capabilities.  Whenever someone posts something, the people they watch or have ever sent something to appear as for: tags in the posting screen.  So, theoretically, clicking on this tag will send the person that link.  Well, all of those tags are in lowercase letters, even if, like me, you have a capital letter in your username.  And, guess what?  If you have a capital letter in your username and someone tries to send you a link without editing the for:tag, you will never get the link.  I naturally contacted del.icio.us about this, but it appears to be a bug they can’t or haven’t resolved.  The capital/lowercase makes a difference in regular tags, too–Libraries is not the same as libraries, and Google not the same as google.  That’s actually a really good feature, if you are the type of person who wants to make a distinction in terms by using capital letters.

I’ve also noticed that del.icio.us has some problems with intersections.  Very, very rarely, you might run across a link where a combination of terms, say social+networking+libraries, doesn’t pull up every link you tagged with that combination of terms.  For the most part, it works perfectly, though, so I continue to use it and trust that I don’t miss anything.

At work, I have been working on a project to put resources on a web site for faculty.  The dean who wanted me to help develop this web site was looking for a static list of books and articles on various topics, like professionalism and leadership.  Being the rebel that I am, I just couldn’t stomach the idea of putting up a web site that was so 1995.  I decided to go for syndicating RSS feeds on the site: one for books and one for articles.  The articles would be PubMed RSS feeds (so not chosen by hand), but the books would be the library’s new holdings.

I tested out a number of tools for this project.  For the PubMed feeds, I looked at just about every RSS to HTML/javascript tool I could find.  (David Rothman, rock star that he is, pointed me to couple more and even built a page demoing all these tools after I asked him for his advice.  So now, everyone can have it a little easier.)  I found that Feed2JS worked well, except for it cut off part of the word “articles” in Related Articles for each PubMed citation–but just in IE (even in our install of this, fixing it seemed more complicated than finding a better solution, so I pressed on).  Grazr was great, but since it is in its own little widget thing, I was fairly sure that wasn’t going to pass muster for a web page at my institution.  Feedsplitter was the one I ended up deciding on, after an awesome work colleague of mine found it and installed it on a test server for me.  It runs a little slow (i.e., is not getting the feed updated so fast as it should), but works well in IE and Firefox, and is simple to use with easily customizable CSS, so it blends into the web page.

But then I realized that the feeds weren’t caching–in any tool I tried.  Every single time the feed updated, the old stuff would disappear.  If there was one article in that update, only one article would show.  So, I hit up my RSS expert pals again, who in turn hit up their RSS expert pals (I really love the biblioblogosphere, let me tell you).  I tried FeedJumbler (supposed to have a built in caching tool)–didn’t work.  FeedCatch (a FeedShake product that may not exist anymore)–also didn’t work.  That one wouldn’t even recognize that my PubMed feeds existed, due in large part to the fact that they don’t pass an RSS validation.  I ran it through FeedBurner–no dice.  Using Feedsplitter and Feed2JS’s native caching also didn’t work.  I am still working on this problem, which is primarily a problem because I am really not a systems person and have no clue whatsoever about any of this stuff.  Which is why I rely so heavily on the advice, good will, and kindness of others.  I am pretty sure the best solution will be to stick the RSS feed into a blog and then yank the feed from the blog.  I know that the PubMed to blog thing works, as I have seen it in action several times now.  I just have to butter up the people who help me with this at work a little more.  Perhaps a nice cheesecake or something…  I also plan to try this out with Yahoo! Pipes, especially since I haven’t gotten a chance to test it yet myself.

Then, there are my trials and tribulations with the book side of things.  I was going to use LibraryThing (costs a very minimal sum for non-profits, but even said small sum probably wasn’t going to be approved by the library, since it wasn’t even a library project).  Then, I decided BlinkList would be even better.  And, it would have been–if it worked.  BlinkList states that their badges (widgets, javascript includes, whatever) are designed specifically to highlight books, movies, etc.  They should be able to grab all Amazon images and display them.  So, I thought, great!  I am a big believer in the book jacket phenomenon, as I have mentioned before.  Well, the first few books I added to my account worked fine, but after a while, absolutely none of the “blinks” picked up the images.  So, that was shot.  I suppose I could have lived with that, but then I realized that the ratings in the badge were either not being listed or were wrong.  I have tried Listal as well, and that seems to work, but I am more worried that one will disappear.  Maybe I should be really persuasive about LibraryThing at work.

But, whining about this to my library technology expert pals brought me yet another amazing act of kindness.  A friend built me a WordPress blog that accomplishes everything that BlinkList had–book jackets, ratings, tags, description fields (for the call number), and more.  I haven’t quite decided to go with that solution yet, because of the need to install an enterprise version of WordPress here first, but it is simply unbelieveable to have people be so willing to help me out from across the country.  (Thank you!)

And, now, I’ll wrap up today’s installment by again thanking everyone who helps me so generously every day–starting with the H.D. boyz (C., A., P., and the other C.), and ending with my three most constant technology saviors and co-enthusiasts (D., B., and J.).  Thanks.