Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Word of the day

I think that the word eEtiquette (thanks Tony) is great. It is definitely a real word, and is a perfect example of those words that stick irrelevant capital letters into the middle for whatever purpose. What is the purpose? With this word, eliminating the capital letter produces eetiquette, and the logical pronounciation loses the origin of the word. Putting the capital letter in creates a different logical pronounciation, with the word pronounced as if it were two words or hyphenated; in which case, why not a hyphen? Better still, don't use the word at all - I am sure that nice manners apply similarly in all situations, and there is no need for specialised manners online.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Millennials: the Future Library Workforce

I enjoyed the event at the State Library of Victoria last night featuring three Generation Y speakers - also called millennials. These are people born from 1978 to 2000 according to the Wikipedia. In other words, they are aged from 7 to 29. However, some of them keep moving the date so they will stay in the group, and it has been taken back as far as 1970. This process should indicate one of the keys to understanding the concept of Generation Y - i.e. the fact that it may hide a semantic vacuum (I think I might have another post on the semantic vacuum, such an interesting concept). ALIA supported the event.

The question was asked, and answered: how do young people like to work, what motivates them and how can managers attract and retain them? The three presenters were Andrew Finegan, a Darwin librarian, Lili Wilkinson, a Victorian writer of youth literature working at the State Library of Victoria's Centre for Youth Literature, and Benjamin Tan, an Arts/Student active in the Oaktree Foundation (no blog).

The session was for "managers in the library and information professions" and perhaps for millennials themselves, although the former outnumbered the latter.

I summed up by quoting the famous Italian proverb - "We learn by making mistakes, like the doctors do" ("Imparo sbagliando, come i medici") The session demonstrated the quite unfair proliferation of stereoptypes whenever librarians and libraries are mentioned - it seems that we cannot escape them. And terms like Generation Y and Millennials are stereotypes themselves - I guess that a Generation Y librarian might feel stereotypes crowding in a little

Here's what the Urban Dictionary says about stereotypes:

"A stereotype is used to categorize a group of people. People don't understand that type of person, so they put them into classifications, thinking that everyone who is that needs to be like that, or anyone who acts like their classifications is one.

Stereotype for Goths are black clothes, black makeup, depressed, hated by society.
Stereotype for Punks are mohawks, spikes, chains, menace to society, always getting in trouble."

You can add your own line if you like
"Stereotype for Librarians are . . ."
"Stereotype for Generation Y librarians are . . ."

This is not a competition, but please feel free to contribute. (Please do not post to this blog pointing out errors of grammar or syntax in the Urban Dictionary).

I suspect that it is not necessary to create a new concept, Generation Y (impatient, vocal, mobile, outspoken, technologically native, high maintenance, cool, show-offs, not from Frankston) to account for these characteristics in a group of articulate, ambitious and vocal young people.

In the end, as I suggested, despite the identity issues which exist for contemporary library workers, there is a very important set of values which should characterise people who work in libraries, values relating to the free flow of information, equitable access to information, sceptical about copyright and other statutory restrictions, supportive of diversity and pluralism, collaborative and community-focussed.

We are probably destined to live with stereotypes too. Declining attention spans and the dominance of the media with its dramatic tendency to oversimplify and trivialise mean that the stereotype has become a common currency for much of our communication. We cannot develop new library stereotypes which appeal to everyone. As I suggested, three year old boys admire what is big and red, but we can't re-brand everything that way without alienating those people who like their libraries homely and muted, or stylish and hip, or something else other than red.

Disclaimer: I am from Frankston.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Word of the day

Coffee, a person who is coughed upon - a winner of the Washington Post New Word Contest, referred to in many places, including webwombat. My apologies - I can't remember who provided this word, but thank you, it is extremely curious, so right but so wrong. I say this as the new owner of an espresso machine.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Word of the day

Our regular correspondent, Rebecca, has sent a word of the day, vintage librarian. This has been used on Web4Lib and comes from Robert L Balliot. Rebecca asks
1. What constitutes a 'vintage librarian'?
2. Are librarians better when they've been cellared for a while, or are they at they best when they're fresh off the vine?

Robert L Balliot's email (22 June to Web4Lib) suggests that "The reference process can be honed through observation and reviewed by the trainee. This training environment can, in my mind, augment skills of new librarians and help vintage librarians understand the virtual processes being used by many younger people." (It is disappointing to see Mr Balliot link the idea of virtual processes with younger people).

For more discussion of vintage librarians, you can browse, of course, but it is a confusing world our there. The
Vintage Librarian Shop does not sell librarians, but merely a range of Dewey accessories. Most references to vintage librarians refer to a particular look which one may assume, such as this example or this from Second Life (with illustrations) - stereotypes abound. Perhaps you have your own ideas about how this expression might evolve - a meaning is still emerging, and it is possible to shape it now. Vintage librarians, get online.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Reference - hard times or a rethink?

I have always given a lot of thought to reference in the academic library where I work. I used to walk past the reference desk, say hello to the reference librarians, walk over to the reference collection and count the number of users, and then walk back and say "Only one, I'm afraid", or whatever number was appropriate. When we abolished the reference desk, that was no longer possible, and there was a hiatus in these counts of reference collection users. Or an hiatus, for the purists.

Now, as I walk down the stairs I see the print reference collection every day, in its new location on level 3 - a prime position, although not the prime position. I always count the number of users, and the tally is always the same.

Reference collections have always been under-used, like any other just-in-case collection. They have also, unlike many other categories of printed books, been particularly well-suited to online deployment, where they can be continuously updated, linked to additional information, and made instananeously available. As a result, much reference material has moved online in a pretty dramatic way. Reference books which have not done so are starting to look rather quaint.

I thought these thoughts again while leafing through the book reviews in the latest issue of the Australian library journal, which include several reviews of books about reference. Reference, in academic libraries, is still around. But now, because of the move away from print, a significant part of the work of libraries has been providing systematic access to this mass of information. Michelle McLean's review entitled Reference Reference seems to say that this is what reference is now about. Interestingly, MIT has made available its virtual reference collection online - but parts of it are behind a licence wall. The MIT collection unaccountably omits some new reference favourites, like the Wikipedia and Google Earth.

I have not canvassed the varied and changing meanings of the term "reference", which a blog in part about words should have done. And I have not examined the phenomenon of differing evolution of the idea of reference in different kinds of libraries - it is hard to know what meaning to give the word in an academic library, while traditional reference seems alive and well in public and state libraries.

But I could be wrong, as always. What is the future of reference? Is it www.reference.com (or is this just a monetised site)? Has Google got it under control? Or Answers.com? Can libraries add value in other ways than just paying for access to information for our users? Should we be collaborating in doing this? How?

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Word of the day

Meanderthal - as a fast walker, this is a great word - an annoying individual moving slowly and aimlessly in front of another individual who is in a bit of a hurry. "Owlnet provides this example: As much as he tried, Ben could do nothing to get around the meanderthal on the narrow sidewalk." It is a deliberately made-up word, and so not really as words which emerge spontaneously to fill a gap - the Urban Dictionary has some good examples.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

The Changing Image of the Librarian

Rebecca has suggested something more on the changing image of the librarian. It is always the right time for a discussion of this engaging topic, and I have been thinking about it. Watch this space for a post on this topic later in the week - it is one which inevitably preoccupies me in the grand role of Vice President of ALIA and chair of its Education Standing Committee.

Interestingly, the Berkman Centre for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School has several references to pieces of journalism about librarians, one of which is the unfortunate NY Times article, and another article from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The first comment on the article provoked what may be a record, with 26 defensive comments by librarians - although many are not particularly defensive. (The Berkman site is really about the Recording Industry Association of America, a militant trade organisation).

There are several questions to be untangled and answered here. What are appropriate images for the 21st century librarian? More to the point, what kinds of people and skills should we have in libraries? What are the dangers - what would be the wrong way to go? How do people envisage librarians now, and why? And behind those questions there are more questions about libraries themselves.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Word of the day

Thank you to Kim for today's word, which is apophenia. This means assigning patterns, connections and meaning to random and unrelated phenomena, coined back in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, according to the Wikipedia. It can be, according to this source, accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness".

The real problem with this word is in distinguishing between phenomena which are random and unrelated, and those which are meaningfully connected, to paraphrase the definition. This topic is a prolific one for bloggers, as a blog search will show, because what is also called "faulty pattern recognition" is a common phenomenon. Or perhaps that phenomenon itself is an example of faulty pattern recognition, because the reality is that things are interconnected in multiple ways that we don't understand? I guess abnormal meaningfulness and abnormal meaninglessness are both concepts to juggle with, and our natural (and healthy) preference is to find meaning in things.

There was a blog post by Evan Maloney last week on this topic which provoked a small avalanche comments about similar experiences. Maloney points out that "Jung first presented the notion of the meaningful coincidence, or synchronicity, in a quasi-scientific way. Jung believed there was a causal principle that linked seemingly random events."

And Kurt Vonnegut coined a word for apparently meaningful patterns which are in fact meaningless - granfalloon, "a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless in terms of fulfilling God's design." These are "associations and societies based on a shared but ultimately fabricated premise." As examples, Vonnegut cites "the Communist Party, . . . the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows - and any nation, anytime, anywhere."

We mostly prefer meaningful to meaningless, even if the former is just a coincidence which charms and delights us. Except for scary coincidences - they are just examples of faulty pattern recognition.

Sunday, 8 July 2007


I have disbelieved the figures one reads in the Wikipedia and elsewhere about the number of blogs in the world - how can there be over 75 million? However, I was at a meeting of the board of the Australian Digital Alliance on Tuesday, and the chair of the board, Jamie Wodetzki, happened to mention his blog, the Breakfast Blog. I say "happened" but it is a blog to be proud of. It was the 2007 winner of the Best Australian/New Zealand Weblog in the annual bloggie awards and has been profiled and interviewed by Yahoo. I had no idea.

Not only does Jamie provide regular reviews of breakfast, but he also includes, in a June post to the blog, comments on the recent restaurant review issued by the High Court (Mr Justice Kirby dissenting) in John Fairfax Publications Pty Ltd vs Gacic in June - read more about the case, which involves defamation, the Coco Roco restaurant, and its limoncello oysters . The blog is well worth looking at, especially if you enjoy breakfast out - and who doesn't?

Moreover, Jamie's day job, which is running a company called Exari, also involves another blog. This is for the company, which is all about a more effective way of putting together legal and other documents, such as contracts.

So there are lots of blogs, and they often leap out at you. You may have noticed some lapses in the appearance of this blog, especially last week. I am inspired by blogging achievements, although just keeping up is sometimes an achievement too. And I have lots of words of the day (or week) sitting around. More suggestions please!

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Word of the day

From Indra comes dromology, from the Greek word dromos, to race. It is described by Paul Virilio, described as a cultural theorist and urbanist, in the Wikipedia and elsewhere. This is the first foray of this blog into the field of cultural theory, and it feels like I have climbed over a barbed-wire fence into somewhere strange.

Dromology means the 'science (or logic) of speed' and is important, Virilio suggests, when considering the structuring of society in relation to warfare and modern media. The speed at which something happens may change its essential nature, and that that which moves with speed quickly comes to dominate that which is slower. 'Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of territory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost a matter of movement and circulation.'

I am not sure that the science of speed is very appealing, and perhaps it is matched by the countervailing movements like slow pedagogy and slow food - the Slow Movement, in a word.

I am sure that there is a lesson for librarians in there, but we are going to have to move quickly to seize it. Perhaps that is the lesson? And happy birthday soon, Indra. We all have to have them, and may as well seize the day.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Word of the day

Today's word is bluesnarfing, generously contributed by Alan Butters of Sybis. "Recently while reading a book on information privacy", Alan reports, "I came across an excellent new word." The word is bluesnarfing, which means the process by which a mischevious individual can infiltrate a person's bluetooth device such as a mobile phone and sniff (snarf?) out their personal information. A number of high profile celebrities have fallen to this ploy recently and have unknowingly revealed the telephone numbers of their celebrity friends - to much chagrin all around. In the book, sophisticated antagonists are said to be able to bluesnarf one's phone from a mile away using specialised equipment.

You can check out the Wikipedia, which relates this concept to podslurping. This is the act of using a portabe data storage device, such as an iPod, to illicitly download large quantities of confidential data by directly plugging it into a computer where the data is held, according to the Wikipedia. It certainly is a good thing that, as librarians, we are opposed to privacy. Otherwise there could be a few concerns with these activities.

By a curious coincidence I spent part of the day with Kevin Zuccato, Director of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre, at a meeting of the new NetAlert Advisory Council. Kevin definitely has a few concerns. And more about the NetAlert Advisory Council in another post - we have already strayed enough from the word of the day.