data-crunching librarian

Officially, my title is Electronic Resources Librarian, but lately I’ve been spending more of my time and energy on gathering and crunching data about our eresources than on anything else. It’s starting to bleed over into the print world, as well. Since we don’t have someone dedicated to managing our print journals, I’ve taken on the responsibility of directing discussions about their future, as well as gathering and providing e-only options to the selectors.

I like this work, but I’ve also been feeling a bit like my role is evolving and changing in ways I’m not entirely cognizant of, and that worries me. I came into this job without clear direction and made it my own, and even though I have a department head now, I still often feel like I’m the driver. This has both positives and negatives, and lately I’ve been wishing I could have more outside direction, in part so I don’t feel so much like I’m doing things that may not have much value to the people for whom I am doing them.

However, on Monday, something clicked. A simple comment about using SAS to analyze the print book collection use over time set all sorts of things firing away in my head. About all I know with SAS is that it’s some sort of data analysis tool, but I realized that I had come up with several of my professional goals for the next year in that moment.

For one, I want to explore whether or not I can learn and use SAS (or SPSS) effectively to analyze our collections (not just print books, as in the example above). For another, I want to explore whether or not I can learn R to more effectively visualize the data I gather.

Maybe some day down the road my title won’t be Electronic Resources Librarian anymore. Maybe some day it will be Data-Crunching Librarian.

Sounds good to me.

standout albums of 2010 (in my humble opinion)

It’s 2011, and these are the albums of 2010 that I’m still listening to on a weekly basis.

I haven’t listened to every album that was released last year. Who has the time? I have, however, listened to quite a few of the 2010 releases over the year, both out of personal interest and for the local community radio station where I volunteer.

There were quite a few surprise favorites among the bunch. Surprise in that I didn’t expect I’d like them, much less become obsessed with them and continue to listen with great pleasure months later. So, with that, I bring you the top unexpected favorite album of 2010.

Dan Black – ((un))

Released in the UK last year, the album made its way to US shores in February this year. I saw the press releases due to my work with Blogcritics, but nothing about them made me think this would be an album I’d enjoy. However, when I saw it on the “to be reviewed” shelf at the radio station in April, I gave it a cursory listen and decided it might be worth giving more attention.

Eight months later, I’m still listening to it, and count it among my go-to albums for when I need energy and a happy mood. Black has successfully melded synthpop, creative lyrical songwriting, and addictive hooks. This is no flash in the pan album/artist — there’s potential for longevity and continued freshness in Black’s sound.

Marina & the Diamonds – The Family Jewels

Marina Diamandis released her debut album in March, but I didn’t notice it until a friend sent me a link to the video for “I Am Not a Robot.” This sparked my interest enough that when I had the opportunity to review it for the radio station, I gave it a few spins. It’s still spinning on regular rotation in my personal library now.

The album is chock full of pop hooks, delivered by a woman who’s vocal range and technique is impressive in this age of female pop stars who are more popular for their paparazzi photos than their musical talents. She frequently belts out higher notes that make my cats cringe when I attempt to sing along. Marina can hit them with ease. I cannot. This is probably why she’s a huge UK pop star and I’m some shmuck writing music reviews.

Phantogram – Eyelid Movies

I can’t remember how I first ran across this album — whether it was one I picked to review for the radio station or one that a music director handed to me thinking I’d like it. Regardless, I found myself listening to Phantogram on repeat for a week or so in May, and few things will make me happy in the way I am when I hear the first few bars of “Mouthful of Diamonds.”

Sarah Barthel’s sweet and pure vocals are a nice balance to the rough (and often bizarre) vocal delivery from her partner, Josh Carter. The arrangements are a meld of synthpop, hip-hop, and singer/songwriter folk/pop. It’s similar to Dan Black, but a little more digitized and dirty.

Honorable Mentions:

Jennifer Knapp – Letting Go
I reviewed this for Blogcritics back in May, and you can read the full review if you like. In brief, this is her best album to date, and well deserving of a listen for anyone who enjoys thoughtful lyrics, strong female vocals, and music that straddles the line between acoustic and electric folk-pop.

The Like – Release Me
From what I understand, this is nothing like their earlier releases. The album has a 60’s girl-group sound with a modern attitude, similar to the Pipettes.

Indigo Girls – Staring Down the Brilliant Dream
Of course I have to include this in my list, but mostly because I’ve been a long-time fan of the group. This is a live album, and serves both as a gift to fans and as an excellent “best of” album to introduce the group to new listeners. I gave it a full review in August, if you’re interested in reading more.

Yolanda Be Cool & Dcup – “We No Speak Americano
I discovered this song when a friend linked to a video created by Irish step dancers Suzanne Cleary & Peter Harding doing their hand dance to this track. I watched the video countless times before researching and discovering that the track is an international hit. Even without the hand dancing, it’s still one of my favorite dance tracks of 2010.

Article first published as Standout Albums of 2010 (In My Humble Opinion) on Blogcritics.

reviews on blogcritics: november

So, I didn’t end up catching up as much as I thought I would. Hopefully, I can do that in the next few weeks.

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Live in Japan

This live album includes many of the band’s popular tunes, and serves as a “best of” recording much better than any compilation of their past studio work could attempt to do, mainly because as precise and flawless as the studio recordings can be, they do not convey the energy contained in a live performance, which is a significant part of their appeal. [more]

slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte

…Duarte outlines the elements that make up an effective presentation design, and provides many real-world examples of these elements in action. She does not give too many details on specific tools and functions within particular slide presentation programs; instead, she provides the reader with the design theory needed to create an effective presentation. [more]

P!nk – Funhouse

Beginning with the post-relationship celebrity breakdown of “So What,” P!nk tells stories of substance abuse, co-dependency, and emotional/physical abuse. Alternatively cursing her lover and also pleading with them to not leave, she explores the complexity that led to the broken ending that began the album. [more]

Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 3 Remastered

The visual enhancements, for the most part, are not noticeable unless one is obsessively familiar with every detail of the original format, and in most cases, they stand out only against scenes that did not clean up quite as well.

reviews on blogcritics: october

October was a busy month for me. I went to my college reunion, battled with a cold and lower back pain, and attended a professional conference. The end result of this is that I didn’t do as much reviewing as I had planned on, and now I’m having to play catch-up. Expect to see a longer list for November, but for now, I give you:

Jessie Baylin – Firesight

The arrangements and production work on Firesight are both so well done that one hardly notices them. It’s simply a collection of good tunes that flow together well with an appropriate balance between the lead vocals and everything else. This is essential to making the album work, as anything that stands out as too rough or too glossy would immediately break the mellow mood. [more]

Theresa Andersson – Hummingbird Go!

It took a few listens before I began to appreciate the complexity and depth of Andersson’s music. It’s quirky and a bit more subdued that the assortment of rock-tinged pop that tends to be on regular rotation in my house. Putting away all other distractions and focusing on the album alone, I was able to hear the energy and drive of her performance that was not as apparent when approaching the recording casually. Andersson’s creative use of unorthodox instrumentation and unexpected arrangements need the listener’s full attention to be appreciated. [more]

Click and Clack’s As the Wrench TurnsClick & Clack – As the Wrench Turns

If the creators of Click & Clack were looking to achieve the success of shows like The Simpsons or The Family Guy, they have a great deal of room for improvement. Click & Clack: As the Wrench Turns may be enjoyed in small doses, but I would not recommend buying or renting this DVD unless you are a consummate NPR/PBS fan who must acquire everything put out by those media companies. [more]

Awake, My Soul – The Original Soundtrack / Help Me to Sing – Songs of the Sacred Harp

With the release of the two-disc soundtrack, we are treated with the full recordings of the songs referenced in the documentary, including the solf├Ęge – singing the song with the names of the notes rather than the words in order to learn the music. The second disc of the set features 20 renditions of Sacred Harp tunes by a diverse group of folk and pop performers. The set is treated as two different albums, each with its own title. [more]

Agatha Christie: Mystery Lover’s Collection

Although the box is given a distinctive design and theme, the contents are clearly pulled from the various sets and single releases previously made available by Acorn Media. It’s a little disappointing that they did not change the packaging of the contents to match, rather than making it appear to be an assortment of remainders marketed as something new. Luckily, it’s the contents that matter more than the packaging. [more]

na-blog-wri-mo?

Recently, I went digging through the archives of this blog to locate something I knew had to be there. I didn’t find it, and I suspect that has to do with things getting lost in the conversion from MovableType to WordPress. *sigh*

Anyway, I ended up reading some of the old link round-up posts I made back in the infancy of this blog, and it got me thinking about how much my approach has changed over time. For link blogging, I’ve started using a mix of Delicious bookmarks and Google Reader shared items, and for general “look at this crazy stuff” kinds of things, I use Twitter, FriendFeed, or Facebook.

What’s left for the blog? Well, short reflective pieces like this, for one. And, of course, there’s the conference session summaries and the “what I wrote for Blogcritics” round-ups. Other than that, I am finding that I have things that I want to write about, but I don’t have the time or energy to form them into anything worthy of public consumption.

Honestly, though, the main reason is that I’ve become rather lazy about the care and feeding of this blog. So, for the rest of this month, I’m going to try to write something here at least a few times each week.

CiL 2008: Woepac to Wowpac

Moderator: Karen G. Schneider – “You’re going to go un-suck your OPACs, right?”


Speaker: Roy Tennant

Tennant spent the last ten years trying to kill off the term OPAC.

The ILS is your back end system, which is different from the discovery system (doesn’t replace the ILS). Both of these systems can be locally configured or hosted elsewhere. Worldcat Local is a particular kind of discovery system that Tenant will talk about if he has time.

Traditionally, users would search the ILS to locate items, but now the discovery system will search the ILS and other sources and present it to the user in a less “card catalog” way. Things to consider: Do you want to replace your ILS or just your public interface? Can you consider open source options (Koha, Evergreen, vuFind, LibraryFind etc.)? Do you have the technical expertise to set it up and maintain it? Are you willing to regularly harvest data from your catalog to power a separate user interface?


Speaker: Kate Sheehan

Speaking from her experience of being at the first library to implement LibraryThing for Libraries.

The OPAC sucks, so we look for something else, like LibraryThing. The users of LibraryThing want to be catalogers, which Sheehan finds amusing (and so did the audience) because so few librarians want to be catalogers. “It’s a bunch of really excited curators.”

LibraryThing for libraries takes the information available in LibraryThing (images, tags, etc.) and drops them into the OPAC (platform independent). The display includes other editions of books owned by the library, recommendations based on what people actually read, and a tag cloud. The tag cloud links to a tag browser that opens up on top of the catalog and allows users to explore other resources in the catalog based on natural language tags rather than just subject headings. Using a Greasmonkey script in your browser, you can also incorporate user reviews pulled from LibraryThing. Statistics show that the library is averaging around 30 tag clicks and 18 recommendations per day, which is pretty good for a library that size.

“Arson is fantastic. It keeps your libraries fresh.” — Sheehan joking about an unusual form of collection weeding (Danbury was burnt to the ground a few years ago)

Data doesn’t grow on trees. Getting a bunch of useful information dropped into the catalog saves staff time and energy. LibraryThing for Libraries didn’t ask for a lot from patrons, and it gave them a lot in return.


Speaker: Cindi Trainor

Are we there yet? No. We can buy products or use open source programs, but they still are not the solution.

Today’s websites are consist of content, community (interaction with other users), interactivity (single user customization), and interoperability (mashups). RSS feeds are the intersection of interactivity and content. There are a few websites that are in the sweet spot in the middle of all of these: Amazon (26/32)*, Flickr (26/32), Pandora (20/32), and Wikipedia (21/32) are a few examples.

Where are the next generation catalog enhancements? Each product has a varying degree of each element. Using a scoring system with 8 points for each of the four elements, these products were ranked: Encore (10/32), LibraryFind (12/32), Scriblio (14/32), and WorldCat Local (16/32). Trainor looked at whether the content lived in the system or elsewhere and the degree to which it pulled information from sources not in the catalog. Library products still have a long way to go – Voyager scored a 2/32.

*Trainor’s scoring system as described in paragraph three.


Speaker: John Blyberg

When we talk about OPACs, we tend to fetishize them. In theory, it’s not hard to create a Wowpac. The difficulty is in creating the system that lives behind it. We have lost touch with the ability to empower ourselves to fix the problems we have with integrated library systems and our online public access catalogs.

The OPAC is a reflection of the health of the system. The OPAC should be spilling out onto our website and beyond, mashing it up with other sites. The only way that can happen is with a rich API, which we don’t have.

The title of systems librarian is becoming redundant because we all have a responsibility and role in maintaining the health of library systems. In today’s information ecology, there is no destination — we’re online experiencing information everywhere.

There is no way to predict how the information ecology will change, so we need systems that will be flexible and can grow and change over time. (Sopac 2.0 will be released later this year for libraries who want to do something different with their OPACs.) Containers will fail. Containers are temporary. We cannot hang our hat on one specific format — we need systems that permit portability of data.

Nobody in libraries talks about “the enterprise” like they do in the corporate world. Design and development of the enterprise cannot be done by a committee, unless they are simply advisors.

The 21st century library remains un-designed – so let’s get going on it.

random thoughts on this & that

Sorry, not a very descriptive title, is it?

I’m feeling slightly less ambivalent about getting involved with ALA than I did a year ago. Mainly, that is because if the awesome LITA people I meet at Annual in June. Despite that, it still took me until yesterday to remember that I needed to renew my lapsed membership. Whoops.

I ended up deciding to join LITA, and since my professional focus currently resides with the Serials Section of ALCTS, I ended up dropping ACRL. Even so, my membership cost more than $200. For one year. Yeouch. The sad thing is that I’m not sure I’ll have much energy left to get my $200 worth out of it. We’ll see.

This leads me to a question I have been pondering for a bit. I’ve been thinking about my career and where I’d like to eventually end up, and I’m thinking more and more that I want to be in a smaller university or college library where the emphasis is on being librarians and less on being tenure-track faculty. The pros are that I would be able to stop worrying so much about publications and be able to focus on my strengths like being a (freakin’ awesome*) serials & electronic resources librarian and serving in various professional organizations as well as campus committees. The cons are that I probably won’t have as much support for attending conferences and likely the salary scale would be lower.

So, the question I’m pondering is whether ALA is worth being a member of if one cannot participate on committees because one cannot afford to attend all of the conferences?

* Sorry. I don’t know where that came from. Must be the result of reading two years of Questionable Content strips over the past few days.

ala annual, part two — washington, d.c.

The Blog Salon was definitely the highlight of the social events at ALA. I met a few new interesting folk, as well as got to chat with a few folks I had met previously. I had an illuminating conversation with an advocate for games in libraries who gave me a different perspective of gamer society, … Continue reading “ala annual, part two — washington, d.c.”

The Blog Salon was definitely the highlight of the social events at ALA. I met a few new interesting folk, as well as got to chat with a few folks I had met previously.

I had an illuminating conversation with an advocate for games in libraries who gave me a different perspective of gamer society, particularly how casual games fit in. My skills with the console and arcade games of the 80s and early 90s were rudimentary at best, and I haven’t tried anything since then. He let me play a basic game on his portable game device that was fairly simple to pick up and learn without instructions. Sure, the first person shooters and “twitch” games, as he called them, are quite popular, but “casual” games have been booming as well.

Come to think of it, thanks to Blogcritics, I’ve had a chance to play with and review a few casual games over the past year, and by his definition, that makes me a gamer. Weird. Anyway, it has me thinking of how we could use games as a way of making the library a friendlier place for our students, and what kinds of games would work with some of the general education curriculum.

Continue reading “ala annual, part two — washington, d.c.”

by ebb & by flow

The long awaited return of a fantastic Pacific Northwest singer/songwriter.

Years ago, I had a show called the Estrogen Nation that was broadcasted from a college radio station. I played all sorts of music from all over, with the only criteria being that it had to feature women as the lead musicians. In 2000, I attended the Folk Alliance conference in Cleveland, hoping to discover new artists to play on the radio, and that was where I first heard Alice Di Micele. I wandered into her showcase room by accident early on, and the music made me come back as often as I could throughout the rest of the weekend. I have been a fan ever since.

Di Micele has a voice that can command any room with the power and presence of it. She mainly sings in the lower registers, but her voice can soar high as well without losing any of its strength. She writes acoustic music with a jazz/rock/funk/blues soul to it that is seductively addictive. For the past five years, fans have had to make do with her seven album catalog while she took a break from writing, recording, and performing. Thankfully, the wait is over. by ebb & by flow was released recently, and it is evident that the intervening years have not diminished her musical prowess one bit.

photo of Alice Di Micele by David ShermanOne of my favorite tracks is the first one, entitled "Mexico." The music and lyrics are uplifting with a hint of calypso. In contrast, the track the follows ("Conjuring") is a slow waltz, and the lyrics are introspective. It contains this gem of a line, "time with a lover is time well worth spending when two hearts are feeling the same." These two songs are different in style and intent, and like the rest of the album, they hold the listener's attention with their unique strengths. It could be the hook, it could be the groove, or it could be the lyrics. Regardless, every tune on this album has something that says, "Listen. Absorb. Enjoy."

As one might expect from an album entitled by ebb & by flow, most of the songs reference water in some way or another. "Made Out of Water" is a toe-tapping gospel for naturalists that features some spine-tingling harmonies. Be sure to listen to the end of that one on headphones sometime. The titular line appears in "Made Out of Water," as well as the groovalicious tune "The Way Your Heart Pounds."

Even the old hymn "Wayfaring Stranger" includes a water reference in the chorus (the Jordan River). Unfortunately, it's also my least favorite song on the album. I first learned "Wayfaring Stranger" from singing The Sacred Harp version, and I prefer the more traditional arrangement. Di Micele sounds amazing in her jazzy/bluesy arrangement of the song, and it will probably appeal more to those who aren't as fond of old hymn singing as I am.

Normally, album fatigue sets in towards the final few tracks, but not on by ebb & by flow. The final song is "The Cottonwoods," and while it is mellower and sparser than the other songs, it maintains the energy and intensity that the album began with. In a way, it acts as a hook that causes the listener to unconsciously hit the play button again in a feeble attempt to make the album continue on. It's only a mild disappointment to realize that the music has ended, because it takes just a few easy clicks to start it back up again from the beginning.

Alice Di Micele is back on the scene, and music fans should sit up and listen if they know what's good for them.

also published at Blogcritics.org

Continue reading “by ebb & by flow”

buzzed on bazza

Yay! A new low-calorie energy drink that doesn’t taste like ass!

In recent years, the bottled drink market has been flooded with a variety of so-called "energy drinks" that claim to use natural (and sometimes not-so-natural) ingredients to boost energy better than the standard caffeinated and sugar-filled drinks. Whether the claims are true or not is a matter of some debate. Most of these drinks contain a higher quantity of caffeine than what the FDA recommends for standard soft drinks (68 mg. per 12 oz. serving). One might unscientifically conclude that the energy drinks get most of their oomph from the extra caffeine and sugar rather than from any herbal additives.

Personally, I do not care either way. Almost every one of the energy drinks I have tried has tasted so nasty that I concluded that any buzz I might gain from them is not worth the effort. Until recently, the only exception to that has been Bawls Guarana — not the sugar-free Bawls Guaranexx, which tastes as nasty as the other energy drinks — but for 80 mg. of caffeine per 12 oz., I would rather drink something with less than 100 calories, like unsweetened coffee or a diet cola.

BAZZA High-Energy Tea bottlesEnter BAZZA High-Energy Tea.

I first noticed this recent addition to the energy drink market a few weeks ago at my local 7-Eleven. I didn't give it much thought beyond an "oh, great, now they're making energy teas." Then the press release for BAZZA came across my inbox, so I decided to give it a try. Color me impressed.

Right now the drink comes in two flavors: raspberry tea and green tea. I had both, and they are quite tasty. In fact, they do not taste like a sugar-free diet drink at all. I prefer the green tea over the raspberry because it is not as sweet-tasting, but your mileage may vary.

As for the buzz, the 99.4 mg. of caffeine per 12 oz. is making its presence known throughout my nervous system. I feel far more jumpy and awake than I normally would, given the amount of sleep I have had recently.

If you are looking for a low-calorie high-energy drink alternative, give the BAZZA High-Energy Tea a try. Just be careful — too much caffeine can kill you.