stop worrying and use my smartphone

propaganda poster at the International Spy Museum
Darth Vader?

Yesterday I took the train up from Richmond to Washington to visit with Kathryn Greenhill and family. They’re on a whirlwind holiday spanning the globe, and since it’s not often I get to visit with folks from the other side of the world, I snatched the opportunity to spend most of the day with them.

I learned quite a few things on this visit — from vocabulary like rubbish bins and biscuits (trash cans and cookies, respectively) to how to avoid being uncovered as a secret agent. I also learned that a smartphone and a useful mobile web interface can take a lot of stress out of travel.

After visiting a farmer’s market near DuPont Circle and the Gertrude Stein exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery, we toured the International Spy Museum. The museum is enormous, with displays that bleed from one to the next and never seem to end, until suddenly you find yourself at the exit. We had been there for two hours when it occurred to me that my time was running out.

After we made our way back to the Metro stop and said our goodbyes, I had just enough time to get back to Union Station and catch my train home. Or, I would have, if I had made sure I was going the right direction on the Metro. Two stops later I realized I was on the wrong train, and I assessed my options.

By the looks of things, the correct train wasn’t going to be coming by anytime soon, so I decided to hoof it to DuPont Circle (where I landed instead of Union Station) and catch a cab. Union Station was fairly close, and the cab maybe could get me there in time. Luckily, an available cab pulled up soon after I started looking for one. Not so luckily, we ran into too much traffic and I missed the train.

Normally, this would have prompted a huge breakdown with frustration and tears directed at myself for screwing up. However, by the time we were half-way to the station, I already knew that I would miss the train (it was early and left on the dot), and that there were three more trains going to Richmond this evening, so I’d get home one way or another.

Without my smartphone, and the information it provided me, I would have had to sit in worry and self-directed anger for the long minutes it took to get from DuPont to the Amtrak ticket counter at Union Station. Knowing I had plenty of options meant that worry was unnecessary and avoidable.

My smartphone is a lot of things to me (my calendar, my communications, my social connection) and it’s also the antidote to one of my biggest stress triggers — the unknown.

2010 Richmond Folk Festival

Boukman Eksperyans at Richmond Folk Festival 2010
photo by Eli Christman (CC BY 2.0)

The Richmond Folk Festival got its start five years ago when the National Folk Festival was hosted here from 2005-2007. The first year I could attend was 2008, but it happens that the RFF coincides with my undergraduate homecoming weekend, and it was a reunion year for my class, so I opted to do that instead. The following year I went to homecoming again, but this year I decided that it was time to check out the festival instead.

The festival starts on Friday evening and runs through Sunday evening. There are seven stages scattered throughout the riverfront area, including two on Browns Island. The terrain is helpful for blocking sound between the stages so that concurrent performances aren’t interrupting each other. The performances are scheduled in a slightly staggered manner, and many of the artists have repeat performances on a different stage and time/day, so in that regard the festival organizers are making sure that everyone has a chance to see the performances they want to see, which is pretty handy considering that more than 190,000 people attended this year.

I was particularly thrilled to hear and meet some of the Sacred Harp singers from Sand Mountain, Alabama. They performed on one of the stages on Saturday, and thanks to some friends, I had a seat in the second row. Then on Sunday, as I was walking through the festival, I stumbled upon them holding a somewhat impromptu (not scheduled but sanctioned by festival organizers) open sing, and was able to join them for the last four songs.

The most entertaining performance award goes to Capoeira Luanda. They showed amazing strength, flexibility, and focus in their demonstration of this African-influenced Brazilian dance/game/martial art. Here’s a video that someone shot during the Saturday evening performance I saw:

The two other stand-out performances I saw were Benedicte Maurseth and Andes Manta. I have heard recordings of the Hardangfele, or Hardanger fiddle, but it wasn’t until Maurseth explained the construction that I understood why it sounds like two people playing when it’s only one. The fiddle has a set of strings under the ones that are touched by the bow which resonate when the string above them vibrates. She played some trance tunes that were so hauntingly beautiful that I felt a little lost when the music ended. Andes Manta are group of brothers who perform traditional Andean music, including flutes, panpipes, and several stringed instruments. I could have listened to them for hours.

One of the aspects of the folk fest performances that I particularly enjoyed was the educational component. I walked away from most performances with a greater understanding of the context, culture, and technical aspects of the music. Getting some education with my entertainment is a nice bonus.

Unfortunately, because I volunteered about 8 hours of my time at an information booth, I missed quite a bit of the festival (minus what I could hear from one of the nearby stages). While I enjoyed helping out, I think next time I will try to pick a volunteer shift that doesn’t overlap with quite so much of the performance times.

The folk fest is admissions-free, but they do suggest a $5 donation per person per day. There are people carrying bright orange five-gallon buckets all over the event, asking for donations from the people attending, but on average, they collected less than $0.40 per person this year. Thankfully, they are able to get sponsorships to cover the rest of the costs of the festival, but there’s some concern that the festival may have to scale back or start charging an entry fee if they don’t get more donations in the future.

So, if you’re in the Richmond area next October and you are looking for something relatively inexpensive and fun to do, please be sure to check out the folk festival!

walkin’ at night

I have been geocaching off and on for almost seven years now. To be honest, it’s more off than on over the past few. On Saturday, I found cache number 401, which happened to be a nighttime cache. As in, you can only find it after dark.

My friend and fellow cacher tiabih talked me into going by her enthusiasm alone, so with plans made, we met up early in the evening and set off to the Powhatan Wildlife Management Area to find the Powhatan Witch Project cache, about 30 miles west of Richmond. Flashlights in hand, and thankful for the three-quarter moon, we set off down the path.

Tiabih had found a nighttime cache before, so she had an idea of what to look for. On the other hand, I had only heard of them, so I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect. We arrived in a clearing at the first waypoint and began looking for something reflective in the trees. Once we found the marker, it took us a bit to figure out where to go next, as it wasn’t quite what tiabih was expecting. But, soon we headed off in the right direction down the path.

About a half a mile or so of markers led us to a decon box with copies of the instructions for the next stages. Tiabih plugged them into her GPS and off we went. A few turns and coordinates later, we rounded a bend and spotted a tent next to a small fire not 50′ away from the cache location. I think the campers were as surprised to see us as we were to see them. Once we established that neither were serial killers, we found the cache, signed the log and headed back to the car.

The fall night air was cool and crisp, and it wasn’t long into our hike that I took off my fleece jacket and wrapped it around my waist. Although we were under the trees most of the way, we came across a few grassy clearings that opened up a sky full of stars. It was so peaceful and calm in the woods that night – makes me want to get out and do more nighttime hiking!

RALC Lightening Round Micro-Conference: Afternoon Sessions

Laura Westmoreland and Donna Coghill: “Walk-In Research & Writing Clinics: A Progress Report”
More in-depth than the library service desk, but less than what they’d get at the writing center, with the option to work with a librarian or writing consultant. They do it in two hour shifts that are regularly irregular, and each shift includes one librarian and one writing consultant. Last fall, they saw over two users an hour, but they weren’t coordinating with the writing center. In the spring, they coordinated with the writing center and reduced hours, which resulted in a decrease to under two users an hour. It might be seasonal, or something else about the service that wasn’t clicking as well with the students.

Erin White: “Mobilizing your library website”
Used analytics to determine the popular pages hit by mobile users. They paid close attention to what other libraries were doing with their mobile sites to avoid reinventing the wheel (i.e. NCSU Libraries). They also included a mini feedback form at the bottom of every page of the mobile site, and the message sent includes details about the device used. The most popular pages tend to be information pages like hours, events, and computer availability.

Olivia Reinauer: “Creating SLACers: The Formation of a Student Library Advisory Committee”
In 2006, a think team put together a recommendation to create a standing library advisory committee populated by students in order to have a better idea of the needs of current students. They copied liberally from VCU’s student advisory committee to create the charge and structure. One thing that VCU that was different was actually paying the students an honorarium, so they did that, either as cash or in the form of a gift card. They meet once a month to discuss ideas gathered from colleague’s work and go through the suggestions from the suggestion box, using the students as a sounding board. They also have guest speakers come and talk about things happening in the library, which the students like because it makes them feel engaged. Some issues involve getting them to do things outside of the meetings and providing more enticing compensation.

Abiodun Solanke: “Did you find my…?: Lost and Found Issues at UR Library”
Students leave physical and electronic materials all over the library, from books and clothing to unsaved documents on public computers. When we find the items, they are happy, and of course disappointed if not found. The student activities also keep lost and found items. If the item is not financial or an ID, they take photos and display them on the lost and found cart, along with “safer” physical items like clothing and books. If the items are never claimed, we repurpose them for use locally or send them to other organizations. Before that happens, several attempts are made to locate the owners and contact them.

Carrie Ludovico: “LibGuides for Foodies”
Using LibGuides to engage with the community. The campus has a strong green emphasis, from bikes to hybrid parking to a community garden. The newest benefit is a CSA option for employees from June – September for full and half shares that are delivered on campus, and it has been more popular than the organizers expected. So, they created a LibGuide to highlight interesting and supportive resources. The most used tab is the scholarly and government resources, more than books, cookbooks, and recipes.

Betty Dickie: “Read This!”
Anything by Christopher Moore, for certain. David Maine tends to take Bible stories and rewrite them in interesting ways. A Canticle for Leibowitz – the library plays an important role. Alessandro Boffa’s You’re an Animal, Viskovitz! is small but mighty. Louise Penny has gotten good reviews for good reason – recommended for murder mystery fans who like good stories and character development.

Carol Wittig: “Boatwright Knitters”
They meet one day a week at lunch. It encourages home/work balance, improves morale, addresses the whole person beyond the job, increases cross-campus outreach, and builds bridges to reach diverse groups. You can involve the whole staff by “sponsoring a knitter” to pay for the yarn. They have a Ravelry group, a blog, and a set of Flickr photos of projects. Right now, they are a student organization, but don’t have enough student participation, so they’re working on outreach in that area. They’ve done charity projects like Knit One To Save One and caps for chemo.

Travis Smith: “The End”
There are many negative connotations about “the end,” so he wrote a poem. You’ll have to ask him for a copy.

RALC Lightening Round Micro-Conference: Morning Sessions

Andy Morton:  “5-minute madness – The Madness Concept
He’s on the desk at the moment, so he made a video.

Teresa Doherty: “Cool sounds for Aleph Circ Transactions”
Originally presented at ELUNA as a poster session. They use custom sounds and colors to indicate specific circulation transaction alerts, i.e. checkin/checkout alerts. The sounds were selected because they’re short and fairly expressive without being offensive to users who may hear them.

Amanda Hartman: “Reaching Millennials: Understanding and Teaching the Next Generation” 
Those born 1980-1996-ish. These are generalizations, so they don’t describe everyone fully. They’re special and sheltered, team and goal oriented, more likely to be involved in community service, digital natives (mainly mobile tech) but don’t necessarily understand all of the implications or functions, impatient, and multi-taskers. They consider themselves to be relatively savvy searchers, so they may be less likely to ask for help. They have certain expectations about tech that libraries often can’t keep up with. They want learning to be participatory and active, with opportunities to express themselves online, and they have a sense of entitlement – get good grades for hard work, not necessarily for the product of the work. Libraries should have a mobile website. Hire staff that can support tech questions. Provide group workspaces. Explain why, not just how.

Deborah Vroman: “Errors, errors, everywhere! Common citation errors in Literature Resources from Gale”
Until recently, Gale was giving incorrect page ranges for citations for articles reprinted in their collections.  The problem is now fixed by removing the page numbers.

Anna Creech: “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics
Uh, that’s me.

Suzanne Sherry: “Goodreads: I read, you read, everybody READS”
Social networking site for readers. You start off with read, to-read, and currently reading, but you can add other tags that then form collections. Once you’ve read a book, you can rate it and write a review. While you’re reading the book, you can leave comments with updates of your progress. The social element is handy for recommending books to friends and discussing the books you read. There are tools for virtual book clubs and online communities for local book clubs.

Nell Chenault: “Scanning to Save or Send”
They have 12 scanning stations, both Mac and PC, including two slide scanners. Also, they have microform scanners instead of the old light box machines. In the past five years, they’ve seen use increase 325%.

Abiodun Solanke: “Netbooks or Laptops” 
In the last hardware replacement cycle, they replaced circulating laptops with netbooks. Cost, capabilities, and portability were factors considered. Some specialized programs could not be loaded, but there are many desktop computer alternatives. Student reaction appears to be divided along gender – male students thought they were too small, but female students liked them. They did a survey of users borrowing the netbooks, and found that over time the negative comments reduced. They concluded that initial reactions to new things aren’t always indicative of their success. Currently would like to add netbooks with Mac OS.

Darnell Law: “Up In The Air: Text-A-Librarian and Mobile Technologies at Johnston Memorial Library”
Implemented service at the end of the spring semester, so they haven’t seen much use yet. They’re using a service called Text a Librarian. Users enter a specific number and a short code at the beginning of the message. The questions are answered through the service website. The phone numbers are anonymized. Some of the advantages of this service include working with any carrier, not requiring a cell phone to answer the texts, relatively inexpensive (~$1100/yr), answer templates for quick responses, and promotional materials.