ThatCamp Harvard 2014

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On Saturday I attended THATCamp at Harvard University.  THATCamps are popping up all over the place these days - the name stands for The Humanities and Technology Camp, and they are meant to be a collaborative day between people working in the humanities and people working in technology.  As the THATCamp website describes it, "an open, inexpensive meeting where humanists and technologists of all skill levels learn and build together in sessions proposed on the spot."

THATCamps are meant to be very informal and spontaneous, not at all like a regular conference.  (Much better than a regular conference for promoting productive work, which is one of the goals behind THATCamps.)  Sessions on Saturday ranged from Wikipedia and conversations about how to foster more collaboration to archival tools and discussions of using social media and ways to visualize music.  Sessions were informal groups chatting; no lectures or hierarchies.  Professors and students spoke as equals as they tried to solve problems.  Most important of all: it was fun!  It really was.  (And you know I am not a big fan of big groups or chatting with strangers.)  

Many, if not most, of the participants were professors and students from Boston-area colleges and universities, though there were a few working librarians and archivists who were able to give a lot of perspective about how technology is being used in actual professional settings.  There is no doubt that technology and work in information repositories are now fundamentally linked, and as time goes on they will only become more entwined.  It is very important that we begin conversations with people who understand how to build the technological tools we'll need to be able to do our jobs, so that we can work together to create exactly what we really want and need.  THATCamps are one way to do that.

Events | leave a comment


Is this meme making me a hypochondriac?

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"The library is a hospital for the mind."  A friend shared this meme on Facebook this weekend and predictably tagged me, his library student friend, in the post (he also tags me in anything at all Game of Thrones related - I am okay with both of these habits of his).  I thought the picture and quote had a nice general sentiment but didn't dwell too much on the actual text - until the controversy started.

Now, to be fair, I might be describing this with a touch more drama than what actually happened.  By "controversy" I mean, "someone benevolently disagreed in a Facebook comment."  This responder offered the following instead: "[The library is] More like a buffet. I only go to the hospital when something is wrong, and I can't choose my treatment. I eat every day and much like a library, the buffet has options for whatever I'm hungry for."

Perhaps it is because I am reading about the "service perspective" within library and information science in one of my current classes, but this argument struck me as extremely relevant and interesting.  Neither is anti-library in any way, and we as library students know that a library or any other information institution is far more than a pile of books.  So are libraries hospitals or are they buffets?  Must they be one or the other, or can they be a little of both?  Are libraries truly healing something within their patrons?  Or are libraries "buffets" for those hungry for knowledge? 

It seemed to me that my friend and his responder were looking at libraries through the lens of their own relationship with information seeking.  Someone from a community or social background where education and the pursuit of knowledge is not encouraged or accessible may consider the library like a hospital.  If one is suffering from bad public education or feeling diminished by those who do not see the value in education, a library can certainly provide the special care that is otherwise unavailable.  On the other hand, someone whose community offers a sufficient educational system and/or has a family who encourages learning may see the library as a way to satisfy themselves with more knowledge without first feeling starved.  How do we as librarians and information scientists provide for both kinds of users?

What do you think?  Please let me know!  And who knew that a simple Facebook meme could spark such philosophical and social debate?

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Don't Censor Me

I've become a little obsessed with the American Library Association's Code of Ethics and Freedom to Read statement.  The idea that anyone can access any kind of information at a public library is so egalitarian and so truly democratic, and really appeals to me.  I've been thinking about it a lot, and was a little taken aback the other day by an exchange at my local branch library.

Some relevant information:

  • the librarian working that day was not one of the regular librarians, all of whom know my family very well, so this was someone with no information about me or my kids.
  • my older daughter reads and comprehends well above her grade level (3rd grade), and looks younger than her actual age (8).
  • she selects her own books, and independently chooses to stop reading if the text or subject matter is too much for her.

Back to the story.

One of the books we were checking out was Wonder by R.J. Palacio (which turned out to be fabulous -- I highly recommend it).  I had actually selected this for me, not my kids.  It's geared toward older elementary school students, and a friend thought I might like it.  At the time I thought it was probably a little old for my 3rd grader, but now, having read it, I do think she could have handled it.  Anyway, while she scanned our pile of books, the librarian looked at the book, looked over my kids, and said, with a disapproving face, "watch out for this book."  I was totally taken aback, and said, "oh, that's for me to read."  But I really wish I'd said something like "Actually, she'll be just fine" or "I know she'll come to me with questions" or "I let her make her own book choices."  All afternoon, I couldn't stop thinking about the interaction -- was the librarian out of line?

What do you think?  Has a librarian ever commented negatively on your choice of reading material?  Do librarians actually consider the Code of Ethics or other statements from the ALA, or is that something that only LIS students think about?  How much influence can an offhand comment have?  

YA Literature | leave a comment


ASIS&T Trivia Night

There are so many student groups to get involved with at SLIS. If you have an interest or professional aspiration, chances are good you can find a group connected to it. (A list of student groups and their descriptions can be found here.) All SLIS students pay an activities fee each term. Part of the fee is given to LISSA (Library and Information Science Student Association), of which all students are automatically members. LISSA then disburses this money across all student organizations according to the budget each group has been allotted. This arrangement has many benefits. For one, you don't have to pay dues to any of the SLIS student groups, and since your activity fee goes towards all of them, you are eligible to join any and as many as you'd like. Another fun part of this is that you can attend any event or meeting a student organization is having without having to be part of the group. For example, I'm going on a free guided tour of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) next Saturday through the Special Library Association (SLA), but I'm not a member of SLA. And last night I went to the Association for Information Science and Technology's (ASIS&T's) trivia night in the Collaboratory (a high-tech work space for groups with a flexible floor plan on the third floor of our building).

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First ASIS&T trivia round board on large flat screen monitor display in the Collaboratory.

It can be tough to keep track of all the events student groups hold, so LISSA sends out a helpful weekly e-mail with a calendar of them. If you read my first post, you know that technology can be a little intimidating for me, so the idea of joining a club like ASIS&T, which specializes in that, wasn't high on my list of things to do. I actually ended up joining SCIRRT (Student Chapter of the International Relations Round Table of the American Library Association) at the beginning of this month, and I'm now in the upcoming student leader elections running for the chapter's open communications officer position. SCIRRT will become more active once the students elect more leaders for it, but until then, most of clubs that are currently busy already have many of their officer positions filled. ASIS&T is one of those clubs. It was actually just voted student chapter of the year by its national parent organization, due in large part to the fun and informative events it holds at least weekly.

I didn't want to fall so in love with ASIS&T's activities, but I did. Over the summer I went to a "Cards Against Librarianship" game in the student lounge that the club hosted, which was an amusing take on the game Cards Against Humanity, which is essentially a more explicit and lewd version of the card game Apples to Apples. And this semester there are more entertaining ASIS&T programs planned--from game nights to a screening of The Social Network to tasty lunches about the latest software people in our profession are using.

So last night three of my friends and I went to Collaboratory at 5:30 p.m. and were prepared to be competitive in a fierce game of LIS Trivia, Jeopardy style, that ASIS&T had promoted through LISSA and numerous flyers. Shortly after we arrived, we chowed down on the group's nice spread of pizza, wings, and soda--brain food. Then everyone broke into three teams of six, divided according to which of the three tables you happened to be sitting at.

Team 1 had Assistant Dean of Student Services Em Claire Knowles, one student who works full time at a public library circulation desk, four new students, the most members on the General track, and one person on the Student Library Teacher Program track. Team 2 had ASIS&T faculty advisor and SLIS Technology Manager, Adjunct Professor Linnea Johnson, two ASIS&T officers, the most people on the Tech track, and two thirds of the team had been enrolled or working at SLIS for more than a year. Team 3 (my team!) had all archives concentrators except one person, one person who had worked in a middle school library, one person who had worked in acquisitions in an academic library, and two thirds of its members were in their second term.

At first our team was doing really well. At one point we were even ahead by $1000 ... until we reached the Dewey numbers category, and it all went downhill. Fast. Even though most of us had taken LIS 415 (The Organization of Information) and had done some cataloging for the class, no one on our team had ever worked in a library on a regular basis that used Dewey, unlike on the other teams. The school library where teammate Lizzie used to work used another classification system called BISAC, and teammate Sara didn't see many Dewey numbers in acquisitions. The rest of us only had archives experience. Also, none of us had experience with children's literature either. So all those questions about Newbery Medal winners lost us our turns quickly. Really, we should have known to get on different teams when ours was the only one without a faculty member and/or ASIS&T officers. I'm just glad the game wasn't exactly like real Jeopardy, in that we mercifully didn't lose money for incorrect answers and complete guesses.

If you were a fly on the wall in the room that night, you might have overheard priceless lines like:

  • Annie (ASSI&T officer and our Alex Trebek): Team 3, what do have for me?

Team 3 Spokesperson: A whole lotta nothing, Annie.

  • Annie: Okay. The category is Random Library Trivia for 300. Team 3, the names please of the two lion statues flanking the steps of the New York Public Library ...

Team 3 Spokesperson: Uh... Who are Groucho and Marx? No... wait. Doc and Bashful?

  • Annie: Acronyms for 400. The clue is OCLC. Your answer please?

Team 3 Spokesperson: What is the Ohio College Library Catalog?

Annie: Are you sure?

Team 3 Spokesperson: No! It's Ohio College Library Consortium. NO! I mean ... Oops! Sorry. Yeah ... we'll just go with that.

But we fought valiantly and never gave up (partly because we wanted to keep eating pizza). After the second round of trivia, we were in last place and were down by around $1200. Final Jeopardy-style, the last question asked each team to identify the faculty member whose Master's paper uncovered an early social network surrounding Sherlock Holmes's The Hound of the Baskervilles. (Answer: Kathy Wisser.) We bet almost all of our $3,400, and predictably by that point, our team finished with a lousy $200. Later that night at Sara's apartment, most of our team gathered, and we raised our glasses of pumpkin ale in a toast to "fighting the good fight and dying with honor." We may not have won, but I've never had so fun much losing.

Students | leave a comment


A Brown Bag Special for Banned Books Week

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Even if you haven't entered library school, you've probably noticed that us librarians like to get our geek on for different celebrations. Certain events in the library calendar are designed to unite library and informational professionals near and far, make us feel a little less alone in our geekiness, and get us thinking creatively about the larger purpose behind the event.

If the ALA annual conference is like our Christmas, Hanukkah, or Festivus, then Banned Books Week is akin to a Fourth of July weekend, minus the raucous festivities. We mourn the inclusion of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the ALA's "Top Ten Challenged Books List." And then we celebrate the qualities we cherish about these books, and the privilege of living in a country whose constitution protects our right to read freely.

In the school library where I work, we've scoured our collection for the books the ALA says get people in a tizzy. We then covered those books with brown lunch bags (50 for $2.99 at Stop 'n Shop!), and wrote the grounds for which the books were challenged, according to the ALA. "Sexually explicit," "offensive language," and "violence" are common grievances. Or, we quoted the complainant directly, though not always by name. (As a citation-conscious librarian, I should point out this idea didn't come from my noggin, but from the good folks at the Shepherdstown, W.V., public library. Our library director saw the idea shared on the Massachusetts Library Association's Facebook page, and passed it along to yours truly.)

Zooming in, let's focus on the book that elicited this response from the President of the Ohio State Board of Education.

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Yikes, those are some strong words! What title, pray tell, stoked such ire?

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The board director's goal of having this Toni Morrison classic removed from the state's suggested reading list for high school provides a teachable moment. She may not want The Bluest Eye within a 50-mile radius of her grandchildren. But what about other parents, and grandparents? Shouldn't they have the opportunity to decide whether a book is appropriate, instead of someone else making that decision for them?

Interestingly, the reasons people give when challenging The Bluest Eye are similar to the reasons they object to the most challenged book of 2013 -- even though the two books couldn't be more different.

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... which has been the most challenged book, or series of books, for two years running.

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I suspect Captain Underpants is a series loathed by parents, because of its saucy tone, and because no one wants to see a grown man running around in his underwear. But these aren't sufficient grounds for removing a book. And besides, "there are so many kids who are reluctant readers who are reeled in by Dav Pilkey, and by the naughtiness of Captain Underpants," said Judith Platt, the chair of this year's Banned Books Week committee, in an interview with NPR.

Reading about specific book challenges may cause my blood to boil. But I also see cause for hope, in that most book challenges don't hold up (thank you, U.S. Constitution!). And I see at least one sign of progress.

One of the most frequently challenged books of the first decade of the 21st century was a children's tale about a family of penguins. Amazingly, it was considered by some to be "anti-family" and unsuitable for children.

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This year, And Tango Makes Three didn't even make the ALA's Top Ten list. That, my friends, is cause alone for celebration.

Books | leave a comment


Books I Can Afford

Alright, friends, today I want to talk about the magic that is library book sales.

Yes, you read that right. You can actually buy books from a place where you usually have to give the books back.

Now, I feel sure that most people in the "book business" have adequate knowledge of used book stores (something that I'm still lacking in the Boston area--let me know if you have any suggestions please!!!), but for some reason, I feel like library book sales go largely under the radar. It doesn't make much sense to me. If SLIS students are looking to work at libraries, we should be the most aware of the benefits libraries offer, but for some reason I've heard more people talking about Barnes & Nobles and Amazon than the glory of library book sales.

Library book sales mean cheap books. Sure, they're used. Occasionally, the condition isn't great. But usually the Friends of the Library, the wonderful group of people who host this event, make sure books are in good condition--but good condition for what price they're selling them. Most books at library book sales are less than $1.00!!! That's hardcovers, paperbacks, children's books, cooking books, you name it, library book sales will have some variation of it.

This last weekend, the Swampscott Public Library (which is my own personal haunt) held a book sale. I managed to get 15 books for $6.00. Half of those were class books which I didn't want to buy full price, but did want to have on hand (since I'm in the Children's Literature program, they usually suggest just borrowing texts from the library because otherwise it would be unbelievably expensive). I also got Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking Vol. 2 for $1.00. One dollar!!!

The only caution I give new book sales attendees is to not go wild. I mean, if you see books which you've wanted forever--go for it! Buy the book for $0.50! But trust me when I say, eight years later, when you still haven't read the entire published works of Kathy Reichs, you're going to regret having to put all those books in the garage sale (and then to Goodwill) when you move across the country. Sure, tastes change, but you might not want to buy every book an author has ever written if you've never read that author's works before.

Lucky for all you local readers, the Boston Public Library has its book sale coming up on October 4th--next Saturday. Put it in your calendars! You don't want to miss it!

The other benefit of book sales besides cheap, cheap books? You get to support the Friends of the Library. These are the people who get passes for local museums, volunteer at library events, and perform general library-based do-goodery. Check out the BPL Book Sale next Saturday, or see when the nearest one occurs at your own library! You never know what treasures you might find!

All the Best - Hayley

Libraries | leave a comment


Taking Care of Business: Finding the Right Spot

When it comes to homework, where we work can often determine if we work. Moving to a new city for a new job or academic program can mean setting your roots deep into some academic and professional goals - and sometimes that can mean finding the perfect place to sit down with your laptop and coffee, and get to work.

Let's be real - coursework can grow to become an influential part of our lives. As someone who needs to leave Netflix's sphere of influence in order to put words on a page, I know that going somewhere new, even without the comforting embrace of a wifi connection, can make the difference when trying to wrangle all those assignments. After becoming a regular in Western Massachusetts hotspots during my time as an undergrad battling a sea of footnotes, moving to Cambridge with the start of my grad program meant scoping out places where I could extract myself from my cozy apartment to get things done. Now entering my third semester at SLIS, I'll share my personal list of favorite productivity powerhouses with you.

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Davis Square, Somerville
Waffle bar where you can both make and dress your own waffle for a reasonable price. Sometimes waffles are the necessary key to tackling that upcoming assignment.
Wifi Situation: 2 Hour voucher provided upon purchase.

Voltage Cafe/Gallery
Kendall, Cambridge
Adorned with a repurposed card catalog cabinet and globe, this gallery cafe combo is equipped with all the necessary tools to get work done - if necessary tools means croissants, espresso, and ample seating.
Wifi Situation: Available, Free

Bloc 11
Somerville
As the weather cools down, the back room of Bloc 11 is dangerously cozy alongside a fireplace with hot chai in-hand. Remain toasted in the company of one of their incredible baguette bound sandwiches.
Wifi: No dice on free Wifi, buddy. Existent, Paid

Mr. Crepe
Davis Square, Somerville
Nutella crepes and coffee - case closed.
Wifi Situation: All signs point to yes.

Darwin's Lmtd.
Brattle Square, Cambridge
Known primarily as a sandwich shop, the comfy albeit limited seating in the café section of Darwin's is worth the wait. Earl Grey Lattés [otherwise titled a London Fog]? That's a thing here - you can have a tea latté of just about any tea in their selection! Just be sure to arrive before or after lunchtime to ensure available seating.
Wifi Situation: Affirmative, Captain!

Diesel Cafe
Davis Square, Somerville
Between red vinyl seats and a tall glass of thai iced tea, this spacious workspace will have you crunching endnotes in no time.
Wifi Situation: Existent, Paid

Students | leave a comment


Librarians as Information Radicals

Everyone knows the persistent stereotype of the shhhing librarians, enemies of noise and fun.  As I noted a month ago, there's even a shhhing librarian action figure.  The reality, of course, is very different - as no doubt anyone who is attending or even seriously considering library school knows, and that's not even the half of it.  At least in some circles - circles in the know - librarians are painted as ninjas protecting the privacy rights of their patrons

And they're not wrong. 

The ALA has supported patron privacy rights since 1939, affirming that confidentiality is crucial to freedom of inquiry in the Library Bill of Rights.  It's definitely true that if patrons believe that libraries share their information queries with any agency that asks, they won't make the queries in the first place.  Libraries often view privacy rights as basic human rights, and base their privacy policies on the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Of course, having the basic ideas in place is one thing, but actually acting on them when the FBI or NSA asks for patron information is something else altogether.  Cases like the Connecticut Four prove that such information is being asked for - and that librarians are fighting back at least some of the time.   Many libraries are choosing to protect privacy by not collecting the information in the first place - by adopting systems that automatically delete patron's borrowing records after items have been returned and installing TOR on public terminals to allow patrons to browse the internet with true anonymity. 

Pretty far from the shhhhing librarian, right?

TOR is still a new thing to see used in libraries, and I think it will be interesting to see what new ideas emerge from libraries in the next few years, as they fight on the front lines of the privacy battle.  Frankly, I'd rather be a ninja than a shusher any day.

Libraries | People | leave a comment


Hey You! Take a Break!

Even though we are barely a month into the semester, I'm starting to get a little overwhelmed.  This post might be a bit premature for some of you reading this blog, but as an online student working full time and living on my own, it is very easy for me to feel inundated with everything that I have to do.  For us online students, there isn't a standard structure to our academic schedule - no set class times, no free afternoons, no opportunity to go to the 2PM free coffee hour on campus (seriously though - there never seems to be any student events in Boston that take place after 5PM!).  I am still adjusting to building time for my schoolwork into my schedule, and so far I'm getting everything done on time.  But then I remember that it is barely the end of September, and soon my mountains of reading and required discussion forum posts will be supplemented with 10-page research papers and group projects.  I can't help but log into Moodle and utter, "Help!"

I have a tendency to get a little obsessive about getting everything done.  I make giant to-do lists to keep myself focused and become very stressed out if everything on that list isn't crossed out by the end of the day.  Interruptions and unforeseeable roadblocks on my journey to Complete The List cause instant panic and anxiety.  But this weekend I was able to meet up with one of my professors who reminded me of how important it is to take a break.  Even if you only have a few minutes to relax, commit fully to those few minutes.  Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and concentrate on making the best cup of tea or coffee that you've ever had - not on what you were just reading, writing, or studying.  If you are out of coffee, walk or drive to the nearest coffee shop!  Watch an episode of something silly on Netflix (I'm making my way through the 1980s Boston TV series "Cheers" because of my love for "Frasier").  Go for a run around your neighborhood.  Read a chapter of that novel that you were trying to finish before the school year began.  If you have pets, give into their loving neediness and play with them.  You'll find that you have more energy to give to your studies if you take some of that energy for yourself. 

Good luck on your studies, and please send a little luck my way! 

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My cat, Lady, urging me to take a break by using my assigned reading for a pillow.

Classes | leave a comment


Boston, you're my home

I've lived in Boston my whole life, and sometimes I take the city's cultural attractions and goings-on for granted.  (That could be because I have kids, and their idea of culture is the Grossology exhibit at the Science Museum.)   Meeting my classmates, many of whom have moved to Boston just for this program, reminds me to slow down to appreciate all the area has to offer, even as I wonder when I will finish my reading and class assignments!  So, last week I went to a lecture with a friend, and today I visited Drumlin Farm with my brother and one of my daughters.  Super fun, and I still had time to finish the TOR!

It's important to balance school and fun.  So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite things to do in the greater Boston area.   Whether you're visiting Simmons, have just moved here for SLIS, or, like me, have lived here for many years, you're bound to enjoy at least one of these adventures.

The Greenway:  The Big Dig, a twenty-year-long construction project to put the Central Artery highway underground, was completed in 2002.  It was, and continues to be, quite controversial here in Boston -- but it resulted in the fabulous Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, a strip of parks where the elevated road once stood.  Spend a happy afternoon walking through the parks, riding the carousel, and watching kids play in the Rings Fountain, near the Aquarium.  (Fountains are on late May through Columbus Day.)

HONK! :  Not to be missed, if you like music, social activism and festivals!  The highlight of this band-filled, celebratory weekend is the Sunday parade from Davis Square to Harvard Square.  We'll be watching from the corner of Orchard and Beech Streets in Cambridge and would love to see SLIS folk there.  (October 10-12, Davis Square, Somerville.)

Mapparium: Housed in the Mary Baker Eddy Library at the Christian Science Center in Boston , the Mapparium is a gorgeous glass globe circa 1935.  Visitors walk inside the globe for a unique perspective.  There's really nothing like it.  Just outside the Mapparium is the Hall of Ideas, which I can't even really explain -- OK, I'll try: letters and words come out of a fountain and travel to the walls to form quotes.  It's easy to spend a very long amount of time in this impressive room.

Family Trees at the Concord Museum: Each holiday season, this Concord, MA museum exhibits dozens of trees with decorations inspired by children's books.  The titles range from familiar to obscure, and characters visit on special days.  The list of books is available online, and I usually check a few out from the library so my kids recognize them when we visit.   While you're in Concord, have a snack at the Main Street Cafe -- yum. 

Boston | leave a comment


Field Study at BPL

I have to do a field study for my Archival Methods and Services (LIS 438) class, which entails visiting a local repository, using it to answer a research question, and then writing a 3-5 page paper about the experience. In the past I've mostly used small, community archives, so for a change of pace, I chose to visit the large and impressive print department of Boston Public Library's Special Collections.

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The entrance to BPL

Before I could visit, I had to come up with a research question. Since I didn't know what collections the department housed, I went online to its website (BPL Special Collections) to get an overview of what it had. Even though only a tiny part of the vast Special Collections has been digitized, BPL still does an exemplary job of listing what it has available for researchers and the general public. But with so much selection, it was a little overwhelming! I ended up picking the Adlow papers, a collection of late 18th and early 19th century documents that belonged to a local lawyer and judge, mostly because it looked interesting and was close to the top of the list, which is alphabetical. I also didn't want to choose a really popular collection, like the Sacco and Vanzetti or the Dickens. This was mostly because I wanted to see how accessible some of the less frequently accessed manuscripts were.

I called the print department and made an appointment to see the papers the following Friday, telling the staff member on the phone I was researching where Suffolk County got the land on which they built a prison in the 1820s, as the Special Collections website said the Adlow papers had documents related to prison construction during that time.

When Friday time came around, I took the T (subway) to the Central branch of BPL in Copley Square. I had been there before on a tour, so I knew where Special Collections was, but if I hadn't, I would have had a difficult time finding it. The department is located on the third (and top) floor after walking through two ornate galleries and a long reading room. Its small lobby is beautiful, lined with leather-bound books dimly lit behind protective glass. It's deceptive because once you go into the department, it's obvious its enormity is concealed behind doors. And there are a few requirements for going through those doors, which I read about online beforehand. Just as the website said, when I checked in at the reception desk, I needed photo ID and my library card. Using these and a card I filled out within a few minutes, the library assistant registered me and sent me to locker room to store my jacket and bag. The only things you can bring into the manuscripts area are loose-leaf paper and a pencil.

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BPL's Central lobby

Armed with my meager supplies, I stepped through the glass doors labeled "Researchers Only". And then I was in a world of books. They were all around me, and they weren't behind glass. Their spines weren't brightly colored with the flashy jackets that grace the shelves in Circulation. Instead, the earth tones of their mostly leather and occasional fabric covers gave the walls they lined a muted brown hue. It seemed like the whole room was some version of that color with the brightness of the orange carpet and pale yellow walls magnified by the glare of the overhead florescent lighting. As I proceeded to the reference librarian's desk, I noticed some oversized books with gold and metal embellished covers. They looked like they were straight out of a medieval library, yet they were just lying there on carts. Across from them I saw an island of card catalogs in the center of the room, and on another wall, a distinguished looking gentleman stared out at me from his stately portrait within an elaborate gilded frame. It felt like I was in Hogwarts in the 1960s. I loved it!

The reference librarian, Kim, was very friendly and helpful. She gave me a finding aid for the papers related to prisons in the Adlow collection, which comprises over 10,000 documents. Within half an hour I had found two documents that looked like bills of sale. I wrote their folder numbers down on call slips, which I gave to Kim, and she called the documents from the stacks.

The whole process was much easier than I thought. The finding aid was well organized and allowed me to locate what I needed, and the staff was remarkably helpful. And even though it took a bit of time to retrieve what I called, when I examined the documents, it was worth it! In my hands I held the answer to my research question, written on delicate yet fibrous paper covered with elegant, sweeping cursive script penned almost two centuries ago. One of the records even had residual wax on it from a seal, though I couldn't tell if it was the judge's seal or the county's. It was red and sticky, and at first I thought it was chewing gum. Touching the tacky surface of the wax, I thought of Judge Adlow. Did he seal this? Was this his handwriting or his clerk's? I felt small thinking about the years separating me and Adlow and everything that had happened during them. My mind entered a dreamy history fuzz as I travel back in time mentally. I had so many questions, and if I had all day, I would have loved to have called more documents to get answers. I was following my questions down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, when suddenly my stomach growled, snapping me out of my haze. I needed to get lunch before a group project meeting on campus in the early afternoon.

I returned the folders of papers to the librarian, and we chatted amiably about the extent to which everything had been cataloged and the card catalogs themselves. She knew I was a Simmons student from information I gave when I made the appointment, and I felt like the cool kid in school, included in the small world of librarianship during our brief conversation. Then, going back through the secure doors, I said goodbye to the assistant at the desk and retrieved my stuff from the locker where I had stored it. It had been a productive and memorable field experience. What a fun assignment!

Classes | leave a comment


Two Hundred Miles, A T Ride, and A Couple of Llamas

My days begin and end with llamas.

"Huh, what?" you ask. "I thought this was a blog about all the joys and challenges of being a SLIS student in Boston! What's this llama nonsense?!? I want my money back!"

Let me explain.

Rest assured: This is definitely a SLIS "student experience" blog, and I'm very much a SLIS student. But as a SLIS West-er who takes the majority of her classes at Mt. Holyoke, most of my days are spent far from One Palace Road -- 99.9 miles, if Google Maps' accuracy can be trusted. The place I call home isn't a Back Bay brownstone, or a walkup apartment in Brookline or the Longwood area. It's an old white farmhouse with green shutters in a Western Massachusetts hill town. The Connecticut River is a stone's throw away. And there's a llama farm next door.

Having llamas as my closest neighbors isn't something I reflect on often. I've pet them a couple times. At least once a day, usually in the morning when I'm headed to work, they look up and stare at me, which I suppose is the four-legged mammalian equivalent of a wave, or "hello." That's pretty much the extent of our relationship.

These days, however, I'm spending my Wednesday evenings in Boston, discussing curriculum standards with my LIS 426 class as a steady symphony of ambulance sirens from the nearby Longwood Medical Area plays in the background. And I can't help but contrast the two different environs of my two disparate lives. Six out of seven days, I'm surrounded by llamas and sweet corn stands, rolling hills and green pastures. On Wednesday afternoons, I leave all these behind as I trek east on Route 2, hop on the T, and become, temporarily, a Bostonian and a student at Simmons' main campus. Making my way through the throngs of joggers, medical residents, and college students, it's hard to believe I was one with the llamas less than 12 hours earlier.

I'm going to be frank: sometimes it's frustrating to be a SLIS West-er. Several times a day, you receive emails about job or internship opportunities, or workshops at the SLIS Tech Lab, or pizza parties and networking events, nearly all of which take place at or near the Boston campus. Depending on your program, you may have to make the two-hour-or-so trip to Boston for one or two classes. You may even experience the onset of an identity crisis. "Can I really call myself a SLIS West student if I take classes in Boston? Help!"

It's still early in my Simmons career, but having experienced life on both SLIS campuses, I think I can safely say SLIS West students have the best of both worlds. Thanks to the Five Colleges and other local institutions, we in the Pioneer Valley, as in Boston, belong to a thriving intellectual community, whose members appreciate librarians and the support they provide in all kinds of learning. We get to take classes in Mt. Holyoke's Williston Library -- the most gorgeous academic library building in the country, for my money. We're surrounded by lush scenery, and a wide variety of flora and fauna (like llamas!). We've got creamie stands and Atkins Farm cider donuts and Yankee Candle just down the road. Boston's only a couple hours away, and we can head there as our time and wallets allow. Honestly, many of us are just too darn content to want to leave.

Each Wednesday, I consider myself particularly lucky. In one 18-hour span, I get to travel 100 miles. I encounter the cows, creamies and sweet corn stands that are mainstays of country life in Western Mass., ride the T with people from all backgrounds, and explore the intellectual development of K-12 students.

And when I get home at midnight, the llamas will be waiting for me. It just doesn't get any better.

SLIS West | leave a comment


The (Not-So) Secret (Rose) Garden

Everyone! I have found The Secret Garden!

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Okay, it's not actually the one in the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but it's almost as great. Because not only is it somewhere I've never been before, (spoiler alert: there are a lot of those places) it's also a beautiful and well-maintained rose garden.

In the Back Bay Fens Park (for those of you who aren't native Bostonians--including myself-- the actual park portion of the park is called thus, the Fenway Park is the baseball field...I think.), there is a secluded beautiful rose garden called the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden.

I was told about this beautiful spot by someone I met briefly earlier in the day. I was so thankful to her. It really felt like stepping into one of my favorite childhood gardens.  Seriously look at it.

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(photo credit to Christine Riggle (accessed via flickr) -- I was not thoughtful enough to take anything besides SnapChats when I was there)

Admittedly since I went on Tuesday, and it's September, it wasn't quite as vibrant as this picture shows. Roses bloom on and off from midspring to fall, so there were still plenty of lovely flowers to look at. The garden is still beautiful and serene--my guess would be that it feels that way even in the dead of winter. If you have a few minutes, take a walk through it. You won't regret it.

All the Best - Hayley

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Catching on Coding

We at Simmons have been known to run the spectrum of professions and interests within the information sciences. Whether stemming from personal passion or outside necessity, developing your own sense technological literacy and pushing it to the limits is a huge part of your academic career and an even bigger part of your larger ambitions as an information professional. As we set our sights on post-graduation opportunity, we should start thinking about how we can become not only tech users, but tech creators.

Growing up, coding was synonymous to me with being the forum regular with the coolest post signature - boasting countless animated sparkle fonts, flaming clip art, and the lime green courier font of 1337 h4x0rs of yore. Today, coding means something much bigger - and learning to code became the tether between the tech I use on a daily basis, and me understanding the tech I use on daily basis.

Let's be real for a second - looking at a code document for the first time can look like an insurmountable wall of numerical hell. "what is any of this" "what is anything" "what is life" you may ask yourself, gazing into a void of incoherent acronyms, formulas, and formatting decisions. But don't worry - it won't be that way for long with the following inventory of mighty useful tools to help send you on your coding journey:

  1. Class. You've heard it - but seriously; take as many tech-infused classes as you can during your time in SLIS. Your classmates and helpful professors will have your back as you wade through the terrifying reeds of encoding, content standards, and metadata. Once the semester is over, you will emerge valiant and thank yourself for those sleepless nights.

  2. CodeAcademy. A game-ified learning resource full of [and not to mention free] lessons that will take you all the way from HTML/CSS and Javascript to languages like PHP, Ruby, and Python.

  3. w3schools has long been a fairly authoritative reference source for all things computer-language-related. Need to know the CSS color code for that specific shade of mint green you love? Can't remember exactly how you should structure that if/then statement? w3schools has your back.

  4. Skillcrush Blog. Aspiring designer or developer? Established techie looking to better establish yourself in the field? Primarily geared toward women who code, this blog has the potential to take just about anyone's professional endeavor game up a level.

Learning how to code won't just make your resumé a beacon of awesome for potential employers. You'll become more technologically self sufficient and gain the ability to confidently go forth, taking a more active role in the creation and use of new technologies that you see a need for. After stepping into the world of coding, don't freak out - just move forward and the skills will come.

Technology | leave a comment


Falling Down and Getting Up

Yesterday, I fell off a ladder.

This wasn't some deep metaphorical ladder, but rather the type that one climbs when one is shelving books.This wasn't my first time falling off a ladder or step stool while trying to either shelve books or pull them down, and it probably won't be the last time either. After all, couldn't you argue that life is filled with moments like this; moments when you fall down and moments when you get back up. 
The other day while I was working at the Student Service Center's desk on the 2nd floor of the Palace Road building, a new student came by looking for information about the archives program. They wanted to know what I thought of the program, was it a good place to be if they were still a bit unsure about where exactly they wanted to go with their degree? Was I enjoying the dual degree program or did I regret adding the second Masters? And finally, what can they do to make sure that whenever they graduate Simmons, they will be employable?
As someone still asking herself that last question, I knew that I could at least offer a partial answer: take advantage of living in Boston, a city rich with libraries, archives, historic societies, and museums, and the opportunities that Simmons can offer you. The more work experiences you have, the better you will be when it is time to accept your diploma. I told them that when I first started Simmons one year ago, the only experience I had was working as a student worker in my undergraduate university's library. Even with that under my belt and on my resume, I struggled to find internships or part-time jobs. I wasn't the only person out there looking for those things; my competition was stiff, and just because I had a bit of experience, it didn't seem to be distinguishing me from the rest of the competition. However, I never stopped applying. After one semester at Simmons, my prospects began to improve. The things I learned in LIS 438 (Intro to Archives) turned out to be what my resume needed; it provided me with archive-based skills that I hadn't had prior. By the middle of January, I had a job working in a map gallery at the BPL. By the start of the summer, I had a job working in a legal library. Literally, one thing led to another, and that thing led to something else.
In the end, I told them to be persistent, to apply to all the positions that seemed interesting to them, even the ones that might be in a different area of library science. I never saw myself working in a special library, but I have thus far loved my time at the legal library. I also told them to give it time. It might take a month or even a semester, but the courses they teach at SLIS are there for a reason. Having that one semester internship in an archive or historic society really can make a difference when it comes to applying for similar positions. It did for me and a whole bunch of other students that I know. 
Persistence is the thing that helps me stand up after I've fallen off the ladder. It was also the thing, along with the knowledge and skills gained in my first semester at Simmons, that led me to where I am today. Good things will always happen if you keep trying. You learn how to balance yourself correctly on the ladder so you don't fall; you are accepted into an internship or part-time position that will help you take the next step towards becoming a librarian, an archivist, a cataloger, or metadata specialist. It might not happen today or tomorrow, or this month, but it will as long you don't stop trying.
Getting back up after falling down is always worth it.

Students | leave a comment


Careers for MLIS Grads

Most people who attend a Master's in Library and Information Science program want to work at a library or archive when they finish.  The degree tends to be centered on those types of repositories, but there are also other research-oriented jobs that an M.S. can be excellent preparation for, especially in the current job market.  Here are a few different career tracks that I've seen advertised in the Boston area recently:

  • Prospect Research involves finding potential donors for non-profit organizations.  It can involve a lot of internet and database research, determining not just who is likely to want to give to an organization but also what their donation capacity is.  Because prospect researchers are employed by different types and sizes of organizations, the pay and actual job can vary widely.

I'm going to be doing a prospect research internship this fall, so I'll probably end up writing a couple of blog entries about what it's actually like to do this type of work.

  • Rights and Permissions Research involves doing internet research to identify and locate rights holders usually for arts organizations - museums and galleries.  These jobs require knowledge of copyright laws and juggling requests from inside and outside the organization.
  • Patent Research involves researching inventions to make sure that they are original and that they aren't repeating someone else's patent.  Patent researchers usually work for law firms or the legal departments of large organizations.  According to the Wall Street Journal, they can make between $65,000 and $85,000 annually and the work is steady.  These sorts of jobs do often require technical knowledge and possibly a BA in a technical field.

These aren't the only research jobs, of course!  There are a lot more out there than I can outline in one blog entry.  If you're looking for a job that isn't in an archive or library, and you love research, then there will definitely be something out there for you.

Jobs | leave a comment


A Day in the Life

As a first semester MLIS student, I would be the first to tell you that I don't have much experience with archival work.  Aside from volunteering in public libraries and a brief stint as a shelver in college, my only real exposure to archives was researching the Theatre and Performing Arts special collection at my undergrad's university archives.  I had the opportunity to hold a Shakespeare First Folio and other amazing artifacts, and got a little spoiled when it came to the joys of archival discovery.

When I volunteered to work several hours at the Brookline Historical Society for the REPS Day of Service 2014 this past Saturday, I didn't know what to expect.  Google Maps brought me to a little old house with a white picket fence, but thankfully the curators found me lurking in the backyard before I convinced myself that I was trespassing on a private residence.  In a small room in the back of what I learned was the historic Edward Devotion House, I was assigned two boxes from a new collection that they received from a long-standing Brookline family.  Tucked away in the corner, I was able to rummage through Box 15 (Religion) and Box 7 (Sports).

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A photo from the day: I'm tucked away in the back corner with my first box and handy friend, Microsoft Excel. (Photo cred: @danbullman)

I felt as if I were going through my own grandparents' attic, sorting church directories and football game programs from the 1950s, my favorite of which featured a boy in an overlarge football helmet siting next to his patient basset hound.  There were also two scrapbooks of sports clippings from 1938 to 1941, lined with yellowing newspaper articles and black and white action photos.  I wasn't working with letters from King Henry VIII or Charlotte Bronte's manuscripts, but this was even better because these objects belonged to ordinary people, what they cared about, what they kept.  I could easily imagine the members of this family going to football games and keeping score with a blunt pencil, or hanging up a church calendar in their kitchen with all of their fellow parishioners' birthdays listed in neat little type, or pasting their varsity letter onto thin paper with pride.  I wonder if 75 years from now, someone will be sorting through my own papers, come across birthday cards, ticket stubs, and photo books that I've treasured and catch a glimpse of my life in the 2010s.

Thank you so much to Dan Bullman, curators Camile Arbogast and Jesus MacLean at the Brookline Historical Society, and everyone else that was involved in planning the REPS Day of Service!

I hope those of you in New England were able to participate in the REPS Day of Service in participating locations in Newton, Vermont, and Connecticut.  If you are interested in future opportunities to volunteer, I highly recommend following New England Archivists on Facebook and Twitter (@NEarchivists) or seeking out your local archivists association!

Events | leave a comment


The Balancing Act Begins!

Well, my first full week of school is over, and my two biggest accomplishments were getting a student discount (10% at Tags!) and making my kids do my homework.

Kidding.  Kind of.

Going back to school at age 41, with a husband and kids and part-time work, is, in some ways, just like going to school at any age.  I puzzle over how long it will take me to get to school from our home in Somerville (almost an hour!), where to get my ID (the campus card office), what kind of notebooks to use, whether I needed a snack during a 3-hour class (yes!).

There are some major differences, too.  Before I leave for class, I make lunches for my kids and get them ready for school.  I check my phone during breaks to make sure the school hasn't called.  I drag myself to book club one night, and we talk about our parents' health problems (probably not what my 20-something classmates are discussing over dinner).  I balance my freelance work and shifts at a nearby library with one daughter's gymnastics practices, teaching the other to ride a two-wheeler, and being a room parent at their elementary school.  I forget that I need to allocate time -- plenty of time! -- for homework and class assignments.  I wonder how exactly this balancing act will work out.

But back to the accomplishments.  The student discount is really pretty great.  And the at-first overwhelming Organization of Information class has turned out to be both awesome and a family affair -- my kids selected the books for an assignment in LibraryThing, then came up with the tags themselves.  (Will I be able to hand off any other homework to an 8 and 6 year old?) 

I know I'll find a rhythm.  It's only the first week.  My professors seem fabulous, my classmates inspiring.   The Simmons campus is picturesque, the facilities top-notch.  And there are certainly advantages to going back to school in my 40s - I have roots in this community, family support, many years of professional experience and perspective. 

Here's hoping the second week is as positive as the first!

Classes | Students | leave a comment


Dissecting Computers

I blog and I'm in library school, so sometimes people think I know a lot about computers. While I can understand why they would make this assumption, to be perfectly honest, technology really intimidates me.

This goes back to a when I was in the second grade and my family got a new peripheral device and remote control for our cable television. There were so many colorful buttons! I started pushing away at them, trying to find the guide channel. As result, the TV froze and would not turn back on. It took two days to get someone from the cable company to reset everything, and by the time it was all over, I had a fear of touching expensive machines and always tried to get other people to handle technology for me. My first personal computer? My boyfriend set it up. My first iPod? My brother put all of my music on it and on every iPod I've owned since. When I moved away from home for the first time? My boyfriend at the time configured the wireless and router and hooked up the printer.

I really hated depending on other people like that, and I felt like my actions perpetuated negative gender stereotypes about women and machines. But as time went on, the most important point for me was that I couldn't become competitive in information science without first becoming comfortable with technology.

So when I decided to study Archives, a big reason I chose Simmons was for its SLIS Tech Lab. The lab has long hours and a knowledgeable staff to help me and other students troubleshoot or learn the latest or most basic computer stuff--- and they do it with a pleasant attitude and no judgment. You can't beat that!

My first time there was when I was completing the mandatory Technology Orientation Requirement (TOR) over the summer. I was using a text-editing program called Text Wrangler for the TOR's HTML section, and even though I saved my work, when I went back to it, it wasn't formatted properly, and I couldn't restore it. I started to panic. The TOR was due in two days.

When I took my laptop into the lab, the Technology Reference Assistant (TRA) on duty was a little stumped too. He spoke with one of his supervisors, Annie, who suggested I try new editing software. At this point, on the verge of hysteria, I cut her off, telling her I couldn't do that, because I'd lose all my work. She smiled and very patiently explained that she would walk me through installing the new software and show me how to import my work.

Annie was right, of course. After all, she practically designed the TOR herself.  And since that day, I've been really comfortable visiting the Tech Lab for any problem or question I have. I am even going there tomorrow (a SUNDAY), because I am doing a tutorial for a class about an open source self-publishing platform called Omeka. I can't seem to get Omeka to download to my computer, even though according to its website, my computer meets the compatibility requirements.

Many classes use the Tech Lab too. Last Thursday, my Technology for Information Professionals (LIS 488) class used the lab during our second meeting. LIS 488 is one of the most basic technology classes SLIS offers, and like me, many students take it to fulfill their technology core curriculum requirement. Our class will have several more sessions in the lab this coming term, and these will allow us to apply everything we've learned in our lectures and readings in a hands-on way. It's great for kinesthetic people who learn better through doing. On Thursday, for example, after discussing our reading on the parts and structure of a personal computer, the class went to the Tech Lab, split off into teams of two or three, and each team dissected a Dell computer. Armed with screwdrivers and instructions with diagrams, we located all the drives, the motherboard, the CPU, the heat sink, the battery, and much more. After taking a computer apart and putting it back together, I have a newfound confidence around these machines. It's hard to believe I was ever so afraid to break one!

Want to know more about SLIS Tech? Here's a link to their webpage: http://www.simmons.edu/slis/for/current/tech/

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Above: Teammate Taylor removes the cover.

Below: We are in search of the hard drive.

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Classes | leave a comment


Grad School Year Two: Bring it On!

I'd like to start this blog post by first welcoming back my fellow returning grad students and by welcoming those starting their first year in SLIS! I have a good feeling that this semester is going to be a good one, and I wish the same to all of you.
Since the last time I posted something here, I've made the move from Brighton to Roxbury Crossing. Not only am I now living with other students from SLIS and the Children's Literature program, but I am also within fifteen minutes from school. Essentially, I will be at Simmons a lot this year, either at the library, at the Student Services Center desk, or in the tech lab. I even purchased an awesome blanket from the Simmons Bookstore to keep me warm while inside the Palace Road Building. Still deciding if bringing a blanket to class would be a bit too much. What do you think?
Beyond the above, I'm sort of ashamed to admit this but, the reality that my second year of grad had started didn't come when I went to class this week but rather, when I ordered my first pumpkin spice latte of 2014. I've always associated the PSL as a special treat to help get me through midterms in fall, especially if I have to pull a few all nighters. But with its early debut this year, it really brought home the fact that summer is over and that school has started. Of course, the real realization should have struck me when I attend SLIS orientation last week. This year, SLIS really out did itself. Held in the Main Campus Building, master of ceremonies Em Claire Knowles did a fantastic job welcoming in the new class of students while also unveiling the program's new identity of SLIS. Although I will miss GSLIS (Graduate School of Library and Information Science), SLIS (School of Library and Information Science) seems to unite the various graduate programs -and one undergrad program- that make up the Library School in a far better fashion. The ice cream social that was held in the student lounge was also a major success, allowing me and my fellow SSC co-workers a chance to hang out and chat with the new students. Also the weather, which had originally shown rain, was beautiful. 
Now with the week just about over, my schedule is packed with readings and response papers. It feels both strange and familiar to have homework again, and my fingers are crossed that I haven't forgotten how to write a concise reaction paper that compares two primary sources or how to craft a finding aid. After a long summer like this, I always find the first few assignments to be the hardest as I make the transition into academic mode. However, things always get easier once I've re-acquainted myself with skills that have been dormant since early May. Even so, I've been waiting for year two of grad school to start for a while now and can't wait to see what I learn this time around.
Bring it on!

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