Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Midterm limerick

Just checking in to say...
I have no time to blog today.


Without any rest I sit writing
My sleepiness constantly fighting.
One project tomorrow,
A midterm will follow,
Spring Break never looked so exciting.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Beautiful and sad at the same time. An abandoned library in Russia.

It is awful to see books treated this way, but don't they almost look like they are waiting for something?

A few more pictures from the library here; though I can't seem to find much of anything about the where, when, or why.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Classification warfare

As my head tries to wrap itself around the complexities of categorization and classification, I find that latching on to concrete examples in my readings is one of the best ways of making things stick. Over time, standardized systems of classification have been developed to aid in finding and retrieving information and resources. Inevitably, when there are numerous systems there are also overlapping systems: multiple ways of classifying or describing the same things. One obvious example of this is the friendly competition between the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) and the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) both of which are used to classify books. The overlap here is mostly resolved by the fact that DDC is mostly found in school and public libraries, while LCC is the preferred system in academic and research libraries. However, the debate certainly isn't just two dimensional. Internationally there are many different standardized forms of classification for library books, and crossing into the commercial sector, again you will find distinct methods for recording and describing books in the publishing industry and book market. One of these systems is known as the Book Industry Standards Advisory Committee (BISAC) classification scheme, which was designed to encourage consistency among book placement in retail stores to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for.

When Google began their great digitization project, many academics were upset to learn that Google planned to classify books in their new digital collection by the BISAC system instead of LCC. Scholars felt that the BISAC categories where less specific and less useful. Some suspected Google of having financial ambitions with future plans to establish ties to the electronic book market. "In the words of UC Berkeley Professor Geoffrey Nunberg, 'In short, Google has taken a group of the world's great research collections and returned them in the form of a suburban-mall bookstore'" (Nunberg, 2009 in Hemerly, 2012).

And what has Google recently unveiled but their very own Google eBookstore. From a Google Books profile, there is a prominent "BUY EBOOK" icon above even the title of the book. In addition to the unmissable Google eBookstore plug, Google also provides links to print sellers of the book. Going back to the eBookstore, where might one find free eBooks? (Since Google's initial mission was to build a digital library after all.) The answer is all the way at the very bottom of the homepage. With this obvious commercial mindset Google Books seems to be drifting further from the library model the project began with and the original ideals that brought Google into partnerships with organizations like the Library of Congress and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Over the last few years, Google has become a giant in the book industry; based on their current activities, I think it's reasonable to be a little concerned about where they will lead us from here.

Hemerly, Jess. 2012. Classification. In Glushko, R. (Ed.) The Discipline of Organizing.

Monday, February 20, 2012

President's Day

The real meaning of President's Day:

"It’s the law that on Presidents’ Day, the kids who go to school dressed as their favourite presidents get a big bag of candy."

Read the whole story over at Neil Gaiman's tumblr.

From the wonderful world of Anansi Boys.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

When the only thing I know how to do is read...

I thought this clip was pretty funny. I love Sheska's rant about being fired from the library because she read too much. And it's kind of pathetic and cute at the same time that she doesn't think she has any skills aside from reading. I admit I've had this same fear myself: what am I equipped to do in the real world when the only thing I'm good at is reading books? Poor Sheska. It's easy to get distracted around all those books and forget that there are other things you're actually supposed to be doing as a librarian.

Unfortunately we aren't all gifted with photographic memories.

From FullMetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Episode 07.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Choreography

I have always been a big fan of stop motion animation, and this video is a fun, imaginative, and colorful look at the secret life of books: what happens after we turn out the light, close the door, and turn the key.

"There's nothing quite like reading a book."

Via Colossal.

Mozart Schmozart

"Glenn Schellenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, says that there is no Mozart effect. Any number of experiences besides listening to music might improve cognition. Most people find the music of Mozart pleasant to listen to, and it might increase dopamine levels in the brain, which is generally thought to improve cognition. But “eating chocolate might have the same effect,” Schellenberg says."

I was kind of sad to read this; I always liked the concept of the 'Mozart effect.' Though I do agree 100% with Schellenberg's other comment that eating chocolate may improve cognition. That's certainly always been my experience.

Maybe there isn't anything particularly enlightening about Mozart's compositions, but the article agrees that music in general can boost brain function; it's all about listening to what makes you happy.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tree of Codes Pt. 2

It's really hard to describe Tree of Codes, it's the sort of thing you really have to see to understand completely--well actually you really need to feel it. But this video gives a very interesting glimpse of the process required to produce the book.

The book itself is so fragile; it's quite an engineering feat that they were able to pull the whole thing off! I've always been a fan of "behind the scenes" features on the world of filmmaking, but I think this was the first time I saw an equivalent inside look at the publishing industry.

And this next video is just for fun: reactions to the book from people on the street!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tree of Codes

Painstakingly cut from the fabric of an English translation of Polish author Bruno Schulz's work, The Street of Crocodiles, Tree of Codes is a unique and compelling novel of dark poetry and heartbreak by Jonathan Safran Foer. The book follows the “luminous journey” of the protagonist as he searches for independence and the ability to cope with his father's madness and death (p. 84). The storyline is primarily an interior examination of a deteriorating life, and Foer explores what happens when the fine line between internal psyche and external reality grows even finer as nightmares climb out of dreams to enter the real world. Fans of Foer's earlier work, such as Everything is Illuminated, will recognize his introspective tone, and Tree of Codes also shares his earlier interest in the intimacies of family dynamics.

The coolest thing about the book is probably its experimental structure which wholeheartedly embraces the physicality of books: format and content are beautifully and inseparably linked through a seldom used die-cut technique. Foer has literally carved away Schulz's words to create a new story out of their pieces; because of this method the text is quite light on each individual page, but another consequence is that the sentences, though often short, are spaced irregularly and are not always straightforward or easy to follow. A phrase, such as “the calendar is a moment, a colorful lie,” spread out across the page may deliver a powerful visual or sensation, but its meaning is more difficult to interpret in the context of the plot (p. 122). Another effect of the physical form of the book is the visual depth created through the die-cuts; between the cut-outs in each page, a glimpse of the words to come is revealed. And even though these previews might not make any literal sense, they still set the tone of the novel by foreshadowing emotions and images to come. The beautiful poetical language and metaphorical details are some of the signature aspects found in Tree of Codes. Foer's construction of “dialogue swollen with darkness” often reads like poetry, and it is not only his choice of words, but also his use of blank space that contributes to the complex and sophisticated style; in the novel Foer writes that “the silence talked,” and so too does Foer find a way to speak through the emptiness on the page (p. 14).

The novel has received a lot of mixed reviews since it came out a little more than a year ago: some critics hailing it as genius and others degrading Foer to an English grad student with an exacto blade and a recycled idea. While genius is a bold term to assign to anyone, I'm tempted to say that in this case, Foer deserves it. The book is just plain cool. And if Foer owes a lot to the beautiful language of The Street of Crocodiles and Bruno Schulz, he has still created an unusual visual artifact and through it given us an extraordinary reading experience.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bench of Thought

Another stylish piece of literary furniture perfect for a cozy reading room.

Spanish artist Alvaro Tamarit (fyi: site is in Spanish) created this functional sculpture entitled Bench of Thought (Banco del Pensamiento).

Via Recyclart.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Deborah Barreau

“Everyone is indispensable.”

~Deborah Barreau
July 9, 1949 - February 10, 2012

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Metadata's Social Consequences

Continuing on yesterday's theme of the everyday person pitted against the information professional, I came across this example in a reading for class.

"In the mid-2000s, the Chinese government began a process of modernizing nationality identity cards, which required storing citizens’ names in a computerized database (Lafraniere, 2009). Given the wide breadth of characters in Chinese, the people implementing the system decided to limit the characters that could be used. The implementation covered over 32,000 of the 55,000 characters in the language, leaving many characters out of the system.

"The result of this simple decision about what information could be stored had a significant impact: some people had names with obscure characters that could not be entered into the new government database. For many people, the best alternative was to change their names to something the system could handle. In this case, metadata had a social consequence" (p. 14).

When the authority (in this case the Chinese government) creates a system that isn't able to adequately meet its users' needs, the users are the ones who suffer but the designer of the system is the one at fault. At first glance this situation seems pretty crazy; a government identification system that forces people to change their very names because it can't deal with unusual or obscure words! But then you realize, wait, that actually seems a little familiar... because a lot of "difficult" names were changed when immigrants arrived in the US more than a century ago. As information professionals, of course it's important to build accurate, usable, and consistent systems, but the most efficient system in the world is not a good one if it does its users a disservice.

Greenberg, Ryan, Kimra McPherson, and Matthew Mayernik. (2010). Metadata: Storing Descriptions. In The Discipline of Organizing, edited by Robert J Glushko.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


An entertaining video from Xtranormal

by: j.weinheimer

The video is a little long, but it's an amusing perspective on the user--librarian information gap and the importance of maintaining a user-centered mindset. It demonstrates the problem that's probably at the root of a lot of the issues people have with libraries today. Library users and librarians think about library materials, and how to organize, arrange, and describe them, very differently.

It is still important to keep track of the intrinsic "details" of a book--to some extent at least--which includes basic semi-invisible metadata like publisher, page count, ISBN number, etc. But we also have to keep track of the details that are meaningful to users, things such as table of contents, illustrations, and plot summaries. Making everyone happy may result in a lot of information to log into library catalogs and bookstore databases, but if everyone is able to find and use the information that they are looking for, wouldn't it be worth it? And with the capabilities and independence of automated processes increasing, it may not be that much work after all.

P.S. What is FRBR? FRBR stands for "Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records," and is an entity-relationship model developed by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions that defines a vocabulary rule set for library catalogers. Under FRBR, an item is an exemplar of a manifestation which is an embodiment of an expression which is a realization of a work. They even have a blog.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Lindsey Schell’s chapter on e-books in academic libraries in No Shelf Required discusses many of the challenges and issues that arise when a library decides to allocate a portion of their collection space and financial budget to e-books. Despite the licensing headaches, e-book format restrictions, ILL ineligibility, strict Digital Rights Management enforcement, and occasional patron resistance, it’s undeniable that e-books are here to stay, and it is up to university librarians to overcome these challenges and successfully incorporate e-resources into our existing and often long developed academic collections.

Schell’s case studies were interesting examples of the trial and error technique many university libraries are implementing to come to grips with the e-book situation. The University of Texas at Austin and Penn State have each tried to integrate e-books into academic library settings by targeting specific types of books or specific users. For example, one of the groups Penn State targeted for their Sony Reader experiment was Honors English students. Schell indicates that literature classes are a popular choice of a potential user base for e-resources since “assignments may focus on close reading” and students could benefit from “keyword and proximity searches for textual analysis” (p. 80). In general, Penn State’s study found that many students appreciated the e-reader’s capabilities, despite complaints of battery issues, slow refresh times, and a lack of highlighting and annotating features.

I don't own an e-reader, though I've definitely benefited from using e-books for research--it's undeniably faster to simply click on a link and have the whole book at your fingertips, than to have to go to the library and crawl the stacks to find one title you think might be useful (I won't go into the downside of limited digital browsing options here). But I still have some doubts when it comes to the use of e-books for pleasure reading. Recently I have read a couple of e-books "for fun" and while admittedly they were PDFs read on my computer, I didn't really find I was inspired to join the e-reader movement.

After reading a print version of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games (I heard a lot about it over Christmas break and decided it was time I went ahead and read it) I was having trouble finding the sequels in print at the local libraries and so opted for e-versions. Then I read the graphic novel/manga series Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. While both series had great stories, interesting characters, and were quite enjoyable to read, the only extra thing I got from reading them in e-book format was a persistent eye twitch. Yes, easy access to the e-books was convenient, but all in all, I think I'd rather have read them in print.

That said, e-books are still very new. Right now there may not be a lot of added benefit from choosing an e-version over print, but who knows what innovations and improvements are right around the corner? It seems like the future of e-books will likely hold even more challenges and issues than the ones Schell outlines in her chapter, but as the technology continues to develop, the opportunities e-books create are sure to keep growing as well.

Schell, Lindsey. (2011). Chapter Five: The Academic Library E-book. In Polanka, S. (Ed.), No Shelf
. Chicago: American Library Association.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


It's refreshing to read scholarly articles whose authors aren't above using a touch of humor. Phillip Armour's writing is clear, concise, and entertaining as he writes about aspects of project planning and management that often come with unrealistic expectations.

"According to the late Joseph Campbell a myth is not, as we may think, untrue. A myth is something
that is extremely true. It is the essence of truth dressed up in an allegorical costume that helps us remember its lesson. If a myth is truth packaged in a fabrication, then something that appears perfectly
reasonable but is, in essence, wrong would be an “unmyth” (p. 15).

Information Science context aside, I really like this idea that a myth is truthful at its heart. Myths are metaphors: imaginative illustrations to help us understand and cope with reality.

Armour goes on to talk about how the idea of an "accurate estimate" is an oxymoron, though it is certainly possible to make a "lucky estimate." And how designing a "defect free" system is an impossible goal since "we cannot test thoroughly for things we don’t know we don’t know," the "Second Order Ignorance" phenomenon (p. 18).

Though it may not seem the most "scholarly" of articles, Armour's readability makes his points meaningful and, maybe most importantly, memorable. I appreciate (and sometimes even enjoy) the challenge of reading a particularly dense and difficult article, but I'm glad when professors are open to assigning the lighter ones too. They also can have value and often, I've noticed, spark the most interesting discussions among students.

Armour, P. (2002). Ten unmyths of project estimation. Communications of the ACM, 45(11), 15-18.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Yet another reason to be a Google employee

The latest news from Google is that they have filed for a special experimental license to test a new Wi-Fi "entertainment device" in employee homes. According to the report, the product "requires testing outside the laboratory environment" and will involve syncing into home WiFi networks while utilizing "Bluetooth to connect to other home electronics equipment." Whatever it is will be tested between January and July 2012 in Google employee homes ranging from California to Massachusetts.

If working in the Googleplex complete with five star meals, beanbag chair style meeting rooms, and slides to get you from one floor to the next weren't sweet enough, now you might also get to test out the latest top secret electronics...

Google HQ in Mountain View, CA

Friday, February 3, 2012

Unique shelves

Bookshelves. Something you find in probably almost every house, apartment, and dorm room across America. Usually not the most decorative piece of furniture in the room; an item that is owned more for its utility than its visual appearance. And there's nothing wrong with that, since the books that the shelves hold are, after all, the main event. But there's no law that says your bookshelf can't be a little bit more interesting...

Not all bookshelves have to be made of wood (or fake wood-like substances). They don't even need to stick to one wall.

If you're running low on space, look for unexpected places to store all those books you accumulated in grad school. How about the ceiling?

 Or what about a bookshelf that doubles as a door?

 (I like the way it isn't really trying to be a "hidden door" bookcase, rather the bookshelves are just an additional element built into an ordinary door.)

And probably my favorite: bookshelf staircase!!

Here's another (maybe slightly more practical) variation:

But practicality is overrated more times than not. I wonder if you could somehow merge the two designs together...

It's definitely decided. I don't have enough bookshelves in my life.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Harry Potter goes to college

Though I know it's children's lit, I've always appreciated Harry Potter as "real literature" in its own way. Now it seems I'm not the only one.

This article describes how Washington and Lee Professor Suzanne Keen had started to notice her English students weren't appreciating classic Victorian literature anymore, it was as if they were "losing their connection to Dickens." Then J.K. Rowling started to write. With a wit reminiscent of English wordsmiths like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and a story with the excitement of Hollywood, J.K. Rowling helped bridge the gap between modern day young readers and the literary classics.

Keen equates reading Harry Potter to "taking a crash course in reading Dickens because 'it's got the humor, it's got the caricatured names, it's got the multi-plots, it's got the really long stories that you read for hours and hours and hours, and you enjoy the fact that they're long.'" She sees a connection between kids who devoted a hefty chunk of their childhood to reading and re-reading the Harry Potter series and college students who still read for pleasure, enjoy talking about books, and appreciate the art of literature.

As someone who has both enjoyed and suffered through Dickens, I know a Dickens experience depends on a lot of factors (teacher, novel, and reading pace included). So it's hard to give a blanket statement that Dickens has gained a sort of rediscovered popularity with kids today. But I think it is true that the "Harry Potter generation" (which I consider myself on the early end of) does read more than perhaps the age groups on either side of it. And the more you read, the more you incorporate reading of any and every kind into your daily existence, the more open you will find yourself to new books--and old books too.

Article via MuggleNet.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Not my usual sort of post

I've found several cool book-related videos lately, and while this one is absolutely ridiculous, it made me laugh so I thought, why not?

Anyone who follows freddiew on YouTube will probably find it amusing to see him in a library, not that he doesn't read or anything, I'm sure he does, it's just not exactly his usual environment. And the ah-ha moment when he sees the "really big book" is fantastic. I know whenever I see those huge, ancient-looking folios in the stacks I'm silently entertaining the idea that they have some sort of extraordinary contents. And the message of the video is unquestionably true: books can be dangerous, kids. So try not to set innocent passersby on fire.

Barnes & Noble and the Future of Books

This week The New York Times featured an interesting article detailing some of the history of Barnes & Noble and the company's path to the current crossroads between e-books and traditional print being faced by booksellers and publishers alike.

The article's stance, that Barnes & Noble is "the only thing standing between traditional book publishers and oblivion" seems a bit extreme, but it's still an interesting look at a huge company in the book business that today is undeniably floundering as it attempts to compete with the World Wide Web. Barnes & Noble has decided that e-books are their best (and maybe only) way forward, but at the same time their CEO, William Lynch, is confident that the print-based bookselling side of the store will not go away.

In light of Amazon's recent publishing unit unveiling, the article also discusses Barnes & Noble's important relationship with traditional publishers. Despite falling share prices, I think Barnes & Noble will still be around for some time to come. Their rapidly expanding Nook line and e-book selections show that they are listening to the current market. The writer's comment that "Barnes & Noble may have to adapt to new realities, or die trying" sounds just like what many people are saying of libraries in the digital age. This spring Barnes & Noble plans to release their fifth e-reader; if they can continue to develop their digital products while maintaining the key feature that helped build their company originally--a wide selection of books in one physical location--it's likely they can hold on to their business (and avoid "the post-apocalyptic world of publishing, with publishers pushing shopping carts down Broadway.")