Archive for Work

2016 Full Bore Ahead

It’s already 2 months into 2016. Time continues to fly as usual and life remains relatively uneventful. The most exciting thing going on right now is in making the decision on if I should cut my hair or let it grow out a few feet again. As much as I enjoy having long hair, the cat likes to eat it, which is hazardous to her health if she manages to get it wound up in her intestines, so for that and other reasons (laziness) my years of 3ft. long locks may be well and truly past.

My time nowadays is saturated in multiple small commitments. I play a tabletop RPG with friends every Sunday, help run a board game group two nights a month, belong to two bookclubs, and still volunteer at the Quatrefoil library. On top of that I’ve somehow found myself on the committee of a local convention. How did this happen? Granted, I still spend a lot of my time relaxing at home and playing video games. Even though it’s a distant dream, I spend a lot of time learning about game design and writing too. I find I’m a much less happy person when I’m not pursuing some sort of creative project, and in the last few years my activity on that end has fallen drastically. So now I’m writing a text game. Like most of my creative projects it will probably never be completed, but as a hobby project it still provides its benefits.

Work continues on without much change. I’ve already had my first fair of the year at Pasadena. California as a state is not my favorite, but the Cali fair itself attracts some wonderful dealers. There wasn’t much there for me to buy as it’s a higher end fair, but one dealer was gracious enough to point me to a box of kabuki postcards notable for the fact that almost every one of them were annotated in the back with information on the play depicted. When I didn’t show as much enthusiasm as he did he went in with my boss “so that I’d have them anyway,” and when I realized they had essentially beat me to it he let me buy out his half. It was extremely generous of him, considering the amount profit he thought could be had with the item. The reason I looked so incredulous was the price tag. It’s still hard for me to be willing to invest a sizable amount of money into a single thing, even when that thing seems to be a steal. But when the risk is shared it becomes a more palatable prospect.

I’ve benefited a lot from simply listening to other dealers talk amongst themselves, and one of the themes that comes up constantly is whether or not certain people have the personality for this sort of work. They talk about whether or not so-and-so has it in them to “take the blows” and “get knocked around.” A bad few months, a disastrous purchase, shifting collecting trends that render a specialty unsellable: there is so much risk in this business that those who are timid about it simply don’t last. I’m still learning whether or not I have it in me to take those risks. It’s harder to do, knowing that my personal wealth is in the negative dollars, thanks to my student loans, but I suppose we’ll see.

It occurs to me that money comes up often in these little posts. I don’t think that will change in the future. I’ve never been one to buy into the common wisdom that one does not talk about one’s finances. I think there’s much to be learned in hashing it out and recognizing that money drives our behavior in a myriad of ways, no matter how much of it we have.

Anyway, the fair itself was remarkably well run, Pasadena was a bit of a bore, but it had good restaurants, and dining out is half the reason I think dealers till do these fairs. I had myself some decent ramen, and a shake as thick as cement, and managed to dodge the illness that was spreading through the fair floor like wildfire. Now all there is to do is catalog and hope that my investment will pay off.

What I’ve been up to these past few months

Time flies when you are a habitual project starter. July and August were both crazy. My time spent in Virginia, and then immediately after in Colorado Springs, was an amazing, once in a lifetime thing, that reminded me why I’ve taken the path that I have and helped me refocus myself. The first leg of my two week intensive book tour was at the Rare Book School, where I took a course on the basics of bibliographical description. The class was intense, the instructors excellent, and the experience as a whole was just as amazing as everyone says it is. There’s a sort of bliss that comes with being surrounded by people who not only love what you love, but are so mature in their love that you are constantly in awe of the vast depths of knowledge to which one can plunge in pursuit of it.

The students in my bibliography class joked that we would never be able to explain to other people just what it was that we had been doing all week, because it was so esoteric, but for me one of the great things about getting to really understand a subject is that it makes it easier to help other people understand that subject. That part of my personality has gotten me in trouble for being a bit of a know-it-all at times, but when something is interesting it’s really hard for me not to tell everyone all about it.

And, in fact, I got a chance to apply my new found education immediately after my week at Rare Book School ended, when I flew out to Colorado Springs to work as staff for the Colorado Antiquarian Seminar. This year the faculty was trying something a little different, and gave seminarians a challenge to “Adopt” two books and spend the week applying what they were learning to the cataloging and description of those books. Collation (describing how all the pages and leaves are put together in the binding) was not explicitly part of that, but after Terry Belanger’s talk on collation everyone turned to their adopted books and started struggling to put their new found knowledge into practice. What I had spent a few books of study and a week of lab time on, the CABS folk were attempting to do after 2 hours of instruction.

And they did remarkably well. A lot of people were a little intimidated by the terminology and notation in the beginning, but I was still in COLLATE ALL THE THINGS MODE and was practically begging people to ask me questions so we could collate something together. Occasionally we would come to something a little complex and I would say it wasn’t necessary to get too deep into it, which only resulted in them going to Terry, who would sit down and do it all, no shortcuts. I should have known better than to think that CABS folk wouldn’t want to know it all.

Over both weeks I ended up meeting some amazing people, refocused and reinvigorated myself, and drank more beer than I usually do over the course of an entire year.

Since then I’ve been occupying myself with the usual endless list of projects, which are below if anyone is interested.

Complete:

A few weeks ago I finished working on the digital catalog of Thomas G. Thrum‘s library for Librarything. Thrum was white man who moved to Hawai’i at a young age, and is primarily remembered as a folklorist and compiler of almanacs. His library was recorded by an anonymous bookman, most likely as part of estate proceedings after his death, and the majority of the books appear to have found a home at the University of Hawai’i. When his project came up I couldn’t resist snatching it up, since it was so closely connected to my alma mater, and the catalog looked straight forward enough, but it actually ended up taking some time to get everything written out.

For one thing the bookman who recorded the library did so with a shortlist only, and one in which he was in the habit of truncating titles to the point where it took some doing to find out just which “Report” was being referenced. The second problem was in the obscurity of some of these titles, particularly with the serials. I would say that almost half of Thrum’s books had not been previously cataloged on librarything, and many were not in enough libraries to pop up doing a broad search. A number of times I had to use the UH library system catalog to find the item, and then bring that information back to librarything. But persistence paid off, and now if you want to know what a scholar of Hawai’ian folklore from the 19th century liked to read all you need to do is go here.

I also managed to watch all 140 some episodes of Hunter X Hunter. It can’t be work time all the time.

Ongoing:

Notice I only really have one thing “finished.” Such is my life. Recently I’ve been working on:

  • Getting 52 books read by the end of the year. I’m currently at… 17. Haha… ha… ha… Well, that’s still a decent average for me. I haven’t actually hit 52 ever, even though I always say I’m going to aim for it.
  • A worldbuilding toolkit. For almost ten years I’ve been managing a “contest” of sorts where participants have been challenged to answer a series of prompts about different aspects of an imaginary world that they create. The platform that I had been using was not optimal for this sort of thing, so I’m migrating it to something I have more control over, and in the process I’m fleshing the whole thing out into more of a toolkit. With 400+ original prompts to migrate, and a lot of editing work required to get them into the new format properly, this is a project that will take some time.
  • I’ve picked up Japanese again and am making my painful way forward with it. Trying to work back to fluency is both painful and gratifying. I’m hating myself for how much I’ve forgotten, but it’s surprising how much I’ve managed to retain. My biggest hope is that my next step in life will be utilizing Japanese more centrally, but for that to happen I need to get serious.

Upcoming:

  • NaNoWriMo is in a month. I haven’t won in a very long time, but I’m getting tired of the dry spell.

 

The Academic Commons

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After almost two years, our campus has a library again! I can’t even explain how happy this makes me. So much seating, so many study carrels, so many outlets! And most of the books have come back from storage!

At first I was skeptical about the move to an “academic commons” platform, but I couldn’t be happier with the setup now. 80% of monographs are on site(iirc), and item requests take less than 2 hours to be delivered from off site. I have to hand it to the library team, the transition out and back in to the building has felt seamless from the user end.

The idea of the academic commons is a relatively new one, and not without some controversy, so I figure a quick digital tour might help explain just what it is that DU is now doing different with it’s library system.

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Here’s the building. Before it was just that beige box section, and the construction made it look a bit less soul crushing by adding that curvy front entrance and the little pillared addition on the left. The bike rack count has doubled, but it’s still not enough. Bike parking remains a problem on campus.

It took 2 years or so for this renovation to be completed, which is almost the entire time that I’ve been enrolled. Not having a physical library sucks, let me tell you. A ballroom was repurposed for study space and computers, but it wasn’t enough.

Why the long wait? There was so much asbestos that once the library decided on a renovation they decided to just go all out and redo everything. While there are some familiar areas of the interior the building was all but gutted and rebuilt from the floor up. The bad part about this was that it took forever. The cool part is they got to do some great things.

A small bit of me gets irate when I see the copper plating, because tuition at DU is high, but most of the weird superfluous things in the library, including the fireplace(?!) were the result of direct donations. Apparently donors were eager to fund these little aesthetic touches but wanted to restrict the number of electric outlets that would be available! Thank goodness librarians know how to argue with facts or this whole thing could have been a disaster. Imagine floors of nothing but study spaces but no where to use a laptop for longer that 2hrs max.

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When I arrived at the official opening this huge touch screen wasn’t properly functioning, but it seems to be working well enough now. It greets you as soon as you come in. They went a little crazy with the tech. Every study room, and there are many, has its own little electronic schedule panel on which you can make reservations. Those weren’t working either when I tested them. Apparently the vendor assured the library that the technology would work with the already existing reservation system for the school and it turned out they lied.

The lesson here is that when adopting new technology, don’t believe it when the salesmen says it does everything under the sun.

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This is the first floor of the library, and look, books! Although a large portion of the collection is off site (like all govdocs and bound periodicals) there are still a lot of books. The first floor is dedicated entirely to new arrivals and is a lot of fun to browse. In the back there is the writing center, and to the right the tech center. While both of these services aren’t under the direct control of the library, it makes sense that they share the same roof. The research center is here also. The idea is to make the commons the one stop shop for all academic support needs. (This includes a full cafe, which is always extremely busy when I stop in.)

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In the old building the archives and special collections got a tiny room in the basement and a few mobile shelves. Now the special collections have pride of place in the basement, and instead of the basement being a sunless dungeon a wall has been knocked out and replaced with full length windows. The display space throughout the library has greatly increased. Basically, the every day book has been packed away and now room is available for the special stuff to come out.

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This is what the general collection looks like now. A good number of books are back, but I rarely see students going through here. Browsing is a bit more of a pain but it is possible, and the library’s estimation of how much study space is needed has been pretty spot on. Besides these shelves and the special collections room the bottom floor is almost entirely dedicated to study carrels, they are almost always busy when I come down to use them.

A nice plus is that you can remotely request a book while you are in the library, and clerks will pull it for you and notify you when it hits the front desk.

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This is the deep quiet room, for people who can’t even suffer the clicking of computer keyboards. The clear windows were added so that one could peek in and see if there was room to study before disrupting people by opening the door. Not a bad idea, but I just bring headphones because…

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These are the most amazing things ever. Almost every part of the library has enough space but when I come down to these carrels there is often only one or two left unoccupied. They are cozy, private, clean, and just look awesome. I have 5 hours between work and class to kill on Mondays, and I spend those hours in one of these. I almost want one for my room.

Library Student Day in a Life

Hack Library School is doing a Library Student Day in the Life week, so this is my contribution.

A quick bit about me for those who are not familiar: I’m a student at the University of Denver, and my academic focus is on archives management. It took me an extra year to graduate because I decided to do my practicum in India this past winter, and now I’m expecting to wrap everything up during the spring quarter. DU is on a quarter system, which means we only have 10 weeks per class, and I took winter quarter off, so at the moment I’m not taking any classes.

I work a part time job at the University Tech Services, doing back end work on the university websites, making our analytics system more robust, and cleaning up myweb for an incoming migration to a new system. It’s not exactly library science work, but I did get to enforce some metadata standards with the events tagging we’re doing.

Because it’s apart time job, I get Mondays and Fridays off! This Monday was typical. I slept in, rolled out of bed around 9:30 and cursed the morning with heartfelt passion, grabbed some breakfast and then started working on an Omeka project. Part of the practicum I did in India involved collecting info and images relating to thangka painting to use for a website once I got back to the states, so now I’m working on getting that website up.

Omeka is a deceptive little beast. It looks simple and user friendly unless you want to do something a little different, like, say get the stupid element descriptions to stop being so item type specific, and then suddenly you have to know php! Well, luckily, I know enough php to not blow up the site, but I’m also doing this work on Ubuntu, which is an OS I am still getting used to, and I don’t know enough php to actually know what I’m doing, so it’s been a fun adventure. I spent most of the morning doing some general reading on how omeka files are set up, and reading a lot of forums on the image magick program giving people ulcers, and then started developing my own image magick ulcer as I tried to get it an omeka to communicate.

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After banging my head against that for a while I went off and drove 16 miles to see Les Miserables. I could write a post just about that, and I probably will, so suffice it to say my fear that I would hate it was unfounded and I sobbed like a child in a theater with no one be me and a bunch of older couples in it. That’s what happens when you go to a matinee at a dollar theater. Also Colm Wilkinson suddenly showed up on the screen in all his glory and I had myself a little fit in my chair but seriously I will write a post all about this later.

Since Monday is an off day for me it’s also chore day. That means laundry, groceries, all the dull stuff like that. Luckily for me Denver has a very large asian market, so after the movie my roommate and I drove over and bought enough food to last us the rest of the month. By the time we got home it was seven, and I ended up passing out soon after eating supper. I hadn’t gone to sleep before 2AM the whole week prior, so I needed it.

Today was a work day, so from 9 to 3 I was making spreadsheets and wrestling technology. Right after that I submitted myself to being a human guinea pig at the university psych department. I learned in undergrad that one can make good money playing test subject for a half hour or so. I read fast, so after clicking on a few “Strongly Agree – Strongly Disagree” buttons for thirty minutes I was handed fifteen bucks and sent on my way. It’s the only place I can get paid $30 at the moment!

After that was cartoons to wind down, dinner, and now I’m working on a few personal projects. This blog is one. Working on my resume is another. At the moment I’m a little paralyzed about applying to the Digital Stewardship program in DC, because I don’t feel qualified enough, but all I can do is put my best foot forward and let the selection committee tell me if I’m qualified or not.

 

Busy Busy

I have so much to do, AAAAAHHHHHGH. My graduation date is creeping up on me, and so my attention is shifting from internship and school related work to the post grad life. On the one hand, it’s more stressful, because student loans will be upping the financial pressure and I will be most likely losing my student job at the same time, but on the other I can’t wait, because opportunity will become that much more free form when I am no longer required to adhere to academic requirements.

One of the hard truths about LIS education is that there is just too much to learn to fit into two years of education, and at the same time the classroom is not always the best way to gain that education. The old joke/adage/lamentation is that Library Science may be a practical field, but Library Science education likes to go for the theoretical. What that basically means is that if you’re serious about getting out of school with a competitive skillset you better be doing something more than going to class on time. This problem becomes obvious when you look at job postings. Two to five years of direct experience for most job, demonstrated skills, etc… How much of our classroom experience counts? On the one hand, we did learn something. On the other, is what we learned what prospective employers want from us? It can be difficult to tell.

Typically when that all important question, “If you had one super power, what would it be,” comes up, my answer is something like indestructibility, but right now I’d be happy with mind reading. If only I could peer into the brains of the people in charge of hiring decisions.

That’s one of the reasons I like Hiring Librarians so much. It takes some of the opacity out of the process by getting hiring librarians to answer questions about the resume and interview process. Some of that information inspires terror (some of the stuff people say matters I never would have considered), but mostly all I feel is relief. If there are so many differing opinions on what the right way to do something is, it’s simply impossible for me to do it perfectly every time, so I can stop sweating the small stuff and get to the meat of the process.