Friday, December 31, 2010

Keeping the Creativity Alive

I've mentioned before how much I love LIS as a field where folks are creative, active, and engaged with others. I have been so fortunate to connect with people around the country (and some around the world) who challenge and inspire me! One of the first things I tell prospective or new LIS students is what a great potential there is for trying out new ideas in a non-judgmental environment, and most importantly, having a lot of fun while thinking up new ways to look at the field or to make it better. Looking for inspiration? I've compiled a short list of folks who have been very inspirational to me and who have challenged me to try new things.

Andy Woodworth
Andy is so fun and energetic, and constantly bringing new ideas and valuable insights to the table on his blog and on Twitter. I love that he goes beyond serious (and tedious) discussions of the field to inject some fun into what we do (see People for a library-themed Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Flavor) but always with the goal of promoting libraries' visibility and advocating for their importance. His career ties in very well with my idea of the librarian as someone who is not only creative and passionate, but takes a multi-pronged approach to talking about their work and networking with others. Some good places to learn more about Andy are his blog (see this post for a great discussion on the importance of advocacy and the value of creative thinking), Twitter (@wawoodworth; also be sure to check out #andypoll, a periodic poll of librarians nationwide on a variety of issues--it's a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of our field and learn from a wide range of insights), and Facebook.
Courtney Walters
Courtney is an alumnus of my program, and I feel like she embodies all the wonderful things going on in our field. After getting her MLS, Courtney got a job at Saint Ambrose University (Davenport, IA) at the curriculum library. Why I think following her is a great idea (besides the fact that she's awesome) is that she went into a library with very little visibility and brought it into the 21st century by creating a blog and Facebook page. She has taken the blog past discussing new acquisitions, changes in hours, etc (although those topics aren't neglected) to also discuss new technologies and resources that are valuable for her patrons. More and more library blogs are leaning in this direction, but I think we can all learn a lot from Courtney by looking at her dedication to her patrons and her continued search to bring them the best information she can! Follow her on Twitter: @cleighwalters.
Micah Vandegrift
I owe Twitter a huge debt of gratitude for introducing me to Micah this past year. He is a tireless advocate for students, offers wildly intelligent discussion of LIS, and is generally an inspirational person all around. Micah is responsible for #hacklibschool (see the blog post here) a project to crowdsource a discussion about LIS education that has been a huge success. I for one would love to see #hacklibschool continue far into the future, and serve as the foundation for other crowdsourced discussions (i.e. in special interest areas or for certain learning groups), and a large reason behind why I love it so much is how a democratic and open forum seems to bring out the best in students and new professionals. I have seen so many great comments and suggestions on how to get the most out of LIS education, and even when people disagree, it sparks a constructive discussion rather than negative in-fighting. I am so lucky I know and work with someone who inspires his peers in this way, and I know a lot of other students feel the same way! Micah also uses his blog, The Infornado, as a place to discuss current trends in the field, especially those things that impact students. The posts on 'What I learned in library school' are definitely worth a read: Micah recruited a number of guest bloggers to share their thoughts on their educational process, and the results are so helpful to students feeling lost or like they want to read multiple perspectives. Micah is also on Twitter (and you must follow him): @micahvandegrift.
Lauren Dodd
I love Lauren's fun and bubbly personality, and I love that she brings her awesome optimistic mindset to discussions of important topics in librarianship. Lauren's blog (Lauren in Libraryland) is fun to read, and like Micah she uses it as a space to share ideas and resources for LIS students. Lauren is another person I owe Twitter for connecting with, and she and Micah are two of the most inspirational student bloggers I know! Lauren uses her creativity to take her discussion of LIS education beyond resources (which are useful, and which she does share) to incorporate her own experiences in volunteering, conference attendance, etc. which make for a blog (and blog author) that connects with the reader very effectively! Follow Lauren on Twitter @laurendodd
My B Sides Ladies
How can I forget some of the folks who have been pivotal in my own development as a LIS student and an academic? I've talked all of your ears off about B Sides, but I think it's worth mentioning from a creativity standpoint because the two founders, Rachel Smalter Hall and Angela Murillo, built it from the ground up as a space for students to learn and share. I would love to see more journals like B Sides pop up in other departments, because it has been such a positive experience for us as editors and for students as contributors, and it really allows us to grow and learn in surprising ways! I have learned so much from our current crew (Katie DeVries Hassman, Melody Dworak, Sam Bouwers) as well, who always have new ideas for getting students involved and excited (B Sides conference!) and are passionate about making the journal (and the SLIS experience) even better! Their blogs and Twitter names: Rachel- Banana Suit Librarian, @bananasuit. Katie: Look Lady, @hypatlikeya. Melody Dworak: The Melody Party, @funkmelodious. Angela Murillo: Homepage, @angelitamu. Sam Bouwers is on Facebook, and you can also get ahold of her through our B Sides email ( and Twitter! @uofiowabsides.

There are thousands more LIS folks out there who are making valuable contributions to the field, many of which I didn't include because I didn't want to make this post too long or I don't know about them yet! If there's someone who's inspired you, tell me about them in the comments! I would love to create a space where we can share ideas and inspiration, and applaud those who are making our field the wonderful thing that it is!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Kindle for LIS Students

A few months ago, I decided it was time to buy a 3G Kindle after hearing a few classmates rave about how useful it was for reading-heavy courses (and also because I wanted to load it up with fun books too!) I've been really impressed with it thus far, and have found it to be a big help for storing and accessing professional reading material. A number of folks have expressed frustration over Kindle's lack of page numbers, but I like this author's review because it acknowledges that these are shortcomings of e-readers in general. I'm a little bummed that I can't easily use my Kindle to store articles for my research that I need to cite page numbers for (that would make me very happy), but I can still use it to read the articles and reference the 'location' later to get a general sense for where in the article the information is (it's a little extra work, but a lot easier than hauling a ton of papers and books with me everywhere I go). The good news is that the lack of page numbers is causing discussion amongst academics, so hopefully new versions of style manuals will address this.
The Kindle, apart from being lightweight and user-friendly, has a few features that I think are especially useful to LIS students. In the 'experimental' settings users can find a browser, and with free 3G coverage for the latest generation, I can access what I need even when I'm outside of the range of wifi. I definitely recommend using Kinstant (a Kindle-friendly start page with links to social media, email, and news, with the option to add your own favorites). Even though it isn't going to provide the same surfing experience you get with a color screen (the screen does take a little longer to load, and is black and white), the browser on the Kindle is actually quite good, especially if you're only using it for short spurts.
Other features students might like: you can upload material from a variety of sources, not only from Amazon. Mine is filled with PDFs of B Sides articles and with some of my favorite class readings. You can also download items from Open Library. I referenced this book in my latest research, and was excited to see it included in Open Library for my use! You have the option of either reading online or downloading a PDF, and for Kindle users, you can have items sent directly to your Kindle (just click 'send to Kindle' next to the version you want!) For those who use Open Library, definitely consider helping out by adding to descriptions of books, adding tags, etc.
Reading class PDFs is also a breeze on the Kindle thanks to its built in dictionary (this has been a huge help with some of the obscure culinary terms I run across in my current research). The Kindle uses the Oxford dictionary (my personal favorite): just move the cursor to a word, and the definition appears at the bottom of the screen. You can click on it to see a longer definition as well. The Kindle also allows for highlighting and adding notes (another useful feature for all those PDFs we read!) It shows you how many other readers have highlighted a piece of text, which can be helpful for trying to extract important information from articles you are struggling with.
Most exciting to me is how easily I can access content that is updated frequently (online news and blogs). There are a few LIS blogs available for subscription (usually for ~$1 or $2/month) along with tech and education blogs. And blogger friends, you would be amazed how easy it is to list your blog in the Kindle store. I listed both this blog and my other blog in the Kindle store in less time than it has taken me to write this post. I'm always encouraging my fellow students to get out there and network and seize opportunities to make their work more visible, and this is definitely a way to do that! To do it, go to the Kindle Store and click on 'publish on Kindle' in the left-hand column under 'around the store.'
Lastly, if you still aren't feeling like you get all the features you need with your Kindle, poke around a bit! They might be buried in the menu, or might have been addressed by other developers (this post by Rachel Smalter Hall is a great jumping off point for those with older Kindles). Apparently the Kindle has some fun Easter eggs on it (Google maps!), but I don't know enough about fiddling with my firmware to feel comfortable getting in and messing with them. Yet.
I've really enjoyed getting to use my Kindle, and I've been amazed by the amount of free content available--I have hundreds of items, but I've only paid for a few of them. There are definitely some titles I want to buy for my Kindle in the coming months, but I really appreciate that its developers were open to allowing users to upload oodles of free content! I also really enjoy all the new goodies I keep discovering the more I use it (latest discovery is a free Kindle version of Minesweeper and other games). 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What Makes an Artist's Book?

I recently had a discussion with a friend (the wonderful Amanda Langdon) about artists' books when she was trying to describe them for a paper. Talking with her gave me the opportunity to think about how I define an artist's book (especially since the published literature and the content of library collections gives such broad, and sometimes conflicting, definitions.)

The big thing that I think separates an artist's book from a commercially-produced book is the interplay between form and content. Broadly defined they're books created primarily to be 'art' rather than to be a book in the traditional sense. They are still functional (ie you should be able to interact with them as books) but they were not created by a publishing house with the sole purpose of showcasing an author's content-they were created by an artist to showcase both their binding work and the interaction between content and form.

For those who aren't familiar with the book arts, the content of a book is just what's written in it (i.e. the text of a novel) while the form is its physical structure (is it paperback? What kind of binding does it have? How many pages? etc.) Most books focus on providing the text, with less emphasis on showcasing the book's form--the form is structured around the text, and around other considerations (i.e. marketing an inexpensive paperback versus a higher-quality hardcover). This is not to say that they don't take a great deal of effort and consideration when choosing and creating cover art (and even things you might not think about, like the font), but mass-produced book is not an artist's book simply because the creation of the book is solely to share text, and is not to see that text as art placed within another piece of art in a way that strengthens both.

Amanda and I also talked a bit about 'gray areas:' i.e. where does an artist's book cross the line to become something else? She talked about printed books, which I argue can be considered artist's books: A small press (like the UICB presses--look on their website, but I think one is called Arion Press. There have been others over the years) creates small runs of 'artists' books' that are considered such because they are created on a letterpress and then bound by book artists. Usually, the printers create special plates of images to go along with the letters, but even if they don't the fact that they are hand-placing those letters, inking the rollers, etc. in a specific way is considered an art form.

So that's probably what she means by publication--they aren't going to be mass-produced (like paperback mysteries or even any other fiction).

I think that small press books (especially letterpress, which is an art in itself) can be considered artist's books as long as the crucial element of interplay between text, images, and form is present. Other books that have text and images use the images only to illustrate the text, whereas the artists' book uses them for that purpose and for both image and text to interact with the way it's bound (and they way it's meant to be held and experienced). When that interplay is lost is when I think the book crosses the line to being a more commercial work.

For other book artists, curators, historians, and librarians, I would be interested to hear your thoughts too: what do you think of my definitions? How would you define an artist's book?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guest Post at Banana Suit Librarian!

My awesome friend and colleague, Rachel, might be known to some of you as Librarian in a Banana Suit. She's been a huge inspiration to me as someone who fights for information access and civil liberties (and was one of the founders of B Sides Journal!) I feel honored that she asked me to be the first guest blogger on her blog (which you should check out regularly, if you haven't been already). Go to the link below to check it out!
Crowdsourcing and Collaboration: 20th Century Style!