Saturday, 19 June 2010

Aversion therapy - Or, Thing 7 re-re-re-revisited [again]

Right then, I resolve, spurred on by Aidan's convincing and well-presented reasons why I should embrace Twitter, I'm going to conquer this irrational aversion. He promises no mentions of breakfast et al. Library Wanderer says I'll find 'less rubbish than you think'. And Andy Priestner has already warned me its not just about being off the Cool Wall - my ability to keep up in my job will be compromised. So once again, much in the spirit of 'And now I'm going to clean the toilet', I have a little rummage around in ... I was going to say 'the cess-pit', but I won't.

It is Saturday morning, 9.30 am, and I decide to visit a well-respected much-followed-by-librarians blog, where one might find the serious, meaty stuff. The zeitgeist before it is even zeitgeist, and most definitely not about people who are thinking of maybe going out later to get a newspaper.

What do I find? I was going to post a screen-shot, it was so ... shocking. With the identifying areas blocked out of course. I've genned up on the law of libel in the past ... but that's another story. Word picture instead. 31 tweets in the last 12 hours, all of them ... deposited ... within 3 hours. Three of them relate to possibly useful online resources [in response to other tweets, mind]. The rest are about this person's private life [including bedroom arrangements and that s/he is about to make a cup of tea] ... or football. Well, how was I to know there was a football game on? OK, fair do's, this person is a fan. Irrational but it's a free country. Sort of. Understandable perhaps that s/he is half-watching the game, half furiously tweeting [If England were in a nailbiting final - oh per-LEASE - would they still be doing that?] Of course not everyone will share the same bizarre and frankly almost socially unacceptable personal interests, but there may be a niche audience somewhere. But - does anyone care that s/he is about to have a cup of tea? Didn't dare scroll down in case bowel movements were described. Not even a mother - not even a Jewish mother - would care about the cup of tea. ... Might about the bowel movements though, come to think of it.

So, I did try, and I did go to one of the most respected tweeters. I keep opening the same old wound because I do so want to be one of the cool people, the tweetoscenti, absorbing the gently falling rays of information outside a Shoreditch pub, conducting a clever conversation and tweeting at the same time all about it. I WANT someone to Take me to the River and to Let Twitter into my Life.

Sorry Aidan and Andy, but whilst you separated your reasons for using Twitter as basically (a) professional and (b) personal interests, the recipient of even a moderate and not-too-taxing number of supposedly all-professionally-aligned bunch of tweets has to do a frankly onerous amount of editing. Like wading through Google results, only 1000 times worse, no refining the query. It is making us work. The football, the kitchen, the bedroom, and for all I know the toilet, are there. In my face. In fairness I am forced to mention that the person under fire [sorry, scrutiny] did warn in one tweet that there will be useful tweets in the day and personal ones at night.

And now I'm going to make a cup of tea, gunpowder and mint, brewed for 4 1/2 minutes exactly in a silver teapot, plus one rich tea and two chocolate digestives on a doily, which does make them taste better, and then I'm going to settle down with 'The People's Friend'. Tell you what happens in 'Daisy's new romance' later. Oh, and you probably need to know that there's a definite twinge in my right thumb and I think I might be getting a cold.

Just one more thing. Cilip tweets? Why would I want tweets about a cleaning product?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Gentleman's Third?

Never, ever, think 'Oh I seem to be catching up with things [or Things]'. Because then comes the stern dictat that we must blog about everything, and we mustn't say 'Done that'.
Oh here we go, Crail hasn't done her English homework and is in detention again 'In Henry IV Part II, the linguistic construction of hegemonistic praxis functions as the conceptual frame for the discourse of power. Discuss, with examples. In French.'
Right, haven't blogged about Thing 2. Have done it, because the instructions made it easy. NOW I have to try to construct one myself, unpicking XML, not 'hit this button'. Bit of fun. Watch this space. Well, don't, and don't hold your breath.
Thing 4. What the heck do I say? OF COURSE I've done it or Miss Crail wouldn't be listed up there. And yes, I have read and responded to other blogs, a great and naughty pleasure when thanks to Thing 8, I now have to revise all the subject headings for all 45,019,237 books in the Crail Empire [possibly a slight exaggeration], the sun is actually shining, and the Kings College May Ball looks as if it has DODGEMS. I'd just poured myself a gin and tonic too, from the library art installation 'Hommage a Huysmans', and lit a Passing Cloud.
Other Cam23ers' blogs are fantastic, funny, erudite, thought-provoking, and Sarah's YouTube compilation makes us all look clever. I know some people have complained about the lack of flexibility of the templates, but as someone who has wasted months sweating over the design of webpages, and then resorted to templates in despair, I can only say, that even the least design-savvy of us can knock up something reasonable, so thanks for that.
There, done it, will that do?

The Systematic Randomisation of Chaos

Ah, that's a much nicer title than the slight shuffle that would more aptly describe the discussions around Thing 8 - The Randomised Systematisation of Chaos.

Thanks for providing a couple of though-provoking reads for this task. Reading the outlines and quotes from Andrew Keen's book had me agreeing with almost every point made, but we just have to accept that we can all be contributors now. Trouble is, as he has said and Miss Crail has demonstrated, a lot of us like the sound of our own voices, and we're no longer just singing in the shower. Perhaps at some time in the future there will be a way to polarise the valuable and the permanent from the ephemeral. And anyway, in 50 years time there will be social history PhD students wading through all the blogs about towel folding, the photos of wannabe Bizarre Vixens, the unintelligible tweets, and making something serious out of it. Now, would the cultural landscape have changed '..and not for the better' without the intoxicating possibilities of the internet? More people watch 'Britain's got talent' than 'Panorama'.

But he does reinforce an argument made by a lot of us when talking to students - about Google pushing forward the popular and not the most useful. One hopes the polarisation that sort-of currently exists can be maintained : Wikipedia if we want to know where the heck the Christmas Islands are, and something else more appropriate for serious information-gathering. Perhaps we, er, information professionals, should stop being snobbish about it?

Anyway, then we get to tagging, looking at our posts and maybe adding more. I've begun the task, but there's a nagging voice saying 'Yes, there's a bit about that, but should it really retrieve on a search?' It might all get a bit Penelope, a bit anal. Miss Crail might have sat through hours of this at library school, but it's still hard to do it well. It's maybe the worst bit of that already I'll-do-that-tomorrow task, cataloguing [said in downward intonation]. There are books sitting on the groaning cataloguing-pending shelf, awaiting some kind soul in the RLUK system to produce a record Miss Crail can nick, but at some point the realisation comes that no-one else is going to buy 'The epidynamics of the phyloevolution of metagenobolocomics' [£180 for 200 pages...HOW much?!] and the bullet is going to have to be bitten. What is the parent subject? What are the issues? What the heck is this book about? In what circumstances does this nugget of useful information need to be retrieved? 'Give me the thesaurus' we beg in vain. Ah, sod it, we type 'genetics' in line 650, and reward ourselves with a cup of tea and a Park Drive, a cloud of guilt forming with the smoke, in the knowledge that somewhere out there, there might be a person who would benefit from Chapter 3. 'The epistemology of normative values within systemization' [A grateful nod to Write your own academic sentence = Great resource!] Oh the burdens of librarianship, never mind the Passion and the Fury of it all!

OK, so good tagging for appropriate retrieval requires maybe just as much thinking as serious cataloguing. Not happy about that realisation.

Wouldn't it be interesting to get different people, 16-year-old Jordanfan, 16-year-old geek, man-on-the-bus, primary school teacher, 2nd-year university student, locked-in-a-back-room-for-16-years cataloguer, &c, to see how they tag the same piece? They might not have a single tag in common, but they are tagging for their own audience, so isn't that good....?

All this means Miss Crail has had a HELL of a time attempting to enhance the tags of previous blogs. The more you think about this, the harder it gets. Seriously - this is AWFUL, and the only way I can cope with these deep dilemmas is ... to be silly.

'Christina! Bring me the axe!'

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Call me the pusher

OK, here's a little cherry bomb for a Tuesday morning...

In that ideal world which may or may not be just around the corner, we identify the information we need and, instead of going looking for it, it comes to us, all neatly packaged, and just what we want!

...But can that ever happen? Despite the possibilities of tagging et al, can we ever in most cases get exactly what we want? That means no more [difficult, as ole Twitter is proving] and NO LESS. Medical researchers like PubMed because it delivers precisely what they want, but that is because largely they work in narrow fields and can use precise terms to define their requirements, with a helping hand from MESH if necessary. Great.

So we get our fix of feeds. We might want to know Jordan has or hasn't throw Alex out, or if Victoria is contemplating another child, but it doesn't matter if we don't get told the second it leaves the PR's Blackberry. But a busy researcher might say they haven't time to log-in to WoK or mess about ticking boxes on Scopus, they want feeds! OK, fine, but then we get into the dodgy realm of the Unknown Unknown. If they rely on those feeds, and quite soon they might, because they decide they haven't time for anything else, how do they know they have everything they should have?

Are we doing ourselves and the information hungry community a disservice by making it seem easy? [Actually people use Google because it seems easy, don't they?] Who will bother to do a search if they THINK they are getting what they should have via feeds? Students constantly ask for detailed lecture notes and access to lecture Ppts, and are as a general rule these days reluctant to read recommended book chapters. Part of the thinking and processing has thus been cut off. They want to be given the precisely necessary, and no more. And that seems to be what we are aiming for. Currently, that's how we refine searches etc, and we have to think about it. Not necessarily a bad thing! The recent RIN survey on the use of e-journals identified some seemingly-odd smash-and-grab behaviour at Cambridge compared to other universities. Here, as a whole we dive straight into an e-journal, grab the paper we want, and exit. We don't run a subject search, we seem to know what we want. Does that really mean Cambridge people are extra-intuitive, or that they think they are? [Oh shut up, Miss Crail, who are you to say?]

Some would say you get more with feeds anyway, the serendipitous, the information you didn't know was out there, the helpful tip, but how do you accurately pinpoint the source if you don't know the information exists?

Miss Crail sits, arms folded, glasses down nose, nostrils flared, and demands ... Aren't we making ourselves dumber? Is it really easier to sift through and filter a lot of STUFF being fed to us, than to actually go out and look for the information we need? And no, Miss Crail is not saying that because she could be out of a job.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Ah Twitter let me hate you in a thousand ways

WARNING: This is an untrammelled rant, delivered in the hopes that someone will MAKE me see the light. I just cannot find anything good in Twitter. I really don't think Twitter will remain long on the landscape, and I'm not sure we should be pandering to these mobile-device shackling tactics. Went to Emma Coonan's demo of Twitter in the UL a while ago with an open mind [well, not quite, more like arms-folded, 'Go on then, convince me'] and I'm afraid that didn't work. Poor Andy Priestner sounds almost despairing about trying to explain to unconverted oiks, and has made a great attempt to list its uses, and I'm sorry he's tried a gazillion times.

I'm still unconvinced [Sorry again]. Yes, the requirement to be concise and precise is a boon, but 140 characters reduce almost all of us to a level of brainlessness that is not appropriate. I look at my Twitter page with all its links and re-Tweets and I just .... loathe it. Don't know exactly why it is, but I have to force myself to read down, which is odd because presumably the idea of tweets being short is for people to find them attractive. This extremely adverse reaction is not provoked by the blog feeds, so it's not general info-overload. Perhaps it is because the need for brevity makes a lot of it appear almost meaningless white noise to non-cognoscenti. I don't want to learn another language. It's all back to a dark classroom, circa 1969, double Latin last thing on a Wednesday. 'Right everybody, Caesar's campaigns, page 43, let's crack on, there 600 to go. Crail, for pulling that face, construe until I tell you to stop' Mind goes blank, eyes cease to focus, bottom jaw hangs loose, begin to dribble.... Erm, does not loading it all up with links and shortening devices aka dodges and tweaks infer in a way it is already not really 100% working?

On a purely personal level Twitter can be used to communicate, but what can you say? Not much. Unless we want to know that [well known female singer] is bored or feels fat. Should she be sitting at a family lunch tweeting about how bored she is? Should we care about such stuff? Have we nothing better to do than semi-stalk Z-listers? [And if we want to look at Demi Moore's ass, we still have to follow a link elsewhere]. Segueing on from that, we get Derek Simpson telling the world what was going on in the BA/Unite negotiations when as a senior official he should have been participating, or at least paying attention. Twitter made it easy for him to do something totally out of order, and, by the by, to commit another Twitter sin [in my opinion], the 'Am in a meeting/am on a course' tweet - what's the point in telling us that?

At the other end of the spectrum, should I put a 'Follow the library on Twitter' button on the website? 'The UL is open until 10 pm tonight'. Fine - there could be a point, but not for where I work. 'Have just been to an interesting demo of Mendeley'? Darling, they don't CARE - regurgitate it later when they want to know. Tip of the day? In 140 characters? Are you joking? And I'm afraid I can see one student leaning over another student's shoulder and saying 'The LIBRARY!!?? That's a joke, right?'

So we get to the middle ground, where a chink of light briefly hit the retina - the professional/personal interface. The useful tips, links. Fine, great, sometimes helpful, but again - is Twitter really the best forum/format for mutual help?? A blog can be a windbag's delight, and Miss Crail found herself sucked into that quagmire last week [and right now too of course], but we are getting thoughtful, useful insights [from people other than Miss Crail] regarding the Cam23 tasks. Twitter's just an annoying waspy buzz, another thing that makes us sit on our little isolated desert islands, its format actually militating against reaching out to non-believers [part of what we try to do, eh?]. The name flippin' well says it all.

Gawd, I hope I'm not the only person on the programme/in the world who thinks this way. Maybe I'm certifiable....? Please, Andy, don't throw me off the programme