Archive for: April, 2011

Friday Fun: Kate Nepveu's stupendously wonderful Lord of the Rings re-read

Apr 29 2011 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

On Tor.com over the last couple of years, Kate Nepveu has been taking us through a chapter-by-chapter re-read of The Lord of the Rings. In each post she would give a brief summary of the action as well as some commentary.

It's been a great project and it's just come to an end in the last week or so. I've really enjoyed following along with the posts, although I have to admit not with the re-read. Last time I re-read the books was timed with the release of each of the films.

There's an index of all the relevant posts here.

And a little bit from the very first post, way back in December 2008:

Motivations:

I decided to re-read Lord of the Rings and post about each chapter in 2006. I believe the last time I read it was at the end of 1997, when I purchased my current paperbacks* in London on a term abroad and, I think, started re-reading on the plane home. I certainly had not read it since summer 2001, when I started keeping a book log.

For all that it had been years since I'd last read it, I still wanted a way to come to it fresh. I first read LotR sometime in elementary school, and there was a period of several years where I literally re-read it annually. I also have a good memory for text, and so this long and close familiarity made it difficult to see what was actually on the page. For a similar reason, I'd previously listened to The Hobbit as an audiobook. But the production's portrayal of the characters just didn't match mine, and I decided that the problem would only be worse for LotR because of the movies.

(When I read, I usually neither hear nor see what's described on the page. Instead I experience the book in some intermediate space between words on a page and movies in my mind, which is effectively impossible to describe. (Stephen King's phrase, "falling through the page," is accurate but not helpful.) However, I will hear and see suitable references provided by others.)

Instead, then, I decided to post about each chapter as I read it, hoping that this would remind me to read closely. I also read several critical works, looking for fresh approaches. However, because I was re-reading on my own time and schedule, the project eventually fell by the wayside.

When I was recently on maternity leave, I decided to go back to the re-read as a bite-sized method of getting some intellectual stimulation. I started by reading some additional critical works, and in the meantime, I asked Tor if they'd be interested in hosting the chapter-by-chapter re-read.

And the very last, just this past week:

What I Learned About the Book

I'm really delighted to say that the re-read showed me that LotR is a much better book than I had recognized.

The main revelation to me was the prose, which previously I had not noticed and had vaguely assumed was nothing to write home about. Every time I found that I was wrong, I just wriggled in delight: both the paragraph-level examples of brilliant rhythm, and the sheer beauty of some sections. (Without re-reading the entire re-read to refresh my memory--because seriously, recursive much?--I think my favorite still might be Tom's description of the history of the Barrow-downs, all the way back in Fellowship I.7.)

Other happy surprises were the big-picture structure of the book, which I hadn't consciously broken down before; discovering Denethor in all his psychologically realistic complexity; glorying in the entire first book of Return of the King, which is now my favorite; and "Well, I'm back," which was not previously my go-to example for bittersweet perfection.

I'm still not convinced that the pacing of the book always worked as well as it could, especially early on. I have a new-found conviction that putting almost everything Aragorn and Arwen in an Appendix was a really terrible idea. And I will never stop wishing that Tolkien did more with the female characters. But the re-read did what I hoped it would: it let me rediscover a book that had become too familiar to me, and what I found was better than I'd hoped.

Bravo!

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Around the Web: Libraries leveraging Twitter, But reference is dead, Watch your internet profile and more

Apr 28 2011 Published by under around the web

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Reference Assistant (Map & GIS / Science), York University Libraries

Apr 26 2011 Published by under job, yorku

The following is a job posting for the York University Libraries for a Reference Assistant position. Note that a library degree is not required.

The job involves both regular science reference and supporting maps & GIS users and will be both in my unit and the Map Library here at York. For basic questions about the science-y part of the position, you can contact me at jdupuis at yorku dot ca. For the maps/GIS part, you can contact Rosa Orlandini at rorlan at yorku dot ca.

Posting Number: YUSA-7280
Position Title: Reference Assistant (Map & GIS/Science)
Department: Steacie Science Library
Affiliation: YUSA
Band: 10
Salary: $51,440
Duration: Continuing Full-Time
Hours: Fall/Winter (Sept to April): Mon. to Fri.; 9:00 am - 5:00 pm. Required to work a 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. shift one day per week. May be required to work an occasional weekend shift.

Purpose:
The Reference Assistant provides information and assists with reference and data inquiries for library users in both the Map Library and in the Steacie Science & Engineering Library. This position is also responsible for the maintenance and set up of web pages on both the Map Library and Steacie Library websites. In addition, this position assists with acquisition, processing, promoting, and maintenance of the print and digital collection at the Map Library.

Education:
University degree in Science, Geography or Environmental Studies. Specialized courses in Geographic Information Systems and Science.

Experience:
One to two years recent related experience in providing front-line public services in a reference environment or in another high volume public service area. Online database searching and Geographic Information System experience required. Some academic research experience preferred.

Skills:
Typing 40-45 w.p.m. accuracy essential; knowledge of general and science related bibliographic searching tools essential; knowledge and experience using geospatial data and GIS software, preferably ArcGIS; knowledge and experience reading and interpreting cartographic information; demonstrated skill/ability in the following areas; intermediate word processing, spreadsheet and database skills preferably in MS Office (Word, Excel, MS Access), knowledge and experience using web based coding and web authoring software; ability to maintain accurate records and work with data to compile reports; use of an online records system; working accurately with figures; working independently; excellent customer service skills including the ability to deal effectively, courteously and diplomatically with people; excellent interpersonal skills; excellent oral and written communication skills; experience answer general enquires, and enquires related to science, maps and GIS in a clear and concise manner, specifically in a reference oriented environment; excellent organizational abilities including setting priorities, multi-tasking, and working under high volume pressure; problem solving skills and good judgment.

Cover Letter Required: Yes

Dates:
Internal Posting Date: April 13, 2011
Internal Application Deadline: April 20, 2011

Extended Posting Date: April 25, 2011
Extended Application Deadline: May 2, 2011

External Posting Date: April 25, 2011
External Application Deadline: May 2, 2011

Please Note: All applications must be received by 4:30 p.m. on the posted deadline date.

Thank you for your interest in a career with York University. To apply, please ensure that:

  • You have submitted a complete application package (application form*, resume and covering letter) by 4:30 p.m. on the posted deadline date. When emailing your application package, ensure that you have attached the resume, cover letter, and application form to your email.
  • A complete application package has been submitted for each job posting you are applying for.
  • You have quoted the appropriate posting number on your application form and in the subject line of your email. Please keep the posting number and position description for future reference or inquiries.
  • Your application package is submitted in one of the following formats: Microsoft Word (.doc), or Adobe (.pdf). If you do not have access to the above programs, you may submit your resume and covering letter in plain text format (.txt). Please note the application form cannot be saved in this format.

Applications are to be submitted to: jobs@yorku.ca.

York University is committed to Employment Equity and encourages applications from all qualified candidates.

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From the Archives: Glut: Mastering information through the ages by Alex Wright

Apr 24 2011 Published by under book review, information science, science books

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages, is from March 25, 2008.

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This book should have been called Everything is not Miscellaneous. In fact, this book could be imagined as Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous as written by a slightly old-fashioned librarian.

Book-jacket blurb descriptions aside, Alex Wright's Glut is a fascinating look at the history and methods human culture has used to organized and categorize knowledge and information. More Academic in tone than Weinberger's book, it's a bit dryer and more serious and, of course, a little less prone to unsubstantiated hype. This very clearly not a book aimed at the business audience; you will find no strategies within to make your customers buy more virtual widgets.

Let's have a taste (p. 3-4):

My aim in writing this book is to resist the tug of mystical techno-futurism and approach the story of the information age by looking squarely backward. This is a story we are only just beginning to understand...[W]e are just starting to recognize the contours of a broader information ecology that has always surrounded us. Just as human being had no concept of oral culture until they learned how to write, so the arrival of digital culture has given us a new reference point for understanding the analog age.

Overall, Wright has quite a strong humanities focus in the book with lots about religion, philosophy and literature as well as the history of writing, printing, libraries and how people deal with information. Books and libraries are the main focus. Not so much about biology, physics, chemistry and astronomy. Even the biology chapter is more a mythological or sociological treatment of taxonomy rather than an emphasis of the scientific systems. It really gives the impression that scientists don't classify or organize, only humanists. The second half of the book is better, but a general treatment of the organization of information is missing a lot if it doesn't include the periodic table or the various number systems. Astronomical tables, navigational charts, fossils, chemical names and descriptions, genomic data, all are extensive systems of organized scientific data. Wright also doesn't pay too much attention to non-Western systems of organization.

So, let's do a quick drive-by series of impressions to get the main points. We start with a brief introduction of information networks and hierarchies in both the natural and human information space and then into some discussion of folk taxonomies and the relationship of categorizations to family structures. We then get into the means of transferring information symbolically in pre-literate cultures and the development of written cultures through alphabets. The role of classical Greek culture is stressed and the Library of Alexandria is name-checked.

Next up, Irish monks save civilization and the role of books and libraries in those efforts during the dark ages. The printing press arrives, increasing the distribution of books and fixing texts in time and space. Next we explore Bacon, Wilkins, memory and the role of philosophers. The enlightenment and the development of the scientific methods follows, as does the popularity of encyclopedic projects. Lineaus versus Buffon and taxonomy.

As book production grows and libraries expand, librarians must systematize the ordering of the collections and we see Dewey and Cutter make their entrances. Here we really do see that in a library, everything is not miscellaneous. Now the true here of the book makes his appearance -- Paul Otlet! His amazing accomplishments during World War II are examined and explored, followed by the contributions of Vanevar Bush and his Memex. Eugene Garfield, Ted Nelson, some Andrew Keen-like gnashing of teeth (p. 227-229). Jumping to the modern internet era the web is a place to talk, we see almost the re-emergence of old fashioned oral patterns of communication and increasing tensions between oral and literary cultures.

So, on the whole, what do I think? Wright's book is a pretty good summary of what libraries and librarians have done over the years. It's not so good at looking at what's been done outside the humanities. In fact, in the final chapter I sense a bit of a disdain for computer science people and technologists in general.

Also a bit of obliviousness (p. 201):

Web browsers are ultimately unidirectional programs, designed primarily to let users consume information from a remote source. To the extent that users can create information through a web browser, they must do so through the mediation of that remote source. As an authoring tool, the web browser is all but impotent.

It's hard to imagine three sentences that could destroy the credibility of a book on web and information culture more in 2008 than those three.

Today most of us experience personal computers as fixed entities, with hierarchical folders and a familiar set of programs. Our computers are not so far removed from the dumb terminals of the mainframe era. The know very little about us. [Vanevar] Bush's vision suggests the possibility of smarter machines that could anticipate our needs and adapt themselves to our behaviours, like good servants. (p. 202-203)

Of course, this vision has been around for quite a while in the form of the data mining technologies so widely used by Google, Amazon and others to actually find out so much about our wants and needs.

Even so, Wright's efforts do repay close attention, with lots of good analysis and history if perhaps a bit limited in scope and reach. I would certainly suggest that anyone interested in where the information landscape has been and where it's going read this book. You may not agree with it, but it will get you thinking.

(Book supplied by publisher.)

Wright, Alex. Glut: Mastering: Mastering information through the ages. Washington: Joseph Henry Press, 2007. 286pp. ISBN-13: 978-0801475092

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Friday Fun: Professor Tweets Complaining about Student Tweets Reaches All-Time High

Apr 22 2011 Published by under education, friday fun, social media

And perhaps student tweets complaining about professor tweets also reaches an all-time high!

Anyways, here it is, 11am on a holiday Friday morning and all I really want to do is relax and read a book. But what do I have to do? Write a Friday Fun post! What a drag.

So, if I want to get the dreary chore of trying to be funny over with as quickly as possible, where do I turn? The Cronk News of course!

Professor Tweets Complaining about Student Tweets Reaches All-Time High

Twitter has become a popular way for faculty and staff to complain about the students with immediate gratification by "Tweeting" their frustrations.

One Tweet from a user called "@ProfHarmU" stated, "The little bombastic simpletons could not form a simple sentence if it slapped them in the face!" Another said, "If they can't identify the food maybe we should start feeding them what they think it looks like!"

*snip*

Holly Swinson, a sophomore at Harmony University, said, "I don't Tweet anymore because all my crazy professors are doing it and it's kinda creepy."

*snip*

The administration has decided to call an emergency council to convene due to the behavior around campus concerning cell phones; however, meetings are usually cut short due to cell phone usage.

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Around the Web: The 4 Stages Of Understanding Twitter, Tweeting presidential doppelgängers and more

Apr 21 2011 Published by under around the web

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Randy Reichardt: SLA Engineering Librarian of the Year

Apr 20 2011 Published by under education, engineering, librarianship

I don't usually announce these sorts of things on the blog, but since Randy is a long-time friend, colleague and fellow Habs fan, I just had to make an exception.

The SLA Engineering Division is the group that hands out the award. From their mailing list:

2011 SLA Engineering Librarian of the Year Award

The Engineering Librarian of the Year, sponsored by IHS, highlights the accomplishments and contributions of SLA Engineering Division members to the engineering librarian profession.

The SLA Engineering Division is pleased to announce: Randy Reichardt is the recipient the of the SLA Engineering Librarian of the Year Award.

Randy Reichardt is a Research Services Librarian (Engineering) at the Science & Technology Library, University of Alberta, in Edmonton. He was worked there since September 1983, and has worked specifically with engineering since 2000. His subject responsibilities include chemical, materials, and mechanical engineering, engineering management, nanotechnology, and space science and technology. His responsibilities include collection development, reference and consultation service, instruction, and liaison. He currently sits on a number of library advisory boards, and previously served as Standards Chair for the Engineering Division of SLA. Randy joined SLA in June 1984 and has been a member for 27 years.

IHS will present Randy Reichardt with the award and a $1500 check during the Engineering Division Luncheon & Business Meeting, Tuesday June 14, 2011, 12:00pm - 1:30pm.

Congratulations Randy!

I second that. Congratulations Randy!

Writing up this post makes me realize that I should have done the same thing last year when another long-time friend and colleague Jay Bhatt won the ASEE ELD Homer I. Bernhardt Distinguished Service Award. A belated congratulations to Jay as well!

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Around the Web: Academic library ROI insanity, iPad insanity, Library building insanity and more

Apr 19 2011 Published by under around the web

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From the Archives: Einstein: His life and universe by Walter Isaacson

Apr 17 2011 Published by under book review, physics, science books

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Einstein: His Life and Universe, is from March 24, 2008.

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Walter Issacson's 2007 biography of Albert Einstein was one of the best reviewed books of that year, appearing on nearly all the year end lists of favourite science books. Humane, magisterial, accessible, comprehensive, engrossing, all words used to describe this book. And each of them is very well deserved. So, as you can imagine, I was delighted when I found the book under the christmas tree this past December. I started reading it almost immediately, amid the genial chaos of my sister's Ottawa home during the holiday, reading it slowly but surely over the next couple of months. This is a perfect book to read and savour over a leisurely read. As with most biographies, you know how it ends. As well, Isaacson goes into quite a bit of detail, so parts of it can be a bit slow.

Oddly, this happens to be the first real Einstein biography I've ever read. I've had the Clark biography knocking around the house for years but have never actually started it. Reading Isaacson's book also felt somewhat like a gap in my knowledge and reading history had been closed. It's a nice feeling.

Like I said, this book is a lot of things.

Engrossing. Now I mentioned a bit slow. That's true, a detailed biography can sometimes drag a bit and this was no different. However, for the most part I found the story quite fast paced, especially the section when Einstein's fame started to grow right through the start of WWII. As well, I found the last section, Einstein's final years in Princeton, hard to put down.

Comprehensive. Isaacson covers Einstein's youth, his important years as a Swiss patent examiner, a lot of detail about his miracle year of 1905, his struggles to land a secure academic job, his marital woes, his political views, his life in Berlin up until the Nazis took over, the war years as well as his post war life in Princeton.

Accessible. Isaacson hits the right balance when it comes to actually explaining Einstein's scientific ideas and the overall context of the scientific times. Since Einstein himself relied on very visual thought experiments to frame his theories, Isaacson takes advantage of those thought experiments to explain the theories to us.

Humane. This is a warts and all portrait of Einstein. His infidelity, absent mindedness, emotionally distant relationships with his family, stubbornness, scientific mistakes, his resistance to quantum theory, all are covered. Granted, in many ways these failings are presented as quirky rather than damning, but we do get a pretty fair presentation of the human side of Einstein.

Magisterial. Human side, yes. But this is clearly in the "Great Man" tradition of scientific biography. We really finish the book feeling we know Einstein the genius. While still covering the all-too-human nature of Einstein, Isaacson still treats Einstein with kid gloves, glossing over some pretty significant controversies. Overall, it's a very gentle, respectful and even sentimental account of Einstein's life.

Borrow this book, buy it for yourself, get someone to buy it for you, buy it for your library's collection, recommend it for your local library's collection, but read it. It's a great book, a great introduction to the life of one the most interesting and important people of the last 100 or so years. It's rare to read a great big biography of a person and want to read more. This isn't the last Einstein book I'll read. It's only the first. I would heartily recommend it to any library that collects any scientific or general biography. It might be a bit weighty for high school libraries, but any level beyond that would be fine.

Isaacson, Walter. Einstein: His life and universe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. 674pp. ISBN-13: 978-0743264747

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Preliminary thoughts on McMastergate, or, Why so touchy?

Yeah, and I'm touchy and upset and discomfited by this whole thing as much as anyone. This is about my touchiness, not yours. Although please feel free to add your own feelings in the comments.

Thinking about it over the last few days I've come to glimpse the sources of my own unease.

And I've come to think that they are related to the various threads that are becoming tangled up in this controversy. It's almost like there's a Cartesian diagram with four or more quadrants of issues and all the various responses are each focusing on one drawn through one or two or three of those quadrants.

(Yeah, I know, if there are more than four they aren't quadrants, but bear with me.)

The problem is, if I'm talking about a line through One and Three and you're interested in responding to Three and Four -- well, it gets heated.

And I can have distinctly different reactions to various of the strains of comment. And that's because I various levels of comfort with the Trzeciakian stance on the issues represented by the quadrants, ranging from severe disagreement to a willingness to acknowledge and discuss the implications in a constructive way.

Here's what I think is going on, at least for me:

  • There are useful and interesting things that Jeff Trzeciak has done at McMaster that seriously advance the cause of academic libraries.
  • The genuinely problematic situation at McMaster around how some of those ideas have been implemented.
  • A real desire on the part of library degree-holding librarians to be at the core of the services that academic libraries provide to their patrons. Those services include collection development and management in the very broadest sense, faculty liaison, reference, information literacy, research support and everything else.
  • The need to get people with the widest possible range of talents working in libraries to help provide those services, including of course IT people and subject PhDs.
  • The ongoing discussion about the past, present and future of librarian education.
  • Very real human resources challenges in academic libraries revolving around, among other things, retirements, tenure and reskilling.

And more. I'm sure you all can add your own quadrants to the mix. But these are the ones running around my brain.

I'm still struggling with this and I hope to come out with further thoughts in the future.

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