Shifting & Merging

McKenzie Pass, Ore. Courtesy of Ryan Shattuck. Task Easy Blog 2013.
McKenzie Pass, Ore. Courtesy of Ryan Shattuck. Task Easy Blog 2013.

It has been exactly seven weeks since I moved to Bloomington, Indiana, yet I finally feel like I have arrived. Let me rewind, quick, and tell you a little about my background. During my last two years of undergrad at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), I spent my time working on as many Digital Humanities (DH) projects and jobs as I possibly could in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.

[DH is a difficult concept to define because everyone does it through various means, for various reasons. To me, it means using computational tools to analyze or build humanities projects. This way, we can find patterns we wouldn't see through the naked eye, or display physical objects digitally for greater access.]

By day, I studied English and Computer Science, and by night, my fingers scurried over my keyboard encoding poems, letters, and aphorisms. I worked at the Walt Whitman Archive, on an image analysis project with two brilliant professors, on text analysis and digital archives projects with leading professors in the fields, and on my own little project analyzing a historical newspaper. My classmates and I, both undergraduate and graduate, constantly talked about DH, what it is, who does it, how it is done, the technologies we use do it and how that differs from others.

Discovering an existing group of people already doing the same work you do is like merging onto a packed interstate where everyone is travelling at 80 miles per hour in the same direction. The thrill, the overwhelming “I know I am in the right place” feeling.

I chose Indiana University (IU) for my Library and Information Science degrees because I knew it was a hub for DH projects. I have an unparalleled opportunity working with Dr. John Walsh and Dr. Noriko Hara, both prominent DH and Information Science scholars.

However, I am impatient. After travelling on the DH interstate, I expected every classmate I met at IU to wear a button proclaiming, “I heart DH, let’s collaborate.” I half expected my courses to start from where I left off in my previous education. The beginning of the semester forced me to take a step back, to realize that I was shifting to a new discipline, and that I needed the basics first. My classes are satisfying my library love, but I was still missing that extra-curricular technology aspect, outside of my work for Dr. Walsh.

Then, one random, serendipitous meeting in the library and I was “zero to eighty” instantly. I met those DH students and learned about projects, initiatives, and IU networking. They reaffirmed that the community for which I was searching existed.

Since then, I have found others in the community and continue those same DH who, what, how, why conversations. While individual research is important, we can reach a higher potential through collaboration, especially in the digital disciplines. I am continuing to learn the importance of reaching out and learning from others, which I don’t believe will cease once I graduate. (Will it?)

I assure you that my future posts will be more closely related to library technology and digital humanities tools, but frankly, I’m new here. While I could talk about the library and information theory I’m learning, I will spare you those library school memories, and keep you updated on new technologies as I learn them.

In the meantime, I’ll ask you to reflect and share your experience transitioning to library school or into a library career. How were you first introduced to library technology or digital humanities? Any nuggets of advice for us beginners?

2014 LITA Forum: 3 Amazing Keynotes

Join your LITA colleagues in Albuquerque, Nov 5-8, 2041 for the 2014 LITA Forum.

This year’s Forum has three amazing keynotes you won’t want to miss:

AnnMarie Thomas, Engineering Professor, University of St. Thomas

AnnMarie is an engineering professor who spends her time trying to encourage the next generation of makers and engineers. Among a host of other activities she is the director of the Playful Learning Lab and leads a team of students looking at both the playful side of engineering (squishy circuits for students, the science of circus, toy design) and ways to use engineering design to help others. AnnMarie and her students developed Squishy Circuits.

Check out AnnMarie’s fun Ted Talk on Play-Doh based squishy circuits.

Lorcan Dempsey, Vice President, OCLC Research and Chief Strategist

Lorcan Dempsey oversees the research division and participates in planning at OCLC. He is a librarian who has worked for library and educational organizations in Ireland, England and the US.

Lorcan has policy, research and service development experience, mostly in the area of networked information and digital libraries. He writes and speaks extensively, and can be followed on the web at Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog and on twitter.

Kortney Ryan Ziegler, Founder Trans*h4ck

Kortney Ryan Ziegler is an Oakland based award winning artist, writer, and the first person to hold the Ph.D. of African American Studies from Northwestern University.

He is the director of the multiple award winning documentary, STILL BLACK: a portrait of black transmen, runs the GLAAD Media Award nominated blog, blac (k) ademic, and was recently named one of the Top 40 Under 40 LGBT activists by The Advocate Magazine and one of the most influential African Americans by TheRoot100.

Dr. Ziegler is also the founder of Trans*H4CK–the only tech event of its kind that spotlights trans* created technology, trans* entrepreneurs and trans* led startups.

See all the keynoters full bios at the LITA Forum Keynote Sessions web page

More than 30 concurrent colleague inspired sessions and a dozen poster sessions will provide a wealth of practical information on a wide range of topics. Networking opportunities, a major advantage of a smaller conference, are an important part of the Forum. Take advantage of the Thursday evening reception and sponsor showcase, the Friday networking dinners or Kitchen Table Conversations, plus meals and breaks throughout the Forum to get to know LITA leaders, Forum speakers, sponsors, and peers.

This year two preconference workshops will also be offered.

Linked Data for Libraries: How libraries can make use of Linked Open Data to share information about library resources and to improve discovery, access, and understanding for library users
Led by: Dean B. Krafft and Jon Corson-Rikert, Cornell University Library

Learn Python by Playing with Library Data
Led by: Francis Kayiwa, Kayiwa Consulting

2014 LITA Forums sponsors include EBSCO, Springshare, @mire, Innovative and OCLC.

Visit the LITA website for more information.

Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) members are information technology professionals dedicated to educating, serving, and reaching out to the entire library and information community.   LITA is a division of the American Library Association.

LITA and the LITA Forum fully support the Statement of Appropriate Conduct at ALA Conferences

Jobs in Information Technology: October 8

New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.

New This Week

IT Assistant Coordinator, Colorado State University,  Fort Collins, CO
Publications Specialist, Computercraft, Bethesda, MD
Senior Web Developer, University of Maryland Baltimore – Health Sciences and Human Services Library, Baltimore, MD

Visit the LITA Job Site for more available jobs and for information on submitting a  job posting.

Managing Library Projects: General Tips

Image courtesy of Joel Dueck. Flickr 2007.
Image courtesy of Joel Dueck. Flickr 2007.

During my professional career, both before and after becoming a Librarian, I’ve spent a lot of time managing projects, even when that wasn’t necessarily my specific role. I’ve experienced the joys of Project Management in a variety of settings and industries, from tiny software startups to large, established organizations. Along the way, I’ve learned that, while there are general concepts that are useful in any project setting, the specific processes and tools used needed to complete a specific project depend on the nature of the task at hand and the organization’s profile. Here are some general strategies to keep in mind when tackling a complex project:

Pay special attention to connection points

Unless your project is entirely contained within one department, there will be places in your workflow where interaction between two or more disparate units will take place. Each unit has its own processes and goals, which may or may not serve your project’s purposes, so it’s important that you as PM keep the overall goals of the project in mind and ensure that work is being done efficiently in terms of the project’s needs, not just the department’s usual workflow. Each unit will likely also have its own jargon, so you need to make sure that information is communicated accurately between parties. It’s at these connection points that the project is most likely to fail, so keep your eye on what happens here.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

While a cross-functional project will potentially require the creation of new workflows and processes, it’s not a good idea to force project participants to go about their work in a way that is fundamentally different from what they usually do. First, it will steepen the learning curve and reduce efficiency, and second, because these staff members are likely to be involved in multiple projects simultaneously, it will increase confusion and make it more difficult for them to correctly follow your guidelines for what needs to be done. Try to design your workflows so that they take advantage of existing processes within departments as much as possible, and increase efficiency by modifying the way departments interact with one another to maximize results.

Choose efficient tools, not shiny ones

Even in the wealthiest organizations, resources are always at a premium, so when picking tools to use in managing your project don’t fall for the beautiful picture on the front of the box. Consider the cost of a particular tool, both in terms of price and the learning curve involved in bringing everyone attached to the project up to speed on how to use it. Sometimes the investment will be worth it; often you will be better off with something simpler that project staff already know. You can create complex project plans with MS Project or Abak 360, but for most projects I find that a rudimentary scheduling spreadsheet and a couple of quick and dirty projection models, all created with MS Excel, will do just as well. Free web-based tools can also be useful: one of my favorites is Lucid Chart, a workflow diagram creation tool that can replace Visio for many applications (and offers pretty good deals for educational institutions). The main concerns with this type of approach are whether having your project plans stored in the cloud makes sense from a security point of view, and the potential for a particular tool to disappear unexpectedly (anyone remember Astrid?).

 

Those are a few of the strategies that I have found useful in managing projects. What’s your favorite project management tip?

A Tested* Approach to Leveling Up

*Unscientifically, by a person from the internet.

If you’re a LITA member, then you’re probably very skilled in a few technical areas, and know just enough to be dangerous in several other areas. The later can be a liability if you’ve just been volunteered to implement the Great New Tech Thing at your library. Do it right, and you just might be recognized for your ingenuity and hard work (finally!). Do it wrong, and you’ll end up in the pillory (again!).

pilloryMaybe the Great New Tech Thing requires you to learn a new programming or markup language. Perhaps you’re looking to expand on your skills–and resume–by adding a language. For many years, the library associations and schools have emphasized tech skills as an essential component of librarianship. The reasons are plentiful, and the means are easier that you might think. With a library card, a few free, open source software tools, and some time, you can level up your tech skills by learning a new language.

I humbly suggest the following approach to leveling up, which has worked for me.

What you’ll need

A computer. A Windows, OS X, or Linux laptop or desktop computer will suffice.

Resources. Online programming “schools”, such as Codeacademy and Code School are a great concept and work for some people, but I’ve personally found them to provide an incomplete education. The UI demands brevity, and therefore many of the explanations and instructions require a certain level of knowledge about coding in general that most beginners lack. I have found good ol’ fashioned books to be a better resource. Find titles that have exercises, and you’ll learn by doing. Actually building something practical makes the process enjoyable. The Visual Quickstart Guide series by Peachpit Press and the Head First series by O’Reilly usually teach through practical examples.

Books are a great source of knowledge, but so are your fellow coders. Most languages have a community with an online presence, and it would be a good idea to find those forums and bookmark them. But if you were to bookmark only one forum, it should be the Stack Overflow forum for the language you’re learning.

Some languages also have official documentation online, for example, php.net and python.org.

Time. Carve out time wherever you can. If you take public transportation to work, use that time (if you can find a seat). Learn during your lunch break. Give up a season of your favorite TV show (you can always catch up later in a weekend binge-watch when the DVDs hit your library shelves).

Where to start

Here and now. Maybe you’re reading this because you’ve just been tapped to implement the Great New Tech Thing at your library. Or maybe you’re considering adding a skill to your resume. Whatever the reason, there’s no time like the present.

Leveling up for professional development affords you greater flexibility. Start with a language your friends know–they will be an invaluable resource if you get stuck along the way. Also, consider starting with a simple language that you can build upon. If you already know HTML, then PHP and JavaScript are natural progressions, and they open the door to object-oriented languages like C++, Java, or Python. Finally, make sure there’s a viable–if not growing–community around the language you want to learn. Not only does this give a sense of the language’s future and staying-power, the community can also provide support through online forums, conferences and meetups, etc.

If you’re new to programming languages, I hope this approach helps. If you’re a veteran coder, please share your learning approach in the comments.

Doing Web Accessibility

Physical library spaces are designed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), hence the wide aisles, low checkout stations, and ramps. In contrast, alt tag awareness is low and web accessibility not a priority for most librarians. Yet for visually or otherwise impaired users, an improperly coded website can be like wandering into a maze and hitting a brick wall of frustration.

With accessibility in mind, I’ve been teaching myself to assess and retrofit webpages, aligning my library’s website with the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the U.S. Rehabilitation Act’s Section 508, and this WebAIM Infographic aimed at accessible design as well as code. For best practices, these are your first stops.

Design for Users

Crucially, designing with accessibility in mind makes for websites that are more usable for everyone, not just for disabled users. Questioning trendy design elements can pay off too. Do image-heavy carousels and page-spanning images really enhance UX enough to justify the space they fill and the accessibility problems they may engender?

Out-of-the-box products may come with their own access problems. WordPress themes often provide low contrast. LibGuides omits the HTML lang attribute on some templates. Developers forget alt tags and form labels. Sometimes it’s easier just to fix stuff yourself.

And I use the word “easier” advisedly. :)

W3C Markup Validator

First, copy and paste your webpage’s URL into the free W3C Markup Validation Service to check the HTML for conformance to W3C web standards. Optimally, your code would be up to HTML5 (and CSS3) standards. This makes for cleaner aesthetics, no deprecated elements, and fewer errors when you run accessibility evaluation tools in the next stages of this process. The Validator will tell you which lines of code need correcting, and lead you to relevant documentation. Once your code is sound (imperfections are ok), break out the WAVE tool.

Screenshot of WAVE web accessibility test resultsWAVE Tool

Plug in a URL, and the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool from WebAIM will scan your code, flagging errors, marking structural elements, and alerting you to potential issues. WAVE will flag link texts that say “Click here” or “More,” redundant or empty links, PDFs that may or may not be optimized for accessibility, missing alternative text and form elements, and other problems. WAVE also says what the page does right (for example, WAI-ARIA features, helpful alternative text, and the like).

As a coding newbie, I love WAVE’s unique color-coded icons, which you can click to see thorough explanations of each concern. Better yet, WAVE also comes as a Firefox toolbar that lets you evaluate pages on the fly–and it tests for JavaScript too!

Browser Developer Tools

To dig deeper into your code, I suggest using a browser developer tool (Bryan Brown wrote an excellent LITA Blog post on such tools). Google Chrome’s Accessibility Developer Tools are particularly good at auditing for color contrast and recognizable links. Add these to your browser and you can test any page for accessibility and discover exactly what could be improved. Note that these tools can be really nitpicky, and again, functionality rather than perfection is our goal.

Manual Checks

Can you turn off the CSS and still make sense of the page design? Did nothing disappear? Can you manually resize the font to at least 150% without spectacularly messing up the design? Can you navigate using only the keyboard? Are any videos close captioned and any audio files accompanied by transcripts? Can you run pages or sections of pages through a screen reader and still make sense of the content? Try it, and congratulations! You just became a web accessibility guru.

Conclusion 

You’re not a web developer, you say? Neither am I. But even if your job has nothing to do with digital services, librarians need to know about these technical matters so as to make the case for prioritizing web accessibility and to be able to speak the language of colleagues (often the IT department) who do engage in web development. Web accessibility builds equal access and diverse communities. These are enduring values for librarians, and why I joined the profession.

What about you? How do you “do” web accessibility?

Jobs in Information Technology: Oct 1

New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.

New This Week

Dean of the Library, California Maritime Academy, Vallejo, CA

Library Systems and  Applications Specialist, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, OH

Manager, Digital Services, Florida Virtual Campus, Gainesville, FL

Senior Software Developer, University of Maryland, College Park – Libraries, College Park, MD

Visit the LITA Job Site for more available jobs and for information on submitting a  job posting.

Cataloging a world of languages

Painting of the Tower of BabelMy university has a mandate to increase our international reach through research collaborations, courses offered, and support for international students.

From the technical services side, this means our catalogers must provide metadata for resources in unfamiliar languages, including some that don’t use the Roman alphabet. A few of the challenges we face include:

  • Identifying the language of an item (is that Spanish or Catalan?)
  • Cataloging an item in a language you don’t speak or read (what is this book even about?)
  • Transliterating from non-Roman alphabets (e.g. Cyrillic, Chinese, Thai)
  • Diacritic codes in copy cataloging that don’t match your system’s encoding scheme

I’d like to share a few free tools that our catalogers have found helpful. I’ve used some of these in other areas of librarianship as well, including acquisitions and reference.

Language identifiers

Sometimes I open a book or article and have no idea where to start, because the language isn’t anything I’ve seen before.

I turn to the Open Xerox Language Identifier, which covers over 80 different languages. Type or paste in text of the mysterious language, and give it a try. The more text you provide, the more accurate it is.

Language translators

Web translation tools aren’t perfect, but they’re a great way to get the gist of a piece of writing (don’t use them for sending sensitive emails to bilingual coworkers, however).

Google Translate includes over 75 languages, and also a language identification tool. Enter the title, a few chapter names, or back cover blurb, and you’ll get the general idea of the content.

Transliteration tables

If you catalog in Roman script, and you wind up with a resource in Cyrillic or Chinese, how do you translate that so the record is searchable in your ILS? Transliteration tables match up characters between scripts.

The ALA-LC Romanization Tables for non-Roman scripts are approved by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress. They cover over 70 different scripts.

Bibliographic dictionaries

We’re fortunate that librarians love to share: there are quite a few sites produced by libraries that look at common bibliographic terms you’d find on title pages: numbers, dates, editions, statements of responsibility, price, etc.

To share two Canadian examples, Memorial University maintains a Glossary of Bibliographic Information by Language and Queen’s University has a page of Foreign Language Equivalents for Bibliographic Terms.

If you’ve ever seen the phrase “bibliographic knowledge of [language]” in a job posting, this is what it’s referring to—when you’ve cataloged enough material in a language to know these terms, but can’t carry on a conversation about daily life. I have bibliographic knowledge of Spanish, Italian, and Germany, but don’t ask me to go to a restaurant in Hamburg and order a hamburger.

Subject-specific glossaries

Similar to bibliographic dictionaries, these are for terms common to specific subjects.

My university has significant music and map collections, so I often consult the language tools at Music Cataloging at Yale (…and I once  thought music was the universal language) and the European Environment Agency’s Terminology and Discovery Service.

Diacritic charts

In order to ensure that accented characters and special symbols display properly in the catalog, it’s important to have the correct diacritic code.

Our system uses Unicode, and we often rely on the Unicode Character Code Chart or Unicode Character Table.  Which interface you use is personal preference.

It may also be worth coming up with a cheat sheet of the codes you use most frequently – for example, common French accents if you’re cataloging Canadian government documents, which are bilingual.

Many Integrated Library Systems also have diacritic charts built in, where you can select the symbol you need and click it to place it in the record.

Diacritic guessers

Diacritic charts can be long and involved (the Unicode example above is a bit of a nightmare), so if you’re working with a new language, browsing through them searching for a specific code can be time-consuming. You can see the symbol in front of you, but have no idea what it’s called.

This is where Shapecatcher comes in.  This utility allows you to draw a character using your mouse or tablet. It identifies possible matches for the symbol and gives you the symbol’s name and Unicode number.

Have you encountered issues handling different languages when cataloguing? Is there a free language tool you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Credits: Image of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting The Tower of Babel courtesy of the Google Art Project. Many thanks also to my colleagues Judy Harris and Vivian Zhang for sharing their language challenges and tools.

2014 LITA Forum Student Registration Rate Deadline Extended

forum2014cactusThe special student registration rate to the 2014 LITA National Forum has been extended through Monday October 6th, 2014.  The Forum will be held November 5-8, 2014 at the Hotel Albuquerque in Albuquerque, NM. Learn more about the Forum here.

This special rate is intended for a limited number of graduate students enrolled in ALA accredited programs. In exchange for a discounted registration, students will assist the LITA organizers and the Forum presenters with on-site operations. This year’s theme is “Transformation: From Node to Network.” We are anticipating an attendance of 300 decision makers and implementers of new information technologies in libraries.

The selected students will be expected to attend the full LITA National Forum, Thursday noon through Saturday noon. This does not include the pre-conferences on Thursday and Friday. You will be assigned a variety of duties, but you will be able to attend the Forum programs, which include 3 keynote sessions, 30 concurrent sessions, and a dozen poster presentations.

The special student rate is $180 – half the regular registration rate for LITA members. This rate includes a Friday night reception at the hotel, continental breakfasts, and Saturday lunch. To get this rate you must apply and be accepted per below.

To apply for the student registration rate, please provide the following information:

  • Complete contact information including email address,
  • The name of the school you are attending, and
  • 150 word (or less) statement on why you want to attend the 2014 LITA Forum

Please send this information no later than October 6, 2014 to lita@ala.org, with “2014 LITA Forum Student Registration Request” in the subject line.

Those selected for the student rate will be notified no later than October 10, 2014.

The Password Dilemma

366px-Elizabeth_Montgomery_Allen_Ludden_Password_1971
Elizabeth Montgomery on the game show Password, 1971

One-on-one technology help is one of the greatest services offered by the modern public library. Our ability to provide free assistance without an underlying agenda to sell a product puts us in a unique and valuable position in our communities. While one-on-one sessions are one of my favorite job duties, I must admit that they can also be the most frustrating, primarily because of passwords. It is rare that I assist a patron and we don’t encounter a forgotten password, if not several. Trying to guess the password or resetting it usually eats up most of our time. I wish that I were writing this post as an authority on how to conquer the war on passwords, but I fear that we’re losing the battle. One day we’ll look back and laugh at the time we wasted trying to guess our passwords; resetting them again and again, but it’s been 10 years since Bill Gates predicted the death of the password, so I’m not holding my breath.

The latest answer to this dilemma is password managers like Dashlane and Last Pass. These are viable solutions for some, but the majority of the patrons I work with have little experience with technology and a password manager is simply too overwhelming.

I’ve been thinking a lot about passwords lately; I’ve read countless articles about how to manage passwords, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer. That said, I think that the best thing librarians can do is change our attitude about passwords in general. Instead of considering them to be annoyances we should view them as tools. Passwords should empower us, not annoy us. Passwords are our first line of defense against hackers. If we want to protect the content we create, it’s our responsibility to create and manage strong passwords. This is exactly the perspective we should share with our patrons. Instead of griping about patrons who don’t know their email passwords, we should take this opportunity to educate our patrons. We should view this encounter as a chance to stop patrons from using one password across all of their accounts or God forbid, using 123456 as their password.

If a patron walks away from a one-on-one help session with nothing more than a stronger account password and a slightly better understanding of online security, then that is a victory for the librarian.

What’s your take on the password dilemma? Do you have any suggestions for working with patrons in one-on-one situations? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

The Library and Information Technology Association