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Sat, Dec. 9th, 2006, 09:52 am
Surprise! You're a Mentor!

Yesterday morning one of the younger librarians mentioned in conversation that her goal in life is to be me when she "grows up." This caught me completely off guard, which was obvious from the stunned look on my face.

I know the feeling, though. When I entered grad school, my goal was solely to make a living wage, support my family, and leave time in the evenings for my creative activities (at the time, this was mostly writing poetry and music). My second term in grad school I took an intro course on information science from Judy Weedman, and was blindsided with an absolute and utter passion for information science and the stewardship and social service aspects of librarianship. I had a fervent calling, a true vocation, instead of planning for a job. At that time, I wanted to grow up to be some combination of :

- Manfred Kochen
- Maurita Holland
- Gwen Cruzat*
- Judy Weedman
- Lorna Peterson

It isn't as if I haven't been a mentor myself before. I have been passionate about librarianship, and have taken every opportunity to sing its praises and cautions to people considering attending grad school in this area. Some of them have stayed in touch. I am quite proud of several of them, but am not certain that they consider me a mentor, so will leave it to them to claim a connection with me.

What caught me off guard was that I had not thought of myself including elements of this in my day-to-day interactions with those I consider my peers at my own institution. I just thought of them as, well, peers and colleagues! She told me some of what it is she admires in me -- that I appear in control, that I am productive professionally, and that I'm tuned in to the literature of the profession as evidenced by the FYIs I forward to the other staff here. It seemed like it was the last bit that impressed her the most.

I'm not going to talk here about whether I think these are accurate perceptions. Instead, I want to make the point that sometimes it is the little things that really count the most, the things you do kind of on autopilot, actions that occur simply because they are so much a part of who you are that you can't imagine NOT doing them. Fundamentally, those are the truest part of you, and it is the greatest honor imaginable to be admired for being what you truly are. At the same time, it is those things you do day in and day out without thinking about them that tell people who you really are. So it can be a surprise to find that people are noticing what you don't notice in yourself.

The other part of this that I'd like to mention is that a true passion for your profession, for stewardship, for outreach, a commitment to professional ethics -- all this will inevitably bleed through into your daily life irregardless of whether one is praised or damned for it. Chances are that in any career, there will be many times of both. Strong passions call forth strong responses from others. Somedays, like yesterday for me, you might hear that someone really heard what you mean (even when you didn't know they were listening). Another day, you could be called on the carpet for precisely the same behavior. So, for today, I will treasure the honor of my colleague's admiration, and try to hold it in mind when the inevitable flipside next presents itself.

Meanwhile, I will try to be more aware of what example I am setting in those small things I do throughout a given day. It won't last, but for a while, I will try to be more self-aware.

Wed, Nov. 29th, 2006, 11:02 pm
Information Needs During Wars

"Notes". The Philosophical Review 1944 51(3):341-344.

The following communication has been received from the Committee on Aid to Libraries in the War Areas :

The American Library Association created this last year the Committee on Aid to Libraries in the War Areas, headed by John R. Russell, the Librarian of the University of Rochester. The Committee is faced with numerous serious problems and hopes that American scholars and scientists will be of considerable aid in the solution of one of these problems.

One of the most difficult tasks in library reconstruction after the first World War was that of completing foreign institutional sets of American scholarly, scientific, and technical periodicals. The attempt to avoid a duplication of that situation is now the concern of the Committee.

Many sets of journals will be broken by the financial inability of the institutions to renew subscriptions. As far as possible they will be completed from a stock of periodicals being purchased by the Committee. Many more will have been broken through mail difficulties and loss of shipments, while still other sets will have disappeared in the destruction of libraries. The size of the eventual demand is impossible to estimate, but requests received by the Committee already give evidence that it will be enormous.

With an imminent paper shortage attempts are being made to collect old periodicals for pulp. Fearing this possible reduction in the already limited supply of scholarly and scientific journals, the Committee hopes to enlist the cooperation of subscribers to this journal in preventing the sacrefice of this type of material to the pulp demand. It is scarcely necessary to mention the appreciation of foreign institutions and scholars for this activity.

Questions concerning the project or concerning the value of particular periodicals to the project should be directed to Wayne M. Hartwell, Executive Assistant to the Committee on Aid to Libraries in War Areas, Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York.

Wed, Oct. 25th, 2006, 08:45 am
New Health Search Engine: MedStory

"There's a new kid in town
I don't want to hear it
There's a new kid in town
I don't want to hear it"

There are so many different health search engines available, you might very well be tired of hearing about the new ones. They start up, do very little new, and fail, quietly fading away. Most people just use Google, and why not?

For myself, it has been a long time since I was really excited about a new Internet search engine focusing on health. But. (You knew there was going to be a "but", didn't you?) But now there is MedStory.

This new kid in town is following in the footsteps of such other hot new players as Kosmix, ClusterMed, Healia and Google: Coop: Health (which has since been folded into Google proper). All of these use a new approach to searching called clustering. They allow you to enter a medical term, and then they make suggestions for focusing your search that are based on automatically grouping the results into categories of pages that have information in common.

This new approach is exciting, and all of these new search engines are worth exploring, testing, and comparing. MedStory is, however, the one that makes my toes tap and want to start dancing. MedStory groups items into categories that make sense for clinicians as well as the general public, and it is pretty clear which is which. They show you graphically how the results group, what are the main groupings within a top level group, who are the main researchers in the area, and what is complementary or alternative. Not only that, but the sponsored links are in a different part of the page, and actually labelled as "Sponsored Links". Worth checking out. Me? I think I might have a crush on "the new kid in town."

MedStory: http://www.medstory.com/

Thu, Oct. 5th, 2006, 08:27 pm
Once Upon a Time There Was A9

Once upon a time there was a really cool federated internet search engine called A9. It had a great interface, great content, was easy to use and offered wonderful personal customization services.

I loved A9. Really, fell in love with it, starry-eyed and rose-colored glasses and all. I put the link on the homepage for my library. I put it on my personal homepage. I used it more than any other search engine. I taught it in every class for two or three years. I showed it off to other librarians, other internet professionals, praised it in print as well.

My favorite thing about A9 was searching three image search engines at the same time, and filling the page up with beautiful glorious pictures. Next was saving my search history. Gosh, that was so useful. I used that so often for so many reasons -- to date events, to refind information, and to use this as a database of how my own search strategies evolved over time and what was most effective. Kind of like having a dependable in-home handyman / librarian / archivist / interior decorator all in one. With over 300 search tools, naturally, it was a great place to discover other cool tools and resources and test them out.

But like a love affair gone wrong, we grew apart. It started small. They'd make some changes and my history or settings would get messed up. I'd complain because i was teaching a class the next day. Then I'd get used to things that way, and coast along until the next time. After a few of these small irritations came bigger ones.

Image searching went away. Ah, how I grieved. But do you give up on your lover because they were in a car accident? No, not so quickly, not so easily. The beautiful part was gone, but the essence of mind and usefulness was still very present. So I stayed. Not only did the image searching go away, but the web search results switched from Google to MSN Live. Ouch and double ouch.

Less enthusiastically, but I kept teaching A9, kept demonstrating it, kept sharing and praising. I didn't care for MSN Livesearch, but I'd use it if I had to to keep using A9. But it became more of a chore to be an A9 patron.

A big part of what kept me around was that they had all my history, and I had been with them for so long. Yes, there were other places that offered this service now, but I started with A9, and I would stay with them. After all, they really knew me, didn't they?

But now, oh, now. I can't say there weren't warning signs. Your partner has started sprucing themselves up -- they're working out or wearing make-up, got a new wardrobe, are trying to look sexy. It isn't for your benefit, is it? It is like staying in a relationship and then finding out that all the time you were struggling to make things work out, your partner was lying to you and cheating on the side. The last straw, the veil ripped from your eyes.

The history is gone. Worse than gone. I came home and they'd moved out, cleaned the closets, taken all the photos, my favorite coffee cup ... everything. Just gone. It looks like some kind of natural disaster. So, the choice has been made, but it isn't my choice. Still, I get left with cleanup. Take the links off all my pages; take their name out of the article I'm writing; refuse to talk about it with my students. The love affair is over. But lordy, I'll miss what we once had ...

Wed, Sep. 13th, 2006, 07:46 pm
Repetition as an Achilles' Heel

Today, after I finished teaching my second bibliographic instruction session for the day, the third in two days, the course director asked me how many times I'd taught that or similar content in the past couple weeks. Sigh, I thought, does it show?

Ideally, each group is different. I want to customize what I show for each group, target the content presented to their interests and needs. I want to reach out and 'touch' them, get them engaged and excited, help them see how this connects with their projects and goals and life. I try (usually) to be entertaining, and think of the sessions as "song and dance shows". I try to tell jokes, ask questions of the audience, take questions, do live search requests, demo their special interests and topics. Sometimes making contact means going slower rather than faster, meeting their eyes, walking around in the aisles of the computer lab and drawing them out with questions and discussion points when they don't believe I really mean it.

I like to think that having done these sessions so many times allows me to be flexible and responsive, that the expertise or familiarity that comes from having done this a lot is what allows me to roll with whatever is going on with the group that day.

Well, sometime the middle of this morning's session, I ran out of steam. Part of it is that there really have been a LOT of sessions lately. Due to various scheduling snafus over the summer, a couple months of sessions have been crunched into one month. Part of it is that the sessions don't get any longer or that you have more of them, but things keep changing and the content to cover just gets bigger. (I know, like every teacher in every topic doesn't say the same thing!) Part of it is also having a LOT of projects going on and feeling like I am way behind on all of them. We have a new director, with lots of great ideas and inspirations and energy, and ... well, I don't (at this moment) have the energy to keep up. Part of it is just life. Several great opportunities have come into my library recently, very exciting and worthwhile and do-able. Still, however worthwhile, projects still take time and energy and attention / focus / coordination.

Excuses aside, I ran out of steam during the class. I knew I ought to dialog more with the group to help the important concepts register; I knew I should do a search example that focused on their topics. My fried brain just took the usual default search topic, and rather than dialog with the students, I just demoed it flat. No surprise some of them started to nod off. They are smart folks and excellent students, so I hope they got what was most important, despite my own disappointment with the session.

For myself, this was a day when repetition made things worse. I've been teaching several similar sessions for vastly different audiences, ranging from 19-yr-olds to graduating seniors to advanced graduate students. I started having trouble switching modes for the audience -- teaching some things over the heads of one audience and below the abilities of others. Falling into repetition as a trap instead of a strength. I could observe myself doing it, but couldn't catch myself at it well enough to back out and take a different approach.

Well, enough of that. I think I'm going to make a cup of hot tea with honey for my sore throat and head early to bed. Article deadlines I ought to be working on, but sometimes you just need to take a break. Well, and getting drenched on the way home surely didn't help. ;-)

Sun, Sep. 10th, 2006, 07:06 pm
What's the Difference? Hospital or Academic?

Well, I've been napping all weekend, and feel about to fall asleep again. Why so tired? Busy week. The high point of the week was being part of a panel presentation for the Metro Detroit Medical Library Group. It was fascinating. There were three presenters, all talking about the so-called "web 2.0" applications in libraries. Our slides and handouts looked so similar, some people in the audience thought they had multiple copies of the same thing. To my delight, all three presentations, while talking on the same points, took dramatically different approaches to the concepts.

The planned structure for the set of talks was (1) overview; (2) academic library POV; (3) hospital library POV. What actually happened was more like (1) conceptual model of a paradigm shift; (2) real world applications; (3) technological underpinnings, concerns and solutions. None of the panel participants had planned this, or coordinated the talks. It was a marvelous bit of synchronicity, how it all unfolded so beautifully.

I found it curious that while I was to represent the academic library, my library is actually very like a hospital library in many key characteristics, especially staffing. You see, I am in a teeny, tiny academic library, rich in collections and poor in staff. As happens in many hospital libraries and a number of corporate libraries, I am the only librarian on staff, which means I am basically on call 24/7. My real-world examples of applying the new technologies focused on using tools to streamline and simplify my *own* work. Mostly this was using blogs and del.icio.us to do away with coding (and RE-coding) so many web pages, to manage answers to reference questions and post guides for class assignments, and things similar to these. I am grateful for every little bit of help, and anything that makes the work I do take less time. There is always more work.

It was great to get a day out of the office, and to hang out with other librarians. I haven't really traveled much to conferences and such since I became a single parent roughly five years ago. Thus, I 'live' online, and don't often see librarians that work at other institutions. It was also great to learn new things from the other presenters, both of whom had some great ideas and information to offer. One of the real high points of the day came just as I was leaving, and discovered that Medical Library Maven was another one of the presenters! I had been looking at her blog:


but had not realized this was the same person on the program. Alexia gave a great presentation, and has impressive expertise. Bravo!

Tue, Sep. 5th, 2006, 08:49 pm
Hospital Tests that Don't Hurt

Polysomnogram is the name of the game. One hospital test that everyone assures me truly does NOT have pain involved. All you have to do is hook up some wires and sleep all night. Where's the pain, eh?

So my little one went in for this test over the weekend. My son is special. In a lot of ways, and I won't count them right now. For this story, the special ingredient that makes the story is his sensory hyperacuity. In other words, he has nerves where most people don't have nerves and he feels things that most people wouldn't notice in a very long time. We had a lot of problems with dental work early on. The dentist he saw kept saying, "That does NOT hurt! You stop saying it does!" Sure. Try telling a three year old they are not in pain. It was a lot of years after that before we could find a dentist that could work with the resulting fear. My son is now 12 and thanks to the UM Pediatric Dentistry department now actually looks forward to seeing the dentist.

For the sleep test, there were four steps in attaching the wires. (1) marking the location with a wax pencil; (2)
swabbing the area with alcohol; (3) swabbing the area with a pumice-laced lotion; (4) attaching the actual electrode or head of the wire or whatever it is called. First problem was the wax pencil. We tried things on me to show they didn't hurt. Didn't hurt me, but it did hurt my son. But the lotion with the abrasive in it, oh, my. To my son it felt as if he was being sandpapered. Actually he said it felt like getting a shot (and twisting the needle inside). The sleep tech used a Q-tip to apply the lotion and rub it around in a small circle. That's where the twisting comes from.

My poor guy was in so much pain. I tried rubbing some of the lotion on me. It felt gritty. That's it. I could go into more detail here, but it isn't really necessary. I couldn't feel it, but it was obvious that he did. I don't know if he was having a reaction to the lotion or feeling the grit in far too much detail. All I knew was that he was hurting and wasn't faking it.

Basic message here is it takes all kinds to make up the world. People are different. What works for one person might not work for someone else. What works for a lot of people might not work for someone. Especially if they're special.

Fri, Sep. 1st, 2006, 06:45 pm
Boundaries Blurred and Bent and Bold

Today we had a steering committee meeting for designing our new consumer health website. We have the original version up at the moment. The original site was the concept of a truly passionate and committed woman who has decided to pass the torch along. We are lucky and grateful that she has allowed us to be the ones to carry on. Astonishingly, she has given us free rein in developing the site.

We have a truly amazing great team from all across campus -- pediatric dentistry, orthodontics, surgery, hospital dentistry, psychology, neuropsych, public health, library, and informatics. The whole project is just amazing to me. With very short notice, the team came together and has made things happen. Despite the implied institutional boundaries, there has been no sign of political games or power struggles, just people who care passionately about doing the right thing given an opportunity to do so.

This has all happened in a very grassroots, between the cracks, kind of way. Someone asks a question, and that person asks someone else, and before we knew it, we not only had a team but the site was HERE and LIVE, in a matter of a couple weeks.

The team has just wonderful ideas. Part of the problem is figuring out how we're going to organize all these great ideas, decide what to do first, and get the site up in its new version by our self-imposed deadline in October. We are into the hard part now.

So at today's meeting we were talking about structure -- the site architecture. What categories should be at the top level, how many categories, what levels, how much detail. We talked about the mission statement, the vision, reviewed a planned survey for clarifying what patients really want on the site. We talked about graphics and logo ideas. We talked about having a really big party later. Oh, yeah!

In the middle of all this we also had a discussion about politics among the upper echelons of care providers, and how the information we provide could very easily lead to having the site blackballed by clinicians who feel strongly about one or another preferred treatments. I've seen this happen, both from patients and clinicians -- persons with strong opinions who just won't sway. Sometimes it is a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, other times it is being the best possible advocate you can be for people who need whatever it is.

For myself, I tend to be one of those fence-riders, or balancing acts. Find the evidence, look at it, evaluate it, weigh it, and then make a choice. But the information I look at is a combination of what I can find and what I choose. I can't choose it as information I want unless I can first discover that information exists.

I believe strongly that we cannot censor what information is available to patients. We (as health information professionals) must both do our best to help get the highest quality information possible into the patient's hands, and then respect whatever decision the patient makes, whether we personally agree with it or not. The discussion today was a tough one. Sometimes it is necessary to make compromises about what information you make available, in the interests of being able to make available the greater quantity of the needed information or having that information be accessible and discoverable. For us, we decided to be careful about what we say (as if we weren't doing that already), and to consciously be aware of balance -- to present both sides of problematic topics, with the supporting evidence, and (of course) to encourage patients and caregivers to dialog closely with their own health care team about what is best for them in their own unique circumstances.

Wed, Aug. 30th, 2006, 10:10 pm
Marginal Space as a Concept

In libraries, marginal space is a rather technical term used primarily to refer to binding -- what we do to assemble pages into a unit, or volume. The pages must have blank space at the edges that will be joined, or else the binding will prevent the reader from seeing what was there. A book or journal can have wide margins (good for blinding) or tight margins (not so good).

Marginal space is a concept that is also used in many, many other domains. Here are just a few examples.

"Liminality is not concerned with the old strategies of the edge, the avant garde and the marginal. Instead it is a notion offering a new way to experiment and create using the in between spaces, the interstices. Liminality is fluid, open, unfixed, inclusive, diverse." Shards of Memories, Fragments of Sorrows: Transforming Marginal Space into Liminal Space for Women in Theatre (PDF: large)

"Today the Marginal space grows wider and more interesting while the space for the main text seems to shrink in significance."
Judith McGrath, Carolina Arts, November 2004.

"Marginal space is public space that, lacking satisfactory levels of design, amenities, or aesthetic appeal deters members of the public from using the space for any purpose."
NYC Dept. of City Planning

"If you're working with marginal space ... Well, one of those spaces is on the edge of the law." Adam Chodzko

"Society can establish a stable position by creating some marginal space. Often, only by creating an outside, by creating ideological dichotomies a society can generate stability."
Toshiya Ueno

So, me? I am fascinated with margins, spaces, boundaries, how and why we decide what and who fits in which boxes, and then also how to blur or make crisp the edges between boxes and boundaries and edges. This is my space to explore marginal space.