Reveling in geekiness

In class tonight we all had to bring in a couple of reference books. Most of us grabbed whatever we could find at home, though a few of us found reference books that could be checked out of the library. (I brought in 201 Italian Verbs, the MLA Handbook, and the Gramophone Opera Good CD Guide. I would have liked to bring in The World Atlas of Wine, but it weighs too much to schlep around.) We all ended up doing a reference book show-and-tell. Among the standouts: a little cluster of reference books on the Grateful Dead, including an apparently very thorough annotated bibliography and a Deadhead dictionary. And, as a joke, The Zombie Survival Guide.

In other news, last week a classmate in the same class pointed me toward ThinkGeek, and I cannot believe I’ve gone this long without either the "I’m blogging this" t-shirt or the t-shirt that says "There are only 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t."

I am so totally in the right profession. link of the week

It’s not just that it’s a low-environmental-impact house built out of scrap materials on a shoestring budget, or that salvaged tree-limbs feature prominently on the inside. Or that it’s in a lovely rural spot in Wales.

No, what really made me squeak with delight when I found the Low-Impact Woodland House on is this: the house looks strikingly like a hobbit hole.

I want one exactly like it.

Quick Zotero review

I’ve been planning a post on Zotero for ages. Today I was using it to speed up part of a work project and remembered several things I wanted to say about it. So here are some thoughts about why I like it so much.

Zotero is a citation-management tool, like RefWorks or EndNote. It’s a Firefox extension that sits right in your browser (which means you can only use it if you’re running Firefox 2.0 or higher; yes, this is something of a disadvantage, but really, Firefox is so worth the effort of switching over). Once you’ve installed it, you can enter your bibliographic records by hand, but you can also have Zotero ingest them directly from online. If you’re looking at a catalog record or an article abstract and you see a little book or page icon in the address bar of your browser, it means that Zotero detected stuff to add, and you can add a bibliographic reference directly to your library. It works with most library OPACs, with Google Scholar, and with some of the major article databases like ProQuest and JSTOR. It even works with Amazon. Which is so much faster and easier than the citation-entry process I went through with ProCite back in my dissertating days, it’s like a revelation.

It also lets you add notes, either free-standing or attached to individual records in your collection. It lets you make records of any web page you visit, and take screenshots, and attach things like PDFs and text files. It lets you tag your items, though I’m not terribly keen on the way it automatically converts LC subject headings into tags (handy up to a point, but sometimes a nuisance). It lets you declare relationships between different items, and sort things into folders. And generating a bibliography is super-easy: all you have to do is select what you want, right-click, and tell it what format you want the citations in.

It doesn’t do everything: you can’t access your references from anywhere, and importing records en masse doesn’t always work. (It’ll grab all of the results of a catalog search, for instance, but it wouldn’t let me mass-import the ones I’d saved from a search.) And it’ll let you sort your references by author and title and date of entry, but (oddly) not by publication date, which would have helped me today. The other slight hiccup I’ve noticed is that it sometimes has a hard time interpreting book chapters (it sometimes thinks they’re whole books).

But it completely lacks the annoyances that plague RefWorks, and it makes the whole citation process so quick and intuitive that I wish it had appeared on the scene years ago. And it’s also free. Which is no small consideration, either!

Culinary successes of this weekend

Friday night: Gratin de Chou-fleur (cauliflower gratin) a la Chocolate
and Zucchini
. It turned out beautifully (though, note to self: try and
find a bigger cauliflower next time, and use more salt). It was also my
first time making a roux, which led to my first ever béchamel sauce. I’m now eating the last of the leftovers for lunch.

Sunday morning: Zucchini bread with cardamom and grated ginger. I am firmly of the opinion that there are very few things that aren’t improved by cardamom and/or grated ginger. As a bonus, my entire apartment smells like baking zucchini bread now.

I’m making a late New Year’s resolution to cook something substantial every weekend. Let’s see if I stick to it.

Local Baroque concert, anyone?

Hey, Philadelphian readers — anyone else going to hear Tempesta di
‘s concert this weekend? (Here’s the notice about it that caught my attention.) Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I’m planning on going to the Saturday night concert at St. Mark’s. C’mon, it’s free!

And speaking of
music in churches, perhaps this is the result of my having read too
much Dorothy L. Sayers at a formative age, but doesn’t this look like
the most fun ever? Except, thanks to my class schedule, I’d probably
never be able to make it to practice. Another in the ever-lengthening list of reasons why I’d really like to find a job in the area after I finish my MLS.

Update, afterwards: It was a terrific concert. Johann Friedrich Fasch isn’t exactly a household name, and the pieces they played (two concerti plus an alternate andante movement for the first one, and an Ouverture Grosso) hadn’t been performed for over 200 years; some had been reconstructed from damaged manuscripts found in the Dresden state library. If I were more of a musicologist, I’d be able to comment on how Fasch sounds not quite like his contemporaries and how surprising some parts of the concert were. But I’ll settle for saying that I really liked Tempesta di Mare and their decision to bring these compositions to light. So much so that I’m now kicking myself for missing their earlier Philadelphia concerts this season, and eagerly looking forward to their next (High Baroque cantatas in Hebrew!). There may be season tickets in my future next year, depending on what their calendar looks like.

Hooray for productivity

The stack of readings and assignments I have due tomorrow and Thursday? Done, all but for the last five or so pages of a chapter from Thomas Mann’s* Library Research Models that I didn’t quite finish on the train. (I’m finding it surprisingly engrossing. The bit I was reading on the train elucidated why encyclopedias and bibliographies appear under A and Z in the LC classification: it’s a system that dates back to the days of closed stacks, when patrons only had access to reference books to help them figure out what they were looking for. So encyclopedias and other "general" works act as "tables of contents" for the library’s collections, and bibliographies are analogous to indexes, which is why they’re organized using very easily recognized schemas like the alphabet and the continents. I was strangely pleased to learn that.)

Anyway: I’d forgotten how satisfying it is to finish one’s homework early. Now I can spend the evening watching Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries with a clear conscience.

* No, not that Thomas Mann. One of our assignments last term included the task of distinguishing Thomas Mann, the Library of Congress reference librarian, from Thomas Mann the depressing German novelist.

This is why I love maps

I wish I were in London so I could see the British Library’s London: A Life in Maps exhibit. But the site they’ve created for it is well worth a visit even if you can’t be there in the flesh. I especially like the way they’ve linked their images to a Google map of present-day London, so you can identify the site of William Smith’s 1588 panorama of London or compare a survey of damage from the Great Fire of 1666 with the satellite images of the same area today. They’ve even made their maps into a Google Earth layer. Way to merge geographic data with the historic record! Go, look, be amazed.

Winter quarter overview

My classes this quarter are Information Resources & Services II and Professional and Social Aspects of Information Services. I’d heard good things about the latter last term, and now I see why. The professor uses the mildly terrifying pedagogical device of randomly choosing four class members to stand up and talk for a few minutes about their responses to the readings, which means that everyone comes in prepared. (Why didn’t I ever think to do that when I was teaching? It would have spared us so many lackluster discussions.) But the readings, praise the powers above, are really interesting, and he’s also having us role-play what we would do in various real-world scenarios, like being asked by the police to hand over patron records. We started off talking about professional ethics for librarians — a good place to start — and next week’s topic is copyright, which is something I definitely need to learn more about. Plus, we’re going to be learning to write a grant proposal, another much-needed bit of knowledge.

Info Resources & Services II is the sequel to the course I took last term in which we learned more about Dialog than we’ll probably ever use again; this course is less narrowly focused on searching, and gets into the (for me) much more interesting topic of models of people’s information behavior, including the totally quotidian types of information-seeking we do when we try to find out what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow, or what kind of new car to buy, or where’s a good place to take guitar lessons. One of the assignments is a visit to a local library; I’m going to see if I can use this as an excuse to go visit the Rosenbach Museum and Library and gaze awestruck at the papers of Marianne Moore. And we’re going to read Vannevar Bush’s classic essay "As We May Think." I was inordinately happy to see that on the syllabus.

So, yes: it’ll be a good quarter. No more goofing off and reading frivolous non-class-related stuff on my train commute, but that’s all right.

Things I would be blogging about

… if it weren’t late, and I hadn’t just gotten home from class, and I didn’t have to get up early tomorrow morning:

  • The first two weeks of the winter term, and why my classes are shaping up to be really good
  • Pan’s Labyrinth, which I finally saw and highly recommend
  • An idea I had recently about compiling a kind of dossier on the connections between fiber crafts (knitting, weaving) and information technology, inspired by James Essinger’s book Jacquard’s Web
  • The greatness of Zotero
  • My utter joy at learning that yes, in fact, people in the LIS fields do sometimes write historical studies of information behavior in earlier centuries (an interest of mine that I thought was kind of weird and anomalous, but not entirely, so, whoo!)
  • Operas I’m thinking of seeing in the next few months

Things I will actually blog about, owing to tiredness:

"No one’s preventing gays from using libraries—they’re fully welcome
to walk into them, browse all they want, and sit down and flip through
any book they choose, even in the reference section," said Sen. Jim
Bunning (R–KY), one of several conservative legislators who has vowed
to draft a constitutional amendment that would define library
book-lending as a contract between a library and a heterosexual reader.
"But to issue them the same library cards as a regular American citizen
would demean what our nation’s library cards stand for."

"Is that the message we want to send our young readers?" Bunning added.

  • It finally snowed! Just enough to dust the trees, not enough to stick, but there’s hope for real winter yet.
  • I wanted to do the iPod Oracle Meme (via). The basic idea is: set your MP3 player to shuffle, then ask a series of questions, treating each song title as an answer. But the thing about having classical music on one’s iPod is that the answers don’t always work; when asked "What should I do with my life?", my digital oracle replied with the Adagio from Brahms’ Trio for Piano, Clarinet, and Cello in A minor. It also told me that the world sees me as the second of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Inspiring, but not exactly revelatory. (Though I was tickled by the fact that the answer to "How will I be remembered?" was "Baby’s on Fire.")

Personal anthology: Frank O’Hara

Because I’ve got a bit of writer’s block today, here’s another poem from the commonplace book. Some years ago, a friend who shared my fondness for Frank O’Hara’s poems pointed this one out to me. "It’s really kind of a perfect poem, don’t you think?" she said, and I read it and had to agree.

Interior (With Jane)

The eagerness of objects to
be what we are afraid to do

cannot help but move us     Is
this willingness to be a motive

in us what we reject?     The
really stupid things, I mean

a can of coffee, a 35¢ ear
ring, a handful of hair, what

do these things do to us?     We
come into the room, the windows

are empty, the sun is weak
and slippery on the ice     And a

sob comes, simply because it is
coldest of the things we know

Frank O’Hara