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Wikipedia: Why You Should Care

September 10, 2011

If you are an educator, this includes all librarians, you have probably been thinking about Wikipedia for a while. Let’s just say you haven’t been thinking about it… you should be thinking about it because a study done in 2009 by Lim and Sook in the Journal of American Society for Information Science and Technology shows that at least one third of college students use Wikipedia for academic research. Hell, I’m a librarian and I use Wikipedia all of the time… which has driven me to write this post:

Wikipedia is awesome, and it sucks.

Wikipedia is awesome because it:

  • Is easily and freely accessible (unlike databases)
  • Often links to more information (sources, images, external links)
  • Is a living thing (and can change way faster than a print encyclopedia)

Wikipedia sucks because:

  • The articles can be poorly written, misleading, slanted, totally false…
  • It is (thus) forbidden in academia (or as a professional tool)
  • It only represents what people who know how to use it want (or want to) to represent

What should we be doing with Wikipedia if it is both sucky and awesome?

We should be using it to teach information literacy

because there are so many great examples of good Wikipedia entries with good references, and really bad ones with bad or no references

because it is relevant (since at least one third of students use it for academic research)

We should be using it to teach empowerment

because the student (or patron) interested in xyz can contribute to the topic. Hey, you aren’t being represented well, or at all? Represent yourself!

Because learning how you can represent yourself not only teaches good writing and research, but it allows for authentic representation. It is not only better for the individual, but it is also better for the research.

We should be editing it

  • because, like it or not, collaborative user-driven information sharing has been, and will be, the way we learn
  • because we need you!

I edit Wikipedia (very occasionally) under greypele. I’ve moderated a panel with a Wikipedia editor, and have contributed to the discussion in closed circles. None of my personal or professional friends contribute to Wikipedia, save for one English teacher who maintains a fake Wikipedia entry to teach his students that Wikipedia cannot be trusted (a teaching decision I disagree with), and another who inserts himself into the lineup of his favorite supergroup (yes, it is me that has taken you out of the lineup each time).

The best Wikipedia-related thing I’ve heard in a while was that it is being used in lesson plans to evaluate reliability, content, and writing style, and then to have students contribute to the entry. Woolly cow, talk about information literacy, relevancy, and empowerment!

If you are an educator, and you don’t know how to use and edit Wikipedia, please learn. Start here:


Cool Libraries

August 30, 2011

I was recently asked to imagine the possibilities for the library I work for if money weren’t an issue.  Of course, money IS an issue, and will always be an issue, even in the best of economies.  However, if I didn’t dream of a better life when I was living in a bit of a slum (I was never really that bad off, but I did fight off cockroaches), then, arguably, I might not have taken the steps I did to improve my situation.

So I’d like to dream.  Academic and public, where are the cool libraries?  What are they doing that we can learn from?

1. Cool libraries are gamer friendly.

Check out this list of ten gamer-friendly libraries, from  These libraries not only collect video games, but they also host related events.  I’m pretty big on the library as a “second place,” so I’m in favor of lively events.

2.  Cool libraries have a place to eat, drink coffee, and hang out.

I think this is a good dream for both public and academic libraries to have.  I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me at the reference desk if we have a snack machine (there is no eating in the library).  This is an especially good idea for an academic library.  Check out the Bracken Library Cafe:

Library Cafe

Ball State Library's Cafebrary's Cafe:



“You’re cramming for an exam or writing a research paper in Bracken Library and your stomach starts grumbling. You dig in your bag for a snack but come up empty. Don’t fret—the Bookmark Café is a great place for a cram session pick-me-up or a whole meal.”






3.  Cool Libraries have cool furniture!

Learning Commons at Loyola

Learning Commons at Loyola



This is kind of a broad statement, because I am talking about cool functional furniture for children’s libraries as well as patrons-friendly reference tables that invite patrons, or students, to be involved in the research process.

Check out this Flickr set of Kansas Libraries’ cool furniture here

Or, for academic libraries, some of my favorite spaces have been learning commons… such as that at Loyola in Chicago, here


What else? I want to here from you.  Whether it is cool programming or cool spaces, share your cool library finds!

Advice for those pursuing an MLS

June 14, 2011

I haven’t posted in a while, despite the fact that David Lee King and other successful librarian bloggers stress the importance of regular blogging. But, hey, I was busy graduating and getting a job.

Being so new to the profession, I’m going to save my words of wisdom until I have a solid context to back them up with.  But I will say a few words to those pursuing their MLS degree.

1) Learn to love technology.  If you already do–then, great! Try to learn more, and make a big deal about what you do know and love in and outside of school. If there is something you haven’t tried (and/or don’t “get), don’t hate… experiment! Not all of what I experimented with did I adopt (I currently prefer physical books, for example), but I learned a lot and developed some new interests (Ebert on Twitter).  And let me tell you this: to romanticize quiet libraries packed with old books is mostly dangerous… if you are going to library school because you want to be in a place filled with books, you might be pursuing the wrong profession!  Archivists excluded. 

2) Make friends! Join clubs and professional organizations! This is true for any stage in your education and life.  Sharing experiences, fears, and ideas outside of school can make you smarter, healthier, and happier… and better connected!

3) Get involved in a practicum and/or internship.  This is especially important if you do not already work in a library (though I recommend the experience even for those currently in a library–variety will give you some edge).

4) Be something other than a “librarian”.  This won’t be hard for a good lot of you–many of the librarians I went to school with were making a career change.  If this is you, think about how you can use your first career to market yourself.  If this is a first career, think about what you are good at and what you like doing. Take a class, volunteer, or do something that will develop this “something” else.  Then you are a Librarian+.  “+” what? I don’t know.  Fund-raising, writing, programming, singing, practicing law, teaching, Photoshopping..

5) Get used to it (learning, that is).  This field requires some serious continual education.  Read blogs! Write blogs! Take classes! Attend workshops! Go to conferences! That is it.  I will say, there are a lot of people pursuing this degree right now, and there are less jobs than expected.  It is tough… so learn not only to get a job, but to increase the value and awareness of the profession so that you may have more opportunities, and so that you can make an impact on the future of libraries.

a kid doesn't recognize a traditional library

what's a library?

Books ‘n Stuff

April 19, 2011

I am pretty sure that I did not go into library school because I like books.  I do like books, don’t get me wrong.  I guess I went to library school because I kinda wanted to be an educator, I like finding information, and I like to always be learning.

When someone finds out I’m in library school the topic of physical books always comes up–print vs ebook; libraries vs Kindle or Google Books.

I am reminded of this again by Tame the Web‘s Michael Stephen’s post (x-posted from Library Journal), Stuck in the Past: “Students starting graduate school who want to work in libraries with stacks filled with books may be aiming for the wrong ­profession.”
Sure, as Border’s closes down, even the most sentimental have to admit: the age of the book is at an end.  My sister alerted me that her school district is adopted the use of Ipads instead of textbooks, if you need further proof.

So what of the books? I’d like to imagine with a meek comparison:

This last Saturday was Record Store Day.  If you haven’t heard, vinyl is back, and you can now wait in long lines to buy rare releases once a year on Record Store Day. According to the 4/18/2011 Wikipedia entry, Record Store Day is: “an internationally celebrated day observed the third Saturday of April each year. Its purpose, as conceived by independent record store employee Chris Brown, is to celebrate the art of music. The day brings together fans, artists, and the over 700 independently owned record stores in the United States, along with hundreds of independent record stores across the world.”

How do they celebrate music? By creating rarities–limited presses by all sorts of musicians (not just indie rockers) that drive even newbie collectors crazy.  I’m not going to go into how sound is better on vinyl (I honestly don’t know enough about it, nor is it relevant to this post), I’m really just talking about how people are collecting a physical object in an age of digital objects.

What does this mean for libraries?

I envision more unique physical objects that, while good for private ownership, might not be good for libraries to collect. More vinyl. More compact tape cassettes (oh, you didn’t hear? those are making a comeback also!).  More KITS–and I think this is important for libraries, as physical objects will have more parts.

So in lamenting the death of the “book,” we might want to be reconsidering what we are willing to collect and why.

MORE! QR Codes

March 22, 2011
Pic of QR Codes in action

QR Codes in action

Let’s get social!

Want an EASY technology mashup? Take notes from Chicago’s indie theater, the Music Box, and connect patrons to your Facebook or Twitter with one snap (snapping is the 3-d “click” of the virtual world).


Better yet, suggest patrons use hashtags for exciting events. Have a special movie-viewing or author talk? Put up posters all over the school/town with a QR Code that pops up the user’s Twitter–suggest they tweet with a specific hashtag, say, #CPLNeilGaiman, and viola–your user’s are promoting your event.  Cool!

(btw, did you know that Neil Gaiman is going to be at the CPL? And they thought the line for Salman Rushdie was crazy… see you there)




QR Codes in libraries

March 8, 2011

I’m back, after a much needed break, to talk about QR Codes!

David Lee King, one of my favorite library bloggers, posted about free ebook QR Codes used as an advertisement at Denver International. Check it out!

QR Codes, or “quick response” codes, are scannable squares that act like barcodes by encoding information graphically. They are used in shipping, but have recently been used in advertising from magazine ads to bus stop billboards. Smartphones can “scan” these codes, and the result can bring up e-mail, text, download, or link to a website (I wonder about malicious QR Codes–they may be something to look out for).

In a recent group project, Nancy Kim, Lena Najarian, and myself mashed-up discussion forums and QR Codes to create a sort of reader’s advisory/library marketing campaign by using QR Codes displayed on book jacket posters to link users to a page on the library’s website about similar titles, genres, and authors.

The possibilities for QR Codes are exciting–even if they only reach about 15% of cellphone users. They are free to create, and have truly hyperlinked our three-dimensional world.

Street artists–take note!

Libraries, take advantage.


“Animated” database limits tutorial

November 3, 2010

As I mentioned at the creation of this blog, I have been working on creating a conceptual tutorial for using limits to refine searches in databases.  This is meant to be part of a series, so it is assumed that “database” has been defined.

I will spare you the gritty details of my journey, but here is a quick timeline:

September–choose topic, write script, experiment with Pencil.

Early October–create storyboard, begin animation using a mouse in Pencil.

Mid October–lent a tablet by the library director. Hooray! Narration recorded.

Late October--at about 880 hand-drawn frames, Pencil crashes when I try to do anything.

November–key PNG files edited with Gimp, transfered to Windows Movie Maker, about 10% of original project salvaged.

Today–rough edition goes live on Youtube! Overstream used to add closed captioning!

Ladies and gentleman, despite the fact that I spent way too much time on something that didn’t come out right, I am very proud and excited. I learned a lot making this tutorial, and I will still be working with it to make it better.

Here are a few tips that might be useful:

  • You can create a non-traditional tutorial without having to purchase software
  • remember that time is money unless you have an intern
  • Overstream can help you add captioning to your tutorials
  • Opensource is great. Just beware beta versions on important projects!!!

Here it is! Thank you to Darryl Collins who provided the wonderful narration.