Tag Archives: reading

A Rose by Any Other Name…

9 Aug

Yesterday, I posed a question on my Facebook page:

question

I found the responses really fascinating and they got me to thinking a good bit about language, the words we choose, why we choose them, and the like. This is hardly a new fascination. I became a librarian, in part, because of my interest in cultural studies and linguistics; specifically, why research that involved females as subjects always stated such in publication titles, whereas the same involving males did not. Why were males the norm? Why could findings for men be generalized to the entire population, but the same never (or very, very rarely) be said for women? I was curious and it sent me down a path – and an independent study – that led me to discover that there are people within the field of library and information science who study this kind of thing. Who knew? And so I finished up my degree in exercise physiology and headed off to library school. Or something like that.

I asked the question about reading/listening to audiobooks because I was on the Audible website, trying to decide what audiobook to spend my monthly credit on and while reading the reviews, noticed that lots of reviewers referred to the experience of listening to an audiobook as “reading.”  A good number of my friends agreed, pointing out everything from the history of storytelling as a verbal act to the limitations of people with visual impairments. My friend and librarian colleague, Rachel, argued that it’s a “content/container issue,” that if we limit “reading” to absorbing a book through the eyes, then people with limited sight could never say that they “read” a book. It’s a valid point, though it also made me wonder if a person who’s hearing impaired would ever read a book and then say that they listened to it. Do people who are visually impaired recognize a difference between reading Braille and listening? And I also wonder about the neural pathways that form in the brains of individuals who have visual and/or hearing impairments, though that’s a topic that requires a lot more research on my part. It’s too much for discussion here.

People shared that they’re busy and/or have long commutes and if they didn’t listen to audiobooks, they’d never have the time to read anything. But still I wondered, why would you say, “I’d never read anything” when you admit that you listened? My friend, Matt, asked, “So what would be the right verb to cover either?” to which I replied, “How about just saying you listened when you listened and you read when you read?” Or something along those lines. Why do we need another word? Listening is listening and reading is reading. One is no better than the other, they’re simply different.

But do we really believe that? Do we believe that they’re the same? I did sense a slight tone of defensiveness about reading versus listening in some of the comments. I wondered if I didn’t unknowingly imply it when I posed the question in the first place. And I admit that I argued that we do place a lot of value in literacy, that we teach children to read for a reason. (For LOTS of reasons, actually.) So do I believe, deep down, that people who read books are just a little better than people who listen to them?

I wonder if I don’t think of reading as something that’s active, something we do, something we put some effort into, while countering it with a belief that listening is passive, somehow a little bit lazy? I think of the NFL Hall of Famer, Deion Sanders, who I once heard comment that he never quite understood the enthusiasm of fans; the exuberance of simply watching people play a game. “Playing is what’s fun,” he said, with a kind of, “Get up off the couch, lazy bones!” hint to it. I try to imagine everyone at work on Monday morning saying that they played for the Patriots the day before, instead of that they watched them. How nutty is that? Who would say that?

Maybe it’s some of this. Or … maybe I just prefer that people use the right word.

And it’s that last statement that’s stuck with me the most. A few friends commented that to say you’ve read a book when you’ve listened to it is lying. I find that a little harsh, though it’s exactly what White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said about the president when people said he lied about the Boy Scouts calling him on the phone. “I wouldn’t say it was a lie. That’s a pretty bold accusation. The conversations took place, they just simply didn’t take place over a phone call. … He had them in person.” It’s harsh. It’s “pretty bold.” And does it really matter, anyway?

One can argue that there’s a pretty huge difference between the President of the United States lying and people lying when they say that they read something when they, in fact, listened to it. I’ll go along with that. But maybe it’s the times that we’re living in that made me ruminate on this topic for a good 24 hours. There’s an awful lot of excusing people for poor word choice nowadays. And some pretty big consequences in doing so.

Thanks for reading this post. When I turn it into a podcast, you can listen. 🙂

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah…

16 Aug

… here I am at, Camp …  well … at Townshend State Park in Townshend, Vermont. Last week’s vacation spot. It was a wonderful week of camping, hiking, reading, drawing, cooking, and more. Just what a summer vacation is supposed to be. The only downside is that it was all of one week. Too short. Ah, well…

I read three good books while camping:

The latter two are books that appeared in my Little Free Library this summer and I decided after reading them last week that I’d add a “review” feature to my library. We’ll see how – or if – it takes off.

Three work-related books that were recommended and/or loaned to me lately include:

Not quite the page-turners as my vacation books, but worthwhile reading all the same. The first two give very practical advice, examples, and exercises to help one hone his/her data science and math skills, and Few’s book is like all of his others, i.e. chocked full of information and advice for effective data visualization.

And finally, a few interesting websites to peruse and enjoy:

A Snapshot of a 21st-Century Librarian (Adrienne Green, The Atlantic) is a terrific profile piece on Theresa Quill, a research librarian at the Herman B. Wells Library at Indiana University, Bloomington. If you, like me, struggle to explain your not-so-stereotypical librarian job to friends and family, point them to this article as a good example of how we’re pushing the boundaries and redefining our role(s).

Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine is a hilarious – and informative – podcast that I recently stumbled upon. Dr. Sydnee McElroy provides the medical expertise and her husband, Justin, the banter. Actually, they both banter quite a bit, making it an enjoyable program. I see that last week’s topic was cupping. If you noticed those round bruises on Michael Phelps body during the Olympics, you might want to listen to learn about how they got there (and if the science behind the practice is real).

Speaking of the Olympics, Dynamic Dialects is just a downright awesome site to explore how people around the world pronounce the same set of words. It’s great fun!

If you bookmark sites for free-to-use images, you’ll want to add the USDA’s Pomological Watercolor Collection to your list. One “Fast Fact” from the site – it contains 7, 584 watercolor paintings, lithographs, and line drawings of fruits and nuts, and almost 4,000 of those are apples. Imagine! It’s a beautiful resource.

The Open Notebook gives visitors a wealth of insight and knowledge about science writing, and also provides tools to help one become a better science writer. Interviews, Elements of the Craft, Profiles, and Science Blogging are some of its features. 

 Finally, someone once asked how I discover all of these sharable finds. Better put, I think she asked, “How do you find the time to discover them?” The answer is that I read a lot (stories from Twitter; magazines like The Atlantic, The Economist, and The New Yorker; a number of interesting blogs), I listen to the news via public radio and podcasts of interest, and I subscribe to several email newsletters including The Scout Report from Internet Scout at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Austin Kleon’s weekly post, Banana Data News, and Wait But Why. I like that with the exception of the last one (which arrives maybe once a month), these appear in my email on Friday mornings. They’re not overwhelming in length and never cease to offer up something that I find interesting and useful – kind of like how I hope you find my blog. 

What Happened to May?

31 May

It’s not a good sign for my summer that I lost an entire month of the spring. Ah well… it was a different sort of month, filled with some work events and an unexpected life event that kept me away from my computer for more than a week. But before the entire month passes, let me share some things from my “To Share” folder and keep my streak of active blogging months alive. I’ve been blogging here for going on 4 years and have never had a month without a single post. It’s not happening now!

A couple of interesting projects that I tackled for the month involved (1) creating a social network map using Tableau and (2) designing a lengthy evaluation survey in REDCap. For those interested in details regarding either or both of those tasks, I’ll write up some notes and share them in a future post. For now, let’s empty the folder:

Science

If you work in the biomedical research world – or heck, if you simply follow any news about biomedical research – you’ve surely heard the acronym, CRISPR in the past year or two. The discovery and use of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, CRISPR, for editing genes has been an enormous breakthrough in science. It’s also, per this article in Nature, a new and important key for understanding how genomes work. Curious about how it can be applied? Here’s a fun quiz from the folks at Wired magazine, Can You Tell These Real CRISPR Projects from the Fake Ones?

Wonder what it might be like to enjoy the rat race? Researchers do an awful lot of things to our rodent friends for the sake of science, but did you know that they actually enjoy some of them? The rodents, that is, not the scientists. Here’s a fun piece from the blogger, GrrlScientist,  Wild Mice Actually Enjoy Running on Exercise Wheels.

One day, cephalopods will rule the world? Do you doubt me? Here’s proof.

Data and Data Visualization

I may have shared this in a previous post, but even if so, it’s worth sharing again – Flowing Data’s 10 Best Data Visualization Projects of 2015. You can be both wowed and inspired by reviewing them.

It goes without saying that librarians are hardly the only professional group retooling to adapt to a data-driven, data-overflowing world. Journalism has also become a profession that looks very different from what it did just a few short years ago. Journalist Geoff McGhee’s video report, Journalism in the Age of Data, is a great piece that chronicles and explores how news rooms are changing and adapting to be able to effectively use data to tell stories.

Making data available to users in every conceivable (and even inconceivable) means is key, argues Mac Bryla in his piece for Tableau’s blog, Data Diaries: Culture of Innovation Starts with Self-Reliant People. Here’s a snippet:

What True Self-Reliance Looks Like

Self-reliance is built in part on people’s ability to answer their own questions, which is closely related to the concept of self-service analytic, especially in today’s data-driven age.

For many, the idea of self-service business intelligence, where IT opens up a small menu of capabilities for employees, has not yet produced its promised benefits despite having been around for a few years. It is clearly an improvement on the traditional, IT-run report factory, but it is still too limiting to satisfy people’s ever-growing appetite for information.

So far, self-service BI is more like IKEA’s approach to DIY furniture-making. While it allows us to build our own furniture, it’s limited by factory-manufactured building blocks. As a result, we all end up with the same results despite the process being self-service.

This is not enough when it comes to fostering self-reliance, autonomy, and innovation.

An alternative approach is to give curiosity-driven users a new generation of tools, which will enable them to explore their data and answer their own questions on their own schedules.

I loved the Do-It-Yourself IKEA-approach metaphor.

I’ve been reading Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s book, Storytelling with Data: A data visualization guide for business professionals. It’s succinct and straightforward style is terrific. It’s also filled with many excellent examples and step-by-step exercises, all using Excel. Her blog of the same name is also worth checking out. You might note that she’s on a bit of a hiatus after welcoming a new baby to her family, but there’s plenty of archived info worth perusing.

Along the same lines, you may also want to read Scott Berinato’s article in the June edition of Harvard Business Review entitled, Visualizations that Really Work.

For a fantastic, easy-reading article that uses a bunch of data to explain really well how and why complex problems like affordable housing are so complex, read Michael Anderson’s, A guy just transcribed 30 years of for-rent ads. Here’s what it taught us about housing prices. It’s well-worth remembering in this time of inflated promises by political campaigns of all stripes. (My biased, editorial comment there.)

Track the pulse of the US presidential race via Twitter. Just for fun.

Good Reads

One of the best articles I read this month was an inaugural essay for the brand new Journal of Design and Science (JoDS) out of MIT. I admit that I had to read it a few times through and consult a few outside resources to fully understand it, but once I got it,  I got it! Age of Entanglement, by Neri Oxman, proposes a very interesting theory to explain how the dissolution of clear boundaries between disciplines and specialties breeds (and thus, needs) new means of understanding how people work, think, and create both individually and together. And the Krebs Cycle of Creativity is brilliant!

03.25.16-Oxman-Krebs

Source: Oxman, N. (2016) Krebs Cycle of Creativity (KCC). In: Ito, J. Design and Science.

If you’re ever looking for good, online writing related to science, ScienceBlogs is a nice, one-stop site for finding blogs pertaining to all types of disciplines, including Information Science

A future read will be the Journal of New Librarianship a brand new, open source journal to promote innovative practices in librarianship. They’re seeking submissions, editors, and reviewers. I know I’m planning on contributing in the future. How about you?

Cool Tools

Benchmarking with SciVal in Scholarly Communication and Research Services is a great article by my friend and colleague, Rebecca Reznik-Zellen, Lamar Soutter Library, UMass Medical School. Bibliographic metrics have long been used to measure academic reach and impact, and many tools are coming online to improve and expand this method. SciVal, from Elsevier, is but one of them. Whether you have access to it or not, Rebecca’s piece gives a nice overview of how offering research impact, i.e. the measurement of it, as a scholarly communications and/or research service is right in line with the mission of any academic research library.

Do you wonder how people make those short animated GIFs that appear all over social media today? GifSoup is one way. Here’s a quick tutorial.

Here’s a quick and easy way to clear up some memory in your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. And learn from my mistake – choose a single movie, NOT a bundle. I did the latter and am now stuck with the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Ugh! I’ll never watch them.

I missed attending MLA in Toronto this month, but followed along with all of the tweeters using the #mlanet2016 hashtag. Thank you so much to those who kept us stray folk in the know. One of the best sessions I followed was an early morning one devoted to new text mining tools. So far, I’ve had the chance to play with Voyant Tools. It’s simple to use, easy to understand, and is a wonderful addition to the toolkit.

Virtual Knick Knacks

Finally, a few things just for fun:

  • Good Night, Sweet Prince – Another musical and artistic genius left us recently. This isn’t necessarily a “fun” piece, but it’s a beautiful article by Dave Ziren for The Nation. For those of us my age, Prince was our David Bowie. His music lives on, though his fans will miss him forever.
  • Last month, the Smithsonian online magazine published some hidden gems by the reclusive, Harper Lee. Great stuff!
  • Mother Goose Seeks Out Police to Rescue Baby. Who doesn’t love these stories in spring? And do note how it was the female police officer who took direct action. The male officer was too scared. Maternal instincts taking over? I think so.
  • Hilda Bastian is a scientist and editor at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of the National Institutes of Health. She also draws cartoons about science. The National Library of Medicine produced a nice interview with her here.
  • If you happen to be a person who recalls with fondness those Saturday evenings watching slide shows and home movies, you might really enjoy the Home Movie Registry. Yes. It exists. Thank you interwebs.

That’s all for today and, sadly, all I shared for the month of May. I’m sorry I didn’t write more. I’ll try and do better in June.

 

In the Bleak Midwinter

12 Feb

As I write this, it’s snowing here in Worcester, Massachusetts. If you’re not up-to-speed on the “Golden Snow Globe National Snow Contest Snowiest U.S. Cities” rankings, you’ve missed out on the story about my snowy city’s great claim to fame this season… We’re Number 1! 92+ inches and counting. Many folks are tired of it, but not me. I love the snow. I love winter. And I’m loving being in first place! Midwinter

Perhaps the thing that I love best about a snowy winter is that it forces upon us the time to sit still. Stay home. Be quiet. When I’m stuck at home during a blizzard, once I get past the elation that the Medical School is closed for the day and I don’t have to go to work, I hunker in on the couch with a blanket, my dog, something to drink, and either a good movie or a good book, and I revel in the fact that I have nothing to do but enjoy myself. I get this strange feeling that in another life, I must have been some woodland animal; not the kind that hibernates, but the kind that just knows how to hunker in for a day or two. I can do it, no problem at all. 

 For the record, in my 10+ years working at UMass Medical School, this is the first and only time that the school has closed. Twice now. I’m telling you, we’ve had some snow!

I remember reading Helen and Scott Nearing’s memoir, The Good Life, years ago and being struck by their choice of living. In spring, they planted. In summer, they tended to all of the many chores around the homestead. In fall, they harvested and prepared for the winter. And in the winter, they rested. They read and they wrote and they studied. It was the quiet time of year to do those very things.

Funny thing, though, is that while I love hunkering in at home on a snow day, I struggle with it at work on a work day. 

One thing about a new job is the requirement that it can put upon you to be quiet, to pay attention, and to read to learn a lot of new stuff. You know the joke about how librarians do nothing but read all day? Well, I’ve read more in my new role as an evaluator in two months than I likely read as a librarian in the past two years! And the strangest thing about that is how I’ve noticed I have to fight the urge to think that I’m not doing anything. Not being busy attending meetings and troubleshooting problems and answering questions and teaching classes and bouncing from thing to thing to thing … well, sometimes I feel downright guilty just sitting here in my office reading! Reading and planning – two things that I never had enough time to do in my previous job. Never. And now that I have the luxury to do so, I feel a little off my game.

But maybe that’s it. Maybe the fact that it’s ingrained into our workaday mindset and values that busy-ness means a jam-packed schedule is why I feel off. We measure productivity more by a full calendar than anything else. We measure our value in accomplishing stuff. Replying, “I’m free all day on Thursday and Friday,” meaning I don’t have any meetings on Thursday and Friday, makes me feel weird. Lazy. Guilty! I’ve realized that it really is a luxury, in this day and age, to sit and think and read and plan. On work time. 

Now that I’ve begun to plan out some projects, to schedule some meetings, to get out and DO something, I’m feeling better. More balanced.

And the fact that I’ve been doing just what I needed to do until now … that’s buried in the snow. 

This, That, and a Bit of The Other Thing

8 Aug

I like to make the cards that I give to people. Yes, I too often give in and buy the prefabricated ones, but even then, I try very hard to pick ones out that are blank inside, not substituting anyone else’s words for my own. I like the handmade touch. I have a small box with several cards that I made for my mom when I was a child. They are special. My mom treasured them enough to keep for herself and now, I keep them myself. Crayon-scribbled, “You are the best mom” accompanied by a cut-out, construction paper flower is worth saving.

 

A couple of cards that I made for my mom.

A couple of cards that I made for my mom.

Besides the sentimentality of handmade items, they also share the message that the sender took a bit more time to make something just for you. I’m not knocking the time one can spend searching the shelves at the Hallmark store for just the right message, but you must admit that taking the time to make that right message says just a little something more. 

I thought about making cards earlier this week when I followed along with a listserv discussion about the practice of sending weekly articles, messages, and updates to patrons. A number of participants shared some very helpful resources – aggregators, if you will – for delivering timely pieces. It’s both easy and resourceful to subscribe to them. They scour the internet for stories about the latest medical procedure, disease outbreak, trend in healthcare, etc., and send them right to your email inbox for quick reading. Some even annotate them for you, so that you don’t have to be bogged down reading more than seven paragraphs. The suggestion offered in the discussion was to share these feeds with administrators or doctors or researchers or whoever your target audience is. It’s a great idea, but as I thought about it, the practice reminded me of buying a greeting card instead of making one yourself.

Libraries and librarians have given up a great deal of their identity (their brand) over the past years. The full-text of articles are often accessed through third-party vendors or the websites of journals, despite the fact that it’s one’s library that’s often providing the resource. We buy catalogs developed by other companies, rather than developing homegrown management systems. We embed RSS feeds from other sources into our own websites.

And each and every one of these practices saves both time and money, but at what cost?

I got to wondering how much time it would really take to subscribe to a relevant aggegator or journal table of contents, or to set up a few alerts from custom-saved searches, or to put together several Twitter lists that follow sources specific to a group or department I serve. Then I could use these tools to create my own, customized delivery of an article or an interesting piece of news to the same. Think of the return on the investment I’d get by sending a personal note directly to someone with the resource attached, as compared to the same coming from an automated – and branded by someone else – source. Now, I can already hear some naysayers saying, “I don’t have time to keep up with that.” Maybe not, but I think it might be worth a try.

A full shelf of writing and reading, plus Finz. And an autographed baseball. And a holiday ornament. Librarians don't need to be organized at home.

A full shelf of writing and reading, plus Finz. And an autographed baseball. And a holiday ornament. Librarians don’t need to be organized at home.

Related, another thing that I often hear people say is that we don’t have time to read ____ (insert whatever it is that you don’t have time to read – blog posts, journal articles, interesting pieces from the news). Similarly, many say that we don’t have time to write _____ (insert whatever it is that you don’t have time to write – blog posts, journal articles, etc.). This a dilemma. To paraphrase Stephen King (the writer), if you want to be in the information business, you need to do two things above all others; read a lot of information and write a lot of information. How else can you stay on top of it? How else can you provide good information resources to those you serve? How do we call ourselves information professionals if we ignore the very thing that we’re supposedly experts in? We work in a fast-paced and rapidly changing profession. All the more reason to do those two things above all others. Read and write.

I write a post for this blog each week. Thanks to the kind words of many colleagues, not to mention usage statistics, I know that people read it. But I also read the writings of colleagues and other people who provide so much insight, interest, and entertainment to my work, that I can’t imagine how lousy I’d be at my job without them. With this stated, I’m sharing several really good things that crossed my radar over the past week. If you can find a moment or two to read them, you may find it worth your while:

  • Data Dictionaries, a blog post by Kristin Briney. If you’re charged with the task of managing data, at any level, Kristin’s blog is worth following and this particular piece is a great one to bookmark, because it’s really hard to find good posts and good examples on the topic.  
  • Your Two Kinds of Memory: Electronic and Organic, by Annie Murphy Paul. Medical librarians are forever grousing about a certain resource that’s ever-so-popular with doctors and medical students alike. Annie’s post offers an entirely different reason for concern.
  •  There’s a new series debuting on Cinemax soon about the early days of surgery in the United States. Period medical drama. “The Knick” is the creation of Steven Soderbergh and stars Clive Owen, so it surely has potential to be good. After ‘The Knick’: 7 Fascinating Books on the History of Medicine offers critique and … well, suggestions for further reading. (From the blog for the site, Word & Film.)
  • The Trouble with Medicine’s Metaphors is an article by Dhruv Khullar for the Atlantic. Khullar is currently doing a residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Maybe it’s because I majored in philosophy, maybe because I love linguistics, maybe because I was in the hospital last week… for many reasons, I found this a great read.

Finally, I always read Amy Dickinson’s advice column. I need all of the everyday, practical advice that I can get. And my friend, Suzy Becker, wrote a most wonderful blog post to go along with the release of her latest book from Random House Kids this week. Author-Daughter Book Club just about made me cry in my cubicle. In a good way. Moms of sons and daughters, both, will enjoy it. I give shout outs to these two writers who, many days, make my day.