Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Thing 3 - RSS and Google Reader

Some quick first impressions...

Google reader gives me a headache! It's so cluttered and monotonic. The feeds themselves appear in the same font size as all the clutter down the sides and above, which means that, regardless of content, they just don't make me want to read them! I can probably change this somehow, but at the moment I'm feeling so frazzled and overwhelmed from looking at it for even a few minutes, I just can't be bothered. I'll have to investigate further tomorrow...

My instincts tell me that, in theory, RSS is a great idea, but if it means losing all the formatting, colour, variety and visual stimulation that you get from reading the same text in its natural environment, so to speak (e.g. Judith Mackrell's dance reviews on the Guardian website, rather than fed to Google reader), then I think I'll stick with web browsing to get my information.

I think I'm taking a risk with this post. It's gone 5pm (home-time!), I'm hungry, tired, and haven't really researched the topic thoroughly yet. Is this blogging suicide? Oh well. No doubt I will learn a valuable lesson regarding the foolishness of posting in such circumstances...

Monday, 27 June 2011

Thing 2 - Blogging (the psychological side!)

I've learned a valuable blogging lesson already - don't post about future postings! It's now week 2, Thing 3 is out there, and I haven't finished Thing 2 yet, largely because I foolishly promised, in a previous post, to post about my "blogging neuroses"! So, I'd better get this out of the way before I look at RSS feeds...

I feel uncomfortable about blogging. I think I'm talking here about blogging/posting that goes beyond a professional remit. Blogs like those of the UL Tower, Incunabula and Sassoon projects, for example, seem to me to be an excellent idea; and blogging for/about 23 Things is equally worthwhile, as by participating in it I am developing, learning and pursuing an end. It's beyond this that I get a bit anxious.  For example, I've published a couple of posts that are not about any of the 23 things, but about things that I, personally, am interested in. They are beyond what I need to do to complete the programme, they offer my own opinions and feelings about things - is there any place for these on a blog which has been set up as part of my professional life?

Why not refrain from publishing these personal posts in the first place? It is, after all, a little presumptuous to assume that anybody will read them, let alone be interested. Yet for some reason I want to, I suppose in the hope that they will connect with someone. Would I have been better to create a separate, anonymous blog for this kind of material? My instincts tell me not to publish anonymously - I want people to know who I am (not just in my blog, but generally in life!) and I feel that anonymity would undermine these connections I'm seeking. On the other hand, I'm imagining how I would feel knowing that, for example, a potential employer had read these posts. It's not that they have 'inappropriate' content in the general sense of that word, but that they give an insight into me beyond my persona as a librarian. In a professional context I want to be judged by my conduct as a professional, not my personality/personal interests.

Has anybody else had any thoughts on these issues?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Early printed excitement

I've just put the finishing touches to the bibliographic record for the final item bound in a fascinating volume of early printed material which I've been lucky enough to be cataloguing over the past few months. The volume contains 105 items, mostly broadsides ("single sheet publications" in DCRM(B) terms) published in the reigns of Charles I, James II, and William and Mary. The collection seems to have been assembled by  Robert Brady (1627?-1700), a doctor and historian, who was directly involved in some of the events the broadsides document. Item no. 47 (one of a few folio format publications bound in the volume) includes a deposition, delivered by Brady under oath before the king and an "extraordinary council" at Whitehall on the 22nd October 1688, in which he gives an account of his part in the events of the 10th of June 1688 at St. James' Palace, where Mary of Modena gave birth to James Francis Edward, Prince of Wales. Brady's deposition is one of 41 (surely they can't all have been present in the Queen's bed chamber?!) printed, "by his majesties [King James II of England] special command", in which he responds to reports that "very many do not think this son with which God hath blessed me, to be mine, but a supposed child" and in the belief that "the Prince of Orange, with the first Eastwardly wind, will invade this kingdom". Item no. 48, which responds to these depositions, is one of my favourites. It includes a map of St. James' Palace, "describing the place wherein it is supposed the true mother was delivered", on which a dotted line indicates the route by which "the child was conveyed to the Queen's bed-chamber"!

Cataloguing this volume has been an incredibly interesting project. I knew very little of the history of this period beforehand and, to be honest, wasn't at all interested in remedying that. But working with these sources captured my imagination, made the events described and recorded in them vivid and exciting, and really inspired me to find out more. I was reading about the events through the eyes of the people involved; their propaganda, their proclamations, declarations, depositions, petitions. What a wonderful experience, and a personal reminder that the collections of early books and materials which many of us look after have the power to inspire and educate in a way that textbooks and lectures can't. What a brilliant resource this volume, and others like it, would make for engaging with members of the community both within and beyond the college's walls...

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Wildlife in the library

My longsuffering colleague just found a beautiful moth on the floor, which I've just released back into the wild. This isn't the first time wildlife has found its way into the library. We do our fair share of fairly run-of-the-mill (but still quite scary!) evictions - wasps, bees, flies and spiders. Slightly more unusual are the pigeons. At least once or twice a year the library staff here can be found coo-ing, shoo-ing and running around flapping papers, brooms, feather dusters and other bird scaring paraphernalia in an attempt to encourage stray pigeons to leave. A student once offered to bring in her father's pet falcon to dispose of a particularly persistent pigeon - thankfully the pigeon found his own way out soon after! On another occasion I came in on a Saturday morning to discover an amazing dragonfly, measuring about 10cm long, and shimmering blue and green, at the enquiry desk. I have also seen plenty of wildlife from my office window - a heron on a rooftop at my eye-level, just a few metres away across the passage; skeins of geese, teams of ducks (nouns of assemblage are wonderful things!); a swallow, which sat for a good half an hour on the open office window; a robin singing on the window ledge. This year I've had the pleasure of watching a juvenile magpie get to grips with flying, using the rooftops of the college as runways and launchpads. And then there is the daily chorus of blackbirds, each keenly defending their territory at the top of their voice. Wildlife is everywhere, even in libraries...

Thing 2 - Blogging (the technical side)

Here I'm going to talk a little about my experience of setting up the blog. The technical stuff. In my next post I'll talk about the psychological/emotional (yes really!) stuff - which for me is a much bigger deal! I thought I'd break it into two posts so that anyone reading who doesn't want to be privy to my blog neuroses can avoid them by just reading this first post...

I have to admit I'm finding Blogger quite fiddly to work with. It was really easy to sign up, name, and choose a basic template, a definite point in Blogger's favour, but once I began to want to fine-tune things (font sizes, font colours, etc.) I started to feel a bit dazed and confused! I am at best a third-rate techie, and have to keep asking a longsuffering colleague for help (which he willingly gives). When I'm in the advanced tab of the template designer I'm not always sure which option corresponds to which element of the blog design. I'm sure once I've spent a bit more time fiddling around I'll get the hang of it, and in fact the kind of changes I want to make are probably barely perceptible to anyone else, just personal whims regarding the size of this text with relation to that, or the amount of space between things (if you read my first post, you'll know that space, be it white or, in the case of my blog, a pale custardy colour, is important to me!). I'm sure there are very good reasons for Blogger to work the way it does, so I don't really mean to suggest that my niggles should be catered for, but it's just a bit frustrating to have an idea in your head of how you want something to be, and for it not to be immediately obvious how to achieve this.

One final thing - I wanted to use one of my own photos for the background, but it has to be under "300K", and seeing as all my photos come from a fairly decent digital camera, the file sizes are much larger. Can anyone help me with this? Is there a simple but effective way for me to reduce the file size of my photos?

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Thing 1 - iGoogle

Earlier this week I set up an iGoogle page. Google has been my search engine of choice (and in fact my web browser home page) for as long as I can remember, chosen over others for the clean feel of the interface – for me the visual simplicity was the great appeal. It was therefore with some reluctance that I proceeded to, as I saw it, clutter up my iGoogle page with gadgets. Furthermore, I found it difficult trying to anticipate what I would find useful. I hoped that using the search facility or looking at the favourites under “add stuff” would give me some ideas; however, completely different searches gave me very similar results, and clicking on the “you might also like” link produced some downright bizarre suggestions! I did persevere, and currently have a home tab (BBC weather, BBC news, mini Wikipedia, Google calendar), a library tab (Cambridge libraries widget, COPAC searchbox) and a travel tab (National Rail train journey planner, tfl tube map, Google map search). My minimalist tendencies held me back from exploring the more light-hearted gadgets (quotes, photos, etc.), but hopefully I will mellow…

It’s taking me a while to get used to using iGoogle, largely because of habit, rather than conscious resistance. I still head, without thinking, to my favourites list to go to websites, rather than using the gadgets on my iGoogle page, even when the gadget would supply me with all the information I need. Once I get into the habit of using these gadgets I think I will appreciate having them all in one place right in front of my face (as opposed to hitting my browser’s favourites button and scrolling down a list). It goes without saying that, as a librarian, the opportunity iGoogle presents me for categorising, organising and consolidating my resources is very appealing! I am still very much a fan of the visual simplicity of classic Google, but having set my iGoogle theme to ‘Swan Lake’ (a photo of ballerinas in tutus), I get a balletomanic thrill every time I view the page, which mostly makes up for the lack of white space.

Over the coming weeks and months I will, no doubt, get used to iGoogle, adding gadgets and rejigging my tabs and pages as certain situations present needs, opportunities and inspiration. Exciting!