All posts by Shannon

Fits and Starts and Technology

The DMCI project has been moving in fits and starts. The initial idea was accepted,  I explored technology, focused an idea, realized technology we planned on using probably isn’t going to work, started rethinking whole approach. I know this is all part of the process, but it feels like I’m back at square one.

After OpenExhibits underwent its merger it seems like the product has been left to flounder. It is now freely available to everyone, but the website is still glitchy and there is minimal support. So, we have started rethinking what we are going to use to do the digital gallery displays. With this rethinking of the technology comes the rethinking of the content. In many ways what you use to create a project dictates what you say, the medium changes the message. So, here I am rethinking (once again) how I am going to approach this project. To me, Open Exhibits, was very much focused on being a container for a bunch of items to interact with, whether it was maps, images, or sound (at least at the very basic authorship levels). This approach can be useful in some settings, but with what we wanted to do I couldn’t seem to make the pieces fit inside the box. Now, that we are looking elsewhere to present the content I am more open to reconsider the narrative I want to tell. In fact, now I feel like I can tell a story rather than just give people a bunch of artifacts to touch and and fling around a touch screen.

So, the search continues for the technology that doesn’t require a huge learning curve, but is still powerful enough that we can build something that we can show-off in the Digital Galleries in the ITCC. As I was discussing this search with our assistant systems librarian, Katherine, she mentioned a tool called Zeega and a journal called Sensate Journal that features some projects the used Zeega. This one, “Hearing the Hills: An Acoustic Encounter with South Dakota’s Black Hills” not only tells a narrative, but has multiple threads you can explore while you go through. This example made the cogs in my head start moving. This was what I really wanted to do with the project. Have a semi-guided tour through a narrative that allowed the viewer some agency, but in the end moved them in a direction that I wanted them to head. I spent the better part of this morning looking at various different story-telling like websites. Shout out to 50 Ways to Tell a Story that also provided me some inspiration as I looked at through the different examples.

Another component of this is the digital galleries are touch screens and until we get the physical computers here it will be hard to test out usability. Can we build a website in something like WordPress and have it be useable via touch? So, we are playing the waiting game on that too.

I’m no closer to an end product, but it has been good to work through a lot of these issues and I am thankful for my colleagues here in the Library and around University for helping me think this through. More to come on this adventure to get something ready for the digital gallery.







Getting the Ball Rolling

break on through to the other sideThe hard part of getting going on a big project is deciding how to attack it. Currently I’m facing two pressing issues:

1) The software we are using for the Digital Galleries, Open Exhibits, is something I’ve never used before so there will be a bit of a learning curve and the final shape of the project will really depend on how easy/hard it will be to develop in this system. Additionally, Open Exhibits just underwent a merger with a company called Gesture Works so the website is in a bit of chaos right now. The first day I finally sat down to sink my teeth in was the day after the merger happened and I was watching things change on the site as I tried to find my way around. I’m giving the site some time and I hope the documentation pops back up. Expect more posts about the joys/frustrations of learning a new piece of software.

2) The second pressing issue is the scope of the project. Putting together something that is about UMW history can be an endless task. Being the perfectionist I am I want to cover it all, but it is truly not realistic. I have to be okay with deciding to cover a certain theme or time period or some buildings. I get so excited about different possibilities and aspects of UMW history that I find it difficult to be okay with narrowing it down.

My goals this week are to decide what my scope will be and now that the Open Exhibits is getting back in it’s groove I need to start playing around with the software. If anyone has any suggestions on scope please feel free to suggest. We are possibly thinking about featuring the initial 3 buildings on campus (Monroe, Virginia, Willard). Not sure if we would cover their entire history, but maybe it will be doable!

Why We Weed

“Simpson Library and Bench 3” by shauser

Here at UMW we have an on-going weeding project. Weeding means deselecting books from the collection. The Simpson Library (the building that the school’s library moved in to in the mid-80s from a much smaller building) has never undergone a major weeding project in its life. Sure, throughout the years books have been discarded here and there, but it appears a thorough examination of the collection has not occurred. The project at Mary Washington started in 2011 and we are still chugging along here in 2013 (with a lot more to go).

I was hired at the end of June this year as the Collection Maintenance Supervisor and I’ve learned a lot about all the pieces that make the library run. When I was told about the Library’s weeding project I was initially hesitant. I had many questions and concerns, so I started reading up on weeding. The more I read the better I understood the reason and methodologies of weeding a collection. So, why do we weed?

Libraries are like shrubberies. No really, a library is like a living organism. Not only do you need water and fertilize it, but you also have to prune it back too. A collection is at its best when it gets both forms of attention. Many studies have shown that a weeded collection actually circulates better! It seems counter-intuitive, how does having less books on the shelves equal more circulation? For starters, with less books to sort through the ones that people are really looking for are easier to find. A bit of human psychology plays in to this too. Shelves that aren’t packed too tightly and have books that are in good condition attract attention. People, for the most part, don’t pick up a book if it is in poor condition and the vast majority of books that are selected for weeding here at Simpson are older books that tend to be in poor condition.

“Over the Stacks 3” by shauser

How do we decide? Most literature on weeding suggests the best way to flag books for weeding is to look at the circulation count on the book. This is the most objective way that a library with a large collection can begin to tackle a weeding project. So, we look at the different circulation counts and the date the book was added to our collection. Depending on the subject area we are looking at we have slightly different criteria. For example, technology books should be weeded more aggressively (and regularly) because of the rapidly changing nature of technology. So, for that section we might have a shorter cut-off date than say for american literature. For most sections we have a cut-off date of 1998 for circulation. On our weeding slip it says, “This book has not circulated since 1998, or for its entire shelf life”. I will say that even with a cut-off date of 1998 the vast majority of the books we have been flagging are books that have never circulated or have extremely low circulation. There are a few more nuances about our selection of books for weeding, but that is how we start working our way through a section. After a section has been flagged we invite the faculty that cover the content area to come evaluate our choices. This is a critical step and without it our weeding project is blind in many ways. Faculty, the content experts, can tell us if something needs to stay. Maybe it is a superior translation of a work or it is an important part of a canon. One of the fun things for me, being down in the trenches on this project, is seeing the reasons faculty give for why a book should be saved: “Last nobel prize winner from his country”, “One of the few female poets. Mostly male poets on the shelves”. I hope that faculty, after spending time in the stacks, see not only what we have to offer, but make future suggestions about what we could add to better support their classes and their department’s mission.

But what if? There is an understandable fear that the Library will get rid of something that someone might need or something rare or valuable. This is certainly a possibility, but odds are the vast majority of what we recycle consists of unusable and out-dated books, which, is why they probably haven’t circulated. It is not a goal of the Simpson Library to be a major archival library. We don’t have the space or the funds to be that. At a small school like this we do our best to support current needs and for what we don’t have in house we have an amazing Inter-Library Loan program. Studies of weeded libraries show that there end up being very few requests on the books that were weeded. If something does come back in to demand in the future we can add it back to the collection. Ask yourself, is the small possibility we get rid of a book that is needed outweigh the gains we get from weeding the collection?

“UMW Think Lab Sign” by shauser

What is gained? As I’ve mentioned earlier in this post one of the gains of weeding a collection is increased circulation. I’d love to see our collection circulate more. As I commented in Betsy Lewis’s post, 73% of the books we are weeding from the PQ section have never circulated. Thousands of books that have never circulated, their stories unread, I think that is the bigger tragedy. By weeding our collection we create space on the shelves for more up to date content and we are able to grow content areas that support the shifts and changes in Mary Washington’s needs. We have a fairly new Women and Gender studies major and even newer Digital Studies minor. I think it is more important to support these areas than to hold on to some unused books because of a nostalgia for the printed text. Shelf space is a precious commodity in the library and by weeding we make the best use of that space. Freeing up space in the library means we can also think about doing something creative with the extra room. The Think Lab, which is housed in the Simpson Library, is a brilliant example of what freeing up space can do.

A few more things. I hope this post gives a glimpse in to what weeding is and why we do it. I encourage faculty to get familiar with what the library has to offer and to encourage student to use it too. We have wonderful reference librarians that know a thing or two about what the library has to offer (hint: it is not just books!). Honestly, most students don’t check-out books from the library unless they have a reason to and usually that reason is a class assignment. In an ideal world students would check out all kinds of books without prompting, but that is not the reality we live in. I much rather have to discard a book because it is so well used we have to replace it than have to discard a book because it has been neglected on our shelves for decades. If you care about saving books, you have to use them, that is the reality.

Think Local, Write Stories

…the world is full of people now who are doing what I just said, seeing something that needs to be done and starting to do it, without the government’s permission, or official advice, or expert advice, or applying for grants or anything else. They just start doing it. -Wendell Berry, Interview with Bill Moyers

I attended the OpenVA conference at the University of Mary Washington and my mind has been spinning on all different levels; from the big picture down to the nitty-gritty day to day activities. There are a multitude of things one could take away from a conference like OpenVA, so I can only speak about the ideas that I will carry with me.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, people matter. Change and innovation happen when a group of people get together, grab their tools and get to work. I recently watched Bill Moyers interview of the legendary Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry, as Wikipedia puts it, “is an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer.” I highly recommend reading Berry and I additionally recommend the blog of Michael Doyle whose writing introduced me to Wendell Berry. One point Berry repeatedly comes back to is the idea that what makes the difference is a group of committed local people seeing a need and pushing and pulling until things start to happen. I’ve seen this philosophy in action at UMW and I see it in action at other schools in Virginia. It reminds me of that famous quote that one should “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I’ve been at my job at UMW’s Library for almost 4 months now and I feel challenged to reach out to my colleagues here in the library and even more importantly reach out to the students that I manage. This conviction that I need to grab on to people and trust that we can cause change is not one I acquiesce to easily. People and relationships are messy. A wonderful and terrifying truth all at once. I’m trying, as Gardner Campbell challenged us, to “assume good faith“.

The second and equally important point I have taken away with me is one that I’ve come to again and again (and again and again); it is the value of story-telling. We need to be narrating the work we are doing. Humans understand the world through the stories and metaphors we construct. We crave and need stories to make sense of our world. In my life the work of Alan Levine and Barbara Ganley are constant reminders of this. When Alan shares his stories I find myself seeking out the stories and connections in my own life too. When Barbara shares the story telling projects of various groups and communities I find myself in awe of the vast richness and complexity of the human experience. Narrating ones work, even the mundane day to day, isn’t just an activity we should do so we can have things to put on our annual review, we should do it because we are human! Most (I want to say all) of us are already sharing our stories in one way or another. Whether it is with a friend over the phone or with some co-workers at lunch, we share our stories. The next step is to make those stories open and available for more than just a few people.

There are many more details and ideas still rolling around in my brain from OpenVA, but I’m attempting to take my own and advice and share my story before self-doubt can take hold. People and stories. People and stories. We are all people with stories.


life. a newspaper blackout poem

life. a blackout poem
The newspaper poetry blackout assignment is a project I’ve wanted to do for awhile. I’m a big fan of the fridge magnets that give you a limited set of words to work and create with and I see this kind of assignment along the same lines.

I grabbed my free copy of the Free Lance-Star Weekly and started looking through the articles. I found a couple of good candidates that contained words that caught my eye. I started on one and decided I didn’t like it as I moved along. I was mostly eyeballing my way down the columns and not really circling things so I easily got lost when I went back to find the poem again. Perhaps I should circle stuff in pencil first?

The article I chose was about a local former detective building a film career so there was an abundance of really good words to use in the poem. As I went down I spotted “pursuing”, “rumored”, “alive”, “challenge” but, I ended up not using them because I wanted to keep it simple. I decided to start at “life.” and treat it as the title of my poem and also a framework for what I wanted to talk about. I found that maintaining a good sounding poem and an aesthetically pleasing image is a double challenge that can be frustrating at times.

What I ended up with was this poem:
a little odd familiar space where bodies get to keep up this act.

I was quite pleased with the final poem (although a bit cynical) and the way the visual of the poem turned out.

I can see myself becoming addicted to this kind of art. I definitely see myself doing more of these in the future for fun.

A Truly Sedge Experience

For my first Visual Assignment I chose the “Make An Album Cover“. I’ve done this before on some other blog of mine but, I enjoy the random elements to this assingment.

A True Sedge Folk Rock Band

Gathering the pieces

The first step is picking the band name via the random page function in wikipedia. I landed on a page about the Carex nudata, which is apparently a species of true sedge.

Next is the album name through another random function of Quotations Page. The random quote ended up being, “Last week, I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed.”

Lastly, the hardest part, finding an image on the Explore Page of Flickr that had a creative commons license on it. By the third roll I lucked out with this one:

Klatschmohn im Abendlicht
Credit to Michael Lamberty for the original photo

Also does anyone know what good practice in when remixing someones photo when they put their name at the bottom of the photo? Is it ok to delete that? Or should I maintain that as a way to connect back to the original source? Deleting is probably ok as long as I give credit somewhere, right?

The Creation

So the first thing I notice is the nice open space at the top of the image. A good spot to put some sort of text, right? I chose to place the band name there and stick with the kind of italics I associate with scientific naming of things.

I also noticed the brightness of the flowers might be a good place to drop some text. So after typing it in and playing with a bit of transformation in Gimp I got it to look mostly the way I wanted it to. I liked the combination of the word “closed” and the strike-through at first. I’m still not sure if I love it but, I think it works.

Once the text was placed I wondered what would happen if not only the far background was blurred but all the image surrounding the flower. As I began playing I noticed it made the flower pop and seem almost surreal. It lost a bit of its flower look when it became disconnected from the rest of the image but, I think I like the fact that it became this lone, weirdly shaped object. If I was a bit more daring I think I would have blurred the background even further to really isolate the flower.

Overall, I like the way this one came out. I imagine this band would be some kind of folksy, alt-rock kind of band. You know, a hipster kind of group that would think a scientific name was clever for a band.

A True Sedge Folk Rock Band