April 1st at the Library: Historic April Fools and Librarian Pranks

Around April 1st, I begin to obsessively check the round-up articles at Washington Post and Time.com to see the latest April Fools’ Day pranks from many brands, websites, and newspapers (heck, Google even has it’s own Wikipedia page on April Fools pranks).  Pranks like finding Waldo in Google Maps are adorable and fun, and many libraries also get in on the fun of April Fools’ Day.  Librarians have a quirky sense of humor (or a cat-based sense of humor, in my case), so you’ll find some amazing pranks combined with actual learning opportunities if you visit a physical library or library website on April Fools’ Day.

Historic April Fools at Library of Congress

First, let’s take a look at the learning opportunities offered through the Library of Congress (LOC) website related to April Fools:

  • Learn the history of April Fools’ Day: The article April Fools: The Roots of an International Tradition by Stephen Winick at the Folklife Today Blog gives a detailed and fascinating look at the many possible origins of April Fools traditions: “People have long speculated about the origins of this most foolish holiday, suggesting the Roman Saturnalia, Druidic rites in Britain, the carnivalesque medieval celebration of the Feast of Fools, and even the Indian festival of Holi as possible origins. ”  You can even listen to a recording of an Irish folk song, “The First Day of April.”
  • Explore April Fools in historic newspapers: The Library of Congress Blog links to ten articles about April Fools’ Day in its US historical newspaper database, Chronicling America.  Check 10 Stories: April Fool! Chronicling America by John Sayers and explore the history (and sometimes terrifying illustrations) about April Fools’ Day in articles written between 1896 and 1920.  The LOC website also offers a Topics in Chronicling America – April Fools’ Day page, with search suggestions for finding articles on the topic and links to sample articles.
Unnerving illustration from a 1919 article in the Ogden standard.

Library Pranks

The American Libraries site has a delightful series of articles about April Fools pranks at libraries around the world. Each year in early April, Greg Landgraf summarizes the best library pranks.  Here are a few of my favorites:

I’m just hoping that the Library of Cats idea actually catches on eventually.


Testing Free Diagramming Software…(by creating decision flowcharts for my cats)

Librarians can use diagramming tools to create professional flowcharts for use in presentations, to illustrate steps for anything from electronic journal management to IT troubleshooting, or to chart the complex inner decision making processes of their pet cats.  I decided to take on this Herculean challenge of charting the rich inner lives of my cats Chloe (the dumb one) and Vlad (the twitchy one) while also trying to identify a quick and easy free diagramming tool.  I’ve usually just used the SmartArt features in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to create any flowcharts I needed for papers or presentations, but the chart formatting options in Word/PowerPoint are very limited and clunky.  I’ve never used Microsoft Visio, which seems to be the most popular subscription-based diagramming tool.

I first started by finding a few helpful articles reviewing free and low-cost diagramming tools:

I ultimately settled on testing Draw.io, since it is completely free (at least for the average user), fully web-based (so I didn’t need to download any apps), and easily integrated with Google Drive (so I could save my diagrams easily to my Google account).  The interface for Draw.io was easy and intuitive, and I was able to make two simple but fully customized flowcharts in about 45 minutes.

A few of the features on Draw.io that I particularly liked:

  • Diagrams are automatically sized to US-letter paper size (8.5 by 11 inches) for easy printing.
  • You can export the diagrams in a variety of formats, including JPEG, PNG, PDF and more.
  • You can easily insert images or even add an image as the background for the diagram.
  • The gridlines in the work area are helpful for keeping the connector arrows straight.
  • You can easily choose a direction arrow beside a text box in the flowchart to automatically create a new clone text box and connector arrow to quickly expand your chart.

With Draw.io, I carefully charted the complicated variables of my cats’ daily choices:

Chloe decision tree
Chloe (the dumb one)
Vlad's Decision Treejpg
Vlad (the twitchy one)

The Best Gift For the Holidays: Digital Collections

It’s two days before Christmas, and I’ve just found the best gift I could ask for: digital collections of old holiday postcards.  Here are three to brighten your holiday:

Greeting card from 1881, with cats!
Santa cards from New York Public Library collection.
A bright and merry Christmas : once we were not very good, but that was a long while ago, ca. 1900-1910

As an added bonus, also check out this collection of Christmas dining menus from University of Nevada Las Vegas.  It might just give you some fun ideas for Christmas dinners.

Have a happy and safe holiday season!

Digital Preservation for the Holidays: Converting VHS to Digital

Image from Pixabay.

My husband and I are converting old family home movies to digital as Christmas presents to our families (and ourselves!), so we’ve spent the past few weeks learning the ins and outs of converting VHS to digital.  We first tried hooking a DVD recorder up to a VCR and then copying the DVD file to the computer, but this process was very time consuming.  Eventually we just bought a video capture device and software (in our case, Elgato) for about $70, and the process is now much quicker.  We play the VHS and record the video to the computer using the video capture device, and the resulting MP4 file can then be shared as-is or edited using video editing software.  I’ve been using VideoPad to pull out clips from the file, recommended in this Lifewire article 6 Best Free Video Editors.

If you’re interested in learning more about digital preservation, a number of library and archive websites offer guidance and resources:

If you’re looking to digitize your own home videos, I’d recommend the Digitizing Home Video guide from DC Public Libraries (this guide uses Elgato, the same video capture software I’ve been using). You can also find helpful guides on VHS-digital conversion from Digital Trends and C-NET.

Strange Copyright Questions – Who/What Can Hold Copyright?


Copyright law may not come across as the most exhilarating topic (although searching for old copyright registrations is more exciting than you’d think), but many copyright cases make pretty bizarre headlines. Read about the infringement claim that J.K. Rowling stole the word “muggle” or the copyright dispute over the Mike Tyson-style tattoo in The Hangover Part II, and you’ll begin to unearth some outlandish questions raised by copyright cases.

One of the copyright issues I find most interesting is the basic question of who/what can hold copyright for works they’ve created.  Of course an adult human can hold copyright, but can children hold copyright?  How does copyright law apply to works created by animals, or even art created by artificial intelligence?

Can children hold copyright?

Short answer, according to Copyright.gov: Yes in the US.

Minors may claim copyright, and the Copyright Office issues registrations to minors, but state laws may regulate the business dealings involving copyrights owned by minors. For information on relevant state laws, consult an attorney.

Kristin Keller at Noodle.com describes potential copyright issues that may arise at schools “when schools have the potential to profit from student-produced work, when schools prohibit students from profiting from their own work, or when the rights of other students may be infringed upon when student work is reproduced.”

Can animals hold copyright?

Now we start to get into weirder territory about whether non-humans can hold copyright.  The most well-known case about animal copyright ownership is probably the monkey selfie case filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) back in 2015, where “Judge William H. Orrick dismissed the claim on the grounds that the Copyright Act does not authorize vesting copyright ownership in nonhumans.”  PETA appealed the ruling but later dropped the appeal after a settlement with the human photographer who had originally posted the monkey selfie.

The Copyright Office clarified in September 2017 that it will “not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office
may register a work where the application or the deposit copy(ies) state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit.”

So in short, it seems like animals can’t hold copyrights in the US.  (Neither can ghosts.)

Can artificial intelligence hold copyright?

WIPO Magazine recently published a fascinating article by Andres Guadamuz, examining how copyright law may apply to artistic works created by artificial intelligence.  Guadamuz explains:

There are two ways in which copyright law can deal with works where human interaction is minimal or non-existent. It can either deny copyright protection for works that have been generated by a computer or it can attribute authorship of such works to the creator of the program.

It seems, at least for now (until the robot uprising occurs) that artificial intelligence can’t hold copyright.

So to sum it up:

What can currently hold copyright: Human adults and children

What can’t hold copyright: animals, plants, ghosts, robots

Cats and Libraries: A Symbiotic Relationship

I fall well within the stereotype of the cat-crazy librarian…I have two cats (Vlad and Chloe) who deign to live with me.

Chloe (the dumb one) and Vlad (the aloof one).

Cats seem to be the unofficial mascots for libraries, and some cats have even managed to get steady jobs as kitty librarians (more on this later).  Cats also regularly appear in library-related memes and online image collections curated by libraries. Here are just a few examples of how cats live (both literally and figuratively) within the library collection:

I’m obviously pretty biased towards cats, but dogs also hold an important place as service and emotional support animals that are often allowed in libraries. Libraries are mainly built for humans, but that doesn’t mean our animal friends can’t occasionally visit and bring joy to patrons.


What Won’t be Killing Libraries: Millennials and Robots


Occasionally I find an article discussing what may cause the ultimate demise of libraries: the internet, search engines, e-books, etc.  These article drive me crazy…though many articles do come to the ultimate optimistic conclusion that new technologies won’t destroy libraries, just lead to changing goals, programs, and services.  The newest industry-killing culprits of the past year seem to be millennials and automation/ artificial intelligence (AI).  I personally think libraries and librarianship will be able to adapt and even benefit from these mounting threats of tech-addled youngsters and robots.


I see differing statistics about how millennials are impacting libraries. Will Millennials Kill off Libraries? by Stephanie Cohen at Acculturated cites research from a few years ago: “A 2014 report by the Pew Research Center found that college-aged adults (ages 18-24), were less likely to use public libraries than many other age groups, less likely to see libraries as vital for themselves or their community, less likely to have visited a library recently, and are more likely to purchase most of the books they read than borrow them from a library.”

Meanwhile, One Thing Millennials Aren’t “Killing”: Libraries by Macy Griffin at Bookstr discusses how “a new study conducted by Pew Research Center has given this age group bragging rights, saying that people born between 1978 and 2004 make most use of libraries.”

Griffin’s article goes on to speculate that the cause for higher millennial usage of libraries may be free public Wi-Fi or a variety of free events and classes targeting teens and young adults like “knitting and crocheting clubs, adult coloring, and even sessions for teams to play video games and board games.”  Yes, the services traditionally offered by libraries may evolve based on the changing user needs of different generations, but that’s pretty par for the course for libraries.

I may honestly be a bit biased about the danger of millennials, since I am one myself.  But I can say at least from my own experience: we come in peace.  All we want from libraries is “somewhere to eat our avocado toast while we contemplate the houses we can’t afford to buy” (via Annoyed Librarian).

Artificial Intelligence

The risk of complete automation of all tasks done by librarians seems to be very small. There’s a great Tableau visualization from the McKinsey Global Institute that illustrates where machines could replace humans, and under the “Educational Services” section, the job family of “Education, training and library” lists automation potential for the following tasks which the job family seems to spend the most time doing:

  • Applying expertise (15% of time spent) – automation potential 14%
  • Managing others (10% of time spent) – Automation potential 9%
  • Data collection (5% of time spent) – Automation potential 40%

It seems like automation may actually help librarians, since it will free up our time from repetitive tasks like data collection to focus on more complex tasks like management.  Kristin Whitehair from Public Libraries Online writes how “libraries can capitalize on the value of AI to expedite some processes, freeing up finite resources to focus on enriching the public library experience for patrons.”

The Feral Librarian blog writes a thoughtful post asking “where can AI and machine learning be leveraged in the service of better science? And how do libraries leverage our resources and skills to ensure it really works – and is infused with and informed by values we care about (inclusion, privacy, democracy, social justice, authority, etc.)?”

Librarians can embrace AI as a valuable new research tool and work to shape that tool to meet patron needs.  That may require learning new skills and working more closely with computer and data scientists, but I have no doubt librarians will adapt, learn, and innovate.

images via Pixabay: tomb and robot