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.

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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.

 

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Evolution of Library Technology Told Through Patents: Card Catalogs and Microfiche

Sometimes with all of the new technologies to learn about in the library field (Big Data, AI, LibGuides, etc.) we can take for granted or relegate to dusty closets the equipment and older technologies that were used in libraries for decades. Patents can offer fascinating insights into common technologies, with drawings and descriptions illustrating how an object is assembled and citations to earlier patents showing the development of the technology.  Here are a few patents for traditional library equipment like card catalogs and microfiche, found through Google Patents, just to give a quick look at what goes into the creation of the tools librarians used once on a daily basis.

Card Catalog

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US 3495731 A, Card catalog drawer.

Maybe we don’t use card catalogs on a daily basis anymore, but 30 years ago many libraries still used card catalogs for indexing and exploring their collections. Here are two patents that improve upon the design for card catalog drawers:

  • US 3495731 A, published February 17, 1970, describes “improved construction for a card catalog drawer particularly adapted for use in libraries where these drawers are subject to continuous manipulation, and are often removed from the cabinet to provide access to the catalog cards contained therein.”
  • US 5257859 A, published November 2, 1993, describes a drawer with “a smart mechanism to facilitate removing or discarding the catalogue cards by easily removing the metal rod passing through the hole located at the bottom of catalogue cards.”

If you want to learn more about the evolution of library card catalogs, read this post from The Library History Buff describing the history of card catalogs back to 1789.

Microfiche

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US D211414 S, Microfiche viewer

Microfiche has been largely replaced by online digitization, but many academic libraries still have a microfiche viewer hidden somewhere in a dark corner to view old periodical  collections. Check out these three patents to learn how microfiche is produced and viewed:

  •  US 3690762 A, published September 12, 1972, describes a method for producing microfiche that “includes the steps of exposing a series of image areas on a film strip, leaving blank areas at predetermined locations on the film strip, processing the film strip to produce image transparencies thereon, arranging the film strip in the form of a helix with portions of each of the blank areas aligned, securing the blank areas to one another, cutting through the film strip in the blank areas to form the image areas into a matrix having the form of a parallelogram, and positioning the matrix to project selectively the images thereon for viewing purposes.” (Yes, patents can have very, very long sentences.)
  • US 3409361 A, published November 5, 1968, describes a microfiche positioning apparatus with a holder that can be “manually positioned within the projection apparatus to selectively scan one or several images and to reset the holder so that additional images may be reproduced without repositioning the microfiche.”
  • The design patent US D211414 S, published June 11, 1968, describes the ornamental design for a spiffy microfiche viewer.

You can find an entertaining and in-depth history of microfiche in the article Honey, I Shrunk the Page by Ernie Smith.

A New Toolkit to Promote Health Resources at Libraries

I’ve written before about how public libraries are a vitally important resource for teaching health literacy skills, providing health-related programs and services, and offering access to reliable health information for the general public.  The National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) offers public libraries a number of resources to help them fulfill this role, such as free online classes for library staff on consumer health topics and a fantastic guide to health information resources and programming ideas (created with California State Library), Finding Health and Wellness @ the Library: A Consumer Health Toolkit for Library Staff (2nd ed).  Back in September, I learned about a new toolkit created by NNLM and the American Library Association (ALA) for promoting health literacy at libraries that I wanted to take a closer look at.

This Health Literacy Toolkit is part of the broader Libraries Transform campaign from ALA, which is “designed to increase public awareness of the value, impact and services provided by libraries and library professionals.”  The toolkit offers simple, catchy “Because Statements” highlighting how libraries benefit individual and community health (like “Because quality information helps you make better decisions”).

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Because Statements from the toolkit.

Each Because Statement can be printed as a poster, postcard, bookmark, or table tent or shared on social media (graphics sized for Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook).  The toolkit also offers key messages, activity suggestions, and resource links related to each Because Statement.  Access to the toolkit materials is free, but users must register to access the materials.  The toolkit isn’t made specifically for public libraries and can also be used in school, academic, and special libraries to promote health resources.

Overall, I’m really impressed with the elegantly simple and unifying promotional messages offered by the Health Literacy Toolkit.  I spend a lot of time on social media in my current job, and I understand the importance of bold, simple statements that will hook the audience and stick in their mind.  Libraries are such amazingly valuable resources for offering equal access to high quality information and services, but unfortunately some people may view libraries as obsolete due to changing technology and user needs.  The Because Statements in this toolkit act as sharp, quick explanations about why libraries are still relevant and important for community health.  I also appreciate that the Because Statements can be downloaded in a wide variety of formats, so libraries can use them for both print and social media promotion.

The toolkit has a few areas where it could potentially be improved to increase promotional value and also direct library staff to additional useful health resources.  The text of the Because Statements is very catchy, but some sort of imagery added below the Because Statements could make the graphics much more eye-catching and appealing to a wider range of library patrons. Translation of the Because Statements into other languages (especially Spanish) could also help to reach a broader population of patrons.  Finally, I’d love to see some sort of integration between this new toolkit and the Finding Health and Wellness @ the Library toolkit.

The Finding Health and Wellness @ the Library toolkit offers a much broader list of health resources and programming ideas, while the Health Literacy Toolkit offers the graphics and promotional messages needed to promote these health resources and programs.  The Finding Health and Wellness @ the Library toolkit does seem to be in need of an update (with the second edition published in 2013).  Hopefully if the Health and Wellness toolkit is updated in the near future, it will be more closely linked to the new Health Literacy Toolkit.  Both toolkits offer important and complementary tools for creating and promoting health resources and programs within libraries.

 

What Won’t be Killing Libraries: Millennials and Robots

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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.

Millennials

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

National Networks of Libraries: Biomedical, Patent/Trademark, and Government Publications

Sometimes a person can’t find the information they need online, so they may actually need to go to a local library for research assistance, print and digital resources, and training opportunities.  Unfortunately, many people in different parts of the country can’t afford to travel all the way to the National Library of Medicine (NLM) for biomedical information or to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) headquarters for intellectual property information.  That’s why many academic and public libraries across the US are part of specialized library networks for sharing different types of information:

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NNLM

Overview: The NNLM is funded and coordinated by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and the mission of the NNLM is to “advance the progress of medicine and improve public health by providing U.S. health professionals with equal access to biomedical information and improving individual’s access to information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health.”  Learn more through the About NNLM page.

Where they are located: The NNLM is made up of eight regions across the US, with a Regional Medical Library coordinating NNLM programs within each region.  Members of NNLM include “libraries, information centers, or other types of organizations,” and organizations can easily submit a form to request free membership.

What they offer:  NNLM offers many funding opportunities and free training opportunities ranging from consumer health to systematic review skills.  Membership within the network offers benefits like access to “free educational and printed materials” and “opportunities to request an NLM Traveling Exhibition to visit your library or organization.”

PTRC

Overview: PTRCs are “a nationwide network of public, state and academic libraries that are designated by the USPTO to disseminate patent and trademark information and to support the diverse intellectual property needs of the public.” Learn more about PTRCs through their History and Background page.

Where they are located: PTRCs are located at public, academic, state, and special libraries across most states in the US.  To become a PTRC, institutions must meet a number of requirements defined by the USPTO, and the institutions will then receive ongoing training and assistance from the USPTO to help staff at the PTRC understand patent and trademark protections and and search tools.

What they offer: All PTRCs provide patrons with access to a core collection of US patent and trademark information, and they also offer “patent and trademark training as well as provide reference assistance and outreach to the public.”

FDLP

Overview: The FDLP is administered by the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO), and “FDLP libraries collaborate on a local and national level to provide informed access to both historical and current Federal Government resources distributed through the FDLP.” Check the FDLP Basics page to learn more.

Where they are located: Federal depository libraries are located across the US in all 50 state, and institutions can be designated as Federal depository libraries by either congressional delegation (“each member of Congress may designate up to two qualified libraries”) or by-law designations.

What they offer: Federal depository libraries must have access to a basic core collection, and the libraries also have no-fee access to agency subscription databases.  There are a number of other collections and databases related to federal information that depository libraries may also offer access to. The FDLP offers many useful training resources for librarians and information professionals through FDLP Academy, such as webinars, training videos, events and conferences, a training assistance center, and more.  I suggest subscribing by email to the News and Events bulletins sent out by FDLP (you can learn about some great free webinars).

These are just the federally-funded library networks that I’m currently aware of, but I hope to learn about other networks for different types of specialized information in the coming years.

Big Data at the Library of Congress

Health science libraries are learning how to assist healthcare professionals, researchers, and patients with managing the “Big Data” generated through clinical trials, electronic health records, wearable technology, and a variety of other sources, to help patients get more individualized and evidence-based care, to visualize and identify health disparities by location, and many, many other applications I can’t begin to list or even imagine yet.  Health science librarians aren’t the only librarians wresting with big data, though.

The Library of Congress (LOC) is busy with the creation and dissemination of enormous data sets, as I learned last Saturday at the National Book Festival when attending the presentation at the Library of Congress Town SquareLC for Robots! Mining the Library’s Digital Collections.  Library of Congress Innovation Specialist Jaime Mears discussed a few examples of how the LOC is promoting the dissemination and re-use of its data sets:

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Library of Congress data sets on Data,gov.
  • Hack-to-Learn at the LOC: In May 2017, the Library of Congress offered a two day “hackathon” training to teach librarians how to mine digital collections.  The 61 attendees at the training were taught to use “low or no-cost computational tools to explore four library collection as data sets”, including the MARC record data set.

The Library of Congress is using open-access data sets, contests to encourage creative use and mining of the data sets, and training librarians in computer and data science fundamentals to transform itself into a true 21st Century library, with innovative applications of Big Data and digital collections leading the way.  I know I’m going to keep an eye on the Meetings and Events and Training calendars hosted by the Digital Preservation section of LOC, since they seem to offer interesting trainings on data science topics (like the hackathon) and meetings (like Collections as Data 2016 and 2017).

Browser Extensions for Link Checks, Accessibility, and Research

Browser extensions can help with all sorts of daily tasks, speeding up mundane work like link checking or finding research articles.  James Day at Library Technology Launchpad describes 6 Chrome Browser Extensions Every Librarian Needs, such as DOI Resolver or Google Scholar Button for research, Grammarly to proofread online writing, or Wayback Machine for viewing archived webpages.  I regularly use browser extensions myself (usually in Google Chrome) for link checking, and I’ve learned about a few interesting extensions for checking accessibility and for locating and organizing research articles.  Here’s a quick rundown:

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Viewing valid, redirected, and broken links through Check My Links.
  • Link checking: I do periodic manual link checks for some online resources, and usually I’ll start the check by running the Check My Links extension to highlight which links on the page are live, redirecting, or dead.  I always try to manually click through all links (since sometimes a valid redirect may still lead to a page where the desired content is no longer available), but opening every link one at a time is an enormous pain.  Thankfully, there are browser extensions like Linky or Linkclump, where you can highlight or select a section of a webpage and automatically open all links within that selected area in separate tabs.  This can save a lot of time.
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Accessibility testing for a webpage using WAVE.
  • Accessibility testing: When sharing online material from a government resource, the content needs to meet Section 508 requirements for accessibility.  The content needs to be equally accessible to anyone with disabilities (visual, auditory, cognitive, etc.), which means that content creators need to keep a number of guidelines in mind to make sure their content is fully compliant.  The browser extension WAVE can be used to evaluate accessibility of web content, and it will highlight any errors or alerts for accessibility issues on a webpage.  It will even identify issues with color contrast which may be hard for users with visual limitations to see.  See the Medium article Free web accessibility tools round-up  by Carlin Scuderi for a great list of accessibility check tools (including a few more Google Chrome extensions).
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Options menu for Unpaywall.
  • Research tools: 
    • Unpaywall: One browser extension I keep hearing about on library listservs, Twitter, and blogs is Unpaywall, which automatically searches for open access versions of paywalled journal articles.  When viewing an article on a publisher website, the extension automatically searches across “thousands of open-access repositories worldwide” to find full text (and legally uploaded) versions of the article (check their FAQ section to learn more). Unpaywall sounds like a very helpful tool for a librarian or researcher who needs an article from a journal that their institution doesn’t subscribe to, but who doesn’t have the time to wait to receive the article through inter-library loan.
    • Refigure: I recently learned about this tool from INFOdocket.  This extension seems more geared towards scientific researchers than librarians, but it was just too interesting not to mention. Refigure “aggregates and organizes different scientific figures amongst users”, which sounds like an innovative way for researchers to collaborate, organize, and share a more visual type of research data that may be overlooked in traditional databases.

There are so many browser extensions available (just in the Chrome web store alone!), it can be difficult to separate the useful from the useless.  That’s why I’m grateful for librarians on Twitter, library news resources, and listservs (like MEDLIB-L) for the many helpful recommendations on new extensions to try.