New roles for academic librarians

The recent focus on research output and quality within the Australian higher education sector has had an impact on librarians who work in university libraries. There are two areas that have seen some new roles emerge which librarians are well-suited to.

The first is the use of bibliometrics by academic staff who are seeking promotion. Whereas previously a librarian may have been asked to check an academic’s list of publications to ensure that it was complete, the same request now is most likely to also ask for h-index and journal impact factor information. As a result, libraries have had to come up with a range of guides and services to assist academic staff who are looking for this information. Indeed, the position of a “tenure librarian” has been suggested as a way that academic libraries can ensure that they are seen as an integral part of academic life.

The other new area where librarians are finding they have a role to play is in research data management. The Australian government has set up the Australian National Data Service to help make better use of Australian research output. Several university libraries have completed an ANDS-funded project to harvest research data produced by their academics, and add it to Research Data Australia. With universities focussing more on research data management, there will be more and more opportunities for libraries to be involved. We can use our skills in describing resources to help academic staff get their research output recognised and discovered.

Bubbles and towers

Today was the moment of truth for our washing machine. The technician was due between 7am and 12pm, and my wife and I had decided on the upper limit we were prepared to pay to have the machine fixed. If it was going to cost more than that, we’d replace it. So after getting up at 6:45am to be ready in case the repairman arrived at 7am, he arrived at 11:35am. TheĀ  verdict wasn’t good – the pump and the electronic control unit both needed to be replaced, and for the price of that we could buy a new washing machine. So I think I know where we’ll be going shopping this weekend.

The boys were really well-behaved this morning while we were stuck at home waiting for the technician to arrive. At Thomas’ suggestion, we got out the bubble mixture and spent some time blowing bubbles. Blake wasn’t too sure about how to blow them, and put the stick in his mouth twice. Of course, the couple of times he did blow some, I couldn’t get the camera ready in time.

The technician arrived as we were packing up the bubble-making equipment, and once I showed him to the laundry I put Blake down for his sleep. While he was asleep, Thomas and I took the opportunity to build a tower out of Thomas’ building blocks. We decided to try and use all the blocks and see if we could build a tower which was taller than Thomas. After a couple of shaky moments, we got there, and our masterpiece was complete.

So today was a bit of an alliteration day – Blake blew beautiful bubbles, and we built Thomas’ terrifically tall tower.

Puzzling geocaches

There are several types of geocaches, including traditional, multi, virtual, and puzzle. As the name suggests, puzzle caches involve solving a puzzle of some sort in order to find them. Some of them give you a set of starting coordinates and then you need to gather clues in the area e.g. counting words on a sign, or getting numbers from a plaque, in order to calculate the final coordinates where the cache container is hidden.

Others require you to do some research beforehand to come up with the coordinates. These can range from brain-bendingly difficult (for me, anyway) to those which can be solved with a bit of brainpower. We’re heading down to Canberra in a couple of weeks, and there are quite a lot of puzzle caches down there. I downloaded all the puzzle caches in NSW and the ACT a few weeks ago, and have slowly worked my way through them, starting with the easy ones.

I’ve managed to solve a few, and there’s a wide variety of puzzle types. Some require decoding QR codes or nautical signal flags, or solving a Sudoku puzzle, or identifying Shakespeare’s sonnets. There’s a puzzle for everyone’s interests and abilities. Hopefully I’ll have time to find some during our Canberra trip.

That’d be right

The first fine and sunny weekend day we have for a couple of weeks, and I’m working. It wasn’t too bad – there was enough going on to keep things interesting so I didn’t get bored. The main excitement seemed to be at home, where our washing machine decided to give up the ghost halfway through a load of washing. Luckily it was the last load, so everyone has got enough clean clothes and sheets to last until Tuesday, when the technician is coming to check it out. Hopefully it will a quick and easy (and cheap) fix.

Toy storage solved

We think we’ve solved our toy storage problem in the boys’ playroom. Yesterday we bought a shelving unit from Kmart, and when the boys were in bed we assembled it. To be honest I preferred assembling Ikea furniture, because at least there’s a bit of variety in the job. For these shelves it was just a lot of threading nuts onto screws and tightening them – quite repetitive. We got into a good rhythm by the end of it, though, and the shelves are now in the wardrobe with the boys’ boxes of toys all stacked away neatly. It’s nice to be able to give the boys a room of their own to play in, and they seem to enjoy using it.

Correcting newspapers in Trove

I’ve come across another pastime which I’ve been working on over the last few months. I’m helping out with correcting the OCR’d text from digitised Australian newspapers which are being loaded into Trove. It’s a very simple, but addictive, task which anyone can do. All you have do is search the newspapers on Trove, and see if there are any corrections which need to be made to the electronically translated text. If so, you can make the corrections straight away. The original text remains untouched (so that any vandalism can be reverted), it’s only the OCR text which changes. The aim is to make it easier to search Trove by making sure that the machine-readable text is accurate.

The Manager of the Australian Newspapers Digitisation Project at the National Library of Australia, Rose Holley, has written several publications describing this crowdsourcing effort, including:

I think helping out with this project is something that librarians are well-suited to. We generally have a good eye for detail, and we like to ensure that our clients have access to accurate information. So next time you’re searching in Trove, do a quick search in the newspapers on a topic that interests you, and see what comes up. Maybe you could see if there any articles that relate to your local area e.g. on historically important people or places, or even your own library. However, I should warn you thast it’s quite addictive once you start.

There are similar crowdsourcing projects whhich have been set up by libraries around the world. Rose Holley lists three of them in her blog – one in Finland (correcting newspapers), one in New York (correcting digitised recipes in the New York Public Library’s collection), and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University (describing digitised music scores). There is also Distributed Proofreaders, which carries out proofreading and formatting of public domain e-books for Project Gutenberg and other public domain e-book providers. There’s something for everyone, so why not become part of the crowd?

Thank goodness for duct tape

When I bought the luggage box for the roof of the car a couple of weeks ago, there was a sale on duct tape (half price), so I bought a roll. Since then it’s been used to re-attach the handle to the boys’ magnifying glass, fix the neck of the broken toy guitar, and tape together one of the struts in the boys’ collapsible car-shaped tent. Very useful stuff – no wonder the Mythbusters could survive on a desert island with nothing but a pallet of duct tape.

Strictly speaking, I don’t think the tape I bought is duct tape, as it’s black rather than silver and is more vinyl than cloth. Still, it’s handy to have some around the house.

MOOCs – a student’s perspective

MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) are a relatively recent addition to the education sector. They’re already having an impact on the way that traditional universities think about and teach their courses. The faculty Learning and Teaching Committee that I’m on recently held a meeting where we had a look at some of the MOOCs that are out there, such as Khan Academy, Udacity, and Coursera. Some of the common features include the ability to enrol at any time, the self-paced nature of the coursework, and the focused nature of the online content that they produce.

I thought I’d give it a go, so I enrolled in the Udacity course CS101 – Intro to Computer Science. It was easy to enrol – all I needed to provide was a username and password. So far I’ve watched a couple of the videos and answered the first two multiple choice quizzes. It’s nice to be able to study in my own time without the pressure of having a timeframe to meet. There is a final exam which is held every eight weeks, so you do get a final grade at the end of the course. However, you can take the course again if you’re not happy with your mark and try to improve it.

What can librarians take away from the emergence of MOOCs? I think the main one is to keep our online content short and sweet and to the point. Most of the videos produced by MOOCs are fairly short, and they don’t try to cram too much into them. Students can dip in and out of them and only watch the videos that deal with the specific content that is relevant to them. This is something that librarians should keep in mind when producing online tutorials.

I’ll let you know how I go with my programming course. Apparently we’ll learn how to build a search engine in seven weeks, so it should be interesting to see how they work.

Play School and e-books

I took the boys on our regular trip to storytime at the local public library this morning. While I was there, I borrowed the biography of John Hamblin, who was one of the presenters on Play School when I watched it as a kid. Sounds like it could be an interesting read.

This is actually the first hardcopy book I’ve borrowed from the library in a few months. I received a Kobo e-reader for my birthday in November, and since then all my reading has been done with e-books. The vast majority have been borrowed from my public library, which has the Overdrive service. I’ve bought a couple of e-books, but only because I had a voucher to spend.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve made the switch from print to electronic books for my reading. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, but since I’ve had the Kobo, it just seems natural to focus on electronic books. There’s a good range available via Overdrive, so I’m happy for the moment.

Another wet Sunday

We haven’t had much luck with the weather over the last couple of weekends. It was wet last weekend for our trip to the Central Coast, and now it’s wet again today. After a couple of busy days rearranging furniture, it was nice to have some fun at home with the boys.

This morning we all got dressed in our wet weather gear and went out in the rain for a little bit. The boys enjoyed jumping in the puddles in the gutter, and Thomas put a bowl and cup out in the rain to collect some rainwater to drink. Afterwards we had nice warm baths and showers, followed by soup for lunch.

The new playroom continued to pass the test, and today we had a fold-up car-shaped tent in there. Somehow all four of us managed to squeeze in there at the same time. It was a bit like one of those “how many uni students can you fit in a Mini” competitions, but we all made it. A good fun day to finish off the long weekend.