Archive for May, 2007

It’s what you make of it

This quarter, a lot of the inspiration for my information musings has come from my 540 class: Information Systems, Architecture, and Retrieval. (here, but you have to scroll) One of the difficulties I have with the class is that Efthi brings up an interesting point and I take notes on it and where my thoughts flow, and by the time I’ve come to a resting place it’s been about 15 minutes and the lecture has moved on. Definitely not the worst problem to have in a class. ;) In any case, last Thursday was like that, and I want to set out what I thought then.

We were talking about web pages and web sites being connected, and how the nature of those connections affects how they are ranked in a general search engine search. We discussed PageRank and the authority/hub model (hope I’m getting that right), and naturally I saw how that is relevant to promoting my little work here. What really sparked my further thoughts is that one of my classmates/colleagues asked, “How is this relevant to our work? I don’t really see how, as librarians, we have to know about how search engines rank web pages, where that fits in with our work.” (note: this person wasn’t mean about asking the question, just direct)

Well, my personal response is summarized in the title of this post. And the details follow.

I just googled my home town: Hanford, CA. The results page (let’s face it, with a search like this there’s only one meaningful page of results) lists the City of Hanford home page, sites about the weather in Hanford, Chamber of Commerce, local newspaper the Hanford Sentinel, and some commercial websites that seem to have taken advantage of search engine ranking algorithms to get on the Top 10 results page. The library isn’t on there. Okay, I’ll dig.

The Wikipedia article for Hanford is #11, btw.

First Baptist is #18.

Ren Faire is #25.

Okay, I’m 50 results in and I’m tired of looking.

If I add the term library to my search string, I get Kings County Library, first hit. Awesome. For people with that known item quest (namely, “how do I get to the library?”). I see local/public libraries as important resources in a community, and right up there with newspapers as an institution that contributes greatly to local identity by way of information. But KCL isn’t present in the Google results. And Hanford is the county seat, so the HanfordKings County difference isn’t a good excuse. If libraries want to get out there and reassert their role in the communities they serve, they should know how to utilize the tools at their disposal. I, for one, am concerned about libraries being out of sight, out of mind.

That question also reminded me of Stephen Abram’s article about information professionals fulfilling that role of professional. Professionals have informed opinions, special education, and additional responsibilities to develop their expertise in a discipline. I took from that article two things:

  1. Librarians and IP’s ought to shed their modesty and reassert their expertise. One can be an expert without being a jerk.
  2. Professionalism also requires that we remain receptive to changes and opportunities in life that may find pertinence in our individual jobs as well as our greater discipline.

So that’s a more long-view answer to the question my colleague brought up, and one I take pretty seriously.

I also saw some relevance in our discussion of search engine ranking in terms of assessing one’s sources. I can see this being pretty meaningful to people working in reference, though I’ve never done so and I doubt I ever will, so maybe I’m wrong. But maybe not. :) One of the many valuable lessons I’ve learned in my education thus far is looking at things I’ve hardly given a second thought to (e.g. books, web sites, search engines, libraries, MMO’s) and reading them as tools. To me, this means stripping my understanding of the kind of dogma that develops around those things I or others value, and assessing them in terms of how they work, what they can do, what they can’t do, and where room for adjustment might be. So I see use in learning what to look for in assessing search engine ranking, and how that parallels with assessing any other set of sources or tools, asking, “How were you made? What does that mean?”

I remember reading that Pat Wilson wrote on authority, but in a more social sense. Maybe that’ll be summer reading? Haha, I was also thinking about learning some basic programming skills, in addition to fieldwork and money-earning work, and possibly some independent language learning….

Slow Goin’

Today is just a lazy day for me! I’ve been trying to get motivated, but bleh. I suspect two main causes:

  • Benadryl shuts me down, and if I take some before bed I will sleep way too much. 9.5 hours!? Gratuitous.
  • I am dependent on caffeine. I have to have some (a little at least) every day in the morning, otherwise I transform into a slug.

Actually, I already am a slug. Again, today’s instance was gratuitous.

I’ve been having a sort of prolonged geek out these last few days. I mean, I geek out a lot anyway but this feels more intense. I just don’t get sick of thinking about precision and recall, and I’m obsessing about relevance again. Did I mention Patrick Wilson is my theory boyfriend? Anyway, I keep wanting to map these concepts to other disciplines. Would Romantics delight in relevance as they did in magnetism; this phenomenon which exists but is so difficult to express, operationalize? Maybe magnetism isn’t such a big deal now, but it was a couple centuries ago.

The geek out is not limited to school subjects. I’m watching and enjoying Samurai Champloo (Japanese site, US site, 411), and I might just finish it this time! I’m also slowly catching up in BSG, but I’m still in season 2. And I’m getting back to Red Mars, my current pleasure reading. I’d like to read Blue and Green by the end of summer, since it’s not going to happen by the end of spring. And I’ve been introduced to a new webcomic and I really like it: xkcd. It makes me want to write a LIS-style comic, and I’m honestly not a big webcomic geek.

What do you think:
Interdisciplinary studies
UF Academic mashup

I should have taken three courses this quarter. Especially coming off of winter, I’m just not accustomed to the increase in free time.