Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Dip into Udacity

Over the last few nights I completed Lesson 1 of a Udacity course in Intro to Computer Science. I did it out of curiosity - I've been dipping in and out of various coding websites lately. This one introduced the programming language Python, which I had no experience in whatsoever, but none was needed. I actually really enjoyed solving the problems presented, which I can't say of my experience of high school mathematics! Here's an example:

# Write python code that defines the variable 
# age to be your age in years, and then prints 
# out the number of days you have been alive.

age = 38
days_per_year = 365
days_alive = age * days_per_year

print days_alive


The goal to reach by the end of 7 lessons was to build a search engine and a social network. The first  lesson also introduced 'string theory' and it was challenging to understand, but not impossible! The rest of the course was not free, but you could sign up for a 2 week trial. I don't think I will continue this course, but I enjoyed the intro!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thoughts on books and culture in small towns

It was interesting to see the Culture Minister of France point out the link between books and culture, as part of a story on limiting Amazon's ability to ship books for free to buyers, as reported by SBS news yesterday (Anti-Amazon bill adopted by French parliament).
"France is proud of a network of bookstores it says is "unique in the world" and crucial for culture to reach small towns."
The very real fear is that with Amazon selling books at a much lower price than the local bookstores, that the local bookstores will be wiped out.

The 'books in small towns' comment caused me to reflect on a passage in a novel that I'm reading at the moment - Babara Kingsolver's Flight Behaviour, where a child's father berates him for enjoying reading a book because he is terrified that his son will be bullied at school for it. They live in a poor and remote Appalachian town in Tennessee. Books there are regarded as full of dangerous ideas, challenging the word of God, and distractions for people who should be working.

Which leads me to thinking about the divides - cultural and digital. It is so important to have libraries in remote regions and small towns for all of the reasons that have been written about before, but especially to bring culture. Just having the internet is not enough in my opinion. It is uncurated and I don't think anyone would say that the most popular sites on the internet are the pinnacle of human culture. It is more important than ever to have curated collections provided for free by our national institutions (libraries, galleries, museums), because the internet should never replace books, art and real life artifacts.

The SBS article also included another quote by the French minister to the effect that if they allow Amazon market dominance in France with it's free shipping, and dodgy policies (e.g. selling some books at a loss) then it won't be long before the independent booksellers all shut up shop and Amazon will be the only choice. And we really shouldn't be surprised when Amazon suddenly stop selling books at a loss and start charging what they will. I hope the Australian government institutes similar laws, even if it does mean paying slightly more for books now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Digital detox photo gallery

I am so amazed - I made this gallery with html and css and it works! I tried out a few techniques I learnt on Codecademy and it's so satisfying seeing them come to life.  My Photo Page

I had a discussion with a couple of my colleagues today about digital detox. We're about a fifth of the way through the 23 Mobile Things course and we're nearing the end of blogjune, so it's probably about right that this topic has come up! I remember it came up in Twitter chats on the 23 course as well. So I curated a little list of readings around the topic. My colleague came up with the idea of doing some reading (no ebooks allowed!) at the end of the course to reflect on our involvement with all the digital things, so we'll maybe do something like have a book club where we all read a different book on the topic and report back with our reviews and thoughts. Fun!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Tonight, Wimbledon

We're watching Wimbledon tonight. Tennis was my sport all through school, uni and my twenties. I played 3 or 4 times a week during those years - and I think it did me a lot of good. I'm sure, too, that it helped me develop certain personality traits - maturity, a sense of fairness, persistence, mental agility, social skills. I'd be a very different person without that influence. My cat, Mochi (that's rice cake in Japanese) is following the ball like it's an insect on the screen - so cute!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The School of Life

I was shopping in the city sales (again!) today and browsing around Pigeonhole I came across a series of books by The School of Life titled Toolkit for Life, volume 1. I recognised them from when I catalogued them at the Library vendor where I work on a casual basis, and I remember thinking at the time - these look good, will have to add them to my 'to read' list. The books have titles like How to Deal with Adversity, How to be Alone, and How to Connect with Nature. They sound like self help books, but they are actually philosophy, and seem very well written.

So when I got home I looked them up and found that The School of Life was more than just a series of books, it was a whole organisation with various divisions - a classroom, therapy, business consultancy, shop, library, and blog, with offices around the world.

The About Us page of their website explains that the organisation is "devoted to developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture". They will "direct you towards a variety of ideas from the humanities - from philosophy to literature, psychology to the visual arts - ideas that will exercise, stimulate and expand your mind". Sounds wonderful, and what an interesting idea for an organisation!

I work for a company which has a set of organisational values, one of which is happiness. It has always seemed to me that this value is a tricky one to work with - try telling an unhappy person to cheer up and see what kind of reaction you get! And sometimes the means to happiness that are suggested seem so cliched and meaningless because we've heard them so many times - be kind to others, eat well, enjoy nature etc., etc... I like the idea that The School of Life has come up with - aiming for emotional intelligence rather than happiness, and getting there through culture rather than cliches. 

I think I'll borrow the set of their books from the library and see where they take me! 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Winter solstice

Today I'm working through Shay Howe's online guide to HTML and CSS. This tutorial explains things in much more depth (I'm having lots of ah! moments) and it uses an external text editor. I feel like I've taken off the training wheels! I'm in the middle of another build-your-own-website project, but this time I know what to do, so it's revision and consolidation. 

Also tomorrow is the winter solstice! I'm not a fan of winter, I feel the cold too much, so I'm always happy when the shortest day of the year has passed, and I can start dreaming of spring.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Not a library post

I'm stuck for something to write about today. My partner just showed me this Japanese website about the World Cup. They're rating the beauty of female football fans, which is pretty typical of the male-dominated Japanese media. I'm continually astounded at what they can get away with and that was the thing that depressed me about my time in Japan - the one dimensional depiction of women in the media, the obsession with beauty (or more often 'cuteness') and the rigidity of gender roles. #thatisall

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Twitter Chat

Oops, where did Monday go... I may have accidentally started reading a new book and forgotten to post! (Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement). Anyway, I thought I'd write today about how our work 23 Things course is going.

We're now in week 4 of the course, having completed the Twitter, Photography, and Email on the go Things. The participation has been great, on Twitter, blogs and conversations. We just had our first Twitter chat, which was a new experience for almost everyone. I didn't set aside enough time for it really, so it was a bit messy (or maybe they always are!), but it was fun, participatory, and broke down a few more barriers. I really hope we can keep this level of participation going through the whole 23 weeks of the course...

I'm looking forward to getting out of the office tomorrow to attend a vendor roadshow - that will be a first as well.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunny winter and small steps

The ocean at Sorrento today

Today was the most gorgeous winter day. I went for a 5k run with my friend along the coast and soaked up some winter sunshine, then we had breakfast at Voyagers Cafe in Sorrento. Followed that up with the weekly shop at the farmers markets and then lunch in the city and some window shopping. When we got home, the balcony was still bathed in light so I brewed some tea and started a new book. Ahhh Sundays :)

Tonight I'm back into learning html and css. I'm so into this right now! So far I have done a bunch of introductory tutorials and projects on Codecademy and Dash and now I'm looking for something that explains everything in a bit more detail. I came across learn.shayhowe.com and it seems to be at the right level for where I'm at right now, and has projects that are not done within the tutorial, but rather in real text editors (I'm using TextWrangler on my Mac). Finally I understand what the other tutorials were talking about with external CSS files! Small steps...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Lowland, Libraries & Learning

"Some of her students don't go to the library. They don't turn to a dog-eared dictionary to look up a word. In a way they don't have to attend her course. Her laptop contains a lifetime of learning, along with what she will not live to learn. Summaries of philosophical arguments in online encyclopaedias, explanations of modes of thinking that took her years to comprehend. Links to chapters in books she'd once had to hunt down and photocopy, or request from other libraries. Lengthy articles, reviews, assertions, refutations, it's all there."
(page 276)
Today I finished reading The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, which I borrowed from the lovely City of Perth library. I enjoyed it. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, but seemed to get quite mixed reviews from the public. I wanted to share this quote from the book. Just to give it some context - the character speaking is an academic and the book follows her life (as well as other characters') from when she was a young girl to when she was a grandmother. She is commenting on how much time she had to spend with books, in the library, in order to learn, how much effort and commitment she had to put in, and comparing it to the present where everything is online and available all the time. Why bother going to class to learn when it can be quicker, less effort and more targeted learning online?

Now that people don't have to fight to get access to information, does deep learning suffer? Do we just look for quick answers as we need them, or are we still engaging with information with a critical and enquiring manner? I'm of the generation that didn't have the internet when I first studied at university. I virtually lived in the library during my studies, and learnt how to find journal articles in the stacks. I read an enormous amount, and made notes. I handed my essays in on paper and they came back covered in red comments. I learnt how to learn and that has stood me in good stead for life-long learning. I don't expect I will ever go back to study at university because there is so much I can teach myself by using resources on the net.

Like the character in the book, I don't see the changes as a bad thing. I see them as a good thing - BUT. I'm so glad I grew up without the internet, in an era when everything was slower. I'm glad that in order to learn back then you really had to make an effort because you couldn't just Google the answer. Lecturers had time to give detailed feedback and insisted on high standards. People didn't seem to be as 'busy' then. Now there's so much information, everyone always seems 'busy', and academics seem to be complaining that students aren't learning academic integrity.

Actually, this blog post has gotten off track. What I really wanted to say was how great it is that we can learn so much, so conveniently (and so cheaply!) by taking advantage of technology and public libraries. And, that I liked the book.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Kano and code

Just read Kathryn Greenhill's #blogjune post for today and as a result, checked out the Kano website. Apart from being the coolest website I've seen this year, it also looks like a totally cool product. It's a kit that contains a computer that you build yourself (even kids can build and use it) and then you can code games and stuff on it. I want one. It costs US$129 (+ $23 shipping) and is available from July.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Street Art and Customising Tumblr Themes

Another couple of days of coding and I've been using Dash tutorials to build my own Tumblr blog theme. This was a pretty big project for me! Here are some of the things I learnt how to do...
  • Make a classy header
  • Use 'blocks' to build a Tumblr template
  • Add Like and Reblog buttons to Tumblr posts
  • Add pages to a blog site
  • Assign each post its own permalink
  • Make it all look pretty with CSS
I'm still playing with the tools I've learnt how to use, so my Tumblr site is not live yet. The image in picture above is a photo I took of some street art. Recently the lovely FORM Gallery organised street artists from around the world to come and liven up the city walls. They produced some amazing (and massive!) work - you're sure to see some if you wander around Perth. If you visit the Tea For Tu cafe on William Street in Northbridge, and go up the stairs until you (bizarrely) come out at the ground level cafe alfresco, sit yourself down in a comfy sofa and you'll see it. The sleeping one. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Coding again

I'm being unfaithful to Codecademy today and am trying out Dash. Like Codecademy, it rushes straight into fun projects, and hardly spends any time explaining. So they basically give you a template and let you customise it, like I've done here. I undertook two projects today. One was to design a personal homepage, and the other was a blog. Here's some of the things I learnt along the way. How to...

  • change an image's size, shape and border
  • use an image for a web page background
  • make an email input button
  • use Javascript to make an interactive 'Like' button
  • make a design that is responsive to mobile formats
  • make a navigation bar (and a transparent one at that!)
  • use CSS to style and position everything
  • and more.
I'm having way too much fun with all this!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Goal completed

I'm happy. I've just finished my first goal in Codecademy - I've learnt the building blocks of web development with HTML and CSS and it took about 7 hours over 3 weeks. It wasn't easy but it was definitely do-able, for anybody. I feel like I've learnt a lot, and now I need to practice. Or rest.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Stories and Art

Art by new graduates at PICA, Perth

When I work six days in a week I want to make damn sure I enjoy my one day off. Today was full of all the good things. Art galleries, cafes, baking, reading, and time spent with my favourite people. While I was at a cafe, I flicked through a magazine called Dumbo Feather. Do you know it? They collect stories of people who are amazing. It's a great read. Last week, I read something even better, and it was written by library people Heroes Mingle, and is called Weve. If you haven't read it online yet, I highly recommend it. It also contains stories of people who are amazing, and so much more. These two publications got me thinking - why can't more public libraries gather stories, by having conversations with their users. By recording these stories, and with permission, publishing them. Some people have stories that are screaming out to be told, and I for one would love to read them.

Saturday, June 7, 2014



Saturday was spent working. In the morning I helped out at my sister's cafe Genesis in the Hills, and in the afternoon I did some cataloguing at the vendor. I've worked at the vendor since 2011 - it was a great  student job and now I'm really just doing it to help out (they're always busy) and keep my skills up. The vendor supplies almost all of the public libraries in WA, so a LOT of stuff passes through. I like to see all the new titles. On Saturday afternoon I catalogued about 60 books, but only found a couple I wanted to read. I took a photo of them, and in a couple of weeks I'll get them out of the library.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Book shops and Fridays

Albany, summer

I love my Fridays. I finish work at 1pm, go for a run with my running buddy (today we ran 7kms!) and then walk into the city for an evening of eating, shopping and wandering. I wandered into the new Boffins bookstore and wanted to buy books, but came out empty handed. I can't seem to bring myself to spend $30 on fiction when I know I can borrow it from the library for free, download it from Amazon for $10, or order it from the vendor I work at on Saturdays at a 40% discount. The staff in Boffins bookstore are so friendly and knowledgeable, the store is laid out in such a pleasing and congenial fashion, and the books are the price they need to be in order to run the business. I want to support them. I need a plan. Perhaps I could buy one book a month from them, and get the rest from the library? Yes, that's what I'll do. What shall I choose for my June book? Does anyone else out there buy books from the independent booksellers?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Yoga, knitting and relational databases

It's around this time, late on a Thursday afternoon, that I find myself longing for the yoga mat. I do regular 10 hour shifts and often hardly get up from the cushy chair all day, and I'm losing my fitness and flexibility. I can feel it slipping away - it's scaring me. Or is it just age - this changing body shape and feel. Anyway, I started practicing yoga around the same time as I got a desk-based librarian job 2 years ago. I've never been flexible and I'm still not, but I just need to stretch everything out, quickly in the morning, and a longer session in the evening. I use Yogaglo.com - they film live yoga sessions from some of the most brilliant teachers in their New York studio, and make them available to everyone around the world (for a small subscription price). Compared to all the hassle involved in going out to a yoga class (getting changed, getting there, paying for it, being self conscious etc.) it's lovely to do at home.

The Yogaglo site sits on top of a relational database, making all of the classes searchable according to their various attributes - body part targeted, instructor, length of class, level and there are literally hundreds to choose from. I learned about relational databases as part of my post-grad library and information studies course. We had to find a website that was based on a relational database and analyse what lay beneath it from what we could see of the public side of it. I chose the knitting website Ravelry. The complexity of it almost overwhelmed me (knitters, you'll know what I mean!), but it once again sparked my interest in web design, which is my new hobby. This post started off as a whinge about librarian body stiffness and turned into a look at the relational database of a knitting website, but it's all good, right?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Baklava & Code

Tonight's baklava

Oops, day 3 of blogjune and I'm doing a late night post… So today I had a much better day with my LibGuides 2 and my coding adventures. For the blog post today I'm going to a quick review of the teach-yourself coding site Codecademy which I have been using for a while now. 

This is a great tutorial site because it's free, it never gives you the answer (the hints are very helpful though), and it doesn't make unrealistic promises (code your own website in 24 hours!). It doesn't try to explain code theory, it just makes you start writing code straight away, and their console lets you see what you're creating as you do it. It does move through the content pretty quickly, so I've been taking notes as there is no way I can retain the amount of new stuff they get through. It's aimed at the beginner with no programming knowledge, which has been good for me. 

You can take a tutorial in various programming languages (HTML & CSS, jQuery, JavaScript, PHP, Python or Ruby), and there are lots of practice exercises to test your skills. There are badges and social sharing to motivate you (this really works for me) and the exercise come with a dose of friendly humour. I've almost finished the HTML and CSS course, and it's been fun. It's really still the beginning of the journey that I am determined to continue. The baklava was delicious.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Silliness, persistance and creativity

Today at work my colleagues and I are starting Week 2 of the 23 Mobile Things course, and the Thing is mobile photos. When I did the course the first time around I hadn't used my phone a lot for photos, but now I reckon I know what I'm talking about, having become an avid user of my phone camera for selfies, Instagram, and blogging and besides that, I really love photo editing apps and putting photos through various apps before publishing them. The silly glasses were added with the Photo Editor- app, and the filter and border were added in PicLab and Instagram. I'm also running the business Instagram page for my sister's lovely cafe in the Perth Hills, which made me realise how big Instagram is, and how it can be used to engage and attract customers. This week I read an interesting article on how university libraries can leverage the power of Instagram, although I don't really see a huge place for it in my library, apart from putting a slideshow gallery of promotional photos on our website. There are people getting really creative with their user communities with this type of social media, and it's so great to see.

Today I got frustrated at work trying to use the new LibGuides2 Beta platform. It seems to keep doing buggy things and I'm trying to work with code that is above my current level of understanding. Lucky there's no rush for the upgrade and I've got a bit of time on my hands now that all of the students are studying for their exams. I heard somewhere that coding requires persistance, and creativity. I'm thinking, sure, the persistance phase is going to go into years before the creative part can start! There will be more to come on my coding adventures...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Contemplation day

The end of the long weekend. Today was WA day, the day on which Western Australia was 'founded', ie. the anniversary of the day that the English settlers arrived in WA to establish a colony in 1829. The name was recently changed from Foundation Day to recognise that the aboriginal people were the original inhabitants of the land. After watching Utopia on SBS the other night, a documentary about the continuing awful treatment of the original inhabitants of Australia, I'm finding it hard to feel a sense of celebration. Apparently the documentary was considered controversial, but to deny there is a problem with the way successive governments have treated the Aboriginal people is unbelievable. I found it incredibly moving and powerful and I felt ashamed that so many Aboriginal people are still living below the poverty line, with so many issues (health, imprisonment, education…) in our wealthy country. Why does it feel like the gap between the rich and the poor in this country is growing…

So, I had a contemplative day. I went with a friend to a tea cafe where they do endless refills of whatever variety of tea you feel like for a grand total of $5.95, and I think I drank about 10 cups! That, and I finished a book by one of my favourite authors, Witi Ihimaera (he also wrote The Whale Rider). That guy can really write - I love everything he's written. 

Speaking of books and tea, I wish more public libraries would have cafes in them, and I would love to see bookshops, cafes and libraries coming together more often. I guess there would be a bunch of hurdles to make that kind of idea happen, but it would just be cool. I've heard the argument so many times that people who love libraries also buy books, so why not bring them together? As for cafes in Libraries, I do like what The Grove Library has done with their cafe in the library! This is not really me as a librarian speaking, but as someone who likes to visit libraries, spend time browsing and reading, and chatting to the staff. 

OK, it's back to work tomorrow and I will be writing about something more relevant to my work in academic libraries. Happy blogjuning!

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Me, today

Hello BLOGJUNE! I thought I'd start with a bit of an introduction on this first day. I'm a Perth librarian, I live and work in the city, and the library I manage is (a lot of the time) a one-person library. Well, kind of… it belongs to a network of six college libraries, and all of the others are located around Australia. So what that means is that I spend a lot of time on Skype, and the rest of the time looking after the Perth campus library and our lovely academic staff and natural medicine students. It's an academic library, a special library, and a health library. It's my first job since graduating in 2013 and I love it. 

I participated in Blogjune last year and posted about library life and the ANZ 23 Mobile Things PD course that I was doing at the time. This year I'll be posting about library life and perhaps also the 23 Mobile Things course as I do it again, guiding my fellow library staff (16 of them around the country!) through, as well as other reflections, most of them about academic library stuff, technology, and my readings. I'll enjoy reading any fellow Blogjuners who post mostly about Library-related stuff, or who are a good read (cos, I love to read!).

I try not to mix my personal and professional lives, but there will be bits and pieces of non-library stuff in this blog for Blogjune, because I have to think of something to write every single day. I've got some ideas ready to go, and will seek inspiration in the blogs of others, and try my best to be active in the comments too! I think blogging everyday will get the creative juices flowing and be a good way to make connections with others in the library community. Thanks Con for organising :) and bring it on, bloggers.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Preparing for #blogjune

Last year I went in without a plan. I did succeed in blogging everyday, but at the end I was struggling! So this year I've decided a bit of preparation is in order. Each day of the week, in no particular order, I will muse on one of these topics:
  1. A library-related article I've read
  2. Professional development 
  3. A tech tool or site
  4. A book
  5. A Meme
  6. A photo 
  7. The 23 mobile things course revisited