The Setup: What We Use at ACRL TechConnect

Inspired by “The Setup” a few of us at Tech Connect have decided to share some of our favorite tools and techniques with you. What software, equipment, or time/stress management tools do you love? Leave us a note in the comments.

Eric – Homebrew package manager for OS X

I love Macs. I love their hardware, their operating system, even some of their apps like Garage Band. But there are certain headaches that Mac OS X comes with. While OS X exposes its inner workings via UNIX command line, it doesn’t provide a package manager like the apt of many Linux distros to install and update software.
Enter Homebrew, a lifesaver that’s helped me to up my game on the command line without much ancillary pain. Homebrew helps you find (“brew search php“), install (“brew install phantomjs“), and update (“brew upgrade git“) software from a central repository. I currently have 36 packages installed, among them utilities that Apple neglected to include like wget, programming tools like Node.js, and brilliant timesavers like z, a bookmarking system for the command line. Installing a lot of these tools can be tougher than using them, requiring permissions tweaks and enigmatic incantations. Homebrew makes installation easy and checking thirty-six separate websites for available updates becomes unnecessary.
As a bonus, some Homebrew commands now produce unicode beer mugs.

Updated Homebrew from bad98b12 to 150b5f96.
==> Updated Formulae
autojump berkeley-db gtk+ imagemagick libxml2
==> Upgrading 1 outdated package, with result:
libxml2 2.9.0
==> Upgrading libxml2
==> Downloading ftp://xmlsoft.org/libxml2/libxml2-2.9.0.tar.gz
####################################### 100.0%
==> Patching
patching file threads.c
patching file xpath.c
==> ./configure --prefix=/usr/local/Cellar/libxml2/2.9.0 --without-python
==> make
==> make install
==> Caveats
This formula is keg-only: so it was not symlinked into /usr/local.
==> Summary
beer mug usr/local/Cellar/libxml2/2.9.0: 273 files, 11M, built in 94 seconds

[Note: simulation, not verbatim output]

Magic! And a shameless plug: Homebrew has a Kickstarter currently to help them with some automated tests, so if you use Homebrew consider a donation.

Margaret – Pomodoro Technique/using time wisely

Everyone works differently and has more effective times of day to complete certain types of work. Some people have to start writing first thing in the mornings, others can’t do much of anything that early. For me personally I find late afternoon the most effective time to work on code or technical work—but late afternoon is a time very prone to being distractible. So many funny things have been posted on the internet, and my RSS reader is all full up again. The Pomodoro technique (as well as similar systems) is a promise to yourself that if you just work hard on something for a relatively short amount of time that you will finish it, and then can have a guilt-free break.

Read the website for the full description of how to use this technique and some tools, but here’s the basic idea. You list the tasks you need to do, and then pick a task to work on for 25 minutes. Then you set a timer and start work. After the timer goes off, you get a 5 minute break to do whatever you want, and then after a few Pomodoros you take a longer break. The timer ideally should have a visual component so that you know how much time you have left and remember to stay on task. My personal favorite is focus booster. This is what mine looks like right now:

Pomodoro status bar

Note that the line changes color as I get closer to the end. It will become blue and count down my break when that starts. Another one I like a lot, especially when I am not at my own computer is e.ggtimer.com. This is a simple display, and you can bookmark http://e.ggtimer.com/pomodoro to get a Pomodoro started.

I can’t do Pomodoros all day—as a librarian, I need to be available to work with others at certain times—that’s not an interruption, that’s my job. Other times I really need to focus and can’t. This is the best technique to get started—and sometimes once I am started I get so focused on the project that I don’t even notice I am supposed to be on a break.

Jim – Tomcat Server with Jersey servlet: a customizable middleware/API system

The Tomcat/Jersey stack is the backbone of the library’s technology prototyping initiative. With this tool, our staff of research programmers and student programmers can take any webpage/database source and turn it into an API that could then feed into a mobile app, a data feed in a website, or a widget in some other emerging technology. While using and leveraging the Tomcat/Jersey stack does require some Java background, it can be learned in a couple weeks by anyone who has some scripting and server experience. The hardest thing to this whole pipeline is finding enough time to keep cranking out the library APIs — one that I got running over the winter holiday is a feed of group rooms that are available to be checked out/scheduled within the next hour at the library.

The data feed sends back a JSON array of available rooms, like this (abbreviated):

[{"roomName":"Collaboration Room 02 - Undergraduate Library",

"startTime":"10:00 AM",

"endTime":"11:00 AM",

"date":"1/27/2013"}, …
Bohyun – Get into the mood for concentration and focus

I am one of those people who are easily excited by new happenings around me. I am also one of those people who often would do anything but the thing that I must be doing. That is, I am prone to distraction and procrastination. My work often requires focus and concentration but I have an extremely hard time getting into the right mood.
there are no limits to what you can accomplish when you are supposed to be doing something else
The two tools that I found help me quite a bit are (a) Scribblet and (b) Rainy Mood. Scribblet (http://scribblet.org/) is a simple Javascript bookmarklet that lets you literally scribble on your web browser. If you tend to read more efficiently while annotating, this simple tool will help you a great deal with online reading. Rainy Mood (http://www.rainymood.com/) is a website that displays the window of any rainy day with even the sound of thunder sprinkled in. I tend to get much calmer on a rainy day which can do wonders for my writing and other projects that require a calm and focused state of mind. This tool instantly makes me have a rainy day regardless of the weather.
rainy mood websitescribblet website

Meghan – Evernote

Evernote is not a terribly technical tool, but it is one I love and constantly use.  It provides the ability for you to take notes, clip items from the web, attach files to notes, organize into notebooks, share notebooks (or keep them private) and search existing notes.  It is available to download for desktops but I use the web version primarily, along with the web clipper and the Android app on my phone.  Everything syncs together, so it is easy to locate notes from any location.  Here are three examples of how it fits into my daily life:

- An enormous pile of classified bookmarks: I am currently trying to get up to speed on Drupal development as well as looking at examples of online image collections and brainstorming for my next TechConnect blog entry.  The web clipper allows me to save things into specific piles by using notebooks and then add tags for classification and easier searching.  For example, I can classify an issue description or resolution in the my web development reference notebook, but tag it with the name for our site which is affected by the issue. This is especially useful when I know I have to change tasks and am likely to navigate away from my tabs in the browser.  When I return to the task in a day or so, I can search for the helpful pages I saved.  Classifying in notebooks is also good to build a list of sources that I consult every time I do a certain task, like building a server.

Evernote library

- Course and conference notes: Using the web or phone version, I can type notes during a lecture or conference session.  I can also attach a pdf of the slides from a presentation for reference later.  Frequently, I create a notebook for a particular conference that I can opt to share with others.

Conference notes in Evernote

- Personal uses:  I am learning to cook, and this tool has been really useful.  Say I find a great recipe that I decide I want to (try and) make for dinner tonight.  Clip the recipe using the web clipper, save it to my recipes notebook and then pull it up on my phone while I’m cooking to follow along (which also explains all the flour on my phone).  In a few months if I want to use it again, I’ll probably have to search for it, because all I will remember is that it had chickpeas in it.  But, that’s all I have to remember.

recipe in Evernote
There are lots of other add-ins for this application, but I love and use the base service the most often.


Career Impact and Library Technology Research

This blog post is not concerned with the specific application of a technology, rather it advocates the rather post-modern idea of research and writing in library technology for career impact. I take as my departure point the fact that not all research articles are useful contributions to the field. While intellectual rigor has its place in research, if the connection to service improvements or broader big picture questions are not addressed by scholarly research outputs the profession, as a whole, will not advance.

In a sense, it is after tenure when academic librarians begin to think of notions of careers of impact. We may ask ourselves what library needs or open problems were met by our work. We ask: did our research outputs matter?  Did our research stand up over time? Has the field moved forward at all?

A major problem in library and information science literature from an editorial perspective is the local-ness of any given paper. To generalize, many papers now coming into journal submission portals report how a specific local problem was addressed. The paper does its intellectual work only as far as its local institution is concerned. Broadly, what is needed in library writing — writing that is primarily driven from tenure line librarians is a need to consider practice of librarianship beyond the boundaries of a discreet study.

This underscores another significant problem which could be addressed by the right kind of mentorship in library settings: addressing the why of publishing, this would be a good corollary to the how, which veterans can teach – veteran tenured librarians will be able to speak to the methods for getting into print, getting even into the top tier journals like the Journal of Academic Librarianship. However, what is missing, and what this post is fundamentally concerned with, is the why of publishing for tenure.

When I started writing, the impulse was to sound smart. This is something I regretted deeply when I watched new library school students take notes on that paper. Now, I’m writing to communicate, since a wise person once said: “the smartest people are those who can communicate with others,” and what it is we are attempting to communicate when we publish are ways to improve practice – to move the field forward. That is why we publish. That is why we research. That is why we choose and stay on the tenure track, to have a career of impact in the field.

Can such a thing be taught? It’s like asking if morality can be taught, because it is a rather moral (and, possibly post-modern anti-ego thinking) choice to think of your profession as advancing and not yourself. While most tenure track activities can have the effect of growing ones ego, the path worth going down, the very interesting and profound path librarians must follow, if they are to remain honest, is to empty the ego, to empty any concern for the individual career and to think instead of the profession.

Our careers are not our own, anymore than the libraries we worked in and lived in were ours. The IT career of impact for librarians is that career which was made in the service to the profession.