I have not posted here since October! This is because my job has become very, very busy. I'm my library's trainer for EndNote, Zotero, and Reference Manager (although people here only seem to want to learn about EndNote), which takes up some time. I'm also training nursing students on CINAHL, and learning a lot about genetics. The most interesting thing I'm doing these days is answering clinical questions for various physicians and researchers--this involves doing a thorough search of the medical literature and summarizing the most relevant and important articles. In order to do this well, I've been reading about what goes into making really solid experiments and how to tell when articles are leaving out important details when reporting the results of those experiments. To be clear, I don't think that the authors are being dishonest! I think it is sometimes hard to tell what your own project may be missing, or how you *should* have set it up in an ideal world versus how you actually did set it up in the real world. It's interesting, seeing research in action.
I'm also spending a fair amount of time learning about our Special Collections, which is fantastic fun. The history of medicine is so strange and fascinating, especially the local history here in the south and in Nashville in particular. I'm looking forward to designing an exhibit later this spring, as well. In the meantime, I'm spending time familiarizing myself with the collection, which includes all manner of medical texts from the 1500s onward. I'm particularly fond of our copy of Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica, which is a second edition.
I've been teaching myself how to use CINAHL, the database of nursing and allied health literature from EBSCO. I'm not doing it because I am inherently interested in the database, but I'm learning it so that I'll be able to teach a class on it. A class that's this afternoon, gulp.
But you know what? CINAHL is actually pretty interesting. There are of course some things that I don't like about it, but overall I think it's built in a way that makes sense, and it can be used by people who are Good At Computers as well as by people who have to work, dammit, and can't spend a lot of time learning a particular database.
While I am a pretty bush league teacher at the moment, I like teaching. And I'm pretty good at picking up something quickly in order to be able to teach it to other people. That's a skill I didn't even know I had until I recently started learning EndNote/Zotero/Reference Manager--I'm the new trainer for those programs at my library.
I'm teaching a class about how to become a strong searcher using Google. I thought I knew a lot about Google's search tricks, but I have learned an enormous amount in the past few days. For example, did you know that you can find a huge amount of local information merely by entering your zip code or city? So if I wanted to see what time the sun rises or sets in my neighborhood, I could just type "sunrise 37206" or "sunset Nashville." You can also do this with movies and other kinds of events. There are so many ways to use Google, it's pretty amazing.
A ton of stuff has happened in the last month! I passed comps (yay!) and graduated (double yay!) and got hired on at my library as a medical librarian (all the yays!). My start date for the latter is October 1st, and I am tickled to death about it. I've already started taking on more responsibilities at work, including teaching a class to some of my coworkers on a variety of health resource topics, and assisting with a literature search on acute kidney injury. I'm also learning a bit more about SQL and genetics resources. It's a bit of a hodgepodge, but it's all very interesting. Work is so much more enjoyable now that I'm learning new things.
Now that school is over I have a lot more time on my hands. I still haven't adjusted to the idea that I don't have articles to read all the time, papers and projects to work on, or classes to attend. I am tempted to start a thousand new projects, because I'm not good at sitting still, but I think I should take a while and think things over before I embark on a new venture. What should I do next? I'm thinking of beefing up my coding skills, getting back into knitting, and writing more.
I have been AWOL for a while because I've gotten busy--my end-of-degree comprehensive exam is going to be on Friday. I've been stuffing my head full of information science theories, people, and models. Everything will be fine, I know, but it's still stressful.
After the exam is over on Friday, though...I can't wait! I have some books to read, friends to hang out with, and movies to watch. I still have a few weeks left in my databases class, but they won't be too bad. I just have to learn some baby SQL and I'll be good to go.
I can't believe that I'm so close to finishing. I feel like I've been plugging away at this degree forever. Even though Forbes says that a masters in library and information science is the very worst masters degree you can get, I still feel pretty confident in my choice. The lack of job growth across the board is worrying, of course, but I know that the skills you learn in library school can be applied in many different kinds of work outside the traditional library--for example, in usability, information architecture, or records management. I'm sure I can find something I'll be happy doing.
Two days ago, I delivered a presentation about my practicum experience to a group of colleagues at my library. Although not many of them were familiar with DiscoverLibrary, they were all very supportive and were an excellent audience. The more I present this material, the less nervous I get. It helps that I am familiar with the material and with basic questions about usability, the testing process, and the guide I created--it gave me a sense of confidence to be able to answer the questions that I got at the end of my presentation without straining to think of an answer.
I would recommend doing a practicum to any MLS/MSIS student. Although I've gotten a lot of out my classwork at UTK, I learned a ton about project management, becoming a subject expert (or at least not a total noob), interviewing and testing users, and presentation skills. I didn't realize when I started that even though I might put in a ton of effort on a project, it wouldn't matter unless I could communicate my findings to the people who could implement changes. That's a good thing to learn, and I'm glad I got to figure it out during a practicum instead of on the job.
The presentation went well, and I am so happy that 1) everybody was so supportive and 2) I don't have to worry about it anymore. There were more than twenty librarians who attended, although I was too nervous to make a full headcount. They were pulling in chairs so that everyone fit in the room! Although I was nervous initially, it helped to remember that I was as much of a subject expert on usability as anyone there could possibly be, and that everyone wanted me to do well. The questions that people asked at the end of the presentation were all interesting, thought-provoking, and non-hostile. Since DisoverLibrary is a bit of a touchy subject at Vanderbilt, I was worried that someone might take the opportunity to vent their spleen about the site's looks or functionality (mostly based on what it was like when it rolled out, unfortunately). However, everyone was enthusiastic about my findings.
I'm going to upload my presentation so that anyone who is interested can take a look at it. Though my usability study examined the user interface of DiscoverLibrary and not the search functionality, I think that the information I discovered could work in tandem with any future studies the libraries might conduct on the search functionality. Somebody whose name I cannot recall also wants to set up an archive of usability tests the library has done--I hope she gets back to me, because that sounds like a cool project.
For the past few weeks I've been working on my presentation, a paper detailing my practicum experience, and the usability guide. Sometimes I feel like I spend more time deleting things than I do writing them, but I suppose that a lot of writing involves rewriting. Like most people, I'm not a naturally gifted public speaker, and I'm looking forward to the presentation with my colleagues with a mixture of anticipation, excitement, and dread. Tomorrow I will run through my presentation with my awesome practicum supervisor, and I hope to generate a lot of useful criticism before the big presentation on Tuesday.
I think I did a decent job creating and executing the usability test back in February, especially as it was the first time I had ever done one. In retrospect, had I realized that the students I would test would be mostly science and engineering students, I may have tailored the questions to be more like ones they would be likely to have in real life. Instead, two of the scenarios involved finding information about a popular best-seller and a classic work of literature. Though the skills needed to find that information are the same whether science or literature is emphasized, it might have helped the students connect more with the test.
I'm a bundle of nerves at the moment. Although in a sense it does not technically matter how the presentation goes, I really want to do a good job. I think that some of the things I've discovered while sifting through the results of the test could have a real impact on the redesign of DiscoverLibrary, and could help the people who are using the site on a daily basis. I hope that when I present my findings, the audience is receptive and in a position to incorporate some of the changes I propose. I don't want to imply at all that DiscoverLibrary is a bad product, because it isn't, but some small things could make it more pleasant to use--clearer buttons, consistent terminology throughout the site, and an ability to incorporate advanced search options with a minimum of trouble, for example. I hope that my audience feels the same way.
I'm moving into the last phase of this project, and things are getting exciting. I have two big things to work on at the moment: I need to add a lot of information to the research guide on usability, and I need to create the presentation I will be giving on May 8th. The presentation will cover the methodology of the usability test I conducted in February, as well as the information generated by the test and possible applications that information as the site is refreshed in mid-May. Public speaking makes me really nervous (and I am not very good at it), but I think that I can handle 20-25 minutes on this topic. Conducting the test was so interesting that I'm sure there will be a lot to cover.
I also finished the Udacity 101 course on creating a search engine in Python. I hadn't had much experience with programming before, and I really enjoyed it. Parts of the class were frustrating and confusing, but I worked hard at it and I think I have learned a great deal.
Part of what made the course so enjoyable to me was that programming encouraged me to approach problem-solving in a different way than I usually do. I liked breaking a question down into its tiniest components, and using logic to figure out how to structure and approach the solution. It wasn't necessarily intuitive, but I think it would become easier to slip into that mode of thinking with practice. I found myself puzzling over homework questions as I walked around the grocery store or tried to read a book. I've always liked logic puzzles, and I felt like programming was tapping into the same part of my brain. I might take the web applications course when it gets started later this month, if I have the time.
I'm trying to get stuff accomplished on this project, but it is hard to concentrate. I think that is partly because I am having some problems with my vision, and I keep getting a headache. I am very nearsighted, and as a result my retinas are much thinner than a normal person's. That means that sometimes weird things happen--for example, for the past two or three years I have had subretinal neovascularizations, which is where a blood vessel attempts to grow through my retina. This causes flashes and means that I need to get an injection of a drug called Lucentis into my eye. So far it is an inconvenience, but definitely not the worst thing in the world to deal with.
A few weeks ago, however, I started seeing a much bigger flash, and after some time at the retinologist's office I found out that I have a mysterious, thin scar on my left retina. It means that there is a long, thin blurry patch in my visual field (although thankfully not in the center of my vision), and that I see the scar as a bright spot whenever I blink, close my eye, or look at a bright light source like a computer monitor. I'm sure that I will get used to it in a few weeks, though, and then I will be able to see as well as I could before it happened.
I'm also trying to put together a prototype of the possible changes for DiscoverLibrary. I wish I was a more efficient user of Photoshop, because my designs look fine but they take hours to produce. I'm sure that it will be worth it when the prototype is done, though. Ideally, users will be able to click around in it as though it were a dummy version of the real DiscoverLibrary site.