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.
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.
Over the past few weeks I've been working on the CS 101 course through Udacity. Like Khan Academy, Udacity seeks to provide education for free to anyone who wants to learn. I'm excited to see where this new educational model goes, and what kind of students will take advantage of it. Although Udacity assumes that you have access to a computer and the internet as well as time to work through the courses, this can provide an amazing educational opportunity for nontraditional students. I looked through the forums yesterday, and it was wonderful to see the students who are taking the course--there are a lot of older, younger, and international students all learning together.
This particular course focuses on learning Python to build a tiny functional search engine in seven weeks. We are nearly halfway through, and I'm enjoying the course tremendously. I haven't really done any programming since a C++ course I took in college more than a decade ago, but Python is not as hard as I thought it would be.