Category Archives: Reflections

Ontology in Library Science

Today I’m letting my inner nerd out to play…

Wordle: ontology in library science As part of my library science education, I spend a lot of time thinking about words, words, words.  Words as labels, key words, language, natural language, artificial language, ambiguity, conciseness.  In Peter Morville’s Ambient Findability which is all about information, information seeking and information access, I was delighted to run into Ludwig von Wittgenstein, the crazy philosopher genius who suggested language is insufficient to convey meaning (love him!):

Wittgenstein argued, “the root cause of…ontological challenges lies not only in semantics but also in the underlying logic of classification:  Consider for example, the proceedings we call games.  I mean, board games, card games, ball games, Olympic games, and so on.  What is common to them all?” (Morville 2005, 133)

It’s part of an information specialist’s job to identify the commonality in documents or artifacts, and duly classify and catalog them so that others may access the information.

I don’t aspire to be a cataloger but it is an aspect of any librarian’s work to understand these things.  And I couldn’t resist indulging in a bit of philosophical musing since the topic of ontology itself (the study of the nature of being, existence or realityreminded me of reading Descartes in Philosophy 101.  It became an exercise in precise langauge:

I pulled Joel Feinberg’s Reason and Responsibility off my bookshelf, thinking I would revisit Descartes’ musings on the melted candle and quickly discovered that “melted candle” was my own interpretation of Descartes’ discussion in “Meditation II” from “Meditations on First Philosophy”—Descartes does not use the word candle.  Rather he uses the word “wax.”  Now, with my curiosity piqued, I decided to google “Descartes melted candle” to see if the results would pull up “Meditation II” or if I would need to change my query.

Search terms play a huge role in accessing information.  The first result in my google search took me to “Meditation VI,” not “II.”  More interestingly, the third result was a paper discussing the very fact that Descartes uses the word “wax” rather than “candle!” Then I opened a new tab so I could change my query to “Descartes wax,” and the first result this time was the Wikipedia article on Descartes which mentions his “Wax Argument.”

Because I’m a word geek, I consulted my handy paperback copy of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary New Edition and looked up “wax” (a yellowish plastic substance secreted by bees for constructing the honeycomb) and “candle” (a usu. slender mass of tallow or wax molded around a wick that is burned to give light).  The definition of “candle” led me to consider the following:

On my mantle, there is a mass of wax molded around a wick—is it a candle if the wick has never been burned?  Does a candle’s existence depend upon the wick being burned and the wax being melted?  Or is the potential for the burning and melting sufficient to bring the candle into existence?  The definition of “wick” reads, “a loosely bound bundle of soft fibers that draws up oil, tallow or wax to be burned in a candle, oil lamp or stove.”

So I suppose it is a candle, then, that reposes between the Tibetan song bowl and the Our Lady of Fatima figurine, but my understanding of a candle and a wick are that each relies upon the other for its own existence, or sense of being.

My contemplation of candles and wax led me to wonder, are information and accessibility also inextricably linked?  In order to be information, must a given document be accessible?  Or is the does the document’s existence render it “information” regardless of whether a person can access it?


Filed under Library and Information Science, Reflections

Feeling Better?

Thank you to everyone who has been checking up on me.  I’m touched!  And, yes, I am finally feeling better.  It had been a while since I’d gotten sick and I was a bit surprised at how long it took for me to get back on track.

Of course now my To-Do list has grown exponentially.  I am feeling badly about that.  Is that crazy?  I mean, I know that I could not function properly with a monster cold that included a hacking cough and laryngitis.  Yet I’m mad at myself for letting so much stuff pile up.  So I feel both better…and worse.  Ugh.  Didn’t I resolve to be kinder to myself this year?

The thing is, with March right around the corner, I’m feeling a bit apprehensive.  Any teacher will concur:  March is a terrible month.  I think of it as “Marathon Month” because it just goes on forever, especially in the years when Easter is in April.  This March, my husband is shifting into pre-deployment mode which means an (even more) erratic schedule for him while I have assignments due every single week for my classes.

I don’t want to be in survival mode for the next month but I don’t really have a plan so I’d love to get some insight from you.

What do you do to feel better about a daunting task?  How do you pace yourself when faced with a full calendar?  And what keeps you motivated?



Filed under Reflections

Irony: Library student with delinquent patron record

Last semester I read Defusing the Angry Patron for one of my grad school classes.  It contains great practical advice for librarians (and teachers too) who must cope with confrontational patrons/parents who are upset about one thing or another in the library.  Often these patrons are upset about the content of some book and feel the offensive material should be removed and the librarian should remove it right now! Other times patrons are frustrated with library policy or procedure.

Though I’ve been a library patron since age two, I was never an angry patron until the other day when I discovered that my library account is “delinquent.”  When I asked why, I was informed that I caused “severe water damage” to a book and my account is delinquent “pending assessment of a fine.”

Me:  What?  Which book?  How is that possible?  May I see this alleged water damage?

The woman working at the circulation desk avoided eye contact with me throughout our whole conversation.  She explained to her computer screen that when I returned the book (nearly two months ago) she remembers that it was “very damaged.”  She personally marked it as such and flagged my account.  The book was then returned to its home library and is apparently sitting in some inbox until a tech services person decides how much to charge me for it.

Clearly this librarian(?) needs to read Defusing the Angry Patron.  She demonstrated terrible nonverbal communication skills and used “the library F word.”

No one contacted me about this at all and it was somewhat accidental that I even discovered the status of my account in the first place.  I guess this library does not contact patrons regarding damaged materials—at least not in a timely manner.  That’s a poor policy if ever there was one.

I did not water damage this book.  In fact I barely even opened the book; I only borrowed it so I could check something on the copyright page.  I returned it in precisely the condition it was lent to me; I don’t remember it being damaged when I checked it out (and I would notice such a thing—I’ve worked in circulation too and I know how to take care of books!).

I’ve twice called the book’s home library and gotten the run around because they’re backed up and don’t know when they’ll get around to looking at this book.

Meanwhile, “DELINQUENT” appears across the top of the screen whenever I log into my library account or try to check out other books.

Grrrrrr.  Right now I’m about as happy with the library as I am with insurance companies and if I were just another patron I’d be done with this public library.  I’m that frustrated by this incident.

Sadly, this is one of the big reasons why public libraries lose patrons:  a combination of poor communication and poor policy/procedure.

To my fellow LIS students and library friends, let’s please do better!


Filed under Reflections, SLIS Stuff

Battle Bullying with Books

Starting Young

Last week, my daughter told me about a troubling recess incident at her school:  apparently, a game of “Lego City Police” devolved into the playground version of police brutality.  Teachers were alerted and intervened but not before one of my daughter’s kindergarten classmates was punched and scratched by another kid.

In her responses to my “casual” questions, my daughter revealed that the boy who was punched/scratched is not well liked among his peers.  She says the other boys don’t like him because he doesn’t brush his teeth.  The only girl police officer in the game, my daughter backed away when the punching started and didn’t know what to do.  The boy who did the punching/scratching has often been sent to the principal’s office but my daughter thinks he is silly and says funny things in class.

Wow.  All this just in time for No Name Calling Week.

Bullying Statistics

Some parents may feel it is an overreaction on my part to be concerned that the Lego City Police incident could be a precursor to bullying.  However, the statistics are alarming:  160,000 students per day skip school in fear of attack or bullying; out of 37 studied shootings, 66% of them were led by individuals who felt bullied; and 20% of high school students say they’ve considered suicide within the past twelve months, mentioning the triggers as bullying, teasing, and social rejection.  (These figures are borrowed from a library colleague; I didn’t ask for her sources).

The messages sent to my daughter and her classmates about this incident matter.  The time to address these issues is now, and the time to lay the foundation for the prevention of future bullying is now.

Don’t just read.  Discuss what you read.

My way of addressing issues typically involves books and I am familiar with the skepticism toward my approach:  can books really change the world?  Can reading really change lives?

Jenny Betz, Education Manager for GLSEN, suggested a different spin on these questions yesterday in “Battle Bullying with Books,” a webinar sponsored by Booklist.  Betz says that perhaps not the books themselves but the conversations around those books are what truly have the power to change lives.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is listening to young people talk about issues of importance to them.  With civil discourse eroding before our eyes and disturbingly venomous speech flying around, it feels increasingly important to teach youth how to engage in respectful conversation with others.  I think using literature to open up dialogue is a great place to start.

Alone, the act of reading will not teach a child how to recognize and understand his emotions, will not create empathy.    But coupled with discussion, reading can help foster sensitivity and healthy relationships.

The thing to remember with discussion is that being “right” isn’t the point.  It’s more important to understanding what the other person is saying.  We adults are so eager to impart wisdom to young people that sometimes we talk too much.  We want young people to listen to us, but we often fail to reciprocate and truly listen to them.

All It Takes is One

In the past decade, innumerable titles have been published that deal with the subject of bullying for kids of all ages.  Last year author Mitali Perkins compiled a list of great titles for young adults (ages 12+).  For emergent readers (ages 5-8) the recent Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker by Geoffrey Hayes is a good one and the upcoming The Three Bully Goats by Leslie Kimmelman seems promising.  James Howe, author of Bunnicula, published The Misfits in 2001  for middle grade readers.  Loosely based on his daughter’s experience at the hands of middle school bullies, The Misfits is the book that launched No Name Calling Week.

My personal favorite is One by Kathryn Otoshi, published in 2008 by KO Kids Books.   This profound picture book is accessible for very young children but has an elegant, Zen flair that makes it appealing for tweens and teens as well.  Every preschool and elementary school library needs a copy of this book, and it would make a terrific teacher gift as well.  (Coincidentally, I had given my daughter’s teacher a copy of One earlier this month.  She read it to the class this week and the kids’ response to it was very encouraging.)

Summary:   Generally, Blue feels happy and life is good.  Except when Red gets mad and takes it out on Blue.  Those are the times when Blue feels, well, blue.  And Red sometimes makes Orange, Purple, Green, and Yellow feel blue too.  Red is a bully but the other colors don’t quite know what to do about it until One comes along and teaches an important lesson—that everyone counts!

Counting by ones may seem like a slow process—one book, one teacher, one kid, one parent—but we never know which one moment can be a turning point.  I, for one, don’t want to allow a single opportunity to slip by.

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Good Intentions

Yesterday I finally made my way back to yoga class.  There’s plenty for me to be discouraged about: my Down Dog and Warrior II are pitiful compared to all these spry retirees!  It will be a while before my Dancer looks like this again.

However, more than just my stiff joints and muscles were imploring me to unroll my green mat again.

Yoga helps me to be kind to myself and 20 days into the New Year, I find that out of all my resolutions and goals for 2011 the most important is for me to take care of myself and ease up on the self-criticism.

In my study of world religions I learned about the Buddhist principle of Right Intention but it was through a yoga class that I developed an understanding of how the concept could apply to my life.  Philip Moffitt describes the idea in this wonderful article called “The Heart’s Intention.”

Some key ideas from the article:

  • “Goals help you make your place in the world and be an effective person. But being grounded in intention is what provides integrity and unity in your life.”
  • “Intention is what provides you with self-respect and peace of mind.”
  • “There’s no need to judge yourself or quit when you fail to live by your intentions. You are developing the habit of right intention so that it becomes an unconscious way of living-an automatic response to all situations.”
  • “There are only two things you are responsible for in this practice: Throughout each day, ask yourself if you are being true to your deepest intentions. If you’re not, start doing so immediately, as best as you’re able.”

In a management course last spring, I likened the idea of intention to the vision statement one might incorporate in strategic planning.  An effective vision statement for an organization is rooted in values and offers guidance in decision-making.  Just as a vision is different from a goal, intention is based on an understanding of what matters most to you and requires a commitment to align your actions with your values.  I used lighthouses as the main visual image in my PowerPoint for that presentation.

This blog is one of the areas I’ve carefully considered as I’ve made goals and reflected on my intentions.  What began as a fun distraction for this Navy wife while her husband was away has turned into one of the “unfinished” projects that I feel guilty about.  (Silly, I know, but as I said, I’m very hard on myself.)  One of my long-standing professional goals has been to create a teaching resource, but achieving that goal with this blog was never my intention.  I needed to remind myself that this “database” is merely an experiment.

What I really need is a data entry assistant but it will be a few years before my daughter is ready for the job.  Eight should be a good age to put her to work, right?

For now, I’m going to approach this blog differently.  I’ll still add reviews but I may as well admit that this isn’t a book blog.  This year, I’ll be nurturing my family through another deployment, completing a few more classes toward my degree, and reading, reading, reading.  Here is where I’ll reflect on it all.

I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with you.

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To Boycott or Not to Boycott?

As a long time customer, I’m really torn over whether to boycott the site after the incident with the pedophilia book.

Like most librarians, I’m a staunch defender of the freedom to read.  In a piece titled “A Few Words about Censorship,” Chris Crutcher–a personal hero of mine–says, “If you live in a democracy, and you want to participate in that democracy, you have to learn to stand up for the expression of things you hate. It’s easy to promote material that represents what you believe—a little harder to do that for material that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.”

Crutcher, in addition to being a writer, is a therapist who has worked extensively with abused kids.  He believes that there are some people who need to be kept away from kids, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Even though I find both content and writer of this book to be despicable, the author has the right to free expression and others have the right to read it if they choose.  Do not mistake me, however:  NO ONE has the right to harm a child.

My issue with is that the company does not have a policy for selecting or screening the products available for sale on the site.  Even in a public library where the principles of information access and intellectual freedom are tenaciously protected, a selection policy serves to guide librarians in choosing materials by offering clear standards and criteria.  In the absence of such a policy, there is neither accountability nor a systematic, objective way to evaluate materials.’s mission statement reads:  Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.

This incident shows to be consistent with its vision—clearly people can find and discover anything, and the company did respond to customers when demands were made that the company pull the objectionable material “off the shelves.”

Just because can sell anything, doesn’t mean they should.  Even libraries toe the line:  back in the early 90s, when Madonna’s book Sex was published, plenty of librarians chose not to add the book to their collections because it did not reflect the standards of decency in their communities.

Many people within the library community have chosen to boycott  This latest incident is merely the proverbial straw on the back of the camel, as there are a number of good reasons to avoid what some are calling the Wal-Mart of online shopping.

As an information resource, is incredibly useful to me in my research, primarily on books but for other products as well.  I will continue to use the site in this way, and I will continue to link book titles here to their product pages on

As for shopping…those who argue that is no better than Wal-Mart have a point.  I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, and I’ve substantially reduced the shopping I do at Target.

If I give up on as well, where does that leave me?  I already try to support local, independent booksellers as much as possible—places like Jabberwocky, Riverby, Point Loma Books and Yellow Brick Road.

I’m also unsure that I believe to have been in the wrong over the availability of the book.  Whereas traditional publishing channels would likely have prevented such offensive material from finding an audience, self-publishing in the digital age is new territory for everyone involved in information access.

I’d love to hear from those who have taken a definitive stand and chosen to boycott—what alternatives to do you recommend?  I’d also love to hear from those who aren’t boycotting—what are your reasons?

For the time being, I’m going to spend more money than I planned at the book fair at my daughter’s school and I’ll continue pondering how much holiday shopping I’ll be doing through this year.

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MLISing in Action

Borrowing a colleague’s clever phrase , I apologize for having been “MLISing in Action” for four months.  I didn’t intend to disappear like that, but between adjusting after our move and grad school and my amazing procrastination skills…well, clearly this blog plummeted to the bottom of my priority list.

Though I wasn’t posting, I was reading.  In fact, over the summer, I was reading about reading and I learned some incredible things about literacy and emergent readers.

For example, from Mary Anne Wolf’s fascinating exploration of the neuroscience of reading, Proust and the Squid, I was shocked to learn of the disparity between linguistically affluent and impoverished environments: “In some environments the average young middle class child hears 32 million more spoken words than the underprivileged child by age 5.” Additionally, the average underprivileged child has access to zero age-appropriate books while the affluent counterpart has access to 200. For many children, schools and professional educators do not enter the picture of early literacy until Kindergarten (age 5), at the end of the stage (ages 2-5) at which a child is capable of learning 2-4 new words per day. This means that parents truly are the primary educators of their children when it comes to laying the groundwork for learning to read.

Today happens to be the kickoff day for Jumpstart’s year-long Read for the Record campaign to support preschool children in low-income neighborhoods and prepare them for success in school and life.  By reading The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats today, you & your child can be counted toward a world record.  Click here to read the book online & confirm your participation.

October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month.  The folks at Reading Rockets have a wealth of information here.  I love this video in which children’s author Patricia Polacco shares her own moving struggle with dyslexia.

This month also happens to be National Book Month, sponsored by the National Book Foundation.  Next week, the 2010 National Book Award Finalists will be announced.  I’m embarrassed to admit that of all the National Book Award winners listed here, I’ve read three:  Outside, Over There by Maurice Sendak, Holes by Louis Sachar, and Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary.  Perhaps I’ll make a point to read at least one of the titles announced on 10/13.

And to round out this very literary month, Teen Read Week,  sponsored by YALSA, is happening October 17-23.

What are you currently reading?


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