VUStuff IV at Villanova University

large cluster of small wild mushrooms

Web crawls can mushroom if left unchecked!

This year was my second year attending VUStuff, a one-day conference on scholarly communication and digital humanities hosted by the Falvey Memorial  Library of Villanova University. My colleague Katherine Lynch and I made a presentation about web archiving and what institutions need to consider before embarking on a web archiving project using some of the popular hosted services like CDL WAS or Archive-It“Saving the Web, One Site at a Time: Technical Considerations for Developing a Web-Archiving Solution”.

If anyone is interested to read our talk, I believe that a PDF and possibly a video will be posted at the VUSTuff site at some later date.  If not, I will see about hosting a copy on Slideshare. Katherine found some excellent graphics to illustrate our points, including cute penguins, friendly zombies, and out-of-control mushrooms.

As it turns out, we won the Vuie Award for 2013! What an honor! Thanks to David Uspal, Laura Bang, Demian Katz, Darren Polley and the entire crew at Falvey Library for hosting VUSTuff and the Tech Superfecta.


My MOOC Map Final

View Larger Map


I have spent the last few weeks enjoying my experience of my very first MOOC, Maps and the Geospatial Revolution, from Coursera.  Dr. Anthony Robinson of Penn State University was an AWESOME MOOC professor. I can’t believe how engaged he and his team stayed when interacting with over 40,000 students. 40,000 students. That’s staggering. He kept the lectures short and directly to the point, while adding some humor along the way.

At the end of this MOOC, I am not a GIS expert at all, but I developed a definite appreciation for GIS and cartography. I enjoyed working with ArcGIS Online and plan to make more test maps.

During the course of the MOOC, we saw a map about food deserts in the city of Detroit where low-income residents did not have supermarkets within a small radius of their homes. So, for my final project, I decided to look at Farmers Markets in Philadelphia versus household income and proximity to public transit.

Link to Final Map

I started with an ESRI streets map of Philadelphia and added the layer PhillyMunicipal Boundary by ldafner_PhillyRO. I then added a layer of demographic data by zip code (Demographic Summary by ZipCodeFS by rajphilly) and used a gradient categorical color to segment the data using natural breaks to show the number of inhabitants living below the poverty line in 2013. Using the most excellent open data site Open Data Philly, I obtained a shape file for farmers markets in Philadelphia in existence as of February 2013 and added that data to the map, changing the point symbols to reflect a “green (as in ecological)” theme. From the same site I obtained zipped text files that map the stops for SEPTA bus (bus, subway and trolley) and regional rail trains.  I added these points to the map and changed the point symbols to reflect bus stops and train stations.

By zooming in and turning on and off the map layers, viewers can see how farmers markets are (or are not) serving lower-income neighborhoods. Both the Food Trust and Farm to City are making great efforts to create farmers markets in Philadelphia, and many are housed or planned right next to SEPTA stations (SEPTA even highlights its own SEPTA map of farmers markets for riders). So I think the plan is working to help alleviate food deserts. What do you think?

Map global. Eat local. 🙂

I definitely plan to take more MOOCS in the future when I have some more free time to dedicate to it. I hope that my next classes might be in Human Computer Interaction or some other computation class.

My first MOOC

For the first time, I am enrolled in a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. I am taking Maps and the Geospatial Revolution with Dr. Anthony Robinson from Penn State University on  (#maprevolution on twitter)

I took 2/3 of my classes online for my MSLIS at the Drexel University iSchool, so I am very familiar with online classes, and especially those on a tight time frame, such as the 10 week Drexel quarters. This class is 5 weeks, which I think is doable, even for a busy time for me like the summer.

So far it’s my very first day in my very first MOOC. This professor offers both typed and streaming video lectures, which I appreciate because I really learn better by both reading and listening. The lectures are short, which fit my attention span in the heat of the summer evening hours after work.

To begin, we are looking at the incredible pace of change in the use of geospatial data for navigation, decision-making, and storytelling.

The professor asked everyone to add a point on a digital map to represent our location, and I was surprised to find 3 other people in my immediate neighborhood taking the very same MOOC! I live in a large city, but I was still surprised by that result.

I’m taking this class primarily for four reasons:

  1. To figure out what all this MOOC fuss is about
  2. To get some more structured and guided experience with GIS tools since I may have to work more with them in the future, if my employer expands its support for Digital Humanities projects
  3. To see if any of these GIS tools might be applied to subjects I am interested in, such as linguistics (mapping language change over time)
  4. Most of all, to do something cool and different

I’ll post my progress weekly, so that I can get used to being more public about my professional endeavors.

See you around the MOOC’s.

Some much needed website TLC

Hello colleagues and friends:

This blog has been oft neglected, and was in need of some TLC from yours truly. I moved my WordPress blog to an external hosting service, and I am in the process of redesigning the site and adding more links to external projects and databases. Part of my motivation here is to link to other third party database-driven open-source applications like Drupal and Omeka. Some of them I started testing while getting my MLS from Drexel University iSchool, and others I continue to test as a digital projects librarian.

Thanks for your support as I add new features to this blog.


Professionals fearing amateurs

One of the blogs I follow is Seth Godin’s blog. Only some of his posts generally interest to me, but a recent post resonated with me and forced me to re-evaluate some of my past career experiences. He explains why “True Professionals Don’t Fear Amateurs”. The key takeaway quote, for me, is this one: “The best professionals love it when a passionate amateur shows up. The clarity and intelligence of a smart customer pushes both client and craftsman to do better work.”

In the past I have seen examples of people in the IT profession that have complained about some amateur “power users” and their demands for technology. I have seen some individuals go to extreme lengths to hide and protect information, all in the name of control. It never occurred to me that what lay at the heart of these attitudes was fear of the amateur. Godin puts this fear into perspective.

Now that I am a librarian, it’s part of my professional mission to both to safeguard and to share information. Godin reminds me to always bring my best game to the table every day, and to never stop learning. Amateurs and new professionals do present a challenge to those who are already established in their careers. But it’s a good challenge: a smart amateur (can also read as: customer, patron, paraprofessional, co-worker, supervisee, mentee…) challenges you to find solutions to new problems, take new perspectives on old issues, and generally to THINK.  This is the kind of challenge that I need and want in my career.

This issue takes on greater meaning for a librarian like myself when you consider the increasing numbers of paraprofessionals doing the work that librarians formerly did. While I absolutely agree with the American Library Association about the need to advocate for libraries and the work of librarians, I also do not kid myself into thinking that there will be sudden cultural and economic shifts that would allow for libraries to be staffed to the same levels that there were in mid-20th century.

These are scary thoughts. But fear and anger can lead a person various ways: to run and hide, to act out, or to change. Godin minces no words about professionals who are concerned by non-professionals doing the same work: “If you’re upset that the hoi polloi are busy doing what you used to do, get better instead of getting angry.”

I’m opting to get better.

Building low-cost legal digital collections on the cheap

Today, while surfing the web, I found this YouTube video of Eric Gilson and John Joergensen of Rutgers Camden Law Library presenting at the 2005 CALI (Computer Aided Law Instruction) conference. In it, Gilson & Joergensen discuss how to digitize congressional documents and build a digital library in a low-cost manner using open-source software. Unfortunately, you cannot really see the screen output from the projector, but the concepts are still relevant.

For more specifics about full-text indexing, here is Joergensen at CALI 2010 explaining the Swish-e search engine which Rutgers uses to index the congressional documents:



Some of the processing details have changed since 2005, but the Digital Library is still running today, with over 13K congressional documents processed in its U.S. Congressional Documents collection.

If you are interested in legal informatics, I highly recommend CALI’s YouTube channel.

The one-page career “cheat sheet”

I read various blogs for professional development and personal enrichment. One of them is The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau.  Recently, Chris linked to this post detailing a marvelous tool and concept, the “one-page career ‘cheat-sheet’” from Sarah Peck at

Over the years I have held various jobs, and often have made lists of pros vs. cons for taking a job, or even staying at a job. But this is the single best one-page quick-test for career/job match that I have seen to date.

Even if you love the job you have, this would be an excellent check-off sheet to review once a year when you sit down to think about your future and your professional goals. It’s definitely going to be saved in my professional toolkit.




Why I am Learning to Code

This week I mentioned my involvement in the Codeyear project. I also attended a great introductory workshop in Python programming sponsored by PhillyPUG, Philly Pystar, and Devnuts.

Why learn to code?  Two of the best responses to this question are already answered on the web:

    1. Shana McDanold, e-resources and serials cataloging librarian at a major US research university, answers this perfectly for librarians and catalogers in her response “Why am I learning to code?”.


  1. Randall Degges, a computer programmer, answers this question wonderfully for programmers as he explains “How I Learned to Program“.

So why am I learning to code?  Here are some of the reasons:

  • Digital Librarianship

Part of working in a digital library or archive means having to having to manage and manipulate tons of files: image files, born-digital documents, scanned manuscripts, oral histories, video clips, and more.  Being able to code and understand the concept of regular expressions means that you can write scripts to manipulate these files in a systematic way, which can save you lots of time in the long run.  You can rename files, check file integrity with checksums, batch-auto-correct images without an expensive license for Photoshop, and create dynamic HTML pages using CGI scripts.

In my current job, I have needed to review HTML code for problematic divs and runaway lines. I have had to research CGI and JavaScript scripts to run on webpages created by ContentDM for our future software upgrade. In my previous job, I used perl programming to rename large sets of image files, automatically embed EXIF and Dublin Core metadata into image files, and auto-correct images based on a set of algorithms, all using free, open-source software.  (See the Publications tab of this website for links to articles regarding my projects at Rutgers University Camden Law Library.) These types of projects are accessible to beginner coders and can help solve real challenges in a digital library.

  • Professional Development

Coding in different programming languages does not just let you add acronyms to your resume. It helps my professional development to be able to say that I have an arsenal of tools and transferable skills that I can bring to the table for solving problems at any type of library, archive, museum, or information-related occupation.

  • Getting “Under the Hood”

When working as an information professional, sometimes you will be called upon to troubleshoot computers and computer software on your job. If you have some basic skills of scripting and HTML, you will be able to get “under the hood” and see where a web page may not be coded correctly, or at the very least have an idea of what a 3rd-party database does when it performs a search. Now, I don’t know ANYTHING about car repair, but I know the basics of how to check the oil, view the anti-freeze level, check my tire pressure and such. I can read my car’s manual, and even if I cannot fix my car, I can attempt to converse appropriately with the service department at my car dealer.  Which brings me to…

  • Critical Thinking

Being able to code, at least a little bit, brings an information professional into the world of computer programmers. You will learn a logical way of approaching problems. You will learn new vocabularies for coding. Even if you never have to write programs for your job, you will be able to converse more intelligently with vendors and tech support personnel. I have found that this knowledge has greatly increased the sensitivity of my internal “bullshit detection sensor”. This is important when dealing with sales representatives who want to sell you the latest/greatest/shiniest new software or hardware or with technical support personnel who may not really know the answer to your problem. Thinking through problems in a logical manner is a side benefit to learning how to code which can help you both on and off the job.

  • Maintaining Mental Flexibility

Studies have been done which discuss the benefits of keeping active both physically and mentally as we age. Now, I admit that I am a “data potato” (i.e. a “desk jockey”) but I am NOT letting my brain turn to mashed potato mush.From the Franklin Institute, here is a page about exercising the human brain.

Learning to code feels very similar to me as learning a second or third language. I LOVED my foreign language classes in high school and college, and hope to continue to learn other languages in the future, even just for some basic conversation. (One of my goals is to take a Korean class one day.) Being forced to think critically, follow logical steps, look for patterns in repetitive data, associate symbols and values and learn complex syntactical combinations all exercises the brain. Coding keeps you young!  (OK and hanging out with younger nerds doesn’t hurt either.)

Having learned some perl and SQL programming and now being in the process of learning python and JavaScript, I am reaping all of the above benefits. I recommend it to anyone, and especially recommend it for librarians, archivists, and information professionals.

Professional Development: Keeping Up With Coding

JavaScript in TextMate

As some of you know, I started a new job in October with Temple University Libraries.  I work in the Digital Library Initiatives department, the unit responsible for maintaining the libraries’ Digital Collections, digitizing the treasures in the Urban Archives and the Special Collections department (collectively known as the Special Collections Research Center), maintaining the libraries’ website, and conducting long-term planning for digital preservation and access.

For the first 2 months I settled in and got used to the routines, while learning new software like ContentDM and the various workflows involved in digitization and preservation. Now that I have completed my first 90 days on the job, I am returning to my personal commitment for this year – to continue to  improve my technical skills and keep up my professional development.

Since coding beyond HTML and some XML is not presently part of my work projects, I found 2 ways to engage myself to commit to learning new programming languages:


1. Codeyear by Codecademy

Codeyear is a free year’s worth of weekly coding lessons available online at Codecademy.  Once you sign up, lessons arrive in your inbox on a weekly basis and you can complete them on your own schedule. The first 3 weeks have focused on javascript.

I found out about this from a group of catalogers that I follow on Twitter. Shana McDanold created an amazing wiki called Catcode  for catalogers who are interested in learning coding together in a supportive environment.  It’s grown to over 100 people! If you’re interested you can follow the hashtags #codecademy, #codeyear, and #catcode to find some fellow students.

At first I was a little bit frustrated due to my browser crashing during some of the exercises. After a long head cold and an extended visit from a friend, I am behind by 2 weeks. However, this doesn’t phase me. As much as I would like to keep up with my peers, I know that I will catch up soon. I love the fact that I can “chunk” the lessons into sections that match my schedule and attention span.


2. Introduction to Python for Women and Their Friends

The Philly Python Users Group (PhillyPUG) is sponsoring a free Python class for women. I heard good things about it via my tweeps and WebStartWomen.  (@WebStartWomen on Twitter). I will be joining various librarians, catalogers, and archivists for class this week.  I look forward to seeing my friends for some coding & collaboration.

Now, enough blogging, and back to my Codeyear lesson!

(Image of JavaScript on TextMate by Andrew Dupont on Flickr)