Reflections of a Library Science student

Since starting a MSc in Library Science in September 2020, I feel as though I have been on rather an emotionally-charged rollercoaster. Having just received the results of my term 1 assignments, I decided to note some thoughts; firstly, what was going through my mind throughout term 1, then reflections now that I have received my grades, and term 2 is underway.

Term 1 overarching thoughts and feelings:

  • I danced continually between “you’ve got this!” and despair about the delusion I must have had in thinking I could do this…
  • Having always loved libraries, I had never actually worked in one, so was concerned that my lack of experience would be a hindrance.
  • Normally this course runs face-to-face, but due to the pandemic, it has been taught entirely online. The lack of physical interaction has been challenging though; when at university previously, I built rapport with teaching staff and peers which, this time around, has just not felt possible to achieve remotely.
  • As a visually impaired person (VIP), what unforeseen limitations or challenges will be presented during my studies, and will I be able to manage?
  • My anxiety was extremely high when, week after week, my required computer and assistive technology continually failed to arrive. (I did my best to keep up by attending lectures via Kindle, and with regular visits to the Assistive Technology Suite at the university’s library). Ultimately, I did not have my own equipment in place until week 6 (of 10) of term, and trying to play catch-up at that late stage was always going to be a huge undertaking.
  • As a lover of museums, I am rather embarrassed to admit that prior to this course I had only ever visited the British Museum to attend a specific exhibition. Further to prompting and inspiration from our fearless course leader, between lockdowns I paid a visit to permanent galleries 55 & 56 there, in order to undertake research on clay writing tablets, libraries, and archives found in Mesopotamia. What a richly curated array of artefacts are housed at the British Museum! Should we ever experience freedom of movement again, I definitely plan to return and explore further. 

Reflections following receipt of my term 1 grades:

Well, I am very happy to say that I passed all four modules. Unsurprisingly for me, this means continuously batting between thoughts of amazement that I even passed, and disappointment that I did not do better; I know that I am full of contradictions, which can make my mind a very complicated place!

Overall though, I am really pleased to have passed term 1, and to have learned so much along the way. Given my limitations as a VIP, I know that sometimes I need to be a little kinder to myself; I can’t always see what is being shown or demonstrated, and as I have a very slow speed of reading due to my limited sight, I cannot physically read as much as most students. I have a variety of assistive technologies in place to help, but these kinds of challenges always continue to be a massive source of never-ending frustration. However, a silver lining is that my listening skills are pretty darn good, if I do say so myself!

In celebration of the fact that my highest term 1 grade was in the Data, Information, Technologies and Applications module, I cannot resist including a robotic image here. Prior to this course I certainly never anticipated undertaking an assignment on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics, and the fact that I did so, and apparently did so reasonably successfully, gives me hope with progressing in term 2.

Image by alluregraphicdesign from Pixabay 

Every Word Cloud has a Data Lining

Some days, having studied for hours, I tend to suffer from brain-fry. My thoughts can get foggy, my vision blurry, and my mind cloudy. However, the latest session of Data Information Technologies and Applications has demonstrated that cloudiness is not necessarily a bad thing – at least in the case of word clouds. I created the following on the very appropriately-named site www.wordclouds.com, and I generated it using the information in the general course area of our DITA module in Moodle.

Word clouds “are used in various contexts as a means to provide an overview by distilling text down to those words that appear with highest frequency” (Heimerl et al. 2014). That seems to have been satisfied in the above cloud, as I would certainly guess (not having actually counted them!) that words or phrases like module, CityLIS, INM348, DITA, data, blog, information, Twitter, and resources, occur frequently in the text of the module information. “An important criterion to the quality of a generated word cloud is whether it grasps semantic meaning of the target document in an accurate way” (Yang et al. 2020); I give my word cloud a tick for this.

With regard to word clouds, “the high-frequency words are usually presented in a strong and eye-catching text effect to help readers make quick and educated judgments about the main idea of the reading materials” (Yang et al. 2020). Sometimes word clouds are simply an aesthetically pleasing summarised representation of information, though certainly there are some contexts where a cloud would perhaps be distracting, considered frivolous, would not serve any actual purpose, or might simply be inappropriate. Therefore, sensible judgement should be exercised when thinking of presenting text visually in such a format.

Personally I best absorb information when the method of presentation is varied and includes (where appropriate) visuals such pie charts, graphs, and now word clouds. “Surveys show that users prefer tools that yield word clouds with a stronger emotional impact. Fonts and color palettes are powerful typographical signals that may determine this impact” (Kulahcioglu et al. 2020). I had not made a connection of my personal visual preferences with emotions, but I find this to be a very interesting concept. The size and style of font is a discussion point of experts within the data representation and word cloud field; “Future work includes investigation of the optimal font scale in accurate decimal. More font scale with high precision intervals needs to be designed and conducted … The attributes of documents’ content and its relation with the semantic expression of word clouds in different scales should be investigated deeper and bring up more interesting topics” (Yang et al. 2020). It seems to me that the analysis and evaluation of word clouds is a growing area, which logically is not surprising considering the increasingly digitised world that we live in.

In terms of web text data in general “By the visualization and interaction, the access of large-scale text data become much easier” (Ma et al, 2017). It’s interesting to think that perhaps interaction with, and visuals of, text information could go hand-in-hand. I believe I have spent much more time studying and thinking about the above cloud because it’s a cloud, than I would have done if it was just a list of words. So, it could well be said that my cloud experience is indeed quite interactive – or at least more interactive than my engagement often is with lists of words or paragraphs of plain text.

The Temptations famously sang “I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day”. If an enticing, interesting, and informative word cloud presents itself it me, which injects a little sunshine into my life, then I’m all for it. Bring on the clouds!

Image courtesy of Pixabay

References

  1. Heimerl, F., Lohmann, S., Lange, S. and Ertl, T. (2014), Word Cloud Explorer: Text Analytics Based on Word Clouds. 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/HICSS.2014.231.
  2. Kulahcioglu, T., and De Melo, G. (2020), Affect-Aware Word Clouds. ACM Transactions on Interactive Intelligent Systems. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1145/3370928.
  3. Ma, T., Wang, B, Zhu, T and Li H (2017), Spherical Tag Cloud for Prompt Keywords Visualization. IEEE International Conference on Signal Processing, Communications and Computing (ICSPCC). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/ICSPCC.2017.8242413.
  4. Yang, L., Li, J., Lu, W. and Chen, Y. (2020), The influence of font scale on semantic expression of word cloud. Journal of visualization, 23(6). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12650-020-00678-3.

Ye Olde Library Yonder

​​When I first attended university, it was during the days of chunky cube-like computer monitors, and I saved my work onto a floppy disc. Internet access inside halls of residence was unheard of. I accessed learning materials primarily through physical books and VHS tapes. I travelled to campus by horse and buggy. (OK, the previous sentence is not true, but it is true that I was previously a student in a different era.

So here I am, a middle-aged career-changer, on the cusp of having to write academic assignments, and I’m filled with trepidation… However, the recent Data Information Technologies and Applications sessions have served as much-needed guidance on how to find suitable information in this technology-saturated 21st century world.

Information Retrieval (IR) systems handle semi-structured data, which is likely to be more academically relevant, reliable, and useful than simply “Googling” is. An IR system’s search component does the retrieving work, though there are different ways for the searching to be carried out. Many IR systems will present algorithmically-generated results based on what they perceive to be most relevant. Vector and probabilistic systems will provide their interpretation of the most suitable matches for your search criteria; you are likely receive a variety of results, perhaps only some of which (if any) will be useful. The Boolean IR model will only show you precisely what you have asked for (allowing “AND”, “OR”, or “NOT” in your search, in order to generate exact results). Alternatively, some IR models, such as Google, will present results that are generated according to how many other web pages link to a particular page.

How do you get to the point of seeing these results though?

A system’s interface is important. I like to start with a simple, straightforward search box. If I am unable to find what I want in a timely manner, I am happy to proceed with a more complex interface that has advanced search options (I actually rather enjoy the structured, well-organised approach of this).

Is it only books, web pages, and articles that I might want to search for in writing assignments? Probably not. Other forms of data such as music, images, and art, are increasingly accessible. No longer simply book repositories, libraries are implementing “discovery tools” for patrons (IR systems that give one-step access to an array of resources of various types). In volume 19 (published on 08th August 2012) of the College & Undergraduate Libraries journal, the Academic Libraries and Discovery Tools: A Survey of the Literature article by Beth Thomsett-Scott and Patricia E. Reese stated: “Most librarians would agree that, out of all library resources, users have the most difficult time using the catalog. Catalogs are not searchable by Google, and, therefore, they leave a huge resource of information unavailable to users. … Combining a “Google-like” search box with the wealth of a library’s information resources may help us recover users who left our “walls” for the ease of Web searching. Hence, discovery tools!”

This article is eight years old though; there has been progression since then. In Journal of Web Librarianship, on 17th February 2019, Discovery Tools in the Classroom: A Usability Study and Implications for Information Literacy Instruction by Joel Tonyan and Christi Piper was published. They investigated the intuitiveness of the commonly-used Summon discovery tool, via a study of students’ behaviours at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. They found: “Results indicate that students are comfortable with the interface and have few problems with the tool. Instead, participants struggled with critical thinking processes associated with research.” Now being aware of this, I should perhaps transfer my anxiety away from the actual technology and information retrieval systems used when writing an academic paper, to focusing on the development of my critical thinking. 

As the olde me might say, thy shalt verily become learned.

(Image courtesy of Pixabay)

DITA vs Dita

As a long-time fan of renowned burlesque artiste Dita Von Teese, an academic DITA module sounded right up my street. However, it transpires that Data and Information Technologies and Applications is a very different kettle of fish…

Today everything seems to either directly or indirectly revolve around technology. The gathering of information is such a big part of this techno-world, but we often don’t realise that it’s even happening. You might experience a thrill when Etsy’s algorithms present you with the most deliciously perfect handmade bohemian organic alpaca-wool crocheted scarf that you could possibly have imagined. However, are you comfortable with the site already knowing you would love it, presumably because of information it has been quietly gathering and processing about your shopping habits and product preferences?

As someone who likes to make an effort to see the glass half full, these are some positive thoughts I have had about examples of DITA:

Organ donor and bone marrow registers

For years I have been registered as an organ and bone marrow donor. My details are held in an electronic database, and I hope that one day my eagerness to donate could save the lives of one or even multiple people, possibly even who live in a completely different part of the world. In this regard (and as fictional lawyer and activist Elle Woods would say), snaps for DITA!

The role of Fitbits in solving murders

I’m not going to say too much here as I might well want to save this as an assignment topic, but through investigating purely for personal interest, I am aware that the recording and storing of personal information via Fitbits has led to the resolution of murder cases that might otherwise have been unsolvable, or an incorrect conviction would likely have been made. Again, snaps for DITA!

These first couple of weeks of term have demonstrated the vastness of how significantly data and information technologies and applications affect and infiltrate our lives. There are so many directions in which to probe, that surely no one could ever find this topic uninteresting.

The incident of a technical problem cutting our Teams session short, was, perhaps, a sign of DITA’s undeniable presence in today’s world. It helpfully demonstrated how data-transmitting technology can be extremely useful when it’s welcome and working, but can leave us feeling unexpectedly handicapped when it doesn’t function correctly. Thinking of a similar example, it has been years since I have witnessed someone planning a route by using a physical map, rather than relying on GPS technology. How do you plan your journeys?

In these first two sessions, we have reviewed historical figures in the sphere of computing, such as Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and Alan Turing. We have also discussed issues that affect us all today, such as the concept of the infosphere, as described by Luciano Floridi. While thinking about the evolution of computing, a novel that I read about fifteen years ago sprung to mind; Microserfs by Canadian postmodernist Douglas Coupland. The book features a group of young coders at Microsoft headquarters in the early 1990s; a time when the concept of a global information web was in its exciting infancy. I don’t remember the details of the book, but I do know that it has been on my re-read list for many years. Given the relevance to this course, I have decided to embrace another facet of data and information technologies and applications by listening to it in audio format.

Bits, bytes, binary numerics and other ways of encoding, handling, and representing data and text is, frankly, something I have found quite challenging to comprehend. However, it feels great to be mentally stretched and intelectually stimulated, so I’m not complaining!

(The last image here is a photograph of my own workspace, but the other fabulous art is courtesy of Pixabay.)

Swisslove 🇨🇭

My love affair with Switzerland started on my first visit when I was a teenager. It wasn’t only the stunning natural beauty that drew me in, but also the cleanliness and complete efficiency in every aspect. Unlike here in the UK, you can plan a train journey in Switzerland and know that the train will actually be on time. Imagine that, fellow Brits! I was over-the-top thrilled to recently learn that Switzerland is considered a country highly compatible with Taureans (me!), according to the lovely little Taurus book by Stella Andromeda. As usual I lag behind pretty much everyone else with technological gadgets, and didn’t switch from film camera to taking photos on my phone until very late in the game. Therefore, the easily accessible photographic documentation of my travels is skeletal, but here I share a few snaps from my first visit to St Moritz, which took place in February 2020. I plan to return during the summer in the not too distant future, as I long to witness the flower-strewn alpine mountains of Heidi’s world. Sadly this igloo bar was closed due to no longer being structurally safe, and it was bulldozed just a day or two after I took this photo. The town of St Moritz is teeming with hearts, from the cut-outs in chair backs and window shutters, to beautiful working horses ❤ I have not used any camera or editing trickery with these photos; the sky really is this blue and the landscape really is this beautiful! #Switzerland #StMoritz 🇨🇭

My journey with reading

For many years I thought I hated reading. To cut a long story short, it was not until early adulthood that I realised it was not reading I hated, but the physical and emotional pain caused in straining my eyes to (often unsuccessfully) read words. (I will never truly understand how I fumbled my way through school and university being almost unable to see well enough to read…) Little did I know how wrong I was about disliking reading… I constantly felt indescribably sad and frustrated, but did not realise there was anything “wrong” with me or that I was experiencing a sensory disability that most people do not have. Through much medical assistance and personal research, I started to understand and educate myself on the fact that I have really bad eyesight, caused by macular dystrophy. Having realised the problem, I bought a Kindle, which truly revolutionised my life. I now read the majority of books electronically, using the biggest font size available and inverting the colours, as the glare from a white background is very uncomfortable for my photophobic (extremely light-sensitive) eyes. Having found a way to physically read books, I have a never-ending reading list, and I am happy to say I take so much pleasure in reading these days. I believe that this is a lot of the reason for my interest in pursuing a career in librarianship; if there is anything I can do to help even one other person find pleasure in books like I have, it will be a very worthwhile career path.

A little about me

Thank you for visiting! As an introduction to this new blog, here are five things about me:

  1. My favourite country to visit is Switzerland. I especially love its magnificent alpine forests and beautiful lakes. However, although I have been to Switzerland many times, I have only ever visited in winter, so a summer trip to see the wonderful mountain flowers is definitely on my to do list!
  2. I am a Taurus, and have many of the typical traits associated with Taureans (grounded, (loyal, creative, stubborn, passionate…). Green is the colour of Taurus and emerald is its stone; I love both! I am interested in astrology as I do not think it would have survived for so long unless there was truth in it. However, I am also sceptical as I do not believe that all those claiming to be gifted astrologers are the r eal deal.
  3. I’m rather a retro and vintage-loving person. I have no idea what music is currently popular, as I usually listen to CDs of 1940s & ’50s music.
  4. I love to read. Some quality hygge time on an autumnal Sunday afternoon with my Kindle and a hot chocolate is a little slice of heaven for me.
  5. I am registered disabled due to bring visually impaired. I have a genetic form of macular dystrophy, which affects my visual acuity (sharpness of vision) and I have extremely poor central vision. Although I can read my Kindle (with the text at the largest setting and colours inverted), I am a very slow reader because of my condition, which also affects me in many other areas of my life. While my visual impairment does not define me, it is unavoidably a big part of who I am.

I would love to know something about you!