A Reconsideration

Old fart. Clearly out of touch. Relic. Delusional. Has-been. Irrelevant.

Who?

Robert Frost.

It was 1961 and I was a news junkie in-training. So I watched the JFK inauguration. And Frost famously read a poem as part of the ceremony. He stumbled over the piece he had written for the occasion and ended up reciting another piece, “The Gift Outright”, from memory. Apparently it was a charming moment filled with pathos and expectation.

Robert Frost

Robert Frost

But it didn’t matter to me. This was an old, white haired fart who seemed out of it and he was reciting …. well, crap.

Later as my interest in poetry grew and I read lots of it and took lots of poetry classes, Frost shows up again and again. “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” “Birches”, and of course “The Road Not Taken” over and over and over. Still crap IMHO.

Until last week.

David Orr’s The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong (2015) made me revisit Frost and especially that famous poem.

There is a craft in his work I completely missed. In the apparent simplicity (“superficiality” in my previous judgement), I missed the complexity. There are challenging, even vexing ideas couched in simple words, quietly jarring the meaning. Layers I was too unskilled to see and reluctant to explore.

David Orr, The Road Not TakenIt seems clear Frost the person was self-aggrandizing and unlikable. He wrote his own epitaph (“I had a lover’s quarrel with the world”). It’s a great line but even better marketing for a poet trying to solidify his own high opinion of himself.

But the poems. Or at least some of them.

You must …. Slow. Down. To. Read. Frost. If you are like me, you must forgive what seems like an archaic format and voice. You must give him a chance.

You know the poem, you might know the way it is typically misunderstood. Orr will convince you the misunderstanding is deliberate. And that’s when the crap becomes extraordinary.

Damn that old fart.

…Mike

The Road Not Taken       

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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The Book Course

Teaching is like walking a tightrope. When it works (i.e. balance, risk-taking, new vistas), it is amazing. When it doesn’t (missteps, off-kilter, too safe, closed perspective), things don’t end well.

Gutenberg to Gaga to Gone

The Book: From Gutenberg to Gaga to Gone?

I’ve just wrapped up work on a course I taught this fall – The Book: From Gutenberg to Gaga to Gone? It’s one of Guelph’s First Year Seminar courses: 18 first year students; problem-based, experiential learning; too much fun.

However, every other week I thought, yikes, I’m slipping; the tightrope is too long, too narrow, too high. And then it comes together again. My balance is regained and the students are on track and eager to move forward.

I know its my responsibility to design the course and insist on the rigour necessary for true, reflective learning. I also know I need to trust the students. When I do, they rise to the challenge almost every time.

The students contributed to a blog throughout the semester. While they were obligated to do so (yes, they were marked on their submissions), I was impressed with the personal reflections and insights. Their posts inspire me. The students are still at the early stages of their learning journey but it is clear they are going to have quite the ride.

…Mike

One of the wonderful things we did as a class was visit Coach House Books (thanks Alana Wilcox!). One of the students, Emmali Branton took this lovely picture of me walking into the building.

Mike at Coach House Books

Mike at Coach House Books (photo by Emmali Branton)

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Montreal Massacre; December 6, 1989

I remember.

Montreal Massacre December 6, 1989

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A Punctuation Deficit?

Are we punctuation deprived? Yes, we have all the usual suspects:

. , ! ‘ ? ;

and others (including the : that began the list).

But does it seem like enough?

BTW I’m no expert on this. A friend once gave me a box of commas (thanks Peter) and said “Use them, but use them judiciously.” Apparently I was ignoring the little buggers.

Language usage and typography are always evolving. No matter what the purists say, it’s neither good nor bad. It just is.

So, I’m here to lament the loss of a perfectly good piece of punctuation. Let me explain.

When someone says something particularly outrageous and we want to respond with incredulity we are inclined to utter “Say what?”

Actually we want to utter is “Say what?!” A question AND an exclamation.

But ?! seems weird when you write it out. So, I present to you the interrobang:

InterrobangYes, two birds, one punctuation mark. An interrobang.

The symbol is still deep in Unicode, the Apple OS X, and other mysterious places. But it isn’t readily available on a keyboard near you. It has been ostracized, banished, or perhaps just forgotten. Too bad.

My campaign to return the interrobang to common usage begins now. Think of the possibilities:

You want me to do what Interrobang

Justin Bieber holds 6 Guinness World Records Interrobang

Kelp is good for you Interrobang

As you can tell, the moment for an interrobang revival is well overdue.

Many thanks to George Walker, the extraordinary book artist, for alerting me to this wonderful device. If you don’t know George’s work, stop reading this now and check out his website.

What’s keeping you Interrobang

…Mike

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Pong

PongI quite dislike nostalgia. All that looking in the rear view view with rose coloured glasses bothers me. The good old days …. weren’t.

So I was surprised by a wave of nostalgia that washed over me a few days ago. Nostalgia for a video game. For Pong.

I blame Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators. It’s a highly recommended survey of the key people responsible for the digital age. It also has a short section on Atari and, of course, Pong.

Here’s how Wikipedia describes Pong:

… a two-dimensional sports game that simulates table tennis. The player controls an in-game paddle by moving it vertically across the left side of the screen, and can compete against either a computer-controlled opponent or another player controlling a second paddle on the opposing side. Players use the paddles to hit a ball back and forth. The aim is for each player to reach eleven points before the opponent; points are earned when one fails to return the ball to the other.

Hi-tech it ain’t. No MMORPG or MMOG here. And so why did I play it for hours and hours. Why did I drop a small fortune (for a teenager) into this arcade machine. Simple answer:

Love.

At the time I was dating my future spouse. We had no money and lots of time. We played Pong. At the mall. Endlessly.

I’m starting to feel all warm and fuzzy again.

If you want to try out Pong yourself (or simply wallow in nostalgia like me) try the web simulation. Fun.

Now back to our regularly scheduled posts about information technology, higher education, and other such serious stuff.

…Mike

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Posted in AboutMike, Digital Culture | 2 Comments

Screens

In real estate the mantra is “Location. Location. Location.” In computing the mantra is “Real Estate. Real Estate. Real Estate.” Screen real estate that is.

At MPOW my desk had three active screens: a laptop and 2 large external monitors. At a glance I could monitor various programs and processes. Sure, they covered my entire desk but my real desk was the screen anyway. I loved it.

Now, not so much.

Recently I removed the external monitors and now exclusively use just the laptop screen. While I can easily flip from application to application, there is really only one active, visible thing on the screen at any one time.

I’ve traded scope and breadth for focus and attention.

All the moving parts, images, alerts, and announcements were becoming less about information and more about irritation. What was once about being informed was now about being interrupted. I’m actually fairly good at multitasking (or what it really is … multiplexing) but there was clearly a diminishing return.

I dumped the screens and now have a better view of my work.

Another bonus? I can see the top of my desk. Which means I can cover it with more alphabet blocks and wooden type. Focus, Mike, focus.

…Mike

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Open Shelf is a Failure

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Samuel BeckettThis is one of my favourite observations and encouragements from the always sunny and positive Samuel Beckett (its from Worstward Ho, 1983). I’m a big fan of screwing up. Quite good at it really.

Of course the proof of this is in the pudding … the spoiled pudding I suppose.

A project I’ve been working on for some time has recently been released. It’s an ongoing thing; it started in one place and is moving into other, as yet unknown, place.

The project is Open Shelf, the new e-magazine of the Ontario Library Association. We launched with our initial content in early September and we plan on releasing new content every two weeks. I’m the Editor-in Chief.

So, what am I saying? Is Open Shelf a failure?

Yes, no, perhaps, of course.

I am ever thankful to Shelagh Paterson (Executive Director of OLA) and the OLA Board of Directors for their willingness to take a risk on this project. Moving from a print quarterly  with a revenue base (Access, which OLA published for 20 years) to an open access online something-or-other with no income took intestinal fortitude.

Working with a number of wonderful people we started inventing Open Shelf nearly two years ago. We had to learn almost everything about digital publishing from the ground up; the epitome of neophytes.

Open Shelf

Open Shelf

And so it was released, warts and all. Yup we had (have) some challenges. Site performance …. well it sucked. The RSS feed seemed wonky. Some readers found it visually confusing. Articles didn’t render well on certain browser or on some devices. The table of contents (which I thought was very cool) mystified people. I could go on. And on.

Other readers, bless them, really liked it … and had some suggestions for making it better.

We published some excellent articles and we have some brilliant columnists. I like the bold visual style and I think the format is going to be flexible. There are lots of wonderful contributions in the editorial stages. It has, I think, my most important criteria for success: readability.

We’re going to move forward, perhaps stumble forward. The editors, writers, and readers are all together on this journey. I know we will make improvements as well as entirely new screw ups.

And that’s the message. It’s easy to talk about encouraging failure and allowing people to make mistakes. The real value is in actually doing it …. and seeing (demonstrating) that it really does work. We are failing better. Good on us.

….Mike

 

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Returning to the Ranks

In January I “returned to the ranks” (I stepped down as an administrator and became a non-management librarian again). At least I think I did this. There might be some doubt.

Some context.

Having served as Chief Librarian and CIO at the University of Guelph for many years, I decided to stop being an administrator and go back to professional practice. I took a sabbatical and now am a librarian at Guelph who teaches in our First Year Seminar Program.

The prospect of returning to the ranks got me thinking about how faculty do this (relatively often) but librarians not so much. In fact most Chief Librarians/Library Deans/University Librarians either retire from the job or go on to other administrative jobs.

So I decided to interview a few people and see what was happening around this issue. I presented the results in a paper at the inaugural annual conference of the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians. This lead to a paper that has just been published in Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research.

Here’s the key point of all this: I was talking to a colleague about the paper (he had read it) and he said: “Do you think you’ve actually returned to the ranks?”

Say what?

Apparently while I may think I’m a “librarian” again, others may not be so sure. Once an administrator, always an administrator.

And perhaps that’s why the whole issue of stepping down from an administrative role and staying in the profession needs some attention.  A more holistic career path for librarians would see administrative appointments as part of a natural and cyclical progression: as a stage, not a destination. If you are interested in more about this, see “Returning to the Ranks: Towards an Holistic Career Path in Academic Librarianship.”

…Mike

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Open Shelf: Towards the Launch (the logo)

Open Shelf

Open Shelf

I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Open Shelf, the magazine of the Ontario Library Association. Well, to be accurate, the as-yet-to-be-launched magazine of OLA. We’ve been in development mode for months. Can I tell you how hard it is to do this? Rewarding. But.

Open Shelf is the online successor to Access, the print quarterly that published by OLA from 1994-2014. With the re-imagined digital magazine we will be able to publish more frequently and engage with readers more effectively. The formal launch is still TBD. More on that later. Today, it’s all about the logo.

The title, Open Shelf, was meant to evoke both traditional and emerging aspects of library and information management. The concept of “open” is important in two ways: we are an open access magazine but we are also open in the sense of encouraging all views and diverse contributions. The “shelf” word echoes the library stacks and the heritage it symbolizes. A shelf is also a platform for things, a place to put things, and place to discover things.

Creating an Open Shelf logo to reflect this was a challenge. I wanted something distinctive and memorable. Most magazine logos are dull and boring. I’m delighted with the result.

[Full disclosure: the logo designer is my wife, Lynn Ridley.]

The logo reflects how we want Open Shelf to evolve: a place for useful things, a challenge to conventional thinking, and a colourful perspective on the opportunities before us.

Open Shelf is fueled by the interests of OLA members but as an open access magazine the audience is all those interested in libraries and information management. We all have stories to tell and insights to share. What’s your story? What insight would you like to share? Let me know. The shelf is always open.

…Mike

 

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Beyond Literacy: A Class, An Event, A Conversation

Logo_SquareEvery time I teach the Beyond Literacy course (a First Year Seminar at Guelph) I am wonderfully delighted by the students. Frankly very few of them ever buy the premise of the course (“Reading and writing are doomed. Literacy as we know it is over. Welcome to the post-literate future.”) but it doesn’t matter. Like any good learning experience, it’s all about the journey. And it’s always quite the journey.

The students in the course are required to work on a single, final class project. They can do almost anything as long as 1) it explores and amplifies the course content, 2) they work together, and 3) the result is public in some way.

The last criteria is perhaps the most important to me. The public component sharpens their critical capacity and it puts some accountability into their work.

In previous years students have created podcasts, written an e-book or a magazine article, created videos on YouTube, and hosted a debate.

This year the class decided they wanted to host a book burning.

As it turns out (surprise!) that’s not so easy to do … anywhere, for any reason.

So they decided to host a book shredding instead.

That was no problem. So they did it in the Library.

They formed four teams: event planning, video interviewing, video editing team, and overall project management group.

They promoted the event on Facebook and other places, and on Wednesday March 26th at 12:30 in the main entrance of the McLaughlin Library, they invited people to step, rip a page out of a book, and put it through a shredder.

Let the wild rumpus begin.

As you might expect, people were confused, upset, intrigued and outraged. Some were disturbingly enthusiastic. One faculty member called it “pornography” and another said days later that he was still troubled by what he saw.

But the event did what the students wanted; it allowed them to engage in conversation about what we think about reading, writing, alphabetic literacy, and the future of all those things. It opened up a dialogue and it was a powerful learning experience.

As part of the assignment the students interviewed a number of people and recorded the book shredding event.

Here’s the final video:

And here are two reactions from James McGarry, a colleague at Guelph:


…Mike

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