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Librarian Blog

'Tis the season

I had a friend in Wichita Falls whose family had a very interesting Thanksgiving/Christmas season tradition.
When everyone would get together, they'd sit down and watch "It's a Wonderful Life" with Donna Reed and James Stewart, that old post-WWII film by Frank Capra that celebrated what a difference just one man could make in a community. It's a sappy movie, and one I would never watch over and over again.
But, this friend's family did so, and they had done so for so many years that most of them know all the parts by heart.
I could imagine them sitting around drinking wine and intoning the parts of the Clarence the Angel and the bar owner and the cop and, of course, George and Mr. Potter. To me, that would have been fun for about five minutes.
Well ... as they say, to each his own.
And now, in keeping with that philosophy, it's time to announce that we now have our Christmas movies out of the closet and ready to be checked out!

Thanksgiving 1970

I'd never before cooked a turkey when I volunteered to do just that for two of my roommates in the bachelor officers quarters at Fort Harrison, Indiana, in the fall of 1970.
I didn't have a clue, but my wife did, and she was accessible by phone from her parents' home in Houston where she was waiting to see when I might be shipped out to Vietnam.
The BOQ had a stove and a minimalist kitchen that was supposed to be shared by about 12 guys. The other nine were gone, thank goodness, so 1LT Sims, 2LT Leader and myself, also a tender 2LT, had the facilities all to ourselves -- and we had a store-bought turkey that I bragged I could prepare just like their moms while we were enjoying some drinks at the officers club.
Armed with what I figured was all the information I'd need, gleaned in an early day phone call to Houston, I buttered up the turkey and plopped in an oven that might not have been fired up since the end of World War II.
Many minutes later, perhaps hours, the kitchenette started emitting an aroma that was very unturkey-like, and I began to worry that perhaps we should start drinking plenty of beer and chasers just to give the air and our cuisine a patina of authentic grandma goodness.
At the appointed moment I pulled our dinner out of the oven, and it actually smelled like something identifiable but clearly unturkey like: it reminded me of a barracks at Fort Benning, Georgia, circa July 1969.
I pretended not to notice, but pretty soon we were going to have to eat the thing.
It was then that I found that our turkey had a butt end, something I had not noticed before. As I investigated, I discovered a bag of body parts, the apparent source of what made this fowl foul.
I called my wife.
After she had a good laugh, she explained the bird would still be edible.
 Turned out that none of us liked turkey that much. Not just that turkey; any turkey.
I still don't.

Brain food

A patron who read my blog on Monday asked about where you might find classes or courses to get microcertification.
I had mentioned the need of a friend to update his skills in certain areas and also to be able to prove that he had done so in a job-interview setting. A certificate is an easy thing to include with a resume or to hand over to an interviewer, and it does carry some cache if from a reputable place.
My suggestion to the inquiry was that she check out the offerings on Coursera.org. This is a portal to college-level classes on 1,800 subjects from hundreds of universities around the world. Some of the courses are for specialization certification and some are just for one's own edification.
I have taken seven or eight Coursera.org courses this past year, and I found them all very worthwhile.
Perhaps the most interesting was a course called "Big History" offered by a university in Australia. I also took a course in the U.S. Constitution from a professor at Yale, and a course in physics from a professor at the Universitiy of Virginia.
I do highly recommend these courses for people who want to update or expand their fields of knowledge, especially retirees who don't want to go to class but want a challenge. The courses are all free and offered online.
Check them out here.

Why students don't like ebooks

Every single book my wife reads is downloaded on her Kindle. None of mine are. I have a Kindle, but she uses it, too.
I can't put my finger on the exact reason why I don't like to use the Kindle. I just don't.
It happens that some academic folks in Sweden have polled students in that country's universities to find out why they don't download more books onto their iPhones or Kindles or whatnot.
Caroline Myrberg of Karolinska Instituetet of Sweden werote in UKSG Journal that students reported problems with eye strain, distractions, lack of functionality and complications in trying to download materials that are available through Digital Rights Management protocols. She recommends that students get better reading devices but also that libraries continue to buy real books as well as ebooks, and that they buy books that are not under the DRM protocol at all.
I'm surprised by the findings, frankly. I figured that by now, students would have figured out the best way to use ebooks because they were forced to do so. Maybe not, and maybe that's OK.


I have a friend who is in his early 40s, and his job is going away from natural causes: the problem it was created to solve has been solved.
That's great for the business, bad for my friend.
So what does he do now? He really does need to reinvent himself, but there seem to be no real options available for him to actually do that.
Could he go back for another degree? Possibly, but that's expensive and would take more time than he has since he is father of one and another is on the way. Could he take a lesser job and hope to work his way up again? That's more the more likely route, but still not a very good one since he would very likely be underemployed in a big way.
We talked yesterday about his situation and he talked about getting some kind of license or certificate via a shorter-term educational process.
What, I wondered, would that look like?
Turns out that what he wants and needs is just now becoming available. It's called MicroCredentialling.
Here is some information from Steve Bell, writing for Information Digest:
"College affordability is a significant barrier to access. Academic librarians know the havoc that student loan debt plays with our students’ futures. MOOCs could help some students to earn credentials, but these rarely work well for less experienced learners. Short-form programs that lead to certifications or other employer-sought skill sets could give these students a better, affordable path to a college degree. Imagine colleges re-engineering degrees around sets of microcredentials, at far lower tuition, that allow students to more quickly gain career-oriented skills. To earn their bachelors or masters, students would continue to earn microcredentials or enroll in full-tuition courses. If an elite institution such as MIT can launch a MicroMasters program, is it possible that some LIS graduate programs could do something similar to create more affordable entry to the library profession?"
Obviously, Bell is concerned here about librarians. But, why couldn't this kind of thing work in other fields, such as my friend's?
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