METROcon 2015 notes

I attended METROcon 2015 (Metropolitan New York Library Council’s Annual Conference) yesterday at Baruch College. This is the third year I’ve gone, and each year I return to my library feeling energized and excited about the cool projects presented and the great people I’ve met. There were many many tweets under the #metrocon15 hashtag.

I forgot my laptop, so I took notes by hand and had a little fun with it.

metrocon15 notes

You can read my notes as a PDF.

I took notes on these sessions:

  • Siva Vaidhyanathan‘s keynote, “The Operating System of Your Life”
    • “The Internet” is an outdated term — it’s no longer this other place, as we are now embedded 24/7 in the digital flow; in addition, it’s no longer the touted network of a global democratic society, because “the internet” is censored, surveilled, and controlled in too many countries.
    • It is the role of libraries & educators to lead the debate about how giant systems (e.g., Google) shape our lives, how we want tech to behave, how to protect privacy, and how to enable civic engagement in a democratic society.
  • The Empire State Digital Network, a service hub of the DPLA
    • Phase 1 almost complete: infrastructure, workflow, guidelines in place, with some contributing partners
    • Phase 2 about to begin: many other institutions to start contributing content
    • New ingest model, Heiðrun
  • Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS)
    • Offers simultaneous searching in an interview transcript and audio clips (example) — pretty amazing
  • Community Oral History at NYPL
    • Grassroots, volunteer-driven effort to collect hundreds of New York stories. Also amazing.
  • DHbox at CUNY GC
    • A virtual computer lab in the cloud, used in-browser, pre-loaded with DH-friendly software like iPython, NLTK, MALLET, Omeka, R Studio, and more to come, including Gephi
    • Benefits are huge: students don’t have to spend hours learning complex installation process; set up and go!

Books I read in 2014

I read 24 books for pleasure in 2014.

Bold = favorites
* = rereads

  • Don’t Tell Alfred (Nancy Mitford)
  • The Orphan Master’s Son (Adam Johnson)
  • Goliath (Tom Gauld)
  • Antigonick (Anne Carson)
  • American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang)
  • Bring Up The Bodies (Hilary Mantel)
  • Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel)
  • The Silence Of Our Friends (Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, Nate Powell)
  • Decline and Fall (Evelyn Waugh)
  • Annabel Scheme (Robin Sloan)
  • Ghost World (Daniel Clowes)
  • Transparent Things (Vladimir Nabokov)
  • Texts From Jane Eyre (Mallory Ortberg)
  • Life After Life (Kate Atkinson)
  • Mr. Palomar (Italo Calvino)
  • The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell)
  • Freedom (Jonathan Franzen)
  • The Periodic Table (Primo Levi)
  • The Monkey’s Wrench (Primo Levi)
  • The Time Traveller (HG Wells)
  • The Little Friend (Donna Tartt)
  • The Secret History (Donna Tartt) *
  • Bad Feminist (Roxanne Gay)
  • Ant Colony (Michael DeForge)

Most transporting: Orphan Master’s Son (epic political/romance/spy/dystopia tale set in North Korea), which I could not put down for three days. It was provoking, horrifying, lovely, all at once. Life After Life made me cry, in a good way, and Hilary Mantel’s novels were entirely arresting (when is #3 coming out??). And as always, Donna Tartt’s creepy little worlds are hard to exit, this time with The Little Friend and rereading The Secret History.

Best opening chapter: Transparent Things. I read the first few pages and was hooked. The second half of the book isn’t quite as strong, but I still recommend it.

Best closing sentence: The Periodic Table, my first experience with Primo Levi. Of course, the rest of the book is fantastic, too. The chemically-delineated chapters of his life are very touching.

Weirdest: Antigonick, an illustrated poetic retelling of Antigone that I picked up at random in Unnameable Books. Also Ant Colony: beyond “graphic novel (?)”, it’s indescribable. The Time Traveller was unexpectedly strange — the grotesqueness reminded me very much of Dr. Moreau — and I shouldn’t have been so surprised that it was a political allegory.

Most disappointing: The Bone Clocks. Ever since reading Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas in sunny springtime Paris, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet in slightly less picturesque Champaign, I’ve pined for another structured heroic tale. While I could have read an entire series narrated by Hugo Lamb (so delightfully evil!), many of the other chapters were a trudge to finish, and the end was just silly.

Best bookstores: many of these books were bought at Unnameable Books and Human Relations, both in Brooklyn. <3

Previously: Books I read in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

Questions from children about my job

Me, as drawn by a child

My mother, a fourth grade teacher at a public school, asked several young STEM professionals (including me) to send photos & letters to her students about their jobs. The idea is threefold: to open their minds to different forms of science & tech (it’s not just using microscopes); to make the idea of going to college both normal and attractive; and to make them feel like they’re already part of the scholarly ecosystem, communicating with other scholars.

So I sent a letter describing, in short, my digital work on behalf of the library, mentioning that I had to learn computer programming. I sent them a link to the Digital Collections at John Jay, which I work on, and some photos of me at a Wikipedia edit-a-thon. They each wrote me back a letter. This packet of letters is already a treasured possession! Their writing is carefully crafted: they follow the letter format, they thank me politely for my time, they praise my achievements, and ask relevant questions. Some are below.

Questions and comments from children about my job

  • Do you ever get tired of writing all those codes?!
  • I think your work is smart building websites. I go on websites every day.
  • Why did you pick this job?
  • When I’m older I really want to be an Emerging Technologist.
  • Is being an Emerging Technologist fun and do you get to use the iPhone 6?
  • Is your job hard? I want to be an explorer. Is it like exploring in time?
  • When you do your job do you discover anything new?
  • I wish that I could be a scientist like you. I think you are smart and pretty.
  • What were you like in 4th grade? Do you ever have problems?
  • Is it cool being a librarian? I like your technology.
  • I bet it was challenging to get to this rate of technology.
  • I think you even made Minecraft look the way it does?
  • When I first read your letter, I thought to myself, woo, she is amazing in so many ways! You must have worked very hard! I just want you to know that I support you and all that you do!
  • When I grow up I want to be a mathmatian [sic].
  • You inspired me to be a programmer. It sounds really hard and fun.
  • I think your job is really interesting!!! When I grow up I want to be a professional gymnast.
  • So I was wondering how you became who you are today?
  • Do you like being a liberian [sic]?
  • Do you work with any technology, perhaps a computer?
  • I think your job is really cool and I’m wondering where did you apply for your job?
  • Well I was not here yesterday, but I heard that you make websites and that you have to take care of your library. This is a short letter.

For the record, to the girl who asked if I “ever have problems”: yes. Sorry. Those don’t go away after 4th grade.


Interestingly, many of the students wrote to ask if my job is easy or hard, and there’s already an assumption that “writing codes” for computers is hard. I guess, thinking back to that age, we constantly classified everything—tests, teachers, classes, games—as easy/hard. Now, though, it’s not really something I think about, at least not in those terms. I classify tasks by how time-consuming they are.

With kids, it’s always interesting to see their assumptions about gender, too. In their drawings of me, I’m often wearing red high heels or a skirt or something pink, or hanging out with a blonde girl, or staring soulfully at the viewer… Then again, sometimes in their drawings of me I’m a truck, so.

Also, I loved that one kid asked if my job is like “exploring in time.” I giggled at first, but then realized—wait, yes, it totally is like exploring in time! I love libraries!!

Using the Internet of Things to wake up in the morning

When I was a kid, my mom would wake me up by setting our tiny dog loose on my bed and playing the fake-attack-Robin game. I’d reenter to the world with tiny paws pattering all over my belly and cheerful little barks. It was an awesome way to start my day.

Fast forward twenty years, and it’s hard to make getting up in the morning seem nearly as fun. Not because I don’t love what I do, but just because my body hates being made to wake up at a certain hour. So over time, with trial and error, I’ve built a complex multi-sensory system using technology to lead me gently back into the real world each morning. Some have called it “insane.” I call it effective.

In brief:

  • Soft music
  • WeMo-powered lamp
  • UP wristband
  • iPhone alarm

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Some notes from Theorizing the Web 2014

On Saturday, I went to Theorizing the Web, held in a lovely Williamsburg studio on a gorgeous spring day. I didn’t get to see Friday’s panels, but even seeing half the conference was pretty mind-exploding. See the program + full videos posted online. The #TtW14 hashtag was very active, too.

I’m still turning over a lot of what was said at TtW14. In a couple days, the panels took on feminism, race, activism, hacktivism, surveillance, privacy, code studies, publishing, archiving, and a lot of other biggies that are the major (if not always the most-talked-about) issues of the state of the internet today.

I planned poorly charge-wise, and both my laptop and phone died pretty quickly. So I relied on pen + paper to take notes. Perhaps you’d be interested.

The notes below are for:
Panel: Discipline & Publish
Symposium: –––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse
Keynote: Race & Social Media

Intro image

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