Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians

#194, October 17, 2003

Or why you might want to hire me for speaking engagements or workshops. To see outlines for previous presentations I've done, click on Handouts

* * *

Order My Books

Net Effects: How Librarians Can Manage the Unintended Consequences of the Internet, and The Quintessential Searcher: the Wit and Wisdom of Barbara Quint.

* * *

What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine

* * *

E-Mail Subscription?

For a combined subscription to Neat New Stuff and ExLibris, please click HERE, complete the form, and click on "subscribe." To unsubscribe, use the same form but click on "unsubscribe." To change addresses for an existing subscription, unsubscribe from that form and return to the page to enter the new address.

* * *

Highlights from Previous Issues:

My Rules of Information

  1. Go where it is
  2. The answer depends on the question
  3. Research is a multi-stage process
  4. Ask a Librarian
  5. Information is meaningless until queried by human intelligence
  6. Information can be true and still wrong

* * *

Guru Interviews

  1. Tara Calishain
  2. Jenny Levine, part I
  3. Jenny Levine, Part II
  4. Reva Basch
  5. Sue Feldman
  6. Jessamyn West
  7. Debbie Abilock
  8. Kathy Schrock
  9. Greg Notess
  10. William Hann
  11. Chris Sherman
  12. Gary Price
  13. Barbara Quint
  14. Rory Litwin
  15. John Guscott
  16. Brian Smith
  17. Darlene Fichter
  18. Brenda Bailey-Hainer
  19. Walt Crawford
  20. Molly Williams
  21. Genie Tyburski
  22. Patrice McDermott
  23. Carrie Bickner
  24. Karen G. Schneider
  25. Roddy MacLeod, Part I
  26. Roddy MacLeod, Part II
  27. John Hubbard

* * *

Cool Quotes

The collected quotes from all previous issues are at

* * *

When and How To Search the Net

* * *

Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, articles are brief, somewhere between 200 and 500 words -- something to jog people's minds and get their own good ideas flowing. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features like Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

* * *

Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Send e-mail to: marylaine at

Visit My Other Sites

My page on all things book-related.

* * *

How To Find Out of Print Books
Suggested strategies, resources, and finding tools.

* * *

Best Information on the Net
bestinfo/default.htmThe directory I built for O'Keefe Library, St. Ambrose University, still my favorite pit stop on the information highway.

* * *

My Word's Worth
a weekly column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me.

* * *

Book Proposal

Land of Why Not: an Appreciation of America. Proposal for an anthology of some of my best writing. An outline and sample columns are available here.

* * *

My personal page

SUBJECT INDEX to Past Issues

* * *

Neat New Stuff I Found This Week
October 17: e-democracy, maps, state photo galleries, and more.

* * *

My resume

NOTE: Because my original e-mail address has been misappropriated and used to send spam and viruses, I am switching to a different e-mail address (and guarding it a little more carefully). You can now reach me at: marylaine at

* * * * *


Steven M. Cohen. Keeping Current: Advanced Internet Strategies To Meet Librarian and Patron Needs. ALA, 2003. 0-8389-0864-0. $35, or $31.50 to members. Reviewed by Marylaine Block

Many of you already know Steven Cohen, internet columnist for Public Libraries and proprietor of the blog Library Stuff <>. And if you know him, you're aware that he is passionate about the need for librarians to keep up with new technologies and other developments in our profession.

In this slim volume, he explains why it has become even more essential to remain current even in the presence of the information overload that makes doing so a daunting task. He confesses that before he developed the methods he's explaining in this book, he used to spend three hours a day skimming and/or digesting new developments -- a level of devotion few of us would bring to the task no matter how strongly we believed in its necessity.

Cohen begins by reviewing the old ways and the new ways of keeping up, laying out the advantages and disadvantages of print and internet-based resources. Print sources offer authority and portability (it's easy to carry a magazine anywhere), but have the drawback that, by the time an issue is routed to the most junior person on the staff, it is no longer even remotely current. Web resources lend themselves better to breaking news and highly current information, and are available to many simultaneous readers, but the glut of self-published zines and blogs feeds our terror of never having the time to sort through it all and weigh its credibility.

His theory of keeping up is that instead of librarians hunting for information, information should come to librarians. Never click on a web site, he says, unless you have an absolute certainty there's new information there. The ideal is: "Every article, journal or resource will come to them either via a certain piece of software, e-mail alert, or electronic discussion list." Corollaries include: Keeping current should not take all day; use as few tools as possible; and learn to skim headlines. (The latter is a trick I've mastered, even about technologies I don't understand. I use the rule of three: if I read about the same thing in three very different sources, I take it as a hint from God to pay attention.)

Cohen devotes an entire chapter to keeping up with new developments in search engines, a field changing far too fast for most ordinary folks to keep up with. That's why he reviews a number of search engine expert sites which are also available by e-mail. Other chapters explore web site monitoring resources, which will notify you when the web sites of your choice have been changed, weblogs (whether created by others or by yourself as a strategy for stashing notes to yourself about important resources), and RSS.

One point that Cohen makes, but does not elaborate on, is how to move the new stuff into your long-term reference memory. For him, Library Stuff was both a device that pushed him to learn something new everyday so he'd have something to talk about on the blog, and a memory device -- we all know that we learn something better when we teach somebody else about it. The book could have profited from an entire chapter about devices librarians use to remember new stuff and integrate it into their working knowledge.

But that's a minor quibble. The book by its very slimness and succinctness makes the task of keeping up seem manageable, and Cohen's explanations of how to use the various tools are lucid to even the most technologically intimidated. I highly recommend it.



by Marylaine Block
So, let me elaborate on what Steven didn't cover. I have a regular collection of sources I visit daily and weekly. You can view them at These sites include librarian blogs, journalism blogs, news, site announcement services, and news about technology, science, arts, politics, and federal and state government. I also read plenty of magazines, many of which mention web sites from time to time, or contain important articles which I will then try to find posted online so I can pass them on. (Not all of them will be. There's a wonderful tribute to libraries and librarians in the November, 2003 issue of The Writer, but you'll have to read it in your print copies.)

I used to just stash my newly discovered sites on Best Information on the Net [, but when I quit my job and left BIOTN in the hands of my colleagues, I had to find another place to store them until needed. Now, when I find a web site or article or thought-provoking quote I think I might use, I stash it in a web site on my C drive called "NextNeat." When it's time to put together the next issue of Neat New Stuff, this is where I trawl.

I keep at least six months of Neat New Stuff online, but before I delete the oldest, I always make a printout. That way, NeatNew and NextNeat become prime sources when I'm putting together the online outline for each conference or workshop presentation I do -- each site is already described and ready to go. Those outlines themselves [see] become stashes where I can retrieve vaguely remembered sites by subject -- business sources, readers' sources, government sources, etc.

The act of inspecting these sites and describing them has placed them in my long-term memory. I may not remember the site's name or creator or address, but I will remember what that site did, and with that information, I can easily retrieve the specific site from one of my pages.

If you contribute to your library's web pages, you already have a place to store resources for your future retrieval. But if you don't, you might want to consider starting either a blog or a private web page of your own (which is also a good way to teach yourself XML and web design).



These days, I get fewer blank stares when I talk about library school than I did 8 years ago, but that doesn't mean people really "get" the reference thing. I explain it to my friends like this: This is a question, but not a reference question: "Do you guys have any information on caves?" And this is a reference question: "I am trying to find information on those sightless fish that live in caves. I would like a book for my 10th graders to read." It's the librarian's job to turn the first type of question into the second. The fact that we as librarians will also tell you what time it is or where the bathroom is does not mean that we're not doing some serious question alchemy to help you find most things. The best reference interactions are ones in which the patrons find what they want and are not even aware that the librarians have been giving them reference interviews the entire time.

Jessamyn West. "The Librarian Is In and Online." Computers in Libraries, October, 2003.

* * *

You are welcome to copy and forward any of my own articles for noncommercial purposes (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:

Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2003.

[Publishers may license the content for a reasonable fee.]

Please do NOT copy and post my articles to your own web sites, however. Instead, please copy a brief excerpt and link to my site for the remainder of the article.