Category Archives: tech

Travel tips: Conference and otherwise

I like to think I’ve got a few things figured out, travel-wise. I also like to think I’ve got a few things figured out, conference-wise, which, coincidentally, often involves travel. Maybe we’ve all got our own travel and conference preferences worked out, but here are my top tips:

General travel tips:

  1. I’ve learned this one the hard way on many occasions: Don’t travel hangry. You won’t be able to find food when you need food. Bring enough snacks for one or two times a day for at least a few days. I find it best to choose things that don’t need special care and taste just as good if they get a bit battered around or slightly melted. For me this means apples, nuts, Clif Builder’s Bars, trail mix, and/or homemade energy bites. I function best if there’s a substantial protein component to my snacks. These can be combined for emergency meal replacement (apple/Builder’s Bar/trail mix) or can simply fill in the gap after an inadequate meal or time zone change.
  2. Scarves and/or shawls take up almost no space in your luggage or bag but can be used in a million ways. Keep warm in cold spaces, block sun when you’re trying to sleep or avoid sunburn, cover your head and shoulders if you want privacy or you’re visiting religious spaces where modesty is required, wipe up spills, etc.
  3. Powdered laundry detergent means that you don’t have to pack a separate change of clothes for every day you’ll be gone (and you don’t have to worry about the 3oz. liquids rule). A few basics with some interesting jewelry and the aforementioned scarf will be plenty if you take a few minutes in the evening to wash what’s dirty in the bathroom sink. Word to the wise, cotton dries slowly so plan accordingly.
  4. You need less clothes than you think, especially if you’re traveling carry-on only. I like to look nice and put together every day. Looking nice and put together does not mean that you need a separate outfit for every day. I prefer dresses to separates for summer travel because I feel they take up less room in my suitcase and I just like them. Maxi dresses can be quite nice for travel days as they keep you covered but are as comfortable as pjs and look much better. A few relatively plain dresses (2-3 for 4-7 days of travel) with a couple of sweaters or cardis and some interesting jewelry will allow you plenty of mix-and-match options. And, ok, you might not want to see those two dresses for a few weeks when you get home, but so what?
  5. Honestly, I’m not much of a shoe fiend, and I get by just fine on one pair and a back-up. Both worn for years and broken in very well with a history of long walks and minimal irritation. Usually, I bring two and only wear one. It’s worth it to have the insurance in case of sore feet, since I am very prone to blisters. In the summer, I default to my Birkenstocks.
  6. The air blower on the plane might as well be called The Plague Distributor. Don’t use it unless you’re really desperate, and even then avoid directing it at your face. I tend towards motion sickness that is amplified by being too hot, and I still recommend avoiding the air blower on planes. If you manage to get blasted in the face, or you’re feeling especially vulnerable to illness (super stressed and exhausted, must be at peak performance while traveling, etc) I highly recommend Airborne before and after a flight to help ward off any possible ick. Maybe it’s just personal superstition at this point, but I’ve never gotten sick after traveling when using it, even when I was flying every weekend for super stressful auditions.
  7. You’ve probably seen those horseshoe shaped pillows they sell at the airport. Man, they’re helpful, and I say this as a person who is basically incapable of sleeping sitting up. Here’s a secret: You can get inflatable versions that do the same job and take up basically no room in your bag when not in use. You’re welcome.
  8. If you are not traveling exclusively carry-on, make sure you have anything you can’t live without for a day or two in a carry-on bag. This includes somewhat obvious things like travel documents, prescriptions, toothbrush, and a change of underwear/socks, but also anything that you might need immediately at your destination like presentation materials (or, as I learned the hard way once, reeds and music). Even if it weighs down your carry-on bag, you will be super grateful for this precaution in the event that your luggage is delayed, especially if you’re traveling to an unfamiliar place.

Conference specific (Maybe you’re going to ALA?):

  1. Everything I said above still applies to conference travel, including the shoe and clothes recommendations. Unless you’re presenting at a conference or are looking for a new job, make sure that all clothes and shoes you bring can do double duty for conferences and sightseeing. Interesting jewelry and scarves can liven up plain clothes, and no one will be the wiser that you wore that dress the day before yesterday. Carefully consider shoes, as you will no doubt be walking miles in them. I wear my Birks, but they’re classy ones, I swear! In my experience, these recommendations will put you firmly high-middle-of-the-road for conference dress, but you do you.
  2. I tend to travel tech-light. These days that means smartphone, Kindle, and iPod. I will not be bringing back-up batteries to support a phone, laptop, and iPad to ALA, no matter how many friends it might win me. There are lots of great tips out there if you lean that direction.
  3. For conferences, I infinitely prefer notebooks to other tech for note-taking. I find notebooks much easier to wrangle in conference halls that may or may not have tables, and they encourage organic note-taking for me. Since I’m no longer a student, my notes have changed significantly. I no longer care about recapping a presentation but about the ideas or quotes I can use or engage with in my work. I write down threads to follow later, and I write down lots of questions and insights as they spill from my brain. Capturing the questions and ideas that come up is one of the most valuable parts of the conference experience for me, and I do that best on paper. Example: 
  4. If you’re going to ALA or other similar conference where you might pick up far more freebies than will fit in your bag, you might want to consider taking some packing tape for boxes to ship home. ALA has an on-site pop-up post office, which is super convenient.
  5. A note on tote bags: You don’t really need to bring a special bag to a conference, trust me on this. They’ll be throwing the things at you, and it’s often nearly impossible to say no. If you have special considerations for your bags or you’ll be doing lots of job hunting, you may prefer your own, but I tend to just stick with whatever my Midwest sensibilities won’t allow me to refuse.
  6. Do take the time to do some non-conference related stuff in the area, even if it’s just one museum or tour.
  7. You will reach saturation point. Don’t feel bad if you need to skip out on a session to either go back to your hotel and rest or simply find a quiet corner to decompress.
  8. As soon as you can after the conference, like maybe even in the trip home, write down all the thoughts that are swirling around in your head, insights, confusions, frustrations, possibilities, etc. Capture everything, because you will forget in an astonishingly short period of time. Did you take notes? Go back through and highlight everything that is a thread for you to follow. Even if you found the conference to be largely an echo chamber (it happens), you probably came away with at least one new way of seeing. Don’t lose it.

You can see more travel trips for foreign lands here.


Design without tears


I heard about Canva in two places in the last week. As I am currently doing the Sunday Librarian thing, I decided to spend some time playing around with it. Above you see a minimally altered example of the kind of thing you can do with Canva. You sign up for a free account and then have the ability to work a number of different options for specific, pre-made sizes or you can customize your own. For each size, there are different templates you can use and alter or you can disregard the templates entirely and put together one of your own using backgrounds and images from Canva. It’s a freemium service. You can access lots of great stuff without paying, but for more involved layouts and images you must pay $1.00 per element for each time you use it. Then you can download or link to the images and they are also saved with your account. There’s the option to share with Twitter and Facebook, bien sur.

I think the strengths in Canva for librarians are probably for infographic-type posters, flyers, and images for presentations. Although I don’t put loads of effort into my everyday Powerpoint presentations, I can see myself leaning heavily on Canva for professional presentations to pull together an eye-catching, memorable talk. Canva could also be great for other non-library things: blog icons, invitations, Christmas cards, and other design-y things that you may want to look great but not have to pay someone else to do for you.

Another great service similar to Canva but for photo editing is PicMonkey. You can do a lot of basic photo editing with it, and it also has options for adding some fun to photos. Behold, the fun I had last Halloween editing myself into a Cherry Pie Vampire:


While I do love me some old school design fun, I’m not one to turn up my nose at these great, fun services to take some of the learning curve out of getting me what I want. I’ll definitely be making use of Canva and PicMonkey in the future.



I bought a Kindle Paperwhite with some of my professional development money. I’ve been waffling for 2 years on whether or not to buy an iPad with the PD money, and it’s just never been the right answer for me. I don’t see the need for an iPad in my life, and should I ever need one for a bit I can simply borrow one from the library. My Kindle, however, I do use fairly regularly, and it was starting to show its wear. I’d heard good things about the Paperwhite, so I ordered it and then sold my old Kindle Keyboard on Craigslist for $50 (which, by the way, is more than it is listed for used on Amazon. High five!)

I really like the Paperwhite, especially since I can choose to turn off the backlight. I mostly use it for low-light situations as a built-in book light, but I believe this is not the intention of the designers. I can tell this because the screen clearly instructs the user to use the high setting for bright light and the low setting for low light. I’m pretty sharp. Anyway, I think that’s backwards, but I’m not on the market for the absolute highest contrast possible in bright light. There is a nice range in the backlight, and you can usually find a sweet spot in any lighting situation where the backlight can create a comfortable reading situation.

The interface has changed quite a bit since my Kindle Keyboard, but things seems to work pretty seamlessly. Creating collections is a bit more confusing but I’m willing to chalk that up to user error. One feature that is hugely improved is the footnote feature. The old models had you jumping great distances through the book to the notes section and getting back to where you were before you read the footnote was a pain. The Paperwhite does footnotes like pop-ups. This works so much better, I can’t even tell you. If the whole page has to reload when you close the footnote, well, it’s still much improved over my previous experience.

The one thing that is unexpectedly less than awesome is the touchscreen turn. I used to be continually trying to turn pages backwards in my Kindle Keyboard with the button on the left-hand side, which was simply a duplicate of the page-forward button on the right. I thought I would really like the fact that on the touchscreen Kindles, you touch the right of the page to move forward and the left side to move back. Generally, I do like this functionality better than the Keyboard. It’s the actual touch screen thing that throws me. The device is almost entirely screen, which means there’s not a lot of safe area for you to touch and hold when you’re using it. Unlike an actual book or non-touchscreen Kindles, you can’t just simply rest your hands or fingers on the part of the page you aren’t reading. Do this and you turn a page. Where do I put my fingers? Where do I rest my thumb when I’m not turning a page? I read very fast, so simply moving my hand in and out of page turning position is not an option. I have my text size set to the smallest possible, but I still turn a page 5+ times a minute. Anyone have advice on optimal Kindle reading position?

I just finished Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel by Susanna Clarke through Overdrive. I have had cause to truly appreciate the new footnote functionality, as this book was chock full of them. I love a good footnote. I’d recommend the book – well written, extremely thoroughly thought-out, engaging. My only complaint is the length. At the end you realize how carefully the book is put together and there are few truly extraneous parts, but it took me more than a month to read it. By the end I was very ready to be done. I’m in the market for something fun, fast, and possibly not that great for me. Ideas?

Essential skills

night adk

If there is a lesson to be learned from the events of this evening’s late night shift, it is that IT skills, however rudimentary, are always going to bail you (or your high profile speaker) out. When the promised IT support does not show to set up a speaker presentation and the event is hosted in your library (although not sponsored by your library), you are the tech support. You are the one that has to figure out a way to hook up a Mac to your fervently PC institutional set up. You are the one that has to figure out how to deal with a mess of cords and a dongle because even if you could export Keynote to Powerpoint on short notice, somehow the PC unit on the podium has disappeared, so you couldn’t run it anyway.

I implore you. If you are a librarian who does not know where the cords go on your own computer or entertainment center, figure it out. This skill will serve you well, I promise.

Relatedly, Elizabeth Kolbert is a lovely human, who gives interesting lectures, and is amazingly flexible in the face of possibly giving a lecture without slides. Or a microphone. You might check out her soon-to-be-released book, The Sixth Extinction.

Questioning technology for travel

I’ve traveled a lot. That’s probably an understatement. I like to think that I have certain things down to a science. I know exactly what I need to do to make my life as easy as possible while traveling (i.e. never assume you can find food when you need food, view long wait times as an opportunity to relax, dress in layers including some kind of scarf, never ever let the overhead air circulation device blow on you because you definitely don’t want that virus in 3-5 days.) I know what I need to bring and what I can leave behind.

Yet as I prepare to leave for LOEX tomorrow, I find myself with a new-to-me problem of reducing my technology luggage. Is an iPod, a smartphone, a Kindle, and a laptop too much? Yes. Yes, it is. I know that I can hypothetically consolidate all of these bits of technology into my smartphone given enough time, smartphone memory, and 3G data, but I am quite new to the smartphone world and left it all to the last minute to figure this out.

It is interesting how my life is different, living out here in the mountains. I know that I significantly under-use my smartphone here, in a way that I wouldn’t if I lived in a city with public transit and reliable cell phone coverage. I am slow to understand all the things that can be done with a smartphone. Because I don’t spend a couple hours a day on a bus or subway, I have not figured out how to sync my music and podcasts to my phone. I have not tried my Kindle app. I don’t read blogs on my phone. I know that I can do all these things on my phone, but I just don’t need to. I read my blogs on my laptop. I watch movies on my laptop. I listen to music on my iPod nano almost exclusively in the gym, where the built in clip and miniature size make all the sense in the world.

I also realized that part of the reason I want to bring all of these devices, aside from the making-my-life-better part, is that the user experience is so much better on separate devices. Why read blogs on a tiny smartphone screen when you can do it on a laptop? Access and time being equal, I would not prefer scrolling around a tiny screen and magnifying tiny images on a phone to seeing my blogs in their best form on a computer screen. Why would I read a book on my smartphone when I can do it on a non-backlit screen? And I am not checking my email on my Kindle. Been there, done that, not worth the hassle. I choose my devices because I like they way they do things, not because there isn’t a different or more streamlined way to do it.

I grant you that the iPod doesn’t need to make the trip, in the strictest sense of the word “need,” but it is very small and already loaded up with my favorite podcasts. I’m bringing my Kindle because, well, it is also loaded up and ready to go. I have decided to leave my laptop at home, since using it as a security blanket is not worth lugging it along. The phone, obviously, is going.

The one technological aspect of this trip that I haven’t yet questioned is how I’m going to take note:. Paper and pen, all the way. Fewer typos, much more flexible, easy to pick up and put down (and drop, if it comes to that), easy to balance on a knee, and usable while not looking at it. Not to mention, I’m a doodler and pen-fiddler. Bringing an iPad would no doubt be the “cool thing” to do, but it is not nearly as functional.

All of this has brought a new dimension to my understanding of my technology usage. What do you all consider to be your essential technology travel kit? Any tricks or apps I need to try?

Zotero is my superhero

It’s not really a secret that I love Zotero. It is incredibly useful for organizing research, whether you’re writing a paper or not. I put papers I want to read in it (along with a note that I haven’t read it yet), I use it for writing reflections on things I’ve read and their possible use in my library, I’ve used it for keeping track of photos that I’ve put in blog posts, and recently I started using it for collection development.

Now, I had a great collection development class. I worked hard, and my team and I put together a huge document full of analysis and recommendations for the Donald Hall Collection, which supports the U-M Screen Arts and Cultures Department. We had many guest speakers from all kinds of different libraries come to class and talk about their processes for collection development and managing budgets. And yet, our process for collection development here is still different from any of the processes we encountered in class.

Basically, our collection development was done by our library director, with the exception of the small (and relatively new) fiction collection, which is managed by me. It worked fine, and if any of us happened to run across something that looked interesting, we would pass it along to him. Done and done.

Only one tiny problem – our director is on sabbatical this semester, leaving two new librarians and one librarian experienced in many things that do not include collection development in a dark closet.

We divided subjects along rough lines, looked at circulation data and search queries logged by the catalog, made notes and observations, and headed to our respective offices to each wonder in private how the heck we were going to find the books.

So far, LibGuides from other libraries, Amazon searches, and searching other library catalogs seems to be the best way for me to locate books to support my assigned departments of culinary, hospitality, and recreation. After a bit of trial and error involving a very messy Google Doc, we’ve found the best way for us to save and share information is through Zotero. Amazon and most library catalogs work perfectly with Zotero. One click and all the important information is sucked into Zotero where I don’t have to worry about it. I create folders to represent each month. At the end of the month, select all the items in the folder. Right click and choose “Generate Report from Selected Items.”  A new window opens with all the available bibliographic data which can then be saved and emailed or printed.

zotero work around

This not only makes collection development easy for the librarians, but it also helps out the technician who does our ordering. This way she always knows exactly which edition we mean, and there are very few questions or worries about choosing the correct book, which has been a problem in the past.