Monday, April 21, 2014

want to contribute to #ProjectTiara?

it's probably not tax deductible, but it should be...


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New Directions in Information Fluency Conference

I'll be presenting on 4/5/14 at the New Directions in Information Fluency conference at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. If you'll be attending, please consider attending my talk on collaborating with your school's writing center to provide workshops on writing research papers. It's during Concurrent Session III, at 2pm, and part of Panel D on Productive Collaborations (Olin 302).

This co-teaching experiment was actually from when I was still at Stevens, and all the lesson plans, handouts, and exercises were developed in conjunction with (and sometimes solely by) Jennifer McBryan, who is all kinds of awesome. I ended up leaving before we had a chance to get past anecdotal evidence of the program's success, so we never did get to most of the assessment methods mentioned in the presentation.

The most popular workshop we gave revolved around helping students understand the correct way to "use" scholarly sources. As in, how to develop a topic, how to read and understand an academic journal article, and how to responsibly use the content in their own papers. (Those links go to the handouts we used to teach each concept, via Google Docs. Feel free to download, adapt, and use them as you like.)

For the paraphrasing exercise, I would find 3 articles related to the course topic, or a sample research paper topic as outlined by the syllabus, and I'd send the first 2 pages of each of those articles to Jenn, who would then create a paraphrased excerpt from each one. (Here are the sample articles referred to in the above-linked exercise.) She would build some errors into each excerpt, either in the in-text citation, or in the way the writer is using the paraphrase or quote. (We were trying to get them to understand that you can't just pull words from an article, and use them out-of-context. You can't imply that the original author is saying something other than what they were actually trying to say, even if you can make the quote sound like it supports your thesis.)

I have to give all the credit to Jenn for being great at creating these problematic paraphrase excerpts. She was fabulous at making them challenging, but realistic, and I was pleasantly surprised by how adept the students were at catching even subtle misuse of information.

Finally, I've put together a brief reading list of articles discussing Library-Writing Center collaboration:

Thursday, March 13, 2014


i like tiaras. they are sparkly. and i feel special when i'm wearing one. when i was in high school, i was a runner-up for homecoming queen, and instead of all the runners-up (runner-ups?) getting tiaras, as they did every other year, only the queen and the next 2 highest vote-getters got tiaras. this made me sad, because i wanted one. so, like any rational human being with access to a chinatown-esque variety store, i went and bought myself one and wore it to the prom. take that, stupid tiara-nazis!

aaaaaanyway, about a year or so back i discovered that you can buy ridiculously pretty tiaras on ebay for super cheap. they come from china, and i feel kind of bad about the labor conditions of those making them, but at the moment i'm shoving that emotion deep down inside until i can find an ethical-but-reasonably-priced online tiara store. DREAM BIG, KIDS.

so now i have a bunch of tiaras, including 2 3D printed ones! (the first is from Steve Teeri, who made it at the Detroit Public Library's HYPE Makerspace, and the crown from Tyler Rousseau's library's makerspace.)  i especially enjoy wearing them when i'm doing something i don't particularly want to do, like my chores, just because it cheers me up a bit.

anyway, for no reason in particular, i decided one day to send other people tiaras. i feel like my thinking might have gone along the lines of: "oh, this person said they like my tiara, so THEY should have a tiara too!" then the other day i just got it in my head that i needed to send out some congratulatory tiaras. i'm not entirely sure why. i had just found out one of my conference proposals finally got accepted, and i also got a small professional development grant, so maybe i just had celebrating small successes on the brain. also, i'm a huge fan of this kid:

he's so right! you're doing great! you need to give yourself more credit! so, i invited twitter to take part in #ProjectTiara. the rules are simple:
  1. dm me your name and address (i'm @vforrestal on twitter)
  2. tell me of some small (or large!) success you've had lately (it really can be anything. if ever i make it to work on time for an entire week, i'm going to buy myself a freakin CROWN.)
  3. agree to send me a pic of the tiara when you receive it, so i can do a series of posts celebrating your successes, small and large. (if you're camera shy, it can just be a pic of the top of your head, or you can put the tiara on a pet, or really whatever. be creative!)
never mind all that, i made a form! so now all you have to get a tiara is fill out the form at the end of this post, or here.

that's it! really! i'm on a mission to sparkle-fy the world, and to fight the trend in the library world that you have to WIN ALL THE AWARDS! and PUBLISH ALL THE ARTICLES! to be a success. you're out there every day doing a job that makes the world a better place, and you deserve to be celebrated for it. you need to pop on a tiara every once in awhile and remind yourself (and the world!) how fucking awesome you are. 


UPDATE-- Nicholas Schiller has officially joined the good fight to sparkle-fy the world!!! If you're not a tiara person (which I won't even PRETEND to understand, but hey, to each their own!) head over to OPERATION: BOW TIE and secure yourself a celebratory bow tie!


UPDATE 2-- We have a tumblr!


I've had a couple of people ask about helping defray the cost of the tiaras, so if you'd like to donate a few bucks to the cause, you can do so here:

Thank you for your support!!!!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

in defense of the crazy cat lady

lately, when someone asks me how many cats i have, i've taken to holding up 4 fingers, like saying the number out loud is some sort of admission of guilt. and if i'm lucky, instead of outright derision, i'll be met with a look of pity and an indulgent smirk.

it doesn't help that i'm a single 35 year old female librarian. i'm pretty thoroughly a stereotype. but the cat thing really isn't my fault. i grew up in a little apartment with my parents and brother, so cats were really the biggest pet you could have, and we had cats the entire time i lived there. people are often fond of the kind of pet they grew up with. it's perfectly normal.

but 4? ok. maybe that's a bit self-indulgent. i got the 2nd one to keep the first company while i was at work. but they didn't really get along, so when a neighbor found a stray and asked if i was interested in taking him in, i didn't hesitate. and i said 3. never more than 3. that would just be crazy! and then this happened on instagram:

shut up, clearly that cat had to come home with me. i obviously had no choice but to take him in!

whenever someone makes fun of me or looks at me funny or calls me a crazy cat lady, i get a bit tongue-tied. i want to defend myself, but i know i shouldn't have to. i know it shouldn't matter what anyone thinks of me. but i'm a 35 year old single lady, and often i feel in a vulnerable position. what if i am crazy? what if i'm weird and un-date-able? women only have value while they're fuckable, and lord knows i'm past my prime in terms of looks, so clearly my decision to have 4 cats is a statement to the world that i've decided to give up and embrace spinsterhood (which i *do* joke about. it's not the worst fate.) but my decision to have 4 cats has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that they utterly and truly bring me nothing but pure joy.

ok, maybe that's the teensiest, tiniest bit hyperbolic. cleaning puke off my freshly-washed comforter or wiping poop off a writhing, yowling cat's foot will never bring me joy. but those moments are far, far fewer than the moments of pure joy. i can't explain to you how i feel when a happy, purring cat looks up from my lap with sleepy eyes and gives me that contented half-meow.

and whenever i hear or see things that make me sad, people treating each other awfully, people treating animals awfully, i look at my cats and think, "i can't make everything better in the world, but i can make everything awesome for THEM. i can do just that little bit of good and treat these 4 little creatures with all the love and kindness that i wish i was willing and able to give the rest of the world."

and that fills me with pure joy.

i can only hope that you can find something that gives you that feeling on a regular basis. spouse, kid, pet, plants, volunteering, hobbies, work. whatever. i won't ever mock you for finding some harmless thing that makes you truly happy.

i wish that for you, with all my heart.

so maybe cut me some slack with the 4 cats, k?

*(see more of my cats on instagram)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Val's best books: 2013 edition

I decided I was going to keep track of my reading this year. Despite starting off strong, averaging 4/5 books a month, I ended up only finishing 26 books (including the one I'm reading now, which I promise to finish before the year's up! Still, a few were pretty heavy volumes (literally and/or metaphorically) so I'm pretty happy with my effort.

Last year I was wildly into historical romance, but this year was dominated by sci-fi/fantasy and non-fiction. You can see the whole list, with my comments, but I figured I'd just highlight my favorites for now.

This was a really good one. I liked the organization, there was a logical progression to it. I particularly liked the articles on quantum computing, bitcoin, and the Turing Test.
Every volume of this book is amazing. Like, literally. Science is amazing. Anyway... This edition did have 2 articles in common with the above compilation, but it's worth reading even if only for the fantastic forward by physicist Michio Kaku.
I realize pretty much everyone on the planet has read this book by now, but if you haven't: read it! I had some trouble getting into it at first, but I'm glad I stuck with it, because when it got going, it got GOOD. It could just be that I love love. And also, magic. The hero was a teensy bit douchey at points, but for some reason it didn't bother me much. Maybe because the heroine was awesome enough to make up for it.
I'm 2 books into the Sandman Slim series, and really enjoying it. Gritty, but not offensively so. Reminds me of a cross between Jim Butcher and Charlaine Harris. It's meshing perfectly with my recent Supernatural binge-watching. I just wish Kadrey would embrace the concept of a chapter; deciding where to break for the night is a bitch.
Misfit children with special powers being hunted down is not a super original concept, but I couldn't put this book down. Looking forward to the sequel that's due out in January.
I found her writing awkward at first, but I loved the story. I love soul-matey historical fiction. That's totally a thing, right? This is the third in a trilogy though, so you may want to start with the first and second before reading this one. []

Thursday, December 5, 2013

CUNY IT Conference - Building Academic Websites (in the Real World)

I'm presenting tomorrow at the 2013 CUNY IT Conference, where Brian Farr (our Systems Manager) and I will be talking about the process of developing our new library website. If you'll be at the conference, consider coming to see our talk at 2:15pm. [Conference schedule]
I also have some fun slideshows of the site-building process, with screenshots and mockups and crazy marked up documents, which I'll add next week.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Zen and the art of the conference proposal

(This post originally appeared on Letters to a Young Librarian, and was edited by Jessica Olin.)

Your first year as tenure-track faculty is an odd one. You’re not expected to publish right away, but it’s encouraged that you keep your CV active by adding to it in one way or another. Given the amount of time you spend acclimating to a new workplace during your first year (anywhere, not just in academia), you don’t necessarily have the time or the connections to do anything major. Often you’re expected to spend that first year choosing future research projects, and starting to design your research studies and maybe collect some data if you’re lucky. Sometimes, if you’re like me, you were hired to work on a specific project, and will spend much of your time tackling minor practicalities like building a website from scratch and migrating the entire former site’s content to it. Pish posh.

This forces you to be a bit creative with adding lines to your CV. I’ve looked for limited time and energy-commitment obligations, like less formal writing projects and talks at local chapter meetings. One opportunity I stumbled across on one of the CFP blogs I follow was a call for conference proposal reviewers. I’ve acted as a peer reviewer in the past, so it seemed like a good opportunity for some professional service.

About halfway through the 20-or-so proposals assigned to me for review, I realized that this was much more than just a line on my CV. I’ve submitted many conference proposals in the past (a handful of which were actually accepted,) but being on the other side of the submission process gave me some useful insights for the future. (For the record, the conference was not library-focused, and it was a blind review process, so I feel ok about talking about it publicly.)

First, I shouldn’t have to say this, but based on many of the submissions I reviewed it warrants a mention: Follow. The. Instructions. You’ll read this advice a lot in posts about applying for jobs, but it goes for pretty much any official process in the professional world. Sometimes you think can skip steps. Maybe you know someone. Maybe you’re a big name in the field. Maybe you presented last year. Well, I can’t see your name and I wasn’t at last year’s conference, so do us all a favor and complete all the fields in the form. If I don’t need a certain piece of information I’ll skim over it. Better safe than sorry.

Here’s another piece of advice that comes directly from job application best practices: customize, customize, customize. Maybe you’re submitting a similar proposal to several similar conferences. I don’t care. Take the time to tweak your proposal to at least touch upon this specific conference’s mission and theme. I know you have to put out a lot of proposals just to get a few acceptances, but try to make it feel like this conference is one you actually *want* to present at.

GradHacker recently did a post on Killer Conference Proposals, and while all their tips are good ones, I think their final tip is of particular importance: “Explicitly state an audience takeaway.” Of course *you* find your research interesting and relevant (or at least I hope so). But take a step back and think like a marketer. What are you offering presentation/panel attendees? So many proposals I reviewed talked exclusively about their own experience without in any way addressing why that experience should matter to anyone else. Is the technology you used attainably-priced? Are your assessment standards widely accepted? What kind of implementation time/resources did it take? I’ve sat through many presentations where the project discussed was fabulous, but I came away frustrated because the presenters made no effort to tell me how I could replicate all or part of it, or apply the knowledge elsewhere. Give me something I can use, or reserve this talk for a showcase or project update event.

My last piece of advice doesn’t really apply to a blind review, but I’ll mention it anyway. When I’m participating in an event, I make sure to publicize it throughout my own networks. I like to think this gives a person a reputation as someone who will actively work to help draw in attendees, and thus be an asset to future events.

If anyone else has been part of the conference proposal review process, please leave some tips in the comments! What causes you to reject a proposal outright? What puts a presenter on your good side right away?