The Balancing Act

I found out tonight that an assignment I thought was due in two weeks is actually due in one.

I feel like a real uni student now.

Fortunately, I’ve been plugging away steadily at this assignment, so finishing it will be more dignified trot than panicked sprint.

A sensible student would probably be spending these spare minutes I have now working on the assignment rather than blogging. But I wanted to reflect on why I messed up the due dates, and how I can improve on that in the future.

The first question is easy: I’m juggling a lot of balls at the moment, and I took my eye off one of them.

The second question is harder. I made a calendar for uni. I just hadn’t checked it recently. I’d literally been too busy working on assignments to refresh my memory of when they were due.

The easy answer here is maybe I need to put a reminder in my phone every Sunday night to check my calendars and plan my work for the next few weeks. That’s not overly burdensome.

I’ll try it and see.

One of the goals I’ve set myself for the year is balance work, study, health, relationships and creativity. And as I explained to my psychologist, that’s not a static balance like rock balancing. It’s an active process like surfing. The situation is fluid. You need to focus on your destination, while being flexible about how you get there.

And that’s where I ran out of surfing metaphors because I am a nerd.

Actually, I suspect that balancing all those aspects of my life is going to be less like surfing and more like spreadsheeting. I just need to schedule at least some time for everything, and accept that it will never quite be enough.

We chip away at things, one step at at a time, and eventually the mountain is climbed.

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OCLC and speeding trains

Second week of my Information Management course, and I feel like I’m laying down train tracks while the train races up behind me.

I’ve been sick the last week and half, so I missed the first lecture and tutorial of my Information Discovery subject. Thank god for recorded lectures and online subject notes.

I’m still a bit under the weather, but I made it to class tonight. Which is good–this subject is bit like being in front of one of those tennis ball machines set on maximum rate of fire. Tonight was mostly a list of search tools, from Trove to Google Arts & Culture.

Somewhere in that spray WorldCat was mentioned, and the cooperative behind it, OCLC.

I hadn’t heard of OCLC before, and now I think I want to work for them.

WorldCat is a worldwide catalogue of library collections. Libraries share their catalogues with WorldCat, and users can then search the collections of libraries in their community and thousands more around the world.

OCLC is the Open Computer Library Center. In their own words: OCLC is a global library cooperative that provides shared technology services, original research and community programs for its membership and the library community at large. 

This matches perfectly with my career goal: to explore how can we use IT to improve access to library collections and services?

Some of their products include:

  • OCLC WorldShare Management Services – a cloud based library services platform
  • WorldCat Local – a web-scale discovery solution
  • CONTENTdm – helps to make digital collections available on the Web
  • VDX – a document delivery and interlending management system

They also have a Research site, which I’ll read in all that ample spare time I have these days.

First article on the list: The Library in the Life of the User: Engaging with People Where They Live and Learn. and its supplement Integrating the Library in the Life of the User: An Annotated Bibliography of Practical Ideas.

You know. On top of my assigned reading for class.


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Zines, libraries & privacy issues

Some interesting discussion about zines and contextual privacy: a zinemaker might be happy to share their full name in the context of a limited run zine, but less happy to have it on a publically searchable internet catalogue.


Zines are usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter. They are often a vehicle for radical voices. They could be a political zine, a feminist zine, an LGBT zine and so on. They are ephemeral in nature, and often have very small print-runs.

The idea of privacy and trackless searching/use is often a very important principle for infoshops

Not all zine makers want their names listed on the internet

There’s a risk that easy availability of information about zine makers, and those who are interested in their zines could be used to flag people up to the authorities.

There’s a need for searching and using the library with a degree of privacy and untraceability (“rather than give the government fodder to harass them” (Hedtke, 2007 p41)

There are a number of examples of people talking of setting up separate public and private catalogues in order to…

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Old Trams and Unexpected Libraries

One of my “one day when I’m rich” ideas is to buy an old tram and convert it into a library.

The least likely part of this is, apparently, not me becoming rich, it’s buying an old tram. Because the old trams are heritage listed, and the internet is full of people who’d love to get their hands on one and complaining loudly that they can’t.

I can’t summarise the situation better than the user 547M did on the forums:

Unused W class trams are kept at Newport Workshops.

They are under an order from the National Trust and have been gathering dust and bird guano for many years in East Block, I believe.  The fleet stored there is often raided for spare parts to keep the existing fleet in operation – most of the bodies are age-damaged on frames which would probably not be allowed on any system.

They’ve been heritage-listed en masse and prevented from going outside Victoria. So no trams to Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth museums. Bylands, Bendigo and Ballarat have all the Ws they want.

It is not known if they are available for purchase; about 8 years ago the asking price was around $5600 – where Z class trams have been  (or currently available for purchase) around the $8000 mark – however, these are not any reliable benchmark figures.  At this point in time, basically, the W class trams are trapped for all eternity in Newport Workshops until another place to store them is found.

Australian Train Movers had the contract for disposal of the superseded Z class retired trams. See

A full list of stored trams (168) is available on Vicsig

There’s a Herald-Sun article about the old W-class trams being left to rot at the Newport station.

If you’re a tram fan like me, then the Melbourne Tram Museum is a much happier place and well worth a visit. I highly recommend it – it’s like entering a cross between Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and the TARDIS. Even just the smell – old leather, wood, iron – is amazing.

Anyway, libraries…

Here’s a fun list of libraries in unusual locations, including the Leo Tolstoy express between Moscow and Helsinki, and in a tank/bookmobile Weapon of Mass Instruction by Argentinian artist Raul Lemesoff.

Maybe I can buy a train carriage instead…

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What is a library, the 5 Laws of the Library, and being behind in my studies before I’ve even started…

It’s the first week of my Information Management degree. And I’ve been so sick I had to miss classes.

So I’m behind already. Yay?

Fortunately, RMIT films every lecture, and makes all the course material available online. So I watched the lecture for LIBR1085 Information Discovery this morning, and now I just need to do the tute assignment and read through the first assignment and…


One thing I still need to get my head around is how I’m going to take notes from lectures.

I’m not taking notes just so I can regurgitate facts in an exam. I’m taking notes so I can understand the concepts, so I can apply them professionally, so I can be good at being a librarian.

Which means my note taking during lectures should be about flagging important concepts to remember later. And then “later” should be writing up those concepts, with a short summary, some reflections on why it’s important, and some ideas of how it applies in a professional context.

I’m not sure if this blog is the best place to do this, or the website we’ve set up as part of The Digital Information Environment subject.

Some other things I need to do:

  • set up a separate RMIT account on my laptop, so I can keep my study files and webpages separate from my personal ones.
  • work out how much time I need to spend on each subject outside of official class time, and block that time out
  • also: block out some time for additional reading. And start using a “read later” app like Pocket or Instapaper to organise this.


I’ve been mulling over a snappy definition of what is a library for some time. The best answer I’ve come up with is:

A location where a community can engage with information.

It’s a bit vague. And I’ve italicised some of those terms because they really need their own explanations. Maybe that’s a later post.

But I mention it because this week’s lectures included a slide about the different types of Information Agencies, and had this description of libraries on it:

Library: A collection of published items acquired through purchase or donation for the community served by the library. The items are organised according to a system such as the Dewey Decimal System and available for use. They are usually not unique and are therefore replaceable. Published items could be in any format.

I like that ‘available for use’ bit. One of the things I struggled in my definition was distinguishing between libraries and universities, until I settled on a university where you create and pass on information, whereas a library is where you can engage with it. Which is how I interpret ‘available for use’.

Which segues nicely into this week’s Cool Concept I Learnt in Class:


These laws were proposed by Siyali Ramamrita Ranganathan in 1931. They are:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his / her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

Wikipedia has an excellent expansion on what each of these laws mean, but here’s my quick thoughts:

  1. Books are for use.
    Preservation and protection are important only in that they preserve a work for long-term use.
  2. Every reader his / her book.
    Libraries are for their communities, and should meet their community’s needs.
  3. Every book its reader.
    Popularity is not the same as need: a book with only a small readership can still be vital
  4. Save the time of the reader.
    Help readers find what they want quickly by organising and contextualising your collection
  5. The library is a growing organism.
    Libraries, grow, change, and adapt to server their communities.

Incidentally, Wikipedia tell my that S. R. Ranganathan ‘is considered to be the father of library science, documentation, and information science in India and is widely known throughout the rest of the world for his fundamental thinking in the field. His birthday is observed every year as the National Library Day in India.’

How beautiful is that?

Okay. Enough blather. Things to do…


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The Library Nerding has begun…

I started my RMIT Information Management course this evening.

My first subject is The Digital Information Environment. Our first assignment is to create a Google Sites website to act as a portfolio of our work and reflections for our course.

There’s a certain irony in a subject dedicated to managing digital information asking  you to set up yet another website. My digital wake is strewn with the wreckage of forgotten websites and neglected social media accounts. In their proliferation is their doom. One person can only maintain so many sites.

I did ask if I could use Library 3000 instead. I was told no–we’d need to use some of the plugins offered by Google Sites later in the assignment.

This is my skeptical face. :/

Anyway: here’s three ideas I took away from my first class.

#1 – What is a document, anyway?

Information Management could be described as the science of storing documents in such a way that people can find them again. But what actually is a document?

The lecturer flashed up several attempts at a definition, none of which seemed all-encapsulating.

I’m okay with this. Ever since I read about fuzzy sets, I’m perfectly happy to describe something as clearly a document, document-ish, or only vaguely document-like. The core idea is that a document is a discrete physical or logical object that contains information.


The discrete bit gets messy with digital documents: a single webpage can be made up of multiple files (content, stylesheet, images) plus interactive code, live database search results, etc. etc.

Regardless, a document usually has:

  • Content: the information within the document
  • Structure: the way the information is organised
  • Presentation: the media, format and appearance of a document, and
  • Context: when, where, why, how the document was created and changed

These traits overlap: the content may only be meaningful based on the context, the presentation may subtly change the content, etc.

#2 – I could go study at RMIT Vietnam

RMIT have a Vietnam campus. And you can study abroad there as one of your Masters electives. They even have a tilt-shift marketing video.

Apparently the library there is very high-tech, but they also face a lot of censorship issues because of the Vietnamese government.

I intend to ask lots of questions about this. I’ve never been to Vietnam. I think this would be a really interesting way of exploring my Big Question in a very different context to Melbourne.

#3 – Random Study Tips

The quickest, easiest way to read and understand a handout is to go through it with a highlighter pen.

Reuse, reuse, reuse: if you’ve got a clear structure for writing an essay or building a website, reuse it mercilessly. The content is what matters. Don’t waste brainspace trying to think up how to structure it.

Talk to your lecturers and the other students. Sit in the front row. Be excited. This isn’t high school. No one cares if you’re cool or not.

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The Zine Collection, State Library of Victoria

I got to explore the State Library of Victoria’s zine collection yesterday. I’ve added my photos and comments at the bottom of my (rather long) Secrets of the State Library Victoria storify.

This is a collision of two things that I love: zines and libraries.

Actually, it was a collision of three things that I love: zines, libraries, and going behind the scenes in a public institution. There’s a specific type of magic in peeking behind the curtains. I get genuinely excited to see the dull grey compactuses of the storage rooms.

This is why I’m becoming a librarian.

Speaking of zines, and books, and the creatures that love them: I’ve created a PDF version of my Introducing Booklice zine. Because the world needs to learn about these little cuties.

Download it here: booklice_zine_pdf

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