The Importance of Student Workers to A University

Gille believed that [UGA] Transit could not succeed without its stable of student employees. She said the campus-centered transportation is best fulfilled by students who are on campus nearly every day, not individuals in the community who rarely otherwise come in contact with the University of Georgia campus. It’s easier to acclimate hundreds of students to campus driving routes than to find the same number of non-students willing to learn the routes. The Importance of Student Workers to A University

My first day at Valdosta State University as a student, I also applied for and got a job working in the library. (Yeesh, I think that means I’ve been working for the same employer-ish for 22 years.) I loved the public and school libraries growing up. And I did some of my research for the middle school science fairs in the college library. I love books, so why not?

My final summer, they hired me a temporary staff to fill-in at the reference desk. Normally, a faculty member librarian did that work, but I was being entrusted to do when they were at half capacity. That seemed to seal the deal: I would go to library school for my master’s degree and become a librarian. (Fate intervened by running into my future boss the next fall who convinced me to come work in IT.)

As staff at VSU IT, I supervised a handful of students near the end. They were invaluable for keeping Web Services running. Yes, they were cheap labor. They also hopefully learned some skills that made their careers. Student labor is what made the school operate. Hiring good students is just as important for any staff position because they represent the university, they do the work that allows it to run, and they ensure the quality of almost anything except maybe the professor vocalizing to a classroom. Students do not get the respect of staff, but they for many areas are most of the staff. The departments might not exist without student workers.

 

#FirstSevenJobs

There is a Twitter thing running around where people post their first seven jobs. I do not think mine would fit in a tweet, so I put it here. This title should show up there as a hashtag and be my contribution.

If you count by employers, then I have had 1-3.

  1. University System of Georgia
    1. Valdosta State University
      1. Odum Library
      2. Information Technology
    2. Board  of Regents

Valdosta State is part of the USG. One perspective is I have only had one overall employer. VSU is just a bigger unit than say the library. One could say I have had three employer entities.

If you count by position codes, then I think the list is (not counting repeats in the same position):

  1. Student worker: Reference book shelver
  2. Casual laborer: Reference book shelver, Inter-Library Loan, Government Documents
  3. Student worker: Government Documents
  4. Casual laborer: Reference desk manager
  5. Student worker: Peer Reference desk
  6. Casual laborer: Webmaster Cooperative Education intern
  7. Casual laborer: Assistant Webmaster (CSSII)

Wow, those are all the crazy positions I held before become permanent staff. The next job in the list is the first permanent staff position. In total all seven were just over 5 years.

 

Interactive Archives

My jaw dropped at the end of this blog post Cloud Hosting and Academic Research.

There is a value in keeping significant old systems around, even if they no longer have active user bases.  A cloud hosting model seems so right to me–it’s scalable and robust. It just makes sense. But the hosting costs are a problem. Even if the total amount of money is small, grants are for specific work and have end dates. I can still be running a 10+ year old UNIX box, but I can’t still be paying hosting fees for a research project whose funding ended years ago, no matter how small that bill is.  Grants end–there’s no provision for “long term hosting.”  Our library can help us archive data, but they are not yet ready to “archive” an interactive system.  I hope companies that provide hosting services will consider donating long-term hosting for research.

Opening up a new area of digital archives by preserving the really cool works of the faculty seems like something I might enjoy.

My mentor in web design and server administration might have been described as a pack rat. He… Well, I guess, we kept around versions of web pages a decade old. Nothing really found deletion. The public just missed it by use of permissions.

When building my portfolio, my mistake was not gathering up the whole files to replicate the sites I designed. I’m no longer doing web design or even programming. So it is okay.

A professor in Geology had a pretty cool Virtual Museum for Fossils. The site moved around a few times, eventually ending up on the main web server also hosting WWW. Of course, HTML, images, and Flash files are easy to archive. Take the files and place them on a web server. Since they are static, it is easy to keep around for a long time. As long as the standards remain honored, they should be good. Developers of web browsers have pressure to go for the new, which potentially abandons the old eventually.

Scripted web sites using Perl, PHP, ASP, or JSP, JavaScript, or AJAX require a working interpreter. Still, some things might not be backwards compatible.

About a year ago my mother ran across 8mm video film. An uncle found a place who converted it to DVD. Will we even be using DVDs in a decade? Maybe the 8mm needs to go on Blueray?

Going back to the scripted web sites, should an archived web site’s code be updated to work on the new version of the interpreter? Maybe. If makers of the interpreters allowed for running in a backwards compatible mode, then all would be good. Even better, to be able to add to a script a variable that tells the interpreter which back version to pretend to use. For administrators, they could have the programmers check non-working scripts by just telling the interpreter to simulate an older version.

Are We Information Junkies?

Catherine who I follow on Twitter retweeted about agreeing with this blog post:

Last night while sitting at a pub with some friends, the topic of information came up. My friend Tom, in particular, had a few interesting things to say about it. I asked him if he thought that constantly being tapped into the stream of information that the online world affords us was bad thing. Is our constant connection to blog posts, news articles, video, podcasts, Twitter, and Facebook more detrimental than positive? Are we a culture of information junkies?

His response, essentially was “no”. He basically said that in fact (and I’m paraphrasing) we have always been able to tap into information whenever we wanted to. Back in the old days, Tom said he used to scour through encyclopedias, magazines, and books all day long. He was always consuming information and learning new things. I thought back to my younger days and realized I did much the same. You probably did too. The difference is, said Tom, these days information is with us wherever we go. We carry the encyclopedia, and magazines, and book in our pockets. Information is always there, on any topic. It’s an amazing thing, said Tom, and it’s a good thing.

My reading list Back in the old days I owned more books a 9 years old than all of my close friends and their parents put together. I had read every novel more than once. Around a sixth of my books were science and history, which were often partially re-read, often as a result of looking for something specific to get proof of something. It could have been something novel that needed understanding. It could have been a claim by someone else. It probably did not help that from seven to ten years old, I spent a couple hours every week day after school at the library.

Later, as a teen when I played Dungeons and Dragons, I knew my books well enough I could open a book to within a few pages of the information I wanted. Of course, I replaced my Player’s Guide and Dungeon Master’s Handbook three times when they fell apart from overuse.

As a college student, I worked in the university library. It had a larger and much more stimulating collection of journals, books, maps, microfilm, and microfiche than the public library of my childhood. Some thought me a dedicated worker. Ha! Having unfettered access to information was the best form of entertainment.

Only working with computer systems and the Internet, so more information could tear me away from the libraries.

But am I an information junkie? Oh, yeah, absolutely. Finding that kernel of information that answers a question, solves a problem, or wins an argument causes a surge of dopamine. People get the same dopamine high from winning a game.

The delayed gratification of waiting to search my or another library or waiting until I got to a computer to search the Internet was probably a good thing. I’m learning to be better about not whipping out my phone to track down every possible query that comes across my head. Probably a good thing to wait.

Guard Dead Paper?

Seth said, “What we don’t need are mere clerks who guard dead paper.” Whenever, I read “mere”, “only”, or “just” as a descriptor, it makes me sad someone (even me) relies on obvious straw men.

Librarians already do more than guard dead paper. It just makes it easier to knock them down and kick them while they are down to portray them as such. Of course, the point is that Seth wants to see “… a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear…” which describes… every… librarian… I have ever known going back to age 5. Maybe growing up in and working in libraries gives me a different perspective than Seth?

The librarians I know…

  • Help patrons learn how to find information.
  • Learn quickly what the patron knows and how to connect the dots.
  • Have a master’s or doctorate in librarian (information) science but an undergraduate in something else because almost no where offers a bachelor’s in it.

How about this? “What we don’t need are mere scribes who throw words on paper. I want to see an author who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and communicate  information.” Yeah. Still just as demeaning without being at all helpful.

Fifteen Years Seems Like Forever

Ran into Alan Bernstein, who hired me for my first job, this morning. Alan has always been both very protective and supportive of his employees. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without him.

Kind of freaky to think I’ve been working for for 15 years. First it was in a library, an information service. Next it was in information technology. Guess I am into information?

Back to Basics

Back to basics…

I love to read. Fantasy, non-fiction, history, ponderings… doesn’t matter. Have a ton of magazine subscriptions and always have 4-5 books on my “currently reading” list and a dozen on my gotta get to soon list.

I like to write. Have never completed anything. The fragments I keep are pretty good, though I think I enjoy endlessly tweaking the stories. Have no goal of ever publishing them.

Writing is cathartic. Things I probably would never do can be expressed. Creating my own identities to which I relate most closely. Taking essences of people I’d like to capture for all eternity.

This brings me to something that has bothered me lately. Think the thought first started with something along these lines: “Our society is so consumable. We suck things up and spit them out never to use them again.” Have thought using archaelogical techniques to study our cultures would be quite interesting and enlightening. Have read a few articles about that work in the past. That was before computers have become as prevalent and ingrained into our society.

We know about ancient civilizations because their societies created the monumental structures that lasted for millenia. However, we know little about their activities away from these structures. How did the Egyptians who were not working on the palaces or tombs live? What did they do? Of course, such non-monumental structures as ruins of houses have been found, but most people do not care about such things. We are interested in the things that have lasted so long.

We do have monuments to the future with writings on them. Many are covered in the names of our dead killed in hopes that war would be the last one. Of course, we continue to have wars. How long will these monuments last? I hope for centuries. I dream for millenia. I wish for them to never be torn down and for future generations to undertake restoration projects to preserve their history.

This does tie back into my original thoughts. So much of what our society “knows” is in electronic form. We are truly in an Information Age. The information at our fingertips is astounding. The NSA collects more information than is printed in the entire Library of Congress daily. All of the bits stored on electronic media are in tenuous existences. Have you ever had a hard drive, floppy disk, or CD fail? All of that information is gone unless it is backed up somewhere. We intuitively know our locations for all of this information is so easily lost that we maintain innumerable copies “just in case”.

The ancients maybe had to decide just what was important to keep for all time. They could not put everything they knew on their buildings. At one time I thought we probably should design permanent structures on which we would record everything most important to us. They could be kept in locations all over the world in many different languages and added to on a yearly or monthly basis.

The problem with permanency is that it becomes outdated. The way things are now, information become inaccurate sometimes months, days, hours, and even sometimes moments after it is recorded. In order to deal with the speed of change, we have to have mediums which are also easily (and almost effortlessly) changed.

Does this mean nothing should exist for all time (or as long a possible)? Of course not. The trick may be deciding what. What if humans mostly died off (not unlikely considering our activities and values)? What would our successors know about us? They would know tons about our ancestors, but probably little about us.