You Should Be Using Readability

It can be hard to concentrate on anything these days, especially online. Right now I have seven tabs open – which is a pretty slow day. When you read articles, say, on the New York Times website, there are constantly sidebars and popups urging you to read some other article instead – not to mention the ads. So I was thrilled to discover Readability, a free app that lets you get rid of all that noise and display articles in a way that’s comfortable for you to read.

With Readability, you just click a bookmark on your toolbar to see a stripped-down version of the article you want to read. You can adjust the text and background color (I like white letters on charcoal, which theoretically reduces glare), the size, and the width of the columns. You can also save articles to read later on your computer or a mobile device. I learned about Readability from a colleague with low vision, but I think it’s a useful tool for most people, particularly those who, like me, just want to focus on reading one article at a time.

There are two major problems with Readability: one, it doesn’t always display pictures. I’m not sure what’s going on in the code that determines whether pictures will or will not display, and I haven’t conducted any rigorous testing. (My testing so far: verifying that it does display the images on Smitten Kitchen.) But you can always try it, and if you find that a particular article is missing pictures you want to see, you can just go back to viewing it the old-fashioned way.

The second problem is that not all pages display correctly. This seems to be a web design issue. I suspect that websites that adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (and best practice in general) are the ones that are displaying correctly, while sites that use things like frames do not, but that’s just a guess. However, I haven’t run into too many problems with it, and I think we can safely expect it to get even better over time.

Barrier-Free Technology: The Best Idea You’ll See All Day

I work with a gentleman who has low vision – as he described it to me once, all text looks to him like CAPTCHA (the distorted words used to verify that you’re not a robot when you register for websites). Because of the way the staff computers are set up, every time he moves to a different desk, he has to change the display settings and laboriously locate the icon for the magnifying software so that he can enlarge the text enough to make out what it says. It’s a big waste of his time and a good example of the Catch-22 of assistive technology: before you can use it, you have to know about it, find it, install it, and learn how to use it, all without the very technology that would help you to do those things.

Enter Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure, or GPII. GPII is a new technology that will allow computers to adapt to users’ individual needs. If, for example, you need a magnifier, that information is stored on an electronic key. When you use the computers at home, at work, or at the library, they’ll automatically change to present information in the way that’s best for you.

For a person who is blind, a computer might start talking. Or it might suddenly change its interface into a very simple one for someone who is elderly and cannot handle complexity or remember new things from day to day. A person who can’t see small print might be able to shop for a new phone – and have each phone automatically change to its large print mode as the person picks them up (and change back when they set them down). And a television interface could change between complex, simple, and very simple to match the abilities of different users in the family from young children to teens to adults to seniors.

(The Trace Center (2012). Barrier-Free Technology Coming of Age. http://trace.wisc.edu/news/archives/000280.php)

It’s exciting stuff! And, as is often the case, it goes to show that accessible technology helps everyone, not just people with disabilities. We all have a stake in making information available to everyone.

Physical Processing

I’m at the Reference Desk again, working the first of a handful of summer shifts. It’s nice to be back, although I don’t expect it to be very busy – summer classes haven’t started yet and it’s a beautiful Saturday.

On Wednesday I started my new summer job in Physical Processing and Repairs, which I think I’m going to enjoy. It’s nice not to be on a computer all day – although there are a few tasks that require it – and to work with my hands, preparing books for the shelves and (eventually) mending the ones that have been damaged. I spent a very happy morning using an electric eraser to remove pencil marks from books, which was lovely – you can’t always get everything off, and some people, who are selfish almost to the point of solipsism, actually use pen, but it’s quite satisfying nevertheless. Yesterday I started learning to make pam binders – essentially cardboard covers for materials that are small or flimsy, like sheet music or pamphlets (hence the name, I suppose). I got to use glue.

In my spare time, I have been turning into a hippie. First I bit the bullet and got my bike repaired – it needed a full tune-up and a new tire and some other things, unsurprisingly since it’s been in my basement for well over a year – so now I am riding my bike to work. Columbia is hilly, so it’s pretty good exercise. Then I made yogurt, which came out beautifully. I made granola bars, which I have been eating for snacks and crumbling over the yogurt with fresh strawberries from the farmers market. Today I made cinnamon bread, because Josh is going to a conference in St. Louis tomorrow and staying with some friends and needed a hostess gift for them. And last night we did a much-needed big clean, using white vinegar and baking soda for everything. What’s next? Kombucha? Chia seeds? Having a baby and carrying it around in a sling? We’ll see!

Summer Summer Summer!

To an excellent party at my friend Annie’s house last night. It started off slowly, with people sitting around listening to the Flaming Lips, and ended up with everyone dancing, as the best parties do.

We got home sometime after three and went to sleep, and then this morning I woke up at 8:30 and went to the library, thinking I might have been scheduled to work, which I was not. This was okay though, because it meant that I could get to the Farmers’ Market before everything was gone. I bought strawberries and asparagus, a big potted basil plant, and a little potted rosemary plant. Next week I might get one more plant – but what?

I went home and made whole wheat waffles from Simply in Season and had a waffle with fresh strawberries and maple syrup and hot coffee. Then I read Mockingjay for a bit and had a short nap, which was probably a bad idea because I was on a roll.

Now I’m at the library, of course, as always, and it’s surprisingly busy, and after my shift I will go to the tail-end of the Philosophy Picnic. It’s all very summery and exciting.

It’s quiet in here

It’s the last day of finals and the library is quiet. Glancing at the clipboard on which we record the number and type of questions we receive, it looks like there was one lengthy reference question earlier today – maybe someone doing the research for a paper extremely late in the game? Maybe a Hermione type getting a head start on the summer semester? No way to know.

As for me, I’m feeling a bit adrift. Many of my pals are graduating tomorrow and my sister is moving to Baltimore this weekend. Everyone is starting new lives, and I’m glad for them, but I still have comps and two summer classes to get through. I have Monday and Tuesday off – which should be very nice – and then I’m starting my job in physical processing.

It’s been ages since I’ve cooked anything and I’ve completely forgotten how it’s done. How do you plan and shop and cook and sit down to eat? For the last few weeks dinners have been cans of sardines on crackers and chicken and kale quesadillas – I want to start eating like a civilized person but I am not sure how.

A party tonight, and work tomorrow and Sunday, and then a brief rest. I am slowing enough to reflect, but never really stopping.

Naysayery

One of the things Joan Frye Williams said when she spoke at staff day was that when someone proposes an idea, people are all too apt to say “Yes, but…”

  • “We tried that before and it didn’t work.”
  • “There’s no money for that.”
  • “Patrons will hate that.”
  • “The administration will hate that.”
  • “Who’s going to be responsible for that?”
  • “That will never work.”

Instead of saying “Yes, but,” we should be saying “Yes, and…”

  • “It’s time to try again.”
  • “We can find a way to make room in the budget.”
  • “We should do some patron surveys.”
  • “We can get the director on board.”
  • “We can select a committee.”
  • “We can give it a shot.”

Though the latter doesn’t ignore obstacles and challenges, it treats them as though they can be overcome. I was struck by this, and resolved to say “Yes, and…” more in the future.

All of this is a lengthy preamble to my thoughts on this post, in which David Rothman argues that libraries should buy Overdrive (a service that distributes e-books, acting as a mediator between publishers and libraries). How to afford it? Rothman suggests that someone (he mentions Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Ross Perot) give us the money.

Yes, and why would they want to do that? What is in it for them? Okay, that’s not really how philanthropy works, but Rothman is worried that Overdrive will eventually push libraries out of the market; he doesn’t explain why that would be bad for anyone but librarians. It’s very hard for librarians to make objective judgments about the necessity of libraries because our livelihood depends on them. I can’t help but suspect that this concern colors a lot of the discussion of libraries. I know it does for me. I want libraries to exist because I just spent two years getting my library science degree. Are there other reasons that libraries are important? I think so, but  and if there are, we need to sell those reasons to the public and the people with the money. “Libraries should get money because otherwise they will cease to exist” is awfully close to a circular argument.

Contrast

Emptied the book drop bins at the library today. One contained Words for Your Wedding, A World of Ways to Say I Do, and A Wedding Ceremony to Remember. The other contained It’s Not Him, It’s You!, He’s Just Not That Into You, and Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.

I feel like there’s some kind of before-and-after library promo to be found here.

Fancy Evening of Fanciness

Last night Josh and I got dressed up (he in a navy suit, I in a red dress) and drove to St. Louis to see the symphony. They were performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which is evidently my husband’s favorite. My education in this vein ended in elementary school, so I found it difficult to know how best to approach the experience. I watched the musicians, the men in white tie and tails, the women in their various black dresses, and thought about The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, an excellent book from my childhood.

page from The Philharmonic Gets Dressed

After “Rock One,” as Josh called it, they played Beethoven’s fifth symphony, which was easier to follow because it was so much more familiar. I pretended that I was attending with Jeeves (because it’s not really Bertie’s kind of thing, is it?) and somehow that made it much more enjoyable.

After the concert, we went to a late dinner at Taste, one of those rustic, local, organic restaurants. Surprisingly (as that is not really his scene – he is at the absolute square end of the hippie spectrum), it was Josh’s choice. Their specialty seems to be cocktails, which was unfortunate because I don’t drink cocktails and don’t believe they are appropriate with food, anyway. They all had cutesy names like the “Ab-duck-tion,” which involved duck fat-infused Grand Marnier, lavender bitters, pepper, marscapone, and absinthe. Typing that, I actually kind of regret not ordering it because it sounds so bizarre, but also disgusting – cheese in a cocktail?

The food was hearty and simple: Josh had a pork burger, which was very flavorful, with shoestring fries, which were not noticeably different from those at Steak & Shake. I had a beet salad with goat cheese and pistachios, dressed in a tangy vinaigrette, and a lamb ragout served with crispy grilled slices of French bread. It was the first time I have ever gone out to dinner with Josh that they weren’t out of the lamb – it is a longstanding tradition that I order it and then they don’t have it. When the waitress said they had some I was compelled to order it, even though I had already ordered a glass of white wine, which felt very gauche but oh, well.

It was all very tasty, but certainly nothing I couldn’t make at home. I am of two minds about this. On one hand I am inclined to agree with Jennifer Reese (my new favorite food writer) that if I am going to dine out, I want to have things I can’t or won’t cook at home, like sashimi or creme brulee or, I don’t know, tarragon-infused foam. But on the other hand, perhaps dining out is a way to get inspiration for things to do at home – this may be the first of many beet salads now that I have been reminded that I like beets very much. And, unlike Reese, I certainly don’t mind simple desserts in restaurants, because although I could make them myself I never do – I don’t want a 9×12-inch pan of peach crisp, I just want one serving. (We didn’t have dessert at Taste though – nothing really grabbed me.)

I don’t think I’d go back to Taste, but it was a lovely evening, and as we drove home, listening to the Avett Brothers, I was as happy as I’ve been in a very long time.

ASL

My husband and I have been taking an ASL class. Since I’m interested in library services for people with disabilities, it seemed like an obvious choice, but I knew going in that it would be hard for me. Though I’m generally good with languages, I’m not a kinesthetic learner – I’m a word person, and ASL words are not words in the way of other words. Even Chinese was easier because there was pinyin to fall back on; with ASL I try to write little reminders of the signs – “s-hand clockwise,” “wave an L around” but these are not always very informative an hour later. Drawing them would help but it’s hard to draw hands quickly.

The class we’re in is a community class, not an academic course, so it’s designed to be low-pressure and fairly slow. On the first day, our teacher explained that she does teach a course at the university – five credits, with homework and tests and no speaking allowed. “If you want a class with a lot of pressure, that’s the one you want. In this class, we’re here to have fun.” Josh and I shot each other a glance – we instantly wanted the high-pressure class. But this one is okay for now.

If you are learning ASL and want to practice your finger-spelling, I highly recommend this site: asl.ms. It is fun and addictive.