Thursday, August 16, 2007

Who Will Be Your New iSchool Mascot?

In my last posting, I made a plea for an Information School mascot. The current UW team nickname just does not cut it. I will admit that the sled dog metaphor works on a few levels: (1) a Husky can "sniff" out the best information available, (2) Huskies are efficient, hard-working creatures who know how to traverse across a icy cold, treacherous world of information, and (3) Huskies have wet noses. Okay, the last one doesn't make sense, but hopefully you can see that having a dog mascot presents a rudimentary picture of our discipline - only being focused on information retrieval. "Here, boy! Fetch! Good dog!" When, in fact, the Information School is multi-dimensional...we are finders, organizers, catalogers, collectors, cultural shapers, weeders, and patron-pleasers (not loyal to the extreme of actually licking people). Enough dog jokes already. Here are some suggestions for the new face of the iSchool:

  • AAC-R2: Transcribes titles properly, tags physical descriptions, and provides a variety of access points - what can't this robot do? Lacking in communication skills ("beeps" and "boops") unless working in tandem with another droid. Infringes on two copyrights. Often seen roaming Tatooine with the FRBR monster.
  • Bookie: An "urban" book-shaped character who dons a backwards ballcap and a golden interlibrary loan sleeve. Popular taglines are "Leave the shelvin' to me, bro!" and "Dewey is wack, yo!" Contrary to what you might think, Bookie is not down with gambling, unless you're just reading about it.
  • Meta the Fighting Beta Fish: Ruthless in protecting library collections, but prefers to work alone like most catalogers and archivists. He has a somewhat isolated worldview. For instance, he doesn't see a problem with "Astral Travel" being physically located next to "Asian Travel."
  • Biblio: A nondescript blob of information. No one knows for sure if he is a work, an expression, a manifestation, or an item. No one even knows if he is a she. Cousin of Izzy, the Atlanta 1996 Olympics mascot.

Some links to actual library mascots:

I'm naming all my future children after them!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The iSchool Needs a Mascot!

As a former University of Oregon Duck, I have no love for Huskies. When the University of Washington basketball team visited MacArthur Court in Eugene during my undergrad years, I enjoyed heckling the players. I prayed for missed free throws, airballs, and turnovers and I cheered wildly when they happened. I thought that the purple and gold uniforms were the ugliest things I've ever seen. I felt a sort of pity for the Oregon State and Washington State teams, because their athletic programs did not attract as much funding or blue-chip recruits. But I hated the Huskies. I even went so far as to revel in the professional failures of Jerramy Stevens, Cody Pickett, and Marques Tuiasosopo, long after their graduation from UW.

Now, as a graduate student at the UW Information School, my hatred has cooled considerably. But I still have trouble identifying with a sled dog as a mascot. According to, the name was adopted because of Seattle's proximity to Alaska. Apparently the committee that voted on the nickname in 1922 was not aware that it's a 1,832-mile drive to Juneau (which would probably take at least 3 days on gravel mountain roads in a Studebaker). Apart from this geographic oversight, I don't understand why a domesticated dog with fluffy white fur got the nod over Wolves, Vikings, and Tyees...unless they were ranking them in terms of "most likely to cuddle." Perhaps the results would have been different if they had considered "hunting ability" and "most difficult to housebreak."

Now I'm not suggesting that we should wipe away 85 years of Husky tradition. I'm thinking small-scale. Maybe we should look at branding the Information School with a character that corresponds with our values and represents library culture. And not just a nerdier form of a Husky, like Michigan Tech's own Blizzard T. Husky. We need someone or something that says, "information is king and we know how to collect it, organize it, and retrieve it" and also implies some sort of hipness that can only be ordained by the New York Times. I have some interesting ideas and I'd like to hear yours!

But first, I'd like to present some unique college nicknames. Yes, these are real. And hopefully they will inspire you to dream of bigger and brighter mascots.
  • Colonel Ebirt (College of William and Mary) - That's "Tribe" spelled backwards!
  • Wally Wabash (Wabash College) - Nothing gets a team fired up more than an out-of-work painter.
  • Gorlok (Webster University) - The explanation is lamer than you think.
  • Penmen (Southern New Hampshire University) - Finally we can put this issue to rest...the sword is mightier.
  • Hardrockers (South Dakota School of Mines) - This name just barely beat out Rhyolite Raiders.
  • Ladies and Gents (Centenary College of Louisiana) - Intimidation with an emphasis on politeness.
  • Eutectic (St. Louis College of Pharmacy) - As if being a mad scientist gremlin wasn't enough, he also symbolizes a chemical process.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Raise The Roof!

In case you haven't noticed, Seattle libraries have undergone a makeover in the past few years. You can thank Seattle voters for these upgrades, when the "Libraries for All" bond measure passed in 1998. Which somewhat restores my faith in the initiative process, given that citizens have passed six measures sponsored by Tim Eyman and...I don't even want to talk about the monorail debacle.

With a lean towards user-centered design, energy savings and sustainability, the new libraries are very stylish. SPL's Central Branch has become one of the city's top attractions due to its unique architectural features - large criss-crossed windows, glowing neon escalators, an entirely red floor, the spiral stacks, modern art installations, and a spectacular view from the 10th floor. Not to mention over a million items spread over 362,987 square feet. But can you guess which branch is the second-largest in the SPL system? Technically, it's the Douglass-Truth branch, which re-opened in 2006 to cover 16,493 square feet.

However, I'm obliged to give the nod in square footage to the Ballard branch. The library has 15,000 square feet, but the building also includes a 3,100-square-foot Neighborhood Service Center. And on top of it all (no pun intended) is a "green" roof that helps insulate the building (keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter). Four inches of soil are stacked upon a layer of coconut fiber and the roof is home to 16 plant varieties. One benefit of the Northwest climate: these plants rarely need to be watered. Scattered throughout the vegetation are several dome-shaped skylights, which provide natural sunlight and reduce electricity costs. And what green roof is not complete without solar panels? I didn't ask how much energy they supply. I suppose it depends on the cloud cover.

When I toured the library last Saturday, the grass had been cut extremely short and it was mostly brown. Not the lush green roof I imagined before my visit, but I realize its function is not to impress visitors. The inside of the library feels very spacious due to the high slanted ceiling. It is loosely divided into different sections: a reading area (located next to computer desks), a quiet area (surrounded by glass walls), a teen area, a children's area, two study rooms, and a conference room. Hanging from the ceiling are four LED monitors - art pieces that light up due to weather instrument readings on the green roof. Outside the library are chairs that were cut and bent from a single piece of metal.

If the architecture looks familiar, you've probably seen other creations of Bohlin, Cywinski, Jackson in the Seattle area. The architecture firm is responsible for the design of Seattle City Hall, the UW School of Fisheries, and the Issaquah Public Library. Even Bill Gates' house in Medina was partially designed by BSJ. Ironic, considering that the firm used Macintosh software to map out blueprints, and it has also designed 10 Apple stores around the world.

Tours of the Ballard Public Library are available every Saturday starting at 10:30 am. Check it out. Or better yet, check out a movie from the sizable DVD collection.

Friday, August 3, 2007

SPL Welcome Desk Trivia

Since the end of May, I've been volunteering at the Seattle Public Library (Central) Welcome Desk. Summer has brought a heavy flow of tourists as well as natives craving books and air-conditioning. Sometimes people just want to chat about politics or weather. Sometimes they want to know where to make photocopies or get lunch...and sometimes they want to alert me that there is a dying tree in the front of the library.
While my reference skills are largely untested (I have no computer or phone to do any research), I am the first person to make contact with many visitors and patrons. I am that friendly face that welcomes them and steers them to the right place. And frankly, SPL Central has a pretty confusing layout. So it's important to have someone directing people up escalators and elevators. However, during the course of my shift, I get a lot of unusual inquiries.
Here are three of the most interesting questions from patrons thus far, along with my real answers and potential answers:

1. "Is it pretty safe here? Could someone just walk in with a bomb?"

What I said: Well, technically, someone could walk in with a bomb. We don't have a metal detector or anything like that. But we do have security guards constantly roaming the library looking for suspicious activity...and plenty of security cameras.

What I should have said: The building is bomb-proof. Architect Rem Koolhaas used Danish-grade steel that will naturally absorb any forces and fragments from bombs up to two kilotons.

2. "Do I need to check out my book on the computer first? Or do I need to get the book first and then check it out on the computer?"

What I said: You need to go find your book first and then find a checkout station.

What I should have said: Whoah, slow down. Please state your information need clearly and concisely.

3. "I'm trying to decide on an ending to the book I'm writing (that will probably be made into a movie). So basically it's the story of me growing up in Los Angeles, and my rise from small-time drug dealer to the head of a major marijuana-growing operation. Naturally there is a lot of gang-related violence and gun battles with police. Near the end of the my story, ten members of my gang surround the DEA building with bazookas and blow it to pieces. But I'm not sure if my character should flee to Mexico for good or come back and use his drug money to help his community. What do you think? Also do you know anyone who works in Hollywood?"

What I said: Do you think it would be realistic for your character to come back to the U.S. after being pursued ruthlessly by the feds?

What I should have said: Your story has a lot of holes. And bazookas are not necessarily going to put people in the seats. Unless it's produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and/or it involves Optimus Prime.