Monday, September 20, 2010

Charlie and the Trade Secret Factory

Once upon a time, there lived a man named Willy Wonka. He built a biiig candy factory, but he ran into a problem. Namely, the other mean candy makers kept trying to steal his candy recipes. Now, sometimes Mr. Wonka looked like this:

like this:and like this:
But no matter what Wonka looked like, there was always one constant. And I'm sure you all know what it is, right? Top hats! Okay, two constants. His business model was always based on his intellectual property decisions. When other candy makers started stealing Wonka's recipes, why didn't he take it to the courts? Why didn't he sue them instead of investing in oompa loompas to prevent industrial espionage? Because he couldn't.

When a person invents something, they have two options as to how to protect it. The first is to get a patent. You get a lawyer or a patent agent, fill out some paperwork, and send it in to the government. If the government decides to grant your patent, yay! For most types of patents, you get twenty years of protection, meaning that any time someone tries to steal your invention, you can drag their sorry behind into court. But then, when that twenty years is up, no more protection. Anyone can do anything they want with your invention. That's why there's always a gap between when a prescription drug comes out and when the generic version becomes available. It's a trade off: guaranteed protection for a certain length of time, but you have to make the information public, which means it's free for use when your time is up.

But if twenty years doesn't seem like long enough, and you don't like the idea of making the information behind your unique invention public, you go the Willy Wonka hire-a-bunch-of-oompa-loompas-and-feed-them-nothing-but-chocolate-so-they-never-leave-the-factory-and-no-one-can-steal-your-secrets route. Otherwise known as the trade secret. If you look up how to make Thomas' English Muffin nooks and crannies or the exact blend of spices in Old Bay on the US Patent and Trademark Office website, you won't find them. Those companies don't want anyone to be able to reproduce their special products. Ever. They don't have to worry about people making legal generics and knock-offs in twenty years. But they do not get government protection. This makes them vulnerable. This is how Slugworth could steal the secrets of Wonka's candy and reproduce it without fear of reprisal. How do you choose which to do? It's six of one, half dozen of the other. Guaranteed protection for a limited time or keep it proprietary and risk theft of your idea.

Now, admittedly, Willy Wonka lived in England (or quite possibly Wales, as Roald Dahl was Welsh), and the patent laws are different there. But that's beside the point. And the point is...well, there wasn't really one. Other than these are the kinds of connections my brain makes, whether I really want it to or not. Isn't it amazing the things that children's books can teach us? Well, that's it for today's educational segment.

(Editorial note: I have been informed by my mother, who knows much more about patents than I do, that you can technically sue someone over a trade secret. The tricky part is keeping the trade secret secret during the trial. All in all, if you're going that route, it's best to stick with the oompa loompas, if you ask me.)

Live long and prosper!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Check out Life at the Lilly!

Hey everyone! This is your friendly neighborhood library science student here! So, I'm doing an internship at the Lilly Library this fall. As part of our internships, we're required to keep a journal on what we're doing and what we're learning, and we're allowed to keep them as blogs. So, that's what I'm doing. If anyone has the desire to follow yet another blog, please check it out: Life at the Lilly.

Otherwise, I hope that everyone has a fantastic Labor Day weekend!

Monday, July 12, 2010

How to Recognize a Library Science Student II: Attack of the Clones

Well, your friendly neighborhood library science student is back, with another list of ways to identify library science students outside their natural habitat (this, of course, being the library or class). Enjoy, but use these with caution. Taken individually, they might (for the most part) apply simply to extremely nerdy people. So, just because you hear people laughing about LARPing does not mean that you should go ask them how library school is. You have been warned.

5) LARPing becomes a euphemism.
Somehow, during a conversation at my apartment, the topic of LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) came up. Well, I guess we decided that LARP sounded much more inappropriate than it actually is, so for the rest of the evening, sentences like "A whole group of people LARPed all over campus when I was in undergrad" became hysterically funny.

6) Their first reaction on seeing a book is "how would I catalog/index this?"
I have heard tell that a fellow student of mine, upon picking up a copy of the Bible, in a church, while waiting for a wedding to start, began to wonder how he would catalog it. I also must confess that, since starting my Indexing class, I have taken to looking at my non-fiction collection and wondering what the forms of knowledge and topics are. What this obviously means is that library science school gets into your head and slowly starts to warp your worldview. And once that's happened, you can never go back.

7) When they come across a disturbing passage in an old book about parents fondling their children, their reaction is to wonder if the word meant something different back then.
I had sent a friend of mine an Awful Library Books post about a book on marriage from 1953, and naturally he went and found the full text online. While perusing this book, he came across a sentence about how teenagers aren't ready for the "caresses of marriage" but are too old to be fondled by their parents. He shared this with me and after being profoundly disturbed, his next reaction was to wonder if fondle meant something different back then. Well, I ended up pulling out my dictionary and finding the following definition, labeled as obsolete: "To treat with indulgence and solicitude; pamper." That made us feel better. Slightly. Because that definition still doesn't seem to work in context. But, hey, we tried.

8) They will find the line "It's like Boolean logic!" extremely funny.
While watching the final of the World Cup, a group of us began an ill-fated conversation that I choose not to recount because I enjoy my sanity. I will say that it was about two things such that A is always a kind of B, but B is not always a kind of A. As I said to them, it's like squares and rectangles. Well, one of my companions carried it further by replying that it's like Boolean logic. And then we all laughed hysterically. So, actually, I guess that story is just a whole bunch of nerd-tastic moments rolled into one.

If anyone has any other methods of identification from their own personal experience, please don't hesitate to share!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Misconceptions of Librarianship

I was visiting my mother's family for the Fourth this weekend, and I was able to catch up with relatives I have not seen in years. At one point, I was describing library school to one of my mom's cousins, and he asked what kind of job I hoped to get. I explained to him how I want to do reference, but that I also really want to get into information literacy and instruction, helping undergrads learn how to use resources and information effectively. He thought it was cool that my experience of not having good information instruction in undergrad made me want to be able to give that to other students. He also commented that it meant that I'd be more than a librarian if I did that. It brought to mind something I have been wondering about and wrestling with since before I started school here at SLIS: what, exactly, is a librarian?

Well, because I'm a nerd, I naturally turn to the dictionary. This is the definition I found in my American Heritage College Dictionary:
Librarian n. A specialist in library work
I find that definition profoundly unsatisfying, because it begs the question of what constitutes "library work." I would be willing to bet if you asked twenty different SLIS students what a librarian is, or what library work is, you would get twenty different answers. And we like to complain that the public harbors misconceptions about what librarians do, such as the thought expressed by my mother's cousin. But if we, the actual librarians, cannot even define what we are, how on earth do we expect to educate the public about ourselves?

For many people, a librarian is the person who helps them check out books when they go to the public library. That puts us in a bit of an awkward position, because that is not what most people who call themselves librarians do. It's certainly not what I plan on doing. I have friends here who want to curate rare books collections, work in archives, help create digital libraries and repositories, and so much more. I don't even know how many of us will end up with the word "librarian" in our job titles. And I think that it is the public conception of what a "librarian" is that is leading the profession to come up with a large pool of other job titles. But does "information specialist," "archivist," or "manuscripts curator," really mean that much more to people outside the profession? Not really.

A major topic of conversation these days, particularly with this economy and the widespread use of the Internet (which can apparently tell everyone anything the need to know), is how to justify the existence of libraries and other similar institutions, how to make our work seem relevant and useful. I think that we need to begin by demystifying who we are and what we do for the public. But to do that we need to figure that out for ourselves. We cannot continue with simply defining ourselves by what we are not. Public libraries aren't day care centers and law libraries are not places to pick up future husbands. Well that's lovely. So what are we? Only once we can answer that question are we going to find ourselves gaining the respect and support that we would like from the public.

Friday, July 2, 2010


So a couple of months ago, a part time job at my church found me. Yes, you read that right. I was in the right place at the right time and knew the right people. It's a slightly new twist on the work I've done before in the church and a most welcome way to pass time while waiting for a permanent job. (side note--social studies teacher looking for a full time teaching position. MD certification grade 7-12, available to start work August 1.)

Anyway...what I've found in all my time working in parishes is that there is this dual experience of reality, or at least there is for me. There's the clinical "what's next, where are the people, is everything going the way it's supposed to go" detail-oriented mentality, and then there's the realization that real people are experiencing real things, like birth, marriage, and death.

And death is the real kicker. What I'd been told the last time I worked in the Roman Catholic church was that funerals sort of follow a feast-or-famine pattern. In the church where I grew up (which is a very large parish), you might go three weeks without having a funeral come in followed by weeks of 8 funerals. The same is true in the rural parish where I currently worship, although on a much smaller scale. And we're in a busy period now. There were two funerals at the end of last week, and another one came in yesterday (scheduled for next week).

Too often, we forget what really matters and instead get caught up in stupid stuff. Case in point: office drama broke out mid-morning last Monday. And it was DRAMA. There ultimately was a staff meeting to sort everything out. But that's another story that I won't tell here. But here's the back story. A person who is (and whose large family is) well-known and loved in our parish passed away on June 19 after being sick for some time. On June 18, our beloved Padre met with a different family about a memorial service for a different parishoner. The funeral was scheduled for Friday the 25th, the memorial service for Saturday the 26th. And 45 minutes before the widow is due in to the office to plan the Friday funeral, the drama breaks out. Padre's response was one of the greatest lines I've probably ever heard:

"I've got dead people. Which means I need to be doing priestly things. I don't have time for this [this being the drama]."

Padre calls them like he sees them. But there's a more profound truth behind this comment. At that moment, families were grieving as the rest of us were confronted with another reminder of our own mortality. Meanwhile, some individuals were more worried about who said what to whom.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. Another important thing I've learned about parish work is that some days are ordinary. Others, however, are not. And yesterday was one of the latter. Within 10 minutes of Padre and I sitting down at our respective desks, Padre in a slightly anxious tone asked me to get checks for him to sign. He was listening to his police scanner and heard a call that meant that he might have to run against the clock to the hospital. Sadly, though, this parishoner's funeral is Wednesday in our mission church in Rock Hall. I won't go into detail about this case, but it was surreal listening to it play out on the scanner and really contemplating this reality. I was reminded of something another boss of mine at a different job said when one of our coworkers there passed away very suddenly in February:

"Tomorrow isn't guaranteed for anyone, and no one gets out of this alive."

And that's the reality. In the Bible, the psalmist writes, "Seventy is the sum or our years, or eighty, if we are strong." That's basically the bottom line. We've got a short time here. Is it worth it worrying excessively about who said what to whom? The rest of that verse (Psalm 90:10) reads: "Most of them are sorrow and toil; they pass quickly, we are all but gone." Certainly not the most optimistic perspective, but just as certainly on the money on many levels. Yes, life is filled with struggles and trials, but how many of these trials are our own creation? And how much of this is due to our own (narrow) perspective? Do we really have time for them, or is Padre the only one who doesn't?

So it seems we have two choices. Get stuck in the mire of who said what to whom, or realize that some people's numbers are up, others have bigger fish to fry, and time flies whether you're having fun or not.

And maybe that's the difference between seventy and eighty.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How to Recognize a Library Science Student...

So, in all the time since graduation last spring, I have not talked at all about what I am doing, now that I have my B.A. in History. So what am I doing? I am in library science school. And I can tell you that library science students are a unique breed. But how can you tell when you've invited a library science student over to your house? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1) They comment on the organization of your movie/book collection.
There have been quite a few times where one of the first comments from my guests has been, "So, you alphabetize your movie collection." This then leads to a discussion of the relative merits of different organizational schemes, possibly followed by shifting the conversation to the organization of my bookshelves.

2) They will offer to lend you any books or movies that they own.
This might be more common when you visit the apartment/house of a library science student, but let's face it. We like sharing our books and movies. The evening isn't complete unless they've offered to lend you at least one thing.

3) If you ask them a question they can't answer, the reply will be "Why don't you try Ask A Librarian?"
Here at IU, we have an online reference feature called Ask a Librarian, where you can have a live chat with a reference librarian. It seems that library science students enjoy coming up with special questions to pose to the poor librarian on the other end.

4) If they invent a serial killer, this serial killer will choose his/her victims alphabetically.
Naturally, when you and your friends get together, you will do fun things like making up a serial killer, simply because someone has decided that Silent Angy sounds like a good name for a serial killer. Well, when this happens, your library science students will decide that said serial killer will kill alphabetically by first name. It will then take them half an hour to realize the irony of this.

None of these are foolproof, of course, but they should give you a good start toward recognizing all those future librarians in your life.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Score One for the Humanities

An op-ed in today's New York Times argues why it is important to study the humanities in college. Makes me a tiny bit proud to have a degree in a humanities field, and I agree with the points he makes.
To whet your appetite:
"Studying the humanities improves your ability to read and write. No matter what you do in life, you will have a huge advantage if you can read a paragraph and discern its meaning (a rarer talent than you might suppose). You will have enormous power if you are the person in the office who can write a clear and concise memo.
"Studying the humanities will give you a familiarity with the language of emotion. In an information economy, many people have the ability to produce a technical innovation: a new MP3 player. Very few people have the ability to create a great brand: the iPod....
"Studying the humanities will give you a wealth of analogies. People think by comparison--Iraq is either like Vietnam or Bosnia; your boss is like Narcissus or Solon. People who have a wealth of analogies in their minds can think more precisely than those with few analogies. If you go through college without reading Thucydides, Herodotus and gibbon, you'll have been cheated out of a great repertoire of comparisons.
"Finally, and most importantly, studying the humanities helps you befriend The Big Shaggy."