Mapping Revolution

I am sure that I am maybe a decade or more behind in GIS mapping and similar developments, but you have to start somewhere to catch up. Never before did I take mapping as seriously as I do now. Perhaps this is just me, but I see mapping initiatives as the biggest, hottest thing since PAF’s endorsement by the LDS Church back in the 80s. But this has a much prettier interface. I received a newsletter article today that made me stop and re-evaluate my actions from the past week in changing majors. Enough to jump into the new program with both feet.

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BillionGraves is an app that just blew open the door on Internet genealogy. A year old, this company’s development took part of what I want to do and already made it happen. I need to ask them about their API and see what they use. What I want to develop is similar, but this was the first step in its evolution. I am unsure that I can develop the rest of it quickly enough to finish it for my Masters project before I end up having to do something else because it is already done.

Although much tech development has happened in the last 15 years, this is the next level. Bringing the technology to the people for use in practical, every day approaches. Simple user ability, wiki possibilities. I don’t know how to develop this, but this is literally the thing next door. After that, I have no idea what to do for that project. And people say that family history, AKA genealogy is dull. They have never tried it or else they would NEVER say that. The technology alone being developed to make things work faster and better is moving so fast that it is almost impossible to keep up. And I’m writing the book on this process, literally.

I am in-process of switching one of my Masters programs and refining the other to reflect the need that I have for learning to program web apps. Without them, all of the current infrastructure becomes meaningless. Obvious to most of the world by now, web apps are the way that everything moves and getting into development is the obvious solution for anyone who wants a job over the next ten years.

Historians typically have not been programmers. That has to change. Everyone needs programming skills. It is not an option unless you want to farm away creative control and/or design elements and the guts of the thing to a developer who often does not have the background. Why historians do not normally learn programming is the sheer math involved. I had enough with being scared. I have apps to make and Masters degrees to hope is not out of date by the time I graduate from the program.

Time to play,

The GenealogyDr

Interactivity and Accessibility for Libraries, Archives, and Genealogical Repositories in Web 2.0 Age

Reaction from reading Gerencser’s article for my Digital Media class conjoined with opinions developed from my Reference and Online Services class.

Customer service in libraries and archives for a Web 2.0 audience is vastly different from how librarians see themselves. Librarians see themselves as information interpreters beyond technical service catalogers. It is also different from how the public may see them as well. That impression would be “shushers,” and people who used to be applicable and are unfriendly bastions of the old guard, unfortunately less knowledgeable about the resources and needs of the student or faculty member than preferred.

The stereotypes of Marian the Librarian sans Dr. Harold Hill are alive and well. If repositories were always open when a user needed it, archivists would never sleep. However, pure customer service is about the needs of the patron beyond the needs of the archivist. I do not know of any archivist who goes into the field thinking that they will be staying up until 3AM to help a patron, but I have never asked about this question and will do so. Digitizing collections allows the patron to be up until 3AM and allows the archivist a family life and sleep. It is best customer service practice to help their patrons by increasing accessibility to collections and hence, digitizing.

Paper lasts a long time. Pardon the vagueness of that statement. Paper content varies from papyrus to rice paper to parchment and sheepskin through acidic based cheap 20 lb. weight copy paper to acid free preservation quality and vellum with other possibilities. With few exceptions, paper lasts longer than digital content pertaining to the evolution of the hardware involved. It seems a contradiction in terms, then, to want to digitize items to “save them from extinction.” Digital content lasts maybe five years if a person is lucky.

The idea is that customer service in archives for the 21st century is about increasing access in whatever way allows the archives to be useful, fresh, and brings collections to the people- the balance between preservation and open shelving. I am not an expert on Mendel’s genetic theories, but I heard that he sent copies of his work to other scholars. He did not wait for celebrity status or for publication. Instead, he spread his work out beyond his monastery. Succeeding abbot burned his work, and if there was only one copy, no one would know that he was the first to write about how two peas in a pod literally can change the world.

Although digitization does not necessarily achieve true preservation, spreading the ideas or documentary notes and giving people the ability to know more and to use what is available is the best way to allow for material access without destruction. Highlighting such access is the marketing trend. Making documents keyword OCR and metadata searchable is crucial, and allowing for the material to have annotative qualities at the same time. Having a simple, friendly, stream-lined user interface where patrons or users find their content without extreme issues in searching is most important.

If a library, archive, or similar repository (or historical society) does not have a web presence with some sort of interesting local content or a good database with family surname index searches available, then their existence is in jeopardy. The point of a historical society is not preserving old ephemera, but interpretation of such collections or documents by the populace.

I will admit that not everyone is interested in history or wants to think. There are famous quotes about those who are not interested in history being doomed to repeat it, but what if the history is good? Scandal is the thing that usually interests people, but having a good name is equally as important. In the end, it what is learned from the life experiences of the  person or people in question that matter. Material culture helps people remember and assists with making events more real than simple stories.

When your collection does not matter to people, you may as well not have it. How does it matter, or better yet, how can interpreters and directors make it matter when no one knows about it? Advertise. Social media is the simplest and cheapest way of getting word out and it directly hits the hardest demographic to reach for historians: the 18-35 demographic.

Collections should contribute to stories. There needs to be back up documentation, but the stories and their reality is what makes the object important in the first place. Contextual learning and handling is also important. History is old and dreary unless it contains elements of connective realism staring people in the face.

Survival

I have no idea what my associates think of me. May change dependent upon the time of day, hour, or mood. Many of them are exquisitely kind, thoughtful, temperate people who make life much easier for the people around them. They are gems and jewels and I am grateful for their associations in my life. I am learning more concerning perspective and how much I need to change, or perhaps how much I need to slow down and focus on being a better human versus on loading my schedule.

My life this semester has been an experience in patience and endurance on everyone’s parts. I am too stressed, doing too much, and need to cut back to only running as fast as I have strength. Nine credits per semester besides work and Church commitments is too much. I can’t cut back on work. I need to live.  I am trying to get a second job to make sure that I can live. According to my AGI for 2011, I live on less than half-way below the poverty line for a single adult. I am no one’s dependent and no one claims me. This needs to change to being self-reliant concerning paying bills and getting myself out of debt.

Cutting back Church is not an option for me. I refuse. I may change things up a little, but Church keeps me saner than less so. I have plenty of commitments, especially concerning time when it comes to Church. It is hard to be an active Church member and be in grad school, but there is nothing more worth it for my life.

School, I should be taking six credits. Financial aid being what it was this semester, and me not having the proper code, it’s been a fiasco. I need my schools to have colloquium agreements and if not, I’m doomed. Or else I need the right code, and for people to invest the time and needed resources to help me get my dreams done. I am doing things that very few people have ever attempted, literally. Being called crazy is normal for me these days. No one else that I know is trying to do two Masters degrees at the same time. It does not make me “better” whatsoever. It means that I have to work literally as hard as I can. That said, I’m trying to avoid burnout. With only two weeks to go after this one, that feels nearly impossible. At least two of the older classmates (meaning further along in the program- I assume that both are chronologically younger than me), have both said that this is the part of the semester that either makes you or breaks you and that it’s the hardest part. I can see why. The stress involved in tantamount to what I’ve heard about the pain associated with an epidural. Since I’ve never had a kid, never been in that condition, and have no close relatives to rely upon to enforce this information, I will readily take this information on faith. No personal evidence needed, thank you.

Otherwise, life this semester has been a mix of a comedy of errors, some highlights, and some old-fashioned pain. A lot of people have had much patience and endurance when it came to dealing with me and I try to reciprocate the virtues. Life before Spring Break doesn’t actually come to mind that much except for the cold, late-night talks with friends, and needing to be out of the previous place. So much has happened since then that it’s a bit of a blur. I had better amenities in some cases, but it was not happy. I was in a safer neighborhood, had furniture, a washer and dryer in my apartment, and a really pretty and talented Branch with whom to attend Church.

Now, I use a laundromat, and some guy got beat up in the alley behind my apartment. I was too scared to call the cops but someone else did and it stopped, thank heavens. There are less amenities here although the El is closer. School is somewhat the same. Work is work. I am more open than I was in my last apartment. This apartment, despite its lack of furniture, or dishwasher, is a good space and the ward is full of genuine people who are trying so hard to do what is right. There is a feeling where outward appearance isn’t nearly as important. Beauty radiates in these people when you give them a chance. Superficiality is not common. No one’s telling me to get married. They see me for me, see what I can do, and I don’t feel compared here. I’m useful and I can get things done. That’s what is important to me. I can help serve, and that is how I worship.

This semester, I moved, had bed bugs (sprayed, washed, and killed those critters; not contagious etc.), there was the guy in the alley which really scared me, my real estate agent tried to pick me up, I’ve been transitioning at Church and trying to figure out where I fit, and nearly feel like I’m living in a Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times,” and so the lines continue on. I’ve figured out what I want to do with my Masters programs, and so long as I get permission, approval, or whatnot, I’ll be employable by the end of BOTH Master’s programs and not just the one. Although technically I’ll be competing with my classmates in the workplace, my skill set will be different as I compete for other jobs- maybe even doing other things. My life is on a different path. The school is the right place to be and I have learned an incredible amount just from starting out.

I will admit that I know nothing about what I am getting myself into. It may be a lot harder than where I am now. That said, and considering my current load, I may biff it. I may full-out die, but I may finally find where I belong and SOAR! The program is new. That said, I am uncertain whether it is full of people from a completely different department or not. I want things to work out somewhere. Love the campus, love the possibilities, hate internal politicking. Merit should be a basis for something, and I have ideas and thoughts that do not meld with my present program. The next four years (which is about how long this program may take me, even though it’s a Masters degree) may be utter foolishness, but somehow I don’t quite think so. My friend circle will change, sure. But along with it, I’ll finally know techs again. The people who come up with the craziest, most amazing things ever. The people who change the world with a period. I want to be a person who can literally follow my dream from more than a decade ago where I do something to do with the Internet and genealogy.

I was talking to my Dad when I was a Sophomore or a Junior in high school and he made me choose what I wanted to be. It was a steep conversation, starting out with, “What do you want to be?” I was not as passionate, fiery, and driven as I am now, and had a mind-boggled response of, “I have no idea.” I was actually a little annoyed that he thought that I could know what I wanted to do when I was only 16. It was the rest of my life we were talking about! He repeated the phrase and I gave him a similar answer. Finally, he tried a different and better tack. He said, “What don’t you want to do?” I looked at him like he was crazy in a very teenager way, more like an annoyed scowl and asked him what he meant. He asked me if I wanted to be a construction worker. I mentioned that construction workers weren’t women excepting in extremely rare cases. (And I have utmost respect for female construction workers. I just don’t want to do that sort of work.) And so I answered in the negative, and he said, “Okay. So you know one thing that you don’t want to do.” A little light bulb moment happened then. I started narrowing off things that I didn’t want to do. Good start, but not enough.

Finally, he said, “If you could do anything that you want to do, in your secret heart of hearts, whether or not it makes money, what would you do?” I answered him with: ” I’d mix genealogy and the Internet.” This was either the year that Ancestry started or within a year of it. I had no idea of this at the time. My Dad and I looked up what classes would get me to Internet things at one school, and I’d have to get into grad school (at the time) to make that happen. Six years of school before I got a chance to try to work on what I wanted to do? I could do it.

Turns out that about …not sure how many years or months later it was, but I was accepted to a particular school and I felt like I should look over their majors, one by one on an afternoon before school began. Strange thoughts, but I sat down at the computer and started looking at the list. Didn’t look at course descriptions, just kept going major by major. Was getting bored in the B’s, but kept going and going. E’s were very tiring. Finally got to F’s and boom- Family History. “You can major in that?” (That phrase has been spoken to me more often that I ever care to repeat since then.) Yes, you can. And you can do some pretty neat things once you learn the basics. And so began my quest into Family History and the Internet. I already have that background and training. I feel badly for railing on people who don’t have the training in a previous post. I want anyone interested to work on it, hobbyist or whomever. It is good and noble and there is a dirth of information provided for people to learn more than basic essentials, but since so much of it concerns practical experience and application anyway, it’s worth the hassles.

I needed to go back to school years later, even though I graduated after an extensively long undergraduate degree process. Granted, I took four years off during the process, but again, my path is unusual, and there’s been a lot of life in between. Another four years off afterwards, and then time for grad school. Dual program was right for me. Or at least the structure and concept therein. I came to one of the schools and my soul lit up. Went to the other school, and I loved the school physically, but when praying about the program got a blank. Nothing one way or another. After reading over the descriptions for the courses for the new program, I feel the same lighting up as I did when registering for the first school. It’s right. Not sure how to finance it, but I like following what feels right. It gets me where I need to be and good things happen. That, and with the path that I took to get here, I’m not sure that I’d have made it otherwise.

I’m smart, but my grades in undergrad had a circuitous path which followed the way that my life went for a while. Mission, death, more death, cancer, friend’s rapes, things that change perspective and give the emotional depth that lends empathy to situations but also scars the soul. Things where a person learns how to deal and how to be patient when the world is going crazy and there’s no one that knows or that comforts besides faith in God. For me, it’s not a relative process.

I do not want any animosity implied or expressed about my current program. The new program feels like a better fit and I can grow there in ways that I need. I still have my contacts from classes. A new program is a little scary. I figured that I’d be in this program for the course of time, and I may still be, dependent upon what the rulers of my coursework say. I am also afraid that the new group will not accept me as I am a transfer from another program, and their present emphasis is English-based although they advertise that they accept any humanities course background. There are many conversations about to take place and although I am nervous, it feels more like Christmas than like anticipating a dreadful, fearful thing.

All of this synthesizes in this post in the midst of finals, my roommate’s significant other having an ER visit, and my heart being broken akin first to a splattered egg and then in a resounding and devastating drop during the last few weeks of the semester. I need fewer distractions, but chances to play when needed. Craving balance in my life akin to marked dehydration and water fountains. Enough anxiety abounds that I am loading up on fruit snacks and vitamin C trying to fight off an on-coming stress cold. I am teaching a Church lesson for the ward at the end of the month, but that’s as prepared as I can get it for right now. Fifth Sunday combined lesson on family history. There’s more, but this is plenty for public viewing. I am braced, although calm. Looking forward to the future while trimming weeds now.

Onward and upward, and back to the genealogical side of life runs

The GenealogyDr