Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ambiguous Language

Language by its very nature is limiting.  It is a symbolic representation of thought. The job of a librarian is to organize the chaos of information.  I like to make fun of imprecise language.  I saw a sign for an event that said, “Limited seating.” The creator of the sign wants the readers to sign up right away.  He wants to fill the venue.  What does “limited” mean? It could mean the size of the seats is limited.

I checked and found the width of economy airline seats are between 17” and18”.  Train seats are about 20” and the desk chair I am sitting in while writing this blog is 24” Every chair is limited, but how does this limitation work?  A person with a 32” waist has about a 12 inch diameter, leaving about 5” of wiggle room.  I doubt the sign creator wants the readers to even care about size of the seats.  The limitation must be the number of seats in the venue.  Since every venue has a finite number of seats and space, they are limited.  So—what does “limited” mean in this context?  If the venue is a sports stadium there could be 50, 60, or 70 thousand seats.  If you wanted to go to a big game, the venue could be sold out. If you wanted season tickets, there could be none available. Is 70,000 a limited seating place?  “Yes!”  I doubt the event in the above sign has 70,000 seats available in the venue. I doubt 1000 seats are available.

What if a theatrical play had a limited run of two weeks?  The limitation could be based on contractual agreements to be in several cities.  The run in one city could not be extended because the production needs to move to the next place.  If the play had an open run has seating unlimited by a planned end date. The open run will continue as long as they can make money and fill the theater.  But it still would be limited by the laws of time and space. They could not schedule more performances in a day than can be fit into 24 hours. The play could be sold out one night and have plenty of empty seats the next.  Everything has limits.  Perhaps the sign creator could have conveyed the message more precisely by stating, “seating limited to the first 125 reservations?” That would tell the reader to make a reservation quickly to avoid disappointment and tell them they could not bring 126 friends.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Durable Goods -- II

Two weeks ago I had to replace my microwave oven. The old one served me well and the outside still looked new. The electronics, which had been warning me for two months, finally gave out.  It is hard to say good bye to my machines.  If you read my columns in March 2013 and December 2010 I said good bye to my blender and mixer.  In November I had to replace my garage door opener and last week I replaced a kitchen light fixture.

Microwave from 1999
It is not so much that I hate new things; it is just difficult to decide what to buy and find what I want.  The budget for the microwave oven gave me lots of choices.  I wanted a big one so that I could use it for multiple dishes at the same time or a big casserole dish.  The new one has a 2.0 cubic foot interior.  I wanted one that had a good rating. After checking online I found a store with an oven with all of the requirements.  We went over to the store to see that machine in action and wanted to buy it.  Alas! None were in stock.  The store had a free shipping option and we accepted the free delivery.  The electronic features and options are much more advanced than the previous oven. It fits right on the counter top in the place of the old microwave. 

Old light fixture
For a long time I wanted to replace the light fixture in my kitchen.  The halogen fixture used 300 watts and was very hot.  I didn’t really like the quality of the light.  But inertia kept me from spending the time to find a new fixture and spending the money. When the light bulb burnt out last month, I tried to replace it.  The new ones refused to work.  I cleaned to contact, but that didn’t help.  I investigated and found that the lamp socket wear out because of the high heat.  I thought that I would replace the socket, but the local home improvement stores did have the parts.  The electrician said that to fix the fixture would cost about 1.5 hours of his time, but a new one could be installed in 30 minutes. After I decided to purchase a new one, the process for finding a satisfactory fixture began. 

I didn’t want another halogen because I wanted one that more economical.  That also precluded incandescent.  That left florescent or LED.  My friends and so said not to get florescent.  I didn’t see a big problem, but I listened.  The LED bulbs offer several choices of white light colors, burn very cool, and use very little electricity per lumen.  The initial cost is very high, but the manufactures claim they will last more than 22 years.  My requirements were: budget of $100, look appropriate for a kitchen, have the ability to deliver at least 2200 lumens of lights, and have options for bulbs.  The local home improvement stores had plenty of fixtures within the budget, but none of the other requirements. Many of the fixtures used specialized bayonet based bulbs which are not interchangeable with other fixtures. Many looked in appropriate for my kitchen.  I finally checked online and found a store a short 15 minute drive away that specializes in light fixtures.

I planned a visit to the light store with my daughter on “Black Friday.”  The store was empty.  Evidently light fixtures are not high on the list for bargain hunters.  The store has lots of fixtures that fit the requirements.  In fact they had so many at about the same price point; the decision was based only on what looked the best for the kitchen.  The search went from frustration at finding nothing to finding so many the choices were hard.  The new fixture has standard screw in lamp sockets and I can choose the bulbs. I bought daylight LED bulbs at $35 each. I should only live and be well to have the privilege of replacing them after the full 22 years life span.  At my age I can not even say I’ll be in my house another 22 years.

I had to call an electrician to install the fixture because I can no longer do those kinds of repairs myself.  It took more than 10 days to arrange for an appointment, but the kitchen is full of light and we can see what we are cooking and baking. 

With my camera equipment so far it is not possible to get a good picture of the new fixture or microwave.

The final question is what to do with the replaced goods.  One old microwave oven was taken when the new one was delivered.  Another old one will be sent for recycling with city’s trash removal.  The old light fixture with a replacement socket is being offered for sale.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

New President Interview -- Part 24 Culture of Excellence


Q: Very often I read about dysfunctional organizations with employees more concerned about not getting fired more than their concern to do a good job. Then I read about companies that use what they know about their customers for extraordinary customer service. While the College is not a company, how does the College work toward excellence?  [fn 1]

A: Since the College is a learning organization, we not only have to teach excellence, but also set a good example. We want excellence in instruction, excellence in learning, and excellence in the way we administer the organization.
The first challenge is how we are using the word “excellence.” We have to define the term and not just parrot some nice words. A couple of weeks ago I read an anonymous article in InfoWorld [fn 2] The author uses “Anonymous” as his/her name. The author describes a software development company with no desire to make a quality product. They do not create proper documentation, end-user training, or test the products carefully before implementation on customer sites. They take a rather cavalier attitude toward making a product that would affect teachers, students and administrators. The first part of “excellence” is creating a product or service that actually works as promised.

The next part of “excellence” is to figure out how to make a product that can have a promised performance that can actually be done. In poorly run companies there is disconnect between sales, technology, and product creation. For example I once worked for a state agency that had field service agents. The agents would promise software to the clients, but neglect to tell anyone to create the software. Then they wondered why they didn’t have the discs to give out to clients. No matter how small the software package, it still needs to be created before distribution. Before promising, make sure the foundation is solid.

Q: Does the College have products that are sold?

It does not have products in boxes like a retail store, but there are many products. For example if there is an event there are many pieces that go into the planning, marketing, arranging the event, and creating backup or contingency plans. The pieces have to fit for successful event. For example if someone needs to have a meeting with computer, projector, and Internet access, someone needs to make sure the room and equipment are requested and the hardware works properly. The readied room is the product. If one is preparing flyers for an event, the flyers become the product. All the pieces needed for an event make the finished product which is the event. All the pieces working together are the third part of excellence.

The College also has infrastructure that is the support department that enable the instruction. Their services are part of the product mix. Any time someone requests support services such as information technology (IT), photo reproduction, maintenance, repair, etc. the requestor is the customer and the provider is the vendor.

Q: In Richard Feynman’s book, “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman!” [fn 3] He relates many crazy incidents that concern education and administration. He was on a commission to help the California Board of Education choose math text books. He read every single one and rated them. When they went to meetings he actually told the committee the reasons behind the ratings. Other committee members gave ratings to books they had not completely read. Some books were not give to Feynman. When he asked why, the book distributor said that the book wasn’t finished. All he had was a cover and a blank inside. Feynman asked how one could rate a blank book?

How does this fit into a culture of excellence?

A: The California legislature was probably thinking they knew what is best for their citizens. They even had teachers sit on the textbook selection committees, but they didn’t count on someone as intellectual and ethical as Feynman. He would not accept anything from a textbook publisher. They offered meals and presents and he turned them down. They offered supplemental materials and he said that the books need to stand on their own merits. He even got two rival companies to compete and California paid a lower price because of competition.

Feynman was giving us just a taste of excellence, but some of his behaviors would have gotten him into hot water at the College and in academic circles. As part of his committee work he had to travel. By law he was supposed to get reimbursed for expenses. He turned in expense report and was asked for a receipt for parking. He claimed not to have one. He said that if you trust him enough to evaluate text books, then trust him that parking only costs $2.75.

We have reimbursement rules at the College that seem just as silly. I can’t understand why we waste precious time that costs more than the reimbursement. Even as president I can’t seem to change this. If we had a culture of excellence we would trust our people. If I trust someone to teach our students and use thousands of dollars worth of equipment, I should be able to trust them that transportation cost $5.00. Trust is the next part of excellence.

Trust goes both ways. The administration has to trust the faculty and staff and they have to trust that their requests will be filled. In Thomas Peters’ In Search of Excellence[fn 4] the author talks about many incidences of extraordinary employees. Those of employees who went above and beyond the basics needed to complete the jobs. These employees sometimes bent the rules and over came obstacles to fill the customer needs. They got rewarded for their efforts and the company got rewarded with customer loyalty and positive evaluations that translated into more business. This kind of behavior works in a business but in the public sector or academia. We don’t seem to be able to make this part of the culture.

To create a culture of excellence we need an institution where everyone is part of something within the institution (for example teams, committees, departments) and has an opportunity to be a star or make a type of unique contribution. When someone sticks out in a winning situation, those around him/her share in the honor or accomplishments. That is why we have recognition notices, certificates, and public praise. The next piece of the excellence puzzle is when there is a balance between membership in a group and personal achievement.

“Excellence” is not perfection. Just because something is excellent, does not mean we have stop creating and searching for something better. A circle has a type of perfect because there is no beginning or end. An organization has a beginning, goals, and steps to achieve so that there is no end in sight.

Q: To sum it all up what is “excellence” and what is a culture of “excellence.”

A: First it is easy to find examples of sloppy and poor performance. In the “3 Stooges and a Bozo” article above, the actors in the story did not know their own jobs. They did not have the technical skills to avoid mistakes or the social skills to have productive meetings. They didn’t know how to start, design, test or finish a project. In the creating reports from organizational data bases, the data stored must be correct or the report won’t work. For example a librarian trying to get a report out of the library management system needs excellent bibliographic data to get excellent management reports. While teachers can define and award “excellent” grades, in the organization “excellence” is hard to define.

Let me just rephrase the points I made concerning excellence –

1. Create a product or service that not only works, but it fills a customer need. Create the infrastructure to deliver and support the products.
2. Don’t promise something that you can’t deliver. If you can’t do something, decline. But don’t be afraid to try new endeavors to stretch the limits. The difference is work as hard as you can to accomplish the goal, but don’t promise results that would violate the laws of physics. If the request is not possible try to find an alternative that will accomplish the goal or an alternative goal.
3. Trust your people. If you can’t trust someone, don’t hire them. If you can’t trust them today, figure how to trust them in the future.
4. Have the technical, intellectual, administrative, fiscal and other skills to succeed.
5. Create rules that enable excellence. That means have rules that people work in concert with rather figuring out how to comply or bypass.
6. Recognize, reward, and celebrate group and individual success.
7. Talk, market, encourage excellence in the classroom, administration, and support areas.

Q: Thank you very much.


[1] This is part 24 in a series of interviews with the president of the College.  This is an unnamed president of an imaginary college.  Any connection to a real college is strictly coincidental.

[2] In the column: “Off the record.” “3 Stooges and a Bozo Make a Mockery of the IT Department”  InfoWorld Nov. 20, 2013.   Another source of amusement about a dysfunctional organization is the one described in the Dilbert comic strip.

[3] Feynman, Richard R. “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman!” : adventures of a curious character.  New York, Bantam Books, 1989.

[4] Peters, Thomas J and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.  In search of excellence : lessons from America’s best-run companies.  New York : Warner Books,  1984.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Apple Cinnamon Loaf

My sister posted a recipe on for an apple cinnamon loaf. I was so hungry for something sweet I had to make some. Here is my variation. I wanted to make it parve (dairy-free) and so I substituted vanilla almond milk for cow’s milk and I replaced the butter with vegetable oil and applesauce. The original recipe calls for 1 apple. The loaf really needs two apples or about 2 cups, but since I had only one, I was not able try a second apple.

1/3 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup white sugar
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup applesauce
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup almond milk (or use rice or soy)
1 apple, peeled and chopped ( or more to equal about 2 cups)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.
3. Chop apples and place into a heat-able container. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, shake until well coated, then microwave for 2 minutes
4. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl and set aside. Beat white sugar and butter together in a bowl using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
5. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until light yellow; add vanilla extract.
6. Add flour, baking powder, and milk. Beat well.
7. Pour half the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
8. Cover with half the apples and half the brown sugar cinnamon mixture.
9. Lightly pat apples into batter.
10. Pour the remaining batter over apple layer; top with remaining apples and remainder of the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture.
11. Lightly pat apples into batter; swirl brown sugar mixture through apples using a fork or spoon.

13. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes.

Note:  This was revised on October 25, 2013 after I baked a second batch.

New President Interview -- Part 23 Living Bridges –Part 3

What are the roles of experience and assessment?

Q: What is the role of experience in a theory of education? What is experience?

A: Since all knowledge comes from experience, education is the understanding of the results of experience. History is experience of a group or community;
scientific experiments create a controlled experience. Learning to interpret experience is the business of education. Misunderstanding the experience has a negative effect on education and knowledge. As educators any experience that is mis-education has the effect of distorting growth and skewing future experience. An experience may engender positive or negative responses. A rich experience has the possibility to put a person in a positive groove or a deep negative rut.[fn 1

The learning experience needs to be engaging and develop the power of judgment and intellect. Enhancing the classroom experience to encourage understanding of previous human experience is the goal of the College. Improving the kinds of experience the student have in the College is part of assessment and continuous improvement.

Q: What is the role of assessment in advancing the student experience? How do you define progressive education?

A: In the progressive education model, the central concept of learning focuses on student learning experience rather than the teacher’s expertise.

Learning outcomes as a result of the class experience need to be assessed and measured from the beginning of the course through its completion. The student learning outcomes (SLOs) include what the student knows (facts, figures, etc.),
skills developed, what they are able to do with the facts and skills, and how their attitudes or psyche have changed to enable life-long learning. Assessment is not a new concept. The earliest article below is from 1972. The John Dewey first talked about progressive education in the 1930’s.

With that said, the word “assessment” is a poor use for the concept we want to describe. When I hear the word, I associate it with monetary assessments such as for taxes, dues, condo fees, or fines. “Assessment” as used in education has nothing to do with financial issues. Perhaps we should use the term, “continuous evaluation” or a fuller term, “student learning assessment?”

In a document published by the Higher Learning Commission, “Student learning, assessment, and accreditation,” [fn 2] they state that they “realize assessment of student learning is an ongoing, dynamic process that requires substantial time; that is often marked by fits and starts; and that takes long-term commitment and leadership.”

Since the assessment process measures learner performance, it is student-oriented rather than institution-centered.

Q: How does the student learning assessment process work in non-classroom learning situation for example the college library?

A: Assessment measures changes in the behavior of library users as a result of their contact with the library's programs, resources and services. Any measurement measures student knowledge before known contact and what skills, abilities, attitudes, knowledge and values were changed. This measurement is difficult. In a classroom based class there is always the “nothing” before the “something” during the learning process. Learning a spiral starting on a solid base and ending is a peak that can serve as the base for further learning. Learning activities in the library or in extra-curricular activities are hard to evaluate because there is no clear moment of “nothingness.” Working on a committee or participating in an event have educational and social rewards, but the learning outcomes are hard to measure when compared with the classroom learning. The assessment process searches for measurable statements concerning what students will know/think and be able to perform as a result of their contact with library programs. Statements about what the library should/ could do to bring about desired outcomes are not part of student learning outcomes.

The assessment of outcomes measures the library contributions to the college’s educational mission as a whole. The assessment of student learning outcomes is designed to improve library services through a feedback loop that includes systems planning, instruction and individual staff/ faculty behavior. The improvement process is intended to identify areas for the library to improve the system, methodologies, and behavior as the means to affect learning changes in the individual.

Q: How does one figure out outcomes for the library programs?

A: The assessment process begins with an analysis of the College's mission, goals, and objectives. Then one identifies of the elements that the library program and mission supports with the purpose of understanding the effectiveness the library programs as a part of the mission of the College.
Assessment does not need to demonstrate the academic rigor of a research project, but must be easily administered and yield quality results.

Q: It sounds as if the process of evaluating the library programs and other non-classroom based learning a vital part of the academic program. Have these issued been discussed in the past?

A: Unfortunately my predecessors never made the connections between classroom learning and non-classroom learning. The culture never developed the attitude among non-faculty that they are part of student success. It is a long struggle to teach business and administrative people of their role in the education process. Sometime it is not the learning that students struggle with, but all the craziness that goes on out the classroom. Making changes in time-ingrained processes and way of perform takes a lot of effort. We are working hard to rid the College of self-defeating practices. The change process included both changes in administrative rules and trying to change the way people think about the whole educational process. Only through constant reminders can we change the way we behave and work toward a common set of goals.

Q: You have left me with a lot the think about. Thank you very much.


[1] From Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning.  Levels of learning range from low (superficial learning) to high (deep learning). The taxonomy  describes the lower levels of educational objectives beginning on the bottom and the higher levels toward the top. The pyramid s a list of verbs from   for use when creating student learning outcome statements.    From a Pepperdine University web site, “Writing SLOs, “

[2] “Student learning, assessment, and accreditation” Chicago, Higher Learning Commission, 2007.  Retrieved on Oct. 18, 2013 from the HLC web site:

Typewriters in the Library

Obsolete library technologies

This week a student, who looked a little lost, came to the library and asked, “Where are typewriters? “ I was a little taken aback. In all the time I have worked as a librarian, none of the libraries has typewriters for students to use. I asked this student if she meant computers. She didn’t. I asked what she needed a typewriter for. Did she need to file out a form? She needed to write her class paper. I tried to point her to a computer, but she was even more perplexed. She left the library in a haze. This person was not an elderly person or a 19 year old fresh out of high school.

Most of the students are very used to all kinds of electronic devices. At one time cell phones were forbidden in class, now teachers are finding ways to use phones as part of their instruction. Students have even photographed a cover of a book and come to library to find it.

Typewriters have a long history in libraries. Now they are obsolete technology. Back in 1975 I bought a library typewriter which is pictured below.

This typewriter has two keys near the return that have the foreign language accents, grave, acute, circumflex, and umlaut. I still have this typewriter as a relic. I haven’t used it in more years than I can remember, but below is a picture from 1977 when I used it to type catalog cards. Notice the correction fluid in the background. Now when people ask about correcting mistakes, I say, “Use the backspace.”

Before the days of library computers, libraries and dormitories had rooms with public typewriters. From the University of Michigan web site: here are two pictures of students from 1951 typing away. Notice the woman putting a coin in the slot to use the typewriter and the ash tray for her cigarette.

I remember the public typewriters, but since I had my own portable typewriter, I never used one.

Keyboarding skills are very important, but the computer word processing programs offer much more power. People can edit and perfect their writing so much easier than in the pre-computer days. A few minutes after the first student asked for a typewriter another student asked about typing his paper. He knew that the library had computers, but he didn’t know how to use word processing. Sorry word processing tutoring is beyond the scope of a librarian.

Monday, September 30, 2013

New President Interview -- Part 22 Living Bridges –Part 2

Q: It seems that some administrators are more concerned with a process rather than using a philosophy for defining an organization.  What exactly does a philosophy of education do for an institution?  How does a philosophy affect learning outcomes?

A: Education in the broadest sense is the way a social group renews itself.  Education is necessary for the continuity of the group. Since we are all members of multiple groups, the institution needs to determine which aspects of renewal are to be addressed. These groups we are members of included geographic, political, religious, professional, and familial, religious, human beings, and more.  Groups have beliefs, history, hopes and needs.  For example under geographic designation we are members of neighborhoods, cities, counties, countries, and the world.  Each has different demands on our time and attention.  People in Chicago do not need to know about building codes in other cities.  But we are all Americans and needs to know what it takes to be citizens.   Members of ethnic or religious groups need to learn their history and traditions to take their places within that society.

Just as a physical existence is renewed through breathing, eating, building, and removal of waste, society is an entity that wants to transmit its history, beliefs, ideas, social standards, and rituals.  Society seeks to renew itself with the education of the young or neophyte.  The “young” is not just the young in years, but anyone of any age who needs to be part of the society.  In the college we admit students of many age groups.  A forty year old learning health science for a new career is “young” when measured against what one needs to know the new career, but experienced in many other aspects of life.  Education and training are the tools to attain the next level of being.

When teachers transmit knowledge of the past based on the life experiences of society members, the students are able to create new knowledge. Knowledge is the synthesis of data gathered from multiple sources.  Just as a baby is helpless without language; a new student needs to learn the language and tools of the next step they want to attain.  For example a person learning in the health sciences start by learning the vocabulary of medicine, gross anatomy, microbiology, etiology of wellness, and finally pathology.  Then they can learn the clinical skills to deal with patients.

A philosophy of education for the institution focuses the behavior a large goal.  The goal is an ideal that is never really attainted.  With the philosophy in place the institution write the steps to create learning goals. One of the main purposes of a college is to prepare students for either their role in the society or the next step in their education. Education is supposed to be a transmission of an organized body of knowledge. At one time the “great books” of civilization formed the core of undergraduate education.  One had to understand Locke and Plato to learn how the framers of the American Declaration of Independence and constitution came up with the ideas of freedom and government.

If the goal of the College is to make sure students understand society, then they much understand the historical and intellectual background of the thinkers who came before.  Too often the study of history is the study of wars.  The study of the thinkers of the society is passed over.  Sometimes a fighting war gets in the way of the spread if ideas.  If the Germans were more interested in spreading knowledge, influence, and making money, than conquering and killing, they would have emerged from the 1930’s and 1940’s as the dominant world civilization.  So much of their intellectual might was killed or forced into exile that the country never recovered.

A: How does a philosophy affect learning outcomes?

The philosophy makes a shell for the faculty to create class and discipline level goals for learning outcomes.

A: What is the difference between a philosophy for traditional education and one for progressive education?

The debate concerning traditional vs. progressive education has been occurring in educational circles for at least 80 years.  In traditional education the adults impose adult standards and subject matters on the students.  In a progressive philosophy teachers are agents for the organization and transmission of knowledge.  Teachers don’t impose academic materials, they help students learn to be critical thinkers and act accordingly.  The progressive school builds on the past so that current society is understood, but does not dictate the future. What is taught in the classroom is not static, but a dynamic foundation for the future.  Knowledge gained from discovering the past as well as a hands-on searching and doing. Progressive education, hopefully, prepares student to meet new situations that have never existed in the experience of the teachers and texts.

The progressive educational philosophy runs the risk of being dogmatic if it is not based on a critical examination of faculty-student experience and the search for continuous improvement.

A: How do students learn from the past so that it is part of the living present?

Critical learning skills are important at all levels of education.  Learning about the connections between what we do today and the historical antecedents can be very exciting.  I am reminded of the 1978, 1994, 1997 PBS series, Connections.  James Burke, the creator, writer, and host of the series traces a series of seemingly unconnected events, but by the end of the episode the viewers understand a fundamental aspect of modern life.  (For more information see: “Connections (TV series)”  and  )

The understanding of causality is important in all disciplines.  Since the physical sciences have more precise experiments than the social sciences, causality may be easer to visualize. Historical development may help understand current events while understanding human development helps us understand adult behavior.  Since performing experiments is one way to understand the world. The philosophy has to encourage exploratory and experimental behaviors.  The philosophy needs to include the theory learned via the text and the empirical and experiments gains from doing and experiments.  Text based learning and experience are both important for a balanced education system.  One without the other leads to a distorted understanding of the world.

To be continued …

Q: Thank you very much. 

* Part twenty-two of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After 20 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental.

Monday, September 2, 2013

New President Interview -- Part 21 Living Bridges

Living Bridges

Q: I just read your new book, Living Bridges, on the philosophy of education. How did the book get that title?

The title has two sources. At a recent lecture in I heard Steven Weil talk about a bridge between the past and the present. This seems to add support to the idea that teachers are living bridges. Teachers connect the neophytes to the wisdom of the past. In 1970 I heard a lecture by Alexander Dushkin. He was already retired and at my tender age he looked so old. He was older than my grandparents. I don’t remember much about the lecture, but everyone who did know Dr. Dushkin said he was one of the great leaders of the field of education. He died in 1976 shortly after publishing his memoirs titled, Living Bridges.[fn 1]  Thus I gave the same title to my book. I didn’t discover until after I graduated college home much Dushkin had influenced my training. Dushkin studied with John Dewey at Teachers College; we learned the thought of John Dewey through his writings. We learned the thought of Mordecai Kaplan; Dushkin learned with Mordecai Kaplan. Dewey taught his students how to think by discussing his philosophical ideas out loud in front of the class. We learned with this methodology.

Q: Where did Dushkin study for his doctorate?

Dr. Dushkin was one of “Benderly’s Boys” That is Samuel Benderly, who hand--picked promising
educational leaders and sent them to learn in graduate programs at Teachers College in New York City. Dushkin learned both the pragmatic and the romantic (or touchy-feely) part of educational theory. An example of the pragmatic – John eats tilapia because it is lunchtime and he is hungry. The romantic thinking is: Jacob eats tilapia because he believes in eating fish.

William H. Kilpatrick taught students about the science of education that is measuring results which lead to testing and statistical analysis. The current testing and measurement requirements of assessment can be traced to the ideas of Kilpatrick.

Upon graduation from the PhD program in 1917 he was given the honor of delivering the main address at the National Education Association of American (NEA). [fn 2] In the address he outlined his thoughts on supplemental religious and ethic education. He spoke of America as a “fruitful river” rather than a “melting pot.” We are trying to figure out how to leave the “melting pot” theory of society and come up with a more viable diversity theory of American society.

Q: What is the purpose behind a philosophy of anything? Why is a philosophy of education needed?

Organizations have mission statements to verbalize what they hope to accomplish. Mission statements are short. Philosophies give framework for the raison d'être. This framework gives a sense of duty and purpose to all the activities of an organization. The philosophy is based on the premise we are teaching children (and others) to be part of our society and productive members of our communities. We all live in multiple communities be they ethnic, religious, professional, geographic or other subset of the whole.

The basic principles of the philosophy of education are:

    1) Educators are the bridges connecting the past to the future. The present happens because of ideas and people who built our past. The future depends of how we teach the students today. At any given moment a person may be a teacher or a student. Professional teachers [fn 3] learn from their students just as teachers, the masters of the tradition try to pass on that tradition to neophyte student. No one has a monopoly on the truth.

     2) You can’t change the laws of nature. If you are believers in the God who created universe, God created order out of chaos, set the world into existence, and created humanity to master the world (i.e. continue the work of creation). If you are not a believer, then the Summum bonum [fn 4] (the highest good) is the order of the universe. It is our task in life to understand how the universe works so that we can act in concert with the world and not in conflict. The natural order of the universe is present in the physical, biological, social, and human sciences just as it occurs in the arts.

God created the order in the universe, but gave teachers to task to shape the human spirit and psyche. You can’t change your innate gifts, but you need to have excellent educational opportunities to find the best possible path to success. Teachers lead students on the right paths.

A creator has certain rights over their creation. Just as the artist, author, or other creators have control of the fruits of their labor, the ultimate creator of the world (or Mother Nature) has certain controls on the world. You can’t avoid death, but you can choose to lead a life that maximizes the chance of a long and healthy life. You can’t prevent a rainy day, but you can take precautions or use protection.

Understanding the laws of nature also means that we are bound by the limitations. We have a respect for all of creation and we have the job to develop our intellectual, physical and artistic gifts.

     3) There is value to our society, our groups, and the individual to pass on the tradition [fn 5] of the past. Tradition is important as a basis for understanding the present, but tradition does not veto the future. Just because something has been done in the past does not make a valid reason to do it now. There is value to analysis and critical thinking so that new ideas and thoughts may be synthesized. The process of adding value to past knowledge is the way we learn not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

    4) Schools, colleges, universities, etc. are learning intuitions and should not only transmit the tradition but set good examples for the use of that knowledge in our institutions.

Q: Some of these ideas are similar universal themes of the Jewish New Year.

Rosh HaShanah (the new year) is a universal holiday. It is anniversary of the creation of humanity. There are three aspects [fn 6] of the holiday that directly relate to education 1) Acceptance of the understanding the majesty of the rules and law of the natural universe; 2) Remembrance of the past; and 3) The calling out or publicizing of first two aspects. The New Year is time when the world is judged.

Q: How do critical thinking skills fit into the philosophy of education?

From the first time children start learning through all of their education, critical thinking skills are supposed to be honed and developed according to their age and maturity. Along with the skills of analysis children mature and are able to synthesize new knowledge. Everyone is a work in progress. To become the greatest person one can be, teachers, parents, and others on the educational team, must work in concert with each other and the limitation of the universe. One needs to learn how to give and take criticism. For example it you look in a mirror and see a spot of dirt on your face, you clean your face. If someone tells you something is wrong, work on the solution. Of course the person offering the help must do it in a manner that will build up the person not tear them down.

Creators of the organization set the stage for future generations. Their ideas were translated into rules and procedures. As time and circumstances change so must the rules, context and procedures. The past ideas should not have a veto on progress

Q: How does a learning organization continue to learn?

Learning is a change in behavior. That means one should learn from the past and not repeat the mistakes. If something has not worked before, the mistakes should not be repeated. Learning from the past is not limited to the classroom; the institution must constantly evolve to serve their publics.

To be continued …

Q: Thank you very much.


* Part twenty-one of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After 20 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental.


1. Dushkin, Alexander M. Living bridges: memoirs of an educator. Jerusalem, Keter Publishing, [c1975]. Also see the review of the book. "He was a living bridge" [review of] Living Bridges, by Alexander Dushkin. In: Jewish Education, Fall 1977.

2. Ibid. p. 16

3. We are all teachers. Parents teach their children, children teach their parents and when they reach the limit of their abilities, parents send their children to the expert teachers who continue the educational process. Autodidacts are those who learn on their own without the face-to-face or other personal contact with a teacher. Even autodidacts learn from the recorded knowledge of teachers. A written or recorded work makes the author a teacher.

4. This concept is from the Greek philosophy of Aristotle and Plato.

5. When I use the word “tradition” in this context I mean the sum total of human knowledge. I am not referring to the ritual traditions of doing one action over another. The Hebrew word, masoret, which is translated as “tradition” comes from the root meaning to pass, or transmit. I do not use the word “tradition” to mean ritualized behavior. By learning the tradition one can better understand the present.

6. The Hebrew terms are machuyot (majesty), zichronot (remembrance), and shofrot (shouting). These sections are parts of the special prayers of the day that are not part of the rest of the year liturgy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Customer Service for Libraries

How does a library compete for the attention of readers (or students, faculty, etc.)? After reading some articles on the business side of customer relations management, I want to offer ideas for libraries that may change how we deal with our publics. While we don’t compete for the customer’s money, we do compete for resources of the school, public or other entity that pays our bills. We are competing in a marketplace for ideas, minds, and resources.

1. What does customer-centric approach mean for libraries? How does the change in retail expectations affect what people expect from libraries?

Consumers have grown more skeptical over the past few years when spending their money. This should be good for libraries because libraries offer resources that the customer does not directly pay for. In a marketplace that customers feel mislead, the library is a place to get reliable and diverse information on every subject.

The Internet has raised expectations for the gathering of information. People are impatient and want instant answers even when the best answers take lots of careful investigation. Librarians can only point readers in the right direction and hopefully student learn from their classes the value of careful and systematic research. As customers learn from businesses how to solve or experience something, library users need to find value from library services. Libraries help readers solve problems, seek information and seek recreational sources. As other sources of these services bombard them, they may ask “Why use the library? Why finance the library?”

In a customer-centric library the librarians and staff are always asking themselves “How does this affect the user experience?” From the back office purchasing and cataloging to the direct reader interaction at the reference desk, circulation desk and everywhere in between everything must relate to the “customer experience.” Attention must be paid to the rooms, the signs and the electronic impressions made on the library users and stakeholders. For example if the physical features of the library don’t fit the needs, the features need changing.

2. What are the mistakes that organizations make when trying to appeal to library users?

Some of these mistakes happen so often that we don’t realize they are having a negative effect on the public. In the business world a company may claim they are number one in their field or they have the largest selection, or have X years experience in the business. Do you remember the ads that Avis Car Rental used to make, “We try harder?” This was supposed to indicate that they knew they were number two in car rental and they constantly want customers to know they were trying to be better. [fn 1]  When a business brags about being number one they are addressing the company perspective (the firm, the salespeople, and the marketing department). The claim is about their attributes, not what the customers are interested in.

What are library “customers” interested in? First you have to investigate who is your public. Some of the answers you will know from your years of experience; some answers will take investigate. For example the library needs computer work stations. The nature of these stations and the number required are a matter to investigate. A library needs a suitable collection. To build the collection the librarians need to know what is available and match that to the needs of the public. The library needs multiple kinds of physical space. The exact needs must be investigated.

Customers, like library users, are interested in the value they get from the organization. In a retail store the customer wants selection, service, attractive prices, and attractive physical settings. This is not much different from what readers need – a collection that fills their information needs and wants, reference services to help to find materials, instruction to learn more about the library and information services, and attractive, functional rooms to do their reading, studying or what ever else they want to do in the library.

3. What kinds of unique value could a library promise? How will a philosophy of adding value translate to the way we do business?

In business adding value is both an emotional, personal benefit to the customer and an economic exchange. Customers exchange money for the service or product and get some kind of benefit. The company promises a positive outcome when you do business with them. Too often in both education and in libraries the positive outcome is removed in time and place from the delivery of the service. When dealing with the total customer experience, we have to tell the readers (our customers) the value they get from using our services. We have to show the community the benefits so that users and non-users perceive the benefits. In previous times this meant advertising of events and public service announcements. Today this means getting a big electronic footprint including a web site and a Facebook page. Use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to build the library image and let people know about the library and its service. This is not a hard sell message.

For example I sometimes place information about new books or a message connecting this day in history to the library collection on our Facebook pages.

Think about the total library experience. Do something to encourage people to come again and again. Don’t make a promise about being number one; make sure that you have a defined mission and you do everything in your power to enhance the total customer experience. I know this is hard when you have no control over the copier or room size, but pick something you do have control over and make everyone aware of what you can do.

4. How can the library have a service platform that is consistent with a promise to add value? How can you deliver what you promise?

This is an attitude that takes institutional fortitude. No matter how much a librarian wants to do what s/he can do to deliver great services and have an excellent collection, if the funding source is not great enough, the job will not be done. If you want to offer classes, you need the teaching staff. If you want a great collection you need to purchase, catalog and store the materials. You have to figure out the value you are adding to the public or student experience and build on both the perception and the behind the scene support to make an ordinary place in a great library.

If you can’t get the institutional support you need, change your promise. Make your mission clear so that you can deliver. It is better to promise small and deliver what you promise than not deliver what you promise. Transform every contact into an opportunity to acquire not only a satisfied customer, but an advocate. At some point satisfied readers will tell others about the library and perhaps those who approve the finances will be impressed.

5. How can libraries embrace a customer-centric approach and notice results?

First the library must carefully craft a mission statement and philosophy that establishes what is the core library business. Second find and allocate resources to accomplish this mission. Third empower people to accomplish the mission. Let staff experiment to find out what works best. Give staff the tool, training and resources to accomplish the mission and help the library users.

Next the library must have a plan for examining user expectations, keep current with technology, and train for the next level of information service. Training must be an integral part of the schedule. Some staff time needs to be devoted to R&D or long term scholarship and study.
Communications between users, library staff, and stakeholders needs to be developed. Communications must take many forms – in persons, at meetings, phone, and via electronic media.

Front line staff people need to be in charge of innovation. Innovation needs to part the way we do business. Innovation includes such areas as displays, marketing, instruction, materials to help use the collections, signs, and programs. The culture has to support risk taking and inventing new ways for successful and meaningful growth. Reach out and make library use partners in innovation. Just as new books and articles are objects of innovations, we have to find the best tools for acquiring, curating, cataloging, organizing and circulating information. We not only here for our patrons, they are our business.

Businesses have changed their physical features such as wider aisles, brighter lights and more appealing store organization. This will not work in libraries because book stacks are not merchandise shelves. .Libraries do need multiple kinds of space and seating.

6. This customer-centric approach sound hard especially when there is administration push-back. How can libraries start the process?

Some activities don’t cost money. Start small and make incremental changes. Think about your library users in every area of library operations and think ways to improve their library experience. Think of how you can offer library services in the best possible way and make sure to make your promises into reality.


Changing a corporate culture is not easy.  The customer is not always right and sometimes what the customer wants interferes with the wants and needs of other customers.  The administration must be dedicated to helping the people who use the library and making the culture customer-centric.The rest is commentary.


1.  For more information see Avis’ web site:  “We try harder” was adopted in 1962.  It was designed as an indicator that their corporate philosophy was changing.  It was not an advertising gimmick.  This way of doing business increased market share from 11% in 1962 to 35% in 1966.   See also “Advertising: Trying Harder“ in Time Magazine, June 24, 1964.,33009,939058,00.html

Friday, August 16, 2013

Artzneybüech -- a 16th Century Medical Book

Cataloging a manuscript is always a particular challenge. As a unique item each manuscript must be cataloged without help from an existing record. Several weeks ago a leather bound item with a metal clasp (one clasp was missing) was placed in my queue for cataloging. I thought it was a printed book because I didn’t think anyone could write script that precisely. It is book of medicines and recipes from the 16th century written in German handwriting. I checked all the usual sources—WorldCat, NUC pre-1956 imprints and even an bibliography of 16th Century German imprints, but found no matches or clues.

German spelling and handwriting was not standardized until the 20th century. This book is hard to read because I can’t interpret the script. I took it to the rare book librarian for help. She said this was a manuscript because no one could set type like that. We showed it to several German speakers and they could not read it. No listing of German manuscript has this item listed.

Title is: Artzneybüech (A physician’s book). Note the modern German spelling would be: Artzneibuch.  The large red words are legible and I can read them. The smaller black text is unreadable.

Here is a list of ingredients followed by directions.

I was unable to find any later printed copies of this text.

If anyone can help with more information I would appreciate it. Text in the upper left reads: Ein güeter wündtranct (A good wound dressing)

I was curious about the value of this item. It is written on vellum. In the 16th century vellum cost about 120 times paper. Vellum then as now was mainly used for special legal or religious documents or for artwork. The raw materials needed to write a copy of this book today would cost about $1200. I saw similar items from the 16th century offered for sale between $6000 and $50,000.

Working on identifying this item was fascinating because I had to learn about the history of German language and writing in the 16th century, however it was frustrating because I do not yet have the final answers.

Monday, August 5, 2013

When Library Catalogs, Discovery Tools and Google Fail

As librarians we think the catalog, databases and discovery tools should lead to the articles or other library materials that we seek especially for a known item search. I found a case when the cataloger or indexer did everything right, yet the article was still difficult to find.

When I was preparing to review  the book, Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity [1] I found  on page 138 a section titled “The Ahad Ha’am Affair” that was even more fascinating than other parts of the Birnbaum story. Birnbaum was an almost forgotten figure in the history of Zionism. The book’s author, Jess Olson, tells the story of how he first heard of Birnbaum when taking a course in Yiddish linguistics in Oxford. I knew of Ahad Ha'am  and his thought, but never knew about his ideological dispute with Theodor Herzl.   None of my studies in Zionism or Jewish history seem to have mentioned Birnbaum.[2]

In brief  – Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg’s pen name) and Theodor Herzl were rivals in the struggle for the soul of the Zionist movement. Ahad Ha’am believed in spiritual and cultural Zionism that is a state that would be a source for growth, development and eternity of Jewish culture. Herzl was a political Zionist that is he believed a Jewish state would solve the “Jewish question.” Looking back on the history of the movement and what eventually happened, they both turned out to be right. Israel today is a product of both streams of thought.

In 1902 Herzl’s utopian novel, Altneuland (Old-New Land) was published and stirred controversy between Ahad Ha’am and Herzl.  Even to supporters of Herzl the novel was problematic for its optimism and western (read Germanic) slant on the Palestinian society. I wanted to find the article that Ahad Ha’am wrote about Altneuland.   Professor Olson did not give an exact citation.  He said it was published in late 1902 in Hebrew in Ha-Shiloah where Ahad Ha’am was the editor and in German translation in April 1903 in Ost und West.  In a footnote Olson says the text can be found on the page: I wanted to find the original in HaShiloah.
Now that I know the answer, the time consuming steps of the search seem like a waste of time. Searching for the exact citation and article proved difficult. I will try to explain the step and why they did or didn’t work. Searching for a known item search should be a straightforward library search. I knew the author’s name and the approximate date. First I tried searching the library databases. None of the databases cover the publication or the years 1902-1904. I wanted to try Book Review Digest, but it started publication after 1902. I found an index of book reviews in scholarly literature that covered the period, but there was no entry. When I found the article I knew the reason these indexes would never work. The publication was not considered scholarly and the article would not be recognized as a book review by an indexer.

Since library databases would help I thought I could find another book that told the story and that author would have the exact citation. I had to learn a little more about Herzl and Ahad Ha’am to be able to continue the search. In Gershon Winer’s The Founding Fathers of Israel, [3] he profiles both Herzl and Ahad Ha’am. Winer does not deal with the ideological struggle between the Zionist streams of thought.

I went back a few years to Alex Bein’s 1940 biography of Herzl.[4] Chapter 12 is titled, “Altneuland” and describes in detail the saga. However, Bein had no footnotes. Bein describes how Herzl decided on the title. Herzl describes in his diary the thought process occurred to him on August 30, 1899. It was connected to the concept of an old and new land and the Altneuschul [5] of Prague. The chapter talks about the cultural questions that Ahad Ha’am raises, but got me no closer to a citation.

Thirty-five years later Amos Elon writes another biography of Herzl.[6] His retelling of the saga is in chapter 15 starting on page 347. Elon mentions on page 350 Ahad Ha’am’s criticism and his attack in HaShiloah, which Ahad Ha’am edited. Elon has no footnotes or citations. Shlomo Avineri in The Making of Modern Zionism, [7] talked about the utopian concepts in Altneuland such as social structure of co-operations and mutual benefit. All young men and women are required to give two years of national service, not for military purposes because there will be peace with the non-Jews. Avineri makes no comment about the controversy surrounding the novel and have no footnotes.

Since library books and searches were not helping I turned to Google Scholar. I searched for articles with “herzl” and “ahad ha’am” in them. Eventually I found an article by Yossi Goldstein in the journal, Jewish History. [8] This is a whole article about the Ahad Ha’am Herzl dispute and the second footnote had the citation that I needed, “Ahad Ha’am, “Yalkut Katan”, Ha-shiloach 10 (1902) [Hebrew], pp. 566–578.” Footnote three had Max Nordau response to Ahad Ha’am Max Nordau, ““Achad Ha’am über Altneuland”, Die Welt, 13.3.1903” With this citation I returned to
library searching for a copy that I could read.

The University of Illinois Chicago is a co-operating member of the Hathi Trust. After many searching I found an electronic copy of the December 1902 article that contained Ahad Ha’am criticism. I immediately saw why a search of authors and titles was fruitless. Ahad Ha’am was the editor of the publication and he wrote a monthly editorial without a byline. The title was always, “Yalkut Katan” meaning “A small collection.” The December column did not even start out with the criticism of Herzl. An indexer could easily misinterpret the article and record the incorrect bibliographic information. I was also led to the German translation of the article which appears in the April 1903 issue of Ost und West starting on column 227.

The UIC collection did not have the 1903 volume of Ost und West in paper or electronic format. They had other volumes, but this one was not in the collection scanned by Hathi Trust. I searched WorldCat and found that an electronic copy existed. Searching “Ost und West” got too many hits and none were correct. After many searches I found the full title of the publication was: Neue jüdische Monatshefte : Zeitschrift für Politik, Wirtschaft und Literatur in Ost und West . I used iShare (a group of Illinois libraries with a shared catalog) and found an electronic copy in the Morris Library of Southern Illinois University. It was in a system called Compact Memory, which has many German Jewish publications available in electronic format. The searching is only in German. I was able to find both Die Welt for the Nordau article and the issue of Ost und West with the Ahad Ha’am article.

With the German article in hand and the Hebrew original I could better understand what Ahad Ha’am wrote. Some of his Hebrew words were borrowed from German and not in the Hebrew dictionaries. For example he used the word, “Tscharter” in Hebrew. It means “charter.”

The article also appears page 412 in Kol Kitve (Collected Works) Ahad Ha'am.

Last Thursday I attended a webinar on library discovery tools. This search is an example of how discovery tools could help. Had I been able to enter what I thought were keywords and the discovery tool could work across all language, perhaps I could have found the article faster? But this is still a case when one has to understand the subject of a search before getting the answer. In the course of the search I had to learn more about the personalities involved and their ideology. I learned about how periodicals and how they were the mass media of the time. Arguments were expressed in publications. Today these exchanges would take place using electronic media and speed of exchange would be hours, not months. I also learned the road to finding answers contains many paths and requires many kinds of search tools.

This was all an interesting exercise and knowing all this I returned to Olson's footnote and then I understood it.  Had I understood his note in the beginning I would not have  needed all the searching.


[1]  Olson, Jess.  Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity : Architect of Zionism, Yiddishism, and Orthodoxy. Stanford, California : Stanford University Press, 2013. Dr. Olsen is a Yeshiva University history professor. 

[2] In 1975 I read the Origins of Zionism by David Vital.  Birnbaum is predominately mentioned.

[3]  Winer, Gershom.  The Founding Fathers of Israel. New York, Block Publishing Company, 1971.  Dr. Winer was one of my teachers in 1970-71.  Much of what I knew about the history of early Zionists was learning in his class. After reading about Nathan Birnbaum, I find Winer gives Herzl more credit for changing the course of Jewish history than he is due.  None of his source notes helped my search.

[4] Full reference: Bein, Alex. Theodore Herzl : a biography.  Translated from the German by Maurice Samuel.  Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1940 (c1941).  JPS spells “Theodore” with an “e’ while other sources spell it as “Theodor.”
[5] Despite the controversy or because of it two reminders from the book are still with us.  When Nahum Sokolow translated the book into Hebrew he used the title Tel Aviv. “Tel” as in an ancient archeological mound and “Aviv” meaning spring as a sign of the new.  When the first Jewish city was founded in 1909 it was called Tel Aviv.  The second reminder is the quote, “Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen (Herzl wrote in German).  “if you will it, it is no dream” or in Hebrew “’im terzu ain zo agadah.  אִם תִּרְצוּ, אֵין זוֹ אַגָדַה

[6]  Elon, Amos. Herzl. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975.

[7]  Avineri, Shlomo.  The making of modern Zionism : the intellectual origins of the Jewish state.  New York, Basic Books, 1981.

[8] Goldstein, Yossi, “Eastern Jews vs. Western Jews: the Ahad Ha’am–Herzl dispute
and its cultural and social implications” in Jewish History (2010) 24: 355–377.