Category Archives: Mind Expansion

Django Girls just wanna have fun


It’s no secret that tech companies continue to be a boy’s club – today women make up only 15% of technical roles at tech companies. Luckily, there is a movement gaining momentum to reverse that trend. Leading the way are organizations like Made with Code, Black Girls Code, and Girl Develop It, which urge women not to be intimidated by code.

Another one of these inspiring organizations is Django Girls. Created by “the Olas”, Ola Sitarska and Ola Sendecka, Django Girls provides resources and support by way of online tutorial and workshops with expert coaches to help female attendees build a blog from scratch.

In less than a year after it’s founding, Django Girls workshops have been held in 24 countries all over the world, a testament to the growing interest many women are expressing in code. The online tutorial, an easily digestible intro to the Django framework and Python language, is used for the workshop but has been used by over 30,000 people online.

I recently attended a Django Girls event in New York which felt like a birthday party and workshop combined. With free food, booze, a photo booth and balloons, attendees were made to feel like VIPs. Guest speakers, male and female, told their personal stories about getting started with code and overcoming impostor syndrome and insecurities.

One day is not enough to learn how to code, but in the industry, sometimes a little bit can go a long way. Beginners can use resources like Stack Overflow or find meetups to ask questions and work through technical obstacles.

Before we wrapped up the workshop, all the girls were sent home with a rubber duck that represented a powerful message. In “rubber duck programming” developers who hit a wall talk through their problem to a rubber duck. The theory is that talking through a problem is often all that’s needed to find the solution.

I really liked taking part in Django Girls. Take a look at their events page. Hopefully there’s one on the calendar near you.

For more information about gender diversity in technology and computing check out National Center for Women and Information Technology.

Some more photos from the Django Girls NYC event in March:





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The Provenance of New York City Buildings

Old and new building illustration Library Manifesto

What’s one thing city streets have in common with research? Sometimes there are dead ends.

On October 7th as part of Archives Week the Brooklyn Historical Society held a free workshop event hosted by Librarian Elizabeth Call. I left the event feeling curious about the history of the places I’ve lived, who lived there, and when they were built.

If you’re interested in a landmarked neighborhood or building, The Brooklyn Historical Society archives landmark neighborhood and building reports. For non-landmark buildings, atlases and land conveyances provide information, for instance when property changed hands. At the Othmer Library, a landmark itself, wood paneling, columns, and high ceilings shape the ambiance for research. Information about their in-house collection can be viewed here.

For researchers who can’t make it to the Society, there are many options to pursue online. It’s often helpful to go beyond the address for a property and find the building and lot number. The NYC Department of Buildings provides that and other really basic, but useful information.

Once you look up a property there may be a link to see “Actions” that include digitized files available as PDFs. Call warned that sometimes these PDFs are mislabeled and often the quality is so low they may be illegible. The Department of Buildings has many records on site at 210 Joralemon Street, but other records are located in Jamaica, Queens. Researchers might travel back and forth more than they’d expect to. Here is an example of a random address, 219 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, searched on the NYC DOB website.

Department of Buildings Screen Shot

On NYC DOB search an address on the bottom left

Department of Buildings Screen Shot

Click on “Actions” on the left bottom column to find PDFs

Department of Buildings Screen Shot

Certificate of Occupancy for 219 Dekalb

The Department of Finance offers ACRIS, an online database of property ownership records. ACRIS allows you to search property records and view document images for Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, and Brooklyn from 1966 to the present.

A fun visual supplement to document research comes from the Tax Photography Collection at the New York City Municipal Archives. First completed in the 1930s and 40s (way before Google put cars on the road for their maps), these photographs captured each building in New York City for tax appraisal evaluations. The Municipal Archives took on the task of restoring the old 35mm negatives (720,000 or so) and they’re now available on microfilm. In the 1980s the project was repeated. Elizabeth Call showed us a photograph of a charming brownstone house that in the 80s was boarded up. It’s striking to see the history of a building when it’s down on its luck and then on its comeback. Below you can compare 219 Dekalb Avenue, from the example above, in the 1980s and then a more recent image from Google Maps. The liquor store signs remains.

Tax Photography Colection Screen Shot

219 Dekalb circa 1980 from the Tax Photography Collection

Google Maps Street View

219 Dekalb circa 2013 from Google Maps

Columbia University’s Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library is another well of research materials for the real estate biographer. Real Estate Records and Builders Guide has thousands of property articles dating from 1868-1922 and the NY Real Estate Brochure Collection which covers 1920-1970 and includes floor plans, price lists, and commercial property brochures.

See the excellent research guide from Brooklyn Historical Society of what’s available outside the library.

P.S. Architecture historian and writer Christopher Gray created this practical guide for researching New York City buildings. Check out some of his research finds on the NY Times.

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Prepare your archive: Sign up for ART’s Disaster Planning Symposium

Symposium Library Manifesto Cartoon

Next week, as part of an engrossing lineup of events for Archives Week, Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York is putting on a symposium titled Disaster Planning for Archives and their Communities. The event lands just weeks before the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, a disaster that many libraries and archives are still recuperating from.

Disaster planning is increasingly important as extreme weather patterns increase, buildings age, budgets shrink, and international archives become collateral damage in war. The symposium will emphasize resources and tools for an updated understanding of disasters and archiving practices.

Full disclosure, I am one of the committee members helping to put the symposium together and I am enthused to hear all of the panelist’s strategic advice. I would be thrilled to see not only archivists, but first responders and community organizers in attendance. If you are going, spread the word! Get a head start on topics with this handy Disaster Recovery Resources list from MoMA.

Archivists Round Table is an organization of volunteers that build the archivist community in and around the New York metro area. Archivists Round Table puts on educational programs and classes, often in conjunction with Metropolitan New York Library Council, for the community to share knowledge and stay in the loop on trends and issues important to archivists.

Symposium Library Manifesto Cartoon

Illustrations: Library Manifesto

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Arts and Politics in Fiction at The Brooklyn Book Festival 2013

Brooklyn Book Festival

The annual Brooklyn Book Festival took place this past Sunday, September 22nd in Downtown Brooklyn. With the grandiose backdrop of the Brooklyn court buildings, scores of publications and niche presses were set up along the sidewalks, mailing list sign-up sheets at the ready.

Joel Whitney moderated “Arts and Politics in Fiction” at the Brooklyn Historical Society. A panel of three authors, Alex Gilvarry, Rachel Kushner, and Nicholson Baker, read selection from their latest books. The readings were sprinkled with insights and anecdotes about mixing fiction and politics. The panel description read, “Art has always been a tool for political and social change. In these novels, it comes in the form of protest-pop songs, motorcycle photography and high-end fashion.” After the event, ideas circled my head as I people-watched and collected free bookmarks for the rest of the afternoon.

The author Nicholson Baker wrote a protest song for his book “Traveling Sprinkler.” Baker, known both for his essay writing and fiction, suggested there may be more truth in fiction than non-fiction. Baker said that writers need characters and a fictional landscape to grapple with their real life emotions. When Baker writes non-fiction he finds one main difficulty arises: the inconsistencies of his opinions and ideas. From one day to the next, his opinions are morphing and shaping. His answer to the complexity is to explore that inner conflict in fiction writing through characters who struggle with those same ideas.

When writing politically, authors face the challenge of finding the right prose. About words like “drone” Baker said“You can almost hear the reader say, oh god!” Certain words have connotations that overshadow any other meaning. Alex Gilvarry in his novel “From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant” takes superficial characters and puts them in a serious and scary world. He had trouble using “Bush” and “Cheney” and ended up replacing “Guantanamo” with “no man’s land.”

Rachel Kushner, author of “The Flamethrowers,” spoke about watching political dramas unfold from the comfort of her living room. Kushner has read about Autonomia Operaia (a ’70s Italian political movement) and has friends and family connections to both Italy and Occupy Oakland. The people around us inspire our politics and our writing. Kushner’s novel developed through her friend’s literature and hearing countless stories about ’70s Italy.

Though many of the vendors at the Brooklyn Book Festival were also participating in the NY Art Book Fair, I felt a very different energy at each. The best aspect of the Brooklyn Book Festival were the families and diverse crowd drawn in by the wide range of book genres. I had a blast last weekend connecting with publishers and book lovers in general. Just for fun, here are some of my photographs from the festival. Read last Monday’s Post on the New York Art Book Fair too.

Brooklyn Book Festival

Passers-by filled a bulletin board writing their current reads on Post-it notes.

Brooklyn Book Festival

The eye-catching Penguin book truck was in attendance.

Brooklyn Book Festival

“Barf Manifesto” called out to me at the Ugly Duckling Presse table.

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Archival Leaders Advocate!

Drawings of Panelists by Natalie Pantoja

As scholars study rare documents at archives and libraries around the world, they are bringing their smartphones and using them in their research.

At the annual Center for Jewish History event Archival Leaders Advocate on Thursday, Sept. 12 a panel discussed how new technology is changing scholarly research methods and what libraries and archives might do to address those changes. The discussion centered on a new Ithaka S+R report, “The Role of Archives in Supporting Changing Research Practices.” Ithaka S+R is the research group of ITHAKA, the non-profit that provides digital access to over 1500 academic journals through its JSTOR service.

Panel moderator Jefferson Bailey, Strategic Initiatives Manager at Metro NY Library Council, relayed his recent experience at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Maryland where scholars have been doing a lot of their own digital capturing, even setting up camera stands to photograph items.

Photo Capture Archives by Natalie Pantoja

Roger Schonfeld, a co-author of the report, said that the scholars interviewed have a strong appreciation for archivists with a deep expertise and who really know their collections. Scholars also said that for the most efficient discovery tool, Google Books often trumps looking in a book’s index. Schonfeld caught my attention most when he talked about the anxiety scholars felt to be comprehensive in their research. Schonfeld suggested that some of this anxiety could be prevented with research tools that could narrow search results to the tens instead of hundreds to sift through.

Melanie Meyers, Senior Reference Services Librarian for Special Collections at the Center for Jewish History was interested in how archives are handling the growing trend of researchers using iPhones at archives to curate and compile their own portable digital archives. She asked the open question of whether it is possible to take advantage of this trend. I think there could be an opportunity, for instance, in using scholar’s iPhone photographs and linking them directly to the online finding aid.

David Ludden feels that taking iPhone photos in archives leads to a “dismembering” of archives. Ludden, a Professor of History at NYU who was interviewed for the report, raised concerns that when people photograph parts of archives, the archival materials can be taken out of context or have their contexts altered. He equated the act of digital capture to the looting of unprotected archaeological sites. Ludden concluded with a plea to JSTOR to make their research materials more affordable and widely available.

Kate Theimer, a writer and blogger about archives at ArchivesNext, suggested that the report’s recommendations lacked guidance for archivists. Theimer feels archivists are already making efforts to address the changing needs of researchers, including the continuation of digitization efforts and accessibility of finding aids.

A common theme of the evening was the challenge of providing graduate students access to research training in archives and libraries. The question made me think that archive education could start even sooner than graduate school. Perhaps exposing high school students to archives could set them on a research track that would make them research experts by the time they are starting PhD programs.

P.S. Another topic discussed was “archival silences” and theories of missing links in relation to digitization, but I plan to cover that more in depth soon!

Illustrations: Library Manifesto

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Roundup: Going Back To School

composition notebook graphic

Fall is a wonderful time to find yourself back in class picking up new professional skills (or dusting off old ones). Here are some courses and workshops coming up in 2013 that caught my attention and offer a nice professional boost. These classes range in price from free to a bit costly and they’re sure to give anyone who’s been out of the classroom a healthy dose of back to school jitters.

I’ve signed up for “Metadata: Organizing and Discovering Information” a free course from Coursera, one of the organizations driving the MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) phenomenon. The course is taught by Jeffrey Pomerantz of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina. Before you sign up, know that there is some required background knowledge in coding. If you don’t have experience with HTML, you may want to try Codeacademy. People love Codeacdemy’s hit the ground running style. You’ll start coding the second your browser opens the link.

Library Juice Press offers classes through Library Juice Academy. These workshops earn Continuing Education Units, good news for some certified librarians. The topics are broad and include “Cataloging for Non-Catalogers”, “Considering an Open-Source ILS” and “Introduction to RDA.” They’re all offered at the affordable price of $175.00. Library Juice Academy also offers a Certificate in User Experience (UX). Through the certificate program, you can gain fundamentals of user experience and learn to apply user-centered strategies to library websites. The program covers topics like “Designing a Usable Website” and “Do-It-Yourself Usability Testing.”

There’s been an outpouring of support for women developers, and Girl Develop It (GDI) is one of the the leading organizations. Classes starting in September are offered all over the US. The classes are not solely for ladies. So, boys, you can learn how to build your own website too. And if you already have your own site, you can take more control of its look and feel. Other course topics include “Introduction to JavaScript” and “Mockups to Code” they also organize more casual “Code and Coffee” nights. Classes will set you back around $80.00. Black Girls Code is another female-oriented educator. Check them out too.

And, if you’re looking for something to energize your life goals, there’s  James Victore’s “Take This Job and Love It.” In the creator’s words, the one day event  is about “work, life and bucking the status quo.” Victore wants you to unlock the creative skills you already have. This October, topics will include “The value of being unreasonable” and “Accepting responsibility for your awesomeness.” Full day passes will cost $250.00 and it’s $500.00 for a “Badass” ticket.


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