Storify of IFLA South Africa

The scent of hot braai and sea air have made way for incense and spicy garam masala: Mango airlines has safely delivered it’s sea-sprayed, big-data-acronymed-exhausted, conference-energized cargo to Durban, South Africa. I’ve arrived at the home of my co-presenter Kusturie and family. And what a journey it’s been!


The conference is over. But the work has just begun. After a non-stop whirlwind of international collaboration, cultural events, and brilliant librarianship–scholarship that makes me proud to be a part of this socially engaged, politically active, not-afraid-to-shake-a+ profession–I’m now coming to grips with and synthesizing the invaluable tacit cultural knowledge as well as practical applied techniques learned through conversation with international scholars and practitioners.

Those who gave more than $50 to the campaign that funded my plane trip will receive a recreated experience of South Africa (check your mailboxes!) and (thanks again!):

I’ve curated a Flickr photo album ( and a Storify (, sharing the experience.

Lekker and Dui, may you get to the mother city someday!


How to: A Quick n’ Dirty Tweet Data Analysis of European Refugee Crisis

humanitywashedashore network vis

Humanity Washed Ashore…In what languages are global tweeters talking about the Syrian refugees? With the tweet data subset of tweets and metadata associated with #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik, you can explore the tweet network as of 9AM September 9, 2015 (the day I’m writing this post). There are 23 languages that appear in this dataset; Most frequent user account language (Harken, budding data scientists! User account language is NOT necessarily language of the tweet text), ordered by the frequency of tweets: English (en), French (fr), German (de), Spanish (es), Turkish (tr), English (UK). We also see tweeters, though far less frequently (perhaps an artifact of a lower population or relatively lower Twitter presence) with accounts associated with Portuguese (pt), Japanese (ja), Arabic (ar), Dutch (nl), and a few (17 tweets) Greek (el), italian (it), as well as Polish and Indonesian. Chinese, Finnish, Russian, Norwegian, Azerbaijan (az), Danish, Swedish, Serbian and Hungarian. Source for language codes=

Twitter, by nature, is of real-time, by the minute, trending topics. Data analysis of Twitter data is best if it is as well. If you want a sense of who’s tweeting, what languages are participating in a particular topic of conversation, and where (IF their geo-coord data is not set to private…which is the case when I’m visualizing librarian conference data–they are privacy aware;)) here are my go-to quick and dirty exploratory tools…super easy to use, and give me an initial sense of the scope and “feel” of the data.

  1. What’s your topic? I’m taking data from the outcry in reaction to the photograph of Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned on his way from Turkey to Greece, just one soul in the recent migrant crises to die while fleeing. This Twitter data was gathered today at 9AM (Sept. 3, 2015), and showed 23 unique languages of user tweeting with the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik.
  2. Follow your curiosity to shape the questions to ask your data. Before analysis, I always manually go to the head of the tweet stream of the hashtag I’m harvesting, to get a sense of it’s popularity, the type of media being posted, the users, etc.
  3. Get TAGS. It’s a google spreadsheet that uses the Twitter REST Api (credit: Martin Hawksey!). (Use the “New Tags”).
  4. Once your Google Spreadsheet is open, Click File–> Create new copy–> then rename. Now, in this new sheet, go to the TAGS tab at the top right of your menu bar. Enter the term you wish to scrape from twitter in the box (it’s all pretty self-explanatory). Click “Run now!” (You’ll need to be logged into Twitter and set up authorization.
  5. Authorization Once you have granted authorization to run through your Twitter account, click TAGS–> “Run now!” again. A message will appear indicating that the API is scraping (“working”). Wait patiently 🙂 Don’t go to the archive sheet while it’s working–just chill.
  6. How many unique tweets? When done, check the sheet to see the period of time (7 days back) of data scraped, and the number of unique tweets. Then, check out the archive!!!!
  7. Add to Google Fusion I used to download the archive, save as a CSV, then upload to Google Fusion tables to play with. However, if you simply take the web address of the archive spreadsheet, you can pull it into Fusion super easy peasy.
  8. Word Tree tweet content exploration Also, use Jason Davies’ Word Tree to do some SUPER simple exploratory NLP. Then, of course, load your text into python to clean it up and run nltk for bigram, trigrams, frequency analysis, etc. to dig deeper.

Word tree to explore the frquently used words, and to inductively explore the themes of a hashtag corpus’ content. For example, I looked for “migrant” “Aylan” “help” “family” “refugee” (plural and singular sensitive, so it’s kind of a blunt weapon, just good for exploring pre-nltk. (HT Jason Davies and co:


Explore! Here are the exploratory raw data and charts (via google Fusion tables) vis of languages of twitter users who tweeted with the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik. Play around:

google fusion migrant graph

Play with raw data of #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik in Google Fusion tables. Click “add chart.”

Heavy lids high spirits: South Africa travel log p1


“Are you the one going to Cape Town?” The Delta check-in attendant grins knowingly, taking in the blur of feverish excitement in a floral travel dress that is me, alight with either excitement or manic anticipation of the first leg of a 31 hour flight.

My savvy Dutch pediatric nurse roommate Dea said “I’d be HONORED to take you…and sure want to give you a bonvoyage hug…which is not a regular one…”

This is not a regular flight indeed, and certainly the hug was a hug that made me appreciate the enormity of the world and the power of the attendees of the IFLA conference, with members from over 40 countries. She sent me off with a letter of luck and a pocket of Rand and any well wishes.image

This is it!  I’ve arrived in Cape Town, after much jet lag and am enjoying endless cups of tea and mists over table mountain.

We are presenting our paper, amidst table Mountain beauty in the western cape, on Wednesday, but in the meantime…Kusturie has arranged for a whirlwind tour, where we will visit table mountain, Robben island, Boulders beach, Simon’s Town, Cape of Good Hope, and Cape peninsula. While I have been to England, Canada, and Guatemala, for model European Union in undergrad, a Spartan Race, and service projects, respectively…never to present on data science for public and academic libraries, or hike around on a misty 60 degree morning on the tip of Africa, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet.

After hiking, shopping, sightseeing, and guzzling innumerable cups of tea, we plan to re-run our data analysis on the most up to date IMLS (2012) public library data, and look forward to comparing notes at the conference.

For photos galore on Flickr: The wonders of having a discerning eye and an iPhone 🙂

3 lessons from Geek Squad Academy

As the Lego robot shimmies its way across the carpet I can’t help but gawp. The ten year old surfer-dude who just told me his best nose-picking joke has successfully programmed his Lego vehicle to navigate a masking tape maze. Granted, the robotics course is a drag-and-drop environment—but these kids are learning if/else and for loops before 9AM #jawdrop.

The Geek Squad Academy put on by Best Buy has a national tour of tech-teaching for teens and pre-teens. Onondaga Free Library (OFL) in Syracuse, NY won a Geek Squad Academy experience for its local kids through a grant, one of 15 cities in the U.S. to snag the opportunity.  Alyssa Newton, asst. director of the OFL heralded a call for volunteers. I responded, and along with other Syracuse University LIS students and alumni and enjoyed 2 days of the genius, madness, chaos of 10 year old geeks #CoolestKidsinTown

Broken into groups of 15 the teams LOLcats, Haxors, and Encryptors (to name a few), we learned Geek Squad cheers #LOUDnProud
“VERY COOOOOooooooooool!”
“Haxors!” –“Hack-em!”
Rewarded with candy but motivated beyond sugar the students tinkered with SketchUp for 3D printing designs (so cool!!) and Lego Robotics throughout the week.

sketchupEach group attended 5 sessions a day:

  • Digital Citizenship
  • Lego Robotics
  • Film/Script
  • Digital Music (Garage Band)
  • 3D printing

I learned a lot. Here are 3 lessons of many I took away from the workshops, play with kids, and conversations with library and Geek Squad professionals.

Lesson 1: Don’t Ask Just Do It.

Kid: “Hey. Hey. Geek Squad lady, can I use the lift-y thing on my house? Is it ok if I make my room 8 feet high?”

[Her attention is absorbed by another project]

Another Kid: “Dude, don’t ask just do it.”

We are cautious—yes, us, adults! we are cautious. We think before we act. We don’t just Break Things-Push-All-the-Buttons-Get-Lost-in-the-Grocery-Store anymore. But exploring the edges of the world requires discovering what is possible. How do you know where the sidewalk ends until you steel your courage try looking over the edge and build a parachute…then jump off #? Play—and re-learn to play. Discover the best way to negotiate lunch, for starters. Half a fluffer-nutter for homemade jerky is a fair trade #withAnUncrustable. In kid world, kale and tofu salad has zero leverage. #Zilch. I remember when I was little and was fired up by tinkering with rollercoaster tycoon. Curiosity is critical! And it is threatened in the standardized, tidy, social-pressurized world adults adjust to. Growing up shouldn’t mean loss of curiosity, especially as an information professional and scholar.Don’t even try to convince me you could ever get a Ph.D. without avid curiosity, #amirite?

Lesson 2: Girls in Tech
On a more serious note I also observed the behavioral differences between guys and girls and their attitudes and relationship toward tech. Attendance-wise, 25% of the crowd were girls. However, both guys and the girls were rowdy but respectful. Most of them said their favorite subject is science and loved to play sports. More ladies are going to college than guys, but there’s still a disparity when according to Apple’s recent diversity report in August 2014, 70% of employees at Apple are male…(Upstart Business Journal, And that 75% of the kids at tech programming like the Geek Squad Academy were boys, a suggestive correlation. Reading Lean In by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg has opened my eyes to the real gaps that still remain with Girls in Tech. The Geek Squad Academy was not the first tech workshop many of the boys I talked to in the Lego Robotics sessions had been to; some were familiar with the Lego mindstorms and other drag n drop programming environs. All kids should have the leg up early on–especially if their favorite subject is science…or garage band. #GirlsInTech #ITgirls

Lesson 3: Digital Natives
“Kids these days really know technology! They got a handle on all the ins and outs of the smart-thingies, the iPads and those ‘der iPhones!”

Many information professionals will argue that this is a myth: “Just because kids are digital natives does not mean they know the least bit about computers.”

Yes… and/but.

While it’s true that fiddling around with an iPad doesn’t automatically equip anyone to understand the nooks and crannies of evaluating the validity of an information resource, apply the concepts of database design, or evaluate the goodness of a classification model, kids get comfortable in the environment. They learn the interface—the basics language of GUI design, information architecture, and good web design (recognizing commonly used symbols–that’s the power button, swishing up with the index makes the page scroll, pressing harder makes the guitar get louder, etc.). Furthermore, Geek Squad Academy reviewed vocabulary in every session giving the “Junior Agents” an understanding of the why and the how of applications we used. Conceptually, the kids have a long way to go–when trying to write their own robotics programs they couldn’t quite piece the logic of a foreloop–but were very good at copying what Geek Squad lieutenant

After the lessons…now what??
In the meantime, I get to explore! I listed my notes from Geek Squad Academy below– a to-do list that will get me on the level of the kids and Geek Squad employees I met 😛

  • [replicating data: check out]
  • Watch World War Z. [suggestion from a Junior Agent] J
  • To bring: cape, hat, markers, robotic digital film music script.
  • Pearl, VB, C#, C
  • A Plus, Get certification in comp scià cheaper than a college degree. $400/$500 certifications through MS—security plus. HTML5. There are local tests to take after you buy a book and study.
  • Try Mindstorm. Simpler than Lego Robotics! “Uberfun”
  • Ad blocker free downloader, digital shadow (login with Facebook) for tracking.
  • In the digital citizenship session, we broke into teams to make anti-cyberbullying campaigns with ipad and markers. We also learned about flaming (THAT’S WHEN MAKE A NEGATIVE COMMENT IN ALL CAPS), ad blocker, cookies, target marketing, and pros and cons of the commercial collection of user information. Yes, there are pros. The Geek Squad treated the issue carefully and fairly, emphasizing that Collusion is a service that allows the user to see sites that are tracking online behavior. For example, When I visit, 3 sites track my info. Check out this awesome visualization of how “if you are not paying for a service, you are probably the product” from collusion.
  • During lunch we played Ninja, a classic recess game where you must be the last ninja standing. Going around in a circle of Ninjas, you lunge in a “fluid ninja motion” and try to chop your opponent below the wrist to incapacitate their hand.

Novellina, Teresea. “Apple needs more Angelas, Eddys, and Kims, but will they come and will they stay?” Upstart Business Journal. 13 August 2014. Accessed: August 15, 2014.

Proposal Defense: Jerry Robinson on DIY and Hacker and Adaptive Tech

Zebreda makesitworkThe frontiers pushed by Syracuse University iSchoolers never fail to amaze. On May 8, a warm day (finally!) on campus, PhD candidate Jerry Robinson presented his research on Do-it-Yourself (DIY) efforts of people with disabilities. While his research focuses on DIY and “hacking” technology to avoid accessibility challenges, the defense also brought up issues of CHI, the “agency” of objects, and user-centered design. Below are my notes, thoughts, and questions in response to Jerry’s stellar proposal defense.

Individuals with disabilities have to “overcome constraints” as much as the next person. More so, arguably. Their experiences with impairment (i.e., limited mobility and limitations of physical dexterity) are addressed with creative, innovative, and DIY/hacker-like solutions. See the video of the innovative Zebreda here. But hackers come in many types. Some of these types may be a semantic matter, but broadly defined, hackers are those who approach problems by using tools in a way not originally intended by the product designer. For example, one might use the component parts of an iphone and a microwave to heat their home and let the dog out. A far-fetched example, perhaps, but we can imagine this is possible, given that people have completed re-purposing projects in this way before. Another creative problem-solving is DIY. The do-it-yourself emphasizes a reach back to roots where one constructs, creates, etc. something you could buy commercially from his/her own materials. It is unclear whether this could be via materials provided by a commercial organization explicitly for the DIY experience. The distinction and similarities between these approaches is important not to neglect. There is an emphasis on the “journey” part of “it’s the is journey as well as the destination” aspect of DIY, hacking, customization, and modification. There’s the accomplishing a goal piece, and the value of self-definition, agency, producing cultural artifacts.


1. Michael Nilan talked about the observer…. The “real estate in the metaverse” and “on high” experts.
2. What should the unit of analysis be? Argument: a. individual. Advantages: Can look at entanglements. Cannot piece apart entanglements if looking at (social) practices as the unit of analysis.

3. My question: if there are types of hackers (and I think from the first paragraph we can agree there are, beyond just semantic distinctions. It’s a matter of the ratio (emphasizing and balancing) of journey to destination. When discovering why someone (IwD or not) behaves in a DIY or hacker way, what motivations, beliefs, intentions etc. constitutes the emergent moment? When I decide to rig up my own fishing lure before I go to Home Depot to buy a rod and reel. The value is in the subversion; in a way, the formality of hackathons undermines those who are the type of hackers. Participatory design.

4. “Tools have agency.” Explain this statement further and explain to what extent and the implications of the agency of tools. A computer mouse does not have intentionality, of course, but we still say that it “demands certain things of me.” One implication that Jerry mentioned of the controlling aspects of tech and other tools is that our body and mind is constrained by the tools we used, our freedom to act directed, controlled in various ways…and also augmented by tech/tools/environment.

5. Will your dissertation focus at all beyond (physical) objects to “mental” hacks, new ways of thinking? It is a hack (and kind of a DIY, except a “think it yourself,” giving credibility to your own ideas. TIY, If you will.) For example, some people can visualize various things to help with clearer speech, or with a stutter to speak in rhythm with a mental shift.

Data Science: week 2

Lesson two in data science class #2 challenged students to ask the right questions. I majored in philosophy in undergrad, and I am proud to say that I am majoring in Philosophy in ‘life,’ insofar as philosophy is a love of knowledge and a perpetual open-mindedness that asks ‘why?’Philosophy has proved the most useful, valuable, and rigorous crucible because it has challenged me to ask the right questions.

Of course, the buoyant and heady feeling born of studying the fundamental questions that humans have grappled with since the beginning of time is not an unwelcome effect.

However, philosophy’s ‘dirty laundry,’ so to speak, is that it is not well defined: philosophers shift between making sweeping generalizations (general theories of “everything”) and making infinitesimal distinctions.  But, the reason why I do it and love it is because I need to understand my world and the many ways of looking at it.

And, of course, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We must ask ourselves: Is what we’re doing worth doing? What would you do if you were just trying to make yourself happy? It a question that merits our attention.

A conscientious scientist, investigator, and engaged citizen needs critical thinking and analytic skills. A big shout out to epistemology, philosophy of science, and skepticism generally for “tracking down…prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them.” Evidence is the foundation on which we make decisions in our organizations, how we justify our arguments, and how we make sense of the world. Data-driven decision-making fuels solutions for business and organizational problems. Problems best answered with evidence rather than on a hunch.

Bayesian formulas Because of philosophy, I am relentless. Even if the only words I understand in a technical manual are ‘the’ ‘and’ or ‘maybe’, I will still beat my head against the wall until understanding, finally, laboriously, leaks in. Because the only way you are going to a) contribute something valuable b) be able to read 85 pages and write 19 single spaced in 2 weeks is if you are intrinsically motivated. If what you do is because of internal reward, not grades or ca$h money.

So problem solving skills are not irreconcilable with a degree in Philosophy, by any means. In fact, the late tycoon Max Palevsky once reported to The Atlantic:

Many of us early workers in computers were philosophy majors. You can imagine our surprise at being able to make rather comfortable livings. (The Atlantic,

Be employable. Study philosophy…

…and study Data Science! Identifying data problems is the first step a data scientist takes and the process requires a firm grounding in fundamental principles of philosophy. Asking: what is the purpose (of data architecture, collection, analysis, and archiving)? This question drives every stage of data gathering, information retrieval, data analysis, and data preservation.

SARAH | Freelance Pianist

piano keys larsYour company holding an event?
A Community celebration?
Christmas party?
Church Service?
Contact me at sebratt at syr dot edu to play at your next gathering!

Your next event featuring a grand piano and classical music, ambient favorites, popular music, Christmas tunes (and requests!) adds uniqueness and the element of live music to your celebration.

I am a freelance pianist from Syracuse NY. I am currently music leader at Faith Lutheran Church (June 2013). I have been playing for over 15 years and have a wide repertoire.

Past events
Oneida Lake Church of Christ (substitute Church Pianist) (May 2012-June 2013)
Salvation Army Christmas Collection (volunteer) (December 2013)
Public performance (volunteer) at Onondaga County Park (July 2013)
Meridian Baptist Church (substitute Chuch Pianist) (June 2011-January 2012)
Brick House Cafe (entertainment performer) (Brewerton | Driver’s Village) (June 2010, October 2013)

Contact me at sebratt at syr dot edu to play at your next event!