Press "Enter" to skip to content

Tag: research

Discovering Hidden Treasures at the National Postal Museum Library

Researchers in the National Postal Museum Library.
Researchers in the National Postal Museum Library.

While working at the National Postal Museum (NPM) Library, we often stumble upon treasures that are waiting to be discovered. We find them in boxes of donations, tucked away on a shelf, behind cabinets, and underneath metal file drawers, but sometimes they are hidden in plain sight.

Computers and Washington

Last fall, I marked the season for the harvesting of grapes to honor John Adlum, the little-known “Father of American Viticulture.” The origins of the first commercially viable vine in the American wine industry can be traced to the District of Columbia.

Now, with the great interest in Alan Turing, the recent auction sale of this English mathematician’s 56-page notebook for more than a million dollars, and the success of the movie, “The Imitation Game,” let’s look at another (and earlier) computer pioneer genius, Herman Hollerith, and the importance of his Washington invention. Hollerith was, as stated in the title of his principle biography, “The forgotten giant of information processing.” Again, it was the beginning of a huge industry—surprisingly but not at all incidentally—in the nation’s capital.

Changing Library Services

Bird Adaptation
Adaptation among birds

Organizations which respond to the changing needs of their clients are the ones that survive well.  Here are two examples:

Shortly after General Motors began manufacturing cars in the early 1900s it created a unit (GMAC), which loaned money to car buyers and earned interest on these loans. Although known worldwide as an industrial powerhouse, eventually GM began earning far more profit from this money-lending operation than they did from auto sales. GM eventually sold the finance unit to pay off other debts.

A second example involves a much smaller company. Readers in the Mid-Atlantic region may remember Erol’s TV which started out in the 1970s repairing televisions and other electronics and later began renting video cassette players for home use. It wasn’t long before Erol’s began stocking VHS, Betamax and DVDs and became known primarily as a video rental store. They later sold the business to Blockbuster for $30 million. However the company continued to evolve in response to consumer demands, becoming an Internet service provider in the 1990s, competing with early ISPs like CompuServ, Prodigy and AOL.

5 Tips for Better Searching

Image of binoculars from 1883 trade catalog
Image from James W. Queen & Co. trade catalog, 1883

You’ve been using Google for years. In fact, you use it every day. And you always get tons of results, so you must be an expert searcher, right? Not so fast… Getting more results is not always helpful! Do you really have time to go through 264 pages to find what you want?

What you need are better results, which come from better searches. So here are some tips that work in most search engines and research databases to help you get better, on-target results.

Finding Current Research Using Free Online Resources

Image of 1883 microscope
Tolles’s Microscope, from 1883 Boston Optical Works catalog

Even the most experienced scholars can find it difficult to keep up with new research in their fields. So much is being published in journals and online every day that it can be overwhelming. So I’ve put together a list of websites to help you wade through the rising tide of research. These resources are available free to anyone via the Internet and offer useful tools for discovering new research in a wide variety of subject areas.

Altmetrics: the cat’s meow?

at least kitty has nine lives

This past week, you might have noticed the many news stories about killer cats. The research study about domestic cats’ impact on nature concluded that cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals every year. Did you happen to pick up that the senior author on the paper was Peter Marra of the Migratory Bird Center, a research unit of the National Zoo, and one of his cowriters was Scott Loss, also of the MBC? While we are always excited by and proud of the research output of the Smithsonian, this is an example of a scholarly article having an impact in the public sphere—i.e. beyond just the scientific community. Does that matter? How does it matter? Is there a way for the organization sponsoring that research to measure impact of research output like this? These are the kinds of questions we can finally begin to tackle with the use of altmetrics.