Hello from library school!

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Rachel and Allison after last year's Biblioball!

Rachel and Allison after last year’s Biblioball!

When we were approached to be April’s guest bloggers for The Desk Set, we thought it would be fun to post our perspectives as current library school students (we’re both in our second semester at Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science).

Taking inspiration from SLA’s blog series, “What I’m Learning in Library School”, over the next three weeks we’ll introduce ourselves, discuss balancing work and school, and reflect on the (sometimes) negative and outdated idea of what it means to be a librarian.

The two of us met before our first semester at Pratt through the new SILS students Facebook page. Since New York City is such a heavy commuter area, everyone in the group was discussing where they lived in order to find potential commuting buddies. Sure enough, we discovered we both lived in Inwood and, even better, only four blocks apart! A friendship was born.


Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science is located in downtown Manhattan. Boasting a strong arts librarianship program, Pratt also offers specialized concentrations and courses in various fields from medical to government to data librarianship. The cultural ties with the NYC community are also a great asset in finding internships, networking, and discovering job opportunities for students and alums.

About Us

Allison:  Originally from Rochester, NY, I’m a 2006 graduate of Fordham University with a BA in Political Science and Religious Studies. For the past 6 years I have worked at Columbia University Medical Center, first as an Administrative Coordinator and now as Data Coordinator, for the Division of Family Planning and Preventive Services in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. After taking several credits towards a Master’s in Public Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, I switched my focus to library science and enrolled at Pratt. My goal is to utilize my healthcare experience (and my love of a good PubMed search!) to become a Medical Librarian.

Rachel:  Something of a nomad, I grew up in Texas, earned my BA and Master’s of Music degrees in Southern California, and now live in Manhattan working on my library science master’s. My background is in vocal performance (stay tuned for recital announcements!) and I plan to meld my intellectual and artistic selves into a career in music librarianship. I currently work part-time at Pratt Institute as a Graduate Assistant, aiding with faculty research and day-to-day operations in the Pratt Manhattan library.

More from us next week! Until then, check us out on twitter (@topaintsunlight–Allison, @Smiley_RachelL–Rachel)

Vote March 30 – April 6

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What kind of change do you want to see in your neighborhood? You can decide how to spend $1 million dollars in our community. Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community residents directly decide how to spend public dollars. Council Member Stephen Levin’s District 33 is part of PB in New York City. Visit stephenlevin33.tumblr.com for voting locations and more information. Anyone who is age 16 and above and lives in Council District 33 is eligible to vote. Not sure what council district you live in? You can put in your address here to find out.

You can vote for up to five projects that will benefit our community, including the BOOKlyn Shuttle.

The mission of the BOOKlyn SHUTTLE is to inspire, stimulate and improve the literacy of North Brooklyn’s youth. It aims to cultivate a vibrant community of active learners who share a lifelong love of reading, introducing new and exploratory pathways toward success and opportunity.


Voting Locations and Times

Sunday 3/30 McGolrick Park Farmers Market, 11am-4pm Monday 3/31 PS 157, 8:15-10am | Greenpoint Public Library, 10am-6pm | District Office, 10am-6pm | Cadman Towers, 9am-3pm Tuesday 4/1 Greenpoint Public Library, 10am-6pm | PS157, 4-6pm | Polish Slavic Center, 5-7pm | Jonathan Williams Plaza, 12-5pm | District Office, 10am-6pm | Cadman Towers, 9am-3pm Wednesday 4/2 Greenpoint Public Library, 1-8pm | District Office, 10am-6pm | Cadman Towers, 9am-3pm | PS 110, 8-9:30am | Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, 2-7pm Thursday 4/3 Greenpoint Public Library, 1-8pm | District Office, 10am-6pm | Cadman Towers, 9am-3pm | PS110, 8-9:30am & 2-7:30pm Friday 4/4 Greenpoint Public Library, 10am-6pm | District Office, 10am-6pm | Cadman Towers, 9am-3pm | PS8, 8-10am | PS16, 8-10am Saturday 4/5 Berry Street Houses, 10am-4pm | Gowanus Houses, 12-5pm | East River Park-Brooklyn Flea, 10am-5pm | PS16, 9am-1pm | McCarren Park Farmers Market, 8am-2pm | Greenpoint Public Library, 10am-5pm Sunday 4/6 Wyckoff Gardens, 12-5pm | Independence Towers, 12-5pm | McGolrick Park Farmers Market, 11am-4pm

What’s the ANSCR? Using Unusual Classification Systems for Media Collections

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Several years ago, the Sarah Lawrence College Library switched their video collection from an accession-based classification system to Library of Congress Classification system (LCC), which we use for our books. While it certainly made sense to switch to a subject-based system, and one that matched the rest of our collection, the result was less than ideal. Fiction films are located under PN, which is the LCC class for “literature.” They primarily fall under PN1997 (feature films, split into before 2001 and after) or PN1995.9 (major motion pictures), and then sorted by title.

As a result, we ended up with almost all of our DVDs lumped into a couple of call numbers, with very lengthy strings which are difficult to read or remember. Even worse, the call numbers sorted the DVDs into subjects, only genres. Documentaries fare better, as they do end up in subject-specific call numbers.

LCC call numbers were designed before the existence of library media collections. The music category only has three subdivisions – M for notated music (scores); ML for literature of music (books about music); and MT for musical instruction and study (studies and exercises, music theory, music-appreciation). None of these make sense for sound recordings, unless the sound recording happens to be ABOUT music or designed for instruction or study. It is impossible to have a notated score as a sound recording. Most academic libraries keep closed stacks for sound recordings and use an accession-based system of classification.

When I became a music librarian and observed how much my patrons at Sarah Lawrence rely on the ability to browse items by subject for work or their own enjoyment, I decided to switch our CDs from an accession-based classification to a browsable one. I referred to an excellent book by Mark McKnight, Music Classification Systems, which led me to a little-used system called ANSCR (pronounced “answer”), short for Alpha Numeric System for the Classification of Recordings. ANSCR, created in 1969, is meant for small, browsable sound recording collections – since Sarah Lawrence has less than 7,000 CDs, this seemed ideal for us.

A selection of operas in ANSCR classification

A selection of operas in ANSCR classification

In ANSCR, there are roughly 30 categories. These can be split into four broad areas – music, spoken, sounds, and children’s categories. Some of the larger categories have sub-categories, i.e. orchestral music is subdivided into general orchestral, ballet music, concertos, and symphonies. The rest of the call number utilizes composer/performer name (or country, if world music), and then album title. This means the patron can have an idea of what they are looking for, like Beethoven symphonies, and easily discern which area of the collection this might be in without needing a computer.

Initial challenges created by switching systems included needing additional money for staff time, a student worker, and labels. Plus, I had to create all the call numbers on my own, whereas with Dewey or LCC I could have simply copied the call number from other cataloging. More shelf space is needed for a browsable subject-based classification, and shifting will occasionally need to be done as collections change. In an accession-based system, the newest CDs are placed at the end of the collection, which many patrons liked as it meant they could easily find new acquisitions. This is not replicated with ANSCR, but the creation of a “New Acquisitions” shelf plus the Music Library Tumblr has helped fill the gap.

ANSCR itself has some flaws, such as recordings that contain multiple music genres – it’s not unusual for an album to have both a concerto and a symphony. Or what about the genres that don’t fit into any of the categories? This especially poses problems for 20th/21st century composers. Smaller, non-orchestral contemporary classical ensembles end up being lumped into “chamber music” when there’s nowhere else for them to go, so that section is rather large. Future projects could include subdividing the chamber music section, most likely into ensemble size (trios, quartets, quintets, and then higher).

Despite the flaws, using ANSCR has been beneficial to the patrons here. Even with the heavy workload in the beginning of this process, using an uncommon classification system not only helped to make my own workflows more efficient, but it also aided in the discovery and access of materials to my patrons. Items that were previously little-used now circulate with more frequency. Before, few people realized we had enough recordings for an accordion section, or a band music section. If you are thinking of switching a media collection to a new classification system, I’d suggest doing a little research first instead of defaulting to Dewey or LCC.

Further reading:

Using Tumblr for Outreach & Media Collections


It’s an odd experience writing about Tumblr when your office internet is out again for the 4th time this week. Between the outages and a full-day library instruction session, I haven’t logged onto Tumblr in about a week. Yet new content has been posted on the SLC Music Library Tumblr once a day, thanks to one of Tumblr’s most useful features, the queue. Even if I’m not around to make a post, I always have a week’s worth of posts in my queue, ready to go.

I’m certainly not the first librarian to use Tumblr as a means of promoting my library and interacting with patrons, but (as far as I could tell) I did create the first music library-specific Tumblr. Sarah Lawrence College had no official Tumblr presence at all back in late 2011, yet many of our students and alums were interacting on Tumblr. I have the added complication of running a branch library. Since we are physically separate from the Main Library, many of the non-music students can graduate without even knowing that a Music Library exists on campus, despite our outreach.

Tumblr is not an ideal blog format for a librarian. We pride ourselves on organization, making information easily accessible and discoverable. Yet Tumblr has an abysmal search function; the tagging could be better; and it’s very difficult to find properly sourced content to reblog (Tumblr tends to strip away the sourcing, or not post it at all to begin with). Tumblr is still relatively new in social media – it’s expanded very quickly, but it’s still finding its place among other blogging sites.

animated gif of a radio

A home-made animated gif showcasing a radio-shaped Hank Williams boxed set of CDs. Click through to see animation

Where Tumblr excels is in showcasing media content. I can post a clip of a song from a new CD we’ve bought for the library, have the album information and art included, link to the library catalog, and it’s all streaming-only. I’ll post a review/summary of a new book or piece of sheet music under an eye-grabbing picture of the cover. The integration of animated gifs helps bring unusual collection items to life.

Over the past few years, my library has benefited from its promotion on Tumblr. I reach a greater audience than I would otherwise (I average a few hundred views a month, added to over 200 Tumblr followers); I can interact and share ideas with other libraries and publishers; new acquisitions featured on the Tumblr received a tremendous surge in circulation; the queue and reblog functions help me spend less time managing the Tumblr; and it has an “Ask” feature where patrons can contact me directly.

However, there are some caveats for a library using Tumblr. There are still copyright questions as to whether the use of music could really fall under Fair-Use. While I can see how many Tumblr users follow my posts, I can’t tell if they’ve actually seen them when they’re using Tumblr’s Dashboard feature – I have to use Google Analytics to fill in the gaps about additional usage from outside Tumblr. Tumblr’s main audience tends to be in the 13 to 30 age range, which needs to be considered when making posts. Informality, pop culture references, and humor are key.

Tumblr, like all social media, is a continually evolving medium. There are a lot of great university and library Tumblrs out there, both official and unofficial ones. I recommend looking at the ever-growing lists on higheredsocialmedia.tumblr.com and the Lifeguard Librarian’s “Tumblarian” list. Tumblr isn’t the only social resource libraries will use, but it presents a unique way to reach out to patrons.

Hello from Sarah Lawrence!

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Greetings and salutations, Desk Set readers! I’m very pleased to be guest blogging for the month of March (or at least, the latter half of it). I have a lifelong legacy of libraries – my mother has been a librarian for over 30 years, and my first job was delivering books on the big yellow library tricycle for the Mattapoisett Free Public Library. Now, 15 years later, I run the William Schuman Music Library at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY.

Your guest blogger, Charlotte Price

In which I point out my first published library article

Running a small branch library means I do a little bit of everything, which is great because I love both technical and public services. I catalog, order items, conduct instruction sessions, manage student workers, and answer manifold questions about the photocopier. Sarah Lawrence College library patrons don’t follow the normal trends – they love browsing the stacks and checking out books, CDs, and even LPs, and they have a tendency towards unusual research topics (some recent topics included pop punk, the music theory of Nine Inch Nails, the first amendment and advertising to children, and a feminist look at Laverne & Shirley).

Starting next week, I’ll be writing about some of my research interests, including libraries and Tumblr, unusual music classification systems, and some of the challenges that come with managing a music/media collection. Until then, you can take a look at the Music Library Tumblr that I curate or find me on twitter at @poorcharlotte. Till then!

Using Comedy to Inform Library Instruction

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New York City has a vibrant comedy scene full of talented entertainers showcasing their best material and hoping to catch their big break. If you ever find yourself at a comedy show I recommend paying attention to not just the jokes, but how they’re delivered. Standup comedians and librarians with teaching duties may not seem to have much in common, but after spending the last couple years watching comics perform I’ve used several principles from standup to improve my own library instruction.

Mix Your Teaching Methods

Demetri Martin’s technique for teaching: the large pad. From http://blogs.iac.gatech.edu/unreliable/2013/12/02/demetri-martin/

Demetri Martin’s technique for teaching: the large pad. From http://blogs.iac.gatech.edu/unreliable/2013/12/02/demetri-martin/

Teaching librarians understand that lecturing isn’t their only option. What is less obvious is just how many different approaches one can take. In a competitive industry where the expectation is to entertain just by talking, Demetri Martin is an example of a comedian who uses props, visual aids, and music to create a unique style. Demetri Martin helps us keep in mind that certain messages sometimes require certain methods. You may decide to use clickers, a game, or a whiteboard depending on what you want a class to learn, but using a variety of methods helps to reach diverse learning styles and keep everyone interested.

Foster Personal Connections

Building empathy and connections with patrons and their needs is a great way to encourage library use and provide good service. No comedian understands the importance of relatability more than Louis C.K. His standup is based on truths found in everyday experiences, including living in New York City (“I like New York. This is the only city where you actually have to say things like, ‘Hey, that’s mine. Don’t pee on that.’”) Instead of trying to tell jokes or force fun into a class, I recommend creating relatability by teaching as your authentic self. Try smiling and being natural, and be conversational if appropriate. Your personality and spontaneity will improve your class and make you easier to approach afterwards.

Work the Crowd

Every librarian who provides instruction has led a class that simply did not go well. One way to prevent such misfires is to gauge your audience’s expectations and change your content accordingly. Comedians, like library instructors, know to modify their act depending on the crowd. Many comics begin by using “crowd work,” which involves asking an audience member, “Where are you from?” or, “What do you do?” and finding a witty reply. Applying this approach to library instruction, try beginning class with an ice-breaker, such as a short anecdote or asking someone to share a story about a library experience they had. A little “crowd work” as you begin a session can help your class connect with both you and the content.

There will be good and bad days in the classroom. The best approach to teaching is to listen to audience expectations, adjust your lesson plan, and try again. Remember that no act is perfect the first time. When testing, redesigning, and retesting new material in the classroom, perseverance will eventually pay off.

A High School and Academic Library Partnership in Three Easy Steps

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Yonkers High Class of 2009. Photo by John Rizzo.

Yonkers High Class of 2009. Photo by John Rizzo.

Preparing high school students for college is an issue of major importance for librarians in educational settings. To increase student success and ease the transition to college some institutions have established high school/academic library partnerships, of which there are many documented successes. While working as a Reference Librarian at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, I had the enjoyment of participating in a unique program with Yonkers High School and Yonkers Public Library, both located in Westchester County.

The decade-long partnership is particularly unique because the students have extensive contact with academic librarians throughout the year. Between a day-long orientation at Yonkers Public Library, an introduction to print and online resources at Sarah Lawrence, and research consultations with Sarah Lawrence reference librarians, the students receive a great deal of individualized attention and emerge from the program with heightened information literacy skills.

Step One: Research Orientation Day

Shortly after beginning the fall semester Yonkers High School juniors attend Research Orientation Day, an event located at the Yonkers Public main library. The objective of this day is to familiarize students with print resources, the library catalog, and one to two databases. It is expected that participants will have found two potential sources for their research assignment by the end of the day.

Step Two: Topic Day

The next event occurs at Sarah Lawrence College in January. By this time YHS students have selected a concrete topic for their research paper. Students receive group instruction from Sarah Lawrence reference librarians on the library catalog, print reference collection, and databases in the morning. Students have the afternoon to work independently on their own research in the computer lab and/or the stacks.

Step Three: Individual Consultations

The third and final event in the partnership is independent research consultations between Yonkers High students and Sarah Lawrence reference librarians. While time consuming, the one-on-one research consultation is especially useful for students, as it can be carefully tailored to both the research interests and experience level of each learner.

Although coordinating such a program is a lot of work, there are also distinct benefits for everyone involved. Sarah Lawrence Library demonstrates the value of the library to college administration and increases its visibility in the local community, while Yonkers High School gains access to additional librarians and the College’s collections. Most importantly, the partnership has provided young members of the community with the tools needed to locate, evaluate, and apply information, as well as prepare for the next steps in their lives.

Elusive Entry-Level Jobs

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After graduating from my MLS program a few years ago I faced a dilemma familiar to many other aspiring librarians: how does one land an entry level job in such a competitive market? From browsing job announcements it seemed quite a few postings were for positions that required two or more years of post-MLS experience. Where were the academic library jobs for new professionals? What types of settings and which departments offered the most opportunities? To find some answers I began a research project with the goal of shedding a little light on the reality of the job market for recent graduates. The full article resulting from this project can be found at Project Muse (institutional subscription required).

To study the availability of entry level jobs I went straight to the source and collected as many job advertisements as possible from 2010-2011, which resulted in 1385 postings. The sources I used included national job aggregators such as I Need A Library Job, regional listings such as ACRL/New York’s page, and human resources departments for individual institutions to make sure the maximum number of announcements could be found. I recommend a similar tactic for anyone currently looking for a job.

I found that nearly three-quarters of jobs were non-entry level owing to either experience or duty requirements, confirming the observation that there simply aren’t many positions available for new graduates. One-fifth of all positions qualified as entry level, and public services (such as reference and instruction) accounted for sixty percent of entry level positions. I also found that applicants for entry level jobs are most likely to find work in a university, which accounted for nearly seventy percent of all jobs. The number of jobs for each state corresponded roughly to the state’s population, with New York and California offering the highest number of opportunities.

Entry level jobs are greatly outnumbered by positions requiring years of experience and duties beyond the reach of new librarians. Recent graduates lacking practical experience may find securing a professional position to be near impossible, which is why I and many others cannot overemphasize the importance of doing internships or pre-professional work prior to graduating with an MLS.

Despite having conducted this research relatively recently, I wonder if the job market has changed even since 2011. Do you think the job market is improving, or is it as difficult as ever?

Greetings from Downtown Brooklyn

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Hello Desk Set, I’m excited to share some of my interests and ideas with you through the month of February. My perspective on libraries comes from having mostly worked in academic settings, but I’m looking forward to touching on some topics that may apply across the board. I have worked in libraries in my hometown of Denver, Colorado, through library school in Philadelphia, and now in New York City. Six months ago I started my current job as Reference & Instruction Librarian at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus.

Tewell photoSome job titles leave you wondering what exactly it is someone does day to day, but mine is not one of them. I have a public services-focused position that’s heavy on the reference and instruction. Apart from answering in-person, chat, and text questions at the reference desk, a big part of my duties is teaching library and information literacy skills to a diverse student body. Working closely with students to help them achieve their goals, whether it’s digging deep into a research topic or just getting a quick answer so they can be on their way, is my favorite part of what I do. Librarians at Long Island University are tenure-track, so when I’m not doing reference or instruction or at meetings, I’m usually plugging away at one of my research projects.

Next week I’ll be writing about one of my research interests and something on many librarians’ minds–the job market. In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter at @eamontewell. Have a good week!

Be Brave: Fail!

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by Flickr user fireflythegreat

by Flickr user fireflythegreat

Last week I attended METRO‘s Annual Conference for the first time. While I loved being able to meet librarians of all different stripes and to hear about the variety of top-notch projects they’ve been working on, it also got me thinking: what about the initiatives that didn’t work out? Or what about all of the false starts and missteps along the way to those presentation-worthy ventures?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’m always inspired when I go to conferences or read blog posts or newsletter articles about cool new things libraries are doing, but sometimes I feel like there’s a disconnect between where they are and where I am. In my first job after I finished my MLS, I was building teen services from scratch — there had never been a staff member at that library solely dedicated to teens before. I was fresh out of library school, too, and didn’t have a lot of practical experience, so I did a lot of learning by trial and error.

The path between where we are and where we want to be is almost never a straight line, but I don’t think we want to publicly admit all of the twists and turns our road has taken. But if we’re more open about how we got to where we are, if we de-stigmatize failure, we’ll all be less afraid to try something that we’re not sure will work, and by trying new things, we’ll push the boundaries of librarianship and grow as individual librarians.

In the spirit of sharing, here are a few of my screw-ups — and what I learned from the experience. (Most of these are program-related and draw on what happened at my previous position because most of what I’ve been learning in my current job is how to supervise, and it’s hard to talk about that without betraying someone’s trust.)

  • When I started that first job, I wanted to announce that the library was Doing Things for teens. I planned a big Halloween film festival — and no one came. What I took away from that is that if you don’t already have a faithful user base and you don’t have a good PR machine that can reach your target audience and you don’t have connections with other organizations who serve the people you’re trying to bring in, your program is like that proverbial tree falling in the forest: no one’s going to be there to see whether it’s good or not. You either need an audience or you need access to one. From then on, I focused on getting to know the kids at my library and building relationships with schools and my programs were much more successful.
  • As my program grew, I started putting on more elaborate programs. Our most successful by far was a Teen Iron Chef competition that drew in dozens of kids — way more than I could handle by myself. Lesson learned: know how many people are coming and have enough staff to facilitate the program because no matter how great you think you are, you reach a point where you just can’t do it yourself. After this, I required registration and capped it at a certain number when planning a big program.
  • I’m proud of how many of my programs at my last library were conceived of by patrons. Our manga club and ghost hunting club were both started by teens, and they were our most fun and best attended programs. (The ghost hunting club also lent it self surprisingly well to library instruction — we did local history research!) But there were also times when I saw another library doing something I thought looked cool, and I tried to copy the idea. The most disappointing of these was ZombieFest, which was supposed to be an afternoon of food and games and activities all centered around zombies. I had a hard time getting my TAB to plan the event with me, and when the appointed day finally rolled around, only a handful of kids showed up. They still had fun, but I’d spent way more on supplies than I could really justify. In retrospect it’s obvious that my kids just weren’t interested and the program wasn’t a good fit for my community, but I was so wrapped up in wanting to do “cool” things that I saw other libraries doing! Lesson learned: know your community and serve them well.

Even now, even when I know that failing is part of learning and growing and going on to succeed in the future, I’m afraid to screw up. I’m afraid to let my patrons down, I’m afraid to disappoint my boss, and I’m afraid to look like a failure to my peers. I think we’re all afraid of those things.

But I also know that I’ll never grow as a librarian and that I’ll never build whatever it is that I’m working on if I’m not willing to take some risks, try things out, and then modify what I’m doing in light of the outcome. The more open I am about my failures, the less scary it is to admit them — and when I see other people candidly admitting that they make mistakes, it helps me remember that no one’s perfect from the start (even if conferences are usually about how great we are).

I’m organizing a panel discussion and workshop for ALA Annual 2014, “We F’ed Up But We Fixed It: Thriving When Things Go Wrong,” in which other youth-serving librarians and I will share some of our very visible failures — and explain what we learned and how we went on to succeed later. We’ll also introduce a toolkit that those who attend can use to evaluate their programs, to grow from their own screw-ups, and to make a case to their administration for trying new things.

Even if you don’t attend the session, I hope you’ll take on the mantle of being bold, learning, and sharing your experiences with your professional community. It’s okay to screw up as long as you’re calculating the risk beforehand and learning afterward when things don’t go right. Be brave: fail!

Suggested further reading: Risky Business: Taking and Managing Risks in Library Services for Teens by Linda W. Braun, Hillias Jack Martin, and Connie Urquhart

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