Thursday, April 10, 2008

11 Things On A Stick

Tagging information fascinates me because, as many others have pointed out well before me, it is like information jazz. Free form, improvisational, and unstructured without any rules. I find it similar to a bulletin board, or all the photos falling out of a photo album or a to-do list. Your individual brain has to decide what order goes where; nobody else does it exactly the same way as you.

I have ruminated at length back at Thing 8 about del.ici.ous so I will do my best not to repeat myself now. Social bookmarking has huge potential for libraries in much the same way as wikis: harnessing the crowd has the potential to make everyone smarter provided they actually use it. I noticed on the Minneapolis, MN library web site that they use this sort of thing but patrons rarely take the time to help out. Perhaps they're too busy tagging their blog.

As I seem to mention every post, the challenge is that our patrons cannot experiment with these web 2.0 devices if they have limited internet access in the first place. If you only get an hour a day, patrons use that hour for the basics: check their email, check in at social networking websites and maybe flirt in a chat room before they go to work.

10 Things On A Stick

Wiki wiki wiki goes the DJ!

Seriously, our library has been using an internal wiki for roughly a year now, with great success. The flow of information has improved dramatically (here's what you missed at the meeting, this is where the workshop is being held, this is a photo of who got arrested last night in the lobby, etc.)

The main challenge I've found (including myself, embarassingly enough) is that old habits die hard. It is far more efficient to search the wiki for the answer to the patron's query but even I, youngster net nerd, must stifle the urge to ask my boss or pick up the phone as first resort.

My theory is the socializing aspect of work. We want to "appear" helping, we want to move around, we want to talk to our co-workers, etc. Or maybe it's just me, I dunno really.

One way to get around editing wars syndrome is to make people partially identify themselves, i.e. the 23 Things On A Stick blog I just slightly edited. When you allow people freedom but not anonymous freedom, they miraculously tend to be a heckuva lot more polite. I love the idea of letting the public help us with wikis: book reviews, info on upcoming high school sports, restaraunt reviews, etc. It's like a free newspaper that everyone can contribute to. Perhaps the answer is not more internet terminals but just taking the existing intranet terminals we use for card catalog searches and allowing patrons more intranet wiki access points.

All that said, I fully support academics not allowing students to cite Wikipedia as a source because everyone knows it is not a reliable source. Unless your paper is on Dr. Who or something dorky like that. What Wikipedia excels at is being an excellent jumping off point. I would tell students, provided I was an accredited teacher and not a check out desk clerk, would be to click on the sources cited portion because those are *usually* gold mines.

9 Things On A Stick

I am a big huge fan of group editing a document online ala Wikipedia entries. The drawback of course is securing them at least to the extent of preventing vandalism, something the Wiki's and their subsequent progeny have had only limited success in stopping.

I'm a bit confused by the prompt. It asked me to edit the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. However, I can't edit from the sample page as I did not have permission nor can I upload said web page to Google docs because it is in fact not a doc per se. So I pasted the sample file to a new Word doc, which I assume is what you guys want. I edited that but have not heard back from the email I sent about Zoho.

To answer the question, on all respects Google Docs is the superior app. I love this program and use it constantly for personal use. Server space is not an issue here at my library but this would make for an excellent back up option. And, if the Founding Fathers were here today, they would love it as well. Sure beats sweating it out in Philadelphia with no air conditioning all summer.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

8 Things On A Stick

Wow, I am severely behind on this project! Here's to hoping I get this completed on time. *crosses fingers*

I remember there being a huge amount of buzz when first hit the scene. Yahoo! purchased the start-up for an insane amount of money a couple years back but they now may be regretting that decision. At first it seemed like a no-brainer: the ability to tap into your bookmarks and impossibly-too-long-to-remember URL's available anywhere in the world 24/7 open on Christmas and all that. Anybody who's ever had to switch computers at work knows well the horror of losing all that hard-fought web work in the blink of an eye. But the reality is that a incredibly large percentage of web users don't surf all that much. They have a handful of favorite time waster sites (MySpace, FaceBook, m.u.d.'s, chat rooms, etc.) and they rarely stray from that regimen. They have these URL's memorized so is un-needed at best. Due to our harried modern life-styles, only the privileged minority has the luxury of regularly spending more than an hour on-line to research Wikipedia in depth, click on every Google hit for the subject of interest, etc. Due to an increased push for productivity since 2000, the amount of white-collar jobs available which include the perk of un-disturbed Internet goofing-off rapidly decreases almost daily.

On that note, it's worth noting that our library's patrons only get an hour on the computers. Combine that with semi-common bandwidth issues and that doesn't leave too much time for dilly dallying. Where del.ici.ous comes in as a valuable tool is a efficiency tool. For the first hour, scroll through the Google hits and save bookmarks of places you want to check out in depth. Then, next hour, log into your del.ici.ous account and save yourself the trouble of copying all those sites onto scratch paper. Then you can take the info you want and send it to yourself via email. Then you can save your word processing document in progress online via Google Docs. See, there is hope for the paperless office yet!

I have no real use for slide show presentations with my current position at the check out desk so I only briefly browsed those applications.
PictureTrail worked fine, I liked the buttons for auto-copying the code to a blog. That sort of idiot-proofing time-saver feature helps tremendously with helping computer newbies to not become overwhelmed.

It's easy to take for granted how many people still lack even rudimentary computer skills. When you sit with folks in the internet labs, there is inevitably at least one person who can't even find where the delete key is. I don't mean to make fun of these people, but it is worth mentioning. IMOHO, one of the greatest challenges facing our country is finding solutions for a workforce which is no longer needed. Every paper in this country for years keeps running countless stories about unemployed middle-aged factory workers with minimal college education who now have nothing to do after the jobs moved overseas via NAFTA et al. These people have to be re-trained and the library (along with society in general) can help them get over their computer-phobia. It's the only chance these displaced workers have left as those high paying jobs are never going to come back.

Off topic, sorry about that. Anyhoo, Mosaic Maker and Big Huge Lab and their ilk (PhotoTrail, that means you!) still strike me as essentially worthless for grown-up's. Aesthetically, they are hideous. It's like making your photos resemble an old
Geocities account. Another pet peeve is that Blogger deleted my slidw show because I had saved this post as a draft. On the plus side, the advertising was not nearly as obtrusive as many free sites have become.

LazyBase is a great idea! I only wish you could simply upload the Excel file you already have rather than having to start from scratch. For a compulsive list maker like myself, this is heaven!

I seriously am confused by the purpose of
EFolio Minnesota. This is exactly the sort of thing you would create in some sad-sack job fair or boring college workshop that would make you feel better about yourself but have no bearing whatsoever on actually advancing your career. You get a job by networking and handing out resumes, not by creating yet another elaborate personalized web page. I seriously doubt a head hunter for Monster would click on your link, no matter how many times you emailed it to him/her.

I was very intrigued by the 50 New Ways To Tell A Story list. This is an awesome tool for helping educators communicate to the general public what is available to them free of charge that revitalized old narratives. Here's what happened on my last vacation gets so much cooler with these suggestions. A lot of them are dumb but some are pretty innovative.

In conclusion, the main advantage for libraries with this technology is the ability to let these sites host the data for us. As long as we remember where to find the URL's, it cuts down tremendously on bandwidth and data storage mishaps.

Friday, March 7, 2008

7 Things On A Stick

I read a couple articles recently that mentioned briefly anectdotal evidence that suggests email is to a certain extent dying off as a viable means of communication. The backlash against spam, combined with the reality of emailing someone in the cube next to you is kinda silly, has resulted in the general public by and large giving up on e-mail. I still check my G-Mail account religiously because it conveniently feeds me all my other email accounts (school, etc.) into one handy dandy package. The trade off as everyone knows is ad saturation and invasion of privacy. That said, demand for seniors wanting to learn how to use email is very popular here at our library. (I prefer G-Mail for aesthetic considerations, personally.)

Email is also used to great effect at our library: patrons can email a reference question after hours, let them know an item is overdue or available for pickup, etc. So perhaps the sky isn't falling after all.
The main drawback with anything computer wise is the time drain factor. It maddens me the time I've lost deleting spam that I will never be compensated for. The 43 Folders tip sheet was good, check out LifeHacker for even more ingenious ways to not let email ruin your life.
The IM we do here at the library is invaluable. I would not have gotten through college if it had not been for the library IM program with the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis! Google Talk is superior in that it doesn't require a bundled download. IM looked like the future in the mid 90's but of course there was too many for people to choose from: Yahoo, ICQ, AOL, etc. You ended up keeping 4 running simaltaneously and then not being able to keep up as 5 people were trying to chat with you simaltaneously. Then you settled with one but then missed out on conversations with friends who refused to adapt to your preferences. Plus it's a bandwidth drain and a security risk and productivity killer so many companies don't allow Skype at work anymore. IMing is available here at the library for staff but I rarely use it, preferring old-fashioned face to face interaction.

I text message constantly. It's easy for me to communicate without being obtrusive to others. The challenge for librarians is a generational one, I feel. I'm 28 which makes me younger than a lot of the staff but even I don't recognize all the abbreviations these young whipper snappers like my little sister are using nowadays. :) Our library does not offer text message communication at this time, to the best of my knowledge. Since librarians aren't issued cell phones, perhaps it could go the way of LiveJournal where a blogger can text a cell phone from their computer if they are granted permission. How to respond back is of course another matter entirely. Texting is also an added charge on cell phones, another hurdle that needs to be addressed as well.

Web Conferencing is also clunky because it's even more of a bandwidth hog than IM. Our network has trouble downloading a YouTube video, so one must become pragmatic about this sort of thing. OPAL is an awesome idea, because they host it. I'm completely behind this one 110%! We would need money for things like webcams, VOIP, mics, etc. We have some of that already, granted, so it would be a matter of who would get to use it, when and for how long. Sadly, I could not attend an OPAL event because none are going on right now and I have to get off the clock. The one on Mary Todd Lincoln's mental illness looked fascinating.

On a final note, the library success wiki is wicked, but I will have to explore that when I have a whole day to click on all those great links. Per usual, InfoToday is oblivious that most libraries have limited IT resources. In review, Email has increased productivity here at work, but with inherent limitations. Case closed, Encylopedia Brown!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

6 Things On A Stick

The notion of using specialized graphics via random image generators for logos or projects is a good one. However, one point that was touched on briefly in the prompt was the notion of copyright infringement. It is one thing for a private citizen to bend a few rules under fair use for their own and their friend's enjoyment as long as no money changes hands.

But it is another matter entirely for a not-for-profit governmental institution funded by taxes like a public library to get involved willy nilly. There is no easy answer for the copyright lisencing aspect of this because it is so fruitless to police this sort of thing effectively. Wouldn't it just be so much easier to hire a part timer with a background in graphic design and save yourself that legal headache?

Of course it's fun to make goofy online lisence plates. But caveat emptor nonetheless, people.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

5 Things On A Stick

The mashup phenomon is IMOPO a short-lived web 2.0 fad at best. The hidden flaw of these apps is that they rely on a secondary party to help power their content. For example, let's discuss Craiglist using information gleaned from Google Maps for real estate listings. This is a great idea but what if Google doesn't want Craig's List using up their bandwidth? The software developer's response is "Hey! We're giving you free advertising. You should be thanking us, not yanking us off!" But 9 times out of 10, it's a little tiny start-up (i.e. not Craiglist per se) going up against a 800 lb. behemoth. I'm betting on Goliath at this point.

That said, Yahoo! is off to a great start because they are copying the Face Book playbook: allow third parties to look at your code via open source and then let them do all the work for you ala crowdsourcing. The amateurs get recognition for their work, your content is enhanced and some companies turn these competitions into a farm team for searching out new talent. This is actually a time honored tradition within the tech world: a substantial percentage of computer security analysts today are former hackers with past felony convictions resulting from attacks on their current employers.

The majority of Flickr mashups that Web Monkey recommended are, like most of the Internet in general, mindless time wasters that have no real use for serious librarians. I chose not to add a mashup to this blog not because I didn't know how but because I didn't see the point. Not to be rude about this prompt, but how does me being able to sort random photos by color help patrons?!?

The only real benefit I can see with these mashup's is from a graphic design standpoint: making the library look cooler. The posters we post for upcoming events, librarian trading cards, etc. But in terms of priorities, I'm putting this one at the bottom of the list. Sorry for being such a Debbie Downer today. :(