Monday, April 14, 2008

Thing 23: All done! (And reflection)

What did I get out of the experience of working through 23 Things on a Stick?

1) I really hope there are other initiatives like this in the future. While I was familiar with many of the basic technologies (and had already used a number of them), putting them in a library context and giving me motivation to write about them was a great experience.

2) I got a chance to explore several areas more deeply - and to think about specific applications for my current workplace (I think the one I'm most likely to keep using is the Flickr photos of book displays with notes, but there are a number of others that are also useful.)

3) I really liked the level of detail: there were well-designed instructions, but also a lot of freedom to explore and play around in different ways to accommodate people with more experience with that tool.

4) Time made it hard for me to spend a lot of interactive time connecting with others working through the Things - but I'm delighted by the comments I got, left a few other places, and intend to keep an eye on the Ning space, which seems to have some fairly active conversation going.

I'd definitely be interested in future projects like this - and would recommend them to others I know.

Thing 22: What happens next?

Thing 22 is about what we do next. Let's see.

1) I already had this blog, and fully intend to keep it up. (If you've been reading, and there's stuff you'd particularly like to see me talk about, feel free to suggest!) My goal is a post a week, but I realise that may not happen. (That time frame is generally seeming manageable for me, though.)

2) I want to spend some time reorganising how I manage online time - both my personal use, and my professional use. This is a work in progress (I read a *lot* of content for personal use, and maybe it doesn't need to be quite so much), but I'll talk about that here as I do it.

3) I definitely intend to continue using Web 2.0 tools in the library settings I'm in as appropriate: I intend, for example, to do another photo+notes for a display currently in progress (suggested by a student: books dealing with the seven deadly sins in some way, shape, or form.)

After that? We'll see. Web 2.0 was already a part of my life, so for me, it's more about how and where it's of use professionally than learning brand new things and incorporating them.

Thing 21: Other online networks

As should be obvious from my last post, I'm obviously familiar with other online social networking sites besides Facebook and MySpace.

I spend most of my personal time on LiveJournal: it's a fantastic way to keep up with a wide number of friends (including my friends from college) without having to feel guilty about not answering emails. However, LiveJournal (like many other online sites) has its own particular culture (or rather, set of cultures): I know that it's not the right fit for everyone.

I also spend time on Ravelry, which is a social networking site devoted to yarn arts. I'm actually primarily a spinner rather than a knitter (though I'm learning to knit! Really!) but there are a wide range of communities on there, and also some fascinating tools (on a purely technical level, their database work is impressive) you can use to track projects and show off your work. Several local friends are doing knit-alongs through the site, which they're having great fun with, and there are also local spinning and knitting groups that advertise their presence through the site.

I have an account on GoodReads, which I use primarily for tracking personal reading: of the book-tracking ones, it's the one that managed to fit best with my personal preferences and quirks. I like the interface a lot, too - it lets me be detailed or lengthy without requiring any particular format.

The real issue:
It's time consuming to keep up with different places! For me to add one to my work day, long-term, I'd have to feel that it was adding something to my work. (I do, for example, read several email lists related: New-Lib, PubLib, Fiction-L, etc. - but I mostly skim those for topics that are relevant to our setting these days.) On social networking sites, it can sometimes be even more time consuming to scan (since you often have to click into a particular topic to catch up).

I do think they're an area of great potential growth, and absolutely fantastic for niche communities or specific interests in particular. (For example, I'm very much looking forward to the upcoming Tor discussion site for SF and Fantasy that will be launching soon). But I also know they can be hard to get used to, or establish in a regular routine (and that if you don't, they can feel overwhelming.)

I'd love to see more discussion about how people do time and information management on this (and I expect to post some more about what I do, once I finish my 23 Things postings), though.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thing 20: Facebook and MySpace

First, I should warn you that I have opinions here. They're a little different from what you might expect, though. (Also, please bear with me until I get to the actual focus of this Thing).

You see, I spent 18 months (from early 2003 through fall of 2004 as a volunteer for a different online site ( as a member of their Abuse/Terms of Service team. I found it fascinating and compelling (if sometimes very hard) work: the team handles concerns about the Terms of Service, so it covers everything from Digital Millenium Copyright Act requests to harassment problems to "Can I sell things on my journal?" to what happens when a 16 year old posts provocative mostly unclothed pictures of themselves to people posting suicide notes.

Needless to say, it gave me a very interesting perspective on online networking sites, how they're used, and how widely varied the assumptions of private or public access can be.

And, on totally other levels: I've seen it save lives. (I've been a part of that, a couple of times.) I've seen people get help after fires and other tragedies. I've seen endless helpful, meaningful, patient support and good ideas. I've seen people who have felt constantly friendless and like total outsiders find places where they felt comfortable expressing themselves, growing, and being seen as thoughtful contributors to communities they care about.

LiveJournal is how I knew on 9/11 that friends in the NYC and DC areas were safe, and it's meant getting local information, unfiltered by news reports, about what it's like for everything from 9/11 to missles from Israel into Palestine a few years ago (from a friend in Israel). While I've also seen online interactions cause a lot of hurt (through harassment, etc.), the good still massively outweighs the bad for me.

It's because of these last two paragraphs that I believe that *all* online communication has the potential for good things - and that barring issues like very limited resources that are needed for school work or the specific goal for machines (as may be the case in schools), people may be using social networking sites for many of the same reasons older people might be using email - to keep in touch with friends, to learn new things, and to share what they know and feel.

What does this mean?
I bring this up, because I think it's an interesting lens on how people approach online sites. Some people want to make connections with others on a fairly superfical level: they have one thing in common, and share conversation about that, and it's good.

Some people run deeper: I have several very good friends I met doing Abuse Team work: people I would happily (and have happily) put up in my home, would make plans to travel to see (budget allowing) and would gladly do what I could to help. I also have a number of people on my Friends List on LiveJournal who I'm less close to - but who reliably say things that make me think in new ways, or who challenge poorly-thought-through conclusions.

It's worth noting that the code of different sites makes different kinds of communication more or less appealing. LiveJournal's initial focus as a journaling site (with longer posts, shared communities, etc.) has meant that it's attracted people who want to have longer in-depth conversations, as well as those who wanted to use it for shorter or less detailed ones. Facebook and MySpace's designs both tend toward shorter, more limited posts: these are great for some kinds of conversations, but not for others.

Likewise, site design can have a huge impact on people: there's some evidence that they're attacting different communities, and certainly, individual people have preferences. (I have a very hard time on MySpace, because I strongly prefer visually simple interfaces and structures in my online space. And while I find Facebook more visually pleasing, the shorter length of communications is not my preference).

Power of combined knowledge:
There's also a fascinating other power, that's been around on social online interactions for, well, decades. I first saw it expressed as "All Knowledge is Contained in Fandom" (from the science fiction fandom community) and as "All Knowledge is Contained on Usenet" (the old-fashioned text-based communication systems that had its real hey-day in the 1990s). These days, I regularly see posts tagged "AKICILJ" (All Knowledge is Contained in LiveJournal)

The point is - you make a post (usually with the relevant tag in the subject line.) You ask your question. People respond. (The AskMetaFilter site is, more or less doing the exact same thing - except that there, you have a particularly broad cross-section of expertise.)

What have I had answered there? All sorts of useful questions.

When we were looking to subscribe to a SF or fantasy magazine, I asked which ones tended to have covers that would be the best fit for a high school (we have Sports Illustrated, and People, and several other titles, but still, it's nice to know what might show up on the cover.) I've asked questions about books that I can't track down in other ways. I've asked for ideas with book displays or purchases.

I've also made use of community discussions (LiveJournal, like most networking sites, has several library-related communities) a number of times (and commented on them far more: there are questions about job hunting and specific library situations and suggested titles, on a regular basis.)

Back to the actual focus of this Thing, though..

Do I think libraries should be on Facebook and MySpace?
I think it depends a lot on the library. I think it also depends on upkeep. Keeping up an online conversation or interaction involves time and energy: just creating an account isn't good enough - people will lose interest or forget you're there. At the same time, many people (especially those not familiar with a range of online cultures) think that More Information, All The Time is the way to go. Fact is, that's a good way to really turn people off.

In other words, I think that if you're going to do it, do it right. Take time to look at other successful uses (both libraries and other settings). Learn a little about likely cultural issues.

One thing to understand about the 'Net is that it largely grew up as a system of interconnected personal projects. There are exceptions, and some sites grew into major corporate endeavors very fast. Some sites have certainly taken to advertising like fish to water - but in many cases, there's still quite a bit of tension about what advertising is okay for users, and what advertising or sponsorship isn't.

The same goes for tools like poking or sending virtual gifts. Will kids at your school or in your community be weirded out if you friend them back? The culture matters to a lot of users, even when they can't always explain exactly what the rules or comfort zones are. Different sites have different cultures, and different etiquette, too. (As do sub-communities within a particular site: the people I hang out with on LiveJournal have different etiquette than many teenagers on the site, for example, especially about adding or removing people from a friends list, or about how to balance relationships.)

Figure out what specific content you want to share, and whether a given site is the best way to do it. Maybe you want to post 3 new titles each week with a link to a list of other items - but gear it to your likely audience. Maybe you want to have your YA librarian have their own account for your library, so you can focus even more closely. And so on.

What else?
I definitely think we - as librarians, and especially in the schools - should be pushing for ways to include more education and information and resources about how to use online sites. Not in a heavy handed safety way (though some of that information is important) but in the sense of being a resource for getting initial help for someone who's concerned about harassment issues, or who is unsure if something's a scam, or any number of other issues. I've done some work on this at my current job, and I'm interested in doing a great deal more. (Check out the links from my website.)

A list of links on a library website (to friendly, appropriate info sites) is one way to go. But working that information into other workshops and programming, or making sure you have books in stock so parents can read and learn about the topic is also important. For recent presentations, I've been looking at materials on online safety. Minneapolis has some, but not others. Ramsey County has some but not others. And so on - it can be a pain to get books with a specific focus or viewpoint at times. Making the information easier to get is definitely within a library's scope. Publish Post

Other resources:
One more resource I want to mention, before finishing this very long post is danah boyd, who is currently finishing her dissertation focusing on online networking sites. She makes fascinating posts about online sites, who uses them, and many surrounding issues, from the perspective of someone who uses and loves these sites herself. (starting with the 'popular essays' is a good way to go.)

Thing 19: Podcasts

Podcasts are one of the things I've had to figure out how to fit into my day - as someone who also wants to listen to a lot of music, and as someone who is not always home a lot in the evening (and where listening in the car is problematic: I have to set up the iPod with the radio transmitter - plus, my commute to work is only about 15 minutes right now), it took me quite a while to figure out how to fit listening to podcasts into my week.

My answer? I catch up on them while playing World of Warcraft, unless I'm voice chatting with someone while playing (rare, usually). It's turned out to be great combination, because I don't lose pieces of the conversation (like I might if I were doing chores around the house, turning the sink on, etc. that would affect what I heard).

I'm not trying to focus on writing something (when a different set of words can be distracting). And yet, if I lose track of a sentence or three of a podcast because I'm concentrating hard on the game, it's easy to either back up a bit, or just pick it up from context.

One other side benefit is that because the podcasts I listen to are all about 50 minutes, it's a nice simple reminder of how long I've been playing that session: if a third podcast starts, it might be time to go to bed (or, if I have a rare lesiurely weekend day, it's probably time to stand up, stretch, and do 15 minutes of chores.)

I regularly listen to five different podcasts right now - all from Minnesota Public Radio shows that I normally don't get a chance to hear at the time they air. Midmorning and The Story are more or less daily (unless preempted by news programming or special broadcasts): I don't listen to all of them, but start with the ones I'm most interested in. I also listen to The Splendid Table, Speaking of Faith, and Wait, wait, don't tell me! all of which are weekly.

I've tried various other podcasts related to other interests at times - but I have trouble sticking with them. I'm a very audio-sensitive learner and listener in some ways, so getting used to a specific voice helps (and professional-level equipment also helps: I can find crackling and other sound issues hard going after about half an hour). Also, I'm interested in a lot of different things, so an hour of politics and an hour of new books, and an hour of deep sea exploration, and an hour of cooking is often more appealing to me than 5 hours of knitting. Or even 5 hours of book discussion.

I do continue exploring occasionally (and I have a few from this Thing I intend to take a closer listen to): if you're reading here and have any favorites, please share!

Thing 18: YouTube and other Video

YouTube is another one of those "I am not primarily a visual learner" things - I have seen a number of videos I find amusing, but in general, I'm more likely to spend 5 minutes reading an amusing blog post or two, or a book, or whatever, than watching a video.

For library purposes, we also discourage the use of YouTube on the school server's: the bandwidth hit is just too heavy, and slows down access for everyone else. (This is complicated by our network set-up: our high school grades are in Minneapolis, but our connection to the rest of the 'Net runs through via the main campus in Hopkins, so everything goes from here, to there, to the rest of the world. That connection also includes everything from email to the library databases to general internet access.)

That means that posting a YouTube (or other) video for library purposes doesn't make a whole lot of sense, though teachers do occasionally reference them specifically in class.

It took me a while to find a video that I thought might be interesting in this setting - for those of you who remember playing Tetris back when, this is a human version of it. I find it fascinating both because of the design planning needed, but because of the effect of taking an initially computer done project, and twisting it (and in this case, humanising it to some degree). Plus, it is also just fun to watch.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Thing 17: ELM and 2.0

Like many librarians in the state, I've been aware of the ELM resources for some time - we make extensive use of the ELM databases in teaching. One thing I've learned, though, when talking to friends who aren't librarians, is how few of them are aware of these statewide resources. (Every single one has been amazed and delighted when I explain, mind you - but they didn't know they were there.)

Looking at the tasks in this Thing made me feel somewhat the same way: we use the databases for article searches extensively, but I hadn't explored the multimedia options much at all.

I'm also reminded of the benefits of NetLibrary: one of my interests has to do with a topic where people sometimes complain that it's hard to get access to books: a number of books on the topic (a religious one) are available in NetLibrary.

That said, as comfortable as I am reading online text, I find the NetLibrary format still rather clunky: I read fast, and the 'page turn' speed of reloading is slow enough that I tend to feel frustrated if I read at any length. I have an easier time with full screen PDFs, as I see more of a page at a time (and therefore have fewer pauses to reload the screen).

I intend to continue playing around with more of these tools, and bringing them up with specific teachers who might find them useful.