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.

Thing 16: Student 2.0 tools

We're regrettably just past our major research projects of the year for most students (our 9th and 10th grade students do projects linked to the History Day timeline and focus, which means they're done just before our spring break at the end of March), but I'm well familiar with both of the calculators.

However, I hadn't looked at either of them terribly recently: I am again impressed at the level of detail and information (and I really like the noted 'No Time' option on the teacher info: I think it has some great suggestions.)

We've already made a point of reminding teachers of these resources when they're relevant to a project, and will continue to do that. I do particularly like the teacher reminders in the RPC - the "Here's the point where you should have a rubric" or "Review student theses here" might be particularly helpful to new teachers, for example.

I can also see the benefits (with some adaptation) when creating a professional presentation. I've got a fairly good sense of how long different steps might take me - but a little reminder never hurts.

Some of the listed forms in the guide area don't entirely fit a private school setting (different labels/focus/internal requirements, for example) but others (including Doug Johnson's plaigarism materials) are, of course, both fantastic and relevant.

Thing 15: Libraries and Games

A fun topic! I've tried out Second Life, but my current online gaming home is World of Warcraft. I'm very much a casual player (if I'm lucky, I might manage 5-8 hours in an average week, including some weekend time) but I enjoy it for several reasons.

1) I get to spend time actually doing things (as opposed to talking/exchanging email) with friends who aren't local to me anymore. This is good. I like talking to them, but sometimes you want to do something together, which is tricky when they're in Boston or the DC area, and you're in Minnesota.

2) There are days when it's really good to sit down, and figure out the optimal way to get through a quest or a goal, and then do it. One thing I like is that often going and playing for an hour or two will help me get unstuck on some other problem - my brain gets a chance to spin and process while I'm playing and not paying attention to the other issue.

3) I'm totally and completely fascinated by the apparatus of play, and by the integration of different parts of the game/player goals, etc. More on that below.

4) It's a gorgeous game environment: you can get everything from barren lands complete with lions who stalk their prey to dense rain forests, to ice covered mountains, and with all sorts of ecology. The game is divided into different 'zones' which can have weather, different kinds of challenges. I deeply enjoy this part, oddly enough.

If you're not familiar with MMORPGS, they essentially involve thousands of players interacting in a virtual world. Some settings (like Second Life) involve all sorts of individual projects, or even companies, designed by players. (There are things like Egyptian temple reconstructions, libraries, stores, and all sorts of geography).

In a game like WoW (the common abbreviation), the game world is designed by game programmers (which usually means the graphic quality is very high), and they also design many game events. For example, there are quests, where someone will have a job for you to do - this might be finding something, delivering a message, or killing wolves, bears, or other monsters in order to help keep an area safe, or to get enough materials to make something that's needed by the quest giver.

Characters begin at level 1, and get new abilities and skills as they increase in level (through experience gained by doing quests and fighting things). They also have different classes - my favorite, for example, seems to be priests, who are good at healing (and therefore very popular for grouping), but who can also fight evil and monsters quite effectively. Different classes have different play styles, too, so a warrior will hit things with a sword in melee combat, a hunter has a pet that can attack, while a priest or mage will stand back and use spells.

On a more complex level, there are interactions between different groups of characters. You can cooperate with others in a small group, chat with friends in a guild or team up for a multi-person quest in a dungeon or instance (a separate area of the game usually with specific goals and even harder challenges). Finally you can fight against others in other factions (in WoW, these are the Alliance and the Horde: both have pros and cons, and they're not good vs evil as much as different paths and goals.)

Finally, many MMORPGs have crafts or other skills you can improve (and sell the results). For example, you can make things out of cloth, leather, or metal. You can mine for ore, gather herbs, skin beasts. You can do things (enchantments, jewels) that give you additional game benefits. And beyond all of this, there is a thriving game economy (with cross-overs into the real-world economy, at this point.) Making money off the in-game auction house occupies some people entirely by itself - and is a fascinating micro-economy in action.

Information about the game:
The part that totally intrigues me, however, has to do with how people find information about the game. There is the game website, of course - but this is only a tiny part of what's out there. Sites like WoWWiki provide detailed information about quests, equipment, and other details (where to find this quest goal, what to answer to that question to get a particular result, why you might prefer one area to level your character in over another.)

The one that fascinates me even more, though, are sites like WoWInsider, which has a series of blog columns (by different authors) on many facets of the game. Not only are there predictable ones - new game content as it's introduced, ideas on playing a character class better or more effectively, how to group or run a guild better, but there are even craft projects and cooking recipes (replicating in-game objects and food.) These are merely the tip of the iceberg: there are significant numbers of sites with leveling guides, class guides, equipment advice, and other information, not to mention forums for discussion.

Now, why are these fascinating?
1) Significant numbers of people are writing and reading in-depth material about something, using critical thinking skills, and learning to write clear documentation that others can follow. I don't know about anyone else, but I think that's good for society.

2) Some of the projects and recipes would do very well for a generic library craft project night with very minimal editing (or not - there are 10 million WoW players worldwide, about half of those in the US and Europe. Some of them probably are near any given library.)

3) There are a lot of extremely good (and useful) uses of Web 2.0 tools being used for these games. Wikis are an obvious example - but you can see, just in the two sets I linked to above - the use of photosharing, blogging. Many players use Voice over IP technology to talk voice while playing together.

4) Other related skills. Instance runs need between 5 and 40 people - the management skills needed to organise a guild or a larger instance run are substantial. The more I talk to teenagers who are participating in guilds, or even in smaller groups, the more I see an awareness of teamwork, long-term goal setting, ability to deal with delayed gratification, and ability to compromise for the good of the shared goal. I think those are also great things for everyone to be learning - but that they're especially promising for the teenagers I work with, who easily take these skills into summer jobs, group school projects, or extracurricular activities.

Different types of games:
The actual blog prompt for this Thing is about comparing Second Life and an MMORPG. I've tried Second Life, but it's not as comfortable for me.

I have to admit that the graphics quality of WoW (and other games I've played a little in the past, including EverQuest, City of Heroes, and Star Wars: Galaxies) has spoiled me: I find the roughness of Second Life a little hard on the eyes (especially on my home computer, which is not a high-end graphics machine.)

But I also find it a little harder without a goal: I tend to prefer to do my discussion in-depth, and I don't enjoy purely social chat with people unless I know them fairly well, or unless it's task-oriented (Someone asking for help on IM chat is fine. Random conversation about what I'm doing with a stranger? I've probably got other stuff I want to be doing.) This means I tend to do actual conversations in a text-focused medium (email, LiveJournal, blogs, Usenet, etc.)

In a MMORPG, I've got other things I'm doing while I'm chatting (my own quests, enjoying the scenery, making progress towards my goals) that can happen generally independently of where I am in the game: it isn't purely a social or discussion situation.

That said, I can see great benefits for Second Life for use for meeting space for people who are geographically distant, or where you've got some other pre-managed task (lecture, presentation, etc.) The problem with this, of course, is timing. I can play WoW at any time I happen to be free (and only need to arrange similar play times for things we want to do directly together). To attend a presentation in Second Life, I need to be able to be on at the same time, which in my life (and others) tends to be a bit tricky.

The future:
I definitely see these kinds of virtual environments becoming more and more a part of the general public life in the future - they're engaging, they give tools and resources not always physically possible, and they can involve some amazing interactions. I can definitely see their uses for distance education, team communication, and project work.

There are, of course, some concerns (harassment or even simple lack of physical exercise), but there are generally ways to mitigate these. The more worrisome one is the lack of digital access: Second Life has some fairly significant computer requirements, and not all older computers will run it well, for example.

The other one is the sheer amount of time: there's a fair learning curve to making things in Second Life, or to learning the game in a MMORPG. It then takes additional time to make connections and build friendships, to keep up with the information about the game, and so on. Since the days aren't getting more than 24 hours in them, that does mean other interests tend to disappear somewhere.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Thing 14: LibraryThing

Personal use:
I'm working on getting my personal library into LibraryThing (always slow going, mostly because I'm fairly specific about my tagging), but really love the interface and potential linkage between different kinds of use.

I'm also using it for a library organisation project for a friend, where it's extremely useful. She's a writer, working on a project in a particular time period: I can tag all the reference books she has for that topic with a specific tag that means she can find them easily. More than that, one of the reasons I recommended LibraryThing is that she can check if she has a particular book when she's out and about if she needs to, which was a really important factor for her.

Workplace use:
We've been doing a lot of talking about diversity and privilege issues at work this year. In one of our conversations about what our current patterns and methods do, my boss and I were explaining some of the issues with Dewey, and the fact that it's an artifact of the times.

We've talked about putting our fiction collection (relatively small: about 1000 books) into LibraryThing, so that we could then tag things in new and interesting ways - make connections between books that aren't always obvious in our current catalog - for example, highlighting cultures, types of protagonists, etc. (And more to the point, we could encourage other tagging, easily adapt it, etc.) It would also make a great launch point for pleasure reading lists (something we try to do before summer break).

I also find LibraryThing's blog very interesting for an insight into not only what they're doing, but how it fits into other online book-related projects.

As I mentioned, we're currently doing our lists and other info on our Moodle site, because our students are already looking at other Moodle sites (for classwork and other information), and we've found more of them look if it's on Moodle rather than elsewhere. Interconnection, however, might be a really interesting process, and worth doing. (i.e. as we put a booklist together, insert a link in Moodle, and so forth.)

Sharing what I read:
One thing I've struggled with is being public about what I read. My personal library collection includes some books that are old favorites, but aren't as much a reflection of my current tastes as of fond nostalgic memories. I have a number of books related to my religious practice - but some of those are books I disagree with, but keep around so that when they come up in discussion, I can be specific (with page numbers) about my concerns or disagreements. And I have a certain amount of mind-candy pleasure reading that isn't most of what I read - but is a lot of what I want to read at short notice when I'm tired or grumpy. (which is why I hold onto it, rather than getting it from the library)

Because of all of this, I feel weird about having public access to my library generally available (or even about listing *everything* I own or read anywhere online: without some additional context, I strongly suspect people would get an incomplete idea. For that reason, my personal LibraryThing is set private: other people can't see it.

I do use GoodReads to track some of my reading (I'm trying for more, but it's more because I forget to enter things than because I feel weird about entering it - explicitly because my review and commentary shows up directly with the book when it's associated with me, so people can see it really quickly.

I freely admit this is a weird quirk, but it does affect how I enter books for personal use, and talk about them.

Thing 13 : Online Productivity Tools

Now, *this* Thing is far more my style. I admit to being fascinated by productivity methods, and had already tried out many of the sites listed (and am looking forward to trying Scrybe when it opens for registration again.)

Start pages:
I admit I don't usually use them much. At home, my start page is my LiveJournal friends page (which is the one I want to recheck most often.) At work, we have an automatic start page of the school website. I do have an iGoogle page set up (the tool I use most is the weather forecast).

Productivity sites:
I go back and forth between different sites. My current favorite for lists of concrete tasks (things I want to write about, things I want/need to buy) is Gubb - it will let you set up lists and check things off in a way I find visually attractive and easy to use. I also like that I can move items around easily (so, for example, in my 'books to buy' list, I

A friend recently reminded me of Hiveminder which will let you tag tasks and sort them. I find the entry mechanisms easier for me (personally: this is such a quirky type of thing) than Stikkit or some similar sites, and I really like the Task Review option (where it runs you through all tasks you have listed.)

I tend to prefer lots of little separate lists, rather than one big long one for a project, which has made something like Hiveminder or Gubb a better fit for me than Backpack (whose set up tends to focus on larger projects).

There are times I've found productivity sites don't always work well for me. For example, I keep a pretty extensive list of books I'm somewhat interested in reading (browsing Booklist for work tends to have that effect on me.) The thing is, I am not likely to have a computer handy when I go to the library, and I often get reminded of books while I'm at places where I don't have a computer (talking with friends, for example.) And as I don't have a PDA and my cell phone does not have a large data plan (and besides which, it's slow), that's a problem.

I've found keeping my 'want to read' lists on the computer doesn't work that well for me, as a result - I kept having to spend too much time transferring stuff from a paper note to the computer, or writing down things I was interested in browsing for ('What stuff on my list is actually on the shelf right now? I'll get that' is a fairly common thing for me) from the computer. Keeping it all on paper turned out to be easier (though it makes tracking what I've actually read somewhat trickier, as that's something I prefer to do on computer.)

Final notes:
The real thing I've taken away from productivity sites is how varied they are - there have been sites I thought I'd love that turned out not to be as good a fit for my actual use, and sites that I wasn't sure would work for me that turned out to be fantastic fits for some uses. (Gubb's actually one I wasn't sure about at first...)

Thing 12: Digg and other news sharing tools

This was a hard Thing for me, because it doesn't fit very well either into my personal use, or into my current work use.

In my personal life, I tend to get most of my news from radio (and, perhaps predictably, from Minnesota Public Radio), and from reading the newspaper on work days. I read very little online news content unless someone else links an interesting story, or unless I'm looking for something specific.

And at work, while we certainly highlight occasional news stories of interest, we don't have a single point of contact for students (other than the school website, which logically focuses only on stories or news directly relating to students or the school, which tends to mean school sport related stories most of the time.)

I did play around with various of the sites (Digg and Reddit, more than the others) but I found them frustrating because it's hard for me to filter for information I want in a time-efficient way. For example, while I'm interested in health issues, do I really need to browse 15 stories to find the 1 or 2 that have new information or content for me on a topic I'm interested in?

It's far easier for me to find that through searches, or through subscribing to an RSS feed for a blog that generally highlights news of specific interest to me. Thus, using them seems to be a productivity detractor: I could probably set things up in a way that would be effective for me, but it would take significant time to focus what I was seeing - and I've got easier ways to get there.

In a library setting, I can think of some options for use, though (as I said), not so much in my current job. Certainly, some people who enjoy general news browsing might find the tools useful - and people who want a range of news sources would also benefit.

The question of popularity:
One thing I wonder about with these sites is the popularity/vote driven aspect. The same information is available on and tagging sites - but in that case, the popularity alone isn't the only entry point, as you can also find connections through a particular person's chosen links, or through related tags.

I'll be the first to admit I am not mainstream about my interests or preferences in some ways (especially when it comes to information sources). I'm much more interested, for example, in a fairly detailed commentary on medical issues from a hospital (not only in terms of content, but in terms of writing style, focus, level of detail) than an article in a popular magazine (I found several Reader's Digest articles in the searches I did.) However, the latter ones are far more likely to be popular with more people, and so will tend to rise to the top of the list.

Part of being a librarian, for me, is, of course, knowing that my preferences aren't everyone else's preferences. (I've known this for years: the amount I read for pleasure - and *what* I read for pleasure, which is heavy in the SF, Fantasy, and Mystery genres, was sort of a dead giveaway.) At the same time, adding a method that's inefficient for me (as I suspect any of these sites would be, both short term and long term) is perhaps not my best choice.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thing 11 : Tagging and

I've actually had a account for longer than I've been doing 23 Things - I adore using it. (I actually have two: one for personal use, one for professional stuff.) You can check out my professional links here.

Why I think it's a great tool:
First, I spent enough years doing manual editing of HTML on webpages to add links I wanted to check regularly, or access from somewhere other than home, to appreciate the touch-of-a-button functions of I also love that you can share or not share links as appropriate (for example, I could bookmark login pages for sites I post on, if I wanted, and not share them, but still access them quickly as needed.)

But when you add the ways you can group links (through tagging, and then through grouping collections of tags), it becomes even more useful. For example, I've done quite a bit of work on online safety and literacy education: I can pull useful links together, and do a pointer to that specific category for people by just giving them the category URL (useful if they're not necessarily interested in other links I might have, like our reader's advisory/book ordering links.)

As a library:
We haven't made extensive use of for library info, because we have an internal Moodle site (which students are already used to looking at, and where we can use school email and other tools to easily announce major new content.) But I find it very useful both for finding new information, and for keeping track of topic-focused links.

I can also see us potentially using it for research topics (much the same way we currently post weblink lists on our website for student/class use.) However, in that case, there's already a method in place, and changing it can be confusing for both students and teachers.

Thing 10 : Wikis

Why Wikis?
I find them very useful for shared documentation. I've used two regularly as a content producer, and several regularly as a content searcher.

The two I've contributed to are my current workplace's (which we're using to document things I do regularly - like producing stats, specific reports, etc - that other staff do far less frequently. I can post and update instructions as well as the report files I use, and librarians on other campuses can easily grab the files and information without needing to send me an email or question.) The other was at St. Kate's while I was working there in January, where they were using a wiki for documentation for public services staff (particularly useful since they have new reference assistants every semester. Knowing things like where the paper is kept, or where to get more staples is very useful.)

What do I use? Wikipedia, for a quick overview of a topic, and to get an idea of where I'm pointed. While I don't trust Wikipedia information for final facts, I find it extremely useful to learn specific terminology for a topic, get an idea of major controversies, and often the links and references cited turn out to be a good place to get started. (I find it, unsurprisingly, most useful for extremely current material, like breaking news stories, or for online-related topics.)

I'm also an online gamer: I use WOWwiki (for World of Warcraft) to figure out how to solve quests, get from one area to another safely, and other game questions fairly regularly. As a casual player (I'm lucky if I have time to play 5-6 hours during the week, and it's often less than that), things like the WoWwiki and other player documentation go a long way to making my play time more fun and more productive.

The question of Wikipedia:
I got asked to do a really interesting comparison while I was working at St. Kate's in January - compare entries in the Online Britannica and in Wikipedia. This was meant to be a casual study - pick five topics and review them, but I did pick 5 different types of content (history, science, technology, popular culture, etc.) and compare them.

I found that Wikipedia was, on the whole, far more useful. The one that stuck in my head was looking up Anne Boleyn. Britannica's article was about 500 words, didn't mention many of her family's names (making additional research start points more challenging to find), and the only reference work cited was from the 1970s.

In contrast, Wikipedia's article was several thousand words, and not only walked briefly through major historical points, but helped put her family in historical perspective, and gave a brief overview of major recent scholarship. One of the reasons I picked Anne Boleyn was the recent attention due to the Other Boleyn Girl book and movie: the Wikipedia article also provided links to criticism and commentary on the book's accuracy or lack thereof when it came to common understandings of the history.

The down side, of course, is that there's a lot more information to wade through: it's easy to get caught up in minute details that aren't actually relevant to your goal. It's also painfully easy to get distracted by some random intriguing detail that isn't actually what you were looking for, follow links, and look up half an hour later wondering why you're now reading about how names are chosen for new moons, when you started out looking at Greek history.

One thing I actually like about wikis is that they require you to pay close attention to what you're reading (assuming you take your research seriously) and to use your common sense. Being aware that anyone can edit them, and that the information needs to be confirmed elsewhere helps keep me on my toes, where if it's in a print encyclopedia, or an online one, I think there's a tendency to assume the book is right.

This may be a generational thing: I got to college in 1994, right when the 'Net was taking off for common/mainstream use: I knew from the beginning that many people were trying new things out, that not everything was accurate (or might be biased), and so on - where I'd been brought up with a deep reverence for books, especially more formal academic ones. Whatever the reason, I do find myself more inclined to read paying particular attention to bias and accuracy issues when I know it's *not* from a generally reputable source.

(In answer to the final question for this Thing, I did edit the 23 Things wiki, but I've obviously used others at various points.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Thing 9: Online document sharing

This thing is much more back in the areas where I feel more comfortable and already use the tools widely.

My current work uses Google Docs for a number of student projects: they're fantastic for collaborative science labs, or for recent projects like our History Day plays. Students can work on different parts of the document (or even the same part) easily, without having to track versions of the file.

I've also been looking at solutions for a personal project where I'm writing a bunch of group documentation. I tried Zoho Writer for this: I like it a lot (though I'm seeing some weird spacing issues/formatting issues when I take it into PDF. However, that's manageable, and since my ideal would be able to keep an editable version somewhere web-accessible, and send PDFs out as needed, that's okay.

I found Zoho faster and more responsibe than I've found Google Docs, but I know this is both sometimes a factor of specific technology combinations, and of changes in the software, Google Docs has been better when I've tried it recently. I do wish both sites had a more accurate method of doing very basic layout tasks (keeping sections on the same page, for example) other than printing it to PDF and seeing what happens.

Thing 8: Share your creations

Busy again, but trying to catch up - fortunately, the next few things are things I've already been using.

I found out about the online slideshare sites through 23 Things, and they fill one fantastic niche - you know how whenever you go to do a presentation, something always goes wrong? Having the presentation on an external site helps if something goes wrong. In fact, I uploaded the presentation from mid-February when I finished it, just in case something went wrong with the emailed version or my USB drive. You can view it here.

So, that's already one fantastic use. The peace of mind alone is worth quite a bit to me. But there are other benefits - sharing a presentation in progress without sending huge files back and forth, for example.

I found Slideshare relatively easy to use, though I hd some uploading issues (the default method didn't work for me, but using the manual upload did. I consider that a quirk of interacting systems, mostly: I was trying from my work machine which runs Windows XP and Office 2007.) Actually viewing the slides was easy, though - and the friend who arranged my presentation had an easy time viewing them in advance, too.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Thing 7: Web 2.0 Communication Tools

I've tried out a number of the web communication tools in Thing 7, and look forward to trying out a bunch more (especially as our two weeks of spring break are fast approaching, giving me a little more time) but wanted to get this up in the meantime.

We use FirstClass for the school email system: it not only provides email but a number of other capabilities (forms for building needs or computer support requests, a calendar, etc.) It's not the most robust system in the world, and it has some quirks, but it works well for internal communication.

There are a couple of frustrations with it, including the fact that it's hard to filter emails into folders (it's turned off on our accounts, anyway), which makes it hard to keep up with professional email lists, and to sort out messages to me from messages to the list and to read one or the other quickly (these days, I run most of them through Gmail, which makes everything easier). It's also got some weird quicks - you can't use a keystroke command to bold or italicise items, which makes writing some kinds of emails more tedious than they might be. (For example, anything involving a title)

How do we use it? Our media staff do a lot of face to face communication - but often someone will be involved with a class, or not available for some reason, so email is a great way to drop a quick note. Teachers use it for questions about computers, and I send out an email reminder every night to teachers with what labs/laptops they have reserved for the next day. (This is a bit of extra effort, but we're getting far fewer people forgetting or getting confused, so it's worth it.)

Online reference:
We don't currently use online reference at my current job at Blake - there isn't much need for it, and students with computers are likely to be within easy walking distance of us. I did get a chance to use it while working at St. Kate's in January, though.

I really like the ability to respond to someone online, and for them to ask questions in a way that's minimally disruptive to what they're doing. (For example, they don't need to disturb others in the stacks with a phone call, or to wait on the phone - they can go back to what they were doing, and when I have the answer, they can come back.

I did a bit of reading in the professional literature about it at the time, and do agree with concerns about how you approach it (for example, introducing yourself, especially if there's a generic account), and in terms of letting the person with a question know what you're doing while you're not responding (i.e. "Ok, let me go find that for you. It may be a minute" rather than just being silent.)

I've been active online, including in real-time text conversations, for over 10 years now: there's a definite art to communicating well. Some of it comes from basics like typing speed (someone who types 80 or 90 words a minute is going to have fewer gaps in conversation). Some of it is being able to adapt to the individual presentation.

For example: can you read 'netspeak? I can, but I have to work hard at it, because it's not used in the places I spend time online much. What are the polite ways to ask someone - who may be nervous about librarians anyway - to explain what they mean better? Obviously, many of these issues come up in face to face reference settings as well, but you don't have things like body language to help make it clear you're just trying to help.

What I use:
I have a hard time with IM and text messaging when I'm focusing on getting work done (whether that's at home or at work). I also have a hard time being concise, which means I work hard when I'm talking to people who don't know me, to keep things short and simple.

However, I do enjoy using it for quick messages, or to touch base with friends, and if I'm home and not doing much besides web browsing in the evening, I'll often have it on.

It's also been a lifesaver to me when I have a big project that involves a lot of computer grunt work. For example, I help put together the collection of student speeches each year, and it almost always involves a weekend day at work doing nothing but the formatting and copying and pasting into the final format. Having IM on helps a lot with the boredom: I can chat with friends while I'm doing it, and sometimes get an idea for problems that come up.

I've also seen it used for quick questions - the kind that need a response sometime sooner than later, but that aren't urgent, or that are more easily done in an online reference. The "Is this the wording you wanted for this thing?" or "Hey, I see a difference between this page and that page: which did you want?"

Thing 6: Online Image Generators

Again, I'm not a particularly visual person: I have a harder time figuring out how to use images in a way that enhances content. (This is actually a weird struggle: I know that many people do prefer heavier use of images, but since I often find them either distracting or ignorable, it's harder for me to tell which ones are actually useful or enjoyable by others.)

I did a little playing around with trading cards, but as I'm not crazy about photos of me, I don't have a good one currently handy and digital. I did have a lot more fun playing with the Image Chef generator, and it's one I can see myself using far more often to create a simple, focused image with a particular goal. (I admit to really liking the way that Carleton College has used them: I can see them being a really good way to identify specialities or particular areas of focus among librarians. But in our media center, with 2 library staff, an AV specialist, and an instructional technology specialist, it's pretty obvious who does what anyway.)

Here are three images I came up with - I can see using all of these (and a number of others) on display signs or on our internal Moodle site, as a nice simple highlight to other content.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Thing 5: More fun with Flickr

Thing 5 of the 23 Things on a Stick is to play with various image mashups.

I admit this is a harder one for me: I'm not a primarily visual learner/doer, and while I enjoy playing around with certain kinds of image manipulations, I'm not usually in the 'click around just for fun' school on them. (And they're not the first thing I think of in the work world, either!

But I do like seeing how they work. Here's 'Hypatia' done in public flickr images.

h Y P A "T"imes Square i A

How would I use these? The color picker images are fantastic for some kinds of discussions in art classes, but I could also see them being fun for ideas for displays. And things like the 'spell with flickr' might be interesting for an image for a display header. I have to think about this one more.

Thing 4: Photos and Flickr

I did in fact finally get the photos off my camera and onto Flickr. (I'm modernhypatia over there, as well.)If you click through here, you can see I've put up this photo of our current display and used the notes technique to label the books with the author and title. (I got the idea from another library display photo on Flickr: I think it's a fantastic tool.)

We've posted a link to the photo of the display (and the sign) on our internal Library Resources page on our school Moodle site, too, so parents and students can check it out that way. (Plus, we'll have a long-term record of what the display was.)

In terms of having photos public - we're wary of photos involving students, because the school has some specific policies and restrictions about how we post them (quite reasonably). Also, I find it much easier to get pleasant photos of things rather than people, which is my flaw as a photographer.

I've also heard of concerns about book cover images. In this case, however, one could argue that it's a derivative work: the display is new content (a particular association of items), with some commentary, and all of the individual images (i.e. book covers) are identified in the notes. You can, I think, make a decent argument for this being fair use.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Hi to potential new readers.

I was delighted to find, when I checked my email this morning, that this blog was listed on the list of "Hey, go check these out" from the 23 Things On A Stick people.

I have been horrible about updating (obviously: my last update was February 8th), in part because I have been very busy, and have not had time to deal with things 4, 5, and 6, which all begin with my actually getting photos *off* the digital camera and onto the computer. That will change this weekend, so you can expect more content shortly.

My other recent news update is that I did a presentation on February 18th (this'd be one of the things that was taking my time) at a friend's workplace, on online internet culture and how people interact. They're working on a really interesting Web 2.0 community website focused on health care information and experiences, the Healthcare Scoop. It's still in progress, and they're regularly adding new tools and resources. This presentation was a chance for me to talk about some of the other ways that people find and access information online, and what makes them interested in participating in a site.

You can see my slides for this online at Slideshare (which I discovered by reading through 23 Things on a Stick, though it's one of the later activities).

As I work on getting those photos off the camera and onto Flickr so I can do fun things with them, feel free to hang out, comment, ask me questions, or whatever else makes sense.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Handy videos

Whenever things show up in two different places online within a few days of each other, I tend to pay attention (memes sweeping LiveJournal don't count: that's effectively the same place).

In this case, two different sources (one the Thing 3 post from 23 Things On A Stick) and the other an email from a friend I'm doing a "Why are people online anyway" presentation for later this month.

They come from a company called Common Craft who mostly do work for various companies and other organizations - but they've got four great intro Web 2.0 videos.
I think they're great and beginning-user friendly, and they went promptly into the handout I'm working on for both presentations.


Thing 3 : RSS feeds

I have to admit, it took me a while to catch on with RSS feeds - I just started using Google Reader in November of 2007. I'd used something equivalent (the LiveJournal Friends page, which brings posts from other LiveJournal users and other feeds) together on a single page. But a few months ago, I wanted to shift.

Part of the reason was I started reading more outside blogs - but also got busier. I wanted a way to filter what I was reading so that I could keep up with the most important or timely ones - but also catch up when I got some spare time.

My Google Reader has several folders of items:
  • webcomics : I want to keep on top of these, since they mostly tell stories. They're also a lovely fun way to start my morning.
  • important : the blogs I most want to stay on top of, or where I want to keep an eye on comments on some posts.
  • when time: blogs I enjoy, but where it doesn't matter if I'm a few days behind.
  • folders for particular personal interests : These are like the 'when time' mostly: they let me read all the blogs related to that interest at the same time.
  • comment threads: Some of my blogs let me subscribe to feeds of their comments: this is great when the comments are as good as the blog (as is true for one of my favorites, Making Light.)
Finding feeds:
In terms of finding feeds, I mostly subscribe to blogs that I already knew about, or that I found through links from other sites and bloggers. I have been using Google's Blog Search tool to browse for related blogs, too.

I'll leave a "Library blogs I keep coming back to" for a later post, though.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Signed content

There's a discussion ongoing on the PubLib email list, in which various people are arguing that for content to be meaningful, it must be signed.

The librarian in me goes "There's a point." The rest of me, though, cringes.

Here we enter into a delicate point: this is my professional blog, I don't bring portions of my personal life into it, but it's an awareness that comes from this that makes me cringe. So, let's look at this in very generic terms...

1) I am a member of a particular religion.

2) My religion is sometimes misunderstood, and sometimes discriminated against. (This covers rather a lot of religions, actually.)

3) I discuss and follow my religion in various circumstances - both within my particular personal religious community, but also within the broader community of my faith (and sometimes, outside it). I'm aware of variations between different parts of the community, and what a reasonable range of variation is - and what stuff is clearly not common.

4) I have formal training in my religion that enables me to perform various religious, teaching, and other duties. (Unspecific, but I can't get much more detailed without being explicit what religion we're talking about.)

5) I'm not an expert on the whole religion, but I'm a careful writer, and take pains to be clear to give citations to other sources, and to general common experiences.

I'm pretty clearly a potential authoritative voice on some topics. But here's the rub: if I use my legal name or another identity tied to it, I also reveal my religious preferences, interests, and other topics to all and sundry.

Why is that a problem?

The problem is that 'all' includes a lot of people.

It includes random strangers. It includes my next-door-neighbor. It includes prospective employers. It includes random internet people who dislike what I say on a forum for some random reason, and who take it to my employer (with whatever ammunition they can pick.)

Sounds silly? Teresa Nielsen Hayden's had it happen with Tor Books several times (here's one example), and she is a moderate and thoughtful writer, well respected in the online community for her moderation (and moderation techniques.) Irrational people do not behave rationally, and there *are* irrational people in the world. I do my best to treat them with kindness, but that's easier to do when they aren't trying to get you fired or otherwise make you miserable.

I might well eventually want to share some of this information with my co-workers, if we start having more extensive conversations about our weekends than "Oh, I had a good time with friends." But I want it to be part of a face to face discussion, not something they stumble across online, possibly out of context.

Let's expand this out, a little. There are people who have extensive experience with chronic illnesses. Requiring a legal name can open them up to any number of employment-related concerns. (Yes, discrimination based on chronic illness is not legal - but it happens.) Mental health issues, sexual health (and sexuality in general), and gender identification concerns all are other things where people may have a great deal of relevant experience and authority - but where details are things they want to keep separate from their work life, or share very deliberately and with appropriate context and background.

While some people are comfortable associating various information with their legal name, not everyone is. The people who can be public may not be better informed, or better communicators about it, or have more directly applicable experience than the people who don't want to be public.

If we want better information - not just 'better verifiable information - that's a problem.

The question of context:
That's the other part. The pseduonym I use for religious discussion online, I've had for over 7 years. I've written at least 100,000 words on various topics (and possibly several times that). Anything I might write now with my legal name would not have nearly the obvious amount of context and background material for evaluation.

(That is, in fact, one of my professional issues, and one of the reasons for this blog, where I do use my legal name. I've been online and active and doing lots of interesting things - but you can't see it from the legal name side.)

End result?
I do think that some way to determine a writer's background would be a good idea - but whatever system there is has to not only accomodate formal (schools, degrees) training, but informal, material covered by outside certification (doctors, lawyers) but also experiential data (material from people with a particular experience, condition, etc.)

I'm not sure there's a way to do that, and verify the data, and protect privacy. But *speaking* freely, and having reasonable access to say "Hey, this info is not so good." in online discussions without abrogating privacy seems essential. I'd rather wade through poor information (and teach others how to do so) than take that away.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thing 2 : What I think about Library 2.0

I've been trying to get time to watch the video that's part of this week's work for days now, and not managing it (a busy weekend followed by the day job and the last two nights at the temporary job didn't help). I'm going ahead and talking about the rest of it now, and will come back there.

Why participate?
Already answered this, really: I'm looking to improve my existing skills, build new ones, and not-so-incidentally build up professional online material that I can point at in job interviews.

How has the Internet affected my life?
I've met friends and romantic partners online. Every single major (or local) diaster since college, I heard about first online. (Single exception? The 35W bridge collapse: I was sitting in the computer lab at St. Kate's at the time, working on an assignment because I didn't have 'Net at home yet after moving.) It's also how I've known people were safe after disasters.

I'm capable of being offline for days at a time (distraction helps), but it's so much of how I keep up with the people I care about, and the topics and interests I care about, that I don't do it without good reason.

Not counting work, I'm usually online for about an hour in the morning before work, and for 2-3 hours any evening I'm home (which is anywhere from 3-5 of them.) Most of that is for personal interests, mind you, and includes some amount of electronic gaming, but a lot of it is conversation on various sites and through various formats.

Where am I in use of Web 2.0 tools?
I've been on LiveJournal (including volunteer support work) since 2001. I've got accounts on Facebook and LinkedIn, on various forums and boards. I've got an account on Flickr that I don't use much, and one on Ravelry. I read a number of email lists, and post to a few of them.

I find some of them unsatisfying: I prefer longer, more in-depth conversation, which leads me towards blogs and away from social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. I'm a recent convert to using an RSS reader outside of LiveJournal - I find it fantastic for blogs I want to keep up with, but can leave for a while if I'm (especially) busy.

What I'm most interested right now is learning ways libraries are using these tools, and how my existing knowledge fits into that. I have a number of ideas, but more are never bad.

How about my library?

Our website (K-12 private school) is currently fairly locked down: we can have static pages posted, but it goes through our webmistress. Our instructional technology specialist has brought in Moodle (educational course software) that we've used for a library resource area (booklists, links to local event listings, other fun ideas) and classes and some others use wikis, blogs, and podcasts.

We're doing a bit of education (to parents, but also students) about online safety and literacy issues, but not a lot of proactive education (how to have good experiences online, not just avoid bad ones) and not a lot of it is integrated into other activities yet.

What am I looking forward to with 23 things?
I'm looking forward to trying thing out with a fresh eye, and having a chance to explore how to use these in library settings, not a personal one or a school one.

Interactive Usage history:
One thing that occured to me while reading this Thing's articles - I remember (fondly) the days when you could find other books you liked by looking at the check-out cards, and seeing who had it, and looking for their name. I found great books that way.

This is something I miss - and something that Web 2.0 is managing, but that libraries might potentially harness. Obviously, there are sites like LibraryThing and GoodReads where people can share their reading lists are great, but one that lets you filter for both people in your geographical area and who like the same books (or a subset of the same books) would be fantastic. (GoodReads does have a "People near me", but it doesn't seem to have a "People near me who read a bunch of the same books" combination.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thing 1 (part 2) : A comparison of blog software

Before moving on to Thing 2, I wanted to talk more about one of the questions in Thing 1 - how different blogging software packages compare. I've used WordPress, Blogger, Moveable Type, LiveJournal, and a few others over the years.

Digital native:
Functionally, I'm a digital native: I have preferences about what software I use, but in practice, I'll learn how to use most things without too much difficulty. As an example: my preference for personal use? Either WordPress or LiveJournal via FireFox on a Mac. This blog? Blogger via FireFox (okay, I admit I adore tabbed browsing) on a PC running Windows XP at the moment, since I'm at work. Still totally happy.

There are two features of LiveJournal I really like: the ability to 'lock' posts so that only selected other LiveJournal users can see them (in various combinations) and the fact that a number of design choices lead towards active online communities.

People can either post in their own journals (and keep track of new comments in other people's journals very easily) or they can post in communities. I really like the interplay: I find new interesting people to talk to regularly.

I use LiveJournal extensively for my own personal processing. I like that I can talk or vent about something, but not burden any one particular friend in email or on the phone (if they're busy, they aren't reading, and therefore aren't answering or feeling guilty about not answering, either.) But I also like that it's easy for me to find other people I might enjoy talking to. I like a number of the community tools (even while there are some I would love, like fully threaded new comment tracking.)

I leverage my friends list (the list of people whose journals I read regularly) heavily for information, too: I can ask a question there about something I'm exploring, and get answers and ideas back quite quickly. At the same time, it's more private than a wide-open blog, and I have a better idea of the background of the people answering.

I use WordPress for my 'public' personal blog (which is related to my religious life, and is also under a pseduonym). I like the versatility of WordPress. I can set up a relatively straightforward design with relatively low technical knowledge - but I can also fiddle with things endlessly or design my own themes if I like.

I also like the combination of tagging and categories for being able to organise topics: on that blog, I have categories for general types of posts, but use tags to note specific series of posts that people might want to look at later.

I like Blogger's ease of use: for this professional discussion, where I don't want to do a lot of design work (I just want to write, and post, and get on with life). I do feel a little frustated by some of the settings options: the things I'm more interested in (format and design changes) are harder or impossible to do, while things I don't care about (lots of eye-catching plugins) are easy to do at a click of a button. (I very much go for simple but visually appealing in my preferred design.)

All three (and some other systems I've used, like MoveableType) are perfectly workable systems - but they do slightly different things, and they appeal to different audiences. I enjoy using all three, but which one I'd recommend if someone asks me about starting a blog depends on a lot of factors (Do they like playing with design features? Do they just want to write and post, and not fiddle? Are they looking for online communities to join?)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thing 1 : Getting Started (23 things on a stick)

I just signed up for the 23 Things on a Stick project. This is put together by various Minnesota libraries, as a way to encourage people to learn Web 2.0 technologies in an accessible way. It counts for credit for some statewide programs, too. (Why the name? Well, we have a state fair, see, at which it is common to have food on a stick. Ice cream. Cheese. Chocolate covered bananas. Ostrich. Scotch Eggs. Thus 'things on a stick' is a well-known state-wide phrase.)

I already know a number of things on the list (I've been online in various forms since 1994, after all, and have put in significant volunteer time at But a lot of my online time is not under identities linked to my legal name (and which talk about some things, like my religious life, that I prefer to keep separate from work.) so I've been working on building up a professional online body of work/commentary (part of why I started this blog late last year!)

I'm using 23 Things on a Stick as a chance to try out some new specific sites and resources, and also as a way to document what I already know and think about different resources. So far, I'm really impressed with what I've seen: the instructions are clearly written without being too tedious for people who already have some experience, and there's plenty there to keep me busy, even though I'm already familiar with many of the sites under discussion in a general sort of way.

The first Thing is to create a blog (that part, I'd already done) and to set up an avatar. I wanted to choose something new (and appropriate) for this, so I'm riffing on my blog (and email) name. The name was suggested by a friend who knows of my general appreciation for Hypatia, and who suggested the 'modern' part as a nice way to make a unique handle.

Hypatia, as many of you may know, is popularly considered to be the last librarian at the Great Library at Alexandria, who was murdered by a rampaging mob. The actual story is a little more complicated (Wikipedia actually has the best one-page summary I've found recently) but there's still a lot of good to emulate there. Also, it makes a lovely professional image.

I was delighted, when I played around with Yahoo's Avatar offerings to discover that they had a Roman-style stola and a laurel wreath crown included. I'm always a little edgy about online avatars (I don't know about anyone else out there, but they're rarely my shape or height: I'm short and descended from long lines of European peasants who were good at surviving famines, which is to say 'so not tall and leggy'.) This, though, amuses me greatly.

That's enough for today: I intend to blog in the near future about some of Thing 1's challenge questions (especially different blogging platforms and book-related blogs I read regularly.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Compare and contrast

First day back at my day job after 2 weeks of winter break – I somehow always manage to forget how frantic it can get. (So far today, I’ve changed about 10 passwords, sorted the mail, put together computer signup sheets for second semester, put in 2 ILL requests, and handled about 10 other miscellaneous questions. And it’s not quite 11 yet.)

Yet, while I’ve been off from my ‘day job’, I have worked four out of the five previous days at the part time reference librarian job I’m working in January.

I’m having a blast with it so far. It’s a very different feel to the library (teenagers at the day job versus college age students – and in fact, many graduate students, including a lot of adults who are changing careers, so most questions I’ve answered have come from people in their 30s and up.) The entire library is a lot quieter.

There are days I love the bustle of my day job – but there are also times it’s hard for me to focus on more demanding projects (my desk is out in the middle of the library, and I’m there all the time, unless I retreat to the back room to process books - and that doesn't have a computer, so I need to work around classes using our laptops.)

In contrast, I’ve gotten a lot of work done on various projects at the college job – most of a database guide, commentary on some Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Britannica entries for an article someone’s working on, evaluating whether we need a guide, filling information into their Public Services staff wiki.

It's also interesting how similar the two are: I'm answering (so far, anyway) a lot of similar kinds of questions - where a book is, what other resources there might be, and how to get them. It's giving me a lot of reassurance that an academic library is a good fit for me - and that I'm comfortable handling the kinds of things that come up (useful, because I've got at least one more academic library job application that needs to go out this week.) I'd known that I was doing a lot more than standard paraprofessional work at my current job - but it's good to see that it really has been an incredible preparation and opportunity.

I know that there's the potential for far more in-depth questions to come there (the people who've been training me mentioned the Social Work program as having very specific assignments that can be a little confusing unless you know the field.) But overall, I'm feeling pretty comfortable. (Of course, this now means that I'll get a total stumper of a question tonight. Murphy's law.)