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 LiveJournal.com). 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.)