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.