Monday, April 14, 2008
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.
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.
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
You see, I spent 18 months (from early 2003 through fall of 2004 as a volunteer for a different online site (LiveJournal.com) 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.
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
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. http://danah.org (starting with the 'popular essays' is a good way to go.)
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.)
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...)
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 del.icio.us 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.