Traditional Libraries and ABE

Many thanks to The Centered Librarian for pointing out this article by William H. Wisner in the Christian Science Monitor.

Wisner basically talks about the changing role of the Reference Librarian from facilitator of patiently research to that person who changes the printer paper.  The article focuses on the idea that libraries are being dumbed-down by the switch in focus from knowledge to information.  I noticed that he also equates additional noise with additional technological distractions.

I need to sit on this article for a bit and think more about it.  He makes many points, some I agree with, some I disagree with, and some I hadn’t thought about before.

After my first quick read, my big question is this: where, in a traditional library focused on scholarship and reverent silence, would my little GED and English classes fit in, and what would this signify about the roles of the traditional library and my students?

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My Return, and What Makes Me Happy

Hello!  I’m back.  I’m not sure what exactly I’ll be doing, but that’s no longer stopping me.

I’m up to a few things that are exciting to me.

First up, I’m addressing the fact that my computer is over 5 years old and I don’t want a new one.  As I type I’m testing out Mozy.com‘s free 2GB file back-up.  I currently don’t back up my home-use computer, which is stupid, particularly when it’s already so old.  It’s nice to finally move from “I should do something about that” to “I’m on it.”  Inspired by a Lifehacker link to ChrisWrites about slow Macs, I also downloaded Onyx, a utility that does Mac system cleanups.  And I’m considering investing $60 in additional memory (Chris links to Crucial.com, which awesomely helps you figure out what kind of memory your computer takes, even if it’s a Mac).

Also in the realm of being a wannabe tech geek, my organization started up a “Tech Vision” committee a couple months ago and asked me to be on it.  It’s fascinating to me.  One of our goals is to get technology vision into the strategic plan – an exciting move in the right direction!  Another is to map out our current tech uses, from fax machines to Web 2.0 sites to databases and beyond.  I’m gently pushing for this map to be electronic (with live links, etc.) and not just on paper.  It’s a huge task, but I think it’s good for us because we’re having an all-agency conversation (through delegates, but it’s a start), and because I think it’s great foundational work for a website overhaul in the future.

I’m also excited about the Spring (it hit 80 in the Twin Cities yesterday!), and making summer plans, and closing out my first program year at the learning center, and the Sharing the Power conference tomorrow.  I’d love to write more about them and add photos to this post, but I just burned my hand cooking and typing isn’t going so well for me at the moment.

Signing off to run my hand under more cool water!

Need… tabbed… browsing…

First day on the new job!  It was awesome.  I’m getting all situated, getting to know my new on- and off-site coworkers, and figuring out what all is in my office.

The only thing I have to say that’s not glowing is about the security on my office computer.  I do not have the authority to change my toolbars or to download a new web browser.  Not having a quick-launch toolbar and being without tabbed browsing are already driving me nuts!

Secure, photo on Flickr by Wysz
Secure, photo on Flickr by Wysz

I guess my rhetorical question is why we bother imposing this type of limitation on people’s computers.  How does it benefit anyone to have me on an outdated browser and unable to customize my desktop?  I feel like I’m back at airport security, taking off my shoes and separating my baggie of liquids and gels for closer inspection; I’m going through a security charade that makes no impact on anyone’s actual safety.

I’m hoping I can request a couple of work-arounds – everyone over at the library I’ve met so far has been amazing.

Also, I think the fact that my only complaints are so minor and specific is a great sign for how awesome it’s going to be to work there!

Librarian Tip for Nonprofits: 90-Second YouTube

I was reading the May 2008 issue of American Libraries and the Internet Librarian column by Joseph Janes jumped out at me with the potential to be immediately useful to me at work (which is not in a library).

I help run a program at a literacy nonprofit, and a lot of people contact me and my colleagues all the time with a large volume of questions.  Now don’t get me wrong – I’m one of those people who actually gets a kick out of answering questions.  It’s just that as I mentioned in my last post, when we’re bombarded with questions, especially redundant ones, it’s extremely difficult to do the rest of of our jobs done.

This article, “Spring Awakening,” describes how the Cornell University Library ended up making 90-second YouTube clips for their incoming first-years about basic research concepts.

As Janes points out, this isn’t earth-shattering, but as he also points out, it doesn’t need to be earth-shattering in order to be dead useful; it just needs to 1) address the need and 2) actually happen.

It brings to mind a huge site I used a few times in college called Atomic Learning.  Schools can subscribe to it to give their students access to tons of tiny (“atomic”) learning modules.  My college subscribed to it, but I don’t have access to it now that I’m out of school, and I think the focus was watching, not creating your own.  The brilliance of using YouTube instead is that it’s free, allows participation on both sides, is easy to embed, and simple to access.

How powerful would it be to have even a couple of 90-second videos addressing super-common questions!  I’m so excited to bring this to the team and see what we can make of it.  I’m thinking that even if we can’t do video, a cute (and very brief) Slideshare really should be doable.  Or hey, even a Voki if we’re feeling cartoony.

Have you done something like this?  How has it gone?  Can you use this kind of resource in your organization?  What can help bring this from the “idea” stage to the “actually happening” stage?

Online Communities Plunge Into Lake Scranton

The Wall Street Journal’s Business Technology blog posted “Why Most Online Communities Fail.”  (Thanks to Doug H for sharing it on Twitter!)  It’s short and sweet, and explains it’s based on a study of around 100 businesses with online communities.  Three big, common errors: 1) They spend too much on “oooh, shiny!” technology, 2) They don’t appropriately staff the projects, and 3) Their goals and metrics don’t align so they’re pretty much doomed to appear to fail.  The article points out that these are pretty obviously mistakes.  Any thoughts on why these illogical errors were so easy to make for so many businesses?

It’s so good to read a concise yet pithy post about what not to do!  Sometimes I think that social media talk is just a tad more Pollyanna than is warranted, though I obviously partake and enjoy doing so.  The We Are Media Project has been talking about how to be Social Media “Evangelists.”  I think that sharing awareness of common pitfalls is a huge part of being a responsible social media evangelist.  It shows that it’s not a brand-new, completely untested idea.  It shows that you’re informed and honest.  And it provides a more complete map to guide our organizations.

The fate we’re all trying to avoid is that of Michael Scott, who unthinkingly follows his car’s GPS straight into a lake and then insists that technology tried to kill him.  We can be intelligent about new-to-us technology, and understanding where pitfalls (or lakes) are can keep ridiculous plunges on The Office and out of ours.

Ning.com?

At work we’re looking to make a social network function for quite a large and geographically distant internal network, which in an ideal world would have 5 or 6 related but distinct subgroups.

Our overall goal is to use a system to efficiently get information around these groups. Email is not cutting it.  We would like to free ourselves from its grip.

We were initially very excited about Drupal, but I’m told that we would have had to rely on a programmer to make it happen for us, and he has evidently fallen off the face of the earth.  I hope he’s ok, wherever he is.

In lieu of outside help, I’ve been looking around at other options.  I heard Ning.com mentioned a few times, and as far as I can tell it’s just Moodle.  Regardless of which nonsense-word social network service we use, I’m excited about several features:

  • Initial setup was intuitive
  • I can post events, announcements, links, and other information
  • Groups
  • A blog, forum, etc.

My concerns about Ning.com in particular are:

  • I have an alarming quantity of information to post, including a forms library.  Is there a good way to do this using Ning.com?  Or is this where Moodle really shines?
  • I’m having trouble editing the layout of my page, as opposed to the main network page.
  • Will it be intuitive enough for enough of our network to make it worth trying?

I also have a more general concern about Web 2.0-ing my program.  Within our program, there are a lot of details, complications, and restrictions, not all of which are intuitive.  It’s the nature of our funding streams, and is even a little extreme in a nonprofit context.  We definitely want our network to collaborate with each other, talk, share stories, etc.  We also need the rules, regulations, and expectations, and their relatively strict natures to be abundantly clear.  How do other networks walk that line?  What are some tips for success?

Solution: Posterous

Thanks so much to Amy Sample Ward for blogging about Posterous!  Just email them content and they post it for you.  Woah.

This is exactly the kind of tool I should have used back when I started a blog without home internet.  There’s no process for signing up, you don’t have to do any account managing or appearance adjusting if you don’t want to, and they embed your media for you.  Yes, this helps people who aren’t familiar with much web technology beyond email.  It also reduces time commitment for anybody, no matter how tech-savvy.

It was a piece of excellent timing, because we were just brainstorming at work about some low-cost, low-time-investment ways to improve (specifically Web 2.0-ize) our website as we bide our time till a major overhaul.  Posterous would be a great way to post our informational emails as a blog; this would make them accessible to people who don’t want more email and also put them in a format that welcomes comments and discussion.  The best thing about this is we can just add post@posterous.com to our mailing list and it will post automatically.  Very exciting for a bunch of efficient nonprofiters!

I tested out my own just now.  The chief lessons I learned are that it is instant, the default style is clean white with orange links, you can BCC them, and that you should send photos as attachments rather than as links.   Things to explore: getting a better URL, changing the title, adjusting the look.

What do you think?  Who is this useful for?