Archive for January, 2012

I recently bought a new netbook after realizing just how much programming I was doing last semester as the RASL webmaster. Roting my 17.5″ laptop (with a rather short battery life) was no longer an attractive option with the amount of work I was trying to do on my lunch breaks.  My new netbook is very stripped down and when you are setting up a new computer you realize just how much of your day to day computer usage is customized to how you work.  One of the first things I did with my computer was download Firefox, in part because eCollege never seems to work right in IE but also because of all the fun add-ons that you can download.

Mozilla’s Firefox add-ons make moving through the internet easier and more convenient.   There are several bundles on their website that are pre-bundled.  I downloaded the Reference Desk collection and I actively use about half of it (more on my favorites below).  I found some of my other add-ons in the Traveler’s Pack.  I will probably post again later as I start using some of the add-ons I did not list here.  StumbleUpon looks like it is a lot of fun but I’m still getting a handle on Twitter and I did not want to swamp myself with too many new programs at once.

I was introduced to Zotero by a colleague and it’s now hard to imagine writing a paper without it.  Although the citations for APA are often flawed it does make it easy to go back and find the information you were referencing, it is possible to save webpages as a shot in time as well.  Zotero is great for taking the grunt work out of alphabetizing a list of sources – but remember to go back with your style guide to insure that the citation format is correct.

A new add on for me is the Firefox Clocks which now I’m don’t know why I was ever doing without something like this, it has made scheduling so much easier.  Before starting grad school I could not imagine ever uttering “what time is it in New York?” on a daily basis.  I live and work in California but I “attend” school in New Jersey via Rutger’s distance program.  Classes are asynchronous but many of the student organizations provide simulcasts of their meetings.  In addition to student groups, I am beginning to dabble more in professional development webinars where most of the time stamps are listed in EST.  FoxClocks lets you put a small clock in your Firefox status bar; I have my local time alongside the time for New York (US Eastern Standard).   This is a must have if you collaborate with someone in another city or you want to take advantage of nationally broadcast professional development opportunities.

Another new discovery is Read It Later. I’ve started going through a massive number of blogs thanks in part to the ease of RSS reads and Google Reader.  Often, I will go through my email and skim through my reader in the first few minutes at work and open up multiple tabs so I can go back and read through interesting posts in depth later in the day.  Usually what happens is I when I have 20-30 tabs open, the phone would ring, a patron would need help or I would have to help a student worker so I leave my tabs set up.  At some point between my beginning work and my next break one or more of the tabs would overload Firefox and cause it to run slowly, crash or otherwise interfere with another web program.  Now, I can open my tabs and before I start working move some of them to Read Later with a click of an icon in the address bar.  The best thing is Read It Later has a free app for my iphone, so I can pick up my blogs later in the gym or when away from my desk at lunch or on a break.

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I did not actively participate in the SOPA/PIPA black out on this blog because my blog is still young and because I tend to post late in the week.  That said, I did follow with interest the black outs and protests of other sites I follow.  Some of the blogs that did not go entirely quiet produced some great content.  My favorites include a parody of American pie called The day the LOLcats died, a summary of the SOPA problems summarized in Quiet Riot Girl’s Blog, Mental Floss looked directly at why Wikipedia was down and Good covered a post-SOPA internet would mean.

With all of this excellent coverage the day of and immediately following the protest I was a little surprised find this collection of responses to the blackout on Twitter (compiled by @herpderpedia).  Most of the responses range from the frustrated to the confrontational.  One even laments that the president shut down Wikipedia.  While I’m not surprised that the blackout caused an inconvenience (there were work arounds in any case) I was surprised that from what I can tell from these posts none of these people read the reasons for the black out or wrote to their Congressmen to ask for an appeal.  Wikipedia made it incredibly easy to contact your representatives (even for someone like me who regularly emails and is now on a few email update lists because of it) and while you still had to form a letter for yourself the process did not take more than about ten minutes.  The process was not foolproof, for some reason I could not access Diane Fienstein’s contact page – perhaps too many people were logging onto it at once, but I was able to write Sanchez (my representative) and Boxer (my senator).

I received a response via email from Sanchez yesterday, it looked like a form letter but it was a form letter that responded to PIPA/SOPA and included my contact information rather than the usual “thank you for contacting me about your political concerns” letter.   Which brings be to the scariest part of the PIPA/SOPA black out.  In a time when our elected officials are easily reached and communication both ways is so easy, how many people took advantage of the opportunity to make themselves heard?  Some of the angry posters are probably not eighteen but they could still write a letter, or ask their parents to do so on their behalf, organize an awareness movement at school or just learn more about what was going on for themselves.

The library world is very aware of what PIPA and SOPA could mean if they passed and are passionately protesting in the political arena but I worry that we may have missed a valuable teaching moment in reaching out to our users.  A web 2.0 society that is focused on creating as well as consuming media won’t read posted messages and won’t create a protest message, how can we work to change that?

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One of my favorite projects at work is one I proposed to my supervisor last summer.  We’ve been working on a series of tutorials to help our patrons with the basics of interlibrary loan. Part of the reason I’m so proud of this tutorial is I believe it’s important that our patrons have access to the basics from their own computers since many of our incoming undergraduates may take a while to set foot in the library.  Or learn that they can use the library for more than just course reserves and trying to game the system for free textbooks.

Our first tutorial (seen here) is very basic and teaches our patrons how to request a book. We are in the polishing stages of how to place a renewal request (they cannot use the same system they use for their other library books, while that would be the ideal we’re working with what we have) and starting on one to help patrons request an article effectively.  As you can see the first tutorial is basic in design as well as content.  We decided to use power-point slides since we did not know how many of our users would be able to or want to listen to the audio while using the tutorial.  The slides with screenshots were the best of both worlds, allowing us to show the patron what they needed but still progress through the steps in the proper order while a live screencast may be more dramatic there is a great chance that something could be missed if the presenter moves too fast.  Another added benefit was that I was free to write out my notes for the speaking part and tried to read slowly rather than picking up speed and potentially losing my patron.

After completing the first tutorial and knowing the format we liked, we decided for the next in our series to try a few variations to see if another software would better suit our needs.  I had heard about Screencast-o-matic on a listserv and the primary appeal for using that format was the subtitles.  Screencast-o-matic also allows for a longer recording time (15 minutes for the free version rather than the 5 minutes for Jing) and some wonderful tutorials that Jing did not have.  PSA: When putting in the captions, put a space between each line in the txt file – it took me a while to find this tutorial and find the one note that they put in an overlay, hopefully this will save you some time.  Overall Screencast-o-matic is very easy to use, does not require a download and yields very good results.  One of its major drawbacks, however is it runs on a Java plug-in which may not be available on all computers, rather than Jing which seems to run on every system I’ve found.  If this is not the case, please let me know in the comments and I’ll alert my supervisor when it’s time to record our new tutorial.

The other piece of software we tried was Prezi.  I was very excited about Prezi after seeing it used to present a talk at an San Diego SLA seminar in the fall.  My coworker had difficulty loading the pre-made PowerPoint slides but had an easy time replicating them in the program.  It was very intuitive and easy to use.  The presentation itself was very useful except we could not find a way to make an audio recording to accompany our slides.  I imagine this is because Prezi is a presentation solution, meant to accompany a live speaker.  The other drawback to Prezi was the motion jumping from slide to slide gave one of our supervisor a touch of motion sickness.  Even though I list Prezi as an option, for our purposes we were realistically using Prezi to replace Powerpoint and then using Jing to record Prezi, so it may not be in the same category.

Overall our department has decided to stay with Jing because we are familiar with it, how it works and presents and believe this will lend a uniformity to all materials made available on the library website.  Jing also does not run on Java making it easily accessible without worrying about plugins.  Although Jing does have a shorter time limit than Screencast-o-matic this does not affect our tutorials since the purpose is to keep them short.  We will probably move towards using Prezi for future in person trainings of students and other events instead of Powerpoint.

I hope this will save some of my readers some time when you have to decide which tool to use; hopefully this will save you some of the work I went through!

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Often when I’m processing books there will be bookmarks, post-its and other debris in them from previous patrons that the other library missed before sending the book on to us.  I’ve found some interesting bookmarks this way, usually snapshots of a building or a typical bookmark promoting a school or library event.  One bookmark that particularly struck me was one from Georgetown University.  On the front there was this message:

“BE CONSIDERATE!  Did you know that writing, underlining, or highlighting in library books is an Academic Integrity and Honor System Violation? Defacing, theft, or destruction of books and articles or other library materials that serves to deprive others of equal access to these materials constitutes a violation of academic integrity.  – Honor System, Standards of Conduct”

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I’d never thought about defacing books as a violation of academic integrity before. True, I would not condone writing or highlighting in a book that the library owns but it is an interesting take on the problem.  I wonder if Georgetown’s library has seen a decrease in book notes as a result of handing out this particular bookmark?  Unfortunately, we do not get enough books from them on a regular basis to get some statistics and I don’t see a date on this bookmark so I couldn’t tell if there was a before and after period for the writing.  Would a violation of the codes of conduct result in a fine or something more severe if it were policed?  It would take a lot of resources to contact everyone who returned a book with some markings inside.  I did a quick count of books we received from the other UC libraries yesterday and 40% of the books we received had some sort of defacement with underlining (usually in pencil) being most common and notes in the margins being the next most common.  I did not count dog-earred pages.

While I appreciate the sentiment behind the bookmark, I think I’d rather have something about the library’s services or even the hours on a bookmark I was giving out to patrons.  I don’t think someone who plans to use a highlighter in the book would be deterred by this reminder and if they are looking at the bookmark it’s a missed opportunity to promote the library’s resources – a chance to highlight a new database or advertise an exhibit.  Now if the library started printing this on post-its (acid-free, of course) to give to students then it would encourage a positive alternative to the note-taking in the book behavior as well as promote awareness of library etiquette.

Thank you, Georgetown library for my new bookmark.  I’m going to go look at the standards of conduct at the UC to see if defacement of library books is included it seems like a good one to highlight make patrons aware of.

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