Wednesday, December 31, 2008

23 Things Vol. 5: Play Week

After four sections on professional topics I thought it rather clever to include a “Play Week” in the 23 Things topic selection. I have never been a huge of avatars, journal icons or other image mashups. I have known people who spent hours creating the perfect icons for their Livejournal or fan videos for Youtube. However, I will profess an odd attraction to a particular website for creating avatars:




The cartoon nature behind the avatars always appealed to me and I have been an icon similar to the one shown above for a couple of years. Creating an icon can help create a particular brand on the web and unify profiles between different sites like MySpace, Facebook or on forums.

23 Things Vol. 4: RSS and NewsFeeds

The fourth 23 Things volume deals with RSS feeds and new readers. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication is a publishing standard for updating/reading websites using the multifaceted XML web language. RSS or “Really Simple Syndication” has proliferated the internet as blogs have become more popular over the last half decade. A user can sign up for a particular websites “feed” through a popular news-reader like Net Newswire or now through web browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari. When the website is updated the news-reader displays a short title, and summary about the change. This alert system or push component makes RSS feeds for people who need to stay informed about a particular topic. There are RSS feeds from various websites on every topic imaginable from cooking to knitting. As RSS feeds become more popular libraries can use them to better communicate with their patron base.

History:        The origins of RSS come from the development of Resource Description Framework (RDF) in the height of the internet boom in 1997. The first RSS technology was created by Netscape for inclusion in their “My Netscape” web application suite (1). The technology is based around XML so it is infinitely adaptable for displaying news, sport scores, interviews and other content types. When Netscape abandoned development RSS was adopted by O’Reilly and Userland who each produced their own versions called RSS .91 causing great confusion for consumers(1). The two companies continued to produce their own formats until RSS 1.0, and RSS 2.0 respectively. Then Userland donated the rights to RSS 2.0 to Harvard Law to hold in trust and oversee any further development. Thankfully, most feed readers can interpret both feed formats.
        Libraries can use RSS feeds to help keep their patrons updated on events happening in the library, and the community. Feeds can be established that highlight guest speakers, community gatherings or what new books have arrived. While blanket e-mails have long been sent directly to the junk mail folder RSS feeds can be tailored to highlight a particular type of event, or new book arrivals within a particular genre making them more relevant to the particular patron. Also, since it is the patrons feed reader that grabs the updates the library keeps no records according to users preferences or borrowing tendencies.

RSS Feeds in Special Libraries:
        Special Libraries focusing on business or medicine have begun adopting RSS feeds to help deliver time-critical information to their patrons. Business and medicinal advances can happen overnight so delivering content to patrons requires system that allows for quick delivery. Publishers like the National Library of Medicine, and the New England Journal of Medicine have established RSS feeds to help distribute information to customers, and patrons. Similarly, special libraries could discontinue routing paper journals in favor of using RSS feeds to disseminate information. Rather than a patron receiving a paper copy the journal would be delivered electronically through an aggregator with the patron receiving a RSS notice that the content was available.
        Switching from paper to electronic routing would save the library money and time. Once the initial system was established the librarians would only have to oversee the operation rather than actively routing each journal. Some database aggregators like ABI/Inform have a built-in system that alerts patrons when particular content is available. Additionally, the library would be able to keep better track of the print copies because they wouldn’t be sending them through inter-office mail, and they wouldn’t run the risk of being lost en-route.

Creating RSS Feeds:        
        RSS feeds are XML based so there is no subscription cost associated with the service, and many news readers are also free. The librarian could even create the feed in a free text editor like notepad, taco, or text wrangler. However, while economical creating the feed by hand would make it hard to update. There are several programs specifically designed to create RSS feeds: Super Simple RSS, RSS Dreamfeeder, or Feedforall. There are also several free weblog suites like Typepad or Blogger that include RSS syndication within their program. Though these suits often come with built in advertisements or restrictions to impinge upon their “free” status. Otherwise the librarian only requires a active internet connection, and passable computer by today’s standards.

Adding Content:
        Once the RSS feed has been established then the library can begin distributing content to the patrons. Though the librarian has to make sure that they don’t violate copyright laws while trying to keep their patrons informed and happy. If the research division published an internal article then the librarian could disseminate that over the feed, but they couldn’t scan a newly received journal into the feed directly. Possible compromises that allow the library to still alert their patrons while not breaking copy include:
The RSS feed could include a short description about the serial or periodical and include a link to the aggregator that displays the electronic version. (This would be the idea method.)
If the library patrons required a more in-depth look at the journal then librarian could include a scanned copy of the table of contents or cover in addition to link to the electronic version within the feed.
If the resource is a niche market publication like Turkey World, and it is not available in an online format then the RSS feed can contain information where the patron can contact the library and arrange to have the journal sent through interoffice mail.

Concerns over Implementation:
        While RSS technology is relatively easy implement there are several hurdles that need to be implemented before successful implementation. The first obstacle is the patron base. They have to be open to the idea, and willing to accept the method for content delivery. The librarian can push the odds in their favor by having training sessions or traveling to the patrons office for one-on-one tutorial session. The second, obstacle is the administration at the company or academic institution. Without their support, and contribution any attempt to implement any technological change will meet resistance or be stopped outright. The third problem is trying to maintain a feeds usefulness while respecting other copyright holders. Ideally, RSS feeds work best with circulating locally born content from faculty or staff.

Conclusion:
        The business, medical, law worlds are moving faster everyday. Professionals employed in the field require quick access and notification of newly available content. They often lead busy lives packed with meetings, research and other activities. They may not have time to investigate every new article or book within their field. They might not even know it exists. The library, and librarians can help. While there are potential technical, and ethical quandaries in implementing RSS feeds they can increase the value of the library to the patron immensely.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

23 Things Vol. 3: Photos, Images

This week’s assignment revolves around exploring photo sharing on the web. The 23 Things module focuses solely on Flickr, the most well-known (in my opinion) photo sharing service, but there are services like Smugmug which have similar functionality. (The module does list other services though.) The last few years there has been an explosion in the social web; services focused on adding social features around activities or items. There are social sites for everything from books to birding. Flickr is an example of the social networking space adopting photos. I don’t personally own a camera or have any interest in Flickr at this point in time. However, I do see how it could be useful for both personal reasons. Parents/grandparents a couple of states away or snowbirding could watch albums of their children/grandchildren easing the distance barrier. Professionally organizations could adopt the technology as a notification tool letting employees look at new construction in the building or allow the public to see exclusive shots of their latest product unveiling. These are only two possibilities with a service that has countless other applications.
The real intriguing aspect behind sites like Flickr and other social networking tools is the change cultural concepts of privacy and knowledge. The social networking space is altering how much information about you is available to the general public. I do a regular search on my name (which granted is pretty unique), but I can look through several non-affliated sites that show information about me. Whether a my linkedin/facbook profile or a link to the finding aid I created during my archives internship each nugget of information helps people create a better picture about me. I’ve also made a choice to put myself out there through this blog and other sites that I manage. However, I see that more as a necessity. The best way to help determine your identity online is to create your own presence. There are plenty cheap or free hosting services and domain names are not that expensive so there is no reason why anyone can’t build there on own site. From the first module I’ve seen a long list of blogging services that all could be re-worked to act as a website.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

23 Things Vol. 2

The deadline for completion of the 23 Things project that fast approaching. I don’t know whether I’ll complete the process in time, but I will continue to slog to till the bitter end ( and mostly afterward.) The deadline is simply for those who want to remain in a drawing for a prize which doesn’t really interest me that much. (Though I wouldn’t turn it down either.) The second stage in the 23 Things projects is about folksonomy (a.k.a social tagging, free tagging, or simply tagging). The main focus for the module is the social networking/bookmarking site called Delicious; a server-based bookmark repository that lets users upload their bookmarks to share across multiple computers and share with other users. I added a listing for Tagtaxons.com to my account (which had been dormant for months / a year) and would like to incorporate the technology more into my consulting work.

The next phase of the assignment was to write about Library 2.0 after reading some different sources on the subject. Given the prompt and the reading material the project then encourages users to write their thoughts into a blog post for the previously established blog. (Clever aren’t they, eh) The rest of this post will consist of a reaction to the readings and thoughts on Library 2.0

Library 2.0 means different things to different people. Some people see it as adoption of technology to help create a more user centered library experience. Others see it as a klaxon call for change in the library space to help knock the dust off our public image. Another segment of the population see it as the worst thing to ever be attempted in the library community.

For decades librarians have been gatekeepers for knowledge. We have been sitting an in an ivory tower surrounded by miles upon miles of shelving lined with books standing in perfect order. We were masters of our domain, rulers of the land and monarchs of great repute. There is an entire stereotype surrounding a librarian ruling over their shelves like a despotic ruler. I think for some in the profession their job became more about things and less about the people. The patron was a passive observer in the their own intellectual quest. The Library 2.0 movement focusing on tearing down that tower and create a more equal partnership between the librarian and the patron.

Generally, I am a great proponent of building a better rapport between patrons and the librarian. The Library 2.0 movement also has a more unfortunate side-effect. In the hurry to implement programs or create new tools for better involving the patron in the library experience the focus can slip away from the patron to change for the sake of changing. The library user community varies and cuts across every possible age, economic, cultural and social setting. A particular user community might love being able to access their reserves online while others still want to make the reserves at the front desk or call the reference librarian. Therefore, any changes made to enact a Library 2.0 goal set should be made as flexible as possible so on one is forced into anything they find undesirable. The library should be as welcoming as possible and that concept moves beyond physical space to services.

Library 2.0 is about refocusing the profession on the users rather than the objects. There is more information available to society at large than anytime in recorded history. The digital infrastructure is knocking down cultural, national, and economic barriers with great speed and efficiency. Library 2.0 is about partnership and building bridges between librarians and users.

The most marvelous feature behind the explosion of information is the content creation process has flattened enough to allow anyone to contribute. Though the trouble with the flattening content creation process is that everyone can contribute. How do you control the content enough without barring useful information? That is quite the conundrum. Though not an impossible problem to sort-out. I’ve found a multi-prong strategy is best when tackling any troubling problem. The first would be to rely on the community itself to police the members. This can be seen in the social networking site Librarything.com: a social networking site focused around users cataloging their personal libraries. The users can upload, change or delete records, but overall the community does a remarkable job policing their own membership, Mistakes are caught and rectified; data vandalism is spotted and fixed. Though the difference between changing bibliographic data and more serious data like health or financial information colors the issue. The second approach is authority control; while anyone familiar with library science will recognize the term I’ve adopted a slightly more in-depth definition. Rather than simply confirming birth dates or publication credits I mean actually investigating the contributors background. Inquire about credentials, contact any references, investigate publications etc. Lastly, is require investment in the community. The great draw behind the internet is the ability to become anonymous; being anonymous can make some users feel there are no consequences to their actions. In order to add, remove or alter content require establishing a profile on the site. It can remove some of the anonymous nature behind the web. Anyone who is determine to cyber-vandal your site will find a way. Though that is true is most situations. It is hard to discourage anyone truly dedicated from their path regardless.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

23 Things Vol. 1: Blogging

The first 23 Things module (actually its the 2nd, but the 1st is a introduction) involves creating a blog. They recommend beginning with services like Blogger, Typepad or Vox. (They have a list of around fifty different services which shows the blogging has become more mainstream than niche.) I have some experience running my own website, and had used the free blogging service at Blogger and Livejournal. Rather than continue down the same path as before I started trying something new. As that is really the reason behind the 23 Things project. I ended up trying a couple different services before falling back on Blogger and then again onto my traditional web creation software: Rapidweaver


  • Typepad: A Six Apart property (I think) for the professional blogger Typepad has several different service levels aimed at meeting the needs of several different client-types. I had heard go things about the service and the home page looked professional (i.e. shiny). I started down the set-up path which was particularly painless. However, I came to a screeching halt when the site warned told me about the exciting 14 day free trial and how afterward my credit card would be charged the initial set-up fee. I generally don’t like trial periods that then shift into payment. I am always afraid that I am going to forget to cancel the service or I am paranoid about getting comfortable with a service and then priced out of said service.
  • Vox: Then I tried Vox which I had heard about from a poplar tech pundit whose podcasts/netcasts I enjoy. The Vox page looked rather spiffy like its counterpart on Typepad so I started down the set-up path. Vox seemed like it had a particular focus on video blogging and sharing other media beyond traditional text blogging. The set templates were rather limiting and I had no interest in video blogging. Broadband is still largely unavailable in large parts of the country and dial up is still rather kludgy when it comes to video. Secondly, I have no interest in splattering my image across the internet (Though I have friends from library school who enjoy the occasional video blog.)
  • Blogger: I finally fell back to the blogger service because I already had an account and the service was a variable that I understood. I decided to test different blogging clients from some 3rd party developers to further add to the learning process. The blog I created on blogger doesn’t have much information. It originally had this very post in a drastically different format and slightly different topic coverage. The client I used to enter the brief entry on the test blog was Macjournal from Mariner Software. (They also Winjournal for the other 95% of the population where Macjournal doesn’t apply.)
    • Macjournal: While not a dedicated blogging client Macjournal does have a blogging component that made interaction with Blogger and uploading content relatively painless. There were some interesting moments when I was trying to find how to insert a link into the entry. Since Macjournal is note built solely to shoot text up to the web I had to track down the feature through a couple of menus. In the future I hope to try a dedicated client that works a little more seamlessly in creating the blog post. (A swiss army knife is great when you don’t know what you need, but sometimes when you know you need a cleaver it is nice to use the cleaver.)
I rather enjoyed the exercised and look forward to completing the other 9 different modules. I want to complete them all by Dec 15th 2008, but I don’t whether that will be feasibly with the day job and other factors built into the schedule. Though I will try and document my progress on the blog throughout the experience in addition to any other thoughts on the information science/librarianship world.