or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Talking Tech

   September 22nd, 2009 Brian Herzog

tech support manNew technologies are constantly becoming more integrated into how libraries perform their core functions. As this evolves, staff (and patrons) of all experience levels need to be able to communicate, but this is often difficult and problematic.

Enter Roy Tennant's recent The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology post (via LISnews). It's a good start to getting people unfamiliar with technology to start thinking about technology in realistic terms - it's not something to be afraid of, it's a tool (and even tech people don't know everything). All of his 10 tips are helpful, but #5 is key:

  1. Iterate, don't perfect. Librarians seem to love perfection. We don't want to put any technology out for the public to use until we think it is perfect. Well, we need to get over ourselves. Savvy tech companies know the path to success is to release early and iterate often. One of the major benefits of this is that your users can provide early feedback on what they like and don't like, thereby providing essential input into further development. Do not be afraid of a "beta" or "prototype" label -- people are now accustomed to such, and it can provide the necessary "cover" to being less than perfect.

But this is not new. Roy's post reminded me of two other articles I had seen last year Computers in Libraries:

These two are more focused on how front-line staff can become more comfortable doing their own tech troubleshooting. But best of all, by raising their comfort level and tech competencies, conveying problems to the dedicated tech support (whether internal or external) should also improve.

Naturally, these two articles overlap a bit on the tips that are most important:

  • Make sure the power is on to all components (if not, turn it on and see if that fixes the problem)
  • Make sure all the cables are plugged in and connected firmly (feel free to unplug and plug back in the cables
  • Try rebooting - that works more often than you'd imagine

But also important are the areas in which they don't overlap. The Singer Gordon/West article provide excellent tips on basic tasks anyone using a computer should (but might not!) know. And the Ennis article focuses more on how to avoid more serious problems, identify them when they happen, and then communicate important information to tech support.

My favorite sentence of all three articles comes from Lisa A. Ennis's article, in which she reminds tech support staff that the entire burden doesn't rest with the front-line staff. Her personal philosophy as a systems librarian is:

I'm not here for the technology. I'm here for the people.

That is key. Example: an email system that delivers no spam but sometimes blocks legitimate messages is not a good email system.

Technology is not a one-person game. Everyone uses it, so everyone has a role to play in making sure it works correctly - and that it is serving the mission of the library.



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Standing on the Keyboards of Giants

   April 21st, 2007 Brian Herzog

During Jessamyn's Pimp My Firefox talk at cil2007, something occurred to me. So much of the code used on websites today was written by someone else - themes, rss feeds, widgets, etc.

I think this is great, as freeware/open source/creative commons all allow people to share good ideas - repacking them, repurposing them, resuing them.. you know, recycling.

(not to mention that this has been my style of coding ever since I started coding in 1996. I am almost exclusively self-taught, which means I learned from seeing something I liked on the web, viewing the code, and figuring it out. Often, this meant I grabbed the code and tweaked and modified it to do what I wanted. You can learn a lot through trial and error)

Site Made with Recycled Code iconSo, it was during that session that I got the idea for this new movement, the "made with recycled code" movement. By "movement," of course all I mean is create a little icon and stick it on my webpage. And not being a graphic designer, it's not even a very good icon, but I think it's a catchy phrase.

If you like it, grab it from flickr or the psd file from my website (big [575x575px, 316kb]; small [130x130px, 119kb]).

cil2007, code, coding, freeware, jessamyn, jessamyn west, made with recycled code, open source, recycle, recycled, recycled code, rss, site made with recycled code, themes



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CIL2007 Sunday & Monday

   April 17th, 2007 Brian Herzog

computers in libraries 2007 badgeA coworker of mine and I are in Washington, DC, this week for the Computers in Libraries 2007 conference. So far, I’ve been to just three sessions (and some sightseeing), and it’s already worth the trip.

First I went to Michael Sauers’ Sunday afternoon preconference session on integrating RSS into websites. This notion had always kind of intimidated me, outside of the built-in feeds provided by WordPress. But Michael showed us about 20 tools over the course of three hours which can make adding feeds very easy. Those that looked the most promising were:

  • ListGarden for writing the rss code and managing the feeds (it also supports podcasts and has built-in ftp feedspring and RapidFeeds)
  • feed2js for getting an rss feed to display on a webpage (like rss viewer, rss2html, feed digest, grazr and many others)
  • RSSCalendar for a free, web-based, rss-fed calendar of events (which can also be outputted to your own website)
  • Something that was neat, and I might like to try, was feed2podcast, which will automatically read your text feeds and convert them to podcasts in a computer's voice
  • All of this and more is available on Michael's cil2007 del.icio.us account

Next was David Lee King's Monday morning session on planning and implementing Library 2.0 projects. This was a quick session on why and how libraries can use Library 2.0 tools, and what absolutely must be kept in mind – planning. He covered blogs, wikis and flickr in very general terms, focusing mostly on why proper planning is important, and what could happen when projects are launched without planning. Basically, a lot of effort is wasted, not to mention an opportunity to communicate with patrons.

Then it was on to Jessamyn. I love her. Her pre-lunch talk was on how to sup-up your Firefox browser. She shows a bunch of plug-ins, extensions, and skins, and, in her own way, convinced a crowd of hundreds why Firefox should be on every library's public computers. I only hope they take her advice, and that I can convince my library of this.

She also spent a lot of time on greasemonkey, a Firefox extension that allows you to run little scripts to modify webpages. I've played a bit with greasemonkey in the past, but it was great to see what someone else does with it. Now I've got some ideas, and that's when I'm at my most dangerous.

The schedule for Tuesday looks like it'll be a little more filled out. Plus, the exhibit floor will be open all day, so I can talk to some vendors, too. And then in the evening, I'm meeting up with my cousin Elizabeth, who recently relocated to the DC area after finishing her MBA. So all in all, it should be a good day.

cil 2007, cil2007, computers in libraries, computers in libraries 2007, david lee king, greastmonkey, jessamyn, jessamyn west, libraries, library, michael sauers, public libraries, public library, rss



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