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




Upcoming Workshop: CMS Day!

   May 19th, 2009 Brian Herzog

website designer comicI'm a member of the IT section of the New England Library Association, and we're holding a workshop on popular CMS software. If you're thinking about redesigning or updating your website, or would are just curious about what CMS' are and what they can do, then this workshop is for you.

CMS Day! Build a better website with Content Management Systems: Drupal, Joomla, Plone, & WordPress
Keynote by Jessamyn West

Date: Friday, June 12, 2009
Location: Portsmouth Public Library, Portsmouth, NH (directions)
Cost: NELA members - $50; Non-members - $60
Registration Fee includes lunch & a NELA USB hub!

To Register
Secure online registration & downloadable mail-in registration [pdf] are both available at http://www.nelib.org/its/conference. Registration Closes Monday June 8.

Program Schedule
10:00 a.m. - Registration & Coffee & Library Tours
10:30 a.m. - Keynote: CMS options - Jessamyn West
12 noon - Lunch (provided!) and Library Tours
12:45 p.m. - Librarians share their real-life CMS experiences:
--Drupal - Darien (CT) PL (darienlibrary.org) & Paige Eaton Davis, Minuteman Network
--Joomla - Randy Robertshaw, Tyngsborough PL (tynglib.org)
--Plone - Rick Levine & CMRLS Librarians
--WordPress - Theresa Maturevich, Beverly (MA) PL (beverlypubliclibrary.org)
3:30 p.m. -Wrap-Up!

Keynote by Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West is a community technology librarian. She lives in rural Vermont where assists tiny libraries with their technology planning and implementation. Her favorite color is orange. Jessamyn maintains an online presence at: librarian.net and jessamyn.info

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NELA Program Refund Policy: A full refund shall be granted provided that the registered attendee has contacted the authorized representative of ITS responsible for taking registrations, at least ten (10) business days in advance of the program. In the event that notice is given less than ten days, a refund is not granted, however, they may send a substitute to the program.

For more information, please contact Scott Kehoe at 978-762-4433 x16 / scott@nmrls.org



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Government 2.0

   February 3rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

obama on iphoneBefore and since the Obama Administration moved into the White House, there's been much talk about how Obama was using technology, really using it properly, to get things done.

These ranged from his change.gov and recovery.gov websites to the Blackberry battle to tech problems in the White House to Obama's Technology Agenda to the newly revamped White House website and blog.

I subscribed to the White House blog's rss feed on 1/20. In addition to reading the posts, I also paid attention to how many other subscribers there were. At the end of the first week, there were about 800 subscribers in Bloglines, and about 3,000 in Google Reader. As of 2/2, it's up to 1,100+ Bloglines and 16,000+ Google Reader.

This is out of a country of 300 million people - I'm surprised it's so low*.

I think it's great that the government is putting effort into reaching people in new ways, so people can get the information the way they want to be reached. But at what point does it become worth it? These numbers don't take into account people that use other rss readers or actually visit the website, but they do seem low.

Regardless, leading by example is a good thing - if the White House is taking bloggery seriously, then perhaps other parts of the government will also be making information available quicker and easier via technology. The Library of Congress blog predates Obama (191 Blogline/241 Google Reader subscribers), and it has a flickr stream too (~90/226 subscribers). Also, iLibrarian recently pointed to a recap of the Best Government Uses of Web Technology, and that's interesting reading.

These web 2.0 communication channels are now an integrated fact of life for many people, so it makes me feel better that our government is deliberately addressing it instead of trying to ignore it.

 


*My library's blog isn't much better - out a of a town of about 32,000, we've got 3 Bloglines and 4 Google Reader subscribers (we average over 700 page visits a month).



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Levels of Service

   December 16th, 2008 Brian Herzog

503 Error: Service UnavailableSince the outages caused by the ice storm on Thursday, my library has been slowly reestablishing our affected services. First back up was our power and heat and catalog (day two), then wireless internet (day three), then internet to the public workstations (day four).

This progressive-improvement situation made for a good quote. When asked by a staff person if things were working again, the response was:

Everything is working, but we're still working on making it patron-proof again.

It made perfect sense in context, but when I thought about it later, it sounded both funny and counter-intuitive.

Recovering from an unintended power outage really draws a stark line between having something work, and having something work the way we want it to. Just having a computer that turns on isn't good enough - ours also need to automatically log in, track time, connect to printers and the internet, and protect the user's privacy and data. And ideally, do all this without intervention from the user.

On the surface, the answer above might sound like our goal was keep the computers safe from the public. The goal is actually to make sure the public needs to do as little as possible to use our computers (making sure they can do no harm is a side effect).



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Simmons Tech Summit

   July 24th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Simmons Tech Summit Tech ToysLast week, I was invited to participate in the first Simmons Tech Summit.

Organized and hosted by a few instructors in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College, it was a small unconference of tech librarians discussing using web 2.0 tools to reach out to patrons.

It was fun. I was the only public librarian there (and, it seemed, the only one without an iPhone), and it was interesting to hear how academic librarians approach web 2.0 tools. Also, I like meeting other librarians, especially when they're doing cool things.

We created a del.icio.us account for the tools we covered - a lot I don't use, a few I'd never heard of, and some I need to investigate further. Check out the full list, but here's a few highlights:

  • VoiceThread and Animoto are different, but similar in that they are both easy tools for creating videos. Animoto puts music over photos, to create fun music videos. VoiceThread is a bit more powerful, and is a tool for creating presentations with slides and voice - but best of all, viewers can leave comments on the slides. Great for interaction in the classroom, but questions/feedback is also great for instructional screencasts or collaborative creativity
  • LibraryFind came up early in the day, as any meeting of tech librarians will quickly turn to lamenting the state of ILS software. LibraryFind is an open source metasearch/federated search tool developed (and in use!) by Oregon State University - definitely worth some play time
  • ChaCha was new to me - it's basically a reference service for mobile devices. Send them a reference question via text message or phone call, and they send you back an answer. Registering your mobile devices means it can log the questions you ask, so you can see who answered it (the "Guide") and where they found the answer. It looks like Guides can be anyone, and are paid $0.20/answer
  • Wordle.net was new to me, too - upload a block of text to it and it creates a pretty "word cloud." Like a tag cloud, but not linked, so it can be eye-catching but not inherently useful. But I like the concept, though, and it's fun: here's a wordle of the Tech Summit delicious feed, this blog, and the White House's news feed

Keeping up by reading journals and blogs is okay, but I usually learn a lot more by talking to people and hearing their ideas on tools. Yay for sharing and working together.



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Political Parties and Technology

   July 22nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Donkey and Elephant political iconsI noticed this interesting juxtaposition of the difference in the way the Democratic and Republican parties are approaching technology at campaign events.

The Arizona Star reported that the GOP wanted to prevent any attendees of a Tucson fundraiser from recording the event, out of fear of what might show up on YouTube. Bush himself asked the attendees to turn off all recording devices, and was quoted as saying

I don't know a lot about technology...but I do know about YouTube.

On the other hand, an email from the Obama campaign goes in the exact opposite direction. The email mentioned an upcoming rally in Massachusetts on August 4th (Obama's birthday, incidentally), and read in part:

...remember to bring your camera and snap a few photos! You can share them with us at eventsforobama@gmail.com. We'll start posting photos soon!

Not that there is any one right way to approach technology, but I did find this contrast telling. The Bush Administration has a long reputation of trying to suppress and control information and keep things behind closed doors, whereas the Obama campaign has embraced modern technology and has put effort into learning it to use it to their advantage.

Politics is politics, but I am all for being encouraged to participate. Besides, I like taking pictures of things I do and places I go, and would kind of resent being told I couldn't because of someone else's misunderstanding or fear.



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Using Firefox On Our Public Computers

   May 8th, 2008 Brian Herzog

firefox logoMy library is in the process of re-doing all of our public computers. One major change we're making is to switch to Firefox for our web browser, instead of the Internet Explorer/Public Web Browser combo we've always used.

The reason we're switching is a simple one - Firefox is just cooler. It lets us have more control over how the browser functions, and lets us offer more tools integrated right into the browser. Better for us, better for patrons.

Here's a list of the customizations we're making:

Add-Ons

  • Public Fox - this is designed to make Firefox a public web browser, as opposed to being used and customized by a single, private person. We're using it to lock down add-ons, preference, about:config, and a few other things, as well as control what file types can be downloaded
  • Menu Editor - also for the control freak in us, this one lets us remove menus from the tool bar (we're getting rid of bookmarks, help and history)
  • Greasemonkey - one of my favorites, this lets us embed custom coding on webpages, such as a link from Amazon to our catalog, and helpful links on our catalog's "no search results" page (more info on those on our Tech Tools page)
  • Add To Search Bar - this fun one lets us easily add our library catalog right to Firefox's search bar. The other searches we chose to include are Google, Yahoo, Amazon, the Internet Movie Database, Answers.com, Wikipedia, and Merriam-Webster
  • IE Tab - For all of those "Best viewed in Internet Explorer" websites, this one lets you toggle back and forth between the Firefox and IE rendering engines, so IE-only pages and scripts will load in Firefox
  • Image Zoom - just like what it sounds, this adds zoom controls to the right-click menu, to make images bigger and smaller. This one is most useful to patrons who get emailed digital photos at 1024 x 768 resolution, which is too big for our screens. This lets them zoom out so they can see all of their grandchild's face at the same time
  • Update 5/30/08: Print Preview - We realized that we had forgotten to put the Print icon on the toolbar, and then that Firefox didn't seem to have a native Print Preview toolbar icon. This Add-On gives us the Print Preview icon

Options Settings

  • Turn off all automatic updates - we use Deep Freeze, so we do our own updates
  • Turn on smooth scrolling
  • Turn on check spelling
  • Set homepage to our Reference start page
  • Always save downloads to My Documents
  • Always show tab bar
  • Turn off all warnings, except when redirecting from secure to an unsecure page
  • Don't remember anything, delete cookies and clear private data when Firefox closes

Other Customizations

  • Disable mailto: links - one repeated tech question from patrons is "I want to send an email but I'm getting some connection wizard." This happens when someone clicks a "mailto" link on a webpage, and Outlook launches as the default email program. Since patrons need to log into their own web email to send messages, making nothing happen when someone click a mailto link is actually an improvement
  • We also took whatever steps we could think of to ensure computer security and patron privacy - this means not keeping any history, and making sure that when Firefox is started, it does not restore from a previous session
  • Update 5/30/08: Add the Print and Print Preview (see Add-Ons above) icons to the toolbar (we chose to use icons only and not text because it used less room)

A lot of these were judgment calls, and there is no single right way to adjust your settings. Also, there're lots of other useful Add-Ons out there too, and more at https://addons.mozilla.org. If you have any suggestions for security or usefulness that we didn't include, please let me know in the comments.

Update 5/15/08: I've had a couple questions about Public Web Browser, so I thought I'd elaborate. It is a great product that works with Internet Explorer (or other browsers, I'm guessing) to lock it down and make IE more applicable for a public library computer. It has always done exactly what it was designed to do, and the librarians who developed it provide wonderful service. Our switch to Firefox has nothing to do with PWB - we just prefer Firefox to IE.

Update 5/30/08: Added an Add-On and toolbar setting to make it easier for patrons to use Print and Print Preview.



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