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

Upcoming Workshop: Library-Wide IT Proficiencies

   May 1st, 2008 Brian Herzog

Unshelved Comic StripToday I'm peddling a workshop that a committee on which I serve is holding in June. The committee is the Information Technology Section of the New England Library Association, and it'll be fun, and interesting. Check it out:

"Library-Wide IT Proficiencies"
The workshop is focused on teaching technology self-sufficiency, so library staff in every department can feel comfortable handling common technology issues. Using a "train the trainer" format, the presenters will emphasize sharing the practical knowledge and skills IT staff may take for granted. The goal is to reduce the fear factor many library staff have when dealing with common technology, from changing printer cartridges to navigating the network.

Date: Thursday, June 12, 2008
Location: Bryant University, Smithfield, RI (Directions to BU's Bryant Center)
Cost: NELA Members - $55 Non-members - $65

Program Schedule
8:30 Registration and Continental Breakfast
9:00 - 12:00 Part I: Proficiency, IT Staff and End Users
12:00 - 12:45 Buffet Lunch
12:45 - 3:00 Part II: Roadmap to Creating an IT-Savvy Library Staff
3:00 Questions and Program Wrap-Up

Each workshop attendee will receive a flash drive containing all presentation materials and handouts!

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

More About The Workshop
IT staff must be able to assist in maintaining a library-wide level of competence and confidence not only in using current IT resources, but also in learning new ways of working smarter. The workshop begins with the basic elements of end user education to promote departmental self-sufficiency and moves on to the higher level of assisting librarians with cutting edge technology awareness and use. Participants will receive tools, techniques and many ideas on ways to increase the IT proficiency of all library staff.

About The Presenters
Gary K. McCone and Grace R. Sines work in the Information Systems department of the National Agricultural Library. As Associate Director, Gary is responsible for the development, maintenance and quality Assurance of computer systems and NAL databases, and has significant experience in providing consultation for the establishment of libraries in developing countries. Grace, Deputy Associate Director for Information technology, has over 20 years of experience in managing information technology services, and has authored numerous Federal policies and procedures concerning the implementation and operation of information systems.

For more information, please contact Rick Taplin, ITS Chair at ITS@nelib.org or call 508-655-8008, x201.

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Webpage Highlighter Tool

   April 17th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Awesome Highlighter logoHere's a neat web tool I've been waiting to use ever since I read about it a few weeks ago on the Library 2.0 Ning group - the Awesome Highlighter.

It lets you highlight a portion of a webpage, send someone a link, and then they can see exactly what you highlighted. Great for virtual reference work, but also just good in general.

One of our more tech-savvy patrons emailed me asking if there was an easy way to search the Library's catalog right from book's page on Amazon. There is, using Firefox and Greasemonkey, and it is outlined on my Library's Tech Tools page.

But instead of just sending him the link to the Tech Tools page, I ran it through the Awesome Highlighter, so I could send him a highlighted page, with focus on exactly the portion of the page I wanted him to see. Not that he wouldn't have found it on his own, but it just makes it a little bit easier - especially the "jump to highlights" link at the top.

On the Ning page, there's some discussion about the highlighter working or not working depending on whether the user is signed in. I've only used it a couple times, but I haven't had any trouble. The great thing is that someone from the company is participating in the discussion, so hopefully whatever bugs do exist will be corrected as a result - much like Jessamyn's comments on SWIFT.

If we never speak up, then we'll never get tools that do exactly what we need (I'll refrain from inserting my ILS soapbox here).

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Computerless Email

   April 15th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Presto Email Printing ServiceOccasionally spam email messages catch my eye. I recently saw one with this subject: "Send Email and Photos to Loved Ones Who Don't Use a Computer."

I'm not promoting this service, but I think it's an interesting idea, and I'd never heard of it before. The company is Presto.com, and what they sell is a way to electronically communicate with someone who doesn't have email.

The product is a printer that plugs into a home phone line, and their service converts incoming emails into color printouts - with no user intervention.

The demo is worth watching, but how it works seems fairly simple. Each HP printer gets an email account (which is managed by someone who is comfortable with the internet), and in addition to printing messages from loved ones, the company also provides free content like crosswords, recipes, and newsletters. And since you control the "approved sender" list, it means no spam and no ads.

I keep thinking this might actually have a place in a library, but I can't exactly figure it out. I certainly would rather teach someone how to use email than give them a crutch, but lots of people don't have the time or desire to learn - but do want pictures of their grandkids.

The catch would be if each printer is only associated with one email address. If it could handle more, then this might be a service we could provide to patrons. They set up an account with us, and then we hold whatever printouts they receive just like we hold their requested books. That would definitely strengthen the library's sense of community, but perhaps this product is better suited for senior centers or retirement homes.

Besides, kids today are practically issued cell phone numbers and IM handles at birth, so this type of technology is probably pretty short-lived.

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My Tech-NO List

   March 4th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Royal Quiet De Luxe TypewriterI normally don't participate in memes. However, I am me-too'ing Jessamyn's tech-NOs post because I like the idea behind it.

A lot of librarians (and regular people) I know are hesitant to try new tech/web things because there is just so much out there and they feel they have to know about everything before they can try anything. That is absolutely not true.

Even though some people think of me as high-techy because I have a website and use flickr and bloglines, there is a lot I don't know about (and a lot I don't care about). My advice is to use tech tools to augment your life/work style, not change it; pick what you like and play with it, and ignore everything else.

So, to show off my low-tech side, here's my list of tech-NOs:

  • I do not have a microwave.
  • I don't use IM, except at work. And even there I'm more likely to phone or email than IM
  • I do not have a cell phone. I have one telephone, and it has a curly cord that plugs into the wall. I do not want a cell phone, and, in general, cell phones irritate me. Also, I have the same answering machine I've used since college, and it records to an analog cassette tape. I do not have caller id, call waiting, or anything like that
  • I do not have an iPod or other mp3 player. Why? I've never needed one. When I'm in the car I listen to the radio, CDs or tapes; when I go for a walk or hike or exercise, I think about whatever is on my mind
  • I do not have cable or satellite television. I have a television with an antennae*, and a VCR and DVD player, and I use it mostly for watching movies
  • My clocks have hands. I don't like digital clocks, so all the clocks in my house (except for the one built into the stove) are analog. I wake up to an alarm clock with two metal bells on top (I also have a bird clock*)
  • I do not have an ATV, snowmobile, or jetski. Instead, I have a mountain bike, cross-country skis*, a kayak, and hiking boots. I don't like exchanging effort for pollution (although I do have power tools)
  • I use an old-fashion twirly lawnmower. You know the kind I mean. It's fun
  • I really don't play video games. Sure, I play minesweeper and hearts, but not World of Warcraft, Second Life (I know, it's not a "game"), Guitar Hero, or any of the others. I'm interested in the phenomena of multi-user interactions in worlds like these, but I have no inclination to play them
  • I do not care about twitter. I just don't
  • I write letters in addition to emailing. I have an antique Royal typewriter* that I love using, and I fear the day the ribbon runs out
  • I do not use GPS. I like maps
  • I do not use air conditioning. I like open windows and fans
  • I have one credit card and I pay all my bills by mailing a check. I also enjoy going to the post office

I'm sure there's more, but that's good for now.

*In typing up this list, I realized that all of the *'d things were given to me by my younger brother. Thanks, Mike. And I still don't want a cell phone.

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Web 1.9999999…

   November 30th, 2006 Brian Herzog

In an effort to cater to the Long Tail patrons who are still unfamiliar with internety things, my library is holding a program tonight called Joys & pitfalls of social networking software.

It is really geared towards parents who are concerned for their childrens' safety on the internet. Our thinking is that if we can educate parents about Web 2.0 tools and how they are used, they will, 1) be more comfortable with their kids using them, and, 2) be able to use them themselves to interact with friends, peers - and their own children - through them.

Our program will be presented in three acts. First, our Director will talk very generally about internet trends, citing statistics, as well as library policy regarding internet use. Next, our YA Librarian will mention what teens do on the internet (myspace, IM, etc), and provide tips on how they can do it safely. Finally, I'll bring up the rear by going more in-depth with popular Web 2.0 websites. So far, only the list of websites I'm going to address is online, but I hope to have the entire thing available soon.

internet safety, library, parents, programs, social networking, social software, technology, teens, web 2.0

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   October 26th, 2006 Brian Herzog

R$$: Really Simple SurchargeWhile at NELA last weekend, I attended a session by Linda Braun, who talked a lot about RSS feeds. One of the tools she presented was PageFlakes, which I had never seen before. During her talk, she kind of offhandedly commented that one of the reasons she likes PageFlakes is that it lets her save stories she wants to read, but doesn’t have time to save at the moment. That way, the text of the article gets stored on the PageFlakes server, and, obviously, she can go back and read them later.

She then commented that this is sort of a loophole to subscription news services, like the New York Times. The NYT provides free access to their stories for 14 days, but stories older than that require a subscription fee to read. However, by saving the stories on PageFlakes, she creates her own archive, and never has to pay to read older stories she had saved before they were 14 days old.

I found this interesting for two reasons: first, I like loopholes. Second, though, it made me wonder about RSS feeds, which I think most people take for granted right now (if they know about them at all). But what if RSS feeds go the way of bank ATMs - something that started out as being a free service provided by pretty much all the major players, and then, after people incorporated them into their lives and essentially became dependant on them, were suddenly no longer free (at least, to use another bank’s ATM).

So right now I can get NYT articles for free through RSS, but I don’t see it as unfathomable that they would see this as a viable way to make money in the future - after all, people pay for convenience, and RSS feeds are much more convenient than visiting their website every day.

nela, new york times, pageflakes, rss, technology, web 2.0

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