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

DNC Launches McCainpedia

   May 20th, 2008 Brian Herzog

McCainpedia logoI thought this was an interesting approach to organizing political information: the Democratic National Committee has created "McCainpedia."

McCainpedia is a wiki intended to serve as the hub for opposition research for the upcoming presidential race. It's interesting because it is a example of a large and important organization using a wiki to communicate with (not to, but with) its members.

As far as the world of politics goes, it seems like a pretty novel idea to make information public like this. But I like it. I just finished reading Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, which talks a lot about how making things public actually makes them more accurate and more secure.

In the book, the topic is computer encryption. The reasoning is that if the encryption technology is made public, much smarter people than its creators will try to break it - if no one can break it, then you know it's secure. But if you keep it secret, you'll never know about its vulnerabilities until it's too late.

I like that a political party is bringing information to the public in an easy-to-use format, instead of doing all their research and strategizing in the proverbial smoke-filled, locked-door war room. It would be even better if the information wasn't just anti-McCain, but compared his positions to the democratic nominee.

I'm sure both republicans and democrats will be scrutinizing the information published here, and reporting any errors or omissions. This will lead to better information, which leads to a more informed public.

And even though the information is obviously biased, I still would consider this a trustworthy source. You always need to take the source and its slant into account when using information, but because the DNC is putting its name on this and taking responsibility for it, I would trust them to be accurate.

Via Huffington Post, via Politico.com

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Andrea Mercado on Blogs and Wikis

   March 22nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

Andrea MercadoI spent the morning with a small group of Massachusetts librarians learning about how to use a blog or wiki to communicate better amongst library staff. We were graciously hosted by Andrea Mercado, of the Reading Public Library, who is currently developing both a wiki for her library's intranet and a blog for her reference desk's internal use (to replace the spiral notebook).

(and although Andrea is the Reference and Techie Librarian at Reading, this is also the same Andrea that maintains the PLA's blog, blogs at LlibraryTechtonics.info, and has good taste in clothing.)

After a tour of the library, which I really liked (see photos on their flickr account), we got down to business. And again, note that we're talking about tools for staff-only use - using wikis and blogs for patron tools is a topic for another time.

Reference Desk Blog
Andrea first talked about the hows and whys of using a blog as the start page for reference desk computers (it is searchable, everyone can contribute, easy way to organize information, keep other shifts up to day on projects and questions, etc.). She also talked about what blog software to use - she favors WordPress (which also powers my blog as well as my library's), but warned that it may be too powerful (too complex/confusing) for some new users. Others, such as blogger or livejournal are also possible, free, and easier in that you don't have to worry about installation or hosting, but really just won't offer the kind of features and customization that a hosted blog like WordPress can provide.

Wiki As Intranet
We then moved on to wikis, which spent most of our time talking about. Andrea is running an installation of MediaWiki, and she loves it. The goal of this is to make it easier for staff to find (and contribute to) library policies, desk procedures, original files of handouts and presentations, library logos to put on new documents, staff and emergency phone numbers, etc. All of the things that might be laying around in binders or uncategorized on network servers, she wants to centralize and make findable through the wiki.

This seems like a great application for a wiki - the only catch is setting it up so that it does function as an intranet, rather being open to the entire world. Also, again she cautioned us to match the tool to the audience - MediaWiki is very powerful, but another program like pbwiki or Wetpaint might be simpler and more suitable for less technical users.

The meeting was also attened by two libriaians from the Memorial Hall Library in Andover. They've already begun using a wiki for local information, which they called Andover Answers. It is open for patrons to view, but it not currently editable by anyone but MHL librarians. However, they are cleverly using the "discussions" tab at the top of the screen to allow patrons (or anyone) to suggest changes for pages. These suggestions are viewable by everyone, and open for discussion, and then a librarian can research the suggestion and decide whether or not to make the change.

I thought this was a great idea, as so many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of letting non-librarians edit the information. We're going through something similar with our community information database, and it might be a happy medium.

andover answers, andrea mercado, blog, blogs, libraries, library, mediawiki, memorial hall library, pbwiki, public libraries, public library, reading public library, wiki, wikis, wordpress

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