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Archive for the ‘Libraries’ Category

Holy Timewarp, Batman!

Way on back in Jan 07 I used a few examples of library websites that didn’t exactly work all that well. Both have been redesigned since then and all I have to say is way to go CPL! The site now looks a hundred times more engaging than this, and it would most certainly not be on that same list today.

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There has been some buzz lately about the future of library websites. The Library Web Chic recently wrote a post in the subject that invites looking at the topic more closely. One of the questions to be answered, and this can apply to any website as well, is the idea of focusing on merely getting people to use the website as they use the physical library or if the site should be more about experience. This can be likened back to a physical space in a way, the beauty of the building or what waits for the patrons inside. Libraries used to be mainly spaces for books and learning, for people to come and sit and read or do research. It was a quiet place were people got their books, were shushed for making noise, and then when they were done, left. These days libraries offer programs for the whole family, they encourage people to come and stay and consider the library more of a social place. And it does seem to be slowly merging into that, even if it still primarily involves people on the computers close to each other.

The idea of the virtual as social on library websites is a relatively new one.  Up until now there hasn’t been the proper technology and the idea of giving over any sort of control or freedom to the patrons to influence what was on the libraries virtual face was not one that would be well accepted. But now, with the push from Web 2.0 and social networking and software libraries are learning to innovate and to be more inclined to include these sorts of things. Libraries have all sorts of competition these days, from bookstores and the like, and so they’ve had to offer those programs to keep people coming and interested outside of just offering the latest James Patterson. Library websites have to do the same. Bokardo has a good short article on the idea of designing specifically for page hits (contrast that with circulation stats) or for user experience (program attendance) that is well worth a read. Offering programs and events as well as good customer service and a well developed collection adds value to communities. Online, allowing people to have their say, to be social and to see that the library isn’t some faceless place out of touch with the modern will hopefully do the same in the virtual arena.

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I’ve seen quite a few good services that somewhat mimic what librarians are trying to do in the physical library space, answering services and the like though I don’t think I’ve ever come across something quite like this before. And, really, it makes me wonder who came up with it. BookSwim, a book rental program in the vein of Netflix but, you guessed it, for books. Normally I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it at all, but a ‘review’ of this from Download Squad got me laughing. Thanks for the vote of confidence in libraries guys.

When you think about it though, it makes you wonder just how far Web 2.0 services like this are destined to go. I’ve heard this time and again in the Web 2.0 classes we give for the staff in my system, usually from the slightly older employees but not always, about the sheer amount of whats out there wondering how anyone could possibly keep up. Just today we’ve got Flickrvision and Bringo, the first of which is more a time thief and the second I hope grows in size. It’s why my coworker and I were so careful to pick and choose the services that we included in the class, though those services have changed since the first time we taught the class as the face of Web 2.0 has shifted right under our feet.  I don’t think I’ve ever taught such an interesting class before.

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In the upcoming website revamp one of the main concerns, outside of format and graphics, is bringing the library together on the website. The concept of a virtual branch is heavy in the air, the idea of ‘walking’ into the website and knowing where to go. Intuitiveness, in short. This can be a tricky concept, since no two users will go to the same place or even have the knowledge to find those places the first time. That is why making the navigation and the layout as open and friendly as possible, yet keeping a keen and contemporary look is so important.

However, perhaps even more than this is showing our users what we have. Even customers that come into our library on a frequent basis often don’t realize the myriad of programs and services that the library offers. It’s only on the off chance they pick up a flyer or see a poster on the wall, just that one time. But is usually only takes that one thing to get them hooked. This is where I hope Web 2.0 technology will lend a helping hand. Already we’re putting ourselves out there on Flickr and Librarything and both have done well for the limited uses we’re currently employing them for. But they can do so much more. Using a blog to promote events and allow users to comment on whats going on, to give their feedback on things, what they like and what they don’t. That is important to any business these days, feedback when and where the customer wants it. RSS to keep them updated, along with explinations on how to use it, since we can’t assume anymore, about anything. And things like Flickr to chronicle what has happened, changes in the library, the history in pictures instead of dry paragraphs. That is what brings the library to life.

It will take time of course, though setting up and using Web 2.0 utilities is a heck of a lot easier than writing CSS and XML, I can tell you that right now. I’m rambling by this point, yes, but this is important to create a virtual branch that is as interactive as a physical one. (And perhaps less intimidating too.)

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A Room of Ones Own

It’s certainly been a long while. After deciding to make the move from WordPress to Blogger I once more decided to move back for various reasons. So, all of my posts (the few there have been, alas) have been imported over here. (Which, might I say, is a wonderful feature.)

Look for more. It will come.

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There is a lot of talk about multi-tasking not just in the workplace now but in general, and how it can be unhealthy for us, though unfortuantely it seems that it’s impossible to get away from it now. I know I’m a serious multi-tasker both professionally and personally. (Though I must say I’m a lot worse at work.) Things like Firefox and its multitude of extensions only make it easier for us to do these things and so for my own interest I thought I would make a definitive list of what I use at work just for this purpose.

Browsers

Firefox

I primarily use Firefox 2.0 in my everyday life. It is by far my browser of choice not just because of its extreme amount of customization but because of its relative ease of use. (I can never get enough of talking about it to people.) I design in Firefox as well because of its high level of standards compliance.

Extentions

PermaTabs – This does just what it sounds like. I keep certain things open all the time to help keep me on track with things. I keep my Google Reader, my Ta-da Lists, and Meebo always open. I check my feeds a few times a day, use my lists to make sure I don’t forget anything, and Meebo to chat with coworkers at other places in the building since its a lot faster than calling if you’re just needing to get a quick idea across or toss a link their way.

Firebug – I use this every single day. This handy extention shows all manner of site code, allows you to edit it, and highlights different sections of a webpage just by mousing over. And that’s just the simple applications.

Web Developer – This is another extension I use everyday. It has an insanely large amount of options for breaking down webpages to see how they work. One can edit code live which makes my life a hundred times easier and the ability to turn elements on and off is very useful.

Clipmarks – I’m relatively new to this one but the idea of being able to clip out parts of the web just like you would a print source (not books of course!) is terribly appealing to me.

ColorZilla – This little extension gets pinpoint color from any place in the browser. I find it faster and easier to use than most anything else.

IE Tab – Since IE is my very last choice browser this allows me to view a page in IE inside Firefox.

del.icio.us – I tag. Lots. ^^ My coworkers and I also utilize the social tagging to save links for one another that we think might be of interest.

I also use AdBlock Plus, Download Statusbar, Foxmarks, Linkification, URL Fixer, and Aardvark. Lets just say I’m a little addicted.

Opera

Opera 9.1 is my second browser of choice. I don’t use it quite as much as Firefox but when the Fox is giving me trouble I always default to Opera. The built in BitTorrent client is certainly nice and the interface is very attractive. The widget engine is also pretty cool, though not quite as user friendly as Firefox extensions. I don’t recommend it quite as much to others simply because it is a little more advanced for people so used to IE. And speaking of…

IE

Internet Explorer 7 is my last browser of choice. I mostly only use it to test webpages in or if a site hasn’t been designed with Firefox or Opera in mind.

Some Other Programs

FileZilla – This is my FTP program of choice. It’s very simple and easy to use and lovely open source.

Joomla – The authoring system we’re using for our intranet.

I’m sure my experience in using things like Firefox and the like are different than other librarians. Even down on the floor in my system the computers that have Firefox installed are more interested in del.icio.us than most anything else. It makes me wonder what other librarians are using. What kind of extensions and software do you use to make your day go smoother?

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I’ve been very bad lately, oh yes. It seems I’ve become one of those with high ideals who starts a blog about something and then abandons it. I haven’t meant to but the holidays and work were crazy and I have been so busy in the last few weeks that I haven’t had time to write anything at work or home. It’s unfortunate really as I’ve had lots of thoughts both from my library and from posts other librarian bloggers have recently done, most especially Jessamyn West and David Lee King. His Inviting Participation in Web 2.0 is looking to be very interesting. (I was one of the ones who posted in response to this article.) But really, I’m hoping to get back on the bandwagon here, with renewed fervor. Perhaps I should make it my resolution for the year.

I’ve had lots of ideas for implementing Web 2.0 and that sort of technology in my library system, though as of now there doesn’t seem to be to much support for what we’re trying to do. We’re in the very, almost painfully, slow process of setting up a public blog for our news, events, etc. At the moment we’re going to be using Blogger, though in the future I would like to possibly migrate to something like WordPress or the like. We’ve created a Flickr page which will hopefully let us take more pictures, are on MySpace for the teen events, and are using del.icio.us for reference. (This just happens to be my little pet project that I would really like to see go into action.) We’re also making use of LibraryThing for our book discussion groups. The circulation department, from what I’ve seen in the Web 2.0 classes we’re giving seem to be very interested and open to the idea of learning and using these new technologies and understand their potential to make their jobs a lot easier if the opportunity was given. (Now if we can only get admin to take the class too.) I’m hoping that this will be the drive to allow us to move forward.

Well, that’s all for now. I am going to try to post more, perhaps even if it is just my strange and sordid thoughts on the matter of technology in libraries. (Or the lack thereof. Yikes!)

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