Thursday, July 8, 2010

A mixed bag of ideas

As you can probably tell from the blog name "Musings about librarianship", I clearly didn't give much thought to what I would be blogging about when I first started blogging in March 09 as the title is generic enough to cover almost anything about librarianship.

The tagline which I added much later "Keeping track of interesting and cool ideas that might be used by libraries for benefit of users." is marginally more enlightening. 

So what exactly can you expect from my blog? It has being called a "tech blog" and it's pretty random, but believe it or not there are some common themes.  

My blog posts are typically of 2 types 

1) A survey of what libraries have done in a certain area. This could be how libraries are using a new service or technology such as Twitter, but can also include areas that are already considered "old hat" e.g. library portal design.

2) Some ideas that I have being using myself for my library work, or might consider doing

Many posts are a combination of both of course.

In this post, I will try to point out some common themes in my blog posts so far, and how some blog posts actually form a series of interlocking ideas.

1. A survey of what libraries have done  

Typically, my blog ideas start by going.. "Hmm can this idea (inspired by a new tech service I've read) be used by libraries?". I then look around to see if libraries have already done it, and if several of them have done the idea, I do the research , compare and put them into a blog post. 

Other posts involve comparing similar services and musings about the pros and cons of each.

This class of posts tend to be the long and take time to write due to the research involved. But they can be popular because they give you a summary on how libraries are using various new tools.

Early ideas

My post surveying the widgets used on so called subject 2.0 guides was probably one of my earliest post that was popular as many libraries were and still are considering creating dynamic subject guides on various platforms such as netvibes, libguides or even pure static html pages.

Some widgets used on a library Netvibes page

In many ways though, my 3 part series in March 09 musing about how libraries are using opensearch plugins, custom toolbars, bookmarklets  to enable quick access to library resources directly from the browser without going through the library portal was actually the paradigm for the other posts in this category. 

 Some opensearch addons for databases

"Accessing library catalogue & databases on your Mobile phone" is a recent attempted update for mobile phone users. 

Survey of Libraries on Twitter

In 2009, Twitter took off, and many libraries began to setup Twitter accounts. I setup a "Twitter League" of Libraries (over 600 accounts) which automatically tracked various statistics like following, follower, updates, age of account. 

 Top 10 libraries on Twitter by followers from Twitterleague

Using this data and more, I spent a lot of effort on a series of quantitative posts analyzing how libraries were using Twitter including "Official Library Twitter accounts- what factors are correlated with number of followers?"

(Also see here and here and here and here)  . 

Here's one example, a pie graph showing follower/following ratios, which I think is interesting since it sheds some light on the issue of whether library account following patterns.

More recently, in "Library twitter account - what tools are you using?"  I surveyed a bewildering number of tools that libraries could use to manage a Twitter account and  laid out my thinking on the different factors (e.g purpose of account, manual vs auto-tweeting, needed speed of response, intergretion with other social media, preservation, analytics)  affecting the class of tools you might want to use.

Aspects of library portals

Altough  "What are mobile friendly library sites offering?" (see later) was extremely popular, I also have a series of posts comparing features of conventional library webpages. 

"Using RSS feeds to distribute library news - 6 ways" and the related "Libraries and Google Calender" resulted from me wondering how libraries were handling the display of news events on portal page (RSS or Calender widgets). 

Shorter pieces covered library portals that allowed users to customize the portal and how libraries were creating interactive floor maps.

Customizable library page

Interactive floor maps

Mobile related posts

Since I bought a iPhone in Dec 09, I became very interested in mobile, and this resulted in a number of mobile related posts.

Perhaps the most popular post, I have done so far is "What are mobile friendly library sites offering? A survey." which is a summary & analysis of the features I found while looking at 40+ mobile library sites. This post was actually mentioned on AL DirectOCLC Abstracts was cited in ALA OITP Policy brief  !

Almost equally popular was  "iPhone apps for librarians" , where I listed almost every library related iPhone app  I was aware of. Basically a quick start for librarians who had just acquired a iPhone and wanted to see what library related apps they could use.

In many of these cases, further developments has resulted in making the content moot (typically in cases which the service never really took off or died)

2. My own ideas

I have many off the wall ideas, so sometimes I muse about how new tools or services could be used as few or no libraries have used the ideas. In other cases, these are personal tricks I use myself. These "how to" posts tend to be hit and miss though I hope they inspire people to try new ideas.

Use of RSS feeds

One main "strand" running through my blog posts involves using RSS feeds to organize & track information.

You can see this early on in April 09 "Rss feeds, Library databases and yahoopipes" where I talked about how to get around problems when using Ezproxy with RSS feeds. (Also see 
"Adding ezproxy to the url - 5 different methods")

Being able to handle RSS feeds via Ezproxy made  "Aggregating sources for academic research in a web 2.0 world" possible where I pointed out that there were a myriad list of RSS feed sources one should keep track of as a researcher beyond just tradition database or ejournal sources. A slight improvement for users using Google reader as their feed reader was suggested here.

RSS feeds can be consumed via conventional RSS readers like googlereader or dashboard like services like Netvibes or Igoogle. In "An information dashboard for your library service points" , I suggested that librarians at the desk should consider using a dashboard style service to keep track of important information they need to know.

 Example of dashboard to be used at desks

Use of RSS feeds can quickly lead to information overload, so I explored using Bayesian filtering techniques to filter RSS feeds

Of course, the goal here is to get information to travel to you, and RSS feed is only one method. In "Getting information to travel to you on your mobile phone" , I mused about how one could be informed of desired updates on a smartphone via email, IM, SMS and app notifications.

Presentation and personal ideas

Some of the ideas I blogged about, I eventually used in my day to day work.  This include how I use slideshare widgets , as well as how I create custom search box widgets for almost every database (a series of posts, but this is the final one talking about not only creating widgets for any database search but also how to use google analytics to track usage.)

I've have also mused about workflows at the reference desk, and the use of presentation tools such as zoomit, Pptplex, Prezi  etc. A later 2010 post talks about presenting using iphone apps such as MyPoint I also blogged about and currently use Tungle for scheduling 

A presentation using Pptplex

In "Using library 2.0 tools for technical services" and "Some email ideas for library use - LibX and Xobni ,  I advocated and shared my experience on how library 2.0 tools could actually lead to productivity gains when used by technical services staff . My thinking was that they benefited most from efficiency gains from using such tools as they carried out many repetitive tasks. This was also eventually implemented by other libraries, though I'm not saying they got the idea from this blog of course.

Scanning twitter - environment scanning ideas

But I'm perhaps happiest with my series of posts musing on using free tools to do environment scanning of online comments about the library. My early posts about what libraries were doing on Twitter in early 2009 eventually led to me setting up a Twitter account for the library, and this eventually allowed me to try to scan for and respond to library mentions on Twitter.

I first mentioned the idea in Dec 2009 , and followed it up with "Scanning mentions of the library - Twitter, Google alerts & more" which talked about how one could go beyond pure keyword searching to find relevant tweets by finding relevant tweets based on user location & whether they following you. "Environment scanning for libraries - Facebook" , talked about extending this to public facebook status updates.

And finally most recently with the kind permission of my library superiors, in "Why libraries should proactively scan Twitter & the web for feedback - some examples" , I gave concrete examples of how such techniques can delight users by providing service recovery to unhappy users who would otherwise have being missed.

Example of tweet showing positive effects of proactive scans

Mixed ball of ideas

I have some pretty wild ideas that didn't pan out of course, including "Adding your library catalogue results next to Google?" as well as "Creating 3D worlds from webpages using ExitReality"

I also experimented with simple mashups, including "Dipity for libraries" , "Mashup your Library's Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, Facebook accounts!", where you could use simple tools to create stunning visualizations or presentations from your social media content.

Other ideas such as "Location based services/pages your library should claim or monitor" where I suggested libraries should claim or monitor sites such as FourSquare, Yelp, Google local places, is probably too new to be assessed since Location based services are still new. 

Similarly too new to assess are my experiments with using iPhones to scan barcodes in "How to check your library catalogue by using your IPhone as a free barcode scanner - ZBar" (follow up post covers RedLaser).

"Are your patrons using CardStar iphone app as their library card?" , caused a bit of a stir on Twitter among librarians when it was discovered that for many public libraries, users were using an iPhone app as a replacement for their library cards.

"Sharing links with users - 8 different ways" was also something I currently don't use much but sets out my thinking of the possibilities available when sharing resources with users.

What's next?

Wow! That's quite a mixed bag of posts.

Chances are I will revisit many of these posts when I think of new ideas, learn of new tools, or if enough time has passed that a resurvey is worth while (e.g Libraries on Twitter). But I'm hoping to not repeat myself too much. Will probably stop posting if that happens.

Some topics I've being thinking of exploring in the future include reference managers (a comparison or clever uses), libraries on facebook (not a new topic I know), faq systems on libraries, and perhaps sharing more novice tips to those new to this brave new world.

I'm willing to accept requests on what you would like to see. :)

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