Sunday, November 28, 2010

Giving thanks - Librarians who I have never met and yet learnt from

I had a recent online conversation on Twitter with someone and she mentioned that she was very excited to have the opportunity to meet someone who was (and still is) her library hero from young (being a librarian was her childhood dream).

This set me thinking, do I have any library heroes?  Heroes might be too strong a word, but there are some people in the library field who have consistently influenced me (and dare I say inspire me) , so in this post I will give thanks to them.

Some are thought leaders who challenge how librarians think about the future, others are activists on the ground who have done great things in promoting the cause of librarianship. They work in different fields, one is a professor, one is a librarian-teacher, one is a medical librarian and one is a academic librarian.

All are highly energetic, inspirational and great speakers.

The most amazing thing is that I have never met any of them in the flesh! Some I have interacted online via Twitter, Facebook chat etc, some probably don't even know I exist, but through the miracles of blogs, twitter, youtube, free webinars etc they have impacted my and perhaps the work of countless more.

R. David Lankes

David Lankes really needs no introduction if you are a librarian. But if you need one he is currently Associate Professor and director of the renowned Syracuse University's School of Information Studies and a true giant of the field.

He maintains a amazing blog - Virtual Dave... Real Blog where he generously uploaded most of his presentations via Vimeo , so you can benefit from his lectures.

Though I have not gone to any international library conference yet so it's hard to compare, I would be really surprised if David Lankes isn't one of the best speakers in the library field. What I like about his presentations is that he focuses on the big picture whether it is on ebooks, reference etc and he always provokes me to think more consistently then any other library speaker.

Meredith Farkas

Meredith Farkas is currently Head of Instructional Initiatives at Norwich University and is a well known  librarian blogger and author. In her early days she was (and still is) particularly noted for her skill with wikis and started the very useful Library Success Wiki which is consulted by librarians around the world. She is author of  "Social Software in Libraries" , was named by Library Journal as a "Mover and Shaker" in 2006 among numerous other awards. She is currently teach a Library Course, which is fully open, a really comprehensive course on Social Libraries and a great resource.

"Information Wants to be Free" is a very famous blog of course but what I like about it is that she is a thought leader and addresses issues that are of concern to librarians and this does not necessarily refer to just technology ideas.

For instance her recent post "What's the deal, JSTOR?" , highlights an issue of grave concern to librarians and she managed to affect a change that benefited all libraries using JSTOR. In "Has EBSCO become the new evil empire?" , she wrote courageously about the practice of bundling resources.

You can read her above mentioned blog Information Wants to be Free , she tweets at Librarianmer and you can find her presentations here

This post was actually prepared a while back, but recently I spotted this  complimentary remark by Meredith about this blog  , needless to say this means a lot to me coming from her. 

Guus van den Brekel

Guus van den Brekel is Medical Information Specialist & Coördinator Electronic Services at University Medical Center Groningen. Guus is extremely active in promotion of library 2.0 tools and emerging technologies, in particular to me he is the "Library toolbar king", one of if not the most successful librarians when it comes to the use and promotion of library toolbars.

He has also done a lot of research on SecondLife, Netvibes , Science research networks etc. In some ways he is so ahead of the field, that once I saw someone tweet a presentation of his and I was looking at it thinking how it had many innovative ideas, until I noticed the date. It was done in 2007!

He's involved in many projects and I've mentioned this to him a few times, but my own interest in Library 2.0 was sparked by coming across an old blog of his called Library Toolbar blog. The blog which he kindly decide to translate to English after 2007 for international audiences, gave tips on how to create search strings for different databases, how to do datascraping to create RSS feeds and more.

I've benefited from interaction with him online via chat many times. For example, I first came across the idea of what he calls an "infectious library" where users can access library services even when outside the library portal from him.

You can follow Guus on Twitter @digicmb , look at his presentations here, or follow his blog here.

Buffy Hamilton

Buffy Hamilton, or the Unquiet Librarian is a School Library Media Specialist/teacher-librarian in Georgia. Buffy was recently named School Library Media Specialist of the year which was no surprise to me at all.

Buffy is not a name used much here in Singapore, and when I think Buffy, I inevitably think of one of my favourite TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which coincidentally seems to be popular with Librarians!) Buffy Hamilton is just as energetic and indefatigable as the fictional Buffy, except the evils she fights are not vampires or things that go bump in the night but the force of ignorance, those who fail to understand the importance of learning, education and libraries.

It's somewhat exhausting to even look at the number of things Buffy is involved in, but similar to Guus, she is proficient with the use of web 2.0 tools, in particular Netvibes, LibGuides, delicious etc.

What I admire about Buffy is her energy and  how she incorporates use of web 2.0 in her classes and as a teacher librarian she has great interest in promoting transliteracy, a topic I'm currently studying.

Her own personal blog is at The Unquiet Librarian , she shares items from her Google reader here and you can follow her tweets at @buffyhamilton

Librarians who fight the good fight

This is a catch-all group to all librarians who are passionate about what they do and go on quietly each day to improve libraries for all our users. I know of librarians who have sacrificed much to chase their dreams of being a librarian, and makes me wonder if I have taken my relatively smooth entry into Librarianship for granted.  


I know this is a hugely personal and biased list and there are many more amazing people including

plus many more who have blogged, tweeted or otherwise have influenced me in my work and thinking.

I'm sure you have your own list of librarians or people who you admire and/or have learnt from online, feel free to leave your comments so we can all learn from them.

mation Wants To Be Free

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Two new developments in Google Places, should you claim your library's?

Earlier in January I wrote Location based services/pages your library should claim or monitor , where I suggested libraries should register, claim or otherwise own various place pages on Yelp, LibraryThing local and Google places. But back then it was still early days...

Since then, location based services is exploding (e.g. I discovered NUS central library is the most popular venue in NUS for FourSquare checkins) . Among other new developments, FourSquare now allows claiming of venues local and of course the launch of  FaceBook places(still not available worldwide).

Google places has being around a while but due to to two recent developments I believe they now become quite important to claim.

Firstly Google Places now appear in Google searches!

When I search for NUS central library , this is what I see

The very first hit!

This is a normal Google search, but it mixes normal results with Google Place results. I'm getting this even if signed out and disabling customizations based on search history , though I'm not sure if you might get different results.

It's possible, registering the place promotes it to the very first hit.

Clicking on the Place Page will bring you to the full place page. Do note that the place page might still exist even though you didn't explicitly create it!

I'm not going to go through what you can do after you claim the place as it 's already detailed in my old blog post.

As you might with the place page appearing on the search results you do get a moderate number of hits.
@digicmb mentions that in 1 month,  there were 5421 impressions & 216 extra hits to library website, per month to his library.

These statistics  are available only if you claim the place.

The second development is the newly launched Google HotPot (official announcement). It's basically a Yelp like service so you know the drill, you can rate Google Places, share with friends, and get recommendations etc.

When you first login, you have to pick a name to associate with your Google Account. The idea here is for privacy reasons you might want to use an alias. I didn't , but you can change it at anytime.

After that you can search for Google Places to rate, or allow it to use your Google Web History to guess what places you would like to rate.

It's quite interesting to look at the places it's suggests you might like to rate based on web history, it got NUS Central library (obviously) and another place (both are not shown above) - which brings back bad memories!  You can also of course search for places to rate.

Rating is from 1 star to 5 stars and you can also leave feedback/tips like in FourSquare. You can also give a "best-ever" tag ?? All these ratings (averaged) and feedback/tips are public I believe.

If you rate enough places, you get recommendations and it shows why

You can also add friends, but at this stage not many of my friends have rated places so it is not so interesting in terms of recommendations. I'm so not quite sure how easy or hard it is to add friends, I just selected people from a list given (from prior contacts in gmail??)

Why does Google HotPot make claiming your place page important? This is because ratings as well as comments/tips placed using Google HotPot will appear on your place page, and as you might expect, after claiming you can respond to it.

This isn't new, but reviews also include data drawn from other sources under "Reviews from around the web". For example in Singapore, I see reviews drawn from a service

Below is one example from the Cheng San Community Library in Singapore

You can tell from the date, this isn't a new review. I'm not sure if registering to own the google place allows you to respond to this, or only to comments made by Google Hotpot users.

I suppose this is quite standard Yelp fare, but the fact that these results are shown on Google makes it quite prominent. It's too early to tell, but I have a sense this "social" offering might actually succeed since it seems quite light-weight and easy to use.

It's also available on Android phones of course.

Given that Google Places nows appear in regular Google searches and users are now encouraged to leave comments via Google Hotpot, registering your libraries' place page takes on importance, since you can respond to comments and control the information that appears.

That said  it is so early in the "location-wars" and it's unknown who will triumph though logic suggests it is one of the three (FourSquare, Google, FaceBook), or perhaps they might co-exist, so this is definitely going to get interesting..

Friday, November 12, 2010

Using Blekko to search across thousands of library sites

Say you want to find out where libraries are placing their social media buttons on the portal. Is it at the bottom of the page? Top right? Elsewhere? How do you find out besides polling users? Can Google help?

Maybe I need to work on my Google-fu but the best I can do is site:Edu facebook library which isn't very good since it pulls out Facebook pages themselves or tips on how to handle Facebook and also excludes non-US sites.

This search is a lot better don't you agree? 

How about another search? This time I was tasked with revamping the library help pages. Browsing a few of those pages, I noticed most academic libraries had a "How do I find book" section and I wanted to find more. 

Again this search gives you a nice result page .

In this case of course, a google search of how do i find a book site:Edu gives you reasonable results  until you want to do it for public libraries AND academic libraries.

Of course, many of you recognise that the search above uses Blekko, which allows you to create "Slashtags" which are listings of curated sites. You then run the search keyword over those sites/slashtags.

If you are already familiar with it and want to try it out right now go to Blekko and do the following search

You will need to enter /aarontay/library to indicate that you are using a slashtag created by me.

Other slashtags you can use created by me include

aarontay/academiclibrary - academic libraries in USA (2,224 sites)
aarontay/publiclibrary - public libraries in USA (2,969 sites)
aarontay/africamiddleeastlibrary - libraries in Africa/Middle-east (116 sites)
aarontay/asialibrary - libraries in Asia (345 sites)
aarontay/australialibrary - libraries in Australia (160 sites)
aarontay/canadalibrary - libraries in Canada (314 sites)
aarontay/southamericalibrary  - libraries in South America (157 sites)
aarontay/europelibrary - libraries in Europe (1,136 sites)

aarontay/library - covers all of the above slashtags

site counts are as of Nov 13.

What follows will describe how I created the slashtags and a little review of Blekko from librarian point of view.


Blekko, the new hot search engine has being touted as yet another Google killer. Blekko comes from a long line of so-called Google killers, including Cuil and Wolfram Alpha.

Blekko is of course no such thing. The main gimmick is that you can create "slashtags" or listings of sites you want to run the search against. 

So for example you can put in say your favorite tech sites into a slashtag /tech, and then do a search humor /tech to search for the word "humor" over those sites.

This of course reminds librarians immediately of Google custom search engines and it's cousins. The main difference is that Blekko allows you to combine slashtags , so you can combine two or more slashtags to further refine the search. So assuming you setup 2 slashtags /humour (list of comic sites) and /tech (list of tech sites) you can do

cat /humour /tech

You can also use slash tags created by other people (if not private) and this is where Blekko can conceivably use crowd sourcing to become sort of a wikipedia of Search.

Librarians are of course no strangers to Custom search engines using it to offer topic searches of valuable resources. One that I use regularly is one by David Oldenkamp that searches over 300 intergovernmental organizations (based on urls).

Using Blekko

One thing I always wanted to do was to create a custom search over all library portal/websites. While others have done so for librarian or library blogs to my knowledge no-one has done this yet for library websites.

Inspired by this guide , I decided to try creating a slashtag/custom search that covers only library sites.

Blekko allow you to bulk import lists of sites using text files, OPML or do a search and pull in the results. But first I needed to find a source for a complete listing of library websites.

I immediately thought of lib-web-cats , but couldn't figure out how to scrape the results efficently. not to mention I wasn't sure about the legality. But in the end, I settled on LibWebs  (see below) maintained by Thomas Dowling which is under creative commons and should allow remixing. Below is an example of one page of academic libraries in USA (Northwest)

I put each webpage of library urls (by country or in the case of US by type) through Link Leacher   

This then yielded text files for each page of urls which I imported into Blekko.

Instead of putting them all into one big slashtag, I divided them into small slashtags

/academiclibrary - academic libraries in USA
/publiclibrary - public libraries in USA
/africamiddleeastlibrary - libraries in Africa/Middle-east
/asialibrary - libraries in Asia
/australialibrary - libraries in Australia
/canadalibrary - libraries in Canada
/southamericalibrary  - libraries in South America
/europelibrary - libraries in Europe

In fact you could download by region for academic libraries & public libraries in USA, and by countries for the non-US libraries, so you could create very granular slashtags such as /northwesternacadmic libraries and then combine them into bigger and higher order slashtags (see later) but I wasn't interested at that level of granularity.

in addition I did

But what happens if you want to search them all at the same time? I created a slashtag /library which includes these other slashtags (except /libraryblog). Yes, you can create slashtags in slashtags which make them really flexible compared to Google custom search engines.

Library slashtag which includes other slashtags

One thing to note is that each user can create their own slashtags. As I'm using my own slashtag I enter the following search in Blekko 

keyword /library 

Anybody else who wants to use my slashtag (which is possible as I didn't make it private), should enter in Blekko instead

keyword aarontay/library 

This is to signify that you are using a slashtag by user aarontay rather than your own /library slashtag.

Blekko vs Google Custom search

Why not use Google Custom search engine? To some extent Google custom search is more powerful than Bleeko as you can specify indexing periods, create synonyms, specify refinements (facets), set up URL patterns, wildcards etc.

One issue with Google custom search is that you can put in a maximum of 5,000 urls. Blekko has the same limit (when I tried there are a secondary error that prevented over than 1,000 urls to be uploaded at one time) but as already mentioned you can circumvent this by putting slashtags in slashtags.

My current /library has indeed  greater than 5,000 urls by combining several slashtags. 

The ability to put slashtags in slashtags is probably Blekko's best feature as you can create very flexible listings by combining various slashtags.

Why not Blekko? 

I notice Blekko does have some issues.  I was wondering "How many libraries promote FourSquare on their webpages?" , so I did

Surprisingly I only got 3 hits. While FourSquare is still strictly a early adopter feature, I'm pretty sure there are more than 3 libraries supporting it.

Doing a normal google search I found that for instance the University of Technology (UTS), Sydney does promote Foursquare on their homepage, yet Blekko fails to surface it. I'm not sure what is wrong since does exist in the slashtag, perhaps the page isn't indexed yet in Blekko?

I remember reading somewhere that Blekko does index every 14 days, so perhaps this problem will disappear eventually when it goes and crawls those pages, but I'm guessing Google custom search engine probably would have less of this problem due to a larger index in the first place? Or am I doing something wrong?

This isn't a complete review of Blekko, see this, this and this , I didn't talk about other Blekko features like the ability to follow slashtags, add editors to collaborate on slashtags, look at detailed SEO (Search Engine Optimization) data, review results from slashtag as RSS and more.

The other thing I didn't compare was whether it was worth while to convert any existing Google custom search engines to Blekko slashtags . I'm not sure if doing so will improve or worsen results.

One issue though that makes Blekko IMHO unsuitable for users is that, while you can embed search boxes for each slashtag (see the button next to the RSS feed button) , I was surprised that all it does is to create a normal blekko searchbox with the slashtag included! Below shows our it looks when you embed the box.

This makes it undesirable for use with our users, who might just remove the slashtags and replace with their own keywords which would give you a normal blekko search instead of the custom one we created.

Do give Blekko a try with my custom slashtags and tell me what you think.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A little social experiment - Add yourself to my library Facebook group

I'm trying a little social experiment with the new FaceBook group feature.

I've setup a FaceBook group for library related people (Librarians, "Shambrarian", whatever).

Things to note.

1. I'm the admin, but in effect it only means I can change the Facebook group name & set it up to be opened, closed or secret . The current setting is closed, which means non-members can see who are in the group, but not any content. 

2. Any member of the group can invite their Facebook friends 

3. These friends will be automatically added , unless they have turned on the setting to stop this.

4. By default, when any member posts in the group (but not comment to a post) you will get an email alert. You can turn that off by going to "Edit settings" on the top right of the group.

5. People can also remove themselves of course.

Why Facebook group?

We librarians are consummate users of social media. We are all over Friendfeed, masters of IM, Twitter & Skype. But Facebook is still the 500 pound gorilla in the room and most of us even the least techie librarian probably spends most of our time logged into Facebook.

The Facebook group chat option will allow us to chat with any of the librarians in the group. My hope is for this group to grow such that at anytime there are at least a dozen librarians online when you want to pick the brains of librarians who might be logged into facebook, you can just go to Facebook chat and send out a message.

The experience pictured below has being described by one member has "IRC like". Below is one example of a chat going on.  Chat text censored.

Kind of like Twitter except you are not limited to those who are following you. Kind of like mailing lists except in real-time. Kind of like Friendfeed groups, except with broader reach and greater chance of connecting with someone. 

As of Sat, 6th Nov 12:59 p.m - GMT there are 91 members, an hour later, it is 167, hopefully this will snowball.

How you can help

If you are already a member, please add your facebook friends who might be interested.

If you want in but is not a member yet, go to this page , you can see a list of members, if any of them are your Facebook friends, they can add you automatically, if not you can request to join, and I will add you in manually.

Once you are in, feel free to add more friends, post something, or better yet use the facebook group chat to talk to others online!

Oh yes, a tiny note, my blog just passed 1,000 subscribers! Thanks for the support guys!

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