So what happens when all that ethnographic research you did points out that students have a terrible time navigating your web page? Well if it’s the catalog or the library home page, your student may be out of luck, sadly. But if you have even a tiny bit of control over a web page, whether it’s just the content, or the heading titles, or full administrative access, then the most basic of usability methodologies goes a long way. As Susan Dray said, “If the user can’t use it, it doesn’t work”. And, to my mind, it is essential for anyone who edits a libguide, a web page, a blog or any other online object.
Yet usability needn’t be scary. It’s not just for web professionals, or UX librarians, or techy sorts. The smallest change on a webpage is a design choice- and with a bit of testing this can be a good design choice. Because as Douglas Martin said, “the alternative to good design is bad design, not no design at all.” So this column aims to persuade you how easy usability is by highlighting a few basic tests below. This also replicates some of the work that the Communications Committee has been doing on the SALALM page. For further reading, try usability.gov for more information and advice about conducting tests.
Are you worried about the organization or vocabulary used on your webpage?
Try a Card Sort. Used when you want to gather ideas for organization or navigation of a page, it can also be really useful to have a visual representation of all the content on a webpage-if it overwhelms you, think what your user may feel… Participants sort cards that represent potential elements on a page into categories that make sense to them. Card sorts can be open, whereupon the participant names the category, or closed where you ask participants to sort into predefined categories. You can also get useful feedback about naming conventions or incomprehensible content or titles, and superfluous materials.
Method: In paper or online using tools like http://uxpunk.com/websort/
Do you have an idea to redesign your page?
Try Prototyping. It’s useful if you want to test at an early stage and before you go to the trouble of building a new page. You can get a general idea whether people understand the structure or design of the page. Participants demonstrate what they would do in a certain situation by pointing to where they would click. You could also ask what they would do in a certain situation, what they might expect to see if they clicked in a certain place, and what they liked and disliked about a model.
Method: Using a word doc, or even just paper and coloured pens.
Do you want to check how well your new or old page works for users?
Try some Usability Testing. This can be used to test how well participants can complete common tasks on your page. You can also see how people interact with the site, eg seeing the paths participants take to achieve key goals of your site. Make sure you know how to judge success or failure in advance- eg is the student successful if they take 5 clicks to get to the answer? Under 1 minute? You can also see if participants are happy or satisfied with the site, or their experience of it.
Method: Using a laptop and counting or timing the participant’s actions by hand; or by installing usability software like Morae: http://www.techsmith.com/morae.html
Three important final usability considerations. Firstly, there are no right answers. Keep reminding people that. Participants often worry you are trying to trick them, or make them look stupid. Secondly, keep reminding people to think out loud as they complete their tasks. There’s often a lot of extra data in people’s verbal reactions. Thirdly, tests only need to recruit 5 people from each category you want to test, eg undergraduates. You are not looking for “definitive” evidence that 98% of participants selected x result, but looking for themes that you can analyze in the results, eg undergraduate students tended to group cards concerning keyword formulation and evaluation help together- could these be combined to create a sort of research process category? Lastly, if you want to be shocked, compare your students’ results to librarian results… There is often a world of difference- proof, if any was needed, that usability testing is essential in libraries today.
University of Colorado, Boulder
alison.hicks @ colorado.edu
What do LibGuides, ethnographic research and 3D printing have in common? To my mind, these are some of the latest crazes to sweep libraryland, and guaranteed to cause eye-rolling or cult-like following, depending on your point of view. Naturally, I have my own opinions about these trends (LibGuides, bleurgh; 3D printing, interesting!) but the one where I admit I am a fully hoodwinked, blinkered, paid up adherent and member of the cause, is ethnographic research. (Wait, come back, eye rollers!) And just as my first column tried to emphasise that Web 2.0 is not about the shiny new technological tools, this column will explore how participatory design fits into web 2.0, and how we as subject specialists can use this in our liaison and outreach work, among other things.
Also known as participatory design, ethnographic research comes from the field of anthropology and sprung onto the library scene after the publication of Nancy Foster and Susan Gibbons’ “Studying Students” book in 2007. In a nutshell, ethnographic research aims to study and understand user behaviour and experience in a specific scenario, not only to understand how users interact with a system or situation, but also to try and gain insights into the meaning people may ascribe to that process. By understanding some of these contexts as well as mental models, libraries can try and address common obstacles or troublesome sticking points to create, ultimately, more user-centered services. This fits in perfectly with the Web 2.0 focus of letting go of control to collaborate with patrons and create more user-friendly spaces and processes that will work for your community (wow, alliteration a-go-go too!)
Most ethnographic research has focused on large scale design projects, for example for a learning commons. However, there are other ways that subject specialists can get involved and bring user-centered principles to liaison and outreach work as well.
For quick questions, you can’t beat the humble survey. Whether you want to know when or where to hold office hours, which core journals or magazines are valued most or what workshops students want to see, surveys can give you a quick idea of general feelings. These could obviously be done online using tools such as Survey Monkey or through social media such as Twtpoll or Facebook surveys. However if you have access to the department building, a surprisingly successful way to solicit feedback is to leave your questions on a clipboard or whiteboard for a couple of days and ask students to vote using stickers.
For more complex or detailed questions, a focus group or group interview can provide a tonne of useful and insightful data. The group situation, especially when students are in the same department, can stimulate broad discussion and creative thinking, all of which provides valuable data on student needs and whether the library is meeting these goals. Some of the most useful questions could focus around current usage of the library, to help find out what is memorable or useful, as well as service gaps. Questions could also ask students to talk about current frustrations. This can often throw up interesting insights into the intersection of the library within the departmental or disciplinary culture. Future needs or how students see their information habits or practices changing is also helpful, especially to prioritize needs or understand where students see technology or research in their field going. Collected data can often indicate if there is a need to create more awareness of existing services, or possibilities for additional outreach opportunities, as well as information on how best to achieve this.
These ideas just scratch the surface, and for subject specialists who have their own library, the sky’s the limit! Papers such as Andrew Asher and Susan Miller’s “A Practical Guide to Ethnographic Research in Academic Libraries” can help the planning process. Ethnographic research can be very simple, doesn’t need a great deal of setup and students will often volunteer to improve “their” library without the offer of incentives. In return, you’ll not only gather insightful data but it’ll go a long way to improving community relations, with nary a LibGuide or a 3D printer in sight…
University of Colorado, Boulder
It’s the beginning of December, the traditional time for the ubiquitous and alliterative review article (“Top Ten Tech Trends of 2012!!!”) that always seem to be slightly too enthusiastic for the pale, twitching, shadow of our former selves that we have become by the end of another crazy year. But even Scrooge (topical seasonal joke high five!) would agree that there is some merit in reflecting, especially when it comes to thinking about learning. So, drawing on the idea of contemplating the old to welcome in the new, I thought I’d try and kickstart 2013 by reflecting on this year’s columns; a meta-column if you will (yep, I haven’t got out much recently…)
So the last column of 2012 will be on professional development. Now wait. I’m envisaging half of you rolling your eyes because you now have 6,387 unread items in your Google Reader, and the other half of you laughing wryly about how you couldn’t even come to the SALALM conference last year. For those of you in the first group, I’m going to be pretty blunt. I know that life is crazy, that the instruction requests keep piling in, there is another weeding project and you’ve been appointed to a new taskforce. BUT this is the single most important thing that we can do as librarians. Just 10 minutes a day of reading or sharing, or heck, even skimming headlines or your RSS reader. That’s all it takes, I promise. For the second group, most of the ideas here are going to be free or low-cost, they just involve a bit of DIY savvy. Whichever group you’re in, it’s vital that we take time for our own lifelong learning. As John Naughton said, disruption is a feature, not a bug. That stable state of yesterday is never coming back, and lifelong learning is a way that we can enhance and adapt our personal and professional lives to meet whatever challenges are thrown at us.
In October I wrote about MOOCs and the role of librarians. The good news is that if there are hundreds of courses that you too can take for free. Some start on a specific date, others are more self-directed, but all offer traditional introductions to a broad range of topics. Looking to brush up on your Spanish? Try Spanish MOOC, starting in January. Carnegie Mellon offers French, MIT offers foreign language courses and there may be a Portuguese course too. What about literature and culture? Coursera offers Fiction of Relationship (featuring Borges!) and Listening to World Music, (featuring the Buena Vista Social Club!) among others. There are thousands of technology based courses, from Udacity’s Intro to Statistics, to Udemy’s classes on Facebook, Photoshop or Excel. Don’t forget the education classes too- try E-learning and digital cultures or Fundamentals of Online Education. More Spanish universities are getting involved too, watch out for offerings from Alicante to La Rioja. There are also several courses out there if you want a more library focused professional development. CPD23 is a UK based initiative that aims to introduce librarians to web 2.0 tools. While the course has finished for 2012, you can still complete the modules at your own pace.
In June, I tried to reassure you about information overload, highlighting the need to rely more on friends and colleagues as recommender systems. This is known as your personal learning network (PLN), because we learn through forging connections and building networks between people and ideas. I won’t mention my number 1 tool for doing this, because you all laugh at my obsession with my blue avian friend whose name begins with T, but it’s a great way of meeting new people and encountering new ideas. Another option is Google communities, which brings us back to February’s column on Google Plus. Yes, Google + still lags behind Facebook, but Team Google is stealthily making it even easier to follow interests, experts and more, all of which are super valuable for maintaining your PLN. Other tips? Take your time, use the tools that work for you, don’t just follow people because everyone does, use the same username across different tools, share, comment and engage as well as lurking- and don’t forget to challenge yourself to think outside your field, which can resemble an echo chamber at times.
Lastly, while I believe people are a key part of learning, productivity tools that help you keep track of literature and more keep getting easier to use. August’s column on productivity tools may help you decide which tools to use, as does the CPD23 programme mentioned above. (so much hyperlinked win in this column!) Other tools I really like are Journal TOCS; (they’ve actually gathered hundreds of new journal issue feeds in one place!) and several new mobile apps such as SoundNote (it records audio as well as your notetaking or drawings!) and Zite or Flipboard (create magazines out of your RSS feeds!).
So, professional development. In 2013 it’s all about the people, the free online courses, and the magic 10 minutes a day. I did fail to work April’s column about Impact Factors in. And there were quite a few exclamation marks. Nonetheless, I didn’t try and make some random and arbitrary predictions for 2013, another feature of end of year articles, so count yourself lucky Happy Holidays!
University of Colorado, Boulder
alison.hicks @ colorado.edu
Between all of the heartwarming stories about the demise of Big Bird and imminent southern European bankruptcy, you may have noticed that the word MOOC is quickly becoming the academic mot du jour. Believed to have helped cause the UVA presidential saga, and liberally splashed over even the Chronicle of Higher Education, the humble MOOC, or Massively Online Open Course has been credited with either being the savior or the downfall of higher education. And while the real meaning of MOOCs is probably spelled h.y.p.e., I think there are several important concepts at work here, which could have interesting implications for our role as librarians of the future. This column will therefore attempt to trace some of these changes, albeit in a very exploratory manner that doesn’t come to any hard conclusions…
So, a quick recap. The MOOC is an online course that operates under three major principles. Firstly, it’s massive. This means that the number of students is not capped, but it’s open to anyone who wants to register. Secondly, it’s open, in that it’s free and anyone can register, wherever they are located in the world. Thirdly, and this may change, MOOCs generally don’t offer official credit for taking these courses, though some offer certification. To complicate things further, there are two types of MOOCs; xMoocs, such as those provided by Coursera, which are more traditionally lecture and quiz based and cMOOCS, which are more community driven and focused around building knowledge and learning through the creation of networks.
Within these new structures, there are several implications here which affect librarians. On the one hand, there are purely practical or structural concerns. How does the librarian fit into the structure of a massive course that isn’t tied to an institution? How will traditional academic support work with these new models? How will students unaffiliated with institutions access library and research resources? How will the librarian’s role have to change to meet these (or variations of these) upheavals in the provision of higher education?
On the other hand, and looking in particular at cMOOCs, it could be said that while these practical changes are important, the real potential transformation here is not just in how institutions “deliver” higher education. cMOOCs also imply a change in teaching and learning approaches, where learning is not seen as fixated on content but is instead focused around creating connections and networks between people and knowledge. Just like web 2.0 tools, learning is informal, lifelong and personalized. In other words, it’s working from student needs to teach people how to learn rather than just focusing on transmission of content from teacher to learner. This may sound familiar to librarians- even the ACRL IL Standards highlight how in the information era, librarians need to be teaching lifelong skills. And cMOOCs focus a great deal on information navigation and use, another of our specialties. However, this doesn’t mean that librarians are off the hook. Teaching lifelong skills doesn’t always sit well with our licensed walled garden databases and resources. Non-textual sources, for example, are rarely considered even though workplace information literacy studies show the importance of the social in information literacy. And, we kind of like content. We’ve spent a long time organizing that content and our instruction often focuses on what content we or faculty think students *should* know. Even the idea that librarians are educators is still controversial in many institutions. So while I think we’re in the right place, we’re not quite there yet.
So what am I saying? To be honest, I’m not really sure… I did warn you that there would be a complete lack of answers or concrete steps to take! I think that in truth, I’m trying to make the point that for me, we need to pay attention to more than just the visible structural changes that MOOCS represent. We must also look at what MOOCs represent in terms of a greater focus on holistic, personalized education. And while it seems obvious that librarians have a definite role in the networked information rich future we need to reflect on our potential role in this new context now in order to be ready to advocate for it in the future. Supporting the open access movement, as well as digitization of resources and other changes are steps in the right direction in the open education environment. However we must also reflect on the more subtle changes in the position and purpose of education too. Otherwise, and despite our obvious (to us) role in the information age, it will be easy for education to develop in a way that cuts us out of the picture when we have so much to offer.
University of Colorado, Boulder
alison.hicks at colorado.edu
Go Team, Go Team! Maybe it’s the Olympic spirit that’s getting to me (which also explains the delayed column, sorry!) but I’m increasingly thinking of myself as a coach, or mentor in the research process. Finding, citing, storing and organizing information is such a messy, cyclical, convoluted business nowadays that it’s hard to confine librarian activities to just one of those areas. And I think it’s high time we stopped trying to remove ourselves from the broader social context anyway as we have a lot to offer in the information age. So this column will attempt to highlight some productivity tools that will be useful for trying to tame the research process- as well as maybe helping those of you who are still feeling paralysed by information overload. (I told you that you need to try meditation…)
Are you having trouble organizing documents and emails or finding that great article that you read last month? If so then maybe Evernote is the program for you. This has been around since 2008, and is a multi-purpose note taking and archiving program. Organized around a system of notebooks, it provides a really easy way to organize and take notes, which can be text, voice memos, photos, file attachments and more. And, if you download the web clipper you can “clip” copies of online articles and webpages for reading later on. You can tag and annotate all notes, as well as sharing them with other people. Consisting of a web, desktop and mobile version, you can sync content across all three accounts, meaning you can catch up wherever you are. Free for a basic version with a generous monthly usage limit. Similar to: Diigo, which allows you to bookmark and annotate webpages.
Do you want an easy way to keep track of tasks and deadlines in group projects? Trello is a new program that is fabulous for project management. Established in 2011, it’s got a really cool visual drag and drop interface that allows you to create to do lists and tasks for any project that you are working on. It’s easy to share with other people, as well as setting deadlines, checklists, and sharing content. It would also work well as a personal tool. Like Evernote it can be synced with a smartphone too, giving you even more control. Free. Similar to: Basecamp.
I just need a simple to do list program… Sounds like you need Remember the Milk, an easy to use time management program. It was set up in 2004 by a couple of Australians (don’t let that put you off ), so it’s pretty well established and very easy to use. It’s kind of hard to explain- you make to do lists, and that’s about it… You can set it to send you SMS, text or IM reminders, and it will tell you off if you postpone a task too many times… It syncs easily with Google and Outlook calendars, as well as with a smartphone, but you can also work offline too. Free for a basic version but you need to pay if you want to sync across multiple devices. Similar to: Toodledo.
I want a place to record my lightbulb moments: Try Mindomo, a mindmapping tool. Available since 2007 the free version of this program will allow you up to three maps that you can share or make public. Very easy to create a visual brainstorm, or a to-do list or just a presentation of various ideas. Similar to: Mindmeister or Bubbl.us
University of Colorado, Boulder
Alison.Hicks @ colorado.edu
How many of you have made a New Year’s resolution to “keep up with [insert topic of choice] more”? Anyone feel guilty when they see their Google reader has 1,064 new unread items? Cry inwardly at the thought of drowning in the information tsunami, the fire hose of knowledge, the flood of media, the sea of despair?! (Yep that’s a lot of water metaphors…) According to Miriam Levin, (2000) that’s due to the fact that large bodies of water maintain the aura of “awesome, untamed power and impenetrable mystery” and of course, the implicit dangers of drowning and destruction. That’s a pretty powerful message, and one that we librarians probably worry more about than most people (isn’t my job to be good at managing all this information?!) This column will be all about “information overload” and some tips to start managing this additional stress in our lives.
Firstly, the concept of “information overload” is a tough one. As Clay Shirky and others have explained, people have always complained about information overload. That’s one of the reasons that librarianship was so necessary- our classification systems and collection development specialists, among others, helped people understand the world by filtering, ordering and reducing the knowledge to a beautiful, ordered whole. (Weinberger, 2012) So although there’s always been too much information for any one person to read or digest in their lifetime, humans designed systems that could prevent material being published, or shelved- controls for the printed flow of information.
However, with the explosion of the internet and its low barriers of participation, our traditional systems could not keep up with the torrent of information. Furthermore, as the field of critical information studies has shown us, these systems of strict editorial or library control meant that many ideas were excluded from this process according to political, social or economic rules of the day. So we’re stuck with two conundrums- exabytes of information and a broken system of filtering. No wonder those water metaphors are so descriptive.
So what can you do?! Firstly, stop worrying that you’re falling behind. Several great books have been written recently about how the concept of knowledge is changing around us, and I believe there is much more to be written. We’re in a state of flux, and new technologies are engendering massive social change. As information specialists, we’re never going to go back to having that control over the world of knowledge- so you need to relax and start getting excited about these exciting new possibilities of the information age.
Secondly, practise information meditation. Howard Rheingold (2012) has written extensively on “info-tention” and how we need to be more mindful about our attention and information consumption. He believes a lot of our information overload stress comes from poor attention literacy- getting distracted, forgetting to breathe when you check email, failing to pay attention to the humans in our lives and lack of focus on our goals. He advocates scheduling a specific amount of time for professional development every day (even just 20 minutes) and meditating on our information use (understanding goals, intentions and reflecting on how you deploy your attention)
Lastly, content curation or using the power of your friends as filters can also be a successful strategy. Facebook’s “Like” button is a good example of using your friends to filter out the useful information, as is Amazon’s recommendation system. Programs such as Scoop-it and Diigo allow you to subscribe to curated articles, links and information on a topic- you can see what other people have recommended as useful in your area of interest. For example, I am interested in embedded librarianship, but rather than go crazy trying to scour the web for updates, I subscribe to a couple of curated content streams on this topic through Scoop-it. Technologies such as Google Reader, Twitter, Google Alerts can definitely help manage or streamline information, but human contacts are still your most valuable tool. By focusing on building (and tweaking) your personal learning network of experts, or groups of people, their blogs or their curated content, you’re creating a valuable filter that will help cut through the flotsam and jetsam.
Information “overload” is a feature of our time, but by being mindful of our habits and the changing information landscapes it is possible to feel less overwhelmed. And geeky old me even thinks it’s kind of exciting as we consider the role that information literacy and librarians can play in our networked future. Water may be uncharted and uncontrolled- but it is also a symbol of life, renewal and reflection- inspiring metaphors for the information age.
Alison Hicks: University of Colorado, Boulder | alison.hicks [at] colorado.edu
Great books on the topic
Davidson, C. N. (2011). Now you see it: How the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work, and learn. New York: Viking.
Levin, M. R. (2000). Cultures of control. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic.
Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.
What do REM and impact factors have in common?! To a few of you, the answer may be something to do with sleep. But to my mind, the movement to reconsider the place of traditional measures of scholarly publishing (aka alt-metrics) is fast becoming the new alternative rock, a challenge to the scholarly status quo. Yep, that’s a pretty tortuous metaphor- and not being an alternative rock fan, my knowledge is based on the trusty Wikipedia article, but either way, alt-metrics is becoming visible and more widespread. And just as REM went on to fame and fortune, librarians too need to be aware of where this may lead.
Alt-metrics (or Alternative Metrics) aims to track scholarly impact on the social web. It is an approach that attempts to supplement traditional citation measures of quality by taking into account how researchers work on the open web in the 21st century. The idea of quality has always been important in academia, not least for the promotion system, funding agencies and for the development of personal reputation. Within the traditional, limited print publication system, peer review, citation counting and journal impact factors have formed the backbone of these measures of academic excellence. In the web 2.0 world, however, these systems of measurement have started to be seen as too limiting. Detractors pointed out that reviewers are not held accountable, that context and impact outside academia are ignored, and that it is relatively easy to game the system. Furthermore, information, knowledge and learning have changed. Knowledge is no longer confined to journal output, especially in the still far too closed world of academic publishing. Scholarship is becoming far more diverse, and information, data and evidence of learning can be found in social citation tools or through self publishing such as blogs or social media. By looking at readership or re-use statistics as well as citation statistics, a richer picture of the influence of a piece of work can be formed.
Crucially, alt-metrics do not claim to provide a complete new system to measure impact. They are designed to be used in conjunction with more traditional tools. And with the glacial rate of change in the academy, it is clear that new measures of impact may take a while to develop. However, as the success of the Open Access movement in Latin America shows, it is also evident that for us as subject specialists, we need to be even more aware of the potential for change in our area of expertise.
Tools to measure impact:
Total Impact: Measures readership and re-use across several sites such as Mendeley, Slideshare, Delicious, Wikipedia and Twitter, among others. Ability to search by DOI, URL or Mendeley library means that it’s one of the most complete tools around. It gives numbers of mentions/tool.
ReaderMeter: Designed to provide more real-time impact, Readermeter has adapted the H and G index to measure readership (bookmarks) instead of citations. It relies quite heavily on Mendeley data.
For other tools (particularly for the sciences) see the AltMetrics tools.
Tools to establish authority:
As digital scholarship practices become more established, scholars should establish an online presence to establish authority and cement a digital reputation. The following tools can help:
Google Scholar Citations: When people search by author on Google Scholar, scholar profiles that show personal details and citation information will be displayed. This also provides basic and more traditional citation metrics such as the H index and i10 index.
Mendeley: Public profiles, which are indexed on Google provide personal details as well as relevant article statistics. Mendeley provides readership statistics by cumulative total, as well as readership statistics per article (including readership by discipline, academic status, and country.)
Google +: Facebook slayer or privacy exploiter? Yet another log in, or the dawn of a new age? Asset? Liability? Plus? Minus?! Launched to great fanfare in September 2011, commentators pounced gleefully on Google +, Google’s latest attempt to join the social media bandwagon. For the uninitiated, Google +, (also known as G+) is technically a social network that integrates Facebook style personal profiles, status updates and friendships with Twitter style information sharing, within a familiar, easy to use Google format. It claimed to fix many of the privacy problems associated with Facebook, which, at 7 years old, is now the grandmother of social media.
The jury is still out on the success of Google +. While it integrates many useful features, many users did not think it was worth migrating to a new social media service. However, while much commentary has focused on Google + as a social network, there has been much less focus on Google +’s other features which, in my opinion, make it a serious rival to many VOIP (eg Skype), IM and other educational services. While I’m the first to admit that I haven’t fully engaged with Google + yet, my dislike for Facebook remains thinly veiled (the future’s Twitter shaped- just sayin’…) and I think it’s worthwhile to highlight a few uses of Google + within academia.
Firstly, a couple of the greatest advantages of Google + are the “hangout” and “circle” features. A “hangout” is Google’s equivalent of a Skype call on steroids. Not only can you video chat with up to 10 people (for free!), hangouts can also integrate with Google Docs, meaning that a group can collaboratively edit documents or share screens while video chatting. The “circle” is a way to categorise your contacts into friends, acquaintances or colleagues. While this may sound a little utilitarian, even the hardened facebook fans among you must admit that the ability to share your favourite “i can haz cheezburger” clips among just your closest friends would have been an advantage. Lastly, (and unsurprisingly!) Google + is searchable, meaning that it is an awful lot easier to find that information that you vaguely recall someone posted about.
The benefits to libraries are also obvious. The “circle” means that privacy in Google + is much improved. While it could be difficult to separate information shared between students, administrators and colleagues on Facebook, people can be categorised into different groups on Google +, meaning that information can be tailored to each group. Useful if you’re liaison to different departments, or want to share different information between grad students, undergrads and faculty. The hangouts is the feature that I’m most excited about though- imagine being able to see the student’s screen while you chat or IM. No longer will you have to write out essays about how to get from the catalog to the database, or wonder why they can’t see that blindingly obvious button. Coming up with some great search strategies? Add them to a shared document while you work, and the student can refer back to them later. You could hold virtual office hours in Google +; or what about a book club or review session when papers are due? Google + gives a lot of flexibility, which could work well as student schedules become more elastic.
There are many ways in which Google + can be frustrating. Users need a Google account to participate- and this could raise questions about how personal data is used to filter/change your web experience in the future. A small download is needed for the hangouts, and the more public nature of Google + means that many may worry about sharing private information. Lastly, because it is so new, there are fairly frequent changes, which can get frustrating.
Ultimately, though, Google is an information processing giant, and Google + provides an easy way for people to find and talk about new information, and for companies to market themselves and to reach out to users. If libraries want to remain in the business of knowledge creation, then Google + provides an interesting glimpse of the future. Furthermore, as Google Apps for Education starts to integrate Google + features into academia, students are only going to become more accustomed to working with this functionality. Google + probably isn’t a Facebook killer (boo!) However, as a communication and information tool, it is a great addition (geddit?!) to the web 2.0 world.
It’s that time of semester again when most reference questions I get seem to have something to do with punctuation, a DOI, or placement of footnotes. Yep, happy citation season, to one and all! Despite running workshops and creating webpages on citation formatting, it’s often hard to get even graduate students interested in citation management programs. And up till now, finicky was a polite way to describe most of the existing software. But the spread of web 2.0 is such that it has even caught up with the MLA and the APA- and has created a new class of, dare I say it, fun and user friendly tools.
One of the most exciting new kids on the block is Mendeley (http://www.mendeley.com). While fulfilling most regular requirements of a citation management program (stores citations, cite in MS Word, web and desktop access) it also stores and organizes PDFs as well as allowing PDF annotation and provides easy importing into Mendeley, including a genius “watched folder” function for automatic importing. And that’s not all! One of the best features is the online research catalog that it maintains, allowing users to track article citations, follow experts, find recommendations for articles and more. By hooking up with the inherent citation networks in academic publishing, Mendeley is taking advantage of the interconnectedness of the web- instead of trying to smush all results haphazardly into one search box, the development du jour in many libraries today. I know which is more helpful for me, as a librarian… Oh and did I mention that a basic account is free? And it has a mobile app?!
Colwiz (http://www.colwiz.com) is another similar program. Although it is not as widely known as Mendeley, it provides many excellent features, particularly for group work. It may be worth pointing out that both excellent programs were designed in the UK. (Note nationality of columnist and draw appropriate conclusions!)
Longer standing citation management programs are trying to keep up. Refworks (http://www.refworks.com) has released its 2.0 version- as well as a mobile app for citations on the go. Endnote (https://www.myendnoteweb.com) also has a new web version and an app. Zotero, (http://www.zotero.org) which was king of the free citation programs for so long, is responding by releasing a version that does not rely on the Firefox browser, as well as a mobile app. Zotero still manages to deal with web pages better than Mendeley so with these new developments, the citation “lucha libre” may get even more exciting.
Another final class of new citation programs include apps for smart phones that allow users to scan materials from their phone in order to generate a citation. Quick cite (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/quick-cite/id405796616?mt=8) is one such program, although it is obviously limited to book citing.
In the craziness of the end of semester these programs won’t help panicked students. But reaction has been so positive to these tools that it may be worth mentioning them next semester as honors projects and Masters theses wrap up. All that I have tried so far seem to work well with foreign characters too, so there is no excuse It looks like in 2012, citing = sexy again- who would have thought it!
alison.hicks @ colorado.edu
What’s short and yellow and also known as a web application hybrid? Yes, you’ve got it- a mashup! Also known as remixes or meshes, a mashup is “a web page or application that uses and combines data, presentation or functionality from two or more sources to create new services”. In other words, a mash up is the digital equivalent of a pancake; flour, eggs and milk are pretty good on their own, but combined they make something even better…
So why mash up? To start with, lots of useful data is being produced and displayed online. Crime data, weather data, voting data; while this data on its own is obviously useful, it can sometimes be a little dry, out of context and hard to understand. Mashups, however, can transform this (slightly boring) data by adding back the context, making it more meaningful and valuable. An example of this would be plotting crime data on a map of your town; crime data can be hard to interpret, but when you can look at a local map and see where crimes are being committed, it immediately makes more sense.
What do mashups have to do with libraries? Well, libraries also have a lot of data. Catalog data is a big one, but circulation data and research data are other examples that might be found in a library. Catalog data in particular is extremely rich- but also hard to interpret at times (sorry, catalogers…) So library mashups try and provide alternative display features and extract even more value from our tools. Some of the most popular or useful mashups for SALALM include the following:
Repository 66.org is a map which plots repositories round the world. It allows direct searching of repositories, as well as information on growth and platform used. MapFast is from OCLC and it makes local subject headings visible. It enables searching of books in Worldcat or Google Books by location, as well as revealing nearby locations. Integrating tagging, bookcovers or a recommendation system into the catalog are also mashups- as well as adding catalog data to external search programs, such as Bookburro, which enables users to search for library books from Amazon’s webpage. Finally, using the analogy of a car dashboard, Brown University, amongst others, is trying to make their circulation and usage data more visible by displaying check outs and statistics on digital signage.
Mashups can also display other library artifacts such as digital photos, or objects. Flickr Photomap enables you to plot flickr photos on a map. So if a library had digitized images or taken photos of holdings they could be accessed by map as well as through the catalog. Similarly, Historypin enables communities to plot historic photos on a map of the world; another great pace to make local collections come to life. Finally Google mapmaker enables you to make your own map- whether it’s a literary map, a government document map or a historic events map.
Mashups are also being developed for a wide variety of interesting research tools. Need to find a church or Mass in Spain? Try misas.org; you’ll never miss Mass again. Want to compare gas prices in Brazil? Try Preco dos Combustiveis. Trendsmap plots tweets from round the world, while Bing and Twitter have signed a deal to enable Bing Social, which will plot tweets by location down to a fine detail.
This just a snapshot of what is available- search the Programable Web to find other awesome mashups!
University of Colorado, Boulder
*Sausage and mashed potato for the non-British amongst us!