Thursday October 19th 2017

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MOOC-ing it for all it’s worth

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.

Alison Hicks

University of Colorado, Boulder

alison.hicks at colorado.edu

Producing the goods: winning your gold medal

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

Alison Hicks
University of Colorado, Boulder

Alison.Hicks @ colorado.edu

How much is too much? Embracing “information overload”

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.

REM and Impact Factors

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.)

Plus ça change?

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.

A cite for sore eyes…

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

alison.hicks @ colorado.edu

Bangers and mashups*: digital pancakes and culinary metaphors

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:

Catalog mashups
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.

Photos
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.

Research
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!

Alison Hicks
University of Colorado, Boulder

*Sausage and mashed potato for the non-British amongst us!

Twitter: Beyond the Lunchbox

Twitter! Oh, that’s disappointing. That’s the place where you tell people about your lunch, right? Isn’t it a bit 2007? Well yes, Twitter has been around since 2007. And yes, there are a lot of lunch tweets. But Twitter just keeps getting better and better- and the uses of Twitter for research, outreach, analytics and more keeps growing. So this column will provide a quick recap of Twitter before exploring how Twitter is a major tool for librarians.

In a nutshell, Twitter is a program that allows you to send, read and receive short messages of 140 characters. Using Twitter, you can stay updated on new information from a variety of sources, as well as tracking opinions, trends and moods. And, with more and more people ditching blogs and RSS feeds in favour of Twitter, you can even just use Twitter to receive information without having to actually tweet messages yourself. Since being the biggest RSS evangelist in SALALM, I’m now almost 100% converted to the superior power of Twitter. For me, the benefits of being able to search real time information, as well as easy subscription and deleting of feeds and the sense of community quickly outweighed the occasional lunch posts, making this one of my professional tools of choice.

Outreach is one of the most obvious ways that libraries are using Twitter. Event promotion, resource promotion, service promotion; all great ways to share your message through another channel. Tie in promotion with news- when a book prize winner is announced, let patrons know they can check that work out from your library, for example. Twitter is a two way street though- and it’s an easy way to start engaging more with patrons too. Want feedback on furniture, events or student interest? Try polls.tw to launch a quick poll of your followers. Want to introduce yourself (or new study areas etc) to students? Upload a photo/video and blurb to Twitpic.com and tweet it to your followers. Want to know what people are saying about your library? Set up a search on your library’s name, or use the advanced search to set up a search for the word “library” near your town’s name. Reply to positive and negative comments about your library and start building the online community. It’s another great feedback mechanism too- last year my library gathered all the negative comments and used them to push for more study tables. Not enough time in the day to tweet? Try Twuffer.com to schedule your tweets in advance.

Twitter can be used for collection development too; many publishers are also on Twitter- and messages tend to be less annoying than the ones that clutter up inboxes. Try @DUKEpress, @EBSCOPublishing, @JSTOR and @LNAcademic for a start. Twitter can also be used as a great way to circumvent the big publishers too; use the powerful search to find small or independent publishers in fields you are interested in. A couple of hours research will enable you to embed yourself in the world of key people who are writing on a topic within Twitter- look at who they follow, the links they send out and join in the conversation- it’s amazing what you can find. You can also set up Twitter alerts on keywords that you are interested in using Tweetbeep or grab the RSS feed of a Twitter search to embed in a Libguide box: simply replace the word feminism here with they keyword you want to search on: http://search.twitter.com/search.rss?q=feminism

Finally, don’t forget uses for research. Twitter is almost synonymous with keeping up with current news, but Hashtags, Icerocket and Monitter will allow you to search the Twitter archive for historical tweets. The Twitter advanced search will allow you to track tweets between people while We follow and Twellow allow you to search for the most influential/popular people on Twitter related to a keyword eg Argentina, Cartonera. Trendsmap will allow you to search by country for news, trends and people. These tools are perfect for following or researching topics related to public health, politics, sports, and sociology among others, as well as for getting to know key tweeters on a topic and then following links that way.

Twitter is awesome! You can still use most of these tools without an account so give it a go, whether it’s lunchtime or not…

Coming soon- new 2.0 post!

I will be posting a new post here soon- guess what the topic is?!

Barcoding the Library’s Future

How many of you have a phone that accesses the Internet? And if you do have a smartphone, how many of you have left that phone further than 5 feet/meters away from you right now?  I’m guessing that if any of you answered yes to that second question, you are now patting pockets and enduring mild panic attack symptoms as you try and remember where on earth you left it. Smartphones are small, portable, have instant connectivity and are always close at hand. This is a super advantage that libraries and librarians are well positioned to make the most of.

For example, mobile phones can help us provide situated information spaces by linking the physical and the virtual. It would be hard to provide library help at all times in all your campus’ buildings, departments, dorms and study areas. Smartphones can provide this point of need help; help when the user actually needs it rather than just-in-case help. These are not new ideas but have been made scalable and achievable by the advent of smartphones, and in particular Augmented Reality, Geo-location tools, and QR codes, which I will cover in this issue.

QR Codes, also known as quick response codes or barcodes, are small 2D barcodes that can be scanned by a smartphone and link to webpages, videos, contact details, maps and more. Most new smartphones have built-in QR code readers or scanners, but it is also easy to download QR code apps. Similarly, many programs allow easy creation of QR codes; try Kaywa.  So what can you link to? Try the following for size:

Wayfinding: Put QR codes in hard to navigate areas. Patrons can link to a map that shows people how to get to the circulation desk, or a map of the stacks, which can then be carried around and bookmarked.

Help: QR codes can link to phone numbers (i.e., the Research Desk) or contact details (i.e., a librarian’s e-mail address) in the stacks or mobile friendly chat reference windows.

Advertising: Posters with QR codes could link to promotional videos, mobile calendars, the library’s twitter feed, mobile web/catalog, and mobile databases; one click and the user is at the webpage without having to type in the long URL.

Outreach: Provide a link to your contact details or your departmental office hour information. Include a vcard QR code on all your outreach posters and users can save your contact details as a contact in their phone.

Collections: Link to digital copies (or records of the microfilm) of periodicals and newspapers in your reading room, online versions of reference materials, or reviews/recommendations of new books. Link to digital exhibits or videos around campus or in the library.

QR Codes are flexible, easy to use, and do a great job of providing more return on investment from our electronic and physical resources. If you bear in mind obvious accessibility issues, such as non-smartphone users and disabled patrons, as well as planning for user education, it is easy to create effective, enhanced links between your building and community.

 

Alison Hicks
University of Colorado, Boulder
alison.hicks@colorado.edu

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