Thursday, November 06, 2008

Cool Presentation Product

Here's something that could come in handy for a small scale presentation:

Libraries and the Infrastructure

In today's New York Times article, "I.B.M. Has Tech Answer for Woes of Economy," I.B.M.'s CEO calls for technological investment in overhauling the country's infrastructure. Samuel Palmisano calls for public and private investment in addressing problems with traffic, energy grid efficiency, food distribution and a host of other challenges faced by society today.

I agree with this approach and I think that libraries have a part to play in this, as well. Technology is a powerful tool for problem solving, but not as powerful as technology partnered with efficient information sources--like libraries. This dovetails rather well with what I was trying to say last year about libraries as information producers. We have the information, we just need to do a better job of pushing it.

Libraries are strategically positioned throughout the country to serve as information hubs for large scale information intensive projects. Some may argue that the Internet as it stands right now is sufficient for the job, but a great deal of material is not present on the Internet, including blueprints, community planning documents, community council proceedings, property records, grant proposals, old newspaper records...I know that in our neck of the woods, when someone is looking for archived news, the local paper refers them to the local library.

This information, when used in conjunction with newer technology resources, local telecommunications companies, the support of local businesses, governments, and nonprofit agencies, and a more transparent problem solving approach, should yield more efficient ways of doing things. The community that manages this approach first and best will have a tremendous head start on the rest of us and a powerful draw for new businesses.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Google's Product Development Strategy

I ran across an article this morning on Google's Android project. Android is Google's attempt to create an open source operating system for mobile phone technology. The idea is that Android would serve as an open source operating system and companies would develop hardware around it. Recently, T-Mobile announced that they would be releasing the G1--the first handset designed to operate with Android.

In his article, Chris O'Brien points to a number of Google's recent projects, including OpenSocial, which is designed to create an open API standard for social networking sites. O'Brien points to a lack of promotion and development for past initiatives and emphasizes their failure to gain significant market share.

If you are just evaluating these initiatives on their individual merit, O'Brien has a point. I'm not certain that I would buy shares in T-Mobile based on the G1, and I wouldn't purchase one of the phones at the moment, either.

I think, however, that many people are missing the point on these initiatives. Google is not trying to become a mobile phone vendor--Google is trying to expand the reach and openness of the web. If Google's initiative results in Symbian making its operating system into a more robust web platform, then Google will have gained eyes for its search services and boosted its AdSense revenue. So even if Google loses the market share contest to other platforms, it wins if those platforms integrate more web services.

The same can be said of Chrome. Even if Firefox and Explorer trounce Chrome, and it ends up with less than 1% of the market share. Google will benefit if the other companies adopt its anonymous browser technology (as Mozilla is already beginning to do) or its faster JavaScript virtual machine (again, as Mozilla is planning to do.) 

So, while I don't think that Android necessarily heralds an explosion of open source mobile operating systems, I do think that the G1 may be the vanguard of better web technology in the smartphone market. If Google has spurred mobile phone companies to create better web platforms, Google wins again.

Friday, May 30, 2008

What To Do When You Know You Should Know Something But You Don't

As reference librarians, we are expected by the public to be know it alls. Many patrons ask me questions and they seem surprised when I consult a resource to answer their question. I have also fielded questions over the phone where the patron has said, "If you don't know it off the top of your head, don't bother looking it up--I'm in a hurry." Sometimes this confidence can be a refreshing moment in a day of lost books, damaged books, disputed fines, rowdy patrons, and long lines. At other times, however, it can be a tad disconcerting because sometimes, we haven't got a clue.

Now, the problem isn't always that we don't know anything. Sometimes, the patron is mumbling (or we're hard of hearing.) Sometimes, the patron was sleeping:

"Do you have Raven in the World, by Aldiss Hussey?"
"Do you mean Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley?"

Sometimes, we're wrestling with inadequate technology, like a million dollar catalog that struggles when you search for more than two terms at a time. Sometimes, the patron doesn't have a clue (just kidding, the patron's always right.)

Anyway, after we say, "I'm sorry, could you please repeat that?" there are a number of things we can focus on to keep our patrons confident in our abilities.

First, we must radiate assurance as we subtly Google the bizarre words that we thought we just heard. This is the point where we are silently thankful for Google's "Did you mean...." result that can make us look so intelligent when we say, "Ah, yes. Here it is!_____________" and say the phrase correctly as if the patron said it that way to begin with. Yes Google is scanning our libraries, serving as the first resource for curious patrons and putting us out of jobs, but really, this kind of image protection is priceless. Just don't let the patrons know what you did.

Next, blame the computer. The patron has no idea what's going on on your side of the monitor. They believe that we are whipping through secret databases, archives or technical "web stuff." They don't have to know that you're frantically Googling, Amazoning, Worldcatting or whatever alternate resource you are using because your catalog freaks out when too much is asked of it (au: Grisham AND su:lawyers....1,000 AND su:lawyers AND kw:cancer....does not compute.)

Third, use clarifying questions that help you avoid exposing your lack of knowledge, while you try to piece together the information the patron is really looking for. This is similar to the tactics many of us use when we can't remember someones name: "Hey there, you. I haven't seen you since...since...since....How long has it been?" In library terms, this would involve questions like, "How do you intend to use this information?" or "What aspects of the subject do you wish to know about?" or "Tell me what you know about it so far." Caveat: This approach does not work well if the patron's question was, "Where is the restroom?"

Finally, if all else fails, casually laugh and tell the patron that you don't really work there--you were just looking for the real librarian--and slowly walk away.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Portable Apps Experiment in Limbo

My little experiment with the portable apps on a stick didn't work so well in the end. Not only does the network interfere with my ScribeFire application, it also resets the bookmarks, toolbars, and extensions in Firefox when I switch computers. I will need to use a laptop if I want access to my favorite applications, and I want to keep my data with me.

Monday, May 12, 2008

ScribeFire Update

I think that I have ScribeFire working-but it only works at home. Apparently, I can't get it through the network at work. Bummer.

Dealing With Network Lockdown Issues

As many of you know, MPOW has a very active filtering system. They haven't blocked sites totally, but trying to use services like IM, Google services and anything else that's AJAXy can be a real pain in the butt. I find myself instructing patrons and saying things like, "on a regular computer this would work," or, "what you should have seen at this point is...." Needless to say, that gets old. I cannot teach classes where I just show the patrons how to do something--they have to use their imaginations.

Anyway, I'm trying to build a collection of portable apps on a thumb drive that will allow me to show our patrons how to do things without some of the network restrictions on downloads. So far, I have Portable Firefox with The following add-ons: ScribeFire, Zotero, Meebo,, FireShot, a MindMeister shortcut, and the Google Toolbar. I have made my iGoogle page the homepage for this experiment and added gadgets for todo lists, Gmail, Google Reader, Google Docs, and Google Notebook. In addition to this, I've loaded a TiddlyWiki onto the drive, just for the sake of experimentation.

So far, I have had mixed results. The network lets me open an instance of Firefox. I loaded the MindMeister shortcut on my computer at home, now the shortcut doesn't display at work--I must have left behind a cookie. The button works fine. I haven't had the chance to chat with anyone using Meebo, but it did sign in and open when I clicked on the button. TiddlyWiki works just fine. The Google Toolbar seems to reconfigure with each computer I plug the drive into. FireShot works beautifully, I'm really pleased with that one (I like the ability to annotate the screenshots on the fly.) The only downside is that it only captures the web page, not the browser as well, but I can live with that for now. I can get Zotero to work for capturing complete web pages, but not for capturing snippets.

The real problem, so far, has been ScribeFire. I cannot get it to add my Blogger account. I have tried a number of solutions that I have found in their forum, but nothing has worked so far. The only thing that I can think of, is that the '.' in my user name must be throwing them off. This is a real disappointment, because one of the reasons I had for creating this portable environment was to enable me to post on the fly, from any computer at work, or at home.

I'll keep at it though and let you know how it goes.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Google Sites

Google has finally re-released JotSpot as Google Sites. I've given it a quick look over the last couple of days, and I'm still not sure what to think. It seems slanted toward organizational use, so I don't believe that I, as an individual, can give it a complete test.

It is being rolled out as a feature in the Google Apps category, but I think that they would be better off billing it as the feature-not that it's so great, mind you. When you tie a domain name to Google Apps, it starts you off at that stupid Google 'Start' page, which is basically just an iGoogle page with your logo at the top (if you add it). I haven't figured out how to change the default to my Sites page, which would be much more functional.

My biggest gripe with Google, to this point, is their inability to really connect all of their features. Google's suite of applications still has the feel of a Frankenstein's monster assembly of parts which sometimes give an appearance of life.

On the other hand, Google comes the closest to giving me what I'm looking for under a single sign-on. I hope they get the bugs ironed out in the future.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Enquirer - With so much info on phone, why huge library?

I came across letter to the editor in the Cincinnati Enquirer (The Enquirer - With so much info on phone, why huge library?) a little over a week ago, and I felt I needed to comment on it, but not without thinking about it a bit more.

At first, I was a bit miffed at Aaron Gillum. I thought, "Hey, you have no idea what you're talking about. Data isn't the beginning and the end of information. There's also interpretation, and people want money for that. Who's going to provide that for the people who have no internet skills or access? You? 'Hey, everyone who can't afford a Blackberry with a data service plan go see Aaron--he'll let you use his!'"

But then I looked a bit more closely at his argument, and at the library in question, and I did begin to wonder, "Do libraries have an edifice complex?"

Now, before you judge me, I do believe that Mr. Gillum is missing part of the point--unless you are ready to digest all of the data required to understand every complex issue in your life, you will probably want to peruse a book or two. Perhaps Mr. Gillum likes to read his books on his mobile phone. The typical book, however, makes for very difficult reading on today's computer screens and mobile phones, unless you're willing to shell out $400 for a Kindle. If you're going to get books, or Kindles, you'll need money--something that not everyone has an abundance of these days.

By the way, how will the taxpayers support Mr. Gillum's proposed 43,000 household network? Who will repair the laptops, train the 100,000 residents in their use, and replace those that are damaged or stolen? Where will they pick up their printouts--or should the state provide printers, ink and paper, too?

On the other hand, how will county residents access the news archives, local histories, and other information that has been gathered and even produced by Kentucky's librarians over the years? I don't believe that most people understand the scope of information that is available at their local library regarding local history and government. The internet is global and it's a wonderful way to communicate and store information, but history didn't start in the 1990's--there's a lot that came before it that impacts who we are today, and much of it is local.

I could go on, but I want to come back to my point about this "edifice complex." I think that part of the reason that taxpayers like Mr. Gillum think of libraries as they do relates to how libraries present themselves. We are so focused on getting them into the building that we don't always focus on the value that we add to the community by being who we are--librarians. We are (supposedly) information experts, and information is king in the new economy. So why aren't we making better headway?

I want to explore this a bit further in my next post, but I feel that the future of the library lies in organizing information in the local community more aggressively: stepping beyond the walls of our fabulous buildings and working with members of the community as they create the information that makes us who we are--information that Mr. Gillum failed to seek at his local library.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cancer Data? Sorry, Can’t Have It - New York Times

There was an interesting article in the New York Times today about health research and data sharing in the cancer research field (Cancer Data? Sorry, Can’t Have It - New York Times). The article discusses the reluctance of many researchers to share valuable data with other researchers. It seems to me that in an age where people collaborate to crack the genetic code, it is irresponsible to withhold data that could be used to help people suffering from cancer. It's this kind of selfish thinking that can contribute to our early extinction.