Thursday, 30 June 2011

Thing 4

Thing 4 - Twitter

I must confess, I already use Twitter. Two years ago, walking down Green Street, I encountered a familiar figure. It wasn't until he had passed me that my brain registered it was the King of Twitter himself, who had been a boyhood idol of mine. A day in which no member of my family shouted 'Baaaah!' was a sad day indeed. Anyway, being a creepy kind of guy, I turned around and stalked him as far as Tatties, where he went inside for a drink. Foolish, having got so close to the man, not to approach him, you might justifiably say, but something in me (probably a desire not to make an idiot of myself) decided me against it. He must be assailed by many strangers every day, I reasoned. But when I got home I signed up to Twitter and said hello to him there. What a bizarrely 21st-century way of communicating.

In 1996 there was a rather good radio comedy series by the writer Gary Parker called Seymour the Fractal Cat, which is sometimes repeated in various obscure corners of BBC Radio. I remember vividly its description of the popular perception of internet users as 'socially challenged individuals e-mailing each other Mr Spock's inside leg measurement'.

"I've already measured it, Captain. 22 inches."

Nowadays, of course, the internet is not solely the province of such people, nor is Twitter merely a haven for acolytes of Stephen Fry and people who want to tell you what they've had for breakfast. Just this week the Pope began to tweet (no news of his breakfast yet, but I'd hazard a guess at bread and wine). I usually use Twitter for sharing news stories and videos and music and jokes with friends, and occasionally I meet new people along the way.

I thought I'd better create a separate Twitter feed to use for Cam23 so as to keep professional and personal life separate, and here it is. I've also put a gadget on this blog showing my recent tweets, though I may take it down again if using this Twitter account doesn't turn into a habit.

It was easy finding people to follow. First of all, Annie's list of Cam23 tweeters gave some guidance (though I made a tentative policy decision not to request to follow people with private accounts, so as to spare them the embarrassment of rejecting me in case they should want to remain private - social media can be a bit of a minefield in this respect), and there are lots of Cambridge librarians on Twitter already, some I know and many I don't. It seems an excellent way of finding out how other libraries and librarians operate and keeping in touch with library news in Cambridge and further afield. Before long, people had started to follow me back, and were sending me messages to make me feel at home. I have even followed Annie's example and set up an RSS feed for the term #cam23 on Twitter.

It's interesting to look at the variety of different types of Twitter feed that librarians have, whether they tweet as individuals or as corporate bodies, what level of formality or informality they pitch; and to consider the pitfalls of having a single library twitter feed. Who takes the responsibility for updating it? Do all tweets have to be vetted before posting? and so on.

I sympathise with those who see Twitter as frivolous. 140 characters are not enough to express anything of any great profundity. But I think a lot of objections to Twitter arise from a misunderstanding of its purpose. It it ideal as a tool for distributing pieces of information, and the added extras - hashtags and the like - enable further intercommunication. If you want to write at length, use your blog and then let people know about it on Twitter. I don't know at present what my own feed is going to turn into, but I'm sure Cam23 will give me lots of things to do with it.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Thing 3

As you will have noticed if you've visited before, I've been doing a little housekeeping. The theme is now blue rather than pink, and I've added some links to blogs in the sidebar on the right - not just Cam23 2.0 blogs, but also a couple of cpd23 ones and some others which may be of interest. The list will continue to grow.

Thing 3 - RSS feeds

I already subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds, but have been unhappy with my system for some time. I have got into the dubious habit of using Internet Explorer as a subscription agent, and I know I am not alone in finding IE so irritating as to have dispensed with it now almost entirely. Its RSS aggregation facility is sluggish, with minimal functionality.

Bill Gates - he'll have some explaining to do on judgement day

Google Reader is much friendlier. Once I had added my first blog I was pleasantly surprised to see that the small number of blogs I had chosen to follow with my Blogger profile since registering last week were already present in the sidebar as 'Blogs I'm following'. Convenient. It's also convenient to be able to access all of your blogs from any computer via a login, not only from a single computer at home.

Google Reader has a similar function to iGoogle in that it acts as an aggregator, gathering several things into one place; only Google Reader seems more intuitive, which perhaps comes from its being born of necessity. If you want to follow a large number of blogs, it's immeasurably simpler if you can do it all from a single page. iGoogle by contrast is something of a mishmash unless, I presume, you learn to manage it skilfully (which clearly I haven't yet done).

I'm still exploring Google Reader, and there is much to be explored. I like the option to 'star' particular posts. I set this post as a starred item so I have it easily to hand as a reference timetable for the programme.

In the spirit of spreading the word and encouraging intercommunication, here are some blogs which may appeal. There are bloggers like thewikiman who write about the challenges facing the 21st-century librarian with humour and insight. Until now, though, I have tended to gravitate naturally towards blogs which look back rather than forward, dealing with special collections, library discoveries and the like. For some months I have enjoyed reading MusiCB3, the blog of the UL Music Department and the Pendlebury, both of which I loved with great devotion as an undergraduate. The Cambridge Library Collection Blog is the brainchild of CUP's Kate Brett and Caroline Murray, who write about the out-of-print books they are gradually making available again.

On a more frivolous note, the Orkney Archive has a reputation for being both fun and fascinating. I have followed The Age of Uncertainty for a couple of years - it's the blog of a second-hand bookseller who frequently chronicles the items that he comes across at work. And in searching for Cambridge library blogs I encountered this. Wrong Cambridge, but it's a useful reminder of the diversity of libraries, and of the manifold applications of blogs. Whether it will become a regular read or not, I can't say.

How about the rest of you in blogland? Have you discovered any exciting features of Google Reader - or any better blog aggregators? I'd be delighted to receive any tips, and will keep tabs on other blogs in turn.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Things 1 and 2

Thing 1 - iGoogle

iGoogle is essentially an enhanced version of the Google homepage. Remember the Google homepage? I only tend to go there nowadays when there is a customised version of the logo to look at, and in the first instance always use the Google search box on my web browser when I want to find something online. But once I'd started to put some gadgets on it, it became more attractive.

A homepage that lets you see news and weather, check your e-mails and Facebook and Twitter, search Amazon or National Rail Enquiries - it could prove quite handy. Certainly the click-and-drop method of rearranging things appeals to the librarian's sense of order. I created a separate Library tab, but couldn't find many relevant gadgets to add (a search for 'library' brings up a piano arrangement of The Christmas Song and the trailer for The Terminator in the first few pages of results), so at the moment it looks sparse with only the Cambridge Libraries Widget and Copac and WorldCat search boxes.

One thing I really appreciated was the range of 'themes' you can choose from to make the header more attractive - after some experiments with musical and bookish themes I settled on the lovely picture of Clare Bridge above, which is visible from our library if you look out of the right window. It's early to say how useful iGoogle will prove to be, but I know it will continue to be relevant to Cam23, so I'm sure I will get into the habit of using it.

Thing 2 - creating a blog

I have never used Blogger before, and so was delighted to have a good reason to try it out. Over the last couple of years I have got into the habit of following other people's blogs, and I like their malleability (the blogs, not the people). A blog can be whatever you want it to be, and you can reveal as much or as little of yourself as you desire.

First impressions: Blogger is good. It seems mostly intuitive, and the process of setting up the blog was straightforward. Fiddling around with design settings is something I naturally enjoy, so it's nice to have a new toy to play with. I chose a fairly straightforward template which I then customised with links on the right-hand side, a computery font for the title, and a background photo of some piles of books I took a while ago (some of the overflow from my bookshelves). I expect the blog will evolve into something more settled and permanent in the coming weeks, but for the time being I am going to keep experimenting with widgets and changing things around. A little less pink might be a good idea.

"It's like, how much more pink could this be? and the answer is none. None more pink."

I don't know if I have any grand plans for this blog. My intention is for it to be finite, but I am aware that a number of participants in last year's 23 things have continued to blog since the end of the programme, and can imagine myself doing the same. I would like it to be a gateway to discussion and a means of communicating with other librarians and non-librarians. I would also like to keep it fairly light-hearted (occasional jokes, pictures, multimedia...). Early days yet.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


Hello. I'm Gareth. Something in the way of introduction may be desirable. I went through a period of being a child, during which a number of valiant and foolhardy attempts were made to educate me, culminating in my evolution into a librarian. I have worked at King's College Library for five years and recently completed my MA in Library and Information Studies at University College London.

For the benefit of outsiders, I should relate that I am writing this as part of the Cambridge 23 Things project, which was such a success on its first outing last summer. Credit for this blog's title must go to The Polemical Medic, who suggested it to me in a blinding flash of inspiration at the weekend. The 28 years I have spent on the planet having been mostly uneventful (at least in terms of what I have been up to; there have been some world events of note), a relaunch may be just what is called for.

I followed last year's 23 Things with interest, and was inspired to join in this time by an instinct that it would be not only a useful thing to do (and to put on my CV) but also a lot of fun. I will report back on Things 1 and 2 presently, but this post is simply by way of saying hello. Please feel at liberty to do likewise in the space provided. I look forward to reading everyone else's blogs.