Monday, 22 August 2011

Thing 18

Thing 18 - Reflection week

Reflection time again? The weeks are simply flying by. And I am off on holiday for the second time in a month, shirking my Cam23 2.0 drinks party attendance duties once more. I wouldn't even have been able to come on the extra day (Saturday) because I'm attending a wedding next weekend. But if I've got the hang of scheduling posts, this should appear at some point on Monday afternoon. Hello.

Glass reflections
Glass reflections by JMaz Photo on Flickr

I have found the latest batch of Things more relaxing, by and large, than the previous ten. That's because most of them - LibraryThing, Facebook, Flickr and Podcasts - come under the heading of Play rather than Work for me, and so I've had a lot of fun tinkering around with them. LibraryThing, for instance, I don't really envisage using for professional purposes, but for my personal library it might be quite handy.

I feel as if I'm running out of steam rather, hence the comparative brevity of this post, though I've been quite good at keeping up so far. At least the end is in sight, with only five Things left - and one of those is the final reflection, and two of the others we get a whole week for - so it should be manageable. Looking ahead, though, the last things are very much outside my comfort zone. I suppose it's good to be stretched. I must say how very grateful I have been for everyone's support along the way. I find the blog comments most encouraging. Thank you.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Thing 17

Thing 17 - Podcasts

I already use podcasts a lot. I see from iTunes that I subscribe to about 25 of them, on and off, and listen to them on my iPod, usually when walking to and from work, or travelling further afield. Not only do podcasts allow me to keep up with radio programmes I generally can't listen to because of being at work (apparently radio is banned in the library, say the spoilsport powers that be), but they also alert me to things I would otherwise have missed. The BBC Radio 4 Documentary of the Week podcast is a case in point. Each week is likely to throw up something new. A couple of months ago it was this, which turned out, to my surprise, to be one of the most moving programmes I had heard in years. I would never have happened upon it otherwise.

Listening to library-related podcasts is not a regular occupation of mine, though I discovered and sampled quite a wide range of them last year. The MA course at UCL has one compulsory exam on matters of professional awareness, and I decided that listening to podcasts would firstly provide me with an idea of what different libraries might use podcasts for, and secondly keep me thinking about libraries constantly, whether I wanted to or not. Once the exam was out of the way, I had a break from them, and I confess I haven't gone back.

From what I recall, the more successful podcasts tended to be those produced by public libraries, particularly those aimed at teen audiences and involving input from teenagers. I don't know if any British libraries do this, but US libraries seem to have grasped the potential of podcasts aimed at slightly geeky adolescents who are into not just books but also the other facilities libraries now provide - video, music, gaming - and several are beginning to exploit it rather well.

By contrast, those podcasts I listened to which were produced by libraries in the UK tended to be practical guides for library users - a small, finite series of short programmes to explain borrowing procedures, catalogue searches, the logistics of library access, that sort of thing. Of course, there are also podcasts aimed not at library users but at librarians themselves, which I intend to explore properly when I have a bit more time.

I haven't podcasted before, but one of my brothers contributes to a university comedy podcast, and with some success. I can certainly see the value for libraries of producing audio and video tutorials, as covered earlier in the programme when we looked at screencasting, but I think a podcast should ideally be an ongoing thing. If you're going to have a library podcast, why not make it a monthly occurrence - perhaps an informal chat between library staff to explain what the librarians have been doing at work recently, or to broach other library news? It's a nice additional extra, like using Facebook for your library. Still, I wonder if it might turn out to be a minority interest. Perhaps a Doodle poll for students would clarify matters? Ah, all I have learned this summer is beginning to coalesce.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Thing 16

Thing 16 - Flickr

Another thing I'd been looking forward to. I like the fact that so much of the content of Flickr is rights-free (or fairly rights-free), so that anyone can use it, but I hadn't got around to exploring what had to be done to embed pictures from Flickr in my blog posts. Actually, with Flickr coming up on the Cam23 agenda after my holiday, I'd already half-decided before setting off for Germany that this might be a good excuse for me to join Flickr myself and post some holiday photos. So that's what I've done. You can browse a set of pictures of German signs and writing here and one of various church windows of Cologne and Bonn, many containing very beautiful stained glass, here.

This is an authentic Stange of K├Âlsch, the beer all Cologne people must drink many times a day to prove their loyalty to the city, linked from my Flickr account.

And this is the bottom section of a window in Cologne Cathedral.

Such a wide-ranging repository of images is a godsend to the librarian desperate not to have to fall back on clipart once more. With this and Wikimedia Commons, no library poster need ever be unattractive again.

And in the spirit of sharing media, here's a video of the process of making chocolate at the Lindt-sponsored Schokoladenmuseum in Cologne. I put it together using Windows Movie Maker, which I had never used before. It only took me about 15 minutes. Might be useful for library videos.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Thing 15

Thing 15 - LinkedIn

I have had no previous experience of LinkedIn other than that of finding unwanted results from the website in Google searches. Whenever I've followed up a link to the site I have been arrested by how sterile and formal it looks. I dare say you can pimp your profile a bit, but it's not designed for frivolity. This is very much the professional end of the social networking wedge.

Helen draws an astute analogy between LinkedIn and Monica from Friends. In a programme peopled with irritating characters, Monica stands out as being - somehow - more irritating than the rest. It's hard to imagine that a character more annoying than the other five might exist, and yet there she is, resplendent in her pedantry and joylessness. And that's the impression I have hitherto held of LinkedIn. Still, in the spirit of intrepidity and obligation, I have created an account for myself.

There are a few reasons why I haven't tried out LinkedIn until now. For one thing, it's for people who like to network. I can see the value of professional networking, but it's just not me. It's not that I lack ambition entirely - future employers please note - but the notion of secret handshakes and backslapping and building up your profile until eventually, inevitably, you become Prime Minister and make your best chum Chancellor, all this puts me off. If one day I should get another job, I hope it will be because of what I know and not who I know. But perhaps this is the attitude of one who lives in a dream world, and I concede that it may be necessary to make some small concession to LinkedIn, in case of emergency.

For another thing, what would I put on my profile? This is the only real job I've ever had. When I applied for this one, I included my GCSE results (including grades, natch) on my application form. GCSEs! That kind of thing stops being of interest to anyone, let alone potential employers, after about the first week of A-levels. And presumably nobody cares how I did in my piano exams either.

Still, it turns out my adult life has not been as entirely devoid of incident as I had believed, and so here I am. I managed to pad things out somewhat with undergraduate sidelines and stuff I got up to in my gap year. I can't pretend that my current status of '0 connections' is likely to cause me any sleepless nights, though I fear it does make me look a bit like Joseph Heller's Major Major Major Major ('Even among men lacking distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed with how unimpressive he was.').

Anyway, if you would like to get in touch to offer me a job, you know where to look.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Thing 14

Thing 14 - Facebook

I already use Facebook. I use it far too much. But enough of my personal problems. Let's think about Facebook for libraries.

I went to an excellent training session some months ago at the English Faculty, where I saw presentations by Ange and Helen among others. It alerted me to a number of relevant things I might have failed to consider beforehand, and gave me the push I needed to start King's College Library's Facebook page, which may be found here.

Although layouts are fairly prescribed, and you can't mould it to the same extent that you can a blog, a library Facebook page is essentially what you make it. The information you broadcast determines the impression you give to the world at large. And you are broadcasting to the world. Most of the people to have 'liked' our Facebook page are current students, but we have also picked up a few King's College fanboys curious to see what the library looks like - inevitable, I suppose, given the emblematic status of King's College.

It's important to remember that Facebook is not our main channel of communication with students. If we need to get in touch with them, email is our first resort, and if we want to make the wider public aware of any developments within the library then we can post a news story on the College website. So what is the purpose of our Facebook page?

I see it as a light-hearted diversion from the library's main purpose of providing a service to students. Our page allows us to keep interested parties in touch with what's going on in the library. We can post useful things like information on library access or links to our Delicious bookmarks, but it's good not to let things get too austere. Maintaining visual interest is quite important. That means uploading new pictures every so often, whether of the library itself, some ducklings hanging out or a scan of an old news story about a seal visiting King's; or this cover of an 18th-century score from one of our collections, which I posted to coincide with the Royal Wedding:

As with a personal Facebook account, a decision probably has to be made about how often to update. It's not a good idea to post several things a day and swamp your fans' news feeds, or they will either block you or 'unlike' you (both of these are bad). On the other hand, you don't want to let the account stagnate due to infrequent posts. My feeling is that about one post a week is probably a happy medium.

When I started the page I was posting fairly regularly, but things have tailed off in recent months. When term starts again I'll make an effort to liven it up. If I felt myself capable, I'd like to turn it into something like this, but I'm not sure it would be appropriate.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Thing 13

Thing 13 - LibraryThing

I'm a librarian, but I'm also a bookworm, and so this is probably the single Thing I've been most looking forward to. I used a basic LibraryThing app on Facebook for a short while a few years ago to show friends what I was reading, but I had never had my own LibraryThing account. I thought it would be nice to be able to add a LibraryThing widget to my blog, so I set about doing that.

Registration was not only easy, but even pleasant. It's a nice touch that the code required 'to verify your humanity' (I can think of a few people who would fail that test...) has to be entered from the cover of a book:

Being the kind of geek who keeps a reading diary, I know everything I've read for the past several years. It was the work of no more than a few minutes to add all the books I've read this year to my account, using as my search source. Then I played around with the formatting of the widget available to Blogger until I found something that suited me. And so on this blog you should now be able to see something like this at the side:

This morning I logged on to find that on the basis of the books I'd listed I had been invited by another user to a group called BBC Radio 3 Listeners, which I duly joined. I'm still very much on the nursery slopes with LibraryThing, but I think it is likely to become a regular haunt.

As far as using LibraryThing for libraries is concerned, it seems to be a nice optional extra but not essential. I don't know how easy (or desirable) it is to incorporate aspects of LibraryThing into a library catalogue. Looking at two Oxbridge libraries that use LibraryThing, one has not been updated for three years, while the other is updated every week or so with new additions. It requires someone to put the effort in, and it may be hard to monitor just how much library users get out of it. As my colleague Anna points out to me, we already have our own more mercenary way of notifying users of new books - via the Amazon Store on our library website, where we advertise new books by Fellows and graduates of King's College in the hope that kindly visitors will buy them.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Thing 12

Thing 12 - Bookmarking tools

If it's not too lazy of me, I'll restrict myself to using Delicious for Thing 12, rather than all three suggested websites. My brother is staying with me this week, and we are quite busy getting up to mischief in the evenings, so I haven't got much time to explore the Things outside work.

First things first. The idea of social bookmarking is a smart one, both because it enables you to share favourite websites with others and because it lets you access your own bookmarks yourself (keeping them private, if you want) from any internet computer. So much more convenient than having to configure umpteen web browsers on as many different computers.

I have a little experience of Delicious already, albeit essentially second-hand. My colleague Anna has created a Delicious account for users of King's College Library, both patrons and library staff. This account groups together links to useful websites - ebooks, publishers, other libraries, cataloguing guidelines, and so on - and has recently begun to incorporate a number of useful online texts for the use of students of the Pembroke-King's Programme, which runs every summer for eight weeks. Anyway, the point is that I am already conscious of some of the advantages social bookmarking possesses for libraries.

You call that delicious? This is delicious!

When you hear the name Delicious you probably imagine something exciting and extravagant (Cologne's Schokoladenmuseum, for instance - of which more later, I am sure), but aesthetically, the website is ever so slightly austere - elegantly minimal, you might say - and the notion of sharing links is perhaps more techie than sexy. That said, there's no reason why it can't be both - texy, if you will - and any reservations about its appearance are easily overcome when its functionality becomes apparent.

Setting up my own account was simple enough, though I couldn't install the Firefox add-on as it was not compatible with my current browser, Firefox 5.0, which was released in June. Presumably this issue will be resolved sooner rather than later, but for the moment I used the bookmarklet, which lives on my newly enabled bookmarks toolbar.

I decided to assemble a collection of bookmarks related to music, whether websites I visit regularly or pages of interest I bookmarked myself months ago with the intention of exploring further at some point. Eventually the list began to look a little unwieldy, which is where the tagging system became useful.

Tags help you to isolate similar sites from within a group of bookmarks, which is arguably a better arrangement than the way web browsers organise bookmarks: within folders, each bookmark with its own fixed place. Multiple tagging can make it easier to find a particular bookmark, and allows you to place any single bookmark in any number of separate disciplines. In Firefox at home, I have separate folders for blogs and music, but where do I bookmark a blog about music? I don't have to worry about that with Delicious.

Another thing I like is the simplicity of changing your settings so that links open in another tab or window as a default. I've come to realise that I'm quite tyrannical about this sort of thing. The 'house style' of this blog, if it's not too pretentious to write of such a thing, is that links to pages within the blog open in the same window, while links to external sites open in a different window. If you suffer from a similar neurosis, here is how to change your settings on Delicious:

  • Click 'Display options' at the top of your list of bookmarks
  • Choose 'View advanced options'
  • Choose to open bookmarks in 'new window'

There is one problem I know I am not the first person to have identified, which is that you can't include spaces within tags. That can be awkward if, for example, one of your intended tags is someone's name. I wanted to tag the singer Peter Pears in one of my bookmarks. Clearly if I tag his two names individually, clicking one tag will produce results about several Peters, while the other will produce results mainly about fruit.

Pears: created the role of Albert Herring in 1947

So what is the solution? Using a hyphen or a full stop or an underscore to break up the names? In the end I just ran them together as PeterPears, and repeated that formatting in other tags, but as there is no standardisation there is no guarantee of finding other people's bookmarks on the same subject when you click the tag. Perhaps something for the Delicious bods to think about.