Thursday, August 31, 2006
Now, many of you know that I hung up my hat from the virtual reference game when I left CT for CA. Not that I didn't love the concept & believe in its power, but other opportunities and passions called. [As an aside, I should add that my sister continued and expanded in the virtual reference world - eventually becoming one of (formerly LSSI) Tutor.com's best v ref librarians and a mentor for those in training - she even won the last Samuel Swett Green national Virtual Reference excellence award and cowrote an article on the topic that appeared in March 2005's Public Libraries magazine... Can you tell that I'm proud? And yes, she used to be a very good in-person ref librarian in CT libraries! She now lives & works out of GA, but it was CT libraries that inspired her (she worked in circulation at a certain capitol region library and adored it) to go on to U. of Pittsburgh & get her MLS (with honors). So, next time you fear who's on the other end of that virtual reference call representing your library, be aware that it could well be someone like my sister - someone like you, a cracker-jack librarian!]
But I had 1 MAJOR frustration with the virtual reference game when I coordinated Askyourlibrary - every time I tried to convince libraries to join I faced tremendous opposition from librarians who feared that somehow virtual reference would render them obsolete or outsourced. Those of you who've been on any side of a v ref transaction know, however, that this fear is COMPLETELY unwarranted. Not only is a v ref transaction not the same as an in-person reference session (v ref is necessarily much briefer, less in-depth, only a starting point or quick reference transaction... but patrons love it), but v ref librarians quite often refer their patrons back in-house to their libraries. V ref can actually raise the profile and increase the usage stats of your in-house reference! Many people who never realized the level of research help that was freely available to them through their libraries encounter it for the first time through v ref. This raises the awareness among members of the public that librarians are cutting edge "information mavens" (to paraphrase The Shifted Librarian).
So, clearly virtual reference is not competition for in-house reference, instead it can be a uniquely powerful partnership. There were many librarians who insisted, however, that the virtual reference service ONLY be made available in their non-open hours. I attribute this to that inappropriate sense of competition that the in-house librarians had in regards to virtual reference service.
My biggest beef with this attitude is that it is not a user-centered decision, it's a librarian-centered decision. And we exist for - and I remind you, at the will of - our users. As an end-user, I like online services partially because I don't have to think about when they will be open. If I arrive at any online service/site for the first time & find it "closed", I will never return. There's too many other options out there - options for services that are open 24x7. And don't forget that many people use online services from their desks at work every day. They can't necessarily make a phone call out to their public library, but they can - on their breaks - quickly & easily take advantage of their public's library's virtual reference service. But only if it's open.
As we make choices about what library services we offer and how we offer them, we should always be starting from the end-user perspective. So what if we are afraid that the service will somehow cut into our in-house reference (which I think I've shown pretty clearly, it will not)? That's our fear, as librarians. That's got nothing to do with users' needs & desires - which is what we should focus on.
So please, fellow librarians, DON'T TAKE WHAT'S WONDERFUL TO USERS ABOUT VIRTUAL REFERENCE -- THE FACT THAT IT IS AVAILABLE 24x7 -- AND THROW IT AWAY. In an era of Google and mashups, our end-users (aka patrons/potential patrons) are more empowered in information retrieval than ever. We have to face that fact and figure out how we can play a role in the new informational universe. That's what's at stake here. So play a role - a role the users will embrace - think about offering virtual reference. But don't offer virtual reference unless you're ready, willing, and able to do it in a way that doesn't alienate users - that doesn't put a closed sign up during certain times of the day.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
- Google allows downloads of out-of-copyright books (see: http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/08/30/google-allows-downloads-of-out-of-copyright-books/)
- EPA Enforcement Threatened by Library Closures (see: http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=735)
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Not surprisingly, that Flock browser I mentioned is still new enough to have a couple of kinks - two of which I discovered today. You have to understand that the attraction of Flock to me was the degree to which blog posting was built into the browser itself - a few less steps for me.
The first issue I discovered was that when I posted to my Blogger-based blog - this one, that is - the hyperlink didn't carry through. When I tried to fix the posting, which it seems the browser-based tool is supposed to facilitate, it wouldn't post it. I kept getting Blogger errors - said that I wasn't connected to the server. The blog tool built into Flock also suggested that I could add tags, though Blogger has no facility for tags/categories in its interface. I thought "oh cool, somehow they're integrating tag creation with Blogger postings!" I was completely mistaken. All that happened was that I hung up my browser.
The second issue was considerably more problematic & appeared when I tried to post to our WordPress blog (http://cslibweb.wordpress.com). The postings to this blog get incorporated into a webpage ("New & Noteworthy") via an ASP program. The moment I posted the latest New @ CSL entry (re: an online tutorial we just put up on how a bill becomes a law in CT), the new.asp page (New & Noteworthy) crashed with an ugly VBScript error. REALLY UGLY. I had to restart IIS to get things back in shape again.
So I decided that since I was having trouble with posting to either of the blogs via Flock's built-in blog capabilities (and yet, I'd done one posting successfully to this blog using it), I would remove and then redo the accounts - perhaps being more careful as to which API the auto-detection/setup tool seemed to think the blog was using (in the case of WordPress, it had registered as a Movable Type API, rather than the "WordPress blog" option and in the case of Blogger, it had registered as an "Atom API" instead of the other "Blogger API" option). I don't know it those are correct or not, of course, but worth a try?! but still, I went to readd the accounts & Flock won't let me. (claims I have the wrong uname & pwd, but won't allow me to change them - though it tells me to hit Cancel to do so... but doing that or anything else for that matter doesn't work)
Anyhow - point being - as cool as Web2.0 is, these products in the early phases of their dev are understandably a little squidgy.
BTW, did you all hear about the Google applications for business (officially known by the unmemorable Google Apps for Your Domain - at https://www.google.com/a/)? They're missing an online word processing program (though Writely might fill that need, from what I hear) and, of course, a spreadsheet. Still, Google Apps offers some features that would be useful for a small-time biz that doesn't want to shell out $$$$$ for the commercial Office suites. They offer Gmail, Talk (an IM client), Calendar (scheduling - can do groups, too), and Google Page Creator. More importantly (perhaps) than the price is that anything on Google isn't tied to a pc or a place, which = mobility & more options for personal computing devices.
There is also a Google applications for education program - https://www.google.com/a/edu/, but it only offers the first 3 of the business apps (Gmail, Talk, Calendar).
But all of this is just the beginning, folks, mark my words... a war is on (as so many have predicted) - between MS and Google!
Blogged with Flock
Monday, August 21, 2006
Libraries can take advantage of a combination of technologies to get the word out - a single blog posting can appear on the library's blog, be fed into their website (and/or others' websites), and be subscribed to in a variety of ways:
- via RSS aggregator/newsreader
- personalized portal/home page
- via email
- via instant messenger
So it might just be time to get that blog going, eh?
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Now that I've gotten you hooked on FrontPage, let me give you the bad news. Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, will make no new versions of FrontPage. 2003 is the last one. Finally, they got the product right, now they've decided to ditch it. Much like their decision to stop developing IE after v.6 (a decision that was - fortunately - rescinded due to consumer backlash), Microsoft has, without thought to the consumer, decided to stop developing this product.
Instead, they offer you one of two products that are beyond lousy for the average library user:
- Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Designer 2007: Automate your business processes and build efficient applications on top of the SharePoint platform, and tailor your SharePoint® site to your needs in an IT-managed environment.
- Microsoft® Expression™ Web Designer: Take advantage of the best of dynamic Web site design, enabling you to design, develop, and maintain exceptional standards-based Web sites.
#2 is just ugly - its user-interface is missing the kind of interface wizards that made it painless for FP masters to create forms and interfaces into Access databases (perhaps its most advanced & useful feature)... I don't even know if it supports those great .dwt (templates) that I lauded in my last point.
Well, I plan to protest this ridiculous decision, but meanwhile, don't panic, FP03 won't be out of support for several years, by which time, you should have been able to (find the $ to) switch over to the apparently friendlier-to-libraries Adobe/Macromedia (Dreamweaver) suite of web design products.
Dynamic web templates, dwt files, allow webmasters to setup a webpage, then to designate which areas of that webpage can be edited by their colleagues. This is ideal for use with people who need to create content and get it up on the web fairly quickly (not requiring the webmaster to copy & paste - or worse still, transcribe - work done in another product that the person is familiar with (e.g., Word)) but who are not webmasters. And webmasters, this allows you to create a consistency in the look of your website.
I just started exploiting the .dwts to allow our reference librarians an easier way to create pathfinders & get them to me in a format that is ready to publish onto the live website ASAP! I use include files for our header & footer and a stylesheet to provide font and background consistency throughout the site. It's all to easy for a less technical person working in FrontPage to remove the links to the headers, footers, and stylesheets. So I created a dwt which takes care of that bit of the code, then opens up the center of the page for the reference librarians to edit at will. It gives them a lot of freedom to create, yet allows me the control necessary for a more efficient and consistent web operation.
So what about these ISPs/vendors that promise us, say, 99.9% uptime. Sounds impossibly good, doesn't it? Well, I did the math (365 1/4 days per year x 24 hours a day = 8766 hours) & 99.9% uptime means having 8.766 hours of downtime per year - this means one workday. A lot more than I thought! So anything less than 99.9% uptime is even more unacceptable.
Yes, ideally that time would occur in non-working hours - say, the wee hours of the morning, but the vendors don't give us those kinds of promises, generally speaking. If your vendor only promises 99.5% uptime - it means that they're promising to only be down, at most, 43.83 hours a year - more than a working week! Just something to think about...
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Friday, August 04, 2006
The concept is good - set up a set of styles, styles that can be controlled at a granular level, but also can be applied globally across a webpage or (more powerfully) across an entire website. It can do the most simple things, such as keeping your fonts consistent, or more powerful and complex things, such as positioning elements (including the ability to even layer elements in some cases), be they boxes of text, graphics, or anything else that can be held within those elements. (e.g., if you designate a section using the DIV tag, you can then apply a specific style to that given element).
Clearly, you should be able to reset your pages - thusfar laid out in table format - through CSS. Use of CSS to lay out a webpage is actually a more elegant form of coding than the use of a table... why, because it separates out the design from the content! Anyhow, without going further into the philosophy of CSS, you should know that my skills are only low-level/moderate in CSS. I was taught html in the era of all tables - and using tables to lay things out seemed pretty sophisticated at the time!
Anyhow, as I redesign elements of our site, I want them coded to the newer standards. So I'm trying to use all CSS. But it's like playing whack-a-mole! Get the display correct for one browser, it looks all wrong in another. There are special "box model hacks" - workarounds for various browsers' incorrect implementations of CSS; there are issues with nested DIVs and questions of positioning context - absolute vs. relative positioning, for example (and relative to what). In case you're stuck in the same place I am, you might be interested in this fairly well-written article on nested divs and absolute vs. relative positioning, found at:
And if anyone has mastered the intricacies of CSS and longs to come to my aid, no $ attached, please let me know.