12 August 2008

Thing 7: Text, text, text

I started working on Thing 7 in late June, about the time I started teaching the class that meant I didn't do any of the 23 Things for the next month and a half. (It was a 2-credit course on research skills, and it's going really well.)

At least I read the long article about e-mail—the readings for this Thing were particularly lengthy, perhaps because the things themselves (e-mail, texting, and webinars) are so lightweight? Methinks the medium doth protest too much—as I was preparing a lecture on the history of the Internet. So I worked in some facts from the reading, such as the date the first e-mail in the world was sent (1971), that I hoped made this extremely dry topic a little less dry.

Speaking of dry, here are the questions that the 23 Things people think I should be blogging on for this Thing:
  • Describe how your library uses email. Has it improved productivity?
  • Share your thoughts on online reference using some of the other Web 2.0 communication tools.
  • Are you an active user of text messaging, IM, or other communication tools?
  • Which OPAL or MINITEX Web conference (Webinar) did you attend? How was it? What do you think of this communication tool?
Whew! And, mind you, I'd like to get a little Twitter in for extra credit (even though I already use Meebo on the job, another extra-credit item). So I'd better do all this in future blog posts, rather than clutter up this one. Later!

11 August 2008

Thing 14: Redundant Books

I just finished reading Reading the OED, which is a book about reading a dictionary. So it's only appropriate that I jump to Thing 14, which is all about cataloging one's books with the help of a bazillion other users who seem nearly as obsessive about books as Ammon Shea, the author of Reading the OED. How could I resist?

What I entered in Library Thing today was mostly the information I had already put on this blog, in a sidebar. I like the sidebar better because it has links to the St. Paul Public Library catalog entries on the books. Library Thing links, by default, to Amazon, because Amazon is who supplied the images of the book covers. Other than that, it is commercial-free. You can list up to 200 books without a fee; thereafter, it costs $25 for a lifetime of book-cataloging, or $10 a year if you don't want to blow $25 all at once. (As someone who makes part of her living cataloging library books, I would feel a little odd paying someone else to let me do this.)

A caveat, now that I've invested nearly an hour in data-entry time: I need to remind myself that Web sites don't stay around forever. Whether or not you pay the fee, your virtual bookshelf (but, fortunately, not the real one) can vanish in an instant. I am still mourning the sudden loss of Simon Delivers, the local online grocery-delivery service that has been making my home life easier for more than a year now. They decided 40,000 customers weren't enough and pulled the plug this month. No more green buckets on the front porch, no more friendly Web lists of what you ordered last time, no more large containers of laundry detergent lugged up the front sidewalk by someone with a dolly. Sigh.

Here, before I forget, is the "widget" that will tell you one random book that Library Thing now knows I've been reading:

You can see the whole list at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/metrorebecca. Back in the saddle again!

19 June 2008

Thing 5: Forward! (into the past)

F onred tombstone.> A M
Even after reading Thing 5 most carefully, I'm still not 100 percent sure what a "mashup" is. The word evokes the aftermath of an industrial disaster: large machines locked together in a crumpled steel embrace.

But I do know how to use someone else's JavaScript, and that's what I need to do to fulfill Thing 5. Above is what I created from Erik Kastner's "Spell with Flickr" tool. It means "Forward" (the exclamation point wouldn't fit on one line, but it's really better as "Fram!") in Norwegian. This is the name of a famous (to Norwegians) ship that explored the North Pole in the 1890s. It was frozen in the polar ice for two years, but it—and its captain, Fridtjof Nansen— still made it back to Oslo in one piece.

18 June 2008

Thing 4: Not Quite Done

I realize I am starting to sound like a professional skeptic on these pages, but I cannot help viewing Flickr with deep suspicion -- and not just because its name bears a strong resemblance to one of the Green Lantern's villains. Thing 4, which I am lurching back to after a brief dabble with Things ahead of my time, is all about online photo-sharing and tagging. You can join groups, too. To Flickr enthusiasts, it's like we're all at a family picnic, checking out the photo albums.

Except that your average family doesn't have millions of people eating potato salad, and it never occurred to Aunt Mabel that she might want to protect the privacy of Baby Sissy before she passed her picture around the picnic table. But Flickr, according to the Web site, had more than 4,200 photos uploaded to it in the minute before I typed this. That's a lot of pictures, and a lot of people looking at them.

Full disclosure: A good friend of my family nearly went to jail about 10 years ago when an overzealous photo-processing guy mistook a photo of her grade-school daughter in the bathtub for something much less innocuous than it really, truly was. My friend lost her job, which was driving a school bus, and spent more than a year and a lot of money she didn't have defending herself in court. That was in the quaint days of film and paper. Now imagine the living hell she and her daughter might have gone through if her photos were "processed" up in the sky, as they are for so many nowadays.

Apparently things on Flickr get labeled "public" by default. The Washington Post reported in February 2008, in an article titled "Online Photos Not as Private as Mother Assumed," that a D.C. mother's photos of her skinny-dipping children, which she intended just for her and her parents to see, instead got thousands of hits from strangers.

"Are creepy people searching through thousands of pictures looking for random naked ones?" this mother asked the reporter. Uh, yes. It's the Internet, lady.

And for those of you who are wondering if I'm blathering on about privacy because I forgot to bring in a digital camera to fulfill the actual terms of Thing 4, you're right. More tomorrow, and hopefully more to the point.

17 June 2008

Thing 12: Put Down That Shovel!

As someone who has started just about every day of her adult life with a newspaper, I do not understand my aversion to social media sites. After all, information is my life. I want to know what's happening in my community and in the world; when things are wrong, I want to charge in and change them. As a sometime op-ed columnist, I used to express strong opinions in print about these events.

So I figured I would give all these newsy Web sites recommended in Thing 12 more than a fighting chance. For several days last week, I dug at Digg. I read it at Reddit. I mixed it up at Mixx. I even stumbled into StumbleUpon. And I emerged from all this with a brain that felt like it had been crumpled up and rolled in the dirt. This was true even after I went the extra mile and registered at Digg (which had been recommended by my excellent Web-developer instructor as well), so that I could tailor its home page to my own interests. Except that these seemed to be my interests as interpreted by a distracted 12-year-old boy. "Education," for example, turns out to be a catch-all category that includes Bruce Lee, sex guides, and Rupert Murdoch. "Offbeat"? Don't even go there.

Working my way through the Thing 12 list, at last I ended up at the New York Times. And omygosh, but the Gray Lady is just a sight for sore eyes. Maybe it's the typeface, maybe it's the large(r) news-to-ad ratio, but I just feel reassured when I look at it. I didn't even mind that the beta "My Times" page wouldn't retain any of my changes (after all, why should I want to know the weather anywhere west of the Hudson?). No Bruce Lee, very few sex guides, and definitely no Rupert. This is really my kind of news. And they've been delivering it since 1852.

10 June 2008

Thing 11: Out of Order

Emboldened by my colleague Owen's example (he is doing the 23 Things in seemingly random order), I embarked on Things 11 and 12 this week instead of the planned Things 4, 5, and 6. Since I use several different computers and am always looking for bookmarks on one computer that actually exist on the computer three miles away, I have been wanting something like del.icio.us for some time—even though I still find those extra periods a little daunting. And the whole concept of "social bookmarking" intrigues me.

So here are my answers to the prompts for Thing 11:
  • Can you see the potential of this tool for research assistance? Or just as an easy way to create bookmarks that can be accessed from anywhere? The accessibility is what appeals to me. Using other people's bookmark "tags" for research assistance might come in handy down the line, but I would see this more as a way to make non-life-changing decisions than as a source of serious information gathering. And, so far, it's a lot harder for me to find my bookmarks in the online del.icio.us site than it is for me to get them from my browser toolbar. In the time it takes me track down the del.icio.us version, I tend to forget what I was looking for.

  • How can your library or media center take advantage of tagging and del.icio.us? Look at the sites in the Resource list to see how libraries are using Del.icio.us. I like the way the San Mateo Library is using del.icio.us as a Library of Congress classification-number sidebar. I could see doing something like that as a way to help the university professors I work with find specific resources in their area.

Thing 3: Rebecca's Sort of Satisfied

I did Thing 3 (RSS feeds) in one afternoon last week, but I never got around to blogging about it (or about anything else, for that matter). So here goes, using the prompts from the "23 Things" page:
  • What do you like about RSS and newsreaders?
    I like the idea of being able to go to one place to get updated on all the information on a particular topic. It's too bad that the reality only imperfectly matches the idea.

  • How do you think you might be able to use this technology in your school or personal life?
    I do plan to be checking my Google Reader page on a regular basis―or, if I can remember it, the "Next >>" version (which shows you only recently updated articles). Already I am e-mailing around articles that I've found this way―on a selective basis only, of course.

  • How can teachers or media specialists/libraries use RSS or take advantage of this new technology?
    Keeping current on professional literature is the obvious use. Unfortunately, I fear, to an outsider watching me do this on the reference desk, this looks a lot like Wasting Time.

  • Which tool for finding feeds was easiest to use?
    Bloglines and Google BlogSearch were about equally easy to use, although (as usual) I like the clean lines of Google better. On neither was my sample search satisfactory. On Bloglines, my search for "sewing college memory quilt" (I'm interested in hearing about people who've done this, since my daughter is off to college this fall) got me 71 hits, but since "Porn Video! 586700 Free Sex Movies!" was #6, I kind of lost faith in the others. The same search on Google got 204 hits; when I clicked on #2, a promising-sounding blog called "Simply Quilts," I got instead a random ad for eBay.

  • What other tools or ways did you find to locate newsfeeds?
    My most satisfactory way was to visit the Web pages I like and add them manually to my blog reader. The library-blog search site on "23 Things" proved to be more of a graveyard for dead blogs.

  • Find any great sources we should all add to our feed reader?
    I have to say that the best part of doing Thing 3 was finding non-RSS ways of keeping current. There's something called the Shelf Awareness newsletter―"daily enlightenment for the book trade"―that's available by (free) subscription only, not through RSS, but thanks to this exercise I finally got around to signing up for it. Ditto for a site called Ravelry.com, a beta "online community" (maybe this is covered in another Thing?) for fiber-minded folks, where I got actual usable answers to my memory-quilt search.

28 May 2008

Thing 2.1: Consulting the Gods

An Assyrian king gets advice from a priest. He doesn't know he will wait nearly 2,900 years for Library 2.0.

Yesterday's post was a bit wordy, so I thought I should leaven the dough with a picture. (Is that metaphor mixed enough for you?)

The above image is from "Knowledge and Power in the Neo-Assyrian Empire," where it has the following caption:

The Assyrian king's basic aim was to fulfil the wishes of the god Aššur. His scholars advised him on the best means of doing so. Detail from the stone decoration of Assurnasirpal II's Northwest Palace at Nimrud, room B panel 7 (bottom), c.860 BC (BM ANE 124549). Photo by Eleanor Robson.

For more about Assyrian royalty, the ancient library of Nineveh, and what they have to do with Web 2.0 (at least in my strange world), see yesterday's blog.

27 May 2008

Thing 2: Predicting the Future

Want to win friends and influence people? Start telling them what life will be like for them in five, ten, or twenty years. It's a proven path to success, since the power to predict the future has made people popular for thousands of years. Of course, you don't have to actually know what's in store; all that's necessary is (a) a strong core belief that you can see into the unknown, and (b) the charisma to convince others that you can.

Whether you're reading the entrails of ritually slaughtered animals, gazing into a crystal ball, or running economics statistics, it helps that people have remarkably limited memories. Like a dog who hears only the words "treat" or "walk," those in the audience of a soothsayer remember what they want to know and forget the rest. And then they can pretend that they control the future, not you. This is why (I learned while listening to a recent podcast from the BBC radio show "In Our Time," about the ancient library of Nineveh) kings used to rely on priests and gods. The king needed to make decisions, but he was supposed to be infallible and all-knowing. Consulting a priest (who was supposed to have a direct line into divine will) was a way to seek advice without compromising his status.

What does all this have to do with Web 2.0? Well, I'm on Thing 2 of the Minnesota libraries "23 Things on a Stick" program, and Thing 2 involves immersing yourself in modern soothsaying. Specifically, I watched a video recorded by Stephen Abram (who holds the title of vice-president of innovation at Sirsi-Dynix, in case you were wondering) in Melbourne, Australia, last August, and read a blog by John Blyberg (head of technology and digital initiatives at Darien Library in Connecticut). Both were very enthusiastic about Web 2.0 and what it will bring to libraries. And both were quite certain that the operative auxiliary verb was "will," not "might" or "should."

I have nothing against either of these gentlemen; in fact, I rather liked them. And I appreciated Blyberg's concise definition of Library 2.0: a way to make libraries relevant. But I was a journalist just long enough to be skeptical of anyone who seems to be selling something invisible. (Like Mr. Weasley in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I want to see what agent is creating the magic.) Just because we want interactivity and relevance — nice nouns, but expensive pets — to be the future does not make them the future.

19 May 2008

Thing 1: Rebecca Starts a Blog

Allow me to introduce myself: I'm Rebecca Ganzel Thompson, a librarian at Metropolitan State University (hired in February 2008) who is interested in lots of different kinds of communication--but has somehow never before had a blog. So I'll look forward to sharing with you the twists and turns in my professional life over the coming months. This is just a quick "hello" entry; I'll be writing more later.