White collar Halloween

October 31, 2007

I just had to share this:

Originally posted by piercecountylibrary.

Everyday John comes to work at the Lakewood Library wearing a white shirt and black slacks, but punctuates his look with a tie from what must be the greatest collection on earth. (He has funny ties, good ties, wood ties, …) Staff and patrons all know and like him. Today his coworkers came to work dressed up for Halloween as John: white shirt, tie and “John” printed on their lanyards. All except John, that is. He was told to leave his usual attire at home and wear something different for once. That’s him in the foreground: the only staff member without a tie.

Not only is John the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, but his coworkers put on a great (and pretty darn funny) tribute. I’m also glad they chose to post this photo on Flickr so the patrons (and you) can see the Lakewood Library dress up for Halloween.

Learn More: Avatars

October 29, 2007

[This is the first in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

Let’s start our wandering with a little fun. Let’s create a few avatars.

We exist as flesh and blood in the real world, but we don’t transmit that way in the digital world of the Internet. It could get kinda messy. Instead, we can adopt a digital form better suited to an online environment and one that our friends will learn to recognize as us. That form is an avatar.

Avatar comes from a Sanskrit word. In Hindu philosophy, a supreme being normally exists in a form incomprehensible to us. When that being descends to earth, it appears as an avatar so we mortals can better relate. The concept is similar with us and our avatars of the cyberworld.

Avatars come in many styles. Some are simple cartoon-like drawings (like the Simpsons figure, left) that users of the social web place on their personal pages. Others are photographs (like abchick‘s buddy icon, right) or three dimensional animated figures within a virtual world or online game. Whatever the form, though, your avatar becomes “you”. When your friends see your avatar likeness, they’ll know it’s you. Even if you adopt a penguin as your avatar, people will become accustomed to thinking of you when they see the penguin. Why? Because that’s your avatar; that’s you…in this world.

The term “buddy icon” is often used interchangeably with avatar, by the way.

Meaning for libraries

The social web is populated by avatars. Many of your patrons likely use and see them regularly. Some – don’t laugh – may want to freshen up their online appearance as often as (or more often than) they change their real world look. That may mean posting a new or doctored photo. They might appreciate a photo editing tool on public workstations and simple file uploading abilities. If the library can’t provide such basic conveniences, they just might find another place to work, play, and interact. Ouch.

If your library is venturing into the social web, you might want a library avatar. Most of the library avatars I see on Flickr are logos or building photos. That’s advancing the brand. It’s also corporate. I’d like to see something more fun: something professional, of course, but maybe a bit more human. Anyone have ideas? Please share!

Learn more by participating

Let’s make a few avatars of the cartoon variety this week. (We’ll probably look at photo and virtual world avatars — as well as upload avatars to social sites — in the weeks to come.)

  • Set aside time (10-15 minutes might do the trick) on at least two different days this week.
  • On the first day, create an avatar from one of the sites listed below. This is just for play. You might need to print or do a screen capture if you want to save your creation.
  • On another day, make an avatar in a different style or mood. Experiment, design, play.

Do you like The Simpsons, South Park, or Harry Potter? Make yourself into a character from those series. Start with a basic body and click the onscreen tools to change hair, face, and clothes. Must your avatar resemble you? Not at all! Make it resemble what you feel like. Do a Google search and discover other avatar styles (e.g., anime).

If you already have a Yahoo! account, log in here and fiddle with even more avatar-generating tools. Yahoo! has gadgets that let you customize skin tone, wardrobe, accessories, and backgrounds with endless possibilities. Since it’s tied to a member account, it can also travel with you into other Yahoo! services.

Have fun!

A self-paced discovery series for the social web

October 25, 2007

A few goals were clear when I was mulling over the concept of this blog last month. One was to contribute to the discussion of training, social software, and library issues in general. Another goal appealed specifically to the trainer in me: provide a resource for library staff beginning their own exploration of the social web and its tools. I’ll start working on that second goal next Tuesday with a series of self-paced discovery entries that I’m calling “Learn More”.

Each week or so under the “Learn More” banner, I’ll post a short introduction to a different social website, tool, or concept. It might not be ground-breaking information to veteran readers of the blogosphere, but I hope each brief summary will act as a gentle nudge for the uninitiated on your staff. If they read the posting and join/browse the suggested site a few times during the week, they might find value in the various tools and online communities. Maybe they’ll find a niche and enjoy a particular site enough to set up camp there and explore indefinitely. Most of all, I hope experiencing the social web at their own pace might offer a better understanding of the needs of our patrons and the services a library can provide them.

I teach a social web literacy class for my library system. It’s a fast-paced four hour introduction to web 2.0. But the class also has an online component to encourage exploration and participation beyond the classroom. That’s what I hope to do here for anyone — whether they can come to a class or not. Must they do every activity, every week? Heavens, no. Not every site will be to their liking. This will be self-paced and self-motivated.

Most of my Library Stream blog posts will continue to be random observations, commentary, and sharing. But I hope the “Learn More” series will serve as an ongoing learning opportunity and resource.

Finally, I want to give a nod to Charlotte & Mecklenburg County who last year began 23 Things, a thriving curriculum for the social web. “Learn More” is intended neither to supplement nor compete with 23 Things, but I hope — like the PLCMC program — it excites library staff about the social web and new technologies.

A few thoughts before class

October 24, 2007

I’m heading off to a social web class (my favorite to teach) but have a half dozen things rattling around in my head.  Just a few to share:

  • I began reading the latest OCLC report last night and think it’s going to be interesting. It seems the Internet has become much more interactive (no surprise there!) but many (probably most) libraries haven’t quite caught on. My hunch is that some libraries may think they understand the new social networking environment that’s taking the world by storm but really don’t know the half of it. I’ll write a more complete post when I’m finished reading it. In the meantime, read the Free Range Librarian’s take on it.
  • David Lee King’s enthusiam should not be missed. Check out his “Social Digital Global Shift” video.
  • I’ll be starting an on-line series of introductions to the sites and tools of the social web next week. As a trainer, I’ve been excited to share this new world with our staff. Over the next few months, I hope this new series might be a resource to staff in other libraries interested in self-paced discovery. More on that tomorrow….
  • And lastly, to all of you going to next week’s Internet Librarian conference: Have fun. I wish I could join you. The program has an all-star line-up and there’s so much to be excited about right now. Bloggers: tell us everything. Flickr friends: take lots of pictures.

Digital information doesn’t need a shelf

October 21, 2007

Last week I responded to a video that Michael Wesch and his cultural anthropology students recently posted on YouTube. I also mentioned another video without much comment because I hadn’t quite digested it yet. Now that I have, I’d argue that it is more significant than the first.

Without spoken words, Information R/evolution examines the remarkable transformation that our whole notion of information is undergoing within today’s digital technology. Information is the foundation of libraries. A library is a place to access and interpret information. Always was. The perception of a library as a warehouse of books is — like it or not — false. It’s just that information was once stored almost exclusively in books. That’s not true any more. Information is now delivered in many ways, with digital formats growing exponentially. Libraries are adapting by providing digital online resources and portable devices.

But as we move to more digital formats, libraries must also be aware of even more dramatic changes taking place in the way information is organized. Three-dimensional objects (i.e., books) get cataloged and placed on a shelf in a specific place. Pure digital information, however, is fluid and finds itself at home anywhere. There’s no single specific place for it. There’s no shelf. And there is a declining reliance on a single rigid authority to decide “where” its homes might be. Future categorization will be a flexible collaborative activity.

This strikes at our basic concept of information. Libraries are in the information business; we should be prepared for this shift. Clay Shirky (“Ontology is Overrated”) and David Weinberger (“Everything is Miscellaneous”) — both of whom are mentioned in the video — told us about this trend in recent years. The power of organizing information with tags on social websites has made the trend obvious.

Dr. Wesch’s fast-paced video is about giving up the shelf. That is an extremely difficult concept for those of us whose brains were wired pre-Internet. But the fact is, our brains are naturally wired this way. Mentally, we put our thoughts not in one place but in multiple places. We carry ideas in our heads not on a shelf but connected to other ideas … and experiences … and hunches. It’s the nature of information to be miscellaneous, connected in countless ways, and always subject to review.

Watch the video. Whether the idea excites or frightens you, digital information doesn’t need a shelf.

Marketing a vibrant community place

October 18, 2007

First, a personal story; second, a library connection.

Although I’ve been using the photo-sharing website Flickr for nearly a year, September was the first month in which I posted a new picture every day. That’s not an achievement by Flickr standards, of course. There are some dedicated “365” folks who not only post photos every day for a year, but put themselves into the shots day in and day out. That’s got to be stressful.

My month went by with barely a glimpse of my own face. Instead, the 30 days of photographs (at right) document some of the people, places, and things I encountered along the way. In that regard, this compilation is quite astonishing to me — even though I lived it. I see some yard work; a published article; my daughter’s puppy; some hikes, bikes, and climbs; people I met; money I needed for a car; the car the money bought; and a spider I met face to face. That was my month — packed together on a calendar grid and posted a few weeks ago on Flickr.

Looking back at the grid — a diary of activity, in a way — I can’t help thinking:

We live life one day at a time, but don’t always see the quilt those daily patches make over time.

This calendar is a quilt showing me just that.

Now the library perspective…

Libraries are part of the communities they serve. They’re often a very active part — sometimes central to the daily life of community events, programming, and resources. So why not show that pulse? Why not display the vibrancy of daily life? One photo at a time might not mean too much, but look at the same sort of calendar quilt done for a library.

For nearly four months (until my schedule grew temporarily thick with other obligations) I posted daily photos to my library’s Flickr account. Seeing the calendar grid for just one of those months (May is shown here) we can reflect on programs, materials, the advent of summer reading, staff rolling bookcarts in a community parade, and a smattering of other scenes.

This is the library. This is a vibrant community place.

Collected and shared on a social site like Flickr (even if marketed in other ways*), photographs can demonstrate that. Libraries should show off their activities and share the evidence with the community. We should advertise the daily patches of life AND the whole quilt. Social sites and their tools can help us do both of those things.

*The lone Sunday image in May celebrated the publication of a newspaper article featuring a 6×6 block from our Flickr images.

Interaction is crucial

October 16, 2007

Libraries must become more participatory with their communities. Stored information is not enough. Interaction is crucial. That will be a recurring theme for me here, I’m sure. The societal trends are overwhelming.

In Chronicles of Bean today, Cindi referred to a short video by Michael Wesch* of Kansas State University that gives some interesting numbers from a college student’s world today. The data is radically different from what young people faced just 5 or 10 years ago.

The video segment that screamed loudest to me was the young woman who held a sign saying that she will read 8 books this year … but 2,300 web pages and 1,281 Facebook profiles.

My question: Do we want our library to provide her just the 8 books, or do we want to transform the meaning of a library into something she can interact with?

* Cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch, by the way, created another thought-provoking and visually interesting video last spring: Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us. His recent Information R/evolution is an excellent video, too.

Collaborating on term papers

October 15, 2007

There’s a relatively new social networking tool aimed at helping students write term papers by finding and collaborating with other students researching the same subjects. Carmun has tools for searching college library catalogs, creating bibliographies in standard formats, and making social connections on or beyond a student’s particular campus.

At the moment, Carmun has fewer than 11,000 registered users and not much activity in the subject areas I browsed. I also can’t vouch for the site’s educational value. But it’s new and the collaborative concept is intriguing. The geeky intro video (suggesting that Carmun was the result of a one night fling between Facebook and Wikipedia) should attract some students, too.

Expectations between colleagues

October 12, 2007

Just before teaching a class this morning, a librarian told me of a conversation he had with a new hire fresh from college. As they wrapped up their discussion, the younger librarian asked the other one what his MySpace page was. This of course prompted a good laugh from the second man because he had never seriously considered opening a MySpace account.

How often do you suppose this scene plays out every day? One librarian had worked an entire career without needing an online social network. The new hire is emerging from a college environment where it’s unthinkable NOT to participate in a network.

There’s clearly a broad cultural range, but it’s not just a generational difference. Depending on your exposure or experience, sites like MySpace and Facebook are either foreign countries or hometowns. You can see them becoming pieces of exchange just as business cards, phone numbers, and email addresses have been. In the meantime, though, expect the differences.

My grocery store has wifi now

October 10, 2007

Have you noticed how quickly “cutting edge” technology becomes “common place” these days? Will your library’s decision-making, training, and services be nimble enough to keep pace? Is that even a choice?

Mashing LibraryThing and Polaris

October 8, 2007

The other day I mentioned computer code with which Polaris was toying to add more “funability” (Tim Spalding’s word) to the library catalog. Here’s how it would work:

Let’s say you bring up Lois Lowry’s The Giver. The first part of that bibliographic record is straight out of the library’s PAC, but nicely tucked below is a tag cloud piped in from LibraryThing‘s database of 25 million tags. Catalog users would get great visual cues about the book from the few thousand readers who tagged their own copy of the book in LibraryThing.

The words are not fixed LC subject headings. They were entered by readers of the book. That means the words will more likely relate to the readers browsing your catalog. There’s real benefit to that. (LC subject headings are still available in the PAC’s detailed view, mind you. For The Giver, they lead off with “Euphemism” and “Euthanasia”. Yawn.)

But the fun doesn’t stop there…

Click one of the tags and some LibraryThing javascript (inspired by LightBox) generates a long list of books that best match that particular tag. Who made that list? Everyone who tagged their own books. It’s an example of social website collaboration.  Tim Spalding has done such a remarkable job finding relationships in all his data crunching that the results are eerily good. What’s more, the titles returned from LibraryThing seamlessly filter out books not in your library’s catalog. Your patrons won’t be bogged down with stuff they can’t readily get their hands on. They can also continue clicking and browsing.

Tim described this concept months ago and has been able to tack it onto the catalogs of a few individual libraries already. I previously mentioned Danbury as the first example but, as far as I know, Bryan Rubenau at Polaris is the first to write code toward fully implementing this stuff into the guts of an ILS software package. His preliminary code rocks. If it goes into a future upgrade*, catalog users might soon search the reader-contributed tags (like “chick lit”) just as easily as they search titles, authors, and subject headings.

Impressed? Join the club.

*At the moment, Polaris is looking into the specific requirements for integration and asking its customers if they’re interested. There’s no formal partnership between LibraryThing and Polaris.

Snippets of PUG

October 6, 2007

Conferences dispense so many topics that it’s hard to pluck just one headline from the annual Polaris Users’ Group (PUG) Conference that wrapped up in Syracuse, NY today. I’ll mention a few snippets now and elaborate later.

Tim Spalding, founder of LibraryThing, delivered a good — often hilarious — keynote address yesterday urging libraries to make their catalogs more fun, and more willing to use data tools that discover book relationships not tied to standard subject headings. His Death Star metaphor for OCLC might be a tad over the top, but I’ll gladly follow him down the road of tags and tag clouds. He’s done amazing things with his database of nearly 25 million member-generated tags. (More on that in a future post.)

As a fan of social networking tools, my favorite news of the week came just after the keynote: Polaris programmers have written code exploring a connection with LibraryThing. About six months ago Tim started talking up the possibility of integrating catalogs with LibraryThing tag clouds and related books lists. (I remember this clearly because we tried to engrave our library’s name on his list the following day.) The Danbury Library has it working already. It’s pretty slick. In recent weeks, Polaris programmers were intrigued enough to start writing code to its ILS software to maximize all the bells and whistles that would come streaming in from LibraryThing. There’s no formal partnership between the two, mind you, and no certainty that the coding will go into a new release, but there’s enough written code that Polaris gave us a working demo. I’m a bit partial to the toolkit, mind you, but tag clouds and tag-generated book suggestions in the Polaris ILS looks fantastic. I’ll post screen shots in LibraryStream as soon as I get them.

I was also intrigued to learn more details about the Dewey-free Perry Branch in Maricopa County (AZ). They made news around the world earlier this year when they opened with a design modeled on contemporary bookstores. Materials are arranged by book industry labels (like “Pets” and “Cooking”) rather than Dewey Decimals (like 636 or 641). Cindy Kolaczynski, Maricopa’s Deputy Director, gave background and a progress report at PUG this morning. I’ve got my doubts about going entirely bookstore-based, but love the spirit of experimentation at Maricopa. If no one tries things like this, we’re all just flapping about theory. I’ll come back to this topic, too.

I gave a presentation at this year’s conference — “Training 2.0: How to expose and inspire your staff to the social web” — but I hope that this blog will give you the gist of that over time.

Finally, PUG reminded me the value of face-to-face, meet-in-the-hallway connections that happen so often at conferences. To the many new people I met in Syracuse: It’s a pleasure. To those I had met before: Our conversations seemed to simply pick up where we had left off. To those of you going to other conferences: Eat them up.

If you stumbled upon this blog…

October 2, 2007

Welcome. I’m not quite ready for regular postings yet, but you’re welcome to snoop around while I set up the site. After I return from the Polaris Users’ Group conference next week, I’ll launch this blog for good.

My plan is to use this blog to follow the course of social software in general and its value to libraries specifically. I’m the system trainer at a large public library system in the Pacific Northwest, a social web participant, and an avid reader. I hope I can marshall all those hats into an interesting blog. The two postings just below this one link to recent articles I’ve written elsewhere.

Why call it “Library Stream”? It has to do with the flow of ideas. I suppose there’s a kinship to Flickr’s “photostream” and technology’s “streaming” audio & video, too. But there’s one more thought the “Library Stream” name conjures up for me. It’s the idea that change has become so common in the modern library that — like a stream — you’ll never set foot in the same library twice.

Please visit again. I hope to swap stories with you in the future.

Social web classes

October 2, 2007

More groundwork as I prepare to start this blog …

WebJunction published two of my articles last month.

Building a social library

October 2, 2007

As I a warm-up lap for the long-distance effort of writing a library-related blog like this, it might be good to connect to a guest blog that I wrote for Michael Stephens earlier this summer: Building a Social Library.


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