Internet Utilities

February 27, 2008

The concept of Internet utilities intrigues me. Increasingly, I’ve been living it for the last three or four years, but hadn’t heard the term until last December when I read The Big Switch, a new book by Nicholas Carr. [My review.]

The concept is simple. The mundane computer stuff you have been buying and maintaining locally (i.e. software, upgrades, data backups, etc.) could be farmed out to remote services on the Internet thereby freeing you to create, process, and save.

I don’t have a separately purchased word processor on my laptop, for instance. I use Google documents and now Buzzword, too. They do almost everything I ask. For free. And the documents saved online are available anywhere I go. I seldom fuss with syncing copies or loading files to a traveling memory stick. A spare drive is handy at times but seldom crucial.

No email is stored on my machine. For about $25 a year I store most of my photos on Flickr. Not all are public, but all are accessible. I can pull images from my stockpile and use them in blogs and elsewhere. I use desktop photo and video editing software now, but I’m starting to fiddle with online photo editors, too. I use my laptop more than ever, but it holds little more than music and document drafts anymore.

In short, Internet utilities provide the applications, the functions, the storage, and the access for me. They also handle the endless upgrades and bug fixes.

In his book, Carr compared the advent of this era with the dawn of electrical utilities. Factories in the 19th century used to generate their own power. It was part of their business. If you made textiles, you built a mill on a river and ran your looms with belts set spinning by your waterwheel. If you needed steam power, you created it. Eventually, electrical utilities took on the power hassles. They could efficiently generate electricity off-site and supply it to subscribers. Businesses went back to what they were good at and let the utilities fuss with building power grids and transmission systems.

Internet utilities are starting to do the same. IT departments that occupy large portions of every organization might be increasingly freed from the hassles of upgrading hundreds of machines with each new software version or bug fix. Data backups could be automated and off-site. Scalable utility services could probably handle fluctuations in use and storage needs, too. Local IT would still need to handle hardware, troubleshooting, consulting, and parameter settings, but many of the tedious maintenance tasks could be handled by subscription.

Many services are free (or low cost) to individuals now. Organizations with much greater needs would pay more for such services but utilities will likely be more efficient and less expensive than current in-house operations. Many smaller libraries already subscribe to Internet services such as workstation management and catalog support.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not all rosy. A slew of thoughts came to mind reading up on the subject. Issues relating to our data’s security [Is it backed up? How often? At different locations? How strong are the firewalls?], availability [How reliable is it? How fast is it? Can the bandwidth handle it? How often might it go down?], privacy [Whose property is it? Can others see it? Can the utility mine it for data? How much tinkering can we do with the parameters?] and permanence [If we delete something, is it really gone?] need to be addressed before any sane organization buys into the idea completely.

These concerns are real, but the concept of Internet utilities seems more a matter of when than if.


Learn More: Blogs and Blogging, pt 2

February 5, 2008

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

Welcome back. I’m terribly sorry I missed a week and left you hanging between Part 1 and Part 2 like that. If you’d like to review the basics of a blog, here’s an outstanding short video from the folks at the Common Craft Show: Blogs in Plain English.

MEANING FOR LIBRARIES

Individuals start blogs for many reasons. A family member coping with a medical condition or treatment might post progress reports with far less time and trouble than daily emails to individual family and friends. The same is true for people striving for a goal (running marathons, climbing mountains, losing weight, opening a business) or keeping a travel diary.

Libraries can help these individual bloggers by providing access, start-up assistance, and reasonable ongoing support. Your library might consider offering a blogging class for the public. If kept simple, even a novice can create an attractive blog and understand the basics within a single hour workshop.

Within the library world, Librarians use blogs to share ideas and experiences, prepare for conferences, and report news and issues from those conferences. Jenny Levine, The Shifted Librarian, is one of the masters of live blogging — describing a presentation while it’s still underway.

Libraries can dive into blogging as institutions, too.

  • An active teen group might consider keeping a blog to talk about upcoming events or rehash the last one.
  • Staff interested in reader’s or viewer’s advisory can review new books, movies, or music available at the library and solicit patron feedback. Reviews should be honest, though. Proudly book talk, sure, but be willing to rag on something that deserves it, too.
  • Reference staff might contribute some chatter about new databases, tools, and invaluable resources.
  • Directors can become more connected to their communities by writing about current library issues (rearranging floor space, offering new services or programs, funding issues) in a conversational style. Tell the newspaper about it. The growing archive of transparent library operations could become an invaluable addition to their reputation.
  • My favorite idea for a blog: An employee of any rank with a talent for entertaining prose and a healthy awareness of the library’s need for decorum and patron privacy could amuse readers on any subject he/she cares to approach. (“Funny thing happened as we were packing up from storytime today…”)

These blogs need not reach a wide audience to be successful, but they will likely find a niche once they’re advertised and talked up at programs.

My personal belief is that blogs shouldn’t be viewed as tools unto themselves but as part of an overall interactive strategy; an extension of personal service in the library; informal communication with chance of feedback.

Of course, any blogs on the Internet might also attract readers outside your traditional service area. That’s okay. But local publicity and a steady focus on your target audience should maintain a healthy balance.

Want to browse more varieties? Ellyssa Kroski, the iLibrarian recently listed 18 Different Kinds of Blog Posts.

LEARN MORE BY PARTICIPATING

Think about a blog you’d like to create.

  • Consider a topic. This could be a fun topic you use as practice, or a serious topic you plan to develop fully. Some ideas: hobbies, crafts, pets, experiences, traveling, reading interests, music, faith, politics, issue advocacy, etc. Just make sure it’s something you feel comfortable discussing in public!
  • Consider your audience. Who would you like to read your blog? (Examples: family, friends, coworkers, library patrons, fellow hobbyists, anyone?)
  • Consider a voice. How formal/informal do you want to be? You should write with your audience in mind.

Now create it!

  • Set up an account. There are many free platforms out there, but Blogger and WordPress are popular and have easy set-up processes. Blogging software can also be installed on a server of your choosing, too. Your library might have blog capabilities. Ask.
  • Paint the walls. Give it a name, choose a template (layout, colors, tools), and write a profile. Get comfortable with it.
  • Write a brief “Hello World” introductory post. Mention your objective. Be honest.
  • Post at least two other blogs over the course of the week. Practice your conversational voice and pacing. There’s no need to say everything at once. There’s always next time…
  • Solicit some feedback. Send your address to a few friends or coworkers and solicit their feedback.
  • Continue the blog indefinitely if you enjoy this exercise. Growing it may take some skill and marketing, but that’s another topic…

[Caution: Use your discretion how much personal information you are willing to divulge online. More on that in a future post.]


Learn More: Blogs and Blogging, pt 1

January 22, 2008

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

Like the social networking topic we discussed a few weeks ago, blogging is simply too big to take in all at once. So much has been written about blogs that I’m a tad hesitant to add my text to the pile. For the sake of inclusion within this series, however, here goes. We’ll start today and continue with Part 2 next week.

People have been keeping private journals for centuries. A diarist might have carried on an ongoing conversation with himself and used it as a record of his thoughts and feelings as those thoughts and feelings developed. Authors, meanwhile, have written public works in books and periodicals for mass-consumption. The cost of production (i.e., materials and distribution) limited publishing access to writers with exceptional knowledge, skill, or monetary resources.

The Internet and easy-to-use software have removed the barriers to publication and the cultural shift that followed the advent of the social web has changed the nature of the journal-writing. Both effects may now be seen in blogs. A blog, by simple definition, is a journal maintained on the Internet. It was originally called a web log, then later shortened to weblog and finally, blog.

Setting up a blog and publishing to the world is free. It also requires no competency tests or admissions process. That’s bad in the sense that there’s a lot gunk out there that would have been filtered out by learned editors in the past. But it’s good because there are many gems that those editors would have rejected, too. Knowledge and skill play significant roles in whether the blog is widely read, but the audience can decide that. Assuming a writer has something to say and knows how to say it well, a blog can be an effective vehicle with which to express a point of view to the world. This can be done immediately at virtually no cost.

Some blog writers (a.k.a. bloggers) are online journalists, tracking traditional news in a nontraditional medium, or specializing in subjects that had no previous forums. Many bloggers are online diarists, making public what past generations would have kept private. And some bloggers post only for themselves, their friends, or family. They don’t seek vast audiences; they merely share with each other. Most bloggers allow readers to comment. They encourage it, in fact. It fosters discussion about the topic and lets everyone swap ideas and opinions.

The result of all this is a rich cacophony of conversation ranging from insightful to useless, written with talents varying from gifted to abysmal, and reaching audiences from millions worldwide to perhaps no one. The blogosphere (i.e., the collection of all blogs) is online self-publishing writ large. Anyone can participate as long as they’re interested.

PARTS OF A BLOG

  • Posts. The basic building blocks of a blog are the individual articles. They can very long — as long as the chapter of a book — or extremely brief. Some include links to other websites, photos, or video clips. Whatever their individual style, however, blog posts are usually displayed in reverse chronological order so that the newest posts appear at the top. Older entries get pushed down the page.
  • Comments. Blogs almost always allow readers to add or view comments. This invites everyone to get involved in the topic.
  • Tools. Often a blog has a collection of sidebar tools to aid the reader. These tools may include an archive of old postings, an author profile, and a “blog roll” of links to other blogs that the writer finds interesting.

Meaning for libraries

“Hmm,” the blogger murmurs while glancing at the length of this blog post and holding his fingers to his chin. “Let’s save this topic until Part 2.”

Learn more by participating

We’ll save the set-up and development of our own blogs for Part 2. Right now, let’s explore a bit. Visit a variety of blogs on two or three separate days this week (15-20 minutes each):

  • Obviously you’re already reading LibraryStream. Now visit a few of the library-related blogs listed in my blogroll in the right-hand margin. Explore, scroll, and click. Get a feel for the content and style of the various blogs.
  • Would you like to see more library blogs? There are many lists out there, including the blogrolls of other blogs. I encourage you to wander! I enjoy browsing Dave Pattern’s biblioblogosphere tag cloud for interesting new topics, too.
  • Want to break free of the library world? Go to Technorati or Google’s blogsearch and search any topic that strikes your fancy. Blogs are written about almost any subject you can imagine. See what’s out there.
  • Remember when I said that the blogosphere is “a rich cacophony of conversation ranging from insightful to useless, written with talents varying from gifted to abysmal”? I wasn’t kidding! :-)

Now think about a blog YOU might create. Get your imagination humming. I’ll see you next week in Part 2.


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.


Hello world!

September 25, 2007

I’m in draft mode for a couple weeks.  Just light stuff until launch time in early- to mid- October.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.