LibraryThing Local

March 3, 2008

LibraryThing’s been at it again. The social networking site for book lovers added another nice feature today. This one — LibraryThing Local — focuses on libraries, bookstores, and book festivals. As Tim Spalding explained in his blog, LibraryThing Local is:

“a gateway to thousands of local bookstores, libraries and book festivals—and to all the author readings, signings, discussions and other events they host. It is our attempt to accomplish what hasn’t happened yet—the effective linking of the online and offline book worlds.”

At the moment, any LibraryThing member* can add and edit their favorite locations. The entry form includes (or has the potential for) each venue’s address, phone, fax, email, and URL; a map to the place; amenities (like food and wifi); and RSS feeds for programs and events.

Retrieval is a snap. A user can simply enter a city and LibraryThing Local’s page will feed upcoming events to them. A clickable map [see the example above] populates all the nearby venues. Without checking a lot of different websites, readers can see what authors are in town and what’s happening at your library AND all the other book places nearby.

An independent book store owner I know had been wanting to share announcements of author events with other book stores and libraries. This makes the job much easier. An RSS feed might be all that’s needed. How do you suppose your library can benefit from this?

Great work, Tim. Again.


*I immediately added my county library branches, my university’s library, and three favorite bookstores. It’s easy. Check too see if your library is listed. If you’re a LT member, add your favorite book place.


Leap Day fun

February 29, 2008

A library must be useful but it ought to have a sense of humor as well. We want people to be happy to see us. That goes for our online presence, too.

This has nothing to do with libraries, mind you, but I’d love to see a library website fall apart like this retailer’s website in the Netherlands. Kudos to Hema [here is their normal website] for letting customers in on a little fun.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of goofy things on our intranet (mirror-imaged the home page, turned the “staff”web into a disease-ridden “staph”web, etc.) but we’ve been pretty tame on the public side.  Has your library website had fun?


Buzzword: Web-based word processing

February 17, 2008

I’m jazzed about Buzzword, a new web-based word processor created by Virtual Ubiquity and now under Adobe management. It’s easy to learn and easy to use. After a simple sign-up process* I was up and running.

The screen is attractive and the tools are largely intuitive. In fact, the toolbars appear better organized than those I’ve seen in many PC-based word processor programs. So far I’ve found every tool I’ve needed or gone looking for: margins, tables, spell-check, text/background colors, images, headers/footers, etc. It even has an always-visible word count and a page-numbered scroll bar.

A comment feature allows meta info and the collaboration possibilities** seem at least as good as Google Docs. I’ll have to experiment more to be sure. I can save my documents as an online Buzzword file, plain text, rich text format, or Word document, and then access my files from anywhere. (Don’t you just love the convenience of online storage?!)

Downsides? Despite Adobe’s involvement with Buzzword, there’s no PDF format yet. And there’s an occasional delay in the typing-response time, but it’s not bad for an on-line application. Not bad at all. It’s just a teensy bit jittery. That might change depending on your machine and browser; I’ve only tried it on two of each so far and noticed a difference.

If you try Buzzword, please let me know what you think.


* Name, email, and password; it couldn’t be much simpler.
** Why email copies to several people when you can share a single document online?


Learn More: Twitter

January 14, 2008

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

“It’s Monday? Again??”

That’s how I enthusiastically embraced the work week this morning in Twitter. Several friends saw the 20-character message because my random thought wandered out across the social web. The same thing happened when I was “kicking the day out of my shoes” and when I was “gardening – Olive Gardening.”

Many social sites let you express your thoughts and creativity, but none compresses that expression with the concise style of Twitter. The popular site asks you to share what you’re doing or thinking in 140 characters or less. That’s only about 20-25 words. You might call it a microblog.

Some people don’t get the concept; others love it. Big announcements — “I got the job!” (14 characters) – are possible, but most entries – “gotta go to another meeting” (27 characters) – don’t reveal much. Twitter’s value increases over time, however, as friends learn more about each other from the collected log of messages. Your followers might discover what excites you, what annoys you, and glimpse some of your life’s miscellany that would never make it into an email.

Users can send tweets (as Twitter messages are known) via mobile phones and pipe them into other applications, too. That makes the site even more appealing to folks who like to be in continuous “live” mode online. You can arrange meetings on the run and connect with friends wherever they are.

Critics say Twitter is a waste of time and produces endless blather. Let them say that! “At least it’s short blather” (27 characters).

Meaning for libraries

I can’t offer a long list of Twitter applications for libraries.  I’m not yet convinced it can attract or assist patrons much, but I’d certainly recommend experimentation.

A university library — dealing with a finite community of users — might find twittering more productive than a public library. A librarian with a network of patron followers might develop ways to share short service updates: “Lots of computers are available right now” (41 characters) or “Just got the new * in the mail” (29+ characters).

Library staff should be aware of Twitter, at least. Many of our patrons use the site in their private lives. Librarians use it, too, and any networking within the profession is good.

Learn more by participating

In the spirit of the site, I’ll keep this short.

  • Open a Twitter account.
  • Encourage a coworker or friend to join, too.
  • Become followers of each other.
  • Post a tweet a few times a day, every day this week.
  • Whattya think? Is it fun? Might it be useful? Is it a waste?

My 56-character Twitter update: “Steve is prepared for the week now. Oh, wait a minute…”


Learn More: Wikis

December 17, 2007

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

If you gather a committee, write a draft document, and solicit feedback, you might receive scores of revisions in email and on paper. Compiling all those changes back into a single coherent document could be a long and tedious task. On the other hand, you could create a wiki. That would enable everyone to work on the same collaborative document and compile changes on the fly. A wiki is basically a read/write website open to anyone with permissions.

Wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning “quick”. Ward Cunningham, who developed the wiki concept in the mid-1990s, named his WikiWikiWeb program after the “wiki wiki” shuttle bus he encountered at the Honolulu Airport. It seemed the perfect name for a web platform intended to give users quick access to editing tools.

The largest and most famous wiki, of course, is Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia, where thousands of contributors have complied a global encyclopedia with more than 2 million English language articles (and even more than that number in other languages). Most other encyclopedias publish articles written and vetted by experts; Wikipedia entries are created and edited by anyone volunteering the time and effort. Accounts aren’t even required! Readers add information, correct typographical and grammatical errors, and contribute to a worldwide public-review process that is much faster than traditional peer-reviewed documents.

Meaning for libraries

Here are three ideas for libraries to consider.

  • Accuracy. Information in a wiki is mostly accurate, but who knows? How’s that for a ringing endorsement? Wikipedia, the largest of all wikis, has been studied* and found to be reasonably accurate. It might not be peer-reviewed by recognized authorities, but it is read and continually re-edited by thousands of people. There is vandalism, to be sure, but most people don’t make changes unless they are confident of their facts and they are more likely to contribute good information than bad.
    My opinion: A site like Wikipedia is a reasonable place to begin a search. You can pick up a few facts and grasp an understanding of a subject. However, it probably isn’t the best place to end a search. Don’t prohibit its use as a resource, but encourage people to supplement it with other sources.
  • Collaboration. Libraries increasingly use wikis within the profession.
    • Wikis created by the international library community provide ample room for collaboration toward common goals.
    • Library conferences have begun providing wikis. Planners, speakers, and attendees compile information and experiences without the need or delay of editors.
    • Intranet-based wikis may be helpful within an organization. University libraries have been active in this regard. I recently began a manual-writing project on an internal wiki open to supervisors at my public library. Such wikis can foster the participation of many people without the usual drag of long committee meetings.
  • Patrons. Wikis can be created for library patrons. Bookclubs and teen programs might help construct and/or benefit from them. A “Community Places” section seems custom-made for residents who know their area better than anyone. A wiki can give them a venue for sharing their knowledge with others.

Learn more by participating

Nothing demonstrates the concept of a wiki better than just diving in. Here are a few explorations I’d encourage you to try this week.

  • Go to Wikipedia and search a few topics that are near & dear to you. Topics might include a town or a hobby you know well.
  • Read over each article. Look at the organization and note the writing style. This article was probably not written by a single person. Several people likely compiled it over months or years.
  • Click the “History” tab to see past activity on the page.
  • Click the “Edit this page” tab to open the page’s editing functions.
  • Browse the source code to familiarize yourself with the text and format code of this particular wiki. Wikipedia was built on MediaWiki software. Other wiki platforms may use a different mark-up language.
  • If you honestly have something to contribute, edit or add to the page and save it. That’s how wikis evolve: one reader/writer at a time.

  • Bonus: If you or your library are interested in creating your own wiki, there are many software types available. Shop around for the best fit. Some services charge, others are free; some are open to public view, others are private; some host pages for you, others allow software downloads to your server. Here are three examples: MediaWiki, PBWiki , WetPaint.

Collaboration. Participation. It’s all part of the social web.


* most famously by Nature magazine, Dec. 15, 2005.


Today’s front page

December 14, 2007

Curious what’s on the front page today? There’s a website that delivers the front pages of 600+ newspapers from all over the world with a mouseover. Simply run your mouse over a city dot on the Newseum map and you’ll see today’s front page of that city’s local paper in full color. Click the city dot and the front page becomes readable. It’s pretty slick.

How will this impact all those newspaper resources we subscribe to at the library? This provides only the front page, of course, but with the extremely easy browsing map interface and the typical availability of a newspaper’s website for complete articles, will it satisfice our patrons?


Social networking is getting the traffic

December 12, 2007

If anyone needed more evidence that people increasingly use the Internet to interact, just look at the current list of sites getting the most traffic worldwide.

  1. Yahoo!
  2. Google
  3. Microsoft Live
  4. YouTube
  5. MSN
  6. MySpace
  7. Facebook
  8. Wikipedia
  9. Hi5
  10. Orkut

Source: alexa.com, 12/12/2007

Four of the ten sites are search engines (1, 2, 3, 5), but five are social web sites (4, 6, 7, 9, 10) and the lone .org on the list — Wikipedia — is a social collaboration. When you consider that the four search engines have email, instant messaging, and personalized content, it’s tough to deny that the web is steering decidedly toward interaction. In fact, the only “information” website in the Top 20 is Microsoft at #18. YouTube traffic even exceeds Google on weekends now.

The Top 5 sites in the United States?
Google, Yahoo!, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook.

Question: Libraries have long been known as sources of information. Shouldn’t they be known as places of interaction, too?