Is there an app for people who are tired of apps?

I don’t have a smartphone, so all these “apps” I am constantly hearing about are pretty much useless to me. Even though Mashable.com says that smartphone use will grow by 49.2% in 2011, I will not be among those users given that I am a poor student with one year left on my contract. But that doesn’t mean libraries shouldn’t investigate how they can use mobile technology to connect with the increasing number of smartphone users. Having a mobile site or an app is just another example of being where your patrons are.

Earlier this month I attended a CLA workshop at Ottawa Public Library about OPL’s new mobile site. Chris Simmons, a systems librarian at OPL who delivered the presentation, noted that mobile sites should be stripped-down versions of the library’s site. This makes sense, since people connecting to the library on a mobile device are more likely to be trying to accomplish a task such as renewing a book than they are to be browsing. OPL’s focus included the catalogue, e-books, and databases as well as locations, programs, and readers’ advisory pages. OPL would also like to offer reference services through text message or instant messaging to reach patrons on the go. As Simmons pointed out, the problem of creating an app vs. a site is that the library would have to create a separate app for each operating system, which means constantly checking to see which devices are the most popular and creating apps for them. This is expensive and time-consuming, and while it seem good enough to create an app for the most popular one or two devices, with the rate that technology changes, what is popular today may not be tomorrow.

I found it quite interesting to see UWO’s mobile site. It is  certainly bare compared to the regular site but it has the most important information, such as hours, contact information, and the catalogue and databases. I like that there is a link to the regular site for those whose devices could handle it. One potential problem with the site is that only a limited number of databases are available. I’m not sure if this was UWO’s choice or if it has anything to do with which databases can be displayed as mobile sites.

Before this week’s lesson, I didn’t know much about QR codes. I had seen them before but I have not had any reason to use them, again because I don’t have the internet on my phone. Using QR codes to link print items to electronic catalogue records seems like an obvious thing to do, but Ashford’s article mentioned many good ideas, such as QR codes that load the library’s contact information into the user’s phone. It sounds like QR codes are actually relatively easy and cheap to obtain, which means libraries don’t have to stretch the budget to try out the technology (though of course staff time will be required to learn how to use QR codes and to implement them).

I can’t say I have much experience with podcasts, either, but I am a bit more familiar with them. I like the idea of libraries making events such as story times and author readings available as podcasts so that anyone can enjoy them from anywhere in the world. Podcasts can also serve a readers’ advisory function if librarians record their book talks. Patrons can get involved too by submitting podcasts or vodcasts (side note: I hate the word “vodcast”) about favourite books. I am actually hoping to take a course next semester on internet broadcasting so that I can learn more about podcasts since I see it as something useful I could use in my future career as a librarian. Maybe if I can figure out how to make a podcast this week I’ll be ahead of the game for next term.

UPDATE: The podcast is now available here.

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Cloud Computing

I admit that before this lesson I had no idea what cloud computing was, let alone that I was using a “cloud” every time I logged in to Facebook. The cloud can be used by libraries to give users faster access to information, for example, documents they can open on Google Docs. Blocking sites such as Facebook cuts people off from these information sources and is unlikely to win the library any new fans. Instead, libraries can help educate users, such as offering a workshop on how to use mobile apps. The cloud can also be used for photo storage by posting everything on Flickr.

The OCLC article helps put into perspective what cloud computing can do for libraries. Having common data, such as bibliographic records and user-created content such as tags, saves time and allows for increased sharing of information and reduced cost (though I suppose there are downfalls, such as sharing a bibliographic record with an error in it!). I find the QuestionPoint idea quite interesting. Librarians can get help with reference questions from colleagues around the globe. Not only does this help librarians provide better service for patrons, especially those in smaller branches who may be the only staff member present and may have limited resources, but it is a great way for librarians to network. I like that the service is also available through Facebook and mobile phones, since this makes it easier for users to access. Perhaps a service like QuestionPoint can be the answer to the dilemma of wanting to provide 24/7 virtual reference service without having 24/7 staff.

One issue I have about cloud computing is this: if information is being stored on some other network, who has access to it, and how secure is it? If GoogleDocs documents are stored on a server in the United States, how does that affect us in Canada? I don’t know if I would be willing to trust the “cloud” with sensitive information, and yet I have personal photos on Facebook. I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not sure I fully understand what cloud computing is, even after doing this week’s readings, but I expect things like QuestionPoint will probably take off in the near future.

Tag! You’re it!

Tagging can be a useful way for people to categorize things using their own words, which makes it easier for them to find it later. It is also useful in instances where controlled vocabularies are lacking, such as slang or new technology. It can also be interesting to click on a tag and see how it has been used by others. The problem of tagging, though, is that not everyone thinks the same way, and tags that are meaningful to some people might be completely meaningless to others. Allowing users to tag items in the library catalogue makes it more social and provides more opportunity for patrons to feel involved in creating the content of the website. But how can the library control for appropriate tags? And what is “appropriate”? Should it limited to removing any tags containing profanity or other potentially offensive terms? On the other hand, subject headings such as Library of Congress are not always up to date on certain topics, and seeing how users tag items might give librarians insight into additional terms they might consider when cataloguing.

For this week’s activity, I decided to join delicious. I had been meaning to look into it for a while, but had never gotten around to it. I like the idea of being able to check my bookmarks from any computer, since I currently have a laptop and a desktop and I know for a fact I do not have all the same sites bookmarked on each. I first had to create an account (delicious.com/kimthelibrarian) and then bookmark a few sites. I thought it was interesting to see the tags other people have given sites that I bookmarked, and I had fun making my own tags and notes as well. So far I have only marked a few sites that I could find easily without a socail bookmarking site. However, I could see this being really useful for those times when you stumble across something that you want to check out later. The ability to add tags and notes makes it easy for you to remember later why you thought that site was so interesting. I could see libraries using a site like delicious to bookmark useful reference sites that could be acccessed by any staff member anywhere in the library or at home, using the tags to make it obvious how the site might be useful, for example, for answering a certain type of reference question.

The Twitterverse

A few months ago, I joined Twitter. I had never had any interest in it before, thinking that I didn’t need another place to read people’s status updates since I already had Facebook, and Facebook seems a lot more versatile. After using Twitter for a while, my opinion really has not changed. I follow a few friends on Twitter, but mostly I use it as a source of news by following various publishers, librarians, library bloggers, and library-related organizations. In this sense, it is a quick way to keep track of what is going on in the worlds of libraries and publishing. Honestly, though, I find that I don’t care about 90% of what is on there. Sometimes I will see a tweet about a book that sounds interesting or a contest to enter, but sometimes it just feels like a lot of noise and, even worse, spam. I will keep using it, but I wonder how I could use it more effectively.

A lot of library Twitter pages seem very one-way and seem to consist mostly of status updates. These sites seems superflous if the library has a Facebook account. As I learned while researching Assignment 1, these types of Twitter feeds don’t encourage user interaction. The New York Public Library actually does a good job of replying to tweets from patrons as well as posting interesting links and other tidbits such as “Reference Book of the Day”. I like the idea from kellydallen’s blog about linking current events to the library, such as Tweeting about a Lance Armstrong book during the Tour de France. This is an easy way to promote the collection and remind people of overlooked items. Providing a direct link to the catalogue just makes it that much easier for someone to request the item. I didn’t know about the Twitter Search feature, which enables you to find out if someone nearby tweeted about, say, a library. Could be useful to reach out to new people who may not already be following the library.

Since I already use Twitter, I decided to try TweetDeck. I have noticed that sometimes people’s tweets are via TweetDeck, but I never knew what that meant. To start off, I added just my Twitter account. I really like that there is a column for Mentions. This makes it easy to see tweets directed at you, which can get lost amidst all of the constant chatter on Twitter. I also like that when a new Tweet is posted, it shows up right away. I have Old Twitter, and you get the “1 new tweet” message and then have to click the link to see what it is. I also find it a lot easier to post photos and videos (I don’t really know how to do this in Twitter and haven’t bothered to learn because I don’t see the need).

After playing around with Twitter, I added Facebook to TweetDeck. I can see how it is convenient to post a Facebook and Twitter update simultaneously. It saves time for libraries that use both. Another cool thing about TweetDeck is that you can add columns from Facebook, such as status updates and wall posts, and you can create groups to filter it so that only certain people appear. Maybe I will try this so I can filter out some of the people I don’t talk to as much. Overall, TweetDeck seems useful for managing multiple social media accounts at once, though the interface will still take some getting used to for me.

The Social Network

The Social Network might not have won Best Picture at the Oscars, but there is no denying that Facebook has changed the way people communicate. I sometimes find it invasive having all these “friends,” most of whom I never actually talk to, seeing photos of me and knowing what I am up to, though I do use privacy limits to restrict certain content. I probably don’t care about 80% of what I read in my Newsfeed but I am still on Facebook. Why? Because if I become one of those 10% of women who don’t have a Facebook account, I might miss out on social events planned on Facebook or be left out of important conversations.

I read Agosto and Abbas’s article on teens and social networking with interest. I find it kind if appalling that some libraries would block teens from using Facebook, especially as studies have shown that teens do protect their privacy online. I understand the concerns about safety and minors, but I don’t think blocking something is the answer. Why not have a workshop to show teens how to stay safe online, or make a YouTube video or podcast that can be posted on the teen section of the library website? Using social media tools to educate teens might be a better way to reach them.

Park’s article pointed out that undergraduates in their early 20s were quick to adopt new technologies and were comfortable using them, but had a short attention span. Libraries should keep this in mind when trying to use social media tools to connect with young users. What is popular today might not be tomorrow (hello, MySpace!) so libraries must be careful as to how they invest their time and energy.

Since I am already on Facebook, I decided to join LinkedIn. I don’t think very many people I know use this site, perhaps because it is more geared toward the private sector. I find using this site challenging because I feel like it is necessary to be truthful about the information I provide (such as using my real name) because it is employment-focused, but I am not sure how much personal information I want to share. I will keep playing around with my profile and see if I am able to find anyone I know on this site.