LibraryThing… You make my heart sing…

My Library at LibraryThing

Yep, I was right – I love LibraryThing. Having now managed to create an account and add some books I can confidently say that here is the Thing I like best so far about Cam23. It took a little time at first to get used to navigating around and finding the best way to add records for my books, but a little bit of patience goes a long way and I’ve been having great fun adding books to my shelf and tinkering with the details to get them ‘just so’.

Having explored a bit more, I think I would stick with my initial impressions and say that this is something that works best for small libraries with little resource for cataloguing, and new acquisitions or discrete collections in larger libraries. I agree with Miss Crail when she says that, as an institution if you’re going to go down this road it needs to be done professionally and not half-heartedly. And I can imagine that Girl in the Moon, as an ‘inveterate tinkerer’ could be kept going for several weeks by this site.

I’ve gone for a personal account and added 20 or so books out of the hundreds on the shelves at home – my other half keeps hinting that, as a librarian, perhaps I’d like to catalogue our collection(!). The answer is ‘No’, but this may be just the thing (excuse the pun). I’m not sure that I’d bother to review many of my books, unless I felt particularly moved to – there aren’t enough hours in the day, and I could spend the time reading :-), but I like being able to ‘rate’ the books and it’s interesting seeing the variety of tags that can be assigned to the same book.

On the downside, I find it a little bit irritating that you can’t seem to browse LibraryThing from your homepage – the easiest way seemed to be through the ‘add books’ tab, which isn’t really what I want. And I’m not convinced this widgety thing is going to work when I hit ‘publish’, but both these minor niggles could be entirely due to my own ineptitude rather than anything else.

Overall, a huge thumbs up for LibraryThing! Hurrah!

What’s on my bookshelf?

Clangers, courtesy of diamond geezer's photostream

Well, books for a start. Probably a half-drunk cup of tea, some pictures (both in frames and out of frames), some loose change, several coasters, a Clanger (one that makes clanger noises when you squeeze its tummy), and almost certainly lots of other bits and pieces that I can’t remember right now. It would appear that LibraryThing only deals with the ‘books’ part of the list though – maybe they could add a ‘nicknaks’ widget next…

My first impressions of LibraryThing are very favourable – I like the ethos of its creator, Tim Spalding, who seems adamant that it’s something that should be left to grow at its own speed and who refused to sell out to the first person that exprerssed and interest; I like the collaborative aspect; I like the idea of user-generated recommendations and tagging; and I like being nosey.

Having set aside this hour to create my account and start adding books to my bookshelf, it is fairly predicatble that LibraryThing is currently down. However, I’ve had a look at some library websites that incorporate LTFL into their catalogue dsiplays and think that it’s quite a good way of implementing what many of us talked about in Thing 8, namely integrating user tagging into library catalogues as an extra point of access alongside LCSH.

I can’t imagine larger libraries going wholesale for the LibraryThing thing, but for discrete collections or recent acquisitions it seems ideal. Could it also be used to encourage students to develop their own book collections? Or as a tool for collection development? Perhaps even as a way of managing recommendations? The possibilites are huge, but would require careful monitoring and wide participation for it to work really well.

Perhaps I’ll have a better idea when I’ve explored a bit more – I hope it’s not down for long, I’m keen to get going!

p.s. Things seem to keep breaking just after we start exploring them – is the Cam23 programme systematically trashing the web2.0 world?

Reading and ‘riting (but not ‘rithmetic…)

Word cloud

Apparently I have a mild read/write learning preference. This could go some way towards explaining why I have a spider-diagram and an A4 sheet of handwritten notes in front of me as I am writing this post. I don’t seem to be able  (or have the confidence) to organise my thoughts on a screen in the same way – if in doubt, a piece of paper and a pencil will go a long way to sorting things out.

So here are some of my thoughts on Cam23 so far:

Skills & Knowledge

In terms of technical knowledge, I’m far more comfortable playing around with pictures, links and banners to add to my blog. I can take screenshots (which I couldn’t before), and I can blog (which I’d never thought of doing before). I’m also becoming more adventurous in trying various avenues before crying for help.

I’m getting better at exploring sites and resources beyond their face value, looking for pros and cons, and considering how different approaches can be useful even if they don’t suit me. And I have found that I’m most likely to write a balanced evaluation of something that I haven’t had a strong reaction to one way or another. This leads me on to…

Confidence and Competence

My awareness of the community aspect of web2.0 has improved hugely, as has my awareness of the community of librarians in Cambridge 🙂 As I’ve said before, it’s great to be part of a collective endeavour like this. I’m also much less timid about forming my own opinions (of web stuff) as I feel I now have the experience to be able to say “I don’t like the way it does this…”, or “I think it could be vastly improved by…” and can usually just about justify why it is that I think that.

Relevance of the “Things”

I loved this one: “Have the ‘Things’ covered everything that you need to know?” Um, how would I know? Surely the only people who can answer that question are the people who know the things that I don’t know, and can therefore decide whether I need to know them (or not)… Otherwise, I’ll just carry on in happy ignorance 🙂 I think these are usually called Unkown unkowns, but I could be wrong.

Deep philosophical considerations aside, in general I have been more impressed with the Things that have covered resources, rather than the Things that have covered the management aspects of librarianship. I have to confess that this is largely a reflection of my current job, which is relatively independent and does not require me to attend or schedule lots of meetings, and means that these tools aren’t really useful to me at present. I am, however, aware that they may well be of use in the future.

Changes for the Future

I’m quite happy with how I’ve approached the learning aspect of the programme so far but I feel that I’m quite a passive participant in many respects. I will therefore be trying much harder in the second half of the course to comment on other blogs more often, and to reference the lots of interesting things being said by other participants. Perhaps I need to come up with a cunning way to extract the juicy bits as I’m reading the first time, rather than just thinking “Oh, that’s interesting/relevant/eloquently put” etc. [delete as applicable] and then not being able to remember where the hell I read it by the time I come to write my blog post.

Recommendations

These are the three Things I would recommend, without hesitation, to anybody:

  • Flickr (including CC licensed images) – for the enormous variety and creativity (and amount of time you can waste looking at pretty pictures)
  • Doodle – for it’s sheer simplicity (and the fact you don’t have to create an account)
  • Delicious – probably the only thing that I’d recommend without being a convert myself

Yum yum

Delicious:
1. a. Highly pleasing or delightful; affording great pleasure or enjoyment.
1. b. Intensely amusing or entertaining.
2. a. Highly pleasing or enjoyable to the bodily senses, esp. to the taste or smell; affording exquisite sensuous or bodily pleasure.
2. b. designating a variety of eating apple of North American origin.
3. a. Characterized by or tending to sensuous indulgence; voluptuous, luxurious.
3. b. Of persons: Addicted to sensuous indulgence; voluptuous, luxurious, dainty.

I have a confession to make. I didn’t find Delicious highly pleasing or delightful; it didn’t afford me Great Pleasure (sensuous, bodily, or otherwise); it wasn’t intensely amusing or entertaining; and it wasn’t an eating apple of North American origin either :-S. HOWEVER, it does appear to be useful.

My first impression of this Thing was ‘what’s the point?’. It seemed to me to just be yet another way of searching the internet, except this time the results were based on people-tagged relevance rather than Google-extracted information. So, is this better? Having thought about it a bit more I think the answer is ‘yes’. You’re unlikely to retrieve sites that are entirely irrelevant to the search terms you used, but may gain a few results that a search engine lacks the subtlety to turn up. 15-love in favour of Delicious.

Having explored a few collections of bookmarks I must say I am particularly impressed with the Casimir Lewy (Philosophy) Library’s public account, mainly due to the obvious time and effort that has gone in to creating and maintaining it. From a library’s point of view the option of adding a brief synopsis of the content of a site is brilliant, allowing the user that extra little bit (excuse the pun) of information to help them decide whether it might be relevant. 30-love.

Tag clusters seem to be an excellent way of grouping related sites whilst still allowing an extra degree of detail. This is particularly useful when using this as a resource for users, as sites can sit easily in multiple sub-sets without interfereing with subject-specific grouping of information. Navigation around the site, and around individual accounts, is simple(s) and intuitive, but to me the interface strikes me as a bit flat and could do with a bit more contrast (picky, I know). Probably 40-15 by now.

Delicious is an excellent way of keeping and sharing bookmarks, especially if you travel around a lot, or have to use more than one computer (and is great if you’re nosy like me, and want to see what other people find interesting). But, Librarians beware! before rushing to open an account for your library and adding lots of useful bookmarks – make sure you’ll have the time to keep it up-to-date and well maintained. This can be very time-consuming, but is important especially for an institutional account, as nothing will a bad impression like broken links or out-of-date websites. 1 game-love in favour of Delicious.

Anyone?

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Slip-sliding away…

Slideshare is not something I’ve ever explored or had the occasion to use before. I’ve never had to give a powerpoint presentation  and, until now, I’d not thought of revisiting presentations that I’d been to, or catching up on ones that I’d missed (mainly because I didn’t realise they were available) in this way. So I’ve had a bit of a nose around and watched a few presentations – Let’s get it On(line) from Heriot Watt Universty Library, Andy Priestner’s Cam23 presentation, and several presentations about blogging for libraries and the uses of social media – and get the impression that this is quite a useful resource in many ways. You can:

  • Re-visit presentations you’ve seen
  • Catch up on presentations you’ve missed
  • Explore subjects you’re new to
  • Gain different perspectives on subjects you’re familiar with
  • See what engages you in a presentation (and what makes you switch off)
  • Get ideas for presentations of your own

In terms of it’s use as a resource for a library, it’s particularly useful to be able to store presentations that are used repeatedly (such as library inductions) in a place where staff and users can find them and re-cap; to be able to point staff to useful presentations that they may have missed (especially if only one or two members can attend a meeting where a presentation is used but it’s relevant to all); and if your library has a ‘laser display board’ it’s a good way to display presentations to users within the library setting.

The fact that the presentations on Slideshare can also be linked with audio makes it quite a versatile tool, but, like many of the Things we have explored, you have to be selective. The content of presentations can be duplicated in others on similar subjects, and there are only so many ways you can introduce people to web2.0 using bullet-points and a limited number of slides!

Slideshare isn’t really of use to me at this point in time, but it’s certainly something that I will keep in mind with regards to ideas for presentations and user oureach in the future.

Flicker

It’s interesting that, given the nature of photography, that you can’t actually capture the essence of ‘flickering’ in a single photo. This is one of the many images retrieved by searching for ‘flicker’ on Flickr (image courtesy of Timothy K. Hamilton). But it would appear that there is also a bird called a Flicker, which looks like this: (thanks this time to Norm Townsend)

Very handsome – looks like a member of the Woodpecker family to me, and indeed Wikipedia tells me I’m right.

So, Flickr, it turns out, is a very useful resource. I’ve used it a little bit before – mainly to look at sets taken by friends – but have never signed up for an account because the photography gene evidently missed me out. Don’t get me wrong, I love looking at photos but I can never be bothered to take them. Could be something to do with being brought up with mad-keen photographers in the family and getting sick of traipsing round after them.  I’d like to think that, as a result of the aforementioned childhood, I have quite a discerning eye when it comes to photography and I find a well-taken photograph generally more satisfying and engaging than a well-painted picture. Basically, I could spend hours on here browsing through other people’s efforts (I would particularly recommend Richard Heeks’ photostream and his amazing captures of bubbles popping).

I had not come across Creative Commons liscensing before Thing 10, but I’m very impressed with the way it allows people to share their images and still retain a modicum of control over how they’re used. It’s also great for those of us who would like to use the images, rather than create them, as it makes it very clear if/how/and for what purpose a picture or pictures can be dowloaded and modified – I for one feel much more comforatble that it is made clear in this manner.

Bluemarla’s Rainbow Books (all rights reserved, unfortunately), is an example of how I’d like to organise my library. At least that way when someone comes to me saying ‘I’m looking for a book, it’s got a blue cover…’ I’d know where to look, although I’d probably go one step further and arrange each subset by size to cover the ‘It’s blue and *waves arms around* this big’ eventuality.

And finally, because I’m probably supposed to be finding pictures of books that I can legally use:

An aesthetically pleasing Belgian Bookshelf (thanks to mcsdwarken)

Tag…

Or, as we used to call it at school, ‘It’. I don’t think Librarians play this game nearly enough, and what the profession definitely needs is more running around in the fresh air trying to catch other people so that they can then be ‘It’.

Not that kind of tagging you say? Oh. Ok, well to be honest I found that essay kind of confusing – I sure hope they’re a good public speaker. Here are some of my thoughts relating to tagging/categorization/classification/ontology/whatever:

1) It seems to me that there are two different basic concepts here. The first is ‘categorization’ which is charcterised by a pre-existent system that tries and fails to cover every eventuality when organising information. This is what we, as librarians, deal with on a day-to-day basis and is governed by the need to fit LOTS of books into a limited physical space in some kind of sensible order. The second is ‘tagging’ for which there is no system at all (other than on an individual basis, and sometimes not even then). This is not imposed, but applied after you know what the content is. It’s infinitely more flexible and vastly less standardised, and is ultimately not governed by any particular need to orgainse or any physical limitations.

2) These two approaches lend themselves to two different sources of information; the library and the virtual environment respectively. I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that we replace classification schemes with tagging in libraries, but there doesn’t appear to be any reason why we couldn’t run concurrent systems and reap the rewards of both, just as they’re doing over in Ann Arbor.

3) One of the main problems that people flag up with tagging is it’s inconsistency, and concerns that it either links you to information that’s not relevant, or that you miss out on retrieving stuff that is. Um, call me Mr. Silly, but isn’t that the case with any kind of tagging/calssification/categorization/information retrieval system? Why are we all so lazy? We are NEVER going to be able to come up with a system whereby we retrieve everything that is relevant but nothing that is surplus to our requirements! For a start ‘what is relevant’ is entirely subjective anyway, as is the content of a particular book or article or post. At some point we have to do some of the leg-work ourselves and actually use our brains. Where we put a book on the shelves, or which tag(s) we give our blog post, is just a starting point – as information professionals we have a reponsibility to categorize in the way we think will be most useful. Yes, there’s subjectivity involved, but we can’t escape it, and if we (as users) aren’t prepared to ‘read around’ then we have to accept that there’s something we might miss.

Am I ranting?

4) By the time you’ve a) looked at the tags given by the person who created content and b) looked at the tags given by other people who’ve read the content, you c) may as well have read the thing in the first place and made your own mind up? I realise that this is slightly extreme, and there can be a lot of value in gauging other people’s reactions and interpretations of things, but I’m not sure that tagging is necessarily the best medium for this.

To conclude (you’ll be glad to hear):

Yes to classifying, categorizing and tagging! – people find these useful as ways of linking and accessing information, but we shouldn’t be scared of  encouraging people to make their own minds up too, and therefore people shouldn’t rely on another’s interpretation of content. Phew!

Now where did I put that band-pass filter…

Right, so, Twitter. This is the one Thing that I was dead against when I first looked through the Cam23  list – without ever having tried it I was convinced that it was full of celebrities with nothing more interesting to say than ‘I’m bored/on a diet/getting married for the thirteenth time*’ [*delete as appropriate]. Sort of like Facebook status updates but thousands of times worse. So imagine my surprise when I created my account and found it far less intimidating than expected, and full of genuine (if sound-bite ish) debate. Hot topics this week have included the #CILIP1 campaign and their response, or lack thereof, to various items in the news over the last few days.

This is not to say I’m a complete convert. I agree with evans_above at 1-23 one step at a time on the overwhelming volume of information that appears on the screen, and Miss Crail’s description of it as ‘white noise’ seems particularly apt, but it would seem that there is some use to be made out of this particular forum for discussion.

Personal use aside, Twitter seems useful as a means of creating and maintaining a ‘real-time’ community of librarians from across the country and round the world. Discussions can be started by anyone and easliy contributed to using the hashtag system, and for those, like myself, who prefer to follow quietly, the hashtags mean you can search for lots of different discussion threads. Replies and re-tweets can be totally bewildering to follow for a newbie, but once you get used to the layout you can usually make a little bit of sense out of things by a bit of judicious clicking

The limited characters format can do one of two things depending on your tweeting personality: It either encourages a weird form of verbal diarrhoea, or forces you to consider exactly what it is you want to say and to then be succinct about it. On the downside Twitter can absorb an awful lot of your time if you’re not careful, and the immediacy of response seems to be both a blessing and a curse.

Unless you’re actually using it to engage users in discussion, I think Twitter is less useful as a tool for disseminating information about your library and more useful as a support network for information professionals. To engage users, you’d need to employ someone almost exclusively to tweet and respond in real time (and very few libraries that I know of have that level of resource available), if you’re just using it as an information service for users – what’s the point? You can say more in an email or on your website/blog and be no less sure that the information will get through to your readership.

Tweetiepie

If people who tweet are ‘Tweeple’, what’s the singular? A ‘Twerp’?!

Just a thought…

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