Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kindle update

Apparently, the Kindle is another device we can pass on when we live in Montana. I was looking at some more of the Kindle reviews on the website. Steve Gibson had asked Security Now listeners to locate his review. After we read it, if we thought it was helpful, we could help raise its ranking by indicating so, and thus make it more accessible to people looking for genuine reviews rather than opinion pieces. In so doing, I ran across a review by a woman in Missoula who said she liked her Kindle even though the Whispernet wireless connectivity was not available in Montana.

Not available in Montana?! This was certainly different information from the coverage map I looked at when the Kindle first came out. Sure enough, if you check the coverage map today, you'll see that Montana is just one big blank spot on the map. And there's the following:
Note: There is no wireless coverage available currently on Sprint’s data network for Kindle in Montana and Alaska.

I called the Kindle help desk this morning to verify the information and find out why the coverage maps had changed. He said the initial map showed coverage based on roaming (access via other networks). The coverage map changed when Amazon decided it would not be paying for roaming charges. That makes sense. But I think it also makes sense for us in non-covered areas to be able to reconsider whether or not we want to pay full price for a device when we won't have full access to the services. I think I would have felt cheated had I purchased a Kindle only to learn that I had to download titles and periodicals via my computer and then transfer them by USB connection.

We sure do get opportunities to save money in Montana - we don't have to waste our money on iPhones that don't have coverage in our state. Nor do we have to spend top dollar for Kindles without wireless connectivity. Perhaps by the time these devices work in our state, the prices will have come down and they'll have worked out the bugs!

Think positively, fellow gadget geeks!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

internet start pages

With the incredible array of information available on the internet nowadays, where does one begin? Let's look at some of the available options out there for your personal start page, public access and staff computers.

What is a start page? How does it differ from your library's home page?

A start page is the page that comes up first when you open a web browser. It can be your library's web page. It can be any other page you set. Some web pages will have a button you can click on to make that page your home page. Or you can change the settings in your browser.

Go to the page you want to set as your browser start page.

In Firefox, click on Tools - Options
Under the Main tab, Startup click on Use Current Pages.

In Internet Explorer, click on Tools - Internet Options
Under General, Home page click on Use Current.

Note that both Firefox and IE 7 enable you to set multiple pages under different tabs to open up at once for your Start Pages.

Why do you need to think about a new start page for your library patrons and/or staff?

With the proliferation of web sites with RSS feeds, you can put together a lot of information that's updated automatically. So, people can have the latest news and you don't have to worry about updating it.


iGoogle is what I use for my start page on my personal computers.
  • You can use tabs to create multiple pages.
  • You can subscribe easily to RSS feeds for up-to-date news and weather reports.
  • You can subscribe to and display Google calendars.
  • You can display Gmail.
But I wouldn't recommend this for public access computers because I haven't found a way to lock it down. Any user could come along and make changes. Once you've spent the time getting it all set up, you don't really want someone else to come along and change it. Nor do you want to give others access to your Google account.


We introduced this start page tool at Fall Workshop in 2006. It's probably the most flexible. There are a wide variety of widgets available and you can modify them pretty easily to display just about anything you'd like from web pages to video podcasts to photos from Flickr. You can also lock it down so that users cannot make permanent changes.

The chief downside is that it won't always display properly. I tried viewing the page from my mom's computer that has a lot of accessibility options turned on and got NOTHING. You couldn't even see most of the widgets. And if you've got a lot of different monitors, your carefully planned layout is bound to look a bit off on many of them. And you have to be careful if you want to use it to display web pages because the widget isn't really a browser window. If you start clicking on links, you'll soon find out you don't have any way to navigate.

But I still think this might be a good way to design a start page with resources designed for specific target groups like teens.


Pageflakes is my current favorite. You can display RSS feeds for news, weather, sports, calendars.... It also works with Web 2.0 tools like Delicious and Flickr. You can add message boards, sticky notes and maps. It also has a social aspect in that you can use an existing page by subscribing to the pagecast. Then you can make your own modifications and use it for your own.

So, anyone interested in getting started with Pageflakes can set up an account, subscribe to my pagecast, delete any of the boxes with information that isn't interesting to you, add more feeds of local interest, and save it.

Pageflakes offers an option to save as your home page. You can set it up on public access computers using the instructions above. One thing I'd be careful about is only logging in and making changes from a staff computer. I suspect it's storing cookies and does remember you so if you've logged in from a public access computer, someone could make changes you might not like that would show up on all your computers.

If anyone's interested in an online training session on how to set up any or all of these tools, let me know. It can probably be arranged.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Amazon's kindle as a new service model

I think that what people are missing by focusing on the Kindle device is the appealing service model. What Amazon is offering here comes very close to instant gratification for readers. It's not tied to a physical bookstore or library. It's not even tied to a computer or a wired or wi-fi connection to the internet. Instead the service is tied to Sprint's cellular network. This may not make it particularly appealing to a lot of Montanans due to Sprint's spotty coverage in our state. But it does make it very accessible for many Americans. And Amazon is picking up the cost of the cellular connections.

I presume that once you've set the device up, you can have ready access to your Amazon account. So, you search for a title, click on order and it's downloaded to your device in less than a minute. Pretty darn easy. And even easier in regard to periodicals you subscribe to via the service. You can just leave your device on overnight and the New York Times (or whatever newspaper you subscribe to) will be downloaded automatically. You wake up, pick up the device and read away. No trudging out in the snow to pick your paper out of the bushes. You don't even have to turn on your computer and wait for it download - as I do with my NYTimes subscription on Audible.

A lot has been made of the fact that there are digital rights management issues and that you won't really own a copy of the work. I'd agree that you're probably buying access to rather than the book itself. Does that really matter to most people? I suppose if it does, they won't find this model appealing. I have to confess that I am a certifiable book junkie. But I find that there really aren't that many that are keepers, especially now that I'm reading a lot of topical nonfiction.

The big question that remains to be answered is does Amazon have the pricing right? Most people seem to agree that $399 for the Kindle itself is too much. But $9.99 for current bestsellers seems a good deal. And the newspaper subscriptions are cheaper than print. $13.99/month for the Times is even cheaper than their own electronic edition.

I don't think there's any argument that devices like the Kindle will ever replace books and other print materials. For example, I really can't imagine reading the Sunday Times on a paperback sized reader. There are some things you just want to spread out all over the dining room table to enjoy. And pictorials on a black and white reader? Not incredibly satisfying, but will it suffice? And will convenience win out over the overall quality of the reading experience?

What does this emphasis on convenience mean for libraries? We seem to have put the emphasis on free rather than convenient. That has, no doubt, had an impact on who is actually using our services. If Amazon's model catches on and saps demand for current topics and titles, we may need to be ready with alternate service responses, if we are to remain vital centers of our community.

Anyway, I think there are a lot of possibilities out there for how libraries might respond and look forward to reading some interesting comments.

Read Steve Gibson's review of the Kindle on He's actually used it!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ask a Ninja explains podcasting

What better way to explain the concept of podcasting?

Monday, September 10, 2007

libraries as refuges

I watched a speech by Garrison Keillor to ALA conference goers that was televised on Book TV over the weekend. You can watch it on Book TV's website if you have Real Player:

He made a case for public libraries as refuges where people can go to escape from the craziness of the modern world. A place where people can gather their thoughts and think.

He compared a library to a secular church and concluded by saying that libraries were sacred places.

As someone who has been caught up in the role of libraries in bridging the digital divide, I am somewhat concerned about this potential loss of library as refuge. I remember seeking refuge in libraries at various times in my life. The library was a place you could go to escape from family pressures as a teenager, from annoying roommates in college. There aren't very many places like that available.

So, perhaps while we're planning for our next bank of computers and printers, let's make sure we set aside a few quiet spaces for refuge.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

lots of news on the ebook front

There's more on Amazon and Google stepping into the ebook fray in today's NYTimes:
Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books
Published: September 6, 2007
Two new offerings from Web giants this fall will test if consumers are ready to leave the paper book behind.

There are also some interesting comments to the article on TechCrunch.

Plus, Google is offering a new tool enabling people to embed the text from a book directly into a blog or other website.

Monday, August 6, 2007

free sesame street episodes

iTunes offers some free Sesame Street episodes for download as part of Learn Along With Sesame.

These might be good to recommend for parents to download for use on home computers or iPods and/or could be available on library computers to watch with QuickTime.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

if the nytimes says it's so...

I just ran across this article from the NYTimes: A Hipper Crowd of Shushers

Interesting that it's from the Fashion Section...

Monday, July 9, 2007

Transforming your library with technology

Here's a link to Lori Bowen Ayre's blog about her presentation at ALA:

From there you can access PowerPoints and/or a podcast of the presentation.

Monday, July 2, 2007

wait on iPhone

One toy we don't need to worry about for now in Montana is the iPhone. And that's because it uses the AT&T (was Cingular) wireless network. A quick look at their coverage viewer shows that Montana only has partner coverage.

And, even if you buy the AT&T wireless plans but try to use it too much in Montana, your service can be terminated.

From the AT&T website popup box about Coverage Legend Terms:

"PARTNER: The areas shown as an orange stripped pattern represent the coverage of unaffiliated carriers and should have sufficient signal strength for on-street or in-the-open coverage, but may not have it for in-vehicle coverage or in-building coverage. Excessive use of Partner coverage may subject your service to early termination, in accordance with your service terms. Data services may not be available. "

So the bad news is we can't be a part of the iPhone craze. The good news is we can save the $499 to $599 retail price to use for something else. Perhaps we'll have coverage in Montana by the time the 2nd or 3rd generations come out.

Text Messaging and Reference

It seems like there are many challenges to offering customers reference via text. How do you have a cell phone number that everyone can check? How can staff constantly monitor text messages? And of course we can forget the issues of money and time (or lack thereof).

The Southeastern Louisiana University Library may have found a solution to at least some of these problems. Check out the following link from the "ALA Tech Source Blog" about the way this library implemented text messaging for students.

Of course before implementing anything like this, you need to think about whether or not your customers will want this service. However more and more people (especially young people) are texting these days. Why not give them another way to reach the library?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Apple producing web browser for Windows

I ran across this article in the online NYTimes: Apple Releasing a Windows Browser.

I'm pretty happy with Firefox but this can't make Microsoft happy.

Oh, and if you're going to post a link to an article from the New York Times, look for the Permalink under Share. Reportedly, that will allow your blog or web page readers to access the article for free even after it's gone into the archives.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Microsoft Surfaces

I saw this on It's All Good and wanted to share it with you. As George from OCLC said, it's a "touch screen on steroids." I was pretty amazed by what I saw. I'm not sure how well this is developed at this point, but it will be convergence of a lot of different technologies when/if it comes together. Essentially it's a computer within a coffee table that you can touch to find information, download pictures, or order items. You can also place physical objects on it. For example a user could place a digital camera on the screen. Instead of working through software to download the pictures, they appeared instantly with no work on the part of the user.

Check it out

I can think of some library uses already. Customers could place a book on the screen and get reader's advisory. They could pay library fines, find out more about the library or even the community. I'm sure there are other uses for it as well.

Friday, May 11, 2007

adding feeds to your blog or google page creator web page

Another way of using feeds is to have them show up on your blog or web page. If you look at the right hand navigation bar for this blog, you'll see that I have feeds from 3 blogs showing up on my blog. This is one of the features available in the new blogger. You go into the Template and choose Add a Page Element. From the popup box, click on Add to Blog under Feed. You then copy and paste the URL for the feed you want to subscribe to in box marked Feed URL. The feed for this blog is:

Then click continue. If your Feed URL was correct, you should see a new box with the title of the blog, the most recent postings and a box where you can select how many items you want to appear on your blog. I chose 3 because I have several feeds on this blog. Be sure to click Save Changes and you've added a feed to your blog. If you've got a Reader's Advisory blog, you'd probably want to add an MSC feed for your new books. You might also want to add a feed to NY Times book reviews. Here's a list of all the NY Times RSS feeds.

Google Page Creator also makes it easy to add RSS feeds to your site. Open the page where you want to add a feed. Choose where you want to add it on the page - usually a side bar is best - and click on Add Gadget at the bottom right hand corner. BTW, there are lots of other interesting gadgets that can be added as well.

using rss feeds

Now that the Montana Shared Catalog is going to be offering RSS feeds to notify patrons of new resources, it's probably time to take a look at RSS feeds and how to use them.

If you just want to be able to read the latest from one of your favorite news sources or blogs, you can subscribe to a feed using a feed aggregator.
  • Bloglines - one of the most popular web-based aggregator. You can set up a free account and access your news from anywhere via the web.
  • Google Reader - Google's answer to Bloglines. Both of these are social software so others can see what feeds you're reading.
Personally, I decided some time ago that I wasn't about to go anywhere else for news updates. I want my news to come to me. So I use Google's homepage (now know as iGoogle). I can subscribe to anything I want and it will come up in my homepage. I just click on the little orange icon in the address box, a new page comes up with a box where I can select the reader I want to use

Here you can select Live Bookmarks (a Firefox feature), Bloglines, My Yahoo (similar to iGoogle) or Google Reader.

If you select Google Reader, the next screen will give you a choice between Add to Google homepage or Add to Google Reader.

It really is that simple.

iGoogle also gives you the option of setting up multiple tabs for different pages for your feeds. So you can have news feeds on one page, sports on another, tech stuff and so on.

Here is what my libraries page looks like.

This makes it really easy to keep track of recent postings from a lot of different blogs. If none of the titles interest me, I can just ignore them. Only the three most recent appear on the page. They are eventually replaced by newer posts.

If I find one that's interesting, I click on it and read the whole post. I've used RSS feeds to replace some of the email lists I used to subscribe to but rarely read. This way I can read it if it interests me. If not, it's not cluttering up my inbox.

librarian trading cards

I've come up with another fun time waster - librarian trading cards. Of course, your patrons will want to collect a complete set of your library staff.

You simply upload your favorite photo to Trading Card Maker where you can add your information and decide upon a look. This is my crazed reference librarian persona. "Let me help you with all your reference needs!"

Once you've created your trading card, you can download it to your computer, and print it. You can also upload it to your Flickr account and add it to the Librarian Trading Card group.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

free audiobooks

Some people have mentioned some websites where you can download audiobooks for free:
If anyone has tried out any of these sites and would like to comment on the quality of the offerings, please leave a comment so all of us can learn.

Also, if you run across any more sites offering free downloadable audiobooks, let me know, and I'll add them to the list.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

learning about digital audiobooks

I wanted to post here, Lauren's recommendation about an excellent resource for those who want to learn more about digital (and downloadable) audiobooks:

Hello Everyone

There is a very good discussion of digital audio books in libraries available from the OPAL archive of special events at . It’s the third event listed – a Library U Live workshop titled *Day of the Digital Audio Book,* aired in February last year. You can view the recorded webcasts - three sessions which run about an hour each, or just review the presentation slides. The full workshop covers just about everything having to do with downloadable audiobooks – including hardware, software, vendors, service considerations and lots of other Q & A. This is good information both for librarians who need to know the basics, as well as for committee members working on a pilot project. If you have a serious interest in e-audiobooks, check it out.


Friday, May 4, 2007

mp3 players for downloadable audiobooks

If you're looking for players that can be used with OverDrive and/or NetLibrary, I think OverDrive requires a bit more caution because the players have to be able to work with the OverDrive console. I'd thought that I read a while back that if a player was Plays for Sure compatible, it would work with OverDrive. Now they claim that's not always true. Sigh...

But they do have a list on their website of compatible

and incompatible devices

It looks to me like NetLibrary should work with any MP3 players that play WMA (Windows Media copy-protected files).

But they do have a very helpful list of tested players - pdf file.

I did a little browsing on the internet and came up with a list of possibilities that met my criteria:
  1. Had at least 1GB of flash memory
  2. Used replaceable batteries instead of internal rechargeables - I really don't think libraries want to deal with recharging batteries. Do you check out the cords and adapters along with the devices? No thanks.
  3. Worked with WMA copy protection.
This was the list of possibilities I came up with. I looked up prices on Amazon to get an idea of what they would cost. You can probably find them cheaper elsewhere.
  • Creative Zen Nano Plus 1 GB - $49.99

  • Creative Muvo V100 1GB - $39.99

  • Creative Muvo V100 2GB - $66.34

  • iriver T30 1GB - $109.45

  • iriver T10 1GB - $83.98

    There is a note on the OverDrive Device Resource Center page that the iriver players require a firmware update. I don't know whether or not this would resolve Robert's complaint in the comments. I suspect that the T series is being phased out because they are not currently offered for sale on the iriver website aside from refurbished models.

  • SanDisk Sansa c140 1GB - $69.98 - listed as compatible with OverDrive

  • SanDisk Sansa M240 1GB - $49.63

  • SanDisk Sansa M260 4GB - $154.92

  • SanDisk Sansa M250 2GB - $69.63

    Only the M230 is listed as compatible by OverDrive. That model has a 512 MB flash drive. The others in the M series would have to be tested.

  • Samsung YP-U2J 1GB - $45.83
For personal use, I'd be very interested in trying out Creative Zen Stone 1 GB - $39.99. But it's a rechargeable so I wouldn't recommend it for patron check out.

At any rate, I'd try to look at the device and try it out before I committed to buying several for my library to check out. If you hate it and can't use it, you can't expect your patrons to embrace it. One caveat, most of these are small with very small screens and controls.

For my own use, I prefer the slightly more upscale devices better. I find them easier to use. But most of these come up with internal rechargeable batteries. I haven't found any with bookmarking capabilities.

competing audio formats

There are a number of different file types wandering around here under the general guise of MP3 files.

  • MP3 is the generic term used for audio files transmitted over the internet. MP3 files will play on computers and any MP3 player - iPods and others.

  • AAC is a copy protection format used by Apple. Reportedly it offers more compression and better sound quality than MP3. iTunes music is sold in AAC format and will play on computers with iTunes software and iPods. AAC files will not play on non-iPod MP3 players unless you crack the coding.

  • WMA is the Windows equivalent to AAC. It will play on computers with Windows Media Player and other audio software and non-iPod MP3 players like Creative, SanDisk, etc. You can buy music from Napster, MusicMatch, Walmart, etc. that will play on these players.
There are also some competing formats out there from companies trying to promote their own digital rights management options. For the time being, I'd steer clear of Microsoft Zune and Sony MP3 players if you are looking at downloading audiobooks and/or if you want to buy music from stores other than Zune and Sony. Sony, for example, says that their MP3 players will play WMA(non-DRM) and AAC(non-DRM). That won't work for anything downloaded from music stores on the internet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

internet filters

One of the recurring questions in the internet world is - how do we protect children and teens from the perceived evil lurking out there in cyberspace?

While it's a perfectly valid concern, I don't think it's qualitatively different from the larger concern of how do we keep our children safe in the world at large?

I started thinking about this again following an email exchange from a public librarian wanting to block MySpace and YouTube and an interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor - Internet filters block porn, but not savvy kids. The solution favored by many parents (and as a result schools and libraries) is to want to block everything that might possibly be a threat regardless of the positive aspects. A similar response in the real world would seem to be to lock a child in his room with no tv, radio, phone, internet, or social contact until he turns 18. Sure he'd probably be SAFE but he'd also miss out on a lot of experiences that could make him a well-rounded adult who could contribute significantly to society.

I also think that indiscriminate blocking can lead to a rebel attitude in young people. If we indiscriminately block everything that might possibly be objectionable to anyone, we're only going to encourage our creative young people to find ways around the filters. And when they do, and discover that what we're blocking is trivial, they're going to think we don't know anything. And they may well be less likely to listen to us when we try to warn them about something that's truly significant.

There's no indication that either the internet or social software is going away in the near future. So, the question becomes how do we integrate it into the educational and social lives of our children? IMO, the best way to do that is not going to be blocking it all and pretending it doesn't exist. Even if that could be successful, we'd only be sending naive adults out into the world. Rather we want to work with them to show them the pros and cons of providing information about themselves and interacting with strangers online, and how to set boundaries and behave responsibly in these new virtual environments.

And that's going to take educated parents, teachers and librarians. As I stated in a previous blog entry on March 2, internet fears are nothing new. We owe it to ourselves and our children not to remain ignorant while letting our fears get the best of us. Instead we need to take the time to explore some of the new tools and resources so we can better understand both the allure and possibilities. Only then, can we help our children make good decisions.

Check out some of the library pages on MySpace:
And there are some hilarious library-related videos on YouTube, including some by our very own Queen Donna!

Another one, I like a lot is Magnum A.L. from American Libraries magazine.

BTW, there are firms making social software specifically for educational purposes.
  • Elgg - from the University of Brighton. I believe this requires your own server and some knowhow to tweak the open source software but it's in use in quite a few schools (primarily universities) areound the world. FREE.
  • Digication - created by educators in the U.S. Free for up to 1,000 users in any U.S. accredited school.
It seems to me that students graduating from schools using social software tools like these for education are going to be a lot more savvy about and able to maneuver in the web 2.0 world than those from environments where all of this is blocked.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A different kind of website

Suzanne has mentioned several great tools for designing websites. Many of them have Library 2.0 applications, but how can you combine all these tools and create an interactive and valuable website that is also user friendly? One tool for doing this is Drupal, a content management platform. - Whatever that means :)

Drupal is open source software that will let you create an interactive website of any size. It is not as easy to use as some of the tools that Suzanne has mentioned. It has different layers from fairly simple to complex, but for those of you who want a more robust website it might be the perfect tool. You can learn more about Drupal at

The Librarian in Black has also recommended LibrarySite 2 from the Cherry Hill Company. The Cherry Hill Company uses Drupal as a base and then works with the library to design a customized website. This is a consulting firm, so there probably is a cost. This may be a better option for academic libraries or large public libraries, but I wanted to mention it. Learn more about LibrarySite 2 at You can also read the posting from LibrarianinBlack:

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

sharing photos over the internet

Now that so many of us have digital cameras, it's only natural that we want to share our digital photos with friends and colleagues. It should be as easy as emailing the photo from our computer that we took with our camera. Right? Wrong!

Most digital cameras (even cheap old ones like my Fuji FinePix) take pretty detailed photos. The raw photo files are generally in the multi MB range. They're pretty big. If this is a photo of your new grand child that you're sharing with family, who will no doubt want to print it out and keep a copy, that may be okay, they'll probably be willing to sit and wait and WAIT for the photo to download on their 56K dialup. However, if it's the umpteenth photo of your kitchen remodel, this might start getting a bit old. And this is even more of a concern, when you're emailing photos to email lists where you don't even know many of the hundreds of potential recipients.

So, what are your options for sharing great photographs? Online photo sharing sites are always a good. There's lots of them out there. Some require registration to even view the photos, which I find VERY annoying. Probably the most popular one around now which doesn't require registration to view and has a lot of great sharing options is Flickr. Flickr is free for the first 100 MB of uploads per month. You can also pay a fee and get even more uploads. Once you have your photo on Flickr, you can add tags, and mapping information. You can post it to groups. You can send the URL out to friends. They can download copies of the photo in various sizes.

Another option is to do some quick photo editing before you send it by email. If you have Microsoft Office Photo Editor (that came up as the default program when I clicked on this photo on my work computer), there's a compress option where you can compress a photo for email. It creates a thumbnail of the original photo and the size drops from 1.7 MB to 5.65 KB. The resulting thumbnail is bit small but people can get the idea of the photo which is probably all you need, especially if you're sending it out to hundreds over an email list.

A free photo editing program that's easy to use is Picasa. Once you open your photo in Picasa, one of the options is to email it, it will automatically resize your photo and attach it to an email message using the email program of your choice. The resized photo is perfectly viewable and only 45.2 KB.

Bruce pointed out that Picasa does not presently work on Macs. But no worry, Macs come with their own photo editing software iPhoto that will enable you to resize and/or compress your photos.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Working with Feeds

Suzanne has mentioned RSS feeds in previous posts. I take advantage of RSS feeds and use Bloglines to read several different blogs (including this one). Ever since I created my Bloglines account, it’s much easier to find the time to read through these blogs and keep myself up to date on what is happening in library land and other places. In addition to some popular library blogs, I also subscribe to a few non library blogs that talk about innovation, customer service, and training.

On one of these blogs (LibrarianInBlack), I read a posting that I thought might be useful. It’s about FeedBlendr, a service that blends several different feeds into one convenient package. What do I mean by that? I created a blend that looks for international articles in CNN, the International Herald Tribune, and The New York Times. What do I get? Check it out at It’s one page that lists the headlines and the first couple sentences of every article that was featured in the International/World sections of the two papers and CNN. I no longer have to go to each individual website. Even better I can include this blended feed in my Bloglines account, so I don’t even have to go the website listed above.

I haven’t played with another feature in FeedBlendr which is some code that will let you include your blended feed on a website. If you have been thinking about adding feeds to your website, you might want to consider playing with FeedBlendr. You can easily add a link like the one above or even better you can use the code provided by FeedBlendr to have the feed work like the one you see on the right of Montana BiblioTechies blog. Library patrons can see the headlines and follow an article that interests them.

The blended feed option is also nice, because it adds value to your feed. Instead of having a feed that only lists The New York Times, you can add some value by blending it with other newspapers. Now the library patron can check out news around the world with one click.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

IM vs. Virtual Reference

I don't really mean that this has to be an either or situation but that seems to be the place many librarians find themselves at this point in time. We've invested in products like Question Point so that it may seem like a step back to consider also offering reference assistance via instant messaging.

The advantage to communicating with patrons via IM tools like Google Talk or AIM or Yahoo Messenger is that some of your library's patrons (or potential patrons) are already familiar with and using them on a regular basis. For these individuals the chances that they'll be willing to IM you a request for information is probably greater than the chance they'll go into Ask A Librarian. That might appear daunting, particularly if the question is a simple one like "Are you open on Saturday?" Or "Do you have any graphic novels?"

As Bruce said yesterday, we need to get into the habit of saying yes to more things. So let's say yes to IM. And for those of you who've veered away from it's use in libraries because you didn't want all those obtrusive programs on your public access computers, there's an easy web-based solution You or your patrons can use meebo to check multiple accounts. It's easy and certainly more secure than having individual contacts and buddies and messages stored on library computers.

All of these IM accounts are free. Most come with advertising but that's the way of the world. Here's where to go to set up accounts on the big three:
And if you want someone to practice with, I have accounts on AIM and Google Talk. Send an instant message to sreymer.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

using podcasts in libraries

As much as I like iTunes, I don't think I'd put it on a public access computer in a library. For one thing, you don't want people subscribing to a bunch of podcasts that are going to eat up your bandwidth and disk storage space. For another, there are a number of podcasts with explicit content that are probably not appropriate for general listening. Can internet filters screen out podcasts with explicit content? Might be an interesting experiment. Leave a comment if you have any insights.

So, how can you make use of some of this great content? First, you might want to consider whether or not you want to. Listening or watching a podcast in the library will require either speakers (which may disturb others) or headphones. Downloading and copying audio or video files to flash drives or MP3 players will no doubt take some time and attention from staff. But these may also constitute valued customer service, especially if you're in an area where broadband connections for the public are far from common.

Probably the easiest way to make podcast content available to your users is to integrate it into a Protopage. You can see that I have a podcast widget on both the Nancy Pearl page and the News page.
Since these are reading actual podcast feeds, I don't have to update them. They are updated automatically whenever a new program is added. All a patron has to do to listen to one of the programs is click on play. The player is built into Protopage.

You can also select individual programs and link them from your library's web page or blog. For example here's:

A Beginner's Guide to Podcasting: Part 1 - A Consumer's Guide from If you're interested in more information about this broadcast, check out the event web page.

You can click on that link and listen to the MP3 file in whatever media software is set up on your computer for MP3 files. If you put this on a library web page, you'll probably also want to include a link to a free media player like Windows Media Player.

Another option is to link to the program's website for audio/video content. Often the website creators will offer additional options for viewing or listening to content.

A good example is Yellowstone InDepth that I mentioned yesterday as an example of video podcasts. The video available from iTunes was in a copy-protected format. On the website, they offer a .WMV Windows Media Viewer option in a dial-up or broadband format. I can also save it to my computer and convert it to play on my MP3 player. Yea! Nothing like viewing the wonders of Yellowstone on a 2 inch screen. But the point is it works and the National Park Service was savvy enough to accommodate users with different devices.

This reinforces my view that there is great potential in this area as well as some problems, but it's exciting nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

video podcasts

I have to mention video podcasts because they're the latest. But I decided to put them into a separate category because I think "they're not quite ready for prime time." There are a lot of issues with copy protection, incompatible formats, conversion software... I get all excited when I find some great content and then exceedingly frustrated when I can't get that content to work on my player.

Now that iPods and other MP3 players have video capabilities, there may be interest in downloading free video content to watch on your computer or portable device. I'm really not a big fan of watching videos on a microscopic screen but the quality is amazingly good. And it's a trend worth knowing about. You need to pay attention to formats particularly if you plan to watch it on a portable player. For example, keep in mind that iTunes uses some Apple only copy protected formats. So, while you should be able to watch virtually any format on your computer (with the right software), it would be difficult to get them to play on a device other than an iPod.

There may be some video programs that you'd like to download onto your library computers for people to watch, but be sure to check them out first to see which players they use. The following is a good cautionary lesson.

I was really excited to find some video podcasts about Yellowstone Park on iTunes
  • Inside Yellowstone - 25 episodes each around 2 minutes long introducing park highlights and features
  • Yellowstone InDepth - 5 episodes thus far running from 3 to 9 minutes long with more detailed information on geysers, bears, etc.
I thought, what a great thing to have loaded on your library computers, especially for libraries in the Yellowstone Park area! You could put them in a folder on your desktop and let people watch them on your computers.

But as I looked into it further, I discovered that these videos used a copy-protected .M4V format. When I tried to open the file, Windows didn't recognize it and wasn't able to find a program that would play it. I discovered two options that would work - the player within iTunes (but that's a painfully small screen) and Quick Time. So, they might be worth downloading and adding to a desktop or two as long as you have Quick Time on the computer and set up the video properties to work with Quick Time.

Next, I wanted to see if they could be converted to play on my Sansa player. It looks like I'd have to purchase some shareware to convert it to the modified Quick Time format that my player uses. A lot of this gets into some dodgy legal areas so I'd advise libraries to steer clear of video conversion.

In summary, I'd say there's some interesting video content being produced and distributed as podcasts. Keep in mind, however, that there are competing standards and copy protections in place. You certainly want to test it with your software and players to make sure it works before you go public with your latest find!


I have to say I LOVE podcasts for free audio content. As someone who spends a lot of time driving around by myself, podcasts ensure that I have a great variety of things to listen to.

What do you need to listen to podcasts?
  • A computer with a broadband internet connection
  • Podcast client software
If you want to listen to podcasts on your computer, that's probably all you need. If you have a Windows computer with XP, you probably already have Windows Media Player. That will play MP3 files. And some of the podcast client software has players built in, e.g., iTunes.

But what's also great about podcasts is, you can copy them onto MP3 players and take them with you. We'll talk a bit about MP3 players later.

Podcast client software

Podcasts are really nothing more than audio files embedded in RSS feeds. If you don't understand RSS feeds this explanation isn't going to help much. We will talk about RSS in a future posting - promise! But for now, you just need to know that like any RSS feed, you need to subscribe to it and you also need software that will go out to the internet and check when new content is available and download it to your computer. That's what differentiates a podcast from just downloading audio content. You subscribe and future content is downloaded automatically.

There are lots of options for free podcast client software. There's a long list available on Podcasting News. But I have to say, my favorite hands down is iTunes. You can download a copy of the software for free. It works on both Windows and Macs. Podcasts work on iPods and other MP3 players.

You can use the iTunes store to browse or search for podcasts of interest. If you find something you like on iTunes, you can generally just click on the Subscribe button and get the latest as well as a list of earlier programs from which you can select any you'd like to download and listen to in the future. My mother has macular degeneration and listens to a lot of audio content instead of reading. So, I download a number of podcasts for her every week on my computer, copy them onto a flash drive and then onto her computer. All she has to do is click on the file and it plays on her computer with Windows Media Player.

MP3 Players

For my own use, I copy the podcasts onto an MP3 player. I have both flavors - Windows and an iPod Nano. While the Nano works really seamlessly with iTunes (you just drag files onto the iPod icon in iTunes), my SanDisk works with iTunes MP3 podcast files as well. There's just an extra step. I have to open Windows Explorer to copy files from my computer to MP3 player.

There are a lot of different non-iPod MP3 players out there. I don't have any specific recommendations. I think it's probably best to go into a store with a lot of different models and take a look at the controls and the feel and decide what features are important to you. Do you want to watch video, listen to the radio, record? But do keep in mind a couple of differences.
  • Music bought from iTunes will only play on iPods (and your computer).
  • Music bought from other online stores will not play on iPods.
  • Downloaded audiobooks from services like Overdrive and Netlibrary will not play on iPods.
  • MP3s without copy protection should play on any MP3 device.
Podcast content

There is a lot of new content being produced as podcasts all the time. I suspect there really is something for just about everyone out there. I'll share just a few of my favorites.

Radio programming - I'm an avid radio listener who doesn't have time to catch all my favorite programs so I'm thrilled that many are available as podcasts:
Technology - as you might expect, there are a lot of good tech-related podcasts
The above three are all part of the TWiT netcast network. Leo Laporte is a Tech TV alum. Other former Tech TV folks have gone on form Revision 3. You'll hear about their video podcasts later.
Library-related - I expect I'll be adding to this list but many are rather inconsistent at present.
Searching for more content? If you're using iTunes, searching iTunes' directory is probably the easiest way to find more content that can be easily subscribed to. But, if you want to go beyond that, there area other podcast directories available. You can easily find them with a Google search. What I tend to do is go to the websites of the content producers, e.g., or or or They will often have links to and lists of available podcasts. Many are set up so you can subscribe via iTunes by just clicking on a link and being taken to their iTunes page to subscribe. I suspect this is a smoother process if you're using a Mac. Somehow, iTunes can never be found on my computer so I have to go through several warning popup windows to complete the process. But I eventually get there.

Feel free to send me your favorite podcasts and I'll list them in a future posting.

Friday, March 2, 2007

internet fears

One of the things that seems to show up again and again in relation to the Internet is fear. The most recent incarnation is the reemergence of DOPA (Deleting Online Predators Act). Apparently, Rep. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican has reintroduced the act. For more information, see the recent CNET story.

What the Internet really represents for a lot of people is a frightening loss of control. While we could have some interesting discussions about what this loss of control means to parents (feel free to offer comments in this area), I'd like to focus on what this loss of control means to librarians and IT people.

I've been thinking about the IT angle for the past week or so as MSL struggles with ITSD over implementation of some new web tools. Looking at it from their perspective, I can see why they're not crazy about things like CMS (Content Management Systems), blogs, wikis and the like. Security is their chief concern. They're trying to keep unauthorized people out of their servers. We can be seen as threats to security by seeking to let more people in as blog and wiki contributors, commenters and the like. No wonder so many library blogs are on blogspot instead of their own servers. Sometimes it's just easier to go around than to confront. But it does show a bit of a disconnect as our library web pages continue to be static top-down information sources with no interactivity. And we go outside them to talk about what really matters and connect with people.

As librarians, we've spent a lot of time trying to control information - in a good way, of course. We've introduced controlled vocabulary and cataloging structures. We've sought to evaluate information and offer diverse, balanced and authoritative viewpoints.

Then the Internet comes along. People start tagging. Wait! What about our controlled vocabulary - Library of Congress Subject Headings?! You can't just assign any old TAG! Yes, they can and they do! And it seems to work. It may not be controlled but it's certainly more intuitive.

We're also facing a major paradigm shift in who is a consumer vs. a provider of information. Now that anyone can create a blog and have it picked up by web search tools, how do we decide which internet information sources are worthwhile? What is the librarian's role in providing access to information? Should we be acting as a gatekeeper to attempt to ensure quality information for our patrons? Or should we be enabling them to establish their own information networks? If we try to hang on too long to the gatekeeper role, we risk making ourselves irrelevant as patrons increasingly work around us. But, if we abandon our quest for quality and balanced information, we also risk becoming irrelevant. After all, Google is still far easier to use than most library search tools.

I think there are several things we need to be doing.
  1. We need to continually push to make our catalogs and databases easier to search and use.
  2. Part of that is making sure that we can add our resources to search tools our patrons are already using like the Firefox search box.
  3. Allow patrons to be able to tag search results and make it easy to add them to bookmarking tools they're already using like Furl or
  4. Make use of technologies. Why shouldn't patrons be able to review library materials and/or make recommendations and lists?
  5. Why not have librarian recommendations and lists as well? It's a good way to highlight parts of your collection that you feel warrant another look.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

google alerts

Are there a few topics that you like to follow so you can know what's being said about them in the news, blogs, whatever?

Google offers you a couple of tools you can use to stay on top of certain subjects. One is Google Alerts.
From the Google Search page, choose More and Even more >>

From More Google Products, choose Alerts.

Enter the keywords you'd like to search, select what type of search, you can choose from News, Blogs, Web, Groups or Comprehensive. Provide the email address where you'd like the alerts sent and Create Alert.

This is a keyword search, so depending on the terms you use, you may get some irrelevant results but it can always be modified.

I have a google alert set for montana library. I get everything that shows up in the news with the words "Montana" and "library" so there are a few where I scratch my head in befuddlement, but I do run across some interesting articles that I never would have found otherwise as well.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Avatars are a fun way to personalize your postings on blogs, wikis and the like without having to come up with a reasonably good photo of yourself.

While some of my colleagues at Offline accused me of multiple personality disorder for having so many avatars, I do like to play around with them and change them to meet my mood.

My favorite avatar at the moment is the South Park character I created:

This is a librarian with an attitude. I like her because she sums up my perspective after working with E-Rate for so long. Send her to DC and she'll clean up the program.

You can create your own South Park character at South Park Studios

Try it, it's fun!

I've also created a Simpsons character.

You can blame Stephen Abrams for these creative wastes of time.

One thing about these is they're created in Flash so the avatar is not readily downloaded. I got around this by taking a screenshot - clicking the Print Screen or PrtSc key. This takes an image of the entire screen. You can then paste the entire screen image into a graphics program like MS Paint and crop it to get just the avatar. I'd save it as a JPEG file.

Finally, there are Yahoo avatars. You need to have a Yahoo account to create these. But there are lots of different outfits, hairstyles, backgrounds, pets, etc. This is one I created for winter - taking my penguin for a walk. You can use these all over the Yahoo site as well as export them to your web page or blog and/or download for use on other sites that use images.

The only one that I won't share is my Second Life avatar because I hate that one. As vain as it might be, it's the reason I won't bother with Second Life. I think my South Park avatar needs to go in there and get things in order before I'll spend any time there.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Offline Web Tools Presentation

Consider your needs and look for tools to best meet those needs.

Need #1 - for people to know that your library exists and can access some basic information via the web, e.g., hours, location, contact information.

Tool #1 - Web Page. For an easy way to create and update web pages try Google Page Creator. Go to Google Labs and select Google Page Creator from left hand column. Note, you'll need a Gmail account.

Examples of Montana libraries using Google Page Creator:
Need #2 - for people to be kept informed about what's going on at the library - events, new books, policy changes, etc.

Tools #2 - Web Page - good for occasional changes and updates.
Blogs - can be updated easily and frequently. Free blog software includes - Blogger and Wordpress

Examples of general info library blogs:
Need #3 - share information and expertise, e.g., staff updates, readers' advisory, community information.

Tools #3 - Blogs if you expect limited number to actively post and participate. Comments are open to all.
Wikis - if you want and expect wide and on-going participation. Free wiki software includes - Wetpaint and PBwiki.

Examples of Montana library information blogs:
Examples of Library Readers’ Advisory Blogs and Wikis:
Need #4 - promote special events and services, e.g., Teen Read Week, highlighting an author or genre.

Tools #4 - any or all of the above tools and Protopage. Protopage is a free tool which enables you to bring together web content in all kinds of formats - audio, video, RSS feeds, photos, web page content, etc. using customizable widgets.