IL2009: Creating Connections & Social Reference in Libraries

Presenter: Margaret Smith

Traditional reference has been one-on-one, but now there are options online for many-to-one reference, such as Yahoo! Answers, Askville, AskMetafilter, etc. The problem is that not all of the hives are equal in the quality of the answers they provide. For an example, look up "where do deer sleep?" sometime.

One of the benefits of social reference sites is that they generate a reference bank of questions and answers that can be linked to when/if someone asks the same question again. These can be both public forums like AskMetafilter, or a private forum like something you develop internally for your library or organization. Similarly, you can use wiki software to create an interactive social reference tool, but unlike a forum, it isn’t designed to make new content the most prominent.

One of the biggest challenges of implementing social reference sites is getting answers to the questions. A frustrating aspect of some social reference sources is an overwhelming number of unanswered questions. Your library can use any of the "free" services that are out there, or go with one of the vendor services like LibAnswers, just make sure you actively engage with it.

thing 18: web applications

It has been a while since I seriously looked at Zoho Writer, preferring Google Docs mainly for the convenience (I always have Gmail open in a tab, so it’s easy to one-click open Google Docs from there). Zoho Writer seems to have more editing and layout tools, or at least, displays them more like MS Word.

I have been dabbling with web applications like document editors and spreadsheet creators mostly because I don’t like the ones that I purchased with my iMac. I probably would like the Mac versions more if I were more familiar with their quirks, but I’m so used to Microsoft Office products that remembering what I can and can’t do in the Mac environment is too frustrating. While Google Docs isn’t quite the same as Microsoft Office, it’s more-so than iWork ’08.

Playing with Zoho Writer, however, reminded me that I need to work around my Google bias. Particularly since the Zoho products seem to have the productivity functions that make my life easier.

thing 17: UR wikis

At my library, we have a couple of wikis set up. One is basically a transfer of our main service desk manual from paper to online, and the other is Boatipedia, our FAQ. I agree with Carol in that the format works well for our manual, and I also agree with her that I’m not entirely sold on the idea of a FAQ in wiki format, unless the intent is more for the ease of allowing many authorized users to edit it. As Carol puts it, “we really don’t want anyone to be able to go in and change content — do we?”

As for other uses for an internal wiki… I could see myself using a wiki to organize information about our electronic resources, licenses, and contacts. Being able to search across pages to find information and the ability to have input from each of the individuals involved in the process would both be pluses for the format over more traditional paper files and email archives. However, we have paid for a tool specifically designed to do that, which also interfaces with the public side of linking users to the resources, so it wouldn’t make sense to use a wiki instead of or in addition to that tool.

thing 13: del.icio.us

When social bookmarking sites came on the scene, I was very resistant to using them. I had an organized system of bookmarking sites I visited regularly or sites that I needed to reference occasionally, and the del.icio.us format for displaying bookmarked URLs seemed cluttered and unorganized to me.

Fast-forward about five years, and we are now in a world where tagging and folksonomy are no longer scary new concepts (well, to those of us who have been reading, writing, and talking about them in the mean time). Tagging is now almost a requirement for a Web 2.0 service, and I use it frequently to keep track of things I want to go back to later, or to categorize what I am looking at.

About a year ago, I started using the del.icio.us extension for Firefox. At first, it was just a long list of the tags I used and had to be manually updated. Now it’s fully integrated with automatic syncing and the very useful search box (from the sidebar). It has nearly replaced the bookmark tool native to Firefox as my primary source of collected URLs that I find important to me. The best part is that I can access my bookmarks no matter which computer I am using, and this has come in handy on many occasions.

As I noted, I still use the bookmarking options within Firefox and do not send these things to my del.icio.us bookmarks, either. Mainly these are the sites I visit frequently, and I have them in my Bookmarks Toolbar folder so they’re just one click away. I have another folder of links to the tools that we use for on-call reference (Meebo, Ref Desk webmail, and LibStats), and I can tell Firefox to open all of the bookmarks in that folder with one click when my on-call shift begins.

One thing I’ve started doing with del.icio.us is creating sets of links that I can share with other people. I was inspired by a Computers in Libraries presentation on using del.icio.us for creating on-the-fly lists of resources for individuals and classes. If you’re interested, you can check out the list of podcasts I’m currently subscribed to.

Since I haven’t jumped on the Wordle bandwagon yet, and since it was a bonus activity for this thing, here’s the Wordle cloud for my del.ico.us tags:

wordle cloud of my del.icio.us tags

Learning 2008: Tools to Simplify Research

Presenters: Andy Morton & Laura Horne

Andy, being Andy, started the presentation with the YouTube video of Steve Ballmer going crazy. He did not do his own version of that intro.

RSS (the Common Craft video covers the basics) pulls in content from a variety of sources to one location, saving them to be read at your convenience. You can use web-based readers like Google Reader or Bloglines, or desktop tools like Outlook 2007 or NewsGator. [side note: Andy says that the university is moving to Office 2007 this summer. Gah! I thought I had escaped that nightmare….]

Undergraduate research is project focused, whereas scholars (faculty) will hold on to information for a long period of time because they are developing their field of study. This effects how both groups approach their information discovery. Scholars can use RSS to keep up with particular journals through publisher table of contents feeds or topics built using search alerts in specific databases.

CiteULike is del.icio.us for scholars, with a few additional organizational tools and features that makes it almost a hybrid of social bookmarking tool and a bibliographic management tool. There are far fewer users than on more general sites, which can be a positive or negative, depending on your perspective.

[side note: I did not have a computer with me when I took notes for the opening keynote, so I’ll be typing them up and adding them later.]