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Response to lesson 13: Reflection and wrap-up

Whoops! Wrong reflection.

Let’s begin with the most excellent discoveries this course has led me to.
– Mashable! Social media news is relevant to me personally as well as professionally, and my introduction to this resource could not have been better timed. I will certainly continue to follow social media in the news after this course!
– Delicious! Hello social bookmarking, where have you been all my life? Social tagging at its best and most interesting! I can get lost here for hours, and always find something neat.
– Ravelry! I know it’s only related to the course because it’s this course that made me sign up for it, but the search engine functionality is inspiring to everyone on my team at work (I showed them!) and as a knitting nerd and a burgeoning search nerd, I love it to bits.

The biggest surprise for me was when someone (I’m sorry, I can’t recall who you are and I’m having serious difficulties with loading lots of old stuff in edmodo) posted a news story that featured kids discussing how much they prefer “analog” books over digital copies.  As much as we hear about the physical object of the book as important in library school, it’s always heartening to see it in action.

Cloud computing is something I am regarding with restrained interest.  I have never been an early adopter of technologies, but I am quite interested to see where this is going.  The potential implications are massive, both for individuals and for businesses (libraries and otherwise).

Of course, this course hasn’t been all ups.  There were some downs in there too. One of the hardest things was working in a group and not being able to participate properly in the activities – as I’m on co-op in a different city with restrictions on computing, I had no way to participate in the webinars our group put together for the final project.  That was really frustrating.

I also have to say that even though I understand its relevance and importance, I have a hard time with social media policy.  It’s a little overwhelming to actually approach the creation of policies; there is so much to consider, and so much potential to go wrong.

I am also still lukewarm about Twitter and the creation of podcasts.  I can understand the appeal these things have to others, but that appeal isn’t there for me at all.  On the other hand, I can really enjoy listening to some podcasts (there are some excellent ones about knitting!) and I do like to watch certain people (er, cats) on Twitter.  With social media technologies, it is important to at least be aware of their existence and functionality even if you don’t particularly like them.

In the broad scope of things, all this glitzy technology means that libraries need to keep abreast of current developments.  There’s nothing new in that – libraries have always needed to be aware of potentially useful resources and technologies.  But social media is a larger beast than many people could have guessed, and its prominence in our everyday lives means that libraries need to make a concentrated effort to examine it with great care.  We don’t want to be left in the virtual dust, but we also don’t want to jump on a bandwagon that leads nowhere and wastes our time and money.  As the speed of technology increases and we must act more quickly to take advantage of it, we will also need to hone our filtering and analytical skills so that we can continue to make the right decisions.

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Response to lesson 11: The mobile Web

I gave Cinchcast a try for this lesson.  It’s a free phone-in-friendly podcasting service.  Here’s the link to my podcast: Click it!

The interface isn’t the friendliest, but I found my way around okay.  I linked it to my Twitter account rather than setting up another username and password for me to forget later.  I’ve never linked accounts before – it was surprisingly painless and convenient, I might be more inclined to do it again in the future.

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Response to lesson 10: Cloud computing

Cloud computing is a pretty big topic.  On one hand, I really like the idea of keeping most everything in a remote location.  It would free up my computer’s limited resources, and I wouldn’t need to worry about losing install discs or other things like that.  For a library, it is attractive – any public computers would have reduced stress put on their systems, which will make them last a lot longer.
On the other hand, there’s the dependence on external resources that makes me (and many others) nervous.  If all of my important documents are in The Cloud, how can I be certain that other people can’t access them? Security is not a word that comes to mind when we think of clouds.  And what if The Cloud is encountering problems? Could my files be deleted or otherwise rendered unrecoverable? What if I can’t access them at a critical moment? What if I am a careless library patron who leaves herself logged into The Cloud at a public computer? Even doing something as quick as grabbing a printout can be an opening for a malicious individual.
Granted, a lot of these problems came up with things like online banking and ordering systems, and many of them have been addressed. (Except for those with their heads in the clouds – pardon the pun – who can’t seem to log out of public computers, but that’s a problem we refer to as PEBKAC*, and it can sometimes be alleviated by forcing a clear session on browser close and/or automatically closing the browser after X amount of inactive time.)  Part of the problem I see is that banks are well-established institutions that are known to be reliable, and we have legislation and agreements in place to ensure that we will not be seriously inconvenienced or set back by any failure of their systems.  We are still working around the sticky issue of legislating the internet, which makes me leery.  After all, we still haven’t figured out how to get Nigerian princes to stop emailing us about their millions of dollars, and most creators of viruses and other unpleasantries don’t seem to get caught or punished, even though they can cause massive damage and loss.
I’m not dead set against cloud computing like Richard Stallman is ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/sep/29/cloud.computing.richard.stallman ) but I do tend to be a late adopter of new technologies.  I’m not going to put my faith in The Cloud until I know it’s safe.

 

*For those of you not familiar with tech support acronyms, that stands for Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair – occasionally also known as an ID-ten-T error.

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Response to lesson 9: tagging

Tagging! Tagging is so exciting.  Observing the way people tag things can give us some insight into the way they perceive information, which can in turn lead to increased understanding of their information-seeking behaviour.  It also allows users to classify things in a way that makes sense to them, which is an obvious bonus to the user as well as any like-minded people who can see the user’s tags.  It can also give us some idea of the user’s context, which is useful for both information behaviour research and for reference assistance.  Tagging is also just plain fun to explore!  I love seeing the way other people think about things, and tagging gives me a little window into that.
I’ve never used social bookmarking sites before, though I’ve been aware of them for some time.  For this lesson, I signed up on Delicious.  They sure do push their browser add-ons!  One of the first things I noticed when adding bookmarks is the spelling – since it’s free-text tagging, a webcomic I like had “humor” as one of the suggested tags.  For the sake of thoroughness, I went with both spellings, but that’s something to consider with the worldwide reach of social media.  It must be difficult to navigate this landscape if you are not an English speaker.
It quickly became clear to me that Delicious is a good way to lose hours at a time.  Whether it’s finding new websites related to my interests (HOW MANY free knitting patterns?! A TARDIS closet – I need one!) or cataloguing my rather oversized folder of bookmarks (I’m a bit of a stickler for consistency and detail when it comes to this sort of thing) I can see myself spending a lot of time on this site.  Oh hey, a tag cloud! Excuse me, I’m being sucked in. The narrowing/facet functionality in the tag explore section is pretty fantastic, especially since it’s integrated with search to some extent – the free text nature of the tags makes that essential.  I’ll save you the rest of my search nerdiness and just leave it at “this is a really well designed tool and I wish I had started using it sooner.”

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Response to lesson 8: Microblogging and lifestreaming

I am torn.  On one hand, I am not a big fan of Twitter, or microblogging or lifestreaming in general.  There are a few very succinctly witty people I like to follow, but the majority of the content just doesn’t interest me.  There are more convenient ways for me to find any information people might look for on Twitter.  I even get fed up with the status updates of some of my Facebook friends, and have consequently blocked their posts.  But on the other hand, I know that there are a lot of people who are just mad about Twitter and related services.  Those people are something of an unfathomable concept to me, like people who enjoy smooth jazz, but I can recognize that they exist even though I don’t share their preferences.  My step-dad is a professional photographer who promotes himself on Twitter (he is also coincidentally a fan of smooth jazz).  It seems to be working for him, and that personal experience leads me to believe that it can work for libraries too.
As mentioned in the lesson post, it is important to be aware of the proportion of your library’s users who use any given service before you start investing time and effort into using it.  But the Young article about the Twitter-embedded librarian is really inspiring!  For that particular situation, it was an excellent use of time and resources – although the librarian mentioned that it may not be scalable for her alone.  Another upside to Twitter, as the Tagtmeier article mentions, is that it is mobile-friendly even for chumps like me who only have what I lovingly refer to as a “dumbphone”.  The only keyboard is a number pad, the screen is tiny, and images usually don’t load. Even the simplest of mobile devices can handle Twitter, which could be a positive point if the patrons of your library spend their money on things other than shiny phones.  Twitter could potentially be used as a casual chat reference system as well, as the mention system functions as a conversation tool.
I have a Twitter account.  I joined when my work announced that they were beginning a Twitter feed.  I followed them, as well as a few celebrities (hah) who caught my interest, and the account has been gathering dust since.  I couldn’t figure out how to block mentions from my Twitter news feed – I want to see what @neilhimself has to say, not what @someotherguy is saying to @neilhimself. There were more @someotherguys than I had the patience to sift through.  Dusting off the account, I found that nothing has really changed.  A few people I don’t know have tried to follow me, which I understand to be some backwards form of self-marketing – pestering people with requests so that they click your name to try to find out who the heck you are.  On the plus side, I figured out that retweeting was the source of my earlier problems.  I have stopped watching the offenders’ retweets, and now my news feed is much more manageable.  However, I still find that there’s nothing enticing me to stay.  I joined Facebook first, and I’m following the most interesting people there.  The webcomic artists I follow all have RSS feeds for their webcomics, which I have been using for quite some time.  Sockington (the cat) is on his own, but I remember to visit his Twitter site about once a month for a nice big dose of the same silliness I follow him for.  Sorry, Twitter – I just don’t like you very much. I hope you aren’t too offended.

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Response to lesson 7: Social networking

An introvert by nature, I am not intimately familiar with many social networking tools.  In fact, the word “networking” sometimes makes my skin crawl.  I have the sort of low-grade social anxiety that means I don’t go out to bars or parties or anywhere that I don’t have an errand to run, because I find it stressful.  I will readily admit the importance of social networking in general, both online and offline, but I am very bad at it.

The internet is an incredibly useful tool for people like me, who understand the value of social networking but find themselves plagued by dry mouth, shaky hands, and absent brain when it comes to the face-to-face thing.  It gives us the opportunity to consider what we want to say before we blurt it out, and it removes the physical entity of the other person, which can help with the anxiety.  I’ve heard some extroverts complain about how hard it is to communicate with others online, but I have found it to be a godsend.

Libraries can use this to their advantage – “this” being the newfound freedom of introverts and the socially anxious.  For instance, virtual reference can remove the “gosh, I think this is a stupid question and I don’t want the librarian to think I’m stupid” barrier (that’s a working name).  By taking advantage of internet-based services, including social networking sites, libraries can make themselves more available and attractive to a largely ignored part of the patron base.

With this availability comes its less-acknowledged but equally-important sibling, interaction.  Interaction is a cornerstone of Web 2.0, and libraries could really stand to benefit from it.  Despite Web 2.0 technologies gaining ground every day, there is still a dominant “if you build it, they will come” mentality about web presence.  But in order to really succeed and engage the target audience, libraries will need to interact with their patrons and stakeholders.  This seems like common sense, but it doesn’t always survive the translation from brick-and-mortar to online.  Librarians give strength to libraries, and social media tools allow them to reach out to their patrons more than ever.

As for the online communities part of this week’s lecture – what a coincidence!  Moments before I opened the link to this week’s lecture, I signed up for an account on Ravelry.  As an avid knitter, I felt it was my time to join this particular community.  I may have painted myself as socially avoidant, but when it comes to things I enjoy doing, I am quite happy to explore new avenues.  This goes double for areas where I have the opportunity to help other people with my existing knowledge.  Are your purl stitches sagging? Can’t find the right side of your work? Finding yourself with too many stitches on your needles? Afraid to tangle with the octopus-like snarl of double pointed needles? Overwhelmed by abundant acronyms like M1, YO, DH, DPN and LYS? I can help you! And I love helping. Even in person, the urge to assist can overpower the tendency to keep distant.

As soon as I signed up, I got a message in my on-site inbox with a ton of useful links – including a Ravelry wiki! How cool is that? (That was rhetorical; I think it’s very cool.)  And their search engine has me salivating – it combines search and browse on one page, with accessible filters that are applied as soon as you select them.   This is so sleek.  I know I’m supposed to be joining the community part of things, but I am having some serious difficulty dragging myself away from the free patterns.

There are a number of knitting groups in the Ottawa area, but I’m going to get a bit more familiar with the site before I join any of them.  I may keep you updated in future posts, though!  For now, I’ve joined the new users group and posted an introductory message.   The posts I’m seeing in the forums are generally quite civil, despite all the warnings in the rules about playing nice with others – maybe they’ve had serious issues in the past.  There’s something it’s easy to forget about Web 2.0 and other interactive technologies – people cannot be counted on to be polite or kind.

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Response to lesson 6: Social media policies

When it comes to allowing access to social media at work, I’m all for it.  Sure, some people will waste time using social media for things that aren’t related to their job.  But if those people didn’t have access to social media, they would probably waste time in a different way.  Maybe I’m optimistic, but I think that the number of users who would spend so much time on social media sites that it would negatively impact their work is similar to the number of people who collect so much stuff that they could appear on the show Hoarders: a very small number of people who get a disproportionate amount of attention.
On the other hand, as much as my eyes start to cross when we get to talking about legal-type things, I can understand the need for a well-planned policy on social media.  The way we go about our daily lives now, almost everything can be considered a document.  A text message or email to a friend, a tweet or status update – all of these things can be used as records of statements you have made.  You might have updated your Twitter in a moment of ire, from the perspective of you-as-individual, but someone could read it in association with their view of you-as-employee and therefore you-as-representative-of-company.  This sort of environment underscores the need to exercise discretion.  Keep separate accounts for your public and personal life, for instance – networking via Facebook is fine, but you want to make sure that the people you’re trying to impress aren’t going to be aggravated by your near-constant Farmville posts.

Ever since I told a secret to someone in grade three and she told a bunch of other people, I have had a basic understanding that almost no communication can truly be considered private.  Social media is just an extension of this.  Melissa Alexander, a woman who deserves to go to jail for a very long time in my humble opinion, has been getting a lot of media attention recently.  Yesterday morning, I read an editorial in The Globe and Mail in which the author criticised not only her actions, which are starting to take on the flavour of “old news” for daily news readers, but also her Facebook status updates.  She describes them as “quasi-literate” and “egregious”, using Melissa’s statements intended for friends and family as ammunition against her.  Social media is profoundly public, and that’s why it is important for libraries to provide policies for their staff.

The policies laid out by Whitman Public Library and UT Southwestern Library are reasonable and fair.  UT in particular does a good job of highlighting the importance of keeping things classy – “taking into account your obligations regarding proper conduct as a citizen and employee of the university”.  The recommendation to place a disclaimer on personal blogs may seem a bit much to some, but the truth of the matter is that it is a very simple thing to do that has the potential to save both the employees and the university some serious headaches.

Right now, I think we’re still in the testing phase of social media policy development.  There are some policies out there that look really good and reasonable, and there are undoubtedly some policies that are not so good.  But until we start seeing more of these policies being tested by real situations, we are mostly still theorizing.  We have a good head start by building on related policies, and by following guidelines like the ones Ellyssa Kriski set out in the article “Should Your Library Have a Social Media Policy?”

Looking for more information about this, it seems to me that a lot of emphasis is placed on tone (most of the “do’s” at http://librariansmatter.com/blog/2010/09/10/a-social-media-policy-for-a-one-branch-public-library/ are focused on the way you express yourself through social media) and twofold privacy: the no-longer-private nature of personal expression (posted today, http://www.techjournalsouth.com/2011/02/you-cant-say-that-is-your-social-media-policy-too-broad/ provides an example of a vague but restrictive policy) and the concern about posting sensitive information (from June last year, http://tametheweb.com/2010/06/10/anytown-public-librarys-social-media-policy/ features “Don’t tell secrets” as the third bold heading).  I am inclined to agree with these major points.  As librarians, we care about those concerns.  We want to present ourselves professionally and avoid making any unfortunate gaffes at the expense of our place of employment.  And we are perpetually concerned about the privacy of our patrons, a concern which has expanded along with the rise of public internet and social media.  There is an awful lot to consider when creating a (hopefully effective) policy on social media use, but these items are a good place to start.

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