I’ve been having a play with various RSS readers since I started following blogs.

Google Reader was the first that I tried and I was also using iGoogle as my start page at the time. I found Google Reader very easy to use, particularly through my start page. The good (and bad!) thing about this was that I was checking my feeds pretty much all day, whenever I went back to my start page (which I do fairly regularly as I use it for my to do list). Although this was great for keeping really up to date and meant that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time all at once checking my feeds, I also found it disruptive as it was eating into my day (you could say I should just learn to be more disciplined and ignore it of course but I get far too easily distracted, particularly when I’m studying!).

At the same time as thinking about this, I decided to give a different start page a go – iGoogle was good but I wanted a play with PageFlakes as Phil Bradley raves about it so much in his How to use Web 2.0 in your Library book. When I set up my start page on PageFlakes I chose a few of my favourite blogs and added them to a separate page titled “Web 2.0”. I kept my to do list and links to sites relating to work on my main page which meant I only saw the blogs when I actively wanted to. I also exported my blogs from Google Reader (which was a seamless procedure thanks to their Export to OPML feature) and put them into the PageFlakes Reader. This was, quite frankly, a disaster. The PageFlakes Reader took an age to find new posts, often the posts were all over my page (i.e. not aligned for some reason) and I found that many posts, despite having read them and marked them as read numerous times, kept coming up as new posts. The option to view the blog in its original page through the reader was useful, but apart from that I found it very difficult to use.

I then decided to try something completely different, BlogLines – which specialises in RSS/blog feeds. One of the main reasons for trying it was actually related to work – it’s something one of my colleagues recommend students use to subscribe to our library blogs so I thought I should give it a go. I again exported my OPML and imported it into BlogLines. At the time I was playing around, BlogLines Beta was being tested so I decided to have a play with that too. I’ve organised my blogs more (lots of separate folders so that if I only have a bit of time I can just check the Library/Web 2.0 blogs as they are the ones I am most interested in keeping up to date with) and now only check when I have time to rather than all the time. I realise for some people this defeats the object a little (having to go and check what has been updated) but it suits me better and at least I only have to check one place. One thing I particularly like about BlogLines Beta is the 3 pane view, I can select the folder I want from the left hand pane, then scroll down the titles of the posts on the top right hand pane, and click to view those I want to in the main pane. (see the screenshot below – click for a bigger version). I can also save things to read or refer to later by pinning them which works really well. The only thing I miss from BlogLines in BlogLines Beta is the ability to see other subscribers and see what they have subscribed to – I found a few blogs by searching other people’s blogs who share my interests. I can’t work out how to do this on BlogLines Beta but I’m sure there must be a way!

BlogLines Beta

So, in summary, I think Google Reader and BlogLines are both excellent for controlling your feeds, BlogLines particularly so with all its new features. Using PageFlakes as a reader I’d steer well clear of though – great start page, lousy reader.

Anyone else have any favourites or different experiences?

doc-to-pdf.jpg

Writing about: pdf24 and their tools for Pageflakes and iGoogle.

As my home PC, work laptop and work PC all have different versions of Office on, I seem to be forever converting documents and adjusting them to suit wherever I need to print.

For example, I recently used our home PC (which has Office 2007) to make a nice fancy report, but some of the items weren’t compatible with Office 2000 or 2003 and when I took it into work to finish it off and print it, it moved all my page numbers around and shifted things to different pages. All very frustrating and meant it took ages to actually get it printed. At the time I was thinking “if only I could convert it to pdf it would stop all this hassle…”

Recently I was playing with my home pages (I am still alternating between PageFlakes and iGoogle so my post about those is still sitting in my drafts!) and found an extra tool called “Document to pdf”. I added it and tried it out and it works perfectly. You simply put in an e-mail address, browse to find the file, and it converts the file to pdf and e-mails it to you! Superb and definitely something I will be making use of. The even better thing is because it is web based I can also use it at work as I don’t need to download anything, should be great when we’re producing leaflets and guides to add to web pages.

Well, the point has finally arrived where I get to blog for work! One of our academic schools is concerned by their low student support results from the most recent student survey, and have approached the Learning Centre asking what we can do to help.

A large percentage of their students are part time (almost 70%!) so one of the problems in the past has been that they are unable to visit the Learning Centre very regularly so aren’t fully aware of our services. This is particularly true for those students who work full time and only come into the University in the evenings when our services are limited.

We’re hoping to embed some information skills sessions into their new modules when they revalidate next year, but in the meantime I’ve been set the task of improving the support by setting up a blog and will hopefully be improving the subject web pages and VLE support also.

Blogging for the Learning Centre is very different from my personal blogging, I’m using it more as a sort of noticeboard at the moment to make sure students are aware of the different services we can offer but hopefully in the future it will grow to be a place used for feedback and discussion via comments too.

I’ve chosen to use WordPress again, and have hosted it on their web space. I have to say I’m very impressed with just how easy it is to get started. It was relatively easy using their software on your own hosting but for beginners, WordPress’s own hosting package is great. I am also addicted to checking the stats which are built in, hopefully I’ll get over that soon! Big thumbs up to WordPress though, I’ll definitely be recommending it to beginners who want to start blogging.

Found via The Other Librarian: Halifax Public Libraries have recently launched an initiative called the Learning 2.0 Challenge to encourage staff to become more engaged in Web 2.0/Library 2.0 tools. It includes blogging (one of the tasks is to create your own blog), RSS feeds, wikis, podcasts, social software and online instant messaging. It’s a voluntary thing but seems to have sparked interest already which is great news. I think having an incentive to join in probably helps (there is a prize draw for those who complete the course), but it also demonstrates that people really are interested in giving this stuff a go when they’re given the chance and actively encouraged to do so.

Lee County Library also has a new initiative to encourage staff to have a go with these Web 2.0 tools, aptly titled Play to Learn. They even have signs to use whilst staff are “playing” such as this great Bond themed License to Play poster.

I think it’s absolutely fantastic that these sort of initiatives are happening and I hope to see more of this sort of thing encouraged at other libraries. Who knows, maybe we could get something sorted for the staff here, definitely something to think about.

Does anyone have anything like this at their library or know of other similar initiatives?

Edit: It appears I am very late to this, the initial programme was devised by Helene Blowers for Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County back in August 2006. I have been reading her LibraryBytes blog for a while but hadn’t realised the Learning 2.0 programme originated there! It seems there are a lot of US public libraries recreating the programme which is great news, hopefully some in the UK will follow suit. Due to the success of the initial scheme, Helene has now also developed Learning 2.1 as a follow up. Helene’s been named a 2007 Mover and Shaker and I can certainly see why!