I’m always impressed with simple ideas to help users at their point of need, whether that’s physical signs when libraries can be confusing, or pointers to help users on the library website.

Something which impressed me last year was the idea of adding help to error pages on the library catalogue. Following examples such as David Lee King at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, many libraries added Meebo widgets to error pages of their OPACs so that when users could not find what they were looking for on the OPAC they could immediately ask for help from a virtual librarian via Meebo.

Another great example of a library website error page was brought to my attention by Smashing Magazine yesterday, who wrote a post reviewing 404 error pages. One example in their post was from Chelmsford Public library who have a great error page:

404 not found page at Chelmsford Public Library

404 not found page at Chelmsford Public Library (click on image to see live version)

What a great idea! I love their library shelf image, and they also have numerous links below the image to direct users to where they can get help. Very simple but effective.

Anyone else know of good error pages or examples where you found help when you needed it online?

Edited to add: Just found a blog post by Brian Herzog (AKA Swiss Army Librarian), the reference librarian who produced the 404 error page for Chelmsford. He also mentions a Flickr group of library 404 error pages but so far there’s not much there. I’ll definitely be asking about a user-friendly error page as part of our web refresh project, even if it’s just links of where to go for further help.

Twitter logo

I’ve been a Twitter user (joeyanne) on and off for a few months now, but have only recently started to use it regularly. It seems to have suddenly become more popular; Stephen Fry talked about it on last week’s Jonathan Ross show, and there’s a video of him talking about twitter on the BBC site which is currently the most viewed video on there.

I’ve personally noticed an increase in use of Twitter recently due to the number of followers I seem to be getting – I don’t have loads but most days in the last couple of weeks I seem to be getting at least one e-mail notifying me of another follower. There’s also interest on the lis-bloggers listserv, this afternoon there have been a number of posts discussing its use within libraries.

Seeing as I haven’t yet written a blog post about Twitter, I thought now might be a useful time to write my thoughts about Twitter as well as explain what it is to those who may not be familiar with it.

What is Twitter?

For anyone who is new to Twitter (there seems to be a lot of people at the moment who are trying to find out more about it and struggling), there’s a useful CommonCraft video called Twitter in Plain English.

If you just want to know the basics I thought it might be useful to outline them here (quite a few of my colleagues have asked me and I found it difficult to explain so this will be a useful exercise for me too!):

  • Twitter is “micro-blogging” which is basically a short form of blogging (up to 140 characters per message)
  • The main idea of Twitter is to update your current status, the website uses the question “What are you doing?” – this could be things like having breakfast, watching TV, on the way to work etc., or informational posts like sharing interesting links
  • A twitter message is called a “tweet”
  • You choose to follow other users of Twitter which means that when you go to your Twitter page (be it on the Twitter website, or using one of the many Twitter tools – more on this later) you will see updates from these people
  • Other people choose to follow you which means they will see your updates in their own feed
  • You can reply publicly to people you are following (this is what it means when you see @ in front of someone’s username e.g. if someone publicly replied to one of my messages it would say @joeyanne and then their message) – this helps other people follow the thread of the conversation
  • You can also send direct messages which only the recipient would see
  • RT before a message means a re-tweet – sharing a post that someone else has already tweeted

How can I get started with Twitter?

If you want to have a go of microblogging yourself, here’s how I would suggest going about it:

  1. Get yourself a twitter account
  2. Set up your profile with some basic details and personalise your page (you can follow this tutorial to make a customised screen in PowerPoint but to be honest it’s not really necessary as most people who follow you won’t tend to visit your page)
  3. Write your first update to let people know what you are up to
  4. Find some people to follow (feel free to follow me if you want to, or add some well known celebrities like Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross or Alan Carr – you might also find it useful to look who other people are following – e.g. if you are a librarian you might want to follow some of the people I’m following)
  5. Integrate Twitter into your workstream – you might want to use the Twitter website but the chances are you will find it much easier if you integrate it with something you already use. You can use your mobile phone to update your status, and if you have an iPhone you can use one of the many Twitter apps such as Twitterfon or Tweetie to update your own status and view updates of those you’re following. If you use Firefox you might want to use an extension like Twitterfox; if you use Facebook you can add Twitter to your Facebook account. There are also a number of gadgets to embed into start pages like Netvibes, or you can download programs to add to your desktop.

Hopefully that’s helped clear up a little bit what Twitter is and how you get started with it.

My own use of Twitter

Personally, I use twitter as a form of networking; I mainly follow other librarians to find out what they’re up to. Sometimes I’ll find an interesting titbit of information about a project they’re working on, or a recommendation of software, or a link to an interesting article, but it’s also quite nice to get to know other librarians in an informal way. I use my twitter feed to notify “followers” of new blog posts (using Twitterfeed), and use my Twitter updates to update my Facebook status at the same time.

It’s also interesting to follow what is happening at conferences you are unable to attend – I have followed a number of US conferences this way, not quite the same as being there but at leats you get an idea of what is happening.

Another use for Twitter is asking for help – this can be useful if you have followers who know a certain location better than you, or if you know people might be able to offer advice about how to do certain things (this is particularly useful if people who are following you have similar software needs, I’ve noticed some librarians using Twitter to get help on their systems). There’s a wealth on knowledge out there which Stephen Fry comments on in his video.

Companies using Twitter

I had an interesting Twitter experience with a company earlier this week. I was trying to find a better way of sharing the layout of one of our rooms in the library on the web (at present you have to download a document). I thought there must be a web program that allows you to design layouts and share them, and thankfully I was right. Floorplanner.com is a program that enables you to layout rooms to scale and add in furniture (this would have been really useful in the past when I was trying to help re-design an office layout). It’s very easy to use so I set up a rough mock up in about 30 mins; then I needed to label the sections (the reason I was trying to do a layout was that we have a collection that is a little unusually arranged at the moment). I added text labels which was fine, but I thought it would be nice to link sections to relevant web pages to find out more information. I tried adding HTML into the captions but unfortunately it doesn’t support HTML links. I posted a tweet asking if anyone knew of a similar program that would allow me to use HTML in the labels, and within an hour got a response from the Floorplanner’s twitter account thanking me for the suggestion and saying they would look into adding HTML support. What a great way of getting customer feedback!

Libraries using Twitter

Following on from that. it makes logical sense that libraries too could benefit from Twitter. There are already some libraries experimenting with using Twitter to update their users on latest news (see Birkbeck for a UK example and a whole list at Twittering libraries here and here), but wouldn’t it be great if we could use Twitter to gain feedback from users and try to act upon it?

I did a search recently for our library and was pleased to see that a member of the public had used our library to study (the person in question was a writer) and commented on Twitter at how she’d found a nice place to study and was impressed with the library. At the time there weren’t many people using Twitter, but I think I will be setting up an RSS feed of a Twitter search for our libraries to see if there are more people mentioning us and see if there’s anything we can act upon to improve our service.

The future?

It seems like Twitter is certainly gaining popularity, there have been more articles in the press about Twitter recently and it certainly seems that some of the more Web 2.0 type companies are using it as a form of communication. It will be interesting to see if it continues to grow this year or if this time next year we’ll all be wondering what the point of Twitter was. Personally, I think it’s a very simple idea and those are the ones that usually succeed. It gradually gained popularity during 2008 (although it wasn’t presented at any events I attended it was usually mentioned informally by either speakers or delegates), and it certainly seems like the “Twitterverse” is growing rapidly in 2009 so far.

I don’t know if it’s something that will become popular in libraries but I can certainly see a use for it in updating users (both by them following the library as well as by publishing tweets to the library homepage for short updates), as well as for getting informal feedback from our users who mention the library of the service they received. Definitely food for thought, particularly as it’s gathering popularity in the mainstream.

Is anyone using Twitter in their library at the moment or know of any good examples of different uses of Twitter? Please share in the comments.

I recently completed a survey for an MSc dissertation project about academic librarians and their involvement in reasearch.

Details of the survey (taken from the website):

Whilst academic librarians have as a core responsibility facilitating the research of others, not as many conduct their own. The purpose of this study is to understand more fully the motivations and barriers for UK academic librarians to conduct research and to publish. This study will take place during the autumn and winter of 2008. This study will form the core of a dissertation in support of an MSc Information and Library Management at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

The researcher has asked for the link to be passed on to other academic librarians and would like your views on research even if you are not actively involved. If you are an academic librarian in the UK, please help by completing the questionnaire.

It’s an interesting topic to me as an academic librarian with a research based background (my undergraduate degree included a lot of sports based research). As I become involved in more projects at work, I am really enjoying the research side of things (i.e. researching user needs, evaluating our services). I’m reading about other’s research to help me think about the way I work and how that can be improved, or what we can do within the department to improve our service. I’m also doing my own research and this is something I hope to develop further in the future and share with others in the profession via conferences and papers (and blogging no doubt!).

I need to be starting my own MSc dissertation soon, I’m still not 100% sure what it will be on but I’m gradually narrowing it down and hope to submit a proposal in the next few weeks.

Following on from my post about my experiences with the iPod Touch, this is the first review of a third party application. Byline by Phantom Fish (link opens in iTunes) is an RSS reader for your iPhone/iPod Touch which synchronises with Google Reader and allows you to read RSS feeds whilst offline as well as online.

As mentioned in previous posts, I fairly recently changed RSS reader from Bloglines to Google Reader. Although not the main reason, one contributing factor to this move was the functionality of Google Reader when accessing the mobile version on my iPod Touch.

Google has an iPhone optimised reader which allows you to read posts, star them, and write notes. You can choose to read all new posts or you can view them by the folders you set up in Google Reader. Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like:

Google Reader iPhone interface

Google Reader iPhone interface

Although this is great, you can only read items when you are online. This is fine for most iPhone users who are pretty much always connected using 3G/EDGE. But for iPod Touch users like myself (or iPhone users who sometimes have no internet connection such as those who travel via underground), it means you can only read your feeds whilst you’ve got wireless access.

Over Christmas I found out about Byline (link opens application details in iTunes), an application which synchronises with your Google Reader account but also enables you to read your RSS feeds offline.

You can open the application whilst are connected to the internet to synchronise with your Google Reader account; Byline downloads any new feeds and archives them so that you can then read them offline. It’s great for me because I can sync at home in a morning before I go to work and can then catch up with my feeds whilst I’m travelling to work (I travel to work by public transport). In order to update your Google account you need to sync again after you have read them (I usually do this when I get to work).

Functionality is very similar to the Google site – you can star items, mark them as read/unread, write notes about them, and view new items either all together or by viewing specific folders.

The look of the application is very unusual; I quite like it but there are some negative comments on Apple’s store about Byline are due to the look of the application. It has a wooden textured look, as shown in the screenshot below:

Home page of Byline - with options to view all new items or those from one of your Google Reader folders

Home page of Byline - with options to view all new items or those from one of your Google Reader folders

From the summary view of the feeds, you can see details of the title of the post, which blog it is from, when it was posted, and the first couple of lines of the post. You can also mark items as read/unread on this page by swiping across them with your finger (like you do to delete e-mails).

Another thing I like about Byline is that you can order posts so that you see the oldest first. This is not normally something I need, but it is useful when you have quite a few posts and not much time as you can just read the first few oldest posts, then synchronise later on to read the newer items either in Byline or at your PC. I tend to find this useful in a morning when I’m not sure whether or not I will get time to read all the posts. I read what I can, and then sync at the office to read the newer posts later.

The screenshot below shows the New Items screen which lumps all new feeds together. From here you can choose to read particular posts and mark others as read/unread.

New items page in Byline (those with a dot are unread)

New items page in Byline (those with a dot are unread)

If you’re using it and you have access to the internet (if you’re on an iPhone for example or an iPod and in a wireless area) you can also view the original post within Byline and click to follow any links in the post which will open in Byline instead of launching Safari. This is really neat as you can check out interesting points from the article taking you all over the internet, and then just click the down arrow in the Byline header when you’re done to move straight to the next item in your new items list.

You can also choose to read Byline in either portrait or landscape mode – landscape is often easier for reading longer blog posts.

View of Byline in landscape mode

View of Byline in landscape mode

There are other products that synchronise with Google Reader too, this is the only one I have tried. I decided to purchase Byline (currently £2.99) after reading the reviews on the App Store and I certainly haven’t been disappointed. It’s a nice way to read your RSS feeds even when you do have access to the internet – personally I prefer using a dedicated application to opening Safari and going to my Google Reader bookmark. Being able to also read your RSS feeds when you don’t have internet access makes it a perfect application for those with an iPhone/iPod Touch who want to catch up with their RSS feeds whilst away from an internet connection.

Has anyone else tried any good RSS readers for the iPhone/iPod Touch? Let me know in the comments if so.

Just over a year ago I had my first go on an iPod Touch and raved about it. Shortly after I caved in and bought myself one. At the time, although I loved my new gadget I was worried I’d made the wrong decision as it isn’t a cheap gadget at £269 (as was the price of my 16GB model this time last year). However, looking back over the last year, I can definitely say it was not a waste of money.

I absolutely love my iPod Touch and use it on an almost daily basis. Since I bought it, there have been numerous developments, the main one being the applications to download from Apple’s App Store. I have to admit, this has sucked me in big time and I love trying out the new apps. I tend to mostly try the free ones but I have bought a couple of games and some of the productivity apps (including Appigo ToDo which I previously blogged about).

Apple also added support for Microsoft Exchange which has been brilliant for me. I can now synchronise my e-mail and calendar to reflect changes in my Exchange account from work. This is particularly useful for planning my day as I can check my work calendar from my iPod whilst I am at home or on the way to work.

I’ve noticed over the year that more and more librarians have bought either an iPhone or an iPod Touch, and there have been some interesting developments related to libraries using iPod Touch/iPhones. This post from College@Home gives some ideas of how to incorporate the use of iPhones in libraries, some of which are very interesting (e.g. being able to check the catalogue whilst at the shelves or responding to enquiries whilst on the move – both things which could be extremely useful as many libraries move towards providing rovintg support within libraries). Many libraries have worked to ensure that their library websites and OPACs work correctly on the iPhone, and very recently the first library application made it onto the App Store. I downloaded it the other day and have to say I’m very impressed, I love the simplicity of searching the OPAC as well as the ease of finding the opening hours and locations of each of the branches of DCPL. It’s very exciting, and I hope this starts to become the norm for library services. I think we’ve got a fair way to go yet but these innovations are great news for the future. Ebooks seem to be gathering more users also, and one platform to read ebooks is the iPhone/iPod Touch. I’ve been having a look at ebooks on my iPod including the newly released Stanza application.

There’s a lot of great applications out there so I’m hoping to write a series of blog posts about iPhone/iPod Touch applications, including Stanza, the DCPL library application, and others. Many of these will inevitably be linked to libraries, although as I am also a bit of a productivity freak I may well also include some general applications for improving productivity as well as a few fun applications.

In related news, my ancient Sony Ericsson K750i which I have now had for 3 and a half years seems to be conspiring against me. I’m not a heavy user of my mobile phone (I tend to use the internet to contact people), and this argument has always stopped me from purchasing an iPhone. I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to resist at the moment however as my phone keeps playing up. I have most of the features of the iPhone on my iPod Touch anyway but there is still the disadvantage of having two devices as well as not being able to use the internet on my iPod unless I am in range of wireless connection. I know I don’t need an iPhone but how long can my head win over my heart?

In unrelated news, I received confirmation yesterday that I have passed my Diploma in Information and Library Studies with a distinction! Hoping I can continue that trend when it comes to writing my dissertation later this year. 🙂

I’ve recently noticed that I’m getting quite a lot of visitors who have been searching for information on the Acer Aspire One (AAO) and its capabilities, so thought it would be useful to write a review of my experiences to date to address some of these queries. If you would like any further information or want me to test something on the AAO please e-mail me and I’ll do my best to help.

I’ve had my AAO (A150-Bw model) for a few months now and have tested it in a number of different circumstances. I’ve taken it to my study school in Aberystwyth, used it at conferences, on the train, at work and at home.

from Aaronage at Flickr.com

from Aaronage at Flickr.com

Good points

Portable

OK it’s an obvious one but it really is very portable, it fits in a small bag although the power pack makes it a little bit more of a hassle (having said that the power pack is also a lot smaller than regular power packs). Now I can easily take my laptop to work with me and I don’t even mind carrying it around in case I use it. Previously it was a major rigmarole to bring my laptop to work and involved a big laptop bag; the AAO fits into my Body Shop bag along with a couple of textbooks and my lunch, brilliant.

Connections

It has plenty of connectors (USB ports, memory card slots etc.), and of course wireless network which I live on (although more on this in the bad points).

Software capabilities

I’m not really a hardcore gamer so I haven’t made many demands on my machine, however I have been using Photoshop and Dreamweaver CS3 on there with no problem at all (except for the small screen which can be frustrating when you have too many panels open!). It brings up a warning when opening Adobe Bridge CS3 that you don’t have a recommended processor, but you can choose to ignore the warning and it seems to work fine.

I’ve also had a go of Second Life on there, which again runs well. The rendering takes a little time which is to be expected really, and it’s far better than the laptop I was using previous to this one.

Most of the stuff I do now is web-based and of course this is what the netbook is designed to do so it’s great for things through the browser. I’ve been experimenting with using Chrome on my netbook too, I’ll hopefully get round to writing a post about Chrome another time.

Bad points

Wireless issue

A couple of months ago I lost my wireless signal. I tried to repair it on the connections menu (which sadly I had become accustomed to as it seems to lose connection every now and again if it’s been in hibernate mode), but it wouldn’t work. I then realised that this was because it couldn’t even see my wireless card. Oh dear. First I panicked, then argued with my boyfriend about whether or not this had anything to do with the fact that I had to change a lot of settings to get onto the network at Aberystwyth in September. A quick internet search seemed to show that it wasn’t anything to do with that and that others with AAO’s have had the exact same problem. It seems to be the fault of the wireless card as it is happening to both Linux and XP models. After a few times shutting down and booting up again, it suddenly reappeared and starting working again. It’s been fine since, until yesterday when the same thing happened again. This time I followed the advice I found on the Acer Aspire One User Forum which told me to uninstall the card (scary!) and then search for it again. It now has two copies but the second seems to work. I also downloaded a new driver for the card and am hoping that might fix things.

No CD drive

Yes, I know it’s obvious and I bought the netbook knowing full well that it didn’t have a CD drive, however it can be difficult without one. Things like a simple task of installing software suddenly become a major task. Luckily, my boyfriend has recently set us up with Windows Home Server and a dedicated server PC so it’s been made a lot easier with that.

Battery life

The battery performance isn’t great and is often criticised – mine lasts for around 2 hours which is OK, but not great if you have a long train journey or are at a conference – a little bit more battery power would be good. You can upgrade to a better battery if it really is an issue but I’m not so bothered that I think it’s worth buying a new one (plus the battery is bigger and thus not as portable).

Would you recommend it?

Yes definitely. Particularly for anyone who, like me, spends a lot of time on the net. It would also be great for anyone who does a lot of travelling. We took it to America with us and used it every night to upload our holiday photos to Flickr (using the hotel’s free wireless connection – God bless America!). It’s not a replacement for a desktop or a main laptop, but for portability and convenience it’s great.

Netbooks in libraries

I’ve noticed that more and more students are also using netbooks to bring into the library with them. It’s ideal for students; they are relatively cheap machines, easy to carry round with all your books and paperwork, and provide quick and easy access to the internet. I think in the future we will be seeing a lot more of these, particularly in University libraries. I’ve heard about some places that have laptops just for use within the building, and I think netbooks would be great for this. You could move around the library to wherever your resources are or where you prefer to study and still have access to all your electronic resources as well as your documents and the internet, what more could you want?!

Are you sometimes afraid to open your RSS reader as you know you will be met by a shockingly large amount of unread items? Up until recently, I was – I particularly noticed it when I didn’t check my RSS feeds as frequently as usual back in October when I waspreparing for my interview, finishing my Diploma, and then went to Florida for 2 weeks . When I opened it up again after the break, I had thousands of unread items and found myself flicking through most of them with little interest.

I started to look at Google Reader’s Trends to help me analyse which feeds I was actually reading and which were just clogging up my inbox. I also looked at the frequency of postings and the percentage of items in the feed I read. I had realised that a lot of my feeds were giving very similar news – I had subscribed to quite a few techy news blogs, many of which were telling me about exactly the same things. I decided to do some strict weeding and deleted any feeds which I either didn’t read regularly enough, or which gave the same (or similar) news to other feeds. To give you an idea of the sort of data you can get from Google Trends, here’s a screenshot of my trends page (before I weeded!):

Google Reader Trends

The exercise was very useful and made me realise how many blogs I actually truly value reading. I enjoy reading many librarian blogs, particularly those with practical posts based on their own experiences. But I just wasn’t reading many of my “general” blogs. I have kept most of my librarian blogs (although I have deleted some which seem to have bitten the dust), but have only kept a few general techy blogs as many of the techy stuff I am interested in or need to know about is either mentioned on the key blogs I still subscribe to (such as Lifehacker) or are mentioned in my librarian blog RSS feeds.

I found Google Trends very useful for helping me weed my feeds, it’s quite interesting seeing which feeds you do actually read regularly and which you don’t, and might actually surprise you. It’s also useful to find out what time and day you tend to read your feeds, as well as trends for posting times (although I guess this is skewed due to different time zones, many of the blogs I read are American). It’s also given me an insight into the sort of blogs I do genuinely enjoy reading and made me evaluate feeds before adding them to my reader just because they have one interesting post.

For those who have a New Year’s resolution to streamline their processes, one way you might want to try doing this is to weed your RSS feeds to make sure you’re getting the most out of them, it’s certainly helped me.