June 25, 2009

Static vs. dynamic tutorials

Recently, I created a tutorial for work to teach high school students completing undergraduate-level internships how to use the communicative features of the University of Arizona's course management software, D2L. It was quickly decided it would be necessary to show them these features earlier in the week, so my task was to have the tutorial published a day or so later, with me only working 5 hrs per day. I was definitely up for the challenge and excited to learn some new software, but first, I had to choose what to use. There seems to be a lot of talk about Camtasia and Captivate, and although I did want to base my choice on positive reviews of colleagues, I also did not want the tutorial to be a video. I could be wrong in assuming from skimming that both of those programs work in that way (remember, I had limited time), but nonetheless, I went on a search for something different that allowed for creating a static tutorial. Instead of just taking screen shots and then painting on, I opted to download and give Wink a try.

Before I explain why I both liked and did not like Wink, I do want to mention why I wanted a static tutorial instead of a dynamic one. I realize a video or changing features can be more interactive and maybe more exciting, but for people to learn something with a defined set of steps that don't have room for interpretation or creativity (how to send a classmate a page or how to get to your student profile), versus a lot of options for experimentation (searching databases or using Dreamweaver, for example), I think a static presentation is the best. People of course learn in different styles, but following a step by step set of instructions accompanied by non-changing visuals seems to be the easiest to follow, especially if the students would be copying the activities exactly as they go. Rather than pausing and rewinding a video to see where was clicked a few times, it would be more cognitively efficient to look at a screen with things pointed at or circled and the steps taken listed.

So, my opinion of Wink. First it's only for Windows and Linux, just to mention, and it took a couple tries to get the hang of it. The instructions aren't the greatest, and I had to watch the video tutorial more than once before I had a flow going. As mentioned, I opted to create a static tutorial, so how it worked was really just me navigating and then pressing the designated screen capture button. What made Wink stand out from the default screen capture/mark up program on the computer I was using, however, was how clean the add-ons looked and how simple they were to tack onto the shots once learning how all the features worked. It was then easy to export it to HTML or PDF.
But, where it got tricky was figuring out how to make the file accessible. The PDF was nowhere near as good of quality as the HTML (it looked great printed, though), so I wanted to make sure to only post the HTML. From reading the instructions that come with Wink, I was under the impression that once you export to HTML, it is a standalone file that does not need to be uploaded to a web site to work, that it could just be opened directly into a browser. How wrong I was. After searching the Wink discussion boards, I realized I did in fact need to upload the file to the server, as well as the flash file and accompanying PNG images. Then, I had to go through the HTML and make sure each page of the tutorial was appropriately linked with the designated image. This took a bit of time since some were not connected and I had to double check the order.

Other problems were that the forward/backward buttons somehow moved away from the overlaying hyperlinks, so they stopped advancing to the next page when clicked. I had to go back to Dreamweaver and slide those back over. Also, even after being positive (triple checking) everything was linked and working, one of the pages just stopped working.

I don't know if I'd use Wink again -- now that I understand it better, it might be easier, but it was not the most efficient because I think I spent more time dealing with the software and it's problems than making the actual tutorial. I'm mostly pleased with the final product and would like to post it but don't feel comfortable since student names are captured in screen shots, but if I am able to make a version with fixes for privacy, I hope to share that in the near future.

June 20, 2009

Neat stuff (or, can't think of a witty title...)

I came across Hunch today while scanning the Del.icio.us homepage. For the indecisive, it can help generate decisions. You enter in various data about yourself in a series of multiple choice questions, which better helps the system match you with what it thinks you would like based on an algorithm. The first thing I did before entering anything though was to check the TOS and look at how it works to make sure it wasn't a marketing ploy. All specific, individual responses are kept private and Hunch only makes money if you click a suggestion link to a third party and purchase what was recommended. This is almost like taking all those lovely quizzes on Facebook (I won't deny I've taken a large number of them, however) about where you should live, what kind of 19th century artwork you would most like, should you get a tattoo, or what decade do you belong in -- except it matches your quiz answers with the algorithm saved about you, which seems to make it slightly more accurate? Safe to say, however, if you have to ask a computer program if you should get a tattoo, you probably should not. It is interesting to see what responses are generated though -- I asked where I should live and what kind of profession suits me, and although it was somewhat accurate, I wasn't fully satisfied. Maybe it will improve the more I use it, or maybe it is just another internet time-waster. It's at least amusing...

Also from Del.icio.us, I found Yenka, which is a database of education modeling software. It's pretty neat -- you can search for animations of scientific, mathematical, computing, or technology concepts to better learn them.

As Closed Stacks posted, later also re-blogged in Swiss Army Librarian, Blind Search is a "search engine taste test" comparing Bing (Microsoft's new search engine), Google, and Yahoo. After seeing the three columns of results, you also then vote for which list you prefer, unbiased. After making your selection, the corresponding search engines are revealed! I've already spent more than a little time at this site -- it's actually really interesting what you wind up preferring. I always assumed I was a die-hard Google fan, but it turns out Yahoo (and a few times, Bing) have turned out a more appropriate list of hits. I should mention this battle royale was created by a developer for Bing, but this item was done in his free time for fun.

Last, for something new in OPACs, I found a link to VuFind on the Zine Librarians listserv. Although not really appropriate as-is for zine libraries, it looks pretty interesting. It's an open source OPAC with web2.0 incorporated. Looks like there are some pretty innovative features.

June 16, 2009

Member-friendly websites

Maybe I've just been evaluating websites even more critically lately because of my job/previous internship, making me extra persnickety, but certain large-scale sites' lack of effort to cater to members over potential members has sort of annoyed me more recently. As is also an issue with libraries, tapping into the not-yet-member population is a big interest for profit-generating companies, but unintentionally alluding to your already-members that they're not as important as the people who don't care or don't yet know doesn't send the greatest message.

I had a short list of company websites that I thought should fix this, but because I did not write them down, I can only remember one right now, unfortunately: Netflix. First of all, for a very well-known company, you'd think it wouldn't really even be necessary to cater more to non-members, but they do. You navigate to the front page and it's so easy to start your free trial, but those who are already members have to make an extra step by clicking the smaller button in the upper right corner for "Member Sign In" and then log in from there. Anyone who does anything with web sites has most likely already read, multiple times, Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug; and it's true, the visitor (myself included) does not want to have to think -- or think as little as possible -- about how to navigate the site. Thoughts should be saved for content. They're spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to make the site the most user-friendly, but essentially alienate those who are already supporting them.
Layout and navigation really can send a message to users either directly or subconsciously and is an important factor to consider when re-designing or updating sites.

Here are some resources I've found useful for design and tenets of usability:
http://www.digital-web.com/articles/principles_of_design/
http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2009/02/17/bell
http://www.alistapart.com/articles/indefenseofeyecandy

If affiliated with the University of Arizona, you can get access to free tutorials including web design and specific programs: http://uacbt.arizona.edu/ (originally directed here by The Steadfast Librarian!). Also: UA Resources for Webmasters

June 15, 2009

Organizing a local collective's library

I wrote this for the new PLG-UA Chapter newsletter, which will be coming out sometime over the summer. We put a lot of time and effort into this project, so I wanted to share an overview, our bibliography, and the embedded SlideShare presentation. As the project wraps up, I hope to also soon post the selected subject headings and any last minute changes made in the near future. Article and resources follow...

Volunteers from our chapter worked together this semester to partner with Tucson’s Dry River Collective[1] to organize their small lending library. The group maintains their library containing books and zines[2] themselves, which is located within their infoshop[3]. Their library had been organized as an aesthetic rainbow, forcing browsing, which served as an impetus for asking us for help in creating a simple, yet more orderly system for organizing and finding materials.

Because Dry River collective members are not librarians, and are the ones who would be working with the library, our group wanted them to do the decision-making. We served more so as consultants, offering suggestions, and based on consensus of Dry River, creating a plan for organization. What follows is a brief run down of what has been in the works for the past few months; we hope to have an opening day celebration reception as soon as all the cataloging and physical reorganization is complete, and we hope you will join us!

Cataloging

We researched a number of options for what could be used as a catalog: a simple relational database from an open source program, Drupal, Koha, Joomla, a spreadsheet, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and probably a few more. Considering Dry River only has a few computers, volunteers might come and go, and not everyone has extensive technological training, we therefore chose the simplest interface with the easiest access, also making it very easy for library users to wield, as well as share their input: we went with LibraryThing. Although Goodreads and LibraryThing have similar purposes, through our exploration, we realized Goodreads was better suited for an individual booklist, whereas LibraryThing would work well for a group and allows for more sophisticated cataloging.

Classification

As stated, Dry River, previously invoked an aesthetic rainbow for their classification system, which forced browsing. This system was visually based on the color of the book, going in rainbow-order. Although this method was certainly attractive, it made it very difficult to easily find specific items. Likewise, because there was no catalog, the only way to find anything was to look through every single book (or zine), and one would be very fortunate to have previous knowledge of the spine color. To meet this plan in the middle, we found consensus in a visual classification scheme based on main subject heading; in other words, a colored sticker would correspond with a specific subject, and this sticker would be placed on the spine of the book.

Again, because this is Dry River’s library and Dry River collective members and friends would be using and maintaining it, we felt it was very important for them to choose their main subject headings for classification of the books. We decided against pre-existing schemes and subject headings, such as Dewey, LCC/LCSH, or similar since the majority of items in the Dry River library are of a radical nature, and these subject headings are still in the process of becoming more accepting and supportive of alternative lifestyles and beliefs. An example would be that a zine created by rape survivors for rape survivors, if using LCSH, would receive the subject heading “rape victims;” another example is that “infoshop” is not even an existing subject heading in LCSH! As Sandy Berman has been arguing for many years, LCSH can be offensive, exclusive, and just plain ignorant; our chapter participated in the Radical Reference LCSH Blogging Party last year (Spring 2008), based on Sandy Berman and Jenna Freedman’s suggestions for new headings or revisions to existing ones[4]. However, I digress. Dry River chose their own headings based on their collection, their needs, and plans for the future, combined with consideration of our suggestions as PLG-UA. Within LibraryThing, items can receive numerous tags (yet authoritative ones if tagged by Dry River), but on the shelf, as is the only option for tangible items, only one, main subject heading would apply, as correlated with a color-coded sticker. This would be more of a dilemma for the zines, as zines can encompass many subject headings all in one, change subjects capriciously from issue to issue, or be so sporadic and/or ephemeral that it is difficult to have any idea what to do with them. For this, main options can be organizing alphabetically on the shelf and assigning an exorbitant number of tags in the catalog (or filling out the description section – 520 in MARC fields), or to organize by a main subject heading, trying to be as consistent as possible. At this point in time, Dry River has decided to assign main subject headings on the shelf, independent of the books, and will not be cataloging the zines in LibraryThing because their collection rotates so much, and they oft do not expect materials to return.

Circulation

Which brings up circulation. Dry River had been using an openly visible sign out sheet for borrowers to write their name, contact information, the item(s) they were borrowing, and the date. Because they are a non-hierarchical collective, they wanted all volunteers to have the same access to the same information (not just library volunteers having access to what has been checked out and by whom). Considering their circulation system, individual privacy would conflict with group transparency. Having all information out in the open could not only create a potential chilling effect for library users (especially because materials are of a radical nature), but could also be a personal danger with the recent wave and always-present possibility of FBI raids of infoshops[5]. With user information out in the open, it would be even easier for federal agents to just take it or even come in unannounced and scan the list. These considerations, although Dry River collective members did not seem too worried about the potentiality, prompted us to suggest a discreet circulation system that would be easy to destroy in a moment’s notice. This also would mean not including user information in the catalog. Therefore, when an item is checked out, it will receive a tag in LibraryThing noting it is checked out and the date it was borrowed, but there will be no corresponding user information anywhere on the Dry River computers. Instead, a concealed box with check out slips or a more discreet, easily destroyable checkout list will be employed for only Dry River library volunteers to monitor.

Acquisitions, Collection Development, & Preservation

Dry River receives numerous donations, finds materials for free, and has a synergistic relationship with Read Between the Bars, a local books-to-prisoners group here in Tucson. These reasons mean acquisitions and collection development are not a major hurdle for this library. In fact, Dry River recently needed to weed through their collection to pare it down to only materials that would fit with their mission and goals.

Dry River Library’s mission statement:

Dry River, functioning as a radical resource center, hosts a library in order to provide an array of radical books in an attempt to educate and inspire. We believe in an anti-authoritarian, autonomous, hate-free future and we believe that education is one of the many vessels through which to get there. We are here for you to find useful information, good reads, and inspiring, dangerous ideas.

This is one of the best library mission statements I have ever seen. Since they clearly know what they are setting out to accomplish with the library in general, we suggested they construct a collection development policy to make weeding and collecting easier. They are currently working on this policy.

Although all materials in the library can be borrowed, they have low circulation, so on one hand they might want to consider preservation (especially for the zines), but at the same time, it might not be an issue. Because of this, at this point in time, preservation is not factoring in to the library plan.

Conclusion

Dry River Collective Members are currently cataloging materials and then will be color-coding them and adding items to the shelves. They are also working on a collection development policy. We are answering questions as they come up and have offered to assist with more cataloging if they would like our help.

From conducting a great deal of research on the topic of infoshops, radical libraries, and zines, Kristen Cure (incoming PLG-UA President) and I (outgoing PLG-UA President) put together a presentation on this project for the 4th Annual SIRLS Graduate Student Symposium, and shared our information on Saturday, March 7, 2009. We include more details about the options we had and why we chose what we did; a more extensive background on zines; why infoshops and zines are important; and why librarians and traditional libraries should be interested in them. We re-recorded our presentation and will have it synchronized in SlideShare, available to view in the near future (although, our original presentation was much better!). We also provided a handout of all of our resources and references. Please check [http://sirls.arizona.edu/PLG/media] for some or all of these items when they are posted.

If you would like more information, you can contact me (nicolepagowsky@gmail.com) or Kristen (kkcure@email.arizona.edu), and we can also send you any of those materials mentioned directly.



[1] See our write up on Dry River in the inaugural issue of the PLG-UA newsletter, volume 1, issue 1, published for fall semester 2008. Dry River site: http://www.dryriver.org

[2] Do-It-Yourself, self-published periodicals, typically of low print runs, and not created for money. See: http://www.barnard.edu/library/zines/whatarezines.htm

[3] A community space often serving more marginalized populations, used for meetings, entertainment, education, and often containing a small library. See: http://wiki.infoshop.org/Infoshop

[4] See Inaugural Issue of the PLG-UA newsletter for write up about this. You can also visit our blog: http://plg-sirls.blogspot.com

[5] See Long Haul Infoshop, California, where the FBI stormed in, broke locks, took computers with library information, and presented the warrant well after doing so: http://thelonghaul.org/?cat=5


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Our full bibliography is here
, which we originally passed out, along with free zines, at the Symposium presentation. If you're at all interested in zine libraries or infoshops, we have some excellent resources listed.

Our re-recorded presentation synchronized with SlideShare follows (of course though, it was much better three months ago in March when we originally presented!).



June 12, 2009

Jumping right in

Prior to and shortly after beginning library school, I worked at a natural health food/supplement store doing sales/customer service, which entailed, well, sales and customer service, but also a great deal of reference on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). We had to pass a series of tests based on CAM and basic nutrition knowledge before we could survive the probationary period. This coupled with frequent training sessions really helped familiarize me with the resources we had and memorizing why certain supplements fit into specific sections. Gaining greater knowledge in this area and meeting customers with positive experiences with CAM definitely has encouraged me to believe that it's important for people to at least be aware of CAM as an option, especially with the USA health insurance situation -- I would say most of the customers visiting the store were either too poor to afford health care and health insurance or mistrustful of allopathic medicine. Doing the proper research to find safe and appropriate CAM methods for treatment can be fantastic, it's just a matter of where to start, avoiding information overload, because there are a lot of options! Too often, customers would come in wanting us to just tell them what to do without looking into it at all themselves because they would be overwhelmed by the choices. Obviously not being permitted to do this, it was helpful for them to have us at least narrow down what they were looking at.

Last year at ALA (2008), Kelli Ham gave a great presentation: Health Information Naturally: Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Challenge for Librarians (scroll down to the Mon. 4pm start time), which covers this topic well. She has her handout posted along with her presentation slides, offering some excellent resources for CAM reference.

While earning my Masters, I focused a number of projects on librarianship for CAM, including:
a Code of Ethics for CAM Information Professionals, an Opening Day Collection Project for Homeopathy (collection development), and not really related to CAM, but to medical librarianship and open access, I wrote a paper about the NIH Public Access Policy.

It's certainly an interesting subject (to me, at least)!