Problems dealing with new technology

I am posting this after having finally found the solution (I hope) to the comments problem on this blog. I opened my blog to comments, hoping that I would get some feedback on what people were thinking of my ponderings, however in doing so, I opened it up to mostly spam!

All the spam said was that they like the blog (or it was cool, or great or some such rubbish) and that I should visit their “……” site in return.

I don’t want that sort of feedback, so I had to change the settings to only allow registered bloggers to comment. Unfortunately that went too far the other way. I have now found a mid point (I hope) which allows anyone to post, but with a verification process, which will kill the auto-spammers.

So that’s problem number one.

Problem number 2 – its taken me this long to find the solution.

I love new technology, don’t get me wrong, but it takes time to learn about how to use it, how to best use it and how to best utilise it. Time, that as a part-time worker and full-time wife and mum, I don’t have a lot of. (as is testified by the time since my last post). I would love to have as my full-time occupation, the ability to test, learn and implement new technologies in all their wondrous forms, but that is not where I am at. Although I would love it, I love other things more, so they get higher priority.

Problem 3 – which technologies to choose?

There is so much out there. I will be writing a one page bi-monthly newsletter article for our staff, just informing them, in brief, of the new technologies and terminologies coming out. The first article is done, but I already have enough content for the next year! And thats not allowing for what new things will happen in those 12 months. Sigh!

The only working solution to this problem for me, is to pick and choose. I will keep informed, as best I can, on new technologies and in particular those with relevance to my work and home situations, but then choose the ones that I think have most relevance and the best chance of being implemented in my workplace. And for this, I thank all those faithful bloggers out there who have made that job so much easier for me.

The good thing about all this is the homework. At school, homework used to be a bore. Not anymore, now its a wonderful learning experience and a lot of fun!

So problems or not, I’ll still be there, sticking my nose in the cutting edge of technology, and hoping that we will be able to utilise at least some of it, to help provide an even better service for our users.

RSS feeds – What are they good for?

I love my RSS feeds. I get all my blog updates this way, saves me from having to go and visit each blog that I peruse, to see if there are any updates. I have it set up through my Thunderbird email client, so as I check my email, I can check for any new feeds. Its quick and easy and helps me keep current.

What is RSS? RSS stands for either Rich Site Summary, or Real Simple Syndication. What that means is that you can get a notification of an update to a blog you are interested in, without having to visit the blog. You get a summary in your feed reader (in my case, I have set up my Thunderbird email client, but there are specific Feed Reader programs), of any updates that have occured in those blogs. You control what is feed to you through the feed and can delete them at any time. No need to subscribe or unsubscribe.

My workmates, who are only discovering all this through me, have been wondering what application RSS feeds can have to public library service. They can see the benefit for professional development, but what else? Especially as a recent survey showed that only 2% of people on the Internet were using them.

Recently I have read of 2 means in which RSS feeds could be of benefit to our service – maybe not today, but in the not too distant future.

Ann Arbor District Library is using RSS feeds linked into their homepage, to bring the latest news and events to their patrons. They present this information in blogs as part of the website, but summaries are transferred, via RSS feeds to their homepage. That way, the information only has to be entered once into the blog and is then updated automatically to the homepage.

The other was a brief journal article which talked about some LMS vendors starting to use RSS feeds for patron notification. Holds notification was one feature, which is nice but we have other means of doing this. The other feature, which really grabbed our attention, was for pre-overdue notices – sending patrons a reminder via RSS feed that their library items are DUE for return within a specified time period. If only some of our users were subscribed into this type of service, the difference it could make to loans, stock turnover and administration could be phenomenal.

So although I am only one at my library now who loves RSS feeds , as things head this way, I can see that all our library staff could have a similar affinity for them. And who knows what other applications RSS may apply to in future.

Podcasting – what’s all the fuss!

For those of you who haven’t heard of podcasting, check out Wikipedia for a description. Podcasting is growing very quickly, even my local radio station is podcasting their prank phone calls.

But how does that apply to my local library?

Initially I was excited about our local history, which was growing exponentially as an accessible resource, under the inspired direction of our great local history officer. She has been working towards an oral history project, which she hopes we can make available on our website. Same intent, but different direction, instead of just a wav file, we can move more to the podcasting idea.

Then an equally inspired colleague suggested that we could record our guest speakers, who present seminars and talks in our libraries and podcast those. With copyright permission of course!

Now, the more I read in other blogs and articles, the more I can see that this could be a great thing for us. Our teen market is very tech savvy, so we could think of ways to use this to reach out to them. We could use it for library instruction, for providing book reviews and new book notifications for the visually challenged or patrons who spend quite some time travelling to and from work everyday(and we have quite a few of those!). The possibilities are just about endless.

The biggest hurdle? Finding the money to get the equipment. We want to be able to do it properly, right from the start. Next is getting the staff to use this new whiz bang equipment and then making sure we have enough space on our website to host it. But I am not daunted, I am excited. So one day, you will see the announcement on this blog that we have done it. I can’t wait!

In the future…….

Until I started reading blogs and even more magazine articles, there were new technologies appearing in public libraries in Australia, which I had either barely heard of, or knew nothing about. Which of course, then led to the mad scramble for more information. The lesson being the importance of keeping current, even more so in this era when the public library is so much more than just books.

However, having said that, keeping current doesn’t mean that every new technology, or even most, are going to be applicable or viable to public libraries on any large scale. Yes we will always be updating our computers and the software on them, and getting wireless connectivity in our branches, all for our patrons, eventually, but what about all the new bells and whistles that are continually arriving on our shores.

I read an item recently from a small town US public librarian, who said that new technology was great and cutting edge library applications of it were inspiring, but that their users were low-tech and it would be years before there was a critical mass of users with the interest and/or technology to access the sort of applications the library could provide. I am in the same sort of environment here, in a low tech pickup area, besides mobile phones of course and sometimes my dreams are a lot larger than the reality here. Sigh!

But back to the future. There have been a lot of prophets seeking to forecast the future, especially in IT, but I found Way of the future by Tim Dean and David Kidd (PC Authority June 2004) to be an interesting and relevant peek. It won an IT writers award and even though it is a year old, it was helped me to stand back and see a little of the bigger picture of what my public library may have to deal with in the next few years, instead of just grabbing at the pieces of the puzzle as they came flying past me.

So what is the future according to Dean and Kidd? For the full details you should read the article, it is well worth it. But in summary, and I like what they say, it is Voice Over IP, RFID,
Wireless broadband, Microsoft Longhorn, Digital TV, DVR’s, speech recognition, fuel cells, smartphones and ubiquitous networking. Most of it is probably new in itself, but in the not too distant future, it will be cheaper, bigger and beater and even more accessible and relevant to the average person on the street.

The PC will get big and better and faster, there is no doubt. I think however, that this article helps remind me that its not all just in or out of the PC, but in the whole package of IT, that the future may explode into realities we haven’t yet considered. In the meantime, its nice to know which direction we are going in, even if the journey goes farther than we expect.

In the beginning……

Just how to start this blog?

I aim to share my discoveries as I come across new technologies and new ideas, either for service provision in public libraries, or which can be adapted for that purpose. My discoveries come from reading other blogs (hence me starting my own), magazines, websites and hearing things on the radio, TV or from other people.

So the first thing to share is something that is bound to impact on our public library in the not-too-distant future. The Computer on a Stick is a USB Flash drive with its own operating system and software, including browser, email package, messenger and office suite.

What’s the implications for our public library and others? I don’t know yet. We haven’t got UBS access for our patrons yet, but are planning it soon. Knowing this is coming will certainly add to our deliberations and how we will make this type of access available to them.