Monday, July 21, 2008

Thing #14: LibraryThing

LibraryThing is a hoot. I've actually been a member since early 2007, but it's been ages since I visited. I will need to make it a regular stop once again.

LibraryThing is, to start, an online cataloging tool. Amazon or Library of Congress can be searched and titles loaded into your online shelf. But what makes it so fun is all the discussion groups, of which "Librarians who LibraryThing" is the largest. There are all the standard groups you would expect--YA, sci-fi and so on, but then some real niche ones: BBC Radio 3 listeners, tea drinkers, self-described heathens. Then you can always feel bad for the communities with one member, like the "emo/goths can read" group that the creator describes as "We can prove to people thet [sic] we are not as dumb as people think even non emo/goths can join to help protest" Note to emo/goth can read group founder: my friend, you are on your own. Oh, but you knew that.

Apparently some libraries use LibraryThing as their catalog. This makes sense to me as a cost-effective way to get it done, and that it may be particularly well suited to the small specialized collection.

I must confess I somehow got sucked into Good Reads at the expense of LibraryThing. Good Reads is kinda-sorta the same thing. I feel a little shameful about it, now. I feel like the good-looking jock in a John Hughes movie who knew the dorky girl and liked her fine but then pursues and becomes besotted with the cheerleader only to find at the conclusion of the film that the cheerleader has no soul and the dorky girl is actually what he wanted all along. Yes, that's exactly what I feel like.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Thing #13: Productivity Tools

These are all organizational tools--online calendars, task lists, personalized starting points from Google, etc., and as such they would primarily be useful in libraries as an aid to library administrators to assist them in keeping their act together. Other than this rather abstracted notion of helping our users (through our own increased efficiency) I'm not sure what the direct application would be. But then, I'm tired. Who knows--maybe I'm missing something obvious. Ummm, helping users track when their books are due? Seems like we've got that pretty well covered. I get automatic email reminders when items are coming due, which is a great service.

Starting off with iGoogle: I fell in love with this instantly. It is, however, the opposite of a productivity tool. When you set up iGoogle as your Google search page, you get all sorts of personalized tabs. I have Home, Minneapolis, News, Cooking, Politics, Business and Art. Each is its own page. You can customize what portlets you view on each page. For example, I removed Fox News from my news page. Then I moved the remaining portals around so CNN and NY Times were organized front and center. I believe I mentioned recently that I'm elitist, so this action will come as no surprise. For the Cooking page I added the "World's Healthiest Foods" portlet (for today: swiss chard). A surprisingly fun thing to do is change the "theme" of the header for each of your pages. There are lists and lists of themes, each by a different artist. You can also add a zillion gadgets wherever you like. I added a portal that displays the current phase of the moon. (Waxing Gibbous, one of the lesser known American Transcendentalists.) I say it's the opposite of a productivity tool, though, because it's very easy to get sucked into any one of the portals. And God forbid you add the Tetris gadget. (Does anyone else remember Tetris? I know people who flunked out of college because of Tetris. Well, at least partially because of Tetris.) So, for the self-disciplined a big thumbs up. For those like me, iGoogle should probably be avoided in the workplace.

Online calendars: very nice, but I use my Outlook calendar efficiently enough, thank you. This also reminds me of a blurb I saw years back for an amazing information technology--it was lightweight, easily portable, had a finding tool built in, easy to navigate, easy to mark. It was a book. A printed book. So let's not get carried away here. I also use a real, honest-to-goodness calendar to track my activities.

Ditto with the list managers. I tried out the one called Remember the Milk. This is useful, but isn't a piece of paper also very useful? And lighter? And doesn't require a power source? Am I missing something?

Summary: I'm an iGoogle convert. I'll wait on the rest until the capability to just plug into the hive mind is fully functional.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Not a Thing

Fooling around with inserting images.

Thing #12: Social Media Sites

Okaaaaay. That's about enough of that.

Thing 12 is concerned with the social media sites Digg, Reddit, Newsvine, and Mixx. Reading though the description of what these sites do, I could see potential usefulness. These sites allow web viewers to post stories they've read there. Visitors to the sites then rate them. Highest ratest stories swim to the top. Theoretically, these are useful meta tools. They filter web content and draw out the high quality stories (in theory). Then--theoretically--librarians can go to the site and take a quick look to see what's of interest to web users and get a jump on reference needs.

But, oh, oh the humanity.

Quick overview: Digg receives a B+ for interface design and clear instructions for use.
Newsvine receives a B for okay design and okay instructions for use.
Mixx is awarded a C for being mediocre.
Reddit receives a C- for appearing, in every way, as if it were designed by and for 15 year olds. Admittedly, 15 year olds nowadays can make some damn cool stuff on the web, but still. Still.

Here's a story I am both compelled and embarrassed to share: a few years back I took one of those online quizzes to determine where I fell on the political spectrum.* You know these things--you get asked all sort of questions about where you stand on gun control, social welfare programs, etc. And then came the fateful question. It was: "I think most people are too stupid to know what's good for them." Friends, there was only a Yes button and a No button. There was no hedging allowed. And I stared at this for quite awhile, and I desparately wanted to click No but I know in my heart the answer was Yes. Yes, I think most people are too stupid to know what's good for them. There, I said it. And I clicked it.

The point to this anecdote is that, being the elitist that I clearly am, I am forced to conclude after viewing these sites, that perhaps the world is not ready to know what the masses consider the top stories. It's a scary world out there, friends, especially when the content is dictated, apparently, by a demographic that generates advertising revenue around women in too tight t-shirts.

But then again, I am a librarian, after all, and so perhaps my lofty stance is informed at least slightly by the fact that my profession is largely defined as being one that determines information content. Useful content. Quality content. Content that only sometimes includes a crotch shot of a Japanese schoolgirl.

*Social Democrat.