Category: UNM EMLS 570 Automation in Libraries

Technology Review: Zotero

Zotero, www.zotero.org, is free bibliographic software that is downloaded onto a user’s computer and used with the Mozilla Firefox browser. Whenever a user is viewing content that has bibliographic data associated with it, such as a title or an author, a symbol will appear at the end of the URL. This lets the user know that the bibliographic information can be recorded by Zotero. The user can collect, manage, cite, and share sources. Files, images, PDFs, and links can also be saved. It is possible to organize the citations into collections and to assign tags or record notes. Zotero offers the major bibliographic styles, and the user can select the desired style, such as APA. Citations can be emailed, posted to a blog, or copied into a word processor. It is also possible to share Zotero libraries with others and to find researchers with similar interests.

Instruction librarians can teach the use of Zotero to incoming freshman as a part of general education courses that require students to write research papers, such as introductory composition classes or history classes. If students learn about this resource early in their college careers, they will no doubt take advantage of its features, and it will help them with organization of references. To improve Zotero, it needs to be easier to take a library from one computer to another. I attempted to do so, but it was not intuitive, and I do not think I did it correctly.

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Technology Review: PBWorks

PBWorks is a wiki, a website that allows multiple users to collaborate and add, change, edit, or delete the content of a shared workspace. One person begins the process by signing up, creating a workspace, and establishing who can view and edit the workspace. Users are added by entering their email addresses, and participants can be assigned varying levels of access: administrator, editor, writer, or reader. The workspace can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection, simplifying collaboration between people in various locations. The most recent version of the text is in one central location, so there is no confusion between multiple drafts. It is possible to go back over the history of the text to look at the various edits that were made, by whom, and when.

Library staff can use PBWorks for creative collaboration on any team project. For example, if a committee is working on revising the collection development policy, they can create a wiki and begin by posting the unrevised version of the policy. Then committee members can go in to make changes to the policy. One problem that I have experienced concerns multiple editors working on the document simultaneously. Sometimes one person’s edits can seem to disappear if another person is also editing. This can lead to inadvertent changes to the content. However, the possibility of going back through the history of the edits can help locate the problem, and the content can be restored. It would be great if multiple editors could work simultaneously without jeopardizing the content or confusing the editing process.

Technology Review: Flickr

Flickr (www.flickr.com) calls itself the world’s largest public photo collection. People can upload their photos; add tags, notes, and comments; organize photos into sets and sets into collections; and share the photos with others. A Flickr account can be connected to Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Yahoo updates.

A prime example of the way libraries can use Flickr is The Commons. The Library of Congress posts photos from its collections, giving the public a great opportunity to see them without having to travel to Washington DC. Other, smaller libraries, archives, and museums could do the same. It would be especially beneficial to post photos where little is known about the subject. The public can add comments, and perhaps identifying information. Flickr can also be helpful for genealogical libraries. If photos from past generations are posted with the names of the people in the photos, genealogical researchers can look for pictures of their ancestors. A way to improve Flickr is to remove the restrictive character limit on messages to others.

Technology Review: Del.icio.us

Delicious.com is a social bookmarking site. It improves on the older method of bookmarking websites by storing the bookmark list online, by allowing the user to assign tags to their bookmarks, and by making it possible for people to share their bookmarks and see what sites other people are bookmarking. Tags, words used to describe the websites, are assigned to the bookmark by the user; many tags can be assigned to a bookmark, making it possible for a bookmark to fall into more than one category which leads to better search results.

A library could use Delicious as a type of pathfinder. A list of recommended websites about a topic could be put together and then shared on the library’s website. This would essentially be a specialized subject directory because it would be librarians choosing the websites, not a search engine spider, and they could carefully select only high quality websites. A disadvantage of social bookmarking comes from the fact that there is no standardization for the tags that people create. Delicious, therefore, loses the advantage of a controlled vocabulary. If librarians are creating the tags, however, they can battle this disadvantage because they already know how to describe information, and they can provide clear and consistent tags.

Technology Review: Wolfram|Alpha

Wolfram|Alpha (www.wolframalpha.com) is a “computational knowledge engine” with over 10 trillion pieces of data and over 50,000 types of algorithms and models. Some of the goals of this company are to provide answers to factual queries, make objective data available to everyone, and compute everything that can be computed. This knowledge engine can provide answers about math, physics, astronomy, engineering, units and measures, weather, food and nutrition, socioeconomic conditions, and many more topics. The emphasis is on facts, data, and computation, not opinion, commentary, or evaluation.

The website states: “As we have developed Wolfram|Alpha, we have in effect been systematically covering the content areas of reference libraries and handbooks.” At first glance, this site appears to be very useful for a librarian to use for ready reference. However, in order to be useful, Wolfram|Alpha must understand the natural language query. In the FAQs, a question is posed: “Why doesn’t Wolfram|Alpha understand what I asked?” The answer is that either the question must be asked differently or Wolfram|Alpha does not cover that subject. How is a user supposed to know which is the case? The user can go on and on trying to rephrase a question when in fact Wolfram|Alpha doesn’t have that information, no matter how the question is phrased. This would lead to a lot of frustration and disappointment for the user. I asked about the size of Santa Clara University’s library collection, and even though that is a factual question, I did not get an answer.  Apparently, the only part of the query that was understood was “Santa Clara University’s.” I received some factual information about the school (some of which was incorrect), but no information about the library collection. Alternate interpretations of my original query were offered, but the only two library-related interpretations provided information about a library in Poland and the meaning of the word library. The advice to the user for query construction is to use as few words as possible, try different words or notations, and use correct spelling. Entering just Orradre Library did not help, and the query could not have been made any shorter than that. Not understanding a natural language query is a major weakness of Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge engine, especially the reference to correct spelling. Google can offer a “Did you mean…?” spelling suggestion; Wolfram|Alpha should be able to do so also. Finally, Wolfram|Alpha needs a much catchier name.

Technology Review: ILLiad

The Interlibrary Loan Internet Accessible Database (ILLiad) is software that libraries use to borrow items from other libraries. A resource sharing program provided by OCLC, ILLiad automizes all interlibrary loan functions. The library patron can find materials on WorldCat or other catalogs and then initiate a request through ILLiad. The electronic materials are delivered to the patron via computer and available for thirty days. As stated on UNM’s ILLiad site: “OCLC ILLiad is a model, implemented in software, of the interlibrary loan process” (https://illiad.unm.edu/illiad/illiad.dll?SessionID=U105936988W&Action=10&Form=1).

A library can benefit from using ILLiad in several ways. Users do not need library staff to place or receive a request, giving them greater autonomy, independence, and privacy. Using ILLiad frees up library staff to do other tasks. It is especially important at an academic library to have easy access to materials at other libraries since no library can hold every title. When I used ILLiad to order a journal article, the process was easy and the delivery was fast. I placed my order after formal business hours on Friday, 7-09-2010, and received my article before noon on Monday, 7-12-2010. I did not, however, receive any notification that my article had arrived. According to UNM’s ILLiad site, an email notification was sent, but I did not notice any such email in my in-box. While ILLiad simplifies the process of ILL, I would suggest it be combined with Docutek’s e-reserves. If a professor wanted to borrow an article from a different institution and then put that borrowed article on reserve for her students, it would be simpler to have one system that could handle both tasks. Unfortunately, articles provided by ILLiad expire after 30 days. I suspect this is for copyright reasons, but there is nothing on UNM’s ILLiad site explaining the reason for the 30-day limit.

Technology Review: Docutek

Docutek, from SirsiDynix (www.docutek.com) , is an electronic reserves system for libraries. For the library, Docutek offers copyright management with a publishers database that produces copyright permission letters. Support and maintenance are included in the price. Set up is easy and extensive training is not needed. For the student, Docutek offers access to the materials at all times, whether the library is open or not.[1] Students can look for electronic and hard copy reserves by searching for course number, course name, section number, department, or instructor. Two very user friendly features are the ability to open or close all folders for a course with just a click and the ability to download all files for a course as zip files.

Docutek is useful for library circulation and/or reserves departments because it will save them some of the time and effort of obtaining copyright permissions. According to Gladstone and Kenausis (2006), “The learning curve is short, a one (librarian) to one (faculty) training session takes about one hour” (p. 77). After that, professors are able use the system. Offering sophisticated and useful systems like Docutek’s ERes will boost the library’s status and image on campus, both with faculty and students. Everyone will appreciate its convenience. From the student’s perspective, I haven’t yet found anything that needs to be improved.

Reference

Gladstone, R, & Kenausis, V. (2006). Creating an Electronic Toolkit: From discovery to

delivery. Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve,

16(4), 73-83.


[1] Exception: power outage at the library.

Technology Review: WebCT Vista

WebCT Vista, by Blackboard, is used to teach online, hybrid, and web-enhanced courses. It has many features for the student, some of which are always available and some of which are specific to a course. MyWebCT allows a student to customize preferences, adding daily and weekly calendars and a to do list. From My WebCT, the student also has access to grades, campus announcements, course list, and campus and personal bookmarks. It’s also possible to see which classmates are online. An extensive Help menu is very useful with the following options: Getting to Know the Blackboard Learning System, and Using the Blackboard Learning System features and tools. Once logged in to a course, there are course tools and my tools. Course tools include icons for such things as assignments, learning modules, roster, and syllabus. My tools consists of my grades and my files.

WebCT Vista can be used by instructional librarians at academic libraries to create information literacy modules and make them available to professors who teach incoming freshmen. A professor could assign a WebCT module for homework. The Who’s Online feature is very useful because it encourages interaction among classmates who may not see each other face to face. It also allows for students to ask real time questions of each other such as, “What is the password for e-reserves?” The discussion board, however, is not as user-friendly as it could be. Although a green asterisk indicates that new items are available, it’s not clear when there are new postings to be read. The green asterisk seems to be there constantly, whether there are new items or not. This feature could be improved not only for use by instructional librarians teaching information literacy, but for anyone who uses Web CT Vista.

Technology Review: Word’s SmartArt

Word’s SmartArt allows the user to insert graphics into a document that will visually express information and relationships between ideas. It is ideal for representing lists, processes, cycles, relationships, and hierarchies. The user can select an appropriate graphic based on the relationship that is being communicated and the amount of text that will be used. Shapes can be added or deleted, and the colors can be changed.

SmartArt can be useful for any librarians that need to make presentations, and it is hard to think of any way that SmartArt could be improved. Displaying information with SmartArt will appeal to people who understand graphics more easily than long amounts of text. For this reason, SmartArt can be used as a teaching tool for library instruction. Likewise, SmartArt could be used to create slides for PowerPoint presentations. I attended a New Mexico Library Association keynote address by Camile Alire, former president of the American Library Association, and she showed a PowerPoint slide with the SmartArt funnel shape to demonstrate how legislative advocacy, grassroots advocacy, and frontline advocacy combine to create a powerful result.

Technology Review: Survey Monkey

SurveyMonkey calls itself “the world’s leading provider of web-based survey solutions” (http://www.surveymonkey.com/AboutUs.aspx). The company provides the ability for individuals, groups, and companies to create surveys, distribute them, and receive and analyze the results. The basic service is free and includes survey design features, data collection features, and analysis features. Basic survey design allows an unlimited number of surveys of up to ten questions each, 15 question types, and many survey templates and themes. Basic service also includes up to 100 responses per survey and various ways to collect responses, and results are available in real time. For a monthly fee, the plan can be upgraded to either Pro or Unlimited which allow for longer surveys, more responses, and more survey creation, response collection, and reporting and analysis features. An important aspect of the Pro and Unlimited Plans is skip logic which results in better surveys and therefore more useable results. A participant’s answer to a question can determine which question will come next, creating a survey more relevant to the individual.

Originally, I had a few doubts about the use of SurveyMonkey in libraries. First, I have taken many poorly designed surveys, and I wondered if SurveyMonkey helped its clients write effective surveys. Fortunately, SurveyMonkey offers both a 35-page PDF entitled “Smart Survey Design” and a tutorial about writing an effective survey that does not include leading questions, loaded questions, assumptions, jargon, and double questions. A second doubt I had was about privacy since libraries strictly guard patron confidentiality. SurveyMonkey has a newly revised (June 23, 2010) privacy policy that addresses issues of information collection, use, and sharing. SurveyMonkey could, in fact, be useful in many ways to an academic library. Patron use preferences could be polled. For example, to decide what hours a library should be open, a survey could be used to determine when patrons want to use the library. A survey could also be used to measure patron satisfaction with library services. For example, a patron who made use of remote reference services could be asked to complete a survey about how well the reference question was answered and whether the patron would be likely to use the service again. A survey could also be useful for collection development. It would be possible to find out what types of materials students and faculty wanted to use but couldn’t because that were not available in the library’s collection. Since my doubts have been addressed and SurveyMonkey can be used in an academic library in many ways, the only suggestion I have to improve SurveyMonkey is to make it more affordable, to make the pricing more flexible, or to include more features in the Basic plan. The pricing structure is designed to charge the customer monthly, and this is not economical if a library wants to use surveys less often than once a month. In this case, the library would be better off using the free Basic plan (which definitely fits a library budget), but the library would miss out on some of SurveyMonkey’s best features. An additional pricing option could include the possibility of using SurveyMonkey a certain number of times for a flat fee. Better yet, the free Basic plan should include more features.