Monthly Archives: July 2009

Thing 18: Wikis

My main page on the DFW 23 Things wiki is here (and there are three subpages too).  As you’ll read on the main page, I have a lot of experience with wikis that I’m not going to repeat in this post.  All that experience is with PBworks, though, so it was fun to give WetPaint a try.  I didn’t really have any problems, but I’d already read others’ posts and comments about problems with not adding their pages in the right places and with naming pages (when the name was already in use by someone else on the wiki), so I was prepared.

Being an academic librarian, I am already pretty familiar with Wikipedia and its pros and cons.  Not surprisingly, few if any professors here allow students to cite Wikipedia as a source in papers and projects.  Nevertheless, I will often use it as a starting point for research on a topic. The best articles in Wikipedia have citations and footnotes, lists of additional reading (links and print publications), and cross-references.  I might start with Wikipedia and then go to one of those sources to get additional information.

For example, I’m currently reading The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, and I wanted to know more about Ann Eliza Young.  The Wikipedia article did provide some additional sources beyond those on the author’s website.  I also used Wikipedia to look up magnetic cartridges (for phonographs), but unfortunately this article doesn’t have any citations or links outside Wikipedia, so I’m not too confident about its accuracy, although it might still help me figure out what to buy to get the record players in our AV collection to work again!

I think it’s VERY important to look at the “discussion” tab for a Wikipedia entry and see what if any controversy and arguments the article has stirred up – that can give you a clue to its accuracy and neutrality.


Thing 17: LibWorm

My initial impression on LibWorm, a search engine for over 1500 library/librarian RSS feeds, was – meh.  I did a search on my library and it brought up two job postings that are over a year old (the jobs were filled in September 2008).  Some other searches unfortunately brought up results in Spanish, and I could see no way to eliminate those from the results.  The search mechanism is pretty primitive.

I did see a feed category that might be useful when I get to Thing 21 – Podcasts.  According to the LibWorm About page, “If you browse by the FEED CATEGORY “Podcasts : Academic Libraries,” you see ONLY content from feeds that are podcasts produced by academic libraries. If you browse by the SUBJECT “Podcasting” you’ll get all items that contain the words “podcasting”, “podcasts” or “podcast”.  I’m finding the Subjects to be too broad a search, the Feed Categories too narrow, and the Tags completely useless.

I could see LibWorm as a good starting place for someone looking for relevant feeds to subscribe to, but I feel like I already have enough.  I could also see it as a way for someone starting a new library-related blog to get some free publicity, by registering with LibWorm and submitting the feed.   I’m glad to learn about LibWorm, but beyond North Texas 23, I don’t think I’ll be using it.

Thing 16 continued – More Things about LibraryThing

For this Thing, we were also supposed to “read the sections on thingLang, ISBN Check, and MARCThing to see how they intersect with the tools used by regular libraries.”  MARCThing searches data sources to simplify the MARC data.   ThingLang determines the language of a book.  ISBN Check validates 10-digit and 13-digit ISBNs.  I don’t really use these technical tools, but it was interesting to read about them in the Thingology blog, which “is LibraryThing’s ideas blog, on the philosophy and methods of tags, libraries and suchnot.”  A little less technical is the LibraryThing Blog, “LibraryThing’s features and announcements blog.”  I have the combined feed for both going to my blog readers.

I’m not really on LibraryThing for the social aspects, although I did join the Librarians Who LibraryThing group on my personal account.  I really don’t have time to follow it or any other group, though.  I See Dead People’s Books looks interesting, but Name that Book would probably be more useful in a library, particularly a public library.

Also, I notice a lot of North Texas 23 people have been recommending Shelfari or Goodreads in their blogs.  I can’t recommend Shelfari and refuse to even try it myself  because of its e-mail spamming and astroturfing.

I did set up a Goodreads account a few months ago.  I’ve added one friend, and follow a couple others’ reviews, added a few books these folks had and rated a couple of them, made a couple comments on others’ reviews, but that’s it.   Frankly, I really don’t care what page someone is on in a book or how many stars they gave it.  Here is a good post that compares Goodreads and LibraryThing – be sure to read all the comments.

Why does LibraryThing cost money ($10 a year or $25 a lifetime) if you want to add more than 200 books?   Because, unlike Shelfari and Goodreads, there are no annoying ads on LibraryThing and it helps defray the costs of running it.  The librarian in me really prefers the features in LibraryThing.

Some Texas libraries are using LibraryThing for Libraries, which provides a “Catalog Enhancements” package and a “Reviews Enhancement” package.  Bedford Public Library was the second library ever to adopt this, and they use both packages.  To date, other libraries in Texas using the Catalog Enhancements package (with examples) are the Irving Public Library, the Richardson Public Library, and the University of Texas at Austin.  As an academic librarian, I’m really interested to see how the latter uses LibraryThing for Libraries.

Thing 16: LibraryThing

Let me start out by saying 1)  I LOVE LibraryThing, and 2) I don’t work for them!

I have a couple LibraryThing accounts – one personal, and one that I use at work.  I started the personal one a little over three years ago as a way to track the books I read.  I just recently went over 200 books and very happily paid the $25 for a lifetime membership – WELL worth the money!  Of my 202 books, I have written reviews for 163 of them (and of the 39 without reviews, 9 are sitting in my finished-but-need-to-write-a-review pile – my husband’s hospitalization in May followed by a couple trips and then a substitute college teaching gig have put me behind schedule).  I think because I have written so many reviews, I get a lot of books through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.

What I really want to write about is how I am using LibraryThing at work.  I manage the curriculum collection at an academic library.  This includes (besides teacher resources and state-adopted PK-12 textbooks) children’s literature.  “Introduction to Children’s Literature” is a required course for future elementary education teachers at my university.  Students in this class have to produce annotated bibliographies for eight genres of about 35 picture books and one chapter book/novel per genre.

Students were having problems finding books with our traditional  catalog in particular genres.  They often don’t show up in MARC records and even when they do, they aren’t searchable with our integrated library system (Sirsi).  Subject headings work OK for some genres (poetry, biographies, for example), but you have to get the wording just right.

My first solution to this problem was to create spreadsheets for each genre with books in our collection published since 1998* (*Originally, when the current professor started teaching this class in 2007, she only wanted students to use books published in the last ten years).  The spreadsheets were uploaded to a wiki (more on that in Thing 18) that the students in the class could access.  We also printed copies of the spreadsheets and kept them in a binder near the children’s literature collection.

However, I quickly found that the spreadsheets were a pain to maintain, particularly when we received new books.  I first started using LibraryThing in the class as a way to let them know (with a post in Blackboard, the campus’ course management software) that new books were available.  I would tag the books by genre and type (picture book, chapter book, etc.).

LibraryThing proved to be so flexible that I ponied up the money to add over 200 books.  Fortuitously, about the same time I was assigned an intern (a student graduating from a campus major that requires an internship who is thinking about going to library school) and I made it her primary project to add books from the spreadsheets into LibraryThing – plus a whole lot more beyond that – using the tags I already had in the spreadsheets and more.

At one point my full-time assistant, two student workers, and the intern were all adding items to LibraryThing, sometimes up to three at once!  One of them was able to use our bar code scanner (used for marking items as used in our circulation system) to input the books, but we also found that typing in the ISBN worked just as well.  We’d always use Library of Congress data when it was available.

The recent addition of the collections feature to LibraryThing is making this project even more useful.  One problem I had previously was that it was hard to do a search on two or more tags – there is a way to do it, but results were inconsistent.  For example, if I wanted to search for books tagged both as biography and picture book, I sometimes got results that were neither.  With collections though, you can easily pull up books within just one collection with one tag.  Currently we’re putting all the books into collections based on type – picture, chapter, etc.   Since a book can be in more than one collection at a time, later we’ll go back and add genre collections as well.  This way users could search for all books tagged biography in the picture book collection, or all books tagged picture book in the biography collection.

We’ve pretty much got all the children’s books published in 1998 or later in our LibraryThing account.  After we finish placing these in their respective type and genre collections, we’ll start working backwards, adding books published in 1997, 1996, 1995, etc.   Besides the children’s literature class, I have introduced this tool to a math content area class (one of the assignments there is to develop a math lesson around a children’s literature book), and to a couple of graduate-level education classes.  One professor recently told me one student got a grant to implement LibraryThing in her classroom library; I’ll add more details about that in an edit to this post later!

More here on Thing 16.

Thing 15: Digg

I gave social news site Digg a try and I’m not real impressed.  Luckily it was easy to set up an account just by linking to Facebook, since I didn’t want to remember yet another user name and password, especially for something I was pretty sure I would never use again after this activity.  To be really honest, I don’t care what the masses think is the most popular and I never have.

I did a couple searches on my employer and the town I live in and didn’t come up with much – and most of that was negative.  I did this because I thought perhaps one could set up a widgit on a library blog to pull up Digg stories about a college or city – but alas, it doesn’t appear there is any way to do that.  You can only narrow it down by very broad topics, most of which are technology or sports related.

Nevertheless, I appreciated the chance to try out this tool – although it’s unlikely to be one I would promote with the rest of our library staff.  We have a Technology Task Force meeting tomorrow, and I wanted to get through Digg, LibWorm, and Google Docs before then as those are three tools we haven’t tried in our own versions of 23 Things.

Thing 14: Delicious

I signed up for a Delicious account (I’m riofriotex) about a year ago when two of my co-workers first presented about it, but I didn’t use it for much of anything. I didn’t like the interface – it had too much of a techie-geek feel to it, I thought.

But, I gave it another go for my library’s recent version of 23 Things, and I’m finding it especially handy to save bookmarks across the multiple computers I use (home, office, lower level reference desk and main floor reference desk). In the past, I would often e-mail the links to myself!

In reading about and playing around with it, I’ve found a few cool features. You can “send” someone else a bookmark by tagging it with “for:” and then the usernames of others in your network will pop up for you to choose from. I sent a co-worker an idea for a post to our library’s blog this way.

You can easily “AND” tags with a tag combination to narrow searches, and create “tag bundles” to do “OR” searches.

Looking at how others tag items might give you a search idea. I’ve used Delicious tags on “library” and “privacy” or “confidentiality” to find some resources for an recent training I did.

Delicious is also a great way to stick a bunch of links in a blog post. Look near the end of this post.

I can definitely see using Delicious for our library’s “Selected Internet Resources” pages in the future – it would be easier to update them, too.  And like Flickr, developers have come up with a number of third party tools to use with Delicious. One I am going to try is Fresh, a dead link/bookmark checker.

Thing 13: Tagging

tags picI have mixed feelings about tagging.  I use it in my LibraryThing accounts, particularly the one I’ve set up for the children’s literature class, because the students in the class need to find books of particular genres and types (mostly picture books), and there’s no easy way to search for many of those in our integrated library system  (more on all this when I get to Thing 16).  I use some labels (Google’s word for tags) in Blogger and Gmail for personal organization.  I use them in Delicious (more on that in the next Thing) to help me find more links on a particular topic.

However, there are a couple places I don’t like to use them.  I don’t use them here in my WordPress blog.  I don’t like how WordPress applies tags (and categories) community-wide.  For example, if I tagged this post with “tagging,” I would expect that clicking on that tag within my blog would ONLY bring up MY post(s) about tagging – but that is not the case.  It brings up a list of posts from EVERYONE that has used that tag.

I also don’t use much tagging in Flickr.  The reason for this is all the API-based applications out there that let people search for photos by their tags, but don’t distinguish (as flickrCC does) between those photos with Creative Commons licenses that allow others to use their images under specified conditions, and the vast majority of photos (including mine) that are posted in Flickr with ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (my emphasis).  Since I don’t particularly want people using most of my photos without my permission, I do very little tagging there, to deliberately make my photos harder to find.

I also found it annoying that other people could tag my photos on Flickr, so I changed my Privacy & Permissions settings there to prevent that and to hide my photos from public searches on and third-party sites.  The only photos that don’t have those settings are those that I placed in the one pool (U.S. County Courthouses) that I belong to.

I have to agree with the Aggie Librarian about having mixed feelings on allowing user tags in the catalog.  He says, “I guess I’d be okay with them if they were indexed separately from LCSH [Library of Congress Subject Headings] and could be excluded from searches at the user’s discretion. Those that want to find ‘something, anything’ will be happy, and more serious researchers will appreciate being able to tune out the ‘noise’.”  I’d only amend his statement to refer to not just LCSH but whatever thesaurus/controlled vocabulary system is being used, and I would want the search system set up so one would have to opt-in to use user-generated tags, rather than opt-out (exclude) them.

Tagging can be tricky. Just as in helping library users do database searches, you have to think of synonyms to figure out how others might tag items that would interest you. Folksonomy is great, but there are advantages to controlled vocabularies too!