Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I was recently at a meeting where a discussion of inclusion of 3rd party content in an information resource arose as a topic. The specific topic centered around 3rd party content hosted along side search results in a research database but this brings up and interesting disconnect that I have encountered here at my Library. That is: what responsibility do librarians have to the validity of 3rd party content?

One camp sits firmly in the "if it isn't properly vetted it doesn't belong anywhere near authoritative sources." I recently ran into this on a news feed I include on my library's webpage (homepage no less). I have an aggregator troll the web for news about my organization and use Feedigest to display the results. And, by web, I mean that whole, huge, messy thing called the World Wide Web. This content is hardly vetted! The concerns came when we recently had a news item involving the TV reality show Beauty and the Geek. Panic! There is non-technical, markedly non-relevant material right on the LIBRARY HOMEPAGE! *faint* This camp believes in information beauty - and beautiful information is authoritative, relevant, and (usually) paid for.

The other camp (of which I tend to spend a night or two) believes that information only has value when assessed by the reader and it can not be held back by the strictures of "relevance" or "authority." After all, one person's irrelevant is another person's eureka! moment. Information must be free! "You can't stop the signal!" ($5 if you can name that movie!). This camp is the Geek camp - maybe including, but not limited to, "millennials" that have grown up downloading free music and getting their news from blogs.

I think there is an important middle ground with valuable opportunities for Librarians. The "Beauty" camp is missing the forest for the trees - end-users are already going elsewhere to get their information! They are going to Google and Yahoo and The Onion. They are deciding for themselves what is relevant and authoritative. Are they doing this well? Perhaps not. But they ARE doing it. Ignoring that fact and being information "purists" is counterintuitive. The "Geeks" aren't getting it right either. One of the value-added services librarians provide are filtering of information noise and some level of validation of authority. This is not a role to be taken lightly in an ever pouring deluge of information assaulting our patrons.

Wherever shall the twain meet?

I think there are two ways that librarians can utilize 3rd party content without abandoning Beauty for the Geek.
  1. Notification of content types. There are several, evermore obvious ways to delineate your content. In my library we differentiate between subscribed and unsubscribed content and there are several ways to do this.
    1. Post a content policy on your page. Of course, like a EULA, no one will ever read it but at least it is there.
    2. On my library website we use a small icon to designate subscribed and non-subscribed content. This is minimally intrusive. On included RSS feeds the news service usually includes a "brought to you by..." branding.
    3. Another method is to separate content by chunking subscribed separate from unsubscribed content on a page or even on separate pages. I do not like this method because information is information to the patron - they don't care how we acquired it.
    4. The most intrusive method would be a middle-page that a patron hits before proceeding that informs them they are about to view a page that has not been reviewed. This method can be annoying from a usability perspective and I am not a fan of this. Ultimately it will depend on the sensitivity of the user community.
  2. Vetting the source. This is the most obvious one to me. If I have put it on our library webpage then I have vetted it to some extent. I might not be able to screen every news item but I do generally trust Yahoo! as a news source and I have created a search string that I believe will minimize noise and maximize relevance. For example, I have an included RSS feed on my Nanotechnology subject guide that searches Yahoo! news for the following string: Yahoo! News search results for [nanotechnology OR nano-technology OR Nano* -apple -ipod]. As far as I'm concerned this is a vetted resource. Using Feedigest I can also mash this news feed with news from nanotechnology.com and nanotech-now.com to create a single consolidated source for my patrons. If I one day get a news item about a reality show because one of the contestants once bombed a nanotech firm - then cest la vie! This is still less noise than my patron typing "nano" into Google.
So is it worth it?

I think that the benefits of this type of content are worthwhile. With integration of additional content your library site can be:
  • Be the one-stop information source for your patrons
  • Save them time in sorting their own results
  • Provide real-time, value-added information
So, Beauties don't throw out this juicy content! Geeks don't drown us in free information! Get together - hold hands - it is a beautiful geektastic thing.

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posted by Paige Lucas-Stannard at 8:19 AM | 0 comments
Monday, October 29, 2007

Another feature we have recently implemented is SnapShots. SnapShots adds a pop-up style preview of a link when scrolled over (or when the icon is scrolled over or both). I think the nice thing about this that sometimes you can get the information you need simply in the SnapShot, saving you the time of visiting the link and then backtracking to the original page.

I have installed SnapShots on this site and choose the icon option. After supplying my blog URL to Snap.com I got javascript code to paste anywhere in my site template.

SnapShots is not just a preview of linked pages! It is very "smart" in a contextual way.
  • Note how SnapShots enhances the functionality of the embeded Library Thing Widget in yesterday's post by linking to Amazon.com descriptions.
  • On my blogroll on the right, the Snap is off the RSS feed instead of just the webpage.
  • I also chose the context information option called Engage - this means that important words that may not be links will create a SnapShot of a wikipedia entry for example or other news sources like IMDB or YouTube. Let's try it: Tom Cruise, iPhone, endandgered species. See? cool. I don't actually use this feature on my Library's webpage at this time.

SnapShots allows the feature to be disabled for those users who hate it. I have a coworker who thought "NO! too much motion!" so it is nice to have this option.

There are many customization options available. For example if you have a long list of text that you do not want to have SnapShots on, you can add a div tag of class "snap_noshots" around that chunk of code. All options are available through tagging the original javascript with SnapShots code.
  • ap - Indicates whether Snap Shots are on or off by default. (0 = off, 1 = on)
  • as - Indicates whether Snap Shots Engage is enabled. (0 = off, 1 = on)
  • cl - Indicates whether Snap Shots will display a custom logo as uploaded by the Web site owner during sign-up. (0 = do not display custom logo, 1 = display custom logo)
  • df - Delay loading of Snap Shots until after page loads. (0 = off, 1 = on) [It is rare that you will need this. Setting to 1 may speed page loading in some cases.]
  • domain - Domain on which the Snap Shots code is being placed. This is required.
  • key - This is a unique alphanumeric string created when you signed up for Snap Shots. It is required and you should not mess with it.
  • link_icon - Turns Snap Shots link icon on or off. (on, off)
  • oi - Indicates whether Snap Shots should be controlled by the Snap Shots Opt-In Badge on your web sage. (0 = off, 1 = on) [This should be off unless you selected the Opt-In Badge during signup and have included the Badge on your Web page.]
  • po - Indicates whether Snap Shots will display Web page previews only (no stock quotes, product info, movie info, video, etc.) or the full range of Snap Shot previews. (0 = all Snap Shot previews, 1 = Web page previews only)
  • sb - Indicates whether the Snap Shot bubble contains a search box for Snap.com. (0 = no, 1 = yes)
  • shots_trigger - Indicates whether to activate a Snap Shot bubble with the link icon only (see link_icon), or with both the link icon and the link. (icon, both)
  • si - Indicates whether Snap Shots should be on or off for links to other pages on your site. (0 = off for internal links, 1 = on for internal links)
  • size - Indicates the initial size of the Snap Shots bubble. (small, large)
  • th - Indicates background color of the Snap Shot bubble (silver, ice, green, linen, orange, pink, purple, asphalt)
The "si" code can be valuable as it will, in conjunction with the SnapShots icon provide a visual system for showing which links will lead off your site. I was previously using a tiny icon for this on the Library sites and now SnapShots does it for me.


Pros: Another avenue of information that can save time and provide additional information. Oh, and it is FREE.
Cons: Messy for some tastes - but able to be disabled. Some sites have not been trolled by SnapShots and it can take a minute to load. Also, using larger size SnapShots as I have can make the Snap take a moment to load.

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posted by Paige Lucas-Stannard at 5:22 AM | 1 comments
Sunday, October 28, 2007

Library Thing (LT) is a social library catalog. You post your books and link to other community members who have similar interests. I have been using Library Thing for my personal reading for some time (these are of course NOT...ummm... romance novels...and if they are they are certainly not the kind that involve pirates, highlanders, etc.) and including them on another blog I host (also NOT about romance novels ~.o). I recently thought, how could I use this at my Library?

Library Thing for Libraries
is where I would first point you. This seems like a terrific development that I will be keeping an eye on. Library Thing for Libraries integrates LT into the catalog and will soon feature ratings and comments - a MUST HAVE ASAP for library catalogs in my opinion. Library catalogs are lagging way behind current web 2.0 technology (with some great exceptions). Since I am part of a huge union catalog I have passed this on the people "in the know" for our catalog (SirsiDynix). I still wanted to find a way to include Library Thing in some way on our webpage NOW.

I am including the Library Thing widget on our page with 8 new entries in our LT catalog. This is an extra step for our catalogers, but not too cumbersome because the search is very easy via amazon or Library of Congres via title, author, ISBN, LC card number, etc. We have found some books that we order (being a highly technical science library) that are not able to be added to our LT catalog but our purpose was not be exhaustive so we don't mind! This is how our widget looks embeded on the page:

This adds a nice visual element to our page and is a fun way to inform patrons of new items. Contrary to popular (?) belief, books are far from dead. Our books have waiting lists. We have spruced up this widget with roll-overs of Amazon.com information using SnapShots which I'll talk about in my next post.


Pros: visual element; promotes new books
Cons: I would like to be able to change the 'my library' in the widget to "Recent books at [NAME OF LIBRARY] " or any other customization. This might be possible, anyone heard of ways to customize this further? Other arguments ("but we are pointing them to amazon instead of our catalog") do not bother me due to my personal library philosophy (coming soon).

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posted by Paige Lucas-Stannard at 12:18 PM | 0 comments
Who really needs another librarian blog? Probably no one. I'm quite sure that I will probably not be revolutionizing the information that is already out there. I live and breathe some of my favorite blogs (which I will list on the right shortly). So why start another?

I often tell people of some of the cool (and free) things we are doing on our Library's website - unfortunately, this website is internal only and I can never just point someone to the URL to check it out. This way I can talk about some of the applications and innovations and have a place to send people for more information.

I will also point visitors to other news of librarianship from much more established bloggers.

I hope you find something interesting here!


posted by Paige Lucas-Stannard at 11:55 AM | 0 comments
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