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Tech Tools InfoBlitz

(L-R) Emily Glasper, Gretchen Rings, Michelle Zaffino, Phil Gunderson

(L-R) Emily Glasper, Gretchen Rings, Michelle Zaffino, Phil Gunderson

Four panelists discussed interesting technology tools that libraries are using.

Gretchen Rings (now at the University of Chicago) described a mobile hotspot lending program, called LiFi, that was launched at the Oak Park (IL) Public Library (her former employer).

A mobile hotspot is a small box that connects a Wi-Fi enabled device to a broadband network. The box is compact, portable, and easy to use; up to 8 devices can be connected to it. Mobile hotspots have been distributed to users in New York City’s 3 library systems and also to users in the Chicago Public Library system.

The Oak Park library worked with Mobile Beacon, a nonprofit service that provided high-speed internet service to other nonprofit services, such as libraries, at a low cost ($10/month for unlimited 4G wireless access) . The library’s LiFi service proved to be extremely popular; all the devices were lent out on the first day it was available.LiFi Service

Mobile Beacon used the Sprint network, but unfortunately, Sprint decided to discontinue that relationship, so the library’s service had to be discontinued as well. Mobile Beacon is suing Sprint, so the future status is unclear. See article on ARS Technica site on suit with Sprint.

Emily Clasper, System Operations and Training Manager at the Suffolk (NY) Cooperative Library System, presented a list of online tools for collaborative projects. The Suffolk system provides services to 54 libraries. Clasper was frequently asked to provide advice on project management tools. There are no standard categories of them; it is best to approach the problem by deciding which problem needs to be solved. Tools for brainstorming, project management, file sharing, task management, team communications, and reporting are all available. Here are the tools she reviewed:

  • Slack: communication and file sharing, “group chat on steroids”. Her staff hated it because they felt it was overload for the tasks they were doing.
  • Asana: task management. Free up to a point. Staff liked it. It provides progress tracking, file sharing, team communication, and keeps track if things are done on time. The manager can give rewards (hearts).
  • Trello: similar to Asana but more visual and has a customizable interface.. The staff preferred Asana.
  • Basecamp: simple project management, planning, file sharing. Not a big learning curve. Cheap and easy to learn.
  • Ganttic: project planning from a resource-based perspective. Visual and easy to learn, cheap.
  • Smartsheet: project planning, scales to larger projects.
  • Gameplan: task management, easy to use, fun interface.
  • Mindmeister: collaborate on getting ideas for project management
  • Streak
  • Boomerang

Michelle Zaffino, Founder of In The Stacks (ITS), described her app that delivers book recommendations from librarian experts to people wanting to buy or locate a book. She said that social reommendations on sites like Amazon are not compelling; librarians’ recommendations are better. The ITS database (“Librarian Brain”) contains ranked expert reviews and provides customized recommendations to users using AI-based technology. The database currently has about 5,000 titles, but it is currently being scaled up. Authors and publishers are being encouraged to list their books on the system. The app also has a book locator feature to suggest sources for purchasing books.

The app is now undergoing private beta testing with over 250 users. Many users think Amazon reviews are not as credible as those from a librarian. Over half of the beta testers have been pleased by the recommendations they have received. The app is free; revenue will come from ads and perhaps commissions on book sales. Libraries, book bloggers, publishers are their customers.

Philip Gunderson, Library Systems Coordinator at the San Diego (CA) Public Library, described a tool for analyzing user data from Excel files. However, he had no reliable way to covert the library system’s data to the columar format of Excel. Since there were a number of systems used by the libraries, he also had to deal with many duplicate entries, varying formats, and extraneous fields. He was able to do the conversion using XSLT (Extensive Stylesheet Language Transformations) to produce a file that Excel could open. From that, he was able to generate HTML code to automate the creation of a web page.

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