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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.

Innovation in Libraries

(L-R) David Lee King, Alexandra Zealand, Rudy Leon, Brian Pichman

(L-R) David Lee King, Alexandra Zealand, Rudy Leon, Brian Pichman

This panel described some of the innovations the panelists have found in libraries and how they find new ones.

Brian Pichman, Director of Strategic Innovation for the Evolve Project, goes to conferences outside the library field such as the Consumer Electronics Show, TechFest, and maker fairs, and talks to people about libraries. He asks exhibitors if they have thought about working with libraries and has found that many of them are shocked that a librarian is attending that conference. So he is promoting libraries as well as finding new technologies that drive the biggest innovations in libraries. Two of the best toys he has seen that libraries could use are WonderWorks to teach programming, and OzoBot, in which the user draws on paper and a robot traces what was drawn, thus energizing artistic people and introducing them to coding.

Rudy Leon, from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Wilmington, browses SkyMall catalogs on airplanes, finds products that would be appropriate to use in the library, then suggests acquiring them to her library director. She also visited the Taylor Family Digital Library in Calgary (which she said is “very amazing”) and saw 3 innovations to help academic libraries:

  1. A digitization wall that can be operated as multiple screens or a single big one to allow researchers to look closely at their data. They can digitize maps or study watermarks and fiber of paper.
  2. A digital globe for humanities classes on which data such as maps or weather patterns can be displayed.
  3. A scanning station to digitize maps, cataloging and display the as they are scanned. Users can print copies of scanned material and take it with them for further study.

All meeting rooms in the UNC library have glass walls. Meeting participants often use the walls as whiteboards (keeping permanent markers out of the room!), which makes peoples’ work literally transparent.

Leon also suggested that instead of checking out a book about something such as a craft, the library have kits available to borrow so that a user can try it and decide if they want to make a long-term investment and buy the equipment.

Alexandra Zealand, Web Editor and Producer at the Arlington (MA) Public Library, uses Meetup (not a free service) for promoting events among a the online community. She has found it to be a useful tool to announce programs that library wants to attract people to. One can put classes on meetup, and the system will send reminders or cancellation notices to a list of email addresses. In addition, users can talk to each other, make arrangements to get together outside the class, etc. The library has control of what happens on its Meetup, so inappropriate messages, etc. can be deleted. It is also possible to take group photos and upload them to Meetup, which gives proof of who attended.

Libraries are a place for do-it-yourself activities and tool lending. For example, a private tool lending library in Somerville MA lends tools. “Fixit fairs” help people repair things. The Arlington library had a fixit fair and started a garden tool lending library based on this model–you bring your stuff, our experts will help you fix it.

David Lee King, Digital Services Director at the Topeka & Shawnee County (KS) Public Library and author of Face2Face (Information Today, 2012), discussed privacy. Some large companies (i.e. Target, Home Depot) have been hacked. Social media is not private even if settings are set to private. The Tor network for web traffic enables anonymous communication using encrypting and blind routing messages through a blind network. It is not completely anonymous, but it is more private than most library networks. Other organizations working on privacy include the Library Freedom Project, and a LITA interest group on privacy. The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) is working on privacy standards. King suggested talking to vendors about privacy and how they do it, holding classes on privacy, and telling people what to do when they are using open Wi-Fi networks.

What can we learn from the technology and business? The Wednesday Keynote

Jane Dysart and Jean-Claude Monney

Jane Dysart and Jean-Claude Monney

The world’s most precious renewable resource is knowledge, and librarians are key actors in its value chain; you are brokers, curators, and managers. The world has become a giant knowledge network. Almost half of knowledge is now on the internet. Jean-Claude Monney, Global Knowledge Management Lead at Microsoft and the Wedesday keynote speaker, gave IL 2015 attendees a fascinating view of the world of knowledge management. He said that knowledge discovery and collaboration are the best approaches to solving complex problems. We need to encourage knowledge sharing and reuse. Managing knowledge is critical for companies and nations to build sustainable value creation. There used to be no courses on knowledge, but now we can easily fine them.

With 21,000 employees, Microsoft Services is the largest division of Microsoft. It serves 75% of the Fortune 1,000 companies in 191 countries, whose employees speak 46 different languages. Its mission is to help enterprise customers achieve more in a mobile-first cloud-first world. Digital is impacting everything we are doing. The digital shift has occurred; we do not think of the device but the modality of the human experience, so machine learning can now be a reality.

Key knowledge value creation drivers include driving innovation; increasing productivity, predictability and quality; readiness to cope with faster release cycles; and management of knowledge retention. Sharing and reuse of collective knowledge toward value creation helps to connect tacit and explicit knowledge. Microsoft’s knowledge transfer strategy proceeds from collaboration, capture, codification, and cultivation to championing, consuming, and back to collaboration. The strategy addresses communities of practice, the knowledge collaboration culture, and collective knowledge assets, processes, and tools. Knowledge has a currency, so you can put a value on it and you can grow it. You can’t search for knowledge you don’t know exists, so you must champion it. The internet is all about projects, so we sell knowledge and do projects.

How can we have the information to do our work at our fingertips? Knowledge management brings us the tricks for that. We need to manage knowledge and provide for its retention because 40% of the workforce will retire in the next few years. What will we do in our enterprises? People need more skills; if you don’t have a way to capture knowledge, you will lose it.

Innovation is the reuse of ideas, not invention. The more you reuse an idea, the more you innovate. For example when a smartphone or digital camera is rotated, the image on the screen also rotates because of a motion sensor in the device. One might think that the rotation is a good invention, but it is an innovative use of the motion sensor, which was the original invention.

Productivity is important to drive the enterprise. Email is very widespread and widely used, but because of its ubiquity and the volume of email messages many of us receive, it is decreasing productivity. We need a new trick to increase productivity because we live in an accelerating world.

Key drivers for digital shift and knowledge are the user experience (UX) and machine learning. We are typically over optimistic about UX advances in the next 10 years but overly pessimistic about progress in the next year. A good book on user experiences and knowledge navigation is Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buston (Morgan Kaumann, 2007).

When we talk about discoverability, most people think search, but discovery also includes browsing and pushing of information. Social and personal networks, a company library, and corporate networks are also effective. The average number of search words in a query is about 1.4. Many people don’t get good results and won’t filter their results, so they abandon the search if they don’t see relevant results on the first page. We use digital technology to push knowledge in context and use information to find out what relevant knowledge is good for you. The search system is a part of the equation, then you go to people and tap into their expertise. Being part of a community is caring about each other. It is in our fiber to help others, which shows in business. When you get knowledge offered you must find out if it is relevant and can be trusted. So we have the concept of a knowledge pedigree. By leveraging the existing core competencies of librarians and by embracing the digital shift, libraries and librarians are emerging to create value.

New systems are being developed that know telemetry of everything I share with you, and learn about my interests (but respect my privacy and security) to create my knowledge library using a folksonomy. You can find people with the same interests and share knowledge with them.

During his presentation, Monney showed several video clips illustrating applications of some of the concepts he discussed:

  • GigJam is a system for finding, filtering, and sharing information.
  • Augmented reality will transform our lives–the way we work, collaborate, etc. and will introduce a new world how we use and share and reuse knowledge.
  • In addressing the world’s collective knowledge, we can use technology to facilitate language translation. When knowledge is presented in one’s mother tongue, access and understanding are enhanced. Microsoft has developed simultaneous translation of voice and video, which Monney illustrated with a Skype call between two children: one at a U.S. school conversing in English with one in a Mexican school speaking Spanish. Language is one way we can engage people more.

The role of a library is to create a new level of value. Think about what you can do by using a tool to access deep knowledge and further your community.

European Libraries–Directions and Insights: The Tuesday Evening Session

Erik Boekesteijn, Founder and Director of DOKLAB at the public library in Delft, Netherlands and author of The ShanachieTour (Information Today, 2008) reported on his recent tour of 21 European libraries in a series of highly entertaining videos and descriptions of the issues faced. A common theme across all the libraries was that libraries are changing lives, and the videos portrayed interviews with the librarians and users that emphasized this theme in 3 specific areas: social inclusion, lifelong learning, and digital inclusion. Employment is a major issue across Europe; youth unemployment in Spain is around 60%!

Case studies from Ireland, Romania, and Denmark were shown. Libraries are knowledge buildings; for example, in Aarhus, Denmark, even though their library has just opened recently, plans have been made to rethink its layout after only 2 years. In Romania, the library is housed in an inconsequential building with used furniture. People learn how to appreciate their local heritage in a library where there is a communal “living room”. Children come not only to read books but to learn things other than what they learn in school. An Association of Animal Breeders was formed in the library. These events show that information is the most valuable element regardless of country.

Libraries can offer people a space where their entrepreneurial skills can develop. They have reinvented themselves and are playing a role in community development. Over 13 million Europeans use their local libraries.

In Ireland, CoderDojo, a programming environment for children, has been installed in a library. It is geared for learning but the learning is not apparent because the children are having so much fun playing games, etc. It is important for libraries to have systems like CoderDojo because they attract children into the library. The curiculum is led by the children, who bring parents to the class. There is a waiting list of 100 children.

Libraries are changing all the time and are offering a home for people to come and meet each other. They also offer learning centers, intergenerational activities, and are an unexploited resource that we should be using even more. Makerspaces are the best thing you can do to create a sense of community. YouLab is a project to destroy the digital divide by open sharing of knowledge.

We need a place to find resources to learn new skills. They are already here, welcoming over 100 million citizens each year. We cannot do without them. Libraries change lives!

Following his presentation, Erik conducted a 25-question multiple choice quiz in which contestants were ranked not only on whether they answered correctly but also whether how fast they answered.  Amy Affelt, Director, Database Research Worldwide, Compass Lexicon, was the grand prize winner.


(L-R) Jane Dysart, Erik Boekesteijn, Amy Affelt