Sharing links with users – 8 different ways

How do you share links, resources with your library patrons? In the past, the default option would certainly be through email. There is nothing wrong with sharing links through emails, though it seems to me a more structured and organized way would be better.

But today with the rise of social networks, collaborative tools and general web 2.0 love, there are a bewildering number of online sharing options, I thought it would be useful in this post to briefly consider each class of tools and assess their suitability.

To give us something concrete to work on, let us assume you arrange to meet with a graduate student to discuss his research topic. From then, on you want to regularly send his interesting resources you find. You can assume he has the same access to resources you have (so a direct link with ezproxy stem built-in would work) but you cannot assume he has registered for whatever service (including citation managers) you intend to use.

Of course, this scenario is just a smaller scale version of the task of creating subject guides, so many of the same solutions can be used.

The tools that I will cover below will generally generate a list of resources you shared on a webpage (which may or may not be password protected).

Depending on what type of librarian you are, you may be sharing mostly link to free public sites, or to links to academic journals articles in subscribed databases, and this impacts the type of tools you might use.

As an academic librarian who shares mostly links to academic articles the ideal sharing tool for me then would have the following characteristics though

(1) Handles links to password protected pages – In particular many general social bookmarking tools work fine with normal webpages but fall down when you try to handle links from subscribed databases which require logins. This is particularly so for tools that try to archive the page or add annotation overlays (see below).

(2) Allow exporting of citations in several formats – Most of the resources you are going to share are articles, so ideally the webpage that displayed the resources would be formatted in such a way that allows your library patron to easily export the citations in various ways (RIS, text, BIBtext) to whatever citation manager they prefer.

(3) Allows resource lists to be embedded in other spaces – The resource list should be exported as RSS which would allow you to create widgets using external services such as widgetbox to embed in other pages (including wikis, social networks, startup pages etc). Even better would be for the service to provide it’s own widgets such as delicious linkrolls. Diigo offers the very interesting WebSlides.

(4) Allow you to add annotation/comments – This could be an overlay of your comments over the webpage in question, or simply allows you to add comments next to the citation.

(5) Allows collaboration (real time?) – Ideally the user could add comments like “This is good”, “This is not relevant because…” etc. Better yet if the tool has a “like” feature as seen in Friendfeed and copied by facebook, google reader – allows you to get quick feedback what kinds of citations are relevant.

(6) Allows access without registering for a account – While (4) assumes to some extent that users will have to log-in, you can’t assume that the user will want to go through the pain of registering a new account just to view your list of resources. I would add that it is the whole process of REGISTERING (which typically requires that you fill in a long web form) that is annoying, a password protected list, where all the user needs to do is to enter the password you supply might be acceptable.

#1 Social bookmarking tools e.g. Delicious

The most famous of this is of course Delicious.

Newer and more trendy alternatives with many more features include Diigo, Twine, Google bookmarks and more. (Not sure if “Readitlater” type of tools like instantpaper might be used).

These tools were never designed in mind for academic use, though they can be readily adapted to such uses. Typically, they allow users to access resource lists without authentication, which reduces barriers to entry.

The main disadvantage is that as they are not designed for academic use, they don’t provide various niceties that web-based citation managers have including formatting of citations, links to resources via doi, coins etc.

Many of the older social bookmarking tools like Delicious also provide relatively little social networking functions. Delicious does allow you to add fans and/or export results to rss feeds though which allows you to create link roll widgets to embed on your webpage (see library subject guide created using delicious link rolls), but they definitely don’t provide anyway for the user to add comments to the resources you share.

Try Diigo or Twine if you want the ability to add comments.

One can also consider “clipping” software/services like Evernote, Zoho Notebook which can store anything you can imagine, but it’s can’t clear how good the sharing features are.

#2 Web annotation tools/ advanced Social bookmarking tools – e.g. Awesome Highlighter

The idea of annotating webpages goes back to a 1999 outfit Third voice. The idea is that you install a browser plugin of some kind, then you can view comments or annotations left by other visitors of the page.

Comments or annotations are usually overlaid over the existing page, or in some cases, a separate frame opens with comments about that page at the side (some will even pull comments from Twitter, friendfeed about that page).

This is a very crowded space with many alternatives including A.nnotate , Awesome Highlighter ShiftSpace, Fleck, Stickis, TrailFire, SharedCopy, webnotes, Reframeit and more.

A few libraries have started to use TrailFire to guide users. Below is an example from Central Pennsylvania College library which they use to annotate pages to guide users through their webpages.

More traditional social bookmarking tools like Diigo, Iterasi, Qitera, also incorporate archiving of the existing page with comments/annotations and images captured. Diigo in particular has an interesting WebSlides feature.

Being able to add annotations seems useful. Imagine not only linking to a specific article, but also highlighting sections that you find relevant or interesting. Imagine being able to engage in a conversation with a user about an online article, by scribbling in the margins.

The main problem with almost all web annotation tools is that they don’t really work with links to subscribed databases as they are typically accessed behind a password with the added complication of ezproxy links, and as such web annotation/archiving features fail.

Iterasi seems to be the only one that is capable of doing so, though I’m not sure of the copyright implications.

#3 Web based citation Managers – Citeulike, Zotero

Since we are typically sharing articles, why not use a tool designed for it? While desktop based citation managers are still popular, in recent years, many web-based citation managers have began to appear, and desktop managers have added web-based versions or at least allow sharing to users who are using the same citation manager.

In addition, designers of citation managers have become inspired by the success of social networking sites and have began to mimic such sites by adding features that encourage collaboration, finding people in similar fields etc.

Another crowded field such products/services include Citeulike, Mendley, 2collab, Wizfolio, Connotea , Labmeeting, ResearchGate, Nature Network, Zotero, plus huge list here

It’s hard to characterize these services as a whole and I have minimal experience with all but 3. There seems to be several classes

1) 100% web-based, delicious-like tools (e.g. Penntags, Connotea, Citeulike, 2collab, refworks) , these generally focus on uploading your citations and to varying degrees sharing with users but don’t have “cite as you write” features to aid writing of your thesis.

2) Citation managers in web-based form (e.g Wizfolio, Refworks)

3) Citation managers in desktop form but also include web-based versions (e.g. EndNote, Mendeley, Zotero)

An excellent discussion about such tools can be found here and here

The main thing I’m looking for here in such services is the ease at which you can share resources, typically links to articles.

Connotea, Citeulike and Zotero, Mendeley are either completely web-based or allow you to push lists of resources to a web-based site, which does not require users to login to view.

Typical examples would be Mendeley’s public collection or Zotero’s groups. Note: If you want to share pdfs or full-texts you can use Mendeley’s shared collection option instead.

Citeulike is probably even better since it’s web-based page allows exporting of citations in various formats including RIS, txt, RSS etc. RIS is particularly important to support since most citation managers support that.

Somewhat less ideal is EndNote, which allows sharing only between users of EndNote web. Of course, you could just export selected Endnote citations into txt and then email the list to the user.

#4 RSS feed readers – Google reader etc

I have written quite a bit about using rss feed reader as a discovery tool. You can use Google reader to share with users, or post to a shared item page for those who don’t have a account. Added plus, users can give feedback by liking it.

One disadvantage is that you run into problems when you are trying to share to more than two persons. You can have a public page of (1) Your starred items (2) Things you shared (and (3) specific folders) but what if you need to share to more than 2 users?

#5 Collaborative tools – wikis, google docs etc.

Of the tools managed above, most of them have few collaborative capabilities.

If you intend to collaborative on a long term basis, chances are you might want to go with either tools that are designed along such lines.

The first major class would be wikis of course.

In addition, there are collaborative tools such as etherpad, google docs, Zoho Office, Buzzword etc. Then there is the possible game changer Googlewave. These are web-based word processors that allow several people to collaborate on at the same time, changes can be seen in real-time or near real-time.

The chief disadvantage of such tools is that the input is unstructured.

#6 Blogs – e.g. Posterous, Tumbler.

Anyone tried using blogs to share resources? One could use widgets to pull in data from any one of the earlier classes of services and then allow users to comment.

“Light blogging” platforms like Posterous, Tumbler might also be used, due to the ease in which you can bring in data from various sources (including just emailing it!) and to push them to other sources.

Odd ideas, use the email options in databases, to post straight to Posterous?

#7 Social networks, life aggregation services – Facebook, Friendfeed etc

I have never heard of anyone trying this, but in theory you could set up special facebook pages, or Friendfeed rooms to share resources. Both services, make it easy for users to comment, “like” entries and provide real-time updates.

Friendfeed is similar to Posterous and provides half a dozen ways to bring in information, and to export the stream.

Another interesting feature about Friendfeed , you can share files!

You could import links into Friendfeed using various methods, from sending emails, to the use of bookmarklets (either the built-in one or generic ones like kwout), or importing results from RSS feeds (e.g. Citeulike ,Zotero, Mendeley’s public collection)

Below, I experiment with pushing rss feeds from Citeulike and Mendeley’s public collection

Many libraries are experimenting with Facebook pages. I have limited experience in this area, but I wonder if one could use facebook pages as a sort of subject guide, or more specifically to share resources to specific users.

#8 Startup pages – e.g. Netvibes, Pageflakes

Startup pages is another topic I have written a lot about, though I have typically written about it in terms of being a general subject guide, rather than being a specific resource list for a specific user.


I’ve probably left out, several other ways you can share resources, feel free to leave comments on how you share resources.

Creating custom search boxes for library use- a second look

A couple of months back , I wrote a post entitled Creating custom search boxes for library use. This is one of my top 10 most popular blog posts and also one of the posts which I’m most proud of because it is one of my few posts that I feel is pretty original.

In that post, I figured out a way to create search widgets/boxes for practically any database, which can be embedded in many places including subject guides.

However since then, circumstances have conspired to make the post a little out-dated

Firstly the example given on Scopus, no longer works as Scopus changed their urls. That of course is easily fixed. Secondly, I figured out a slightly better way to improve the stability of the widget.

A more stable search widget?

You can read through the original post again on how to create a custom search-box for EconLit (via OVIDSP). At the risk of quoting myself
I have being a big fan of Opensearch plugins since I discovered them and I even created a big bunch of them here for almost every database we support on various platforms.

Once you have created a opensearch plugin, you know exactly what format the url should be sent to get the result. For instance, I know that to send a keyword query to EconLit (OvidSP) with the term TEST, you should send the following string.

Creating custom search boxes for library use

The slight improvement to this would be to send the following string instead,

Both methods should work, but I’m told that the later string would avoid caching problems.

So the rest follows as before and so the final code you should use is as follows

<script type=”text/javascript”>
function econlitSearchGo(){
var url=”“;
var url2=”.mp&D=econ
var searchInputeconlit = document.getElementById(“econlitSearchInput”); + encodeURIComponent(searchInputeconlit.value) + url2);


<div id=”enterText” style=”position: absolute; left: -1000em; width: 20em;”>Enter your search terms:</div>
<input type=”text” id=”econlitSearchInput” size=”30″ onKeyPress=”handleKeyPress(event,this.form)” />
<input type=”button” value=”Search” onclick=”econlitSearchGo()”/>


nter your search terms:
ter your search terms:

If the javascript above looks tough to understand, refer to the original post again, it isn’t really that hard to understand and modify.


So there you have it, my improved custom search widget. If you know a bit more javascript you can do more fancy tricks, for example selecting 2 or more searches from a list and search them in different tabs comes to mind.

Viewing research alerts – full text within Google reader


Google reader has introduced two interesting features, “share” which allows uers to share interesting feed items to users who follow you on Google reader (or to the shared item page) and the newer “Send to” feature which allows you to send interesting feed items to be posted on various services including delicious, facebook and citeulike.

These features are useful, particularly when reading full feeds of normal blogs where all information on the feed item is available within Google reader and the decision whether to share can be made immediately. But this isn’t the case for feeds of research alerts from say sciencedirect or a typical journal table of content feed. In most cases, you would need to go to the vendor site to read more before deciding to share.

Even if one could tell just from the research alert rss feed item that the item is interesting enough to share, one would still typically need to click on the feed item to go to the vendor site to download the full-text, and to export to citation manager.

So one would need to vist the vendor page anyway.

I suggest that one can install Better GReader which loads the vendor page in Google reader itself. This allows you to work within Google reader all the time. You can download full-text, import citations into your citation manager, share with users all without leaving Google reader!


In a prior posts, I talked a lot about use of RSS feeds for research alerts, particularly in “Aggregating sources for academic research in a web 2.0 world“. The idea here was to use your RSS feed reader has a discovery tool, before importing it into your citation manager.

The workflow would be as follows.

1. Click on rss feed to view what’s available.
2. If article appears to be interesting, click on it to go to the article on the vendor’s site, eg. ScienceDirect, Web of Science etc to see full details.
3. Download the full-text. If you have not treated the RSS feed using the method I described here, you will need some method to handle ezproxy links (see post here showing 5 different methods).
4. Import the citation into your reference manager.

This work-flow requires that you leave your rss feed reader to visit the vendor site and then carry out steps 3,4 there.

But is it possible to actually do all that without even visiting the vendor site?

Using Better GReader to view all contents in Google reader

Yes! You can handle all this within your rss feed reader without even visiting the vendor’s site if you happen to be using Google reader to read your feeds and in addition install Better GReader.

Normally you would click on the title “Financial Market Volatility and Primary Placement” and a new window/tab would open and you would be brought to the vendor page.

But with Better GReader installed, this would be shown instead as the page loads within Google reader

From there you can download the pdf directly (I’m assuming you are using the method described here or are using Zotero’s auto-proxy function)

You can also export citations normally. Incidentally this works fine with Zotero’s normal citation export as well (click on icon in the url address bar).

Google reader’s send to feature

But what if you want to share the item with friends using other methods? You might want to share it on a bookmarking site like delicious, send to social networks like Facebook, or even to blogs like Blogger, Posterous etc. Normally you would use a bookmarklet, but as you might expect it doesn’t work here using this method.

This is where Google reader’s new send to feature becomes useful. “Send to” feature allows you to send selected articles to various places from social bookmarking services like delicious, to blogs like Blogger, Posterous, to social networks like Facebook, MySpace, to microblogging platforms like Twitter and more.

As the send to feature is customizable, there has being an explosion of ideas, with people using the feature to send stuff to Evernote, rememberthemilk addtoany, google bookmarks , sharethis and more here and here.

But possibly the most exciting is the ability to send to Citeulike – a free web-based citation manager. The instructions are here.

As Citeulike and Mendeley (another free citation manager which has both web-based and desktop versions) are collaborating this means it will link to Mendeley as well.

So if you use either of the two has your citation manager, you have a quick way to send articles to them as well.

Somewhat related is that you can share/share with note interesting articles with users who follow you on Google reader.

Whether it’s a librarian sharing with a patron, or researchers sharing between colleagues, or a student sharing with his supervisor, this can come in handy. What if the person you are sharing with does not use google reader? No problem point him to the google shared list page
which is a webpage that lists all your shared items.

Sharing items and the ability to transfer items to citation managers etc within Google reader are very useful features, but as mentioned before the research alerts received via RSS are partial feeds, in other words, they show only some minimal information, and you would definitely have to visit the vendor page itself to get full information.

Certainly you can’t download the full text from within your RSS feed reader, so you would definitely need to visit the vendor site. Similarly, chances are you would like to read the article first, before you shared with others.

So ideally to take advantage of the two latest google reader feature, you would need some way to read the article (or at least look at the full details) on Google reader , without leaving google reader.

And I just showed you how.


The idea of using Better GReader came from “sphoke” posting in the zotero forum.

Updating presentations in widgets

Web 2.0 services like Slideshare, Youtube are now an accepted part of the web, and Libraries are using them as a matter of course to embed their presentations onto webpages. However, updating these presentations, often involve a two step process, you upload your presentation on the service, then you edit your webpage with the html snipplet. If you need to regularly change the presentation that appears on your web page this gets old pretty fast. Is there a better way?

The key idea here is to use widgets that are flexible enough that you can control what appears using tags without having to constantly edit the html of your page.


By now, use of Slideshare (or alternatives such as Scribd, Issuu, Docstoc, Slidesix, Slideboom, Zohoshow, Myplick, Googledocs etc) to present documents (powerpoints, PDFs etc) is hardly considered innovative. Libraries have embedded Slideshare widgets onto their webpages, subject guides (including Libguides or startup pages like Netvibes) and even wikis.

Embedding Slideshare widgets is quite simple, once you have uploaded the document you want onto Slideshare, you simply go to the document and copy and paste the html code under “Embed” (click on custom link next to it for more control) onto any page you want and it appears as below

Several presentations in one Slideshare widget?

This is how most people use SlideShare to embed their documents. But what if you wanted to embed several documents onto one page? For instance, you conducted several library tutorials for students in Sociology, and you want them all to appear. Sure, you could add one widget for each document but that would take up a lot of space.

Can you put them all into one widget? Yes, you can.

You can add either a SlideShare Playlist widget or a Slideshare Presentation Pack Widget

You can customize the documents that will appear in the Widget using various options, but for our purposes here is what you do.

Say you want 4 documents to appear together in a widget, tag all 4 documents with the same tag, in my example, I tagged them with ‘sociology’

When you create the playlist or presentation pack widget, select “my tags” and in the pull down menu select ‘sociology’. Look at the preview below and if you are happy you can embed the html which will give you the result shown below.

The widget above, packs all 4 documents uploaded by you onto Slideshare with the tag ‘sociology’.

A great time saver

Initially, I found this a useful way to pack more than one presentation together in one widget, but later on I realized that this widget also was a great time saver. How so?

The nice thing about the widget above is that as you change the tags given to the documents you have uploaded, it will update accordingly. So for example, if you decide one of 4 documents above is outdated, you can just go to that Slideshare document (click ‘edit’), remove the tag on the outdated widget and the widget will not show it anymore.

Similarly, adding another new presentation is as simple, just upload the document to Slideshare , give it the correct tag and it will appear automatically!

This is a great time saver as all you need to do is to work on Slideshare, change the tags on Slideshare and you don’t have to update the html on the page at all.

Compare to the old way when you have to do a two step process of adding a presentation to Slideshare, then editing your html page and then uploading to your content management system.

Moreover, some organizations might restrict access to the content management system, so in the past the poor guy with access had to constantly change the html on the webpage upon request. Using this widget, all he needs to do is to add the widget to the html once and upload on the server, and anyone else with access to the slideshare account can manipulate what appears by adding or removing tags.

It’s a pity you can’t do this for the normal single presentation widget version of Slideshare. Or at least I haven’t found a good way, not if you still want to retain the older presentation somewhere.

Would be nice if you could have a widget that always shows the latest presentation you uploaded, or you could indicate on Slideshare somehow that the widget would display a certain presentation (which you could change on the fly).

You can of course create a presentation pack with one presentation but it’s not an elegant solution as the widget is meant for showing more than one widget.

Replacing presentations

A common scenario for me is this ; I upload a presentation on SlideShare , after which I decide to make some changes to the presentation.

As you probably know, you can update the presentation with the newer version by using the “Replace presentation” tab option. This will ensure the statistics for “views”, “favourites” , “embeds” will be carried forward.

One bug I noticed is that, the widget doesn’t seem to display the newest version uploaded. Or at least it doesn’t do so immediately. Here’s a trick to get around the problem. To force the widget to update instantly, first remove the tag (“sociology” for instance) from the existing presentation.

Then replace the presentation with your new version and add the tag.

This will ensure that the widget will display the latest version of the presentation.


I haven’t really looked at whether there are similar methods for widgets from Scribd, Youtube etc, though it seems you can embed your Youtube’s Playlist to achieve something similar. I’m sure there are many Flickr widgets that do something similar.

The key idea here is to use widgets that are flexible enough that you can control what appears from the web 2.0 account without having to constantly edit the html of your page.

Are there better methods? How do you update your widgets?

Some email ideas for library use – LibX and Xobni

Haven’t had much time to blog this weekend, as I was busy running a pilot survey for my Phd (more about that in the future), but I will just share 2 wild/random ideas I have about email.

Gmail and LibX

In my last post, I talked about how LibX is very useful, for acquisitions work, in particular how it can do autolinking of isbns.

“Any page with an isbn is recognized and converted into a clickable link. Clicking on it will do a search of your library catalogue. It even searches related isbns (different publishers, different editions) if your opac supports that or lists related isbns in a sidebar that you can search with another click if your opac doesn’t.”

Say you subscribe to various book alerts like Blackwell collection manager’s enotes, and they send you attachments (rtf, doc) in email. On receiving them, you would like to click on the ibsns given in those attachments to do a direct ISBN search of your catalogue, but unfortunately the Libx autolinking of isbns works only with actual webpages, so getting them in rtf, doc format doesn’t help.

What’s the solution? What you can do is to subscribe to those mails in your gmail account, then when the mail arrives click on “view as html”, which will open the document as a html page.

Why do so? Simple, so LibX can work its magic.

Now just click on the isbn and you can do a isbn check of your OPAC!

Want to buy the item? Just copy and paste to your email (rtf or html format) and send it to the acquisitions department, and the acquisitions department staff can verify again by clicking on the link (Why do they need to double check if you checked it already? One reason is that between the time you checked the catalogue and sent the email and the time they received and processed it, they might have ordered it for someone else already)

Google’s “view in html” works for not just Word documents but also excel, pdf, ppt etc. A common thing often done is to search for a bunch of items from your integrated library system (ILS) using a certain search criteria (say all items catalogued last year and circulated at least 5 times), then export the results (which will almost always include isbn or Marc field 020) into excel. But if you want to look at those items you would have to manually cut and paste the isbn etc into your opac to search.

Instead, email it to gmail, then use the same trick above, and you will see all the isbns are links already!

Another interesting option would be to view/convert such documents in Google docs or one of their competitors (Zoho, Buzzword, etc), since they are web-based with the corresponding benefits.

In fact, besides the LibX functions there are several functions that are accessible only when viewed in html, these include IE 8’s web accelerators, various Firefox addons that add searches to the context menu etc, so viewing a document in html can actually be quite useful.

Use Xobni for tracking email

Many libraries use a Outlook account to handle user queries. By using Xobni (Inbox spelled backwards) a free plugin, one can access Xobni analytics, which helps to quickly answer the following questions.

In terms of mail volume, when are your users emailing you. How many percent of them email you during the weekend? How many percent do it after office hours? Does mail volume vary across the year?

In terms of response speed, what is your libraries’ median response time to a mail? Does this vary much by hours? (Typically it does, mail received before office hours say 7 am obviously have a slower response time). Does this vary by day of week or across the year? (Again it is obvious response time is typically slower during week-ends if the account isn’t manned those times). Are you meeting your service level targets?

You can filter results by person, subject, domain, folder, context and more

All this is very helpful to decision making, for example if you find a spike in emails received after midnight say during April (just before assignments are due?), you might consider setting up a night shift to answer emails during this period?

Is your response time noticeably slower for certain questions? Particularly, you might find a class of questions that are commonly received say after office hours or on friday nights and which require answers that cannot wait until office hour begins… Which could be a source of dissatisfaction.

Xobni also has Facebook, Linkedin and Skype integration. With many libraries establishing a presence in Facebook, (even Library of Congress has one!) due to the rapid rise in popularity of Facebook and a smaller number providing support via Skype, Xobni is the ideal tool. For instance, a user emails you to ask a question, use Xobni to instantly offer to “Friend” him with your Library’s Facebook account.

Or instantly find his skype account and communicate with him via Skype.

Note : There might be privacy concerns if you use Linkedin, Facebook related features.


That’s all for this week. I hope you found some of the tips here useful. BTW, my blog is now 6 months ago (it’s genesis dates back to 24 Feb 2009) , would like to thank readers for their comments and interest.