About Aaron Tay

Aaron joined NUS Libraries on 27 Aug 2007. Before that he worked as an auditor. Aaron enjoy reading science fiction and fantasy when he has the time, currently his favorite author is Greg Egan. On the non-fiction front (non-library related) he has interests in evolution theory, philosophical problems including the anthropic principle , problem of freewill and Consciousness, the scientific method. Favourite authors in these areas include Richard Dawkins, Eliezer Yudkowsky , Nick Bostrom , Daniel Dennett writing on evolution, singularity, anthro Some of the hobbies he had in the past including geeky past-times like Chess, Computer Chess, IT security.

Moving blog to http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/

I have pretty much moved my blog to http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ . Please change your bookmarks or subscribe to the new RSS feed at http://feeds2.feedburner.com/MusingsAboutLibrarianship

Over the last few months, I have being resorting to cutting and pasting from http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ to this blog, which isn’t ideal, as can be seen from the formating layout.

As stated here, the main reason for the move is the lack of flexibility on this platform that makes pasting of  javascript widgets hard if not impossible.

Hope to see you at http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/ !

Zooming into presentations – Zoomit, Prezi & pptPlex

In this blog post, I describe 3 different ways to zoom in and out of presentations to increase visibility, and to create a bit of action. The three tools are ZoomitPrezi and pptPlex. I describe my experiences with them in detail and their pros and cons as presentation tools.

UPDATE : John in his comments below suggest that I should have included ahead, a even newer tool that in some respects is similar to Prezi , but which he claims is easier to use than Prezi . I took a quick look it does look interesting, but still in beta. Will review that in future blog post in comparison with Prezi.


Recently I gave my first ever talk at a local library conference in Singapore – Libraries of tomorrow . The content of my talk wasn’t anything particularly interesting (about “Subject Guides 2.0” which many readers of this blog will recognize covers much of the same ground I blogged about in past posts and which I later realized wasn’t particularly ground-breaking anyway), so I won’t talk about it here, but instead I will talk about the presentation tool I used.

While the conference was ran efficiently and I was extremely impressed by the work of my fellow presenters and posters, I felt that the venue wasn’t the best place for giving talks, as there was sunlight coming from behind the screen (we were at the top level of a building with clear transparent windows), and the glare made it difficult (at least for me, though bear in mind I have very poor eyesight!) to see the powerpoint presentations.

Hazman from NTU Library probably fared the best, as a lot of his slides were often simple one message points with huge fonts, but few presenters have mastered this technique; personally I’m guilty as anyone of trying to squeeze small unreadable fonts on slides.

In situations like this, it would be good to have some way to zoom while doing presentations or create “zoomable presentations” to overcome problems of poor visibility.

Right now, I’m aware of 3 solutions, in order of simplicity (in terms of use and preparation time), they are ZoomIt -a portable zooming app from Windows Sysinternals (now owned by Microsoft) , pptPlex (Microsoft Sharepoint addon that creates zoomable slides) and Prezi a presentation tool that creates zoomable flash presentations.

For more see

Bayesian filtering of RSS feeds – can you automatically find interesting journal articles?


In Aggregating sources for academic research in a web 2.0 world, I wrote about keeping up with your research using RSS feeds from

traditional databases (citation alerts, table of contents of favourite journals), library opac feeds of searches and new additions, book vendor sites (e.g Amazon) book sharing sites (e.g LibraryThing), social bookmarking sites both generic (e.g. Delicious) and research 2.0 sites (e.g. citeulike), Google alerts and more

The main problem with this of course is that you quickly get overwhelmed with results. In many cases you can’t create a custom RSS feed (e.g. Many libraries provide RSS feeds of “new additions” in broad subject areas like Economics) and even in instances where you can , say a EBSCOHOST database search in RSS, even the most finely tuned search query can often bring up quite a lot of irrelevant results.

The answer is of course filtering. Bayesian filtering has proven very successful in categorizing mail into good mail and spam, but it can be generalized to  classify text into an arbitrary number or type of categories.

Can one do the same on RSS feeds? In particular RSS feeds from Table of contents from journals? The idea is for the bayesian filter to learn what words tend to occur in articles (abstracts rather) you find interesting, and classify them into “interesting” and not “interesting”

I’m aware of 3 services that do bayesian filtering of RSS feeds. 2 are web commercial services (FeedZero and  Feedscrub) and one is a open source project (SuxOr).

For longer more rambling posts see my more detailed blog post here

GoogleWave – First thoughts

It has being a crazy week, I was stressing out having to give my first ever presentation at the Libraries of the future seminar (with the new presentation tool Prezi !).

Google decided to make things more complicated by sending me an Invite to Google Wave! I promptly gave it out to librarians I knew on Twitter and settled down to play with it.

First off , it’s supposed to work in Firefox and Google Chrome. But many people have reported that it’s slow and unstable in Firefox, and that has being my experience as well, so I use Google Chrome for now. It’s still slow and not totally stable but it’s far worse in Firefox.

Google wave as a email/IM hybrid

Google wave is hard to describe, but it’s basically a Email/IM/Wiki hybrid.

You “wave” to one or more googlewave accounts by adding your contacts to a new wave, similar to the way you add email addresses when emailing. If people you have on your google contacts have a wave account they automatically appear as one of the possible contacts. The image below shows me starting a new wav.

Chances are though , you will have no one to wave to at first, so you have to figure out what their wave addresses are, or find some public waves to interact in.

What are public waves?

Like email conversations, you can usually only read waves you were added to as a contact. It is however possible to make a wave “public”, so anyone with a wave account can read it (see this on how to make a wave public).

You can do a search with:public keyword search in the middle pane, to find public waves. I like to do a search with:public librarians

There are waves such as the Librarians wave directory that lists librarians on Google Wave, or you can go to any wave, click on the row of accounts listed in the wave, and add them to your contacts

The interesting part is that if the people you wave to are online, you can see them type their responses in real-time and by real-time I mean you can see them type their responses letter by letter! You can also respond in real time, so you can respond mid-way even before the other party has answered.

It’s a novel experience, particularly if you have not used real time collaborative  tools like Etherpad or Googledocs before.

Each wave you see would include a threaded history of the conversation so far, and you can add new people to the wave at any time, and they would have access to the whole conversation.

When you view any wave that has changed, any new wavelet (a message in the wave)  or changed wavelet (see later) will have a green border around it. You can click on space bar, to quickly jump to these wavelets.

There is also a “playback” mode that allows you to see how the wave changed with time, who added new wavelets etc.

At this level of use Google Wave is just a email replacement, with the added advantage of being able to react in real time like IM, if your contacts are online. The presentation also reminds me of a threaded web-based Bulletin Board forum

Google Wave as a email-IM-Wiki Hybrid

An interesting twist is that the messages you type as well as those added by others can be edited/revised at anytime by anybody already on the wave.

This is of course based on the wiki concept, with similar history tracking features.

Embedding widgets, robots

Google Wave also makes it easy to embed widgets from IGoogle or OpenSocial gadget. But I found this really interesting extension that allow you to embed anything or html into the wave! So you can embed anything from Slideshare widgets to searchbox widgets or anything else with the correct html sniplet.

Google Wave also allows you to create robots which are automated agents that respond to events in the wave to carry out automated tasks. I don’t have the programming chops to work this out yet, but here’s a interesting bot that looks for ISBN13 and replaces with a book cover.

You can also embed the wave into blogs, webpages etc, but it isn’t as easy as simply copying and pasting html. In this area,  Friendfeed is much more user-friendly with similar real-time functions. Mashable has a nice explanation of this and more.

First thoughts

Google wave adds yet another possible communication tool to libraries. With libraries struggling with new communication channels such as Instant Messaging, Text messaging, Twitter, Facebook and more, it is a interesting problem to have.

To me the obvious use of Google wave would be as a replacement to email. Once Google Wave becomes ubiquitous like email or gmail or if institutions implement their own Wave platforms (it’s an open platform), I suspect all libraries would use this routinely to answer queries.

It has all the features of email with added functions of Instant messaging.  My experience manning email library accounts is that more often then not, library users give you insufficient information to help them and you desperately want to ask them more questions in real-time. Currently I either pick up the phone and call them, or possibly invite them to a meebo chat site or use services like Tinychat.

Not all of them will respond and even if they do, bringing the conversation to another location, means needing to keep track of the transaction on another communication platform (logs etc).

Google Wave makes all this seamless.

I’ve being racking my brain to see if anything currently done with wave cannot be done with email and so far I haven’t come up with much.


Currently there are many issues with Google Wave, which is not surprising given the innovative nature of the service.

I think it’s quite complicated to use, and being beta the interface needs tons of work, so much so that many people (almost all whom are geeky early adopters) are struggling with it.  So it definitely isn’t ready for the masses for a long while.

The main one is that I haven’t found a way to be automatically notified in a popup that someone waved to me, or added me to a wave. (The ‘Ping’ mechanism is clumsy), leading to a strange situation where people are co-coordinating with each other via Twitter/IM first before going to Google wave to communicate.

For instance I have being using Twitter with @digicmb and @mlibrarianus to connect with them first before going to test wave.

My first library transaction over wave

Somewhat interestingly, I got a wave from a library user which would be my very first ever library transaction conducted via Wave (permission granted from user).

Nothing particularly interesting, at this level it works just like email, or rather gmail with threaded conversations or a normal web-based forum, particularly since we were not both online at the same time. If only Google wave could send me a popup notification of a reply, so I could respond instantly if desired.

The wiki-like functions of Google Wave isn’t necessary a boon, in most cases, I don’t really see the need to allow anyone to edit everything. Currently there doesn’t seem to be any controls allowing you to turn that off, though there seems to be a provision for “read-only” messages that hasn’t be turned on yet.

Also as @eagledawg on Twitter pointed out to me, while waves are private by default, anyone you include in a wave, can invite anyone else to join, there is no way to control this.

Other use cases

Obviously people are still trying to figure out Google wave. I have written in the past about mashups/services such as

These pieces were written with the full understanding that Google Wave might make all the ideas there irrelevant eventually. In theory Google wave could be a component of the use cases above (probably as a replacement for meebo, or Friendfeed real-time widget), or it could be used on its own.

For instance the Rssybot which allows you to watch RSS feeds in wave, seems to have a lot of potential.

The Librarian at the reference desk. How do you manage your workflow at the reference desk?

Reference desk duty is probably the most interesting part of my day, as I get to interact with users. One thing that interests me greatly is how different librarians setup their systems to respond to users.

As I see it, there are two main competiting interests. On one hand, you want to be able to work on your own library assignments during idle periods. On the other hand, you want to be able to quickly put aside your work and attend quickly to the user in front of you when he consults you.

Of course how your setup your browser, your desktop, would depends on a myriad of factors, from the types of help channels you are monitoring (some librarians handle anything from Skype to Twitter to Meebo while other more traditional librarians handle only phone calls and in-person reference transactions.), to the type of queries you usually receive (directional vs research), to the nature of your other duties (cataloguing, event planning, Library information technology etc).

In the past, I suggested that one idea might be to create a mashup of most commonly used resources into a “information dashboard” using tools from Friendfeed to Netvibes (see also RefStart by Text a Librarian -Mosio).

These tools would be designed to help you answer queries effectively and efficiently, though there are other solutions of course, such as using opensearch plugins or just opening various browser tabs.

The problem here is that these tools help you answer questions efficiently (but see this comment about the dangers of being too efficient without educating users), but they don’t help you manage the interruption, one moment you are working on say cataloging a book, or answering some email to your boss, or editing your subject guide , the next you are assisting a user seeking to find some city-level China data statistic.

And if you are like me, while working you will have many windows/programs (FrontPage, Library management system (LMS) interface, Instant Messaging Client etc), browser tabs open and it gets confusing fast (to the user if not you!) when you mix that with the browser tabs and programs you open while assisting the user.

By the time, you turn back to your work, you might have forgotten what you were working at (some browser tabs might be closed/replaced already), and this can be the source of serious mistakes.

Another problem is that while working you might be viewing and displaying several screens with confidential information (loan records, financial data etc) , and you have to hide/close them before using the PC to assist the user.

This isn’t ideal, you want to respond instantly to the user in front of you or the user who called you over the phone, Instant messaged you etc etc. This is less of an issue if you don’t handle users in person (or don’t do stuff like screen sharing!)

I’m not sure what the policy is at other institutions, some might forbid the librarian from doing their work at the reference desk, but I suspect given how busy librarians are generally, this is unlikely to be common practice.

I’m curious how other librarians tackle this problem.

For me, what I do is to login to the Reference Desk common PC as per normal then do a remote desktop access to my desktop in my office. I do my work on the remote desktop, and assist users using the “Real” PC desktop. This has several advantages

I get to work with exactly what is on my system back at the office

Depending on the policies at your institution, you might not have as many user rights when using the common PC as opposed to your own PC back in the office. Doing a remote access to your own PC, bypasses all these problems allowing you to work with exactly what you are used to.

I can continue to work up to the last minute or second while on shift.

When someone relieves me, all i need to do is to close the remote desktop (one click), log-out of the common PC, and the work still remains at my desktop PC. This isn’t possible if you are doing your actual work on the common PC, as you have to waste time saving files, closing browsers etc.

Separation between work done for user and your own work.

The idea here is simple, use your remote PC for doing work, switch back to the “real” PC when assisting with queries. The switch can be done in literally seconds. This way when assisting users, you show a relatively clean profile instead of your own work PC which has many confidential windows open.

To be frank, I don’t always use the “Real pc” to assist users, often I forget, then I run into problems when either printing say a map for the user (it goes to the wrong printer in my office) or when I insert a thumb drive to copy a file for the user (you cannot transfer the file from the remote PC to the thumbdrive inserted locally).

There might be technical solutions to this, but it seems easier to just remember to stick to using the local pc for assisting users.

Other solutions

I’m aware that not all institutions are liberal enough to allow users to do remote access, and that there might be other ideas so I’m really curious how other librarians handle it.

Some ideas off the top of my head

  • Use different browsers
  • Use two different physical machines side by side?
  • Use virtual machines??

I’m sure there are many other workflow ideas used at the reference desk, please share how you do it at your reference desk in your comments. I’m also somewhat curious about whether there is a uniform practice within your institution with regards to such matters, or do Librarians generally use whatever method they find most comfortable?

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”);
window.open(url + 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?