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.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Using library 2.0 tools for technical services

Technical services in libraries which encompasses back-room work like acquisitions, document delivery and cataloging are often deemed as the less ‘sexy’ part of librarianship.

Yet, satisfying and even delighting library patrons depends critically on having an efficient and effective technical services departments which explains why many libraries are embarking on projects to streamline and improve their services. While the biggest gains probably come from radical redesign, some gains can be gotten from minor changes. In this post I will share some ideas to do that.

Librarians have being introducing tools like Libx toolbars, opensearch plugins, bookmarklets greasemonkey scripts (ezproxy script, amazon script) etc but the focus always seems to be for library users.

But it occurs to me that such tools are even more effective for technical services work.

Libx for instance automatically converts any isbn on a page to a clickable link, and clicking on it will do a xisbn search (it searches not just the given isbn, but also related isbns) of the item in your catalogue. While this is no doubt useful to users, one suspects that a typical library staff assigned to say acquisitions would use this dozens if not hundreds of times in the course of his/her work for checking orders that come in. Though each use saves them probably 5 seconds (not to mention reduces errors), the time savings can add up when they process thousands of books a year.

Another advantage of using opensearch plugins or Libx toolbar in technical services is that they can serve as a pilot, before you push it out to users!

Opensearch plugins

Obvious idea, add opensearch plugins for sites you use often for cataloguing, purchasing etc. This could be anything from your own library catalogue to other libraries like British Library, Book vendors, jobbers (Amazon, Blackwell books, Bookfinder, BookData Online etc)that do not support z39.50

You can also add sites that handle journal abbreviations such as JAbbr etc.

This is particularly effective if you need to do the same search a dozen times across different sites.

Say for instance, you need to process a request for document delivery. You need to

1. Check if the article exists in your collection and if not
2. Check your vendors to see if they have it to place an order.

Let’s assume you don’t have a openurl resolver and you need to manually check the source title against your OPAC.

Set up, the opensearch plugins for your library opac and other vendors/libraries you use in Internet explorer 7 or 8 or Firefox. (Tip : Add to searchbar Firefox addon makes adding new search providers a snap in Firefox)

Copy and paste, the source title (issn would be better, but most users don’t give you that), into the searchbox and then select your library search. After checking it doesn’t exist, you then click on the pull down button again and select the vendor you are checking (e.g. CISTI). The search results will appear.

If they don’t have it, continue with the other vendors down the list.

Notice how you don’t have to cut and paste the same search manually several times, just select another search provider and the search is run! Internet Explorer 7 is pretty handy in the way it handles opensearch because the search is automatically run with the terms in the searchbar whenever you change search providers.

You might notice that I’m actually using Firefox in the video. Firefox users who want to achieve the same effect should install “search on engine change” addon.

There are various other firefox addons that allow you to do even more interesting stuff, in particular you can do a search such that it searches the same term across several search providers opening a new tab for each.

Try Firefox search sidebar (search several search providers at one time) , searchwith (adding searches to your context menu) to search multi-servives at one time. This is a very cheap method to achieve a poor man’s federated search.

Install Libx

The Libx toolbar has a host of useful functions. But probably the most useful one of all would be the 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 get a book order for a certain title. You typically search your catalogue first to see if the book already exists, then they search vendor sites to look for pricing, availability etc.

If you combine* the use of Libx and opensearch, you have two choices.

1. Use opensearch to search your catalogue (by title probably, isbn usually isn’t given but even if it is you probably want to check for hardback, paperback editions) then search the vendor the site. Then you can double check that the book doesn’t exist in your collection by clicking on the isbn given on the vendor site.

2. Use opensearch to search a commonly used vendor first , then click on the given isbn which brings you to the opac search of that isbn and related isbn.

#2 looks better to me. In particularly since it shows related isbn searches (american vs british publishers, paperback/hardback even different editions etc).

Using Googledocs for book orders

Did you know you can use Googledocs to create simple forms? The data will be automatically added to a spreadsheet. The Unquietlibrary uses this to create a simple form created this way for processing book orders.

How about using googledocs has a form for reporting problems with electronic resources that are down?

Using wikis to inform of cataloging subject heading changes

Rather than having a meeting to discuss the changes or additions, as we have in the past, one of the cataloguers suggested we add this information to the wiki. As each cataloguer has a chance to read the bulletin, they can add to the list of new, changed or old subject headings.

The cataloguing librarian

Other ideas

Incidentally, my love affair with all things library 2.0 began while I was embarking on a project to streamline technical services, so I have a soft spot for such ideas. Are there other interesting creative ways technical services staff are using web 2.0 in your library? I’m interested in hearing about it.

* Why not use Libx alone? While Libx allows you to add library catalogues, support of other searches are limited compared to opensearch plugins.

Feedback for libraries – Getsatisfaction, UserVoice, Yelp

Introduction

Today’s libraries interact with users and obtain feedback in a dizzying number of ways from email to sms, instant messaging, twitter, skype, Facebook and comments on blogs.

But most of these methods are private (e.g other users cannot see an email sent to your library) or in the case of comments on blogs/wall posts on Facebook the feedback obtained is unstructured.

Why allow users to see feedback from others? By allowing users to vote on or comment on feedback already left by other users, this allows you to get a sense how common a certain problem is or how popular a certain requested feature is (is this crowd sourcing?). There are also some efficiency gains as you can answer a commonly asked question with just one reply, yielding you a kind of FAQ/Knowledge base.

Services like UserVoice and Getsatisfaction provide such features. Think of them as forums customized for collecting feedback ( “Feedback 2.0”?)

Currently many of the top web 2.0 companies are using these services, including Twitter and Google related services.

It still early days but a few libraries have started exploring Getsatisfaction, these include Lunia Library, Vancouver Public Library (blog entry) . Others include Pierce County Library System, Charles City County Library Campaign, Central Medical Library UMCG, John C. Fremont Library District


Luria Library on GetSatisfaction

There seems to be slightly fewer libraries using UserVoice, but these include Cook Library
and Diablo Valley Library

Diablo Valley Library on UserVoice

Yelp and other local information sites

While UserVoice and Getsatisfaction aim to be feedback/support systems for companies and services (though they allow users not affiliated with services to start support pages) , there is another set of feedback systems that naturally aggregate user reviews of services that libraries should be aware of.

Typically they are online review directories (location based) that list businesses such as restaurants and users are encouraged to comment and rate such services.

Yelp is probably the most famous of them. Yelp is unique among its competitors in that it as a specific category for libraries so there are quite a lot of reviews for libraries there.

Do note that Yelp is available only for selected cities in the US and the UK.


Libraries that have being Yelped in San Francisco

Yelp allows you to claim your business profile and it’s probably a good idea if your library is listed. Doing so allows you to respond to feedback, get analytics, send offers to users etc.

San Francisco Public Library Main branch Yelp page

Yelp isn’t a particularly new service and some blogs have covered this including this and this , so the rest of this blog will cover UserVoice and Getsatisfaction

Usersatisfaction features

Here’s some of the features offered by Usersatisfaction

Side-Mounted feedback link



Feedback tab on Lupton Library

Rather than burying the feedback link in some obscure place, both Uservoice and Getsatisfaction allows you to create a rather eye-catching feedback link that shows one’s commitment in soliciting feedback.

By adding simple javascript code provided one can display a “feedback” tab that appears on the left of the screen. This tab is extremely prominent and hovers as you scroll down the page. Clicking on it will either bring you to the getsatisfaction/Uservoice page or show a short summary.

So far, not all libraries have chosen to do this though

Categories in Getsatisfaction


The main categories users can post in Getsatisfaction are “Ask a question”, “share an idea” , “report a problem” and “give praise”. It has the usual feature where it tries to determine if something similar has already being posted etc.

Allows users to vote on ideas, questions, problems

Autogenerates categories like “popular ideas”, “frequently asked questions”

GetSatisfaction also automatically generate categories like “Frequently asked questions”, “Popular idea”, “Recent praise”, “unanswered” etc.

Create widgets

There are quite a few features you expect of web 2.0 services including the use of RSS feeds, social bookmarking/tagging, giving overall rating of service etc. But perhaps of interest would be the ability to add 4 different widgets to monitor getsatisfaction, including the “feedback tab”, “feedback page”, “Satisfaction search”, and “topic page”. These can be used to supplement FAQ pages.

In particular you can embed the feedback page widget into your pages, so feedback can be carried out straight from your webpages. If the user leaves a email, they will create a getsatisfaction account which will inform them when a reply is received.


Maui Community Library Getsatisfaction embeded in their webpage



UserVoice
– use cases

UserVoice seems to be more focused on voting for ideas/features, rather than for questions. Each voter is given a number of votes (default is 10) and they can spend their votes on voting for each idea (3 maximum). As ideas are deleted or implemented the votes will be returned.

You can pre-seed UserVoice with ideas , for instance you might want to find out what users think of extending opening hours in some days but cutting down on others, if they would like to increase ebooks etc. But users can also add their own ideas.

One of the more interesting users of UserVoice for libraries seems to be by Cook Library.

Cook Library has being working on redesigning their webpage. They have being doing it in a very transparent way and have being very open to feedback, beside their excellent blog, they have effectively leveraged UserVoice to collect ideas on their webpage redesign.

Cook Library Website Redesign UserVoice page

Currently there are almost 500 votes cast, assuming each voter used up all 10 votes, this would mean a minimum of 50 people voting.

Some of the top voted ideas look generic, “unclutter the page”, but the high number of votes (close to 100) seem to indicate it’s a big problem.

You don’t actually have to log-in to vote, and looking at the votes on the page, most votes are indeed by anonymous voters who didn’t bother to register an account.

Conclusion

There is some risk engaging with users in such an open manner of course. But it should be noted that users are already commenting on your services on the net, (or these days Tweeting about it ) anyway. A centralized place to address such issues would in fact be a lot easier, rather than doing environmental scanning to keep track of feedback posted elsewhere.

Is your library using UserVoice, Getsatisfaction or Yelp ? What are your experiences so far? Are there any similar systems out there to collect user feedback that you are using?

Addendum

There are other alternatives to UserVoice including CrowdSound, IdeaScale and Suggestionbox. See IdealScale used for JISC repository

Interactive location maps for libraries

Thinking of creating interactive maps for your library? I highlight two interesting examples here.

Dynamic 2D map at WSU

“Dynamic mapping provides a customized map display in an online public access catalog for library patrons. After the patron has initiated a search and selected a particular book or other library resource, the patron is given an option to view a dynamic (or interactive) map for the chosen resource.

The dynamic map will display directional information to the patron such as the specific library branch which holds the resource, the floor of the library where the resource will be found, the specific department location, the general location of the shelving range, and a moving image display which shows the searcher which direction to turn as they exit the elevator.”– Interactive directions for holding locations in a Library OPAC.


As the video above shows, this is a very innovative system used at the Wichita State University library. It handles items without LC class, multi-level maps, eresources and many other features (see more demos here).

Dynamic 3D map at NUS Libraries

I seldom post about work at my own library, but will make an exception this time. This is a 3D interactive map offered to our users. It has a host of features including

  • Navigation using mouse, keyboard etc.
  • Programmable orientation tours
  • Links to embedded videos – (e.g. How to use the self-check machine)
  • Search by landmark
  • 3d book search by call number and/or linked from OPAC (experimental)

A couple of videos for you (the new version looks a little different)

The system was done for us by PeekSpy, a company started by students and Alumni of our university. They make innovative use of Google Earth technology, and users can visit the map after installing the plugin in their browsers.

One disadvantage of this is that I believe currently smartphones can’t handle this though. You can play with our system live here.

Future possibilities

I can think of many other things to enhance library maps, one would be linking it to our university’s SecondLife community.

It’s probably too much to convert it to a full blown virtual world, though I wonder if it is possible to use location sharing/aware services to pinpoint yourself on the map. Imagine, a user contacting you via IM saying he can’t find a book, and then you say “let me come to you”, and his location is pinpointed on the map. Or find a friend who is meeting you on the map.

Another interesting idea would be to take a leaf from lifestreaming and virtual worlds (video below)

Some interesting ideas

1)Have a LCD screen? On the virtual map clicking on it might play our slides on Slideshare or Youtube videos from our Youtube channel!

2) Book cover displays might be linked to our Flickr accounts.

3) Clicking on the icon of the librarian at the desk, might pull up the eform for askalibrarian , or maybe even better the IM/Skype/Twitter account.

4)Have a last.fm account, pipe the music into the map.

etc.

So how is your library handling location maps? Please post any interesting examples you are aware of or are working on. For instance there are some campus wide orientation maps that are really innovative.

Am I a librarian blog star?

In case you were wondering, the answer is a big

NO

Still, I was looking through my google analytics account and noticed a couple of hits from an unfamiliar site. Clicking on it and I saw this

“School librarians, whether they work small college libraries, large research universities and departments, or elementary schools, need to stay current on the latest in technology innovation, reading lists, the publishing world, ebook trends, special project and lesson ideas, and a lot more. Luckily, you don’t have to think of everything all by yourself. These 100 bloggers serve as excellent reference resources for learning about everything from library technology to young adult fiction.” —100 best blogs for School Librarians

Yes, I made it to a blog “Top 100 list”! Not too shabby considering that there were at least 600 library related blogs in 2008 and should be over 1,000 by now according to this comment by Walt crawford. Granted not all are library 2.0 blogs but I’m still pleased.

I also noticed a list of library 2.0 blogs on Postrank by French Librarian Julien Sicot, I adapted it and at the time I checked it was at #20 out of over 60 blogs. A much larger list of close to 600 library/librarian blogs on Postrank, ranks my blog in the 70s.

Measuring online influence in general is still a very much unsettled matter. Postrank uses the 5 “Cs” of engagement. My blog posts tends to get few comments but tends to be bookmarked quite a bit on delicious and its cousins, and as I use Twitter as my main form of announcements of new posts so I get retweeted a bit.

By other measures though such as Technorati Authority (which only measures inbound links from other blogs) or pagerank, this blog is truly pathetic.

Feedburner shows that I have 140 subscribers to my feed, but this is inflated by friendfeed subscribers. Counting only Googlereader and Blogline subscribers and excluding exotic clients like netvibes and other clients that may be bots, I have maybe 40 subscribers for this blog, and 4 email subscribers. So yes this blog is being read but it’s not by any means widely read.

So no, I’m not a librarian rock star. Maybe a B or C-list blogger. 🙂

Thanks anyway for those who have found my blog interesting. Hopefully I can continue to blog about things that you find useful. Feel free to comment on what you like about my blog posts.

PS  Yes, I know this post is self-indulgent and nobody else cares anyway. But with librarians bloggers dropping like flies , motivating oneself to blog once in a while is not a bad idea right?


Aggregating sources for academic research in a web 2.0 world

Introduction

In this rather long post, I will talk about the different sources one could add to stay on top of one’s research area. These include 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
Next I cover three main types of RSS aggregators one can use including traditional RSS feed readers (e.g. Google reader), Startpages (e.g Netvibes) and lifestreaming services (e.g Friendfeed) that one can use.
Lastly, I mention why I think using RSS aggregators this way is not ideal mainly due to the lack of bibliographic management functions, and that existing services and products like Mendeley, Zotero, 2collab should incorporate RSS aggregation features.

What sources should I monitor?

When I do research, I’m pretty through in the Literature review phase. I’m the one who does the broadest possible search in Google scholar and then ploughs through over 300 results looking for anything relevent.

But thoroughness in terms of going through results is pointless if you look at the wrong places.

In the “old days” it was “easy”, you basically setup alerts for your favourite journals/databases and you were done.
Today this isn’t sufficient, thanks to the explosion in social networking sites as well as the rise of Science 2.0 and open science models means that the research that you need can be found in blogs and wikis.
More importantly, the rise of web 2.0 services means that more online communities exist, where members rate/recommend/like/comment on books, articles, links. which gives the smart researcher an edge if he is able to leverage on such sources to spot ‘hot’ research. On the individual level, you can follow or watch research collegues or other researchers in the same area and see what they are reading.
Some like Zotero and Wizfolio are evolutions of traditional bibliographic managers like Endnote and Refmanager. Others like 2collab and Nature Network are services from traditional Journal publishers like Elsevier.
How can one keep track of all these diverse sources? Forunately, pretty much everything can be consumed via a RSS feed (or you can screen scrape (another list of services here) if you are desperate) and the smart thing to do is to put them all together into a RSS reader.
I was just musing over the types of sources you would want to include, and I realized that there were several different possible sources, though you might not add all of them, some might be useful.

Type of sources

Academic databases like Scopus, Web of Science, Open source archives etc.

This would be your traditional sources where you create/setup

1) Keyword search alerts
2) Table of contents for your favorite journals
3) Citation alerts of your papers or very relevant papers

Remember to use this trick to insert the ezproxy stem if needed.

Book/library sources

Many libraries now allow you to run searches in the catalogue and export the results as a RSS feed. Some maintain a “new additions” RSS feed by subject etc. Definitely add this to your stream to keep update with latest books published in your area.

Many of the new generation OPACS, allows you to do tagging, and you or your research colleges could tag the books you are interested in and create a RSS feed for that to import into your stream.

Still chances are most libraries don’t have an active enough community doing tagging on their catalogues to be worth tracking tags. However book sharing sites like LibraryThing, GoodReads, Weread, Shelfari might have a sufficient mass of users. I know LibraryThing provides outputs in RSS, is it likely the rest do as well.

You are not limited to your library of course. Try WorldCat (you can create rss feeds from user created lists, and new additions, might be possible for keyword searchs but requires a api key), or OpenLibrary or even Amazon (use built-in API or Yahoopipes)! How about Google books?

Want to catch prepublication books? Maybe try one of the book vendors like Globalbooksinprint, Blackwell Book services etc, not quite sure if they offer RSS feeds though.

Popular blogs

This is somewhat rare, but if you happen to be fortunate enough to be in an area, where there are relevant blogs covering the area (For instance my old research area was on measuring information quality of Wikipedia, and there were 2 or 3 high quality blogs covering research in that area), you would definitely want to include that as a source.

If you are just looking for some general reading rather than something specific, you can use the method here find top blogs and to filter/rank the results using Postrank

Social bookmarking sites – E.g. Delicious, Twine, Diigo or Social media sites like Slideshare, Scribd

The paradigm example would be Delicious.

Two main approaches here, you subscribe to relevant tags, or better yet identify people in your area and subscribe to their bookmarks (and or tags). To do the later, a very crude approach is to search for a link/paper that you feel is very relevant to your research and look at who else is bookmarking it. You can do the same for tags or better yet tag bundles

Once you have done the search you want, you can get the results via RSS

Lifestreaming aggregation sites

As discussed in an earlier post, Lifestreaming aggregators allow users to pull all their activities from various web 2.0 services and or RSS feeds into one centralized area. The paradigm example here is Friendfeed where there is a thriving community of life scientists apparently.

Why is this helpful?

You find a guy who seems to be in your area posting on Delicious. But Delicious is not the sum total of all his activities. He might be doing stuff on twitter, posting documents on Slideshare etc.

If he has a Friendfeed account, and he has thoughtfully added them all into his Friendfeed account you can get one aggregated feed to use into your stream!

Chances are though, you might not want to import his whole lifestream since it will include personal tweets etc. No problem! Friendfeed has the most advanced search I have seen from showing only results from a particular service (e.g. Delicious only) or particular person or if it has a number of “likes” or comments and of course on keywords. See below

Social networking/bookmarking sites for academics. E.g Labmeeting, citeulike, Mendeley, Connotea, 2collab, ResearchGate, Nature Network, Zotero, Wizfolio etc (see list here and here).

The problem with generic social bookmarking sites not designed for research is that most links shared are likely to be non-academic sources. But citeulike and their cousins are designed explictly for academic research, so it solves this problem.

Most of them remind me of old school Citation managers like Endnote, Refmanager but adding social bookmarking and networking options. Zotero in particularly had zero social networking features until 2.0 (currently beta), and they just announced supporting of RSS feeds of public Zotero libraries.
They not only allow you to keep track of citations but also incorporate web 2.0 sharing options.
Keep track of what people in your research area are reading, or what are the most popular articles on an aggregate level. The same advise above applies on finding people to watch, tags to follow.

Others

This could include everything from Google alerts (you can also do it for Google scholar only using these yahoo pipes), real-time searches (Twitter) or aggregators like Social Mention, Samepoint, WhosTalkin? for searching across web 2.0 services. Maybe even wikis (Scirus topic pages ?)

Filtering

Obviously you should customize your rss feed to provide targeted and relevant results, and this is often possible (e.g. RSS generated from results from a powerful Boolean keyword search in Scopus) , but in many cases you can’t.
If your RSS aggregator has powerful filtering options (or even recommendation systems), the problem can be lessened, but still you might consider filtering the rss feed first before pushing it into the stream.
There are many options out there, Yahoo! pipes is the most powerful, but you can see some options in lists here , here.

Type of RSS aggregators

There seem to be 3 main classes of such services/software that you can use to aggregate all your sources but unfortunately none of them were designed for the academic researcher in mind, so there are some problems with using them to keep track of research.

1. Traditional RSS feed readers – e.g Google reader, Feed Demon, bloglines
These are traditional rss feed readers. They tend to come in two forms, either web-based or program based.
As they were created back when the sole purpose of RSS was to read blogs, traditionally they tend to be relatively weak on the social sharing aspect (Note: Google reader has being slowly moving improving on this allowing you to “like” or share articles and connect with friends, while Feeddemon has similar etc.)
A sub class of these aggregators allow you to “build” your own newspaper from RSS feeds, essentially these are just RSS feed readers but with more innovative layouts that mimick newspapers (in pdf etc).
Examples include FeedJournal, Feed Chronicle
Of course most modern browsers including Firefox and Internet explorer 7+ as well as email desktop clients like Thunderbird, Outlook 2007 support RSS feeds natively so that is yet another option, though they tend to provide very basic functionality
In addition Firefox has several addons but Feedly (which works with Google reader accounts) is probably one of the best.
There are many more RSS feed readers, see this long list compiled in 2007 and this list in 2009.
2. Startup pages – e.g. Netvibes, Igoogle, Pageflakes

Such services resemble their web-based cousins but allows you to embed not just rss feeds but widgets (e.g. search widgets) as well. They are typically much more flexible in terms of layouts and provide some minimal sharing features.

Some libraries have used these services as sources for research on a general subject (also see my more detailed blog post), but it could obviously be used by an individual with a more specific focus.

3. Lifestream aggregators – e.g Friendfeed

Friendfeed has already being mentioned. As Friendfeed allows you to add unlimited number of rss feeds as well as specific web 2.0 services into your stream it can be used to aggregate rss feeds you are reading as well.

There are in fact some Friendfeed accounts created solely for that purpose. For example this is a Friendfeed account that aggregates Library 2.0 related feeds.

A big plus about using Friendfeed to aggregate your sources is that it clearly has the most powerful search.

On the social front, while it is no Facebook, it does have a very loyal following and was clearly designed to encourage networking (though by no means for academics)

It was the first to allow other users to “like” (as well as comment) on entries and allows you to filter results based on how many “likes” or comments a particular entry has allowing you to spot hot topics.

Friendfeed also allows you to be informed about updates (or update the stream) in myraid ways from email to instant messaging (or to be exported into RSS if you prefer).

Another virtue of Friendfeed is that it implements “Real-time” push technologies if available (e.g for Twitter (details)), compared to just straight RSS which uses the slower polling technique.

There is a ton of similar services around (e.g. http://www.plaxo.com/ etc) but few offer more features than Friendfeed , though I personally feel the layout of Friendfeed is inferior to say Streamy.
If you are tired of Friendfeed type aggregators, have a look at Genwi or some of the “smarter” systems that try to learn what you like , e.g http://www.feeds2.com/ , though personally I’m not a big fan of automated learning/recommendation systems.
Disadvantages
So you have made your choice and you have all your sources aggregated nicely and formated in one place. But there’s a catch, as these tools weren’t designed in mind for academic research, you will find that there is no way to do citation/bibliographic management!
Want to attach the pdf to an article or save the webpage? Too bad you can’t. Want to convert all your sources and cite them in APA style? No can do.
The best you can do it seems is to use a class of services already mentioned – networking/bookmarking sites for academics.
As these were designed from ground up for academic research, they also basically incorporated citation manager features of Endnote, Refmanager etc. They also have the advantage of being geared of allowing profiles to be tailored more academic research, compared to the more generic fields of other social networks.
As they are designed for academic use, they have many powerful features like support for ezproxy, openurl, doi), provide useful analytics, and other little nice touches like allowing you to annotate pdf, full text pdf search (features from Zotero, Wizfolio, Mendeley etc.
So why not use one of these services instead? I think this is where, they have missed the boat, they don’t offer RSS aggregation services!
For “discovery”, social networking features are fine as it goes, but given that most researchers are not on such specialized networks (I found only 5 relevant papers shared in 2collab – though to be fair it is probably the the best example of such services), the main source of discovery still comes from rss feeds from other sources! (I think some services allows you to search directly some databases and even save searches?)

For now, the hybrid approach would seem to be best. Use one of the RSS feed aggregators above for discovery, then pull them into say Mendeley or Zotero in the usual manner.
So what do you think? Are there social networking sites/services for researchers that help discovery the way I am using RSS feeds for? What types of rss feeds do you add for your research that I didn’t mention?
References
Doing science online – About open science models

Does your library have a Firefox add-on collection?

Libraries that are big on Library 2.0 tend to offer a bunch of browser plugins/addons in the effort to reach out to the users who don’t feel the need to visit the Library Portal.

They offer custom toolbars, some prefer Libx, others are big on Conduit toolbars. Many progressive libraries are big fans of the firefox addon Zotero for citation management, many more offer opensearch plugins. All of these are available as Firefox add-ons of course.

Even Librarians who just use the standard add-ons, tend to have a list of add-ons that they can’t live without and love to recommend these to their patrons.

While submitting new Firefox addons to the official http://addons.mozilla.org web site isn’t a particularly new thing, there was no way to group all your favourite add-ons together and offer them in one place.

Until recently that is when Firefox revamped their website, allowing “developers” (all you need to do is register, no programming required!) to offer customized Firefox Add-on collections.

What libraries could do is to upload their unique firefox addons onto the Mozilla addon site and then bundle them together with other useful standard addons as a collection and offer them together to users.

As always I checked to see if any libraries had this idea and indeed some had (It’s hard to have a really original idea, librarians are really creative!).

As of writing these collections include the “Law Librarian recommended Add-ons” (University of Wisconsin-Madison) , “Swem Library“(Earl Gregg Swem Library), “Copenhagen Digital Library” , “Recommended for Library staff” (Ada Community Library) .

Of them all, the first is probably the most interesting and many of the ideas here is owed to that collection. They don’t have many subscribers yet though.

Managing the collection is quite simple particularly if one uses the Mozilla Firefox Add-on Collector , as you can add to your collection add-ons that are installed in your browswer(See feature list and video demos of creating a collection and setting up a collection that updates based on your installed addons).

Below is a screenshot of how you can select add-ons that have already being installed in your browser to be added to your custom collection.

Users can subscribe to a collection via RSS feed or better yet if they install the Mozilla Firefox Add-on Collector, they will be notified whenever the collection updates.

The last is a interesting feature, particularly if you are offering your own custom add-ons and constantly update them. Do note that add-ons you offer in the collection must be hosted on the Mozilla add-on site, so you will have to submit to them first.

So what can you add to your library collection? Some ideas

Opensearch plugins

I was looking at the Law Librarian recommended Add-ons and to my surprise I noticed that opensearch plugins (known as search engine add-ons in Firefox such as this) could be added to the collection as well.

If your library supports opensearch plugins for your library catalogue and subscribed databases (customized using the necessary ezproxy link), you can submit them to be added on the Firefox add-on site then add them to your collection. See this example

Custom toolbars and search related toolbars

Many libraries offer custom toolbars such as Libx, Conduit toolbars as well as other custom toolbars for download (see examples here, here ). Those can go into your collection.

How about a Book Burro toolbar? Or maybe OCLC’s Openurl referrer? Some libraries have add-ons that display availability of items listed on Amazon. You can also add ezproxy related addons

I’m playing with a pilot/experiment WebMynd add-on that includes library catalogue results alongside the default results whenever the user searches Google.com, Yahoo.com etc and that could be added as well.

There are also quite a lot of unique custom made for library add-ons being demoed at various “Library Labs” that could conceivably be added for those libraries.

Citation related addons

Zotero is the obvious choice here. Law Librarian recommended Add-ons collection also includes many interesting Zoterio plugins I was not aware of including Zotero Plugin for MONK Project , SEASR Analytics for Zotero , Zotz .

There are also sticky note/web annotation/scrapbook related add-ons like Diigo which I favour.

Others

There’s a ton of other addons you can add to your collection, that can help making research easier or are just so useful you can’t leave them out (e.g Adblock, Autopager), see for example this list.

Definitely add greasemonkey if you are offering greasemonkey scripts.

Conclusion

One thing I’m curious about is whether it would be possible or even legal to upload add-ons that are slightly customized. E.g A Zotero add-on
with specific options setup for your institution users (e.g. Openurl resolver settings set to the correct url).

Are there any more libraries creating Firefox Collections? What do you add? I’m interested to hear from you.


An information dashboard for your library service points (II) – Using Netvibes and FriendFeed

First, a look at the final product.

Recently, I have being thinking about how information flows in a large organization, including libraries.

In my last post, I talked about two methods in which one could quickly aggregate critical information that are sent internally in libraries by email to a “information dashboard” (I note with embarassment that I’m probably misusing this term) .

I noted that sending mass emails to everyone’s inbox was not a good idea, because people might just miss the email. Wikis would be an answer, but it is unrealistic to expect wikis to be updated instantly upon being sent an email, and there was a need to keep track of such emails to ensure that the wiki was being updated.

My idea was to forward the email to a service that would accept input from emails and aggregate the result in a nice format. Further more, one would then pull that information and other useful information via RSS into various services such as Netvibes, Igoogle, etc. The librarian would then consult that page when on duty at service points. The first solution (using Individurls) looked like this.

The more I thought about it, the more i realized this wasn’t a particularly good idea, because RSS feeds can take 20 minutes to update and the whole idea was to be updated in as near-real time as possible.

Was there a real-time alternative? I looked at XMPP, SUP but it was too difficult.

I did talk about Friendfeed in my last post , on how one could send an email and it would update friendfeed, but I suggested that people refer to the page at the start of duty and then either refer to that page constantly or install FriendFeed Desktop notifer to be informed of new posts.

But I missed the obvious, elegent solution! Why not embed the real-time widget Friendfeed offers into Netvibes, Igoogle?

To recap, here’s my idea.

1. Set up a special Friendfeed account for internal use for the library and keep it private.

2. Then as per instructions in my last post, forward critical emails to that account so it would be updated with latest news

3. Now embed the real-time widget into Netvibes, Igoogle, etc.

4. Then add any other useful widgets to that page and use it at the service desk.

It works really well, when I mean real-time, it really means that. Send an email from a registered account to a certain email address or update Friendfeed directly and it updates on Netvibes page instantly without reload!

To do so, log-in to your Friendfeed account. Select “tools”, then “embeddable widgets” , scroll down and click “Real-time widget”. Or go to this link

If lots of librarians in your organization use Friendfeed, you might one to embed a Friendfeed group (formerly room) instead. If no-one has their own Friendfeed account, they can still use friendfeed to communicate (they will all be using the same account, more than one can be logged in from different locations to the same account), but you can’t tell who is saying what, since it all comes from the same account. A group gets around that problem.

I can’t really talk highly enough about using Friendfeed this way, as it’s really flexible. If you don’t want to look at the netvibes page or the friendfeed page, you can setup to be updated via IMs, emails, RSS , Facebook, Iphone or download their own Friendfeed notifer. You can also update friendfeed using email, IM.

So it is suitable for librarians who have different comfort levels for technology from the geeky librarian who is god at Librarian2.0, to those who just use email.

Of course, when you use AJA startup pages like Netvibes you can be as creative as you one and add widgets to centralize all kinds of information needed by a Librarian at a service point.

Some very basic ideas.

1. Search widgets

I prefer to use OpenSearch plugins in my browser to quickly search commonly used services, but for people who don’t have this habit, you can provide simple search widgets using the method I blogged about here on how to create almost any search widget with no programming or scripting skill required. For me, I’m thinking of adding search widgets to search our internal wiki for policy, telephone directory of my University etc.

2. Twitter, Meebome/Meebo room widgets

If your organization uses Twitter/Meebo or any web-based chat widget either for internal or external use, you can embed widgets for those.

3. RSS feeds

Though these do not update instantly, it does not hurt to add them. I add our own external blogs, news page etc.

One could also add the rss feeds to the Friendfeed account of course, but I personally prefer to leave the friendfeed account clear except for critical information sent through email.

4. Other widgets

I’m sure there are tons of interesting widgets one could add.

Though one can use the friendfeed widget to communicate, probably that isn’t the best use.

For simplity, I like the webnote widget from Netvibes for instance.Then one could quickly leave notes to the next officer at the desk. Perhaps even better would be something that provides real-time collobration , etherpad , googledocs or better yet the coming Google wave!

Another obvious idea you could also add online calenders, those using ical, google calenders etc.


Acknowledgements

Haven’t quite worked out the logistics, but using Netvibes, one can share the page with several different Netvibes accounts, or one can share each widget, so each librarians can customize their own Netvibe pages they want to use at the service points. Other librarians who don’t want to, can just use the default.

I’ve always being remiss in acknowledging where my ideas come from, in this case, I believe my idea was inspired from real-time blogging with Friendfeed . Also I remember seeing either a Tweet, or throw away comment by someone about using Netvibes for librarians at service points, but try as I might I can’t find it. My thanks to both for their creative ideas.

An information dashboard for your library service points (I) – Using email, RSS and FriendFeed

Librarians are often overwhelmed by the mass of fast moving information they need to keep track of. Particularly in large libraries for librarians manning information desks, keeping up to date with the latest changes in policy and instructions is often a challenge.

One can use Wikis, or tools like Etherpad to manually update a “news page” or to make changes to the documentation, but often the latest changes and news is propagated through email from top management who are too busy to update the wiki. You also don’t want to update the wiki with something that is of short term utility and won’t apply after a week.

In the past, I used to just move these emails into a “policy” folder but that was unwieldy. Not to mention the fact that I would often miss such emails among the crowd of other emails in my inbox.

Creating a information dashboard

A natural idea here is to try to create a information dashboard for librarians manning information desks that puts essential information at one place.

It seems to me that the information dashboard would serve 2 purposes

(1) Providing fast access to commonly used resources (e.g. common search widgets, lists of phone numbers etc)

and

(2) It would bring together data about the latest changes in Library policies, things to take note of etc.

In this blog post, I’m more concerned with (2) – a future post might address (1). What is the most effective and efficient way to manage such information? The idea here is to setup something that is light weight, easy to use for all librarians of different skill levels. Ideally they would scan this information dashboard before they started their duty to remind themselves of the latest information.

One would of course set up desktop widgets using Google desktop, Yahoo! widgets etc on the computer used at the service point, but that would not be a very simple solution. You can also have a poor’s man desktop widget using Active Desktop (Windows XP) , an idea I might cover in a future post.

The other option would be to use web-based startpages like Netvibes, Pageflakes or Igoogle etc. The idea is simple of course, get the updates you need in RSS, and then feed it into the start page.

You could get the RSS feeds of your news portal (or do screen scraping if required), calender events etc (ical to rss) and put it into whatever startpage you like.

Some other odd ideas, how about pulling in your internal Twitter accounts used for communication , so one can leave messages for whoever is taking over next?

In this blog post, instead of using the usual suspects such as Netvibes, I used Individurls – a service that displays RSS feeds. There are other choices but I chose it because of its simplicity and elegent displays.

Email to RSS

Okay it’s obvious what to do with RSS feeds and you can feed news sources if they come in RSS, but what about emails?

My institution has access to Confluence Wiki, a enterprise level wiki which allows you to generate RSS feeds of any page, including “news” pages and “mails” pages.

What “mails” does is that you set up a POP/IMAP account with Confluence wiki, and any emails sent to that email account will be posted on the Wiki.

From there, one can then generate a RSS of that mails page and pull it into Individurls (or any RSS reader or display widget). If your wiki is password protected you will need to set up your RSS feed with the user name and password string.

So all you need to do is to tell people who want to send important internal mail to cc that email address, and the information there will be automatically posted.

Here’s how it will look like.

No access to Confluence Wiki, or any Wiki that has this feature? You can try services like MAILtoRSS , or any service that accepts input in emails but can output in RSS such as Posterous. I’m sure there are others.

One thing that concerned me was the delay involved. While the email to RSS portion seems to be negligible , RSS feeds takes a while to update (and even more delay if you need to do screen scraping). I did some testing and it can take about 10-20 minutes to update via RSS.

I tried using Pingshot service from Feedburner (similar service is Pingoat.com and more here), which speeds up updates to selected services, including MyYahoo! . MyYahoo! incidently allows you to display RSS feeds so one can burn feeds using Feedburner, turn on the Pingshot service and plug the resulting RSS feed into MyYahoo! In theory, this should speed up RSS updates. But it was still slow to update in my testing.

Using FriendFeed to create a information dashboard

How about using Friendfeed? It is already set up as an aggregator of feeds and unlike RSS feed readers it displays images too. On top of that, the page autoupdates in real-time, so you can keep it open and watch without reloading.

You can also update FriendFeed using email and that will show up immediately on the Friendfeed page.

First register/update the email addresses you will be updating Friendfeed with (you can add more than one). From the registered account, you then send an email to share@friendfeed.com, and “The subject becomes your entry title and anything in the body of the email is posted as a comment. You can even attach a photo to be included in your post”.

You can also, install the FriendFeed Desktop notifer, which will pop up whenever it receives something new.

This gives you both a page listing the recent changes, as well as instant updates via a popup.

Sadly you can’t do anything about information that is aggregated on Friendfeed via RSS as that will still have its normal delay(though there are solutions like simple update protocol (SUP) that speed up updates for supported services like Disqus and Backtype) ,

One way of working

When you start duty at the service point, you go to the Friendfeed page to refresh your memory about the latest news. The information there will be updated in near real time if it is pushed via email. You can continue to monitor that page, or you can just rely on the FriendFeed Desktop notifer to update you instantly of any other changes that occur while you are on duty.

Once a month, someone reviews all the news and decides which ones if any, should be updated in our Wiki.

I suspect that there are better ways , cleverer ways to do this by chaining several services, but all this might be moot, as Googlewave might just blow them all away. 🙂

Mashup your Library’s Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, Facebook accounts!

I’ve being thinking about how libraries can mashup their Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and other web 2.0 accounts and display them using cool visualizations.

Visualization on screensavers

Initially I toyed with the idea of displaying rss feeds using screensavers. Software such as Nuparadigm’s RSS screensaver, RSSmore , , RSSsaver and more do this.

Since Twitter can be pushed out as a RSS feed, you can display them as a screensaver on library owned machines. You can of course add more than one feed, so you can add your blog feeds, or from any service that allows RSS feeds as output (or aggregate them all using Friendfeed and use the feed there as an output).

This is a light weight option that works well. But as cool as the visualizations and effects are, they only do text, so if you want to show off your Youtube videos or Flickr pictures, this isn’t ideal

Next, I investigated web-based services.

Visible Tweets

With the twitter craze out there, services such as Visible Tweets (see movie below) , Twitterverse (now down) , provides cool visualizations of Twitter tweets. The main problem with them was the same as before, they only do Tweets, you can’t include pictures or videos.

Example using unquietlibrary(Creekview High School Library) as a keyword

Twitter Fountain

I also came across Twitterfountain (see below)

This is a tool used at conferences that allows mashingup of Tweets and images from Flickr. As such it will pick up every tweet that is tagged with a chosen keyword. The background displayed will be pictures tagged with another chosen keyword.

In the example above, I chose “unquietlibrary” (Creekview High School Library, a library that has being very progressive with regards to the use of Social media) as the keyword. While this works fine for picking up tweets and flickr pictures uploaded by the user account unquietlibrary, it will also pick up other Tweets and Flickr pictures by other accounts which tag flickr pictures using the same keyword, or Tweet using the keyword.

This is good for conferences when you want to allow any user to contribute, but this is not a good idea if you just want to display tweets or images from your account only.

Finally, I came across possibly the best solution – Flotzam!

Flotzam

Flotzam mashups up Flickr, Twitter, Youtube, Digg , Facebook and RSS feeds and will display not just text but also images and videos.

Better yet you can choose to display by user and/or by tags/keyword. For our use, we will just want to restrict results from our account, rather than by keywords.

For Twitter you can even view the tweets of a user and all his friends.

You can also add Facebook accounts, though you need to log-in first. I tried using my Facebook account but it produces strange random results, like pictures of my friends? More testing needed for this.

You can also change various settings with regards to how many notices you see at the same time etc.

There are 4 themes out there, and they are all seriously cool! So much so I embed all 4 videos using the 4 themes below. Examples are from my library and the unquietlibrary.

Even better is if you can get Tetris Flotzam working (below).

Unfortunately for me, it crashes whenever I try to change the settings.

Do note that flotzam is quite a memory hog, and you need to have quite a powerful system and requires .Net 3.5 framework SP1 installed.

One thing that I didn’t address is this. While all this is cool, what practical use can you put this too? Many libraries have large LCD plasma flat screens at various points in the library which they use to display notices (my library uses a looping powerpoint display). Seems to me Flotzam could be used on these displays, perhaps interspersed with the usual notices.