Category Archives: ALA TechSource Blog

BuddyPress, Libraries and Higher Education: An Interview with Kenley Neufeld and Michael Stephens

Kyle Jones interviewed Kenley Neufeld and me for the new Library technology report from ALA TechSource: “Using WordPress as a Library Content Management System” by Kyle M. L. Jones and Polly-Alida Farrington.

Here’s a snippet:

KJ: You both work at institutions where you have some kind of formal learning management system. Why did you make the decision to not use the resources you had? You could have made your lives extremely easier going with the norm and instead you chose to roll your own. You put a lot of struggles on yourself to do so.

MS: I can’t have my students spend so much time creating and writing inside a tool that they’ll probably never touch once they graduate, unless maybe they work in academic libraries. They should be using a tool or a handful of tools they will be using in their jobs. I want them to come out of the program and say they have used WordPress and took advanced web design and experienced Drupal and used Twitter. That’s much more important than these systems. The feeling that I’m serving the students better by using these systems is good.

KN: For me, it’s been more about trying to build tools that will meet the needs of the types of things I want incorporated. The system we had originally, WebCT, I used for only one semester and was very disappointed. As a result, I started using Moodle the following term and then the college went to Moodle as well (thankfully). I do use Moodle, and it works well for the most part, but I found it a little bit clunky here and there for some things I’m trying to accomplish.

The main reason I’m using WordPress/BuddyPress is because the class I’m teaching has to do with social media. Since the class focus is social media and social networking, it seemed like the obvious solution would be to actually use the tools that I’m teaching about. It was a non-decision. This is what we’re going to use and I’ve been very happy. Now, as I look ahead, and if I were to teach other classes without the heavy social media focus, then I would still be inclined toward using the WordPress/BuddyPress solution. I am comfortable with it and happy with it. But I also need to think about the overall student experience and recognize that the school does support one system, which is Moodle, and rather than have students learn a new system, it may be smarter to stick with Moodle. It would really depend on the class. In the current situation, WordPress is the obvious solution.

Fortunately, learning management systems are trying to incorporate more of the social media tools where you can easily incorporate the video and the audio; the interactivity and visual representations that people seek. I haven’t looked at Blackboard in a couple years, so I’m not that familiar with it, but with Moodle you can incorporate just about anything. There are methods to do it, but you are still building within a framework though it is customizable. It will depend on the support you have locally because most instructors are not going to go the extra step unless they have an easy mechanism in order to do so. On our campus we are working in that direction — to support instructors to add other types of media content, interactively, to allow for a richer learning environment. It is possible.

MS: I taught 25-students last summer using WordPress/BuddyPress doing Internet Fundamentals. What Kenley said about media is incredibly important and this summer I would be out on the hiking trail with the dog and my iPhone. I’d be thinking about what I’d like to tell the students, so I recorded a video that isn’t just a talking head. They see a tree going by, or the lake, or the dog, and they hear my voice saying they are doing really great and here are some things to think about while doing this next exercise. And the feedback I got from the students for a 3-minute video was that they loved it. It helped them feel connected and it helped me feel more connected with them. It became part of what we were doing.

Please take a look at the whole post and don’t miss the new report from authors Kyle M. L. Jones and Polly-Alida Farrington.

Looking Back at TechSource: 5 Years of Blog Posts

I contributed my final post as a regular author this week at ALA TechSource. I must say it makes me a bit emotional but it’s time to move on to focus on other things. I thought I take this chance to point back to some of my favorite posts from the last 5 years of writing at TechSource.

One of my favorite things to do was a “back and forth” interview/discussion style post. Here are some of the best of the best:

And some of my FAVORITE solo posts:

November 2005: Do Libraries Matter: On Library & Librarian 2.0

The library encourages the heart. As we reach out to users, we must remember all of the folks we serve. To me, Library 2.0 will be a meeting place, online or in the physical world, where my emotional needs will be fulfilled through entertainment, information, and the ability to create my own stuff to contribute to the ocean of content out there – the Long Tail if you will. Librarian 2.0, then, will be available to guide me and teach me to use the systems provided by the library to do just that. As Abram said, librarians will provide clarification: Librarians need to position themselves and the library to help with finding the answers to: how? and why?”

February 2006: Are You Dreaming?

That’s where dreaming comes in. Have you had the chance to dream at your library job? Have you had the chance to stop for a minute in the buzz buzz of your routine and think about the future? Are you encouraged to innovate?

If not, then I urge you to do so. And I urge library administrators to encourage dreaming on the job. Formalize it—call your innovation group “Dreamers,” or use the more-grounded moniker “Emerging Technology Committee“. Give ’em a couple of hours a month to talk emerging trends, about trendspotting, and about creative thinking. Read some cool stuff like Business 2.0 and Wired and ask yourselves, “How might the technologies occuring outside of the library impact library services?”
Why? Because we have the potential to bring about the next big thing. We have the potential to be the leaders as we all move toward a seamless information and knowledge environment.I’d hope my director would be happy if he stopped by my desk and asked, “What are you up to today?” and I replied: “I’m Dreaming.”

July 2006: Flickr + Libraries = SCARY

I ask that you do not make any spur-of-the-moment, reactionary decisions, Flickr’ing Librarians! What I sincerely hope will not happen is the libraries and associations that have started using Flickr will abandon the site because they are scared… come on! Don’t let this type of e-mail campaign derail you. Look at the big picture of how this site and many others are used and can benefit your online presence. Let’s teach our users about the good and bad of online communities, BUT LET’S NOT just close the door and lock it!

2006: On the 2.0 Job Description: Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3

November 2006: The Hyperlinked Organization: Radical Transparency, Crummy Meetings & Micromanagement

To the librarian I once overheard saying, “It is my personal duty to make sure we have no typos on anything!” I must say: Don’t miss the forest for the trees, Dear Lady. Typos can be corrected, especially online, and focusing too much on those little details may lead to missing the big picture. You’re the one that staff may be e-mailing about, while they wait to launch the new wiki, you are still proofing the proposal for the wiki! A nimble organization can move quickly if not mired in proofing, re-proofing, and proofing one more time a policy change, FAQ, or other document.

And don’t get hung up on every minute of your librarians’ time being spent on task or the fact that a group may be watching a YouTube video for a few minutes in the reference office. It happens. I also believe that’s how we learn about these new technologies and the lines between what’s frivolous and what’s a chance to see how a social video-sharing community works and think about how it might impact what libraries do. Employees should take care not to abuse such openness with too much IM, too much personal blogging, or too much flickr surfing. That’s important as well and part of being a professional. The tools do not matter—IMing all day with a buddy or leaning on a reference desk chatting with a friend for 20 minutes is unacceptable.

September 2007: Xanadu & Libraries…Seriously.

I had the honor of giving my “Hyperlinked Library” talk at the prestigious New York Public Library last week. The question-and-answer session following was wonderful: questions about levels of service with technology, reaching out to the under-served who may not have access to newer types of tech and what working in a 2.0 world means to a large library system. I’ve heard that staff are given internal blogs to communicate, and there are some other wonderful digital projects on tap with the new Director of Digital Strategy and Scholarship, Josh Greenberg.

Another perk of the trip was staying an extra day to attend Friday night’s performance of Xanadu at the Helen Hayes Theatre. You remember Xanadu, right?

December 2007: Internet Years & Dog Years: Remembering Jake

I started Internet training at the St. Joseph County Public Library the same year Jake came to live with me as a 10 month pup. The family that owned him was growing as well, and there was no room for a big Lab puppy with 3 kids and one on the way. So Jake came to Mishawaka and soon found his way into my staff and public classes at SJCPL — nope, Jake never actually made it into the library (although one day he almost did when the Administrators were all off somewhere and we stopped by, but Jake stayed in the car). His presence was so pervasive that a librarian stopped me at a conference in Indianapolis and asked “Is your dog in your presentation this afternoon?”

November 2008: A Commons Experience

The Commons puts students at the center. The idea of student-centered innovation was a theme woven throughout the commons field trips. The commons did not make it any easier for the librarians or to enforce library policies. In fact, Stacey Greenwell of the University was happy to tell me that they made it easier for students to use their cell phones in “the Hub.” “Yes, that’s right—at the Hub we actually installed infrastructure to make it easier for students to use cell phones. We actually encourage cell phone use. Truly the Hub is a No Shushing Zone.”

January 2009: Stories, Open Doors & the Heart

How can we inspire curiosity in our users? How can we be the community center of town, of campus, of the school? In my mind, this is very important – everything we do should encourage our users to think of us when they need help, an escape or a roadmap in a an ever-changing world. Sure, snazzy technology in a beautiful space is sexy and alluring but the purpose behind it should be deeply grounded in a highly refined service ethic and the mission to put information into the hands of those who need it. Art. Music. Space. Technology. Gadgets. Shiny new toys. Rather important as well. Collaboration. Service. Connection. These are the foundations that make everything work so well. Caring and empathy? That’s a given if we want to encourage the heart.

September 2009: Engagement in the LIS Classroom

I’ve seen students’ eyes glaze over in traditional, in-person lectures that I’ve given, and I remember the feeling well from when I was on the other side of the lectern. I’m recalling nights spent in classrooms with adjuncts lecturing endlessly while working on my Masters–so last century…wait, it actually was last century! In recent semesters I’ve worked to limit the length and “ho hum” factor of my lectures, preferring instead to get students talking, acting or creating. Of course, this does depend on how prepared your students are. Hopefully they’ve done their reading or explored the topic beforehand.

February 2010: Finding My Tribe at EDUCAUSE

I’m taking away a lot from three days in Austin, Texas with a tribe of educators and technologists. There was much to incorporate into my teaching and much to share on my own campus. And I’d share this with you, readers: get to one of these conferences or check out the content online. Given the caliber of discussion and the trend-scanning, the long range insights should not be missed by library folk–especially those who work with young people in any capacity, those who teach future librarians, those who work in academic libraries, or those who recognize that technologies on the horizon will be here sooner than we think. Shouldn’t we have a hand in shaping their use in education and beyond?

June 2010: What’s Your Digital Legacy?

More importantly, I think leaving a legacy of good work and caring starts now. Seth Godin urges folks to “be authentic” and I responded to his statement with my own thoughts in an article last year:

“In a time when snark is so easy, Godin urges readers throughout his works and blogging to be authentic – stressing quality over quantity. “There’s no limit now. No limit to how many clicks, readers, followers and friends you can acquire,” he wrote recently at his blog. “Instead of getting better, you focus obsessively on getting bigger.”

Instead, build a trusted network of colleagues and contacts in the digital library world. Share. Cite them when they inspire you. Pay it forward. The wonderful thing is now, these people can reside all over the world. It’s not unusual to have support from The Netherlands, Australia, the United Sates or England with the click clack of a few keys. Be real in these dealings. Be honest. Be yourself.

I think it also sums up what I want for all of us to be remembered for as professionals – that part of our life devoted to our work, to libraries, to the user. Be real. Be authentic. Play nice. Share. Care.”

Looking back at all of these posts reminds me how my thinking about libraries and librarians has evolved over the years. I’m honored to have had the chance to write for ALA TechSource. Thanks to all who read my posts over the years.

You Can Do Magic & Signing Off ALA TechSource

I’m moving on from writing blog posts for ALA TechSource. My final post went up today. I do plan to return on occasion as a guest blogger. Today’s post is about MAGIC:

I also want to tell you a story about ten year old Michael. He really enjoyed afternoon reruns of shows like Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy and the like. A particular favorite, however, was I Dream of Jeannie. It was silly fun: a genie, a master and a Bottle. Do you remember the bottle? I do. I always wanted one. I daydreamed that the studio might someday mail one out to the biggest fans of the show or make them available in the stores. Never happened.

Fast forward twenty some years to the launch of eBay. I taught “How to eBay” classes at the public library for several years and one of the examples I used was searching for the 1964 Jim Beam decanter that was used for five seasons as Jeannie’s bottle. There was a big market for the bottles back then – and still is.

Fast forward another 15 years or so to 2010. I visited some good friends in Michigan a few days before Thanksgiving and discovered they owned one of the decanters! I had never held one in my hand until that day. Later that night, back home, I pulled up eBay and commenced bidding. 7 days later , delivered to my door just as young Michael had often wished, was a pristine 46 year old bottle. It lives on my sideboard now in a place of honor. It’s hard to describe how happy owning this silly piece of history makes me. Call me silly but the first day I had it, I’d stop and just look at it or pick it up. It made me feel good. Why did I wait so long?

This is my last regular contribution to the TechSource blog. I’m very proud of the work I did there. It all started in May 2005 when Theresa Koltzenberg invited me and Jenny Levine to dinner while we were in Providence, RI for presentations. She asked us both to sign on to a brand new blog under the ALA TechSource banner. Who knew what amazing things it would lead to! Thanks for reading my posts at TechSource.

Geosocial Locations and Libraries

I have a new post up at ALA TechSource:

It’s too early to gauge impact. Ed Baig of USA Today asked Lee Rainie at Pew about the low numbers and Rainie replied: “The overall number of users of location services is likely to grow over time as new services emerge, as ‘networking effects’ take hold when more and more people see their friends adopting them, as businesses tie location awareness to bargains and other customer experiences, and as people become more comfortable with what location awareness might bring to them.”

It’s good to have an understanding. Some TechSource readers may never want to check in at the coffee place or the local Whole Foods or anywhere. Others may be experimenting or at least checking out what some libraries have done with geosocial engagement. Just like any of the “things” in the Learning 2.0/23 Things program, having an understanding of an emerging technology prepares us for the next thing and the next and so on.

What might the future hold? This is where it gets very interesting for me. In recent presentations, I’ve riffed on what may come from the popularity of geosocial services paired with location aware devices. Consider these possible roles for future library professionals in these information environments:

Geo-spatial Curation and Stewardship: Who is better equipped to curate and take care of historical information linked to specific geographic locations but the local history librarians? Or who might best oversee the QR code/hyperlinked data tour of sites around town, the campus or corporate headquarters. A librarian well-versed in mobile applications and the information architecture fits the bill nicely – maybe paired with museum/historical society staff in some cases.

Embedded Local Experts: Still working my brain around this one but is it too far out to imagine a time that I might be able to link up with a local expert via a geo-social twitter like app and ask a question? I just toured the wonderful Frank Lloyd Wright Meyer May House in Grand Rapids, Michigan. What if a Wright expert was connected to the site somehow, ready to offer up tidbits and answers via mobile devices during certain hours?

Follow a Library Day at ALA TechSource


What I appreciate the most about this project is their main goal is educating people about the benefits of following a library on Twitter. The group is aiming beyond our little online world of librarians and library folk and I think we should help them. What better way to do your own promotion for YOUR library’s Twitter feed than to play up this internationally organized day.

Some off the cuff ideas whilst I continue to recuperate after that unfortunate dog-related injury:

  • Embed the overview video in your library’s blog or Web site and write a little blurb about your own library’s Twitter presence.
  • Make a  companion video highlighting the project and the faces behind your library’s Twitter presence.
  • Add info about the project to your other sites for online presence: Facebook, etc. Share with your friends everywhere.
  • Print up some of those ever popular bookmarks, inserts, fliers, stickers, etc (and do it quick – we have about 2 weeks) and send them out the door with your patrons.
  • Put up some fliers, get some local press coverage, and be sure to share the idea with your own followers.

Tech Trends at ALA TechSource

I couldn’t participate in the rescheduled ALA TechSource Webinar but I was able to contribute slides and some text.

Organizational Immersive Learning

This subcategory addresses the outstanding success of the Learning 2.0 model of staff training: free, open, and inclusive. I was going to highlight my Australian research project sponsored by CAVAL. The foundation for this multi-dimensional study comes from the global replication of the program (1000 institutions and counting) and the words of Stephen Abram: ““I believe that this has been one of the most transformational and viral activities to happen globally to libraries in decades.”

Here’s a bit from a draft article my co-investigator Warren Cheetham and I just submitted to the New Review of Academic Librarianship that features a content analysis of focus groups with academic librarians:

What has been the lasting impact on your library after Learning 2.0?

These statements sum up the majority of responses to this question:

  • I am more confident with new technologies now.
  • I am more inclined to explore new technologies now.
  • I am more in the know about these technologies now.

Respondents shared statements concerning their comfort level trying out new sites and tools. One noted:  “It’s nice that it’s encouraged – like the learning through play idea and then get on and poke it and see what it does, hopefully that’s encouraged that behaviour a bit more with everyone so that if you do get stuck in that situation where you follow the instructions and it doesn’t work, you feel a bit more confident to go ‘I wonder what happens if I click this or poke this’…”

Another addressed confidence levels and dealing with change as well: “Yeah, just being receptive to new stuff because change is always a scary thing for a lot of people, it’s scary I know so yeah, that’s why this has been really good.”

Take a look at the slides for three word clouds of the content analysis from the questions examining the lasting impact and results of Learning 2.0 in libraries. The third is a synthesis of our overall findings so far. I have long suggested that libraries and other organizations adapt this model of continuous, immersive learning and believe our study results will support this view. I hope to expand the research to Europe and the US in the coming months.

Personal Learning Networks in the Cloud

The second subcategory addresses the power of participating in the thriving online communities of librarians and library staff available to all in the “cloud.” The slides detail just one example of benefiting from participating in Twitter – subscribe to folks who inspire you or make you think, follow along, chime in, share. The examples are from a talk I gave where I asked my own PLN what I advice they’d share with the LIS students.

Developing your own PLN can come from subscribing to blogs and news sites, Twitter, Facebook and participating in any number of online learning opportunities. A broad PLN might also include the people you learn from in physical space, your reading in and outside of the profession AND everything you encounter in your day to day. I have some serious “aha!” moments when I encounter cool things are doing with service and information delivery out in the world.

Learning in Flux

Finally, the most important part of the trend is the fact that teaching and learning are also changing – models for delivering education are rapidly adapted to the power of the Web, social technologies and mobile devices. The model of sitting in a lecture hall or classroom once or twice a week is becoming less and less important as devices and delivery methods allow us to engage in learning practically anytime and anywhere.

The slides detail some of the goals I have for my students in our LIS program – the world of libraries and educational institutions will be very different in the coming years for our recent grads. They have great work to do –  I call on new librarians and seasoned professionals to do three things: Support these new models with all of the foundational aspects of what we do, but also be present inside these new virtual learning spaces right along with the professors and students, ever ready to guide them. And – look toward creating flexible and vibrant learning spaces in both the physical and virtual world.

I was asked to describe my future vision of education and library support for an upcoming book on the topic o be published in Australia. Here’s a bit of those iudeas that’ve adapted into recent talks:

The ecology of information created within our own learning networks knows no boundaries. It’s not just the cyber world but also our physical spaces that are adapting and evolving. How will classrooms look in ten years? What will school libraries be then? I envision learning spaces and collaborative hubs with spokes that stretch out across communities. Engaged learning will play out along these spokes – at home, at cafes, in the park, community centers and at libraries and of course in educational institutions. For this to come to fruition, barriers must be thrown down, new methods introduced and constantly improved and old paradigms tossed out. We should, however, always stand firm on the foundations of our missions: for educators and for librarians. Ground yourself there but spread the proverbial wings as wide as you can.

Reprinted from:

Interview with Smithsonian’s Michael Edson at ALA techSource

MS: The connection between libraries and museums gets clearer and clearer to me, especially after my speaking trip to Germany. At our Stammtisch evening, I spent a long time chatting with a museum employee. Her take was this: “We have 30 seconds to grab a visitor’s attention. We can’t use a blog. We can’t create a social experience in that time…”  Then at UGUL, you said to the audience “We have competition from EVERYONE.” What can museums – and libraries – do in this time of great competition to meet the needs of users and non-users alike? How do we “grab” them?

ME: The “We’re competing with everyone” line I used at UGUL is from my “Imagining a Smithsonian Commons” paper [ starting around p 21]. I’m trying to build a case for greater Institutional focus on Web and new media by showing that many of our beloved Institutions just aren’t as relevant and useful as we think they are.

I think the issue of “how we grab them” is both practical and a philosophical. The degree to which we do and don’t need to “grab” our audiences is contingent on the individual missions of our organizations—the work we need to do in society.
I recall that there are something like 18,000 museums in the U.S., and I don’t know how many libraries, archives, history centers, and the like—each one of which has a different mission, audience, collection, staff, and board of directors. Some of these missions can be accomplished by sitting back and guarding vaults, while others require us to compete with Lady Ga Ga [? Gaga?]. I am content, as a U.S. taxpayer (who subsidizes the operations of many of many libraries, museums, and archives) and global citizen, with a spectrum of approaches as long as organizations pursue their missions with urgency and verve. I am not content when our public institutions posture about their own importance but neglect to use the tools, logic, and culture of digital technology when those tools could be profoundly helpful. No director should allow this: no board of directors should tolerate it.

Read the whole interview! I really appreciate Michael’s thinking.

Mash Ups & Mobiles: A Conversation with Paul Hagon

I have a new post up at ALA Techsource – an interview with the National Library of Australia’s Paul Hagon:

Paul discusses his take on making library collections available in some very unique ways:

It’s been less than 2 years since the iPhone (via the appstore) became a viable interface. We now have the iPad. Internet enabled TV’s are just starting to appear. We are interacting with these using gestures rather than through a textual interface. Imagine if your TV had gesture recognition & you interacted with it by waving your arms about, smiling for yes and frowning for no. How could we be accessing our collections using these methods?

I think that recently released devices like the iPad have the potential to become the modern day coffee table book. How easy would it be to build a ‘dynamic coffee table book’ for this device that showcased our collections (particularly thinking images) that were displayed based upon some external influences like the news or weather and you swiped to move between photos & rotated the device to expose the text based traditional metadata behind the image. How much more engaging is that than clicking on a few underlined links?

Please read the whole post here.

The Visitors

Multitouch Microsoft Surface: Cultural Heritage Browser from Jaap van de Geer on Vimeo.

I have a new post at ALATechSource about the Shanachie presentation at ALA. Check out the video above to see one of the projects they highlighted in action.

Late one February evening in 2007, I found myself sitting in my Oak Park, Illinois living room with two visitors, sharing wine and talking about libraries. It was late, I had to teach the next day, but I couldn’t say goodnight. I met the he two fellows with me –Jaap van de Geer and Erik Boekesteijn of the DOK Library Concept Center in Delft, Hollandin London the year before. And now they were visiting Chicago area libraries videotaping gaming initiatives and gaming librarians. The wine was good–it may have been Australian–and I’m a little cloudy about how the evening played out but the one thing stayed with me. Erik said the role of the 21st Century librarian is three-fold:

  • Keep Stories
  • Share Stories
  • Make Stories

I held that close to my heart and watched these visitors make their dream of collecting stories a reality by way of the Shanachie Tour in October 2007 and beyond.

Fast forward to ALA Annual and the LITA President’s Program. Erik, Jaap and the third Shanachie Geert van den Boogaard were back in the states to talk about innovations at their library.