Category Archives: Tech Tips for Every Librarian

Building a Community: Create Your Own Social Network


I’ve always been fascinated by social interaction online, all the way back to 1994 when I started a discussion list for Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks fans on my old Mac with a dial-up connection. I didn’t know it then, but I was attempting to bring together a community–to make some connections between various folks who shared an interest and to let them talk to each other.


Now, more than 12 years later, I realize it was one of many early examples of building a virtual community and the beginnings of social networks. Social networking services (SNS) are Web-based sites that “provide a collection of various ways for users to interact, such as chat, messaging, email, video, voice chat, file sharing, blogging, discussion groups,” according to Wikipedia. And these days it’s easier than ever to create a social space for you and your group–staff, users, etc.–with some free and simple Web 2.0 tools. Let’s take a look at what any size library, library organization, or state library agency could do for free!

Mix-and-Match: Tech Tips Favorites

Even without any special social network software, librarians can create an online community with some of our favorite free tools, such as WordPress, Flickr, and NetVibes. We’ve written about many of these tools in the past few issues; let those articles be your guides for putting together your own social network.

Using a blog, like one set up at WordPress, as a main entry point for an online community is an easy way to build the foundation of your social network sites. Flickr would add image sharing and more discussion. A portal site such as NetVibes could also serve as the starting point, offering a clearinghouse for monitoring RSS feeds (as we detailed in the September 2007 issue). provides discussion boards at no charge and would enhance your mix-and-match site as well.

Some other applications, however, bring all these features together in a one-stop-shop environment that may be perfect to use with your staff group, library organization, state library Web portal, conference, or other instance when you’d like to bring people together.

Face to Facebook

FacebookSNSFacebook started as a site strictly for college students, but it recently received a lot of attention by opening the social network beyond colleges and universities. Its founder also opened the platform for application development. For this example, let’s say that a library’s workers wanted to build a staff site for interaction and knowledge-sharing, with a playful, fun aspect as well.

First, all interested staff members would build their own Facebook Profile pages. Staffers could share as much or as little information about themselves as they want, including favorite authors, movies, TV shows, music, etc, With photos, mood indicators, information about pets, and much more, Facebook Profile pages can be customized to your heart’s content! Part of the fun is also learning how sites such as this work–and that will carry over when your organization launches other socially enabled initiatives online.

After the staff members have Profiles and are busy Friending and Poking each other, create a Facebook Group for the library staff. The department or librarian in charge of the social site initiative might be the one to do this. Just click Groups on the main page in Facebook and then click Create a Group.

The setup for a Group is rather simple. A page of boxes and pull-down menus allows complete customization and configuration, including making it “closed” (requiring admin approval) or “secret” (the Group does not display in Profiles or Facebook lists). Either of these would ensure that your staff Group was only available to library staff. Opening the Group to all, however, might lead to local library users finding the Group as well. Maybe a blended library staff/community Facebook Group would come next, after staffers are comfortable in the space.

A Facebook Group can be configured to display streams of photos from members, to allow discussion forums and threads, and to present Wall posts (notes written by members to the Group). Staff could use the Facebook Group for librarywide polls, program planning, and general discussion. They could place feeds from the library’s blogs into the Group as well.

And with the launch of Facebook Applications earlier this year, you can further customize Profiles and Groups with any number of useful and fun enhancements. Savvy developers could also create their own branded Applications for the Facebook Platform. Don’t miss a chance to explore what Facebook might do for your staff or organization.

You Can Ring Up Ning

Ning is a social networking service that goes one step further than Facebook; it allows people to build their own free SNS sites via a set of integrated Web tools. Ning offers a site Go anyone for free, and display ads on Ning pages provide revenue. Features include the ability to create groups, discussion forums, integrated blogs, RSS feeds, tag clouds, and integrated video and photos. Users can customize their personal pages too. The site FAQ at states:

Indiana NingNing is a platform for creating your own social networks. Our passion is putting new social networks in the hands of anyone with a good idea. With Ning, your social network can be anything and for anyone.

You start by choosing a combination of features (videos, blogs, photos, forums, etc.) from an ever-growing list of options. Then customize how it looks, decide if it’s public or private, add your brand logo if you have one, and enable the people on your network to create their own custom personal profile pages.

First, get a Ning ID and check out the thriving Library 2.0 or ALA groups hosted at the site. Then follow the directions to build your own site: Choose to add forums, music, photos, a blog, videos, groups, and RSS. The groups feature allows subgroups under the main network–perfect for round tables and interest groups. Then, you can configure profile questions for members, who will in turn get their own Ning IDs and join the group. The prototype I created for the state of Indiana took less than 15 minutes–and it includes features that some companies would charge you for!

You Must Make Time for Promoting and Training

Sure, it’s easy to build sites like these, but also remember to do some promotion and education. Announce your new Facebook Group or Ning site on library lists, in blogs, at meetings, etc. Spread the word and give your staff some time to build Profiles, join the network, and discuss library initiatives and plans. Offer some brief training sessions and let staffers get their feet wet. You may find it’s a perfect way to enable a social online component at your library without breaking the bank!

Resources Discussed

ALA Ning:




Indiana Librarians Prototype:

Library 2.0 Ning:




This was my last article for the Tech Tips for Every Librarian department here at Computers in Libraries. The last 2 years of writing with Rachel Singer Gordon have been wonderful. I appreciate all of the feedback about my articles and the support of Kathy Dempsey and the staff of the magazine. I look forward to contributing to CIL in the future. I’ll still be writing and blogging here and there, and I’ll be working hard at Dominican GSLIS to help our library students realize how easy and useful technology can be–especially in this 2.0 world. Thanks for reading.



This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine in November 2007, published by Information Today Inc.

Tech Tips for Every Librarian

A big Thank You to the folks at Information Today for granting permission to me to reprint the articles I wrote as part of the “Tech Tips for Every Librarian” department, that Rachel Singer Gordon and I took turns writing in 2006 and 2007 for Computers in Libraries magazine. I enjoyed every one I wrote but was often sad that the immediacy of blogging and the opportunity to comment were lost because it was print-based.

After 90 days, the rights to the content reverted to me. In preparing the new version of TTW, I wanted to make sure it was cool to post them as blog posts. It was! Though a tad dated, I still like the idea of giving readers the chance to suggest additions or improvement to each little article via comments.

Thanks to Rachel for being my ultra-cool writing partner. And thanks to our incredible editor Kathy Dempsey, who guided Rachel and I through two years of articles – and watch for Rachel and Jessamyn West to continue the “Tech Tips” tradition in 2008!

Here they are:

January 2006: Welcome to our World

February 2006 : How and Why to Try a Blog for Staff Communication

April 2006: FASTER IM: Virtual Reference on the Cheap

May 2006: Ten Tips for Technology Training

October 2006: Getting Started with Flickr

February 2007: Putting Wikis Into Play

April 2007: Creating a Librarian’s Info-Portal with NetVibes & RSS

September 2007: Embedding a Librarian in your Web Site using meebo

Embedding a Librarian in Your Web Site Using meebo

Did last year’s “FASTER IM” article fire you up for on-the-cheap virtual reference? Have you launched your own instant messaging “ask a librarian” service and added it to your workflow? Are you ready for the next step? Then read on. And don’t worry, you can use these tips to start IM in your library now if you haven’t already.

Last time we discussed IM (April 2006 CIL, “IM=FASTER Virtual Reference on the Cheap!”), I presented the FASTER model, for any type or size of library. This model addresses questions about implementation, workflow, and training:

F is for going with the Flow at your reference desk.

A is for Asking Questions, as in any reference transaction.

S is for the variety of Software available to access IM accounts.

T is for making sure your staff gets IM Training.

E is for Easy–easy to use and easy for patrons to find you.

R is for the great ROI you’ll get from this low-cost service.

In a year, a few things have changed. Newer IM software tools make it even easier to incorporate IM into your library’s Web presence. This month, let’s look at meebo and meebo me.

Meet meebo and meebo me

meebo is a Web-based IM aggregator that can access all of your IM accounts without installing an IM client. The IM windows and buddy lists open inside the Web interface. The meebo About page states: “ is a website for instant messaging from absolutely anywhere. Whether you’re at home, on campus, at work, or traveling foreign lands, hop over to on any computer to access all of your buddies … and chat with them, no downloads or installs required, for free!” What more could IMers on-the-go need but a meebo account and Web access?

meebo me creates the code to insert an IM window directly into any Web page–your library blog, wiki, or Contact Us page–anywhere you’d like the library to be present.

Benefits of using meebo include the helpful fact that viruses cannot get through the Web interface, thus placating your IT department’s concerns about security; easy access to all of your IM accounts, such as AOL, Yahoo!, Google Talk, Jabber, ICQ, and MSN; and the ability for anyone to IM you, even when you are not online. The message is saved and will pop up the next time you log in. At our recent Social Libraries Roadshow at Illinois State University, Jenny Levine called this “voice mail for the Web.” in the morning, you might log in to meebo and find a few reference inquiries waiting for your reply.

Getting Started With meebo

To get started, go to and try logging in to your IM account. Or get a free account. The help page states, “You can tog onto any of your existing IM accounts or you can create a meebo account which will conveniently remember your screen names and passwords, save your preferences, and with chat logs, your previous conversations are always close by.” Another benefit: meebo chat logs will save IM conversations so you can refer back as needed.

Creating a meebo account and then logging in allows you to add all of your IM screen names to your meebo page. Click on the “accounts” link on the lefth-and side of the meebo Web window and choose which IM client you’d like to add. Input your username and password.

Adding IM Screen Names to meebo

Once configured, you can log in to meebo and automatically log in to all of your screen names. This is perfect for the library’s FASTER IM reference service: You can aggregate all of your screen names into one Web window. IM-savvy librarians can also use meebo to tap into the networks of IMing colleagues across the globe. These days, it seems entire conference presentations are created and finalized via IM.

Don’t worry if you’d rather not have all of your messages and chats confined to one Web browser window. Clicking a small button on the meebo windows will also free the boxes from the Web browser and allow them to float on your screen. Many of the same features (status messages, flashing menu bar alerts, etc.) are featured in the meebo interface as well.

Other customizable features include sounds for notification of messages, various colors of skins for your windows, and emoticons. In the preferences area, you can also decide to keep chat logs of IM conversations. For chats with colleagues, this might be a useful way to keep track of projects and plans.

meebo Rooms: meebo will also generate a chat room to use with other IMers. You can configure the room, invite buddies, and display video inside the space. Librarians might use the rooms for chats with colleagues, planning, or online chats with groups of library users.

meebo me: meebo’s help pages describe meebo me as “a small chat window that you can put on your webpage for visitors to talk with you.… Your buddy list at will light up when someone visits your page and then you can double click on their name to strike up a conversation. In one click, no registration or download required, visitors can start typing in the chat window on your page to talk with you.”

In our age of open tools, ease of use, and the creation of a seamless user experience, it might be useful to embed a meebo me widget in various places around your Web site. Your blog, library wiki, or the Contact Us page are all likely candidates for an embedded librarian. See the Darien Library Contact Us page for a great example of a meebo me widget in play. Someday, I’d like to see meebo me librarians on every results page of a library search interface, placing the librarian at the point of need with our users!

Grab That Code

A simple three-step process includes configuring the name of your widget and display name, choosing the size of your widget and colors, and entering your meebo account information. In a few clicks, the code you need to embed your widget is generated and can be pasted wherever you’d like a presence for your IM librarian. The site displays these steps:

  1. Just copy and paste this code into your Web site HTML where you’d like the widget to appear.
  2. Sign into
  3. See the visitors on your site, and start talking with your fans!

More Functionality for Free!

Take a look at the free blog-hosting solution A ready-to-go sidebar module for meebo me is included in the templates and configurations. The RSS aggregator portal Netvibes that we configured as a librarian’s portal in the April issue also includes a meebo me widget. The possibilities with this widget for online presence are practically endless. Where would you like to embed the librarian?

Take a look at what some libraries are doing with meebo and meebo me. Does putting the library at the point of your users’ needs via a simple, seamless interface sound like it should cost thousands of dollars and require IT support? Guess what? With just some staff time for setup and training, this is another virtually free way to reach out where your users are!

This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine September 2007, published by Information Today Inc.

Putting Wikis into Play

This weekend marks the conclusion of one of my classes this semester at Dominican University’s GSLIS. Internet Fundamentals & Design traces the history of the Net, features some simple Web page coding, and covers a whole lot of Web 2.0 exploration, including group presentations on how to implement new technologies in libraries. Yes, group projects, the bane of college students everywhere, are part of the course as well. Heck, we work in groups in libraries, we might as well get folks used to it in library school.

What’s struck me in the last few semesters I’ve been teaching is how technology can take some of the bother out of group work. In fact, it offers not only the experience with a new tool but it can also be fun to see your work immediately published online. Specifically, more and more of my students launch wikis to track their projects. It’s the ultimate virtual sandbox. In fact, you might find you’d like to add a wiki to your own online Web 2.0 playground.

Wait, What’s a Wiki Again?

Wiki software is simply a tool that does all of the dirty work of building Web pages, and it can be edited by anyone with access to the software via a Web interface. “Anyone” could be just you, your working group, or the world at large. Wikis allow for collaboration and a way to track the various changes on wild-generated pages. Librarians can use simple wiki software to edit documents, create Web sites, and share data. No more emailing a document back and forth or using the dreaded, I-never-liked-it-never-will “track changes” option in Word.

There’s a caveat here though. Blogger sites and blog software are rather straightforward to configure and use. So are sites I’ve written about like Flickr or tools we’ve featured in other columns such as instant messaging. Wikis, however, require a bit more know-how and have a slightly steeper learning curve. In our Social Tools & Libraries Road Show, Jenny Levine tells the crowd that she can’t wait to see the next incarnation of wiki software: easy, intuitive, and fluid, like an ultra-deluxe WYSIWYG interface. That certainly will make group work, in library school or in the trenches, even easier.

For now, though, we have some wild tools that can be very useful for projects. Ponder your goal–do you have some group work to do? A policy manual rewrite? A knowledgebase for the library system? Training documents? Do you want to build any type of shared resource with a group of librarians? If so, a wiki may be the perfect solution. Here are some tips for making the most of the wild, wild wiki.

Get in the Sandbox

If you’re not ready to install the popular open source Mediawiki on your library server, that’s fine! Look to a hosted option first. You can find wiki software hosted at various Web sites. A hosted wild solution can be configured and running in minutes. Two popular hosted wiki sites are PBwiki and seedwiki.

Making a simple wiki is really a snap, especially if you devote just a bit of time to getting your hands dirty in the sandbox. For example, at PBwiki I was able to create the “Tech Tips for Every Librarian Wiki” by just entering a name for the wiki and providing my email address. Within minutes, I received a click-through email and full privileges to edit my wiki. While I waited, I enjoyed a brief video about PBwiki and its features hosted by the PBwiki intern Jim.

Editing a wiki involves using a set of commands, such as brackets and asterisks, to make things happen on a page or using a set of WYSIWYG tools instead. PBwiki offers the most WYSIWYG features in Firefox or Internet Explorer. You do not have to have a command of HTML or CSS to create snazzy pages in a wiki environment. For example, two asterisks around some text makes that text bold. Quotation marks format text in italics. The style guide at Style explains everything from numbered lists to creating tables.

Links are easy as well. The style pages offer a few ways to make links, including just pasting in the URLs you want to be links or just using [] brackets and |, like [| PB wiki] to get PBwiki.

The sidebar section is edited independently and can feature links and other information you’d like to display on all of your wiki pages. Images are inserted through a simple upload process. Clicking on the image in the side menu of the Edit screen inserts the image wherever your cursor happens to be. See the illustration above for the page I made in about 10 minutes of playing with my new wiki.

Check Out What the Other Kids Are Doing

Wikis usually come with some features that allow users to see who has done what on the wiki. For example, in PBwiki, by accessing a list of changes, you’ll find details of every change that’s been made to a particular page and who made it and when!

In the Settings area of PBwiki, you’ll also find useful tools for backing up, changing the “skins” (the templates) of your wild, gathering site statistics, sending notifications for email updates, publicizing your wiki, and more. seedwiki also offers a tagging feature for users. Commenting is also available to create conversation around your wild pages,

Here are a few more tips to help you implement off-site wikis in your library or information center:

Practice first and make it fun! Remember that focus on “experience and play” you may have heard about at conferences and on biblioblogs as well as in Brenda Hough’s CIL article in May 2006? Make your training and practice fun. One excellent suggestion I heard while working with librarians in Minnesota is to start a staff wiki first for practice and have each staff member build a page to share a favorite recipe. Staff will be engaged, get some new ideas for dinnertime, and realize they can edit a wild.

Give it some structure. Before you open it up for all of the folks who’ll be editing and creating on the wild, build in some basic structure if possible–general categories, the briefest of outlines, or a loose guide. Then let people in to play and allow them to fill in the blanks and to enhance the structure.

Or if you’re building a how-to guide, spend some time creating the pages and inserting images, and try it out on some staff members for their feedback. Then launch your new resource and invite comments and conversation.


Don’t even tell them it’s a wiki! Recently, I discovered the “New Phone Training” wild from the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Ind. A well-designed instruction tool, the wiki features an FAQ, a undoubtedly useful guide to setting up and retrieving voicemail, and pages devoted to every aspect of the new phone. My favorite part? On the front page, there’s a note from the creators:

Don’t be scared of the word “wiki” –this is just a Web page … :)

How true! We’re just talking about tools–tools that make creating Web pages, editing documents, or building new library resources a snap once you master the commands and techniques. Curious? Try a hosted wiki solution and see what this type of playground can do for you, your workgroup, and your library!

Resources Discussed
Allen County Public Library Phone Wiki:

This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine February 2007, published by Information Today Inc.

Creating a Librarian’s Info-Portal with Netvibes and RSS


What Web page comes up when your staff members open their Web browsers on the service desk or at their own desks? Is it the library’s Web site? That’s a good choice, especially if you have constantly updating news on the front page of your library blog. Perhaps you have your catalog, a search engine, or a commercial news site? All are OK choices–but why not build your own info-portal for your staff with the best of all of these worlds?

RSS (really simple syndication or rich site summary) allows us to put content from one place into another with some reasonably simple coding. Pair that with a Web-based aggregator site, and you have everything you need at your fingertips.

For this example, which was born out of one of the group projects I assign in my Internet Fundamentals class, we’ll use a site called Netvibes and explore all of the features it offers by creating a portal for library staff. (Other sites that would yield similar results are SuprGlu and Pageflakes.) Follow along with these steps to build a resource that your librarians and staffers may come to use a lot!

Create the Bare Bones

Visit Netvibes at and sign up for a free account. All you need are an email address and a password. For your portal, configuring a project-specific email such as [email protected] will make it easier for multiple library staff members to edit the portal architecture and content. Once you have created your account, Netvibes will send you an email reminding you of your login and password. Then you are good to go.

When you log in to your page, Netvibes displays a starter page with default options and the following text:

This is your personalized page, you can now modify everything: move modules, add new RSS/ ATOM feeds, change the parameters for each module, etc. Your modifications are saved in real-time and you’ll find your page when you get back on If you want to be able to access your page from any computer, you can sign in (at the top right) with your email and a password.

The content is available from the “add content” button at the top left of this page.

In a nutshell, Netvibes will help you easily configure your portal–and use it on any computer! Access in your work area, at the reference desk, at circulation, or even at home is possible with this Web 2.0 tool, which will aggregate new posts and information automatically. Clicking on a subject line will display the full story within the portal. Clicking on the title in display mode will open a new window to the original post.

Populating Your Portal with Popular Feeds

After creating your initial site structure, you may want to meet with your staff to discuss the portal and to decide what might be included. Brainstorm to create a list of library and librarian blogs, news sites, local content, and any other useful resources you can pull in. The only requirement? The resources you select must have an RSS feed.

For this sample portal, we’ll use the Kankakee Public Library (KPL; as our fictional locale. For yours, use your own library’s feeds and pages for inspiration. Need another reason to establish a library blog? This is a good one!

Name the site by clicking on the page title at the top and typing in a title. Next, name the tab. (Netvibes allows multiple tabs in its portals, and we’ll use that feature in a bit.) I’ve titled the first tab–the start page for the portal–“KPL News & More!”

Now, click on Add Content to get started. A sidebar of tools will appear on the left-hand side. Click on Add a feed and paste the URL for any Bite’s feed into the box that appears. Netvibes will verify the feed and then open the module on the portal page. You can click on the top of a module box, hold the mouse button, and drag the box around the page to make whatever layout you desire.

First up, we’ll add the library news blog feed, the library director and assistant director’s blog (She Said/He Said), and the Library Musings blog from KPL staff. Note that the page also includes a Web search module for access to Google, Yahoo!, and more. I’ve also added a feed from two useful library news sites and blogs, LISNews and TechCrunch.

Localize the portal by configuring the Weather module to display your town’s weather, and scout out a newsfeed from a nearby newspaper, TV station, or news aggregator. Other local sites, blogs, or feeds can be added to round out the information resource. For our KPL example, I’ve used a feed of news from Topix.

Pictures–Worth 1,000 Words

Including images is a great way to let staff know what’s happening in the library. Note that, in the Add Content section, there is a Flickr feed module included as a default. For our example, I’ve customized it to KPL’s Flickr feed of photographs of the library, programs, and events. Copy the feed URL and paste it into the Flickr module. The photos, and all of the feed content on the page, will update automatically.

If you don’t have a Flickr account, you might add a feed to an appropriate Flickr tag or group, such as the Libraries and Librarians group, to see what other library folk are doing. Remember, Flickr is only $25 per year for a Pro account!


Use Tabs for More Content

Add new tabs to configure other useful pages. For example, a page devoted to libraries and librarians’ blogs might serve as a useful tool for monitoring the discussions there. A calendar module is available as well as a notes module to create a planning and organizational page.

Another way to use tabs that takes the portal to the personal level is to create a tab for each member of your team. If you have four or five staff members (or more), make a tab in Netvibes for each of them and then allow them to customize the pages with their own content. Each person may want to include his or her own favorite blog feeds, news sites, keyword searches, and more.

Each member of the staff could edit his or her pages via the one email address and password we set up in the beginning. Note that this is not a private portal, but yet another way to customize for staff involvement and experience. Other staff members may find some useful resources they didn’t know about by browsing the personal tabs of the library Netvibes portal.

Email and Other Modules

Note that in the tools sidebar you can add email modules. This is perfect for your email reference service or for departmentwide or librarywide email addresses. I wouldn’t recommend configuring an individual’s email in this type of portal, though, because all staff members will have access to all of the tabs. Brainstorm what you might do with the email modules and this tool, however–you may find some unique uses.

We’ve just scratched the surface with the creative modules and tabs available in this system–there’s much more to explore. Add podcasts to the mix. Insert a Meebo module (automatically placed in a new tab) to have easy access to your library’s instant messaging account. Create searches via the search module for topics of interest to staff, which can be pertinent to projects or planning or “ego” searches to see who is saying what about the library out in the blogosphere. Note that you can add fun stuff as well: an analog dock, sudoku puzzles for that quick mental break from library work, comic strips, and so on.

Using this free, integrative Web 2.0 tool could be a beneficial way to improve communication among your team or staff. It will help to keep folks in-the-know about library news and new initiatives, plus you can use it to create an interactive, localized internal portal. Try it and please let us know what innovations you create with Netvibes.

Resources Discussed


Kankakee Public Library:





This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine April 2007, published by Information Today Inc.

Priceless Images: Getting Started with Flickr

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Some images are priceless, capturing a moment, a person, or an event in time. One of the most important things we can do with our online presence is to take advantage of the graphical nature of the Web and the interactive nature of many Web 2.0 sites to make a big splash with pictures–images of our libraries, our programs, and ourselves. A cost-effective way to do this (and one that yields some benefits for outreach and interaction) is to use Flickr–that Yahoo!-owned, image-sharing community site you may have heard about recently.

picture-4.pngUsing Flickr in Libraries

In early August, I spoke at the Northeast Kansas Library System Tech Day. One of the highlights for me was a presentation by Kansas librarians Joshua Neff and Mickey Coalwell on using Flickr in libraries. It was standing room only for their talk about the ins and outs of using this site. Proactively, they stressed that we should be exploring and learning about it, checking out the terms of service and offering user education. At a time when the looming Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) seeks to block library and school access to social sites, Coalwell provided a handout that included this important suggestion for library use:

Educate yourself, your staff, your board of trustees, and governing agencies about social sites, like flickr, and the issues surrounding them. Educate your patrons and your community about the good–and bad–of flickr and other social software sites. Sit down at a library computer with any patron who has a concern, and demonstrate the site to the patron. Let them see the benefits first hand.

It’s inspiring stuff. Based on adaptations of things I’ve written at Tame The Web and from their own explorations, Coalwell and Neff also presented ways to use Flickr in libraries that really utilize the interactive nature of the social Web. Flickr, for example, allows for all sorts of 2.0 goodness: commenting on pictures by registered users, user tagging, photo album “sets” for sharing similar images or photos of events, image groups or pools devoted to all sorts of subjects, and notes that add text or links to pictures. There’s also a new feature-a map interface that allows folks to associate their images with the locations where they were taken. Users can configure their Flickr accounts with the Blog This feature as well to instantly post images and text to blogs of all kinds.

It might seem overwhelming at first, but worry not–the best thing you can do is take some time and explore. Dive into some image pools, surf some tags you find interesting, and upload your own pictures to the site with a free or “pro” account. Play around with the features and some of the Flickr Toys that have sprung up because of the open nature of Flickr’s database. Try some tagging. Join the Libraries and Librarians group and share pictures of your building.

Ten Ways to Use Flickr

Armed with your digital camera or scanner, a Flickr pro account, and access to your own library blog or Web pages, here are a few things you can do to make your online presence more interactive and much more fun:

  1. Edit that profile and make some contacts. Make sure your library’s Flickr account profile page includes the URL, mission, contact information, and more. Look for other local organizations or other libraries to make connections as contacts. Invite your patrons to be contacts as well. See the Gwinnett County Public Library’s profile for a useful guideline.
  2. Tag your images. Make sure you are findable via tags for the library’s name, town, university, school etc., as well as through descriptive words for the images themselves. Maybe people searching Flickr for their hometowns will discover images of their local libraries and learn of services or programs they didn’t know about.
  3. Display images via RSS. Did you know every Flickr account, tag, group, or pool has an RSS feed? Use the feed to display images anywhere on your Web site–each time you update your Flickr images, the feed updates as well. This way, you’ll always have new images displaying on your site. See the site’s Feedroll to generate the code. Just plug the URL for an RSS feed into the site’s form, and it will generate the necessary code to display images (or text). All you have to do is copy that code and paste it into your own HTML page. Once live on the Web, images from the Flickr RSS feed will appear on your page; they’ll magically update every time the original site adds new content.
  4. Create sets of your programs, events, and specialties. Use the Set feature to organize and present your programs, events, gaming tournaments, and more. Check out the Newport Public Library’s Library Programs set for an ongoing chronicle of what’s happening. What innovative service or program does your library offer? Flickr it! Tag it and share it with others.
  5. Host images for your blog or Web site. Flickr provides the HTML code to easily insert images into a blog post or onto your library’s home page. Follow the link on one of your image pages to Different Sizes and choose the size you want. The code is either static or dynamic, meaning the picture can be a static image on your site or it can link to Flickr for commenting, tagging, and more. This is a no-muss, nofuss way to get pictures online; it avoids messy FTP or having to send all Web site pics through one person.
  6. Use notes for HTML links and more. Using the Add Note feature, you can easily insert a link to your Web site, blog, or catalog. In fact, some of your colleagues have experimented with posting pictures of new books and linking them to the catalog, thus enabling the “virtual browsing” of new hook shelves. The code is simple HTML.
  7. Engage users with those images. Inserting that dynamic, linked code as well as hyperlinked notes can pull folks to your Flickr pages and allow them to comment or interact. Illinois’ Westmont Public Library uses this feature as a mini online book club.
  8. Share the library’s history. See the site for Colorado College’s Tutt Library for an example of librarians sharing historic photos of their places and spaces through the years. Some folks may want to comment and share their own memories. Blog the historical photo set and point the way.
  9. Use some Flickr Toys to make some snazzy graphics. Have you seen the librarian trading cards? READ posters? Magazine covers? Movie posters? All of these are created at FD’s Flickr Toys. Think of the innovative promotional items (like below!) you could create with a badge maker, poster creator, and more. Use them online, or print them for even more excitement. Why not offer a class for teens or kids that includes getting their own magazine covers? Start by training your librarians to make their own trading cards.
  10. Allow Flickr access on library computers. Finally, make sure you can access Flickr inside your library. I’ve received e-mails from librarians who lament that their public computers block access to Flickr. What about folks who may want to upload their images while on vacation?

These 10 tips just scratch the surface for all of the uses for Flickr in our institutions–I didn’t even cover applications in K-12 schools or library programs. Imagine students using Flickr to create their own cards for a c]ass project. Sites such as this, paired with the Flickr Toys site, can be powerful tools for extending your online presence.

A Few Words About Money

Many of the tips and tools Rachel and I have discussed in this department are free or close to it. Flickr pro accounts do come with a price–$25 a year. This is money well-spent because of the benefits to libraries. This might be a time for you to consider paying the fee to become a pro member because the access, storage, and bandwidth allowances are top-notch. According to the Flickr FAQ, pro accounts offer a 2-GB monthly upload limit; unlimited storage, bandwidth, and photosets; permanent archiving of high-resolution original images; the ability to replace a photo; and ad-free browsing and sharing.

So, to wrap up:

• Cost of a Flickr pro account per year for your library: $25

• Cost of experimentation, play, learning: staff time (and it’s worth it)

• Having an easy, cost-effective way to store and display images, interact with users, create community, host pictures for library blogs, and more: priceless

Resources Discussed

Colorado College Tutt Library:

FD’s Flickr Toys:

Feedroll (for RSS):


Flickr FAQ:

“Flickr Is Scary to Some..” at ALA Techsource:

Gwinnett County Public Library at Flickr:

Newport Public Library’s Programs Set:

Westmont Public Library:

This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine October 2006, published by Information Today Inc.

Ten Tips for Technology Training

Rob & Michael
Technology training in libraries is more important than ever. New tools and systems require new training and new methods of instruction. How many librarians have found themselves the “accidental” tech trainer for their organizations in recent years? Whether you chose the job, or the job chose you, you have work to do. Library staff and users look to their technology trainers as guides to new Web tools such as wikis and blogs–and we must meet the challenge.

Last year at the Internet Librarian International Conference in London I presented with Rob Coers, an Internet training consultant from the Netherlands. We had met the year before and had recognized that our similar backgrounds from different parts of the world might translate into an effective program. We put our heads together and came up with a session on tips for library technology trainers. Whether you are training staff or your users, these hints, techniques, and those little “ah-ha” moments can jump-start your training sessions–or can help pave the way to your first training endeavors. Whatever your budget or library size, you can use these tips to enhance your training!

So, without further ado, here are some of the “best of the best” tips from my work with Rob and from my years of experience training at SJCPL.

The 10 Tips Explained

1. Carry multiple versions of your training documents, both digitally and in hard copy. Use a USB storage device (like a flash drive) to carry your presentations and other documents. Look for one in the Sunday paper “big office store” ads. The 256 MB or larger drives are now relatively inexpensive, and they can come in very handy if you need to move your presentation to another computer. When I travel, I also make backups of my presentations on CD and tuck them in my luggage–just in case. Trainers might also set up a Google Mail account and e-mail their presentations to themselves so they can access them from anywhere with an Internet connection.

What if your training technology fails? What if the one laptop in the library goes kaput? I also carry a hard copy. Be ready to present just from your notes if all the tech fails.

2. Use real-world examples for exercises. Instructional designers urge educators to make learning relevant and practical. Librarian trainers must do so as well. Use examples that staff or users can take away and actually use in their lives. Circulation staff should, for example, understand how to place holds on materials, and exercises should reflect all the nuances of that task. Throw in some trick questions too, and get your students thinking about how they might problem-solve at the circulation desk.

Library users will benefit from real-world training exercises. For example, exercises on listing items on eBay and uploading auction images to Flickr might be very useful for an online auction class. Or students might bring resources to an Endnote class and actually build their first citation database in class–with the help of the librarian.

3. Create an online community around your training. Use Blogger to start a blog or ask for a locally hosted blog at your library and create a “library training blog” for users or staff(or both!), complete with class descriptions, prerequisites, and schedules. Then open up comments so that your students can evaluate the classes, offer suggestions, and create a community around the training initiative.

Store your handouts and class outlines at the blog, as well, for folks to refer back to and download as needed. Offer a way for students to send questions, and post the answers. This carries the learning experience out of the training room and back to where your students live, in-house or out!

If you have a little extra time, offer instant messaging office hours via a trainer screen name to answer questions one-on-one. Don’t worry, if the question is too detailed, refer the student to online resources and the training blog for more information.

4. Use audio/visual and hands-on tools. Use video clips, snazzy slides, and whatever else you can come up with to make your sessions visual and engaging. Liken learning a new database interface to a popular song or movie, and use clips to open the “show.” Are your students worried about a big technology change in your system? Open the session with Gloria Gaynor’s song “I Will Survive.” (You can get it for 99 cents at iTunes!)

I’ve taught sessions on podcasting and iPods that include sending an iPod around the room for people to try out. It may be a surprise to many gadget geeks, but a good number of folks have never held an iPod. If your library is delving into such media players, make sure you offer a hands-on “meet the player” program.

5. Create how-to handouts and more with PowerPoint. (Yes, PowerPoint!) One thing I found effective when creating how-to handouts for new laptops or new databases at SJCPL was to use the tools in PowerPoint (or OpenOffice’s Impress) to easily incorporate drawing tools (such as arrows and shapes), blocks of text, and more into student-friendly packets. The control of each element was better than struggling with page design in Word or another application. Landscape mode works well for showing many types of step-by-step or annotated screen shots of databases. Portrait mode mimics the handouts created by high-priced publishing programs!

You might project the slides as part of the training, or just print them as handouts and distribute during class. (See the online resources for examples.)

6. Promote classes with Flickr. Hopefully your library has a Flickr account, or will soon be getting one. It’s $25 well-spent! Some trainers use a Flickr account to share photos of their sessions as well as to create promotional pieces to announce sessions. For example, using FD’s Flickr toys, you could create movie posters, magazine covers, and trading cards for your classes and post them online and on paper.

Printed trading cards might come into play as well, as part of games and exercises in class. There are no limits to what you can do with Flickr and Flickr toys!

7. Keep up-to-date with online resources. Has your training program changed since 2003? Are you still teaching the same old searching class? Maybe it’s time to update that course content! What’s hot? What technologies are your patrons using? What technologies are your staff members asking about? Read the technology blogs and news sites, and don’t forget resources like the weekly news magazines or USA Today. If some new Web site, technology tool, or trend makes it into one of those, it’s already big!

In the online resources for these tips, you’ll find a link to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, an invaluable resource. A recent report stated, “The average American internet user is not sure what podcasting is, what an RSS feed does, or what the term ‘phishing’ means. …” The reportlists eight techie terms that should already be in your technology/Internet classes. You should define and discuss every one of them!

8. Rehearse a bit, but go with the flow. Rehearse and know your outline, but don’t just read the script. No one wants to see you standing stiffly and hiding behind notes. We want to engage learners with an easy style, patience for snafus, and an environment that does not threaten the “techno-terrified.” Be comfortable with the topic so you don’t seem nervous. Roll with the waves of technology not working, your Web site examples failing to load (screen shots make a good backup!), and other snafus.
9. Take a look at Web 2.0 tools and start playing. There’s a lot of discussion about Web 2.0 these days. These tools, such as blogs, IM, wikis, and more will impact your training classes soon, so it’s a good idea to start learning about them. Dabble a little bit where you feel comfortable: Set up a Blogger site for practice, check out Wikipedia and see how the pages are edited, IM with a buddy at home or at the library. The best way to learn how these social tools work is to experience them.
10. Enjoy what you do! Have fun with teaching technology, and bring your interests and yourself to the class. The best trainers are those who are human and who share themselves. Do you collect Fiestaware gravy boats by buying them on eBay? The group will love to hear about it in your auction class!
Enjoy training and don’t sweat the glitches with technology … there will always be something you can’t control!

No matter where you are with your role as a librarian/trainer, and no matter what your funding level, these tips offer new ways of doing some tried-and-true instruction!

This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine May 2006, published by Information Today Inc.

IM = FASTER Virtual Reference on the Cheap!

Remember the wave of virtual reference talk a few years back? Remember how virtual reference services were supposed to change the very foundations of what we do? Remember how some librarians discovered that those systems required users to navigate into a slowly loading chat queue inside their browsers so you could send, or “push,” pages to them? Remember the price tag to participate in this type of service–let alone the money spent on training and promotion?

Well, guess what? Libraries can use a newer method with the same results–any library, of any size, and for a very low cost that can result in a high return on investment. Many libraries (check out the growing list at the Library Success wiki) have jumped on the instant messaging (IM) train. They are taking what I like to call a “FASTER” ride to effective virtual reference on the cheap.

This service–using the standard IM apps that most folks already have on their PCs and Macs–can give you a snazzy virtual reference presence for a fraction of the cost. Instant messaging, of course, simply involves using any of the three big chat clients to talk in real time through an Internet connection. These major clients are AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), YAHOO! Messenger (YM), and Microsoft Network Messenger.

FASTER IM Reference

Why did I come up with the acronym “FASTER”? Let’s go through the steps in setting up your own service, and you’ll see what you need to do to launch IM reference in your own library. Don’t worry; it will be a smooth ride.

F is for Flow. Go with the IM flow! You won’t be overwhelmed. Your work flow won’t suffer at all if you incorporate an IM application on one of your reference area computers; IM simply becomes part of the reference staff duties. Here at the St. Joseph County Public Library, we’ve been instant messaging with each other and with our patrons for more than a year, with roughly 70-80 IM questions a month from our users. The AskSJCPL service is staffed by the same librarians who work the telephone and public reference desk. Speakers on the reference computer allow them to hear the “ping!” of an incoming message.

Setup was easy: SJCPL registered the screen name AskSJCPL at all three big IM clients online at the chat clients’ respective sites. Just input some basic information and create a name in each one by following the step-by-step directions online. This step is free! Once we had the names, we promoted them on our Web site, on bookmarks, and in a press release to the local media. (Other librarians have used stickers with various “IM a Librarian” slogans for students to stick on their notebooks.)

Do not worry! You will not be inundated by hundreds of messages when you turn on your service. The pace can be anywhere from one or two questions an hour in the morning to five or more after school. SJCPL librarians report that they have never been overwhelmed. If it ever does get super busy, they have extra screen names to transfer questions to waiting reference folks at other service points.

Your work flow will be enhanced, too, if most desks and folks in your libraries can have an individual IM name and be logged on during the work day. You can use IM to efficiently handle quick questions, on-the-spot tech training, and more.

A is for Asking Questions. Remember, IM reference is still reference. Our interview skills still apply: We may need to ask open-ended or clarifying questions. The medium is different, but the skills are the same–with a twist. Because of the virtual nature of IM, we can’t see each other, so we must rely on our words to be open and welcoming.

It’s easy to prepare this type of interaction by using some predefined questions or statements. Ponder these helpful IM scripts for your service:

“I’m going to check some resources. It may take just a few minutes, but I’ll be back…”

“Can you tell me more about how you will use the information you need?”

“I believe your question might be better answered via the telephone or in person. Would it be possible for you to call or stop by the library?”

S is for Software. To really make your virtual IM reference project speed along, use one of the applications that connect to all three (or more!) IM services at once. Instead of opening and logging into three different programs, certain applications allow you to keep multiple accounts open and active through just one interface. Here are some popular choices:

• Trillian–A Windows-based application that supports multiple types of chat. Comes as a basic, free download or as a “pro” version for a fee, includes file transfers, group chats, and chat rooms.

• Gaim–An open source software choice that runs on Windows, Macs, and more, and sports similar features as Trillian.

• Fire–An open source Macintosh application used by SJCPL for virtual reference, with many of the same features as the above.


Any application you choose offers a free or inexpensive way to access all of your IM screen names at once, plus transfer files to users, open multiple-person chats, and even use audio chat, if you have a microphone and speakers.

T is for Training. FASTER IM is a simple service to start, and training time does not have to be extensive. It is important, however, to give all of the participating librarians a chance to practice first. This can take as little as 45 minutes. Although, before “class,” the trainer might want to spend some time learning how the IM application works (experimenting with “sending a file” and copying and pasting items from a browser window to a chat window).

Then, in the classroom, have each student log in and get them talking to each other via chat. Demonstrate how to send a message, paste in text or a URL, and transfer a file, such as a PDF tax form or other document. I use two sets of training questions of the type they might get at the reference desk. Here are some to get you started:

What happened to the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner?

What is Dilantin?

Who is the ultimate parent of Abercrombie & Fitch? What’s their ticker symbol?

How many Borders bookstores are there in the United States?

These will test your librarians’ skills in Web searching as well as in sharing information about the library. These questions and handouts for IM training are available to you on my blog. We certainly don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to launching IM reference!

Want more free IM training resources? Check the sites listed in the sidebar.


E is for Easy. In the case of IM, “easy” simply means making it easy for our users to find us and ask questions. Surveys such as the Pew report on IM use and OCLC’s recent Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources offer evidence that people, especially young people, are using IM every day. Pew reported that 12 percent of U.S. adults use IM on a typical day and about 80 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 use IM at least occasionally. That’s a great reason to test IM reference, especially in academic and public library settings.

It’s also easy in the sense that training is a breeze, plus IM makes it easy for staff to communicate internally. One librarian noted that IM saves toll phone calls in a wide-area library system.

R is for ROI. I think you’ll find a pretty good return on investment for your IM buck. With the software being free, we only need to devote resources to training and promotion. While some librarians see in-person reference desk visits dropping, and others note a decline in phone reference, IM gets librarians out into the busy, busy online world where their patrons are.

Rewards of the Ride

There are so many benefits to doing this! IM offers your staff members a way to communicate electronically from wherever they happen to log on. An IM-savvy staff is prepared for the next wave of technology-based library outreach service. Finally, we are serving our users where they are, for little or no cost. I can’t think of a better–or FASTER-way to reach users!

IM Resources


AskSJCPL Page:

MSN Messenger:

YAHOO! Messenger:

Extra Links:

IM Resources: In the April 2006 issue of Computers in Libraries, my “Tech Tips” piece is all about FASTER IM! Here are the links mentioned in the article. Happy IMing!


AskSJCPL Page:

Edifice Ref’s Trillian Training:


Fire Training:



IM Training at Tame the Web:

Library Success Wiki – Virtual Reference and IM:

MSN Messenger:

OCLC Perceptions:

Pew Report on Instant Messaging:

Sherri Vokey’s IM at UNLV Post:

Sherri Vokey’s Training Modules:


YAHOO! Messenger:


This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine April 2006, published by Information Today Inc.

Welcome to Our World

Welcome to Tech Tips for Every Librarian, your monthly guide to cost-effective, easily implemented, and otherwise eminently doable technology solutions for your library. Yes, we said your library, and we do mean that! No matter how small, how isolated, or how short on staff or time or money you are. Tech Tips will contain technological solutions you can use. Recognizing that the majority of libraries are small libraries. Tech Tips will give everyone ideas for using technology for maximum impact–with minimum outlay.

While writers about technology in libraries often make assumptions about your technological know-how and technical background (or just pretend that you have a good deal of money to throw around), we work from none of those presuppositions. If you are in a small library or a cash-strapped institution, or if you just have little technical experience, you are reading the right department in CIL. We will explain straight out what you need to know, what you need to do, and where you can go for more information. We will show you how other similarly situated institutions have been successful with a variety of projects. We will talk about ways to better serve your patrons–and you–with the judicious use of technology. Throughout, we will focus on using various methods to stay current, to keep you and your library relevant, and to make an impact.

If, on the other hand, you are one of the lucky ones who has the resources to implement large-scale, costly projects, we will show you, too, how to find some alternatives. We believe that “simple” is sometimes better and that “easy” frees up your time for other initiatives. Every librarian today can benefit from learning new ways to save money and from reading ideas about making an impact with technology; and any project, including the ones we will be outlining here, can be expanded when you have the resources to do so.

Every library and every librarian needs to find creative ways to implement technological solutions, no matter how small. We so often let technology intimidate us when, in a 21st-century library, we need to recognize technological solutions for the tools they are. You can complete an amazing number of projects with just a $5 screwdriver; you can make simple technology tools serve you just as well in your library. Sometimes we rush out to invest in a costly set of specialized equipment or software or we focus on the flashiest solution; here, we look for alternatives and recognize that small steps can have a big impact.

Recognizing technological solutions as a set of tools to help us meet our libraries’ missions helps free us from technolust. The question becomes “How can we best meet our patrons’ expectations and use technology to meet our goals?” rather than “How can we buy the newest and the coolest?” Our related concern becomes “How do we use technological tools to keep ourselves current and relevant as librarians?” We will help you find some answers.

Rachel’s Introduction
I spent my time as a librarian working in smaller public libraries. Somehow I always ended up both working with technology and bemoaning the fact that we lacked the resources, time, and expertise to do more of the “cool” things that we saw bigger institutions tackling. Sometimes I was successful in finding ways to scale down larger projects or in finding alternatives, and sometimes time (and a little bit of patience!) solved the problem for me as technology dropped in price and complexity. In some cases, unfortunately, the “cool” remained hopelessly out of reach. In any of these scenarios, though, I always felt the lack of connection to peers in similar circumstances, and I felt overwhelmed by reading about technology implementations in larger institutions. I hope that this department helps to bridge that gap.

My original background is in reference, although I have been both a systems librarian and a computer services department head. I am basically an “accidental systems librarian,” as I have written about elsewhere. So trust me–if I can understand the projects and ideas that Michael and I will be covering here, you can too! I firmly believe that, no matter your original background, anyone with a willingness to learn and an enthusiasm for possibilities can be effective working with technology in libraries.

Michael’s Introduction
I’ve worked at a medium-sized public library for many years. I started my library career in the Audio Visual department, and did a few years’ service at our main reference desk. Then, for a while, I was bead of my library’s R&D area for technology before returning to school. I have also worked with a lot of librarians at workshops and in-service days. It fires me up to work with librarians and to get them thinking about how to best implement technology in their libraries–especially technologies that don’t break the bank!

I actually was lucky enough to witness the advent of Internet services in my library and in libraries in general in the ’90s. What a time it was! Now, tools are available to allow all of us to have some high impact with low cost, and that is what we will be writing about here. “Remember the return on investment,” I’ve said many times (to any librarians who will listen to me!). Let’s look for ways to roll out some darn cool stuff in libraries without breaking the bank. You are automatically assured a higher ROI! What you get back from technology projects–well-planned, researched, and implemented projects–can prove to be very important the next time you seek to add new services.

All of this talk about new Web site techniques–“Web 2.0,” blogs, instant messaging, wikis, digital rights management, iPods, RSS, audio content, and any other “hot” technologies you may be reading about–can be overwhelming. Sometimes we act so cautiously with the unknown–in this case, all things tech–that nothing gets done. Some librarians even admit to being “frozen” as the pace of change in technology and user expectations increases. There are resources available to help you make the right decisions (see sidebar) and to supplement the thoughts, advice, tips, and more that we’ll be presenting here. Never stop learning and improving. Never be afraid to try something new as you seek innovative ways to meet the needs of your users.

I look forward to writing with Rachel and to offering pathways that any readers can follow to success.

This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine January 2006, published by Information Today Inc.