Category Archives: TTW Contributor: Mick Jacobsen

An Unformed Thought

A few weeks ago the director of my library asked me to design and produce a website for a small community group, the  North Shore Business Development Foundation (NSBDF).  I was happy to be given the opportunity (I start getting the shakes if I don’t get to design a website ever-so-ofter). I had about a week to look over their logo, handouts, mission and vision statements, previous event flyers, etc. and around 7 more days to actually build the website. Time was short because of an upcoming program which the group wanted to use to make attendees aware of the new website. The website was built with a day to spare using the Drupal content management system (CMS).

While designing the website for the NSBDF, I gave a speech about the Drupal CMS to patrons of the Skokie Public Library. Happily, quite a few people came. One was the accidental webmaster of  The Talking Farm, an organic, educational urban farm in the Skokie area. Following the instruction session we set up an appointment to look over the website (done in Joomla) and introduce her to some basic skills/tricks such as using Firebug and the basics of CSS. Talking with her a few weeks later I learned that they will probably be going with Drupal sometime in the future.

These two occurrences so close to one another caused a light bulb moment: what if the library offered to build and host websites for local organizations? Wouldn’t this bring significant value to the community? Could we fill this techie role in every community and become invaluable … forever?

I might not include organizations such as a Park District ( especially after that Parks and Recreation episode) or the Village Government or Public Schools because of their size. But groups like a local historical society or the Chamber of Commerce would be ideal. An open source content management system such as Drupal is excellent for these sorts of websites. It makes it possible to give the content creators enough flexibility to create without having to worry about the mark-up and all that other CMS goodness.

A few libraries are already doing this in one form or another:

I asked Eli Neiburger to describe how the always cutting edge Ann Arbor Library District does this. He wrote:

“The Ann Arbor Library District hosts web content for several local projects in different ways depending on the capabilities of the group. Some sites are AADL products, developed and maintained by AADL’s production librarians, and are presented as sub-sites of Examples are, an online exhibit of the history of the Ann Arbor Police Department, or the Making of Ann Arbor,, a product developed in cooperation with the University of Michigan. The Ann Arbor Street Exhibits project  presents online the content developed by the Streets Exhibit project. In addition, AADL also hosts, a vibrant wiki for the city of Ann Arbor and surrounding area; this project is not part of and is instead hosted on AADL’s community projects server. The Arborwiki moderators, who are not AADL employees, maintain and enhance the site along with the contributions of the public.”

Darien Library in Connecticut provides hosting for local non-profit organizations. They do not design or maintain the websites though.


But why not offer to do the same for locally owned for-profits? Their are many small companies in a public library’s community that do not have the time, money, and skill level to build their own websites, but these same companies bring jobs, goods, and make the town a nicer place to live. If libraries would build and host these websites their small companies would stay more viable, the community would be a better place to live, and world peace would soon follow… well perhaps just the first two.

I have not considered what this process would look like and imagine it would be different for each library. The  Library Success Wiki would be good place to share the processes chosen, forms designed, etc.

Now I have mentioned Drupal fairly often in this post, but that is just my weapon of choice. Many other excellent options exists such WordPress, or even WordPress MU,, Google Sites, and straight HTML/CSS websites.

Does this seem doable? Is anybody else already doing this?

I mentioned this idea to Kyle Jones via Twitter and he, as he normally does, came up with a brilliant direction to take it, which will be posted in the near future.

TTW Contributor: Mick Jacobsen

Synergy Vision Statement

Elsie Martinez, Meg Edwards, Elizabeth Nelson, Marcie Shaffer, Lauren Offerman-Vice, and I were given the opportunity to consider and write a vision statement during Synergy 2009: The Illinois Library Leadership Initiative. The group consisted of special, academic, and public (adult and youth) librarians from all over the state of Illinois.  After much thought, writing, discussion and debate we arrived at a vision statement we were pleased with.  Please take a few minutes to view the video we designed to present the Vision Statement.

Synergy Vision 2009 from Mick Jacobsen on Vimeo.

TTW Contributor:
Mick Jacobsen

Being at the Point of Need

One of the most important, if not most important, aspects of screencasting (yes, it is another screencasting post, I swear I have other interests see the Summer Reading series at LISNews) has nothing to do with designing or producing, but where it is placed. Screencasts, to be most useful, have to be at a point of need.

Placing screencasts, chat widgets (thanks David Lee King), or other tutorial at the point of need seems so self-evident (a priori) that I don’t believe I need to make any arguments for it. More important are some of the techniques, hypothetical and production, of putting the screencasts in front of the patron without being annoying.

The Catalog
I can think of many places screencasts could be placed in a catalog. A list in a sidebar, no results found page, place a reserve, review my account page, etc.

My place of work has recently started using Aquabrowser. One of the benefits of Aquabrowser is that it is easy to identify common search terms and return a hyperlink to a resource we want to highlight. For example, a search using the term “business” will get a link to the Skokie Library Business Portal on the top of the returned results. If it is possible to return a link, it should also be possible to return an embedded screencast or at least a link to a pop-up window containing a screencast. I have not yet seen this in the wild. I certainly hope vendors and our open source geniuses are reading this and taking it seriously.

Boutique sites or Pathfinders
Boutique sites/pathfinders/LibGuides/etc. are traditional means of highlighting areas of a collection. Bringing together print items and paid plus free online resources for a particular topic is something libraries have been doing for a long time. Screencasts explaining how to answer representative questions in regards to a particular collection area are well placed in these. The Skokie Public Library has been doing this with our Business Portal and will continue to do so as other boutique sites are designed and released.

But what about databases? These are the most difficult, under-utilized and expensive resources libraries provide. Eric Frierson,  a librarian at the University of Texas at Arlington,  came up with a brilliant idea (the best idea I heard at ALA 2009 in fact) about how to put screencasts exactly where our patrons are.

Eric designed a frame around UT Arlington’s databases. The frame contains links to to JavaScript popup screencasts pertaining to that particular database. Do yourself a favor and take a moment to see the proof of concept

So simple. So awesome.

So where are you putting your asynchronous tutorials?

TTW Contributor
Mick Jacobsen

Screencasting to an Audience of One

screenjellyFor a patron to learn that our library has just the resource they were looking for, followed by a helpful tutorial by a librarian, only to realize a day later that they can’t remember exactly how to access it worries me. Many patrons quickly forget the title of a recommended resource, let alone how to find it on a library’s website. This is very true when I am on the customer side of service desks.  Perhaps they will recall the name of the resource and even how to find it, but will not be able to replicate the search.  Worst case scenario my patrons will feel stupid and I will have lost them forever.  Isn’t this the same fear now causing many librarians to walk patrons to items on the shelf and not just pointing? Is it sufficient pointing our patrons to an online resource, walking them through it and hoping that they will remember everything? I think not.  Handing out easily lost, misunderstood, or forgotten step by step directions to databases on paper/bookmarks is a step in the right direction, but can’t more be done?

Why not create screencasts designed to answer a patron’s specific question at the same moment you are showing them the resource at the reference desk?  While researching screencasting, I stumbled across a video of a community college librarian discussing screencasts for individual patrons using Camtasia (I don’t have a link to this video and have not been able to find it again.  Please comment with a link.).  A great idea, I thought, but a bit cumbersome.  Camtasia, or Captivate for that matter, is powerful but takes more than a few minutes to create a screencast and upload it to a video hosting service.   It could work for email reference or distance students where time is less of an issue.  Camtasia is also somewhat expensive and to have a copy of it on each patron touch point is unfeasible for most libraries. A different tool was needed.

To make individualized screencasts functional, I wanted an application that was easy to master and had blazing fast upload time.  Enter Screenjelly.  It requires nothing more than a Twitter account and is completely free.  To use it go to and click on record.  Screenjelly stores the videos on its own server, just email the link to the patron.  It doesn’t provide any editing tools, but for quick and dirty “how to get there” and “how to use” screencasts, editing is unnecessary.  You get 3 minutes of recording time with optional sound.  Go try Screenjelly.   It takes longer to explain how to use it than to figure it out by playing with it. Screenjelly even provides statistics on how many times the screencast has been watched, making it simple to check to see if the patron has viewed it.  Many other screencasting tools exist, such as Screentoaster, and would also work.

I have been producing these screencasts for an audience of one for three weeks now.  Every time I make one the patron looks from me to the computer screen and says “Cool!”   Most times they had no idea such a technology even existed.  I plan on asking for inexpensive microphones for each service desk to add audio to the screencasts after training our public service staff on how and when to use it.

I think these individualized screencasts are a valuable tool that all public service desk workers should learn and use.  Embedded below is my most recent Screenjelly screencast.  It was designed for a patron wanting online tutorials on using Excel 2007 because of an upcoming job interview.

TTW Contributor
Mick Jacobsen

ALA Presentation on Screencasting

I was given the opportunity to be on a panel discussing screencasting for the RUSA MARS Hot Topics Panel at ALA.  The slides will not make much sense in and of themselves, so I am making my  speech notes available as well.  Thanks to everybody who made the long walk to the far corner of  South McCormick Place to watch us.

Public Library Screencasts

View more presentations from mjacobsen.

– TTW Contributor Mick Jacobsen

The Tech Static

techstaticSad news, Rachel Singer Gordon’s Tech Static is calling it quits.  Tech Static is/was an outstanding resource for reviews of technology books.  Anybody who has collected Dewey 000s knows just how difficult it is to find credible, reliable, and well written reviews of computer books. This is especially true for those who collect that area but do not have a formal background in technology, like me.

I am also disappointed that we let the Tech Static die. Not enough people stepped up when Rachel asked for help. Perhaps you were like me and  had it on your to do list but never actually got around to it (kicking myself). Maybe you did not even know about the Tech Static. Whatever the reason, we failed and have cost librarianship a valuable resource.

I do know that come Monday I will be discussing the Tech Static with my superiors and asking them if we could pledge a small amount per a year.  I hope you will do the same.  Perhaps we can revive this experiment; librarian reviewing books for librarians managed by a librarian.

TTW Contributor
Mick Jacobsen

Screencasting Patron POVs, a TTW Guest Post by Mick Jacobsen

I am currently developing screencasts for an exciting new project mpowwill roll out in the near future.

While looking at a stupidly designed, but very useful database, I thought “Why would any patron watch a tutorial on how to navigate this mess?  They want an answer to a question, not a walk through of a resource.” This idea was quickly followed by “I am going to design screencasts that answer common, representative questions.”  For example, using LegalForms by Thomas Gale (not the database I referred to as stupidly designed) I can show how to find a customizable job application in one screencast and an easily adaptable home renovation construction contract in another.  These screencasts will demonstrate different means of finding valuable resources, but not be about using LegalForms… overtly.

Carrying the idea of what I call patron-point-of-view (PPOV) screencasts a step further, why not narrate from the patron’s viewpoint?  I rewrote the introduction from “Hi, I’m Mick Jacobsen an Adult Services blah, blah, blah,” to “Hi, I’m Mick, the owner of Mick’s Pizza and I want to get the word out about my great…”.

Lets go even further, why not use the question as the title?  Which video do you think would be viewed more: Learn How to Search LegalForms or Find a Customizable Contract for Your Business? I think the latter.

While multiple screencasts of each database will be necessary, I believe they will provide a better means of showing the real value of library resources.  An added benefit is PPOV screencasts will be short. The PPOV screencasts answer questions. They don’t plod through each and every nuance of a resource.  Seriously, what patron will sit down to watch a 10 minute demonstration of a database?  I try to keep mine at a max of 3 minutes and even that is pushing it.

The shift from a sage on the stage librarian teaching databases to the PPOV has changed everything in regards to my idea of screencasting.  Try it, I think you will find it liberating.

Here is a recent screencast:

How to Find New Businesses from Skokie Public Library on Vimeo.

Click on these links for some good library orientated resources on getting started with screencasting.

Creation, Management, and Assessment of Library Screencasts: The Regis Libraries Animated Tutorials Project by Paul Betty

Paul Pival speaking doing a podcast for the SirsiDynix Institute

Ellyssa Kronski writing for the School Library Journal

Mick Jacobsen is Adult Services Librarian at the Skokie Public Library.

TTW Guest Post: Love thy Luddite

The Importance of the Non-Techie or How I Learned to Stop Pulling Out My Hair and Love my Luddite
by: Mick Jacobsen

My wife mocks Twitter thoroughly, “You don’t even know these people,” she repeats. She thinks Facebook/MySpace is weird. She considers online gaming to be silly.  She wasn’t sure about this whole “Blog Thing” and renamed my Google Reader an RSS aggravator (which I still find hilarious).  She doesn’t want her images on Flickr.  I think it is safe to say she pretty much dislikes any 2.0 technology on contact.

Last week she started a LibraryThing account and loves it.  She is now using my Facebook account to talk to friends.  She uses Delicious to bookmark webpages.  She has her own RSS aggregator (Google Reader) and iGoogle page.  She even created and wrote for a special interest blog on

What does this have to do with librarianship?  Well, doesn’t that first paragraph (besides the wife part) describe a significant portion of your coworkers?  Wouldn’t it be great if you could move them to the second?

Here is how I do it:

1. Listen.  Never dismiss what your Luddite says.  You may not see how it applies, but it surely does in their eyes. When, and it is most certainly when, not if, they have misgivings about a technology it may be necessary to move on.  You might be introducing the wrong technology at that particular time or you may need to reexamine the technology.  The Luddite may very well have thought of something you haven’t and it may not be as useful as you hope (I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me).

2.  Don’t push too hard (if you can avoid it).  Sometimes all it takes is talking to them at the right time.  Understand their schedule.  Some people are ready to play at the start of the day, some after lunch, some while eating lunch, etc. The first time I introduced my wife to LibraryThing she wasn’t interested.  A few months later she noticed me using it (looking at all my pretty book covers) and asked “What is this and why did you never tell me about it before?”  A minute or two of introduction and away she went. This also has proven to be true with a few of my coworkers in regards to the newly created blogs at MPOW .

3. Respect.  Their concerns are not generated from hate of tech. (well in most cases) or lack of intelligence; it is because they don’t see the point.  Show how you are personally using this new technology, how others are using it, and how they specifically could.  Hypothetical situations just don’t seem to work.

I am sure more techniques are available, but these three are the ones that have worked for me so far. What does everybody else do?

As a side note it is probably better not call anybody a Luddite.

Mick Jacobsen is Adult Services Librarian at the Skokie Public Library.

TTW Guest Post: The Little B


“The Little B” by Mick Jacobsen

Toby Greenwalt, a coworker of mine, came up with a great idea which I wanted to share and, hopefully, spread.  He created a simple, cool looking icon which symbolizes a blog on our website much like the orange box symbolizes RSS feeds.  With the mighty Photoshop kung-fu of Gail Shaw and Ruth Sinker this brave little B is proudly advertising our blogs.

Beyond making it easier for people to find and recognize the six brand new blogs (including the unique style and content of blogs) within the menu structure on the Skokie Library website, it also effectively brands them. The branding is being carried over from the virtual branch to the physical.  Pins were designed with the logo for blog authors of all departments to wear while helping the public, potentially creating opportunities for conversations about the blogs.  We are also planning on using the B on the various slide shows we use to advertise programs.

Best of all, we are making this little B available to everybody free of charge.  Do you have a blog or two as a part of your library’s web presence? Why not brand it with a little B?  If you can improve upon the little B, go for it and let me know.  If you do decide to use it I would love hear about it.  Hey, who knows, perhaps this will be a little online meme that libraries start.

Twitter for Internal Communication: A TTW Guest Post by Mick Jacobsen

At the Skokie Public Library Twitter has become a nimble, extremely quick, and easy to use internal communication device.  A small group of Skokie employees use Twitter to bounce ideas off one another, solve simple issues such as “how do I check something out to missing,” and even answer reference questions.

What makes me excited about this use of Twitter?  First it came about totally on its own, nobody planned to use Twitter as a means of communicating.  Second is the mass effect of Twitter.  I can send a question to many and not have to worry about one particular person being away from their phone/email.  The third is the chance of transparency (this is Tame the Web after all).  Anybody who wishes can follow and contribute (like you if you want, and why wouldn’t you, lots of cool ideas are being discussed) to what is going on at the SPL.

I find it hard to believe that the SPL is the only library that has started using Twitter for internal communication.  I would be interested in hearing what others are discussing and how it came about.  I have also recently read about a few companies that are selling internal style Twitter clones and I am curious whether anybody is considering using something of that nature.

Read this awesome story as an example of how Twitter is being used in the private sector

Oddly enough, as I write this, one of Michael’s LIS768 group just finished presenting about Twitter.

Feel free follow some of the Twittering Skokie librarians: (this is me)

Mick Jacobsen is Adult Services Librarian at the Skokie Public Library.