Well duh!

A recent CNET headline proclaimed, “For teens, the future is mobile.” DUH! A quick look around confirms that for teens, the NOW is mobile. Anyone who watches and talks to cell phone-wielding teens knows that they love their cell phones. Many prefer texting over actually talking to someone. The story also reports a prediction that mobile phones will surpass the popularity of desktop computers for U.S. teens. Again, no big surprise. In fact, we may already be there.

The story did bring out one point that is well worth noting. Bill Carter of the marketing agency, Fuse, predicts, ” . . . mobile phone providers likely won’t succeed as the entertainment leaders for the phone, despite their efforts to sell ringtones, games, and music. Other companies like Apple, Google, and Yahoo will be more effective at ‘side-loading’ the cell phone with services.” I think this is an important trend to follow, both for consumers and libraries.

(Olsen, Stefanie. “For teens, the future is mobile.” CNET News. July 15, 2008. Available at http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-9991979-93.html.)

As I’ve noted elsewhere, my current phone is a Palm Treo. I’ve customized my phone with a number of applications that meet my needs. In contrast, one of my biggest gripes with the original iPhone was that Apple intentionally blocked users from truly making the device their own with specialized applications. Happily Apple has remedied this unfortunate situation with the introduction of the app store.

But what does this trend hold in store for libraries? What custom applications might library users need? When I started thinking about this, the first thing that came to mind was not an application at all. I started thinking about the library website. Just how well does your website play with mobile phones? If you’re not sure, just try browsing your website and searching your library catalog on your cell phone. If you think your website and catalog pass the test, start trying some of your databases. It really gets ugly there! Libraries need websites and catalogs that load quickly and work well with mobile devices. Handheld users don’t exactly have the fastest connection after all! But how about those databases on a mobile device? Ugly, ugly, ugly! So . . . perhaps a nice, clean, elegant widget for searching various library databases.

Beyond that, what else might a library user want to do with a cell phone? Bibliographic citation manager perhaps? How about a way to deliver due dates for checked-out items directly to the cell phone calendar? Stream audio and video content from the library’s media collection? Easily store e-books on the phone for reading later? Or let’s just get basic. How about texting with a reference librarian? Yes, I know that some libraries already do this, but maybe not enough of us are. If that is the preferred communication medium for our users, maybe we should explore it a little more.

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Contributing to Wikipedia

Wikipedia. Love it or hate it, admit it or not, lots and lots of people use it. People continue to express concerns about the accuracy and verifiability of Wikipedia‘s information and rightfully so, but library users are going there for information. Google searches (another favorite of library users) are turning up more and more Wikipedia entries. And librarians are using the site as well. One of the best descriptions of Wikipedia use came from a reference librarian. The basic idea was that when neither the librarian nor the patron know enough about a topic to research it, Wikipedia usually gives a number of relevant keywords and subjects that can guide further research in library resources.

Since USERS ARE GOING THERE, then it’s worthwhile to provide accurate information when and where we can. Now I’m not suggesting that librarians begin poring through the website, ferreting out inaccuracies, and posting updates duly attributed to reputable, verifiable sources. That’s fine if people have the time, but most don’t. No, instead I’m talking about contributing to the wider body of knowledge through Wikipedia when and where it is appropriate.

A couple of days ago I wrote about making some updates to the web pages for our Digital Accounting Collection. As we were talking about the collection, it occurred to me that Wikipedia might be a good place to share information about the collection. An entry might describe some of the collections as well as giving some history on the digitization project. When I came across this University of Florida entry, I was even more convinced that this was a good idea.

I created my account, and started experimenting in the sandbox. I worked with a couple of colleagues to develop the entry, and I posted an entry on the Digital Accounting Collection today. It was an interesting process to work through. Interestingly, this is the first Wikipedia entry for our library — interesting in an ironic sort of way I suppose. The Digital Accounting Collection was our first fully searchable digital collection, so I guess it’s only fitting that our first Wikipedia entry is about this collection.

So there it is. It’s out there. Since we wrote about things that we know and have worked with ourselves, the information is as accurate as it can possibly be to the best of our knowledge.

At least until somebody else edits it.  😉

Digital Accounting Collection Updates

It’s that time of year again. A colleague is getting ready for a conference presentation, and we need to do some web page updates for the Digital Accounting Collection. A number of new items have been added, and records for an entirely new collection have been created.

Several years after the fact we’re still proud of this one. This project was our library‘s first fully searchable online digital collection. It was a big project for us. Perhaps making the digitized items full-text searchable was a bit ambitious for our first digitization project, but it works and there is a lot of good content here!

Personal Information Devices

It appears that the servers are back up, activations are going smoothly (albeit slowly), and one million happy consumers are now packing an iPhone 3G.

Business types and technophiles have been using Blackberry devices, Treos, and other types of smartphones for awhile now, but I think the iPhone has perhaps been the most successful at generating glamorous, mass-market appeal. And no wonder! The device has a very sleek, refined GUI, great graphics, and a very functional web browser.

E-mail? Check!
Photos? Check!
Surf the Internet? Check!
And with the app store, users can now do even more with their phones.

This reminds me of Michael Stephens’ keynote address at the 2007 Library 2.0 Summit at Mississippi State University. During his address, Michael showed us a typical no-cell-phones-in-the-library sign (such as this one). Although this is standard in many, many libraries, it sends a strangely mixed message to library users. We have an up-and-coming generation of users for whom the cell phone is their primary information device. Some of these people use their cell phones more than than they use desktop or laptop computers. Then we have libraries – chock full of information and just waiting for an opportunity to share all of these great resources with their users. But we tell these same users that their primary information device is not welcome amongst our information. Oh the irony.

I think most reasonable people would agree that the typical, loud cell phone conversation would be better held outside the library. But the signs don’t say “no loud talking.” They say “no cell phones in the library,” or sometimes “turn your phone off while you’re in the library.” The effect then, is that our users can’t check homework assignments with their phones, they can’t search our resources with their phones, they can’t take research notes with their phones . . .

Maybe it’s time for libraries to rethink their positions on cell phones.

So Why Bye-Bye?

I just posted a few quick instructions for removing the “Smart Location Bar” that was introduced in Firefox 3. Why? Because it annoyed me. But as I was typing up the post, it occurred to me that this could have some unintentional benefits for library patrons.

Libraries are sometimes in the position of having to protect patrons from themselves. Take privacy for example. Truthfully, many patrons probably don’t care who knows what they read. However, there are some that might care very much. Likewise, there are some patrons who probably don’t care who knows what they read or view on the Internet.

In the interest of protecting patrons’, libraries usually take a number of steps to safeguard their privacy. For example, all of the web browsers on our public computers, are set to keep histories for zero days. Additionally, our public computer security software erases browsing histories (among other things) at a specified time each day.

The new Smart Location Bar is big and obvious. Suppose a patron is trying to research a medical condition. Imagine how that patron might feel if each web address visited popped up in this big, gaudy bar for all the world to see! If the patron does not clear the web browser after a research session, the information will still be there if anyone cared to view the browser history. But at least it’s not in-your-face like the Smart Location Bar.

Bye-Bye Smart Location Bar

I like Firefox. I’ve used it for years, and it is my browser of choice on all computers that I regularly use. Unfortunately, Firefox 3 introduced a new “feature,” the Smart Location Bar, that I don’t like. I dislike it so much, that on the first computer I upgraded, this was a work-stopping issue until I found a way to get rid of it. For me, it was primarily an annoyance that cluttered my screen, and its behavior was in some ways similar to those annoying pop-ups that we all try to hard to avoid.

smartbar1

When I first encountered the Smart Location Bar, I quickly found several Google hits that pointed me to step-by-step instructions for disabling it. (I also found at least one video tutorial which, strangely enough, was incomplete in its instructions.) As I Googled around, I also quickly came to the realization that this was a major annoyance for many, many people. The Mozilla folks have since added their own instructions for disabling the Smart Location Bar. They provided a set of clear, step-by-step instructions that should get most people where they need to go. However, knowing that some people benefit from visuals, I thought I would provide some instructions with a few graphics.

1. Launch Firefox.
Type “about:config” (without the quotation marks) into the address bar.
Press the <ENTER> key or click the Go To Page icon beside the address bar.

smartbar2

2. This brings up a not-so-scary warranty that you might void your warranty. Click the button indicating that you’ll promise to be careful to move on to the next step.

smartbar3

3. In the filter box, type “browser.urlbar.maxRichResults” (again, without the quotation marks). As you type this in, Firefox will automatically search for it and display the correct string.

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4. Double-click this preference, and enter the value -1. Then close Firefox and re-launch it.

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5. Close Firefox and re-launch it. The Smart Location Bar should now be gone.

Plurk

A lot of librarians love Twitter. Some of them are downright rabid about it. Twitter was mentioned a number of times at the recent American Library Association annual conference, and it was used as part of the technology for some of the sessions. But competition spurs innovation, right? Enter Plurk. Plurk is another microblogging service. For those who want to know more, here is an article comparing Twitter and Plurk.