Playing Topsy-Turvy with the Library Budget

We’re still in the first week of classes, and the library is very busy. Every computer is is use almost constantly throughout the day. My colleagues and I have often speculated that if we could squeeze more computers into the building, every single one would be in use. Having an overabundance of neither space nor budget, I had another “what-if” moment?

What if – for just one year – we flip-flopped the materials and technology budgets? Setting aside what this would mean for monographs, serials, and databases, IF we had that budget for IT for just one year, what would I do with it?

Replace old public and employee computers
Increase the number of public computers
Add new ILS modules
Purchase test server
Provide additional training for IT department members
Provide additional training for other library employees
Make scanners and media card readers available on some public computers
Purchase equipment for laptop checkout program

Looking at my list, this seems to be a mix of operating essentials and services it would be nice to offer. In fact, it wouldn’t take anything close to the entire materials budget to achieve these. So . . . maybe it’s time to get a little more exotic.

I’ve heard a number of presenters talk about libraries as places for content creation, not just places for warehousing and access. With that in mind, I think a few media labs would be interesting additions. This would definitely require some construction work, so there goes part of the budget. The marketing students are always doing group presentations, so a video editing lab would be a possibility. A lab for the music students with synthesizers, Finale, and some of the Cakewalk software would be another choice. We have evolved into a Windows shop, so I’d like to mix things up with some Macintosh computers. And just to do a little something for the IT Department, I think I would shoot for a new and better server room.

So there is my first, off-the-cuff pass at topsy-turvy day. I wonder what other folks would do if they could play around with the budget for their areas?

Fall Semester Underway

Fall semester has commenced. So far so good. Our library computers and services are up and running, and everything has been relatively smooth. Of course we did a lot of prep work in the final weeks before the semester started. There were a lot of software updates, some last-minute rearranging, and patron loads. Things seem to be going well, but it’s not quite perfect, so I’m thinking about some of the little wrinkles and trying to figure out if there are ways to preemptively address these in the future.

Off-Campus Logins
A patron who called yesterday was having trouble logging into the library catalog from an off-campus location via WebID. I first checked her library account. The account had all of the required data for a successful login, so that wasn’t the problem. Next I dialed in from an off-campus connection and tried logging in. I successfully logged in with my WebID, so it seemed that all LDAP components were functioning properly. Since I didn’t know the patron’s WebID information, I tested her login with the old name/barcode method. That worked as well. About this time the patron revealed that she was also having trouble logging into Blackboard and registration tools. Aha! From that it sounded like there was some problem with the user account that was controlled at a level above the library. If the patron is also having trouble with non-library logins, then it sounds like a call to the IT Helpdesk is in order.

The same patron also asked questions using Blackboard. Although the library doesn’t provide Blackboard support, I gave it a shot. (I’m not sure how she was able to see things in Blackboard since she couldn’t login, but oh well!) She said that when she clicked her class, the syllabus wasn’t listed. Sounds like this could be one of a couple of things. There could be some problem related to her login. This sounds likely based on her initial description. As another option, it’s possible that the professor simply hasn’t added the syllabus yet. Since I was not enrolled in her class, that’s as far as I could go with troubleshooting. Yet another call that should go to the IT Helpdesk.

Printing problems come and go, but this was the first time I had heard this one. Some students are printing course slides in Blackboard to the color printer. When the next student tries to print, their job automatically goes to the color printer instead of the black and white one. The wrinkle here is that this is default Windows behavior. When you change the printer to a choice other than the default, subsequent print jobs from the same application will go to the last printer chosen. The dilemma then is whether to inconvenience the current user or future users. If we could find a workaround that reset the printer choice to the default after each job, that would annoy the current user who needs to send several jobs to the color printer. If we leave it as is, then there is a potential annoyance to the next user. Since this seems to be a single-instance issue, the decision for now is to leave the default Windows behavior as is.

All in all things are looking good. Based on the first week thus far, it sounds like our services are in good order. With the issues that have come up so far, two are beyond our control and one deals with the default behavior of the OS. I’ll keep my eyes open and see if any other issues pop up. It’s always good to be able to anticipate and avoid potential hitches and glitches whenever possible.

Work vs. Life

This entry is something of a departure from my others posts, but the title of another PCWorld article really grabbed my attention: Take Control of Your Work/Life Balance.

As the title implies, this article examines the competing demands of work and personal life. It considers ways in which these two once-separate facets have become inextricably intertwined, and it discusses some of the implications for those who fail to draw an adequate separation between the two.

While many people in many job types can suffer problems from not properly differentiating between work and personal aspects of their lives, I think IT professionals are particularly at risk. People who work extensively through telecommuting are also at risk. Having a fast network connection and computer at home is a great benefit for many reasons. However, as I’ve told people in the past, the fact that you CAN work from home all too often means that you DO work from home.

There are many in modern work life who finish a day at the office, go home, and start working again. Cell phones, instant messaging, and e-mail put us within easy reach of colleagues – even when we’re at home sick or on vacation. For many people these tools extend the work day far longer than is healthy or productive. For IT people in particular, after-hours times are ideal for upgrades, patches, and miscellaneous testing and configuration changes. But going beyond just these obvious areas, many IT professionals are constantly modifying and tweaking from home. They check servers and networks almost compulsively, and the quality of their personal life suffers.

Technology exists to serve us and make our lives better, not the other way ’round. If we are ever to realize the promise of more free time and higher quality free time through technology, we’ll have to first learn how and when to TURN IT OFF.   😉

Apple Connectivity Fix – It’s About Time

Apple has finally released a fix that will supposedly improve connectivity between the iPhone 3G and wireless networks. This issues has been addressed in a flood of complaints on the Apple forums. For more “details” (and I use the term loosely), here is link to the full story: Apple releases fix for iPhone connectivity woes.

Not surprisingly, Apple isn’t being too specific about exactly what part they’re trying to fix with the software update. No surprise there. Also in the “not surprising” category is the fact that Apple’s iPhone support page makes no mention of either the problem or the fix. Just once I would like to see a company candidly admit a problem that everyone already knows about rather than trying to surreptitiously roll out a fix as though no know will notice.

Let’s just hope that this fix does the trick. I know it would make a lot of new iPhone users happy.

IT Skills in the Trenches

I saw a great article on PCWorld the other day: 30 Skills Every IT Person Needs. I enjoy reading through lists like these, because it’s interesting to see what various people view as critical skills. There are a couple of these that particularly resonate with me.

2. Work the help desk.

As IT people (particularly managers) specialize in their given areas, there can be a gradual and often unintentional gravitation away from core, front-line support responsibilities. Certainly specialization tends to whittle away at some of the broad-based support skills as techies focus more on a particular area of interest. With specialization there can also be a loss of contact with the widest possible user base in an organization. Because of this I find it extremely valuable to keep working at some of the standard front-line issues. Whether it’s a printer problem or a permissions issue, this serves an important dual role. It helps me maintain an awareness of front line issues, and it keeps me in touch with the end-users, their needs and concerns. Of course this isn’t always possible, but I firmly believe that IT personnel should never allow themselves to become too far removed from the front lines. That first-hand knowledge and experience is just too valuable.

15. Work all night on a team project.

This is another item I believe to be particularly important for managers. We occasionally have projects (or situations) that I refer to as “all hands on deck” events. In these cases all department members – including student workers- pitch in with ideas, suggestions, planning, and hands-on work. As the PCWorld article mentions, these kinds of projects help build camaraderie among department members. Beyond that though, it reinforces the idea that managers should be personally involved in large, complicated projects. Rather than just adopting a “hold down the fort” or a Picard-esque “make it so” attitude as they walk out the door, the manager should set the expectation that late-night hours can be anyone’s responsibility. No one likes pulling an all-nighter, but the all-nighter CAN be a shared experience of success and accomplishment.

A Consistent User Experience for Mobile Browsing

Thinking about cell phones makes me think about both their possibilities and their limitations. The online experience is an increasingly important consideration for cell phone users. Cell phones are becoming more complex and truly reaching the level of handheld PCs. For many users computing is increasingly an online activity, and they expect a natural and seamless convergence point. The problem of course, is that the applications simply aren’t there. The lack of a Flash player come to mind. If you’re running Windows Mobile, you can enjoy some Flash content. But no Flash for iPhone. No Flash for Palm OS. Can you say “No YouTube”? What about Android? Who knows?

The layout and display will obviously vary on mobile devices due to varying screen sizes. I can accept that image resolution will be different since cell phone resolution falls far below desktop resolution. But the current state of mobile devices and online content is such that in many cases you simply can’t view it. I think of radio as a fitting analogy here. Whether it’s a portable radio, car radio, home stereo component, or an online player, you can get the same radio content. Sure the quality will vary according to the quality of the device that you’re listening on, but in each case you can at least get the content. Not so with far too many web sites and web applications.

As user behavior increasingly moves mobile and online, mobile device manufacturers and software developers have to make sure that users can access and work with their content through any website on which it resides and with any of a host of mobile devices. There is certainly room for specialized applications offering advanced features, but full interactivity with all major websites should be a core goal for all software and device manufacturers. It’s no longer a question of just what users want; it’s a matter of what they need.

A Trio of Cell Phones

I look at new cell phones from time to time as I ponder which one will be my next. I’ve been using a Treo 680 for awhile, but as I’ve noted before, the browser just isn’t holding to the current crop of web applications. For this reason (among others), I’m on the lookout.

Since I’m currently a Treo user, naturally I’m interested in what Palm’s next offering will be. A few photos recently “leaked” out on Palm’s website, and they made their way over to Engadget before Palm removed them. The so-called Treo Pro looks sorta – um . . . how should one say it? Meh. Yeah that’s the word. Sure it looks kind of sleek and shiny. But when compared with the iPhone 3G, that Palm screen looks mighty small and all those buttons make the device look cluttered and clunky. Funny – the Treos didn’t look quite so bad before the original iPhone came out. This device finally includes built-in WiFi, but I’m still waiting and watching. A number of people are watching for Palm’s long-rumored next-generation user interface. The device and its UI can definitely use a makeover, and some industry analysts are predicting that the new phone will be the make it or break device for Palm.

And then there’s the iPhone. Good and getting better. The app store is a great addition. It’s about time for users to be able to choose their own applications, dontcha think? But there is still no user replaceable battery. And the rumors about reception problems go on and on and on. In fact, there have been so many post about this problem on the support forum that Apple has already locked two threads. Some people are suggesting a hardware issue. Some people are suggesting software. So far Apple isn’t admitting a problem. No surprise there.

So what about Android? It sounds like it’s finally about to hit. The New York Times is reporting that T-Mobile will offer the first phone with Google’s eagerly anticipated Android software. The new phone by HTC may make it into the stores before year’s end. The Android software creates an entirely new realm for cell phone technology by offering a OPEN platform. Of course this OS is still a dark horse since we don’t have any real world tests yet, but it will be interesting to watch.

I guess I’m no closer to choosing a new phone, and the contenders just keep making it a tougher choice.


Lots of people read online reviews. Whether it’s for a movie, a restaurant, or a new gadget, the opinions and experiences of others are often help. The problem with some reviews though, is that they’re simply too long. They go on and on and one, and it’s hard to get to the meat of the review. Sometimes we need the subtleties and the details, but sometimes we just want to know if it was good or bad.

Enter PhrazIt. PhrazIt is a interesting website that let users give reviews in 30 characters or less. That’s right – 30 CHARACTERS – not 30 words. User reviews are displayed as a tag cloud. In typical tag cloud, fashion those reviews getting more votes appear in a larger font. Users can add their own 30-character review or vote for an existing review simply by clicking on a phrase they like.

Many libraries are incorporating both patron reviews and tag clouds in their OPAC displays. I think PhrazIt is an interesting hybrid of these two concepts. I can imagine it being used in a library setting. My initial reaction is that it might work well for “browsing” new books online. It could very well have uses beyond that, but the inherently short nature of the reviews of PhrazIt make me instantly think of browsing. The interface is very intuitive, and once you realize exactly what the site does, it make perfect sense. Check it out for yourself and see what you think.

No Cell Phones!

We’ve all seen those increasingly annoying signs forbidding cell phone use. (In case you don’t have one, take your pick here.) I’m starting to see these in more and more places. Yesterday I had to get my driver’s license renewed. When I walked through the outer door, there was a handwritten sign forbidding cell phone use. As I walked through the inner door, there was another one signed by the highway patrol. (I suppose the entire highway patrol department is in agreement on this policy.) Later I was sent into a waiting room and left to amuse myself with the three-year old magazines. This tiny room had “no cell phone” signs on every wall.

What exactly are they afraid of? I can understand not wanting a lot of loud talkers shouting to be heard on their phones. I can understand not wanting someone simultaneously talking on a cell phone while explaining to the “customer service” agent what they need. Of course libraries come to mind when I think of signs saying “no cell phones”. Libraries love to plaster these signs about. But again, what exactly are libraries afraid of?

There is an obvious balancing point here. Unfortunately most organizations don’t look for it. It’s easier just to put up a sign saying that cell phones aren’t allowed. I think most places could survive if patrons/customers were allowed to switch their phones to silent. Text messaging, surfing the Internet, and reading e-mail aren’t inherently noisy activities, and most people can accomplish them pretty quietly.

It’s definitely time for a new range of signs. We need signs that encourage people to use technology in the appropriate ways and in appropriate places. Libraries are perfectly appropriate places for using a cell phone to look up information and exchange text messages. We need to keep in mind that while certain behaviors are annoying and disruptive, those behaviors are exhibited by some people, not all. Most people choose to use their technology responsibly, and we shouldn’t declare a wholesale ban on technology to regulate the behaviors of a few problem patrons!

Organizing Information

Libraries organize information. They also collect, preserve, and provide access to information (as well as a host of other things). But organizing information is key the mission of libraries.

I’m currently working on a project to rearrange some of our internal information. Our library has been using Windows SharePoint Services for about 18 months. Shortly after its introduction the SharePoint site became our de facto intranet site, and we’ve added a lot of content over the past year-and-a-half. Unfortunately, some of the content SEEMS rather disorganized. I say it “seems” disorganized, because I think in one very real way it is not disorganized at all. Close inspection (and discussion with content creators) reveals that documents have been added according to employees’ different organizing priorities.

This reminds me of a class I took during my library school program. We looked at how items can be organized and classified, and we did a number of exercises to explore some of the less-obvious characteristics that can be used for organization. As I look through our SharePoint content, I’m seeing several different organizational trends. Some people organized content according to the unit that created it. Others created new folders to contain similar content. Some quite simply put documents where they thought people were likely to look for them.

As we work to reorganize this content, I find myself constantly thinking of that nearly ubiquitous web 2.0 feature: tagging. Tagging is certainly no substitute for solid, well-ordered organization, but it can definitely provide additional access avenues to help guide people to content. It looks like there is at least one group out there that has implemented a tagging web part for SharePoint, so that’s a definite area for investigation!