30 May 2007

Exploring New Technology 6: the Help Desk

This hysterical video demonstrates that the Help Desk is often still a new technology, or at least a new resource,to many.

And here, again, is that dichotomy between the technologists and the "rest of us." But if you notice the technologist in this video is fully connected to the user? Is it me, or is the "guy from the help desk" just helpful, not condescending?

This incredulous notion of the truly helpful helpdesk surfaces as well in Sunday's New York Times with a piece about what makes Apple's Stores so successful. Quite simply, it is the emotional connection users make with the help they are offered from the resident "geniuses" (Apple's helpdesk). According to the article, the help provided or rather, the feeling that help is just around the corner, results in an unprecedented retail phenomenon: “People can just walk in, absorb the fumes and feel like the smartest technophile in the world.”

Isn't it interesting that the library does not incite the same phenomenon? That a place where information is at your finger tips without requiring a purchase and help is ever present and always free is still often considered obsolete? Often I would suggest that we need an image change or need to represent ourselves better but in this instance, but not this time. Wouldn't it seem that the Help Desk model is based on the Reference Desk concept? Wouldn't it seem that even the Apple bar of Geniuses is based on help in human form, much like what you find at any library?

What will the future hold?

Let me preface this post by saying that I am not a parent and I can only imagine what it is like to rear a child. But...

I couldn't resist sharing this article from the New York Times on the "Chicken Finger Pandemic" that is "gripping" the nation. David Kamp is spot on! I am amazed at how often children will eat nothing but "kids food." My niece and nephew, who are limited eaters, though they love us, hate to have dinner with their Uncle Jon and I because we make them eat "Sarah and Jon Food." That means NOT chicken fingers, hot dogs, or pizza.

But still, if we raise kids that only eat kids food, or, to bring me back into my librarian line, kids who only watch TV, what kinds of adults can we anticipate? What will happen to artichokes, pancetta, or gefilte fish? What will happen to Dickens, Bronte, and Faulkner? Will they only be what is on the Food Network or out in the latest HBO remake?

Every holiday and birthday, my niece and nephew can count on books from their aunt, the librarian. Those books often sit in the corners of their room, collecting dust. But they are there, waiting for the day that the power goes out or they are sent to their room or they accept my invitation to read on the lawn on a sunny day. They have books in their lives, and "Sarah and Jon food," and I've just got to keep putting both in front of them in the hopes that they'll realize that what's good for them is really, truly, actually good.

25 May 2007

Exploring New Technology Rewind: Feevy and the Beginner's Mind

The Sheck Spot now rocks a dynamic blog roll! Feevy is in the house!

Many thanks to my personal help desk (otherwise known as David Silver) who gave me some pointers. And for those of you that are thinking Feevy is your cup of tea as well, David left me some helpful hints in the comments to my original Feevy posting.

Feevy will now allow me to keep track of other bloggers out there without having to spend so much time clicking in and out of pages. Efficiency, accessability, cool looking: is this not a mantra for web 2.0?

But more seriously, working with Feevy has taught me a great deal insofar as I experienced the kind of frustration that I think is most common among users who don't spend their free time playing with technology. I really wanted it to work and found myself getting really angry when it wouldn't. Yes, it happens to us all. But putting it my problems and questions out there brought me answers. And looking away from it for a few days gave me a clearer perspective.

I can't help but think about my friend Rob Williams' comment last week about my "beginner's mind." First of all, thank you. But I think it touches on the idea that for many of us who work with technology, we find "the rest of you" difficult to understand. I know that I often find myself annoyed or frustrated with friends or loved ones who get frustrated with technology (less so with students, I think because I am in a different mental space with students than with friends or family). "Sit down and play with it, figure it out," I want to yell at them. But not every one starts there. And as a librarian and teacher, I need to bring my beginner's mind to those situations and open my mind up to how to share technology with those around me. How can I share the playfulness, the eagerness, the opportunity with others? And how can I respond in a way that is constructive to those that don't take the bait?

24 May 2007

Exploring New Technology 5: RSS...AWESOME

The Librarian in Black posted this AWESOME video that explains RSS feeds. I couldn't ask for a more easy to understand, accessible, fun to watch explanation of technology. What a great way to reach students in a way that they can enjoy. This video would also be an excellent way to reach faculty who are trying to get their feet wet in technology.

Check it out!

The only thing I wish was addressed a little more clearly is how to set up an RSS feed. I think that section might be a little confusing for new users. But that is when their friendly librarian steps in to assist!

17 May 2007

Exploring New Technology 4: Feevy

Lately, I have been wishing that I had a dynamic blog roll to keep up with the news from other blogs. You know, a tool that lets me know that my favorite bloggers have posted. So, the amazing David Silver has been encouraging me to try out Feevy. I've read a lot of interesting blogs by looking at David's feevy (it sounds so voyeuristic or something). So why not get one going for myself, right? How hard can it be?

Well, it's harder than I thought. Feevy's website seems pretty easy to understand: "display content from other blogs at your website with just one simple html tag." Hey, if I've got this blogging thing down, and have even started people on my campus setting up blogs, I can do this, right?


But let's break it down.

First, I set up an account. No problem.

Second, I listed a blog I wanted to keep track of using Feevy. I entered the blog's URL and then it asks me to select an "avatar." I would like to side track here to say that the word "avatar" freaks me out. I think Sci-fi, basement, video games...it's just not my kind of thing. I am a sunshine, read a book, no tv kind of girl. Little did I know from looking it up in Wikipedia that the origin of the word is hindu, referring to the incarnations of the divine, such as Vishnu. Wow...that's a lesson in not judging a word by the sound of it.

But I digress.

So, I am trying to create an avatar for the blog I am trying to follow. Problem 1: I can only use images downloaded to my computer, not from the web. So I have to find an image, download it to my computer, and then upload it. Problem 2: once I download an image from the blog, I “encounter a problem” uploading the avatar. No further suggestions for how to solve the problem. Just the statement that there is a problem. That is a problem.

I appreciate their FAQ section, even though it doesn't address problems uploading avatars. I did especially like the part that explains how to add feevy to my blog. Except that it didn't work.

The verdict: While I like how Feevy looks on other people's blogs and I want to get it going, I think I need some help.

There doesn't seem to be a "contact us for help" section on the Feevy page to address some of these problems. So I turn to you in the blogosphere. Is there anybody out there to feevy me through?

A World We Can Live In: a poem

My good friend Megan Cannella, who teaches ESL to refugees through the Vermont Refugee Resettlment Program, sent this poem to me today. It reminded me of the days when you could pick someone up at the airport--at the gate. It reminded me of the mother of a Smithie pulling over to make sure I was okay when my car broke down on the West River Drive and she saw the Smith sticker on my car. But it is better than that because it is so simple, so human, so generous. It is a connection that is more general but also more intimate. It is wonderful. Thanks Megan.

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal
- Naomi Shihab Ny

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well -- one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own
gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor,
wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her.
What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four
hours late and she
Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway,
min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew -- however
poorly used -
She stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical
treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we're fine, you'll get
there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let's call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on
the plane and
Would ride next to her -- southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call
some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took
up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her
life. Answering Questions.

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies --
little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts --
out of her bag --
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It
was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler
from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo -- we were all covered
with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from
huge coolers --
Non-alcoholic -- and the two little girls for our
flight, one African
American, one Mexican American -- ran around serving
us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar

And I noticed my new best friend -- by now we were
holding hands --
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some
medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling
tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones
and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate -- once the crying of
confusion stopped
-- has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other
women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

10 May 2007

Met the Author: Valentino Achak Deng

Champlain's Community Book for 07-08 is Dave Egger's (of McSweeny's fame) novelization of the life of Valentino Achak Deng in "What is the What".

I joined members of the Community Book Committee, that's them, smiling at you, for a talk by Valentino. We will be having Dave Eggers at the college in the Fall so it was sheer luck that Valentino was in Vermont and we were able to catch him.

Valentino was incredible. Many people complain that the Community Book is often depressing. I feel like those people need to reexamine the books we've chosen and "What is the What" is a fine place to start. The true story of Valentino's journey at the age of 5 from his home in ravaged Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, his experience is indeed awful. Awful isn't even the right word for it. There are no words for it.

Doubly so, words cannot express the admiration one must feel for Valentino's, and the thousands of other Lost Boys, strength, perseverence, faith, and hope. Valentino's ability to share his experience with others, his ability to learn from the horrors he has experienced, and his ability to "let go," as he says, of the bitterness he could feel is extraordinary. He talked about letting go of this hate, this bitterness, or else he can never move forward. What is the point?, he asks? What is the what that he would hold onto?

Champlain's website for the Community Book will be up soon and I'll link to it then. But we are trying to balance the need to make our student's aware of the genocide in Sudan and teach them they need to care and to act with the incredible journey one man made, in the world and in himself, to realize what is important to him. Students, we hope, will realize that is a journey we all must make to become ourselves. Many of us will never experience as difficult a journey as Valentino but these journeys aren't easy for any of us. And Valentino's message is not to feel bad for him or to compare his journey to ours. But rather to see that we can not just survive but thrive, no matter what. I can't wait to help students see that when we read the book together as a campus in the fall.

09 May 2007

Exploring New Technology 3: Flickr

Digital cameras have their pros and cons. Pro: deleting terrible shots with no cost attached. Con: remembering to have prints made of the good shots to make into an album. Pro: no need to make traditional albums anymore...just go online. Con: no need to make traditional albums anymore...just go online.

Up until today, I had been a Kodak Gallery kind of girl. My cousin uses Shutterfly. There are a many more sites that offer you space, tools to upload, organize, alter, and share your photos. But the one that has been interesting as of late is Flickr.

What does Flickr offer that the others don't? What makes it so special? That's what I wanted to know too.

So, as usual, I'll go step by step.
First, I downloaded my pictures onto my PC. I downloaded Flickr's Uploadr software so I would be able to drag my photos into a box rather than "browsing" for individual pictures. Kodak and Shutterfly operate similarly up to this point. It's a little cumbersom and can get a little frustrating, especially the first time around when you have to download the software, etc. But once you get the hang of it, no sweat.

So then I set out to alter my pics. The first thing I noticed is that I didn't have to turn my pics around. Apparently, Flickr adjusted the orientation of my photos automatically. Awesome. That's often terribly time consuming (read, annoying).

Then I started tagging my pics. I'm all about tagging. Now, any time I want pictures of Rigi (our pup), they are tagged and easy to pick up rather than having to open different albums to find the picture I'm after. Accessible, easy to use. Good stuff. The organizing feature is intuitive.

Then came to the sharing bit. Each of these photo websites asks you to share your pictures with an address book that is tedious to import. For those of you looking for then next great idea, how about mobile, importable address book so I can just download addresses safely and easily. But I digress...one thing Flickr did offer me was a link to my slideshow to send out to my choice of peeps. Good stuff. I wish they offered links for individual photos too.

Another nice feature is that I can blog pictures from Flickr, which I will try to implement soon. As for other web 2.0 features, there is are many opportunities to show pics to groups, map where pictures were taken (might be enormously useful for the annual Italy trip).

Verdict: pretty cool. Definately easier to upload, share, and organize than other photo sharing sites I've used. I will continue to try it. Assuming it maintains its ease of use, you can catch my pics on the blog.

07 May 2007

Changing of the Guard in Philly and Oxford

Making change in two very different but equally exciting ways, two librarians are stirring things up in two of my favorite places.

Fellow Smith alumna and incredible librarian, Sarah Thomas, has shattered "more than four centuries of English tradition" by taking over as head librarian at Oxford's Bodliean Library, one of the greatest libraries of the world. Any one who has sat under the dome of the Camera or in the dark of the lower reading room knows how incredible a place it is. Or imagine the tunnels and stacks lying beneath the streets of Oxford, crowded with all the books ever published in the Commonwealth. For librarians...the stuff that dreams are made on. For Smithies...another example of women on top!

In my home town of Philly, a very different kind of change. Elliot Shelkrot, President of the Free Library of Philadelphia , has resigned. Shelkrot has raised the Free Library up from the ashes during his 20 year tenure but it is his willingness to let the next generation of librarians enter into the leadership of the library that illustrates again his vision and commitment to the library. He will be missed a great deal by more people than he realizes.

Post Script: many thanks to my STAFF (you know who you are) for the research assistance.

03 May 2007

Blogs, everywhere blogs

Has anyone else noticed how often blogs are mentioned in traditional, or "old school" media outlets lately? How about these articles:
-NY Times cites bloggers as the skeptics to a multi-billion dollar company's meager donation of $5 million to Africa. While I applaud any efforts to support impoverishment in Africa, I think taht the bloggers make a great point in asking whether an organization, or a show like American Idol (and I am purposefully not linking that) should be applauded for doing so little when given their appeal, they could something truly impactful.

Or, how about the blogging gadfly (marvelous word, gadfly, isn't it?) at the UN? This piece is especially interesting because it questions the validity of bloggers as "journalists" and how institutions like the UN should handle the rapid influx of new media. But it also brings to light concerns about information sharing. Bloggers are not edited as newspapers are and they also aren't limited by space and time constraints. What does that mean for the likes of the UN? Or the World Bank? Or the White House? Doesn't it mean that blogs could supply in depth, contextualized news coverage? That blogs could be innovating not only how we read our news but how we understand it? Is this really the power of web 2.0? It makes David Silver's AEIOU (Already Existing Information Optimally Uploaded) come that much more into focus. The news is out there, it's the degree to which we find it, read it, understand it, and discuss it that might by revolutionary.