Yearly Archives: 2005

omg d00d, not teh LIBRARY!

The slashdot thread about google’s acquisition of 5% of AOL was of interest to me because of GTalk and AIM. The deal is all about advertisements, and all about IM (which itself is about advertisements (scanning our conversations?), and probably VOIP). Even though Trillian and Meebo make it less necessary to have network interoperability, it’ll be nice to see two networks communicating with each other. As for Google getting tainted with some of AOL’s evil, one slashdotter stated:

I swear, if I get ONE damned Google CD in the mail, EVER – I’ll go to a LIBRARY before I look something up on Google again.

Er…thanks for thinking of us!

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gaming in libraries 2005

Everyone else did a fab job taking copious transcripts of the Gaming in Libraries 2005 Symposium . I didn’t have all that typing in my fingers, so I sat back, listened, and jotted down some thoughts when the spirit moved me.

There were many great things about the conference, but there was one thing I liked in particular. And no, it wasn’t the fact that I got to play Mario Kart during the breaks. I was really pleased to hear that the same language I’ve (used and) seen being used to motivate people to get libraries involved with weblogs, RSS, and other social software was the same language being used at the symposium. Both the act of blogging and playing certain games can be seen as learning through gaining membership in a community of practice. Participation is the key. Constance Steinkuehler told the crowd just how much effort is spent by participating in a MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) community. Weeks, months even, are spent in meetings, collecting data, analyzing data and determining a plan of action. To me, this really sounds like writing a research paper. Players are learning how to learn even if they aren’t aware.

And if libraries participate in the social networks of their users, “going to the library” will be less like it has been (often times a last resort), and more like consulting a friend. This similarity was encouraging because it indicates that Libraries are working on the same issues, for similar reasons, though different tactics. When we’re all getting our heads in the same place, joining together to accomplish similar goals…well folks, I dare say we’re part of a movement.

One idea that will likely come through in everyone’s reports is the notion of video games in libraries for their own sake, not as a loss leader for books. In our gaming grant, we stressed that for many people, getting involved with a game is like other people getting involved with a book. Les Gasser went so far as to say that games are now part of kids’ cultural mythology. The idea that games’ storylines have such an impact resonated with me. Just the other day I was talking with a colleague’s daughter and she told me the cut scenes (elaborate animated portions used to forward a game’s plot) in her favorite game are so moving that they made her cry. Games really are a form of storytelling. Try out some games if you need proof.

Another thing I hope everyone took away from the Symposium is a historical perspective on new media in libraries. Many of the speakers stressed that resistance to video games as part of library service is the same force that resisted DVDs, VHS tapes, Magazines, and even Fiction in libraries. The high/low culture debate in libraries is bound to continue.

The Symposium ended with some really great and super practical tips for librarians’ interactions with young people. Beth Galway did a great job illustrating how librarians can take prompts from games to pitch and tailor their services. Her points included:

  • Be a strategy guide don’t be a level boss. In other words, don’t mimic the powerful and intimidating creatures that players defeat at the end of a level. Instead, be a collaborator in their journey.
  • Show, don’t tell. Many kids like learning experientially.
  • Get them started. Let them do. Then see if they need some guidance after a bit.
  • Ask for a demo of expertise. Not only do thing kids like “doing,” they love to shine when they do well.
  • Change the space often. Even if it is simple rearrangement, alter the space that teenagers use every week. This will keep their interest.

Here are the rest of the posts tagged gaminginlibraries2005 on technorati, and here are 154 pictures tagged gaminginlibraries2005 from flickr.

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embedded flickr slideshows

Check out HOW TO Quickie: Embedded Flickr Slideshows. I plunked the code into and I like it. You can also see an example below, which is a display of my photos tagged ‘mobilepic.’ This code is flexible in that you can be selective or inclusive in the photos to be shown. The down side is that only one size can be displayed, requiring some serious devoted real estate. The frame size can be changed, but then the photos are cut off.

Off the top of my head I can think of a few applications for this on a library website:

  • Inform people visually about the meeting room
  • Document an event
  • Show off a computer lab
  • Highlight an art collection

and perhaps my favorite idea…

  • Combine an embedded mp3 file with a slideshow of illustrations to create an amazing online storytime! Kids could listen to a librarian as they watch the story unfold. I’m really tempted to try this, but my drawings would probably scare the kids and the whole project would fail. I may need to employ the help of an artist friend, because there’s probably not many public domain illustrations for children’s books. Tho I do know of Ardvark the Aardvark.

Any other ideas?

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actions > words

There is a fair amount of grumbling going on about the marketing of the Gap’s website redesign. signal vs noise and Power to the People take issue with this big, orange statement from the Gap website.

image from

The comment quoted by signal vs noise sums it up well:

They’re saying the right things, only they’ve got them backwards. “Latest technologies”, “innovative tools,” and “new features” are pretty much meaningless if the “shopping experience” isn’t better. Now, I don’t want to pick on Gap, but this illustrates (rather well) the point I’m trying to make: Put the people first, then devise simple solutions — the experience is what matters.

This sentiment is really useful not only for our library websites, but our institutions as well. This just another way to state the importance of putting our focus on our users. All of the great technology in our libraries shouldn’t exist for its own sake, but rather should exists because it helps.

However, regarding their criticism of the Gap’s placement of emphasis, I’m not convinced that we need to be telling our patrons that we’re attempting to create an experience. People don’t really want to be told that they are going to have an experience. Talk of experience in PR can smack of marketing jargon and be a major turn off. In other words, it isn’t useful for an institution to proclaim, “We’re user-centered,” or “Come here for an experiential transaction.” Customers and library patrons know full well if an institution is user-centered or if they’ve had an experiental transaction without (or in spite of) being told that they’ve had an experience.

What are we supposed to tell our patrons then? If and only if it were true, I think one great slogan for our libraries would be:

Libraries. We’re easy.

It’s short, catchy, to the point and memorable. The rest of the story would be told with our actions. We’ve got a ways to go before we can pull that one out.

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simple google map “hack”

Many moons ago I posted about some library fun with google maps API. I’ve finally made some time to add data into the map I had for the Western Springs History (for which I also chose a new WordPress theme). Take a look at the Western Springs History interactive map, and if you like it, here some code. Libraries could use something like this to display the location of the building/s, or maybe just map out the best places to eat around the library.

The code for the map calls in an XML file named “data.xml” which should reside in the same directory as your HTML file. You’ll need to change one thing in the code before you try load it into a brower. Sign up for a google maps api key and paste it in where the code instructs towards the top of the document. You’ll likely also want to Ctrl-F to find “map.centerAndZoom(new GPoint(-87.899300, 41.812600), 3).” The first two numbers are the latitude and longitude that will be displayed when your map is loaded. The third number is the level of zoom. Unlike Yahoo! Maps, Google Maps doesn’t do any geocoding, so you can’t simply enter an address for your new GPoint. Fear not, you can use the free to get the lat/long data of an address.

There are all kinds of fancy things you can do with the XML, but here’s what I chose for my map:


Add in as many points are you like.

Once you have an HTML file with the altered code and a data.xml file in a folder, open it up and see what happens. You can easily customize your map further by reading the Google Maps API Documentation. Also take a look at EZ Maps and the list of map projects from Mapki.

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a message from the library

This afternoon the YA librarian sent me an instant message. Here’s a snippet of our conversation:

ianmckndrck: there is a whole gang here
ianmckndrck: from last night
ianmckndrck: wanting to play
ianmckndrck: I said no, because I can’t supervise
ianmckndrck: but they are hanging out now
ianmckndrck: just reading and talking
xxagentcooperxx: NICE
xxagentcooperxx: I LOVE IT
ianmckndrck: so funny
ianmckndrck: I felt so bad telling them no

How about that?! Maybe if we do the right things and really engage teenagers on their own terms it isn’t terribly difficult to get them in the library after all.

If you’re confused about this, the previous post another successful DDR night might help

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another successful DDR night

I spent Friday night at the library co-hosting a night of Dance Dance Revolution. DDR, if you’ve never played it, is the game that requires players to jump on a four-way dance pad in sync with music and arrows on the screen.

I’ve gotta say folks, video games in libraries is absolutely what it is cracked up to be. The fact that it is an excellent way to meet the cultural needs of our young patrons was demonstrated to me over and over by the number of people that came and their enthusiasm. We had over 25 kids in the library on a Friday night. It wasn’t the largest event we’ve had at the library, but you wouldn’t know that by the level of energy (and noise). The event was largely open play with a small competition (broken down by skill level) at the end. There was some interesting collaboration going on during the open play. If someone was playing the game on a level beyond their skill and wanted some help, another person would take over the front and left or right parts of the dance pad. This allowed players to get the feel for the more difficult settings and still succeed. I took some mental notes that might help you play your next gaming event:

What worked:

    observing and dancing

  • 25+ kids, two librarians and one PS2. This ratio worked out really well. The kids to video game system might seem a bit low, but we had other things for the kids to do while they were waiting in line. What’s more, evidently DDR is still fun to play without a dance pad. You’ll see in the photoset DDR @ the Library that kids practice and dance along even when they aren’t operating the video game.
  • Jenga and other games on the side. There was a variety of other things to do for when people felt like taking a break. No Jenga pieces were thrown! There were also a deck of cards, and Uno.
  • Harvesting content while they were there. This was an amazingly well behaved and smart group of kids. I mention the library’s audio review for teens, and they were lining up to be recorded. So I went upstairs, wrote a barebones outline that they could follow, fired up Audacity, and away we went. I thought I’d get mostly movie and CD reviews, but no, the kids impressed me again by wanting to mostly talk about books. Their reviews will be available at the Teen Reviews page of the library’s website soon.
  • Setting up a laptop as a sandbox. Three quarters of the way thorough the event I put a laptop on the table by the food and left a Word document open. At first the document was blank, and no one knew what to do, so I put a heading at the top. Here’s the result, no edits: DDR at the library is FUN, because…….

    We always get hyper and get excited to play

    It is very very fun to win even if you mess up a couple of times

    You get so into the game after you find the beats of the songs

    We get to hang out and play some off the hook DDR and we get to goof around to. EVERYONE SHOULD COME.

    I stink at it, and it’s funny to see me mess up!

    Joel is just a joy to have at this fantastic gamming night!!!

    p.s. joel actually ruins it

    I can’t believe we can be so lound and have sooo much fun at the library!!1

    It is th eabsolute best thing EVER!!!!!!!!!! You run around th elibrary doing absolutely nothing important(WHICH IS AWESOME)! DDR is also great. The tournaments are SO cool. NANCY IS DA BOMB. KEVIN IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST MUFFIN FLAVORED DANCER IN DA HOUSE!!!!!!!!!!!! Danny is the best he won it all.AUSTIN SUCKS AT EVERYTHING(Just most things: quote Austin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DAN IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!! Lol!!!!
    Back to the main subject,

    It is fun and there is pizza

    You get to get together and dance with all your friends and see how bad (or good) you are at dancing. I love DDR night! I have started practicing and I love to dance! It is great that they do that! And it is cool how people will just voluntarily do this! LOL! We are so loud but then again… we did heve caffine. Thank you Aron and Mr. M!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I can easily imagine how the AADL’s gaming blog has become so popular for kids. Just like the PRE/Internet report indicated, teens are eager to create.

What didn’t work:

  • IM during the event. We let some kids sign into their “sn” to inform friends where they were, and a few interesting things happened. First, we had to drag them away from the computer to get back to the party at hand. Second, they didn’t practice very thorough online safety and left their passwords saved on AIM. So someone went back to the computer and had some fun pretending to be someone else. This caused some confusion and mild drama, but on the other hand, the kids were pretty laid back about it because, “This happens all of the time.” This leads me to believe that perhaps the lack of good security practices is offset by skepticism on the other end.
  • Human bowling. Kids will be kids. I put an end to the thought of this game quickly.

I recorded a number of entertaining and informative quotes from the kids:

“I need more Mountain Dew!”

“Can we do this again tomorrow morning?”

“I have to go home and practice for next time.”

and my favorite

“Hey Aaron, can I go upstairs to grab a magazine and book to read?”

Like our series of Lyric Opera lectures, or a craft event, a night of video games is an excellent way for the library to entertain its users and poise itself as a cultural institution. We need to keep letting our younger users make the equation “Libraries = a place that knows my tastes = a place where I can have a great experience = a place I want to be.” If we don’t do this, we risk obsolescence and empty meeting rooms in the future.

The pictures might tell a better story than I can. Check out the flickr set: DDR @ the Library

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getting out there

Considering that libraries are all about people and information it’s no shocker that some librarians are excited about the potential of all the neat social software around. Part of this excitement is an enthusiasm for the concept of “getting our information out there.” Just in the past day or two, Michael wrote about “Putting Yourself Out There” and David instructs us to“go where your customers already are.” Michael’s post details face-to-face interactions resulting from his online presence, and I think servers as a partial proof of concept of David’s thoughts about social software as a marketing tool. It stands to reason that “getting our information out there” will result in more face-to-face interactions. I’d also guess that physically getting out in the community results in more online interactions too. The emphasis here is on the word “out.” We can’t expect potential users to come groveling to us, because that’s simply not going to happen.

It isn’t difficult to paint a rosy picture of libraries and social software, but we should remember that plenty of our users don’t know a del.ic.ious account from a writeboard document. Even though the majority of our users aren’t using these tools yet, I see four reasons that libraries should invest time and effort into things like flickr, bookmarking sites, podcasts, etc..

1. They’re fun, cheap, and easy. Using tools like the ones listed above have a low barrier to entry. Not only are they mostly free, they don’t take extreme technical know-how. And because they give nice results quickly, people find them fun to use.

2. Internal utility. Not only can getting involved with this stuff be useful for your users, it can be useful for library staff too. Using flickr is a much more attractive and easier to manage system than, say, having a folder of images on your server. I’d rather search a well tagged collection of photos (or just find an appropriate set) than drill down though a bunch of folders. Staff can access bookmarks from any computer without the need for constantly exporting/importing favorites files. Weblogs are excellent tools for internal staff communication. You get my drift here.

3. Leadership. Libraries can promote their extended web presence and instruct their users in the process. This type of instruction will help close the participation gap and give our users skills with which to operate as the web becomes increasingly permeating. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it one thousand times, libraries need to be the infotech leaders of our communities.

4. Reputation. I’m not as concerned with the reputation of specific libraries, but rather the reputation of libraries in general. If all of the neat stuff coming out on the web is going to be the Future of the Web (for a while, at least) libraries need to stake their claim as participants. The each time a library “gets their stuff out there” the better Libraries in general are. A random flickr image of a library program might invoke fond memories of storytime. People who browse the bookmarks of a library might think about going to their home library instead of Amazon/Borders/Google Book the next time they need a book. Will they come to their home library (in person or online) and be disappointed that there isn’t a fun and useful web presence? Libraries aren’t as powerful of a cultural institution as we would like. We’re not impacting society as much as we would like, right? Well, imagine if 50 libraries organized and simultaneously started putting content out on flickr,,, and had a comments-enabled blog about new items in the library. I bet those libraries would get some attention. The blogosphere (not just library related blogs) would eat that right up and there would be a ton of links going around. I can see the title now: “Librarians Infiltrate the Read/Write Web.” This attention would be great for them, and it would be great for our institutions too. All that for $0.00 (or $25 to pony up for a pro account on flickr), plus the cost of staff time.

Panacea? No, of course not. A step in the right direction? Yes. Speaking of steps in the right direction, try to find some time soon to try out a new tool online. Do it for yourself, your library, your users, and every other library around! I’ll get you started.

Bookmarking tools

37 Signals stuff – I’m not affiliated with them, I have just have a crush on their software. It looks great and is entirely usable.

Other sites

  • flickr
  • (note: seems to be down as I’m writing this) – this site consits of streaming radio, but it also keeps tracks of music you play on your computer. Example: walkingpaper’s profile. A library could create a profile and display played songs from new CDs as a “New music in the library” page. What an interesting way to display a library’s music collection. Better yet, maybe some library coder will write a mashup! Anybody?
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I don’t do much quick linking here, but if no one else is going to post about this, I will. Why? Because it combines two great things: IM and RSS.

This service let’s you subscribe to RSS feeds via an IM account. It works though a bookmarket named “monitor this” which you can click on a page that has a feed. Then you simply select a service and screen name.

So I can tell to send updates from a blog to a screen name, and when the feed is updated, it pings the screen name. Neat. When I tried this out, there was no validation, so this service is high on the prankability scale.

I’m not sure how it really is. I my test subscription took about 1 minute. Also, you might get a “Application error Rails application failed to start properly” message since people are likely hammering their server right now.

I couldn’t see having all of my subscriptions coming in though IM, but perhaps it would be good for following some feeds closely for a set period of time. Play and enjoy! And remember, Tom the Turkey is your friend!

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TFML website redesign

New TFML HomepageI spent some time redesigning and restructuring MPOW’s website. The old site wasn’t getting much attention from me because I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. The only way to update it was to rip is apart and start over. The bad part about it is that the navigation suffered a bit, I think, but I’ve got a plan to make it better.

The good part is that the site looks so much better, and is now ACTION ORIENTED and USER CENTERED. So instead of “Readers’ Advisory,” users see “find a book or movie.” Instead of “Adult Services,” “Young Adults” and “Youth Services” users see “adults,” “teens” and “kids.”* It is still fully liquid and scales down decently to 800×600.

I’m really tickled with the corner banner reading “support your library” which Brian points out is a visual metaphor as well, holding up the webpage. If you want to put a corner banner on your site, here’s the code I used:

<div style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;float:left"><a href="PATHTOLINK"><img src="PATHTOIMAGE" /></a>

Also, here’s a link to the support your library gif [via]

It is a small touch, but I gave people the choice of three font sizes on the page. That is, if people are aware what those As on a page do.

Also, now that it doesn’t look like junk, take a look at our Click-A-Story page. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone uses it as a podcast, if people will just listen in their browsers.

I still have a huge laundry list for the site. Some of it is wishful thinking at this point, some of it is very realistic:

  • better action oriented nav
  • integration with OPAC (not holding my breath, but since John Blyberg has written some great code for the Innovative ILS, maybe I can get SWAN folk at the MLS to work with me at some point.
  • visual cues for being in a certain (age-based) section of the site. i don’t think it should be difficult to find some suitable color changes in the CSS. Also possibly a big, fun, “FOR KIDS” gif placed by the banner for the YS pages
  • breadcrumbs leading back to a page’s ‘parent’ (i.e. teen news >> homework help) displayed on each page. this will be simple to do if I make header includes for each department
  • better looking middle column content, without sacrificing its legibility
  • conversation! I didn’t want to tackle enabling comments right now. easy to do technical wise, but it’ll take some time to formulate and write a policy. this one is important and we’ve gotta get it right.
  • more content. the hard part.
  • expose RSS where it exits. the site needs some orange gifs, har har.
  • etc, etc…

We’re going to start a formal process of planning the next generation of our website in January. Participants will include a board member, four staff members and two or three members of the community.

Now that you’ve read the words, you can see some images with annotations in my flickr set new TFML site. Let me know what you think, feel free to point out anything you think is bad, and of course feel free to write me some CSS to accomplish anything I’ve listed above 😛

*note: I got the okay from the head of Youth Services to use the word “kids.” I know sometime YS librarians see the word as derogatory.

UPDATE: you too can try this at home. there are many great open source and public domain CSS layouts available on the web. this one is from ruthsarian layouts. also take a look at blue robot.

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