Reference Portal

While talking at work with the Systems Librarian about some of the reference services initiatives we hope to start rolling out this year, we started talking about a reference portal as a place to house it all. We’d been talking about possibly updating our MediaWiki based staff and student manual to a more user friendly, more organizable and searchable product in the vein of a knowledge management suite (we still need to figure out what, exactly, we mean by that). This could be a useful tool for students working by themselves at the circulation desk, as well as staff assisting in areas outside their normal duties (we’re a small staff, so sometimes we user services folks need to call on others whose main duties are in ‘the back room’).

Then we were talking about reference desk statistics. Due to cost cutting measures, the university is not buying desk calendars, which is how we kept track of reference desk statistics. And, since we were not able to fill the position of Reference Librarian this year, we don’t have as much coverage at the reference desk. Consequently we field more in person, email, and phone questions from our own offices. Those factors make the use of a centralized web-based statistics keeping package more desirable.

So, back to the reference portal. We thought having on centralized place where people could access this information when playing a reference or user services role would greatly benefit everyone. Other services we’d like to see there would be a chat interface, text-a-librarian service, an online desk schedule, and an internal blog, among other potential things. We looked around a bit for open source solutions that might have all these things incorporated, or at least enough to build off of, but have not yet located a viable candidate. We may just end up building all the components, or incorporating some of them into a larger package that we compile. We’ll see how the new year pans out and what directions we decide, or need, to go in an ever changing environment.

Setting up my Droid X (More)

I spent some time with my brother over the weekend working on my wife’s car. As side diversionary conversation we talked a bit about our Android devices. My brother has a Droid, which he got soon after the first model came out, so I was asking for some good app recommendations. He is an ardent user of his phone and most of the apps he uses (aside from Facebook) are productivity related, e.g. automotive diagnostic tools, location aware services, writing/notes, file/phone/computer management stuff, and etc…. He sent me a list of the apps he has installed and likes, so I’ve been adding apps that look the most relevant to my intended use and exploring them a bit.

Now that I am starting to use my phone more I decided to set up the seven home screens to collocate the apps/widgets along lines of similar functionality. So, the main screen has calendar, time, and weather widgets, along with some device controls and major apps. Another screen for location/travel/auto related info. A screen for reading, library use, and music & book shopping. A screen for communication via email, phone, text, etc. One for media. Another for news. And one for file and device management, along with other random stuff.

In the future I’ll talk more about some of the interesting uses I find for the phone, including talking about some of the specific apps.

Library Instruction

At work we are moving toward adding more library instruction resources online. One of our librarians has created a few sessions using the university’s Panopto studio. This allows for a video of the instructor coupled with the ability to add slides and screen captures. It could be an effective tool for instruction to our growing distance offerings and extension sites.

We are exploring some other options for creating and hosting the material that we are planning on generating. A couple tools we saw this summer at a conference are Screenr and Prezi. They could both be useful in certain situations, but probably not as our main tool. In a graduate student internship I used Camtasia (from TechSmith) and Captivate (from Adobe) to create short screen capture videos with voice over. I’ve used Jing a little bit (a lighter capture tool from TechSmith), but I think it could be better for on the fly screen captures like one might want to do in an email/chat reference situation. While I was working as a graduate assistant I scripted some short tutorials for a librarian to record, so I hope to draw on some of that experience as well. We still need to see where we want to host the material — perhaps YouTube, Screencast, some other video site, or hosting on our sytems. I’m in favor of whatever we do being able to be embedded in our website so that users don’t have to travel to another interface/website just to view the tutorial.

We probably will also need a process in place for when to review and update material on a systematic basis. I don’t think we’ll want to leave that to a later moment, because it will be too easy to lose track of time and forget that it was actually two years ago, not ‘a few months ago’ that we recorded that nifty section on a now obsolete service. How to assess the utility and effectiveness of the various ways we experiment with presentation and tools, along with content of course, will also be a very important component of this process. We are without a Reference and Instruction Librarian this year, but we are still trying to push ahead with some of the offerings we’d been anticipating a new hire to be able to implement and champion (such as chat reference, more robust in class and online instruction, and a greater attention to assessment).

Overdrive Media Console for Android

Yesterday the Overdrive Media Console on my Droid X was finally updated to include access to ebooks. I’ve been checking ebooks out from my public libraries for several years (SPL or KCLS depending when in the aforementioned ‘years’ we’re talking about). The ability to read library ebooks is one of the main things I missed when moving to Android from a Windows Mobile (WM) device (a Dell Axim X51v with WM 5). I also use a netbook to download library content from Overdrive, and likely still will for a while. The updated Android app only displays Adobe’s DRM version of the  EPUB standard (maintained by the IDPF), but some books I might want to read are still limited to the Mobipocket and PDF formats at my library. I won’t now go into the disadvantages consumers face with all the different formats and DRM schema — perhaps another post for another day.

So far I have been happy with the Overdrive app. I downloaded a book from my public library directly to my phone, no transferring from computer to device as was necessary with my Windows Mobile device. I added my public library to the console, then  I was taken to the browser to log in to my library’s Overdrive site. I’d already found, checked out, and started reading the book on my netbook, so all I had to do was download what was in the “My Items Out” list and start reading. I haven’t used the Overdrive mobile web interface to find a new book to read, but the part of the interaction I did complete seemed straight forward enough, so I am not anticipating major difficulties.

Reading the book in the app is similar to other programs on other devices I’ve used (mostly Windows and Windows Mobile systems). One thing I like is the Night Mode, which turns the screen black and the text to white. You can set this in the Reader Settings once you are in an ebook. I find that the lower glare of white text on black background is a lot easier on my eyes in low (or even regular) light environments. Moving from page to page is simple, just click on the side of the screen of the direction you want to move through the book (i.e. to move forward a page tap the right side of the screen or the left side to move back a page). I also used the Navigation option under the settings button to move to the chapter I’d left off at on my other device. There was a bit of a time lag as the app loaded some pages (mostly between chapters perhaps?), so not quite as smooth as I’d expect, but hopefully that will improve soon — it should just be a more seamless transition, or so it seems to me.

Drupal Site Linked

I finished making the Drupal site accessible from a link in the menu here on the new iteration of my site. I reconfigured a couple of things in the htaccess file for Drupal, changed a number of menu items there, and removed a few pieces of content as well. Otherwise, the site is pretty much as it was when I finished my directed field work experience and degree program’s portfolio requirement.

I am getting more comfortable with WordPress and am tweaking a few things slowly. I may still update the Drupal portion of the site when Drupal 7 comes out. I might also re-install Joomla as a way to keep familiar with a few content management platforms. There are a few other tools I’d like to play around with, but they might just remain behind the scenes until/unless I find some public facing use for them.

Dealing with Technical Issues

I’ve been dealing with some issues with Drupal, the content management system running this site, and Godaddy, the hosting provider I’m using. It seems there have been longstanding problems with the two systems playing nicely together, but for now I’m trying to make the best of where I’m at. I chose Godaddy because my brother has a hosting plan on which he let me install this site for the low low cost of free. Of course there is always a price to something.

Lately my site was getting a lot of server 500 errors. It seemed to be a Godaddy thing, but they never really said what they were doing, just sent me a report letting me know some ways to make my site work better. I’m planning on looking into these issues and seeing how to speed thing up. Perhaps I need to try a new theme – or maybe my playing around with Drupal should go back to my development server.

There are still a number of functions I’d like to add to the site and all, but it has been a good excercise and I have learned a lot – which really was the point of putting my MLIS Portfolio and Directed Fieldwork materials here, rather than simply making a simpler html site.

Maintaining IT

Well, I finally got the website about how I want it. At least the backend of things. Through a combination of too many modules I was able to make most of what I wanted to happen on the site work out just fine. I do like that Drupal has many free options for modules (unlike Joomla, which has a lot of modules, but some of them cost money – usually the ones I wanted), but figuring out which ones to use is more difficult (one nice thing about Joomla was that their modules have ratings and reviews). The only real indication if something might be good is to sort things by popularity – presumably if other people are using a module, it must do something right. Doing a Google search was helpful in locating other information, but is also an extra step.

I am still trying to get the image part of Drupal figured out. I’d like to use the Lightbox2 module (it brings up the image in a new box, overlaid on the page, rather than opening a new window), but the various methods I’ve read about haven’t worked seamlessly for me – yet. I’ll still work on it. I wanted to put some of the supporting material for my portfolio into a format that could open in the lightbox so that people wouldn’t have to download a PDF, but could quickly scan the documents on the site without leaving the page. We’ll see – I am still going to try to get it to work, but it may take some time. It would also be nice to be able to incorporate photos a little more easily into some of my posts.

I am still planning on tinkering with my theme choice. I’m not sure I like this one. I will look at some of the theme templates and maybe work on getting one of those set up and customized more to my liking. And I need to work on the homepage. Maybe I should just remove it until I have more of the other content I plan to include up on the site. I can let the blog part be the home for now perhaps. We’ll see. I do have a lot to do to finish up my graduate program in the next four to five weeks, so I might just let things be as they are, unless I get some fantastic inspiration (that doesn’t require too much time to implement).

I am beginning to see how the implantation of something like Drupal for running a website can become problematic. There is a constant need to monitor and update contributed modules and the Drupal core to fix bugs or patch vulnerabilities. Modules are not so bad. Although the more one has installed, the more often updating will need to occur. Updating the core is a little more time consuming – backing everything up takes some time, though it is a good idea to be doing periodically anyway – then turning off all non-Drupal modules, switching to a default theme, deleting the files in the Drupal install directory, installing the new files and then re-installing all my data and contributed modules. Then turn the modules back on and change back to the theme – and make sure it all works. Whew! Good thing I’ve only had to do that twice since I installed Drupal to run my website.

Almost There

So, I finally got back around to messing with my Drupal installation. I think I figured out the blog problem. Thankfully I hadn’t entered much content into the blog module (which is designed to set up multiple blogs per site, rather than just one blog). In my post about Testing CCK I mentioned creating a new content type. I finally played around with another module, Views, and figured out how to create a page that shows content according to various criteria. I created a new Page View that I called Blog and indicated that anything with the content type blogging that is published will go to this page. I also made it a menu item in my primary menu. The views section also has an archive option that should allow me to make a page and a block where people can find material by date. Also has some pretty neat other features that I hope to get set up soon.
I am almost finished with the parts for my portfolio, which should be making their way up on the site soon. I hope to get a couple relevant projects displayed on my projects pages too, but that may need to wait a bit yet. Now there is nothing stopping me from spending a few minutes each day ruminating on the state of libraries, information, and technology – at least as far as feeling good about the site architecture and all that – making the time is another story.

Testing CCK

I’ve been trying to figure out how to make Drupal display only one blog – mine. Evidently the core blog module is set up to create multiple blogs, all of which could be published on the front page, but also all reside in the blog section as well as on an individual user’s blog. So, for a person – say, me – who only wants one blog, this means my posts are all in several places on different pages. I’ve read how I can change the core module to not show ‘David’s Blog’ as a link at the bottom of each post or create a CCK content type, or use the story content type or…. I think I need to do some more work figuring out the structure of my site, but I know I want one blog which resides under the blog menu item and allows tags, comments, archives, etc….maybe I really should just switch to WordPress for that…. I also want the other sections for projects I’m working on, my portfolio for my program, and anything else that comes to mind. Anyway, hopefully this next week I’ll have more time to mess around with things and get it figured out to my satisfaction.

Cataloging Module Improvements

In my Library Technology Systems class today we were talking about Integrated Library Systems. A question came up asking the class what systems they had experience using and what they thought could be improved about the modules they used. I mentioned having used III Millennium as well as Ex Libris’s Voyager. I have limited experience with the cataloging module, but mentioned that a more intuitive interface might help for libraries that utilize student workers to maintain and adjust some records. This could free up staff training time and allow technicians and librarians to more easily do their jobs. A bit later today I was thinking about it some more and wondered if any systems incorporate links to AACR2 or other rules, so a cataloger could easily stay where they are, and bring the information to them. Maybe through an API into Catalogers Desktop or something….Maybe it exists – I shall have to investigate.