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Technology

Big Huge Labs & Valentine’s Day – Bag of Tricks

Valentine’s Day, LOVE, or as the quote in the movie Princess Bride goes, “tweasure your wuv”. While the Children’s Librarian has probably already accumulated lots of red construction paper and doilies for handmade cards, you may also have some adults or older teens looking to make a card or some sort of holiday specialness.

One of the tools I have in my Bag of Tricks for any holiday or gift moment is Big Huge Labs. There are many utilities available on Big Huge Labs that will let you manipulate digital images and make cool stuff for free. One of my favorites for gift giving is the pocket photo album. In this day and age, our cell phones are our cameras and we store our pictures on them or in cloud storage. This makes an actual printed photo something special. With the Pocket Album, you can add photos, print, and fold to make a special, one of a kind photo album.

Big Huge Labs has several different utilities for photos, including poster makers (nothing says Happy Valentine’s better than a giant photo of your face), jigsaw puzzle makers (love is a puzzle sometimes), a photo cube, calendar, trading cards, and a billboard maker (if you’ve got something important to say, say it BIG).

These can work for many occasions other than Valentine’s Day and as we talked about in other parts of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy for better serving patrons and can also give you a bit more confidence. A Bag of Tricks is a virtual toolkit that you create to help familiarize yourself with new technology and websites that you or your patrons might find handy. Here’s an example of a Bag of Tricks that you can use as a jumping-off point for creating your own:  https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

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Technology

Data Visualization – Bag of Tricks

Ah January, the season of snow and reports! Often January is a month of getting your taxes together,  making reports for the Board, and otherwise wrapping up the year gone by.

One tech tool you may want in your back pocket for reports is Livegap Charts (https://livegap.com/charts/). If you can make a spreadsheet, Livegap Charts can make it into a pretty chart. They have several styles and chart types to choose from. There is also a similar website called AMCharts (https://live.amcharts.com/). Both of these sites are pretty straightforward to use.

Besides your own reports, other organizations in your community might be working on Annual reports. I am sure you have seen your fair share of hard to read graphs, data that doesn’t mean much, and long blocks of text with facts and figures that might cure insomnia.

While these tools can be a big help with making a graph that looks great, knowing what data to make visual and what kind of graph to use to best show off your stats can still be puzzling. For this reason, the Colorado State Library unit, Library Research Service (LRS), has created/compiled some awesome resources on data visualization. Have a look at their Beginner’s guide – (https://www.lrs.org/data-visualization-for-the-rest-of-us-a-beginners-guide/) and check out the article in American Libraries by our own Linda Hofschire, director of LRS (https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2016/11/01/lets-get-visual-data-visualization/).

As we talked about in other parts of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy for better serving patrons and can also give you a bit more confidence. A Bag of Tricks is a virtual toolkit that you create to help familiarize yourself with new technology and websites that you or your patrons might find handy. Here’s an example of a Bag of Tricks that you can use as a jumping-off point for creating your own:  https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

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Technology

Photo Editing – Bag of Tricks

I do a bit of photo editing for websites and I have used a program called GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) for almost 20 years. GIMP is powerful, but complicated. It is like PhotoShop, but free and open source. I tend to use GIMP most often because I have almost two decades of experience with it and have gotten pretty quick at using it the way I like. However, I have recently found myself looking for a simpler, more intuitive photo editing program to recommend to folks who don’t have overly complicated tasks they want to do. My seventy-year-old neighbor doesn’t need to learn how to use GIMP in order to make a collage of her collie dogs.

There are several perfectly good and free photo editing programs out there. Honestly, taking the time to get  used to one of them, any one of them, is probably more important than which one you use. One I found that has a good interface, a free version, and does the basics well, is BeFunky. BeFunky has 3 places to start – a photo editor, a collage maker, and a graphic design interface. If you just want to make a collage, there’s really no need to look at the graphic design interface.

Fotor is pretty good too. While it is less comprehensive than GIMP, tends to hog some bandwidth, and has a lot of ads, it does a lot. Pixlr is another one of my go-to photo editing favorites. It does requires a flash player though, so make sure you are up to date on your Flash and ready to allow flash to run on your browser tab. If you don’t have permissions to change things on your library computers, this might be one to skip, but if you can, do give it a try.

PicMonkey is also worth a mention, even though it isn’t free. (It used to be free… I used to use it… sigh.) It works on mobile, though unless your eyes are a lot better than mine and your phone a lot bigger than most, photo editing on a phone is never going to be easy. PicMonkey also has templates for graphic design that are useful if you are doing more than just making grandma’s eyes not glowing red, resizing the family photo, or cropping out the weird neighbor. It also has overlays that can change the mood of a photo.

What photo editing program do you like? Do you keep it in your Bag of Tricks? A Bag of Tricks is a virtual toolkit that you create to help familiarize yourself with new technology and websites that you or your patrons might find handy. Here’s an example of a Bag of Tricks that you can use as a jumping-off point for creating your own:  https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

As we talked about in other parts of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy for better serving patrons and can also give you a bit more confidence.

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Technology

IFTTT – Bag of Tricks

Have you heard the phrase, “the internet of things”? The Internet of Things is the network of devices, vehicles, and home appliances that contain electronics, software, actuators, and connectivity which allows these things to connect, interact and exchange data. So, this is the light bulb that you can turn on from your phone, or the fridge that emails you your shopping list. Often these ‘Things’ have their own app, but if you are anything like me, there are already too many apps, accounts, passwords, and websites to keep track of.

That is one of the reasons I like IFTTT (If This, Then That). IFTTT is the free way to get all your apps and devices talking to each other. Amazon’s Alexa doesn’t normally like to add things to the to-do list on an Apple iPhone, but IFTTT can make it happen. Your Domino’s Pizza Tracker can notify your HUE lightbulb and turn on your porchlight when the pizza delivery person pulls up. Yeah, way SciFi, and definitely on that scary but handy continuum. There are thousands of possible ‘Applets’, or if this, then that combinations, and many services that work with IFTTT. Appliances, business tools, clocks, cars, email, environmental controls, lighting, music, news, notes, security systems, your router, and even the Library of Congress are services you can use in an Applet.

So, what can this do for libraries? Let’s start with workflow and reporting. You can use an Applet to take any event added to your calendar and save it to a spreadsheet, which can be handy for keeping track of the number and type of events that you may have had in a year. Adding a new row in a Google Sheets document every time a tweet matches a particular search or hashtag can be a handy way to keep count and an eye on what Twitter is saying about your library. If you put a label on an email in Gmail you can create an entry in Google Sheets. This is a good way to keep track of the number of emails on a certain topic, or on book requests or other service requests. Actually, the Applet, ‘Keep a tally on anything’, can help you track Reference Interviews, interlibrary loans, people using computers… seriously anything. ‘When a new book is added to Kindle Top 100 eBooks send me an email’ applet and ‘When a new book is added to the NY Times Best Sellers List, send me an email’ applet can help your acquisitions process. They both utilize the RSS applet, so the possibilities for these sorts of recipes are endless. The blog Information Twist has a blog about using IFTTT to tweet about the weather and library visits in a cute way – https://informationtwist.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/its-raining-twitter-says-get-to-the-library/.
Play around with IFTTT and see what connects with your library.

Introducing your patrons to applets in IFTTT could even be as simple as using one to help them turn on their porch light when their car is a few blocks from home, so it might be a site to keep in your Bag of Tricks. Bag of Tricks is a virtual toolkit that you create to help familiarize yourself with new technology and websites that you or your patrons might find handy. Here’s an example of a Bag of Tricks that you can use as a jumping-off point for creating your own: https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

As we talked about in other parts of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy for better serving patrons and can also give you a bit more confidence.

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Technology

Storybird – Bag of Tricks

The other day, my 12 year old niece sent me a pdf of a story she wrote. 100 typed pages. It ends not exactly on a cliffhanger, but leaves room for more adventures. My niece explained that she intends to make it a series. Some of the pages (and the cover!) have beautiful artwork. I asked her where she got the artwork or if she had done them herself. She told me she had used Storybird (http://storybird.com/create/). I had set her up with a Storybird account when she was 7 or 8 years old. Storybird is a website that allows kids to write a story. Sounds pretty basic, right? With Storybird, kids can create and share books and poems with a free membership. They can also choose from artwork by different artists to add to their stories and artists can sign-up and show off their artwork and characters.  Storybird is a good website to base a program around in a public or school library setting or at least a good site to recommend to kids you see in the library that like to write or tell stories. Storybird both practices and encourages some of the most important aspects of learning – creativity and intrinsic motivation. Not all kids will be phenomenal writers, but with Storybird, they will have the freedom and encouragement to make something they can call their own.

Though Storybird has not changed too drastically since I first looked at it 6 or 7 years ago it has become a richer, more in-depth environment with more artwork and more publicly shared stories. Kids under 13 have to provide a parent’s email address so their account can be activated. While they could potentially just enter their own email, no personal information is listed on their profile, so their experience should still be safe. Also, the stories kids write are automatically private, unless they adjust the settings to make them public. All Storybird users are also cautioned against using or including inappropriate content in their stories, and could find their accounts banned if stories are found with elements that violate site rules. Furthermore, all comments and stories are moderated. And if users are interested in writing for more than just fun, Storybird has also created a paid membership level that adds courses, express writing feedback, and challenges for certificates.

When I was a kid, we did all this sort of thing non-digitally. I remember in kindergarten making a book with my own pictures and gluing and sewing the pages into a cardboard cover. While that is still a great activity, going digital can add more than just a few aspects to writing creatively. First of all, it is instantly shareable by link to friends and family (Like an Uncle). It also is a good moderated experience to help kids become more digitally literate and can help them with their computer skills along with learning about privacy and accounts.

This is a good website to add to your Bag of Tricks. As we talked about in other parts of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy for better serving patrons and can also give you a bit more confidence. While I suggest that you create your own Bag of Tricks, I have an example Bag of Tricks to get you started at https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

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Technology

Broadband – Bag of Tricks

The internet is quite the thing. Since I have been alive, the internet has not only come into being but really changed how people interact with the world. Even 15 years ago, I don’t know that I understood the impact of having the world wide web on a device in my pocket.

It reminds me of when I was building my house. I live pretty far from town and it was a few years before I got running water, and when I finally did, it was from a well, not a municipal utility. In the years since, running water has become indispensable in my life and, recently, when my pump broke, doing without water for a few days was really hard. I had a difficult time remembering how I did without it for the years before. Now I feel the same way about the internet.

As 2019 approaches, the internet has really become ubiquitous in people’s lives. “Google” has become a verb. “Google it” is a phrase we all understand to mean “look it up on the internet” and not to necessarily mean using the product called Google. Folks even become upset when the internet isn’t available on planes or in coffee shops. People consider the internet to be almost a public utility, but it isn’t. Over the past decade, different projects have been rolling out from the government to increase the infrastructure. This is especially important in rural areas where access to high-speed internet is not available.

In the USA, 81.9{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} of households have Internet at home. In Colorado, we are up to 87{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5}. Pretty good! But that still leaves 13{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} of Colorado residents without consistent access to the internet. And even some of that 87{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5}  with internet access do not have high-speed internet. The majority of this 13{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} without internet access in their households live in rural areas and either can’t afford internet or simply don’t have the ability to purchase internet access at any price due to the lack of availability in their area.

With this in mind, the federal government has proposed a few initiatives that give incentives to internet providers to build up their infrastructure in order to expand access. The Access to Capital Creates Economic Strength and Supports (ACCESS) Rural America Act would provide regulatory relief to rural telecommunications service providers by allowing them to submit streamlined financial reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These small companies—many of which are the sole service providers in their region—could be put out of business by looming regulatory costs. Specifically, this bipartisan legislation would increase the number of investors that triggers SEC public reporting requirements for rural telecommunications companies so that these smaller companies with fewer investors would not be required to report, and this will save these small companies from costly SEC reporting requirements that were never intended for them.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS), also has a loan program to help internet providers extend and beef up service. The RUS broadband loan program provides low-interest loans for the construction of broadband networks in rural areas. Loans target areas lacking broadband service at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. Funding recipients will be required to build out service providing speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps, and priority will be given to applications proposing to serve areas with the highest percentage of locations lacking 25/3 Mbps service.

Finally, the most essential program comes from anchor institutions. Anchor institutions are schools, hospitals, and libraries. Yup, libraries.

Colorado libraries provide free internet to people in our communities and connect those communities to the broader world through the internet. Internet access makes our libraries a local watering hole, so to speak, for information and communication. Does your library provide enough internet? Yes?  And what is “enough internet”?

To calculate the minimum bandwidth you need to provide quality Internet‐based services, consider what you want available to each internet user in your library.

If you want … You’ll need about… download speeds

General web surfing, email, social media 1 Mbps
Online gaming 1-3 Mbps
Video conferencing* 1-4 Mbps
Standard-definition video streaming 3-4 Mbps
High-definition video streaming 5-8 Mbps
Frequent large file downloading 50 Mbps and up
*You’ll want at least a 1 Mbps upload speed for quality video conferencing.

If it is the goal to provide to each user general web surfing and some low-definition Youtube videos, let’s aim for 1.5 Mbps for each user. So, if you have 6 computers, we first need to multiply 1.5 by 6 (1.5 * 6 = 9 Mbps) You might have wireless too, and folks can use that with their own laptops or smartphones. Let’s figure a light load, say ⅓ of folks are using their own device. So, instead of 6 devices, we have 6 * 1.33 or 8. Now our math looks like 1.5 * 8 = 12 Mbps. Does your staff use the same internet connection or do you have a separate connection for staff computers? You’ll need to add in those connections and some circulation/cataloging systems (your ILS) take more bandwidth. Anything else using your internet like your library VoIP phones? Remember to figure it all in.  In our example, this library with 6 public access computers should be purchasing a minimum of 12 Mbps download.

How much is your library providing to each internet user? You can also do the math backward. If you are purchasing 25 Mbps total and run your staff internet with a separately purchased connection and have 10 public access computers and wifi (10*1.33=13.3), plus 1 computer that uses the internet for games for children, and 1 for genealogy and special research, you are providing (13 + 1 + 1 = 15, 25/15 = 1.6) 1.6 Mbps to each user. Library EDGE (http://www.libraryedge.org/) provides examples of the math with their benchmarking. You can also check out Toward Gigabit Libraries (https://www.coloradovirtuallibrary.org/technology/bag-of-tricks-toward-gigabit-libraries/) for more information on improving and learning about your current broadband infrastructure.

It can also be a good idea to do a speed test. Several sites test the speed of your internet (this can also be a good tool to ensure that you are getting what you pay for). I use Speedtest.net (http://www.speedtest.net). Check your speed early before you open and then again at your busiest times. This can help you determine what you are actually providing your patrons.

Consider adding a speed testing website to your Bag of Tricks. If you’re new to your library or just to the Colorado Virtual Library website, a Bag of Tricks is a virtual toolkit that you create to help familiarize yourself with new technology and websites that you or your patrons might find handy. Here’s an example of a Bag of Tricks that you can use as a jumping-off point for creating your own:  https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

As we talked about in other parts of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy for better serving patrons and can also give you a bit more confidence.

Being an anchor for your community by providing high-speed internet access is an important step in leveling the playing field for job seekers, students, and life-long learners while also opening new doors to explorers, information seekers, travelers, and social media postulants in your community.

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Technology

Bag of Tricks – Money, Money, Money.

Basic financial literacy can be a great topic for a library program or class. But sometimes it can be intimidating to help patrons with financial matters. I have sometimes had to stop patrons from giving me their Social Security number, online banking passwords, and just ‘Way Too Much Information’ on their personal finances.

There are several financial literacy websites that can help you personally as well as be ‘go-to’ resources for patrons.

The very basics of financial literacy are covered in the Goodwill Community Foundation’s online instruction – https://edu.gcfglobal.org/en/moneybasics/.  This is a good basic tutorial that patrons can click through that covers creating a budget, managing a checking account, and planning for retirement.

The New York Public Library has an online financial literacy curriculum, a resource list, and best practices for library staff helping patrons – https://sites.google.com/a/nypl.org/money-matters. They have many materials and references that can be utilized to recreate classes or can be adapted for more informal use.

One tool I personally use is Mint.com. Mint is a free product made by Intuit, the same company that makes TurboTax and QuickBooks accounting software. Mint helps me track bills, create budgets, categorize spending and track my banking and credit card accounts. By linking my accounts, I can track several things in one place. Linking accounts always brings up the question of security. So, is it safe? Nothing online is 100{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} unhackable. If your banking or credit card is already online, Mint adds no real extra concern. You can read about their safety precautions here.

Mint is in my Bag of Tricks. If you’re new here, a Bag of Tricks is a virtual toolkit that you create to help familiarize yourself with new technology and websites that you or your patrons might find handy. Here’s an example of a Bag of Tricks that you can use as a jumping-off point for creating your own:  https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

As we talked about in other parts of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy, as well as giving you a bit more confidence.

What financial literacy tools do you have in your Bag of Tricks?

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Technology

Bag of Tricks – NewsGuard

Looking for unbiased and legitimate news sources on the internet can be a vexing task even for experienced reference librarians. A new resource I recently found is NewsGuard, a new company looking at the problems of fake news and distrust in the media by improving media literacy. They have a free program for libraries and have tested it with libraries across the country, including the Hawaii Public Library System and Los Angeles Public Library System. Their aim is to help patrons better understand the information they encounter online.

NewsGuard uses experienced journalists who research online news brands and help readers know which brands are trying to do legitimate journalism — and which are not. They rate news sites based on nine criteria that assess credibility and transparency. All of their ratings can be accessed using a free browser extension, which is available for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari. After adding NewsGuard to your browser, simply click on the logo in the add-on bar to bring up all the information about the web news source you are looking at. The ratings summary for each news website looks a like a nutrition label and includes data about clickbait headlines, opinion vs fact, and if they correct mistakes. Here are a few examples of what pops up when you click on the browser icon.

And this is what it looks like when you click to see the full “nutrition label”.

As we’ve talked about in this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy, as well as giving you a bit more confidence.

Here’s an example of a Bag of Tricks that you can use as a jumping-off point for creating your own: https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN. I recommend checking out NewsGuard; you may want to add it to your own Bag of Tricks.

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Technology

Bag of Tricks – The Ultimate Guide to Microsoft Windows 10 Troubleshooting

Ah, the Windows operating system — I love it, I hate it, and when they change it…[sigh]…well, sometimes I question if it is progress or a sideways step backward with a half turn and a flip. One thing is for certain: if you work with patrons in public libraries you are bound to deal with some sort of Windows-related issue at some point. Whether it be for your public access computers or a patron’s device, Windows troubleshooting can be problematic.

That’s why I wanted to share a recent find, The Ultimate Guide to Microsoft Windows 10 Troubleshooting. Structured into 15 chapters, this illustrated, step-by-step guide covers topics like installation, adding apps, and account security. It also addresses troubleshooting errors, including hexadecimal codes (e.g. 0xc00003E9).

After looking through the Guide I decided it certainly needed to be in my Bag of Tricks. If you’re new here, a Bag of Tricks is a virtual toolkit that you create to help familiarize yourself with new technology. Here’s an example of a Bag of Tricks that you can use as a jumping-off point for creating your own: https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

As we talked about in Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4 of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy, as well as giving you a bit more confidence.

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Technology

Bag of Tricks – Toward Gigabit Libraries

Have you ever noticed that everything on the internet runs slower after 3 pm when the kids jump on the computers after school? Do phrases like ‘10GB up, 40GB down’ sound like “tech-speak” to you? Fortunately, a new project, funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), is here to help you understand and communicate your library’s technology needs.

Toward Gigabit Libraries, was designed to help public and tribal librarians learn about their current broadband infrastructure and internal information technology (IT) environment. It includes a free, open-source Broadband Toolkit and a customized “Broadband Improvement Plan”.

This toolkit and improvement plan help small & rural public libraries and tribal libraries with Erate requests, technology budgeting, and tips for communicating with techie people. Check out the announcement video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXWv3-HYm-I

As we talked about in Parts 12 & 3 of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy, as well as giving you a bit more confidence.

Here’s an example of a Bag of Tricks that you can use as a jumping-off point for creating your own: https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN. Of course, any new tools or concepts you learn through the Toward Gigabit Libraries project can go in your Bag of Tricks, helping you feel more comfortable and confident in the world of technology.

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Technology

ALA Annual Conference – Part 1

This year the American Library Association (ALA) met in New Orleans. It was quite the event with around 20,000 librarians in attendance. Part of my reason for going was to present at a poster session. As President of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL), I was invited by the ALA Office of Diversity and Library Outreach Services to talk about rural and small libraries. During the poster session, I highlighted a few of the challenges small and rural libraries face and the differences between larger urban libraries and their small and rural counterparts.

For instance, the average member of ARSL comes from a library with

  •         a community of 8,000 or fewer folks
  •         a total staff of 2 or 3 people
  •         fewer than 25,000 total volumes (books and media)
  •         total revenue of around $250,000

There are over 50 libraries in Colorado that meet these criteria. Actually, of all US public libraries, roughly 1/3 serve an area with fewer than 2,500 people, have 1.9 employees and occupy a 2,592 sq. ft building. Often at larger conferences like ALA Annual Conference, librarians from smaller rural libraries have to scale and translate the information given by presenters. No, a staff of 2 doesn’t have a marketing department nor a tech team. They have Ethel, the volunteer who will teach a computer class and make a poster for it…unless her grandkids are in town. It is with this perspective I attended several presentations at ALA.

The first session I attended was about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). STEM is an important area for rural and small libraries. A report published by ALA in July of 2017 showed that while 48.9{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} of urban libraries have STEM events, only 19.7{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} of small and rural libraries held similar programs. I went to the presentation hoping to glean a resource or information that I could take back to ARSL and disseminate. I think there are a few barriers for rural and small libraries when it comes to STEM and to tech issues in general. The first is staff. With a staff of 20, there is bound to be one librarian who is more tech inclined, who feels comfortable talking about science and might even enjoy learning to code.  With a staff of 2, the odds are not in our favor. To jump into a STEM event requires either a willing volunteer from the community or a leap of faith by a librarian that they don’t need to know or have a passion for science, technology, engineering or math in order to help others find and explore STEM.

Another barrier for smaller libraries, especially in rural areas, is internet access. In 2015 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) updated home broadband standards to what we call “high-speed” (25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload). 39{66eaadba41c14e7e553ffe7a4ee73fbae213b19704eda0514b3dd79e37e4c0c5} of rural residents (roughly 23 million people) lack access to internet at that speed, and 1 in 5 are unable to subscribe even at speeds greater than 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. It isn’t that people don’t want it, often it just isn’t able to be provided with the infrastructure in the area. Similarly, it is not uncommon for schools, libraries, and hospitals in the most remote rural areas to lack high-speed broadband access or to have to pay many times the national average to secure high-speed broadband service. This makes some online STEM resources hard to use and non-functional.

One of the resources mentioned in the presentation was the ALA Initiative, “Libraries Ready to Code” (http://www.ala.org/tools/readytocode).  “Libraries Ready to Code” is sponsored by Google and stresses computational thinking. Computing jobs are projected to grow at twice the rate of other all other jobs (source: https://code.org/promote), so it is important for today’s youth to have a solid start on what may get them a job in the future. “Libraries Ready to Code” is intended as a guide for library staff to develop skills and knowledge so they can effectively facilitate Computational Thinking learning opportunities through the library.

Three other resources are paired with “Libraries Ready to Code”: CS First (https://csfirst.withgoogle.com/en/home), Applied Digital Skills (https://applieddigitalskills.withgoogle.com/), and Be Internet Awesome (https://beinternetawesome.withgoogle.com/en). All three can be useful in small and rural libraries. CS First and Applied Digital Skills provide curriculum that can be used for teaching a class, hosting an event, or a project-based program. Applied Digital Skills easily fits adult learners as well as middle-schoolers and everything in between.

Next week, I will talk about a few of the other presentations and speakers I saw.

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Technology

Bag of Tricks – Metaverse

“Augmented Reality (AR) is an interactive experience of a real-world environment whereby the objects that reside in the real-world are “augmented” by computer-generated perceptual information.” – Wikipedia

Does augmented reality seem like an alternate reality for you? Not sure your reality needs augmentation? Can you imagine augmented reality as a tool you could use to improve your library services? Or, for me, the question is more like, can I imagine an augmented reality?

As we talked about in Parts 1 & 2 of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy, as well as giving you a bit more confidence.

While I suggest that you create your own Bag of Tricks, I made an example to get you started at https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

New technology can be a shiny new tool that may or may not further the goals of your library.  While introducing new technology can be good on a patron-by-patron basis, at the community level I prefer to match the right tool for the job. So, when I heard about libraries using augmented reality, I decided it was time to learn more about this tool.

After a bit of research, I found Metaverse. Metaverse is a free Augmented Reality Platform that is being used to build interactive learning experiences.  In short, it allows the user to look through their smartphone camera at their surroundings and see a superimposed icon, picture or cartoon character. For example, you might see my head floating above the circulation desk. The superimposed image can appear based on geographic location – in this case, a specific place in the library. The character can have dialog and ask the viewer to answer questions, like a quiz, or to perform certain tasks that can be evaluated by a computer, such as providing a picture with an associated work, an ISBN, or a barcode.

In about one hour, my coworker and I made the following example, in which you can learn about the library by helping a guinea pig find a book https://mtvrs.io/AmusingFairFlyingfox  (Generic Library Experience by @bhammond) You will need a smartphone to play.

Pretty fun, isn’t it?

Beside finding books with certain words in the title (as in our demo), what are other ways this could be used in a public library setting?

Categories
Technology

Libraries, Technology, and Disaster

Before I got the call from dispatch telling me we were under a pre-evacuation notice, I was standing in the yard to see where the smoke was coming from.  I packed the car with that feeling of dread you only get when deciding which of your worldly possessions you have time to grab, and which are even going to fit. It’s a heck of a feeling. I was also pondering where we would go—7 people, 6 dogs, 1 cat, 1 horse (and the horse trailer), 10 chickens, and 1 turkey—quite the bunch. Half of us immediately said, “Go to the library! We can regroup in the parking lot and figure everything out.”

In times of crisis, community is essential, and libraries stand out as a place to go for information, safety, even bathrooms; it is a place we all know.

The other thing we were all doing was checking social media. Why Facebook and Twitter during an emergency? By following the official hashtag, #AdobeFire, we could easily find up-to-date information on the evacuation, containment, and wind conditions critical to deciding whether to go or wait longer.

It is strange to think about “following” a fire on social media—certainly not something I would have imagined 10 years ago. And it made me highly aware of my older neighbors who were relying on us to get them up-to-the-minute information. It was amazing how fast my neighbor learned about Twitter when fire and evacuation were imminent

What do you have in place for your community if disaster strikes?

Disaster planning is something we all should think about. You probably have a “Disaster Plan” binder on a shelf that contains good information about communicating with officials and city management, plus emergency library procedures. But what else can your library do to help during a disaster? There are a few things that you might want to consider from a technology perspective. You could connect a laptop to a large monitor or TV to show folks the latest information.  You could embed a Twitter stream on your website that follows the hashtag of the disaster, that way anyone can see the latest news without needing to learn a new technology on the fly. You could also announce your emergency services for the disaster on social media using the official hashtag to reach a wider audience. What is in your library’s disaster plan that helps connect your community to important information?

We didn’t need to evacuate yesterday. We might yet today.  The Volunteer Fire Department and the Forest Service are doing their best to keep the fire at bay. The smoke has cleared, and the air only smells slightly of campfire. The wind has started to gust. The fire is only 3 miles from my house and my car is still packed just in case. With many wildfires burning in our state right now, and with probably several more to come this season, there are many people in my situation. Luckily, the library is our neighborhood rendezvous spot, just as your library is a resource for your community in times of need. My local library will even open after hours if we need it. The library is an essential part of the community that I love.

Categories
Technology

Bag of Tricks – Padlet

Here’s an example of a question you might encounter at the library:

“My niece is going off to college and we are having a big surprise party for her. Some of the people can’t come and we want to make a website where everyone can put up pictures and leave her little notes. Can you help me? I really don’t know the first thing about making a website.”

As we talked about in Part 1 of this Bag of Tricks series, it is in moments like these that having resources at your fingertips can come in very handy. Sure, you can look up possible solutions on the spot, but a basic familiarity with even a few steps of the process can speed up the interaction and give you a bit more confidence.

While I suggest that you create your own Bag of Tricks, here’s an example to get you started– https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

Actually, the site you go to when you click the link above is the very thing I want to talk about. It is called Padlet, and it’s a good solution for the hypothetical situation with the patron who is planning the party. (FYI, Padlet used to be called Wellwishers 4 or 5 years ago, so if you used Wellwishers, you may already have a leg up or even an existing account.)

Padlet is kind of like an online cork board that you can use to display pieces of information. It is like putting sticky notes on a wall. You can add images, links, videos, audio, text, upload files…lots of things. And you can add to it at any time. It is good for group activities because it allows folks to post their individual notes that are shared with the whole group.

The Padlet wall can be set up in a few different ways. The one I made for the tech tools is in columns, but you can also create a free form board where posts can be placed anywhere on the board. You can also set up a Twitter-like stream.

As with most things online, it’s important to consider security. With Padlet, you have lots of control. The settings allow you to make your wall completely open for public contributions, completely private, or moderated by you (meaning that you need to approve all contributions before they show up). Walls are semi-private by default, so be sure to set your security how you need it.

The free account allows you to make up to 10 Padlets. You can create them from any device, including iPad, PC, phone, tablet…most devices are supported. There are also add-ons for many browsers that let you add a website to a Padlet with one click. You can gather websites not only for your tech Bag of Tricks but for any subject. It can be a great way to organize online resources and information for patrons and library staff alike.

How are you using Padlet? I would love to hear about the creative ways you are using this app.

Categories
Technology

Bag of Tricks – Files Conversion & Charts

Picture this request from a patron:

“Excuse me, I am looking for information on Excel. I have the file on my flash drive, but it was created on my nephew’s laptop and I only have a PDF. But it looks like an Excel file. I need to open it and make a chart to put in my PowerPoint for my meeting this afternoon.”

In moments like these, having resources at your fingertips—a bag of tricks, so to speak—can come in very handy. Sure, you can look up possible solutions on the spot, but a basic familiarity with even a few steps of the process can speed up the interaction and give you a bit more confidence.

While I suggest creating your own Bag of Tricks, have a look at this one – https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

Let’s look at a few ways we could work through the scenario above.

From my Bag of Tricks, I suggest Zamzar.com (found in the “For That File” section). Zamzar is one of many file conversion tools available, but I like it because it is free and quick. It supports over 1200 different types of conversions, one of which is PDF to Excel. After uploading your file to Zamzar, pick the format you would like the file in, and it will email you a link where you can download the converted file. Note: Zamzar requires an email address and the ability to download a file from the website.

In our scenario, the patron also wants to create a chart from the data. Excel does make charts… but there are ways to make more visually appealing charts that import easily into PowerPoint as image files. In fact, a chart exportable as an image file would be ideal. To do this, go to the “For That Report” section and pick LiveGap Charts. You can import the data from your spreadsheet, customize it—or even animate it—and export it as an image file, a website embed, or a link that you can share out directly via email.

Having tech tools in a “ready reference” (aka Bag of Tricks) format, where you can include categories and links, makes it easier to find answers to common questions. It is also a way to share your knowledge base with other staff members and see what tools they use. In my next blog post, I’ll look at some ways you can organize your technology tools for “ready reference.”

Categories
Technology

Technology and the Really Bad Day

Does this sound familiar…

You open the library and turn on the lights. Overnight, half of your public access computers tried to update (unsuccessfully) and the other half are running super slowly. You check the voicemails and find that a handful of patrons have called to say that your website is down. A middle school teacher wants to send 25 kids over to do research on a history paper using original source materials—this afternoon. A staff member approaches you for a request to spend $300 on some sort of STEM equipment for the teen group. The printer jams, and while fixing it you manage to disconnect it from the network and get ink on your shirt. And who in the world changed the password on the children’s computer? Of course, all this happens on the day when your one part-time circ clerk calls in sick…

We’ve all had days that feel like this. In a similar situation, I would just want someone to magically fix it all while I locked myself in the back room. Technology can often be the tipping point that pushes us from, “It’s bad, but I can deal with it” to “You have GOT to be kidding me! I can’t do this!” While one of the beautiful things about working in a small or rural library is that you have a lot of autonomy, it can be hard when you are the bottom line for everything at the library, including technology. Directors of small and rural libraries may find that technology is one of the more complex responsibilities of their job—sometimes one person can’t get it all done.

But wait: did you know that technology help exists at the Colorado State Library? As the State Library Tech Consultant, my job is to connect you with the resources to help you find and operate the technology to help your patrons.

So, can you call me to get the password for your children’s computer? Unfortunately, no. Will I come over and get your printer back on the network? Again, no. However, the type of support I can give you is extremely helpful in preventing the Really Bad Day like the one described above. I can help you establish best practices to keep your technology running smoothly, and I can work with you to make a disaster plan in case something catastrophic happens. I can also:

  • help you understand technology standards,
  • provide tech training for you and your staff – even holding a tech boot camp at a staff day,
  • create a website for your library,
  • demo tech tools, like password managers, and online resources including source materials, STEM equipment, and lesson plans.

I even have a list of stain removers for your shirt. 😊

Contact ~ Kieran Hixon, hixon_k@cde.state.co.us

Categories
Learning

A Movie, the Homeless and Public Libraries

When I read a description of a movie that starts, “The story revolves around the library patrons, many of whom are homeless, mentally ill and marginalized, as well as an exhausted and overwhelmed staff of librarians who often build emotional connections and a sense of obligation to care for those regular patrons,” I didn’t automatically think of mainstream movie starring folks like Jena Malone, Christian Slater, Emilio Estevez, Taylor Schilling, Gabrielle Union and Alec Baldwin. I was even more shocked to see a few critics refer to the movie as set “inside one of the last bastions of democracy-in-action: your public library.” I mean, I think that about the public library, but I work in libraryland.  But, sure enough, that is what The Public is – a mainstream release of a movie set in a library.

I haven’t seen it yet, it premieres Jan. 31st at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, but the premise already has me thinking. Mostly about the issues of homelessness and libraries but also about the provocative image from early in the Occupy movement of a woman holding a sign that said, “You Know Things are Messed Up When Librarians Start Marching.”

One of the beautiful things about a public service job is the public… or maybe it is also the downside. Public librarians, for the most part, see people every day and in every way. Based solely on the movie trailer I would say we don’t normally let things escalate like that…. we tend to be just a little less dramatic than Hollywood, but we are often in the position to set policy and procedure on things that can greatly affect the lives of our patrons. Decisions we make about something as ubiquitous as a backpack and whether it can be brought in to our library can affect the person who wants to use the library’s resources to find a job but has every possession they own in a backpack they are unwilling to leave in an open cubby by the front desk. The philosophy of libraries offering access for all people can be traced back to 1833 and the Peterborough (N.H.) Town Libraries which was the first institution funded by a municipality with the explicit purpose of establishing a free library open to all classes of the community. We have a long history of setting this goal but do we see it through in practice? Are we walking our talk?

Regardless of the dramatic spin the movie is likely to take, evaluating our procedures and policies with an eye toward the loftier ideals of our profession is always a good idea!

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Website Creation & Hosting

Meet the COLibraries Community

Take a peak at some of our COLibraries clients!

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Technology

Free Online Tools

Free online tools that you or your patrons can use to get things done in the digital world.
Remember, like books, these online tools each require a different amount of digital literacy and comfort on the computer. Take into consideration the digital literacy of your patron when recommending an online tool.

















Categories
Technology

Online Reference Resources

We’ve selected a few of the best ready reference websites to help you quickly find answers and research on your own. If you need more or different information sources please stop by or call the library. Our librarians and staff are here to help!




















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Website Creation & Hosting

COLibraries Levels of Service

The State Library works with COLibraries clients to determine which level best fits your needs. The decision for which level your needs will be based on the tech skills at your institution, website needs, and resources available.