04-08-14 is no Y2K

XP logo melting

Aside from being a little lazy, I’ve also been a little busy to update as regularly as I’d like. However, this week seems opportune to act as both the Foreboding Intonation of DOOOOM and the Gentle Reminder of Something That You Might Want to Think About. Simultaneously, even!

And that is the End of Support for Windows XP. Within a week, we will see the Reigning King of Operating Systems pass on his crown; it will be a very long ceremony, though, as many users are reluctant to switch for one reason or another. Fortunately for libraries, it really doesn’t have to be a painful process!

First, despite the overtures that Windows XP’s slow demise will bring a new era of viruses and hacking, that’s not really the case. April 8th doesn’t mean the same sort of apocatastrophe that was feared during the final minutes of 12/31/1999. It means that Microsoft isn’t going to be doing any more security updates for Windows XP. However, antivirus software will certainly work for a while longer.

Second, libraries aren’t really the primary targets of the zero-hour security holes. The smart and artful black-hat bad guys out there, unless they have some massive guilt complex / revenge lust against libraries from a ridiculously overdue book and being charged massive fines, won’t be seeking to expose gaping security holes in their local library’s network. Many of our libraries are protected further by firewalls, which help screen out the bad stuff from getting in.

Here’s where the interjection “but” comes into play. Think of the Windows XP end-of-support as the beginning of a lottery where you pick sticks dailyin hopes of not getting the short one. Each day beyond April 8th that Windows XP machines remain active and connected to the Internet is a day when there is a very slight chance of getting the short stick, and the chance increases the longer you wait. Eventually, the short stick WILL turn up, and that’s when it can become an expensive problem to correct.

There’s a short list of tasks for libraries needing to deal with this issue. First: check to see if there are any incompatibilities with your mission-critical software or hardware. For example: does your circulation system run on any more recent operating systems? Your bookkeeping software? Your printers and barcode scanners?

For most libraries, upgrading to Windows 7 on the same hardware may not be a wise option. I recommend talking with PCs for Maine for computer replacement. Not only are they an inexpensive vendor that’s eager to work with libraries, but they also provide built-in tech support and migration options for their library partners. I advise against upgrading directly to Windows 8 unless you already have a strong familiarity with the operating system and have confirmed that all mission-critical devices and software are compatible.

If replacing the hardware isn’t an immediate option, you might find that TechSoup can provide you with full versions of Windows 7 or 8. You will need to confirm your eligibility to receive donated software through them if you haven’t already, but TechSoup is an amazing nonprofit reseller that libraries should definitely take advantage of whenever possible.

It may be that your library simply can’t afford to spend any money on replacement at this time. You can still speak with PCs for Maine (as they do have the ability to offer computers to a few especially needy libraries), but you will also want to make certain that your Windows XP machines are updated on April 8th or soon thereafter with what will be the final security patch. Also, avoid using Microsoft products such as Internet Explorer on those machines (here is a list of browser alternatives), as they will be increasingly susceptible as well. Finally, for any machines that are absolutely vital to the running of your library, figure out a backup solution.

If your library needs to discover a path beyond April 8th, please contact me and I’ll be happy to offer advise.

2014: the year of the loud librarian

librarian voice

It’s been some time since my last post, due to the holidays and the lovely response that the Maine library community has given to our technology petting zoo (YAY!). It’s gratifying to know that something we’re doing here at MSL is having an immediate impact on library staff and services. The next couple months are already filling up, and there are some interesting things to come in the next few months that I’ll be ever-so-happy to talk about.

But for the moment, let me make a statement that is half-prediction, half-hope: this year is going to be the year for our libraries to learn the intrinsic value of volume, in the form of speaking up and conveying the worth of libraries to your community and the world.

I say this after having observed it in action. At the Southwest Harbor Public Library, as mentioned in my earlier blog post, Kate Pickup-McMullin and Candy Emlen decided to make more of the petting zoo event they were planning, and did so by inviting their state legislators, town manager and board members to the event, along with Linda Lord and their local school librarian. Kate and Candy’s event made local and state news and were picked up by the ALA in Washington D. C. as an examplary way of underscoring the value of their library to their community. Kate and Candy would be the first to say that it didn’t take much effort to bring these people together, but no one doubts the impression that was made during that meeting.

Ellyssa Kroski, director of information technology at the New York Law Institute and speaker on the areas of technology and libraries, created a very insightful slideshow on the future of libraries. The most poignant slides begin at slide 51, where libraries that have “future-proofed” themselves are able to demonstrate their own ROI (return on investment). Most of the slides to follow hammer home the value of “being loud” in your community and letting everyone know how much value your library provides, while always on the lookout for adding value above and beyond what competitors can provide.

I like to think that the lions, laying vigilantly before the New York Public Library, are symbolic of this evolution; this could be the year that the iconic figure of austere silence, pursed lips sealed by a rigidly-vertical finger, will learn to roar.

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in vision

Copy-rights, copy-wrongs and the future of the Internet

Internet in chains

The Internet, sometimes synonymous with the Web, is showing some of its many connective threads in the form of copyright law and intellectual property. YouTube (owned by Google) is taking on a defensive role in heading off potential future lawsuits by pointing copyright holders at potential violators who have posted clips of movies and video games and diverting revenue to the “proper” owners.

What is interesting is the observation that our beloved Web and the more-expansive Internet, as initiated by Tim Berners-Lee, is founded upon the idea of a “royalty-free” ecosystem. Berners-Lee would either be a billionaire by now, or we’d have several versions of the Internet, each forwarded by some corporate conglomeration, if he didn’t make the sacrifice and reject the idea of patenting the early protocols and code that led to the ubiquitous “www”.

However, the future of the Internet seems to be darkening, as copyright law and digital piracy (those mortal enemies) push us toward less utopian conclusions. The presumption of net neutrality may be only that: tactics such as bandwidth throttling of P2P traffic are used worldwide, corporations are pushing for massive changes to existing copyright law to extend their global reach, and even ISPs are being recruited to become a form of Internet police. Even prioritizing traffic is looking like a possibility.

Turns out, there’s an entire alphabet soup of laws being pushed into the American legislature and extended over global domains that would change the entire dynamic of the Internet. Fortunately, supporters of net neutrality include leading tech companies such as Amazon, eBay, Intel, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo, and initiatives like Save the Internet working to preserve the open and free Internet we’ve come to love.

How does this impact libraries? Overall, it means narrower access to information (as stronger copyright laws strangle what falls under “acceptable use”), perhaps “preferred access” being granted only to users of specific ISPs, and far greater threat of litigation when someone crosses what is becoming an increasingly fine line of either violating copyright or aiding another’s violation. Libraries themselves could potentially be “on the list” in some circumstances, if they’re not seen as doing enough to prevent misuse of their Internet access. Here’s the ALA’s stance on net neutrality as well, as fodder for thought.

Is the future of the Internet in chains, or do you feel that it’s more likely that copyright law and net neutrality will resist efforts to restrict the average user?

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in web

Black Friday Blues

Buy ALL THE THINGS!

Now that we’ve all survived Thanksgiving and its twin “holiday,” Black Friday, we can all relax until Christmas, right?

Except, of course, for the librarians that will no doubt be asked to assist buyers in determining which technological device is best, or how to use them. Black Friday brings technology reference questions en masse to our doorsteps, and we are the ones that help those tentative buyers.

So let’s give a quick look over the smartphones and tablets so that we have a few resources up our collective sleeves when those questions start flooding in:

Smartphones

Some generalities about smartphones, especially if you yourself don’t own one:

1) Smartphones often have a reduced price tag if the person is willing to get locked into a two-year (or more) contract. It’s important to know what cellular service providers offer coverage to the user’s area, and to read the fine print on any contract (breaking the contract generally costs close to the amount you saved on the phone).

2) Contracts are for both minutes (when using the device as a telephone) and data (using the device as a tablet outside of a wireless network). Overages in either area can become very costly, but data is usually the problem-child in this regard. It’s possible to stream a movie to your device, but that may take up a considerable chunk of your data traffic for the month.

3) There is a host of peripheral devices that you may want to purchase with any smartphone: a protective case, car charger, and often other devices such as a Bluetooth earpiece for hands-free calling.

Here are a few sites which offer reviews of the smartphones of 2013:

ZDNet reviews – November 11th article

Engadget reviews – November 22nd article

GizMag feature comparison – November 21st article

Tablets

A few helpful tips for shaping your patrons’ expectations about tablets:

1) Tablets are not small laptops with touchscreens. Tablets are aimed at a user more interested in consuming information and entertainment than generating it. If someone is looking for a tablet that can let them read e-books, play movies or games and browse the web a bit, great. If they’re looking for something that will let them do office work from home, they’d be better advised to look at notebook computers. (Yes, there are functionality apps out there for tablets. Most people I have encountered find using the on-screen keyboard or even a Bluetooth keyboard for more than short emails very tedious.)

2) Tablets also come in varieties that offer cellular access as well as connecting to nearby wireless networks. Tablets that have cellular capability (3G or 4G, these days) will require a data plan with a cellular service provider. Otherwise, internet connectivity is through wireless only.

3) Like smartphones, tablets will typically need more accessories, such as a case, stylus and often a Bluetooth keyboard for typing.

A handful of sites reviewing tablets of 2013:

TechRadar reviews – November 22nd article

CNet reviews – November 25th article

TopTenReviews feature comparison – November 25th article

For children, technology gifts are on the rise. In fact, earlier today, PBS recently posted an interesting article indicating that over half of the parents surveyed intend to give their children a tech gift (tablet or video game console) this Christmas. (Parents of children under two could be advised to research further, as lots of screen time at that age may have developmental effects; they may want to wait until pre-school age.) So let’s look at a few children’s tablet review sites:

PCMag reviews – November 25th article

Forbes reviews – September 11th article

Hopefully these links will give you a few choices of site to reference when asked, “Which tablet / smartphone should I buy for my mother / spouse / child?” Of course, to get some hands-on experience with tablets at your library, you could always request the Maine State Library technology petting zoo!

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in devices

The G-word

G-word

In case I need to spell it out, today’s topic is Google. Not satisfied with being only a noun (in the proper sense), it has been verbed in much of the global Internet consciousness. According to one source, “googling” accounts for 2/3rds of all U.S. Internet queries. The remaining 30-ish percent is a tug-of-war predominantly between Microsoft and Yahoo, with Ask and AOL in the low-single digits.

In the age of information, this places Google into a unique role of deciding how to match your standard end user with the information she or he seeks, something traditionally performed by research librarians. It does so with a measure of austerity, for its algorithms are above question (and certainly, its popularity speaks for itself). For the most part, librarians have seemed to embrace this particular change, adding Google to their reference repertoires.

But should librarians be concerned?

It’s not just reference over which Google’s shadow looms. Earlier this week, the (in)famous Google Books case was thrown out of a U.S. district court. The judge ruled that the benefit to the public outweighed any of the rights of the authors whose books were scanned and added to the massive digital library that Google has been creating. For many libraries, this is a good thing: free access to information that would otherwise be virtually impossible to acquire otherwise. Except, not all of it is free. In a settlement brokered back in 2007, Google now possesses “various legal rights to scan, index, display and sell all books in print online.” Not to mention the concerns of privacy, for which Google may not always maintain the highest integrity.

Speaking of integrity, Google has made a decision to censor some (admittedly illegal and obscene) results. Once again, most librarians would and will applaud such gestures, even if in opposition to a strict stance against censorship. Google has opposed censorship in the past, but from a librarian’s perspective, Google is a corporation, and like any corporation, strongly motivated by profit. If there were profit in it, it could be argued that Google might lean further in an orthogonal direction from the ethics of librarians and free speech.

Another recent addition to the roster of Google services is Google Helpouts, a way to request expert information directly from an expert. Google acts here as a marketplace, connecting experts with the Internet at large, and allowing those experts to set the price of their knowledge (provided through live online videoconferencing or pre-recorded sessions). Many sessions are free, so that’s a nice feature, but libraries are already doing the same thing (such as the Human Library or Check Out an Expert)! Google simply has the resources to globalize the idea and, of course, make a profit.

Connected Classrooms lets users go on virtual field trips through the Google Hangouts videoconferencing service. Connecting with organizations like NASA, the American Museum of Natural History and National Geographic, they’re providing an experience of bringing the world to the classroom or the library. For libraries with videoconferencing capabilities, this sort of thing is already happening, but it seems like Google is yet again one step ahead.

I spoke earlier of the potential concerns that librarians might have over Google and its ever-expanding influence. Obviously, this is not meant in the sense of Google as the Vishnu of libraries. There are concerns that Google’s interests do not match those of libraries or librarians, of course. As the winds of profit change course, what does it mean to us for a corporation like Google to be so firmly in control of the flow of information? By subscribing to Google’s services, do we make ourselves willing inmates to a Panoptic prison? Can we, as librarians and citizens, steal the fire and not be burned?

The many futures of e-reading

Future arrows

Back in August, I blogged a bit about the current state of e-books, especially with regard to libraries. However, the future of the e-book is diversifying, and several companies have begun testing new ways of marketing e-books. Some of these methods are intended for direct marketing to consumers rather than through libraries, meaning that libraries will be seeing even greater competition for providing e-books to patrons:

First, let’s look at Oyster, a company whose service has been termed “the Netflix for books.” Their idea is to court publishers into offering as many titles as possible, and sell that access as a monthly subscription to their customers, anyone using Apple mobile devices. Oyster offers access to e-books from its library on an unlimited basis, and has some large publishers backing them: Houghton Mifflin, HarperCollins, and SmashWords (a large self-publishing company). They have also tied in readers advisory functionality, social media and privacy settings.

Following in their footsteps is Scribd, with a similar unlimited-use service with a monthly subscription. Claiming to be the largest global digital library, their service is slightly less expensive than Oyster, and shares a focus on mobile users (though they also have an Android app, which Oyster currently lacks). Scribd claims also to offer supplemental information to its readers: “Scribd’s extensive collection of user generated content also offers subscribers additional reading options that enhance and add a social element to the books they’re reading or have read. For example, after reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, readers can access papers analyzing the different characters in the book, a doctorate paper on tenement houses in Brooklyn, and even a study guide for the book.”

A third subscription option is eReatah, though they do not employ the unlimited use option. Instead, users pay monthly for a certain number of tokens (between two and four), and reading a book costs one token. However, with eReatah, you are permitted to keep the content you have purchased, even should you cancel your subscription. They are also using a powerful algorithm used by Netflix for making recommendations based on previous purchases, making it easier to find new authors or titles that readers might not otherwise have encountered.

For people who are interested in deals on e-books, there’s also services like BookBub, which notify you when an e-book has been steeply discounted (or offered for free) by many of the major vendors. Rather than spend the time perusing the online marketplaces, these services do the work for consumers.

More and more, vendors of library services are shifting toward a pay-per-use model, such as Freading and the Gale Virtual Reference Library. This model seems to be very attractive for libraries that have the resources to support the reading habits of their communities, but retain some of the issues of other models, such as the lack of ownership of titles. However, the cost per use is considerably less than the cost of a single copy of the material, so it can be seen as “micro-licensing” of a sort.

Finally, publishers often find themselves choosing platforms of preference, such as Overdrive3M Cloud Library or Axis 360. We’re pretty familiar with this model, though it seems like the one that makes no one perfectly happy (except the owners of the platforms themselves). They will remain around until a critical mass of e-reading consumers have sided with a different method.

Which future do you think is most likely?

Go wild with our zoo!

Orangutan and tablet

Apologies to subscribers to this blog: in my previous post on the 7th, I said I would be absent the following Monday (the 14th) due to the holiday. I was away at the New England Library Association conference on the 21st, and was doing my best not to share my copious supply of germs during my time there, and did not provide an article. So it’s been two weeks since I’ve shared with you, my adoring followers.

Something that I did share while I was there as an exhibitor for the Maine State Library was the debut of our long-awaited technology petting zoo. What’s a technology petting zoo? As we’ve envisioned it, it’s a selection of e-readers, media devices and tablets that represent the bigger names in each category, from which a library may selectively borrow for purposes of digital literacy education, either for their staff or patrons.

It’s all based off of the initiative that began almost a year ago, when Janet McKenney (my supervisor) and I traveled around Maine to several different locations, informing libraries of upcoming national initiatives such as the EveryoneOn Ad Council campaign. It was also our chance to take the pulse of what librarians throughout the state wanted for training in digital literacy training.

One of the most resounding ideas was the ability to have a collected pool of devices that represented the breadth of technology librarians were confronted with by patrons and asked to instruct on their use. Many libraries don’t have the resources to afford such devices, and even those that could found themselves needing to “catch up” with newer versions. Could the Maine State Library, our librarians wondered, support such a collection?

This is our emphatic reply: yes. In the form of six different types of devices: the Amazon Kindle PaperWhite, the Nook SimpleTouch, the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Nook HD+, the Apple iPad Mini, and the Google Nexus. The first two are pure e-readers, meant for consumption of e-books. The next two are what I have termed “media devices”, somewhere between the specific nature of e-readers but also shy of full tablet status. The last two are tablets, representing both the Apple and Android ecosystems.

Devices alone do not constitute training, and so we’ve taken another step: these devices come with objective-based training pamplets, detailing basic operation of the devices as well as an overview of some of the primary tasks a beginning user might need to know, such as connecting to a wireless network. We’re also offering education in the form of a trainer to accompany the zoo and train either the staff or provide an event for patrons to attend.

We’re very proud of the petting zoo, and have already had a successful deployment, courtesy of Kate Pickup-McMullin at Southwest Harbor Public Library. They borrowed five of each of our iPad Minis and Google Nexuses, deployed them to their staff, and offered events for patrons to learn about the devices from the staff.

Further details about the zoo can be found here, including the links to the use policy, schedule, request form and feedback form. We’re hoping many Maine libraries will take advantage of the zoo. How about your library?

iOS 7: hate it or love it, live with it

iOS 7 logo

The recent release of the new operating system for Apple mobile devices (like iPads and iPhones), iOS7, has a wealth of new features and, as is typical with mass deployment of software, new problems. Many people may find their way to their local libraries for help, if they don’t live within an easy drive of an Apple genius, or know of one personally. So let’s chat for a bit about what’s good about the new iOS, and what you can anticipate from your patrons or your Apple devices.

Good:

  • All Apple mobile devices now have a feature called “Control Center”, which is accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. This is a shortcut to Settings for any app, letting you quickly make helpful changes without going through the Settings app to do so. (http://www.theverge.com/2013/9/18/4741724/ios-7-review)
  • For those who use their Apple devices as personal secretaries, the Today View in the Notification Center gathers all relevant pieces of information for the day in one place, such as appointments, weather, reminders, current stock prices, and so on. (http://appadvice.com/appnn/2013/09/how-to-customize-notification-center-in-ios-7)
  • Multitasking is easier now with the App Manager. Pressing the home button twice used to show the icons of all running apps, and if you wanted to close them, you had to make them dance and wobble. Now, with a double-press, you see a mini-version of the running app, and a swipe of the finger scrolls through them or closes them. (http://www.pcmag.com/slideshow/story/316056/how-to-multitask-in-ios-7)
  • Security is improved, especially in case of theft. Using these changes will let you lock a stolen device so that a would-be thief would need your credentials to successfully re-activate the device. Also, promises of iCloud Keychain (to be released soon) will permit your Apple device to remember your passwords and credit cards, keying them to your thumbprint. http://www.pcworld.com/article/2050765/the-7-best-crime-fighting-features-of-ios-7.html

Bad:

Hopefully, this won’t impact our libraries all too significantly. (The Overdrive app has a new version that plays nice with iOS 7.) If so, let me know what problems you encounter!

(Sorry about the lack of a post last week, and due to the holiday, there will be no post this coming Monday.)

Technology skills at the push of a button

e-training

I’ve talked about online learning in a previous article in terms of more traditional learning (and not-so-traditional learning), but haven’t really approached the resources that exist for technology training, whether the learner is a library patron or staff member. So let’s take a quick minute and catch up on these (mostly free) sites:

First, if you’re in Maine and haven’t heard of Learning Express, do yourself a favor and pay it a visit. It’s an amazing resource for a lot of reasons, but specifically for anyone just starting out using the computer or the Internet. It’s also a place to learn the ins and outs of Microsoft Office and Adobe productivity software, or the most common operating systems, Windows (including 8) and Mac OS X. These are comprehensive courses, and so can take a while to complete, so Learning Express tracks your progress from session to session.

Similarly, Goodwill Community Foundation has a similar portal for computer basics. They go beyond the Learning Express offerings with such things as iPad basics, Google Drive, and a couple additional “tech savvy” courses that promote good behaviors when using computers and the Internet. They also are fairly comprehensive in the basics of social media, including courses in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Skype. (Sites with other basic training include Digital Learn and EveryoneOn.)

Let’s take it up a notch. For users that are already fairly familiar with the Internet, and want to find training in the many forms of social media or cloud resources out there, get a free account with Grovo. Now, you’re finding resources that show users about stuff like Etsy, Kickstarter, Prezi, SurveyMonkey, and so on. Even for the free user, there are hundreds of short video tutorials on these topics, including quizzes to help your users retain the knowledge.

Another resource for more sophisticated users is Alison. Courses in Alison range on topics from basic digital literacy to computer programming and network security, with plenty in the middle for intermediate computer users. Likewise, Woopid offers similar selections of training videos, albeit specific to a device (such as an iPhone), website (like eBay) or operating system (including Ubuntu).

Finally, Lynda offers a wide selection of video tutorials for graphic design and website software. They have an in-depth series on WordPress and many other website technologies, and break them into “skill levels”, so even basic users can start here and progress at their own pace. Not all of the training videos available at Lynda are free, but enough to allow any user to decide if they’d like to buy a subscription.

Do you see your library using this for your patrons or staff?

Get your head in the cloud

Cloud Storage

Another perfectly good word that’s been pressed into service describing a modern concept is “cloud.” The Cloud (speaking of the concept itself) is nothing all that mind-blowing (and has existed since the 1950′s): instead of your computer performing a task, your computer acts as a gateway to services, storage space and computational power existing elsewhere on the Internet. Collectively, these services and resources are thought of as being “somewhere out in the nebula of computers we call the Internet,” an idea that parallels the distance and intangible nature of a cloud.

In the library world, there is one very significant application that jumps out: library automation. Good news, many automation solutions (look at the Remote Hosting column) are already in the cloud. This is only the beginning of how libraries can take advantage of cloud solutions, often for free, and can improve their services in the process. Since there isn’t as much need for having powerful computers, libraries can also save money by extending the lifespan of older computers or buying lower-end workstations that use cloud-based solutions for common user tasks.

For example, basic productivity software. Even acknowledging that there are free alternatives to Microsoft Office, being able to direct users to the web means no need to update or maintain the productivity software. For example, Google Apps is a free solution that’s compatible with Office. Zoho has its own suite of productivity applications, but adds the advantage of tying them in with collaboration and business applications. Clayton State University uses the added functionality to provide live web reference.

Speaking of web reference, how many libraries are using the chat functionality in Skype, Facebook, or some form of instant messaging service for online reference? It might be worth trying cloud services like QuestionPoint or LiveChat that add more features than your standard IM provides. Of course, there are full suites of customer service solutions that go far beyond what most libraries would need, such as ticketing systems and automatic archiving of chat logs, but these two are relatively limited in scope and keep the focus on establishing universal availability of your reference services.

How about the curation of web resources or digital content? Delicious and Flickr are two of the more notable, but you can create visually-appealing resource portals with services like Symbaloo, Weblist or Bundlenut. You can even create a virtual magazine with Flipboard. LibGuides will integrate with your website to maintain a similar visual appearance – your users may never realize they’ve left your virtual building!

We’ve all read about some of the more obvious resources for reader advisory and online book reviews and discussion, as with LibraryThing, but how many know about LibraryThing for Libraries and its resources? BookLamp is an offshoot of the Book Genome Project, using computer analysis to offer book similar to a given title or written by a specific author. Integrate BiblioCommons into your current catalog to provide a new method of online discovery of media.

Finally, how does one store and protect the essential files in an organization? Previously, you’d back-up information onto a tape or removable hard drive, and take it off-site in the event of disaster. Now, there are enough storage and backup solutions that the idea of taking a storage device from the library is antiquated. Here’s a relatively recent comparison of several storage solutions. Likewise, here’s quite a few of the existing cloud backup solutions. For sharing and backing up of important information, mix and match these solutions and forget about the removable hard drives.

So, is your head in the cloud yet?

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in cloud, web