Technology skills at the push of a button


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

Games, gaming and gamification

Image of Go board

“Genius is play, and man’s capacity for achieving genius is infinite, and many may achieve genius only through play.”
― William Saroyan

(Please assume that the word “man” in the above quote refers to all humanity. Ladies are not excluded.)

We’re about two months away from International Games Day, so bringing attention to this ALA-sponsored event can’t happen too soon! But let’s assume that you are a librarian who doesn’t subscribe to the notion of games in libraries. Let’s start with the basics:

Why should libraries promote games or gaming? As addressed in the link, there are a few reasons. First: games attract people. We think of games as being purely for children, and bringing children into the library (and the attending parents / guardians) is never a bad thing. But it’s more than that: there are plenty of games (this last was said to be a favorite of Kennedy and Kissinger) that engage adults as well. Pew Internet studies have found that over half of adults play video games! The Wii has demonstrated a following with older adults, especially with games like bowling, tennis and exercise (Wii Fit). There really is no age at which people stop playing games. So games can be a way to appeal to anyone in your community.

Secondly, there is the aspect of learning and literacy. These are the days when it’s possible to teach yourself to play guitar or drums, even piano by playing games. Traditional literacy is also made more accessible with the right games. Digital literacy and the use of new technologies can occur even without any prior instruction. (Best part of that article: “… within five months, they had hacked Android.”) Games inspire learning and creativity, and are an essential piece to lifelong learning.

Something else to consider: toys and games can change behaviors for the better. For example, the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has a library with toys and games to assist in treatments for children with disabilities. Other games can help stroke victims with rehabilitation. Pew Internet has found that teens who play games with civic qualities (defined as “simulations of civic or political activities, helping others, and debating ethical issues”) are more likely to be engaged in real civic events and decisions. Games can be social, cooperative, educational, even cathartic.

Gamification is something that is being explored as a new way of improving not just education or knowledge, but even organizations. To gamify a process means to change the process so that it resembles a game, including elements like rules, competition, rewards, etc. Games can alter behaviors, stimulate and motivate learning and learners, and connect people, both locally and globally.  Ann Arbor Libraries have devised an extremely popular approach to teach how to use the library, as well as to encourage attendance at its summer programs. MIT is heavily invested in game theory and structure, especially as it pertains to new technologies. Businesses are benefiting from this idea. Maybe your library is next!

If you’re asking yourself why you should start adding games to your services, I’d ask: seeing all the potential benefits, why haven’t you already? And here are some resources to help you along that path!