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 daily in 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 advice.

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

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?

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

Putting your library on the map

Totius Mundi 1775

It seems like there’s a new exploration race occurring, except now instead of topography and geography, it’s about the businesses and places of interest throughout the nation and the world.

Some efforts are tackling this for all businesses. If you haven’t tried Google Maps, you’re in for a very neat experience. They’ve been building its functionality for some time, and owners or representatives of establishments are encouraged to refine the information already provided by Google. Street View lets you see panoramic “photo spheres” of locations on the street.

Not many people know that there is an Indoor version of both Google Maps and Google Street View, however. In this article, the Chelmsford Public Library is one such place that has taken advantage of this service (the Indoor Google Maps service is free: a team from Google will come to your facility and map / label the interior, making a basic floor plan visible from Google Maps). The Indoor Street View allows a facility to present its interior like a virtual tour, showing full-360-degree views of rooms. This is a spectacular way for libraries who wish to offer meeting rooms for public use, or have unusual and interesting spaces they want to highlight.

For reviews and other information, Yelp is another service that’s been extended to libraries. Yelp is most commonly used to find restaurants (and see how they are rated by previous customers), but is being applied to all businesses, including libraries. You can describe your services and respond to feedback placed on Yelp. Treat it like another avenue of social media for your library!

Anyone attending the digital literacy sessions held throughout the state from late November 2012 into January 2013 will remember an initiative called Connect2Compete, as well as the fact that this initiative would be pushing people interested in technology training toward libraries. Sadly, the database of libraries used there may not have survived the transition to its sister initiative, EveryoneOn. Instructions for making changes to your library’s information on that site can be found here.

Another national effort to put libraries on a map is the IMLS iMapLibraries page. This is meant to help libraries serve increasingly diverse populations, according to their June 2013 ALA presentation. Yet another is being implemented by OCLC, called Spotlight. This is a service meant to broaden the library reach to mobile users, and is free to libraries. (OCLC has another free service for libraries, called WorldCat Registry, mainly used by developers and other libraries.)

How are you putting your library on the map?

Branch and Vine: New tools for cultivating your library’s story

Twisted_Branch_2

We’re all familiar with names like Facebook and Twitter in varying degrees, and I’ve talked about the importance of self-promotion before. These were among the first tools to see popularity and widespread use. However, they’re far from the last, and I’d like to talk a bit about some others that are building momentum, both in the business world as well as ours.

First, let’s look at Vine, an extremely new addition to the social media world, but already with millions of users. It’s the audiovisual analog to Twitter (and is in fact owned by Twitter), and instead of 140 typed characters, the limit is six seconds of video. What could you possibly do with six seconds of video? Glad you asked! Most cellphones and smart devices can take at least ten seconds of video, which is more than enough for this service, and the short time-limit encourages the creativity to say more with less. A little clever advertising with video can go a long way to promote your services and events, or just convey a humorous or interesting message (5secondfilms.com does this very well. No direct link because of its occasional NSFW-ness).

Next, Branch. This form of social media revolves around the idea of conversation, to solicit feedback, answer a question or simply talk about some topic of common interest. For example, Justin Hoenke (formerly of Portland Public Library, now at the Chattanooga Public Library) hosts a collection of Branches pertinent to libraries. Branch encourages an ongoing discussion to which anyone may contribute. Companies like Hyatt are asking how to improve their own services, while others such as Frontline are using Branch to discuss politics. Still others are creating campfire-like discussions, not seeking anything more than to build community.

Finally, in addition to the first two, let’s talk a bit about Storify. Storify centralizes social media (such as video, articles, tweets and so on) for consumption. Rather than needing to point your library’s followers to several resources, Storify aggregates them to create a single page. For example, the blog Musings About Librarianship reveals several successful implementations. The Library Marketing Toolkit blog likewise offers other ideas for libraries using Storify for self-marketing.

What sorts of ideas spring to your mind about how you could use these resources to promote your library’s awesomeness?