Reflections: Social Software and Libraries

It’s been a busy term, and it’s hard to believe it’s over already!

I’ve mentioned that I am currently employed at the University of Waterloo Library, and this class has been an excellent complement to the experiences I’ve been enjoying at work. If I wasn’t convinced that social media are an increasingly important component of library services, I am convinced now. It looks as though I’ll even get the opportunity to look over the University of Waterloo’s draft social media policy and offer some insights and suggestions. Then, many of the ideas and skills I have absorbed this term will certainly come in handy.

I have to admit that at the start of the term I was a bit smarmy about certain applications that we explored over the past four months–in particular, Twitter. I knew that a certain Canadian author whom I respect (Margaret Atwood) is an active Twitter user and Twitter proponent, but I still associated the tool with the stigma of inane chatter. However, I have discovered that Twitter can be fun and very useful as a platform for public communication and even information discovery (not only that but, as a place where many people interact, Twitter is also an important forum for self-expression and play). As you can see from the Twitter widget I’ve added to my blog, I am becoming a relatively prolific tweeter :).

One thing I think it’s important to remember is that social media are not necessarily, in themselves, innovative. They are often pretty ubiquitous (esp. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube), and the challenge we face is not to be ‘wowed’ by the technology itself or to ‘fit into’ social media spaces, but to create interesting and engaging uses for the technology innovatively. Considering the time, money, skills and motivation that need to be invested in such an endeavour, that challenge is pretty daunting. But such challenges are not new, and the outcomes of facing them with some pizzazz can be impressive.

I have to admit that engaging with some applications has been quite challenging for me. You’ll notice that my last blog post about podcasting was not followed up by an actual podcast. Although I stepped away from this activity for a little while to clear my head, I plan to pick it up again soon. That ongoing pursuit will provide additional fodder for my blog postings-to-come. I definitely plan to continue writing within this platform; I have developed a penchant for blogging, and I hope I’ll continue to have some followers in the future (i.e. when there is no longer a class organized around intaking a roster of blogs that includes my own).

Thanks so much for a great class and a fun term!

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Combining and Contextualizing Information: Mobility, QR Codes and Podcasts

In “How Libraries Can Bridge the Information Web and the Social Web,” Dave Puplett discusses some of the ways in which libraries can implement new media to integrate the information web and the social web. (2011) In Puplett’s words: “the social web, oriented around people and the connections they have with each other, could open access to libraries’ content and [foster] awareness of library services” (20). The social web offers new opportunities in information organization, dissemination and acquisition; it can offer alternative avenues for users to connect with and discover information (I imagine interconnected information circles, settings or scenes in which users are able to negotiate organization, dissemination, acquisition in different ways and to varying degrees as they engage with information). Bridging the information web and the social web enhances the potential for the occurrence of meaningful conversations and knowledge creation.

Although Puplett does not mention mobile websites and applications, his discussion is very relevant to these technologies. Users often engage with the social web on the go, and one of the joys of mobility is being able to have information at one’s fingertips (i.e. mobility can widen and improve access to resources). Additionally, connecting the two webs which Puplett identifies contextualizes and re-contextualizes information continuously—especially in a mobile environment (when users can be experiencing and engaging with available resources almost anywhere). So, leveraging the social web, which includes mobility, can mean not only widening access to library resources, but also expanding the possibilities and impact of those resources by creating opportunities for multitudinous combinations through the constant re-contextualization of information. In other words, mobile technologies can further libraries’ capacity to facilitate knowledge creation.

In a conference at Wilfrid Laurier University that gave faculty and librarians the chance to discuss the role of social media in an academic environment, Associate University Librarian Greg Sennema remarked that students no longer ‘go online.’ Rather, they are simply online. (“Laurier Seminar Explores the Neo-Millennials,” 2006) The increasingly widespread use of mobile, web-enabled devices supports this notion, but I think that (for libraries) part of leveraging this technology involves exploiting the possibilities of new media creatively as well as demonstrating how different media contextualize information. Mobility may impact how ubiquitous social media becomes, but perhaps it could also be used to interrogate seemingly transparent processes that involve information organization, dissemination and acquisition by foregrounding (shifting) location as a primary context. I’m still thinking about how…

Considering QR Codes:

If a library is going to create a mobile site and mobile applications, it could also make sense for that library to implement other types of social media that require and encourage users to interact via their devices. Strategically implementing QR codes can be fun and useful, but I think it’s important for a library to deeply consider whether or not this tool is appropriate for the user community in question. These codes are flashy and creating them is not difficult, so it may be quite easy to get carried away. As always, a consistent approach that clarifies how the library and users will engage with the tool is necessary.

A Podcast Adventure:

Joanne Kosuth writes that “[t]oday’s learners are combining knowledge in new and different ways to support their personal learning styles and requirements in an increasingly mobile universe” (62). These ‘new and different ways’ include multimedia tools, and with that in mind I am in the process of morphing this blog entry into a podcast!

Canadian University Press Release. “Laurier Seminar Explores the Neo-Millennials.” April 26, 2006. Accessed November 21, 2011.

Kossuth, Joanne. “Student Engagement: Challenges from a CIO Perspective.” Educause Review 46.3 (2011).

Puplett, Dave. “How Libraries Can Bridge the Information Web & the Social Web.” Multimedia Information and Technology 37.3 (2011): 20-1.

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A Cure, or an Opportunity?: Social Media and Library Functions

Since my responses to Cameron’s questions are written in a style that is more suited to a blog post than it is to a microblog post, I have decided to post them here.

a. What do you think of Nicholas et al.’s assessment of academic libraries and social media? They say that “the prognosis is not very good for those hoping that social media might constitute a growth opportunity for the beleaguered university library sector” (374-375). Your thoughts?

b. Nicholas et al. say that probably the best opportunity for academic libraries to use social media lies in the area of marketing. What about teaching? What about information literacy instruction? What opportunities can you possibly imagine for using social media for information literacy teaching?

a. It is somewhat demoralizing to read an article that concludes with such a negative prognosis concerning evidence about the library’s role regarding social media. In spite of this prognosis, however, I think that to what extent social media impacts library functions is the product (not the ‘symptom’…I’ll explain why) of a larger issue. The real challenge is to reflect critically on the extent to which social media impacts presuppositions regarding library functions. Actually, I think that some of the article’s rhetorical tropes can sometimes inhibit the exploration of these underlying ideas about library functions by creating a simplification of the issue. The idea is that the library is sick and in need of a diagnosis and a cure (in this case, social media). Do any of us actually think that social media alone can act as the cure to a ‘beleaguered’ institution? We know that new technology can be really great at answering some needs and enabling new activities, but we also know that it lags behind other needs (take the example of tagging and controlled vocabulary). If we’re thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of social media tools in comparison to longstanding library functions, I think that we can come up with some innovative implementations of useful applications (and move from a book-centred universe to a media-centred universe).

I’ve been perusing an issue of Shakespeare Quarterly (SQ) called “Shakespeare and New Media.” In her introduction, the guest editor (Katherine Rowe) references Katherine Hayle’s comment regarding new media’s impact on literary theory: “It is a gift we cannot afford to refuse” (Rowe, 2010) I think that this statement applies generally to many other institutions—including the library. In particular, social media tools can offer us a context in which to think critically about, augment and enhance library functions. They also complicate matters, and pose their own obstacles. Social media is not a cure-all, but neither is it a Pandora’s box. It’s a challenging opportunity.

b. The aforementioned issue of SQ is special because it involved an experiment in open peer review. The four essays of the authors who chose to opt in to an open review process were mounted on MediaCommons for readers to post public commentary. A similar set-up could be used to instruct and engage students about and with the process of peer review. Participants could be asked to post their reviews/feedback to articles that are being considered for publication in a departmental v-journal. Rowe considers aspects of the experiment that illuminate SQ’s culture of evaluation:

– Asking ‘Who is an expert?’

– Discussing the labour-intensive nature of reviewing and monitoring the visible impact of thorough reviewers

– Understanding idiosyncratic v.s. common interests of reviewers

– Review as way to demonstrate and document expertise, and some of the issues associated with reviewing publicly using a social media platform

Many of these considerations are relevant to possible learning outcomes from this information literacy initiative.

Nicholas, D., Watkinson, A., Rowlands, I., & Jubb, M. (2011). Social media, academic research and the role of university libraries. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(5), 373-375.

Rowe, Katherine. “Gentle Numbers.” Shakespeare Quarterly 61.3 (2010).

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Categorizing Intertexts and Tagging in the Library Catalogue

I tend to conceptualize classification systems as the ultimate intertexts, functioning to weave works together within a network of references. Structured, thoughtfully devised classification systems require users to search for information while those users also read or navigate a text that imposes control over works (i.e. LC classification and subject headings). Tagging offers users the opportunity to manage information personally and to contribute to a social classification system (i.e. folksonomy).

I prefer to think of tagging as a manifestation of the ‘wisdom of a crowd,’ rather than as the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ since the classification systems that emerge through the assignment of user-generated descriptors are value-laden and tend to reflect a dominant or hegemonic perspective (see, for example, Bates and Rowley 2011). For that reason, I think it’s important to be able to monitor where, when, and by whom tags are assigned so that users can continue to negotiate how information is categorized and so that they are able to function effectively within the system (or to ‘talk back’ to the system).

Recently, I have been tagging in a university library OPAC. The University of Waterloo Library is participating in a trial of a search engine called Primo Central. This ‘discovery interface’ gives users the option to tag and post reviews of resources, but tagging in the library catalogue is not yet a popular practice. Primo Central includes everything found in the catalogue (which is called Trellis), but it includes resources outside of the catalogue increasingly. I’m mentioning this point because it seems to me that as the library incorporates more and more outside resources (i.e. resources that have not been formally catalogued and assigned subject headings according to LC standards), tagging may become more and more important for users who will not be able to rely solely on controlled subject headings as a means of collocating resources.

As I mention in the “Who Am I?” page of this blog, I am working as an assistant cataloguer in a co-op position at the University of Waterloo Library. I also get to work on the desk for a few hours each week and to participate in some library instruction involving basic searching practices. I’ve noticed that students don’t often consider logging in to search the catalogue. I think that this practice may indicate an underlying perception that users hold concerning the library catalogue—that they are searching “in here” (i.e. in the catalogue) for resources that are “out there” (i.e. somewhere else, such as in the stacks or in a separate database). I don’t think that this belief is particularly surprising (and it is often true), but I do think that it is important to educate users about the increasingly dynamic nature of the library catalogue as the in here/out there division continues to dissipate. Signing in is key because users can only create and add content such as tags to the catalogue when they authenticate as UW students/faculty/staff.

I also signed up for a Delicious account this week, and have been bookmarking/creating folders a little bit. Edward M. Corrado’s article about maintaining a subject guide using a social bookmarking site such as Delicious illustrates a creative way that a free web resource can be put to use by the library to help organize resources. I think that students could also benefit from using a social bookmarking site to create their own personalized subject guides that combine resources from the library’s subject guide which are used frequently with resources that are specific to the particular student’s needs and research interests (such as links to resources from other libraries’ guides, blogs, etc.).

Bates, Jo and Jennifer Rowley. “Social Reproduction and Exclusion in Subject Indexing: A Comparison of Public Library OPACs and LibraryThing Folksonomy.” Journal of Documentation, 67.3 (2011): 431-448.

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Twitter and Context Collapse

I’d like to begin my post with a reference to ‘context collapse,’ which is a concept that Alice E. Marwich and Dana Boyd expound upon in “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience” (here’s a link to the abstract). Basically, context collapse refers to the phenomenon in which multiple audiences collapse into a single audience that is diverse and ‘faceless,’ so to speak. Marwich and Boyd refer to various personal uses of Twitter and other microblogging platforms, but I would like to extend and apply part of their discussion to libraries.

I’ve been playing around with Twitter. I already had an account, but I had never actually used it before. This week I added individuals and organizations to follow (such as the author Jeanette Winterson and Publishers Weekly) and attempted to post some interesting tweets, myself. After this brief experience I’ve realized a few things about the basic nature of Twitter.

To me, the most salient of these realizations relates to my Twitter audience. I received three follower requests over a very short period of time—one from a friend I actually know, one from a ‘friend’ I’ve never met (and who only posts in German, a language I don’t speak) and one from an organization. These are three representative audiences (i.e. contexts) for my Twitter self. In other words, when I tweet I perform for multiple audiences.

Not only that, but if I change my account setting from private to public (which seems to be a reasonable thing to do if I want to extend my outreach/presence and to interact) my audience will collapse entirely to include anyone who chooses to visit and/or engage with my posts. A library’s (presumably public) Twitter account has the potential to reach a vast variety of different audiences beyond its own particular (often geographically centered, but sometimes geographically distributed) community of users.

In his piece about some of the ways libraries can implement Twitter to interact with users, David Allen Kelly mentions Twitter search as a function that can be employed to find uses of a given word (i.e. library) within a given geographic radius. This use of Twitter search could be a good idea, but when I read about it my initial reaction was “what about users who are part of a geographically distributed community and who tweet outside a given radius”? Could it be possible that under some circumstances a library becomes the Library (i.e. many libraries functioning collectively to connect users with information) on Twitter as a consequence of context collapse? I’m not sure.

Marwich and Boyd describe Twitter’s networked audience as a combination of the definable group that composes the writer’s audience, and the unidentifiable mass that is the broadcast audience so that “the networked audience is unidentified but contains familiar faces; it is both potentially public and personal” (129). A library tweets for a given community of users, but there can be other followers outside of that community who may engage with a library through Twitter (for example, I’m currently following the Toronto Public Library even though I do not live in Toronto). A library can tweet with reference to multiple other potential communities/contexts with varying information needs. Then, the Library communicates with an extremely diverse community of users, indeed.

I’d like to briefly mention two other observations I’ve made throughout the course of my very recent Twitter dabbling. I’ve noticed that much of the activity on my (admittedly diminutive) Twitter account involves single tweets and single retweets, but very few extended interactions that could be identified as conversation. I’ve also noticed that many tweets contained hyperlinked text to connect me to another resource from Twitter.

These two observations cause me to realize that although Twitter is often termed an informal communication network, it is actually quite formal in some ways. Colloquialisms may be common in tweets, but communicating via Twitter is a calculated affair involving crafting a 140 character (or less) message and/or embedding appropriate links into a message that will not be overlooked by followers as ‘just more stuff.’ Active Twitter users should not engage this medium, which  connects a (potentially collapsed) community of users with information, without considering how Twitter transmits and transforms that information.

Marwich, Alice E. and Dana Boyd. “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience.” New Media and Society 13.1 (2010): 114-133.

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“Work is an Online Conversation”: Guidelines, Restrictions, and (Online) Social Media Policy

I have used database thesauri to help refine my results in the process of researching social media and social software, and I have found that ‘online social media’ has often been an effective term to use. This specific term is a reminder that social media comes in many forms, and the type of media that falls within the ‘online social media’ category is yet another type of social media. Social media policy is essential—whether the social media in question is online or offline. The latter is not new, and it can be extended and reworked so that it can be applied to the online category.

To me, policy can seem daunting and terribly official. That said, it seems that if policy is ‘done right’ (i.e. strategically and thoughtfully), it can be a useful guideline that can help clarify the various worlds in which I am operating. It can help me maneuver and negotiate my communications, behaviours and expectations.

Social media policy and evaluation are pretty hefty topics. The class blog and readings touched on policy for employees, policy for users, execution of policy, and evaluating user interest in types of social media/evaluating use of social media following implementation. I’d like to begin my entry by addressing a common/recurring theme that appears in discussions about social media policy and in the policies, themselves.

It seems that many discussions about social media policy emphasize transparency, and I think this term deserves some brief clarification. A metaphor can help: Simply put, transparency means being clear—it means seeing through the window to the view outside without the interference of a curtain. Extending the metaphor: Transparency also means being aware of the window’s edges—it means understanding that the view is cut-off at a certain point so that the view outside is shaped by the window’s dimensions. Transparency is partial full disclosure; to be transparent is to disclose everything that falls within the window’s view and to foster awareness about the boundaries which delineate the view. In a sense, social media policy can help to create that awareness so that those who engage with such media can understand what to expect and can shape their contributions accordingly. For that reason, policy should be prominently displayed and widely disseminated.

Also, a social media policy should encourage participation and inspire its audience to get involved rather than restrict participation and intimidate its audience (making the essential ‘buy-in’ next to impossible). Crafting an effective social media policy seems to be about striking a balance between highlighting the fun and creative potential of social media and outlining the types of communication/content that will be deemed unacceptable in no uncertain terms.

The “IBM Social Computing Guidelines” is a good example of an effective ‘window frame,’ if you will. The policy isn’t too long while it also covers a relatively broad range of topics, uses language that is easy to understand while it also maintains the tone of an official document, leaves some room for interpretation while it also communicates overarching regulations clearly, and expresses the potential of social media as a tool that can strengthen the company and that can open new doors for employees.

Stan Schroeder critiques the Wall Street Journal’s social media policy as a restrictive set of rules which express a negative attitude that asks ‘how can social media harm us and what can we do to prevent it?’ rather than exploring the answers to ‘what can social media do for my organization?’. Schroeder points out that policies must not attempt to control social media output to the point of oppressive regulation and the constant looming threat of penalty—especially since participants should be encouraged to be open about mistakes when engaging social media.

Similarly, Maria Ogneva writes that “[t]he best way to ensure buy-in to your social media policy is not through the threat of disciplinary action,” but through education and outlining processes for implementation and participation. A social media policy should express excitement about the emergence of this new media as it communicates guidelines about how the organization chooses to approach the execution and development of online social media (the policy can/should even inspire innovation).

In “Let Them Communicate,” David Meerman Scott says that “[w]ork is online communication” (40). I like this statement because it indicates that online social media takes effort, but that it is also worth the effort invested in its development and maintenance since so many aspects of ‘work’ (whatever occupation/organization that refers to) can be augmented by online communication. The statement expresses the notion that online communication can be harnessed to facilitate the creation of an organizational identity or brand and the continual emergence of organizational functions through creative and collaborative communication among stakeholders (whomever they may be). A thoughtful social media policy is a major aspect of building a well-executed online social media presence, and it may even be effective to construct the policy using a collaborative wiki.

Meerman Scott, David. “Let Them Communicate.” EContent, 33.3 (2010): 40.

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A Few Hitches…And Commitment to the Process…

I encountered some hitches that needed to be worked out on my way to creating a mashup and posting the result online–and those hitches actually contributed to this learning experience.

First the “smooth sailing”: I activated my uwo web space account, and retrieved my Google Maps API key.

Using Mapbuilder was relatively straightforward, and I was able to mark the locations on the Google map of France without any trouble. That is, using Mapbuilder was straightforward when I deciphered which web browser could enable it to run. First, I tried Safari (I have a Mac), then I tried Google Chrome, and finally I downloaded Firefox (which is used in the video example posted on the class blog) and had success. After I created the map, I retrieved the source code.

Then, I downloaded Coda, which  is a text editor that has sftp functionality (this product has a free trial period, and was recommended to me by a friend). I pasted in the source code from Mapbuilder and edited the index.html file in my root directory (public_html folder). I added in the Google API key to the index.html file and saved. Finally, I refreshed my webpage and viewed the results (with excitement!).

This process took me over a week to complete. There were about six days of individual struggle, and there was one three hour period of problem-targeting, problem-solving, and success. I required some one-on-one, face-to-face assistance with this challenge, and I’m so glad I decided to ask my web-developer friend for assistance to work through the snags I needed to unravel in order to proceed (I asked for help on a whim, too…I was being a bit stubborn, trying to figure things out on my own).

Overall, the experience was excellent. I even learned a little bit about HTML coding, and discovered how to publish some additional text on my web page.

The greatest lessons: Even intimidating tech. challenges can be fun, it pays to ask for assistance, and I am capable of learning about tech. that at first seems out of my grasp. And commitment to the process doesn’t hurt!



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