Twitter, Technology Playground #1, and Tea

Twitter announcement

The mad rapscallions at CLP Main have done it again.  Fifteen of us have teamed up and created a Twitter feed for CLP Main that will, we hope, showcase the good things our library has to offer in a somewhat less annoying fashion than Twitter can often be:  all of the social networking, none of the “I had tuna fish today” irrelevance!

By which I mean, please take a peek at CLPicks and see what we’re all about. One tweet, each weekday, on one fabulous library item (books, movies, Playaways, the whole nine yards). We’re going to try it for a little while and see how it goes. My goal is 100 followers in 3 months – real followers, that is, not spam accounts. Bonus points if it’s not just all my library “family” and friends, too. :)

I think my favorite part of this most recent experiment is the fact that a number of the volunteers are people who, when I started initiating these 2.0 projects a year-point-five ago, did not want to participate. In the interim they have become curious about what we tech-dabblers were doing and slowly warmed up to playing along with us. Web 2.0 technologies won’t solve all of library world’s problems, but it’s great that we’ve apparently built some bridges and convinced folks to try something new. Mission accomplished, there, regardless of how the tweeting itself turns out.

Technology Playground #1

Today at the Whitehall Public Library a handful of ACLA and CLP staff, including Beth M., Kelley B., Ryan H., and the incomparable Amy E., descended en masse and demonstrated emerging technologies to a group of 30 librarians who voluntarily signed up for the presentation. First Beth gave a great presentation on resilience and lifelong learning, and then attendees were free to walk around the room to different stations. These included:

  • gaming
  • blogging
  • social networking
  • downloadable books and movies
  • the Encore catalog interface
  • plus a special appearance from Best Buy’s geek squad!

There will be three more technology playgrounds, and they’re open to all public library workers in Allegheny County, so please leave a comment if you think you’d like to attend one of the future sessions – I’ll get you hooked up. 

These playgrounds are a prelude to the “23 Things” program that Ryan, Kelley, Beth, Mark M. and I have been planning – I’ll be blogging about that a lot in April, so be prepared…

Public Service Announcement (With Tea)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that colleagues who are sick, or feel they might be getting sick, should kindly stay home and not infect the rest of us!  Alas, I think we all have a tendency to feel, at least on occasion, that we are indispensible.  This is, for the most part, not so much true.

In the interests of practicing what I preach, I will be staying home sick tomorrow if the giant lemon-ginger tea I am drinking does not knock the stuffing out of the flu-like symptoms that have been wandering around the building, and apparently settled in my bronchial tubes.  In the meantime, please, please, please, I beg you:  don’t be a martyr.  Take your sick days!  And drink more tea, in general.  It’s good for you.

More later this week, possibly…also, I’m moodling over a post on the so-called dying art of book reviewing.  Stay tuned.

Random alchemy update

It’s been a busy, exciting week. Here are a few of the many things going on in the alchemy lab.

We’ve Got Widgets

Ryan gave a brief training this morning on the widgets our IT department has developed. Good stuff. I’m now on a mission to discover if anybody’s created anything like Book Burro for A/V formats, and, if not, can IT build us one…


Under the heading of “still somewhat secretive,” we’ve figured out a cool way to use Twitter that will work for our library, and yours truly is trying to coordinate the training / implementation effort. What’s really great about this is the sheer number of volunteers, and the sheer range of staff it covers (older, younger, timid, more adventurous, etc.). 2.0 technologies are becoming, for lack of a better word, ecumenical around here. It’s a lovely thing.

23 Things

The Allegheny County version of a 23 Things learning program has made all kinds of progress since last I brought it up. We have four technology playgrounds scheduled, one in each region except Central (more on this in a bit). Staff who attend will get a chance to play with Flip cameras and other geegaws, and learn about blogging and other social tools, as an appetite-whetter for the program itself, which will start near the end of April. Team Celery Stick (don’t ask) is meeting next week to keep the momentum going.

CLP Technology Playground

A cross-departmental group, which includes Ryan, Irene and me, has been planning a technology event for the public, scheduled for 4/25/09. We’ve reached the point where we know what activites we’re going to have, and how to staff them; what resources we want to show off; and what sorts of prizes/incentives we’d like to offer for participants. Now we’re working with Communication and Creative Services to create publicity and day-of props/handouts. My role in this phase has been creating draft copy, and Kaarin and I worked on revisions this afternoon.

Database stuff

This past week I accepted the role of chair on the EREC committee, which is responsible for recommending the purchase of electronic resources at the county level. The group is utterly fabulous, full of good ideas and wisdom/experience, and based on our meeting yesterday, I think 2009 will be a good year, despite challenges.

The state of subscription databases in a Google age is an interesting one. The committee has an opportunity to try some new things this year, and maybe take some risks (? – we can start small!). The outgoing chair, Ann, has given me a checklist of things to think about and work on, so I’ll be spending a lot of time on that in days–and entries–to come.


Nothing like some old-school library work to ground you after all the meetings and the planning! I’m almost done with the LC circulating collection, weeding primarily for duplicates and poor condition, but I’ve also got some notes and lists on things we could use. I’m also moving some things from circ to reference. Dewey and reference collections to follow later this year…

When Technology Fails

Our computer network (internet, ILS and all) was down between noon and 3 p.m. today. Some patrons were unhappy and left, but there were plenty of other folks who stayed behind to read, study, and use non-computer resources. Customer Service was able to use offline functions to check out patrons’ materials, and it was actually kind of fun, in a creative way, to see exactly what sort of work could be accomplished without the Almighty Internet. Good practice for the zombie apocalypse, too.

A Touch of Sentiment

In a recent post on the experience economy, David Lee King provides notes on a presentation by Jane McGonigal. I’ll reproduce the money quote here:

Four key principles of happiness:

satisfying work to do
experience of being good at something
time spent with people we like
chance to be a part of something bigger

That’s the perfect description of a normal day around here, from my perspective. Of course, that condition begs the question, what do you do with your good fortune?

That’s one for pondering over a leisurely weekend. Next week, more alchemical whimsy, workload depending…

Barbaric yawps (more thoughts on Twitter)

Walt Whitman would’ve loved Twitter, I think.  All those voices lifted up over the rooftops of the world!  We’re still trying to find our Twitter-voice here at CLP.  The first people who try out a new technology set the bar; those of us who ruminate and come after try to either vault over the bar or limbo under it.

So there’s been a lot of oral and written brainstorming with my peers over the last few months, a lot of experimental refdesk Tweeting via my personal account (mostly to prove that it CAN be done without ignoring in-person patrons), and careful reading of various tutorials. The one that resonates most strongly is that last: “Give me content worthy of your institution.” Hear hear – which is why I’ve been trolling Twitter looking for interesting people who do interesting things.

One thing I noticed is that when I find a Twitter account that’s really cool, I often don’t want or need to comment on the tweets. This is primarily because the tweeter has said whatever s/he had to say brilliantly, that all I could possibly add is “I agree!” or “Wow!”

One excellent example of that particular phenomenon is Issa_haiku. Here you have a short, quality piece of writing, delivered on a dependable, yet not annoying, basis, for the purposes of both instruction and delight. That’s the gold standard (the fact that one of my peers just might agree with me is a bonus :) ).

At any rate, one thing we’ve considered is a “book of the day” Tweet, but we’re still trying to work out the logistics on that one. If only one person’s doing it, even if it’s only once per day, it wouldn’t be nearly as diverse or interesting as if a bunch of people were doing it on a rotating basis. Then there’s the discovery I made late last week, that Encore’s links don’t resolve neatly to tinyURLs, the way the classic catalog links do. And do you just post the link, or write a short summary to go with?

Much to ponder there – thoughts? How are you using Twitter, personally or professionally?

We’ll give Ken Wagner the last word here:

Walking empty streets
under a full moon, even
Google can’t find me.

King me, or, a stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met.

Cleaning up the newsreader after being away is always fun, especially when you’ve got stuff marked “keep as new,” to read later.  It’s always worth making time for, though.

Let’s take, for example, the phenomenon of “friending” on social media.  A recent series of posts on this topic made me smile and sigh with relief. You see, I was worried I was doing it all wrong because I wasn’t running around friending everybody on the planet and promoting my library.

[Truth be told, I'm surprised my Twitter feed has gained the modest measure of success it has. Steely MacBeam and WDVE friended me, but it's not like we've ever hung out on the South Side, or sipped a lovely beverage in Crazy Mocha together. Who knew the Steelers mascot and the kings of classic rock would find my refdesk updates intriguing? She said, tongue wedged firmly in cheek.]

In addition to the many excellent points King makes in his posts on friending and social media, I would argue that the old-fashioned art of being a good writer is the way to attract an audience. It’s not enough just to create content, I’m thinking. You’ve got to create interesting content. Otherwise, you’re just another voice in the crowd saying “look at me!” Given that Facebook status updates and Tweets are extremely short, it becomes something of a challenge–almost an art–to make them amusing and interesting, especially when you’re pinging in between transactions. Also, there are only so many ways to say “Handed someone the stapler,” no matter how gifted you are!

Just one librarian’s theory. Of course, the more I write, in any medium, the more I realize how much I have to learn about writing. That, however, is a post for a different blog at a different time.

Returning to the point at hand–how could CLP use social media for outreach–I suppose the first step would be to find out if our users Tweet or follow in the first place. Based on casual observation, I’d say most of the Ref. Services users are far more fond of MySpace. I would, however, like to see some empirical evidence to back that up.

Onward and downward!

November Update from Your Multitasking Alchemist

The leaves fall, the temperature drops, and the days between blogging pass like a dream.  It’s still very busy in my world, but I thought I’d take a few moments to briefly discuss what “busy” means this month.

It’s database renewal season, so I’m busy crafting an agenda for tomorrow’s meeting.  Quite a lot to discuss on a conceptual level too, as we’re considering expanding the committee’s charge to promotion and instruction.  If we’re really feeling ambitious, we might explore the possibility of having an e-resources committee that would cover e-audio and video formats, and expand membership to include stakeholders in those areas.  All up in the air, of course.

I’m currently at the refdesk.  Best question this evening so far, and a chance to practice explaining technology, involved blogging and live blogging.  The patron heard it discussed on TV, and called in because he didn’t know what those concepts meant.  This comforts me, that even in matters technological, some folks still turn to the library first.

Only one serious callback on the plate, but it’s a doozy.  The magazine writer who was impressed with our collective due diligence on the Robert Frost quote is back with more quotes.  Another Frost, a Vincent Lombardi, a random economist, etc.  Tracing quotation provenance is my favorite kind of question, but don’t tell the other librarians, or they’ll make me share.  Hee.

There are a lot of ordering tools on the table this week, so I think that will be tomorrow’s major endeavor.  There’s an Ingram Advance for next week, too, so I’d like to get a jump on that.  Friday is my next turn in the Eleventh Stack rotation, so I want to make sure that’s of the same high caliber our readers have come to expect.

In professional development news, I’m fussily revising my PaLA presentation and slides. Perfectionism can be a two-edged sword. Luckily, I really enjoy giving presentations and don’t get too nervous – after all, sharing with peers is good, and I appreciate the chance to talk about what my peers and I are trying over here. Tame the Web discussed presentations recently, and I found it a good, reassuring reminder of what’s important.

I’m also greedily devouring various bloggy dispatches from Internet Librarian via my newsreader. Since not everybody can go to every conference, the blogs and embedded presentations are invaluable. If I can ever make time to sit down and watch all that video, and read all that copy, I will gladly share the highlights!

Tweeting tonight’s shift, at intervals. I Tweet rarely, because there’s so much to do. There will always be more work to do, and I tend to work as if my hair is on fire. It is, however, a labor of love. There’s nothing like working in a public library. Nothing. Others might disagree, but then again, everyone has their niche in library world, which is what makes it great.

I think, to be a good public librarian, you have to love people, even when they are not very likeable. Last night I spent two hours on one transaction, and somewhere in the middle of that long conversation, I lost a contact lens. It was one of those moments that tries your soul, and makes you wonder if you really went to graduate school for this. I went home, put on my glasses, and briefly contemplated applying to the Peace Corps.

But the next day, when I came in, I learned that my colleagues had found my contact lens when I could not (being, after all, quite the blind). They rescued it, soaked it in their own saline, and stored it in an extra case they just happened to have handy. And one lovely, leafy printout from the color printer was on my desk, an extra left behind by that same patron I’d been helping. It’s a picture of a path leading into the woods, green and inviting, beckoning us on to goodness knows where.

And that, in a nutshell, is public library service: you make your way down the path as best you can, never knowing what will happen next, and sometimes tested by obstacles. But you are never alone on your journey, and there is always something lovely hidden around the next bend to remind you why you started off on the journey in the first place.

Until next month, probably, I remain….

LAV, library alchemist!


At the end of another busy, albeit glorious, day in the trenches of reference, it’s nice to end on a high note with some inspiring professional reading.  John Baldoni’s essay, “How to Lose Like a Winner”, is a great pick-me-up if you’re feeling a touch stressed, overwhelmed, or discouraged.

Your alchemist sports no rose-colored spectacles, but I think it’s important to remember that sometimes, losing out on something paves the way for you to gain something greater.  And yes, adversity really can make you a better librarian, if you let it.  There’s no doubt that the months and years ahead will hold great changes and challenges for libraries – how will we respond?

One would think the answer would be with hope, optimism, a spirit of togetherness…and, perhaps, the occasional pizza, accompanied by a nice red wine.

Who’s with me? :)

I’m off tomorrow, and working Saturday, so I expect to blog again next week.  Saturday I’ll be Twittering from the refdesk, simply because we haven’t done a Saturday Tweetfest for a while.  Tuesday night’s was great fun, so check it out, if you’re so inclined.


I’ve been Tweeting at the refdesk for a few days now, and am pleasantly surprised how easy it is to incorporate even into a busy reference shift.  To fall back on a stock phrase, “This changes everything!”

Things seemed to be going well. Then I read David Lee King’s Twitter Best Practices So Far, only to learn I’d made a bunch of n00b (that’s “newbie,” for those of you who don’t speak l33t) mistakes. For about five seconds, I felt as if I’d sat down at a formal dinner and used all the wrong forks! Then I was just grateful that we’re all experimenting together, finding out stuff, and sharing it.

The folks at CommonCraft, who are known for their delightful and instructive how-to videos, have one on using Twitter. Check it out:

I’ll be firing up the console again at 3. Maybe by then, I’ll have figured out how to upload a cool background image, like the one the folks at the Hubbell Library in New Orleans.

The bigger-picture question is, as always, how would tweeting benefit CLP? Thoughts?

Yet Another Week of Progress (YAWP!)

In which we look up from our pile of projects and give a status report.  This past week I:

  • Started collaborating with Ryan H. on a voluntary Library 2.0 staff training program.  Working with Ryan is great:  he’s very left-brain, I’m very right-brain, and together, we make things happen.  As many libraries have done, we’re modeling our plans after the eponymous Learning 2.0 program designed by Helene Blowers, when she was with PLCMC.  We are, however, tailoring it for the needs of CLP staff and, ultimately, patrons.
  • Attended Jonathan Zittrain’s lecture at the HYP Club with Ryan and Irene Y.  Am now quite keen to read the book!  Privacy, generativity, information ethics…all the stuff that librarians care about and deal with on the daily.  He’s a great speaker, too; the most interesting thing, though, was the disconnect between the substance of Zittrain’s remarks and the questions asked by the audience.  In addition to the digital divide, there’s a cognitive divide.  And since the brilliant nerds aren’t about to slow down for the rest of us (also nerdy, but perhaps not quite as brilliant), we’re going to have to become more and more proficient at staff training, to keep up, and bibliographic instruction, to translate to the huddled masses.
  • Database stats.  JSTOR’s stat module claims that NOBODY used JSTOR in the month of May 2008.  I find this very hard to believe.
  • Signed up for Twitter, heaven help us all.  Am vaguely toying with the idea of adding tweets to Eleventh Stack, but want to see what the group thinks.  I’m going to try tweeting from the refdesk this afternoon to see how it goes.  You can follow me here.
  • Finished and submitted my bio and program info for the PaLA conference.  My Facebook friends were very helpful in this regard:  I set my status to say “Nag me until I finish,” and oh, did they ever.  The tools are neutral – it’s all in how you use them!

And now, to the refdesk!  More excellent adventures, news and updates next week.

All a-Twitter? Possibly

This past week has been chock full of reference questions involving older print resources, with longer research/callback times than usual – that’s not a complaint!  The nice thing about 2.0 is that you really can tuck it into the back of your mind and let it simmer when the more traditional reference work is required.

That may possibly be the optimal approach; a recent New York Times article about late technology adopters indicates that for every wave of folks fannish on the shiny-new, there’s a similar flock of people content to wait and see.

So, over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about libraries and Twitter. There’s ample evidence that the microblogging service has proved useful for some libraries. And guides like this one make it easy for interested librarians to get their feet wet. But would it play in Pittsburgh?

Given that the Meebo project is just now headed to the steering committee for approval, it’s probably too early to push another innovation. However, I have to admit I’m intrigued. What could a Twitter feed do for CLP?  Some thoughts:

  • If you have it up and running at the refdesk, you can type in brief descriptions of what you’re doing, and display the feed on the webpage.  Obviously, you don’t want to compromise patron confidentiality.  However, short summaries of reference questions could be interesting to someone surfing our website.
  • Provided said info was in the public domain, you could post interesting trivial tidbits, or link to news articles.
  • Someday, far in the future, we could actually text patrons on their cell phones, pagers, and other mobile devices.

Can anybody think of anything else?  It’s exciting, uncharted territory.  But I’m a big fan of William Morris‘s axiom that things should be either useful or beautiful. Twitter’s cute, but I wouldn’t call it beautiful. And how useful would it be for CLP?


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