Earlier this week, one of the storage closets at my library was given a (late summer) spring cleaning. It was like an archaeological dig. We re-discovered things that caused us to pause, think hard, and have to ask, “What is this? What was it used for?” Some things we figured out. Others? Well…we just gave up and moved on. Put simply: It was a blast. Forget the fact that we had a library to run. We had hidden treasures to find!
Two particular items that we unearthed from the shadows of the closet were an 80′s-era touch tone phone and what had to be one of the first laptops ever used at our library (a circa-1996 NEC Versa 2435CD notebook). I’m a librarian, so I immediately knew what we needed to do. Make a joke, of course. I proceeded to take a picture of the equipment sitting on my desk and posted it to Facebook with the following caption:
I couldn’t resist, and it provided some mid-week comic relief for a number of my friends to boot. (The ever-helpful librarian after all) OK, so it was a tongue-and-cheek reaction, but it got me thinking about how much I actually DO use “old” technology on a regular basis.
We live in a disposable society–particularly when it comes to our technology. When I walk out of the store after having bought a shiny new mobile phone, I’m already planning for when I will be back to retire it for an even shinier new phone with an improved data plan. When it begins to take more than 120 seconds for my laptop to turn on and let me double-click into my virtual world, I want to start window shopping. If I’m two software upgrades behind, bless my heart.
Before you label me a Luddite or technophobe, hear me out. I love new technological toys and advancements. How liberating it is to cloud store my files and be able to access them from anywhere with an internet connection–even if I don’t have my laptop or a folder stuffed with paper documents with me. And I was immensely thankful last week that I was able to use FedEx overnight delivery to send a time-sensitive document to Pittsburgh and did not have to settle for the Pony Express. Long live the growth of advanced and improved technologies! What I am recognizing here is the fact that alongside the new technologies, I still use and depend on many things that have to be considered old technologies. Cases in point:
- I used a hammer last weekend to hang a framed picture on the wall.
- A needle — one of the most ancient of technologies — was my tool of choice this summer when I discovered one morning that my shirt was missing a button.
- At my house we keep a classic and seasoned pocket calculator in the junk drawer for quick access (the thing is far older, by the way, than this year’s college freshmen).
- Every day I trust my life to not one but four of a millennia-old device — the wheel — on my way to work and back.
|Actual artifacts I still use|
So, yes, I use old technology, and that makes me ponder: Why do some technologies remain timeless while others become so quickly outdated? One answer: Usefulness. Let me bring this back to the library world for an illustration. Many library catalogs now offer the ability to send a catalog record to a mobile phone via text message.
The “Send via Text Message” feature is a handy way of bringing the book’s call number with you to the shelves to retrieve the book without having to engage in a cram session of memorizing the call number (which I often forget before I get to the book stacks). With that said, the classic golf pencil and scrap paper also remain effective tools for this. Not so much, granted, if I have to leave the computer to locate a pencil (and a sharpener because, of course, it would need it) and then run around looking for a scrap piece of paper in every trash receptacle I can find. But strategically placed next to the computer, yes, the pencil and scrap paper work beautifully. Effectiveness trumps age. (Not to mention the fact that the 4″x4″ scrap paper stack provides a way of recycling paper left abandoned at the copiers.)
So as society continues to develop and use (rightfully so) new technologies that improve our ability to accomplish tasks, let us give thanks. But let us also remember to pay homage to those technologies that are “long in the tooth” but continue to serve us well.
How do you blend the use of old technologies with the new?
It’s nearing the end of another (busy) day. For some reason, I began reflecting on my mobile phone usage today. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading and reflecting on the recent Bobbi Newman and Jason Griffey dueling blog posts about mobile phones and the digital divide. In any case, I decided to list the ways that I used my mobile phone since waking up this morning.
- Checked email
- Sent email (work-related and personal)
- Added a November meeting to my calendar
- Broadcasted a question to librarians on Twitter and replied to responses
- Approved a comment on one of my blog posts
- Accessed content from my Evernote account
- Searched the web to find a local restaurant
- Used Google maps for directions
- Called AAA emergency roadside service (battery died — all is well now)
- Called home
For some, that may not be much activity at all. For others, I might be labeled as one of those people who is “always doing something with that phone.” Personally, I can clearly recognize a progressive increase in my use (bordering on dependence in some cases) of the mobile smart phone for many different tasks. For me, in other words, the device has crossed the line between “cool gadget” and “everyday appliance.” That is true for a lot of people that I know–but not everyone.
I may be way behind the curve here, but today I accidentally discovered another Google Search Feature that I did not know existed. I needed to find an ISSN number for a journal (Jewish Quarterly Review). I was going to head over to our local catalog or WorldCat and look it up. As chance would have it, the cozy Google search box was there waiting for me on my laptop screen, saying (almost audibly), “Hey, John, why don’t you just use my box to look for that International Standard Serial Number? Everybody’s doing it.”
So I did. I entered jewish quarterly review issn and clicked the magic button.
And here’s what I saw display in 0.46 seconds (Is web searching getting slower? Come on!)…
Nice. So nice, that I thought I would try another just to see what happened…and another…and another…and the game was on.
I did discover that the ISSN search feature doesn’t always work. In most cases when it didn’t work, however, the first result usually came from JournalSeek. Just as good. And it seems to work better for popular magazine titles as opposed to scholarly journals (not a scientific study, just a cursory observation).
Granted, if you enter [journal/magazine name] issn into Google, chances are the first result is probably going to give you what you need. I just thought it was interesting that Google (at least sometimes) offers the answer as one of those handy-dandy search features, like unit conversions.
So there you have it–Another tidbit of search knowledge and something to share at the next party you attend.
I am finally getting around to sharing the QR Code that I generated for this blog. Here ’tis…
Some time ago, I experimented with generating this odd-looking square barcode that is a matrix of black and white square boxes–a QR Code. QR Codes have been around for a while now. Perhaps you’ve seen one on an American Express shipment label. These codes are beginning to be used more and more in everyday applications centered around mobile phone users. QR Codes provide “quick response” (thus, QR) mobile access to information, such as a URL for linking to a website. Maybe you’ve recently seen one in a magazine ad.
And you can generate your own QR Codes. There are several free online QR Code generators available, as well as free QR Code readers (software) available for download to your mobile phone. I created my QR Code using BeeTagg.
What used to be a tracking application for manufacturing, distribution, etc. is becoming a mainstream tool for the general consumer with a mobile smart phone.
Point camera phone. Snap picture. Receive URL. Be whisked away to web content.
Don’t be surprised if you begin to see QR Codes popping up in all sorts of places.
CC images on Flickr (by avlxyz, GlacierGuyMT, goosegrease, and osde8info)
Common Craft has released yet another informative video in their signature playful style. Secure Passwords explains “in plain English” the risks involved with the use of weak passwords and offers tips on how to create stronger passwords that are harder for others to guess.
The use of secure, or strong, passwords is good practice for us all–especially for our more sensitive online accounts such as banking, email, and shopping. If you are like me, it is quite possible that you have a long (and perhaps growing) list of passwords for your online activity. It is worth the effort to put some thought into creating passwords that are more secure than your pet’s name.
Educators…a new school year is right around the corner (or already here for some). Students from K-12 to college need to know about the importance of strong passwords. This video would be a good way to open up the conversation. We shouldn’t assume that they know.
Parents…this video could set up an excellent teaching moment around the home computer.
Anyone…how strong are your passwords? Need to make some changes? No problem. Most online accounts provide a fairly painless way to manage your account, including the ability to change your password.
That about sums it up. I look at the discovery tools we provide our library users to explore the resources available to them, and I can’t help but think: We can do better. Yes, I am thinking primarily about our library catalog, but, really, anywhere that we offer a search box.
Thought #4: What do we have to do to make our discovery tools more robust and attractive to users?
In sharing thoughts related to my library that have weighed heavy on my mind over the past school year, this has been the most persistent theme. Understand that I am extremely thankful that we even have tools to search and sort through the various collections of resources. I mean, imagine life without them. Good luck finding that one needle in the proverbial haystack that is the library’s book collection without a catalog. My frustration lies in the experience that users have during the discovery process with these tools. I sometimes find myself–a librarian, mind you–drifting over to Google Books or Amazon to learn more about a book before going back to the library catalog to get the call number. The typical library user doesn’t want to bounce around like this. Honestly, neither do I.
Yes, the library community and vendors have made significant strides in the enhancement of discovery interfaces. Commercial and open source solutions have surfaced in the form things such as “bolt on” library catalog discovery layers and federated searching products. Talented people are working hard to transform library discovery tools into things with features and functionality that draw users to other online discovery tools like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Walmart.com and keep them coming back. I just wish we didn’t have to work so hard to find creative ways of “bolting” features on the basic search tool.
The discovery tools for my applecart need some serious attention. Perhaps there are other libraries out there that find themselves currently grappling with the same issue. You are not alone. Let’s tackle this issue and find ways to develop more robust, interactive, and attractive discovery experiences for our users. I don’t want my library users to simply tolerate having to use our library catalog. I want them to be drawn to it because of its ease of use and rich content–because they enjoy using it.
To our library users: Know that this issue is on our radar. In fact, we would love to hear any feedback that you have to offer. What features would you like to see in our library catalog?
Pic credit: kiwa25 (via stock.xchng)
On Friday, May 21, droves of Internet users fired up their web browsers and went to their religious starting place only to find an extra special surprise.
It wasn’t so much that Google was sporting one of its creative Google Doodles. Those we have come to expect from time to time. What was intriguing about that particular doodle (which actually ran May 21-23) was the fact that it was accompanied by an “Insert Coin” button. No–it couldn’t be…Yes–it is! PacMan! And not just an image, mind you, but a functional version of the classic arcade game! For the first time in Google history, we were given an interactive doodle.
And then the gaming and tweeting began…
You have to wonder how low Google’s search stats plummeted that day. Think about it: Countless individuals heading over to Google for a search or two, only to end up spending hours upon end navigating our favorite yellow muncher amid a maze of dots. Search? What search? And what about work productivity? Some have done more than simply speculate and actually tackled the question. Was there a loss of work productivity? Absolutely. Was this a smart move–a brilliant social media move–on Google’s part? Sheer genius. The Google search count may have been down last weekend, but there certainly were large numbers of people camped out on the google.com domain for extended periods of time. Time that could otherwise have been spent at…say…Facebook?
For better or worse, what I love most about the Google PacMan Doodle is the fact that it is interactive. [I say "is" because Google has given it a permanent location for continued online joy. Or you can download the code thanks to the folks at StackOverflow. Let the global productivity drain continue!] For the first time, the Google Doodle was not only a beautiful work of art, but it was something with which we could interact. Google has raised the Doodle bar for themselves.
By the way, Google, Galaga was released on July 23, 1981. Just saying.