Ideas from Innovations in Reference Management

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I attended an interesting event a couple of weeks ago – Innovations in Reference Management. The event covered developments in the use of Citation and Bibliographic Management software alongside Virtual Learning Environments. There were presentations from a couple of academic institutions, one about archiving the web and further ones from providers of reference management tools. Details of these presentations can be found at the Open University Telstar blog.

Even though the event was run by The Open University and was aimed at academic institutions, as a librarian working for a Public Library Service I still found it really useful to attend. The common link of education gives an opportunity to pick up ideas that academic institutions have developed and possibly put them in the context of a public library.

The key things I picked up during the event were the use of Virtual Learning Environments, the use of citation/recommender services (similar to social bookmarking tools), and the wealth of open learning tools and courses from the Open University.

Use of Virtual Learning Environments : Academic institutions provide VLE’s for their students. Put simply it allows them to upload content, provide assessment tools (including peer assessment), communicate among students and tutors, and keep track of work, research and resources used in studying. It struck me that public libraries could make use of VLE’s in a less formal way. Many public library users use our libraries to learn in an informal way, via self study – whether it’s picking up a single book to find out the answer to a single question, or making use of a range of printed, audio-visual and online materials for larger projects. If we are providing them with the resources to learn, could we also give them the means to manage their studies by using VLE’s? It could also give them the opportunity to interact with other ‘students’ in a relevant online environment, whether those other students are in the same county or half way across the world.

Citation / Reference Management Tools : The interesting thing for me here was the ability to pull out citation references from different online databases and then integrate this data seamlessly into your own personal resource list, annotating and tagging it as you go. I know some catalogues provide reading list functions, but wouldn’t it be useful if they could allow users to create reading lists from the catalogue, feed it into the reference management tool (allowing users to annotate the items in their reference list) and then feed these references and annotations back into the library system – the information that is fed back into the library system could be used to inform staff purchasing stock / other users about why the stock item was of use and therefore act as a recommendation.

Open Learning Resources : The Open University provides a wide range of online free learning resources for learners and educators, including course texts, self assessment activities, discussion forums, study tools and support, covering a broad range of subject material. In the current climate of tightening financial belts, I wonder if public libraries could treat these courses as another free resource we can direct our library members to? We also run courses in libraries and I wonder how relevant some of this material would be to those courses? The courses themselves could also be a useful/low cost resource for library staff development, as there are some in-depth business and management units/courses available.

So, are these opportunities that public library services could take advantage of, or should we leave this to the academic institutions?

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Choosing and Using Markers in Trailmeme

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Trailmeme builds linked web trails using bookmarked resources. After setting up your account you can import bookmarks/markers or add them manually to your pool. Once they’re added to your pool you check that they’re useable in a trail. If a marker appears correctly in a frame it’s useable.

At this stage you can see if any bookmarks have been used in another trail by anyone on the site. This could be handy if you’re looking for more markers for your trail – another trailmeme using the same marker may link to other useful resources you could use. I can’t help but think that it would also be useful to be able to link to any other trails that use the same bookmark- possibly creating a trailmeme of trailmemes! It would also be helpful to be able to search your bookmarks/ markers. If you make the mistake of importing all your bookmarks, it can take a while to find a particular one in the pool.

Next, you set up a new trail. You do this by giving it a title, submitting it and adding your markers to it.

Trailmeme Markers

Markers added to 'Java Programming' Trailmeme

For my ‘Java trail’ I decided to add more than just bookmarks for tutorial purposes. I included bookmarks for pages that compared java with other programming languages, the history/background of java, java documentation and videos, tutorials and links to useful books on Worldcat. I wanted the trail to give followers a varied view of Java, including a variety of resources they might find useful.

An aside: I included the programming comparison links as part of the ‘thought process’ experience. Before I started programming in Java I scouted around to see what language would be best for me. I wanted to learn a new language, as I wanted to get back into programming. I’d also seen some wizzy things on the internet that I wanted to find out more about, or create myself. I also thought that as a technical librarian in the internet dominated info world, updating my programming skills would be a good idea. The programming comparison links helped me decide – I went for Java and php in the end.

At the moment the markers in a trail aren’t organised in any useful way. For them to be of any use to others you need to link them together. This is when it becomes a trail. Up until now it’s still just a list of links.

(to be continued)

Trailmeme Introduction

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Trailmeme is a way of creating a bookmarked path through online resources. Unlike traditional bookmarking, you can link sites together using trails, therefore creating a route along related online materials. Traditionally you could keep related bookmarks together in your web browser by adding them all to the same folder, but this doesn’t show you how the items are related. Trailmeme is also an online application, which means you can easily share your trail of links with other users.

At first look I can think of a few decent uses for this tool.

(1) A record of how you got from site A to B & the places inbetween – handy for personal use, research or as a thought process trail.
(2) Providing tutorials linking related resources.
(3) Creating subject resources or guides – suggested prefered resources, but with the ability for those following your trailmeme to branch off elsewhere.

Depending upon your reason for creating a specific trail you will want to include different types of links. For example, if you’re creating a tutorial trail you don’t necessarily want your students to see the in-depth thought process trail that led you to choose some links instead of others.

You can set up a trailmeme with a specific theme (eg Java programming), give it a title, tag it and organise the links in it.

I’ve decided to set up a Java programming trail, partly as a thought process trail and partly as a subject guide and over the course of a few blog posts I’ll be going through the process to illustrate what you can do with it.

(to be continued…)

Library Routes Project

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(NB: Originall posted to my Library2.ning blog 07/01/2010)

The Library Routes Project wiki was set up last year to find out how librarians got into their present job.

Quote: “The idea is to document either or both of your library roots – how you got into the profession in the first place, and what made you decide to do so – and your library routes – the career path which has taken you to wherever you are today. As well as being interesting of itself, it will also provide much needed information and context for those just entering the profession or wishing to do so.”

So, I thought I’d put down my career path here.

It all started when I was about 11. I was bought a home computer by my parents and I learned how to programme it – only games. (Tandy Color Computer & then an MSX, if you’re interested) I carried on until other things distracted me and I didn’t do any programming for a few years. After leaving school I wanted to do something computery, but wasn’t sure what. I dithered around and was unemployed for a while.

One day I saw a job advert for a librarian and fell into the trap of thinking “That’s a nice safe job. I won’t have to talk to anyone there.” ­čśë It turned out that I needed a degree to work in a library… or that’s what I thought at the time. I didn’t know I could have worked as a library assistant without a degree.

So, I went to Manchester Metropolitan University (UK) in the early 1990s and studied Library and Information Management. While there I elected to do a database management module – back into computery stuff! At that time it was mostly Paradox database programming, but also a bit of this new fangled thing called the world wide web. I wasn’t impressed by it at the time – not enough wizzy things on it. It was just all text.

I graduated and had a couple of long term temporary contracts at Higher Education College Libraries. My work was split between enquiry desk, cataloguing and putting together training/crib sheets for networked CD-Rom information services.

Then back in 1997 I became one of the cataloguers for the public library service I currently work for. This role transformed over time – as staff left, we tried to make more use of automating processes. eg EDI, mapping classification data, so that the human input was reduced.

Over the past couple of years I’ve become more interested in what the internet can offer – how you can tweak the data, how you can collaborate online, the information it can provide. This was fortunate, as the library service went through a restructure in 2008 and I became the Technical Librarian in the Virtual Content Team. I still oversee the cataloguing work, but don’t do much on a daily basis. I’m more involved with Library2.0 and Web2.0 strategy now, including seeing how we can make use of technology to promote the library service and how we can provide our library users and staff with skills/information they need in a technology dominated world.

I also got back into programming and now I’m looking at whether I can develop my programming skills to produce mashups. It’s early days for me though on this side of things.

Meaning in Twitter Hashtags

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(NB: Originally posted on Library2.0.ning 11/12/09)

I find hashtags on Twitter a useful way of pulling all the information about a particular discussion together. However, sometimes I see a hashtag that is attached to an interesting tweet, but I haven’t got a clue what the background of the hashtag is. If I’ve not been involved in the thread/discussion/conversation from the beginning it can be difficult to back-track to where it was first used. Sometimes keywords are used as hashtags, which can give you a clue (but not always), but in some cases abbreviations are used. Phil Bradley raised the keyword/abbreviation issue recently in his blog. My issue is not necessarily with conference hashtags, as mentioned by Phil though, and the shorter the hashtag the more difficult it can be to work out what that hashtag is about.

Various hashtag search/retrieval sites have popped up as a sidekick to Twitter. They can retrieve tweets by hashtag/keyword, but you can’t always get the gist of a hashtag thread from them. Some of the sites concentrate on how the information is presented, which can be fun/interesting in itself, but isn’t always a useful search tool. For example, Trendsmap has an interesting way of presenting information – it displays hashtags/keywords on a map, based on most common words used in tweets. However, what’s the point when you’ve got vague/non-descript words appearing on it, like ‘appear’, ‘whilst’ and received’ (see below). Nice to see ‘@serafinowicz’ in there though! He must be doing one of his Q&A sessions.

So, I’ve been trying to see if there’s a better service out there to achieve what I want.

I started playing with ‘Yahoo Pipes‘ a couple of months ago. It’s a simple way of getting data from web sites. I realised I could get info out of Twitter via it and then tinker with that data. I created a pipe to search for a hashtag and I used the ‘Term Extractor’ module to pull out useful words in the tweets that mentioned the hashtag I’d searched for. The ‘Term Extractor’ did what it said on the tin – pulls out words it thinks are important. But I found that the terms it extracted weren’t that helpful. I don’t know why it thought some words were more important than others and pulled them out. I also had an intermittent problem with accessing Twitter via the pipe – access to Twitter via this method is limited to a number of searches per hour. So, it worked in theory, but wasn’t ideal.

I also realised last week that @psychemedia had set up a Yahoo Pipe along the same lines, so I needn’t have struggled to work on it. However, saying that, I do get satisfaction working out these ideas for myself, so I hadn’t really wasted my time… all part of the learning curve.

Another alternative is to look on ‘Twubs’ for the hashtag, to see if someone has registered it. When a person registers the hashtag they can also give it a description and indicate other hashtags related to the one they’ve registered. However, this relies on people knowing the service exists and then registering the hashtag. With so many Twitter sidekick applications how can you expect everyone to know every application that is out there?

This leads me onto ‘TweetCloud’. I didn’t know it existed until about a week ago. See, I told you. I can’t keep up with all the Twitter apps! You can type in a hashtag and it gives you a tag cloud showing the most popular words used in tweets related to this hashtag. It’s more useful than the other options above, but it’s still not ideal. For example, I searched for ‘middlemash’ and as well as some useful words, TweetCloud gave me things like ‘anyone’, ‘nice’, ‘many’, ‘trying’, ‘really’. This isn’t helpful, but I think it’s the best I’m going to get at the moment.

In the long run it would be great if someone could create a way of feeding Tweet messages mentioning hashtags into a decent term extractor site/API – one that understands what is and isn’t a useful word or phrase and can categorise them into different types of term eg. person, place. There are a few services available out there already that can be used for this sort of process – AlchemyAPI, Zemanta, Term Extractor by LCL and Terminology Extraction by Translated .net Labs. Both AlchemyAPI and Zemanta provide APIs. I’ve not tinkered with them long enough to be certain, but they do appear to be better than the other options mentioned earlier (ie Yahoo Pipes ‘Term Extractor’, TweetCloud, Twubs, Trendsmap.) I copied and pasted a good portion of results from twapperkeeper/middlemash into AlechemyAPI and you can see the results below.

I’d prefer to be able to do this in a more user friendly way, with a decent interface that presents results in a way that relates to Twitter. I imagine it won’t be long before someone with more brains than myself comes along and achieves what I’m after. I can wait, but in the mean time it’s on my ‘Projects I’d like to have a go at, but might never complete‘ list.