Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Conversion to Libguides CMS - A One Year Review

Last summer I attended the Annual ALA conference in Las Vegas, NV and was intent on visiting with the Springshare folks on how Libguides CMS could serve as our main library website.  When I came to this institution nearly 6 years ago I was tasked with revamping (OK, total redo) of the existing library website as the Digital Services Librarian, which I accomplished.

At the time, I was hot on web development and super eager to whip the antiquated site into shape.  I did use Dreamweaver to accomplish the task and was able to launch the new site that winter break before the spring term started.  All went fairly smooth, and without too many headaches, the site served the library well for 4 years.  All wasn't perfect though as I had no choice but to port over much of the content into the new template, complete with a multitude of styles, conflicting CSS, and tables...lots of tables.  I cleaned it up as well as I could but there was nearly 400 total pages of content, a mess that really needed top be dealt with sooner than later.

Another issue, of course, was that I was the sole administrator of the website, which was OK for me at the beginning but then became a hassle as I was assigned more tasks, responsibilities, and "other duties as assigned".  Every area of the website needed to keep current (and I alone needed to make the changes) and managing it all plus the "dead wood" content begged for change.  Another issue was that the site resided on an aging server in the IT dept. which was not part of the library, another issue that became a larger problem because the larger campus moved to a cumbersome CMS platform and the IT guys were not really into maintaining the aging server when most content resided elsewhere.  I was able to remain on my old server as long as I could but knew I needed to make a jump soon.

In graduate school I had created Libguides (that still exist) for certain courses  and while it was fairly easy to build resources easy, I wasn't sure how it all would work as a main library website.  When I visited with the Springshare people they affirmed all of my questions and concerns and then gave me a trial site, where I could start building my site. The best part was that if I elected to purchase the product I could save the work I created in the trial (I think you have to request that), which was great.

We did purchase the product that summer and began to build the site the following fall.  The great part for me was to distribute the work based on Collection Development areas among the librarians and even got staff involved making other content.  Staff were responsible for a guide on our student work study students, a library 101 guide with basic library information, and even a guide to Inter-library Loan.  I think giving the staff some involvement was a good idea and was urged by my Director.

The training was handled by myself along with all of the resources provided by Springshare.  I trained my fellow librarians and paired them up with a staff member to in-turn train them in creating a guide.  The only hitch was that the version of CMS we were using was new and so some of the tutorials were for prior versions. We stumbled through, and while we are not Libguide masters, we were able to painlessly turn out stale and static library website into a vibrant website where we could improve access, get all of the library staff and involved, and manage resources in a much more organized way.  The new site is now hosted by Springshare and off of the old server tucked away in the IT dept., which pleased everyone on both side of the "house".  In a recent survey to students on satisfaction of library resources, they seemed to indicate that they were happy with the new site (we are still tallying the results of our spring survey).

We are now considering purchasing LibHelp, which is an add on product that delivers live chat.

This small private liberal arts academic library serves around 1200 primarily residential undergrads.

*Information contained within these pages do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Schreiner University.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

No Magic in the Evening Hours: Academic Library INFO LIT Workshops

Tracking usage is something all libraries need to do to ensure they are meeting patron/student demand for resources and services.  We attempt to track everything we possibly can, and I can't imagine any library that doesn't attempt to do the same.  Although we have had numbers decline in areas such as circulation and other predictable areas (in recent years), our foot traffic and building usage has increased quite a bit.  Our library, which services around 1200 liberal arts students, is the social and academic center in the evening hours on this primarily residential campus.  Over the past few years we have noticed that our busiest hour, in terms of library building traffic, (calculated by headcounts and gate counter) lies somewhere between 7:30pm and 9pm, Mon-Thurs.

Logan Library Schreiner University

Having offered drop-in lunchtime workshops in the past that were mildly successful, we thought that we would offer a series of "information literacy" or library workshops throughout the spring term that would span in focus from the very basic (finding a book on the shelf, navigating databases, etc.) to more focused sessions (Searching CINAHL for Nursing students, or How to be a Research Pro) in the peak evening hours.  Our thinking was that if sweetened the pot with popcorn and a chance to win an iPad 3, that we would have some students interested in taking a break from their studies and friends to perhaps learn a thing or two on research or how to use the library.  We were largely wrong.

Four librarians with three different workshops each (12 in total), spread out over the semester was the master plan.  The first librarian to teach her session reported the morning after that no students had showed up- she had even tried wrangling some before the session was set to begin, but no dice.  I was up next and was determined not to strike out.  I had decided to take along with me a budding librarian undergraduate student who was to handle the OPAC/Find a Book on the Shelf portion of my session.  I thought that having a peer might work to my advantage in getting students to come to my workshop.  I also enlisted a Work Study student that was stationed at the circulation desk, to start advertising the session to every student that walked through the door.

As the budding undergraduate librarian and I sat near the front entrance waiting for our session to start, we talked about the time and whether or not students would be interested in receiving some library instruction.  The student informed me that almost everyone he knew was at a Anime club meeting on campus, and also added that students had been in class all day and maybe didn't feel like attending any more instruction sessions in the evening.  That last part resonated the most with me, and I vowed to make the session quick and informative as possible.  After all, this was their time. 

I ended up with three students in total for that first session and it went great.  The last part of the session consisted of students retrieving a book from the stacks by themselves, which they performed flawlessly.  I love to see the look in students' eyes when they "get it"- it is empowering for the student to realize they now have the power to use a library, and of course it is rewarding for the librarian as well.

Sadly, my first session was my most successful.  The other librarians didn't have much luck either in the evening with the rest of their sessions despite the prizes and marketing efforts- and that was really that.

We did however host a table in which students had to retrieve a book or an article for a chance to win a iPad during an afternoon fair.  This event was in coordination with Dept. of Student Success (held in the library) and we managed to run 80+ students through our mini assignment (highly successful).

In the case of the Student Success fair, there were tables offering food, LinkedIn Photos, and other student services that attracted many types of students over to the library at one time.  We are now planning more of these types of events during the day hours, and of course trying to figure out how to offer some library instruction at the same time.

*Information contained within these pages do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Schreiner University.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Digital Propaganda : The New Ways Wars Are Waged

During my undergraduate years I moved around a lot.  Like most undergraduates, I didn't know quite what I wanted to do or even study for that matter. I studied at numerous Universities in the US and even went abroad for a semester in Mexico (where I had the time of my life).  I eventually returned to my normal life in the US where I seemingly had no direction.

Sometime during the mid-90's I discovered a TV show called "Adventure Bound" which featured Australian adventurer, Alby Mangels.  The intro asked the viewer something like, "Have you ever had a dream?..Just pack up and go?  Well I did....". I was hooked, his documentary series affected me in a way that I really can't explain- it certainly inspired me to stop at nothing to see the world.  I started to search for his books in libraries and then I found other adventure authors and writers. I had a voracious appetite for the writings of these brave men and women as they were traveling around the world on a motorcycle, or walking across America, or reporting deep within war zones.

I took a year off  during my undergraduate education and worked full time (a good paying Casino gig in Sin City) to save up for the last two years of school and even managed to earn enough to spend a month in South America.

In those days, the savvy shoestring traveler could fly as an international courier, which sounds more glamorous than it really was.  Basically, there were flights leaving San Francisco, Los Angeles, NY daily that needed passengers to give up their check-in luggage space for documents and whatever else needed to go to Europe, Asia, South America, and so on.  In exchange for delivering these "packages" the courier was offered a deeply discounted air ticket.  These were round trip tickets (not changes of citizenship) and once you arrived and delivered your cargo to your contact, you had a few weeks to kill until they were ready to send "stuff" back to the US.  All the arrangements were done via fax and telephone, the internet was around but was still in its infancy.

This was pre-9/11 and I am not even sure that this type of arrangement even exists anymore, especially with the increased security that surrounds passengers and their "own" packed luggage.  When I flew as a courier I was not aware of any items I carried (I was just met by the company rep and handed a dossier), which on one occasion frightened me a tad, since the courier company had also stuffed packages in my own carry-on bag. However, it all worked out in the end.  I was young, fearless, and was thirsty for adventure.

The month in South America (and other travels) turned out be a fairly adventuresome and dangerous. Somehow my extensive solo travel, in then a very tame and peaceful Mexico, gave me a false sense of bravado.  Every border crossing was rife with danger, and involved two sets of customs and immigrations officers that wanted money of some sort and then it involved a taxi that would drive you out to the middle of nowhere and drop you off in the boondocks where another taxi would pick you up (not before both drivers attempted to rob you blind)- it seemed like the whole trip was packed with danger, and I picked up some horrendous intestinal bug that made travel tough and uncomfortable.  I thank the young Argentine and Chilean that I traveled with for a long leg of that long Pan American Highway- in fact, I owe my life to many many kind strangers around the world that looked after my well being while traveling.

I went on to live for several years in Asia and eventually the travel and "backpacker bug" worked out of my system. Now my travel is less frequent but still pleasurable. I had to work hard to get the information I needed to travel the world on a budget back in those days.  I spent hours in libraries researching, reading travel guides, and looking at maps.  I couldn't get much of the information I wanted until I landed "in country" other than Lonely Planet guides, which made it challenging but also terribly exciting.

Sometime around my "Alby Mangels" period I read a few books by Robert Young Pelton, which led me to another author by the name of Aukai Collins (My Jihad).  Basically, Collins grew up on the mean streets of San Diego, was in some sort of institution for troubled youth, converted to Islam, and joined the jihad against the Russians in Chechnya (from what I recall, it has been some years), then flipped and worked for the FBI and CIA. The story was fascinating to me for the simple fact that the author and I were the same age.  The conversion to Islam did not appeal to me nor did the call of Jihad, but the adventure part sure did grab me at the time. 

Many Years Later

When I started to read news stories about the sophisticated propaganda machine of this relatively new terror organization, ISIS (or ISIL, IS), I thought about what kind of impact this would have on restless and directionless youth around the world today versus recruiting in the analog world..  This ISIS group (or at least media arm) appears to be fairly young and tech savvy, producing what some call "Hollywood" quality trailers and videos, in which they promote their dastardly deeds.  The reach of these videos and other social media communications typically go viral with coverage from traditional media and reach an enormous global audience.

"Terrorism is very much about theater, so media matters immensely," he said, recalling a letter that Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri sent to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was later killed in a U.S. drone strike. (read more here

There definitely seems to be a complete overhaul to the production and targeted audience of these propaganda videos when compared to the grainy and poor production values of videos produced for Al Qaeda.  In addition to videos, which grab the most attention and headlines, there are; blogs, websites, twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts - in which all sorts of individuals involved with ISIS are sharing their stories live in real-time. 

In one blog I found a story complete with a photo of a wedding between a fighter and a Muslim woman from Malaysia (who had recently traveled to Syria to join the group).  The Malay woman did not speak Arabic well but stated that she had fun communicating with her new husband when they installed language translators on their mobile phones. In some ways, I worry about the personal accounts (shared on blogs) of the daily lives of ISIS members more than the videos, as I feel they are tremendously more powerful than images of ISIS fighters massacring defenseless innocents or decapitating prisoners. 

"[ISIS] operates the most significant propaganda machine of any extremist group," Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said Wednesday in a rare public appearance at the Brookings Institution. (from The Hill)

Yesterday on NPR I heard a promo about a guest from the US State Dept. that was going to be on the air talking about battling the online space of social media platforms.  The fight appears to be on many fronts.

The book that I read about jihad 20 years ago (My Jihad) was not propaganda, but it shared the account of the journey experienced by a relatively normal young American male. For me, it was the first time that I had heard of an American traveling to a far off land to fight against a foreign force for religious reasons and while it did not resonate with me it was interesting.  I found the book quite by accident, as the author was mentioned in another book about adventure. The difference was that there was quite a bit of curiosity and research to be performed on my part to find the book (and information) in those pre-Internet days.  The difference today is that you almost have to close your eyes to avoid the videos of the dastardly deeds ISIS commits on network news and on the Internet, or the latest un-PC comment by a Hollywood megastar for that matter. 

Information (regardless of form and content) is simply presented everywhere and easily consumed in an HD video game blockbuster style, bite sized blog posts, or emotional accounts of love and strife from a newlywed in a war zone (in blog format).  The interesting thing is that average American college freshmen appear to be tuned-in elsewhere and had a hard time explaining to me what ISIS stood for or who they actually were in a recent class poll I conducted.  Maybe much has not changed after all, at least in terms of what interests youth, there is after all a lot more content to consume (see The Long Tail ).  Though the form, quantity, and access to information has undoubtedly improved over the last 20 years.

From the time I started this blog post (Sept. 2014) to the time that I will publish it (April. 2015, the ISIS regime seems to be toppling or at least changing locations, or maybe even changing form.  Or, possibly there are more important news items and the group and their press is on the down cycle.

*Information contained within these pages do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Schreiner University.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

Google Glass through the eyes of Undergraduate Students: A Review

A faculty member tries on Google Glass for the first time.

A couple weeks after getting Google Glass (as part of the Explorer Program) I decided to loan it to a group of undergraduate students who work in the Instructional Technology department at my institution.  While I enjoyed my first wearable technology experience, it became pretty clear that the younger generation (and the more socially active/connected) could get more out of Google Glass than I could.  While I work professionally in technology, I am not actively texting friends and spending a great deal of time on social platforms via my mobile phone like these students are.

The four students were very excited to get their hands on Glass and explore a few outcomes that line up with our institution's- through the eyes of Google Glass.  The only thing that the students were required to do was to journal their experiences and report out at a student Achievement Showcase that is held every April on our campus.  You can find the student's blog entries here.

The Google Glass undergraduate team (the four in dark and gray suits) before their presentation April 22nd

Google Glass' Strengths and Weaknesses from an Undergraduate Student Perspective

The students came up with a list of strengths and weaknesses of the Google Glass unit.


  • Quick and Discreet Picturing Taking: Glass has a button on the top that can be pressed to take a picture at anytime. The same can be done by winking.
  • Communication (Incoming): Text messages and emails display directly on the Glass screen as soon as they are received.
  • Easy Time Check: The clock home screen on Glass can be seen by raising your head or tapping the side of Glass once.
  • Navigation: Glass can display turn-by-turn navigation without being too distracting.
  • Being Unobtrusive: Before I got to test Glass, I figured that this big screen would always be interrupting my field of vision when I wasn't using it. It turned out that I would forget I was wearing Glass because it was out of sight and out of mind.
  • Phone integration: the android phone integration appears to be seamless most of the time.
  • Call Quality: I don't know if it is just because of the size of my head, but I find it hard to hear anyone when making a call through Glass. I believe this is because there is a small gap between my head and the speaker built into the frame of Glass.
  • Voice Command: Glass become nearly useless when I'm in an area where I cannot issue voice command (class and the library).
  • Communication (Outgoing): I find it difficult to respond to text messages through voice command. Although it is a neat feature, it can be tedious.
  • Battery Life: Glass has a battery life of approximately 5 hours of normal use.
  • Mic Sensitivity: Glass will accept voice command given by people across the room from me.
  • Bulkyness: Obviously, Glass is still bulky. I'm sure Google will cut this size down on Glass over time, but for now it just isn't very cool looking.
read more from this post

Google Glass Easter Egg

The students even managed to find a Google Glass Easter Egg, which was, "a 360 degree panoramic picture of the Google Glass team. The entire team is circled around you. If you want to look at the people to your left, you turn to your left. If you want to look at the people behind you, you turn around. You can also look at the ceiling or at the floor. This gives you an idea about the possibilities that can come from Glass and some ideas of features that we can expect in the future." read more from this post

What's Next for Wearable Technology?

The students did a great job exploring Google Glass, far better than I could have done due to their sheer enthusiasm for trying out one of the first prototypes of wearable technology.

As we move forward to version 2 Google Glass or smart watches, the students will all remember the first time they put Google Glass on, much like I recall using the Internet for the first time at a library when I was their age.

*Information contained within these pages do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Schreiner University.