Sunday, February 26, 2012

Using Storify for libraries

Storify is a great tool to use for curation of online material.

Here's how they describe themselves

"Storify lets you curate social networks to build social stories, bringing together media scattered across the Web into a coherent narrative. We are building the story layer above social networks, to amplify the voices that matter and create a new media format that is interactive, dynamic and social."

Essentially what you can do is to easily pull in tweets, videos from Youtube, Facebook posting, blog posts from tumbler, pics from flickr & Instagram, entries from RSS feeds (not autoposting though), comments from Disqus and pretty much any online material into one page and in most cases it will  include a nice snipplet picture or video and usually the correct date it was posted .

You can also annotate with text to explain some of the entries. I won't go in depth into how it works, it's pretty intuitive, in particular the newly released iPad app is a joy to behold.

There are many ways you can use Storify of course. But the main purpose is always telling a story about your library . As libraries start using diverse social media channels it might be difficult to unify them all together. For example say your library holds an event say a talk by a big name author or some conference. Storify can be used to pull in tweets, videos, blog posts from all your differing library social media channels into one page with very little effort.

You are not limited to just posts or tweets from your accounts, you could also include public tweets by users for example at the event. And of course your story created by Storify can be embedded.

Storify editor

Some uses I found by libraries or librarians or just library related news. Selected based on interest (to me) and impact (no. of views)

Perhaps it is too early to tell as most accounts above are still experimenting, but a quick look shows that stories that have being embedded into popular blogs are getting the most views (1000+) , which makes sense I guess since you leverage on existing channels.

What I opted to do (see embedded below or the recommended full page) is slightly different. As you may know in my institution we do some amount of environment scanning of mentions of libraries online. In 2010, I blogged a little about some of what I found by creating screenshots and embedding some into the blog post, but it was frankly quite time consuming and difficult to maintain if I was using this method.

Storify could help make things a lot easier. Find a tweet, blog, facebook post complimenting the library , put it in  Storify ! Here's a tip, while  Storify  allows you to search twitter, public facebook pages etc for material, I have found it to be limited in terms of how far back it goes, particularly for Twitter. This can be a problem if you want to include older tweets you have stored elsewhere.

What I did was this.

1. Export tweets of interest into excel (depending on the method you use it would be say twitter favourites). Various tools like ,  BackupMyTweets  do this, you usually get an excel sheet with a URL to the tweet. If you don't have past tweets stored, you can use tools like Topsy  to search for tweets further back or use google by searching

2. In  Storify  use the "embed URL" option on the URL. The date caption in Storify should be correct at least for Twitter.

I have more problems embedding posting or photos from Facebook pages, the date Storify identified  tends to be wrong and there doesn't seem to be a way to edit that?

In any case, you can choose storify to store your final result in public or leave it unpublished for personal viewing only (think for example tracking negative feedback...). Personally I think for positive comments, this can be used to great marketing effect to show the impact libraries have on their users.

Embedded Storify , full story

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Using QRcodes to trigger actions in native phone apps

I have written about QRcode uses and I am a little unsure about the future of QRcodes .

Despite this, let me share with you a very interesting trick I learnt from the article "Getting the Most Out of QR Codes Using URI Schemes".

Essentially, think about the mailto URL which allows the browser to open the systems' default mail client. It seems such non-http URI schemes can be done for mobile phones allowing you to scan a QRcode to open your smartphone native apps to carry out an action. Somewhat similar to mailto: is tel: which instead of launching your mail client with a sender email, it will call the number on your phone.

It seems if your mobile browser opens say tel:, it will call that number on your phone. So make your Qrcode go there and you are done right?

Unfortunately if you put such non-html strings into most qrcode readers it won't work. To get around this problem you shorten tel: in a url shortener first and then use that shortened URL to generate the QRcode. The article suggests using tiny url

How about using url shorteners like or that both shorten the url and generate qrcodes? Unfortunately both seem to fail to accept such URI schemes. The QRCode below when scanned via QRcode reader will call my office number on your phone.

Scan this QRcode to call my office phone

Steps are:

1. Shorten  tel:6516xxxx (xxxx are real numbers) in tiny url to get

2. I use with to generate a QRcode you could of course use any QRcode generator not just

As the article states you can do the same trick to email (mailto:?query), SMS (sms:) etc.

Even more interesting the same method works for many apps as they register URI schemes when installed.

 Scan this QRcode to skype me (Aaron-Tay)

Doing a FourSquare campaign and want to have it easy to check-in on your FourSquare app? Use this

Scan this QRcode to open our NUS Central Library venue on your Foursquare app
Other interesting ideas includes a QR code that when scanned Facetime specific numbers, use gtalk, yahoo messenger, AOL, Windows Livemessenger to chat with librarian etc. 

For more apps URI see this, or this  .

Obviously to be able to use QRcodes to carry out actions this way is really powerful compared to just opening a webpage or displaying info on your screen. Libraries have or could use this to automatically sms, call numbers for help (great time saver) and maybe even open a IM app to talk to a librarian. 

As you open the app as opposed to webpage, you speed things up. For example you could of course generate a QRcode which could push to your FourSquare venue on web but then the user would have to login to Foursquare on his mobile browser before he could check-in (chances are high if he is a regular user of FourSquare he uses the app to check-in), while this technique opens the app immediately and brings you to right venue for check-in. Automatically entering phone numbers or SMS by scanning saves a lot of time as well.

The main drawback is that  firstly if the user does not have the Foursquare app already this doesn't work. So it might be a good idea to use this for apps everyone or almost everyone has eg Youtube, Google maps, iTunes (scan to go to specific iTune app),ibooksFacebook! Secondly, some of this might work differently on iOS versus Android or other phones. 

So I guess in the case of FourSquare campaigns if you were promoting to newbies trying to attract them to use FourSquare then a Qrcode that links to the mobile web might be better?

"What makes this particular technique so amazing is that it doesn’t rely on the QR-code reader being very advanced; all it needs is for the app creator (be it Skype, Evernote or Angry Birds) you want to launch and interface with to use the system development API to register a URI scheme." -- Getting the Most Out of QR Codes Using URI Schemes 

The article also lists very interesting ideas such as calling a bookmarklet, certain IM clients, opening native Apple apps etc, I am still mulling over library ideas

In any case, I wonder if anyone creating a library native app, has done something like this and registered URI schemes so you can do something clever? 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Day in the life of a librarian - An academic librarian in Singapore 2012

Curious about in academic librarianship in Singapore as a career? Try So you want to be a academic librarian in Singapore?

While the world wide library meme/project "Library day in a life" which was started by Bobbi Newman  occurs twice a year, it seems for some reason I only take part in the Jan/Feb ones, having done it early 2010 and 2011. So here's the 2012 edition. As usual I am reconstructing this from looking at my emails and online calender.

Monday 30 Jan 2012

People always say Monday are busy days, I usually don't see why this is so, but today it really was!
Just after I came in I found a email from the EndNote Team requesting that I repeat a webex webinar on EndNote I conducted last year (as it was surprisingly successful). I happily agreed of course. Followed by continued discussions via email about FourSquare promotions we are currently doing and plan to do in Feb.

But first order of day at 9am, Information desk duty! Haven't done many recently, but the term just started so it was quite busy. 

I had also arranged a advisory session last week with an undergraduate who needed assistance for a paper writing competition he was in, but he cancelled on me and didn't turn up on Monday. This monday was also special as I had to shoot a video to showcase what I do in the library so with the assistance of my colleague we did a couple of quick recordings.

One of the things I like to though it's not quite official duty is to walk around the OPAC terminals to observe users search and offer help if they seem confused. I find it particularly effective at the start of the term. 

I am not sure why but when comparing users who approach me at the desk and ask for help vs those I approach while they are searching, it seems for the former group when I help them search they seem less interested , ask less questions and I generally learn less about what they were thinking etc as compared to when I approach them while they are at the point of searching to offering help. Logic tells me it should be the opposite, that the ones who actually *do* approach me at the desk are the self-selected ones who are more passionate about learning, yet the opposite seems to be happening.

One possibility is that when you "pounce" on them at the point of searching, their frame of mind is still in terms of searching, so their minds are more active, they are be able to express what they are thinking and are curious to compare it with the technique I am showing them.

On the other hand, if they do walk to the desk, by the time they reach the desk, they pretty much forgotten what they tried and they become very passive when I show them how to search. Obviously, I very much prefer the later type of interactions.

Today, I had two really good interactions. One of the users was really curious when I showed her how to find a relevant book and then use LC subject headings to browse and I explained the concept of subject browsing. It's really enlightening to remember that in this day of Google, many of our users have no concept of subject browse, to them using keywords to search is the only technique they have in their own tool-kit. After explaining to her the reason for controlled vocabulary, she curiously asked me who were the librarians who sat around all day, assigning subject headings? :) They are called catalogers....

It's the beginning of the year, so everyone was busy with planning new performance targets, new teams were being formed, so quite a bit of time was spent in discussions with superiors on team formations, targets etc. This was on-going a lot throughout the week.

Afternoon was spent in a meeting with the cited reference team. I am beginning my 3rd year in this team, so I am fairly comfortable by now with finding citation counts, h-index etc, though there was a new Web of Science interface to deal with and minor Scopus changes.

Evening was spent late in office trying to do a quick and dirty edit of the video I shot in the morning, adding voice-overs , and because I am relatively bad at such things, it took me a long time to do it, even with assistance from my colleague.

Tuesday 31 Jan 2012

Another busy day! Today I am on Ask a librarian duty which means I am answering the library's main email help account for the day and manning the corresponding Chat reference duty in the afternoon.

To make matters interesting, I was also conducting a class to about a dozen librarians on how to do chat duty in the afternoon! This is the 2nd run of four sessions I would eventually do this month. 

Chat training is really tough as we have limited time to train, though it helps that this is about the 7th time I have done a training class and I have about 2 years doing chat duty so by now I could anticipate what tends to confuse our librarians and share experiences on the type of queries they would get, common pitfalls when answering such questions.

This does not mean I am a very good trainer, not by the long shot! Though this year, I got smart and divided classes into classes with librarians who had Instant Messenging experience (if only on a personal basis) and those who did not and were unsure even about the concept of IM, hence needed more hand-holding.

While training is hard and investment of manpower is huge, chat reference is a project very near and dear to my heart, as I think it's something that our users take to very easily with little promotion (in fact we did almost none) and is one of the easiest ways to ensure we remain relevant and ensure we can reach our users who don't like or need to come to the physical library. It helps that our users love it too.

I was trying it on and off myself since early 2010 and only managed to gain a foothold with some passionate colleagues helping me in Aug 2010 where we embeded chat boxes on our FAQ systems. It eventually expanded to all staff in my department, and then to selected librarians in other libraries by 2011, but it was only in 2012 we finally started training almost all full-time librarians and a number of associates to staff the chat. Looking at the 60 or so chat accounts that exist now, I can't help but feel a sense of pride. Of course, there will be some resistance and uncertainty but I have no doubt this can be overcome, and this is not the final step by far.....

As we are gearing up to eventually launch our Unified Discovery index service, I shared this very interesting article with members of the team. 

Also discovered a new FAQ was added by one of the law librarians on the FAQ team and I helped to make it more consistent with the other FAQs and added keywords to help increase findability in the LibAnswers System.

Stayed back late again to create chat accounts for the dozen or so new "Graduates" of the class.

Wed 1 Feb 2012

Today, some of the new "graduates" of my chat class began doing chat duty. I checked-in with those doing duty today to make sure they were ready, helped the ones who needed who hand-holding to install pidgin, briefed the old hands at chat via email who were assisting etc. Much of the day was spent, observing in the background how the staff new to chat was handling chat and assisting when I could. Pretty much the rest of the week, I was spending a significant portion of my time each day doing this.

As it was the beginning of the week, I also did monthly maintenance tasks including archiving of chat logs from Libraryh3lp, statistics from LibAnswers/LibGuides etc. This was when I discovered a bug in Libraryh3lp logs and reported it.

I also planned a joint session on statistical sources with two other librarians to be done via webinar which would be a first.

Lunch time, I was kindly invited to a celebration lunch by another department. 

After lunch, discussed with EndNote team leader on how the webinar for EndNote would be done, I would basically still do it but team members from EndNote would understudy me and hopefully eventually learn to do webinars using webex in the future. After finalizing dates for the webinar and practice sessions, spent some time preparing the online registration details etc.

Got an email from a researcher I helped during orientation on some point about library policy and yet another from a professor needing help with access to a database.

In the afternoon I attended a small meeting to discuss the IT projects that were targeted to be launched this year and the budget available. I was also briefed on the team I would be leading this year and the possible projects I could target (the team I lead has fairly broad terms of reference).

Thurs 2 Feb 2012

I was on leave today. Basically because I committed myself to present for 15 minutes on some of the techniques we use to scan Twitter for mentions of libraries at Handheld Librarian IV. Compared to the longer webinar I gave in Nov last year, this one was less theoretical and more practical and I planned to demo the actual techniques. Unfortunately, I did not have as much time to practice as I hoped and I prefer much fumbled everything from the controls to what I wanted to say. Pretty embarrassing.  A reminder that you should take even short presentations very seriously indeed. In fact shorter presentations might even be harder!

Though I was not at work, I continued to receive emails of course. Had to handle some minor incident on our social media channels, got some comments from team members on the link-resolver page etc.

Fri 3 Feb 2012

More chat training today in the morning. By the time I finished I was really tired out, this being my second session in a week. The Foursquare promotions we were planning for in Feb was coming really close, so was spending a lot of time on logistics and promotion. I am more comfortable with online marketing modes so I was handling the online channels, while other members of my team was working on print posters which just arrived today etc. Also created a couple of FAQs in our Library FAQ system about FourSquare (most were just links to the official FAQ on FourSquare) just in case our staff were asked about it and searched there. Our pilots with FourSquare Special on smaller libraries already tipped us off on some of the most common questions e.g "Why isn't the badge unlocked even though I checked-in?" (Answer is usually, they checked-in too far away.)

Had a bit of a shock when I logged-into our Foursquare account and saw one of our claimed venues was missing. Further adding to the pain was getting an email, assigning almost all of my team members and myself to a course, on the day we planned to do our Foursquare promotion! Checked with the team whether we should postpone the promotion (but posters was printed already!). 

And today, the team members of the teams that I was leading including the social media team was finalised! 


As I always said in the past there is no typical academic librarian job and even for me no typical librarian week as I am called upon to do very varied tasks. If this recording was done just one week later, the tasks I would have done would have seemed very different.

This year I seem to be doing more training and coordination type jobs which I guess reflects my increased seniority? I must admit while I enjoy training, co-ordination of events isn't an area where I have comparative advantage usually but I suppose it is good to stretch a little.

There seems to be a very high "tech" component to my job this week (e.g Chat training, webinars, social media, Discovery search), admittedly I have gravitated towards such areas due to my interests but I seriously doubt many academic librarians would say tech isn't a big part of their jobs.

 I'll end by quoting myself from last year again :)

"I'm definitely not saying every librarian should be a programmer, or even everyone should be on Twitter/Facebook/Social Media and own a smartphone and I probably suffer a bit from technolust (but I try to keep it in check at work) but libraries are essentially about information , and in this day and age the primary way to handle & organize information today is through computers and the internet. But that's hardly a earth-shaking insight and anyone looking to get into libraries probably knew that already."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is Wikipedia really the library's competition?

Wikipedia was on strike for 24 hours on 18 Jan 2012. Many libraries attempted to take advantage of this backout to turn it into a "teachable moment" . Libraries Tweeted (Topsy finds about 500 mentions of Library and wikipedia during the period), blogged, posted on Facebook, created libguides to help students survive the blackout and otherwise advertised the importance of libraries.

This was despite @libodyssey's very sensible tweet

Admittedly, I tried to market my library during the blackout. Arguably part of the reason was that we librarians are naturally helpful and was preparing to assist our panicky users once they couldn't get to Wikipedia.

In any case, the Wikipedia blackout hit my region at around 1pm and I prepared a couple of tweets and Facebook posts to firstly mention the library and secondly mention workarounds to access  Wikipedia. I suspect it was the later that got us some retweets, and some compliments.

I also monitored tweets with the keyword Wikipedia within a location of 1km around our library, to see what people (presumably our users) were saying.

What made me truly curious was whether Wikipedia downtime would lead to increase library usage, whether it be access to library website, eresource usage, reference desk usage etc. I happened to be on desk duty during the Wikipedia blackout and my impression was that while usage was up from the day before it didn't seem to be attributable to Wikipedia but was simply the effect of the academic year advancing (The term just started a week ago here). My tweet scan also didn't really pick up much panic, just general moaning though it was good that a few of our loyal fans actually tweeted at their friends who were moaning, to use the online library resources. 

Still impressions are not everything and I was going to look at our statistics but it seemed Ken Varnum already did a pretty comprehensive analysis at his  library (University of Michigan) The results he got at his library was very similar to ours basically.

"the increase was about the same as for the day before and the day after -- reflecting the increasing workload of the academic semester more than any Wikipedia-inspired bump."

Pretty much every article, commentary about how libraries are dying tends to mention Google and Wikipedia being some of the reasons why we are in trouble, so Wikipedia going down should have a bigger effect but it didn't. Why? Let me speculate.

1. The blackout was too easy to circumvent. 

You could turn off javascript, click Escape below the page loaded, access via mobile, use services that relied on the Google cache and probably more methods. While technical restrictions have always being circumvented by the savvy, the Wikipedia Blackout set a bar that was extremely low (on purpose).

2. The period wasn't long enough. 24 hours really isn't that long. 

Perhaps if the blackout was 1 week or even 1 month....

3. The period was during a time in the academic calender where University students weren't really doing assignments. 

In our University it was just the beginning of term. Assignments weren't due yet.

4. Wikipedia wasn't that important to our students after all, there are other non-library substitutes

While our students like to use Wikipedia to look up quick facts, to get a quick overview of topics, they didn't really *need it* , after all they still had access to Google.

5. Wikipedia isn't a substitute for libraries after all

This basically argues that even if Wikipedia disappeared forever, and no similar substitutes appeared, library usage wouldn't increase at all. Alternatively imagine Wikipedia goes down for 6 month, and there is no way to access it easily, usage of library wouldn't increase at all.

Under this view, Wikipedia and libraries are not substitutes at all (independent goods).  Why? Let's assume they know the library exists and what it can do (a big assumption granted).

a. They would have never used the library anyway, whether Wikipedia existed or not

b. They might have used the library if they haven't used Wikipedia before , but being exposed to Wikipedia means they would never go back. Our students are so used to Wikipedia, nothing we have in our library, not our books, eresources, shiny new discovery interfaces are sufficient to lure them back. 

c. They *are* using the library resources already, together with Wikipedia, so Wikipedia's blackout isn't going to increase library usage at all. See Daring librarian's Wikipedia is not Wicked.

No doubt all 3 reasons apply to different users but I get a feeling that b. seems to be the reason most people are thinking why libraries are in trouble, so librarians should hypothetically be cheering the fall of Wikipedia. I am not so sure....

Of the 5 reasons, I postulated of course all 5 are factors, but I suspect, even if #1-#3 are not factors, #4 and #5 would still mean no impact to usage. What do you think?

Other blackouts?

It's interesting to speculate what would happen if Google went down, or the reverse

"So what would happen if say on April 1, 2012 academic libraries around the country turned off their proxies? Would the world notice or would people just think that the servers at Science were down for the afternoon?" -- WHAT IF? The Library Blackout Scenario

Honestly, I don't think strategies for library survival should be based on hoping other people fail, so all this is hypothetical anyway and we can never go back to the way the world was pre-google and wikipedia, so we can only look forward. 

Of course, all I have argued is based on the premise that library usage did not increase during the blackout. Anyone have evidence otherwise? For example, one could argue that Public Libraries might see far more increased usage during the blackout than academic libraries because of the nature of users and queries (quick reference) , which users tend to rely on Wikipedia to handle. 


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