Search engine secrets: how to be a web whiz!

22 June, 2004

Review by Bianca Bronzin

Search engine secrets are now no longer secret because Miranda Morfey, Medical Librarian at Flinders University, gave it all away with her most interesting, vibrant and practical session on how to use a variety of search engines to enhance our searching skills. This exciting session held at CPA House in the city, was very well attended and enjoyed by all. Miranda’s impressive knowledge and enthusiasm for her topic was contagious and her coloured handout ‘cheat’ sheets are a great bonus for those who attended. These sheets give brief but clear information on how best to use each search engine to obtain maximum results. In addition, Miranda gave us a copy of her PowerPoint slides of her presentation.

We were shown the most useful ways of using the various search engines. However Miranda suggested that when starting to look at a new area, we ask ourselves “who would know about this topic?” so that we could search for a particular organisation specialising in the that field. Such organisations could be private, government organisations or universities and finding their websites can provide a wealth of relevant and reliable information. For example going to the Australian Bureau of Statistics website when looking for statistical information.

Miranda pointed out that it is best to practice using several different search engines in addition to using Google, as other websites have some unique results and features. Several search engines were discussed and we were shown wonderful tools and features for Google, Alltheweb, Teoma, HotBot, and Vivisimo (this latter one useful when searching on a new topic – it focuses on concepts).

During the practical brainstorming session we exercised our minds to develop the best and alternative search strategy for a reference query. Using Google, we used truncation, ~ (tilda), URL domain and file types such as ‘pdf’ and ‘doc’ to reduce search results to answer our question. It was most interesting to see how lateral thinking helps in finding the best possible results.

The evening proved to be most successful with attendees feeling they have gained further knowledge to enhance their reference searching skills. In appreciation of Miranda’s skilful and exciting presentation, the SALIN Committee thanked Miranda and presented her with a potted plant.

Event worksheets

Technology Trends: In the palm of your hand

17 March 2004

Review by Kylie Jarrett

On Wednesday 24th March I went along to SALIN’s Technology Trends: in the palm of your hand in public libraries seminar, held at CPA house in the city. First up we had Mark van der Pennen, the project manager of Adelaide City Council Library and Community Centres, giving a talk about the RFID technology at the library. He started off by talking about the structure of the project, which has seen the shift from the old Kintore Avenue library to the Libraries and Community Centres with themed public library sites.

To take on the RFID (radio frequency identification) technology was to be out-there and innovate, ‘boldly going where no one’s gone before’ with self-checkout and automatic book chute facilities. It is the second library in Australia to adopt the technology, with Baulkham Hills being the first. Unfortunately Adelaide had to take a step back on the book chute RFID terminals because they weren’t checking items in consistently enough and causing an inconvenience to customers, such as when the antenna wasn’t reading the library item in order for the chute to open. The RFID book drop was in fact a world first, and they may return to it in the future. However, the project was much more about taking great steps forward, and the self-checkout stations have been well received by the library customers. Mark went on to talk about the stages of hiring young people to place all the tags in the library collection, and the training of staff in the new technologies before the mid-winter opening last year.

How does the tag in the library item work? It is much like information stored on a barcode, but instead of wanding the barcode, the antenna built into the radio frequency pad reads the title written onto the tag, which also has an antenna part, to check in or check out the item. The look of the software is a consistent and user friendly GUI for both customers and staff. Instead of magnetic strips in items, the RFID tag also disarms or arms the item so as to set off the alarm at the gates.

Mark referred to the leading edge technology and the whole project of the new libraries and community centres as ‘bleeding edge’ also, with its next generation hardware teething problems, but that overall the project has been successful. This has been due to good planning, and great support from Council and staff members. It is true to say that the library service, with its new technology and the modern look of the sites, is being leading edge and interesting, and out-there!

The next speaker of the evening was Dee O’Loughlin from Adelaide Hills Council Library Service. This library has a theme and accompanying brochure called ‘Busy people @ the library’, where you can ‘Get connected @ your library’ through the CAPSAT technology on their Hills mobile library, and the increasingly popular SMS text messaging. These offer alternatives to the physical library.

The Capsat is a semi-spherical satellite unit that sits on a hydraulic mechanism on the mobile library’s roof. It is the solution to the library’s concerns about the hills and its cut-out spots for mobile phones, and it provides online services for the staff and customers who use it. The Capsat was designed for ships at sea, and works very well apart from on days of heavy rain and locations with too many overhanging trees. The technology enables the Internet for staff and patron use, and access to the VPN for such staff applications as Spydus, the library management software. They also have real time access to the library catalogue and council services including rate paying. Access on Spydus can be slow sometimes and there is a slight limit on the amount of downloading that can take place, but the Capsat unit is multidirectional, staff have flexibility with where they can park the mobile and Internet access is fast.

The ‘Busy people @ the library’ initiative recognises that a lot of Adelaide Hills people are busy and commute to and from the city. So there are electronic options available to them to make life easy, with access to the online catalogue where people can build up a profile of their favourite topics and authors, for starters. People can receive hold and overdue notifications, and the newsletter if they wish, via email. The SMS text messaging service offered is going well. Dee explained that the Telstra messaging is a value-added service but Adelaide Hills Council pays for it as a gesture of goodwill. Only hold notifications are sent at the moment, besides, who would want bad news from the library about overdue items sent to their mobile phone? This works really well for people on their way home from work, if they want to call into the library to pick up their hold before they get home. Any failed SMS messages bounce back for the library staff to action.

Now when staff register new members, they can ask if they wish to have the option of receiving text messages, and people are responding well to the range of options available to them. Here is a good example of the ‘clicks and mortar’ idea, where library users can choose options ranging from the physical and face-to-face aspects of the service, through to those which represent all that snazzy leading-edge technology we’ve been talking about.

The third person to speak to us was Ian Hildebrand from the Mount Barker Community Library. He really presented us with some food for thought about virtual libraries. He opened with asking are they really a possibility? No. A feasibility study was carried out on Hindmarsh library and the emerging user group in our society, related to WebPACs, portals such as the South Australian libraries web site, and e-books. He suggested that it isn’t really clear what a virtual library is anyway, yet in contrast to online environments, ‘physical libraries are vibrant, dynamic and social’, he said. In determining if the proposed electronic information resource centre was sustainable for Hindmarsh in Charles Sturt, they looked at downloadable e-book stations and applications such as Dreamweaver and sound editing software. This would have been coupled with up skilling the staff and offering training sessions for the patrons. The location would have also been a coordination point for a book delivery service, because of course, people like books.

However, the electronic information resource centre did not go ahead. One reason why was that library users expect a library to have shelves full of books, and that is how they want them to be. Ian went on from here to talk about how e-books haven’t really taken off in Australia, and that libraries tend not to have specialist ‘cybrarians’ on their teams. IT departments of an organisation are available instead, and would know their Java application well, for example. He highlighted some characteristics of the emerging user, namely the person in their early twenties who had access to the web throughout their high school years and is a prolific text messager. Tech savvy, but not necessarily information literate, which is where library staff can come in to assist. Ian also mentioned busy people who are taking advantage of technologies that are convenient, such as DVD rentals and banking online. His example was amusing that people like netbanking because banks aren’t much fun, and sure enough people like using physical libraries, so this should continue to happen despite online convenience.

This is the point where Ian’s solution to the virtual public libraries question was put forward. To merge online and physical services, and through PLAIN would be great. A next generation interface of PLAIN’s database so that members of the public can reserve items over the Internet, and have them delivered to their door for a small fee, just like the DVD rental people who are currently doing it. Users could subscribe to it and build up a wish list of favourite items. You can see what I mean that it is food for thought, what do you think?

Ian concluded his talk by mentioning again the fact of IT staff dominance over applications in libraries, and how it will continue. But the focus he is excited about is that libraries can enhance their services and increase access by offering different ways of getting messages to busy customers. He is talking about the hybrid of the traditional staff support and a good use of the web, which I think is evolving well right now.

The SALIN and LexisNexis Top Hats! Cocktail Party

28 November 2003

Review by Nel Fredericks, with introduction & photos by SALIN

Food…drink…prizes…new information professionals…and 20 library leaders all wearing silly hats! This was the concept behind SALIN’s biggest event yet, the SALIN & LexisNexis Top Hats! Cocktail Party.

Inspired by the Meet the BigWigs party at the New Librarians’ Symposium 2002; the SALIN committee approached library leaders from all sectors and associations to participate in the social event of the season. And boy did we get a great response! On the night, over 100 SA library professionals gathered at the Hotel Adelaide for fun, food and frivolity.

Nel Fredericks from the State Library of South Australia gives us the lowdown on this very special event…

SALIN LexisNexis Top Hats Cocktail Party on Friday 28th November was a fabulous success!

This was the first event of this kind for SALIN, but I suspect it won’t be the last. As intended, the Top Hats all looked more much more approachable when wearing something a little bit silly and many new, not-so-new and soon-to-be graduates took the opportunity to schmooze with them in a friendly environment.

The hats were most impressive- Eleanor Whelan won the prize for best hat with a princess style cone hat, and the honorary mention goes to Philip Keane for his homemade foot high stovepipe.

Alex Pring (LexisNexis) and Eleanor   Whelan
Alex Pring (LexisNexis) awards Eleanor Whelan a prize for her hat.

There was a wide mix of attendees from public and special libraries, academics, students and vendors and everyone seemed to seize the opportunity to make some new contacts. I saw many resumes changing hands! It was also a great opportunity to make new friendships and cement old ones with our peers, and to talk shop in a venue with gorgeous views.

Attendees
Attendees

Sponsors LexisNexis, Kelly Services, Raeco, Australian Law Librarians’ Group and UniSA School of Communication, Information and New Media gave out door prizes for some lucky attendees, and each gave a short presentation. We all paid strict attention in case it earned us another bottle of wine!

The delicious finger food and free drink for everyone made us all very relaxed, and broke down any barriers we may have imagined between experienced and new librarians. It was a pleasurable mix of work and play, and an ideal way to wind down for the weekend.

Cheers SALIN!

SALIN exec
The SALIN executive committee

Jenny Jeremy, Margareta Nicholas and Liz   Walkley Hall
Jenny Jeremy, Margareta Nicholas and Liz Walkley Hall

Kelly Services
Kelly Services stand (Carol Kay, Jana Skillens, Richard Bithell)

Thanks to our additional sponsors:

Raeco

Australian Law Librarians Group

UniSA

and our fabulous Top Hats!

Technology Trends: Unravelling the web

9 October 2003

Review by Benjamin Wheal

Reviewer’s note:
It was with some trepidation that I agreed to take notes on a seminar about XML, RSS and CMS. Years at uni taught me that my preferred learning method of sitting in the front row and nodding gravely does not guarantee any understanding of what anyone actually says. Recent attendance at another XML seminar confirmed this. On the bright side, hopefully I have made several technical errors in the following synopsis which will stimulate lively and entertaining debate.

It was refreshing to listen to speakers who complimented their impressive knowledge by enthusing about their topics too.

Content Management Systems

Sean Abel gave a brief introduction to Content Management Systems, speaking from his experiences at the State Library of South Australia.

Content management refers to software developed for the maintenance of internet and intranet sites.

The central concept of content management systems is that they separate the control of content from the control of presentation. Examination of a line of html code illustrates the difference between content and presentation:

<i>the quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog<⁄i>

where the <i> tags control the presentation of the content that sits between them (the text) to produce a result that looks like:

the quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog

Traditionally, web pages are static, and managed through editors such as frontpage or dreamweaver. However, maintenance of a large website can be difficult with these editors. Updates, such as style changes, that apply to every page may need to be applied individually to every page (which can become a tedious exercise).

CMS’s overcome this problem by using a single presentation template for an entire website. CMS’s let individual editors provide the text (or content) which is then uploaded to the template so that the presentation, look and feel of the website is kept consistent. (CMS may even let editors add menus, links and buttons that match the template).

And so, if an organisation undergoes a change of image (e.g. wants every page to become yellow) all the webmaster has to do is change the template once and all pages will change. Or, if the address of a page on a website changes, then the CMS can assure that all internal hyperlinks to that page may also change.

Obviously this frees up the webmaster’s time for more important tasks (which apparently involve risotto).

CMS’s also allow for workflow to be regulated. Restrictions may be placed so that people can only change pages from their own area, and mechanisms may be introduced so that pages must be reviewed by the webmaster or approved by management before they are uploaded.

A CMS may even allow a site to be “rolled back” to a historical record of the site which is kept on file (and generated from previous templates). This is a handy preservation tool where the prior content of websites has legal implications (e.g. for government websites that produce and make public legislature or determinations).

The tendering and planning process for a CMS for a large organisation is a long and complex process (it took 2 years for the State Library of South Australia). Sean emphasised that it was important to engage with a CMS software provider who was easy to work with and willing to work through problems (and it was fortunate that the successful tender applicant was local).

The SLSA choice for an XML based system turned out to be the right choice – XML has taken off in a big way. But Sean modestly said that is important to know when you are lucky and when you are clever.

XML

Arne van Zilj spoke with fervour about some topics relating to XML.

Arne observed that librarians and information techologists are two sides of the same coin – the former disseminate, locate and preserve information, the latter process and provide the machinery for doing so.

XML is an initialism for Extensible Markup Language (yes, it should be EML but that’s not as cool sounding is it?). XML is a language for writing language.

As library and information workers what we need to understand is that it XML bridges the gap between different file formats, making possible the translation of data between systems. An example of this is an online catalogue which is a browser friendly representation of the information contained in a library’s database of MARC records. Potentially, using XML software, a searcher for information can access a number of different databases, library catalogues and content from a single portal.

RSS (Rich Site Summary) is an example of an XML language for capturing metadata. RSS: Rich Site Summary is an XML-based language which can be used by developers to describe their sites and to make their content available to others (for example, for syndication; that is, for dispersing information to a wide variety of consumers in different formats).

However, for RSS to be effective for all users the developers of the language need to settle upon some kind of standard.

However, the progression of new IT developments (and IT standards) can be hampered by the corporate imperative of the organisations which develop the technology – a competitive mentality often discourages cooperation (rather than fosters it) , which runs against the grain of efforts to make cross-format data sharing easier.

There are currently 2 or 3 different parties laying claim to the “standard” for RSS, manifest in “the Blog Wars”. (Blogs (or Web-logs) are sites that allow users to submit simple text files, which then turn the submitted text into a formatted page. This uses RSS.) The main Blog competitors (Userland, Moveable Type and Blogger) are developing their own RSS standards. This may hamper the development and universality of the standards.

It is contentious to determine who should lay claim to ownership of a “standard”. Ultimately a standard must be simple to use, have some traction and momentum (i.e. become popular) and usually needs to have the backing and interest of large IT companies.

Portals

Helen Walkden spoke about portals, giving a front-end view of what the back-end technical stuff actually means for many of us.

She introduced the SA Public Library Network’s online portal.

Its features include a “24 hour library” of web resources organised in a subject tree (the Computing: Dictionaries and Glossaries branch proved very helpful when working out what my own seminar notes actually meant). There is also a “Locate a Library” page which lets you locate the nearest public library by entering a post code, street name, locality etc. A groovy map pops up showing the locations and listing the street addresses.

Portals may allow simultaneous searching across many resources (I assume using some of that XML magic). For example, the National Library of Australia’s Public Library Portal is a website that will provide access to diverse information services (e.g. National Bibliographic Database, Picture Australia, Australia Public Affairs Fulltext) from a single entry point. Searches across all of these resources may be simultaneously carried out through a single search query which retrieves, bib records, photos and more.

Speaker biographies

Sean Abel (State Library, South Australia)

Sean Abel is an information and communication technology (ICT) project officer at the State Library. Sean has taken a rather non-standard pathway towards the role of a computer systems worker, through studying zoology at Adelaide university and completing graduate studies in environmental management at the Mawson Graduate Centre for Environmental Studies. He is not a librarian by training.

Arne van Zilj (UniSA)

Currently – web coordinator UniSA Library. Previously worked in the development of the connectsa SA government web portal project. Also, previously e-learning resources and web developer with Flinders University.

Helen Walkden (PLAIN)

I have been employed by PLAIN for the past 7 years, starting as a cataloguer and moving to the P2 development project. I am currently Manager Technical Services and have been in the position for almost 3 years.

Me, myself and I: marketing yourself & your library

27 May 2003

Review by Kristel Petrou

Last night SALIN put on one of its excellent networking-professional development events. The theme for this event was Me, Myself and I: Marketing you and your library. The setting for last nights event was the CPA building in Pultney St and it provided a new, professional and fresh atmosphere for the evening.

After a brief introduction by committee member/co-organiser Sarah Morphett, Ann Luzeckyj spoke on how to market yourself by using your past to develop your future. Having worked in various trades (paver/bricklayer/women’s refuge/clerk etc etc) and travelled extensively, Ann realised she had gained many skills that have enabled her to progress and develop through many careers and jobs, to her current position as Campus Librarian at UniSA’s City West campus.

Ann explained that by moving out of her comfort zone to speak in front of people (which she assured us always makes her nervous, despite the fact she always looks calm and confident) she has gained a skill that can be transferable to other personal and professional situations in life. Using her varying past jobs and personal achievements, Ann explained how all these previous achievements are not only relevant, but useful, sustainable and transferable. Her career examples included:

Job as a Paver: shows you can cope with boredom and tedium in the job. Travel: shows you are good outside your comfort zone and possibly a bit of a risk-taker Women’s Refuge: shows you can work with a diverse range of people in varying situations. Customer service: shows you have good communication skills.

Using real-life scenarious in answering interview questions, to prove your skills is also an effective way to market yourself. According to Ann, ‘if you can plan a wedding, you can plan anything!’. Other examples Ann gave were, planning a dinner party or renovating a house – both provide you with invaluable, transferable skills in project-co-ordination and negotiation and are useful ways to market yourself to any potential employer.

Along with these real-life professional and personal experiences, Ann touched on other methods of marketing yourself such as CV development, team involvement (such as being a member of a sports team) and getting on executive committees like SALIN and ALIA group committees, and helping in the development and planning aspects. Ann’s final point was to encourage everyone to enjoy the challenge of finding out about what you want to do in the Information Profession and to use opportunities from South Australia’s very welcoming and highly active library network.

As is often the case at SALIN events, attendees were divided into groups (first by a color code, then by Positive ‘P’-word), and the first groups’ activity was to read a Case Scenario where someone held a previous job (outside the library industry) and now has the opportunity of an information profession job. The activity was designed to build on Ann’s talk and show transferability of skills (For example: Mike the Mechanic/Car Detailer is injured and placed in a position as a cataloguing assistant => His transferable skills are: attention to detail, follow-up communication skills, negotiation skills, practical problem solving skills, ability to learn a trade and recognise errors/mistakes and correct them).

Following Activity 1, Roz Davidson from Fisher Jeffries Barristers & Solicitors spoke thoroughly on Marketing your library to your organisation. As a solo law librarian, Roz markets her library’s services to her firm’s 100+ staff (including 45 practitioners) over 3 floors, by using many different methods.

The location of the Fisher Jeffries library is behind reception on the first of the three floors and, as such, is a highly accessible and somewhat central area with door entrances either end. Roz finds the library’s location enables staff to pass by and this creates marketing opportunities because people will stop for a chat, see new items on display, and often remember a query/request they need the library to research/chase up. On the occasions that Roz leaves the library (to hand deliver a request – another in-your-face marketing tool), she always takes pen and paper ready to jot down any sudden requests staff may require. This shows initiative, organisation and professionalism.

The way Roz looks at marketing the library to her organisation is through Appearance and Action. Both the library’s appearance (tidy, reshelved, classified by the law library classification system MOYS for universiality) and personal appearance (dresssing professionaly). Roz’s view on marketing is to present yourself and your service to your organisation, to show our profession adds value, through actions such as: Setting up Current Awareness services, daily newspaper alerts specific to the firms’ Practice groups; recognising, after completing a request, that other staff may find the information useful, and distributing it.

Recognising the intangibility of the library’s service within the firm (and in most organisations) becuase most organisations determine value by billable hours and profits, Roz has found ways to prove to management the service is valuable through the use of statistics documenting the library’s various services and using her skills as a librarian coupled with the resources the library has electronically and in hard-copy, to obtain timely and accurate information on request – saving the practitioner’s time (which can then, of course, be freed up to be billable time!). With the law being ever-changing, Roz needs to be aware of changes and pass on any relevant updates to respective members of the firm.

Roz also touched on the importance of marketing the library through the Intranet – by acknowledging that different staff will search for information in different ways, the Intranet needs to be set up with multiple access-points so the information is accessible to all staff. Other useful marketing methods Roz spoke of were getting involved in office meetings and social events, to put yourself our there and let the organisation your resources and services and therefore help them gain a sense of the value of the library and the librarian. Roz feels the most important marketing tool is in delivering what you say you are going to.

After Roz’s talk, new groups were formed for Activity 2 – Discussing three actions that you can do to market your library to non-library colleagues. My group came up with: Using the Intranet page to post a FAQ’s link; putting coloured marker flyers with the library staff names on each hard-copy completed request/current awareness service for instant identification; regular newsletter circulation with images and tips relevant to staff; using ‘buzzwords’ from office meetings and researching them post-meeting to send up-to-date information to relevant staff; Add-on services etc.

This concluded the evening – A big Thankyou to Ann and Roz for their excellent, informative, inspriational and entertaining talks. And, of course, a big thankyou to Sarah Morphett, Robyn Ellard and Gewain Letheby and the rest of the SALIN committee for producing yet another excellent and entertaining professional event.

Do You Speak My Language? Understanding your working relationships

25 March 2003

Feedback from Jennifer Osborn

I really enjoyed last week’s SALIN session “Do you speak my language?” (communication, personality types and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) … but then, I would, wouldn’t I? 🙂 As an ENFP who is “energised by interacting with people”, likes to talk about ideas and do lots of networking, this kind of workshop was perfect for me! (although it was mildly disconcerting to discover that my personality “type” as a librarian suits me for work as a “Children’s Librarian” when I’ve been very happily working in academic libraries for a number of years…)

Okay, that aside, I would like to stress the view that the MBTI has “SOME value for increasing self-insight, and for helping people to understand individual differences in personality types.” But because it is “user friendly” and easy to administer, it gets over-used and over-valued.

Obviously, there are other interesting personality tests and theories around; for example, one current one emphasises the “Big Five” personality domains (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, intellect or openness) The Myer Briggs is fun to take, and great for helping you with insights into your own personality and values (which is what we were doing in the SALIN workshop), but it needs to be seen in context with other work in this area of psychology.

For an interesting article on “State of the art: Personality” research, see Sarah Hampson in The Psychologist, vol. 12 (6) June 1999, 284-288.


Reflections from Benjamin Wheal

At the very enjoyable SALIN “Do You Speak My Language” Personality-type Workshop the other night I heard several people speaking as if to equate Extraversion with Leadership. It was therefore interesting to read the findings of Jim Collins in his book “From Good to Great” (ISBN 0712676090).

Collins’ book concerns a study of large companies that have continually performed extremely well. Amongst various organisational factors the research team found that the successful CEO’s consistently had softly spoken, modest, almost self-effacing personalities (they were also very focussed and committed to the long-term success of the company, and always ready to credit their company’s successes to the people that they worked with rather than themselves; interestingly they started off by recruiting good people before coming up with a big plan). By contrast, CEO’s with “rock star” personalities were not found to be the most successful leaders. http://www.jimcollins.com/lib/articles/10_01_a.html (accessed 27/3/03).

Food for thought.