Monday, 28 May 2012

Special collections links, 28 May 2012

Interesting links I've noticed over the last week:

147. by s8an, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  s8an 
Augnmented Reality:
New blog:
Cataloguing and promotion:
Digital preservation:
Conservation and Preservation:

And finally...

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Behind the scenes at #cpd23: automating (some of) the registration process

A couple of weeks ago, I asked for thoughts about ways of automating the process of adding new subscriptions to a single RSS feed drawn from multiple sources.  This was to try and streamline the process of managing registrations for 23 Things for Professional Development. I seem to have come up with something that works, albeit in a somewhat ungainly fashion, so I thought I'd write it up.
Here's a diagram of what's what.  Red lines and text are manual steps done by the cpd23 team, and the blue lines and text are the automated bits.  The yellow stars show the outputs that are intended for general use.  If you can't see the image for whatever reason don't worry - I explain all the steps below.
Diagram of the process to process cpd23 registrations, explained the the text following this image
Icons by Mysitemyway Design Team via

The aims of the system are
  1. to generate a tagged list of participants, so that participants and others can find blogs that interest them, based on geographical region and professional sector
  2. to create a feed of recent posts by participants to show on the cpd23 homepage
  3. to create a combined feed of all cpd23 participants' posts, to which anyone who is interested can subscribe
This is achieved in the following way:
  1. Participants register their blogs using a Google Docs form (embedded into this blog post).The data submitted into a Google Docs form is stored in a Google Docs spreadsheet, which can be accessed and edited.  
  2. Cpd23 team members manually visit each blog that is registered, and (if the link submitted is valid and the blog is a personal cpd blog) they add it to Delicious, including tags for place, sector, year and an alphabetical tag for the first letter of the blog title.  (I use the handy Delicious bookmarklet for this.)
    • Delicious provides scripts that power the 'recently signed-up' widget on the cpd23 blog, and the participants list on the participants page.  There is a limit to the number of links that Delicious will provide (100 at a time), which is why the alphabetic tags are added to the bookmarks: the participants list is powered by a script for each letter of the alphabet.
  3. An ifttt task takes all new bookmarks added to Delicious with the tag '2012' and submits them to the Google Reader folder 2012. Where possible, Google Reader can automatically extract an RSS feed from the link given.
    • Cpd23 team members periodically update the 'Participants posts' widget on the cpd23 blog, which runs using the Blogger blogroll widget.  It's easy to add new subscriptions in the 2012 folder from Google Reader.
  4. Another ifttt task takes all new posts in the Google Reader 2012 folder, and bookmarks them in Diigo, adding the tag 'cpd23feed'. (It could bookmark them in Delicious instead, but I wanted to keep the Delicious account just for links to blogs, and not confuse matters by adding lots and lost of links to posts there).
  5. And that's it.

Benefits of this system:
  • It minimizes the number of manual steps - we only need to get involved at two points in the process
  • It enables us to offer the 'added value' service of a combined RSS feed, on top of the Blogger blogroll and the tagged Delicious participants list.
Disadvantages of this system:
  • It relies on a lot of services running correctly
  • Time lag: the ifttt tasks, and the feeds from Delicious and Diigo update periodically, so new blogs and posts aren't available everywhere immediately.  The lag is usually up to an hour.
  • Ifttt only recognises new tags, so if Delicious recognises a 2011 participant blog such that we're just adding a new 2012 tag to an existing bookmark that blog has to be added to Reader by hand.
  • Google Reader doesn't always correctly find the feed of a link submitted from Delicious.
  • The resulting RSS feed, because it's a feed of bookmarks not posts, only shows links and not post text.  This really isn't ideal, but it's the best I could come up with.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Special Collections Links, 21 May 2012

Interesting things to do with rare books, manuscripts and special collections that I've seen over the last couple of weeks.

New exhibitions:
Dispersal of rare books collections:


Blogs and blog posts:
Other things online:
Phew, what a lot of things. More to follow in a week or so.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

#cpd23 Things 1, 2 and 3 (ish)

The 23 Things for Professional Development online course, of which I am one of the organisers, has recently started its second run.  Last year I got as far as Thing 17 before grinding to a halt.  This year I plan to complete the remaining things when they roll round (schedule here), and to add a few thoughts on the earlier things if I find myself so inspired.

23 by fraumrau, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  fraumrau 
My main focus is, however, going to be on reading and commenting on other peoples' blogs.  Last year I got very tied up helping to administer the course; it was great experience and good fun, but didn't leave much time for more active engagement.  This year I hope to change that.  I've started by subscribing to the posts and comments on all the special collections and archives blogs, and I'm following up some of the commenters I've found there, and some of the posts from the combined cpd23 RSS feed.  (I'll be writing up a post on how that feed's put together very soon, if anyone's interested in the techy side.)

If you're interested in my thoughts on Thing 3 (personal branding), I've written about it a couple of times over the last year.  And do say hello in the comments if you've found this post on your cpd23 travels!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Some thoughts on brand #cilipnpd12 #cpd23

At the CILIP New Professionals Day last Friday the always-super Ned Potter gave a great keynote about personal brand: You already have a brand: here are five ways to influence it.

Ned emphasised that personal brand is more about what you do than about working out what colour your business cards should be: action not appearance.  He covered a lot of ways to influence personal brand, all of them useful, but the part that most caught my attention was the section on blogging.  Little of what was said was 100% new to me, but Ned somehow brought it all together and into focus, so now I have a much better idea of what I should be trying to do.

My efforts to brand myself as an interested, enthusiastic and competent special collections new professional can't have been doing too badly, as I was asked to lead a workshop at the New Professionals Day, but I'm always keen to improve. I've been wondering for a while quite what it is I'm doing with this blog: I use it to record some of the things I do and what I think about them, and to put out information about things I hear about, and sometimes how to explain to do things.

Ned suggested that to be successful for promoting a personal brand*, blogs need to offer one of the following characteristics: usefulness, helpfulness, silliness, style, honesty or provocation. When I first started, as part of 23 Things Cambridge in summer 2010, the other participants voted me most helpful blogger both, I think, for some of the how-to posts I wrote as well as my comments on other blogs.  Since I finished that course I've not been so consciously helpful: I've been focussing a lot more on reflective writing, which is rarely of such great interest to other people. Looking through my blog stats, my most popular posts are as follows.

By views
By comments
Useful posts score pretty highly here, but I don't write as many useful posts as I'd like to. Lots of them are lurking in my mind, but to be useful to other people (and useful to my brand) they need to be well-written and/or the resources they offer need to be well put together.  (You would not believe how long it took to put together the Why Libraries Are Great Slides, or the Special Collections Librarianship prezi.)

So I'm going to make an effort to write-up more useful and helpful posts.  This is something I know I can do, and comes much more naturally than being provocative (well, most of the time - I'm not always a shrinking violet), or silly, or stylish.  To start with, I'll compile a weekly list of useful special collections links I see and retweet on Twitter: not everyone's on Twitter, and even those who are can't catch everything.  I think it could be useful to record them somewhere less fleeting.  Unless anyone knows of somewhere else doing the same thing already?  I'll also pull my finger out and try and write up some of the how-to posts that have been languishing in my to-do list for too long.

Thanks Ned for inspiring me into action!

*Edited to express what I meant to express first time round, 15 May 2012.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Mobile technology and special collections: a perspective on the #mlibs conference

Last Tuesday saw the Mobile Technologies in Libraries Information Sharing Event, held in Birmingham and organised by the m-libraries project. As someone who's a late-adopter of technological gadgets (I got my first laptop last Autumn), I didn't take detailed notes throughout the day, and chose to consider the broader aspects of the topic and not the details.  There is lots of information about the individual sessions on the event Lanyrd page.

Throughout the day there were interesting discussions about what we mean by 'mobile' technology, and whether it is possible or useful to make a distinction between mobile technology and other technology.  My own view is that very soon the distinction will no longer be of any use, as what we now call 'mobile' technology will be the predominant kind of technology being bought and used.  At the moment the designation can be useful - it brought together people for this information-sharing event, at least, but it's very important always to focus on what service we're trying to offer, and not merely on the medium through which we're providing it.

Of course (as James Clay pointed out in his keynote) not all of our users are using this technology, and not all of them ever will.  We should make sure that all of our content is available in other ways too.  But people are using it now, and we have to make sure our services are available to them via their preferred device.

Design is key to providing any web-based service, but particularly in making it accessible from the multitude of devices now available.  Matt Machell gave a presentation about Responsive Web Design, which is a must-watch for anyone with an interest in web design and the *how* of making content accessible to mobile devices. (He linked to this super piece on User Interface Design, recently too, which is definitely worth looking at if you're interested in this sort of thing. As is Your Library Website Stinks and it's your fault.) The key is to create a flexible site that can adapt to whatever device is viewing it.  This requires planning from the start -- it's hard to retrofit -- but it saves you time and effort in the long run as you only have one site to keep up-to-date, your content is your own rather than being subject to app-store control, and your users get a much better experience as the service will look and feel the same across all the devices from which they're using it.

 The mobility of mobile technology is, of course, particularly relevant to apps that use geo-spatial data to provide information about your current location.  The Phone Booth Project at LSE (presented by Ed Fay) displays Charles Booth's late-nineteenth-century annotated maps of life, labour and poverty London for the user's current location.  They're laid over a Google Maps base, so you can closely compare the modern city with the historic city.  As the overlaying of data works just based on geographic location co-ordinates, it's possible to add further layers, such as modern deprivation information, or information from Booth's notebooks, very simply.  Georgina Parsons had a great idea for extending one of Surrey Libraries' current outreach projects: how about constructing a walking-tour map of a local area, with audio (talks, readings, music?) relating to literary (or other) history available around the route?

I was really interested in the session about the SCARLET (Special Collections using Augmented Reality to Enhance Learning and Teaching) Project at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester.  The project has been investigating how to use augmented reality (AR) in teaching and learning with special collections.  I have to say that I'm not sure that I completely agree with its brief:
SCARLET addresses one of the principal obstacles to the use of Special Collections in teaching and learning – the fact that students must consult rare books, manuscripts and archives within the controlled conditions of library study rooms. The material is isolated from the secondary, supporting materials and the growing mass of related digital assets. This is an alien experience for students familiar with an information-rich, connected wireless world, and is a barrier to their use of Special Collections.
Yes, locating the useful secondary material relating to rare books and manuscripts can be quite a specialised skill, and one I fear isn't uniformly well-taught to undergraduates at the point at which they start accessing the special collections for their study and research.  However, most special collections reading rooms have reference books, allow the transfer of modern books from elsewhere in the library, and allow laptops to be used.  Granted, they might not all have wifi yet, but I was genuinely surprised to hear that this was considered one of the 'principal obstacles' to the use of Special Collections for teaching and learning.  From the student's point of view I would have thought that just not knowing where to start and what to order up, and then how to interpret what has been requested (e.g. how to find particular sections in a manuscript or early book, how to read the handwriting or typography, how best to handle the material, etc.) would be the biggest issue. From a teaching perspective, practical concerns such as arranging a time and location for a teaching visit, negotiating the level of supervision from library staff, and just thinking of it as an option in the first place, would seem to be big concerns. But I'm willing to believe I could be wrong, and would really like to hear what other people think.

Some of the AR content that SCARLET have produced really blew me away.  In particular, using AR to overlay a reconstruction and translation of this second-century papyrus fragment of St John's gospel.  This seems like just the sort of thing that technology should be doing.  The project say that feedback from first-year undergraduates has been very positive - they appreciate having a way to get to see and use the special collections materials that they've never previously used.  Third-year students enjoyed the videos of their course lecturers, but felt that on the whole the content was somewhat prescriptive and didn't allow for their own independent research.  These findings concur with what I might have expected: I'm not sure why I would want to produce a video-ed introduction to the material unless it really wasn't possible for students to receive such an introduction in person from their lecturers.  Not least because, when using special collections for the first time, it's good to have introductions to how to handle them properly.  I suppose that for students who've had some experience, but who still aren't at the advanced research stage, this content could be valuable.  Maybe I'm a curmudgeon, but it does still seem like a lot of effort for an unclear goal.  As I've already said, I'd love to hear other people's thoughts.

I'm not down on all AR, though.  I can see enormous potential for exhibitions (if issues of wifi/network connections and managing lighting to meet conservation requirements but also allow for the visual-recognition tech underpinning the AR to work in exhibition spaces can be overcome).  Having a reconstruction, or a translation, or annotations and explanations laid directly over the exhibit itself seems like a so much better way to interpret materials than with just a printed caption.  Audio, video, other images, complete digitisations, and more could all be accessible in the exhibition space in connection with the items on display.

All in all it was an interesting day - my thanks to Jo and the rest of the organising team.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Special Collections Careers: a workshop at the CILIP New Professionals Day #cilipnpd12

Today I'm facilitating a workshop on special collections librarianship at the CILIP New Professionals Day. I've produced a couple of resources to accompany the workshop, and to give those who couldn't make it some idea what I said.

First of all, an overview of the whole field, including what special collections are, what special collections librarians do, how to get into special collections work, and how to keep up to date.  This is available as a prezi (see below), or as a pdf to download and keep.

As well as that, a short slidedeck about my career so far.  (If you're interested in this, you might also like my Library Routes and Roots post.)

Watch this space for a post about some of the 'hot issues' in special collections librarianship, to include digital humanities, outreach, marketing and cataloguing.