It’s not as if we haven’t heard of podcasting—producing simple and inexpensive audio and video recordings which can be shared online with anyone interested in what we are doing. We may, on the other hand, be wondering what it means to us and to the library members and guests we serve. As mentioned in the first of this two-part series, the answer can affect our ability to meet our users’ needs.
“I think it’s something that is a technology or a tool that has become very mainstream,” Infopeople instructor David Free noted recently in discussing the Practical Podcasting and Videocasting workshops he is offering between now and November 2008. “You can get podcasts of TV shows and radio shows. It’s a technology that people in communities are going to be more used to seeing in other areas.”
And it is already a format which is providing library staff and library members and guests with resources when they need the information—not just when we’re available to provide it. Podcasting is increasingly used to post basic as well as specialized information of interest to library users as well as to staff in need of brief and readily available training on a variety of topics.
Infopeople itself offers a large variety of podcasts on its website—Michael Cart’s “Reviews” on books and those who write them; Joan Frye Williams and George Needham’s “Thinking Out Loud” series on innovations and contemporary issues in libraries; and archives of Infopeople webcasts and webinars from a variety of presenters. Free also suggests other podcast archives which may be of interest to those unfamiliar with the full potential of the format and the content it offers: the Los Angeles Public Library speaker series which has featured podcasts hosted by Alfred Molina, Debra Winger, Robert Scheer, and many others; the “Library Audio and Video to Go” series produced by the George C. Gordon Information Technology Division at Worcester Polytechnic Institute; and the “Behind the Desk Alden Audio Tour” produced by Ohio University Libraries.
Those attending Free’s workshops “are going to have a better understanding of what podcasting is—both audio and video podcasting—how libraries are using the technology for outreach and as a learning tool,” he promises. “They’re going to have had the experience of creating an audio podcast. They’ll also have an understanding of how to make a video podcast. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert to use this technology in libraries.
“I’m not going to say, ‘You all have to go back and make podcasts in your library’…but I think it’s important that everybody has an understanding of what it is,” he concluded.
If we’re feeling overwhelmed by all the relatively new tools and theories out there—podcasting, Cascading Style Sheets, and Experienceology come to mind—and wondering why we should be interested, we might find solace in the familiar truism that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Reading Jean Freer’s “Louder Please” (Libraries & the Cultural Record, Fall 2006) and Vannevar Bush’s classic piece “As We May Think” from the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic Monthly suggests that facing up to and mastering the jargon and technology of our times is a never-ending challenge with ample rewards.
Freer, in examining American librarianship from 1926 through 1956, documents how “librarians struggled to define their role amidst competition from new media and information providers.” As we read about arguments as to whether phonograph records, films, and radio and television programs even belonged in library collections, we might look with longing at what feels to be a quaint debate—and then we have to wonder whether questions about the role of podcasting, Cascading Style Sheets, and Experienceology might be equally quaint to people looking back at us 30, 40, or 50 years from now. And just as Freer documents how “public and academic librarians produced films to promote their libraries” 50 to 80 years ago, we can already document how staff of libraries throughout the United States are producing podcasts with the same goal in mind. And much, much more.
Turning to Vannevar Bush, we find a great, imaginative, and creative mind writing at the end of the Second World War about someone who is “staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear.” Bush, as many readers probably know, described in great detail and with incredible prescience, ways of storing an entire encyclopedia on a device the size of a matchbox—flash drives, anyone?—and imagined a device (the “memex”) where we could “turn the crank” and produce exactly the information we were seeking—do we, between the lines, hear the birth of computer workstations connected to the World Wide Web, but without the crank?
What must have seemed absolutely fantastic in 1945 is commonplace and hardly fodder for conversation now: a “web of trails” which became our World Wide Web; a memex which in many ways is not too far removed from our typical computer workstation; “repositories” which are our servers; a “transparent platen” on top of the memex which has become our scanner; and a system of jumping from one item to another as hyperlinks routinely allow us to do today.
And just as our predecessors had to learn about and absorb the changes they encountered in the past, we need to take advantage of the resources we have to stay current in our endeavors so we can better serve the library members and guests who come in search of the assistance we can offer.
Next: David Free and Practical Podcasting and Videocasting for Library Staff
We don’t always post the information here, but Infopeople (okay, me) creates a podcast (MP3 audio format) version of its webinars after the live event. This audio version enables folks who have a hard time catching the webinars (either live or archived) another listening option. They are all linked on the appropriate archived webinar page and are also posted to iTunes. Here is a list of some recent podcast/webinar offerings (these links go to the MP3 files):
You can view a complete list of Infopeople’s archived webinars & webcasts here.
If we want to visualize a future drawing upon library mashups—combinations of data from different sources into a newly created tool for training-teaching-learning and many other purposes—we could do worse than to view a few of the search engines which are incorporating mashup technology into the way they display search results.
Jill Tinsley, an MLIS candidate from the University of Arizona, was among the presenters at the California Academic & Research Libraries North Information Technology (CARL North IT) Interest Group workshop “Mashup the Library” late last month at Santa Clara University, and her one-hour overview of “Information Visualization Using Mashups and Web 2.0 Tools” nearly inundated us with possibilities. (The PowerPoint slides, which were previously used for a New Media Consortium (NMC) presentation in February 2008, can be found at the bottom of an NMC page under the heading “Attachments” and provide fodder for hours of exploration on the topic.)
Starting with Grokker.com, she led us into a world of searching which currently draws from Yahoo!, Wikipedia, and Amazon.com to provide information on a wide variety of topics. Although the results can be viewed in a text-based “Outline” format, the fun begins when we choose the “Map View” format. The “map” is actually a large circle taking up about half of a screen, and includes smaller circles of interrelated topics; searching for the term “mashups” itself, for example, gives the large circle of the mashup universe, and smaller circles labeled “new application,” web applications, “music mashups,” and several others. If we choose to focus on music mashups, we click on the music mashup circle to view a new, larger circle with links within that category. By drilling down further into that visual display by clicking on new links, we continue until we find what we want or we zoom back out to the previous visual maps.
An entirely different display comes up through oSkope, which can be set to search Yahoo!, flickr, YouTube, and a few other sites we can select before proceeding. The results are displayed as a series of full-color thumbnail images, and we can manipulate the displays by choosing from several options on the screen. Placing the cursor on an image quickly brings up information about where the link will take the us and displays user tags which have been attached to that site.
The lesson here for teacher-trainer-learners is fairly obvious: if we want to display more visually interesting searches while engaged in workplace learning and performance, we can incorporate Grokker, oSkope, and many of the other tools which are quickly becoming available to us.
For further exploration: Online recordings of a dozen sessions presented during the NMC Symposium on Mashups held April 1 -3, 2008 are available, as are resources on nmcpedia. CARL North IT plans to post recordings of the “Mashup the Library” program. One other new development: another interesting example of mashups went live several days after the CARL North IT conference, in the form of the cuil search engine; it’s well worth exploring and has one the cleanest displays I’ve seen in online search results.
For trainer-teacher-learners who had not yet made time to read the New Media Consortium (NMC) – EDUCAUSE 2008 Horizon Report on emerging technologies, the California Academic & Research Libraries North Information Technology (CARL North IT) Interest Group workshop “Mashup the Library” last Friday at Santa Clara University provided a day of revelations.
Data mashups—“custom applications where combinations of data from different sources are ‘mashed up’ into a single tool”—received the bulk of the attention from NMC Vice President Rachel S. Smith and other presenters throughout the day, and those of us in attendance couldn’t help but walk away with an appreciation for this as both an old and new technology. Old, in the sense that mashups by different names and formats have been around for centuries in the form of data such as population figures combined with maps to provide graphic illustrations of how these pieces of information interact. New, in the sense that combining a Google Map with information about apartment rental data from craigslist is less than a few years old. As new technology tools such as VUVOX are developed and users combine data from different sources into VUVOX presentations, all of us involved in training-teaching-learning are going to find that we can push beyond the limits of what has previously been possible in designing and presenting effective learning opportunities in the library workplace.
The current ability to combine library location information with a Google Map to help library staff, members, and guests find library facilities is rudimentary compared to what is possible. A far more sophisticated mashup I recently encountered is the GeoLib project coming out of Florida State University College of Information under the direction of Christie Koontz; users can view mashups of maps and data including population characteristics from the U.S. Census as well as library-use statistics for thousands of American libraries.
And when we apply mashups to workplace learning programs, we don’t have to stretch much to imagine a new-staff orientation session prepared in VUVOX and delivered live, online, and even asynchronously through a mashup of graphics, links to pertinent documents, and connections to audio and audiovisual files created with Flip cameras and other easy-to-use tools which are being introduced to library staff through Infopeople workshops. The same tools might also be used to create introductory tours of libraries for new employees as well as for library members and guests via mashups delivered to cell phones as mobile broadband capabilities increase over the next couple of years.
Best of all is the probability that new authoring tools which are being developed will “enable non-technical users to create sophisticated products without programming,” the report’s authors confirm—which means that those of us who are more enamored of providing learning opportunities than in immersing ourselves in the complexities of coding will soon have incredibly productive tools at our fingertips.
Next: Mashups in the Search for Information