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Archive for the ‘How To…’ Category

Libraries, Beacons, and the Internet of Things

27 Feb

A while ago I tweeted this helpful graphic:

I know what you're thinking - it will be climate change that renders the debate on the future of libraries moot, not the singularity! And you're quite right, of course.

I know what you’re thinking – it will be climate change that renders the debate on the future of libraries moot, not the singularity! And you’re quite right, of course.

 

The Internet of Things will, hopefully, be a big deal in libraries. Some of the technology associated with it feels very far-away in terms of the resources it would take to implement it, but we’ve seen how these things work – what starts off as unattainable fantasy becomes cheaply available reality soon enough.

But what does it mean, though? I mean really mean, for libraries? I found this UX article on beacons very helpful in giving me an overview of the technology, and this post is an extrapolation of the ideas it presents, into a library context.

What is The Internet of Things?

In short, the Internet of Things refers to when objects are able to connect with each other online, because they can be uniquely identified.

We’re actually very familiar with this in Libraries, because we use RFID. You put the book in the cradle, and that book (due to its RFID tag) speaks to the issue-machine, which then informs the library management system that the book has been issued to your account. It’s the internet, but interacting with a Thing! Brilliant.

What are beacons?

Beacons are wireless devices which use Bluetooth (but an especially low-energy version which doesn’t drain battery) to broadcast to other Bluetooth objects around them. You may have seen wearable technology like Jawbone or Fitbit, which monitor your physical activity – these use beacons to ‘talk’ to your phone, allowing you to get information via your phone’s screen.

In physical terms, you can already get commercially available beacons – for example from Estimote – which are discreet physical objects (as opposed to something integrated into a Fitbit wrist-band) to put in physical locations, allowing smartphones to interact with them according to parameters you define.

Give me some examples of what Libraries could do

Here are some ideas to enhance the library user experience:

  1. Locate items from my books list. Most library catalogues have a ‘favourite’ function, where you can add items to a list. Imagine you make your list of books at home using this feature, then come into a library fully hooked up to the Internet of Things – as you walk in, you’re presented with a map and directions to each of the available items. You’d know before you got past the foyer if any books had already been borrowed, and you’d even be able to find them if they were misshelved.
    ..
    Wait, come back! I’ve got better ones, look…
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  2. A self-guided virtual tour. Set up beacons at key points around the Library, and send users off on a tour. When they get to each location their phone plays them videos, or audio, and gives them more information on how to get the most from that area. Combine this with augmented reality to really knock people’s socks off.
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  3. An enriched Special Collections experience. When you’re near the glass case displaying the rare and precious illuminated manuscript that you can’t touch, your phone or tablet can show you the whole document in digital format. It could even play you audio of expert analysis by the Special Collections librarian.
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  4. Contactless fine payment. The Internet of Things knows how much you owe, and has the capability to let you pay it without you having to queue for a till or a card-reader.
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  5. Availability of machines. Some library apps already show you which PCs are in use and which are actually free within the Library building, which users find invaluable. Beacons could easily extend this to printers (and 3D printers), scanners, study rooms, blu-ray players etc etc – all quick to check from your phone as you enter the Library.
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  6. More details on items. In the same way you can put a QR Code on a DVD box which takes the user to the imdb entry on the film in question, or on a music score to take the user to an MP3 of the piece, you could give any manner of contextual information on items in your collection via the Internet of Things. If a user is in the vicinity of an item, she or he will be able to get information on it online via their phone.
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My brain is not particularly wired to invention. When someone else lays out ideas I can spark off them, but I can very rarely think up anything from scratch – so with that in mind, the list above is quite small, and I’d be VERY interested to hear what you think we could do with this technology, via a comment…

 

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Can you use Twitter for Academic teaching? Yes, here are some examples

17 Feb

I have read, and contributed to, an awful lot of writing online about Twitter in HE. Social networks in general and Twitter in particular are increasingly accepted as a valuable part of the academic world. If you want to know about how to use Twitter for communication, for building reputation, for research, then Google will provide you with endless hours of reading.

However, using Twitter in teaching seems to be far more tricky and ambiguous. There are a lot more people asking ‘Can we use Twitter in academic teaching, and if so, how?’ then answering that question. Interestingly, there’s a lot more info out there in using it in the school classroom than on using it in the University seminar room, lab, or lecture theatre.

With that in mind, and to make the most of a real edtech zietgeist happening at the University of York at the moment, I put together a 1.5 hour workshop for academics, as part of a series I’m doing for the Learning & Teaching Forum. I really enjoyed putting this together because I learnt a lot, and spoke to a lot of academics doing really interesting things with tweets.

The biggest issue in this area seems to be that you can’t make students sign up for the platform, so how do you make sure no one is excluded if you’re providing key info via Twitter (without you having to duplicate everything)? The first answer is embedding a Twitter stream in the VLE – there is a full guide on how to do that (with BlackBoard) in the handout which accompanied the session (embedded below). The second answer is projecting a hashtag onto the walls during teaching. Chemistry at York is, for some reason, always at the front of the curve with social media, and one of the things Simon Lancaster does is have a back-channel running on big screens during lab-sessions, using Tweetbeam, so that students who don’t wish to sign up for Twitter can still get the benefit of seeing other students’ tweets (and also pictures shared by Simon). I really liked this idea – I liked the ceding of control, the high risk of it, and I like the fact that the students don’t abuse the trust, and take the opportunity instead to contribute enthusiastically and productively.

Anyhow, here are the slides from the workshop – I hope if you’re reading this you find them useful. If you’re an academic and want to chip in via the comments with how you utilise Twitter, that would be great; if you’re an information professional and you also run these sorts of workshops, I’d love to hear from you too.

 

 

Using Twitter in Academic Teaching by University of York Information

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10 things to make a conference great

16 Dec

What makes a conference great? Andy Priestner posed the following question on Twitter today:


I found my answer wouldn’t fit even across loads of tweets. So with that in mind, and following on from the previous post on inspiring conferences, here’s my personal opinions based on conferences I’ve attended.

  1. The other delegates. This is very tricky. Much like what makes a good school experience isn’t really the Ofsted report and the facilities so much as the other kids and whether they’re nice, and a good job experience has (probably) more to do with your colleagues and line-manager than your salary and objectives, a good conference experience has a lot to do with the kind of crowd the conference attracts. If you get open, enthusiastic and practical people to hang out with, the presentations themselves are really just a springboard rather than the focus of the conference. What I remember most about SLA was the other delegates.
  2. A good keynote from outside the industry. LILAC gives fanstastic keynote – and part of the reason is they bring in someone from outside of libraries, who knows enough about them to make their talk relevant without just pandering to librarians. Spare me people saying ‘A library without a librarian is just a room’ – guess how much that helps me? Correct: not at all.
  3. A variety of formats. There’s no excuse just to have a bunch of people doing long presentations, these days. I want to see Pecha Kucha 20/20s, I want to see Teachmeet style sharing, I want to see panel discussions, I want some unconference style rewriting of the hierarchy. Ideally, I’d like to see something not listed here because I’ve never seen it before. Surprise me.
  4. Speakers who understand speaking rather than just the subject they’ve been asked to speak about. Don’t tell me all about your methodology at the start – if you have to tell me about your methodology at all, do it after you’ve told me WHY I should care about it (i.e. give me the results first). On the subject of results, if you’ve not yet finished your project and can’t tell us your conclusions, why are you here? And of course, don’t get me started on presenters who can’t be bothered to make decent presentations, or go over their time slots.
  5. A mixture of the cerebral and the immediate. I want to be inspired, uplifted, and invigorated. I ALSO want to be able to go back to my desk when the conference is finished and change the way I work, for the better, right away.
  6. New blood. I want there to be new professionals at any event I go to, because apart from being, obviously, The Future, they’re often the most enthusiastic and passionate. So make sure your event offers hard-up new profs the chance to attend and ideally to present too. (On a related note, I’d recommend going to New Profs events even if you aren’t so ‘new’ anymore; it restores your faith…)
  7. A lead organiser who really has their shit together. I’ve been to conferences where the person effectively chairing the event seems completely at sea, or not to be invested in the success of  the day at all. Organising conferences is REALLY hard (I’ve done it, enjoyed it, but resolved to stick to speaking from then on because that is MUCH easier) so you’ve got to be completely committed and quite sharp, and creative, and good at logistics, to make a success of it.
  8. An appropriate level of resource. It is possible to organise conferences and unconferences very cheaply, but that needs to be built into the DNA of the conference. A hugely ambitious conference shouldn’t be attempted without a hugely ambitious budget. I’m quite happy to sleep through 15-minutes of sponsor-talk at the start of each day if it means the event is well financed and everything works.
  9. Technology. If the wifi is no good, find another venue. If the screens are small, find another venue. If the presenter PCs are positioned so the presenter has to look away from the audience to present, find another venue. If someone is doing a presentation via Skype or a webinar software then by God they’d better give a transcendent and truly transformative talk if we’re to suffer through the 100% inevitable bad sound quality, visual glitches, and delays where the screen goes blank.
  10. Downtime. I’m an introvert. Most people going to library conferences are introverts. Introverts need time to recharge, away from the crowds, or we go a bit loopy. So the best conference schedules, for me, are the ones brimming with activity – but with some downtime built in too.

achievement via says-it.com

Anything you’d add?

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The key to good marketing is to promote one thing at a time

05 Dec

If you’ve got a great idea, don’t dilute it. Simplicity results in better traction for your idea. You need to give people one idea at a time, so they can grab onto it, digest it, and see how it relates to them. Not only that, but the simpler the idea, the more likely it is for people to share and pass it on.

Think about the really successful online writers, like Seth Godin. He’s made a career out of taking single concepts, focusing on them one at a time, and getting a bajillion hits to his blog as a result. Once people buy into his one-key-thing-at-a-time approach to ideas, they’re then more likely to buy into him as a concept, and push his (more complex) books up the best-seller charts.

So, keeping things simple isn’t dumbing down. It’s providing people with an easy way-in. That’s just good marketing. Much of marketing is to simply get people in the door – THEN you can give them a whole variety of reasons to say inside.

Most of the readers of this blog work in the information profession, like I do. This means we have a complex sell. Library services are myriad, but your promotion must be in bite-sized chunks. Libraries are complicated, but your marketing must not be. The secret to good communication is to market one thing at a time.

Here’s an example of a poster promoting a library. In theory, it ought to be good. It looks okay, uses a nice font. But more importantly, it tells you about all sorts of amazing library services! What’s not to like? How you can resist this?

On all of these, click the pics to view them on Flickr

But actually, this poster doesn’t work. There’s too much going on, it does not provide an easy way in. You’re relying on people grabbing on to the part that relates to them, and then taking an action (coming to the Library) because of it – in most cases, that’s too big a leap of faith. You’re much better off dividing that list up into individual posters, and putting them in the most relevant areas for their specific target groups. So for example this message, even though it’s only one useful thing instead of many useful things, is a much more powerful piece of marketing:

Then you make ANOTHER poster to cover another aspect of the original:

Or you can take multiple concepts but tie them together into one easily-digestible, relate-able, shareable package:

Finally, if you really want to put several library services into the same piece of promotion, you can do this and STILL have the one simple message for people to take away. In the example below, you’re saying to people that the library is a welcoming place, that they can come in and use the wifi and enjoy the cafe, without being judged for not using the books and journals. But you’re also listing all the other things they MIGHT do if they so desire. As I said above, much of marketing is to simply get people in the door – then you can give them a whole variety of reasons to say inside.

So remember, keep it simple. Market one thing at a time. It WILL yield tangible results.

(All of these posters are available on my Flickr account via an Attribution Creative Commons licence. Note that it’s NOT a ‘no-derivs’ or ‘non-commercial’ license – in other words if you can find a use for these ideas, but want to change and adapt them to your own purposes, feel free to do so.)

 

 

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