Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Web 2.0 Tools aka My Happy Sticks

Today marks the beginning of an (almost) week off work. I need to go in on Thursday to provide some cover but I can live with that. Obviously a week off is golden time. Something to be savoured. Did I go out for a long walk in the sunshine? Did I indulge in some writing? Did I hell. Instead I faffed around on Twitter and answered the following question posed by Kate Theimer : Which Web 2.0 tools do we rely on socially and in the workplace?

The two worlds of "social" and "workplace" are starting to merge together. On Facebook I have a long list of ex-colleagues that I would never have kept in touch with pre-Web 2.0. Last week one of those ex-colleagues emailed me regarding a job I might be interested in. The same ex-colleague is someone I regularly have banter about music and other such non-work topics. It got the old brain ticking. I got my first mobile phone when I was thirteen. Since then I have been able to keep in touch with friends around the clock. You could text your friends after the forbidden time of ten pm and not have parents barking at you to hang up the phone. Perhaps that laid the foundations for the Web 2.0 generation. The latest label I have heard is the "Google generation" which is used to define anyone born after 1992. Just pause for a second. 1992?! There's something scary yet gently awesome about that. Then again I dislike tagging generations with wide sweeping labels; it makes for lazy sociology.

Anyway, back to the point at hand. Here follows a list of Web 2.0 tools I would be lost without:


This is a fantastic file sharing and storage service. You can install an app onto your computer and simply "drop" files into the assigned Dropbox folder. This is then mirrored by your Dropbox account which is stored on the cloud. From there you can download and upload files to computers that do not have your Dropbox app installed. This is very handy if you have numerous Dropbox accounts in one household or office area. A key feature is that you can revert back to previous versions of a file. Very handy if you have an "Oh whoops!" moment.

One drawback to Dropbox, but a very minor issue, you cannot edit files stored on the cloud. Currently I'm using it as a back up service for my netbook and as a method of transporting files across numerous computers. It's more reliable than using USB sticks and you're less likely to have issues with corrupted files or leaving the bloody thing on a train.


I came across this website when the demise of Delicious was being banded around the web. The issue of sharing two computers was getting on my nerves. Having a cloud based bookmarking service would suit my purposes more than going between computers. I can't remember exactly how I came across Diigo but the brightly coloured website (yeah, I know...) attracted my attention.

The best feature of Diigo is the interaction the user can have with information stored on the web. You can highlight sections of a website, add your own sticky notes to specific web pages and the usual stuff like adding tags and descriptions to bookmarks. Diigo is iPad friendly and you can install an app in Google Chrome. I can log into my bookmarks from any computer with internet access. This has come in rather handy especially as I moved from work to volunteer placement to home.

I notice that they have more advanced settings for the premium account such as annotation specific areas of text. I'd consider paying for such a feature if I was still in full time education or carried out a lot of research on the web.

Adobe Workspaces

Ah, now this fills the gap left by Dropbox. Sometimes you might be working on something you don't want to download to a computer. In those quiet moments in work you may want to dabble away at that secret best selling novel you're writing. This is where Adobe Workspaces comes in.

The basic account is the only option available to those outside North America. Still, you get a pretty good deal for your money. You can upload read only documents such as PDFs and Word docs if you wish. Or you can import documents into Buzzword which allows you to edit the content. As with Dropbox, Adobe records the history of your document and you can revert back to previous editions of the document. The best bit is that you can import Word docs or Open Office docs and Buzzword retains a lot of the formatting during the conversion process. I've heard reports that Google Docs tends to jumble up the formatting and can get very clunky with documents over 20, 000 words. The largest word processing file I have stored in Adobe comes to around 12, 000 words. However I have heard of people using Adobe for NaNoWriMo without any problems.

An honourable mention should go to bit.ly for providing handy URL shortcuts. It looks a lot better than pasting lots of code into an email and potentially freaking out the recipient. Bit.ly appears to have a lot more advanced features than mere URL shortening but I have been too lazy to find out.

No doubt this list will change as time goes on. New, stronger, faster, fitter, better tools are being release all the time to facilitate the growth of born digital information. This time last year I was singing the praises of Zotero. Now I have left further education and have no need for an academic-centric tool. As the needs of people change so will the tools they use. Fortunately we are social creatures which fuels the ethos of bookmarking webpages. This very blog post is an example of this. I want to share my great experience of the above tools with others and spread the word. Evangelists of Web 2.0. That sounds a lot better than the "Google Generation."

 Please note I've left the more obvious tools out like Gmail and Google Calendar. As for social networking; I wrote so much about using Facebook and Twitter for my dissertation that I'm a little burned out on it. But they are still nifty tools for the Web 2.0 traveller. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Tories and School Libraries

The following news story keeps cropping up so I feel I should blog about it. After plans to close a large number of local libraries; Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has proclaimed that children should be reading "at least 50 books a year." Another typical Tory gaffe. In my personal experience school libraries have come very short on the pecking order when it comes to school finances. Perhaps things have changed in the nine years since I left high school.

Being an inquisitive creature, and for the sake of nostalgia, I decided to Google my old high school. Good old Google found this blog. My Web 2.0 spidey-sense went into overdrive when I saw this. The blog is not hosted on the official school's webpage which creates the perception that it's a separate space for students to interact in. Although the librarian has a great deal of control over the content, there's still room for students to project their own personalities. The library now runs a manga drawing club and a creative writing group at lunchtimes. Some of their work is posted on the blog or provides links to the external Flickr page.

I think this is wonderful. When I was there, it felt like that administration favoured the sciences over the arts. Students who enjoyed drama, music and art were seen as a bit "wacky" and to be indulged. Best to invest more time in the sciences and ignore students who wanted more options beyond bloody test tubes. In the years after I left something seemed to change. The school had a successful music group that seemed to be winning a lot of prizes. More drama teachers were recruited after demand increased for classes. Suddenly the more arty subjects became more prominent. Science is Latin for the pursuit of knowledge. Shame that none of the senior management staff realised this for a long time.

Enough about the failings of the school almost a decade ago. Times are hard and education needs to play an even bigger role in people's lives. Instead, with the current head-in-the-clouds government, it looks like it's going to revert back to a luxury of the middle classes. Apparently the upper class no longer exist according to the Independent. That is why a person's experience at school is so important. Looking back, I have quite a few subjects and teachers I have to thank for the person I am now. English, Drama, History and Information Systems helped me expand my knowledge and look beyond the confines of the classroom. It's only now I realise that.

The library blog gives me hope. Hope that it helps instil a love of learning, reading, books, ideas, research, thinking, processing. Otherwise we let our brains become wasted away by the mundane routine of everyday life.

I should sign off by thanking Michael Gove. His ridiculous statement set me off on a path of discovery and a reflection of my own education. Still think he's an utter twat though.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Why I Love My Job (and despair sometimes)

This entry was started last night but interrupted by Him Indoors coming home from the pub. I'm probably not going to see him until Sunday due to conflicting social events. So I decided to finish writing my post this morning. 

I started writing another post under this title which has turned into a rather long tract. Instead I shall use this post to get to the point of what happened today.

Recently I have been asked to provide cover at my old job. It's on a temporary basis but it's a rare archivist these days that turns down the chance for paid archival work. The job is a semi-specialist repository that has a mix of general public enquiries to academics. Today a student came in looking for more information about their dissertation. My previous, and current, knowledge of the collections meant I was able to provide Student with more information about their chosen subject. I answered their questions and pulled documents out from the repository to help them. Student left very happy with some seeds planted for their looming project.

Today I loved my job. I loved being able to help someone find out information and help guide them on their way. I loved taking documents off the shelves so someone could write information recorded hundreds of years ago. No bad photocopies, no jarring transcripts, no digitised representations. The real deal perched on a book pillow in the searchroom. Living, breathing history. Perhaps I breathed in the dust that people seem so keen on.

That is why institutions, especially public facing ones, need archivists. In particular, they need archivists who have spent time working with collections and building up their knowledge. You can create as many finding aids as you want. You can digitise as many records and put them "out there" on the web. What you cannot replace is the knowledge an individual has built up over time through experience and working with the records in collections. Unfortunately with looming financial cuts in the libraries and archives sector that is exactly what's happening. This is a topic I have blogged about in a previous post. The vicious circle of charging more for higher education means individuals are going to turn to other outlets for learning and information gathering. Yet the institutions designed to help this are struggling. The repository I am working in used to boast excellent opening hours, with at least two late evening openings and all day Saturdays. Now these hours have been cut to one evening a week and Saturdays by appointment only.  All because a member of staff left, a qualified archivist, and the Powers That Be decided it was too expensive to hire a replacement. This is a very busy archive; yesterday the numbers of users in the reading room was well into the double figures. On another day the reading room was bustling with members from a local history group cooing over records. Like I said, living, breathing history.

I love my job. I'm just sad that the people that appear to be in charge don't.