Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Rudaí23 thing#23: the holistic librarian

'Bringing it all together' is a fitting final 'thing' from the Rudaí23 team. It's tempting to look at one of the things that we have covered, perhaps something that was of particular interest to you, or something that you knew would have an immediate impact on your library or your career development, and forget about the rest. But as with so much that we encounter in our lives, seeing things in how they interact with the larger environment is so important.

Linking social media accounts is something that I have done previously, but I didn't know about the
tools that Rudaí23 talked about in their post. What I did was turn on the option in the blog that I was working on that meant it would automatically update our Twitter account. This definitely helped to save time and effort, but I was often unhappy with how the tweets looked on our Twitter account, and would often try to edit them, or just delete them and start again. Sometimes the synopsis would cut off mid-sentence or the image used would look out of place. I saw a similar issue when I was using my own Facebook account: you would get updates from people (usually 'famous' people) that were clearly from their Twitter account. Do you really want to interact with somebody on a social media platform in which they are not really engaging? And even if you do, is there any point? The image here is a perfect example of this: posts from different social media apps with no interaction from the person involved.

The temptation might be to assume that whatever account you're linking to (usually the social media account that you have the least interest in) will 'look after itself'. I've seen this on numerous occasions (again, usually on my Facebook feed) where you may have errant duplicate posts and it's nearly always a case where somebody has linked their blog or Twitter account to update another social media application. The key, in my opinion, is to allow this to help manage your accounts, not allow you to neglect them. 


This is where applications like Hootsuite are so handy. What you are trying to do is not only make it look like you are personally managing every single social media application, but that you have the tools to properly interact with anybody connecting with you. This is vital, and Hootsuite gives you this option.

Signing up is relatively painless (finding that free option that isn't a trial run took a little while, however) and the interface looks nice. They give you a little tutorial if you want it, but to be honest, there is very little here that isn't completely intuitive. All you do is click on the social media accounts that you want connected and you're good to go.


A screenshot of one of the first things you see as you sign up to HootSuite. This is the beginning of the tutorial (which you can skip if you like).

Posting to two accounts is remarkably easy and most importantly, it doesn't have some of the negative connotations that I discussed earlier (particularly that you are cross-posting). You can see on Facebook in small writing that there is a clickable link to Hootsuite, but it's not particularly invasive. There is absolutely nothing (that I could see) on  Twitter suggesting that you are even using Hootsuite. Another nice touch is the 'automatic link shrinker', which saves you having to go to url shortening sites, copy-and-paste, and then back again (at least that's what I do: I'm sure there's probably a much easier way).

A post to your Facebook feed from Hootsuite

The same post as shown in your Twitter feed
The limitations on the free account are fairly strict, however. You can only have three social media accounts linked, so you will definitely have to choose which ones are most important to you. There are, of course, lots of different options for paid accounts, and depending on how much you're will to pay, you should be able to manage all your social media accounts through hootsuite. For something like a library, the cheapest paid account should be fine: this is the 'small businesses, social media professionals and consultants' option, and gives you the option of managing up to 50 social media accounts.

Hootsuite in a professional environment


This is where something like hootsuite is so important. A lot of the discussions (particularly in small libraries) can revolve around what amount of time is feasible to spend monitoring your social media outlets. Can you really devote all that time to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever if even one of these requires so much time? What about if you had something like Hootsuite, where you can have numerous tabs and keep an eye not only on what you post, but how people are interacting with you? Something like this will definitely help to manage a few accounts on the go.

What I really liked about this 'thing' was how it changed my perception of something I assumed I knew all about. I had a negative perception of linking social media accounts from previous experience, and neglected to keep up to date with how the landscape had changed in the meantime (or maybe I didn't know about these applications at the time). 

Monday, 21 December 2015

Rudaí23 thing#22: Mobile Things

Mobile technology has really taken off in the last few years, as evidenced by the popularity and availability of smart phones. Anybody working in a library is going to have to get used to apps as one of the main ways that their users access and obtain information and interact with their favourite online companies, so Rudaí23's second last thing is very topical. What's brilliant about apps is their diversity: you don't necessarily associate apps with one particular 'thing': they cover everything from getting up-to-date weather information, playing games, accessing email, or messaging.


Getting the right apps for your library


Of course, the apps that will be suitable for your library will be determined based on your users' needs, your budget, and the amount of staff that you have to manage any associated tasks, depending on the needs of the app. It is good to try and think outside of the traditional apps that are associated with libraries. There may be an app that you use for a particular function that you never thought would be useful in your work-setting but might suit it perfectly.

One wonderful resource is the 12 Apps of Christmas course. This started again on the 1st of December, but they normally make available all the information after the course has run, so keeping an eye on that webpage might be useful if you find yourself sick of ham and turkey sandwiches after Christmas. The 2014 site had lots of really interesting apps that I had never heard of, so I'm still catching up on getting acquainted with them, but will be looking at the 2015 ones in the meantime.

Duolingo    

I was going to try one of the apps mentioned in the 12 Apps of Christmas, but thought I'd do a brief overview of an app that I've been using over the last few months. It's called Duolingo, and it's a very simple, but very good language learning app. The languages that are available include the ones that you would expect to see: Spanish, French, German, and English. What's interesting is that Duolingo includes courses on Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, and even Esperanto. They are also not standing still: languages currently in development include Hungarian, Welsh, Vietnamese, Hebrew and Hindi. There are even rumours that Klingon is coming down the line.

I started using it after a couple of people in my Irish class spoke very positively about it. What really hit home was that a German guy (who had only done one Irish class previously) was miles ahead of the rest of us (and nearly all of us had studied Irish all through our school years). He insisted that his grasp on the language was because of Duolingo, so a few of us made some concerted efforts to use the app.

The main thing about Duolingo is its simplicity, and this applies to every aspect of the app, from its ease of downloading, to how easy it is to grasp the concept, through to the very basic use of colours and images. There is also a nice little 'competitive' feature, where you can link to friends and check your progress against theirs. It's all about repetition, and even includes listening to audio and writing what you hear. You can see your progress in a little bar during each lesson, which takes a step back if you get a question wrong. Complete all the steps and you can move on to the next level. I could immediately see clear signs of progress in my Irish classes, where I was remembering words and sentence construction that we hadn't covered previously.

There are some issues, though. I had been using the app for ages, and decided to see how it looked on a desktop, and realised that the difference was quite substantial. The desktop offers lots of clues about grammar to guide you along for each lesson. Grammar is a particular issue I have with the Irish language, and think that this would have been helpful information to display in the app version. There is also some controversy over whether the person who does the audio is a native speaker, with many native speakers claiming that she is not. This is of course a serious issue, but as with anything as important as learning a language (or doing proper referencing, for example) it is important not to rely on one source.

Despite this, Duolingo is a great example of how to make a learning app popular. It should be easy, fun, and the learning aspect should seem incidental (but be real and concrete). It doesn't take away from the need for classes, but it has definitely helped my ability.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Rudaí23 thing#21: Infographics

Infographics are just another way of getting people to look at information. Similar to presentations, however, the way in which you do so is incredibly important. Doing infographics well is the difference between a pie chart and something that people actually want to read, absorb the information, and really connect with. A lot of what we learned about with regards to presentations is applicable here: are you overloading your infographic with too much information? Is its message difficult to understand? Then you might need to get to grips with the new way of presenting infographics that's becoming increasingly common in nearly every part of your working life.

We've all seen the new lease of life that graphs and diagrams illustrating information has been given in the last few years, and this is primarily due to the way that apps like easel.ly and piktochart present this information: clear, easy to decipher infographics. But, of course, these apps are just the tools: it's up to you to get to know how to use them in the correct way. Imagine presenting something like user statistics in a graph form.

An example of a rudimentary graph from publiclibrariesonline.org
Now imagine presenting user statistics like this:

User statistics from University of Hawaii at Manoa Library
You can be looking at the same information, but seeing different things. The graph will show you all the information that you might need to know, but there is nothing appealing about its presentation. The second example contains clear, strong colours, nice use of font, and easy to understand information.

Getting to grips with ease.ly


I decided to investigate Easel.ly, primarily due to Michelle Breen’s Rudaí23 post, which seemed to suggest that the free trial gives you slightly more freedom with regards to PDFs, but really it was just to experiment with either, as I have never done anything like this before, and have never even heard of these apps.

An example of my easel.ly homepage.
I found it really easy to create an account with Easel.ly (this is not always the case!) You're given the option to choose a template, but you can also start from scratch. Ease.ly also give you the option of searching for a template or browsing by category. The screen that gives you all this information is very basic and that's a good thing: you're not overwhelmed by options and that's very inviting. Interestingly, this is what you should be going for in your infographics.

I did an example of an infographic very quickly, but I think I got a rough idea of how the site works. On the free trial, you’re given a (limited) use of templates. I chose one that was based on a basic review of how a web site works. I deleted the image of a web site that they used, and uploaded one of our own. This was very, very easy to do  and it was easy to manipulate the image in terms of height or width. It took a little while to get used to using the tools at the top of the page, rather than ‘right clicking’, but as soon as I got into the swing of things, I was happy with how easy it was.


A (very basic) example of an easel.ly infographic
Another nice little touch is that once you start using it, easel.ly will send you a follow-up email with a 'cheat sheet' giving you links to an infographics crash course, some video tutorials, how to display charts, bringing in hyperlinks to your infographics, information about using fonts, and all the nitty-gritty stuff like downloading, searching, and sharing all the things you've created. Here's an example of one of their tutorials covering some of the basics about easel.ly. It should give you a good overview of what to expect if you decide to sign up for an account.


 

Using infographics in a library setting


I think using Easel.ly for inductions for new students would be a brilliant way of grabbing their attention as well as making presentations to colleagues stand out a bit better. I would like to really get to investigate it more, particularly using your own designs as well as seeing what the upgrade version offers you above the free model.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Rudaí23 thing#20: a librarian gets to grips with his glossophobia

There are few things that I dislike more than giving presentations. It combines so many things: dislike of hearing your own voice, verbal ticks etc that are seemingly audible (although they're probably not), the fear that somebody might ask you a question that you aren't sure of the answer.

Presentations are an important skill-set for librarians to know. At their most basic, they are invaluable tools to convey information to a diverse audience, whether that's your colleagues in the library, other people that work closely with the library, or your users. Knowing how to do this in as lively and effective a manner as possible is essential.

As much as possible, I have tried to avoid giving presentations, but this was nearly impossible at times, particularly during the completion of my MLIS in UCD. Many of the presentations that I gave were part of group projects, although there was one presentation that I gave on my own. The basic principle, however, was always the same: trying to convey information to your mentors and classmates about what you were doing. Some were more successful than others, but the methods which we used, and the means, were quite uniform: a mostly prepared speech backed up by some sort of slide presentation, usually PowerPoint, although I used Prezi on one occasion.

What makes a good presentation?


Given my lack of success with presentations, I realise it's somewhat ironic to try and give some hints and tips on delivering a successful presentation, but as is often the case with mistakes, it can help you to realise what you are doing wrong.

Preparation


The most important thing, for me, was to prepare. Make sure that you have your presentation slides in a couple of different formats, and that those different formats take into account the many ways that things can go wrong. It would be an idea to have your slides on a USB stick, somewhere that you can reach them remotely (by emailing them to yourself, or having them in the cloud), as well as where somebody else can get them if all else fails (remember: that person should be somebody who will be attending the presentation).

Focus


Keeping focus means that the presentation you deliver is the one that you want to deliver. What's great about slides is that they can help you achieve this. It's a good idea to have a rough idea of how long you will talk about each slide. This will help you to keep on track in terms of subject matter as well as in terms of time (both specifically about certain points as well as in general).

Everything in moderation


Despite just what I said, the slides should not be something that you hide behind, but something that augment the overall experience. Use of media like videos, gifs, memes and so on can be enhancing, but never use it just for the sake of it. Sometimes it can be a good idea to use something along those lines to lighten the mood, but you have to make sure that you are judging the overall mood correctly, and always use sparingly.

What to do when it's all over


A lot of people recommend leaving the crowd with something tangible at the end of a presentation. Of course, this depends on what you are talking about, and the setting. A tangible item might make sense if your presentation is selling something, but we can still apply the basic idea to presentations in the library world. Are you giving a talk about information literacy? You may have a 'gift pack' with your library's referencing guide and some handy pens, or something like that. Another thing that many people recommend (and is very common in presentations) is making your slides available online.

Rudaí23's task: getting to grips with PowerPoint


Seeing as I have yet to do a presentation in the library world, and the presentations that I did from library school were so long ago, I thought I would try Rudaí23's task, which is design a small presentation and upload it to the site.

We experimented with Prezi a little bit during the MLIS course in UCD, and I was initially very taken with it. It was such a contrast to PowerPoint, which had (and probably still has) a reputation as boring and perfunctory. I was initially going to use this for my slides for this exercise, but decided to go for PowerPoint, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to see whether PowerPoint had improved since I had last used it. We also have full access to Microsoft Office in work, and I am trying to keep up with the new developments especially with Microsoft Office 2013. This is especially relevant as we have lots of students asking questions about different aspects of Office, so it's always good to keep up-to-date with what they're using.

To be honest, I think I found this 'thing' the most difficult task so far. It took a lot of time both in getting to grips with PowerPoint as well as actually preparing my slide show. I found PowerPoint, despite the many upgrades to Microsoft over the years, to be basically similar to how it was previously. It has a lot of features (perhaps too many features) and it can sometimes feel like you need to put in far too much time in order to really understand them and use PowerPoint to its full potential. One feature that I did like was the ease of inserting pictures into a slide, and the ability to intuitively manipulate the picture (and how it corresponds to the text on the slide) was gratifying.

I also found it frustrating to try and keep the slides looking interesting, and not look like the traditional, boring PowerPoint presentations that we are constantly told to avoid. There are so many articles (this is a good example of one) telling us what to avoid, but very few give you practical help and advice on how to achieve visually stimulating slides. I decided to take some advice and try and avoid some of the traps that I had already begun to utilise in my practice slide show for this task: namely too much text and an over-reliance on bullet points.

For the images, I tried to use some playful (and instantly recognisable) memes for the earlier slides against a light background colour. This was an attempt to give some animation to what would be primarily background information about the project. When it came to looking at the results of this project, I ditched these, and focused on images of our new website, and used white background. As I mentioned before, I chose not to use bullet points, but instead had a series of slides with the same heading but different points on each page. This gave the impression of bullet points, but utilised a much clearer, easier to understand message.

Looking at the different options


During the period of frustration with PowerPoint, I began to think that I should probably investigate different ways of presenting my slide show. I looked again at Prezi, and remain impressed with the ability to elevate presentations beyond the normal presumption of something to be endured. There's the feeling of being immersed in the talk, although sometimes it can take this to the opposite level and feel a bit showy and gimmicky. I also looked at Slideshare. It's an interesting option, and definitely great to have another choice in terms of which way you can present your slides. I thought its use of stock images and different ways to display text was very innovative, although there were many occasions that I was quite frustrated with displaying images in the way that I wanted them displayed. In the end, I decided to stick with PowerPoint and hope for the best.

Uploading your slides to Blogger: not as easy as you might think!


The final problem was trying to get my presentation uploaded to my blog. Although PowerPoint has a share option, any of the guidelines available online to show you how to do this suggested options that were not available to me (despite having the most up-to-date version of Microsoft). There were many other options, however, so it seemed like this wouldn't be a huge issue. Slideshare allows you to upload any of your PowerPoint presentations to its service, as does Google Docs. With both of these options, it should be relatively straightforward. Of course, it wasn't. Uploading my presentation to either of these two services resulted in slight alterations with either the text or the background of the slides, meaning that occasionally they would look like I had made mistakes. I investigated the possibility of using Scribd, which allows you to upload documents and share on blogging sites, but there didn't seem to be a free option, just a 14 day trial. What I have ended up doing was taking advantage of Microsoft's option of converting the slide show to a video with ten seconds between each slide. Although the whole experience was somewhat frustrating, it really brought home what I mentioned earlier about making sure that you have your slides available in as many different places as possible.

video

A review of the experience


As I mentioned before, I tried to rely on text as little as possible and use the slides more as prompts than conveying the information. The idea would be that I would control when a slide was shown, supplying all the particular information relevant to each point that the slide was highlighting. Obviously, this means that when giving the presentation, I would have to really know my stuff and be able to present it in an engaging and enthusiastic manner.

I think in general I learned a couple of valuable lessons from this task. Firstly, that it's important to devote a lot of time to really determining what you want to put in your slides, and alter it once you settle on the 'story' that you want to tell. Also, style is important. It's a presentation, after all! You need to balance the style with the substance. And remember: keep that text to the basics. You don't want to overload your presentation with text-heavy slides.