When you say "it seems slow", what does that mean?

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About five years ago, SCLS recommended that libraries use a timing tool for Firefox called Life of Request Information (LORI), to help assess response time for applications and network connections, especially for Koha.

Unfortunately, LORI hasn't been updated recently, and it is not 100% compatible with modern Firefox. You can still make LORI work, but technically it is obsolete and in some cases it may have serious conflict with websites or other add-ons.

Luckily, a pretty decent replacement is available for it; the Page Speed Monitor (PSM) extension. The free PSM widget is easy to install, easy to use, and available for both Firefox and Chrome. In each browser, it shows up as a small icon in the toolbar, typically in the upper right corner of the window though this may vary if you're using a custom theme. The appearance of the toolbar icon is slightly different for FF and Chrome, as shown here.

App.telemetry.toolbar.iconsEach time you load a page, the PSM toolbar icon is overlaid with the total load time in seconds, timed from when you first requested the page to when the browser finished rendering it. If you click the icon you'll see a detailed breakdown of the timing elements.

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From these elements you can estimate how much of the time is due to network or web server responsiveness (the DNS and TCP metrics), versus how much is from the weight or complexity of the page content (the Processing metric). Refer to the Page Speed Monitor download page for a technical description of each timing element.

TechSoup for Libraries

TechSoup for LibrariesDo you know about the TechSoup for Libraries blog? It's one of my favorites!

TechSoup for Libraries is a project of TechSoup, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit devoted to making technology and technology education available and affordable to nonprofits and libraries all over the world. TechSoup for Libraries continues to gather and share stories from the field so libraries can keep learning from each other.

I was just looking over the blog recently and was amazed all over again at what a helpful collection of topics it covers. Some recent examples:

And those are just some of the posts that I find most appealing given my interests! There are many, many more posts on a variety of library technology topics.

You can browse to the blog, sign up for their monthly newsletters, follow them via RSS, or follow them on Twitter.

Guest Post: Madison Public Library's Personal Archiving Lab

This Guest Post is from Samantha Abrams, a soon-to-be graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Library and Information Studies. You can find her on Twitter as @sabramse.

Inspired by similar projects like the Memory Lab (in Washington) and the Inspiration Lab (in Vancouver), the Personal Archiving Lab at the Madison Public Library made its debut in June of this year. Funded through the Madison Public Library Foundation by a gift from Martin J. Levy, the Lab is a collection of equipment that can be used by Library patrons to digitize at-risk analog materials, like home movies, video tapes, audio cassettes, photographs, floppy disks, and paper-based documents (including photographs).

Personal Archiving LabThe Lab — as it stands — fits on a small cart (like this one), and is fully mobile. In addition to a Macbook Air, the Lab contains a flatbed scanner (which can handle poster-sized documents as well as slides and film negatives), a Sony HandyCam, a portable miniDV player, a tape deck, a combination VHS / DVD player, and a floppy disk drive. For video-based transfers, the Lab uses Elgato Video Capture. Some form of external storage (thumb drives are recommended) is required to use the lab, and the transfer of all tape-based media occurs in real time (60 min video = 60 min to complete the transfer).

The equipment we use to capture important memories today — smartphones, digital cameras, social media — makes the tangible feel less urgent. As a result, our tapes and our photographs are often stored out of sight, and out of mind. It isn’t until we run across that box in the attic, or garage, or relative’s basement, that we rediscover them. Since the debut of the Lab at the Madison Public Library, I have helped patrons access memories that are — seemingly — trapped on all kinds of outdated material: VHS and Hi8 tapes have been the most commonly digitized, but it has not been uncommon to work with patrons interested in digitizing cassette tapes, too.

Of course, not all obsolete media can be saved. Often, old tapes become demagnetized, or unintentionally damaged as time passes. But what the Lab can do — at the very least — is provide the equipment needed to access old media and the instruction required to begin the digitization process. And, based on the fact that the Lab’s appointments are often booked weeks in advance, this seems to be a much-needed service, met with great enthusiasm.

What makes the Lab truly great is not its equipment, but its ability to foster connections: not only does it allow Library staff to interact one-on-one with interested parties, but it allows patrons the ability to interact with the past. Earlier in the year, at Madison Public Library’s Pinney Branch, I sat down with a patron interested in digitizing a single cassette tape. As I prepared the computer and tape deck for our work, I made conversation with them: how did they hear about the Lab? What was it about the Lab that made them stop in? Eventually, we landed on the subject of her cassette: a conversation, recorded long ago, between the patron and their father. As they explained further, their father had passed away years before and the cassette — which was over twenty years old — was the only remaining recording of his voice. And what the Lab was able to provide the patron with was this connection: a memory from long ago, brought back to life.
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More about Samantha's personal experiences with the lab can be found here.

DPLA + Recollection Wisconsin

Since TechBits last featured the Digital Public Library of America, DPLA has continued to grow in exciting ways. DPLA is a portal for finding digital resources, a platform enabling use of those resources, and an advocate for public access to digital materials. And now that Recollection Wisconsin is the latest DPLA service hub, the riches of Wisconsin's digital resources are a part of it too.

Wisconsin map image in DPLA results
Example of a Wisconsin resource found via DPLA

As libraries and other organizations build local digital collections, service hubs (like Recollection Wisconsin) harvest metadata about items in the collections and share it with DPLA. Using that metadata, DPLA provides a centralized portal website with many ways to discover digital resources across the country: search, curated exhibitions, a map for browsing by location, and a timeline for exploring throughout history. Now that Wisconsin resources are included in DPLA, it's a great resource for finding local materials and also getting a nationwide context. (Fans of libraries might enjoy the DPLA exhibition "A History of US Public Libraries.")

Using DPLA as a platform, developers can mash up digital resource metadata with DPLA's API to "create novel environments for learning, tools for discovery, and engaging apps." Wonder what that looks like? For starters, there is a Twitter bot app that tweets cat pictures found through DPLA. Other apps provide combined searching of DPLA and collections beyond US borders, find digital books by language, and other specialized tools for using DPLA.

DPLA's advocacy extends throughout projects that further their mission as well as community activities that build engagement with digital collections in fun and educational ways.

Inspired? DPLA also offers a free self-guided curriculum for public libraries to get started on digitization projects (more info & archived webinar).

Litsy - Part 2

As I promised in my Litsy post of June 27, here's my update on using Litsy. I was a little hesitant about joining another social Litsy4network - even one that focused on books. As I've mentioned before, I started a LibraryThing account 10 years ago and have used it consistently since then (and plan on continuing) to keep track of my books. I also have a Goodreads account but that platform never really grabbed me - it's almost too social for me.

Litsy is in the middle. I like the community aspect of Litsy - focused around the book and reading (or listening) experience. Anything you post is tied to a book whether it's a review, a blurb, or a quote. You have limited options when rating the book: Pick, So-so, Pan, or Bail. I appreciate having the Bail option - I recently added a collection on LibraryThing called Started and Abandoned to keep track of those books I started but didn't finish. And, I like not trying to figure out whether a book is 3, 4 or 4.5 stars. The books I finish, I tend to like so they all end up in the same range. Litsy's options fit me.

Over this past weekend, Litsy participated in the 24 in 48 Readathon - another new thing to me. I followed along on Litsy but didn't formally participate. There were giveaways and prizes and it sounded like a lot of fun. Maybe next year...

Here's are my stats for my first month on Litsy:

  • 13 books read 
  • 11 posts
  • Followed 18 people
  • Followed by 25 people
  • Litfluence increased from 42 to 73

Litsy3                 Litsy7

 

Litsy recently did an update to the app and I highly encourage you to read the "What's New in Version 1.4.1" as it's quite entertaining. I haven't found the Litsy Librarians yet and I want to join them! I'll let you know when I figure that out.

Want to know more? Litsy is on Facebook and Twitter. There have been a number of articles about Litsy recently including this one from Publishers Weekly. Connect with me, pandalibrarian, on Litsy and let's talk about books! Happy reading!

Hands On with Virtual Reality

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The Oculus Rift has finally reached the market and I had the luck of getting my hands on a set and showing it to the office. Getting to wear one is truly an amazing experience. Imagine being able to stand toe-to-toe with an alien, face-to-face with a T-Rex, or towering over a miniature cityscape, in each case feeling like you'd be able to just reach out your hand and touch them.

This is what it takes to get one:

  • The Oculus Rift, itself, is $599
  • A computer that's able to support it is $999.99

I understand that that's a pretty steep cost for most people and most libraries, but if you could swing it I bet you'd be able to garner the attention of quite a few teens and young adults.

There are cheaper, less robust, options out there as well; namely Google Cardboard. Google Cardboard is most simply a mount with lenses that can turn most any smartphone into a pair of VR goggles. The base "cardboard" set is only $15, and there's many other more structural options as well for various prices. Phones are not included, however.

There are some libraries already using Google Cardboard in some programming events. Some articles can be found here, here, here, and here.

Very similar to Cardboard, but a little more cleaned up and more expensive, is the Samsung Gear VR. The headset is $99 and requires a Samsung Galaxy S6, S7, or Note 5 to use it.

Spheros are here!

Several Spheros Silently Sitting StillThe YA iPad kit will be getting a new addition in two weeks. We’ve purchased seven Sphero 2.0 robots to join the seven iPads. If you are not familiar with Sphero (like me) they are simply robotic balls. However, the more I learn about them the more it’s clear they are not all that simple. Sphero’s make a nice toy and even better learning device. All the iPads in the YA iPad kit will have the SPRK Lightning Lab app installed to allow block based programming, very similar to the Lego MindStorms kits we offer. I loaded this app on my smart phone and played around with it a bit the other day and found it very intuitive. In only a matter of minutes I had created a program and modified it to complete a task of moving the Sphero in a square around my office and back to its original starting point and change colors at every turn. I know it sounds simple, that’s because it is! If you’re not into the whole programming thing you can also use the app to treat the iPad like a remote control for the Sphero and roam around your library with it, that’s fun too!

Ergo-what now? (recap)

In my last post to TechBits I indicated having little luck in finding good, affordable options for a new ergonomic keyboard. Someone's ears must have been burning, because a few weeks later came updates to this article from The Wirecutter.

In it they review a variety of options, some quite affordable. They also summarize many of the criteria to look for when selecting an ergonomic keyboard and why those options are important for different physical needs you may have. Finally, they link to a number of other keyboard review sites and even to the scientific research behind the ergonomics.

Whether you're looking for a little more information or a lot, this is a good place to start.

 

Report from ALA: Tech in the Streets

AC16Pod-LookBackAt the ALA conference earlier this week, I had the privilege of hearing how two librarians enhance outreach by using new technologies outside the library. The presenters were Erin Berman, a recent Library Journal Mover and Shaker, and her colleague Amelia Vander Heide, both from the San Jose Public Library. The program was called Tech in the Streets. This program was very timely due to the recently deployed SCLS mobile hot spots and the soon-to-be deployed mobile circulation kits. Having live access to the ILS can be very beneficial to mobile outreach projects. Below are my "takeaways" from the presentation.

The presenters provided a common-sense approach to identifying and planning programs using technology that you can do outside of the library.

  • First, ask Why. One of their "whys" was to reach patrons where they are, especially in under-served areas.
  • Second, ask How. They suggest doing a community assessment. What do people want? Then do an internal assessment. Do you have the hardware, staff, time and resources to do the program. Are there grant or sponsorship opportunities? Do you need anything special, like permits to use the location? SCLS provides maker kits and other equipment that could help you meet some of your internal needs.
  • Finally, identify the Where. You can pick more traditional places, like farmer's markets or street fairs. But they point out that un-traditional spaces equal new opportunities (for example a skate park). Fs-cat-ereader._CB325814377_

Their projects have ranged from very simple like taking a tablet to show people e-content or very complex like their new "Makerspaceship" which is a $400,000 plus bus. On the simple side, they described their experience with going to a senior center to show people how to download e-books on various devices. One of the things they had to do was to help people re-set their passwords. SCLS has two e-reader kits that can be reserved for a program like this.

Europe!!1 241A more complex event involved taking GoPros and a mobile maker kit with laptops and movie editing software to a skate park. They provided harnesses for the GoPros. Quite a few kids tried out the GoPros. I thought this was pretty nifty as they reached out to a group of kids who may not otherwise experience library services even if in the end, only a few kids tried the video-editing software. SCLS has a stop motion animation kit that includes video editing software which could assist with a program like this.

I hope that my summary of this awesome presentation inspires you to "take tech to the streets."

 

Litsy

BookRiotLast summer, I told you about book podcasts that I listen to and one of them is All the Books by Bookriot. The podcast is just over a year old and still going strong and I'm still listening to it every week. One of the hosts, Liberty Hardy, has been talking about Litsy for a while and I've resisted checking it out.

Then, I came across this tweet from Bookriot today and clicked on the link to get the coloring sheet (yes, I've joined the adult coloring book phenomenon) and saw a reference to Litsy and decided to check it out. That tweet and post led me to this one: 10 Wonderful People to Follow on Litsy by Liberty and decided to give it a try.

For all the details on how Litsy works, read this post by Brenna - another Bookriot writer. While signing up for an account was easy, I wasn't sure of how Litsy worked exactly or why I'd be interested and this article helped immensely.

LitsyI signed up today and set up my profile and am starting it from where I am right now in my reading life. My next TechBits post will be at the end of July so here's the plan. I'll play around with and use Litsy to capture all the books I read in the next few weeks and report back to you.

If you're already using Litsy, let me know in the comments or find me on Litsy and share your experiences.

P.S. I'll still keep up my LibraryThing account - I've had that account for almost 10 years!