Browser plug-ins, a thing of the past


Cat_PluginsA browser plug-in (or plugin) is extra software installed on a PC that allows a browser to display additional content it was not originally designed to display.  Some examples of popular plug-ins are Flash Player, Java and Silverlight.  Plug-ins were created because, at the time, browsers were fairly immature and browser development was not happening fast enough, if at all.  So this created big opportunities for plug-in developers to create software that would expand the capabilities of browsers.

Now, let's talk about what the problems are with plug-ins.  The biggest problem that I see is  the fact that they are not very secure.  There have been numerous attacks through either Flash or Java and since everyone has the same plug-in an attack works across every browser and operating system.  Other problems include not working on different operating systems as they are designed to only work on certain ones or they can be be very unstable which can cause your browser to crash or just behave badly.  These are the reasons why Mozilla announced in 2013 that they would changing the way Firefox loads third party plug-ins such as Flash, Java and Silverlight. Google has also announced their three-step approach to plug-in elimination:

  1. In January 2015 they began blocking plug-ins by default.
  2. In April 2015 they will begin to disable Chrome's ability to run plug-ins at all, unless a user specifically enables it by setting a flag in Chrome's technical preferences.
  3. In September 2015, they will begin to completely remove all ability to run plug-ins from Chrome.

So now you're probably wondering, "If they're going away, what's going to be replacing them?".  The answer is that we are in a much healthier environment of rapid browser development (Firefox and Chrome both release a new browser version every 6-weeks) and web standards.  Many of the features plug-ins implemented are now being introduced in the form of built-in browser features.  Don't feel bad that plug-ins are going away -- they had their time and now like everything else on the Internet it's time for a change.

Build With Chrome

How often at your library do you see a pile of LEGO blocks poured out onto a play surface and think about what a chore it will be if you have to do clean up, or if you are the one who has to replace lost parts. Those days could be a thing of the past!

While doing some LEGO “research” I came across a site called Build with Chrome. This is a site where LEGO and Google Chrome teamed up to bring you an online environment where you can build with virtual LEGO blocks.

You don’t have to sign up for an account, but if you do you can pick out a chunk of land on Google Maps and build your own piece of paradise and have it published for the whole world to see.


RFID or not to RFID? - that is the question.

I don't think I've ever blogged (bragged) about the SCLS mobile RFID tagging kits.  Years ago (!) SCLS used grant monies to purchase equipment, carts and bins in order to provide a shared resource that libraries could "check-out" when they decided to implement RFID.  Providing these kits has meant that libraries using Bibliotheca software were not required to a) purchase their own mobile tagging kits or b) rent taggging stations. 

We have 4 mobile tagging kits; each kit contains an antenna (aka pad), FEIG reader with power cord, a laptop with both flavors of Bibliotheca tagging software, power cord, mouse, barcode scanner and a surge protector delivered to your library in a stylish grey delivery bin. We also have 3 carts that you can also borrow, if you do not have a cart in-library that you can use. The carts do not include a battery so you will need to use an extension cord to provide power to the equipment.  At your request, we will provide hands-on training in the use of the software and equipment.

If you are an SCLS LINKcat library, you can submit a reservation for use, with estimated dates, on the online Koha Support form.  Kits are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Robots at the library

RobotThe Westport Library has robots! Library patrons will be able to use the programming language Python to program the robots to all kinds of things and may even have robot poetry slams in the future. This excellent 3-minute audio clip tells more about the robots and includes clips of interviews with the library staff.

Read more about the robots and watch videos of them in action here:

SCLS has plans for our own robots in the form of the LEGO Mindstorms kits that will debut in 2015. The LEGO Mindstorms kits arrived a couple of weeks ago, and so far staff have sorted out all the many, many pieces (there were a ton!) and spent a little time becoming familiar with the kits. They've built some simple robots and experimented with programming them to do tasks using their light, touch, gyro, and other sensors.

The kits will be part of a new traveling “makerspace kit” for SCLS member libraries to borrow and were purchased using funds contributed by the SCLS Foundation. Read more about the Foundation and LEGO Mindstorms kits in the Fall 2014 SCLS Foundation newsletter.

Virtual Reality for Everyone

We all know that Google is always coming out with cool new technology, like Google Glasses.  Well, they have done it again and came out with a virtual reality visor that you can make yourself.  All you need is some cardboard, two lenses, a magnet, velcro, a rubberband and a smart phone.  MacGyver has nothing on the folks that came up with this idea.  You can read the CBS article entitled Google Cardboard puts virtual reality in everyone's reach to find out more about it.  If you're interested in how it works then take a look at the below YouTube video that is found at


If you want to build it yourself you can download the plans from this website.  If you need help building it then take a look at the below YouTube video, found at, that walks you through the making of your own Google Cardboard.


I think that this would make an awesome MakerSpace project.

Your library is a portal

Ingress_LogoYour library is very likely a portal. Resistance and Enlightened team members are hacking it, deploying resonators and mods, and linking it to other portals to create fields. And they're doing it from inside or just outside of your building using an app and their GPS-enabled device.

Intrigued? The game is Ingress, an "augmented reality massively multiplayer online GPS-dependent game" from Niantic Labs, a startup within Google. Whew! That's a mouthful. 

People all around the world are participating one giant game using their mobile devices. They download an app, create an account, pick a team, and join the fun. There's a back story for the game that gets quite complicated, but it all boils down to some basic tasks: capture and control portals, link them up to make fields and control territory, earn points and badges, and increase your level and score both individually and for your team. Players can also submit new portals as long as they meet the criteria. As stated in this article, Ingress "is like a combination of geocaching and capture the flag," and it's incredibly addictive.

Baraboo Public Library in IngressWhere does your library come in?

You're probably a portal. From Wikipedia: "Portals are typically associated with buildings and landmarks of historic and/or architectural significance such as sculptures and other public art, libraries, post offices, memorials, places of worship, public transit hubs, parks and other recreational or tourist spaces."

You may see some unusual traffic. You may see cars outside your building at odd hours with the drivers' faces lit up by their cell phone screens or see people with their cellphones furiously hitting a "fire" button to blow up the other team's resonators so they can take over the library for their team. In any case, there are folks who may be non-library users who are now very aware of where the library is.

There may be some programming possibilities. I found one library that even held an Ingress-themed program for Teen Tech Week.

Personally, I've found Ingress to be a great way to easily find points of interest when I venture to a new town. Public libraries, historic landmarks, interesting public art, and sometimes even unique local businesses --- it's great to hack and explore at the same time! (and a very clever way for Google to get the low-down on all of the cultural points of interest in a city!)

Home Automation

GE-Bright-from-the-Start-BulbA simple quest to find out more information on “Smart light bulbs” has turned into a major discussion at my house. We wanted a light bulb that would automatically turn on in the morning to help us wake up.  Yes, I know lamps already exist that do that sort of thing, but that’s not the point, and it would make for a real snoozer of a post. Get it? I said "snoozer" when I was referring to a lamp that is supposed to help you wake up! Anyway, I thought it was funny, and I bet Tim will too.

Back on point, “Smart light bulbs” are bulbs that can be controlled with an app on a smartphone or tablet. This is part of a larger movement called home automation. Some major retailers are beginning to carry home automation kits. Staples has Connect, Lowe’s has Iris, Home Depot has Wink (release date set for July 7th), and Apple has HomeKit. Some of these are more advanced that others, but work using similar protocols like wifi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave Plus and ZigBee.

These home automation kits consist of a hub that connects to your broadband Internet connection, and sometimes a light bulb or two, depending on the kit. As long as you buy smart devices that are compatible with your hub you shouldn’t have any problem controlling them and you can connect hundreds of devices to a single hub.
As for the major discussion at my house, I don’t think I’m ready to commit to a home automation system yet. It seems like a quickly changing market with more and more devices coming out all the time. I do like what I’m seeing with Wink and might look into that more next week.

I can see where this technology will start creeping into the libraries as a way of controlling HVAC and security systems in the near future if it hasn’t already.

Checking out Wi-Fi and Roku

DevicesWe can check out a lot of different things at the library like books (of course!), DVDs, magazines, eReaders, laptops, bundt cake pans, tools, and even seeds. But, how about a Roku box or a Wi-fi hot spot?

The Indian Prairie Public Library (Darien, IL) started lending Roku to their patrons on January 2, 2014. They started with three devices and are now up to six with 82 titles on them. As someone who still watches "over the air" TV, and is hesitant to get a Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, or even Netflix, I think this is a great way to introduce the service to more people. And, OverDrive is partnering with Roku so there will be an OverDrive channel featuring library audiobooks and streaming videos. Even better!

New York and Chicago Public Libraries both received grants from the Knight Foundation to bring the Internet to more of their patrons by lending Wi-Fi hotspots. The hope is to help bridge the digital divide by providing Internet access where ever their patrons need it. Many people can't afford or don't have access to the Internet at home and having free Wi-Fi hotspots available for checkout will improve Internet access. How cool is that?






Choose Privacy Week

MonitorMay 1-7 is Choose Privacy Week, an ongoing program of the American Library Association that invites library users into a national conversation about privacy rights in a digital age. The Choose Privacy Week website has programming resources for libraries and includes the March 9, 2014 broadcast of "60 Minutes" which provides a good basic introduction to the activities of data brokers and how online personal data is tracked, bought, and sold without users’ knowledge. This 15-minute video is excellent (and worth sitting through the commercials!).

After you learn about how personal data is tracked, bought, and sold, you might want to follow up with tips about how you can lead a more private life online. Try the "60 Minutes Overtime" video, "How to defend your privacy online."  Skip ahead to 2:59 for some recommendations.

And don't forget about iLibrarian's 2013 post, "A quick guide to Private Browsing," which covers the Private Browsing and Do Not Track features for most popular browsers and includes "how-tos" and screenshots.

Are you concerned about your privacy in the digital age? What special steps do you take to preserve it? I have to confess, I hadn't paid too much attention to this topic in the past, but now I'm considering options like DuckDuckGo and Disconnect for more private browsing! 

More TechBits posts about privacy:

ALA Connect

When I attend the American Library Association conference, I typically gravitate toward the Library Information and Technology Association (LITA).  LITA is a great oppotunity to talk to other library staff about the technology trends that public libraries face (both challenges and opportunities).

Fortunately, you do not need to attend the ALA conferences or even be an ALA member to participate in the LITA (or ALA) community.  ALA offers a service called ALA Connect which is available to anyone.  ALA Connect provides online forums to discuss various issues. At the conference, my favorite interest group is the Public Library Techology Interest Group.  There is a place in ALA Connect for this group, but so far it is not very active. Once you get into ALA Connect, you can look around and see what interests you.  ALA Connect is a little daunting to navigate at first, so here some steps to help you get started and for joining the Public Library Technology Interest Group:

Log in with your ALA login if you are a member, or create a login (membership not required; ALA requires you to have your login as your first name and last name, with a space in-between each name and the first letter had to be capitalized. Then your login has to be approved, but that doesn't take long. After it's approved, you can log in and create a password.)
Browse Groups>Communities
Search "public libraries technology"
Click link for Public Libraries Technology Interest Group. 
Click Join button.
Once you join, you will see a "My Communities" section on the left side.  As you join other forums, thy will be added to your communities.