Google Plus. Plus What?

I worry that I might be falling out of love with Google. I like their stuff, but I’m afraid that in their great mission to not be evil, they’ve slipped into the trap of being greedy. Very, very greedy. Now Google understands just how rich they can become by using very clever marketing. The more information they collect about each of us, the more accurate the profile that Google has of us. Google will know what we like, when we like it. And they will sell that to advertisers who will pay an awful lot of money to know what products I’m definitely going to buy this month, and what products I might buy if I’m in the right mood – and yes, Google will be able to tell them when I’m in the right mood – I’m sure there will be a tool in Google+ that is irresistible to the user and very informative to Google and its clients. It’s clever. It’s insidious. It may not be evil, but I don’t like it.


This was originally a comment on Stephen’s Lighthouse


Google for educators: Tools for the classroom

I’ve used Google Docs a bit in the past, as well as plenty of other Google services. Despite the hard time we librarians give Google, it really is a very nice company because it produces some great online tools … and lets everyone use them for free! Sure, we’d be happier if the students in our libraries used Google Simple Search a lot less and our subscription databases a lot more, but you have to give credit where it is due: a lot of things we do online would be more difficult without Google.

I’ve been looking at a lot of online tools for educators, and revisited Google for Educators and had a look at what Google itself recommends as Tools for your classroom. I’ve used most of these before, but I think it is worth a few comments about how they could be used by teachers, and how they can help me in my role as a newly-fledged librarian.

Google Book Search

Google’s mission to digitize every book ever published has been somewhat undermined by the poor people who sell books to keep food on their tables – book publishers. OK, most of them aren’t exactly poor, but many of them have reacted strongly to the idea of making books freely available online. A group of publishers has been suing Google about it, and a few changes  have been forced. It’s now a lot harder to find a full text on Google Books, but it is still possible to search the text of a book – as long as it’s one of the limited titles Google is allowed to search. Google continues to negotiate, and sees part of its role as a link between readers and libraries, or between readers and publishers. The latest state of play can be examined here.

Google Geo Education

Four well-loved apps (Google Earth, Google Sky, Google Maps, and Google Sky) have been brought together to provide a suite of tools with a wide range of applications for geography, science, history literature and maths teachers. There is a classroom ideas section, and a community forum. The extensions of some of these tools extend the possibilities to every subject and teaching area – e.g. Google Art Project, a mashup of Street View, Maps, and images from major galleries and museums around the world.

Google News

There are plenty of news-based search engines. Google is one of the best because of its vast coverage. When combined with other tools, such as Google Docs, the news site, with its extensive archive, and customisable alerts, is a great resource for research and classroom activities.


This is a way to collect content from all over the web and display it on a single page. It could even be used as a presentation tool, with each element embedded in a separate widget. By customising the theme, iGoogle could even be used as a home page – although the content is really only visible to the Google account holder, so it presents a view of the web to one person (or one small team or activity group), rather than being a public front page for something like a library.

Custom Search Engine

This is a great tool for teachers and librarians, and can be used anywhere a widget can be embedded: intranet, blog, OPAC, etc. CSEs can be configured to search only specified sites for particular content: even the way the results are displayed can be customised.

Google Notebook

This sort of tool is becoming more common. It’s a way to grab information from several sites, annotate it, and keep it together for a later visit. Personally, I prefer Evernote, which does the same thing, but automatically sync’s to my laptop, phone and online account. I can also add a voice recording or webcam clip to Evernote. The advantage of Google Notebook is that it’s easier to share content with other users.


Picnik is one of those annoying names that makes me think I’ve made an error every time I type it! Fortunately, I don’t think I’m likely to need to type it often. It’s an online photo editing site, a bit like Picasa for Kids. It looks easy to use and will pull images from Flickr and other photo sharing sites to save uploading them. It has lots of built-in templates and special effects – a good enough reason to give it a miss, in my opinion.


This is a more robust, more grown-up image editing and storage utility. It can be used as a desktop application for cataloguing and editing photos, and the Web Albums make it easy to share images online.

Google Apps Education Edition

Google offers an integrated package for schools. Each school can choose from Gmail, Google Talk (instant messaging), Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Sites (simple website creation), and create a customised institution-wide deployment of these apps. I’ve worked in a big school that replaced their dedicated mail server with Gmail – it worked well from day one, and allowed integration with Docs and Calendar (which are embedded into various parts of the intranet). I really don’t understand why so many schools insist on struggling with an Exchange server when Gmail provides such a simple solution at no cost. Maybe they think it is more secure to run their own mail server? Maybe they still put out milk and cookies for Santa, too. At my old school, we had hassle-free Gmail accounts for a couple of years, and in the single term at a new school, Exchange mail was down for up to a few hours – at least twice. Hmmm …


I’ll just keep my head covered up in this sandpit until that ebook craze is over

There has been a bit of a discussion on the Australian Teacher-Librarian Mailing List (yes, we not only still have libraries, we still have mailing lists in this country!) about state boundaries and access to resources. I live in Victoria (the state, not the Island) and we have a fabulous state library, somewhat imaginatively called the State Library of Victoria. As a Victorian resident, I can access lots of academic databases and electronic journals through the State Library. My friends who live in Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, cannot access most of these resources. But it’s OK – they have the State Library of New South Wales, and I can’t access their online content.

I’m also a member of the Melbourne Library Service, which is an Overdrive library. Members anywhere in Victoria can borrow audiobooks and eBooks. They used to let anyone borrow them, but apparently some of the vendors and/or publishers got upset about them having over 1000 overseas members – so we recently had to verify a Victorian address to keep using that service. I suppose this is one consolation for Australians, who are being denied much of the international eBook and audiobook market – just like we were denied the iTunes Music Store for a while. I suppose that the local publishers are trying to survive in the face of international online purchasing, so they are trying to quarantine some content so it can only be bought from them.

I still get the feeling that local publishers are burying their heads in the sand hoping for the eBook fad to blow over. It isn’t a fad, of course, and it won’t go away.  Legal downloading of music is now a booming industry for the publishers who embraced it, rather than a fad that disappeared, as many in the music industry were predicting. How long will we have to wait for Australian publishing to really embrace the ebook?

Tools for visualising thinking

The Infobrarian is not happy … sometimes size does matter!

I’ve just been playing around with this week’s activities in the #VicPLN – Tools for visualising thinking, AKA useful web apps for getting thoughts out of your head and onto a page where other people can admire them. Or not.

Tool #1   Wallwisher

This is a great online tool, perfect for brainstorming sessions when the person responsible for the butcher’s paper and crayons has forgotten them. It’s also good for staff meetings, or any time a group of people need to leave short messages or comments. Short, because every sticky note added to the active window has a 160-character limit. That’s great for Haiku planning, but a bit underpowered for your next doctoral thesis.

Wallwisher could be useful for service departments that get a lot of simple requests: each one could be posted to the job wall, then removed when resolved. The IT help desk would love it, because as we all know, most requests can be shortened to things like:

broken keyboard, library PC 32

staffroom copier needs black toner

email down. again.

staff server scheduled upgrade Monday 9 am

Size Issue #1   Wallwisher usernames can only be 10 characters long. So who am I?

Infobrrian     Infbrarian     Infobraria      Infoarian?

What am I? Not happy!

Tool #2 Essay Map

This is a great tool for helping writers get a bit of structure, and forces them to make a few notes about:

  • An intro
  • Three main ideas
  • Supporting points for each idea
  • A conclusion

Size Issue #2   The topic can only have 25 characters!  That sort of rules out all those great two-part titles so popular with academics, like:

Strategies for evaluating information visualization tools: multi-dimensional in-depth long-term case studies

I tried to think of a few possible essay topics, and kept running out of characters. Imagine the problem this would be to someone like Stephen Covey if he wanted to use Essay Map to plan his “7 Habits”  books. All the titles would have to be the same:

The 7 Habits of Highly Eff    

My main grumble about Essay Map is that it isn’t really a Web 2.0 tool. It needs to be interactive, and that’s one of the great features of the last two tools.

Some Happier News and Gliffy projects can be shared and edited by a group, so are interactive and part of the  read-write web.

The best thing about is that it is simple, fast, and allows collaboration.  OK, it’s missing lots of the features of  programs like MindMap and Inspiration – but it is free, and always available. I was part of a group where the minutes were taken live in, and we could edit/expand points later.

Gliffy takes a little longer to master, but has templates for all sorts of charts, plans and mapping. There’s even a plugin to import Gliffy objects to WordPress!  Yes, I should try it. Maybe tomorrow …

Social Bookmarking

If I hadn’t encountered the term before, I probably would have avoided the social bookmarking part of my Learning Network course  – I was clearly too busy putting my kitchen pantry in Dewey order, or updating the MARC records for our daughter’s DVDs … the term “marking” still evokes a shudder, and “book marking” is perhaps the least sociable activity you can do in mixed company.

Luckily, social bookmarking is something entirely different. I’ve even done it before!

I’ve used a little, and used to look at the public bookmarks of a few esteemed colleagues. My problem with social bookmarking is that it takes too many clicks (and thus too much time) to bookmark a site or page. I’m a spoiled Mac user (uh-oh .. there go my last remaining followers …) and I just love the simplicity of bookmarking with the Safari browser:

Apple-D (i.e. Command-D for the proletariat) then choose a folder – press Return. Done.
I have lots of bookmark folders across my toolbar – some even have folders within folders – and all the sites I might want to visit again are in there.  e.g. My LIBRARIES folder has the subfolders LibraryBlogs, LibGuides, eBooks, LibraryManagement, Research … and so on. It’s a great way to organise bookmarks.

I’ve  tried Diigo, and there are things I like, and things I wonder about. I use the Diigolet (because Diigo haven’t developed the Safari plugin yet, and I am not changing browsers just for social bookmarking). I think there are too many steps involved in creating a bookmark. Some people will argue that it isn’t much different form creating bookmarks in Safari. I guess it isn’t – but I don’t like the time-lag with Diigo / Diigolet.

I’ve got a LOT of bookmarks. If I want to add them to another browser, I can import them to most, usually with a couple of clicks. There is probably a way to do that in Diigo. I haven’t found it yet.

Communication Tools

(AKA Week 2 Reflection)

This week in our PLN exploration we were asked to try Twitter, Facebook and Skype. So I thought to myself, “Too easy. I’ve done all this before.”

Wrong. I’d barely scratched the surface of what these tools can do for communication.

Twitter: I used to be passive, just following a few friends and interesting celebrities. Now I’ve put that account away in the bottom drawer, and set up @Infobrarian, where I try to be a bit more conversational. Now I see Twitter as part of my librarian toolkit.

Facebook: This used to be strictly for keeping in touch with family and old friends. Now I’m using it to talk to the VicPLN participants. That’s a bit confronting, because I can’t hide behind an alias – my Facebook account is in my real name, has my real photos, and worse still, has me tagged in lots of my friends’ old embarrassing photos. Maybe I should set up a professional account here, too, although Facebook doesn’t really like you having more than one.

Skype: I loved using Skype when I was revising for exams last year. I had a fantastic study partner in another state, and we used Skype and Dropbox to share summaries and revision. After the first couple of sessions, once we were sure neither of us was Hannibal Lector, we didn’t bother with video, and just used audio – or mostly text chat.

Some people probably like the immediacy of Skype, but I prefer to think about my responses when I am discussing “deeper” topics. So yes, my brain is a bit too slow for Skype …






Summarising lectures and the need to tweet.

I tweeted my first lecture tonight. Stephen Abram was a guest of Geelong Regional Libraries, and delivered a rollercoaster ride through the topics of information retrieval, information delivery, and information services (i.e. Internet searching, books & mobile devices, and libraries). At the end of 90 minutes he apologised for going a couple of minutes over time, and the guy beside me said “He can go another couple of hours if he wants!” I think we all felt the same.

I’ve already tweeted a few of Stephen Abram’s points, and some more are on the IDEAS page, so I won’t talk about them now. I want to say how difficult it was to tweet ideas from a lecture. Difficult, but incredibly rewarding. I tried to send something about most of his main points, and almost every time I struggled with the 140 character limit  – I really had fewer than 140 because I wanted to add his name, and a hashtag. I think there are three reasons this is a very powerful learning activity:

1. I had to listen very attentively, and because I was trying to summarise the main points, I didn’t zone out like I often do in a 90-minute presentation.

2. Writing summaries is an old trick for people trying to learn in a lecture. Didn’t Plato recommend it? But writing very very short summaries adds a degree of difficulty that forces you to leave out everything except the main idea. And sometimes it is very difficult to put that main idea into words! Thinking around a concept helps you understand it better. Sifting the central idea from a lot of clever analogies and funny anecdotes helps you understand it better. Trimming an idea down to less than 140 characters helps you understand it better!

3. I can go back and look at my tweets and rebuild what Stephen Abram was saying. You could call it revision. You could suggest that I expand these tweets into a full-text summary of the lecture. You could do it yourself from my tweets.

You could. Unfortunately, my brain has just logged off for the night – but I will go back to those points again tomorrow, and that will help me remember more. Who knows, I might even blog about them – there are simply so many Big Ideas there. Lots to think about. But my brain really is  shutting down. Even if I ju .        .         .         .         .         .         .

Location, location, location

I’m trying to decide where to put things on this blog.

From what I can work out, most bloggers write a new post on their main page, or in the dashboard, and send it to their main page. They allocate it to one or more categories – then the post appears at the TOP of their blog, and on the top of any Category page.

That’s how it works in my school library:

Main page – gets every new post at the top

Books  – gets any new post labeled as “Books”

Technology – gets any new post labeled as “Technology”

Competitions – gets any new post labeled as “Competitions”

If I assign a new post to both Books and Technology, it will appear at the top of:

1. Main page      2. Books           3. Technology

Pages can be made a “sticky” – they stay at the top of their page, and new posts appear second in the list of posts.  We make “Recent Arrivals” a sticky for about a week.

I’d like to run this blog differently. I’d like my blog posts to appear only on the main page. On the About page, I put things about me (all those personal reflections from the first activity we did). On Ideas, I’ve got all my great ideas for blogging and using Web 2.0 tools. Umm  – it’s empty now, and might be for a while!

Is this the right way to operate a blog? Am I trying to make it more like a website? What is the right location for everything on a blog? Does it matter? Will I just confuse my readership? Do I have any readers?


Doesn’t it drive you crazy when someone knows a big secret, and talks on and on about it without telling you what it is? That’s how I felt tonight. I went along to a very nice restaurant, for a very nice dinner, with some very nice company to hear someone tell us all about big secret  – but without telling us what it was!

We were having the special dinner because of the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards. One of the judges talked to us about the shortlisted books, and explained the selection process. What I didn’t realise until tonight was that the Book of the Year has already been chosen!  We don’t find out about it until about August, but the judge who spoke tonight already knows what it is!   There are really five B.O.T.Y., each one in a different category, which makes this secret thing five times worse. OK, I can see why the Book Council does this: it’s a way to trick people into reading more books. If they just came out and said “This year the Book of the Year for Older Readers is Fiona Woods’ Six Impossible Things,” then everyone would rush out and buy it and read it. If they awarded 2nd, 3rd and 4th place, then some people might read a couple of those as well. Instead, they announce a shortlist, but they don’t announce the winner yet. And what do we do? We try to rush out to get all the shortlisted books! It’s trickery, it’s underhand, it’s manipulation of the masses – and it works.

The judge who talked to us was fantastic, by the way. She praised all the shortlisted books, read from most of them, and explained some of the qualities that saw the books shortlisted. But not once did she reveal any of the secrets. No winks, no subtle smiles, no telling glances gave anything away. There was simply no way of guessing which book from each category was a winner. The judge made each book sound equally enticing to read, and I’m looking forward to reading every one of them.  The trick worked on me. But it was so infuriating that she knew who the winners were, and we didn’t!

What’s an Infobrarian?

Hi, I’m Russell. I’m an Infobrarian. Are you? You’re probably a librarian if you are reading my blog, but I won’t hold that against you.

A long time ago, someone decided that it would be a good idea to keep a whole lot of books in one place. They checked “Book-keeping-place” on their favourite domain registry, and found it was free, but then had the compelling feeling that they should use something Latin in the title. They chose liber, and after some clumsy conjugating and declensioning, ended up with the name library for their book-keeping-place. They decided that the person in charge of the Library would of course be a BookGuard.

Unfortunately, that word was already taken (a nagging voice in my head tells me to write “was already covered”, but as there may be real librarians in the audience, I’ll avoid that) so for the next few thousand years, they had to be content with librarian. Now, I’m not sure about your library, but my library has a lot more than just books in it. Don’t get me wrong – I like books – but there are plenty of other ways of finding out stuff in most libraries. And when you really think about it, that’s what libraries have evolved into: places for finding out stuff.

After a lot of brain-wrenching thought, a long discussion with my curriculum-wrangling partner, and half a chocolate rabbit, I concluded that libraries are now about information as much as books, so we should probably change the name. Is that why so many schools now have things called Information Centres, or Knowledge Centres, and other fairly clumsy labels? I don’t want a job title that requires me to type more than a dozen characters, so I looked for something shorter that really describes what I do now. I’ve forgotten just about all the Latin I ever learned, so I’m stuck with Informarian … that didn’t have the right ring to it, so I’ve butchered the term to get Infobrarian. No, it doesn’t have a proper Latin root, and it isn’t etymologically correct. But I like it.

So that’s what we’ve all become – infobrarians. Instead of librarians who point people to the right books, we now point people to the right information. And that’s what I want to do in my professional life. I hope you all feel the same.

Russell – the Infobrarian

By the way, I wasn’t kidding about the rabbit. I think I’ve written enough to deserve the rest of it now.