Jobs in Information Technology: January 14

New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.

New This Week

Assistant/Associate Librarian (Data Curation Librarian), Lousiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA

Business Librarian, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR

Library Director, Niles Public Library District, Niles, IL

Visit the LITA Job Site for more available jobs and for information on submitting a  job posting.

 

Leveraging MOOCs for Fun and Profit

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Let’s Talk about MOOCs

If you are a current or recent graduate student or work in higher ed, you have heard of the disruptive tech du jour, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs). While MOOCs are in their infancy, they are being scrutinized pretty heavily because of their potential to drink academia’s milkshake. While the course structure of a MOOC and a university course are fairly similar (a domain expert organizes a field and puts together a linear curriculum of lectures, readings and quizzes), the primary differences lie in the method of interaction (synchronous and personal vs. asynchronous and impersonal) and their perception of credibility (though certain platforms are experimenting with offering credentials, they don’t carry as much weight as a traditional university degree).

While it will probably be a while before MOOCs start poaching would-be university students, we can still enjoy and make use of MOOCs as they are. Classes, in person or virtual, are never meant to make the student a domain expert immediately. Classes give the student a high level overview of a subject and it is up to the student to move forward with the parts they find interesting, whether that’s with further courses or personal research. When I was in library school we had a kind of “Libraries 101″ class. Aside from gaining a general understanding of how a complete library system works, I learned that I find cataloging topics the most interesting. I took a cataloging class and learned that I like MODS/RDF metadata the most. I then did a lot of MODS/RDF research on my own which led to further interesting topics, ad infinitum. When viewed in terms of the progress and personal growth one can achieve, MOOCs and university courses aren’t so different.

 

For Profit

Professional development is a terrific reason to start taking MOOCs. No matter what your job is, there is a MOOC out there that will help you do it better. There are an incredible amount of MOOCs on technical topics like programming available from sites like edX and Coursera, so if you’d like to add a bit of programming chops to your professional skill set there has never been a better time. If you aren’t a tech person, there are still great classes (and even entire specializations!) to check out on topics like library advocacy, project management, marketing, business, and teaching. Growing your understanding in these areas could allow you to do your job better, net you better performance reviews, and possibly even a raise (hence the “For Profit” header).

While you can take these MOOCs by yourself, they work even better when you participate with a group. My first MOOC was “Copyright for Educators and Librarians” which I took as part of a copyright study group of librarians at FSU, and I gained a lot from our weekly get-togethers where we discussed how the course applies to our own work. I’m also currently taking an entire of run of data science courses with the Data Science Study Group, an open Google group for librarians to discuss the implications for data science in libraries. If you find a class that you think your coworkers might be interested in, I encourage you to set up a study group where you can discuss what you are learning in an open setting. You may be surprised how much more you get out of the experience.

MOOC study groups managed by libraries also have a lot of potential as programs for patrons or students. edX has lots of courses aimed at supporting high school students engaged in AP coursework. Public libraries might also be interested in offering study groups for those interested in health, nutrition, finance, or even happiness. Browse the course catalogs and see if you find anything you think your patrons would be interested in.

 

For Fun

Learning doesn’t always have to be about getting ahead in the workplace, though. There are plenty of MOOCs on topics one may take purely out of curiosity or as a hobby. For instance, I have enrolled in some upcoming classes on meditation, classical music and the poetry of Walt Whitman. If you are a sports nut maybe you’d like to learn about sabermetrics (the art of baseball analytics). Maybe you like Emily Dickenson more than Whitman. Whatever you’re into, there’s probably a MOOC about it that will deepen your knowledge. Learning (for free!) from an expert on a topic you are passionate about is a rare treat, so take advantage of these learning opportunities and see what all the hype is about!

Do you have a recommendation for MOOCs of particular value to librarians? Do you have a strong opinion about MOOCs that needs to be heard? Let us know in the comments!

Forum 2015 Call for Proposals

The Call for Proposals for the 2015 LITA Forum is out and proposals are due February 28, 2015. The 18th annual Forum of the Library Information and Technology Association will be held in Minneapolis Minnesota, November 12-15, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis.

The Forum Committee welcomes proposals for full-day pre-conferences, 50-minute concurrent sessions, or poster sessions related to all types of libraries: public, school, academic, government, special, and corporate.

Proposals could relate to any of the following topics:

  • Cooperation & collaboration
  • Scalability and sustainability of library services and tools
  • Researcher information networks
  • Practical applications of linked data
  • Large- and small-scale resource sharing
  • User experience & users
  • Library spaces (virtual or physical)
  • “Big Data” — work in discovery, preservation, or documentation
  • Data driven libraries or related assessment projects
  • Anything else that relates to library information technology

Proposals may cover projects, plans, ideas, or recent discoveries. We accept proposals on any aspect of library and information technology, even if not covered by the above list. The committee particularly invites submissions from first time presenters, library school students, and individuals from diverse backgrounds. Submit your proposal through this link by February 28, 2015.

Presentations must have a technological focus and pertain to libraries. Presentations that incorporate audience participation are encouraged. The format of the presentations may include single- or multi-speaker formats, panel discussions, moderated discussions, case studies and/or demonstrations of projects.

Vendors wishing to submit a proposal should partner with a library representative who is testing/using the product.

Presenters will submit draft presentation slides and/or handouts on ALA Connect in advance of the Forum and will submit final presentation slides or electronic content (video, audio, etc.) to be made available on the web site following the event. Presenters are expected to register and participate in the Forum as attendees; discounted registration will be offered.

Please submit your proposal through http://bit.ly/lita-2015-proposal

More information about LITA is available from the LITA website, Facebook and Twitter.

Tech Tools in Traditional Positions

During this winter break, I’ve had a slight lull in library work and time to reflect on my first semester of library school, aside from reading for pleasure and beginning Black Mirror on Netflix (anybody?). Overall, I’m ready to dive in to the new semester, but one tidbit from fall semester keeps floating in my thoughts, and I’m curious what LITA Blog readers have to say.

Throughout my undergraduate education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I was mainly exposed to two different sets of digital humanities practices: encoding and digital archive practices, and text analysis for literature. With my decision to attend library school, I assumed I would focus on the former for the next two to three years.

Last semester, in my User Services and Tools course, we had a guest speaker from User Needs Assessment in the Indiana University Libraries. As the title suggests, he spoke about developing physical user spaces in the libraries and facilitating assessments of current spaces.

For one portion of his assessments, he used text analysis, more specifically topic modeling with MALLET, a Java-based, natural language processing toolkit, to gain a better understanding of written survey results. This post by Shawn Graham, Scott Weingart, and Ian Milligan explains topic modeling, when/how/why to use it, and various tools to make it happen, focusing on MALLET.

If you didn’t follow the links, topic modeling works by aggregating many texts a user feeds into the algorithm and returns sets of related words from the texts. The user then attempts to understand the theme presented by each set of words and give reason to why it appears. Many times, this practice can reveal themes the user may not have noticed through traditional reading across multiple texts.

Image courtesy of Library Technology Consultants.

Image courtesy of Library Technology Consultants.

From a digital humanities perspective, we love it when computers show us things we missed or help make a task more efficient. Thus, using topic modeling seems an intuitive step for analyzing survey results, as the guest speaker presented. Yet, was also unexpected considering his more traditional position.

I’m curious where you have used some sort of technology, coding, or digital tool to solve a problem or expedite a process in a more traditional library position. Librarians working with digital objects use these technologies and practices daily, but as digital processes, such as topic modeling and text analysis, become more widely used, I’m interested to see where else they crop up and for which reasons.

Feel free to respond with an example of when you unexpectedly used text analysis or another tech tool in your library to complete a task that didn’t necessarily involve digital objects! How did you discover the tool? How did you learn it? Would you use it again?

Jobs in Information Technology: January 8

New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.

New This Week

Associate Dean for Technology and Digital Strategies, The Pennsylvania State University Libraries, University Park, PA

Visit the LITA Job Site for more available jobs and for information on submitting a  job posting.

 

Agile Development: Core Values

Image courtesy of Planbox via Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Planbox via Wikimedia Commons

In my last post, I talked about some of the advantages of and potential problems with using Agile as your development philosophy. Today I’d like to build on that topic by talking about the fundamental principles that guide Agile development. There are four, each seemingly described as a choice between two competing priorities:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

In reality, the core values should not be taken as “do this, NOT that” statements, but rather as reminders that help the team prioritize the activities and attitudes that create the most value.

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

The first core value is my favorite one: start with the right people, then build your processes and select your tools to best fit them, rather than the other way around. A good development team will build good software; how they build it is a secondary concern, albeit still a valid one: just because your star engineer likes to code in original Fortran, it doesn’t mean you should fill a couple of rooms with IBM-704s. Choosing the right tool is important, and will improve your team’s ability to produce quality software, as well as team recruitment.

Still, it’s the people that matter, and in particular their interactions with each other and with other parts of the organization. The key to building great software is teamwork. Individual skill plays a role, but without open communication and commitment to the team’s goals, the end product may look great, but it will likely not fulfill the original customer need, or it will do so in an inefficient manner. Agile’s daily standup meetings and end-of-iteration evaluations are a way to encourage the team to communicate freely and check egos at the door.

2. Working software over comprehensive documentation

This is the one that often makes developers jump for joy! An Agile team’s focus should be on finding the most efficient way to build software that solves an identified need, and therefore should not spend a lot of time on paperwork. Agile documentation should answer two basic questions: what are we going to build (project requirements and user stories) and how did we build it (technical specifications). The former is crucial for keeping the team focused on the ultimate goal during the fast and furious development sprints, and the latter is needed later on for the purpose of revisiting a certain project, be it to make enhancements or corrections or to reuse a particular feature. Anything else is typically overkill.

3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

The best way I can think of to explain this core value is: the development team needs to think of the customer as another member of the team. The customer-team relationship should not be managed by a signed piece of paper, but rather by the ongoing needs of the project. Contract negotiations (you can  calm your legal department down at this point; yes, there will be a contract) should be focused on identifying the problem that needs to be solved and a clear set of success criteria that will tell us we’ve solved it, rather than the tool or process to be delivered. Provisions should be made for regular customer-team interactions (say, by involving customer representatives in sprint planning and review meetings) and a clearly defined change management process: software development is a journey, and the team should have the flexibility to change course midstream if doing so will make the end product a better fit for the customer’s need.

4. Responding to change over following a plan

I talked about requirements documentation earlier, so there is, in fact, an overall plan. What this core value means is that those requirements are a suggested path to solving a customer need, and they can be modified throughout the project if prior development work uncovers a different, better path to the solution, or even a better solution altogether. And in this case, better means more efficient. In fact, everything I’ve described can be summarized in one, overarching principle: identify the problem to be solved or that needs to be fulfilled, and find the least costly way to get to that end point; do this at the beginning of the project, and keep doing it over, and over, and over again until everyone agrees that a solution has been reached. Everything else (processes, tools, plans, documentation) either makes it easier for the team to find that solution, or is superfluous and should be eliminated.

Do You Really Need a CMS?

By Thecodeintellects (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thecodeintellects (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

No, this post isn’t about another license, credential, or degree to put after your name. CMS stands for content management system, and in this case I’m referring to any of the applications that allow for publishing, editing, and organizing of content on web pages. Content management systems are powerful tools that make it easy to create, manage, and update websites and web content.

But do you really need a content management system for your website? Due to their wide range of capabilities, these systems can be very large and slow, which might not be a suitable trade-off if you’re trying to build a very simple website. Below, I outline some* considerations you should make before deciding whether to use a CMS.

Content

How much content will be posted, and how often? If you only have a fixed amount of content to post — maybe you just need the basics, like library hours, location, contact information, etc. — then you can get away with coding the pages yourself. However, if you’re planning on a lot of publishing activity, a CMS can be a time-saver in several ways. For one, most content management systems will provide you with a way to view a list of all the content you created, and let you perform batch actions such as publishing/unpublishing and deleting content. Furthermore, a CMS will provide a simple, familiar interface to input your content — whether it’s text, images, PDFs, video, etc. — which means your users won’t need any HTML expertise in order to make contributions to the website.

There are other benefits of a CMS’s graphical user interface (GUI). It allows greater control over content by enabling you to make certain fields mandatory, like a title and author name. Additionally, the CMS will automagically tag those fields in the rendered HTML, so you can customize the look of each field through the CSS stylesheet.

Another content consideration to ask is, Will you embed dynamic content from other sources, such as social media? Most popular content management systems have extensions (a.k.a. modules or plugins) that will display the content from your social media accounts directly on your website. However, if you will you do little more than post the occasional Flickr photo and YouTube video, then a CMS will be overkill if you already know how to embed externally-hosted photos and videos in HTML pages.

Users

How many users will post content? A CMS does more than content management — it also does user management. This is especially useful if you have several types of content and you need to assign user permissions based on content type. For example, you may want to give your reference librarians permission to publish blog posts, but you might not want them editing the page on computer use policy.

Resources

What are the web development and design skill levels of you/your staff? The benefit of using a CMS is that a relatively simple installation process lets you skip the development phase, and the theme marketplace lets you skip the design phase. You can have an attractive, functioning (if only basic) website up and running in less than a day’s work.

If you and your staff lack the technical skills, but have sufficient monetary resources to hire someone to develop and design a website, then you’ll also have to factor in the cost of maintaining the site once it’s live.

Another consideration is your users’ technical abilities. You may have some users who are very comfortable with embedding images, and you may have other users who have a difficult time even with a simple web form. If you care at all about accessibility — and you do, right?! — then you should also consider technical/web ability as an accessibility concern. Whether you decide to go with a CMS or not, cater to your users.

Alternatives

If you decide to use a content management system, there is no shortage of options, and the most popular today are Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress. But I wanted to close this post with some alternative options.

The intrepid web developer may want to roll her own CMS, perhaps with the help of a web application framework such as Yii or Zend. For organizations that lack the technical skills or time and money, there are website builder services such as Weebly and Squarespace that will help you get a slick-looking website up with minimal time and effort.

If you really don’t have much content to post, and your discovery vendor allows access, why not piggy-back on your online catalog and add your custom pages there?

*This isn’t a complete list of considerations. Let us know in the comments what I’ve missed!

We Want YOU to Write a Guest Post!

Yes, you!

Are you looking for a platform to share your ideas with the library tech community? We’re a pretty friendly bunch in LITA and we hope you’ll consider sharing your intriguing library tech-related stories, plans, failures, hacks, code snippets – whatever! – here on the blog this year. There is a lot of room for contributor creativity, so get excited. You do not need to be a LITA member in order to write a guest post, though it’s great if you are!

To submit an idea for consideration, please email LITA blog editor Brianna Marshall at briannahmarshall(at)gmail(dot)com sharing a bit about yourself and a brief summary of your post topic.

Jobs in Information Technology: December 23

New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.

New This Week

User Experience Librarian, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR

Visit the LITA Job Site for more available jobs and for information on submitting a  job posting.

Long Live Firefox!

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 7.16.52 PM
Until I became a librarian, I never gave much thought to web browsers. In the past I used Safari when working on a Mac, Chrome on my Android tablet, and showed the typical disdain for Internet Explorer. If I ever used Firefox it was purely coincidental, but now it’s my first choice and here’s why.

This month Mozilla launched Firefox 34 and announced a deal to make Yahoo their default search engine. I wasn’t alone in wondering if that move would be bad for business (if you’re like me, you avoid Yahoo like the plague). Mozilla also raised some eyebrows by asking for donations on their home page this year.

I switched to Firefox a few months ago, prior to all the commotion, when I came across Mozilla’s X-Ray Goggles, an add-on that allows you to view how a webpage is constructed (the Denver Public Library has a great project tutorial using X-Ray Goggles that I highly recommend). I was pleasantly surprised to find a slew of other resources for teaching the web and after doing a little more digging, I was taken by Mozilla’s support of an open web and intrigued by their non-profit status.

At the library I frequently encounter patrons who have pledged their allegiance to Google or Apple or Microsoft and I’m the same way. I was excited to update to Lollipop on my tablet and I’m saving up for an iMac, but I cringe when I think about Google’s privacy policies or Apple’s sweatshops. Are these companies that I really want to support?

I was teaching an Android class the other day and a patron asked me which browser is the best. I told her that I use Firefox because I support Mozilla and what they stand for. She chuckled at my response. Maybe it’s silly to stand up for any corporation, but given the choice I want to support the one that does the most good (or the least evil).

Mozilla’s values and goals are very much in line with the modern library. If you’re on the fence about Firefox, take a look at their Privacy Policy, Add-Ons, and see how easy it is to switch your default search engine back to Google. You just might change your mind.