Open Source Tools preconference

May Chang, web development librarian at NCSU libraries, reviewed a number of types of collaborative tools:

  • Forum / bulletin board (BBS) software
  • Blogs
  • RSS
  • Wikis
  • Instant messaging (IM)
  • Podcasting

An extensive handout booklet was provided that contained virtually the entire presentation; look for it to appear on the LITA website. Also there were handouts from Educause Learning Initiative with brief intros to videoblogging, wikis, podcasting, and social bookmarking (as on del.icio.us or its open source cousin de.lirio.us).

Chang’s focus was on how to use these tools to support internal communication and collaboration among staff, on an intranet, as well as to support instructional & public services in the library, on an outward-facing website. A big reason her institution went with open source tools was that they’re a low-cost alternative to proprietary products and yet don’t require extensive in-house programming expertise and time: these wheels have already been invented, and the in-house effort is limited to customizing the software and training internal users.

I’ll avoid repeating the content that will be available in the online handouts and just report a few sidenotes:

In implementing a staff wiki for collaborative maintenance of documents, an initial hurdle was people’s reluctance to overwrite the items posted by higher-ups in the organization. Newer and younger staffers are less likely to have this worry. (The youngest students and staffers are apt to be already exposed to all these technologies and more; Chang noted that 4th and 5th graders in some places are now encountering blogs in their schools, as reported in Edutopia magazine’s articles on blogs in education.)

A difficulty with wikis from a systems management perspective is that they tend not to allow the fine-tuning of access levels and content areas that blog software supports out of the box. However, they’re much better than blogs for situations where you need to track revision history (policies, procedures, etc.).

Chang remarked on a convergence she is seeing among different communication tools: the Miranda IM client she displayed has blog-posting and RSS feed-reading extensions.

A popular topic for the audience was podcasting. Chang suggested public libraries could use this even more so than academic libraries, for example, to deliver recordings of storytimes. This made me laugh, imagining the logistics of setting up a children’s librarian to record a usable edition of a storytime (which is frequently interspersed with activity games like clapping hands and running around the room).

Chang wrapped up her session with a demo of installing and testing WAMP5 (a web server and database packaged up for easy installation on a PC) and b2evolution (blog software), as well as demoing the process of recording for a podcast.

Fun phrase of the day: “gadget-driven services” — How much of our services (asked Chang) are driven by the gadgets we have?