Friday, April 29, 2005

Embedded librarians

The Iraq war brought us the concept of "embedded journalists". Now we have the concept of "embedded librarians". An embedded journalist is supposed to have better access to a story; an embedded librarian provides better access for students to him/herself and to the library's resources.

There are several ways for a librarian to be embedded in an online course. One of the simplest (from a technical standpoint) is to have the librarian enrolled as a student or guest lecturer in the courseware. Creating a "library" discussion folder or thread allows students to question the librarian directly and to receive responses within the courseware. The librarian can also post suggestions for particular assignments. All students have access to the discussion, so everyone gets the benefit of the answers and suggestions.

Administratively, however, this may cause some headaches. Enrolling an extra student is not always easy, depending on the courseware and on enrollment policies. There is also the problem of having an extra student showing up in the online gradebook. Guest lecturer status may not be easily accomodated by the software, and generally a librarian does not need full instructor access (test creation, access to grades, etc.)

It is also possible to embed links to the librarian (rather than the librarian herself). On the Distance Education Library Homepage I have a chat icon that links to an online chat service. This icon should show Online when I am signed into the service and Offline when I log out. Clicking on it will go to the Chatango chat service and display a Macromedia Flash chat box. If I am online, I get an alert that someone wants to chat. If I am offline, the option to leave a message is displayed. This button can be embedded in any HTML page, including WebCT pages, and students can contact me through this service. A full chat window can even be embedded in the web page, so that students don't even have to go to an outside web page. See the DE Librarian page for an example.

Using an outside link has the advantage of keeping the communication between the student and the librarian private. It helps with those "dumb questions" (that usually aren't as dumb as it feels, but still seem awkward in public).

It is also possible to embed RSS feeds in a webpage. Using an online bookmarking service, a librarian can create an RSS feed for a collection of resources, including websites, databases, even searches and specific articles within the databases. If the professor keeps the librarian updated on new assignments, new resources could be added regularly. LTA#44-Integrating RSS Feeds into your Course Management System gives a good description of how the technology works. For an example of using feeds in a website, see the Selected Internet Sites on the Physics Resource Guide (scroll down past Internet Megasites--sometimes the feeds load a little slowly, but they should come up one by one. If something doesn't load properly, refresh your browser.)

The chat links and the embedded feeds allow a librarian to have a presence within an online course without actually having to be enrolled in the course managment system. It's not as close a tie as actually having access to the course, but it's a good second choice if the administrative or technical arrangements can't be made.

If any of our online faculty would like to try any of these techniques, let me know!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

What is RSS?

One useful piece of advice that came out of the 2005 Computers in Libraries conference was a bit of "jargon avoidance"--since most people don't know what RSS is, tell them! This is my attempt to do so. This post will be permanently linked below the Atom/RSS subscription links in the righthand column.

RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, is an information format. Using XML the information in this blog, or the New York Times, is formatted in such a way that a computer program can read the information. (However, like email, you don't have to know how it works in order to take advantage of it.)

If you have a News Aggregator, like Bloglines, NewsGator, My Yahoo!, or the Firefox web browser Live Bookmarks you can receive updates from the sources you choose. You get updates on a regular basis, usually every hour or so, and you only get them from the sources that you subscribe to. Unlike an email subscription, there is no way for someone to get your "address" and send you stuff you don't want. (However, it is possible for a RSS feed producer to insert ads into the feed. It's sort of like the little ads at the bottom of emails from many free email services, except usually with pictures.)

Using a news aggregator is a time saver. Instead of you coming to this blog, CNN, the Distant Librarian, Library Stuff, and/or whatever other sources you check regularly, the news aggregator visits them for you. It's kind of like a personal shopper. You tell it what you want it to go get, and it gets it for you. Most people report 50-75% reductions in the amount of time they spend checking the sites they regularly visit. It's especially good for sites, like this one, where the authors don't post every day. Instead of checking my site to see if I've posted, the aggregator does it for you. Also, in many services you can choose to receive only the headlines or titles of the articles/posts, so you can easily skim through and only read the stories which really interest you.

There are other uses for RSS as well. You can get certain types of searches reported to you in RSS format. Updates from news searches on Yahoo! and Topix can all be sent in RSS. With the Bloglines aggregator you can create email addresses to get what would normally be email alerts in Bloglines account. This also has the advantage of being "disposable" so if you find that you are getting spam, you can simply delete the address. It can work the other way round, too. The rssfwd site turns an RSS feed into an email subscription. Click the Subscribe by Email with rssfwd link in the righthand column of this blog to get all these posts by email. Feed To Javascript formats RSS feeds into javascript that can be posted on a website. The bottom of the Distance Education Library Homepage has the most recent post of this blog posted automatically via Feed to Javascript.

I hope this helps you get more out of the web!

For more information try:
Non-technical explanations:;
RSS for educators:
RSS for librarians:;
Technical info:;

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Deeplinking: linking to full text database articles

I just finished a guide to linking in to full text articles within our subscribed databases: The practice is generally called deeplinking (linking deep into the database, instead of to the entry page.) Unfortunately, each database vendor uses a different scheme for linking (and a few don't link at all), so the guide is long and complex. I included screenshots for many of the databases, and examples (on a separate page) for each one. All of these links include the proxy server information, so off campus users will be able to log in to access the articles.

Why would you want this? Faculty can create online reading lists with links that go directly to the article. Students can put proper links in their reference lists (i.e. Retrieved from...) Anyone can send links by email, without worrying if an off campus user will be able to get to the article. (Just be careful of sending links to non-CSU users!)

To test your links, copy them into a different browser (i.e. from Firefox to Internet Explorer) or save them and test them the next day. Most "problem" links come from time- or session-dependent URL's created by the database company on the fly to track usage. Switching to a different browser usually creates a new session, and waiting long enough for the session to expire definitely works. If you have questions or problems, let me know. (And if something doesn't work, please let me know right away--database companies change interfaces regularly.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

New DE page -- Table format

Well, the votes are in. A majority of people who responded preferred the Table format for the new Distance Education Library HomePage, so that is what is now linked from the Library HomePage. For those concerned about scrolling, I'll be shortening the tables as much as possible. For instance, we will soon have a Reference Database Resources page, and an E-books page, so those will help shorten the upper left corner of the table significantly.

Please note that I also have new icons for my online status for chat and IM. Generally, if I'm "online" for all of them, I'm likely to be in my office--so I'm likely to be available by phone and email at that time, too.

Please try the various services out--Skype may be of particular interest to our international contingent. If you download the software (and sign up for an account) you can call just about anywhere in the world to another Skype user for free--and to regular phones for a discounted rate. All you need is a broadband connection and a microphone on your computer (not an insignificant requirement).

The chat service ( requires no downloads or registration, only Macromedia Flash Player. If I'm not online, you can leave me a message (please include your email!) and I will get it as soon as I login.

The two IM services, MSN Messenger and AIM, do require registration, but they both have web interfaces, so you don't have to download the software. If you are not using them from home, please check the regulations at your workplace, school, or library. Many places still discourage the use of chat and/or IM and I don't want to get anyone in trouble! You may want to point out the number of libraries that are now using IM for Virtual Reference, if you want to try and get policies changed.

Jybe allows co-browsing (seeing the same webpages, web surfing together) in Firefox and/or Internet Explorer web browsers. I haven't used it much, but it should allow demonstrations of databases and searching help right online. (You might have to log into a database before we set up--I'm not sure how the proxy login will work if I'm on campus and you aren't! Test subjects--ahem, curious users are welcome to experiment with me.)

Monday, April 11, 2005

National Library Week

Happy National Library Week!
Each year the second(-ish) week of April is dedicated as National Library Week in celebration of libraries everywhere (history and more info -- Many public and school librareis celebrate NLW, so please visit your local library this week and see what they are doing. Some of the online celebrations include:

Thompson-Gale databases -- -- use any of the Thompson-Gale databases on these lists for free all week. We subscribe to many of the college level databases (see our Databases Page, but no log in is required if you use the Gale link above this week. (I haven't been able to access the full text articles in anything within the InfoTrac interface--hopefully this is a temporary problem.)

American Greetings free e-cards -- -- send a National Library Week card.


Problems with the blog???

There have been a lot of complaints about Blogger (the service that this blog runs on) in the last couple of weeks. If anyone has had trouble reading Frequently Answered Questions, either on the site or via RSS or email, please let me know. You can comment (if you can) or contact me. Thank you!