Post #6 Web Design Assignment

•December 1, 2007 • Leave a Comment

For my Web Design Project I choose to create a fictional library, the Urban Falls Public Library. I decided to create a site that would be part of an ongoing, larger project the library offers, that features all the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction. Each winner would have a main page, with links to all of the author’s work, which includes all book cover artwork and a bibliography.

I choose the author Richard Ford. The site consists of a main author introduction page, a link to another page that contains the author’s novels, a link to another page that contains the author’s collected short stories, and a link to another page that contains a full bibliography of the author’s work in pdf format. I first created the main intro page and made it into a template, then copied the pages for the fiction and non-fiction pages. I then downloaded the cover art from Amazon to the link pages. I created the bibliography page as a word document, then converted it into a pdf file.

I made a table and put links to interviews with the author at other web sites inside of it. I created all the internal anchors, then set all the colors of the background and the fonts. I did have some trouble getting all the artwork to line up with the captions, but after a few attempts (and creating more tables) I got it figured out.

The biggest lesson I learned is to storyboard your site first, and refer to it often. Also making a template is a good idea as it gives the same look and feel to every page. Testing each feature of every page as it was written made sure that any issues did not get repeated on the other pages. I also learned to cut and paste, so that I did not have to code every table on every page from scratch. Once the basic concept was made, it flowed well and was not hard, just tedious at times. I enjoyed building the site, and now feel comfortable coding html.

My class bio page and web site project are available for viewing on the web.

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Post #5 Splashcast your Library Network

•November 9, 2007 • 2 Comments

After thinking some about Ning, and how your library can have its own social network that it controls, I wondered what else was out there that could be used to make the Library more relevant to users and meet them where they are. MySpace, Facebook, Friendster: Parents may hate these social networking sites (and try banning them from the library and schools) without understanding what they are, who uses them, and what they really do. The fact is, these are great tools to get back the “lost generation” and keep the tweeners interested in all things Library.

Most of us grew up on TV. My daughter is growing up with YouTube. Point is, it is all things media. And now along comes Splashcast, which lets the Library create its own broadcasting network via the web. Splashcast creates a streaming media channel, that can mix video, audio, music, images, text, powerpoint presentations or pdf.s.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign uses Splashcast to offer tutorials on how to use online databases, over its UIUC Digital Learning Channel. Carnegie Mellon University uses Splashcast to instruct students how to access the University’s online databases remotely, by creating a VPN, so students can get to what they need even when they are not directly connected to the University’s network.

The possibilities for making content available are endless. Videos of library events (story time can now be accessed from anywhere, anytime, time-shifted like Tivo); how to get a library card; or a virtual tour of the library come to mind. Add a tutorial on how to use Microsoft Word. Publicize a book club. Show your community why they should support an upcoming referendum. And if your library is in MySpace or Facebook, it can embed the channel right on your page. What better way to market to those the Library needs most.

Spashcast gives the Library the ability to brand itself any way it wants to, to as many audiences as it wants to, in any audio or video format it wants to. It allows the Library to be and stay relevant to every demographic group it serves. These great tools are now available, and are easy to use. What is stopping us?

Post #4. Ideas matter, especially when you can ride the wave of change…

•November 8, 2007 • Leave a Comment

We all get ideas. Sometimes they might even be good ideas. Good enough to form a company around and then take public and make enough money to retire on (o.k., not so many of us fall into this group, but not for lack of trying.) The reality though, is that this will happen to someone else. The odds? 1 in a 50 million or so? Whatever they are, we should all keep our day jobs.

So what if you could think up 4 of these great ideas, and keep selling the companies built on these ideas (for billions) over the span of around 15 years. All by your mid-thirties. Starting when you were still in college. It doesn’t seem possible, but it is when your ideas ride the wave of change.

Marc Andreessen’s name may ring a bell. It may not unless you are of a certain age. But he has done an astonishing thing. Over the last 15 years he has founded or co-founded companies that have changed the way we all use the Internet and the Web. Back in 1992-93, while a student at the University of Illinois, Marc worked at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA.) He and a friend wrote a program called Mosaic, which was the first popular real graphical web browser. It made surfing easy and fun. When he graduated, he moved to California, eventually co-founding a company called Mosiac Communications Corporation in 1994.

The University of Illinois owned the copyright for Mosiac, and objected to Marc and his team using its name for their company (he and his team had to write their new browser code from scratch.) They changed their company name to Netscape Communications. And in the mid 1990’s, if you surfed the web, you probably did so using their product. Enter Microsoft, which licensed the original Mosiac code from Spyglass, Inc., a company spun off by the U. of I. to make money from the original Mosiac browser. So the birth of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was really just a souped up version of the original Mosiac. Skip ahead to 1999, and Netscape’s not doing so well, (kind of ironic that your old idea made new just put your newer idea out of business) and sells itself to America Online (this was way before the AOL Time Warner thing.) For billions. Not Google/My Space/Facebook billions, but enough to get by on.

So Marc is now young and rich, and looking for another idea to build a company on. Where do you go when you surf the web? What do you look at? Stuff. And that stuff has to be somewhere. Ride the wave of change, start a new company, call it Loudcloud. Become a web hosting company. This new idea is great, and the company sells its hosting service (more large sums of cash change hands in Marc’s direction) but stays in business and changes its name to Opsware. Eventually, Opsware gets sold in 2007 and the buyer is Hewlett-Packard (more billions Marc’s way.)

Mosiac to Netscape to Loudcloud/Opsware. All good ideas that capitalized on the changing nature of the web and computing services. Pockets full, Marc decides to spread some of the cash around and invests early in Digg, the social news website. By this time, Web 2.0 is in full swing, and social networking is all the rage. Riding the wave of change again, Marc co-founds another social networking site, only his idea is just a little different. He wants users to be able to create and control their own social networks built around specific interests. Ning is born.

There is a Ning network for all stuff Library 2.0. Check it out, connect, share and learn. Not so hip on the 2.0 thing? A network for all things library is available for you too, from the ALA. Google Ning and just about anything and you can find a social network dedicated to some idea or another. If you can’t find it, you can start one. Which means your own library can have its own Ning network. For the communities you serve. Or your staff. To communicate and share. No Facebook going corporate and selling out (but who wouldn’t if someone (that would be Microsoft again) gave you enough money for 1.6% of your company to make you worth $15 billion overnight. Be honest.)

Marc Andreessen may never make any money with Ning (or from Digg.) He may make billions more, but that’s not the point. The point is that his ideas matter. His ideas have changed all of our lives. And he has done this over and over. His ideas ride the waves of change, and alter how we live and interact with each other. Which you have to admit, is a pretty cool thing.

Post #3: When is a book a book?

•October 25, 2007 • 2 Comments

I have been thinking a lot lately about books. I love books. I own hundreds, and with the bookshelves full, I now have to navigate through and around the dozens of piles that are now making their way skyward in my library at home (and yet I continue to buy more.) After reading an article about the Open Content Alliance’s digitalization of its member’s book collections however, I had to ask myself, when is a book a book? If universities and the Library of Congress can put their entire (or special) collections into a digital format and store them online, and be accessed from anywhere, anytime, what does it mean to be a book?

It’s not about the book anymore, it’s about the content. The content is the book. And because we live in a digital world, this content can be in many formats, which is a good thing. Libraries too own lots of books. But unless libraries begin to offer this content in a format that the user expects, the library will begin to lose relevancy in its users’ lives. Others have already figured this out. Google Books certainly has. (Copyright issues aside, Google gets it.) So have the people who make E-readers. Although not for everyone, an e-reader kind of gives the look and feel of a “real” book, is portable, and has an added advantage in that it can be many books at different times. (check out eReader.com.)

Audio books have been around for awhile both on CD and cassette. There even is a “Netflix” type service out there that for $15 a month will let you listen to an unlimited supply of audio books (Simply Audio Books.) Ipods? Audible.com, The Audio Bookstore, and Apple’s itunes all let you download your favorite book into your ipod. Want to read on your computer? Go to NetLibrary and download your favorites to read on your laptop (a service offered by the Chicago Public Library.)

The user now expects that books be available in multiple formats. Are we ready to make the changes that our users expect? And if we are, how will we reconfigure our library’s physical space to accommodate these changes? How will we reallocate scarce library resources? And who will do this stuff? How will we redefine circulation? Measure it? Market it? Are we even asking these questions? We should be. We NEED to be, because the expectations of our users demand it.

The New York Public Library understands this. In an interview with msnbc, Susan Kent, director and chief executive of the branch libraries, said ” we are delighted to announce the availability of downloadable audio books as a part of our circulating collection.” “Library users today are much more technologically sophisticated than ever; our aim is to continue to provide our users with free access to materials in whichever format they prefer.”

So to answer my own question, a book is a book when what’s inside it is made available to the user in any format the user chooses. Times change. So must we.

Connecting With Your Audience – A Radiohead Update

•October 25, 2007 • Leave a Comment

It has been two weeks now since “In Rainbows” by Radiohead was released for online sale on Oct. 10th. Gigwise estimates that the band sold 1.2 million copies of the new album during this time, with the band keeping all the money from the sales. These sales are more than their previous release (which sold about 1 million copies in the US.) While the band is not releasing the average sale price (the buyer sets the price of the download, which could be nothing,) it is believed that the band is breaking even or doing better on the deal than when they had a record label behind them.

Of greater interest though, is how many illegal downloads have been made of a product that could be obtained legally for free. Forbes.com recently reported that “In Rainbows” was downloaded 240,000 times the first day via Bit Torrent. To date, 500,00 copies have been downloaded illegally. Which means that 1.7 million people now have Radiohead’s new music, and even though Radiohead missed out making money on the Bit Torrent downloads, I don’t think the band really cares. They understand that they will not change the behavior of those who download music illegally, and never would have made any money from them on their albums anyway. The real money today in music is in touring and merchandising. And the band just increased their audience by almost 50%.

Connecting with your audience, in whatever way you can, is now the new rule of the game. The airlines did it (ever wonder how much the guy next to you on the plane paid for his ticket?) Planes are full now because they sell the same product (seats) for different prices to different segments of customers. And airlines are now reporting strong profits.

And oh yes, did I forget to mention that the band recently announced that they would start a six month world tour in 2008? With a 50% increase in audience connection, they stand to make more than they ever have before.

So what’s this got to do with libraries? To stay relevant, connecting with your audience is the most important opportunity and hurdle a library will face. Without change, libraries will lose its customer base. If the airlines can fill planes, we can increase our user base. We have to. Airlines that fly planes only half full go out of business.

Web Page Review

•October 20, 2007 • 1 Comment

Visiting the assigned library web sites gave me a good overview of the different styles, techniques and philosophies of not only web site design, but how these schools used the overall design of the library website to further the mission and image of the institutions they represent. A perfect example of this is illustrated by the Columbia College Library website. Columbia College defines itself as a private arts and media college with over 120 academic program and 11,000 students. I believe that the library home page is a direct reflection of this mission and purpose. The site is simple and elegant, yet contains large amounts of information in an organized and clean interface. The main page is broken into halves, with abstract art filling the entire right side of the page. The left side contains four major areas of interest: Research, Help, Services and About. All share a simple font and are color coded, with the colors matching the major color themes of the artwork represented on the right side of the page. At a glance, one understands that this is a school dedicated to arts and media.

Under each of the four major headings, sub-headings give one-click access to more detailed information. There are links for all users, (students, faculty & staff, alumni) as well as important information about the library itself and the services it offers. A search function and more links to other college sites run across the top of the main page. I like that the address of the college with a “map it” function and contact information for the site webmaster can be found at the bottom of the page. The overall effect is functional and informative, while supporting the overall philosophy and mission of the school.

Another site that I thought reflected the purpose of the institution was the Reeves Library page at Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary. The top header of the main page has a dark gray background with “Reeves Library” in white. The bottom half of the page contain a picture of the Reeves Library, in pink and gray. The bottom of the page repeats the darker gray of the top header, and contains Library contact information. The middle of the page is broken into four sections, highlighted in pink, which blends in nicely with the rest of the page. It is very calming and soothing to look at, which makes sense for a Seminary Library.

The four sections are “Books & Media, Articles & Journals, Research Help, and About Reeves.” Each section has subsections underneath that allow access to more detailed information pertaining to the main section headings. One feature I did like was that an IM screen appears on the right hand side of the page whenever a subsection is accessed, allowing the user to instant message a reference librarian at any time. There were several shortcomings at this site however. The most obvious was that there is a copyright notice at the far right hand bottom corner of the site, dated 2005, which makes me wonder how current the site content is.

The other is that unlike the Columbia College Library main page, the Reeves Library main page does not link out to other parts of the College. After sliding my cursor over every word on the page, I did find that “Moravian College,” which followed the 2005 copyright, was a live link to the rest of the college website, but this link was not offset in any way to let the viewer know that it was there. This link should be in another color or underlined so that viewers can easily visit the college main page to find out more about this college and its history (the college was founded in 1742 and is the nation’s 6th oldest college.)

After visiting these other sites it is a little disconcerting to visit the Crown Library home page here at Dominican University. The main page seems like a work in progress that is only half completed. I do like the colors, the University Mission Statement, and the information bars at the top of the page (Quick Links and a Search box.) I even like the left side in gold, with links to core library functions. But click on a link, (Contact Us,) and you are directed to another page that invites you to contact the library, but gives you no information as to how to do so. I also do not like that the main body of the page does not fit in the browser window without scrolling down. There is good information here, but if feels incomplete.

It also seems odd to me that Dominican University has a Graduate School of Library and Information Science, yet has no link to the school on the main library page. The main headings in the middle of the page need to be redesigned, and split up (Library Services and General Information & Contact Us have too many subheadings.) The page also needs to have some type of IM service (especially since the “contact us” page invites us to IM the library staff.) There are many new Web 2.0 tools that are free, easy to use, and no doubt are already in use by much of the student body, but are not reflected in the library site. Incorporating these new tools somewhere on the page is a must.

As it stands now, the main page needs to be simplified (which can be done without giving up any content, see the above examples) because there is too much information shown without any context, or good graphic design, making the overall effect one of confusion. Simplifying the site will increase ease of navigation and increase the chance that the services that the library does offer will get used. If not, why have them?

Web. 2.0 Tools: Zamzar

•October 19, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Over the course of time, software products are sometimes updated, sometimes left unsupported, or sometimes get left behind by newer, more innovative products. All of these software products however, have one thing in common; they leave behind millions of files, which contain words, audio, video or images. Some of these files are years old, and the programs that created them may no long work on the computers of today. Some of these files, while newer, may not be compatible with other operating systems that they were not created on (Mac vs. PC.) Or they may not be compatible with other programs used to created them on the same platform. The 2.0 World is all about collaboration and sharing, and people want to exchange content (in whatever form) with each other, or simply be able to view it for themselves. Only they can’t because this babel of formats do not speak with each other. There are programs that can translate and convert files, but they must be downloaded to your computer, and are usually uni-functional (will only convert document files, or video files, etc.) Wouldn’t it be great if there was one program to convert any type of file, online, and it was free to use? There is. Zamzar.

Zamzar is the Rosetta Stone of file conversion programs, converting documents, images, music, video and compression formats, all from your browser’s bookmark bar, with file conversions sent to your personal email account. Zamzar can convert your files into the following formats:

Documents: doc, html, mbd, ods, pdf, rtf, xls, xml
Images: gif, ico, jpg, pcx, ps, png, tga, tumbnail, tiff, wbmd
Music: ac3, flac, m4a, mp3, mp4, ogg, wav, wma
Video: aac, ac3, avi, flac, ipod, mdx, mp3, mp4, mpg, ogg, vav
Compression: tar.bz2, cab, izh, tar, tar.gzh, yzi, zip

Zamzar also can convert files from links on the Internet (urls) as well as from your computer. Drag the Zamzar button to your browser’s bookmark bar, click it and Zamzar will send the converted files to any email address you designate, using a simple 4 step process. Step 1, select the file (or url) to convert. Step 2, choose the format to convert to. Step 3, enter your email address. Step 4, agree to Zamzar’s terms of service. That’s it. (To see a video of the process in action, visit Zamzar)

There are many libraries already using Zamzar in a variety of ways. The Ebling Library of Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, serving the Medical and Nursing Schools, uses Zamzar to convert medical photographs, illustrations and electron micrograph imagery into formats that health care providers, faculty, students, biomedical researchers and consumers can use in the course of their work and studies.

The Monroe County Library System in Michigan, uses Zamzar to convert audio files when its patrons are having trouble downloading audiobooks.

The Lakewood Public Library in Ohio, added Zamzar to its “Quick Links” on the library home page, (along with Babelfish, E-Bay, Yahoo Finance and Zillow) as its default tool for file conversion. So have the Oregon Library Instruction Wiki, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX, and Millsaps College in Jackson, MS.

Zamzar is a must have utility that has so many uses in any library setting. Pictures taken on cell phones can be converted for viewing on Ipods. Videos can be converted for YouTube and Google Video. Patrons can use Zamzar to convert old text files for printing. Although files are limited to 100 MB, Zamzar can convert more than one file at a time for you. Most important, however, is that Zamzar is free, can be accessed from the library or at home, and is a strong marketing tool for the library. Non-tech savvy library users will especially appreciate that the library is providing file conversion as a service, and is something that these users cannot get on their own. Library users will begin to see that the library still has many things to offer, not just as a place to check out books or read the latest newspapers and magazines. Zamzar keeps the library RELEVANT, regardless of user age or experience.