Tuesday, December 8, 2009

File converters

The process for uploading a document onto Google Docs seemed extremely quick and easy. There were a few changes to the document once coverted, slight changes to the way bullets were displayed, slight change in font in one part of the document (in the original the font in the table was smaller than the rest of the document but it all appeared to be the same in the converted version), and the table had a dotted rather than a solid black line once it had been converted. These seem to me to be minor changes which could be rectified if necessary, and Google Docs is another useful tool for patrons to know about.

It seems to me to be a great idea to have these sorts of services available, free of charge, on the Internet. Then you could also have access to documents wherever there was Internet access, and have copies of documents in case originals got lost for some reason. Even email services like gmail and hotmail allow anyone, whether they have a home computer or use one at a library or Internet cafe, to have an email account and all the benefits this can bring. With free Internet access available through public libraries, all these services are open to anyone and not restricted to those who can pay or have the right equipment.

Evaluating websites

The website I've chosen to look at for this exercise is The Book Seer. I tried searching for other titles and found some good suggestions. This is certainly a quick and easy way of getting recommendations. The site uses Amazon, LibraryThing and Book Army as its sources of suggestions. It gives lists of suggestions found on these sites with links from the titles into the source website. From these links you can go into LibraryThing or whatever, and carry on from there searching. Of course these sites have different reasons for recommending titles; Amazon wants to sell you things, whereas LibraryThing is a social networking site and gives you much more information about why this title has been suggested (tag clouds etc, user's comments). Book Seer also has links to 'you local bookshop' and 'your local library' as sources for suggestions which is good, but not relevant to NZ, as the bookshops link was for the UK and the library link didn't seem to work for me. It also has updates you can follow on Twitter which may also be useful.

The Book Seer is quite good as a quick and dirty way of getting lists of possible titles, but for anything more indepth I think other sites would offer more. It is also restricted in where it it sourcing suggestions, and you may feel more inclined to go straight to LibraryThing or a similar site, especially if you aren't interested in purchasing titles. I tend to take a lot of these 'recommendations' with a grain of salt in any case, and it is up to the user to say whether or not they work for them. Amazon is constantly offering suggestions with every search or purchase which does get annoying with too much extraneous stuff in your face at times.

An author's perspective

I found a podcast on Authors on tour live with Lynne Truss talking about her book 'Talk to the hand'. The book is about manners, particularly when people start feeling that they're 'at home' in public places and seem unconcerned about their behaviour and how it affects other people (cellphone conversations, rude waiters, checkout operators carrying on their own conversations when serving you etc). As expected, the talk was funny and interesting, and I found myself nodding in agreement with a lot of what she said. It is interesting to hear what the author's voice sounds like and what they're like as a person - Lynne Truss seems to be at ease talking to people and although uses humour in her talk she's not consciously trying to be funny all the time.

I definitely think this sort of thing would be of interest to patrons and a useful tool for them to find information about favourite authors, new works or perhaps authors they aren't familiar with but want to know more. Probably not something you'd be able to show them in detail on the public desk, but something they may be able to use at home at their leisure.

Readers and booklovers

I didn't have a huge amount of success with my searches, but it was interesting to go into different sites and see how they worked. I searched on The Book Seer for 'Death on the ice' by Robert Ryan, which is a novel about Robert Falcon Scott and Captain Oates and their paths to the Terra Nova expedition of 1910, where they both died coming back from the South Pole in March 1912. Book Seer did a reasonable job, suggesting other titles by Robert Ryan, and by other authors which seemed to be mainly set in the 1940s and World War II, which was ok but not quite what I might have expected. Still, I think the genre was right, adventure and based on true events in som cases. The recommendations only came from Amazon though, LibraryThing and BookArmy weren't able to come up with anything which seemed a bit lame.

I also looked at Reading Trails which seemed to be more like LibraryThing in terms of adding your own books, adding tags etc and sharing this with other users. What should I read next? seemed initially more promising and more like the quick plug in a title and see what it comes up with approach of Book Seer. However for some reason it kept giving me an error message when I put in my search so I wasn't able to see what would be suggested.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Specialist search engines

The results when searching in blinkx and Youtube appeared to be quite different. This seems to be because in blinkx you can specify the exact providers you want, eg CNN, BBC etc, and get a correspondingly smaller set of results. Of course you can also search through all the listed providers, giving a much larger number of results, but it is good to have the option, and it helps to be able to search your preferred sites without having to go into each site separately, while at the same time also honing in directly on to the type of media you require. Youtube seems to be more generalised, with a more random and collaborative approach to sharing videos. It depends on the type of search you want to do and the reason for it. Youtube is more of a social thing while blinkx is more of an information provider, more 'serious' and practical.

The magazine option in Google Books could be useful for previewing a new magazine, getting an idea of its contents, style, relevance etc. I had a look at Ancestry magazine, and it seemed that the latest issue displayed was January/February 2009, so evidently you can't read it here in lieu of paying for a subscription if you want the most up to date issues, but for back issues it does appear to be most useful. I like the Overview section which gives a short precis of the magazine, allows you to browse issues and also gives a cloud tag of common terms and phrases, and even a map of places mentioned (although this seems to be restricted to North America so not especially relevant to people in our part of the world). I'm not sure how useful the magazine option would be for finding specific articles but I can see possibilities for serials librarians looking for magazines on a certain subject, or reference staff helping patrons find the same. From what I've seen the book search appears more directly useful, especially if full text is available, and key word searching allows fuller access to a book's contents than an index can provide.

Google web searches

I realised while doing this topic that I am pretty ignorant about the different ways of searching with search engines, and am pleased once again to be doing this course and at the very least becoming aware of the options available to me.

Having had a look at the different search engines, while I would probably still use Google as a first choice, there were features of the others which I really liked, and it was interesting to see the slightly different options available with different search engines, and the slightly different results using the same search terms. I like the way you could specify with Google that you were only interested in books on your topic, or blogs, or videos etc. This could help save time and get to the heart of what you're searching for without trawling through irrelevant hits. Google's timeline feature may not always be relevant, but for certain topics it may be extremely useful, and was a feature which didn't seem to be available on other search engines. I liked the way with Yahoo you could specify the website for your results (eg Amazon, Wikipedia) which would help you identify if those well-used sites had information you were interested in without having to go to each site individually. The 'Also try' suggestions with Yahoo seemed very pertinent and useful (when sometimes the suggestions for related searches don't seem particularly helpful). I wasn't terribly keen on Bing, but did like Exalead's option to specify file type for your results, audio or video etc. The Internet is such a vast pool of information that having the ability to narrow down searches is essential in order to get to information, and relevant information, quickly and easily (unless of course you're just surfing and quite happy to go off in whatever direction appeals at the time).

I haven't worked on a public reference desk for some time, but I can see that knowledge of these search options would be valuable to staff on busy public desks to help patrons find what they're looking for. However, now that I've seen what is possible I will be able to use the different options and search engines in my own work which often involves using the Internet to hunt down items for purchase.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Google Alerts

I put in 2 types of alerts, one for a general topic of interest, (Robert Falcon Scott Terra Nova - I'm very interested in Antarctic exploration and Scott's last expedition in particular) and 2 for more specific things, "New Zealand String Quartet" and "Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre" which are both groups I'm interested in (a friend of mine is therapist at the centre). Over the last few days I've had a steady list of alerts popping up on the email. The specific searches using phrasing marks did seem to provide better hits, and I didn't get any duplicates. Again, playing round with your search strategies until you get the results you want is the way to go.

Google Alerts seems a very useful way of keeping abreast of information and mention of topics of interest on the Internet in a convenient way, as unlike with Bloglines and so on, it doesn't require logging in to a separate site, but is delivered straight to your email. From there you go straight into the link or not as you wish, and it works in the same way as a saved search on the remote databases, so that you don't have to repeat the search every time. However, with RSS feeds it is always from the same source, whereas with Google Alerts the information could be from anywhere and not necessarily always with the same relevance.

This service would be useful for patrons to know about if they have a regular requirement for certain information or wanted to follow a topic or whatever. It is another thing which people can choose to use or not depending on what their needs and interests are, but knowing about it and having the choice is the crucial thing. The Internet is pretty huge and amorphous, so anything which helps people navigate and use it more effectively is welcome.