Transform Twitter into a Research Tool for Students

Today I went to a great jamboree of school librarians from all levels – university, high, middle, elementary, and a few in between (of course, I was my usual hybrid self).  This was a first step towards more effective communication in order to facilitate college readiness among K-12 students, and there was a lot of sharing and venting and struggling to get on the same page.  Lexiles and DIBELS and critical thinking– oh my!

I promised to share a fun tech tip on the College Readiness group wiki, and I will definitely post a link to this once my membership goes through.  Ready?

How to Research a Current Event Without Breaking a Sweat

1)  Make sure your cell phone plan is set to unlimited texting.

2)  Sign up for TWO Twitter accounts if you do not already have one.  You want a PERSONAL account and a RESEARCH account.  Since you can only have one Twitter account associated with a single email address, you can open that second Twitter account using Gmail (use your Gmailusername+researchprojectname@gmail.com).

2b) FOLLOW the research account with your personal account.

3) Log onto Twitter with your personal account.  Go into Settings and select Mobile.  Verify your cell phone number.  Make sure you follow the instructions on the right side of the screen with the phone icons – the ONLY account you want to have turned ON is your Twitter research account.  (The default for phone following is OFF so this is usually not a problem if you already follow lots of accounts.)

4)  Open a new browser tab.  Go sign up for Twitterfeed.  Give it your Twitter research account info.

5)  Open another tab, and find a news site that has RSS feeds for different topicsNYT or the BBC are good starting points, or you can pick a specialized site like AllAfrica that will have just the right info you need.  (Stymied?  Use the criteria in Consider the Source to select a good online news site.)

6)  Once you have an RSS feed selected, copy and paste it into your Twitterfeed account.  It will test the feed and make sure that the new posts from the RSS feed will now tweet out THROUGH your new Twitter research account.  You have effectively made a custom Twitter news channel!

7) Repeat steps 5 and 6 a few times as needed – don’t get too many, because you don’t want your phone blowing up constantly. (See @readersadvisory and @edunewsus as good/bad examples of custom Twitter news accounts I have created using many RSS feeds.)

8) By now, your phone should be texting you any new stories from the feeds you threaded through your research account.  Not only will these stories be stored in your research Twitter account (and you can Favorite the ones you want to use!), but they will also come to you in real time – reminding you about the project on a regular basis and letting you have immediate access to new information.

It sounds a little complicated (especially if you are not a current Twitter user or RSS feed master).  Yet this is a perfect example of how a typical social media site can be transformed into a powerful automated research tool!  Twitter is not just for sharing with colleagues or chatting with friends – it has the ability to transform your cell phone into a critical support system for schoolwork.

Apps for all ages

If you have an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch then you already know how appealing they are to… well… all ages!  Parents, kids, teachers, friends, even the person at the next table at the coffee shop are all sharing and trading tips on which apps they love to use.

Scholastic Parent and Child suggests 15 apps for you to load up and share in the family. (“15 Mighty Apps,” Sept. 2010)

Parenting Magazine has 25 apps – no, wait – 50 apps for you to try!

Teachers can give these 20 iPad apps a spin, including ones that will keep you organized and up to date on current events.

I haven’t heard as much buzz about kid-friendly Android apps yet, but I will keep my eyes peeled & ask friends with Android phones.  Do you have favorites?  Contribute in the comments below!

want kids to love reading? places to start

Patrons frequently ask me how they can hook their kids on books. This makes me thrilled, because if books are your crack then I want to be your dealer! (Drug metaphors work quite well in the literary world. Don’t ask.) Depending on the situation I usually recommend one or more of these resources to feed adults information about nifty books.

These sites are great, but the most important advice for adults who want their kids to love reading is this: read for yourself, read often, and read in front of your children. Let them see your enjoyment in the printed word. Make time in the family schedule for stories and wordplay. Read aloud, read silently, listen to audiobooks, and reread books that really impress you. Do these things, and I guarantee you will eventually need to send your kids to Book Rehab. (Dr. Drew, if you’re reading this, CALL ME. I totally volunteer to help with the group therapy sessions.)

Changing and evolving…

Hello everybody – I’ve imported the posts from my old blog, Schooling.us, and am starting over fresh with a new look and a new name that better reflects my own personal brand. Welcome and take a look around!

More Questions Than Answers: Month 3 of the Year of the E-book

First, a blog post got passed around on Twitter. Then the NYT picked up on it, and the following week this video was posted to YouTube:


(better version of this from Penguin’s Digital unit)

Got your mind properly blown yet? (Yes? Good.)

This is just the start of what promises to be a really ground-breaking year of user experience with e-content. In fact, I think we may have to stop calling them e-books. I knew that the iPad would be a game-changing device because of its ability to connect content with video and touch as well as connectivity, but to see its ability to utterly transform content is AMAZING.

I know we’re going to see more of this when the Microsoft Courier makes a debut, and as soon as the Asus eee Pad comes on sale later this year the market will be blown wide open. Just as the touchscreen smartphone became the norm in a little over 2 years, it will take even less time for tablets and “pads” to do the same.

But what else will be transformed? The evaluation of this content is going to be paramount for consumers – a traditional book or media review is not even going to start to cut it for interim consumers stuck between now, where we are in a real Wild West stage of development and innovation and the future, where (hopefully) standards for e-content will emerge… in some way or another. The same e-content could look radically different on one device than it does on another, and lose or gain functionality when ported to yet another.

I’ve said in the past that digital content needs to be device agnostic, and I’m willing to stick to that as an ideal for now. But things are getting very interesting, and it is nearly impossible to deny at this point that the publishing, reviewing, and bookstore/library industries are getting ready to pass through a fundamental change. Will consumers who bought a Nook only three months ago be satisfied once they see what their money could have bought in Apple’s iPad bookstore? Can Kindle fanatics reconcile themselves to plain black and white e-ink when interactivity and animations are available on new-style tablets?

Let’s see what Q2 of 2010 brings.

More Godin-ish thoughts

My co-worker Josh forwarded me a link to the Friendfeed conversation he started about my last blog post. I read the reactions with interest, and had a few thoughts in connection with this:

Another co-worker forwarded an email with this, that seems related:

“And these statistic(s) from another book, “Empire of Illusion: the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle,” a third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives, and neither do 42 percent of college graduates. In 2007, 80 percent of the families in the United States did not buy or read a book.”

While I think the above stat is a bit hyperbolic, it is however reflective of the larger culture’s widening gap between the literate and the illiterate.(Our regulars are nearly all power users, relying heavily on the library to supply them with a constant stream of materials.) It seems reflective – although not correlated – to the similar concentration of wealth in the country over the past few decades. A well-informed middle class may be going the way of a well-off middle class, IMHO. Instead of being able to divide our patrons up by socioeconomic class, we should probably be making distinctions between new “upper” and “lower” classes by their information consumption habits. Which group would Seth Godin be in, I wonder?

I’d be interested to hear what others think about our culture’s connection to information in an age of abundance (but not largess).

Information is not free

Seth Godin blogged recently about his idea to transform libraries for the 21st century. Apparently he’s been talking to librarians who are unhappy that their DVD circulation is up (as it would be, in this economy when people are looking for cheap/free home entertainment). But I think he has some things very wrong:

They can’t survive as community-funded repositories for books that individuals don’t want to own (or for reference books we can’t afford to own.)” I have yet to see the person able to afford all the books they will ever need in their lifetime. Or a personal subscription to all the magazines they might want to read, or all the databases they might need to consult. It reminds me of the quote by Malcolm Forbes: “The richest person in the world – in fact all the riches in the world – couldn’t provide you with anything like the endless, incredible loot available at your local library.”

I’m not sure I’d want to live in a world where we only had access to the ideas we could afford to buy.

The information is free now.” Information is never free. Libraries and librarians work to provide access (using your tax dollars) to hugely diverse, authoritative sources of information in many formats. Yes, there is more access to information than ever before but access is not equal for all. I know Godin’s rebuttal would be “buy a cheap netbook & mooch off a neighbor’s free WiFi” but there are still people who don’t have the money or comfort level with technology to make that happen. Librarians are useful because we’re professional searchers; able to help people formulate their questions, refine their ideas, and locate the best information to match those needs. Just because you can type into the Google search box doesn’t mean you’re an information expert.

My last thought: in many communities, the public library is the last truly democratic place. Anyone can come in, anyone can read for free, anyone can meet freely. There needs to be at least one place that is open to all in every community, and the library is as much a place as it is a collection.

How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built by Stewart Brand


From my last post – this was the only book referred to in the New South Wales matrix that I hadn’t yet read. So I set out to grab a copy of How Buildings Learn and discover more about its metaphor for a potential library future.

I think I have always been interested in architecture – take me to any city and I am perfectly happy wandering around to see what I can see in the streetscapes. I knew why I had this interest after a 1997 college guest lecture by James Howard Kunstler. As deeply ashamed as I was at the audience, some of whom booed his talk and belligerently challenged both his ideas and authority in the field, I had a growing sense of excitement and identification. Kunstler was my kind of guy – someone who had figured out that people’s relationships with their surroundings profoundly affect their sense of development as a people. “Is this a place worth caring about?” he shouted, showing slides of all-too-familiar suburban landscapes where big box stores held dominion over the horizon and token landscaping replaced once thriving & complex ecosystems. It’s no wonder young people feel alienated and isolated, he claimed, pointing to the lack of sidewalks in housing developments and the proliferation of bland “places” that resemble nowhere in particular.

His ideas resonated with me and I was grateful to find the words for things I sensed but was not able to articulate. I found this to be true of Brand’s book as well: although one can read this book through the photographs, illustrations, and captions alone, the narrative Brand created is a good one indeed. My favorite reading “moments:”

He quotes from Jane Jacobs on the costs of new construction: “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must come from old buildings.” (p. 28) This quote faces two photos – one of the carriage-style garage where Hewlett-Packard took shape in 1939, and the modest interior of a 1970s garage in Palo Alto where Steves Jobs & Wozniak invented the Apple computer.

In a strange way, libraries are always old buildings because we store the past – we are the metaphoric “old building” that provides a foundation for today’s thinkers to build upon.

On p. 188, Brand points out the difference in philosophy of an architect who thinks of a building as a way to manipulate the power structure of those who inhabit it, and the actual inhabitants who will inevitably shape it the way their lives evolve: “A building is not something you finish. A building is something you start.”

Libraries are changing organisms just as our users are changing organisms. Our future depends on being flexible, modular, and providing the raw space in which change can flourish.

“Anticipate greater connectivity always.”

Beyond being an excellent example of Strunk & White style, this simple declarative sentence is what we should do for our institution as a whole and for the learners that come through our doors. Brand uses this as an introduction to a paragraph on the Berkeley’s Wurster Hall conduits, built into the fabric of the building anticipating lots of lovely coaxial cable for television in every classroom. Instead, it proved to be a great way to network computers as the Internet revolution arose. What else could it have connected? Had this empty, “useless” space not been provided, there would have been no opportunity to help the building keep evolving with its inhabitants.

Architecture turns out to have a lot in common with libraries. We deal on a human scale, and help people create places worth caring about, worth inhabiting, and worth growing.

Bookend Scenarios – Public libraries 20 years in the future?

The State Library of New South Wales did a little future forecasting and compiled their results in a nice white paper called Bookend Scenarios (pdf). Although they were focusing on particularly Australian concerns, I was surprised by how applicable their vision is to American libraries. We face very similar challenges to our services, and it’s worth taking a look at this report if you are concerned about the public library and its future incarnations.

Above is their matrix of change, with a sector for each of four scenarios named after seminal monographs: nonfiction for generalized scenarios, and fiction for the niche scenarios. The predicted outcomes of each scenario will depend on variables in our socioinformatic landscapes.

Right now, I’d say the average American public library is in the How Buildings Learn quadrant – technology is accelerating & formats are unstable but library services & buildings are expanding to meet community desires. Barring some global catastrophe after Peak Oil, I’d say American libraries are typically headed for a mashup between the Neuromancer and Fahrenheit 451 scenarios. In particular, I think that electronic formats will win the day for most sources of nonfiction and the physical paper-based book will become the province of fiction exclusively. I don’t think that we will suffer from the lack of relevance forecast in the Fahrenheit 451 scenario, but I do believe we will find value in the Neuromancer prediction: people’s skepticism of information could be tempered by situating librarians as arbiters of content, where we help users discern bias and conflicts of interest in the production of specific pieces of information.

Where do you think public libraries are headed in the next 20 years? We will surely follow society’s lead, and the four visions in this fascinating project are distinctly possible versions of our collective future.

A little OT: buttons & widgets are helpful!

Stay home if possible when you are sick. Visit www.cdc.gov/h1n1 for more information.

I looked like this lady last week. Seriously, my friends, stay well and if you need some chicken soup or ginger ale I will bring you some while you stay AT HOME! The last thing I wanted to do was spread this junk around at the library while at a public service desk.

But where did I get such an attractive button? Why, the CDC of course! Many organizations (mine included) are starting to see the benefits of using and creating buttons, labels, and widgets for people to cut and paste into their websites. Keep your eyes peeled for more novel uses of this technology. Interactive widgets (like weather, headlines, etc) are a great way to provide fluid content to users who may not be visiting your website (yet).

Take a look at my sidebar to the right and see how many buttons you can spot. What would you add to yours, or your library’s?

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