Friday, 21 September 2012

A few of my favourite things...

Ooooo Thing 17 is about SlideShare and Prezi. Well, if anyone hasn't even tried creating a Prezi, then you should. It's so much fun! You can see my Prezis here:

Interestingly, I've created a few of these because I love the way they create a visual 'path' than can link you from idea to idea, and are far more interesting then PowerPoint presentations. However, I very rarely use them in practice. Mostly they've been embedded in subject pages I've created online, and I've included the links to them in handouts and guides. I am wary of using them to present because of the way Prezi 'swings' between slides, which can definitely make you feel a little bit ill if you overdo it! It's also not always easy to move forward and back through your path, although I do like the ability to go 'home' and see the whole presentation and then select which bit you want to zoom in on (I'd love it if, once you've done this and then click forward it automatically takes you to that part of the path and moves you on from there, but it doesn't do this unfortunately). Also, using Prezi means you're relying on a functioning internet connection where you are delivering your presentation, which can be a gamble, but perhaps I should be braver and give it a proper go. I do so love making Prezis after all...

However, I am not a PowerPoint hater. I think PowerPoint is an extremely useful tool. It's exceptionally easy to knock-up a few ppt slides when you need to, it's a platform for delivering information that is easy to understand and follow, and it is certainly possible to use ppt well. As for SlideShare, I love it. I find it an invaluable tool for keeping up-to-date with professional practice - especially for things like accessing conference presentations which you were unable to attend. It's also a great place for getting inspiration for slides, although as I mentioned in Thing 15 I think watching how someone uses slides in their presentation delivery is probably the most useful way of learning best practice. Here are some of the presentations I've accessed on SlideShare recently:

I haven't started sharing my own material on SlideShare, even though I have an account.Sitting here now I wonder if this is because I feel my slides would be a voice amongst many, adding unnecessarily to the internet noise. Do I not have faith in the material I've created? Does part of me not believe my work is worthy of sharing (and if this is the case why was I happy to present it in the first place?) Also, my slides tend to be very image based, with little words, so do I just assume they wouldn't make sense or be useful to anyone? In fact, I hope that as my experience and confidence grows and I write more material to contribute to the profession, I'll start to feel sharing my work in this way is a natural part of the professional process. For now though, I've just uploaded the presentation on my MSc dissertation I gave to the AULIC group on Thursday 26th July 2012. Enjoy!

Speaking up/being heard

I wasn't really looking forward to this post, mainly because I feel I've done very little in terms of library advocacy, and this makes me feel guilt and inadequacy. But just how much should I feel obliged to advocate? Shouldn't it be something that comes naturally from a passion for libraries? And if I feel I should be doing more but I'm not, then what exactly are my passions? What would get me going?

Johanna's excellent post on advocacy and activism provoked a lot of thought in me. I am also an academic librarian; I believe I advocate for libraries in all sectors, especially public libraries. I am not an activist.

I don't know if anyone else out there feels like this, but in actual fact I think that just by being a librarian I'm constantly called to advocate for libraries. Much of my professional role revolves around considering how the library adds value, and then talking, writing and emphasising it constantly. Talking about my job with my friends or introducing myself to strangers involves speaking up and speaking out - convincing people that what I do is valuable because libraries are indispensable houses of information relied on by everyone, even if they don't know it. And the fight public libraries are now having to undergo just to continue to exist under this coalition government can make me feel slightly desolate, and also, occasionally tweet in anger! I feel that my role demands I work as hard as I can to convince my academic colleagues, lapsed public library users, Google-devoted students and anyone else I can influence that the library is a place for all and access to information a right and not a privilege of the rich.

And that's as much as I can do. I am also a very busy professional librarian, as we all are, with limited time and energy, and a balance to strike between my work life, and my home life, and while I'll happily chatter away about the value of libraries to whoever will listen at some point I have to NOT think about libraries, just for a bit, and be myself.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Mendeley and Zotero - let the games begin

A few days ago I sat down to start planning out my teaching sessions and started considering how I would recommend to our students they manage their information - not just by noting down the references of useful sources they find, but practical ways of saving and storing documents in a way that will enable the to find them again. I was reminded of this blog post by Patrick Dunleavy I read last week: 'I was an EndNote refusenik, but now I’m a Mendeley convert' and I decided it was about time I started exploring some online tools.

So, a few weeks ago when I was starting to think atbou Thing 15 I downloaded Zotero Standalone. and then forgot about it. I am not a firefox user, having been converted to Chrome a while back and discovering that using any other browser now seems just very clunky. Nevertheless, I thought I'd give Zotero a go, and see how far I got. Not very far is the answer. Unfortunately while on the university campus I am restricted as to the things I can download, and apparently add-ons into my browser aren't allowed, so I failed in my attempt to download the Zotero Connector. I began to feel the stirrings of frustration. Next I tried to import a document, which didn't work, and directed me to a singularly unhelpful help page. I started to play around with trying to manage pdfs and bibliographies and found myself very confused. At this point I gave up. Sorry Zotero.

I decided to turn to Mendeley and play with a different tool. Downloading Mendeley desktop was straightforward (as was downloading Zotero Standalone, to be fair). But the Mendeley interface seemed more intuitive, and the help far more abundant. It took me no time at all to find the 'watch folders' function, and suddenly all of the pdfs I'd named in a cryptic an inconsistent manner over the last 3 years, and then carefully stored in a selection of random folders, magically appeared in Mendeley - the majority of which with the correct metadata and all with the pdf attached. I was impressed. I then signed-in to Web Mendeley and the sync function meant the records for all my documents were there instantaneously  Impressed again.

It was about now I wanted to download the Web importer for my browser - but I knew I'd run into the same problems downloading it as I had before, so I went home to try this. Having felt a little guilty about being unfair to Zotero, I also downloaded the Zotero Connector to compare. I think the Zotero Connector works better - it'll pick up all of the records on a webpage and import them into Zotero Standalone very quickly. Mendeley Web Importer was more tricky, as you have to allow pop-ups for every separate site, and make sure you're logged in to Web Mendeley, You then get a list of all the records on a page, and select each one for downloading individually (although this was useful - a quick way of sifting through my results and only saving the records for the results I thought were most useful). As far as I can see I'd still need to download and save my pdfs though if I wanted them stored in Mendeley Desktop as well, so perhaps saving the pdf directly to my watched folder would be a better way of importing the information...and side-step pop-blocker issues with the Mendleey Web Importer.

By this time, as you can probably tell, I was sold on Mendeley. Installed at work and at home, with my documents quickly synced across both, and the watched folder option - yep, it's all working for me. The final thing to do was install the MS Word add-on to use Mendeley to create my citations and references in an actual document. This installs straight into the References ribbon in Word, and is straightforward to use. In fact, under the Add-ins tab, the Zotero reference management tools had appeared as well so I had a play with these. I'm not sure there's much to choose between them really. just as, if you have access to Endnote or Refworks, you'd be using those as well in much the same way. And I've never really used this sort of tool in my own work, as I find tinkering with the style to make sure it meets my needs time-consuming and frustrating. So I gave up at this point - these are my own prejudices effecting my judgement.

I suspect, for anyone needing to use a bibliographic reference tool, using either Zotero or Mendeley would be extremely helpful, and possibly more user-friendly than Endnote. Mendeley gets my vote though, just for how incredibly easy (and satisfying) it is to use. And I haven't even started exploring the collaborative/file-sharing functionality that's made Mendeley so successful...