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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2007

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Staying Afloat in a Flood of New Technologies

John J. Meier
Science Librarian
Physical and Mathematical Sciences Library
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA

Copyright 2007, John J. Meier. Used with permission.

Librarians need to critically evaluate new technologies to determine if they are useful to professional needs. Whether you call them Web 2.0, emerging technologies, or social networking, the number of new digital tools available is mind-boggling. When I recently tried to create a glossary of these items, not all of them websites, it started at five before blossoming into fifteen with no end in sight. I can drop a few names: Second Life, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube -- you get the idea. There are endless possibilities and login names, but no librarian I have met has an endless amount of time or attention.

My approach has evolved from the new professional's "do everything" to a more reserved evaluation of each technology that comes along. Is it easy to use? Does it work with something I already know? And more significantly, does it apply to my job or professional interests? This is the point where colleagues and the greater library profession play a vital role. In a large community of diverse interests and responsibilities there are early adopters trying each of these technologies and talking about their experiences. You may find these evaluations at conferences, in the library literature, and freely available on the World Wide Web. Pursue what you are interested in most and allow that search for knowledge to branch into each new area instead of tackling it all at once. Be open to new technology and participate in the discussion of the initiatives that touch on your interests.

Here are some examples that apply directly to librarians dealing with issues in science and technology. Facebook offers a number of groups for science and technology librarians, including Special Libraries Association (SLA) Members, SciTech Librarians, and the more general Library 2.0 Interest Group. Members can share information, schedule events, and network easily with fellow professionals. An increasing number of blogs created by librarians and libraries focus on or mention science and technology. Many can be found using the general search engine Technorati, but a new RSS search named {LibWorm} specifically covers library blogs. Second Life is being used in innovative ways by scientists to create virtual experiments, including one where {users can experience schizophrenia}. PennTags, a project at the University of Pennsylvania, even allows their users to tag and annotate their favorite items in their library OPAC.

The power of social networking comes from participation, so it is vital that librarians increase their participation in Web 2.0 technologies. Think of how many technologies started as a novelty, eventually became a trend, and finally became part of our lives.

A (growing) Glossary of Library 2.0

Blog -- Short for "web log," this is a site where contributors post news, thoughts or other topics in a reverse chronological format. It often includes the key feature for other people to post comments to another person's blog and the ability to subscribe to new posts in a blog using RSS.

CiteULike -- a web site for researchers to share, store, and organize the citations of academic papers for use in a bibliography. - A social bookmarking site where web sites can be tagged with keywords. The social component comes into play with the ability to see what other people have used as tags or to watch new sites that are tagged by users who are interested in similar topics.

Facebook -- A social networking website that started in colleges and universities, allowing users to describe themselves, link to friends, and form groups.

Flickr - A social photo sharing site where users can upload their photos and share them as well as receive comments from other users. Users can tag their photos to locations, people, or events.

Folksonomies -- often based on tags, these are user generated categories and taxonomies. They have the power of using very familiar terms, but lack the strength of a controlled vocabulary.

Myspace -- This social networking site allows anyone to create a profile (like a personal web page) and customize it with text and multimedia. Profiles can also be created for non-individuals and networked as friends.

Podcast - A series of audio recordings organized into a program. Listeners can subscribe to a podcast (using RSS) and hear the latest recordings whenever they are made available.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) - a data format used for publishing frequently updated content. It allows you to subscribe to summaries or full text content and view it all on one website or program, called an aggregator.

Screencasting - video screen capture accompanied by audio narration, often broadcast via RSS.

Second Life -- 3D Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMORPG) with "islands" for institutions represented that allows users to create an avatar and experience a constructed 3D learning environment

Social Computing - Forms of web services where the value is created by the collective contributions of a user population. Social networking allows users to create profiles and define relationships and link to other users.

Tag -- Metadata or keywords. Many Web 2.0 sites allow tags to be attached to audio files, video files, web pages, photos, blog posts, or even books.

Twitter - A social website for sending and receiving brief updates about what you are doing at any given moment.

Unconference - Events with little structure, where the attendees drive the agenda and freely form new discussions and sub-groups as ideas emerge.

Web 2.0 -- A general term to describe web sites and services where the content is shaped partially or entirely by the users instead of the traditional published website model.

Wiki - Web pages (or sites) where any number of users can edit the content and add additional pages. The best known example is Wikipedia.

YouTube - A social networking site where users upload, share, and comment upon videos. A great source and repository for instructional videos.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ISTL, the Science and Technology Section, or the American Library Association.

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