MakeUseOf Has the Answers to Questions You Didn’t Know You Had

makeuseofStaying current with IT news, trends, and tips is a fundamental part of my job in the library.  While I get this information from a variety of resources, there is one website that keeps surprising me with helpful information on a variety of subjects of interest to me and the patrons I assist.  I’d like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to MakeUseOf, a free online resource with timely articles, reviews, and help guides for all things tech.  What really makes this resource shine is its ability to speak to both new and veteran users at the same time without confusing or boring either!

The home page at MakeUseOf displays headlines and teaser text for their most recent articles.  I find this layout somewhat chaotic, so I prefer to sort the articles by category before browsing.  Selecting “Topics” in the header menu will display the articles by category.  The “Answers” section leads to a user forum where registered members can ask and answer questions from the MakeUseOf community.  Check out the “Top List” section for “best of” lists for a variety of software and services on multiple platforms.  For in-depth technology guides, have a look at their “E-books” area.

As a registered user of MakeUseOf, you can earn points for sharing their content on social media, as well as participating in the forum, polls, and other activities.  Those points can be redeemed for rewards, such as entries in drawings for free hardware and software.  My favorite benefit of membership has been receiving the newsletter.  Each email has a few headlines with teaser text that can be easily scanned, with more information just a click away.  I have happened upon lots of very useful information in these newsletters that I didn’t even know I needed!  You can opt-in to the newsletter by selecting the social media icons at the top of any MakeUseOf page, and then selecting the blue “Email” button.

subscribeWhat do you think of MakeUseOf?  If you have another tech info source you love, please share it in the comments.

Our Library Catalogs Just Got More Accessible

As part of our recent library renovation, we made some improvements to the catalog search/event signup computers based on feedback from our patrons.

In addition to upgrading the machines to Windows 7, we broke up the centrally located circle of catalog search/event signup computers in order to distribute them throughout the library.  Now, two catalog search/event signup computers remain centrally located, and the others can be found on either end of the main room of the library (by the Teen Area and the Periodicals area).  As always, there is a separate catalog search computer in the Children’s Room.  Please note that a library card is not needed to access these computers.

The catalog search/event signup computer stands located at either end of the library are mounted to the wall.  By default, they are set to be standing stations, but the height of the unit can be adjusted to wheelchair or child height using the buttons on the front right of the keyboard tray:

Two catalog search computers are still located in the center of the library.  One is a standard walk-up station, and one is optimized for patrons who prefer to sit and/or view a screen in large print.  We hope to add a second seated catalog station in the future.

If you are interested in increasing the text size on this computer, click one of the icons to open a catalog or event page.  At the top of the screen, you should see a button labeled “Text Size”:

Click on the arrow to select a size, or click on the button itself to toggle between preset sizes.

Please let us know what you think about the changes (or suggest more improvements) in the comments below.  Your feedback helps us become a better library!

Library Technology Update

refreshHi folks!  It has been a very long time since I posted to this blog.  I apologize for the neglect, but the good news is that I have been hard at work upgrading and improving the technology in the library.  Here is a list of the latest improvements:

  • The new public computers have been rolled out and we have been tweaking them for a few months.  Most of the bugs are worked out, but we are still experiencing some minor issues with video optimization.  Hopefully, we can correct that soon.
  • All of the staff computers have been upgraded.
  • I am in the process of upgrading the catalog computers and a few other service computers.
  • Our website security was compromised…twice!  (No worries – patron information does not live on that server, so only our webpages were affected.)  Fortunately, the Library was already deep in a website upgrade process.  Originally, the reason for the update was twofold – platform security and responsive design.  More on responsive design in the next bullet.
  • Currently, the Library maintains separate websites for desktops and mobile devices.  In order to design a single website that will look good and perform well on a variety of devices, we decided to create a responsive website.  This means the site layout will be modified based on the screen size of the device viewing it.  The plan was to release the new site this month, but we want to ensure its security first.
  • A large screen monitor will be installed near the library entrance which will scroll announcements and events.
  • This year, our public copier will be upgraded in response to feedback about the current copier.
  • The Library acquired a new, more portable large print reader for patrons to use within the library.  Visit the Reference Desk for more information.
  • Thanks to a generous grant from the Friends of the Library, two new tablets will be ordered to facilitate training our staff to assist patrons with the latest portable devices.
  • After six months of use, an evaluation of the Ask Us 24/7 chat system led to the conclusion that not enough patrons participated in the service to justify continuing the subscription.

Those are the highlights from the last few months. My Evernote account has become stuffed with things to blog about since I have been away.  I plan to start publishing regular posts again to get that info out to you.  In the meantime, let me know in the comments area if you have any questions or technology subjects you would like me to write about in the future.

So Much News, So Few Posts

busySorry for my absence, folks!  Things have been a bit crazy around here with all of the new and exciting tech projects brewing at the library.  I’ll give a quick rundown of what’s going on, and future posts will give more detail.

  • OverDrive, our service provider for downloadable e-books and audiobooks, has completely redesigned their website and checkout process.  The new site looks great on any device, and the process of borrowing titles is much more streamlined.  I have already updated our print brochures to reflect the changes, and I’m working furiously to update the website, as well.  Also, many of the e-book titles are available to read in a browser of your choice – no download required!  See our OverDrive READ brochure (PDF) for more information.  This bullet point will definitely get its own post.  Maybe two.
  • Starting in May, we are going to make laptops available for checkout within the library.  After signing an agreement, cardholders in good standing will be able to borrow a laptop from the Reference Desk for 2.5 hours.  Laptops cannot leave the building, but they will provide mobility within the library as well as the opportunity to work in groups.  Due to limitations in our printing software, they will be unable to print.  However, unlike our wired public computers, patrons will be able to temporarily save documents to the desktop for easy attachment to email.  When the laptop is shut down, any changes made by the user will be wiped out.  Head to the Reference Desk for more details.
  • In May, we will be completely revamping our public computing areas.  Our current computers are getting slow and outdated.  We will be replacing them with state-of-the art, blazing fast thin clients.  This will allow us to offer additional internet browser options,  Microsoft Office 2010, Windows 7, temporary saving of documents, and the return of many popular features, such as right-clicking!  It will also make it much easier for yours truly to keep them updated and secure.  Please be patient with us as we learn and deploy the new system.  I will keep you updated as we make progress.
  • For the last two months, library staff members have been participating in a technology training program called Connect 2 U.  The aim of this program was to help our staff become more comfortable with diving in and learning new technology tools that may be useful to both staff and patrons.  As a result, you may see more videos showing up on our YouTube channel, ranging from book reviews to tutorials on how to use library services.
  • We are exploring software options that will allow us to provide chat/text reference services to our patrons.  If all goes well, we hope to roll this out in the late summer.
  • The website we have works well on desktop computers and tablets, but the mobile site we use leaves a bit to be desired.  We’re working on an update/redesign that will be friendly to all devices, without requiring the maintenance of two separate websites.

Do you have other tech suggestions for the library? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.