The Shifted Librarian -

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* Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Cool, Shifted SCSU Services

Rebecca Hedreen is doing lots of very cool things in her users' worlds, not just within the four walls of her building. For starters, her Frequently Answered Questions blog is intended specifically to help distance education students at Southern Connecticut State University (which, of course, gives her an automatic feed for syndication). On that blog, a post from last month notes some of the ways you can ask a question, one of which - Chatango - I was unfamiliar with.

"Please note that I also have new icons for my online status for chat and IM. Generally, if I'm ‘online’ for all of them, I'm likely to be in my office--so I'm likely to be available by phone and email at that time, too.

Please try the various services out--Skype may be of particular interest to our international contingent. If you download the software (and sign up for an account) you can call just about anywhere in the world to another Skype user for free--and to regular phones for a discounted rate. All you need is a broadband connection and a microphone on your computer (not an insignificant requirement).

The chat service (http://delibrarian.chatango.com/) requires no downloads or registration, only Macromedia Flash Player. If I'm not online, you can leave me a message (please include your email!) and I will get it as soon as I login.

The two IM services, MSN Messenger and AIM, do require registration, but they both have web interfaces, so you don't have to download the software. If you are not using them from home, please check the regulations at your workplace, school, or library. Many places still discourage the use of chat and/or IM and I don't want to get anyone in trouble! You may want to point out the number of libraries that are now using IM for Virtual Reference, if you want to try and get policies changed." [Frequently Answered Questions]

I love the idea of offering Skype, Flash-based chat, and IM options to cover the broad spectrum of online – especially distant – users. Hopefully Rebecca will provide more details, and maybe even a review, of Chatango for use within libraries. She’s embedded other cool things on the blog, too, like a link to Subscribe by email with rssfwd for those users that don’t have aggregators. I love this page, too!

My exploration of Rebecca’s work all started, though, with a link to her Library’s page describing Search Plugins and Scripts for the Firefox Browser, where you’ll find what are quickly becoming standard FF search plugins for the catalog and their journal locator. However, she’s also playing around with xISBN GreaseMonkey scripts, and she’s included GM extensions for WorldCat and and her catalog from Amazon! I definitely need some time to further explore this whole concept, but here’s how Rebecca describes it on her Library’s plugin page:

“These scripts create icons next to the titles of books on Amazon.com linking to the CONSULS catalog or the OCLC WorldCat ‘Find in your Library’ database. GreaseMonkey is a Firefox Extension that runs scripts to cause changes in the appearance and/or actions of a web page. Not all web pages will run these scripts.”

Last week, knowledge god Gary Price took some time to light my bulb regarding the NeedleSearch toolbar, a service that makes it stupidly easy to create your own toolbar for your library’s catalog, no programming required! He first wrote this up all the way back in 2003, and it’s still a good read. Highly recommended.

With all of this innovation coming on the Mozilla/Firefox side, you have to wonder how far libraries could take all of this. I want to push a lot of this with our SWAN catalog and create various plugins and toolbars, highlight them all on a single page, and let SWAN members either point to it or copy the code onto their own sites. Rich Allen sent me a link to NOBLE's Firefox Tips and Tricks, which comes close to this. It even mentions Smart Keywords, including how to use this with EBSCO. My only quibble is that all of this is hidden from their home page.

Let power users be power users they way they want to be, not by forcing them to use our advanced search screens! All I need are a few more hours in each day….

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