Lately I’ve had a few computer malfunctions in my life. The laptop I used for work was stolen, and the hard drive on my computer at home had a crash that even spin rite couldn’t fix. I lost some documents I was currently working on, but thankfully I’d been saving most of my important documents to a shared work drive. Since these debacles I’ve been making sure I save in multiple places and even invested in a service called Mozy to back up my files at home.

I wanted to share with you what tools I’ve been using to help offset another computer disaster:
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Recently I saw the documentary Resolved which is about high school public policy debating and specifically two teams of debaters, one from an Illinois suburb and one from inner-city Los Angeles. During the movie I learned that public policy debate between high school students is not at all what I thought it was. For the past several decades it’s been about fast talking – and I mean really fast talking – and rapid information processing more than focusing on gaining a strong understanding of a particular issue. (Part of the movie focuses on the two teens from L.A. trying to change debate from the fast-talking fast-processing style to something more traditional. But, that aspect of the documentary is not the focus of this post.)

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There was big news in the world of web search over the past week. Google announced new features and the new search tool, Wolfram Alpha, launched. After checking out what’s new, I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of this search news, particularly as it relates to teens and libraries.

Google’s new features should help teens use the service more successfully. Wolfram Alpha could be helpful, but then again, it might not. I’m very curious to find out what teens have to say about how it works and what it does. Read More →

Atlantic CoverYesterday I read on about an article, called Is Google Making Us Stupid, which appears in the July issue of The Atlantic. Reading about the article I was gearing myself up for wanting to throw things at the author because I assumed, something one should of course never do, that the focus of the piece was on how technology is causing the demise of reading, writing, and thinking. And, to some extent, I was correct making that assumption.

However, near the end of the article the author, Nick Carr, admits something that I think helps to put some of what he states earlier in the piece into a different perspective. He writes: Read More →

My brain has been spinning for days thinking about the library’s role in the social graph. It started when on a recent TWIT podcast Kevin Rose, of Digg, mentioned the social graph. I’ve heard that term bandied about before, but when Rose said it this time I wondered if I really knew what it meant. A Google search led me to information on the social graph and the confirmation that this graph is really another way of talking about six degrees of separation. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is often quoted when people write about the social graph. For example, “Zuckerberg attributed the power of Facebook to the ‘social graph,’ the network of connections and relationships between people on the service. He said, ‘It’s the reason Facebook works.'”
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A few days ago I heard about a new search interface Google is trying out with a few users. The Google web page about their experiment states:

This experiment lets you influence your search experience by adding, moving, and removing search results. When you search for the same keywords again, you’ll continue to see those changes. If you later want to revert your changes, you can undo any modifications you’ve made. Note that this is an experimental feature and may be available for only a few weeks.

When I first read about the experiment I thought, well that sounds cool. But, then as I thought about it some more I realized that this experiment, once it’s available to more of us, could really have an impact on how teens use Google for research. For example:

  • Giving teens a chance to specifically state that a site on a results list is useful or not means they will have to spend some time thinking about their research needs, how to gauge usefulness, and how evaluate content.
  • By having the ability to re-order items in a results list, teens get a chance to prioritize their research needs. They get to ask, “how important is this information to my topic?” And, “Is the info. on this site the first thing I want to look at, or is it something that I might want to look at later on in the process?”
  • Allowing teens to let Google know about web sites they’ve already found that are useful for their research needs, is a great way to motivate teens to find good sites. The fact that they can inform Google (as well as Google informing then) should prove to be a great motivating tool.

Of course, since the experiment is not yet available to a large group of people, it’s not possible to go into full detail of the potential benefits of this new Google feature. Keep an eye out for what’s to come from Google. This could be a great way to positively integrate information seeking skills learning for teens (and adults) with a tool of choice.

What if you were told by your powers that be that the library was no longer going to provide web-based homework support? No more categorized links to web sites on topics covered in the classroom. No more 24/7 Ask a Librarian for homework. No more special web sites that are just about how to do homework.

If you were told this would you think, (and maybe say out loud) “Oh no, this is impossible, we have to have web-based homework support for teens? The teens need it?” Why would you think that? How would you know the teens not only need it but they want and use it?

Maybe it’s time for libraries to re-think their notions about web-based homework support for teens. How many teens do you know that go to the library’s homework help pages before or instead of going to Google or Wikipedia? How many teens do you know that think about the library at all as a place to go for homework help when on the web? Is web-based homework support for teens a waste of time and money?

It’s true, that by providing this support libraries show the community (including teens) that the library is available for homework help – face-to-face and online. But, maybe it’s not worth spending the money and the staff effort to keep such an endeavor going.

This isn’t to say that libraries shouldn’t have a web presence in order to help teens with homework, and of course other information needs that teens have. But, instead of making the teens come to the library web site it’s time to start being where the teens are and perhaps give up the clunky web presence that rarely can compete with Google or Wikipedia. For example, some libraries have already created applications for popular social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace so that teens can search the catalog from within the social network instead of having to go to the library web site to do that.

There needs to be more of this kind of library web development for teens. What if database vendors created applications for social networking sites so teens could search the database without leaving their online social home? (BTW, some vendors already do this.) What if the library created applications for Facebook or MySpace to help teens write citations? What if there were applications for building searches successfully? What if there were applications for….

If teens are going to Wikipedia for information, what about making sure that Wikipedia entries on topics that teens in your community have homework on reflect the informational needs of the teens? (Anyone can add or create a Wikipedia entry, wouldn’t it make sense for librarians to be in Wikipedia working on the content in order to support their communities?)

Where are the teens in your community going to find homework information? Where do teens spend most of their time on the web? Lets face it, it’s easier to go where the teens are in order to help them then to make them come to us. So, why not take the easy path? Give up the big web presence and find out how you can have a homework presence in MySpace, Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr,, etc.