For the last time, Google is not our competition in libraries...

There's a very famous Neil Gaiman quote among librarians and lovers of libraries: "Google will bring you back, you know, a hundred thousand answers. A librarian will bring you back the right one."

  I found this on Jennie Stolz's Pinterest page. Click the pic to go to there.

I found this on Jennie Stolz's Pinterest page. Click the pic to go to there.

You see it on social media. You hear it used as a soothing balm at library conferences. More than one library has it printed on their floors.

There are various different versions of the quote - often people will attribute Gaiman with having said a million answers from Google, and pretty much no one puts in the 'you know'. In order that I, a librarian, could use the RIGHT quote for this article I...

Well, I Googled it. Obvs.

Because how else would I find it? I don't want to put us as libraries and librarians in competition with Google for loads of reasons, but we still do it a lot. I contributed to a SWOT analysis on libraries in LibFocus and someone put the Gaiman quote in there too:

 An excerpt from a crowd-sourced LibFocus article - click the image to read the full thing

An excerpt from a crowd-sourced LibFocus article - click the image to read the full thing

The thing is, most people aren't seeking 'right answers' on Google. They just want basic or general info. Here's what SiegeMedia discovered were the top 15 searches on Google in 2015 in the US, if you exclude brands and porn (the top 5 if you don't exclude them is Gmail, Craiglists, Amazon, Yahoo [why?!] and porn).

 Click the pic to read the full article on SeigeMedia

Click the pic to read the full article on SeigeMedia

How many of those have a right answer a librarian could bring back? The weather, obviously - but you'd find that out by Googling it. Perhaps a librarian could find you a more reliable dictionary, that could be a 'right' answer. What's on at the Movies, cheap flights - again we'd at least go online and search, if not specifically Google.

In the UK in 2015 according to Google itself, the top 5 searches were 1) Cilla Black, 2) Lady Colin Campbell, 3) Rugby World Cup, 4) Jeremy Clarkson and 5) Paris. Is there a right answer to 'Cilla Black'? Right answers are not what Google is for. More broadly, people aren't searching Google for things they used to come and find at libraries.

The reason the Gaiman quote includes a 'you know' is this wasn't some grand written statement, it was part of an answer to an interview question he was asked upon becoming honorary chair of National Libaries Week in 2010. The full answer, with the Google part right at the end, can be seen in this video:

What a great quote that whole thing is! Fantastic. He GETS it. This isn't some well-meaning but misguided celeb talking about how much they loved the smell of books as a child in their local library. This is someone who understands how libraries are about social inclusion. I love the full answer. I think Gaiman is brilliant. I just wish we, as a library community, hadn't quite latched onto the Google part of it so much, as the dichotomy isn't helpful.

Also, I don't personally think I can find the 'right' answer in most of the situations I find myself in, even as an academic librarian helping people are who ARE actually after very specific information. Our role is more about helping people find answers for themselves - not in all cases and branches of the profession, but in most - as a couple of people pointed out on Twitter:

Of course this dichotomy isn't somehow Gaiman's fault or exclusive to him, you see it everywhere among librarians. This tweet from Internet Librarian International encapsulates a sentence you hear a lot about libraries and competition:

(It was reflecting something the speaker had said rather than Martin's own opinion.) I find this rhetoric troubling for lots of reasons, many of which I've spoken about before but the idea of Google as competitor just won't go away...

Here are my issues with it:

  1. As discussed above, people don't now use Google for things they previously used libraries for
  2. Google doesn't do what we do. It precisely the human element of libraries that will ensure they endure
  3. If Google IS our competitor then we will lose every battle, forever
  4. Ultimately, to pit libraries against Google is to reduce libraries to their most basic function (provider of information) and indeed the one which IS most easily replaced...
  5. ... and then try and convince people not to replace us with Google by telling them Google is not any good, when in fact - for all the troubling things about Google, and there are many - it IS pretty good at bringing back info of sufficient quality that most people who are non-specialists find it to be excellent for their needs
  6. Related: no one ever won any friends by slagging off something useful (that they themselves use every day)

The fact that Google and the internet more widely has made it so easy for people to access information without needing to physically visit a library is a GOOD thing. So I'd like us all agree to stop trying to make it into us versus them, and focus more on the things we can do to cater for the needs of our users and potential users. They don't need us to find them info on Cilla Black but they DO need us for plenty else. 

Google could find 100,000 things for libraries to do next, but only our communities can find us the right one...

Using Kahoot in Library Induction and Teaching Sessions

A colleague at York, Tony Wilson, brought Kahoot! to our attention recently for possible use in teaching and orientation sessions: it's a really nice quiz tool. There is nothing new about using quizzes in library sessions and there's about a million and one tools out there for making them, but Kahoot differs in its execution of the idea. It's so much slicker and just more FUN than anything like this I've looked at before. And interestingly, it already seems to have currency with students:

One of the most useful aspects of a quiz is that people are asked to actively engage with the information rather than passively receive it. I'm absolutely convinced the students are remembering more this way than if we just presented them with the complete information.

4 reasons Kahoot works so well

It's really, really nice, for these reasons in reverse order of importance:

The music. It has cool retro sort of 8-bit music in the background.
The aesthetics. It has bright colours and looks generally nice. Here's what a question looks like:

 An example of a question as it looks on the screen during the quiz

An example of a question as it looks on the screen during the quiz

The leaderboard. Oh yes. It has a LEADERBOARD. This is the key thing, really: people put in their nicknames and after each question the top 5 is displayed (based on, obviously, how acurate their answers are but also how quick). Even completely non-competitive people get excited when they see their name in the top 5... I tweeted about using Kahoot and Diana Caulfied chimed in about the tension the leaderboard brings:

 The mobile view from the student perspective

The mobile view from the student perspective

It's VERY easy to use. These things have to be SO simple to justify using them. In the case of Kahoot, you load up the quiz, and the students go to kahoot.it and put in the pin number the quiz gives you on the screen. It works perfectly on phones, tablets, or PCs. There's only one thing on the screen - the box to put the pin number in; and only one thing to do - put the pin number in. This simplicity and intuitive interface means everyone can get on board right away. There's no hunting around. 

You can also use it on an epic scale - one colleague just came back from using it with 95 undergraduates today, who responded really well, another used it with over 100 who were absolutely buzzing after each question. You can actually have up to 4,000 players at once.

Here's what the students are presented with when they go to the (very simple) URL:

An example from York

So here's the quiz I made for Induction, click here if you want to have a go. This particular link is (I think) in ghost mode, where you're competing with a previous group of players. So if you do the quiz now, you'll be up against my History of Art PostGraduates and will only show up in the Top 5 leaderboard if you get better scores than at least 25 of them! But normally in a session I'd use a completely blank slate.

Possible uses

In this example the questions I chose are basically just a way to show off our resources and services: it's all stuff I'd be telling them as part of a regular induction talk anyway:

 My Kahoot quiz questions

My Kahoot quiz questions

The students I've used it with so far have really enjoyed it (as far as I can tell!). It's much more interesting than listing things, and, intruigingly, I think that asking people to guess between possible options actually seems the answer more impressive than just telling them the fact outright. So for example in the Google Apps question above, there were gasps when I revealed they get unlimited storage and the majority had chosen one of the lower options (the results screen shows how many people have chosen each option) - I'm fairly sure if I'd just told them they get unlimited storage, not one person would have gasped.

But there are plenty of other possibilities for Kahoot that are a bit more pedagogical in nature. Using it to measure how much of the session has sunk in at the end; using it at the start and end to measure a difference in knowledge; and using it to establish the level of student understanding:

There's also a Discussion mode rather than a Quiz mode. You pose a question and students type their answers in (rather than selecting from multiple choice) and their words come up on the screen. Anything rude or offensive can be deleted with one click. It would be a great way to find out what students felt unsure of or wanted to learn about, or to discuss the merits of a particular approach.

In summary

So I'd recommend taking a look at Kahoot and seeing if you can incorporate it into your teaching. As well as using it throughout Induction I'm planning on using different kinds of quizzes as part of infolit sessions and am excited to see how that works. You can easily incorporate your own library's images and videos and the tool is free, very easy to use, nicely made, and FUN. 

Using PowerPoint as a design tool

If you're a graphic designer you probably use a professional tool like Adobe InDesign or Photoshop to make leaflets, posters, infographics and other digital images. If, like me, you're not, and those tools are beyond both your budget and capacity to learn complicated programmes you're not going to use that often, you need an alternative.

I've written on here before about Canva, which is excellent for more than just presentations, and I like Phoster in the iOS app store for designing digital posters. But an under-rated tool for Design is PowerPoint. The main reasons are it's a lot more flexible than it's often given credit for, and it's incredibly easy to layer content (to put text over images, etc) - something which is maddeningly difficult to do in Word, for example.

So here are the key aspects to using PowerPoint for design.

1) You can make a slide ANY size, and save it as a JPG or PNG file

 Go to Design, Slide Size then Custom Slide Size to get to this menu

Go to Design, Slide Size then Custom Slide Size to get to this menu

PowerPoint defaults to a 4:3 or 16:9 slide - but you can edit the slide to be any shape, size and proportions. Open a new presentation and go to Design then Slide Size and choose Custom Slide Size you can bring up this drop-down menu, or just put in the custom dimensions of your choice.

Everything becomes easier with design when your canvas is the perfect dimensions to start off with. Sizes like A3 and A4 are self-explanatory if you're designing flyers or posters, but also think about digital image sizes. For example:

  • A Twitter image (which is to say a perfectly sized image which doesn't require users to click to expand when viewing it's tweeted) is W: 116 mm x H 232mm
  • An Instagram image can be any square, but optimally is 134mm x 134mm
  • A Facebook image is 317mm x 317mm
  • A YouTube custom video thumbnail is H: 190mm x W: 338mm

(You can work out any pixels to mm dimensions using an online converter: I used this one for the above.)

Once you've created blank slides in a variety of useful sizes, save them to use as a template more quickly in the future.

2) You can install fantastic typography

As anyone who has attended my presentation skills training will attest, I'm always banging on about how Typography is a hugely underrated part of design. Fonts matter a lot, and can make the difference between something looking and the same thing looking really professional.

As always, I'd highly reccomend fontsquirrel as a souce of fantastic (and free to use) fonts - and see the previous post for more info on font-pairings.

 Click to go to the font-pairing post

Click to go to the font-pairing post

3) It's easy to manipulate images in useful ways

You can find the ideal image from a CC0 site like Pexels, and make it easier to use - to layer text on top of, for example - using PPTs editing tools. They're nowhere near as sophisticated as those in Photoshop, but it's still really useful. Particularly darkening images using the Brightness slider so that white text clearly shows up on it, or blurring images. Both of these techniques are explained in more detail here.

You can also Crop images to specific shapes, circles for example, which can help with really striking design.

4) You can follow the basic principles of good design, and that's more important than the tool

I've found that I really like design without truly understanding it like a proper designer would, but certain rules apply across the board and help me with whatever I'm doing:

  1. Images AS the background most often works better than images against a background (unless you're using icons).
  2. Space is good. Leave space.
  3. No more than three fonts per design. And use fonts that help you communicate your message - or, to use a phrase I'm not altogether comfortable with for some reason, but it seems to apply here: use fonts intentionally.
  4. The most important thing about text is legibility. Make sure text is large, and the contrast is high between the text and the background.
  5. Left-align text unless there's a specific reason to Centre-align it (or very occasionally right-align or justify).
  6. Avoid orphan or widow words. Just stretch your text box a little more, or narrow it, so words aren't left on a line of their own. Canva's helpful design rules also have this to say on line length:

5) Save slides as images

You can save your PowerPoint as a PPTX to come back to the design later, but you can also save a slide as an image, or a whole bunch of slides as seperate images.

When you go to Save As, choose JPEG or PNG from the drop-down menu - it will then give you the choice of saving just the slide you're on at the moment as an image, or to create a folder into which it will save all the slides in the presentation as individual images.

 Saving slides as JPEGs

Saving slides as JPEGs

And finally, while we're on the Save As function, here's a brief guide to which format to save regular presentations in depending on your situation...

NLPN's Useful Resources

Just a very brief post to say check out the fabulous NLPN's Useful Resources page. They've brought together a list of professional library bodies, groups and networks, blogs, job sites, journals and databases and even institutional repositories. 

It's aimed primarily at New Profs but it's useful for everyone in interested in the wider profession. If I'd had this kind of curated list of useful stuff when I came into the profession I would have found it so much easier to understand the wider context and become part of a bigger conversation. You really could get through years of librarianship before you needed more than what NLPN've put together on this list. Get to it!

 Click the pic to go to NLPN's site

Click the pic to go to NLPN's site

Creating images with copy-space for text

This post originally appeared on the Lib-Innovation blog.

As always things have changed in my library over the summer, and we needed some new images to reflect our reconfigured rooms, new signage and new services. We're very fortunate to have easy access to the University photographer Paul Sheilds, who is based in our Morrell Library building, so we booked a morning with him.

We had very specific needs in mind, based on a list we'd drawn up to suit what I wanted for our Induction Project, what my Academic Liaison colleague David Brown wanted for the new LibGuides and what the Comms Team needed. In particular I was really keen to get photos with copy-space.

Copy-space literally means a space to write 'copy' in the newspaper meaning of the word - in other words an area of the image which is less busy and which could be written upon without obscuring a key part of the picture.

In essence I wanted to be able to write directly onto the images (for use in slides, posters, digital screens and social media) without having either a separate area for text, or a back-filled text box - because I think it looks smarter that way and because it allows the images to be full screen at all times. It's a lot easier to do this when the images are captured with that in mind from the outset.

Here are some examples - these are works-in-progress that I'm playing around with for the forthcoming #UoYTips Induction campaign for 2016/17 at my institution. They won't look exactly like this in the final versions but the copy-text principle will remain.

We have borrowable laptops which I wanted to showcase. I've added a piece of text to the copy-space:

Here's an example of an image of the same lockers which is a great pic but which doesn't have copy-space built in (making it a little less flexible to work with in marketing):

It would be possible to write on this of course, but you'd need to manipulate the image to ensure the text was legible, or used a back-filled text box.

Next up is a picture of the copy-print-scan machines - the copy-space in this case being the underside of the lid. I did experiment with having the text at an angle to match it but it looked a little clunky so I went with good old fashioned horizontal text for this one...

Here's a picture of a student - by not putting her centre of the frame (and by conforming to the rule of thirds) we've made space for the text.

Finally here's an example where despite leaving copy-space the background is too busy to write directly onto - the text wouldn't be clear enough. There's a neat divide where the wall ends, so I've inserted a shape over everything to the left of the wall, to make the copy-space more clearly defined. I did this in PowerPoint - inserting the rectangle, filling it black, then making the fill 19% transparent. The white text is clearly visible against it, and the focus of the image (the walls you can write on) is still clear and uncluttered.