Missives from the Bat Tower

Doing 23 Things all in the name of Web 2.0

Thing 9: Evernote

Baby elephant

Well things have been pretty hectic in the Bat Tower recently, students coming in left right and centre, which is great for the archives but not so great for my ability to complete 23 Things!  I am weeks behind but we’ve quietened down a bit now so I’m making valiant attempts to catch up with everything I’ve missed.

Week something or other, which was yonks ago now, was all about Organisation and Helen set Evernote as Thing 9. She accompanied this with lots of tweeting and a post on her own blog waxing lyrical about how utterly fantastic and life changing Evernote is (might be laying it on a bit thick there but that was the general gist). As with many new technologies, initially I thought I couldn’t really find much use for it as I’m happily saving things onto folders on my Y: Drive and I can use the College’s VPN if I need to access work stuff from home (which happens very rarely as it’s difficult for an Archivist to work from home what with there being no archives there). I’m still not sure I currently have an opportunity to use it for work but now I’ve had a play with it I think it’s going to be pretty useful for planning my summer holiday. You can create notes (which can be anything from a long text doc to a things to do list), add photos and can clip webpages to it as well. You can also add Outlook emails to it (or at least I assume you can as a little elephant popped up on my toolbar telling me so). You can then organise all the different notes by tagging them and putting them in different notebooks. The software is pretty intuitive and I do really like the tagging abilities.

If I start a project which has lots of web based info that I will need to refer back to I think it could be very useful and in fact I think it could work quite well for the work I will be doing around digital preservation as there is lots of advice online to refer back to.

One thing I would like to see which it doesn’t do (or at least I don’t think it does, maybe Helen can correct me on this) is to share a notebook with another Evernote user so that they can work on it. You can share notes via Twitter, Facebook and email etc but I think it would be very useful to be able to share it with one (or more) other within Evernote and allow them editing rights so that work on a collaborative project would be easier. It seems like such an obvious and useful function so why haven’t they included it? (I do realise this may bring up issues of version control but it would only be the same as using a shared drive.)

Our task for Thing 9 was to create a note and share it, you can take a look at mine here: http://www.evernote.com/shard/s320/sh/4b2c44ad-b8aa-4f8f-8da4-0f3c40cc461b/afe2c057d9219b8431d74a3f2fff4d09

p.s. as a bit of an aside, the Wikipedia entry for Evernote describes it as software designed for notetaking and archiving – if only digital preservation was actually this easy!

p.p.s. I found this article on why Evernote is great really interesting and it gave me some more ideas on how/why to use it: http://lifehacker.com/5989980/ive-been-using-evernote-all-wrong-heres-why-its-actually-amazing

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Thing 8: Project Gutenberg

Thing 8 is focussing on Project Gutenberg. I didn’t know the project name before 23 Things but the concept of free digital access to out of copyright books is not new to me as Google books seemed to be in the headlines quite a bit a while ago, both for possible copyright infringement and also for the fancy book scanners they were using which can turn the pages all by themselves (crazy!). I hadn’t really paid much attention to it before because I was very negative about the idea of an ebook. Why on earth would you want to read something on a screen when you could hold a lovely book in your hand? Friends swore by them and people would brag about how pleased they were with their all new longer battery life – a book with batteries? No thanks.

 However, I have started to change my tune slightly. After iTunes gave away free ebooks in its 12 Days of Christmas promotion I started reading my first ebook. I thought reading it on an iPhone screen would be hell but I was surprised that I actually forgot after a while and just got into the book. So when I found out about Project Gutenberg I though it would be a great opportunity to start reading some Dickens as I’ve only ever read A Christmas Carol although I do enjoy a good BBC adaptation. After a bit of confusion about what format I needed and how to download to iBooks (which was much simpler that the PG website would have you believe) I had Oliver Twist in my pocket and I was ready for my trip to London later that day. It was great to be able to read on the tube without having to lug a book around with me all day so I may well download a few more from Project Gutenberg but I can’t say I’ll be giving up real paper books any time soon.

(c) az1172 Flickr

(c) az1172 Flickr

Thing 7: Flickr

Week 3 is all about copyright and how we can find things on the web to reuse without any copyright infringement. I’m brand new to blogging and shamefully when I was searching Google images for things to brighten up this blog copyright didn’t cross my mind. Despite the fact that as an Archivist I’m used to the headache of finding copyright holders and gaining permission for users to copy and publish material. I guess I just thought, if Google images has it I can use it. Oops.

 So thing 7 has come as a handy reminder that I should be thinking about these things more carefully and rooting out content which is open for use rather than just taking what I please. Our task for this thing is to add a Creative Commons photo from Flickr to our blog.

Flickr allows to narrow your search down to only those images which are available to use through Creative Commons licences which is really useful and brings up some really great quality images. All the copyright info is there so you can credit the creator properly. Easy peasy.

 A search for ‘archives’ brings up a huge range of images but I thought this one sums up quite nicely how neat and tidy I wish the archive stores looked:

(c) Ohio University Libraries Flickr

(c) Ohio University Libraries Flickr

We do actually have a Flickr account for RHUL archives although this was set up as a test before my time here and hasn’t been added to since. It is something that we are thinking about using more although I’m slightly tentative as I would prefer to have our digital content online in a way that has better links back to our archive catalogue. Having said that, it does open up our content to new audiences and that can only be a good thing.

Things 5 and 6: Twitter

Two days supervising researchers in the reading room means I’ve had time to catch up on my 23 Things. Thing 5 was to create a Twitter account – which I have now done, you can follow me @BatTower. The process was relatively easy and as I’ve used the Library Twitter before and my own account I’m already familiar with the website and terminology. I was slightly alarmed that Twitter saw fit to recommend I follow Nandos and Justine Beiber but I sidestepped that pitfall and have followed some archive tweeters as well as the 23 Things participants (not sure I got all of you so feel free to follow me so I can add you).

With the account set up I then moved on to completing Thing 6 which was to interact on Twitter. I sent my first tweet using the 23 Things hashtag #RHUL23 and successfully tweeted @melon_h about Stephen Fry following her and got a reply – success! I also took a look at what was being tweeted on #archives which is a tag I usually use when tweeting about archive stuff on the Library Twitter. I also retweeted a tweet about the RHUL Passport Scheme which the Library and Archives are involved in.

Now that I have a Twitter feed to call my own, I’ve also added another nifty widget to the side bar of the blog (see right) to show what I’m tweeting about and I have (fingers crossed) set up the Publicize feature so that WordPress will tweet for me when I post anything new on here. A bit more high tech wizardry for the Missives!

Thing 4 – social networks: useful or useless?

Thing 4 of RHUL’s 23 Things Project asks us to reflect on our own use of social networks and what, if any, value they have in a professional context.

Before I came to RHUL (just over a year ago) I hadn’t used social media or social networking in a professional context. Despite the fact my interview presentation was on archives’ use of Twitter, I’d never actually sent a tweet – professional or personal.

I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, which I find very useful as many of them live in different parts of the country, but I’ve always kept my Facebook account personal rather than professional – no one at work needs to see me in a fancy dress outfit on my friend’s hen do. I do also have a Twitter account but I never tweet from it, despite which Barack Obama is following me (does this mean I’m on some sort of watch list??). I use it almost entirely to keep up to date with celeb gossip and find out what the Nails of the Day are on HelloGiggles (the koala bear ones are my favourite but well beyond my capabilities to recreate).

Koala nails

If a (real – as opposed to celeb) news story is breaking you can be sure that Twitter will have more details (mostly true) of what is going on than dedicated news sites and it was through Stephen Fry’s tweets that I discovered Fitzbillies – home of the best Chelsea buns. In the world. Ever. If you’re ever in Cambridge be sure to try them!

I currently tweet using the Library’s Twitter account to promote the archives (in particular our items of the month) which means I get a ready made batch of followers. I think this is more productive than having our own archives Twitter account as I really want to reach the people who don’t already have an interest in the archives and hopefully raise awareness of our service. I use hashtags to garner more interest and even tried (very unsuccessfully) to get a celebrity re-tweet to boost the usage stats on our website. This is the only social networking I do in a professional context, the Archives and Records Association has a community area which basically consists of discussion boards but I don’t really think it’s worth using as the JISCmail listserve kind of serves the same purpose and has more people on it. I’ve never felt that using LinkedIn would be worth it for an Archivist (although happy to be proved wrong if people find it useful to create links and contacts with people), it seems to be more for business people hoping to be head hunted for new jobs.

After seeing a friend build up her blog about eating out in Oxford through her Twitter account and eventually ending up with a spot on BBC Radio Oxfordshire (see the blog here) I can certainly see the power of the Internet to reach people outside your normal sphere. Overall, I can definitely see the benefit of using social networks in a professional context especially as services like Twitter are a lot more fast moving and up to date than traditional websites but I think it’s probably more useful for the Archives Service than the Archivist.

WARNING: snow related post!

Snowy bat tower

The bat tower is looking particularly beautiful today!

Thing 2 & some other things I’ve learnt about blogging

I’ve been putting off Thing 2. It means I have to do some interacting with people instead of just typing away into a big void (although I have two (yes TWO!!) followers now – hi guys!). The first part of thing 2 is finding other blogs to read which I have already been doing – either ones I’ve stumbled across or ones recommended to me or ones written by people I know. So I thought I’d try to widen the net a bit and do some searching for other interesting blogs about archives and Archivists. The blogs suggested by the RHUL 23 Things team are mainly library based and us archivists have got to stick together in the world wide web so we don’t get lost in the depths (probably under a dusty pile of boxes).

So I started to google (not sure if that is with a G or a g when you’re using it as a verb) and came up with a few promising leads. ArchivesNext was the first one I added to my Google Reader as when I looked down the page of past posts I realised that I’d already some of them after being directed to it by the archives listserve. I also added Society of Qualified Archivists which is a slightly odd one as on the face of it it seems to be a parody of the world of archives but is actually dealing with some quite meaty issues – could be interesting.

Archives Next had a few suggestions for other blogs and where to look to find more but I found that a fair few of the listed blogs weren’t really active anymore – including (much to my dismay) this one. It looks like the blog craze hit archivists in 2009 and has been heading downhill since (perhaps they’re too hip for blogs now and are busy wearing purple leggings and riding around on their fixie bikes).

Things I learnt about blogging from other people’s blogs include that it is important to keep posting and post relatively often; that many people seem to have lost momentum after a year or so; that I need to make sure I post about things outside the RHUL 23 Things project if I want my blog to continue after we’ve finished; that my blog looks REALLY boring and I must include some photos or something visual or no one will ever read it (which I have failed to do on this post too but next time I promise); and that when you start looking at blogs and following links to other blogs you can end up an hour later (or probably several if you’re not careful) not having a clue where the time went.

And the thing that I was actually supposed to be doing for Thing 2 was to comment on another participant’s blog – which I have done here.

Backstit.ch: Cool Extra Thing 1

So apart from the 23 Things which form the core of the program, we also have the option to explore Cool Extra Things once in a while. The first one of these is Backstit.ch, a web aggregator. Or aggravator in my case.

On the face of it it sounds like a good idea, you just have to check one place for all your internet feeds including blog posts, tweets and lots of other exciting things. The account itself was easy to set up, you need a username and password and then you can allow access to your other accounts. I set it up to contain the Library Twitter feed (as I use @RHUL_Library for tweeting about archives news) and to show my Google Reader account. So far so good, but when I went to the page it was supposed to display on it showed me nothing. Hmmm.

After a few minutes of ‘But WHY isn’t it WORKING??’ I remembered that there was a note on the home page saying my Internet Explorer isn’t the most up to date so things might not display properly, or in fact at all it seems. I don’t have admin rights so couldn’t update to the newest version but I thought I’d try Firefox instead. This worked and it showed what it was supposed to but the downside is that I don’t really like Firefox and it means opening up a different browser each time I want to check Backstit.ch.

To be honest the whole thing didn’t really seem worth it, I suspect people who are using more than the two services I’ve added will find it useful but I think I’ll stick to checking Twitter and Google Reader separately for now. If I find myself checking them more frequently than I currently do or using lots of other services I may come Backstit.ch but for the moment it’s definitely on the back burner.

Thing 3

Ok so I may have cheated slightly and skipped straight on to Thing 3 – creating a Google reader account, but I’ll come back to Thing 2 later. I’m totally new to blogging so having a page which alerts me to new blog posts from blogs I like sounds like a great idea. The first hurdle to setting this up was to remember the password for my gmail account which I don’t really use but need to create a Google Reader account. After wracking my brain and coming up with the answer, I logged into Google Reader and started adding subscriptions to blogs. This was a really easy process, you just need to copy and paste the URL for the blog you want to subscribe to into the box at the top of the page. After this, every time you check the website you can see straight away if there are new posts and they are displayed in chronological order in the main panel of the page. On the left hand side there is a list of the blogs you subscribe to with the ones which have new posts highlighted.

 This is all very well and good, and in fact pretty handy, but isn’t part of the blogging experience to tell other people about the blogs you read? Highlighting those with similar topics in an Amazon style ‘if you like this, you may also like…’? Although I have a readership of c.1 at the moment, when my blog takes off to great acclaim and people are hanging on my every word (no?) they’re going to want to know what I’m reading and which bogs I like. So to rectify this I have added a nifty box on my side bar which shows the blogs I follow (if you want to do this on your own WordPress blog, click on Appearance/Widgets in the left hand sidebar on the dashboard – there are loads of other ones too like a calendar or a tag cloud etc. and you can even choose which order you want them in).

 Unfortunately it isn’t as easy to add blogs to your follow list as it is to subscribe with Google Reader, unless it’s a WordPress blog and you can just click on the Follow button at the top of the page. You have to go via the reader on the WordPress home and it doesn’t seem to like loading all that often. With a bit of perseverance (refreshing the page a couple of times seemed to work) I managed to add what I wanted but I think I’ll be sticking to Google Reader for keeping up to date with new blog posts.

Look I’m in another blog!

Well I’ve got off to a flying start with the blogging process – I’m already featured in someone else’s blog. Ok, so I didn’t really do this today but by coincidence a write up of the Open University seminar I spoke at recently has been posted today: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/boh/?p=292 Scroll down to see a write up of my talk and some dodgy photos of me attempting to look intellectual.

The seminar was one of a series exploring Religion in London, this one focussing on the Muslim community. It was a fascinating day including a very delicious curry lunch and a chance to look round Croydon Mosque as well as the more intellectual side of things with talks from academics and representatives from community organisations talking about the history of Muslims in Britain and what organisations are getting up to in terms of engaging the community (both Muslims and non-Muslims) with the past. I was particularly struck by the Asian Youth Alliance who are doing some great work – find out more about them here: http://www.asianyouthalliance.co.uk/

 

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