Author Archives: Amanda Sweet

Pretty Sweet Tech: What is Future Ready?

It seems a bit impossible to truly be Future Ready. We do not know what the future holds. Now we are trying to prepare schools and our workforce for the unknown. Currently we are two decades into the 21st Century.

My search for a solution to the problems of the future left me with a series of big questions:

  1. What do you want the world to be?
  2. What do your friends want the world to be?
  3. What are the problems of today that are preventing your ideal future from happening?
  4. How do different systems in the world work together to impact the world? What does this look like closer to home?
  5. What are your current skills and interests?
  6. How can these skills be used to solve current problems?
  7. Which skills can you develop to solve these problems?
  8. How can we all work together to find solutions?

Mostly, how can the library help to bring the community together and provide the resources to learn? The real problem seems to be agreeing on a problem, the root cause(s), and a solution. One person can agree with themselves, but one person cannot change the world in a bubble.

Here’s a fun fact: the United Nations built a framework for their ideal world. This idealism appears in a neat infographic:

This is a nice starting point. But what does this mean for each individual? What about for the community as a whole? Which of these issues do people care about enough to take action? Here in Lincoln, NE, the Urban Development team is focused on reducing poverty, building sustainable communities, and creating decent work and economic growth for lower-income individuals, as seen in the Urban Development Team’s 5 Year Strategic Plan. That planning committee cares.

Are other people in the community aware of these goals? Do they have skill sets that can help? We know the problem, and there is a need. What makes people take action? How can the library raise awareness of this problem, find out how people can help, then provide tools and a platform to act?

Honestly, there is no universal solution to the problems of the world. These problems are systemic. One-shot programming makes people think. It does not change life-long habits. We are preparing for the 21st Century, not the 22nd. What causes long-term, positive change? What requires change?

I don’t post this because I have all the answers. I post this because I don’t. I post this because it is the only voice I have. I decided that if I’m going to use my voice for anything, I will try to say something that will have a positive impact on the world. That is a skill that will stand the test of time.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Voice Assistant Lesson Plan

This is a quick and easy lesson plan I put together to demonstrate how searching for information online is vastly different from using a voice command to retrieve information via Amazon Echo, Google Home Mini, or another voice assistant. How do we determine which information is best when we can’t see it to verify?

Lesson Duration: 45-60 minutes

Audience: Adults, Teens, 6-8th grade

Prerequisites:

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand how voice controlled technology impacts the understanding and selection of information.
  2. Brainstorm new ways to analyze information using voice commands.
  3. Understand why we need to verify sources.

Materials:

  • Computers with internet access
  • Smart device with voice assistant enabled (ex. Amazon Echo, Google Home, smartphone)
  • Notebook & Pen, or Electronic note-taking device

Lesson Preparation:

  • Set up all computers and devices. Make sure the internet is connected on all devices.
  • Charge devices before class, or have outlet access.
  • Make sure devices have microphone and voice assistant enabled, if using a device other than Amazon Echo or Google Home.

Lesson Outline:

Voice command devices like Amazon Echo are getting more popular by the day. Do we know how this new convenience will affect information seekers? Let’s find out. This activity is designed to compare the different between looking up information online versus finding and retrieving information verbally. We will explore the pros and cons to accessing information using voice commands.

Introduction (5-10 minutes):

  • Introduce instructor
  • Explain the popularity of voice-command enabled devices.
  • Show examples of devices and how they are used in the world.
  • Warm-Up Activity: Ask if anyone has used voice commands in their everyday life to find information, control devices, or otherwise interact with the world. Have voice commands ever given you an unexpected result?

Finding Information Online Activity (10 Minutes):

Whether it’s a recipe, the latest news headlines, a DIY video, or information about a health concern, we all find information online every now and again. I would like you to find a current events headline. When you find it, jot down how you know the information is real.

Discussion:

  1. How did you decide this information was real?
  2. What is your source?
  3. Can you find another article reporting similar information?

Guidelines for Real vs. Fake (5 Minutes):

Take a look at this Real or Fake infographic from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to see how the experts spot fake news. Did your news story prove to be real or fake? How can you tell? Have a brief discussion.

Voice-Command Information (15-20 Minutes):

Take out your voice-command device. Use the wake word and ask the device to find information about a current events topic. Find an article and look back at that Real or Fake inforgraphic.

Discussion:

  1. Using only voice commands, how can you tell if this is real?
  2. Can you find all the verification information listed on the infographic?
  3. Was it easy or difficult to find information to verify the source?
  4. Would you use voice commands as your only way to find information?
  5. What do you think will happen as more people find information using voice-command enabled device without a screen?

Conclusion (5 Minutes):

  • Sum up what the learners discovered during the activities.
  • Ask the learners if they have any questions or would like to learn more about any of the topics covered.
  • Remind everyone to search safely and find good information!
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Friday Reads: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was banned or challenged in several communities. ALA’s Banned Book Spotlight quotes a complaint from one of the challengers, highlighting “shocking words of profanity, sexual innuendo and violence”. A reviewer on Goodreads recommends the book for older audiences because she is “all for letting kids enjoy their innocence for as long as possible”. This book does have adult themes, including alcoholism and child abuse, with the constant bitterness of death glaring between the pages.

Parents and schools can try to ban books and protect innocent minds. However, we cannot ban reservations to protect the innocent. For many kids living in these areas, life is not appropriate for a young adult audience. What is the alternative to life? We have a theme.

How do I know about reservation life? My dad is from the Bad River Band of Chippewa in Wisconsin. I grew up hearing the myths and legends of an amazing culture. The myths are better than the reality of that reservation. Poverty runs rampant, and alcohol and drugs are the strong thematic elements that propel many people through the day. The ones who leave the reservation are challenged to change their way of life. Reservations are often a small, tight-knit community. Leaving is traitorous. Leaving can mean you are no longer Indian. It’s like saying your skin changes color as soon as you cross the border. Not everyone thinks this way, and not every reservation is the same. But I’ve seen it often enough.

I didn’t grow up on the reservation. I grew up with the aftermath. That is another story. We’re here to talk about Junior, a Spokane Indian born with brain damage to alcoholic parents. He’s the protagonist of The Absolutely True Diary. This is the story of how he leaves the reservation by attending an all-white rural school, 22 miles from the reservation. He hitchhikes his way to school and back, catching fire and vitriol on both ends.

Yet he is determined to break free and make change happen. I’ve read the book, and concur that it is absolutely true. Change can be like raking over hot coals. The humor and cartoons make the pain bearable. Humor is the collection of small respites necessary to drive change to fruition. If you want to bear witness to the truth of life, laid bare by a teenage protagonist, please read this book. Read deeply, and take the wise words of a teenage Indian living through real, thematic elements: “Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community”.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Machine Learning on Code.org

Happy holidays everyone! This post will be short and sweet as we get ready for the holiday week. I stumbled across this Machine Learning activity on Code.org to help kids learn about the impact of artificial intelligence. The lesson has eight sections and is jam-packed with good information!

It starts with a video from two practitioners in the field, speaking without jargon for a younger audience. Honestly, this activity is fun and informative for adults as well!

You’ll learn how machine learning learns how to read data to make predictions about incoming data. The activities in this set are all ocean themed! Start by teaching the AI algorithm how to tell the difference between what is a fish, and what isn’t a fish to sort pollutants out of our water. Then, move on to find out how bias can enter the equation.

Eight sections later, and you will have learned the basics of how machine learning works, along with some of the pitfalls. Extend the activity by trying to apply it to other situations. Which occasions work best for machine learning in the real world? What doesn’t work as well?

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Emerging Tech Changes Fake News

For those who have built good digital literacy habits, it is becoming second nature to check your sources, find out when the article was published, verify sensationalist headlines, check facts, and double check the URL.

There are an abundance of tools and resources available to help us discern real from fake news. This fake news infographic from the International Society for Technology in Education outlines some of the best strategies.

This is how we interact with news online. What happens when we ask Alexa for a highlight reel of today’s news? We tend to keep ourselves busy and it can be nice to check the news while on the run. A digital personal assistant like Alexa or Siri are a great, hands-free option to stay up to date.

There is a downside though. How can we verify sources in an audio-only delivery system? Have you ever asked Alexa to provide three sources to verify the news article? I did. It doesn’t work so well.

Are you able to detect spelling errors when a long URL is spelled out to you letter by letter? Personally, I don’t always do so well with that task. I prefer to have things written out so I can verify and process information.

Will we go back and check the news later in the day to verify on a desktop? Can we tell the difference between real and satirical information when we can’t see the pictures to go with the words?

Do we know which other sources are out there if an algorithm chooses what we see? How do we know which decisions went into the algorithm? Do we really want to be that reliant upon a personalized digital assistant?

We are all already struggling to keep up with digital skills and to establish positive digital literacy habits. Perhaps we should all take a step back here and re-evaluate the way we are implementing digital skills.

Are the tools we are building going to help us with Internet of Things powered devices, Artificial Intelligence powered services, and immersive digital worlds? Can we identify the deep fakes generated by artificial intelligence?

I don’t have the perfect solution for this. Especially since Twitter and abbreviated news sources can be an equally big problem. But it is something to think about when you ask Siri for answers.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: STEM Reading Lists

Happy Friday! This is going to be a short post because I just wanted to share a few of my favorite sites for STEM books and resources:

STEM Recommended Reading List for Coding & Robotics: This list from Make Wonder, the company that makes Cue, Dash and Dot robots, curates this awesome collection of books, separated by age range.

The National Science Teaching Association also has a list of books and resources for K-12. This list is curated by “volunteer educators, identified in cooperation with the Children’s Book Council”.
We Are Teachers offers a list of 50 STEM Books to teach science, technology, engineering and math.

Goodreads has a set of Listopia collections for STEM and STEAM fiction in just about every category you can imagine. This isn’t a professionally curated list, but there are some good picks with reader reviews available.

I’ll stop here because if I add more list options, you tend to see the same books over and over on every list. Happy reading everyone!

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a method of problem-solving that puts the user first. For some, design thinking is the best thing since sliced bread. For others, it’s just a new label for the same old thing.

Here’s a diagram to give you a visual of the steps in design thinking:

Truth be told, design thinking originated in Stanford and has been around for two and a half decades, long enough to filter into other methods of problem-solving. Over the years, people have added different flavors, and applied the methodology in different contexts. More often than not, each new flavor is branded with a slightly different title and description.

So yes. This is my flavor: Design Thinking for Librarians. For one brief, shining moment I thought I had the greatest epiphany in the world. Then I did a quick Google search and found… Design Thinking for Librarians. But in a different flavor, made by librarians out of Denmark and Chicago. That one is wheat, and mine is a marble rye. Then I found ALA’s Design Thinking page on the Library of the Future page. Then I was just sourdough.

Then I dug a little deeper. These flavors of design thinking all stem from Stanford’s model, but appear drastically different based upon the setting. My flavor is adapted for selecting makerspace equipment in the library, as seen in this Design Thinking for Makerspaces worksheet. I also made a worksheet for Design Thinking for Websites over the years.

My point is that theories branch off into a million different things. Just because two websites have the same name does not mean they contain the same information, nor should they necessarily be applied to the same subject matter. Yet, everybody has a valid point to make in their application. There is enough Design Thinking for Libraries to go around. And around. And Around. The process isn’t linear, it’s iterative design.

To learn more, check out the NCompass Live show I did earlier today on Design Thinking.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: What is a Chatbot?

Right now, I’m exploring the use of chatbots in the library. As with any technology, there are pros and cons. Essentially, chatbots simulate human conversation in text or voice. More often than not, you will encounter chatbots in large banks or major corporations.

Most chatbots are designed to handle specific tasks, not full conversations. For example, a bank chatbot might be designed to handle requests to check a bank balance, find most recent transactions, or deposit checks. However, if you make a request outside the chatbot’s specialized task, the system breaks down and leads to customer frustration. Better designed bots will send the human to a real human agent after a certain point. This is the computerized chatbot frustration with which most people are familiar today.

This is changing. In the recent past, people could always tell when they encountered a bot in a text chat or phone operating system. However, natural language processing (NLP) is getting better. NLP is the heart of modern human-computer interaction, and will eventually allow computers to understand human requests without humans having to phrase our requests in a specific format. For librarians, that means Boolean search format, or choosing the right keyword alternative to narrow down search results, or uncover a certain navigation menu.

Humans naturally want to communicate using natural speech, including colloquialisms, slang, various accents, and more. Computers are getting getting better at this because machine learning systems are improving. NLP is a subset of machine learning (ML).

Machine learning-based systems like chatbots learn from large sets of data. ML algorithms are designed to study large amounts of data and find patterns. The system learns from the information that is available, and will make predictions based on the patterns it finds in the data. Similar to how humans learn. We do the best we can with the information we have available at the time. Processes improve as information improves.

As you can imagine, machine learning systems are improving because our available data sets are improving. For example, the natural language processing system from Google has access to text conversations, voice assistant archives, email conversations and more. Is it any surprise that their NLP systems are one of the best?

With more data, the machine learning algorithms have better information and can make a more informed guess about what the person means with a certain request. For this reason, we can all expect chatbots to become more popular and take over more routine tasks. Taking orders in a restaurant, or scheduling meetings would be a prime example. There are already bots being refined to accomplish these tasks.

The chatbot I’m working on now does not use more advanced machine learning. It uses a rule-based system where I build a decision-tree and manually tell the system which pieces of information to draw from to answer specific questions. In a rule-based system, I have to have a much better guess as to what a customer will ask, and how people will want to interact with the bot to accomplish specific tasks.

After practicing with the rule-based system, I can explore a more advanced ML-based system. When starting with new technology, it always helps to walk before I run. The fall hurts less if I’m not going at break-neck speed. I’m using Dialogflow, powered by Google, if you’re curious.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Augmented Books

Books aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But they might be augmented! In fact, they already are. Check out this video from Quiver AR:

Quiver Augmented Reality is an app that can be downloaded for Android or iOS. Coloring pages can be downloaded and printed from Quiver’s website. There are a combination of free and paid options for coloring pages.

If you can color inside the lines, you can use this app. It’s a kid favorite, but fun for adults as well. Here are some quick setup tips and tricks:

  1. Go to http://www.quivervision.com/apps/ to download Quiver. Start with regular Quiver, then test out the others later.
  2. Download and print coloring pages: http://www.quivervision.com/coloring-packs/#
  3. Color!
  4. In the Quiver app, press “Packs” in the middle of the screen. Choose and download the image pack for the coloring page you chose.
  5. After downloading, press the “Butterfly icon” in the upper right corner to access the app.
  6. Press the “Butterfly” icon at the bottom to access the camera
  7. Aim your camera at the coloring page. (You may need to tap the screen to focus).
  8. Watch your freshly colored image come to life!
  9. Repeat steps 2-7 with other coloring page packs.

As simple as that, books can come to life! Now imagine how this can affect book publishing in the future. Picture books just got a whole lot more interactive. Textbooks can have better graphics for improved learning.

We can also pair books with the real world. Imagine the world as your coloring book. Start with a textbook, then pull the digital image into the real world. Learning is about to get a lot more interesting.

It’s time to change the way we think about books. Who said I have to choose between eBooks and print books? I want both. Let’s start asking different questions in the library. Change the game.

P.S. Email me at amanda.sweet@nebraska.gov if you want to find out how to build your own augmented and virtual reality worlds.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Dealing with Technology Frustration

Yesterday I spent two hours of my life trying to install and set up an app on my phone that is designed to control a small robot. Two hours. To install and configure an app. I went through every troubleshooting process known to (wo)man and could not get this confounded thing to work.

Throughout this process, I kept thinking it had to be something stupid I did. I forgot something. I missed a step. Maybe the device wasn’t compatible, even though it was on the recommended list. Did I mistype a password?

At the end of the day, I asked a friend to install the same app on their phone and try to control the little bot. It didn’t work. When I called customer service, I found out the app had been down for the past few hours and their servers should be back online in a few hours.

Cue Robot from Make Wonder

Honestly, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. It’s a tale as old as tech. The next day I installed the app and it took about five minutes. The little robot was up and running in no time, never having known how much time I spent trying to set up its controller. It zoomed along while I stared, dumbfounded, at my smartphone. Two hours.

Then I started laughing. I vowed to myself that no technology on the planet is ever worth that mental anguish. It’s not worth frying my circuits. Sometimes technology just doesn’t work right.

It’s nothing I did. It’s nothing you did. We’re not stupid. It’s just frustration at something we cannot control. A server halfway across the country that doesn’t even know we exist. Servers live in a binary world where things are either off, or on. There is little in between. Computers don’t care. They just do what we tell them.

So next time technology doesn’t work, take a step back. Turn it off and turn it back on again. Walk away and come back later. Sometimes tech doesn’t work because we made a small mistake. Other times, technology was just poorly designed and only another computer can understand what went wrong. More often than not, the server is just out of our control.

Technology breaks. It’s a fact of life. Sometimes all it takes is one day for everything to fall into place. Don’t give up on the tools that can help.

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Friday Reads: The Bookshop on the Corner

The Bookshop on the Corner book cover

This book strikes fear into the hearts of book-loving librarians everywhere. In The Bookshop on the Corner, Jenny Colgan captures the literary heart and soul of the true bibliophile. Nina Redmond is a heroine who lives for books. Her flat is filled with tumbling stacks of books she rescued from garage sales, countless rounds of weeding in the library, and bookshops. What’s there to be afraid of when you live with your head in a book?

Trigger Warning: A library closes and is taken over by a media resource center in this book. There. I said it. If you can’t handle that brand of pain, please don’t touch this book. In the first chapter of the book, the question is posed: “What would you do if you weren’t a librarian? What are your dreams?”. What if librarianship was no longer part of your identity? It is the kind of question that can make a heart stop beating mid-sentence.

However, if you can take it, there is a literary light at the end of the tunnel. This is the story of how Nina finds a way to strike out on her own to keep her love of books alive and well. By bringing books to a small Scottish town in the middle of nowhere, she maintains her book-loving sanity and discovers a new love for life. In many ways.

Read this book to uncover the state of libraries everywhere. This is set in England and Scotland, but the tides are shifting for libraries everywhere. Find out how libraries can maintain a bookish wonder while adapting to a computer and media-centered world.

I may be a technology librarian personally, but might I just say: long live books! My house is filled with stacks of books. It’s where I go when I don’t want to touch technology. It’s where I go to explore new worlds and see life from different perspectives.

Technology is awesome, but books are my first love. So please, go hug your favorite book. Flip through the well-worn pages and inhale the decadent fragrance known only to book-lovers. Then pick up a new book.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Easy Makerspace Projects

Every library should have a handful of quick and easy makerspace projects on hand. Here’s a quick list with resources for your reference:

Paper Circuits: A piece of paper, some copper conductive tape, a small battery, printable templates, and an LED light bulb is all you need to set up this project. Go to Makerspaces.com for paper circuit kits and instructions.

SparkFun also has kits and downloadable templates available.

Marble Run: Don’t lose your marbles! Just grab some craft sticks and a cardboard box to set up this fun marble maze. Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls has instructions and pictures.

Pom Pom Drop: Collect toilet paper and paper towel rolls, then grab some colorful tape and a cheap pom pom ball to make this cool project from Coffee Cups and Crayons.

Newspaper Projects: If you have some newspaper to recycle, try upcycling in these projects from Edventures with Kids!

Cardboard Loom: Try your hand at weaving with this cardboard loom from Instructables.

Microwave Ivory Soap: When in doubt, microwave your Ivory soap and watch it grow.

Check out these projects, then peruse the other projects available on these sites to find some quick and easy projects for the kids in your library!

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Artificial Intelligence in the Library

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is powerful when it fades quietly into the background. AI-4-All, a non-profit organization with education programs for high school students, describes AI as “a branch of computer science that allows computers to make predictions and decisions to solve problems”. It’s simple, but it’s true. Ideally, AI would be used to solve problems like hunger, environment safety, safe drinking water, disease diagnosis, and crime stopping. In many cases, this is exactly how AI algorithms are used.

However, that is not how the average person is impacted by AI on a daily basis. Each day, our computers make predictions about our search terms, recommended spelling, phrasing in texts, and which products we might want to buy. Mostly the last one. The question is how these predictions are made. What factors go into the decision-making process?

Most importantly, what does this have to do with the library? Honestly, everything. Here’s a list:

  • Search Engine Rankings: When library patrons Google your library, an AI algorithm is used to determine which listings appear on the list. If you want the library to appear in searches for local events, you will need to know what Google’s algorithm is looking for in your listing.
  • Search Assistance: Librarians help people find information. A great deal of information is found behind search engines powered by AI. Know the tips and tricks to use Google, and find what Google can’t.
  • Privacy & Security: AI is fed by mass quantities of data. That data is generated by us. Every click, search entry, map location, post and video viewed can be tracked and fed into a user profile. Libraries can help people sort out where data goes and know their rights and responsibilities to keep themselves safe in a digital world.
  • Internet of Things: With devices being powered by the internet and generating more data, it is more important now than ever to lay a good foundation for data awareness and security.
  • Deep Fakes & Fake News: Unfortunately, both AI and humans are generating more fake news, fake comments, and all around bad things. Help people identify fake articles, videos, and comments.

Luckily, libraries are in a good place to tackle the information world. Let’s help our communities stay safe and well-informed.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Tech Communities Need

Did you ever wonder what the tech is happening in the world? The thought crosses my mind often, but that may be a hazard of the trade. Technology is piling up faster, but what actually matters to us and our communities? How can technology be used as a tool to help people?

Why Would People Want to Learn?

The best place to start is to look at your community demographics. Are there more high school students, or older adults? Are adults trying to build skills for a changing future? Which technology do people already use? Is technology being used effectively?

When you have a better idea of who your library is serving, dig deeper into why technology is necessary. Here are some possibilities:

  • Do people want to build professional development skills?
  • Which professions are most common in the area?
  • Do parents want to learn how to help their kids?
  • Do people want to use digital tools for work?
  • Is your community using tech tools to improve public services?

We have reached a point where technology has extended to the full power of the internet. We use our devices to communicate, shop online, manage finances, learn new skills, create new content, share ideas, and more. Not everyone needs access to every corner of the World Wide Web. But the people who know what’s possible will thrive in a digital world.

So What is Possible?

Too much is possible. Trying to gather everything under the sun is an exercise in futility. The internet can do a paralyzing number of things.

Start by narrowing focus on one demographic and technology need at a time. Consider these examples:

Demographic 1: Parents helping kids use smartphones responsibly

Possibilities: Look at screen time balance, device safety and security, online predators, and learning how to learn online.

How Libraries Can Help: Gather digital literacy resources, including articles, infographics, and posters. Set up parent discussion groups with informational handouts. Possibly work with the local school to help parents keep up with changing technology.

Demographic 2: Adults who have been in the workforce, but want to learn new technology to keep current.

Possibilities: As technology grows more complex, people who did not have access growing up, or were not previously interested may wish to be exposed to new technology. Jobs may require new exposure as well.

How Libraries Can Help: Connect adults with resources to learn about emerging technology trends. Deloitte and Gartner’s Trends are good places to start. When people know what exists, they can decide for themselves if it is relevant to their current needs. Potentially, try a makerspace for interested patrons.

So What Does this Mean?

If you were looking for a one-size-fits all solution, I can’t give you one. It doesn’t exist. Technology is going to keep on changing, and we will all have to adapt as it happens. Apps and devices will change, but the underlying concepts will remain the same.

What are these concepts? Privacy and security concerns, communication skills, creative application of ideas, flexible learning and unlearning, online finance skills, cooperative learning, and staying healthy and well in a digital world. Those skills will extend outward to every bit of technology.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: How Do People Find Your Library?

Last weekend, I was looking for something new to do in the area. I grabbed my phone and searched for “events in Lincoln”. The downtown Haymarket website popped up, so did EventBrite, Meetup.com, the local newspaper, and the city of Lincoln website. That made me wonder, how do people find library events? Technology has changed the landscape here.

I’ve also gotten several questions recently about advertising events on the Nebraska Libraries on the Web sites. Often times we only put our events on the library website, or on flyers posted around the library. But that limits the number of people in the community who will consistently see event marketing. Only frequent library-goers will likely know about the event. Our library events have always competed for people’s time and attention. With the ease of finding events online, that competition has increased considerably.

What Can Libraries Do?

Start posting your events in multiple locations. Where do you and your staff go to find local events? Ask around to find out which websites people of different age groups are currently using. If attendance is low, it may be time to start advertising like the “competitors”.

Does this Cost Money?

Many of these sites allow local businesses and organizations to post for free. Meetup.com sounds like a dating website, but it is actually a great place to advertise local events, book club meetings, and community gatherings. Meetup.com has a $15 a month fee for organizers so it may not be worth it for a few events. However, if you can share costs between other city organizations, and Meetup.com is already known to be popular in your town, it may be worth the cost sharing!

Google Your City Events

Open the common search engines (Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc.) and search for events in your city. What did you find? Reach outside the library walls to let your community know what’s up and coming in your library. You can use the same advertising graphics and wording across multiple websites to save time. This can especially come in handy if you go through Nebraska Libraries on the Web. Check that out if you’re a Nebraska library and want to start a new website or revamp your existing site.

 

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Mobile Device Safety Resources

Mobile and general online security has been a concern for many. This post points out two great resources for online and mobile security.

1. The Federal Trade Commission put together this Smartphone Security Checker to help people ensure their own mobile safety. This tool will allow you to select your mobile operating system, then pull up a list of ten detailed safety tips and tricks. The available operating systems are Android, Apple iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone.

How libraries can use this tool:

  • Incorporate the tool into one-on-one device training sessions.
  • Provide a printed handout at the reference desk
  • Train staff to practice using the tool with different operating systems to better assist patrons in the future
  • Update library devices to use some of these security measures
  • Update your personal device safety measures

2. The Federal Trade Commission also put together a great tool to Recover from Identity Theft. Unfortunately, identity theft is now relatively commonplace. In some cases the theft extends to only credit card information and can be remedied by calling the bank, cancelling the card, and trying to reverse any charges that may have gone through.

In other cases, the identity thief may have gotten hold of social security numbers. If the thief was able to use the information, the victim may have a bigger problem.

This tool works sort of like a reference interview. The system asks a series of questions to find out what happened and learn more about the context of the situation, then connects the user with appropriate resources. The tool is designed to build a customized plan to recover from various degrees of identity theft or compromised information.

How libraries can use this tool:

People have a tendency to seek information only when they have an immediate information need. This is one tool we hope nobody ever needs. However, it can be helpful to have a brochure available at the reference desk to let people know the tool exists. Victims of identity theft can be in a vulnerable place and may not always know the right questions to ask in the moment.

This is also a good tool to bring up during device training, computer and internet use assistance, and other technology training. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to identity theft.

Hopefully these tools come in handy in your library. In the case of identify theft, hopefully nobody ever has a need!

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Data Breaches and Data Brokers, Oh My!

Today, we talk about data brokers. They’re part of the reason Best Buy ads keep chasing me around the web. These are the organizations running behind the scenes of marketing, government data pools, identity verification services, background checks, and so much more.

There are over 4,000 data broker companies worldwide, but we’re going to look at Acxiom, one of the world’s largest data brokers. This is the power of information today. Currently, Axciom has global data in over 60 countries, has information about over 2.5 billion people, and their website boasts over 10,000 attributes about each individual person.

Honestly, this would probably make marketers salivate. Those little information nuggets are solid gold for data miners everywhere. But it’s not the information that matters, it’s how you use it that counts. Data brokers scrape information from public records, purchase data from companies, then clean, analyze, repackage, and license clean data to companies.

First we’ll look at the type of information these brokers collect in their 10,000+ attributes, then we’ll explore how it is analyzed and used in real life.

Type of Information Collected (from Axciom’s website):

  • Individual Demographics (ex. age, gender, ethnicity, education, occupation)
  • Household Characteristics (ex. occupants, number/age of children)
  • Financial (ex. income ranges, net worth, economic stability)
  • Life Events (ex. marriage, divorce, new children, moving)
  • Interests (ex. sports, leisure, pets, entertainment)
  • Buying Activities (ex. purchase history, method of payment)
  • Behavior (ex. community involvement, causes)
  • Major Purchases (ex. home buying, cars, property, technology)

How do they know life events and interests? Social media is one way. Looking at Facebook’s website, they have a marketing insights page for businesses. Facebook deep dives into your social media activity, tracks keywords in posts, and knows all your major life events. Then they sell it to data brokers, or directly to companies. Data brokers then take this information, and resell it to more companies. Facebook isn’t the only one.

How is the Information Used?

There are four major categories of how your information is being used:

  • Marketing and Advertising (ex. online ads, emails)
  • Fraud Detection (ex. verification of identify for a loan by a bank)
  • Risk-Mitigation (ex. can track overspending, or health stats to determine eligibility for health insurance or financial loans)
  • People-Search Sites (used for background searches for landlords, employers, curious friends/ family, or anyone who wants to pay to see your history)

What About Data Breaches?

Sometimes this information gets into the wrong hands. Hackers get into large pools of information all the time in data breaches. No company is ever completely safe from a data breach. That is like saying the Titanic is unsinkable.

Did you ever think about where your information goes when you go online? We still had a digital footprint before the internet exploded. Companies still tracked your purchases and interests, but now they can do it more efficiently. Consider what you want people to know about you online.

 

 

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Where Can Patrons Learn Tech Skills?

There’s a question that keeps coming up in makerspaces: how can we help patrons learn the higher level skills they want to learn? A lot of times, people come in to practice using the entry level tools, but want to learn more. Technology is moving quickly. This is a time for life-long learning.

Imagine This Scenario:

Someone walks into the library who already has their bachelors degree and has no desire for more student loans. They want information about where to go to learn new technology skills. How would you answer? This could be a pretty common question soon.

How I Would Answer:

Part of what I do is what I call the “technology reference interview”. This is a way to narrow down just exactly what the patron wants to accomplish. Do they want to be able to complete one project as a hobby, or pick up a new skill to use at work? How will they prove they learned the new skill, and will they require written proof from an organization? This takes practice, just like learning how to ask the right questions to recommend books.

The Resources:

For a hobby, try tutorials on YouTube, or audit a free micro-credential. These are short courses offered by universities and other organizations to help support life-long learning. Some of these are advertised as free courses to audit, others are paid right off the bat. Those needing certification can pay for a micro-credentials or certification that is often cheaper than a standard degree, and can be done over time. Here are some options:

  • Udacity: This is great for learning coding skills from different categories, from beginner to advanced. This site is mostly paid courses or varying lengths. A small selection of the courses they partnered with Google to create are offered for free. Overall, courses can be taken individually or in an over-arching micro-degree program.
  • Udemy: This is more of a crowd-sourced course platform. It will also help people learn coding skills from beginner to advanced. Some courses are made by professionals, others are made by people who are just getting started. Check out the reviews on individual courses, and watch the preview of the course. Make sure the learning style used in the courses meshes with how you learn.
  • EdX: Many of these courses were put together by Harvard, MIT, or other top universities. They cover a range of topics from how to leverage technology in business, to robots in society, to artificial intelligence in everything. Some learners like the learning style from EdX, others like Udacity or Udemy more.
  • Coursera: This site is pretty similar to EdX. The courses are mostly made by universities and many offer free auditing. With an audited course you won’t get the graded assignments, but you do have access to learning resources.
  • FutureLearn: This is a mix of universities from around the world, and varying organizations for an alternative learning approach. The Raspberry Pi Foundation offers several courses tied to their product on this site.

Long story short, there are plenty of options. Encourage people to shop around, audit courses and find a site and instructor style that works for them personally. The resources exist to learn the skills, it just takes time and patience to learn. I would include the disclaimer that not all organizations, workplaces, industries, or higher education institutions accept micro-credentials. It’s a shifting and growing field, but for building new skills, they can be awesome.

 

 

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Why Do We Need Computers?

Quite often people make the point that we all got along fine without computers several decades ago, so why do we need them now? Honestly, it’s a good question.

So let’s take a moment to look at how and why we use computers now. As of 2018, 90% of adults in the U.S. use the Internet for some purpose in their lives. Here’s how most people use the internet:

  • 90.8% access email
  • 90.2% use test or instant message
  • 74.4% use social media
  • 69.5 watch videos or media online
  • 68.5 go shopping or make reservations
  • 65.9% use bank online or pay bills
  • 52.6% stream music
  • 46.6% use online video calls/ communication
  • 22.6% work remotely
  • 20.8% search for jobs
  • 19.1% take classes online

Looking at the list of the activities U.S. adults most frequently do online, do we need computers? To answer that, we can ask ourselves a few questions:

1. Does technology make any daily tasks easier? Examples are banking, communicating with others, shopping, or accessing entertainment options.

2. What would we lose access to if we didn’t have the internet?

3. Are computers primarily helping people, or hurting?

4. Is there anything you would change about how you use the internet?

5. How do people communicate online? Is it effective?

6. Are computers harming any aspect of life?

7. Are there any major threats to personal safety?

8. How do we interact with people before the internet vs. after?

9. Are there any new opportunities provided by the internet?

10. How much time do you spend on the internet?

Consider the way you use computers. If they are predominantly helpful, keep doing what you’re doing. If you went through this list and saw a few things you would like to change, why not make a few adjustments?

Technology is designed to help people. Think about how you feel about computers. If computers aren’t helping you, change the way you use computers. If a specific program or website is stressing you out, you don’t have to go there. Take control of technology.

 

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Podcasting Basics

Have you ever considered a library-hosted podcast? With the right equipment, you could help patrons record and edit local podcasts and link them to your library’s website! Topics could range anywhere from book and movie reviews to local/ state history, and anything in between! Read on to learn how you can make this happen in your library:

What is a Podcast?

Podcasts are audio recordings that are geared towards providing new information, entertainment, or asking listeners to look at topics from a different point of view. Podcasts can have a single host/narrator, have a more conversational format between multiple hosts, or be an interview between host and guest. There’s no one right way to podcast!

How Can We Plan a Podcast?

There are a ton of resources out there for how to plan and record your own podcast. I’ll put a few pointers that have worked for some other libraries here, then add some additional resources at the end of the list:

  1. Target Audience: Try to anticipate who your target audience is. You don’t want to use teen slang for a podcast about retirement getaways!
  2. Length: Start asking potential listeners how long they like their podcasts. If your listeners only have time for 15 minutes, don’t record an hour long podcast!
  3. Topic: Start listening around. Find out which podcasts exist about your preferred topic. Listen for what works and what doesn’t work for you.
  4. How to Record: Some hosts record all in one, long segment. Others record in short bursts and stitch the sections together. Short bursts leave room for error.
  5. Ad Lib or Script? Some hosts plan their show down to the last word. Others wing it. It’s really up to your comfort level. Kids and teens might need structure.
  6. Where to Host? Think about what you need to be able to do with your recordings when you’re done. Some hosting options like Lisbyn have editing features and will help you sync the podcast to your website. But it can cost a bit. Podbean is an option if you want to start with free and grow. Free doesn’t have as much functionality, but everybody starts somewhere!

Here are some start to finish guides for planning a podcast:

As you can see, pretty much everything you need is on The Podcast Host. They know all, and I’ve used a lot of their stuff when learning how to use our makerspace audio kit stuff. Happy podcasting everyone!

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