Tag Archives: technology

Pretty Sweet Tech: Is Your Website Mobile Friendly?

Think about the last time you checked the hours of a business. Were you at home or running around town? Were you on a mobile device? Do you have a smartphone?

Statista.com shows that 48.71% of all web traffic comes from a mobile device. That number is estimated to climb higher in coming years. For this reason, many companies are adopting what they call “mobile first” strategies. This means they are optimizing their websites for smartphone screens and tablets. Sadly, this also means it may get harder for people without smartphones to access the information they need. Times are changing, and in some ways not for the better.

This also means libraries will have to adapt to stay relevant in a mobile-first world. Library customers are used to user experiences on Amazon, Google, and large department stores. If our library websites don’t have the same visual appeal, they probably won’t stay long. New customers will also be less likely to take action and come into the library.

So what can we do? If you’re familiar with web development, start by looking into responsive design and fluid layout as a way to make mobile-first happen. This will allow your content to automatically detect the size of the screen and display content properly. Just make sure your font sizes are legible and your objects are a good size for adult fingertips to activate. There are other ways to do this, including building a separate design for popular screen sizes, but that takes a lot more time and energy to maintain.

Mobile-first means we build for mobile, then make sure it works for desktop, rather than designing for desktop screens and hoping for mobile. If users have to scroll from side to side a lot, or zoom in and out to navigate and read text, they won’t stay on your site long. Next time you visit a website on your phone, think about why it works or doesn’t work for you, and why you click away. Stick with what works for your library.

But what if you’re not a developer, or don’t have that kind of time? Luckily, all you need are the right tools! WordPress is a great content management solution that makes it quick and easy to set up and maintain websites. Google “best responsive WordPress themes”. Choose one, make a quick test site, then hop on your mobile device and take it for a test drive. Can you read the text without zooming much? Can you click buttons without zooming, or missing the button? Is the navigation menu easy to use?

If that seems easier said than done, give me a call and we can walk through the steps of mobile-first design for your library’s website. If you already go through Nebraska Libraries on the Web, I can help you find a new, more responsive WordPress theme. If you want to make the switch, let me know at amanda.sweet@nebraska.gov.

To learn more about Mobile-first design, check out these resources:

Responsive, Mobile-First Design Matters Now More Than Ever (Intertech)

2019 Web Design Trends (Ironistic)

 

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Libraries Ready to Code

Coding is no secret. In fact, there’s an almost paralyzing amount of information available to people. So much that it can be difficult to decide where to start and where to go next. Knowledge of computers and technology is rapidly becoming vital to life, but many people don’t have a computer science or technology background. And that’s okay.

In 2017, the American Library Association (ALA) and Google saw this and partnered together to make Libraries Ready to Code. Librarians and educators from 30 different libraries worked on their own project to decide what “coding” means to them and how to best introduce it to their own communities. The result is s set of tools that has been made freely available to us all.

This resource is geared towards all experience levels, so you can filter resources by experience level: “I’m Getting Started”, “I’ve Had Some Practice”, and “I’m Experienced”. Some of these resources are further divided into subject categories like art and fashion, while others are parceled out by recommended age range. Either way, this resource is a great place to connect K-12 students with computational thinking and “coding” skills.

But keep in mind that this is just a drop in the bucket of what is available. Not everyone learns the same way either. Feel free to look to these learning tools as inspiration to build your own. Think of Libraries Ready to Code as a starting point on the long road towards future-ready technology.

Keep an eye out for students who devour every resource on this list, then ask for more. Ask them what they want to learn, then do a little digging to find out which resources you need to make it happen. You might not know every line of code that makes a product work, but you can connect interested students with the information they need to learn.

At one time, information took the form of books and journal articles. Now that information may appear in a Raspberry Pi or  YouTube video. It’s time to curate our ever-changing resources. But do yourself a favor and don’t try to learn every bit of technology on the planet. You would be in for a world of hurt.

Start asking students to teach as they learn. There is no telling what people are capable of when given the tools to learn. Take a look at this Virtual Reality headset and software built by a group of high school students in France. Their passion was to make technology accessible to all income levels. They learned more thoroughly with the intent to teach. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, machine learning and more are all at our fingertips.

Technology is not slowing down, and neither are libraries. We can work together to curate resources and pave the way towards a better future.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Virtual Reality Uses and Pitfalls

For a while now, I’ve been gathering different resources about virtual reality and how it can be used in different industries. Here’s some cool collections of VR inspiration for your library:

Beyond Gaming: 10 Other Fascinating Uses for Virtual-Reality Tech (Live Science)

Applications of Virtual Reality (Virtual Reality Society)

25 Best Google Cardboard Apps for iOS and Android (Think Mobile) This is a good, low-cost way to test out VR if you’re just getting started. Just get a Google Cardboard for about $10 and download some apps on your phone.

If you’re looking for more advanced options, here are some things to watch out for as you’re searching for VR opportunities:

1. If you’re using a mobile app with Google Cardboard or another headset designed to use a smartphone as a screen, think about which smartphones you’re going to use. There will be different apps for iPhone and Android. Not all are created equally.

2. Using a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) for smartphones to be used in headsets can be tricky. Some apps don’t work with different phone models. You might want a library device available for patron use when their own phone isn’t compatible.

3. When choosing a more expensive headset like the Oculus Go, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or Playstation VR, or another headset, consider additional hardware expenses. Headsets like the Oculus Rift need to be hooked up to a computer with a really good graphics card. This graphics card can get pricey.

4. Not all games for the more expensive sets will work for every set. When games are designed, they are generally designed for a specific platform. So if you tested out National Geographic apps on Oculus Go, they won’t necessarily be available on every other headset. If you need a specific app, keep that in mind.

5. Many headsets have free options. You might want to start out with these and only add in a few paid options as you go along. This can keep costs down and allow your VR library to scale slowly.

VR is pretty awesome, so don’t let the potential pitfalls get in your way. It is just something to keep in mind as you’re choosing VR options and working out budgets. Feel free to email me at amanda.sweet@nebraska.gov if you have any VR questions.

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NCompass Live: Ethics Behind Emerging Technology

What are the ‘Ethics Behind Emerging Technology’? Find out from our Technology Innovation Librarian, Amanda Sweet, on this Wednesday’s FREE NCompass Live webinar.

In the presentation on February 13, I covered what emerging technology is and how it relates to libraries. Now it’s time to dive into what that means on a larger scale. What makes technology good or bad? Who is really qualified to make that determination? Anyone who tracks emerging technology will start to think about how this technology will affect the future of our communities and the world. What will make a piece of technology influential and powerful in the world? Tune in if you want to learn more about the following topics:

  •     Which ethics matter most in technology?
  •     What makes technology good or bad?
  •     What potential dangers should we be aware of with new technology?
  •     What factors might affect society in the long-run?

There are no easy answers to any of these questions. The concept of ‘ethics’ tends to be a gray area for many, and understandably so. This presentation won’t give you a finite right or wrong stance on all technology. But it will provide you with the tools to make the decision for yourself.

Presenter: Amanda Sweet, Technology Innovation Librarian, Nebraska Library Commission.

Upcoming NCompass Live events:

  • March 20 – Reading Diversely
  • March 27 – Health Education Resources with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine
  • April 10 – What is OER? Outstanding, Extraordinary Raw materials?
  • April 24 – Connect to Meetings, and more…Experts, Virtual Field Trips with Zoom

For more information, to register for NCompass Live, or to listen to recordings of past events, go to the NCompass Live webpage.

NCompass Live is broadcast live every Wednesday from 10am – 11am Central Time. Convert to your time zone on the Official U.S. Time website. The show is presented online using the GoToWebinar online meeting service. Before you attend a session, please see the NLC Online Sessions webpage for detailed information about GoToWebinar, including system requirements, firewall permissions, and equipment requirements for computer speakers and microphones.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Does Everyone Need to Learn Coding?

It has been well established that everyone can learn to code. But “coding” is a very broad term that can apply to a lot of different things. Coding skills are used in web development, robotics, software development, machine learning, virtual reality, augmented reality, Internet of Things, and much more. But if a student is going to become an artist, graphic designer, marketer, sports therapist, or any other profession under the sun, why do they need to learn coding? How will technology affect their chosen professions?

Honestly, many learners may never go in-depth into the coding process. But it helps to have the exposure. How does anyone know they like something unless they try it first? That being said, even if everyone doesn’t learn coding, they should know about technology. All of the tech I mentioned will have a huge impact on every profession. We’re already starting to see that happen.

Internet of Things is working towards making smart cities and communities. Machine learning is powering many popular search engines. Virtual reality is becoming more popular to train new employees across industries. Augmented reality is being used in manufacturing and other industries to label parts and pieces for assembly. That is just a drop in the bucket of examples.

Different professions are also inspiring the design and creation of new technology. There is now a robot that is folded like a piece of origami. When the material is heated, it unfolds itself. This is being used for internal medication delivery in experimental medicine.

The study of animal locomotion and biomechanics has been used in robotics for quite some time. If a robot needs to thrive in a desert, why not give it the attributes of an animal that thrives in the desert? Computer networking is inspired by how bees communicate.

Psychology and sociology comes in handy when designing a virtual world that will not harm the user, whether mentally or physically. Those two fields also comes in handy when marketing the finished product for commercial use. Historians and ethnographers may be interested in how technology has shaped or will shape individuals and society as a whole.

Long story short, everyone may not need to know coding, but  in the near future, every profession will likely need to collaborate with someone who does code. This means having knowledge of how technology works, how to break information down into steps, and how to provide useful information during the design and iteration process.

Having at least minimal understanding of HTML and CSS may go a long ways towards walking a mile in a coder’s shoes. Knowledge of how technology works will also help individuals seek new and innovative ways to help shape the future of their chosen profession. Learning ethical, responsible use of technology early on will help guide users towards positive applications of technology later in life. These decisions affect us all.

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Pretty Sweet Tech: To Sync or Not to Sync?

Have you ever opened Google Chrome on your smartphone and filled out a form online? Then when you got home, did you try to fill out another form and have the blanks automatically fill in? That wasn’t an accident. When you sync your devices or accounts together, Google is able to share information between those devices. Sometimes this is helpful. Other times, not so much.

Google is very transparent about which types of data it collects: https://safety.google/privacy/data/. This site will give you a rundown of the types of data that are stored and how Google says they use the information. There are just a couple points I want to touch on here.

1. When you download Google Chrome, it will ask if you want to sync your Google account to this particular browser. When you’re on a home or personal computer, this can be helpful. But if you’re loading Chrome on a work or shared computer, you don’t necessary want everyone using that computer to have access to your Google search history, photos, personal information, and anything stored in Google’s information banks.

If you’ve already synced Google Chrome at work with your Google accounts at home, fear not! Here are instructions to unsync your accounts. With just a few clicks, you can make your forms stop autofilling your home address.

2. The other quick tidbit is about using Google Docs at home and at work. Feel free to make two separate accounts through Google docs. Then you can remove your home account from your work account. Here’s how to delete your Google Account Information from a device.

Protecting patron search and material use history is important in libraries. Librarians should have the same protections! Remember, your privacy is your own.

 

 

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Pretty Sweet Tech: Google Maps Timeline: Friend or Foe?

An app on my phone will tell me exactly what I did on February 23, 2014. Apparently I went to a restaurant from 6:05PM to 7:23PM. It took me 23 minutes to drive back home. I was home the rest of the night.

That was almost five years ago, so how do I know all this? Easy! The first app I ever downloaded was Google Maps. It has a little known feature called “Google Maps Timeline”. I never read the full terms of agreement before I hit download. I just wanted to know how to get to the restaurant.

Even when I don’t actively use the app, it still tracks my every move with decent accuracy. The history can only be accessed through the app or your Google account. But what if you lose your phone or your account gets hacked somehow?

Yet, I chose to keep the app. Let me tell you why. Google is very transparent about how to access, delete or edit history, disable the feature, and outlines their privacy policy. It’s all right here. If the phone gets lost, I can log in through my PC and disable access.

I find it useful when I’m filling out timesheets. If you’re into scrapbooking and you use Google Photos, you can set your timeline to display photos you took that day. It’s great for timestamping memories.

Long story short, every piece of technology has pros and cons. Take a good look at what you’re actually downloading when you add a new app to your phone. Just because an app has a feature available, it doesn’t mean you are required to use it. If Google Timeline makes you uncomfortable, you are free to turn it off at any time.

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NLC Staff: Meet Craig Lefteroff

Craig LefteroffMeet Craig Lefteroff, who joined the Nebraska Library Commission as our Technology Innovation Librarian a year ago this month. Craig was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi and attended college at Delta State University, in Cleveland, Mississippi, graduating with a BA in English. After graduation, Craig taught English and speech for one year in a Mississippi Delta town with one store and a prison. This experience encouraged Craig to seek new employment, so he moved to Versailles (pronounced ver-say-elles), Kentucky, where he cleaned computers for Walmart. Next up was a job as an accountant for a Holiday Inn in Lexington, Kentucky. This job afforded him some flexibility so, affirming his love for books and literature, he enrolled in library school at the University of Kentucky.

Craig’s first professional library job was as a reference librarian at St. Tammany Parish Library north of Lake Pontchartrain   after Hurricane Katrina.  A tipping point occurred during this chapter of Craig’s life and it was time to try living closer if not north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  To fill a job title of Reference and Electronics Librarian, Craig moved to West Virginia to work for the Kanawha City Public Library where he lived at the top of a hill. When Craig was selected by the Nebraska Library Commission, it was a priority to be able to walk to work as this was never a possibility in Elkview.

It is typical for librarians to have eclectic interests and Craig fits this description. He surrounds himself with a variety of people and enjoys movies, music, and reading. Some of Craig’s favorite authors are Thomas Hardy, George Elliot, Herman Melville, Cormac McCarthy, and Mary Roach. A book that Craig has read at least five times is Stoner by John Williams owing to the theme of a young man growing up in the south who falls in love with literature. If money were no issue, he would spend his time reading and traveling first to Italy. When asked what other profession he would like to practice, Craig would be a writer and when I asked him to comment on his associations about his workplace, he responded: food day.

We’re grateful Craig has made the Midwest his home and is willing to share his skills and interests with those of us in Nebraska libraries.

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Tips #4 & #5 for Nebraska Libraries on the Web

Nebraska Libraries on the WebQuick Tip #4: Save space by deleting unused images

Images and graphics can consume a lot of your storage space. WordPress makes it easy to handle these tricky items. You can always edit individual images and scale (shrink) the picture, but you might try removing your unused images first. On your Dashboard, go to Media -> Library, then click the drop-down that reads All Media Items and switch it to Unattached. Now you’ll see only items that are not currently being used on any page on your website. Getting rid of these will, of course, free up a bit more space that you can use for new photos!

Media Library Graphic

Quick Tip #5: Widgets

Your site already includes a ton of features that you’re probably not using. You can find many of them by going to Appearance, then Widgets. This provides a list of available widgets, tools that you can add to your sidebar, header, or footer. You’ll find widgets for Facebook, Goodreads, an event calendar, and more. To activate the widget, just click the widget’s title, then drag it over to the sidebar (or header or footer) section.

widgets graphic

Learn more about Nebraska Libraries on the Web in our previous Blog posts or contact Craig Lefteroff, or by phone at (402) 471-3106. For more information on the service or to view our current sites, please visit http://libraries.ne.gov/projectblog/.

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Tip #3 for Nebraska Libraries on the Web

Nebraska Libraries on the WebQuick Tip #3: Publicize with Jetpack

If you’ve been working to add content to both your website and your social networks, there’s an easier way. In your Dashboard, there’s a section for the Jetpack plugin. Among Jetpack’s settings is the Publicize feature. Just click Configure and you’ll be able to connect your website to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and more. Anything that you add to the site will be automatically pushed out to those social networks, so that your viewers will be able to see all of your announcements and photos, no matter which of your sites they’re using. Jetpack also includes sharing buttons that can be added to your posts, so that your readers can easily share your content on their own social networks.Wordpress Publicize Graphic

Learn more about Nebraska Libraries on the Web in our previous Blog posts or contact Craig Lefteroff, or by phone at (402) 471-3106. For more information on the service or to view our current sites, please visit http://libraries.ne.gov/projectblog/.

Improve your site with Jetpack graphic

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Tip #2 for Nebraska Libraries on the Web

Nebraska Libraries on the Web

Quick Tip #2: Create a page that points directly to another website

When you add a new page to your site (by going to Pages -> Add New), WordPress assumes that you’re creating a new standalone page to add to your site. But you can also create an empty “placeholder” page that will send visitors out to another website—say, your Facebook page or the website for your town or county. To do this, simply scroll down to the bottom of the screen and, in the Page Links To section, choose A Custom URL. Once you have your new “page” created, you can easily add it to your site’s menu!

Learn more about Nebraska Libraries on the Web in our previous Blog posts or contact Craig Lefteroff, or by phone at (402) 471-3106. For more information on the service or to view our current sites, please visit http://libraries.ne.gov/projectblog/.

Create a page that points directly to another website.

 

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Tips for Nebraska Libraries on the Web: Create a New Menu

Nebraska Libraries on the Web

Create a MenuQuick Tip #1: Create a new menu

The menu at the top of your WordPress site allows your visitors to easily find particular pages, but occasionally you might want to change it up (perhaps during summer reading). With WordPress, it’s easy to create multiple menus and swap them out at will. On your Dashboard, go to Appearance, then click on Menus. Your default menu will probably display on the screen, but you can click Create a New Menu and add selected pages and resources to it. Once you name it and save it, the menu will be available in the Customizer on your site (Appearance -> Customize). You can then swap out your default menu for the new menu with one click.

Learn more about Nebraska Libraries on the Web in our previous Blog posts or contact Craig Lefteroff, or by phone at (402) 471-3106. For more information on the service or to view our current sites, please visit http://libraries.ne.gov/projectblog/.

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Nebraska Libraries on the Web

Nebraska Libraries on the Web

Imagine that a new resident has just arrived in your town. She’s eager to read the new Ruth Ware novel, but isn’t familiar with your library, so she hits the Internet to search for you. What does she find? What would you like for her to find?

Nebraska Libraries on the Web is a free service open to any public library in Nebraska. We use the WordPress platform to create robust and user-friendly library websites. Our sites are controlled by “themes” that modify the display of your site, meaning that your content will be presented in an appealing fashion automatically. You don’t have to worry about coding, just add text and images that tell the world about your library. For those who wish to alter aspects of their site’s theme, controls are available that allow you to tweak your font, colors, and more. You can even change your entire theme with one click to give your site a brand new appearance.

Because WordPress is so widely used, it’s not surprising that it works well with the biggest names on the Internet. Your site will arrive ready to connect to Facebook, Pinterest, and more. Any content that you add to your website can be automatically posted to your social networks, too. If you use Google Calendar, you can incorporate that directly into your new site, or use add-on tools called plugins to create a new calendar that displays your library’s events. Plugins also allow you to create surveys, contact forms, and forums, and host them all on your site. There’s probably a plugin for anything that you’d like to do with your site and Commission staff are available to assist you in tracking down the right tools. We also take care of software updates and security concerns, so you never have to worry about maintenance.

If this sounds like an approach that might work for your library, please contact Craig Lefteroff, or by phone at (402) 471-3106. For more information on the service or to view our current sites, please visit http://libraries.ne.gov/projectblog/.

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Holly Woldt: Library Technology Support Specialist at Nebraska Library Commission

 

Meet Holly Woldt whose job title is Library Technology Support Specialist.Holly Woldt: Technology Support Specialist

Holly began working at the Library Commission in 2010 in a temporary grant position and proved invaluable so we hired her as a permanent employee. Holly is one of the very few Commission employees who is a non-Nebraska native. She was born in Bad Hersfeld, Germany and adopted by an American family living in Paris, France while her father was serving as an aide-de-camp to the General in charge of NATO. She became a naturalized citizen at the age of 3. As the daughter of a career Air Force officer in the intelligence field, Holly lived in Annandale, Virginia; Oahu, Hawaii, and Ramstein, Germany. She graduated from High School in Hawaii and as her parents had Iowa nativity (which allowed in-state tuition for dependent children), she attended the University of Iowa where she received degrees in both Computer Science and Political Science. Her first job was as Systems Analyst at UNL. She met her husband Wayne at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln although unbeknownst to both of them, his father had worked for her father in Vietnam and both swam competitively at some of the same competitions in Hawaii. Together Wayne and Holly have three children: Weston age 26; Dylan age 24; and Cara age 22; and live on an acreage north of Lincoln. Wayne is a professor of Biosystems Engineering at UNL. He told their children they could major in anything as long as it was engineering because they’d always be able to find a job with that degree.

What makes Holly the right person for this job is that she has a love for technology and a passion for teaching how computers can be useful. Holly has been to many of your libraries to help unpack boxes and install computers and adaptive technology. During this time, many of you have become friends and Holly has learned about your libraries and your communities. She’s heard stories of how these computers have made a difference to your library customers as she continues to be a source of help with these services. Holly is in awe of librarians and their tenacity in serving the needs of their community. As Holly thinks about retirement in San Antonio, she would like to teach water aerobics to her neighbors in her 55+ Community. We’re grateful Holly is part of our library community

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Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has been a hot topic for a long while, but only recently has the technology reached levels of price and accessibility that have made it worth considering for non-gigantic libraries.  The phrase “virtual reality” brings to mind clunky glasses strapped to the face and, make no mistake, fully wearable hardware is still a huge part of the virtual reality landscape.   Microsoft’s upcoming HoloLens and Oculus Rift’s new headset are good examples of fully-prefabricated VR devices that you affix to your head.  They’re also good examples of pretty expensive technology, outside the budget of libraries which are not already committed to large-scale VR projects.  But there are affordable alternatives for those who are interested in trying out VR without breaking the bank.

It doesn’t get much more economical than Google’s Cardboard project.  Google offers downloadable instructions which will allow you to make your own VR viewer using magnets, Velcro, and cardboard from an old cereal or pizza box.  If you’re not inclined to DIY, you can also purchase pre-assembled cardboard or plastic viewers from a vendor.  Once you’ve built or bought your Cardboard set, you’ll insert a fairly new and large smartphone into the viewer.

Other manufacturers offer similar budget-friendly tech.  Oculus is offering a $99 headset which works with 2015 Samsung phones.  Even View-Master has revamped their product into a $30 virtual reality device.  Don’t worry, they still use reels. There are plenty of other companies which provide low-cost VR viewers.  Potential buyers should remember, however, that many of these devices work in tandem with smartphones, so be sure to budget for both the $30 Google Cardboard set and the $600 cell phone.

So what can you do with this technology?  As you might expect, games are a natural fit for virtual reality.  The popular game Minecraft is coming for the Oculus Rift and Google’s Play Store has an entire section devoted to VR-friendly apps for Cardboard.  But the possibilities extend beyond gaming.  The recent Democratic debate on CNN featured a virtual reality broadcast that was apparently rather quirky.   And some hotel chains are experimenting with VR devices that allow viewers to travel to far-flung locations.  Imagine a program on weather that would allow patrons to step into a hurricane through a VR viewer.  Or a program on Italian cooking that ends with a VR tour of Milan.  With costs dropping, it’s becoming affordable to experiment, so you might consider finding a place for virtual reality at your library.

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How will tech transform traditional library service?

iPad educationA recent Mashable blog post discusses uses of the iPad but also recommends less-expensive alternatives (e.g. Pinterest, WordPress, Flickr) to perform some of the same activities. The post discusses impact of tech use in the classroom, but the discussion could easily be translated to the school, public, or any type of library.

What sorts of reference work have you done to help customers become more tech savvy?

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