Stay Focused! 5 Tools to Avoid Distractions

It’s that time of year again when we all need to get back on track and start to get focused.  But with all of the many distractions online that can prove difficult.  Here are five applications that can help.


focustime focustime2
Cost: $4.99
Device Compatibility: Phone, iPad and Mac
The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity method in which you break down tasks into 25 minute sessions or pomodori during which you work solely on that task and then take a 3-5 minute break once the time period is complete. Following 4 pomodori a longer break of 15-30 minutes is taken. The FocusTime app supports those using the Pomodoro Technique through timers and graphs of progress and completed work.


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Books on WordPress in Libraries

I’m considering switching our library’s website to WordPress in our next redesign so I’ve been doing a lot of research in that area. I recently acquired two fantastic books on how to use WordPress in libraries and I wanted to share my thoughts on these.


The Comparative Guide to WordPress in Libraries

by Amanda L. Goodman
ALA TechSource


This great new book just came out in January 2014 and is a concise primer on using WordPress in libraries. Goodman takes the time to introduce the reader to the software, discussing the pros and cons, the different choices available for hosting vs. self-hosting, and the competition. The first half of the book discusses all of the ins and outs of WordPress, defining terms such as themes, plugins, shortcodes, etc. I appreciated the discussion of the differences between pages and posts. The second 100 pages of the book consist of case studies of WordPress installations in all types of libraries including; academic, public, school media, government & law, special libraries, as well as archives and library associations. This book is an excellent introduction to all things WordPress and libraries.


Learning from Libraries that Use WordPress

by Kyle M.L. Jones and Polly-Alida Farrington
ALA Editions

This title is a clear and comprehensive guide to the use of WordPress in libraries. Although this book discusses how to get started with WordPress, it goes on to provide much more for advanced readers (including code snippets!) than most books on the topic. There’s a fantastic and detailed discussion of widgets and plugins with plenty of screenshots, advice on setting up a workflow structure for content creation through plugins, and even instructions for how to set up child themes! I loved the Guest Pieces section of the book which discussed using WordPress in non-traditional ways such as creating dynamic subject guides and digital archives. This is a must-read for any librarian setting up a WordPress site.

I would highly recommend reading both of these books if you’re getting started with WordPress as they each have great gems of wisdom to offer.

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10 Free Technologies for Law Libraries

I have an article in the latest issue of ILTA’s Peer-to-Peer Magazine titled 10 Free Technologies for Law Libraries!  In it I discuss many of the free and open source technologies I’ve implemented in my library.  Although the article was written with law libraries in mind, I think that most libraries and librarians would find these applications useful.  Please check it out if you have the interest, it begins on page 59.  Here’s just a snippet:

10 Free Technologies for Law Libraries

Law libraries continually face the challenge of making the most of their ever-shrinking budgets, while also progressively increasing efficiency and improving services. One way to keep that balance is to leverage free applications to improve internal operations, market library services and encourage staff collaboration. I’m a huge proponent of free and open-source technologies and have implemented many of them within my library at The New York Law Institute (NYLI). We’re making use of gratis applications for electronic resources management (ERM), a private intranet, library statistics tracking, email management and more! The use of cloud computing and application services really took off in 2013 — and when they’re free, can you afford to overlook them?

Zoho Creator is an online application that allows users to drag and drop database fields easily onto a blank form in order to build their own custom database applications, without any technical knowledge. Zoho offers an array of elements that can be added to databases, such as text and number fields, radio buttons, drop-down lists, checkboxes, multiple select fields, dates and notes.
At NYLI, we’re using a Zoho database that took about 15 minutes to create in order to track all of our library’s statistics, including librarian time spent on reference questions, patron electronic resource use, book loans, e-book loans, webinar attendance and document delivery.   Zoho allows us to create robust reports from our data — in either table or chart format — which we are able to provide to our members on-demand. The free plan enables you to build up to three databases and two reports and to keep 1,000 records. Beyond that, if you want to store historical records (rather than exporting them), their plans are reasonable, starting at $25 per month.

Continue Reading here.

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The Future of MOOCs



According to the New York Times, 2012 was the year of the MOOC - a massive open online course.  These courses are usually open access and free, and although they don’t usually offer course credit for participants some do offer certifications of completion.  They can be attended by hundreds of thousands of students at the same time who interact in community forums surrounding course materials and resources.  They offer amazing opportunities for those who lack the funding to attend traditional universities, especially those in developing nations.  MOOCs have democratized learning and opened up education to the masses who may now attend and learn from quality courses at elite universities as if they were enrolled.

Born of the Open Education movement, MOOC’s have risen to remarkable levels of popularity over the past few years with offerings from such high-ranking colleges and universities as MIT, Harvard, Yale, Duke, and more.  But not everyone is sold on this new format of remote education.  In addition to their many benefits, MOOCs do pose several challenges.  The responsibility for evaluating the quality of participation and even the completion of these online courses falls squarely on the shoulders of the student.  MOOC professors, even with the aid of teaching assistants, cannot hope to provide meaningful feedback and assessment to hundreds of thousands of students taking part in these courses.  In addition to the lack of student evaluation, many people criticize the absence of face-to-face interaction with professors and other students.  There’s also the research aspect of these courses which may necessitate access to vendor databases and/or toll-access journals, although many of these courses have avoided copyright and access challenges by utilizing open access reading assignments.  Additionally, plagiarism is said to be a major issue in these courses.

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Do-It-Yourself GIS: 20 Free Tools & Data Sources for Creating Data Maps

The world of mapping and presenting data sets through geographical representations is no longer relegated to GIS librarians and highly trained technologists. New free and open source applications now make it possible to create complex and robust data visualizations in the form of maps that display statistics and poll results. Here’s a guide to 20 free applications and data sources.

    Data Visualization Tools

    Click for Interactive map.

  1. Tableau Public
    This free, highly sophisticated software enables the lay person to create very complex graphical representations of data sets in minutes. The above image is actually an interactive map that I created in just a few minutes (after watching the tutorial video) with a data set I downloaded from the CIA World Fact Book comparing internet users in countries worldwide. Data can be uploaded in many forms including Excel spreadsheets, text documents, and Microsoft Access and can be displayed on a map, as well as bar, area, line, or pie charts, as tables, treemaps and more. See the gallery of visualizations here.


  3. Google Fusion Tables
    Google’s experimental Fusion Tables functionality allows you to upload an Excel spreadsheet and instantly create charts and maps from the data set. It was incredibly easy to create the above map after searching the NOAA database for statistics on tsunami locations within the past 10 years.

    Click for Interactive Map.

  5. Open Heat Maps
    This simple and straightforward map generator lets you quickly upload your Excel or Google Docs spreadsheet and adjust the colors and settings for your custom map. It took less than 5 minutes to create the above map with data on country military expenditures generated from the CIA World Fact Book. See the gallery of other heat maps here.

    Click for Interactive Map.

  7. Many Eyes
    This free Web-based application is a bit more sophisticated than some of the other tools available, and therefore has a steeper learning curve. Many eyes enables users to create detailed, interactive maps by uploading a spreadsheet and then specifying your preferred visualization type. This map of worldwide religious affiliations was created in just 20 minutes with a data set from ARDA. Additionally, simple maps can be created on the ARDA website in the GIS Maps section.


  9. International Monetary Fund (IMF) Data Mapper
    Instantly create robust maps using the IMF Data Mapper tool on their website. Users cannot upload their own data sets, but instead can use any of the reports and data within the IMF site.


  11. GunnMap 2
    This Web-based application is very straightforward and easy to use. Simply paste in your data set or use one of the example sets to create a robust, color-coded map. This worldwide population map took under two minutes to customize and the final map is clickable and interactive.

    Data Sources

  13. The website has 210,912 datasets that are open and freely available for download and use. Many of the data sets are viewable via interactive maps.
  14. ARDA - The Association of Religion Data Archives: This website has also got its own GIS Maps section where users can plot religious data sets over neighborhood and/or world maps.
  15. The US Census Bureau’s website holds the most recent version of the US census which is freely downloadable for visitors. They also have a data visualizations gallery where they spotlight infographics and maps in which Census Bureau data sets have been used.
  16. CIA World Factbook: The World Factbook, is prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency and provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities.
  17. Eurostat: Eurostat’s mission is to be the leading provider of high quality statistics on the European Union and candidate countries.
  18. Global Health Observatory: This collection has over 50 datasets on priority health topics including mortality and burden of diseases, the Millennium Development Goals (child nutrition, child health, maternal and reproductive health, immunization, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, neglected diseases, water and sanitation), non communicable diseases and risk factors, epidemic-prone diseases, health systems, environmental health, violence and injuries, equity among others.
  19. Harvard Dataverse Network: This is a repository for sharing, citing and preserving research data; open to all scientific data from all disciplines worldwide. It includes the world’s largest collection of social science research data.
  20. The U.S. Dept of Housing and Urban Development offers quite a few downloadable data sets.
  21. International Monetary Fund (IMF) Data: The IMF (International Monetary Fund) publishes a range of time series data on IMF lending, exchange rates and other economic and financial indicators.
  22. NOAA: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is the world’s largest provider of weather and climate data. Land-based, marine, model, radar, weather balloon, satellite, and paleoclimatic are just a few of the types of datasets available.
  23. NYC Open Data: This collection has over 800 sets of data pertaining to New York City, most of which can be viewed as an interactive map. Sets include graffiti locations, locations of toilets in public parks, wifi hotspot locations, subway entrances, and more.
  24. The Roper Center: This open collection has 19,000 datasets reflecting public opinion and social trends including Gallup polls dating back to 1936, Roper Reports and more.
  25. UNdata: The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) launched a new internet based data service for the global user community to provide free access to global statistics.
  26. The World Bank Data Collection: The Data Catalog provides download access to over 8,000 indicators from World Bank data sets, searchable by country, indicators, or topic.

For even more..

Ten Places to Find and Create Data Visualizations

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5 Free and Open Source Tools for Creating Digital Exhibitions

What are digital exhibitions?

Many libraries and museums have taken their special collections such as rare books, manuscripts, photographs, pamphlets, news clippings, musical scores and more and have digitized them to create collections of digital assets that can be displayed online through a digital exhibition.  Digital exhibits such as these offer unprecedented access to organizational treasures that might never be seen otherwise except by those with local physical access to the museum or library.  A new breed of open-source and free software tools has recently emerged making it possible to catalog and manage digital collections and create robust narratives and layouts for display online.


Major Software Tools

These are the main software applications which are used by libraries and museums to create digital exhibits and for digital asset management.  The industry leader in this space is a proprietary application called Contentdm ( created by OCLC.  Contenddm is a digital collection management software that allows for the upload, description, management and access of digital collections.  This application offers robust cataloging features and an easy-to-use interface but is cost-prohibitive for many non-profit organizations. Entry level CONTENTdm options start at $4,300 annually with mid-size Licenses that start at a $10,000 one-time fee with ongoing annual maintenance starting at $2,000.



A Contentdm Digital Collection


Free and Open Source Tools

However, there are many free and open source alternatives to Contentdm for creating online interactive digital exhibits.

Omeka is a free, open source web publishing system for online digital archives.  Its main focus/strength is producing websites and online exhibitions.  Both the Web interface and back end cataloging system are one unified application.  Users can build attractive websites and exhibits using templates and page layouts, without having to adjust code, although more robust displays can be created by customizing the CSS and HTML files, and moving around some PHP snippets.  Omeka has a plugin available for OAI support to make collections harvestable by major search engines.  Although Omeka is a bit more limited than some other applications such as Collective Access (see below) in terms of cataloging & metadata capabilities, it allows fast/easy creation of online exhibits through a Web interface, a low learning curve, many plugins with added functionality, and a large developer community.

Metadata Supported: Omeka uses Dublin Core and MODS metadata, and offers customizable item type cataloging.  There are many templates and plugins which offer added functionality such as displaying items on Google Maps, providing LCSH for cataloging

Hosted Version and/or Downloadable Code Available? Omeka offers both a hosted, Web-based version or the downloadable application which can be installed and hosted on-site by the organization.

Recommended for: Libraries, Museums






Collective Access
Collective Access is a free, open source cataloging tool and web-based application for museums, archives and digital collections.  Its main focus/strength is on cataloging and metadata.  You can create very robust cataloging records, create relationships between items, create profiles of creators and subjects of items and link them to objects, etc.  Collective Access offers multiple metadata schemas.  The Web component, called Pawtucket, is a separate installation, and necessitates editing php files in order to build/adjust websites.  A front-end PHP programmer would be necessary with this solution, and quite possibly one to set up the back-end templates as well.

Hosted Version and/or Downloadable Code Available?  The application is downloadable and must be hosted by the organization, no hosted version is available.

Metadata Supported: DublinCore, VRA, CDWA/CCO, MARC (planned), others, plus the ability to create in house standards and to customize existing standards.  Ability to access external data sources and services such as LCSH, Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus, and GoogleMaps, GoogleEarth or GeoNames for geospatial cataloguing.

Recommended for: Libraries, Museums






ColectionSpace is a free, open-source collections management application for museums, libraries, historical societies, and other organizations with special collections.  The application is administered by Museum of the Moving Image, but it’s a joint partners with the division of Information Services and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley and the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies at the University of Cambridge.   The software is made up of a suite of modules and services for managing your collections of digital assets, however it doesn’t have any native ability to create digital exhibits.  Instead, it enables users to connect with other open-source applications already in use by the cultural sector for online exhibition creation.  The application allows for the creation of a customized controlled vocabulary for describing collections.

Hosted Version and/or Downloadable Code Available?  The application is downloadable and must be hosted by the organization, no hosted version is available.

Metadata Supported: CollectionSpace supports multiple metadata schemas including DublinCore and customized schemas.

Recommended for: Libraries, Museums






Open Exhibits
Open Exhibits is a multitouch, multi-user tool kit that allows you to create custom interactive exhibits.  The strength of this application has less to do with cataloging collections of digital assets, but developing online and interactive exhibits with digital objects.  The multi-touch piece comes into play with the ability to specify that certain types of user behaviors will result in various outcomes, e.g. if a user drags a certain section of an image, the entire image will move and readjust along with the movement.  Users without technical expertise can work with pre-existing templates and modules, while developers can create their own with the SDK kit.  The application uses a combination of its own markup languages – Creative Mark-up Language (CML) and Gesture Mark-up Language (GML) along with CSS libraries.

Hosted Version and/or Downloadable Code Available?  The application is downloadable and must be hosted by the organization, no hosted version is available.

Metadata Supported: Not applicable.

Recommended for: Museums






Pachyderm is a free, open-source and easy-to-use multimedia authoring tool created by the New Media Consortium (NMC).  It’s been designed for people with little technology or multimedia experience and involves little more than filling out a web form. Authors place their digital assets (images, audio clips, and short video segments) into pre-designed templates, which can play video and audio, link to other templates, zoom in on images, and more. Completed templates result in interactive, Flash-based presentations that can include images, sounds, video, and text that can be downloaded and displayed on websites or can be kept on the Pachyderm server and linked directly from there.

Hosted Version and/or Downloadable Code Available?  The NMC has stated that they are no longer offering hosted accounts at this time so the application must be downloaded and hosted by the organization or individual.

Metadata Supported: Not applicable.

Recommended for: Libraries, Museums, Educators, Individuals




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