Category Archives: tips and tools

House rules for kids & online gaming

One thing I learned when I became a parent is that there’s a big difference between being a non-parent who likes kids and being a parent. One of the ways this manifests, for me, is in advice. I’ve worked in a lot of family & children’s service programs over the years, and parents have often asked me for advice on various topics. The way I give advice has changed since I’ve had a seat on the other side of the table too. It’s a lot easier to give advice on many topics than it is to have to deal with the topic in real life.

Take kids & the Internet, for example. It was pretty easy to do projects in library school about why Internet filters designed to restrict children’s Internet access don’t work very well. However, I found it somewhat harder to conjure up something that *did* make me feel safe about my child’s online access.

This past summer I entertained a growing awareness that it was time to formally talk with the kid about his use of the computer & Internet. He’s had limited, highly supervised, computer privileges for a while now, but he’s getting old enough to have more responsibility and less micro-management on my behalf.

I was surprised to find myself at a bit of a loss as to what exactly our house rules should be! I’m a librarian, I thought. I’m the one who gives other people advice on these topics! Yet I wasn’t exactly sure what to do in my own home. Oh dear.

After having my moment of humility, I asked myself what I’d recommend to another parent who asked me for advice on the topic. Well, of course I’d send them to the ALA website, as I knew they had a bunch of resources on online safety. Wow, are some of those resources:

  1. seriously out of date,
  2. very US-American, and
  3. rather paranoid.

That said, some of the links were useful as inspiration. Feeling somewhat unsatisfied by my ALA website experience, I turned to an online parenting community of which I’m a part and asked for advice from other parents. Surprisingly few of them had specific rules or contracts with their kids governing Internet use either.

In the end, I ended up creating our own house rules for computer/Internet use. Some of the rules were negotiated with the kid, others were non-negotiable in my book, still others the kid came up with himself. We typed them up together, printed them out, and then I shared them with my online parenting community.

And now I’m going to share them with you. Why? Not because I think the rules in your house should be exactly the same as the rules in my house, but because they are up-to-date and might give you a template or some ideas for either your own house or the next time a parent asks you for advice.

I’m out of the youth services loop these days, so I’m not sure how common it is for children’s librarians to produce sample house computer/Internet use rules lists, but given recent news that kids are gaming online more than their parents know,such resources are worth considering.

If anyone reading this knows of really good sites with other guidelines/rules, or thinks there are rules that should be added to the above to make a suggested list, please leave a comment.

Greyson’s Computer Use Rules

(For context, these rules were made for/with a 7-year-old/grade 3 child who can read & type independently, likes to play Club Penguin and Super Mario, and has his own blog to which only I know the password.)


In one day, you can have: 1 30-minute computer time OR 2 20-minute computer times with least 20 minutes in between

Computer time cannot carry over from one day to another.


Family computers can be used in the living room.

Other locations only by special arrangement.


You can go to pre-approved websites on your own.

You have to have a grown-up with you to surf the net/search for new sites.

Nothing you have to pay for, without parental permission.

You never give out personal information online (phone #, address, what school you go to, pictures of you, etc.)

You never give your passwords to anyone, even friends, and if someone finds one out you tell us asap so we can help change it.

Agree to share any passwords to any sites with us (Gmail, Club Penguin…) and not change these without telling us.

Be polite online like in real life.

Never download anything without our permission.

On Club Penguin, you can add buddies without specific permission


No shooting games without specific permission to play that game


Filed under Internet, public libraries, school libraries, technology, tips and tools, youth

CIHR using OSS for learning modules

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) recently unveiled three knowledge translation learning modules, the first of their new CIHR Online Tutorial courses.

I don’t know much about the background or driving force behind creation of these modules, but from the website it looks like the plan is to develop learning tutorials in several categories, with KT leading the pack.

CIHR has been a Canadian leader in encouraging Open Access to research outputs, and I was pleased to notice that they are also showing leadership in using Open Source Software, as the Learning Modules are run with the open source course management software Moodle.

I use Moodle in some classes I teach, and my non-systems-administrator perspective is that while it’s not perfect, it’s no harder/more frustrating to use, and certainly more versatile than proprietary software packages such as Blackboard or WebCT.

Kudos to CIHR for efficient use of public resources and for quietly demonstrating professional use of OSS!


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Filed under government, Health, OSS, technology, tips and tools

Am I being throttled? Yep.

(Note: I am sick as a dog with the flu, and trying to do something productive by editing and rolling out a few drafts from the past months that never made it to fully-gorwn posts.  Please forgive any grammar atrocities while I type through the fever.)

If you need any more help getting riled up about net neutrality, check out the new M-lab (Measurement lab) tools to see whether you are being throttled!  Cool!  Just last October I was at an Info Policy conference bemoaning the fact that there were no tools easy enough for lay users to manage that would tell us whether we were being throttled.

According to their “Who We Are” page,

Measurement Lab was founded by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, the PlanetLab Consortium, Google Inc. and academic researchers. M-Lab was developed in 2008 after Vint Cerf and others at Google initiated conversations with network researchers to learn more about challenges to the effective study of broadband networks.

I tried it out and it worked for me.  Of course, it’s no surprise, since my ISP is one of the many that already disclosed to the CRTC that they “traffic shape,” and we have noticed what has seemed like undue congestion while trying to stream video in the evening hours, but now I know for sure: I AM being throttled.  My deep packets are being inspected.  Hrm.

How about you?  Throttled much?  Try it out and let me know, if you have the chance.

On the Search Engine podcast (#19) from back in February in which they discussed the M-lab applications that allowed me to verify this, Jesse Brown tried to get Google to admit that they were trying to egg people on into taking action against throttling ISPs.  The Canadian Google representative on the air demurred, but I think it’s brilliant, and it’s working on me.  I want to go submit my comments to the CRTC’s traffic shaping consultation all over again. (<–Hold that thought…)



Filed under net neutrality, technology, tips and tools

YouTube videos on CanWest info issues

I don’t have a television, but I do love to watch stuff on my computer.  Back in the last millenium, when I did have a TV, I didn’t have cable anyway, so I am easily impressed with the amazing diversity of media to which I have access via the Internet.

As you may have noticed from previous blog posts, I am a fan of YouTube and similar video sharing sites. I love them.  I love just searching for a video to explain science concepts that we can’t demo in our kitchen (like that whole beluga whale tail-first-birth so it doesn’t drown thing- so cool!) to the kid. I really appreciate being able to watch various political debates (back in 2000 I couldn’t watch the US presidential debates b/c I couldn’t find anywhere with a TV to watch them), or just see someone’s version of the highlights if I don’t really want to watch the whole thing. I admit ot using short online videos in my teaching quite frequently.

And I absolutely adore the way people are using this medium for activism.

Of course there’s the best ever super simple explaination of net neutrality from the Save the Internet coalition. (Old news in web-time, I know, but still relevant.) Just this week, however, two different new activist videos about CanWest came through my inboxes. Since I’ve been struggling to demonstrate the ironic connection between CanWest’s attempts to muzzle others’ free expression and the company’s fight to be allowed the “free expression” to sell ad airtime to drug companies, I thought I’d highlight both new videos here.

1)Media Blackout: CanWest Global Attacks Drug Ad Laws

This came to me via a colleague’s email. Rob Wipond connects ad revenue in our corporate media with the role of the media as our major source of health information (and historic firings of journalists who deviated from media/advertiser party lines). Not content to merely point out the misleading nature and accompanying health risks of drug advertising, he calls out drug industry-funded health advocacy groups.

2) Canwest Media Bully

I saw this one in my RSS feed from the We Read Banned Books blog.  WorkingTV covers and explains the “SLAPP” lawsuit over the Vancouver Sun parody printed June 2007, making connnections between media concentration and lack of tolerance for diversity of viewpoints.

Tara over at We Read Banned Books commented:

I’m excited to see old school activists start to social media effectively.  This video feels especially appropriate as they are standing up to a mainstream media conglomerate, like CanWest and the Vancouver Sun.  I think this video has much broader appeal than a didactic pamphlet written in Times New Roman 10 point font.  My only critique is the seriously corny folk song at the end

I couldn’t agree more (sorry David Rovics – I am quite fond of you, personally). While neither of these  videos is as slick as the net neutrality clip linked above, they are FAR more engaging than a flyer handed to me on a street corner, another mass email sitting in my inbox, or a speaker that I probably can’t go to see because I can’t get childcare for yet another meeting. And I’m one of the old skool print media lovers, right? (see: no TV)

Call me dumbed-down if you wish, but keep on making these engaging videos!  I love them!



Filed under censorship, digitization, Health, Intellectual freedom, media democracy, net neutrality, Other blogs, publishing, technology, tips and tools

Canadian Election Advocacy Resources

While there’s been a lot of coverage of the US Election (in particular the, er, interesting choice of an apparent wannabee book-banner as Republican VP nominee), the relatively un-showy and non-flashy Canadian Federal Elections aren’t getting much press in the LIS blogosphere. October 14, 2008 is not just the first Open Access Day, it’s also Election Day for us Canucks!

If you are Canadian in any way, shape or form, you can do something to influence the political agenda in this country.  Telecom and information issues are not really making the headlines in the campaign coverage, even though Canadians clearly care about issues such as copyright and net neutrality in 2008.

Here are a couple of resources to help you remind the candidates that we care about library and information issues, to push the parties to make committments, and to advocate for the kind of change you want to see.

MP Contact Info & Suggested Questions

1) How to contact your candidates

On the Elections Canada FAQ page , find your electoral dictrict by typing in your postal code.

On the lower right-hand side, under “Candidates,” click on:

Who are the candidates in my electoral district?

On the upper right-hand side, under “Related Questions,” click on:

How do I contact the candidates in my electoral district?

This will give you at least the phone number of your candidates.  I know, email is better, but I haven’t found an email directory of all the candidates yet, so the best thing I know to do is google “Firstname Lastname.”

If you know of a better source, please let me know in the comments!

2) What to ask/tell your Candidates?
Obviously, you should ask about anything you find important.  However, two sources that I know of have compiled collections of issues and talking points you may find useful:

  1. The CLA’s 2008 Election Campaign Kit (link to pdf)
  2. The Campaign for Democratic Media‘s question list “Where do the candidates stand on democratic media?” (link to pdf)

The CLA kit offers general election advocacy tips and focuses on 9 issues: Copyright, Library Book Rate, Removal of the GST on Reading Materials, Library services for Canadians with print disabilities,The Community Access Program, Public Library Infrastructure, Support for libraries through Library and Archives Canada, National Literacy Initiatives & Net Neutrality.

The CDM list offers a brief summary of the issues and suggested specific questions to ask candidates about: Net Neutrality, Cultural Funding, Canadian Ownership of Broadcasting & Telecommunications, The CBC, Local News, Employment Equity, Concentrations of Media Ownership, Community Media, Appointments to Federal Boards and Commissions, & Broadcast and Telecom Regulation.

If you get answers from any MP Candidates avout the CDM questions, post them, please! I’m sure the CDM would like to collect responses.

Thanks to the tireless folk at CLA and CDM for making it easier for the rest of us to make a difference!


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Filed under government, media democracy, The Profession, tips and tools

DOAJ: Continued Growth (plus a Creative Commons bonus)

Over at the Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics, librarian Heather Morrison has been tracking the Dramatic Growth of Open Access over the past couple of years in a series of blog posts.

On Friday, Morrison noted that the growth rate of the DOAJ (directory of open access journals) has almost doubled in the past year. She writes:

This simple chart illustrates the near doubling of the growth rate of the Directory of Open Access Journals from 2007 to 2008, from an average of more than 1.2 new title per calendar day, to an average of 2.2 new titles per calendar day.

H Morrisons illustration of the DOAJs growth 2007-2008

As further illustration of the growth rate of DOAJ: as of today, DOAJ includes 3,587 journals , and has added 63 new titles in the last 30 days, more than 2 new titles per day (and it’s August!). Since September 30, 2007, DOAJ has grown from 2,846 titles, an increase of 741 titles in 11 months, or 330 days at 30 days/month, for an average net growth of 2.2 titles per day. In the September 30, 2007 Dramatic Growth of Open Access update, I noted a growth rate of 1.2 titles / day for DOAJ over the previous year.

Now, if you’re like me and need a visual aid to understand the rate of growth in absolute number of titles versus rate of new titles, check out this chart I tossed together from Heather’s data:

Amended chart of DOAJ growth 2007-2008

This post is here not only to call attention to the “Dramatic Growth of Open Access,” but also to assist in illustrating the use of Creative Commons licensed content. The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics is published under a CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Canada license, meaning I can reuse IJPE content and make derivative works as long as it’s not for profit and I use a similar license.

As noted on our About page, SJL is published under the similar, although not identical Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license.


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Filed under copyright, IP, OA, Other blogs, publishing, tips and tools, Uncategorized

Interface changes are stressful, kind of like dating

Like many of you out there, I am currently being forced to overcome my resistance to change and explore the new OvidSP interface (nice tutorial here). Argh! So, like some fellow health librarian bloggers I am putting my opinions out there. I’ll warn you now that some grouchiness ensues below…

First of all, Interface changes make me break out in a cold sweat, cause my heart to pound, and all those things. I feel worried I’m going to lose all this work I’ve done and that my previously-acquired skills will be rendered useless. I have anticipatory dread over the inevitable fumbling as I learn the new rules and shortcuts, combined with a glimmer of excitement that old dysfunctions might be resolved or eliminated. I notice my loyalty to the old interface, no matter how much I have scorned it in the past, because of its familiarity. Yet I know I have to take the chance, first of all because the new one might actually be better, and secondly because often there really is no going back. It’s a bit like falling in love, except with no sex or chocolate.

My first impressions are that Ovid is trying to become more user-friendly. This is where my professional searcher self and my public service self conflict. I can still remember the first time I was faced with an Ovid interface. I was searching for something in BIOSIS related to sex-changing fish, if I recall correctly. I was a library student and the interface was, at first, rather daunting, with the sometimes labyrinthine subject mapping and gazillions of fields from which I could choose. However, now that I am acclimated, I rather like the Byzantine structure of many Ovid databases. I would never default to doing a systematic review search in, say, the Ebsco interface to Medline!

I have this awesome setup at work with two monitors side-by-side. It seemed extravagant at first, but now I shudder to imagine life with out it –especially when searching while documenting a search, or adapting an academic paper into a one-page KT factsheet. Today I took a deep breath and jumped into a side-by-side comparison of the old and new Ovid interfaces to Medline ((R) 1950 to Present with Daily Update). So, in case you care, or care to argue with me about it, below are my initial thoughts.

What I like:

  • Spellcheck! Hurrah for this! It is far too easy to typo and not notice, particularly with esoteric drug names, binomial nomenclature, and the like.
  • *Much* longer timeout periods. Another hurrah here! The #1 peeve I have with old Ovid is that I answer the phone or go to the washroom and when I come back to my search, I get booted out because of the timeout period. Moving from 15 minutes to 75 is a huge improvement – thank you!
  • Combining searches without loading a new screen to do so. (Of course, I usually just type in ((1 and 2) not (3 or 4)) rather than click checkboxes and buttons , but for a simple and/or combo it is better now. And for less-professional users with slow connection time this is a good thing.
  • My personal account transferred over just fine. *whew*
  • Not having to scroll to the bottom to sort records or use the results manager
  • Ability to sort results by a longer list of attributes

What makes me want to tear my hair out:

  • Where did my Subject Mapping go? Why did you bury this under a tab I have to click on, check a box for Mapping, and then click on again? I love my subject mapping! And why, on the “search tools” tab, are the features you used to (and still can) access through the mapping display all set out there independently? I admit there’s a slight chance that once I get used to it I will like being able to check a scope note of a subject heading without first mapping to the subject heading, but right now I’m feeling ornery about the loss of subject mapping as the default. (The default “tab” can, of course, be changed at the administrative level…depending on the admin’s assessment of user needs)
  • Smaller print. Hello inaccessibility! Like we really need to squint more at our screens? And don’t tell me I can just use my mouse roller to enlarge – the spacing gets wonky and text overflows its boxes when I bring it up to the size of the old interface type. (Except when you output the results list in Ovid display, when it inexplicably gets really big and ugly. What is this about?)
  • The OvidSP tip box. Tell me this is temporary, please? Tips are great, but either allow me to disable this feature for the expert searcher, or at least make it smaller and less obtrusive. This is the only place on my page with font the size of old Ovid, and it’s not what I want to focus on.
  • The vagueness of some of the search tips anyway – just telling me that * is now a wildcard is not useful. If I know enough to understand what a wildcard operator is, I probably want to know if/how it is different from $ in Ovid.
  • Still no option to get month-specific when limiting results by publication date. This is where Ebsco really has the leg up, Ovid-folks.
  • What is the deal with the “Score” out of five stars? Am I missing something? Are we not working with an exact match system here? All of my results have five stars, defeating the purpose, one would think. Perhaps this is relevant in some other databases that share the interface?
  • A disadvantage to novice users is definitely, IMO, the elimination of the “Advanced search” point of entry. Oh yes, I see it is still there under “Ovid Syntax,” but really what non-librarian wants to click a tab called “syntax”? The switch from author or title searching being right out there on the advanced search page, to requiring that users go to either the Ovid Syntax or the “Find Citation” tab and enter in the author name or title in field boxes there. I am not convinced that “Find citation” sounds the same as “search by author” to people. Also, why the heck does it ask for Author surname if it really wants Surname, Firstname?
  • This is a temporary beef, for the transition period, but why does the old Ovid interface entice you to “Try OvidSP?” in your “classic” interface session, only to chuck your current search without warning if you do decide to click and try the new interface? This is super annoying, and gets us off on the wrong foot from the start. ISI Web of Knowledge managed to launch their new interface in a new window so you don’t chuck your old search – why isn’t Ovid doing so as well?
  • Finally, the amount of time this is going to suck in end-user retraining. My faculty who actually use Medline are interested in learning advanced Google searching, frankly, not retraining on a system that they already knew.

The jury is still out on:

  • Ability to annotate records. When would I use this? How is this useful to me? I will have to think about/play with this. Anyone out there find this useful?
  • “Narrow search” suggestions. How very Ebsco of you, Ovid. I will admit that this is somewhat nice for novice searchers, but for me it just takes up space on the page, adding to the small/squinched font issue. Additionally, I find that novice searchers frequently get lost in layers of narrowing by suggested subject, rather than being helped by it, so I’m unconvinced at this point. But there’s the possibility you could change my mind.

I like that Ovid is trying to be more user friendly – I really do. However, that’s why we have Ebsco – and, frankly, PubMed – is it not? Of course, not all of us *do* have EBSCO as well as Ovid – many libraries have to choose, which is why everyone has to try be everything to every user. I get that. Still, Ovid is pretty good at what they do, and it would be entirely possible to incorporate some of the “Hurrah!” improvements without scrapping the old layout/focus. The battle between generalist-user accessibility and expert-user utility rages on, I guess. I just have my doubts that Ovid will ever be the Medline etc. interface of the masses – and from that perspective I wish they’d hone their expert searching tools rather than make dubious stabs at being user-friendly and able to search with a natural language query.


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Filed under Health, tips and tools

Neat, Free Tools for Info Professionals – and Others

As part of a small project I’m working on for the Council on Library and Information Resources, I’ve been evaluating online tools produced by “Digital Humanities Centers.” These are academic centers focused on bringing computing into humanities research.* The tools they’ve developed have a variety of primarily humanities research functions: 3d animation technology for virtually recreating archaeological sites, course software, text analysis software, online note-taking and annotation software aimed at academics, etc.

But a few, especially those developed by the creative folks at George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, are broadly construed and would be useful to anyone working on community web projects, teaching online research skills, or beginning web archiving projects.

For community web work, GMU has a number of useful tools. Web Scrapbook is, as they say, a “clipping file for the internet.” You can share your clipping file or keep it private. Groups working together on any sort of research or interest project could use this tool to gather and annotate web sources of interest. Survey Builder and Poll Builder are both easy-to-use, what-you-see-is-what-you-get editors for creating survey and polls and adding them to websites.

For those teaching research skills or information access, I highly recommend GMU’s Zotero bibliographic software: It’s a free, open-source program that runs inside the Firefox browser. As you browse library catalogs, journal databases, Google Scholar, and even, Zotero can grab citation information at your command and save it to your computer. You can easily keep track of your references, and even better, make in-text citations, footnotes, and bibliographies using Microsoft Word. I was an EndNote user in the past, and have also taught students to use RefWorks, and I think Zotero is an excellent – and free – replacement for either of these programs.

Another useful tool for teachers and students: GMU’s Syllabus Finder. Syllabus Finder will do a tailored Google search for syllabi on whatever keywords you type into the search interface. This is a great way to figure out if/where classes are taught on a subject you’re interested in, or what reading materials others are using in their courses on X, Y or Z.

Perhaps most exciting for me, but still in private Beta so unavailable – yet – is GMU’s Omeka platform for publishing collections online. This promises to be a widely accessible tool for building digital archives and exhibits. This could be a great way for community organizations and small archives with digital collections to display them online, or to draw attention to their non-digital materials by creating an online exhibit.

Kudos to the Center for History and New Media for such creative, free digital information tools.


* Because of the nature of the current CLIR project, my scope is limited, and I’m only familiar with tools from about 30 U.S.-based centers.


Filed under tips and tools