Thursday, 27 November 2008


Attended an ACADI meeting at the National Gallery yesterday. ACADI is the Association of Curators of Art & Design Images - a mutual support support group for slide librarians and visual resource curators. Unfortunately slide librarians are a bit of a dying breed as users turn to digital formats and manufacturers like Kodak stop making slide projectors. It might seem to our users that slide librarians are a bunch of complete luddites who love their slides too much to go digital, but in fact there's nothing we would like more, it's simply that there is no licence that allows us to convert our 35 mm slides into digital images - and no-one wants to be the first to be seen to be breaking the law. We have been waiting many years for DACS (the Design & Artists Copyright Society) to come up with a digital licence but just as things start to happen it all grinds to a halt again - v. frustrating.
ACADI is a fantastic group to belong to and we don't spend all of our meetings wondering when the DACS digital licence might finally happen! A couple of years ago I set up a closed Jiscmail list for the group and this has helped to open up discussions beyond the meetings. The group has also had a website for a number of years but the host institution has found it difficult to maintain so now one of the members has set up a blog for us instead - It's early days but this has a lot of potential to help the group and will be much easier to manage than a website - another of the advantages of Web 2.0.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

My Dewey Decimal classification

My name is Nicola Salliss and it's been a month since my last confession, sorry, my last post. Perhaps calling my blog 'The Passing Fad' will turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anyway, just quickly wanted to share a link that my colleague Rachel sent to me today (with the subject heading 'pointless and stupid') - how to work out your Dewey Decimal Classification. The results give you a choice of three, mine came out as:

014 Of anonymous & pseudonymous works
296 Judaism
042 [Unassigned]

I think I like the first one best, apparently this is what it means:

What it says about you:
You are very informative and up to date. You're working on living in the here and now, not the past. You go through a lot of changes. When you make a decision you can be very sure of yourself, maybe even stubborn, but your friends appreciate your honesty and resolve.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at

Friday, 17 October 2008

Life on an Art and Design campus

It's never dull here, which I think is true of all art colleges. At the moment we have a boat in the quad (makes a change from ducks), a coffin in the staff room and a student living in the car park. The boat I have no explanation for - the caretaker muttered something about an 'art project' when I asked - but the coffin is part of an exhibition on recycling and is rather beautiful and not at all spooky. The student living in the car park is taking up parking spaces (grr) so not too popular with some of the staff but I gather that this is also an 'art project,' last year he did a similar thing by living in the quad for a couple of weeks surviving only on supplies that were given to him by other people. At least his project was fairly quiet, during 'Quadject' last year we had some very noisy geese, some kind of weird music performance and a man walking backwards for hours. I love seeing what the students get up to and perhaps don't do this as often as I should. However my nosiness was rewarded the other day when I asked a student why he was taking photos in the library and it turned out he had a an assignment to make a 1/10 scale model and he had picked a spot in the journals. He showed us some photos this morning and it's almost like looking at the real thing (which is the object of the exercise). He also gave me one of the 500+ mini versions of a bound journal and has promised to give us the model once the assignment is finished. I love twee miniature things, I have decided that when I'm an old lady I'm going to have an obsession with dolls houses.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Second Life

A few months ago I signed up for Second Life but have hardly looked at it for weeks - it turned out to be very much a passing fad for me. This is partly due to technical problems, for some reason every time I log in I seem to have lost some of my clothes (no seriously!) and it doesn't seem to work well on either my home or office PC. I also got a little freaked out when people's avatars started talking to me, it's the idea that they are 'real' people so it actually matters what you say to them. The final clincher was that I simply got bored, there's lots to look at but there doesn't seem to be much to do, especially if you're not using it in a social way. I have come across a few people who are very enthusiastic, for example Sheila Webber who has a SL blog, Adventures of Yoshikawa which covers a lot of information literacy activities within SL, but I've not come across any of our students who use it. Perhaps this will change for future generations, especially those who have been members of virtual worlds for children, for example Club Penguin.
That's not to say that I don't believe SL has its uses, this morning there was a very good example on my own university website of a paramedic course using SL to create scenarios that test the skills of the students (finding someone collapsed outside a nightclub etc). They can check pulses, administer drugs and make use of the emergency equipment that they would carry in real life. Perhaps I shouldn't be so cynical...

Friday, 10 October 2008

Now that's what I call Library 2.0

Yesterday I attended an excellent one day conference in Manchester organised by the Cilip Multimedia Information & Technology Group. Called 'Now that's what I call Library 2.0' it was a day centred around the use of Web 2.0 'technologies' in libraries, although the broad range of speakers meant that the talks were really much more general than that.
First up was Russell Prue, 'IT evangelist, Inventor and Entrepreneur' - an incredibly enthusiastic advocate of new technology he was also very, very funny, not something you come across much at library conferences. I won't describe everything he covered in his talk but lets just say that it ranged from a collaborative attempt to complete the Guardian cryptic crossword to tales of interfering with Her Majesty's postal service with a GPS tracking device. Next was Phil Bradley, someone I've heard a lot about but have never seen in the flesh. Phil urged us to stop being so cautious about Web 2.0 and to embrace it because the pros can far outweigh the cons.
After these two talks I was feeling quite fired up and determined to get back to work and start using more of this stuff (I did suggest today that my Director start a blog but he felt that "it wasn't his style"). The final speaker before lunch was Iain Wallace of Glasgow Caledonian University - Iain is involved in the Spoken Word project which makes BBC material available online worldwide. The Spoken Word makes a lot of use of web 2.0 features to enhance its usability e.g. RSS feeds and one-click delicious bookmarking. Iain also discussed the functionality of library services, in particular OPACs (library catalogues for the uninitiated) and showed some great examples that used similar features to popular sites like Amazon and Library Thing e.g. including book covers, recommending titles that other users have borrowed, fuzzy logic searching and tagging. The examples he mentioned included the University of Huddersfield, Ann Arbour District Library, Darien Library, North Carolina State University and Plymouth State University (note the predominance of U.S. libraries). Someone based at Glasgow Caledonian could hardly give a talk without mentioning the Saltire Centre, currently one of the best known library buildings in the U.K., what I hadn't heard before was that the Saltire occupies the same floor space as the previous building but has twice as many study spaces - this was achieved by putting a lot of the book stock into compact storage (something that we are considering when/if my own library moves in a couple of years).
Issues around library buildings came up several times during the day which is interesting when the theme of the day was supposed to be a little more 'virtual.' I even heard it being discussed on BBC Breakfast News this morning where they were debating whether public libraries should have coffee shops to attract more users or whether this would put off people who came to the library for peace and quiet. Personally I think that this debate is a bit old hat, we already know that we have to cater for all sorts of different users with group space, silent space and IT facilities - now the issue is how to get this balance right. In an academic context it was interesting to hear Iain's suggestion that we encourage more academics to hold tutorials in the library as this could encourage more interaction between academics and librarians, currently my own library is set up to favour the students and we very rarely 'allow' academics to book facilities such as the seminar room.
I have wandered off the point a little although talking about academics using the library leads me quite neatly onto the next speaker, Mark Stiles, an academic who in 20 years has never borrowed a book from his university library (Staffordshire) and rarely even goes in the building. As an educational technologist this is perhaps forgivable as he uses online resources (were there any to speak of 20 years ago?). Mark spoke for the motion "This house believes that libraries need to embrace Library 2.0 technologies in order to develop and deliver their services." He argued that learners will use the technology that they want to use and we shouldn't try to impose anything on them, one size doesn't fit all and we should utilise the technology to offer different models of support. Librarians need to see themselves as part of the community of learning not just as gatekeepers of information. Nick Woolley of King's College, London made a reasonably convincing argument against the motion, although clearly a Web 2.0 user himself the focus of his riposte was mainly on the semantics. He reminded us of our existing skills as librarians and of the technological changes that we have already embraced - Library 2.0 is simply another technological development that we will absorb into our range of skills. I couldn't tell you the outcome of the debate as I was sitting at the front and we weren't actually told, but I got the impression that those who voted for the motion (including myself) were in the minority.

The overall message of the day was that the world is moving forward at an ever faster pace, if we stand still and don't change then we will be perceived to be going backwards as we are left behind by the generations that use new technologies as an integral part of their study, work and leisure.

During the day we saw some great YouTube videos:
What kids are doing in their spare time -
Michael Wesch -
Ken Robinson - do schools kill creativity?

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Creativity on the web

One of the great things about the web are all the interactive websites - many of these were around long before pundits started talking about Web 2.0 and user-generated content. Here are just a few that I've come across:

Drawball is like a huge collaborative graffiti project on the web – it consists of a circular canvas that anyone can apply to draw on (you are allocated a tiny area that you zoom in on). The most fascinating aspect of Drawball is to view the history and watch as artworks are created, edited or covered by further artworks – sometimes it plays out like a huge colourful battle on the screen.

The Visual Dictionary is an attempt to represent words with photos from the real world e.g. by using shop signs , street signs, graffiti, tattoos etc. Given how many words there are in the English language currently it’s not very representative but there’s still an impressive number of words (view the A-Z as a cloud rather than as thumbnail images).

ArtPad is a very simple online drawing canvas – even less sophisticated that Paint. However, the results in the gallery range from the childlike to the highly sophisticated, which demonstrates that art is about the artist not the tools.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. has a number of Shockwave art creation tools in its Kids Art Zone. These include the Collage Machine which enables you choose from a range of coloured shapes – reminiscent of Matisse’s torn paper – and arrange them into an artwork.

Mr Picasso Head lets you create Picasso style faces and even sign your name in Picasso’s handwriting.

StyleShake is an online tool for designing your own fashion. Choose the fabric and the style and then buy it!

Seven Stories is the centre for children’s books in Newcastle, their website has a lovely feature that enables you to write and illustrate (in a very basic way) your own story.

My all time favourite site for kids is Make a Mr Men (surely that should be Make a Mr Man?)

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Death by Powerpoint

I was speaking to a lecturer today who presents his lectures the 'old-fashioned' way by just talking about his subject for an hour. Although I can do a library tour off the cuff I suppose I am still dependent on visual aids of a sort (pointing to things in library mainly) but if I'm giving a classroom talk I either do a live demo of e-resources or use Powerpoint. I tend to shy away from live demos if I can because there is a lot of potential for it to go wrong and because I get embarrassed by the long pauses while each screen loads (as the tumbleweed blows by) and fill in by making stupid comments. The fact that there are no computer rooms for teaching on my campus also prevents my team from running workshops which would be my preferred mode of delivery - although not always practical when faced with a class of 200 students.

So for library inductions Powerpoint is my friend, it does what I want it to do, I can manipulate the screen to show the perfect database search that would never ever work properly live and these days you can do some quite fancy visual stuff with it. Our Powerpoint presentations have got a little more sophisticated over time and with improvements to the software (we use Microsoft Office 2007). We are very aware of the visual impact and tend to use arty images that will appeal to the students. We put in links that will work if they want to use the presentation as a self-paced tutorial in Blackboard. We also use animation but try to avoid lots of whizzy effects if poss.

This year we are using two presentations: the first is up and running when students enter the classroom and is designed to attract their attention and give them something to focus on while we finish setting up. It consists of striking pictures from our image databases (Education Image Gallery, Bridgeman Education, ARTstor, VADS etc) on a black background with a description of each image - including copyright info of course. The Powerpoint rolls on gently in the background changing each image every few seconds - it seems to have a slightly hypnotic effect on some of the students. The second is a fairly convential library talk that my colleague Rachel Pownall has created but it uses visuals from our virtual tour that look really fresh, she also uses clip art and tools like Wordle to create interesting slides. With the revamped leaflets that we are giving out this year I feel that we're putting forward quite a professional image. I wonder what library inductions will be like in the future?

Did you know you can save Powerpoint slides in a variety of formats including jpeg? This is how I've inserted screenshots into this post. This a picture of Anthony Gormley from Education Image Gallery and an image from the virtual tour (above).