Skip to content

Making Local History Come Alive

July 28, 2015

As a Humanities Liaison Librarian, I have tried to make students more aware of resources in our area.   With students here from all over the world, I hope that they will use their time on our campus not only to make use of on-campus learning opportunities, but also to get a taste of the local culture.

For example, the eastern part of our state is well-known for its importance during the American Revolution, but growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I was much more aware of the historical sites from the French and Indian War.   Also known as the Seven Year’s War or the War For Empire, it is hard to imagine how different the history of our country might have been if the British had lost this war.

Within driving distance of our campus are Fort Ligonier, Fort Necessity, Fort Bedford, Fort Pitt, Bushy Run Battlefield, Forbes Road, and Braddock’s Road (which was fascinating to me as a child because General Braddock had been buried in the middle of it).

History students could visit all of these sites in a long weekend or learn more about them at the following websites:

French and Indian War in Pennsylvania –

Braddock’s Road –

Bushy Run Battlefield –

Forbes Road –

Fort Bedford –

Fort Ligonier –

Fort Necessity –

Fort Pitt –

For anyone who might be interested, the 252nd Anniversary of the Battle of Bushy run will be commemorated this weekend, August 1 and 2 2015.

How social is your social media?

July 22, 2015

For the past eight years, I have helped or solely managed public, special academic, and four year academic social media page(s) primarily using the Facebook platform. If your institution has not engaged in the social media realm or even if you have been working with one for years, I think that every social media manager can admit that with the constant, fast changing nature of social media, it can be helpful to gain any assistance and insight into strategies for connecting, posting, and beyond. As such, I recently attended a Skill Path seminar in Pittsburgh, PA titled Social Media Marketing. Even though the content was geared towards businesses, the basic ideals resonate with any industry.

The initial thought provoking question from the presenters was how social or fun is your social media? It was an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me as the presenters asked ‘why do you personally use social media?’ Do you want to look at generic advertisements plastered in your news feeds? With Facebook’s new customizable feeds, it is possible that people that have ‘liked’ your page never see your postings. My heart sank when I thought of all the postings I had created that did not utilize videos or pictures and were primarily textual micro-commercials about the library (i.e. services, collections, building news and events). I am rarely interactive and social in nature. As the seminar presenter suggested — give them something that they haven’t seen or a purple cow. (If interested in a purple cow example, ask me about the funeral home story below).

What is the best way to approach creating a social, social media campaign? With this question at hand, the presenters emphasized the importance of not just a social media policy (best to post one online for legal purposes) but an overall strategy the might change and revise based on different campaigns. Admittedly the idea of campaigns is a marketing term that I had not fully transferred to the management of library specific social media management.

What is the first step of any successful campaign? The presenters suggested creating a persona of one customer you want to target. In regards to academic libraries, I would probably target different services such as information about course reserves to freshman students versus finals week de-stress events to upperclassman in majors with especially stressful finals. I have noticed that this similar strategy is helpful when planning events in the library and partnering with a club or class can improve attendance. As such, I plan to reach out to these audiences via social media more directly in the future including posting on their feeds or direct messaging and asking the manager to post on their page(s). In the social media realm, typically it is a give and take relationships and if you post or retweet for me, I will do the same for you in the future.

While successful social media strategies are not created overnight, managing expectations by not overselling or setting the bar too high can lead to disappointment. Begin small and look for ways to enter into the conversation, for instance, recently a Twitter post mentioned that it would be awesome if colleges offered a buy one get one free semester coupon. I responded that academic libraries do offer free downloads of thousands of e-books, journals articles, and more- no coupon required. They proceeded to retweet and favorite this response creating important interactions and building relationships.

While we can never know everything about social media, academic libraries can create strategies for marketing every aspect of libraries’ via these platforms. In the meantime, I am thinking about ways to add more ‘social’ into postings and offering more interactive features, pictures, and videos. For instance, I am thinking about a behind the scenes, day in the life of a library student worker via videos and images or as a fellow colleagues mentioned a ‘behind the stacks’ campaign. I am curious to see how many library student workers know about the library social media pages and hope to gain more followers. I am also considering a contest among the student workers to help boost followers and likes.

Other interactive postings including pictures and videos ideas:

  • create hashtags for specific courses and offer virtual reference
  • reference referral videos or pictures and text
  • regular researcher features
  • pack the library Greek event hashtag supporting research rescue
  • lost in the stacks assistance via Twitter direct message
  • feature study group successes
  • stacks pictorial scavenger hunts
  • Twitter Bingo
  • Social Media Scrabble
  • interview students using the display windows in the library
  • create short videos on students tabling in the library

Interested in continuing this conversation or brainstorming more ideas, please comment below or email Skill Path offers other leadership seminars around the state of Pennsylvania on a variety of topics. The reference books related to the social media conference can be found here.

Adventures in 3D Printing

July 9, 2015
Micro3D printer, with spool holder, owl, and intricate box

There have been a few posts in this space already about 3D printing and the MakerSpace concept.  I mentioned in The Library of Now that our campus has a strong science focus, and as such, I have felt the need to delve more deeply into understanding the nuances of certain technologies.

Our first 3D printer, a Micro3D by PrintM3D arrived two weeks ago. Originally funded as a Kickstarter campaign, it is billed as the “first truly consumer 3D printer.”  Visually, it is beautiful in the style of most Apple products: streamlined, bright (ours is blue), compact, quiet.  At a list price of $349, the Micro3D is within reach for many people. It seems like the perfect gateway device.

I don’t intend to write an advertisement for the Micro3D.  Rather, I want to discuss some of the challenges we have encountered using it.  An Engineering instructor on our campus, experienced with 3D printing, told us it takes about a month to figure out the quirks of any printer, and I would have to agree.  Since neither I nor my colleague had experience with 3D printers, it has been a steep learning curve. The Micro3D has what seems like a convenient compartment underneath its print bed for loading spools of 3D printer filament, not unlike traditional sewing machines load bobbins. However, we never successfully managed to thread the plastic filament correctly in this way.  The “external” load option, which involves a much simpler process of inserting filament into the print head from the top, worked much better for us. Therefore, our first practical 3D printed item (we printed a cute owl first) was a bracket that someone else had designed specifically for hanging a spool of filament on the outside of the Micro3D.  We also successfully created an intricate box from a design we found online, to hold some of our smaller loan items.

The printer is currently running with a laptop on our circulation desk and has garnered a lot of attention (some printers require a computer USB connection, others operate entirely independently).  One of the most commonly asked questions is “Where do you get the designs?”  The most common and well-known repository for 3-dimensional design files is Thingiverse, although using Google can also yield relevant results.   A number of free, online tools exist to create your own designs.  I prefer TinkerCad, which is like an extremely simplified version of AutoCad.  Tinkercad is free to use, and allows for import of existing objects for modification.  Others have recommended SolidWorks, although I have not tried to use it yet.

The fine nuances of 3D printing are many, and we are keeping a log of what has succeeded and what has not.  We printed the box at the lowest resolution and settings, and it still took over eight hours to print (the software predicted 5).  That said, it is the most structurally sound piece we have created.  Some two piece designs did not fit together as promised.  Some designs need “rafts,” or bases, and others do not.  Some work better printing vertically and some horizontally.  Items may stick to the print bed – a friend loaned us a bottle of Aquanet, which when sprayed on the bed, is an excellent lubricant.  Right now, it is trial and error.  I find myself frustrated by what I do not know about design, mechanics, and engineering. My list of things I want to create is long, but I currently lack the skills to adapt or create designs correctly for my own use.

As we have taken advantage of the quiet summer to get to know our printer, we have started to think about how we might present it to the public as a service.  This is nothing special or new, a number of libraries have developed policies and procedures for 3D printing and worked out schedules and pricing. For now, we will offer any 3D printing in the library free-of-charge. The filament is inexpensive, and anything that would use a significant amount of it would take days to print.

In my attempt to develop language for some sort of policy for our 3D printing, I read the American Library Association’s “Tip Sheet” Progress in the Making: An Introduction to 3D Printing and Public Policy (2014).  It is a document that I do not find useful and am curious to hear other peoples’ reactions. Two pages are devoted to copyright, trademark infringement, and licensing.  There is the usual mention of the ease with which people could 3D print a gun or a sex toy.  While it is always useful to consider copyright and licensing, the alarmist nature of this conversation saps away any enthusiasm I might have as a user to borrow another person’s freely-available design and modify it for my own use.

When addressing the role of libraries as 3D printing increases in popularity, the document states, “Given the many policy questions 3D printing gives rise to, libraries will need to do more than provide their patrons with instruction in the basics of printer mechanics and CAD modeling and scanning.”  I am a pretty technology-savvy person, but the complexities of modeling something in 3D rather than 2D is something that is not coming easy to me.  Even in a program as simple as TinkerCad, the concept of objects resting on different planes, negative space versus positive space, and dimensions are all requiring me to use new parts of my brain.  Is this ALA document an attempt to calm or appease librarians who do not feel competent with technology that they won’t really have to learn it, that the most useful thing they can really do for their patrons is to write policies and follow them around lecturing about risks?

On the last page are three tips for library professionals, and this section is perhaps the most frustrating to me.  The first thing a librarian should do, apparently, is to familiarize ourselves with the basics of patent and trade dress law? Second, we should develop a policy addressing legal risks, while still encouraging people to have fun! To me, this is like encouraging children to play outside in the summer, but not before warning about ticks, ample application of bug spray and SPF50 sunscreen, and insisting on dressing in long sleeves, socks, and shoes. But go have fun!

I cannot claim to be an expert on 3D printing. I have used one (although I hope to build my own and use more this fall).  But I have observed other libraries purchase 3D printers and employ the technology.  My tip sheet would focus first on the logistics and on the technology.  What are the different kinds of plastics? Which printers are the fastest?  What types of objects will print well at a low-resolution? How can I create my own design? How can I modify another person’s design? What do I need to know about Creative Commons and licensing of designs?  What do I do if an object sticks to the print bed? How can 3D printers be used in education? In 2014, Educause released Making It Real, 3D-Printing as a Library Service. This, to me, is a much more complete and useful analysis than the ALA Tip Sheet, and provides some data and a case study about one academic library’s successful 3D printing program.

The ALA Tip Sheet does make a third recommendation: “Communicate with other libraries offering 3D printing services. Share your user policy and discuss emerging applications of your 3D printer(s) with others in the field.”  And so I am.

Lend a Hand

July 3, 2015

In my last post…”Ready, Set Fail!”…I discussed the idea that building a ‘making’ component into your library’s services/programs could seem daunting and fiscally difficult, but that even baby steps toward creating an atmosphere of collaborative creation could yield surprising results. In response to this idea I have heard from a few of our readers and their stories of triumph (YAY! GA Tech for using ‘making’ as a common platform for art/design majors to blend with Engineering students and afford each a fuller perspective for their efforts), but last I was blown away by a group from
e-Nable showing how we can put this technology and spirit of making to good use.

Beginning as a collaboration between a prop-maker and a carpenter from South Africa to provide a prosthetic for a small boy (watch the YouTube video HERE), e-Nable is a non-profit organization consisting of a growing community of designers, fabricators and volunteers focused on using the Maker movement and its associated technologies to craft and share low-cost prosthetic limbs for children in need globally. This FANTASTIC idea provides not only a purposeful platform for demonstrating a wider array of uses for 3D printers and maker-devices, but allows those blessed with access and ability to leverage their time for an incredibly worthwhile pursuit.


Anyone interested in volunteering their time, energy or Maker resources are able to get started by visiting or joining their Google+ Community.

We all work very hard every day for the betterment of our students and patrons. Let’s pitch in here to help THEM make a difference while they learn!

Unconferencing the Framework: A Follow-Up to “Does the Framework”?

July 2, 2015

I’ve danced around writing about this topic for a while now since it’s still so new to me (and maybe to many of us!), but I’d love to talk about the new ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. I learned about perspectives on the Framework at the ACRL conference in March and heard some ways in which librarians are using the new frames to work with their faculty and students. Some choose to map the new frames to the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, while others prefer to take the Framework as a brand-new, separate entity. Many map the new frames to previously existing curricula, assignments, lessons, and other materials, which were sometimes built on the old standards but can now be interpreted with the new frames as well. In short, we all seem to be working with it in many different ways, and hearing directly from other librarians about how they are interpreting and using the Framework seems to be one of the most useful steps in this process. The ACRL even includes in its Appendix 1 to the Framework the first two suggested steps: (1) Read and reflect on the entire Framework document. and (2) Convene or join a group of librarians to discuss the implications of this approach to information literacy for your institution.

As Adam Balcziunas discussed in his May 22nd post about the Framework, at the Northeast Chapter’s workshop on June 5th, we had an unconference session about the Framework. If you haven’t been to an unconference, they are sessions in which the participants generally determine the topics that will be discussed, and they are driven by discussion and conversation. In this session, our 21 participants formed three groups, each group addressing a specific topic related to the Framework. The two facilitators rotated around to all of the groups to hear and contribute to the conversations, and the large group came back together to report to everyone on their main discussion points. We had a fantastic group of librarians and support staff who were eager to share their thoughts and experiences regarding the Framework with each other and with our group as a whole.

Here are the three topics the groups focused on:

  1. How does the Framework describe the work we are already doing and help us to talk about it in a different way (or redesign it)?
  2. How do we introduce faculty to the new Framework, and how do we discuss it with them?
  3. How do we use the frames to develop instructional sessions or activities?

In a few brief descriptions, here are just a few of the main points that came of the discussions:

  1. Applying the Framework does not necessarily require a complete overhaul of established work. Frequently, the learning objectives of an established lesson, course, or assignment can be connected with the new frames, and sometimes with more than one Framework concept. Similarly, the frames can also be mapped to the syllabus of a class or to the overall curriculum and/or institutional goals.
  2. Introduce the Framework to faculty as a tool that explains what they already want their students to achieve, but the language of the Framework offers a chance to re-emphasize, refocus, and clearly define their goals. Successful work with at least one faculty member regarding the use of the Framework can lead to more faculty involvement; use your faculty success stories in outreach.
  3. As the Framework itself describes a process of creation, exploration, and conversation, more hands-on opportunities in the classroom seem necessary. Projects can include ideas such as having students create and comment on a portfolio of their own scholarship over the course of a semester. The Framework intentionally does not describe a sequence of steps, so the frames can be applied in any way that is best for the intentions of the instructor or lesson.

Are you working with groups of librarians, faculty, and/or other staff to discuss the Framework and how it can be implemented at your institution? What are some of your favorite ways to think about and implement the Framework?

How to create your own digital archive: DIY [a response to my own negativity]

June 24, 2015

A few months ago, I posted an article to this blog (“How to archive a digital file: Print it”) that some readers may have interpreted as a pessimistic screed concerning our futile attempts to archive digital materials for future generations [at least, I interpreted it that way].

Although my post was the product of considerable rumination (it hurt my brain and left me disheartened), I really hate to be that the kind of person who relishes in reporting what we can’t do. So I’m here to describe what we can do for better digital archiving [And for those souls who like DIY projects, I have included some notes so that you can do-it-yourself].

Besides the issues that I outlined in my last post, the main long-term problem with digital storage is “data degradation”. Things break down. Stuff rots. Entropy eats away at all order. In other words, your data decays and files won’t open.

How does this manifest? Bits of data disappear. This is sometime referred to as “bit rot” [this term is used for other phenomena, so for disambiguation purposes, see this Wikipedia page], but I’ll just call it “data degradation”.

Data degradation occurs in all media (hard drives, floppy discs, compact discs, tapes, etc.), and it ‘s hard to detect. You usually don’t know it has happened until you find a file that doesn’t open. By then it may be too late to recover it, or you may have to spend a small fortune employing a data forensics expert to extract as much data as she can from the damaged file.

The solution is to have utilities that constantly check for “data integrity” on archival media. These data integrity verification systems employ, among other things, checksums and/or cyclic redundancy checks (crc). When they discover that a bit of data has been lost, they generate a report concerning which hard drive has been effected.

But it’s not enough to know that a bit of data has disappeared. That lost bit of data has to be reinserted into the original file. That requires a backup copy.

In order to secure files from data degradation, digital archives require at least three components: 1) Multiple storage media; 2) Data integrity verification utilities; and 3) Backup systems. And all three must work in tandem. When a system detects that a bit of data has been lost, the archive must then retrieve the lost information from the backup system and reinsert it. But it must also advise the user whether the affected hard drive may be failing and that it needs to be replaced.

What if a hard drive fails completely? What if two hard drives fail completely at the same time? A good digital archive system will have enough redundant hard drives to survive such a calamity. Depending on the amount of storage needed, a user can configure a digital archive so that it survives even three or more hard drives failing at one time.

FreeNAS ( is an open-source operating system built for this type of need. It has the following components:

1) A FreeNAS machine contains multiple hard drives for storage and replication;

2) It employs the ZFS file system ( which provides data integrity tools;

3) It employs a RAID Z backup/replication structure for redundancy and restoration.

You can build your own FreeNAS machine. It isn’t any more complicated than building a regular computer. So for a fun DIY project:

1- Here is a guide for building your own FreeNAS machine:

2- Here is a guide for configuring the operating system on a FreeNAS machine:

Before you begin to build a FreeNAS machine, be sure to read the configuration guide first. The configuration of the operating system is critical to protecting your data, especially if you plan to use the machine “at work”. The author of the configuration guide, someone who goes by the name of “Cyberjock”, is very good at enumerating all the pitfalls of poor configuration that will mitigate all the advantages of FreeNAS. In other words, if you don’t do it right, you may lose everything: Everything. All your data. Gone.

For those of you looking for solutions “at work” and who are too frightened to configure their own systems after reading Mr. Cyber Jock’s guide, the FreeNAS website does advertise FreeNAS machines from a vendor. I have never used such a system; nor do I endorse them here. But they appear to exist.

I have read some literature from another vendor that sounds like its machines run FreeNAS, but the language is so vague that it was unclear whether the machines were “digital ARCHIVE” ready as described above. Data degradation is slow enough that most vendors aren’t concerned with providing tools to detect it. Most commercial storage systems are not created to store data for twenty, fifty, or a hundred years.

An alternative to FreeNAS is the software from the Data Conservancy Project begun at Johns Hopkins University: Its software runs on three Linux servers using Fedora and Solr, both open-source applications.

Last summer I attempted to create my own system using the DataConservancy software. I was not successful. I made it pretty far into the process, but in the end, there was a file from the DataConservancy that created the library structure (or some such thing) in SOLR that I just could not get to work.

For those interested in pursuing this as a DIY project, I have attached my step-by-step notes on the entire installation process that I completed successfully [I include my original document, an -.odt file made using OpenOffice, which offers working hyperlinks that move you around to different portions of the process. Also attached will be a -.doc version, but the hyperlinks don’t work in the Word version.] This includes many commands [for the dreaded Linux “command line”] as well as notes on discrepancies and other problems. If you follow the process and fail at the same spot I did, you still should have a working CentOS Linux machine running the Fedora archive application and SOLR.

Recapitulation: Digital archiving can work if the system has multiple hard drives configured to take advantage of data integrity and of backup/restoration tools. Such systems are within the reach of even the most budget-beleaguered organizations, because you can do-it-yourself. With a little help from a Mr. Cyber Jock.

Notes on DataConservancy Project-OpenOffice version– with working hyperlinks

Notes on DataConservancy Project-Word version

CRD-PaLA: A Great Way to Build Your Academic Library Career

June 18, 2015

Author’s note: I wrote a version of this article for the spring 2015 newsletter of the Western Pennsylvania West Virginia Chapter of the Association of College & Research Libraries ( I am pleased to be able to modify and share this with you. Thanks to CRD Board Chair Larissa Gordon for her review of my early draft and for her helpful suggestions.

* * *

When I began working in Pennsylvania in 2004, the general impression I received from many librarians was that the Pennsylvania Library Association (PaLA) had little to offer academic librarians. This surprised me. I had just arrived from Texas, where the Texas Library Association annual conference is one of the largest library events in the world–larger than most national conferences–and where academic librarians serve in key roles in planning, service, and programming. Because I lived in San Antonio, a major destination for conventions, I regularly participated in the annual conference planning group. In addition, because of San Antonio’s proximity and close relationship to Mexico, I also was a member of the Texas-Mexico Relations Committee, through which academic and public librarians in Texas and Mexico had the opportunity to meet, collaborate, and share information.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take me long to learn that maybe there was more for academic librarians in PaLA than my fellow librarians realized. I soon learned about the College & Research Division of PaLA (CRD-PaLA) and the information-sharing, funding, and even publishing it does on behalf of academic libraries in the Commonwealth.

For example,

  • In the spring, the CRD-PaLA board meets in person to review proposals submitted for the Pennsylvania Library Association’s annual conference. At this meeting, board members review proposals related to academic libraries and select 10 to 12 sessions to sponsor as part of an annual conference academic library track. In addition, at annual conference, CRD- PaLA hosts a luncheon featuring an often nationally known keynote speaker. At the 2014 conference, the speaker was Alison J. Head, Executive Director of Project Information Literacy (PIL).
  • Annually in the spring, CRD-PaLA hosts an all-day workshop on topics of interest to academic library personnel. In the past, workshops have focused on support for open access, e-books, the changing higher education environment for libraries, and digital and media literacy.
  • CRD-PaLA administers a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant that provides funding for a number of academic library-oriented professional development programs held throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This year, LSTA monies have supported programs on makerspaces, 3D printing, building community between academic libraries and their audiences, and bridging the gap between school and academic librarians in developing information literacy skills.
  • CRD-PaLA also periodically funds placement for an academic librarian at the PaLA Academy of Leadership Studies (PALS), an effort between PaLA and the Office of Commonwealth Libraries to offer leadership development for librarians.
  • Throughout the year, the division hosts several online educational programs through its “Connect & Communicate” series. Recent sessions have discussed open educational resources (OERs), digital learning objects and materials, diverse literacies, and circulating iPads through your library.
  • CRD-PaLA also is involved in sharing the voices and experiences of Pennsylvania libraries and library personnel. It is the sponsor of Pennsylvania Libraries: Research & Practice, aka PaLRaP, an online open access journal ( The journal is produced twice a year by a volunteer editorial team made up of CRD-PaLA members. Issues feature research and practice articles, editorials, commentaries, features, and news for, by, and about Pennsylvania librarians. While the focus of the journal has, heretofore, been on academic library topics, articles and news items about all types of libraries are welcome.
  • In addition, CRD hosts a blog, It’s Academic!, featuring news and opinions of academic librarians throughout Pennsylvania. Ten new bloggers were recently added to the crew (including yours truly); these bloggers provide fresh content regularly.
  • A column called “It’s Academic!” also appears regularly in the PaLA Bulletin, the quarterly newsletter of the Pennsylvania Library Association. Recent columns have presented views on open access, a wrap-up on academic sessions offered at the 2014 PaLA conference, and library use of Pinterest I just penned a column on scholarly communication (aka library support for research and publication) as a concern not just for academic librarians, but also for public and school librarians. See the PaLA Publications page on the PaLA website for more information and access,

Through CRD-PaLA, I’ve edited a journal, I’ve written columns, I’ve blogged, I’ve presented, and I’ve reviewed LSTA funding applications. In other words, I’ve gained valuable professional knowledge, honed my library skill set, and even rediscovered my career roots. (I used to be an editor in a previous, pre-library career life.) Hopefully, too, I’ve contributed my knowledge as well.

So if you’re looking for a place in the Pennsylvania academic library community, want to learn from it, and offer something in return, please give CRD a try. I’m confident that you–and your academic library career–will be glad you did.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 221 other followers