How I Hacked Library School – WEB APPS!

The internet is awesome. And daily it is getting more and more awesomer. The best part is that a lot of what makes it great are the web-based tools that are being developed to help us users make sense of the vastness of the internet. I think we have gone beyond Web 2.0 (finally) and are now encountering a web where stuff gets done, efficiently, effectively and linked-edly. Some might call it Web 3.0, or the semantic web; I’d like to refer to it as Web as WorkSpace (WawS). The key to WawS? Web apps galore.

My Chrome WebApps

Since I am coming from an online MLIS program (Florida State University) I quickly acclimated to doing coursework online – in Blackboard and attending class in Elluminate. Those are fine for the basics (discussion boards, lectures), but what about when I have a Digital Library project due and my group members live in Florida and South Carolina, while I am in NYC? Our need to have real time collaboration in spaces that are easy to use and familiar led us to Dropbox, Google Docs, and Skype.  [Check out the process of my digital library project here.] In fact, I have been the biggest evangelist of web apps in any of my classes, and I have yet to figure out why more LIS students aren’t using WawS to hack library school. Want details? You got it:

Behind the curtain! HLS Editorial Wiki.

Take HackLibSchool for instance. For those who have been with us since the beginning you may know that this whole thing started as an article posted on In The Library With A Lead Pipe. Before that was even published, I set up Twapperkeeper to start archiving tweets with the #hacklibschool hashtag. The first iteration of HLS was a collaboratively edited, live on the web GDoc, content from which was then migrated to a wiki for organization. All of this was accomplished with little effort (and no $$!) on my end, besides getting it all set up and ready to go, and opening it up for others to access. Then, of course came this here blog. The editors are now using Google Groups to keep our conversations organized, scheduling posts and hashing out topics on a wiki, and sometimes we utilize a private Skype chat, GChat or Convore chat to stay in touch. Still pretty tame on the web app side, as most of these are familiar to many.

Web Apps are quickly becoming the way to get things done, across time and space. One of the podcasts I listened to today had a phrase that stuck with me, “Data is the currency of the web.” Finding productive and interesting ways to harness that data is a growing space that we can and should be aware of, if not actively engaged with, in fact Data Curation and Data Science are becoming more and more possible career options for LIS. My advice would be to sign up for everything and anything the looks interesting to you (most have a free trial) and figure out how the app can make your life easier. Check in on LifeHacker every once in a while. You might come away with something that makes all the difference in simplifying your workflow, group projects, or grocery list. But then again, maybe Watson already has too much control!

Web Apps I Use Regularly:

  • Dropbox – seriously. Quit stalling. My entire MLIS degree is in Dropbox.
  • Google Suite – Chrome, Docs, Cal, Gmail (Priority Inbox), Reader (RSS hacking is a whole other post!)
  • Postrank Chrome Etension – for filtering RSS feeds by engagement.
  • – Archives and indexes favorited tweets, GReader Shared Items, and more and makes them full-text searchable.
  • – To grab links, tweets, articles and “curate” them around a topic.
  • LucidChart – for making graphs & infographs, in a simple drag-and-drop web space.
  • Tweetdeck Chrome App – manages my Twitter life.
  • SimpleNote – Synced across all my devices. I use this for blog ideas, things to remember, lists…
  • Instapaper – for longer articles I want to save and read on a mobile device later.
  • GrooveShark – MUSIC!

Apps I Haven’t Yet Figured Out How To Use (Data Scrapers):

Where I learn about this stuff:

34 replies

  1. Nice! I should look into Dropbox instead of throwing everything into google docs, it’s getting cluttered. The only thing that I struggle with is trying to remember usernames and passwords for all the accounts I signed up for. Great post!


  2. I’m a residential student, but some of my favorite (and most productive) groupwork has been done through GoogleDocs. I love the comments feature and the CHAT! feature that was added recently. You can make a folder, share it with everyone in your group and then communicate and work together (synchronously or asynchronously).


  3. Evernote! I switched all my coursework note-taking to Evernote last month. It’s also a good place to store personal and work projects.

    I am thinking of splurging for the paid version. Anyone know if you have paid Evernote, why there might be a need for using Dropbox anymore? I think with a pro Evernote account it supports all file types.


    • Eira, as far as I know the paid Evernote account could be really useful and am pretty sure it holds all kinds of filetypes. Like Joeseph mentions below, each person will find the best use of apps for their workflow, so you may not need Dropbox. Its just a favorite of mine. Do let us know if you make that switch to Evernote and how you like it. Thanks~


  4. Hello Micah!

    I’m in the digital library class now, and I’ve actually found that some of my classmates are reluctant to try new web apps because they feel it will create more work, not less. This actually seems like a cognitive work style issue – not every tool is right for different people even doing the same job. As for Dropbox, some of us have good reasons for NOT wanting our work in the cloud, though I thank you for being confident enough in your own work to make it available for future students. Would you mind if I shared the link?

    I’m glad that we’re being required to use it for this assignment, however, and I do of course use lots of web apps myself, but I really think the extent to which they help is as easy to overstate as understate.


    • Hi Joseph (still planning to send you an email!). I would have a strong argument for someone who avoided web apps because of the “makes more work” issue. I’d argue that the entire point of most web apps, when used effectively, is absolutely to make work less tedious and in fact easier. I do agree that some tools don’t make sense for some projects, but me being the technology-crazed dude I am, tend to fall on the “try everything because the internet is exciting” side.

      I’d love to hear why people may not want their work in the cloud. As for LIS school projects, I can’t think why there’d be any reason to not utilize shared Dropbox folders or Google Docs over 100 emails back and forth. Maybe I just hate email (which is true!). And since we are all learning, even a poor project that is released on the web shows knowledge and capability to try, and embrace new tools. I’m not entirely pleased with that digital library project, but I share it so that others can see the process and do better. Please do share the link around! (Do you have Dr. Oh? She’s great!)

      Thanks for the comment and conversation. Good to have some dialogue here.


      • I do! This is my favorite class this semester.

        Oh I agree! I generally think that apps should be chosen because they’re simple and DO make work more efficient – that’s the whole point! We need to be open to learning new ways of doing things, as well.

        I understand the benefits of making your work public (or at least shared in a limited way), but I do worry about privacy – I’ve written many things that I’d prefer weren’t online, so maybe I’m a bit gun-shy. (That said, by Assessing Information Needs papers are all available online (though under regular copyright, not CC), despite one of them only being B+ level work).


      • Why are some reluctant to work in the cloud? For one, anyone who relies on desktop publishing features–i.e., those who must have professional looking documents requiring adherence to style guides and formatting standards–are going to be frustrated by web-formatted content. Has anyone tried writing a doctoral thesis with Google Docs? I imagine they would have a *lot* of reformatting to do if they were to choose this path. I was working to help organize the collaboration of a 167-page grant application (full of data tables), and Google Docs was quickly abandoned due to these formatting issues. (We wound up sharing the files via Microsoft Office Live and having a protocol for version control.)

        I am personally a diehard fan of collaborating through online tools, but it’s also important to understand the drawbacks of each to determine the right fit for a project.

        Lastly, I’ve found my LIS colleagues apt to adapt to cloud collaboration, but not everyone is used to these things. Group work is only as strong as everyone’s ability to contribute, and it’s often easier to go with the lowest common denominator than it is to cheer-lead in a new way of doing things and pull reluctant folks along.


        • Are you calling me out?! JK! Great points and thanks for pointing them out. I have had many instances in coursework where online collaboration has been more complicated than its worth, and you’re right, it doesn’t work every time with every person. I do however think it is important that the schools at least begin to provide an introduction to the possibilities that exist for cloud-based work. Thanks for the comment Melody.


          • Ha. Just thinking like a grad student here. 😉 Two other points that should be brought up:

            1) We forgot to mention that some cloud-based services mine your data for advertising purposes, and some might be reluctant to use those services for privacy issues.

            2) When collaborating solely online, sometimes that humanness of working together is lost. (I’m sorry I don’t have a better way to say it.)

            I just did a presentation project with two classmates and the bulk of our work happened through Google Docs. We couldn’t meet together much due to scheduling conflicts, and I hafta say I was disappointed that we couldn’t do more work in person. There’s something about brainstorming in the same room that you just don’t get with asynchronous document editing.

            But I agree that we should be deeply exploring these tools as students! Please don’t take my devil’s advocating to mean I’m not on your side on this. It’s a good topic and post.


  5. I don’t use Dropbox, but is it kind of like I like being able to share a quick link with a classmate or group of people instead of sending emails and attachments, but I do get nervous about having my work stored “publicly”. I don’t usually make anything searchable and public unless it’s going up on my blog.

    However, I do appreciate being able to upload my stuff for my private use. Don’t even ask me how many times I’ve lost PRECIOUS documents from computers crashing and/or lost jumpdrives. Don’t even ask me…


  6. I never even thought about reasons why you wouldn’t want stuff in the cloud (privacy issues). Maybe I trust a little too much.

    Last semester, before I discovered the full potential of the internet, I would forget my flash drive at school ALL THE TIME, so I would have to drive all the way back to retrieve it. Now I’m trying to go paperless and am figuring out ways to take notes through personal wiki’s. I’m using Type LInk at the moment.


    • Paperless schooling is a really interesting thing to try. I have been able to do it pretty efficiently since all my coursework is done and submitted online. I will say I use my iPad (with Dropbox and Goodreads apps) pretty extensively for keeping track of syllabi, assignments and readings. Maybe we should do a HackLibSchool Mobile Apps edition too?


      • A Mobile Apps edition! YES!
        Paperless schooling! YES!
        I’ve been completely paperless this year. My first “in print” assignment is due on March 4, and I’m trying to convince the instructor that an electronic copy is just as good.


  7. I store everything on Dropbox. It’s most perfect when I have to access files on different computers. My other big favorites are Read it Later and XMarks. XMarks keeps my bookmarks synchronized between my two computers, as does Read it Later, but the latter app is for those more ‘ephemeral’ pages that I’m not wanting to keep for the long term. It keeps things nice, tidy and consistent whether I’m at my desktop, laptop, or phone.


    • ReaditLater and Xmarks are great add-ons for Firefox users. For Chrome, there is a built in Bookmark Syncing feature. Saving and archiving bookmarks using webapps is a whole other issue we should take on too. I wrote about it over on my personal blog, with a cool worksheet comparing some popular services. Thanks Susan!


      • Firefox just added the bookmark sync too (kinda) — in the Beta 4 version of it — which I must say has gotten somewhat strange looking… Still haven’t tried out Chrome yet, what can it do that Firefox cant anyway?


        • I prefer Chrome simply because of the clean, minimal interface. It does away with a lot of unnecessary toolbars, and annoying space and just lets the browser be the portal to the web. And it has a really comprehensive “App Store” built in (see picture 1 in the post). To each his own, but I’ve been sold on Chrome since I switched (from Safari).


          • Interesting, I didn’t know of the app store. I know a lot of people that have jumped to Chrome, maybe I will have to give it a try. I’ve been using Firefox for so long though, I have my doubts that I can pull off a switch. Can’t hurt to try though, I suppose.


  8. I love this post. While I haven’t full made it over to Dropbox, I’ve utilized a lot of the apps you’ve mentioned. Google Docs is fabulous for collaborative projects, and TweetDeck is almost essential. I was surprised to see how many LIS students hadn’t even heard of some of these – including Twitter! – when I took the Web 2.0 class. I felt like a teacher’s pet explaining RSS feeds.

    During my day job, I can’t access anything non-work related on my computer (ugh), so i’ve learned to utilize these apps on my iPhone. It’s great to be able to find papers i’m working on…on my phone. I’m really excited with where the Internet is heading.

    (And Watson was so cool)


  9. Happy to see Needlebase made your list! I’m a soon to be MSLIS grad and former ITA Software intern – just did a few write-ups on my blog detailing my current Needle projects/experiments. This tool has so much potential! If any has any questions feel free to hit me up on twitter @akamarkman


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