Jul 11

Library Keyboards and Public Health

Do you sanitize your library's keyboards?  If not, perhaps it is time to start.

This study only tested computers in a healthcare setting, but it seems prudent to me that all libraries should see their computer keyboards and mice as a potential way to spread bacteria and should sanitize them daily to help reduce the risk.

When I first read about this study at The Krafty Librarian, I ordered boxes of alcohol wipes and waterless hand sanitizer, and posted them with this sign near my library's computers.

Full Text
Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2006 Apr;27(4):372-7. Epub 2006 Mar 29. [PubMed]

Jul 11

Idealware report compares blogging software

Via Web4Libs, Idealware announces a detailed analysis comparing the "seven top blogging tools."  Just skimmed it, and it looks pretty good!  Very useful to someone trying to decide on a platform for his/her new blog.  Free registration is required to view the full text.

We're excited to announce that Idealware, in partnership with CompuMentor/ TechSoup, has published a detailed report that comparesseven top blogging tools, including Blogger, TypePad, WordPress, andMovableType.

The report offers recommendations, a comparison chart, and detailed reviews that cover ease of getting started, ease and flexibility ofconfiguration, comment moderation ability, reporting, and much more.

View the full report at Idealware:  www.idealware.org/blogging_software/ (registration required, donation suggested), or view an excerpt on TechSoup: www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/webbuilding/page4998.cfm

Jul 08

How To Explain RAM to Non-Geeks

One of the responsibilities of my position is to teach classes.  In addition to the three computer orientation classes for new employees I teach each month, I also give classes on the general use of hospital computers, MS Office applications, and the use of hospital knowledge bases.

For some time now, computers have been used to support patient care, but with EMRs/EHRs and other clinical applications, computers are an integral part of patient care.  For this reason (among many others), clinicians need computer literacy.  At least once a month, someone asks me to explain what RAM is.  I don't want to just tell them it is an acronym for Random Access Memory, and I think the explainations available online are too complex for most of my students to start with.  With the goal of helping them understand the concept without overwhelming them with geekspeak, here's what I tell them:

Imagine your computer's processor as the little person inside your computer who does all the thinking.

Imagine that this little person inside your computer is so smart that he can think about multiple things at the same time.  Any time you open a new window in your computer (Microsoft Word, for example), he lays it on his desk so he can work on it. 

 So he's smart, but not infinitely smart.  He can concentrate on as many things as he can look at all at the same time.  So, say we open up a few more windows:


Okay, that's all good- he can see all six windows at once, so he's all good.  But what if we want to open up one more program or window?  It won't fit on his desk. 

What does the smart person inside your computer do?  He uses one hand to hold the seventh open window.  When it is that window's turn to be considered, he removes something else from the desk and places the seventh window on the desk. 

So now his ability to concentrate is constantly being interrupted by the need to keep swapping out items on his desk, so his thinking on ALL items slows way down.  What the smart little guy needs, clearly, is a BIGGER DESK so he can see more items all at once without having to swap any out.


So what is RAM?  RAM is the desk.  The more RAM, the more things the smart little person inside your computer can think about without slowing down.  When we doubled the size of the desk, we doubled the computer's RAM.

How do you explain RAM or any other computer concepts to people with no geek background?

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Jul 07

More from Google on Health Search and Directory?

Via searchenginewatch: It seems that Google's plans for a Health portal may NOT have ended with the disapointing Google  Co-Op.


Via PaidContent and VC Ratings, Google is working on a health portal named the Google Health Scrapbook. From what I understand there will be a "directory" for patients, doctors, vendors and pharmaceutical each. Google "users will be able to log in with their own account information and do things such as add a new medical provider, check their medical records or pay their bills."

Google has been rumored to be working on a health portal for a while. With the hire of Adam Bosworth, Google's Architect, Google Health we expected more. But when Google released Google Co-Op, those rumors were shattered. These new reports will revitalize the rumors that Google is working on a health portal.


Posted by Barry Schwartz on Jul. 7, 2006 | Permalink
Jul 06

Interfaces & Expectations of Users

Dean Rowan wrote some really interesting comments to a previous post that got me thinking.  As I was getting ready to post my reactions as a comment, I realized it was worth a post:

Thanks for your thoughts, Dean.  I've taken a little time to think them over and can offer a few responses:

Dean wrote:

"Any notion that library … users might need to bone up just a bit on the tools they use is anathema."

I think that it should be as easy to find a book (or other resource) in an OPAC as it is an amazon.com.  I believe this not because it would meet the user's expectations, but because amazon's interface is GOOD in that it helps the user quickly find what he/she is looking for.  I believe that a user shouldn't neccessarily have to learn an unfamiliar taxonomy or use a counterintuitive interface.  I believe this position is particularly in line with two of Ranganathan's wonderful laws:

  • Every book has its reader.
  • Save the time of the reader.

I don't think easy-to-use interfaces should be designed and adopted because they'll be appealing to users who don't want to learn new things.  I think easy-to-use interfaces interfaces should be designed and adopted because they serve the interests of the user.  (I also, by the way, believe that there is generally an inverse relationship between the power of a GUI and the ease with which it can be learned and used…and that multiuple interfaces should be available for any system to meet the needs of all users- but that's a post for another day). 

Having said this, I share what I think is your skepticism of "social applications" as library tools.  I think folksonomies and tagging are really neat, and I have no objection to, for instance, having users "tag" their favorite books in an OPAC- but at this point it is more of a gimmick than a useful tool.  I see (so far) little use for these tools except in the area of community outreach, but I'm waiting for Meredith Farkas to convince me otherwise, so I am keeping an open mind.

Also, I think I disagree with both you and Meredith in lumping RSS in with "social applications."  RSS could be described as a file format, maybe as a DTD or 'flavor' of XML, or maybe as a protocol, but it isn't an application and isn't really social.  RSS, for me, is about radical personalization, and paring down the avalanche of information on the web to just the golden nuggets an individual really wants.  Sure, making RSS feeds out of del.icio.us or Bloglines searches is sort of social, but that's not RSS- that's Bloglines and del.icio.us.

Dean wrote:

"But you show how users who don’t understand a technology’s limitations need to be coaxed into understanding them if they are going to reap the technology’s benefits."

 I think that's close to how I feel about it, but not quite.  I believe that librarians need to be excellent writers, teachers, coaches, and interface designers.  Like any good coach or teacher, I think the librarian should teach the user (or provide the user with documentation for self-teaching) as much as the librarian believes the user can usefully absorb.  If the user is able and willing to learn the details, great!  But since (for example) my grandmother just wanted to learn how to use Outlook Express so she could email her family members, step-by-step instructions were appropriate.  She doesn't need to know what "SMTP" means or what a "DNS" is.  She doesn't want to know, and my trying to force the knowledge on her would make her unhappy and anxious about asking for my help again.  Short version: I would agree with your statement above if you inserted just one word (underlined below):

"…users who don’t understand a technology’s limitations need to be coaxed into understanding them if they are going to reap the technology’s full benefits."

 Lastly, I really enjoyed this comment, Dean: 

"we’re urged … to believe that technology will not merely help us to make decisions … but that it will make the decision for us. And if it’s really good, technology will resolve our problems even before we knew we had them, thus dispensing with any sense that we have 'preferences' at all."

 I read it a few times to make sure I understood what you were saying.  I'll bet that, like me, you know people who find talk of a techno-uptopian future in which human rationality is superfluous ridiculous, and that these people are all technologists.  Technologists know how stupid computers really are!

 Thanks again for all the great foodthought, Dean!

Jul 06

Via NEXGENLIB-L: Best Geeky Job Description

Thanks to Jami Schwarzwalder for posting this to NEXGENLIB-L:


 class  DeveloperAcceptanceTest  extends  TestCase  {
   Developer  candidtate;
   Collection  team;

   public  void  setup()  {
       candidate  =  new  Developer();
       team  =  Interactions.getTeam();

   public  void  testTechnicalSkills()  {

   public  void  testGeneral()  {
       assertTrue(candidate.livesInIndianapolisArea()  ||

   public  void  testHumanBehavior()  {


class  DeveloperBonusAcceptanceTest  extends  TestCase  {

   String[]  bonusSkills  =  new  String[]  {

   public  void  testAcceptedCandidate()  {
       Collection  candidates  =  Interactions.gatherCandidates();
       Developer  toBeHired  =

       for  (developer  candidate  :  candidates)  {
           if  (candidate.equals(toBeHired))  {
               candidate.sendResume("[Click here for email]");
           }  else  {

Jul 06

David reviews Glaser on RSS. In a word: Oy.

Mark Glaser's "10 Steps to Making Really Satisfying Syndication" are really worth reading.  If he represents a user who is well-informed about RSS, we have a lot of work to do to better explain the technology and its uses.  Glaser writes: 

3. Automatically rank all posts or stories depending on how other people rate them, or by how many other people read them. Some sites such as Digg or Daily RSS offer community-rated news, but not within a news reader’s interface.

5. When pulling up one particular source, such as New York Times Technology or BuzzMachine, let me order the posts by Most Relevant to my preferences, or Most Popular by other readers, or Most Commented On (if they are blog posts with comments). That gives me a better idea of what I should read.

Cool idea, but wouldn't that mean (1) that you'd set up these preferences for sorting of your feeds and (2) that the feed should only be updated at long, regular intervals so that ranking/popularity data can accumulate?  Wouldn't that potentially ruin the immediacy of RSS?

…or is he talking about feed readers/aggregators that are designed to sort your reading list (either from a single feed or a group of feeds) by some sort of metadata included in each feed's every post?  Not clear on how he believes this should be accomplished.

2. Recommend stories or posts depending on my preferences. Give more personalization features that let me filter the barrage of reading material in a meaningful way based on what types of information I want and my mood. For instance, today I might want an emphasis on sports and business and tomorrow I might want updates on the War on Terror and political policy.

4. Show me related posts. As I’m reading, if I find a story that I particularly like, I’d like to see blogs that refer to that story or other stories that are similar to that one.

6. Learn my preferences dynamically. Based on what I read and click on over time, the RSS reader could start to order my sources and the articles by my past behavior. This is a similar functionality to the personalized news site, Findory .

How can the feed or the feed's creator learn the user's preferences?  Again, this would have to be a function of the reader/aggregator.

I don’t want the feed reader to add more time to my reading day — I want to subtract the searching, the yearning, the culling, the off-topic tangents that take me away from what I want.

10. Block news I don’t want. Maybe I’m tired of news from Iraq or the World Cup, or I’ve taped the Oscars on my DVR and don’t want to know who won them yet. Create a “block news” feature that lets me block news stories or blog posts on these topics that I don’t want to see.

First, this isn't a problem with the technology, this is a problem with Glaser's choice of feeds.  Second, if a user really wants to  streamline the posts he/she actually sees, there are aggregators to download and install on one's machine that will filter yone's results, or you can use something like Feedrinse and filter the feed before it even reaches your aggregator.

7. Tangent warnings. If I start to read articles or blog posts that are not in my preferred subject areas, the RSS reader should warn me in a polite but firm way that I am going off on a tangent and need to focus.

…..I actually don't know what to say to this.  Glaser wants nanny software that reminds him to concentrate? 

9. Highlight hot topics. A computer algorithm could search through all the stories I subscribe to (and perhaps related ones online) and find the hot topics that people are writing about and create a running list of these.

There are already many services that rank big news stories (see Google News) or big topics in blogs (see Tailrank).

While I'm picking nits:

You then use a news reader — either software or web-based — to look at all your sites at a glance.

I dislike Glaser's implication that RSS is (exclusively) for syndicating web sites, and I dislike his calling the software one uses to read feeds a "news reader."  There's so much more one can do with an RSS reader than get the latest headlines from Yahoo News.  I like "aggregator", "feed reader", or even "reader," but "News Reader" gives a mistaken impression of what the application is for.

Jul 04

David Rothman = WordPress n00b

So I had read all kinds of praise about WordPress and how there was no reason to use blogger.com with options like WordPress around- that’s why I installed WordPress for davidrothman.net.

Holy disappointment, Blogman! The WYSIWYG editor for posting in WordPress is buggy as all-git-out.

Am I perhaps missing something that I find this so much more difficult to use than blogger.com? Any tips or suggestions from those of you who use WordPress to blog?

Please post comments or email me: blog (at) davidrothman (dot) net

Many thanks in advance.

Jul 04

Recap: My notes on RSS for Clinicians

Just so I have it all in one place, below are the notes that Michael Stephens kindly posted on Tame The Web. I have tweaked the formatting to make these long notes more readable, and have added a few updates that are in bolded font. If you’ve already read what was posted at TTW, skip to the bolded stuff. Once I get this out of the way, future posts will address some really good points that Michelle Kraft brought up, and will share both ideas and tools to help Medical Librarians take every possible advantage of RSS for the clinicians they serve.

On the theme of how to sell RSS, I’d like to share how I’m ’selling’ RSS to physicians in my small medical library in central New York State.

A big challenge for physicians and other clinicians (especially those not in an academic setting) is staying on top of new developments in their field. This is usually referred to as “Current Awareness.”

Medical Librarians have done a number of things over the years to help clinicians with their current awareness needs. One older technique is to photocopy the table of contents of new issues of Medical Journals when they arrive at the library, and distribute them to the clinicians who want them.

This is, of course, very labor-intensive and time-consuming, and many medical libraries had to stop doing it because they no longer had the resources. A more recent method is for the library to subscribe to distribution lists that email the table of contents of a particular journal to the subscriber. The librarian can, of course, set up email filters to forward the right tables of contents to the right clinicians, but this method still has significant problems.

  • Not all Journals offer this service
  • The library must still maintain a complex list of which clinician wants which tables of contents
  • This isn’t very customizable. A gastroenterologist could, for instance, only want to see updates on Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and might not want to have to slog through all the tables of contents to visually scan for those articles that address his/her specific interests. Some physicians subscribe to these emailed tables of contents themselves, and find that they are glutted with so many items they DON’T want that they don’t have time to filter through and find the ones they DO want. Frustrated, some give up trying to stay on top of their current awareness efforts. This isn’t good for them, and it isn’t good for their patients.

But current awareness is more important than ever with the emphasis in recent years on Evidence-Based Medicine. The physicians I’ve spoken with on this topic have a very clear idea of what the problem is: They need the best and latest information, but they don’t have the time to filter the information for what they need, and medical libraries frequently don’t have the resources to filter it for them. Here’s where the opportunity to “sell” RSS comes in.

“How would you like it,” I asked our hospital’s head of surgery, “if you had one list of items from news or medical publishing on exactly the information you want. Imagine you could flip through this list and check off items as ‘not interested’, ‘maybe later’, or ‘the library must get me the full text of this article’. And what if, when you wanted the full text, you could click a couple of times to order it from the library?”

His eyes widened. “That’s possible?”

I asked him what the most essential journals he wanted to keep up with were and where he looked for news on general surgery. I then created a Google Reader account for him and subscribed to these sources. I then sent him the following:

Hello, Dr. Xxxxxxxx-

I have set up for you RSS feeds of the tables of contents for the three journals you named as most important to you (plus “General Surgery” headlines from Medscape) in a free Google Reader account (this comes with a bunch of other free services from Google that you may be interested in- please let me know).

Go here: http://www.google.com/reader/view/


Password: XXXXXXXX

This should let you browse through each item very quickly. If you don’t want to read further, just move to the next item.

If you want the full text of the article, go to “More Actions” and choose “Gmail this”. From there, you can send the citation directly to library@.org

If you just want to mark the article for review later, “star” it. Later, you can select “Your starred items” to see a list of just items you “starred.”

You can also add any labels you want to any item so you can find what you want later. (see attached image)

aggregator screen cap

There’s lots more you can do with this, and I know this will be an easier way for you to manage your current awareness than email. For instance:

  • You don’t have to use Google Reader for these feeds. You could install a reader on your computer like Abilon , use another web-based reader like Bloglines , or use Firefox browser extensions like Sage .
  • You can add not only feed that others have created but CREATE custom feeds via PubMed or HubMed. For instance, you could create a feed that would give you an item every time the phrase “General Surgeon” appears in Medline’s indices, in ANY medical journal. You could also use a service like Google News to add an item to your Reader whenever the term “general surgeon” (or any other phrase or combination of phrases) appears in popular mainstream news.

Please do let me know if/when you’d like some one-on-one time in which we can maximize the benefit of this technology to you. I have begun the process of building a web site to help Physicians learn and do this sort of thing on their own, but that is, at best, months away from completion.

Any feedback you care to offer, in any format, would be extremely welcome and help to shape the way similar services are made useful to other physicians.

Next, I showed this email to the Hospital’s Vice President of Medical Affairs, pointing out that he could use RSS feeds to stay on top of hospital management journals and news, too.

The VP of MA asked for an appointment to set up his aggregator the next day. UPDATE: I met with the VP of Medical Affairs for over an hour. He grasped the potential benefit to his information needs very quickly, and we set up feeds for him from medical journals (endocrinology/diabetes) and healthcare management journals, as well as custom news feeds on patient safety, regulatory compliance, and accreditation. Lastly, as the VP of MA grinned like a kid in a candy store, we subscribed in his aggregator to the NY Times Food and Wine column.

Hope Leman works at a Medical Library in Oregon, and wanted to build a site where clinicians at her hospital could easily and quickly subscribe to emailed updates for journals that her library subscribes to. She emailed me looking for input. What follows is what I wrote back, arguing that her project, MedGrab, should also offer clinicians RSS feeds.

I personally dislike email distribution of TOCs and encourage other medical librarians to abandon them ion favor of RSS. Here are reasons (off the top of my head) why:

    • I have met too many doctors that end up feeling overwhelmed by the flood of emails in their inbox and eventually give up.
    • One of the advantages of RSS is that you can be more specific (if needed) than TOCs. Example: A gastroenterologist specializing in IBD might not WANT every article from J. Gastroenterology. He/she might prefer just to get articles that contain the terms “crohns”, “colitis” or “inflammatory bowel disease” that appear in that journal.
    • It is much easier and quicker to manage the contents of an aggregator’s reading list than an inbox- especially when the inbox is used for purposes beyond receiving TOCs.
    • It takes time for a physician to open a TOC email and visually scan it for the information that interests him/her. An aggregator’s reading list organizes each article but its title, so a physician can decide instantly whether to ask for the full text from the library, or whether just to move on to the next item (…OR [as Michelle Kraft pointed out] to click on the “Original Item” link and access the article through PubMed Linkouts. Also, RSS is XML, so parsing it is pretty easy. An aggregator’s filters or a feed administrator [more on that concept in future posts] can help filter out information that does not fit the clinician’s needs.)
    • f a physician finds an article via an emailed TOC he/she wants the full-text of, it takes some time to email the details to the library. Many aggregators (like Google Reader) have an “email this item” button. I’m encouraging my first few users to forward the item directly to library@xxxxx.org (my library’s Literature Search/Document Delivery inbox). (OR, as noted by Michelle Kraft, click on the PubMed item for linkouts and go straight to the fulltext, if the library uses PubMed LinkOuts)
    • If the physician forwards the TOC details to the medical library to request full text, the details often WON’T include the PubMed ID. Often, they won’t even include Volume, Issue, or page, either (depending on the whims of the person at the journal’s publisher who decides how TOC contents are formatted). If you set up an RSS feed for that same journal from PubMed, you can be sure to get ALL the information needed to quickly acquire the full text.
    • Some journals don’t have TOC email lists. But you can generate an RSS feed from PubMed for any Journal you want, whether or not they offer TOC emails or RSS feeds. That way it doesn’t even matter that Elsevier (dang them to heck) is so far behind on RSS.
    • RSS is also just XML, really. This means that if you NEED to, you can convert the content of an RSS feed to HTML (for a web page) or to email! That way, you can still have email subscriptions, but ones that are MUCH more specific to the needs of the physician than TOC emails.
  • I don’t think that RSS has to be beyond physicians, and that medical librarians can develop tools to put the use of RSS easily in their reach. I see two ways of doing this, a web-based directory and subscription service and pre-configuration of aggregators.
    • Web-based directory: What I’m working to build (still in planning, not a keystroke of code is written yet) is a site that will let physicians find the sites they want (not dissimilar from rss4medics.com or MedWorm.com), and then subscribe to the feeds with a SINGLE CLICK. UPDATE: A web-based Medical RSS directory and subscription service is being developed to meet the needs of medical librarianship and is in beta now. I hope to provide a lot of detail on it soon.

I plan to make this feasible by allowing physicians to search by discipline, then separate into Medical Professional News, Mainstream Medical News, and Medical Journal articles.

Also making it easy for physicians will be having three subscription buttons for each feed. RSS (generic), Subscribe via BlogLines, and Subscribe via Google. The Bloglines and Google readers are powerful, easy to use, and will work on any computer with a modern web browser. All the physician has to do is find the feed(s) he/she wants, and click the button. That’s it. The physician is subscribed.

    • Pre-configuration of aggregators: In the email that Michael Stephens posted, you’ll see that I did a brief interview with the physician to determine is current awareness needs and wants, then created a Google Reader account and configured it FOR him. All he now has to do is log in and start playing with it. It took me about 30 minutes to find/create the feeds he needed and set them up in his Google Reader account. That may seem like a lot of time spent of the less tech-savvy docs, but the value to the physician is high enough that I’d be okay with it taking an HOUR per physician. Also, once you get them started, most will figure it out and be able to manage their own feed subscriptions. UPDATE: Another, perhaps better idea, is for the Medical Librarian to create and maintain online aggregator accounts for his/her users. That way, the pre-configuration is easier, troubleshooting is easier, and document delivery requests can be integrated and queued up for the medical library. This idea is currently being developed.
  • One of the tenets of Web 2.0 is radical personalization, right? I think that RSS allows for this in ways that email simply cannot touch. The problem used to be that Physicians couldn’t find information they needed. Now the problem is that they have far too much. RSS can help them get EXACTLY what they need- and no more.

Okay! There’s the recap all done! It is all new stuff from here on in.

Jul 03

Why Another Library Blog?

Share key There are a lot of really great blogs that make up the biblioblogosphere- I know because I read them, I enjoy them, and I learn a lot from them.

Still, I often find myself thinking: how does this apply to my library? I work in a small hospital library. I really do want to be Dean Giustini if I grow up, but my little library isn’t academic, it is purely clinical. Reading The Krafty Librarian for a few months helped me realize that the resources available to me were on a significantly different scale than those that Ms. Kraft utilizes.

I’m also right at the beginning of my education in librarianship while simultaneously handling the day-to-day operations of a library. My hope is that I am in a uniquely useful set of circumstances to read other library blogs, and to and routinely ask: How does this apply to my kind of library?

Where I’m lucky, maybe I’ll even have some work or ideas as a result. As Meredith Farkas has illustrated, perhaps some work or ideas can come from asking this question that can be applied to other libraries or in other circumstances.

(I also plan to attempt to provoke Meredith into coming up with truly useful applications of ’social software’ for a medical library.)

Heck, if Michael Stephens doesn’t get too sick of me, maybe I can even help influence the direction of librarian conversations online. (The simple notes that I sent him about Medical RSS echoed quietly through the blogosphere for over a week. Much more than I expected.)

A guy can dream, right?