Archiv der Kategorie: emerging challenges

Twitter reloaded

Contrary to the statements I made in the last issue, I’m now – slightly – optimistic that Twitter makes sense. In the meantime, I have 160 followers on, 43 on (unfortunately not any library user, I’ll come back to this later) and 26 on my private account. The number of your followers is the unerring impact factor of Twitter – 160 is not that much, the vanities in the library twittersphere (@librarycongress, @nypl) do have some thousands followers and real celebrities such as @google or @kevinrose run in the hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers.

The number of my postings in Twitter (remember, they’re called “tweets” or “updates”) grew to almost 400. Do not be under the impression that I have stopped working for my library – This was all done within the blink of an eye. To write your message in 140 characters or less is not as easy as it sounds, but you get accustomed and after some weeks it is far quicker and more convenient than to blog or write emails. In addition, with, I redirected my whole weblog postings to twitter – and I had nothing to do at all.

Don’t get confused
The only thing you have to keep in mind is, where you write what and to which source it will be redirected. That of course is true for the Web 2.0 in general: The tools are easy and straight forward, but if you redirect and forward your posts via Mashups to other social cites, it will get far more complicated. For example: do you write a wordpress blog? The plugin “Twitter Tools” [1] will post your blog entries automatically to your Twitter account. So far, so good. But Twitter Tools allows also the other way around: it will post your Tweets in the blog! Now beware: if you activate both options by mistake, both tools will run amok and pass on the entries to each other in eternity. Due to be networked/mashable character of the Web 2.0 this may happen with every tool. It is easy to lose track of the many Web2.0 sites, which you are using.

Is Twitter essential?
Twitter is certainly an important way to stay current on a lot of topics. Experts are twittering in many fields and can be followed. By selecting the people you’re following and by grouping them you can optimize your information gathering scheme. To follow too many people can be quite a hassle, so keep it small and simple. RSS makes looking for information far more comfortable, but maybe that’s because I’m already accustomed to it and follow only a hand-graded few resources.
On the other hand, Twitter is perfectly suited for libraries to get the news out. As I told before, its shortness and quickness aid the whole process of information pushing. And it’s a great advantage that you know your audience (your followers) by name.

Who follows you?
If I take a closer look on the 43 people who are following our library on Twitter, I have to confess that actually no-one is a user of our library. Guessing at the attitude of our students and doctors (I could easily perform a survey but I’m anxious), only 1% are using Twitter right away. It’s very much the same with RSS – nobody knows and nobody cares. Either the library is years ahead in using modern technology/Web2.0 or we are simply doing the wrong thing at the wrong time…

Nevertheless, the single most important parameter for successful twittering is to get your clients to follow you. Anne from the University of Hamburg [2] tells us, how this could be achieved:

  • Identify a few Alpha Twitterers and made them to follow you.
  • Look who is on the Web2.0-train; among science bloggers there are certainly many Twitterers.
  • Announce your Twitter activities on your website, which usually attracts followers.
  • To follow someone can be useful if you know him personally or he twitters on your library or you had responded to a tweet of his/her (actually most Twitterers are female – not surprisingly 😉 ).
  • You can even turn into conversations; for instance if something is asked, and you as a library knows the answer, then just answer it.
  • Take a look at your neighbourhood (see below).

Twitter Tools
How do you find fellow twitters in your neighbourhood? I was too lazy to look up Google and struggle through the results, so I simply twittered this question. Not surprisingly, I received hand-chosen results within minutes: One recommended, the other (but beware, they will tweet for you!). The third one works best for me: (search with “near:Münster within:15km”) is great and seemingly quite customizable. Today I joined the group “Münster” at, which organizes Twitter-like groups for universities and cities.

If you are too busy for Twitter or subscribe to hundreds of people, Twitter for busy people [3] lets us keep the persons, which you are following, quite organized.


The Twitter challenge

I recently came across Twitter and gave it a try. I ended up with mixed feelings and therefore would like to give you some of my thoughts on this universe of fast and endless messages. Twitter is often defined as micro-blogging[1] or continuous chatting. Each “micro-blog post” or message is limited to 140 characters. Sending and receiving messages is for free. The Twitter social network results from your subscription to messages of other users and their subscriptions to your’s. Contrary to Facebook this can be highly asymmetric[2], as messages of some users are subscribed by hundred thousands whereas they subscribe to only a handful other people. Despite this subscription thing, your messages can be red by anyone worldwide and will be found by Google too.

To fully perceive what Twitter is all about, as with every new Web 2.0 stuff you have to experience it by yourself. Dig in the twitter ocean and literally “twitter at the top of your voice”. Therefore I strongly recommend that you do two things to become a twitter expert yourself, in that very order: First, open up a Twitter account at, look up some people to follow (I suggest the usual suspects: davidrothman, digicmb, giustini, krafty, mlrethlefsen[3] … don’t follow too many people in the beginning). After a while lurking write your own tweets and see what happens.

To have a say in Twitter, you need to learn some Twitterspeak:

  • Tweets: Each Twitter message is called a “tweet”.
  • Following: If you subscribe to someone’s tweets it means you’re “following” him.
  • Followers: People who subscribed to your tweets (in Facebook they are called “Fans”).
  • #hashtag: Like in blogs, tweets can be tagged using keywords. Because in Twitter the tags are started with the hash sign (#), the tags are called hashtags.
  • @username: You can address messages to certain users by writing their name starting with the @-sign. This is regarded as a reply, but of course anybody can read this message.

Fortunately there are many Twitter tools which make twittering more comfortable: If you are already writing a blog you can redirect your blog posts to become Twitter messages. You can reuse your tweets in Facebook or make RSS feeds out of them. [4]

Is Twitter just a gimmick?
If you look randomly at tweets you may get the feeling, that it’s an incredible bunch of personal, irrelevant banalities. It is the same with blogs. And again, mass media experts are highly critical about Twitter as they were prejudiced about blogs. But if you dig deeper, you may find precious pearls hidden in the vast ocean of blogs and the same holds true for Twitter. There is one difference: The blogger who posts rarely, if ever, private things will be more intimate on Twitter. The medium changes the message.

Twitter can be successfully used for…
Did you know that Twitter is the third biggest social network site on earth after Facebook and MySpace? How can libraries use this great portal successfully?

  • Keep you up-to-date. Twitter is much more current than any other media and does a better job of getting news out, but remember that the needle maybe somewhat smaller (140) and the haystack has the size of the earth. Twitter makes it easy to recognize trends and ask questions: “What are people talking about right now?” You simply don’t get this material using the dinosaur search engines like Google.[5]
  • Keep and get you in connection. When you follow a twitter guy, he will notice it and maybe as a result he follows you. So you get in contact with people, which allows you to quickly identify experts. Mashups like twitnest[6] and Mailana[7] will show you relationship networks between users and who is where interested on what (Fig.1: Mailana graph of people discussing the term “medlib”).
  • Spread the word. The Research Medical Library at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center[8], twitter name: MDAndersonLib, posts regularly news about the library and has over 100 followers. lindyjb publishes an impressive list of hundreds “Libraries on Twitter”.[9]
  • Live-twitter conferences (@mla2009), surgical procedures (#twor), or make real-time satisfaction surveys with immediate follow-up for problem resolution.[10]
  • For more ideas take a look at Phil Bradley’s weblog: Using Twitter in libraries5, Twitter for Librarians: The Ultimate Guide[11], and iLibrarian: A Guide to Twitter in Libraries.[12]

Should I use Twitter?
Please notice, that the cost of being a technology evangelist can easily outstrip the received value.[13] Using Twitter can easily be addictive and eat up your day. Nevertheless I believe that as information professionals at least we have to know something about these new tools of communication. And now I would like to unveil the second thing you have to do to become an Twitter expert: watch the Current News video “Twouble with Twitter” from Super_Josh.[14] I hope it shakes your brain like it shook mine. Afterwards you will understand Twitter a lot better for sure.

[1] For a list of micro-blogging services go to Wikipedia:
[3] Or follow the “GroupTweet for Medical Libraryfolk”, twitter name: medlibs. BTW: My favourite blogger, T Scott Plutchak, doesn’t twitter apparently, which makes him even more pleasant 😉
[8] and
[13] Dean Giustini: “Technology Evangelist? Well Yes & No” []
Bryan P. Bergeron: “The costs of being first: Can you afford to be a technology pioneer?” Postgraduate Medicine 105(3) 1999 []

RSS – The Swiss Army Knife of the Internet

You will find several meanings for the acronym RSS – I stick to “Really Simple Syndication”. RSS is being used to distribute information. In contrast to HTML web pages or PDF documents, RSS-style information can be easily managed, manipulated, mixed or re-arranged and allows therefore for the syndication and synchronization of web pages.

RSS has experienced a widespread use in the last years. It is unique in contrast to other forms of web-based information such as HTML, Flash or PDF because you can subscribe to it. RSS is based on XML and, according to Wikipedia, it is one of the first applications of the Semantic Web. After the advent of desktop publishing in the 80s and the web pages in the 90s, RSS is considered the most important Internet technology of the 2000s. With RSS it is possible to control the flow of information far more effectively than with E-mail: with a click of the mouse you can subscribe/unsubscribe and so determine which information is “fed” to your desktop. RSS has become commonly used for dissemination of information in the scientific setting too. Some examples include:

  • RSS feeds of newspapers, news and broadcasting agencies such as the Nature news feeds (1), Reuters consumer health eLine service (2), Yahoo health news (3) (with in depth subject categories) or the feeds from the National Library of Medicine, USA (4);
  • PubMed searches can be subscribed as RSS feeds as well;
  • scientific journals offer table of content services via RSS;
  • libraries use RSS to inform their customers on opening hours, new services or acquisitions.

If you are looking for a directory of 6,000 medical RSS feeds, give Medworm a chance (5).

RSS feeds can be read by modern browsers, but to make the most out of RSS you should use a RSS reader such as Bloglines or Google reader. Please note that frequently RSS readers allow the up – and download of RSS feeds as socalled OPML files. This universal archiving format makes it easy to down- and upload comprehensive lists of RSS feeds.

How to create your own RSS feeds?
The easiest way to offer your own RSS feeds is to write a blog at platforms such as or These services automatically generate RSS feeds of your blog entries. So even if you do not promote the weblog as such, you could offer a RSS feed of the entries.

How to publish other people’s RSS feeds?
Because of the universal nature of RSS you can embed RSS feeds in any web page you like. For instance, the Google reader allows not only for easy reading of RSS feeds, but also for remixing und republishing them. Go to “Manage Subscriptions” and assign a folder name to some of the feeds you have subscribed to. You can choose from existing folders or create new ones.
Each feed can be assigned to more than one folder. Once this is done, go to “Folders and Tags” where you will find your folders listed with three options:

  1. public page;
  2. e-mail link;
  3. add a clip to your site.

The “public page” lists all entries of the specific folders on a dedicated web page. The second lets you mail around the link to this page, and the third provides you with a HTML code, which you can embed in any web page you like. This code creates a window or a box with the collected news entries from the very folder you have chosen – whether it contains one RSS feed or hundreds. They are nicely sorted by date and you can choose from a number of layouts. The German Central Medical Library shows on its homepage an example of such a “news box”. You will find another example at the sidebar of the blog of NVB-BMI (6).

With this method you can easily enhance your library’s homepage or your blog with additional information which are updated dynamically without any further involvement of you. At our campus we promote two such news feeds:

  • a feed of ongoing activities in our faculty, merged from news items from the university clinic, the Dean, the students and the library;
  • a feed of medical news from all over Germany, merged from various resources such as scientific newspapers, blogs, and press agencies.

Our customers love this kind of service because previously they had to monitor dozens of web pages to find the information we now offer all in one place.


Facebook yourself!

There is a common marketing rule, which seems to fit nicely to libraries in the digital age: “Use that very method of communication that the user prefers.” This may be Email, phone, face to face, SMS, Skype, ICQ, instant messaging, but also – increasingly – social networks. Email is out and social portals such as StudiVZ, MySpace or Facebook are “in”.[1]

A study on the communication behavior of the Millennials published by OCLC supports this experience: „It is to be expected that an online population equipped with do-it-yourself discovery tools will continue to expand their reach, as well as their desire to be self-sufficient, looking for information on their own in more and more places. Now experts themselves at search and find techniques, users naturally would move away from last-generation, “expert-based” information systems and gravitate to sites designed for them and by them, sites offering self service, quick access and limited rules. No authentication needed, no ILL forms to fill out, just free content and the tools to share it or create it.“ [2] As a result, the use of library web sites is decreasing. In Münster we made the experience that users visit our library’s homepage not by choice but by chance: The HTTP referrers tell us, that most visitors are referred to our library’s website from Google searches but not from local web sites. Millennials make more use of do-it-yourself discovery tools such as Google, social networks or recommendation systems than library web sites. As (real or self-assessed) experts they are more independent on library information services then one would like to know.

In that picture, social networking is more than just mingling with peers: “It is redefining roles, muddying the waters between audience and creator, rules and relationships, trust and security, private and public”[3] and between users and library, one may add. It is not sufficient to just pep up one’s library website with interactive features like RSS feeds, blogs or wikis. First you must ensure that the library’s homepage technically can act as a social meeting point and second that it is attractive enough for users to work with.

By that way: The demand to met the users where they are, is not new: “To continue to be vital to society, libraries must adopt new objectives. In particular, they must strive to participate with individuals in their cultural activities; passive, depersonalized service is no longer enough.” [Frederick Kilgour: “Evolving, Computerizing, Personalizing” American Libraries, February 1972]

The OCLC report recommended to increase the engagement of the library on social sites and many libraries, especially in the USA, have dependences at Facebook. My library created at first a profile on StudiVZ (Students Directory), the German competitor to Facebook[4] and with 4 Mio. users the largest social network in Germany. Even without much public relation, the library’s engagement was quickly recognized and welcomed. Students like this way to get in contact with the library management very much and obviously it lowered the barrier for interaction such as asking for improvements. Students even founded a group called “The residents of the medical library Münster” with about 70 members. From these informal contacts a joint taskforce for improvement of library services started.

Recently we opened a site on Facebook too. Facebook allows far more features than StudiVZ, and there are many EAHIL members too on Facebook to mingle with. Let me cite Anne Christensen, a colleague from the University Library of Hamburg[5], about the advantages of starting a library web site at Facebook:[6]

“For almost a year, it is possible at Facebook to build pages for products, companies or even libraries (yes, there is an extra-page type for libraries!). In the U.S., where Facebook is the market leader, the number of libraries with a Facebook presence increased rapidly. In relevant discussion forums there is an intense and ongoing debate about possible services from libraries via Facebook. Actually, a library page at Facebook is created easily: Upload a picture, addresses, opening hours, enter the RSS feed of your library’s blog: All in all no more than 10 minutes of work. Then: Wait for users (in Facebook there are called “fans”). Do not be afraid of the „empty restaurant“ symptom, because within a few days, people will quickly learn about your new offer. Mainly students will be attracted, who know Facebook before (maybe because they were abroad) and are therefore used to an international platform for exchange. In 2007 we invited all our 90 fans to a (physical) workshop on literary management – the training room was full and the parallel Facebook page of the event became a lively discussion forum. What else could you do with a Facebook site? For example a widget to search your catalog, which could be installed by your fans on their own sites (making them even more self-sufficient). Other libraries offer instant messaging applications or a counseling service on Facebook. The list of potential activities is long.[7] My conclusion: Facebook is an ideal playground for libraries in social networks. With little effort you can present your library – and any RSS-based services such as blogs and book lists can easily be integrated. You can met students at eye level and present yourself as trendy.”

If you act as an individual in these social networks, you should note however, that not everybody loves the interference with administrative supervisor such as librarians. In ACRLog, “StevenB” made us aware of students, who like to be among themselves: [8] “For the most part, [administrators shouldn’t use Facebook]. I’d much rather they stay out of it. However, I do have one professor who is known for being fairly hip. He’s on Facebook and I have no problem with this because I know he’s not going to abuse that position.”

So it seems that, all in all, the only thing to worry about is not the use of Facebook by librarians but by students. A recent study reveals, that medical students’ use of social networks is far from being professional:[9] „One of the major findings of this study is that medical students and residents are using Facebook [unprofessionally]. Many medical students seem unaware of or unconcerned with the possible ramifications of sharing personal information in publicly available online profiles even though such information could affect their professional lives.” They concluded: “Medical educators need to become more involved in electronic social networking.”


[1] Marcus Banks: „Facebook is so much cooler than an Email address“

[2] „Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World”; pg. 219

[3] footnote 2, pg.220

[4] StudiVZ is hold by Holtzbrinck, who also owns Macmillan Publishing.


[6] Anne Christensen: „Bibliotheken in Facebook“

[7] See for example Sarah Elizabeth Miller and Lauren A. Jensen. „Connecting and Communicating with Students on Facebook“ Computers in Libraries 27.8 (2007): 18-22.

[8] StevenB: „What students think of authority figures in Facebook”

[9] Justin M. Grimes, Paul T. Jaeger, Kenneth R. Fleischmann: „Medical students’ and residents’ use of online social networking tools: Implications for teaching professionalism in medical education“ First Monday 13(9):2008

Using a Wiki for the library

Last issue I put your attention on wikis, the Web 2.0 tool behind – for example – Wikipedia. I pointed to some useful health related wikis and the ease of editing Wikipedia pages (hopefully you didn’t edit that entry on EAHIL too much …). Today I found a nice definition: “Wiki pages look and act like normal web pages, except they have an ‘Edit’ link that makes it easy to modify existing pages and add new pages”.[1] In the meantime I was able to play a little bit around with some wikis – as well software to be installed as web hosts. Here are my experiences:

PBworks (formerly PBwiki)

If you look for an thoroughly easy way to start a wiki by yourself, there is no way around hosted wikis[2]. PeanutButter Wiki[3] (PBWiki) is a cute example and definitely worth a try:You can just cut&paste whole web sites into the editor and PBWiki will understand it – no need for sophisticated reformatting and remembering that ##xyz## is for bold and [[url anchor]] is for a hyperlink. That feature is a great benefit if you don’t start from the scratch, but have already some web pages to build on.

  • You can embed any RSS feed in your wiki’s sidebar.
  • You can choose from three layouts.
  • You don’t have to bother on technique, software, security, spam, storage, etc.

Take a look at the zbmed wiki, which I created in half an hour for our medical library.[4] PBWiki is for free, but – of course – you can upgrade for a fee. Eight dollars a month will give you seven layouts, 1GB storage, and RSS feeds for each page not only the start page. Even if the advertising mails are sometimes boring, the human support will reply to your questions in time (although they didn’t know, why the use of their new point-and-click editor crashed my FireFox browser). There were no problems with Microsoft Internet Explorer.


On their server, the University Zürich provides PmWiki for faculty, staff, and students. With this wiki software, Anna Schlosser from the Medical Library Careum[5] successfully created a wiki for internal management purposes. PmWiki[6] can be downloaded for free by anyone, it needs only PHP-support – a prerequisite nearly every web server provides. It comes with a nice and well organized layout, which can be modified by skins and templates. By using extensions (‘recipes’)[7] one can customize the wiki greatly and add new mark-up.


If you think in terms of user friendliness and acceptance, MediaWiki[8] should be one of the first options: It’s the very wiki software Wikipedia is based on. It’s free and can be installed on any web server with PHP and MySQL (but beware, it’s really huge) and provides the look & feel of Wikipedia to your wiki. Virtually anybody which you would like to make happy with a wiki is already acquainted with Wikipedia, so MediaWiki will be a real advantage. If you don’t have access to a server or don’t like to install and maintain hundreds and thousands of files, MediaWiki can also be used via hosted server, e.g. at WikiCities.[9]

WikkaWiki is a “flexible, standards-compliant and lightweight wiki engine”.[10] It is released under an Open License and can be used by anyone. It strikes me, because of its many features:

  • It’s much more plain and clearly laid out than MediaWiki and therefore easier to administrate.
  • It stores the pages in a MySQL database, so I could “just copy” my respective blog entries to the wiki.
  • Such as MediaWiki it can be installed on any standard web server which supports PHP and MySQL.
  • And last but not least: I know the developer 😉

How can you make use of wikis?

At my library’s blog we have a category called FAQ – Fragen & Antworten.[11] There we offer and archive the frequently asked questions of our customers and the respective answers of the library. Recently it became clear to us that for this kind of knowledge database a blog isn’t that useful at all. The about 100 FAQ entries were partly outdated, not linked to each other, and not easy accessible because there were buried in the huge overall blog. Both to promote this special set of information to our customers and to benefit from the wiki features, we created a distinct point of access by converting the FAQ entries to a WikkaWiki wiki[12] (Fig.1). The advantages:

  • Tremendously easy creating, modifying, and linking of pages: Just type a word with a capital in between such as MedicCenter and the wiki will embed a link to that respective page. If the page does not exist, a click on the link will let you create that page from the scratch.
  • A “Page History” preserves older versions of a page and makes it possible to restore it.
  • The reader can comment on the entries such as in blogs. If you don’t mind, the readers can even modify them.
  • The list of “Recent Changes” to your wiki pages keep you informed of what’s going on. Of course, you can subscribe via RSS to every page. If you write for instance a page on PubMed and keep it updated, the user will be currently aware, if there are downtimes or new features or whatsoever happened with that database.
  • You can fine-tune access and browsing by providing categories.

Knowledge-Wiki of the Medical Library Münster

A second usage for a wiki which hits you right in the face is the library homepage itself. With WikkaWiki you can easily create a homepage in no time, with Pbwiki you don’t even need a server and get your own web address in addition. Or make use of a wiki for promoting conferences. For the example, the organizers of the EAHIL conference at Helsinki choosed Atlassian Confluence[13], an „Enterprise solution wiki“, for their nice programme web site.[14]

Since years I had hesitated to take a closer look at wikis, because I was already satisfied by the features of weblogs and tried to concentrate on that tool. But now I’m somewhat overwhelmed and excited by the power of wikis. I will explore this Web 2.0 tool further and let you know.



New jobs for librarians

Foto: Luxuz / Photocase

1. Librarians as information sleuths
According to US NEWS, the librarian is one of the most underrated careers[1]: No longer mousy bookworms, they imagine librarians to be high-tech information sleuths in the oceans of information available. After summarizing the things librarians were doing (or even “performing”), they conclude: “On top of it all, librarians’ work hours are reasonable.” In contrast, most of our clients seem to have overrated careers: the clinical psychologist, the medical scientist, and … yes … the physician[2]. Their appeal is enormous and very rewarding, and prestige and salary is high, … but … in reality fewer and fewer patients see their physicians as godlike. The newspaper lists other liabilities: the long lasting and expensive education and training; the 90-plus hours a week; the stress of managing the office, of caring for noncompliant patients, of giving bad news, and so on. To conclude: my mother was wrong! Being a librarian by herself, she strongly advised me not to get into this boring and dull job. But in the light of these career evaluations, maybe my decision was not that bad!
2. Librarians as copyright managers
Nowadays, exciting as well as demanding tasks for the librarian “spring up like mushrooms after rain” (as we say in Germany). According to Lesley Ellen Harris[3], educators, librarians, archivists and other information professionals are involved in daily activities which must be undertaken within the confines of copyright law. With the Internet, often all of these non-lawyers must understand international copyright treaties and foreign copyright laws as well as the copyright laws in their own countries – at least on a practical level. There are many librarians and content owners who continually are negotiating permissions and licenses to copyright-protected works and who have much more practical experience than any attorney. These are often our colleagues with whom we can gain much insight.
Because of the almost incomprehensibly legal jargon, facilitators are needed. Librarian could do the job. They work at the very interface between authors and readers, where the copyright law is enforced. With their common sense they could explain the law to lay persons and lobby for comprehensible contracts.
New kids on the blog!
Marcus’ World
Marcus Banks is a member of the International Cooperation Section (ICS) of the MLA, so I got to know him through his ICS activities. He’s also involved with the MLA’s Task Force on Global Initiatives as well as book donating programs. Only recently, however, I learnt that Marcus writes a smart Weblog too. Marcus’ World[4] reports from every hidden corner of medical librarianship from ethical issues of living in a modern world to the advantages of dating by Facebook rather than by phone or email. His recent Survey on Health Sciences Librarian Blog Readers[5] caught my attention: Although up till now there is only some raw data available, the results are still remarkable.[6]
• medical librarians read on average 4-6 professional blogs;
• 70% attempt to incorporate what they read about in librarian blogs in their work;
• 73% follow them by subscribing via RSS;
• 76% read to become aware about new technologies and tools;
• 89% subscribe to listservs as likely or less likely compared to one year ago;
• 95% read blogs as likely or more likely as compared to one year ago.
Be sure to follow Marcus’ blog for updates on that survey.
Bibliotecari Documentalisti Sanità
A Weblog called BDS – Bibliotecari Documentalisti Sanità SSN7 has been initiated by Yvonne Perathoner from Bolzano as a forum for medical librarians in Italy. The blog is Italian-only, so for me it’s quite a challenge to follow it. At the moment, five librarians work on this collaborative project. Anyone who wants to join may ask to be registered by Yvonne.
Shelved in the W’s
Shelved in the W’s: Working notes of a hospital librarian[7] is a blog by the hospital librarian Mark Rabnett. Mark works at St. Boniface General Hospital, Health Sciences Libraries, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. On Shelved in the W’s he records his professional “hits and misses” with lovely humour. He likes classical music and German authors too – well, he’s definitely my favourite blogger!
Premier League, Hare Krishna, and Cochrane Library
What is the relation between the Hare Krishna community in Kazakhstan, the Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg and the evidence-based database Cochrane Library? Right! They’re all in need of support. And where do they look for support? Yes – at[8]. One, two, three – get a petition in a minute or less, for or against each and anything and collect furiously supporters signatures. The Cochrane Library[9] has 4571 votes (including mine), the Hare Krishna[10] 1005 votes and “Ban referee Mark Clattenburg”[11] (my favourite) 2532 votes. What the hell did Clattenburg do? During the derby encounter between Everton and Liverpool, Mr. Clattenburg made unprofessional blunders that changed the outcome of the game dramatically. He gave a penalty for a foul committed outside the box and initially going to give a yellow card, he gave a red card to the Everton defender after a Liverpool player told him something … and even worse.…
In addition to the Premier League, the National Library in Bucharest[12] wants to be rescued from a conversion into a quasi shopping mall glass box[13] (figure), but that’s not our main problem at the moment, because… „Cochrane for the EU“ is definitely a good thing and No. 1 in too. I am as much convinced of that goal as the two people who wants to “Ban Whaling Forever”[14]…

National Library in Bucharest
The proposed National Library in Bucharest

Wikis for health librarians
Eugene Barsky and Dean Giustini wrote an introduction to wikis as part 5 of the Journal of the Canadian Health Libraries Association (JCHLA) series about Web 2.0 technologies in health. Wikis are an especially valuable Web 2.0 tool. Everybody who knows Wikipedia knows also how a wiki looks like. Whereas a blog could be thought as a mile-long paper roll, a wiki is more like a stack of file cards. Whereas blogs are structured mainly by date, wikis are structured by topic. Whether you choose a wiki or a blog for a certain purpose depends on the answer to the question: Who should contribute? Wiki entries can easily be edited by anyone, whereas blog entries only by the author himself.
Would you like to experiment? I entered some information about EAHIL into the Wikipedia article “Medical Library”[15]. So please put this JEAHIL issue aside right now and point your browser to: Scroll down to Associations and click on [edit] on the right. Now delete “since 1987” behind the EAHIL sentence (it’s safe, I just added it today[16]). Then click on [Save page] – and no Wikipedia reader will know that the EAHIL is almost 21. Do you feel the power in your hands? Can you understand why hundreds of thousands people try hard to and voluntary improve Wikipedia? Believe me, the first time I added something to Wikipedia, I was both amazed and frightened about the ease…..and the obvious consequences if everybody does it.
Wikis do not stop with Wikipedia. There are many wikis around, including medical as well as medical librarian ones. Just to name a few:
  • Dr. Wiki[17] is an online repository of medical information with approved physician-only authors;
  • Ganfyd[18] is a collaborative medical reference by medical experts and invited non-medical experts;
  • PubDrug[19] is an open-access drug database;
  • WiserWiki[20], sponsored by Elsevier, is a book (Textbook of Primary Care Medicine, 3rd Edition 2000, by John Noble), which will be continuously updated by invited physicians;
  • UBC Health Library wiki[21] is an knowledge database for health librarians run by Vancouver University of British Columbia, School of Library, Archival and Information Studies;
  • LIS-Wiki[22] is dedicated to Library and Information Science. For example, a list of Weblogs for medical librarianship[23] is managed here;
  • Be sure to take a look at David Rothman’s “More on wikis for health librarians”[24] or the interdisciplinary directory Wiki-Index[25] (about 3.000 wikis, incl. a Harry Potter wiki[26]).
At the end of their paper, Barsky and Giustini suggested, that in the future, expensive sources such as UpToDate[27] will be replaced by open-access wikis. Consider the requirements, assuming this wiki will not harm people. If you would like to establish your own wiki or play around with one, there are two sites worth mentioning. WikiMatrix[28] helps you to choose the appropriate wiki host or software. Just use the Wiki Choice Wizard, compare Wikis or lurk at the discussion forum. Wiki site[29] allows you to start a wiki on your own within minutes – go ahead!
[16] / If it was deleted already, add it again.

Notes from the blogosphere

Foto: Hoellisch / Photocase

Quite a lot happened in the Medical Librarians Blogosphere since the last issue of this column – as well professionally as personally. Besides hundreds of individual blogs from medical librarians, there were only a handful “official” ones, inaugurated by professional organizations to announce and discuss professional topics in the members. The MLA comes with two official blogs which are worth watching. MLA president Mark Funk reports in his blog Only Connect! irregularly on his presidential duties, travels, and experiences in the office.[1] Secondly, the Task Force on Social Networking Software (SNSTF)[2], started a blog working on Web 2.0 software, suggested guidelines for MLA units or members wanting to collaborate via social software like. SNSTF is discussing hot themes like “Is staying current even possible?” and “love to hear your comments / nightmares / opinions on keeping up with 2.0 technology”.[3] For me it was a big relief to hear that even the technophile and most modern Americans librarians suffer from the rapid changes in our professional environment… The SNSTF did a survey of MLA members’ use and attitude towards Web 2.0. About 500 responded, and many claimed that some important web2.0 sites or applications are being blocked at their hospital due to tight security rules and firewalls. The results are made public as a 19 pages PDF full of charts.[4] The SNSTF concluded: “It is clear from the survey that new social networking technologies are important to MLA members, but only up to a point. While MLA members understand that these technologies may be important, they do not always see a personal or professional use in them (yet!).” [5]

Nearly unnoticed by the public, two blogs dedicated to medical library conferences were founded. They intend to provide information and news on the conferences, their organization, venues, social attractions, as well as topics and speakers way before they started. One could get a lot of insights and ideas long before (and after) the few days of the event itself. Take a look and be sure to leave some comments!

– 10th International Congress on Medical Librarianship, Brisbane, Australia[6]
– 11th European Conference of Medical and Health Libraries, Helsinki, Finland[7]

I’m fearing having to change my preferences, as my favourite blogger, The Krafty Librarian,[8] who regularly provides me with important news, details, and thoughts, is leaving her job.[9] Even though it isn’t yet clear, if the new job permits her to keep on blogging, I’m still anxious that this valuable source of information could dry out and nobody would point me ever again to exciting news such as “Librarians can help decrease hospital length of stay”[10] or “Are College Students Techno Idiots?”[11].

David Rothman is one of the most indefatigable bloggers around, and as a result his blog – Exploring Medical Librarianship and Web Geekery is the only one who is ranked in the top 10 healthcare blogs worldwide.[12] Congratulations! However, David recently suffered a spontaneous pneumothorax[13] and had slow down blogging for some time. Now – back again at his job – he feeled seriously pooped.[14] Nevertheless, his personal experience taught us much about thoracic surgery and NEJM videos on chest-tube insertion[15] as well as the benefits of the generous use of anaesthesia and conscious sedation.

Viewing at the medical librarian bloggership from a distance, one could get easily excited about their splendid variety. Not two share a common scope, each one express his or her own unique motivation, is written in a personal and characteristic way. For example, Krafty is writing from the essential day-to-day needs of a medical librarian, David collects all information sources one could imagine, Guus[16] will tell us everything on Second Life, and I posts everything what I think a German medical librarian ought to know.[17]

The blog of T.Scott[18] is unique in a different way. The MLA board member and former chief editor of the JMLA writes very personally and vivaciously about his life, wife, grandchild, playing in a band, loosing his hat – everything. When he writes about the profession, one really has to pay attention, because nobody is thinking so profoundly and thoughtfully as he does. A look at his two last blog entries may serve as a proof. Ethical boundaries for medical librarians[19] or Debating OA at the Charleston conference[20] contains many things like “libraries will become more marginalized in higher education institutions“, „there are plenty of potential hazards along the way [to Open Access]“, or „I don’t want to hear anymore about what we need to do to make ourselves relevant so that our libraries can survive“. First it’s amazing and even embarrasing, but then … I love the thought provoking kind of T.Scott quite much. It’s absolutely essential to get to know what really moves us.





Podcast is short for “iPod Broadcasting”, because it all started with the iPod from Apple Computers. Podcasting is nothing but MP3 files broadcasted to the public. Meanwhile, it’s common for big journal publishers and press agencies to offer information in form of audio or video files. Radio or television stations use podcasts to offer their programmes around the clock, that one can enjoy them whenever he or she likes to.

Subject podcasts

From among the scientific podcasts, most well-known are the ones from Nature on the fields Chemistry, Genetics, Heredity, Neuroscience, and Nature itself ( Quite a few universities and medical schools use podcasts for promotional and educational purposes as well, top examples worth to mention are the John Hopkins University health podcast, “a lively discussion of the week’s medical news and how it may affect you” ( or the Medical Edge podcasts of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, “making the daily audio and weekly video health news more convenient and accessible than ever before, and feature general health and people-focused stories covering medical breakthroughs and compelling health information“ ( Medical subject specific podcast could cover a range as broad as continuing education video courses for paradontologists (University of Münster), the American Heart Association’s podcast for the general public “on ways to lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke” ( or the Rheumatology Radio “the very first Rheumatology PodCast over the Internet” ( An extensive and updated list of podcasts in the field medicine is offered by Krafty Librarian at

Library podcasts

Medical Libraries too came across this new medium and tried to examine the benefits accompanied. So did the Health Sciences Library of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, which offers podcasts “that summarize highlights of library workshops and orientations that students can view in about 5 minutes or less. Podcasts include information on health information resources, database search strategies, literature and resource guides, Internet safety tips, general orientation to the library, and more. New library podcasts will be posted each month.” (

The central medical library of the University of Münster, Germany, uses a podcast called „Wochenrückblick“ (review of the week) to provide an continuous stream of news and information to its clients. The podcast summarize what happened in the library in the last weeks, which new e-books, e-journals, and databases are on the shelf or which budget constraints the library has to cope with. Introduction courses on how to search medical literature or how to use the library are planned. The podcast episodes can be subscribed – as everything in the Web 2.0 – via a news or RSS feed ( The weekly reviews can be supplemented by any material which you think is of benefit to your customers. For instance, training sessions or conference presentations can be recorded and broadcasted instantly. For me, a personal digital assistant (PDA) put on my talking desk worked quite satisfactorily.

Podcast Feeds

New versions of the browsers Firefox or Internet Explorer recognize RSS Feeds automatically, and therefore also Podcasts. With common stand alone newsreaders such as Bloglines or Feeddemon you can subscribe podcasts like any other news feed. However, only with dedicated podcasts clients, called Podcatcher, you can download and manage podcasts really comfortable (you may find a list at They enable they easy subscription, announcement, playing, burning, and synchronization with a MP3-Player. The most well-known Podcatcher in town is iTunes from Apple. What do you need technically to create your own podcast? There are surprisingly few gears needed:


As explained above, you can start with the built-in microphone on a laptop or a PDA or a MP3 player. However, for a better quality you have to buy external microphones or computer headsets. On the other hand of the price range I would like to suggest a dedicated mobile device such as the Edirol R-09 from Roland ( (which I use with an external Sennheiser microphone by that way). As an free application for recording and editing WAV files I use Audacity (, which is available both for Windows and Mac. Audacity is able to export audio files as MP3s if you add an free MP3 encoder such as the LAME Encoder ( iTunes can also convert recordings to MP3.


There are various software applications specialized in producing podcasts. You may find a suitable list at Podcasting Software ( Here comes a selection of software: Podcast Maker (Mac,, MAGIX Podcast Maker (, Jvw Podcast creator (, Open Source Podcast Generator – (

Finally the feed

When you have your podcasts recorded successfully, the only thing which is left is to upload the MP3 files on a server and the offer them as a feed by an XML file. Put simply, Podcast are MP3 files offered via a RSS Feed. To create Podcast Feeds you can use one of the Podcast Makers mentioned above or a dedicated software like Podcast RSS creator ( Even easier to start from the scratch are web sites, where you simply fill out fields that are used to generate the RSS file in need. Examples are Podcastblaster ( or Podcast RSS Feed Generator ( At some sites you can set up an account, to go back and add new MP3 files. Or you add new episodes by simply text editing the generated XML file. All you need to do is to duplicate the text bordered by the tags and manually enter the required information, e.g. Review Nr. 03, woche03.mp3, and so on – that’s it!

Starting a Blog

Foto: S.Charly / Fotolia

Starting a weblog can be as easy as to write an E-Mail. Content is King: Knowledge about technology or HTML is not necessary, the author can concentrate himself just on the content. 175,000 blogs are created each day – altogether 70 millions weblogs world-wide witness from the popularity of this idea (as of April 2007, doubling rate every 12 months). There are various tools for the creation and maintenance of weblogs. Most easy to use are free web sites like (now Google) or It really works as in the advertisements: 1, 2, 3, finished!

If you choose one of the freely accessible software packages such as or instead, it becomes somewhat more difficult, because they have to be installed on your own web site. But then you are much more flexible and could adapt the blog in accordance to your very needs and requirements. The WordPress software used by the author for various weblogs is open source, the most widespread blog software around, and based on the ubiquitous PHP script and mySQL database. Everyone with even some knowledge in IT can probably help if you encounter problems. If you choose to buy some server space on the web, it can be as cheap as 5 Euros per month to get PHP and mySQL support.


There is a multiplicity of tools to add value to your blog and thereby strengthen the interaction with your readers. Some are related to RSS (universal language to syndicate content): Tools to extract RSS, tools to merge RSS, tools to manipulate RSS. Some are coming from Google or other comopanies such as But most are Plugins, made available by the giant developer community of wordpress Many are just nice, some are useful, but that one is really indispensable: Akismet for filtering and deleting comment spam. Further useful Plugins are:

  • AutoClose Comments supports the protection against comment spam.
  • Get Recent Comments shows, like the name implies, the most current comments, as well as references from other Blogs (Trackbacks). Both promote networking and interactivity.
  • WP-Polls let you make votes on your blog.
  • Simple tagging permits the tagging of blog posts and the display of ‚related posts‘. 
  • Amazon Media Manager serves announcement and discussion of new acquisitions and is very useful for libraries.

If you use one of the web-based blog hosts, there are less features. However, they offer little “functionality boxes”, called widgets or page elements, which you can drag&drop into the layout template of your blog.

Fig.1: Enhancing the blog with widgets


The so called Feedscrapers enable you to extract an RSS feed from literally every web page with list entries. This is extremely useful, if the web page does not offer a RSS feed. A typical example are the press announcements of my university clinic. They display the news to the clinic’s homepage by means of a PHP/mySQL script, however a RSS feed was not offered. After some failed attempts with various Feedscrapers, finally I manage to extract the news with and transform them into a regular RSS feed. Now I can universally re-use these news, mixed them with other feeds, and offered them to anyone – in the library’s blog, in the library’s toolbar or in every web pages I desire.

Google Reader

Google reader can be used as a reader for RSS feeds only, but also you can publish public pages with it (“sharing/public pages”). You just define which of your own, subscribed feeds or posts you want to share with the public (“shared items”) by tags or by manually selecting posts. Like competing services such as or, Google reader offers a HMTL code, which permits the imbedding of the feed into any web page. You will find a nice example at the sidebar of

Yahoo Pipes

Only recently, Yahoo! started a Web2.0-service called Yahoo Pipes, which raised the idea of feed manipulation to a new level. It has a great flexibility; owing to the object-oriented interface you can arrange and work on every feed in the simplest way. The following image shows the Yahoo Pipe for the English translation of the weblog medinfo.

Fig.2: Yahoo Pipe for the translation of medinfo

Library Toolbar

Inspired by Guus van the Brekel of the UB Groningen, since 2004 our library is offering the free toolbar of The purpose was to promote our news feeds with this congenial toolbar, which could be easily installed by users and docks on their browsers. The library toolbar brought an powerful answer for two of the greatest challenges of today: The growing remoteness of the (scientific) user, and the fight for the browser’s start page. The toolbar supplies the catalogues and data bases of the library seaming less to the user. Independently of the very web site the user is viewing, with one click he can use the most important library services, were it catalogs, data bases, news feeds, or can immediately return to the library’s homepage. In order to gain the user, further useful sources were integrated: The German phone directory, the university phone directory, the Google PageRank, the University News, the University Clinics News, local weather forecasts etc. pp. – the toolbar permits almost unlimited extensions. Don’t miss Guus’ workshop at Krakow on Building a Library Toolbar!

First published in Journal of the EAHIL 3(2): 40-43 (2007)

Social Software

Blogs, Podcasts, RSS, Flickr, YouTube – there are many exciting services on the Internet for people who want to be heard. The maxim is: “From e-Services to Me-Services” or “Everyone is a publisher.” To put it simple, this services allow the broadcasting of text, audio, and video/images from many to many. They are developed for interaction of individuals, for communication in a social context, and for building communities, therefore they are called Social Software or Web 2.0. This regularly column will show the different services which are available at the moment and which may (and will!) emerge in the future. It will discuss these services in their meaning and significance for libraries. It will motivate you to use them personally or as a tool for enhancing your library services.
Using Web 2.0 in libraries is called Library 2.0 by some. Because this term is discussed somewhat controversial I will not refer to Library 2.0 in this column.

Items of possible interests
Let us start with blogs. Blogs is short for Weblogs or “Web log book” – a diary in web format. Blogs are organized chronologically by date (newest entries are usually at the top), are updated somewhat regularly with relatively short entries, includes many links, provides a unique URL (called a “permalink”) for each individual post, provide an “RSS feed” that “syndicates” the content, link to other blogs (called “blogroll”), and can be integrated via RSS into any other web site. In the very moment while you read this, Technorati (a popular search engine and aggregator for blogs) will track and organize over 60 Mio. Blogs world-wide – this figure doubles each six months. Most are private blogs, small diaries of every kind and quality: “I woke up this morning feeling really bad, nice breakfast with my dog I had, and a dispute which makes me really mad.” Kind of that stuff. But there are some professional blogs out there, which are of real benefit. In the following I will concentrate on blogs about any topic written by medical librarians or on blogs with the topic ‘medical libraries’ written by anyone. What blogs are out there and of interest for the profession? Four US/Canadian blogs are a continuously source of information, knowledge, tips, and hints: The Search Princple Blog or Google Scholar Blog by Dean Giustini, The Krafty Librarian by Michelle Kraft, T. Scott by T. Scott Plutchak, and by … ok, you’ve got it. In table 1 you find an overview of North-American blogs, ranked by popularity according to Technorati.

Especially T.Scott is a must-read for anyone interested in the very nature of medical librarianship. The former long time chief editor of the Journal of the Medical Library Association is a huge source of wisdom and with his deep thinking postings his blog is like lighthouse, not only within the blogosphere (blogosphere is the network of individuals which are interconnected by their blogs.) For sure, in the following columns I will refer to T.Scott quite regularly. In table 2 there is a list of the blogs from European medical librarians or libraries. Surprisingly there are some blogs which started earlier than the US ones and also there are some which much more frequent postings. Only blogs with current entries are listed.

Tab.1: US- and CA-Blogs

Tab.2: European Blogs

Euromedlib – an experiment
At the 10th EAHIL conference at Cluj, Romania, I had the great opportunity to deliver an empowerment session on blogs and RSS. I started an demo conference blog just before the conference named EAHIL2006. Without ever thinking, due to the interaction with other bloggers at the conference, this blog suddenly emerged into a lively conference blog with reports on sessions, clips from social events, and interviews with participants. Pictures from the conference were published via the Web 2.0 service Flickr and could be seen almost immediately by the networked participants – thanks to the excellent wireless LAN at the conference venue.
Motivated by the success- and joyful cooperation at Cluj, five bloggers from Sweden, Netherlands, France, and Germany decided to take this idea one step further and build a cross-border blog with an real European scope, called EUROMEDLIB – Items of Interests for everyone working in an European Medical Library. As it is stated in the mission of Euromedlib, “There is a strong desire for networking among European medical librarians. This blog serves as a starting point for what is at the heart of EAHIL”. You find Euromedlib at Every European Medical Librarian is invited to participate, either by writing or commenting posts.