In a world where “everything is on the Internet,” public perception is that libraries are antiquated. The reality is that in a world of information overload, libraries are a valuable resource to vet credibility and, often, are the only guardians of content created in the pre-Web world. Now more than ever, the job of Librarian is about helping people access information. Curation, cataloging, and discovery — librarians sift through the continuing avalanche of written information to unearth the gems.
The question facing the modern librarian is how to connect with today’s tech-savvy populace and keep content accessible despite budget cuts. Interestingly, harnessing “the Cloud” may be the solution to both problems. Here are 35 ways librarians can use the Cloud to improve services, streamline their job and do more with less.
These tools work as an alternative to Microsoft’s expensive Office Suite. Choose from the products below to save money on expensive software licensing while also keeping software current with more frequent updates. These Cloud apps may also integrate with automation services (see below) for increased productivity and efficiency.
1. Google Apps is a cloud-based productivity suite that includes tools for email, calendars and documents. The Los Angeles Public Library is the largest library to make the switch to Google, in a cost-saving deal that phased out Microsoft Office products in 2009.
2. Office 365 lets users read and edit Office docs in a browser on PCs, Macs and tablets. Store and share docs using SkyDrive. If you are already using Microsoft products, Office 365 will get you and your team working in the Cloud with the least amount of friction. Start editing Word documents and Excel spreadsheets online. Then, store it all in SkyDrive for collaborative access.
3. Zoho is a suite of online web applications geared towards increasing productivity and offering easy collaboration. Zoho’s tools are another Microsoft replacement upgraded with additional features possible thanks to Cloud technology. For example, Zoho Show is a PowerPoint alternative that allows librarians to create, share and store presentations online. Create a “Show” to accompany a live presentation and let participants access the content later as an additional resource.
Another smart use of Zoho’s cloud tool is demonstrated on the Clayton State University website. The school uses Zoho’s Live Chat widget to let readers “Ask a Librarian” and get real-time help during business hours.
While a productivity suite can be wrangled into a clunky to-do tracker, a Web-based project management tool will get the job done easier and more elegantly. Librarians can log in from anywhere with an Internet connection to check the status of a task and make sure projects stay on track to meet deadlines.
4. Basecamp is among the most popular web-based project management and collaboration tools. It tracks to-do lists, allows file uploads, archives messages, and can be integrated with other Cloud services using apps like Zapier and IFTTT. According to Barbara Lewis, Coordinator for Digital Collections at University of South Florida Tampa, her library uses Basecamp “to plan, track and report project statuses” in the daily management of its busy library.
5. Redbooth (previously Teambox organize departments, track projects, assign tasks and get more accomplished. Like Basecamp, Teambox integrates with automation tools like Zapier.
6. Central Desktop offers an alternative to email, is less IT-heavy than SharePoint implementations and more functional than simple file-sharing sites. They call it a SocialBridge with customized versions for different types of teams. Chris Tonjes, former Chief Information Officer at District of Columbia Public Liibrary, spearheaded the transition to Cloud services, including Central Desktop, during his tenure because it enhances collaboration. The change allowed DClibrary.org to go from two contributors to more than 40 active participants. Librarians can now focus on content and explore creative ways to share media.
For librarians stuck using proprietary technology, the Web is a lonely place. Unlike internal systems that can be expensive or impossible to connect with external users, the Cloud makes it a relatively painless process to share and collaborate with others. These systems can simplify collaboration between librarians and academics from different organizations. Plus, they are operating system agnostic.
7. Dropbox stores photos, docs, and videos and access the files from anywhere. Data files can be shared easily using public folders — a real bonus for librarians who deal with the media and partner organizations. Store images and press release documents in Dropbox, then let journalists access the information with a special download link. No more worrying about file size restrictions when sending large email.
Do you manage an ereader lending program for your library? Dropbox is a great way to keep an ebook library synced across multiple devices. Load up a Dropbox account with DRM-free ebooks (like those from Project Gutenberg) and connect each ereader to the account. Now you can save time by keeping the reading material synced across all devices at managing everything from a single location.
8. Box includes a collection of data collaboration tools that make it simple to share files internally and with external partners, clients and vendors. The service is similar to Dropbox and can be used in much the same way for sharing files with outside users or syncing files across multiple computers. Want to share a promotional poster, marketing flyer or presentation with a librarian at another branch? Add it to your Box account and it will be available for her download immediately.
9. SugarSync automatically syncs files and folders across multiple computers, tablets and smartphones. The service also stores the last five versions of your files so it’s easier to rollback if a collaborator overwrites the wrong file. Revisions are a useful safeguard for librarians that work on committees and need to edit shared documents.
10. HipChat offers hosted group chat and instant messaging for teams that improves real-time collaboration through persistent connections, file sharing and saved chat history. This is a great service for librarians in larger cities with multiple branches. Use HipChat for quick meetings with department heads in different locations. A bonus is that the archives serve as a transcript of the meeting, keeping track of who said what and increasing transparency.
Providing “tech-support” often falls to the librarian on duty and it can be time consuming to answer the same help requests day after day. Cloud-based tech support may include options such as an archive of previously-answered questions, a moderated forum where users can help each other; or integration with social media so questions asked on Facebook and Twitter are managed in a central location. Moving support services to the Cloud can free up valuable time for a busy librarian and allow patrons to access services at their convenience.
11. QuestionPoint is a virtual reference service that provides around-the-clock, real-time reference assistance from professional librarians. Librarians team up and take turns answering questions, so when you’re not available patrons can still talk to a real librarian for expert assistance.
12. ZenDesk combines a self-service knowledge base with a centralized messaging system for customer communication. ZenDesk is an intuitive way for patrons to help themselves. Librarians can still moderate the forum and help with unanswered questions, but the time required to oversee the forum will be less than the time required to answer each support question that typically flows through the information desk.
13. LiveChat offers a real-time chat alternative to phone and e-mail that speeds up support response times. It also archives each interaction with reporting options so you can learn more about what your patrons want. LiveChat is a versatile tool that can do more than tech support. Because it works in real time, it can also be used to power a virtual reference desk.
14. UserVoice integrates feedback, helpdesk, and knowledge base management tools in one platform that works on PCs and mobile devices. Use it to gather feedback, answer questions and provide a searchable archive of support requests.
15. Freshdesk automatically converts emails, Twitter mentions and comments on your Facebook pages into support tickets so librarians can answer questions and provide guidance from a single system. It’s a great tool getting organized and it’s easy to use.
As content curation moves from paper to Pinterest, it’s important for libraries to find sustainable methods to manage digital curation. Curation is more than just collecting, it’s asset stewardship, and the tools used need to reflect the librarians goals of cataloging, maintaining and sharing data.
16. Delicious.com is a great place to curate and share a link directory. Use tags for special research projects. Swiss Army Librarian has a guide to using Delicious to create a Library Subject Guide.
17. URList (no longer active) make it easy to organize and share lists of links. Create a topical list of links, divide it into subsections, and share the whole list with a single short URL. Librarian’s Quest posted this article on how to create a reference list using the 2013 Newbery Caldecott award winners as an example.
18. FlipBoard allows users to curate new information from news sources, periodicals and social media. Create a topical magazine that library patrons can subscribe to follow via the app. Flipboard is best for ephemeral curation or current events. Librarians can catch up with “What’s new in the world of libraries” on the Flipboard curated by Jan Holquist or read up on new tools for librarians with Aaron Tay, a Senior Librarian from the National University of Singapore. Read Tay’s blog post about curation tools for librarians to find similar tools.
Cloud computing offers many ways to make data more social. Once online, librarians can share data to boost a library’s online presence, attract fans and connect with interested users. In addition, crowdsourcing through social media is a smart way to gather information that might otherwise be very costly — or not available at all.
19. Flickr is a great place to host historical images that are in the public domain. One of the most famous implementations of this comes from The Library of Congress which hosts nearly 20,000 photos categorized into sets for browsing by interest. Librarians at the Roselle Public Library District take a different approach, using Flickr to promote events and connect with the community.
20. Encore is a content discovery platform for sorting through vast catalogs of data. Use it to create a digital archive like this one from the Long Beach Public Library in California which hosts a repository of local history, that is accessible to residents and anyone interested in researching Southern California history. As a bonus, hosted media can be shared across any number of social media sites as seen on the LBPL’s Pinterest board.
21. LibraryThing started as a place for users to catalog books, but has also been extended with useful tools for libraries. A simple idea for getting started is for librarians to create a custom list of suggested books for summer reading and using the easy-to-embed Book Display Widget to promote the list on the library’s website or Facebook page. See more neat ideas for book widgets on the LibraryThing blog. A more ambitious project could include building an integrated library catalogue system like volunteer librarian Colm O’Conner did for the National Print Musem in Dublin, Ireland.
The power of the Cloud is it’s potential to integrate services. While it can be quite complex, there are also services that specialize in helping non-developers harness this power. With the Cloud and a little creativity, librarians can build amazing useful tools without a single phone call to the IT department.
22. Zapier lets non-programmers automate tasks by connecting events from more than 200 other online services. Use automation templates called “Zaps” to handle simple administrative tasks like automatically saving attachments, creating calendar items from to-do items, and free up your time for more important things.
23. If This, Then That is a lot like Zapier. It has fewer integration tools, but it’s also completely free. IFTTT has thousands of user-created “Recipes” — snippets of code to accomplish a task — that make it easy to get started right away. InformationTwist offers this guide to using IFTTT where he explains how he uses the service to aggregate library news for use as blog posts and tweets.
Another smart use for the service is the ability to crowdsource and archive local images from the community. Use a recipe to follow a hashtag on Instagram and automatically save photos to a folder on Dropbox (like this one for #ilovereading). For the best results, create a unique hashtag (like for an annual event or ongoing program) and promote it within your community.
24. SnapLogic another modular system for connecting data sources with online applications. SnapLogic is enterprise-level software, so the technical learning curve may be higher although tech-minded librarians may find the rewards are worth the effort.
Cloud technology is all about collaboration with integration tools and APIs that make it possible for developers to access information and use it amazing ways. When data becomes accessible, wonderful things happen. Libraries storing information on the Cloud can forge data-sharing partnerships, monetize through data-licensing and innovate data-discovery services to connect with modern information seekers. Librarians are curators of information, these services offer a way to bring it to the Cloud and distribute it.
25. TrackVia is a collaborative database solution that allows everyday users to manage information online. Start with a spreadsheet and create a mini-app for sharing data or collaborating in the Cloud.
26. HyperBase has the power of a custom database without the complex software infrastructure. Use drag-and-drop modules to create forms that collect data and make it available for use and analysis. If you’re currently using Microsoft Access, HyperBase is an online alternative for managing data in the Cloud.
27. OCLC is a worldwide cooperative with programs that advance librarianship and help librarians continue to develop the skills they need to meet the challenges of a demanding library environment. Their strategy is to help libraries archive the benefits of Webscale by working together.
Whether it’s a conference call for department heads or an author talk for patrons, Cloud technology offers many benefits over meeting offline. Using webinar software to increase transparency and engagement among stakeholders. Invite patrons to participate or allow streaming only, either way library users will appreciate being part of the process. Book clubs and Author Q&A events offer two more opportunities for live streaming from the Cloud.
28. Google Hangouts takes any event live in front of a global audience. Schedule events in advance to let guests RSVP their attendance. Record a Hangout for sharing later on YouTube. Johannes Neuer, associate director of marketing for NYPL praised Hangouts in this article from American Libraries Magazine about how librarians can use social media.
29. Skype started as a way to make free Internet calls, but it’s evolved into a full-featured residential VoIP communication tool with instant messaging, file sharing, group video and screencasting. Used for video calls, Skype offers interesting opportunities for librarians to add value to library programs. Consider setting up a Skype call with out-of-town authors for an audience Q&A, or having a children’s author read “live” via Skype for story hour.
30. GoToWebinar is more formal than a Hangout, but comes with a few caveats — pricing and advance registration requirements. There are benefits too, such as more control over branding and presentation. Increased privacy and live-recording options make GoToWebinar a great choice for training events. Live events can be archived and used later to train new hires as well.
In addition to helping individual librarians with the job of information sharing, Cloud services also present oppportunities for libraries to innovate and improve. With increasing access to Big Data, Cloud services are building unique services and discovery engines that library patrons will love. These Cloud services offer interactive features that will lead to increased engagement and a better user experience for patrons and librarians.
31. 3M Cloud Library Subscribed libraries can offer patrons an innovative way to browse, borrow and read popular e-books.
32. LibGuides empowers librarians with Web tools to help patrons find the stuff they need and show them information they didn’t even know existed.
33. Bibliocommons adds interactive features to library items with user reviews, comments and ratings. It also allows for increased engagement by letting users create and share book lists. Christina de Castell, Director of Resources & Technology explains why her team at Vancouver Public Library chose Bibliocommons to improve book discovery features with user reviews, ratings and recommendations.
34. LibLime Koha is an open-source Integrated Library System that can move the entire system to the Cloud. It offers Web-based patron services, community outreach, and catalog management.
35. OverDrive lends eBooks, audiobooks, music and video to users from a hosted, digital library. Borrowers get access to titles from top publishers on almost any device, libraries get resources to support and promote ereading.
As a bonus, check out these interesting Cloud apps and services for inspiration. These projects aimed at librarians and bibliophiles use Cloud technology to connect Open-Source data repositories and return amazing results.
1. BookLamp is a unique approach that uses data from The Book Genome Project to connect readers with the larger world of books.
2. Small Demon uses Creative Commons information from Freebase and Wikipedia to create the Storyverse a detailed directory to the people, places and things found in books.
3. Booktrack enhances the e-reading experience using synchronized soundtracks with music, sound effects and ambient sound.
4. WorldCat (from OCLC) is a worldwide network of library resources.
For today’s libraries, the core mission is the same as it was a thousand years ago, curate information and make the unknown knowable to anyone interested in learning. The libraries that succeed will be those that continue to show their relevance in an increasingly technological world. By taking advantage of advancements like cloud computing, libraries can make information more accessible than at any other time in history.