Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Finished the program!

With this post I will have officially completed the Columbus Library's Learn and Play program. It's been a lot of fun learning to create this blog and explore all the interesting new "things" that are going on on the web. It was an eye opening experience to find all the creative online tools to gather, organize, and share information. After going through this program I will no longer view the web as an overwhelming series of isolated sites. Rather, I see it as a vast data source that is fortunately populated by islands of coherence where I can organize my lifelong learning.

My favorite islands were:

--Bloglines, where I now get interesting feeds from favorite websites sent to me each day.
--The two map sites, Google Earth and Live Search Maps, from which I can view any spot on the planet in amazing detail.
--YouTube, where I can find an astonishing number of interesting and/or entertaining video clips.

And I'm sure I'll discover new favorites soon!

But in general the biggest thing I took away from this exercise is the understanding that the web is changing, and that old ways of using it (email, surfing, favorites, etc.) are being replaced by newer and more effective techniques. The trick is finding those islands--those organizing places on the web--where the vast chaos of the internet morphs into concrete learning.

The Columbus Public Library is to be commended for giving all of its staff--not just librarians--the push to get this exposure to Web 2.0. Now in turn we'll all be positioned to push for Library 2.0, the next generation of public libraries.

MOLDI, or books from your computer

Our 22nd assignment was easy: explore ebooks on the Mid Ohio Library Digital Initiative (MOLDI) offered through the CML website. There are some good books on there, from classics to biographics to novels. I'd like to use the service...as long as it is convenient. And for me, convenience isn't reading or listening to books at my computer, it's listening to them on an ipod. According to the site that isn't possible yet, so I'll have to stay tuned.

Podcasts--endless confusion.

Well, our 21st assignment is to look at podcasts. I have to admit, that this one is pretty confusing. I tried to find library or Darby related podcasts using online directories, to no avial. So I ended up subscribing to Car Talk podcasts! But at least I understand how podcasts work, how to search for them...and at least I don't have to worry about missing Car Talk any more!

Mussel video from YouTube

Next up...the most famous Web 2.0 technology, YouTube!

Here's a great video clip about freshwater mussels. It takes place in Kentucky, but it could easily be about Darby.


I'm up to step 18 in my 23 step process of learning about Web 2.0. This step involved exploring CML's Power Tools Page, a section of our website that exposes customers to many of the 2.0 tools we staff are learning about. One new site that I discovered is called Worldcat. The site is an online search of millions of books and other items available at libraries around the country. The site basically combines catalogs from libraries into one giant catalog. Another great idea from Web 2.0!

Another 2.0 Map site

I've come across a second great map site (in addition to Google Earth, which I posted about earlier). This one is Microsoft's Live Search Maps (http://maps.live.com/). Like Google Earth, you can scroll around maps and switch to aerial photos. But unlike GE, Live Search has a "bird's eye" view, which puts you in a view that you'd see out of a very low flying plane. The resolution is much finer than Google Earth's, and you can practically count each branch on each tree. Pretty incredible.

I'm posting a picture from the same site along Darby as the Google Earth image a few posts back, the confluence area where Little Darby (on the left) flows into Big Darby in Battelle-Darby Metro Park. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a way to post the exact bird's eye image from Live Search, so I had to settle for this lower quality aerial shot. You'll just have to take my word for it that the detail on the site is incredible!

Of particular interest in this picture is the difference in water quality between Little Darby and Big Darby. Note that Big Darby is muddy after a rain, while Little Darby is relatively clear. This illustrates how Big Darby is under increased pollution pressure, largely due to increasing development in the eastern portion of the watershed.

Joined a Wiki

Next step in my integration into the 21st century: I joined our library wiki. It was surprisingly easy to add content to the growing "book." I added this blog to our list of Favorite Blogs, and made some comments about my favorite movie and favorite leisure activity. Fluff for sure, but now I know how wikis work!

Processing documents without a word processor

Our next assignment is to learn about online document generators. These websites allow you to do everything you can do with your computer's office tools without having to be on your computer.

We used Google Docs. They have a word processing program, spreadsheet, and other applications, just like Microsoft Office software on my computer. You simply go online and create your documents, meaning you can do it from any computer that has internet access.

The best aspects of online docs is they appear to be compatible with, and interchangeable with, standard software generated documents such as Word, pdf, rtf, etc. I cut and pasted from a Word document with only one small font problem.

You can also publish your docs to the web (Google will automatically give them a url), convert them to other types of files, email them, and save them online. Pretty nifty!

Darby Wiki?

Our next assignment is to look at wikis. A wiki is a more formal information sharing tool (as compared to blogs, news feed collectors, or tag searching). A wiki has the form of an outline of a book, with organized subject heading or categories. The content of the "book" is then supplied by anyone interested in contributing to the wiki. The most famous wiki is Wikipedia, which is an online encyclopedia that is constantly growing as people add information about a near limitless list of topics.

I reviewed a few library-specific wikis, and it is clear that to have a successful wiki you need LOTS of interest and people with LOTS of time on their hands. Many of the wikis I looked at were very incomplete shells lacking content. This suggests that for a wiki to be successful you have to have a clearly identified purpose that a lot of people find valuable. It seems unlikely that you could build a fleshed out wiki if people don't want the end product.

Could a Darby wiki work? I don't know. I would certainly find it useful to have a single resource with information about all things Darby. But I'm doubtful that there would be enough people who would contribute to make it fly.

But what do I know? At least it's an idea to keep in mind. If enough people get in the habit of contributing online content, perhaps a Darby wiki would be a natrual outcome given all the interest in Darby generally.

Darby 2.0.

The major theme of the library's "Play and Learn" project is for staff like myself to learn about Web 2.0, and Library 2.0. These 2.0's refer to a new generation of interactive online activity. In Web 1.0, or the first generation web, users went to the web to gather information from websites. In Web 2.0, users go to the web to gather information, but in addition they interact with sites by providing feedback and content, by using a new generation of web-based tools to collect and organize information, and by sharing what they've learned with other users.

For Library 2.0, this means libraries will become more elaborate gatekeepers, or enablers, which help connect customers with the vast array of information and information tools available in Web 2.0. No longer will we just offer a static catalog of information source (mostly print). Instead we will sift through the everchaning Web resources and skillfully connect customers with those resources. And no longer will we focus solely on anticipating customer wants. Instead we will allow customers to inform us of what their wants are.

All of this makes me wonder if there is a new way of looking at Darby conservation. In the past, there's been a small but energetic corps of people working to protect Darby. This corps knew what needed to be done and tried to accomplish it. But in the future, I suspect that a more effective model is to use web-based tools to invite a larger group of Darby lovers into the fray.

The larger group is already out there, I believe. When we collected signatures for a moratorium on development in the Darby watershed, we had no trouble getting those signatures in the thousands. And the Darby Accord--the multi-jurisdictional agreement to limit development to environmentally sustainable levels--is a reflection of broad public support in Columbus and the suburbs for Darby protection. And finally, Metro Parks takes over 10,000 children a year into Darby to play and learn about the creek's wild creatures, creating thousands of future enthusiasts.

The question is how to best marshall these supporters to efforts to preserve Darby for future generations. I suspect that Darby 2.0 could be the answer.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Del.icio.us website!

Next assignment: explore the Del.icio.us website. This site/service is cool!

The idea behind Delicious is you can use it "tag" websites that you visit. If you find a useful site and want to remember what it was and why you liked it, you can assign one or more identifying words to it. Later, when you want to find sites about a given subject you go to Delicious and search for sites with that subject tag.

But Delicious is much better than this, because you can go there anytime and view everyone else's tags. In essence, the site is a big catalogue of websites that are about a certain subject. Unlike a Google search, you get hits for sites that someone has tagged as being about a subject, instead of just sites that have a given word in its text somewhere.

So, for example, I searched for sites with the tag "freshwater mussels." I immediately got a list of great sites, including one with a couple of articles by local mussel gure G. Thomas Watters. Think of the searching this tool can save, because you're basically viewing the results of other people's searching! You don't have to reinvent the wheel.

Here's the search I did...see for yourself.


Twitter: not impressed so far

Our next assignment was to explore Twitter, a service that allows you to keep in touch with other folks through quick, short messages. It's kind of like instant messaging from you computer (actually you can do it from your cell phone also).

I did some searching for Darby related "tweets", but found very little. Twitter is not about sharing complex information. It's more about keeping in touch, sharing tidbits about how your day is going, or just venting a little.

Personally, I can't see the attraction. I signed up and am following a few friends, but it doesn't seem a good substitute for a good converstation. And I don't like the fact that it adds another layer of responsibility to my day, since it would seem rude to ignore someone's message.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The next assignment for us is to explore the site LibraryThing. This site allows a person to create a customized online "library" of books or articles. I used this site to create a list of Darby related publications. It took about 5 minutes, and here it is:

I have this library saved on the site, and you can access it anytime. And as I discover other publications I can easily add them to my growing bibliography. Pretty cool!

Added a header

New assignment: play around with online image generators. It took all of five minutes to come up with a new logo for my blog, seen above!

Here's where I got it: http://imagetool.programar.net/

Monday, November 24, 2008

More on RSS feeds

Our second assignment on RSS feeds was to use various search tools to hunt for desirable feeds. A search of several of these tools confirmed that there is no specific Darby feed. However I did find an Ecology News feed that looked interesting.

Here's the link:


I Discover RSS feeds

As mentioned, this blog came about as an assignment--"Learn and Play"--at my job with the Columbus Metropolitan Library. One of the tasks in this assignment was to learn to sign up for RSS feeds, i.e. updates from websites or blogs that interest me. This save you the time of having to constantly revisit sites on your daily hit list: they send information to you!

At any rate, I accomplished that task but found out that none of the sites that feature Darby offer feeds. Hmm...I think I've identified a need. It would be great to have a site that offered timely news flashes about Darby. I'll see what I can do!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Big Darby on Google Earth

One of my favorite ways to study Darby is using the software Google Earth.

Google Earth is like flying in a spaceship. You start out viewing the earth from space, and then you can swoop down to view any place on the planet from a bird's eye view--usually to a height of a few hundred feet, depending on the resolution of the satellite photos the software taps for any given spot.

At right is a photo of the confluence of Big Darby and Little Darby at Georgesville in western Franklin County. It shows a rural mosaic of land uses, from the small town of Georgesville to woods and fields surrounding the creeks. Most of the land in view is part of Battelle-Darby Metro Park.

I can use the software to zoom in on any area of the watershed I want to see. This has allowed me to scout out promising areas to explore. It also gives me a great view of development as it spreads throughtout the area.

To sign up, just go to the Google home page and search "Google Earth." The first hit is where you sign up. This software free!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Where is Darby?

Here's a map showing the location of the Big Darby Creek watershed, in case you don't know where it is. As you can see, it is just to the west of the Columbus metropolitan area.
It's proximity to a large urban center is surprising to many, as human development almost always destroys the streams around it. In fact, Darby is the only National Scenic River that flows partly through an urban area. Fortunately, Darby is just far enough away--at least to date--that it has escaped major impacts from Columbus and its suburbs.
However, development has been creeping westward for years, and biologists believe Darby is at its tipping point. So does the national river organization American Rivers, which named Darby one of the Ten Most Endangered Rivers in 2004.
Since then, the communities in Franklin County (the county with Columbus and suburbs such as Hilliard) have agreed to an historic plan to limit development in the watershed and purchase large tracts of open space in the most sensitive areas on Darby and its tributaries. If it can be achieved, the Darby Accord will serve as a model for other communities trying to balance development with healthy streams.
This plan, the Darby Accord, can be found at this website:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Second Post--What's So Special About Darby?

Back in the early 90's, I came back to Columbus after graduating from Penn State. The change in scenery from the green hills of central Pennsylvania to the corn fields and strip malls of central Ohio coulnd not have been more stark. Although I loved Columbus--it was home, after all, to nearly every one of my friends--I was feeling depressed about the landscape I had returned to.

About this time I heard that the Nature Conservancy had christened a stream in Franklin County one of the Western Hemisphere's "Last Great Places," along with other places like the Everglades and South American rain forests. This announcement seemed about as unlikely as finding an ancient city or a dinosaur skeleton in my backyard. How could there be one of the hemisphere's greatest natural features hiding in dingy old central Ohio?

The natural feature was of course Big Darby Creek, and my interest (soon to be passion) was irrevocably hooked. In future posts I'll begin to uncover exactly what the Nature Conservancy knew when it singled out Darby.

Here's a taste of what's to come: this photo at the right is of one of the rarest animals in the world, the clubshell mussel. Once common, this animal now is limited in range to a few select streams throughout the central U.S. Pollution and loss of habitat have led to its demise almost everywhere. But it still thrives in the clean waters of the Big Darby watershed.
The clubshell is but one of many strange and exotic lifeforms that can still be found in the Darby Valley. Like an Ark, Darby serves as a sanctuary for these creatures. When I found out about it, it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to spend much of my time learning about this mysterious place.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First Post--What am I doing?

I wish I could say that this blog is the creation of a technology early adopter. It isn't. Rather it is the result of an assignment at work. All Columbus Metropolitan Library employees have been "encouraged" to set up their own blog as part of an initiative to teach staff how to use new technology.

The initiative is called "Learn and Play," and the place I play (and learn) the most is Big Darby Creek. Thus the title of my blog.

So come along with me as I play in Big Darby and learn some things about digital and web technology along the way.