Recap: ILA Technology Petting Zoo

Yesterday was the Iowa Library Association’s Support Staff Spring Conference: Technology Petting  Zoo.  And I just have to say, I met some of the most awesome, forward-thinking, teched-out librarians in the state of Iowa, seriously.  About 40 librarians from around the state showed up, from their mid-twenties to their mid-sixties, and we had such a blast playing with Kindle, iPod Touch, Facebook, Smart Boards, digital cameras. . . &c!  After downing some yummy pecan sticky buns and cups of coffee (sorely needed after waking up at 6:30 am for the hour-long drive), we split up into 4 small groups and rotated around the room for 75 minute sessions with each of the 4 presenters.  So I guess I’ll just give you a little run-down on each presenter and what she or he brought for us to play with.

Louise Alcorn:
Reference Technology Librarian, West Des Moines Public Library

I am now fully convinced that I must have an eBook reader in my life.  At the petting zoo, I learned that Kindles and Sony eBook readers both hold word documents and PDFs, which would mean no more wastefully printing research articles (which I already refuse to do), and also no more having to lug around my laptop to read said articles that I refuse to print.  This has revolutionary potential!

It is also pretty exciting to think that I could take 5 “books” with me (well, 1500 on the Kindle 2, actually) when I travel.  Because, you know, what with being in grad school and working a couple of jobs on the side, I have lots of spare time for leisurely global tourism…

Here are some other things I learned about the Kindle — it’s proprietary to Amazon, which is a little sketchy, but it also seems to be gaining steam as the “standard” eBook reader (kind of like iPod became the “standard” digital audio player), which makes me think it might be worth it to go with Kindle instead of Sony eBook reader.  Unlike Sony eBook reader, Kindle uses wi-fi technology to connect directly to Amazon so you can buy eBooks from them whenever you want.  It also has a “read-to-me” feature, which will read the text aloud to you in a mechanical monotone voice, but some publishers got antsy about this because they thought it infringed on their right to market audio books, so publishers do have the option to disable this feature for certain books.

Kindle 2 sells for about $360 – you can find them on Amazon and eBay.  This is pricey, but the cost of the eBooks themselves are only about $10-12 for new releases, and many public domain titles are available absolutely free.  A new version of Kindle with a 9.7″ screen (instead of 6″) is also now available for pre-order on  And rumor has it that colored e-Ink might be coming out soon…

iPod Touch
This is a nice little wi-fi device the size of an iPod or an iPhone that will connect you to the internet wherever there’s a wireless signal.  Because it’s a wi-fi connection instead of cellular, you don’t have to pay a monthly subscription fee to use it.  It’s also handy for storing photos, music and videos.  The iPod touch comes in 8, 16 and 32 gigabytes, from $229-$399.  I wish it had more hard drive space, but I can still see myself having lots of fun with this one.  (What a great way to show complete strangers photos of my cats!)

We barely had time to talk about these super tiny laptops, but apparently they were originally developed so underpriveleged children could have their very own computers to use for schoolwork.  Eventually someone realized there was a bigger market for these things.  They’re nice because they’re so small, but they’re also lacking in RAM and hard drive space, so they just aren’t very powerful.

Marie Harms:
State Librarian

Smart Boards
You know how you can buy devices that will project your computer screen onto the wall so you can impress your boss with PowerPoint presentations?  Well, a couple of years ago someone came up with technology that actually allows you to move the cursor around with a special pointer and digitally “write” things on the projection and your computer screen, simultaneously.  Kind of like writing on the chalkboard, but super high tech.  Sadly, they cost around $2000-$3000.

BUT! Marie showed us how to rig up our own with a tripod, wii-mote and infrared pointer — ingenious!  The wii-mote communicates with your computer via bluetooth, and infrared technology does the rest.  This is one of the many reasons why I love librarians.

Marie was excited about GPS devices, and apparently there’s an entire subculture of GPS enthusiasts who have developed a recreational activity called “Geo-Caching.”  People hide things in parks (or wherever, really) and then they post the coordinates on a website.  Then you’re supposed to use your GPS device to locate the object and sign it, photograph it, or whatever.  Kind of like a cross between orienteering and scavenger hunting, but with fancy computers.  Stop by Iowa Geocachers Organization to read more…

One of the biggest obstacles to getting your videos up on YouTube is knowing how to convert them from a big, raw AVI format to a little, compressed MPEG format.  Marie suggested the software MPEG Streamclip, which you can download for free on the internet.  I love the internet.

Analog-to-Digital Video Conversion
A lot of library users, my mom included, are looking for ways to convert their old I Love Lucy reruns from VHS to digital format.  Pinnacle has a neat video transfer device for about $100 that will do just this — it connects to your VCR or video recorder with RCA cables, and then connects to your computer with either a USB, firewire or DV connector.  If you have a Firewire and DV port on your computer, these are much more efficient than USB.

David Marvitz:
Professional Photographer, Waterloo

Digital Cameras
David had some really nice tips about digital cameras.  Whereas in the film days photo labs used to process all the levels, colors, cropping, etc. for you, now you get to process your own pictures for yourself via photo editing software such as Picassa, Adobe Photo Shop, and iPhoto.  David recommends shooting the pictures at the highest resolution possible — some really high-end cameras go up to 12.0 megapixels — because you can always compress them later if you need to.  Most professional cameras shoot in a big, raw TIFF format, but you should usually convert these to a small, compressed JPEG or BITMAP format before you try to email them to your friends.  Most point-and-shoot cameras are very limited in what they’ll allow you to do, but the Canon Powershot SX 1100 IS is a pretty powerful little point-and-shoot that gives you tons of options for adjusting the aperture, shutter speed, white balance, flash, focus, &c., and it’s imminently affordable at $199 from Amazon.

Epson Scanners
David made my day when he told me that I could use my Epson scanner to scan the negatives of our old family photos.  It helps if you have negative trays for your scanner to help handle the negatives, but you can scan them without trays, too.  Then you can use software like this program I found in a google search to convert the scanned negative to a digital photograph.

Kim van Deest:
Information Literacy Coordinator, Waterloo Public Library

Kim had news for us:  “Facebook is for Fogies!”  In other words, it’s not just for Teens and Tweens anymore.  She walked us through the basics of Facebook, showing us how to set up an account and explaining the difference between a “profile” (for individuals) “page” (for organizations / celebrities) and “group” (for multiple people with a similar interest).  We also talked about adding friends, removing friends, security settings, status updates, chatting, emailing, changing profile pictures, and “throwing pigs at people,” i.e. applications.  Finally, she reminded us that “cyber bullying” is real and that we should report this totally unacceptable behavior to Facebook and the local authorities if we’re aware that it’s happening.

Twitter & RSS Feeds
We briefly touched on how to use Twitter and RSS Feeds, although the Facebook portion of Kim’s presentation was so engaging that we barely had time to talk about anything else!

This was such a fantastic conference — thanks to the ILA Support Staff and all the presenters for taking the time to make this the best conference it could possibly be.


2 thoughts on “Recap: ILA Technology Petting Zoo

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