News and New Ideas

Teaching Privacy in the Library

Alison Macrina, founder and director of the Library Freedom Project, was the star presenter at the June meeting of Minuteman Library Network’s (MLN) Teaching Technology Interest Group (TTIG). Alison’s presentation focused on a handful of tools that can be used in the library – on public computers, for example – as well as tools patrons (and librarians!) might want to use on their personal devices to increase their privacy from government and corporate surveillance.

The Library Freedom Project website has a “Privacy Toolkit for Librarians” section with dozens of additional tools. There are also slides available for the “Online Privacy Basics” class that Alison used to teach at the Watertown (MA) Free Library; these are under a Creative Commons BY-SA license (i.e. they can be used as long as proper attribution is given and any adaptations are available under the same license).

Here are the tools Alison highlighted at the TTIG meeting:

  • Tor Browser: TOR Browser logoThis alternative to Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox offers true anonymity by using a number of relays throughout the world; your IP address may appear to be in France, Iceland, Germany, or anywhere else. Each tab that you open in the browser creates a new circuit. Websites can’t track you, and your browser isn’t tracking you either; it doesn’t remember your history (Alison calls this “ephemerality.”)
  • DuckDuckGo: DuckDuckGo logoUnlike Google and Bing, this is “the search engine that doesn’t track you.” Google search keeps your data for at least 18 months, and Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, and other major internet companies have handed over information to the government before. DuckDuckGo offers private browsing and an escape from the “filter bubble” (watch author Eli Pariser’s TED Talk on the topic), so the results you get are as impartial as an algorithm can make them.
  • Privacy Badger: Privacy Badger logoPrivacy Badger is a plugin for Firefox and Chrome created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Its purpose is to “block spying ads and invisible trackers.” You should also set your browser to “never use third-party cookies.”
  • HTTPS Everywhere and Let’s Encrypt: HTTPS Everywhere is another browser extension from the EFF; it ensures that your connections to websites are secure (that’s the S in HTTPS) whenever possible. Let’s Encrypt is a new initiative – “free, automated, and open” – HTTPS Everywhere logothat will provide Certificate Authority (CA) for any website that wants it. It can be difficult to set up CA properly – one thing most people forget is to make HTTPS the default, which is what HTTPS Everywhere corrects – and Let’s Encrypt will ensure confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity (CIA). Alison recommends that all library websites, catalogs, and databases should be encrypted, and libraries should be among the first to sign up with Let’s Encrypt: “We care about privacy, we are tech-savvy, we don’t have the [resources] to do this on our own.”Let's Encrypt logo
  • Open Whisper Systems (“Privacy that fits in your pocket”) has Edward Snowden’s endorsement; they make tools for Android and iOS phones that allow private text messaging and phone calls (Text Secure and Red Phone for Android, Signal for iOS). Individuals can install these tools on their mobile devices to encrypt the content of their calls and texts. “Your mobile device is [still] a tracking device,” said Alison, but these tools help.
  • Password strength remains important for privacy and security, and most people don’t have strong passwords. Alison recommends the Randall Munroe method, as demonstrated in the xkcd comic “Password Strength” (although no one should use the example, “correct horse battery staple”). This method will help you choose passwords that are easy for humans to remember and hard for computers to guess, instead of the other way around. It’s important to choose four random words, which you can do using the Diceware list. Each word has a five-digit numerical code; roll a die five times to choose a word at random. Repeat three or four more times to get four or five random words to create a really strong password. (Bruce Schneier also has advice on choosing secure passwords; these are strong but more difficult to remember than passwords generated via the Randall Munroe/Diceware method.)
  • Password managers: Password managers require one long, strong (complex) password, then manage all your other passwords (for e-mail, online banking, social media, etc.) for you. Many password managers, like LastPass, are cloud-based, but as Alison said, “There is no ‘the cloud’…that just means a computer you don’t control.” KeePass logoKeePass is a password manager stored locally on your computer; a little less convenient, but completely secure unless someone gains access to your physical computer (and knows your master password).

Those are just a few tools available that can help protect privacy. In the last few minutes of the TTIG meeting, we discussed how to get patrons interested in protecting their own privacy. Alison suggested making DuckDuckGo the default search engine on public computers in the library, and posting signs to raise awareness (e.g. “You might notice your search engine looks different. That’s because we care about your privacy”).

Librarians can also bring up privacy naturally in the context of other reference and technology questions. Our goal as librarians, said Alison, is to help people make informed decisions, not to get them to use particular tools (though she’s a strong supporter of free software).

Do you teach privacy classes in your library? What privacy tools do you use, personally and/or professionally?


Teaching Technology: Assessment and Evaluation

Many librarians teach technology in public libraries – you might be teaching technology whether you realize it or not. Technology instruction comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors.

  • Group classes: anything from computer basics to specific software like Word or Excel to social media.
  • Group classes or one-on-one sessions: you might focus on library resources, or teaching patrons how to use databases or download e-books to their own devices.
  • Informal one-on-one teaching, i.e. the reference interview. Maybe you don’t have a formal instruction program, but you’ve certainly gotten questions about technology at the reference desk before.

So, we’re all already teaching technology, to some extent. But how do we know whether we’re teaching effectively? Assessment/evaluation is the piece that often gets lost. As important as our teaching efforts are, it’s also important to try to measure the outcomes of our classes and one-on-one work.

Anecdotal feedback can be lovely: perhaps a patron stops by the desk to thank you for helping her download an audiobook last week, or maybe a patron e-mails to say he’s been using the Ancestry database successfully now that you’ve showed him how. But it’s hard to measure these things, and hard to know what to change in order to improve based on anecdotal evidence alone.

During the March meeting of the Teaching Technology Interest Group, we did a lot of brainstorming around the topic of assessment and evaluation. The presentation is available below; blue text indicates content that was added during our meeting.

Intro slide to presentationTeaching Technology: Assessment and Evaluation

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

What does technology instruction look like at your library? How do you assess and evaluate your teaching?

The Overdrive Bugaboo

Hello, it’s Mike again and my how time flies–seems like it was last week but it’s been a month since I’ve written on the blog about the Zinio handouts I’ve created for our library.  In that post I mentioned my experience with Overdrive and how that got me away from using videos to teach patrons and in to the teaching 1.0 world of paper handouts.

The real crux of the problem with creating videos for using Overdrive wasn’t that I couldn’t do it–all it takes is a little (ok, maybe a lot) of time and free software like Camtasia.  The real problem was that after all the blood, sweat and tears that went in to creating the video I was left with something noone was using.  The Overdrive videos I had created for a previous employer had over 50,000 hits; the videos I created for my current employer were getting 5 or 10 hits a week.  The requests for one-on-one help kept streaming in and I was ready to tear my hair out after having spent so much time creating videos nobody used.

It was time to stop worrying and love the handouts.

I realize now that my previous employer’s community was filled with tech-savvy people who were early adopters of technology.  Even before libraries had eBooks (and before some librarians even knew what they were) we had patrons asking for them.  My current community, while filled with people who are tech savvy and want to get eBooks (and magazines, and newspapers, and music, etc.) from the library, wouldn’t necessarily be considered an early adopter community.

So what happened when I made the videos was that I was making them for people who weren’t necessarily aware of what YouTube was; they weren’t going to use the service to watch a reaction to Charlie biting fingers and certainly weren’t going there to watch a video about Overdrive.

Again–it was time to stop worrying and love the handouts.

Why don’t I like handouts?  Because they’re time consuming, you have to take a ton of screenshots, edit a lot of pictures, write in detail about each step, and then update them all over again five minutes later when the interface or steps change.  They’re also a lot like trying to write out instructions for your grandparents’ DVD/TV/surround sound system remotes–you have to write in a manner that anyone (and I mean anyone) can understand while still conveying a complex idea.

But handouts are a major way that people learn and it’s something they’ve come to expect.  They’re visual (hence the screenshots and editing a lot of pictures), detailed (hopefully in just the right way) and people can happily walk out the door with one when they ask you how to do something.

So, with that, I give you my handouts.  As always, feel free to use them in any way you feel fit for your patrons.  And please, provide examples of handouts that you’ve used or tips you’ve found helpful for handouts!

Android Devices

iPod classic

iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch

Kindle Touch

Kindle Fire

Nook Touch

Nook Tablet

Creating strong handouts (or workshops, or LibGuides, or anything else…)

A few days ago, my colleague Jason Homer and I were talking about a very bad habit that librarians have: we love information too much.  It’s so much fun to give out great info, that we we sometimes forget to stop.  Too much info, or badly thought out info, will ruin a workshop, class, handout or guide.  When I’m thinking about designing for info sharing I give myself rules:

  • Purpose first: if you know what the goal for the workshop or handout out, you’ll do better.
  • What should users be able to do after using this handout/attending this workshop?
  • Use a handout to focus the info, not to give all the info
  • Be clear with readers/class participants about the purpose of the  handout (“this info is on the handout, so you don’t need to write it down”)
  • Your outline should be clear on the handout, but you can include more info than you’ll mention in a class.
  • Do not fear white space!

Zinio – Digital Magazines for Libraries & Our Patrons

Hi All, my name is Michael Wick and I’m the Senior Reference Librarian at the Peabody Institute Library in Peabody, MA.  This is just the first of a series of posts I’ll be doing, highlighting the handouts I use in the library to provide instruction at the point of need.

Why handouts?  I have had huge success in the past while working at another library with how-to videos for Overdrive using Camtasia (an excellent and free-to-try software available online); I had created separate tutorials for each device and we gave a handout with the links to patrons who were asking for help.  While the videos were current, I think they had something like 35,000 hits between them.  Since I’ve moved to Peabody, Overdrive has updated and yet the videos still linger on that library’s YouTube page, gathering hits and confusing patrons who can’t follow the steps because of the app’s new layout, login process, etc. (just a reminder to keep your educational materials current, wherever you may keep them).

Anywho, after going through all the work to create a similar series of videos for Peabody, I was crushed when the hits anemically accumulated and the requests for one-on-one help kept streaming in.  Reluncantly, I bit the bullet and started creating visual and step-based handouts.  Unlike my attempt at YouTube videos, these have been so successful that I’m having to call in lumberjacks to fell more trees for the sake of my handouts.

When our library began a subscription to Zinio, providing patrons with downloadable magazines for their computer, smartphone, or tablet, I took a week to make handouts for each device before we did an advertising blitz announcing the service.  I made sure our branches had ample copies (as well as the original files to make more copies from) and that links to the handouts were predominantly displayed on our website during the month of the launch.  Since then, I’ve been astounded by the lack of support I’ve had to provide beyond the handouts.  Maybe the reason is because ebooks are in the zeitgeist and downloadable magazines aren’t, but the handouts fly off of the shelf, statistics for use of Zinio are high, and I’ve only done one or two classes and a handful of one-on-one tutorials for patrons using Zinio.

So, for your use, I’m adding the original files I’ve made to this blog so you can rework and reuse them as you’d like in your library.  Please leave your comments on how you improved upon the design for your learners or any other feedback you may have.  Without further ado, the links:

Android – Zinio

Desktop/Laptop Computer – Zinio

iPad – Zinio

Kindle Fire – Zinio

Nook Tablet – Zinio

New Content!

Keep your eyes open; new content is appearing here!  Links to tools and sites, handouts and more are here or coming.  We’re always looking for great new content: if you have tools that you love (handouts, syllabi, whatever), send them our way and we’ll make sure to link.



Live from the masslib14 panel (2:45-4, 5/8/2014)



We are ALL tech educators – we just don’t get credit enough. We have to work together and make it a core mission of what we do in oublic libraries.

Anna Litten started us off.

Michael Wick is here from Peabody (and has a 10 day old at home). He does tech instruction at the main branch but finds getting to the branches difficult. He teaches “to whatever questionc omes theough the door, in whatever format the person can understand – handouts to YouTube. ”

Jason Homer teaches in the third most educated community in the country. Theresa Maturevich is in a smaller community with lots of people who have gifted technology. She is the only full time persons her department and they don’t have a computer lab. She “answers it all” and has found a recipe for moonshine. Sharani Robbins is in a library with two branches but all the tech training happens at the main one (her’s). She does drop in and classes (Thursday afternoon for absolute beginners). She uses handouts (PDF online). She likes Michael’s YouTube videos. She used to be frustrated by overdrive support but has found it improve greatly recently. She helps people because she’s not a geek and is still learning tech herself – so she has patience, sympathy, and compassion.

Michel uses Camtasia (free to tryst create video

Jason used wordpress in a class. It was a useful tool and provided a great resource for the students to refer to after class ended.
Theresa’s most successful tool is her home-designed overdrive pamphlets – that they have to update frequently. Their are five different ones (identifiable by color). She shares with the Minuteman network and freely borrows from others doing the same. She’s found that people really like handouts!
Sharani uses for great tutorials and teaching tools on a ton of topics – and high quality.

Jing is another suggested tool for a cheaper version of Camtasia.

Classes are not a common teaching tool. Theresa started with e-reading classes and got overwhelmed by tons of unique questions on different devices. One on one works better. Michael saw Anna doing an open computer lab and copied it. It’s basically a drop in class. He still conducts traditional classes – especially when he can work with local community organizations. He found local business leaders were looking for a presenter at a meeting. He purchased a business database and showed them how to create sales leads, business profiles and more. He got 30 people at the class by using his community contacts to fill it. His Facebook class got no students.

Jason is a proud geek and teaches more advanced classes – like making directions in MS Publisher. His handouts are heavy on concepts, not pictures.

Sharani teaches absolute beginners (usually seniors) and e-reader classes after the holidays (with local business support). A challenge she’s identified is the great diversity of devices that walk in our doors. She’s best at beginner courses, not so much at more advanced skills.

This summer michael is going to hang out at the pool and teach people how to use overdrive!

If no one is attending classes, stop and do something else. Be ready to change gears – Theresa turned a book discussion into a Pinterest instruction opportunity.

Some libraries use high school students to staff open labs and get a volunteer opportunity as well as providing instruction.

Instruction should follow community needs and wants – as should all library services. Using a mouse is a necessary skill for finding a book in our catalog. Building tech skills will also help address our community’s economic challenges.

Wellesley is a “gateway for ideas” and directly addresses technology and instruction in their mission. The information landscape requires fluency in technology. Finding credible, lasting information and being intelligent users of google is SO essential. Technology is simply how information is shared now – it’s integral to what we do.

The Bedford mission addresses lifelong learning and posits the library as an “idea center”. Technology is the idea we are very often helping people with. When they ask for help downloading ebooks they really want help using their device. Theresa keeps styluses at her desk (and big erasers too). She’s also not afraid to learn new gadgets “on the fly” and immediately share what she learned.

Sharani finds so much of what she does is help people do what they want to do on the technology the library provides. There are so many other electronic resources the library provides, it’s essential to help people learn how to access them. She feels the library focus really shifting from books to computer access.

Anna shows how google helps people find, organize, and share information. We have to remember the second two parts.

Jason reminded us of the massive change in taxes – they are all going online. Hunting and fishing licenses are entirely online.

Question: how do you get other staff to help teach?
Jason is lucky – his administration requires certain tiers of librarians to teach.
Michael tricks staff. He doesn’t ask them to teach classes – not their strength. The best teachers though are only one step ahead of their students – easiest when not loaded down by jargon and assumptions. He has one staff who does one-on-one intro to the internet on demand. Another staff member took every ereader home and became the resident expert.
Theresa is often alone at the desk. With admin support she’s working on developing other staff’s skills so that help is available when she’s not there. They are taking small topics and addressing them in staff meetings. She brings staff in and offers extra hours to learn – and expects people to be constantly striving to improve. “The biggest room in the world is room for improvement”.

Technology instruction IS reference. It’s not always possible to deliver it (one staff on a Sunday can’t given an hour of attention to anyone).

One audience member shared her frustration teaching overdrive across multiple devices in one class. Separating by operating system really helped.

How do you deal with chronic students who never learn?
Theresa instituted a limit of two classes per topic. Beyond that, people get referred to a list of other places they can get additional help. Once they have addressed the fundamentals they can return.
Michael uses curriculum with set classes. He has been successful getting people to self-deselect when they just aren’t getting it. Patience is essential!
Anna reminded us that often we need to evaluate our teaching if people aren’t getting it after several repeats.

How do you manage pre-requisites?
Jason has simply asked people to leave. “This isn’t the best time for you and I to talk. To be respectful of YOUR time, you should come back later.”
“Why don’t we talk after class?”
We have to mindful of the temptation to talk to the”top of the room” and respect people who are starting with less information.

Getting out there and finding who needs your classes is important to do BEFORE organizing the classes.

Tech instruction takes many different forms. We need to stay goal oriented, talk with educators and instructional designers.