3 Simple Ways to Support your Public Library

There’s been a lot of good library-related news coming down the pipeline, right in time for the American Library Association’s Celebrate National Library Week (April 8-14). The two best articles I came across this week include:

So all public libraries have nothing to worry about now, right?  Federal funding is safely allocated to IMLS, and voters support public libraries.

Unfortunately, the report about public libraries also highlights one alarming trend: “A majority of voters still do not realize that the primary source of library funding is local.”  So yes, public libraries still have plenty to worry about.

Public libraries get most of their funding at the city or county level, so local residents need to constantly show their support for their public library systems in a variety of ways to help maintain funding for services, staff, and collection development.

With these issues in mind and Celebrate National Library Week coming up soon, here are three simple ways to support your public library system.

  • Attend:  First and foremost, use your local library’s services!  Check their online catalog and events calendar, and then take advantage of the many amazing free resources and programs accessible through your public library.  Through my own local library system, Montgomery County Public Libraries, I can borrow and use all types of books and multimedia in print and digital format, use technology resources like 3D printing and digital media labs, and attend numerous free events and programs.
  • Volunteer: Volunteers provide much-needed help with outreach, additional funding and labor for services (like summer reading programs), and valuable feedback for library staff in the form of library advisory committees.  At Montgomery County Public Libraries, there are many volunteer opportunities for both adults and teens through cooperative volunteer programs (like student service learning programs), volunteer library advisory committees, and fundraising through Friends of the Library.
  • Advocate: Library users can let their elected officials know how important their local libraries are to the community in order to preserve and improve library budgets.  For my local library system, the Friends of the Library Montgomery County (FOLMC) offer an advocacy toolkit for speaking with elected officials and candidates.


Libraries aren’t just musty shelves of old books…they are integral parts of the local community, offering important information resources and valuable programs to everyone equally.  Support these community hubs by attending, volunteering, and advocating!


8 Examples of Virtual Library Tours

Who wouldn’t want to tour the beautiful architecture of the Library of Congress (LOC) while still sitting at home in their pajamas? Virtual tours of libraries certainly aren’t a new concept, with a number of overviews and case studies describing the trend over the past two decades:

Camera technology has improved so much over the past 20 years, it’s now become cheap and easy for any librarian to film a 360-degree panoramic photo or video on their cell phone.  One of the “Top Library Tech Trends” by Alison Marcotte listed in May 2017 at American Libraries includes taking patrons on a virtual tour “using a 360-degree camera and post it to your website or social media.”  Virtual tours don’t only include panoramic photos and videos though…they may also include text descriptions, floor plans, and other creative elements to give users a helpful overview of the library layout, resources, and services.

Here are eight examples of virtual tours from national, public, and academic libraries, each with their own unique touches:

  • Online Tours from the Library of Congress – This site uses photos and text to highlight some of the incredible architectural features of the LOC buildings.
  • Tour the Library of Congress in 360° (published by the AARP) – This tour wasn’t actually created by the LOC, but this 360-degree video on YouTube from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) still provides a great example of a short panoramic video to provide a quick tour of the architecture both inside and outside a historic library.
  • Children’s Library Tour (Washington-Centerville Public Library) – This YouTube video provides a fun overview of the services, staff, and resources in the Children’s Room at a public library.  The video is made for a younger audience, so I imagine it can be a great resource to share with students at local schools to promote public library visits.
  • Georgetown University Library – Here’s another video tour on YouTube, this time for an academic library.  The four-minute video gives a quick overview of library layout, services, and resources for students, as well as a quick look at the library website and catalog.
  • Hong Kong Baptist University Library – This virtual library tour can be navigated through the HKBU Library LibGuide and includes panoramic photos of different sections of the library with added pop-up text boxes with additional information on services and resources.
Screenshot of a panoramic photo used in the Hong Kong Baptist University Library online tour.
Using a floor plan to navigate through the Hugh & Hazel Darling Law Library online tour.
Navigate through a series of panoramic images in the UA-PTC Libraries 360 Virtual Reality Tour.

Virtual library tours have been around for decades, but in the past five years, it’s become increasingly cheap and easy to create highly immersive tours simply by using tools easily accessible through your cell phone.


Testing Free Diagramming Software…(by creating decision flowcharts for my cats)

Librarians can use diagramming tools to create professional flowcharts for use in presentations, to illustrate steps for anything from electronic journal management to IT troubleshooting, or to chart the complex inner decision making processes of their pet cats.  I decided to take on this Herculean challenge of charting the rich inner lives of my cats Chloe (the dumb one) and Vlad (the twitchy one) while also trying to identify a quick and easy free diagramming tool.  I’ve usually just used the SmartArt features in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to create any flowcharts I needed for papers or presentations, but the chart formatting options in Word/PowerPoint are very limited and clunky.  I’ve never used Microsoft Visio, which seems to be the most popular subscription-based diagramming tool.

I first started by finding a few helpful articles reviewing free and low-cost diagramming tools:

I ultimately settled on testing Draw.io, since it is completely free (at least for the average user), fully web-based (so I didn’t need to download any apps), and easily integrated with Google Drive (so I could save my diagrams easily to my Google account).  The interface for Draw.io was easy and intuitive, and I was able to make two simple but fully customized flowcharts in about 45 minutes.

A few of the features on Draw.io that I particularly liked:

  • Diagrams are automatically sized to US-letter paper size (8.5 by 11 inches) for easy printing.
  • You can export the diagrams in a variety of formats, including JPEG, PNG, PDF and more.
  • You can easily insert images or even add an image as the background for the diagram.
  • The gridlines in the work area are helpful for keeping the connector arrows straight.
  • You can easily choose a direction arrow beside a text box in the flowchart to automatically create a new clone text box and connector arrow to quickly expand your chart.

With Draw.io, I carefully charted the complicated variables of my cats’ daily choices:

Chloe decision tree
Chloe (the dumb one)
Vlad's Decision Treejpg
Vlad (the twitchy one)

Bioinformatics with NNLM is a BLAST!

Image from Pixabay.

I’m currently about six weeks into a 16-week online class from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM), Bioinformatics and Biology Essentials For Librarians: Databases, Tools, and Clinical Applications, and so far:

  • I’ve gotten a very helpful basic overview of genetics, bioinformatics, and molecular biology concepts,
  • I’ve thought about the possible roles librarians can play in bioinformatics, and
  • I’ve started exploring some of the bioinformatics tools and resources from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

I was excited to take this class when it started at the end of January, especially because I recently changed jobs and now work mainly with clinical researchers, providing reference and instructional services.   I want to quickly get up to speed on topics like bioinformatics and research data management, so I can provide better training opportunities and more knowledgeable reference services to patrons.  My learning goals for the year may have shifted slightly, but I’m still using one of the best (and currently free!) training resources I have available to me: the online courses offered through NNLM.

This bioinformatics class from NNLM, which I’m taking through the online learning management system Moodle, has directed me to a number of interesting free learning resources about genetics, molecular biology, and bioinformatics in many different formats, including interactive text-based courses, videos, and even interactive games and labs.  Here are a few of my favorites so far:

Libraries Promoting Their Public Domain Content

Artists, academics, and students often want quick access to images and other forms of media for use in projects, and anyone online may want an image to include on social media or in a blog post.  Normally, you’d need to worry about copyright restrictions and licensing fees when re-using images or media, but some content falls under the public domain.  According to Stanford University Libraries, public domain is defined as “creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist.”  Works can fall into the public domain for a number of reasons: because the copyright has expired (in the US, works published before 1923 or if the copyright owner fails to renew the copyright), if the copyright owner purposely dedicates the work to the public domain, or if copyright law doesn’t cover that type of work.

How can you quickly find these works in the public domain, though?

Some major libraries have created portals to publicize their public domain digital collections, and these portals can be a helpful way to quickly find interesting images and media that can be freely shared and re-used without copyright restrictions.

  • Library of Congress (LOC): The LOC recently announced the creation of a  Free to Use and Reuse page, which “features themed sets of content (such as travel posters, presidential portraits, Civil War drawings) that are all free to use and reuse.”
“Free to use and reuse” digital collections from LOC.
Public domain collections highlighted from New York Public Libraries.
Albums from the British Library Flickr page.

If you want to learn more about finding public domain works, check the following guides from university libraries:

February 2018 Library News Round-Up

I’ve found a few interesting odds and ends from the websites and blogs I regularly check for library news, ranging from a new copyright search resource to a really, really neat online collection of medieval manuscripts from the British Library.

Before I go into list mode with the news items, I first want to highlight a great library news website that a coworker introduced me to: Library Technology Guides, a site run by Marshall Breeding.  I’ve added the news section of Library Technology Guides to my morning news check, since it lists daily announcements from major library service and database vendors.  The site also has a wealth of information about database/library service vendors, such as a database of library automation companies and a collection of guides related to industry trends and products.

Now on to library news that caught my eye from the past few weeks:

      • Farewell, PubMed Commons:  The NCBI Insights blog announced on February 1 that comments would no longer be accepted through PubMed Commons after February 15, and comments from PubMed Commons will no longer be visible after March 2.  PubMed Commons always seemed like a really interesting idea (allowing researchers to comment on PubMed articles), but it unfortunately sounds like usage of the feature was too low to justify (“comments submitted on only 6,000 of the 28 million articles indexed in PubMed”).
      • Virtual U.S. Copyright Office Card Catalog: In late January, InfoDocket described a new Virtual Card Catalog proof of concept website released by the Library of Congress (LOC), where users can browse through almost 18 million scanned images of cards in indexes from 1955-1970 and 1971-1977.  The site isn’t very practical for fast, easy searching, but it sure beats actually going onsite to the Copyright Records Reading Room.  I’ve written in the past about what a pain in the neck it can be searching for pre-1978 copyright registrations, so I’m very happy to see that LOC is finally making the digitized versions of the catalog cards available online (even if the viewing options are a bit clunky).  To celebrate, you can browse through Walt Disney copyright registrations from 1955-1970.
Exploring Walt Disney copyright registrations from the 1960s on the new Virtual U.S. Copyright Office Card Catalog.
    • Medieval Manuscripts Online at the British Library: Information Today posted an announcement that the British Library “made 50-plus rare medieval manuscripts and early print editions freely available via its Discovering Literature: Medieval resource”, including “the single surviving manuscript of Beowulf, the first complete translation of the Bible into English, an illustrated print edition of The Canterbury Tales, and the first English-language work written by a woman.”  You can also read fascinating articles analyzing the works, such as a look at Monsters and heroes in Beowulf and an incredible article describing the evolution of Old English.


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight c. 1400 from the Discovering Literature: Medieval resources on the British Library website.

So much library news (and amazing digital collections to explore), so little time.

New Database Linking Research Articles to Grants, Patents, and Clinical Trials: Exploring New Dimensions

While browsing Twitter last week, I came across an article in Nature describing an interesting new database called Dimensions.  The article “Science search engine links papers to grants and patents” by Richard Van Noorden explains how “Dimensions not only indexes papers and their citations, but also — uniquely among scholarly databases — connects publications to their related grants, funding agencies, patents and clinical trials.”  The database, launched January 15th by Digital Science, offers both free and subscription versions.  I wanted to explore in a bit more detail the different versions of Dimensions, learn about the data coverage, and try a few test searches in the free version of the database.

Dimensions Versions

The Dimensions website offers a comparison chart of the features for the different versions of the database (Dimensions, Dimensions Plus, and Dimensions Analytics).

  • Dimensions: The free version of the database offers access to more than 89 million publications, with information on linked grants, patents, and clinical trials.  This version of the database also includes 20 million researcher profiles (currently in beta) and includes citation based metrics and article-level Altmetric data.
  • Dimensions Plus: This subscription version of the database includes “fully interlinked database with publications, grants, patents, clinical trials with more than 124m records”, access to additional search, filter, and data aggregation options, and access to the Dimensions Search API.
  • Dimensions Analytics: This subscription version includes all features of Dimensions Plus, as well as a reviewer identification tool, portfolio reporting functionalities, additional research classification systems, and private instance or custom integration of the database with client systems.

Dimensions Coverage

Dimensions provides documentation on its data sources and an overview of how the data is cleaned, organized and linked.  Here are a few highlights from the document:

  • Dimensions uses full-text indexing, research categories based on New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC) system (and applied at an article level using AI/machine learning), institution disambiguation using the GRID database, and author disambiguation (using ORCID data) to improve retrieval.
  • Publication metadata comes from “openly-available databases together with those with permissive content licenses, such as PubMed, PubMed Central, ArXiv and CrossRef. “
  • Grant data was originally collected by “ÜberResearch (one of the six businesses in the Digital Science portfolio creating Dimensions)” in an effort to create a grant database, and the grant data has now been integrated into the broader Dimensions database.  The documentation also states:

    Grant data should not be taken as a complete view on all research related funding, as we pointed out in a recent report. It covers project-based funding from different types of funders (government, multinational, charities etc.)

  • Dimensions includes Altmetric data for each article, displayed on the article details page.
  • Clinical trials data comes from eight registries, including ClinicalTrials.gov.
  • Patent data is provided by “the Digital Science portfolio company IFI Claims” and currently covers about nine patent authorities.

Testing the Free Version of Dimensions

I did a quick test search on the free version of the Dimensions database, where you can search across about 89 million publications. Users can conduct a keyword search across full data or title/abstract only, or the user can paste in a document abstract to find similar articles. No advanced search fields seem to be available in this free version, although the help center does describe how basic Boolean operators, parentheses and quotes can be used in the keyword search form.

Search results list on the free version of Dimensions.

The results list includes filtering options like publication year, researcher name, field of research, publication type, source title, journal list, and open access.  Results can be sorted by relevance, publication date, RCR, citations, or Altmetric Attention Score.

An “Analytical Views” tab on the right side of the results list displays top fields of research, a graph of publications by year, and top source titles.

Analytical Views beside Dimensions search results.

After selecting a publication title from the results list you can view:

  • Citation and abstract data.
  • Publication references.
  • Supporting grants (no links to grant records provided in free version of database).
  • Publication citations.
  • Patent citations (no links to patent records provided in the free version of the database).
  • Linked clinical trials (no links to clinical trial records provided in the free version of the database).
  • Publication metrics (total citations, recent citations, field citation ratio, relevant citation ratio, Altmetric score).
  • Assigned research categories.
  • Links to external sources, such as publisher sites and PubMed.
Publication metrics, research categories, and external source links for an article on Dimensions.

Options to view the PDF (if open access) and to add the article to your library (if logged into a ReadCube account) are also available on the article details page.

Final Thoughts

I’m always excited to see linked research objects, and Dimensions takes a large step forward with linking a variety of research output, ranging from publications to patents and clinical trials. I hope government-funded databases like PubMed and PubMed Central can take a pointer from Dimensions and eventually include more linked content, such as links to related USPTO patents and applications, clinical trials from ClinicalTrials,gov, related federal grant information, and access to full research data sets.