What is it?
So AJAX makes user interaction on web sites much quicker and easier. Instead of refreshing the whole page every time you submit information, just the piece of the page involved gets refreshed, so an AJAX web page acts more like an application on your computer than a normal web page.Why you care
AJAX makes many web sites faster and easier to use. Google Maps was one of the first, and still one of the best, with its ability to drag the map around, search and interact with the map without ever refreshing the page. Netvibes – a customizable home page, is another good one to give you an idea of what we’re talking about. Notice how it lets you edit the title and rearrange the page by dragging and dropping. Any web form or similar user interaction is ripe for AJAX-ification. Take alook at this University of Wisconsin staff directory – start typing a name in the box and watch what happens on the page.AJAX is also enabling the explosion of ‘web applications’ like the ThinkFree online office suite – (see this article for more about online office applications) – or Meebo – a web-based instant messenger application that works with all the major systems.
AJAX and Libraries
For libraries – online AJAX applications can provide access to applications that a particular patron wants to use, but you don’t have. And you don’t have to buy it, install it, or update it. In theory, this could do for applications what the web did for access to information – greatly increase the ability of small libraries to offer access to applications that might otherwise be too expensive. We’ll have to wait to see if that happens.Downsides?
Of course there are also some drawbacks. There are no standards with AJAX, since it is an approach, rather than a technology. And it is new, so there are still issues to be worked out. For libraries, the biggest issue is probably accessibility. Many AJAX-enabled web sites do not work well with screen readers, and even users with poor sight have difficulties with much of AJAX content out there. The good news is that these issues can be dealt with, and should become less of an issue in the future.
Another current issue is that many AJAX sites and applications work either only, or much better in either Internet Explorer or Firefox. ajaxSKETCH is and example of one of a series of nice applications from the company that work only in Firefox.
So Now What?
So watch and use what is useful for you and your library for now. And expect in the future you will hear much more, and eventually your own web site, and especially OPAC will be AJAX enabled.
(originally posted 7-5-06)
Looking at the most recent photos page on flickr the other day, I noticed how many vacation pictures being posted now that it’s summer. And it made me wonder how many of them had been posted from a public library. If your library is in a place people come for vacation, you may have already had to decide whether to allow patrons to connect their digital cameras so they can email or post their photos. This issue is very closely related to flash drives, which we will talk more about next month, but for today, lets assume you do allow patrons to plug in their flash drives, but you are unsure about cameras. Patrons want to, but cameras are all different, and it might seem best just to not allow any of them.
But really, if you already allow flash drives, there is a very simple and straightforward rule you can apply to deciding which cameras you will allow:
If they plug the camera in and it just works, it’s OK. If they need to install software for it to work, then sorry, that is contrary to your PAC usage policy.
I’m assuming that you don’t normally allow patrons to install software on your PAC’s, right? So why allow it for cameras? And since most newer cameras don’t need software to connect, most of your patrons should still be able to transfer their photos.
On the other hand, if this is a common request an even better solution would be to buy a memory card reader. For under $20, you can get one that works with all the popular card formats and works like a flash drive. One of these, either permanently attached to one pc or available to check out, can reduce the headaches caused by patron complaints when their camera won’t talk to your computer. Or if you’re ambitious, for a little more money you can get a card reader that mounts in the computer case like a floppy drive.
As many of you already know, Microsoft is hard at work, polishing up the next version of Windows – called Vista, for release in early 2007. While that is still a ways off, you should keep it in mind when making computer purchase or upgrade decisions from here on out. Here is my personal advice on how to approach it as a director of a small library:
So how do you plan on dealing with this? Leave your comments here, or post you thoughts in the WJ operating system forum.