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Magazines > Information Today > April 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 4 — April 2003
DEPARTMENTS
What's New in ITI's Other Publications
By Lauree Padgett

By the time you read this, it will be spring—even in New Jersey. March Madness will have been extended into April Angst as all the crazy college hoops fans out there (me included)see how well their early-round bracket picks have held up going into Final Four weekend. But even if you can't tell a Blue Devil from a Terrapin or a Cougar from a Wildcat, you're still going to like the picks I've selected for you this month from Searcher, Computers in Libraries, ONLINE, and MultiMedia Schools. Here's the tipoff. The first possession goes to Searcher. And it's nothing but Net, baby!

The Taxman Cometh

OK, it's true confession time. How many of you haven't filed your state and federal income taxes yet? In fact, how many of you haven't even started your taxes? Raise your hand if you have absolutely no clue where you stashed the 2002 forms. Well, for all you die-hard procrastinators (oh, excuse me, I mean those who don't believe in giving Uncle Sam his "due" until 11:59 p.m. on April 15), I'm throwing you a lifeline in the "form" of Irene McDermott's April Internet Express column (Searcher, p. 14). McDermott has made it easy to locate online just about anything that's tax-related.

Before you even get out the calculator and all your receipts, she suggests finding out if you're affected by the new tax laws. Sites such as the Yahoo! Tax Center (http://taxes.yahoo.com) and 1040.com(http://1040.com) offer portals with tips and information designed to aid filers and preparers. For planning, advice, and, yes, calculators, you can check out Fun with Taxes (as if!), where CPA Gail Perry provides useful pointers and responds to tax questions (http://www.funwithtaxes.com). If you're self-employed, access the "tax withholding calculator" to make sure you took out enough taxes during 2002.

According to Albert Einstein, the hardest thing to figure out is your taxes. If you don't want to take your chances with a second cousin once removed who almost passed his correspondence CPA program and thinks you can deduct your 30-year-old jobless child as a liability (after all, you did pay $40,000 for said child's college degree), you can find tax preparers online, too. TurboTax (http://turbotax.com) lets you file online or buy and download the do-it-yourself software. At CCH Complete Tax (http://www.completetax.com/tools.asp), you can have your taxes done and filed electronically for a mere $24.95.

If it's 10 p.m. on April 15 and you forgot to go to the library or post office for that extra 1040 copy, you can visit the IRS site (http://www.irs.gov/formspub/index.html) and print out any form, no matter how obscure, in Adobe PDF.

So while paying the government may still hurt a bit, thanks to McDermott the process of filing your returns should prove to be much less "taxing."

Q and A NJ

Not only will New Jersey be hosting the 2004 Iditarod (OK—April Fools'!), it's also the home of Q and A NJ, the state's live, 24/7 virtual reference service. While getting such a resource up and running sounds like a daunting task, Peter Bromberg's article in the April issue of Computers in Libraries ("Managing a Statewide Virtual Reference Service: How Q and A NJ Works," p. 26) outlines the whole process from conception to implementation.

With the aid of a Project Growth Timeline, Bromberg answers specific task questions. How long did the project take? (It took 12 months to get from the idea stage to the point at which the public began using the service.) How many people and libraries are involved? (The project began with 10 libraries and 12 staff members. It now has expanded to include 250 librarians from 33 participating libraries.) How is such a large project managed? (According to Bromberg, it takes constant communication, training, practice, marketing, customer feedback, and more.) Bromberg also addresses the funding and software issues inherent in this kind of broad-reaching service, as well as the role marketing continues to play not only in maintaining ongoing financial support but in reaching out to the state's public sector.

In October 2001, Q and A NJ responded to a little more than 450 questions. Eighteen months later, the service is fielding more than 4,000 information requests on a monthly basis. It has also entered into a state-funded partnership with Tutor.com to offer live homework help between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m., 7 days a week.

Says Bromberg: "One of the biggest challenges we now face is continuing to increase our service capacity to match the ever-growing customer demand. We are still bringing on new libraries to help staff the service, but collaborative management becomes more challenging with each new addition to our team."

URL Crazy

If 400-character URLs are driving you nuts, you definitely need to read Greg Notess' On the Net column (ONLINE, May/June, p. 54). If you know what you're looking for, Notess says there are all sorts of URL details that can be valuable to information professionals.

For instance, a Web server can be configured to look for a file name as the default extension, not just the common .index.html. This is particularly helpful when a Web site goes through a major transformation or switches to a new content management system that uses different file extensions. A.php extension generally indicates that the Web pages are using PHP scripting language and running on Linux. On the other hand, .asp pages are probably running on a Microsoft server and may contain some Visual Basic programming. Knowing the different extension options can help you track down an errant Web site or find the new link of a dead URL.

You can now find a number of free URL-shortening services on the Net. These literally take a long URL and convert it to a much shorter one that will send you to exactly the same location. Why worry about long URLs? For one thing, they tend to wrap when you send them in an e-mail. This can result in a line break inserted somewhere, which makes the link invalid. One point to keep in mind, however, is that these shortening or redirection services can often mask the actual domain name of the site. Domain names are quite useful in determining the site's authenticity and reliability. One way to avoid masking is by attempting to default to a specific file name. It's often possible to drop thehttp://and the www. from the URL.

Extended URLs do have their advantages. They can help you track session IDs, search submissions, or other user information. For instance, a URL with a redirection prefix can be used to monitor click-through traffic. Other URLs might have affiliate suffixes. If you find a URL that consists of all numbers, beware: It likely belongs to an e-mail spammer who has attempted to mask the full URL—a ploy known as "munging."

Despite the trials and tribulations that can be associated with long URLs, Notess encourages perseverance: "[A] quick look at any URL can convey a great deal about the information I'm viewing. It helps identify satire sites that may look like the real thing.... It can expose what kind of server and content management system or scripting language is used." The main point, Notess concludes, is to become a URL watcher. "Check them when evaluating Web content and be careful when citing them."

The Swiss Army Knife Librarian

If you're a librarian who's feeling more and more weighed down by the tasks that are being assigned to—or, to put it more succinctly, thrown at—you, Rob Reilly feelsyour pain. In his May/June Net Works column (MultiMedia Schools,p. 61) entitled "A 'Librarian'by Any Other Name ... Probably Means More Work," he examines the plight of school librarians whose workloads are doubling and tripling because their administrators think that with the advent of the Internet, they have less to do.

Reilly writes:

Today there is a push to have school libraries be responsible for teaching students how to do research as well as assist them in doing the actual research for their school assignments. These tasks seem to be different from what we expected librarians to do only a few short years ago. There also seems to be a push to have the librarian become a "techie" in many regards.... More and more, it seems that the librarian is expected to do his or her traditional duties related to the paper-based books—e.g., catalog them, check them in and out, re-shelve them, etc.—and become the library-media specialist too!

Part of this problem, Reilly contends, is that there's not enough understanding of what's involved in having a school go electronic—getting connected to the Web and thus moving from a passive teaching environment to an active learning environment. Too often, those who oversee the school assume that the librarian can be all things in all situations: a consultant to the school staff, a person who provides access to information, the keeper of the book catalog, the information center manager, a techie who knows all the ins and outs ofWeb searching and the Internet in general, and the teacher who will then share all of his or her "techie" knowledge with the entire staff.

All of these processes must be carried out to facilitate a new era oflearning within the country's educational systems. Reilly adds that a single librarian cannot accomplish all of this alone within a school district. The answer is to seek out support by finding the people within the school (Reilly calls them the "ultra techies") who can lay cables in classrooms, configure and/or scavenge computers, teach short classes on Web searching, volunteer in the library, etc.

These same suggestions and pointers can work in any type of organization. So if you feel like Reilly's column is "killing you softly," read the whole thing and then go about getting yourself out from under the deluge.

Marching Off

This month, I'm coming in under the wire, rather than under the covers. I hopeyou have mined some good information nuggets out of these four articles.As for me, now that my column's finally done, I have to start working on my taxes. Oh, and my NCAA brackets. Go Duke!

 


Lauree Padgett is Information Today, Inc.'s manager of editorial services. Her e-mail address is lpadgett@infotoday.com.
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