Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thing 66. Politcal Engagement in a Technical World: 2010 Midterm Election and More

Midterm elections are on the horizon! What time like the present to think about your own political engagement and how to get others involved in the political process? Times are a changin’ and through modern technologies, we all have the chance to be involved and informed at a greater level than ever before. This is an exciting prospect to some, but an exhausting idea to others.  With greater access to information, comes increased responsibility to carefully evaluate resources. So, how do we begin to manage and learn it all, and inform others? Decision day is coming up on Tuesday, November 2, 2010, so it’s time to get crackin’! 

Voting: What’s in it for me?
If you’re teaching young adults about voting and their civic duties, or trying to connect with a reluctant voter, you might appeal to them with thiscalled Voting and You! with Ed Helms and Chris Mintz-Plasse, the kid that played McLovin’ on SuperBad. It’s a silly 1950’s spoof, but does have a decent message.

But, I only vote every 4 years!
For a basic primer on midterm elections and why they’re important, try visiting CNN’s Election Center – The Basics.  This website is a great place to start if you need to introduce this topic in any venue, or to further your own understanding of why midterm elections matter. Go to the Why it Matters? section near the bottom of the page. Here you’ll get some clear information on the key issues this year.

The Issues and Candidates: National Coverage
After establishing a basic understanding of the importance of voting and midterm elections, now it’s time to really begin exploring the issues and the candidates. There is an incredible amount of information out there on the issues and the candidates, but we’ll focus on just a few here.
The Politics page within the larger New York Times site is a helpful site to begin digging into the issues – regardless of state. The site is designed nicely with a helpful toolbar on the left that allows you to choose from House, to Senate, to Governor races. In addition, the Politics page gathers the latest stories of interest and is constantly undergoing updates.

NPR Elections 2010 is another great site for accessing information easily and in a timely way. Though the page is “clean” and easy to navigate, there is a surprising amount of information available. Sections like the Message Machine, Scorecard, Heard on the Air, and Podcast + RSS Feeds may be of special interest.

The Cook Political Report is a helpful source for current election information. Site reviewers claim that it is a reliable and non-partisan source. The Current Outlook section is helpful for understanding the basics, whereas the Updates area contains daily articles of interest in the following areas: National, House, Senate, Governors. 

The Issues and the Candidates: Minnesota
The politics section of covers all things great and small about the upcoming Minnesota election. Topics range from candidate comparisons to updates on voting procedures.

MPR has a very interactive and helpful politics section on their site. Not only are the latest news stories there, but also Select a Candidate, PoliGraph, and the Capitol View blog. Select a Candidate allows the user to find a candidate that is most closely aligned with their own political views. PoliGraph checks statements made by Minnesota political leaders to verify accuracy.

The Star Tribune covers the latest election news as well. They also include a countdown to election day.
The website for The Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, contains a wide variety of crucial information for Minnesota voters. There is information about how and where to vote, who the candidates are, and how to get involved and play an active role on election day.

Of course, the candidate’s websites also contain a great deal of information.  If you’re looking to understand a candidate’s position, what better place to find the information than the candidate’s own site? Just be sure to carefully evaluate the information presented there. Nearly all candidate sites will contain some form of bias.

Let’s Get Interactive!
Try checking out your candidates on YouTube. YouTube has a campaign toolkit for the candidates called YouChoose 2010.  This indicates that many of our candidates are likely active on YouTube. Try searching for candidate names in YouTube, or try something like “Minnesota Governor Candidates 2010”. Get a good search going, and you’ll find lots of valuable information – in a palatable format!
The Minnesota Secretary of State site has a few informational videos available. The first is Voting in Minnesota: What You Can Expect. The second is Using the AutoMARK. Upper-level students and political junkies will have fun testing their political prowess with this quiz  from USA Today.
ALA has gathered together a bibliography of great politics and government sites for kids. Many are interactive and present important information in fun and innovative ways.

Check out interactive maps that are available online including Google’s 2010 U.S. Election Ratings and Wall Street Journal’s Congressional Contests maps

Call to Action!
Hopefully you can take this information and spread the word to your patrons about current politics, the importance of voting, and the upcoming midterm elections. There are many other sources of information out there, so take a look and maybe you’ll discover a new favorite source of information. Then, go ahead and share them in the comments area!

Kate Bessey, Information Specialist
Central MN Libraries Exchange (CMLE)
Image: VOTE

Thing 65. Web-Based Note Taking

Have you ever been hard at work, online, perhaps writing an article like this one – when wham! the best idea ever hits you! Or, maybe you’re researching a topic and need to take notes as you go along. Or, maybe you’re looking at your favorite blog, like the Things on a Stick News Archive, and come across some links to tools or sites that sound interesting, but you just don’t have time to look into them right now. 
The examples above provide some real-life situations that may inspire you to try an online note taking solution. Online note taking has become increasingly popular as we are connecting more and more with technology in our lives. With web-based note taking solutions, instead of having to scratch your thoughts down on a real sticky note, now you can neatly type your notes and refer back to them on your desktop, in any number of websites, accounts or apps, and on your smartphone.

Think about it, instead of scribbling down your thoughts on a piece of scratch paper and having to bring it with you, now your notes are always with you as long as you have access to the web. For most people, this will reduce the chance of a) forgetting to write the note, b) writing down something incoherent, and c) losing the note at the bottom of our purse or pocket –never to be seen again.

Like anything else in this digital world, the user has a lot of choices when it comes to picking the specific note taking software they’d like to use. If you do a search for “online note taking,” “web-based note taking” or “note taking apps," you’ll truly get an idea of how many different options are out there for online note taking. The selection is almost endless, so you may want to review this Mashable article to familiarize yourself with the top 20 note-taking solutions cited by Mashable.

One of the most popular and highly publicized online note-taking solutions is Evernote. Evernote has grown in popularity because it has the capability of “doing it all” and is a cross-platform, universal application. Some refer to Evernote as the kitchen sink approach, and rightly so!  A few key services provided by Evernote include:
  • Capturing and saving : notes, a webpage, a photo, a screenshot
  • Indexing for anything you’ve captured or saved
  • Easy organization of notes and tags
  • Search by keyword, title, or tag

The Evernote site also provides a few examples of really creative ways to utilize their service. For example, they suggest planning your entire vacation and saving all of your important information into a folder on Evernote. So, you can save your itinerary, tourist websites, plane tickets, important phone numbers, and receipts for expense reports. The whole shebang!  

Evernote also makes it easy to take and keep good notes. Say you’re in a business meeting. Not only do you have handouts to look at, but you probably have your own notes that you’re jotting down, along with maybe the notes of a co-worker that you’d like to review, and last (but not least) notes written by the speaker during a presentation on a white board or something similar. With Evernote, all of these notes can be saved in one place. You can take a picture of the whiteboard and upload it to the folder you’ve created in Evernote. You can also upload or take pictures of your handouts and your coworker’s notes. Lastly, you can record your own thoughts during the meeting right in Evernote. No need to use a separate sheet to record your thoughts! 

Additional services that are quite powerful, like Evernote, include Stixy, UbernoteZoho Notebook, corkboard, and Delicious. These services also have a “kitchen sink” approach. You can record notes, upload pictures and documents, share your content with others, track changes to your notes and documents, and enjoy universal access to the software – regardless of platform.

If you’re looking for a more “bare bones” note taking approach, there are other tools that may be of greater interest to you. For example, Jjot and Listhings  are basically online sticky note creators. You can write notes to yourself, similar to what you’d write on a sticky note, and then retrieve your notes later from any web connection. You can also send your “stickies” to your friends once you’ve set yourself up with a Jjot account. You can also print your notes! This could be especially handy for grocery lists or weekend to-do lists!

Let this information be a launching point to your own usage of online note taking tools. Try exploring a few of the tools mentioned above… Which is your favorite? Why? Would you recommend this note taking method to your friends, coworkers, and maybe even patrons?

Kate Bessey, Information Specialist
Central MN Libraries Exchange (CMLE)