Category: Resource

GoSoapbox for library class sessions

Snapshot of a poll: "What are you most excited to learn about today?" "How the library can save me money on textbooks, the quiet study area, and other options"
Screenshot of a GoSoapbox poll (results below)

I’ve spent the last year experimenting with incorporating active learning practices into my library “one-shot” sessions (so-called because you have one shot to cover all the library research basics college students will need for the next 4 years) (I am not throwing away my [one] shot). So far, my biggest success has been adapting Heads Up! for the classroom, which starts the class off with high energy and big laughs — plus totally connects to the concept of keywords. But it’s an activity for extroverts, so to balance it out, I went looking for a way to bring the introverts into participatory activities, too.

Classroom “clickers” are a solid way of encouraging participation from those who’d rather not speak up in class. Clickers are simple handheld devices that let students vote anonymously in polls whose results appear in real time on the screen. Big science classes often use them at my institution. Our library has a full set of clickers — but unfortunately, the PowerPoint plugin did not work on my Mac. Even if it had, it would have required a lot of setup.

Welcome! Please open two tabs: library website and, with code xxx-xxx-xxx. Use your real name or nickname
The slide on the screen when the class walks in

So I was super happy to find GoSoapbox, a web-based clicker alternative, plus more. It’s ideal for classroom labs, where every student is at their own computer. Free instructor accounts are limited to classes of 30 students or fewer. Instructors can make multiple classes (“events”). These events are saved under the instructor’s account and can be accessed again later.

See my slide to the right, which is on the board when students trickle in before class starts. They must sign in at with an access code, e.g., 438-623-406, and enter their name or nickname. (You can log into that event yourself to try out how it works from a student POV.) I also put login info in small text on students’ handouts for latecomers or those who closed their tab accidentally. Edit: there’s an even easier way to get students into the event. See Advanced Features at the bottom of this post.

Things you can do in a library class using GoSoapbox

Followed by actual results from my library one-shots


  • Multiple-choice questions (no multiple-answer selections)
  • Results displayed as bar or pie chart; optionally visible in aggregate to all students
  • Good way to open the session to get a reading of the class and what they expect from you/the library
  • Instructors can email results to themselves


  • Freeform text field visible to everybody in real-time
  • Useful for crowdsourcing keywords on a common research question; they can access this keyword list in class and afterward (put the URL on their handout)
  • My colleague, Marta, uses this as a knowledge checkpoint. For instance, she’ll put up an example research question and ask them what the keywords in the question are. They submit almost identical answers immediately, and she displays the results on the screen
  • Instructors can email results to themselves


  • Results visible individually to students, and in aggregate as an Excel download to instructor (results cannot be viewed in real-time by the instructor though, I think, weirdly)
  • I haven’t used this; I keep one up “locked” (hidden from view) but ready to go in case I miraculously have 10 extra minutes

Confusion barometer

  • Results are visible in real-time on instructor’s dashboard, e.g., 2 of 24 students are confused right now
  • I haven’t had any students actually use this, though

Social Q&A (off by default; turn on in Moderate This Event » Enable/Disable Features)

  • Students can ask and add answers to questions; they can also upvote questions they like
  • I haven’t used this yet

Psst… Save time

You can copy events — that is, you can copy over all the polls and discussion Qs into a new event for a fresh class.

Examples from my classes

Confusion barometer: I am getting it or I am not getting it. Polls: Question 1 and Question 2.
What students see when they log in (I gave my poll questions generic titles, but they don’t have be so bland)

Most students want to know how the library can save them money on textbooks. They also want to know about streaming movies, books to checkout, and a free NYT account
Poll results in response to the question: “What are you most excited to learn about today?” This lets me tailor what I cover, and it gives students a preview of the more exciting aspects of their college library.

59% a few times, 23% often, 18% never
Poll in response to the question, “How often do you use your local public library?” (n=22)

Discussion about a class research question that their prof emailed me ahead of time. This was a prelude to searching databases using a “mix and match” method utilizing compiled keywords. I gave this brilliant class 5 minutes, and their keyword lists were quite long and very good! I was blown away. (They each had their own take on the policy question, but it was still useful to them to think about concepts their classmates brought up.)

Edited August 31, 2016 to add…

Advanced features

Toggling display

Under Moderate This event » Enable and Disable Features, you have the option to turn on and off some things:

Some features are toggled: Barometer, Off. Names required, Off. Discussions, On.

I usually only turn on polls and discussions. I turn off Names Required so students feel freer to participate. And it’s a college class, so I turn off Profanity Filter, too, especially since some students are researching things like sex work policy.

Making access easier

Under Moderate This Event » Change Event Details, you can customize the access code:

Access code: "library love"

…But you can also do away with an access code altogether! The event URL, minus “/#!/dashboard”, gives anyone instant access to your event. So for instance, I could email students this URL:

Or I could post a shortlink on the board, like so:

Bitly lets you customize what comes after the slash, as long as it’s a URL that hasn’t been taken yet. I think this is the easiest way to pop students into your event, without having to fiddle with access codes and so on.

Do you use GoSoapbox? What are some other ways a library one-shot could use polls and discussions?

Heads Up! in PowerPoint for library class sessions

Since my John Jay colleague Kathleen Collins wrote about using active learning strategies in library “one-shot” sessions, I’ve been experimenting with games and hands-on activities to keep students engaged in the material. Typically, I cover library research basics in the sessions I teach: breaking a research question down into keywords (this is hard for freshmen!) and finding books/articles.

I frequently refer to “Don’t Do Their Work: Active Learning and Database Instruction,” a fantastic article in LOEX by Jennifer Sterling, which covers different active-learning activities she uses in her classroom. One in particular has been a breakout success for my own teaching.

Heads Up! is an iOS/Android app from Ellen DeGeneres (et al.) based on the old game Password, wherein the player who’s “it” must guess a word they can’t see based on hints from their teammates. It’s a great way to get students thinking about synonyms and related words for keywords, and it absolutely starts the class session off with a high energy level.

Because this is happening in the library classroom, I have adapted Heads Up! for a PowerPoint presentation. It’s a little hokey — it’s just a list of words that appear on-click next to a one-minute timer gif. Two volunteers from each side of the room stand in front of the projector screen so they can’t see the words, but their teammates can.

heads up in the library

Download my PowerPoint slides for adapted Heads Up! (adapt further and reuse freely) »
(This version includes different timer gifs on each page. I did this because sometimes Powerpoint glitches out when “restarting” the same gif on a different page.)

I ask for 2 volunteers from each side of the room. Both volunteers can guess when it’s their team’s turn (so that they don’t feel so alone at the front of the room, especially when they’re not doing well). Both teams get 2 rounds, meaning the game lasts around 4 minutes total (plus some banter in between). Usually, students get between 2 and 7 words. Note that these are general words, not library-y words. Something easy and low-barrier to engage students from the get-go. So far, my favorite moment has been for the keyword “Chiptole,” for which half the classroom devolved into students shouting “Bowl! Bowl! BOWL! BOWL!” at their flustered classmate. (“Cereal? Spoon? Plate? Salad?? Soup??”) Probably the most laughter that’s ever occurred on my watch.

I swear by this activity! Students absolutely get the connection between Heads Up! and the next part of my presentation, in which they pick keywords out of their actual research questions and find synonyms and related words, then trade worksheets with a classmate. (Warn them about trading ahead of time, if you’re going to ask them to do this.) This keyword-gathering activity, too, is inspired by that LOEX article.

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 3.01.56 PM

Download “Keywords” Word Document (adapt and reuse freely) »

Let me know if you use these or other active-learning approaches in your library classes. I’m always looking for fun ways to engage undergrads in the library curriculum.

Update (added August 12, 2016): I updated the slides. Also, there aren’t many 1-minute countdown gifs out there, so I made some in black and white, below. They’re set to run through the animation only once, so don’t worry if they’re all “00,” just download the gif.

one minute countdown timer gifone minute countdown timer gif

one minute countdown timer gifone minute timer countdown gif

See through the Internet: workshop handout

See through the internet handoutI designed a new 30-minute workshop for students this semester called “See through the internet: 8 questions & answers about how the internet really works.” I’ve given it a total of 1 time so far, to 2 people, today, but am scheduled for several more later in the semester. The subject matter is close to my heart, though, so I look for any opportunity to share this material. Perhaps you’ll find it useful, too. Here’s a draft summary of the workshop curriculum. Note that it is aimed as an intro for undergrad students.

Download handout as a PDF or just read below.

See through the internet
8 questions & answers about how the internet really works

When is “the cloud” not a cloud?

All the time. What we think of as a wireless, wispy cloud is in fact made up of a vast network of wires, servers, hubs, and buildings. When you access your email or Dropbox or other cloud-based services, your computer is sending a request for files from another physical computer that lives somewhere else in the world.

Further watching: Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors: video tour of network hubs and discussion from experts

How does a website get to your computer?

Pick a website and copy its URL. We’ll use here as an example.

On a Mac: Open Terminal (search for the program) and type traceroute

On a PC: Open Command Prompt (Start menu » All programs » Accessories) and type tracert

Browser option: Go to and choose traceroute (it’ll be testing from Pingdom’s computers, though, not yours). Type in the URL and submit.

The traceroute from Pingdom for
The traceroute from Pingdom for

Traceroute will show you all the routers (internet connector points) your computer must contact to request to access a webpage. It’s tracing a map across the city, or even the country, or even the world as your request travels from router to router to find the server (special computer) that hosts the website (stores the website’s files). Think of it like a highway that connects many cities: if you’re driving from San Diego to Seattle, the highway doesn’t go straight there — it also runs through other big cities like L.A. and San Francisco, because traffic is more efficient that way.

Each router or server will display an IP address, the numerical address that only that machine is assigned. So “” is actually just a human-readable version of the real web address for the New York Times, which is, a computer that is probably downtown. In between your computer and, there are many other IP addresses. Using some internet sleuthing skills, you can find out where these IP addresses are located geographically and/or who owns them.

When to use this: Use traceroute when you want to visualize how far away a website is, or when you want to diagnose whether a website is not loading because of a problem with your network, the website itself, or somewhere in between.

Further reading: Seeing Networks (NYC edition): a visual guide to the physical network in New York City

Read more

Data Viz Hack Day Resources

LACUNY Em Tech Committee:

Data Viz Hack Day!

February 18, 2014
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Shortlink to this page:

Resources for beginning & intermediate data visualizers:

Abstract visualization of John Jay's research network
Abstract visualization of John Jay’s research network



Data sources


Find a book by call number (bookmark template)

How do I find a book by call number? bookmark

I’ve designed a bookmark for my library to help undergrads find books by call number. It’s a complex concept, so a handheld guide is useful. Our main use case is explaining call numbers to students at the Reference Desk using this bookmark as a visual aid. Our stacks include floor maps and (soon) posters explaining call numbers in a more visual way.

If you’d like to modify the bookmark for your institution, here’s the template for Adobe InDesign. This template is free to use and modify without attribution by anybody in the universe (CC0). Requires Adobe InDesign and the Helvetica font. I’d appreciate any feedback or suggestions!

bookmark_call-number_template.indd (4 MB)

Or if you just want to grab the graphic and you have some editing software, here’s a 300ppi PNG (click for full image):


How do I find a call number in CUNY+?The bookmark is somewhat CUNY-specific — in step one, I’ve made a mock of how a book record looks like in our catalog, CUNY+. The template helpfully points out what to change when modifying it for your library.

And! It’s a two-fer! You also get the How do I find a call number? bookmark to the left, which is very CUNY-specific but might be a good template to follow. (You’ll get a “missing links” error for the screenshots in this one.)

If you don’t have InDesign, you can grab the text of the bookmark below.

How do I find a book on the shelf?

Step 1. First, find the book’s general location and call number in the catalog. Example:

Library Location Call number Item type Item status
John Jay College Stacks PQ7797.B635 1984 Regular loan (book can be borrowed) Look on shelf (book is available)

Step 2. Then find the book on the shelves by its call number.

Stacks See floor map to find shelf section.
PQ Find Ps, then find PQ alphabetically.
7797 In the PQs, find 7,797. Read as a whole number.
.B635 Find the Bs in the PQ7797 area, then 635 in digit order.
The number is a decimal: .B6 occurs after .B599. May be two-part.
1984 Years are arranged chronologically.

Call number: the “address” that tells you where in the Library a book is located. It’s ordered general → specific.

Can’t find it? Have questions? Ask at the Reference Desk!

Shoutout to all the helpful feedback I got on Twitter and from my colleagues at John Jay! More suggestions welcome in the comments.