Check out the OLITA Lending Library – LittleBits

Did you know that you can borrow tech kits through OLA, from the OLITA Lending Library? We lend awesome kits such as littleBits and Arduino, for you to try out in your library! You can learn more about it here.

Curious about littleBits? This week’s feature blog post is all about using littleBits written by Mita Williams, librarian at the Leddy Library, University of Windsor.


I don’t do any makerspace programming at my place of work but I am the liaison for Computer Science at my library and so my focus on littleBits is less based on what activities I could see myself doing and more about how useful they might be as something to learn from.

That being said, as soon as I opened the STEAM Student Kit and started putting the pieces together, I could see how they could be great for small group activities. The littleBits snapped together effortlessly and in moments, I could hook up a battery to a light or a button or a buzzer and get immediate gratification.




“littleBits makes a platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small.

littleBits are “electronic building blocks” that are “color-coded, magnetic and reuseable.”


Ok. So what did I “invent”? Well, the first thing I made was a counter.



At this point, I was wishing there was a second set of each component so I could I maybe design something to keep score in a game or maybe design my own game (but at $300 USD for another set, it wouldn’t be likely for me to have two to play with).

While I was looking up alternative projects in the official littlebits app, my 8 year old daughter promptly created her own game:


I then tried to make an inch worm that someone else had designed. The inchworm is made up of a thin piece of cardboard, folded, with a little servo motor on one half of the worm that when powered by the batter would repeatedly tug a pulled-out paper clip taped to the other half. I sort of got mine working:



To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how littleBits would go over in a library makespace (Are there enough components to make the projects that come to mind? Are the battery-powered motors strong enough to match the grand ambitions of kids?) and I’m super-hopeful someone will take advantage of OLITA’s copies in the Lending Library to try out and report back to the rest of us.

For me, I have thoughts about using littleBits as a learning tool.

I think littleBits are great for getting people immediately into building and playing and making. I have been to a handful of workshops dedicated to learning electronics using breadboards and Arduinos and I know from these experiences that it usually takes time and a a multitude of steps before you can even get to the stage in which you can make a light blink. It’s like, every time you use an LED, you need to do a calculation to figure the right resister you need…

littleBits make it super easy to make a light blink. But do the kids using littleBits understand that they are building a ‘circuit of electricity’ when they are, in fact, sticking together chains of blocks? Probably not.

But are they making their own games and toys and devices that might feed their ambitions and lead them to tackling breadboards next? I think so. At least, a little bit.

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Check out the OLITA Lending Library – Arduino

Did you know that you can borrow tech kits through OLA, from the OLITA Lending Library? We lend awesome kits such as LittleBits and Arduino, for you to try out in your library! You can learn more about it here.

Curious about Arduino, but not sure where to start? This week’s feature blog post is all about using Arduino in libraries, written by Kris Levey, eServices Technician at St. Thomas Public Library.

Arduino in the Library

Over the last few years you may have heard about something called Arduino, but might not be quite sure what it is.  Arduino is a really amazing circuit board that you can connect to a computer, and relatively quickly build an electronic circuit that can be used as a prototype for something you wish to make. Arduino was developed by Massimo Banzi as a way to bridge the gap between having to understand complex electronics principles and building circuit boards while allowing designers to prototype electronics into their products and allow them to express their creativity.

The Arduino board allows a designer to connect different electronics components to it such as lights, speakers (for sound), sensors (such as light, pressure, temperature), switches (including tilt switches like those found in phones), and various types of motors for movement.  Then the Arduino board is connected to a computer and the user can modify or create their own small programs (called sketches) and program the Arduino board to function as they would like.

Using the different components along with the sketches allows the designer to create things that light up, sense, and/or move allowing for a wide variety of applications.  From making toys that sing and dance, having your house plant tweet you and tell you to water it, or as the foundation for a satellite, Arduino is an amazing tool for do-it-yourselfers (aka Makers). They have been finding many novel and ingenious ways to use this fun designer friendly little board to create amazing things.  Also, with the internet of things (electronics connecting to the internet) being utilized more and more, many amazing things are being done with Arduino boards.

With the traditional role of the library changing to adapt to the modern needs of patrons, we are starting to see many libraries create Maker spaces. These spaces serve as a new hands on way of learning that takes the information in the book stacks and magazine racks and allows patrons to apply their new found knowledge.  It is also a great way to bring a sense of community back to the library and make it a central place for meeting, learning, and sharing ideas.

Because the Arduino board is meant to make it easier for designers to take their ideas and make them a reality with significantly less technical knowhow, it allows for greater artistic expression and advancement in technology.  Because Arduino is open-source, ideas and designs are readily shared and showcased in maker communities which honours and rekindles the freedom to learn that Gutenberg’s printing press elicited.  With access to the internet, and as libraries begin to embrace new technologies such as Arduino and build creative commons, a library can work towards creating a space where patrons come and learn. This places the library as a centre of academic excellence and cultural centre in the great tradition of the Library of Alexandria and honour the muses of literature, the sciences, and the arts.

If you are interested in getting started with Arduino in your library, there are some great beginner books that nicely lend themselves to workshops, and there a lot of amazing online tutorials to learn from and share with patrons.  Below is a recommended list of books and websites to help you incorporate Arduino into your library and build your own creative commons space.


Make has created a really nice and readable series of books related to Arduino:

  • Getting Started with Arduino: The Open Source Electronics Prototyping Platform
  • Basic Arduino Projects: 26 Experiments with Microcontrollers and Electronics
  • Getting Started with Sensors: Measure the World with Electronics, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi
  • Make: Action: Movement, Light, and Sound with Arduino and Raspberry Pi


There are also some really great websites that offer free step by step tutorials and code to help get you started.  Here are some personal favourites:

Started by Limor Freid in her dorm room while at MIT. Adafruit Industries offer many step by step tutorials for all learning levels and also sell the Arduino board and electronic components for building projects.

Back in 2011 while still a student Jeremy started making Arduino tutorial videos on YouTube, which have since had over a million visitors.  Jeremy is still creating videos to this day, and has built on the success of his tutorials by recently writing a book Exploring Arduino, which a testament to the success of his video tutorial series.

Like Adafruit, Sparkfun is another Arduino reseller that also sells electronics components to use with the Arduino.  Sparkfun has created a seven hour tutorial video on YouTube to take people new to Arduino through the basics and walk them through creating projects and using a virtual design program called Fritzing.

Instructables is a great DIY resource that allows contributors to share the instructions for any project they have completed with a larger community.  They also have a section devoted to Arduino projects because of the popularity of the board.


Give Arduino a try today, through the OLITA Lending Library!


  • Blog Post written by Kris Levey, eServices Technician, St. Thomas Public Library.



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Digital Odyssey 2016 Recap

Another year has come and gone, and with it, another OLITA Digital Odyssey has passed! On June 10th, 2016, OLITA held their annual professional development event at Hamilton Public Library. In case you missed it, here is a recap of the day’s sessions, as well as a few ways you can implement some of what was covered, in your own libraries! The following was written by Eric Liebregts, eServices Specialist at St. Thomas Public Library.


This year’s Digital Odyssey was a fantastic collection of speakers talking about an issue that many IT professionals and library patrons feel is of importance: privacy in the digital age.  It was a privilege to get to share ideas with such impressive and inspiring professionals.

The keynote speaker was Laura Tribe, Digital Rights Specialist at, a Canadian organization that seeks to improve privacy through political activism.  Her presentation was an exposé of the frightening reach that governments, corporations, and criminals have when it comes to personal information in the digital age.  She outlined a philosophical basis for privacy in general, and provided rebuttals to the oft-cited “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” justification for state surveillance.

Karen Louse Smith outlined practical ways to raise public awareness about privacy and digital literacy through a series of activities and privacy badges.  Activities include tracing the “digital trail” that a person leaves as they go through a typical day, highlighting personally identifiable information (PII) that can be gleaned from online activities, and discussing the importance of technical networking concepts (like IP addresses) and how they relate to tracking online activity.

Dan Scott provided a case for Chromebooks as being ideal for public-access kiosks and loaner laptops, because of the privacy settings that they allow (…provided you trust Google to protect your information, of course! ).

Myron Groover presented the results of a study into the state of privacy and security of library catalogues, websites, and public access computers.  His studies suggest that most libraries in Canada and the US are seriously lacking when it comes to enacting basic measures to protect their customers’ information.

Michel Castagne outlined some tools and techniques for evaluating the security and privacy of library products, such as websites.  He used an online tool that gives an A-to-F rating of a website’s security.

The final speaker of the day was Alison Macrina, who is a librarian and privacy activist.  She provided a more technical discussion of specific privacy and security tools and techniques, including schemes for creating good passwords, using  Tor to anonymize web surfing, and using VPNs.  She also provided excellent rebuttals to the argument that “only criminals need these tools”.

This year’s Digital Odyssey provided many actionable technical and programming ideas that could be implemented in libraries. During a lunchtime discussion with nearby colleagues, we brainstormed ideas for actually executing some of these technical measures on public Internet computer terminals.  We recognized that the critical challenge is balancing privacy and usability.  Our preferred method would be to allow customers to choose their own privacy levels.  One option could be to create two separate Windows login options for library patrons: one with “standard” settings, and the other with “enhanced privacy” settings. The second login would need to include a notice that increased privacy often entails decreased usability.  Another option could be to designate certain public machines “standard” and others “enhanced privacy” machines.

The final session of the day was essentially a blueprint for educating library patrons about the importance of online privacy and security.  Educating end-users about this stuff is increasingly vital, as hard security is useless without users having the soft skills to be able to detect suspicious activities and avoid risky behaviors.  Libraries could design a public education course that focuses entirely on the techniques that regular people (i.e. not techies!) can use to protect their online data.  Such a program could be structured as follows:

  1. What is privacy? Why is privacy important?  Why the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” justification for surveillance is dangerous and wrong.  How the simple act of me using privacy tools helps protect people in oppressive regimes and living situations.
  1. Exploring your personal “data trail”. Understanding how technical things like IP addresses work and how they can be used to track you online.  Showing customers how much personal information is available about them online.  Discussing covert state surveillance operations being conducted at this very moment (in Canada!), e.g. stingrays.
  1. Techniques for improving online security and privacy. Good passwords, using VPNs, the TOR browser, encryption, identifying malware, keeping software up-to-date.

Finally, as a way to keep privacy and security in the digital age “top of mind” for all library staff, you could implement a monthly “cyber health and safety” component to staff meetings, for example.  This is just one way you can make it a priority to ensure that your staff, and patrons, fully understand, and are comfortable with, online privacy and security.

Can’t wait until next year, to see what OLITA’s Digital Odyssey comes up with next!



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OLITA’s Lending Library Debuts at the OCULA Spring Conference 2016

In April, OLITA’s Lending Library made it’s first appearance at the OCULA Spring Conference in Jordan, Ontario.

While a few of our lending library items are very popular within the public library sphere, the items are not often borrowed by academic librarians. Perhaps because academic libraries have larger budgets to purchase their own technologies, or perhaps because some of the technologies are seen to be geared towards children and youth. Regardless, in keeping with the cross-sectional nature of OLITA’s mandate, we thought it would be worth bringing the lending library to the OCULA Spring Conference to increase its visibility and perhaps spark some ideas for future use.

OCULA Conference Planners embrace the Lending Library

Initially, I had planned to bring the lending library, set it up at a table, demonstrate how the technologies worked and allow others to try for themselves. However, the OCULA Conference Planners were inspired by the lending library and decided to take it a step further by integrating it into the day’s’ activities.

Shortly after lunch, OCULA Conference Planner Jack Young gave a presentation on each of the items in the lending library, providing a description with real-world examples of how each technology can be applied. For example, this short video was played that illustrates how you could use a Rasberry Pi.

Following this overview, conference attendees were asked to divide up into small groups and decide on a problem in their libraries that needs solving. Next try to imagine how the tech lending library items could be used to solve the problem.

Within my group the problem we decided on was students struggle with library research but are reluctant to ask for help. Our solution to the problem was to develop the Super Smart Study Carrel. The smart study carrel came equipped with sensors in the chair that could pick up on the stress levels experienced by the individual sitting in it. Without knowing exactly how this would all work, and if it’s even possible, in our study carrel the lending library’s Rasberry Pi would be programmed to send a distress signal to the librarian at the desk. Other groups came up with similar devices, chair seat sensors was a recurring theme. While somewhat fantastical, the conference attendees seemed to have fun with the activity and it was a great way to reinforce everyone’s understanding of the potential of OLITA’s Lending Library technologies.

Thanks to the OCULA Spring Conference planners for their support!


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Hangout with OLITA this Friday, June 3rd, in IRC

Our next stop on the OLITA Social Media Hangout tour is… in IRC!

Hi, I’m Sarah Simpkin, this year’s OLITA president. This week on OLITA’s social media tour we’ll be kicking it old school with IRC. Join me on Friday, June 3rd as we explore the ever-enduring world of Internet Relay Chat.

Haven’t used IRC before? No problem! All you need to get started is a web browser.

Between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Friday, June 3rd:

  • Go to:
  • Type in your nickname of choice.
  • Type olitahangout in Channels.
  • Click the square to prove you’re not a robot, and then Connect.

You are in! Say hi in the text box at the bottom of the screen to start chatting with us. You’ll be able to view a list of people in the channel on the right hand side of the screen.

When you want to show you are away, type /away

When you want to leave, type /quit

Type /me to refer yourself as your nickname in the 3rd person.

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A Q&A with Alison Macrina, from the Library Freedom Project

Alison Macrina is the founder of the Library Freedom Project, “an initiative which aims to make real the promise of intellectual freedom in libraries by teaching librarians and their local communities about surveillance threats, privacy rights and law, and privacy-protecting technology tools to help safeguard digital freedoms.” They will speak at Digital Odyssey, at the Hamilton Public Library on June 10th.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What got you interested in libraries and tech?

I’ve worked in libraries for about 8 years, half of those as a library technologist, and now run LFP full time. I decided to work in libraries because I cared about maintaining and protecting the public commons and because I believe deeply in library values like free expression. I got into the technical side of it because I saw a big push in libraries to adopt every shiny new piece of tech trash without any critical eye to what they meant for those values. I thought there was an opportunity to shape our technical policy in the way we’ve shaped our collection development policies and our core values and the like — not just a frenzied push for relevance, but a meaningful consideration of the needs of our community and the kind of world we want to live in. That’s pretty much what led me to privacy-enhancing technologies in particular, because I saw a real need there.

Do you have any major projects on the horizon?

LFP is always doing a bunch of things — we run about 10-12 privacy trainings in libraries per month (for librarians or for community members), we write and speak about privacy in other arenas, we develop curriculum for librarians who want to teach privacy classes, we run Tor relays in libraries, and we work really closely with The Tor Project on bringing privacy to everyone all over the world. Beyond our typical stuff, I’m working on the nascent stages of an in-depth privacy training course for librarians that we’re calling Library Freedom Institute. If we get this off the ground, it would be something like a 6 month course taught by LFP staff and other technologists, activists, attorneys, and others working in the privacy space.

You train library staff all across the US and are based there, but I know you occasionally make the trek up North. Canadian privacy legislation is a little different, but do you think that really matters? Do you tailor the training you give to Canadian library staff?

Yes it matters and yes we tailor it. In the US we work with the ACLU to cover the legal contours, and in Canada we’ve worked with CCLA and some other civil libertarian attorneys. It does make a huge difference to know, for example, how C-51 could be used to falsely target political dissidents in Canada, and what librarians can do to protect themselves and their community members.

What advice would you give to a library contracting out services (like an ILS or e-book platform) to a private vendor?

Use these ALA guidelines as a template for informing your contracts: and don’t let the vendor talk you into any ridiculous data driven service model if it’s not necessary. They will always push for less privacy, more data. It’s our job to say no. We’re their customers, we should remember that we have leveraging power, even if we feel like we don’t.

Privacy in libraries is a pretty big issue to tackle. How do you stay energized and focused?

I feel pretty energized by the progress I’ve made with LFP. I only got started a couple of years ago, teaching privacy classes in a small library in Massachusetts. It quickly turned into an internationally-recognized full-time project. My success is good evidence of how much demand there is from our communities to do this for them. Yes, there’s a lot more work to do, but if more of us get involved it’s actually doable.

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Next stop on our #olitahangout tour: LinkedIn on May 19th and 20th

We have scheduled the next stop for our social media hangout tour! Our host is Jan Dawson and we’re going to hanging out in LinkedIn on May 19 & 20th.

Hi! I’m Jan Dawson, OLITA Council member. As part of OLITA’s 2016 Social Media Round About initiative (http://www.accessola…dpress/?p=66308), we have created an OLITA group in LinkedIn. Our social media round about is a tour of different social media platforms so our members can get to know one another and have a safe place to try out new tools.

  1. Click https://www.linkedin…/groups/8533301 and ask to join the group
  2. Jan will approve your membership
  3. Start a conversation or share a job via the two avenues provided in the group

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Join us on Twitter (#olitahangout) on May 12th for the OLITA Social Media Hangout

Continuing our tour of the Social Media Landscape, we’re travelling to the land of Twitter on May 12th with our host, OLITA Councillor, Jeff Toste. He writes:

Hi, I’m Jeff Toste, OLITA council member. Join me on Thursday May 12 to explore social media platform, Twitter.

If you want to learn about some terminology visit before the session!

We’ll be using the hashtag #olitahangout to keep track of our conversation. My twitter handle is @NotRobot_ca if you want to send a public tweet to me.

We’ll be discussing:

1.       Who are some top people in the tech/library industry you’re following?

2.       Let’s take a look at lists. Try creating a list and sharing with OLITA members

3.       Show everyone where you’re tweeting from, use the location feature!

4.       How do you create engagement with your staff and stakeholders (customers, patrons, managers etc)

5.       Tweet out a poll with the hashtag #olitahangout

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The OLITA Social Media Roundabout

It’s difficult to understand the nuances of a particular social media platform without a group of people you feel comfortable being social with. That’s why OLITA is organizing a ‘Social Media Roundabout’ over the next several months.

We want to provide an opportunity for OLITA members to get to know one another while trying out various social media platforms. This way, you and the rest of OLITA can try out some of the more daunting interfaces (*cough cough* Snapchat *cough cough*) among friends and with an OLITA host that you can call on to ask for help when you need it.

We’re going to start off our tour on Slack! And our tour guide will be OLITA Council’s own, Susanna Galbraith!

Hello! I’m Susanna Galbraith, your friendly Olita Councillor who’ll be providing you with a Slack tour May 2 – 4th. Not sure what all the Slack hype is all about? Curious to try but don’t have an opportunity? Join me and give it a whirl!

Not even sure what Slack is? Here’s a tour: 

  1. Beginning May 2, send an email to me at to get an invitation to our OLITA Hangout slack team.
  2. After you’ve received your email invitation, set up your account.
  3. Join all the channels you can see. 
  4. Introduce yourself in the #introductions channel.
  5. Make a giphy of your current mood in the #giphy channel. (Don’t worry, there’ll be instructions on how to do this.)
  6. Start a conversation in the #general channel.
  7. Share something random in the #random channel.
  8. For questions use the #help channel.
  9. Have fun and explore!

We’re hoping to try out a whole bunch of social media platforms over the next few months.

Is there one that you want us to go first? Please let us know!

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OLA Superconference 2017: Call For Proposals

Ontario Library Information Technology Association (OLITA) stream

The theme of the 2017 Ontario Library Association (OLA) Super Conference is “All In”. The OLA’s Ontario Library Information Technology Association (OLITA) stream invites session proposals from all types of libraries and all kinds of staff.

“We are a profession that welcomes all, supports all, serves all. We’re techies, readers, curators, storytellers, humanitarians. Our doors are open, our lights are on, we believe in what we do, and we aren’t holding back. More than ever, our enthusiasm, passion, commitment, and courage are needed.

The chips are down, but we’re not shying away from risks.

We are all in.”


OLA Super Conference | February 1-4, 2017

Submission deadline is Monday, May 23.

Submit your proposal here (

This year OLA will be using ProposalSpace to help you keep track of the status of your proposal. Create a ProposalSpace account to get the process started.


Some topic suggestions:

These are only suggestions—please feel free to submit on any topic or innovative projects you think might be of interest to the OLITA community.

  • Homeless services
  • Healthy workplaces
  • Transferable skills and how to sell them
  • Library start-ups
  • Pop-up services
  • Dealing with precarious employment
  • New models of customer service
  • Approaches to rising journal pricing
  • Curing imposter syndrome
  • Surviving a zombie apocalypse

As always, if you’re interested in presenting on a topic but would like to share a slot, please indicate in your proposal that you’re interested in being matched up with another presenter.


Questions? Comments? Brilliant suggestions? Get in touch with the OLITA Planners! We’d be happy to discuss your proposal prior to submission.

Ana Vrana

Graham Lavender

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