Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Courtesy matters

I am in the process of subduing my blog subscriptions after not reading any of them for almost a month. I was struck by how much of a curmudgeon I must seem sometimes.

You know how Michael Stephens at Tame the Web puts up pictures of really unfortunate signage?

I was catching up on his blog when I came to an unfortunate sign about cell phone usage and I started thinking. And when I started thinking, that's when the curmudgeony-ness kicked in.

Why is it wrong to ask people to restrict their cell phone usage to certain parts of the library. I understand that allowing people to text message or call the reference desk from the stacks makes us more accessible to users. And I get the if you have an iPhone that you want to be able to play games or read blogs or find the catalog. But what's wrong with asking people, for example, not to talk on the phone in certain areas of the library? Or with asking people to turn off the sound on their phones or, alternately, to use earbuds/earphones.

I feel like Andy Rooney when I start talking about what bothers me. I need you to know that I'm not some techno-phobic luddite who doesn't own a cell phone. I own a cell phone and an iPod and I use them both in public places. But I do my best to put my phone on vibrate if I'm in a place where I know it would bother people if my phone went off--the theater, restaurants, church and, yes, the library.

I understand that signage should be appropriate when dealing with these concerns. Libraries look user-unfriendly if they post signs that are mean-spirited or condescending to users. Libraries should be respectful when making requests of their users and offer them the opportunity to prove their trustworthiness. As a library, I should believe that you can play with your iPod or PSP without being a distraction to others and should encourage you to do so. But what's so wrong with asking that you do those things without bothering the person sitting next to you by "cranking it 11" when you play?

So...tell me, because I'm genuinely curious. What's so wrong with putting up appropriate signage about moving your telephone conversations to a designated place in the library? And what's wrong with asking people to be courteous when using their portable devices in public?

Erin, curmudgeon

Monday, December 3, 2007

Controlling controlled vocabulary

I have to give a big "thank you" to Nicole at What I learned today for pointing me to the LCSH browser.

Created by Universit├Ątsbibliothek Braunschweig in Germany, this tool allows users to browse LC subject headings. A user can browse through a list of headings or create a "browse" by searching in one of a few indexes. Once a user has found the term he or she desires, the user can take that term into a search in Worldcat.org, Google, LibraryThing, or Open Library.

One thing that has consistently slipped out of my grasp is the understanding of how well (or how poorly) our users understand and use controlled vocabulary. I don't work directly with our users, but I would guess that a novice searcher would have trouble constructing a search that is complex as LCSH strings can get. It's why tagging has always made sense to me, not as a replacement for controlled vocabulary but in addition to it. Given users to the tools to "discover" complex search strings seems like a neat way to give them a way into our library catalog.

I like, also, how a user can connect directly from a search term into a catalog. Theoretically, if your user was signed into his or her WorldCat.org account, clicking through to WorldCat.org would give users a list of items in your library that had that heading.

It's a neat idea, I think.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Why make something more complicated than it has to be?

Adrienne, from What Adrienne Thinks About That has a fabulous post about how she simplified her library's Summer Reading Program.

You should read it, because it's pure genius.

The key to the changes was based on this logic:
"the more children visit the library, the more likely that they’re reading. Well, DUH, in most cases, that’s going to be because their parents value the library enough to bring them there frequently, and I’m going to wager those parents are also reading to their kids and even reading themselves in their spare time."

So instead of tying the prizes to how many books a kid read, the prizes were given out in the form of weekly drawings. The more times a kidlet came to the library each week, the more times that kidlet could enter the drawings.

Adrienne's library backed this newer, simpler program up with a good collection, strong programming, and free "make-and-take" activities.

This version of the SRP resonated well with me. When I was a college student, I worked for a public library during the summer. I saw kids come into the library, pull a stack of books of the shelf, flip through them, and bring them to me for credit. It always seemed to me like a slap in the face to kids who actually read the books they were trying to get credit for. But, since it wasn't against the rules, I had to give these kidlets the credit for "reading" the books.

Bravo to Adrienne and to her library for helping to change the thinking about what a Summer Reading Program should be.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bitter is a four (wait...six) letter word

I started to read this article about Timothy Ferriss, author of The four hour work week, with a hope that it would teach me about unplugging from technology to make me a more productive person, both personally and professionally.

What I ended up with was a bitter taste in my mouth.

Ferriss doesn't unplug from technology. He pays someone else to plug in for him.

Maybe he doesn't use MySpace or Ning or Twitter, but he still receives correspondence electronically. Only he has personal assistants who sift through his messages and only send him the important ones.

I don't know why this article bugs me so much, but it does. I think it's because it makes technology out to be the enemy.

Technology is not, in my opinion, the enemy. We allow ourselves (myself included) to get overloaded by the presentation of too much information. And maybe this is the point that the article was trying to make: be selective with what information you allow into your world. But I thought it missed the mark.

Teaching the masses to fish

Kate at Loose Cannon Librarian has has a great post about how Library 2.0 is more about people than about technology.

What I love about this post is this:
"stamping our feet and scolding patrons about the quality of their Googling is not going to endear us to them. The 2.0 push has made a huge effort to harness technology to meet people where they are and reshape the library as a facilitator, not an intermediary."

Do you ever have a moment where you jump up and down and high-five the computer screen while shrieking "Yes!" at the top of you lungs like a crazed maniac?

No? It's just me?

Well, okay then...it's just me.

I often feel like it's Librarians vs. Google in a competition for who owns information. Not just who owns information, though, but who owns the right to pass that information on to users. And, it sometimes seems to me that in an attempt to keep all of the information inside our physical and virtual walls that we forget that our users don't care about federated searching or controlled vocabulary as much as they care about getting access to the information they need in a timely manner and without too much headache.

It's a good reminder, then, that libraries should be less about standing between users and the information they need in a specific instance and more about helping users develop the skills to find the information they need in every instance.

Libraries that "get it" often get associated with the label "Library 2.0." But, as Kate points out in her post, it isn't about technology or widgets. It's about connecting people with the information they need to be successful.

Does your library have a blog?

Sophie Brookover has written a fabulous article about libraries whose staff communicate via blogs. She devotes equal time to blogs that are written by staff for library users and blogs that are written by staff for other staff.

Brookover makes an important point in her article about how blogs shouldn't be used in place of face-to-face communication but should, instead, be used to augment conversations already happening at your library.

It seems like old news to stay that your library should be reaching its users by way of the blogosphere. But it isn't. And as every student, parent, grandma, and sports fan starts blogging, it's important for your library to be there too. Programming information, new materials, or explanations of policies can be great things to blog about and can make your library more accessible to users.

But we don't just blog to reach our users who are already using blogs as a means of communication. We blog to reach people for whom the idea of blogging as a means of communication is new. By putting a blog on our library's web page, we engage the user who might not know about this form of communication. And, once engaged, we challenge them to look beyond the world of information they know is available online.

It's just another reminder, I think, that libraries can (and should) reach people on both ends of the technologically savvy spectrum.

Catching up

I feel like I'm always in the stay ahead-fall behind trap, much like everyone else I suppose.

I have let my reading of Library Land blogs slack, which means that I haven't been updating my blog. I finally got myself sorted out feed reader-wise, and separated my Library Land blogs from my personal ones. This will help me, I think, keep up with my professional reading and, thus, my blogging.

I have a few things I want to touch on, so you'll see a flurry of postings from me today. Hopefully within a few days things will be getting back to normal around here.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Controlling the message

According to this article, the Harrison Public Library is cold and heartless.

They charged the daughter of a recently deceased woman the $0.50 fine upon the (late) return of the book her mother had checked out at the time of her death.

The appropriate higher-ups are included in the article as saying that they have no comment.

I'm not really concerned about who's in the right or who's in the wrong in the situation. I mean, I have opinions, but that's not the point of the post.

If you're a library in a similar situation and a reporter comes knocking at your door to talk about this situation, you need to deal with it. You need to take responsibility for what happened and you need to make the readers of that newspaper see you as sympathetic people who made a mistake.

You need to have already contacted the person who feels wronged and expressed how sorry you are. You need to know what she needs from you to feel better and you need to do it. You need to back up those words of remorse with actions.

When the newspaper contacts you, you need to have the person in charge of spinning your message seem contrite for being unresponsive to the woman's needs. You need to have disciplined the person who upset the woman. You need to express how sorry you are at what happened.

You need not only to care, but you also need the people reading the article to believe that you care.

People who have never been to the Harris Public Library--people who don't have a picture of the library--now think that the staff there is rude and unfeeling. It doesn't matter how true the story is or isn't. The reporter has already painted them as a library with a cold, uncaring, unsympathetic staff.

And that message is a powerful motivation not to visit the Harrison Public Library. It doesn't matter how much information they have or how many services. It doesn't matter what kind of programs they put on or if their catalog is shiny. Because they didn't handle this crisis very well, they will lose users.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Basic" cataloging and the training-wheel culture (with a nod to Dorthea Salo)

When I took my school's required cataloging class, I fell into cataloging because I "got" it. I enjoyed the idea of putting an item into a neatly classified box.

Admittedly, it was a naively simple understanding of cataloging.

Shortly after I finished my beginning cataloging class, I secured work as a paraprofessional cataloger at a public library. When I started, I didn't really understand very much about cataloging, but I knew that I had all of the tools that I needed to gain a better understanding.

I'd worked as a paraprofessional cataloger for about six months before I took an advanced cataloging class. The advanced class covered music, serials, e-resources, videos/dvds, and maps. By the time I took the class, I'd had on the job training on cataloging videos/dvds, music, and serials.

Basically, for lack of a better metaphor (and to steal one from Caveat Lector's Dorthea Salo), I beat cataloging with rocks until I figured out how it worked.

Speaking of Dorthea Salo, she talks about the "training-wheels" culture in this post at Caveat Lector.

Salo seems to have lost her patience with those who aren't willing to figure things out on their own, but rather wait with baited breath for the training session. She uses cataloging as a prime example of the "training-wheels" culture in action.

Library schools are offering fewer and fewer cataloging classes, it's true, which means that catalogers-in-training will be more responsible for teaching themselves the nitty gritty of format-specific cataloging.

I think that library schools owe their students at the very least a basic understanding of how library catalogs are designed to work in terms of search and retrieval. They also owe their students as basic understanding of subject analysis and classification schemes.

Knowing how these things works makes you a better librarian no matter what area of librarianship "calls" to you.

But I've never been certain that asking a person who has no interest in cataloging to create an "original" record has any significant value for the student beyond turning them off to cataloging.

If I were teaching a "basic" cataloging course, I would teach students how to "use" a library catalog. I would teach them search strategies that can be used with all catalogs, regardless of vendor. I would teach students about controlled vocabulary and how subject headings are formed. I would teach students how to read bibliographic records. I would teach students about DDC and LC in general terms, and get them familiar with what goes where.

Librarians of every kind learn a lot on the job. Why should cataloging be any different?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Food for thought about "The User"

This post by Wayne Bivens-Tatum at Academic Librarian gave me pause.

We spend a lot of time thinking about implementing various Web 2.0 technologies in the hope that we might better interact with the user. But what if we're ahead of the user, technologically-speaking?

It's both an interesting question and a reality check.

Are we assuming that we know what users want, or are we meeting their needs?

Are we catering to people on the bleeding edge while leaving late adopters out in the cold?

Are we adopting technology for the "ooh! shiny!" factor, or are we making conscientious choices on the technologies that we implement and teach in our libraries?

There are lots of way to figure out if we're "doing right" by our users. The simplest one is just to ask.

So ask. Touch base with your users and make sure that you're giving them what they want rather than what you think they need.

Genre headings ahoy!

I was thrilled to be tipped off by this post at Catalogablog that genre headings are now showing up in the Library of Congress Subject Headings weekly list.

You've always been able to add form/genre headings by way of GSAFD (Guidelines on Subject Access to Individual Works of Fiction, Drama, Etc.) terms.

It's just nice to see the LoC getting on board.

Fantasy Football Librarian

I'm not going to turn this into a sermon about "being where our users are."

I will simply say that I think that this is awesome.

I am in awe of its awesomeness and may cry tears of joy.

--Erin, who loves Fantasy Football

Back to school with iTunes U

iTunes U is an interesting example of "being where your users are."

According to the iTunes U website, "more than half of the nation’s top 500 schools use it to distribute their digital content to students — or to the world."

This is fantastic, because it allows faculty to post digital content for their students (or anyone with an interest, for that matter) to download and listen to on their own time.

When I was in college, I took a psychology class where the professor's lectures were incredibly dense. It was a joy to be in his class because I learned so much, but I often walked out knowing that I hadn't written down every. last. detail. It was a shame, as some of the minutia from his lectures is what made it onto his exams.

In that class, some of my fellow students bought tape recorders. It helped them to record the professor's lectures and then listen to them again later.

iTunes U seems to be the natural extension of the idea of tape recording lectures.

It's even better than that, though, because you don't have to be a student of that university (or any university for that matter) to download a lecture. So, anyone with a computer and some interest can learn anything.

So where do libraries it into this equation?

Are you an academic library at an institution that puts content on iTunes U? If so, are you pimping iTunes U on your library's website or at the help desk?

Are you a public library? Are you advertising the content on iTunes U to your users in the relevant areas of your collection?

I don't necessarily advocate giving free advertising to a business, and iTunes is a business.

But the iTunes U content is freely available to anyone with the means to download it, so I guess, to me, it's different.

I am curious to spend more time with iTunes U and see what there is for me to learn.

Art history? Physics? Literature?

So much content, so little time.

--Erin

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Intelligent design @ your library

A cataloging listserv I subscribe to brought the Darwin Day Petition to my attention.

Barbara Shaw, a graduate student at Portland State University, is drafting a petition requesting that books on creationism and intelligent design be moved in bookstores and libraries from the science section to the religion section.

Ms. Shaw presents the idea that the placing of intelligent design texts in the science section comes not out of malice, but out of misinformation. She writes, "Categorizing books is both a science and an art. We respect the enormous task they have, and our efforts are to support them, not in any way to undermine them."

Ms. Shaw places the blame squarely on the shoulders of scientists. She argues that they must do a better job of teaching the public "what science is, and what science is not."

As someone who classifies library materials as part of her job, Shaw's petition shows a weakness in the process. For both Dewey Decimal Classification and LC Classification, the classifier has to use his or her best judgment when assigning a class number. If a book is about one topic and it is mis-classified, it's an error on the catalogers part. If, though, the book is about two topics, the classifier must decide what the book is more "about."

For instance, if a book "about" both intelligent design and evolution, the classifier has to decide which topic the book is more "about." He or she must often look beyond the title page to get the information needed, like the author's background or argument.

As Ms. Shaw states, it's both an art and a science. And sometimes we get it wrong.

I think it's neat that Ms. Shaw and her colleagues feel so strongly about the situation that they are willing to work for change. I respect that.

It is a reminder for me, as a cataloger, to always be vigilant when making decisions.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Real life vs. Second Life

I'm not sure, overall, how I feel about Second Life.

I was fascinated, however, to read this Boing Boing post about IBM workers striking in Second Life about things that happened to them in "real" life.

I think that it is entirely possible that virtual environments can create "real life" change. Second Life could, in fact, be a place for people with a cause to meet and discuss that cause. Theoretically, it could even be a safer space for some groups than any "real world" meeting place.

It is interesting, then, given Second Life's potential that libraries are having such a mixed response to becoming part of the Second Life community. I know that Info Island is thriving in Second Life and that their reference desk fields quite a few questions. On the other hand, I see a mixed reaction from individual libraries about having a presence in Second Life.

I'm not making a value judgment. Each individual library should decide how much time, if any, is appropriate to devote to this application. And, admittedly, I know an embarrassingly small amount about Second Life.

I just think it's interesting.

Monday, September 17, 2007

You want a Wii with that?

A while ago, I wrote about the difference between being user-centered and user-driven.

I postulated that being user-centered was about aligning what your user needs to find information with the services you offer. Being user-driven, on the other hand, is about letting your users decide what services you provide.

What I meant about the two is that being user-centered means that you know that your library is important, has worth, and can enhance the user's life in some way. To me, being user-driven allows the library to be devalued. To me, being user-driven seems desperate. "We want to be relevant," we shout from the rooftops, "and we will do anything to get your business!"

Wayne Bivens-Tatum, the author of the Academic Librarian blog, talks about the purpose of academic libraries vis-a-vis gaming in the library in this post.

This quote stuck with me long after I'd finished reading the post and encapsulated my argument on user-centered vs. user-driven better than I ever could:
"I fear that an effort to make the library 'fun' distracts from that purpose. The message it could send to students is, even the librarians think study and scholarship are dull."

In my opinion, academic libraries should strive to be a place where students start their research, either in the stacks or through their virtual presence. They should strive to meet students' needs in a timely way. They should be welcoming and inviting places. They should meet the users where they are--both in the classroom and online. They should anticipate their users needs. In a phrase, they should be user-centered.

Would it be fun to have a Wii set up somewhere in the library during finals week? Absolutely, as it would serve as a good break for the students. Should academic libraries find a way to be in Facebook? Absolutely, as it is a good reminder for students that the library is a good tool.

Should academic libraries strive to be "cool" or "hip," though?

I'm not sure you'd ever convince the entire academic community that the library is the hippest place on campus. And frankly I'm not sure you'd want to.

Inviting? Yes. Useful? Sure. Relevant? Absolutely.

But hip? I'm not so sure.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Librarians in the news (as reported by Eclectic Librarian)

I thought that this post by Eclectic Librarian sums up the types of stories in the news about librarians.

It made me laugh.

You should read it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Teaching moments

I was in Upstate New York this weekend attending a memorial service for a member of my husband's family. On Sunday morning, the extended family was sitting around the breakfast table reading the Sunday comics.

My husband hands me the comics because of this and says "You'll think this is funny. You're the only person I've ever heard say the word 'folksonomies.'"

I read the strip and laughed quite a bit.

The rest of the people at the table looked at me expectantly.

I spent the next 15 minutes explaining folksonomies, tagging, and controlled vocabulary.

What's better, at the end of the 15 minutes, the people at the table weren't looking at me glassy eyed.

I was reminded that I can have a hand in turning people on to libraries even when I'm not at work. A discussion over the Sunday comics can be a way to open people up to what the library does (and can potentially do) for them.

Being where the users are

I got a link to LibGuides today.

It seems like a great way for school and academic librarians to connect with their users. You can imbed videos, chat boxes, and RSS feeds into your Widgets. You can link to things in your library catalog on your Widget.

And best of all? You can publish your Widget in Facebook so that your students can find you.

It's tagline is "Web 2.0 for Library 2.0."

Fabulous, right?

It is if your users will use it. If not, it's just another waste of your time and resources.

Facebook users have to go into "applications" and search for LibGuides. Then they have to add the application to their page. Then they have to hope that their school has created content for them to link to. I know all of this because I did it myself.

I think that LibGuides has great potential. I think that if libraries use it that it is a great example of being where the users are.

My question, though, is how do you let users know that this application exists? In other words, if you build it, you have to tell them it's there before they will come.

This isn't to suggest that we through the application out completely and continue our Luddite-ian ways. It's just to say that your front-line staff has to be out there connecting with users in the first place if you want this to work.

"Go where your users are." It's a huge hallmark of the Library 2.0 philosophy. I think the unspoken corollary is that you have to find a way to let users know you're there. Does your library have subject guides or a blog linked directly off of the main web page? Do your librarians have a web presence and is that web presence known by their constituency? Are you spending face time with the people you serve so they want to find you online?

All of the technology and all of the "be where uses are" doesn't make any difference if your users:
A)Don't know
B)Don't care

Don't just be where your users are--be relevant in the lives of your users. Engage them and present a likable front. Make them want to spend more time with you.

Then if you build it they will come.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I'm not a lawyer. I'm a librarian.

According to this article in Monday's NY Times, prison chaplains in federal prisons have been purging religious texts from prison chapel libraries.

According to the article, the Bureau of Prisons (an agency of the Justice Department) is recommending texts be removed in a response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General. The desired outcome of the "Standardized Chapel Library Project?" To keep prisons from becoming recruiting grounds for radical religious organizations.

The Bureau did create a list of acceptable titles--150 books and 150 multimedia resources for 20 different religions and religious groups. The list was created by "experts" in the field of religious studies. The people doing the list-making have not been publicly identified.

As one can imagine, after the chaplains purge their libraries of all titles not on the list, there are few titles left in their libraries.

I think that after being incarcerated, the right to information might be the last remaining right of a prisoner. It seems wrong, then, to strip prisoners of their right to access information. I suppose it's possible that removing books from a chapel library could make us safer, but I don't know. Regardless of all that, though, I wonder where librarians are coming down on this issue. Do we, as librarians, believe that everyone has the right to access information, regardless of their status? Do we believe that the poor, the disenfranchised, and even the incarcerated deserve the same level of service as the wealthy, those within "the norm," and those who are free?

Who do we, as a profession, believe is worthy of having access to information?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

"Read" done right

Remember when I commented on the city council member trading cards?

I found something, by way of this post at Library Stuff, that illustrates the point I was trying to make.

The Carmichael Library at University of Montevallo in Alabama has these great Read posters with prominent members of their staff and student body. You can find them on the Carmichael Library Blog.

They got it right! Yay!

I think that the key to making successful library promotional materials like this is to focus on a diverse group of people who are high-profile enough to be easily recognized.

In a university setting, I could see putting posters up in the student union and some of the lecture halls in addition to having them in the library. Product placement is a good way to keep the library at the front of your users minds.

For a public library, I could see putting them in a grocery store or local ice cream shop.

I think that this adds a new dimension to "be where your users are." This is a way to promote your services in places where people go on a regular basis without beating them over the head with the "Library good! Reading good!" message. It is subtle yet captivating.

--Erin

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What not to wear @ your library?

LISNews, in this post points to this article and this blog post about fashion guru Paula Ryan handing out fashion tips at the 2007 conference of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand.

It seems that the communications coordinator is selling this as an opportunity for librarians to combat their dated image whist Ryan is saying that she has no preconceptions about how librarians dress.

As you might imagine, the librarians are all in an uproar.

How dare you insult us like this, they cry. How dare you tell us that we need lessons in style? How dare you suggest that we dress sloppily or in an outdated way?

It's an interesting question, I think, whether style has any bearing on how our users see us. Are we less approachable if our hair is in a bun than we are if we are sporting tattoos and hipster clothing?

The biblioblogosphere has already addressed this question ad nauseum with the publication of "A hipper crowd of shushers" in the NY Times, so I'm not going to focus on hipster librarians vs. the stereotypical librarian-type.

What I do think is interesting is that when a library association tries to offer a session about how to make oneself more fashionable, its members take that as an insult.

It doesn't appear that attendance at this session is mandatory. It seems, instead, like this is an opportunity for those who want to get some style pointers to get a chance to hear a fashion expert speak. It would be a great opportunity for librarians new to the profession to learn about how to dress professionally and it would serve as a refresher course for those whose wardrobes could use a little pick me up.

I applaud the LIANZ for trying to help its members appear more professional and, yes, more stylish. For me it isn't about wanting to combat a stereotype. For me it's about looking professional. I think, sometimes, that new librarians are at a loss for how to dress in order to gain the respect of their colleagues and their users. As a young professional, I know that I carefully consider my clothing options to make sure that I am dressed like a "grown up" every day that I come to work. I take pride in the job I do, and I like to reflect that pride in my appearance. I choose to dress professionally because I respect myself, my job, and my profession.

I don't want respect from my users because I wear the latest (and most expensive) fashions. I want respect because my ideas are good and because I can help connect them with the information they need to make their lives better. In an ideal world, it wouldn't matter how I was dressed as long as I could provide those services. But, in any profession, there should be a clear distinction between what is appropriate to wear to work and what is not.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On being "user-centered"

K.G. Schneider has a great post at Free Range Librarian about Library 2.0-ishness and the cult of "them."

I have never met K.G. Schneider. She spoke at a conference I went to this year and I suppose I could have introduced myself to her. It was early, though, and I wasn't in my best form after a late night of "networking," so I didn't. I was too chicken to tell her how much of an impact she'd made on me as a librarian and a thinker so I listened to her brilliant address and that was that. I am guessing that she gets a lot of that anyway and that by now it might not have as much of an impact as it might have ages ago.

Enough of my fawning over my librarianship idols.

Toward the end of the post, Schneider writes:
"Sometimes I think none of us, including me, really want to be user-centered… unless we’re talking about a user community of one, that is, ourselves. I don’t know that I’ll add 'Please let me be more user-centered' when we say grace over dinner (given that the list of people we need to pray for gets longer every day, and I don’t like cold food), but I can see the value of reminding myself every morning what was important to me."

I am a big fan of user-centeredness, I will admit. I think we should use every trick up our sleeves, technological or not, to help connect our users to the information they seek. I sometimes wonder, though, if this is because in "real life" I don't work the front lines. I never see a user unless I pass one on my way to the restroom or to get my lunch. I staff the back room of my institution and help to make the catalog work better.

I suppose it must be different for people who work with users all the time. When you deal with the college student needing sources for his paper the day it's due, you might not be sympathetic to his cause and willing to show him how citation software can help make keeping track of sources easier. If you have to deal with that lady who comes in all the time wanting help on genealogy, you might not want to help her use the microfilm reader.

I get it. It's hard out there for a reference librarian.

But sometimes you have to remember that it's not about you.

It's my favorite mantra, really, it's not about you.

Sometimes being "user-centered" makes our lives more difficult. Sometimes being "user-centered" goes against everything we learned in library school. Sometimes being "user-centered" means blazing new trails.

Maybe if I spent time at the reference desk I'd feel differently, I don't know. But I feel like if we want to succeed at being good libraries and good librarians (like we claim we want to), we have to stop doing what works for us and start doing what works for the user.

--Erin

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Zotero @ your library?

I have heard the buzz about Zotero by osmosis, but have never actually had cause to investigate it. I was reading something about a new release of the software, and decided to use that opportunity to check it out.

Wowza!

It seems like you couldn't possibly ask for more from citation software. It's open source. It's compatible with Microsoft Office and Open Office. It allows users to export citations in style-specific formats. It allows users to tag citations for specific projects. And it runs through your web browser (assuming your Web Browser is Firefox).

I wondered immediately whether librarians in my library are telling our students about Zotero when they ask for help with finding articles or citing sources. It seems like this would be the perfect way for a student to house citations for various assignments they're working on.

If you were doing research in a database for a paper for your English class, you could (theoretically) grab the citation before you printed the article and, when the time came for you to document your sources, grab all of the citations marked "English 101" and document them in the style your professor preferred.

I haven't played with it much, though, so I'm not sure about its limitations. It may not be the best citation software out there.

I do hope, though, that librarians who are "in the know" about this type of technology are sharing it with their colleagues and their users.

Oh the places you'll....um, who's that?

A story in the Orlando Sentinel talks about how the librarians at the Volusia County Public Library used ALA-approved software to make "READ" trading cards. Instead of featuring cartoon characters or athletes, the cards featured members of the County Council with their favorite books.

Unsurprisingly, the kiddies were confused.

Why did the librarians decide to use local political figures? According to the story because it was an original idea.

I don't mean to call out the VCPL. They had a good idea. In theory.

I like the idea of featuring local "celebrities" on READ posters or trading cards. But unless you follow local politics, you might not know who those people were. Why not feature people like local TV news anchors or local pitchmen for merchants that kids might see on TV? You can pick good role models for kids while, at the same time, picking faces that they recognize.

When I was little, I loved the weatherman on the TV station we watched. I would have loved to see him on a READ poster holding his favorite book.

Or imagine the kid who is a sports nut and lives for the sports part of the newscast. Imagine how excited that kid would be to see the local sports anchor with his favorite book.

Imagine the chance for non-readers to connect with books that their role models love.

More importantly, if the story is being run in the Orlando paper, why not see if the the Orlando Magic would be willing to partner with your library? They have a community page with a link to their youth foundation. It is possible that the Magic would have sent a few lesser-name players to take photos with books.

The problem with a good idea that doesn't go so well but that makes the newspaper is that you get negative publicity for your library. The tone of the article makes my skin crawl. There's this unspoken tone of 'hey you idiots, why'd you do that?' And, if you're VCPL, it seems like you might want to have a better answer than the one they gave.

If your library board reads this article, are they going to pat you on the back and tell you what a good job you did?

Yeah, I don't think so either.

Granted I don't know VCPL's thought process, or do I know what kind of legwork they did before they rolled out this idea. It seems to me, though, that this idea would have been much more successful if the people chosen had been more recognizable to the youth.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Why perception matters

I am wary of putting myself the "academic librarian" box in terms of what I blog about, so I hesitate to post two academic library-related blogs in two days.

Nevertheless, I had to blog when I read this post on ACRLog about The Princeton Review's list of best academic libraries. You can view the list here. One must complete a free registration to view the list.

(You could also probably get a "free" user name and password from here. But I'm encouraging you to be a good citizen.)

The only criteria for ranking on the list is "students' assessment of library facilities."

I am curious by what Princeton Review means when it says "library facilities" and, furthermore, what students actually commented on. I wonder if a library's ranking on the list was directly related to how many computers a library has and whether the study spaces are nice.

It got me thinking, though, about how our students view the library.

Not to oversimplify my take on things, but I think that students can be broken down into three categories:
1. Students who go to college and care more about academic achievement than about social development.
2. Students who are more interested in social development than academic achievement.
3. Students who are interested in both academic achievement and well-rounded social development.

Having said that, I wonder if the makeup of a student body is directly related to how they view the library.

Students who are more interested in academic achievement than social development might be looking primarily at a library's collection (both physical and virtual) and how that collection can meet his or her needs.

Students who are more interested in social development than academic achievement might be looking primarily at a library's physical spaces and how conducive the are to meeting a student's social needs (can I work in a group? can I be noisy?).

Students who are equally interested in both academic achievement and social development might be looking at both the physical space and the collections.

I don't know any of this for certain, though. I'm just throwing it out there.

It stands to reason, then, that a school might be ranked based on how well it responds to the varied needs of its student population. But, you ask, if users want both good spaces *and* good collections, how do we meet anyone's needs without going broke?

I think that it's hard to please all of your users all of the time and inadvisable to please some of your users all of the time. I suspect, though, if you're able to give a large part of your users some of what they need, they'll look more kindly upon you.

This is not to say that you shouldn't take seriously the desire to meet every user's needs. I think you should. But I do think that it's unrealistic to think that you can do everything for everybody all of the time. Budgets sometimes don't allow for nice spaces *and* nice collections. But, if you find ways to address your users needs--for instance purchasing access to the most desired database as well as adding a few more group-friendly work spaces--they will give you more mulligans for the times you fall short.

In my mind, being user-centered is as much about delivering the goods as it is showing a good faith effort to deliver the good.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Are your students being served?

I work in an academic library, though I don't work with the public. Thus, I think a lot about how to help our students but very little time actually helping them face-to-face.

As the school year is set to begin, two of our biggest questions are:
How do we better serve our students?
How do we better serve our faculty?

These questions are equally important and equally vital to our success as an institution.

When we think about serving students, we think a lot about how to make the website and catalog easier to use and how to "be where our users are." Jane at A Wandering Eyre has a fantastic post about how better serving students is as much about those technologically-related things as it is about being helpful.

Jane gives several great examples of how her library is a helpful, useful place for students. The staff answers every question asked of them with an actual answer or the name of someone who can do the answering. The library has partnered with IT to have an IT station near their reference desk where students can ask questions about managing their accounts. The staff lets students eat in their library.

All of these things point to a level of friendliness that students may not view as customer service but which do serve the user in a tangible way. By making the library seem friendly and useful, the librarians that staff it have ensured a base of customers that they can serve.

I think this can be a lesson for all libraries wrestling with the question of better serving their users. Anticipating the user's needs can be as complex as having faceted browse in one's catalog or as simple as giving helpful, straightforward answers.

--Erin

Monday, August 20, 2007

User-centered vs. user-driven

I have started (and deleted) this post a few times. I am hoping that this time it "sticks."

In November 2006, Laura at Library 2.0: an academic's perspective published a Library 2.0 manifesto. The bullet points of the manifesto represent the Library 2.0 ideas that people who believe in it hold close to their hearts. One could print off this manifesto, hang it in one's office, and use those bullet points to live a Library 2.0 life.

In the August 2007 issue of American Libraries, Laura wrote and article about her manifesto. She details her thoughts behind why she wrote the manifesto and describes the ways in which the document has taken on a life of its own. She writes that Library 2.0 "reaffirms libraries as user centered enterprises, and then connects this focus to current information culture. As the nature of this information culture evolves, so does the nature of library services, which become transformed in an experimental, risk-taking process. Users are given a trusted, participatory role in shaping this transformation. Ultimately, librarians become champions of adaptability to meet users' evolving needs" (p. 49).

Libraries are user-centered enterprises. They were well before the advent of Library 2.0. Not every library represents this view, obviously, but the nature of what all libraries do is to connect users with information.

The current information culture is collaborative. Social software like MySpace, Facebook, PB Wiki, LiveJournal, YouTube, Flickr have made information more available to all. People can be hooked in as much or as little as they choose to everyone else. Couple that with a search engine like Google (that can get you anything and everything you could possible want) and an encyclopedia like Wikipedia (that can provide you facts on nearly everything, no matter how obscure) and not only in the information culture collaborative, but it is also instantaneous.

So, libraries have to be user-centered in a world that is both collaborative and instantaneous, right?

In a nutshell, this is what I believe Library 2.0 is about.

What I don't believe, however, is that we should throw out our authority as an institution in order to make sure that the user is always right. Being user-centered is not the same as being user-driven.

Libraries have built their reputation on providing people with the information they need to be successful. Sometimes that means teaching someone how to use a database. Sometimes this means helping someone find a recipe. Sometimes this means helping someone do patent searches or look for medical literature.

In this user-centered world, librarians need to stop being gate-keepers, but they shouldn't just throw the gates open and let the people run amok.

Yes, your library should have a web presence. Yes, your library should do chat reference. Yes, your library should have a catalog and website that make sense for users.

Yes, your librarians should be able to talk to patrons about subjects and technologies that interest them.

I also believe though, that your library needs a classification system. Maybe it isn't Dewey or LC, but you need to keep the books in order in some way so that users can find what they're looking for. Your library catalog should have controlled vocabulary of some sort. Maybe you dump the antiquated language of LC subject headings in favor of language that is more natural, but your users need to be able to find what they're looking for in your catalog.

Learn. Play. Explore.

Know what matters to your users and know how to give it to them.

But don't sell yourself short by giving away everything that makes you special as an institution.

Remember that your charge as a library is to be user-centered and to connect people with the information they need to be successful.

User-centered doesn't mean user-driven.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I sold my soul and all I got was this lousy tee shirt.

I didn't really sell my soul, but it kind of felt like it.

Last night I paid a lot of money to join ALA.

I joined the organization, the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (and the cataloging/classification and serials subgroups), the Library and Info. Technology Association, the NMRT, the Social Responsibility Round Table, and the Intellectual Freedom Round Table.

It was a lot of money, but I did it.

Want to know why?

I keep thinking that if I want to make a difference in the library community, I have to be a part of its largest player. Yes, there are numerous issues with ALA, but I want to help fix them. I would argue that ALA is the first library-related organization that comes to mind when people think of libraries. ALA is everywhere, from @ Your Library to Capital Hill. With all of that influence built up, if you want to move and shake, you've got to join.

I hope that I can become active in the organization. I also hope that my optimism (and hefty fee) won't be for nothing.

And, for the record, I didn't actually get a tee shirt. Alas.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Who am I?

Your Personality is Very Rare (INTP)

Your personality type is goofy, imaginative, relaxed, and brilliant.

Only about 4% of all people have your personality, including 2% of all women and 6% of all men
You are Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Perceiving.


This quiz was interesting, but didn't give a lot of specific details about what it means to be INTP, so I did some research.

Wikipedia says that as an INTP, I enjoy the theoretical and that I spend a lot of time in my head. It also says that I may seem "dreamy" and, as a result, I might have a problem relating to people.

I can buy that. I enjoy learning the theoretical behind the practical and, when I learn something new, I want to learn the "why" rather than the "how."

I do have problems relating to people sometimes, but I do think I have a bit more empathy in me than the personality type gives me credit for.

It was a small, insignificant quiz, but it was an interesting look into my head. It's been a while since I took a personality test, and I swear that my "T" used to be an "S." Funny, right?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

So what do you do with "The The?"

Day 2 of our name authorities training brought another "huh?" moment for me.

For corporate bodies (companies, musical groups, etc.), initial articles should be dropped unless the article is part of the name. So, Los Angeles is part of the city's name, so "Los" stays. For the band "Los Lobos," you drop the "Los" and the band becomes "Lobos (Musical group)."

Huh?

There are a lot musical groups that actually do have the world "the" as part of their title (Los Lobos, The Who, The White Stripes, etc). And there are bands for whom the omission of "the" in the name of the band is a stylistic choice (the Eagles, the Smashing Pumpkins).

There is a big difference between "the" with a Big T in front of a band name and "the" with a Little T in front of a band name.

Big T=part of a band's name
Little t=not part of a band's name

It seems strange to me that "the rules" dictate that catalogers should just disregard what a band calls itself and treat all of the "the"s in front of band names equally. It's strange because all of those "the"s aren't equal.

I know it's a small thing. And you can put a cross-reference in to link "The White Stripes" to "White Stripes," so at least the user does get directed to the band's music. But it just seems short sided to me that "the rules" sell artistic groups so short by doing this.

By the way "The The" is established as "The The (Musical group)".

What tools are e-learners using?

This list has been making it's way around the biblioblogosphere. It's the Top 100 (technology) tools for learning, as complied by the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies. These technologies range from search engines to blog subscription services, from email applications to music-related services. All of them, though, make learning easier in some way.

As many people have pointed out, library-related technologies are missing from the equation and there is much speculation as to why libraries are absent. Is it a promotion problem? Are our websites too difficult to navigate? Are our databases hard to use?

If you look at that list, Google makes a very strong showing. After all, Google is a one-stop shopping experience. Through Google's customizable desktop (iGoogle) you can read your favorite blogs (Google Reader), use Google to search the web, find scholarly articles (Google scholar), and on and on. For many e-learners, Google is the online version of the Third Place.

So how do we, as libraries, create an online version of the "Third Place?"

I don't think it's by replicating Google. Sure, it's fine to emulate Google's method of putting everything you need to be successful in one place, ala iGoogle, but I do stop short of saying that libraries should all have websites whose front pages are blank screens with single search boxes.

But, like iGoogle, each element on our front pages should be meaningful. When a user comes to our website, it is their first impression of us. And, if we want our libraries to have more users and our users to have more meaningful experiences, we should make our websites useful portals. If you're an academic library, why not have a link from your homepage to the university's email system? If you're a public library, why not have a link to your town's newspaper's website?

I think it comes down to defining what your library thinks its "job" is. Google doesn't say "we're for searching" and that's it. So maybe libraries shouldn't say "we're for finding books and journal articles and that's it." Maybe by seeing ourselves as doorways to all information, we can be place from which our users start their trip into the online world rather than a place they come to from the online world.

Wouldn't it be fantastic if people had their libraries' homepages set as their Internet "start" screen instead of Google?

--Erin

Friday, August 3, 2007

It's funny because it's true

Tim Spalding of LibraryThingwrites on the Thingology blog:

"I have seen the future of libraries. It is to spend the future discussing the future of libraries."

When I finally stopped laughing, I couldn't help but agree.

There are a lot of people in LibraryLand that are thinking a lot of great thoughts about how libraries should be run and how catalogs should look and how we should serve our users. It's great conversation and I want to be part of it. Getting our ducks in a row before we start the revolution makes sense to me.

But when do we, as a profession, stop getting our ducks in a row and start the revolution already?

On a person-by-person level it's already happening. There are luminaries out there preaching the Gospel of Library 2.0 and making a difference. There are individual libraries making changes, both large and small, that make their libraries more user-friendly. And it's true that a revolution can happen one person at a time.

As a profession, though, we're sort of lumbering toward the brink of extinction where we either have to evolve or die out and let something else emerge in our place. Those luminaries I mentioned before--they can't drag the profession kicking and screaming into modernity unless the profession wants to change. I sometimes wonder if we, as profession, do want to change. Some of us do, yes, but do we as a whole? Are we committed, as a profession, to being Libraries in a 2.0 world?

It's funny 'cause it's true. And it's funny because you have to laugh to keep from crying.

--Erin

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Huh?

So, I'm in the midst of NACO training. It's really helpful for me to understand how name authority records work, but there's one piece of information that's got me stumped...

The trainer said that in authority records for Musical Groups, you can't have a "see also" reference to individual members of the group and vice versa *unless* the members are named in the name of the group.

For example, you can't make "see also" references from The Beach Boys to Brian Wilson and vice versa. You can, however, make "see also" references from the group Sonny & Cher to it's individual members.

On the surface, it makes sense. You'd end up spending a ton of time making those connections. And, the trainer did say that one could do that locally, just not in the national authority file.

But let's say a user does a search for Brian Wilson in his library catalog. Wouldn't be nice (hee hee...) for that user to also get directed to The Beach Boys, too? Maybe he doesn't want music by the Beach Boys--maybe he only wants Smile--but it would be nice to give the user a reminder.

I would guess that the sticky wicket isn't in putting a "see also" reference in Brian Wilson's authority record, but in putting "Brian Wilson" in the Beach Boys' authority record. You can't realistically make authority records for every member of every band, and there's no way to predict which members of any given band will be popular.

I did some searching, and it looks like libraries do link "Brian Wilson" with "Beach Boys" in bibliographic records by making Wilson an added entry in all of the records for Beach Boys albums. So when you search for Brian Wilson, you do get linked to the Beach Boys records, but it happens inside the results screen.

I wonder how useful it is for the user to get to results delivered to them this way. For me, I don't want my Brian Wilson mixed in with my Beach Boys, but I want to be pointed in that direction, too.

At the end of the day, rules like this bring order to our little corner of the world. And there are ways to make it work. It just made me wonder about whether or not we make rules like this to help ourselves or to help the users.

Feel free to fill me in on the finer points of this, if you know them. I am happy to change my position as it might have been made in ignorance.

--Erin

Friday, July 27, 2007

The proves that there is a quiz for everything


Your Score: Sad Cookie Cat


72% Affectionate, 39% Excitable, 62% Hungry




You are the classic Shakespearian tragedy of the lolcat universe. The sad story of a baking a cookie, succumbing to gluttony, and in turn consuming the very cookie that was to be offered. Bad grammar ensues.



To see all possible results, checka dis.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Doesn't the Sorting Hat take into account personal choice?

Despite the books being around forever, I'd never been sorted. I'd prefer to be a Ravenclaw and the score was so close (14 Hufflepuff, 12 Ravenclaw). But loyal, dependable, and hardworking aren't that bad of traits, I guess.


Which Hogwarts house will you be sorted into?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tagmash, or, why Tim from LibraryThing is a genius

Go read this post at Thingology and tell me that Tim from LibraryThing isn't a genius.

I dare you. I double dog dare you. I triple dog dare you.

LibraryThing just went live with something called tagmash. It allows you to search for all the books that have two or more tags.

Want to know all of the books that have the tags "cat" and "chicklit"? I did.Here they are.

It's pretty cool to get a collocated list like that.

As Tim points out in his post, though, it does show how tags are only as good as their users. I have an idea of what I think "chick lit" is, and some of these titles don't fit my definition of chick lit.

What's awesome about tagmash, though, is that people using LibraryThing can get instant feedback on these books. On this list, I see a title by an author I like (Bet me by Jennifer Cruisie). I click on the link and see member reviews *and* how many users gave the title five stars.

It's one stop shopping at its best, methinks.

Imagine if our library catalogs had all this going for it: tags and tag mashups, user reviews, and user ratings.

It boggles the mind.

--Erin

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Databases, schmatabases

Wow...that was really lame. The title, I mean.

Anway, I read this post by Amy Kearns at Library Garden. Kearns wants us to stop referring to our online databases as "databases." She believes that the word "databases" doesn't have a lot of meaning to our users and that we should call them something else that is more meaningful to our users.

Kearns writes, "When I hear the word "database," and if I didn't know what it was, it conjures up for me some really complicated spreadsheet system or, well, database, that is way too complicated for me to figure out and use, and that is TOTALLY BORING - not exciting or attractive to me in anyway, doesn't sound useful to me and doesn't make me want to use it or care to find out how to use it at all!"

I suspect that she's right and it worries me. If given the choice between using a "database," with all of the baggage that comes with this word, and using "Google Scholar," which are they going to choose?

I seriously don't think that, until the moment that I read Kearns' post, I had ever given much thought to why, in some disciplines, my library's users prefer Google Scholar over our databases.

I wonder, though, if calling our databases something else is the solution to the "our users don't want to use our databases" problem. I mean, there are ways that we can make our library services more accessible to our users and I am sure that language is one of them. But does changing the language we use to describe our services and our collections also change the way our users feel about them? After all, the databases will still be hard to use, even if we call them something else.

I think that giving our resources new, more accessible names is a start. But I feel like there also has to be a fundamental change in how these resources work and, when that change isn't possible, we have to find new ways to relate these resources to our users.

These databases, for lack of a better word, have value to the users. And, in the academic library, it is one of our users' only links to peer reviewed articles. But if the users don't want to use them, why are our institutions, academic or otherwise, paying lots of money to have access to them?

Ultimately I agree with Kearns. We do have to call our databases something else. Because in the end, the word "scholar" in Google Scholar sounds way more accessible than "online database."

Controlled vocabulary=control?

When I finally catch up on all of my Bloglines feeds, I'll have to come up with more creative (and original) ways to create content for my blog. But, for now, you're stuck with me commenting on other people's thoughts.

Tim from LibraryThing writes about tagging and the power of suggestion in this post. He talks about the fact that, with tags, the words that appear in the title of a book (as well as how they're formatted) impact how a user tags the book. He writes "Titles influence how we tag things. Most of the books on birds and birding could be tagged with either term, but books with 'birds' in the title rank higher on the 'birds' tag."

It illustrates an interesting point about why librarians sometimes aren't so keen about letting users tag records. Is it really okay for users to assign the same tag to books about two closely related, but different, subjects? Can't you just hear the collective gasp of the cataloging community?

I suspect that if you ask people who don't want to add tags to their library catalogs why they're against it, you'd hear an argument that distills thusly:

"We don't want to give up control of the way that our users search for information."

Controlled vocabulary does, in fact, give librarians control over how users search for information in that it gives users a known way to find information on a given topic. You know, for instance, that all of the cookbooks can probably be found using the word "cookery."

The thing is, controlled vocabulary does a pretty decent job of collocating books on a given subject, if the people assigning the subject headings and classification numbers do a good job of making sure that they are adding the same subject headings to all books on the same subject. If they don't, it's anyone's guess how well you'll find all of the books on any given topic.

The other thing is that some of the controlled vocabulary that librarians are holding onto just doesn't work for users.

Let's revisit our friend "cookery," shall we? How many people know that the word "cookery" is the magic key that opens the door to all of the cookbooks? Probably not many.

If library users don't speak librarian-ese, they sure don't speak "cataloger." Heck, I'm a cataloger and I don't speak "cataloger" very fluently.

Those same people who have a hard time giving up control of controlled vocabulary will tell you that with tagging, it's hard to collocate titles under any given topic. They'll show you Tim's example about birds vs. birding and tell you that if we add tags to our catalog that nobody will ever be able to find anything.

Poppycock, I say.

Mmm...popycock...*drools*

First of all, in our catalogs, it doesn't have to be an all or nothing approach. Keep the controlled vocabulary, but allow your users to add tags to records. It will help your cataloging staff which, I bet, is having a hard time keeping up with work anyway.

See, as a cataloger, I do my best to assign subject headings to the things I'm cataloging and sometimes it's easier than other times. Working in an academic institution, there are things that come across my desk that I will never be able to understand. Technical science documents, complex sociological texts, and on and on. I do my best with these materials, but I know that there are people out there who know way more about this stuff than I do.

And the beauty of having tags in your catalog is knowing that people who know more than you have the ability to help make your work better.

Tags aren't perfect though. It is hard work to wrangle all of the different ways to describe a book (bird vs. birding, anyone). But that's where librarians can circle back into the picture. If it becomes a problem that limits access, librarians could help bring various tags together, choosing the most-used tag. But if it's never a problem, let users create tags that reflect the way that they speak.

I went to a program this past week where Michael Stephens from Tame the Web in which he talked about "The Hyperlinked Library." He kicked copious amounts of boo-tay and I was thrilled, inspired, and humbled to have gotten the chance to be there. One of the things Stephens talked about was the idea of Radical Trust. He said that we should trust not only our colleagues, but also the user.

To me, this is key when thinking about letting other vocabularies intermingle with our precious controlled vocabulary. Tagging and controlled vocabulary can co-exist peacefully, and letting them do so is an exercise in trusting the user.

Can we do it?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter and the various editions

William Denton writes in this post on the FRBR blog that Amigos Library Service is offering to its members the option of applying parts of the FRBR model to their WorldCat comparison.

Amigos Library Services says on its WorldCat Collection enhancements page that "Applying elements of FRBR groups various editions and formats of the same title together."

I jumped a little in my seat and said "Woo!" I woke MollyDog up and she wasn't amused. Then I realized that I had no idea, in any sort of practical way, what that meant.

I Googled "WorldCat comparison" and ended up at FirstSearch's help page where I learned that "A WorldCat comparison compares your Aggregated Group Analysis to all of WorldCat."

Okay, great, but what does that mean?

Next I found FirstSearch help's definition of Aggregated Group analysis and learned that "In an Aggregated Group analysis the combined titles of all member libraries, with duplicates removed, are presented as though the group were a single institution."

So if I'm reading this right, WorldCat comparison analyzes your library's holdings against other library's holdings so that you can see which titles you have are unique?

Add that to the idea that Amigos Library Services will help your library display these results in a FRBR-friendly way and what do we get?

Probably some very happy collection-analyzing librarians.

Let's take our old friend Harry Potter and his various editions. If you're trying to do collection analysis, it doesn't seem very useful to have to wade through all of the various editions to find out where you stack up. Unless it's a US vs. UK edition, I'm guessing that the differences have very little to do with content and more to do with presentation.

FRBR-izing your WorldCat collection analysis might be less useful for institutions or instances like Special Collections where the difference between editions is significant. This tool's usefulness might also depend on how many of your holdings are unique and how much of your collection consists of various editions of the same title.

For public libraries, I suspect that approach might quickly a big difference in how they do collection analysis. If you were analyzing your collection, this FRBR-ized approach would quickly give you a clearer picture of what you have in your collection. And by having that clearer picture, you would be better equipped to build on certain areas of your collection. Better collections mean librarians better equipped to help their users. Happy users means successful libraries.

It's not a one size fits all solution, so that display doesn't supersede your original display and Amigos Library Services doesn't force their members to adopt this display. But they are offering the option.

I think that by making easier the job of collection-analyzing librarians, you sell the idea of FRBR as way of looking at the relationships between items being displayed in your public catalog. It's a good way to get people other than catalogers and metadata specialists talking about FRBR. Furthermore, these discussions happen in a way that makes sense for people who don't speak Cataloging.

So good on you, Amigos Library Services, for finding a way to make collection analysis easier for your users.

-Erin

Friday, July 20, 2007

I wonder how many librarians get this result

I stole this from Jennifer at Life as I know it:







Which Peanuts Character are You?




You are Rerun!
Take this quiz!



Just another day in the life...of someone else.

Rochelle at Tinfoil+Racoon tells a great story in this post about helping a friend find resources for a paper he was writing. She taught her friend how to use a database and rejoiced when everything finally "clicked" in an aha-moment of epic proportions.

Stories like this nearly bring me to tears every time I read them. And just so you know, I don't cry easily.

I am amazed and delighted whenever I hear a librarian tell a story about how they helped connect users with the information they needed. To me, it's the coolest part about being a librarian. And, since I have stage fright of epic proportions, I'm glad there are others out there pulling my weight.

What struck me, though, is her friend's need to apologize for not being able to use the database himself. Rochelle writes, "Something is really wrong if library services make people feel stupid." And, honestly, I couldn't agree with her more.

It's not a new idea to say that if a user can't find something that it's not his or her fault. "The user isn't broken," says Karen Schneider in this post. It's an idea that gets repeated over and over again in the Web 2.0/Library 2.0 world, but yet the OPACs vendor are selling us still suck and our databases still need someone to translate them from library jargon-ese to human.

There are lots of people on the front lines of the war against outdated thinking and advocating for the user. People like Rochelle who are willing to work with someone until he has the aha-moment that they teach us about in library school inspire me. But I feel like until libraries start voting with their pocketbooks in a more consistent way that vendors will continue to give us what they've always given us. And as long as vendors give us what they've always given us, people like Rochelle will still have to help people translate from library jargon-ese to human.

So what can I do, I ask myself, to help create change? I'm not sure, really, and it's part of why I started this blog.

--Erin, rambly

Me. Myself. And I.

I have considered becoming a blogging librarian for a while now. I worried over it, considering all of the ramifications of my decision. Could I write something worth reading? Could I blog consistently? Was there room in the conversation for me?

I decided to jump in with both feet. They say that blogs are a conversation, right? There are so many interesting and exciting conversations going on about libraries right now, and there are so many interesting people doing the conversing. I only hope I can contribute something more substantial than a "me too."

So...who am I?

Personally, I am 28-years old. I am married to a sportswriter and I have a cat named Bea and a dog named Molly. I like ice cream. I like reading chick lit. I have a soft spot for well-written non-fiction that isn't too technical and that makes me laugh. I like reality television. I like Keith Olbermann and Anderson Cooper. I like music of the popular and rock'n'roll variety and I like going to concerts.

Professionally, I am a catalog librarian wanting to find her place in the Library 2.0-world. I catalog serials and electronic resources and I also do database cleanup. I desperately want to make it easier for our users to find (and discover) the information they're looking for.

So, I'm new to the neighborhood. Nice to meet you!

--Erin