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.


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.


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', 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.


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)."


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?


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.


Thursday, August 2, 2007


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.