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.


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.


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.