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.