ellie <3 libraries

sooooo much!

Transforming Texas Libraries Summit – Luncheon Keynote December 5, 2007

Filed under: Transforming Texas Libraries — ellie @ 5:09 pm
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My full summary of the Luncheon Keynote is available on the Transforming Texas Libraries blog. I’ll be using this space for my personal impressions.

I really liked the reminder that transformation doesn’t start with big institutions out there, it starts at home. One of my recurring “big ideas” throughout the summit was to think small, think grass roots, think bottom up rather than top down.

I also liked the constant repetition of a user centered view. Who are we supposed to serve and what do they value? Not just in the library, but period. And how do we fit? How can we contribute to our constituents’ quality of life, work, and learning – on their terms?

I liked the term constituents. I’ve always stuck with patron because I don’t like the coldness of user or customer, but I can support constituents – everyone who is eligible for our services, whether they’re using them or not.

I did have some problems with oversimplification on some ideas and with the research methodology of some of the reports and uses of data.

One item presented was that people feel very confident online doing things previously done by experts/intermediaries. Examples were tossed up like Travelocity, online stock exchanges, and LibraryThing. They said the main difference between experts and civilians is access to information.

I disagree. I believe the main differences are training and experience. I have worked as a travel coordinator in television, both on my own and working with travel agents. People may feel very confident booking their travel through Travelocity, but confidence is not the same thing as expertise. Knowing the best days for deals, knowing the rules about 7 day, 14 day and 21 day advances, knowing to comparison shop and that you can often (but not always) get a better deal by calling the airline directly – and these are just examples for a simple round trip flight – not a multi country European vacation with hotels, passports, currency, and ground transportation issues … These are not things you get from casual use – nor are they necessarily something the casual user needs to know. Travelocity is good enough. But lets not confuse good enough with expert.

Also, throwing LibraryThing up there is amusing and jolting, but not at all in the same vein as booking your own travel or trading your own stocks. It is cataloging your own books, not providing books that aren’t yours for you to use. (Leaving aside all the other things libraries do…) Libraries have never been in the business of coming to your home and organizing your books for you, so LibraryThing is not diy library the way Travelocity is diy travel.

More “amen” moments:

“Subscription databases are not built for civilians.”

If we set them up to fail, they will leave. If we set them up to succeed they are more likely to come back and interact with staff. When someone says, “I know it’s a stupid question, but…” what we should hear is, “Your system made me feel stupid.”

Something I wasn’t clear on – there was a call for crawlable databases… Seeing as this is proprietary information what exactly are they hoping for here? That vendors open up their content to search engines? All of it or just snippets that people can then either buy or check to see if their library has? Even if databases were crawlable, with current search algorithms they wouldn’t be prominent results because (a) they couldn’t be linked to and (b) it’s unlikely any individual item would be prominently linked to. Those two items combined with the fact that vendors make their living by selling this content make me think crawlable databases are both impractical and unlikely.

Likewise there was a bullet that said “engines not OPAC.” In the first place OPACs have a search box – powered by an engine. OPACs have search engines. Maybe they meant better search capabilities? Maybe they meant people should find our books through Google not our OPAC? I have to imagine that as long as there are libraries there will be a person coming in wanting to know whether we have a certain book. They don’t want “information” in general they want the physical book. There is absolutely still a place for specialized search – and this would be one of them – searching the holdings of a particular library. I don’t really see the place for all of the world’s library catalogs as search engine results. I’ll repeat – Even if OPACs were crawlable, with current search algorithms they wouldn’t be prominent results because it’s unlikely any individual item would be prominently linked to. I’m all for a better OPAC, but expecting people to find us through random web searches is impractical in the current environment. Now if their browser was feeding a location with their search and that prompted library results, that could be a way to enact this plan, but there are obviously privacy and consent issues there.

And speaking of privacy – I do not consider myself an alarmist – but I think that every single person in American should be sent back to history class to review McCarthyism and Japanese internment camps and be reminded that the 1940s and 50s really were NOT that long ago. I’m all for social networking, but in an era where more and more laws like the PATRIOT Act and the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act keep being passed, I think educating the public about privacy issues should be an important goal, not tossed aside with a “get with the times, the kids don’t care.”

I did like the reminder to approach collaborations with a more positive attitude. Focus on our assets not our deficiencies. Be a partner that says, “Yes, I can make that happen.”

Another argument was to get the pros off the desk – no other profession has their best people at the walk up counter. We’re asking people walking in to forget everything they’ve ever learned and wonder why they don’t realize we have masters degrees. They had some good points about people not really asking all their questions because they don’t want to hold up the line and the customer satisfaction of being really cared for when someone says, “Let me get you a pro.” But. In our small group someone mentioned this seems like adding another “click” before you get to what you want. Another librarian pointed out that us new librarians really need that desk time to become better librarians. And I would like to add that study after study shows that people aren’t asking their real questions – they test the waters first. If we expect our front line staff to be able to navigate those tricky waters I think they’re going to need either a fair amount of training and a raise, or be told if it isn’t directional, get a librarian. This, of course, is all from my academic library point of view where my main reference questions are helping students with research and yes, any staff member should be able to locate a book or point to the bathrooms, but research assistance is a specialized task and in my experience in my library, when someone comes in asking for a book they’re very often really wanting research assistance. So overall, I’m torn on this one. I want the library to be very easy to use. I want staff to feel empowered to answer questions. I want librarians to be using their time efficiently. And I want patrons to be getting the best service possible. I feel that we have a pretty good set up at my campus. The circ desk is the first thing you encounter when you walk in. Most students ask there and if it isn’t specifically a circ question they get sent down to the reference desk. We have remote desktop, so I’m working on other library activities when I’m not busy with a student. I get occasional directional questions, but the majority are “real” reference questions. I feel that this allows for a certain amount of triage without my having to be “fetched” as needed. I am also at a small enough library that I am free to walk with students to the stacks and ask others who look confused if I can help them as I’m walking back to the desk.

I do really like the idea of offering a “book a librarian” service where you can make appointments for individualized research help. I would certainly do that for a student now, but no one has asked and it’s not something we advertise.

They said that we should all have a Wikipedia entry. I’m not in any way opposed to this, but I hope they don’t think students trying to do research online will in any way find us because of that. I also think it’s impractical for libraries to start adding themselves to the bibliographies or further resources there. If we all did that the entry would get so unruly that someone would be sure to come along and delete them. But! Far be it from me to say don’t try because you’ll fail. Try it! Let me know what happens. It just doesn’t seem like the most practical form of outreach to me. I vote for something more focused on my students in particular. Not the whole world. Maybe an item saying – or check your local or school library – rather than links to resources at particular libraries.

I also liked the idea of real time activity buzz on the website – examples: just checked in items, today’s hot topics, wireless strength, parking camera.

More questionable research methodology – a 1947 survey saying where would you go for information on these four topics – libraries scored last at 1%, but books were a high scorer – was there any indication of how many of those books were used or found within libraries?

The point of showing us the survey was to show that people asked for certain things and libraries started to provide them – so there is hope. Focus on the user and all else will follow.

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