At the American Library Association annual convention that I recently attended, I went to an excellent panel discussion on the present and future of the library catalog. Here are some of the more pertinent thoughts that I gathered.

From panelist Karen Schneider:

“Sometimes place does matter.” When considering a single global catalog for all libraries, there can be too much of a disconnect between records users are looking at and where physical items actually are. Catalogs should feel freer to include imperfect data though in union catalogs. The ideal catalog is a hybrid of local and national.

“Shoot the doma.” How can we make any assertions about what is better or worse in catalog design until we develop evidence-based practices? We need to operate based on evidence and research rather than opinion and tradition.

“Libraries should be helping design the systems they use.” It would be great to have a technical expert on every library staff.

We have to get comfortable with collecting metadata on our patron’s use practices to improve our services. Patrons already share their information voluntarily (example: Librarything). Are we harvesting this data?

We assume patrons want to interact with librarians. What if they would prefer to engage with one another? Would fiction readers rather get recommendations from librarians or from fellow fiction readers?

From panelist Steven Abrams:

Have you ever gone into a store to shop for a dress and had the sales person direct you to their electronic inventory on a computer and then had the sales rep walk away leaving you to the computer and your own confusion? There’s probably a reason you haven’t!

Is your library catalog full text searchable by Google? If not, use the newest Google api to do so!

What about putting an automatic Meebo interface prompt on failed searches to interact with users and help them find out what they want.

Data mining patron behavior and use would allow us to better serve patrons. Why do libraries promote best sellers, for instance, rather than the most frequently checked out at their branch location? Librarians suffer from an innumeracy problem.

We have to know what things cost. Should you ILL with costs of $30 for an item that only costs $5 to buy on Amazon?

From panelist Karen Coyle:

Only 3 % of library users start their search in an OPAC. This means the LAST place our patrons are looking for information is in the catalog.

We are too rule bound. Example: Karen posted on a cataloger discussion board and asked “Why don’t we use title case?” Expert catalogers could only guess. This is not a good enough reason to do something.

Against one big catalog. Data can be different and still exchanged. A single catalog solution prevents experimentation and shuts out small players. Example: One library builds their catalog on WordPress.

Coyle looks forward to a future where library management software is separate from the OPAC user interface.

Final thought “We need to learn to trust our users.”

From panelist Joe Janes:

OPACs are like roach motels: easy to get into from the library homepage, impossible to get back out of.

If Google provides us with services like embedded bus schedules in Google maps, then what place does reference have in libraries? Will libraries be more service oriented in the future rather than information centered?

Full text searching would be great, but we still need some metadata. Example: fiction books would benefit from genre and character tagging.

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My thoughts at the moment:

I sense two veins of thought that were going on in the debate. Abrams’ example about not going to Nordstroms and being turned over to an inventory catalog to find your dress and Janes’ example about Google wanting to digitize all the books and become the single information source lead me to think that the future of libraries is in service. That is, libraries will exist not to store information, but to teach people how to access information. Just because Google invents a service that lets users see bus schedules inside Google maps, that doesn’t mean that people know that service exists. I, for one, did not know about this feature until Janes mentioned it. Therefore, libraries are still relevant if librarians stay early information adopters and can lead their patrons to sources like the Google bus scheduler when they come in.

The second vein of thought actually contradicts the first one in part. This thought says, like Schenider and Abrams say, that libraries should become more savvy and involved in the creation of information resources and NOT be passive users. Schneider would like to see people with software development experience on every library staff. Can libraries afford to do this? Are there enough qualified librarians to do this? If Google becomes THE information provider, would it be a waste of time to do so much in-house catalog development? On the other hand, if libraries do not become more assertive about their catalogs, then they remain consumers at the mercy of large and sometimes out-of-touch vendors.

Regardless, I am very glad that Karen Schneider brought up the point about libraries needing to become more evidence-based. I work in a medical library and the idea of evidence-based thinking is at the heart of helping our nursing students do research. We really should be able to practice ourselves what we are preaching to others.

What do you think? Did any of the ideas brought up by the panelists here strike a nerve with you?

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Posted by: ayounglove | July 2, 2008

I’m going to Disneyland!

Actually, I just came from Disneyland. I decided to take advantage of my student rate before I graduate and the fact that the largest library conference in the nation would be on the West Coast (which it won’t be for at least three more years). This year, the American Library Association held its 2008 annual conference in Anaheim, California.

This woman was very excited about the free books at ALA.

Highlights of the conference for me included:

  • The piles and piles of free books!
  • One-on-one resume review service
  • Meeting a local library patron who absolutely loves libraries and getting free books (see picture above)
  • Listening to Roy Tennant moderate a panel on OPACS with expert librarians that I look up to: Karen Schneider, Steven Abrams, Karen Coyle and Joe Janes
  • Proximity to Disneyland!
  • Cory Doctorow: One of the creators of Boing Boing, Cory is also a smashing science fiction writer, a superb speaker and a brilliant guy! Who knew?

Not so great parts of the conference were:

  • Lack of benches anywhere in the convention center: Was the Anaheim Convention Center even ADA compliant?
  • Distance of over a mile to any real food access
  • The Opening Session: Was everyone reading from a teleprompter? Why did even the keynote speaker sound like Ben Stein?
  • General disorganization: Many of my planned sessions were canceled without notice, moved, or drastically different from their program write-ups, and the experience of asking others for guidance only to be told that they too were confused was discouragingly common
  • The generally pessimistic aura overhanging the conference: Discussions about a predicted terrible future economic depression, the coming copyright dark ages and increasing digital divide and being confronted immediately at general session with handouts about donating $ to ALA upon our deaths was less than cheery . . .

I\'ll be blogging ALA

Stay tuned for longer ALA blog entries.  I plan to write one covering the excellent catalog session more in-depth, and another with a detailed comparison between my SLA and ALA conference experiences.

My photographs of the ALA convention

Posted by: ayounglove | June 25, 2008

Who am I talking to?

maskBy now everyone by now is familiar with the trope of the grizzled old man with the screen name BarbieGirl15. You’ve probably also heard uplifting stories about disabled people who, while paralyzed in real life, can run, jump, and even fly in Second Life. As the trend of virtual reference in libraries and information centers continues to rise (my local library now offers a fabulous chat service called L-Net), most information providers have focused their attention on issues of how to assess and deliver library services via im chat. Although I have located a few articles about the politics of how to interact with patrons of different ages and backgrounds via im, I have not yet found any that address the following question: Who is the the librarian is really talking to on im virtual reference?

Anonymity is an important part of web culture, but recently I became aware of a phenomenon that completely changed how I look at my online interactions with other people. A very young teenage girl shared with me that she and her much older brother share a gaming account together. I asked what her screen-name was and she said, “the same as my brother’s.” Then she clarified that the two of them take turns playing the same character.

Fascinated by the idea that other people interacting with this avatar might at some times be talking with a 13-year old girl and at other times a young man in his 20s, I decided to see if this sharing of a screen-name was just an isolated phenomenon. I shared this story with different people that I know to see if perhaps they do anything similar. It turns out that in my age group (20s), several people admitted to sharing paid accounts to save money (such as a husband and wife sharing an upgraded Flickr account or a paid Livejournal subscription being used by two different people to share benefits), but that the actual sharing of a single avatar or im personality was only done by teens. One teen told me that it is common when she is chatting to have a number of friends over and to have all the teens bumping one another off the keyboard for a turn chatting. They enjoy confusing the person on the other end of the im and also like the friendly competition of seeing who can type the most outrageous statement or get the biggest rise out of the other im name. Occassionally, teens even say that they will have a friend “help” them by typing only occasionally to supplement the main chat if the primary account holder has to go to the bathroom or answer the phone but doesn’t want to interrupt the flow of conversation.

Given this trend, I think it’s important to realize that if we do im reference, not only do we not know for sure if we’re talking to a man or a woman, a child or an adult, a buisinessperson or a homemaker, we also don’t even know if we are talking to a single individual.

Posted by: ayounglove | June 22, 2008

Professional speaking

I am currently 6 months away from graduating with a Master’s in Library Science and recently I was invited to give a speech at the upcoming NWILL Conference. I have never delivered a speech in front of a large audience before and so consequently, I’ve been thinking about ways to improve my presentation skills. I’ve read several excellent books on the topic of speaking professionally recently, and since this is a political season, I’ve been paying close attention to how master speakers like Obama work a crowd.

Apparently some of this information gathering has already begun to pay off. In class yesterday, I participated in a formal debate assignment that required two and four minute speaking segments. After my team won the debate, I was approached by a classmate who noticed I have improved my speaking skills and asked if I had any tips or resources for him.

I will try to briefly summarize here the principles that I learned and have newly put into action.

Have an attention grabbing opening and conclusion:

Don’t waste time introducing your topic. The audience likely has already been informed about who you are and what you are going to speak about. Use your first few moments to present an old idea in an original way or share an interesting anecdote. This way the audience is hooked into wanting to hear more.

Similarly, don’t end on a vague or analytical note. Close with a memorable quote or empowering directive. Audiences are more likely to recall the beginning and ending five minutes of your speech than the entire hour or so in between. Use your intro and conclusion time wisely to achieve maximum impact.

Be concrete:

Never present an abstract idea when a concrete illustration will do the trick. For instance, consider the difference between saying, “money can be good,” or “poor people need money,” and “Have you ever been or known someone who was so poor that a five dollar bill seemed like a fortune?” Using the leading phrase, “just imagine for a moment . . .” will also help you more powerfully appeal to what people already know and experience first hand.

Make eye contact:

Making eye contact is about more than just looking up from your notes occasionally to reassure your listeners that they aren’t being read to. A truly good speaker will pick out individuals in the crowd to the right, to the left and in front of herself or himself and really lock pupils. Not only does this help the listeners who are being looked at directly feel a personal connection to the speaker, it also helps everyone in that listener’s general area feel like they are being acknowledged.

The audience is your friend:

Forget the old adage about imagining the audience in their underwear. Imagining a foolish audience could cause you to project a tone of arrogance. Similarly, if you anticipate a hostile audience, you are more likely to be nervous and defensive. If you choose to perceive the audience as basically friendly, then you will feel more relaxed and will be more able to connect to them personally.

Make sure all your subpoints relate back to your main point:

Poor organization, more than any other pitfall, will reduce your credibility and keep your speech from being a success. Before you give your speech, write out the speech’s main objective. That is, sum up in one sentence what you want your audience to learn from you. Then, write down your main points and compare them to the speech’s objective. It may seem harsh, but if they don’t directly support the main objective 100%, cut them out of your speech and replace them with more relevant points. This will keep people from becoming confused and trying to guess what the point is or from falling asleep because you wander too much.

*These general principles are available in a variety of books on public speaking, but the two books on the topic that I found most helpful were: Power Speak by Dorothy Leeds and Knockout Presentations by Diane DiResta.

What about you? Are there tips and tricks that you have learned about speaking either to library stakeholders or to a professional audience?

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