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Archive for the ‘library stuff’ Category

Yes, I have been missing in action here since I started my new job. The last six months gave me a great opportunity to settle in slowly and take things on bit by bit. I spent a lot of time getting to know our system, and starting to clean up some of what I’ve begun to call The Grand Mess. We implemented some more streamlined, sensible library Locations (the bits in the catalog that tell users where particular items can be found in the library), and I’ve started to clean up the data in our bloated bib records, taking out useless local call numbers and dated, unnecessary local notes. I’ve been down to our ILS vendor’s office twice for training, the most recent of which was last week. The funny thing about our ILS (we use Innovative’s Millennium) is that the more I learn about it, the more I realize I still don’t know. Seriously, the documentation is like a rabbit hole: You can just keep falling deeper and deeper into it without really getting any sense that you are finding complete answers. I can’t help but wonder if ILSes really need to be as complex as they are (or at least as complex as Millennium is).

So now that I’ve been deeply immersed in our system, and in the various things that my colleagues do using our system, it’s time to turn to the Really Big Project: redesigning our catalog and starting to redesign our website. Am I being foolish for taking on both of these things at once? Possibly. Have I given myself a ridiculously short deadline? Probably. Am I nervous? Definitely. I will be putting my web design and application programming skills to the test, without the training wheels that being a Library Assistant (and having a partner who is a programmer) provided in my previous job. I will be trying to figure out some complicated and confusing things pretty much on my own. Yeah, I’m nervous.

Some of the things we are looking at are fairly basic: The design itself needs a serious update, and the information architecture of the library website is a bit structurally unsound. Most of what I’m doing as far as the website goes is basic re-organization and some CSS magic. But the website lives on a ColdFusion server, so I’ll be trying to learn the basics of that to add some dynamic action (including a blog). I’m looking at implementing an open source federated search tool, which could be a real treat in the programming skills arena. We want to add book covers, the ability to send a call number to your cell phone via SMS, and some more robust linking to WorldCat, Summit (our consortial borrowing system), and possibly Amazon for unfound items. We have a nice, long laundry list of things to add, and I’m pretty much on my own for all of it. It is a little daunting, but I’m sure it’ll turn out a-ok in the end.

I’m hoping to document this process here, though of course, I always promise myself I’ll write more and rarely find the time to do so. However, if all goes well, you’ll soon be treated to many stories of me pulling my hair out over PHP and SQL statements! What a joy! Come back to find out more, if you dare.

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It’s hard to believe I’m already half way through the week. But at least I have a new coffee grinder, purchased at the very odd Shopko, and I got to have my coffee immediately upon waking. Life is much better that way.

8.15 – Arrived at work and checked the emails and RSS feeds, as per usual. Now that email from the Innovative Users Group listserv is filtered into a separate folder, I tend to forget to read it, so I had about 25 messages in there this morning. Nothing pertaining to any immediate problems we’re having, but I like to skim them to get a general sense of what people are encountering as they use the same ILS.

8.45 – Started loading more Serials Solutions records. Each batch of 1000 takes about 10 minutes, so this can be a very time consuming process. I found all the back issues of Computers in Libraries in the stacks to peruse while these are uploading. And all the issues were out of order, so I, of course, had to re-order them. We only have up to March 2009 in the stacks, so the more recent issues must be out on people’s desks. I scanned through the issue on selecting an ILS vendor while records uploaded.

10.45 – Nearly done loading new Serials Solutions records when my supervisor and the cataloger came in to talk about the suddenly-full-of-duplicates Heading Report. We talked about why there are duplicate records: Something I assumed was set up for a reason is, as it turns out, not. Contacted Serials Solutions to find out about changing our Customizations and having a new set of records created. Deleting all SS records again. Reminded by my supervisor that I should question everything and, as he puts it, probably consider “blowing everything out of the water” and starting over.

11.45 – Finished re-creating our Customization Form. But now I have to figure out how to change our customized load profile in the ILS, and that I think I’m not supposed to do on my own. Time to contact III.

1.00 – Headed to the Washington State Office of Licensing to get my WA drivers license. Apparently, they don’t really have the equivalent of a DMV here–you go to the licensing office to get your drivers license and the County Auditor’s office to register your car. Convenient. Back in the office at 2, which is way faster than it would have been were I in the MA Registry of Motor Vehicles.

2.00 – Contacted the guys in the registrar’s office about a project we’re working on to load patron records into the ILS, rather than keying every new student by hand, which is how it’s being done now. We really don’t want to be doing that anymore.

2.30 – Researching the possibility of having multiple searchable call number fields in bibliographic records in the ILS. This doesn’t seem to be a problem at all: The call number field is repeatable, and it looks like it will be indexed no matter how many times it occurs, so we can have as many call numbers as we want. I think.

3.00 – Final tweaking to the library PR document, incorporating more of the library’s mission statement.

3.30 – Loading the remaining 6,000 Serials Solutions records while we wait for our changes to be made on the vendor side, at which time I will delete them all over again and reload. Lesson learned? If I suspect something should be done differently, I should ask before I start doing it the way it has always been done, because chances are we really should start doing things differently. That’s a way better lesson than the reverse. I think I’m going to like it here.

4.45 – Right before I left I got a message from the archivist that my apparent solution to the multiple call number situation was incorrect. Looked into it and realized the call numbers he was talking about were in a different MARC tag field than the call numbers I was talking about. Will have to look more deeply into the situation tomorrow. Thank god for my Cataloging class, and the wonderful Candy Schwartz, for helping me to actually understand what the heck I’m looking at!

Headed to the gym, headed home, made spicy pepper tacos (and burned my face off after touching my face with peppery hands). Weeded and watered the lawn. Now I’m updating the other blog, and then I will probably start reading Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire before heading to bed, to prepare for another day as a newly minted librarian.

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I have been toying with the idea of assigning college students a personal librarian for a few months now. And then I read that Yale already does this. I think this is a terrific idea and I’m happy to find that it wasn’t impossible to implement at all. This is an idea well worth sharing.

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Convincing faculty of the benefits of publishing through open access sources, or contributing to an institutional repository, is one of the many new challenges facing academic librarians. Faculty outreach has always been a bit of a struggle, but now we’re trying to change a long-standing tradition of scholarly communication, and insert ourselves more visibly into a process where we tended, in the past, to be nothing more than silent collectors (at least, as far as faculty were concerned).

The librarians at UT Arlington have come up with a light-hearted, to-the-point way to convey their message, through video:

Sure, it’s slightly dorky, but I suspect also effective: short, funny, familiar, and straightforward. Definitely an idea to emulate.

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Today is my last day of graduate school. As of May 11, I will be an official, bona fide librarian! The perfect time to read an excellent bit of advice from the blog Info Career Trends: Ask Permission Later. Rachel gives some excellent advice for new librarians, encouraging us not to be fearful in our newness to the field, but to get out there and start implementing our ideas. Well worth reading, both for all my fellow newly minted librarians, and for those of you who’ve been in the field for awhile.

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I love it when my varied interests collide, as they just did when I found these great For the Gardener papers in the University of California’s institutional repository, eScholarship.

These papers were created by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz, my alma mater. They produce a ton of great research around sustainability, agriculture, and eating, a topic that has been of near all-consuming interest to me lately. And this research is available for free through the UC’s institutional repository.

eScholarship is one of the most developed IRs I’ve seen yet, and I often look to it as a model when I’m thinking about IR development. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should. Not only is it a great example of something that I believe is going to be a major part of the future of libraries, but you’re almost guaranteed to find something of interest to read, no matter what you’re interests are.

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The podcast for the Banned Books panel we held last fall if finally up on the GSLISCast website. Ellen Giroud, Robie Harris, Penelope Johnson and Anne L. Moore, authors and librarians, spoke about their experiences with book challenges, the history of book challenges, and what you can do if you’re faced with a challenge in your library. This was a great event, one I’m really proud we managed to pull off, and I’m so glad these great speakers were recorded by the always helpful GSLISCast crew.

If you’re interested in book banning in the United States, even if you’re not a librarian, the podcasts are free and open to all, so please check it out.

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Yesterday, in my management class, one of the campus librarians came in to talk about managing and keeping up to date with technologies in libraries. And she mentioned repeatedly that librarians “are always a few years behind the newest trends.” She mentioned this as through there is nothing to be done about, as though it’s simply a fact of librarianship that we have to accept, and that just made me sad.

I’ve only worked in one library, really, and it’s a small library in a school with a library science program, a library that considers itself something of a teaching library for future librarians. Because of that, we are pretty quick to adopt new technologies and try out new things, if not collectively, at least by a few people on the staff, experimentally. I guess I’m lucky in this respect, but I’ve also spent the last two years reading about libraries and technology and how important it is that we be innovative and flexible and creative with technology.

But if we accept that we’re going to be a few years behind every new tool and innovation that comes out, we’re only going to become more and more irrelevant. I like to think that the new generation of librarians, the people I’m graduating with in just four short weeks and those to follow, will change that slow-to-adopt habit. Sadly, I look around and see a lot of students who don’t seem all that interested in change.

It is far from the case that everyone in my program is like that. There are tons of forward thinking, innovative and creative people here. But there are also too many people who grimace at the thought of the eBook, who shake there heads at bringing mobile technologies into the library, who think creating an Information Commons is a Really Great and New Idea! These people don’t give me a lot of hope that our profession will keep up to date.

We can’t always be lagging behind our patrons, lagging behind the rest of the information economy. The sooner librarians realize we have to be at the forefront of new technologies, not a few years behind, the better chance we have of surviving. Period. Library schools need to know and encourage this, professional development and continuing education programs need to make this a key part of their training workshops and their philosophies, and librarians who are already in the field should do their best to shake of their wariness and their fears of change. Everyone seems to know this, and yet…nothing seems to be done about it.

I don’t have the answers, but I think if we collectively start to talk about how to really promote innovation, optimistically and without getting bogged down in the barriers, we might come up with some interesting ideas. And as always, I’d love to hear what other people think. If you work in a library, how have you promoted innovation? What keeps you from trying new things? What kinds of barriers do you encounter and how do you knock them down?

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There are a lot of sessions at ASIS&T (and probably most conferences) with fairly impregnable titles. I’ve found myself sitting in sessions which were about something very different than I thought. But this session title is pretty straightforward: It was all about evaluating virtual reference services.

Marie Radford (Rutgers University) and Lynn Connaway (OCLC) spoke about a long-term research project currently underway in which they’re evaluating users, non-users, and librarians about their positive and negative e-reference (and non-e-reference, in the case of non-users) experiences. Some key points:

  • Librarians considered relational and attitudinal aspects of the reference transaction as much more important than users did; for users, answers (content) were key.
  • Librarians want to teach and users don’t always want to be taught. It seems, though, that users are more open to instruction face-to-face than virtually.
  • A great suggestion to work through the “don’t teach me” barrier: Provide the requested information, and then ask, “Would you like to know how I found it?” I think this is a GREAT idea, because it sounds almost like you’re offering a secret or something.
  • Oh, earlier, when I noted that relational aspects of the transaction matter less to patrons: That’s not entirely true. They just THINK they matter less, but customer services is still important. It’s just that good customer service can be invisible to users, because they’re able to focus on the answer part.
  • People are willing to wait longer for a subject-specialist.

And of course, all I could think of was my Reference course, in which we pretty much entirely focused on customer service and the theoretical implications of the reference transaction, but in which I didn’t really learn to do what users actually want: provide information. Sigh.

Jeffrey Pomerantz (UNC Chapel Hill—These UNC folks are everywhere!) talked about librarians participating in online answer boards like Yahoo! Answers. He was specifically talking about this Slam the Boards project, which involves, on the 10th of every month, librarians going onto these sites and answering questions. I’m not entirely sure why we’re only supposed to do this one day each month, but it’s an interesting idea. Jeffrey tried to evaluate whether librarians’ answers were better, or more specifically, whether they were rated more highly by question askers.

His conclusion was essentially that it’s really hard to evaluate librarian participation in online answer boards. There are approximately 100,000 questions posted to Yahoo! Answers everyday, their API for culling data doesn’t allow you to pull information for more than 5,000 questions, and as a researcher, one has to rely on users self-identifying as librarians. But his research raised some great questions and thoughts:

  • Are these boards places where libraries should be? Most of the questions are kind of silly, and it doesn’t really seem librarians are making a huge impact
  • In the midst of all these silly questions, there are some serious questions: How do we get the askers of these serious questions to remember their local library (or its online services) as a resource?

Lorri Mon of Florida State University and the Internet Public Library talked about blogging as a reference service, and about users’ needs and use in her area. She mentioned an article I’m going to try to read on the plane tonight: Pomerantz and Stutzman’s “Collaborative reference work in the blogosphere” (2006), and she primarily talked about how students in an online course used blogs and their comment sections to post questions, answer each other, and provide a sense of community.

She pointed out that most libraries are still not using social networking sites, and that of those they are, most of them are using MySpace (ugh). Her research shows that blogs are the most widely used technology tool in libraries, followed by wikis (which are mostly used as behind-the-scenes staff tools, as they are in my library). She talked a bit about the blurring of boundaries between different types of tools (chat embedded in blogs and facebook, chat reference in Second Life). Finally, she raised an interesting question: How is eReference being taught in library schools? Well, I can answer that from my own experience: barely. Sure, I read an article or two on it. But as she noted, there was no hands on experience, or even role playing, and that probably would have been easy to set up and helpful. But I think I already mentioned that I didn’t learn a ton in my reference course.

To close up the session, Joseph Janes responded to all three presenters and brought up some really excellent points. He largely talked about the differences between Yahoo and Google: Yahoo is about community, and Google is about answers. And in that way, Google Reference services makes more sense than Yahoo reference services. He argued that we need some hook into the mass of people with information needs, whether that’s a local hook, a subject-oriented hook, a site-based hook, or something else entirely (though I lean toward a subject-oriented hook and already have started thinking about how that might work. And I think it’s all about search engine optimization.).

Lorri Mon made the comment that “people are looking for their personal librarian,” and I jumped on this one. I’ve talked before about embedded librarianship in the academic community, and I think we need to set each student up from day one of their college careers with a personal librarian. What if we assigned a librarian to students the way we assign them advisors? Subject-specialist librarians could be personal librarians for people in specific departments (for example, when you declare your major, you’re assigned a reference librarian affiliated with that department). I think just the personalization of that, the introduction to a librarian, would make it less intimidating, and would make people think about going to the library for their information needs more readily than they otherwise might.

This was one of the most inspiring sessions I attended, in that I came out of it with ideas, papers to read, things I wanted to experiment with and research. So, thanks to all these great presenters! As though they will ever see my lonely little bloggity blog. :-)

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The second session I attended yesterday dealt with tagging, another subject I’ve been drawn to during my year in library school.

Heather Pfeiffer of New Mexico State University gave an overview of ontology building. She used the framework of language—syntax, semantics, and pragmatics—to talk about how we construct ontological frameworks, and she placed tagging within these varying frameworks to show how tags are constructed within a specific context.

Emma Tonkin of the University of Bath took Pfeiffer’s ideas and went a step further. I will admit that I was feeling a little out of my element, but here are some thoughts I jotted down during her presentation: She talked about the ways that building an ontology relies on the ideas of what is important to a very specific community, and about the way that each community creates its own ontology. I wondered what happens when one community has control over the ontologies, and the languages, of other groups of people. How and when do we define the world for other people?

  • How do libraries and universities define the world of knowledge for students?
  • Should we invite them in to re-define that world? Would that happen through tagging?
  • Can tagging provide the flexibility that library classification systems lack in a rapidly changing academic landscape?

I think what I mostly pondered as Emma talked was the question of sharing, and of who we’re letting in to build this world of knowledge in academic communities. How can we find a balance between a too static ontological system and a too flexible one?

David Millen of IBM’s TJ Watson Research group presented on patterns of collaborative tagging in the enterprise environment. He talked about varied goals of social sites, and I found his framework useful: Most people want to find, re-find, or explore, and their goals have a big impact on how they use them, and in turn how useful social bookmarking sites are to other people with different goals.

He mentioned that he found more similarities between users within IBM than differences, and I wondered whether that could be extrapolated to the academic community. Are there more similarities between users in the university than differences?

He mentioned toward the end using games to encourage people to start tagging, and I’m interested in exploring this a little further, especially in the context of adding tags to the library catalog or library resources.

Mark Lindner of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign talked about language and communication within LIS. He used Roy Harris’s theory of integrationism to talk about how we communicate through tags. I was particularly interested in looking at the differences between tagging for your own individual use, which can be seen as tagging as personal communication, and tagging for a community, where there are more constraints.

Finally, Margaret Kipp of Long Island University spoke about communication practices in groups. Some points of interest:

  • We usually engage in the activity of deciding on semantic meaning without realizing we are doing it, or thinking about it, which is amazing because it’s a very complicated practice.
  • We’re always placing something into a personal context, even “official” classification systems, because that is how we think.
  • Tagging something, or deciding on what it means, can be important for the process of understanding something and sense-making itself.

I thought about the way LibraryThing can show how my books have been tagged by other people, and it’s very interesting to have this tool to essentially compare ontologies or personal classification systems. You can start to understand what categories are important to you, and what is important to people in your community, by looking at these comparisons.

Another thing I thought my be worth exploring is related to the way people tag things with form-related words (book, article, etc.) and subject-related words. I thought it might be interesting to create a system where people have different categories of tags. For example, I could tag a particular website with a subject name, a form name, and a task-related name (to use, to share, etc.). How could we enhance information-seeking by allowing for these combinations of concepts that relate to a document to work together? Perhaps that’s just a silly idea, but in my dorkitude, I saw immediate usefulness. :-)

Overall, the presentation made me want to do a bit more reading into understanding how students think, how knowledge is created, and how our current technologies can change the ways knowledge is created. I think there are definitely some good areas for exploration, so expect to see more on this from me in the future.

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