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Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

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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To those who complain that Twitter is just a growing forum for navel-gazers with nothing significant to say, I offer this post from the Columbia Journalism Review: At the TimesOPEN conference it was easy to assume that the audience of Twitterers (Tweeters?) wasn’t paying attention, but what was really going on was a broader, more international version of the TimesOPEN conference itself. The conversation was opened up, more voices were let in, and the ideas being presented were discussed immediately and widely. The presentations turned into conversations. That is the real power of Twitter. It’s about sharing ideas, not sharing self-indulgent bon mots.

When I encounter people who summarily dismiss Twitter I usually know right away they’ve never actually used it. I, myself, felt fairly dismissive about the whole thing until I saw its usefulness in staying connected, sharing ideas and information, communicating quickly, and having communal discussions into which anyone with something to say can jump. Those who write off any kind of communication media without ever trying it for themselves, well, they are usually the ones missing out in the end.

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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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(But first, an aside about conference internet access: It is crappy. And I’m a poor graduate student who can’t afford to spend an obscene amount of money everyday for a decent connection. There is free “access” in some parts of the conference hotel, but it goes in and out like crazy and it’s not available everywhere. Maddening. It does make me realize how spoiled I am for access and how hard it is to not be able to get information or do my work when I want to. Ok, aside over.)

Yesterday afternoon I attended a session on the good and the bad of the online world. The speakers were William Jones of University of Washington, Fred Stutzman of UNC Chapel Hill, Cathy Marshall of Microsoft Research, Gary Marchionini of UNC Chapel Hill, and Allison Brueckner of cALiCo Information Consulting. My notes on this are a bit briefer than for the earlier two sessions (I was getting tired), so I’ll just share a few thoughts I jotted down, mostly, again things I want to look up or look into.

Fred Stutzman brought up the hypothesis that young people might be more accepting of loss of privacy on the web because they’ve been raised in a more closely surveilled society, that that political and social change made the kind of online disclosure we’re seeing now possible. Intriguing. He also pointed out that we’re beginning to see more negotiation of privacy: in each specific social space online, people are controlling who can see what and when and where with greater specificity.

Cathy Marshall talked about some of the myths of digital archiving, and I wish she’d been able to present a bit longer, and get into some more detail about the subject, as it’s quite timely in relation to my Digital Preservation class. She said, at one point, “Benign neglect has its virtues in that it automatically culls itself,” and I’d love to hear more about her ideas around beningn neglect and the fact that we’re trying to save too much. Another interesting myth she refutes: “Kids will know what to do.” I talk about this a lot, the assumption or idea that the younger generation are information experts, just born knowing how to deal with the digital.

Gary Marchionini talked about a great concept: proflection. He draws together the intentional identities we present online, and the intentional ways people talk about us, with the “ambient” or unintentional ways that we present and are presented online, and molds them into this concept of the Proflected Identity. I really like his concept of the ambient identities on the web, the way you are known through the things you buy, your click streams, your search histories, your citation webs, etc. He also mentioned a tool, a personal web crawler created by a student at UNC Chapel Hill, called the Context Miner.

Allison Brueckner spoke last, and talked about Second Life, utopias, and dystopias. She brought up some interesting points about the utopian vision that the web was when it was created, before technological barriers reinforced class barriers and we realized that, despite its promise, it tends to recapitulate the barriers to information and community that exist in real life.

As I mentioned, my notes on this presentation were more scant, and I’m sure I’m doing real justice to these presenters, but I did find their ideas useful. I would have liked to hear a little more from all of them, but they wanted to include a solid amount of time for group discussion, so I felt each speaker was a little rushed. There was a lot of good stuff there, though.

After the presentations, there was an evening of receptions, and while the receptions I’ve been to at other conferences were awkward and boring, both Tuesday night receptions were fun. There was good food, tango dancing demonstrations, raffles, meeting people, wine, socializing…all good times.

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Attending a conference where there are people you know is a million times better than one where you don’t. I’m a shy person (shocker!) so without a liaison or two to introduce me to new people, the sad truth is a probably won’t meet new people. And I will wander around awkward and alone until I get so fed up I go home early and miss something potentially interesting. So I’m awfully glad that there is a good-sized Simmons contingent here in Columbus this year.

I attended the New Members Brunch yesterday, and really appreciate that they hold an event like this at the beginning of a conference, before sessions begin (ahem, ALA). I did start to understand this whole SIG thing a little better, and heard over and over again that ASIS&T is a strong community, that people consider it a professional home, and that once you get involved you’re probably going to be involved for life. :-) There are a few things that I think would have made it a little better: It would be nice if they labeled the tables with the actual SIG names instead of acronyms. Sure, each table had a cheat sheet on it, but you didn’t realize that until you’d already picked a table to sit at based purely on chance. It would also have been nice if there was an ASIS&T veteran at each table to introduce her/himself to newbies and introduce them to each other so there would potentially not be so much awkwardness (again, maybe I’m just a shy and awkward person…but I didn’t feel alone in this yesterday morning, so…). Finally, I would have appreciated hearing a little more about how to navigate the conference and what events are really important, etc. rather than hearing about veteran members’ favorite memories or most embarrassing moments. They were entertaining stories, and certainly served to show what a strong community ASIS&T is, which is appealing. But it also made me, at least, feel like a bit of an outsider. And I still felt a little unsure how to navigate the conference.

The plenary session after the brunch was fascinating. Of course, I didn’t take notes, and having been up since 4 am, I was a little sleepy. The speaker was Genevieve Bell, from Intel’s Digital Home Group, and she primarily spoke about an area of research I haven’t given too much thought to in the past: a sort of anthropology of internet users. She talked about how people experience the internet, and how that, in many places of the world, is very different from how Western, hyper-connected, (wealthy) people experience the internet. I really appreciated her challenge to broader my perceptions, and to really think about how use will be different, will be changing, in the future. Very interesting stuff in relation to questions of the Digital Divide, and in relation to changing tools and access mediums (mobile devices, GPS devices, etc.). I’d love to find some books and other sources that look at the internets from this anthropological/ethnological kind of perspective.

Howard Rheingold (author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, among other books) and Andrew Keen (author of The Cult of the Amateur, among other books) gave their reactions and thoughts in relation to Genevieve’s presentation, but I have to be really honest. I was WIPED OUT and had a really, really hard time paying attention, and an even hard time remembering what they said. Grr. What I mostly picked up was a bit of debate around elitism in terms of perceptions and uses of the internet, and how it’s impacting cultural production. But…yeah I was drifting.

I decided not to attend any of the afternoon sessions, figuring it would serve me better to rest, and it did. I check into my hotel room and read email and generally enjoyed sitting for a few hours. The Welcome Reception was at 6.30, and it was mostly chaotic and very stuffy, but it was still nice to chat with other Simmons folks who are here and I did manage to meet a few people while waiting in the drink line. I was actually kind of surprised to discover how few Masters students are here. The students are mostly PhD students, and there is, I think, a prioritization of research that goes on here. People kept asking me what my research is on, and I felt kinda lame saying, “Oh, I’m doing research, I’m in a masters program to become a librarian.” But whatever.

SIG Management (don’t remember the acronym; I’m not quite there yet) were kind enough to invite me out to dinner, which was the highlight of my day yesterday, largely because I felt like I really met some new people, instead of simply engaging in awkward chit-chat while standing in line. We went to Buca di Beppo, which are all over Southern California, but I’d never been to one before. Definitely a fun spot, and the food was good, though, y’know, I’m an Italian food snob, so… :-)

All in all, a wonderful welcome to ASIS&T.

UPDATE: Spinstah took much better notes than I did at the plenary session, and I would recommend you get over there to check out her notes immediately.

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Two weekends ago I attended PodCamp Boston 3, with some general sense that I might learn something useful, but an increasing uncertainty about what that might be. The first few sessions I attended had a pretty strong focus on using social media for marketing purposes (blech), increasing your “followers,” and, well, podcasting. Which I don’t really do. I sat through each session trying to find the places where I could connect what these social media peoples were talking about to the place of social media in a library, and an academic library, at that.

Overall, librarians are pretty excited about social media, but we don’t yet seem to have any solid ideas about how to use it. What purpose would a library Facebook page serve? What can a podcast really do for the library community, and would anyone listen to it? Do people even use all the cool rating and tagging and discussion features that are being built into new social OPACs? I suspect librarians jump in without having a clear sense of the needs that they might be trying to meet with all of these technologies.

I finally started to get some sense of how academic librarians can start to answer these questions when I sat in on Kabren Levinson’s discussion of how he implemented a Technology Program in his high school as a senior project. I mean, I’m not even going to get into how impressive this kid is, all just out of high school and completely self-possessed and talented. I will talk instead about how it felt like a smack on the head to suddenly realize that if we want to know how our students want to use technology in the library, we should ask them.

We talk and talk about how current students are the leaders of the future, and about how they know so much more about technology, especially social technology, than we ever will. And yet, when we sit down to build the systems we want them to use in our schools, libraries, and communities, we never think to ask them how they want to use them.

It’s worth considering: Why not set up a group in your university or college library, to get input from students about how you can serve them better online? What tools do they want? Where do they think you might be able to serve them in Facebook or MySpace, if at all? What can you build that they will actually use?

It seems so obvious. Why try to guess where our patrons want us to be on the interwebs when we can just ask them?

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Podcamp Boston

Is anyone else going to Podcamp Boston this weekend? Billed as “the new media community unConference,” it’s taking place in the Longwood Medical Area this Saturday and Sunday, and we’re going. It should be pretty interesting, although I’m not always so awesome about that networking stuff. I’m shy.

Registration closes tomorrow (Wednesday, July 16), so if you are interested, get to it. It’s about $50 to register, and if the low, low price doesn’t make you jump on that bandwagon, I’m sure the networking party at Tequila Rain on Saturday night will! (Seriously, why Tequila Rain?)

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I picked up Everything is Miscellaneous to read while on vacation, and was promptly made fun of by my library school colleagues, because, apparently, it’s an assigned text in one of the cataloging classes. Well, I commend the person who’s assigning this book, because it’s really excellent. David Weinberger does a great job talking about complicated issues of information organization and changing knowledge structures in a way that is accessible and even entertaining.

Weinberger’s book discusses the ways that the new digital order is changing our innate drive to organize the world around us. He claims that humans have always been trying to bring order to an essentially miscellaneous world, and that the growth of the digital allows everything to remain in its miscellaneous state, while allowing each individual to order and access things in his or her own way. According to Weinberger, this frees people up for more higher-order work: innovating, thinking, collaborating, and creating, instead of organizing and ordering.

I think this book has some really fascinating implications for, most significantly, education. Weinberger only briefly discusses the way that students and teachers are using the digital infrastructure to learn and work differently, and I would have liked a little more depth on how students’ learning styles are changing, and how our educational systems are reacting to these changes. My guess is that they aren’t reacting nearly fast enough. I think it could be really interesting to spend some time thinking about how to bring this new disordered order into education, to take advantage of how people really learn.

So whether the book is assigned or not, I highly recommend it. I’m searching for some follow up blog posts, as I’m really interested to hear what other people have to say about Weinberger’s ideas. If you’ve read something interesting about digital organization, please send it my way!

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Twenty-four students at the University of Central Florida accepted a challenge from one of their teachers to go tech-free for five days. No cell phones, no email, no computers, video games, television, iPods (well, you could use your phone or computer for work or school, but that was it). Only two students made it through the five days. That’s not surprising. Hell, I don’t think I could do it. I’m not disappointed that students found it nearly impossible to leave modern technologies untouched for a week.

I’m disappointed by their weird crap attitudes about it. Few students even agreed to the challenge in the first place. The article quotes one student saying, “Why should I bother? It’s just pointless.” What happened to a sense of curiosity, a willingness to accept a challenge, a desire for experimentation? And students who did agree to the challenge? “This sucks. I better get a good grade.” Really, that’s what you have you to say about this experience? Pretty funny (sad?) to read, too, what the students did to “fill the void.” I especially like the kid who spent an afternoon doing donuts in his car. These are college students, yo. Whatever happened to reading a book?

I don’t know, maybe I’m too harsh. These are eighteen-year-old kids who don’t remember a world without the interwebs. It just seems to me that students should be more interested in something like this, in challenging themselves, in discovering how difficult it really is to disconnect yourself from the things we take for granted. It would be such a broadening experience, and isn’t that what college is supposed to be about? Or is it really just about getting good grades?

I don’t know, I’m kind of tempted to try it myself. In fact, one of my favorite bloggers is doing just that: Inspired by National Turn Your Television OFF week, she has decided to turn it all off. I look forward to hearing about her experience. And you might just hear something similar from me in the coming weeks. (Or, um, not hear anything coming from me, as the case would be.)

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Our panel discussion last Monday went well, despite our rather haphazard planning process. Of course, my foray into moderating exposed some of my lack of public speaking abilities: I completely jettisoned the whole introduction I spent the weekend writing in favor of letting the speakers get right to it, and most of the questions we came up with the previous week went unasked. Ahh, nervousness. No one thought a thing of it, though. Whew.

Our first speaker was Jessamyn West, who gave a presentation on access issues in rural Vermont. She used some interesting statistics from the Vermont Telecommunications Plan, showing the lack of basic infrastruction in much of Vermont, and she mentioned briefly the fact that Verizon and other companies that provide broadband access simply don’t have an interest in wiring this part of the country: It’s not cost-effective. Of course, private industry has no obligation to engage in projects that won’t make them money, but it did make me think of the process of getting telephone lines in most of the country. If I remember my history correctly, the US government essentially forced Ma Bell to cover the entire country with telephone lines. My communist-minded self doesn’t really see any reason our government shouldn’t do this again, but I will back up and say that I don’t really know a ton about current telecommunications policy in this country.

Jessamyn also talked about people who don’t really care to be connected, what she called the “information don’t care,” as opposed to the “information poor.” I think these people can get left out of the discussion sometimes when we talk about access issues. I have several friends who have no real interest in email or the web or being on Facebook or anything of that sort, and I’m going to go right ahead and say I think that’s kind of a travesty. Jessamyn talked about respecting people’s desire to remain disconnected, but I can’t help thinking about the economic limitations that people are accepting for themselves when they decide to remain disconnected.

Our next speaker was Susan O’Connor, of the Timothy Smith Network, here in Boston, in Roxbury, to be specific. The Timothy Smith Network is a philanthropic organization dedicated to providing community technology centers and training throughout Roxbury. Much of Susan’s talk revolved around the history of the Timothy Smith Network and the leadership and managerial issues involved in keeping centers open and providing training and access. She talked about the Open Air Boston initiative to provide affordable wireless access through Boston. Some points I found interesting: The Timothy Smith Network didn’t initially have a specific goal. They had money to spend and had to spend it, so they asked the citizens of Roxbury what would be most useful, and the citizens wanted computer centers. I think that’s a great example of a non-profit engaging in needs assessment and providing what people really want, instead of what a philanthropist thinks they want, and I also found it interesting that Susan didn’t talk about the “information don’t care,” probably because, working in a computer center, she’s not as exposed to those people?

Our final speaker was Pat Oyler, a faculty member at Simmons College who has spent significant time training librarians in Vietnam and working with them to build up their library infrastructure. She pointed out that the differences between rural and urban access in the US is very similar to that in Vietnam, although it sounds like the rural areas of Vietnam are far more bereft of infrastructure. The demographic that she talked about, too, is very specific: They are library students, so they clearly are invested in information technologies and access, and it’s hard to know how they might compare with the population at large. She talked about how most access in the country is through Internet cafes, and the connection fees are very steep for most of the people. I found myself curious to know what other kinds of access points are available, and how libraries in Vietnam might be working to change that.

Overall, it was definitely informative and through provoking. We did podcast the event, and as soon as it’s edited it will be available on the GSLIScast website. I’ll try to remember to provide a link directly to it when it’s up, too. I would love to hear some of your questions and thoughts about some of these issues, too. There is certainly more to say than we could cover in even the two hours that the panel ran, and I am already thinking of a follow up event. Because, hey, I’m not busy or anything, right? :-)

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