or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk




Government 2.0

   February 3rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

obama on iphoneBefore and since the Obama Administration moved into the White House, there's been much talk about how Obama was using technology, really using it properly, to get things done.

These ranged from his change.gov and recovery.gov websites to the Blackberry battle to tech problems in the White House to Obama's Technology Agenda to the newly revamped White House website and blog.

I subscribed to the White House blog's rss feed on 1/20. In addition to reading the posts, I also paid attention to how many other subscribers there were. At the end of the first week, there were about 800 subscribers in Bloglines, and about 3,000 in Google Reader. As of 2/2, it's up to 1,100+ Bloglines and 16,000+ Google Reader.

This is out of a country of 300 million people - I'm surprised it's so low*.

I think it's great that the government is putting effort into reaching people in new ways, so people can get the information the way they want to be reached. But at what point does it become worth it? These numbers don't take into account people that use other rss readers or actually visit the website, but they do seem low.

Regardless, leading by example is a good thing - if the White House is taking bloggery seriously, then perhaps other parts of the government will also be making information available quicker and easier via technology. The Library of Congress blog predates Obama (191 Blogline/241 Google Reader subscribers), and it has a flickr stream too (~90/226 subscribers). Also, iLibrarian recently pointed to a recap of the Best Government Uses of Web Technology, and that's interesting reading.

These web 2.0 communication channels are now an integrated fact of life for many people, so it makes me feel better that our government is deliberately addressing it instead of trying to ignore it.

 


*My library's blog isn't much better - out a of a town of about 32,000, we've got 3 Bloglines and 4 Google Reader subscribers (we average over 700 page visits a month).



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Information Underload

   December 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Empty BookshelvesIn addition to this blog, I also write a weekly post for my library's blog. I don't feel like I'm spreading myself too thin, but sometimes I have to wonder if there is any connection between my online and real-life activities.

Last week's post for the library was a Holiday Book Guide. It contained a list of kids books suggested by our Youth Services Librarians, and also links to other websites with end-of-the-year book recommendations. The list of other websites is short, but I tried to find a good mix. However, apparently, I wasn't reading them very closely.

A couple days ago, I was going through a cart of new books with a coworker. He held up three books and said "hey, I saw all of these on that Boing Boing list of books." It was then that I realized that, although I had read all of the lists I linked to, apparently I had retained nothing because none of the books he was holding looked familiar.

This must have been a case of me working faster than I was thinking, trying to get a useful blog post up by the (self-imposed) deadline. But it's also a reminder that websites aren't just something to link to as information for other people - I need to read them, too.

I guess I need to remember to stop and smell the roses - or in this case, stop and read the blogs.



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Conference Blogging

   October 21st, 2008 Brian Herzog

NELA2008 registration tableRight now I'm in Manchester, NH, for the 2008 NELA conference. In addition to being an attendee and a speaker, I'm also blogging the sessions I attend for the NELA conference blog (read my posts).

This year there are ten volunteer bloggers, and I think it's great -

  • great that NELA is supporting a blog
  • great that people volunteer to contribute
  • great that the notes we take during sessions are available for all attendees, people who couldn't come, trustees who need to see these things, and anyone else who is interested

There are lots of worthwhile conferences and workshops every year, and I go to very few of them. I think it's important for these conferences to extend beyond the conference dates and facility to reach the people who can't come. Considerations for "virtual attendance" seems to be getting more common, in fits and starts, but I think it'll happen.

Along these lines, RUSA has recently asked a small group of librarians to look at this very issue. The goal of this task force is to recommend

a suite of technology-based approaches to virtual membership, virtual attendance at conference, podcasting or videocasting conference programs, the creation of webinars to be hosted by RUSA, and a range of other approaches that would provide resources to our members – both those that attend conference and those for whom conference attendance is a barrier to participation.

Now this is an organization moving in the direction of its members. Thank you, RUSA. I'm not sure what the end result of the task force will be, but just the fact that a large, member-based organization like this is paying attention to the needs of its members is a step in the right direction.

And hopefully, once RUSA develops and implements a good model, it will spread to the rest of the ALA.

But for the time being, don't be afraid to let your consortia, library associations, or other conference groups know what works and doesn't work for you, and where your needs are and aren't being met. That's the best way to get the resources tailored to our needs.

Update: I forgot to mention that the Internet Librarian conference is also going on right now - check out blog posts tagged with il2008 on google blog search.



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EBSCO Taking Blogs Seriously

   August 26th, 2008 Brian Herzog

EBSCOhost logoThis email came in to my work address yesterday from EBSCO:

Dear EBSCO Customer,

Some of you have asked us to consider adding full text blog content to our databases, which would have no impact on the cost of your subscriptions.

Before we move forward with this idea, we would like your opinion. Below is a link to a quick, five-question survey. Your answers will help us to gauge the value of adding this type of content to certain EBSCO databases.

http://support.epnet.com/contact/surveys/index.php?sid=71644&lang=en

Please note that we would only consider using “vetted” blogs, and would provide you with the option of disabling access to blogs.

Thank you for your participation in this survey. We will carefully evaluate all responses, as they represent a very important part of our product development process.

I don't know what criteria will be used in the "vetting" process, but I was very happy to see this initiative.

They aren't saying they are absolutely doing this; they are saying they see an emerging source of potentially reliable information, and are asking us what we think about it.

Imagine - getting our input to help design a product that we will use. Thank you, EBSCO.



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Old Timey Photo Editing

   August 14th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Before and after photos of Cedar Point dock, circa 1900The library in my hometown has a blog, which I read because it's well done and because it's a way for me to stay connected with where my family lives.

I particularly enjoyed one recent post. Someone found a photo in the library's historical archive that had been later doctored for use in a promotional book.

Check the original post for bigger photos. It is interesting to see how the photo, circa 1900, could be altered so well - as opposed to some of the bad work being done now with Photoshop.

This shows that fun can come from library archive, especially photo archives. Also, too, the subject of the photo is interesting. It's the dock of Cedar Point, an amusement park in Sandusky, OH. And I am always amazed at how dressing nicely was just a matter of course in that era. People at Cedar Point don't dress like that anymore.



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Internet Accuracy Tips From CQ Researcher

   August 12th, 2008 Brian Herzog

CQ Researcher logoMy Library subscribes to a lot of periodicals, but the one I always make a point of checking out each month is CQ Researcher. For professional reasons, I know I should keep an eye on current topics in as many of our periodicals and resources as possible, but CQ Researcher is usually interesting beyond professional reasons.

I like the format, too - the entire slim issue is devoted to a single topic. The most recent issue, August 1st, was devoted to Internet Accuracy.

The section I found particular interesting, titled "How to Evaluate Blogs and Online Information Source," can serve a good checklist for anyone doing internet research. I wish I could reproduce the whole thing, but here's me paraphrasing:

  • Look closely at the URL - the domain name can sometimes tell a lot of about the nature of the website
  • Locate the main website - try deleting everything that comes after the domain suffix (the .com or .edu, etc) and see what the rest of the site is like
  • Can a real person be contacted? - if there isn't an "about me" page or way to contact the author, there's reason to be suspicious
  • Are there additional links? - reliable websites usually link to additional resources, or at least other pages within that site
  • Are there misspellings and typos? - lots of grammatical errors can indicate untrustworthiness, because little errors often coincide with big errors
  • How long has the blogger been at it? - reliable bloggers usually indicate how long they've been writing, and as with anything, bloggers get better over time
  • How many topics does the blog cover? - if the blog has too many categories, then this person is certainly not an expert
  • What is the blog's format? - websites that use the default look or theme may indicate that not much effort has been put into the project, whereas a personal brand shows the blogger cares enough to establish an image

I like this list so much that I'm going to co-op it into a post for my Library's blog - and maybe a bookmark.

The rest of the issue is good, too. The major article talks about the reliability and use of websites like Wikipedia, traditional news outlets, blogs, and what turns up in search engines. There are also sections on where people go for answers (58% go to the internet, 45% to friends and family, 13% to the library), where the most well-informed people get their information (with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report out ranking every other source), and a bibliography, position papers on current topics, and more.

All in all, definitely an issue worth reading. Sadly, their website does not allow open and free access, but check for it at your local library.



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