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


Talking Tech

   September 22nd, 2009 Brian Herzog

tech support manNew technologies are constantly becoming more integrated into how libraries perform their core functions. As this evolves, staff (and patrons) of all experience levels need to be able to communicate, but this is often difficult and problematic.

Enter Roy Tennant's recent The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology post (via LISnews). It's a good start to getting people unfamiliar with technology to start thinking about technology in realistic terms - it's not something to be afraid of, it's a tool (and even tech people don't know everything). All of his 10 tips are helpful, but #5 is key:

  1. Iterate, don't perfect. Librarians seem to love perfection. We don't want to put any technology out for the public to use until we think it is perfect. Well, we need to get over ourselves. Savvy tech companies know the path to success is to release early and iterate often. One of the major benefits of this is that your users can provide early feedback on what they like and don't like, thereby providing essential input into further development. Do not be afraid of a "beta" or "prototype" label -- people are now accustomed to such, and it can provide the necessary "cover" to being less than perfect.

But this is not new. Roy's post reminded me of two other articles I had seen last year Computers in Libraries:

These two are more focused on how front-line staff can become more comfortable doing their own tech troubleshooting. But best of all, by raising their comfort level and tech competencies, conveying problems to the dedicated tech support (whether internal or external) should also improve.

Naturally, these two articles overlap a bit on the tips that are most important:

  • Make sure the power is on to all components (if not, turn it on and see if that fixes the problem)
  • Make sure all the cables are plugged in and connected firmly (feel free to unplug and plug back in the cables
  • Try rebooting - that works more often than you'd imagine

But also important are the areas in which they don't overlap. The Singer Gordon/West article provide excellent tips on basic tasks anyone using a computer should (but might not!) know. And the Ennis article focuses more on how to avoid more serious problems, identify them when they happen, and then communicate important information to tech support.

My favorite sentence of all three articles comes from Lisa A. Ennis's article, in which she reminds tech support staff that the entire burden doesn't rest with the front-line staff. Her personal philosophy as a systems librarian is:

I'm not here for the technology. I'm here for the people.

That is key. Example: an email system that delivers no spam but sometimes blocks legitimate messages is not a good email system.

Technology is not a one-person game. Everyone uses it, so everyone has a role to play in making sure it works correctly - and that it is serving the mission of the library.



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CIL2007 Wednesday – Catalogs/OPACs for the Future

   April 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

On the final day of cil2007, most of the workshops I attended ending up having a common theme – tailoring library services to patrons needs, based on patron input.

The first of these sessions was called “Catalogs/OPACs for the future,” led by Roy Tennant (California Digital Library) and Tim Spalding (LibraryThing.com). Tim followed up on points he made in yesterday’s presentation with some criteria that future library search systems will need:

  • catalogs should be fun - patrons should enjoy searching for and finding books and information
  • allow linking into the records - use permalinks so links to items will never expire or break
  • link outwards - everything in the catalog should be links (titles, names, subjects, tags, keywords, etc). Participating in the wider web means our entries are not dead ends for patrons, but helps them flow through our catalog to the information they ultimately seek. Tim also encouraged linking to sites Amazon.com and Wikipedia - they offer lots of information, and our patrons use them anyway, so we should not position ourselves as a barrier
  • dress up the catalog - this goes along with “catalogs should be fun,” and what he meant was that the catalog should be as visually-appealing as possible - loads of book covers, nice design and layout, useful widgets to display new books, recent searches, and even patron data (if they so choose)

Roy followed Tim, and also had general criteria for a catalog of the future

  • do not call it an “opac” – even “catalog” is getting outdated, because they should provide access to more than just the library books we own
  • searching should be simple – a single search box, placed strategically and logically on the page, should search in all available resources
  • individual libraries could get rid of local catalogs and use Open WorldCat as a single union catalog for all libraries. This would promote comprehensive searching and resource sharing, and is also better because it includes articles and web resources indexed through WorldCat (in the Q&A session, one librarian pointed out that WorldCat has a few important shortcomings [they stand to benefit financially from this model, they do not include many small public libraries], and she got a round of applause)
  • separate the ILS from the finding tool. The ILS will be smaller and just for staff use, and the finding tool will be an efficient and comprehensive search tool that sits draws together the ILS and other resources
  • communicates well with other systems, so data can be shared freely and all available resources (books, databases, websites, etc) can be searched
  • include sophisticated features, such as results ranking, faceted/cluster browsing, preference filtering, etc.

catalog, catalogs, Catalogs/OPACs for the Future, cil 2007, cil2007, libraries, library, library thing, librarything, librarything.com, oclc, opac, opacs, open worldcat, public libraries, public library, roy tennant, tim spaulding, worldcat, worldcat.org



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