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


Secret Social Networking

   May 4th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Seen in this week's Post Secrets:

Post Secret - Library Receipts

I've thought there was an unusually large number of checkout receipts left in books, and maybe this is why. Although I usually keep the things I find around the library, checkout receipts are one thing I always throw away.

But what if we did offer some sort of in-book messaging? Maybe a sticker with a link to the library's record of the book on LibraryThing or Goodreads, telling people they could discuss it there and meet other people who liked it. Or better yet, remind them to write a review in the library's catalog, along with an opt-in social feature (I wish we had that functionality, but maybe soon).



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Library policy about personal blogging

   July 14th, 2009 Brian Herzog

The Man Behind The CurtainA couple of weeks ago, the director of the Wadleigh Memorial Library in New Hampshire wrote me with this question (I'm paraphrasing):

We have an intern for the summer, and she's started a blog about her work at the library. However, the next thing I knew, there was a link to her blog from the library's homepage (it's since been removed). While I like the idea of the public getting a bird's eye view of what we do at the library, I have to think of worst case scenario....

I couldn't find your blog linked from CPL's website, but you do publicly announce on your blog where you work. Does CPL have any policies in place about staff blogs? Have you ever had anything you've written come back to bite the library?...

This is a very interesting question. Something I wrote once did come back to bite, and the Town, the Library and I were all threatened with a lawsuit. That prompted a discussion between my director and me about separating library and personal, although no written policy ever came of it. But in general, here are the blogging guidelines that I follow:

  • Nothing written can be unwritten - think before you publish
  • Get permission before using names, and be vague when referring to people otherwise
  • Personal website has a disclaimer disassociating the library/town from me

Which is basic, I know, but since it's a personal website done on personal time, there's not much keeping me from doing whatever I want - other than common sense, experience, and goodwill towards the library. Since most of what goes on in libraries is public record anyway, pretty much everything I do at work is fair game, so long as I don't break the law or violate patron privacy.

Even still, it might be a good idea for libraries to create some sort of guidelines for staff who publicly use the library's name online. I don't think libraries can force people to do or not do most things (aside from using library resources and time), but basic guidelines might help a well-meaning library employee avoid awkward situations they might not have otherwise considered.

A few resources for these guidelines are:

It's a great idea for library employees to share their work with the public (and other librarians). Especially if the library is going to link to that personal blog from the library's website (in which case, the library might be entitled to more control over the content of that personal blog). If no employee is doing this on their personal blog, the library's blog itself could occasionally spotlight behind-the-scenes activities in the library.

I guess the bottom line is that people are still discovering Web 2.0, so there's a lot of inexperience and new situations out there. Libraries shouldn't try to prevent their employees from participating, but instead can assist them in doing it well (remember 23 Things?).

After our email discussion and speaking with library Trustees, the Wadleigh Library decided to put the link to their intern's blog back on their homepage, which was good news. So if you're looking for a model on how to do this, check out Lexi the Intern's blog - she's doing a great job.



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Political Parties and Technology

   July 22nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Donkey and Elephant political iconsI noticed this interesting juxtaposition of the difference in the way the Democratic and Republican parties are approaching technology at campaign events.

The Arizona Star reported that the GOP wanted to prevent any attendees of a Tucson fundraiser from recording the event, out of fear of what might show up on YouTube. Bush himself asked the attendees to turn off all recording devices, and was quoted as saying

I don't know a lot about technology...but I do know about YouTube.

On the other hand, an email from the Obama campaign goes in the exact opposite direction. The email mentioned an upcoming rally in Massachusetts on August 4th (Obama's birthday, incidentally), and read in part:

...remember to bring your camera and snap a few photos! You can share them with us at eventsforobama@gmail.com. We'll start posting photos soon!

Not that there is any one right way to approach technology, but I did find this contrast telling. The Bush Administration has a long reputation of trying to suppress and control information and keep things behind closed doors, whereas the Obama campaign has embraced modern technology and has put effort into learning it to use it to their advantage.

Politics is politics, but I am all for being encouraged to participate. Besides, I like taking pictures of things I do and places I go, and would kind of resent being told I couldn't because of someone else's misunderstanding or fear.



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35 Perspectives on Online Social Networking

   July 10th, 2007 Brian Herzog

mismash of logos from social networking websitesFound via Slashdot, I like this article detailing 35 different ways to look at online social networking.

I was going to do a sort of annotated list of my favorites, but then realized that I was annotating every one of them. So here's my top five from the first fifteen, but I encourage you to read them all:

4. The identity perspective
...young people are continuously constructing, re-constructing and displaying their self-image and identity. Also, the network sites make them co-constructors of each other’s identities....

I like this one because it shows that these places are not static - a library can't just "have a presence" and think that's good enough. You're either an active part of the community or you're not - just like in physical life. If a library wants to be part of its community, it can't just open a building with a "library" sign above the door. It has to have useful resources inside, interesting programs, participate in town events, etc. Online communities are no different.

6. The paedophile and predator perspective
...Social networking sites are an El Dorado for paedophiles and predators...

This one I disagree with. Although the "El Dorado" reference seem apparently accurate, online communities should be much safer for kids than parks, malls, or even libraries. Yes, I'm sure predators hang out in these places, all of the above places. But in online communities, the biggest danger seems to be giving out too much information. In contrast, no matter how safe a kid is being in a mall or a park, they can still be forcibly taken against their will. Online communities can be dangerous, which is why it is important to teach kids how to be safe (by not to talk too much to strangers, or giving out personal information), rather than trying to insulate them entirely.

11. The network perspective
...learn the crucial importance of being able to network which they can benefit from in their future professional life....

This one I liked because it's absolute true - online communication is the way of the future, and it's important that kids (as well as adults) learn how to do it, and do it well. I'm sure there were people that resisted telephones, fax machines, and email, but aren't these skills fairly crucial to everyday life now?

13. The source critique perspective
...force young people to be sceptical [sic] of what they see and read online. They know that people can create faker profiles which make them extra aware of the identity of the people they communicate with...

Of all the points list here, this one might be the single most important.

15. The democratic perspective
...allow young people to have a voice in society. Here, they can be heard and express their opinions....

There certainly isn't enough of this these days. Online communities let people contribute to something greater than themselves, and collaborate with others to produce something useful together, rather than wasting resources through competition.

As I said, there's much more worth reading in this article.

35 Perspectives on Online Social Networking, Malene Charlotte Larsen, online communities, online community, online network, online networking, social computing magazine, social network, social networking, social networks



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Web 1.9999999…

   November 30th, 2006 Brian Herzog

In an effort to cater to the Long Tail patrons who are still unfamiliar with internety things, my library is holding a program tonight called Joys & pitfalls of social networking software.

It is really geared towards parents who are concerned for their childrens' safety on the internet. Our thinking is that if we can educate parents about Web 2.0 tools and how they are used, they will, 1) be more comfortable with their kids using them, and, 2) be able to use them themselves to interact with friends, peers - and their own children - through them.

Our program will be presented in three acts. First, our Director will talk very generally about internet trends, citing statistics, as well as library policy regarding internet use. Next, our YA Librarian will mention what teens do on the internet (myspace, IM, etc), and provide tips on how they can do it safely. Finally, I'll bring up the rear by going more in-depth with popular Web 2.0 websites. So far, only the list of websites I'm going to address is online, but I hope to have the entire thing available soon.

internet safety, library, parents, programs, social networking, social software, technology, teens, web 2.0



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More NELA residue

   November 2nd, 2006 Brian Herzog

While attending the sessions at NELA, I was keeping a running list of social networking websites I had never heard of before, but that I thought might have some application within the library. I intended to post about all these last week, but forgot until Chris happened to mention one in an email. I know I'm probably the last to hear about such things, but here they are...

  • Readers Advisory-type Websites
  • last.fm: Pays attention to the music you play on your computer or ipod, and keeps a running list in your music profile on their website. Your profile can be viewed by others who share your taste in music, and you can find new music to listen to by finding other people who share your tastes (like Chris does)
  • AllConsuming.net: This website covers anything and everything that people consume, but the section that interested me was, of course, the books section. Search for a book to find people that are currently reading or have read it, reader reviews, and also links to other books read by these same people - I like the "read-alike" aspect of this website (although I wasn't too impressed with the design)
  • 43Things: A website where people can keep track of the things they want to do with their life, like "write a novel" [4312 people] or "learn Klingon" [29 people]. It's a way to meet people with similar interests, and have people find you
  • WebShots.com: Very similar to flickr (which I use) but apparently attracts more youngies than old people like me - but it's always good to know what the kids are up to. They also seem to have more "mature content" control than flickr does, which I found interesting
  • "Enhance Your Website" Tools
  • Even I had heard of Meebo.com, but MeeboMe.com was new. It lets you embed an IM chat window right on your website, so client software does not need to be installed on a computer. I really like this idea. I have been trying to get IM Reference going in my library, and this might be the way to go. I think, just like Meebo, it works with AIM, MSN, Yahoo and GTalk, so this would be a great tool to have available on the library's public computers. I have to play with it more, but I'll keep you posted
  • Feed2JS.org: Again, this requires more playing on my part, but from what I understand of it, this tool lets you convert RSS feeds to javascript code, which can then be easily embedded on a website. So, if I wanted to display the posts from a Weird Al Yankovic blog (and after all, who wouldn't?) right on my own homepage, this tool allows me to do so

So many websites to keep up with. The distressing part is trying to get this information to my patrons (of course, they might know about them long before I do). It seems to me that making a webpage bibliography of these is a bit anachronistic, but will serve until I find something better - so if you know of a better way, please comment and let me know.

43things, allconsuming.net, books, chris, feed2js.org, flickr, im, last.fm, library, meebo.com, meebome.com, nela, readers advisory, rss, social networking, webshots.com, websites



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