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


Reference Question of the Week – 10/24/10

   October 30th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Instead of a reference question this week, I wanted to highlight something else from NELA2010.

In the Trends in Reference session, Pingsheng Chen from the Worcester (MA) Public Library discussed the overall trend of reference questions in general - that there are fewer of them, but the questions we do get asked are harder and less traditional.

This is due to people turning to the internet to answer the easy factual questions, but still coming to us with the tough ones that require assistance or instruction. Her slide below listed a few example questions she's gotten in Worcester:

Reference Questions from the Worcester Library

I'm sorry the photo is tough to read - the questions are:

  • How do I activate my iPhone on a library computer? Can I download this mp3 to my iPod from a library computer?
  • My laptop cannot connect to the library's wireless. Can you help?
  • Which e-reader should I buy to download the library's ebooks?
  • I bought Barnes & Noble Nook and would like to download the library's ebooks to it. Can you help?
  • Could you recommend and create a booklist on China, its history and culture to my group? I would like to know if the books on the booklist are available at the library.
  • I got this letter telling me to come to the library to obtain this document...(e-government info)
  • I am looking for work and would like to know how to set up a LinkedIn account.
  • Many more questions are asked my job seekers: people need help to find a job, fill out an online application, write a resume and cover letter... (Many of them have no computer skills, no email account, no English skills...)

Her question to us was, if you were asked these, how would you answer them?

Most of the libraries represented in the room had at least one person on staff who is the go-to person for "techie questions." But is that good enough anymore? Do you feel the questions above are beyond the scope of reference work, or are you of the opinion that modern reference staff should have the knowledge and training to answer modern reference questions?

So that's the challenge for this week - how would you handle these questions if you were asked them by a patron?



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NELA2010: Trends in Reference

   October 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Pingsheng Chen and Laura KohlSession notes from a great NELA2010 interactive discussion on reference and where it's headed:

A panel of experienced reference librarians explores the ever-changing landscape of reference service, with particular emphasis on implementing new and emerging technologies. Panelists include Laura Kohl from Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, Eleanor Sathan from Memorial Hall Library in Andover, MA, and Pingsheng Chen from Worcester (MA) Public Library.

Laura Kohl - What Bryant University is Doing

  • Offer text (using a Droid rather than online), email, IM
  • Goal has been to differentiate librarians from Google and add value "Librarians: the thinking search engine"
  • Bryant's mission is to be high-touch and hands-on - they don't just offer access, they provide instruction to make sure people know how to use things
  • All reference desks computers are dual monitor/keyboard (one faces staff, one faces patron), so it's easy for students to participate in the search, rather than just watch
  • Use Jing to create on-the-fly instructional screencasts for chat and email reference questions. These are uploaded to Jing's server, which archives them for reuse

How to patrons know what is available? Marketing all over the place.

  • Word of mouth - go into classrooms, tell people it's okay to interrupt us"
  • Hang up tear-off sheets all around campus (including in the bathrooms)
  • Have imprinted scrap paper at the desk with library contact information at the bottom
  • Use Moo Cards for business cards to hand out. Also used clear labels to add more contact information to the back of the standard business cards
  • On Twitter, Facebook (include redundant links to everything, which helps when regular website is unavailable), integrate into Blackboard
  • Use digital signage using rotating powerpoints, images, or anything else - these are in the library and throughout campus
  • QR codes on signs to go to websites or download contact information into students' smart phones

How to measure success?

  • Qualitative - comments from students (email, texts, etc)
  • Quantitative - track stats (face-to-face, phone, text, email, IM) - face-to-face is going down but students staying longer, and IMs are way up

Pingsheng Chen - What Worcester Library is Doing

Worcester is 3rd largest city in New England (behind Boston and Providence)

Trend 1: People need a librarian more than every

  • Across the country, library use is going up
  • Nature of questions have changed - fewer questions that can be handled in the traditional way, and knowing the collection is no longer enough

Trend 2: Reference librarians are reinventing themselves to make a wide range of new reference services available to meet users' current expectations

  • Provide learning opportunities for users, especially for job seekers (computer books, job search/resume help, workshops)
  • Provide personal assistance for job seekers or others (consult with a librarian, resume/cover letter help, set up LinkedIn or email account)
  • Provide virtual reference services - email, chat (QuestionPoint), text (My Info Quest), ebooks and databases for online 24x7 reference (and build Gale bookshelf)
  • Use web 2.0 and social networking tools to provide help in more than one way and in more than one place - blog, wiki, delicious links, Bookletters, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (do them all, because patrons have their own preferences)

Trend 3: Reference services have a bright but challenging future. So, with less money and less staff, we must...

  • provide public and free access to ideas and information
  • stay current with new technologies and new resources and be able to teach users those information tools and skills
  • offer a wide range of reference services to meet users where they are and connect people to information that matters in their lives
  • Bottom line: meet users' current expectations (it's about their experience)


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NELA2010: Trends in Tech Services

   October 18th, 2010 Brian Herzog

I'm at the NELA 2010 annual conference Monday and Tuesday this week, albeit without wifi or open power outlets in the rooms. As a result, my postings will be few and far between, but this session was a good one:

NELA2010 - Trends Tech Services speakersTrends, Trends, Trends: Innovations in Technical Services, Collections and More

What is going on that is leading us to change the way we work “behind the scenes” in our libraries? The Academic Librarians Section (ALS) and the Association of College and Research Libraries/New England chapter (ACRL/NEC) sponsor Consultants Margaret Lourie and Stephen Spohn to examine issues and trends in technical services, cataloging, and the acquisition and maintenance of physical and virtual collections, e-resources and e-books. Explore the larger issues at work that bring new opportunities to provide more resources to users, make it easier for them to find information they need and do all this more effectively and efficiently.

The Past Environment

  • Libraries are warehouses of information (books/serials)
  • Monopoly on search - they have to come to us and do it our way
  • Information in discrete packaging - silos do not overlap
  • Low user expectation - they get what they needed, maybe, and go away
  • Big building, print collection owned, repository of physical artifacts, you have to come to us
  • Catalog is inventory of what you own (later also what we have access to, or lease)
  • All cataloging and reference work done in-house (sense that it was our duty to catalog the internet)
  • Plenty of staff to do the work
  • Sense of "we know what the patrons need" - relates to what was selected, how it was cataloged, where it was shelved

Work flow was like assembly line

  • must follow the rules in all aspects (TS, reference, circ, etc)
  • patron needs take backseat to process (fear of "doing it wrong" prevents "just doing it right" [according to patron's point of view])

We don't need to throw everything out, but we do need to question the rules to see what is holding us back.

Today's world

  • Information and tools are created on the fly by millions of people and is available instantly (gone is the idea of librarians cataloging the internet)
  • Mix of owned and leased, digital and physical, common and unique, print-on-demand (feeds into instant-info idea - don't need things on the shelf, just print when people want it), ebooks - libraries are going to own less and less of their materials (this is being driven by vendors and shifting business models) - focus must shift to community space
  • Others do search better than us, our job is to help filter, not find (search results are not good enough) - we try to compete, but we're losing
  • High user expectation - patrons want simple, complex choices24x7, personalized, all electronic, and easy
  • Disaggregation of discrete information packages - full-text articles available, aggregated databases and journal sources becoming less important (can buy individual articles, not just entire journal or entire database)
  • Buying books is easier for patrons, because they don't need to keep track of due dates and have library staff make them feel like bad people over $0.25 late fees (use Netflix model - patrons pay a few dollars a month and can keep things as long as they want)
  • Catalog should be directory of what you have access to (not inventory of owned materials)

Environmental factors

  • People are mobile and want to be social
  • Different devices have different capabilities and requirements
  • New role for libraries: foster learning and knowledge, collaboration with community and community service
  • We must constantly respond to changes and trends in technology
  • Bad economy means
    • we need to justify all spending (inherent value is no longer a given - we always try to shield patrons from budget cuts, so how do they know we're in trouble if they never see the blood?)
    • less money for resources
    • we have fewer staff with more work, so we need to maximize staff resources
      • we need to be more efficient
      • eliminate unnecessary tasks (ask yourself, "do anyone care about what I'm doing" for ever task you do)
      • accept "good enough" cataloging (only what patrons need to find information, not exhaustively complete records (for example, patrons/parents want books in a series, and MARC does not do series well - then we should bend the rules so we can provide this service)
    • move work out of the library
    • automate (self-check)
    • accept that we may have to DO LESS

How does all this affect TS

  • Avalanche of new content to deal with - not just owned print anymore, streaming, unique
  • Focus needs to be on user needs
  • multiple metadata schemes
  • Collaborating and contribution

What to call patrons?

  • users, patrons, clients, customers, members?
  • ask them, see what they say - it's all about the relationship

How would we organize libraries from scratch starting today?

  • we collect things - collection development, preservation, resource sharing
  • allow patrons to discover them - metadata (it's not just about us anymore) and discovery, reference and advisory, patron experience, borrowing
  • publish things - user-contributed content, local publications, digital repositories
  • transform - instruct patrons on how to move forward, recombining information

Look at what "summon" search can do (from Serial Solutions)- MARVEL does it. Its "preharvested" search results from designated sources - catalog, databases - better than federated search because it's fast and single search box ("Unified" search).



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Tech Trends from MLA2010

   April 29th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Locked BikeI was at MLA2010 yesterday and participated in a panel discussion of Top Tech Trends (it was good, and if I find the other talks online I'll link to them). The two trends I chose aren't exactly new, but are two things I think will have an impact at the reference desk. They deal with ownership of the resources we offer to the public.

[note: this post might not be news to anyone, but the links from which I drew my information are worth reading]

Trend One: Subscription Databases
This has been a pretty happy segment of the library world for a long time, and libraries probably are familiar and comfortable with subscribing to and offering this kind of content. But in the last couple years, new exclusive deals signed between publishers and database vendors has limited access to many popular periodicals (this also happened last year with Consumer Reports).

EBSCO was the focus of much criticism, but Library Journal reports that the publishers are also interested in exclusive contracts. I don't mean to vilify them, because businesses will always act in their own self-interest. But I couldn't tell what bothered me more: loss of access to these periodicals, or corporate press releases [pdf] saying these contracts were in libraries' best interest - there is a difference between "all libraries" and "libraries that are our customers," which is a distinction database vendors don't seem to make.

We non-customers can't afford to keep buying more and more subscriptions because these exclusive deals demand it, so our patrons lose out. The bottom line is that it took resources away from many libraries, and I'm sure this isn't the end of it.

Trend Two: Ebooks
People might be sick of hearing about ebooks* already. However, since it contains the word "books," there is a natural expectation for libraries to offer them, so you can either jump or be dragged into this discussion.

The problematic trend is that the "e" part of ebooks makes them an entirely different animal from print books. Lots of people are trying to figure out how libraries can offer them to patrons, but ebooks have the potential to drastically change the publishing industry (including a power struggle within the distribution chain), and there's no nice model right now that seems to include libraries.

Another problem (for libraries) is that the two most talk-about ebooks readers (the Kindle and the iPad) are also the most restrictive. Like publishers and database vendors, Amazon and Apple are companies acting in their own self-interest, and what they're interested in is sales. Their tactic to maximize their sales is to control where the customers can get ebooks - which excludes libraries.

At least right now: the same thing was true with the iPod and Overdrive audiobooks - when we initially signed up with Overdrive, they did not work on the iPod (which is what all of our patrons had). Eventually Apple relented, so I'm hopeful they'll also eventually open up the iPad to outside ebook sources.

However, there is a case to be made that the iPad is not designed for reading anyway.

Statistics for the Future
Ebooks are popular, but right now they only account for 2-5% of overall book sales. That seems small, but library sales are about 4%. Ebook sales will definitely grow, whereas library sales probably will not. Since the future of ebooks will hinge on decisions made by businesses, libraries will need to speak up to make sure we have a role in this market.

Bonus Trend: HTML5
Something I forgot to mention in my talk also related to the iPad: watching videos online using Flash might be a thing of the past, because the iPad does not support Flash (per Steve Jobs). Instead, the iPad is looking to HTML5, and so is Google. The most obvious impact will be in Flash-based like Youtube and Hulu, but it's worth reading about HTML5 to get an idea of what the web might look like in the next few years.

 


*I don't know if there is an official style guide for these things, but I decided to always spell "ebooks" the same way I spell "email." If it starts a sentence the first letter gets capitalized, but otherwise it's always all in lowercase, as opposed to eBooks, e-books, etc.



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