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

Standing on the Keyboards of Giants

   April 21st, 2007 Brian Herzog

During Jessamyn's Pimp My Firefox talk at cil2007, something occurred to me. So much of the code used on websites today was written by someone else - themes, rss feeds, widgets, etc.

I think this is great, as freeware/open source/creative commons all allow people to share good ideas - repacking them, repurposing them, resuing them.. you know, recycling.

(not to mention that this has been my style of coding ever since I started coding in 1996. I am almost exclusively self-taught, which means I learned from seeing something I liked on the web, viewing the code, and figuring it out. Often, this meant I grabbed the code and tweaked and modified it to do what I wanted. You can learn a lot through trial and error)

Site Made with Recycled Code iconSo, it was during that session that I got the idea for this new movement, the "made with recycled code" movement. By "movement," of course all I mean is create a little icon and stick it on my webpage. And not being a graphic designer, it's not even a very good icon, but I think it's a catchy phrase.

If you like it, grab it from flickr or the psd file from my website (big [575x575px, 316kb]; small [130x130px, 119kb]).

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CIL2007 Wednesday – Tech Freebies & Program Ideas

   April 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

The last session of the day was called "Tech Freebies & Program Ideas," given by people from different libraries covering successes they've had with technology-related programs in their libraries.

The Princeton (NJ) Public Library puts a tremendous amount of resources into their Technology Training (which is a better phrase than "computer classes"). Their classes include both staff and patrons, and cover a varied of topics: Photoshop/GIMP, Blogger/Wordpress, Bloglines/Google Reader, social bookmarking, creating & hosting podcasts, digital scrapbooking, and more.

They also listed a few ways to keep up with emerging technologies (PC Magazine's Top 101 websites, SEOmoz's Web 2.0 awards, Filehippo, and Time's 50 Coolest websites), and some of the more interesting online tools:

After them, a team from another library showed a mobile animation setup they used (a Mac laptop, camera, and portable greenscreen designed to let teens create and edit their own stop-animation videos. Which was neat and interesting (actually, quite amazing), but since this was geared towards Macs, and teens, and it was the last session of the day, I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been.

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CIL2007 Wednesday – 30 Search Tips in 45 Minutes

   April 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Another session I attended during the day were Mary Ellen Bates' "30 Search Tips in 45 Minutes," and she wasn't kidding. Mainly she pointed out relatively unknown or underused search tools, and some of the 30 were:

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CIL2007 Wednesday – Federated Searching

   April 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

The final session in the "tailoring library services to patrons needs, based on patron input" theme was on Federated Searching, led by Frank Cervone (Northwestern Univ.) and Jeff Wisniewski (Univ. of Pittsburg).

They overviewed the various players in the federated search market, which were numerous. Their basic message is that this field is constantly changing, and it is difficult to keep up with all the mergers and acquisitions and name changes; but, that is no reason it not get involved. This is the type of searching our patrons need, so picking one tool and going with it is the best thing for libraries to do.

Current players in this market are:

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CIL2007 Wednesday – Improving Content through Conversations with Customers

   April 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

The second session in the "tailoring library services to patrons needs, based on patron input" theme was "Improving Content through Conversations with Customers," led by Rich Wiggins from Michigan State.

This dealt primarily with analyzing search logs. The search logs from library websites can be viewed as an open letter from patrons to libraries, telling us exactly what they want us to provide to them. We need to pay attention to:

  • what people are search for
  • what they're finding
  • what they're not finding
  • how and when they're searching
  • where they're searching from

Then, we need to restructure our offerings accordingly (including things like compensating for common misspellings). Pushing information to them will probably not work, so we need to be prepared (with efficient searches and findable information) with what they want, when they want it and how they want it.

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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.

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