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

Reference Question of the Week – 10/31/10

   November 6th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Do you ever wonder how I spend my Saturday nights? Why, advocating library services, of course - here's a Twitter conversation that occurred last weekend about 10pm (read from the bottom up):

Twitter conversation

The two points I'd like to make about this are:

  1. Libraries provide free and legal access to things patrons might otherwise "improvise" access* to. But that is only marginally helpful because...
  2. ...the target audience for many library services don't always (or ever) think of the library as a source. So how do we promote ourselves to bring patron and service together? That is frustrating.

I felt pretty good after this exchange, and the patron was happy to not violate copyright to get the content he wanted. Until now I've been pretty passive about this, but perhaps it's time to more deliberate about engaging in "social reference."

Incidentally: I saw his tweet because I have a Twitter search rss feed for the word "library" in any tweet within 10 miles of Chelmsford. That picks up people outside of town, but we get a lot of non-residents in my library, so it all evens out. Besides, on the internet, all reference is local.


*I get daily traffic to my website from Google searches such as "overdrive media hacks," so people are definitely looking to improvise.

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Welcome to Askville – Population: us

   December 19th, 2006 Brian Herzog

Amazon's AskvilleThis has already been mentioned, but Amazon.com is launching a service for answering reference questions, and calling it "Askville."

I was a beta tester for the service, and last week received an email saying the service is going live. In it, they gave this brief description:

Askville is a community based website where users can easily ask and answer questions, share their knowledge and meet others with similar interests. Additionally, you can earn experience points in various topics and Quest coins, Askville's virtual currency. Eventually, you will be able to your Quest coins on an upcoming site called Questville.com scheduled to launch in 2007.

As the LibrarianInBlack pointed out, Askville is incorporating social networking to answer questions - and from the few questions I posed to the service, the answers were of good quality and with quick turnaround. Having average lay netziens answering questions (rather than degreed librarians) means answers must still be considered within the context of the source, but the social critical mass approach has worked well for Wikipedia.

What I'm not sure about is the whole Questville.com coins thing. Askville allows you to earn coins by asking and answering questions, and also by rating given answers. I presume coins will be cashed in to buy stuff. Perhaps this is the component that Google Answers was missing - if Amazon can figure out a good business model for social reference, then I'm sure Google Answers will find a way back into the market, too.

In the meantime, there's always your local library and places like the Internet Public Library that still do this without gimmicky profit schemes.

For more on Askville, check their blog.

amazon, amazon.com, askville, askville.com, online reference, social reference

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