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Aaron Swartz and Too-Comfortable Research Libraries

*** This post has been originally published in ACRL TechConnect on Feb. 11, 2013. ***
*** Update: Several references and a video added (thanks to Brett Bonfield) on Feb. 21, 2013. ***

Who was Aaron Swartz?

If you are a librarian and do not know who Aaron Swartz is, that should probably change now. He helped developing the RSS standard, was the co-founder of Reddit, worked on the Open Library project, downloaded and freed 20% (2.7 million documents) of the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database that charges fees for the United States federal court documents, out of which about 1,600 had privacy issues, played a lead role in preventing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and wrote the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto.

Most famously, he was arrested in 2011 for the mass download of journal articles from JSTOR.  He returned the documents to JSTOR and apologized. The Massachusetts state court dismissed the charges, and JSTOR decided not to pursue civil litigation. But MIT stayed silent, and the federal court charged Swartz with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer. If convicted on these charges, Swartz could be sentenced to up to 35 years in prison at the age of 26. He committed suicide after facing charges for two years, on January 11, 2013.

Information wants to be free; Information wants to be expensive

Now, he was a controversial figure. He advocated Open Access (OA) but to the extent of encouraging scholars, librarians, students who have access to copyrighted academic materials to trade passwords and circulate them freely on the grounds that this is an act of civil disobedience against unjust copyright laws in his manifesto. He was an advocate of the open Internet, the transparent government, and open access to scholarly output. But he also physically hacked into the MIT network wiring closet and attached his laptop to download over 4 million articles from JSTOR. Most people including librarians are not going to advocate trading their institutions’ subscription database passwords or breaking into a staff-only computer networking area of an institution. The actual method of OA that Swartz recommended was highly controversial even among the strongest OA advocates.

But in his Guerrilla OA manifesto, Swartz raised one very valid point about the nature of information in the era of the World Wide Web. That is, information is power. (a) As power, information can be spread to and be made useful to as many of us as possible. Or, (b) it can be locked up and the access to it can be restricted to only those who can pay for it or have access privileges some other way. One thing is clear. Those who do not have access to information will be at a significant disadvantage compared to those who do.

And I would like to ask what today’s academic and/or research libraries are doing to realize Scenario (a) rather than Scenario (b). Are academic/research libraries doing enough to make information available to as many as possible?

Too-comfortable Internet, Too-comfortable academic libraries

Among the many articles I read about Aaron Swartz’s sudden death, the one that made me think most was “Aaron Swartz’s suicide shows the risk of a too-comfortable Internet.” The author of this article worries that we may now have a too-comfortable Internet. The Internet is slowly turning into just another platform for those who can afford purchasing information. The Internet as the place where you could freely find, use, modify, create, and share information is disappearing. Instead pay walls and closed doors are being established. Useful information on the Internet is being fast monetized, and the access is no longer free and open. Even the government documents become no longer freely accessible to the public when they are put up on the Internet (likely to be due to digitization and online storage costs) as shown in the case of PACER and Aaron Swartz. We are more and more getting used to giving up our privacy or to paying for information. This may be inevitable in a capitalist society, but should the same apply to libraries as well?

The thought about the too-comfortable Internet made me wonder whether perhaps academic research libraries were also becoming too comfortable with the status quo of licensing electronic journals and databases for patrons. In the times when the library collection was physical, people who walk into the library were rarely turned away. The resources in the library are collected and preserved because we believe that people have the right to learn and investigate things and to form one’s own opinions and that the knowledge of the past should be made available for that purpose. Regardless of one’s age, gender, social and financial status, libraries have been welcoming and encouraging people who were in the quest for knowledge and information.  With the increasing number of electronic resources in the library, however, this has been changing.

Many academic libraries offer computers, which are necessary to access electronic resources of the library itself. But how many of academic libraries keep all the computers open for user without the user log-in? Often those library computers are locked up and require the username and password, which only those affiliated with the institution possess. The same often goes for many electronic resources. How many academic libraries allow the on-site access to electronic resources by walk-in users? How many academic libraries insist on the walk-in users’ access to those resources that they pay for in the license? Many academic libraries also participate in the Federal Depository Library program, which requires those libraries to provide free access to the government documents that they receive to the public. But how easy is it for the public to enter and access the free government information at those libraries?

I asked in Twitter about the guest access in academic libraries to computers and e-resources. Approximately 25 academic librarians generously answered my question. (Thank you!) According to the responses in Twitter,  almost all except a few libraries ( mentioned in Twitter responses) offer guest access to computers and e-resources on-site. It is to be noted, however, that a few offer the guest -access to neither. Also some libraries limit the guests’ computer-use to 30 minutes – 4 hours, thereby restricting the access to the library’s electronic resources as well. Only a few libraries offer free wi-fi for guests. And at some libraries, the guest wi-fi users are unable to access the library’s e-resources even on-site because the IP range of the guest wi-fi is different from that of the campus wi-fi.

I am not sure how many academic libraries consciously negotiate the walk-in users’ on-site access with e-resources vendors or whether this is done somewhat semi-automatically because many libraries ask the library building IP range to be registered with vendors so that the authentication can be turned off inside the building. I surmise that publishers and database vendors will not automatically permit the walk-in users’ on-site access in their licenses unless libraries ask for it. Some vendors also explicitly prohibit libraries from using their materials to fill the Interlibrary loan requests from other libraries. The electronic resource vendors and publishers’ pricing has become more and more closely tied to the number of patrons who can access their products. Academic libraries has been dealing with the escalating costs for electronic resources by filtering out library patrons and limiting the access to those in a specific disciplines.  For example, academic medical and health sciences libraries often subscribe to databases and resources that have the most up-to-date information about biomedical research, diseases, medications, and treatments. These are almost always inaccessible to the general public and often even to those affiliated with the institution. The use of these prohibitively expensive resources is limited to a very small portion of people who are affiliated with the institution in specific disciplines such as medicine and health sciences. Academic research libraries have been partially responsible for the proliferation of these access limitations by welcoming and often preferring these limitations as a cost-saving measure. (By contrast, if those resources were in the print format, no librarian would think that it is OK to permanently limit its use to those in medical or health science disciplines only.)

Too-comfortable libraries do not ask themselves if they are serving the public good of providing access to information and knowledge for those who are in need but cannot afford it. Too-comfortable libraries see their role as a mediator and broker in the transaction between the information seller and the information buyer. They may act as an efficient and successful mediator and broker. But I don’t believe that that is why libraries exist. Ultimately, libraries exist to foster the sharing and dissemination of knowledge more than anything, not to efficiently mediate information leasing.  And this is the dangerous idea: You cannot put a price tag on knowledge; it belongs to the human race. Libraries used to be the institution that validates and confirms this idea. But will they continue to be so in the future? Will an academic library be able to remain as a sanctuary for all ideas and a place for sharing knowledge for people’s intellectual pursuits regardless of their institutional membership? Or will it be reduced to a branch of an institution that sells knowledge to its tuition-paying customers only? While public libraries are more strongly aligned with this mission of making information and knowledge freely and openly available to the public than academic libraries, they cannot be expected to cover the research needs of patrons as fully as academic libraries.

I am not denying that libraries are also making efforts in continuing the preservation and access to the information and resources through initiatives such as Hathi Trust and DPLA (Digital Public Library of America). My concern is rather whether academic research libraries are becoming perhaps too well-adapted to the times of the Internet and online resources and too comfortable serving the needs of the most tangible patron base only in the most cost-efficient way, assuming that the library’s mission of storing and disseminating knowledge can now be safely and neutrally relegated to the Internet and the market. But it is a fantasy to believe that the Internet will be a sanctuary for all ideas (The Internet is being censored as shown in the case of Tarek Mehanna.), and the market will surely not have the ideal of the free and open access to knowledge for the public.

If libraries do not fight for and advocate those who are in need of information and knowledge but cannot afford it, no other institution will do so. Of course, it costs to create, format, review, and package content. Authors as well as those who work in this business of content formatting, reviewing, packaging, and producing should be compensated for their work. But not to the extent that the content is completely inaccessible to those who cannot afford to purchase but nevertheless want access to it for learning, inquiry, and research. This is probably the reason why we are all moved by Swartz’s Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto in spite of the illegal implications of the action that he actually recommended in the manifesto.

Knowledge and information is not like any other product for purchase. Sharing increases its value, thereby enabling innovation, further research, and new knowledge. Limiting knowledge and information to only those with access privilege and/or sufficient purchasing power creates a fundamental inequality. The mission of a research institution should never be limited to self-serving its members only, in my opinion. And if the institution forgets this, it should be the library that first raises a red flag. The mission of an academic research institution is to promote the freedom of inquiry and research and to provide an environment that supports that mission inside and outside of its walls, and that is why a library is said to be the center of an academic research institution.

I don’t have any good answers to the inevitable question of “So what can an academic research library do?” Perhaps, we can start with broadening the guest access to the library computers, wi-fi, and electronic resources on-site. Academic research libraries should also start asking themselves this question: What will libraries have to offer for those who seek knowledge for learning and inquiry but cannot afford it? If the answer is nothing, we will have lost libraries.

In his talk about the Internet Archive’s Open Library project at the Code4Lib Conference in 2008 (at 11:20), Swartz describes how librarians had argued about which subject headings to use for the books in the Open Library website. And he says, “We will use all of them. It’s online. We don’t have to have this kind of argument.” The use of online information and resources does not incur additional costs for use once produced. Many resources, particularly those scholarly research output already have established buyers such as research libraries. Do we have to deny access to information and knowledge to those who cannot afford but are seeking for it, just so that we can have a market where information and knowledge resources are sold and bought and authors are compensated along with those who work with the created content as a result? No, this is a false question. We can have both. But libraries and librarians will have to make it so.

Videos to Watch


“Code4Lib 2008: Building the Open Library – YouTube.”

“Aaron Swartz on Picking Winners” American Library Association Midwinter meeting, January 12, 2008.


“Freedom to Connect: Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) on Victory to Save Open Internet, Fight Online Censors.”

REFERENCES

“Aaron Swartz.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://www.aaronsw.com/.

“Aaron Swartz – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz#JSTOR.

“Aaron Swartz on Picking Winners – YouTube.” 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BvJqXaoO4FI.

“Aaron Swartz’s Suicide Shows the Risk of a Too-comfortable Internet – The Globe and Mail.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/aaron-swartzs-suicide-shows-the-risk-of-a-too-comfortable-internet/article7509277/.

“Academics Remember Reddit Co-Founder With #PDFTribute.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/01/14/aaron_swartz_death_pdftribute_hashtag_aggregates_copyrighted_articles_released.html.

“After Aaron, Reputation Metrics Startups Aim To Disrupt The Scientific Journal Industry | TechCrunch.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://techcrunch.com/2013/02/03/the-future-of-the-scientific-journal-industry/.

American Library Association, “A Memorial Resolution Honoring Aaron Swartz.” 2013. http://connect.ala.org/files/memorial_5_aaron%20swartz.pdf.

“An Effort to Upgrade a Court Archive System to Free and Easy – NYTimes.com.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/13/us/13records.html?_r=1&.

Bonfield, Brett. 2013. “Aaron Swartz.” In the Library with the Lead Pipe (February 20). http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2013/aaron-swartz/.

“Code4Lib 2008: Building the Open Library – YouTube.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oV-P2uzzc4s&feature=youtu.be&t=2s.

“Daily Kos: What Aaron Swartz Did at MIT.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/01/13/1178600/-What-Aaron-Swartz-did-at-MIT.

Dupuis, John. 2013a. “Around the Web: Aaron Swartz Chronological Link Roundup – Confessions of a Science Librarian.” Accessed February 10. http://scienceblogs.com/confessions/2013/01/20/around-the-web-aaron-swartz-chronological-link-roundup/.

———. 2013b. “Library Vendors, Politics, Aaron Swartz, #pdftribute – Confessions of a Science Librarian.” Accessed February 10. http://scienceblogs.com/confessions/2013/01/17/library-vendors-politics-aaron-swartz-pdftribute/.

“FDLP for PUBLIC.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://www.gpo.gov/libraries/public/.

“Freedom to Connect: Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) on Victory to Save Open Internet, Fight Online Censors.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/14/freedom_to_connect_aaron_swartz_1986.

“Full Text of ‘Guerilla Open Access Manifesto’.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://archive.org/stream/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008_djvu.txt.

Groover, Myron. 2013. “British Columbia Library Association – News – The Last Days of Aaron Swartz.” Accessed February 21. http://www.bcla.bc.ca/page/news/ezlist_item_9abb44a1-4516-49f9-9e31-57685e9ca5cc.aspx#.USat2-i3pJP.

Hellman, Eric. 2013a. “Go To Hellman: Edward Tufte Was a Proto-Phreaker (#aaronswnyc Part 1).” Accessed February 21. http://go-to-hellman.blogspot.com/2013/01/edward-tufte-was-proto-phreaker.html.

———. 2013b. “Go To Hellman: The Four Crimes of Aaron Swartz (#aaronswnyc Part 2).” Accessed February 21. http://go-to-hellman.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-four-crimes-of-aaron-swartz.html.

“How M.I.T. Ensnared a Hacker, Bucking a Freewheeling Culture – NYTimes.com.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/21/technology/how-mit-ensnared-a-hacker-bucking-a-freewheeling-culture.html?pagewanted=all.

March, Andrew. 2013. “A Dangerous Mind? – NYTimes.com.” Accessed February 10. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/a-dangerous-mind.html?pagewanted=all.

“MediaBerkman » Blog Archive » Aaron Swartz on The Open Library.” 2013. Accessed February 22. http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mediaberkman/2007/10/25/aaron-swartz-on-the-open-library-2/.

Peters, Justin. 2013. “The Idealist.” Slate, February 7. http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2013/02/aaron_swartz_he_wanted_to_save_the_world_why_couldn_t_he_save_himself.html.

“Public Access to Court Electronic Records.” 2013a. Accessed February 10. http://www.pacer.gov/.

“Publishers and Library Groups Spar in Appeal to Ruling on E-Reserves – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://chronicle.com/article/PublishersLibrary-Groups/136995/?cid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en.

“Remember Aaron Swartz.” 2013. Celebrating Aaron Swartz. Accessed February 22. http://www.rememberaaronsw.com.

Rochkind, Jonathan. 2013. “Library Values and the Growing Scholarly Digital Divide: In Memoriam Aaron Swartz | Bibliographic Wilderness.” Accessed February 10. http://bibwild.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/library-values-and-digital-divide-in-memoriam-aaron-swartz/.

Sims, Nancy. 2013. “What Is the Government’s Interest in Copyright? Not That of the Public. – Copyright Librarian.” Accessed February 10. http://blog.lib.umn.edu/copyrightlibn/2013/02/what-is-the-governments-interest-in-copyright.html.

Stamos, Alex. 2013. “The Truth About Aaron Swartz’s ‘Crime’.” Unhandled Exception. Accessed February 22. http://unhandled.com/2013/01/12/the-truth-about-aaron-swartzs-crime/.

Summers, Ed. 2013. “Aaronsw | Inkdroid.” Accessed February 21. http://inkdroid.org/journal/2013/01/19/aaronsw/.

“The Inside Story of Aaron Swartz’s Campaign to Liberate Court Filings | Ars Technica.” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/02/the-inside-story-of-aaron-swartzs-campaign-to-liberate-court-filings/.

“Welcome to Open Library (Open Library).” 2013. Accessed February 10. http://openlibrary.org/.

West, Jessamyn. 2013. “Librarian.net » Blog Archive » On Leadership and Remembering Aaron.” Accessed February 21. http://www.librarian.net/stax/3984/on-leadership-and-remembering-aaron/.

 

Common Misconceptions about Library Job Search: What I have learned from the other side of the table

I have been invited to speak as a panelist for the American Libraries Live Episode 2 on Thursday, January 10th at 2pm EST. Since this program will feature David Connolly, who manages the ALA JobList site (which every budding librarian should know about), and Jill Klees, a Career Liaison who works with the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science, it is going to be informative for sure. So if you are looking for your first librarian position or getting ready for job search, make sure to tune in.

Previously, I wrote about personal branding for new and budding librarians and interviewed a few librarians for my blog who were successful in landing their first librarian job. (Search for ‘Interview with brand-new librarians’ in the search box on the right if you want to check them out. The links are also at the end of this post.) But for the last four years or so, I had opportunities to serve on several search committees, to hire many library assistants myself, and to be at many candidate interviews and presentations. So, in this post I would like to share several things that I have learned about library job search from the other side of the table, that is, not the job-seeking but the hiring side.

As everyone knows, job search is a stressful process. You may have been searching for a job for a long time. You may have been without a job for a while. You may have been selected many times for a phone or in-person interview only to hear that the job went to someone else. You may even had been offered a job and then told that the position was canceled last minute for the budget issues. You will be anxious and worried about the future. You might even doubt if any library will ever offer you a job. You may start to feel desperate and depressed. Well, this is not just you but something that almost everyone goes through a job search process. But still, that won’t cheer you up much while you are still looking for a job. The worst part of job search is the feeling that you are powerless.

But what I have learned from being at the hiring side of the table is that this is not necessarily the case. The hiring process is just as stressful to an employer as the job search process is to a job applicant. There are many misconceptions that job applicants tend to subscribe to but are not necessarily true. Here are several of them, and I will explain why these are misconceptions even though each of them may appear pretty convincing. Hopefully this will help you to get a more balanced view about the whole process than I had and reduce some of the anxiety and stress you are bound to feel during the job search.

1. Since my MLIS degree is brand-new, I won’t stand a chance competing with more experienced librarians applying for the same position, right? No.

This is common fear that many new LIS graduates have. But the truth of the matter is that many employers actually prefer new graduates to experienced librarians for a variety of reasons. Many employers think that new LIS graduate are likely to be (a) more up-to-date with new library trends, (b) more capable with technology, and (c) more enthusiastic and energetic. These are great strengths to many employers’ eyes.  Now it is up to you to show them that all these strengths apply to you.  Sometimes, employers explicitly look for candidates with a specific amount of work experience in a particular field. But if that is the case, the job positing will clearly state so. If no such condition is found in the posting however, you can safely assume that new graduates are welcome to apply.

So don’t worry in advance whom you are going to be competing with. Instead, focus on what contribution you can make to the position if you are selected.

2. I will be at a disadvantage if I don’t want to relocate. I will be at a disadvantage if I apply for a job far away from where I currently reside. Right? Not really.

Generally, finding a job can take less time if you are willing to relocate. However, it is also true that many employers prefer to hire local candidates for a variety of reasons. Many employers are willing to fly qualified candidates across the continent for an interview as long as a candidate has qualifications they want. But some employers like to save expenses involved with bringing in a candidate from far away. In such cases, you may get invited for an interview even if you are not the top candidate because there is little cost involved. Sometimes, it is not expenses that make employers prefer local candidates. They may be interested in those who are more likely to stay with them rather than leaving after a few years of service. They may want someone who is more familiar with the local culture and environment.

The point is that many employers will make different decisions based upon different considerations at different times. Those considerations are almost impossible for a job candidate to predict. So my advice is to simply apply for the positions that match your experience and skill set. If you are willing to relocate, apply for out-of-state jobs. If you are unwilling or unable to relocate, then focus on the jobs available in your area and don’t worry about others.  Do your best at what you can do, and do not worry about things that you have no control over.

3. Applying for as many jobs as possible will increase the chance of landing a job. No.

This seems to be simple enough. The more jobs you apply for, the more chances you will have in getting an interview at least, right? Well, unfortunately, finding a job is not like winning a lottery. The fact that you submitted your resume and cover letter has almost nothing to do with the chance of being considered as a candidate for the position. You will be considered so only if your resume and cover letter actually show that you are qualified for and likely to be a good fit for the position. Otherwise, the act of submitting an application is just a waste of time. I know that many send in applications to jobs that they are remotely qualified for or are not even half-enthusiastic for the reason of ‘just in case.’ This is understandable, but what it does is to lessen your anxiety by giving you a false sense of doing everything you can more than to actually raise your chance of being called for interviews and getting actual job offers.

Therefore, invest your time and energy in selecting the most relevant jobs to your qualifications and in making your applications for those jobs as good as they can be. This takes time and focus, and you cannot maintain this level of perfection if you are applying for as many jobs as possible. It will be hard, but be wise and selective in applying for positions, so that when you do apply you can give all you got.

4. In order to get the job offer, I have to meet ‘all’ the qualifications in the job posting. No. 

A job posting is often a wish list of qualifications and skills. So if these do not match 100% with what you have, don’t be discouraged. Apply if you meet their base qualifications, that is, all of the required qualifications. But focus in the cover letter and the resume on showing that you do have relevant experience and skills and how they will allow you to quickly learn the rest of needed skills, that is, some of the desired but not required qualifications.

If you are unsure, step back and try to think in the shoes of a hiring manager. If you were a hiring manager, what would be the absolutely necessary qualifications and skills for the position? What would they consider as great strengths? What would they consider as something that they can easily teach you or something that they need you as an expert for? What would be a reason for the hiring manager to prefer you to more experienced candidates? Try to answer these things from the employer’s point of view while being honest and realistic about yourself. If you are called for an interview, be sure to ask about these things. The interviewers will be more than happy to tell you about the position you are applying for.

Also important is your interest and eagerness to pick up new skills and apply them to work. This is really important to employers. They know that skills can be learned but passion and enthusiasm are harder to find. So make sure that this comes out during the interview process.

5. If I am being called for a phone or in-person interview, the search committee and the hiring manager would be already familiar with everything I wrote in the cover letter and resume for sure. No.

The search committee members do their best to prepare for interviews, but they deal with a large volume of cover letters and resumes. They interview multiple candidates and can be serving on multiple search committees at the same time. Scheduling interviews itself can take up to 2-3 weeks at a large organization. So even if you were selected for an interview, your interviewers may well have to be reminded of why they picked you in the first place and what makes you a great candidate for the position.

Never assume that your interviewers would remember everything you wrote in your application. Do not repeat everything you put down in your cover letter or resume. But make sure to present the most important part of it in your interview more succinctly and convincingly. The search committee knows that they have already liked what they saw in your cover letter and resume. But it is up to you to make them remember and be assured of that in person (or over the phone).

6. Those who interview me will be looking for my weaknesses or flaws. Not at all.

When one is interviewing for a job, the whole interview process can seem intimidating. But believe it or not, the search committee and the hiring manager are the ones who want to see you successful most. They will ask questions, hoping and praying that you would give good or correct answers, and they really want your presentation to be excellent.

Why? It is because they already picked you once, twice, or three times out of a huge pile of resumes and cover letters. Just as you have worked on your cover letter and resume for hours, your search committee worked for hours to find out qualified candidates for the position. (And you would think that there would be plenty of qualified candidates in a tough job market. Surprisingly, this is not the case, more often than not. It is really really hard to find good candidates for many positions. So if you are one of them, they are more than happy to see you!) Remember this, and you will find a whole job search and interview process less daunting, intimidating, and stressful.

Last thought

Mostly what I really wanted to address is how to eliminate some of the anxiety and stress that are bound to go along with many new LIS graduates’ job search process. This is best dealt with by realizing that (a) some of the worries may be groundless, can be handled productively, or simply beyond control and  that (b) job search and hiring are two sides of one coin and share one and the same goal: a fit between a person and an organization. No doubt finding this fit can take a while because the ‘fit’ is more than just a sum of work experiences or the list of skills. But with patience and smart strategies, you can make the process as less stressful as possible. Please share any tips you can offer in the comments!

I am closing this post with some really excellent tips from the librarian who has a great deal of experience in hiring librarians (much much more than I have) and was generous enough to share them with me for all of you.

  • Never hide who you are or what’s happened in your career.
  • Don’t avoid dates on resumes and make a resume a clear and simple progression of what you’ve done.
  • And being clear about your jobs and education is infinitely more important that some bland statement of objectives.
  • Do not repeat what is on the resume in the cover letter.
  • Look for an eloquent and simple way of expressing who you are.
  • Demonstrate your ability and confidence; don’t just state that you are capable
  • Ask lots of good questions.

 

 

Present Your Slides without Access to the Internet with Free IPad Apps

*** This post has been also published on ACRL TechConnect on Nov. 20, 2012. ***

Librarians often use presentation slides to teach a class, run a workshop, or give a talk. Ideally you should be able to access the Internet easily at those places. But more often than not, you may find only spotty Internet signals. If you had planned on using your presentation slides stored in the cloud, no access to the Internet would mean no slides for your presentation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this post, we will show you how to locally save your presentation slides on your iPad, so that you will be fully prepared to present without Internet access. You will only need a few tools, and the best of all, those tools are all freely available.

1. Haiku Deck – Make slides on the iPad

If your presentation slides do not require a lot of text, Haiku Deck is a nice iPad app for creating a complete set of slides without a computer. The Haiku Deck app allows you to create colorful presentation slides quickly by searching and browsing a number of CC-licensed images and photographs in Flickr and to add a few words to each slide. Once you select the images, Haiku Deck does the rest of work, inserting the references to each Flickr image you chose and creating a nice set of presentation slides.

You can play and present these slides directly from your iPad. Since Haiku Deck stores these slides locally, you need access to the Internet only while you are creating the slides using the images in Flickr through Haiku Deck. For presenting already-made slides, you do not need to be connected to the Internet. If you would like, you can also export the result as a PowerPoint file from Haiku Deck. This is useful if you want to make further changes to the slides using other software on your computer. But bear in mind that once exported as a PowerPoint file, the texts you placed using Haiku Deck are no longer editable. Below is an example that shows you how the slides made with Haiku Deck look like.

Note. Click the image itself in order to see the bigger version.

So next time when you get a last-minute instruction request from a teaching faculty member, consider spending 10-15 minutes to create a colorful and eye-catching set of slides with minimal text to have it accompany your classroom instruction or a short presentation all on your iPad.

2. SlideShark – Display slides on the iPad

SlideShark is a tool not so much for creating slides as for displaying the slides properly on the iPad (and also for the iPhone). In order to use SlideShark, you need to install the SlideShark app on your iPad first and then create an account. Once this is done, you can go to the SlideShark website (https://www.slideshark.com/) and log in. Here you can upload your presentation files in the MS PowerPoint format.

Once the file is uploaded to the SlideShark website, open the SlideShark app on your iPad and sync your app with the website by pressing the sync icon on top. This will display all the presentation files that have been uploaded to your SlideShark website account. Here, you can download and save a local copy of your presentation on your iPad. You will need the live Internet connection for this task. But once your presentation file is downloaded onto your SlideShark iPad app, you no longer need to be online in order to display and project those slides. While you are using your iPad to display your slides, you can also place your finger on the iPad screen which will be displayed on the projector as a laser pointer mark.

SlideShark also recently added the integration option with a user’s Dropbox or Box account and the support for playing the embedded video in a PowerPoint file.

3. Adapter

Last but not least, when you pack your iPad and run to your classroom or presentation room, don’t forget to take your adapter. In order to connect your iPad to a projector, you usually need a iPad-VGA adapter because most projectors have a VGA port. But different adapters are used for different ports on display devices. So find out in advance if the projector you will be using has a VGA, DVI, or a HDMI port. (Also remember that if you have an adapter that connects your Macbook with a projector, that adapter will not work for your iPad. That is a mini DVI-VGA adapter and won’t work with your iPad.)

4. Non-free option: Keynote

Haiku Deck and SlideShark are both free. But if you are willing to invest about ten dollars for convenience, another great presentation app is Keynote (currently $9.99 in Apple Store). While Haiku Deck is most useful for creating simple slides with a little bit of text, Keynote allows you to create more complicated slides on your iPad. If you use Keynote, you also don’t have to go through SlideShark for the off-line display of your presentation slides.

Creating presentations on the Keynote iPad app is simple and uses the same conventions and user-interface as the familiar Keynote application for OS X. Both versions of Keynote can share the same presentation files, although care should be taken to use 1024 x 768 screen resolution and standard Apple fonts and slide templates. iCloud may be used to sync presentations between iPads and other computers and users can download presentations to the iPad and present without Internet access.

The iPad version of Keynote has many features that make Keynote loved by its users. You can add media, tables, charts, and shapes into your presentation. Using Keynote, you can also display your slides to the audience on the attached projector while you view the same slides with a timer and notes on your iPad. (See the screenshots below.) For those with an iPhone or iPod Touch, the Keynote Remote app allows presenters to remotely control their slideshows without the need to stand at the podium or physically touch the iPad to advance their slides.

Do you have any useful tips for creating slides and presenting with an iPad? Share your ideas in the comments!

Enabling the Research ‘Flow’ and Serendipity in Today’s Digital Library Environment

*** This post has been also published on ACRLog on Oct. 29, 2012. ***

Today’s library users do not carry pencils and notebooks to a library. They do no longer want to be isolated to concentrate on deep study or contemplative reading when they are at a library. Rather, they have the dire need to be connected to the biggest library the human race ever had, the World Wide Web, always and even more so when they are at a library walking through the forest of fascinating knowledge and information. The traditional library space packed with stacks and carrels does not serve today’s library users well whether they are scholars, students, or the public visiting a library for research, study, or leisure reading. As more and more library resources are moved to the fast and convenient realm of the World Wide Web, libraries have been focusing on re-defining the library space. Now, many libraries boast attractive space almost comparable to trendy, comfortable, and vibrant coffee shops. The goal of these new library spaces are fostering communication, the exchange of ideas, and social learning.

How the loss of book stacks and carrels affects library patrons

However, some library patrons complain about this new and hip research and reading environment that libraries are creating. They do not experience comfort and excitement, which today’s libraries strive to provide in their new coffee-shop-or-makerspace-like library space. These patrons rather miss the old dusty moldy stacks packed with books, many of which were left untouched except by a handful of people for a very long time. They miss the quiet and secluded carrels often placed right outside of the stacks. They say that browsing a library’s physical collection in those stacks led them to many serendipitous discoveries and that in those tiny uncomfortable carrels, they were completely absorbed into their own thoughts reading away a pile of books and journals undisturbed by the worldly hustle and bustle.

This is an all-too-familiar story. The fast and convenient e-resources in library websites and the digital library collections seem to deprive us of something significant and important, that is, the secluded and sacred space for thought and contemplation and the experience of serendipitous discovery from browsing physical library collections. However, how much of this is our romantic illusion and how much of it is it a real fact?

How much of this environment made our research more productive in reality?

What we really love about browsing book stacks at a library

In the closing keynote of 2012 ACCESS Conference last Sunday, Bess Sadler, the application development manager at Standford University Libraries noted the phenomenon that library patrons often describe the experience of using the physical library collection in emotional terms such as ‘joyous,’ ‘immersive,’ and ‘beautiful’ characteristic to our right brain whereas they use non-emotional terms such as ‘fast’ and ‘efficient’ to describe their use of a library’s online/digital resources. The open question that she posed in her keynote was how to bring back those emotional responses associated with a library’s physical collection to a library’s digital collection and its interface. Those terms such as ‘joyous,’ ‘immersive,’ and ‘beautiful’ are often associated in a library user’s mind with their experience of serendipitous discovery which took place while they were browsing a library’s physical book stacks. Sadler further linked the concept of serendipitous discovery with the concept of ‘flow’ by Csikszentmihalyi and asked the audience how libraries can create such state of flow with their digital collections by improving their interfaces.

One of the slides from Bess Sadler’s Closing Keynote

This was a very interesting question to me because I have been mostly thinking about the concept of flow in the context of library services (and more specifically, gamification applied to libraries) and the usability of the systems that serve a library’s online resources.

The most annoying thing about the e-resources that today’s libraries offer is that the systems where these resources reside do not smoothly fit into anyone’s research workflow. How can you get into a zone when the database you are in keeps popping up a message asking if you want to renew the session or demands two or three different authentications for access? How can you feel the sense of smooth flow of thought in your head when you have to navigate from one system to another with puzzling and unwieldy interfaces in order to achieve simple tasks such as importing a few references or finding the full-text of the citation you found in an e-book or an online journal you were reading?

Today’s research environment that libraries offers with its electronic resources is riddled with so many irritating usability failures (often represented by too many options none of whose functions are clear) that we can almost safely say that it is designed anything but for the ‘flow’ experience. The fact that these resources’ interfaces are designed by library system vendors and light years outdated compared to the interfaces available for individual consumers and that librarians have little or no control over them only exacerbate the problem. So I always associated the concept of flow with usability in the library context. And considering how un-user-friendly the research environment offered by today’s libraries is overall, asking for ‘joyous,’ ‘immersive,’ or ‘beautiful’ appeared to me to be a pretty tall order.

But more importantly, the obstacles to the ‘flow’ experience are not unique to online resources or digital libraries. Similar problems do exist in the physical collections as well. When I was a grad student, the largest library collection in North America was available to me.  But I hated lugging back and forth a dozen periodicals and monographs between my apartment and the university just to get them renewed. (This was the time before the online renewal!) After the delightful moment of finding out in the online catalog that those rare scholarly books that I want are indeed available somewhere in that large library system at Harvard, I grumbled at the prospect of either navigating the claustrophobic rows and rows of stacks at Widener Library in order to locate those precious copies or running to a different library on campus that is at least a half mile away. At those times, the pleasure of browsing the dusty stacks or the joy of a potential serendipitous discovery was the last thing that I cared for. I was very much into my research and exactly for that reason, if I could, I would have gladly selected the delivery option of those books that I wanted to save time and get into my research flow as soon as possible. And I did so as soon as my university library started moving many books to an off-site storage and delivering them on-demand next day at a circulation desk. I know that many faculty at academic institutions strongly protest against moving a library’s physical collection to an off-site storage. But I confess that many times when the library catalog showed the book I wanted as located on the stacks and not at the off-site storage, I groaned instead of being delighted. I won’t even discuss what it was like to me to study in a library carrel. As an idea, it is a beautiful one to be immersed in research readings in a carrel; in reality, the chair is too hard, the space is too dark and claustrophobic, the air is stale, and the coffee supply is, well, banned near the stacks where those carrels are. Enough said.

The point I am trying to make is that we often romanticize our interaction with the physical stacks in a library. The fact that we all love the library stacks and carrels doesn’t necessarily mean that we love them for the reasons we cite. More often than not, what we really like and miss about the library stacks and carrels is not their actual practical utility to our research process but the ambiance. Strand, the used bookstore in NYC is famous for its 18 miles of books. Would you walk along the 18 miles of books even if you know in advance that you are not going to make any serendipitous discovery nor find nothing directly useful for your research topic at hand? Yes you bet. Would you walk by the stacks in Trinity College Library in Dublin,  UK even though you are not doing anything related to research? A very few of us would say ‘No’ to such an invitation.

Can you resist walking between these stacks? Our desire doesn’t always correspond to its practical utility.

But the fact that library stacks and browsing them may contribute very little to the actual research output doesn’t mean that the stack-browsing is therefore not useful. To borrow the words of Saint-Exupéry, something is truly useful because it is beautiful (The Little Prince, Ch. 14). Let me explain.

The library book stacks as high as the walls filling up the whole floor generate the sense of awe and adventure in us because it gives us the experience of ‘physically’ surrounded by knowledge. It is magical and magnificent. It is amazing and beautiful. This is where all those emotional adjectives originate. In the library stacks, we get to ‘see’ the knowledge that is much bigger than us, taller than us, and wider than us. (Think of ‘the sublime’ in Kantian aesthetics.) When our sensory organs are engaged this way, we do not experience the boredom and tediousness that we usually feel when we scroll up and down a very long list of databases and journals on a library web page. We pause, we admire, and we look up and down. We are engrossed by the physicality of the stacks and the books on them. And suddenly all our attention is present and focused on that physicality. So much so that we even forget that we were there to find a certain book or to work on a certain research topic. It is often at these moments that we serendipitously stumble upon something  relevant to what we were looking for but have forgotten to do so. Between the magnificent tall stacks filled with books, you are distracted from your original mission (of locating a particular book) but are immersed in this new setting at the same time. The silence, the high ceiling, the Gothic architectural style of an old library building, and the stacks that seems to go on forever in front of us. These are all elements that can be conducive to a serendipitous discovery but “if and only if” we allow ourselves to be influenced by them. On the other hand, if you are zooming in on a specific book, all of this visual magnificence could be a nuisance and a bother. To a scholar who can’t wait to read all of the readings after physically collecting them first, the collection process is a chore at best. To this person, neither a serendipitous discovery nor the state of ‘flow’ would be no doubt more difficult to happen in between the stacks.

If this is a relatively accurate description of a serendipitous discovery that we experience while browsing the physical collection on library book-stacks, what we really miss about the traditional library space may well be the physicality of its collection, the physical embodiment of the abstract concept of knowledge and information in abundance, and its effect on our mental state, which renders our mind more susceptible to a serendipitous discovery. And what we are most unhappy about the digital form of knowledge and information offered by today’s libraries could be that it is not presented in the space and environment where we can easily tune our mind into the content of such digital knowledge and information. It is the same Classical Greek text that you see when you pull out an old copy of Plato’s Meno in the narrow passage between tall book-stacks at Widener and when you pull up the text on your computer screen from the Perseus Digital Library. It is our state of mind influenced by the surroundings and environment that is different.  That state of mind that we miss is not entirely dictated but heavily influenced by the environment we are present.  We become different people at different places, as Alain de Botton says in his book, The Architecture of Happiness (Ch 1). Who can blame a library user when s/he finds it hard to transform a computer screen (which takes her to many digital collections and online resources from a library as well as all sorts of other places for entertainment and distraction) into the secluded and sacred space for thought and contemplation?

Using Perseus Digital Library is way more efficient for research and study the classical Greek texts than using the physical collection on your stacks. However, we still miss and need the experience of browsing the physical collection on the stacks.

How to facilitate the ‘flow’ and serendipity in today’s libraries

The fact that today’s libraries no longer control the physical surroundings of a library patron who is making use of their resources doesn’t mean that there are nothing libraries can do to make the research environment facilitate serendipitous discoveries and the state of ‘flow’ in a researcher’s mind, however.  Today’s libraries offer many different systems for library users to access their online resources. As I have mentioned above, the interfaces of these systems can use some vast improvement in usability. When there are as few hindrances as possible for a library patron to get to what s/he is looking for either online or at the physical library space, s/he would be able to concentrate on absorbing the content more easily instead of being bogged down with procedures. The seamless interoperability between different systems would be very much desirable for researchers. So, improving the usability of library systems will take library patrons one step closer to obtaining the flow state in their research while using library resources online.

As far as the physical space of a library is concerned, libraries need to pay more attention to how the space and the environment of a library emotionally affects library patrons. Not all research and study is best performed by group-study or active discussion. Baylor University Libraries, for example, designate three different zones in their space: Silent, Quiet, and Active. While libraries transform more of their traditional stack-and-carrel space into vibrant group study rooms and conversation-welcoming open spaces, they also need to preserve the sense of the physical environment and surroundings for library patrons, because after all, all of us desire the feeling of being in a sacred and dedicated space for contemplation and deep thoughts from time to time. Such space is becoming rarer and rarer nowadays. Where else would people look for such space if not a library, which the public often equate to a building that embodies the vast amount of knowledge and resources in the physical form.

Facilitating the serendipitous discovery in browsing a library collection in the digital environment is more tricky because of the limitation of the current display mechanisms for digital information. In emulating the experience of browsing books in the physical form on a computer screen, the Google WebGL Bookcase has made some progress. But it would be much more efficient combined with a large display mechanism that allows a user to control and manipulate information and resources with gestures and bodily movements, perhaps something similar to what we have seen in the movie, Minority Report.  However, note that information does not have to be bound in the form of books in the digital environment and that digital books do not have to be represented as a book with pages to thumb through and the spine where its title is shown . If we set aside the psychological factors that contribute to the occurrence of a serendipitous discovery, what is essential to efficient browsing boils down to how easily (i) we can scan through many different books (or information units such as a report or an article) quickly and effectively and (ii) zoom in/out and switch between the macro level (subjects, data types, databases, journals, etc) and the micro level (individual books, articles, photographs, etc. and their content).  If libraries can succeed in designing and offering such interfaces for digital information consumption and manipulation, the serendipitous discovery and the efficient browsing in the digital library environment can not only match but even exceed that in the physical library book-stacks.

 

A bad business model or a savvy market strategy? Thinking like a vendor

I want to talk about an e-book platform called Inkling whose web version is not cross-browser compatible. But what I am really interested to talk about is neither an ebook platform nor its cross-browser support. I am interested in thinking about the way we assess and evaluate resource products from vendors and their market strategies as librarians. I am using Inkling just as an example to touch on this topic.

Inkling is a company that makes an interactive textbook. It works with publishers to get a contract for certain titles of theirs, so that those titles can be made to e-books that run on and are sold at the Inkling platform. Inkling originally started as an e-book platform app on the iOS device such as an iPad and iPhone. The Inkling platform is quite nice. Adding annotation is easy and the page numbers of a print book is clearly marked on the side of its e-book version. Inkling e-textbooks in medicine offer interactive quizzes integrated into a human anatomy diagram and include related audio and video files that can be played right there inside the app, thereby broadening the utility of a textbook to students. The Inkling e-book platform also provides various sharing features that can be handy for students and teachers.

Recently, Inkling released a Web version. My library, which tested its app version earlier, was interested in purchasing some of the titles that were available at the Inkling Store for library patrons. Not only did we like the Inkling platform as a reading platform but we also found out that those titles were not available as e-books from any other vendors. My library wanted to provide more medical titles as e-books so that our students and faculty can access them with convenience. But while testing their Web version, we found a few problematic things for library patrons. (1) First, the Web version of Inkling doesn’t allow library patrons to use their iPad/iPhone version unlike products such as Naxos Music Library. So the convenience of getting the resource on a personal device was taken away in the Web version. (2) Second, Inkling requires each library patron to create a separate Inkling account in order to access the Web version of Inkling through the institutional subscription. The double authorization required – one for the university log-in and the other for the inkling log-in – was cumbersome and annoying. The majority of library users do not want to create an additional account for each database or resource that they use through the library subscription.

But the most problematic was (3) the fact that Inkling’s Web version only runs on Safari and Chrome.  No Firefox, no IE. This was a deal-breaker for us because the number one browser that is used to access our library’s website is IE and the second is Firefox according to the Google Analytics statistics. Furthermore, the most important patron group that my library serves, the medical students and faculty at our school, mostly work on the student laptops and office PCs that the school IT department configures and issues, and those student laptops and computers only come with IE and Firefox. Students and faculty have to request IT if they want to install any new software on these standard laptops and PCs. For this reason, when the limited browser support of the Inkling Web was known, librarians at my library unanimously agreed to wait for Inkling to add the support for other web browsers. We also did a demo of the Web version to a group of faculty with a few students included but the responses were lukewarm. So waiting was agreed to be the best option at this point.

At the same time, it was puzzling why Inkling released a Web product that only supports Safari and Chrome. We were told that Inkling e-books use HTML5 and CSS3 extensively and that not all the HTML5 and CSS3 features that Inkling uses are supported in IE and Firefox.  Okay, but if the Web version is to target institutional subscriptions rather than individual consumers – whom their iPhone/iPad version targets, then why the limited cross-browser functionality? In my opinion, no libraries were going to purchase ebooks that are going to run on web-browsers that half of their library patrons or more do not already have on their computers. Perhaps did Inkling release its Web version in haste and are planning to add cross-browser support as soon as possible? However, when my library inquired about Inkling’s future plan of cross-browser support, we were told that they were planning to add that feature in the future but without any timeline for it. Then, the cross-browser support didn’t seem like a high-priority for them. So if this is the case, what is going on?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/angeliathatsme/6182582677/

As long as I was thinking as a librarian, I could only think that this was simply a bad business model. But let’s think about from Inkling’s perspective.  Is there a possibility that this is not a bad business model but an actually savvy business strategy? I do not doubt that Inkling’s development team can make their platform work with Firefox and IE. From the product they built, Inkling seems to have a capable dev team. I wonder if the company is debating internally whether adding the cross-browser support to their e-book platform would be a worthwhile investment at this point.

(A) First of all, HTML5 is being fast accepted as the new web standard and the W3C has a working group to finalize the specification. So whatever feature Inkling needs and FireFox lacks may well be soon added. And hopefully IE will follow the suit. If the browser support for these features are coming, Inkling may well do better by simply waiting a bit.

(B) The company may be uncertain about how much revenue will be generated from the institutional subscriptions. If the main attraction of their product lies in its availability on iPhone and iPad, then since this feature is not allowed for the users of Inkling’s Web version through the institutional subscription, individual consumers may well remain as their main target customer group. And for that matter, the release of the Web version itself doesn’t necessarily mean that the company is targeting institutional subscriptions as the main customers. The Web version might be a nice companion for the individual users who nevertheless purchase Inkling books mostly to use them on the iOS platform.

(c) But most importantly, Inkling’s real target could be mobile devices, not desktops. Now think about mobile devices – many different kinds of smartphones and tablets. If they are iOS devices, they will have Safari web browser. If not, they are likely to be Android devices. What browser do Android devices have? Chrome. So perhaps what the real market strategy of Inkling is going for the mobile market, not the desktop market. Maybe this is what they are really after.  Now the choice of Sarafi and Chrome seems to make much more sense, doesn’t it? And I have to say that focusing on the mobile is only smart considering that the Mobile Internet is about to surpass the Desktop Internet.  Of course, I have no way of knowing if any of these guesses are true. I am simply testing hypotheses.

So what was the lesson I learned? It was something obvious but nevertheless I have been overlooking for a while. As librarians, we are used to evaluate a resource product based upon how user-friendly it is for library patrons to use and how easy it is to implement in the common library setting (such as IP authentication by EZproxy and institutional log-in). However, these two factors are not necessarily the greatest concern for the vendors. That doesn’t mean that their business model is bad. They just happen to have a different business model that is not quite library-friendly. But vendors don’t exist to be library-friendly as much as libraries exist to purchase vendor products.  And sometimes, thinking about their concerns rather than ours can give us librarians a clue of where the vendors are going with their products and what their responses to our requests are likely to be, which we need to be aware of and to understand as much as we can. It is a good mental exercise for librarians.

 

 

Why Gamify and What to Avoid in Library Gamification

*** This blog post has been originally published in ACRL TechConnect 0n August 7, 2012. ***

In my last post, “Applying Game Dynamics to Library Services,” I presented several ideas for applying game dynamics to library services. After the post, I have received a comment like this, which I thought worthwhile to further explore.

  • What about the risk of gamification – the fact that it can deprive people of internal motivation for serious activities by offering superficial external rewards?

We tend to associate the library with learning, research, scholarship, and something serious. By contrast, games make us think of fun. For this reason, it is natural to worry about a library or any library-related activities such as reading, studying, researching becoming frivolous and trivial by gamification. In an effort to address this concern, I will point out that (a) gamification is a society-wide trend (and as such, highly likely to become not so frivolous after all), (b) what to avoid in gamifying libraries, and (c) what the limit of gamification is in this post. The key to successful gamification is to harness its impressive power while being fully aware of its limit so that you won’t overestimate what you can achieve with it.

Why gamify?

SCVNGR plans to create a game platform as Facebook built a social platform.

Gamification is not just a hot topic in libraries or higher education. It is a much bigger society-wide trend. In a similar way in which Facebook has evolved from a single website to practically ‘the’ social platform and layer of the real world with over 900 million active users as of May 2012, now a game layer is slowly being built on top of the real world. Just as the social layer effectively fused social elements into the world, the game layer brings gaming elements into reality. A game layer that we can compare to Facebook has not yet emerged. Nor is clear how far gamification will penetrate our daily activities. But we can imagine what a semi-universal social platform is going to be like from location-based smartphone apps such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Instead of building a virtual world for a game, these apps gamify the real world. Our mundane everyday activities in the non-game context turn into gaming opportunities for rewards like badges, points, rankings, and statuses.

But why apply game design elements to the non-game context in the first place? The short answer is that people are more motivated, engaged, and often achieve more in games than in the real world. Why are people better at a game than in real life? It is because games offer an environment intentionally designed to provide people with optimal experience by means of various gaming mechanisms and dynamics. Games make people perform better in the way the real world does not. It was in this context that a game designer and game studies researcher, Jane McGonigal, stated that reality is broken.”1 Gamification aims at extracting those game mechanisms and apply them to reality in order to make the real world experience more interesting and engaging.

Gabe Zichermann’s definition of gamificaion as“the process of game-thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems” expresses the goal of gamification well.2 In this definition lies a good answer to the question of why libraries need to pay attention to games and game dynamics. Game dynamics can raise library users’ level of engagement with library resources, programs, and services. They can help library users to solve problems more effectively and quickly by making the process fun. A good example of such gamification is the NCSU Mobile Scanvenger Hunt, which was described in the previous post here in ACRL TechConnect blog.

What to avoid in library gamification

Since games can induce strong motivation and spur a high level of productivity, it is easy to overestimate the power of game dynamics. Perhaps, everything we do will turn into a game one day and we will be the slaves of omnipresent games that demands ever more motivation and productivity than we can summon! However, not all games are fun or worth playing. Designing good game experiences is nothing but easy.

The first thing to avoid in gamification is poor gamification. Gamification can easily backfire if it is poorly designed. Creating a library game or gamifying certain aspects of a library doesn’t guarantee that it will be successful with its target group. Games that are too challenging or too boring are both poorly designed games. Naturally, it is much more difficult to design and create a good game than a bad one. The quality of the game – i.e. how fun it is – can make or break your library’s gamification project.

Second, one can over-gamify and make everything into a game. This is quite unlikely to happen at a library. But it is still important to remember that people have a limited amount of attention. The more information we have to process and digest, the scarcer our attention becomes. If a library offers many different games or a variety of gamified experiences all at once, users may become overwhelmed and tired. For this reason, in pioneering the application of game dynamics to libraries, the best approach might be to start small and simple.

Third, a game that is organization-centered rather than user-centered can be worse than no game at all. A game with organization-centered design uses external rewards to increase the organization’s bottom line in the short term.3 Games designed this way attempt to control behavior with rewards. Once users feel the game is playing them rather than they are playing the game, however, they are likely to have a negative feeling towards the game and the organization. While a library doesn’t have the goal of maximizing profits like a business, which can easily drive a business to lean towards organization-centered gamification, it is entirely possible for a library to design a game that is too heavily focused on the educational aspect of the game, for example. Such gamification is likely to result in lukewarm responses from library patrons if what they are looking for is fun more than anything else. This doesn’t mean that gamification cannot make a significant contribution to learning. It means that successful gamification should bring out learning as a natural by-product of pleasant and fun experiences, not as a forced outcome.

Harnessing the power of game dynamics

Games are played for fun, and the fun comes from their being ‘not’ real life where one’s action comes with inconvenient real-world consequences. For this reason, when a goal other than fun is imposed on it, the game begins to lose its magical effect on motivation and productivity.  It is true that games can achieve amazing things. For example, the game FoldIt revealed the structure of a specific protein that long eluded biochemists.4 But people played this game not because the result would be revolutionary in science but because it was simply fun to play.

It is probably unrealistic to think that every task and project can be turned into a fun game. However, games can be used to make not-so-fun work into something less painful and even enjoyable to some degree, particularly when we lack motivation. In his book, Game Frame, Aaron Dignan cites the story of tennis player Andre Agassi.5 Agassi played a mental game of imagining the tennis ball machine as a black dragon spitting balls in an attempt to smite him. He did not hit 2,500 balls a day purely because it was fun. But by making the grueling practice into a game in his mind and tying the game with his own real-life goal of becoming a successful tennis player, he was able to endure the training and make the progress he needed.

In applying game dynamics to library services and programs, we can take either of two approaches:

  1. The ultimate goal can be simply having fun in some library-related context. There is nothing wrong with this, and at minimum, it will make the library a more friendly and interesting place to patrons.
  2. Or, we can utilize game dynamics to transform a more serious task or project (such as learning how to cite literature for a research paper) into something less painful and even enjoyable.

 

Gamification with little investment

Budge, a gamification website

Gamification is still a new trend. A pioneering gamification app, Gowalla lost to Foursquare in competition and was acquired by Facebook last December, and it is yet to be seen how Facebook will put Gowalla to use. Another gamification tool, Budge is closing down at the end of this month. For this reason, those who are interested in trying a gamification project at a library but may wonder if the result will be worth investment.

In this early stage of gamification, it will be useful to remember that gamification doesn’t necessarily require complicated technology or huge investment. You can run a successful game in your library instruction class with a pencil and paper. How about rewarding your library patrons who write to your library’s Facebook page and get most “likes” by other patrons? Or perhaps, a library can surprise and delight the first library patron who checks in your library’s Foursquare or Yelp page by offering a free coffee coupon at the library coffeeshop or simply awarding the Early-Bird badge? In gamification, imagination and creativity can go a long way.

What are your gamification ideas that can engage library patrons and enliven their library experience without huge investment? Share them with us here!

Notes
  1. Jane McGonigal. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  (New York: Penguin Press, 2011), 3.
  2. Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham. Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps. (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2011), xiv.
  3.  The distinction between games with organization-centered design vs. those with user-centered is from Scott Nicholson, “A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification,” (pre-print) http://scottnicholson.com/pubs/meaningfulframework.pdf.
  4. Elizabeth Armstrong Moore, “Foldit Game Leads to AIDS Research Breakthrough.” CNET, Sep. 19, 2011, http://news.cnet.com/8301-27083_3-20108365-247/foldit-game-leads-to-aids-research-breakthrough/.
  5. Aaron Dignan, Game Frame: Using Games as a Strategy for Success, (New York: Free Press, 2011), 80.

Applying Game Dynamics to Library Services

*** This blog post has been originally published in ACRL TechConnect 0n July 9, 2012. ***

There is a lot of talk about games at libraries. Public libraries in particular have been active in incorporating games in their programs and collections. Even for academic libraries, gaming is no longer a foreign topic. The 2012 Horizon Report sees Game-Based Learning to be on the 2-3 years horizon for adoption. That is not a very long time away from the present.

I am not going to talk about games here, of which I am a rather poor player in general. Instead, I would like to talk about game dynamics and how they can be applied to library services. I am really late for writing about this idea, which I heard about a few years ago. But probably now is as good a time as any as the Horizon Report this year mentions gaming.

A light bulb in my head lit up when I listened to the TED talk, “The game layer on top of the world” by Seth Priebatsch during my commute. (See the video below.) There, he talks about the game layer as something that is being built now after the social layer that Facebook has pretty much established. Just as the social layer has fundamentally changed the mode of human interaction and the way of our lives as a result, Priebatsch sees a similar potential in the game layer.

What has attracted my attention in this talk about the game layer was not so much the game per se as the the impressive power the game dynamics wield to human beings. Once you hear those examples of the game dynamics, their impact is immediately obvious. But until now, I haven’t had a conscious understanding about how successful well-designed games can be at providing people with such engaging and immersive experience.

According to Priebatsch, among those game dynamics are: (a) appointment dynamic, (b) influence & status, (c) progress dynamic, and (d) communal discovery. (He says that there are three more but he only mentions four in the talk.) Since he details what each of these dynamics mean in the talk below with clear examples, I am not going to repeat the explanation.

Seth Priebatsch: The game layer on top of the world

To simply put, these game dynamics are very powerful motivators for human action. Did you know that Farmville can change the behavior pattern of over 70 million people by simply changing a rule for how often a Famville user needs to water the crop? The power of these game dynamics stems from the fact that they require meeting relatively simple conditions in return for attainable rewards. Games usually begin with simple tasks that award you with some goods and elevation in your status or level. Then gradually, the tasks become complicated for more challenging rewards. The game dynamics drive game players to plan and perform simple to complicated actions. These often motivate individuals to exert a significant level of diligence, creativity, and resourcefulness.

What is really cool about these game dynamics is that they are applicable to any human action in the real world, and not just in the gaming world. Sure, you can create a game to tap into people’s creativity and diligence. (In another TED talk, “Gaming can make a better world,” Jane McGonigal explores the possibility of harnessing the human energy and creativity spent on gaming to solve the real-world problems. See the video below.) But, you do not have to. You can just as easily embed these game dynamics outside the traditional game sphere. These dynamics tend to be quite effectively utilized in games. But they do not have to be restricted to online games.

So my question is whether these game dynamics can be applied to make library services more engaging and interesting to library users? Can libraries take advantage of these game dynamics to help library users to attain the goals that they themselves probably want to reach but often fail to?

Here are some of my thought-experiments applying game dynamics to library services.

  1. Provide level-up experience for library users.
    Suppose your user logs into a library proxy system every time for browsing library’s databases, e-books, and e-journals. How about based upon the time spent and the number and frequency of log-ins, allowing the user to level up from ‘novice library user’ to ‘super researcher’? Of course, you would probably want to use way more appealing terms such as “Paladin level 20 Killer Ninja Researcher” instead of “Super Researcher.”
  2. Award some status and powers associated with library use that can be admired (with the addition of visible tokens for them).
    Allow users to tweet, Facebook, and G+ their updated status and powers as they level up, so that it can be boasted to others. Status and power is meaningless unless it is looked up to by others in one’s own community. How about re-issuing library cards as in Judo with some sort of belt system: red belt, black belt, brown belt, white belt etc.? Add up some sleek mini-posters that celebrate some of those high belt status in the library space where everybody can see. Or even better something users can boast in their Facebook pages. It might just work to motivate library users to study more, read more, and research more.
  3. Show the progress bar in library catalog.
    The progress bar makes you goal-oriented. It gives you satisfaction whenever you move the bar one notch to the right. It makes you feel that you are moving towards something good. Why not show the progress bar in the library OPAC? If a user run a search, show the progress! If a user selects a record in the search results, move one notch up in the progress bar. If s/he clicks holdings or the links in the record, how about showing the Happy Face or a Dancing Penguin for a second before moving on? Humans have such a soft spot for positive feedback that if a required action is simple and easy enough, they might just do it for fun.
  4. Color-code the status of checked-out books.
    In the library’s “My Account” page, mark past-due books as red and newly checked-out books as green. Items that are about the midway of the check-out period can be in yellow. Or show it as an hourglass that loses its sand on the top part as you pass the due date of library books. This may make people more compelled to return the overdue items.
  5. Library currency to accumulate and spend?
    Let users to boast taking out and returning books from the library to others. Maybe give them points per transaction? Social reading is already a big phenomenon. Combined with a library, it can create even more fun experience. Maybe it can be just like Gowalla or Foursquare. Maybe users can trace their reading history and find others with a similar reading pattern. How about letting library users to accumulate and spend library points (or currency) for coffee at a library cafe? Now some students may seriously start reading.

Game dynamics are significant because they can be used to build a foundation for our willing participation in a project for our own optimum performance. Libraries have been an indispensable means for individuals who aspire for learning, experience, and knowledge, and serving those individuals has been always a crucial mission of libraries. Game dynamics can be utilized to help libraries to serve such mission more effectively.

PS. Also check out the talk below by Jane McGonigal about her explanation regarding why people are so much more successful at games than at the real life and how we may perhaps harness that potential to solve the real life problems.

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

 

My Talks and Presentations at ALA Conference

Here are the presentations and talks I gave at the ALA conference 2012. This year’s ALA conference was a challenge because I was swamped with work until the last minute I left work for the conference. So I wasn’t able to write any blog post before the conference. And of course, I spent more time on polishing the slides once I got to Anaheim.  Although I was not fully prepared both physically and mentally, however, the ALA Annual Conference was, as always, invigorating and informative. I am still digesting much of what I have learned from the conference and hopefully I can summarize some of those things later to share.

In the meantime, here are the slides of the talks and presentations that I gave at the conference. Big thanks to my co-presenters, Jason Clark and Tod Colegrove. It was one of the most amazing collaboration experience I ever had. Also special thanks to the LITA Heads of Library Technology Interest Group for inviting me to serve on the panel discussing the adoption of open source software at libraries. And as always, I greatly enjoyed the lively discussion at the LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group meeting.

Here are the final slides.

“I Can Do It All By Myself”: Exploring new roles for libraries and mediating technologies in addressing the Do-It-Yourself mindset of library patrons  with Tod Colegrove and Jason Clark.

The Mobile Web and the Mobile Websites of Libraries

I have given a talk at the 2012 Amigos Online Conference - Access by Touch: Delivering Library Services Through Mobile Technologies last Friday. Thanks to all who attended my session!

I won’t be really write any post on my blog on this until I come back from the ALA Annual Conference. But I wanted to share the slides for now. And for those who rather prefer words than slides, here is the super-short summary of my talk.

  • We are moving into the era of the Mobile Web which is now a competitor to the Desktop Web.
    (If you haven’t heard about the Mobile Web, it’s a good time for you to do now!)
  • The user behavior on the Mobile Web is significantly different from that in a few years ago already.
  • The new mantra for the Mobile Web is “Don’t Dumb Things Down on Mobile.”
  • In the last few years, library mobile Web sites have been changing slowly but with some definite trend. The trend is more and more support for the use of library resources and account transactions on the mobile itself as one of the primary tasks on a library’s mobile Website.
  • So my recommendation is:
    • If you library doesn’t have a mobile site yet, build one.
      (In the poll I did, 70% of my audience reported that their libraries do not yet have a mobile website.)
    • Ensure discoverability
      : If your library has a mobile site, please enable redirect (either auto or with a choice) to the mobile version so that a user can discover your mobile site in the most perfect context, i.e when they are getting to your library website on their mobile.
    • Then think about updating your mobile site in keeping with the recent trend of the Mobile Web.

I am also chairing the Mobile Computing IG meeting at the 2012 ALA Annual Conference.
So if you are interested and will be at Anaheim, come by to the meeting!

Slides: The Mobile Web and the Mobile Websites of Libraries: How They Changed for the Last Few Years

View more PowerPoint from Bohyun Kim

What Do Libraries Call Users, and What Do Library Users Think of Themselves in relation to Libraries?

 

Do library users think of themselves as library “patrons?”

In American Libraries Magazine, Anthony Molaro wrote a piece titled “Just Who Do We Serve?”  There, Molaro mentioned an interesting fact that caught my eyes. Did you know that library users actually preferred to be called “member” rather than “patron”, “customer,” or “user?” According to a recent survey, that is the case.

“You Must Focus on Connection Management Instead of Collection Management” R. David Lankes posted in his Work In Progress blog a while ago. He details a strategic planning session in which library consultant Joan Frye Williams decided to end the eternal debate about what we should call library patrons by asking them directly. Unexpectedly, those surveyed responded that instead of being called a library “patron,” or “customer,” or “user,” more than half preferred the term “member.”

(Side note: Some information about the survey mentioned is found at http://www.newlibrarianship.org/wordpress/?page_id=1052 . See the second comment by Lankes. Thanks to David Lankes for the link.)

Throughout my entire library career since early 2000s, the term that refers to library users which I heard most from the library staff was “patron.” I don’t recall any library staff calling a library user “customer” or even “user” back then.  As a very new part-time library assistant, I took it that this term “patron” meant pretty much “customer” in the sense that it is the customer (=patron in the library) that is the king.

At that time, I found the term “patron” odd and was curious about the fact that libraries were so patron-oriented. As a total library novice, I found the term ‘patron’ antiquated. (Could be just me, I admit.) Secondly, I just had no idea that libraries I frequented had such a patron-oriented culture even though I was a good library user/grad student. I was greatly impressed and amazed at how seriously the library staff take each and every small comment they receive from their “patrons.”

Now of course, I no longer feel the same curiosity about the term ‘patron,’ as I was brainwashed through my formal LIS education. (Kidding, kidding… ) But I still feel odd calling a library user “library patron.”   When I hear the term “patron,” I automatically think of patrons of the arts and culture, like the Medici who were the patrons of Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Now, certainly library users don’t consider themselves as playing the role of that kind of “patron.” Do they? If patronage means just some support, probably a term for this type of patronage that library users can better relate to would be rather “friends of the library.”

Library membership = CVS or Costco Membership?

I am not against the idea that as the library staff, we do and should strive to create and support the maximum satisfaction of library users. I am just pointing out that there seems to be some interesting difference between how libraries and library staff view library users in their operation and how library users consider themselves in relation to the libraries they frequent.

Side note: I have realized that I often use the term “user” to refer to library patrons. But that’s just because I work mostly in the context of web services. I use this term ‘user’ out of habit, not as any result of reflection. Interestingly, I found that some who work in the areas of web design and development (not library-related) actually prefer a term different than “user.” Jenifer Hanen, a web developer/designer, said once on Twitter that she preferred “people” or “customers / clients” opposed to “user.” I am guessing here, but it is probably because all the other terms than “user” seems to imply that they are not just some abstract entity that comes into a website and click links but the actual people with certain interests and preferences etc.

The survey result that Molaro cites seems to point out the very same kind of  interesting difference that I have noticed between how libraries and library staff view library users in their operation and how library users consider themselves in relation to their libraries. It shows that library users (in lieu of no better term here) think of themselves as library members rather than library patrons, library customers, or library users.

Molaro continues to detail his view on what each term is likely to signify. According to him, “library patron” as a term represents the worldview in which libraries are indebted to them, patrons. By the way, this matches with what this term brings to my mind.

“Library user,” on the other hand, makes Molaro think of those who consume without creating. And he opposes to the use of this term because, in his opinion, this term implies that the users need something the library offers but the library do not need them.  I disagree on this. I actually like the term ‘library user’ because it always reminds me of the fact that there are many other places where they can go for their information needs. It reminds me that libraries are not the only source for them and it is unrealistic to, say, argue that all library users should start their research at their library homepage rather than Google. But again, this could be just me working mostly in library web services.

Molaro likes the term “library member” since he thinks that this term implies ownership and an active role. And he says “people served by libraries view themselves because they carry a library card.” Now, I am in 100% favor of library users or patrons or members having the feeling of ownership and active role in relation to their libraries. But I do not think that library users prefer to be called library members because of the feeling of ownership and their active role in libraries.

I carry and use the CVS and the Costco card. This doesn’t make me feel ownership towards these companies, or in any way I imagine myself playing an active role in them. Am I a member? Probably,  since I have a card, a membership card.  If the membership costs money, then, definitely the term, ‘membership’ is more fitting because it implies that some kind of services and privileges are rendered to me once I join (whether free or not). I get points at CVS and enter/buy stuff in bulk at a lower price at Costco with my membership. Now as a library member, I don’t pay the membership fee, but I get to borrow books and other library items. So there, in my mind, I am a member in relation to my local library just as I am a member of CVS or Costco.

I am not saying that this is the mental perception that libraries want their users/patrons/members to have in relation to them. I am simply saying that this might be the actual mental image that most of our library patrons/users/members have about their relation to their libraries.

The Million-Dollar Question

If libraries want those people who sign up for a library card to feel the ownership to their library and play an active role, what can they do to achieve that?  Molaro thinks that perhaps “Preferred Member card” can help in this respect. He says:

Much like other organizations, institutions, and businesses, libraries should consider implementing a preferred member card program. This preferred member card could be purchased through an annual fee and would have perks and privileges. For example, hot new bestsellers are purchased for regular library members and extra copies purchased for preferred members. Perhaps preferred members would not be subject to late fines, or entitled to extended loan periods, being cited on an honor roll, or invited to a special party? The preferred member card could be a part of a larger membership and fundraising drive. Much like NPR or PBS, libraries can incorporate preferred membership drives into their National Library Week or National Library Card Month promotions.

Well, what do you think? I am divided on this idea for many reasons. And I am not going to go into those reasons here, because at this point, many of us, librarians, will have minds bouncing left and right and up and down just thinking about those reasons and what the best direction would be. So it might be the best to let them percolate a bit before shooting ideas to the sky.

In the meantime, it would be worthwhile to just break down the question to see where the difficulty exactly stems from. It really originates from the conflict of these two things:

  1. How do you make the library members care about their libraries?
  2. Anyone can become a library member (no investment required) and there is nothing they gain by being an active member (no incentive provided).

Just as a reminder, we all know that libraries do 2. intentionally as its mission is not to generate profit but to provide equal access to information for both the under-served/underprivileged and the well-to-do. Now 2. has the problem:  no investment and no incentive. Human beings tend to care much less about the things they get for no investment; they are also highly likely to be involved very little with things that they have no incentive to do so.  So 2. creates an obstacle to achieving 1.

How can libraries achieve 1. without endangering 2.?  That’s a million dollar question for libraries.