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2011:

Digitizing current materials – notes (to be updated later)

Digitizing current materials

What if you want to proactively digitize relatively current materials of your institution?

– The opportunity to capture materials within the context and in communication with the contributors.

– Express digitization grant from the national network of libraries of medicine. 2010-2011

CHALLENGES

– scan or not scan?
Many variables to consider before making the items public because of the currency and the content of the materials
[ +33500 peocessed; 8000 scanned ]
– no institutional policy on copyright
– hard to form a complete collection
– hard to imagine use cases; too early to tell
– digital archiving / curation before the test of time.
– connecting the outcome to the institution itself

BENEFITS of proactive digitization

– library promotion
– certain context easily lost can be preserved
– materials previously unidentified or scattered are gathered together

Netflix and Libraries: You Are What “Your Users” Think You Are, Not What You Think You Are

By now, probably almost everyone has read about the Netflix’s decision about separating their DVD delivery service from the streaming service.  I am not going to argue about how bad the decision is since that should be pretty clear to almost all Netflix users. The only ones who don’t get that seem to be those folks who actually run Netflix.

The greatest mistake about this decision is that Netflix is trying to force what “they” see as what their business is to users rather than going the other way around. As mentioned here, to Netflix users, Netflix is a place to go in order to get movies. Yes, there is a way to get movies by mail as DVDs, and there is another way to get movies by streaming online. You say Tomato, I say Tomahto. It is one vegetable to one who eats it.

Of course, things are not quite so simple if you look at the matter as one who runs the business itself. “Streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently,” says the CEO of Netflix in his explanation. I do not doubt the truth of it.

The problem is whether it is wise to base a business decision upon what those who run the business see what their business is. The answer is that it is NOT.

I surmise the Netflix CEO thought that this would streamline their operation and raise the efficiency of the company, now that they are separating already two quite distinct businesses in terms of operation and logistics.

But the result is more likely to be a large number of their so-far-have-been-happy-and-content users becoming confused and upset over changes that do not make sense to them. Instead of going to one place where I manage movies that I want to watch, now I have to think about what movies I want to watch as DVD and what I want to watch instantly. I have to manage two different queues, maintain separate accounts for each, and pay for them separately.

Why do you want to suddenly make your users re-think about your service that they are already happily using and paying for it? Why would you force a decision to your users when they were happy without unless there is some great benefit added to users? If there is any benefit from this decision, it doesn’t seem to go to Netflix users.

Now, let’s talk about how this applies to libraries, particularly the e-resources with which all of us, librarians and users alike, have alove-hate relationship. E-resources are kind of like streaming movies. They are convenient and fast. But they require additional set-up unlike print books. They require more trouble-shooting and tend to be more scarce in selection and may lack a certain feature (closed caption or copy-and-paste/print/page number/diagrams and pictures in articles).

It was hard to find e-resources when they were buried in online public access catalog without a discovery layer in particular in the past. So the libraries started to create a place for e-resources only. Now there is a library web page that lists databases, e-book vendors, e-journals separately. You search for print books and journals at one place; you find e-books and e-journals at another place. Often, the same title appears as separate records depending on the format in the online public access catalog (OPAC). Sometimes you only want e-books downloadable to your e-reader. For that information, you may need to go to a completely separate web page for instructions and find out what titles are available for that service. Searching an OPAC and jumping between an OPAC and an e-journal portal/a database list page/e-reader information page are not very pleasant or reassuring experience to library users.

We separated print resources and e-resources because ‘clearly’ they are completely different beasts. Are they so separate and distinct to users’ mind? Not so much. But we separate them for the efficiency of ‘our’ operation. Users pay by being forced to take an additional step. Probably a decision as bad as Netflix and Qwikster.

Academic libraries also like to think of themselves as teaching partners. Sadly, library users – both faculty and students alike – tend to have a very different perception on that matter. Many library users also think of libraries as a warehouse of books while most libraries do not think their mission is simply purchasing and keeping books in a library building. Librarians constantly make efforts to change these prevalent but incorrect perceptions of users. But in order to address them more successfully, we need to think from users’ point of view, not libarians’ point of view.

On the other hand, both libraries and library users think of libraries as a place to go for study either as an individual or as a group. There, libraries ARE what their users think they are. For a long time, libraries have been banning food and drinks inside the library. For librarians, books and food/drinks were not compatible. For users, they were the same kind of activity. You eat and drink while studying. So libraries eventually came to change the policies. That was a good decision for both libraries and users.

So, as a librarian, it is not so easy for me to simply criticize Netflix’s bad business decision. It is hard to make a good business decision when you think as someone who runs the business rather than as someone who uses the service the business offers. Librarians will need to remember Netflix and Qwickster for example, every time we are tempted to organize information on the library website by departments rather than services.

And yes, of course, whenever we are tempted to make a design decision by a committee through an agreement, we will have to remember how bad the name ‘Qwickster’ is.

Research Librarianship in Crisis: Mediate When, Where, and How?

*** This post has been originally published on ACRLog ***

The talk about the crisis of librarianship is nothing new. Most recently, back in May, Seth Godin, a marketing guru, has written on his blog a post about the future of libraries. Many librarians criticized that Godin failed to fully understand the value of librarians and libraries.  But his point that libraries and librarians may no longer be needed was not entirely without merit (See my post “Beyond the Middlemen and the Warehouse Business”). Whether we librarians like it or not, more and more library users are obtaining information without our help.

One may think academic research libraries are an exception from this. Unfortunately, the same trend prevails even at research libraries. In his guest editorial for the Journal of Academic Librarianship“The Crisis in Research Librarianship (pre-print version)”, Rick Anderson makes the case that patrons are finding information effectively without librarians’ help, citing the drastic decline of reference transactions in Association of Research Libraries (ARL).  According the ARL statistics, the number of reference transactions went down by more than 50-60 % since 1995.

This is particularly worrisome considering that at research libraries, we tend to place reference and instruction services at the center of the library operation and services. These services delivered by physical or online contact are still deemed to be one of the most prominent and important parts of the academic library operation. But the actual user behavior shows that they can and do get their research done without much help from librarians.  To make matters worse, existing library functions and structures that we consider to be central appear to play only a marginal role in the real lives of academic library users.  Anderson states: “Virtually none of them begins a research project at the library’s website; the average student at a major research university has fewer than four interactions with a reference librarian in a year (and even fewer of those are substantive reference interviews); printed books circulate at lower and lower rates every year.”

We have heard this before. So why are we still going in the same direction as we were a decade ago? Could this be perhaps because we haven’t figured out yet what other than reference and instruction to place in the heart of the library services?

For almost three years, my library has been offering workshops for library users. Workshops are a precious opportunity for academic librarians to engage in instruction, the most highly regarded activity at an academic library. But our workshop attendance has been constantly low. Interestingly, however, those who attended always rated the workshops highly. So the low attendance wasn’t the result of the workshops being bad or not useful. Library users simply preferred to spend their time and attention on something other than library workshops.  I remember two things that brought out palpable appreciation from users during those workshops: how to get the full-text of an article immediately and how to use the library’s LibX toolbar to make that process even faster and shorter.

What users seemed to want to know most was how to get the tasks for their research done fast, and they preferred to do so by themselves. They appreciated any tools that help them to achieve this if the tools were easy to use.  But they were not interested in being mediated by a librarian.

What does this mean?  It means that those library services and programs that aim at increasing contact between librarians and patrons are likely to fail and to be received poorly by users. Not necessarily because those offerings are bad but because users prefer not to be mediated by librarians in locating and using information and resources.

This is a serious dilemma. Librarians exist to serve as a mediator between users and resources. We try to guide them to the best resources and help them to make the best use of those resources.  But the users consider our mediation as a speed bump rather than as value-added service. So where do research libraries and librarians go from here?

I think that librarians will still be needed for research in the digital era. However, the point at which librarians’ mediation is sought for and appreciated may vastly differ from that in the past when information was scarce and hard to obtain.  Users will no longer need nor desire human mediation in basic and simple tasks such as locating and accessing information. Most of them already have no patience to sit through a bibliographic instruction class and/or to read through a subject guide.

But users may appreciate and even seek for mediation in more complicated tasks such as creating a relevant and manageable data set for their research.  Users may welcome any tool that libraries offer that makes the process of research from the beginning to the final product easier and faster. They will want better user interfaces for library systems. They will appreciate better bridges that will connect them with non-library systems to make library resources more easily discoverable and retrievable.  They will want libraries to be an invisible interface that removes any barrier between them and information.  This type of mediation is new to librarians and libraries.  Is it possible that in the future the libraries and librarians’ work is deemed successful exactly in inverse proportion to how visible and noticeable their mediation is?

In his guest editorial, Anderson presents several scenarios of research libraries “going out of business.” Libraries being absorbed into an IT group; Libraries losing computer labs, thereby losing a source of transaction with users as laptops and handheld devices become widely adopted; Libraries budget taken away for better investments; Libraries’ roles and functions being eroded slowly by other units; Information resources that libraries provide being purchased directly by users.

So if a library comes to lose its facilities such as a computer lab, a reading room, carrels, and group study rooms, would there still remain the need for librarians? If a library ends up removing its reference desk, workshops, and other instruction classes, what would librarians be left to do?  If we consider the library space that can be offered and managed by any other unit on campus as the essential part of library services and operation, the answer to these questions would be negative.  As long as we consider reference and instruction – the direct contact with users to mediate between them and resources – as the primary purpose of a library, the answer to these questions would be negative.

Libraries may never lose their facilities, and the need for users to have a direct contact with librarians may never completely go away. But these questions are still worth for us to ponder if we do not want to build a library’s main mission upon something on which the library’s patrons do not place much value. The prospect for the future libraries and librarians may not necessarily be dreary. But we need to rethink where the heart of research librarianship should lie.

Apply or Not: ALA Emerging Leaders Program

ALA is now receiving applications for the 2012 class of the Emerging Leaders (EL) Program, and I saw many new librarians considering applying to the program in Twitter, Facebook, etc. Applying for this program requires some paperwork. You have to write an essay and get references sent. You also have to commit yourself to attending two conferences in person.

So the question is whether the program would be worth all these. As a member of the 2011 class, I have some thoughts about the program from which I just graduated. Hopefully this post will help you decide whether the program is a right fit for you or not.

What the EL program is really about

The first thing to know about the EL program before applying is that its purpose is to develop leaders “in ALA” not just anywhere.  Of course, what you get to learn from the program about leadership will be useful in other organizations. But my experience is that this program is definitely focused on helping new librarians to get familiar with the organizational structure of ALA and to get involved in ALA divisions, roundtables, or even the ALA Council. It is not a program about leadership in general.

So if possible, attend the ALA conference a few times before applying for this program. See if you are interested in becoming active in ALA. The EL program itself won’t necessarily help you determine whether you would like being involved in ALA and  which ALA division is right for you. You should know answers to these questions first. If they are YES, then apply for the program.

Remember that the EL program is not the only way to become involved and active in ALA. Often it is easy enough to find the right place to meet librarian peers in the field of yours if you stumble into a right Interest Group, Discussion Group, or Section. You can volunteer to be a chair, organize or present a program, and form a great personal network of mentors, colleagues, and friends without ever stepping your foot into the EL program.

This also means that these are things that ‘you’ still have to do whether you get into the EL program or not. The EL program may open some doors for you, but you will be the one who has to take the opportunity and make it work for you if you decide to be active in ALA.

What you get to do if selected as an EL

  • You get to choose a project you want to work on. If you get to be sponsored by any unit, division, section, or other library organization, you will be asked to work on a project from that group. Otherwise, you are free to choose the project that interests most.
  • You will meet your team members and the mentor(s) at the Midwinter and plan how you will spend the time from the Midwinter to the Annual conference to get the project done.
  • When the project is completed, you will give a poster session with other EL project teams.

How do I get sponsored?

The EL program requires you to attend two conferences in person. But you can be sponsored. To believe or not, there are many units, divisions, sections, and regional library associations that sponsor an EL candidate that meet their criteria.

This is one of the reasons why it is good to apply for the EL program after having some exposure and experience with ALA rather than being completely new to it. If you are a member of any group that sponsors an EL candidate, make sure to indicate that in the application. If there is a unit that you want to be active in, and that unit sponsors the EL program, it might be a good idea to be active in the unit first, to get to know better about what you can contribute to and what you can learn from, and then apply to the EL program expecting the sponsorship from that unit.

It is an investment for any organization to sponsor an EL program participant. So it is fair for the organization to expect you to contribute back to the organization. So think about what you want to do professionally and how it may align with what you can give it back. Try to make it a win-win situation for both you and the sponsoring organization.

The benefits of the EL program

People will have different opinions on this depending on their personal experience of the program. But for me, the best thing about the EL program was the opportunity to meet and work with peers who are extremely intelligent, talented, driven, and ambitious.  It is also an opportunity to get to know and work with colleagues in a completely different library setting and area of specialization than yours. Because of this, you will get valuable experience no matter what project you get to work on and even if the project was not of your first choice.

I want to point out that working in an EL project team is likely to be very different from working in any other project team at your workplace. You will be surrounded with high achievers, and it is likely that you won’t have a slacking and/or unreliable team member problem. Instead, you may get the experience of your brilliant idea (in your opinion) being brutally rejected for a good reason.  You may spend hours on a heated discussion without coming to any conclusion. You and your team may have to invent the project itself because the project idea is vague at best. You may learn where and at which point to make the best contribution and when not to be in the way. You might have been a leader in one way or another in all your life but soon find out that you now get the invaluable opportunity to play the role of a good follower in the group (which is just as important as the role of a leader).

So I think that the great benefit of the EL program (for me) was to work in the EL project team I was assigned to. The actual work with my team taught me more than any book, article, talk, and discussion about leading and being led effectively, harmoniously, and gracefully. (I have to warn you though that these lessons would be probably coming after you finish the project not while working on the project.)

No drawbacks?

No program lacks some drawbacks or disappointments. The ALA Emerging Leaders program has some too of course. In case you get selected, I will tell you a few that I noticed. (But bear in mind that this can be relative to my experience.)

  • You won’t be changing the world or ALA by the one project you get to work on.
  • The fact that you get to work on an EL project doesn’t give you the secret weapon to melt all the bureaucracy in ALA.
  • You may request but not hear what came out of your team’s project work as a result after a few years.
    (I hope this gets changed.)
  • You might feel still somewhat lost in ALA. (But now you are lost with some friends.)
  • You may even decide that ALA wasn’t for you. (But hey, now you know!)
  • You will now have a new question to ponder – “Have I now emerged?”

I hope this post is useful to some of you and wish the best of luck to all EL applicants!

My EL Team (M) Poster with Dre and Lauren (Pearl and Emily not present in the photo) at the 2011 ALA Annual Conference.

My 2011 ALA Conference Schedule

To believe it or not, I haven’t still finalized my ALA schedule.  The ALA Annual Conference is so big and offers so many different programs, presentations, and discussion meetings that it is hard to pick in advance exactly what schedule one will follow. Below is a list of programs that I am likely to attend plus a few programs in which I am participating.

Am I missing any great program? (It is very likely.)  If so, please let me know!

June 24, Friday

9 am -3 pm  Emerging Leaders Training

3 pm – 4 pm  Emerging Leaders Poster Session
http://connect.ala.org/node/138674
: I am doing a poster session with my colleagues in Team M of the 2011 class of Emerging Leaders. The project we have worked on for a year is “Branding LITA: A Market Identity for the 21st Century” Come check out what ideas our team came up with. If you are active and/or interested in LITA, you may drop by and throw us some ideas! More information on the project: http://connect.ala.org/node/146019

5:30 pm – 8 pm  LITA Happy Hour
Howlin’ Wolf Den, 907 S. Peters St. New Orleans, Louisiana

10 pm – Midnight  ALA Dance Party
http://connect.ala.org/node/140642
: I am planning to go only if I find some company who will focus more on drinking than dancing. So hopefully there would be non-dancing but dance-watching librarians…

June 25, Saturday

8 am – 12 pm  LITA Board of Directors Meeting
: Of course, I am not on LITA board of directors.  I am going with my Team M of the 2011 class of Emerging Leaders to present our project outcome to the LITA board of directors.  They will eventually decide what ideas and suggestions in our proposal LITA will adopt and implement for LITA branding and marketing in the future. We are going to be there probably not for an entire duration of the meeting.

So some other things I can run to when I am out of the board meeting are:

10:30 am – 12 pm LITA IG Chairs Meeting
: I am hoping to get some ideas about how to make an IG meeting more active and open to virtual participation at this meeting.  I am chairing Mobile Computing IG and  have been experimenting with an IG meeting as a venue for short presentation and informal discussion that is not restricted by the strict ALA program proposal deadline which usually requires submitting a topic almost a year in advance.  Maybe there are more ways to make an IG meeting fun and useful. We will see. I am also kind of hoping to catch up with what  some of other LITA IGs are doing. Because of time conflict, I rarely can attend more than a few LITA IG meetings.

But I may not survive too many business meetings. So I may go to:

10:30 am – 12 pm  ACRL President’s program “President’s Program: From Idea to Innovation to Implementation: How Teams Make it Happen (ACRL)

or

10:30 am – 12 pm  “The Discovery Payoff: Are discovery services increasing ROI and the library’s prominence in academic institutions .

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm ACRL New Members Discussion Group
http://connect.ala.org/node/137451
: This is an excellent place for library school students or new librarians. It’s a small group discussion and the atmosphere is very informal. You can ask any dumb questions about ALA, ACRL, academic libraries, job market, and any and everything else that budding and new librarians care about.  This year, ACRL New Members Discussion Group has a panel discussion program “Learn about Tenure: what does faculty or non-faculty status mean for new librarians?” http://connect.ala.org/node/144880

4 pm – 5:30 pm   Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Information Science
: I find it fascinating how the interests of library and information science seems to overlap somehow with the imagination of sci-fi. And of course, it helps that I read certain sci-fi authors or series quite avidly such as Olson Scott Card’s Ender series.

I will be writing a short blog post for American Libraries after attending this session.

7 pm – 9 pm Newbie & Veteran Librarian Tweet-Up
http://connect.ala.org/node/140971
: It’s a party time! Come to the Newbie & Veteran Librarian Tweet-up. It’s one of my most favorite social activities at ALA. If you are new and knows no one, this is a place to start! No invitation, no RSVP required though appreciated (http://twtvite.com/ala11twtup).  Just come and join the library crowd. Everyone fits right in.  :- )

9 pm – 11 pm Facebook After-Hours Social
https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=209816775714013
: Even more fun continues from the tweet-up to the Facebook After-Hours Social.

June 26, Sunday

8 am – 10 am  Lost in Translation: the Emerging Technology Librarian & the New Technology
http://connect.ala.org/node/137555
:  I will be serving as a panelist on this panel discussion program. This program was planned as an extension to the last year’s ALA program that I have moderated “What is Your Library Doing about Emerging Technologies?” We will talk about four common problems and issues that libraries often encounter in adopting and implementing emerging technology projects, solicit opinions and thoughts from attendees, and come up with solutions and helpful ideas together through open discussion between the panel and attendees.

10:30 am – Noon LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group Meeting
http://connect.ala.org/node/137605
:  I am chairing LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group and very excited about this meeting.  Four wonderful presentations are lined up as well as interesting discussion topics. This is not an official ALA program but you can see the presentations and discussion ideas here: http://connect.ala.org/node/142438.  If you are interested in mobile computing, you must check this out.

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm  Top Technology Trends

4 pm – 5:30 pm Where We Are, Where We Are Heading: The Presidential Task Force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content Update
http://connect.ala.org/node/138504

5:30 pm -6 pm ALA Advocacy Flash Mob and Freeze at Jackson Sq.
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=227290740618104
: You are not going to miss this. Are you? Wear the Librarian T-Shirt!

6 pm  ACRL-Health Science IG Social

7 pm  ACRL-STS Dinner

June 27, Monday

8-10am One of these will be the place I will end up with after much agony of choice:

Coffee and Conversation with Experts

Emerging Technologies Interest Group

Innovation in an Age of Limits (ACRL STS)

The Business of Social Media: How to Plunder the Treasure Trove

1:30 pm -3:30 pm Public Awareness Committee

Then flight back home!

Beyond the Middlemen and the Warehouse Business

No Hyperbole

Seth Godin recently wrote a blog post about the future of the library. His question is mostly directed to public libraries, and so many responses came out already. (Among many see the posts by Bobbi Newman, Nancy Dowd, Buffy Hamilton.) But the question applies about the same to academic libraries. Godin’s argument goes like this:

  1. Librarians and libraries’ value lie in playing the role of the middlemen between the public and scarce content (books/information ).
  2. Books and information are no longer scarce and rather abundant in the digital era.
  3. The public can now directly access books and information without mediation by librarians and libraries.
  4. Therefore, libraries and librarians may become no longer needed.
  5. In order to avoid extinction, libraries and librarians must change from being the middlemen and the warehouse of content.

A few objections can be immediately raised by library-insiders:

  • Libraries are more than warehouses of books, since they provide valuable services, programs, and physical space.
  • It costs to obtain information, which makes it, by definition, not abundant.
  • Information is not so easily accessible considering how much instruction librarians have to provide the public regarding how to use them.

While these objections may well have some points, would they make sense to library users?  Are library users convinced that these objections prove the sufficient value of libraries and librarians?  If you work at an academic library, you would have met at least one academic who asks why a library is still needed. They say everything is online. I bet you have immediately cited the objections above. Did those objections convince the person?  If you work at a library, you would have met a library user who thinks librarians are mere clerks who purchase and shelve books. Did bringing up the points cited above persuade the person to think differently? Or did you just get a shrug out of the person?

To the eyes of most library users, the most important benefit lies in books and articles, not in reference, instruction, or any other library services or programs. So they regard libraries as warehouses and librarians as middlemen. If the survival of future libraries depends on the users’ perception and judgment on the value of libraries, the concern Godin expresses is not necessarily hyperbole.  And this public perception of libraries and librarians as warehouses and middlemen signifies the failure of proving the unique value of a library in the digital era.

What now?

What will take to persuade users to become the advocates of the future libraries? I don’t think raising the objections cited above will do the trick because they have been failing for a long time. Despite our best efforts, reference volume is going down and the place of library instruction in a curriculum is mostly marginal. If the cost for information goes down sufficiently and users can get faster and easier access, they may be willing to pay content-providers directly than libraries (indirectly through tuition/tax).

Looking back at the past and picking up the things that already have been tried with little success will not take us very far. And we don’t want to bet the future of libraries entirely on the current states of academic libraries being an accreditation criterion or those databases having unfriendly user interfaces.

Let’s Dream an Infectious Library Dream Together

I think it is time to stop arguing about how valuable libraries already are and start building some new visions about the future library. One idea that frequently comes up is the library as a community center connecting people with information. It’s not a bad idea, but it needs more details. How are libraries going to connect people with information in the way the mediation of libraries and librarians is ‘welcomed and appreciated’? Do our current libraries have a seed of the future libraries that beyond doubt presents indispensable value to library users? While possibilities abound, we do not have many convincing and attractive visions of future libraries that make sense to our users.

Here are some random ideas to start with. Not necessarily daring, inspiring, and by no means exhaustive or revolutionary but just to ignite more conversation. It is not easy to imagine things that do not exist yet. But right now, we need more imagination than criticism or skepticism. I hope and believe that if we have a worthwhile vision, we will be able to work to obtain sufficient resources to make it happen.

a. Libraries as TechShops?

This idea can apply to not only public libraries but also academic libraries such as an engineering or a design/architecture school library.  Library users will go to libraries to check out technologies, learn and experiment, and collaborate on projects using the tools, learning resources, and staff knowledge that libraries offers.  See the details of this idea here:

“Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make “TechShops”?” – Make Magazine
http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2011/03/is-it-time-to-rebuild-retool-public-libraries-and-make-techshops.html

b. Libraries as Production Agencies?

The role of libraries has been traditionally focused on services that bring a third party’s product to users. But what if libraries place more weight on creating products of their own? Users will go to libraries to look for content that is curricular, educational, local, or for entertainment. Such content will not be simply curated and listed together but be produced as a complete stand-alone product. This will take libraries into the realm of content business.

c. Libraries as Institutional or Regional Knowledge Management and Preservation Agencies?

Even though libraries are already assuming this role to a certain degree, envisioning the future libraries as mainly a knowledge management and preservation agency will bring a significant shift in the library operation. Libraries will actively collect, curate, and provide access to the knowledge asset generated by an institution or a region that it serves. It will also function as a support center and a hub for those who create and produce such knowledge asset.

d. Libraries as a Competitive Intelligence Center?

Librarians could be trained to specialize in collecting, comparing, and analyzing data, which will only increase in volume in the digital era. Offering competitive intelligence service and products can significantly increase the value of libraries to the decision makers whether administrators in academia or small business entrepreneurs. The service and product offered in this case may be similar to those of corporate libraries through fee-based services.

e.  And many many more…

Add you own ideas here.

Do you have your own vision of future libraries? Let’s dream an infectious library dream together until we get to have multiple convincing pictures of the future library. Only two rules:

(i) Do not restrict your vision by current library structure, services, programs,  staff, funding, or other existing conditions.
(ii) Imagine the value of a library that will appeal more to ‘users’ than to librarians.

 

 

Tech Skills for New Librarians & Me (seeking advice)

I was recently asked to write a short piece on what kinds of tech skills new librarians will need to have before going out to the job market.  So I got to put together a list of some of the basic skills for librarians regardless of specialization. While compiling the list, I was most surprised at how many technology skills I have counted as basic and how much more there is to learn beyond them.

Basic technology skills for new librarians

  • Computer operating system
    • Downloading and installing programs
    • Connecting an auxiliary device to a computer such as a printer, scanner, etc.
    • Understanding the system settings
  • How to troubleshoot anything
    • Knowing what to ask a library user who reports a technology-related problem whether it’s a hardware or software issue
    • Knowing how to replicate a problem
    • Knowing how to research a solution on the Web
  • How electronic resources work
    • Understanding what a persistent URL is and being able to tell a URL is persistent or not
    • Knowing what authentication and proxy means in the library setting
    • Understanding how an electronic resource is set up for access from a trial to the link placed in different library systems such as OPAC (Open Public Access Catalog), ERMS (Electronic Resources Management System), Open URL Link Resolver,  and the library web site
    • Knowing  how to troubleshoot remote access issues to electronic resources
  • Systems
    • Knowing what different library systems do and how they work together to provide users with access to information resources. (e.g. Integrated Library System (ILS), OPAC, discovery service, openURL link resolver, ERMS, digital repository system, content management system, proxy server, etc.)
  • Web
    • Proficiency in research tools available on the Web
    • Knowing how to properly use the WYSWYG editor in a blog or any content management system
    • Understanding  the difference between HTML and MS Word document
    • Understanding what a web browser does
    • Knowing how to make screencasts (video tutorials) and podcasts
    • Knowing how to create and edit images and video for the Web
    • Knowing what usability is and how it applies to a library
    • Knowing how to write for the Web
    • Knowing how to utilize social media such as Facebook and Twitter
    • Understanding the mobile devices and related technology that are applicable to a library

For those more adventurous:

Here is a random selection of cool technology skills one may want to check out:
(NB. Don’t be overwhelmed. This is by no means a list of required skills)

  • Markup languages such as HTML, CSS, and XML, XSLT, etc.
  • Programming languages such as JavaScript, PHP, Python, Perl, Ruby, etc.
  • JQuery and other similar JavaScript libraries
  • Relational database and SQL
  • Unix
  • Open source CMS (e.g. Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, etc.) installation, customization, upkeep, etc.
  • Proprietary ILS systems
  • Open source digital repository and indexing systems
  • APIs and Mash-ups
  • Semantic Web and linked data
  • Web analytics and statistics
  • Data mining and data visualization
  • And many more as you see the need for problem-solving…

Further reading:

Then vs. Now – some thoughts:

When I was a LIS student a while ago, I couldn’t wait to learn whatever new skills and to apply what I learned to work. I volunteered for all sorts of work to just test things at a real library setting: I made a foreign newspaper database after taking a relational database course, worked on the library’s digital repository system after taking the Digital Library course in which the whole class built a small digital library on the Web from the scratch, made podcasts and video tutorials, etc, etc.  Back then, I was interested in finding out what I needed to learn more. I was never too concerned about what I will do with what I learn. I assumed that I would use whatever I learn.  (Well, that isn’t always the case. And when you have little time to spare, picking what to learn becomes a very important matter. )

Now that I have been a librarian for close to three years being the technology manager of my small library, I realize that my wide-eyed enthusiasm of this kind has somewhat died down. Not because I do no longer love to learn new things but simply because the time I can spare for pure learning has become increasingly scarce. I have learned that often the technology you want (for the reasons of elegance, power, etc.) cannot simply be  brought into your environment because of many local conditions that cannot be changed. I also have learned that one has to be very strategic in managing time that one invests in learning.

One of the many mistakes I made and still make is to pick up random stuff I want to learn and invest time in doing so for a few weeks. All is good up to that point. But the problem occurs when the work gets very busy or some life changes happen.  I get completely swamped by other things. Unless there is a related project at work or an immediate need either personal or work-related, my learning takes a back seat and when I get back to it later on, I find myself starting all over again from the beginning. And of course, as a librarian, my technology-related work can be not-so-hands-on. Imagine writing reports, applying for grants, making inventories, supervising students, etc. Unused skills get rusty fast.

I still haven’t found any good way to deal with this problem. Information and resources for learning new stuff are almost abundant. Finding out what new coll tech stuff is out there to learn is not so difficult either. But setting up priorities and effectively managing my time is now on top of my To-Master Skills list above any particular technology. Many cite Google Time and say to invest at least 20 % of work time to a pet project. But in practice, this is easier said than done.

Should I be worried about my enthusiasm dissipating?  How do you manage to keep learning new things that are not directly related to your work? How do you keep your self-learning and pet project going continuously and persistently?

Personal Branding for New Librarians: Standing Out and Stepping Up

Tomorrow, I will be giving a webcast for ACRL 2011 Virtual Conference with Kiyomi Deards and Erin Dorney. The webcast is open to all attendees of either ACRL 2011 Conference or ACRL 2011 Virtual Conference. I have moderated a panel discussion program at ALA 2011 Midwinter on the same topic. But in tomorrow’s webcast, we will discuss more in depth about the right fit between one’s own personality / preferences and personal branding tools and practical tips to develop and  manage one’s own personal brand.  We will also have a lot of time dedicated for questions from the webcast attendees.

One thing that I have written before and want to re-emphasize is that personal branding is not an end itself.  It is more of a by-product of the successful pursuit of one’s own interest, contribution, and networking in librarianship. Many doubts and suspicions about personal branding stem from this misconception that personal branding is all about promoting oneself as if it could be an end itself. And it is not.

What the message of personal branding boils down to is: Be engaged in the profession, share your thoughts and ideas with peers, and contribute to the ongoing dialogue of librarianship. The new twist is that now with the rise of many social media tools, this can be done much faster and more effectively than before and even on the cheap (without even attending a conference physically).

Here are the slides for the webcast.  If you are attending ACRL 2011 conference, join us. Otherwise, share your thoughts!



Usability Express: Recipe for Libraries

Here is the slides for the presentation I am doing with my colleague, Marissa, at Computers in Libraries 2011 conference this coming Wednesday.  I cover the first half in which we look at the common usability flaws in library websites and discuss cheap and quick fixes. I may tinker a bit more since the presentation is still a few days away. But the slides are done.

Do you plan to do or have you done any library website usability improvement project? Share your thoughts and experience or plan!


No-brainer Usability: the new Twitter iPhone app

I am presenting about usability issues in library websites in Computers in Librareis 2011 in a few weeks. So needless to say, I have been thinking a lot recently about usability. Today, having updated all apps on my iPhone, I noticed that the Twitter iPhone app finally made some changes in its new message user interface (UI) which makes it more usable.

However, the new UI fails in some respects, and the new app introduces a different usability problem, which is often the case with website redesign. So let’s pretend the new Twitter app is a re-designed library website and see what its pluses and minuses are in terms of usability.

Old Twitter App

When the arrow is pressed down

This is how the old Twitter iPhone app’s new message screen looked like. (Screenshots thanks to @bmljenny.)  It is very basic until you press the “140 ▼” button on the top right corner over the keyboard.

Once you press that button, however, the whole new world of functionalities unfolds. Taking a photo, inserting an already-taken photo, geo-tagging, adding Twitter user by his/her Twitter username, adding a hashtag, and shrinking a URL is all just one touch away.

Unfortunately, not many people noticed this button; many users weren’t able to take advantage of these useful functionalities.

I must say, the design of hiding these functionalities behind the “140 ▼” button is both clever and stupid. Clever in the sense that it made the new message UI clean and simple. But quite stupid in the sense that the button that holds these functionalities don’t stand out at all that it resulted in those functionalites being often completely unknown and undiscovered to users.

One of the great usability principle is, in my opinion, is this :
Stop being clever and make things super-obvious.

New Tweet screen in the Twitter iPhone app

The new Twitter iPhone app followed this principle and corrected the issue by removing the “140 ▼” button. Instead it added a gray bar with four icons that stand for usernames, hashtags, camera, and geotag. I would say this is an improvement since users can now clearly see the icons when they are in the new tweet screen.

However, these icons are not the same as the previous icons used in the old Twitter app. Geotag icon has changed the appearance and the camera icon now functions for two previous features of taking a photo and adding a photo from the photo library.

One of the pitfalls of re-design is that even when improvements are made, often the web team (designers in particular) are not satisfied with just fixing the existing issue. They are tempted to make changes ‘for uniqueness’, which tends to raise rather than solves a usability problem.

So now Twitter seems to have gotten rid of perfectly useful two icons — photo library and shrink URLs.

If I were to redo the screen, I would keep the same icons in the previous app.  After all, some users have discovered and used these hidden functionalities. Why now force them to change their pattern of use?

My version of New Twitter screen

While I was evaluating the new Tweet screen, I realized that the new Twitter app has also introduced a new usability issue to it. The new trending hashtag notification. It appears on top of the tweet timeline.

As quite likely to be intended, since it appears on top and written on a black bar, it stands out.  The problem is that it actually stands out more than what users need. It is downright annoying.

This can be easily corrected if the bar appears at the bottom rather than the top. It would be still noticeable enough for those who take interests in the trending hashtag but would not annoy the majority of users who want to quickly scan the timeline from the top to the bottom.

 

New Twitter Timeline

My version of Timeline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of this this new and  un-user-friendly trending notification, the overall reaction to the new Twitter app would be more negative than positive.

Furthermore, what was really interesting to me is that even after the re-design, the new Tweet screen of the new Twitter app does still slightly fall short of the new Tweet screen of the Tweetdeck app. Compare my revised version of the new Twitter app above with the following Tweetdeck’s new tweet screen below. Pretty much what I have done ended up making the Twitter app look almost the same as the Tweetdeck’s existing new tweet screen.

Sometimes, a good design comes from benchmarking a competitor’s product and from following conventions that users are already familiar with.

Can you think of an example of a library website that failed to be user-friendly while trying to be clever and/or from poorly benchmarking another library website?  If you work with a library website, this is a good thing to think about.

Tweetdeck