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What Digital Natives Really Want March 2, 2010

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Libraries are always trying to meet the needs of their patrons, but sometimes we just don’t quite get it. Sometimes we try surveys, or comment cards, but these measures can’t quite capture what it is our patrons want now. Luckily, digital native Abby breaks in down in this adorable video from Australia.

The Myopia of Techy Librarians February 18, 2010

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Today I (virtually) attended the second Handheld Librarian Conference. I had the opportunity of watching three sessions:

1. “This is Now: The Mobile Library” by Joe Murphy from New Haven, CT.

2. “Developing Library Websites Optimized for Mobile Devices” by Brendan Ryan of Providence College.

3. “Mobile Trends and Social Reference” by Alison Miller a Doctorate student of Professional Studies in Information Management at Syracuse University, School of Information Studies.

Overall, the conference did exactly as advertised–the sessions explained the current trends in mobile technologies and how to apply them to library services. The second session, “Developing Library Websites Optimized for Mobile Devices”, was the most straightforward, giving detailed instructions on how to build a mobile web site, including lists of resources and web sites, barriers, challenges, lessons learned, examples, etc. The other two were highly informative as well but I have a problem with this subject matter that I think needs to be discussed in greater detail.

From Toban Black's Flickr stream

My first problem with libraries embracing social media is Twitter. I love Twitter; I use it for this blog and also have my own personal account. But report after report says that young people don’t use Twitter. As an academic librarian, Twitter is not going to do much for my patrons. Is it going to do anything for my fellow librarians? Joe Murphy suggested we use it to facilitate committee chatter. I heartily agree with Joe that, harnessed correctly, Twitter can boost professional development and sharing. But the learning curve is extreme, especially for those not born into the digital revolution. I can’t blame Joe for his enthusiasm over augmented reality, QR codes, and location-based gaming because I think they’re great as well, but I do blame him for falling into the trap of “techy librarian myopia.”

Those who are addicted to technology and use it throughout the day, every day, often forget that most of the world does not use technology in the same way. One of the statistics Alison shared was that 63.1% of mobile users sent a text as of December 2009. She, and many others, acted as if this number was astoundingly high. I though it was low. If only 63.1% of mobile users in America have texted, how many have Tweeted? How many have gone on Facebook? How many are going to text a reference question? It’s easy to forget that we, especially as librarians, are not the general public and don’t use technology the same way they do. We are constantly in danger of being too cutting edge. I think this conference teetered on the edge of that precipice. I remember when I first discovered Mashable and threw around Peter Cashmore’s name like he was my BFF. Turns out 95% of my friends still have no idea who he is. Just because we have become a profession of netizens and social media junkies, doesn’t mean our clientele has the same needs as us.

The second problem I had is what the presenters referred (fleetingly) to as the “mobile divide.” For years we have been hearing about the digital divide, and trying to decrease it. That is the library’s job–providing equal access to information and media for everyone in a community. One of the commenters in the chat room mentioned that the mobile divide will be smaller than the digital divide because cell phones are cheaper than computers. This is greatly simplifying a multifaceted problem. Cell phones may be cheaper but smartphones are not that much cheaper than netbooks. And both “divides” are about so much more than owning technology. They are about being raised in a culture that embraces technology, research, and learning. Two people may both have iPhones, but depending on their socioeconomic background, education, and the way they were raised, they may use the iPhones in completely different ways. The challenge for us as librarians is the same–teach people how to find reliable and current information. Mobile technologies do not bridge the divide. Using Twitter, Facebook, various augmented reality apps, Foursquare, QR codes, etc. require learning and support.

My final issue, and one the conference understandably ignored, is cost. The point of the conference was to explore and share technologies, not to discuss whether they were feasible. While Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, and many programs that turn sites into mobile sites are free, the time dedicated to embracing such technologies is not. And time is one of our greatest resources.

I think that it is important that we discuss these trends and I think the presenters did a great job of doing just that. It is my hope that participants will closely examine their user population before jumping into any kind of relationship with these trends. If there is someone techy on staff who can set up a Facebook page in ten minutes and show colleagues how to use it in a 20 minute powerpoint presentation, then go ahead–nothing is lost. But if you have to spend hours upon hours creating a mobile site when half of your patrons don’t even know what an “app” is, then focus on something else, like building your collection. It is and has always been the librarians’ job to meet the needs of their user population.

Information is Power, But Do We Want Everyone to Have Power? February 2, 2010

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Sir Francis Bacon first said that, “knowledge is power”. And if knowledge can be equated with information then people have never had as much power as they have now. Information is everywhere and proliferating at an exponential rate. Information can be used for good or ill. It can be used to create a weapon, produce and disseminate illegal drugs, or unleash biological weapons. It can be used to learn about our environment, our bodies, and to help us understand how to live peacefully by not repeating history’s mistakes. These are ideas we have all grown up with. They are trite, but true. For thousands of years information was withheld from certain classes; it was the privilege of the rich to be educated and literate. Even libraries, for many years, were elitist clubs, the membership paid by its rich clientele. Nowadays we believe we have a right to information. We demand it both from our government (i.e. the Freedom of Information Act), our banks, our credit cards, even commercials whose disclaimers have grown to laughable lengths. We crave this access to information because we know it protects us. But what if this transparency has its downfalls? What if this transparency gives not only terrorists the power to fly commercial airliners but enables “a crippling attack on computer and telecommunications networks”, as the New York Times reports intelligence agents told lawmakers yesterday, stating that “an increasingly sophisticated group of enemies has ‘severely threatened’ the sometimes fragile systems undergirding the country’s information systems.” New Scientist, in mid-January published an article expounding the same fears. With its usual alarmist gusto, New Scientist asked, “Are we in danger of knowing too much?”, citing specific examples of public knowledge that could be used in catastrophically fatal ways, such as the publishing of a virus’s genome.

A t-shirt design from cafepress.com

While the New York Times and New Scientist ask these seemingly novel questions, these are the exact questions we have been asked to mull over and debate in library school. I particularly remember one class where the professor asked us if a public library should carry “The Anarchist Cookbook.” Being the militant liberals we are, we mostly agreed that the it was the duty of the public library to carry such a book and furthermore, that librarians should not question those who borrow it.  Perhaps you don’t agree with my argument and that of Francis Bacon. Perhaps you think books are innocuous. Then why then did the Patriot Act “expand[ed] the authority of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and law enforcement to gain access to… library records, including stored electronic data and communications” (ala.org). And why have most libraries, since the inception of the act, changed their databases to automatically erase the records of their patrons? Who are we? Potential terrorist sympathizers or the militant guardians of free and equal access to information? In the world of 2010 are we the enemies or the last bastions of intellectual freedom? What do you think?

Thrilling Librarians Doing Thriller January 29, 2010

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Wow! I just had to share this list of librarians doing the Thriller dance from Michael Jackson’s famous Thriller video! Thanks to Mental Floss! (Told ya we live double lives!)

Here’s one from the National Library of Australia, but click on the link above to see all of them! (Why are there so many??)

The Double Life of the (Academic) Librarian January 29, 2010

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Libraries everywhere continue to adopt Web 2.0 technologies, embracing sites like Facebook and Twitter to assist in outreach. Often, librarians are asked to become an active part of this community, creating their own user pages. This is true in any kind of collaborative, wiki-type environment. Participants are prompted to create a profile in order to create a sense of community. In a single day, I am unable to avoid the proliferation of social media into my job as an academic librarian. And while this is a positive improvement for the library I find myself facing the same dilemmas that teachers face when they set up a Facebook account: what are my parameters for accepting friend requests; what should I/should I not post; what kind of privacy settings should I adopt?

From Jazz Modeus's Flickr Stream, Creative Commons licensed

Public libraries have certainly embraced the image of the hipster librarian, bespattered with tattoos, perhaps even a piercing, and carrying an organic tote bag displaying though-provoking literary quotes (excuse the stereotype). Not so for the academic librarian. Academia prefers a little more conformity. While our employers may want us to show our individualism and personalities in reference and information literacy sessions, it is not hard to forget that we are professionals working in a professional environment. Working so closely with college students is a sticky situation in itself, especially for those of us who are younger. What role do we adopt? While you may say – librarian and librarian alone, it is not always that easy. We work closely, on a daily basis, with student workers who are far closer in age to us than our co-workers. We share more in common with them as well. Facebook is not a foreign place for us – it has been our mode of communication for some time now. So when our colleagues decide that we should attach our Facebook page to the library’s Facebook page, what do we do? Create two pages – one for the public and one private? This is the exact scenario that my colleague faces.   And while we may not have pictures of us guzzling beers or setting fire to couches, don’t we have a right to keep pictures of our latest camping trip between friends? How do we keep our individuality and our privacy in a world that demands we share?

Death to the Listserv! January 25, 2010

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Every day, all day, I am bombarded with listserv emails – 90% of which I am completely uninterested in. Many of these listservs are ones that my supervisors have suggested I join as a source of information and guidance. Once in a while I see a topic that looks interesting and read a few of the emails, but these discussions often devolve into barely veiled insults and vitriolic comments, or pleasant but unhelpful reiterations of the same idea. The only listserv I have enjoyed with relative consistency is the one from my graduate school which often has job listings. This too is most often irrelevant to me, as students use it to sell textbooks and even list apartments, but the repetition of deleting mass emails is worth the occasional local job listing.

So why use listservs at all? While it is helpful to post a question on a subject you are unfamiliar with, the same information can usually be gleaned from blogs or library web sites. Perhaps the listserv is, as Greg Lambert calls them in his June 2009 article in the AALL Spectrum, “lazy research.” Since joining Twitter, I have found the social media sites a wonderful source of information for libraries and librarians. But, like many other Twitter users, it took me months of forced engagement and exploration to truly understand the nuances (and language) of Twitter. I am nearly a “born digital”, and if it was difficult and time consuming for me to grasp the multitude of ways to harness Twitter’s plethora of information, than I can only guess how difficult and frustrating it would be for librarians who have been in the profession for a much longer time.

Lambert’s article provides a good list of the of pros and cons of listservs and in the end agrees with me, that a new model needs to be embraced. While we both mention Twitter, its defining characteristic is that posts can be no longer than 140 characters. Most librarians, news sites, blogs, etc. bypass this stipulation by posting a shortened URL to their Twitter post. But most librarians do not have their own site, so I don’t know if using Twitter can exactly replicate the quantity of information shared in a listserv. Twitter could possibly link to a wiki, a web site that any librarian could alter and share information on; but would the confluence of two Web 2.0 technologies make the process of sharing information unnecessarily difficult? Probably. Lambert’s most enthusiastic suggestion is Nings – social networks that allow user created communities to be as wide or as narrow as they choose and to share media in a number of different formats. Nings, like any technology, have a learning curve, which may be a detriment to some. I believe it is just for this reason that listservs have persisted for so long.

Listservs are simple, requiring only the use of email, a skill even the most seasoned librarian has mastered. So why is it that librarians haven’t adopted social media for professional development and collaboration even though most libraries boast their own Facebook page, and many have blogs and Twitter feeds? I think the answer is that librarians are often [1] too busy and [2] overwhelmed at the idea of learning another new technology. (And let’s be honest: a class on a new technology is always unhelpful to those digitally struggling and superfluous to those already embracing Web 2.0 technologies.) What is the solution? How do we smoothly transition as a profession from the outdated model of the listserv to the collaborative, nourishing environment of Web 2.0 community sites? I haven’t a clue! What’s your thoughts?

Please read the entirety of Greg Lambert’s article from June 2009′s AALL Spectrum here.

6 Lessons We NEED to Be Teaching December 10, 2009

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I’ve been avoiding this personal diatribe for some time now so as to avoid being the whiny, criticizing librarian who sees fault everywhere but does nothing. As librarians, we are all too aware of the habit to tend toward myopia, often forgetting that most people do not understand research as we do, hence our livelihood. And though we may acknowledge that we often breeze past the simplest (but often crucial) building blocks of research, we do little to address it. With this list I am attempting to argue that bibliographic instruction needs to be rethought and needs to address the sources of research so that students understand why, for example, articles need to be peer-reviewed, other than the fact that their professor requires it.

Here is the only disclaimer I give: as a new employee and only half a year out of library school, I don’t find it in my best interest to criticize well-established methods. In time I do hope to share my ideas, but for now I’ll vent here and present the 6 lessons we NEED to be teaching to undergrads in the library.

1. What is a journal/journal article?

More often than not, bibliographic instruction (aka information literacy instruction) includes a section on how to search databases, including which databases should be used for certain subjects and how to locate them on the library’s web page. The students type in a few words and presto–there’s a full-text article directly in front of them. To a student who is embarking on her first research paper in college there is not much difference between this and Google, which leads to a plethora of misunderstandings down the road. My suggestion is this: we bring paper (yes PAPER) journals into the session; maybe even walk the students down into the stacks where the periodicals are kept so that they understand that these digital articles are things that have actually been vetted and published, thus distinguishing them from much else on the web.This brings me to my second point–

2.The nature of databases.

Now that the student understands why journal articles are superior to Google’s search results, they need to understand that certain databases cover only certain journals. This will avoid a typical problem I have encountered, that of a student asserting that they only use EBSCO…yes, but which EBSCO product? (If only these databases changed their interface for different products, how it would help us!)

3. Databases are not the same as the Internet.

Students tell me that they need research sources, but are forbidden to use the web. When I pull up a database to find peer-viewed articles they insist that these are not allowed. After I explain that the library pays for these published sources, they usually acquiesce, though lingering suspicions tend to remain.

4. The relationship between articles and URLs.

Students are savvy, resourceful, and green. Many of them will find an article and create a list of URLs for easy access to the articles from home so that they are not weighed down with stacks of paper. This practice most often occurs after bibliographic instruction and it is only when the student tries to retrieve the articles that he is left embarrassingly and frustratingly bereft of all his hard work. Embarrassed at his apparent lack of tech-savvy, and assuming the librarian knows less than himself, what are the chances that he will ask for help? That is why it is imperative we explain the proxy-server, and that journal articles can only be accessed from campus or with a password, explaining that databases create unique URLs to avoid unlawful sharing of resources. Students must realize that (once again) these are not free articles on the web and that there is a process to access them.

5. The Web is not Evil!

This statement might seem at odds with my earlier declarations, but it is important for students (and perhaps arcane professors) to know that the web is increasingly a place for good information, with the caveat that students learn the skills to identify what constitutes “good” information. With more and more respectable periodicals putting their articles online (New York Times, Time, Business Week, etc.), the Directory of Open Access Journals,and Google Books, just to name a few, the web has become a source for serious research, a place that professors should not spurn.

6. Cite! Cite! Cite!

Nothing makes me cringe more than watching students use Google’s image search to mindlessly copy and paste into a power point presentation. Students need to understand that images are intellectual property just as much as an article from JSTOR. The source of these images needs to be cited in a bibliography, yet even professors seem mute on the subject. Perhaps it’s time we all took a refresher course on copyright. Just because it’s for educational purposes doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be cited.

Though I realize that librarians are acutely aware of these oversights, especially in one-on-one reference sessions, they remain to be addressed. Let’s start the revolution now!

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