Monday, December 22, 2008

New Year's library resolutions

Holly: still green

There are a number of library-related things I've been thinking about during the holidays, and I've come up with a few goals that I'm going to try and accomplish in 2009. It's very possible that at the end of 2009 I'll look back at this and sigh heavily, but here goes anyways:

-At the top of my list, I really want to become more involved in distance education. Ideally, I'd like to create a place for the librarian in the online classroom. I really think there's a lot of potential for librarians to be useful there. Most of our services are already online -- it's just a matter of intelligent integration with the online course management systems. 

-I'm going to do my darndest to attend the ALA annual conference this summer in Chicago. All I need is some financial assistance...

-Somehow, some way, I'm going to be better at reaching the adjunct faculty. I was amazed to find out the percentage of instructors who are adjuncts (I'll just say it's high). I know they're a difficult bunch to reach because of the temporary nature of the work, but it's unfair that the classes they teach may not get the benefit of library instruction. 

-I'd really like to find more assignments to build library instruction sessions around. The library has already done a great job of working with the biology department and creating an information literacy lesson around one of their assignments, but we need to find more instances where we can create relevant lessons that reveal how useful the library is. This is tricky, because it involves scrutinizing the curricula and working closely with faculty, but looking at the biology department's example, I know it can be done. 

Chat reference after one semester: observations

(A road I normally take to work, closed last Friday morning. Probably the snow/ice.)

We have an instant messaging (IM) widget embedded in a number of our library web pages, including the home page, and I've been responsible for many of the daytime questions this past semester. Speaking for myself, I'm feeling very positive about the experience. Here's what I found surprising or interesting:

1) Patrons who contacted us via IM frequently did so during peak times, when lots of other people also needed reference assistance. I had expected demand for chat to be greater during the off-hours.

2) A fast response time is key. (It is VERY useful to be a fast typist). Patrons on chat have zero patience with a slow response time, and yet chat transactions can actually take longer than a face to face interaction. There were several instances when something we could have resolved in five minutes stretched into 30, just due to the back and forth nature of instant messaging.

3) I can't tell if we are reaching new people, or if our regulars are just using us in a different way.

4) Chat can be weirdly intimate. In person, a reference desk creates a semi-official atmosphere, and telephones have been around long enough that there are certain expectations for behavior. There are no such boundaries for chat: People can be rude or impolite or unhelpful, and there will be minimal repercussion because usually we have no idea who they are. The etiquette on both sides is murky -- patrons are used to chatting informally with their friends, yet no librarian wants to be overly familiar.

5) The basic chat function can be a difficult teaching tool. It's much easier to push links to patrons than walk them through the steps of how to find the information, and I've been wondering how much they retain for the next time they have to use the library.

6) A few times I had a person call or ask at the desk first, go away apparently unsatisfied, and then contact me via chat. (I assume the person didn't realize that the librarian at the desk and the librarian on chat were one and the same!) For example, I showed someone how to figure out how to create a citation. After showing him how to figure it out, he IM'ed me about how to cite the exact thing he needed. Another time, someone called and I transfered her to the correct department. She contacted me via chat when no-one answered the department's phone. 

7) I answered a number of questions unrelated to the library, because I think people randomly saw the chat tool and thought it looked helpful and fast. I don't think there's a solution for this until every office and department offers a chat service. Librarians have always had to deal with directional questions anyways -- so be it.

I'll be looking out for developments in 2009!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trying to Separate Professional and Personal

(Unidentified Jersey plant that's still green right now)

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone who worked abroad for a year, and who noticed that it's distinctly American to consider school and work lives intrinsic to identity -- unlike other nationalities, where there's an expectation of a distinct personal life outside of school and work responsibilities (imagine!). I also noticed this phenomenon when I studied abroad as an undergraduate. I can't tell if the American way is healthy or not -- when you are defined by your work you tend to take your professional life very seriously in a way that surely must benefit your field. But then again, I've started to feel the need for online space where I am NOT a librarian. I have found myself slightly irritated when my library life creeps into my facebook account, for example.

Online, the gap between professional life and personal life can be thin, and I've been thinking that attempting to strengthen the division is a good idea even if it's impossible/impractical/idealistic. Like the ideal of objectivity in journalism, it's noble to shoot for even if it's tough in practice. (Along these lines, this week I created a new twitter account for friends who don't want to follow my tweets about libraryland.)

I guess in the end you just have to go with your intuition and do what feels right. At least, that's how I've been proceeding so far. With my gut. We'll see if that works out ...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Why Libraries should be Using Twitter

The Library at Night

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have not always been a fan of twitter. Frankly I'm skeptical of a lot of ridiculous Web 2.0 applications that come and go every other week. But at some point during these past few days, twitter won me over. And I think I should put forward some reasons why it's important that libraries be there now & pay attention to yet another element of the brave new 2.0 world.

1) Interactive Library news
News relevant to your library doesn't just come in to the library; it also goes out. And the news going out is targeted to those who are following you. I'm happy to see ALA, LIS News, book blog, and Duke University Press on twitter.

2) World news
This falls under the general responsibility of librarians librarians to be well-informed of world events. The New York Times, BBC, CNN etc. are on twitter. Huge props to Newsweek for following me after I started following them -- Somebody over there gets it.

3) Professional networking
Twitter makes it SO easy to stay in touch informally with colleagues, and to share common problems and concerns in an immediate, real-time way. I'd be (happily) surprised if a student ever followed my tweets, but there are enough librarians there that it doesn't matter.

I hope anybody who's reading this is convinced -- look me up when you get there!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Libraries Twittering

Thanksgiving travels
(or, dawn on the Phila tarmack)

I've been hearing a lot about Twitter recently, and I find it pretty intriguing. I set up an account a while ago, but I never used it and concluded it was a waste of time. But recently I've seen it in rather urgent contexts -- the BBC was reporting tweets from Mumbai during the terrorist attacks last week, for example -- so I've decided to try it again. I get my fill of pithy one-line status updates among friends on Facebook, but I've created an account for the library: camdencclibrary. 

And now I'm wondering, what is relevant for camdencclibrary's tweets? So far I've put out a call for other libraries that I should follow (0 replies) and an item about the physical building. I just can't believe anyone is going to 'follow' camdencclibrary. I mean, who cares? But maybe that's missing the point -- The point being that I'm participating, communicating, that camdencclibrary has a voice even if nobody is paying attention right now. 

So...I guess I'll just play with it. At least it's entertaining. I have minimal need to be mobile while at work, so using it exclusively on a pc probably cuts down on its impressiveness. We'll see. I'll report anything interesting.