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Month: October 2005

If you could change only one thing…

If you could change only one thing…

I got this idea from Creating Passionate Users. If you could change only one thing about anything (or many anythings) what would that be?

Library Catalogues
If I could change one thing about catalogues, it would be the level to which cataloguing occurs. Someone would have made the decision years ago that the content of journals, books, and edited volumes is as significant as their titles and sought to catalogue those as well. That way, when the digitization thing started, we could have just encorporated full text instead of having to outsource the searching AND the content. But since that’s not one thing I can change, I’d like librarians everywhere to change their minds about Google. I’d like academic librarians everywhere to embrace Google scholar and do everything they can to make that the best source there is.

More service points. While I’m of two minds about the “get rid of the reference desk” idea, I’m very keen on multiple service points; mobile, digital, in your face, in your office, in the foyer, in the stacks, reference everywhere all the time.

Virtual Reference
An acknowledgment of the value of local reference as more important than 24/7 access. It’s more important to get the right person than it is to get some person. I’d also like to see v-ref stop being a reference-only tool and start being a system-wide communication option.

Blog posts don’t have to be short. I hate this idea, everyone always says blog posts are short and unthoughtful. Why would that be so? Is there a word count limit on a blog post?

A really, really good threaded comments function.

An extensive light rail system. Better public transit. And this is a second thing, but can we join the EU? Come on, were sort of European. Ish. (I’d wish for another two years before an election, but I know that’s a pointless plea.)

A cheeseshop. Is that so much to ask? Oh, and a real bakery would go a long way, you know, somewhere that sells bread. Inability to get bread caused the French revolution, you know.

More time to do it. That’s really it.

Joy All Over the Place

Joy All Over the Place

Google’s RSS reader. You need a gmail account to use it, but there’s nothing bad about the big guys getting in on the RSS bandwagon. The more readers the better!

In other Google news, Google has created a Librarian Center for librarians teaching Google tools to students. This is a company that just never makes mistakes, isn’t it. Nothing but love from me to the big G.

Yahoo and MSN agree to IM interoperability. This means that Yahoo Messenger users will be able to get in touch with MSN users without jumping platforms. Good news! Now, if AIM would join the party, we wouldn’t need to have three accounts to talk to all the people we want to (ahem).

This one isn’t a good news technology story. This is an op-ed piece by a Luddite writing for Wired. From Dark Underbelly of Technology:

For one thing, human beings are not meant to go as fast as modern technology compels them to go. Technology might make it possible to work at warp speed, yes, but that doesn’t make it healthy. And just because the latest software makes it feasible to double your workload (or “productivity,” to you middle-management types), that shouldn’t give the boss the right to expect you will.

With cell phones, IM and all the personal-this and personal-that, we’re connected all the time, or “24/7” as the unfortunate jargon has it. Is being connected 24/7 a good thing? Isn’t it healthy to be “off the grid” now and then? If you can’t answer “yes” to that question, you may be a tech dynamo, my friend, but please stay the hell out of my cafe.

This kind of stuff is so tedious. Being annoyed by people who use technology is so last week. The people who cling to their ipods are not actually the same people yacking away on their cell phones while you’re trying to have your soy latte. And why are we so worshipful of the notebook-toting poet in the coffee shop and so disdainful of the laptop-toting novelist? Is one inherently better than the other? (I say all this with a wrist brace on, an injury less the result of typing and more of handwriting, thank-you-very-much.)

And I’ll get on board with the “tech is not productivity” crowd as soon as they start making their own clothes from fabric they wove on a loom and washing everything by hand. We’ll see just how productive and efficient they are right around then. And let’s talk about being off the grid; how about you lay off the fossil fuels once in a while, big boy? When was the last time you left the SUV at home and took public transit on your way to get your electrically-produced espresso? The folks who write these “technology is bad” columns have predetermined which technologies they like and which they don’t without being entirely forthcoming or fair. These complaints have been handled pretty well by the “Dear Abby” crowd. Let’s not get too caught up in the glitz and glare from the shiny new laptop screens. Being a jerk in public is still being a jerk in public, whether or not you’re using a device that prefers to be plugged in.

In other news, Blackboard is buying WebCT. I know the whole academic blogosphere is abuzz with this news, and my jaw dropped as much as the next person’s. And yes, this is going to have a huge impact on those of us involved with such systems, whether or not we are current subscribers. Is this going to provide us all with a better option when it comes to course management systems? Is it a response to some of the very cool things going on with Moodle? How will a goliath system effect the development of other open source CMS products (like Sakai)? While I will be directly effected by this move, I have no direct opinion about it, really. I’m not a burning fan of any current CMS, so merges and changes just make me raise my eyebrows and nod dutifully. Will it make things better? Who knows. As long as the APIs are still around, I’m happy enough.

I have I mentioned enough times yet that Meebo is fantastic? It sure is.

Hyperlocal Reference

Hyperlocal Reference

Virtual Reference is one of those things that I think is a fantastic idea that’s not being turned into a fantastic service. A good idea taken not quite in the right direction. And the more I think about reference (I think about reference an awful lot, I must admit), the more I like the idea of virtual reference.

At the moment reference too often means “the reference desk”. One of the things I discover more and more is that reference itself has nothing to do with any desk; it’s an expert service that can be provided pretty much anywhere. We’re most used to providing that service through a desk, but in order to really bring reference service into the present, we need to think outside the box about what the service is and how many different ways we can be providing it. For me, this goes hand in hand with the idea of integrating librarians into the curriculum; why are we waiting for those boiling-point questions to reach the desk? How can we present in other ways on campus (and off it) to answer questions at the point of need?

Virtual reference is one answer to that question. Rather than be at the desk, we can be behind an “ask us” link, there in case anyone needs help. They don’t have to come into the library, they don’t have to even know where the library is. This is the first service that pushes outside of the desk to bring reference service to users in alternative ways.

But to date the idea of virtual reference has been very much akin to the way we think about the OPAC or databases or webpage resources generally; they’re best if they’re available all the time. That the best thing about these things is their ease of use and the fact that anyone can use them any time they feel like it. So we end up with these systems are designed to be useable any time, because apparently that’s what the web means. Constantly on.

What we’re missing in this rush to be available constantly is one of the key elements that make a library a good library; it belongs to a particular place. Librarians spend an awful lot of time and effort making sure their collections reflect their users needs; they conduct user needs assessments to make sure every element of their services reflects a demonstrated need in their communities. A library is a reflection of the community it serves; if you want detailed legal information, you’re going to find better sources in a law library than in an arts & social sciences library. If you need detailed scientific information, go to a science library, right? This is why there are so many different kinds of librarians and different kinds of libraries. If you were looking for detailed information about the history of Guelph, Ontario, you wouldn’t necessarily go to the public library in Victoria, BC. You would go to the Guelph Public Library, or the local archives in Guelph. Right?

So why is it when we moved into virtual reference services we thought these local services were no longer significant? Why is this something we feel we can just outsource? Where does this idea come from that reference questions are so generic they can be answered by any librarian anywhere in the world?

Once I had a specific question about a publication by a faculty member at a school Boston. I noticed they had a virtual reference service at their library, so I got in the queue and asked them. But I wasn’t talking to a librarian in Boston. I was talking to a librarian in California, because they were sharing their virtual reference service in order to keep it open 24/7. This librarian in California didn’t have any extra resources to help her answer my question. She was in the same boat I was.

Why are we so sure our services can be so easily transplanted? Maybe it’s time to start thinking about shorter hours and local service, rather than flashy open-all-the-time service that’s much less institution-specific. Taking stock of our own value, and respecting the value that our own staff and our own collections can bring to our local patrons, might be the first step to making virtual reference the kind of service I know it can be.