Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘library2.0

This is in the context of the lack of academic rigor in library schools and the fact that the librarians who distinguish themselves in spite of said library schools often do so via online social media. I also noticed the quote as I was finishing a recent blog post about librarians who build their reputations online and look down on those who don’t.

These days librarians don’t even have the excuse of no travel funding. Reputations are made online. Look at me. I’ve earned the ire of half the profession, and I don’t even exist!” — from the Annoyed Librarian.



This is sort of a webliography or list of items I have recently seen on the topics of online social media, library marketing, outreach, and related concepts. This is mostly for personal reference. Some of the posts are from Librarian Blogsville, but a few others come from other places outside librarianship.

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(Once again, another case of Blogger not saving the content after I type it. So, I am posting here, and linking it over there. If you wish to comment, you can comment on either blog, or so I hope).

Citation for the article:

Houghton-Jan, Sarah, Amanda Etches-Johnson, and Aaron Schmidt, "The Read/Write Web and the Future of Library Research." Journal of Library Administration 49.4 (2009): 365-382.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

When I finished reading this article, I wrote on the top margin my impression: some good ideas, but this is a lot of "pie in the sky," including stuff that libraries do not have any control over such as vendors. At the end of the day, library online resources are not going to turn into some Google-like interface no matter how much we wish it to happen. Databases are provided by vendors who are the ones who create the interfaces and set the rules via the licensing for things like authentication to get into a subscription-based product. We can rail all we want about how inconvenient it is that the poor kids cannot just hop in to a database like they do on Google because they have to enter their student credentials to log-in. In the end, that is not going to change very much in large measure because EBSCO, Elsevier, etc. pretty much have a monopoly, and they know it. Libraries are not all going to massively stop providing databases for research out of some protest movement due to costs or convenience factors. It's the way of things. I don't like it, but I deal with it the best I can with the resources I do have. So making it sound like it is the library's fault that students feel so inconvenienced is not something I take to lightly since I do an awful lot of work to advertise the resources we do offer and to educate our students on how to find the best available information. Finding that information does take some work. Work is not always easy, and once in a while you do have to put in some elbow grease to make things work. And once in a while students may have to learn how to navigate a site to get good information if for no other reason than to get a good grade on a research paper (because they will likely fail otherwise if they just rely on Google to get their stuff done). In the end, yes, I am all for eliminating as many barriers as possible, but I think we should make clear not all of those barriers are our fault.

Some notes:

  • On the whole idea of authentication and the log-in barrier. When the authors suggest that students "simply go to a major search engine, enter search terms, and within one or two clicks you have what you want" (371), it makes me wonder. This statement works only on the assumption that you can do that and find material that is appropriate, relevant, accurate, reliable, and available to be used on a given assignment. As for e-books, yes, Project Gutenberg is wonderful for a lot of things, as long as you do not want anything current or that is still within copyright; otherwise, you have to pay for it. More often than not, I get students at the reference desk asking how to get X or Y article they found on Google but could not get because the site it was on wanted to charge them 25 bucks or more. Where did I end up taking them to? Yes, our online databases, where I emphasized they could get any serious scholarly research for free (well, their tuition pays for it, but you get the idea). That e-book from Amazon that they can only get a preview without buying it? Check our library catalog, and if not there, we have Interlibrary Loan. The lesson? Sometimes you have to do a bit more work to get the good stuff. Or you can settle for less. I don't think we should be pandering to those who settle for less.
  • Yes. Google is successful because it is so simple. It also yields millions of results on any given topic, most of them stuff that may not be relevant to a student, assuming they even evaluate it. Not to mention a lot of those links are trying to sell something. Just because the interface is so simple it does not mean it is the best possible thing. Would I like research interfaces like Google? Maybe. Do I think they will happen in our lifetimes given the complexity of research, given that "what we do and what we offer is a lot more complex than Google" (371)? Not likely given that complexity. And by the way, I don't think telling others that what we do is a bit more complex than the big G is a defensive answer; it's reality, and it is reflective of the fact that we add value to the research process. On Google, you are pretty much on your own. We actually teach you what to do with all that stuff Google spits out in one or two clicks.
  • "Never assume that a product is accessible just because it costs thousands of dollars" (373). Are we really making such an assumption? If anything, we spend a lot of time in library instruction and the reference desk showing our students how to navigate things precisely because we know the products are often not easy to access.
  • "Library research environments of the future need to be quite literally user centered" (375). No argument from me on that. It is why we do things like have our research guides on LibGuides, and it is why we do things like put Meebo chat boxes to be more accessible to the students. Are those things the cure-all? No, but they are a start.
  • The rest of the article is pretty much a wish list of things that library interfaces should have according to the authors: activity histories (EBSCO does some of this already), RSS, and citation tools. Those are pretty practical things. I am not so sure about why anyone would want things from social software like having your own picture, research space, and for it to be "fun" (in the Facebook sense of fun) given that students do make a distinction between fun things like Facebook and more practical resources. In the end, the authors do grant that "not every researcher will want to use the participatory bells and whistles of such a research environment, and that is okay" (379). That is nice to know that not everybody wants every single bell, whistle and gadget available or known.
  • The authors ask "if libraries will ever have access to anything like this" (380), and then they answer their own question, sort of. They point to the fact that "databases are largely closed and proprietary" (380) for one. And sure, librarians may have the talent to do all the programming work, but as of hiring said talent, in this economy, I would take that statement with a big grain of salt.

However, there is some hope. I did find a few good points amid the twopointopian wishful thinking. The authors argue that librarians need to be more tech-savvy. Again, no argument from me there since that is something I work on myself.

  •  "Start by modeling the behavior you would like to see in your staff. Tell them what you are doing to make yourself more tech-savvy. Tell them what you do and do not know, outlining what you want to learn more about. If you are willing to learn, they will too" (381). I like the leading by example part of those statements. The tell others part for me is a bit difficult. I am not one to go about sharing much of what I do to learn in my workplace, mostly because it may seem like I am bragging, which is something I dislike. I think that is just me. I blog. I do things to make myself savvy and keep up, and I try to share it in places like here. The blog is not hidden; anyone can get to it. I will admit though that more often than not I get more feedback on things I write about from strangers than I do from my own coworkers.
  • The authors argue that staff should "have some type of ongoing professional development plan" (381). The only thing I will add to that is that it should be a bit more than just the stuff you put on the annual performance review, which is mostly a formality anyways. Let's be honest, as long as you can tick off the items on the list of what you did the previous year, you are ok.
  • "The staff should also be given time to do this professional development; do not expect them to do this on their own time" (381). Furthermore, the authors state that "reading library and technology blogs on work time is work. Trying out new technology tools for possible use in the library is work. Treat it as such" (381). That is something I have mentioned once or twice. Maybe the fact that these authors with more prestige than me say it may get more attention. Keeping up is part of the job, and administrators need to realize that and support it.
  • "Create a simple blog where your staff can share new technology trends, tools, and resources that they have found with other staff" (381). We implement a private blog for reference services at my workplace, and that is one of the stated purposes: to share new things we find with other staff. What I have found, as the blog administrator, is that weaning people out of the e-mail forwarding habit is harder than it sounds. The blog should be able to also solve the problem of putting training information in one place as the authors suggest, but again, getting people to use it instead of hitting forward on an e-mail has not been easy.
  • "Increase your staff training budget" (381). I will admit that I laughed a little on that one. It is not happening here anytime soon. In fact, my training budget has been mostly slashed, or at the very least severely curtailed to the point where me having a significant professional development plan (as in more than cheap online webinars) is in jeopardy.

So overall, I had mixed feelings about this article. It has a lot of wishful thinking, but it also makes a good point or two. Read it and decide for yourself.

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I wrote a draft previously on this topic here, but as Zuckerberg (Facebook's head honcho) keeps baiting and switching his users, I find there is more to say and consider. This is mostly a small list of items I have been reading recently on the topic that I found interesting and/or relevant. I know this is something that, as a librarian, I need to be concerned about and that I should write about more if for not other reason than to clarify my thoughts and help educated my students. As before, I am not sure what direction to take for more substantial writing. There are a couple of angles or perspectives I want to explore that may be too big for one blog post, but I don't necessarily feel like doing a series. In the meantime, here is the list:

I have a few more clips saved, and I may add some of them here, but this certainly provides a good start.

And the updates start:

  • (Update note: Same day): T. Scott reminds us of the old adage that you don't put something online you do not want to see in the front page of the NYT.  Certainly some good, rational thinking here, but I still think along with a few others that FB is pulling a bait and switch. And while for many people, the option to disconnect is there, I would look back at boyd's piece on FB as utility, meaning it may not be as easy to leave. This is specially so for libraries and other institutions who have made their presences in FB and other social services. Yes, we can have the discussion of "well, maybe they should have not done that," but that train left the station long ago, helped along by a lot of librarians advocating libraries do just that. Still, T. Scott's post is a must-read for the discussion. 
  • (Update note: Same day): And the Krafty Librarian replies to T.Scott above. It may be early to predict, but it is looking like my professional brethren are going with the "it's convenient, so you have to give up your privacy" line of reasoning coupled with the "it's your responsibility in the end." Some of which is true, but then makes it easy to let the big corporate honchos who are abusing our sense of privacy and security off the hook.

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This is the start of what might or not be a more developed essay for my professional blog. Just some thoughts:

I am getting a little sick and tired of the silly and cutesy videos and promotions that the more perky brethren in my profession seem to equate with being a good librarian and being a good promoter of the library. Now, it is not that I do not want to promote the library and its services. I work as an Outreach Librarian after all, which means it is my job to promote the library to the academic campus as well as the rest of the community at large. I make use of online resources and tools when I can, but I don't think I should have to stoop myself to the low level of using silliness to make my point. To be honest, I just don't see any other professionals such as doctors and lawyers doing similar things. Ok, I will grant you, there are some injury law attorneys that get fairly close, but they still remain professional. I just think every time one of those perky librarians who think Web 2.0 can do no wrong come up with one of these ideas they do more to embarrass the rest of us who actually work in the trenches than whatever good they think they are doing. I already have enough of a hard time getting support from some parts of my administration without having to worry one of them will see something like that "digital native" kid video (see link below) and think that is the kind of work I do. I am a professional. I am an academic librarian, and I would like to be taken seriously when it comes to my work. This has been in my mind for a while now, but I am not sure what to say, or rather how to say it. Unfortunately, some of my professional brethren do not take well to disagreement. Saying what I am saying is the kind of thing that will get me the label of "he just doesn't get it," or "he just lacks a sense of humor" (really, have you seen my personal blog, my Facebook page? I think my sense of humor is fine, thank you), or "well, he is a bad librarian who does not really care about his patrons" (yes, I have heard that one too, which irks the living daylights out of me). At the end of the day, I want to do my job. I want to do it well and to the best of my abilities. Is that really so difficult?

Here are some of the items I have recently seen out there that have made me ponder these things:

I worry that expressing questions about this, let alone being skeptical, is probably going to bite me sooner or later. I can hear it now, "ooh, he does not like the little girl. He must be some sourpuss reactionary" or worse. Personally, Abbey is like one of those kids hanging out with Fred Phelp's cult where the parents make them hold a sign, and the poor kid has no idea what they are promoting. If they would have gotten a teenager to illustrate a digital native, then they might have gotten a little more credibility in my eyes. In the end, this fuss is not going to go away any time soon. In practical terms for me, I will just do what I do: keep up, do my work, and serve my patrons. I can let someone else be cute. What saddens me is that expressing an opinion could easily get me alienated in some circles. It's not why I became a librarian given that, as a librarian and educator, I am a fierce advocate of freedom of expression.

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Once again, I have to sit though another webinar that my library director made me watch. I will say right away that I hope this was some kind of free event because if we (read the library) paid for it, we should be demanding our money back. The title of the webinar in question was "Cultivating Loyal Customers by Delivering Meaningful and Memorable Service." It's one of those seminars that TLA (Texas Library Association) provides for librarian continuing education. The featured speaker was " Steve Wishnack [who] is the founder and President of Think & Do, providing consultation, seminars and workshops that help organizations cultivate customer relationships" (his website: According to the TLA website, he has both BA and MS degrees in Education from Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY. So that is what education majors who don't go into schools to teach do: they become consultants, and I am not saying that in a good way.

A side note: I just looked up the information online. I am guessing we did pay for it, or the library director paid. Either way, I want the 45 bucks or so back.

Getting back on track, this was basically an hour and half or so of condescending, patronizing platitudes about how to provide good customer service. And when Wal-Mart is used as the example of good customer service, you have to know this is just not right. One of my colleagues noted that the speaker's presentation had a 2005 copyright date, an indication the presentation had not been updated since that time, so we are not even getting any new information. Which once again leads me to say: tell me something I do not know.

What follows are some notes from the presentation with my comments in parenthesis:

  • Customer service has to be meaninful, that is, it satisfies a customer need. Customer service is also memorable, which means that it leaves a lasting impression.
  • (Clearly the presenter sees the library as a business, which puts him on par with other library gurus who go for the library as business concept). The library is a place that conducts library business (yes, he actually said that), and customers are the people the library does business with (yes, he also said that). Libraries are not for profit, but they are in a service business.
  • There are two types of customers. External customers are the ones outside the library staff (i.e. the patrons, so on). Internal customers are the ones who work at the library (I think this is a little overreaching with the customer paradigm).
  • Some issues:
  • Competition: Things like the Internet and Google.
  • Market share.
  • ROI, the return on investment. This is what the community, or the university in our case, wants to know.
  • Assets: this includes the items in the library, such as the books, computers, the building, so on (however, there was no mention of the people. The librarians could be considered assets in the measure that they are information specialists. In fact, I just saw in some article I can't recall now a discussion of this very idea, so the idea of the librarians as being an asset to their campus was pretty fresh in my mind. It was not something this presenter even considered).
  • The presenter gave Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as a reference. That did not exactly inspire much confidence in the presenter.
  • The ABCs of customer relationships:
    • Attitude: this comes from inside.
    • Behaviors: This is how you express your attitude. (And I have to make a pause here because, as my colleague pointed out, we may be cynical for instance, but we are careful not to show it to the patrons. It's called being a professional, which apparently the presenter nor my boss keep in mind. Because we are professionals there are certain attitudes or views that we do not show or express to the patrons even when they justly deserve it. Again, it is called being a professional, something that was lacking in this cookie cutter presentation).
    • Connections: How we interact with others.
  • The value of loyal customers:
    • They use the library more.
    • They are easier to serve.
    • Free library advertising.
    • (However, just because they are loyal, it does not follow they are good customers. Maybe the presenter needs to read this column by Shaun Rein on "Get Rid of Jackass Clients." Rein also mentions the work of Bob Sutton, who is a favorite of mine and whom I respect a lot more).
  • When a customer feels mistreated, only 5% will tell you. 95% will not return (see my note above. Out of that 95%, I bet a good number of them we'd be happy if they never return). 80% will bad mouth you (sure, I would rather they not do that, but it is a fact of life you cannot please everyone. You put your best foot forward, you do your best to provide for their service or needs, but you are not their personal lackey or slave).
  • A cute acronym (this presentation had a few of those): MAGIC.
    • Making A Good Impression Counts.
  • Another cute acronym: RATER
    • Reliability: dependability, accuracy, consistency.
    • Assurance: knowledge, trust, competence, confidence.
    • Tangibles: physical appearance of our people and our workplace.
    • Empathy: caring and attentiveness.
    • Responsiveness: willingness to help promptly.
  • The most deadly attitude to customer service is indifference (I can agree with that. You do need a degree of passion and caring to work with people).
  • (The director made it a point to send a memo after the presentation. She writes: "We all know how easy it is to slip into cynicism and negativity. Certainly, difficult situations will NEVER improve if they start with negative attitudes, but courtesy and a positive attitude CAN improve interactions. The speaker did stress that 'it takes PRACTICE to make good customer service permanent" ).
  • (Again, like the presenter, the director needs to do some further reading. I hate to say this but there are moments that no matter how my attitude is, the customer comes with a bad attitude and no amount of good attitude on your part is going to fix things. Again, this was not addressed at all in the presentation nor acknowledged by the director).
  • Quote from the presentation: "Our customers will be enthusiastic about us if we are enthusiastic about our customers" (again, see my notes above on professionalism. As I saw elsewhere, I don't have to like the patrons to help them and give them good service).
  • Another quote: "Fix the problem, not the blame" (the director likes this one. I will just not go there).

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This is another note on webinars that my boss makes me attend. For some reason, our boss is on a roll in terms of making us watch webinars related to academic libraries. Actually, yesterday she mentioned that one of the reasons was that, since some of the webinars were free, that she was trying to get some training for us given the fact that the budget overall is tight. However, I tend to think that there is such a thing as being too cheap. No, I don't think she herself is cheap. I just think the way the training is done is cheap. This particular one, an ACRL webinar on "Academic Librarianship by Design" was not free, but it certainly felt cheap. It felt cheap because it yet another one of those webinars where I was not hearing anything I had not heard before. This one dealt with ways to integrate library services into a campus's course management system (CMS) like Blackboard. I suppose on the positive side, if something can be salvaged, is that the webinar pretty much reaffirmed a lot of what we are already doing. It confirms the things that our instruction librarian has been fighting for, often with either opposition or right out indifference from the IT folks, to get the library into Blackboard.

  • Yes, we do have a library tab on Blackboard that provides links to various services (and boy did we have to fight over that one).
  • Yes, we do have embedded/blended librarians.
  • Yes, we are pretty good at using things like Elluminate, virtual reference, online chat, so on. 
  • Yes, we are good at creating content and tools that our patrons will need and use.

So, once again, tell me something I do not know already. Show me something new, and something that I can actually use with the resources and restrictions I have to face. Yes, it is nice to see what other places are doing, but after a while, I want a little more substance than a basic overview. And I don't want to sound picky or superior, far from it, but basically stuff like this is just too basic. We do that stuff already with what we got. Unless unlimited money appears (unlikely to happen) and major attitude overhaul in IT and the administration happens (even less likely), we are not going to be doing things that some of the more well-heeled places presented are doing.

Am I frustrated? I suppose I am because I could have been getting some good work done in the library, and instead I had to sit for almost two hours listening to stuff that I know already because I am already doing it, or I already read about it someplace else. There is a reason the tagline in my professional blog is "I read a lot of the library literature so you don't have to."

What I am saying is this: there is a time when you have to stop watching what others are doing. It is time to put your money where you mouth is and actually start doing it. Stop worrying about what some other place is doing and concentrate on what it is we are doing. Focus on what it is we do well and measure how well we are doing it. From what I have seen so far, we are doing a lot better than many of those other places I hear about on these webinars. So, how about we focus on our work for a change? Just a thought.


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May 2015
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