13 August 2014

Be Advised - Blog Getting a Facelift

Please pardon my mess, the blog is getting an all-new look. Watch for falling icons!

09 May 2014

Library as Nexus: The Unique Space We've Already Always Been


Public libraries set themselves apart as institutions that uniquely combine both entertainment and information at a self-guided pace. I highlighted this a couple of times recently, while explaining the importance of the summer reading program to non-librarians. I could also have added libraries' provision of technology to the mix, and in other circumstances I would have done so.  But what I've really been getting at is that public libraries become a nexus of information, entertainment, technology, and professional assistance on a self-guided basis - and there really isn't anything to compare with the modern library in this self-guided romp through information, entertainment and technology with the added bonus of a professional safety net to fall back on when things get tough.

Let's do a few comparisons for the sake of evidence.

Free vs Fee

Over and above striking mixture of materials and services provided, library service is not based on monthly fees, unlike Audible.com, Neflix, and a host of other services that provide a sub-section of what modern libraries provide to public at large. Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and others like them require at least the purchase of a device even to gain access to their content in any desirable way (though users can gain access via free apps and programs for their PCs).

It is true that libraries, especially in the US are tied to yearly funding derived from property or other taxes, their main focus is for the public good, rather than for profit, and that can make a big difference in their atmosphere - particularly because libraries are still typically a physical place, rather than the online media organizations so prolific in contemporary society.

Credit to P. Giacoma's library economics book for the heading title.

Information vs Entertainment

Libraries are the perfect place to reveal a false dichotomy concerning media, that people are either interested in information OR entertainment. Now, it is true that libraries are often divided into just this dichotomy. However, the fact that libraries house both collections in the same building, many users avail themselves of both types of media

Take, for example, MOOCs (massive open online courses) now offered by many universities and other organizations. They offer a very open, compelling, and library-like "learn on your own" type of information access. There is the possibility that such coursework  is even better at producing "self taught" individuals than traditional libraries. They even provide professional support in the form of course instructors.

MOOCs fall short of creating the type of nexus available in public libraries because they lack the fiction and other entertainment types of media common to most public libraries. MOOCs are also, because of their purpose-driven nature, more structured in their offering of self-education, and therefore lack any sort of serendipitous discovery for users, which leads well into my next point.

Serendipitous Enlightenment vs Single-Minded Search Results

The benefits of serendipity in discovery and self-guided learning may be the best argument for keeping such tools as the Dewey Decimals system, though some public libraries claim to have found alternative organizational methods. All organizational schemes aside, it is important to point out the well that the nexus created by a library's combination of entertainment, information, and technology creates an environment wherein users find things they never knew they always wanted.

Rare is the institution that simply has enough variety and provides the kind of access and assistance needed to produce this sort of coincidental discovery of new material that users would never have found, and does it with information and entertainment in a wide variety of formats. Not to mention the live, in-person chats with professionals who know about the types and varieties well enough to recommend something or point them toward an area heretofore unknown.


See articles "Making my own luck," "Measuring Serendipity in the Lab" & "Are eBooks replacing print books?" for current research into serendipitous finding.

Professional Assistance vs Self Guidance

Moving on to another comparison, non-librarians and even some librarians have suggested that Google searching has eliminated the relevance of libraries and librarians. Put another way, anyone can find anything online now. First, good librarians know this simply isn't true. Even supposing that the sum of all human knowledge is somehow already stored online (and accessible to the general public), the average user is often either unwilling or unable to discover information that doesn't appear in the first five options at the top of a Google search.

Never mind that the US Government has decided that everyone both has access to the internet and the ability to navigate it with ease (take the recent Affordable Healthcare Act website debacle in the US as an example of how viable that position really is). Anecdotal evidence from my work in libraries suggests that many library users find it easier to get the information needed from the IRS by going through a librarian, rather than interacting directly with the government website.

The real beauty of self-guided learning at the library is that you can take yourself as far as your knowledge and experience will allow you to go. Then, when you get confused or can't find what you want, you can ask a librarian for help, advice, or recommendations to bridge the gap between what you know and what you want to know.

Really, this makes a case for a working assumption that the public library truly is a unique place of particular and peculiar benefit to individuals and societies that remains relevant in spite of various technological and sociological advances in both ancient and modern times- as evidenced by the few points listed above and some of the supporting documentation.

07 March 2014

Internet Explorer - Public Internet Users Beware


I may be a bit off, but it seems like public Internet users can avoid at least half of the problems I see them having by closing Internet Explorer and opening Firefox or Chrome to finish the job. Sometimes I wonder if Microsoft actually does any user testing...

27 February 2014

I'm Jumping on the Meme Bandwagon



Above, I'm attempting to introduce a new feature to the blog. As of now, I've got musing on librarianship, some research into librarianship using various sources, "Dear Interwebs" posts, and a couple of random other things. I've decided it is time to delve into what I call the "sarcastic or funny ecard meme" both ubiquitous and popular on facebook and other social media. (I've been meaning to try this out for a while now.)

If you like them, then please pass them along.

19 August 2013

Social Learning As a Tool


I got the idea for this post while reading an excellent guest post (Developing My Personal Learning Network: Processes, Decisions and Outcomes) by Elaine Hall on Michael Stevens' Tame the Web blog. Two things I took away from the post were 1) I'd already developed one without really thinking about it and 2) I should be more proactive about finding/weeding the resources I gather to stay informed without slogging through too much meaningless chatter.
(image from SlideShare presentation: Kick Start Your Digital Marketing Mojo! by )

So, I thought I'd post my own, resource lists under the social media tool I use to access them. (I may need to branch out, I mostly use Feedly and Twitter.) If you see some that you didn't know about previously, great! If you think of some I'm missing, I'd really appreciate suggestions. I'm always on the lookout for good, regularly published information about libraries and librarianship. (You'll notice that a few of these aren't updated regularly, but they have good information, so I keep them around.)

Here we go:

Feedly

Twitter

31 July 2013

Dear Twitter Widget

How do you retain your looks? Your "dark" and "light" settings have a delightful dichotomy. However, I'd really like something a bit more...brown. Perhaps your designers felt that too many choices cloud the creative mind.

I also appreciate that Twitter has display requirements, but why hide them behind  two separate links on two different pages? Perhaps there is some secret society I can join that will allow me better information on why users were not polled prior to the release of your new widget. I would appreciate an invitation to said society.

Until then I remain,

Unin Iciated

09 May 2013

Postscript: Library Statistics and Evaluation Resources

Since I posted my Statistics & Evaluation presentation to SlideShare, I found a couple of other related SlideShare presentations worth perusing. The first is a slide presentation, the second is a rather long document, but very worthwhile - I wish I had found it before giving my presentation. While neither uses the same methodology as I did, there are certainly parts of what they share that provide good insights into possible indicators and collections or services that libraries can evaluate.

If you've seen other presentations (SlideShare or otherwise) that give insights into statistical or other types of evaluation concerning library services and collections, comment, and I'll update the post.

Changes in library standards : Statistics and evaluation as mirror of library innovations from fpehar




Key Performance Indicators For Libraries from Webbmedia Group


03 May 2013

Presentation: Putting Value in Evaluation: Building Relevant, DynamicStatistical Analysis

As I promised at the 2013 Conference of the Utah Library Association, here is a SlideShare version of my presentation. I want to thank everyone who attended, you truly made the presentation better than I had hoped for with your enthusiasm and professionalism. I tip my hat to you (metaphorically, of course).

Comment me if you want a copy of the presentation (or if you want me to expand on anything in the presentation), or visit the link below the presentation to download it from SlideShare. Feel free to view my other SlideShare presentations while you are there.




Additionally, I express gratitude, first to my wife and, second, to my colleagues in the Davis County Library system who supported my work on this project - their encouragement was invaluable.

As soon as I get a chance, I'll be adding a new Statistical Analysis sub-page to the Projects & Resources page that includes posts I've made and other resources for librarians interested in changing the way they handle statistical analysis.

02 May 2013

Measuring Value Delivered by Library Services


Librarians often use difficult to measure phrases like "value added" or we speak of the "intrinsic value" of the services we provide. Recent times have show that we need to show those in charge of library funding the specific, meaningful, and measurable ways in which we contribute to our communities and society. Toward that end, I think highly of what Jim Collins (of Good to Great fame) says about the process:
"It doesn’t really matter whether you can quantify your results. What matters is that you rigorously assemble evidence—quantitative or qualitative—to track  your progress.  If the evidence is primarily qualitative, think like a trial lawyer assembling the combined body of evidence. If the evidence is primarily quantitative, then think of yourself as a laboratory scientist assembling and assessing the data." (from Good to Great and the Social Sectors, p 7.)

In the spirit of the quote, here are some suggestions for places to start measuring how well we provide value to users - only in a systematic and/or measurable way.  (See also a previous post titled: "Mission Statements: The Promises We Make").

First, take a moment and think about your library or library system. Be exhaustive, in what ways do users interact with

  • your staff,

  • your website

  • your collections

  • your buildings and grounds

  • your meeting rooms

Now, what ways can you find to collect data about how people interact. I like to refer to these as "indicators," since they may be used as a guide to indicate how well the library does at the various activities listed in the previous step.

Here are some examples to get you going, they are not exhaustive. Many are from an excellent article on the topic by Julie C. Blake and Susan P. Schleper (2004) called "From data to decisions: Using Surveys and statistics to make collection management decisions."
Quantitative

  • Circulation Statistics (most commonly "check-outs," but also in-house uses, etc)

  • Website analytics (hits, unique visitors, duration, etc)

  • Subject/Date analysis (examining average publication dates in a given subject or collection)

  • Cost-per-use analysis

  • ILL requests

Qualitative
  • Comparison of collections to peer organizations

  • User input (questionnaires, interviews)

  • Comparison of collection holdings to Collection Development Policies

  • Comparison of overall services with peer institutions (print collections, electronic holdings, ebooks/vendors, study space, training/community outreach, staffing levels)

  • Physical examination of collection for evidence of use (wear and tear or dust)

  • Anecdotes (patrons' or colleagues' opinions of the library or collection
Now, this list is just for starters. Some things worth examining may require a few from the above list and and many more not listed; figuring out why some parts of your website get the most use or deciding if you need to add staff to your library are some good examples.

If you feel I've missed something obvious (or not so obvious), put it in a comment and I'll update the post as needed.

01 May 2013

Mission Statements: The Promises We Make

Most libraries have mission statements, but have you thought about the promises your organization makes to it's constituents in it's statement?

Take, for example, the mission statement of the American Library Association - or at least the part quoted below:
[T]he American Library Association was created to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.

There are several promises made here, in just one sentence (and mission statements for libraries may be up to a full page in length). Let me highlight just a few of the promises I see the ALA making, based solely on the quote above:

  • ALA members will be better at Promotion.

  • ALA members will be better at improving patron services.

  • ALA members will be better librarians.

  • Library patrons served by ALA members will receive an enhanced experience over those served by non-ALA members.

  • Library patrons served by ALA members will receive better access to information than those served by non-ALA members.

There are, perhaps, other promises implied by the wording, but these are the most easily derived. It is also true that active participation would be an important factor in the realization of these promises. I think that the ALA realizes this as well, and though the mission statement makes no mention of it, common sense dictates that members must attempt to apply what the ALA espouses and teaches in order to reap any benefits.

I think the trick, and a necessary one for libraries in our times, is to evaluate how well we deliver on these promises. If we don't have the resources to provide the services and collections we promise in our missions statements, then it is time we pare down our promises to what we can fulfill, or find different ways to make good on them.

22 February 2013

Back to Basics: Info Age Librarianship

Correct me if I'm wrong, but libraries started as collections of items and/or information - where/when did we lose track of that?
Based on research (and a fair bit of paraphrasing), it seems to me that the first libraries had no librarians, just stacks of information people decided to collect. Then librarians were put in charge of these collections to 1) care for them, and 2) make sure that similar items were added to such collections as quality, cost, and time permitted. We call this collection development.

So, what has changed since then? Well, the Public Library model (at least in the United States) did alter this a bit by making collections available to the general public and funding them with tax dollars. Once that became prevalent, Public Libraries even started letting children browse the collections (gasp!). One thing seems to have led to another and Public Libraries now provide programming for children and adults, act as a pick-up location for tax forms, and provide meeting spaces for a variety of people.

So, what happened to keeping up collections - isn't that still the core purpose of libraries? In brief, the answer is: Yes. Yes it is.  Weekly story times, yearly, monthly, or quarterly activities, and perhaps even meeting rooms really ought to be undertaken with an eye toward the main things librarians are hired to do: 1) care for a collection & 2) make sure the collection grows according to pre-established regulations on quality, cost, and time.  I also think that making libraries available to the public mandated an additional job for the librarian: 3) provide easy & thorough access to the collection. That means that programming probably ought to have some tie-in to reading and actually promote using the resources available via the library.

But, "Wait," many may say, "you've forgotten how much things have changed in the past 25-50 years; we have computers, the Internet, eReaders, and a bad economy. Surely that changes the role of libraries, we've had to adapt our services to stay relevant!"

I respectfully, but vehemently reject this disturbing trend in librarianship. As far the basic tenets of librarianship, not much has changed. Computers, the Internet, eReaders, and even public Internet access may have changed the shape, content, delivery, format, and overall landscape of our collections; a bad economy certainly changes the parameters we place on quality, cost, or time required to maintain collections. Even an increase in community-centered programming (which helps integrate us into the community which supports us) does not absolve us of our long-held job descriptions.

Let me put it another way; librarians in the information age are more like astronauts than sailors. Space explorers may seem very far removed from those Europeans who "discovered" and charted the "New World," but they really have exactly the same job. Their tools are different, their ships are different, the whole (excuse the pun) atmosphere is different, and yet the basic job description remains the same: go somewhere new;  chart it, bring back samples, leave your nations flag; make it back home. Librarianship has certainly changed in the past few decades, but the basics have not.

Let's embrace change - the right kind of change - by taking advantage of all the amazing variety of information available at our fingertips by integrating it into our collections in ways that are intuitive and helpful to our constituents, then form programming that highlights what libraries have been offering for centuries: curated information, easily accessible, and updated as frequently and extensively as our individual organizational situations permit.

15 January 2013

Putting “Value” in Evaluation: Building Relevant, Dynamic StatisticalAnalysis

I'm excited to present at the Utah Library Association's annual conference on May 3, 2013.  (Details on the 2013 ULA Conference here)

Details include:
Title: Putting “Value” in Evaluation: Building Relevant, Dynamic Statistical Analysis

Abstract:  Recent history has taught us that we must begin assessing what it is we really do, alter our record-keeping to include an ever-widening group of new services and features, provide evidence that we are actually accomplishing our goals, and find open-ended assessment tools that anticipate future change in library operations. This type of rigorous self-examination makes it more difficult and perhaps unwise to use a one-size-fits-all statistical analysis. Accordingly, this session will focus on the process necessary for meaningful and dynamic statistical analysis, including: parsing your mission statement to discover categories of evaluation, brainstorming key indicators that relate directly to these categories, leveraging your organization's current statistical analyses, and evaluating your methods to ensure future adaptability.

It could easily have been titled something more like "Useful and Adaptive Statistics for Fun and Profit," but that didn't have the same ring. I'll be using examples from my recent work with the Davis County Library in Utah and gathering suggestions and material by working with colleagues in other libraries between now and then. I think that some "hands on" group activities will cement some of the concepts nicely.

More updates to come, please comment with any questions!

10 January 2013

Try a Melting Teen Section?

The bookshelf featured in the photo (available in WoodCurve's shop on Etsy.com, I found it on ThinkGeek's Twitter Pic) got me thinking about the limits we put on ourselves when we design libraries. I mean, look at it - I can't think of a shelf like it in any library I've seen. So, what if there were many of them, arranged in a library to promote the free-thinking style of teens?

I'm not saying that it's the only way to reach the young adult demographic so sought-after by libraries, but it does convey a certain mind-bendingly different type of decor.



20 October 2012

Librarians Never Lost Relevance: Friendly, Effective & EfficientInformation Seeking

I've recently had to dig deep down and explain my optimistic outlook for my career as a librarian. The questions vary from "Aren't libraries going to be completely digital in the next 5-10 years?" to "I get everything I want to know, and then some, from Facebook, Pintrist, and my Kindle - why does anyone visit the library?" Essentially, what they are all asking boils down to a simple, "Which part of what you do is still relevant?"

After thinking about my quick answers to family, friends, and occasionally library-goers, I am convinced that good librarians consistently streamline user interactions with information, while providing one-on-one interaction that our world of electronic information will never be able to match. Increasingly, librarians are being forced to provide evidence of their usefulness, and I submit that what we provide is assistance and training in friendly, efficient and effective access to information. In fact, librarians are the antithesis of advertisers who provide a pushy, biased, and inefficient access to information.

Now, it is true that there are other resources for some subset of the products I listed above. For instance, someone might consider Google's "doodles" a friendly way to access information, but without the right skill set, Google searching is anything but efficient or effective - even with the considerable advantage it gives lay-searchers over the pre-Google information search.

Librarians are in the perfect position to offer all three simultaneously. Since we live in an age where the amount of recreational and instructional information available to the public increases exponentially, I'm inclined to interpret this as job security for librarians. However, I'm often surprised that many librarians and non-librarians alike don't come to the same conclusion. Certainly libraries and job descriptions are going to change over the coming decades, but the basic idea that librarians are there as a human face ready to help fine-tune their informational needs or interpret the information available hasn't changed in the past decade or two. We have a lot to offer people by saving their time, energy, and money, and doing it with a personal touch gives librarians and other information professionals an edge over other information seeking venues.

02 May 2012

Dear Mayor Tony Mack (Trenton, NJ)

I understand from a recent Library Journal article that you are bringing back libraries that were previously closed.  However, your creative relabeling, "Buildings with Books," shows a certain lack of creativity and shows a particularly limited use for the now "zombified" libraries.

Perhaps you will take my advice and reconsider replacing  your ill-conceived "zombie libraries," with something much more fashionable and amazing: Vampire Libraries. Whereas zombies are slower, less helpful, and generally less appealing than their human counterparts, vampires are stronger, faster, more articulate, and more debonaire. Such libraries would have fiber-optic internet, a selection of Mac and Microsoft computers for patrons, books, ebooks, and keep hours comparable only to the local Walmart.

Please reconsider this ill-conceived plan, if only because of the woefully inadequate name you have created.

Thank you,
Horrified Bythe Thought