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The mobile library

Another fascinating session at CNI in December 2009 was given by a librarian at North Carolina State University who described their creation of a suite of library services accessible from a mobile device.  In a nutshell, they have developed a mini-website of library information that can be accessed via three types (or tiers) of devices:   1) iPhone, Palm Pre, Android, etc; 2) Blackberries and similar smart phones; and 3) “vanilla” cell phones with texting capabilities.  (I dialed into the website using my Blackberry Bold and it worked beautifully.)

This site includes six services:
   1.  Library locations and hours
   2.  Computer availability (in real time)
   3.  A catalog search function
   4.  Ask (reference service via chat, email, texting, etc.)
   5.  Webcams in the library and outside
   6.  New and events (and advertisement of services)

One of the most popular of the above is the webcam outside the library cafe so students can see how long the coffee line is!  The system is server based so users don’t have to download a “client” to their phone, thus the ability to handle just about any handheld device.

The designers had two primary guiding principles:  1) don’t try to reproduce the entire library website; and 2) save the time of the user.  The presenter noted that designing for mobile is more than designing for a small screen device.  One must design for a satisfying and effective user experience and that requires a greater understandng of the user context.  He cautioned that any library designing such a system must remember that they will always be challenged by the rapid and continuous changes in mobile technology.  Check it out at http://m.lib.ncsu.edu.

He also described the Wolfwalk (Pilot) Project which allows a person to use their cell phone to take a self-guided walking tour of campus landmarks at NCSU.  Included are images of buildings, past and present, from the University Archives as well as historical notes.  If your phone has built-in GPS or triangulation software, it automatically displays the building at your location.  The goal  is to increase the visibility and accessibility of the university archives by the use of their images and historical information.  You can see a demo at http://webdev.lib.ncsu.edu/m/wolfwalk

There are two issues to consider when developing any mobile service:
1) what value does “mobile” add to the user experience?
2) what incentives does the user have to access the content on a limited “computer” device like a cell phone?

I hope our library will find the time and resources to do our own suite of mobile services in the future.  If we build it, will Loyola come?

I had the good fortune to attend the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) meeting in Washington last month.  As usual, there were many interesting and thought-provoking presentations.   The first I attended was on the feasibility of creating a totally virtual library presented by librarians from Rice University who were doing a study for the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).   This was first tried at California State University, Monterey Bay, in 1995 but there weren’t enough electronic resources available at the time.  There have been a few other attempts at this new model with mixed success.

The talk mostly focused on the obstacles to creating a library without print materials.  Not surprisingly, the greatest barrier is cost including that of technology, the resources themselves, and transitional costs.  Cultural issues are also a major stumbling block.  Researchers are reluctant to embrace e-books (even though they love e-journals and e-reference works).  They worry about the quality of the digitization which in fact has been a problem in some of the scanned items they’ve encountered.  They are frustrated by what they see as the difficulty in discovering e-books and the loss of serendipity.   Further, many believe that editorial contributions are not as valued if they are in digital format.

Librarians are also reluctant to pursue the totally digital library for some of the same reasons and others such as transitioning to digital-only, integrating e-books into workflows, and the costs noted earlier.  Other issues include reliable access; support for different reading devices; multimedia support; preservation; digital rights management; loans of e-books; etc.

The authors concluded by noting that the feasibility of such an endeavor depends on the type of library (a science library might work best); the availability of funding over time; and a cultural shift.    The pointed out that flexibility is critical as is the need to develop new service models and re-imagine new roles for librarians if the virtual library is to be a success.  The bottom line for the digital library, like the traditional, of course, is service.  A virtual library can not stand alone–people will make it work, if it ever does!

My view is that it sounds like a cool idea, but as yet it is impractical and from many users’ (and librarians’) point of view, not yet desirable.  It is something that may happen over time, gradually as our transition to the e-journal has been.  But the issues noted earlier (cost, technology, culture) must be resolved if this ideal is to be achieved.  If nothing else, the session raised some very good points and got us all thinking about our future!

ALA Update #5

The last ALA meeting I would like to share with you was titled “What is the Future of Face-to-Face Reference?” One speaker talked about using something similar to Second Life to create a virtual world in which students, via their avatars, can get reference and other library services at Appalachian State University. Another presenter gave details about their failed experiment to use video cams to provide reference service within their library building at Ohio University. The third speaker from the University of California, Merced, had the presentation that was most relevant in considering the issues posed by the title of the program. UC Merced is a very new school (graduate students in 2004 and undergraduates in 2005). From the beginning, their library has had no reference desk, just a “one-stop shop” service desk staffed by student assistants. The reference librarians interact with students “non-traditionally.”

Their library values
• An environment in which in-person reference and instruction are the exception rather than the rule
• Librarians as managers who work on broad solutions
• Providing services that reflect their current information and technology environment and the diversity of their students.

UC Merced’s approach to reference includes:
• Drop-in reference and appointments (RBA)
• Just-in-time service instead of just-in-case service (thus no reference desk)
• Using student assistants for front line service
• Chat reference via a consortial model (like Loyola)
• Experimentation, e.g. using text messaging to answer questions
• Partnering with other student-centered services on campus.

Like many libraries, they have found that promoting services (of any type) can be a challenge. They did a fairly successful series of posters that were eye-catching and informative (one example is on their website). As their library doesn’t have much in the way of a collection yet (but many online resources), they are seeking to answer the question of how to humanize a highly-electronic environment.

Check out their website (http://ucmercedlibrary.info/) which also has the Next-Generation Catalog (WorldCat Local) being piloted by the University of California system.

Website design

There is a new article in College & Research Libraries (volume 69, number 4, July 2008) by a former colleague, Jennifer Duncan, on the role of Information Architecture in designing a web site. Jennifer is now at Utah State where she and a colleague did research on what they call “third-generation library Web sites,” sites which are more “usable and cohesive.”

They interviewed stakeholders (staff and users) to determine both absolute requirements and recommended requirements for various aspects of the library’s web pages. They learned a lot in their reseach including the importance of continual usability testing to ensure that the design is “user centered and not simply appealing to Web designers and librarians.” The most useful thing they learned was the importance of having what they call “multiple redundancies in link placement.” This is because there is no such thing as a typical user and therefore it is hard to predict how that user will look for a given piece of information. They therefore settled on “multiple pathways to many content areas.”

Their website is http://library.usu.edu/)

Can you digg it?

I stumbled across a new (to me) sharing type website today called Digg. Apparently, if you find something interesting on the Web (article, podcast, video, etc.), you can submit it to Digg to see if others “dig it” (boy, there’s a 60’s phrase if there was one), too. It’s a bit of everything and anything: news, movies, politics, and much more. You can evaluate the items sent by others and add comments.

Here is the description from the site: http://digg.com/

What is Digg?
Digg is a place for people to discover and share content from anywhere on the web. From the biggest online destinations to the most obscure blog, Digg surfaces the best stuff as voted on by our users. You won’t find editors at Digg — we’re here to provide a place where people can collectively determine the value of content and we’re changing the way people consume information online.

How do we do this? Everything on Digg — from news to videos to images to Podcasts — is submitted by our community (that would be you). Once something is submitted, other people see it and Digg what they like best. If your submission rocks and receives enough Diggs, it is promoted to the front page for the millions of our visitors to see.

And it doesn’t stop there. Because Digg is all about sharing and discovery, there’s a conversation that happens around the content. We’re here to promote that conversation and provide tools for our community to discuss the topics that they’re passionate about. By looking at information through the lens of the collective community on Digg, you’ll always find something interesting and unique. We’re committed to giving every piece of content on the web an equal shot at being the next big thing.

ALA update #4

One of the more interesting sessions I attended at ALA this year was “RU Communicating: speaking the language of Millenials,” a program on student information seeking habits, library use, and how we should reach these students.

The first speaker emphasized that students don’t read emails. Instead, they text message, use IM, and communicate within FaceBook and MySpace.

Students do notice and read posters, so we should continue to use posters to inform.

For many students, the increasingly ubiquitous computing and communication tool is the smart phone, replacing the laptop and desktop for many functions: computing, email, IM, web surfing, watching videos, blogging, etc. Therefore, our web pages should be PDA compliant.

A new term to me: Lifecasting, i.e. putting the details of your life on the web (FaceBook and other social networking sites). Librarians should consider using these sites to reach our users. Some libraries are linking FaceBook with Blackboard to be where the students are.

Another speaker focused on the need to “tell our story” to our users. These stories can illustrate our values and promote our services. She said that a library’s story might be that we are the information hub for our campus. Interesting since that mirrors our vision statement: To be Loyola’s gateway to the world of information and scholarship.

Replace negative signage (Don’t do this or that) with welcome signs and signs that encourage good behavior like cell phone courtesy.

Does our story say “this is a place where I can be productive?” Does it say “this is a place where I can meet with friends and work together?” I’d say yes for the Loyola University Chicago libraries!

The bottom line for academic libraries should be “we want you to succeed!”

The third speaker, Maria Radford from Rutgers, has done extensive research on virtual reference and in the process learned a lot about the Millenials (our current crop of students). She was very humorous but also made some sobering comments including “Millenials haven’t stopped using email—they’ve never used email!”

She quoted a colleague who stressed that the challenge to academic libraries is to match our services to the needs and characteristics of Millenials and not just continue our old ways of doing things.

The Millenials are what she described as “convenience seekers” since for them, convenience is a major consideration in information seeking. They have a low tolerance for complex searching and they prefer online resources. They prefer “click to brick,” that is they’d rather be online than come to the physical library. She was quick to point out that there are of course exceptions to this behavior, just as all Baby Boomers are not alike. But the trend is real.

She cited another writer who stated that “Students don’t want to learn to use a library—they want to get their work done.” They want to be independent information seekers.

She asked the audience “Are our libraries organized the way our users want or they way we want them to be organized?”

These three librarians were followed by two students from a nearby university, one an undergrad and a grad student. Both said they mainly use the Internet for research and only go to the library when they have to, e.g. to get a reserve item or locate articles they can’t find on Google. How typical these two young ladies were is anyone’s guess, but it sure gave us something to think about.

A final thought: Our IC was built with the Millenials in mind and it has been wildly successful. But our work is not done. We have to continually adapt to a rapidly changing world of technology while users needs change and expectations grow each year. We must be proactive and listen to our students and faculty. What can we do to achieve our vision of becoming Loyola’s gateway to information and scholarship while meeting the needs of a constantly changing user community?

Library planning 2008-09

During our library administrative retreat in June, we did a brainstorming exercise to come up with ideas for achieving our new vision statement:

• To be Loyola’s gateway to the world of information and scholarship.

More than 150 ideas were generated including a number of very innovative suggestions. The Leadership Team wishes to use those ideas as part of our planning process for the coming academic year, 2008-09. In late August, we will be sending to you a survey with an abridged list of the 150+ ideas and ask your feedback on which you think are the most important. The LLT plans to analyze and present the results at an all-staff meeting in early October when the 4th floor of the IC is again available. The survey will also give you the opportunity to add your own ideas to the original list.

On July 28 and 29, Associate Dean Barnhart and I will be attending the President’s Leadership Retreat which will focus on the next Loyola 5-year Strategic Plan. I am hoping that we will receive direction at that time for our departmental planning process.

Oscar’s Library

One of the more interesting programs at ALA this year was given by Linda Harris Mehr, librarian of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (we weren’t that far from Tinseltown after all). Ms. Mehr’s program was entitled: “From Here to Eternity: the challenges of managing Oscar’s very special collections.” As director of the Margaret Herrick Library, she and her staff have the mammoth job of organizing, preserving, and making accessible hundreds of thousands of movie-related items including scripts, posters, photos, PR material, journals, books, etc. She showed many interesting slides of the library’s rare items as well as famous films, actors, directors, and more. It was a nice break from the usual library topics and made for a very enjoyable program.

If you are a movie fan as I am, you will enjoy checking out the Academy’s web site: www.oscars.org. The Margaret Herrick Library link is at the bottom of the page.

ALA update 2008 2 July 7, 2008

The “Top Technology Trends” program sponsored by LITA (Library and Information Technology Association, ALA) is an annual event that draws hundreds of people. This year was no exception—there must have been several hundred attendees in the large meeting room on the Anaheim Hilton. There were ten panelists including two remotely via webcams. The large number of panelists had pros and cons. The advantage was a broad perspective on technology trends. The disadvantage was that they tended to repeat each other’s comments and there was less focus than I had hoped for. They also experimented by setting up a blog for the audience to weigh in on things, but the projection of the comments on a large screen to the left of the podium was more of a distraction than a help.

Some of the trends mentioned included:

1. A movement toward more open source software for libraries, including entire ILS systems. While the speaker was enthusiastic, another panelist was cautionary, noting that open source is not a panacea for our problems: it has to be maintained locally and there are associated costs (support personnel, for example).

2. A demand for “open data” and API’s (Application Program Interface) by libraries, along with the desire for more open source software. Some libraries are beginning to write their own software again, like in the “old days,” not waiting for vendors to come up with a solution.

3. Virtual organizations is another trend, i.e. people working together online to share information, speed up projects, and be more efficient.

4. Related to the previous trend, is the growing use of “telepresence,” the use of video conferencing for the same reasons and to reduce travel time and costs. High end equipment makes one feel that he or she is in the same room, around the same table as colleagues physically located elsewhere.

5. Social software itself is a major trend that all of us are aware of and many of us utilize to share information about ourselves and our interests. One panelist suggested that libraries, especially public libraries, should collect local information (history, photographs, etc.) and make it available to the public.

6. The use of Flickr and similar social networking tools by cultural heritage organizations such as museums to expose their collections on the Internet.

7. Libraries experimenting with new technologies for a variety of purposes: service enhancements, communication, information access, etc.

8. Libraries are providing hardware and software for creative digital projects. We do this in a big way in the IC Digital Media Lab.

9. The use of green technology was cited as a small but growing trend, both to save energy and to recycle computer parts.

10. Converged media is a major movement, most evident in multi-use cell phones and smart phones. One can do many things on one device including, most recently, watching TV. It was suggested that libraries need to adapt their web pages to be viewable on portable devices such as cell phones. One person noted that it would be nice to search the catalog on your smart phone while in the stacks.

Side issues:

A. Some think it is easier to get bibliographic data from publishers’ web sites and Amazon than it is from the catalog. What does this mean for the future of cataloging and how we provide access to our collections?

B. In the UK, the term for Information Commons is “Social Learning Space.”

C. Blogs should be archived, otherwise potentially useful information will be lost.

D. It was pointed out that individuals need to take responsibility for their own learning and continuing education in the area of technology. The use of online courses was cited as a means to do this. It is also important for management to facilitate and support the education of the staff.

This is the first a few reports I hope to give the staff on programs I attended at the recent ALA meeting in Anaheim, California.  It was a good conference, but as usual, some programs were excellent and others just so-so. 

OCLC Symposium - Mashed up Library - Andrew Pace, Michael Schrage, David Lee King, Mary Beth Sancomb-Moran, and Susan GibbonsThe first program I attended was “The Mashed Up Library” sponsored by OCLC.  It featured a keynote address by Michael Schrage (http://ebusiness.mit.edu/schrage/) of the MIT Sloan School for Digital Business.  His talk focused on innovation and change and was quite good.

He pointed out that the biggest challenge is managing institutional change (libraries, universities, and businesses), less so for individuals or small groups which are more adaptable and nimble.  He made three provocative statements:

  1. Innovation is the conversion of “novelty” into “value.”  Innovation must have value and not be innovation for innovation’s sake.
  2. Innovation is a means to an end.  We must ask ourselves, to what end are we innovating?
  3. Innovation is what innovators offer.  It’s what customers, clients, and users adopt.

He suggested that we ask our patrons “what is the most innovative thing you think we do?”  The answers might be very surprising.  I would suggest that we add that to our next user survey along with “What innovative things do you think we should be doing?”

Schrage stated that the greatest opportunity for libraries today is interoperability, the ability to exchange date and share information resources.  In this way will be more effective.

He talked a lot about competition, in our case in the information access arena.  Years ago libraries had the market cornered on this.  Now users have many, many options.  Competition, he said, is like innovation in that it is a means to an end.  It is also about “perceived value from choice.”  We have many choices to get information—which gives us the most value?  He asked:  “How do your ‘users’ and ‘user communities’ brand you as a competitor?”

He presented four ideas to take away and think about:

  1. Learn from our lead users.  Find out who they are and what they think.  Learn from them and apply their ideas whenever appropriate.
  2. With whom do we want to collaborate to create value and why?  Which libraries can we work with to improve service and access to information for our clientele?
  3. Market our best internal arguments and disagreements.  Have discussions with users in an attempt to resolve issues.
  4. Establish ‘Libertories’ (his mash-up of libraries and laboratories) that attract talent and inspire hypotheses.  Provoke new thinking and values.

He stressed that success comes not from taking the path of least resistance but the path of maximum advantage.  He also pointed out that the value is not in the product itself but the experience of using it.  Therefore, libraries should focus on giving our patrons a great experience.  Libraries get better, he noted, when the users leave their imprint on us.  We should allow, even encourage our users to make a difference.

 Dr. Schrage’s talk was followed by a panel of three librarians giving examples of mash-ups they used in their libraries.  The most useful was the presentation by Susan Gibbons of the River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester.  That’s the school that hired an anthropologist to study student behavior to help improve library service.  A book was produced from that study:  The academic library and the net gen student:  making the connections (ALA, 2007). They’ve done several interesting things at her library: 

1.  They obtained student feedback about their website by reproducing poster-sized views of their web pages and asking students to circle what they use and tell the staff what’s missing.  The latter was fascinating:  the students asked for non-library information such as exam schedules, dining hours, etc.!

2.  They do course guides, not subject guides.  Each course’s Blackboard (?) page has a link to a course guide which includes a link to the OPAC, a course-related e-journal list and database list, and the name of a librarian “assigned” to the course.  Included is the librarian’s photo and “new” title.  While formally the librarian may be the Humanities Reference Librarian, for Dr. Bucholz’s “History of London’ course, the librarian is now the “History of London Librarian” until the course has been completed.  A given librarian may be the course librarian for several courses.  They use mash up data from the registrar and an access database to avoid repetitive typing.  Their theory behind this is that undergraduate students don’t think of themselves as history students who need a history subject guide, but rather simply a student taking the History of London course.  It has been successful and is an innovative approach to connecting students with library resources and librarians.

3.  They “mash up” people via cross-training of librarians, writing center staff, and student advisors to reduce referrals and to better understand other academic support groups.  In the process, the librarians have learned more about the curriculum, the freshman experience, the advising process, and so on.  As a result, the librarians have become more valuable and more valued members of the university community.