Library Participants

January 27, 2008

Helene Blowers posted a excellent revival of the “patron vs. customer” discussion on her LibraryBytes blog this week. She argued that both terms relate to an outdated “us and them” model of library service and she asks for a new term to fit the “us and us” culture we all want. I’ve never heard the debate put quite that way. (Leave it to Helene to get to the heart of an issue!) Her brief analysis got many people thinking and her readers’ comments were wonderful. Here are my two cents worth:

Thank you for “thinking about things too much”, Helene!” I’ve never liked customer but agree with you about the baggage even patron carries.

Suppose we use the term participant. It expresses the “us and us” concept but lacks the subordination of one “us” compared to the other. Isn’t participation the goal of a modern library? We strive to enrich our communities and welcome all participants — us and us alike.


Panera Fridays

January 24, 2008

Michael Stephens posted a photo yesterday mentioning that he holds his Wednesday office hours at Panera Bread. It reminded me of an effort I made last year to encourage some of our reference librarians to set up a weekly shift at Panera (or Starbucks or Safeway). It seems like such a simple idea to get the library out in the community — visible in a place our patrons are.

  • Talk to the proprietor. I’m sure most would be happy to support a public library in such a simple way.
  • Buy a sandwich and coffee/tea.
  • Prop up a sign “Got a question? Get an answer! I’m a librarian.
  • Turn on your wireless laptop.

A librarian with access to the Internet and the library’s online collection of databases could surely answer most questions on the spot. Difficult puzzlers might be solved with a quick email or IM to the folks back at the branch. Answers could be sent to a portable printer or the patron’s email address.

Busy people might not think of the library in their daily routine. Let’s change that! A consistent reference shift (say, every Friday from 11-3) at a local wifi hotspot could make the friendly librarian at the next table much more visible than the big library building itself.

No one in our library has done this yet because, so I’ve been told, there’s not enough staff to spare and no overall vision for this to fit. (Sigh.) Does it need to be a big, planned project? Can’t we just try it and see how it’s received? Tell the staff you’re going to take a long lunch tomorrow … and do the field research while you’re at it.

My question to readers in LibraryLand: Is anyone doing a “Panera Friday”? Would anyone like to give it a try?


Fun with barcodes

January 23, 2008

We in the library biz use barcodes to track our collections all the time. We still make mistakes sometimes, but we wouldn’t be efficient without them. So I’m sympathetic to the folks at the postal services in two different countries who accidentally delivered our package to Dalmeny, Saskatchewan after it was sent from North Carolina. It was supposed to go to Puyallup, WA – 1,100 miles away from Dalmeny – but someone slapped the wrong barcode on the label. In this case it took a human eye to catch the human error, while the automation in between dutifully routed it across the border.


Learn More: Blogs and Blogging, pt 1

January 22, 2008

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

Like the social networking topic we discussed a few weeks ago, blogging is simply too big to take in all at once. So much has been written about blogs that I’m a tad hesitant to add my text to the pile. For the sake of inclusion within this series, however, here goes. We’ll start today and continue with Part 2 next week.

People have been keeping private journals for centuries. A diarist might have carried on an ongoing conversation with himself and used it as a record of his thoughts and feelings as those thoughts and feelings developed. Authors, meanwhile, have written public works in books and periodicals for mass-consumption. The cost of production (i.e., materials and distribution) limited publishing access to writers with exceptional knowledge, skill, or monetary resources.

The Internet and easy-to-use software have removed the barriers to publication and the cultural shift that followed the advent of the social web has changed the nature of the journal-writing. Both effects may now be seen in blogs. A blog, by simple definition, is a journal maintained on the Internet. It was originally called a web log, then later shortened to weblog and finally, blog.

Setting up a blog and publishing to the world is free. It also requires no competency tests or admissions process. That’s bad in the sense that there’s a lot gunk out there that would have been filtered out by learned editors in the past. But it’s good because there are many gems that those editors would have rejected, too. Knowledge and skill play significant roles in whether the blog is widely read, but the audience can decide that. Assuming a writer has something to say and knows how to say it well, a blog can be an effective vehicle with which to express a point of view to the world. This can be done immediately at virtually no cost.

Some blog writers (a.k.a. bloggers) are online journalists, tracking traditional news in a nontraditional medium, or specializing in subjects that had no previous forums. Many bloggers are online diarists, making public what past generations would have kept private. And some bloggers post only for themselves, their friends, or family. They don’t seek vast audiences; they merely share with each other. Most bloggers allow readers to comment. They encourage it, in fact. It fosters discussion about the topic and lets everyone swap ideas and opinions.

The result of all this is a rich cacophony of conversation ranging from insightful to useless, written with talents varying from gifted to abysmal, and reaching audiences from millions worldwide to perhaps no one. The blogosphere (i.e., the collection of all blogs) is online self-publishing writ large. Anyone can participate as long as they’re interested.

PARTS OF A BLOG

  • Posts. The basic building blocks of a blog are the individual articles. They can very long — as long as the chapter of a book — or extremely brief. Some include links to other websites, photos, or video clips. Whatever their individual style, however, blog posts are usually displayed in reverse chronological order so that the newest posts appear at the top. Older entries get pushed down the page.
  • Comments. Blogs almost always allow readers to add or view comments. This invites everyone to get involved in the topic.
  • Tools. Often a blog has a collection of sidebar tools to aid the reader. These tools may include an archive of old postings, an author profile, and a “blog roll” of links to other blogs that the writer finds interesting.

Meaning for libraries

“Hmm,” the blogger murmurs while glancing at the length of this blog post and holding his fingers to his chin. “Let’s save this topic until Part 2.”

Learn more by participating

We’ll save the set-up and development of our own blogs for Part 2. Right now, let’s explore a bit. Visit a variety of blogs on two or three separate days this week (15-20 minutes each):

  • Obviously you’re already reading LibraryStream. Now visit a few of the library-related blogs listed in my blogroll in the right-hand margin. Explore, scroll, and click. Get a feel for the content and style of the various blogs.
  • Would you like to see more library blogs? There are many lists out there, including the blogrolls of other blogs. I encourage you to wander! I enjoy browsing Dave Pattern’s biblioblogosphere tag cloud for interesting new topics, too.
  • Want to break free of the library world? Go to Technorati or Google’s blogsearch and search any topic that strikes your fancy. Blogs are written about almost any subject you can imagine. See what’s out there.
  • Remember when I said that the blogosphere is “a rich cacophony of conversation ranging from insightful to useless, written with talents varying from gifted to abysmal”? I wasn’t kidding! 🙂

Now think about a blog YOU might create. Get your imagination humming. I’ll see you next week in Part 2.


The Library of Congress on Flickr

January 17, 2008

In the last two weeks, the Library of Congress quietly uploaded more than 3,000 photographs to its new Flickr page. The collection of images range from New York Christmas scenes to early twentieth century baseball. Pictures of Mexico, Texas, Chicago, ships, railroads, and landscapes are included, too. The Library selected the photos, in part, because they have no known copyright restrictions. Flickr members are invited to help add tags.

One photo that jumped out at me showed Joe Jackson in his first full major league season. He was fit, trim, and only 22 in 1911, but the future baseball great (and future black-listed White Sox) appeared older than his age would imply.

It’s wonderful to see libraries using Flickr to share portions of their picture archives with the public. The National Library of New Zealand was the first one I ran across last year. Several smaller libraries have scanned old community photos into Flickr. I hope many others join in 2008.

UPDATE: The ShiftedLibrarian mentioned PhotosNormandie in her blog today. That archive is also being uploaded to Flickr.


Childhood flyover

January 16, 2008


It always happens. Every time I open Google Earth to check something, I wander and end up in another part of the world. This evening I wound up “flying” over the little German town of Herbitzheim where my family lived when I was seven years old.

My dad was in the Air Force at the time and he found a rental in the Alsace countryside near the French border. Looking at it now, I’m amazed how little things seem to have changed since then. Our house, marked with the red arrow, is still surrounded by an orchard. (I remember throwing pears and apples … and stepping in rotted fruit.) The home of my sister’s friend Rosie is visible, too.

I can also see the triangular block in the center of town where we caught the school bus, the little grocery store where I bought my first gummi bears (Gummibären) for a few pfennigs, and the big sportsplatz down Mozartstraße where German kids watched my brothers and I hit baseballs on the soccer field.

I dug around for related ground photos and business names, too. (My gummi bear store is now known as Edeka Irmagard Rabung, by the way.) Finally, using the topography tool, I did what I always do in Google Earth: I slanted the satellite image to swoop down and fly around. The virtual 3D photo at left includes Rubenheim, the neighboring town in the distance where our landlord’s friendly groundskeeper Oswald lived.

I’ve been using Google Earth for two years, but I’m still blown away by the stuff technology allows us to do these days. Flying over my little childhood village this evening was a treat. Have you zoomed in on any of your old neighborhoods?


Learn More: Twitter

January 14, 2008

[This is one in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

“It’s Monday? Again??”

That’s how I enthusiastically embraced the work week this morning in Twitter. Several friends saw the 20-character message because my random thought wandered out across the social web. The same thing happened when I was “kicking the day out of my shoes” and when I was “gardening – Olive Gardening.”

Many social sites let you express your thoughts and creativity, but none compresses that expression with the concise style of Twitter. The popular site asks you to share what you’re doing or thinking in 140 characters or less. That’s only about 20-25 words. You might call it a microblog.

Some people don’t get the concept; others love it. Big announcements — “I got the job!” (14 characters) – are possible, but most entries – “gotta go to another meeting” (27 characters) – don’t reveal much. Twitter’s value increases over time, however, as friends learn more about each other from the collected log of messages. Your followers might discover what excites you, what annoys you, and glimpse some of your life’s miscellany that would never make it into an email.

Users can send tweets (as Twitter messages are known) via mobile phones and pipe them into other applications, too. That makes the site even more appealing to folks who like to be in continuous “live” mode online. You can arrange meetings on the run and connect with friends wherever they are.

Critics say Twitter is a waste of time and produces endless blather. Let them say that! “At least it’s short blather” (27 characters).

Meaning for libraries

I can’t offer a long list of Twitter applications for libraries.  I’m not yet convinced it can attract or assist patrons much, but I’d certainly recommend experimentation.

A university library — dealing with a finite community of users — might find twittering more productive than a public library. A librarian with a network of patron followers might develop ways to share short service updates: “Lots of computers are available right now” (41 characters) or “Just got the new * in the mail” (29+ characters).

Library staff should be aware of Twitter, at least. Many of our patrons use the site in their private lives. Librarians use it, too, and any networking within the profession is good.

Learn more by participating

In the spirit of the site, I’ll keep this short.

  • Open a Twitter account.
  • Encourage a coworker or friend to join, too.
  • Become followers of each other.
  • Post a tweet a few times a day, every day this week.
  • Whattya think? Is it fun? Might it be useful? Is it a waste?

My 56-character Twitter update: “Steve is prepared for the week now. Oh, wait a minute…”