Facebook: Hey kids, do you like libraries?

In my continual effort to understand at least 1% of all the Library 2.0 tools out there, I decided to take a look at Facebook, the social networking site predominately populated by students, alumni, etc of various educational institutions.

It is my understanding that the principal behind the push for academic libraries to have a presence there is to find another outlet to reach, inform, converse, etc. with their student population. I support this line of thinking, given that as the use of digital collections continues to rise, more and more students are becoming disengaged from using the physical library and consequently there are fewer opportunities for us to interact with our users.

But as they say about the material used to pave the road to hell, these good intentions are being met with a number of stumbling blocks. A source of frustration for a number of libraries last year was that the profiles they had created were suddenly disabled. This issue, covered here, here and here , highlight the Facebook policy that stops “organisations” from creating their own individual profiles. Now libraries must create a Facebook “group” in order to maintain a presence there.

While I haven’t had time to learn all the ins-and-outs of Facebook, this rule stops individual students adding the library to their list of “friends” which is the most useful way to forge the virtual connections in Facebook.

A very interesting case of a librarian taking steps to perform outreach in Facebook involves Brian Mathews. As outlined in his article in the May 2006 issue of College & Research Libraries News, he made an effort to promote library services to students at his institution through his Facebook profile. His method of reaching out to these student involved emailing them to introduce himself.

Unbeknownst to him, this quote-unquote marketing method violated Facebook’s policies. As you can read in his most recent and previous posts about his experience with Facebook, he feels that his, “objective of appearing in their space has ultimately failed” (See comment below for clarification about his conclusions).

If someone of his obvious knowledge and enthusiasm came to this conclusion about the overall value of making an effort to have a presence in this space, I must admit that I am in no rush to push for making the plunge at our library. But it would be a mistake to say that our library has no presence in Facebook. I did come across a group created by the students who work in the library. As for the content found there, let’s just say I hope our students aren’t coming across it and thinking it is the official Facebook voice of the library.

His experience brings to mind a theory I sometimes get about those of us who work in libraries and our efforts to provide the best service we can. I think we often fall in to the trap of assuming our patrons think about the library (our collections, our services, etc.) as often and with the same passion as we do. My experience poking around Facebook indicate to me that it is a place where students go to unwind (including bad-mouthing professors, expressing desire for physical relations with their fellow students, etc.) with their peers, and not a place where they want to hear about the wonders of federated searching.

I also get the impression that it is not a place where an official “school” presence is always well received. The growing number of cases like this will make them even wearier.

I beleive a more effective route to meet the goals of reaching out to our users is to continue to find more effective ways to integrate our services with the course management systems at our schools. These are the places where students spend time when their minds are on scholastic matters and where they would be more open to learn about the library.

The IIPA (No I’ve never heard of them either)

Michael Geist posted more information this week about international organisations that are critical of Canada’s efforts in the areas of copyright reform and intellectual property protection.

In this case he highlighted the International Intellectual Property Alliance’s 2007 Special 301 Report for Canada. In addition to a number of issues that lead to them recommending that Canada be, “elevated to the Special 301 Priority Watch List in 2007”, they made special mention of the most recent copyright reform bill’s (Bill C-60) educational and library exceptions. They state:

“Bill C-60 also included flawed proposals in the area of educational and library exceptions, such as an ill-defined new exception for use of a work in a “lesson, test or examination” in educational settings, and a provision authorizing interlibrary distribution of digital copies that would have had a significant detrimental impact on publishers of scientific, technical, and medical materials in particular. These should be carefully re-examined. The Canadian government should ensure that any legislative proposals it makes on educational and library exceptions to copyright can pass muster with its existing and anticipated international obligations, and that they provide ample room for market solutions.”

Regarding the first point about a new exception for the use of a work for lessons, tests, etc., my experience analyzing the fair-use provisions ingrained in U.S. law suggested to me that this provision would simply provide Canadian educators with the same flexibility enjoyed by their American counterparts.

Michael elaborates on this issue at the end of his article when he points out that it appears that many of the international organisations like the IIPA (and the corporate interest they represent) want to make sure that it is only the United States that enjoys the relative freedom of strong fair-use provisions.

Many teacher’s inquire about whether they can post certain journal articles (one’s that are not in our subscription databases) scans of pages from books, etc. in their course-management systems. We explain to them that this requires a formal permission from the publisher or author. I must admit that while this process can be time-consuming, I feel it is the morally correct approach when you are talking about using complete articles, entire chapters from books, etc. I do feel that the new copyright legislation should provide clear provisions for the educational/library use of portions of works. These proportions of use should be similar to the claims Google makes when it says they are within fair-use laws for their book scanning project.

I still feel that those of us in Canada have to jump through a lot more hoops to provide quick and easy access to materials. I often come across American college and university web sites and I find scans of articles from journals like the Harvard Business Review just sitting on their sites (not behind password protection). I’m pretty sure they didn’t ask for permission to do this, they simply have a tradition of making use of their fair-use laws.

And regarding the IIPA’s concern about the proposal for interlibrary distribution of digital copies of publications, I think they are sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring the inevitable trend of medical, scientific and technical journals moving to predominately electronic formats. As long as this proposal covers the distribution between interlibrary staff (not staff sending materials directly to students) publishers should not be a concerned that they would be losing any revenue. A fair compromise would be to allow for the interlibrary transfer of digital copies and a guarantee that the person requesting the material be given a paper version of the material.

I believe there is a way to ensure that libraries are given the flexibility to fully exploit the digital tools available and at the same time respect the intellectual property of authors and publishers.

Hamilton: City of the future?

McMaster Library in Second Life

Anyone keeping their eye on library & education technology trends in Canada can’t help but notice the innovative and forward-looking developments at the twin beacons of education in Hamilton, Ontario: McMaster University and Mohawk College.

The most obvious developments are their forays into Second Life. This article from the Hamilton Spectator provides more details.

McMaster is being led by new University Librarian Jeffrey Trzeciak. In a sign that the university is fully behind his vision of the future of academic library service, he recently outlined the job descriptions for 4 new librarians they plan to hire. The most intriguing being the so-called, “gaming librarian”.

If Second Life is part of the future of libraries I figured I needed to understand it better so I downloaded the software and created an avatar a few weeks ago. My previous experience in a rich multi-user environment like SL was the not-so-productive year or so I devoted to the game Asheron’s Call. I can now proudly say I can run, fly, sit, etc. in SL. I must admit missing the ability to launch fireballs and kill ice monsters like in Asheron’s Call.

The times I have dropped by the McMaster Library, no one was there but I got a chance to interact with the terminals they have there which describe the services available. They provide links to services like the library catalogue.

Recent articles like this one from the New York Times and CNET discuss the investments schools are making in environments like SL. Theoretically, I can see how having virtual classes in SL would provide a more personal touch to students enrolled in on-line courses. They may help overcome some of the issues in student interaction and colloboration that can be a challenge in a more text-based environment. On this concept of leveraging the SL environment for educational uses, here is some information about the Sloodle project for those throwing off the shackles of Blackboard/WebCT for Moodle.

Mohawk College in Second Life

Mohawk does not appear to be very shy about their investment in SL. Instead of the modest one-level structure of the McMaster library, they have purchased an entire island and replicated an entire building on their campus. As you can see in the picture, they even have recycling bins.

Virtual environmentalism at Mohawk College

At this point it appears that they are only using their location in SL to promote the school and provide some basic interaction. But given the fact that they have their own island I would think they have grander plans. I am sure this will include the library, given that they are one of the more innovative college libraries around. Their BRAIN blog and Library Research Skill Instruction Blog are some of the better examples of 2.0 outreach and service. It is kind of odd though that one blog is made with WordPress and the other is made with Blogger. (Update February 25, 2007 they have decided to switch their BRAIN blog to the WordPress team)

To help keep abreast of developments in the educational side of SL I’ll try to keep my eye on the SimTeach Wiki.

So a salute to those in Steeltown helping to push the envelope, and I won’t even make a joke about how a virtual trip to Hamilton is far more pleasant than the real thing (I’m the son of a Hamiltonian so I can get away with saying that).

OLA – O – Ramma: Friday February 2

Super Conference ID

After getting a good night’s sleep I was ready for another day of extreme library fun at the 2007 OLA Super Conference.

Session 1104
Some might think that 9am is a little early in the morning for talking about statistical literacy but this was an informative session, if for nothing else, that it reminded me how much I am guilty of simply accepting at face value the statistical information I come across in my own life. I did have some flashbacks to my own harrowing moments in math class when they started quizzing us on percentages and absolute numbers.

They made the point that statistical literacy is years behind traditional reading and writing literacy and my own experience at the reference desk would definitely bare that out.

Session 1200
Civic guru Glen Murray spoke about his views on municipal development. Just like several other speakers he was quick to tell the group that librarians are they key to the future of civilisation. Well, maybe I’m embellishing a bit, but flattery goes a long way with this crowd.

Session 1318
While what I learned in this session could be considered part of my professional development, I will admit it was more for Library Playground. This session was about creating library blogs using WordPress and was presented by Greg Sennema from Wilfred Laurier.

After having been on my own trying to learn about WordPress it was good to see some of the questions I had clearly explained. It was very interesting to learn that Laurier took an existing blog theme and tweaked it so it looked identical to the rest of the Laurier Library web page. If I wasn’t told this I would have thought they coded the blog from scratch. This gives me a sense of what is possible with a little bit of coding knowledge.

Session 1411
My day ended with a talk from one of the leading lights of the 2.0/Social/Second Life/First-person shooter/chewy-nougat library movement.

Michael Stephens of Tame the Web fame gave his Best Practices for Social Software presentation. He is a very engaging speaker, and while I must admit some skepticism about the time and effort some schools are putting in to efforts like creating Second Life presences, he mentioned several points of interest to me.

A key one was the creation of Wiki’s for library staff. In my case I have created several policy and procedure manuals in Word documents. Often these documents need to be changed, adjusted etc. which is a hassle using a word processor. Also, there is occasional confusion aboutour various reference and circulation policies. Having these accessible in Wiki form would be more seamless than shuffling though various binders.

Final Notes

  • I was going to attend the OLITA annual meeting but after two days of wandering the convention centre I was beat.
  • Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough but it seems like there were viewer vendors on the exhibition floor handing out free pens.
  • I was a little disappointed there were no presentations on the topic of copyright, considering what a major topic it has been for Canadian technology watchers this year, but I am sure Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing mentioned it in his talk on Wednesday.
  • Ditto for a lack of presentations on the topic of screencasting software and techniques.

OLA – O – Ramma: Thursday February 1

Super Conference ID

I have survived my first OLA Super Conference as an official participant. I got to go as a student but we were only allowed to visit the exhibition hall and collect free pens.

I feel it was a very well run event and the sessions I attended provided a fair bit of useful information.

Session 304
This session was on finding solutions to noise and conduct problems in academic libraries. A couple key points were made. The speakers from McMaster and Guelph both pointed out that their schools have thousands of more students now than there were when the libraries were built. This had led to student frustration that there is not enough space/facilities for them to do their work. And as you would expect, the more cramped people are, the more conduct and behaviour issues are going to crop up.

Going hand-in-hand with this spike in enrollment has been the growing reliance on electronic resources for nearly every aspect of student life. This has led to greater demand for computer access in libraries and speaking in our case, there are not enough computers (or enough space to put them) to meet student demand. Now students wanting a computer to do school work will monitor other students’ computer use for any recreational computer use. We will ask these students to log-off if they are not doing school work but it is not always easy to define what constituents school work. Speaking for myself, when I am at a computer I am multi-tasking (doing work, visiting humorous sites, checking email, etc.) When I go over to a student and ask them to log-off if they are not going to do school work, they can simply re-open a Word file and pretend to be working.

The speakers key message was to get student groups envolved in discussing issues like this and provide very clear signage and ensure all staff understand the policies and enforce them consistently.

Session 400
Joan Frye Williams gave a very wide ranging talk on finding ways to improve the library user’s experience.

One point she made was that directional questions are failures. While a certain percentage of users will always ask these questions, I agree with her view that high-quality signage and layout can decrease the volume of these types of questions.

She also discussed the need for consistent and user-friendly nomenclature throughout the library. While it is necessary for us to know how to differentiate serials, magazines, journals etc. For the user, we should err on the side of using language they use every day. Hand-in-hand with simplified signage I think it is vital that this conversational terminology be used on our web sites as well.

She also mentioned that you need to keep an eye on what your school’s Wikipedia entry says about your library. I’m not sure if it is a good or bad thing, but we go unmentioned.

Session 500
This was a talk from Yahoo!’s Tomi Poutanen. He talked about the company’s so-called social search efforts. He gave a general overview of their efforts with Flikr, del.icio.us, Yahoo! answers etc. I thought I heard some people heckling him with a “Google Rules, Yahoo! Drools” chant, but I’m not sure.

Session 609
Uwe Stueckman from Lowe’s Canada discussed the concept of creating personalized communication streams. While I think most libraries are a long way from having professional customer relations management databases that can individualize the patron experience. He talked about the need to segment your audience. I have thought about how we could improve the user experience of our on-line students if they could access a personalized version of the library web page which was written and structured in a way that presented them with the type of information they need.

OCULA Annual Meeting
This was my first opportunity to experience an OCULA meeting and I must say it felt more like a comedy roast than a dry proceeding.

Report on my Friday at Super Conference to come.