Friday at the OLA Super Conference 2008

After being exhausted from trying to handle two days at my first OLA Super Conference (1, 2) I decided that one day was enough this year.

So I braved the Toronto snow storm on Friday and made my way down to the Metro Convention Centre.

Session 1009 – Google: The New Library Vendor
This session was given by Greg Sennema from Wilfred Laurier. The OCULA blog gives a good description of the talk. I saw his session about WordPress last year and again he put together a very solid presentation. Having a keen interest in all things Google, I must admit I already knew about some of the topics he touched on such as iGoogle and Custom Search Engines. However, his main point in showing some of the new tools Google is creating was to ask the question about how they will effect the services libraries provide in the short and long-term. A thought provoking idea he mentioned was whether projects like Google Books (scanning all of the books in libraries like the University of Michigan, etc.) will replace the traditional delivery of ILL. While the full-text of copyrighted books are not being provided to the public through Google Books, you can imagine that in the future that various universities that are part of the Google Books project may come together to provide full-text access to each others’ user communities, thereby making all the staff time and cost of traditional ILL irrelevant. I’m sure the copyright-owner lobbyists may have an objection or two to this however.

Session 1100 – Slow in the age of speed
This presentation by Carl Honore, author of “In Praise Of Slow“, inspired me to try and make more time to nap in my office. I’ll report back on how my supervisor feels about this effort to be more productive.

Session 1204 – The Kids Are Alright, Or are They?
Any session named after a Who song has to be good. The content of this very interesting talk is summarized well on the OCULA blog. I’m already an avowed Mohawk Library fanboy so it was interesting see and hear from two of the schools’ main librarians. I think the lovely (and award winning) Jennifer commented on my post back in the day. They talked about how educators, library people, etc. are inundated with the idea that today’s students (millenials, etc.) have all these specific characteristics (naturally tech-savy, able to do their homework while listening to their iPods, have differently wired brains, spend all their time in Second Life, etc.) so we must change the ways we instruct and interact with them. They talked about how these claims did not always square with their experiences at the reference desk. I know how they feel. Seeing students struggle with Microsoft Office documents that open inside WebCT and not knowing how to print them, I question the theory that because a kid plays World Of Warcraft all day that he somehow becomes a savant at how various software systems interact.

The speakers did a great job at peaking behind some of the research the Mark Prensky’s of the world use to back up their claims and showing the lack of solid scholarship at the heart of much of it. I knew I recognized that name when they mentioned it and I remembered that I did a copyright request for the use of some of his materials. Hopefully the department I did the request for isn’t basing all their plans on Prensky’s work.

All in all, an excellent example of evidenced based librarianship. Check out the blog they created for their research: http://kidsarealright.wordpress.com/

Session 1318 – Scholar’s Portage. Avoiding the Waterfall: Leveraging Social Networking Tools And Scholars Portal Data
Come 3:45pm on a snowy day, the third day of the conference, people are naturally getting a little tired. Add to this a session that some people may consider a little on the ‘dry’ side and it added up to a sparsely attended event. Luckily I dig ‘dry’ and throw in a cute librarian who’s really into music giving the presentation so I found the session very worthwhile. While it has very little effect on my duties I am always curious about what exactly Scholars Portal is and what the future plans are for this joint effort of Ontario’s universities. The speakers gave some interesting insights into what they do now and were open about their thinking process in trying to decide how to evolve their services in a way that truly is a benefit to their users and not just Library 2.0 applications for the sake of Library 2.0. As usual I’m doing a lousy job of describing the session so here is:

Conclusion
All in all it was another very well organized event with interesting speakers and topics. My only complaint was the lack of a free pen in my conference package. Also I can’t really be seen carrying around a bag covered in butterflies so I had to give the conference bag away to my Mom. I also forgot to see if Access Copyright was giving away free mints again this year. There’s always next year.

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Modern OPACs

Articles and studies continue to point out that when it comes to fulfilling their information needs, the first choice of students is to use search engines and the other Internet tools they grew up with, as opposed to the current crop of tools the vast majority of libraries provide for them.

As this video highlights, today’s OPAC is often the source of much frustration, both for patrons and library staff. Speaking about our own OPAC, let’s just say that its “leisurely pace” has made me an expert at small-talk while the patron and I wait for the results to come up. It also not hard to detect the frustration/bewilderment they have when we explain why they need to use one tool to search for books, and another to search for articles. They have come to expect one search box as the launching point to find the resources that are available to them.

Thankfully, various libraries are beginning to implement tools that integrate the strengths of Google and other web tools (speed, interactivity, user-friendliness) with the strengths of library resources (controlled vocabulary, access to high-quality material, etc.)

In the news a few months ago was the award given to Casey Brisson, the Information Architect for Plymouth State’s University’s Lamson Library, for his creation of the WPopac application. Among other features, this modern take on the OPAC makes the library’s holdings visible to users of search engines and it allows patrons to add information to the library record. This link shows what a holding record looks like in this catalog.

While the WPopac is the work of a small dedicated team, Endeca is a diverse information technology company. I have come across two libraries that have implemented their search product. McMaster announced their launch of the product today. As you can see when you try a search in their “Endeca-powered library catalogue”, the interface makes it easy to limit a search to geographic region, subject era, etc. Most exciting to me is the seamless integration with their electronic resources.

McMaster’s new OPAC

North Carolina State University Libraries also have an Endeca-based product. They also allow you to install a web-browser search box for the catalog. Another cool feature is that after you type in your search, at the top of the page you get a breakdown of the results by Call Number.

NCSU

If for whatever reason you were looking for items about Abraham Lincoln and the Fine Arts, this product makes it quick and easy to do.

One area where the Endeca products fall short of Google is spelling error recognition. As someone who constantly has to use Google to find proper spellings for the searches students ask to me to do for them, any help I can get from a search product is appreciated.

In honor of the NCAA basketball tournament I decided to do a search for items on the topic of former Kansas Jayhawk star Wilt Chamberlain. When I typed in “Wilt Chamberlin” in Google it immediately suggested I meant to type in “Wilt Chamberlain”. However with the McMaster and NCSU catalogs, they did not guide me to the person I was obviously looking for.

Except for this small quibble, it is a positive sign that libraries are working hard to bridge the gap between today’s advanced web tools and technology and the legacy products so many of us are tied down to.

EBLIP’s latest

The latest issue of the Evidence Based Library and Information Practice journal has come through my virtual mail slot.

I admire the work being done to by those trying to bring the evidence-based approach (more traditionally found in other academic and research fields) to the world of librarianship.

It is my assumption (without substantial evidence to back-it up, oh the irony!) that the lack of competition libraries have had for centuries to their role as society’s preeminent source/repositories of information has led to a tendency to allow the “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” sentiment to permeate their culture.

And when change was considered, I assume most of the decisions were based on staff anecdotes, user surverys, changes made at other libraries etc. A researcher from a field that has traditionally relied on proper evidence-based research techniques (e.g. pharmaceuticals) would consider that approach sub-standard since the conclusions they draw from their research can involve the differences between life and death.

With so many sources of information opening up, libraries can’t afford to be complacent about doing things the same way they always have and if changes (both big and small) are to be made, it is crucial that these choices be based on solid, well researched evidence.

One of my areas of interest is whether screencasts (or other interactive or non-interactive) tutorials can be effective information literacy tools, and if they can, what attributes make them successful. This review from the latest issue of EBLIP calls into question some of the evidence used to reach positive conclusions about a tutorial that aimed to teach skills for searching OVID. This type of critical review within the information professional field, in terms of the research methodologies being used, will help the profession make sound decisions in the future.

While articles like this one from Educause attempt to counter the suggestion that academic libraries are in danger, this blogger sounds the warning that we can’t rely on the idea that we have a captive audience that will ensure we will survive in the form we always have. This essay from the ACRL about the changing roles of academic and research libraries states:

What is at stake is the definition of the indispensable library—indispensable to faculty and students in the first instance, and to the knowledge and information industry in the second. In redefining and reasserting their value, libraries will have to embrace much more aggressively the fact that they are one of many contenders for their institution’s financial support. Libraries have been comparatively slow to realize and accept the need to function in an environment of direct competition for resources, either from within or outside their institutions. As one participant in our roundtable observed, “Don’t assume that people care about libraries. People care about streamlining the processes that support research and learning.” Libraries must be active contestants in the race for financial support or fall increasingly to the periphery of their institution’s strategic vision.

If we are to compete for resources, quality research and evidence is vital in order to make our case.

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.

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.