In order to better integrate my blog with my website, better manage comment spam, and reduce my dependence on Google, this blog has moved to In order to avoid broken links I won't be deleting content from here, but no new content will be added, so please update your bookmarks and feeds.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

19: My first library job #blogjune

(It's called "Blog for many of the days of June, right?)

My first paying library job was, I think, when I was 19. A couple of years before that I had a week's work experience in a library.

But my first library job I don't even remember. I assume I had one because I was going through some old stuff from high school a while back and came across a "Library" pin. I don't think they handed those out just for borrowing lots of books. I guess I shelved? I can almost remember shelving -- or possibly browsing, but I think it might have been shelving. I may or may not have checked out books.

I do remember, with a friend, working out that if you held two books together in a certain way you could cancel out the security strips and get them both through the security gates. (Should I be saying this online? Ehhh, it was a long time ago, surely they've fixed that problem by now.... Also I don't think we got it to work every time.)

I also remember my first introduction to an indexing database. I used it to look for articles about Star Trek: The Next Generation and interloan a particularly interesting magazine article. (Previously my geeky scrapbook had contained only the snippets I could find from the Press and the Listener -- I had whole seasons' worth of the little plot summaries from the TV schedules and was always excited when they published a photo of one of the characters to go with it.)

Friday, 8 June 2012

8: accurate reference service #blogjune

[I have no idea why this didn't post yesterday as it was meant to.]

The "55 percent rule" - that unobtrusive studies tend to show a 55% success rate of librarians answering reference queries fully and accurately - seems to have been written about most in the mid/late-1980s so my quick-and-dirty Google Scholar search isn't bringing up much handy full-text to link to. (Some, but closed access and gigantic files that freeze my computer for a minute so needn't be inflicted on anyone else. Who decided to scan black-and-white Library Journal articles in as colour???) Anyway, my quick-and-dirty impression of the literature thus surveyed is that the number was so shocking that it prompted vast flurries of a) studies to try and replicate/refute the results, and b) studies to say that users don't care about full and accurate answers anyway.

I have a different response, inspired by today's date, which is: If the reference service we're providing is so incomplete and inaccurate, why not save our time/salaries and just hand users a Magic 8-Ball instead?

[NB: This post is not guaranteed to be more than 55% indicative of the actual definition of the rule nor the state of the literature, but it is at least 55% flippant. What I actually think is that we should be developing clever chatbots to staff our virtual reference service. Or at least 55% of it.]

Thursday, 7 June 2012

7: colour and technology #blogjune

Isaac Newton claimed there were seven colours in the rainbow. Personally I count six - there's barely room for blue and purple, let alone indigo and violet, and Newton only went for seven because it's a nice mystical number. But the association's there.

I long felt that our catalogues should allow users to search by the colour of a book. After all, that's one of the major pieces of metadata they remember. "Hi, I want to borrow the green thermodynamics book," they'll say. I've never quite understood why we painstakingly catalogue ix, 165 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. and don't add #0033cc to the end. (Or, for that matter, why size and number of pages and presence/absence of illustrations aren't searchable fields: it'd be handy to be able to search for a book on geraniums with more than 200 pages and col. ill.)

Some years back I saw a prototype of a library catalogue that did allow searching by colour; if I recall correctly, it took the cover images from [some source] and averaged the hex values. I don't recall whether it let you search by picking a spot on a colour wheel or if that part was just my invention and it only let you choose from a list of colours.

In any case, this never got picked up on. At the time I saw two reasons, but I think now there are three:
  • Technology hadn't advanced far enough: That is, while it was technically possible it wasn't technically easy. Most libraries at the time didn't have cover images in their catalogues. Vast amounts of metadata would have had to be added, and custom code would have had to be integrated into at least the public search interface of the library management system.
  • The customer isn't always right: As often as not, "the orange risk management book" turns out to be black. Even when new editions and rebinding battered copies isn't in play.
  • Technology has advanced too far: Who on earth is going to remember what colour their ebook cover is? Well, some and sometimes, but colour is a much less pertinent detail in the electronic context. And there are a lot of other ways to search now too, from all those "refine" options to full-text searching (a boon for all those "I photocopied this page and now I can't remember where it's from" questions).
I think it's interesting how technological changes make some things possible and others redundant.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

6: gamification #blogjune

Today's free association generator goes 6 > dice > gaming > gamification.

I'm simultaneously enthusiastic about and sceptical of gamification.

On the one hand, it works: offer people the chance to earn points, even if the points are absolutely meaningless, and many (not, mind you, all) will be keen to amass them. Add in team spirit and/or actual prizes and many more (though still not all) will jump on the bandwagon. If you want to get people to do something, then telling them it's a game is a great way to do it, with a pedigree no doubt much longer than the obvious fictional example.

On the other hand, is it our job to get people to do things they wouldn't otherwise want to do, or is it our job to help them do things they do want to do? If every reader should have their book according to their own needs (and not the ones they don't need), surely every library user should get the services and skills they need rather than having to accrue them all in order to compete with the Joneses?

And on the gripping hand, wouldn't it be a lot more productive to gamify proofreading of our OCR'd digitisation projects (as does the Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program) instead of gamifying checking in to the reference department?

I suppose like everything it depends on the user group, the skills, and the game in question. So I'm particularly curious to hear from readers on this one: do you know of some examples of gamification in libraries (whether an extended thing like Lemontree, or a one-off like a treasure hunt or some other competition) that have been demonstrably useful not just to the library's statistics sheets but also to the users' lives?

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

5 #blogjune

Obviously 5 stands for Ranganathan's five laws of library science. A while back, the Library Society of the World was doing its thing and making stuff and having conversations and I got inspired to pull together the results of some of all this into a wee poster of the Five Laws as told by Lolcat (in, of course, Comic Sans). Ever since then, I've never been able to find it when I want it [now have found it again but Blogger won't let me upload it; will edit this parenthetical with a link once I'm home with more tools], but I do have a printout on my pinboard, right above my Cult of Done Manifesto. (The other day -- our office walls are made of glass -- I caught a student looking in and reading it. "Gee," I thought in amusement, "that makes me look professional." I left it there of course, but haven't quite brought myself to add next to it my entry to the LSW colouring contest.) Anyway, "Every book its reader" has been giving me thinky thoughts of late regarding, in particular, books written in languages other than English. We do teach other languages of course, and have students from other countries, so sometimes such books are useful in our collection. But sometimes we get offered donations which I think are more useful on our disposals table for students to just take away (and luckily often the donator agrees) and sometimes there are books that (if it weren't for multiple complicating factors) rather than move them to storage I'd love to be able to send them to a library whose users all read the appropriate language and the books would be made far better use of than they can ever be here.

Monday, 4 June 2012

4 #blogjune

Four fantastic links I want everyone to read:

Proceedings of Codcon 2012
A virtual, hypothetical, parodic library conference held by the Library Society of the World on Twitter and Friendfeed on Wednesday, May 16, 2012.

No, we can’t do it all by Meredith Farkas
"So many of us struggle with determining priorities in teaching. Few of us have a workload that would allow us to do everything we would like to do. We hear stories about embedded librarian programs, librarians who were able to co-grade student papers with a disciplinary faculty member, libraries that have co-taught entire classes, etc. and we think: wow, I’d love to do that. But can we?"

A failure of imagination – the problem with format neutrality
"I often hear librarians promoting their 'modern librarian' credentials by saying 'it's about the information, not the container'. By this they tend to mean that [...] we should not be concerned about in which formats information is available, as long as it is available somehow. But what if it is about the container?" Read more to inspire your imagination.

Collective action for ebook collections
"I still agree with the notion that unless ebook publishing and distribution changes, libraries are still screwed. So let's change things. Here are three things *you* can do." Read more to improve ebook access.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

3 #blogjune

The branch library I work in has three floors:
  • level 1 has the information desk and computers and casual reading area and various other bits and bobs, and the other day someone came to the desk and said, "Can you tell me how to get to the library?" On being told they'd already got there they asked, "But where are all the books?" I think sometimes we can be so worried about making a nice open entrance and about proving we're "more than just books" that we forget that actually a lot of people really like books. (Our level 1 does in fact also have a small high demand collection, a small reference collection, and out of view of the entrance there's mobile stacks full of print journals and such, and also this hardly ranks as our number one complaint. But it's a complaint I've seen/heard about other branches and other libraries throughout the world.)
  • level 2 has about half our books, and bookable discussion rooms, and great big discussion tables, and lots of other desks, and also the science fiction collection in a unique architectural feature that we've dubbed "the playpen" and "the wine bar" and various other nicknames. This floor tends (due to discussion tables) to get very noisy.
  • level 3 has the other half of the books and more study desks. It's half mezzanine, so gets much of level 2's noise, but half is behind some solid doors and is our quiet zone, which can get absolutely packed. Again, we talk a lot about wanting to make libraries happenin', buzzin' places -- and obviously it wouldn't get noisy if there weren't some use to that -- but whenever I've gathered student comments for videos about what they like about the library, one of the most frequent comments is that they love having a quiet space to study.
A few years ago I came across a library that had divided its space up into Red, Yellow, and Green zones -- an intuitive way to make it clear to students how much talking was allowed where, which apparently worked very well. I can't find my old link to it now, but from a quick web search it looks like the idea's caught on widely: here's just one implementation among many.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

2 #blogjune

"Two" brought to mind the Dewey vs Library of Congress call number systems. I don't know why; I know there are other systems. In fact on my campus alone, although we use LC primarily, we also use Dewey (for a lot of the education materials), Moys (for law), first-three-letters-of-author (for special fiction collections), super-local accession numbers (for a lot of AV material though I think these at least are to be reclassified at some point) and so on and so forth (standards; product catalogues; archives). And I've never understood the "ringed" classifications at all. All of which is surely enough to make anyone emit a hearty existentially anguished "Why?"

But it's the LC vs Dewey that I mostly have to explain to new students familiar with school and public libraries. And it's not that I think that one or the other or both should change, because I understand their respective niches. But those poor students. Really it's no wonder they ask for books by bib number, or ISBN, or author, or colour.

Friday, 1 June 2012

1 #blogjune

(So I'm going to try this Blog Every Day of June thing. One reason I haven't done it in the past is the difficulty of coming up with a topic every day, so I'm going to try a bit of free association based on the day of the month in the context of libraries. We'll see how long I last.)

Today the first thing I think of associated with "one" is my-place-of-work's "One Library" philosophy. That is, we're five physical branches, but all one system. The idea of the philosophy is to create consistency. This makes managing the place easier - you only need to come up with one set of rules - and it's a lot clearer for users. They can use any branch(es) they like and expect the same rules to apply at each one.

Of course one of my mottoes is "It's Not That Simple". One size doesn't fit all - branches do tend to have their unique usergroups, who have different needs. And students get very attached to "their" library branch and want it personalised to their needs. Sometimes it's as obvious as different term times, so opening hours have to differ. Some disciplines have lots of group work while others need much more individual study space. Many disciplines have collections which can't quite be boxed into the way the main collection is classified/stored/made available.

There are cultural differences too, and individual differences. Some people right now need to be in a single-story building to feel safe from earthquakes. Some complain the building's too hot, others complain it's too cold. Some people are most comfortable talking face-to-face, others much prefer chatting online. Some people need to be shown exactly how to find something, some people need to be allowed to poke at it on their own. The more options we can provide, the more users we can support.

Of course again we have (increasingly) limited time and resources to do this with, so it's a tradeoff. How many options and how much personalisation can we afford without sacrificing consistency of quality?