December 30, 2009

Mash it up

The previous post was intended to be my final blog update for 2009, but while listening to a Library 2.0 Gang podcast during my run this evening, I was inspired to add one more before the year ends tomorrow.

I discovered the Library 2.0 Gang podcast series a couple of weeks ago, which is delivered in a host/moderator + panel discussion format. The most recent podcast on social software was great, so I decided to listen to previous recordings. I suppose I'm a little late to the party because it's been going on since 2008, I believe.

The episode I listened to today was about mashups. For anyone unfamiliar, Webopedia explains that
the term mashup refers to a new breed of Web-based applications... mix[ing] at least two different services from disparate, and even competing, Web sites. A mash-up, for example, could overlay traffic data from one source on the Internet over maps from Yahoo, Microsoft, Google or any content provider. The term mash-up comes from the hip-hop music practice of mixing two or more songs.

On this particular panel was Frances Haugen, who made some really interesting contributions to the discussion about what mashups could be and how libraries could benefit. For example, a forgotten book from the 60's might be essentially "dead," but with a recommendation mashup (similar to Amazon's), people might start interacting with the resource again, revitalizing its use. Another example she explained was regarding smart phones being used to help direct patrons to resources by showing them how to locate resources: the librarian would help them figure out how to find the information, and the smart phone would guide them to the materials, physically.

While being enrolled in the LIS program here and using the library heavily, I had sort of daydreamed about there being a map feature for *within* the library. I don't have a smart phone, but if I did, I could have my position listed as "you are here" with specific directions to get to the section of the library I would want to go to. I especially thought this would be useful when the UA Main Library was moving materials around, or even just when I was new to the library as a new student. Western Illinois University's Text Me! service is such an innovative idea and could potentially be the start to a mashup of this sort. While searching the catalog, you can elect to have a call number texted to your phone so you don't have to write it down and could more easily find it while in the library. If that information could be mashed up with directions inside the library, it would be so easy to find materials.

**Edit (1/3/2010):
After now finishing the most recent issue of American Libraries, I just read that my daydream has essentially come true in Bozeman, MT at Montana State University. Joseph Janes (p.34) talks about a new Flash tool in use to "mouse over stack locations on a map, the LC call number ranges and subject areas appear on the side." Pretty excellent!**

An example of a great mashup I recently found is Rent Sleuth, combining information on available apartments in NYC, nearby public transportation, crime rates, and incidents of bedbug infestations all on one map. For my job I also recently created a mashup to show students all the buildings they would need to know of for a summer science internship program on campus, as well as which researchers and mentors are in those buildings plus their websites.

As the panel pointed out, not all mashups are or should be maps (but those just happened to be some examples I had to share). Nicole Engard, also on the panel, shows further examples of library mashups in her book, Library mashups: Exploring new ways to deliver library data, and that link also has further online resources listed.

Anyhow, I think mashups are very exciting and it's so interesting to think of all the ways libraries could combine various data to make collections and services more accessible to users, as well as provide better tools for assessment. I look forward to seeing what the new year will bring in these technologies.

On that note, this is definitely my last post for the year, goodbye 2009, and happy new year!

December 27, 2009

Wrapping up 2009

I have no complaints with 2009 -- in fact, I have some good news.

My temporary/part-time position at work was supposed to end earlier this month, but my supervisor was able to re-hire me at least until March! I will have at least a few more hours per week, more projects, and a somewhat promotion on a specific project. The specific project I'm referring to is that I will get to subsume my supervisor's position in a health literacy collaborative, where I will take the work as a staff employee, rather than the lower-level internship-intended-position it was originally conceived as. As I get more into the project, I'll share more details, but it's a very exciting collaboration to improve health literacy in Arizona.

I had some really great job interviews recently, but decided a couple options I was getting close to were not a good fit for myself and my partner. It's always kind of scary to make decisions like that where you wonder if you're making a good choice, but as friends and colleagues have told me -- you just know it in your gut.

Other great news, I was presented with The Margaret Maxwell Beta Phi Mu Award by the University of Arizona SIRLS faculty as the 2009 recipient at the December graduation ceremony! I am so honored, and of course won't deny the award grant will be extremely helpful for renewing those somewhat expensive professional memberships and such.

So this post isn't entirely about what's been going on with me, here are some good year-end best-of lists:

Happy holidays!

December 19, 2009

Teachable moment: for here or to go?

I have to say, I'm often a bit disappointed with the SLA magazine, Information Outlook, but this time, I found a few articles very useful. In the current December 2009 issue, Derek Law discusses the coming of age of digital natives and how librarians need to consider this group when providing library services and content in Waiting for the (digital) barbarians.

After giving a brief overview of the interests and technology activity of Gen-Y, he points out what librarians should consider upcoming challenges.
It is very depressing to review the results of the OCLC user survey (2006) showing that user satisfaction decreases when librarians try to help. Online users are in a hurry to find the answer (or a shortcut to it), but what we offer is a choice between showing them how to conduct a proper search or not helping them at all. This has been described as the "Eat Spinach Syndrome" (eat your spinach, it's good for you).
When providing reference and instruction for high school students during a summer science internship program, myself and my colleague were sure to stress that if they asked for help, we would work to make their research easier for them; I really think this is key especially with this age group, being a Gen-Y-er myself. Teachable moments are very important, but I think we need to provide both -- give them what they're looking for and tell them how to find it themselves next time, not necessarily simultaneously. The reference I provided was virtual, so what I did was provide resources the student was looking for because I knew he was stressed out and at that point in time just wanted the information, but in the second half of the message, I explained how I found the information, including which terms I searched for. If he didn't want to read that second half, then that's his prerogative, but at least he had the choice of how much time he would spend on that while trying to complete his research.

Instead of appearing as a barrier to information by being perceived as imposing a mandatory training session on how to find resources, I think it is valuable to provide both, and as takeaways. For example, with an in-person reference interview, help the student find what is needed, and then pass out a subject-specific handout on how to find that information next time. If he or she needs something more detailed or has more niche needs, then collect an email address and email the information. If the student seems in a rush or not interested, it doesn't have to be one or the other, as far as provide the teachable moment or only give them the resources without instruction; the information might be wanted for later, but not at that instant.

This was how I felt about the library while earning my undergraduate degree: I did not really want to ask the librarian for help because I didn't have much time and I did not want to have to sit through a possibly intimidating and lengthy lesson on how to use the library when I had a paper due in a couple days. Of course my opinion has changed over time, but I definitely can relate to other Gen-Y students.

Law wraps up his article soundly with,
We need to determine that we can make users' lives easier, not force them to learn something extra before they get to what they need.
So succinct and so suitable.

Law, D. (2009). Waiting for the (digital) barbarians. Information Outlook, 13(08), 15-18.

December 9, 2009

Discovery and user control

I was reading The Joy of Discovery in Web Design in the Inspect Element Web & Design Blog and it made me think of designing user experiences online and in the library. The post talks about taking that extra step to make the experience memorable for users by providing opportunities for discovery.

From an in-person library experience, I think an intuitive understanding of this would be related to browsing. Libraries that go all-digital can really hinder this important experience for users by making browsing and discovery more difficult. I remember this being one of the most exciting aspects of the library for me: searching for something in particular, and then browsing around related shelving; the best part about it was being able to discover something new myself.

Now, this blog is pertaining to web design, and the post can be directly related to library websites too. Creating alternative search features, and even going as far as to hide some fun features within pages that are more interactive could certainly improve a user's experience visiting the site. Even creating more resources for users that they might not even think would be provided through the library, for example, feed listings for interesting subjects to outside blogs or recommended Twitter feeds for research topics, or maybe tutorials for concepts related to but not directly involving just how to use the library or search a database. Maybe even including more library polls for users to contribute their feedback so they feel more involved with the library and are able to say something when they come visit the library virtually.

As Inspect Element says, "Subtlety can play a large role in discovery too even if the visitor doesn’t feel as though they have discovered anything, subconsciously giving them a feeling of greater control." I think that's an important idea to think about with libraries -- giving the user a feeling of greater control; greater control in manipulating library information and resources online, as well as navigating the library in person.