Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thing 34: online answer sites

Giuseppe Arcimboldo: The Librarian First uploa...Image via Wikipedia

The anonymity of an on line answer site is very appealing. Despite our best efforts, library patrons are often shy and hesitate to "bother" librarians. Even though (or maybe because) I'm a librarian, I hate to approach the reference desk and ask a question. It goes against the grain in a way I'm at a loss to explain. I get tongue-tied, blush, and stammer! I feel I shouldn't need to ask for help, that my question, even if complex or esoteric, and especially if simple, is intrusive and will be unwelcome.

And if I feel this way, how much more so the average patron?

Online, you pose a question and if someone wants to, and has an expertise, they answer! Marvelous! Because the answer is volunteered, there is a relief that you really aren't bothering someone. It's important, then, to be able to assess the quality of the source for your information. Are they an expert?

I looked at sites for questions that interested me - a home repair question and recommendaions about a good, inexpensive digital camera. I looked at several sites for the home repair question, and found good consistency. I need to repair ceiling cracks in a "popcorn" ceiling, and first remove the popcorn texture. It was enough of a "niche" question that my home-repair books didn't cover it. I was happy to find the info and felt it was reliable and consistent between sites.

The digital camera reviews didn't seem as reliable. Sometimes there was a lone voice advocating for a camera, with few corroborating reviews, "stars," or ratings.

The camera question would have been effectively answered at a library by reviewing Consumer Reports. I think the "popcorn ceiling" question was answered well online, and I don't know of any databases that would have provided a better answer. This kind of low-tech, low-risk repair DIY question needs hands-on expertise, not necessarily an academic answer.

People use these sites because we like to go online. IM reference has the same immediacy. I want a quick and dirty answer. In the case of the camera, I suspect there are only subtle differences in inexp4nsive cameras stocked by familiar stores like K-Mart, Wal-Mart, or Best Buy. You choose the features you want. If you aren't looking for high-end merchandise, you may choose not to research this question at all.

In the case of the ceiling repair, I was looking for a general idea, to know how complicated the task would be and get some idea of the time required. I won't be doing this until summer, and I can look ino it more as the project comes closer.

It's this kind of casual, low-stakes inquiry that you hate to ask a librarian about. You don't necessarily want to unleash that awesome dogged searching power. You don't want to wait your turn at the ref desk. You don't want to sit through a lengthy phone menu and then wait on hold for a librarian, specially if you suspect they will just look up your question on Google.

You just want a direction, a hint, a first cut. I wonder if this sort of casual, low-risk inquiry, which answer boards handle well, would have made it into the library even if the answer boards didn't exist. These are classic "ask around" questions, for friends and brothers-in-law. The web community, or web 2.0, is great for informal inquiry.

Questions for which a higher level of answer specifity is required, more high-stakes questions, demand experts. Then it goes back to information literacy, people's ability to discern the quality of the information they are getting.

Notes to self, from readings for Thing 34:

Link to Jessamyn West, and a somewhat contrarian (or more realistic) view of technology in rural libraries.

Ecerpt from Jenny Levine--Future of Librarians Interviews, on 2.0 aps in libraries

Obviously we're no longer gatekeepers of information, but our role is shifting to that of the guide, the trusted expert. Which we've always been, but you had to come to us to physically get the information, which is what has changed most dramatically. Expertise is another issue, as we move into an era of networked collective intelligence, but there is simply no substitute for the knowledge and guidance a librarian can provide. Those services will become ever more important as information overload grows and hits even more of our population.

In addition, there are numerous other options available to us if we want to take them, most of which revolve around training. For example, to help folks deal with information overload, we could teach them to use RSS aggregators and even help start them off with localized or customized OPML files of feeds. Some libraries have already begun offering a next generation of computer classes that help explain and navigate the new tools and information landscape. The Princeton Public Library has a "tech garage" where class participants can play with new devices in a hands-on way with guidance from expert librarians.

We can be a lot more proactive about information literacy, as well, elevating our efforts to fill the gap that is widening in regards to media literacies. We can help parents better understand things like gaming, help teach our youth how to be safe online, teach everyone how to manage their online identities, and in general help elevate the level of political discourse and democracy in our country. Pretty noble and lofty goals, but we could do it, and I actually believe libraries are the only institutions that can do this.

Artwork: Giuseppe Arcimboldo, The Librarian

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Thing 33: Travel 2.0

Amalfi, Italian Travel Poster, 1927. Artist Ma...Image by Joan Thewlis via Flickr

I would love to travel, but can't afford to, so this Thing was sweet torture.

I have a friend who travels to Paris regularly and stays at the Welcome Hotel. I looked it up on some of the review sites and it was described as my friend describes it: a very good value, good location, good service. That reinforces my belief in the accuracy of the forums. It didn't seem skewed by a few negative responses.

However, if a hotel wanted to hire some pay-per-blog admirers, they could influence the ratings. It's supposed to say in the blog that it is a paid post, but depending on the format and placement of the notice, it could be overlooked or discounted.

In addition, if someone copies the post to use in another forum, that information could be lost. This is of more concern in a competitive environment than in a social networking site.

I was interested in Green Routes, but at this time, they only have Minnesota information. I'm looking for ideas for healthy and interesting food between here and Chicago, and hope they add Wisconsin information soon! My only travel is to and from Chicago, where my son goes to college.

These would make great augmentation for the travel guides, especially since budget cuts mean fewer copies of, and less access to, current print guides. We would have to stress "Caveat emptor"--a good time to slip in a little information literacy education.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thing 32: Google Maps

This was fun! And though I can't say I became an expert, I made a map of the driving routes I used to take to my kids' schools. I added Matt's Bar from the "Search Nearby" ap, as well as some pictures of the schools and a marker for Powderhorn Park.

This brought back memories of a lot of miles and a few Juicy Lucy's!The photo doesn't make it look very appealing, but if you want an All-American greasy burger, try the Juicy Lucy!

One library possibility is to do a map mashup so people could see all the locations which have a desired book. Right now you can click on link to a map for each site, but a map showing all sites would help people decide which one to go to.

You could do maps showing most popular books at a library, or variations across the system.

View Driving Tour of Schools in a larger map

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thing 31: twitter

Cover of "Proust and the Squid: The Story...Cover via Amazon

I've had a great deal of difficulty mustering up enthusiasm for twitter. It interests me theoretically, and I enjoy sharing links for new sites I'm enthusiastic about, but I confess I don't have a social networking plan. I don't take many photos, or look for new music, and I'm between jobs, so I don't have a lot of breaking news to report.

I find that my focus on 2.0 aps winds into a narrower and narrower focus on the immediate and trendy. It's fun, but it comes at the expense of reading, which both uses and creates slower, deeper thoughts. Maryanne Wolf's book, "Proust and the Squid," is about this difference in the way our quick reading of screen content affects brain development, compared to the way reading longer texts affects us.

I like the ability to post to Library Thing from Twitter. I tried to add the twitter Facebook ap but there was some sort of glitch--"try again later."

It was good to read the "What is the point of twitter" article. The author made a good case for twitter.

I guess I'm in stage two, presence. I'm in, I'm game, but I haven't it my stride.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thing 30: RSS Feeds and Delicious

map by xkcd

This has been a Delicious time-waster! Actually, more of an RSS time-waster. One thing leads to another, and another.

It's dangerous to work around those RSS feeds! Because of course one wants to read them. They are, in fact, the very things one has decided are important to read and know!

So there's a little playing around with RSS feeds, a lot of reading of RSS feeds, a lot of drifting off to the blog links in RSS fed blogs, and my goodness, it's way past bedtime, and another day gone! Lost to a learning experience, just not the one planned.

A recent example: While working with FeedRinse, I read an interestsng post in The Shifted Librarian, which had a link to a great cartoon map on online communities. I decided to follow "xkcd," the artist, and stumbled around for awhile trying to find on opml file or RSS feed. No joy. Instead, s/he is part of LiveJournal, which I had to join. So I joined with my newly coined open id, which took a little while because they didn't want the ID, they wanted the URL, and I had to remember which blog, email, or community was my OpenID provider, and said url. I chased a few wrong turns, but found it, and now it is bookmarked on Delicious.

I'm now a pround member of LiveJournal, with one friend, Mr/s. xkcd. I will have to see if I can RSS feed liveJournal output into one of my proliferating readers (you know I had to try a couple!) because I will NEVER remember to check LiveJournal.

That being said, I love the RSS feed aggregators, rinses, and channels. PageRank is my favorite so far, but I'm monkeying around with pulling the washed feeds from PageRank into Bloglines.

This is completely worth the time its taken. I was so overwhelmed by the sheer number of posts on The Shifted Librarian, Librarian in Black, LifeHacker, Wired (in aggregate, and some individually) that I simply marked them as read so that the "# unread" didn't torment me. It will be far better to read a few "great" and "best" posts than to lose them all.

I like John Welsh's suggestion to subscribe to the Google "Shared Items" of industry leaders. O also found the "More Things"-recommended article "Seven Tips for Making the Most of Your RSS Feeds" useful.


The 1574 version of the original University se...Image via Wikipedia

What a long strange trip it's been!

I got a long term sub position in December which was supposed to run until May, but regular employees got laid off and in the ensuing shuffle I lost my job after only six weeks. I was able to jump into another short term job, scoring reading and writing tests, which lasted three weeks. Now it's my first week of no-work. I have a job again in May, and will look for librarian shifts in April. The stress of change on change, and the scramble to find work, have drained my enthusiasm for this project.

I've gone through technology changes, too. I bought an ASUS EeePC Netbook, which I love! I bought a wireless mouse for it, which I can't get to function (still hoping), so I took the mouse from my 10year old Grande Dame iMac. I went to the library to get a good wireless connection and somewhere along the way, lost the USB plug-in for that one. Next I resurrected the emergency, I-hoped-I-'d-put-this-mouse-away-forever mouse, which works intermittenty, with much shaking and cussisng.

In the meantime, I've gotten better at using the touch pad, but the keyboard is about 3/4 of the standard keyboard size, so touch typing has been difficult. The netbook is built for surfing the net, not for exended writing. I could touch type with one hand, but the other didn't fit, so I would hunt and peck with the other hand. Then I would go back and laboriously correct all the typo's that still occurred.

Meanwhile, we updated to wireless internet (hurrah!), and in that transition, something went awry with my old DSL hookup. All of this led to much procrastination in blogging!

Today was do-or-die day, and I am now using the iMac keyboard plugged into the netbook. Despite this awesome technology/generation gap, nothing exploded. (A second hurrah!) The most serious consequence is that I had to move off the comfy sofa. I'm now using the dining room table for its obvious purpose--desk and office. The sofa was getting too cluttered with books and papers anyway.

Cleared for lift-off. Hurrah!
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