Tanin's Blog

December 6, 2009

Library 2.0—All about Users

Filed under: Special Libraries — tanin @ 10:59 pm

A few weeks ago, I took a library tour at the Vancouver branch of the Courthouse Libraries BC. Based on what the librarian told us, the libraries are currently investing efforts to renovate their online presence. They have recently suffered a budgetary problem, as the cost of buying legal materials has risen, and many of their clients have reverted to online resources that have become available. By the way, these libraries are not supported by the state government, but they’re run as a non-profit organization. Part of their revenue depends on their fee-based services. According to the librarian, the libraries were trying make more online connections with lawyers—potential clients for their research service.

It was interesting to revisit the website, which had been incomplete when the librarian pulled it up on the screen during the tour. It seems complete now. I went for their blog—the Stream—which seems to be the only social media they have at the moment. There have been five postings since late October—three were announcements by the libraries, and two were reports on current issues—Wikipedia in Court Cases and Searching Law Journals on Google Scholar. The two reports were interesting, informative, and well-linked. They werre also related to the legal community. I used RSS to subscribe to the blog. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops.

Library 2.0 is all about library users. The actual users of the Courthouse Libraries BC weren’t very happy with the renovations, according to the comments on “Introducing the Stream” posted on October 29, which were mostly about the design of the new website. One lawyer was obviously angry because he was busy and did not want to “relearn peripheral issues, such as how to navigate a website.” He wrote “this isn’t progress, it’s a website for computer geeks, not lawyers.” Other comments were more or less addressing the same issues he raised.

Among the comments was a response from a librarian. Her message was: Although old users may find the new site frustrating, the new site is still “more in line with what is expected now from a website in terms of design and functionality.” The libraries had done “a lot of usability testing with lawyers and law library staff with a variety of backgrounds and the new site far, far outperforms the old one.”

[The name of “the librarian” is Mandy Ostik, but I don’t want to refer to her by her name, because on the blog, she is representing the Courthouse Libraries BC. My comments on her communications with the users are not directed to her as an individual either.]

The interaction between the librarian and the users on the blog has me thinking about the power of social media as a tool for communication among the community members. On the next post—Homepage Links: Suggestions Are Open—the librarian readdressed the issues raised by the users. “One thing is clear,” she wrote, “a lot of you miss our homepage links list.” The users were encouraged to suggest the links they’d like to have back.

As an observer, not a user, I don’t know how persuasive the librarian may have sounded to the “annoyed lawyers” (they do remind me of Annoyed Librarian and her Anti-Library 2.0 Manifesto). In her first response, she sounded rather defensive and ineffective. As for her claim that there was “a lot of usability testing” done for the new website, a user responded: “sometimes the answers you get depend on the people you talk to.” I wonder if the tests were documented, and if they are accessible on the website.

In the second response, the librarian seemed to express a genuine willingness to serve the needs of the users. But some of the important issues raised by the users were not addressed. For example, I was curious to see how the libraries would respond to the users’ complaint about the confusing design of the webpage.  Or have they already made changes?

As Michael Casey pointed out, “Library 2.0 is about constant change and evaluation.” What is again emphasized here is the users’ feedback. I think the key to the challenges the Courthouse Libraries BC face now is to work with the users, even if that means re-tracking a bit. I think in the long-term such re-tracking might be beneficial.


Cat Proximity

Filed under: Other — tanin @ 5:02 pm

Cat Proximity–a curious hypothesis I came across in my revisit to Push to Talk.

Not sure if the lines indicate the state of cats near human beings, or of human being near cats.

Posted using ShareThis

December 4, 2009

You-tube Videos on UW Libraries Webpage

Filed under: Academic Libraries — tanin @ 8:40 pm

I was excited when I first saw You-tube videos on the UW Libraries homepage. Movies can sometimes be fun. The first video I randomly clicked on their You-tube page was “How Do I Find DVDs and Videos at the UW Libraries and Beyond.” When I saw the title, I knew it wasn’t for me. Since I used the Media Center, I didn’t need to watch a video to learn how to search for a film, but I kept watching the video because the music was somewhat interesting. There was not much to learn from the video. Even the drum beat started sounding repetitious after a few seconds.

Only seven views. Not surprising. I seriously doubt that many of the UW students would want to watch this video, especially if the purpose for them was to learn how to search for a DVD. The UW Libraries catalog is powerfully functional, and also extremely user-friendly.

I then decided to pay more attention to the viewing counts, and moved to “favorites.” The most popular was “A Life in Ink.”

What is it about this video that makes it relatively popular (more than 1,200 views over 6 months) in contrast to the library instruction videos? The video was basically a school ad. It perhaps gave a sense of pride to the UW members by so flatteringly portraying the UW. Or perhaps it attracted those who are familiar with the UW. My own response was that I was gratified to see places that I was fond of at the UW—for example, the Suzzalo Library study area, the stairs in the building, etc. 

Another video that is even more popular than “A Life in Ink” was “THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICAS BEST IDEA | Mt Rainier & …”—a movie clip from the UW Libraries Special Collections Moving Image Collection, and presented by PBS in August 2009. More than 1,300 views. Was it the reputation of PBS that made it stand out? Again was it the familiar appearance of Mt Rainier that attracted the Seattle neighbors? Ironically, what Iwao Matsushita—the original author of the film—saw in Mt Rainier was an image of another mountain that he was familiar with. “Looking to the North,” he says, “you can see Mt Rainer, appearing majestically, like our king of mountains—Mt Fuji.”

The innovations and technological skills that the UW Libraries have shown in their use of Facebook and You-tube are impressive. However, they don’t seem to have attracted much attention. My thought on an academic library’s use of Facebook has become even more skeptical. Some cultures just don’t mix very well.

My thoughts on You-tube videos are different. I think they can potentially become effective tools for the services that academic libraries offer.

A majority the library-related videos that I’ve watched so far have been pretty boring. In addition to instructional videos such as “How Do I Find DVDs and Videos at the UW Libraries and Beyond,” those of more creative and artistic qualities—such as Odegaard Library is/is not, or AFI’s Top 10 @ the Media Center—found on the Media Center homepage were as tedious as most commercial ads. “A Life in Ink” was somewhat popular, but it’s essentially an ad without educational value, and it wasn’t much related to the libraries.

I think the educational academic library videos, though they might cause yawns, should be kept. But they could also be peppered with a sense of humor. One way of making those videos more interesting might be using “familiar associations.” If I were a student, I would be interested in seeing my friends and/or professors in the videos explaining things.  The Amazing Library 101 Challenge that I watched for LIBR 500 is an example of an academic library video that is both educational and entertaining. The main characters of the video are the users (at least in their appearance). The librarians/staff are in the background, but what is emphasized is their roles of offering assistance to their users.

I wonder if it would also be feasible for an academic library to collaborate with different societies and clubs. It would be cool to produce videos in which members of The Climbing Club, or of International Health Group introduce the library resources related to their activities. Two birds with one stone.

December 3, 2009

UW Libraries on Facebook

Filed under: Academic Libraries — tanin @ 8:35 am

Compared to the two public libraries I previously observed, the University Washington Libraries seem to make even more efforts to participate in social media. There is “Bookmark & Share” that I’ve seen before on the Seattle Public Library homepage as well as four widgets with links to Facebook, flickr, Twitter, and YouTube.

Today my focus was on Facebook. I first have to mention this:  One of the pleasant memories I have of the University of Washington (where I did five years of graduate work) was the UW Libraries. Everything about the libraries—catalog, the services of the librarians and staff, collection management, etc.—was excellent, and everyone I met at the UW agreed with me.

But the UW Libraries do not seem successful in becoming popular in the world of Facebook, especially in comparison to the two public libraries that I previously observed.

This does not mean its fans are fewer. It currently has 1,043 fans out of its 42,127 students. Proportionately, in terms of population, this percentage larger than that of the SPL, or the MPL. What I interpreted as evidence of the lack of popularity of the UW Libraries is that the way not many people respond to its posts.

Here are some snapshots of what one might find on the Facebook pages of the SPL and the MPL:

People respond and interact with the librarians. They even leave love notes to them.

On the other hand, the typical Facebook page of the UW Libraries seems to be like this:

People respond and interact with the librarians. They even leave love notes to them.

On the other hand, the typical Facebook page of the UW Libraries seems to be like this:

I don’t think the UW Libraries are doing anything wrong. Based on my graduate school experience, I can list a few possible reasons why a university library might not be welcomed in Facebook (or other social media) by students.

  • Libraries are associated with instructors and schoolwork (and academic librarians are faculty members!), whereas Facebook is associated with friends and relaxation. If I saw someone on my Facebook account speaking the way the UW Libraries do—for example, saying “Do you need research help?” or “South Asian Oral History Project-first attempts to record pan-South Aisan immigrant experiences in PNW as oral history”—the next thing I would do is to suggest I might “unfriend” him/her.
  • If I’m not mistaken, most of the messages posted by the UW Libraries on Facebook are duplicates of emails that students receive from their department and some whatever connections they have at the university. At least that was what I experienced. Even if one has a particular interest in intellectual stimulations through participating in lectures, events, exhibitions, concerts, etc., it gets really annoying to receive too much information about those activities, partly because it is not possible to find the time to participate in most of them while in school.

I think The Other Librarian is precise in pointing out the problem of an academic library on Facebook: “In the end, the reason students will say they do not want to see librarians and educators on Facebook is that the culture of libraries clashes with the culture of Facebook.”

How about public libraries and Facebook? How come the patrons of public libraries are relatively more engaged with their libraries on Facebook?

I think it is because, between the public library and its patrons, there is a more genuine connection, and because the connection is based upon a mutual agreement between the librarians and the members of the local community. Am I exaggerating too much if I say the patrons of a public library sees their librarians as their friends and the library as a pleasure place? At least I did while I was working full-time. The MPL was my refuge from work stress.

So what can be done about the UW Libraries on Facebook? Honestly I don’t know the answer, and I do not want to say “delete the accounts” again (I’m somewhat regretful of having said that on November 26th).  I’m just curious what the UW librarians think about this issue.

December 1, 2009

Push to Talk: The Seattle Public Library’s Teen Blog

Filed under: Public Libraries — tanin @ 7:41 am

Honestly if it weren’t required for LIBR 500, it’s not likely that I would have participated in social media. I just don’t find it amenable to my own personality and lifestyle. However, as I learn more about the potential and the practical aspects of social media—for example, its use in education—I feel more receptive to it, although my use of it is likely to be limited to work-related matters.

So far, blogs have been my favorite social media used by libraries. Today I looked at Push to Talk, which Toby from The Seattle Public Library forwarded to me as “a blog for a teen audience.”

I have no children, and my nephews live far away from me. I don’t understand children, or teenagers very well. As I clicked the link to Push to Talk, what flashed through my mind were two teenage boys I was sitting next to on the bus listening to them speaking aloud in their pubescent voices, while they were playing a video game on a palm-sized machine.

The first thing that caught my eyes on Push to Talk was the logo with two buttons (and Braille surrounding the buttons). One button said “fire,” the other said “seismic.” The logo was attractive. It was also effective. Even someone like me who remotely remembers the teenage days could understand the message that was being communicated. Teenagers need an outlet to talk about what matters to them.

The blog entries are written by teens, and are exactly what they promised to be—“entertaining, interesting, and bringers of good stuff.” The topics are various—weather, nature & hobby, recommendations on books and movies, vegetarianism, and useful tips for how to succeed in school & homework. All are “teenage” versions (or not-so-teenage-versions) of what we talk about in our daily lives.

In my previous entry, I mentioned how the time and the energy spent on social media should be related to the percentage of the library users who engage in social media. I have to admit my thinking was premature. I overlooked one of the most important roles of a library as a leader/educator of the community it serves. A library cannot just wait to serve only those who come into the building; a library should reach out to those who really need its service, but cannot come to it on their own.

Today I owe a lot of my ideas to a librarian of The Seattle Public Library. I was inspired by the teen blog he recommended, as well as by his comment on a library’s role. Thanks again, Toby.