Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Risks and Discovery

When I go out to dinner or drinks or even a movie with my friends, it seems that someone has to pull out their iPhone or other internet capable device to either get directions, find a review, answer a text, answer an email, or something else along those lines. Granted the whole directions thing is awesome and putting aside the rudeness of talking/texting/emailing while eating dinner, I miss the days when you could sit at a bar with friends, make up a random fact about Robert Goulet and no one could Google it to prove you wrong! Honestly!

The wish jar's latest post asked a question that I can't get out of my head: Has the internet stopped us from taking a risk? Kari Smith uses her book buying habits to illustrate this. Before the internet, we had to rely on the book jacket. Now, however, everyone and their aunt Meryl can comment, critique and affect the books we buy.

Though not in an economic situation where buying new books is all that feasable, I have noticed that the internet has also affected the decisions I make in the library and in the used bookstore. And, in all honesty, this fretting hasn't had any noticeable affect on the quality of my reading.

This conversation reminds me of an article I read today (I can't find it now, but I'll keep looking) that mentioned the Web 3.0 world. It postulated that the next step in the development of the internet is going to focus on organizing all of the data and information out there better.

Now we have content, it is time to organize it better.

I wonder what effect this will have on our ability to search?

Discoverablity is the title of a paper, written at the University of Minnesota, that seeks to understand the way patrons are searching. The blog, Lorcan Dempsey's Weblog, has a great summary here so I won't bore you with that.

What struck me was the notion that our patrons are searchers already. They have skills and minds that already think about search terms and keywords. That is no longer the Librarian's special gift. However, it is the librarian's responsibility to guide the users to the right sort of search results. This must change the way we teach our students/patrons about our resources.

If our main way to access the internet is going to be through mobile devices, then how do we step up our game? Helping the people discover things better. Everything needs to be findable and librarians should be able to make that easier, more efficient.

That is what they are trying to do at the UW with Reference Extract. I hope to see more along those lines.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

There Will be Much Mistletoing and SEO Bashing

I'm listening to Christmas music... I'll pause a minute to let that sink in.

Earlier today I was killing time before I saw my weekly Tuesday movie (sounds silly, but you all need to go see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs NOW!) and, behold, Christmas decorations are out and available to purchase. It was rather entertaining to be picking through ornaments and lights while a real autumn tempest raged outside.

Then I got to work and things went south - how come IT can make me feel like an idiot with five words, "Next time check the FAQ," and ruin my whole day? For the love of Pete! Of course I checked the FAQ! The reason I emailed you was because it didn't help, which I made clear in my first email! Argh! Look at that - I'm turning red just thinking about it!

Thankfully Bing Crosby and David Bowie are here to save me, as always. With the brisk air and the cooling temperatures, this sort of music is exactly what the doctor ordered. It makes me feel as though there is a whole, beautiful world outside my anger at IT.

Another interesting diversion today was a post (via BoingBoing) from Derek Powazek about SEOs (Search Engine Optimizers) and their vial, black hearts that ruin the true meaning of the Internet... sorry, turning the Christmas music off now...

Three things struck me about this particular post:

1) Librarians wont admit this, but we Google things all of the time. And those charlatans who think that swindling Google into giving them high rankings quite mistake the matter! Lately it seems as though I automatically ignore the first 10 results, focusing on those on the second or third page of my search. This is not cool, not cool at all. I was getting angry at Google, but I should have spread my net wider - SEOs!

2) I think Derek is wonderfully glib about the creation of the Internet and what a massive nebulous thing it once was. Immediately I thought of Dewey and his fight to organize everything into a system.

Our Library Director, for an orientation video we created this summer, monologued about the early travails of library organization. First there were places that called themselves Libraries, then they organized books by height/color/date of purchase, and then, after frustration and headaches and complaining long enough, an organizational system developed that made sense. Perfect? Of course not, but it worked.

That is exactly what can be said of Google. There was this thing they called the Internet with all of this information, then they had to organize all of the information. Google filled that need, the need for an organizational system. Sure, it has some issues, but the basic principles are there.

The chicken sometimes comes before the egg.

Goodness! Can you imagine if there were SEOs out there for libraries that finagle their books' call numbers? How much money for a spot next to Harry Potter?

3) The moral of Derek's tale: "Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again."

That is not just something that should be applied to what you put out onto the web, but in all aspects of your lives! In the library our web presence is becoming more and more important to establishing a following, a loyal patron base. If our system technology is hard to use, cumbersome, or not geared to our target audience (college students, grad students, seminary students, and all of their professors) then what are we doing with our time?

The most recent upgrade to our online catalog added many new features that put us light years ahead of other academic libraries our size. My personal favorite: My Lists. It is a place to organize and store searches so that you can walk into the library, get the books you need, and walk out. Amazing! I can see that our Systems Librarian is carrying Derek's banner because each update is better than the last.

And, that has a precipitous effect on everyone in the workplace... much like Christmas music. Alright, that was far fetched, but it did lighten my mood!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Power of Words, Spoken and Otherwise

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art-
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors-
No - yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to near her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever - or else swoon to death.
~ John Keats

We are just going to pause a moment to wrap ourselves in the blanket of those words for a moment... Ending a love poem with the word "death" is gutsy, but bright stars fade the fastest so I should expect it though I never do.

Every Tuesday, without fail, I take myself to a movie before work. Though alone, Tuesday quickly became my favorite day of the week. It is liberating to be able to name exactly which film you are going to see when, without having to negotiate with your co-viewers horrible tastes in film (of course I always blame my friends when a movie is rotten). Last week I had an internal tug-of-war about which movie to see: 9 or Bright Star. I knew that this would be my last chance to see 9 in the theater, but I've been holding my breath for Bright Star.

Bright Star it was!

Armed with Paul Newman's Peanut Butter Cups and a book for that awkward pre-movie lull, I voyaged into the theater for what I had hoped would be my new favorite hopelessly Romantic, beautifully costumed, period film. Unfortunately that was not the case.

But I refuse to write any disparaging remarks about this film (it was really nice, but not awesome) for one reason: the closing credits.

Over the scrolling names, the actor who played Keats read a poem, not the one lovingly quoted above but one with equal power. His soft and breathy voice, sometimes faint and sometimes sharp, read and read. By the time the credits were rolling up the screen for the production group, I was leaning back in my chair with my eyes closed and my gaping mouth was obscured by my hand.

Even though I have read Keats' poems many times before, I had never heard them read aloud. My profession and demeanor give me a passion for the power of the written word (just see the latest free e-book from NetLibrary, Burn this Book - very interesting perspective on the power of the written word), but I often forget the heart stopping quality of the well-spoken word.

I think that is the part of me book readings speak to and is a reason I should seek them out more often. The written word without voice is dead - be it a true physical voice, or a more mental one.

So, I thank Bright Star for reminding me of this and for having such spectacular costumes - quite lovely, really, with all of the pretty dresses and coats and what-have-you.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Public Radio Exchange

Public radio, though not exactly like a library, seems to face many of the same problems: funding, usability, funding, content concerns, funding. However, over at the Public Radio Exchange, they are doing something about most of those concerns and I am hooked!

Here is the promotional video that sold me on the idea:

The ability to use the web is not something new, but I love when people, companies, and communities find ways to not only use it effectively, but strengthen their missions and further their goals by providing vastly superior service.

From the little I have played around with the PRX, I am impressed! Everything is easy to use, easy to find and you have to love how much material is already up.

If you enjoy Public Radio but like listening to some different things, I suggest you sign up - it is free, after all.

Now I am wondering how this connectivity could be best applied within the library? It puts to mind the WorldCat program that connects all libraries together in one search, but the PRX is able to do all of their work digitally - something the libraries have yet to work out.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Contest for People who Write Goodly

I must hesitate here in sharing with you this link... this link to a contest. My dad pointed it out to me with this note: "here is a contest designed for Heather."

The Washington Post is auditioning for a new Op-Ed contributor. The prize? To be a pundit for 13 weeks in one of our nation's largest papers.

How could I pass that up? I've got opinions, I've got interesting things to say. Sign me up!

Many/Most of you are more intelligent and loquacious than I could ever hope to be. Truth owned, there are two of you in particular (K. and T.) whom I try to emulate on a daily basis. In your abilities to use the English language to its fullest. That is why I don't really want to share this - I don't want the competition!

But then I realize that the best person should win, even if the best person is not me.

Good Luck!

... oh wait, you wanted the link! So sorry, I must have forgotten! Here it is.

Monday, September 28, 2009

For the Russian Speakers Out There!

I'm totally geeking out right now! Ask any of my co-workers, I am babbling at a mile a minute!

All because I discovered the coolest website EVER!!!!! - Lib.Ru - that is all I need to be happy in this world.

This site is a collection of Russian stories, in the original Russian, and by famous Russian authors. Not to mention the interesting, if eclectic, assortment of international authors (now I know where to go to read Emily Dickinson's Poems in Russian).

For the class I've been helping out with, I needed to find the last paragraph of White Nights in order to take a look at a particular tense change. That is how I stumbled upon this site - bam!

Not only does it have the full text of many classic and new Russian tales, it provides links to secondary sources in Russian about the works and the authors.

And now I am totally convinced that I am going to be studying Russian a lot more with the help of this site.

Eeeek! Massive geeking!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Creating Competition

I came across something the other day, something I am sure that many other managers have noticed and commented upon and written up and exploited: some people work better with healthy competition.


When I first started working at the bookstore, we had to try to sell memberships. It is not that they are hard sells, but they do cost money meaning a bit of an effort was needed to move the items.

My first Christmas season approached and our store manager decided to have a contest: the person who sells the most memberships within a set amount of time will receive a $100 gift certificate to anywhere. With that my friend and fellow newbie-cashier were off to the races!

There was no hope that I was going to win - my friend is the type of person who could talk a drowning man into a glass of water - but I had something to work for, something to grab at. Though I didn't win (second place with a $50 gift certificate was nice enough for me!), I still remember the contest and the motivation it inspired.

Just before I left permanently the memberships took a turn for the worse. Instead of them being used as something to be proud of, they were becoming something to dread. If your numbers fell below a certain level, you would be fired. I had always been happy with my numbers and excited to try the hard sell, but I grew to resent the you-must, negative reinforcement that was starting to cloud this practice.

Anyway, I had to come up with a way to get my student assistants interested in boring tasks, such as shelving, so that they would be more willing to give it the proper time and attention. This is why I started allowing them to use music devices (iPods, etc) while shelving, for example.

But the greatest challenge were the Search Requests - when a book is not where it should be, we have to search the likely spots it was miss-shelved. This is a process that takes time, concentration, and a bit of creativity. On an whim, I decided to create a "contest" - find a Search Request book and you get your name written on a poster for all to see. The person with the most found gets a prize at the end of the semester.

I did not anticipate the level of exciting response to all of this!! Two students in particular are begging me to give them all of the SRs that I have - they are in active competition with each other and are working hard to find these missing titles.

Big win! Some people must just respond well to the healthy competition! I'll have to wait to see where this goes, but I have to admit that I am overwhelmed at the success!!