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Author Archive | Marydee Ojala

Right Place; Right Time at #cildc

In her keynote talk opening the second day of the Computers in Libraries conference, author and cultural analyst Patricia Martin had the audience on their feet chanting “Right place; Right time.” It’s the perfect time to be a librarian, she assured us. Digital is changing who we are as librarians and is affecting the role of libraries in the community.

Her research into identity and ambition stemmed from a NASA request for help in determining how to reposition NASA to reach out to younger people and get them interested in space exploration. After algorithmically mining several Big Data sources and following 90 young people for 5 years, Martin concluded that our institutions are losing their impact. Job status, family, location, and organized religion are losing relevance, which puts us into situation of role ambiguity. People are feeling stressed about their identity.

This led Martin to postulate that a new relationship between ambitions and identity had 3 parts: Rope, Edgepart, and Muster. Our identity today is more like a rope of many strands than a linear yardstick. As we change jobs, move around, and try out different personas, we’re adding strands to our ropes. Edgepart makes us good at change so we can survive. Muster encourages us to start small to achieve big goals. Start with small teams, not advisory committees of 50 people.

Librarians should concentrate on “who.” Who do we want our patrons to be? She thinks we should see the user experience as a path to discovery and that the library should be seen as a community. Identity rituals, such as getting a library card, can solidify the community ideal. Who do we want as colleagues for our small teams, big goals? Who do we want to be as librarians? It’s not about providing information anymore since nobody needs more information.

The job of the librarian is much broader than in the past. It’s about growing and building community. Librarians don’t have a job, they have a platform for change. People need to be inspired and, through libraries, imaginations that are raised and expanded.

Right place; Right time.

 

 

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Super Searcher Strategies at #CILDC

Speaking to a packed room at Computers in Libraries, Mary Ellen Bates advised conference attendees to create dissatisfaction with search. If people are unsatisfied with their search results, it makes the work of trained information professionals more valuable. Google learns from user search behavior but the behavior of info pros is not akin to the bulk of Google searchers. Google is not calibrated for us. Bates noted that more terms in a search query leads to lower results and reminded us that the asterisk (*) is not used as a truncation symbol in Google, it’s for replacement. Google doesn’t recognize nested search strategies, so lose the parentheses. Change word order for different results. Use Bing to find out what sites a webpage links to since Google no longer has this capability. Mary Ellen’s other favorite search engines are Peekier.com for private searching and an interesting results display, MillionShort.com for long-tail searches, and Ecosia.org to contribute to tree planting in Africa. Librarians, in Bates’ view, are fantastic curators and filterers of information.

Mary Ellen Bates gives her search tips.

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Technology & Libraries: Now & Into the Future

ThomasMary Augusta Thomas, Deputy Director of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (there are 20 of them), presented her views on technology and libraries in her keynote talk on the third (and final) day of Computers in Libraries. Given the Smithsonian’s preservation mandate, it was unsurprising for Thomas to say that knowing our history is important. Managing the past helps us plan strategically for the future. At the Smithsonian, new research methods, new discoveries (even new species), and new technologies change how people work. However, they still rely on the library for information. The library has moved into data curation and open access, for example, and will be creating profiles for Smithsonian researchers.

Thomas thinks that the mission of libraries will not change, but the mission statement and the way librarians accomplish their mission will change. Smithsonian libraries were embedded before the term embedded became popular. Their new mission statement is:

“The Smithsonian Libraries promotes new ideas through knowledge sharing. We play a dynamic role in advancing scientific and cultural understanding and in preserving America’s heritage. Our expert staff and extensive collections are a crucial resource for research and education communities at the Smithsonian, within the United States, and around the world.”

The Smithsonian continues its international exchange programs, although most is now done digitally. Future librarians, according to Thomas, will have highly developed skills to collaborate and cooperate. In the future, you may not know your users. Librarians need to learn how to tap into their community. Collaboration is crucial to this, as is knowledge management.

As library print collections move from books on shelves to special collections, library strategies much evolve. The act of discovery will not be dependent upon printed books. Technology will be important as libraries move into the future, as it has always been. Library as place will change as librarians give up ownership in favor of access. What happens to library? A quiet place to do research? An information commons? A person going around with a backpack? Community space? Whatever future libraries look like, what remains constant is the desire of librarians to want to be better than we are now. We want to be engaged with users and have our collections to relevant to their needs.

Practice Tactical Urbanism

Urban planner Mike Lydon, principal of Street Plans Collaborative, explained the origins of tactical urbanism in this morning’s keynote talk. As an advocate for making more livable places and better cities, he told stories about projects designed to give space back to people. Most of these projects started from unsanctioned, grassroots activities, some of which were actually illegal at inception. One person, for example, painted a crosswalk on a street. He was rewarded by being arrested.

Mike Lydon

Temporary projects, such as temporarily closing streets to create bike paths or pubic parks, often are sanctioned by governments, probably because they’re not permanent installations. However, it’s not unusual for temporary projects to become permanent, as governments discover that people like them. In Brooklyn, outside Lydon’s office, his firm worked with a group of partners to turn parking lot into a plaza with places to sit, trees, and a mural on the ground. Retail sales in the neighborhood exploded. Transforming parking lots into parks and plazas, putting up wayfinding signs to encourage walking in neighborhoods, and slowing traffic by altering curbs with traffic cones, according to Lydon, started as guerrilla projects.

TacticalUrbanism

His methodology is simple: Build. Measure. Learn. Start small and get your prototype in the ground as soon as possible.

What does this have to do with libraries? Lydon is a big fan of little free libraries, which fit well with his philosophy of making citizen-centered spaces. He would like to see libraries no longer regarded as closed spaces defined by book collections. He ended by suggesting that cities are the original internet, filled with random connections, and libraries are the servers.

Libraries as People, Place, and Platform

RainieCatLee Rainie, Director, Internet & American Life Project, PewResearchCenter, returned to Internet Librarian for the 4th time as a keynote speaker. This year he presented the results of the Center’s most recent research about public library usage. He had good news and bad news to report.

His first point was that libraries are deeply appreciated, even beloved, in their communities. Having a good library indicates a strong community. An impressive 91% of those Pew surveyed said that libraries are important to their communities and 76% said libraries are important to them and their families. Not only do they like libraries’ promoting literacy and providing free access to books and other materials, they like librarians and think librarians are very helpful. In fact, only firefighters and nurses are held in similar esteem. Rainie suggested capitalizing on this by having a tug of war between firefighters and librarians and holding a Jeopardy-type contest where librarians would probably “kick ass.”

What do people do in public libraries? They use the internet for research and for fun. They sent and received email. They looked up health information and visited government websites. They paid bills online and took online classes. When people don’t use libraries, it’s frequently because they believe they can find information on their own.

Libraries have a public relations problem. People want the library to be technologically advanced, but don’t think the library has done a good job of keeping up. They don’t tend to know all the services that libraries offer. This is where librarians need to be more aggressive about selling themselves.

Rainie presented copious data on the diversity of library users. Women use libraries more than men and there’s low usage among those over 65 years old. Similar statistics hold true for library website users. One key to usage is children. Those with children at home use libraries frequently. Capitalize on this by seeking out “Mommy bloggers” in your neighborhood, recommended Rainie. The “detached population,” where the library is not part of their lives, is a fertile field for growth, since they don’t use the library, don’t have library cards, don’t have family members who are library users, and don’t even know the location of their library.

Early next year, on the Pew website, will be a quiz widget asking “What kind of library user are you?” If libraries put this on their website, Rainie is convinced usage will go up, since “quizzes are like catnip for internet users.”

When Pew asked for library patrons’ wishlists for new services, the answers were extensive but undifferentiated. People want new technology but they also want quiet study areas. Some want books moved out of the way to free up space for computers. Others don’t. There’s no clear mandate revealed by the data.

Where Pew did see a mandate—intervention into community life. As local newspapers fade, the library can take on a local civic role, distributing local civic news. People would like the library to become more involved with local schools and with literacy training. Some libraries are setting up “help desks” for local entrepreneurs and helping businesses cope with information overload.

The new library is all about people, place, and platform. Libraries need to address market and cultural shortcomings, such as skills training in new literacies, pre- and after-school programs, English as a second language, credentialing competencies, filling gaps in the local media ecosystem, and helping local businesses and non profits. Libraries should become “serendipity agents of discovery” and move unafraid toward the future.

Although Rainie’s talk was couched entirely in Pew’s public library research, academic and school librarians can take some knowledge nuggets home as well. Still, it would be nice if Internet Librarians weren’t regarded only as being in the public sector

 

Research Meets Reality

Unisphere Research has been doing studies on library budgets and spending for the past few years. In a Friday afternoon session, Thomas Wilson, Unisphere’s president, presented recent statistics to a panel with real world experience in many spheres of the library market. The panelists, Dick Kaser (Information Today), David Lee King (Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library), Frank Cervone (Purdue University Calumet), Mike Diaz (ProQuest), and Joe McKendrick (Unisphere) reacted to the numbers, giving the audience their interpretations of what was behind Unisphere’s findings.

Panelists react to Unisphere's statistical findings

Panelists react to Unisphere's statistical findings

Not too surprisingly, King and Cervone had different approaches to the materials on which they spend money. Public libraries don’t buy scholarly journals; university libraries do. Both are interested in ebooks, but the type of titles are very different, with publics looking at popular fiction and universities opting for books that support the curricula. Diaz commented that libraries, at this point, often want titles both in print and as ebooks.

All agreed that cloud computing would have an enormous effect on library services going forward. The influence cloud computing would have on library budgets could depend on the size of the library and which services could migrate to the cloud.

It’s always interesting when statistical tables, which were the slides on the screen for this session, take on a life of their own as people explain them in the contexts of their working lives.