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Transforming Roles–What Do You Want To Be? The Tuesday Evening Session

The half-life of our information professional skills is only about 5 years.  So we need to be reinventing ourselves all the time.  This panel of information professionals was composed of:

  • Marshall Breeding, formerly of Vanderbilt University, and author, Next-Gen Library Catalogs,
  • Nicole Engard, author, The Accidental Systems Librarian,
  • Scott Brown, Social Information Group and author, Social Information: Gaining Competitive and Business Advantages,
  • Cecily Walker, Web Services Librarian, Vancouver Public Library, and
  • Renee Chalut, Assistant Manager, Information Services & Training, Vancouver Public Library.
It was moderated by Donna Scheeder, Congressional Research Service

Tuesday Evening Panel (L-R) Renee Chalut, Cecily Walker, Nicole Engard, Scott Brown, Marshall Breeding

Donna Scheeder

Each of the panelists gave a brief outline of their career path.  Marshall Breeding said that he started in an interesting computing time–the first computer he worked on was a PDP-11.  He worked on information technology as computers were coming into libraries and grew with them.  Then he moved to CD-ROM networks, which eventually died.  He built his career based on a technology niche.  He never had a class in library science or computing, but had 30 years of on the job training.

Scott Brown started by pursuing a B.S. in creative writing and worked at several positions in the Santa Cruz Public Library, then moved into the corporate world and found he could ask for money to do things.  After getting his degree from San Jose State University, he was at Sun Microsystems for 9 years, then started his independent business which focuses on social media systems.

Nicole Engard went to college to be a writer and never thought about libraries.  She went to a liberal arts college and took computer science and got a B.S. in literature and programming. Then she joined a law library as a web designer.  When she came to IL 2005, she found about blogging and started one, went to library school, and joined the Princeton Theological Seminary and became the metadata librarian.  She is now a systems librarian.  People now call her and ask her to apply for jobs because she started her blog.

Cecily Walker was terrified when a tornado came through Atlanta, ran to find her brother, and a librarian pulled her inside and saved her life.  She got a degree in literature and was working on a M.S. degree in African-American Studies, but found after she moved to Vancouver that there were not many opportunities.  She got a degree in library and information studies and got her first job as a user experience architect.  She learned a lot, then moved to a software development company and moved to Vancouver Public Library as a Web Services Librarian. She has always been involved in helping people make sense of the information in front of them.

Renee Chalut has worked in a library for a long time.  She went to library school because she wanted to do what Google does, then worked in library branches.  She took a position coordinating provincial chat services and helping librarians working with them and worked on building and information commons and studied new ways of doing computer training and has now gone back to her original job of going out to the community.

Many of the panelists spoke of traditional and non-traditional library work.  Is there a difference?  Some people may think that if you are involved with technological work, you are not a “real” librarian.  Nicole thinks that the distinction gets in the way and can cause a rift–everything we do is to better the library, so we are librarians.  Marshall said that there are a myriad of career paths toward doing library-type work.  A lot of people assume that if you do not work in a public library, you are not a librarian.

Are library schools changing?  Do they teach the skills needed to cope with constant change?  See the book What Else You Can Do With a Library Degree for opinions on this topic.  The trend in many public libraries today is to put everybody on the reference desk at some time, which makes people with a library degree feel undervalued.

Personal skills are highly important; there are jobs for people with library-type skills regardless of whether they have a library degree or not.  We need to distinguish between professional and personal skills and market ourselves.  This is not limited to the library world.

What do you think we will be doing differently 3 years from today?  What changes are driving what you do today?  We are a very courageous group–who knows what will happen in 3 years?  We must pick up all the new technologies, and we are doing it in a very public way.  Curiosity and a desire to keep learning are critical.

You need to figure out what your niche is, what you can do well, and what you are passionate about to succeed in this environment.  You need to be constantly aware of what is going on around you and keep up with your subject skills.  Be your own greatest advocate.  Get familiar with how to market your skills online.  We are tremendously skilled people.

The panel offered these summarizing points.

  • In the job you have now, do what you must for your organization, but also do more for your profession.
  • Your career is not your job.
  • We are training people for jobs that don’t exist.  What can we do about that?
  • If you can make your job your passion and your career, find a way to do it.
  • Look at your career and skills every day and you will see something new.
  • Do a “23 Things” self-evaluation.


Social Media in Enterprises

(L-R) Stephen Abram (moderator), Scott Brown, Cindy Hill, Richard Hulser, Amy Affelt

You work in an enterprise even if you don’t work in the corporate sector.  Our staffs are the one measure we can use to influence the value of our services.  We are in social institutions and are managing their results.  Technology is very rapidly catching up with the mandates of institutions.  This session talks about the role of social networks in influencing our institutions.  Employees must understand why their organizations exist and their roles in them.

This panel was composed of:

  • Stephen Abram, VP, Gale Cengage Learning (moderator)
  • Cindy Hill, Manager, Research Library and Bank Archives, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco
  • Scott Brown, Social Information group
  • Richard Hulser, Chief Librarian, Los Angeles Natural History Museum
  • Amy Affelt, Director, Database Research, Compass Lexicon
Stephen Abram asked the panel questions (italicized below), and each panelist responded.

How does one get to understand the basic idea, role, and mission of an organization and the role of a library in it?

CH:  I read as much as I can about the organization and its culture externally and internally, including the strategic plans.  Then I can create my own strategic plan.

SB: I went to a company all-hands meeting to get immersed in the culture and learn who the real influencers are and who might not show up on the organization charts.  This lets you see what the organization is thinking about.  Research request are also very useful to learn what are the current issues.

RH: We went to the Chief Scientist’s annual presentation of what the key projects are to understand what the executives are thinking  At the museum, I talk to lots of people to learn the culture, how people use information, etc.  The main thing is the visitor experience; if you are not doing something related to that, you are not advancing the institution’s mission.

AA:  My company doesn’t have an org chart or strategic plan, so I have set up news feeds and find out information.  I just ask people where the company is going, who are the major clients  I found that many people were happy to talk about what they do.  I asked to be copied on all new client notifications and then I use them to provide information.

Within your context, how do you build real interpersonal relationships in the organization?  How does one build and network?

RH:  Meeting everybody is a challenge.  I took any kind of event (retirement, etc.) as an opportunity to have people identify key people, and then I introduce myself to them and listen to them to understand what they are doing.

CH: I wrote thank you notes to all my interviewers.  One of them was very aggressive and became a key resource and mentor for me.  It was my first opportunity to ask a person outside my profession for advice.

AA: I try to find a connection that is not necessarily work related and build a relationship that way.  This gives me a common topic to talk about.

SB: We have been social for thousands of years, but the relationships are what this is really about.  I lay my groundwork on what’s social.  In deepening relationships, you must give and give before you ask for a little bit back.  Sometimes it is an exploration process.

What are the social tools you use and how do you use them? How to you let people know something about yourself?

AA:  LinkedIn has helped me with connections within the company.  We are a globally diverse company, and we will probably never meet many of the people in other countries.  I send them LinkedIn invitations to establish connections with me.  I try to put all my publications and presentations on my profile, including my SLA activities so people will see my experience and expertise.

RH: If people want to be a personal friend on Facebook, I decline because they are not in the business.  I use LinkedIn heavily for professional connections.  IBM has an internal social network for employees and also one for former employees which is a good way to keep in contact with other colleagues.  IBM uses that network for recruiting recommendations among other things. Senior managers tend to maintain their connections after they leave a company.

CH: I use LinkedIn all the time to do profiles on bank executives.  The Fed is very secure, and personal PCs can be used only in special wireless hot spots.  I am working to get two of these in the library.  Change comes extremely slowly; people are slowly starting to use IM around the bank.  We are starting to mentor and coach them on their information resources. We use video conferencing to connect all 13 branches of the Fed.

SB: We need to take a human view of the tools.  Your end purpose will drive this, and it will integrate into marketing, strategy, and purpose.  Look at what is going on already that is acceptable to groups.

What causes differences in adoption of social media?

CH:  It is a pain point–they feel the lack of something and can see the tool that will help give them an answer.

SA:  It’s not the technology; it’s meeting a need.

RH: How do we connect with our users?  How do we know who they are?  We go out and talk to museum attendees waiting to get in.



AI: Transforming Reference

Deann Allison (standing) and Lorna Dawes

The volume of reference questions has been declining over the years in many libraries, and the experiences of the University of Nebraska Libraries (UNL) are no different.  So UNL has investigated and developed a new model of reference.  Deann Allison and Lorna Dawes from the University of Nebraska are using an innovative “chatbot” called Pixel to handle reference inquiries.

Chatbots are software applications designed to emulate conversations with human beings.  They are frequently text-based but can include sound and visual effects.  The software includes a database of answers. There are a variety of ways to create chatbots, including commercial sites, open source projects, pandorabots, or the open-source program, Program O.  Here are examples of some chatbots:

Chatbot Examples

Why use artificial intelligence (AI)?

Sources for the database

Pixel was built on Program O with adaptions for the local environment.  Here are some usage statistics.

37% of Pixel users are returning visitors so it is attracting a following.

Pixel responses are built on AMIL (AI Markup Language), which looks somewhat like XML.  There are 3 ways to ask a question.  It is difficult to match on exactly what people ask, so wildcards are liberally used (for example, “Recycling”, “* Recycling”, “* Recycling *”).  Scripts can be written to accommodate complex answers.  The program flow is books, articles, libguides, and finally the librarian.  The librarian is last because people don’t want to talk to librarians.  Subject categories were derived from LC classification areas.  Chat logs are excellent sources for categories.  Pixel also has an internal log of questions asked.

Pixel has a personality.  It is usually polite and is patient.  Some people use it to practice English, and others think a person is within the system, so they argue with it.  It is capable of general conversation but tries to bring the chatter back to library subjects if possible.  It can also handle difficult patrons without getting emotional.

Some reference librarians were concerned that Pixel would replace them.  But Pixel is a help to them–it is just a tool to search a complex website.  Students are taught to be wise selectors of resources; sometimes they use Pixel.  It is good for answering FAQs and simple questions.  It also can provide simple database searching instruction.

Pixel follows guidelines for reference interviews:

  • It is approachable and friendly and encourages the user to feel comfortable.  It is in a prominent position on the website to encourage use.  It knows how to respond to difficult users.
  • It shows interest and demonstrates a commitment to providing effective information assistance by answering in a timely manner and maintaining word contact.  It always takes the approach of directing the user to library resources.
  • It listens effectively and asks questions as the user states the information needed.  Most of Pixel’s questions are open-ended or closed clarifying questions to understand the need while keeping the user at ease.
  • It conducts searches and gives the user a printout, so it explains the steps and results to the user.
  • It follows up by asking the user is satisfied and the search is complete.  If the user is not satisfied, the user is directed to a librarian.

Pixel is open to anyone on the Internet.  Try it out!