Sunday, November 18, 2012

Going Mobile

This week's question is what mobile services should a library offer?

For me, that answer is contingent upon price.  If you'll allow a brief reason I'm back in school after slogging through 10 years of post-graduate work on a PhD in English is that the mission of the library is to serve everyone.  Not to get too political, but (especially here in California) our public universities are becoming prohibitively expensive while at the same time relying more and more on the relatively inexpensive labor of lecture faculty, adjunct faculty, and graduate students.  These people can be wonderful instructors but are often overworked and underpaid, so students are paying more but getting less.  And, because of the costs, universities are only able to serve a select group of the populace.  Unlike the university, one can enter a library and access information and professionals for free.

While more and more people have mobile devices, a large population still does not.  I think we should do all we can to meet people on their mobile devices, but we must balance this against the services we offer to people who rely on the brick and mortar library.  If we become entirely virtual, we become accessible only to those elite enough to connect to the Internet from their home or phone.  Especially in times of economic trouble then, I believe libraries should be going mobile as cheaply as possible.

Having said all of this, it turns out not to be that difficult to go mobile on the cheap.  Sarah Houghton's 2012 article "Mobile Services for Broke Libraries" has 10 suggestions.

Here are a couple of highlights.

1) Houghton suggests making your website mobile-friendly.  But first you should check to see if it already is.  She notes that you can check at  Validator will give you a breakdown of just how mobile-friendly your webpage is.  An ideal solution would be to make your standard webpage mobile-friendly instead of having separate versions that require updating and upkeep. 

A screen shot of results

2) Houghton suggests offering a mobile Online Public Access Catalog.  Since the OPAC is one of the most commonly used features of a library website, making it mobile makes a lot of sense.  And making the OPAC mobile isn't as hard as you might think.  Houghton points to a couple of open source OPACs that are mobile friendly: SOPAC, Evergreen, and Koha.

3) While e-books and audio books seem like obvious arenas for taking your library mobile, Houghton does offer some words of warning.  She notes that 

Most e-audiobooks are provided as WMA files, with a smaller selection available as MP3 files. Text e-books are provided in a plethora of formats—the three most popular being PDF, EPUB, and Mobi.  (317)
It's useful to be aware of the formats of your e- and audio books.  WMA files will only work on a computer running Windows Media Player, while the more universal MP3 will run on most audio devices.  The producers of E-Readers are not in the business of open-source DRM-free altruism.  There are a plethora of e-book file types -- many are device specific.  Apple has iBook, Amazon has AZW and KF8 and currently doesn't support EPUB.  Libraries should offer e-books and audio books, but it's important to keep in mind that offering e-books isn't as simple as offering corporeal books.  If the real thing is in English, all readers of English can read it.  If the e- thing is offered in AZW, only Kindle owners can.  So be aware and be smart about format.

The rest of Houghton's essay is equally worthwhile.  Track down a copy if you're thinking about going mobile or reexamining your library's mobility.


Houghton, S. (2012). Mobile Services for Broke Libraries: 10 Steps to Mobile
Success. The Reference Librarian. 53(3), 313-321.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Crowd Sourcing or Crowd Surfing

Crowd sourcing is typically supposed to tap into the wisdom of the crowd.  In the case of many library initiated crowd sourcing ideas it seems that crowd sourcing is intended to take the pulse of your local community.  In his 2009 post, Libraries and crowdsourcing -- 6 examples, Aaron Tay lists some common uses of crowdsourcing for libraries:

  1. Digitisation of newspapers and correction of OCR errors (National Library of Australia)
  2. Tagging of photos on Flickr (Library of Congress)
  3. Rating,tagging and contribution of user reviews of books (via Endeca, Encore, Aquabrowser, Koha and other next-generation OPACS etc)
  4. Frequently asked questions (Social reference tools like LibAnswers)
  5. Comments and suggestions (GetSatisfaction , UserVoice etc)
  6. Collaborative Cataloguing (Library Thing, and Open Library)
Half of these uses (uses 2, 3, and 6) are basically folksonomies (a kind of group tagging popularized by the site -- formerly known as  There are definitely advantages to this kind of cataloging.  Massive numbers of resources can be tagged in far less time than it would take a diligent S.W.A.T. team of librarians to do it (in the case of the Internet, assigning your library cataloging task force is almost akin to giving them life sentences).  And so things are allowed to take on a kind of organization that wouldn't be possible otherwise.  But the trouble with folksonomies is that they aren't thorough or consistent.  Casual taggers aren't following Ranganathan's faceted colon classification system; they're developing something much more complex and infinitely less searchable.  They create subjective cataloging.  While Ranganathan might praise the way in which this system divests hierarchy, he'd probably be pretty dismayed when he went to search Flickr for pictures of Russian Blues and found that no one had used that tag.  And in fact that there was no consistency to the language or spelling of the tags that had been used: "cute cats," "kittens," "qt kitty," "meows," or whatever other variations you can imagine.  It's nice that things are getting classified, but it's not useful.

                   Here's your Russian blue S.R.

Another type of crowd sourcing Tay talks about is the use of comments. Allowing comments and suggestions in your OPAC can mimic Amazon reviews -- a popular element of that website.  They give voice to your community and make it feel like a conversation has started.  But there are major disadvantages to this as well.  One only need look at a handful of poorly designed products on Amazon to discover that sometimes manufacturers, authors, and publishers post their own misleading reviews.  Furthermore, these kinds of reviews are typically only written when the customer is very satisfied or very disappointed (just look at a site like to see an example of the way in which including only the most effusive and most vitriolic reviews can skew one's perception of an instructor); they don't actually benefit from the aggregation present in typical crowd sourcing -- like the Google rating algorithm -- because they aren't drawing groups that are actually representative of your constituency.  Finally, Amazon reviews are useful for one reason: they help buyer's beware.  Libraries have less need of this.  Our patrons aren't spending hard earned cash.  They can take more chances.  If the book they pick up at the library doesn't catch their interest after the first 50 pages, they can bring it back and pick up another at no cost.  Granted, sensitive patrons might care to know if a book is particularly gruesome or sexually explicit, and these reviews could provide that kind of information, but, for me at least, libraries are about discovery and about being exposed to new ideas.

There are two major problems with the types of crowd sourcing Tay discusses.  First, as Derek Powazek suggests in his article The Wisdom of Community, the best crowd sourcing is done by reducing the task to its simplest parts.  He warns

Conversational inputs are too complex for Wisdom of Crowds systems. Online discussion systems do not lead to wisdom on their own.
And he goes on to explain exactly why:

One of the reasons discussions do not lead to wise results is that there’s no aggregation—the conversation just happens. But WOC systems are there to produce a result. This requires an aggregator (like you) and an algorithm.
The benefits of crowd sourcing, he argues are only visible after aggregation.  Folksonomies and comments resist aggregation.  Even a site like, which attempts to aggregate subjective movie reviews is only helpful to a point.  Skyfall, Lincoln, and A Royal Affair (all movies which came out this week) received a 91%, 91%, and 90% respectively.  But that doesn't suggest that people who enjoy the new James Bond movie will also like the romantic costume drama of A Royal Affair.  These kinds of qualities resist being made objective.

A further problem with crowd sourcing is the possibility that it can become crowd surfing.  Kristina Grifantini, in her article Can You Trust the Crowd Wisdom?, cites evidence from Vassilis Kostakos from the University of Madeira in Portugal that suggests that small numbers of users can distort the overall pictures.  While you may think a whole crowd is working on your projects, it may in fact be a handful of web savvy patrons.  If you put a lot of stock in the crowd sourced material, you may unwittingly be raising the profile of just one or two web savvy patrons.  They now surf above the surging masses (your other patrons) like a kid at a Pearl Jam concert in 1996 (or two young girls at Relient K.  You know, whatever you can find on youtube.)

    Friday, November 9, 2012

    Here's a screen cast I made touting the benefits of's profile page.  The video shows my clear ignorance of how to use most of the rest of the site.  [Please note: I actually do recognize how interesting and important it is that my extended network includes people who work on the Kindle; my comments are meant to suggest that knowing that I am somewhat connected to this critical content provider and knowing how to make use of this network are different things.  My ignorance comes in knowing how to use these network contacts.  Clearly the Kindle and the digital content loaded onto the Kindle are of utmost importance to libraries and librarians.  Working with the people who provide this content could be hugely beneficial to libraries everywhere.  I just don't know yet how to leverage my LinkedIn extended network to bring about such an effort.  Maybe I should be talking to my cousin more often.]

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    Sunday, November 4, 2012

    Skokie Public Library Screencast

    tag= blogposting week 11

    I'm trying to get away from always looking at New York Public Library on my blog, so this week I've decided to take a look at a screencast done at the Skokie Public library in Skokie, IL.

    I decided to comment on the library's screencast on finding obituaries precisely because it was their shortest video -- best practice dictates that a screencast ought to be short.  (In fact, 4 and 1/2 minutes is pushing it a little bit.)  I felt that looking at a shorter video would provide me with a better list of best practices. 

    The video definitely starts off well.  The opening screen has a clear logo for the library and features both the name of the narrator/librarian and his email address.  This is an appropriate way to begin because it clearly shows the librarian's enthusiasm about following up with patrons.  The narrator/librarian Toby Greenwalt also has a clear and pleasing voice.  This is important not just for understandability, but also approachability.  If the narrator sounds bored or speaks too quietly, it sends the message that s/he is not really that interested in the topic.  (Greenwalt does clip somewhat on his plosives -- especially "p"s and "t"s.  I don't know what kind of microphone he had access to, but perhaps a pop guard would have helped eliminate those brief moments of harsh sound.)

    The tutorial begins at the library homepage.    It's interesting (and I choose this word precisely for its ambiguity) that the homepage is so colorful.  This doesn't seem like an aesthetic choice on the part of Greenwalt; he's clearly using the page as it existed at the time he shot his video.  It has many colorful rectangles for navigation and a happy looking ginger bread man peeking out of the lower right hand corner.  The choice may seem overly positive to some looking for obituaries or it might set a welcome uplifting tone. Either way, it's a good choice to begin at the homepage; it's important to start your screencast somewhere your patrons can easily navigate to.  Also, starting at the homepage can give a user who's not familiar with the library's web presence a sense of where else they might be able to go once on the homepage (in the case that perhaps the video has been emailed to a patron using email or text reference).

    I also applaud the choice to make the video real time as opposed to a narrated series of screen shots.  In this way the video can serve a dual purpose as a bit of information literacy for patrons not familiar with web tools.

    As Greenwalt navigates, he is careful to point out the other options available on the website.  This may be an unnecessary tangent for the patron desperate to get to the obituaries, but for the casual patron a brief explanation of the other genealogical resources is likely welcome -- perhaps their obituary search is merely the beginning of an exploration of an entire family genealogy.  Knowing what other resources the library site offers may bring them back to the site later.  Greenwalt discusses icons showing three main types of resources outlined on the site: web resources available to anyone with an Internet connection, resources that require a library card (but which can be accessed remotely), and sources available only in the library.  Again, this is important for giving patrons a sense of what the library provides and possibly drawing them into the physical location.

    Greenwalt's choice of search term is masterful.  He selects a former mayor long dead.  This connects the library to the local community and to local history.  It also makes the process less emotionally charged than it could be (using a recent death could have been seen as too macabre or insensitive).  It highlights the library's collections of local Skokie newspapers.  Finally, because the newspapers are held on microfilm, it highlights a library resource, welcomes patrons into the library, and allows Greenwalt to show off the fact that, via the Ask a Librarian link, patrons can request items on microfilm and have them emailed to them.  This is a wonderful service that some patrons may not be familiar with.

    Greenwalt also shows off a resource that has an electronic version of the obituary, which is useful for patrons not willing to wait for an email or a trip to the library.

    The presentation ends with Greenwalt's email again.  This is the best way to end the screencast -- as it reaffirms Greenwalt's interest in following up with patrons.

    It's hard to fault any aspect of the library's screencast.  There appears to be a rather long list of resources, so a person might be disappointed that Greenwalt doesn't cover more sources, discussing strengths and weaknesses.  But, the video is already 4 minutes long and provides a hurried or impatient patron with enough information to get started.  Also, because it encourages emails, the video can get away with not explaining every single source; interested or lost patrons can email Greenwalt.

    Greenwalt is clear, concise, and hits all the right notes.  His is a fine model for any screencast.

    Sunday, October 28, 2012

    Flicking or Pinning

    tag=blogposting week 10

    As I've worked my way through this Web 2.0 class, I think I've become a cheerleader for the New York Public Library.  I've never been further east than Springfield, IL in my conscious life (I was born on an air base in Germany when my dad was in the US Air Force and stationed in Bitburg; I spent a glorious six months on European soil, turned 1 in New Mexico, but made all of my memories west of the Mississippi -- primarily in SD, WA, and CA), so I've never set foot on a single step of a single branch of NYPL.  I've never tried to ride a stone lion or tried to recreate scenes from Ghostbusters in the reading room.  But everytime I go to look at how libraries are using social media, NYPL seems to be absolutely on point, doing everything so right that it seems natural.  That's true also of their use of Flickr and Pintrest presences.  In the interest of not just promoting NYPL, though, I've decided to discuss a series of libraries here (in addition to NYPL). 

    [Tangentially, my wife and I have not yet gone on a honeymoon -- we just celebrated our 3rd anniversary this week.  We want to go to Scotland.  But Maybe we need to go to NYC and spend a week at the library on our way.]


    Okay, so as you can tell from the ringing endorsements above, the logical place to start talking about Flickr is the site of the New York Public Library. NYPL is just so astute at their use of images across their Internet presence.  They typically reserve themselves to posting images from their archives and they typically curate their posts well, presenting the most attractive photos.  One easy mistake to make would be to just throw all your photos on the web and force your community to slog through blurry pictures or shots that may as well be doubles.  We have to be constantly cognizant of the purpose of our online presence.  It's not just a place to unload our pictures and say, "see we're on the web."  NYPL's Flickr seems geared towards drawing patrons into the library to scour the archives for various research projects.  People interested in the history of auto companies, early modern dance, or cyanotypes of British algae may look at the page, realize that NYPL has images of these things in their archives, and run to the library to check them out (or find images they need right on the Flickr page).  The other thing that NYPL does as well as anyone could expect is that they fully dedicate themselves to their social networks.  In the case of their Flickr page they have some 30 albums, many with more than 100 pictures in them.  It's easy to immerse yourself in their pictures and spend some quality time on the site.

    With their page Sacramento Public Library also highlights history.  In this case it's more local.  They have some archival photos of the library's book mobile.  It's not a terribly exhaustive set and it's probably not as useful to researchers as the photos on NYPL's site, but it's fun.  And Sacramento hits a few things that NYPL doesn't.  They have some photos of a program called the Read and Feed Garden.  They also have a photo set called Book Spine Poetry -- a fun idea whereby stacking books lines up the titles into a kind of found poem.  Photos of outreach and programming events is a great way to develop interest in your library.  The only knock against Sac Public's efforts is that their page seems a little skimpy.  More photos of more events would help make this page as amazing as NYPL's.

    Combining the kinds of efforts seen on NYPL's page -- revealing your archive -- and Sacramento Public's -- showing off your programming efforts, developing fun photo project like the book spine poetry -- can provide a good model for a Flickr presence.


    Today is actually the first time I've really looked at Pintrest.  I'm actually not thrilled with it.  It looks like an enormous glossy catalog.  Check out the presence of Westerville Library or Muncie Public Library, for instance.  In the first few lines of images on both pages, it looks like they are advertising products.  The cover photo for Westerville's A is for App album looks like an add for the iPad.  Muncie's page currently has an overturned bottle of red nail polish as the cover of their Go Cardinals! album that looks like it was plucked from a L'Oreal advert.  Very few of the pictures or album names seem specifically connected to the individual libraries.  Contrast that with New York Public Library.  The photos they've placed as the covers of their Pintrest albums and the titles of those albums are much more frequently connected to the library: What NYPL is Reading, NYPL loves U, Little Lions (a reference to the big stone ones out front of the physical library; the album is pictures of housecats looking lionish), NYPL Photos, NYPL Collections, and NYPL's Current Events.  Even when their Pintrest explicitly advertises products, they are connected to the library: NYPL Gifts.  To my mind, the lesson here seems to be that if you want to promote your library, it might be best to upload your own photos to the site instead of using public domain images that look like inadvertent advertisements and to be careful about naming your albums.  Connect them to your library.  It seems like Pintrest makes it easy to accidentally advertise other products; think carefully about what you want your Pintrest to say about you.

    BTW, here's my entry for NYPL's little lion.

    That's my cat: Syd Vicious.

    Sunday, October 21, 2012

    Online Community

    Tag=blogposting week 9

    I was just lamenting to my wife last night that with the ability to so carefully choose our media landscape and our physical and electronic communities that I feel like my online experience is stagnant.  It's easy to hide yourself in a world of what you like.  You can watch Star Wars movies, tv shows, listen to Star Wars podcasts, and engage in Star Wars friendly web communities.  And that's -- all of it -- wonderful if that's what you want to do.  But -- sometimes, not all of the time, but sometimes -- I like to be challenged or exposed to a range of view points.

    For me that means I'd appreciate having experiences -- online, via the media -- that aren't simply entertainment.  My assignment this week in library school is to discuss online communities and how they are moderated though.  And while it seems tangential to my ennui, I think there are some ways in which carefully moderated online communities can both burst the insular post-modern existentialist consumer entertainment bubble and create safe spaces for challenging view points.

    The typical -- and by typical I mean careless -- model of online community can perhaps be typified by the users on Yahoo News Articles.  Here are a few comments from a recent article about President Obama's stance on immigration.

    These kinds of comments are of absolutely no substance.  Yahoo, which doesn't carefully moderate their comments section creates a morass of vitriol.  It's a perfect landscape for Trolls and flame wars.  Furthermore, even though people offer dissenting opinions in these threads the histrionic tone is typical.  And that elevated tone means that people aren't being persuasive.  There's no actual cultural exchange here.

    As Scott Rosenberg argues in his article Online comments need moderation, not “real names", these problems are typical of under-moderated threads.  They don't result in real community.  Even John Grohol in his article Anonymity and Online Community: Identity Matters, which as its title suggests implies that anonymity is part of what allows such horrifying comments, also argues that moderation and establishing a relationship with your members is key to developing an actual community -- a space where we could imagine dissenting opinions being stated tactfully.

    If you're about to launch an online presence in the hopes of attracting a community.  Don't just turn on the message boards and the let the comments fly.  Be ready to actually talk to your commenters and moderate your boards.  Anonymity can breed a culture of whispers and deceit, but it doesn't need to.  If you engage your anonymous users and your lurkers (people who are members of the community but choose not to post) in actual conversation, you can keep things civil and develop a fulfilling community that introduces Star Wars fans to The West Wing or the Jim Lehrer News Hour.

    Monday, October 15, 2012

    Wiki Applications for libraries

    tag=blogpost week 8

    Reading through the chapter on wikis in  Meredith Farkas' Social Software in Libraries, I was struck by her initial suggestion for how to use a wiki in a library.  She discussed setting up a wiki with information about the local community -- where to get your car worked on, where to catch local sporting events, etc.  I thought, "Gee, that sounds like the Davis Wiki."  I flipped the page, and there was a screen shot from the Davis wiki and then a description of it.  Having lived in Davis for the past decade, I wouldn't have even thought of hosting such a wiki on a library page or having librarians involved in its launch because I took for granted that it ought to already exist.  But libraries do seem like ideal sources to help spark such information, whether they ultimately only launch it or whether they monitor and maintain it.  It makes sense for libraries to make such connections because they are often already collaborating with many local organizations -- schools, local government, social services, police departments, businesses, etc.  Such a wiki also shows that the library is interested in and integral part of the community.

    Farkas also suggests using a wiki to provide more information about library holdings.  I like the idea very much and want to call it The Illuminated Catalog.  Patrons could provide information about the books or dvds they check out including the edition, the readability, the utility of the information, the wear and tear on the item, etc.  Furthermore, such a wiki could aid the library in determining book orders, programming, or services as it would create another portal for patron feedback.  Librarians could see what was being read (at least by the web savvy, wiki editing crowd) and address complaints or provide further service.

    Farkas mentioned that some libraries use a wiki as their main web presence.  I think this is also a great use for a wiki.  The ease of use of wikis can allow the library's webpage to shift and grow quickly as all members of staff can easily update or change the site.  It's a wonderful solution for a library that wants to reflect the ever shifting nature of library services on their webpage.  And the library can look more engaged if its webpage is always up to date.  Some consistency will of course aid the patrons in their navigation of such a site.

    Another great wiki use suggsted by Farkas is to create a fount of collective reference knowledge.  This is especially useful in libraries where reference professionals have different areas of expertise, but can be generally useful to.  This kind of wiki includes resources for particular reference questions.  The clear upshot of this is that patrons don't necessarily have to be directed to a particular librarian.

    In "Refresh for Success," Sally Jones discusses a wiki based training program for the Moonee Valley libraries in Victoria, Australia.  While she doesn't go into full detail about the nature of the wiki, it seems that the site covers the library's online resources.  She suggests that the use of the wiki -- which allowed employees to complete the training anywhere and anytime at their own pace -- was quite successful.  I'd want to know more specific information about the training itself before endorsing this kind of wiki use, but more importantly, a wiki that describes library resources for library staff could be quite beneficial.  It might have a slightly different focus than a wiki designed to inform patrons of library resources.

    All of these uses can have great impact on library services, but they also require a collaborative environment.  The wiki itself isn't enough; you have to have the community and sense of community to edit the pages.


    Farkas, M. (2007). Social software in libraries. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc.

    Jones, S. (2011). Refresh for success: Moonee valley libraries online database training wiki. APLIS, 24(2), 91-93.