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October 31, 2005

We have the information – how are we going to get it to our users?

As part of an ongoing conversation concerning the need for public libraries to become more fluid in their ability to change to meet customer needs, I received this brief note from Laura Savastinuk, a librarian and coworker, which I want to post here:

In trying to start a dialog about the future of libraries, and specifically this work-in-progress concept of Library 2.0, we should begin by thinking broadly about what it is we are trying to achieve.  A clear, big-picture explanation of Library 2.0 will allow for a definitive starting point for determining the details and how this concept will apply to individual libraries.  This may seem simple or overly broad, but it will help us figure out where we are and where we want to go. 

As a starting point we should first acknowledge and accept that change is constant and necessary.  This is a simple concept that librarians seem to understand, but it really needs to remain at the forefront when designing and evaluating library services.  The libraries that really incorporate change into their development will be the ones that will best grab their users.  When discussing change, we should not only think about new ideas, but also consider changing what we already have.  Rather than become settled on a specific point, we should continually revisit and reevaluate our services.   If something doesn’t work, how can we change it?  Librarians cannot be afraid to rethink the way we serve our users, even – especially – if it means reevaluating processes we consider fundamental to library service. 

The way we serve our users needs to change continually to reflect the changing way they wish to be served.  With that in mind, for libraries it has become less about what we offer, and more about how we offer it.  We have the information – how are we going to get it to our users?

October 27, 2005

We Shape Our Own Future

And he questioned the call to spend so much on an entity whose future he sees as limited.

This quote comes from an article about the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library and a controversy they are embroiled in concerning a $60,000 expenditure for marketing.  Though the system has seen a 13% increase in circulation, they face criticism for building expansion cost overruns and have sought the $60K in an effort to swing public opinion.  Without getting into the expansion project issue, I think it’s worth looking at some of the language being used in the debate.

The editorial writer, Ruth Holladay, obviously questions the spending when she says, “Consider the word spread, at a fraction of the cost. Also consider the door open for another debate on the library's past, present and future…This institution is in flux. Public libraries nationally are cutting staff, feeling the Internet heat and facing competition from bookstores and film rental outlets.”

Curt Coonrod, a former local politician, appears to be leading the attack against the library with quotes like this: "He questioned the call to spend so much on an entity whose future he sees as limited…Looking ahead to the information age, this is just not the way people get their information…That's true even today, let alone 20 years from now, when the bonds are still outstanding."

And, “Libraries remain as popular as mother and apple pie to the public. We were all brought up to think that libraries are good things -- and they are…But they are changing, and nobody has a crystal ball into the library's future.”

Library system CEO Linda Mielke is quoted as saying, “Google is replacing the professional librarian…Libraries must stock best-selling books and DVDs to keep pace.”

Looking at what’s going on, the language being used, and the opinions being quickly formed, spending $60K on public relations (spin control) may be the best money ever spent.

The language being tossed around is self-defeating.  No library, or library board, should be looking into the proverbial crystal ball for the future of the library.  The library and its leadership need to be shaping that future today.  Perhaps easier said than done, but the power is in the library’s hands to shape themselves and grow to meet user needs.  The tools to do just that are being discussed right now, at conferences and on blogs and throughout the library world.  We shape our own future, but we cannot do that if we sit back and simply watch.

 

October 25, 2005

Is There a Library 1.0? Does it help to ask?

I notice that you have not provided a definition of Library 1.0. You and I have previously discussed this and how when discussing (debating?) the transition from Library 1.0 to Library 2.0, it is natural for those interested in this concept to first seek a definition of Library 1.0. Personally, I think that defining Library 1.0 would be difficult, and possibly even counterproductive. I’d love to see your comments on that here on LibraryCrunch.

This comment from Laura revolves around an issue that the two of us have been discussing for several days now – what are we moving away from?  I’m going to agree and say that providing a strict definition of Library 1.0 would be counterproductive.  However, Library 1.0 can be illustrated in a few ways.

First, Library 1.0 really is whatever point you are at now.  The crowds we are serving now are the crowds that we have served for some time.  Using the long tail concept, most libraries have become quite adept at serving the users who populate the left axis – we know them well, we know their needs, and we have tailored our collections and services to meet the majority of their desires.  However, as the long tail idea illustrates, as needs begin to differ and as that tail expands out to the right, the number of users and the diversity of needs grows.  The reality is that the number of users who have needs that are not being met outnumbers those whose needs we are meeting.  In other words, we are offering services that are not wanted by a majority of our population. 

Long Tail 

Another illustration of Library 1.0 is the current project cycle of planning, implementing, and forgetting.  Libraries (and any bureaucracy) are excellent at planning and preparing – we often prepare and plan for years – but when those plans are put into place and executed we have a tendency to walk away without performing constant follow-up.

These are but two things that reside in the world of Library 1.0.  I think that what we need to remember is that Library 1.0 is a restrictive place, governed by strict hierarchies, rigid boundaries, and underpinned by change-avoidance.  Perhaps this is sufficient -- knowing what we are wanting to move away from and where we want to go.  The mechanism that is Library 2.0 will assist us in this journey.

October 23, 2005

Taskable and the issue of stand-alone programs

Sean Nolan, author and owner of Taskable, responded to comments I made in a recent post regarding my take on Taskable.  I took Taskable to task (sorry!) for being a stand-alone program (instead of something like a Firefox extension). 

In his comment, Sean asks, “certainly all of the extensions you talk about putting into Firefox required downloads, right? And I don't see that users do or should perceive a difference between functionality that lives within a browser "process" or outside of one -- I would imagine that very few users know what a "process" is!

Now, let me first say, I like Taskable.  I have it installed on my work computer and I find it to be a very handy and innovative tool.  But my criticism is twofold.  My first concern centers around its usability in an environment likely to be found in a library – on a public OPAC or a managed staff computer.  Because of the constant tug-of-war between usability and security, many libraries severely restrict what can and cannot be downloaded or executed on a public access computer or a general staff computer that is often shared by many people.

Installing stand-alone programs often requires a complicated approval process through the IT department.  This process isn’t impossible to get through, it’s just painful.  Being able to sell a browser extension – or, in most instances, being able to simply install the browser extension without any extra approval steps – is far easier and more efficient.  If we don’t like it, we can remove it, all without needing special approval or administrative rights at any point during the process.

My second concern is more personal – I do not like running more apps than I must.  I frequently find myself taxing my computer’s resources – running several Firefox tabs, Photoshop, ACDSee, an FTP program, Word, and IM all at the same time, not to mention the inevitable programs that always seem to force their quick-launchers on me, like Quicktime, Adobe Acrobat and the like.  This makes me very hesitant to install new programs.  The fact that the tool I want plugs into Firefox as an extension instead of running as its own process makes a difference in my decision making, no matter how irrational that may sound!

So, try Taskable – don’t let me stop you.  Be encouraged by the fact that Sean cares what people are saying about his program!  Oh, Sean, if you have any ideas for tools for libraries, please share!

October 21, 2005

Working Towards a Definition of Library 2.0

Looking First at Web 2.0 

Yesterday’s public release of Flock has created some reluctant questioning among proponents of Web 2.0, with the best comments coming from WeBreakStuff.  For anyone who may not know, Flock is a new browser – actually it’s built on Firefox – that integrates your Delicious feeds into the browser itself. Flock also makes blogging a bit easier by integrating a blog editor into the browser.

However, WeBreakStuff is spot on when they say, “But being 100% honest, I’m still not sure I’m changing my browser to have a way to integrate delicious and a blogging tool into my browsing experience.”

When was the last time you changed your browser?  I switched to Firefox about twelve months ago and have been with them ever since, leaving IE and Opera behind.  However, I have since added many extensions to my Firefox browser, customizing it to a level I find usable and efficient.  No matter how good Flock may be, it must be able to not only beat my bionic Firefox but it must offer sufficient rewards over and above what I already have – there must be a compelling reason to change the browser itself. 

Products offering incremental improvements in  technology -- like Flock-- can no longer ask the user to make such fundamental changes.  As much as I hate to say it, Flock’s approach is to take Web 2.0 technologies and attempt to push them on the community in a manner reminiscent of Web 1.0.

I would extend this idea of Web 2.0 to any program that requires an installation to the user’s local computer so that the program can run as its own operation.  Simply put, don’t make the user download software – make the application work within the browser itself.  As an example, take a look at Taskable, an “RSS and OPML browser built into the Windows taskbar notification area”.  Taskable is a great product that makes accessing RSS feeds simple and quick, but the fact that it is a separate program, always running in the background, keeps it off my list of desirables.

So how does this all fit into Library 2.0? 

Michael Stephens recently asked several panelists at Internet Librarian 2005 to describe what a Library 2.0 website would look like.  In response he got some very forward thinking replies, my favorite, I think, being Sarah Houghton’s.  Sarah sees library websites following the same trajectory as commercial ones, in that you can no longer really figure out how large a library is by the look of its website – small libraries are now beginning to create websites that rival and often better the websites of larger library systems.  Small libraries are now pushing content via RSS, they are creating methods for users to customize content, and they are creating multiple access points for customer queries such as email, IM, blogs, chat, wikis, etc.

The introduction of these services into public libraries has not been an easy one.  Established orders and outdated operating procedures have made the introduction of new thinking difficult – Library 2.0 is not something that will enjoy a seamless or fluid transition period.   Moving to Library 2.0 will require a rethinking of many models with which we have grown comfortable.  This push will not necessarily come from within.  Indeed, most catalysts will be from outside – financial crises, staffing shortages, user expectations/demands, technological changes/barriers, etc.  Many library system are already somewhere on this continuum of change, breaking through the old pitfalls that include:

  • Identity-crisis
  • Role confusions
  • Goal-fixation
  • Over-attachment to successful methods
  • Requiring perfection before release/implementation
  • Lack of discernment
  • Interminable attempts at consensus

Beyond websites, beyond even the world of technology, the concept of Library 2.0 embraces something not yet discussed here at LibraryCrunch: disruptive ideas.  Richard MacManus at Web 2.0 Explorer is in the middle of an ongoing search for disruptive startups in the world of Web 2.0 – companies that, as he says, either create disruptive technologies (like Google did) or “non-geek services built using Web 2.0 technologies”. 

Disruptive technologies rock the boat, they create new expectations and new boundaries.  Disruptive technologies allow the customers, the user, to see beyond the limits of the old framework.  A disruptive technology following the Web 2.0 concept may allow that customer to move beyond the limited role of “user”, and move into the world of designer or moderator – this is where all of those clichéd phrases such as radical trust,  user as contributor, rich user experiences, and user behavior not predetermined (all of these can be found on Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Meme).

 

So Library 2.0 is a disruptive idea, that is established.  Feel free to email me your thoughts: mecasey (at) gmail.com.  In my next post I hope to further explore this concept of disruptive ideas.

 

 

October 16, 2005

Simple Can Be Beautiful

Library Stuff refers to a posting regarding the use of blogs and RSS feeds that serve as a crude yet effective content management mechanism for library websites.  Apparently, Zanesville Campus Library started using this blog to serve their website with easily updated content. If you ask me, it’s about time libraries started using free and open resources like blogs to push information to the customer.

Purchasing and maintaining a content management solution is not a viable option for many cash-strapped libraries.  But setting up in-house (behind the firewall) blogs that can serve as conduits via RSS to the library’s external website is a very low cost, effective, and easily managed option for libraries.

Setting up simple RSS feeds to the library website is only the beginning.  Giving customers the option to tailor the information they receive is another step in the long road to Library 2.0.  By creating an environment like Netvibes, where your library customers can choose from both in-house and external feeds, allows the library website to become more of a one-stop location, where customers can get their primary information and make the leap to more detailed research via the library’s catalog and database offerings.

And the step after this?  Perhaps a mashup of customer-driven content with our catalog and databases?

 

October 11, 2005

Cosmos, with Carl Sagan

All 13 episodes of Carl Sagan's masterpiece, Cosmos, are being replayed on the Science Channel. Now digitally remastered, this superb classic series was my introduction to "big" thinking. Don't miss it!

OPAC Wishlist, more

Jenny Levine of The Shifted Librarian fame suggested adding some new features to the OPAC Wishlist.  So, here is the list as it now stands:

          FEATURE   (GOOD EXAMPLE OF SERVICE)

  • Saved Bookmarks (Delicious)
  • Starred (user) ratings (Amazon)
  • User Reputations (iKarma)
  • User recommendations -- narrative (Amazon)
  • User tagging -- keywording (Flickr)
  • Saved titles (Netflix)
  • Search history (Google Toolbar)
  • Suggest to friends (Amazon)
  • Wish List (Amazon)
  • RSS Aggregator (Netvibes)
  • Contacts, Friends and Family Network (Flickr)
  • To-Do list (Backpack)
  • Note-taker / word-processor and collaborator (Writely)
  • Email with large storage capacity (Gmail)
  • Live search suggestions (Google Suggest)
  • User-modifiable web pages (GreaseMonkey scripting)

 

Library 2.0, Beta

"The Web is becoming an operating system right before our eyes, and it's pretty cool to watch it unfold." (Jenny Levine)

Jenny Levine of The Shifted Librarian has an excellent piece in ALA TechSource titled Hello, Library (1.0) World! in which she examines the mashup of Web 2.0 ideas and Library 1.0 offerings -- leading, hopefully, to a Library 2.0 world. She even mentions several items that we will add to the OPAC Wishlist.

But what strikes me when I read Jenny's piece is more than the technical Web 2.0 creations, it's the direction of thinking that seems to be evolving among many in the field of library services.  Constant change is replacing the older model of upgrade cycles.  Let me repeat that, constant change is replacing the older model of upgrade cycles. Take a look at such sites as Flickr and Gmail and notice the beta label.  These services have been out for over a year, and still they refer to themselves as beta products. Why? Because they are upgrading at a frenetic pace, pushing new developments out almost daily, and bypassing the older, structured, version upgrade cycle.

Bringing this thought process to library services is difficult but most certainly not impossible. This, to me, is one of the definitions of Library 2.0 -- harvesting ideas and products from peripheral fields that can then be integrated into library service models to improve existing services and create new services, and then continuing to examine and improve these services without being afraid to replace them at any time with newer and hopefully better services. 

October 07, 2005

Sam Spade on Podcasting

Unlike so many other podcasts out there, take a look at this podcaster -- if you like old (1950s) detective-style radio shows, give this a try! And remember, tell your library customers about these podcasts!

Soap Detectives 

Reaching Your Customers Through Audio or Video Podcasts

Podcasting requires little in the way of equipment or new technology.  Most of the equipment is simply taken from radio-station supply houses – a small digital voice recorder, one or two decent microphones with stands, an entry-level mixing board, and a computer that can take audio input and further mix it and convert it to the proper file type and size.

How could it be used?

 

  • Children’s story-times
  • Bilingual children’s story-times
  • Teen event announcements
  • Library event marketing
  • Author visit and event excerpts (and replays)
  • Book discussion replays
  • Library policy statements
  • Bilingual policy statements

Obviously, I think the greatest area for this would be in children’s programming – being able to push podcasts out through the library’s website may prove very popular with both individual families and daycares.   

Video?

With the addition of a simple video cam you could expand to a video service that would allow podcasting recorded puppet shows and other children’s and library events.

Links
Michael Stephens talks about library podcasting here


Admissions podcast

 

October 06, 2005

Web 2.0 Companies

TechCrunch has an excellent, two-part, listing of what it considers to be Web 2.0 companies. It's worth browsing through this list to see just what is on offer out there.

List 1

List 2

Many of the companies offer applications that our library users will find very attractive. 

Delaware Supreme Court Declines to Unmask a Blogger

The Delaware Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that if an elected official claims he has been defamed by an anonymous blogger, he cannot use a lawsuit to unmask the writer unless he has substantial evidence to prove his claim.

Full text article 

 

October 04, 2005

Disposing of Weeded Books -- Online Sales

A recent ALA TechSource blog entry, Fit to Print: What to Do with Printed Books?, recommends disposing of used library books via an online used bookseller.  My library system has had a relationship with Better World Books for several months now, and it seems to be working very well.  Weeded materials are triaged for condition and type and then those materials that meet certain criteria are boxed and sent to the online seller.  While some customers were upset with the elimination of the library’s weekly booksale, most now understand the reasons – lower overhead, quicker disposal, etc. – and many have had a whole new world of online used books opened to them. Customers also appreciate the literacy work that Better World Books performs – they have donated over 80,000 books to the Books for Africa program and are partners with the National Center for Family Literacy and Room to Read.

Last 100 Hits

Speak to Me, Please - Talkr and Text-to-Speech

Last week I found Talkr, a great text-to-speech service, and immediately installed their little bit of code into my Movable Type template.  At first it worked flawlessly – Talkr’s voice is by far the best of any free text-to-speech software (as I said below).  But somewhere along the way things started to go awry.  Old posts continued to work thorugh Talkr, but new posts refused to play, with Windows Media Player saying that the file extension does not match the file format.  Then some new posts seemed to work, and others did not.

Chris, at Talkr, responded to my call for help, and he’s been great at trying to debug my problems.  This is such a new service (and such a great one) that I plan on sticking it out for a while to see if we can get things nailed down.  I can easily see such a service becoming standard on most library websites, with friendly-voiced assistants reading book excerpts and library event news.

So please be patient -- I know some of the Listen to this article links are not yet working. 

Bloggin' On Bloggers

The October Library Journal cover story is on an LJ Round Table discussion titled Talkin' Blogs.

Overall it's an excellent discussion that was moderated by Michael Stephens, but one quote from Luke Rosenberger stands out as my favorite:

We need the conversation to be more two-way…newspapers are stashing away all their archives where blogs aren't able to link to them any more. We need permanent links to the content…. But we need to get to the place where it really is fluid, where [LJ] can link and say, 'Here are blogs that are discussing this subject.' But, we also need to go the other way, where we can look at a Library Journal story…or any other publisher's publications and be able to comment on that.

October 03, 2005

What Library 2.0 Is Not

I recently heard a sales pitch from a company trying to sell a mechanism that allows customers to store personal information on small, credit-card-sized cards.  It works like this: the library buys a card-reader for every OPAC (at over $90 per unit) and then sells the small cards to customers at the cost of $10 per card.  The customer is then able to save his bookmarks, passwords, form data, etc., onto the card.

Does this help the customer? Yes. Is it cost effective for the customer or the library? No.

There are two primary problems with this idea.  First, the tools are proprietary in nature. Instead of simply using a USB drive to store the data (and thereby allowing the customer to take his data with him wherever he goes), the company utilizes a proprietary interface (ironically, this device plugs into a USB port) and a low-tech yet also proprietary card to store a small amount of data that cannot easily be made portable without the customer also buying an expensive card reader.

The second major issue -- and the one that upsets me most -- is the fact that web 2.0 applications already exist that serve these needs.  Imagine the library teaming with (or simply promoting) Delicious and/or Backpack to serve customer storage needs?  They could save their bookmarks, ideas, notes, to-do lists, etc., at no charge, and accessible anywhere without the need for any external hardware.  Now imagine a savvy catalog provider writing an API to interface the library’s catalog portal to one of these web 2.0 applications.

It certainly may make sense for the library to have a physical mechanism for allowing the customer to store and retrieve such information, but that technology already exists in the form of USB drives that have no need for any proprietary interface. Companies wanting to do business with public libraries should not be creating proprietary hardware.  We need to require a certain efficiency in whatever we purchase.  Library 2.0 is not a closed, immobile future.

OPAC Wishlist, Continued

Rachel wrote in with some additional items for our OPAC wishlist. The list as it now stands:

          FEATURE   (GOOD EXAMPLE OF SERVICE)

  • Saved Bookmarks (Delicious)
  • Starred (user) ratings (Amazon)
  • User Reputations (iKarma)
  • User recommendations -- narrative (Amazon)
  • User tagging -- keywording (Flickr)
  • Saved titles (Netflix)
  • Search history (Google Toolbar)
  • Suggest to friends (Amazon)
  • Wish List (Amazon)
  • RSS Aggregator (Netvibes)
  • Contacts, Friends and Family Network (Flickr)
  • To-Do list (Backpack)
  • Note-taker / word-processor and collaborator (Writely)
  • Email with large storage capacity (Gmail)

 

Blogs Playing Bigger Role in Consumer Decision-Making

From Forrester Research:

Participation in three of the technologies highest on the Internet’s buzz list — blogging, reading RSS feeds, and engaging in social networking — is climbing, a research firm said Wednesday, but two of the three haven’t cracked the 1-in-10 barrier.

Ten percent of consumers read blogs once a week or more, said Forrester Research at the opening of its annual Consumer Forum. That’s double the 5 percent who browsed blogs in 2004.

Real Simple Syndication (RSS) use tripled in the same period, from 2 percent in 2004 to 6 percent this year, while use of social network sites such as Friendster.com and MySpace.com increased from 4 percent last year to 6 percent in 2005.

October 02, 2005

Google To Provide San Francisco Free WiFi

Google Inc. has offered to blanket San Francisco with free wireless Internet access at no cost to the city, placing a marquee name behind Mayor Gavin Newsom's effort to get all residents online whether they are at home, in a park or in a cafe.

Full Story Link