Monday, August 25, 2008

The Right Tool for the Right Job

In a post called Homer Simpson is the patron saint of innovation, Australian communications blogger Lee Hopkins makes the important point that communication tools tend to live alongside one another. This means that while experimentation isn't a bad thing, we should use the tools that we are most comfortable with.

Or as Lee puts it much better than I:

Just as there’s no point trying to get a non-communicative CEO to start blogging, there’s no point trying to use a tool and channel that uses skills not ordinarily part of your personal repertoire.

Naturally, there is nothing wrong with stretching, growing, developing, and adopting new skills. But be honest with yourself — if you don’t have the time and the self-esteem to vidblog (bearing in mind that video blogging can take ages to get right, far longer than text blogging or audio podcasting) then don’t commit yourself to it and your audience to expect it.

Something to think about. What are you comfortable with and how you using that to connect with your patrons?

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tips for finding historic photos of the Tlingit and Haida

If you're looking for historic photos of the Tlingit or Haida, the archivist at the Sealaska Heritage Institute Special Collections has some tips for you. In addition to these tips, he made this welcome announcement:

"In the next few months we aim to launch an online searchable catalog that will allow people to search our collection holdings."

This is exciting news and I'm sure librarians across Alaska will be eagerly awaiting the arrival of this new finding aid.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reference Renaissance: Most PowerPoints available

The Reference Renaissance conference that I blogged about earlier this month has posted the presentation slides and handouts from the presenters who provided them. You can find a session list with linked materials at A special thanks to Justine Shaffner for letting me know it's been done!

As I have time available, I will go back through the blog posts here and create links to session materials.


Do you agree with WebJunction on education needs?

Recently the OCLC-powered, non-profit library education community site WebJunction published a survey about perceived training needs. The survey garnered about 2,000 responses worldwide. Among other things, librarians and other library workers were asked the open ended question “What skill or knowledge would you like to add to your expertise to help you in your work?” Some of the replies included:

  • Keeping up with new technology
  • Keeping up with library trends, including Library 2.0
  • Web design and development
  • Basic computer skills
  • Computer programming
  • Networking, esp, wireless
  • Time management (including email management)
  • Cataloging
  • Office applications, especially Excel
  • Open source applications
  • Computer troubleshooting
  • “Web 2.0″, social tools
  • Personnel management
  • Customer service/ dealing with difficult patrons
  • Spanish Language (learning it)
  • Grants (finding, writing) and other fundraising skills
  • Marketing (especially marketing/outreach materials)
  • Budgeting & financial planning

How does the above match up to your own experience? Since no one likes to admit deficits, I'll get the ball rolling.

My number one need is communications, especially in the context of marketing. I've learned some things over the decade-plus out of library school, but I'm still not master of the elevator speech that will instantly communicate my library's value to my funders and people I meet at parties.

I can also use instruction in budgeting and grants. Thanks to my institution, I feel like I'm getting some good feel for budgeting.

Finally one of my major needs isn't on WebJunction's list at all. It could be because it's not something that can be taught in a classroom. And that is a deep knowledge of my library's collection and electronic resources. I have worked for my current library for nearly ten years and I am still running across material that is new to me. Hopefully this says more about the richness of the State Library's collection than it does about my curiosity.

So that's me, what about you? I don't mean to do an actual survey because there are other venues for that, but I would like to start a conversation about what your important needs are and how you see yourself meeting them.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Reference Renaissance: Final Thoughts


In my previous post, I said:

Note: By August 20, 2008, all of the presentation slides and handouts for Reference Renaissance will posted to the conference site at

Justine Shaffner, one of the conference organizers, kindly sent this correction:

Hi Daniel! Re all the Reference Renaissance materials being posted by 8/20 - actually, we'll only have posted all of the materials that were sent to us...

Thanks Justine! Sorry about my misunderstanding and for the late correction.

Read on for my last impressions of the conference.


Over the past several days, I've written about my experience in attending sessions at the BCR sponsored Reference Renaissance conference. But since any conference is more than sessions, I have some general comments about this excellent conference that I heartily recommend to anyone involved in providing reference services.

Local Arrangements Committee

Based on my experience, at the heart of any great conference is a hardworking group of people privately pulling their hair out but publicly doing everything they can to do make things go smoothly for speakers and attendees alike. I don't know about hair-pulling, but the RR local arrangements folks were just wonderful. They answered every question promptly with a smile and also posted all the restaurant and tourist information one could wish for. When tech went bad, a room monitor was on scene to fix the problem or get quick help. They even arranged a baseball game for some of the out-of-towners. I passed, but the folks who went had a good time. Thank you Kris Johnson and the rest of local arrangements. You made us feel very welcome!


It was both fun and productive to meet other reference librarians. Some for the first time, like an Alaskan colleague that I just happened to sit next to on the outbound Seattle-Denver flight, or meeting old documents colleagues. It was helpful and comforting to find that some of things we've started doing have been adopted elsewhere. I also finally got to meet up some of the fine and eccentric creative people who make up the Library Society of the World.


I know you shouldn't pick a conference by its venue, but BCR picked one of the best locations that I've ever been to. (Bear in mind I don't get out much.) A number of conferences I've been to have been at hotels in business parks or other areas where there is a dearth of restaurants, other amenities or public transportation.

The hotel we stayed at was within easy walking distance of nearly a dozen restaurants. It was also within a few blocks of a light rail station where one could easily get to downtown Denver with its extensive 16th shopping mall with restaurants of all cuisines. I did not play tourist, but Denver has a lot to offer. As a result of this trip, I'd actually consider Denver for a personal vacation destination.


Reference Renaissance was a productive, idea-generating conference that helped to build the confidence of all librarians who believe in a world made better by easy access to accurate information. Plus it had its fun moments. Speaking solely for myself, this is a conference you want to go to if you have funding.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Reference Renaissance: Beyond the Hash(mark)

The last session I attended at Reference Renaissance had a definite take-home idea for me. Ironically an idea I knew I was taking home since the first morning of the conference, but more about that later.

The presentation was titled, "Beyond the Hash(mark): Tally Sheets are so 2005 with these presenters from Kansas State University (KState):

  • Danielle Theiss-White
  • Laura Bonella
  • Jason Coleman
  • Erin Fritch

In addition to the subject matter, this presentation gave me a striking lesson in modern communication culture that stunned me. Attendees were given a choice between asking questions by raising their hand OR by texting a message from their cell phone. This seemed like a needless gimmick to me, BUT five questions were received in this fashion. I don't own a cell phone, but I had borrowed my wife's cell phone for the conference. She doesn't have a texting plan, but even if she did, I feel like I would have spent a half hour composing the text message. Clearly a significant number of people don't share my discomfort. Is this a sign we should be offering SMS ref service at the library? So people can text us from the stacks? Just thinking out loud.

Sorry to be distracted by the shiny new toy of in-room texting, but it seemed worth mentioning.

The meat of the presentation was a "debate" between Danielle, representing
KState with its electronic stat tool for reference, and Jason, representing GraphiteU, an entity eerily similar to KState except for using paper tally sheets.

Danielle sung the praises of the Libstats data gathering tool. Libstats is free and open source and can be found at KState uses it to track reference questions. Types of information gathered are the question and answer itself, location, patron type, question type, time spent, question format (i.e. phone, IM, e-mail, etc) and librarian initials. There are several built-in reports and data can also be exported to any spreadsheet program for further analysis. Multiple librarians can access the program at one time. It looks pretty decent, although code page says that the person who maintains the program is switching jobs and is looking for a new developer to take over. And the user community as represented by the Libstats user group at only has 34 members. But it still looked pretty nifty and certainly a cheap way to develop a knowledge base.

Jason sung the praises of the paper tally sheet. He was entertaining but not particularly convincing. Except for noting that his method kept working during internet breakdowns and power outages.

One thing that both "debaters" emphasized is that you should understand WHY you are collecting statistics. Many of us have to keep track for state and/or federal reports, but the right kind of data can help you determine desk staffing and training needs. This is where tracking question content and time of day can be handy. And this is undoubtedly easier in electronic format. If you are creating a knowledge base with questions, it is very important to strip out identifying information as you may get court/national security orders to release material from your tracking database.

It was a fun and informative session. Enough so that I recommend seeing KState librarians whereever they present. They are a fun-loving group who communicate knowledge well.

At the top of this post I mentioned that I had marked electronic reference tracking from the first morning. That's because I stopped by the table of Altarama and asked them to give me a breakfast demo of their DeskStats product. I was impressed and it seemed reasonably priced. It definitely has better reporting than LibStats and I liked the way it could customize sub types of reference questions. It also seems to have the capability of letting other sections of our division have their own specialized question tracking forms. If so, it would free up time of our publications specialist who currently spends a good amount of time compiling spreadsheets of question counts. I also think it will lead to more accurate reporting and allow us to better track our educational opportunities.

The one possible drawback to DeskStats is that I didn't see a way to enter Q&A data like I did for LibStats. So it couldn't double as a knowledgebase. But we blog selected reference questions of interest at our "Since You Asked" blog at and as that blog develops, it will become a knowledgebase of sorts.

I've arranged for the vendor to call me and arrange a demonstration DeskStats for my staff and other interested parties. We'll see how things go from there. But I'd really like to get out of the tally sheet/excel grind.

So there you have it, the last of six sessions plus a keynote and an exciting plenary session. There are other sessions I wished I could have gone to also, but one can be in a single place at one time. Wouldn't risk a Hermione style time-turner for them. But I might buy the proceedings, depending on their price and how much I get out of the free powerpoint slides.


Note: By August 20, 2008, all of the presentation slides and handouts for Reference Renaissance will posted to the conference site at Later in the year, Neal-Schuman will be publishing conference proceedings. I’m looking forward to those, since I (or anyone else) could only attend 1/6 of the offered sessions, plus the Keynote and the Plenary Session.

Also, as I write up sessions, I very much welcome comments and corrections. Just as I was physically unable to attend all 36 sessions, so too I might not have picked up on everything in the sessions I did attend or I might have accidentally misinterpreted something. Or maybe you’ve got a different take on the session you’d like to share.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reference Renaissance: Theory Meets Practice

Theory Meets Practice: Educators and Administrators Talk was the sleeper hit of Reference Renaissance, at least for me. I mean this in the sense that on paper it sounded like the least interesting session. If *anything* had been playing against it, I would have gone to the other program. But it was the plenary session of the conference, so it had no competition. It was also directly after lunch on Tuesday. I gave serious thought to bagging this session and going for the three hour lunch. But because I believe I always owe my funding agency full attendance at every conference they send me to, I went.

This was absolutely the right decision because it was fascinating, energizing and thought provoking, complete with screaming audience and panel members. I was worried that I couldn't do this session justice from my notes, but thankfully, David Lenkes has posted an audio file of the entire session at If you've got an hour or so, listening to this program would be a great use of your time. To encourage you to take the time to listen, I'll dispense with my usual play by play of the session and focus on my reactions to it.

The presenters on this panel were:

The panel chair asked each participant to answer three questions in their opening remarks:

1) What is the most critical skill in reference librarianship?

2) How are you improving reference service or library education at your institution?

3) Do you have any predications for the future of reference.

To hear how the panel responded, listen to the audio file referenced above. What follows are my impressions and reactions.

One thing that seemed to come from all the presenters is that reference needs to be more about evaluating and summarizing resources and not just giving patrons a stack of articles. More is not always better in today's sea of information. While I haven't been writing summary memos since I've gotten back, I have taken this to heart in that I'm trying to offer fewer, more focused articles to my state agency patrons instead of sending lists of dozens of articles that may be somewhat relevant to their topic. I've also been re-impressed with the need for good reference interviews. We won't be able to do much "added value" type work if we're not very clear on what the patron needs.

Another concept that appeared to be emphasized from all panelists, but especially from Jamie LaRue, is that reference librarians need to be actively engaged with their communities. They need to members of the local chamber of commerce, of the rotary club, of other venues with community leaders. Only by being engaged in one's user communities can librarians get a good handle on what is important to the community and demonstrate the value of library collections and library expertise to the community. Jamie gave the example of one of his librarians joining the local downtown development committee. Now they won't meet without the librarian around to provide resources and research assistance.

I acknowledge this need, but I'm not sure what to do about it. My life seems plenty full already and I'm not much of a joiner aside from some selected church activities (where I do try to promote libraries). But I will be thinking about what opportunities I could be taking advantage of. And I may check with my coworkers and leadership to see what they're involved in. Then I'll have to see if there's anything in my life that I can downsize to make way for the new activities. Are any readers out there active in the way that Jamie suggests? What are you doing?

Another, possibly anecdotal or institution specific, idea talked about in this section was the idea that about 85% of typical reference questions could be handled by paraprofessionals. There was talk of letting frontline reference be exclusively paraprofessional with reference librarians being on-call for the other 15%. The reference professionals would then have time freed up to create the guides, the executive summaries, the economic gardening and community building suggested by most of the panelists. While this is a tempting concept, I'm wary of going through with it, as were a number of audience members. I can't really speak for my fellow attendees, but I'm wary because we as a profession haven't effectively demonstrated the difference between para and MLIS degreed staff. From the public's point of view everyone who works in the library is a librarian. And if paraprofessionals are cheaper and can answer the vast bulk of reference questions, why pay for the degree? Especially if they're not visible? Something like this actually happened at the Anchorage Municipal Libraries a few years back. Many MLIS degreed librarians were let go and hours were extended by staffing more positions at the paraprofessional level. Librarians weren't freed to add value to information the community needed, they were let go. But I suppose this could vary by community. And, not living in Anchorage, I might not be fully informed about the effects of the change.

After the other panelists emphasized the need for librarians to dedicate themselves to lifelong learning, Marie Radford practically brought the gathering to its feet by loudly pointing out that librarians already are dedicated to lifelong learning. It was a great moment, but you'll have to listen to the audio.

Finally, I need to mention something that just floored me, despite the fact I work in a very open, supportive workplace. During the question and answer period one of Jamie LaRue's employees had some very pointed remarks about some aspects of Douglas County Library's recent changes and how they weren't working for her and some other reference librarians. For all my adult life I have internalized the lessons "Thou SHALT NOT criticize your employer in public" and "If you can't say something nice about your employer, don't say anything at all." Unless my employers engage in blatantly immoral or illegal behavior that isn't being addressed in other venues, you won't see me writing negative things about them. I haven't been directed to act this way, but it makes sense to me.

So I was very surprised to hear a panelist criticized by one of his own employees in such a public forum. But Jamie LaRue appeared to handle the question and criticism with grace. I got no feeling that the librarian would face consequences for her actions. And a good discussion ensued about how supportive a workplace has been developed so that librarians feel comfortable in bringing up problems in this way.

Overall a very good and surprising session.


Note: By August 20, 2008, all of the presentation slides and handouts for Reference Renaissance will posted to the conference site at Later in the year, Neal-Schuman will be publishing conference proceedings. I’m looking forward to those, since I (or anyone else) could only attend 1/6 of the offered sessions, plus the Keynote and the Plenary Session.

Also, as I write up sessions, I very much welcome comments and corrections. Just as I was physically unable to attend all 36 sessions, so too I might not have picked up on everything in the sessions I did attend or I might have accidentally misinterpreted something. Or maybe you’ve got a different take on the session you’d like to share.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Reference Renaissance: Outreach, E-Learning, Resource Guides

The second session I attended on Tuesday at Reference Renaissance was Outreach, E-Learning, Resource Guides with panelists:

  • Kathleen Keating University of New Mexico
  • Marleen van Wyk JS Gericke Library Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch South Africa
  • Stephanie Alexander and Jennifer Gerke, University of Colorado at Boulder

Kathleen Keating began her presentation by noting that her co-author and major outreach librarian, Paulita Aguilar was unable to attend due to a major family celebration.

During this conference I began to feel that every presentation from an academic librarian would begin with demographics and facts about their college/university. I've been omitting these sections figuring you'll see them once the conference presentation materials become available. But I did want to call attention to the fact that University of New Mexico libraries have standing orders for any Latin/Central American book that is published. They must have quite the collection and I hope to visit there sometime.

It would also help you to know that UNM is a very diverse campus with strong ethnic student groups. These groups have counseling, study facilities and computer pods at Mesa Vista Hall. There are separate sections for the various ethnic groups and a common atrium. The UNM library worked with the people who run Mesa Vista Hall to setup a satellite facility for the library. This involved obtaining a grant to provide Mesa Vista Hall with reliable wifi access so the librarians could access library databases. When access to library print materials is needed, the librarian at Mesa Vista can IM the main library to have them look up print materials and send over chapters or articles if needed.

Staff for the Mesa Vista Hall is drawn from all the UNM libraries, although I got the impression that Paulita Aguilar was a major presence there. She was in many of the pictures that Kathleen showed. Librarians made sure to keep a dish of chocolate available at all times, which proved to be a major attractant.

So far, the outreach program has provided 960 hours of coverage over six semesters. During that time staff answered 845 reference questions and provided an unknown number of workshops and group instruction sessions.

One important consequence of staffing an area where students, faculty and counselors work is that stronger relationships are built with patrons while librarians learn more about the cultures they're working with. Librarians who staff the Mesa Vista Hall satellite have been invited to graduations, birthdays and other milestones for students and staff. They're considered part of the Mesa Vista Hall community and the UNM librarians find this helpful.

The next speaker was Marleen Van Wyk from South Africa. Her talk seemed to center around the challenges that Stellenbosch University Library faces, including a student community with varying degrees of information literacy, limited budgets, a low staff to student ratio and inadequate training facilities. Despite this the library has a high level of client satisfaction and have published information literacy guidelines. For some reason, my notes seem particularly sparse for this section of the presentation. I urge you to wait until the conference materials come out before drawing any conclusions about this particular part of the presentation.

After Marleen Van Wyk came Stephanie Alexander and Jennifer Gerke of the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB). After noting the absence of their colleague Kathryn Lage, they embarked on an exciting tale of how reorganizing library subject guides and making them database searchable created an explosion of usage.

The UCB library at one time had a list of subject guides that was a simple alphabetical list. The list had 65 guides, which turned out to be a subset of what was available. Staff decided to create a homegrown database driven finding aid with metadata and put the result at

The redesigned guide page offers a search box or browse options by: academic department/library, course number, citation, "how do I" and database name. There is also a listing of the "most requested guides" which are currently History Course Web Pages, Religious Studies Subject Guide, and Aerial Photography and Satellite Imagery.

A big advantage of the new database format is that library staff now have access to usage and search logs. Analyzing the "zero hits" from searches has led staff both to improving metadata to make existing guides more findable and sparked the creation of new guides driven by user data. There examples of both which will be shown in the presentation materials for this talk.

So far there have been 400,000 plus searches in the guide database, so clearly users are interested in this functionality. Usage of the guides themselves is up 48% after database implementation. Usage of business information guides is up a dramatic 112%. Stephanie and Jennifer explained this dramatic increase to the fact that prior to database implementation, business guides were not listed separately on the guide page. There was one link to "business guides." With database implementation, individual business titles are exposed to the visitor.

For the future, UCB is planning a librarian survey, some refresher training on guide creation and a usability study to make the database even more effective.

This is another example of how increased visibility leads to increased usage. And I'm happy to see more librarians shining a brighter light on the resources they create.


Note: By August 20, 2008, all of the presentation slides and handouts for Reference Renaissance will posted to the conference site at Later in the year, Neal-Schuman will be publishing conference proceedings. I’m looking forward to those, since I (or anyone else) could only attend 1/6 of the offered sessions, plus the Keynote and the Plenary Session.

Also, as I write up sessions, I very much welcome comments and corrections. Just as I was physically unable to attend all 36 sessions, so too I might not have picked up on everything in the sessions I did attend or I might have accidentally misinterpreted something. Or maybe you’ve got a different take on the session you’d like to share.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reference Renaissance: Opportunistic Reference

The first session of August 5, 2008 at Reference Renaissance got off to a great start with:

Opportunistic Reference with Virginia Cole of Cornell's Olin Library; Bill "Slam the Boards" Pardue of Arlington Heights Memorial Library and Greg R Notess of Montana State University and the Search Engine Showdown.

Virginia provided an evaluation of patron usage of QuestionPoint's IM-like Qwidget vs. "traditional" chat reference. Cornell's experience is that introducing IM via Qwidget did not appreciably affect the number of reference transactions. During peak usage times, people looking for chat reference from Olin Library seem to split 50/50 for the IM Qwidget vs the traditional QuestionPoint interface. Patrons did seem to prefer the Qwidget for shorter questions. There was a clear preference for IM Qwidget for transactions between 100-500 seconds. Cornell analyzed their chat reference stats by type of question and found that IM Qwidget was prefered for holdings type questions (Do you have this book/journal?) while the traditional QuestionPoint interface was preferred for research type questions. There were more stats than I could write down and I encourage you to look at the presentation slides when they become available.

Bill Pardue was the next speaker and his topic was "Implementing Predatory Reference." He was a very friendly and engaging speaker who made us laugh as he talked about how some colleagues consider the term "predatory reference" to be creepy. He suggested that we should think of "predatory" like we do in nature films. Reference Librarians consume questions and we need to hunt them down whereever they are.

Bill suggested the following reasons to "go predatory" (i.e. outside the library):

  • 90% of people identify libraries with books and may not realize we answer questions.
  • People actually in the library might not have questions.
  • People don't think of us for answers -- turn to search engines, friends, others.
  • Users are going to Yahoo! Answers, Linked In and other places. Not library web sites.
  • It's fun to "show our chops" in non-traditional forums.

Bill stated that the main point of predatory reference is to get patrons when they're not in the library. He spoke about AHML's efforts at grocery stores and other places. He said it was very important to consider your goals when sending librarians outside the library. Is your goal to provide reference or to meet people and promote the library? Both are worthy goals and not mutually exclusive, but in Bill's experience you need to make one or the other primary. Many of AHML's experiences focused on the meeting and promoting angle, in hopes that once people had encountered librarians "in the wild", patrons might think to contact users in the library.

According to Bill, three common strategies used in predatory reference are:

  • Get out!
  • Lurk and Leap.
  • Weasel your way in.

As examples of getting out, Bill offered the "Answer Cart" used at George Mason University and Penn State. It looks like a hot dog stand, goes to campus events and dispenses information. He conceded that Academic libraries might have it easier because they have a captive audience in the dorm rooms. But he offered these possibilities for public libraries:

  • Local Restaurants, like Panera
  • Teen/Senior/Community Centers
  • Nursing Homes
  • Mall Information Desk
  • Fairs, Festivals
  • Grocery Stores

It is important to get permission from venue owners first and to be aware of any territory issues. Supplement what they do. Don't try to replace it unless they ask.

Lurk and Leap is a strategy suited for online reference. This is the essential strategy of the Slam the Boards project that Bill spearheads. Some ways to lurk and leap include:

  • Commenting on local blogs when a question of fact is involved.
  • Commenting on newspaper web sites when a question of fact involved.
  • Get non library pages to carry your virtual reference link.

Weasel your way in is to join organizations and offer your research assistance. Bill offered the following examples/possibilities:

  • Enroll one or more of your librarians in college Blackboard-based classes like Arizona State University does.
  • Join a village/city committee and offer to do fact-finding and other research.
  • Join your local Chamber of Commerce to learn about local business issues, take questions and talk up the library.
  • Hold a pub trivia contest like Jessamyn West did.

Bill concluded by leaving us with two questions to ponder:

  • Will doing predatory reference generate lots of questions and are we prepared to answer them all?
  • Should we be paying a librarian to do this sort of stuff?

My notes for Bill end at this point, but with the second question I think he suggested that perhaps paraprofessionals could answer many of the ready-reference type questions generated by our promotional efforts. This was a theme I head a lot during the conference. More about that later.

My one regret about seeing Bill Pardue at this conference and introducing myself to him was that I forgot to ask him about astronomy. According to his bio he is an avid amateur astronomer and as much as the cloudy skies of Juneau allow me, so am I. It would have been fun to talk astronomy with him.

Ok, back to the program. Greg Notess was an energizing speaker. He gave a similar talk at Internet Librarian a few years back that a colleague talked about in glowing terms. I thought I got it then, but hearing it direct from Greg energized me anew.

Greg's talk was titled "Quick Screencasts for Distance Reference" and included references to materials available from his site at

He basically said that librarians shouldn't let themselves be paralyzed by perfection when it comes to recording screencasts. It is possible to make a quick, good enough video for situations like:

  • Responding to reference questions by e-mail, especially in situations where you'd normally type multiple steps to access a resource.
  • To provide a quick instructional video. Databases change so quickly that you shouldn't feel bad about making quick videos that might a slight problem here or there. People won't likely notice and it will be time to make a new video in a few months anyway.
  • To show tech support exactly what problem you're having with a particular program. Not only does this document the steps you've tried, but it may intimidate vendor front-line staff to immediately escalate your problem to a supervisor.

Greg mentioned a number of software packages that you can use to record video and all of them are listed at For commercial software he recommends Camtasia. For free options he recommends Jing, although an audience member state she *hated* Jing based on last year's release.

Some tips that Greg offered:

  • Go lightly on the editing. Aside from speeding the production process, it will keep you from having a very choppy video.
  • Don't record full screen. Just select what is absolutely needed. Recording full screen not only increases your file size, but it encourages people to try and figure out what other software your computer is using.

All in all, a very interesting session. Hope to put some of "good enough" concepts into both personal and professional projects.


Note: By August 20, 2008, all of the presentation slides and handouts for Reference Renaissance will posted to the conference site at Later in the year, Neal-Schuman will be publishing conference proceedings. I’m looking forward to those, since I (or anyone else) could only attend 1/6 of the offered sessions, plus the Keynote and the Plenary Session.

Also, as I write up sessions, I very much welcome comments and corrections. Just as I was physically unable to attend all 36 sessions, so too I might not have picked up on everything in the sessions I did attend or I might have accidentally misinterpreted something. Or maybe you’ve got a different take on the session you’d like to share.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reference Renaissance: You Bought It, Now Sell It

The fourth session I attended at 2008 Reference Renaissance was called, "You Bought It, Now Sell It!: Merchandising Reference Services" with presenters:

  • Karen Long, Farmington Public Library
  • Bernadine Goldman, Los Alamos County Public Library System
  • Lizzie Eastwood, Los Alamos County Public Library System

Karen spoke on her library's efforts to market their reference services. Not just chat reference, but reference by any venue the library does. The first step was designing a logo. They settled on a puzzle piece with the words "just ask!" which you can view at Farmington PL's web site at The next step was to put the logo all over their library (including large versions plastered to the ref desk), web site and brochures. They also have some of their employees wear "just ask" pins. They also use mp3 "cordmen" earbud holders to promote the IM part of the "just ask" service. Karen emphasized that it was important to do demonstrations of chat reference for your staff. They have to understand the product and its potential before they can promote it to others.

In addition to the "in the library" measures above, Karen talked about the importance of getting the message out into the community. She does this in part by radio spots and attending rotary club meetings.

After Karen was done, it was time for Bernadine and Lizzie to talk about their promotion of reference collections. Bernadine had the goal of "To make sure that all users of the reference collection are aware of all the resources available, and are introduced to them all in one place." The idea was to show patrons and other staff all the tangible AND electronic resources the library had to offer on given topics in the reference collection. Bernadine led the reference department to do this in three main ways:

  1. Rearrange the physical collection into broad subjects without abandoning Dewey entirely.
  2. Integrate electronic resources into the physical collection through the use of lists and brochures
  3. Create displays of reference materials in the low shelving areas of reference.

For the rearrangement of the physical reference collection, Bernadine came in over a weekend and created several sub-collections in reference including: Aging, Health, Weapons, Environment, Culture, and Jobs. She then brought all the books together on these topics regardless of Dewey classification. For example the Health section includes Public Health items from the 300s as well as medical books from the 610s.

The next step was to comb through their databases and the list of RUSA Best Free Reference Websites list and classify them into the same keywords as the reference books. These lists of "resources by keywords" were then posted by their corresponding section in the physical collection.

Finally, books and resource lists were put on display using low shelving in the reference area. Another promotional tool used with highlighting the availability of 10 free photocopies from books in the reference collection. This seemed to give patrons permission to use the "don't check out" collection.

No formal assessment has been done to judge the effectiveness of these measures, but comments from patrons has been positive. They received one comment that the library has "doubled the value of the collection."

At my library, we're busy trying to highlight our circulating collection, something we really hadn't focused on for the past few years. We're creating more display space and trying to push interesting looking books through our RSS feeds. So we're going to complete that process before moving on to reference.

But these seem like intriguing ideas for promoting reference. What do you think?


Note: By August 20, 2008, all of the presentation slides and handouts for Reference Renaissance will posted to the conference site at Later in the year, Neal-Schuman will be publishing conference proceedings. I’m looking forward to those, since I (or anyone else) could only attend 1/6 of the offered sessions, plus the Keynote and the Plenary Session.

Also, as I write up sessions, I very much welcome comments and corrections. Just as I was physically unable to attend all 36 sessions, so too I might not have picked up on everything in the sessions I did attend or I might have accidentally misinterpreted something. Or maybe you’ve got a different take on the session you’d like to share.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Reference Renaissance: "Okay This is Just Too Weird"

"Okay This is Just Too Weird": Identifying Outreach Opportunities in Facebook by David Bietila and Elizabeth Edwards of George Washington University (GWU) was the third session that I attended at the 2008 Reference Renaissance.

This was a fun session to be in. And as someone who dabbles in social networking sites both personally and professionally, quite interesting. The session had a definite effect on my planned future friending behavior.

David and Elizabeth switched repeatedly during the presentation, so I'm not going to separate out their contributions like I've done with other speakers.

They did a study with the help of an anthropology student shortly after the GWU libraries had just completed a "friend a librarian" publicity campaign. About half of GWU librarians had Facebook profiles and students were aware that librarians were avaiable to be friended. But no students had friended any of the GWU librarians by the end of the publicity campaign. This study looked for the reasons for this result, among other purposes.

The study consisted of a survey, plus some ethnographic observations and interviews. Librarian profiles were also studied. While presenting survey results, David and Elizabeth compared their findings to a literature review they did. I omitted the references to the Facebook literature because 1) I trust you're keeping up with it and 2) this will be included in the proceedings and I'm not a transcript service.

How GWU students used Facebook

David and Elizabeth reported:

  • Majority of GWU students use Facebook more than once a day.
  • Strong majority of students use Facebook to maintain existing relationships. That is, they "friend" people they've met in real life and don't mine Facebook for new "friends."
  • Students use Facebook for academic purposes including - communicating about assignments (68%); arrange study groups (61%); and communicate about academic interests (47%).

Despite using Facebook for academic purposes, most students also use Facebook for "study breaks" and self-report that Facebook negatively affects their studies.

For contacting the library, students prefer to e-mail or IM to using Facebook. In response to a question from me, Elizabeth thought this result might change now that Facebook has integrated chat.

What GWU Students Think About Librarians on Facebook

According to surveys and interview data:

  • 32% of students said they were NOT interested in seeing librarian profiles.
  • 60% of students wanted to see study suggestions on librarian FB profiles
  • 55.7% of students were interested in tips on accessing library resources
  • 26% of students were interested in personal information about librarians at their school

In general, students felt varying degrees of discomfort about librarians friending them without being asked. In interviews, none of the students cared for the ideas. But they were ok with the concept of adding librarians as Facebook friends IF there was some sort of face-to-face or IM/e-mail encounter first.

There is more to the study than is in my notes. Be sure to check the conference site (see below) for presentation slides when they come out. There were some interesting comparisons between librarians, parents and faculties in terms of how much students want to see them on Facebook.

David and Elizabeth concluded by saying that their library still saw value in having a Facebook presence for the library. Based on the student study, they offered some recommendations, which they cautioned should be taken with a grain of salt:

  1. Create a fan page for the library for patrons to link to. This seems more comfortable to students than directly friending librarians. They offered the Gelman Library fan page as an example. A stroll through their 87 fans shows some current GWU students and several alumni, so this approach seems to workfor them.
  2. In librarian profiles, keep a personal/professional balance. No personal is viewed as too cold, too much personal is seen as odd. It's important to include a picture and the librarian's subject expertise. Having one of Facebook's book recommendation applications is a good idea since it ties into the traditional library brand.
  3. Let others friend you. Try to make connections in RL to encourage students/patrons to friend you.
  4. Put a few, library-related applications onto your fan page. Gelman offers a meebo chat ref app and an Open WorldCat search.

Elizabeth and David said the grain of salt was necessary because your patron base might be different and these recommendations might get out of date in the next year or two as Facebook and other social networking sites change.

In the course of building their Facebook fan page, they found a few preexisting groups for the Gelman Library. These proved useful recruiting grounds for their study, but surprised them. I looked for my library, but found no groups or fan pages. How about you?

What I took home from this presentation was 1) I will not friend my patrons unless I've had some prior interaction with them and even then will probably wait for them to friend me; 2) might seek permission to create a library fan page before someone beats us to the punch; and 3) update my govdocs related groups and fan pages in the next few weeks.


Note: By August 20, 2008, all of the presentation slides and handouts for Reference Renaissance will posted to the conference site at Later in the year, Neal-Schuman will be publishing conference proceedings. I’m looking forward to those, since I (or anyone else) could only attend 1/6 of the offered sessions, plus the Keynote and the Plenary Session.

Also, as I write up sessions, I very much welcome comments and corrections. Just as I was physically unable to attend all 36 sessions, so too I might not have picked up on everything in the sessions I did attend or I might have accidentally misinterpreted something. Or maybe you’ve got a different take on the session you’d like to share.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Reference Renaissance: Staff Training in 21st Century

Note: By August 20, 2008, all of the presentation slides and handouts for Reference Renaissance will posted to the conference site at Later in the year, Neal-Schuman will be publishing conference proceedings. I’m looking forward to those, since I (or anyone else) could only attend 1/6 of the offered sessions, plus the Keynote and the Plenary Session.

Also, as I write up sessions, I very much welcome comments and corrections. Just as I was physically unable to attend all 36 sessions, so too I might not have picked up on everything in the sessions I did attend or I might have accidentally misinterpreted something. Or maybe you've got a different take on the session you'd like to share.


The second session I attended at RR 2008, was Staff Training in the 21st Century and featured presentations by:

  • Beth Jones (via DimDim) - Jefferson County Public Library
  • Leslie M. Hass - Loyola University Chicago
  • Flora Shrode - Merrill-Cazier Library

This session featured one public librarian and two academic librarians sharing how they train staff. Overall, I didn't find much to take home from this presentation, but that probably reflects my library's staffing situation. Since you might benefit from their remarks, here are my impressions of what people said:

Beth Jones came to us virtually via DimDim, a free web conferencing service that allows you to see the presenter via webcam with audio while she shares her slides. During her presentation, the panel moderator texted questions to Ms. Jones. The approach worked well enough that I hope to see it employed more often at more conferences. It will give people who have expertise but who lack travel funds the opportunity to present at regional and national conferences.

The Jefferson County Public Library has over 250 staff members scattered over a number of locations. So Ms. Jones has focused on creating online courses for them. She stress it was important to have standardized courses and make good use of "visual property." She primarily uses Adobe Presenter and Adobe Captivate to create her online courses which all include audio. She creates the courses with input from subject matter experts.

Ms Jones cited several challenges in creating and using in-house developed online classes, including:

  • Finding staff time to take courses
  • How to use audio without disrupting others (creates need for headphones)
  • System errors and problems using attachments (Internet filtering often blocks retrieving files linked from courses)
  • Finding enough development time and expertise to create new classes

Ms. Jones also offered some "new frontiers" for training in her system, including:

  • Create classes for products staff do not have on their computers, like Overdrive Media Console
  • Mini (5 min) database courses - For these, Ms. Jones might make use of tips from Greg Notess' talk on quick screencasts I'll write about later. And don't forget about vendor-generated tutorials like EBSCOhost's excellent videos.
  • Create a staff wiki to support database searching - My library has a staff wiki we find useful for a number of projects and manuals.
  • Create simulations
  • Including branching (decision-making) in online class modules
  • Incorporate game theory into online class modules.
  • Add video (i.e. not just powerpoint and screenshots) to online classes.
  • Make better use of shared resources - Ms. Jones pointed to training resources from Colorado's CLiC consortium at as an example of what she was talking about.

Leslie Hass of Loyola spoke about her experience in hiring and training the first employees of a new Information Commons that would include working with staff from the Library and the University Information Technology Department. They use a staff wiki for policies and procedures. All staff were given a three day orientation - day 1 - Information Commons 101, day 2 - Library 101, day 3 - Information Technology 101 to enable them to know what the university's expectations of them were.

Staff currently employed by the Information Commons current have IM access as a backup if they need additional information on policies or procedures while serving at their stations. I'm not sure I'd call that training, but I can see an argument being made that it is ongoing one-on-one training.

Ms. Hass noted that since the Information Commons was built as an addition to the library, library usage has increased. A happy result.

Flora Shrode of the Merrill-Cazier Library at Utah State University shared the several ways they train student assistants:

  • A staff blog for searching and service hints
  • A significant amount of face-to-face training
  • Camtasia videos on frustrating tasks - I don't remember being given an example - does anyone else out there?
  • Online computer training through

I said at the beginning of the entry that I didn't have many take-homes about training staff. And that's true. I run a department of 11 people and so don't need techniques for training large numbers of people. I was personally hoping for more on topics to teach and resources for teaching those topics.

But a number of the hints and approaches above may well come in handy for creating educational opportunities for our patrons, especially for the 2/3 of state agency employees who live outside Juneau. So I think my time was well spent.

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Reference Renaissance: Reference in the Age of Wikipedia

Hi All,

I recently attended the Reference Renaissance conference in Denver. I started blogging about this conference on my personal blog, but thought the information should be put here as well. So over the next week or so, I'll be blogging here about my experiences as well. I was fortunate enough to hang out with two Alaskans at the conference, so I hope they'll be chiming in from time to time since we saw different stuff.

Here goes ...

Note: By August 20, 2008, all of the presentation slides and handouts for Reference Renaissance will posted to the conference site at Later in the year, Neal-Schuman will be publishing conference proceedings. I'm looking forward to those, since I (or anyone else) could only attend 1/6 of the offered sessions, plus the Keynote and the Plenary Session.


The first session I attended at Reference Renaissance was the Keynote, Reference in the Age of Wikipedia, Or Not, offered by David Lewis, self described renaissance scholar and Dean of the University Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. I started out being impressed with Dean Lewis because his very first powerpoint slide stated that his presentation could be used by anyone under a Creative Commons attribution/non-commercial license 3.0. Not only is that a nice thing to do, but it showed his belief in the words he spoke to us.

Dean Lewis began by suggesting that the term renaissance wasn't really the proper term to describe our common vision for reference. The original Renaissance involved the rediscovery of Classical resources and techniques. He pointed out that we are not reviving classical models for reference, but are in fact reacting to the last of three major revolutions.

These three revolutions were:

  • The invention of moveable type printing in the 15th Century
  • The industrialization of printing in the 19th Century
  • The continuing internet/web revolution of the late 20th Century

Each of these revolutions expanded the availability of information by orders of magnitude and created new ways of organizing information. They also led to the destruction of some trades and the rise of others.

For example, the invention of movable type printing destroyed the pre-existing scribal culture within 50 years of Gutenberg's invention. Dean Lewis also argued that the printing press led directly to the alphabetical arrangement of knowledge as found in encyclopedias and dictionaries.

The industrialization of printing in the 19th Century led to mass literacy through the large quantities of textbooks, newspapers and dime store novels that industrial printing made possible. The modern library and the Dewey Decimal System date from this era.

In our own era, the internet has made amateur content of all types easy to create and share. I share Dean Lewis' view in this and have over 3,000 photos on Flickr to prove it!

The next part of Dean Lewis' talk drew heavily on two books - Innovator's Dilemma and Innovator's Solutions by Clayton Christensen. (Details on these and other books I heard about at RR 2008 can be found on my WorldCat list.) Dean Lewis talked about sustaining innovations (making productions better) vs disruptive innovations (creating new markets by targeting non-customers). He suggested that libraries are facing disruptive innovation and offered the phone service Cha-Cha as an example.

Dean Lewis then turned to the book Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. Mr. Shirky posits that we are in a "cooperation revolution" characterized by mass amateurization and where authority as institutional guarantee has been replaced by probabilities supported by process. Dean Lewis offered Wikipedia as an example of this new kind of authority.

For Wikipedia and like social tools to work and attract collaborators, Dean Lewis suggested three elements that must be present:

  • A plausible promise
  • An effective tool
  • An acceptable bargain

He showed how Wikipedia fulfilled each of the above criteria, but I did not get that down in my notes. You'll have to wait for the conference proceedings to become available.

After showing us a Wired video featuring Chris Anderson explaining why $0.00 is the future of business, Dean Lwis quoted someone who said "When everything can be copied, the only things sold will be that which cannot be copied." What can't be copied? He offered us: trust, immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment, patronage and findability.

Dean Lewis closed with four questions and a challenge. The questions were:

  1. What happens when information skills become a mass amateur activity?
  2. Can we survive with one foot in proprietary resources and one foot in the open web?
  3. What is the role of the institution in a Network World?
  4. Do we support users as information users or as information creators?

Dean Lewis gave what he himself said were tentative efforts at answers, but that it was more important for the rest of us to consider the questions. I agree. I think question 4 is particularly important for libraries. He concluded by challenging libraries to create the tools and communities for open scholarship.

Overall it was a great start to the conference. I had a few quibbles. The main one was about whether the cost of information would ever truly reach zero. Google and Yahoo were given as examples of companies that "gave away everything to users but made billions." Free to users, maybe, but Google and Yahoo charge companies for advertising and use the revenue to run the search engines. If the future of business is really $0.00, then people would stop buying and ad revenue would dry up, taking the search engines with them. I probably need to examine the premise more closer before making such a bold statement, but that's my initial take.

I actually believe in the "gift economy" as a valuable supplement to economic activity and as a venue for human creativity. This blog and the others I contribute to are testimony to that. But I can't buy Wired's argument that the gift economy will replace our current economic structure.

In the coming entries, I will blog about the 1/6 of the conference I attended and once I'm done with session blogging, offer some thoughts about the conference as a whole. As I'm writing this, one great day is behind me and I'm looking forward to another great day of good ideas that will either be thought-provoking or find implementation in my community. I am very glad I made it here to Denver.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Ketchikan PL Tries MonoMouse

Back on July 18th, the Ketchikan Public Library announced it was doing a three month trial of the MonoMouse for visually impaired users. What's the MonoMouse? Let Rainbird Librarian explain:

The MonoMouse is an electronic magnifier that is light, quick to install, easy to use and very portable. Slightly larger than a standard computer mouse, you simply plug one end into an electrical outlet, the other into the VCR jack on your television, press the button and voila! It will magnify any print onto your TV screen; you simply slide the mouse across the page. You can use this to read books, magazines, newspapers - even your mail! Our device magnifies type 13x, so that it is larger than the standard Large Print format. It's designed to be ergonomic and lightweight, so even if you suffer from arthritis it will be easy to use. The instructions are even in a large print font!
If it works as advertised, it should be a boon to readers with vision difficulties. I know our library will be watching this experiment. How about yours? Are you using something similar already?

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