“less sane” core library services

This past week I attended the OLA’s annual Super Conference in Toronto. The sessions that I chose were kind of split between disappointing, and terrific. I never think that I’ll love everything I attend, so it was to be expected. Especially coming from a special library, I’m not exactly the target audience for the OLA conference, as it’s largely public and academic librarians, but I digress…

One session that I truly loved (and that still has me thinking) was delivered by Karen Calhoun (OCLC) and Rick Anderson (University of Utah Libraries). The subtitle of this session was “Let them eat… everything: embracing a patron-driven future.”

Session abstract:

Next Generation Workflows for Next Generation Libraries

The awesomeness of this session was due to Rick’s radical and forward-thinking ideas of how libraries should adapt to the times and trends by modifying library workflows, to “trim the fat” of long-standing and unquestioned core library services. The way he put it, there are many services that libraries provide that while not “insane”, are definitely “less sane”. For example, he spoke about Interlibrary Loan. When you think about it, ILL is… ridiculous and wasteful. Someone wants a book that isn’t available at your library, so it’s ordered from a library across the country for that person to use (an extreme instance I know, but stay with me…).

A second example of “less sane” core services is the academic reference desk. Rick argued that as a service model, the reference desk relies on the hope that only a fraction of students will use it. It is impossible and impractical for thousands of students to queue at the reference desk for research assistance. While it’s the intention of Reference Departments to provide reference and instruction to as many students as they can, feasibly it is an impossible goal. Further, an instruction session can usually contain 20-40 people, maximum? In-class library instruction is on the way out. He proposes that libraries should eliminate this core service and develop services based on ease of use. That is, improved information architecture on library websites and more online guides to ease discoverability and the flow of desired information. Information literacy and instruction on Youtube, anyone?

Librarians and libraries have gotten very good at doing these core services, which could (and as Rick would argue, should) be eliminated. He asserted that more sane services would include document delivery & purchasing articles as a solution to overspending on unused serial titles, using and perfecting Wikipedia, patron-driven acquisition (i.e. acquiring what’s demonstrably wanted rather than traditional collection development), and ease of use as an alternative philosophy to bibliographic instruction. I think for the most part, these are accurate, legitimate, and sensible recommendations.

Overall I’m impressed and refreshed by this kind of radical and unpopular thinking. It’s time for librarians to shake it up, think innovatively and outside the box about library procedures and service delivery. Beyond thinking differently, let’s start making changes to meet our users’ needs and put an end to the “less sane” services that, although we’ve gotten very good at doing, simply aren’t realistic or sustainable.

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Virtual browsing at the Judd Library

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Marian and we got to chatting about cool, innovative, library stuff. She sent me an email when she got back to work and included links to some of the things we’d talked about. One of them was the Judd Foundation Library. I have never heard of the Judd Foundation, or Donald Judd, but I read this New York Times article and he seemed quite neat. Anyway, his personal print collection of 13,000 items has been preserved and a unique catalogue of its holdings has been made available online. I have never seen anything like it. Here are some details:

The Collection: The books that Judd collected are an intriguing mix of arts, culture, language, food, etc., from many Nationalities and geographic regions from around the world and throughout history. The organization of the collection was created by and for Judd himself. The items are shelved by geographic location, then by temporal characteristic, and then again by the subject of the item (e.g. France – Middle Ages – Pottery). A photo was taken of each shelf in the library, the photos were scanned, and every item from the individual shelves in each photo was tagged then catalogued with MARC records in AACR2.

The Online Catalogue: As a virtual library user, you can choose which shelf you’d like to see. You can browse the shelves in any direction, or move across the room to see what’s over there. Once you’re looking at a shelf, you can drag your mouse over the spine of the books to read a brief description (basic bibliographic information) of what’s there. To view the catalogue record, click on the description for more detail. There’s even a link to the WorldCat record for the item, so you’re able to find a lending copy nearby!

My initial thoughts when I started browsing were, “This is awesome, I want to do this at my library! But it’s such a bad idea…So time consuming… I wonder how often they have to update photos of the shelves, re-tag the books…” I suddenly had an “AHA!” and “Duh!” moment at the same time. The personal library of Donald Judd will never change, because he’s dead, so there’s no upkeep required to maintain the online catalogue.

A virtual shelf-browsing tool is an advanced but perhaps far-fetched reality for small libraries and special collections. Either way, it’s fun, original, and more than anything, it’s an inspiring tool and access point for hidden collections. Play around with the Browser here.

Neat, eh?

2010 National Diversity in Libraries Conference

As a new young professional (not a yuppie, I promise) I have big dreams of attending conferences, and budding anxieties of presenting at them. I love to talk about libraries with library-people. It is an actual interest and favourite pastime of mine, and I wish I had MORE librarians as close friends. I’ve attended a couple conferences in the past and will certainly branch out to attend others, but as a result of their (often) costly admission and far or remote locations, sometimes I simply just can’t justify it.

I recently received word of a library convention called the “National Diversity in Libraries Conference” (NDLC) held in Princeton, New Jersey from July 14-16. The 2010 theme of the NDLC is “From Groundwork to Action.” The fundamental principle of this conference speaks loudly to me owing to my social beliefs, lifestyle as a minority, and my interests in multiculturalism, accessibility, and cultural pluralism. I visited the homepage for the conference and read about some of the sessions and speakers. The range of topics is unanticipated and impressive, and I’ve become increasingly interested in getting to Princeton in mid-July. Here are some of my favourite session titles:

  • Speaking up: Providing staff training and tools for dealing with diversity issues on the spotLinda Klimczyk, Jeff Knapp, Loanne Snavely
  • Much ado about Tintin? User services, collections, and racially offensive materials in librariesAngela Maycock, Loida Garcia-Febo, Julius Jefferson
  • Differently diverse: moving libraries beyond ADA compliance to full inclusion for allMs. Clayton A. Copeland, Dr. Linda Lucas Walling, Ms. Peggy Kaney, Mr. Avery Olmstead

There are also others that address literacy and youth, equal opportunities, libraries as safe places, and sensitivity training. One topic that I would like to have seen represented more is the impact that legislation such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act will have on both public and private libraries. Granted, the NDLC is an American conference, I’m sure similar legislation has passed South of the border that will affect accessibility planning for public spaces. It’s an interesting project to consider in terms of library project management and inclusiveness. (Perhaps I should have written a proposal, eh??). The third title listed above has to do with the Americans with Disabilities Act and this could touch on my idea, but from the abstract seems more about diverse aspects of access.

You might glean from the titles I’ve highlighted that my interests surround inclusion, accessibility, and eliminating heteronormativity and hateful language, both in literature and spoken by persons. These are important issues that continue to require the attention of all levels of library staff… and unfortunately they don’t exist in a library-vacuum (made that up) but persist in many occupations and public services. In my current workplace I’m happy to say that I hear a great deal of inclusive language (e.g. “my Partner and I…”), and I think this kind of behaviour generates a culture of acceptance and kindness.

I hope that everyone who attends the 2010 National Diversity in Libraries Conference has the best time and learns heaps from each other. I’m jealous that I can’t be there, but hopefully I’ll attend the next one (it’s biennial), in 2012!

The “Human Library” project

Earlier today I was listening to “Q” on CBC radio, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. At the end of the programme, he announced that the London Public Library is going to embark on a new project called the “Human Library”, where library users will be able to “check-out” a human being… Naturally, I was very intrigued, so I went online to learn more. Here is the scoop: members from participating communities can apply to be a living “book” (as, each of us has a unique story to tell). Each book will fit a particular category of person, such as “Male Nurse”, “Jewish Woman”, or “Handicapped Mother” for example. These “books” can then be checked-out by library users to engage in a conversation about their life/situation/experiences…

I found the homepage for the Human Library, and have been reading about its history, implementation, the process of recruiting “books”, etc. The goal of this project is to encourage a dialogue among strangers, for the purpose of dispelling prejudice or perceived “difference” within communities. It is quite a unique approach to breaking down cultural barriers to better understand the choices and life situations of others.

I think it sounds like a promising and innovative service, and I look forward to learning more about its implementation (and usage statistics!!). However, I can imagine there being problems with the recruitment process (because people are being chosen as books based on their perceived “difference” to others). Recruiters are effectively placing people into boxes characterized by any one of their character traits, whether it be sexuality, physical ability, ethnic background, or profession. While I certainly believe in breaking down prejudice, I wonder if this programme will be able to succeed..

To read more about this project at the London Public Library and to apply to be a “book”, visit their site here.

Wordle: Create text clouds from existing texts!

Wordle is a tool that I’ve recently discovered, and have been having a lot of fun using.

What’s cool about this application? The ability to generate a text cloud for a particular document or website; to reveal content of a digital text or web page through the  representation of re-occuring words by size. Words that are repeated most frequently will appear large, while other words that are used less often will be represented much smaller.

How can you use it? There are a lot of really neat functions! The first is its main ability to create text clouds for existing documents, websites, or blogs. That means you can upload the URL from your blog or add word documents (i.e. recipes, written work, resume, CV, etc!), and the program will read through the text to generate a word cloud. Next, you can modify its appearance, font type, colour, and if you don’t like the position of words (or any particular words you don’t want included), you can re-arrange and delete items in the Wordle.

Below I’ve put my CV/resume into Wordle. Click on the image to enlarge.

My Wordle'd CV

Another rad application is TextArc. This is a visualization tool that allows you to experience a text in a very nontraditional way. Since electronic text is digital (..duh), and consequently, far more malleable and transformational than a print counterpart, there are practically infinite ways to present the text of any piece of literature. Two examples that are available on the TextArc page are Hamlet, and Alice in Wonderland. The application displays all of the words (text) from each story, and as it is “read” (by generating text, line by line along the bottom of the screen), the words are highlighted within the large “cloud” of text in the centre of the screen. This can be useful, as there are thesauri, and other tools that one can use to better interpret and experience a text. Most essentially, TextArc is a cool application because of its visual appeal. You need to check it out! Watch one of the examples provided on the TextArc page. Below is a screen-shot of the Hamlet text.

TextArc: Alice in Wonderland

I’m really interested in applications such as Wordle and TextArc, because of my broader interests in digital humanities and the creation and uses of electronic texts. On May 5th, 2009 I participated at the fifth annual TRY (Toronto, Ryerson, York) Library Staff Conference, at St. Michael’s College, U of T. With the collaboration of my colleagues Marian Davies and Alison Callahan, we designed a poster to promote awareness of how libraries can support the digital humanities, entitled “Re:evolution_of_the_text”. This poster addressed definitions of the emerging field, how its applications and services fit, and are used within libraries, and finally, the forseeable roles that librarians can assume in the creation and proliferation of digital humanities projects. We also provided recommendations for librarians, particularly for training, advocacy, and becoming creators. To read more about this conference, click here. The abstract for “Re:evolution_of_the_text” can be read on the third page of my CV or on the TRY 2009 Poster Sessions descriptions page.

Library outreach and my modeling career

When a new school year begins at academic institutions, it’s becoming increasingly vital for libraries to advertise and promote their services to the community they serve.  So many undergraduate students don’t know the library, or how the collections and services there can help them in their studies. By now, most libraries participate in virtual reference (e.g. Meebo, AskON online research help, etc.), and email reference services, catering to the needs/wishes of library users who want information quickly. Visiting the library for print materials is becoming soooo passé.  Library users want materials that are available electronically, and from their own laptops, wherever they may be.  Sometimes this neediness (and often laziness) can be frustrating as a reference librarian, since library users often demand that everything be available to them in PDF format, but it remains important to be on the Friendly people to help you :)cutting edge of electronic collections and services in academic libraries. Though also, it’s easy to understand how bourgeoning digital collections and the advent of scanning retrospective journals/Open Access can instill a sense of “why isn’t it available online??” … .  …. Sorry, I’m getting off-topic.

This September at the University of Toronto Libraries, where I currently work part-time hours at the Robarts Reference & Research Department, there are new brochures and bookmarks available to incoming students. These promote the various ways to get in touch with a librarian for help with research inquiries. If you look closely, you’ll see that there are “Friendly People to Help You”… 😉 and there’s a photo of me!

Hehe, the incentive to create this post was inspired almost entirely by me wanting to put this bookmark online to show people.. I’m practically a Library Celebrity!…Right??? If anyone needs a library model for any kind of promotional materials… please get in touch with me. My modeling career for libraries is taking off!

New York Public Library

Zack at the NYPL

Recently I took a trip to New York City. I’d never been, and was really excited to experience “the Big Apple.” I didn’t have a lot on my schedule in terms of things to see, or places to go… I much prefer to wander neighbourhoods and people watch.  A few highlights of my trip were seeing some Broadway shows (West Side Story & Hair… both are AMAZING), hanging out in Central Park, visiting Brooklyn, the Meatpacking District and the High Line, and of course, the New York Public Library!

I had never been to the NYPL, and through the combination of my personal interest in libraries, and the “screen presence” of the New York Public Library in movies (e.g. Ghostbusters, The Day After Tomorrow, Sex and the City, etc.), I simply had to take a tour!

I was amazed to learn that the main branch of the NYPL is largely a reference (i.e. non-circulating) and research-focused library! (This contradicts the scene in SATC the movie when Carrie Bradshaw leaves the library with a book she’d borrowed [!!!])… But back to the point of this blog entry… I was mostly interested in learning about the collection, library services, some history, and to marvel at the beauty and majestic presence of the building. I love libraries.

The most interesting thing that I learned on our tour was that the majority of the stacks of the main branch are closed to the public. Public users are required to locate items using OPAC machines or the online catalogue, then write down each title on a small piece of paper to be submitted to the staff at the retrievals desk access point. (Here comes the craziest part..) THEN, staff members roll up the piece of paper containing the bibliographic information and call number and place the request in a tube, where the request is sent using pneumatic tube technology to the stacks area. Once the request has been received (on the stacks floors below the reference area), a staff member finds the requested materials to be delivered back to the reference area. Our tour guide told us that this process takes roughly 20 minutes (which, is pretty darn good, I’d say!). This system is something I’d only seen in science fiction, and I was surprised to learn of its success in a library environment. You can read more about this technology in this New York Times article.

Unfortunately we lost our tour group during a tour of the reference room, because we were snapping photographs and admiring the collection on our own. We eventually caught up with the group (which had dwindled in numbers, significantly), just in time to visit the gift shop on the main floor. Our guide was so kind, she gave us coupons for %15 percent off our purchase! I bought a mug : )

Reference questions at NYPL