Traditional reference service is dead--- or dying. This blog will focus on new approaches toward providing library assistance to patrons... or whatever else I feel like rambling on about.

Monday, May 22, 2006

all good things must come to an end

They say to ‘quit while you’re ahead’—so it’s time. Alt-Ref has had a good run. By some estimates I have 8 subscribers, by others over 120.

Regardless, I am moving on. That’s right, a new blog: The Ubiquitous Librarian

At Paul’s urging and my own sense of shifting direction I decided it was time to leave the reference desk theme behind (not that I ever posted about that!) and really focus on the larger concept of interaction within the community. The new blog will focus on thoughts, experiments and observations with the objective of participation. It’s about having more to offer than ‘information literacy’ and finding new ways to have a real relevance to patrons.

So please follow me with this transition—add me to your bloglines!

I’d love for others to take control of Alt-Ref. Maybe a group of young librarians or MLS students who have fresh ideas and want to push the boundaries and move us beyond the antiqued established traditions? If you’re interested drop me an email or IM.


Friday, May 19, 2006


Georgia Tech = $1.40 for a 20 oz bottle of coke, seriously? That is almost as bad as Elsevier dropping their shared consortium deal...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Camtasia & Ipods - early thoughts: they won’t work together

I finally had a chance to experiment with screencasting. One of my summer projects is to generate some videos for engineering students—more on that in the coming weeks.

Paul and I shared enthusiasm toward creating content for the video ipod. However recent tests using Camtasia have failed to produce a clear video for that medium.

This is the best quality I could create; this screenshot is actual size of what users would see on their ipods:

And this is using the Zoom feature. It’s a little clearer, but still not that great:

I tried a lot of different experiments. My theory was that if I made a high resolution video, I could shrink it down to a smaller screen and retain the quality. Wrong! I created three clips: .wmv, .avi, and .mov at 1150 x 834 and they are terrible. Very blurry and basically unwatchable. Next I created clips using a moderate screen size, 760 x 530, which allowed me to still show most of the web page, or at least enough to get the point across—anything smaller and it would be too small.

There was a remarkable difference – the quality was great and nearly identical across formats—however the audio was noticeably better with QuickTime. Check it out: QT clip.

The problem is size. These clips are 10 seconds and huge: .wmv (1.01 MB), .avi (780KB), and .mov (1.06MB)—the m4v for ipod was 515 KB—but as viewed above, poor quality.

I know the popular approach is to produce Flash files and embed or link to them allowing students to view them streamed. I like this approach, but I am also trying to get beyond the library web site and to create ‘walk away’ content—allowing the video to be downloaded and viewed at the user’s preference also allowing the video to be uploaded in various environments, such as email, a course management system, a professor’s site, where ever. My latest ambition was to use youtube a free, open access video sharing site that allows users to interact with the content (post messages/comments) – offering an unlimited amount of videos, file sizes up to 100 MB and direct linking to each individual clip. Ah, but is it too good to be true? I loaded all three clips which looked great via a media player and they appeared second-rate via youtube. Evidence: wmv avi mov mov w/ zoom

The Zoom example offers the best quality and is at least readable, but when you show a main page it looks so slooppy. I’m still going to proceed with my videos for web based instruction, but my enthusiasm has diminished a little. I am also going to step back from screencasting for the ipod, although I hope to produce some non-instructional content for that medium in the near future.

Oh yeah, and this post isn’t an attack on Camtasia. I thoroughly enjoy their product, even though everyone seems to be jumping on the Captivate bandwagon. I frequently produce short video clips to answer student emails; it’s much easier to show someone how to use Web of Science than to write it out!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Republican Librarians Unite!

So somehow I give off the Republican vibe? Maybe I should try to get on Fox News or the Colbert Report? I’m flattered that my angsty ramblings are considered “required reading” but seriously, I am much more loyal to the Roman Republic than to George Bush’s vision of America.

Friday, May 12, 2006

In defense of social networks

This is a comment I made on Paul’s blog regarding Thoughts on privacy and libraries and social networks This sort of sums up my feelings on the topic.

The big issue I have is the librarian mentality to formalize everything. To create a committee, to create guidelines and policies, to actually read the Terms of Service. Seriously, social networks are all about organic growth and individual expression. It’s about reaching out to friends and strangers and making informal connections.

If librarians, or businesses, go in with a “spammer” mentality of “hey you need my help—the library is cool, see we have a myspace account” then you’ll fail. Libraries are NOT cool. I mean, we think they are: we have sexy computer labs, and cafes, and DVDs, but so what?

I would not say that using Facebook or MySpace is a “waste of time” anymore than trying to provide library instruction sessions on using the catalog to freshmen composition students.

You have to approach it with sincerity. If you just go in trying to push your agenda and services, students could view it as intrusive. I only show up when there is a clear information need, like this one:

“I'm ready for school to be over, but that means working on my massive research paper. We had to turn in preliminary topic ideas/a short essay on preliminary research we've done. Mine was pretty much shit and I'll probably have to rework a lot of my ideas, or choose a new topic altogether. It has the potential to be a lot of fun, (did I really just say that about a research paper?) if I do it correctly. I've been inside the library at Georgia Tech a total of 6 times in the three years I've been at Tech. That number is about to grow geometrically in the next few weeks methinks.”

I’m sure that eventually this student would come to the ref desk, probably close to the deadline—but by using my approach I was able to interact with the student and get him the info he needed. This also helps to spread the “value” of the library via grassroots outreach—since his roommate contacted me later with a similar need.

It’s sort of like if you get a flat tire and someone pulls over and offers to help—you’re there when it’s appropriate, when they need you.

That’s why I favor student blogs over student spaces, like myspace--- on myspace you essentially setup a library front—sure, you’re a little closer to them, but it’s too passive. With the blogs I’m in the trenches with them rather than standing around on the sidelines.

academic library 2.0

Camus was once asked about being an existentialist and he claimed that he wasn’t—that he was a humanist. That’s sort of how I feel about the ‘library 2.0’ movement. Granted, several of my ideas, approaches and guiding philosophies could easily be grouped in that movement, but I don’t necessary wave the L2 banner.

That being said, here is my podcast on Academic Library 2.0

I am a little embarrassed because it was composed and recorded while I had strep throat—but here are the main notes:

What it really boils down to is have flexibility and adaptability, rethinking everything, physical space, virtual space, service points, policies -- it’s about creating a community of users, or a community of learners, who participate and interact with each other as well as with the library. It’s about examining what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and questioning the validity and effectiveness. Just because something’s always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it has to continue in that manner. So to sum it all up, to me, library 2.0 is about knocking down barriers, or at least lowering them, and trying to improve the library for our current patrons, while trying to attract new users to our services.

Other topics:

  • Information Literacy is very Un-Library 2.0 (the ‘proper’ way vs. your way)
  • “Being where they are” pros and cons on the trendy topic of online social networks
  • Commercial Library Catalogs Suck. That’s the next big challenge. Can we merge Netflix with Amazon?
  • Information / Learning Commons and some GT examples
  • LibQUAL+ is cool—seriously, it is.
  • Administration – get more vertical! and hire the right staff, people outside the profession.

The Conclusion: Academic library 2.0 is all about change—constant change, a culture of change. It’s about being aware of opportunities and taking advantage of them. I don’t think there is really a specification that says, if you do this and that, than you’re officially library 2.0. It’s more about always striving to improve and constantly adapting. It’s about listening to your patrons, and interacting with them, and getting outside of the “I am the librarian and you are the patron” mindset—it’s about community and participation and the library being a showcase for learning. It’s about letting go and not micromanaging the user’s experience, but allowing them to create their own experience based upon their needs… with maybe with a little guidance from us.

I don't feel there is anything really new or shocking here-- stuff we've been talking about for years, but there it is.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Perhaps my last comments ever on Facebook

I’m sick—which only happens about once a year, but I wanted to quickly post a comment on this article that will be hitting your mailbox soon: Do You Facebook?

My stance toward online social networks has changed. In the Summer and Fall semesters of 2005 I was really into using MySpace and Facebook, but I have backed off since then. Or rather, I am very opposed to setting up a “Your Library” account and interacting with students in that fashion, although I do like what they’re doing at
UT. I use FB almost daily. One thing I have found particularly successful is joining classes that I know involve research and hawking my services. I also look up students before I meet with them one-on-one or as a class. And I also follow campus news and frequently dash off messages to ‘noteworthy’ students— my humble attempt at a grassroots approach toward promoting the library.

I’m starting to look at the big picture though. These social sites are going to change—there is already backlash toward both MS & FB. Students will move on to something else—so rather than librarians investing time and aggressively trying to develop a presence in these particular environments, it’s probably more valuable to join them, using them, learn about them, and seek creative ways to interact with students, but PLEASE don’t attend a conference and brag about how your library set up a Friendster account last week, seriously! If you’re going to get into the social software game, just be prepared for the new systems that roll out every other month. That’s what makes them fun!

My point is: yes, join facebook, but be yourself! There are other staff and faculty members on there too. However if you’re really looking to make an impact, drop your QuestionPoint, LSSI/Tutor, LiveHelp or whatever lame virtual reference service you’re using and just setup AIM with an aggregator like Trillian. Then plaster your sn every where possible, yes this means also outside the library!

I’ve had students send me an email question—I’ll look them up on FB, grab their aim, see they’re online and respond with my answer. We’ll chat a little bit—clear up anything and end both feeling satisfied. However I’m sure the good folks at UM would view this type of outreach as
intrusive (comment #4) and crossing the line of good and proper librarian etiquette.

Oh yeah, and PLEASE don’t schedule hours of when chat is offered—we can help you from 2:00 – 6:00 when it is convenient for us. If you have someone at a public services desk then you should have IM covered.

Ok, TheraFlu time…

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Fun with Library Catalogs!

There is a lot of thoughtful analysis regarding library catalogs: Cornell, UC, and the ACRL Blog.

All I have to offer are these two video clips:

Why don’t patrons use the library catalog?

Library Catalog Anomalies

Fun stuff!