Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Day at Camp

Yesterday, we both got to attend the Library Camp of the West (LCOW). This was my first chance to participate in an unconference and it didn't disappoint. Aside from the low cost (the price of lunch and for those who needed it, a few bucks for parking), I love the idea of the attendees choosing the topics and having full participation. There was very little "presenting" going on from what I heard and saw. More often the breakout sessions were open discussions of the chosen topic. Just like any conference, there were some tough choices to make. With only 3 session times and 5-7 different topics per session, I couldn't make it to all the sessions that sounded interesting. Maybe they should have added the use of Time Turners to the Impractical, Unfeasable, Unfundable Ideas session.

I ended up going to Social Networking for Professional Development, Reader's Advisory, and Library 2.0. While I got something out of each session, but the Reader's Advisory session really highlighted for me what an unconference is all about. The group of approximately 15 librarians, administrators, and library school students discussed the need to get together and talk about practical advisory methods and ideas. And they actually came up with a possible solution. If all goes as planned, there will be a new group to share reader's, viewer's and listener's advisory tips and tricks. We plan regular in-person get-togethers and an online forum to build the communication between members. I'll update as things develop.

Still, the best thing about LCOW was the chance to meet others who have a passion for this profession. Hopefully next time there will be a little more networking time, so I can get to know even more great people.

Monday, June 23, 2008

We Love to Count!

On the latest episode of one of my favorite library podcasts, "George & Joan, Thinking Out Loud" (by InfoPeople), they talked about library statistics: what we track, and why. Along with their guest, Jennifer Baker of the Saint Helena Public Library, they brought up some really interesting thoughts on metrics, cooperation vs. competition amongst libraries, and about what we are really trying to accomplish with all this counting. What always amazes me about their broadcasts, is how much information they manage to cram into 20-25 minutes.

Some of the highlights for me:

  • If something is easy to count (i.e. door counts, number of library cards) we make it important, but if it's harder to quantify (i.e. patterns of use, depth of collection use) we ignore it or de-emphasize it.
  • What if we quantified reference service by repeat business; asking, "Would you go back to that librarian for help?", rather than, "Did you like the answer(s) I gave to your question(s)?" ? If reference were treated as an "expert consulting service" with librarians responsible for the accounts of patrons who selected them as their chosen reference expert, would it be a better measure of the service we provide?
  • Rather than the sense of competition that tracking statistics often engenders between library systems, we should be looking for more opportunities to share the information we've got.
  • Instead of trying to impress other librarians, we should be more concerned with connecting to the community and seeking external measures of our performance.
  • What is the real measure of success for a library?

As our library continues its strategic planning process, I wonder how our metrics will play out. Will we settle for measuring the easy things we are comfortable with already? Or can we be creative enough to find new ways to quantify what we do, and how well we do it?

What do you think we should be counting or tracking?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Web 2.0 in the Library

What is Web 2.0?

In 2004 Tim O'Reilly coined the term "Web 2.0" to describe a second generation incarnation of the world wide web that incorporates interactivity, is user-centered, customizable, collaborative and dynamic. It includes a new breed of applications that are used primarily through a web browser, rather than downloaded onto a workstation or home computer. And because these applications are so focused on user needs, they are often continually updating their features and functionality. This sometimes results in a site being in perpetual beta. Despite what some think of the ridiculousness of that term, is really just a way of saying the designers and programmers are planning to constantly re-evaluate and improve the application.

Other prominent features of web 2.0 tools are the use of tagging to organize and categorize the content of the site, RSS feeds to bring the information to you, and the development of social networks to share online content with your friends and associates. You may also come across the terms open source, APIs, and mashups, all commonly associated with web 2.0 applications. Perhaps the most appealing characteristic of most web 2.0 tools is the cost. While some applications do charge for advanced features or heavy usage, many offer access to the basic application or the whole program at no cost, making them accessible to any user that can get access to a computer.

Why should you care?

Well aside from the inevitability that your friends, family, colleagues and customers will be using web 2.0 tools and talking about them, they can be easy to use, efficient, and down right fun! The beauty of web 2.0 is that it allows for unprecedented interaction with each other and our ideas. Because the internet has almost erased the distance between individuals, it enables people to share across all sorts of barriers.

With the proliferation of web 2.0 that sharing has become even easier. For instance, if you are a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there's a weblog (or blog) out there where you can join masses of other Joss Whedon (the creater of Buffy, Angel, and the sci-fi series Firefly) devotees to discuss every detail of your favorite characters. Or maybe you use a photo-sharing site like Flickr to post pictures of your last vacation for everyone to see, instead of paying for prints or sending only a few images at a time over email due to attachment size restrictions.

Even if you think web 2.0 might be too much for you, chances are you've already been exposed to it in some way. Sites like Craigslist, eBay, Google Maps, and Wikipedia can all be considered web 2.0. And if you've ever used an instant messenger like AIM or Windows Live Messenger you've jumped in the 2.0 pool. The reality is that we will continue to see development of more and more web tools that incorporate the principles of collaboration and user-centered design. Understanding and embracing those ideas will make it easier to share them with others, and inevitably strengthen the applications we work with.

How does it fit in with the library?

"Sure," you say, "I can see how I can use web 2.0 in my personal life. But what on earth does it have to do with my work in the library?"

It was blogger Michael Casey of LibraryCrunch, who first applied Web 2.0 ideals to the library world and began using "Library 2.0"(also referred to as "L2") to describe the integration of things like user-generated content, and customizable, dynamic interaction with customers to improve the library experience. The concept of Library 2.0 is still relatively new and the exact definition and even the need for the term is still debated. But with regular use in professional publications and the biblioblogosphere (the circle of library-related bloggers), it is likely here to stay. There is even a Library 2.0 social network on Ning, a build-it-yourself web 2.0 site. For more in depth information, read this great paper written by colleague Jack Maness.

The details of how you can use web tools in the library is a large part of what we hope to share with you in this blog. From knowing what tools to recommend to your customers, to knowing the limitations of web-based office applications; from developing a departmental wiki, to setting up a LibraryThing group for your Read Aloud program volunteers, we think it all qualifies as Library 2.0.

Fortunately there are lots of resources out there, and more available everyday. Here's just a few of our favorite L2 related sites to get started...

  • 23 Things - This library 2.0 learning project was initially developed by Helen Blowers of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County (PLCMC) (inspired by Steven Abrams 43Things website). Since it's initiation, the program has been adapted and used by many library systems worldwide.
  • Five Weeks to a Social Library - This course was developed by Meredith Farkas to help libraries incorporate the most pertinent web 2.0 features. Originally presented as web casts, the materials are now available in a variety of different formats.
  • LibSuccess Wiki - "A Best Practices Wiki" that is growing daily, LibSuccess aims to become a centralized source for libraries to share their ideas for best practices in all areas of library work.
  • Tame the Web - Michael Stephens' blog about libraries and technology. A former Library Journal "Mover & Shaker" (2005), Stephens is now a library educator and speaker.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Emerging Role of Libraries

What's a library anyway? Is it a repository for books, a movie store, a computer lab, an urban hangout, a classroom, a community center, an information booth, or all of these things and more? Should a library be expected to be all of these things or is 3 out of 5 good enough?

I believe that a library can (and dare I say should) try to be all of these things, and some day when the need calls for it, maybe more. Yes, I know what a can of worm this opens. Many have argued that having so many goals and audiences could dilute the focus and mission of the library. I concede that it is a risk, but I accept that potential risk over the daily defeat that occurs when a genuine need is not met.

A Blonde Walks into a Library

A blonde walks into a library and says to the librarian "Can I have some hamburgers?"
The librarian chidingly replies, "Ma'am, this is a library."
Then blonde says, "Sorry," then whispers, "Can I have some hamburgers?"

If the customers ask for them, should the library have hamburgers? Sure, maybe. I mean, why not? If the community calls for it and supports it, what's the problem? Sure in a society of Hitlers or perverts or other nightmares, the library would be beyond monstrous, which let's be honest, would be the least of our problems. Not all ideas and suggestions are good ones, but they aren't all bad either. Several years ago, as the library was considering obtaining and circulating DVDs as part of our regular collection. I scoffed. Yes, me, advocate of change or progress was a nay-sayer. (I'll allow you a moment to recover, then I'll explain.)

Customers wanted DVDs and I thought they couldn't handle them. I thought they'd be so scratched that it would be resources down the tubes or simply outright stolen. And ... I was wrong. They were ready for these new resources, took reasonable care of them and we won new customers in the process. Sure, we lost a few and the collateral is higher than for other media, but customer satisfaction and circulation has certainly benefited from this (then) controversial addition.

It's easy to see in retrospect that DVDs weren't that unsafe of a bet, and I dare to say the same is true for computer labs, wireless internet, coffee shops and bookstore like merchandising. So who's to say what the library might become. We just need to be adaptive to emerging technologies and trends while listening to our customers and giving them, and ourselves, the chance to exceed our expectations.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Welcome to our Web!

For anyone who has either been directed here or stumbled upon us - Welcome!


The resident spiders, Tara and Seana, are both relatively recent library school graduates working in a metropolitan public library system. We are both avid readers and movie watchers, and passionate about our chosen profession. Seana has a background in customer service, retail management, and small business consulting before coming to "libraryland". Tara, with 9 years of varied library experience, is a library swiss army knife relishing the details while maintaining a system perspective.

Why "Spiders in the Library"?

When we first started playing around with the idea of creating a professional blog, it was to augment the things we were teaching to our colleagues and friends. As avid internet users, we enjoy sharing the great web tools that have been developing over the past few years. And as true library geeks, we use many of those tools in ways that relate to books, programming, and professional development. So from perhaps the world's best "web" users, we borrowed Spiders and placed them in our second home, the library.

We hope to cover myriad topics, but you can bet that they will somehow relate to libraries, books and other entertainment media, technology, web 2.0 applications, or some combination of them all. If there's something you'd like us to address in some way, let us know. Leave a comment or drop us an email.