Sunday, November 27, 2011

3 things to show at library sessions

Like many academic librarians, I do various types of presentations, orientations and classes to students.

Some students might think we librarians are out of touch that we librarian just use our library catalogues and subscribed databases and know little of Google/Wikipedia etc. As such I always try to mention some "real-world" scenarios to signal that I am well aware of the strong google/wikipedia tendencies of well pretty much everybody. Here are some material I am thinking of using or have made use of in the past.

Google has everything

Lane Wilkinson's Sense & Reference blog points out a very common phenomena that we librarians face at tutorials. Inevitably someone will stand up and say why use the library or subscribed databases when Google has everything? And even if no-one is bold enough to say so, you can bet a lot of people are thinking that.

There are many ways to handle this question, but Lane's answer is most interesting. He simply challenges the person to do a google search. Even though Google say there are thousands of results, when you actually move to the last search engine result page you will find there is usually a lot less, because results are usually capped.

In his example "Alcoholism" he shows that Google shows only 800+ results despite claiming a few million.  Even after adding omitted results it shows 1,000. Below shows what I see using

Google says there are 28 million results, but in actual fact shows only 791, even clicking on repeat the search with the omitted results included doesn't help much. Below shows the results when I click on it.

In comparison most databases (assuming the right type), will show thousands of results (full text only).
Below shows JSTOR

Not that JSTOR is the best database for this , but many students love it, and as the screenshot above shows, there really are 32,000 results!

He concludes

 "It’s just a rhetorical trick designed to call into question the commonly held belief that you can find morein Google than in the library. And, as a rhetorical device, it introduces valuable questions. Why does Google cap their results? How useful is it to havemillions of results? How does Google decide which 1,000 results to display? Sure, Google may have 50 billion pages indexed, and you may find websites on just about everything, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to show that, from a practical standpoint, the library has more."

I was aware of the capped results effect in Google, though I never thought of using it this way. Though Lane views this as a rhetorical trick, (I mean most dont view past the first 10 and even the most obsessive researcher past the first 100), personally I am still mulling over the implications of this capped results. If say I get capped results of 758, if I refine it further does it just work on the set of 758? If so this can be quite a handicap. 

xkcd : Where Citations come from


The above picture probably says it all pointing humorously that there is a loophole despite Wikipedia policies of No Original Research. It is important to note that I am generally in agreement with the Daring Librarian, that Wikipedia is not wicked. I could be wrong but I think most librarians agree as well that Wikipedia can be used properly to help start research occasionally.

But still interesting to use this has a starting piece to further discussion on Wikipedia.

Does library use affect student attainment? A preliminary report on the Library Impact Data Project

Again the graph says it all, showing that the students who got first class honours generally used library resources more for both online resources and borrowing of print material, though the effect was stronger for the former. There seems to be almost no correlation for visits to library though.

This is a UK project (University of Huddersfield & 7 partners) and I have been fascinated with their project since I learnt about it. Seems to be a good short slide to quickly show to motivate students :)

Still whenever I mention this, I tend to joke that correlation doesnt not imply causation, so it doesn't mean if you start searching randomly on library databases, you will start increasing your chances of a first class honours :)

Always wondered if we could do this here in Singapore, either at the undergrad level or at the lower levels of A Level students where there is a "Project Work component" required for university admission, where students get a feel of doing some research. Such students would pretty much have to rely on NLB eresources and while there are classes on research held for students by the NLB academy, I am curious whether there is a correlation at this level as well between usage of eresources and perhaps book borrowing and grades received eventually,


Would you use any of these pieces? Why or why not? Anything else you use as talking points?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Is librarianship in crisis and should we be talking about it?

I was reading Bohyun Kim's guest blog at ACRLOG which talked about how users generally don't want to come for library instruction classes but want to learn tools like LibX that speed up searches, and she asked me what I thought of it. I replied that I felt she was spot-on, having experienced the same but said it was a bit depressing.

Recently I noticed a couple of interesting comments to the blog post, in particular Veronica Arellano's which lead me to her A Crisis of Our Own Making (sidenote, she has a great blog, you should subscribe!).

Librarians are worriers, and one thing we like to worry a lot about is the future of libraries.

Veronica Arellano however thinks that we should stop writing about it. Why? She gives several reasons in "A Crisis of Our Own Making" but concludes with

"Writing about the 'crisis' in libraries tries to elicit change out of fear, rather than a desire to better serve our communities. By continuing to write our own obituaries, we are dissuading enthusiastic, forward-minded young scholars, technologists, and community leaders from entering the profession by painting ourselves as stuck in the past and obsolete."

She has a point too much negativity in particular obituaries type predictions can be self-fulfilling.

Earlier this year, I understand a retiring and very senior library administrator locally made a prediction at a library conference/talk that libraries would be extinct in the future (or words to that effect, he may have been referencing this extinction timeline that predicted libraries would be gone by 2020). I wasn't present but I understand from a librarian who had just joined the profession and who was present, that it was (obviously) utterly demoralizing to hear.

That said, I am not sure if this sense of doom and gloom is not automatically sensed by new recruits  anyway though having it said so bluntly is stunning. For example, at my very first local library talk/seminar almost 4 years ago, a very distinguished speaker (non-librarian) picked up on this and remarked on the "sense of defeat" he sensed from librarians.

So yes, we need to be careful not to drive away young, passionate people in our profession by being too negative.

That said, I do not totally agree with Veronica, that the problems and dangers facing librarianship is always totally exaggerated, everything is fine and dandy and that it's just a "Crisis of our own making".

Yes there is plenty of talent in the library world (including Veronica herself), librarians who recognize what is not working and are trying to change things but that does not change the fact that many things need to change and the way isn't always easy (definition of a crisis?). I would argue most of the people writing on these issues are indeed the forward thinking ones working to change things, after all the first step to changing things is to recognize there is a problem. Arguably though some of the ones making such apocalyptic statements are playing devil's advocate.  

Nor I am sure if I agree with her assertions that the ones who point out problems facing libraries are simply targeting practices (e.g physical reference desks that are not used) that most libraries are abandoning or better yet have found good solutions to them.

It is also not true I feel that solutions have not being proposed though some solutions such as embedded librarianship, creating collaborative learning spaces in libraries and reinventing librarianship in general are so radical it is not easy to implement without a lot of risk taking and bold leadership.

Also I worry some of the issues faced by libraries might be far bigger. Take the scholarly publishing crisis and licensing of ebooks for libraries, these are HUGE problems that cannot be easily solved and thus far I am not very optimistic about any of the proposed solutions. I believe these issues and others (mass adoption of ebooks for one) will have a great impact and will have the potential to disrupt libraries in the coming decade.

Maybe it is simply a case of half empty vs half full. Librarians of the later view, like David Lankes affirm that the best days of librarianship are ahead of us if we can but seize the opportunities and make the change, but note the conditional (if we can...)

David Lankes also wrote about this issue about predicting doom in "Beyond the bullet point: Don't be the mud"

"Understand if you are a librarian today, these students revere you. They want to be you. You are a role model. I know it’s not your job description, but it’s true. So every snarky comment and your foreboding sense of doom, it has an effect. I am begging you to expand your sense of professional responsibility to mentorship."

"As librarians we can and should argue about the shape of the future. We can and should have honest and heated debates on where we want to go now. But if you are convinced that you are the last generation of librarians, that the field is going away, then get on with it and let the folks seeking a better tomorrow get to work."

But what about those of us who worry that we might be the last generation of librarians if we don't change drastically? Should we get out of the way? There are many others like myself who are nervous, recognizing the challenges and threats facing libraries and that this is a critical period facing libraries.

But what unites both the half empty and half full librarians are that we both recognize that radical change and shifts to our libraries work are coming if libraries are to survive (or does anyone disagree with this?). But perhaps this simple division is too simple.

Meredith Farkas has written about a Library 2.0 idea adoption spectrum , describing Librarian attitudes towards adopting new technology, from one extreme "Twopointopians" who love everything 2.0 to the other extreme "alienated".

Similarly, attitudes towards the future of libraries, perhaps call it a expected library future spectrum? range from librarians who think we are doomed no matter what and should prepare to bow out ( er library-apocalypse prophets??) to a midground "Lankesian" view that the best days of librarians are ahead of us if we ,  all the way to those who think libraries are not  at risk and don't need to do much but can just continue the way things were always done.

It is a difficult balancing act, try too hard to point out problems and perhaps need for radical change and you run the risk of sounding too negative or defeatist. Some writers might have perhaps gone too far in trying to shock others in our profession into activity (e.g  Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050  and Libraries are Dying (And That’s A Good Thing) )

But equally, thinking that everything is fine, and business as usual, always choosing the options with the least risk (when there is no such option in fact) will suffice is equally perhaps a recipe for disaster.

Imagine a young potential librarian-to-be contacts you and asks you for advice on whether he should enter the profession. What picture of librarianship should you paint? I believe it would be irresponsible not to at least mention the challenges and potential stumbling blocks that libraries are facing in the future, so they will know what they will be up against.

For the record, I don't think libraries are definitely doomed to extinction, but there is much to be done and the library world needs passionate and energetic librarians to fight for the future of libraries and the last thing we need is for recruits to come in because they think libraries are a soft option or because the job outlook is stable.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

5 inspirational words of wisdom to librarians

Librarianship is a difficult road. I find myself often torn between idealism and cynicism, caught between passion and frustration. Talking to other librarians, I see the same in them. Libraries really have so much potential to make a difference and yet it seems obstacles in our path often seem insurmountable.

When things are difficult, when frustrations mount,  I often find it useful to re-read inspiring words of wisdom by other librarians who remind us that we are not alone.

These are some of my recent favourite speeches, with excerpts that I find memorable (emphasis mine) but I don't think the excerpts alone do them justice so be sure to read the whole post!

1. An Open Letter to New Librarians by Roy Tennant

This was a response to a blog post by PC Sweeney. PC Sweeney is a very passionate librarian and is in my mind one of the up and coming leaders of ALA but in the blog post he talked about some days where he felt like "blowing it all up and walk away" in view of all the challenges facing libraries and librarians.

This drew Roy Tennant's response, where he noted that when he was younger he faced similar frustrations and shared tips on how to not give up despite the frustrations that all passionate librarians face . He ended with this.

"I’m not trying to say that if you do the things above that it will be easy. It won’t. Deeply committed and visionary people will also tend to be frustrated and impatient. But I’m here to tell you that with dedication and patience you will not only survive, but thrive. Our profession is counting on you to do so. Only the best and the brightest are frustrated. Everyone else is bored, or unengaged, or biding their time for retirement. You are the ones we simply cannot do without."

2. Be the change you want to see by Meredith Farkas

In a very uplifting and positive post, Meredith Farkas talks about keeping one's passion and enthusiasm and how not to be resentful or frustrated with others by comparing with what they are doing or what they have. She challenges us to "be the change you want to see" in our place of work.

Here's an excerpt from the post about setting one's own benchmarks for excellence.

"We all have our own standards of excellence. Some people’s bars are set higher than others. We also have different priorities and what motivates me to put in 100% won’t necessarily be the same for you. Whatever your own standard of excellence is in your work – whatever you passionately believe in doing – that’s what you should be true to. Be yourself. Don’t stop volunteering for things just because some of your colleagues’ standards of excellence are lower than yours or their priorities are different. Your measuring stick for your own achievement should be based on what you want to achieve, not how much or little other people are doing."

3. Reality-based Librarianship for Passionate Librarians by Jenica Rogers

Jenica gave a very impressive keynote speech at LIANZA Conference 2011 about how librarians should balance passion and reality. She notes that it hasn't been a good year for libraries, but then again when has it ever been?

Here's an excerpt from the post about choosing the right battles to fight

"There’s always a hill to climb. You cannot let the simple existence of the hill stop you from climbing it. 
You just have to pick your hills. Look at what you’ve learned here, this week, at the ideas you’ve generated. Look at your energy, your resources, and your barriers. And pick a hill.

Figure out which one is worth the climb, worth the sweat and the sore quads and the scramble over rocks. And just start climbing. And when you get halfway there, and see the insurmountable obstacle — be it lack of budget, resistance from colleagues, lack of leadership, dissonance of vision, the consequences of a natural disaster, or a good old fashioned catastrophic avalanche of all of them at once — you have to stop, and ask: Is this the hill I want to die on?

Because not all hills, even smartly chosen ones, deserve your passion. Some battles aren’t worth fighting, and can’t be won. Or the cost of winning is too high – you will spend more than you can afford to see it done. Or, remembering the exhortations of earlier keynotes to focus on political awareness, the victory isn’t strategic enough. Some hills are not worth dying on."

4. The Year of the Librarian - Of the People - David Lankes

David Lankes is a great speaker and you can watch many of his presentations live on his blog .  Honestly I could have easily picked any one of his excellent speeches but this one is from Reinventing Librarianship

"The time for introspection is done. The time for trivia is done. The time for looking for the future of libraries in catalogs, and strategic plans is done. The need of our communities is too great, and our promise for improvement too large.Our families worry about jobs and the ability to fight their way into a shrinking middle class. Our education system is broken – students unable to learn, or drowning under crushing debt. Our system of government increasingly polarized, our appetites for energy unsustainable, and the very memory of our society eroding behind walls of commerce and false scarcity. These then are our grand challenges, and just as the physicians before us, if we rise to meet them, we too shall be rewarded.

And I know what you are thinking. I know that tomorrow you’ll be dealing with broken printers, and shelving backlogs, and the rising costs of subscriptions. But you must look up. You must never make what you do replace why you do it. And if you can’t link broken printers and shelving to the grand challenges of our society, then you ought to ask why you are doing them. We must stop reacting to the world around us and start inspiring it!"

Below is another one that I found interesting.

5.Bravery based librarianship is the (only) future by Ned Potter

Of the 5 writers and speakers I have listed, Ned Potter is perhaps the least experienced in the field. However, he is definitely a thought leader in the field. Here's a blog post he wrote about his experiences while receiving Special Libraries Association (Europe) Early Career Conference Award.

"But what strikes me is how often I hear about bravery-based librarianship that goes well. There were loads of these at SLA2011. So many times when libraries take the plunge on some decision or other, the outcomes are positive. I know failure is less likely to make it into the public eye, but even so enough people are trying interesting things and discovering that – hey, guess what – the world DIDN’T end and the earth DIDN’T swallow them up, and in fact everything carried on, but slightly better. So we should learn from them.
So many great ideas get bottlenecked by trying not to upset people. We are at a time when we need to inspire people, not protect their delicate sensibilities. Merely not failing is no longer enough. We have to succeed in such a way that the odd failure happens too – otherwise we’re not speculating enough to accumulate sufficiently. And I’m not talking about whole libraries, I’m talking about the ideas which drive them. Can we get ourselves into a collective mindset where we don’t fear chaos?"


6. How Will We Save Our Profession? Reflections from a Texas Librarian

This is more specific to a given subfield of librarianship but still inspiring.

"Worried about these fresh new faces choosing to enter our profession, newly graduated from library school, who, as one candidate told us “had drunk the koolaid.” Were we doing them a disservice hiring them in to a profession that is facing such threats? I felt re-energized at the same time thinking of my own first year in the library, ready to do all I could to be the instructional resource, champion of literacy, technology integrator, and overall go-to-girl when something needed doing.

If you are feeling more discouraged than you should, think of what is lost to this generation of our students if our profession shrivels up and dies away. You are the one who must fight and win the battle to keep librarians in schools. But you are not alone! "


I know that words alone won't necessarily change anything. Reading these inspiring words doesn't mean that you will wake up the next day and find the situation is magically improved. God knows, the cynic in me sometimes wonder why I spend so much time blogging ideas on librarianship as if words alone will make a difference.

And you know what? The cynic in me is right. Words & even ideas alone won't change anything, not if they don't inspire you to do something.

If there is one common thread in all these speeches it is this, frustration is normal and if you are feeling this, please don't give up! Continue to fight the good fight (though you may want to change your strategy if it doesn't seem to be working)! We need as many bright, passionate, engaged people in our profession as we can get and the more of us there are around to support each other, the brighter our collective futures will be.

What are some of the most inspirational advise as a librarian, you have been given?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Using IFTTT for alerts in libraries

As mentioned in my last post, I recently presented at the online Library 2.011 conference. Talking a little about how we scan the net for mentions of my library , the results of such scans and how, when we actually respond and reactions of users.

The talk is archived

I've written many times on this blog about the techniques , most lately here on location based scans  , where I found out a technique which work better than the default twitter search syntax, so this talk was more about the results (e.g how many are positive compliments etc) and when and how to respond.

To backtrack, there are 3 ways to figure out if a tweet is about your library.

1. If the  tweet contains the keyword (e.g NUS Library)

2. If the tweet contains keyword (e.g. Library)  and is within say 1 km of your library

3. If the tweet contains keyword (e.g. Library)  and is from people you can identify as your user

The false positives for all 3 techniques varies, but I suspect the techniques are listed such that false positives increase from #1 to #3.

While preparing the presentation, I noticed that the third technique which is used to scan user lists , was a topic on which I did not blog about yet. My last post on the subject did mention it briefly but for the sake of completeness here's how.

It involves the use of the relative new service IFTTT, so let's talk about it first.


It stands for If this, Then That. It allows you to setup certain "Triggers" and when those events happen , ifttt will do something. So for example, I have set up a IFTTT task such that whenever I post a photo to Facebook, it will notice and post the photo to dropbox as well.

It's really flexible you can link to lots of services called channels including Facebook (including pages),boxcar, Twitter, Dropbox, diigo, delicious, pinboard, evernote, posterous,wordpress, tumblr, instagram, Flickr,Youtube, Vimeo, Foursquare, any rss feed and more, as well as to traditional channels like phone, IM, email, Sms etc.

For each channel, there are a variety of triggers and possible actions.

Below show the channels currently available.

When you think about it, this is the essence of coding/scripting really, but IFTTT allows those of us who are not so technically inclined to do some of this.

Librarians have not been slow to notice this new tool, for example Gary Green has some interesting ideas for library use including a very interesting post  It’s Raining – Twitter Says Get To The Library , which involves triggering tweets based on weather reports feeds and if it is say cold tweet "What a cold day today! Be sure to wear warm clothing before heading out to library" or something to that effect. See also Swiss Army Librarian's post.

For me one major use is for alerting services.

Essentially you setup a trigger or a condition that must occur , and then an action will occur, which could be anything from getting an email, IM, SMS, phone push notification (via Boxcar) or even a call!

Alerting on tweets from groups of people with a certain keyword

With the variety of channels, I can think of many many uses for alerts, but in the context of this post, we want a trigger where the tweet includes "library" and is from a defined list of users, typically a Twitter list.

While Twitter is one of the channels and there is a variety of Twitter trigger you can use (including twitter mentions, favourites, searches etc), it cannot trigger based on Twitter lists.

For that we use the Feed channel. IFTTT can trigger only if a feed includes a keyword which is exactly what we want.

To recap here's are the steps

1. Identify all your users and put them in a list. Example, put all the followers of your library account into a list.

2.Get the rss feed of the twitter list see here

3. Sign into IFTTT, then create a task by clicking on this , then using Feed channel

4. Select New Feed Item matches

5. In Keyword or phrase enter library

6. In Feed URL paste the RSS feed from #2

7. Click on THAT

8. Then select any action channel , including Boxcar, email, Google talk, Phone, SMS etc depending on how you want to be alerted. I currently like using sms option. It's one of two services I know of that allows unlimited sms alerts for free outside US (the other is Google Calender)

That's it.


I am really just scratching the surface of what you could do with IFTTT, but even in terms of alerts, you can do plenty of things. To be even more specific, let's consider IFTTT's ability to do keyword filtering of RSS. While RSS feeds seem to be going out of fashion with services like Twitter and Google trying to hide them, a RSS feed filter is still very useful. IFTTT is not the only or first one to allow this (see a past blog post on a even more complicated bayesian filtering system of RSS feed), but the ones I have tried in the past have been unstable, unreliable but thus far IFTTT's seem to be working well.

For example, my university as a events calender available in RSS feed format but no way to subscribe just to say events by libraries. I use IFTTT this alert on those.

You could do the same for RSS feeds from table of contents of journals etc.

Do note that RSS feeds are usually not instant (some update every couple of hours), while IFTTT itself polls every 15 mins adding to the delay a little. Also it's unclear when this service will start going paid...

Any of you using IFTTT? Would love to hear how you are using it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Library 2.011 - Attend a free online Library Conference -Nov 2 to Nov 4! My picks.

We all know that library conferences are expensive. Though I fully enjoyed my experience at ALA Annual earlier this year, for someone like me in Singapore, it is hard to expect to attend many such conferences overseas because of the distance. That is why I am amazed that there is this free World Wide Virtual Conference Library 2.011 conducted solely online using BlackBoard collaborate software from November 2 - 4, 2011. The conference is sponsored by the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at San José State University.

Yes, it's free! With sessions almost round the clock from today Nov 2, 10pm (+8 GMT). Check out the schedule here , even someone like me from Asia can attend sessions because it has sessions from 9 am to 11pm (my time).

Among those presenting, I spot Ellen Forsyth "read and tweet : a twitter reading group everyone can join" (November 3, 10am – 11am, GMT +8, session link) & Gwyneth Jones "QR Codes in the Classroom" (Fri, November 4, 5am – 6am, GMT +8, session link) - both are my fellow LJ Mover & Shakers (class of 2011) , not to mention various renown keynote speakers like Stephen Abram and Michael Stephens.

Others that look interesting to me (all times at +8 GMT), click on date to go to the live session

1. Librarians Use of Social Media Profile Photos (November 3, 12am)- Studies whether librarians use profiles or not on Libguides

2. Virtual Reference and Instruction: What is it really like? (November 2, 11pm) - Providing online reference services to almost 116,000 students
3. Don’t Just Sit There! Tips for Engaging Participants in Online Sessions (November 3, 2am) - A bit self referential? But I have recently started doing webex sessions for online instruction, so this looks interesting.
4. Read, Watch, or Talk: 3 Methods for Engaging in Library Instruction (November 3, 4am) - Similar to the last one, but I think focuses more on creating video tutorials
6. Personal Librarian Programs Build Connections - (November 3) - Interesting idea - Personal Librarian programme
9. So I’ve Checked In…Now What?: Libraries and foursquare (November 4, 3am) - I claimed our Foursquare venues already...... curious about what University of Hawaii, Manoa does with it....
10. Down with the FAQ! Bring in the Dynamic PKB (Public Knowledge Base) (November 4, 5am) - Was curious what this was, until I realized this refers to LibAnswers , which we use too. Now I am even more curious......
11. Google+: A Plus (or Minus) for Libraries? (November 4, 5am) - What does a academic librarian think about Google+ ?
13. Reference Redux: The Changing Role of the Reference Librarian (November 4, 10am) - Thinking a lot lately on changing reference desk models...

To my dismay, a lot of the ones I want to attend is at 3am-5am belt! But you know what? They are all recorded as well! Honestly it's fair to say that content wise it is a match for many library conferences where you have to pay for though of course you do miss the physical face to face networking experience.

I was debating whether to present as well and almost cancelled but I guess given that I recently started presenting to students online using a similar web conferencing tool, I guess it's a sign I should be bold and go for it.

I will be presenting on our experience on proactive scanning for mentions of our library on Twitter and social media and how users react when we respond to them. What is the line between being helpful and being perceived as Big Brotherish?

14. Proactively scanning Twitter & the web for feedback - How are users reacting? (November 3, 8pm – 9pm) , Session link , (Add to calender)

Needless to say I am really nervous, so wish me luck!

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