Thursday, October 28, 2010

Funniest library related movies made using Xtranormal

Xtranormal has the tag line "If you can type, you can make movies" and it's really that simple! Just select a background, select 1 or 2 characters, type in dialogue, select a couple of camera angle and special animations using point and click and you get a  cartoon animated movie with no programming required. It's mostly free and quite flexible and you get a passably good quality movie, though you have to pay if you want additional scenes or characters that are not given by default.

It's not exactly a new service and. libraries have also being very quick to use this to use this to create movies for their own use.

A quick search shows that there are easily over 200 of such videos. As you might expect they have being used for various purposes from orientation videos to "how-to" videos to information literacy to introduction of new services etc.

Most of these are pretty standard, what I will showcase below are some of the most entertaining library related ones... Be warned not all are complimentary towards librarians.

Library School: Hurts So Good

Want to be a librarian? This funny video tells you why you shouldn't!

My Rules for Using Law Library Reference

A frank (too frank) law librarian lays down the law. Rule #1 & #4  are my favorites.

Librarian Strangelove.....or how i learnt to love the patron and not worry about

Ever had to serve a difficult user? This one takes the cake!

How do I print?

Teaching patrons how to print is a common experience that most librarians share. This is a pretty funny, but quite realistic look at how frustrating it can be for both librarians and users.

Neither a borrower, nor a table be lists true life stories of encounters with customers who make crazy demands. The above movie has dialog that is drawn from the website with regards to a library user. Others in the series include Why everything takes so long, Just because I'm paranoid, that doesn't mean they aren't out to get me and A subtle yet meaningful difference .

Typical Reference Interview

This librarian is eager to serve but.... Similar is "Important Question"

The Librarian

Another difficult client...An arrogant librarian....

Honorary mention  Library: Humor , What Not to say in a library interview , The Death of Dewey Decimal

Have you created any movies using Xtranormal? What was your experience? Any entertaining library related movie created using Xtranormal that I missed? 

BTW I have this idea of spoofing the old "I'm a Mac and I'm a PC" type ad, except replace Mac with Google/Google scholar/Amazon and PC with library catalogue but don't have the creative chops to do it , but it does seem easy to do with Xtranormal.......

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fixing old problems vs launching new initiatives

Every library has problems that everyone knows about and are common user complaints but are ignored because the problem seems to be too huge, too large , too costly, too impossible, too everything to fix. People trying to even think about solving that problem  will have a voice in the head that goes ... "If it's so easy to solve, someone else would have solved it." or  "Who do you think you are to think you can solve the problem when so many in the past have failed?"

Isn't it any wonder that's it's a lot easier to spend ones energy launching some new sexy idea that was see or read at a library conference, or run with some totally new service to keep up with the jones.

Trying new initiatives without any clear idea why other than to play follower the leader, is often a fool's game, akin to getting solutions looking for problems to solve.

But why not try to solve existing problems? At least you know success would mean making a big score. You have nothing to lose, since you are expect to fail. Succeed and be forever remembered for having done the impossible.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

12 User points of need - where to place your services online

Say you have a new service or page you want to advertise, what possible places could you put it? As libraries expand their reach online, it's no longer as simple as putting a link on your webpage.

In this post, I'm going to list systematically a dozen locations you could add online, some are directly under the control of your library (e.g. library pages), others are on third party servers that you indirectly control (third party hosted services), others could be totally third party systems (Facebook pages etc) and yet others could be under the control of other units (e.g Courseware systems).

Let's just take a link to a web chat (I know there are many ways the handle chat widgets, from embedding the chat box directly to various types of links that popup/expand etc but here I'm just considering a link regardless of how it behaves because chat is just an example). Where can you link it?

1. Library Front Page

Pro : Pretty obvious. Highest traffic page.

Con : Overcrowded homepage if you try to list everything there. Also is this really placing the service at the user point of need? E.g A library help page for OPAC that exists only as a link from the home page might be missed, as users might not need it until later when they are searching the OPAC.

2. On every page

How about placing a link on every page on some consistent part of your website's UI? There are many ways to do so, here are 3

Most obvious way is to place on banner, toolbar etc.

Concordia University Library has a link to Ask a Librarian page on every page

Some of the newer chat widgets like Olark, allow a "floating:" chat box that appears at the bottom of each page.

My own blog embedded with "floating": chat widget at bottom of every page

Recently I notice many services such as GetSatisfaction have began to popularize another type of UI, a "floating" tab widget that appears on the left (or right) of each page.

My own blog embedded with "floating" tab widget

Pro: This ensures the service is a click away on every page.

Con : As it's every present on every page, it might blend into background and be missed.

3. Library catalogue (discussed here)

 Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library catalogue, meebo chat appears when there is no hits. Image from David Lee King's blog.

Edit: Rudy Leon from UIUC suggests putting the chat link or widget on other library related search pages like the OpenURL resolver link page & other search engines owned by the library such as WebScale discovery tools and Federated search tools.

Pro : Placed at point of user need, high traffic place.

Con : Only makes sense for chat service or help files related to searching

4. Database (e.g Ebscohost, discussed here)

University of Calgary, chat embedded into EBSCOHOST, image from Distance Librarian Blog

Pro : Placed at point of user need, high traffic place.

Con : Only makes sense for chat service or help files related to searching

5. Subject Guide/FAQ

My institution's LibAnswers/FAQ system

Pro : Point of user need, users are already "in the mood" to look for information.

Con : Traffic  might not be very high, depending on marketing/promotion.

6. Courseware (e.g. Blackboard, Moodle etc discussed here)

Pro: Most students spend a lot of time on courseware to download readings from lecturer, so this is high traffic page. Also at point of user need.

Con: Requires permission of lecturer (perhaps even on a per module basis)

7. Mobile pages (web apps or mobile apps)

Pro : Another access point, accessible on the go. At point of user need?

Con: Mobile pages are relatively difficult to create. Unproven.

8. Facebook/Blog/Twitter other social networking sites

For facebook it could be a facebook app, or it could be embedded into your Facebook page. Currently there is a change to facebook so facebook apps that work as boxes are phased out so you have to create a normal link, or a tab. I'm looking at Library Tabs for Facebook  and The 12 Best Ways To Customize Your Facebook Pages 

Also see "How to add a Meebo widget to a Facebook Page".  You could also add a link to your Library's twitter page as a background. For short term promotion, you can put it or encourage other university fan pages to talk about it. For example, some of our videos made by the library has made the popular (yet unofficial), Overheard at National University of Singapore.

Pro : For users who don't visit the library portal much

Con : NA

9. Toolbar/Browser button (e.g. conduit toolbar, Libx, PubMed toolbar etc)

Conduit browser toolbar with Meebo chat, from QuickSearch CMB Toolbar!

Pro: A browser toolbar creates an access point when user is not on library webpage. The browser toolbar will also quick access to library services no matter what page he is on!

Con: Have to encourage user to install

10. Desktop widget

What if the user has not opened a browser? You can offer desktop widgets that residue on their desktop to allow easy access. See this

Pro : User can access at any time even when browser is not open

Con : Have to encourage user to install

11. Word Processor/ Reference manager

Besides surfing the net, academic library users also spend a lot of time typing reports/essays and managing their citations. How about adding a button, or link to allow easy assess to library services? Say a student is typing a report, wonders what the proper citation should be, he can link on a link in Word or endnote and access a librarian chat.

Guus van den Brekel (@digicmb) mentions to me you can apparently do this by customizing the Research Pane in Word. Incidentally I notice that David Lanke also mentions the same idea briefly in this amazing video.

Pro :  Besides using the browser, academic library users also spend a lot of time managing their citations and typing articles. A link from there either set up as a extension or by customzing research pane, gives users one click access to library help. Very useful when user is working on report.

Con : Have to encourage user to install

12. Preinstall on library computers

#9, #10, #11 can be done on all library or university computers, so users don't need to install. Thanks goes to @CanuckLibrarian for suggesting this.


I've used the example of a chat link/ widget here but it easily applies to another link to a service, say a help page instruction. Is there any other online location they could be added I'm missing out?

Of course here, I cover only online locations, in a future post I will consider advertising/promotion in physical locations.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Adding your library catalogue results next to Google results using WebMynd

Recently, I started to realize that our page on the proxy bookmarklet (a bookmark that allows quick access to full text articles via the library's subscription even when the user doesn't use the library portal as a starting point) is extremely popular, despite being burred deep in our current portal design. 

For instance it's one of the most shared/liked pages on FaceBook, our FAQ system (LibAnswers) shows it a very popular query search and anecdotal evidence from experience teaching students and environment scanning shows it is a big hit with our students.

Why? The popularity of proxy bookmarklet (and similar tools like LibX, Conduit Toolbar) provides a very big hint that our users are doing most of their searches away from the library site. Chances are they are using Google (or occasionally google scholar) instinctively as their first search rather than any of our library catalogues or databases.

The Google instinct is very strong indeed. The danger here is students might be just happy with what they get in Google (Wikipedia I'm looking at you) and be done with it. What if a plugin could be installed such that whenever the student did a search in Google/Yahoo etc and it would automatically overlay library catalogue results next to it? This leverages the user's strong "Google instinct" and without any additional effort he can see the library catalogue results together with Google's

More than a year ago, a speculated on how it could be done , in Adding your library catalogue results next to Google and I mentioned a product called WebMynd. This product allows the installation of a plugin that automatically shows results from various sources (Twitter, Youtube, Google books, Amazon,  etc) next to Google and Yahoo results.

Back then I explored the idea privately of adding library catalogue results as a source , but it was very difficult to do and needed custom work by the company.

Recently, I was informed this has changed. Anyone with a bit of understanding of html and CSS selectors and you can create a plugin for your library's catalogue.

As you can see, I did a normal Google search and it pulls out the normal Google results, additionally on the right there's a sidebar showing results from other sources. One of the sources is LINC (our library catalogue)

This works also if the user did a search via the search bar or from the search box in etc.

Of course the user must first download and install a plugin. The nice thing is plugins exist for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome!

How easy is it to create one for your library? Here's how it looks when you set it up.

Essentially what it is doing is data scraping of your OPAC result pages, similar to how services can create RSS feeds from structured html pages.  Currently it's not quite as easy to use as say Dapper, where you point and click parts of the pages and it automatically sets it up to you, but with some help from the people from WebMynd I managed to set it up.

Clicking on "test these selectors" will help you see if you did it correctly. The colored area corresponds to parts of the page that will be used in the sidebar results.

Once you have finished doing so, it will create a setup/landing page that you can offer to users.

For example see this setup/landing page . It seems to be a dynamic link, will redirect to the appropriate setup page with appropriate instructions depending on the browser. Here's what a Chrome user sees when he clicks on the link.

It's still early days yet and I haven't fully tested it  (there might be some teething problems) but it looks very interesting.

Supposedly it can also work for sources that require logins such as Linkedin, FaceBook, Gmail, Google webhistory etc as long as users have signed in, though I'm not quite sure if this would work through our ezproxy enabled resources and also whether licensing agreement would prohibit using our resources this way.

It's totally free, though there is some advertising , this might be objectionable to some, but many libraries are using Conduit Toolbar which has similar advertising.


I think this is a very interesting product/service. In a sense it's a bit like a "federated search in reverse".

In a normal federated search, Google is just one of many sources you can query together with other sources. The main drawback is it requires the user to go to the library webpage to use the federated search but do users remember or care to do so?

WebMynd appears to be the reverse, Google is primary here and you overlay other results. Given that most users have the "google instinct", WebMynd  might perhaps be a more natural approach to users.

There is a one-time setup cost of course to get a user to install, though one way to reduce this is to automatically install it on all library controlled computers.

So dear librarian readers, what do you think? Will this be useful to our users? If you have any questions about the product, feel free to leave comments below.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Putting services at user's point of need - my take

My recent blog post on "heretical thoughts" where I played devil's advocate and expressed doubts and how libraries weren't yet successful in getting users to use mobile services. Comments were pretty favorable, it seems I was saying something that many were thinking privately as well.

This led me to thinking, why do some library services succeed and are used heavily while others aren't? This is a rather banal question but let's see what I can come up with.

One obvious possibility is that the service offered just isn't useful. That's one possibility that cannot be ruled out without actually asking users.

The limus test seems to be this. If you show the service to a user and he tends to go "Wow, I wish I knew about it earlier will definitely use it in the future" it means it's a lack of awareness or promotion. This happens for example in the case of our proxy bookmarklet.

As important as advertisement and promotion of services is, I'm starting to think placing services at the user point of need might actually be as even important and more cost effective.

While this is a phrase that occurs over and over again in library literature and actually is a rather obvious idea, I only had a epiphany about this lately.

This post describes the idea very well.

"I forget who it was, but at the Internet Librarian conference last year someone said that what we should do is follow our users around (physically and on our web sites), and pay attention to every place that the user gets frustrated. It could be in the library catalog, or in the stacks, or trying to find the right database. And then at all of these spots of frustration, which are the points of need, we should make ourselves available to help. “Having trouble? Get help from a librarian.” 

And we should do this so well that it should seem like magic."

Putting something at the user point of need to me basically means at the moment they need help, the correct service is there waiting conveniently for them to use.

While advertising and promotion is critical, it relies on the user actually remembering to use the service after hearing about it. Unless the service is really important and useful, the user might not remember or even bother to use it if it's not placed at the user point of need.

On the other hand, even with minimal promotion if the service you offer is conveniently available such that they don't have to think hard how to access it, chances are they will use it.

Putting chat boxes, screencasts and help pages at point of need

One example, say you want to put a chat box, where should you put it?

In the context of placement of chat boxes, it's obvious that putting it on the FAQ would be useful, as users are already at the frame of mind where they are looking for answers. If the FAQ doesn't have the answer and they will feel motivated to look for help and "Ta-da! The chat box is there".

Chat widgets can be also embedded directly in the catalogue (We use Encore and it appears 4.0 is explictly supporting this). Perhaps appearing only if say no hits were found or too many, or 404 error pages,  indicating that they needed librarian help. Another idea is embedding them in databases. This post shows you how to embed them in EBSCOhost databases. There appears to be an older method which I suspect might be applicable to all databases.

The idea in all cases is the same, put them where users are already doing a search and when they get stuck, they can find the librarian to ask there in one click. This appears to increase usage of chat widgets quite a bit.

 Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library catalogue, meebo chat appears when there is no hits. Image from David Lee King's blog.

Another very good place is your university's courseware (e.g. BlackBoard) as your students spend a lot of time there looking at assignments and I have found librarians who link their subject guides from module pages are very successful in drawing hits. See this and this for instructions on how to embed meebo into blackboard.

LibGuides does allow you to embed chat boxes on the subject guide, but how effective that will be depends on whether your users have the habit of going to your research guide or is their first instinct to do a search on your library catalogue or database.

  Chat widget on my subject guide on LibGuides

Created screencasts for library instruction? This post discussing putting screencasts at the point of need.

But of course it applies also for any type of library service or page that helps the user. Have a library help page that you spent hours working on, but nobody seems to be accessing? Besides sticking it on a page under the "Library Help" section, think where else you could link the page from that the user would want to access from.

For example, have a page on how to search for theses? How about creating a link from the catalogue when the user selects the option to search only thesis collection or refines to thesis collection?

How about thinking of the reverse? Look at high traffic webpages. Think from the user's point of view, on that page what problems would he face or questions would he need answered? What other help links would be useful. For instance, after logging to check his loan record...

Of course, we don't need to restrict ourselves to just digital services or even reference ideas.

"To me “point of need” isn’t a reference idea, but a more holistic service idea. If someone is at the stacks with a call # in their hand and they realize they don’t have any clue about how to use that # to find the item they want, our point of need service would have anticipated that, and we would having some sort of finding aid there at the stacks to get them where they need to be."

It seems to me to position a service at the user's point of need, requires the following two components

(a) Service has to be provided at the right time

Offer the service too early (before he needs it), and the user won't see the point of it and won't use it. Offer too late after the point where the user needs it and user doesn't care at all

(b) Service has to be provided at the right location

Location could mean physical location (like a signage in the stacks) or location online (on a appropriate webpage)

Point of need, but whose's needs?

When we talk about "point of need", the next question goes is whose needs? The examples above do not really try to determine who the user is but try to determine roughly by context (if you are on page X, you are likely to need Y).

Now imagine if the service provided at the point of need could be customized and personalized based on who the user is.

At the highest level, simply customization and personalization of options shown when a user logins by whether they are academic staff, graduate student, undergraduate etc and/or by discipline helps a lot.

Even better if such customization could be down to the module taken by the student. For example the work done here enables users to see what journal were used by other students in the same module.

Okay let's go back to the chat box example. Showing a chat box when the user is stuck searching the library catalogue is nice. But even nicer is that the chat box that appears is appropriate to the user. If I'm a business student, the chat box that appears in OPAC should be that of the business librarian (if he's not available, will fallback on a general chat), or as most users will not be logged in, perhaps the chat box that appears should be appropriate to the type of search (e.g. a search that maps to certain LC classes would show the appropriate librarian chat box).

I believe some of this customization by  showing appropriate databases based on type of search mapped to LC class is already possible in Encore, so this isn't so much of a stretch.

Also according to "Putting a Librarian's Face on Search"

"When you do a search on the University of Michigan Library's web site, you get not only results from the catalog, web site, online journal and database collections, and more, you also get a librarian who is a subject specialist related to your search term. While the matching is not perfect, it provides a human face on search results. So, for example, if you search for "Kant," in addition to books and databases, you also get the subject specialist librarians for humanities and philosophy."

Searching for Kant on the library page, pulls out the reference librarian who is an expert in Philosophy

The blog goes on to explain this is done by querying the library catalogue, mapping to LC classes and then pulling out the appropriate librarian. Brilliant!

Recommender systems (see this) could recommend not just resources but also librarians, so librarians "appear" at the point of need..

Mobile services could somehow use location as a criteria...

Not quite sure though if this extra level of customization is worth it, but that does seem to be the way things are going with facebook and other web 2.0 services that provide customized services and news.

Go where your users are vs user point of need

While putting services at point of need is important, it still doesn't mean that marketing can be neglected.

In the examples above, the user is at the library controlled digital spaces (website, library catalogue and to some extend courseware sites like blackboard) etc and services appear automatically without any effort on the part of the user. However increasingly users are bypassing the library portal. They are searching google, google scholar and are spending most of their time on Facebook etc.

As such increasingly librarians are urged to "go where our users are online".

I have written quite a bit about use of library 2.0 tools from LibX, search plugins to methods that insert proxy stem to allow users to directly access online articles via library's subscription to plugins that automatically display library catalogue and database subscribed results next to google searches etc.

You can view these initiatives as a attempt to put library services at the user point of need even if they are not at the library controlled spaces. For example LibX toolbar adds a toolbar or badge (for LibX 2.0) that allows users to access popular library services even if they are on google. Library facebook apps, can also be seen in the same light.

The main difference here is that for this to work, users have to do some work in advance first to set it up. This could be installing Libx toolbar or downloading the facebook app/becoming a fan, or installing a mobile app etc.

You could of course, popup a link on your webpage at appropriate points recommending that users download something, but I'm some what pessimistic of this working particularly if setup cost is high.

If there's one thing I learnt so far is that people are lazy, make the service available 2 clicks away, few will bother. Need to download and install something? Ditto. That's possibly a reason why "likes" are gaining ground over social tagging, as the former is a one click option as opposed to tagging which requires a lot more work thinking of what to tag.

My guess is most users will not make such an effort, unless there is demonstrably high value in doing so. This is where librarians doing promotion is important.

This has being a long rambling post and pulls together many ideas that aren't exactly new. What I haven't addressed yet is its implications for mobile library services (mobile sites, SMS reference) etc.

Are such services simply the idea of catering to the user's point of need when they are away from a PC and need quick access to library services?  Are they simply not useful? Too troublesome to get at? How do we place it at the user's point of need?  Still thinking about it...

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