Friday, December 31, 2010

Library New Year Resolutions

I spend quite a lot of time working on my blog in 2010, and in return it has brought me many rewards. Blogging has allowed me to articulate, reflect and clarify my thoughts on librarianship and sharing with the larger international librarian community at large has led to many fruitful discussions.

I'm also honored that readers of my blog have told me that the ideas I share on my blog have occasionally helped them with their work, or even inspired them.

Nevertheless, at the back of my mind throughout the year I often wondered if I could be better off spending less of my energies on blogging, that perhaps the sum total of my blogging efforts is just preaching to the choir, or as Ned Potter puts it simply shouting into the echo chamber.

I was struggling to write something insightful to conclude the year 2010, but inspiration eluded me.  Today I saw a post from the always insightful, always inspirational David Lankes that perfectly captures what I was trying to say.

I hope he doesn't mind if I reproduce large parts of it here.  It's from "Beyond the Bullet Points: New Years Resolution 2011"

"In the coming year you will hear many ideas and “certainties” about our future, and our needs. You will hear the inevitable backlash and conservatism of those who fear change. You will read blogs and tweets and Facebook updates full or quotes and links and videos. Some things will scare us, some appall us, and some inspire. But if all you do is hear them, or watch them, or read them, then we all have failed – both the progressives, and the conservatives. For words, images, and all the media in the world that does not lead to action is useless.

The true test of the future of librarianship is not in my presentations, or the words I write, but in the actions I perform and enable. Inspiration without execution is a false drug – it deludes us into thinking ourselves involved.

If all I do is preach and then return to my ivory tower, then I am a fraud. And if you hear my words and yell “amen,” but do nothing then you too are a fraud. Agree, disagree, yell, fight, prove me wrong, prove me right, try something else just do something.

If there is anything that this past year has shown us it is that there is a bright future for librarians, but it will not be delivered to us. We break usage records and they cut our budgets. We show up in the newspapers and on TV and some still question our value. No, we cannot simply continuing our current path and expect salvation and restored budgets. We must act – change – improve.

So here is our resolution for this year – act. Make one positive change every day. Start small: fix the signs in your library. Start small: enforce a 30 minute time limit on all meetings. Start small: replace fines with food donations for the needy. Then get bigger: read 10 blogs each day. Then get brave: map every service you spend money on to the needs of your community – kill any service that doesn’t map. Get brave: leave your buildings on a regular basis for a space in the community.

Then get active: start your website from scratch, and center it on the members not your stuff; convene a town meeting with your members. Start a community mentoring program where you loan out professors, and hackers, and accountants, and lawyers. Then hunt down every post on my blog, or that of the Annoyed Librarian and tell us where we are wrong or right.

If 2010 was the year of the librarian, then let’s make this the year of the librarian in your face. The librarian proactively helping members. The librarian holding administration to account. The librarian demanding more from LIS education. The librarian on a first name basis with the business community. The librarian doing office hours in academic departments. The librarian in the face of their community always helpful, always pleasant, always a radical agent of positive change."

Over here, being "in your face" has negative connotations (though I suspect there's a pun here?), so I won't wish 2011 to be "the year of the librarian in your face", but I do take Professor's Lanke's point.

For me, it's easy and safe to stay behind a computer and blog ideas and tech stuff. By now, It's almost as easy to stand up among my librarian peers both within and outside my institution and articulate ideas or projects for us to do (and we do actually do them, including some of the changes mentioned above!)

But for me personally to affect positive change for our members, our community, to proactively be a agent of positive change, to be "in your face" is something that for me at least is difficult and dare I say scary (due to cultural, personal reasons) but I will be working on this in 2011.

I won't say exactly what those things are, but suffice to say I resolve to spend more of 2011 interacting with members of our community, learning their needs and helping them to the best of my ability.

Here's wishing all of you a Happy 2011, I have a feeling, it will be a very very good year for us all!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My information consumption habits or how having a smartphone changed the way I work

This is in response to my last post where I asked what blog post you wanted to read, and this is one that got quite a few Twitter votes so here it is....

Since getting an iPhone (3GS) which was my first smartphone with 3G service almost a year ago (Dec 2009), the way I consumed information has changed quite a bit. While the internet services I use remains roughly the same, the frequency I use them have altered quite a bit.

I will describe in broad strokes the way I currently consume information on my 3 main computers, Work Desktop, Home Laptop & iPhone. This of course changes almost weekly as I refine my workflow and/or replace existing services. When possible I will try to bring up statistics pre-smart phone and post-smart phone


I love Twitter , and a huge part of my information inflow comes from my Twitter network. The number of ideas I have had that comes from Twitter probably dwarfs almost every other information source.  So I spend quite a lot of time on optimizing this.

My current setup : 

I use Tweetlist primarily for tweeting, it's similar to Twitter for iPhone except you can add comments when Tweeting & has good support for Twitter lists. My backups is Hootsuite (for scheduling tweets on mobile).

I follow about 500 people, but I can generally finish all the new tweets sent while I was asleep on my daily one hour bus ride to work. When I'm particularly lazy I use Twitter to crowdsource and view what links are being popularly tweeted.

Some days I'm pretty sick of Twitter so I just use BoxCar , Notifo and Notified to look at pushes sent during the night (covered here), most of which are Twitter searches and Tweets from lists & ignore everything else.

I use the following push apps, BoxCar , Notifo,  to push to me tweets of interest. As noted in
Why libraries should proactively scan Twitter & the web for feedback - some examples , I use them to be alerted in real-time of tweets that match keywords I setup & respond if necessary.

BoxCar is particularly flexible, allowing you to be alerted of RSS feeds (e.g. RSS feed of Library news) as well as specific types of email (see next section).

On my desktop at work, I have Tweetdeck setup that popups alerts which alerts me in real-time of tweets that match the same keywords above, but when away at the desk, my mobile phone keeps me connected.

Will discuss how I manage saving of links from Tweets in second part of blog post.

Twitter usage change

My Twitter account was started in Jun 2008, but I only really started tweeting seriously from Jan 2009.  Comparing tweet volume will be confounded by the fact that I was initally using Friendfeed to push to Twitter social media updates from Delicious, Facebook, likes on Slideshare, Youtube etc, but as time went by I began to use this less and less.

Adjusted figures after removing Friendfeed pushed updates are as follows

From Jan 2009 to 31 Dec 2009 I tweeted 1,791 times, by 25 Dec 2010 I tweeted 2,355 times. This is an increase of 30% (Statistics from TweetStats) .

But why this 30% increase?  The number of accounts I follow didn't increase appreciably from a year ago.

Let have a look at the following showing the times I tweet courtesy of Xfer

Essentially you can see I tweet a lot on weekdays at about 7-8am. This as I said reflects the fact that I use twitter a lot at that time on my way to work (public bus). I generally spend the hour on the bus reading new tweets (and naturally retweets and responses). But let's compare before and after.

This is the distribution of tweets in Nov 2009 (pre smartphone)

Tweets distribution by hours in Nov 2009

This is the same chart one year later in Nov 2010

Tweets distribution by hours in Nov 2010

You can see that in Nov 2010, the bulk of my tweeting starts at around 7 am while I'm on the bus and stops before 8am, while in Nov 2009, I began tweeting at 8am when I just arrived at the office.

Somewhat less obvious is that distribution of tweets throughout the day is more spread out. This is most evident on Saturday. This results because on Saturday I'm out of the house/Office and don't have access to a desktop computer. Pre smartphone this cuts down usage and distribution of tweeting , while this no bar in Nov 2010.

This of course wouldn't be possible without having a smartphone with always on 3G.


My current setup : 

I use gmail for my personal account and a outlook exchange account for work. As a backup I forward outlook exchange mail to gmail which is automatically archived.

My mobile phone syncs to both accounts separately  (using googlesync for gmail and exchange accounts). Like most people I'm bombarded by emails, so while I use "push email", I tend to ignore most "pings". Instead I use a system where only selected emails result in a popup notification or sms. 

For example as detailed in Getting information to travel to you on your mobile phone , I use Boxcar to push alerts if certain emails that match a given criteria are received. These are high priority emails for example emails from bosses that meet certain criteria. Another option is AwayFind if you prefer smses.

Boxcar alert of email matching a certain filter

I do check my emails using my smartphone quite often. Sometimes though you receive an email that you don't want to handle straight away. The moment you read it, it will appear read as well in your exchange and gmail account. This can cause you to forget to deal with it later.

I currently don't use a task manager/scheduler, and it is awkward to set it up anyway on a phone. So what I do is to use a service called  Laytr that allows me to defer the email such that it is resent to you in a future period.

Say you read and email on your mobile phone and it's an email with details about your desk duties for next month. It's very awkward to input all of this to your calender while on mobile, so you might want to defer this until you reach your desktop. While you can change this email to unread or flag it somehow, you can do this instead...

Just forward the email to,, or and you will receive the same email again at those dates or times. Very handy if you want to forget about this email and handle it only later.

Sometimes you compose an email and want to send it later. On a desktop computer this is built-in with Outlook , and with gmail you can use Boomerang. What about on iPhone? You can use laytr again.

Email usage change

I was planning to use Xobni as blogged in Some email ideas for library use - LibX and Xobni  to measure changes in response time.

Unfortunately something seems to be broken currently, but I can see that my median response time from June 2010 to Dec 2010 is roughly 30 minutes.  I currently can't tell if response time has changed due to owning a smartphone, my guess is probably not since it I still answer the bulk of my emails at the desktop as only a minority of emails are urgent enough to answer while on the move.


I rely heavily on RSS to get news. Every morning when I reach the office, I will look at my social media dashboard that will keep me updated of every mentions relating to the library that I should be aware of.

Besides the already mentioned Why libraries should proactively scan Twitter & the web for feedback - some examples , you can also take a look at this with details on how you can use Netvibes, iGoogle or even Libguides to create a social media dashboard that you can see at one glance what mentions have being made of your institution. Currently I'm using techniques described here and here (hootsuite widget)

Social Media Dashboard (details)

I also have 2 google reader accounts. One is my personal account which includes RSS feeds of library, tech related feeds of interest to me. I check this only about once a week, because I have found that Twitter itself alerts me of most new items I should be interested in most of the time. There are some feeds though that are seldom tweeted by people I follow, examples would be lesser know blogs and some local stuff, so I focus on them.

I also setup a second google reader account.  In fact it contains 3 categories of feeds

1. Official channels (library social media updates)

This allows me to be aware of what updates are made by our various accounts (Youtube, Twitter, Delicious, Slideshare, blog etc). As I'm in control of most of these accounts, I seldom see anything surprising though.

2. Search alerts (Twitter alerts and Google alerts)

This includes Twitter search alerts and google search alerts in RSS and some special sauce. You might wonder why I have this if I already use igoogle, Netvibes etc as social media dashboard. The main reason is for searchability as the others only show the most current results.

3. Prominent blog relating to institution

This includes department blogs, popular student society and newspaper blogs , University event feeds etc. I just quickly scan these in the morning to get updated of what is happening in the institution (outside library).

All this has not changed with a smart phone. The main difference is that I read them on the way to work, using the app MobileRSS. This is linked such that, if I share any interesting item it will send to Twitter, which itself will store links in Diigo etc.

MobileRSS - Google reader account

I've tried apps like Pulse New mini, my6sense which present RSS feeds in different ways. The later tries to prioritze what is shown based on some algothrim of what you have read in the past, but I never got into them.


Pre smartphone I already used a system of Google calenders synced to Outlook calender (every 15 mins). With the smartphone I sync the iPhone calender to Google calender (real-time instant sync).

The reason why I have this three way sync is

1. Outlook calenders is used to set best times for meetings by colleagues

2. I personally prefer Google Calender as my main calender since it can set a very flexible system of reminders which you can get via email, popup and most importantly SMS.

Of course pre-smart phone it was difficult to check my schedule if I was away from the desktop computer, but now I have it all the time and I can confidently confirm good meeting times easily.

I've tried using some type of task manager/scheduler, including using toodledo, Geetasks, Smart Tasks 4 etc, but it hasn't took so far. I guess I came closest to adopting Geetasks which uses Google's simple task manager.

I do use Tungle to manage possible meeting times as detailed here, and there's a nice Tungle App.


This is getting long, so I will defer the part where I detail how I transfer information from my desktop computer to my iPhone and viceversa. In part 2, I will also detail how I save,store links , pages I read while on mobile. All this additional information consumed via phone also means less information consumed from other sources of course, and this will be covered in part 2 as well.

I currently don't have a Tablet PC, I wonder if owning one will result in further changes in the way I consume information.

My system is probably overcomplicated, and not everyone wants to be constantly "wired" to information but hopefully, you can use some of these ideas to be more productive and up-to-date.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Unfinished blog posts - which ones would you like to see?

As 2010 draws to close, I'm looking at my chest of unfinished draft posts and wondering which ones I should delete and which ones I should just work on and release. I have above a dozen of such posts, some are almost fully formed essays while others are just an idea with a title and a few points.

I have many, many ideas for blog posts, but I try not to inflict them upon you, unless I feel they are likely to be useful or interesting.

However, one thing I noticed since I started blogging is that sometimes I have problems judging what people find interesting. For example, I almost junked A few heretical thoughts about library tech trends which I thought was just full of my fluff opinions but it seemed to have struck a chord with some, and according to Post Rank it's my fifth most impactful post?

So I've decided to ask you directly. I'm going to list the title (preliminary) of about half a dozen draft blog posts and a brief synopsis of what the post will cover, and you can leave your comments on which ones you would most like to read.

Title : My information consumption habits or how having a smartphone changed the way I work
Status : Idea stage
Description :   I'm always curious about how people consume information, so I was thinking of sharing how I typically keep up with information that interests me. e.g I wake-up.. on the way to work on the bus, I catch up with tweets, at work, I turn on my computer and check my scans of library mentions, through-out day my system of real-time tracking alerts inform me of important news. I catch up with RSS feeds on way home etc.. 

Title : What is a good library FAQ? Some rambling thoughts
Status : 80% done
Description :  A short survey of different FAQ systems. Some ideas for getting the most "bang for buck" when selecting FAQs to create. Ideas on how to evaluate the quality of the FAQ bank you have by drawing parallels with collection development shelf availability studies. This links to the idea of calculating a ROI (Return on investment) for FAQs.

Title : Are libraries more similar than different?
Status : 60% done
Description :   This stems from a twitter conversation I had with librarians from the US and Denmark, and we were remarking how sometimes it was so difficult to remember that we were all from different countries as  what we tweeted could fit and apply perfectly as if we were coworkers in the same institution!

We should tailor our solutions to local needs, and yet it seems libraries are starting to use the same systems from Library management system/OPACS/Discovery layers (Usual suspects plus OCLC, LibraryThing for libraries etc) , Content Management systems like SpringShare's LibGuides , Surveys (LibQual+, READ scale) , IM/SMS reference systems (LibraryH3lp, OCLC question point. Mosio) etc. 

Does that imply that our circumstances are similar?

One wonders if this reflects the more rapid flow of good ideas or if it's simply easier to mimic what others have done to get buy-in (i.e "Library X has done it too" effect)

Title : One search box to rule them all?
Status : Essentially done
Description :   This talks about how traditionally, library search has being divided into 2 silos. One is the content side , which itself until recently has being broken up into many silos (Library Catalogue, Subscribed databases, Institutional repository etc) until the current trendy attempt to put them all together using "Web-Scale discovery engines". However, there is another silo, that is the webpages themselves that contain help, including Subject Guides, FAQs, Librarian profiles, Library news etc. Would members benefit by including results from all this in the search? University of Michigan Library's search surfaces librarian profiles when appropriate  is an attempt to create one search box that searches both silo.

Title : How to automatically schedule almost everything
Status : Essentially completed
Description : A how to guide on how to improve productivity by auto-scheduling everything from Tweets, Facebook status, Blogposts, reminders & more

Title : My thoughts on the new digital divide
Status : Essentially completed
Description :  My thoughts on updating Helene Blower's "new digital divide". I feel there are 3 classes of people in a post-google world. Besides accessing content, people can be classified also into 3 classes depending on how wide their reach is in terms of connecting with people (as opposed to just content). 

Title : 
A few things about the library world I don't get
Status : 50% done
Description :   Things I don't quite get, such as why there are thousands of citation styles, why there are so many different database interfaces and why many database interface changes happen at exactly the worst time of the year (start of academic period!) 

There are about half a dozen more draft posts that I left out, but these I feel are the best of the lot. So do leave your comments on the posts you would like to read. Or better yet, if these ideas provoke you to blog, feel free to "steal" these ideas, would love to see your take on them.

PS : I considered opening a poll, but I thought it would be better to read comments directly. While commenting you might also mention what type of posts in the past you loved reading the most or have impacted your work the most so I can help me produce more content that will be useful for you.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thoughts about library portals - How much effort should we spend on it?

Recently the front page of our library portal was down, and predictably, our members began asking for help via email & chat. One thing I noticed is that I could easily satisfy most of their needs by sending them directly to the resources they need.

Thinking about it, I realized that while the library homepage is necessary as the face of the library and a listing of all our services and resources, most of our services are actually independent of it. Add the fact that libraries are developing more and more ways for our members to access library resources & services without visiting our library page, you can see why the library portal home page is becoming less important.

Imagine one of our savvy members, he searches using Google Scholar and gains access to full-text with the help of the proxy bookmarklet or library links program. He opts to receive news by following the library Twitter account & uses a Facebook App or mobile app to do searches and reservation of books.  SMSes inform him when a book is due.

Would such a user even care if you spent thousands revamping your library webpage? How many of our members fall into this category?

Moreover, We are also now creating multiple access points such as Facebook pages, mobile pages, Netvibes pages, Libguides pages which are or can be mini-library pages in themselves, how much effort should we put on the main library portal proper? Would most users be happy with a light-weight library portal page or perhaps even be happy with just accessing services via your Facebook page? I'm not sure..

Here's a list of resources & services and how we (libraries) have created access points beyond just the library homepage.

Electronic resources 

I would say most of our members are seeking access to this. Technically speaking there is no reason why you need the library webpage for this, some users already bookmark directly the link to JSTOR or whatever their favourite database is.

In fact most libraries provide far more flexible ways to access eresources without visiting the library homepage. These methods allow a user to access a specific article from google scholar, or allow flexible searching of databases from their browser. Some examples

  1. Proxy Bookmarklet, Search Plugins
  2. Custom Toolbars - Libx, Conduit toolbar (with OpenURL resolver)
  3. Google Scholar "Library Search" & "Library Links" program

Example of Library Links in Google Scholar, Members can access full-text via Harvard Subscription

Sample example of conduit toolbar to search library databases via toolbar

At my institution, I've noticed our proxy bookmarklet is extremely popular, tracking shows it's being shared on Facebook, and there are many compliments on twitter about it, including this one.

This mirrors various reports showing that use of Google Scholar is increasing (in tandem with a recent report showing that Google Scholar has improved dramatically from the first launch) and the proxy bookmarklet works perfectly with their workflow.

There are many more tools such as Widgets (desktop, web etc), search bookmarklets etc that create even more access points, but I won't go more into this, as I have written on this theme many times before in the past.

Library catalogue & Loan related activities

With many libraries being on WorldCat, users can actually use that without going to the library portal (and there's also integration with Google's Library Search program). Search Plugins for library catalogue, the above mentioned toolbars and even the new WebMynd allow members to do a search on any webpage they want, and be brought straight to the result.

WebMynd is a new wrinkle on the old theme, as it overlays results from various sources on Google search results. In the example below, a user searching Google will also get results from LINC (Our next-generation library catalogue - III's Encore), JSTOR and Scopus.

Many Library webpages have began to embed library search boxes, but some (I heard of 2)  have even started creating Facebook apps that not only allow you to search the catalogue in Facebook, but also see the result and make reservations. One example is my own country's National Library Board, myLibrary Facebook app.

Searching catalogue within NLB's myLibrary Facebook app, results shown in Facebook, with option to reserve 

  myLibrary Facebook app, showing books on loan and fines

Even libraries without this level of Facebook integration have mobile apps (typically boopie or Blackboard based) that allow loan related transactions.

Library News

Libraries have always put up library news & events on their webpage but do our members really want to come to our portal just to see what's new? As such libraries have began experimenting with "push" channels like mailing lists & RSS to distribute library news. But today, we recognise that perhaps the most effective push channel would be Twitter and Facebook, where our members can follow our Twitter account or "like" our Facebook Fan pages and get library news they want push to where they are at.

Omaha Public Library Facebook news in a member's Facebook stream

Others services

I would guess most of the services our members desire can be covered above. What about FAQs, help pages, subject guides etc? In recent years thousands of libraries have moved towards third party hosted content management systems like wikis or even LibGuides (>1,700 libraries) and LibAnswers (>200).  I can see why many institutions have chosen to, it's light weight relatively cheap and even has mobile friendly features built-in now.

Now imagine one of our savvy members, he searches using Google Scholar and gains access to full-text with the help of the proxy bookmarklet, or library links program. He opts to receive news by following the library Twitter account & uses the Facebook App to do searches and reservation of books.  SMSes inform him when a book is due.

Would such a user even care if you spent thousands revamping your library webpage?

Fragmenting of efforts

It's great that libraries are increasing the number of access points to users who don't care to visit the library site.

I see this trend accelerating and perhaps more and more of our users will start to use them and bypass our portal.

However, this report shows that it is expensive to maintain University sites, Library sites are probably not cheap either. Add the fact that are these additional access points being created by libraries, such as mobile sites, mobile apps and Facebook pages (all of which are mini library sites) one wonders whether librarians are trying to do too much? Particularly for libraries that also have startup pages like Netvibes.

Below we see the conduit toolbar from CMB ,

The conduit toolbar for example is basically a mini library web page with relevant links

Facebook pages in particular with some tweaking and use of FBML allows you to pretty much create webpages, so you can create a mini library portal. As mentioned before, libraries have embedded search boxes, contact info & opening hours and more.

Will the Facebook page even eclipse the main library page in popularity? I doubt it but with the rising popularity of Facebook, one wonders if even now they are getting a significant number of hits particularly for public libraries.

In any case, the library portal will never go away of course, but one wonders if libraries should spend less time and effort on them?

As it is, libraries are creating light weight library home pages using something like LibGuides.  The interesting thing is that SpringShare is moving towards supporting mobile ( for starters all LibGuides are automatically mobile friendly now), so this is an interesting low cost option. Below are some examples of libraries that have gone with this option.

Example of LibGuide as library home page, University of Notre Dame Australia University Library

Example of LibGuide as library home page,  Lynn University, Eugene M. and Christine E. Lynn Library

To some extent this also reminds me of this contentious article "The Library Web Site of the Future" published in early 2009, which argues that most members are bypassing the library portal when searching for content. As far as I understand it, the piece argues that library portals should show case events, marketing efforts etc. Content should be shafted to specialised research portals such as specific subject guides.

The opposite approach though is the one I blogged about here about Customizable library portal pages which gives users a reason to actually come to our portal page by making our portal page their first port of call. Whether this will work is a open question....


The future

Imagine a world where Open Access is triumphant (hard i know but just try). Further imagine a world where Google Book Editions, book print on demand and Patron Driven Acquisitions (PDA) is the norm. Users can also get news of interest to them pushed to them via email alerts, RSS , FaceBook/Twitter or their Social Network of Choice.

In such a world, would the humble library portal be so important?

With everything in Open Access, Google Scholar would contain almost everything they need (granted with some time delays), while more skilled users would search their subject repositories directly. For the rare case where paid walls are still there, users can access them directly via OpenUrl resolvers, Proxy bookmarklets and more.

Books? Just use Google books or similar, do PDA to purchase the item or print on demand. Besides Google (and Google scholar) get you access via WorldCat.

Library news? It's so archiac to go to a page just to view the news.. news come to you via RSS or on Facebook!

The library portal would still need to exist of course for branding purposes (one place to find all your stuff & for introduction!) but perhaps a light weight option will do? Or perhaps libraries should fight this trend and come up with new features to pull our members back to our library homepage (perhaps by adding customization and personalization features?)

I'm not sure....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Points of needs in the library - Signage , Kiosks & librarians

Recently, I wrote 12 User points of need - where to place your services online , but we do not expect people to be glued to their computers , they operate in the real world too.

The interesting question of course is where such points are both in the library and outside the library. There might be some clever way to figure this out, besides following users around to see where they are puzzled (heat map of some kind??). But that will have to be another post.

What I will discuss in this post, is say you have located a certain point of need in the real world, what will you put there? Ideally if we can fully anticipate member needs the signage or help posted there should be specific to what the members are confused about or wondering about so it will seem like we magically read their minds. So for instance, maps would be important for people trying to find their way around, so you see most libraries putting signages at stairwells as an obvious example.

But that would require quite a bit of mind-reading (or rather ethnographic observation) so failing that we need someway for the member to get help from the librarian and we can't be everywhere.

For example in my institution,   the open stacks are on one level and  the reference and loans desks are on another level. How can we save the time of the user who needs help? By providing either remote help or a way to "Summon the librarian"!

How do we do that?  Looking at other libraries, I see there are probably 2 main methods

(I) Simple Signage with contact information - member uses his communication tool

(II) Computer Terminal or "Information Kisok" - library provides the communication tool

These methods are relevant whether you are using a roving librarian model in which case, the reference desk can have either (I) or/and (II)  when the librarian goes to rove, or a more traditional reference desk model, where librarians are still stationed at the desk, but (I) and/or (II) can be deployed at areas where members are usually stuck but far away from the reference desk and you can provide remote help.

(I) Signage 

This can be pretty low cost solution, from simple printed paper posters pasted on walls boards or shelves or put on stands, to permeant fixtures/signs mounted on walls. Another high cost option is digital signages such as LCD,plasma displays.

There's quite a lot of literature on designing libraries and signage (I'm totally ignorant of them all), so I'm not going to say much beyond some obvious remarks.

The type of signage used will depends on the point of need, for example digital signages such as Plasma displays are very flexible as you can control the information you want to display, but can be put up in only areas with lots of space. Printed posters on the other hand can be placed practically anywhere.

Contact information you can put on your signs?

(I) Phone numbers
(II) SMS/Twitter (if you provide SMS/Twitter reference service)
(III) IM Name (if you provide IM reference service)
(IV) QR Codes (Lots of discusions on use of QRcodes)

The main issue with all these methods is that IM, QRcodes, relies heavily on the user having a smart-phone or have installed a QRcode reader. While phone & SMS requires just a normal phone, some users might still balk at the cost of calling or texting or the phone battery is dead etc. Also communication using a mobile phone (smart or otherwise) does not always have high usability at least in the case of IM.

I've left out email, because, email is not considered "instant" enough, and even if I had a smartphone to email you the question, there are doubts how fast the reply would come and when you are stuck at the open stacks far from the librarian you probably need instant help.

My guess is that listing plain old phone numbers would be most valuable followed by SMS if the library does SMS reference.

What these methods have in common is that, it relies on the user having their own communication device.  How about if the library provides the means of communication instead? Which brings us to the next section.

(II) Computer Terminal or "Information Kisok" 

In this day of iPhone and iPads, it might be bit archaic, but perhaps one could put a phone or intercom of some-sort at a point of need far away from the reference desk where users can call for help?

But of course, the trend now is to go for computer terminals or information kisoks.

The good thing is that these days a locked down old PC can easily serve as one, without having to pay for expensive custom made hardware.

One can put a computer equipped with

(A) Web chat link

"Another option for older systems is to use them as communications stations, setting them up with nothing but an IM client directed at your Reference department IM account and a background that says “Need help?” Throw in a cheap wireless card, and you can throw one anywhere you have a power outlet as a help station for the lost patrons who just want to know why they can't find a copy of Harry Potter in the HP section." -- Source

Anyone have example of this? Or is this no longer necessary, since you can have web chat boxes on every part of your library webpage from the catalogue to the library homepage?

(B) A more fancy setup with Web Cams for Skype or Video calling

Some libraries have being experimenting with even more advanced setups, that allow Video reference, typically using Skype. Two examples I have found includes  Ohio University Libraries’ Skype Reference Service and Ask Ontario . There's also a paper here on the system at Ohio University.

Video by Chad Boeninger, Ohio University Libraries introducing Skype Kisok. 

Unfortunately it seems both these experiments, seem to be unsuccessful. At least members didn't seem to be using the Kisok to Skype, see experiences here and here. The main reason seems to be our members generally don't want to Skype with us, as they prefer to be able to multi-task and are shy to do video calling with strangers. It's telling that in the Video, Chad says there is some usage of the Skype account that is linked to on the home webpage, but most of them just use the text based option.

(III) Touch screens?

In addition, if all you want is a way for patrons to summon a librarian, you can look at Darren library's Patron notification system which uses Growl (I think) .

"They bought touchscreens for the desks and have a screen that says “Touch Here for Assistance” that patrons can use when there isn’t a librarian at the desk. Just touching the screen pages a librarian. Decided to use for notification “router”: it is free to use and you can download it to host it on own servers. Can send notifications via IM, email, and Prowl/Growl. Gave librarians iPads and iPod Touch running Prowl so that librarians could be notified when not on the desk. It shows information about where the patron is located and a link to click to notify the patron via the touchscreen that a librarian is coming to help the patron." -- Source

Touch screen for users to summon help. Source : Jblyberg Flickr account 

Librarian with iPad gets alert. Source : Jblyberg Flickr Account  

The Kiosk approach using either IM/Web reference or Skype/VOIP would seem be more flexible than  Darren library's Patron notification system , since the former allows you to both communicate with a librarian who can come down if necessary, while the later if I understand correctly can do one thing only, that is summon help.

That said Darren library approach is far simpler, press the screen and help comes, while depending on the setup for Kiosk, it might be far more daunting to use and if there's one thing I learn't about people is that simple wins.

I have no doubt they have looked at probably simpler systems, for example a simple alarm push button system that sounds, but it seems Darren library uses the roving librarian model, so it is important for the alert to be able to received remotely.

In passing, a weird idea I read about about a year ago, reverses the model, as in the librarian broadcasts his location while roving but I can't find the reference now, though I'm sure it doesn't involve the current FourSquare check-in craze.


I'm guessing a mixed approach using both signs and information kiosk systems will be best obviously. I suppose one interesting experiment to do would be to locate one point of need.. and then try using the different approaches above e.g. First plain poster with different contacts, then digital signage, then Kisok with skype, then with touch screen etc...

Which method would get the most use? Is a simple sign with phone number almost as effective as a information kiosk? How often do users want to "summon a librarian" as opposed to call, chat or text them?

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that sometimes though, the best thing to do with a point of need in the library is to station a librarian there! Over at Librarian with different hats  , Librarian Hoi blogs about her experience sitting up a make shift station to be closer to library members.

"As a little library lover I was always curious about what librarians do - they must be fairies, so I thought. How wonderful will that be if I could even catch a glimpse of a working librarian, let alone talking to them face to face.
Been toying with this idea ever since I became a librarian, and I did exactly that today. I put up a home-made poster, chose a spot at the end of the magazine bay, set up 2 chairs, a table and ta-da, the doctor is in =)

The little sign that says "Feel free to interrupt me .." is a nice touch, since it has being reported that some users are reluctant to interrupt a librarian because they look so busy while doing their work.

Stephen Francoeur's Digital Reference blog was very useful for writing this post.

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