Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day in the life of a librarian - An academic librarian in Singapore

Curious about in academic librarianship in Singapore as a career? Try So you want to be a academic librarian in Singapore?

This is the second time, I'm taking part in this world wide library meme/project "Library day in a life"  started by Bobbi Newman. I really don't know if what I write is that interesting, but I suppose some people considering the profession here in Singapore might be curious what academic librarians do in Singapore, so I guess this is for them.

For some context, I'm a relatively junior librarian with slightly over 3 years of experience working in the Information Services (formerly Reference) department.

But as I said last year, what I write below may not be typical of what academic librarians here do, because there is no such thing as a "typical librarian" and even if such manner of a beast exists there is no such thing as a "typical day or week" anyway.


Came into office and ran through my normal routine of checking through the prior night's LibAnswers queries, environment scans for mentions of my library in Twitter, Facebook etc. Today I'm on duty manning the beta chat service up to 130pm.

Incidentally, I am also finishing up a presentation on the results of the beta chat service from Aug-Dec 2010 to be presented to the senior management on Wednesday. I already finished most of it except the hardest part, estimating the manpower requirements based on various scenarios (number of chat points), but I was helped by the LSW Friendfeed people who generously shared data about chat traffic statistics.

I also answered two emails from users. I am happy to note that a Honours year student got the dataset he requested, while another research staff asked about three databases, of which we had one already.

This morning, I also had two meetings, the first was a presentation of new features in our University's courseware software. Some new interesting features there. This was followed by yet another meeting, this time on some long term reorganizing of the library with regards to how communication is structured.

An email also arrived from a colleague with regards to this idea I read and sent during the weekend about embeding Google analytics into the library's OPAC from this paper.

By now I had answered five chats, all of which were fairly basic. Then it was off to lunch.

After lunch, a collegue also consulted me about getting a iPhone app for the OPAC and we tried to find information with regards to Zoombo, the newly announced III iPhone app. I continued with preparing for the presentation. Midway, Tweetdeck noted a negative comment tweeted about the library, followed promptly by a retweet, I monitored this to see if more retweets would follow fortunately none did, but engaged in some service recovery anyway (See this post for details about the real time scanning I do).

This week is also crunch time and the library is preparing to beta-test the new totally 100% revamped library portal and instructions were shooting back and forth to test the new library portal before releasing to first batch of users, I was assigned to test Firefox (though Chrome is now my favourite). This is the accumulation of work the committee has done going back to 2009, so I'm very excited to finally have a working prototype but today I'm really busy with preparing the chat reference report, so can't get to it yet.

I'm pretty much finished with my presentation slides and am about to go home at 6pm  when I get a chat by a user complaining about the OPAC being down. I checked and oops, it really is! Within a couple of minutes a similar complaint popped up as picked up by my real-time twitter scan. Fortunately, the classic catalogue was still functional so I directed the users there. Decided to stay back a bit to monitor the situation.

I sent a quick IM to the library information technology department, my amazing colleague there checked it immediately and within minutes informed me it was fixed! Talk about amazing response time. Through the use of chat channels and real time twitter scan, the library was able to quickly spot and resolve fast developing situations! All in all the response time was so quick, here in Central, there was time only for one chat complain and one tweet about issue.


Was on leave. Didn't do much official library work, beyond my usual reading and scanning. Did a couple of personal things including taking pictures to replace my old profile picture (not uploaded yet here). May submit an abstract for a upcoming local conference here.


Crazy day. First I was trying to test the new library portal prototype. I was assigned to test using Firefox, running through some functional tasks to make sure everything works okay as a first cut.

I also spent some time verifying the steps to put Google analytics into the catalogue and evaluating a database resource for possible subscription.

In the afternoon it was usability testing time where I observed two users go through a couple of common tasks on the new prototype. Very enlightening.. It's not so much how fast they do it, or whether they can complete the task, but what you learn by watching them, followed by questioning later.

I won't say much about what I learnt, but let me say that it confirms quite a bit of my suspicions of how people are using library sites these days. Will see if this holds with more testing. Immediately after that, there was this big meeting on the portal with the vendors and the management.

All of it went pretty smoothly, but at the tail end it was my turn to "perform". I was presenting the results of the library's beta chat project that I ran since Aug 2010. It's one of the project that is nearest and dearest to my heart, basically because the response to it has being amazing so far. Users loved it! I knew they would but not at this level.

I know chat reference is nothing new for academic libraries in the US, but it's a big commitment of manpower and the uncertainty makes it difficult to commit. What exactly are you signing up for when you launch this?

I presented some analysis estimating the projected chat traffic increase the more chat points the library adds. The analysis is pretty crude but it was the best I could do based on statistics from studies plus whatever statistics I could get by asking around.


In the morning, I finished off a number of small tasks, followed by yet another round of usability testing. Pretty much same reaction by the user as the first few I observed, most seeing the same problems. I'm starting to understand why they say for usability testing you often don't need a big sample to spot most of the obvious problems.

Took sometime to create performance goals for myself and the team I'm leading for 2011. During lunch a push notification from EndNote's Twitter account, alerted me that new version of Endnote X4 was out,    besides improved peformance for the "Import PDF" function   (it now pulls metadata from Pubmed, maybe they read my testing here that showed EndNote was behind here?) , but more importantly it supports Office 2010, 64 bit. I knew a user who was waiting impatiently for this feature, so I notified him via Facebook (more on that in a future post) and email.

Was on desk duty this afternoon, was fairly run of the mill with one interesting research question but I still love it. Maybe one day I will get tired of it but not today.... I also took the time to write out a long rambling email about the things I noticed so far while testing the new portal.


It's the end of the month, and I like to take a quick look of the Google analytics statistics for LibGuides and Libanswers (can't wait until when I can look at portal and catalogue statistics as well). Statistics are up this month, as students are returning, noted a new guide created for a specific course is doing very well indeed. One of the pages I created, a resource page for statistics and papers on income inequality in Singapore is doing well also, drawing many hits from Google searches. Got to remember to create more resources like that.

Yet another two more usability tests to observe, by now it was getting routine, and I was seeing few new things to report. Emails cleared including colleagues asking for help with Libguides, and a user asking for help on how to find a newspaper article. Also checked out how one library was using Olark for IM/Chat reference.

But the bulk of the day was spent studying/evaluating Ebsco Discovery Service vs Summon vs Encore Synergy. This is going to be a killer task, I have made a point to be kept update on this issue as much as possible but I can see it's going to be a big task to evaluate this properly. Again, It was nice getting advise from librarian peers around the world on various channels who have already done this or are doing this.


This week is hardly typical , since obviously I don't get to do usability testing of new library portals all the time! But then again, it's hard to say what is a typical day for me. Some days or weeks (say Aug or starting in Feb) it's all about holding orientations and teaching classes (what i call micro level work), while this week was mostly macro level work focusing on higher level initiatives that impact the library as a whole punctuated by desk duties and email inquires from users who know me.

Another thing you might notice is that a lot of my tasks seem to be very IT related.

Some of it is a quirk due to the period this recording takes place, and some of it is due to my interests & job scope, but I think this is just a matter of degree and all librarians need to be comfortable with computers and the internet.

I'm definitely not saying every librarian should be a programmer, or even everyone should be on Twitter/Facebook/Social Media and own a smartphone and I probably suffer a bit from technolust (but I try to keep it in check at work) but libraries are essentially about information , and in this day and age  the primary way to handle & organize information today is through computers and the internet.

But that's hardly a earth-shaking insight and anyone looking to get into libraries probably knew that already.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

4 Successful social media campaigns for and by libraries

Libraries are some of the most active users of social media and it is no surprise that many have taken to using new media to spread their message and in serious cases promote their cause. Some of these campaigns are started by librarians others have purely grassroot orgins. Some are targeted only/mainly to their fellow librarians, while others are meant for everyone.

Stephen Abram has a 2010 post listing many Facebook based "Save the Library Campaigns" (another list by ALA here)and it's interesting to see that many of the Facebook Pages have massive number of fans, some as high as 15,000 in some cases. Andy Wawoodworth who is certainly no stranger to using online tools for library Advocacy notes the following in a insightful post   about setting up a Facebook group   Save NJ Libraries.

"For myself, it was wonderful to see that over 15,000 people joined the group; but in the back of my mind, I had my doubts. How many of those people are fellow librarians joining in solidarity? How many actual New Jersey residents are actively monitoring the group? How many NJ people are sharing the information to their friend? How many people in the group are contacting their elected officials? For these questions, I had no answers nor hunches; there is no way to measure it and my gut feelings did not feel reliable. While some would argue that the larger the number the higher the probability of active members, I would answer and say that probability does not translate into measurable results. It also relies on the false premise that each person who joins the group has an equal chance of taking further action."

In the concluding words of the blog post Andy also alludes I believe to "Small Change: Why the Revolution Will not be Tweeted" where Malcolm Gladwell claims that online campaigns are unlikely to result in social change as a "like" or tweet is so easy to do and does not prompt other action.

I think he has a point, does 15,000 fans of "save library X" fanpage really help if most just click "like" and forget about it?  Does that sway the powers that be? More to the point, in this day and age, does having 15,000 fans of "Save a library" with no other action really make sufficient news for traditional mass media to take notice and help to spread the word out? I don't know. In recent months, I have noticed however a couple of campaigns that seem to have resulted in actions that go beyond the purely online realm.


Why they did it : Over 375 libraries in the UK threatened with closure due to budget cuts

What they did :  Users on Twitter began tweeting ""Libraries are important because ... [fill in your answer & RT] ", with hashtag #savelibraries. Done initially in support of UK Libraries but spread to the US.

A search shows that #savelibraries has in fact being a tag used on Twitter as far back as March 2010 but here we are talking about a specific use that occurred in Jan 2011. See later for more details

How it started :  Started spontaneously by Shropshire ICT lecturer @MarDixon  , supported by Voices for Library. More information

Result: As I write this, the story is still on-going, but according to , #savelibraries has trended WorldWide, UK/London,  and United States with the longest in UK (6 hours on 16 Jan 2011). (It also benefited possibly from the effects of the next case below) .

There were 12,000 tweets of this according to Topsy in just 1 week!

Gary Green has a nice visualization showing that in this case tweeting has probably escaped the echo chamber (the tight knot of interconnected users in the middle are probably librarians)...

Why am I including this, since we are talking merely about tweets and no physical action can be attributed to this? Simple, at this stage, trending on Twitter is still considered "news" enough for the Mass Media to report on, so like it or not in this case online activism has led to some effect in the real world.

'Wot No Books' campaign/Save Stony Stratford Library

Why they did it : Stony Stratford Library faces closure for same reason as first story above.

What they did :  A campaign to encourage users to protest against the closure of Stony Stratford Library by using their full loan entitlement of 15 books to empty the library of all books between 12 Jan to 15 Jan 2011. More information 

How it started :  This campaign began normally enough with a petition and a Facebook group. But what about the 'Wot No Books' idea? It all ".. stemmed from a semi-serious (or half-joking) off-hand remark made at, it would appear, just the right time." by David Quayle of  "Friends of Stony Stratford Library

Result: All 16,000 books checked out! They reached their target of removing all books 24 hours ahead of time! As someone calculated, for this to have happened, at least 1,000 users were involved in taking actual physical action. It seems that this idea is going international , and libraries such as the Isle of Wight library are planning to do something similar.



Why they did it : Librarians discovered they could buy a library for a very cheap sum of £1250 for people in India and Africa using

What they did :  Set up a blog and paypal account and began asking for donations online using Twitter and other online tools.  More information

How it started :  The idea was conceived on a Twitter conversation between @ThatAndromeda (US), @theREALwikiman (UK), @janholmquist (Denmark) and also supported by @JustinLibrarian

Result:  Raised over £1500, enough to buy a permanent library in India and a mobile library in Africa . People forked out money via PayPal so definitely in this case , physical action resulted. I'm curious whether most of the who helped were librarians or not. 

Charlotte Mecklenburg $2 million in 1 week campaign  

Why they did it : The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library planned to close 12 libraries and fire 148 workers because of a reduction in funding.

What they did : Campaign to raise $2 million in 1 week by March 24, 2010 to make up for shortfall in budget. Among other efforts a Facebook Page was setup to solicit for donations.

How it started :  
Unclear, probably started by library

Result:  Did not reach target of $2 million in 1 week, but reached over $200,000 which is still impressive. In the end all branch libraries remained opened with shorter hours, there were pay cuts and 48 layoffs at least for now.

Other stories

Other cases that you might be interested in includes Marketing a Levy Through Social Media , which chronicles Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) use of social media to get a tax levy passed and New York Public Libraries invitation to Improv Everywhere to re-enact a famous GhostBusters scene  to raise awareness of budget cuts. 

A note about library related hashtags on Twitter

The ALA Chapter Office has a nice series of pages on advocacy efforts for libraries and suggests the following best practice

"Follow CRO on Twitter at Find and send tweets on saving libraries with #saveSTATElibraries; for example, #saveconnecticutlibraries, #savemichiganlibraries, #saveohiolibraries. Also include #savelibraries in the message. If you send out tweets to save the libraries in your state, please send a note to"

Unfortunately while I can track the amount of tweets made for these hashtags, I can't check if they actually trended as goes back only to May 2010.

Some notable ones in terms of volume include #savelapl (432 according to Topsy as of Jan 2011), #saveohiolibraries (1,584 according to Topsy as of Jan 2011). Of these only #saveohiolibraries might have sufficient volume to trend and indeed that was the intention, but I don't see any evidence it actually did.

Realistically speaking I suppose only the generic #savelibraries is likely to trend? Since two or more libraries who happen to be campaigning at the same time (like the two UK libraries)  will have sufficient volume to push it up? Twitter trending depends on factors such as velocity of tweets and uniqueness compared to normal volume so it's not very clear even if this is true.

Honorary mentions

The following social media campaigns are on less weighty issues other than the survival of the libraries but have resulted in some degree of traction if not among users at large but at least among librarians internationally


Started by @emijnsbergen, @kenniswerker, @adaerts, @lukask, @poulus @wbk500 to declare October 1 2010 to be follow a library day. Users would be encouraged to mention his favourite library on Twitter. Started mainly from Netherlands but later spread internationally.

"Overall more than 7000 tweets were made. We found 12 inspiring videos on YouTube from librarians about the day that attracted a 1000 views in a short time span. Our seven promotion films on YouTube attracted 3000 views." Source . Not to mention dozens of libraries supporting this.


Started by @Wawoodworth & @catagator. Similar to #followfriday, the idea here was to recommend librarians on Twitter to follow. Andy recounts the story here. Currently according to Topsy there are over 500 such Tweets

A Day in the Life of a Library

Started by @librarianbyday to encourage library workers to share their day or week by tweeting, bloging, post pictures or videos. This is currently in it's 6th round! For rounds 4 and 5, 343 library staff registered themselves at the project wiki , if you include the previous rounds there must be at least 500 posts or items created by librarians to support this project. That's a lot of real world work!


There are no doubt many other successful social media campaigns by libraries and librarians, some are accidental such as Andy taking a chance by asking Old Spice to talk about libraries or a Cambridge Librarian catching the fancy of the internet world by commenting on portrayals of Jedi librarians . How does one measure the "success" of these campaigns? How much can one attribute success due to social media? For instance while the Wot No Books' campaign/Save Stony Stratford Library seems to be mostly driven by Facebook, the idea could have being conceived and executed even if Facebook didn't exist.

Another thing I noticed is that in the 4 cases above, 2 were actually ideas initially conceived spontaneously by non-librarians. Not sure if that has any significance.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

How will the closing of delicious affect libraries?

Shockwaves were sent through the internet world, when news leaked that delicious would no longer have a future in Yahoo. Most media sources sensibly began to mourn the impending death of delicious and this started an exodus of delicious users. As I write this the future of delicious is still unclear, a blog posting on delicious claims the service is not shutting down, but planning a future outside Yahoo, but various analysis including this one by a ex-Yahoo executive suggests that Delicious is in peril  as a sale is difficult.

Libraries have always being a fairly heavily user of delicious, both by librarians on a personal basis or as an institution. What impact and implications would the shuttering of delicious means for such libraries?

Well it depends on how much the library uses delicious of course!

Examples below are based on convenience sample.

Social Sharing buttons

Some libraries, embed social sharing buttons on their webpages that allow users to quickly tweet, send to facebook or otherwise bookmark the page. Services such as addthis or sharethis are used. But perhaps the most common users would be over 1,700 libraries on SpringShare's LibGuides platform, where there is a addthis! button on all guides.

LibGuide with Sharethis! button

Impact : Minimal. At worse one of the options in the share button doesn't work. 

Sharing of resources for external or internal users (do not embed into linkrolls)

Some libraries have librarians who bookmark resources using delicious accounts and publise these accounts. This might even be a group account where different librarians pool their resources.

Impact : Some. If delicious shuts down it can lead to a loss of carefully curated content. But one can export the links to another service like Diigo. 

For external users, if all that is done is to publish a delicious button that links to the account on say the library homepage, probably the impact isn't huge if delicious comes down. Example here of an account done by NUS Libraries Computer Science Resource Librarian

However if  the library's delicious account has a lot of "Fans"/external users who follow it, the library will have to spend time building up it's connections again. 

Embedding of resources such as link rolls  or tag clouds into library pages

Libraries that go beyond this and embed delicious link rolls in their webpages will have to do more work.

This embedding of links can be relatively minor on a secondary page like a blog

Or could be just tag clouds in LibGuides

Even more serious is when content is a major part of the content.
For example Holdrege Public Library has embedded a " links we love" section on their webpage. It seems to be active as of Dec , there are still new links added.

Besides tag clouds, one interesting idea I covered in the past involved embedding delicious link rolls into subject guides . They have many advantages but currently libraries using this method such as The College of New Jersey library (see below) could have problems...

  Impact : Large . Libraries will have to definitely replace this.

Thoughts about preparing for failure 

 People a lot wiser than me have commented on the pros and cons using such cloud services and the importance of having a Plan B. Now there are fears that Flickr will be next...  Other similar services used by Libraries such as YouTube, Facebook are not currently under threat, but a plan B might be a good idea....

Overall, using Delicious as an example, it seems that there are 2 things that are lost when a service goes down. First is content (e.g videos, photos, bookmarks) but fortunately most services (except perhaps Facebook) allow this to be exported and imported into successor services. However, work needs to be done to change links, embed content on webpages again etc.

But perhaps more importantly, you lose your social-graph.. Imagine you built up a Facebook page of 1,000 fans and having to rebuild it again because you are forced to move to say Diaspora. Exporting content is relatively easy, but all the effort getting users to follow/subscribe/like your channel..can't be easily recovered.

With social networks trying to lock-in users and with social connections being their main weapon to do this , I'm not optimistic at all you can somehow carry over such connections . Moreover with personal accounts you can search your address book, Twitter etc to find connections to reconnect, but I'm not sure a library organization account would like to do this even if possible.

Currently with delicious, social connections are less important in most cases particularly if the main use is to embed content on a webpage, but something like Facebook or Twitter failing would great even more shock waves due to the importance of the social connections. I'm not sure how libraries on MySpace are handling this, but MySpace is an example of a social network dying by attrition, which is perhaps a different example...

Still thinking about this.....

Monday, January 10, 2011

Balancing Micro level vs Macro level work in the library

I've being thinking of the nature of the work I do for my institution and it hit me that one way to classify my work is to divide it into 2 groups. The first is what I call "macro level work".

Macro level work generally consists of work I do that has great impact across the university as decisions I make or help make will generally affect more than one person. They also tend to be fairly technical, seldom involving direct contact with a user (barring usability testing).

This currently includes the following

  • Being part of the web portal redesign committee (including mobile and OPAC)
  • Co-ordinating policy for LibGuides (Subject Guide) and LibAnswers (FAQ) platforms
  • Piloting chat reference, facebook fan pages etc
  • Running Twitter account
  • Basically anything else involving me trying to see the "big picture" and trying to see if there is a better way of doing things...
Macro-level work is extremely tricky, because anything you do..such as the decision to place a link to login on the right hand side rather than the left hand side of your library homepage, or to remove a certain link from the frontpage is likely to impact usage by thousands of users everyday.

Such decisions are also sometimes very hard to reverse for example the decision to go for LibGuides for Subject Guides rather than say wikis, so while it is an honour to be asked to help make such decisions, it can be pretty scary as well.

Feedback from macro level work also tends to be less immediate, and often you study the effects of the decisions you have made in aggregate, for example peering at Google analytics a month after a change to  see if there is any significant effect in page views. In some cases, that involve launching of new initiatives, you won't see any payoff until months after the project is launched and you have had new data to evaluate.

On the other hand, I also do "micro-level" work
  • Helping users at the desk
  • Conducting advisory sessions for honours year, graduate students, helping research staff with aspects of their research, 
  • Conducting classes to teach students and staff from basic orientation lessons to EndNote to Cited Reference
Micro level work tends to be personal, more individual. It's hard to say that the impact is less, though in terms of number of people you can affect it tends to be smaller then macro level work per unit time. That said, any impact you have when you help a member of your library is likely to be more immediate, more personal. 

Like most librarians, I enjoy the challenge of working my reference skills (woefully under-developed though) and derive a lot of pleasure from finally find the answer or data the user was looking for, but  I also feel wonderful when someone I have helped shows their appreciation either personally to me or even surprises me by kindly writing to my superiors to praise my efforts.

I'm at the stage of my career where I am blessed to be able to be involved in both micro level and macro level work. While some librarians seem to prefer one type of work compared to another, I confess I would be hard pressed to say which aspect of the work I prefer.

While the ability to make large scale impactful changes to the library appeals to the ambitious librarian in me who wants to move and shake the library, the personal human satisfaction of assisting users on the ground calls strongly to me as well.

As I remarked on my Facebook recently, "Best cure to keeping the blues away. Help someone.",  I really enjoy sitting at the information desk, and sometimes I extend my session just because I feel like interacting more. I love lecturing and presenting to users almost as much. The same goes for why I'm pushing hard for chat, twitter and Facebook accounts, why I venture out to forums, blogs beyond our libraries so it allows me to have more avenues to interact with our users. (Is there some psychological defect in me that craves to be helpful?)

It's clear to me though that as professionals it is important to do enough micro-level work, so we can remain in touch with the ground which will help guide macro-level work. Often I find that my judgement on macro-level work is a lot surer even without polling users due to an increased understanding of how our users think, and behave, thanks to doing a lot of micro-level work.

I suspect as most librarians climb the ladder of advancement, more and more of their work falls under the "macro" partly because their judgement has become better and are hence trusted to do more of such leadership and visionary roles and partly because they are too valuable to do most "micro" work. 

Balancing these two types of work is tricky and currently I'm unsure what, if any balance/ratio is ideal for a librarian like myself (3 years in). What do you guys, my seniors and peers in the library world think? I have a feeling though I'm currently doing a bit too much macro level stuff partly because I like to try new ideas....

Apologies for readers who read this blog for cool tech ideas/summaries of state of art in libraries and not for me waxing philosophical about librarian career development issues. New beginnings tend to make me reflective. I promise regular service will resume next week!

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