July 31, 2008

txt ur lib

If your library wants to experiment with or start an SMS (text messaging) -based reference service, Toby Greenwalt has done all of the research for you about the possibilities. Although information will continue to change, this message to the WEB4LIB mailing list is a great resource.

See also this follow-up from Luke Rosenberger.


6:00 am Comments (1)

July 29, 2008

Swinging 236 Votes – Can Libraries Do It?

OCLC was kind enough to send me an advance copy of their latest report, From Awareness to Funding: A study of library support in America, and I have to say that the results of their survey are fascinating. Thanks to a grant from the Gates Foundation, OCLC was able to partner with Leo Burnett (yes, that Leo Burnett) to survey American voters about their attitudes and support for funding public libraries.

If you’re in a public library, I can’t encourage you enough to get a copy of this report and read it for yourself. You can download one big PDF, download individual chapters, or order a print copy (highly recommended for administrators and trustees). The survey identifies four types of voters – chronic non voters, voters with barriers to support (financial, detached, “the web wins”), probable supporters, and super supporters. The report examines each one in depth based on surveys and focus group discussions about funding support for libraries.

You really need to read the whole thing for yourself, but there are some key points I want to highlight here.

  1. Most residents don’t understand that their public library is funded by local taxes. This isn’t a big shock, but it is critically important in the report’s conclusion that voters believe libraries are adequately funded and that if they need money, it will “come from somewhere” so they don’t feel an urgency to vote in favor of funding requests.
  2. “Super supporters” are a library’s best bet for “definitely” voting yes, but even their support is latent and they have an underlying fear that the library is becoming less relevant. Any funding campaign has to activate their love for the library and focus on support, not usage, because it turns out that library users don’t vote for the library. It seems counter-intuitive, but trying to get the vote out among your users is the wrong strategy. Instead, “super” and “probable” supporters use the library less but support it financially because of their belief in the power of the library based on their own childhood memories or personal transformational experiences.
  3. Residents who vote to increase taxes to support the library believe in its power to transform peoples’ lives, not because they value the information services we provide. In fact, the more we try to hang our hat in the information space, the more irrelevant we will become in the eyes of those voters. “The research indicates that transformation, not information, drives financial support.” (p.4-12)
  4. Any support campaign, whether local or national, would have to focus on increasing funding for libraries, not on getting people to use our services more or making them more aware of the variety of services we offer. Doing that just continues to play into our own misconception that library users vote yes with their wallets when it comes to ballot initiatives, and the statistics show that’s just not true.

In the end, the report hypothesizes that in a town of 50,000 people, a library would need to swing 236 votes from the “probable supporters” group in order to pass a referendum. On the one hand, that sounds relatively easy, but the key is to activate the latent passion for the library in probable and super supporters who are community activists so that they will visibly support the initiative and recruit others to the cause based on that passion.

I find so many different statistics in this report fascinating, but there’s one that isn’t explicitly noted in the conclusions that I want to highlight. In the surveys, six of the nine voting groups said that the main library service they use is checking out nonfiction books. Of the three groups that didn’t cite that use first, two cited it as their second most heavily used service.

“…Many described the ability to expand their horizons as the heart of the library’s value…. (p.5-6)

Participants recounted how they discovered a passion for a topic that formed the start of a new career or hobby and ultimately helped them achieve their potential…. They credited the library with helping form who they are and what they have achieved as adults. Many credited poignant interactions with their childhood librarians as impacting the direction of their lives. Some indicated that the library gave them the vision to do better and go further than they might otherwise have been destined for.” (p.5-7)

from OCLC's latest report about public library funding

So as great as our fiction collections and readers’ advisory skills are, the service that is cited the most by voters is our nonfiction collection, and the focus groups in this report center their passion for the library on its transformative power to make them better human beings. I can’t prove it, but I’m guessing these two facts are related, and the person I know who explains this the best is Michael Stephens. If you’re not reading his blog every day, you should be, but you already knew that.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching Michael present several times, and when he first started talking about how “Library 2.0 encourages the heart” (and Librarian 2.0), I have to admit that I thought it was a little “new age-y.” But he’s continued to build on his message, and I think this report confirms what he’s been saying for the last few years, that the future of public libraries – both in terms of service and for garnering funding support – is about providing that transformational experience for people. Understand that I’m not saying fiction can’t or doesn’t do that. I just don’t think we’re going to swing 236 votes based on our fiction collections.

I have more to say about this report, and I hope to make time to continue blogging about it, but this report deserves your own attention if you’re a public librarian or if you care about public libraries, because it’s a roadmap for relevancy, funding, and even greater growth. Although I wish ALA had run this survey and issued this report, I give full credit to OCLC for this valuable contribution.


8:51 pm Comments (3)

July 24, 2008

WoW Your Librarian Friends

Until a few years ago, the last time I had really played videogames was in college, where I lost a couple of months of my life (in a row) to SimCity on the Super Nintendo system. I learned my lesson from that and since then, I’ve stayed away from games that I know will suck in huge amounts of my time because I’ll probably enjoy them so much. So instead, I stick mainly to casual (and usually social) games, although I do keep a list of all of the ones I’m going to play someday when I have more time, including The Sims, Myst, and World of Warcraft.

Which is why I love the fact that Michael Porter plays WoW and explains it in his presentations and sometimes on his blog. He even started a Facebook group just for WoW librarians, but now he’s gone one better and created a WoW Guild just for libraries and librarians.

The Libraries and Librarians Guild in WoW -the Largest On-line MMORPG Game in the World

World of Warcraft is the largest “Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game” in the world. It has 10 million plus subscribers and is, in addition to being a blast and a lovely distraction, gloriously fun and addictive to many. And now, finally, WE (Libraries and Librarians) have a guild. If you play WoW and work in, for, or with Libraryland, you can now join the Libraries and Librarians Guild. We are new, but we already have a substantial Guild web site complete with a forum (very good in Wow-land). And a bank. In fact, we have a bank with three tabs and daily pulls for repairs (that is also quite good in WoW-land). Heck we even have an optional free (to you) Guild tabard (sort of like a t-shirt you wear in the game)….

So join us! We’ll be there waiting to show you the ropes…and chat…and kill bad guys! Along the way, you’ll likely grok the whole online community/gaming/libraries thing just a little bit more, and have a blast while you’re at it. In fact, consider this your invitation to do exactly that!

Note: If you want to join this guild you must be on the Aerie Peak -US server. If you are a new player be sure to pick that server! Also, if you are creating a toon (new character) or transferring an existing character to join this guild, be sure you put it on this server (Aerie Peak – US)!!!” [Libraryman]

Michael has already created a parallel community in the new, forthcoming version of WebJunction, as well, which will make a nice complement to the Games and Gaming group that will live in ALAConnect. Gaming is all around us!


July 23, 2008

Bibliocommons Goes Live!

I blogged about Beth Jefferson’s Bibliocommons project last year, impressed with her goal of creating a library catalog interface from scratch that is focused on users and integrates community and social pieces around the content, rather than tacking them on here and there. I also showed some screenshots of the beta version in a presentation I did at Computers in Libraries this past spring in an attempt to highlight how things like reviews, tagging, and community could actually work in a library catalog if they weren’t an afterthought.

So it’s with great excitement that I read in Library Journal that the first installation of Bibliocommons is now live as the OPAC for the Oakville, Ontario, library in Canada. There is much to explore here, and I need to get in and see if anything has changed since the beta, but my favorite part is still the catalog home page that shows actual users on it.

OPL Bibliocommons catalog home page

As I noted in my CiL talk, it’s refreshing just to see a catalog I could log in to with a username instead of a barcode – what a novel idea! Don’t even get me started on the fact that the interface includes terms like “connect,” “network,” and “trusted sources.” So much good stuff here, though – ratings, tags, lists, users, comments, recommendations, faceted browsing, contextual help, natural language (not jargon), user-based age ratings, “share with a friend” links, similar titles, a shelf browser with cover images, and the ability to get rewards for adding content to the catalog. I love that I didn’t have to dig deeply into the catalog to start finding user-generated content, as I often have to do in other OPACs when I need an example.

OPL Bibliocommons detailed record

There’s even a contest right now to help them gather feedback from users (with an awesome twist on the prize), not that they need this based on the beta, where users contributed far more content than anticipated.

OPL contest for feedback about the new Bibliocommons interface

There are more screenshots available here, but I can’t encourage you strongly enough to just go play with this catalog on your own to see just how different it is from yours. Even better, this interface can run over any vendor’s system, so adoption isn’t limited and libraries don’t have to start over from scratch.

I will definitely continue following Bibliocommons closely, and I hope Beth will be able to give a few more talks or write more articles about the project to keep us update to date on usage of this great new product. Congratulations to Beth and her team for getting a solid product with lots of potential out the door, and kudos to the Oakville Public Library folks for implementing it. This is definitely one to watch, and I know I’ll be posting more about it in the future.


July 22, 2008

The Dead Ends Don’t Justify the Means

Last year, I noted how the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and others analyzed the user experience in the catalog and began using MeeboMe as a way to provide a path out of the “no results” dead end. Now we have another great example from the Allen County Public Library of re-examining dead ends in the catalog

Hi-Tech Hi-Touch: A Sirsi Patron Material Request Form

“The point of need that interested me was to make a material request form available for the patron when they could not find their search item….

The real meat of the processing is handled by the findit.php code. This is a reentrant form that does all the validation and processing. If you would like a copy of the code just email and I will send it to you.” [ACPL’s Innovation through Technology]

ACPL purchase request form in the catalog

So basically, Sean Robinson at ACPL added a purchase request form to the search results page of the catalog so that if the Library doesn’t own the title the patron is looking for, she can immediately submit a purchase request. It’s these seemingly minor improvements that provide a more robust service in a place patrons don’t normally find a librarian. Why our vendors can’t think of these things is beyond me, but it’s great to see librarians like Sean taking the initiative to implement them.


9:53 pm Comments (8)

July 18, 2008

A Report from the Field from Rick Glady

gaming sign at the Civic Center Library in Scottsdale, AZ “We recently completed a 6-month trial of Family Gaming at the Civic Center Library, City of Scottsdale, Arizona. It began as an Adult Gaming program, but we didn’t seem to be able to draw in enough adults to make it worthwhile to be strictly an adult program.

We did find out, however, from the first program that we drew patrons of all ages and had an attendance figure (based on an electronic door counter) of 200-300. The nice thing was the diversity, not just in terms of race, but ages as well of the attendees. If ever asked about the Wii, you can pass on that I had one woman who was in a wheelchair after 7 back surgeries playing Wii with her grandson, and I had one man who, although legally blind, was able to pitch an inning of baseball. In the end, we had over 1,100 attendees for the program.

Just some basic facts: Scottsdale Public Library has a pretty successful teem gaming program (begun by me 3 years ago), and is holding gaming for kids 6-11 this summer at 2 libraries. I had 5 gaming systems: PS3 playing Rock Band, XBox 360 playing Viva Piñata, Wii playing Wii Sports, and 2 PS2’s playing Guitar Hero and DDR (the first month), and NickToons-the last five months.”

Thank you to Rick for letting me know about this. I can’t wait to hear how the summer program goes.


7:30 am Comments (6)

July 17, 2008

Corrupting Young Minds (with Books) in the Library

So it turns out there are a couple of potentially controversial things about the current issue of The New Yorker, one of them being an article called “The Lion and the Mouse” by Jill Lepore. I’ve always agreed with the ethic and attitude of “Library 2.0,” even though I didn’t like the implication that libraries had never before in our history evolved. For me, it symbolizes the need to change again, in what may seem to some like radical ways (online conversations, user-generated content, zoned physical spaces, collaborative relationships with users, etc.), but this article shows just one example of when this happened in the past. Libraries responded then, as many are responding now.

As a proponent of gaming in libraries, one of the criticisms I hear about the movement is that libraries are for books and the edification of the mind. That we shouldn’t corrupt young minds with games, and that we shouldn’t use games as a ploy to get kids in the door. But libraries are vibrant places where quite a wide range of other things happen besides just books, and I think it’s sad when patrons or librarians portray us as just warehouses. Any building can be a book warehouse – that’s not what makes us “libraries” and community centers (regardless of type of library), and librarians certainly aren’t “book tellers,” just sitting behind a desk waiting to hand over a book in return for seeing a library card.

I believe quite strongly that libraries are about content, people, and communities. The people create community there, often around the content, but not always, especially in public libraries where we also serve a recreational role. All of this is why I believe gaming in libraries is a perfect fit, and I cringe when I hear someone conjure up “the good old days” when all kids did was sit in the library and read. When I hear this, I wonder whose childhood they’re remembering, because while I certainly loved the library and would often read there, a lot of my friends never went there, maybe even most of them. The truth is that a lot of the kids I grew up with weren’t spending their days reading the classics unless they were forced to by teachers, let alone enlightening their minds by just sitting quietly in the middle of the library.

And if we go back far enough in “the good old days,” it turns out they couldn’t have done those things even if they’d wanted to, because children simply weren’t allowed in the library, a point brought home in The New Yorker piece. While the author spends the majority of the article discussing rivalries between the early players in the world of book reviews of children’s literature, the background history is relevant to our own discussions today.

“At the time [1895], you had to be fourteen, and a boy, to get into the Astor Library, which opened in 1854, the same year as the Boston Public Library, the country’s first publicly funded city library, where you had to be sixteen. Even if you got inside, the librarians would shush you, carping about how the ‘young fry’ read nothing but ‘the trashy': Scott, Cooper, and Dickens (one century’s garbage being, as ever, another century’s Great Books). Samuel Tilden, who left $2.4 million to establish a free library in New York, nearly changed his mind when he found out that ninety percent of the books checked out of the Boston Public Library were fiction. Meanwhile, libraries were popping up in American cities and towns like crocuses at first melt. Between 1881 and 1917, Andrew Carnegie underwrote the construction of more than sixteen hundred public libraries in the United States, buildings from which children were routinely turned away, because they needed to be protected from morally corrupting books, especially novels. In 1894, at the annual meeting of the American Library Association, the Milwaukee Public Library’s Lutie Stearns read a ‘Report on the Reading of the Young.’ What if libraries were to set aside special books for children, Stearns wondered, shelved in separate rooms for children, staffed by librarians who actually liked children?

Much of what [Anne Carroll] Moore did in that room had never been done before, or half as well. She brought in storytellers and, in her first year, organized two hundred story hours (and ten times as many two years later). She compiled a list of twenty-five hundred standard titles in children’s literature. She won the right to grant borrowing privileges to children; by 1913, children’s books accounted for a third of all the volumes borrowed from New York’s branch libraries. Against the prevailing sentiment of the day, she believed that her job was to give ‘to the child of foreign parentage a feeling of pride in the beautiful things of the country his parents have left….’ In each of the library’s branches, Moore abolished age restrictions. Down came the ‘Silence’ signs, up went framed prints of the work of children’s-book illustrators. “Do not expect or demand perfect quiet,” she instructed her staff. ‘The education of children begins at the open shelves.’ In place of locked cabinets, she provided every library with a big black ledger; if you could sign your name, you could borrow a book.” (Thanks, Richard!)

So when we talk about “the good old days,” let’s be sure to specify which period we’re referring to, because just over a hundred years ago, fiction was the great corrupter of young minds. A few decades later, it was E. B. White’s “Stuart Little.”

But things change, and now it’s games in the libraries that are bad influences or candy or inappropriate instead of books. What a difference a century makes! How much more powerful is it to look back on our history and see how library services to all patrons have changed during the last hundred years? It’s something to be proud of, even as we experience another transitional period and change again to serve new [and old] users in new ways.


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