Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Programming Skills Required - Apply @ Your Library

Just read this thoughtful blog post about how Programming skills could transform librarians' roles.  The gist is that, with the increasing amount of data being made available on the web, the library of the future will be greatly enhanced by being able to blend that data with our data to increase the relevance of our offerings.

I couldn't agree more, but read it yourself and let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Second life

I am putting this post here rather than the new technologies blog because second life is not a new tool, but I thought I might not be the only person who had not yet explored it.

Second life is an online space for interaction. I had not used it until last week when I had to prepare for a class meeting there. I am getting used to online games and this is not as smooth. My avatar did not walk (or run) with anything approaching stylish grace, although she was good at flying. I did not want to invest a lot of time tailoring my avatar and had not realised that the initial choice of avatar was so critical.

It was a useful place for a class meeting as we were all in different locations, but in second life we could be online in the one space. There are other tools for this, like games and so it was interesting to see what I had been missing by not exploring second life before now. From my brief experience you still have to make arrangements to meet people, it is not so populated that you will just bump into someone for a chat. You can both chat and type your messages. You can tell when someone is getting ready to type a message because their hands are going up and down (like typing) and there is a sound of a keyboard. This is helpful as it stops everyon speaking at once. There is another signal for when people are talking. The voice chat is clear as well.

We were there to look at a Stanford University archives project.

It was really interesting to hear one of the archivists talk about how this was going, as well as being able to see some of the digitised archives.

Second life is a series of islands and as there are no boats you have to teleport everywhere you go. You can't readily wander around and just browse except island by island. You can search the map by keywords (which is how I found the Australian libraries site), and then teleport to locations of interest.

I dropped by the Australian Libraries site a couple of times (at different times of day), but did not run into anyone.

I now have my avatar for future meetings, or to check up on anything in second life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

If Libraries=Books, Then Where to Now?

My world has been rocked.

I've long held the belief that Libraries will continue to exist into the future if, for no other reason, people associate libraries with books, and people love reading books. However, I've just come across this blog post that has made the first chip in the foundation stone of my belief in the future of libraries - Libraries for a Postliterate Society.

It's pretty clear that as a brand Libraries are associated with books. The 1995 OCLC Perceptions report makes that point very well. And despite what Amazon and others are doing online I think there is still a broad awareness in the community that Libraries are a good place to track down hard to find books. But what happens if society matures to a point where most people "choose to meet their primary information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics, and gaming"? Where reading of longer works of fiction and non-fiction is in decline?

The post's author, Doug Johnson, suggests that libraries need to legitimise non-print materials, services and programs (eg. graphic novels, audio, video, gaming, wi-fi) and devote more of our budgets towards them. I don't disagree with this strategy and he is not arguing that libraries should abandon print material. I do, however, cling to the connection between libraries and books.

Are books a fundamental part of what makes a library? If we take the argument of a post literate society to an illogical extreme for a moment, could libraries become a place in the future where books occupy a very minor role? A community space where people come to meet, listen to music, explore their social connections, discuss civic matters but where personal learning and enlightenment through reading is not the primary focus? Would that still be a library?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Competency Index for the Library Field

A competency index for the Library profession has been published by the US Webjunction organisation. The publication is available for free download. The document provides a concise overview of the skill-sets that are required in today's modern library.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Libraries and the Public Sphere

I've been really taken lately by Senator Kate Lundy's idea of the Public Sphere. I think that open, transparent participatory library services are, apart from being a good idea, inevitable if libraries are to survive. And if transparency and participation are good for libraries then surely they are crucial for government. The 2nd Public Sphere event on Monday 22 June 2009, Government 2.0: Policy and Practice, explored how technological and media changes have made open, participatory government much more attainable.

But where do libraries (public libraries in particular) fit in to the scope of Government 2.0? I want to explore a couple of disparate ideas and see if I can bring them together to form a scenario that gives public libraries a meaningful role in Government 2.0 into the future.

Libraries and e-Government
Public Libraries have for long time been utilised by their governing councils as a place for community consultation, providing copies of documents open for public comment for instance, due in part to their general accessibility (longer opening hours, etc). In more recent times state and federal governments have started taking advantage of this accessibility along with the ease of publishing in the digital environment to promote libraries as an access point for government services. Indeed public libraries have been lobbying for more resources as they come to terms with facilitating this new role, and not just in Australia.

Libraries as a 'Third Place'
Are you familiar with the concept of the third place? Mark Bradley explains it quite nicely in this blog post but there is a lot being written in the bibliogosphere about the potential for libraries to become a third place in the lives of their community. The idea of a third place is that most people have a need for a place other than home or work/school to explore their interests. I think that given one of the missions of the public library is to facilitate lifelong learning, they fit nicely into the idea of a third place.

Problems with Government 2.0
While I am enthusiastic about the idea of Goverment 2.0 I can still see problems, mainly associated with the digital divide. Access to the digital environment, while continuing to expand, is not yet ubiquitous. High costs associated with decent broadband connection and the skills gap still pose a significant barrier to the digital environment for a section of our society. Indeed, the proliferation of Learning 2.0 programs in libraries in the last year or so demonstrates that there is a need for guidance as people begin to engage with newer social technologies. The beauty of these Learning 2.0 programs is that now many libraries have a base of staff who have used these tools and as a result libraries are in a good position to introduce their communities to social media and assist them through the learning process.

Now, to try and bring this all together.

Libraries have long been a destination for the provision of government information and services, and are increasingly involved in this area. It would seem logical, if not inevitable, that as governments open up their services and decision making processes to more public input that libraries should be involved. But how can they add value to the process?

They obviously have a role to play for people on the wrong side of the digital divide - they provide Internet access are generally available to assist people using their technology. However, I think there is a more important role to play. Libraries connect people with information and moving forward will be more involved in connecting people with people. This is where the third place idea comes in. Libraries can be a space where people can come together to engage in public debate. I would also suggest that for people to have meaningful iput in to public policy they must inform their views with access to good quality information. We do that too!

So, can libraries be a place where people can go to learn about public issues, connect with others to discuss those issues and then participate in the government decision-making process through new media, and get help to locate the information and use the tools while they are there? I like the sound of that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

reference seminar 2010

The date is already available for the annual reference seminar - it will be 4 May 2010. It will be at the State Library and will be free for New South Wales public library staff.

For other dates of interest have a look here. Some of these conferences and seminars you may need to follow via twitter or blogs.

From the reference seminar this year...

I know much people enjoyed the presentation Tinkering in the toolshed. You can now look at the presentation via slideshare and look at the links.

Friday, May 29, 2009

What is the Role of a Library?

I've been busy lately and, to my disappointment, I've haven't been keeping up with the blogs I like to follow. So when I finally had a chance to catch up with a bit of reading last night I was delighted to come across the latest post from John Blyberg - The Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians.

The statements are the result of a conversation between John Blyberg, Kathryn Greenhill and Cindi Trainor about the fundamental purpose of libraries and librarians. In this time of increasing pressures on libraries - technological change, shrinking budgets, new competitors - many libraries are examining what they do and where they should be heading into the future. The Darien Statements are therefore a very timely, thought provoking piece of work, around which a great discussion may develop. (judging by the comments on John's blog it's already got a head of steam)

This manifesto of sorts is full of great stuff but three sentences in particular resonated with me:

...The Library has a moral obligation to adhere to its purpose despite social, economic, environmental, or political influences. The purpose of the Library will never change...

...Individual libraries serve the mission of their parent institution or governing body, but the purpose of the Library overrides that mission when the two come into conflict.

Why we do things will not change, but how we do them will...

To me, this says that libraries are about more than the individual tasks that we perform. They're not about a bibliographic record or the service at a reference desk. We have a bigger purpose. However, what we need to do to achieve those objective will change regularly (and alway has) if libraries are to remain part of the landscape. No area of library operation has a right to keep doing things 'the way they've always been done'.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

NLA Discovery Service Prototype

The National Library of Australia has released a prototype of a search engine for their wide range of digitised resources - called SBDS.

Here's a quote from the site:
SBDS will be a new discovery service focussed on Australia, Australians, and items found in Australian collecting institutions. It will provide a single point of access to resources currently discoverable via the Library's multiple discovery services, and to digitised material freely available online anywhere in the world.

They are now asking for feedback and ideas for improvement. I think it looks great but have a look yourself and see what you think.

Mosman Library vs That Search Engine

For those of you who haven't already caught up with it you should definately check out Mosman Library's wonderful promotion for their online reference collection, Mosman Library vs That Search Engine.

What an ingenious, fun way to illustrate the worth of their databases.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What do Users Want from Your Library Catalogue?

I've just been having my first look at the most recent OCLC report, Online Catalogs: What Users and Librarians Want. The results don't paint a very flattering picture of current generation catalogues but I don't think those findings are particularly surprising.

So what do users want? Here is a summary:
  • Direct links to online content - text and media formats
  • Evaluative content, such as summaries/abstracts, tables of contents and excerpts
  • Relevant search results
  • Item availability information - if the item is available and how to get it
  • Simple keyword search with an advanced, guided search option
You should read some of the detail in the report - it's really interesting. It certainly got me thinking. I believe that the results illustrate a couple of key points:
  1. Users want to start with a simple keyword search and get relevant results.
    Remember when Google just started up and the impact that their relevancy ranking had compared with search engines like Alta Vista and Yahoo! Now that's how everyone experiences the Internet and they want it in our catalogues.
  2. Catalogues are good when you know what you want.
    A bit of detail in the report suggests that catalogues are good when the user is looking for known items but really let people down when they are trying to discover information on a new topic. Random results from a keyword search aren't good enough. If you can't have the full text available online then people expressed a real need for more data to help them choose the good stuff. That included table of contents, summaries and excerpts as well as faceted searching to help them narrow down large result sets from keyword searches.
  3. If the whole thing isn't available right now online, 'how do I get it?' becomes the most important question.
    Assuming the user chooses a library catalogue as a discovery tool and manages to find some worthwhile resource their first preference is to link straight to the full text of the item online. If they can't have direct access there and then the detail around how and when can they get hold of the item becomes paramount.
What does this mean for the future of libraries and reference services? I see reference as the process of discovery based on identified information needs. However, the window (catalogue) to our biggest resource (our collection) doesn't appear to fulfill that need for discovery.

Does the library industry have enough dollars and/or expertise to develop catalogues that will meet our users expectations? Maybe libraries will not be in the discovery business for much longer? Should we be focussing on the delivery side of the equation? Could/should we outsource the discovery process to the institutions who are doing a better job of it (Google, Amazon, etc.) by making our collection data available to them in return for them sending traffic our way. Should reference services move to the Cloud to meet our users? Is it sustainable for individual libraries to all have their own uniques collections with an individual, self-contained discovery tool?

I see change coming and interesting times ahead.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reference Excellence 2009 - welcome to the Ref-Ex wiki

The slides from my recent presentation at the Reference Seminar are also available on Slideshare (helpful, 'cause the accompanying notes are listed there as well).

Reference Excellence is an online training tool using a wiki as the delivery tool. The Ref-Ex project has been a long time coming (since 2004) but it's now finally up and running. Covering modules from introductory reference through to reference interview skills and legislation and policy the aim of Ref-Ex is to expand across all areas of reference and information services (readers advisory, local studies, and so on) providing core training for public library staff across NSW.
Take a look and start your own professional development today!

Reference Excellence

Monday, May 11, 2009

Beyond the Search Box

The slides from Paul Hagon's fascinating talk at the Reference at the Metcalfe Seminar are now available on
Paul is doing some really interesting things by mashing up data from the National Library with web services and APIs from sites like and Flickr to create enhanced services for users.
Visit Paul's blog for some more insight into what he's been up to...

RSS 4 Libraries

If anyone would like to catch up with my talk on how Libraries can use RSS feeds (without needing any technical skills) from the Reference at the Metcalfe Seminar last week I've just posted the slides on the RISG New Technologies blog.

You can also see them at

Friday, April 3, 2009

Libraries and Customer Privacy

We are in the early stages of the process of selecting a new ILS at MPOW and as a result I have been thinking about what I would like in an ILS. One of the directions that I personally would like to see us move is to retain more data about the way our members use our collection - borrower history, tags, reviews, etc. - with a view to improving the user experience of our online catalogue.

With that in mind this interesting post about privacy and service delivery caught my eye, Library Garden: What Libraries Can Learn from Facebook. There is a lively discussion in the comments. The issue of user privacy always seems to divide library workers. I definitely fall on the side of letting users decide what they want to keep private and opening up our systems and data to improve services. I've heard too many users asking me on service desks if we keep a record of what they have borrowed for me to think that many people are as concerned about their privacy as we are, as long as users must opt in.

Where do you stand?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Reference seminar 5 May

This year's reference@the Metcalfe will be on 5 May at the State Library of New South Wales. This is always a very popular seminar bringing together some great ideas which you can take back to your library.

You can see the full program and book here.

There will be a discussion of some dangerous ideas for reference and information services as well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

North Carolina digital collections collaboratory blog

A blog to add to your rss feeds is the North Caroline digital collections collaboratory blog.

The writers of this blog say that This blog was created for Digital Librarians in North Carolina to share experiences, exchange ideas, and develop collaborations. It was created by two such librarians after starting some “information-sharing” visits between our two institutions, and further meeting a few other NC-based folks at the recent LITA National Forum. We realized that many of us face the same challenges related to workflow, platforms, and institutional support, and it would be great if we could all benefit from potential solutions and approaches to issues.

There are some really interesting ideas being raised on this blog. Have a look at it and see what you think.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Best practices in Virtual Reference

If you're suffering a sense of deja-vu it's simply that I also just posted this to the RISG New Technologies blog ......

At the recent ALA Midwinter conference there were two innovative presentations exploring approaches to improving reference service for our users: building a better search engine using the knowledge of reference librarians, and building a multilingual, multinational reference service, followed by a Q&A session.

Take a look, the streaming video can be a bit a hesitant in places but the ideas being explored here are exciting, innovative, and possible.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Have a look at this blog post about 50 ways to foster a sustainable culture of innovation.

It is great because it is focusing on what is possible, or what has to be done to make an idea possible.

They are all interesting ideas. My favourites are:
3. Have more fun. If you're not having fun (or at least enjoying the process) something is off.

6. As far as the future is concerned, don't speculate on what might happen, but imagine what you can make happen.

9. Ask questions about everything. After asking questions, ask different questions. After asking different questions, ask them in a different way.

11. Encourage everyone to communicate. Provide user-friendly systems to make this happen.

15. Notice innovation efforts. Nurture them wherever they crop up. Reward them.

24. Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate and then communicate again. Deliver each important message at least six times.

32. Avoid analysis paralysis. Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.

42. Give your people specific, compelling, and measurable innovation goals.

46. Reward collective, not only individual successes, but also maintain clear individual accountabilities and keep innovation heroes visible.

50. Drive authority downwards. Make decisions quickly at the lowest level possible.

Think about how some of these ideas could help change your service delivery for reference and information services.

You may want to write you ideas in the comments.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Information Online 2009 - Day 3 Wrap

Leaving aside Andy Hines' keynote (which I have written about previously) here's a snapshot of some of the presentations that I attended.

Lynette Lewis, formerly of Yarra Plenty Library in Melbourne described their bold, ambitious project to outreach their Learning 2.0 program to School libraries and Victorian teachers via the Department of Education. What a great idea! Taking the skills and knowledge learned to the public domain.

Librarians from Queensland Department of the Premier and Cabinet Library and Research Services talked about their successful use of blogs and the associated RSS feeds as a delivery mechanism for their current awareness service. Their success in getting public service staff to embrace these new technologies and their innovative use of RSS was fascinating.

Michael Ossipoff from Telstra was highly entertaining during his presentation on the impact that fast, readily available Internet access would have on our society. And according to Telstra, it's all coming sooner than you think!

I haven't forgotten Ellen, Ross and Cathy's presentation about Reference Excellence but I'm sure you've all read about that one already.

Anticipating the Future - Information Online Day 3 Keynote

The morning Keynote presentation on Day 3 of Information Online was certainly the highlight of the day for me. It was titled Anticipating the future of librarians: understanding trends and staying relevant in the digital age and was given by Andy Hines, a professional futurist. I don't think that means he reads the Tarot or has his own crystal ball, although I have no evidence to suggest he doesn't!

Rather, as he explained it, as a futurist he looks at trends along with generational changes through a number of lenses such as values, demography, lifestyle, work, education and technology to try to understand where organisations need to be to meet the demands of future clients. What I might call strategic planning. It was all interesting but I'm just going to pull out a few things that resonated with me. I encourage you to chase up the full paper through the Information Online web site when it's available though.

Firstly, he described the typical differences in values between poor, developing and high income societies, arguing that postmodern societies move beyond success as a primary goal toward self-actualisation. We're in a period where we ask ourselves, 'What does it all mean?' This is manifested in, amongst other things, a rejection of institutional authority for a greater emphasis on trust in personal relationships. Andy suggested that this could partly explain the rise of social networking and I would add that it is consistent with the rise in the use of Google for information searches at the expense of reference services.

Next Andy described the attributes of Gen-y, the future users of library services. The key point here for me was that this drive for self-actualisation is leading towards a desire for intense personalisation. Everyone has their own personal needs and your services better cater to those or your clients will satisfy them somewhere else. This makes it hard to differentiate your target audiences, let alone market to them. You can no longer expect to speak to a mass audience.

We must create personal relationships with our users and one way of helping this along is for libraries to focus on authenticity over perfection. This is something I've been thinking about quite a bit lately and has been explored by John Blyberg, Kate Sheehan, Seth Godin and others. We need to become transparent and let the community in.

What does this mean for libraries in terms of services?

Libraries need to focus on services that cater for personalisation and encourage co-creation. We need to move away from ownership toward sharing. We need to foster community connection and interaction through virtual and physical spaces...

Sounds like Library 2.0 to me.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reference Excellence

This morning at Information Online 2009 Ross, Ellen & Cathy presented their paper detailing the path the Reference & Information Services Group (RISG) has been travelling with the development of the NSW Public Libraries' Reference Excellence project culminating in the Ref-Ex wiki.
It's been a long while coming but it's great to see that the Ref-Ex wiki is now out there for public library staff from around NSW to use as a training tool.
The talk came across well and received some good questions from the audience - now it's up to you to go online and use this training tool to both enhance your existing reference skills, develop some new ones or train up new staff - and don't forget to provide feedback to the maintenance & modification crew on how the Ref-Ex wiki could be made even bigger and better than it currently is.

Information online - day 2

Laura Campbell from the Library of Congress spoke about current collaborations.

The National Digital Information Infrastructure and preservation program aims to capture “at risk “ born digital material”. This is done through a distributed network of over 130 partners who collect this content. So far 248 terabytes of at risk content has been collected, and by 2013 they should have 650 terabytes

See for more information.

Another venture to watch for is the World digital library network. This has over 25 partners and includes enhanced description and consistent high quality metadata. You will be able to search by place, time, topic, type of item, institution in 6 Unesco languages plus Portuguese. Viewers can add content. Core metadata has to be provided by the contributor in their first language. There are three pillars to the strategy for this project – content acquistion, construction of sustainable network, and development of state of the art web site. The public launch date is 21 April. Watch this site Laura finished her presentation by saying “creative collaboration is the key to future invention and innovation”.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Information Online 2009 (day 1 - part b)

The session: From Sandbox to Search Box took 3 different approaches to the idea of "engagement". John Law from ProQuest discussed the need for having seemless and simplified access to content via the library catalogue; Lili Wilkinson from the State Library of VIC then spoke about 2 websites hosted by VSL - 'ergo' and 'inside a dog' - specifically targeting YA. Whilst 'ergo' is a learning and research site helping teens to develop onine literacy skills in exploring Victoria's rich history, 'inside a dog' is a teen-focussed site for books and reading, providing reading lists compiled and reviewed by teen peers rather than adults (librarians, teachers, parents). Both are extremely poplular and show the value of reading and blogging to this particular demographic.
Finally Paul Hagon from the National Library of Australia spoke about different ways of exploring visual collections (think Picture Australia) using specific examples from the PowerHouse Museum being loaded into flickr, translated by GoogleMaps into a geographical location, and then utilised by GoogleMaps Street View to enable a comparison between the hitorical image and the modern one. This process utilised the APIs of the sites to withdraw relevant information (such as geotagging on flickr) and then translate that into a different perspective (GoogleMaps Street View). So on the one screen you could see the historical picture as well as the modern street view - very cool.
Bottom line, the more we share, the more we engage.

Information Online 2009 (day 1)

It's great to see there's a few of us here at Information Online 2009 - yesterday was a full day with the Official Opening from Senator Stephen Conroy followed by Sherman Young from Macquarie Uni posing the question of the difficulties faced in finding a 'place' for the book in the Web 2.0 world. He made some interesting comments, among the few that standout are that the modern 'user' doesn't want to pick up a device and 'go online', today's user wants to pick up a device that is already online; modern access should be invisible, ubiquitous, connected, multimedia.
He also spoke about the need to consider 'book culture' and 'print culture' as distinct elements rather than the same thing - Young recently published a book, "The book is dead: long live the book" - and stressed that so as not to 'die out' altogether, books need to become part of the online community.

Elizabeth Lawley

Elizabeth Lawley spoke about Libraries as happiness engines based on some work done by Jane McGonigal a game designer who has presented on Games are happiness engines.

Lawley highlighted the range of games including learning 2.0, reading programs, suduko, board games as well as online games with the highest percentage of gamers being adult women.

Also mentioned that four key elements of happiness are
o satisfying work to do
o the experience of being good at something
o time spent with people we like
o the chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself

and that libraries can help people with this and library staff can be happy as well. Mary Poppins was also an inspiration.

Paul Hagon

Have a look at some of the mashups Paul Hagon is doing using images on the Flickr commons, Google maps and other tools. Check out his paper from Information Online (available later this week).


The State Library of Victoria has been using Vocera devices to provide a roving reference service since 5 January this year. You will have heard about this technology at the reference seminar last year, and if you want a reminder of the details you can read my paper here.

I think this implementation helps show the importance of travel scholarships, so think about applying for the Colin Mills scholarship, or for a Churchill Fellowship. Note Churchill Fellowships close at the end of February.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Online gaming and problem solving

According to a recent article in New Scientist online games are solving uncomputable problems

Using the distributed skills base of online gaming enthusiasts scientists (with the help of the general public) are able to find out things which has been beyond their reach including more ideas about how proteins can be folded, and about spiral galaxies. You may want to profile some of these games in your libraries as a way of stretching people's understanding about online gaming.

I am just starting some research into the possible and actual use of gaming methodology for reference and information services. There would seem to be some really useful areas around expanding research skills as well as in other areas.

If you have never tried online gaming check out one of the games mentioned at the end of the New scientist article.