Is librarianship a doomed career?

Do you see tools like Ask Metafilter and Yahoo! Answers as a threat to our role? Why or why not?

The internet has become a pretty constant fixture in our lives, providing a wealth of information at our fingertips and results within seconds. With free-wifi hotspots in coffee shops and eateries everywhere (I’m currently typing this from a Panera Bread) and a growing population of smart phone users that can connect to the internet almost anywhere, information and answers to almost any question are available practically anytime and anywhere.

Tools like Ask Metafilter and Yahoo! Answers allow users to ask questions and then receive answers from other users. The answers are voted on so that that most useful or accurate answers will appear first. People can also search the questions to see if their question has already been asked or answered and hopefully immediate results.

But what does this mean for librarians? Do these services and other search engines pose a threat to their role?

Personally, I don’t think so. And here’s why:

I consider myself an internet savvy person, as well as very competent in finding information without assistance even before falling into the field of library. I am an efficient searcher and rarely feel the need to ask for help, however this doesn’t mean that I never do, or never will again. I consult the internet for questions or ponderings that are random, quick or easy to answer. Anything more complex, I would consult a library and even a librarian for help in researching, and I’m sure that I am not the only one who acts this way.

Currently, the most popular question on Yahoo! Answers is “Are you sad that Steve Jobs died?” This isn’t really even a question that would be posed to a librarian, but perhaps on a discussion forum.

And the following question is on the front page of Ask Metafilter:

I need a hotel for 2 nights in San Francisco (10/31 & 11/1) next week. I’d like to be in the Fisherman’s Wharf or Marina area, but Chinatown/Union Square area is OK if I can’t find a hotel in the FW/M area. Ideally I’d like a room for $100 or less. I’ve checked the main travel sites, but the lists are overwhelming. It’ll be 3 ladies, so cleaner, newer is best. I don’t mind independent, older hotels as long as they’re clean. Any suggestions or recommendations?”

Again, not a very “librarian” kind of question and doesn’t really imply any sort of threat to the need of librarians.

If anything, I think the internet makes librarians even more necessary. With so much information available to the masses, people are likely to get overwhelmed and may not know how to decipher between quality information and that which isn’t as credit worthy. As information specialists, librarians can help patrons weed through the information that is out there and find resources that are of value.

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Collaborative Filtering

I’m always amazed when I discover things in my daily life that I completely take for granted. For example, Netflix is always suggesting new movies and television shows that it thinks I will like, and never once have I really thought about why or how it does this. In this week’s reading, I learned that this is due to a concept known as collaborative filtering and is something that I encounter pretty much every day without even realizing it.

Collaborative filtering is based on the idea that people who have the same opinion of certain things, will likely have the same opinion of other things as well. Just like how people enjoy getting recommendations from friends and people who have similar interests to them. For example, if I like Hello Kitty and someone else likes Hello Kitty but likes Tokidoki as well, there is a good chance that I would also like Tokidoki.

Now that I’m aware of it, I can see how collaborative filtering is built into nearly everything I do on the internet. From internet shopping on Amazon, to advertisements that are directed at me, to the music I listen to and how I discover new artists and bands.

Currently, the new rage in music discovery is a program called Spotify. It basically is a massive database of music that is cleverly designed to promote the discovery of new music. If you like Fiona Apple, it will suggest to you other artists like her, or allow you to listen to an artist radio station that will play her music as well as things similar to her.

And on top of that, it has a social aspect where you can add your actual friends to see what they are listening to and recommending, or even connect your Spotify with Facebook. Spotify+Facebook will add your listening habits to your Facebook stream. This allows your friends who may not be on Spotify to see what you are listening to as well, and maybe discover things that they also would like.

For a library, collaborative filtering could be a great way to allow patrons to connect with their friends and see what books/movies/music their friends are checking out and find new recommendations. Patrons could also review the items they check out, similar to Amazon.com’s review system. Not only does this cultivate conversation and expression, it allows patrons to feel another sort of connection to their library.

San Diego County Library Marketing Critique

I have been a volunteer for the San Diego County Library system’s branch in Santee since September 2009. Because of my close involvement with this branch, I often use them as the basis for the various things I am required to observe or critique as a library student. I like to utilize the things I learn in my classes to evaluate where I think their strengths and weaknesses lie in various areas, and on occasion even share my input with the staff in the hopes of making a better library experience for everyone. Most recently, I have been investigating and reflecting on the San Diego County Library’s (SDCL) attempts at marketing, outreach and branding.

I consider myself to be rather perceptive, observant and rather tech savvy, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I discovered that SDCL has any kind of online presence outside of its main website.

This is the only indication and unless I was looking for it, I would have never noticed!

I have since discovered the following online marketing attempts:

SDCL maintains one Facebook page that is updated frequently with relevant links and articles that would interest the community, general library information as well as promoting events and other things happening in specific branches. Patrons are able to interact with the library by commenting on the various posts with questions, comments, praise or concerns, or simply posting directly on the SDCL library “wall.”

 The SDCL “Hot Right Now” Twitter feed is updated at least every few days and highlights books in the library collection that are new, popular or otherwise interesting and also new policies or offerings such as the recent addition of e-books for Kindle.

Since blog entries are longer and more complex than the microblogging style of Twitter and Facebook, they address a wider variety of topics and purposes. Blog posts notify readers about library related events such as “reading group month” and “banned books week” and offers reading suggestions for such events. Blog contributors also seem to write posts about things that are relevant to the time of year, current events, or simply things that interest them and offer suggestions for further reading that can be found in the library collection. The blog is also used to post videos that are hosted on the Library’s Youtube channel that discuss new or hot items, as well as how-to instructional videos for utilizing the library website or catalog.

These videos are hosted for the purpose of embedding into SDCL blog posts, but can also be accessed all in one place through the Youtube Channel itself. Since the blog covers things other than just the videos, this is an easy way to see just the videos that the library has to offer.

The photo album can be accessed directly from the SDCL website, but the Flickr account is not as readily available. I only happened to stumble upon it through a Google search. While it’s great that they have one, I was disappointed that it was not really marketed anywhere.

Overall, I feel that SDCL has done a relatively good job of making a well rounded internet presence for themselves outside of just their website and more importantly, and keeping it updated. They have branched out into the worlds of blogging and RSS, micro-blogging, internet videos, and photo-sharing, but as with many libraries, I feel that they are really lacking in the actual marketing of it all. As I mentioned before, I only barely noticed the widgets on the front page the library’s website and that really seems to be where the marketing of their online efforts ends. Due to marketing shortcomings, many people in the community don’t have a clue about what all the library has to offer outside of books, and then the small percentage of people who do visit and make use of the library may not know the true extent of its capabilities, efforts and presence. Unless people are interested and seek it out themselves, they likely will never know.

The last thing I will evaluate is the SDCL’s attempts at branding. But what is the difference between marketing and branding?

From ALA publication "Creating Your Library Brand." Click picture for the entire publication.

So, basically it’s what the library is trying to market. They create a logo and image that defines the message they are trying to send to the public to tell people what they are about and what they have to offer.

The logo is colorful and shows headphones that symbolize music and audio-books, a book, and a film reel that symbolizes movies which are the basic types of media that is offered by the library. I also interpret the SDCL website to also give the feel that the library is modern and current with trends and technology. This feeling is conveyed through the inclusion of links to the Facebook, Twitter, and their latest Youtube video as well as other relevant and interesting links.

But even with the positive effort SDCL has made towards marketing and outreach, there is still a lot more that could be done, specifically in terms of outreach and simply getting the word out. If I was hired as a social media marketing consultant, I would offer a number of suggestions to help achieve a higher level of visibility so that everything they are doing can actually be seen and recognized instead of only by the handful of patrons who are tech savvy enough to stumble upon it all.

The first thing I would suggest would be to put up signs and flyers in the branches that encourage patrons to check them out on Facebook and Twitter. I visited libraries in Los Angeles earlier this year, and many of them had signs on the wall and sitting on the tables in the study area informing patrons of their Facebook and Twitter presence, and I thought this was very useful. The people in the library obviously make use of it and are the ones who would probably be interested in continuing their relationship with the library on the internet.

The next thing I would suggest would be to encourage individual branches to great and maintain their own Facebook and/or Twitter pages. Currently, there is only really one account for the whole SDCL system, which covers a large physical area. County branches exist all over San Diego County and some in very far reaching or remote communities up, with over 50 miles between some branches.

Patrons near the Imperial Beach branch are unlikely to be interested in programming at the Vista branch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t want to be involved with their branch. A branch specific Facebook grants another means for patrons to feel connected to their library and the library staff. It can be used to answer reference questions and receive feedback from the people using that specific branch.

While Googling various libraries for this project, I stumbled upon the San Mateo County Library system’s website. I found their blog entry titled “Is Your Library on Facebook/Twitter?” which indicates in one convenient location which specific branches in the San Mateo County Library system have their own Facebook and Twitter pages, and a good number of them do. Another great thing I discovered on the hours & locations page was that there is a list of blog entries next to each branch to highlight things that have been posted by or about each branch. This is something that is very easily implemented and is a great way to get people interested and involved with their local branch. This library system is doing excellent things, and they are a great example of where I’d eventually like to see SDCL.

Mmm, Delicious!

What do you think of the idea of using wikis and social bookmarking for library subject guides? Which one would you rather use and why?

In spring 2011, I took the class Libr 210 regarding Reference and Information Services. As the final project for this class, we had to create a pathfinder, either in handout form or as a libguide. I had never encountered the concept of pathfinders before, but thought it was a great idea and chose to do a handout on Learning to Sew.

 

In the handout, I highlighted resources that could be found in my local library’s collection, as well as resources local to the area or found online. It’s a great starting point for anyone who comes into the library looking for a place to start on a given topic. However, many people are more on the tech savvy side, which is where the idea of using wikis and social bookmarking can become very useful.

As a librarian, I can start a wiki entry, or subject for social bookmarking and add links and information to it. So for example, just as I did with my pathfinder on sewing, I could create a wiki entry or del.ico.us subject stack on “sewing” as well and include blog entries and various web resources and then make this information available to patrons via the library’s website for access at any time and from anywhere.

For example, here is a sample delicious stack I made on learning to sew.

I’m still learning all of the functions and uses for delicious, but what seems to be the main perk for using it or a wiki, is that they are collaborative efforts. I can start a stack or wiki page and others and use their knowledge and resources to add links of their own, creating a complex and comprehensive overview of any given subject.

While I don’t think we are quite to the point where wikis and social bookmarking will replace things like pathfinders, they certainly have their uses and should be embraced.

RSS: Is it REALLY that simple?

Write your own reflections on what you learned this week. 

The main thing I learned from this week’s readings is that I still have a LOT to learn about RSS.

I consider myself to be a rather tech savvy person and am generally particularly in touch with the internet and internet happenings, but despite numerous attempts I seem to fall a little short when it comes to blogging and getting a handle on using RSS. About 10 years ago, I was very active on the blogging service “Livejournal.” This format utilizing a friends page, made it so easy to stay on top of things posted by my friends, communities based on topics I was interested in, and allowed me to add RSS feeds of popular blogs that interested me. But, I’ve since drifted away from Livejournal and now find it very difficult to even stay on top of the blogs of a few of my good friends.

So far, Google Reader is the only RSS aggregator I’ve really used, and it works very well! When I remember to look at it… Which, before this class, was a rare occurrence.

But, there may be hope for me yet! This week, I learned about a number of different RSS solutions. I was particularly interested in the e-mail notification services, such as Google Alerts. As a fan of Google innovations, I was surprised that I hadn’t actually head of this service before and am eager to try it out. I am rarely away from my e-mail, and assuming I can get a handle on the amount of junk that floods my inbox on a daily basis, it would be nice to have a friendly reminder to read my RSS feeds or to notify me when new things are posted on blogs that interest me.

Topikality and PubSub, were also mentioned in the readings and I was interested in trying them out as well, but it seems that they are no longer available…

Instead of RSS, I tend to frequent websites like Reddit which allow the user to see what is new, interesting and popular on the web through community moderation, as well as follow similarly moderated sub-reddits on specific topics of interest. For example, the main reddit will have articles and posts from all categories, including top news and interesting phenomena from around the web. But, I may also be interested in cooking, or a specific sports team and would be able to subscribe to a sub-reddit devoted to information about those specific topics.

Facebook as a Library Tool

Do you think libraries should be building presence and providing services in MySpace and/or Facebook? Why or why not?

Facebook is one of the most popular websites currently in existence. Nearly everyone across all generations has a Facebook profile for interacting with their friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances, as well as staying in touch with things that interest them such as celebrities/entertainers, musicians and bands, brands and products. Aside from it’s extensive user base and functionality, and is relatively easy to navigate so that even my 70-year-old parents are frequent users.

Libraries should definitely take advantage of what Facebook has to offer. They should create a Facebook fan page and make sure to publicize it to their patrons in the branch and on the library website. The library can use this page to advertise library events and programming, new acquisitions, or items that are popular right now. It is also a great way to get feedback from patrons, as they are able to leave comments on this page.

Another way Facebook can be utilized by the library is as a forum for virtual reference services. Patrons can be encouraged to comment with information needs and librarians can respond to them right then and there.

While Myspace has been around much longer and is a similar concept to Facebook, I feel it is waning in popularity and eventually will fall completely off of the radar. Facebook has been around since at least 2003 and still seems to be going strong, even in the face of the introduction of direct competition such as Google+.