printing from phones

Evidently uberchain drugstore CVS is now offering people the ability to make prints from their picturephones. People can beam pics via IR or bluetooth and have a print for $0.29.

Phones with advanced features are mainstream, libraries should respond. It wouldn’t take much for a library to get an inkjet printer with an IR port, and many of you already have them, I suspect. All that one would need to get a program going is some marketing. Okay, that’s often the most difficult part, I know. Somebody do this, please!

IM danger

Another interesting tidbit to come out of our meeting: people’s perceptions of IM. Someone asked if I was keeping transcripts of IM sessions between the library and patrons. The intention of this would be to protect the library (and me) against someone in the public claiming any kind of misappropriation. I had forgotten that IM has been slightly demonized in the past as a tool for people trying to lure children.

I’m not sure that there is anything special about IM that warrants this type of record keeping. We don’t feel the need to record our face-to-face transactions, or email transactions, and what, really, is different about IM? Certainly it is true that face-to-face or email reference transactions haven’t been used to harm children, and IM has, so this raises red flags. However, I’m sure that that email (not in a reference transaction) has been used for nefarious purposes, and there’s no concern for this method of communication. This leads me to believe that concern arises simply because IM is new and unfamiliar. When/if libraries get hip to IM, it will only be a matter of time before it is old hat.

The suggestion of keeping IM transcripts, ready to be displayed, must be seen as ironic when revealing the contents of a circ record or an in person reference transaction is something we fight to protect.


forward thinking

We had an Adult Services meeting today, and some very interesting thoughts about technology in libraries were raised. When I was giving an update about ListenIllinois someone inquired whether patrons could download books onto their own mp3 players. I replied that it wasn’t possible yet, but that it will (hopefully) be available soon, and that this would be ideal. Another staff member came back with, “Yeah, imagine if patrons had to check out a CD player every time they wanted to check out a CD!” That was exciting for me to hear.

pencil envy?

Thinking about various forms of computer technology in the library, I was amused to hear a request today about our pencil sharpener. Somebody loves it so much that they are going to go buy the exact same model!

Please take a moment and evaluate the pencil sharpening technology that you are offering your patrons.

leading libraries?

I’m very impressed with a many of the students in the LTA class I’m teaching. We had a wonderful discussion about technology in libraries that stemmed from our lesson on Virtual Reference.

I was impressed with one student who rightly tempered my enthusiasm with the mention of older library patrons probably not using things like VR or WiFi. Mention of the digital divide was natural after that. Forward thinking libraries work hard trying to accommodate all users.

Another student was interested in discussing the influence of libraries in a community. I stated in the conversation, just as I’ve written here, that commercial interests often familiarize technologies to people. Libraries must be ready to respond to patron demands after this happened. Of course I would really like to see libraries lead the way, but this is not currently happening. Librarians are, or should be, information experts, so it would be almost natural for a community to be guided by expert librarians. Any town that doesn’t have wireless in its coffee shops or eateries could be introduced to wireless by the library. Their perspecitive would be, “Oh, wow, look! The coffee shop has wireless now, but they’re charging for it!”

talking paper

One of the coolest things our library is doing now is circulating books on mp3 players. Through the collaberative program Listen Illinois we have access to many, many titles. Eventually 1800, I’m told. There are new books, fiction and nonfiction, mysteries, kids books, classics, and more. You can go to the site and browse for yourself.

Jenny did most of the hard work setting up this project, and the few member libraries that chose to participate are reaping the rewards. To get going, all I need to do was the following:

-attend an instructional session on how to load software on to computers, register the players, etc…

-get some small plastic boxes for the circulating package ($3 @ The Container Store)

-Make some promotional materials

-Get Tech Services to slap some stickers on the players

After that were were ready to go, except for that one small factor: staff. I had trained 2 people in the library way before we went live, and they had forgotten quite a bit. I made sure the docs I drew up were readily available and retrained them. Er, one of them. (I’d better get on that.)

We made an announcement on the website (still need something permanent), made an announcement in the newsletter, and got the local paper to write write a story. This is an exciting new offering, and they were happy to write a column about it. Whether it be my movie group, or this book on mp3 program, I’ve found getting a library service into the local paper is key. Besides this, I made a poster to be housed by the other audiobooks. I’m contented, for now, with the amount of attention that has come to the project. As I type this there are 6 holds on the players, and they’ve been in circulation to various patrons since the project went live. Every repeat user I’ve spoken with about the project has been tremendously excited about the program, and impressed with the library. These people will be the main users of the mp3 players. Maybe they will tell their friends, but the library might have to wait for the commercial sector to push the format more before more people become interested. I’m not happy about it, but I think the reality is that the private sector has more influence than us.

The overall reception amongst the staff was positive. Because it would be a fairly large scale effort, I have not yet trained Circ staff to do anything with the program. For now, this is handled by Reference, mainly me. If I could have two or three hours with the Circ and Reference people, they would have no problem learning. And as trite as it may seem, I think role playing might be very useful for them. I suppose I would first demonstrate downloading titles, and putting them on the players. Next they would be walked through the process, and lastly they would try it themselves. The problem is that there are many part timers who might not be asked to do this in a real situations for months. Would they be able to recall the process?

It is people who have already made mp3 players an integral part of their lives that libraries are most likely to lose to the world of fun, glitzy, and useful technology. We need to reel them back in to our world or rich content.

the disconnect

I’ve found the expectations of my virtual patrons to be just as high as patrons in the building. This being the case, if they aren’t satisfied with an answer, they tell me so. This is how reference works sometimes.

Their usual instance leads me to believe that when they do stop responding they are satisfied. If I hit the question spot on and give them a webpage that answers their question, I almost more often than not get a ”[user has disconnected]” message after asking them if they like the site.

Some may take this as an insult or a sign of dissatisfaction, but while it might not be the most polite move, I think in many cases it means we’ve done a fine job.

pop culture and technology

Yesterday’s Odyssey on Chicago Public Radio was about the politics of popular culture. While I didn’t necessarily agree with the conclusions drawn by the show’s guests, they did do a fine job of mentioning a mid 20th century debate in political philosophy. Two thinkers, Benjamin and Adorno, took opposing views on pop culture. Benjamin saw it as a (potentially and in many cases actually) liberating and progressive force. For instance, he liked the idea of movie theaters because the masses and culturally elite could convene and enjoy themselves together. His essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is worth a read and has much to say, as you may be able to guess by the title, about current issues surrounding P2P file sharing, copyright, and creativity. More on that later.

While Benjamin realized that Hollywood (or Nazi propagandists) weren’t progressive or liberating forces, he still understood pop culture and the means by which it is produced to be good things. Adorno, though, loathed the entirity of pop culture, mainly because of the mechanisms of induction found in television and movies.

Anywho, you’re expecting to read about libraries, technology, and library users, but I think that this stuff is germane. Very similar things have been said about computer and web technologies. You know, some think it is bad for us humans, others see it as a democratizing force. Although I agree with Adorno more on the pop culture issue, I take a Benjamin-esque stance on technology. I think that these technologies are potentially (and in many cases actually) liberating things. And it so happens that some libraries are a great example of this. When we use an online database to find an article for a student, we’re using the web (and technological means of reproduction) in a positive way. When we make it simple for students to tap into the library on their own and get the article, we’re using the web in a very positive way. Why aren’t more public libraries doing this? It has become unsurprising, and saddeneing when I’m at a library’s website and they’re don’t offer a high degree of remote connectivity. Clearly this is due to financial, technological and time constraints in many cases, but not all of the time. Benjamin uses the term “aura” in his essay to talk about art, but it is useful in explaining why libraries are perhaps afraid of exploiting the web for all that it can do.

Let’s take a step back and hash out some of this aesthetic theory. Before things could be reproduced easily, pieces of art functioned as authoratative things. High Art was mysterious, and understanding of it came from contact with this aura. He thought that new forms of art, like photography and film, were interesting because there is no original physical piece of art, only copies. Mechanical reproduction made art available to everyone, conversations could be had, and people could derive their own meanings from the art. No more authority, no more aura.

Benjamin states that the desctruction of aura, “is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art.” Certainly it points to libraries and information. Historically libraries have been the keepers of information and in a certain sense, we were the Information Authorities. Technological reproduction, though has changed the public’s perception of this and it makes libraries nervous. By not guiding their patrons though the web as they should be, perhaps libraries are grasping on to the last bits of aura they feel they, or their buildings, have. This is short sighted, and confused because the authority of the library has little to do with its physical space. Does it matter if users access the library while in their skivvies at home? I’d much rather have people use the library from their homes, or mobile devices than have them use a search engine and still not visit the library building. Through actions like providing remote access of online resources, libraries provide more resources to more people while dispelling the myth of the authority of the library’s space.

Food for thought.

virtual reference issues

One of the most important aspects of reference work is the development of relationships. Libraries, through the individual actions of librarians, need to form a bond with their patrons. This isn’t terribly difficult to accomplish because people coming to the reference desk have a problem to solve. When a librarian helps them solve a problem, there is the potential for a connection to be made. This should be evident through examples from our daily lives: Aren’t problem solvers useful people? Do you feel loyal to the last institution from which you received good service? Will you return to the institution when a similar need arises?

Virtual Reference, as conceived by many projects, makes it nearly impossible to create this bond. The absence of this possibility isn’t a function of the fact that the transaction is virtual, it is a function of how there’s no steady or repeated connection. To get more coverage, one of the VR projects we’re working for has welcomed libraries from very disparate areas. Joining forces makes sense for this reason, but I don’t think it takes into account that it causes patrons to have seemingly random reference encounters. Throughout the week, there are many, many individuals with whom patrons may come into contact. In essence, these transactions are reference one night stands.

Another thing to note is that the librarians working for this VR project, including us, have made it standard practice to use pseudonyms for our online presence. This is a barrier perhaps not recognized by the patrons, but a barrier nonetheless.

Another problem with VR is that current programs still aren’t meeting patrons in a convenient place. Simply having some presence on the web isn’t good enough. Patrons surfing the web either do or do not presently use a major instant messaging service (AIM, YIM, MSN, etc…); this is a fact. Those that are already chatting would find it more useful if libraries were present in one of these services. As simple as it may be, it is still an extra few steps to navigate to a VR website and enter in a zip code to log in. Those that don’t already chat are perhaps even less likely to consult a VR service. (Thinking to consult a service, navigating to the site, logging in and then chatting can all be big hurdles).

A possible solution to both of these issues would be to simply meet the patrons where some of them are, the major IM services. Librarians would be at the fingertips of their patrons if they would have an IM program running. There would be no navigation for users. We would be integrated into their lives. Patrons would be familiar with whom they were chatting, and they’d chat with the same library, the library that they visit in person, on a regular basis. A relationship would be formed.

Michael Stephens made a serious but somewhat offhand comment advocating the adoption of using a major IM service for VR instead of expensive vendor software. People took note and blogged about just that one comment because it makes common sense. VR software from vendors is bloatware.

Some libraries are indeed using AIM for VR. I’d love to hear how it is going. Does having an IM name out on the web flood librarians with questions from random netizens any more than having a telephone or fax number out there? I’d guess probably not. Even if it did, imagine the possibilities.

I recently registered a new AIM name, one for the library. Soon there will be business cards with this name to be handed out to the young adults in the library. The name will also go on our website. I bet we’ll get more response from this than we have from our current VR project.

technology and etiquette

Besides staff and patron training, which are major tasks sprouting from the implementation of new technology at a library, something else presents itself: a new type of etiquette. Minding one’s Ps and Qs is always good practice, and this includes when your virtual space might interfere with someone’s meatspace. Although no one was upset, once whilst printing wirelessly I started using special paper that someone had loaded in a printer. Oops. Now I find myself phoning the Reference Desk whenever I’m about to remotely print from a laptop. Wireless technology, while making printing quite convenient for me, comes with the mandate of etiquette. This mandate could be releaved with more technology (a dedicated printer) but certainly that would have some implications as well, like space and money.