Category Archives: Ponder This!

I’m a Nicole Engard groupie

There.  I’ve said it.  I got a copy of “Library Mashups” and I can’t put it down.  Twenty minutes after I had it in my possession, I emailed her telling her I loved the book.  It rocks.

Engard contributes to and edits the work of 25 contributors in this great book that explores the ways libraries deliver data.  By exploring new tools and offering insight into old ones, Engrad and her colleagues really tread on new ground in relation to getting information out to the public.

I was particularly drawn to her information on effectively using Delicious and Youtube in libraries.  She is all about using the software when it is needed and is beneficial – not when it is just some clumsy add on to a website or creates no value at all.  I felt myself developing more concrete ideas about how these technologies are integrated into existing library webpages and for the first time understood why they can be so useful.  Prior to that, I just kind of thought “Oh, and there’s Delicious which is just website tagging that can get really crazy and messy and would be overwhelming to the public at times”.

The idea of externalizing the knowledge that librarians have also really intrigued me.  The concept that we should share what we know with our users so that they too can become effective users while also seeing the true value of librarians and librarianship totally rocked.  It’s like a peep show – we show the public how much we rock and we help them out by sharing what we know, and then they want more and keep coming back.  (I know, I have a dirty mind, but the analogy works…)

I’m still reading and there is so much this book has to offer.  For instance, I can’t wait to read about Yahoo! Pipes and ways that you can improve your OPAC.  Whether you’re a tech novice or a hard-core programmer type  this book will contribute to your knowledge.

Check out Nicole and “Library Mashups” on her website:  (It too is a peep show.  Of library stuff.  Not of Nicole.  Dirty blog reading people.  Sheesh.)

You say potato, I say zucchini…

potatoBut that doesn’t mean we get to fling vegetables at each other.  Today  I’m talking about gaps in vendor-librarian communications.  Let’s be honest, many librarians and vendors are not on the best of terms.

Librarians see vendors as money-seeking vulchers who take advantage of their altruistic public institutions by locking them into long term contracts that allow for price increases, all the while decreasing customer service.

Vendors cringe at the thought of going to conference, knowing they will have to cope with library staff people only visiting their booth for free swag and not making eye contact with them.  It’s like being a leper in a business suit.

I was a library director at one time.  Let me tell you my pet peeves:
 - getting calls while I’m on desk without the vendor asking “is this a good time?” or, “are you at your reference desk right now?  Do you need me to call back?”
 - launching into a long winded sales speech without pause for a breath so that I cannot take a moment to ask a question or make comment.
 - not being patient as I weigh the pros and cons of prices and features of products.  I once heard a vendor mumble with exasperation “Jee-sus” under her breath as I asked her to help me find different ways to manage a $5000 price increase in a database that my library absolutely had to have.  Ironically, it was a religious database, but I didn’t appreciate her tone one bit. 
 - assuming I’ve got a high level of technical expertise or none at all.  There’s got to be a polite way to ask a librarian what type of technology skills they have, so that neither party is frustrated.
 - dealing with vendors who stand in the aisles at conference practically pouncing on you as you walk by – I am not a mouse and you are not a cat…stand aside and if your booth is informative, I’ll be drawn to it and I’ll talk to you, trust me.
 - vendor websites that are hard to search, informational materials that aren’t informative at all, calling vendors when you want to buy their product and they don’t ever call back…oh the list goes on and on…

Now I work for a vendor – Evanced Solutions – and I can share with you that perspective as well:
- It’s really scary when you sell a library system software and then call the technical contact to check in and see how things are going and they have no idea what you’re talking about. 
- In keeping with that thought, I’ve got two words: project management.  There are libraries that excel at project management – they get software, form committees or training teams and two weeks later they’re using the software and rocking it out.  Then I’ve got libraries that I have to call and beg to use the product, but no one has taken the implementation lead, so software sits paid for but un-used.  In this economy, if you have the luxury of buying software and not using it then you are lucky.
- It’s my responsibility at Evanced to call our customers and check in to see how things are going.  There are times I get a very blunt “I don’t have time for this, goodbye”, even after I’ve made it clear that I just am checking in quickly.  Is saying “Thank you for your call, but I’m busy at the moment, can you call back later or email me?”
- Which brings me to this point: librarians sometimes treat vendors the way really awful patrons treat librarians.  You know the patrons who are especially rude to you, or call you with a question and then tell you that you’re taking to long to give them an answer though you’ve only be chatting for a few minutes?  Yeah, I’ve had librarians be terribly mean to me, practically bringing tears to my eyes.
- If a library does a call for proposals, and we don’t win the bid, please…please…please tell the vendor why they didn’t win.  We can’t become a better company and develop better products if we don’t know why you chose someone else over us.  We take the time to fill out the endless bid forms, please just take five minutes to write us an email telling us how we could have done better.
- And lastly, there’s the cost versus features debate.  Who doesn’t love really awesome software and databases?  I do, I do!  But the cost, oooh, the cost.  At Evanced we look at our product and we realize it’s not perfect.  It really rocks and does cool stuff, but it isn’t quite right for everyone, we know.  We’re working on some major changes to improve the software in drastic and freaking awesome ways.  But the catch is that we’re also trying to not raise our prices (We haven’t raised our prices in seven years for those of you keeping track…)  Recently someone mentioned to us that maybe our software isn’t as good as it could be because we have no competition and therefore have the market “locked”.  But that’s not true.  We haven’t been able to make all the changes we’ve wanted to because it would involve hiring more programmers and technical specialists.  And they have families.  That like to eat and have a home.  So we have to pay them.  And then we’d have to charge libraries for the price increase.  So, for us, it becomes a fight of “Do we make all the changes we’d like to make to our software to make everyone happy?’  or “Do we build and rebuild over time and then save our pennies to finally pay for some positive major changes that don’t drastically increase prices?”  In trying to help out libraries, we sometimes end up being told we’re the bad guys. 

If we’re doing something wrong or you’re mad at us, can you just tell us nicely please?  I know some vendors are rude to you (that’s a whole other post) but some of us are nice and want to help.  Just approach us with the issue and we’ll see what we can do.  And if you’re not happy with the way we’ve worked with you, then you can email me at cayar at evancedsolutions dot com.

**FYI - this is my personal opinion so don’t blame Evanced for what I wrote.  I’m just pointing out some things I’ve noticed and want to share.  Open discussion doesn’t hurt and librarians and vendors need to talk.  Maybe we should hire Dr. Phil….

Use those creative brains of yours…

I’m working on a great volunteer project called MyInfoquest.  It is a six month pilot project to get a librarian-staffed text message reference service off the ground.  People text a question, a MyInfoquest staff member responds!

The team thinks that “MyInfoQuest” is a great name, but it may require a bit of explanation.  To do that, we need to create a “tag line”  and would like your help. Here are some examples from other web-based help services:

Name:              Tag line:
AskAway:         Illinois Librarians Online
AskAway:         Reliable Answers Anytime/A Cooperative Service of Wisconsin Libraries
AskUs 24/7:     Chat with a Librarian
Know it Now    Answering your questions online, anytime

So, post your ideas as a comment by Noon on May 16!  The winner gets…my undying gratitude and that of the Infoquest Team!  Yay!

The definition of insanity…

So many moons ago when I was in the throes of an angsty phase, I was talking to my friend/therapist who calmly told me, “You know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result”.  I was flabbergasted by the thought at the time – it was a quasi-religious-no-shit-you’re-right moment.

I thought of that moment when I was sitting at a library not long ago just before closing time. The library had two doors at the front that during the day were both unlocked for patrons to come in and out of in either direction.  At about ten minutes to close, one set of doors was locked to help “manage incoming traffic” (whatever that means).  What this led to was a series of about 10-15 people all trying to use the locked door and the staff yelling out “that door is locked, use the other one”.  Because running into the locked door was not sufficient evidence to the poor patron.

I asked and apparently this is what they do every day

So every day about 15 people leave the library and the last experience they have is being embarrassed or frustrated for walking into a locked door and also having the mistake called out by a loud staff member.

Here’s a thought – a nice rope and sign to sling between the security/tattle tape gates just around closing time will have people bumping into a rope at worst – instead of a huge glass door.

Those fifteen people will walk out every day with that last moment at the library in their mind.  And while it might seem like a minor irritation and only slightly negative thing, it’s a part of the user experience.  You can get used to almost anything – and that is a crying shame. 

What policies or issues has your library staff gotten used to?  How is it harming patron-relations?  Don’t look at if from your point of view, look at it from theirs!

Library love on “Get Rich Slowly”

So, back in June 2008, the Get Rich Slowly blog ran this article about why using the library helps save money:

It’s a great article for libraries (thank you Get Rich Slowly) but also, the comments are very interesting.  If you’re a librarian or library student intrigued by perceptions of the library or of book borrowing services, you need to read the comments.

What are they doing right?

Recently on Facebook, a friend wrote a brief note about Bookswim and how it was silly that someone would pay for the service when they could just go to the library and get the same service for free.

I wrote back a note response and said “But pay-for book services are very popular at truck stops and airports across the country.  As much as we don’t like it, Bookswim is doing something we are not.  We need to figure out what is making them successful and see if we can’t manage to offer the same service.  It’s called market segmentation.”

Her response was “All they offer that we don’t is delivery”.

This brings up two points.  Bookswim and those services that I see as I drive and fly across the country are offering more than delivery.**  But we quickly slam the competition because we’re too afraid as a profession to take a real look at our short comings.   We need to take a deep breath and realize that it’s okay to take a hard look at what these other offerings bring to the information table.

Secondly, it is not realistic for us to try to do some of the things Bookswim does, BUT, maybe that’s just because we’re limiting ourselves? What’s that saying, you can’t be everything to everyone?  But that’s what libraries are called to do…as tax based institutions (more often than not), it’s what we MUST do.  So, maybe libraries can’t do exactly what Bookswim does, but maybe by tweaking rules and regulations, we can get closer to what Bookswim does.  And that would be great.

That’s my thought for the day…have a good weekend!


**Drop offs across the country, access to info even at obscure places, and in the case of Bookswim, greater liklihood of getting best sellers more quickly…to name a few.

Solidarity, friends. Solidarity.

It seems contrary to the way in which librarians want to think…but I’m going to say it…

Team up with local booksellers – the small guys with the corner shops.  Have them send traffic to you, send traffic to them.   See if you can buy from them to build your library collection.  Develop events with them. 

Why do I say this?  Because I’ve posted about it in the past around the time of the American Bookseller Association annual conference – trends with booksellers eventually become library trends.  And then I got this:

from the Wayne State University listserv.  The Shaman Drum Bookstore is struggling.  It is an institution in Ann Arbor and in Michigan.  The sun will shine, the snow will fall, the Shaman Drum will sell useful, unique, hip and countercultural media.  And the letter is a call for help and sounds very familiar to the ears of librarian.

It’s worth reading…

Gov. Granholm to Eliminate HAL

seal_mi1Fear!  Panic!  Dismay!  Or, maybe not…I have no idea what this all means!

See below for an announcement passed on by my pal Liberal Lucy.  After chatting with an anonymous buddy with connections to HAL, I was told there is little idea of what this really means for libraries in Michigan.  It could be meaningless…just a change of who reports to whom.  (Who, whom…uh, whatever).  I guess we will have to watch and see.

If you know what this really means for Michigan Libraries and HAL, please post and let me know!

Right, yes, well on with the report:

Gov To Close Book On HAL
As part of an administration-wide attempt to scale down the size of government, Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM is poised to propose the elimination of the Department of History, Arts and Libraries (HAL) as soon as Tuesday’s State of the State address. Former Gov. John ENGLER created the department in 2001.

Under the Governor’s proposal, the units of HAL would be scattered throughout state government. Before Engler signed the legislation creating the new department, the Michigan Library was in the Legislative Council, the state archives and Historical Commission was in the Department of State, and the Mackinac Island State Park Commission was in the Department of Natural Resources.

Engler signed a 19-bill package completing the creation of the new department in 2001 (See “20th Department Created In Library Ceremony Today,” 7/23/01).

Granholm Press Secretary Liz BOYD declined to discuss if the new arrangement would be similar to the old arrangement. She neither confirmed nor denied the news of the elimination of HAL.

“Clearly, the Governor will be giving a no-frills message on Tuesday,” Boyd said. “The Governor will be focusing on the challenges we face and she will not be sugarcoating those challenges. The focus of the Governor’s address will be creating jobs, while training and educating citizens for those jobs.”

HAL’s elimination comes more than a month after the department’s only director Bill ANDERSON retired (See “Founding HAL Chief To Retire,” 12/15/08).

HAL will be the third state department Granholm has morphed into other parts of the state bureaucracy since taking office in 2003. The former Department of Career Development was combined with the former Department of Consumer & Industry Services (CIS) to form the Department of Labor and Economic Growth shortly after Granholm took office.

More recently, the Department of Civil Service was made an arm of the Department of Management and Budget.

Let me bare my librarian soul…

Part of the Emerging Leaders project meetings involved the following exercise:

Pair up with someone in the room you don’t know. You each have one minute to tell your life story. First, I’d like you tell your life story from the perspective of a victim.
I’ll let you know when one minute for each of you has passed.
Now that you’ve shared, tell your life story from the perspective of being a hero.
Now tell your life story but relay it only from the perspective of the life lessons you’ve learned.

I thought it was going to be a really stupid exercise. I was really, really, really resentful that I was being forced to share my life story with someone I didn’t know at all. I did my best to share but edit gently.

Luckily, I had a really cool partner.

And you know what? I’m thinking of that experience today, and I’m not resentful. I really enjoyed it, and I really learned a lot about myself and my perspective of myself from that exercise.

It was really hard to be the victim. I kept trying to leap to the most positive things that happened, but that wasn’t really allowed. “Yeah, that sucked big time but later on something great happened!” I guess I’m a more positive person than I really thought.

Secondly, I was a bit embarassed to try and be the hero. But I couldn’t tell the story without making it funny. I think that’s true of librarians – we have a hard time making ourselves and our institutions into heroes.

And the life lessons…I hmmmed, and hawed and muttered something about learning to be patient. And now that I’ve had three or four days to think, I’ve realized how many life lessons I’ve really gained. And how I don’t appreciate or refer to those life lessons nearly enough. Wow…crazy…it’s like having an amazing personal resource center and never bothering to use it…

So, I went from resentfully baring my soul to really learning a lot. That six minute exercise is still making me think, days after the fact.

Something to ponder…

(p.s. I tried to find clipart a naked dude wearing a barrel.  No dice.  It got kinda kinky!  Yikes!)

Agnotology problem? I think I know a remedy…

I’m a little behind in reading this month’s edition of Wired Magazine.  But now I’m wide awake at 2 AM EST (Midnight in Denver) and restless and reading.  And I find an article entitled Manufacturing Confusion (subtitle: How more information leads to less knowledge).

As the article says, the historian Robert Proctor has come up with a new word for our language:

“He has developed a word inspired by this trend: agnotology. Derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is “the study of culturally constructed ignorance.”

The idea is that in this world in which we are awash with information, special interest groups (for example) are easily able to stir up the proverbial sand and make the factual water very murky.  We are becoming an increasingly ignorant society according to Proctor because we don’t seek out truths – we wait for them to fed to us via that information pipeline called the web.  What’s that quote…We’re drowning in information but starving for knowledge.  Oh yes, we are.

The author of the article wraps up by saying this:

“Can we fight off these attempts to foster ignorance? Despite his fears about the Internet’s combative culture, Proctor is optimistic. During last year’s election, campaign-trail lies were quickly exposed via YouTube and transcripts. The Web makes secrets harder to keep.

We need to fashion information tools that are designed to combat agnotological rot. Like Wikipedia: It encourages users to build real knowledge through consensus, and the result manages to (mostly) satisfy even people who hate each other’s guts. Because the most important thing these days might just be knowing what we know.”

Huh, we need to fashion information tools huh?  Gee, where, oh where, would we get these tools?  Who will guide us through this information?  Hmmm.  I dunno, maybe a potential remedy to this situation is…a world wide network of damn good librarians.  Let’s step up to the plate, before Wikipedia becomes the answer for everything.  And if it must be the answer for many things, if it is the place that people go to for answers, then let’s make sure that we’re the ones editing it.  Because information is our business and we can’t be bit players.

Just something to think about.

I’m going to try to go to bed.  Again.