What’s in a name?

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Ok, so I wanted to start a blog for the library service that I run, in order to keep my key stakeholders up-to-date with what’s going on and what’s new.  One slight problem however… the clamour of “No, no, no, we can’t possible have a blog [emphasis = sound of disgust]… no-one would want to look at that!” coming from the group of practitioners that I informally put the idea to.  However, when asked if they would like regular updates on new library developments that can be delivered straight to them with little effort or fuss… “oh, that’s a great idea – we’d really find that useful!!”.

*Rolls eyes*

Two things can be learned from this little escapade:

  1. Names can be daunting and indeed off-putting, depending on your target audience.  Research that audience closely and carefully before suggesting any new services, for what you provide may be what they want (or need) but what you call it may make your users run for the hills!
  2. I need to give my target audience some gentle instruction on RSS… what it is, how useful it can be, and how easy it is to use.

I feel an article in my organisation’s newsletter coming on!

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Rocking the stacks…

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Pam Thompson (posting on the IAML mailing list) draws our attention to this article in the Daily Express about Stewart Parsons’ Get it loud in libraries initiative at Lancaster music library.

This story has been around for quite a while now (as the Guardian’s story from 15th April testifies) but it’s gradually doing the rounds of the print media.  If you haven’t seen this already, basically Stewart arranges for bands such as The Long Blondes to play live gigs in his library, no doubt raising a multitude of eyebrows from traditionalists and distressing those like to maintain the hideous shushung librarian stereotype.

Now, I have no doubt that the idea of live music in a library is enough to drive some people ga-ga, but frankly this is a fantastic scheme that should be applauded and encouraged.  This is the Lancaster music library after all – why shouldn’t there be live music events there?  Far from straying from the library’s remit (which is surely to engage users of all ages and backgrounds, facilitate their exposure to new ideas and new experiences, and generally encourage learning) Stewart Parsons is merely finding bigger and better ways of fulfilling it by introducing a new and (frankly) unexpected dimension.  As Stewart himself says, commenting on a typical library gig audience in the Guardian article, “It’s a diverse crowd: we’ve had girls of 10 on the front row and old musos in their fifties loitering at the back. I don’t know where else you’d get that”.  He’s right – where else could you get that age range enjoying some of the finest bands around in the same room?  By finding a new use for the library space, Lancaster librarians are tapping into new markets, reaching new audiences and encouraging fledgling users to explore the library and its many other services in the process.

Not satisfied with taking the real world by storm, Get it loud in libraries has also got its own MySpace page and is developing quite a significant virtual following!  This is a great example of a library using social networking and Web 2.0 to reach out to new user groups.  Some would call it jumping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon that’s rolling through the library world at the moment, but this would be an unjust accusation.  If we as librarians refuse to adopt new technologies to keep up with demands of our users and, importantly, offer new services relevant to the 21st century library patron we are lost as a profession.  The use of MySpace by Lancaster librarians actually shows that the Get it loud in libraries project isn’t simply a flash in the pan to gain cheap publicity, but a well thought out, well planned strategy for developing new markets and appealing to a wider audience.

Admittedly, the scheme has attracted quite a bit of national media attention in the UK because it flies in the face of the stuffy librarian stereotype that most journalists seem incapable of ignoring, but it isn’t something to be ashamed of!  It’s about time we started shouting about all the great things we do for our patrons, the exciting work we are engaged in and the innovative steps we take to make a difference.  Librarians do a lot of good work, but if we don’t tell people no-one else will.  I just hope to see many more similar success stories in the national press in the future – it’s time the movers and shakers in all library sectors get the credit they deserve!

LIShow 2007… aka friends reunited

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Fresh back from the LIShow in Birmingham, and as usual things have piled up at work. I’ve spent most of the day catching up on enquiries and web-site edits that my colleagues would like me to carry out. It didn’t help that I was finishing early today to go off to a CILIP group meeting. That said, the meeting was very useful and we were all remarkably productive for a sunny Friday afternoon! However I digress.

I haven’t been to the LIShow before, so this year I decided to go for the full 2 days and take advantage of a friend’s hospitality (thanks S!). I’ve often wondered why people only go for one day, and I can kind of see why now. Although when you first enter the designated hall there seems to be more trade stands and paraphernalia than you’ve had hot dinners, once you’ve made your way systematically through the stalls (sampling the odd free glass of wine and picking up the usual freebies in the process) you’ve reached 3pm on the first day and you’ve seen all you need to. I suppose I’m not helped by the fact that I wasn’t really looking for any specific technology solutions as we rely primarily on open-source software to advance our services. However, as the title of this post suggests, I did meet a number of old friends that I hadn’t seen for some time, and most were looking for something specific for their workplaces. They were more than happy to let me tag along on their missions, and it was enlightening to see the different needs of different organisations, and how they were looking to new technologies to solve their problems. One friend was looking at the use of social bookmarking to improve the functionality of their organisation’s intranet search facilities, whereas another was looking at hybrid self issue machines in an attempt to solve a conflict between the use of RFID and EM security systems in her library.

The main draw to the show for me was, however, the series of seminars given over two days. Perhaps with the typical one-day-visitor in mind, he programme seemed to be split largely so that talks appealing to academic and special libraries occurred on the first day, with more school/public library talks on the second day (with, of course, some notable exceptions).

As I mentioned in a previous post, my former lecturer Sheila Corrall was speaking about information literacy, and as usual her talk was very inspiring. She spoke out in favour of Information Literacy (IL) teaching (both formal and informal) as a key mission for librarians from all sectors in the 21st century. Whether it be delivering specifically designed training to patrons, or a public librarian answering a query from a user, we all have the opportunity to pass on our knowledge to others. It is obviously something that we have been encouraged to do for some time now, but it is surprising how easily opportunities can be missed. I have personal experience of answering information requests from my clients and then thinking afterwards that if ‘d approached it from a different angle in the first instance I could have passed on some valuale information about search techniques or new resources to the user, thus adding value to my service.  I make a conscious effort to do this as much as possible, but in the heat of the moment and when time is of the essence this isn’t always easy.  Remote enquiries (which are what I mainly deal with) pose more of a problem as you have no personal contact, so gentle instruction can be more difficult.  However, this is no excuse.  Adding value to your services gives people higher expectations and greater respect for what you do, and this has got to be a good thing both in terms of increasing library usage and awareness of the librarian/information professional’s value to the organisation.

Karen Blakeman’s talk on RSS, Blogs and Wikis was pretty much a concise version of the one she gave at the UC&R Group event in Birmingham in December 2006,  but she is such an engaging speaker and so enthusiastic that it’s hard not to come away from her presentation with at least a few nuggets of new information and a renewed desire to implement more Web 2.0 applications for the benefit of your users.

Thursday also saw some interesting talks, but the most eagerly anticipated (and most well attended) had to be that of Jason Hanley from Google.  He spoke about Google’s services for librarians, including their booksearch facility (where he made every effort to stress that no copyrights were being broken!) and their Librarian Central site, which incorporates a blog of new developments.  However, I was most interested in the Google Co-op application, which allows you to build your own search engine, focusing on only sites you select yourself.  It’s a bit like what Rollyo has been doing for some time now, but with the power of Google’s search algorithms behind it.  I haven’t yet looked into it in detail yet, but I would hope the Google effort doesn’t limit the number of sites you can add to your personalised engine.  This would be a real advantage, and would allow for some excellent professional applications.  I’m currently working on a social bookmarking site targeted specifically at our user-base, and the ability to add all the relevant resources to a dedicated search engine would prove to be exceptionally valuable for meeting their information needs.  Indeed, some form of mash-up of the 2 sites to show the search box along with the bookmarking site itself would be great.  Using a service like superglu or a library blog to incorporate multiple Web/Library 2.0 features together is becoming an increasingly simple process, and it’s definitely something I’d consider.  The less places my users have to traipse for their information the better as far as I’m concerned.

So, to wrap up, from a newbie’s perspective the LIShow proved to be a very interesting experience, with lots of new technology on show and key thinkers in the LIS field empowering the rest of us with ideas on how to use it all!  Ok, so 2 days may be a little long for one person, but putting in the effort was worth it for the ideas that I came away with.  And as a bonus, I shan’t need to buy any pens for the library for at least 12 months now!! 😉

Wrecked…

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I’m absolutely wrecked this evening. It’s been a long week, and we’re only at Wednesday!

Travel has been the main cause. I’ve been flying all over the country – sometimes for leisure, mostly for work though. I travelled to my organisation’s AGM last night to speak to stakeholders [oooer, management speak!] about the library, its current services and plans for the future. It’s not often I’m presented with a captive audience, so I made the most of the opportunity. Basically, the night turned into one big marketing opportunity – disseminate information to the masses in the presentation and then re-enforce the message later by networking at the soiree afterwards. It’s amazing how effective personal contact can be – as a result I’ve had a particularly busy day, and I’ve also raised interest in a number of Web 2.0 initiatives I’m launching.

Stakeholders always seem surprised when you point out that libraries are actually service providers, and that as librarians we are always looking for opportunities to develop services for their benefit. This is why shouting about it is so important. I suspect that the majority of people I spoke to last night viewed me as the “guardian” of the organisation’s books. I would like to think that the majority left realising that there’s much more to what I’m doing than that, and maybe even thinking about using thinking of taking advantage of new services and resources the library is offering.