For my Foundations of Information Technology class.

Archive for April, 2011

Back to the Future – UBC Library Blogs

So I have come around th country and I am back in Vancouver and looking at my current University’s library (or libraries, there are many branches to the UBC library). On the library’s main “about us” page it says that the “UBC Library stands out as a leading institution in North America.” So when I asked myself “Does the UBC library have a blog?” the answer had to be “Yes.” But where is this blog?

First off, the UBC library doesn’t have one blog, it has many affiliated blogs. Each library branch has some form of blog/news feed, individual librarian’s have their own professional blogs linked to the Library website and possibly hosted by UBC blogs. I’m sure some of the librarians have their own blogs that are not linked to the library in any direct way. (But I don’t know how to find them.) That being said, the library has a list of affiliated blogs and has a news feed that brings in recent posts from a number of those affiliated blogs. This list and blog reel are found under the news tab on the main page when you click on the button “more news.”

Now, I am an enterprising MLIS student on a mission to complete my final project; I knew that the UBC library must have a blog or blogs, and that I was going to find them. I am also new at the university and have only had one very busy semester to explore all the different resources available to me through the library, let alone campus wide, but I did not know about these blogs except in the theoretical until now. Why are they all compiled under news? Are all blogs news? Are all news feeds blogs? If I only had a passing interest in finding a UBC library related blog would I have found this large list of affiliated blogs? Probably not. Should I even wonder why so very few of them have comments. (Do rhetorical questions get question marks?)

I have come to realize through this project that many libraries treat blogs as a simple, one-way news feed. This may be because of the upsurge of twitter and other micro-blogging that doesn’t require such substantive posts that blogging has become less central, I don’t know.

As is stated in the Library Best Practices Wiki blogs can be a powerful tool for libraries but they have to be used to their full potential and they have to be put where users will see and read them. I don’t think that is happening with the blogs affiliated with the UBC library. Maybe single blogs are better at advertising themselves to their targeted audience, but as a whole they are not exactly accessible.

Having a look at the list of blogs on the news page, there is quite a variety. Some of them are professional blogs meant to be read by other librarians and staff. Some are informing their subject or department community about recent events and new ideas in the field. Some are news and updates about what events are happening at that library branch, hours, and closures. The blogs that seem to commented on the most are the professional blogs that have been established for a long time. The list is lacking a link tot he UBC blog community where many professors and students outside the library have blogs that may or may not be relevant to the user. Did you know UBC had it’s own blog service?

I like the way Meredith Farkas in her blog posting Web/ Library 2.0 Blacklash (Dec. 1, 2005) used the idea of a paradigm shift in her definition of Library 2.0. In her definition, and in my own mind, Library 2.0 is more about how you use the tools and how you structure your services than it is about what technology you make use of. Just having a blog doesn’t make a library “2.0,” a “2.0” tool focuses on things like user feedback and content generation, responding to the needs and wants of your user instead of telling them what they want, and using the inter-connectivity of the internet to create dialogs and community. Before you start a blog, ask yourself why you are starting it and what are your goals. Then down the line, reassess whether you are meeting those goals. If all you want is a news feed, that’s fine, it’s a news feed, but don’t pretend it’s some fancy new tool that is going to revolutionize the library. For the examples I’ve seen that do make the best use of the potential in blogs, I am amazed, impressed, and inspired. I will keep reading, and sometimes, commenting.

Teen Reader Club – VPL, blog, community

Okay, this may be a bit out of my stated bounds of blogs and social bookmarking, but it includes a blog, so not totally out there? What am I even talking about you are now asking yourself. Well, I am talking about the Teen Reading Club or TeenRC website that is sponsored and run by a coalition of libraries and librarians for teen readers. It is a site for “Canadian teens who love to read. You can introduce people to the books you’ve read, post reviews, share your writing, and discuss your favourite (and least favourite) reads with teens and librarians.”

Why am I including this site in my blog? Well for starters, I am looking at blogs and when I went to the Teen section of the VPL’s site the blog was little more than another news feed. But when I clicked on reading club I was taken to the TeenRC site. (and it has a blog) Another thing is I am also interested in childern and youth services so anything that is reaching out to younger readers I am interested in. Finally, this is a collaborative way a community of libraries can reach out and encourage a dialog with teen readers and to create a larger community of teen readers.

The site is easy to get to from the VPL’s teen page, it’s right up there in the main navigation bar and it is in the rotating feature menu at the top of the teen page as well. 72 libraries across BC participate in the TeenRC website and link to it from their own site. That’s just in BC. Libraries in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia participate as well. A google search for teen books or teen reads turns up the website in the first 5 results. This website is accessible and out there.

This site provides teens a blog they can contribute to as well as read contributions from other teens and youth librarians. They can also use it as a social bookmarking and review site where they can make book lists, write reviews, give ratings, and have discussions around books, reading, novel themes, etc. Some discussions are incited by website administrators but many discussions are started by users. There is even an area where users can publish their own writing. This is a site fueled by user generated content, tailored to teens and meant to be a safe, comfortable place, moderated by professionals who want to engage in conversations with the users.

A big part of making this site a safe and comfortable place for users is the strict adherence to anonymity. Users are given a list of ways they are not allowed to identify themselves and posts are monitored for breaches of anonymity. Posts are also monitored for any form of cyberbullying that might arise from anonymity. This is important because the creators want a true and real interaction with youth readers where the users can feel free to share their real thoughts or feelings. In this way, the site staff can take what they learn from the site and change their library services to better suit teen users. Is this working? I don’t know. From my investigations I can say that the forum discussions have lots of postings and conversations. There are lots of book lists and reviews. The site seems well liked and well used.

Would I use this? If I was still a teenager, I would have been all over this! I would have loved the opportunity to post reviews and share my opinions in a welcoming environment. Is it still necessary when libraries like the VPL have a lot of the same functionalities incorporated into it’s library catalog? Maybe not for the VPL, but this site may be a little more welcoming to a teen than the official library catalog, especially when you know your audience is other teens. But look at all the libraries that participate in the TeenRC. This site is still valid and useful, especially for all those libraries that don’t have the huge collection of the VLP nor the resources to have such a complex catalog system. The Teen Readers Club is about building community and community connections and I believe it has done that and will continue to do that for a while yet.

Vancouver Public Library – User Generated Content

So now I come all the way across the country to the west coast and I focus in upon the Vancouver Public Library. I have been in the central branch of the VPL and looked at the website but unfortunately living on campus at UBC I do not qualify for a VPL card. That is sad as it seems like a very dynamic and interesting library. Just from my investigations of the website I can see many ways the VPL is adopting Web 2.0 tools to enhance their service to users.

I did some quick searches on the VPL catalog and found that the new catalog system has incorporated many ways for users to interact with the catalog. There is more than just the ability for users to tag records with new subjects. There is a whole section called community activity including a 5 star rating, an area for comments, as well as areas for age appropriate suggestions, summaries, notices, quotes and videos. As in the HLP catalog there is the quick links to social bookmarking and social networking sites so you can share your selection with your friends and others.

 New VPL Library Catalog by BCIT News.

The tagging system seems similar to the HPL tagging system. On the record there is a section labeled tags with a list of the added tags then a link to add tags yourself. You have to log in with you library account in order to add anything to the record. There don’t seem to be as many tags as in the HPL catalog system. This may be because the VLP hasn’t had the tag system for as long as the HPL but I also think that it is entirely up to the users to add the tags whereas I think staff may have had a hand in tagging some of the HLP records. The lack of tags is a drawback but one that is necessary in a new system, and one that will be remedied with time. For an example of the usefulness of tags I looked at a record of a novel Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. I was surprised to see the library had a subject heading for discworld (imaginary place) – fiction and soccer matches – fiction, so tags for those two things were not necessary but there was a tag “fitting in.” This may not be the best phrasing but reading this tag I understand that part of this novel is a story about someone trying to fit in, or maybe even a group trying to fit in. I think this is useful information and something you would only get from having read the novel, as this part of the story isn’t described on the back of the book.

Ratings. A five star rating system gives users a very quick way to review the material content. 1-5 stars out of 5. But if you feel that just giving the material a rating is not enough you can also include a comment. Comments can be a simple statement to a full review of the material. IT is like an Amazon listing except perhaps more honest because the library is not trying to sell you something and comments are not ranked, they are listed in date of posting, newest comment at the top. Comments can be great to help a user decide whether a material is actually what they want.

The lists function is another way for users to share materials. Users can create lists and publicize them for other users to search and browse. I could create a list called “Best Books for Procrastinating” or “Good Books for Relocating” and another user can use the library catalog to search for lists about relocating or procrastinating and find my list. Then they can read what I think about the books and if they are interested open up the record and find the book. This is a form of social bookmarking without the external site. Instead of clicking a button to create a link to the record on Delicious, I can click a button to add it to a list that I can recommend to all my friends and other library users too. And because it is part of the library website it is easier for a library users to find and make the connection between recommendations and the library catalog.

Sarah Houghton-Jan in her blog Librarian in Black (April 7, 2008) wrote about a seminar she attended where they discussed the use of user generated content in the catalog. Generally it was agreed that user generated content adds to a catalog and adds value for the user. More content is better than better algorithms. The other main point that came out is that user generated content is not neat and tidy. There is a lot of duplication in tags with synonyms, different spellings, plurals and singulars, etc. The catalog will get messy, but if it means the library is providing better, more valuable services, then it is a good thing. Also there are ways to reduce the clutter like aggregating tag concepts so if you search tags for ghosts, you also get the tags ghost, specters, and phantoms. I like tags and other forms of user generated content and I agree that they are good and that they are here to stay. As an information professional in the making I want to go out and find ways to make the best of user generated content, to make it as useful as it can be!

St. Mary’s University – The Patrick Power Library

So from the Halifax Public Library I move to the Patrick Power Library, the library for St. Mary’s University, or SMU for short. SMU is where I finished my undergraduate degree in Criminology. I spent some time in the library, most of it in the last year when I was working on my thesis. My fondest memory of a reference interaction happened at this library when I was getting help with finding primary source material for my thesis.I had a good relationship with this library and it’s staff so I was quite surprised to find out that it has had an affiliated blog since 2006. I didn’t graduate until 2008.

The PowerBlog is written by one staff member, the Promotional Services Librarian. The “about” section on the blog is not filled in so I had to look up the author in the library’s directory in order to find out some more information about the author. There is also no stated objective for the blog but guessing from the posts it is mostly a news feed, updates about the library. It is updated intermittently depending on what is going on. During high use times at the library there appear to be more more posts.

As with the HPL blog, there seem to be very few comments on any of the posts in this blog. It is focused on disseminating library news, which it does, but it isn’t generating a discussion. Where is the bi-directional communication that Graham Cormode and Balachander Krishnamurthy talk about in their article Key Differences Between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0? Blogging existed before the concept of Web 2.0 was developed and maybe a blog itself isn’t Web 2.0. Maybe it’s how that blog is used. In the two examples I’ve looked at so far, the focus isn’t on generating a discussion, it isn’t on bi-directional communication, it is on top down, unidirectional communication. The SMU library blog more so than the HPL readers blog. It is hard to generate discussion around library hours, closures, and upcoming refworks workshops.

Or is it? Library hours were a hot topic hen I went to SMU. I even remember it being an issue that came up in elections for the student association. At the time, the library hours were rather restricted and most students wanted some extended hours, especially around mid-terms and finals. The blog could have been used as a forum to discuss this issue with the students. To open up a dialog between students and library and university administration. Unfortunately it was not. No dialog was created with the blog or any other tool. A few statements, akin to media releases, were sent to the student paper and that was it. The library administration may have had very good reasons for having the hours they did, but at the time, when there was increasing focus on open dialogs, partly because of Web 2.0, the library came off as the authority handing down a decision. Like it or lump it.

Now I see from the blog that the library has extended it’s hours during the exam period. But still no discussion, only a statement of fact.

Maybe it would help if the blog was presented differently. On the library’s home page the blog feed is presented as a news feed with no ability to comment unless the user clicks the link to go to the main blog entry. It’s not even called a blog on the homepage. Whatever the reason the appears to be falling short of it’s potential.

Halifax Public Library – Social Bookmarking

Screenshot of the HPL's search screen.

The HPL has incorporated social bookmarking and tagging into their new library catalog and search system. They are using a fancy new search system called Discover which is powered by Aquabrowser. Discover makes use of Aquabrowser’s many useful tools like the dynamic word cloud that suggests closely related terms, alternative spellings, translations, and more. IT is a powerful one box search tool and it includes an advanced search function as well for those users who have a good idea of what they are looking for. As interesting as the Aquabrowser system is, it is not, in itself, social bookmarking or blogging and therefore off topic for this blog. If you would like to know more about Aquabrowser check out their site.

The HPL catalog has adopted social bookmarking. Each record has a section where free-text tags can be added as well as a link to a variety bookmarking sites like Delicious. he main record for an item has a section that displays all the tags that have been added to that record and how many times that tag was added to that particular record.

Who gets to tag records? The link to tag records is located right under the tag list on the record but it is password protected. A user has to log into their library account to be able to tag a record. Only library staff and users can tag records. Who does tag records? There is no indication as to which user created which tags, nor is there anything on the site stating when the catalog started using tags. Some records have more than 20 tags, while many records have no tags at all. It seems reasonable to me that library staff started the tagging and possibly continue to do so with new records but older records are left to users to tag, or until a staff member has an interest in that record.

In the materials for this course our instructor discussed the University of Pennsylvania’s Library and how they are using tags. The staff of the library and our instructor highlighted how tagging was not a substitute for the catalog but can increase usability and help professionals about users’ language in relation to the catalog’s controlled vocabulary. That holds true when it comes to the HPL’s catalog. Not all records in the HPL catalog are tagged so if a user was searching only by tags many materials would be missing. I did a search for the tag “ghosts” and got 2585 results. When I searched “ghosts” as a keyword I got 5577 results. The difference isn’t just due to untagged records. When the catalog is searched for just tags, it only searches for that particular tag, when a keyword search is performed it searches for the entered word as well as common synonyms and forms. In the case of “ghosts” it also searches for “ghost”, “specters”, and “phantoms.”

Cases where I found the tags to be very useful is when a book might not be explicitly about ghosts, it is not a important enough theme in the book to make it into the subject headings for that record, but a user found it important enough to include it as a tag. This is especially true for fiction. Catalogers don’t have the time to read through every item in the catalog. Tagging allows users who have read the material and who may have a better understanding of the material to include tags that are important but didn’t make it into the subject headings.This can help users find what they are looking for by giving users more information about the material right in the record. I really like this idea.

The other form of social bookmarking that HPL has incorporated into their catalog is socail bookmarking websites. When a record from the catalog is displayed there is a link to a variety of social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, Digg, and Y! Bookmarks. This makes it very easy for users to bookmark records and share them with others. They can also link the records to various social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Because the bookmarking is done on outside sites the library catalog has not yet included bookmarking annotations, tags, or links into the displayed record like the University of Pennsylvania’s library has, but it is still a good way to facilitate users sharing information and likes with other users. At the very least it gets information about the library’s holding to a wider audience.

Halifax Public Library – The Reader Blog

As I said in my About page I want to look at libraries I have used or visited for my blog. So first I went to my hometown library page, the Whitehorse Public Library. This is an extremely boring library website housed within the territorial government’s website. Because it is part of the Government’s website it has to have the same boring layout and poor navigation. It doesn’t look like they have made any attempts to incorporate Web 2.0 tools. Disappointing but not surprising.

Second I looked at the Halifax Public Libraries main website. As far as I can find they maintain one blog called The Reader which is created and maintained by the Readers’ Services Staff. The stated purpose of the blog is “ to create a forum for book news and related discussion among leisure readers. A place for Halifax leisure readers to interact with their library and the larger community of leisure readers.” The blog appears to be updated every day by a variety of library staff. Most of the posts are book recommendations focused around a particular topic or new releases at the library. The occasional post goes more into depth on a particular item or a certain activity going o at the library. These are the post that I find the most interesting but the book recommendations are useful too.

So the blog is updated regularly with new material.It is presented in casual language but is well written and entertaining. It provides useful reading recommendations and includes information about upcoming events, great. But what about the stated mission of creating a discussion? Is the library interacting with their users through this medium? Not really. I scanned through several weeks of postings and saw very few comments, 3 comments in 4 weeks or 27 posts. And two of those were from the same person on the same posting. This blog is mostly a one way discussion and resembles traditional, top down media more than the collaborative form of media which is such a big part of Web 2.0.

This blog is meeting some of the goals of library blogging as set out by Sharyn Heili in her Libraries and Librarians Rock blog. They are reaching out to their users, spreading the news, and getting more staff involved in spreading the word an marketing their services (as can be seen by the list of contributors to the blog). But they are also missing some of the points. They have added interactivity and say they want to promote discussion, but it’s not being used. They may want to listen to the needs and wants of their users, but it’s hard to listen to nothing. I did find one comment where a reader commented that s/he couldn’t get one of the books recommended in the post. The author got back within two days saying apparently the book had gone missing but that he had ordered a new copy and it would be available for holds within a day. So the possibility of interactivity and responding to users if there, it’s just not being utilized.

Perhaps the blog would be utilized better if it was easier to find of the HPL website. The link for the reader blog is at the bottom of the home page under Readers. A link to the blog is not included under the What’s New section which is more prominently displayed higher on the page. The blog also has to compete with the library’s twitter feed for attention. The twitter feed seems to be a higher priority for HPL as the feed is featured more prominently on the homepage and is of course updated much more frequently. They could also try generating more interest by creating a new blog for teen readers and featuring it on the HPL teen site and linking it to the current reader blog.

Next post, I’m going to have a look at HPL’s catalog and their use of tagging and the aqua browser! Stay tuned!