“web services” doesn’t mean just getting a better website

Karen Coombs explains why web services isn’t just about a better website and also explains what some of the sacred cows are that keep library websites from being better.

[M]eeting your users where they are isn’t about making them come to the library website. In considering our long term virtual presence plans, the library website is a given. People who come to the site know we exist and want to use our services. To truly be successful we have to get our content into the path of the people who wouldn’t walk through our door (physical or virtual).

I like Karen’s talks about her work website specifically because she’s part of a larger team that all needs to work together to roll out new services to their faculty, student and staff population. I feel lucky because I often have carte blanche in the tiny sites for tiny libraries that I design. I also have very little reach with those sites. That’s okay for what I’m trying to do, but if I had to bring together multiple different stakeholders and make them happy with a website — including those designing, for example, for 800 x 600 resolution screens — I’m sure I’d find it very challenging indeed.

I’m en route to Nova Scotia today, speaking at NSLA and at a Learning 2.0 program with Ryan Deschamps, but when I get back I hope to show off my own collaborative project, turning the Vermont Library Association site into a bloggish group-maintained site from a static single-admin site. It’s gotten so that I have enough WordPress admin login pages to keep track of that I’ve shunted them into their own folder on my bookmarks toolbar. Exciting times!

choosing your battles and choosing your professional associations

Karen Coombs talks about a reaction she had a while back to a comment on her blog where she was considering her commitment to the Texas Library Association. I think for many busy librarians the question of how much to participate in how many professional associations is one that we have to continually revisit. There is also the related question of how long you need to try at something before you decide it’s not working and moving on to trying something else.

After I cycled off ALA Council, I decided that I wanted to step back some and spend sometime reacquainting with my local library association in Vermont, so I didn’t renew my ALA membership. I joined VLA at the conference — where I gave two talks, or I gave half of two talks — which meant that my annual fee will only pay for seven months of membership (all memberships expire on 31dec. That said, membership is cheap). I didn’t feel obligated to join since I’m not technically a librarian for my job but I felt it would be a good idea. Before I officially joined, I was still receiving the newsletter and I was on the mailing list, so I’m not sure what joining technically gets me except the ability to be elected to an office which is not something I’m seriously considering at this point. I joined a committee — the advocacy committee — but had a difficult time making the meetings that were scheduled a few weeks in advance all over the state. Most meetings at VLA seem to happen in person. My speciality is, as you know, online communications and tools so a lot of what I had to offer the committee — custom RSS feeds and news filters, custom email addresses, web site updates, blog creation, “email your legislature”, setting up little websites — were all sort of outside the range of what we were considering and no one on the committee had access to the VLA website to make changes to it. I did manage to get the Library Value Calculator up on the website, but it involved a few days of work just getting that to happen and when it was announced on the list, my name wasn’t mentioned. This is a world I am getting used to.

Meredith has written a little bit about our experiences working with VLA. Unlike in a giant organization like TLA, I know most of the members of VLA either personally or by sight. It’s a tiny state. Membership is up from the high 200′s to about 400 now which is pretty exciting. I had a great time at the conference and I introduced myself personally to the incoming president who I heard had some bold new ideas for getting the word out about the importance of libraries (making the newsletter not a perk for members only, ditching the print newsletter in favor of a digital one, using email and blogs for communicating, more online communication and tools etc). What I told her, which is true, was that I’m not blessed in the tact department but if there is a computer or technological problem that needs fixing, I’m one of the more capable library people in the state to do it. The VLA conference allowed me to meet a few more people in the state who are also capable and techie and I have a slow but inexorable plan to Make Things Work Well. I’ll check back in next year and let you know how it’s gone.

making change stick @ your library

“[C]hange doesn’t really scare me, I am more afraid of being bored or useless.” Karen Coombs talks sensibly on how to really effectively promote technological changes at your library.

tech.

The How to Lose Your Techie Librarians memes have gotten a lot more traction than people talking about Library 2.0, mainly because we don’t have to discuss whether techie librarians exist or not. They do, we do, and we’re all over the place. There are also computers all over the place which in my neck of the woods has more to do with the Gates Foundation and less to do with technology advocacy. Is it a surprise that people who use technology enough to become bloggers are also technology advocates? I’ve been reading some thought provoking pieces over the past few days which I’ll list here

  • Rory has been keeping up with his blog and wrote a long piece about technology advocacy and his ideas about technophilia. While I think his tone verges on the negative, which often happens when people talk about things they don’t like about “bloggers” without addressing one person or idea directly, I think I can still extract what he’s getting at. I also question his listing of the presumptions of what he perceives to be the tech advocates. While he is comfortable calling people’s ideas and assumptions “irrational” because they aren’t supported by research, he is also dismissive of people’s conclusions on topics that are well-researched, such as the tech savviness of newer younger library users, making his assumptions seem equally irrational. I’m always sorry when people feel that any group of people to which I belong feels exclusionary to them because I aim towards openness generally and because I know it can feel bad to be left out. On the other hand, I don’t feel that tossing around words like “perverse” is a good way to get a dialogue started, it sounds too much like choosing sides. On the other other hand, I have known Rory for a while and know that he’s no luddite, he’s just more on the cautionary side of technology adoption and advocacy than, say, I am. I think we’re both pretty skeptical of gadgets, bad technology for sale by bad companies, and the hype and boosterism involved in the marketplace generally, we just express it differently. Read what he says and think about it. You don’t have to agree to get good ideas from it.
  • This prompted a response and a longer response with a lengthy follow-up comment over at …the thoughts are broken… with even more food for thought and rundown of the ideas involved from another biblioblogger and library student who doesn’t always feel quite in the loop.
  • Contrast this with super-techie Karen Coombs talking about new-fangled AJAX and how and why it does what it does. This is in response somewhat to Walt’s post making a flip reference to “all the cool people” being seemingly dismissive about usability at Computers in Libraries. Walt asks, Karen answers, people learn. Good.
  • Last in the list is an essay from Rick Anderson that is part of a chapter he wrote for Attracting, Educating and Serving Remote Users Through the Web: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians where he discusses some very real truths about the world we find outselves in, as information professionals. I specifically found this line interesting “[I]n fact, what we are seeing is the end of a world – a world in which information is mostly published and distributed in print formats. That world is gone. We are not talking about a change that is going to happen someday or that is just starting to happen – the revolution is over, and online has won.” Now if you read the rest of the essay, he’s not some zealot telling us to replace our OPAC with Google, he’s just talking about risk, and the way that electronic information is different from print, and the way mastery of both is important, but different. I like this essay.

Now from my perspective, as much as I love my technophile friends, it’s the people who are in the first stages of coming in to the profession (Rory and I are both at about the ten year mark I think) whose perspectives on technology I’m curious about. I’ve said before, I grew up with technology, my father had a job with the word “technologist” in the title and to me computers are like video games, big fun problems to solve. When I work with librarians in this region, a less wired area, I complement [and compliment] the library staff. I do not tell them that “I am the future” or that they should all get ipods, though when they tell me that they hear that MySpace is where all the sexual predators hang out, I try to tell them what I know. When they think about getting their catalog online, I try to help them choose a sensible way to do it. My feeling is that technology will continue to be a growing part of libraries now and in the future and we can either choose to learn the technology ourselves, or get it sold [or given] to us by people who may not have our best interests at heart. I think we ignore technology at our own peril.

I teach email to old people, I teach technology to librarians, and I co-manage an online community of 30,000 people. I think we need to use technology sensibly, purchase technology sensibly, and encourage people to talk about technology so that it doesn’t become some oogyboogy topic like sex or religion that people feel that everyone else has already made up their mind on.

two bloggers check in post-Rita

Two librarian bloggers post to say they’re doing okay in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita. Glad you’re okay Karen [Library Web Chic] and David [Catalogablog].