a 2.0 story that doesn’t really involve libraries but does involve saving $12 and a car trip

One of the things I tell people in my 2.0 talks is that the digital divide is becoming about much more than people who have computers/email/web sites and people who don’t. The difference, to me, is people who have folded the web into their day to day lives and those who haven’t. This matters for a few reasons. As I have said before, I think it’s anyone’s personal choice whether they want to use a computer recreationally or not. However as more and more of our government’s services are available either primarily or most easily online, being able to at least navigate the online world becomes important, if not mission critical.

I’ve often thought that I should do a program on “The life of a 2.0-pian” (pretty sure I’ve seen that before) where I outline the many ways in which being able to use the web as another resource makes my life simpler, easier and saves me money. Here is the example that came to mind this week. As some background, when I worked at a public library of medium size, when we needed supplies we had two main choices, possibly three. 1) buy the supply from the Big Catalog 2) send the systems librarian out to Staples to buy the item 3) get the supply ourselves on the way to work (on our own time) and get reimbursed. While I am not one of those “My tax dollars at work!” people, I have to note that this process was rarely cost- or time-efficient for anyone involved except, sometimes, the accountant.

In any case, I was printing out holiday cards this week — I have a group of online friends who swap cards every year, I do not normally do a holiday card thing — and ran out of printer ink. As you know, printer ink is one of those notoriously overpriced items and if it’s something you buy often it’s best to have an angle. The ink I need at Staples is $20. At my local office supply store it is $27. My angle is a price comparison site called dealink.com which lets me search competing ink prices. They told me I could get it for $18.50 shipped, HP brand ink, no knock-offs. That was pretty good. Then I headed over to my favorite coupon site, RetailMeNot to see if they had any online coupons for DataBazaar which had the lowest ink prices. They did. I hope you are noticing that I can link to all these things. I can’t link to the ink page at Staples.com. So, I got an extra $5 off if I bought three (I needed a few anyhow) making my total $48.85, delivered to my door, for three ink cartridges for my photo printer.

So, the reason this matters and why I’m putting this on a libraran-oriented blog is that first, we tend to not buy things this way where I am, in libraries or elsewhere. Getting to Staples from my house takes at least 90 minutes round trip and $5 worth of gasoline and yet we still sometimes act like buying things online is somehow risky or uncharted territory. What’s risky for me is getting on the highway this time of year, to say nothing about the time I’d have to take off from work when there’s work do be done. Second, this is the type of efficency that 2.0 stuff gets us. A computer can compare prices. A computer can stockpile and share coupons. A computer can show me a photo of an item so I can see if it’s the one I want. Letting the computer do these parts of the shopping-for-supplies experience that is one of the less fun parts of librarianship leaves our bodies and big old brains free for doing what a computer can’t do like helping someone navigate their first email account, or doing a storytime puppet show, or having a book group discussion or forgiving someone’s library fines because it’s the holidays or making a book display about the Solstice.

Working on the web isn’t just about collecting real and/or imaginary friends and new interactive ways of sharing photos of your cat, it’s also about saving real time and real money so that you can do real things in your offline world. That’s my twopointopia report, over and out.

NELIB list of presentations

I really like how the NELA conference did some social stuff this time around. To a conference goer I think it was pretty unobtrusive, there was a blog, a Flickr pool and a few presenters had online handouts or bookmark lists. They’ve also made a one-stop page on the NE Lib website which takes the program and adds links to the presentations where available. So if you remember that you went to a talk Monday morning but weren’t sure of the track or presenter, you can find it here. This took David a bit more time — to collect and collate and upload the presentations — but to the end user it’s transparent and elegant. Nice job NELA Conference team!

New (YPL) favorite blog

Not super fleshed out, but how cool is it that one of our venerable library institutions has a blog outlining some of the new things they’re trying and evaluating what they’ve already been doing? Please subscribe, right now please, to labs.nypl.org. [thanks pk!]

four talks in six days in two countries

If the title sounds familiar, it’s because it is. I’ve been trying to combine more of my public speaking trips which means more weird weeks like this one and that one, but it works out a lot better on my end. After I got back to Massachusetts from Access, I drove over to NELA and gave three talks there. I really enjoy NELA but there were some complications this time around mostly involving iffy wireless (and hotel staff who were just repeating what their outsourced IT told them which the IT-librarians knew was a little fishy-sounding, but I digress) which means I wasn’t doing much blogging and had a period of radio silence here and on Flickr and on Scrabulous, etc.

I got home today and I’ve uploaded the latest talks. One was all new, one was a modified version of an earlier talk and one was a talk I gave earlier, but with twice as much time. All of them went really well but I have a sore throat and will be heading to bed as soon as they’re linked here so that I can be bright and bushytailed for work which starts tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who made my trip easier, more pleasant, and fun.

Access 2007 – quick report from the floor

My talk went well. It was scary (keynote!), early (8:30!), and multimedia (slides, video, me doing the blah blah part). I have this problem basically not being able to remember a thing I said after I get off the microphone BUT this time I wrote the talk out first, and this time I think it was even recorded. I’ll keep you posted on that. Here are my slides, notes and some more links. Thanks to everyone who paid close attention, blogged about it, and/or laughed at my jokes, and thanks to the conference planners for inviting me and encouraging me to make the trip.

five talks in five days in two countries

So. I just got back from a weeklong trip that took me to Somerville, Nova Scotia and environs, and the Manchester/Hooksett New Hampshire area. You can see some photos. This is what I did there.

  • I went to a brown bag lunch with the Dalhousie students which I mentioned a few days ago. It was really a good time. It was the first brown bag lunch session of the year and there was a big group of first and second year students there, as well as a few faculty members. People had done their homework and had really interesting questions to ask me from many different facets of what I do. We had a nice talk.
  • I helped Ryan Deschamps kick off the Learning 2.0 program he is doing at Halifax Public Libraries. I gave a talk on Learning 2.0 called Smart Tiny Tech and hung around for some of the other activities. The Learning 2.0 program is such a fun and non-threatening way to get people really digging under the hood learning some technology topics, I love seeing it being rolled out.
  • I gave a talk at NSLA about Library 2.0 topics, a little more “big picture” and a little less specific. I like doing this talk because I can always take the general outline and add local 2.0 examples so it doesn’t look like all 2.0 development is at Ann Arbor District Library and a few other techie-seeming places. My favorite new find was the Natural Resources Library of Canada (Ottowa) and their del.icio.us links.
  • Sunday I came home to the states, but not quite back to Vermont. Today I went to the NHLA Everything You Always Wanted to Know About 2.0 workshop where I presented with Andrea and Lichen. I gave a talk about Flickr and del.icio.us and one about Open Source Software which was a modification of Eric Goldhagen’s open source talk that I linked to here (direct link to his ppt). Then we stuck around for the gadget session and the geek session where we actually got a significant amount of hands-on time with the things we had been talking about. This was a really great and often-overlooked thing to be able to do.

Now I’m home and I’m uploading pictures and digging through backed up email and getting ready to start my work week tomorrow after some serious time off. Thanks to everyone who made the trip not just possible but enjoyable. update: Lichen has links to her talks and notes from the day up as well.

“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!

2.0 keeping us connected

Kathryn Greenhill has a great sensible post on why learning emerging techologies is part of every librarian’s job. Kathryn worked with other Australian librarians on Library2.0 on the loose, an unofficial unconference for Western Australian library folks (and a few from other places). Kathryn is one of the many international librarians that I feel comfortable calling a colleague because even though we’ve only met in person once, I see her “around” many of the online places that I frequent and keep up with her via blog, twitter, flickr etc. I know this is sort of old news online, but I found it again via Manage This which is quickly becoming one of my favorite library blogs.

NH – 2.0 talk in September

I was trying to figure out a fix for my sidebar calendar and was testing it out with one of my upcoming events which, thanks to my general cluelessness wound up posted to the front page, not queued for later. So I’ve fixed some of the erroneous info and am reposting it official-like. If you are interested in this at all, contact Andrea Thorpe at the Richards Free Library and check out their nifty blog while you are stopping by.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lib 2.0
in Hookset, New Hampshire

9:00 – 9:30 Registration & Coffee
9:30 What is WEB 2.0 and why it’s important/appropriate in libraries – Lichen Rancourt
10:00 Flickr & del.icio.us – Jessamyn West
10:30
11:00 Library 2.0 catalog solutions – Lichen Rancourt
11:30 Open source replacements for stuff you already use – Jessamyn West
12:00 Box Lunch
1:00 Technology planning. How to choose and implement what you have seen today within the limits of staff time, library budgets and patron needs – Andrea Mercado
2:00- 3:00 GEEK Sessions – Our three presenters (joined by Bobbi
Slossar) will break into small groups to answer your specific questions
about social software issues.
3:00 – 3:30 GEEK Session discoveries and wrap up – Mary Ann List

do library users care about our new initiatives?

Rochelle links to a survey done by the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (pdf) which looks at how library users and non-users look at library services across the state of Wisconsin. It also compares results this year with results from the same survey four years ago, so looking at the trends is also revealing. The report is about twenty pages long and worth a pretty good scan. I have a few comments on the survey and the results.

First off, I am the typical “most likely to use the library” user according to this survey. Late 30s, female, comfy with computers and a regular internet user. And, guess what, I use the library all the time! Secondly, the survey puts people into user and non-user groups based on how they answer the question “Which of the following terms best describes how regularly you personally use your public library?” If you answer rarely or never, you’re a non-user. If you answer very or somewhat regularly, you’re a user. I assume there is a decent reason to do this, but I’d think even if you went to a library a few times a year, I’d consider that a rare user but also not a non-user.

One of the most interesting parts of the survey results is on page 16 entitled “New Initiatives” where they ask about how interested patrons are about using some new technology initiatives. To me they are asking all the wrong questions (mostly about content, less about context). They ask a lot of questions about downloadable content, which makes sense since the library probably has to shell out money for these things and wants to figure out if they’re worth it. However, they also ask about 24/7 librarian access and IMing a librarian and also find that people tend towards the “slightly disinterested” side. In fact the only new technology initiative that got anything that fell towards the positive side was wireless internet access. I wish they’d asked more questions about computers generally. Do people want more classes? Do they want more Macs? Do they want more public access PCs?

The next fascinating page follows: what would make you use the library more. The two runaway favorite answers are “If it were open more hours” and “If it had more CDs/DVDs/videos that I wanted” This will definitely be helpful for libraries who are facing funding drives since they can direct appeals appropriately, but I’m curious how the hours question breaks down. Do people want late night hours (as I do), or morning hours, or consistent hours, or weekend hours, what? Similarly, the difference between people wanting more classical music CDs (or any music CDs if your library doesn’t have a music collection) is worlds away from wanting popular movie DVDs.

Lastly, I’d like to point to the Internet question which was sort of glossed over. Of all the people surveyed 26% had no Internet at home and 23% only had dial-up. That’s nearly half the respondents having a level of connectivity at home where a downloadable audiobook is worth basically nothing to them, and likely a group that doesn’t spend a lot of time online. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t still stress technology initiatives, but that’s a pretty sobering takeaway when you’re trying to provide more and more services online.

The summary from the group that did the survey has an odd, to me, conclusion.

So, this information presents a juncture: On one hand, if you interpret the results literally you could make a decision to reject technology and focus on building a collection around personal enjoyment for Wisconsin residents. On the other hand, these same results may suggest that initiatives and library services need to be marketed in such a way that resonates with current conceptions of a public library. To this end, I would suggest an exploration of branding Wisconsin library services to more effectively market services. But, regardless of the direction taken from the juncture, a heightened focus on Wisconsin public library customers and customer service is essential in order to expand and maintain your current brand loyalty.

Do they realy think that the solution to getting more people to perceive value from the libraries technology initiatives is to just find a more effective way to market them? Aren’t there questions they could have asked about the services that would have helped nail this down more effectively such as “Are you aare that the library offers downloadable audio books?” “Do you use this service, why or why not?”

As I’ve said before, I think that before we can fully immerse ourselves in a 2.0 initiative as librarians, we have to make sure we’re counting the right things. If you only collect internal statistics on reference interactions that happen in-person or on the phone, it’s no wonder that IM reference seems like a “flavor of the month” thing for the library to do. And, after the fact, if you can’t show that people are really using the new techie things that you do provide it’s harder to stress that those things that should be part of what your library is and does. Many of these things are countable — website stats, flickr photostream views, IM interactions — the question is: are we counting them?