Monday, December 18, 2006


The windstorm that came through Washington did little damage to downtown where I live. Sunday afternoon people were still without power. Hearing their stories about how they fought the cold that followed the storm was when I really started to understand what a major event this was.

One of the topics on the street was the woman who drowned in her basement in Seattle. As sad as this is, it answers the question "Why did she go into the basement?"

Audiobook reader who drowned in basement was trying to save equipment

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I had a vague idea that I wanted to write about the importance of using controlled vocabulary in cataloging and the benefits over folksonomies, and today's article in the New York Times on "Open Source Spying" contained a great paragraph on the importance of standardization (amist all the benefits of 2.0 tech talk):

"Worse, data errors that allow information to leak can often go undetected. Five years ago, Zalmai Azmi — currently the chief information officer of the F.B.I. — was working at the Department of Justice on a data-sharing project with an intelligence agency. He requested data that the agency was supposed to have scrubbed clean of all classified info. Yet when it arrived, it contained secret information. What had gone wrong? The agency had passed it through filters that removed any document marked “secret” — but many documents were stamped “SECRET,” in uppercase, and the filter didn’t catch the difference. The next time Azmi requested documents, he found yet more secret documents inadvertently leaked. This time it was because the documents had “S E C R E T” typed with a space between each letter, and the filter wasn’t programmed to catch that either."

Cataloging essay, you will behave and you will be published!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Play at Any Speed

So I started working, really working, on my final project for the database class I'm in. Grrrr stupid creative indie rockers! For instance, I thought the playing speed would be a nice field with only two values to choose from. Then I remembered there is a 7" that is meant to be played at either speed, and I thought I'd come up with something creative to note that. Well, then I finally came to a frickin 7" where the A side is 45 and the B side is 33 (and 1/3, I know) some of this info is going in a "notes" field which will serve its purpose, but still, I'm not sure how I feel about creating my own cataloging problems instead of solving someone elses.

NULL values bad. Bad. Bad. Destroy all art with NULL values!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Consumer Database Specialist 1993-1996

Working on my Database Administration homework has me reminiscing of my high school database clean-up job. I'd go to the car dealership where my dad worked and sit at a computer visually scanning the database for duplicate entries. Whenever I saw a customer with more than one entry, I'd examine the records to determine where the mistake was (ie misspelled names, forgetting to add suffixes etc.) and eventually merge the records. The database was frickin slow, if other people at the dealership were using it the records might take ten minutes to merge, so I'd have lots of time to make phone calls to my friends in Princeton or work on my zine.

I'm a bit confused in this class since it is all reading and no required assignments; I'm doing a bit of catchup now switching from Access to Oracle. Access requires using the computers at work and I'm not feeling up to it, plus it requires having long conversations about library school to everyone who asks what I'm doing. With Oracle, I feel like I'm doing something I should have taught myself long ago. Plus cute geeks offer to help me along. I like the text based interface and hope I can make my final project as kick ass as I plan even if I do some reverse engineering of the final product. Despite having earned an A in Systems Analysis and learning all about the importance of planning everything, hey, what can I say, I believe in XP.

Lost Girls

FYI there are currently
11 holds on Lost Girls Vol.1
3 holds on Lost Girls Vol.2
3 holds on Lost Girls Vol.3

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Teen Excitement

Today I worked at two different libraries and saw some of the best and worst of teen library behavior.
Good: trusting us to help find information for dealing with real life issues

Bad: Pulling all the lightbulbs out of the elevator

Funny: Telling the first teenager that asked "We've had a lot of problems in there tonight and we're going to fingerprint the lightbulbs that were removed".

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Use of Virtual Reference Services in Academic Libraries

This paper summarizes the major research regarding users and use of virtual reference services at academic libraries. While the most recent research focuses on live synchronistic reference services, older papers analyzing online reference via e-mail and web forms are included. Issues surrounding the technology, users and question types are compared to give the reader a basic understanding of what has been studied and where the research may be going. The author argues that demographic and technological influences must be included in future research if the data is to be applicable to user studies.


Academic libraries, virtual reference, electronic mail, online computing, chat reference, digital reference services

Scope Note

This paper summarizes the major research done at academic libraries regarding use of their virtual reference services. While the most recent research focuses on live synchronistic virtual reference services (popularly known as chat reference), it is necessary to include articles that discuss asynchronistic online reference via e-mail and web forms as well. General studies on the usage of virtual reference services are summarized first, followed by several examples of more specific questions being tackled by recent research. This review is limited to articles published in English.


While use of correspondence through the postal service and conversations on the telephone are two traditional ways patrons have used library resources from a distance, the adaptation of computer technology to meet similar inquiries has been adopted by librarians much faster than by the populations they serve. However,while the amount of practical literature on virtual reference services in public and academic libraries is vast, research articles make up a much smaller portion of the literature and are characterized by researchers, staff, and patrons who are just beginning to understand the appeal, and challenges, of offering such a service (Lankes 2004 p. 2-3).

Some questions are repeated throughout the research: Is the number of virtual reference questions asked less than anticipated because students unaware of the services offered by virtual reference or convinced that if the information is available (especially online) they should find it without assistance? Is the service offered appropriate for user systems or do technological barriers to access exist? What types of limits are placed on questions, what questions are asked, and what questions cannot be answered in a virtual environment? Who uses virtual reference and what trends will librarians encounter in the future of this service?

While the earliest studies of virtual reference services raised and addressed these questions with various successes, the overall tone of the literature is of a general nature where both practitioners and users are exploring the area for the first time. Only more recent research has been able to take on more specific questions such as how the placement of links to the virtual reference service affects usage (Broughton 2003, Dee and Allen 2006).

However all of these questions may never have adequate answers as technology, and access to it continues to change the information landscape. Lankes (2004) proposed the “central research question indigital referencee” might be “How can human expertise be effectively aefficiently incorporatedted into information systems to answer user questions?” (p. 2), In this vast uncharted territory, focusingthe humanuman element in formal librarian mediated information exchange onlmay somedayeday provide answers for not only patrons, but researchers as well.

Research influences

Much of the available literature on virtual reference services is skewed in favor of the practical rather than the analytical, but practitioner experiences in the adoptation of virtual reference services have had a strong impact on the reasearch literature that is available. Some influential sources include Sara RyanÂ’s 1996 article Reference Service forInternet Communityunity that traces the developmentof remote reference services in libraries along with some of the challenges that were witnessed in the start up days of the Internet Public Library, Bernie SloanÂ’s online list of Digital Reference Resources(last updated in 2004), and Stephen FrancoeurÂ’s An Analytical Survey of Online Chat Reference Services (2001).

Sensing the lack of direction in virtual reference research published through the beginning of the twenty-first century, a symposium was held at Harvard University in 2002 in an attempt to define digital reference and to propose a central research question “to outline a research agenda centered on how the exploration of digital reference relates to other fields of inquiry” (Lankes 2004). Lankes identifies seven areas of “what is currently known and searched for in digital reference research” (p. 32): policy, instruction, systems,assumptions, question components, behavior, and evaluation. Yet the gap betweenthe symposium and the results being published two years later shows one of themany challenges traditional information paths in academia are confronting inthe digital environment. However, his framework may be looked to in identifying patterns in the literature when technology and users of academic virtual reference services have changed drastically in the past decade.

Early Virtual Reference Research

One of the earliest studies on virtual reference was an examination of electronic mail reference in three college libraries by Bushallow-Wilber, DeVinney, and Whitcombin 1996. Using questions submitted between January 1993 and June 1994, Bushallow-Wilber etal. sought to answer who used the system, what questions were asked, whenthe questions were transmitted, from where, and whether the users preferred e-mail over inquiries in person, telephone, or mail. While the authors were surprised to discover how many e-mail reference questions were transmitted when reference desks were open for both in-person question and telephone questions”,technological limitations of the early 90s such as not having e-mail access from home may have contributed to these results (1996).The authors attributed this phenomenon not to problems of technology ownership on college campuses, but poor marketing by relying on word of mouth to bring users to the service (Bushallow-Wilbur et al. 1996).
The incidental demographic data on the academic populations surveyed during theseearly days of virtual reference may be of greater interest to current and future research than the results of produced during the rapid changes in personal computing in the 1990s. For instance, Vander Meer,Fravel, Poole, and Van Valey (1997) estimated that in 1994 less than two-thirds of the faculty at Western Michigan University had access to electronic library resources from their departments and “were frustrated thatthey could not use wordprocessing [sic] in the library nor connect to databasesusing personal laptop computers while conducting research.” Instantaneous communication with a librarian via a personal computer must have been a far off idea to some faculty in 1994 when not using computer technology was even anoption to researchers. Furthermore, nearly ten years ago the authors predictedelectronic publishing would some day be necessary to further one’s career, a point that is still being debated rather than integrated into academia today. The impact computing would have on communication across all populations, not just in academia, was just starting to emerge as a scientific question, although researchers had little idea of just what to look for in drawing conclusions regarding computer users.

In 1999 Joseph Janes, David Carter, and Patricia Memmottsurveyed a random sample of 150 academic libraries and found that although half offered digital reference services by e-mail or web forms, none offered further services despite the availability of chat and video technologies (p. 148). The survey was carried out by librarians and advanced students at the University of Michigan, and each person had a limit of five minutes to locate a digital reference“digitalreference service” from the libraryÂ’s homepage (p. 146). One might assume that the subjects seeking the information for the survey were a bit more advanced than the general student and faculty who would use such services if offered (p. 146). Yet,whether by chance of their sample or the timing of the study, the tide wasabout to change in academic libraries in offering real time reference services;just two years later, Stephen Francoeur was able toidentify over one hundred academic libraries offering chat reference to their users in his Analytical Survey ofChat Reference Services (2001).
As technology improved, library researchers were beginning to see the limits of current services in what question types were being asked; yet they were not always visionaries in imagining what might improve their services. To try to better understand what kinds of questions virtual reference librarians were being asked, Diamond and Pease (2001) categorized questions received at California State University’s e-mail reference service over a twoyear period from August 1997 to May 1999. They noted, “there is no current consensus among libraries regarding the kinds of questions that are acceptable”(p. 212). Particularly difficult were the tech support questions the librarians answered which “can become unwieldy to [answer] using solely e-mail technology”but they did not elaborate on whether real-time virtual assistance might makeup for this instruction that “is fairly easy to provide…in person” (p. 213).
Yet even when services were limited to e-mail exchange, changes in both computer technology and patron’s comfort level were eventually noted. When Powell andBradigan (2001) reviewed five years worth of data from the e-mail referenceservices at the Ohio State University John. A. Prior Health Science Libraryfrom 1995 to 2000 they observed, “In recent years, some correspondence patronshave noted their e-mail addresses in letters, and many phone patrons have beenable to supply email addresses when asked.” The innovations in online reference including faster computer searching and easier dissemination of results also influenced librarypolicy: “As the technology available at the reference desk became moresophisticated and the electronic resources more comprehensive, librarians foundit easier and quicker to provide more extensive services to e-mail patrons thanthe official policy stated to be appropriate. (Powell &Bradigan 2001)” Because of the reduced cost of providing electronic searching, the library almost completely eliminated fee-based mediated searching for members of the campus community (Powell &Bradigan 2001).
Chat Services
Just as Francoeur (2001) published a record of the explosion of chat reference into virtual reference services in both public andacademic libraries, researchers began incorporating chat reference into their studies of virtual reference services. One difficulty in analyzing these studies however, lies in the fact that many libraries continue to offer e-mail service 24/7 while chat reference is often available for only a small portionof these hours.
A comparison of e-mail and chat reference usage wascreated by Marsteller and Neuhaus (2001) using datafrom seven months of a real-time virtual reference start up at Carnegie Mellon University in late 2000. Usability begins to come into play as the chat service saw an increase in e-mail questions when link to service was placed on front page (Marsteller& Neuhaus 2001). Here thelibrarians start to lament lack of visual or auditory clues and the time spenttyping as challenges to their comfort in providing virtual reference services,although they begin to explore the idea that the anonymity of online communication is seen as a benefit by some users (Marsteller& Neuhaus 2001).
BernieSloan (2001) had the opportunity to study a service thatwas available 24/7. The Ready For Reference pilot project was “a collaborative24x7 live reference service being piloted by eight academic libraries in the Alliance Library System in Illinois” (Sloan 2001). With nolimits on when questions could be asked toof theve librarian, less than half oft he questions were received during regular business hours and “more than twothirds of the users came form non-campus providers” (Sloan2001) The number of off campus users presents a new problem for satisfaction and usefulness of academic virtual reference services,authentication to ensure access to the reference service and proprietary databases the library subscribes to (Sloan 2001).
Inthe rush to provide real-time chat reference services, some libraries have implemented using popular chat software (such as AOL’s Instant Messenger orMicrosoft Network’s Messenger) although features are sacrificed in exchange forfamiliarity to patrons (Foley 2002). In Foley’s 2002 studyof General Libraries of the University at Buffalo began to observe what may be a trend towards the popularity of chat reference with younger users; she found that 70% of the users of chat reference were students between the ages of 18-25 (Foley 2002). While previous studies on virtual reference assumed the service would be most popular to people who could not make it to the actual library for service, Foley was surprised to note that a large number of userswere on campus (2002). Here a particular difficulty of documenting and researching this new field emerges, the lack of a cohesive vocabulary for describing services, as the study notes 69% of the on campus users were using computers inthe undefined “cybrary” (Foley 2002). Was this a computerin the library or a different type of library-like information center? Again,librarians expressed anxiety over lack of verbal and facial cues (p. 43), seemed more concern with delays than patrons (p. 43) and received negative feedback mostly from patrons who tried to access the service when it was closed (Foley 2002).
Kibbee, Ward and Ma (2002) studied a start up of auniversity virtual reference service that used more sophisticated software thatallowed for librarians to “push” pages to users, a service they found madeproviding such services much easier than reading off urls over the phone or assistingpatrons investigations via e-mail. Although instruction in using onlineservices was easier in this forum, the authors stated, “use of the service forinstruction rather than information requires a paradigm shift in the primaryintent of the service” (2002). Like Marstellerand Neuhaus (2001), Kibbee et al. found that thelocation of the link to the service made a big difference in promoting use, andthat multiple links showed that patrons used the service direction from thelibrary homepage and “relatively high use of the service form the onlinecatalog.” (2002). Kibbee et al.predicted that better software with co-browsing capabilities would alleviatethe challenge of providing bibliographic instruction online instead ofencouraging patrons to come into the library for help (2002).
Co-browsingwas available in software used by Ware, Fennewald, Moyo, andProbst (2003). Ware et al. again found that the virtualreference service saw most of its use from younger users, where 82% of theusers were undergraduates and 90% found the service easy to use and would useit again (p. 287). Issues surrounding providing onlineinstruction using the databases was frequent, as 24% of the questions wereregarding technical support to access online resources (p. 289). Librarians said they wereoffering instruction as often in virtual reference as face to face, feltpressure to speed up transactions in the virtual environment, and “keyboard skills were also noted as asignificant factor in achieving a level of comfort with chat communication (p. 292). Here thecombination of librarian and patron comfort with virtual reference servicesbegins to emerge, as the librarians concluded they could recruit more librariansto help with the service in the future by emphasizing “how much fun it is (whenit works)” (p. 293).
Tenyears of computer services becoming integrated into academic life are evidentwhen Broughton (2003) writes the students she studiedare” very much your stereotypical mid-western college student. Many of themhave high-speed access to the Internet on their own computers or computers verynearby” (p.185). As with other studies conducted inthe past four years, a large number of users were undergraduates (74%)(p.189). A particular weakness of this study is that 49%questions were categorized as “other”, where the researchers were “unable to construct any othermeaningful breakdown of this large set of extremely diverse questions” but didnot elaborate further despite discussing other studies breakdown of the othercategory (Sloan 2001, Marsteller andNeuhaus 2001, Kibbee et al. 2002). Also noted “students do access theservice at their point of need, and links embedded through a library’s website,OPAC, and proprietary databases will increase use. (p. 194).Unlike other studies that assumed their users were remote, Broughton found that32% of users were off campus, 40% on campus, and 28% in library (p. 195). Again, the users are very satisfied with theservice, which left the researcher wondering “Why does it seem that users areso satisfied with this service compared to what we know from prior researchabout their satisfaction with service at the reference desk?” (p. 199).
Specific and Live: New Research and ServiceTrends
Asvirtual reference services and the research supporting them matures, morespecific studies may begin to emerge from the stabilization of software,services, user and librarian skills. Mining older data for trends may be oneway studies may be useful even as the services age. Marstellerand Mizzy (2003) examined Carnegie Mellon’s chat service transcripts fromOctober 2000 to September 2001 to “examine the perception in the library communitythat the synchronous digital reference environment is not suitable forconducting a reference interview.” (p. 159). They found evidence thatreference interviews were occurring 64% of the time and that most patrons foundthe interactions favorable (p. 157). Whether ornot this is due in part to librarians and patrons, and people in general,becoming more comfortable communicating online is not elaborated on. Theresearchers do suggest a common categorization for question types would behelpful in standardizing the research, and that it would be helpful to know howthe patron feels about the interaction, such as if they are satisfied with the“pace of the dialog” and “Is the patron impatiently waiting for a response orare they multitasking? (p. 160).”Acknowledgement of such modern online behavior patterns is one area where manyresearchers seem to have missed out on answering questions that would trulyhelp librarians understand their virtual patrons.
Furtherstudies focusing on question types again show fractured categorization schemes
Suchas an Australian study by Lee (2004) that shows concernsdown under are not very different from American counterparts, but containedmarked differences in both marketing toward postgraduate and off campusstudents (p. 97), populations that were not heavy users inrecent American studies, and comparing chat and e-mail services as a continuumin virtual reference offerings. Analyzing the question types he found e-mail users asked a “higherproportion of administrative questions” and chat inquires had a “highproportion of reference and research questions” (p. 104)Assuming the marketing efforts reached their target demographic,Lee referred to “students” throughout the paper although service open toall and offered no breakdown of preferences by age or other demographicinformation. Although he sees a potential of services continuing to offer helpas technology becomes more advanced, perhaps offering voice operated technologyto better assist patrons and librarians, “academic libraries may we be victims of their own success, having beensuccessful in teaching end user searching to an increasingly informationliterate generation who have grown up with Goggle” (p. 109).
Another recent study focusing on question types is2005 De Groote, Dorsch, Collard, and Sherrer (2005). De Groote et al.analyzed what questions were asked in their university’s virtual referenceservice to see if one virtual reference desk could serve as a contact point forvarious libraries on campus. The authors included a review of what types ofquestions were asked at other universities who had conducted studies of virtualreference questions going back to Bushwallow-Wilbur in1996. While they noted the length of each study, they did not attempt toincorporate technology trends that may have effected the results, such as whattype of internet access users had, what users (or questions) were welcomed byeach service, or what features the chat services offered to both librarians andusers. Furthermore, there was no standard set of categories for questions withlibraries choosing between four to eleven categories of question types rangingfrom subject area to tech support. Interestingly enough, DeGrooteet al. noticed the high percentages of non-subject area specific questionsas evidence that one virtual reference desk should be sufficient to answer themajority of the questions, with subject experts answering only questions thatrequire their expertise (p. 440). This study also noticed that undergraduatestudents “showed a clear preference for chat” and this “might be attributed toa generational culture attuned to mobile communication and instant messaging. (p. 449)” Thismight be interpreted as a significant change from Bushallow-Wilbur’sstudy more than ten years earlier when undergraduates accounted for less than7% of users of the virtual reference service via e-mail (1996).Acknowledging the influence of the next generation of library shows just howtechnology and users changed since the practice of virtual reference hasentered the academic library.
Asidefrom analyzing specific question types, research in the usability of siof theayprovide data worthy of research. As several researchers noticed placement ofthe link to the virtual reference service made a difference in the number ofquestions received, Dee and Allen (2006) published “A Survey of the Usability of DigitalReference Services on Academic Health Science Library Web Sites” where acontrol group of information science students explored the web sites ofselected university libraries to rate how easily links to online help werefound. Using a combination of an online worksheet, a print copy of atwenty-question survey, an online response sheet survey, and data generated bya proxy server recording the student’s navigational path. Studies such as thiscombining computer generated data as well as users rating their search success,with or without the mediation of a librarian, may be necessary to fullyunderstand why students and faculty choose to use (or not use) the assistanceof a virtual reference librarian in an academic setting.

Future Research
Questions of access and technologytrends must be incorporated into the research to fully understand who usesvirtual reference services and why. As virtual reference continues to gainground, information on technology ownership and access may be incorporated intothe research. Not only are librarians no longer bound to their desks and bookcollections, but also information seekers are no longer tethered to phone linesfor Internet access or landlines for telephone access. Virtual reference research may need topay more attention to the adoptation of technology in the population at largeas well as the specific populations sought for study. Also, as users becomemore aware of privacy and security issues on the internet, researchers must balancethese concerns with data mining techniques that may undermine users faith inthe privacy and anonymity offered by accessing virtual reference help. Also given the high number ofcirculation and technical questions, incorporation of the expertise of circulationstaff, computer services, and database vendors; after all, who better to giveinstructional assistance than the people who convinced the library the studentswould use their product?

Broughton, K. M. (2002/2003). Usage and user analysis of a real-time digital reference service. The Reference Librarian, 38, 183-200. Bushallow-Wilbur, L., DeVinney, G.S., Whitcomb, F. (1996). Electronic mail reference service: A study at the State University of New York Buffalo. RQ, 35, 359-363. Dee, C., & Allen, M. (2006). A survey of the usability of digital reference services on academic health science library web sites. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32, 69-78. DeGroote, S. L. , Dorsch, J. L., & Collard, S.(2005). Quantifying cooperation: Collaborative digital reference service in the large academic library. College & Research Libraries. 66, 436-454. Diamond, W. and Pease, B. (2001). Digital reference; A case study of question types in an academic library. Reference Services Review, 29(3), 210-218. Foley, M. (2002). Instant messaging reference in an academic library: A case study of the University of Buffalo. College & Research Libraries, 63, 36-45. Retrieved May 30, 2006 from HW Wilson Database.
Francoeur, S. (2000).An analytical survey ofchat reference services. Reference Services Review, 29(3), 189-203.

Janes, J., Carter,D., & Memmott, P. (1999). Digital reference services in academic libraries. Referenceand User Services Quarterly 39,145-150. Retrieved May 18, 2006, from Thompson Gale Expanded AcademicASAP.

Kibbee, J, Ward, D.,Ma, W.(2002). Virtual service,real data: Results of a pilot study. Reference Services Review, 30(1), Retrieved July 24, 2006, from ProQuest.

Lankes, R.D. (2004). The digital reference research agenda.Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 5digital reference"lee">Lee, I.J. (2004) Do virtual reference librarians dream ochat referencerence questions?: A qualitative and quantitative analysis of email and chatreference. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 35, 95-110. Retrieved May30, 2006 from Thomson Gale Expanded Academic ASAP.

Marsteller,M. & Mizzy, D. (2003). Exploring the synchronous digital reference interactionfor query types, question negotiation, and patron response. InternetReference Services Quarterly, 8(1/2), 149-165.

Marsteller,M. & Neuhaus P. (2001) The chat reference service at Carnegie MellonUniversity. Retrieved August 10, 2006 from

Powell, C. A.& Bradigan, P. S. (2001) E-mail reference services: Characteristicsand effects on overall reference services at an academic health sciencelibrary. Reference & User Services Quarterly 41(2), 170-179. Retrieved August16, 2006 from Thomson Gale Expanded Academic ASAP.

Ryan, S. (1996) Reference service for the internet community:A case study of the internet public library reference division, Library& Information Science Research, Volume 18(3), 241-259.
Sloan, B. (2001) Ready for reference: Academic librariesoffer live web-based reference. Evaluating system use. Final report. Retrieved May29, 2006 from
Sloan, B. (2004)Digital Reference Resources. Retrieved August 8, 2006 from
VanderMeer, P., Poole, H., &VanValey, T. (1997). Are libraryusers also computer users? A survey of faculty and implications for services. PublicAccess Computer Systems Review, 8(1),6-31. Retrieved May 25, 2006 from Ware, S. A., Fennewald, J., & Moyo, L.M. (2002/2003). Ask a Penn State librarian, live: Virtual reference service at Penn State. The Reference Librarian. 79/80, 281-95.

Friday, September 22, 2006

What Library Students Dream of

I was making tea this morning and saw an old job posting I'd printed out and stuck on a shelf in my kitchen to remind myself of the fabulous opportunities that await me when I recieve my MSIS.

Then I remembered reading an awesome article about a library system where the director had earmarked $100,000 to provide part time staff with health insurance and other benefits and how awesome she was. I was trying to remember what library system that was, because it was in Washington and I would be willing to relocate for that, when I realized it was just in a dream I had last night.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hi! I'm still here. I had an awesome summer going to the East Coast for the Athens Popfest and meeting lots of people who work for the libraries out there, including the University of Georgia Library where I worked for a month in serials once upon a time.

I start school full time in a week and accepted a temporary cataloging job organizing thousands of cds for a friend to sell. I'm using the delicious library program and it's pretty nifty when the cds are found in Amazon. I had a lot of trouble getting my iSight camera to work as a scanner, but I found if I moved the screen back and forth it worked better than trying to move the barcode around.

Also, I've been teaching one-on-one computer classes on Saturday mornings before the library opens. It is super nice to have uninterrupted time to spend with a patron on the computer and they've written really nice things on my evaulation sheets, so I hope my manager lets me continue. I do have to be explicit about what we can cover, someone wanted to learn an interior design program she saw in a home improvement DVD at the library. So I tell people things like "this is for beginners" and "we can go over the software on the library computers (Microsoft Office)" or "we can use the internet together". I really wish I had cobrowsing capabilities since I read so much about it while doing my review of the literature on virtual reference services (and I will post that paper to this blog, eventually). I tried our library's virtual reference service and had some pages "pushed" to me which was kinda neat, but I didn't get the best help from the librarian on the other end in terms of finding something I wouldn't have found on my own.

So I leave you dear readers with my latest search strategy, which is how I found authorative information that neither I nor the virtual librarain found the first time around: go to wikipedia and look at the links at the bottom of the article. In this case I was looking for haiku, and the haiku article had several good sources to find haiku linked at the bottom. Of course I'm afraid to get patrons started on wikipedia because they're not always evaluating the information they read online, but I'm sad neither me nor the professional thought of that strategy during our 25 minute chat.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Avatars in the Stacks

I have blogged elsewhere about my anger that the online avatar programs I've tried don't give you the option of being less than a big headed anorexic stick figure, but I appreciate the fact I can picture myself in the library stacks. When I have more time I have to figure out where my shoes and uncovered mug of coffee went.

Monday, July 10, 2006

eBook Jubilee!

In addition to my comments yesterday regarding eBooks and libraries, until August 8th Project Gutenberg is offering 1/3 million eBooks for free download, including copyrighted titles. I guess I have something to read after work!
World eBook Fair

eBooks and eReference

Yay! I have a reader, so I will celebrate with a response. Although I do this with the disclaimer that the situation here is asking a fast typing librarian to be about the eBook format (of which you just happened to write a novel in that form) is probably a great guerilla marketing tactic. Smartie pants, here is your cookie.

As a librarian, could you tell me what you think the future is for eBooks?

In the library, I love eBooks because they often provide an emergency backup for students who need classic literature and we don't have enough copies to go around. The electronic access to the works of Shakespeare for instance, could save many students who come in needing to have Romeo and Juliet read in 15 hours. I don't think the library promotes these resources enough and when I make library cards (I'm currently a library assistant, not a librarian yet) I tell patrons "you can also access our reference databases from home with your library card. We have encyclopedias and car repair manuals and classic literature online, as well as other databases the library pays for you to access from home."

Now, I poked around this reader's profile until I came to suspect his real question (ah, just like the reference desk, figuring out what a patron REALLY wants to know). I'm making assumptions here, but maybe his actual question is more about selling eBooks online.

As for libraries, there is a limit to the amount of money that can be spent on self published fiction. Unless fiction is reviewed or requested, libraries don't have money to buy every book that is published. It breaks my heart to explain to local authors that even if they donate their published books, there is no guarantee the selector will add their book to the collection.

So independently published eBooks are even more of a problem. With no authentification process for access to the material via the catalog, or interest in hosting eBooks (with authentification for access) on our own server, the idea of purchasing a self published eBook seems like a problem for the public library as I know it. Perhaps if you could sell your book to an established eContent provider.

So the future of eBooks? In libraries, for reference material (especially students) eBooks are wonderful and becoming necessary, especially when the print books are in high demand. For popular fiction, slightly problematic, but would probably satisfy some readers who currently wait on outrageously long hold lists (I think the last Harry Potter book topped 1000 people waiting for the almost 200 copies the library purchased). But for new authors that want to be added to a library collection? Someone has to develop and market the a feasible and sustainable service before any library will buy into access, and it won't be libraries writing the program for you (did you know you were asking someone who wants to specialize in Digital Information Management?)

But let me slip away from the library mode into my aspirations of writing fiction and some thoughts I have from years of reading Writers Digest and the like...if you have the discipline to finish your novel, at what point did you decide not to take it to agents and publishers? Is it the anonymity of online publishing (a whole nether interesting story)? Is it because it is so poorly written that no one would buy it if they could browse it? Are you hoping to be a cult figure with this innovative format? Or do you leave comments like spam on any bloc interested in books? I'm not offended, heck, I'm going to stop asking YOU questions and move onto my original rant...

originally I was going to write about the American Libraries article "The Great Reference Debate". I would love to work as a "virtual reference librarian" even as every article I read about the service mentions disappointing returns on the investment in the practice. Yet, at least where I work, the library has not greatly promoted the service. For instance, there is a link that says "Have a question? Ask a Librarian by Telephone, Email or Online Chat" that blends into the design of the homepage so much I have overlooked the text until I was set to complain about it here. The handout the library gives as a basic overview for accessing the catalog and reference databases from home does not highlight or promote this service at all even though it is right there on the screenshot. And the staff, while promoting off site access to the catalog and databases, has received no instruction on promoting the live chat to patrons.

Okay, to quit my whining here this is a new resolution- whenever a patron expresses distress of difficulty about using the catalog from home, I am going to remind them of the chat reference service in addition to suggesting they can call the library. Unfortunately, I predict this will increase the number of circulation related questions the librarians receive, but the knowledge gap between circulation procedures and reference questions needs to be filled.

That always gets me...when reference librarians ask circulation's on the intranet folks, and computer services added a search function in addition to the index. I think I will make an excellent library manager someday as long as I can adhere to this principle that reference librarians SHOULD spend time paging (shelving), in circulation, and in processing to gain current hands on experience in the connectedness of library departments.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Printing PDF

Can someone please develop a plug in for Adobe Reader that automactically erases large blobs of solid black nonsense from the edges of poorly scanned PDF files OR will professors please give small amounts of extra credit to students who digitally clean up this gunk so that it doesn't just eat up all the ink in my printer?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Okay, I can't spend all day on here (I can, that's the problem) but I browsing different animated avatar services and thinking about possible applications in virtual library services, and I found a feature I didn't realize existed from Help on Click :

See what the surfer is typing before they send it

I don't know if the library virtual reference uses this feature, and I have to wonder. When I write I have a number of false starts and revisions I make before I post anything. Is it ethical for a librarian to use this kind of data to help deconstruct the patron's thought process? Should this be disclosed as a feature of the software?

Why doesn't the library have a more explicit explanation of the features and limits of the virtual reference services such as assurances or explanations about record keeping, anonymity, and the expertise of the staff? Or am I just more sophisticated than the average user (see Yahoo! Answers rant below) and way too interested in these issues?

Virtual Reference Fairies

So I just encountered the first pop-up ad that ever made me smile. I was trying to read a news story, and suddenly a cute guy in a white shirt with a short website name came up on my screen and briefly pointed out where to click for information on weather, sports, and the product he was selling via his shirt. Then he dissapeared.

I'm calling him the internet fairy.

He was a cute little guy that floated around on my desktop and pointed stuff out, with all respect to people who don't like to be called fairies, and to people who practice fairy worship as their relgion. How egocentric is it that I believed he was real for thirty seconds? This was great marketing, so direct, so friendly, so personal.

I want to be a cute little lady on your desktop that points stuff out. Not like the Microsoft Office Helpers though! Maybe I'd live in a little button on your favorites, or you could collect little fairies and check to see if your favorite one is "home" when you need help.

"Library fairy, how do I change the font size on my computer?"
The library fairy floats to the View link,
"Click here, then here, then there, you got it!"

"Library fairy, what books do you reccomend for an eight year old?"
"What does your eight your old like?"
"If you click here, and here, and here, there is a booklist of bug books for elementary school kids. Does your kid want books on any particular kind of bug?"

Would the user or the librarian design the avatar? Hmmm...then librarians could afford designer clothing, although I'd probably design a librarian that looked an awful lot like the guy in the commercial, a typical indie rock hipster type.

Pathetic, this is reminding me of the Japanese dating sim games. I suppose even I, noble librarian in training, would want to go there. If the librarian avatar was helpful I'd probably be falling in love, not with the person, but with the idea of the person.

Although the virtual girlfriend I found online while trying to find a link to a representatitve dating sim was just scary. Her voice is only slightly better than the Telecirc "robot" that calls patrons with overdue library books.

I've been playing, and I call it playing because it seems like a combination of being on Jeopardy and Loveline, on Yahoo! Answers this afternoon.

The Yahoo disclaimer:
"Yahoo! does not evaluate or guarantee the accuracy of any Yahoo! Answers responses. All questions and responses are provided by Yahoo! Answers community members like you. You agree that any use you make of such responses is at your own risk and that Yahoo! is not responsible for any losses resulting from your reliance on any Answers responses. Yahoo! Answers responses should never be used as a substitute for advice from a qualified professional"

So I asked a trivia question to my local virtual reference librarian and to Yahoo! Answers. The library has a 24/7 virtual reference chat service, "This service provides brief answers to factual questions and gives referrals to online or print resources or other agencies."

She got me an accurate answer from one of the databases the library subscribes to. A good experience, but having read so many papers on Virtual Reference services I felt obligated to participate in saying hello and goodbye, which is something Yahoo Answers doesn't bother with.

I have a whole list of questions about anonymity in using the virtual reference service. On Yahoo I know my Yahoo identity and avatar is visible. I felt apprehensive about the library's virtual reference service because I don't know how anonymous it is. If I don't give my real name they still get my library card number, or do the librarians not see the library card number unless the patron volunteers it? The first time I logged on it didn't even occur to me to give a fake name, I thought it was part of the authentication process to give a name that matches the library card, but I logged back in real quick to see if I could use a pseudonym and it worked. I've never recognized the names of the librarians working, and I thought it was because they might be from other libraries, but I found out they use pseudonyms (is this required? suggested? a good idea?) on the service.

Yahoo, my first correct answer came in 3 minutes, but the first with a citation to an official website came a minute later. Now I have to wait twenty-four hours to pick the best answer and someone gets ten points.

But by serendipity I came across the question from goobermandudeguysaweet "Is it mostly kids/teenagers with a lot of time on their hands who ask and answer questions on here?I know that's true in my case! But are there actually serious adults who ask/answer questions? If so, why? Don't you have anything better to do? Or are you a stay at home mom or something? Or are you a pervert looking for little kids? Or are you simply a person looking for answers? Tell me!! I NEEEEEED TO KNOW!"

Ah yes, librarians. Why be a librarian to the general public? Do public libraies want to really offer this service and all the attitudes that come with it? How do you filter out the babble of fake questions, resolve issues of privacy and anonymity, give accurate answers in the virtual environment?

Maybe Yahoo needs another level of expertise. Type in your zip code for a free connection to a virtual reference librarian who can help you with material from your local public library. It's not so much that Yahoo! Answers will win, but how long will it survive and will it evolve at all? There seem to be hundreds of AskA services on the web, right down to the amazing nature of list-servs and the accurate and fast answers, and opinions, I've gotten for years using them. I'm glad the list-servs still exist, but I fear my appreciation from them will soon be pure nostalgia in the face of wikis.

Most of all, do I believe in the Virtual Reference Fairy enough to become one?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Done and Done

As of this afternoon I have completed my first nine credits of library school. Only thirty-six more to go! I am still in shock that I am finally in grad school. I debated it for so long, and I feel like I carry so many pros and cons into my choosen profession. Yet a bit of truth came taped to the side of the first bookcart I pushed out to shelve as a page when I was nineteen:

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too." W.H. Murray

Blogging Libraries

I'm jealous of blogging libraries. Our library staff didn't do so well with online bulletin boards and is still mastering e-mail lists, and I'm too low on the totem pole to take on the responsibility. Although since I am, maybe tomorrow at my performance appraisal I can mention getting more of our library online. All the liability and the hard work of the communication's department though, I'm not sure who to approach and how because there are so many people and departments that need to "go for" this kind of idea. At least now, it's in my spare time and I do my best to talk about libraries in general and not just about work.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Data Overload

With the difficulty of collecting good user data prevalent in library science research, I wonder about the potential for collecting digital data from library science students' classroom activities. How many times was Wikipedia quoted as an authority without qualifiers? With qualifiers? How many times were messages under three words in length? How many times were beer, British Comedies, cats, or cooking discussed?

Unfortunately, this data mining is occurring at corporations for marketing purposes, but has not been disclosed to the students if Universities are taking advantage of this great pattern seeking opportunity.

I think Google is starting to disprove the theory that the average user cannot access adequately accurate results with some practice. If my skills are better than someone with five years practice, how will I match up against someone with twenty years practice of online searching before they turned thirty?

While users rally against too much personal information being gathered, some of us voluntarily seek more storage space to accumulate our mass amounts of data or sign up for websites to share our data with others. I am even willing to pay for sites now to get rid of advertising or have more room for my files. The opportunity of the average person to make honest money on the web is there too.

I worry for the music industry trying to catch someone's attention when the average teenager just starting to get into rock and roll already has access to 10,000 GB of music in their house from their parents' first decade of online music sharing. At least here I have faith in print: circulation statistics are up, and even teenagers don't seem enthusiastic about reading books online (and we have the classics, available for free 24/7 on your computer, with your library card number)

File under loads of classist assumptions and futuristic thinking. Or at least, I love the library for actually working on this service to the public.

ALA asks library supporters to contact their Representatives immediately and ask them to support libraries by supporting net neutrality.

A Nation Online: Entering the Broadband Age It would have been nice to survey people who use the internet at the public library and not just home/office/school users! Again, public library privacy policies lean away from this kind of data gathering, but now that I saw the Census figures I'm curious about our own internet accessing population.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Refresher in the Wisdom of Mr. Adams

In the midst of the great MySpace panic of 2006, I'd like to direct your attention to Douglas Adam's 1999 essay How To Stop Worrying a Learn to Love the Internet."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cuban Librarian Day and Musings on Virtual Reference

Today is Librarians in Cuba Day. Happy happy. I assume my blog readers are Google proficient enough to do some basic searches on the controversy surrounding Cuban librarians and the ALA's refusal/avoidance to take a stance on the issue.

But what I really came here to talk about are some assumptions IÂ’ve made while reading about virtual reference services:

1. Librarians want users to say "thank you"” and indicate when they are leaving the chat environment

Get used to chatting.. Perhaps find an option for archived chat so librarians and patrons can pick up where they left off if interrupted.

2. Librarians think video chat will improve service because they can read visual cues

I think this sounds too personal and librarians will have to deal with looking at exhibitionists too often.

My main thing is the librarians I've read about in the research studies need to GET OVER their fears of online chatting. Yeah it is imperfect, but millions of people are chatting away, loosing all ability to make eye contact and develop traditional social skills. Honestly, one paper I read made the assumption that a librarian would type about 20 words per minute. Who the hell works with computers and types 20 words per minute? If this is the truth, no wonder they are having problems with patrons leaving in the middle of the chat.

Marketing...I don'’t think many people know librarians are out there willing to help them online, and the research I've read confirms this. can you imagine if instead of cam girl spam you got a message that said "“Hey, this is Lisa the librarian at Your Library, if you need any help finding information, feel free to ask. Until then, add me to your buddy list so you don't forget I'm around, okay?"” However, maybe I am disconnected from the "screenagers" of today, librarians as "psycho killers". I think there is a healthy boundary here that teenagers do not want adults interfering with their online experiences, but something needs to be done to show people chat can be used for help beyond free peer to peer counseling.

Or libraries are still scared of chat rooms and providing a forum for people to meet around a common interest, but how cool would it be if you could log into a library chat room and have a book discussion with a librarian ANYTIME? 24/7 librarian mediated book talks? I love it. It seems like the focus on reference leaves out librarians that might be more comfortable talking about fiction. "Oh, I haven'’t read it, that sounds interesting?"” "“Would you like me to put in a purchase request for you?" "“We have a resource where you can find all the books in that series." A 24/7 book discussion group might get people more comfortable with using the library chat services for reference/information needs beyond entertainment.

My strangest fear when I first used virtual reference was wondering who was in the room. I assumed it was a chat room with other patrons milling about, people talking, the expert doing research but in a public forum. Not so, which certainly has its benefits and goes along with the libraries commitment to privacy, but I imagined it as "“hanging out" with librarians and patrons. In fact, somewhere in my reading librarians complained about patrons that wanted to chit chat online. Chit chat is how trust and relationships are established, and I know it is easy to enforce your boundaries online, but I think patrons WANT to know if you have a garden or a dog or kids if theyÂ’re asking for your help on those subjects. It helps the patron assess what vocabulary to use and what level of information you might be familiar with.

Confession, when I a’m at the reference desk and it is slow, I keep Gmail open and solicit reference questions from my friends via chat. I count that as library statistics too. We do book talks and reference questions, and I put items on hold for them too. I would love to have a Gmail account for library work, be very up front about the tradeoff between privacy and archiving, and use it for both professional networking and patron interactions.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


The homework, posted here with sassnotes:

Use the to find links to specialized search engines. Comment on the directories you found that are of interest to you?

I tried using the hierarchical structure but was not finding it helpful. I ended up using the search statement “search engines” to find 14 categories of search engines. Overall I did not find the Open Directory Project to be very useful. It has a limited number of recommended sites and does not seem to have a very active community contributing to the service, as evidenced by their postings for recruiting volunteers throughout the site.

For instance, I thought search engines might be found hierarchally under “computers”, eventually it was found, but only under computers:internet:searching:search engines (345)

Hiearchical searching is very limiting on the web, it may be useful to find keywords and refine searches, but to find “search engines” on the Open Directory Project was counterintuitive. This could be corrected by more variations in indexing.

also, misleading that some areas cited (0) results but if you click on the topic it provides results but does not explain that they are “near hits” (such as Top:Computers:Directories (0) but if you click on that it brings up other categories under computers.

I felt there was not enough explanation about the organization of the site, stuff was there, but not necessarily authorative based on recommendations from volunteer users. Endorsement by major internet service provider AOL was suspect as well, and I would like to have seen more disclosure on how and why they support the project.

I was pretty unimpressed with the “Awards” they’ve won.

comment: I felt like getting credit and taking a break from all this library related searching and do what I do best, find inconsistencies and inaccuracies in music databases. Oh man if they only paid to be an editor here, delicious and community tagging could save this, no one knows what version is going to take off and the problems of exporting and importing personal bookmarks.

I did find an interesting search engine blog called through an interesting article “When Giant Directories Roamed the Earth” ( that discusses some of the limitations of volunteer indexing selling out to corporations and the challenge to create the most authoritive and useful search engine.

“It will be interesting for me to see if directories last as a useful research tool. Yahoo’s directory, once their crown jewel, now occupies a smidge of real estate towards the bottom of their homepage. There are other players popping up solely for the submission money, though just about all of them are so thin on content that one visit is plenty. Bookmarking services like and Furl are helping us dynamically learn about what people find interesting on the Web, yet there are issues with the free-wheeling and personalized metadata, or folksonomies, that users of these services employ. No one has invented the perfect, omniscient search tool yet. And ya know, I wouldn’t be surprised if the person who creates one gets their idea while in a directory.”

Once upon a time I was known as MDVT79D

Perhaps it is a symptom of spending too much time around trendy people that I am always wondering if ideas are "the next big thing". I can dismiss some of this as trivial, such as debating whether the next pop culture meme is unicorns or ninjas (with the hipster in me knowing that as soon as the crap is on sale at Hot Topic it will reach a saturation point in mainstream culture within a year or two).

What happens when MySpace reaches this saturation point? How long will it take to not put the www before Will anyone use it or will it be a friendster or bebo or come on, I still have a profile up at Makeoutclub!

So now, I wonder even more about the intersections of my personal and professional life. This is the end of privacy folks, and if I want to use to reccomend sites to my library school peers and instructors, I have to think twice about bookmarking the funny perverted furry story for everyone else's amusement. What else have I left laying around the web? If my 1992 posts from Prodigy BBS are ever recovered I've got a lot of embarassing teenage stuff to face up to (thank you mainstream media reports on cybersex for letting me find all those pervs, or letting them find me), but the documentation of my involvement and the evolution of the online NKOTB community would be incredible to examine (the networking, fan fiction, online identity, celebrity gossip, online sales etc.)

But that me has vanished from the internet (except when I invoke her, and maybe when I get around to scanning that fan fiction).
However, I am living here for a while:

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In the beginning...

Because I've been meaning to document my ups and downs in grad school since I enrolled, but only now, as I cry into my coffee (first pot of the day) over procrastinating my final projects, I will reflect on what I have learned this term.

Yet this probably sets the tone for this blog, I do a lot of thinking and research for the classes I'm enrolled in that has no place in the classroom. Or I say things in the classroom that I want to share online as well.

1. If any of my teachers or classmates have found entertaining or incriminating bits about me online, no one has said anything about it.

2. I developed a full on coffee addiction.

3. There is more written on the lack of research in public libraries than there is research. (So maybe as a whiner and a complainer I'm in good company)

4. I thought taking classes online would be the best and brightest of geeks getting credit for discussing issues in an electronic forum. This is the strange one to nail down, but the people in my classes don't seem to be very comfortable with online socializing.

5. I have to develop better online research habits because the habits I use right now often lead me in circles where I chase the same good article multiple times OR I end up finding the same wrong article several times. There has to be a way to be more efficient. Remember, it's research NOT re-search that you want to be doing.