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: