Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Wayback Wednesday: 2011 notes on information access are today's reality

In June - in the middle of a pandemic - I official retired from academia and cleaned out my office.  (Retirement does not mean doing nothing, so I'm still quite busy! More about that in a future blog post.) Among the items I brought home were my work journals going back to fall 2011.  I'm now going through them to see what I had taken notes on.

On Oct. 13, 2011 I wrote noted on the "nature of information access." Looking back in this blog, I see that these notes were in preparation for a guest lecture I did in November of that year. The blog posts are:

Please note that I have not checked all of the links.  If a URL has changed, use your favorite search engine to locate it OR use the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

Game-like interfaces? Yes. Interesting uses of virtual reality? Yes, including some graduation ceremonies this year. Ability to interact in real-time with information? Yes. When I think of this, I think of data science.  Data science is all around us and is delivering data to us that we take for granted (e.g., information on COVID-19). 

The one that has come true and makes me a bit uneasy is information as entertainment.  I noted in my blog post that Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart were doing this. This year, more late-night comedians have turned their shows into news shows that contain a bit of comedy.  While the news media can give us good information, the comedians can also help us understand it, laugh a bit at it, and build some camaraderie.  They have been able to interview people, who the news media may not have access to.  Most importantly, they have been able to educate (thinking specifically of Kamau Bell and John Oliver). 

Why does this make me uneasy? Because comedians are not journalists. Their training is different as are their standards.  They generally do not have the same research staff that the news media has (or should have). The exception seems to be John Oliver, who has a very good research staff to help him deliver accurate information and stay out of litigation. 

I'll also admit that I don't think the news should be entertaining, but that's me. Clearly the news programs have their entertainment aspects. I just hope that doesn't stop them from delivering the news we all need to understand.

Please go back and look at those two blog posts from 2011, and think about those ideas. Where have you seen them come true?  What concerns do you have?

Friday, September 25, 2020

Article: Amazon’s Importance to US Book Sales Keeps Increasing—for Better or Worse


In this article, Jane Friedman wrote about Amazon's programs for authors and how it impacts authors, especially those who are self-publishing.  I had no idea of all of the writer-focused programs Amazon had at one time, so that was an eye-opener to me. Clearly Amazon had tried different programs to endear itself to writers. The only program that still remains is Kindle Singles and she connects this to a program entitled Kindle Unlimited, which gives readers unlimited access to some of Amazon's content.

Friedman notes that Kindle Unlimited requires that an author give Amazon exclusive rights to their ebook editions (not print) and that is pays those authors based on pages read. By asking for exclusive rights to the ebook editions, Amazon is keeping these digital works out of the hands traditional publishers and thus out of content which libraries might subscribe.  This narrows the works that libraries have available for their communities.  We might think this is no big deal, but Amazon is a very large company with lots of influence.  We don't want them withholding content or limiting access, and we don't need them giving other publishers similar ideas.

We often don't think about what Amazon is doing. We like them or not sometimes based on how they treat their workers.  We don't think about how they treat their authors and what that means for the rest of us. What rights do they demand from authors? How long does that agreement last? How does that impact our access? 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Heather Elia: The Do's and Don'ts of Documentation

Heather Elia, who is the incoming library director for the New Woodstock (NY) Public Library, worked with me for two years as part of the iSchool Public Libraries Initiative. Out of her research efforts came this article, which has been published in the The Political Librarian, entitled "The Do's and Don'ts of Documentation." Often documentation never occurs, but Heather argues that it is important and provides a series of best practices in this article.  

If you know of others who could benefit from this article, please pass it along. This is an area where our libraries need to improve.


Whether through grant funding or taxpayers dollars, public libraries are entrusted with money to spend on programs and services. Funders, as well as other stakeholders, will be interested in accountability, wanting to know what the library has been doing with these funds and what the stakeholders got for their money. The author argues that fully documenting programs and services -- which many libraries fail to do -- provides a tangible answer to these questions, as well as a record that can be used to expand or replicate successful initiatives. A series of best practices for documentation are proposed, which include the need for planning, marketing, and assessment information, as well as the collection and distribution of visual as well as textual material. Different levels of documentation are discussed, and the differences are identified between what is merely acceptable and what is good, or even excellent. A list of the various audience members, with whom documentation might be shared, is included. The author concludes that documenting a library’s successful programs is a good professional as well as political move, when the library needs to make a case for funding or government support.

Monday, September 21, 2020

You have a ton of reading to do. How can you do it faster?

How can you read faster? This topic has come up a few times recently in conversations. If you're a student - especially at the masters or doctoral level - you have a lot of reading to do each week and it may be overwhelming.  Are there tips or techniques you can use? Yes, there are!

First, you should know that we are not taught how to read faster in school.  (If you were taught that, congratulations.) Generally, we're just given more to read and somehow we figure out some way of getting through it all. But we may not have figured out a real method. So if you feel like you're the only person who can't read faster, you're not.

Second, it is important to know that any technique requires time to learn and time to apply it consistently. And not every technique works all the time. There will be texts that you will have to read carefully and slowly, while there are others that you will be able to read quickly using a technique from the resources below.

Finally, a real ah-ha for me is that it is okay to not finish an article or book.  Yup, sometimes what you need to do is to read portions of a work and not the entire thing. Knowing that "not finishing" is okay, I am able to release whatever guilt I had (which often made me push through a text that I didn't want to finish).

If you have different techniques to add, which are easy to apply, please leave a comment.



Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Finding diverse illustrations for your presentations

Black woman sitting in front of a laptop computer
When I look at websites, presentations, etc., which are supposed to appeal to a broad group of people, I look to see who is represented in the photos and illustrations. Often times those illustrations do not show any diversity...still. That needs to change.  Here are three sites to help you obtain more diverse images.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Selling the Invisible and Marketing the Library

At the 1999 SLA conference in Minneapolis (MN), the Library Management Division, in conjunction with several other divisions, sponsored a talk by Harry Beckwith. Beckwith's focus is on marketing in a service-based economy and he spoke about market the special library. I remember that his presentation was better and more impactful than the keynotes that year! An a plus what that he was willing to interact with those of us who were attending the conference, and not just present and then leave. The summer 1999 newsletter from SLA Military Librarians Division list the "Ten Keys to Successful Relationships" which he covered:
  1. Faster -- everybody wants it faster
  2. Affinity -- develop a good chemistry with your users
  3. Predictability -- be consistent, have integrity; remember that your word and deeds are integrated
  4. Comfort -- create the feeling of comfort in your library; a comfortable atmosphere from you and your staff will get them in the physical and virtual door
  5. Expertise -- be a consultant; show the appearance of expertise
  6. Sacrifice yourself to make the user feel important
  7. Thank people more
  8. Welcome them
  9. Follow-up -- find out how you are doing
  10. Connect -- make a personal connection by learning names and using them

At the conference, copies of Selling the Invisible (1997 edition) were for sale and I still have the copy I purchased.  I read it, referred to it, and used it in some of the library classes I taught.  The book was republished in 2012.  

As I stare at the book in my bookcase and wonder about Beckwith, I see that he published several other books all focused on marketing, including one on the art of selling yourself.

What is a service?

Beckwith wrote (Selling the Invisible, 1997, p. xv):

A product is tangible. You can see it and touch it. A service, by contrast, is intangible. In fact, a service does not even exist when you buy one. If you go to a salon, you cannot see, tough, or try out a haircut before you buy it. You order it. Then you get it.

Libraries deliver services:

  • Advising patrons on what they might read next
  • Hosting programs for various age groups and people with different interests
  • Provisioning materials on demand from other libraries or publishers
  • Reference and information services
  • Circulation services
  • ...and more...

Yes, libraries contain materials, but how someone decides to borrow a particular item - and the act of borrowing - is a service.

Why am I mentioning this? 

It is August 2020 and every organization is facing some sort of financial hardship due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including libraries.  We - libraries - need to focus on selling ourselves, which means understanding what our users want, ensuring that the service is delivered consistently, nurturing our users, and talking about what we do.  We need to be doing this all the time, even when our budgets are being cut, in fact it is more important during those times.

While I like Selling the Invisible, there are many books and articles available on how to market services. If this is an area you need to learn more about, use on the services of your library (perhaps ILL) and borrow a copy of Beckwith's book.  I know you will find it easy to read and you'll also be inspired to put something new into practice.