Samantha's blog

Reading and the Reference Librarian

I have just finished reading (or more like skimming, actually) a book entitled Reading and the Reference Librarian: the importance to library service of staff reading habits. The main argument of the book is that librarians do their job better if they read something on the side, and they don't mean professional literature. They mean things like newspapers, magazines, fiction, etc. By having a well-rounded diet of information, the authors (Juris Dilevko and Lisa Gottlieb) say we will be able to better help patrons and combat the deprofessionalization of librarians.

"statement of professional concerns"

As mentioned previously, I'm running for ALA Councilor at Large this year. I'm also now running for NMRT Director. I don't really have any groundbreaking new ideas to implement or long-lasting beefs with ALA that I feel the need to air; I just have a tendency to volunteer to do things. I also like ALA and think it's been a great organization for the most part and want to help out and be involved.

MT Lib Assn Divisional Retreat

I've really gotten a lot out of conference blogging, so here's a selective wrap-up of a short two-day retreat the Academic and Special Libraries Division and Public Library Division of the Montana Library Association had last weekend. I don't think a lot of folks from Montana are reading this (if you are, show yourselves!) so hopefully the rest of you may find it interesting.

New Adventures in ALA

There is a student sitting right next to my office door, studying. Every time I leave or come back in I feel like I should apologize for disturbing her.

AskMeNow SMS reference service

Those of you on DigRef may have seen Bernie Sloan's message about AskMeNow, a new SMS (cell phone text messaging) reference service targeted directly at users. It's currently in beta and claims 15,000 users. While in beta it's free but it looks like they may start charging.

It works by having the user call a (for me, non local) phone number on their cell phone and leave a voice message with a question of any sort. It's promoted as an alternative to 411 but they say they'll answer any question to which the answer is available on the internet. They then text message the user's cell phone with the answer, usually within three minutes.

I decided to put it to the test. After signing up, I called them with the question, "How many librarians are there in the United States?" Almost exactly three minutes later, I got a text message that said, "There are 137,000 librarians in the U.S."

It was quick, but was it correct? There was no source cited, which was of course a problem for anyone interested in valid information. I went to the Occupational Outlook Handbook and found that "librarians held 167,000 jobs in 2002" according to BLS. So I went to Google and typed in "number of librarians." The first hit was ALA Fact Sheet #2, which said there were about 137,000 librarians based on their own research.

This was an interesting experiment. I'm curious now how AskMeNow answers questions. Is it just some guy listening to these voice messages, then going to Google and text messaging back info from the first hit? Will anyone besides me use for research-type questions? Is this something our library could adopt, or did the noncompete clause in the license agreement mean that we can't do that?

For those of you interested in running your own little experiments or just learning more, visit

back up your data!

First of all, in honor of the day, yarr, me hearties!

Since my spouse's computer died a few weeks ago, taking with it (we thought) the first chapter of his dissertation along with other writings and such, I feel the need to remind us all to back up our work frequently. Of course, we are already doing that, right?

the *card* catalog

A few months ago, I was saying something at a meeting about making a tutorial for the online catalog when one of the catalogers interrupted.

"You said *card* catalog!" she declared.

"I did?" I said.

"You said online card catalog. There's no cards involved. Card catalog is an outdated term!"

one of those nights

A patron just came up to the desk and asked me, "What time would 10:40 be?"

I have to admit that this question threw me a bit. I would guess that 10:40 is the time that 10:40 would be, generally speaking. So I said, "I'm sorry, I don't understand your question. What do you mean?"

He repeated, "I need to know what time 10:40 is."

ALA Report #6: Wrapping up

I think I covered most of the big stuff I did in my first five reports. The other sessions I attended (LITA's top ten tech trends forum, the ACRL President's Program, Obama, Sedaris) have been covered very well elsewhere and I don't have much to add.

The things I most enjoyed about this year's conference: the E-Reference session I blogged about in report #5, seeing old friends, meeting new ones, volunteering at the Scholarship Bash, being in Chicago, getting a sweet hotel deal.

ALA Report #5: E-Reference Services

The program's full title was "E-Reference Services: What Are Our Users Telling Us?" and the news was perhaps not as good as we'd hoped. This was a very useful session, however, probably the most useful one I attended. The presenters highlighted a lot of the frustrations and challenges facing VR services from both the patron and librarian end of things. Key points were the difficulty in evaluating services honestly, problems in funding, and lack of commitment to services. The presenters also shared some great anecdotes and quotes from users.

The first presenter, Sarah Weisman from Morris County (NJ) Public Library, discussed her library's service stats and web analysis. Chat and email reference make up a very small part of their reference questions. She mentioned generally that libraries have become the "provider of last resort, not of first choice" and shared some thoughts on how to better ourselves and our online services through marketing, reduction of costs, and standardization of services.

Chuck McClure of FSU was the next speaker and had a humorous and informative presentation on assessment of VR services. It was interesting to hear that he considers exit surveys a waste of time, since everyone always says they're satisfied no matter how their experience turned out. I was also surprised to find that public libraries perform better than academic with regard to providing service via chat and email reference. Again the idea of funding and sustainable services came up. Chuck cautioned us to think about whether we want to consider VR a core service, and to keep the future in mind (video reference, anyone?).

The concluding speakers, Sarah Morris from Colorado and Laura Kortz from NJ, discussed the top users of VR, teenagers, and the results of a focus group they did with incoming college freshmen. They suggested that, to increase popularity of the service, we needed to work on marketing, make the service more like instant messenging, and allow users to foster an ongoing relationship with specific librarians on the service and rate the librarian that answered their queries.

It was a great session with a realistic view of the problems VR faces, but offering lots of food for thought on how to fix it. I had to leave early to get to another meeting so I unfortunately missed the Q&A. I have pages and pages of notes from this session, so if you want to learn more about a specific part of it just let me know and I can probably flesh it out a bit.

ALA Report #4: Poster Session

I just thought I'd solve the poster session mystery I brought up a couple of weeks ago to say that I did get my poster reprinted at the correct size. It was a little fuzzy around the edges--apparently I had created it in the wrong size or something. Oh well, live and learn.

For some reason the ALA poster session space seems to always be in a weird corner of the exhibition hall. This year was no different, with us practically standing in a stairwell toward the back of the hall. Not too many people stumbled across us there.

I think about 20-30 people cruised by my poster. They seemed interested in the topic (What do Distance Education Faculty Want From the Library?) and wanted to know the answer (for us to teach their students how to use the library, outside of their own courses). I had about ten people sign up for me to send them more information, and a couple emails after I got home from people who'd missed the session but wanted to know more.

This was my first professional poster session--we'd done a few in library school--and all in all it was a good experience. It was fun to meet my poster neighbors, and I had a good time talking about my research with those who walked past. Some probably heard more than they wanted to know!

If I do a poster session in the future, I'll be sure to:

  • Get the poster printed at least a week ahead of time
  • Make sure it's designed at the right resolution and that the printer understands what size it should be when it's done
  • Maybe mail it to myself at the hotel so I don't have to carry it through the airport (of course then I'd have to worry about it getting lost in the mail)
  • Maybe have a co-author so someone else can stand at the poster while I go look at everyone else's work (I snuck away to see Steven Bell and John Shank's excellent poster about blogging to courseware but that was it)

Feel free to take a look at the handout here and let me know what you think. I wanted to get a picture of my poster too but I left my camera at home for this conference. Maybe I'll take a picture of the mini-version and put that up sometime soon....

ALA Report #3: Distance Learning Section programs

The official DLS program was a bit of a disappointment to me as a new member of the Distance Learning Section. The topic was "Distance Learning: We Know Where We've Been, but Where are We Going?" I arrived a bit late, so the first speaker was already talking. His theme was that of the greying profession and the upcoming gap in leadership. Like so many young librarians, and as a member of a search committee for a position where we have 120+ applications, I just don't buy into this myth. There are tons of librarians out there eager to work and ready to step into leadership roles. The presenter during this part was one of the authors of the AL article on the ACRL heads' desired leadership traits in new librarians that got everyone so riled up a few months ago.

The second presenter had an interesting look at diversity issues in distance education. Unfortunately she didn't have a lot of statistics or examples to back her up and her presentation showed it. Still, it was good to point out that we need to be aware that distant students are different from the traditional on campus population.

The final speaker askd whether new grads were ready to provide distant library services. She concluded that for the most part they were. Gee thanks!

The DLS also hosted a breakfast and business meeting. This was a much more enjoyable and valuable experience for me as a new member. I got to meet a lot of other distance librarians and came to understand that part of the problem is that everyone at the conference had been in the section for a very long time and many of the librarians in the section seem to be nearing retirement. So I guess they have a bit of a biased view, with so little new blood coming in. Hopefully I and the other new, younger people in attendance helped ease their fears a bit. They are a very welcoming and friendly group of people and I have never felt more at home going into an ALA meeting. So, all my fellow newbies take note--here's an interesting part of the profession that we can get involved in!

ALA report #2: OCLC Sessions

At ALA this past weekend, I attended a couple of OCLC sessions.

The first was called "Reference in Context: QuestionPoint & 24/7 Reference, Meeting Users at Point of Need," held Saturday morning. It was basically an hour showcase of the new virtual reference software brought about by the merger of 24/7 and QuestionPoint. This is the software our consortium uses so I figured it was a good time to learn a bit more about it.

I found out that we'll be able to get a bit more info on our patrons if they are willing to provide it. We'll be able to see what library in the consortium they're coming from and what browser they're using. We'll also be able to have more than one chat open at a time. This is probably not likely to happen for a while--I've been staffing the chat site for a few months now and have only had one chat question.

OCLC also explained the method behind 24/7 coverage. Basically your consortium or whatever is its own 'queue' and librarians from other queues staff your site when none of your home librarians are available. In exchange, you are asked to pick up the slack in others' queues when you're on (and also pay $$$ to OCLC). Interesting.

I learned a bit more about prepared scripts for greetings, genealogy questions and the like. This is something we're just starting to use here. The Knowledge Base was also discussed--it's like a wiki for the service where you can create or append pages for frequently asked questions.

I also found out that some libraries apparently use the QP-24/7 software to track face-to-face and phone reference queries. It makes sense, because you can compile stats and increase follow-up, but I'd no idea anyone would do that.

The other OCLC session I attended was the Update Breakfast on Sunday morning. I sat at a QuestionPoint table (there's tables for all the different products/types of services OCLC offers, plus a few 'general' tables) and listened to Jay Jordan tell us what's new at OCLC. After his presentation, I chatted briefly with the fellow at OCLC who manages QP. There were people who wanted to talk to him more than I did, however, so I didn't stick around too long after. I've been trying to attend the OCLC Update Breakfast for a year or two now at various conferences and I think it's definitely worthwhile if you work closely with their products. Plus, free food!

ALA report #1--exhibits opening

I'm going to try to do a post for each of the big activities I did at ALA. The first thing I did after picking up my badge-holder (why did I have to do this? does anyone know why I couldn't just put the badge they sent me before the conference into an old badge holder and just go?) was attend the Exhibits Opening.

Live from Chicago

Hey, I managed to snag one of the highly coveted internet terminals by being at the convention center terribly early in the morning. Go me!

So far I've skipped over lots of meetings on my to do list. I always forget about the travel time between meetings when I plan from home.

My first chat ref question

Holy smokes, I just got my first chat question over QuestionPoint. It was an author looking to sell copies of her book. Well, at least it wasn't geneaology. I sent her some contact info for libraries in the area the book was set. I was so excited I was bouncing in my chair. I'm such a nerd.

ALA Schedule

All the cool kids are posting their schedules on their blogs, so I guess I will too. Here's where to catch me when (at least until I get tired of it all and decide to spend the rest of my trip in the exhibit hall or the Field Museum). Stars and question marks denote conflicts that I haven't worked out yet. If you want to meet up, post back here or email me!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

9:30-11:00 Guidelines for Distance Learning Library Services Revision Hearings
Palmer House room: Salon XI

**10:30-12:00 Tenure and Continuous Appointment: Is It Worth It?

11:00-12:00 OCLC QuestionPoint & 24/7 Reference, Meeting Users at Point of Need
Embassy Suites - Lakefront room: Salon A-C

11:30-1:00 RefWorks Lunch and Learn
Fairmont room: Regent Room

?12:00-1:00 EBSCO Academic Librarian Database Luncheon
Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, 1st level, Conference Center 10, 11, 12

**11:30-1:00 Beta Phi Mu Member Assembly Mtg. and Lunch
McCormick Place room: N138

1:30-3:30 Distance Learning: We Know Where We’ve Been, But Where Are We Going?
Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers room: Sheraton BR V

**3:00-4:00 Ethical and Legal Issues in Reference Discussion Group
Palmer House room: Clark 10

3:30-4:00 NMRT Membership Meeting
Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers room: Sheraton BR III

4:00-5:00 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Pre-Publication Booth Party
Scholastic Booth #1316

**4:00-5:00 ALA Membership Meeting I
McCormick Place room: Grand BR A

5:00-6:00 Scholarship Bash Volunteer Meeting
Meet by Bash Booth

5:30-7:00 ALA Opening General Session w/Barack Obama
McCormick Place room: North Hall

7:00-8:00 Dinner

8:00-9:30 Volunteer shift at Scholarship Bash
Museum of Science and Industry

Sunday, June 26, 2005

7:00-9:00 OCLC Update Breakfast
Hilton room: Grand Ballroom

8:30-11:00 DLS All-Committees Meeting
Chicago Marriott Downtown room: Chicago D

**9:30-11:00 LITA Distance Learning IG
Hilton room: Conference Room 5I

**10:30-12:00 E-Reference Services: What Are Our Users Telling Us?
Hotel Intercontinental room: Grand BR

11:00-12:00 OCLC QuestionPoint & 24/7 Reference, Meeting Users at Point of Need
Le Meridien Chicago room: Salon III

12:00-1:30 Ovid Luncheon Update Session
Hilton room: Williford B

1:00-3:00 NMRT All Committee Meeting
Chicago Marriott Downtown room: Chicago D

**1:30-3:30 Booklist Readers' Advisory Forum: Chicago Writers
Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers room: Chicago BR VII

**1:30-3:30 Tiny Trackers: Protecting Privacy in an RFID World
McCormick Place room: S404

3:00-5:00 ALA PRESIDENT'S PROGRAM: Coming Full Circle: The Library as Place
McCormick Place room: Grand BR B/C

4:00-7:00 UIUC Graduate School of Lib. and Info. Science Alumni Association Annual Mtg
Bob Chinn's Crab House, 315 N. LaSalle S

**5:30- Library Bloggers Meet and Greet
OCLC Blue Suite, Hyatt McCormick

7:30-11:00 NMRT Social
Chicago Marriott Ballroom D/E

Monday, June 27, 2005

8:30-12:00 DLS Disc. Group, Business Meeting, & 15th Anniversary Celebration
National-Louis Univ. Atrium, 122 S. Mich

11:00-12:30 POSTER SESSION!
Table #3, Exhibit hall @ Convention Center

12:30-1:30 Lunch

1:30-3:30 Googling the Better Mousetrap- Cyber Resources on the Front Lines of Reference
Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers room: Chicago BR VI/VII

1:30-5:30 Time for a Reality Check: Academic Librarians in a TiVor-lutionary Age
Hilton room: Continental A/B

5:00-6:30 PLA President's Program and Awards Presentation with David Sedaris
McCormick Place room: Grand BR B/C

making the most of non-verbal communication

I'm doing some research into disaster and emergency planning. One of the sample documents I'm looking at is one of those checklists for bomb threats, which I find amusing because I think we'd be lucky if a person don't panic and run out the building if someone calls with a bomb threat, much less dig out a checklist and work through it.

Chicago Crime Tracker Tool--just in time for ALA!

If you check out, there's a list of Chicago crime reports by type. Clicking on the type of crime brings up a Google map with locations of instances of that crime on it. Learn which areas to avoid, or possibly to seek out, depending on how crazy you want ALA Annual to get!

More exciting quoted out of context

Catching up on some reading today and this quote caught my eye. From Meola, Marc. "Chucking the Checklist: A Contextual Approach to Teaching Undergraduates Web-Site Evaluation." Portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 4, No. 3 (2004), pp. 336:


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