Friday, June 25, 2010

Information tool literacy

The program for Access 2010 ("the premier library technology conference in Canada") is now available. It looks like there will be lots of good things in store for those going to Winnipeg. Oh, and while you are looking at the program, why not check out the description for the session, After Launching Search and Discovery, Who Is Mission Control? Here's a snippet:

How should we (reference librarians, systems people, and users) work together to better exploit the possibilities of open source systems so we can focus on discovery and understanding instead of the mechanics of searching?

I mention this because I think it's not only a good question, it's a very important question. How indeed should reference librarians get involved in systems work so that we build systems of understanding and not just search?
As if on cue, Eric Lease Morgan presented some possible answers to this question in a piece called The Next Next-Generation Catalog:

Instead of focusing on find, the profession needs to focus on the next steps in the process. After a person does a search and gets back a list of results, what do they want to do? First, they will want to peruse the items in the list. After identifying items of interest, they will want to acquire them. Once the selected items are in hand users may want to print, but at the very least they will want to read. During the course of this reading the user may be doing any number of things. Ranking. Reviewing. Annotating. Summarizing. Evaluating. Looking for a specific fact. Extracting the essence of the author’s message. Comparing & contrasting the text to other texts. Looking for sets of themes. Tracing ideas both inside and outside the texts. In other words, find and acquire are just a means to greater ends. Find and acquire are library goals, not the goals of users.

I also want to bring attention to Eric's specific call to those engaged in information literacy.

People want to perform actions against the content they acquire. They want to use the content. They want to do stuff with it. By expanding our definition of “information literacy” to include things beyond metadata and bibliography, and by combining it with the power of computers, librarianship can further “save the time of the reader” and thus remain relevant in the current information environment. Focusing on the use and evaluation of information represents a growth opportunity for librarianship. 

In response to Eric's promotion of indexing tools, Kathryn Greenhill commented:

I think librarians need to look toward using textual analysis tools from the disciplines they serve and incorporate it into their “beyond discovery” layers.

It’s a pity that often subject liaison librarians in universities do this job because they are not so interested in “techie things”….How to get them to understand that this is their role will be interesting.

[I'm assuming that her last comment is missing a "not do" so that it reads, "It’s a pity that often subject liaison librarians in universities do not do this job because they are not so interested in “techie things” - I'm going to send her an email to clarify this matter.]

I think there is an significant reluctance by Information Literacy librarians to introduce genuinely useful tools (such as Zotero) to users because after years of teaching users just how to use the catalogue, many teaching librarians refuse to do any teaching of tools. Add to this scenario that an information librarian generally has only a very brief period of time to introduce large and hairy concepts to students such as genre theory, critical reading, and transliteracy, and you have librarians who will refuse to teach students textual tools on principle.

But "tool choice" is not the same as "teaching a tool".

So let us recognize that a reader's choice of information tool fundamentally affects that user's "use of information". Let us embrace information tool choice and use as a inherent component of Information Literacy. Let us ask ourselves why we promote the use of CINAHL instead of PubMed, WorldCat instead of OpenLibrary, RefWorks instead of Zotero...

OK, I admit that doesn't sound very poetic. Let's try that again:

I know I'm not alone here. While still in the minority, I believe that there are many librarians who believe that tool choice and development should be a fundamental component of our profession's work. In face, there are librarians who hold that tool creation is essential for our profession's survival. Also published yesterday, here is K. G. Schneider:

The fundamental problem with the proprietary software model is not one of evil ownership or grasping vendors. I’ve seen both of those occur in the open source software community. The problem with proprietary library management software–from a high-level perspective, profession-wide–is that it makes us stupid. It deprofessionalizes who we are and disengages us from tool creation.

Conversely, every librarian who engages in tool creation to any degree improves the state of librarianship for all of us. This has been true since some guy in a toga put holes in a wall to store the papyrus, and it was true in the 19th century when we agreed as a profession on the size of catalog cards (which led to our early adoption of standards and network-level records), and it  is true in the open source community today.

And her conclusions about why librarianship needs open source dovetails nicely with why I think librarianship needs to embrace tool choice and development, so I'll end with her words from the same post

If librarianship will survive the Big Shift, it will do so by reinventing itself. To reinvent itself will require many muscles of invention. And that, in the end, is why we need open source.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Open Endorsements

My favourite response to the federal government's Digital Economic Strategy came from David Eaves in a piece written some weeks ago called Why we risk asking the wrong question. Its a wonderfully concise and insightful piece. My pullquotes of choice:

I think we need to stop talking about a digital as the future.

This whole conversation isn’t about being a digital country. It isn't about a future where everything is going to be digitized. That isn't the challenge. It is already happening. It's done. It's over. Canada is already well on its way to becoming digital...
The dirty truth is that Canada's digital future isn't about digital. What is special isn't that everything is being digitized. It's that everything is being connected....

So if a digital economy strategy is really about a networked economy strategy, and what makes a networked economy work better is stronger and more effective connectivity, then the challenge isn’t about what happens when something shifts from physical to digital. It is about how we promote the connectivity of everything to everything in a fair manner. How do we make ourselves the most networked country, in the physical, legally and policy terms. This is the challenge.

And today, Eaves specifically brought attention to three citizen-suggested proposals that are worth supporting. I think they are worth supporting too, so here are their links:

Eaves also supports Michael Geist's recent recommendations of proposals to support - which are the same as David's but with an addition of an proposal to support Open Access to Canadian research.

To register your support for these and/or other proposals, you need to register with the website and then, seconds later, you are able to comment and vote on these issues.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why How What Now

At MPOW (my place of work), we are about to embark on another round of strategic planning. Before it starts, I wanted to work through my own thoughts on the matter before my simple brain gets too clouded with competing visions of our collective future.

I've been through enough of these planning exercises to know that the matter can be described in a fairly straight-forward manner: first you establish values and from these and an environmental scan, you (being either the management  or the entire organization) set the strategic priorities. Then, if you are keen, you determine what variables you will pay attention to when you get to the point when you are able reflect on the exercise and determine if you have been successful in the tactics that you established to achieve your priorities.

The best organizations are those who embed their values into such a clear mission that it informs all of the decisions made by that organization. Those are the findings of Jim Collins in his seminal book, Good to Great.

Making things simple is hard work. This is why so planning documents are long, ambiguous, and cumbersome. Instead of a core value, they come up with eight. Instead of one priority, they come up with 12.

Now I'm considering the possibility that it might just not be possible to distill the complexities of an organization into one core concept. But even if we are able to boil down the understanding of our work into something distilled, we can come up with powerful magic. Case in point: generations of work in libraries and library science can be described in 24 words, broken into 5 short, memorable laws.

Simon Sinek has tried to distill the lessons of great leaders into a model that he calls the golden circle: in the centre of the circle is why, the circle is how and the outer circle is what. Notice how this model maps quite nicely with the strategic planning process: why=values; how=strategies, what=tactics. And like Jim Collin's, Sinek's conclusion is that great companies and great leaders are those who are able to convey a clear why they do things.

In 2006, Dan Chudnov put down these thoughts in a post called, Because this is the business we've chosen:

If so, then what's the mission of the librarian in 2006? It's not an easy question. I've been stewing over it for two months, and think I've come up with the only answer that works for me. Yours might be different, but this describes what I'm here for, and the thread runs through every disparate bit of work I'm involved in one way or another... My professional mission as a librarian is this: Help people build their own libraries.

I too have been thinking about what's the mission of the librarian and I haven't come up with anything as clear and as powerful as Dan's statement. But I think I'm getting to something that is getting closer to where I would like such a statement to be. Here's what I've come up for our own strategic exercise:

Turn local problems into global solutions.

What I mean by this statement (and the fact that I feel that the statement needs some explanation tells me how weak it is as a mission statement) is that I would like to see libraries break out of the "special snowflake" syndrome and recognize that many small problems that we tackle in an ad hoc basis can be redrawn as larger problems faced by many readers and many libraries and thus, could be met with shareable solutions. It would remind us that we have a duty to make all of our work (research, software development, innovation) open and accessible to all for use, re-use, and re-mixing. It could make our work more meaningful and more important. It could inspire us to tackle important problems so that we can help others as we try to help ourselves.

The odds that this suggestion is going to survive the first stages of our planning process are slim to none.

But there is a good chance that this mission might end up as the work that I have chosen.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Go to Go to Hellman

One of my favourite blogs is Eric Hellman's Go To Hellman. I've been recommending his recent post on understanding eBook messes to my colleagues and for you, well, I think you should read his Are Public Libraries in a Death Spiral?

In this essay, Eric Hellman laments how library directors are opting to reduce library hours when faced with budget cuts. In one painfully honest sentence:

A library that reduces its hours is just training its public to meet information needs elsewhere, and that public isn't going to rush back. 

The alternative that stops the death spiral?

The public library of the future has to stop being about collections and start being about helping people and communities.

I love the clarity of that call.

What if the libraries who are facing cuts, decided to slash book and DVD budgets instead of hours?  What if, instead of asking their community to act as political lobbyists on their behalf, these libraries asked community groups and individuals to donate their own collections into the community library? Ironically, by asking the community to help the library, connections between the community and the library could even be strengthened. Building a library builds community.

We need the community to help the library so that the library can help the community.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Points do not a game make

In the last week or so, Jane McGonigal recommended a couple presentations that address point systems and games with both making the case that adding point system to an activity does NOT transform that activity into a game.

Just add points? What UX can (and cannot) learn from games from Sebastian Deterding tackles this issue directly and it sounds pretty much note perfect to me.

Amy Jo Kim makes the case in her presentation MetaGame Design: Reward Systems That Drive Engagement that point systems aren't games but meta-games. Furthermore, she suggests that that meta-game systems already exist in many of our offline activities in some obvious areas such as sports (e.g. martial arts) and also in other less obvious activities such as scouting  (heck - they even use badges!). Amy seems more optimistic than Sebastian that game elements can be integrated into UX and she outlines under what conditions where she believes where they work best.

The only library application that I know of that uses a point system is Bibliocommon's Community Credit system.

At this point, I believe that most of the libraries who have chosen to implement the system have only used the lists for draws of small prizes. But with a point system, meta-games for the library catalogue *are* possible. That is, if we choose to play.