Monday, May 29, 2006

Reference Interview vs. Poor Website Design

So Friday afternoon I get a call from a woman looking for the phone number for "any Lion's Club in Somerset County." She tells me she's in a hurry. I decide to go to the Lion's Club website (surely a national organization has a website where you can search for Lion's Club clubs?). I chose English as my language and click on the link to find clubs.

I first have to agree that I'm not going to misuse any information I find on the website. This is quite laughable; it wouldn't take much to get past this point and find and misuse their information if I was someone prone to be that way, but I'm not. I click on 'accept' and head straight into my search.

I can narrow it down by state, but then I run into problems. There's no furhter narrowing. You then click on the letter of the alphabet which starts the name of the club. Most clubs are named after the city they're in, but still, I should be able to narrow it down by county at least. (it would have helped me some in this case)

I click on 'S' for Somerset, the town and county I am in. There is no club for Somerset. I'll be honest, I freeze. I become reference deer in the headlights. There are a lot of cities in Somerset County, and I don't know where to go next. (my mistake is not clicking on 'F' for Franklin Township, which is an alternate name to where I am, more about this later) I tell the woman I cannot narrow my results by county and start to explain what the website is showing me.

She reminds me that she is in a hurry (and her tone of voice adds 'I can't believe you are stupid enough to not remember that'). I state that I remember her being in a hurry and that I'm searching as quickly as I can. An aside: this is a reference desk, I am alone, there are patrons who come into the library that need my help, I don't have time to sit and have a conversation on the phone. I then again try to start explaining to her what I'm seeing and what I'll have to do to search for clubs in Somerset County. I want to ask her if there are particular cities she wants me to look for when she says 'I'm not asking for your opinion, I want information.'

Reference interviews can be frustrating even with a helpful, pleasant person. But when the person is nasty, they are unbearable. I say that I can't use the Lion's Club website to look up clubs by county. She tells me she doesn't believe me. If I wasn't annoyed before (and I was) I am now. I decide to switch tactics, very aware that she is in a hurry.

I go to a resource called Reference USA, which gives business and personal addresses and phone numbers, etc. I search for Lion's Club in NJ hoping that I can scan their list quickly to find a city in Somerset County, give her that phone #, and send her on her way.

I get back nine results for the entire state.

What I didn't know/didn't think about, is that many Lion's Club clubs do not have permanent addresses where they would have a phone number. They meet in restuarants and other places. I tell her the closest club that I have a phone number for is Woodbridge. (you can go to google maps to see distance from Somerset to Woodbridge if you want)

She tells me--for the second time--that she doesn't believe me.

I don't know why I would want to lie to her, it's not like I was enjoying the phone call. She was not in a good mood when she called, and I'm making it worse; not intentionally mind you, but I might as well be.

I hesitate. Reference deer in headlights again. I want to explain to her what I've done, what I'm looking at, but she already has shown that she does not explanations from me. I fire up SuperPages (Verizon's online phone book) and look for Lion's Club that way. Same results as Reference USA.

I tell that every way I search, the closest club I have is in Woodbridge. (this is not technically true, the closest club with a phone number is in Woodbridge, most later) She is--I suspect--actually angry at this point. She then says 'forget it, give the phone number for a woman's non-profit orgranization like the Lion's Club that is in Somerset County.'

This is worse than reference deer. This is reference overload. This question/request is so huge and vague that I blurt out that I don't even know where to begin. I think she thinks I'm saying something along the lines of I don't even know where to begin to tell you how stupid that request is, but I literally mean that I'm not sure--for someone in a hurry, this is twenty minutes into our call--how to start this search.

She questions whether she has the library, whether she has the reference librarian, she wonders what I know at all, etc. etc. She wants to talk to my supervisor. I'm more than happy to do that, except my supervisor is out until Tuesday. She is not happy to hear that. She can't believe that we're closed on Sunday and Monday. She is mad. She tells me to give her the Woodbridge phone number and hangs up.

After we're off the phone, and I'm staring at the page in the phone book that lists non-profits in Somerset County (and by name, I don't know that I'd know which ones are women's non-profits like the Lion's Club). There is no Lion's Club in the list. I decide to click on 'F' on the Lion's Club website, and see that there is a Lion's Club in Franklin Township. However, it has no phone number. It meets at the restaurant that is next door to the library.

I think back to the agreement I made not to misuse their information and I can't think of a way I could misuse this information. The worst I could do would be to show up for a meeting and buy everyone a drink. There is a contact name, but had I gotten this far with my reference interviewee, would I be expected to find the person's personal phone number and give that out?

While the reference interview was handled poorly by me (becuase really, the whole impetus of making the reference interview work is on the librarian), there is no excuse for the eggregious website design by the Lion's Club. There should be other ways to search for clubs than to click on the letter that starts the name of the club. What if I was moving to a new area and didn't know the names of the towns around to search that way? Would it be possible to get a list by county? How about a list derived from X city and everything within Y miles of it?

Both of those things would be easy to do. It might not have saved my reference interview, but it wouldn't have made it any worse.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Collection Development & Purchase Requests

From one of my new favorite blogs Super Patron (how awesome is it that a patron is blogging about libraries from their point of view? this is one of the most important blogs about libraries to be created...ever), a quick post about libraries ordering books from patron requests:

'At FCL - if there's a new book a patron wants - we'll order it. That's how some of our collection development is done.' [this quote is from Kevin Yezbick, a student near where the Super Patron lives, and was quoted in the Super Patron post]
Now, that's not too spectacular. I suspect almost every library buys books that patrons ask about that aren't in the catalog. The patrons are always surprised that we would buy books (at least at our library) based on their requests, but are pleased that we do so. To be honest, even with the wide variety of interests that the staff has, there are LOTS of books we miss and I'm glad that the patrons can bring them to our attention. Here's the real deal of what the Super Patron's post was about [still from Kevin]:

'My friend was dreaming of a tool that would enable patrons to purchase books for the library that they wanted the library to have--and be put on the hold list for that item automatically. Now--books are already purchased by the patrons through the library funds--but she wanted to see how patrons could purchase books specifically that they wanted...over and above taxes and whatnot.'
Well, I can't speak for everyone, but I know that the Princeton Public Library uses an Amazon wish list to maintain a list of books that the library would like to add to its collection. It wouldn't be difficult to also have these books put on hold for the person who buys them.

However, to me it would seem that having the library place purchase requests is still the easiest way to do this. At our library, a hold is placed for the book for the person who made the purchase request. That way, when the book comes in, it gets set aside for them.

Mayeb it's just me, but having the patron buy the book in the first place (why wouldn't they just keep the book?) seems counter-productive. Of course, it could be that the library has a small collection development budget, or the patron is looking to create some sort of tax write-off (although you'd need to buy a lot of books to make that worthwhile!) and in that case, the patron buying books makes sense. Unless you use some sort of service like the Amazon wish list or the purchase request system(where the books are bought and sent directly to the library without the patron handling them) there's no point in putting the book on hold for the patron. Obviously if the patron physically bought the book, he/she already has the book in his/her possession and it would be silly to give it to the library and then expect it to be placed on hold.

My question is, why didn't I learn about these types of things in my collection development class in college? How come we didn't have some sort of a project where we developed a way to organize collection development? I.e. do you write all your purchases down on note cards, or in a spreadsheet, or in a notebooks? How do you keep track of purchase request books? Of replacement books? Your library may or may not have policies (it probably doesn't) and every librarian likely does something different. I think it would be very cool to have a project for class wherein you develop a strategy for keeping track of your collection development. You could try to develop a contact at Baker & Taylor to get test/student accounts to place orders for books and then track them. Just something I've been thinking about. Maybe I should adjunct. :)

This isn't to say that I didn't learn anything in my collection development class. We talked a lot about how to determine what should go in your collection based on your community's needs. That's important, but it's also important to get some practical advice/experience (even in a school oriented assignment) on how you actually do collection development: do you submit your purchases to one librarian who does ALL the buying, do you do your own buying, do you have to get purchases approved, etc. You could set up different scenarios for the students and have them come up with ways that they would work in those situations. Again, just me thinking out loud.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

FAQ updated

I've updated my FAQ to reflect some of my experiences in searching for a job.

Thanks Andrea!


Friday, May 12, 2006

Creating Passionate Users

This is something that libraries do well. When a librarian connects with a patron, that patron becomes a passioniate user of the library who will always, always, always come to the library for information, pleasure, fun, curiosity, etc.

But how do you make that connection? Part of it is just being a good person to everyone who comes through the door. Your patrons are paying--either directly or indirectly--for you to be there. How would you want to be treated if you came through the door? Well, do that to each person who comes in. Even if they're teenagers (why alienate people just about to become tax-paying adults? that makes no sense to me), even if they're a different socio-economic group from you, even if they're homeless, even if you can't understand what they're saying, welcome them all and treat them like people.

OK, you've done the tough part. Now comes the difficult part. A great place to get ideas is the Creating Passionate Users blog will give you many. At one point, I had more than 20 entries from this blog that I wanted to make reference to. In the end, I decided that I should just link to it and tell people to go there. Most of the time, Kathy Sierra is the person who posts the most on the site, although there are technically others who post (I've never seen anyone else).

Kathy mostly posts from a software development side of things, but I think you can take her ideas and relate them to any professional area. Since software development has an end product that wants to insinuate itself into people's lives, whether it be an iPod or Google or whatever. The library should follow some of the same pains to market itself and make itself useful to the patron. She has posts like what if you were watching a movie and the Microsoft paperclip came up to help you watch the movie? You would stop watching the movie because the experience of watching the movie has actually gotten in the way of watching the movie. So, if the experience of searching your catalog gets in the way of the patron searching the catalog (the user needs to put the word 'AND' between words for example [hello Ebsco! get with the 1990s!]), why should the patron come to the library to look for books when Amazon does a better job of helping them find their book (other than the patron doesn't need to buy EVERY book they have mild interest in)?

I can't tell you how much I love this blog. It's witty, clever, simple, informative, everything I want from a blog. Kathy draws really great diagrams to get her points across, and I know that visualization is really helpful when making points. Go to Creating Passionate Users today, you won't regret it!

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

John Iliff

I only just met John last month at the NJLA conference. He was exuberant, excited, and effusive about podcasting at the panel. He was so full of life. Because of this, even though I hardly knew him, I was shocked to hear that he passed away recently.

What a loss for the field. What a loss for his family. We need people with his devotion to their craft. I wish I had gotten to know him better.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Nebula Awards

The Nebula Award winners can be found here. Congrats to all the winners, but kudos to Kelly Link for winning two of three short fiction awards (Best Novella for "Magic for Beginners" and Best Novellette for "The Faery Handbag" [which also won the Locus Award and the Hugo Award])!

This was also the first year for the Andre Norton Award (created to honor young adult SF/F novels). The award was given to Holly Black, for her novel Valiant.

If your library doesn't have any of the Nebula Award winners, this would be a good time to get them. Kelly's book would be a great addition to any collection, not just science fiction. Her book was one of five books chosen by Time magazine as best books of 2005.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

What Do Your Teens Read?

I'm in the process of finding out what my teens read. Ahem. I should say, the teen patrons at my library; they are not my teens. They are their own teens. If I remember nothing else that my parents tried to teach me, remembering that I am an individual is worth all the money in the world.

Talented YA author Justine Larbalestier (also all-around cool person and someone I'm glad to count as an acquaintance/friend) blogged about an article that irritated her today. The article claims:
[M]ost of the stuff published for children and adolescents is abysmal, self-regarding trash. Part of the fault rests with the packagers such as Alloy and in the way they do business. A larger part of the problem stems from publishers’ misguided belief that kids want to read about people just like themselves, living lives just like their lives.

Cassandra Clare fires back:
The publishing industry has always been a profit operation, that's why it's an industry and not a charity. Publishers publish books they think people want to buy and read, full stop.
There's also an excellent response here that mentions how some of canonical works of American literature started as books written for young people. Books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Justine adds her own fiery bit:
Lots of teenagers want to read about people like them, lots don't, and some of them want to be transported as well as read about teenagers like them. It's not an either/or. Very few things are. Some of those transporting books also happen to be about teenagers like them.

There is a lot of YA literature out there that is just amazing. Transporting (and not necessaryily in the 'let's all get aboard the space ship' type way) you to a whole new plane of thinking. Many of us thought the way John Green's teens talk/think in Looking for Alaska, but when you read the book, you are moved. I'm not sure if it's a newer arena of publishing or something I missed when I was a teen and had my nose shoved into Stephen King books. Were there books like The Giver or Speak or Peeps when I was a teen in the 1980s? One of the reasons those Stephen King books drew me in was that Mr. King used teenage protagonists in a whole lot of his stories. This wasn't an accident.

Like I said, I'm still learning what my teen patrons are reading. They read a lot of manga, of which I know very little. They read the sef-referential dreck books A LOT. Like I said above, I liked reading books in high school that featured characters I could relate to. I also liked reading books that had things happening in them that just couldn't happen in reality.

What are your teen patrons reading?

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