Just because I loved this! (and the link in case the embedded video doesn't work for you)
Just because I loved this! (and the link in case the embedded video doesn't work for you)
A couple of days ago the Fast Company blog posted this article about the relaunch of Ask.com. In its new incarnation people will be able to post questions and Ask.com will crawl the web to compile answers from other sites that connect questioners with human "experts", like Yahoo Answers. If no good match can be found on the web the question will posted for response by any member of the Ask.com community.
Leaving aside the issue of how a questioner would verify the qualifications of the human responders, I thought this statement was particularly telling -
"Ask.com can't compete with Google on sheer algorithmic muscle; nobody can, really. But there are chinks in Google's armor, chinks Google itself is perfectly aware of. Google knows that curated answers can often be more useful..." [emphasis mine]
Librarians may not be experts in a particular specialized field of knowledge per se they are experts in finding, validating, and curating information. Curating answers is a large part of what we currently do, and maybe an even larger part of our professional self-identity.
The challenge is that to date, at least as far as public libraries are concerned, we mostly provide those curated answers to people who walk through our doors, or maybe call us on the phone. A number of libraries, PVLD included, have experimented with other channels such as websites ("Ask A Librarian"), instant messaging/chat, and text messaging but everything I have seen or read indicates that the volume of questions through these channels is a very small proportion of the total questions that we answer. Not to mention that the total questions answered is on a long-term downward trend.
It seems to me that if libraries and librarians want to hold on to providing curated answers as a key part of our value proposition and professional identitiy we nee to establish ourselves on the Web as a trusted source of answers, something we have not managed to do after many years of trying. Ask.com says that it has 90 million visitors monthly...that is nearly 3x the total number of reference questions answered by California libraries of all types through all channels in a year! And what about the people who go to Yahoo Answers, ChaCha or other online sources of curated answers.
What would it take to get even 10% of the people who use commercial "answer" sites to turn to libraries instead? Some of the things that come to my mind -
In other words, it will require a significant investment of hard cash and time, the engagement of a whole set of non-librarian professional skills (e.g. user interface design, app design, SEO, consumer marketing) and a level of collaboration (even to agree on the design of the system) that is rare.
Is it possible? Maybe. Should we hang our hats on a future where providing answers remains at the core of our value proposition? I'm not so sure....
I just came from a meeting of the local Chamber of Commerce's Business Development Committee and was surfing through my Google Reader blog feeds while catching my breath before heading off to a meeting about how to further develop PVLD's Zerunyan Center for Business, Entrepreneurship, and Community Development when I came across this post from the personal finance blog Wise Bread.
As a Library Director who is firmly committed to reaching out to and supporting local businesses I LOVED that Librarian was # 3 on the list:
Your local library is in the business of giving information (literally), and the head librarian is usually very well versed in all kinds of free resources for those wanting to know more about local regulations, tax law, continuing education, and networking opportunities. If you haven't visited your local branch in awhile, take a day to go in and introduce yourself. Let the librarian know who you are, what you do, and how you could benefit from the library's resources. Then let them do the talking. They will most likely share all of the perks available to you, including interlibrary loan programs, free information on funding and grants, and more!
And as Chair-elect of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Chamber of Commerce it was great to see Chambers of Commerce in the #4 slot, too.
In this economy small businesses need all the support they can get, and public libraries (and Chambers of Commerce) stand ready to help!
Just came across this review of our Peninsula Center Library on Yelp. Great work staff!
Over the years a number of my posts have been about the transformational nature of the brave new world of digital information and the Internet. I'm still wrestling to make sense of my own thoughts about how this transformation will impact libraries, and how libraries should respond. Recent articles, like this one from the front page of yesterday's Los Angeles Times about how new digital formats are transforming reading and learning, heighten my sense that both the risks and opportunities are huge, but I am finding it hard to carve out the "thinking time" to process all that I am reading.
That is why I have particularly appreciated a couple of recent blog posts from my friend Genesis Hansen on her Wrong Again blog.
The first highlights that we are truly moving into brand new territory and calls out the need for explorers ("the Lewis and Clark of libraryland") to move out into these new worlds and help the rest of us understand what they hold.
The second talks about the risks inherent in either thinking that we can give ourselves a "digital facelift" without fundamentally rethinking what we do and how we do it, or in "circling the wagons" and focusing on short-term survival rather than dealing with the profound changes that will, whether we like it or not, affect us.
Both posts touch on my fear that as libraries across the country face cutbacks in funding, staff, and hours of operation (1) the temptation to circle the wagons becomes stronger just when we most need to be thinking about how we can ensure our long-term relevance, and (2) stress and fear make it harder than ever to put our heads up above the trenches, so to speak, so that we can even see the terrain around us.
I know that as the leader of a library system that, while more fortunate than many, faces substantial financial pressure I think every day about how to make wise decisions that sustain the services that our community uses and values today and at the same time lay the foundation for the long-term vitality of the library. It ain't easy!
There’s a fable about a lumberjack who was purported to be the best in the land and had won numerous competitions. The edge of his axe blade was honed to perfection; the tried and true methods he used were passed down from his father and his father before him. He was in the prime of his life and his strength, but he never changed his techniques or invested in new technology. One day, a lanky youngster challenged him to a tree-felling competition. The lumberjack laughed and took the bet. They squared off, facing their respective stand of trees, and the starter yelled, “Ready, set, go!” at which point the kid drop-started his chainsaw. The lumberjack dropped his axe and with a look of bewilderment on his face, exclaimed, “What’s that noise?!”
In the case of libraries I think we know what the noise is, the question is what we do about it...the questions Genesis is raising in her posts. Read them let me know what thoughts they spark for you.
Just because I think this is really cool -
Last week I received our volunteer statistics for the 09/10 fiscal year from super-volunteer Gene Roeder. Gene serves as Vice President - Operations of the Peninsula Friends of the Library, Chair of our library book sales, and compiler of our volunteer statistics and works about as many hours at the library as I do (he recently hit a total of 15,500 volunteer hours!) without the benefit of a paycheck.
Gene is just one of over 200 active volunteers who help us with a long list of tasks - everything from fundraising to shelving books to creating displays and signage to cleaning and repairing books and other library materials to helping with programs and events to taking passport photos...and more!
Our volunteer program has been growing steadily, but it surprised even me to see that this past fiscal year we recorded more than 30,000 hours of volunteer service. That's the equiavalent of an additional 15 full-time employees, and a big reason why we have been able to sustain our services despite the financial challenges we face.
It also represents a 34% increase in volunteer hours over the past six years, which makes me really proud!
This level of volunteer support would not be possible without both the many community members who are willing to give their time to the library and the library staff who continue to find new ways to use the time and talents of our volunteers. You are all amazing - THANK YOU!!!
We have a relatively consensus-driven culture at PVLD, but sometimes it is challenging to maintain the appropriate balance between getting input/building consensus and letting the person/team responsible for a decision (or task or policy or project...) just use their judgment.
That tightrope has been particularly difficult to walk this week, so I really appreciated this video passed on by our Digital Services Manager.
There is definitely a risk in getting too much input!
"...if you visit public libraries, you will see an essential service in action, as librarians help people who don't have other ways to get online, can't get the answers they urgently need, or simply need a safe place to bring their children."
From this terrific editorial in today's Los Angeles Times.
I don' think any further comment is necessary.
Today's Morning Edition on National Public Radio continued its annual tradition of having its hosts/reporters/commentators read the Declaration of Independence in it's entirety. It was a wonderful reminder of what this country is and where we come from, as well as a reminder that we are still grappling with some of the issues of leadership and control that our founding father's were trying to address back in 1776.
Listen, and then enjoy a wonderful 4th of July weekend!