National Archives and Wikipedia

The continuing development of the US Open Government Plan, first promoted in 2010, and leading, in 2011, to the naming of a Wikipedian in Residence at the National Archives (NARA), is set to go the next step. All of NARA’s digitized content will be loaded into Wikipedia. Already 100,000 images from NARA are available freely and readily via Wikimedia Commons.

This is another alert to us in the library world that we need to take Wikipedia as a serious reference source, help develop our community members’ understanding of how to evaluate its content, and use it ourselves for some serious research.

This new open data reality can save us time and collection money. It furthers our capacity to bring vetted, primary sources to local users. It doesn’t mean that Wikipedia is close to perfect. But it is a strong indication that we need to move our professional discussion of best practices beyond the yes/no evaluation of resources to discover, learn and teach the how and why of discovering the best resource available to respond to the user need.

 

Librarians going beyond Google

In a continuing series of engaging panel discussions hosted by American Libraries, AL Live, the episode presented last Thursday offered a rich mix of observations, insights, and big questions about how library staff–most particularly reference staff–out-Google Google’s popular reputation as the resource par excellance. Going Beyond Google  worked through such concerns as utilizing Google web crawling to reveal library contents for user discovery; recognizing reference staff’s shift from fact-finders to evaluation guides; teaching students the difference between the wisdom of crowds and authentic data; and, most especially, the seemingly irreplaceable role human interaction–conversational communication–plays in getting the person with the question to infomation that best responds to addressing it.

The live webcast itself epitomized the very values being named and addressed throughout it. Panelists engaged each other, through Dan Freeman’s fast paced hosting, rather than announcing positions held individually outside the influence of the ongoing conversation. Virtual participants added meaty remarks, with Dan turning to these text chatters frequently enough to keep the preset discussion questions fluid and evolved under the comments added extemporaneously.

Among the takeaways from this model reference engagement process was the citing of an ACRL document authored by Megan Oakleaf,  The Value of Academic Libraries, which provides–and importantly for public and other libraries beyond academic ones–replicable charting methods for displaying how libraries, and librarian-provided services, provide institutional value.

Other takeaways included the restatement of reference (and other library provisions) in a “Google world” as being one of fruitful addition, wayfinding, mentorship, and authoritative balance rather than an unfruitful competition between librarian and search engine. The incomparable worth of communication–between librarian and information seeker–was highlighted as the epitome of library added value to any knowledge search beyond the identification of simple fact. And to that end, the webcast itself was a model of communication among librarians about where and how to get beyond Google.

Listening to literature

June, we have been celebrating across nearly two decades now, is Audiobook Month. In many parts of California, the audiobook experience is tied to car-based commuting, and, in agricultural areas, tractor driver companionship. California is also the birthplace of Earphone English secondary school programming targetting English Language Learners in a long-running public/school library collaboration.

And audiobook appreciation is a whole lot more. Audiobooks give inveterate book worms the opportunity to get their reading jones on while working out, walking about, cleaning house, and drifting into sleep. Professional performance turns the written word into, as Booklist audiobook maven Mary Burkey calls it, “Voices in My Head”–voices that pronounce unusual vocabulary correctly, give body to cultural and regional accents, and give those for whom reading with the eyeballs is less than cimfortable ready literary access via reading with the ears.

June now stretches into all summer, with industry promotions bringing all sorts of audiobook freebies, including SYNC, Spoken Freely, and for those who love lists, the shiney new Audies list–with clips, of course. The big news this Audiobook Month is the serious reconsideration DRM is getting from production companies. Oh, and EBSCO’s new audiobook “sound alike” algorithm incorporated into NoveList Plus.

Audiobooks turn literature into performance art, more than just a pretty good aesthetic deal available with a library card. The medium also puts the legs on the idea that we can all become better listeners. We spend a lot of time learning to communicate out. Audiobook Month can remind us thst communication isn’t a one-way street, and the traffic of literary appreciation has intersections, varying speed zones, and unexplored neighborhoods.

Let’s get listening.

Browsing as an art and lifeskill

One of this year’s recurring topics at Book Expo revolves around the current book industry reconsideration of DRM (the digital rights management coding that essentially keeps ebooks and eaudio locked from the user’s attempt to copy–and, too often, from accessing a rightfully owned file  due to technical incompatibilities between  file and player or other downloading snafus). As digital intellectual property becomes increasingly accessible, both technically and popularly, some of us librarians here in the digital collections conversation are identifying the need to create the opportunity for collection users to engage in physical browsing.

This, for me anyway, is an unexpected lapse in the rich world of digital collection use habits: youth readily scan web pages, sample music, and put their eyes, ears and imaginations to the end of sorting among options to find what fits the moment’s need or want, from an information standpoint. Browsing, however, has become a stranger. Browsing–be it among horses in a meadow or middle schoolers in the school media center– is a physical activity as much as an engagement of thoughts/feelings elicited by auditory or visual stimuli. Confronting three potential resources for pursuing research on Egyptian jewelry making is, of course, a lot about what visual scanning–and in the case of a video’s soundtrack, in this example–sound resonance. Engaging one’s evaluative powers, however, can be enhanced by leafing through plates that were set in just this specific order, noting that the volume offers a biographical note about its author who turns out to be a noted jeweler, and how this volume’s smell contrasts with the scent of that other one which has beautiful little pen and ink sketches and no photos of artifacts. And, oh look, this third is printed on heavy stock that seems to promise its contents are similarly substantive…but are they? Can one judge content worth by its package…oh, look, another now personalized question to explore by the beginning researcher….

The intrinsic difference between this kind of browsing and online research scanning is subtle. No superior term paper grades abound to demonstrate the academic worth of touching, turning, riffling and hefting as part of the resource selection process. And yet, these browsing activities call up resources within budding researchers’ awareness. It’s not just who said it, when it was said, and whether it works in my information gap context; it’s also about learning to learn, and learning is an engagement with the world in its concrete aspect as well as the abstracted formulations we can draw.

American news habits and information needs

A week ago, during a multi-organization meeting about how public libraries play a role in connecting federal and state policy information to the community members in need of the real scoop, the topic of broadband access was teased out in a couple salient directions. One I found particularly wanting further discussion is how disconnected a community can become from changing government directions (think the Covered California insurance marketplace as an example) when its online access is limited to public computers? It’s not that skills like using a mouse or email continue to lack penetration; instead, what hasn’t bloomed in such circumstances is the habit of staying informed around civic engagement concerns.

How do we, as information specialists–and civil servants, help community members build the skills and the habits which constant news updating require of anyone participating in our culture?

Joachim Scopfel, Director of the Atelier National de Reproduction des Thèses, Charles de Gaulle University (France), has published an infographic that gives us not only numbers related to how Americans share news, but also points up the very venues for news that may not, after all, be all that available to all Americans. And even when technical availability exists, are community members engaging the most efficient methods for accessing policy updates? The research shows a continuing reliance on email over social media, as the online channel for updates. As with all correspondence, email brings with it the requirement that the recipient evaluate the authority of the sender: is the news included reliable, timely, and appropriate to the recipient’s own situation? On the other hand, a direct Twitter feed, from, in this example, Covered California, guarantees the authority and timeliness, while each message’s design should allow the reader to be able to judge quickly whether it pertains to her situation.

As information guides, can we boost community access to what’s official, help direct community members’ attention to how they, impacted as they know they are by government policy and policy changes, can take control over keeping abreast of those policy news bits, bites and bytes that affect them? What does tech access education look like in libraries offering the news skills needed as we approach the first quarter point of the 21st century?