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.

 

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?

Embed ‘Em Where the Action Is: Watering Holes

Every week, I have the opportunity–often the opportunities–to provide on-the-spot reference services at a local coffee shop. Among other morning caffeine inhalers on hand as I make use of my own most portable electronics, some shyly ask about the rudiments of choosing and/or using specific creation-enabled tools (iPad, smartphone) . Others ask for help altering the settings on their ereaders. Another kind of query relies on my ability to connect them to online resources when they’ve been stumped by their own efforts to find the very specific information they’d like to uncover.

This morning’s exchange began with an elderly woman who is in the market to replace her laptop, which has become a burden for her to haul around. We toured the possibilities a tablet would allow: document creation and editing, document exchange, searchable pdf files of publications on the iBook shelf, the keyboard’s utility, and, in this case, of course, the heft of the tablet itself.

Not for the first time, I regretted that I have no business card from the local public library (the main branch of which was three blocks away and open) to offer her, with the suggestion that she could follow up our discussion, if wanted, with further exploration with the reference staff (Saying and supplying a card with hosting invitation are two very different messages). What would be welcome here, of course, would be a real presence by reference staff, equipped to guide, to explore database possibilities (in response to some other reference interviews I have carried on over my glass of coffee), and to hear what community members are wanting and needing on the spot.

It’s a two-way street as well: in this venue, I have had the opportunity to casually listen in while groups of teens from the local high school discuss what they are reading for pleasure; I’ve heard and been able to ask questions about what undocumented detainees can expect to happen before a judge (from a court-sanctioned interpreter and one-time high school teacher and professional actor, demonstrable skills for a public presenter); and how changes occurring in university library public staffing practices have affected alumni efforts to pursue scholarly research of their own. If I worked for the public library here, I would be gaining valuable insights that range from traditional collection management to the real deal behind the policies of other agencies and institutions that should be impacting service provision plans in my own workplace.

There are public libraries that have taken the step of stepping out, assigning and supporting trained staff to move from behind the reference desk and out the door of the building to be where the action is. Staff visits the local food pantry to see what groceries are going home with those in need that week that will most likely require recipe help for consumers unfamiliar with canned garbanzo beans or bulk buckwheat. Others hold down booths weekly–not just for special events–at farmers markets, prepared with netbook and ready to aid other market regulars with non-market information needs. You can read about the theory and forty-year-old practice of this kind of where-the-action-is library service in John Pateman and Ken Williment’s new book, Developing Community-led Public Libraries.

There is opportunity for the evening library staff shift as well. Bar customers famously lay bets in need of demonstrable settling, if we are going old school, and those of us who read in them are regularly approached for advisory help–real advisory help, not just “Would I like the book you’re reading now?” (Bars, by the way, serve soft drinks unblinkingly, so the on duty staffer need not imbibe on work time).

A challenge? No more so than evaluating the traffic–both volume and professional need–at your current information or reference desk, and sorting service priorities to address the reference needs where staff probably already drink during breaks, before or after work. Scary? Probably for many, administrators as well as staff. Training is involved, but so, too, is valuing proactive library service over maintaining a line that has become a kind of monument to pre-wired days. Come on, I know you can do it. I’ve seen it done. I’ve done it myself, both as an administrator and as frontline librarian.

2012 Trends Every Librarian Needs to Know

Thanks to the California State Library’s Rush Brandis, many of us received this presentation in email form today. The story told by these new figures, and suggested applications for creating a responsive information future, include an array encompassing health, education and much more besides commerce and entertainment.

In one interesting section of the story these slides tell, we get the chance to consider how technology and its adoption provoke society to evolve from being asset-heavy (think your old vinyl record album collection) to asset-light (MP3 playlist, of course).

Don’t just sit back and watch this show: let’s start brainstorming the opportunities we have to evolve as asset-light services that deliver more broadly and with more depth than can our asset-heavy tradition.