Thursday, August 28, 2008

California Reference Think Tank

I stink at predicting the future. My political candidates and causes usually lose and most people are not interested in the professional issues I’m most passionate about (i.e., homework help and library history).

Why, then, would I attend a two-day Think Tank on the future of statewide reference service in California? As a former reference librarian—and a pretty damn good one, at that—I still have an acute interest in reference and where it’s going now that most people, including librarians, use Google as a one-stop information provider. I'm also concerned about reference services for youth and wanted to make sure kids weren't left out of the statewide equation. Though the Think Tank never really addressed any particular population groups, we did attempt to forecast what’s ahead for public libraries as two futurists from the media project FringeHog guided us through a day-long scenario-building exercise based on current information-seeking and consumer trends.

Some of the “trends” were definitely old hat. “Friend-Fomation,” for instance, where folks rely on friends to find, sort, vet, and curate information, is hardly new. People have always checked with friends and family first to see what they might know about a topic or to get advice—so no surprise there.

Social networking and Web 2.0 are not new to us, either. Many libraries have their own wikis, blogs, and/or MySpace or Facebook pages, where they advertise services and new programs through electronic word-of-mouth. These days, if you want to be an opinion leader, you have to have your own blog or social network page to communicate effectively.

I do like the “trend” of eliminating boundaries through technology, which is something I think we’ve always done in libraries. Universal borrowing, interlibrary loan and shared catalogs have all become easier thanks to the Internet and borderless access. Librarians invented these concepts and have embraced them for many decades, even though some government officials may be overly protective of their jurisdictional lines. For any boundaryless library service to exist, city and county administrators must first be convinced of the benefits to their own constituents. This was true when library consortia were formed in the 1960s and will no doubt continue to be true as libraries begin to share more and more resources in the virtual world.

I raised my eyebrows at the notion of “Everyware”—a future world where information is embedded in everyday objects and places. Not only will “things” be able to think and interact with each other and us, they’ll also store, transmit and create data. Smacking a little too much of “Big Brother,” this trend creeps me out and makes me very leery of the potentially corruptible power of future technology.

Call me an old-time anti-corporate liberal, but I’m also skeptical of trends that are strongly based on commercial models. “It’s All About Me,” which describes a shift in consumer demand from conspicuous mass consumption to mass personalized consumption, is a perfect example. Customers can now buy Kleenex boxes decorated with a picture of their pets or design running shoes emblazoned with their names. Heck, I've even bought customized M & Ms celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary! But is this trend the result of customer demand or are manufacturers just cleverly repackaging their products? Successful corporations may be nimble enough to follow each market’s whim, but libraries tend to be more restricted by their bureaucratic nature and limited funding sources.

Still, librarians are an extremely creative lot and so some truly remarkable ideas did emerge from the conference. Among my favorites was the “embedded librarian,” where groups, businesses, etc., will be able to connect with a public library staff member who will become their own “special” librarian during the course of a project, etc. Academic librarians have partnered with their patrons for a long time, but this is an entirely new concept for public librarians, whose standing in their community could benefit from offering an extra layer of specialized service. My Think Tank teammates and I see a future where library service is more personalized and relevant to the patron.

We also liked the idea of “pushing” information to potential clients through radio-frequency technology. Say, for example, you’re shopping for rose bushes at your local nursery. Through radio frequency, the library could automatically send a message to your hand-held device, promoting its collection of gardening books (yes, I believe libraries will continue to offer books well into the future!). Although this seems a bit too “Minority Report” for my taste, I do like the idea of reaching out to patrons at their direct point of need.

A common theme among the various Think Tank teams was that people trust the library. They trust our expertise at being able to navigate through even the most tangled web of information. Plus, they trust that we have no political ax to grind except to advocate for their information-seeking rights. My own feeling is that the more Google creates a disintermediated world, the more our patrons are going to need us to make sense of that world. No matter how sophisticated they may be at operating computer systems, most people still need help navigating through "process." One of my teammates mentioned that she’s had to show library users how to make airline reservations on Expedia. Is this a task for trained librarians? I don’t know. But I do think this type of service is one that many of our patrons might find very useful.

Think Tank results will be shared at the upcoming California Library Association conference in November. Be watching for opportunities to contribute to this ongoing discussion.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Navigating With Youth" IFLA pre-conference, Montreal

I attended my first IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations) conference earlier this month. Well, actually, it was a pre-conference, called “Navigating With Youth,” and I was invited to present a paper on the California State Library’s online homework help program. The conference was held in Montreal and was bilingual—French and English. The Canadians slipped easily between the two languages. For the rest of us, headphones were provided so we could hear an immediate translation of what was being said. There were over 150 participants from 12 countries, including France, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Japan, Croatia, and the Netherlands—very exciting.

Unlike other library conferences, where programs are scheduled concurrently so participants have to pick and choose among events, all the presentations were held in the same large auditorium at McGill University. Everyone pretty much stayed for every program, which was fine because they were all, for the most part, outstanding. Brief highlights of the various presentations follow below.

To Trust in Young Adults is the Best Approach/Dr. Charles E. Caouette (Dept. of Pyschology, University of Montreal): Since reading is associated with school and tests, kids need more opportunities to read outside of school. Young people are also looking for adults who will talk to them in an authentic manner and help them sort out life issues. They live in the present and distrust adults who lie and/or are inauthentic.

You Are, but IM: Connecting Young Adults and Libraries in the 21st Century/Patrick Jones (author and consultant): A proponent of the “40 developmental assets,” Jones reviewed the ten core values of YA service described in his book “Connecting Young Adults and Libraries.” Information literacy speaks directly to teens’ primary core value: independence. Kids don’t read more because they don’t have the time.

Best Practices in Library Services/Ingrid Bon (Biblioservice Gelderland, The Netherlands): Bon reviewed the IFLA young adult services guidelines. In her library, teens are given website space to provide online reviews of concerts and other local events, so they can gain a sense of community. (What a fabulous idea!)

Communauté Enfantine et Bibliothèque: La Place de l’Alcazar dans la Vie Quotidienne des Enfants de Belsunce/Elsa Zotian (France): Zotian shared the findings of a study she conducted at the Alcazar Library, where she observed how young adolescents use space and the collections. Kids there see the library as: (1) an after-school service provider; (2) a cultural place; and (3) a place to socialize. Kids like to go to the library to do their homework because it’s an unstructured environment. Immigrant children, in particular, are very aware of the free services offered by the library and exploit them to the fullest.

Connecting Libraries to Teens in the Digital Age/Karen Sharkey (teen services librarian, Vancouver Public Library): Kids love to recommend books to other kids and so Canada has created a nationwide online teen reading club.

Got Game? Greater Victoria Public Library’s Video Game Pilot Project/Kristen Andersen (Greater Victoria Public Library): The library loans console games (e.g., xBox, Wii, etc.) exclusively. Because of high demand, the loan period is seven days—a real problem for some games that take 50 hours to complete. Theft is no worse than that experienced with DVDs, but wear-and-tear is greater. Part of the collection can be reserved; duplicate unreservable copies are available to check-out on a first-come, first-served basis. The collection is advertised over local college radio.

Toronto Tunes: Toronto Public Library Launches a Local Music Collection/Lisa Heggum (youth collections librarian, Toronto Public Library): In 2006, the library established a collection of youth-oriented CDs by local Toronto bands, in order to reach-out to young people (ages 13-24). Selection was done by reading local reviews, word-of-mouth, and through suggestions from a local music store. The library also beefed-up its music book collection. A “listening list” of the library’s holdings was inserted in each CD jewel case. To promote the collection, two concerts were held at the library, featuring better-known local bands. Publicity was leaked to a local music scene blogger, which then generated lots of citywide media attention. The concert tickets, which were distributed free at the library and other youth-oriented spots around town, promoted the library’s new CD collection. Both events “sold-out” within hours and were a roaring success. In 2007, the library added a series of music-related workshops to the program. (This was my favorite presentation. Lots of potential here for this to serve as a model for other North American libraries).

Forever Young—The Library in a Post-Modernistic Reality: Experiences from Knowledge-Exchange Network Project in Library Services for the Young/Annette Waterstradt (librarian, Greve Bibliotek, Denmark): In 2004, four Copenhagen libraries formed a network to find ways to communicate with young people, ages 14-20. Their purpose was to include them as active participants in planning the future of the library. When asked how they’d like "grown-ups" (i.e., library staff) to behave, the young adults responded that they want them to have a sense of humor and enthusiasm, and be friendly, respectful, open to new ideas, helpful, empathetic, and “not tired of living” (this last one got a big laugh!). With this input in mind, workshops were developed to train staff: (1) how to communicate (e.g., dialog) with young adults; and (2) to ask “What can I do to better serve young people?” Teen opinion leaders were used to promote library services.

Où Sont les Romans qui Racontent des Problèmes? Classer Autrement les Romans pour les Jeunes afin de Mieux Répondre à Leurs Besoins et les Inciter à Lire/Soizik Jouin (librarian, Bibliothèques de la Ville de Paris, France): French librarians have developed subject classification, based on spheres of interest, and have begun to apply this process to juvenile fiction. When kids ask for books by title, they’re usually doing so for a school assignment. But when kids ask for books by subject, they’re usually pursuing personal reading. What influences teens to read?: the theme of the book (60%); the book’s title (41%); the book’s cover (40%); and librarian's recommendation (only 6%). At Jouin’s library, youth fiction is shelved by theme. A second copy of the book is shelved separately by author, if the book/author is popular. (This was the single most popular presentation of the conference, with several people asking for more information about this topic. Indeed, this is a fascinating subject worthy of more exploration).

Trends, Strategies, Success and Learning Points—The Young People’s Services Public Libraries/Heng Huey Bin (Ang Mo Kio Community Library, Singapore): The library hosts what they call a “pseudo bookclub,” where kids can participate without having read the books being discussed. The hope is that the club will get kids so excited about the books, they’ll want to read them on their own.

The Career Library/Mikkel Hellden-Hegelung (librarian, Københavns Biblioteker, Denmark): Prompted by an 80% drop-out rate throughout the community, the library decided to create a “career library,” where practitioners (e.g., doctors, lawyers, etc.) are made available to young people (ages 14-25) as advisors. The library recruits and trains the volunteer mentors and then arranges initial meetings, in the library, between the adults and the young people. Not only has the program brought in young adults who never used the library before, but also non-user volunteers who now have a buy-in into the library. (This is another fabulous project that would fit nicely under the State Library’s “Transforming Life After 50”/Boomers program).