I'd been thinking, over the past year or so, how we're going to move forward with libraries for which the collection is not the primary foundation. In fact, I'm preparing an article about libraries as "3rd places" without the collection to anchor that function. It isn't finished yet.
But in the meantime, I just sat down with several of my colleagues here at the big library and watched a demonstration of Bibliocommons. Very interesting. It may be the case that with bibliocommons, there's a future for the library collection that i didn't see. It's pretty amazing, based on the 1 hour demo I saw yesterday. The "social networking" features, which are talked about so much in library2.0-world but frequently mis-understood and mis-interpreted, pretty well-done here. They appear to seemlessly support the community's interaction with the collection but don't get in the way or become an overt feature.
So, does it give the building more secure future? I don't know. I haven't had enough time to look , use, and consider it. My library will have a much more thorough look at it during our selection process. But I can see so far that Bibliocommons is all about interfacting online with the collection and presumably patrons will order their choices to be delivered to their nearest branch and then just come in to pick them up. That doesn't necessarily build the case for the "3rd-place". But still, that onlne interaction is really something.
The Governor General of Canada sent out a very nice message proclaiming that October is Canadian Library Month. Her message starts by telling us how books are so special and ends with a salutation wishing us "many long, enchanting hours spent with a good book". I'm not kidding! Would someone please tell the GG that it's about the information? Books are really just a container. Really!
As I start my new job tomorrow as Systems Librarian at Vancouver Public Library I leave the AskAway virtual reference service with mixed feelings. I'm pretty excited about the prospects.
Below is what I wrote to all my staff, colleagues and stakeholders on my last day but, coincidentally, here is something that came across the radar today. Can you say "mixed feelings"?
From: Phil Hall Subject: Moving onSent: September 18, 2009 5:08 PM
Today is my last day as AskAway Coordinator for public libraries. I feel like I could write a book about the amazing experience I’ve had since I started here in June 2006. I also realize that that book would be incomplete without all the stories that all of you could tell about your successes and frustrations as we’ve travelled together starting this new service and this new way for libraries in B.C. to provide reference service together to all our patrons. But, since I’ve talked to so many of you over those years and learned so much from you, I’m going to share with you some of the things I think we’ve learned and some of the things I think we can do with that learning.
I think the first thing we learned is: virtual reference is hard. In fact, general reference of any kind is hard. AskAway staff showed amazing bravery as patrons we never knew much about asked us things, and said things to us, that we had no way to expect. Despite how much our society celebrates the cult of specialization, being a generalist is perhaps the hardest kind of reference of all. But perhaps we knew that already and just forgot that we knew it.
We should always remember that someone might have faced the same problems we face before us: VPL's Finditnow VR service was an extraordinarily stable foundation on which to build this service and the many collaborative services around the continent were always keen to share their good ideas and hard-won lessons with us. And, that’s the second thing we learned. Lots of people in libraries are constantly having good ideas. Some of them shout their ideas from the rooftops but some of them are very quiet. Those of us running the coordination and administration of AskAway certainly learned to ask our colleagues whenever we faced a puzzling problem. We were very likely to find someone who not only had a useful solution, but were more than willing to share it.
The third thing we learned, of course, is that we can do things together that we can never do alone. I know that sounds like an obvious profundity, but there’s more to it than that. We’re starting to learn that when networked-services and ideas get bigger, they aren’t just the same as the small services scaled-up. Rather, bigger is different. It allows us to find solutions and reach goals that we can’t even consider without the large-sized effort. Our Collaboration is an example of this. We all collaborated and offered real resources and real effort to put patrons first. Library staff with different backgrounds and from different regions bent over backwards to help each other out. Our successes, both in numbers of patrons we could serve and numbers of libraries who could participate, would not have been achieved without this.
But don't let it sound like I'm complacent or that I’m ignoring the problems. We had many struggles which we didn't completely overcome. Anonymous youth can be incredibly rude and objectionable. Some of us find this really bothersome and, frankly, it would be great if we could do something about it. Some school children would really like us to do their homework while, at the same time, some school systems seem to provide no other resources for their pupils to use, even while they are sitting in a computer lab in their own school. These are certainly inconsistencies that I would have liked to have found a solution for. Lastly, some of our libraries did not attract many patrons through their own patron links. I always felt that more could be done to help those libraries attract their patrons.
But, at the same time as these success and problems, some core of what we have always stood for was also evident everytime AskAway opened in the morning. I started my first regular job in a library 30 years ago this month. So much has changed but some very important, powerful aspects of what we do have remained. I’m sorry to say that some of those aspects are not really helping us: the building I worked in 30 years ago is still there and still performing it's core function (Woodward BioMed library @ UBC) and sometimes, I think, we take refuge in the buildings and their collections as a way of avoiding the change that is all over us.
But by the same token, much more powerful aspects of our work also remain and these will help us retain our place and our mission in our communities. Libraries, whether on the ground or on the net, are still bastions of neutral, honest, skillful information service to anyone who has a need and who knows to ask us. Through all of the changing formats, the changing nature of digitial info and "locationless" service, our core ability to connect with a person's needs and help get them further along their route from ignorance to knowledge, is what I take with me to my new job.
But this is an email, not a book, so I’m going to have to stop here. Everybody in B.C. libraries who had anything to do with AskAway is part of the reason I was able to do this job. You were amazingly helpful and patient. As I leave, I know that virtual reference won’t disappear from public libraries in B.C. As you build the service that will come after AskAway “as we know it”, I know you will take all the things we learned and make the best of it that you can.
I won’t be very far away, figuratively and literally. I wish you all the best and know I’ll see you at conferences and on listserves and I look forward to talking to you all again.
Here's another clever video somewhat in the style of Michael Wesch but, maybe it's just me, it's a little too, "isn't this amazing?", and not enough "let's think about this". Despite that punch line at the end. I don't know the credits for this video but in the posting it's credited to "Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod, and Jeff Brenman", whoever they are (I didn't look them up). The list that emailed this to me said this had a connection with Sony Corp. which might explain the 2nd to last sentence.
I attended Mlibraries-2009 at UBC on June 23rd & 24th.
I took notes (as I am want to do) and tweeted during the conference. You could see my tweets at twitter.com/phall715 if you want but the same comments are, for the most part, in these notes with more context. Well, *mostly* more context. Some of these notes are a bit sparse but it should give you a feel for the conference. Mobile communication is a bit of a tsunami and sometimes I felt we were just all hanging on and trying to keep up.
India is 2nd largest mobile market in the world. 320 million phone subscribers and growing by millions per month! These librarians from Indira Gandhi Nat'l Open University are proposing a mobile web for distance learners. The benefits are information anytime anywhere. So far they are already providing educational content including text, image and video, access to e-resources, and course info as part of the national open mobile library. For their proposed model, they surveyed learners - what do they want? They responded: they want status of their course results, current course material, previous year's exam questions. In addition, the model will provide m-library data from the catalogue, authenticated resources and open resources, reference services, moblogging and SMS notifications.
Libraries on the move: In 1995, on the move meant a vision of using a laptop at the beach. Today it means something else. They surveyed academic libraries in Spain to find out: 18 provide mobile services of some sort. Most offer circulation info. Only 6 offer info from opac and one offers e-texts. A few plan to offer adapted web sites, among other things, to better serve their patrons.
Unfortunately, there is only "incipient implementation" of services for mobile device users. But there is 94% mobile penetration in Spain. 94%! They're hoping more universities will follow Open Uni of Catalonia's lead, and, also hopefully, software vendors will provide mobile-aware gateways to make it easier for these libraries to facilitate implementation. For more, read the paper linked from the title.
60% of world population have access to mobile phones. 60%!
So, why serve mobile? Students already have devices, the want 24/7 accessibility, and mobile can accommodate different learning style. mobile friendly web has auto-detect so content is reformatted on the fly for appropriate device.
These two open libraries are working on a whole bunch of things including coordinated search results formatted to mobile screen, SMS notification service for those who request them. A key message: it's important to find out what users want. Don't just develop w/o knowing this. Take a look at gtheir Powerpoint linked from the title.
UNISA has open distance learning mandate. 260,000 students served by the universtiy. 79000 are under 25 years old. They implemented Innovative Airpac. Their implementaton project included lots of consultation within library and then agressive marketing campaign to students: posters and even a cartoon! They also conducted reserch to find out if it was improving efficiency and changing how they deliver services etc.
Mlibraries Final Keynote
Sir John Daniel, Commonwealth of Learning. Demystifying the 'M' words In 1987 commonwealth countries noticed that enrollment from Developing countries was falling. Distance learning (as an extension of correspondence learning) was pursued as an antidote. Educational technology is revolutionary: wider access, higher quality and lowest cost are all aims of education providers but they are an iron triangle and people too often believe that quality education must be "exclusive". Educational tech cuts these bonds: you can have high quality and high access. The commonwealth's goals for 2009-2012 are access to highschool education. 200mil new students in developing countries will need access to secondary schools by 2015. See the slides (liked from the title above) about "open schooling". See also a lot more details in various slides from numerous presentations on the subject at col.org/speeches.