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Library Camp 2008: Part 1

March 24, 2008

Camping outI had the excellent opportunity to attend Library Camp last week at Ann Arbor District Library. I had heard about previous Library Camps but had never gone. Library Camp is very cool because it’s an unconference–a gathering with no set agenda, where the participants decided what to talk about once they get there. Library Camp provided the chance to meet with other library technologists in a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere and to explore what is most interesting to each person.

The day’s agenda is here, and these are notes I made from the sessions I attended.

Session 1:  Killing Netflix Dead

What do people like about Netflix?

  • delivery of items
  • instant access to materials (they offer downloading of videos now)
  • the awesome Queue
  • the wish list idea

Some libraries mail all holds and figure the cost into their operating budget.

Do libraries have the power to get ILS vendors to do what we want? i.e. the ability to create hold queues that are inactive, suspend holds, create wishlists. If not, libraries then have to hack to create the tools we need.

Libraries would like to be able to put patron’s wish items into a list and connect or not connect them to a hold queue. (At ACPL those items automatically go into a queue. Patron hold lists become very long and crazy.)

An interesting idea was that libraries could buy a couple of hundred copies of a popular title, and sell most of them after the popularity has died. These could be sold to other libraries or to the public. Someone commented that some libraries may not want others’ castoffs/hand-me-downs.

I found all this really fascinating, considering that the state of Indiana just passed a law which caps property taxes. Property taxes are our main source of funding at ACPL. We want to be able to provide fantastic service to our patrons, yet our budget will decrease by over a million dollars in the future. I would love to work to provide smarter services to patrons and do it cheaply! How do we do that?

Session 2:  Virtual Reference and IM

I admit it, I am addicted to Twitter, and I love texting and chat too although I don’t do those as much (because I’m old, OK?) ACPL is going to be sticking a Meebo widget into our null results pages (in the catalog, when you don’t get results, the widget will be there) and also on the Ask a Librarian page, sometime this summer or so.  So I wanted to know how other libraries are doing it.

Meebo is very popular among libraries using virtual reference.

One person said it can be challenging to do IM because they may have more than one Meebo window open at a time.  They use the away message to let the patron know that they are busy helping another patron.

Someone must be scheduled to do IM reference.  One person cannot cover the desk, phone and IM at the same time.

At one library, staff at several different locations may cover IM reference.  (*I think this would be an interesting idea of how to staff our virtual reference at ACPL.  So far there has only been talk of staffing it at GRef…)

Lots of patrons chat with a librarian through the widget and may not even have IM accounts through AOL, Yahoo, etc.

There is a mix of the kinds of questions received, depending on the type of library.  Public libraries get a variety–reference, circulation, tech support, “Do you have this book?”

Librarians need to take care not to spend too much time with one patron, like two hours–too much.  Staff also need to send short messages back to patrons.  They may be reading the text on their cell phones and can’t handle reading a couple-paragraph-long answer.

AOL IM allows people to text into the IM client.  Twitter allows this also.

“Twitter is an old people thing.”  I’m afraid this is true!  It may not be the right tool for reference.  I think it would be interesting to survey our patrons and ask how they do communicate electronically, and how they would like to communicate with librarians.  E-mail is an old people thing too.   Some college kids thought it was creepy that their college instructor had a Facebook account.

J. Blyberg asked how people are using text and IM on portable devices for reference.

Columbus Metropolitan Library has a virtual reference center which I hope to see when we visit on Friday.  Their virtual reference serves as triage.  Front-line librarians are not expected to conduct virtual reference, so they can give face-to-face patrons their full attention.  I asked if they use books as reference tools; the answer is yes.  At University of Michigan’s Engineering Library, Google recently scanned their reference collection.  It was gone for one week and it was only missed a little!

Later this week: Session 3: Pathfinders and Subject Guides!

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