Policy Paper

Whew, what a summer. In a previous post, I mentioned the policy paper I was working on with a couple classmates regarding how public libraries (our primary focus; we discuss academic libraries, as well, though) should deal with ebook issues. We sort of fizzled out on trying to professionally publish it (I think we’re all too preoccupied with job-hunting), so I figured I may as well post it here, at least.

Ebooks, DRM and Libraries (pdf)

The 2 minute PowerPoint presentation giving the most bare-bones highlights imaginable for those who don’t want to plow through our 28-page paper.

Internship, part 4

The NOPL 23 Things:

My main, ongoing project

The original 23 Things was created by Helene Blowers to instruct staff in Web 2.0 technologies; it has proven very popular, and has since been adopted by hundreds of organizations in several countries.

23 Things logo I created

This was the project I took on this summer at Northern Onondaga Public Library. Kate wanted to get the ball rolling on it as soon as possible: after all, when normal staff is already busy, you don’t want to waste the opportunities afforded by intern power. 🙂 My initial assignment was simply to research possible topics to cover and any associated issues (e.g., free or pay services, basic info, etc). This outline was presented to the committee responsible for organizing Staff Development Day, during which the 23 Things would be officially announced.

Beyond a couple particular topics Kate wanted to be sure were included, such as Overdrive, the library eBook service (not strictly Web 2.0 but useful for staff to be familiar with), I was given free reign to determine the vehicle of the lessons (I chose the fairly typical blog, and WordPress over Blogger for almost everything), the context and exercises, the readings, and the schedule (which did need to be approved).

I opted to make each “Thing” an exercise for a topic rather than a whole topic itself, though I’ve seen it done either way. This was primarily for simplicity’s sake. All major topics and sites of Web 2.0 were covered, and judging from the slow progress of the participants, I’m certain that it was a good call to not require even more exercises per topic.

Participants were instructed first to come to the 23 Things blog for sign-up instructions, which boil down to: 1) create a blog, and 2) fill out this form. (I previously discussed some of the difficulties with even this.) For each completed thing, participants are supposed to create a blog entry about their experience with and opinion of those things in order to get credit. Those who have completed all 23 Things (and have the blog posts to prove it) will be eligible to win their choice of a Flip camera or Sony eReader at the end of the official program in mid-October. Ultimately, I believe we got most of the full-time employees and many of the part-timers to sign up, for a greater than 50% overall sign-up rate. Follow-through, on the other hand…there are to this day blogs that never got a first or second post.

Side note: I’m kind of worried that when it’s time to pick a winner, no one will be eligible. 4.5 months were allowed for what I would consider to be pretty simple activities. I understand that people are busy at work and then have other obligations at home, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect 30 minutes one day to at least skim the “lesson” and do the task and create a short blog post on it. I’m not sure whether its a testament to the participants’ other duties’ pervasiveness, or my failure to inspire an interest in the relevance of this subject, or both, or what, that’s to blame.

I drew inspiration from a number of other 23 Things sites (sites and videos to use as references, possible topics to cover), but all content is original. This is partially to my discomfort with wholesale “borrowing” of other work, even when permissible through the Creative Commons license, and partially due to the fact that at this point, let’s face it: Web 2.0 has been around a while. Many of those older projects referenced sites or topics that no longer existed or seemed relevant, or at least weren’t as relevant as other, newer developments in social media.

I tried to strike the (very challenging) balance between catering to the completely inexperienced while trying to come up with enough new or interesting things to maintain the attention of the more experienced users. (Interestingly, the earliest sign-ups seemed to be from the people least in need of Web 2.0 lessons!) I also devised “the 24th Thing” to take care of this problem: for any lesson that was old hat, participants could instead explore something new to them, or at least come up with some new twist on the given topic (for instance, one person explained Yahoo! Pipes in her post on RSS feeds). Alternately, if they were pressed for time or just incurious, they could simply write about their past experience using XYZ– the purpose of this project was not expertise or drudgery, but rather simply ensuring everyone had the exposure they wanted. I tried wherever possible to address multiple services (e.g., Microblogging = not just Twitter but also Plurk or Tumblr) so as to limit anyone to the Internet’s equivalent of big box chain stores, and to address issues like the Creative Commons and fair use and privacy.

Once the program got rolling, part of my week was divided between the three branches in the immediate NOPL system to help anyone who needed extra guidance. I certainly did help people through, there’s no arguing that, but in doing so circumvented all that hard work I put into writing entries for the blog…after all, there’s no need to read if I can give you a 2 minute summary and instructions. On the other hand, I suppose that means I really only needed 2 minutes worth of text: again, a problem in part due to the wide variation in experience and interest levels of my audience.

Internship, part 3: 23 Things

A few general observations gleaned from my experience (by no means the full work-up of the 23 Things project):

1. There are a lot of social networking sites whose primary letter involves F, T, or P. For the handout I created for Staff Development Day announcing and explaining the 23 Things, I inserted a big graphic that consisted of lots and lots of little icons as something colorful and flashy and as a sort of implied self-quiz (“Lessee, Amazon, yeah, eBay, yeah…little pink basketball?”) Since the original image grid was just a big assembly of icons meant for download and use on a website, many of them were unrecognizable to me. As I set out to figure out what they were with the intention of posting a key to the site, I came to notice just how many sites out there have very similar icons and how often the aforementioned letters are used. Just look at F: Facebook, Flickr, Friendster, FriendFeed, Foursquare, Furl…

1a. There aren’t really any useful indices* to social networking sites, nor is there any comprehensive key to those icons– the same icons which are so often the sole representative of their services on the web. You’d think someone would’ve made a big table of all the sites they could find, plus common icons and service summary, already. At least, if there is, I sure didn’t find it, and I invested several hours into all kinds of searches. Sure, that’s a monstrous task, and sites open and close every day. However, the most comprehensive effort I could find was a 70-page listing of site after site, identified by their stylized logo, with no groupings (photography/images, social networking, design networking, microblogging, etc) or identification to suggest: “This particular little T means Tumblr!” The most useful resource lay in the “see all” links of the “Share This” features of web pages.

*not in Firefox’s dictionary, for some reason

2. People don’t read. They really, really don’t. Now, I already was aware of this, between working at an ice cream shop franchise whose discounts and coupons were usable only at their originating franchise location and hanging out on forums on which new posters often don’t even glance at the rules or any other stickied posts before plunging in.

However: library folk. Not all librarians, sure, but in the library environment and probably at least abstractly supportive of literacy and eduction.

Nonetheless, there were still multiple people who overlooked the 2 or 3 warnings to create a blog (and here’s a step-by-step, illustrated guide to 2 major blogging sites!) before they registered as participants. I wound up increasing the warnings to 4 or 5 throughout the pages, clearly enumerated the sign-up steps, and changed the font colors to add clarity. Perhaps those are constructs I should have kept in mind when publishing the first sweep of content and instructions. On a relevant tangent, I very much appreciate the thesis of Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, that maybe when lots of people–or even you in particular– consistently pull on push-open doors and fail to keep track of all the different number combinations to command phone functions, maaaaybe the design is flawed, and you are figuratively losing a fixed game. In this case, though the content was there in triplicate, I presumed people would want and have the time to read through everything. I also didn’t clearly isolate the steps of the instructions enough.

Interstate library

I just arrived back home in Syracuse after driving down to Texas and back to visit my parents. As my boyfriend and I were  slowly progressing through Virginia, we were keeping an eye out on those highway signs that tell you what gas stations, lodging, and restaurants are near the next exit, hoping for a Chick-Fil-A, southern-born fast food home to a tasty fried chicken sandwich (and non-existent in New York). After many, many miles of still not seeing one and fearing that the franchises has run out in south Virginia, I started to ponder how we could figure out where the next one would be.

If only one of us had a smart phone, I started, but even the hypothetical data plan price rates made me move on. Of course we had our laptops with us, but they’re no good if there’s no wifi around. The idea struck me that if only we knew how to get to a library, we’d be all set. It then occurred to me that I couldn’t think of many libraries located near an interstate, though of course if they were there, I wouldn’t know, would I? The OCPL Beauchamp branch is within a mile of I-81 through Syracuse; not that you’d know just passing through. Visitors’ centers located near the borders of states get signage, of course, but they aren’t around the mid-state areas. If only those library road signs could be expanded to the exit notifications…!

Or to get very ambitious, just think of an interstate library system. You finish your audio/book early on a long car ride and need diversion? Pull off and check one out. Need to know where the next XYZ is, or what’s neat in the area, or where the nearest ATM for your bank is, or confirm some reservation? Library! Librarians or the public computers, either one. Return it to the next one 100 miles up the road or something.

Of course, the logistics seem like a nightmare. Books get easily passed around a county, but entire states? Across state lines? Probably wouldn’t work out. But still…

Internship, part 2

In the intervening weeks, I have…

  • attended a Staff Development Day, which was a lot more fun than it sounds. The bulk of the day was devoted to a Technology Petting Zoo,  which consisted of 5 or 6 “stations” small groups rotated between to see examples of and play with various gadgets or programs. I helped man the Skype/wireless printing table.
    • I also got to officially announce the 23 Things, which was bolstered by all the other tech-oriented activities and demonstrations of the day. More on this later.
  • attended a Public Relations Roundtable, in which PR folk from various libraries in the system (those who can have their own PR person) discussed potential outreach ideas.
    • This concluded with a tour of the library the meeting was held in, the recently remodeled and expanded Onondaga Free Library. It was gorgeous! There were separate areas for kids, teens, and seniors, and everywhere there outlets and tables for laptops. Large print items and CD sets of old radio programs were in the senior area. The children’s area and community room were the most incredible though: it was designed around a woodland theme, complete with carpet to resemble a brown pebbled path winding through grass.
  • attended a ChiliFresh demo– this company offers a sort-of plugin for Polaris that adds ratings and reviews options to the patron the way Amazon does. It definitely seems like a feature whose time has come.
  • sat in on another manager’s meeting…fabric samples were again a big topic that needs to get decided. I’ve learned that fabric duration can be measured in “rubs,” as in “this fabric is good for 250,000 rubs.”
    • I’ve also learned that New York state obscenity laws are very specific, so that technically there is a wide variety of nasty things people can view on library computers and not be breaking any law. A delicate situation when correcting this behavior.
  • helped out at a library outreach event in the form of a live t-shirt screenprinting booth at Canal Days in Brewerton. For those who had library cards, shirts were only $2; $5 if they didn’t, but we also had application forms and a branch right across the street. The t-shirts were of a sad bunny who needed “more library” and included the NOPL name and logo across the bottom. Sadly, the small event had not been organized nor publicized well at all, so there weren’t many people in attendance overall.
    • Ace the library dog was present as well. He is a very well-behaved mutt who comes in to each of the 3 branches once a month to be “checked out” for 20 minute intervals, during which he can be read to, taught tricks, or just loved on.
  • Sat at the reference desk and finally fielded questions! I answered a question to whether anything could be saved to the library’s computers, how to change the line spacing in Office 2007, and whether we had books by a certain author. A few more people wandered over with book availability questions, but I had to direct them over to the other computer where the library’s manager was stationed, since I don’t have a log-in for Polaris, and it doesn’t seem very useful to get me one for my last couple of weeks (most of which is not spent doing reference).

Internship, pt. 1

This past Monday I started my internship with the Northern Onondaga Public Library system. I’m primarily at the main Cicero branch, but director Kate McCaffrey has been helpful enough to plan visits for me to North Syracuse and Brewerton to get acquainted with all the libraries and their people. My primary personal goal for this internship is simply to experience working at a library. My past internships were more archival in nature, and while I do enjoy that kind of work, I need to know what else is available career-wise…so why not start with the iconic “public librarian” role?

While I am working at the library, however, I will actually be working: my main project is to develop content for NOPL’s own version of the 23 Things.

New things experienced this week:

  • Sitting at the reference desk (though sadly no one asked anything while I was there)
  • Children’s story hour at Cicero and North Syracuse for kids 2-5 (divided into two age groups). The librarians read gardening-related picture books and afterward the kids got to plant their own seeds in a cup to take home.
  • Sat in on a library manager meeting where the business-end of library management was discussed, e.g. new employee time sheets and looking at fabric samples for the new comfy chairs to be ordered (definitely not the focus of library classes!)
  • Observed and helped catalog new books and DVDs, and processed them (adding relevant stamps and stickers)
  • Shelved books
  • Sat in on a committee meeting for the upcoming Staff Development Day, during which my 23 Things will be formally announced