Report Submitted by Fran Zedney
I love ALA! This was the fourth ALA annual conference I've
attended--and the first one in Atlanta--and I am still dealing with information
overload from all the sessions, exhibits, etc. Following are my notes
from the sessions I attended. I have handouts from poster sessions, the
swap 'n shop, etc. if anyone is interested in seeing them. A special thank
you to Joan Hubbard and Kathy Payne for allowing me to attend the conference!
I. Virtual Reference
II. Reference Service
IV. Usability Testing
and Web Page Design
Care and Feeding of the Virtual Librarian
Speakers from several libraries that have instituted
chat reference offered some tips. Here are some suggestions:
Librarians assigned to this service should know the
core resources and relevant databases for each major subject area.
If part of a consortium, be familiar with the home page
of each member library and where to find info for each
Regularly review statistics to add canned messages,
etc. for frequent questions, etc.
Don't try to handle more than two customers at a time
Consider installing instant messenger so you can message
another librarian if you get busy, need help with a question, etc.
Provide ongoing support for the service and to the staff
Establish guidelines for customer service. Consider
what services will be provided, to whom, by whom (not individuals
but people in which dept. or with what background, etc.)
Determine how the program will be monitored. Transcripts
may be given to individual's supervisor, for example.
Library staff who provide the service should be instructed
to use clear language (no lingo or abbreviations like BTW, for example),
have reference negotiation skills, know how to cite sources, and use
Training should include lots of practice so staff are
comfortable and competent. Technology related stress and coping skills
should be part of training. Don't stress over how long it will take
to answer some questions. Expect people to be rude. Staff members
also need to know the basics of Windows--how to minimize a program,
etc. before training. Chatting skills are important and may
require some training.
Having a technical support contact person is critical.
You need to have a tech-savvy person who can call about problems and
who can talk to the vendor.
Consider using scanners to convert print collection
to PDF so print resources may also be used to answer questions
Managers of the service should be trained in collaboration,
contract negotiation, and program assessment
Consider having Emporia State MLS students work with
our service to give them experience. One educator has her MLS students
work for IPL to give them experience.
"Know thy user"
Practice, practice, practice
Cleveland Public Library has been doing virtual reference
for about a year with their Know It Now service. They average about 50-60
questions per day. They contract out the "late shift"--8:30
pm to 9 am. That time period accounts for 22% of usage. They have also
partnered with a medical library, a law library, and tutor.com for homework
Mary Stansbury, Kent State University, is concerned that
reference statistics don't reflect the degree of instruction going on
during the virtual ref session. She thinks we need a new way to indicate
the value of the service.
Anne Lipow, founder and director of Library Solutions Institute
and Press, has a book coming out this fall on virtual reference (Virtual
Reference Handbook) and she had some very interesting/controversial comments.
I thought she was fascinating! She thinks new skills and knowledge as
well as a new way of thinking are needed in virtual reference.
Need to compensate for lack of visual and auditory cues
in virtual ref (VR)
Must be able to juggle simultaneous tasks: learn browser
tricks and know the bells and whistles of your VR software
Pace the transaction--need to periodically let the patron
know what you're doing
Become marketers and publicizers of the service
Remember your print collection
Evaluate and improve your VR web site
Seize and create learning opportunities
Take responsibility for your own continuing ed needs
Future of Reference Services
Papers from the five speakers are available at www.ala.org/rusa/forums
Some of the key ideas:
Dave Tyckoson How well are we serving our constituents
(community)? What do we do for our community? He offers that we select,
collect, and preserve information, we organize that information, and we
help the community use that information. He thinks in the future we will
have a fourth function: creating information but he doesn't know how that
Jim Rettig He recommended reading an article
"The Fear of Reference" in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
He advocates roving and thinks reference service should be place-based
but not place-bound. Values of the younger generation are immediacy, interactivity,
personalization, and mobility. They accept whatever they find but he thinks
they can generally recognize "good stuff." He recommends the
wizard that University of Nebraska, Omaha developed to search their
web pages. He is predicting the death of reference books. Says that none
of the virtual reference searches that he's seen have used print sources.
And he's no advocate of information literacy. He says BI is BS.
Joe Janes Here is another very personable speaker
with some controversial viewpoints! He said 99% of people don't
care about HOW to find information, they just want the information. The
one percent who do care are librarians! He used the analogy "Don't
try to teach a pig to sing. You won't be successful and it will just annoy
the pig!" So how do we allocate ourselves and our resources to best
serve our community wherever they are? He thinks you have to offer a variety
of services and let people choose how they approach you--in person, by
phone, email, chat, etc. He thinks we are the last generation to use ready
reference collections. Google is now serving that function. He thinks
the goal of ready reference librarianship has been met and that our job
now will be more in-depth research. He also suggests looking at www.labs.google.com
to see what new technology is up and coming on the web. Finally, he is
against the term "Reference." He says it means nothing to our
Jo Bell Whitlatch She thinks we need a new model for evaluating
reference service--what we do now doesn't take into account the value
of our services.
Anne Lipow Yep, here's Anne Lipow again.
She suggests that signage, our catalog, etc. have failed if someone has
to ask simple questions at the reference desk. She thinks we probably
don't need a reference desk! We need to be thinking in broader terms than
virtual reference. We should be working towards something like network
based consortiums in her opinion. She thinks the human need for convenience
will be a driving force. She suggests that while roving reference area
we ask patrons how they are using the databases, catalog, etc. Informal
dialogue may help identify problems with web design, etc. She suggested
looking at Woody's
Lounge for info on Microsoft products. In regard to information literacy
she says we have to ask "Are they ready to learn?"
Additional comments by Anne Lipow regarding reference service
Here are some of her comments regarding instituting change
in the work place. To change minds you must:
1) Value confusion in others.
A confused staff moves faster through change
A confused staff challenges long-held beliefs such as
if paraprofessionals are working alongside professionals at the the
reference desk, are they making the same salary? Do we have control
over our collections if database aggregators are calling all the shots?
Are we changing our terminology to reflect our patrons' understanding?
A confused staff asks difficult questions such as do
librarians have responsibility for national security (in light of
FBI requests for library records)?
A confused staff grapple with dilemmas such as how to
resolve the issue of patron confidentiality when providing personalized
2) Create a climate of learning
3) Become eustressed. Eustress is good stress--gets
things done. A eustressed staff is restless in the status quo, comfortable
not knowing it all, optimistic, undefensive, approachable, self confident,
curious, loves learning, inspires others to follow
4) Encourage change at the margins. Don't
wait for total buy-in. Create an atmosphere of innovation. Fund small
pilot projects to get the ball rolling. Travel at the speed of life.
5) Prevent the Einstellung Effect. (The tendency
for people not to want to learn anything more once they've reached a certain
Here are some of her examples of old and new thinking:
OLD thinking: remote patrons
NEW thinking: the library is remote, not the patrons. How can we
best reach them?
OLD thinking: person at desk has priority over telephone
NEW thinking: person at desk, virtual ref patron, telephone patron, etc.
have EQUAL priority
OLD thinking: I'll wait for them to ask me a question
NEW thinking: I'll be where they can't ignore my presence. Get away from
the reference desk, reevaluate your web page, etc.
OLD thinking: professional work is what I do
NEW thinking: professional work today is different than what it
has been. She thinks we shouldn't be sitting at the reference desk waiting
for people to ask questions. Professional staff need to ask themselves
what percentage of questions at the reference desk require their MLS.
If the answer is a small percentage, then maybe we need to look at how
we are staffing the reference desk and use professionals in other ways
such as developing better web pages, more user-friendly tutorials, etc.
OLD goal: expect or teach patrons to find what they need
NEW goal: tiered services to meet individual needs
And her controversial comment of the day was Reference questions
reflect a FAILURE of your library. Our services need to be more self evident.
She highly recommends Peter Senge's book, The Fifth Discipline:The Art
and Practice of the Learning Organization.
Branding Your Library
Al Ries and his daughter Laura Ries spoke about concepts of branding--what
do customers think of when they think of your product . They are the authors
of The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding (their book was given
to all the audience members). They previously wrote the book The 22
Immutable Laws of Branding. Key ideas from this session:
Narrow your focus. If you mean too many things, you
end up meaning nothing. You can't stand for everything. Focus on one
word or just a few that represent what you want your customers to
think of when they think of you. Wal-Mart, for example, sells nearly
everything but they have created brand recognition by focusing on
"sell for less."
Law of expansion states that the power of the brand
is inversely proportional to the scope--the more brand concepts, the
Law of contraction state less is better. Example from
Nordstrom's employee handbook, "Use your good judgment in all
situations. There will be no other rules." Focuses on Nordstrom's
Don't try to represent too much with your brand. Focus
on a single message.
You can't "own" everything--you can't stand
for low prices, great service, value, etc. Focus on one of those concepts.
Know your enemy. Who is your competition? I offered
that self service, i.e. home access to databases, is an enemy. Others
suggested that the Internet is our enemy. Once you know your enemy,
you can work on ways to work with it.
We need to better brand our web pages
When we do flyers about library service, where do we
put them? The idea should be to get them OUTSIDE the library, not
left at the reference desk, etc. Translate them into other languages
Ideas for brands for libraries include Service and The
Ultimate Search Engine. Also use ALA's @ Your Library brand.
Other speakers at this session offered the following:
ALA will be introducing the @ Your Library campaign
for academic libraries this fall and next spring
Bradley Baker, of Northeastern Illinois University's
library, is working on a book about marketing for academic libraries.
He said their message is "service" and they have adapted
the @your library brand in the following way. During finals week they
put "Study Late @ Your Library" in the student newspaper.
Don't compete with university marketing.
Don't have a contest--you might not like any of the
entries and you'd be committed to choosing one!
Brand Aid: Creating a Presence
Powerpoint presentation for this session may be found at http://www.eapl.org/business/ala.htm
Branding is not a simple process. It centers around getting people to
think of your product or service as their only solution to a problem or
need. When developing new projects or services focus on these questions:
Will it save my customers time?
Will it save or make them money?
Gail Payton of Mississippi State University developed an
outreach program to area businesses. They involved all the library staff,
not just business librarians. Her advice is Get out of the Library!! Visit
departments and show department secretaries (not just the faculty!) new
databases you have that would be relevant for their dept.
has email newsletter patrons may subscribe to
Does your campus have a PR committee? If so, is there
a member representing the library?
I picked up some PR materials from swap 'n shop and
poster sessions which anyone can look at
and Web Page Design
Keeping up Appearances: How We Reinvented Our Library Website for the 21st
Century, presented by members of the California State University, Los Angeles
Library Web Team
This presentation can be found online at http://www.calstatela.edu/library/ALA.htm
It describes why they redesigned, steps they took, aspects of accessibility
issues, etc. Their new page will be up this fall.
Usability Testing for Reference Librarians: Doing It Right,
Doing It Yourself
Molly Frier, Carleton College, spoke very humorously of their adventures
redesigning their web page. Their page is www.library.carleton.edu
Marty Courtois of Gelman Library, George Washington Univ.
spoke of the problems redesigning their pages. They had over 1200 web
pages! They were inspired by Jacob Nielsen's article "Why you only
need to test with five users" at www.useit.com/alertbox/20000319.html
They used students who were taking a class "Internet and Society"
and offered extra credit to participants. His advice:
Emphasize to participants that you are testing the web
site, NOT their computer skills
Check with your organization about informed consent,
confidentiality issues, etc.
It's good to do a pilot test with one person first
Treat study participants with respect--don't call them
"subjects" and don't call it a "test"--instead
say "participants in a usability session"
It's handy for the notetaker to have a laptop to type
observation notes rather than having to retype later
They found few users read the text on a page fully
Users don't use navigation bars, only the back button
You still need to study good web design--don't rely
solely on usability study
See their report at www.gwu.edu/gelman/usability
Tour of University of Georgia, Athens
On Friday June 14 I took an all-day tour of the University of Georgia,
Athens. They offered a tour of their new Learning Center, originally scheduled
to open this Fall, but now postponed until Spring. I thought it would
be interesting to see what they have planned in contrast to what we are
doing with the new Davis Campus. Little did I know the HUGE scale their
project involves. Imagine a four-story building with 26 electronic classrooms,
ranging in size from 24 to 280 seats. As well as 1000 connections for
laptops and 500 computer workstations. Printers will be networked for
every 10-15 stations and will use cash cards to pay for printing. According
to the provost, their goal was to add classrooms and library seating.
The new building is a meld of library and electronic classrooms. If the
building is full of students, it will hold 4500-5000 people! The facade
includes 800,000 red brick and a wonderful cupola which reflects the classical
architecture prevalent on the campus. (Buildings on campus date back to
1805!) Inside, more than 2800 MILES of wires and cable provide computer
and Internet access. You can see for yourself at http://www.libs.uga.edu/slc/slc.html
Robert Hughes was the speaker for the Opening Session. He is Time Magazine's
art critic and the author of several books including The Fatal Shore,
about his native country of Australia. He is an outspoken liberal who
was critical of President Bush, the FBI, John Ashcroft, and others. He
compared Fundamentalists to Muslims. When he finished speaking, ALA president
John Berry said, "Now, Robert, tell us what you REALLY think"
which had everyone laughing. I also got to see one of the original copies
of the Declaration of Independence (the copy Norman Lear paid $8,000,000
for) which was on display for the opening session.
I have a variety of handouts and bibliographies on distance education,
virtual reference, GPO Access, marketing, etc. Let me know if you are
interested in seeing them.
On the bus ride to the University of Georgia, Athens I sat next to Katherine
Holmes who is assistant director of the library at Lesley University,
Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was interested in the Best Practices conference
on information literacy and gave me the URL for a presentation she had
done on learning styles. I think it has some very useful information.
It's a small world category
Finally, at a session on marketing, Grolier awarded the Omaha Public Library
with $1000 for their use of the @your library campaign. The director's
name seemed familiar to me. Turns out that Ron Heezen, who used to be
the branch manager of the Davis County Library in Clearfield more than
20 years ago, is now the director of the Omaha library. He was instrumental
in encouraging me to enroll in the MLS program BYU offered. It was great
to see him after so many years. And Omaha is where I lived until I was
nine years old. As they say about a small world....