Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Learning a bit about "preemptive" reference

When I first read Brian Matthews' post about ubiquitous reference, I was intrigued. I wanted to read the paper, but finding a bit of time to do it has not been easy as of late. I finally took a moment to read it. He links to a paper that reports his preliminary findings, and he also links to a screencast video demonstrating the technique. I read the paper, which at four pages was easy to read, and I watched the demo. As an aside, I am finding the use of screencast to be extremely cool. I definitely need to make some time and learn more about that since I see some good instructional potential.

Back to the reference idea. I found this interesting because of the setting I work in. I am in a small enough setting that I get to know my students very closely. I am also a blogger, so I am pretty comfortable with the tools that Mr. Matthews describes. So, the idea is appealing because it presents me with another way to get in touch with students, and one that means they don't have to come see me (or any librarian at the desk). I think it can work here with some small tinkering. Mr. Matthews used Xanga and LiveJournal as the tools to locate student blogs, and he searched on the basis of students listing his institution as an affiliation. For monitoring, he used Bloglines, but I am sure that any other reader librarians use will work ok as well. I use Bloglines (and I have a Newsgator account, but I use that mostly for some news services and as a backup for when the Bloglines plumber shows up), so I am used to that interface. He mentions using the keyword search option for feeds, which is something I have not explored, since I usually just use the feed reader to read blogs, but it seems like it would be useful. Here's another incentive to explore some more. Mr. Matthews created accounts in Xanga and LiveJournal for his study. He discovered that students react better to a librarian than to a generic username from an institution. I guess even online, the human touch is important. At this point, I don't have accounts in those services, but I may consider doing so now. What I did wonder is how this could apply to users of MySpace and Facebook. I know MySpace allows for some blogging. Can content from those social services be picked up as feeds as well? I will have to do a little investigating on that regard. The reason I wondered is that based on some observation, I gather that a lot of our students use services like MySpace and Facebook a lot more than they would use LiveJournal or Xanga. On the other hand, students are known to use various things. This would be the question I would want to ask.

There are a few quotes from Mr. Matthews paper that I want to make a note. Not only are they neat ideas, but some of them fit with my own service philosophy. As often happens when I make notes like these, these are just things I want to remember for later. These come from Mr. Matthews' paper:
  • "Instead of forcing patrons to interact with us, we can enter their domain and seek new ways of providing assistance. By monitoring blogs, librarians can step beyond their traditional role and serve as teachers, mentors, and counselors" (2).
  • "By submersing myself in this environment, I was able to detect and respond intuitively, before the patron considered contacting the library" (3).
  • This quote is in the context of Mr. Matthews responding to a blog post where a student was anxious about some classwork. "Additionally, I was able to address the noted anxiety and offer assistance with the assignment. Rather than waiting until it was too late, I was able to interact with the patron early in the semester and to suggest appropriate resources and research techniques" (3).
  • The context of this quote is on responding to criticism about the library on student blogs. "Reading student blogs enables librarians to better understand user expectations and provides a chance to correct misunderstandings or to sympathize with unfortunate encounters" (4).
  • "Blogs allow us to interact with students in their natural environment, and to provide timely, meaningful, and intuitive assistance. Reaching out to students creates a personal connection. It allows them to see us as allies, rather than as part of the academic bureaucracy" (4).
That last quote stuck with me because one of the things I try to do in my work is to have students see me as a face of the library. I do try to minimize the impression that I work for the university "machine" (Open disclosure: I should note that I have a significant hatred of bureaucrats, so anything I can do to minimize the impression I am part of some static, burdensome, and clunky system is valid as far as I am concerned). Given the amount of student consultations I do, I would like to think I am somewhat successful in that regard. So, overall, I am sold on the idea, now if I can find the time to tinker around a bit. It seems time is the one commodity in short supply. However, I am thinking this is important enough that time has to be made for it. At the end of his screencast, Mr. Matthews noted that the challenge is monitoring the blogs. I can see it is a challenge because it adds another little task to the overall reference work. And yet, it does seem like a fairly easy thing to try out. Definitely worth exploring, and as I learn more, I hope to post some of the progress here.

And by the way, Mr. Matthews has gotten a couple of comments on his blog, and he replies describing a bit more the process he follows, so definitely go over and read it.


Brian Mathews said...

Hey Angel,

Thanks for the interest.

I found that students use myspace & facebook differently than LJ and Xanga. Those products are more introspective, whereas MyS & FB are more social interaction.

There are about 400 GT students (that I know of) using LJ or Xanga-- so that gave me enough to test it out.

I more or less wanted to experiment with the technology-- it's only going to change (myspace is always starting to become uncool!) -- however I wanted to try and get librarians talking about new outreach methods.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Brian: Thanks for stopping by. Hmm, interesting that you mention the different usage of MS and FB vs LJ and Xanga. Here in our library's lab you see a lot of MySpace use, some Facebook. However, I know one of our student workers uses Xanga. Maybe one of these days I ought to ask her about it out of curiosity. Still, we are on a campus where many students will ask "what is a blog?" However, I often guess they blog (if they use the option on MS for instance), just are not aware they are blogging (or know the term).

At any rate, a very interesting approach to outreach. I may definitely give it a try. Keep us informed. Best, and keep on blogging.