Monday, December 17, 2007

Article Note: On blogs for community building and networking

Citation for the article (as provided by author):

Wiebrands, Constance (2006) Creating community: The blog as a networking device, in ALIA 2006 Biennial Conference, Perth, 19-22 September 2006.

I read it online.

This is one of the best explanations of why librarians should be blogging that I have seen in a while. In simple and plain language, Constance Wiebrands, who blogs over in Ruminations as CW, gives us a good summary of reasons why blogging is more than just an online journal. It is a tool for conversations and reflection. It is a way for us to engage each other in the librarian community. It is also a way for libraries to engage with their communities. That certainly was a reason why we started a blog here at my workplace. We are striving to build a conversation with our academic community.

As I always do, I will make some notes for myself. However, I do recommend for others to go and read this paper. In fact, printing it out and handing it to administrators may be a good idea too.

  • "The central argument of this paper is that librarians should seriously consider blogging as a useful and viable way of interacting and conversing with each other, and with the communities we serve." This is pretty straightforward, and I think over time it has been proven. All we need to do is take a look at the librarian sector of the blogosphere.
  • CW draws on the work of J. Bechtel for the idea of conversations. She uses it to make her call to librarians: "Continuing with Bechtel's conversation paradigm, librarians need to participate fully in the conversations within each individual library, between the library and the library's users, and within the wider community." This goes along with CW's idea on building trust, where she looks at how the business world has been using blogging to humanize itself. Blogging can also serve as a way to lead by example. That one I have to think about a bit more myself. I certainly don't see myself leading anyone anywhere in these meandering notes. However, CW cites Jonathan Schwartz CEO of Sun Microsystems who "suggests that by blogging he creates a culture of openness and transparency that can 'build loyalty and be a recruitment tool to boot' (J. Schwartz, 2005, p.30)." Now this I can definitely see. For me, blogging has been a way to be a bit more transparent and open, and it is open I often keep somewhere in my mind as I blog: how much open and how transparent should I be. For libraries, this is definitely important as it can be a way to dispel mysteries and make our libraries more familiar.
  • I find it interesting to note that ALIA sanctions blogging as a form of professional development. Would it not be nice if our professional organizations and workplaces did the same? And I don't mean just under the radar as some workplaces do. I mean actually taking a stand and saying that yes, this is proper and valid for professional development, and we believe in promoting it.
  • "Another vital use of blogging is the sharing of information and ideas and the facilitation of discussion." Blogs can be great tools for information and knowledge management.
  • "Similar to the book review (also well represented on blogs), the review of research and professional literature is a growing area with more and more librarian bloggers posting reviews of journal articles and books on topics in librarianship. This can be very useful way for librarians to discuss research and its application in our libraries." Indeed, a good number of librarians out there post their book reviews. A lot of them happen to be YA librarians, at least from what I have seen. As for reviewing the professional literature, many do provide good guidance on what to read and what to avoid, so there is a sort of digest function.
  • "For the individual librarian, maintaining a blog and writing posts for it can function as writing practice." This is one reason why I blog.
  • CW gives a reassuring note as well: "One does not need to actually maintain a blog to participate in the conversation. Active reading and commenting on others' blogs can be as stimulating and interesting as actually maintaining one's own blog." I think this is important to say because some out there may feel pressed to create a blog. Blogging is not for everyone, and that is perfectly cool. If you think it may work for you, give it a try. Nowadays it is very easy to try it out given the many free tools out there (assuming Internet access is available). But if it is not for you, that is fine too. However, you should still be reading the blogs. A lot of the best thinking in our profession is happening on blogs right now. You should be reading it and responding. Commenting is certainly a valid and welcome way to engage in the various conversations.
  • CW also mentions that a blog can serve as a content management system. This is something I have been giving some thought here in terms of an internal blog for reference and knowledge management. One idea that occurs to me, in the web edition of Wordpress, using those extra pages you can develop for certain topics or guides. Something I should explore further. CW is citing a British librarian on the role of the academic librarians:
    • "'One role which academic librarians can provide is to manage that content and take an active role in discovering and disclosing information relevant to academics, students, and the university community in general. ...[the blog can be] used not just for transmission of information, but for critical commentary and for the creation and authoring on new ideas.'"
    • I think the above pretty much says it all. Clearly, it will take some work, but I have faith we can get there.
So, this paper gives a good amount of food for thought for potential bloggers as well as for library managers and administrators.

P.S. In the interest of disclosure, I am one of the bloggers who was surveyed for the paper. However, it was Connie Crosby's observation, quoted on the paper, on blogging as good publicity that I think provides a little more to think about. Like me, she does not identify her firm (she works for a law library), yet her blogging has given her employer good publicity. I try to keep the references to my workplace to a minimum, but when I do refer to it, I try to reflect on it positively. Anyways, for me, I have come to realize that blogging helps to build my professional reputation. OK, I know; it's not that great of a reputation, but I know that when I was in the market this time around that people did look at my blog. So there must be something to that.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Article Note: On Blog Credibility and Politically Interested Users

Citation for the article (as provided in the article):

Johnson, T. J., Kaye, B. K., Bichard, S. L., & Wong, w. J. (2007). Every blog has its day: Politically-interested Internet users' perceptions of blog credibility. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 6.

I read it online.

This article is a bit on the long side, but the basic point is that it looks at how Internet users who have political interests view blogs. Specifically, it looks at how those users see the blogs' credibility. I am just going to highlight a few things I found interesting. Keep in mind, as I often do, I am just pulling some notes of interest. It may be good to go over and see the article.

  • The authors point out, in their literature review, that politically-interested users "relied more on blogs than on any other news source for news and information and that blogs were judged as more credible than online newspaper site, online cable television sites, and online broadcast news sites." And yet, one has to note that political bloggers, for the most part, which is the type of blog the demographic in the study would likely be following, for the most part are pulling stories and linking from the same mainstream media. Many of those blogs are pretty much link collections. Only a few would qualify as offering any analysis or depth, which interestingly enough, is what helps determine the perception of credibility for the blogs in the users' minds.
  • "Users may deem blogs to be credible because they are viewed as being independent from corporate-controlled media (Andrews, 2003; Regan, 2003; Singer, 2006)." I wonder if this can vary. I mean, many of the A-listers are either corporate or big enough to be corporate. On that last I am thinking of blog networks for instance. I guess I question if some of those voices are really as independent as they claim. And maybe this is where some of the significance comes in for me. It is in terms of information literacy and knowing where the information is coming from, the credibility, etc. As more students use more and more online sources, they are bound to find and use blogs for their research. How do those students see those blogs? Could this be another step, or a different step, to study?
  • "Political observers and researchers have identified four main reasons why individuals frequent blogs: community, convenience, to check information found in other media, and information seeking."
  • Then there was the notion of self-efficacy and how it was assessed. I just wondered how much of it was self-selected. Basically, who is going to admit that they are not well qualified to participate in politics or that they are less informed? I can certainly think of a few who probably should not participate in politics (or at least political blogging), but I am digressing. Then again, the authors do acknowledge the self-selected nature of their sample: "The respondents in this study were a self-selected group of politically-interested Internet users."
  • And guess who are the blog users: "The demographic profile of this study closely matches the characteristics of respondents in studies that have examined blog users; people who seek out information from blogs tend to be well-educated, white middle-class males (Consumer Reports Web Watch, 2005)." What does this say for diversity? Not to mention what it could say about issues of digital divide?
  • But there is some hope: "While Internet users are increasingly flocking to blogs as a source of political news and information, the moderate scores for credibility indicate that users also realize that blogs are not the final word."
  • "Inexperienced users, who are unfamiliar with the often opinionated and non-traditional format of blogs, may find them a less credible source of information. It takes more experience to truly engage with blogs, from navigating the Web to finding political sites with topics of shared interest." Now when I read this, I wondered: can some of this be taught as part of teaching web evaluation skills and information literacy?
  • "Perhaps blog content is perceived as more credible because it is considered more independent than news reported in corporate-controlled media."
  • Something that is pretty obvious: "It stands to reason that users would find their preferred media selection the most credible." Here is where that element of seeking validation comes into play too.
This is an example of the kind of article we should be looking at. We should be thinking, at least in my field, of the applications and possibilities for information literacy. Blogs are becoming a more prominent part of news reporting and discussions. And yet, their eclectic nature as well as their biases have to be considered. Students are going to find these resources eventually. I don't think we can really tell them to simply not use them. We should instead be educating them so they can evaluate merits and act accordingly.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Article Note: On e-books and the reference desk

Citation for the article:

Bronshteyn, Karen. "Using NetLibrary eBooks at the Reference Desk." Reference Services Review 35.4 (2007): 560-570.

Read via Emerald.

In brief, this was an article pointing out the benefits of using eBooks at the reference desk both for reference transactions and as a collection development tool. It does give some reminders of the features that NetLibrary, the subject of the article, offers in this regard. I have to admit that I have not used eBooks as much as I could. Part of it is because they just lend themselves to quick consulting, which does make them perfect for the reference desk. But reading out of NetLibrary is not exactly my idea of reading, so to speak. In other words, it is not easy to read a complete work in NetLibrary when compared to just having the print version in hand. However, and this is the point of the article, for quick reference work and research, this resource is good. When I was doing more instruction, I always wanted to add e-books to my repertoire for the classes beyond showing them the e-books were available. Usually what happened was that an e-book would come up in a sample catalog search, and I would have to take a few moments to show them the item, which then allowed me to promote them.

I suppose I am one of the librarians with mixed feelings about electronic books. They can be good things, but they are not easy to use. And like any resource, they do have a learning curve (I know because I have used NetLibrary as well as eBRARY), something that I don't think was quite caught in the article.

Anyhow, a couple of points from the article:

  • "Finding them and utilizing them effectively remains problematic for some. Potential users will benefit from front line staff that has developed some type of affinity for the eBook platform" (564). And this was part of the problem, finding the time to really learn the platform inside and out in order to be able to help patrons out. I learned in bits and pieces, and I am still learning. Basically, this is something that probably needs to be taught more formally via training. Possible idea: have one librarian really learn it, then teach it to the others.
  • The idea of using the tool for collection development is based on analyzing use statistics fro the online book in order to make overall decisions about collection development. In part, if the e-book is used more, it's statistics increase. Use this knowledge to supplement the print collection or keep up the electronic one.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Article Note: On word-of-mouth marketing

Citation for the article:

Alire, Camila A. "Word-of-mouth Marketing: Abandoning the Academic Library Ivory Tower." New Library World 108.11/12 (2007): 545-551.

This is a short article discussing the idea of using word-of-mouth for marketing. I have always been a firm believer of using word-of-mouth to get your message out. It just seems like common sense. If you get some people to give spontaneous good word about your service to others, then you are bound to get repeat business. I know. During my time at UHD, that was one of the things that worked for me in growing the instruction program: getting the instructors who came in to tell their colleague about their services. Often, I had a new instructor call to schedule a class saying, "so and so told me about what you do for students. I was wondering if you could do the same for me." So, I can attest the idea works, and that you should definitely be using it. And it is not just for instruction, but to market your library overall. On this, Professor Alire writes that "the fundamental objective of word-of-mouth marketing in academic libraries is getting people to talk to others about library services so that those services are more heavily utilized" (546).

The article argues that marketing is an important concept for academic libraries, pointing out that this is often an idea that academic libraries neglect. Alire tells us that we cannot take our audience, the academic community for granted. Also, we in academia need to realize that there are other places for students to get their information. Her article then describes how the technique was used at the University of New Mexico Libraries. The reason for them doing it was to tell the libraries' story and to help "in obtaining the necessary funding to continue to serve their students, faculty, and staff" (546). In the end, a lot of this is about justifying our existence. Whether we like it or not, administrators think more in business terms and the bottom line. What value does the library offer? That is the common question. Marketing then tells the story of that value. I think using a library blog is one way of nurturing this idea, but we also need to remember the personal contact element.

Alire draws on the work of George Silverman, referring to that author's book The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. In discussing academic libraries, Alire takes some of his tips and applies them to academia. I am reproducing her list here for my notes. The italics are in the original, indicating Silverman's concepts:

  • "Using experts. This could include putting together an advisory group of appropriate participants. In academic libraries, this could be a special advisory group of various library users or a faculty governance library committee. This could also include librarians used as experts to share information of academic library resources and services."
  • "Using seminars, workshops and speeches. This could include presentations or a speakers program. For academic libraries, either librarians and/or trusted advisors could be participating in these formats for sharing information about the library."
  • "Canned word-of-mouth. This could include CDs, web presentations, audiotapes, videotapes. More specifically, academic libraries could develop PowerPoint presentations with the most relevant information for others to use in their presentations." (I have to say I found this suggestion intriguing; I have to give it a bit more thought).
  • "Referral selling. This refers to the use of testimonials. One of the strongest ways to use this is to get university students and faculty to offer testimonials on how their libraries have helped them be successful."
  • "Networking. This means to be visible at events and meetings as well as helping people get information on the library's resources and services. Most library employees have networks that could be utilized for word-of-mouth marketing. However, the most effective is having faculty and students using their networks to to word-of-mouth marketing." (This is another thing I believe in, which is why I try to make it various campus events as I can. It's about visibility).
  • "Using the different media. This includes customer service as a 'word-of-mouth engine,' using PR through advertising, brochures, etc. Academic libraries can simultaneously be doing systematic PR while others are conducting their word-of-mouth marketing efforts" (547).
Other ideas from the article I found interesting:

  • On why this makes sense: "It only makes sense that this collegial type of environment where ideas are exchanged on a daily basis would make word-of-mouth marketing second nature" (547).
  • I liked the idea that the concept should be part of a library's strategic plan. This is definitely something we should be considering as we move on with our own assessments and new plans. Alire writes, "One of the strategic directions was 'Telling the Libraries' Story.' This was the fundamental basis for our marketing efforts; and the strategic plan was our guide for our word-of-mouth marketing endeavors" (548).
  • We need to remember that a large part of our efforts should go to building better relations with the campus faculty.
  • They had a brand: "Our brand became: University Libraries connecting you to worlds of knowledge" (549). On our website, currently, we feature the following brand line: "Your digital doorway to scholarly research." It's not bad, but I am thinking we may need to either increase its use (in publications, so on), or maybe come up with a new one when we unveil the new website design next summer.

They also had a message regarding the increasing cost of scholarly journals and periodicals. This is not a new issue in academic libraries, but it is one that is ever present. It is also an issue that we should get faculty involved in our side. We face it here as well, but we also face significant lack of funding for monographs (as in it does not exist. We buy books when there is money left after everything else). This should be part of the story we tell as well. Not necessarily in the negative sense. I am thinking we could use some of that word-of-mouth marketing from students. There have been more than a few times that students come in looking for a specific book, or they need books on a topic, only for me to find we do not have them. And while ILL is a wonderful tool, it should not be one that I should constantly be referring students to. A while back, in my scratch pad, I was wondering how to translate this experience into evidence I could use as part of the narrative, the story of the library. You see, those with the funds don't always think of books as something glamorous to fund; they would rather fund a monument or something more tangible. I could certainly make the case that a good book collection could make a good legacy as it would impact the education of many future generations, but that would probably be a separate post someday down the road.

Finally, Alire gives a small list of references. I already mentioned Silverman's book. There are three other books on Alire's list of references, so I am going to list them here for my own future reference (citation format as provided in the article):

  1. Balter, D. and Butman J. (2005), Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, Penguin Group, London.
  2. Harris, G. (1995), How to Generate Word-of-Mouth Advertising: 101 Easy and Inexpensive Ways to Promote Your Business, The Americas Groups, Los Angeles, CA.
  3. Kirby J. and Marsden P. (Eds.) (2006), Connected Marketing: The Viral Buzz and Word-of-Mouth Revolution, Elsevier, London.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Presentation Notes: Management Colloquium

I attended the following event on Friday, November 30, 2007.

* * * * *

From the campus flyer:

Topic: "Managers as Facilitators of Learning, Informal Workplace Learning, and the Learning Organization: A Research Agenda."

Presenter: Dr. Andrea Ellinger, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Summary of the session: "This session will present selected research studies Dr. Ellinger has conducted on managers as facilitators of learning, informal workplace learning, and the learning organization concepts that collectively represent the focus of my research agenda. Dr. Ellinger will also overview some of her current research and writing projects and discuss how these efforts will guide future developments in her research agenda."

* * * * *

The simple translation for that summary is: the professor will pretty much list her vita publications and tell the story of how she did some of the studies leading from her research. However, no actual substantial discussion of the work itself will take place. Basically, the presentation was an outline of her work with titles and minimal citations. While she gave very broad strokes of her work, I did not really get a whole lot out of the session in terms of what I was interested in, which was learning about informal learning and learning organizations. The ideas sound great, but a bit more on what the actual findings are, what we can learn from them, and how they can apply specifically to different situations would have been nice to hear. I guess I will have to hunt down a citation or two if I want to get an actual sense of the research and its implications. Having said all this, for students, especially graduate students, I can see where such a session is beneficial to give students a sense of how scholarship is developed. It specially illustrates an old concept I learned in graduate school: the concept of salami slicing. In other words, do a study or some research, and then take the results and turn them into a series of articles for publication. The professor, like most academic scholars, is pretty good at salami slicing.

Anyhow, here are notes I took while I listened:

  • Guiding question: how managers develop people.
  • The professor conducted a "managers as instructors" study. She was looking at how managers train others, then how those go on to train others, and so on. This was called a cascade training strategy (I need to look this up in the literature. A cursory search revealed it was something for training large groups of people swiftly).
    • Found one worker who expected the manager not be a formal trainer but did expect the manager to support her own personal training. (Now, I wonder how this might work in librarianship given the need for librarians to continue learning. How do their managers/directors handle it?)
    • This concept is what led to the professor's dissertation on "Managers as Facilitators of Learning in Learning Organizations."
  • From the dissertation.
    • 13 behavior sets define manager roles as facilitators of learning. It also looked at those managers' self-efficacy when it comes to them facilitating learning.
    • Citations to articles derived from the dissertation: HRDQ (1999), Journal of Management Development (1999; this one is on Volume 18, Issue 9. I had to dig it out of Emerald. Would have been nice if the professor gave better citations), Management Learning (1999; this one is in volume 30, issue 4. I found via it Sage).
  • Creating a learning culture matters and can have a positive impact on an organization.
    • See HRDQ (2003).
  • Watkins theory of workers being challenged and about learning triggers (I may need to look this up too. I got the gist that the triggers idea goes along with motivation to learn).
  • What is it about workplace context that encourages someone to develop others, and that encourages self-learning? Think of things that help and obstruct.
  • Some positive factors found in studies (I think this can have significance/can be something to think about in our profession too):
    • Learning-committed leadership and management.
    • Internal culture committed to learning.
    • Work tools and resources (books, the Internet, people, etc.)
    • People forming webs of relationships for learning.
  • Some of the negative factors found in studies:
    • Leaders lacking learning commitment.
    • Lack of work tools and resources.
    • People who disrupt the webs of relationships.
    • Lack of time.
    • Too much change too fast (this should sound familiar around some of the 2.0 discussions in libraries).
    • Structural inhibitors (architecture, people and how they are placed).
    • Not learning from the learning experience.
    • See HRDQ (2005) and Journal of Workplace Learning (2007; this one is in volume 19, issue 7. Found via Emerald).
  • Found that significant overlap exists between effective management coaching behaviors and managerial effectiveness behavior. This was reinforced by other studies. Concluded that effective managers tend to be effective people developers.
  • Idea: good customer service on basis of well-trained and empowered front-line workers (this could make a few blog posts I am sure for some people). Would formalized training and/or informal coaching increase value? Yes, it does, to an extent. Highly empowered workers actually revealed that too much training got in the way of performance. Therefore, not every employee needs the same level of training and coaching.
  • But what about social capital in the workplace? This deals with collaboration and relationships built in the workplace. Can coaching help social capital translate into performance outcomes? This is the direction her research is taking now.
Anyways, there it is. I think there are some intriguing ideas here that could be considered in light of librarianship. I will need to seek out one or two of her articles to get a better sense of her work. If I do read any, I will make a note in the blog.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Another reason why I will always have a job

The Effing Librarian has given what has to be the "line of the day." It says it all when it comes to why a good information literacy librarian will have job security:

"As long as the Internet remains an effed-up opium den, I'll always have a job."

Nothing else need be said.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Visiting with prospective students

The first part of this post is crossposted from The Patriot Spot, which is our library's blog. After that note, I will add some additional thoughts.

* * * * *
Saturday with our prospective students

One of the best parts of my job as Outreach Librarian is when I actually go out and do outreach. In other words, it’s great when I get the chance to go out and spread the good word about the library. This past Saturday (Dec. 1), the University of Texas at Tyler held its Patriot Preview Day for prospective students and their parents to “visit our campus; meet our faculty, staff and students; and ask the college-related questions you need answered!” (from the website). The library, along with other campus groups and organizations, hosted a table during the University Showcase at the Herrington Patriot Center. This gave me a great opportunity to meet with prospective students and their parents. I greeted people: I had a chance to just chat and talk to kids and their parents about the university as well as the library. I told them about some of the services we offer, and I did emphasize that our students can access our catalog as well as our databases from home (of course, for databases, this does require a log-in, which I mentioned as well). I also answered a few questions. For instance, someone was asking about tutoring on campus, and I was able to refer them to services such as those offered by the Office of Student Success. In another example, a young lady was asking about library school, so that gave me a chance to talk a bit about what it is I do and how to get the education to become a librarian.

For me, this is my first year at UT Tyler, so the event was a learning experience for me as well. I took a bit of time to walk around as well and get some information from the other groups. I also introduced myself to other campus people. Part of the reason I did that was to get a sense of just how many and what kind of services are available on the campus. Also, it is a way for me to make some contacts for library outreach as well. In addition, I also collect some of the literature the organizations and campus offices offer. I keep a small folder in my files labeled “campus information.” This is something that helps me learn more about my campus, which in turn allows me to better serve my students and patrons. The library gets a lot of questions about other campus services, so the librarians are expected to know the answers. Attending events like this is one way for me to learn those answers. Plus I get to spend time with kids and parents.

I would like to thank the Office of Admissions for inviting the library to take part in Patriot Preview Day. I am looking forward to participating again in the Spring (March 29, mark your calendars, folks). To our visitors, thank you for stopping by and spending part of your Saturday with us here at UT Tyler.

* * * * *

Some of the things I learned:

  • I probably should have grabbed the tablecloth. Our library has one, but the director had pointed out it had a small stain on it. I did not actually look at it, and it probably was not noticeable. Why do I say this? Because the tables lacked tablecloths, not even the simple cheap plastic stuff. I will remember to bring our own next time.
  • Candy is good. Yes, we had a candy dish, and it was popular.
  • "Gimmes" and swag are also good. We had pens and bookmarks. One of the pens we gave out were small pocket pens that can also work as a stylus/pointer for your portable touchscreen device. I have to tell our Instruction Librarian to keep ordering them. As for me, yes, I did get some swag too when I walked around to gather the info for reference.
  • Parents very often speak for their kids. OK, I sort of knew this, but I really got to see it in action. Parents will come to the table, mine or someone else's, and do this:
    • Parent: "Hello. My kid here is thinking about majoring in engineering, yadda yadda."
    • Kid (just stands there, pretty much invisible).
    • In other words, they talk on behalf of the kid, often as if the kid was not even there. I just found that curious, I guess.
  • We do need a brochure. I became aware of this when someone walked into our library a couple of days ago asking for a short brochure about the library. I was able to satisfy that person's need with a couple of library handouts we often use for students. However, a nice, simple brochure would be nice to have. It would have been nice for the event as well. Sure, the bookmarks we used did have our library's web address and some basic information, but something a bit more colorful would be good. Guess who gets to design it now?
  • That I love doing this kind of work. In a way, this is not really work. It's just doing something I like doing. If nothing else, it is reassuring that I am in a good line of work.
  • And I almost forgot, the admissions folks placed nice small baggies of candy with a thank-you note for those attending the showcase event. Now that was a nice touch. I always like the idea of thanking others who help you out. Definitely something I try to do as well. As I always say, small details often make a difference.