Monday, October 26, 2009
As I try to create a presentation that I hope will explain to my colleagues why we're moving onto a Drupal-based site, one of the things that I keep envisioning is the ways in which it can help us to (if we implement it as successfully as I hope we will) integrate our online environment. We no longer want the end-user to make their way through the fragmented, incoherent experience that our disparate online systems create. We want our users to have a sense of our library (which they arrive at via our organization's website) as the place where they can find x, y, and z. We don't want them to have to think about the fact that x came from our catalog, y came from our digital collections, and z came from a database that we'd created. Yes, we want them to be able to track down items in our physical collection, to link to images and documents from our collection that have been digitized, and to find information from that database. But no, we don't want them to have to know what the back-end looks like in order to get what they want.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
I've been taking a look at the Twitter streams for #il2009 & #libcamp09 (the unconference held in Monterey before Internet Librarians began - preconference for IL happens today, then we have a few days of Internet Librarians goodness to keep an eye on) & saw this gem from @RachelsVoice (retweeted from others) "RT @pjbent: RT @civillibrarian: "end user selected books circ six times more than staff selected books" (@sabram)! Wow. #il2009 #libcamp09"
Now last week I had a post-NELA supper with a couple of my fav (granted I have a lot of those) colleagues & one of them talked about an automated user-based collection development system that her consortium of academic libraries is starting up. I was so impressed. For the longest time, I've wondered why we don't just hand over the reins to the users when it comes to collection development (for the most part... granted, reference may require librarian / subject matter expertise as guidance). So I'm glad to hear that some libraries are finally doing this.
In a similar vein, don't forget that some of our leading edge public libraries now recognize that having staff members with "cataloging" expertise is no longer a requirement. With the many high-quality bib records out there, why do so many libraries seek out catalogers? There are institutions/organizations and contexts in which cataloging expertise is needed - but in many libraries, the highest and most pressing technical knowledge needs they have are related to computer and telecommunications technology. I know, I know - that scares librarians because it displaces a library-specific skillset with a more general skillset, but that's the reality today and the faster libraries get on-board with this reality, the less likely they are to disappear.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Just as a house requires blueprints in order for construction to go well, a website needs information architecture for a library to build a coherent, easy-to-navigate site. But more than that - you have a whole web presence these days. Your web presence is no longer just a simple site, it's now an ecosystem.
Here's where it gets tricky - with Web2.0 tools, staff are empowered to create bits of what will eventually become a part of your library's web presence (and to do so very quickly and painlessly). This can be great, in many ways. Because web2.0 technology is so easy to use, however, people may not have given much thought to where their work fits into the larger vision of the website or organization. When people randomly build on lean-tos, suddenly the blueprint is no longer 100% accurate and the building itself may lose its integrity.
With Web2.0 options like wikis and blogs, we have to understand why staff members are tacking onto the web presence with third-party tools. Is it possible that some work needs to be done on the workflow of regular web content creation processes to make it easier for staff to publish using the website? Is the website the better vehicle for what they want to publish? Do they understand enough to use the appropriate tool for this issue they're working on? Were they solving a problem that another web content team or author was already working on addressing? Is everyone communicating and collaborating in the creation of aspects of the web presence? Does the "webmaster" know what staff members are planning when it comes to web efforts and can they envision how it would fit into the architecture of their web presence?
In all too many libraries, there is no dedicated "webmaster" or even "systems librarian" planning, building, maintaining, and upgrading the website or the content management system it may be built upon. In those libraries, it's possible that the only one who's creating aspects of the web presence on the fly is the person who also serves as webmaster part-time. If it's just a question of one web author, there will be no problem with coordination. That person is operating from their own unified vision of the organization's web presence. But when you're working in a larger organization, the rules change. The more decentralization there is, the more communication and collaboration there MUST be for your web presence to be successful.
On the flip side - serving as the dedicated webmaster for MPOW - I know that I don't always communicate as well as I should. I have a whole lot in my brain - a lot of plans, information architecture, and ideas - but it doesn't all always end up communicated to everyone who needs to know it. As a result, sometimes we get our signals crossed. Someone creates a bit of Web2.0 wonderfulness & then I try to figure out whether or not to wedge it into our existing web presence & if so, how. I hate the concept of saying "no" to a bit of content that someone has enthusiastically put together, but if it really doesn't fit or meet users' needs, as webmaster, my role is to serve the larger vision, not to serve the individual staff member/creator's need for that bit of Web2.0 wonderfulness to be publicized and congratulated. It's not about the needs of the librarians - it's about the needs of the users.
Usually, I rely on RSS to help me pull things together. I can include some portion of blog postings that are mounted on external servers by integrating them into the body of our web pages (I've used the old ByteScout ASP script & more often the RSS2js java script). But even this, if unplanned and unchecked long enough, can become unwieldy. Sometimes, subsections of MPOW don't want their stuff glommed into the larger news feed. But if they talk with me, I can help them to understand both the pros and cons of the situation & ways we might achieve what they're seeking. For example, it may just be a matter of adding in a tag to their blog postings on a specific topic. If they add such a tag, I can script on the RSS feed of posts with that tag.
All of the confusion that can arise, all of the integration issues that suddenly appear when staff become more Web2.0-literate remind us that the web presence can be a complex entity -- even an ecosystem -- unto itself. In order for the organization to achieve its larger goals & to appear coherent & memorable to end users, the organization needs a coordinator. That coordinator has to ensure the communication, collaboration, and management of the larger vision. They have to build the information architecture of the site and all of its components. They also have to pull together the many pieces of their web presence that are not built into the single system that serves the website itself. In addition, they have to view the bits of the web presence that are seen by patrons as being one and the same as the library's website (such as the catalog, commercial databases, blog(s), digital collections and so on).
Friday, October 02, 2009
Also, don't forget that NELA (New England Library Association Conference) is coming to Hartford the week after next (Oct. 18, 19, 20 in Hartford at our fancy new convention center, which is worth a view in and of itself (our new Science Center is open right next door)... other sites to see nearby include the lovely state Capitol building, the State Library/Supreme Court building across the way from it (not open to the public on Mondays, I'm afraid, but call ahead & we could probably find a way to let some librarians in!), the Wadsworth Atheneum (with world-class artwork from Dali, Monet, Connecticut impressionists, the Hudson River school of artists, and modern masters whose work I entirely do NOT understand), the Mark Twain House, the old State House, and the Harriet Beecher Stowe house... we also have some nice restaurants and bars downtown these days...)
There are others, too... the famous & wonderful Internet Librarians' Conference in Monterey - Oct. 26-28th. (no, not going to that one either... my credit cards are still stretched from last year's Computers In Libraries & traveling to DrupalCamp in Georgia). I'll watch that from afar via Twitter, etc., too.
Fortunately, WebJunction's been kind enough to offer some great webinars lately, for those of us for whom travel is unlikely. "Building a Digital Branch", with David Lee King was last week (a recent posting from him on connecting the physical library to the digital is worth viewing), then I watched part of the "Digital Reference Summit" this week. Oh, and an aside, David Lee King has a quick & interesting post on "What's a Content Curator?" Take a look if you get a chance...