Reasons To Like Team Blogging

There’s a good read in the Wall Street Journal today (free access – yeah!) that will catch the attention of any blogger – and I know we’ve got a fair number of bloggers among our readers. It’s about the vacation dilemma. What do you do when it’s time to get away for a week or two? Do you just tell the readers to forget about your blog for a while? Do you get a guest blogger?

I faced this dilemma back in July with my other blog that is a solo effort. I definitely did not want to post while I was going to be away for the week (my decision had absolutely nothing to do with my spouse’s threats to do bodily harm if a laptop was spotted hidden away in my luggage), but I did have some worries about how that might affect readership. When I vacationed for a longer period in 2005 I enlisted fellow ACRLog blogger Marc Meola to fill in for me, which I think helped during that longer absence. So I decided just to post an announcement that I was taking off from posting for the week. Readership was certainly low that week, but it did bounce back after two weeks or so. I guess the lesson is that none of us library bloggers is so crucial to anyone’s reading regimen that we’ll be missed (but that’s not necessarily the case with some bloggers according to the WSJ article), and that when we do take off we’ll eventually get the readers back – or we’ll gain some new ones to replace any that are lost.

All that aside, being part of a blogging team such as ACRLog is really nice because any of the bloggers can take some time off and the rest of the team can keep the posts coming. That’s not the only reason to like it – it also gives the reader a better mix and variety of perspectives, subject coverage, opinions, and writing styles. It’s also rewarding to share the development of the blog with great colleagues. While ACRLog is still a few months away from completing our first year of blogging, we will be giving thought to some sort of survey to learn more about how we are doing and to get your thoughts on how we can improve this blog (more posts, fewer posts, shorter posts, more guest blogging, more special features, more visuals, better conference blogging, don’t change a thing, etc.). If you would like to share any thoughts at this time though – leave a comment – they are always appreciated.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Now That You’re Finally Retiring

When it’s time for me to retire, in, oh, 20 years or so, I hope some young whippersnapper librarian will ask me what the meaning of librarianship is. Well, if it evers happens I hope I can come up with some good advice like David Bishop did for this brief article. Bishop is the University Librarian at Northwestern University and he’ll be retiring soon after 40 years in the field. So what sort of advice does Bishop have for those of us who won’t be retiring anytime soon. Among his pieces of advice:

  • Be prepared to be flexible…the biggest job librarians will be facing is changing the expectations of libraries…My concern is that many libraries have to change and change quickly in order for provosts and the general public to see the relevance of libraries in the age of Gooogle.
  • How does Bishop think we can maintain that relevance? He recommends accelerating the acquisition of electronic content, providing community space in the library, be an integral part of teaching and help faculty and students to learn the new ways of working. Gems of wisdom? You be the judge. But I think this is good basic advice for developing and sustaining a position of relevance. Academic libraries are not immune, says Bishop, to going out of business. Well, not if I can help it – at least not for another 20 years.

    It’s Time For Serious Games

    There are certainly divided opinions about the value of electronic gaming for learning and their role in academic settings. How one feels about this issue could depend on the kind of games that could be used in educational settings. To advance higher education’s understanding of gaming a new effort called the Serious Games Initiative has just started becoming more widely known. The goal of the site is to focus on games that explore management and leadership challenges facing the public sector. Part of the mission of the site is to bring together the gaming industry with education, training, health and public policy for greater productivity. The site seems more like a series of blogs (that haven’t been updated since June) than background information or analysis about the use of games for serious applications. I plan to keep an eye on the site. I suspect that the influence of gaming for education is only going to grow.

    Down With Engines, Up With Portals

    Must be the time of year for search engine usage studies. I just came across another one contained in the Annual E-Business Report produced by the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan. This one’s main finding is the U.S. residents are less satisfied with traditional search engines, but happier with portals like AOL. The findings on user preferences for different engines with respect to customer satsifaction is of mild interest, but what I really wanted to know – and what this news item didn’t discuss – is what is it about the portals (AOL is mentioned specifically) that makes customers more satisfied. I’m about to launch a portal for our business school students and faculty, and it would be helpful to know what features of portals are most appreciated by users. My portal attempts to gather all our relevant business databases, links to Internet resources, special resources pages (e.g., SWOT research, company research, etc.), and course-specific research guides into a single home page. We will be testing another portal as well, hoping that it will satisfy our users by saving them time and making it easier to choose from among research options, and if these prove successful we’ll create additional portals for our other programs. I hope to learn more about portal development and what makes them work well for users.

    One Blogger’s Take on MySpace/Facebook

    If you enjoy the debates about social networking software and what stance academics should take on these new social networking communities, I think you will enjoy this blog post by Matthew Williams (I Am Matthew Williams and Your Are Not). Williams takes to task those faculty who either disregard or complain about sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Their main complaint says Williams is that faculty see social networks as distractions to learning. He claims they need to explore ways in which they can allow their students to play a more integral role in the course rather than just being passive participants. I don’t doubt there are quite a few faculty examing how they can create more opportunities for their students to participate more actively in their courses. Can a faculty member go so far as to give more of a social network feel to his or her course? I’m sure we’ll see more of them giving it a try.

    Update on OPML

    A few months ago I shared some experiments I was doing with “reading lists’ using OPML technology. At that time I offered a reading list for higher education news resources. Since then I’ve created a unique page on my web site to hold different reading lists. The newest reading list will faciliate the addition of Google News resources. If you want to keep up with Google you might find the reading list a very convenient option for adding selected Google “keep up” blogs to your news aggregator. The page also contains instructions on how to use the reading lists. Give it a try.

    Truth In Advertising – Lies We Tell Our Students And Faculty

    Back in June I started writing something for possible publication elsewhere (I thought it might work as an Library Journal “Backtalk” column), but other things came along and I never got back to it. I was originally inspired to write after watching a video of a presentation by marketing guru Seth Godin . Godin is perhaps best known for his book titled “Purple Cows“, and a newer one called “All Marketers Lie”. You can find the video at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6909078385965257294 . I didn’t think of it until recently when I read this essay by Gerry McGovern titled “Truth Sells on the Web.”

    You see, the piece I originally started writing was about this same theme – being honest with your community. How did I come to that? It began with Godin discussing how products are traditionally marketed – mostly with lies. I wrote:

    Grodin explains it is not about the product, it’s about the story marketers sell people that makes them believe they need the product. So the market leader is often the one who tells the best story – even if it masks the truth. At least that’s the paradigm that has worked in the past. That’s not what made Google a huge success. Google is wildly successful because they give people their own story to tell. They give people something to talk about. Every Google user loves to tell a story about something they found with Google that was impossible to find anywhere else. Why do you think Google came up with the idea to feature librarians in a movie? To celebrate our genius? Heck no! It’s to demonstrate that the most reliable, dependable researchers on the planet have great stories to tell about Google, and if these people who have access to more information than anyone else can tell better stories about Google than any of those other information resources they use then so can anyone else.

    So what does this have to do with our user communities, and McGovern’s essay? It’s about being honest with them. In the past I’ve discussed something I call Googlelization. By this I mean actions librarians and our associated information vendors take to make our electronic resources look, act, and feel more like Google. It makes good sense. If our library users prefer Google when they search for information, then it follows they will like our library resoruces better if they too are just like Google. We see this all the time in the world of consumer products. If one company makes a product, an SUV, frozen food, whatever, its competitors will imitate that product in hopes of attracting more customers and making more sales. Put another way, we want to give our user communities a Google experience in hopes of luring them back to the library. When librarians decide that imitating Google is the way to get students and faculty to use the library’s databases, web site, and other electronic resources, they are telling a lie.

    The reason it’s a lie is because the user has only been given a Google façade. What lies behind the façade is nothing like Google. Instant gratification is not always a given. Instead of constant simplicity there may be some complexity. Instead of things being completely obvious and transparent, choices may need to be made among subtle shades of gray. And when all we do is imitate search engines the biggest lie we present is to create a mirage for the library user that no critical thought is required. When you think about it that is no different than any other marketer who lies about their product so consumers will think they need it because it will make them attractive, smart, healthy, etc. But the truth is that research (“re-search” – first you search, then you search again – it requires time and thought*) may indeed require some critical thought. Why are we afraid to tell the truth?

    That’s where McGovern comes in. In his essay he tells those who develop web content that it’s better to be honest with your community even if it may cause some pain or cause you to look worse than your competitor. As an example he identifies firms that allow poor reviews of their products to co-exist with the good ones. Knowing that the reviews come from typical users and not marketers, people would be rather suspicious to find nothing but glowing reviews. McGovern says:

    Much marketing and advertising is about association. We see cool, happy and beautiful people using a particular product. The association is that if we buy this product we too will become cool, happy and beautiful.The Web is different. Not totally different, but different all the same. The Web is where people go to be informed. We’re on the Web because we don’t believe the hype, because we want to get some more facts. We’re driven by logic not by impulse.

    Honest websites are not better because they are morally superior but because they are more believable and trustworthy. The customer has matured. The customer is better educated, better informed.

    Why does any of this matter? It matters because academic librarians exert great effort to create information environments that help our user communities achieve success in resolving their information needs. It matters because we operate a learning enterprise, and getting exposed to reality and authentic practice is critical to deep learning. Rather than trying to steal or copy Google’s story we need to create our own story. That’s the story I call the library experience. It will start by telling the truth about the potential complexity that can accompany research. We will tell people it may take them longer than 60 seconds to find valuable information. We will tell them our library databases are not the same as Google instead of trying to pull the wool over their eyes with a Google search box. What we can learn from the Googles, Godins and McGoverns of the world is that we need to honestly tell people our story and in turn give them a story to tell others. We can give them an experience they’ll want to tell others about. We can’t succeed by trying to copy what Google does. It’s just never going to happen. Let’s instead commit to telling the truth and learning how to create a good story about it. It’s time for some truth in advertising in academic libraries.

    * I give credit to Susan Cheney, a colleague at St. Joseph’s University, for sharing this with me

    Coping With The Catered Generation

    It was somewhat of a surprise to find an editorial in a metropolitan paper criticizing higher education institutions for pampering and pandering to what they called the “Catered Generation”. But I found it a pleasant surprise. Anyone dumbfounded by a student whose expectations for personalized service were far beyond the norm will appreciate this editorial. It is sparked by an article in the same paper about the shift in orientation programs from basic college survival skills to, well, survival skills for being on your own (sorry, the article is no longer available online but it appeared in the Boston Globe on July 9, authored by Marcella Bombardieri – I found the full text on ProQuest). Here’s an excerpt:

    These warnings for entering college freshmen have popped up at area college orientations during the last couple of years. Officials say that they keep adding new “don’ts” partly because the online world has brought new temptations. But they also say they’ve become more intent on reviewing every conceivable danger because today’s college students, known as the millennial generation because they came of age in the 21st century, have been so coddled by parents that many of them lack basic street smarts.

    The editorial encourages higher education institutions to stop babying their students and start treating them like adults. That will require all of us who work in higher education to both raise our level of expectations for students and present them with some academic challenges. While it is important to take notice of changing demographics and user expectations, the editorial suggests that we fail our students when we make things too easy for them for fear that their possible failures may do them irreparable harm. Nor does the argument to stop catering to student whims suggest that good customer relations at all institutional service points should in any way diminish.

    I can’t help but feel that this coddling mentality has invaded the academic library’s territory to a certain extent. Is seems our profession has likewise become preoccupied with discovering methods to provide students with the lowest-common denominator research tools and the elimination of anything that might be perceived as too complex for fear that students will – what – complain that libraries are too hard to use. Do we fear that students will abandon our resources for the ones that do coddle them by eliminating the possibility of failure? It’s almost impossible with most search engines, no matter how awful your search is, to get nothing in return. You can’t fail. With a library database if you do a poorly conceived search you will likely retrieve nothing – the equivalent of failure. Heaven forbid we might expect someone to show some resolve and actually think about what they did and try to improve upon it – even if the cause of failure is as minor as a mispelled word. Now if our systems don’t have spellcheck and auto-correction that’s a cause to castigate library resources and those who promote their use.

    In defense of this generation of students, this editorial and the orientation programs it remarks upon are likely directed to a segment of our students who do get attention for their juvenile behavior and their parent’s meddling ways. To the contrary we help to educate many self-reliant students who show remarkable potential as researchers and adults. While we should not allow generalizations to influence ourselves to think negatively about our current or incoming students, there is some advice worth comtemplating in the editorial. On the simplicity-complexity spectrum we need to avoid drifting too far towards simplicity in an effort to shelter students from the true complexity of academic research. Encouraging students, with support from our faculty colleagues, to engage with primary research materials or higher-level scholarly works will contribute to the sharpening of their minds and better prepare them for the complexity of their post-college lives. Our responsibility, I think, is to play a part in ensuring our students graduate with street smarts for the information jungle. Allowing our students to always play it safe, satisfy for just good enough, and live in fear of encountering complexity does them no favors.

    Conference 2.0?

    Just as the virtual library is an enhancement and not a replacement of the physical library, so too the in-person conference is supplemented and not replaced by technology. This is the first ALA Annual Conference I won’t be attending in a while. I’m glad I’ll be able to keep up through blogs and wikis, but I’ll miss the face-to-face interaction with colleagues from all over the country.

    How is social software changing conferences? Is social software making it easier for people to make in-person connections? Are audience members participating more in presentations by having access to chat or Google? Or, are conference-goers isolating themselves in their own technological bubbles? If you are at the conference, why are you reading this blog instead of talking to someone face-to-face? Isn’t that why you are at the conference and not at home in front of your computer?

    I always found conferences to be the easiest places to walk up and talk to people. You’ve been pulled away from your to-do list and spend a lot of time in limbo, waiting for things, standing in line. And so has everyone else. Instead of pulling out your BlackBerry or cell phone, try these essential 21st century skills: Eye contact. Smile. Hi, what library are you from?