Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Last month, Shane Nackerud posted a status report about the UThink project to the WEB4LIB mailing list:
"The University of Minnesota Libraries have been hosting blogs for the entire U of M campus community through our UThink: Blogs at the University Libraries project found at:
We've been running the project for about 4 months now and so far 455 blogs have been created, and over 400 faculty, staff, and students have used the service. U of M community members can easily create a blog with their central authentication Internet ID and password. Users are literally up and running in less than 30 seconds. We created the service to allow for team or class blogs, where multiple authors can access and modify a single blog, and many students and professors have taken advantage of this:
One of the things that really impressed me, though, was Shane's statement that they've "also successfully integrated our SFX service into UThink so that researchers can easily post SFX citations to their blog(s) from an SFX menu (http://blog.lib.umn.edu/radh0003/research/)." I think that's pretty stunning, and it's the very embodiment of what I was trying to say at BloggerCon last year. I'm going to have to get the scoop on this one! I don't think anyone in the room at that conference was able to understand what I was getting at, but if you click on the SFX link in this paragraph, you'll see exactly what I meant. Remember, too, that if the item is available to you as full text, it's one click away! This is an excellent example of how libraries can support bloggers and improve the quality of citations in the blogosphere.
I asked Shane for an update of the statistics he gave in the WEB4LIB post, and here's what he had to say:
"The stats today are thus:
Total number of blogs: 592
Blog authors: 1054
Blog entries: 5870
Comments to all blogs: 2912
So, we've had a nice little jump since August 11 when I wrote last.
If you ever want to see the stats for yourself, just point your browser to https://blog.lib.umn.edu/cgi-bin/ulib-directory.cgi. That page has up to the minute stats and anyone can see it. One thing that is odd about that page, though, is the Blog Users section. The numbers in this section do not even come close to adding up to 1054 because of some unexpected problems with how we allow blog owners to add authors to their blogs. Essentially the numbers in the Blog Users section reflect users who logged into the system without having been attached to another blog before hand. So, really, they are totally first time users. I think the numbers nicely reflect who has been most interested in the service since its inception so that is why I leave it up. The 560 user discrepancy is probably almost totally undergraduates that have been attached to a class blog by a professor."
I think those are stellar numbers, and it's amazing what the libraries there are accomplishing with blogging. I can't wait to hear Shane talk about the UThink project at the Internet Librarian conference in November!
Stream MP3s from your PC to your Sprint phone
"...a company called Quadline is offering a little software app called Catahoula Streaming Audio thatíll let you stream your MP3 and WAV files directly from your PC to your PCS Vision-compatible Sprint cellphone (note that it doesnít work with any of the Sprint phones that run on the Palm or Pocket PC operating system)." [Engadget]
Doh - it won't work on my Treo. And the Rhapsody folks still haven't gotten their butts in gear to make their service available via Sprint. Fortunately, Pocket Tunes is coming to the rescue (albeit not until later this year)!
"The Pocket Tunes service for Palm OS will allow users to browse their music collections and playlists stored on any home computer. The selected music can be streamed to any Palm Powered smart mobile devices via WiFi hotspots or mobile data services. Users will have access to their entire music collection wherever they may be, without requiring significant memory on their Palm Powered smartphone or wireless handheld. The service will automatically transcode music files stored on the home computer to an appropriate rate based on the available bandwidth."
"On a positive note, if any more YAs start IMming me, I will be forced to take the Head of Adult Serviceís up on his interest in helping with IM. Iím looking forward to this not only because weíll be increasing our availability, but also as an experiment of sorts. Many of the patrons who have been IMming me now know me by name. Through repeat contact Iíve seen working relationships develop between librarians and patrons in person, and perhaps now through IM...." [walking paper]
Where the Patrons Are
"As you may be aware, earlier this month the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a report on Americans' use of instant messaging that gave a pretty good view of the impressive extent to which IM has taken hold.... Now, when I take that together with the information-seeking behavior seen in another Pew study on students' internet use that we referred to over here, and the phenomenon of information foraging that we cited over here, I start having some interesting thoughts about the question that Bernie Sloan is asking on some email lists right now: 'What's wrong with digital reference? Why don't more people use VR?' I'm starting to wonder if the problem is that we are trying to get the users to come to us, instead of taking our services to them where they are. Is it perhaps time for VR services to consider outreach programs to other online spaces, like we do in our physical libraries?"
By setting up our VR services on our library websites, we're sitting ourselves securely behind our virtual reference desks. And why not? The reference desk is a very functional place to do reference -- you're surrounded by all the materials and tools you need. In the same way, our VR software environments afford us all the best amenities and tools -- co-browsing, materials sharing, pre-scripted messages, whiteboards, pointers, slideshows, meeting rooms, the works. But as many libraries have discovered, it can make a huge difference when librarians get out from behind the desk and start going to where the patrons are -- either helping lost patrons find what they're looking for at the library, or getting the bookmobile out on the road, or offering services at community events.
Maybe as VR services, we need to be looking for more ways to go where the patrons are. And of course, the beauty of being virtual is that we can be in more than one place at the same time! So how about it? For example, how much programming might be involved in creating an automated 'bot' that could bridge the gap between IM networks and VR software? That way, a VR client could deploy a 'bot' called 'springfield_public_library' onto AIM, Yahoo, MSN and ICQ simultaneously. It could sit in patrons' buddy-lists, or be found through other discovery mechanisms, and if the patron has a question, she could just start a new IM chat....
That's just one idea. There's lots more we could be doing to be putting our services out into the 'public spaces'. For example, why just have our VR entry points on library websites? Why not start placing VR entry points on other sites where our patrons go looking for information? The State of Delaware has the right idea... they have their statewide AnswerOnLine service linked from all over the state government website, including the very top page. (Colorado has a similar link on its top page but it doesn't explain what it does; Ohio's links are buried or nonexistent). How about your city?
What about links in banner ads? Would the Ad Council back something like that? (Would it matter -- does anybody even look at banner ads anymore?) And of course, what about mybrarian? Seriously, why not offer a mobile wireless reference librarian as part of your bookmobile program? I bet somebody has already done it. Or how about...?" [lbr weblog]
Where to start? First of all, I love how shifted this post is!
Second of all, my own experiences with VR haven't been good, so I can't imagine what the average patron must encounter. In the three times I've tried to teach Kailee how to ask a librarian a question online, we've never once succeeded in even reaching a librarian. The first time, the two services to which I have access were closed and the third one in Illinois (that I know of) wouldn't accept our question because we weren't in a participating zip code. The second time we tried, no one ever "picked up" our question, and after six minutes of waiting and trying to log back in a couple of times, we gave up. The third time, we were at the grocery store using the new library kiosk, but their VR software pops up a separate window for the chat and the kiosk's browser doesn't handle pop-up windows. Oy. So I think part of the problem is that some services are just still too beta, but the above post is dead on that VR services have to be found on more than just the library home page and need to be reachable in different ways.
When we proposed the statewide reference portal Illinois Clicks, the intent was to include a link on every page to the statewide VR service. Except that the VR project splintered and there isn't a statewide one anymore, so there isn't a single VR link anywhere on the freaking reference portal, let alone the State's web site. That is just so wrong. And that's just one obvious example.
And I still long for a library-centric search toolbar for the catalog that includes a link to the library's VR service. And IM bots are going to be a big key for searching the catalog and asking reference questions, even though most librarians don't realize it yet. After all, pull out your cell phone and decide if you really want to pull up your OPAC or VR service on that tiny little screen. Wouldn't you rather IM or SMS a query? Your patrons would.
Does anyone know if Google is still participating in the Open WorldCat? I'm highlighting the project during the Top Tech Trends panel tomorrow at the Illinois Library Association conference, and I don't see anything from OW on the first page of search results for any title I've tested (using these suggested titles). I'm not going past the first page because I'm pretending I'm a patron (actually, they don't show up within the first five pages). All seems fine in Yahoo, so I don't think the problem is with OCLC.
Things that make you go hmmmmm.