Sunday, August 28, 2011

A letter to my past self (personal)

Warning : Self indulgent personal post follows 

So I celebrated 4 years in librarianship on Aug 27 2011, big whoop right? Typically such posts would wax lyrical about how with 4 years under my belt, I am too experienced to call myself a newbie but not too experienced to become a veteran (most associations use 5 years as a cut-off to determine whether one is a "new professional"). I will then go on to muse about how far I have come, yet how much further I have to go.... :)

It's also traditional writing such posts to do either a "If I knew then, what I know now..." or in a more fun format  "letters to my past self".

Who am I to go against tradition?  Feel free to skip it if you not interested in personal self-indulgent posts, normal blog posts will continue next week.

Letter to my past self

To : Aaron of 2007
From : Aaron of 2011

Dear past self,

You (or is it we?) just started work today and I still remember the first day you started work as a librarian. You were nervous, unsure of your place, uncertain if you would cut it in this new strange profession. I still remember your first few meetings, quiet, reserved to the extent that a colleague (now ex-colleague) commented that you were so quiet saying nothing just listening quietly like a consultant.

But we both know the truth of course, inwardly you were actually bursting with ideas and opinions but decided (perhaps wisely) that you didn't know enough to comment and perhaps you were afraid and unsure whether it was your place to speak out as you were still finding your place in the organization and feeling out the organization culture.

This is not unusual, the "you" of 2011 sees the same uncertainty in some of our newer colleagues, but I would like to assure you that, eventually you will start to find your place and calling in the library world and eventually you will realize that you can indeed contribute your ideas and passion. 

I am sure you would want advice and answers from your older and perhaps wiser self, but writing from the present of 2011, it's tricky to give advise to you, my dear past self of 2007. While I have some regrets and there are many things I wish we could have changed (some of which may have avoided a lot of pain and suffering for many),  we both remember enough of the time travel stories we loved to read as a teenager to know that meddling with the timeline is risky, and almost always creates a worse outcome :).

So I am not going to spoil the surprise for you, except to say the next 4 years are going to be by far the most eventful period in your life yet. I warn you, it won't be a bed of roses, far from it! You will experience the lowest of lowest and yet achieve many professional and personal triumphs. In some ways you will achieve things you never dared dreamt was possible though in some goals you are going to fail completely despite wanting it and fighting for it with all your heart. But that's okay.

As for actual advice, in some ways I can't do better than asking you to read Roy Tennant's An Open letter to a new librarian and Meredith Farkas's Be the change you want to see but if there is one personal advice I would give to you , it is this; believe in yourself, don't worry too much of what others think and you will be astonished how far you will go.

Many of the obstacles you perceive to what you want to do are precisely that, perceptions, that purely exist in your mind and will disappear once you pluck up enough courage to fight for them. Be patient though, and keep working at the things you feel are important and perseverance might win the day.

I know that you, dear past self would find this passage & perhaps whole post *really* corny and would not believe any of that, but the "you" of 2011 in some respects is different person in terms of believing what is possible once you put your mind to it.

Don't get me wrong, you would still recognize yourself of course, introverted, working on insecurities and being prone to over-thinking, after all four years *isn't* that long to change one's basic personality. But I bet you would be astonished at how far we have grown in terms of confidence from being so nervous that you could barely avoid stuttering when suddenly called upon to speak by colleagues to confidently giving lectures to the whole library and even winning best speaker prize at a conference (I guess it's safe to mention this without affecting the timeline too much).

In case you are wondering, the "you" of 2011 is still in some ways as clueless as the "you" of 2007, he still doesn't know for sure how the future will turn out, whether libraries will have a future, still needs to work more on people skills, etc. But that's okay, nobody is perfect and nobody knows the future (well except the "You" of 2015 but we are not him yet and he isn't writing yet).

Your older self
Aaron

PS : Excuse the mistakes in tenses and pronouns, it's confusing writing to you/us/we?

I am always advised to look ahead rather then backwards so a "Letter from my future self in 2015" is perhaps a good idea as well and I initially wanted to post it here as well. But upon reflection, such a letter is too intensively personal even for me. Will post in it 2015 here if the blog is still around. :)

























Sunday, August 21, 2011

What are mobile friendly library databases offering? A survey

Just as mobile friendly library sites (including library catalogues) are becoming common (see my survey on library mobile sites and survey on library native apps), library vendors providing databases are keep pacing with mobile friendly databases either as a native app or more commonly as a mobile web version.

The main issue of course is do users actually want or desperately need the ability to search library databases on the go? The surveys done so far have being mixed.

The Cambridge and Open University study found that “it is not worth libraries putting development resource into delivering content such as eBooks and e-journals to mobile devices at present” as a vast majority of respondents stated they would never read an ebook or journal article on mobile.

The California Digital Library study collaborates this to some degree. Their survey shows that while users are likely to use their mobile phones to get “quick hits of data” only 10% were reading academic content on their mobile. Barriers included small screen size, difficulty to take notes and citation flow-outs are not designed for mobile phones.

Interestingly enough despite that only 10% were reading academic content from their mobile, 53% said they would like to search mobile databases from their mobile either “frequently” or “occasionally”. (See also the IFLA paper I coauthored with Tiffini Travis for a more in-depth literature review)

Of course, surveys asking users to predict their own future behavior is hardly concrete but I am not aware of any statistics out yet on actual usage on a mobile phone (though it no doubt exists) and certainly it would be interesting to notice if switching to a mobile friendly database actually helped increase usage on mobile phones.

In any case, a few mobile friendly databases have started to appear and I thought it would be interesting to compare the ones I had access to.

Please note, I don't have access to every database in the world, in particular I don't have access to Gale's iPhone app. As I focus on articles databases I left out databases that provide statistics like IMF's Datafinder or Naxos. I also left out databases that are just restricted to a single journal, particularly if search is not enabled (e.g. Wiley-Blackwell JournalsNEJM).

Lastly medical related databases in particular Pubmed which has a official mobile web site as well as half a dozen of unofficial Pubmed iPhone apps (e.g PubMedontap) have being left out, since Medical librarians are a different breed and I will let them evaluate those :)

I was curious about the following issues

a) Comparing Mobile web versions and/or native app versions to full desktop versions
  1. What were the default options? 
  2. What limiters were available in the mobile version? 
  3. What options were not possible in the mobile version? 
  4. What sharing options were available? 
b) With regards to the native app versions only
  1. Was there also a mobile web version, if so what were the differences? 
  2. Was there use of native functions like storage of articles, push notifications, GPS, rotation etc 
  3. How was authentication done? 
The table at the end of the blog post shows the comparisons but let me first point out a few things I noticed

Search options in mobile databases (web and mobile)

Of the databases I tested which I had access to, the default search is typically a keyword or "Anywhere" search. Some of them I couldn't tell at a glance, were probably the same as the desktop version. No doubt the default search in mobile databases follows what is found in normal desktop versions, but I can't help but wonder if this is a mistake.

I haven't really done any usability testing of any sorts, but while doing literature review for the IFLA paper, I noticed that most of the use cases mentioned were mobile usage were actually known item searches.
Some examples include - looking up paper or book mentioned by professor in lecture (so one could place hold, download), getting a paper you read before again to check some detail etc. Conversely most people couldn't imagine doing a research type search on a mobile phone which is where a "everywhere /keyword" search would be most useful .

Of course even with a default keyword search, if you typed enough of the title and hopefully the title isn't too generic, it would usually be a hit, but given this is mobile, typing is very awkward and error prone.....

Even more frustrating is when you realize there seems to be a trend towards not adding title search only as a search option. In my survey among others, Cambridge Journal Online (mobile web), Ebscohost mobile (mobile web and native app), IEEExplore (mobile web), ScienceDirect (native app), SSRN etc did not have a title only search option.









Ebscohost mobile web version was particularly odd, there was a field codes link (see above) which just linked to a page on field codes you could use. I mean literally it was a help page on that (see below).

Ebscohost mobile showing fieldcodes

Unfortunately I suspect most users wouldn't bother with fieldcodes even if they understood, and again we are talking about entry on a mobile phone so even a librarian would find it way too much trouble to type that in. Also unlike other databases, I believe Ebscohost's algothrim actually gives preference to matching terms to the subject headings compared to title, which makes known item searches with title names even more problematic.

In fact this lack of title search option might not be particular to just databases, I haven't surveyed the mobile friendly library catalogues throughly but AirPac for smartphones also does keyword search only.

Personally, I understand the lack of space might drive such decisions to leave out any search options, but I really think it would be good to have them as a option, either in advanced search or as a pull down etc.



Scopus (iPhone app)
JSTOR (mobile web)


Sorting of results & Refinement/Expansion options


For sorting of results, most didn't offer any options and just did default relevance ranking or offered by date which was reasonable I suppose.


Most didn't offer any refinement options or expansion options, though IEEExplore (mobile web), Annual Review did. Ebscohost (mobile web and native app) allows you to do a search for an article, then click on subject, source, author in the record to do a new search of that. 





IEEE xplore, clicking on Narrow Results, gives you options at the bottom.



In Ebscohost mobile, you can click on a record, then click on the Author, Source, Subject and do a search for items with the same (search expansion)







Annual Reviews refinement 

In Annual Reviews app, there is a refine button at the bottom right, clicking on it allows you to refine by many facets anything from keywords to Article Type, you even get to see the number under each facet. This is probably the most advanced implementation I have seen thus far. I hope more mobile databases will have this feature since searching is harder than browsing on mobile given the awkwardness of typing.

Sharing & Saving

Once you get a mobile smartphone, you essentially get another computing device which you need to manage data flow together with your desktop/laptop. How do you get something you read from there to  your other devices? In this context, it is probably less important to figure out how to get articles read/saved from desktop/laptop to your smartphone, though the reverse is definitely critical.

The easiest and most obvious way is to use email and it's pretty much the most common option. The question here is, what is emailed? Typically could be just a simple record but not the pdf.

But with social media on the rise how about tweeting or liking stuff? Scopus iPhone app allows you to tweet the article which you are reading which is nice.

Tweet article from Scopus iPhone app


But the Nature app probably takes the cake in terms of social media intergretion you can push to Connotea, Facebook, Google reader, Instapaper, Pinboard, Readitlater, Tumbler, Twitter, Papers! 


This list would be respectable even for a outright web 2.0 company.



Options for sharing on Nature iphone app

Of the Nature sharing options there are 2 academic networks, Connotea (a academic version of delicious) and Paper (a citation manager like EndNote). I don't have the later (and don't use Connotea) so I can't test it, but given we are talking about academic papers, I wonder if the whole article citation is captured as opposed to just doing a bookmark on the url.

Of the citation managers I am familiar with Wizfolio, EndNote, Zotero and Mendeley, the last is the only one that has a iPhone app. If the mobile database can open the article in PDF, on an iphone you can "Open with" the Mendeley app to get it in but it will get the pdf (which will sync with your desktop version).

Mobile web vs Native app

There's a big debate right now (and not just in the library world) about the merits of supporting mobile web or native app or both. The same dilemma is faced by library databases vendors as well.

Some like Elsevier seem to have gone the native app approach with Scopus and Sciencedirect apps, others like JSTOR, Cambridge Journal Online are mobile web only.

Ebscohost could be one of the few with both an native app and a mobile web version. Annual Reviews used to have both, but right now the native app seems to redirect to the mobile web?

The main advantage of a native app is a more personalized and customizable interface where you can store saved searches and preferences and more importantly the ability to carry saved articles on your phone to refer to anytime you want even without net access. Below shows some examples




        Ebscohost native app
 Scopus native app


ScienceDirect native app
IOPScience native app


    Nature native app
 Ebscohost native app


It seems to me in a mobile web app, you could have saved searches, saved articles etc, but it would require the user to login with a user account etc, which would be clumsy.

The other advantage of native apps is that they can take greater advantage of the smartphone's capabilities compared to something running on mobile browser like Safari Mobile.

I'm not quite sure though this makes any difference in the case of library databases. The main thing I can think of for iPhone apps anyway is the ability to send push notifications or alerts. The Elsevier apps seem to have this, with citation alerts and search alerts.




Some of the iPhone apps like Ebscohost's when rotated shows a different layout though if you rotate though I think this feature is actually negative as I find the rotated view useless (see below).



Search results
 Rotated view

To my knowledge the issue of mobile apps vs web apps in library databases has being addressed so far most in-depth by Stephen Francoeur here and here . He makes very good points on why mobile web is probably better but one point he makes is that authentication of native apps is "clunky" and "Idiosyncratic".

What he means is, with the mobile web sites, users can authenticate using the usual methods like ezproxy. Native apps have to use other methods, typically you have to "prove" that you have subscription access to the database by some-means first before the native app will work. This can be by getting the vendor to email you a special code, or by "pairing up" while on mobile web. Most will also force you to do this every x days so you cannot have access indefinitely even after you leave the University etc.

Conclusion

Like everything in mobile, everything is in flux right now and I get the impression, library database vendors, publishers are feeling their way around like everyone else. As librarians with direct contact to our patrons as well as experience with using databases, we can help by voicing our what we like or do not like about mobile friendly interfaces in databases.

Most mobile versions are simply stripped down versions of desktop versions, one wonders though if one can do something completely different particularly for iPad versions (though some feel iPads aren't mobile due to the size of screen) . For sure I would love a flipboard type experience on a iPad version of say ScienceDirect.

So dear readers, what are your experiences using mobile friendly databases so far? Do you think they will take off? Do users appreciate them? Or will they end up like RSS feeds, a function that is probably used by a small subset of people but ignored by most?


DatabaseDefault SearchOther
field searches
Advanced Search
(limiters)
Sorting optionRefinement/search
expansion
SharingAuthenicationRotation/Push/GPSComments
Annual Review (iPhone app)AnywhereAuthor, Title, Abstract, DOIJournals of interest vs all journalsRelevance, Most Recent, Most Cited, Most DownloadedRefine by Author, Keywords, Series Title, Article Type,
Content Type, Date range
Search expansion by author and keyword
EmailDevice pairing, browser pairing (30 days)Rotation yes
Browser pairing
No true back button.
arXiv (iPhone app)Alltitle, author, abstract, idNoneNoneability to browse by author from authorNone?FreeRotation yes
Cambridge Journal Online
(mobile web)
AllAuthorNoneNoneNoneEmailUsual web method e.g EzproxyNA
Ebscohost (iPhone app)Same as default desktop? NoneFull text, Peer Reviewed, Autocomplete, Publication
Name,
Publication Date range, results per page
Relevance and datesearch expansion ability to browse by
 subject, author,  source from article
Email   Generate authenication key for 9 months from
desktop
version
Rotation in results list and details



Saved searches, recent searches, Saved articles
Ebscohost (mobile web)Same as default desktop? noneSame as desktop versionNoneNoneEmailUsual web method e.g EzproxyNAField code option just shows help file?
Relevancy bar - useless?
Can't browse?
IEEExplore
(mobile web)
AllNoneSearch within , narrow result by
content type, publication year, author, affiliation, publication title,
publisher, subject, conference country, conference location, Standard
term
Email "send the article link to your e-mail address
or authenticate via IP address"
NA
IOPScience (iPhone app)Title & AbtractsAuthor
Browse by Most recent, journal, subjec
NoneNoneNoneEmailFree ,20 articles download per monthRotation yes, Downloads (20 per month)
JSTOR
(mobile web)
Same as default desktop? Author, title, Abstract, Caption
Browse by title, Discipline
Article, Review, Editorial, Data range, LanguageNoneNoneEmailGo to full site  first  NA
Nature (iPhone app)Same as default desktop? NoneNoneNoneNoneEmail, Connotea, Facebook, Google reader, Instapaper,
Pinboard, Readitlater, Tumbler, Twitter, Papers
??Rotation yes
PLOS (iPhone app)Same as default desktop? NoneNoneNoneNoneEmailFreeNo rotation, except pdf
ScienceDirect (iPhone app)AllAuthor, JournalNoneRelevance and dateNoneEmailValidate with institutional email and ScienceDirect
Account, 6 months expiry
Push for search alert
No rotation for search results page



Personalized home (Search alert)
Saved articles


Scopus (iPhone app)"Title-abstract-keyword"All, Title-abstract-keyword, Author, Source Title,
Affiliation, ISSN, DOI
NoneDate, Citation Count,Relevancy orderNoneEmail/TweetSame as ScienceDirect?No rotation for search results page and details page
Search alerts, Citation alerts (push)
SSRN (iPhone app)"Title, author, abstract, Keyword"NoneNoneNoneNoneFree No rotation

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My thoughts on the new digital divide - How to think about search?

I wrote about Helene Blower's new digital divide here

It's one of those slides where you look at it, and you are instantly struck by the brilliance of it.

One criticism I've read about this idea is that it's not nuanced enough, and too simplistic. I think It's not quite fair a criticism since the word "divide" , implies only two possible sides?

Still, perhaps we should jettison the idea of a divide and talk about degrees of information savvy "Those who know how to think about search and those who don't"

Here's my very take on how to unpack this. Note this is still somewhat simplistic.

1. People who don't Google or do any kind of online searching
2. People who only have the "google reflex"
3. People who google as a first step but know when to go beyond

#1 are people who are the have-nots in the old digital divide. They lack the google reflex or habit. It's not necessarily true that they don't have access to the internet, it's just that they haven't discovered the power of search engines or aren't comfortable with computers.

I'm sure you know of many older family members, colleagues and friends who are like this. They turn to you when they can't figure out why they are getting a certain error message or how to use a certain function in Outlook, and are amazed when  you figure out the solution almost instantly by googling the error message or the function name.

This famous xkcd comic illustrates the point.



#2 consists of a large group of people these days , in particular the younger ones. Their first and only reflex when faced with a question is to google it. Many have essentially offloaded memories and facts onto the net , why bother remembering anything or storing anything locally, if it's just a google search away right?

They tend to be comfortable with ambiguity, quickly skimming information, jumping from page to page until they gather enough information to answer their need. BTW That's basically what I do when I write blog posts connecting diverse threads.

A recent article (full paper) getting a lot of discussion is a study showing that people who relied heavily on systems to store facts, information were less capable of remembering the facts itself. Essentially people find that Google is so good at finding stuff, they don't need to remember.

Honestly, I am not sure why people are surprised or alarmed? Isn't that what good reference librarians do? A good one may not know exactly the information but knows where it might lie (could be print source or online) and sometimes more importantly who to ask.

What are the implications for libraries when dealing with users from this class of users? Firstly, don't expect them to come through the main library page. You can spend a lot of effort making such your site beautifully designed but a lot of them will never see it and just google for what they need and deep link in straight away.

So for example students attend a library orientation and learn that they can get past year exam papers from the library portal. A large number will not remember the steps involved to get there. They just google "nus library exam papers". So making your pages findable, searchable is important. Also design it such that for most pages it makes sense even if the user just jumped into there as a landing page . I also like the way some system librarians make sure their catalogue pages are all indexed by Google.

One simple example, I was looking at one of my libguides and I found it was one of the most popular guides, despite me not popularizing it much. A quick look at the google analytics of the referrers showed that most people were using google to find it and went in there directly bypassing the main libguide page (or even the portal page) because it had terms that people were searching for in their assignments.

One issue with such people is that if the information they find is not on google (or at least not on the first few pages of results), it's essentially does not exist for them. They are also not necessarily the most skilled at using advanced google features because for most simple basic searches google is optimised such that the first few results are what they need. (e.g. Opening hours of libraries).

I'm a bit worried since these class of users are the ones who often won't come to library classes because they have always being able to find what they need for most everyday tasks. They might not realize their skills don't apply for academic level work either because google doesn't have it or because our library tools aren't working like Google.


#3 are the ideal class of searchers of course. They still heavily use Google of course. But they know a variety of search techniques and tools. They use limits to narrow searches. They use real-time searches like twitter search when they are monitoring breaking news, social bookmarking tools like delicious when they want to quickly find precurated sites bookmarked by experts, they know how to find discussions of products on specialized forums and sites etc..

They are also not adverse to directly using specialised google vertical searches like google books, google scholar, google news etc when necessary. While it's true that the main google search gives you access to most of these via the Google universal search interface, the results tends to be a lot better if you use an appropriate vertical search if that is what you need.

Even more importantly, they know how to search and access the invisible web (academic databases), and when to go offline to look for information (print books and journals).

After handling many queries from users, I notice this class of users are fairly rare. Some people I think tend to have this misconception that you cannot use Google AND library databases together. So for example I get users who will use every trick I teach them on how to find an article using library databases fail and are stunned when I find them the preprint using Google/Google scholar as it never occurred to them to google it.

My guess is some people tend to divide their tasks into library/academic and everyday tasks and use different modes of searching.

People vs Sources

Information resides not just in books, or even in the internet, but also resides in people's brains, which makes being able to find the right person to ask questions important as well.

Again, I distinguish between three classes

#1 Those who don't ask people
#2 Those who rely only on physical network of friends
#3 Those who have a virtual network to rely on.

#1 refers to people who haven't yet realized that some times the information they need reside in the brains of people.

I myself am weak on this point, I am quite reluctant to ask people until I feel I have exhausted every other option, though in recent years I have changed to being willing to ask more.

#2 are people who only ask people they know personally very well. So for example an undergraduate will ask his closest friends about what databases to use, a out of work person might ask his close friends if there are any job opportunities.

Most people are here. If a librarian is able to get himself into this position (where people think of him when needing help) with regards to most of the community he serves he will have done well.

#3 refers to people who have cultivated a large number of weak ties.

Before the rise of the internet and social networking, this meant doing a lot of physical networking

As digital services like facebook and twitter make cultivating weak ties a lot easier this generally led to a class of people are very active on social networks like facebook , twitter, linked-in or even just plain old fashioned forums/mailing lists to cultivate their networks.

For example as a librarian if you have a strong twitter network of peers from libraries locally or internationally, you can tweet out a question on a certain library policy and ask how other libraries are doing it and you will quickly get responses. Some use the term PLN or Personal Learning Network to describe this.

Even in the days before social networks like facebook, people who knew of the right mailing lists and forums were at an advantage as they could channel their inquiry to the right lists or forums and have a high chance of expecting a good answer, particularly if they have being active members of the community.

I have being really fortunate in having a good network of peers and seniors in the library world to learn from and have blogged about some of my favourite networks I use to get news and seek help.

And often such ties once created virtually, can bear fruit and lead to physical networking and meetings. For instance my trip to New Orleans ALA Annual 2011 would have being a lot more lonely if I didn't already have existing online ties.

At this point with the rise of social networking, more and more people are realizing the power of weak ties but many still don't. A simple rules of thumb is, if someone is on Twitter and interacts with a large number of people they have never met in real life, they generally have a fairly strong number of weak ties.

Conversely people who use Twitter pretty much like Facebook probably don't have that many weak ties.

Some librarians are filling in the gap and trying to teach members of their community on how to use Twitter, Facebook even Google+ for these purposes.

Conclusion

I am not going to pretend I am a master searcher, my searching skills are probably just adequate for a librarian (I am more of a stubborn searcher than a efficient one in my view), but I believe my classification does have some value when it comes to thinking of search.

What do you think? Do you agree with the way I classify users and the way they think about search?

Note : This is the last of unfinished blog posts series (one has being converted to a book chapter & seminar presentation), since then I have generated even more unfinished drafts of course  that might never see the light of day. :)





Sunday, August 7, 2011

How libraries communicate with users - some questions

I had the opportunity recently to populate the "Contact us" option in our new library page which led me to realize how diverse library communication channels are.

Typically most libraries would offer
  • Phone
  • Email (mailing lists?)
  • Instant Message/Chat (e.g. MSN, meebo chat rooms or paid options like Libraryh3lp)
  • SMS 
  • Video-calls (e.g. Skype)
In addition, I know of other innovative librarians who have being thinking of or playing with among other tools Googlewave, Google+ huddle (group text messenging), Google+ hangout (video chat for up to 10 people), Viber/Whatsapp, Apple iOS5's iMessage, virtual worlds like SecondLife and I had the recent opportunity to try webcasting/online conference tools like Web-ex all of which allow users to communicate with us.

But even that isn't the end of the story. Most libraries have social networking channels like Facebook (usually pages but even groups are not unheard of), Twitter, Youtube, blogs, slideshare/scribd accounts which do allow users to communicate by leaving comments, even though the main purpose of such channels are to one to many broadcasts or for pushing specific content.

And of course these are just online tools without considering posters, LCD displays etc though these normally do not allow much feedback. 

As each of these tools are adopted by libraries, you can see library literature appearing that typically consider whether the different nature of the communication channel compared to face-to-face meetings affects
  • volume of queries (ie acceptance by users)
  • types of queries
  • expected response times
  • ease of conducting reference interviews
  • some comparison with earlier communication channels (occasionally)
While such research articles are interesting, there doesn't seem to be any holistic type of research that 
studies
  • the impact of starting one new communication channel on an existing one
  • why users choose one communication channel (say chat vs email) when they want to contact the library

In addition, I have always wondered why some libraries choose to go on some communication channels while forgoing others. 

For libraries have being around for a while, I suppose adoption goes typically from
phone to email to Instant messenging to sms/Facebook/Skype which is roughly in the order where they were available, but this is not set in stone.

For example a small puzzle for me is why Libraries in Singapore do not seem to have adopted IM reference until fairly recently, while most libraries in the US have had it, some for almost 10 years. For sure it isn't a technology issue since libraries in Singapore are typically on par in most areas nor is it a usage issue since IM is as popular here as anywhere. It could simply be a localised quirk in the personalities/staff involved in pushing technology in libraries here.

It also seems obvious to me that some channels are strong substitutes for each other but which ones? If you are starting a new library, for sure you will do phone & email, but what of the rest? 

Is IM reference enough? Or should you do IM reference and SMS reference? Do you really need a Facebook page if you send out mass emails? It would be nice to offer all of them, but each channel has a cost associated (training of staff, maintenance of infrastructure etc).

For instance, I read that Australia dropped the AskNow Chat Service  in Dec 2010, citing "change in the information landscape since the launch of Ask Now in 2002. With the dominance of Google and social networking sites, there are many new ways people can engage with libraries." Not quite sure I buy that reason.

Some librarians have expressed to me a desire to be on as many channels as possible to serve all our users according to what they prefer and I can see the merit of that. For example, when troubleshooting issues I prefer using chat as opposed to phone because we have a shared phone and it's some distance from the PC and I can type as fast if not faster than I talk. While a colleague of mine prefers the phone.

Similarly, I'm sure many of our users also have their own preferences on how to engage the library.

Another question, I have being pondering for a while is, you have all these diverse channels, from Facebook, Twitter, email, LCD screens, posters, postings on library websites etc... which one do you use?

Recently our school term began, and we started to advertise our library orientation events. A interesting question to me was, which channels should we use?

I suppose the obvious thing would be to blanket all our channels. Would that be annoying? A mass email followed by the same news posted on Twitter , Facebook and blog? How many of our users both follow us on Twitter, like our facebook page and subscribe to the library blog?

Even if one were to blanket all our channels, how about timing of release? Do users expect the same news to be sent all the time at the same time?

Is it fair to privilege certain channels say Twitter and send the information there first? I can imagine this can possibility lead to howls of outrage and questions of equity would come into play particularly if we talking about a very popular but limited event. But then again, would it be useful to release everything at one go on all channels?

For instance, changes in opening hours are generally posted 1-2 weeks before it occurs, system maintenance of databases & websites anything up to a month in advance , would it be useful for the same information to be pumped onto Twitter & Facebook at the same time as it is posted on the website?

I have often found based on likes and retweets the best time to post such news on Twitter and facebook tends to be just the day before.

I don't have any answers as I don't know much about marketing, just musing aloud. Curious on how other libraries handle these issues.

Is there a centralized strategy on how and when each communication channel is used in your library? How do you decide what to use? Are you worried about duplication of efforts?



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