Monthly Archives: February 2010

A conversion experience

I am a creature of habits, one of which is an addiction to the daily newspaper.  I have therefore spent already considerable time mourning  the inevitable demise of printed newspapers.  While I have long been aware that most newspapers, including my paper-of-choice, the New York Times are available online, I have indulged myself by subscribing to home delivery of the printed version.  It has always been enormously gratifying to sit on my sunny porch with a cup of coffee and the Sunday Times.  I rationalized the expense on the grounds that die-hard readers like myself have to be willing to support the news, or it will disappear.  Free is not a sustainable model for investigative journalism.

Recently, two things happened that made me reconsider my devotion to the printed paper.  The first has to do with weather in New England.  The paper is delivered at about 5:30 am, when it is still dark.  There is frequently snow on the driveway, making it really difficult to find a flat white object wrapped in a clear plastic bag.  The second occurred as a result of my need to spend some time this winter in Georgia on some family business.  I was forced to feed my newspaper addiction online.  Because I am a home delivery subscriber, I was able to read the paper using the Times Reader 2.0 for free.

I was hooked by the second day.  I am not sure exactly when the paper is available each morning, but I am an early riser, and it was always waiting for me.  I quickly learned to like the interface.  It is entirely user-friendly, and it subtly changed the way that I read the paper.  With the print version, in order to avoid the minor inconvenience of flipping through sections, I would “start” all of the articles on the front page, and then “pick up” the rest of each article as I came to it.  Using the Reader, I could easily read the entire article before moving on to the next. My aging eyes loved the fact that it is possible to instantly change the font size.  And when I wanted to send a particular article to a friend, it was a one-click process.  There are ads in the Reader, but they didn’t both me.

I have been back home a couple of weeks now, but I haven’t gone out early in the morning to try to find our paper in the dark.  I have been content to continue reading it online.  I am ready to make the economically indisputable and environmentally sound next step and give up home delivery ($14.60/week) in favor of a subscription via the Reader ($3.45/week.)   My only obstacle is convincing my somewhat technophobic husband that the future has already arrived.

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What is a book?

Last fall, Scott McLeod of the Dangerously Irrelevant blog posted the following rhetorical question:

What constitutes a “book” these days? When books become electronic and thus become searchable, hyperlinkable, more accessible to readers with disabilities, and able to embed audio, video, and interactive maps and graphics, at what point do they stop becoming “books” and start becoming something else?

I was thinking of this during the past week, when I came across a book that was difficult to catalog.  At the OWHL we don’t have a designated Tech Services librarian who does all of the new materials cataloging.  Rather, the Instructional Services (IS) librarians each select materials for their associated academic departments, and we abtain OCLC catalog records through our consortium.  The IS team “enhances” the records of these materials when they are received, adding subject headings, contents notes, and other access points that we know will be useful to our students.

Last week I was working on the book –  Give my poor heart ease: voices of the Mississippi Blues. This printed book of interviews comes with a CD of music and a DVD of videos related to the content.  My dilemma was that our ILS constrained me to choose a single “material type” for the item.  Because it is a printed book, the logical material type is “book.”  The problem is that students doing a catalog search for books on the blues might find it, but if they really wanted a music CD of Mississippi Blues (and wisely limited their search to CDs) they would not find it.  Nor was it clear to me how anyone would ever find the video.  We run automated lists of new materials to direct people to new CDs and new DVDs, but those lists rely upon the material type indicator to allocate new materials to the appropriate list.  Under the current system, nothing can appear on multiple lists. This might change under our new open source ILS, but not soon enough to solve my current problem.

We decided to create three records for the item–one each for the print book, the CD, and the DVD.  They will be shelved so as to maximize the potential for discovery, and each item will reference the other “parts.”  The inelegant solution got me thinking about a future time in which the original “book” is not printed, but is digital.  An electronic full-text book could be seamlessly associated with its digital parts.  In the current case, for instance, you could read an essay and then immediately stream the associated video clip or listen to an MP3 of the music.  Now that would be user-centered access!

I have always been a lover of printed books, but I am not so naive as to suspect that they will be with us forever.  There are just too many ways in which electronic access can offer a better experience.  And the proliferation of excellent e-readers, smart phones, and hybrid notebook computers means that the “reading” experience doesn’t have to be compromised.

So what is a book?  For me, the essential element is the content rather than the delivery system.  As we move into this exciting new world of electronic resources, I believe that reading will be enhanced rather than diminished.  In the meantime, the OWHL will continue to work hard to assure that our readers discover all of the materials that they need to explore all of the questions they have.


Listening to students

For the past few years the OWHL has had a Student Advisory Committee. Students are our most important constituency, and we realized that if we wanted to continually improve our program, we needed to understand what spaces, resources, and services they needed and wanted. We had been periodically convening student focus groups, but established a standing committee in order to obtain input from the same group of students over the course of the year. I was able to arrange for the SAC to count as the students’ mandatory work duty, so recruitment was not difficult. We are able to get a balance of students by gender, graduation year, and boarding and day. We deliberately sought both library users and non-users, and we invited some students whose behavior had been particularly challenging. The input from the SAC has been invaluable.

This year, instead of having regular weekly group meetings, we are experimenting with a different format for the committee. Each student has selected a time for “work duty” and is matched with a librarian partner. Each week we develop a task for each student to do with supervision by the librarian. They have conducted usability studies of our online catalog and other electronic resources, helped us select citation software, solicited input from their friends on topics of interest to us, participated in a trial of an online information literacy assessment, and completed an extensive survey of their use of technology. The students are pleased to be working one-on-one with their partner librarians, and we have learned a lot about how our students approach real research. They have provided us with insights that we have used to make changes in our web site, our “marketing” of resources, and the arrangement of our space. The students on our SAC all have social networks. It is our hope that they will share what they have learned with their friends. We have some preliminary evidence that this is true. We recently accelerated the purchase of a new citation tool because it was the clear favorite in a head-to-head competition with our existing product. We had arranged for our SAC to test the new tool, but the outcry when the trial was over came from many students NOT on the SAC who had been directed to the trial by their friends!

In subsequent posts, I’ll describe some of the specific tasks that we gave to the students, and summarize our results.

February e-book of the Month

procrastinators The Procrastinator’s Guide to Getting Things Done.   By Monica Ramirez Basco

Are you a procrastinator?  Then this month’s free e-book is for you.  Expressly designed for people who want to make changes but don’t want an elaborate self-help program, this guide is packed with highly practical tips and suggestions.
The book is full of anecdotes and tips from “recovering procrastinators.” Inviting quizzes, exercises, and practical suggestions help you:
•    Understand why you procrastinate.
•    Start with small changes that lead to big improvements.
•    Outsmart your own delaying tactics.
•    Counteract self-doubt and perfectionism.
•    Build crucial skills for getting things done today.

Click on the book jacket to access the book.  Stop by the OWHL with questions.