MARS Panel on Smart Technologies

This morning I was on a panel of librarians talking about ‘Smart Reference Technologies for Tough Times.’ I get to go last, so that means I will be writing about the previous speakers before giving my talk about Ubuntu and OpenOffice.

First up was Chad Boeninger. Chad talked us about giving our work a voice. Chad works with 1800 undergrads and 90 full-time grad students — when he first started doing what he does he had a full head of hair. Chad read a paragraph from Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. In this paragraph it talks about sending emails versus blog posts – when you write an email you only share with one (or a select few) person – but if you put your answers to your questions on the web, then you have the ability to reach more people, your answers have a longer shelf life and you become a resource to many.

The fact is that it is easier to cancel a subscription than it is to re-hire a business librarian – the real power in our libraries are the people. An example Chad gave us was a reference question he got about using Netflix. Instead of replying via chat or email he did a short video and post it to his blog so that he can point the person there and so that others can learn from it – this also means that he has provided a more valuable answer than just telling someone what to do. When looking at the stats for the views to his video, he found that after the students’ projects were due, people were still watching so it’s most likely not his students – instead it’s others on the web. To share this video, Chad also used versus YouTube. He showed us some pretty awesome stats and features of Blip that I didn’t know about – something I might have to consider for my next set of screencasts. The stats provided by a tool like Blip allow you to measure your success and show your value to others.

The other cool feature of Blip is that you can use it to distribute your videos to other outlets with one upload – I’m so switching right now!! 🙂

Don’t like the idea of doing a video? You don’t have to – in some cases, Chad just writes a blog post and can point people to that. Why? Because he had 2 students ask him the same question and so he figured there would be more. By writing his blog post he made it so that when students go to Google to search for the topic they find his blog post as the second hit!! They recognize the URL and the name associated with the blog and know they have found a trusted resource. Coming back to shelf life, with all of the social sharing tools out there links to your posts or videos are spread wider than you’d ever imagine because people share the link on Facebook and Twitter.

You don’t have to be perfect either, the idea is to be yourself and provide valuable resources to your patrons.

All this costs very little. Chad uses a Flip camera ($129) to record himself – some of you might even have a web cam in your computer already that you can use. He then uses free software to merge the video of himself with the screencast part of things. In the end it takes him a lot less time to do the video than it would to try and explain where people need to click in writing.

Next up Diane Kresh. Her talk was titled ‘Arlington 2.0.’ She works in Arlington County which is the smallest self governing municipality in the US. Even with that her audience is highly educated and very multi-lingual. Because she is competing for funding with other pubic services like police and fire it’s hard to convince people that the library is important. So this means that the librarians need to connect with the users where they are.

They decided to host ‘Camp Tech’ where they (the librarians) learned about various web technologies. They had camp counselors and activities and projects that had to be completed. It’s kind of like 23 Things, but done in a shorter time period with experts around to help you. They learned about wikis, IM, photo and video sharing and social networking sites. Because of this training, they were able to start a virtual reference desk using IM and logged into all of the accounts using Trillian 3.0. To make this work, they have a designated machine at the desk for IM only and then the staff watches that (it makes a noise when a message comes through).

The chat service was for the adults, but the area they put the most attention was on the teens. They created a teen portal and they use that as their blog. They post events, videos, polls and book lists on this site. While they have the blog as the center of their teen portal, they do use blogs in other ways throughout the library. Why blogs? Cause they’re free, easy to update, you can tag the entries, it’s searchable, users can bookmark and subscribe to it, you can embed video and the teens can comment – and comments lead to conversations!

In addition to librarians creating content, they allow the student volunteers to record videos of book talks and create lots of other content for the site – that way it’s teens talking to teens. They also use this content to hook back into other services like Facebook and YouTube to reach users where they are. This content sharing is then self-referencing so all these pages link back to the library site.

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