Internet Librarian Wrapup on NCompass Live


Yesterday I was on a live webinar hosted by NCompass with several other Internet Librarian presenters talking about what I learned at the Internet Librarian conference this year. The recording will be available soon via the archives if you’re curious to listen. One of the things we talked about was what made the most impact on us, or left us thinking, from the conference. The one thing that has stuck with me (and that I have been sharing with people) was a Twitter conversation that happened as the result of something Cecily Walker said on our panel Tuesday night. Cecily wanted all new librarians (and current ones) to know that we’re all “special snowflakes” and an audience member tweeted back asking who would do all the work if we were all special snowflakes.

I didn’t get to talk to this person after or during the presentation, so I can only assume that this comment came from a bad experience with someone who both thought they were special and entitled. However, I know that Cecily didn’t mean it that way and I have to agree with Cecily. We all have something to offer, we all have skills that maybe no one else around us has, or a point of view that deserves to be heard. Too often I see people being very passive in their careers (not just librarians) and just going with the flow – but what fun is that? That makes your career a job, something you have to do to get paid and that’s it. I want a career that I love, I want to work with people who value my experience and my opinion, I want a job where I get to be special – and I have it! Does that mean I don’t do the day to day boring stuff? Heck no! It’s all part of the package. But I enjoy the “boring” stuff much more because I’m doing it for a company I love, for customers I love, for a product I love, etc etc etc.

A quote I share in my open source talks fits very nicely here:

The best person to do a job is the one who most wants to do that job; and the best people to evaluate their performance are their friends and peers who, by the way, will enthusiastically pitch in to improve the final product, simply for the sheer pleasure of helping one another and creating something beautiful from which they all will benefit. [Howe, J. (2008). Crowdsourcing: Why the power of the crowd is driving the future of business. New York: Crown Business. p.8]

So, what I want you to take away from what I learned is that special != entitled and we all have something to contribute – and should all contribute – and if you work somewhere where individuality is not appreciated and your contributions are not given the praise they deserve it’s time to find a new job.

[update]The recording is live now. Listen if you’d like.[/update]

IL2012: Artificial Intelligence Transforming Reference

Screen Shot 2012-10-23 at 3.16.52 PM

Deeann Allison and Lorna Dawes spoke to us this afternoon about Pixel a chatbot that is used at the University of Nebraska.

First, what is a chatbot? It’s a software application that designed to emulate conversations with human beings. It’s frequently text based, but it can include sound and visual effects. The software is usually developed on top of a database so that the bot can match metadata from questions to the data in the database to “answer” questions. Some places you can get chatbots : Pandorabots and Program O (this is the one Pixel uses).

Emma and Stella are two other examples of library chatbots that are out there.

The chatbot is handy because it’s safe – so people don’t worry about their question being stupid and it still answers in regular language. With Pixel they pull info from the library site (hours and directions), the librarians, and they train Pixel by going in to the back end to review questions that she didn’t answer that well.

Pixel has over 84,000 categories (a single piece of information or bit of knowledge) in her database and she knows 214 spelling variations (this needs to get better/more thorough). According to Google Analytics the average visit duration with Pixel is 5:53 minutes whereas visitor spend less than 4 minutes with the catalog.

Chatbots require lots of set up in how they understand questions. For example if you want Pixel to find info on recycling you need to tell her to look for three variations (* is a wildcard) ‘Recycling’ (for if someone puts in a keyword only), ‘* Recycling’ (finds ‘what do you know about recycling’), or ‘* Recycling *’ (finds ‘what do you know about recycling cans?’).

Pixel has trouble with very detailed questions. I also did a little test to find open source software information at the library and it took me several tries to get the question right. Pixel kept asking if I wanted to know about her source code. One concern at the library was that Pixel would replace them, based on my little Q&A session with her I don’t think you need to worry about that. I think that pixel is great for handling the easy stuff like “I want books on XYZ” and general info. A human would have gotten me an answer in one step instead of the 6 or 7 it took. (Click the images below to see my chat with Pixel).

I played with Pixel for a while to hopefully help the librarians teach Pixel more about open source :)

What Pixel is is an advanced search tool. Students like to use Pixel to find things on the library website because the site is so dense.

IL2012: Retail & Technology Trends

The Loop Business Model

Up first for me this morning is a talk about baseball and shopping! :)

Seriously though, the speakers were from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and were talking to us about parallels between retail and libraries and what we can learn from the retail industry.

Consumers have changed! People are using mobile devices while in stores today. We’re scanning barcodes and checking prices online to find the greatest deal while in the store. This scares retailers (with good reason). This empowers the consumer and makes them need advertising less to make decisions. We’re using the Internet to research our purchases now.

The decision making process has changed from a funnel …

to a more of a loop (according to the Harvard Business Review) …

This change is primarily because of millennials and those of us using the Internet in the palm of our hands to shop. Retailers are paying attention to this. Shopping is now done in many new/different ways:

  • Ecommerce
  • M-Commerce (mobile)
  • Web-nflueced sales
  • cross channel commerce
  • shopping 3.0
  • Omni-channel retailing

So, retailers are getting more in to social experiences with shopping. Tools that the speakers mentioned included: Pinterest, Milo, Yelp, and Shopkick.

Another way retailers are responding to these changes is in the design of their physical stores. Target now has city versions that are smaller to fit in urban spaces – many retailers are doing this now. Swivel is a completely virtual dressing room where you pick what you want to try on from a screen and see what it looks like on you (I personally don’t know how much I’d trust something like this … and I kinda like to feel the clothes on me and in my hands). Another new style of store is the “pop up store” and libraries are doing this kind of thing as well. San Francisco PL has pop up libraries and Projekt Ingeborg puts up QR codes around town (if I understood right) that link to open access content.

Something else we’re seeing in stores is augmented reality. You can try on an outfit, stand in front of a mirror and it will show you the outfit in different colors. Topshop partnered with Kinect to let you stand in front of the mirror and see yourself in different outfits.

When it comes to hand held devices, users are looking for apps, not mobile websites, they want easy one click access to content. We’re also looking for tools that let us store all of our cards on our mobile device and simply scan our phones in the store to make purchases or use our loyalty cards (it would be great to do the same thing with our library cards).

Some stores doing neat things include Neiman Marcus (touch screen device that will tell you more about the product), Macys (the endless aisle that shows you items that are not actually in the store), and Warby Parker (does pop up shops that have computers that scan your face and recommend glasses for your face shape).

The key is personalization and interactivity. Amazon recommendations has been around forever, but is a good example of this. An example of this in libraryland is BookPyschic from the Portland Public Library and LibraryThing. Other cool library innovations include the Type-Truck, augmented reality apps (in museums let you see more info on art or show you pieces not in the museum), makerspaces, Art House Co-op, ShelvAR, and DIY History.

IL2012: Engaging Users


Michelle Boule, author of Mob Rule Learning, started the session on how to engage staff with crowdsourcing. She started by reminding us that to get people to use crowdsourcing, you have to give people a purpose. Stick people in the room and give them a problem and tell them to solve it. Give direction, but leave the rest of the stuff up to them.

The the crowd choose their own tools. They might like to type things out in a Google doc or sit around and talk … they might even want to send attachments around via email … we might not like that, but let them do it. letting people choose the tech they want to use is a great way to introduce people to new tools in your library.

Celebrate the successes and failures. We already celebrate our successes a lot, but don’t forget the failures. It took steps to get there and at least you tried. The easiest way to get people engaged is to include them in the decision making processes. [Michele’s slides]

Lisa Hardy was up next to share examples from her library. One thing to remember is that enthusiasm is contagious (I totally agree)! The other thing to remember is to have an end to the project, it doesn’t mean you stop working, but you have a goal and a time to focus on those successes and failures.

One way Lisa’s library engaged users was to ask those interested in participating why they were there, why they wanted to participate in their own words. At their meeting they didn’t have speakers, instead everyone just shared their stories. Another trick was to take field trips to organizations in the area and hear what issues those groups were having. I like this idea, too often we get stuck on what’s happening in libraries and not on what’s happening in the world around us and what we can learn from them!

Notes from the audience – crowdsourcing won’t work in organizations where the bureaucracy is so engrained that people can’t leave that at the door. Groups that won’t speak because their boss/manager is in the room won’t succeed at this. You can of course leave the managers out of the room – but that’s not the best way to solve things either. Another option might be to have an anonymous feedback tool like writing down things on slips of appear and putting them in the hat so it’s anonymous.

Sometimes in these sessions with groups of people you have the negative nellies or a group of 20% of your staff doing all of the participating … these situations are a great place for a moderator to step in, someone from outside of the organization who can call people on their negativity and/or try and get the other people in the room to participate. Another recommendation from the room was to use the Belbin Team Roles quiz.

IL2012 Keynote: Library as Platform

Library as Platform

David Weinberger was up as our keynote speaker to talk to us about the library as a platform. David is such an awesome speaker and cover so much ground quickly in his enthusiasm that I’m sure I’m skipping some major points below, but here’s what I could type while he was talking :)

David starts by pointing out that while digitization is great, the real power is in the network, connecting the pieces together, not just digitizing content.

The library as platform provides a unifying framework, allows us to take social networks seriously (take then as a fundamental thing that’s happening in our culture that’s really changing the culture), and increases the value of the library (both real and perceived).

J.L. Austin the philosopher talks about the “real”. What is David distinguishing real platform from? He’s distinguishing platform from portal. We need to continue to give portal access, but we need the platform to build the community network around our content.

One type of community network is a knowledge network. Knowledge networks are really really really really big! In fact they don’t have a circumference. And they’re linked in the way no other networks are.

Knowledge networks are hard for people to understand because in our culture scale (sizes of things) are so central to our culture. Basically (up until now) knowledge has resided in paper books and libraries. We have a limitation to storage of knowledge because of the size of these buildings. These limitations have also led to knowledge being filtered. And so we have shaped knowledge around these vessels. David thinks this is far from excellent (as do I).

So, now we have a new medium for finding and sharing and storing knowledge … the Internet. David is saying that knowledge now lives in networks, in the connection between posts and articles and pages on the Internet.

Networked science is one example of how this network is working well. David showed us an article from a paper in 1919 about an eclipse. If you wanted to learn more about the topic you were stuck in the square of the article. There was no way to get more information because print was your only option.

In 2011, however, an article is published on TimeScience mentioning another article and if you want to learn more about it you go to and look at the article and find more information. Up around the article then grows a web of more information, reinterpretations of the data, questions and answers, misinformation, zealots and more.

The net is exposing a long-hidden truth … we don’t agree about anything … With the network though we’re finding a way to argue “fruitfully.”

One way to maintain these discussions/disagreements is to “fork” them. Forking is taking the discussion and moving it to another place, another page, another email thread, etc. This is seen in namespaces on the network. David showed us a thread that appeared on the Dark Knight trailer on YouTube where people started talking about the validity of circumcision. While not appropriate in that place, it was a good productive discussion that can be forked off and discussed elsewhere.

Another example David shared of the success of networks lies with software developers. Software developers now live in the faster most efficient learning ecosystem ever. You can go to sites like Stack Overflow where people share their knowledge and best practices and learn from each other. A side note from me – this is why open source works! The shared knowledge produces a better product and makes it work in more environments. Developers in open source and on these shared knowledge networks are willing to admit that they don’t know everything and they’re generous in sharing their knowledge with others. This learning and sharing goes on in the public so the public sphere gets more intelligent and learns more. This type of shared knowledge and learning isn’t happening nearly enough in libraries!

Our task as librarians is to try and make these networks smarter. We want these networks to add value so that people get smarter. This is why David like’s the idea of library as platform.

Libraries aren’t solely about the assets that they have and what’s analog and what’s digital, but about our range of services.

David broke this in to three parts:

Top layer: network of people ideas and works. This is your portal access.

Next: the api tools and services. This is for the developers, this provides the tools to allow people to mix and mash your data.

Then: data and metadata. The separation between data and metadata is no longer quite different things. If you remember the author, but not the title, the author becomes metadata for finding the data (the title). Metadata is now a lever for picking up data. This does mean that we have to rethink privacy and how we can use/share this data within those confines.

Library platforms need to be though of as local. We’re serving physical communities and do have funding limitations that prevent us from making our platforms global. Physical localities provide much of the required sameness needed for enabling conversations. Our platforms are connected to the network though, so we have access to the global information network. We need our local platforms to connect to the wider network.

David suggests changes to Ranganathan’s rules by adding ‘Every book it’s network’ to the list of the rules. And while the library is a growing organism, the library is also a connected organism.

Heading to Internet Librarian!

Internet Librarian

This weekend I head to Monterey, California for Internet Librarian 2012. I’ll be doing a workshop on the WordPress open source content management system with Polly-Alida Farrington on Sunday, speaking about open source trends and issues with Marshall Breeding on Monday, signing copies of the second edition of The Accidental Systems Librarian on Monday night at the opening reception and then participating on a panel Tuesday evening about the transforming roles of systems librarians.

I’ll be pretty busy (as you can see) but if you’ll be there, find me because I’d love to chat! My full schedule is here.