Gosh, I know it's been ages since I've posted. Rest assured, it has not been ages since I've thought about libraries. It's partly that I've been victim to that end of the year rush that overwhelms, and partly that I've been doing some thinking about what this blog is and what the purpose should be.
For now, I'm at the VLA conference! I'll be blogging in more detail a little later, but the highlights so far: Howard Frank Moser was a good keynote speaker, although I think he was unusual. He didn't talk about libraries, just about stories and the Northeast Kingdom, and how he gets the inspiration for his books. Interesting and fun, if not immediately pertinent. Next I went to a presentation on Vermont authors, and right now I'm in the break between Meredith's social software presentation and one on integrating technologies at the library. More tomorrow or later.
One of my main jobs is acquisitions librarian, and all the faculty orders just came in, so I haven't really been keeping up with the blogosphere recently. But going through these piles of orders and doing all the price checking has been getting me thinking.
At my library we check the price in our library book vendor, and in Amazon. If the book is not in stock at the vendor, or cheaper at Amazon or as a good used copy, I get it at Amazon or somewhere else. We buy mostly based on patron requests, which is unusual but means I don't have time for the vendor to locate books which are out of stock. As I've been working in the past few days, I've noticed that I'm buying about $500 vendor to about $1200 Amazon.
I know purchasing through Amazon is a luxury not every library has, but I'd like to think about this for a minute. Buying cheapest copies, I'm spending more than twice as much at Amazon. This includes hardcover and paperback, and the cheaper copy includes the publisher/library discount at the vendor. So why is everything so much cheaper at Amazon? It's more than used copies. There's a problem here, and that problem is that the library vendors aren't coming close to meeting our needs.
This is without even mentioning that the vendor search is difficult to use (and that's coming from a librarian!) and I need to click 3 to 6 times to get accurate prices on all editions. That's not mentioning that the back button doesn't work in their website, so all searches have to be redone to get back to the results page! And that's not mentioning that the availability of an item is not listed correctly until you click all the way through, where it is included with the price.
These are not trivial concerns. This vendor, who sells specifically to libraries, has one of the worst interfaces I have ever had the misfortune to use. They have very little in stock, and I can't manage orders, see expected arrival dates or cancel items without calling them and waiting on hold until someone gets around to answering my call. And I need to call someone else, and have a completely different cart if I'm purchasing AV! Online shopping is so widespread as to be practically standardized. Why is this still so bad?
I've heard a lot of discussion about library catalogs and ILSs. But so far I haven't heard anything about this, maybe because most libraries buy book packages from vendors just like the one I'm using. But this is a symptom of the same problem, and part of the same issue. I feel like I'm getting ripped off here. I'm from a tiny library and the loss of us as a customer wouldn't make anyone cry. But this must be affecting other people, and who knows how much time we are wasting with this! Not to mention money. But I'm trying to send them a message with my budget dollars, and I'm hope other people will help me send the same message with money and with words, until our vendors start to take us seriously and give us products that actually help us.
I had said that I was going to blog CIL, and I apologize that I wasn’t able to do it. Let me explain:
I had and still have serious doubts about having a professional blog, and since I’m still so new at this, I decided I wasn’t ready to register as one of the conference bloggers. I was planning to blog unofficially as the conference went on, and maybe post my blog to the wiki. Unfortunately, once I got there it was clear that there was no wireless available except to bloggers. It was a good conference, but personally I had much higher expectations for on site access. So I planned to register that night when I went to the hotel, which did have free wireless.
Then I got a massive stomach flu, which completely prevented me from doing anything at all on Thursday and left me drained and shaky for Friday. I got over it quickly, but it added to general travel and conference exhaustion.
I’ll try to put up some general impressions in the next few days, but being gone left me behind at work and I’m still catching up. I will post again soon, and I have high hopes for actually starting the im reference project after some great presentations. Keep checking, I haven’t forgotten about this blog entirely!
I mentioned this over on Meredith’s blog, but I’ll say it here as well. ALA could do a lot to break down barriers to membership and participation. Something that might help, and they may already do this but if they do they really need to publicize it, is offering scholarships, reduced registration fees and deals with discount hotels and youth hostels as well as nice hotels. I was lucky enough to get funding from my institution to go to CIL2006 (I’ll be blogging, so stay tuned!) because we get a consortium discount and I have relatives in the area I’ll be staying with instead of in a hotel. A couple hundred dollars isn’t a big deal to a big institution, but I’m from a relatively poor rural state and $200 is a big deal even at the college I work at. Doing some need based scholarships and fee reductions could change a conference from impossible to a reality for some people, and greatly increase access. And isn’t that what librarians are all about?
ed: edited because I forgot to include the hyperlinks
I am a very cool librarian because I bought some zines for one of the students to use as a primary source. When you study pop culture you need pop culture sources, I wasn’t finding them in OCLC, and I think that adding rare materials to the greater library collection is a pretty cool thing to do. Now they will be available for other patrons at libraries with strict collection development policies. We’re already making a name for ourselves as a library with small holdings who will lend any of them, and a disproportionate amount of our books are a little weird. I’m proud to add to that tradition.
I’ve been asked to do a short opening presentation for a statewide reference roundtable being hosted at my library in about a month. The presentation and following discussion are on how to teach plagiarism in new and interesting ways as part of user instruction. The reason I am presenting, even though I do not actually teach user instruction and have only assisted or taught one on one, is because I was the only one interested in it. It’s a little nervewracking, but I think this will be good experience for me. I think at least half the battle is going to be finding anything at all interesting or amusing about the topic to mention, but I’ve already got some ideas and I’m looking forward to it already.
The second part of the program is going to be on Googles Scholar, Map and Print, and so my mission is to find time in the next month to set up our journal linker with Google Scholar and our holdings with Google Print. It doesn’t look like a hard project in itself; what will be difficult is finding time between ILL requests. But how cool would that be to have that going?
At a party recently, I was talking to a group of graduate students and the subject of research came up.
They had no idea that there was any difference between subject and keyword searching, and were shocked that I could give them examples to show that keyword is not the best search type for every situation.
Our patrons don’t know some of the stuff that we do, even the highly educated ones. We need to meet them on their level. It is fantastic to meet people who want to learn about the differences between subject and keyword searches, but most of them don’t care and won’t ever pay attention.
Maybe it’s time for us to worry as much about ease of use and accessibility as we do about education.
I’ve been reading the recent conversation on ILS vendors by Blyberg.net, Librarian in Black and Family Man Librarian. I think they are right about trying to get the OPAC more customizable. The other day I spent 1 1/2hrs trying to change three links on the library home page. I’d love to make some smaller fiddly edits, but this was to make sure that the link that said Library Home actually went to the library home page after a general site redesign. That’s not a frill, and it shouldn’t take a phone call to tech support to find the documentation on how to do it. Anyway.
All of this conversation about catalogs got me thinking. I’m willing to learn whatever it takes to make it work on the back end, but we need it to be better on the front end. One of the problems I see frequently here is a lack of understanding of the ways that you would find journals vs. books. At my library we don’t catalog journals, so it’s not a simple catalog search. We use Serials Solutions as a journal linker, and that’s pretty helpful but patrons don’t understand the difference between the article title and periodical title.
Why are our catalogs so cluttered? We offer a thousand different things, but users don’t know what they are and don’t care. Why can’t everything be searched by keyword, which would give you a list of results including book and article titles, journal names and subject headings? Internet users today are good at screening out what isn’t valuable, and good at navigating through a series of links to find what they want, but they don’t know or care that subject headings will help them. How much of our operation can we move to the back end? Would this mean less respect for library services? Why can’t we customize our OPACs to do this currently? Maybe some of us can, but I’m still trying to learn some of the basics of being a systems librarian. And why is this so difficult when the technology is there and we’re paying so much for it already?
So a few days ago Jessamyn posted a link to Leslie Burger’s blog. I was surprised and impressed to see it. After Michael Gorman’s response to the blog people, I had pretty much given up hope of seeing anything that spoke to newer and tech savvy librarians come out of ALA. Burger’s blog is a powerful sign for me, speaking as someone who is on the fence about renewing their ALA membership for the first time. Particularly since I’m not a student anymore and the price goes up when you’re out of school, I’ve really been debating about this and I’ve read some powerful postings on both sides. I’ll make a final decision this week.
Next project: figure out this technorati thing.
So I’ve been meaning to start a library blog for a long time, and here it is. I work in a small academic library in New England, and I’m trying to learn enough tech stuff to eventually become a systems librarian, preferably one who still does reference. I’m going to be involved in (ie. doing with some help from IT) some new projects at my library, such as trying to implement im reference, upgrading the ILS server, and maybe even setting up some sort of electronic reserves system! So if you’re interested in hearing about any of that, stay tuned.
I’ll also be posting about what I think about libraries, and what I think libraries should be. I find that working all day every day, particularly when my primary responsibilities aren’t my primary area of interest, has the effect of dulling my interest in libraries. I’m hoping this blog will keep me thinking and talking and connecting to other librarians without getting bored. It seems silly to talk about getting burned out when you’ve only had the MLS for 6 months, but believe me, it can happen. I’m hoping to keep that from ever happening.