In Other Words: Growing Pain
By Lauree Padgett
For many of us here at Information Today, Inc., Labor
Day has a double meaning this year, since we have welcomed
six babiesthree girls and three boysinto
the ITI family in 7 months. Outside work, three other
friends have become first-time parents as well. Consequently,
I have gotten to watch several pregnancies up close
and personal, seeing firsthand all the stages the moms-to-be
went throughfrom nausea in the first trimester
to feeling the baby move in the second trimester to
swollen feet, hands, and everything else in the third
trimester. And believe me, those moms could tell you
a thing or two about "growing pains." Speaking of which,
if your company or user base is on the move or undergoing
some growth spurts of its own, these articles from Computers
in Libraries, ONLINE, and Searcher will
help ease the pain a little.
Fit to Be Tried
After attending the 2003 Computers in Libraries conference,
Lisa McColl, technical services librarian for the Ryan
Memorial Library at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
in Philadelphia, was brimming with ideas. Foremost
in her mind was incorporating a new open source courseware
program, Library Course Builder, so that teachers could
post syllabi and class notes online and the library
could simultaneously link students to appropriate,
course-related resources. McColl got colleagues Cait
Kokolus (director of library services) and Jackie Jones
(Web administrator) excited about the plan, but after
the Library Course Builder became available, the once-promising
project was almost derailed. Once in hand, the three
discovered that the program's dynamic Web page option
was really too elaborate for the seminary's needs.
However, instead of giving up, the women developed
a workable alternative: doing their own alterations
to the basic courseware pattern ("Tailoring Oversized
Courseware to Fit Our Small Library," Computers
in Libraries, September 2004).
Jones agreed to be the seamstress. Her job was to
emulate the original design of Library Course Builder
resource pages as much as possible, while making nips
and tucks as needed. One such nip was creating static
Web pages using HTML. Another was finding a company
that could host course discussion forums. Utilizing
.htaccess, a password-protection program that McColl
had set up, and Access Denied, another script that
McColl found, Jones was able to create the course pages
so the library staff could work together to maintain
the password database.
Meanwhile, Kokolus had the job of advertising this
new product, which was named "E-Courses." Her big challenge
was spreading the word within a community that had
only been wired for 3 years and then finding faculty
willing to participate in the debut of the program.
Also, she needed to make sure E-Courses would not put
too much additional work on Jones, McColl, and the
rest of the staff.
How did all the alterations work out? As McColl reports, "After
two full semesters of usage, E-Courses are being requested
by more faculty members." In other words, the tailor-made
program has been a big "fit."
Content Users' About-Face
Do you feel like your user base is changing so quickly
that you can't be sure if your profiles are accurate
anymore? Check out the article in the September/October
issue of ONLINE by the director and lead analyst
at Outsell, Roger Strouse ("The Changing Face of Content
Users and the Impact on Information Providers").
Focusing on the evolving habits of content users
within work and academic settings, Strouse provides
ideas on how information providers can be part of this
user evolution. He centers on the following four broad
trends, or shifts, that Outsell has identified as factors
affecting how content users are seeking out information:
Users are increasingly seeking out
content available in electronic formats.
Users prefer searching over navigating.
A social publishing movement has been
created that is extending well beyond the bounds
of traditional publishing.
Users are becoming increasingly efficient
at making good information choices.
Strouse looks at each of these areas and offers suggestions,
insights, and perspectives. He writes, "Age is one
factor in an end user's likelihood to prefer the self-service
model" of information gathering. As Strouse emphasizes
throughout, while some traditional info pro roles are
fading into the sunset, there is an abundance of new
and challenging functions waiting for those who keep
their finger on the pulse of the user and look for
continued ways to empower them.
Is Virtual Chat Still Where It's At?
Did your library or media center jump onto the virtual
chat bandwagon? Are you thinking about hopping aboard?
Or maybe about pulling in the reigns and putting the
horses out to pasture? Before you do anything, read "To
Chat or Not to Chat: Taking Yet Another Look at Virtual
Reference" (Searcher, September 2004) by Steve
Coffman and Linda Arret. As Coffman and Arret point
out, "[C]hat reference has not turned out to be the
panacea many of us hoped for." Which begs the question, "Now
This thoughtful article, presented within a pros-and-cons
framework, doesn't take sides or promote one option
over another. Instead, it summarizes all the possibilities,
pointing out what's good and bad with each. If it's
too early to "pull the plug," Coffman and Arret make
suggestions that could help improve the way chat works,
such as bringing marketing into the fray or reducing
costs through combining staff with the reference desk
or joining a consortia.
If you haven't committed to virtual chat yet, the
pair highlight alternatives. They point out that answering
the phone is still a great way to serve patrons, requires
no special technology or training, and enables questions
to be answered more quickly. Working on making e-mail
more efficient and improving self-service are two other
areas discussed in the article. Finally, some bottom-line
questions are asked: What are you trying to accomplish?
Is virtual chat the most effective way to accomplish
this purpose? How will implementing virtual chat impact
your staff? What is the trade-off (cost-wise) of setting
up chat compared to other programs and services the
library could otherwise implement?
As Coffman and Arret conclude, the answer is not
to simply discard chat to chase after the next greatest
thing. "The answer is that we all need to give the
whole issue of how best to provide reference services
careful thought and analysis." Reading this article
surely will help you in this process.
"Rock-a-Bye Baby ..."
Well, now that my work here is done for another month
and my crazy summer schedule is waning, it looks like
I'll have some free time on my hands. With any luck,
some of my new-parent friends might be ready for a
night out and "Aunt Lauree" will be at the top of their
baby-sitting call list. Just to be prepared, I think
I'll start brushing up on my lullaby and nursery rhyme
Lauree Padgett is Information
Today, Inc.'s manager of editorial services. Her e-mail
address is email@example.com.