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Magazines > Information Today > September 2004
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Information Today

Vol. 21 No. 8 — September 2004

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 babies—three girls and three boys—into 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 through—from 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 what?"

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 repertoire.


Lauree Padgett is Information Today, Inc.'s manager of editorial services. Her e-mail address is
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