Conference Tweeting: Helpful or Rude?

I just signed up to attend the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference in April. However, there are loads of interesting conferences and workshops throughout the year that I wish I could attend. Thankfully, via Twitter, I sometimes do feel like I’m at these conferences. I follow the Twitter streams and hashtags. Although it’s certainly not the same as attending in person, I usually do pick up a good nugget or two of information.

But I often wonder¬†if tweeting at conference sessions crosses the boundary into rudeness?–specifically “live tweeting” while a presentation is happening. If I’m attending a presentation, I devote my attention to the speaker(s). I may be taking notes–even taking notes on my iPhone–but I’m not tweeting. I am there to learn. I do not want to be distracted–or be a distraction. Maybe it’s because I’m an instruction librarian? My pet peeve is students Facebooking or texting during class! What must it be like to a presenter to see attendees with their faces staring down at their mobile phones, iPads, and laptops?

I get the point: “live tweeting” brings the information to the masses. And as I stated, I have followed tweets on sessions from the comfort of my own office. Moreover, conference “backchannels” can share some great information. Also, I’d say there’s a difference between tweeting at a large plenary session where over a hundred participants could be assembled, as opposed to a small session which may require group interaction and discussion.

However, with conference session tweeting, context can be lost. Take for example the ruckus caused at LITA’s Board meeting at ALA Midwinter in San Diego. I saw an avalanche of tweets come across my computer screen admonishing LITA. These tweets did not have the full facts, nor were many of them tweeted by actual witnesses. This was soon followed by a stream of tweet “apologies” and “corrections.” But I guess with Twitter, anyone is a commentator or reporter–which can be both good and bad! Cue the importance of information literacy, here. ūüôā

Some conference sessions now provide twitter streams on large screens during presentations. This is a great idea for posing questions from the audience to the presenters. However, occasionally things go awry. See the Conference Humiliation article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, and it’s follow-up: Tweckling Twitterfolk. Just in the past couple of months, comedian/actor Steve Martin was involved in a Twitter controversy at the 92nd Street Y. Lecture attendees did not like the questions being asked and took to the Twitterverse to complain. Professor Saul Carliner provides a good overview of the event. My take: it’s ok to challenge and question on Twitter, but don’t be mean-spirited and petty.

So, do you “live tweet” during conference sessions? Take my totally anonymous (and unscientific!) poll:

By the way, I don’t plan on “live tweeting” my upcoming conference. However, I do plan to compose some blog posts here. I need time to take in the information, reflect, and expand on what I learn at conferences. For me, the platform I find most useful is blogging.


Save the Statistical Abstract!

There is no other single statistical source as useful as the Statistical Abstract of the United States. Published since 1878, it is the “go to” source for statistics on “the social, political, and economic organization of the United States.”

When I get a statistical question at the reference desk, I’m always amazed at how many times the information can be answered from just this one source. Why then, is the Census Bureau cutting it?

Last Friday, I started seeing tweets about this. Sure enough, the U.S. Census Bureau budget estimates for FY 2012 [pdf, p. 82] recommend elimination of the Statistical Abstract program:

The availability elsewhere of much of the information in the Statistical Abstract has led the Department and Census Bureau to the difficult decision to terminate the program.

The availability “elsewhere” of the information? Hey, Census Bureau: where might that be? It’s surely not in one convenient location! I do love the online version of the Statistical Abstract, but what about people on the other side of the digital divide? In fact, a quick look at the 2011 Statistical Abstract shows that still 31% of Americans have no Internet access in their homes! [Table 1155]. This source is vitally important to libraries. PS: The “information age” is supposed to make finding information easier, not harder!

The elimination of the Statistical Abstract program saves $2.9 million and 24 FTE positions: a drop in the bucket when compared to the whole budget. More information on this and other statistical sources being eliminated is available on the University of Michigan Population Studies Center blog. Check out the GOVDOC-L discussion list for more info, too.

This is what it comes down to for me: the Census Bureau collects information about us. Therefore, we, the people, deserve free and unfettered access to this information. Please contact your representative and senators and urge them to keep funding the Statistical Abstract program. Contact the Census Bureau to tell them we still need these resources!

“Helping you make informed decisions” is the slogan of the Census Bureau. With the elimination of the Statistical Abstract, the Census Bureau is abandoning its own mission.

Periodicals and Other Library Jargon

Interesting comments over on the LIBREF-L discussion list about what constitutes library ‘jargon.’ The librarian originating the discussion wanted to know a more “user friendly” term for periodicals, as the staff spends time defining it to users.

So what do you call it? Whether it be for library instruction, or signage, I try to avoid anything that may be too jargon-y. I prefer a simple “journals & magazines” label, or a separate “newspapers” label.

One of the respondents to the question made an important point: for academic libraries, it is necessary to separate journals from magazines and newspapers, as many professors will want students to use scholarly literature. Most students coming into college are already familiar with the terms magazine and newspaper–and they’ll become all too familiar with the term journal soon enough!

However, the respondent felt that “periodicals” was the most appropriate label. It’s a “catch all” term: Periodicals cover journals, magazines, AND newspapers. The respondent also made the point that students learn jargon in their discipline, so “one more won’t kill them.” Now that I tend to disagree with. An academic library can often be the most intimidating building on a college campus: difficulty navigating, unfamiliar organization of materials, overwhelming, unhelpful/unfriendly staff (a perception). Using user-friendly terms helps mitigate this.

Roy Tennant, on his Library Journal blog, posted a list of words librarians shouldn’t say or use. The one that caught my eye was OPAC. Now I know our profession loves acronyms. But OPAC just has to go. It means nothing to our users. But what about terms that librarians hold dear to their hearts: databases? indexes? full-text? circulation?

A brief look at library websites shows many use the term databases. Some even use the term indexes (please ban this term, too, Roy!) I use the term database in library instruction, but always with an explanation that it’s the place to go for articles. More user-friendly library websites use¬† simpler language such as “Find Articles,” or even “Find Books” for the library catalog. It’s not “dumbing down”–it’s about making access easier.

The term full-text is another one that bugs me. I know the term is often driven by the database vendors, but we need to speak up! Just changing full-text to “click for article” or something similar would help. Countless times at the Reference Desk (or is it Information Desk?) users come up wanting to know how to get the article when the full-text link is right there!

As for circulation, I’d put that in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category. Most users have a sense of what this term is. But I’m not opposed to a simplified “check out” sign, either.

So, what library terms do you see as library “jargon” and what would you suggest instead?


Periodicals signage at Allen County (IN) Public Library. Courtesy of ACPL on Flickr.

Got a Bun in the Oven? Illegal Interview Questions

When you get a job interview, you spend your time prepping for possible questions: Why do you want to work here? What’s your greatest strength or weakness? Describe how you manage multiple tasks.

What you don’t often think about are illegal questions that may be asked of you. Employers should know better. I remember this story from library school: one student (a woman) who was about to graduate was asked by the library board of small town public library: “Now, you’re not going to go off and get pregnant on us, are you?” The year was 2002, not 1962.

I have updated the Library Interview Questions page on the Nailing the Library Interview site to include a few links to “illegal” interview questions, but I’ll list them here, too:

The links are good for those on both sides of the hiring process: job applicants and hiring managers/search committees.

Just “Checking In” – Foursquare: Useful or Pointless?

I admit, I’ve never had much interest¬†in Foursquare and other location-based check-in apps. ‘Who the hell cares if I’m at Target?‘ was my initial response (and the answer?: No one.).

But in preparation for a campus workshop on social media, I signed up for my own Foursquare account. I’ve been checking in reliably (well, mostly). After nearly 40 days, 155 check-ins, and 9 mayorships, I still don’t get it. Sorry. I love technology, but this just seems pointless. What am i missing? Is it because location-based apps haven’t really caught on everywhere? Hello NE Wisconsin! I managed to snag several mayorships after just 2 visits.

I’m¬†now the¬†mayor of the university, and the library. There are hundreds of people, like me, on campus every day. I can’t be the only one that checks in using a mobile device? Is it the digital divide: students not having smartphones? Or is it general disinterest? Maybe both. However, Foursquare has grown in leaps and bounds. Check out their cool infographic showing a 3400% rise in growth. And of course, Facebook offers its own check-in feature, too.

One of the key attractions to Foursquare is earning special offers and discounts when you check in. The first time I got a discount at a store, I was excited.¬†Then I glanced¬†up at a ‘sale’ sign and noticed it was the same discount whether you were on Foursquare, or not! But this past weekend, I¬†*did* get a special Foursquare¬†check-in discount at¬†my local Barnes & Noble. However, it was for¬†CDs. Talk about combining old technology with new technology! ūüôā

So what are the incentives of libraries to use Foursquare? Building loyalty, offering discounts and promotions, enhancing relationships come to mind. Library Journal covered the story. Darien Library in Connecticut also has some good promotion ideas. Homewood Public Library in Alabama has some good tips for librarians.

While I may not want to use Foursquare for myself, I do think it does have some applications for libraries and is one strategy to reach an increasingly segmented, but technology adept, game-loving part of your community.

Do you use Foursquare or another similar application?

If your library does any special Foursquare promotions, let me know!

Reference Desk: What to Call It?

The phone rings at the Reference Desk. I pick it up to answer:

Me: Library Reference Desk, may I help you?

Patron: Umm…I don’t need you to be a reference. But can I ask a question?

Me: (Not missing a beat) Absolutely!

So, did the library patron really think the Reference Desk was the place to call to have someone vouch for them on a resume? Sigh.

What should it be called? Information Desk, Research Desk, Help Desk? I just don’t think the term reference registers with a lot of users. I also struggle with using the term reference when I do library instruction. I generally don’t even say “reference books”–instead, it’s background info, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.

I worked at a library where the Reference Desk was known as the “Research Assistance” desk. That made sense to users (this was an academic library). The students knew to go to this desk and get help from the librarian.

I also like “Information Desk”: questions = information. That’s easy to understand. “Help Desk” is a perfect description, too. However, it has been co-opted by information technology departments. Would users assume that a “Help Desk” is only for technology questions? Although, many libraries do already answer many tech questions anyway.

Which name do you prefer?

The library I currently work at recently installed a merged circulation/reference area. Now I struggle whether to refer separately to them as “circulation desk” and “reference desk,” (they are technically two desks, separated by small opening) or some new name?

After the re-model:

I’d love to hear from other librarians who have merged circulation/reference areas. What do you call it?

Love in the Stacks: Why Not?

The New York Times has a nice write-up about speed-dating nights held at public libraries. It includes an interview with a man who says he hasn’t stepped foot in a public library in years. It was also cute to read about the librarians that organize these events. They probably feel like high school teachers that chaperone the prom! The speed-dating participants were told to bring their favorite book:

Can Atlas Shrugged find love with the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test? Is attraction possible between a Jonathan Franzen reader and a die-hard Elizabeth Gilbert fan?

One of the libraries mentioned in the article is San Francisco Public Library. The San Francisco Chronicle has a good report of the event with¬†a catchy headline: Singles Check One Another Out. The article talks up libraries “new” social aspects.

Now I know folks who say that this shouldn’t be part of a library’s mission, but the “community” is the library’s mission. If it’s something that can benefit the community, then why not?

It also reminds me of my favorite librarian/love anecdote. This is a true story:

A¬†librarian is sitting¬†at the reference desk. Behind her are large volumes of Chemical Abstracts (back when print was the only option!). In¬†comes a chemistry professor. He walks up to the desk and asks her, “Do you have a background in chemistry?”¬†Motioning behind her to the Chemical Abstracts, she says, “Why yes, I do!” The professor laughs. They started dating and ended up getting married.

Love in the stacks? This librarian approves.