library design

#Libraries and Social Media Identity

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#Libraries and Social Media Pt 1: Identity

(A Thought-in-Progress)

By Jesse A Lambertson

In Hal Niedzviecki’s book, The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, Niedzviecki analyzes the current mode of SOCIAL media and use of assorted web 2.0 technologies as not simply directed toward gathering information and learning – the rhetoric constantly used to justify one’s use of these applications – but are used instead to create a form of identity. He asserts his point on the notion every SOCIAL user and web 2-0 content producer believes their lives are as important as everyone else involved in the media. He suggests the response to that feeling is not only to build “connections” to others for learning and sharing about oneself in order to feel on equal ground, but rather the use of SOCIAL and web 2.0 technologies creates the existence of one’s self in that universe. What you see in SOCIAL and web 2.0 sharing-applications IS what you get. Interesting premise.

For a time, let’s suggest his point is spot-on. If that is the case, how might we turn this paradigm toward the now ubiquitous use by libraries of SOCIAL technologies ranging from branded blog platforms, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter to WordPress (to name a few)? I don’t know if we can make a final argument about SOCIAL technologies and its use by libraries of all kinds – academic, digital, public, research and special. My goal is not to draw attention to any library on any one point or example, just to strike attention to the idea being ruminated upon in this post. I don’t want to step on any toes of course. I just think this is a topic of study that has not gotten enough attention yet across library types.

My disclaimer: My views do not represent those of my employer’s, they are my own. Also, there are so many variations on SOCIAL media use, please fill in my blanks and accidental omissions with your own observations and don’t be afraid to show them to me here in the reply field or on my favourite of the SOCIAL platforms, Twitter.

Academic Libraries

Academic libraries are not all research libraries. Nor are they necessarily special libraries such as archives, image collections, map collections, medical libraries and law libraries. But what I see in my observations is that all of these libraries tend toward the same SOCIAL media and web 2.0 use. Some academic libraries use their SOCIAL profiles to directly state in yet another medium what they think they want to look like to their users; some use these applications to produce a quick information dissemination mode as students carry their mobile devices with them and can learn about events or alerts; some seem to want to create an “easy” web 2.0 alternative to walking in the library at all; some use web 2.0 technologies to promote content in OTHER web 2.0 platforms (such as Twitter to blog, or Blog to website); some run a live feed of their SOCIAL media on their normal websites; some use these technologies to draw attention to regional factors that may affect library use or resources; some link to other libraries’ resources, say within a library consortium, that they feel would be relevant to certain “followers” of their SOCIAL media feeds; many use web 2.0 technology as a form of sensational news (in lieu of having a “broadcast station” always on; some use these technologies as a reflection of the Learning Commons model they’ve adopted in the library brick and mortar spaces; and some use these assorted technologies in an advocacy capacity.

Academic libraries have realized, without stating so directly, their use and dissemination of information and trivia via web 2.0 tools straddles a contradiction of sorts. The first is that much information spread must be overseen by someone who has been entrusted by the institution to spread said info. We call this “vetting.” In this we find institutions determined to control what they “look like” to the outside world – this is their attempt to control their identity in SOCIAL media and web 2.0 platforms (in addition to the trusty website and library specific tools that have been there for years already). The other side of the contradiction straddling is the notion of dialog friendliness, trying to promote something that looks like connection and conversation in these consumer products used by not simply high level researchers and graduate students with narrow abstract goals in their use of the these libraries. I don’t have an answer for this contradiction. But it seems to be a slight unbridgeable gap between the affectation of “everyday” conversation marketed with use of web 2.0 technologies and the maintained image of the image engaged in that conversation with those technologies.

This contradiction is particularly interesting because academic libraries are increasingly jumping on the “big data” bandwagon by producing data on their own in the form of metrics and use statistics. One of the features not evident to those who may read or follow SOCIAL media produced on behalf of these libraries is that as information professionals look at all the numbers associated with access, use and other features, libraries are wont to also track, not users, but whether use of all of these applications increases traffic, use, connections etc. The truth is that a great deal of the data produced by these technologies is owned by the companies that produce these platforms. The other item worthy of note relative to this contradiction is that even as libraries jump on the SOCIAL/web 2.0 bandwagon, they are also the site where many technologies are used that take much time to learn and that contain links to articles, e-formats and databases unavailable just because an interested party “follows” their Facebook page or Twitter feed. I talk about this notion a little more below as it relates to digital libraries. The point here is that even as these web 2.0 technologies are used in greater numbers, the very quality of the academic library where students and researchers check out subject monographs, read subscribed articles for papers on a diverse array of topics, and find other media just for fun, is steeped in nuanced faceted search levels, intellectually created subject access, tags, owned catalog records, archival items in hazmat controlled vaults and experts (subject librarians) who will in fact aid in quicker and more efficient deeper research pathways. I am not saying these features cannot be combined with web 2.0 applications, but it is not their strength to aid in such goals. So when we say ask where a particular library is using some form of SOCIAL media, we might also consider what that really says about the identity of the institution in question.

Digital Libraries

Some digital libraries are not libraries per se, but are abstract organizations that act as advocacy units for digital libraries. I am thinking specifically of the Digital Library Federation. But some of these, such as the World Digital Library, is a specific library with connections to other larger organizations. I mention this because how SOCIAL applications are used by these groups is not always used with the strict attention to their own interests, but of those organizations that have funded or invested resources. So sometimes, information dissemination pushed out on SOCIAL applications gets pushed again by other organizations with vested interests of their own. I am not saying this is at all a bad thing. I simply draw attention to it because whatever identity or status one SOCIAL or web 2.0 application may enjoy is slightly changed with this realization. Others use web 2.0 applications to draw attention to new campaigns or digitization efforts.

The odd thing about digital libraries, which makes one think they exist on the open web for easy and free access, is that even though these efforts are taking place, and one would really want to tell interested parties about them, the collections being promoted are not always available in any way other than subscription. I am not using this post to get into issues of publishers, embargoes on copyrighted publications or open access, I have already commented upon these topics and I will continue to learn more over time. Subscription is not inherently a bad thing, But digital libraries are not always accessible on the open web. In fact, it is precisely the definition of the term, “access,” commonly used now with regard to getting information and research resources which sees its clearest use in digital libraries because “access” feels like a technical term (access codes, access granted etc) not necessarily related to simply seeing art, seeing manuscripts or reading books even though the OED defines it as, “To obtain, acquire; to get hold of.” The comedy of this is that even if resources are freely available on the internet, it is actually made possible by a series of access codes through control systems that allow your device (mobile, laptop or desktop) to communicate to the servers at the digital library and retrieve the items you have requested either via database query or URL request.

When digital libraries use web 2.0 applications, much of these harder issues related to information gathering and dissemination are hidden from view by the very fact that MANY web 2.0 applications are themselves being given to users free of monetary charge – this applies to many blogging applications (even WordPress has a free edition of its full code that can be hosted by anyone without using WordPress’s servers used for their more controlled themed platforms), Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and even Reddit. Thus, in terms of what identity is being indirectly postulated in instances of web 2.0 application use, the question is thrown into a bit of disarray. One of this factors which does fit, however, is the obvious and direct connection between lots of technologies being used to produce digital content (“born digital” we sometimes call it), its storage, preservation, visual representation and then retrieval. These are attributes that affect library identity because of the very technologies being used.

Public Libraries

Public libraries may not have long lists of special collections nor widely available digitized objects; but they do have something in their favour regarding the use of SOCIAL media and web 2.0 technologies – they are a tax supported organization run by civil servants (even if they are trained librarians). And as a result, their user base comes from quite diverse subsets of the population – much are tax payers themselves and can use pretty much every item in their collections. And to tack on a little side note, most of these freely available web 2.o technologies are embraced on a mass scale by users from every ethnicity, economic tier and educational achievement – precisely the population that makes use of services and resources at the public library. But let me not make the mistake that web 2.0 technologies, which make use of the web and digital infrastructure are the same in their nature as the identity of public libraries. They are not. The data and metadata produced by many SOCIAL applications on the web and used on the ever increasing number of mobile devices is used for profit, bought and sold, by many different interests out there. It is not clear this data is really collected in order to further democracy or to help people learn or to get jobs – these are some of the reasons public libraries are used. And libraries are operated as a public service by tax paying citizens and sometimes fund by the federal government and philanthropic persons or organizations. So when we remark that public libraries are using freely available web technologies, SOCIAL media platforms and other like applications, we are trying to connect one institution, a non-profit, with another institution, that of the companies with clearly stated monetary reasons for their being – that of increasing profits for their shareholders (and sometimes their employees). The irony of this of course is that many employees of these companies also pay taxes and turn right around and use their local public library.

Public libraries have many different uses for SOCIAL media and applications such as blogs etc. For instance, some libraries have added them as an afterthought because it’s “what’s happening” (this will be the case with some libraries in all categories); some have dedicated staff who produce, program, code and add content as part of their job description; some use these applications to have informal “chats” with followers; some use them as open “help” boxes where library users can send in their concerns with issues such as the catalog being down or a technical glitch in a transition from one interface to another; some use them to promote events that are national in scope but which libraries have gotten involved with (I am thinking about the annual NanoWrimo); some draw out collection spotlights of all the formats they carry (the good thing about this is that every collection item highlighted in a web 2.0 platform can theoretically then be used by every follower who has read about it); and some prefer to use the technologies in a formal way, more like a press release of an event or something. There are all kinds of ways Public Libraries use SOCIAL media and web 2.0 technologies. But this is sort of fascinating because the style can vary much from public library to public library even though public libraries’ mission statements remain fairly consistent.

Collections vary too according to local usage and budget restraints. Public libraries are, after all, a tax funded feature of the local government –city, county or state. Maybe the patron usage of SOCIAL media is what then determines the usage by the library. But what does this say about the identity of public libraries as an institution? This is where the line between users and the library becomes blurry. I will have to exit this section with these questions in mind.

The question was opened about what identity was produced by libraries of all kinds using SOCIAL media and web 2.0 technologies in a culture increasingly dominated by them. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration if the question is worth anything. I am not saying my original premise is even true, just that there may be something to it. I may take up this topic again in the future.

Please don’t hesitate to reply in the field below or “chat” about it on Twitter.

Thank you for reading.

Jesse L.

*There  are a couple instances of words that have an extra “u” in them. I just like the English spelling and find it easy to type by default.

Book Review: The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Ed.

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Technology in the Library and Lifelong Learning

Review of Nicole C. Engard’s (with Rachel Singer Gordon) The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition. Information Today, Inc. 2012. ISBN: 9781573874533


One of those ever-famous quotes from library school is that librarians and librarians-in-training must be life-long learners.* The reason for referencing this quote in this review is one of the methods through which Nicole C. Engard gathered anecdotes and examples for her work, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition (TASL) was via a survey sent out to libraries and systems librarians. A general response suggested by many of the respondees was they never expected to be bored. Engard deliberately makes this point 2 or 3 times across the book in varied contexts because one of her main points is systems librarians may go by different titles at their respective institutions, but they are also in charge of teaching staff, teaching patrons, spending a chunk of their scheduled time at the reference desk or some other task in “traditional” library services and keeping current on all kinds of tech services – a task which shows every sign of continual exponential change. Engard’s goal is to explain the types of issues that may fall under the description for Systems Librarian and also the real work/learning load associated with the position.

TASL is divided in two major sections: The first four chapters, titled Systems Librarianship 101 – 104, are followed by 8 chapters with specific titles focused on subtasks and the granularity of higher level involvement and projects. I would suggest one justification for this structure is a quote by Eric Morgan in his penned Forward, “Working with technology is as much about collection development as it is about knowing how to use computers” (xvi). Technology in libraries is not about adding more “stuff” for staff and patrons to learn – though more learning is hopefully the inevitable result. Technology is built into more facets of library work and library services because it reflects the types of resources that are in current use and in demand by patrons. As a pathway to being involved in culture, learning about whatever topic, or checking e-mail, networked systems of all kinds must be maintained in order to make that pathway easier to traverse. Hardware, web applications and other e-formats are simply used in tandem with resources such as magazines, newspapers and books.

Engard makes clear, however, throughout the book the need for constant education. Not simply personally in efforts for life-long learning. This notion we have already mentioned and will be touched upon once more below. Rather, education designed to bring all staff in-line with expectations held by patrons. In other words, many patrons need help with various aspects of devices, software and some hardware. Many libraries (or library systems), including the one at which I currently work, schedule technology classes in order to teach patrons skills as diverse as how to use subscribed databases for genealogy, how to navigate their e-readers to use the library’s e-collections and how they might use social media to collect ideas for new reading interests. And there are so many others Engard details in the book. The point is it takes educated staff members, confident with these same technological resources in the library’s collections/services arsenal to assist patrons. Also, when a patron comes to ask a question, it is okay for the librarian and the patron to learn something together. But, honestly, the staff member should be the “expert” up to a point and Engard suggests it’s up the systems librarian to collaborate with the rest of the staff and make sure this is the case.

How the local Systems Librarian works and what he or she accomplishes is partly up to her and how distributed the technological work load is in the librarian’s respective setting. There are no set tasks declared in the book. There is not an absolute description of what A Systems Librarian is supposed to do because needs vary so greatly. And in this, Nicole C. Engard’s book, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition, has its greatest strength. Sure it lists a ton of web, journal and book resources to learn network troubleshooting, research techniques and modes of instruction. But it emphasizes life-long learning as the mode of interaction across technological “borders,” changes and constant problem solving which fine-tunes that learning.

A strength indeed.

*This is a phrase I come back to pseudo-regularly as I find it of high value to my own motivations.

PS: A copy of my review has also been published at LibraryThing.

Thomas Jefferson’s Green Library

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     Fairfax County Public Library system has built a useful, award-winning Eco-friendly library in the Arlington Blvd. Thomas Jefferson neighborhood branch.  It features red bricks on three sides and a wall of open glass on the Rt. 50 side – facing the main road and service street.

     I have three pictures snapped and collected @ Twitter – collocated under the hashtag: #jltaglichtjfcpl – of the external. Future potential for internal images. I simply want to quickly describe the building’s design features – attributes which are new in ideology and yet traditional in design thinking in library buildings. The first of these is the ease of access to the reference desk. It sits in the very middle of the floor where it acts simultaneously as point-of-service and Panopticon over the stacks and nearby computer terminals.

     The green-friendly wall of glass on the northern wall allows so much natural light in. I have written in the letting in of natural light to libraries before. This simple solution saves money on lighting (energy use itself is also theoretically reduced). But it also changes the texture of the light from fluorescent to something altogether different. Of course, it’s not as if light has not always played in a part in library design. Traditionally, light has been a part of libraries as representative of the light of knowledge and truth. But in this building’s case, much of the used and useful light comes from outside the library. I might suggest the “truth” here is that one form of truth (s) is dependent on other types of truth (s).

     This branch is not the biggest in the Fairfax County Public Library system, but it certainly is nearly the newest. It’s emphasis on open space, light and green-compatibility marks it as representative of current thinking in architecture and use-design. These features are not, however, the building’s only interesting elements.  It also features rent-able rooms and shelves for free community-oriented reading outside of the view of the stacks and the reference desk. I find this quite interesting because even though many libraries have rooms for community events set aside in his square footage, this building seems to turn locate the community stuff connected via the entrance of the building (all connected through the foyer) and yet NOT the stacks themselves. There could surely be more written more on this topic of design and the peoples’ use.

     Hmmm, as a library user of some regularity, I heartily recommend getting or renewing your Fairfax County Library Card and becoming a regular patron of this branch if it’s convenient. If not, at least take a visit (maybe via bicycle since it has access by a service road and has racks for many bikes by the front door) and see what you think.

     As always, dialogue is welcome.

     Thank you.


James B. Hunt Library in Norwegian

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     James B. Hunt, who held the office of Governor for the state of North Carolina in the spot of 69th and 71st has an institute named after him (the Hunt Institute Tweets) – and now a library.  He established his legacy in the state for emphasizing and promoting education. Now, North Carolina State University has named the newest addition to their collection of libraries after him. The building is in-construction currently, but the design plans exhibited thus far have this image as its future. 
     I am not an architect, obviously, but I just want to draw attention to this new library being built in the United States on the east coast because North Carolina State University is known for being an engineering school made of red bricks as far as one can see. The campus even has a brick-yard in a place used daily by thousands of students year-after-year. Image from here. And this library is something different.
     A Norwegian architectural firm named Snøhetta won the contract (or whatever method was used to get the right deal for the University). And a good thing too. The influence of Scandinavian architecture added to the NCSU Centennial Campus is only beneficial because it breaks up the aesthetic of that campus quite well. Plus, it looks from what I could see from outside the construction site and from the officially released images that this library will let in a lot of natural light. The history of libraries has seen a lot of metaphors of light tossed about. Why not? But this does not contradict the stated purpose of this library building. The James B. Hunt Library has plans to be the  “best learning and collaborative space in the country.” Obviously, this library’s impact will be felt most directly by the NCSU community, but maybe I too will get a chance to do some research inside its well designed walls. Just wanted to let the library world know about this one while it’s in-progress.  
PS:  There are a few good food joints in the area of the library as well as coffee (which every library researcher needs). 
Thoughts or Comments on the Library are welcome.