Archive for July, 2006

Shifted, Tamed and PUMPED!

A great, big, huge, grateful and very impressed thank you goes out to CJRLC and Princeton Public Library’s Leslie Berger (current ALA President!) and Janie Hermann for having Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine come to Princeton to present their workshop, “Conversation, Community, Collections, & Collaboration:Practical, New Technologies for User-Centered Services”!

Thanks Leslie for having the inspiration to invite Michael and Jenny to NJ and also thanks to Janie and CJRLC for all the hours you spent coordinating and making it happen.

This program was very well-attended and successful on so many levels!

I was very excited to meet Michael and Jenny for the first time in person, and to attend one of their workshops, and even all of my own building-up of these two and their “roadshow” didn’t result in any disappointment!

Michael and Jenny are fabulous presenters who share their information in measured, easy-to-understand ways, while managing to convey excitement and interest in the topics. Even though not everything in the presention was new to me, I was never bored or disinterested.

They managed to go over blogs and blogging, RSS (VERY important!), wiki, flickr and so much more! I think everyone was having a great time and learning so much, all while enjoying the comfort of the Princeton Public Library – and no, I’m not being paid by anyone to say these things! Though I did go out to a great lunch with Janie and Robert after the program! ;-)

The event was really well managed and seemed to come off without a hitch – the catered lunch was terrific and the room set up was accomodating, despite the full house! Even the technology didn’t seem to hit any snags! ;-) It was so great to see so many people come out and take advantage of this great program.

There are so many points that Michael and Jenny brought up that are so important – maybe I’ll just try to mention a very few here! I hope others will either add to this post or post comments about what great stuff they got out of this workshop! Share what you’ve done since attending the program! I know of at least one person who went back to her libray and started a flickr account, and posted on some blogs (yes, I’m talking about YOU, Mary!)!

While the actual technology teaching was very interesting and informative, it was the more intangible lessons that I personally got the most out of!

THESE ARE FREE PEOPLE! FREE!!!!!! AS IN, NO MONEY OUTPUT FROM YOU OR YOUR LIBRARY!!!! You can be a “hero” here – lots of excellent results for no investment of money!

- Blogging is informal and doens’t have to be perfect (in fact, I am leaving that typo in there on purpose to remind myself of this and to try to personally overcome my “perfectionism” problems!)

- It is important to put a “human face” on the library: this makes it much more difficult to cut funding for the library for one thing! ;-) And you can use many of these new technologies to do this, i.e., start a flickr photo sharing account for your library (it’s really easy I promise!) and post pictures of your programs, your patrons (who agree to it), your staff, etc.!

- Celebrate and share your successes! When/where have you shared positive feedback from your patrons with your community or even wider? You can do this on a blog! This also really helps to humanize the library.

- Consider your policies – are they more of barriers between patrons and services/staff than anything else? Do they just cause more work for library staff? Are they “librarian-centered” rather than “user-centered”? I know *I* will be reconsidering some of the policies in my library after the workshop!

- Start a blog! Just start one! Open a flickr account! Just try it! Play with these things!

- Check out what other libraries are doing and how they are using these technologies! For example, Ann Arbor District Library has a blog (in fact IS a blog – can you imagine!?) with OPEN COMMENTS on it (gasp! the horror! the fear!) Guess what!? Nothing bad has happened!

DO NOT BE AFRAID!

Onward!

P.S. You can read more about the workshop on the NJLA blog where Jessica Unger has a great post!

July 20, 2006 at 4:24 pm

Flickr’s "Tubes" are clogged!


I am sitting here have a good laugh — Flickr is currently down and they have decided to blame it on “clogged tubes“. Instead of just saying “we are down for maintenance”, they have chosen to do something that is both creative and funny for their users in order to make up for it. How cool is that? So, hurry over, print out the tubes and grab your crayons to enter the colouring contest! I would enter but I have zero artistic ability.

July 19, 2006 at 8:55 pm 4 comments

Is virtual reference successful? Part II (Hint: yes it is)

In Part II I’d like to respond specifically to two comments. The first is from Morgan Fielman. The second from Pascal Lupien, author the article I’m discussing.

RESPONDING TO FIELMAN

Commenter Morgan Fielman wrote, “The original poster seems to have missed the point of this article, which is primarily about software.”

No, I get that the point of the article is primarily about the software and not the customer experience. But the article is so broadly written and lacking in detail that it ends up saying nothing more specific than “VR software has problems.”

My questions, unanswered by the article are, What software? What problems? Two of the products Lupien writes about (Tutor.com’s and QuestionPoints’) recently underwent complete overhauls, in effect becoming completely new products. It is unclear from Lupien’s article which versions he’s writing about but my sense is he’s writing about the older versions. If that’s correct then most of the article is, at best, moot.

Granted, the larger issue of whether or not the software is effective is a valid issue that warrants exploration and discussion. Fielman goes on to ask, “but how can customers be satisfied when the software we use is so poor?” I say that’s the wrong question. The question is “Are customers satisfied?” The answer in our customers’ experience is yes, they are satisfied. We didn’t find this out by polling 20 libraries. We found this out by asking the customers. Another good question might be, “Do the problems with VR software affect the quality of the customer experience, and if so how and to what extent.” There are many people at collaborative VR services looking at a lot of data to answer that question. Lupien’s article suggests that problems with software affect the customer experience but offers no actual data to back it up. He mentions problems with popup windows, problems with Windows service pack 2, and problems with serving customers who use Macs, but he is not specific about which software products exhibit which problems and to what extent. And again, Lupien is not clear which version of Tutor and QuestionPoint he’s talking about. The newer versions of both products are compatible with Mac users, and have no problems with service pack 2 issues that I’m aware of.


Fielman concludes his comment by saying “original VR supporters have realized that this service just isn’t cutting it.” The fact is our service has been cutting it for almost 5 years, and we have the hard data and glowing customer comments to prove it. If your VR service isn’t cutting it, you need to ask why. Are your staff trained on the software? Are they enthusiastic? What are you customer service standards? Do your librarians give kick-ass customer service in f2f encounters? What quality control mechanisms do you have in place? Do you examine your transcripts for quality? Do you have regular and convenient service hours? Are you available 24/7? (going 24/7 made a huge difference in our usage, even though usage mostly grew during hours we were already open — go figure…) And finally, but certainly not last, do you consistently and effectively market your service to your customers? Do they know you exist???

If your service ain’t cutting it maybe you need to answer these questions first before blaming the software, which is an easy way out. Consider that here in New Jersey using standard VR software (currently QP, formerly Tutor/LSSI’s eGain-based software) we’re cutting it and then some. Other statewide collaboratives are doing quite well too. And we’re all working very diligently with our respective vendors to ensure that our VR platforms are stable and highly functional. While the current glitch here and there can be a real and undeniable pain in the ass, it hasn’t prevented us from delivering a high quality and slightly mind-blowing experience to our customers.


RESPONDING TO LUPIEN

First, I’d like to thank Pascal Lupien for taking the time to offer an extremely well-written and thoughtful comment in response to my first post. I’d like to assure him that contrary to his assertion, I’ve read his article through thoroughly a few times. I have no problem with bad news about VR. I just want accurate and somewhat substantiated news. I’m offering up the reality of my experience at QandANJ to counter the broad statements that Lupien makes. Now to some of his specific comments.

He writes, Perhaps these results aren’t what proponents of VR would prefer to hear, but they do represent a problem that needs to be discussed, for the sake of our users.

I do not consider myself a proponent of VR, I consider myself of proponent of libraries. It is my desire that libraries remain relevant to our customers by offering a suite of high quality services. Collaborative VR is one such service, offering our customers 24/7 access where and when they want it. I want to see libraries changing their customers’ perceptions about what libraries can offer them. I want libraries to blow customer expectations out of the water. I want libraries to be around in 50 years. It is not that I don’t want to hear bad news about VR software. I’m perfectly open to hearing about the problems with the current stable of VR software offerings. It’s just that I want to hear facts, not conjecture. And I want those facts to be couched in some meaningful context and always tied back, to whatever extent possible, to the impact on our customers. I didn’t get this from Lupien’s article.

Lupien writes, To respond to the person who claimed that software is the last thing that matters about VR, I say tell that to the user who is unable to log in because she uses a Mac, or because her computer has pop-up blockers. Tell that to the user who is “kicked off” in the middle of a session because the VR software does not function properly with the library’s licensed databases. These things happen regularly, and this article makes an attempt to discuss them.

I’m pleased to see Lupien talking directly about the impact on customers. Clearly we agree that it would be optimal if VR software worked across all platforms, had no problems with pop-up blockers, and worked 100% of the time so no user was ever “kicked off.” I am not suggesting that these problems don’t exist, I am asking to what extent do they exist, and to what extent do they impact the customer’s experience and satisfaction with VR service. Because Lupien fails to identify what versions of the various VR products he tested, and is repeatedly non-specific regarding his data, the article fails to answer these questions.

Lupien grants that, “many regular VR users appreciate the service,” and that he wasn’t contesting that fact. Our experience suggests that it is not “many” but most.

Lupien writes, “Shouldn’t we be thinking about these potential users as well, rather than focusing on those who already use and appreciate the service? Shouldn’t we be trying to determine if one software product could help us to improve the experience for all users, not merely the satisfied ones? Perhaps some would fear doing this, as it would reveal that their VR service isn’t as successful and user-friendly as they like to claim?

Yes, we should absolutely be thinking about our potential users, and we should always be shooting for a platform that will provide high quality service to everyone. Again, it’s a matter of facts and context. Lupien’s article disappoints me on both counts.

Lupien writes, “The point of this article is to focus on users who are unable to log in to begin with, who encounter technical problems during a transaction, or who choose not to use the service because they would be required to disable pop-up blockers or use a particular browser, etc. We’ll never know how these users feel about VR, because they don’t get far enough into a VR transaction to make…comments.

Actually, we have some way of knowing. We ask. Yes sir, right there on the front page of QandANJ we say, “Click here to give us feedback on how our new software is working for you.” Here’s a sample of what we find: Since May 1st (79 days), we have received 23 comments. 16 of them were specifically technical (some were positive, some were of the nature, “it wasn’t fast enough”.) One comment came from a Mac user, 3 came from customers accessing us through the AOL interface and browser. So Mr. Lupien, we do make an effort to compile and monitor such information, looking for problematic trends with an eye on improving the service.

Finally, Lupien suggests that I have not been keeping up with the VR literature and if I had “taken the time to consider some of the issues discussed in this article before jumping on that user-centric high horse” I would have “come away with a better understanding of what is happening beyond QandANJ.”

I can assure Mr. Lupien that I keep up quite well with VR literature thank you, and I’m familiar with Coffman and Arret’s article, which you can read here (right at the bottom of the page, after Brenda Bailey-Hainer’s reasoned response.) And if speaking from a place of fact and experience instead of conjecture and generality puts me on a high horse then what can I say? Giddyup.

In Part III (much shorter, I promise) I’ll address the VR software versus IM question.

Epilogue: Customer comment from today: “I am exceedingly impressed. First time in ages I felt like I was getting something positive for my tax dollars.” (Our funders sure hate to see this… Ha Ha )

July 18, 2006 at 9:58 pm 2 comments

Social Networking and Online Safety–A Lot to Talk About


It’s been a very busy week, with new freshmen student orientations, library instructions, and all-day interviews for our new librarian position, but as I begin to relax and hit the blogs for some interesting reading, I notice a quick blurb on the July 14th Search Engine Forums Spotlight mentioning that MySpace has become (or least it was on Tuesday this week) the “No. 1 U.S. Web site last week, displacing Yahoo Inc.’s top-rated e-mail gateway and Google Inc.’s search site, Internet tracking firm Hitwise said on Tuesday.” This, of course, is not a huge surprise to me, as I have been following up on social networking sites a lot lately and will be presenting on them and personal information search engines at the Internet Librarian/Internet@Schools West Conference in Monterey later in October.

Whenever I do bring up MySpace, Facebook, and other social websites with my librarian, professor, and teacher colleagues, the conversations tend to lean toward online safety, lately. In case you have not read about the crackdown on social networking sites, especially regarding MySpace, you might be interested in browsing the MySpace may face legislative crackdown article by Declan McCullagh at CNET News.com from July 11th. It discusses how politicians this week have attacked MySpace and other social networking sites for their inability to protect minors, and that legislators need to become involved.

“MySpace and other social-networking sites like LiveJournal.com and Facebook have come under increasing pressure from members of Congress hoping to appeal to voters before the November elections. The school and library filtering bill–called the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA–is a centerpiece of a poll-driven Republican effort called the ‘Suburban Agenda’.”

I continually talk about the brighter, creative aspects and rewards of participating in and using social networking sites in my seminars and courses, and you have heard many others mentioning these as well, I am sure. In fact, I just read a column yesterday from the informative and entertaining Stephen Abram about this topic entitled, “What Can MySpace Teach us in School Libraries” that just came out in the July/August issue of http://www.mmischools.com/magazine (note: I subscribe to their free site for multimedia tools and resources for K-12+, and you can, too, or wait for the issue to become available fulltext in EBSCO’s Academic Search Premier or WilsonWeb’s Wilson Omnifile any day now). Abram asks quite a few questions about these special sites and believes, and I agree, that we can learn a lot from them–including what they are doing right “with respect to institutionalizing social networks” and in “their efforts to create ‘safe’ spaces.”

Well, let’s talk about online safety. If you have heard about the safety aspects surrounding MySpace and other related sites, and especially if you have read anything in the traditional news lately about this, you know that one serious suggestion or answer to the problem is to block access in the schools via filtering systems. Believe me, this will not work, as many savvy students will find ways around this even at school, not to mention at home. I don’t recommend that you rely on these if you do choose or must use them. I am not saying to do nothing, however, as I do believe in Internet safety education, especially since our youth (and university students) are extremely attracted to these online environments, inside and outside of school (Abram in his article states that one estimate of MySpace alone suggests that it could “account for 40% of Web traffic by the end of 2006″).

So, if you are like me and are looking for some additional help in that “safety and education” area, especially because you are a school library media specialist, librarian, or parent who does not want to wait for politicians, legislators, the library & education community, and the general public to finally agree on solutions that might actually work, I would suggest reading Nancy Willard’s second “Social Networking” article, also in the July/August MultiMedia & Internet@Schools magazine, for her update on the concerns and issues surrounding safe and responsible Internet use (Nancy is actually the Director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use and also has a detailed, free “Briefing for Educators” article available online at her cyberbully.org site as well.

You will notice, too, that MySpace itself is doing a lot more to help with safety issues, especially with all of the publicity it is getting. McCullagh’s CNET News.com article mentioned earlier states that…

“For its part, MySpace–now owned by Rupert Murdock’s News Corp.–has taken steps this year to assuage concerns among parents and politicians. It has assigned some 100 employees, about one-third of its workforce, to deal with security and customer care, and hired Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam, a former Justice Department prosecutor, as chief security officer.”

I think that is a step in the right direction for them, and MySpace does have a Safety Tips link at the bottom of their main page that has recently added more material for youth and parents, including links to several suggested useful online safety resource and education sites. I think you will find the following to be useful:

Netsmartz.org
WiredSafety.org
GetNetWise.org
SafeTeens.com

Anyway, this blog is getting long, and I did not even get to talk about ALA’s stand on DOPA (they and many others believe that it needs serious refining), but I think I have given you a lot to read and talk about concerning social networking and online safety, right? Besides, it’s my wife’s birthday and I need to go celebrate it with her at the New Jersey Shore this weekend; in fact, we are leaving right now if you want to join us, Library Gardeners and visitors–yeah, I know, giving too much personal info on the Web can be dangerous, but I do live life in the fast lane. I am an infomaniac/librarian after all! ;)

July 15, 2006 at 7:56 am 1 comment

The Power of Online Community

Warning: This post is going to be a bit on the personal side. I know that many feel it good practice to keep posts of a personal nature in a separate personal blog (most notably Rory Litwin over at Library Juice) and I tend to actually fall in to this camp even though I blog a lot about MPOW. So, if this is too personal for a professional blog, you can all blame Karen Schneider. We had a great conversation at the Blogger’s Bash in NOLA and she encouraged me to share a bit more of myself on Library Garden and (in specific) this story. Since I can make this somewhat library-related I am posting it, albeit with some trepdiation.

Midnight Train to MoscowIt was two years ago today my husband and I stood before a judge in a Russian court and were declared to be the legal parents of the most precious nine-month old boy who was then living in an orphanage in the City of St. Petersburg. We were finally a family and it was the best moment of my life. As I sit here writing this I am misty-eyed at the memory. I am still in awe 2 years later that this amazing child is our son.

Where does the library connection come in? I have spoken at length with Chrystie Hill about the Libraries Build Comminites project she is doing with Steven Cohen and next week Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine will be in Princeton to deliver a 5 hour hours session to a standing room only audience of their popular 4C’s Roadshow – the C’s stand for Conversation, Community, Connection, and Collaboration”. The words community and connection being key here.

There is a buzz in the profession about libraries building and transforming communities and a part of the library 2.o movement extends that to creating connections online. But, there are still skeptics (I have met them and there are more than a few) who have yet to experience meaningful connection in an online community and have a hard time believing that the connections established virtually can be as meaningful as those established In Real Life (IRL).

I have a story to tell related to the adoption of our son and it is a story about the power of online community and of transforming that virtual connection in to something meaningful IRL. Perhaps my story will help convince the skeptics. I will try to keep this brief, but the story is long so forgive me.

In Jul 2003 my husband and I decided to make our dream of becoming a family a reality by adopting and after much soul-searching we felt that Russia was our destiny. One of the first things I did was sign up with several adoption-related virtual communities and online forums. I joined to seek information and in the end found the best support network that I have ever had in my life. If I had not joined these virtual communities and found suport during our long and arduous adoption process, I am not sure I would have made it — and I really mean it.

We received a referral for a beautiful baby boy in February 2004 and made our first trip to meet our son in early April. We were told we would be back in about 4 weeks for our court date. We got home and 2 days later, before we had unpacked, we got a call saying that we should come back in 10 days.

On April 19th we went to court and everything fell apart. The details are not relevant to this story, so lets just say that we got caught in the middle of a political struggle and our adoption proceeding was halted after one of the most confusing and agonizing hours of our lives. It was devastating and there was nothing we could do to it change before our visas expired, so we ended up spending our wedding anniversary flying away from Russia and every mile across the Atlantic was another mile between us and our son — a little boy whom with whom we had already bonded and who had a nursery waiting for for him back home in NJ.

It was then that I experienced the power of virtual community. My online friends, several of whom lived in NJ and had become IRL friends by this time, rallied behind us even though we had known them for but a few months. They understood in a way that no one else could what we were feeling. They knew the raw emotion of going to court in Russia where adoption proceedings can and often do go on for hours. They could understand like no one else the shock of despair at having the proceedings halted. They understood how this baby boy was already fully our son in our hearts if not our home.

Those that had made the journey to Russia or were in the middle of it understood the emotional and physical investment and were able to support us like no one else could. Our family, friends and colleagues tried their hardest and were a big help, but it was the online community that got me through some of my deepest moments of despair. Every single day without fail I got an IM, email or phone call from one of my “forum friends” — they made sure of this. When I was having a hard time functioning, they kept me going. One friend sent me the poem “Kisses in the Wind” and I ended up repeating that poem every night for it allowed me keep believing he would come home.

My husband and I did not give up, though some told us we should. We knew he was meant to be our son. We filed appeals, jumped through hoops, redid paperwork, and did everything else we could so that we would be allowed to go back for another court hearing. At times we were told he would never be ours, but we couldn’t give up. Finally, 10 weeks after we stood in court for the first time, we got “the call” that we had another hearing and a mere 9 days later we were on a plane to Russia for the third time.

Our 2nd court hearing was surreal and nothing like the first — it was like being in the twilight zone. I actually don’t remember much as I was just hoping I wouldn’t pass out from nerves, but I will always remember the moment when the judge returned after what seemed like an eternity from deliberations and declared us finally to be the parents to the child of our hearts. The sadness of our long months apart faded and only joy remained.

It is incredible to me that two years has gone by since that day — it seems like so long ago and just yesterday all at the same time. July 14th is a day we celebrate in our house as “family day” and it is now one of my favorite days of the year as we do something special as a family — just the three of us.

The friends that I made from a variety of virtual communities are some of my closest friends IRL to do this day. Many live in NJ and we get together frequently for special occasions and regular play dates. Two of the children in our group from NJ share an even closer connection with my son — all 3 were born within 3 weeks of each other and they all spent the first nine months of their lives in the same room at the same baby home. These 3 happy active toddlers were in a Russian orphanage together as infants and now they are growing up together in NJ thanks to the power of online community.

Okay, this is the longer than I thought it would be but I don’t how to shorten it and describe the impact that online community had on my life. I feel like I should draw some insightful conclusions, but at this point I want to mostly let this post stand as a tribute to power of community and connections — and to the little boy that I just kissed while he slept soundly in his crib… the same boy that I used to blow kisses to in the wind and whom I feel blessed every day to have in my life.

July 13, 2006 at 11:49 pm 5 comments

2.0 — Tiresome Already?

I have wondered how long it would be before we started seeing mainstream backlash against the 2.o meme. A few minutes ago I found Too tired of 2.o, a June 26th editorial by Steve Fox of InfoWorld in which he first declares:

First the “next wave” moniker was clever, then it was useful. Now it’s just plain annoying.

He later states:

Enough already. The label 2.0 has become so overused that it is now a tic, a reflex action, a device that gets trotted out because someone thinks it sounds both hip and techie. And it did — for a while. Now it’s tired.

Mr. Fox does clarify to say that he is okay with Web 2.0 as a term and in fact it is all the other 2.o talk that is making him tired.

I can’t say that I agree with him on all accounts (or even most), but I have been concerned that the overuse of 2.o would eventually lead to this type of reaction. Will Library 2.o as a term suffer the same overuse backlash from our profession? Just some food for thought from me during my lunch break.

July 13, 2006 at 2:10 pm

Is virtual reference successful? Part I (Hint: yes it is)

Pascal Lupien begins his recent article on virtual reference (Virtual Reference in the Age of Pop-Up Blockers, Firewalls, and Service Pack 2 , By: Lupien, Pascal, Online, Jul/Aug2006, Vol. 30, Issue 4) “by declaring that, “the evidence indicates that libraries are not satisfied with the service.” Say what? Aside from the fact that the statement is so overly broad as to be false on the face of it (which libraries? which services?), it’s not about whether the libraries are satisfied with the service, IT’S ABOUT WHETHER THE CUSTOMERS ARE SATISFIED WITH THE SERVICE.

The fact that Lupien goes on for nearly 3500 words with nary a mention of customer satisfaction epitomizes to me the worst of librarian-centric thinking at the expense of customer experience. 3500 words with:

  • No mention of how VR customers love and rave about the convenience of the service.
  • No mention of how VR customers love and rave about having a live person available to assist them with their information needs.
  • No mention of how VR has changed our customers’ perceptions of what libraries can offer them.
  • No mention of how VR has helped make libraries more relevant to our customers by meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations.

I am feeling weary after reading Lupien’s article. Weary because there is so much wrong with it that it almost demands a line-by-line critique in the spirit of Twain on Fenimore Cooper. Well Lupien isn’t Fenimore Cooper and I’m certainly not Twain, and besides I’m really, really tired.

So let me address a few errors, raise a few eyebrows (two, to be precise) and share some of my own experience – uh, make that our customers’ experience – with VR via QandANJ.

A moment to share my creds: I’ve been involved with QandANJ since it’s inception in 2001 (before that, actually,) helping to build, manage and promote the service. I’ve looked at thousands of transcripts and thousands of customer feedback forms. I know that our usage is through the roof. We handle as many “calls” as we can limited only by our ability to offer deeper staffing. I know that our customers tend to be very satisfied, and I know WHY our customers tend to be very satisfied. If you want to delve deeper into our stats and findings, take a look at this presentation from the VRD Conference in 2003. (there’s more here) The numbers may be a little dated, but the story they tell and the trends they point to remain just as true today.

I’m not making this stuff up… Here’s one of my favorite comments:

If you think this is cherry picking, it ain’t. We get our share of negative comments too (usually younger users, usually wanting “faster, faster, faster” service.) The reality is our customers are happy. Why? Here’s what they tell us:








We have hundreds of pages of single-spaced pages with thousands of comments that go on and on in these veins. There are many other successful collaborative VR projects like those in Maryland, Colorado, and Cleveland that could show you similar comments from their satisfied customers. The challenge isn’t attracting the customers, it’s managing to grow the staffing of the service to keep pace with the demand!

In part 2, I’ll get a bit more nit-picky with other elements of Lupien’s article.

July 12, 2006 at 10:25 pm 14 comments

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