Archive for July, 2007

Are We Getting Warmer? Query Clarification in Virtual Reference (ALA Redux Part 2)

At the Library Research Round Table at ALA in Washington, DC, on June 23, 2007, Lynn Silipigni Connaway of OCLC and I presented our latest findings on Query Clarification in VR (aka question negotiation or the reference interview).

We examined 600 chat transcripts randomly selected from QuestionPoint bank of almost 500,000 transcripts. Here are some of our findings (and an invitation below to the Seeking Synchronicity web site to see the PowerPoint slides and handouts from this presentation).

Do librarians clarify?
75% (in 434 of 581 usable transcripts) librarians did ask clarifying questions.

Did they ask the highly recommended follow-up question? (some version of “Does this completely answer your question?”)
50% (217) of the 434 librarians who clarified did ask the follow up question.

What types of questions were asked?
66% (554 of 838 questions asked by the librarians) were closed questions.
34% (282 of 838) were open.

What did librarians ask about?
Librarians asked users questions about: topic, background, search history, type of resource needed, extent/depth of information needed, if the user wanted a referral and more.

How about the virtual reference users?
Users offered information about: topic, background, extent/depth, and to correct the librarian’s misunderstanding.

Surprising finding! 2 different patterns of clarification!
Librarians clarified more often in the beginning of the interaction
Users clarified in the middle more often.

Most important finding! How to improve accuracy in chat reference?
For the 180 ready reference questions in our sample, we looked at accuracy (see my blog posting of July 10, 2007 for more on ready reference in chat).
Clarifying the query and asking the recommended follow-up question both boosted accuracy.

Bottom Line
Always ask clarifying questions, even if you think you understand the question (one user asked for diving instructions, but had made a typo and wanted driving instructions, early clarification would have saved the librarian much searching time!)

Always ask a version of the recommended follow-up question: “Does this completely answer your question?”

Interested in more detail on the above findings? Please click on the above links to see the PowerPoint slides and handouts.

This research is funded by IMLS, Rutgers University, and OCLC.
Special thanks to Susanna Sabolcsi-Boros of Rutgers, SCILS, and Patrick Confer of OCLC, for their help with this part of the project.

July 13, 2007 at 7:52 am

Librarian 2.0- The new professional or the responsible one?

Reading the Librairan 2.0 Manifesto was both an inspiring and frustrating read. Inspiring because it iterates goals that make me love my profession. I love outreach, I love working online and I love sharing new web 2.0 finds with peers and patrons.

But frustating too because I was left wondering how we got to a point in our profession where some of the goals needed to be written. Take the following examples:

*I will not fear Google or related services, but rather will take advantage of these services to benefit users while also providing excellent library services that users need.
*I will let go of previous practices if there is a better way to do things now, even if these practices once seemed so great.
*I will recognize that the universe of information culture is changing fast and that libraries need to respond positively to these changes to provide resources and services that users need and want.

These are new goals for our profession!? We actually had to put in goals that state we need to be open to efficiency, convenience and we need to provide resources our patrons need and want? As public servants in information resources, it would almost seem as if these goals were a mandatory. And yet, I can also see why we needed to specify these goals; there are quite a few among our profession that need to be reminded.

But how did we get to this stage? Why do we have professional librarians who refuse to keep up with the professional and technological requirements? How did we reach a point where the patrons’ needs were less important than the traditional way of doing things?

All along, the job of a reference librarian has been to find the information patrons need. We are in the business of connecting people to the information they require… so why care about the format that information is found in?

Although traditionalists’ argue the Internet is 90% junk, it was originally built as a means to convey information and expedite the communication process between people. Even among the copious amounts of junk found on the web, legitimate information has rooted itself firmly in cyberspace as well. For some reason or another some in our profession dismissed this technology as non-important, despite the visibly growing applications and use among our patrons. And because of this lackadaisical and rejective approach we are left with professionals so far behind the curve that waiting for retirement is as an easier path than training.

And so I grow frustrated when I read the goals and responsibilities of the 2.0 Librarian, it should’ve been part of our profession all along.

July 12, 2007 at 1:19 pm 11 comments

Congrats to Amy!

An announcement from Connie Paul, Executive Director, Central Jersey Regional Library Cooperative:

Amy Kearns, will begin as (CJRLC)Program Coordinator on July 30, 2007! Currently the head of reference for the Paterson PL, Amy is a blogger, a trainer, a techie, and a library enthusiast. She has been very active in the Highlands RLC… She is eager to get to know our members (she knows many of you already), and we are delighted to welcome her.

A huge and hearty congratulations Amy on this exciting new position. Looking forward to working with you on continuing education initiatives! – Pete

July 10, 2007 at 9:22 pm 7 comments

ALA Redux – Ready Reference in Chat – Not Dead Yet! PLUS 1 Foolproof Way to Increase Accuracy in Chat Reference

“I’m not dead yet!”

I wanted to update the LG faithful on the 5 (5!) very different presentations I gave at ALA in Washington DC, based on the research we are doing on the Seeking Synchronicity IMLS grant studying live chat virtual reference at Rutgers University, SCILS and OCLC.

It was wonderful to speak to so many people at ALA who were eager (yes, actually eager) to hear about research in Virtual Reference! Feedback was amazingly positive and I plan to blog about each of these presentations, just to give some highlights, and to point you to the PowerPoint presentation and handouts if you want to get more information.

For the 13th RUSA New Reference Research Forum at ALA, Lynn Silipigni Connaway of OCLC and I presented “Not Dead Yet! Ready Reference in Live Chat Reference.” We had pulled a random sample from almost 500,000 QuestionPoint transcripts from 2004-2006 and done an analysis of the types of questions and an evaluation of accuracy in ready reference. We found that early reports of the death of ready reference (due to user’s ability to search Google and Wikipedia independently for factual type questions) are premature and that these types of questions surprisingly still comprise nearly 30% of chat questions. Here are some of our findings as a tease to invite you to go to the Seeking Synchronicity site for more detail:

What Types of Questions are Being Asked in Chat?

Of 915 total chat reference questions:

  • 243 (27%) were Ready Reference (short, factual, questions)
  • 293 (32%) were Subject Searches (largest group)
  • 10 (1%) were Inappropriate (comforting in such a low number)

What Types of Libraries/Consortia are Getting more Ready Reference Questions?

Of 162 chat transcripts:

  • 59% of the Ready Reference questions came from Public Libraries
  • 45% from Public & Academic Consortia
  • 35% from Adacemic and Law Libraries

How about Accuracy?

How accurate are chat librarians in answering ready reference questions? We used the Arnold & Kaske (2005) method to classify chat ready reference answers and found 78% (141 of 180) to be correct. 69% (125 of 180) meeting the gold standard of correct with citation.

Increase Accuracy! Our Most Important Finding!

For the 20% (35 of 180) incorrect questions, the most frequent reason was that the chat librarian sent only general information (usually a website on the topic). The general website did not contain the specific information requested.

So the “One Foolproof Way” to increase accuracy for ready reference chat questions is as follows: before you push a general information page, make sure it has the specific, exact answer to the user’s question.


Clidk here for the Not Dead Yet! PowerPoint presentation and here for the Not Dead Yet! handout that details coding procedures for type of question and accuracy.

Cited Reference: Arnold, J. & Kaske, N. (2005). Evaluating the quality of a chat cervice, portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5(2), 177-193.

Special thanks to Janet Torsney, an MLIS student at Rutgers University, SCILS, for her help in doing the accuracy analysis and Susanne Sabolcsi-Boros for intercoder check. Also thanks to Nick Belkin of SCILS for suggesting the accuracy analysis.


July 10, 2007 at 10:31 am 2 comments

The "New" Librarian in the New York Times and The Sun

A couple of articles to share today, both similar, on the “new” librarians… one is in The New York Times, A Hipper Crowd of Shushers, and the other is in The Sun, For New-Look Librarians Head to Brooklyn.

What do YOU think of these takes on “us”?

July 7, 2007 at 2:34 pm 6 comments

10 Principles of Improv and why you should care

I’ve been meaning to get to two posts for months now: A post about Toastmasters (the toast post) and a post about taking improv classes in Philly. Well, this is a (slightly modified) version of a Toastmasters speech I recently gave about my experience with improv. Two birds, and all that :-)

A few months ago I started taking Improv classes in Philadelphia on Monday nights. I signed up for improv not because I have a burning desire to be the next Will Ferrell or Mike Myers, nor any illusions that you’ll soon be seeing me on the big screen or on SNL. What inspired me to sign up for class was a small, remarkable book called Truth in Comedy, written by Charna Halpern, Kim Johnson, and Del Close (one of the most important influences in modern day comedy improv. Just look at the list of folks he mentored!)

The more I read about improv, the more I realized that the principles of good improv are also the principles of living a good, centered, happy, connected, and fulfilled life. So today I’d like to take a few minutes to share 10 improv principles with you, and tell you a little bit about my experience of the past eighteen weeks learning to doing improv.

First I think it’s useful to briefly address the question, “What is Improv?” Inevitably when I tell someone I’m learning to do improv, they say something like, “Oh standup comedy, I could see you doing that.” So let’s clear this up right away: Improv is not stand up comedy. In many ways it is the antithesis of stand up. Stand up is generally written, memorized, practiced and polished. It’s also (usually) a solitary activity. Improv is spontaneous, free-flowing and created on the spot. It’s also (usually) a team sport.

Often it’s the unscripted nature of improv that is most associated with the form, and for that reason many people say things like, “You’re doing improv—isn’t that hard? Isn’t that scary to work without a script? To have to make it up on the spot?” To which I can only reply with a scratch of my chin, “Hmmm… Having to make it all up on the spot… That sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before??? Oh yeah!!… it’s what we do every single day of our lives!”
Look, not only can anyone do improv, we are in fact, all of us, doing improv all the time.

Let me ask you: When you were born, were you handed a script that layed out all of your lines so you’d know just the right thing to say and do for the rest of your life? I don’t think you got that script. I don’t know anyone who got that script. I know I didn’t get that script. So we’re doing improv all the time. All the time. Every day. You. Me. Them. We’re improv-ing baby!

And you may have noticed that IN our unscripted lives, sometimes, ‘stuff’ happens. And learning and practicing the principles of improv can help us deal with that stuff.

TEN PRINCIPLES OF IMPROV


Principle 1: Be prepared (Warm up!)

In my improv class we don’t rehearse scenes, but we do practice. We do train to learn and internalize certain structures and methods the way jazz improvisers learn scales. Before getting into scene work, we activate our minds and bodies by playing games; games that will help ground us physically and emotionally to characters we create in scenes. Sometimes we play 2 or 3 games at once to help sharpen our awareness and listening skills and get us out of our heads. Props to the Boy Scouts on this one.

Principle 2: Willingness

Willingness to do what you ask? A lot. We have to be willing to fail, and fail spectacularly. Since we don’t know what’s coming next, we have to accept that we may get knocked off balance. Therefore we have to be willing to mess up –and mess up big time.

Being willing to fail spectacularly means being willing to take risks. Lack of success is not due to trying and failing; it’s due to not trying, often out of a fear of failure. Being willing to fail means being willing to look foolish. It’s been said that we wouldn’t care so much about what people thought about us if we realized how seldom they do. If we’re not willing to look foolish doing improv then we won’t risk, we won’t commit, and the scenes will lack energy and direction. Being willing to risk reconnects us with the zest and energy of life. When we risk, our senses our heightened, our adrenaline is flowing. It’s a rush.

Finally, we have to be willing to make mistakes. The point is not that there are no consequences. Rather, it’s accepting that if we are truly risking there is no question that we WILL make mistakes. But we also realize that others are there to help dig us out of our mistakes. And ultimately it’s our mistakes that lead us to growth and improvement. We learn to choose better next time.

Principle 3: Stay in the Moment

In improv what is happening NOW is the key to discovery. I was at a Library Futures conference recently and heard someone say, “I’m very interested in the future because that’s where most of my life will happen.” That got a big laugh. Well I’m very interested in this moment, because that’s where ALL of my life has happened. And I’m pretty sure that’s where most of the action is. (Coincidentally, it was at the library futures conference that Mary Catherine Bateson suggested that the best way to prepare for the future is to take an improv class…)

Principle 4: Shut up and Listen

Good improvisers are not necessarily more clever, or more quick-witted. They just listen better… Improv is about hearing what others are offering, and building off it. It’s hard to do that when your gums are flappin’.

Principle 5. Action beats inaction

Don’t talk about doing it, do it. Be specific. In Improv there is a “bias for action”. I’ve also seen the term “bias for action” listed as a common trait of effective leaders. Why? Because active choices move things forward. The more specific the choice the better. Specific choices are committed choices. Specific choices move things forward and allow others to respond to and build off of your offers.

Principle 6. Be honest

In improv we are taught to express whatever is coming up in us at that moment. To do that we have to learn not to censor or judge our own thoughts, which requires some major rewiring of the brain… The only value we bring to the scene is our honest response to what’s happening.

Principle 7: Let go of (your need to) control

The only thing we can control are our own choices. Realizing that we are not in control of anything else is the key to de-stressing and getting into the flow. And the flow is where we are creative. The flow is where we are productive. The flow is where we are connected to others. The flow is where we are happy. [an aside] Interestingly… What happens when we stop focusing energy on things that we can’t control? That energy gets focused on things that we can control, and ironically, we end up exerting more influence.

Principle 8. There are no mistakes

Earlier I said that we have to be willing to make mistakes. But moving beyond that, we learn to not see choices as mistakes. In improv, there are no mistakes or bad ideas, there are only interesting choices. We respect all the choices (aka offers) made by others, and find ways to build off of them, no matter how challenging they may be. There are no mistakes because everything can be built upon. Everything that happens is an opportunity.

Principle 9: Trust

Learning improv we learn to trust ourselves. We trust our impulses and our choices (which we can do because there are no mistakes, and we are not alone.) And we learn to trust in others (to “justify” our “interesting choices”, build off them, and weave them into the fabric of the scene.) When learning to trust our ideas, it helps to remember that ideas are infinite. So no matter what strange hole it seems we’ve dug ourselves into in a scene, there are an infinite number of ideas that can help dig us out.

Principle 10. Teamwork (row, row, row)

We’re all in this together. No one person is responsible for the success or failure of a scene. It succeeds, or not, based on our ability to work together. This requires strong individuals making strong choices, who trust each other and themselves. As a group, we learn to focus on solutions. As individuals we learn to focus on getting results (i.e. moving the scene forward) instead of being right, or angling for attention or credit. We rise, or fall, as one.

The Uber Principle: “Yes, and…”

So there are the big 10 principles of improv as seen by an improv newbie. But I’d like to conclude by mentioning one final improv principle. It’s a principle that runs through all the others and infuses improv with it’s spirit. This is the principle of “Yes, and”. “Yes, and” means that we accept everything that happens as an offer, as a gift. It is our job to bring our unique perspective to bear, and build off of whatever is given to us. “Yes and” implies acceptance, but not acquiescence. “Yes and” acknowledges the reality of the moment, but also inspires us to create the future.

In the end, “Yes and” is a powerful attitude of affirmation. It is an attitude that affirms ourselves, and therefore gives courage. It is an attitude that affirms others, and therefore inspires trust. And it is an attitude that affirms what is and therefore inspires hope and excitement for the possibilities of what may be as we join together to create our shared future.

July 6, 2007 at 12:21 pm 10 comments

Email Woes … and the answer to my woes?

I have spent the better part of the last 5 days at work writing emails, responding to emails, trying to delete as much email as possible, organizing email, and so on. I used to absolutely love email when I first started using it 15 years or so ago. Now, not so much. In fact, I would have to say that at this very moment that email is my arch-nemesis.

I have long thought about declaring email bankruptcy, but I know that this is not really a viable option for a variety of reasons. Still, I dream about actually doing it one day and can imagine that it would feel very liberating.

In the not too distant past I had a rule of thumb for my inbox at work: No more than 100 messages at any given time and I was not allowed to leave on Friday until I was below my 100 quota. Messages either had to be answered, deleted or filed. The ones that remained were generally there for a good reason.

My current inbox is suffering from a severe case of bloat — both in terms of the number of messages that it contains and the length of those messages. I generally have in excess of 1,000 messages in my inbox and at the current moment I am approaching 1,600 (largely due to the email that accumulated during annual in DC). This does not include my spam or junk folders, this is legitimate email. My email flood began last summer when I took over as Program Coordinator at MPOW. I never imagined that organizing programs for a library would require such intense email efforts (and I will leave my rant about voice mail for another day).

Since I feel unable to surrender to email bankruptcy, I am thinking that the Web Worker Daily has delivered my solution to me : Stop being “Nice”. A light bulb went on as soon as I read the following:

We’re suffering from outdated rules and expectations about email that don’t work in our email-saturated world. Perhaps short emails without extra niceties are not just acceptable but preferable in our connected world on the web. Now that we have better ways of connecting on a human level (think IM, IRC, blogging) maybe we can put email back into its rightful place as merely a convenient way of communicating when we don’t have a real time connection..

… for getting work done on a daily basis, we could all benefit from an email etiquette that calls for short and to-the-point messages.

.

I admit that I am guilty of being “nice” in many of my email transactions and perhaps this is what is really slowing my productivity down. I am going to work on being a little less nice and a lot more to the point in my email from now on. Any tips on how I can accomplish this would be appreciated — oh, and if anyone else wants to share the bloat of their inbox it might be interesting to see how many of us our caught in the flood.

July 5, 2007 at 12:18 pm 3 comments

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