Archive for December, 2007
New Pew Report Looks at How America Solves Everyday Life Problems Using Libraries, the Internet, and Government Agencies
With interesting timing to those of us who are into holiday parties, hanging out with friends and family, and looking forward to the New Year, on December 30th, 2007, Pew Internet & American Life Project (PIAL) released their latest major report. Information Searches that Solve Problems: How People Use the Internet, Libraries, and Government Agencies when They Need Help studies the problem solving strategies of American adults who are 18 years old and older as they deal with 10 everyday issues. These issues included addressing health concerns, investigating school finance or enrollment, improving their work skills or changing jobs, and wrestling with problems involving government related programs such as Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and tax issues.
PIAL has become a leading source of research for up-to-date and reliable information on how Americans are using the internet and libraries. Once again, this latest report does not disappoint. Leigh Estabrook of the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign, Evans Witt of the New Jersey based Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI), and Lee Rainie, Director of PIAL have crafted a well-written and highly readable report. From June to September 2007, PSRAI conducted 2796 phone calls yielding 2063 usable interviews with a deliberate over-sampling from African-American, Latino, and 733 households with “low access” to computers and the internet.
The full 42 page report Internet Searches that Solve Problems that chronicles the results of these interviews is well-worth reading, but if you want to just hit the high points, check out the first 6 pages of executive summary.
Some findings I’d like to highlight:
- Public libraries and government agencies got high marks from the respondents when among the choices for their information seeking when faced with everyday life problems, but (of course!) the star was again the internet. 58% of respondents said they used the web when they recently (within the past 2 years) encountered everyday life problems.
- When faced with the above problems, the age group that reported visiting the pubic library the most was Gen Y (18-30 years old) with 62%. Trailing Boomers (43-52 years old) were second with 57% and Leading Boomers (53-61 years old) had an even lower percentage of 46%. This finding surprised me since I think of the Gen Y group as being more oriented to online resources and less likely to visit “brick” libraries.
- The most frequently encountered problem reported (45%) was a serious illness (either themselves, or someone close to them). This finding confirms other studies that find health concerns to be among the top reasons people use the web when addressing personal matters as opposed to school or work-related searching.
- Regarding privacy issues, Pew found that only 20% of the respondents “were concerned about privacy disclosures as they hunted for information” and “they were somewhat more pronounced for the low-access group” (p. viii). Since some of these issues were very personal in nature, I would have expected this number to be much higher.
There are many more intriguing findings from this report, take a look – perhaps when you recover from New Year’s celebrations! Happy Hols to all!
Janie, Ty, Amy, Pete, Robert, Marie and Cynthia
Note: Cynthia, the newest member of our blog team, is not in the photo. This picture was taken on the one and only day since we started blogging that the LG team was together in one room. We hope to get a new picture with all of us at some point in January if our schedules allow.
Over at ReadWriteWeb, Marshall Kirkpatrick writes,
Imagine a future when you go to the library with a 5 minute video you’ve just made about last night’s Presidential debates and that librarian says to you:
“You should upload it to YouTube and tag it with these four tags – two broad and two more specific to existing communities of interest on YouTube and the topic of your video. Then you should embed that video in a blog post along with some text introducing it and linking to some of your favorite posts by other people who have also written today about the Presidential debates. Make sure to send trackbacks to those posts!
“Now, I think this is a particularly good video on the topic, so if you’re interested I will vote for it on StumbleUpon (as a sexy librarian I have a very powerful account there) and give it a good summary explanation. Any of those are steps you can take that will make your work all the easier for people to discover.”
I’ve previously made the point that all librarians should understand RSS because it’s an information literacy issue. Reading Marshall Kirkpatrick’s post made me wonder how well the average librarian would do if asked to help someone embed a video and catalog, er, I mean tag it, digg it, furl it, stumbleupon it, or otherwise advise on how to make the information discoverable.
Aren’t these also information literacy issues? And if librarians are going to be relevant and help our customers kick ass, don’t we need to know how to do this stuff (or at least know enough to figure it out quickly on the fly?
In days of yore librarians took pride in our information literacy knowledge and in our ability to instruct others, and help them navigate through the myriad of resources and finding tools (indexes, handbooks, specialized encyclopedias, etc.) I am hopeful that we can tap into that shared professional passion for connecting people and information and continue to manifest it by learning how to navigate through the NEW myriad of resources and finding tools.
I agree with Marshall when he says, “wouldn’t that be great.” Yes it would. And sexy!
Taking a cue from Kathryn Greenhill’s meme, here are the first lines from the first posts for each month this year. (The fun thing about this, is I forgot ever having written most of it. So if I ever repeat myself, that’s why!)
January: Thanks to Amy for tagging me in the “Five Things” meme.
February: Check out this amazing video,”Web 2.0… the Machine is Us/ing Us,” created by Michael Wesch, Assistant Cultural Anthropology Professor at Kansas State University.
April: Maria Palma over at “Customers are Always” recently posed the question, “What would make you stay loyal to a supermarket?”
May: I had the mind-blowing pleasure of attending Imagination to Transformation, the Mid-Atlantic Library Futures Conference, on Monday and Tuesday.
June: File under, “Tootling one’s own horn” In this case mine.
July: A few months ago I started taking Improv classes in Philadelphia on Monday nights.
September: If you get any invites from Quechup, delete them immediately.
October: David Lee King has offered up a new song/video Social Digital Revolution.
December: I started a little meme on Twitter on Thursday, which David Free picked up on and posted about over on his blog, David’s Random Stuff.
This weekend, the blogosphere and listservs were batting around two interesting reports: The Pew Internet & American Life Project’s “Digital Footprints” report, which was published this Sunday, and the New Media Consortium’s/EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s co-published future 2008 “Horizon Report,” which will be published in late January 2008 (a lot of people, though, are commenting on the report based on their wiki that they use to review, report, and refine their research oriented efforts, which is available now. Although I like skimming this wiki and seeing their Table of Contents and some details, I will wait for the published report–if interested, you can read about and browse the 2004-2007 Horizon Reports on this page.
For now, though, I decided to concentrate on the “Digital Footprints: Online identity management and search in the age of transparency” report, which did surprise me a bit with some of its findings. Here is a portion of their published summary on their site:
“Internet users are becoming more aware of their digital footprint; 47% have searched for information about themselves online, up from just 22% five years ago. However, few monitor their online presence with great regularity. Just 3% of self-searchers report that they make a regular habit of it and 74% have checked up on their digital footprints only once or twice.
Indeed, most internet users are not concerned about the amount of information available about them online, and most do not take steps to limit that information. Fully 60% of internet users say they are not worried about how much information is available about them online. Similarly, the majority of online adults (61%) do not feel compelled to limit the amount of information that can be found about them online.” [bold/emphasis is mine]
What surprised me was the section in the summary and report that stated that “Most internet users are not concerned about the amount of information available about them online, and most do not take steps to limit that information.” According to the “Summary of Findings” from the entire 50-page freely available PDF report, many of us (Internet users) are not concerned about online information on us—see my bolded statements above, which are also found on page ii, as well as four classified categories of online adults concerning this subject: “Confident Creatives (17%)” “Concerned and Careful (21%),” “Worried by the Wayside (18%),” and “Unfazed and Inactive (43%).” Interesting titles and descriptions, by the way–so I read on.
It is just that, ever since I starting doing seminars for school districts and libraries on social networking sites and personal information search engines, a great deal of interest seemed to be generated on not only finding out what was “out there” on them and their “kids” but also on what they could do to protect themselves and others. I constantly get asked about this topic, at just about any type of Internet workshop that I host or present. Maybe many who do ask about it do fall into the “Concerned and Careful,” but that would not seem correct to me, given the concern that I have witnessed concerning the protection of minors and the prevalence of identity theft articles. Remember, the report states that “Just 38% say they have taken steps to limit the amount of online information that is available about them.”
Although this does not seem right to me, I have to remember that they are only talking about “online adults,” and not my mother, for instance. I also do believe that the Pew Internet & American Life Project crew do a wonderful job of collecting their information and putting together their reports, but I am still curious…. We have a few thousand people who regularly visit us here at the Library Garden; How would you classify yourself using their four categories and their descriptions (see below). I would say that I fall into the “Confident Creatives”–the smallest of the groups (although my son would point out that I definitely don’t match the description of a “young adult”—those who most likely fall into this category, according to Pew / Internet).
Taken directly from page 30-31 of the report, see the four categories of online adults based on online footprint concern:
1) “Confident Creatives are the smallest of the four groups, comprising 17% of online adults. They say they do not worry about the availability of their online data, and actively upload content, but still take steps to limit their personal information. Young adults are most likely to fall into this group.
2) The Concerned and Careful fret about the personal information available about them online and take steps to proactively limit their own online data. One in five online adults (21%) fall into this category.
3) Despite being anxious about how much information is available about them, members of the Worried by the Wayside group do not actively limit their online information. This group contains 18% of online adults.
4) The Unfazed and Inactive group is the largest of the four groups—43% of online adults fall into this category. They neither worry about their personal information nor take steps to limit the amount of information that can be found out about them online.”
So, Library Gardeners and readers—what category best fits you, and what do you think about these findings? I guess I just think people online are more concerned with the making of and protection of their digital footprints, but it won’t be the first time that my experience differs with the results of a study or survey.
When I first decided to return to school to become a librarian, I had a pretty narrow view of what a librarian was:
A librarian was the lady (yes, in my head and in my experience, they were all women) who helped me navigate the stacks and find books I would like to read. She answered every question I had and seemed to know everything, or be able to find out anything she did not know very fast.
I wanted to be that woman-a kind, helpful, friendly person who knows everything! While I knew intellectually that there was more to the profession, what appealed to me about the job was working with the public. Librarians had made a huge impact on my life and I wanted to do the same. In fact, I had always wanted to be a librarian, but graduate school wasn’t a possibility earlier in my life. Stuck in a corporate job that I didn’t find challenging, I craved human contact and returned to school to become a librarian.
Peter’s post about customer service brought this memory back to me. I, and many of my fellow MLIS students, want to be librarians because we want to help. We want to provide answers. We want to make a difference. Customer service is a regular topic of conversation which often sounds something like this:
“if ‘they’ dislike working with the public so much, why are they in this profession? Why are they here? If ‘they’ left, maybe then those of us who actually want to help people could get a job”.
I am the first person to admit, these goals and the desire to ‘help’ may be naïve and our conclusions about job availability could be disputed. However, the reality is, many library science majors feel this way. In fact, many college students feel this way. On several occasions while working reference, I have been explicitly thanked for providing help and instruction and told about how the ‘other librarian’ was so ‘mean’ (in the defense of the other librarian, no one who has complained has ever been able to attach a name to the complaint).
With my business background, I know that customer service is the only way for a business with limited resources to survive and compete against organizations with relatively unlimited resources. Google, Yahoo, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.-compared to most libraries, are competition with virtually unlimited resources. Libraries and Librarians need to remember that no matter what kind of day we are having, no matter how difficult the patron, it is in our own self interest to treat the patrons well. If we library science students want to have jobs available when we graduate, there needs to be thriving libraries in our communities.
With this in mind, as I start my career of library work, I pledge the following:
- No matter what is happening in my personal life, while at work, I will smile at every person I come in contact with.
- When a patron apologizes for bothering me (as is often the case), I will assure them that it is no bother-I am here to help them and happy to do it.
- I will remember that the person asking me for assistance has chosen the library over many other resources. I will do everything I can to make them happy about making that choice.
- When I am not at work, I will promote libraries every chance I get. If anyone tells me of a bad experience, I will encourage them to try again-most librarians are in the business because they want to help, they want to make a difference, they like people.
I encourage all library staff-regardless of title or time in-to make a similar pledge. I encourage library science students to speak openly with professors, co-workers, and one another about customer service. Finally, I encourage everyone to follow the advice of ‘Bill & Ted': Be Excellent to Everyone!