Archive for June, 2009

Blogger’s Block

For the last few months I have been suffering from a writer’s block of sorts that has made it impossible for me to write a blog post of any length or substance. I have done other writing, just no blogging so it is a true blogger’s block. This has never happened to me before and I have spent the last few weeks honestly trying to figure out the cause is behind this blockage.

It is not a lack of ideas. I have lots of ideas for posts, they come to me at odd moments and usually when I am nowhere near a computer (or even a piece of paper and pen to jot down a quick outline). Lately, however, when I finally sit down to write a post one of three things seems to happen:

1. I start writing and suddenly I feel as if it has already been said before. What seemed like a brilliant blog post when I thought of it, now feels like it is just rehashing the same conversations that we have been having on libraryland blogs for the last few years. Is it possible that we have blogged to death the whole Library 2.0 movement? I am pretty sure we have. If we have, what is the next big discussion topic on the horizon?

2. I start writing on a timely topic but I don’t have time to finish and by the time I go back to polish it off it is no longer relevant or timely. My responsibilities at MPOW have increased greatly since I was promoted to Programming Coordinator, my son is older and involved in activities that require me to be the chauffeur, our older home is undergoing some renovations, and I have begun doing a lot more speaking engagements once more . All of these factors leave me with no time for sustained thinking or writing. I used to blog late at night, but lately my brain is exhausted by that point and when I do write it is mostly gibberish (trust me on this).

3. I start writing and feel like I am writing too much about MPOW and all the awesome things we do here. This is not the intended focus of Library Garden — all the bloggers on our team agree that we want it to be a broader conversation about libraries rather than a simple “how I did it good” type of reporting. Not that we haven’t posted occasionally about cool things we are doing at our libraries or places of work, but we want LG to be more than that and I am aware of this. However, I am so focused these days on planning and running programs that I have little left in me at the end of the day to discuss.

So, this brings us to this particular post. This is my “break the blogger’s block” post. It is the post to get me posting again. I can’t stay in this rut of not posting and so I sought advice online on how to break writer’s block. Here are the 3 of the most common pieces of advice I found:

1. Write on a Schedule: This is not likely to happen unless I start getting up at 5:30 am as is my only free unscheduled time at this moment that I could regularly guarantee nothing else happening in my day. I am a morning person, but even that is too early for me.

2. Set Deadlines and Keep Them: I have a lot of deadlines in my life to keep and I am pretty good at meeting deadlines. Blogging is a hobby and a creative outlet and somehow a deadline makes it feel like more pressure on me and I don’t write well under pressure (actually, I evidently don’t write at all as can be seen by my lack of posts lately).

3. Work on more than one project at a time: I am always working on about 10 projects at a time at a minimum. Maybe not writing projects, but I always have too many things to juggle. I actually think working on too many things is my problem. I can not sustain a single train of thought long enough to write a cohesive and coherent post. I get distracted by too many other pressing tasks.

Hmmm… okay, so three common tips down and none are working for me. I worked my way through many more tips such as those above, and none seemed to be the solution. Until I found a good article called How-To Break Writer’s Block on Buzzle that seemed to actually have a few ideas that would work for me! So, this post is courtesy of tips # 7 and #10 from this article:

7. Write when you are tired. Write at the end of the day, when you are so exhausted that your mind isn’t interfering with the flow…

and

10. Lastly, write about having writer’s block. Seriously! Write about why you feel stuck. What is it that seems to be keeping you from writing? Free associate and write about it. When you get down to the reasons why you have writer’s block, you can address them and correct them.

I wrote this post when I was exhausted. I know it is not perfect or the best writing I have ever done, but at least it is a post to get me out of my rut. I have also analyzed the reasons for my blogger’s block and now that I have one post out again I am already excited about another post that I started working on recently. So, with any luck, I will have another post out within 48 hours.

If anyone else has experienced blogger’s block, I would love to hear stories, tips and advice on what you have done to overcome it. If anyone is currently suffering from blogger’s block, try reading the above article to see if it helps you like it did me or else read through this helpful list of resources I consulted to get me back in the blog saddle again:

20 Types of Blog Posts – Battling Bloggers Block

LEO: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

How to Overcome Writer’s Block – 15 Tips

I am looking forward to attending the OCLC Blog Salon at ALA Annual in Chicago this year — and now that I have actually written a post I won’t feel like a fraud for attending. Oh, and if you plant to attend the blog salon, there is a Facebook page so RSVP today!

Creativity Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alun/253596595/

June 28, 2009 at 8:00 am 8 comments

4 out of 5 Library Gardeners Recommend Twitter to their Readers who Chew Social Media

Okay, I just made that figure up. First of all there are now 11 of us here at Library Garden, and second of all, only a few of us really tweet. Even to those who already use other social networking sites, like Facebook, Twitter can be a really tough sell. It seems to be a love it or hate it kind of thing, or a “get it” or “don’t get it” kind of thing, and not even all Library Gardeners are in agreement on it. Some of us tweet a lot and some of us have never even tried Twitter.
THE TWITTER QUITTERS

As you are very aware, Twitter is everywhere! There’s no escaping it, whether you have a Twitter account or not. However, recently a lot of the attention was focused on the large number of “Twitter Quitters”-those who join Twitter and never go back. This article http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9132305 cites a Nielsen Co. report that “. . . 60% of Twitter users do not return to the microblogging site the next month.”

Maybe others have more information on that research, or a better understanding of that 60% figure, but to me not returning to the site doesn’t necessarily mean that people who sign-up for Twitter aren’t using it. I myself hardly ever “return to the site” (http://www.twitter.com) because I use other programs to tweet, as well as my iPhone. So while I am a very active twitterer (my current updates – or tweets – are over 5,000) my actual use of the site isn’t very high. I use a program called Tweetie on my iPhone and MacBook, and there are many other programs you can use to tweet, including TweetDeck, Seesmic and Twhirl.

I do believe that many people sign up for Twitter and never use it. If the report said that more than half of those who join Twitter never send any tweets or updates, this 60% figure would be clearer to me. However, since you really don’t need to return to the site to tweet, saying that 60% never do return might not mean anything.

How did the researchers determine this figure anyway? If they mean 60% of new users “do not use their account to tweet” after the first month it might make sense. You could easily tell how many times someone has tweeted (as long as they are public) no matter how they sent the tweet. You could see that a new user never tweeted again, whether it was from the site or another client. But the report didn’t say that new users don’t tweet, it said they never return to the site. This doesn’t mean that those who join Twitter haven’t continued to use the service in another way.

MANY USE TWITTER WITHOUT AN ACCOUNT

Twitter is an interesting tool and one that is increasingly useful, even to those who don’t have a Twitter account. For example, the Twitter search function is extremely useful, and does not require an account. You can search Twitter for all the (public) tweets on any particular topic by going to http://www.search.twitter.com. The advanced search features are especially neat, and include the ability to search by emotional content by using standard emoticons such as :-) or :-(.

The hashtagging of topics is another way to use Twitter without going to the site or ever sending out your own tweets. You can follow current events or topics or conferences (okay some people have had it with that) by following only the tweets that have the hashtag in them. (You can read some more on Twitter and hashtags here.)

Okay, I do admit, 60% is a big number, and other sites like Facebook and MySpace had higher retention rates right from the start, but Twitter has been experiencing crazy growth (http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/twitter-quitters-post-roadblock-to-long-term-growth/). Undoubtedly, people will join a new thing and try it when it is getting as much attention as Twitter has and, of course, not everyone is going to stay with it no matter what. When you have a lot of growth, you just are not going to keep everyone – especially if those who join are just compelled to try it because celebrities like Oprah are there. I would imagine that people who do not regularly social network might try Twitter and then abandon it because social networking isn’t a part of their lifestyle in general … they don’t Facebook or MySpace, or text or instant message, or surf the Internet for hours.

TWITTER IS NOT FOR EVERYONE

Just like all social sites or 2.0 tools, Twitter isn’t for everyone. I mean, I “get” the common complaint voiced by those who “don’t get” Twitter – even I don’t always care what people are having for lunch! I just skim over those tweets though because I do always care when they share an awesome link to an article or resource. I appreciate when they crack a joke that makes me smile in the middle of a stressful workday, or ask or answer an interesting question. Twitter all depends on whom you follow and who is following you – it is what you make of it. The particular network you have (or don’t have) on Twitter really makes or breaks it. Signing up for Twitter and then not adding any followers, or following anyone else, and then quitting, is like having a phone number and then never making or receiving any calls and saying the phone is worthless!

I think there are other factors involved in how “sticky” Twitter might be for a person – such as how “connected” he or she likes to be, and when and where and how. It may also depend on what sort of gadgets they have and if they love to use technology or not. For example, I always have my iPhone with me and it is very quick and easy for me to tweet from it – that makes it a 24/7 possibility for me (to the dismay of my husband).

I have been wondering too if Twitter use has anything to do with how much face-to-face time people get with others in their jobs and/or lives, and how much they want or need. For librarians who work in a very small office (like I do) or alone (in a special or school library for example) Twitter may provide a much-needed network of others to “talk” to and share with. If you get your fill of networking from in-person interactions, perhaps Twitter doesn’t serve a useful function for you. For me, there are just so many librarians and other interesting and smart people on Twitter. They have become a large and important network for me.

TWITTER AS GO-TO NEWS SERVICE

Twitter has become my first source for breaking news and information, interesting tidbits, links, information, feedback, local info and updates, tech news, keeping up with friends, etc. Even when someone I follow only tweets their lunch of macaroni and cheese I find that a seemingly meaningless tidbit like that can give me a more well-rounded idea of a person I may or may not know in person. It is our mundane or silly exchanges that bond us to each other beyond our work relationships in real life and online.

If Twitter doesn’t naturally become part of your “routine,” your habit, then it’s not going to be meaningful for you, and you’re going to abandon it. Twitter pretty much requires fairly constant use because it of its real-time conversational nature. If you use Twitter once or twice a week I wouldn’t imagine you would find it very compelling – except maybe if you only use it during conferences. (Although if you only do that, you may not have built up a good enough network for even that to be very useful.)

THE TWITTER TIPPING POINT

Pete, a Library Gardener who does tweet, puts it this way, “Twitter is what you make of it, and like all networks it becomes exponentially more valuable the more “nodes” (followees) you add. Twitter is like many social network sites in that you really have to use it for a while before you can start to see or experience its value. For the longest time I thought Facebook was the biggest waste of time–I just didn’t “get” it. But came a tipping point, and now it is something that greatly enriches my life!”

I am not saying that everyone absolutely has to twitter. However, as one Library Gardener who does recommend Twitter, I suggest that you download Tweet Deck (if you are a pc) or Tweetie (if you use Mac), selectively add some people, and try it regularly for longer than a month and see if you’re actually a Twitter Quitter or not.

You can follow me (or not) on Twitter-I’m akearns.

June 19, 2009 at 8:49 am 7 comments

Unconference? – Pres4Lib – A Review

Ok, I will admit it—when I heard the term ‘unconference’ I groaned. When I read the definition, I groaned even louder. I mean really, how could you not groan when the words “jam-session” are used to describe a conference. I assumed it was just another Boomer driven conceit—an excuse to navel gaze instead of doing real work. I wasn’t much more interested in attending camp. Yet, when I heard about the Pres4Lib unconference, I wanted to go.

Why? Because the topic—a camp for library speakers or trainers is of great interest to me. Plus it was being organized by fellow LibraryGarden bloggers—Pete Bromberg, Janie Hermann and Amy Kerns (along with John LeMasney) and would take place at Princeton Public Library, MPOW. Still despite my faith in my friends and fellow-bloggers, I was a bit dubious—could something without structure really hold my interest for an entire day?

My concerns were unfounded—Pres4Lib was easily one of the best training days I have participated in since becoming a librarian. The topic was relevant to my job—I teach and give presentations. The speakers were experienced, informative, and entertaining. Best of all, the lightening talk format insured that no speech would run so long that it could become dull or even mildly painful. The break-out sessions, in the birds-of-a-feather format, were a bit more hit-or-miss, but still quite good. All in all, I met a number of interesting people, learned a great deal, and had a good time in the process.

What made Pres4Lib work in a format that I am still not convinced would work most of the time? For starters, this was not a completely unstructured conference. By using a wiki and the free on-line survey tool Zoomerang (one of the best take-aways from the conference), when the camp began an agenda was already set. While it could change—that’s a primary rule of an unconference—the basic outline for the day was set. This was a good move—participants told of the first hour at other such events being spent hashing out the day. Wow, dull, dull, dull—for me, my ego doesn’t need to drive things and my patience wears thin watching others vie for dominance.

The other critical factor—the participants. This was a diverse group with only one thing in common—the train and they speak-in-public. That diversity meant the message was not the generic this is how to present. Participants are the conference, so if you have a group that lacks skills and experience, or without much personality, I could see an unconference being a really tedious event. Finally, the day ended with a Battle Decks session that was funny and goofy and the perfect way to end a long day at a conference focused on presentation skills.

For me the highlights of the day were Pete Bromberg’s lightening talk and John LeMasney’s birds-of-a-feather session on Creative Commons. Both really made the best use of the ‘unconference’ format.

Pete was funny, informative, and engaging. His tips and advice were really spot-on—both quantity and quality were higher than I anticipated. It was an amazing ten-minute show–Pete really raised the bar for PowerPoint presentations. He is in his own league. Check out the video.

John did not have a scripted presentation for his session. In fact, it was not ‘his’ session. His job was simply to get things started and generally keep an eye on things if they needed a nudge. He was perfect—his knowledge of the topic allowed for immediate Q&A. More importantly, he kept things rolling as the topic strayed from where to find CC items to how to use them, how to attribute them, and how to share your own work. The one hour session flew by and I found several tools I will start using immediately—FireFox, Zemanta, and PhotoExpress. All my breakout sessions were good, but none had as much information that was immediately beneficial to me.

While I remain skeptical that all unconferences would be as worthwhile, I will consider attending another one. I know what to look for—how well organized is the unorganized event and who is attending. Thank-you to the organizers and the participants. It was a day I will not soon forget. But be warned—next time I encounter Battle Decks, I will be a participant!

June 15, 2009 at 4:07 pm 1 comment

Freemium (or should libraries charge for services?)

Who doesn’t like to get something for free? Whether we are talking about giveaways at a restaurant opening or free information on the Internet, everyone loves the idea of getting something for free. A marketing strategy and business model that relates to this idea is the concept of “freemium.”

Freemium is a way businesses get users or consumers in the door with free products or services, as a way to market their enhanced, premium-priced services. Free + Premium = Freemium. Just recently in Publishers Weekly (May 18, 2009), Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price was interviewed about newspapers (specifically News Corp) charging for online content. In July, his book will be offered for free online from Hyperion. In the book, Anderson looks at how so much of what is already online is available for free. In the interview, he discusses how companies use free content to market their paid content. Other supporters of this business model view it as a way to attract customers and generate buzz. An example from the business world is Adobe launching a free, web-based version of its popular Photoshop software. Adobe then hopes that the free version will entice consumers to purchase the full software package.

How does the freemium model apply to libraries? I’m not entirely certain of the long-term implications but it does seem to me that libraries that are implementing additional fees for services that go beyond the normal scope are taking advantage of this freemium business model (free for some services, pay for value-added services). Libraries are facing tightening budgets and I understand the need to generate revenue other than fines and regular fees. People talk about the public library as being “free” and in a way, it is free because library users pay for those services through their tax dollars.But as Nancy Dowd of The ‘M’ Word – Marketing for Libraries blog stated back in February, why not create a line of premium services for which to charge? The basic services that people have come to expect from the library would remain “free.” But individual libraries could choose to offer services above and beyond, like research services and books by mail, and charge a fee for those premium services.

Lately I’ve been hearing about libraries who are already starting to charge for some of their services, due to budget shortfalls and other funding constraints. But it makes me wonder about what criteria libraries are using to decide which services are the ones that should be paid for by the patrons.
For instance, look at the Dallas Public Library’s Street Smart Express service. Dallas PL is charging for high-demand items, like best-sellers, hot DVDs and audiobooks. The Assistant Director cited 2 main reasons for the fees: To limit wait times and to limit the number of holds on an item. Not all items are part of this special collection and a patron could choose to wait to borrow the item once it is out of the collection. Read more about it here.
Another library charging for services is the East Brunswick Public Library. My sister, who is a frequent library user and avid reader, was dismayed to read in her local paper that the library planned to start charging for every reserve placed. She did the math and realized that the average cost for the reserves she places per year would total over $100.
These are just 2 examples of providing fee services above the regular “free” services or starting to charge for once free services, but I am sure there are more.

So where and how do libraries decide which services warrant a fee? In the examples listed above, Dallas selected a new service that has the potential to speed up the usual library experience. Give the patron what they want NOW. On the other hand, East Brunswick started charging for a service that in most libraries is free. What message are we sending to our patrons if we start charging them for something that they never had to pay for before? And how much damage are we doing to our user base to start charging for these services that have traditionally been free? If my sister is any indication, the potential damage is significant. She even considered getting a card in another library, farther away from her house, less because of the money and more because of how upset it made her. Other patrons may just choose to not use a library at all.

Charging for services that have long been free, especially now as the general public is feeling the economic crunch, could ruin a library’s good will and support base. If your library must start charging, find a way to add some value to that service to make it “premium.” Or follow Dallas Public Library’s example and offer the paid service as an option, not a mandatory fee. It is never easy for librarians to decide to start charging for services. However, I think that its not a bad idea to charge for services that are “premium” to YOUR library users. Which services those are will depend on what services your patrons use and which ones your patrons would like to have that you aren’t already offering. But make sure they are value-added services.

June 2, 2009 at 6:20 pm 17 comments


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