Posts tagged ‘qanda nj’

The Truth Is Out There–We Are Not Alone!

In today’s New York Times, Michelle Slatalla writes about turning to the Internet for advice for dealing with ‘life’s little insoluble conundrums’–in her case, a smoke detector going off in the night. In the article, she talks about services like Wiki.Answers, Amazon’s Askville, Funadvice.com, Askmehelpdesk.com, Help.com, and Yahoo Answers to ease the helplessness we all feel when life throws us a bizarre curveball.

I immediately thought of the new NJLA and New Jersey State Library new marketing campaign called Solving Life’s Little Problems. This is exactly what Ms. Slatalla was talking about–I have tried everything I know, now what? Hers was not a huge problem, but it was annoying and a big deal to her. Yet despite noting that at times the answers on these sites is often wrong and noting ‘the answers don’t go through fact checkers’, the article never mentions professional library services such as QandANJ.org.

I wanted to scream! Why are we being ignored? Why aren’t you writing about us? How can you know the information can be bad, but still extol the virtues of such services? People have questions. Libraries have answers–even 24 hour Internet Access to answers!

We need a new marketing campaign. These services are getting the word out better. The article states that Help.com has had a 73% year-over-year increase in traffic to 316,000 visitors per month! That is huge. Compare it to the very successful QandANJ.org service that gets around 4,500 users a month (keeping in mind it is live and it is branded in one state vs. Help.com being a worldwide post and wait service so it is not an apples to apples comparison, but still…). I am in the process of writing Ms. Slatalla (slatalla@nytimes.com) to let her know The Truth Is Out There! We are ready and able to ‘Solve Life’s Little Problems’, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Still, the article serves as a wake-up call for me–We Are Not Alone! I think we need to understand what these competing services offer users and learn from them. For example, lurking–you can sit and read volumes of previous posts on a topic without the need to ‘come out’ to a live librarian. I know of no similar service offered by Libraries. We provide pathfinders to resources, but what about answers FAQs?

Likewise, some of the questions asked are real stumpers that I am not sure how well they would be answered by librarians. For example, in the article, one question listed is ‘When you make out with a boy or girl, what do you do with your tongue?’ Honestly, I have no idea how I would answer that (but you can bet I will go out and look at what was posted and hope to learn something new in the process!). How would you answer this?

This isn’t the first time library services have been ignored by Ms. Slatalla. In January she wrote about Tutor.com (here is the article). Again, she never mentions that this service and many other homework help services are available, for free, from many public libraries. In fact, there are many times when her Cyberfamilias column talks up services we provide without mentioning us as a reliable on-line service provider. She is not alone. There are many other examples of the media reporting about on-line information sources that never mention libraries.

This needs to change. I call on Librarians and Information Professionals to write to Ms. Slatalla (slatalla@nytimes.com) as I am. Let her know about what your library can do for her and her readers. Then don’t stop there–tell everyone you know about on-line services that are available 24/7 and then tell everyone you do not know. Tell every in library patron what they can use when the library is closed. Let people know–The Truth Is Out There! It can be found at your library!

August 28, 2008 at 9:02 am 3 comments

Slam the Boards!

Today is Slam the Boards day – many librarians will spend some time today on “answer boards,” like Yahoo! Answers, Can’tFindOnGoogle, AnswerBag, and others, answering questions and making it known that the answer has been provided by a librarian!

This has even been picked up by Library Journal, where you can read more about the origination and background of Slam the Boards!

There is a wiki here where you can officially list yourself as a participant and get more information. You can, of course, participate without signing up anywhere. Just go to a public answer board and sign up there (some require that you create an account and log in, etc.) and start answering questions!

There are a lot of good tips on the wiki about how best to participate, remote library resources, and some comments/suggestions from Jessamyn West on this (and a caution with which I agree.)

There has also been discussion and some debate over on the Yahoo! Answers blog. There are some detractors from this idea but I think that if we think of it as just adding our voices and being where the information needs are we can contribute while doing a little self-promotion and marketing. We’re not out to beat or better the answer boards, but (in my opinion) to add ourselves as an option where people may not have thought of libraries before.

Be sure to let everyone know that the question was answered by a librarian at the end of your answer and remind them to think of their library as a resource. There are some suggested signatures and tag lines on the wiki such as The Library is a resource, not a building. Librarians are where you are – online! (I really like that one). You could put your library link, a link to find a local public library, or a link to a library’s virtual or IM reference service.

The point is not to put those answer sites out of business, or annoy them, or take them over, or to do anything negative, but to be where the people and questions are and to let people know that librarians are “answer boards” all day, everyday. I think putting the idea of libraries into peoples’ heads at times when they might not automatically think of them on their own is a very interesting idea.

Even if you only have time to answer just one question and mention that you are a library person that will be one more for today!

If you can’t do it today, do it another day. Many librarians already do spend time on these sites answering questions, like on AskMetaFilter. And, there are many library services/sites already doing it – here in the Garden State, we have the wonderful Q&A NJ (which, by the way, rocked the MTV Video Awards last night with their awesome commercial)!

There is also a space on the wiki to discuss this event after today. If this event is successful, it may be repeated. Hey, maybe you’ll form your own plan to do this as an “event,” for a day, a week, a month, or maybe you’ll just enjoy it and find you want to be a regular answer board person.

Get slammin’!

September 10, 2007 at 11:11 am


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