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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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 (email@example.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!