Thursday, November 29, 2007

Crowdsource, "but verify"?

My colleague, Bill Pardue at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, along with Caleb Tucker-Raymond of Multnomah County Public Library have organized the ongoing Slam the Boards event on the 10th of every month.

On that day, Librarians swarm general answer boards like Yahoo Answers, Amazon's Askville and WikiPedia Reference Desk to provide quality, authoritative answers to the world's questions.

The success of Slam the Boards got me to thinking, could the general answer boards be a two-way street - is there also value in utilizing those boards to crowdsource the toughest Reference questions, but then verify the responses before passing an answer back along to patrons?

Now certainly there are listservs and outlets that can be used for the same function, but it seems to me the general answer boards have the widest possible audience (and thanks to Slam the Boards, that audience now includes trained Librarians), and thus the deepest, most diverse pool to draw an answer from - perhaps giving us our best chance to find someone with specialized or maybe even first-hand knowledge.

Or we could find ourselves wading through piles of raving drivel with lots of !!!!!!!!! ..... :-)
But I don't suppose we would know until we tried.

Any thoughts from the house on this one?

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I've been mulling over "customer-centeredness" lately, as it seems to be #2 these days behind "2.0" on the buzzword list for libraries. Specifically, I found myself thinking, what does it really mean to be "customer-centered"? If this is to be more than an empty phrase what does a "customer-centered" library do?

So with those things in mind I suggest for your comment, "You might be customer-centered if:"
1. You spend more time, on balance as an organization working with and thinking about customers as you do information or institutional adminsitration.

2. Your customers do not have to interrupt you reading through information or working at a computer to get assistance inside the library. Customer interaction is primary and respectfully sought after - inside and outside the library.

3. At conferences and internal meetings you spend more time discussing customers and their needs than you do resources, administration, internal procedures, or yes, the library profession.
(In fact, you may even use the words "customers"/"patrons"/"users" more often than you do "library" etc - as an indication of where your focus is. - This might even be worth counting at your next internal meeting or conference session to get an imprecise measure of where the focus is at.)

4. You devote resources to identifying and understanding your customers (their demographics etc), how they are using what you provide, and how your services and information fit into their lives, so you can better tailor your offerings to THEIR needs - as opposed to just counting how often the library and resources get used.

And interestingly here, when you start talking about customer demographics you begin to run into the traditional professional hangup with gathering any and all user information. Certainly, we would never, ever condone gathering information without consent, but in cases where patrons have been fully informed of the benefits and potential dangers of sharing information, it seems we should not be protecting users from themselves by not allowing them to share personal information with us.

In fact, given the contemporary information environment, if we don't give patrons the option to share their info with an eye towards providing better services, it probably seems to an outsider that we just don't want to make the effort.

In many cases high bars indeed, but something to aspire to. Any other "You might be customer-centered if:" thoughts you'd like to share?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Local History Mashups

Is anyone mashing their local history material with a cartographic application, like say Google Maps or even better Wikimapia, to geolocate local history material? Something like a geolocated for local material? While browsing local history photo's (even those with corresponding addresses) I often find myself wondering, "Now where the heck is that?"

Open-sourcing the content and inviting the community to submit their own local history via an application like Wikimapia could be even better. Local history could be captured with a depth and scope that otherwise would be impossible.

Imagine how much more could be captured and saved if the entire community was involved in sharing their own stories and connecting it to place. Stories from Grandpa's shop could be shared and connected to where it once stood. Ditto on stories from Grandma's college days.

You could even share the spot where your uncles faked finding a crash-landed Skylab by dousing a lawnmower engine with gasoline and lighting it on fire - perhaps linking it to the resulting media coverage (Yes, I have to admit I know some uncles who did that....)

Hmmm, how much more of the 99% of history could be saved by visually tying it to place and enlisting the community to share their most meaningful histories.....

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Accidental Creative

I always enjoy podcasts from the Accidental Creative - also available on ITunes. Great quote today from Todd Henry, "Chief Cat Herder" at Accidental Creative (also checkout their Facebook group):

"If you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough."

In other words, if you aren't failing, you're not only leaving potential unused, you're missing out on the richest opportunities to learn.

How many of us are denying ourselves the opportunity to fail?