February 2, 2007

Ontario Library Association Day 2: Me & John Blyberg

The first full day of the conference, day 2 was Thursday and it was a good day overall. Since I was presenting at 10.40, I didn't go to any of the earlier sessions and just decided to relax.

My session, Using Weblogs as a Professional Development Tool, went pretty well, with about 40 people attending. Considering that the time was changed since the original program went out, I'm pretty happy with the turnout. The OpenOffice slides are online here and I've also prepared a pdf version here. This is the first project where I've used an OpenOffice module start to finish and I was very happy with the results. It's just as good as PowerPoint for basic presentation usage.

I also convened John Blyberg's 3.45 session, Not So Confidential: Exposing 2.0 Web Sites. It was a pleasure meeting John and I really enjoyed his session, which was thoughtful and provocative yet full of practical advice and commentary.

It began with a discussion of our love/hate relationship with the opac, with the fundamental questions we ask about our opac: what does it serve and what forms should it take. It's always been the way it is, we don't know where to begin changing it and even if we did, we don't have the resources to really transform it. We have to find a way to use what we already have. So, what are some of the opac's shortcomings? It really hasn't gotten any more effective over time, it's not very customizable or extensible or even very attractive visually. And it can't accomodate user-driven improvements.

And what about our websites? They are also visually unattractive, outdated, static, non-intuitive and basically look like they were made by somebody on their lunch hour in a few weeks. (Ouch! -jd) Now, why should we focus on our web and opac? Because first impressions are important. The opac represents the library to patrons, it's the front line of a lot of patron service and the opac meets people where they are.

How can we make web 2.0 work for us? Hincliffe has a post on "10 ways to take advantage of 2.0" (I'll find it later. -jd). We should encourage social contributions with individual benefit, letting people do something for themselves and the larger community. We should make content editable, encourage unintended uses of content and provide a continuous interactive user experience. We should make sure our site has content feeds, let users establish and build reputations, allow remixing of content -- build small pieces loosly joined. This will allow us to identify our keenest, most active users, people we should engage with to make our systems better. We should also remember not to build systems that deny service to users who are less tech savvy or have older software or hardware.

Some fundamentals. We should have single sign-on, open standards, open source, integrated/seemless opac+website, social software to tag & review opac. We should design for innovation: use APIs, community development, mashups, personal apps, encourage elite and energized users. We should allow and exploit gadgets & IPv6, take advantage of cellphones, PDAs and other devices; we should incorporate other services like Google Books and Maps.

We should also step beyond the opac. We shouldn't get hung up on search but should also encourage serendipity and enjoyable discovery, we should test new technologies, stay aware of new trends and just be creative. We should strive to create excitement in our communities. We need to promote and market ourselves wtth outreach and staff and public education, to retrain ourselves and our patrons to a new set of expectations. We need to foster a culture of innovation and lower the barriers to collaboration.

On the other hand, we also need to make sure our social software is appropriately secure and that it protects the privacy of our patrons. We need to get real -- money, staffing issues, vendor issues and the challenges of ongoing maintenance are all potential challenges. We should do more than complain about our vendors -- we need to open the lines of communication and challenge them as much as we challenge ourselves.

So, what are some first steps? We need to make a committment to change. We need to realize that we, as librarians, are not necessarily professional-quality web designers/developers and hire professionals. We need to use our patron's feedback. We need to get to work.

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