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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Collective Wisdom-Crowd Sourcing

Crowd sourcing is a new supply of information.  It seems that this new supply is shifting and changing the creation and consumption of information.  No longer are the go-to experts the only ones with knowledge, now knowledge and wisdom can be gleaned, loosely, from large groups of like-minded individuals contributing to same site.

This shift will have huge implications for how information is created and used on the internet.  In extreme circumstances, the accumulated wisdom of an online community could eventually differ from that of an individual expert and if the group is large enough, their collective ‘voice’ could overwhelm the individual expert.  Would this make their collective wisdom more credible than the expert’s?  Would the rest of society be so accepting?  I know, let’s have our community vote on it.  Just kidding.

I truly think that a shift away from the wisdom of experts is not necessarily a bad thing.  Depending on the subject matter, using the wisdom of crowds could be hugely beneficial to individuals needing guidance on all types of issue.  This is only true if there is a large or significant contribution from the community being queued for their collective wisdom.  As seen in The Wisdom of Community, by Derek Powazek, the jar of pennies example show’s that if you ask enough people the group’s median guessed numbers will be close to the number of pennies in the jar.  Powazek also touches on the fact that large groups of people should not be asked to solve complex problems, they should be given simple tasks to accomplish.

There are also implicit problems with using this type of information, since it is subject to many problems if not implemented correctly.  This could be said of many different types information gathering attempts, however cultivating and harvesting this type of information requires a tight grip on the procedures to be used.  Without making the process simple to the contributors or by not having controls on how users make those contributions, the collective wisdom is subject to a small group skewing the results and or the information being useless because the task was not simple enough for the group.  These types of issues are covered by Kristina Grifantini in her article Can You Trust Crowd Wisdom?.

The opportunities and problems of crowd sourcing are amplified considerably, since libraries depend on a large degree of control in providing their online catalogs and curating their collections.  By allowing the collective wisdom of their patrons to augment their collection libraries open up a greater degree of interaction with their users and share the responsibility of curating their collection.  However, this would raise the issue of how this would affect how library materials are searched and found.  Crowd sourcing could be more effectively used for understanding user services needs or helping with library policy issues.  Where is the best place to build additional library space or the best place to put new public workstations?  Let’s ask our patrons.

The wisdom of the crowd has many uses and definitely has a place on the Web.  The gathering of this information is implicitly collaborative and has the potential to make seemingly daunting tasks more manageable.  Its power and substance are beginning to be realized and it has great potential.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Internal Collaboration: What's Really Important

This week we read more about wikis and using them and other collaborative technologies within organizations.  While it was no surprise to me to find out that there are many more factors involved when gauging a collaboration's success than merely having a smooth implementation of the technologies, I did experience an 'ah-ha' moment when reading about the other contributors to internal collaboration.

Besides the technology being used, the organization's culture needs to be analyzed for its fit to that technology.  This is not new news, but it is an aspect I think is lost on many large organizations and libraries.  This was my 'moment', it made me think of how often an organization actually looks at a collaborative software and measures it against its own organizational culture.  How will implementers develop and nurture buy-in, what internal technologies are they already using that will need to be stopped to encourage use of the new software, and what is the measurable added value of this collaborative software for the organization?

The article, Corporate Culture, Not Technology, Drives Online Collaboration, helps with beginning to develop a framework for large organizations to use when deciding on what type of internal collaborative technology to use.  The culture of the organization is required to be more open and trusting, with very little micro-management and technically savvy, willing employees.  The article also discusses knowledge archipelagos, where the hoarding of information or knowledge is counter productive to the collaborative process, obviously.  These are just a few of the elements that contribute to having a collaborative organizational culture and would seem to be useful for almost every large organization, not just corporations.

The upshot of reading this week's articles and thinking about using internal collaborative technologies, such as wikis, drove home the fact that no matter how wonderful or integrative collaborative initiatives are, it's the culture that can make or break a successful implementation or use of these innovative and creative methods of working together.  It is the people and how they interact, a culture of micro managers and paranoid coworkers will always torpedo collaborative efforts.

Understanding the Value of Social Bookmarking

My experience ...

I recently enjoyed using and exploring the bookmarks on Delicious.  I have been using it for accumulating many helpful and interesting tips, tricks, and advice for using social media technology in general and for libraries and have to say WOW!!!

Delicious has been out there for a while and I had dabbled in it in the past, but not as thoroughly as list last time, the discovery experience is unmatched in my opinion.  This is the most fun on the Internet I have had in a long time.  It is reminiscent to using maps or an atlas, where you start in one location and start allowing your curiosity of a nearby geographical structure, a city, or a highway to take you to different locations and look for other interesting aspects of those areas.  In the same way you can start out looking at a road atlas, looking at Eastern Washington and finding yourself perusing the Rocky Mountains or the Gulf Coast in the southern United States, you can find yourself exploring and following tags through the Delicious universe of information.

I started out following tags while completing my class assignment and found myself exploring and experimenting with Tag Galaxy.  This site is a tag cloud search service using a relational visual interface to search and display images and photos on Flickr.  Since this visual interface is not new, you may say, "what's sooooooo special about it?" It is interesting because its not just circles surrounding another circle with your original tag cloud search, it is depicted as a solar system.  Your initial search is the 'sun' and the related tags are orbiting 'planets'.  By holding your cursor over a 'planet' the number of photos with that tag is shown.  Clicking on a planet changes the 'sun' to those specific tags and clicking on the 'sun' will allow you to browse the pictures with that specific tag.

I found some breathtaking sunset photos of the Washington Palouse.  If you cannot initially think of tags to search, try clicking on the suggestions on the left of the screen.  This was only one site I found by exploring Delicious.

This brings up another point I would like to touch on, the act of tagging and how it is used to categorize content.  Following tags, as I did, can lead to a serendipitous experience, but that is not always the case.  Social bookmarking sites are useful, but only as useful as the way tags are applied.  Without a specific set of standards to apply tags there is a great deal of subjectivity applied to how content on the Web is categorized and organized with these services.  While this can be interpreted and good or bad, it does make using these types of services more of a wild card than a tried and true method of discovery.

Some final thoughts: I quiet enjoy the serendipitous discovery of content by using services like Delicious and tagging and social bookmarking services will be invaluable to me in the future.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wikis and Social Bookmarking as Library Subject Guides

There are many different ways for libraries to offer subject guides to their users.  One of the easiest ways is to post their guides to a static web page, where the person maintaining it will need to have some level of XHML skills.  This is made easier if the library is part of a larger organization that has specific branding and online policies, in which case the library only needs to update their content and not the CSS or formatting of the page.  Another option is to post documents in a word processing format to the library server that can be accessed via a library's homepage.  And yet another option is to pay for a guide service that allows the library to add different types of content using different technologies, such as Libguides from Springer share that enables many Web 2.0 capabilities for libraries to display with guides.

Some options have higher costs associated with them and in some cases those costs give greater value to a guides content, but in most cases the library maintains absolute control over the content and the guides still have a  static nature to them, where the librarian is the only person that can modify the guide.

This is where wikis and social bookmarking services can really enhance library subject guides and continually add value to them.  The social aspects of these two technologies are really what set them apart from more traditional technologies already in use.  Wikis and social bookmarking rely on the combined 'power' of the library and the users or patrons for keeping the materials up to date and relevant.  In this way the responsibility of keeping a guide current rests with everyone who would use it, not only a librarian.

In a related fashion, using social bookmarking for subject guides allows more participation from those using those resources, as Melissa Rethlefsen briefly discusses in her blog post Tags Help Make Libraries  This collaboration can only benefit a library's subject guides, librarians would receive instant feedback as to whether specific sources were useful and it would allow users to add more useful sources as well.  A librarian would need to monitor these bookmarks for appropriateness.

Social bookmarks are a low cost way to provide subject guides to library patrons.  This is especially true when a library cannot afford to use Libguides or other technology services.  Slightly more tech savvy librarians can create a link-rolls and feed these bookmarks into their library Web site using RSS.  This makes social bookmarking even more versatile for libraries and perfect for groups or communities that are not already familiar with each other.  This is why social bookmarking tools are a better choice for library subject guides than using wikis.

Bill Johnson's blog post, When to Use a Wiki?, discusses when and why wikis are effective and not effective.  He states that wikis work well for groups that already know each other, when there is a clear final product in mind, when a consensus needs to be reached and not for opinions, and when there is a short deadline involved.

Most of these aspects of collaboration that lend themselves well to wikis do not lend themselves well to creating a subject guide when compared to using social bookmarking for the same purpose.  Subject guides are dynamic, being constantly updated, the more people that contribute the better (in theory), a subject guides' contributors do not need to know each other to make positive additions to the guide, and since guides are always evolving there is not a deadline.

When a subject guide needs to be created and the choice is between using social bookmarking or a wiki, social bookmarking is the better tool to use.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Washington State University's Online Social Media Presence

Online Social Media Presence

WSU Libraries have a modest online presence.  The libraries maintain a main homepage, a Facebook page for two separate libraries on the Pullman campus, a Facebook page for the libraries’ Manuscripts Archives & Special Collections (MASC) unit, and a Twitter account.

The number of libraries on the main Pullman campus is seven, however only three have Facebook fan pages.  These pages provide a nice landing space for users seeking them out on this specific social media platform.  There are contact information and building operating hours posted here, as well as links to the library’s homepage.  Posts to the walls of these pages consist of announcements of events, exhibits and updates to library activities and services.

WSU Libraries also have a Twitter account. This account is used to communicate and promote the different library events, displays, and classes hosted by the library.  It is also used to announce new services, such as new databases being added and changes to existing ones.
There are no official blogs maintained by WSU Libraries.  The breadth of library blogs is kept brief with only a couple of progressive librarians having active blogs related to their subject specialties.

Marketing Efforts

By comparing marketing efforts of the WSU Libraries with two best practices online guides one can get a better idea of how WSU Libraries are succeeding at their marketing efforts and where they could use some improvement.  Mashables’ The Facebook Guide Book breaks down how to effectively use Facebook and the elements associated with a successful Facebook fan page.  The Information Tyrannosaur’s article, How to Grow Your Library’s Social Media Presence, suggests eight strategies.  Both were used in critiquing how well WSU Libraries market themselves. 

According to this framework, WSU Libraries are marketing themselves well on specific aspects.  The WSU Libraries’ Twitter account is updated regularly and links to the libraries’ homepage.  The Holland & Terrell Facebook page has the same posts to it as the Twitter account, it is assumed the fan page uses an RSS application to be updated.  These pages succeed at linking to many of WSU Libraries’ different pages, this information can be found in each page’s ‘Info’ application on the left side.  Holland & Terrell Libraries and MASC both have links out to the libraries’ homepage, however Owen Science Library does not.  All three (Holland & Terrell, Owen Science, MASC) have links from the fan landing pages to their respective ‘about’ subpages from the library homepage.  Also, all three (Holland & Terrell, Owen Science, MASC) make use of a geographical location link as part of their ‘info’ application using Bing.  Holland & Terrell Libraries fan page is the only one that links to the libraries’ Libguides.  There is an intuitive creation of resources by libraries when using Facebook fan pages, having another access point to library news and research resources.  In this way the WSU Libraries’ Facebook pages are a success.  They provide valuable contact information, news, and links to library resources.

However, continuing to use the same framework, WSU Libraries have some aspects of their marketing efforts that could use some additional attention.  The Libraries’ Twitter account does not link to Owen Science Library’s or MASC’s fan pages.  Owen Science Library’s Facebook page does not have a link to the libraries’ Libguides.  There does not seem to be user participation on any of the three fan pages, they are devoid of wall posts from users and any type of interaction between users and library employees.  It is unclear if these three pages are targeting the correct demographic for sure, since there is no user feedback or posts to this site.  The implication is that until there is interaction with and participation from users it cannot be said who the target audience is.  

Branding Efforts

Various sources provide a framework on building and managing an organization’s social media brand online and those recommendations prove valuable in critiquing the WSU Libraries’ social media branding management efforts.  Mashable offers tips on building an organization’s online social media brand and for optimizing an organization’s brand on Facebook, both of which are applicable to this analysis.  While both frameworks are not entirely observable, such as the privacy settings or the details of WSU Libraries’ official branding strategy, most of the others are.  

According to the framework mentioned above, WSU Libraries’ branding efforts are effective.  All three WSU Libraries’ Facebook pages are making use of the custom share preview image and have a separate landing page for fans and non-fans.  The MASC page is making use of the vanity url.  Two of the pages are making use of recognizable profile images, Owen uses a picture of the outside of its six-story building and MASC uses a picture of its front doors that bare its name.  The fan pages’ profiles are completely filled out, however there are differences in the overall information being provided, for instance only the MASC fan page provides an email address.  

However, using that same framework there are certain aspects that could use some improvement.  Holland & Terrell and Owen Science Libraries do not make use of the Facebook vanity url.  None of the Facebook pages seem to have a calendar for posting new content to the pages, since posting dates are not in consistent intervals.  Owen Library’s page has not had a new post to its wall since February 23, 2009.  On the other hand, Holland & Terrell Libraries’ fan page wall was updated as recently as March 1, 2011 and is updated more regularly.  Holland & Terrell Libraries’ fan page does not use a recognizable profile image, a picture of the inside of the atrium windows does not have the name of the libraries nor another recognizable characteristic, especially for those who have never visited the library.

Besides these aspects that show a need for improvement, it should be said that WSU Libraries have a solid brand.  After searching Social Mention, Google Blog Search, Keotag, and other various social monitoring sites I could not find one negative mention.  The contents found were posts and tweets by librarians and other university employees regarding future events and exhibits.  This shows a large degree of consistency in the libraries’ brand.  

It should also be mentioned that there is a Facebook group page named People Scared of the Holland Library with 37 group members.  It is an amusing page and it does not seem to have a very serious tone.  Although the Associate Dean did make a very positive post to the group page’s wall announcing a new PA system installation that should mitigate anyone being locked in the building, as one user proclaimed they endured one evening.  There were few posts after that one, the most recent post was made September 19, 2008.  The lack of posts to this site would suggest the libraries have overcome the ‘scariness’.

When compared to a handful of other libraries with Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts the WSU Libraries’ branding efforts are consistent and similar to those of Wellesley College, Hennepin County Public, and UNC Davis libraries.  The same can be said for their Twitter account, which is used in the same way as UNC Davis library.

Summary & Suggestions

Largely WSU Libraries manage their brand well.  This is evident because it has not been hijacked by fans, a competitor, or otherwise mismanaged.  Additionally, there are no looming catastrophes on the horizon with regard to the libraries’ branding efforts. 

If I were hired by the WSU Libraries as a social media marketing consultant I would suggest the following activities to strengthen their brand and their marketing efforts:

  • Develop an official social media marketing strategy.  This will add more consistency to the libraries’ efforts and prepare those involved with its management for how to react to branding and marketing problems in the future, if there should be any.  This would also address the ambiguity associated with what demographic group the libraries are marketing to.  A wonderful resource to get the libraries started is the social media policy tool by the rtraction company.
  • The Facebook fan pages for Owen Science and Holland & Terrell Libraries should make use of vanity urls.  This will make finding their sites easier to remember.
  • Develop a calendar for posting status updates to all the pages to help make the pages more ‘sticky’ and generate return users.  This will help with the infrequency of postings on some of the fan pages and keep the content fresh.
  • Holland & Terrell Libraries should use a much more recognizable image, even an image with the name of the library would be better than a picture of the atrium windows.
  • Add another Twitter account to the libraries’ pantheon of social media efforts for Owen Science Library.  This could be fed into its fan page for optimization and would create additional content for the page that is lacking at this time.
  • Add the same applications to all the Facebook fan pages for a more consistent marketing effort. Users may want the option of searching the library catalog from Owen Science Library’s or MASC’s fan pages instead of only the Holland & Terrell library fan page.
  • Through a developed strategy, create ways to interact with users more and create social connections.  Examples of this are creating participation through trivia questions that involve using library resources, where the prize could be an ‘I love my library’ or ‘I got this t-shirt from doing research at the library’ t-shirt.
  • Add a link to the libraries’ instant messaging and email reference services on each of the fan landing pages.  These are perfect places for users to discover online reference services.
  • Advertise all of the libraries’ social media platform activities in the physical library and on campus.  This could be done with flyers and posters using library display cases and spaces and other campus locations.
It should be said that all of these efforts assume the WSU Libraries have the resources and time to embark down this path.  Also, this is assuming the libraries’ administration is willing and enthusiastic to grow the libraries’ social media presence, where they see a strong future in these types of endeavors.  The suggestions made here take time and resources to plan and implement, which could prove to be precarious given the financial status of the state and the perceived value of the libraries within the various communities they serve.  Having a clear vision of the library brand and how its marketing efforts should be implemented can only help to strengthen the libraries’ positions within those communities, developing greater support and visibility for its efforts, and resulting in a greater likelihood of its survival and overall relevance.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Meeting Students Out on the 'New' Frontier

Gone are the days when a library can rely on patrons physically coming in the door and using their services with the attitude of, “you need to come to us if you want help with your research.”  There is this thingy called the internet and it has revolutionized the information profession.  This is the information age and library patrons no longer only need information in the physical library.  Patrons are consuming information outside the library walls via the Web and are congregating on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

These and other social networking platforms present libraries with a new frontier to interact and provide services to their patrons.

As Mack et al. points out in their article Reaching Students With Facebook: Data and best practices, there are a number of good reasons for libraries to create a presence in and provide services via Facebook.  These are platforms and communities that our patrons are already familiar with and librarians need to go meet patrons on their terms.  Going out to where our patrons are will make our services more convenient and result in libraries maintaining their relevancy.  Also, having a presence in one of the major social networking platforms allows libraries to provide contact information to their users in another format, not requiring them to hunt and peck at the library’s Web site for the information.  What Mack is talking about can be regarded as opportunities as well and they are unique to the social networking communities. 

Each community offers different ways for an organization to promote itself.  Facebook offers fan pages and group pages, where each has its pros and cons.  These different ways of promoting the organization offer unique ways of interacting and engaging patrons in those communities, where the organization would not otherwise be able to create this experience for their patrons in another way. 

This is where the opportunity lies for libraries to take advantage of the technology for their purposes.  For instance, the library can use their Facebook fan page as a landing page for all their other social technology accounts.  The other accounts would be used to draw patrons to the Facebook fan page where the patron could be provided with library services and not ever synchronously interact with a librarian.  This is the beauty of social networking for libraries, the patron interacts with library content and information on their own terms, consuming only that information they choose.  Ultimately, it is an opportunity to broaden the libraries reach on the Web and increase the number of patrons it serves and interacts with.

These opportunities should be seized immediately or as soon as the library can convene their social networking task force or committee and start the discussion.  I cannot say how many times I have engaged coworkers on this subject and many of them have dismissed social networks with regard to libraries as a ‘fad’ or ‘a waste of time’.  I find it short-sighted to think that libraries do not have a long-term stake in social networks or the other Web 2.0 technologies that are being developed every day.  These technologies enhance and engage our patrons consumption of information, libraries most certainly need to entrench and embed themselves in it and use this technology to innovate, especially in these times of evaporating budgets.  Libraries provide many services and the reasons mentioned above are why libraries should have a presence online, however the most important one I can think of, considering all the adversity that lies ahead, is to maintain our visibility and relevancy in the eyes of those we serve and those that will hold us accountable.