Monday, January 31, 2005

Another way to co-browse web pages

Before the days of co-browsing via chat reference software, I remember using a free, stand-alone co-browsing product, Hipbone, that I think was eventually incorporated into eGain, which is the contact center software that powers the 24/7 Reference service. With Hipbone, you and a friend could co-browse simply by downloading the Hipbone software (at least, that's how I think it used to work). There seems to be another one of these products now, Jybe, which I learned about from this posting on Paul Pival's blog, The Distant Librarian.

I haven't yet tried out the software yet, but when I do, I'll post a report here.

Monday, January 24, 2005

With SFX, it's GIGO

Thanks to the Making Links blog (which focuses on the use of SFX in libraries) for demonstrating in this posting today how easily a bad citation in a database can foul up SFX's efforts to link to a database. It's that old rule, GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).

Really helping our users with their searches

As the administrator for my library's chat reference service, I regularly review all the transcripts of our cooperative service (via 24/7 Reference). In particular, I read the transcripts of chat sessions where librarians elsewhere in the cooperative have assisted people who have logged on to my library's service (I don't have access to transcripts other librarians in the cooperative have had with users who logged on to other services in the cooperative.

I see a lot of really great service being provided to Baruch students from librarians who work at colleges all around the country. It can be really daunting to try to help users whose home library is not your own; many of the questions you get in a cooperative service are ones that are particularly challenging to answer because they require an intimate knowledge of services and policies that may be unique to that library.

But there are just as many questions that any librarian should (in theory) be able to handle. There is, unfortunately, a lag between what should be and what really is done. My current pet peeve along these lines are times when the librarian is asked by the patron for help in constructing a search and the librarian in turn just rattles off some suggested keywords, making no suggestion about using boolean operators. The transcript often goes like this:

Patron: I can't find any articles on X, Y, and Z. I tried typing in HOW X AND Y AFFECT Z and I got nothing. Can you give me some keywords to try?

Librarian: Try this: X, B, C, D, and maybe also E, F, things like that.

If the librarian is already taking the trouble to meticulously type out the keywords, it doesn't take that much additional effort to add in any required ANDs, ORs, NOTs, etc. I think it is reasonable to assume that most users don't have a clue about using AND, let alone OR, NOT, and proximity connectors. I don't think the librarians that neglect to type in the operators are consciously deciding to do so, I think it just doesn't occur to them in the heat of the moment in chat to spell it all out for the user.

I don't think I'm being too persnickety in pointing out this problem. Here's why: I often see these same users log back on for a second chat session 15 minutes later and report that the keywords didn't work for them. Not exactly an ideal way to do reference.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Free publicity for my library

A few months ago, Susan McGlamery called to ask me a favor. She said OCLC want to take a few pictures of her to use in their annual report to note their acquisition of the 24/7 Reference Project in 2004, which Susan is the head of. Recently relocated to NYC, Susan asked if she could have the pictures taken in our library, as the OCLC photographers were interested in showing her in one of the libraries that uses 24/7 Reference for their chat reference service. No problem, I said. Then the photographers called me to see if I wouldn't mind being in some of the photos, too. Being an agreeable guy, I said sure. On the appointed day, the photographers said they wanted to take some other photos in the library that they might use in other publications. Lo and behold, our photos got used extensively in the just published annual report from OCLC.

Here's a posting from our library's news feed about it. The posting includes a link to the PDF of the report.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Hacked ALA news feed

I guess last December I was too busy finishing work for my history class at Hunter College to have noticed this clever post by Steven Cohen about how to create a RSS feed via a Yahoo! search of ALA news. I added the ALA feed he created to my aggregator of choice (Bloglines) and am pleased with how well it works.

Hooray for students at my alma mater

Courtesy of the brand spankin' new PLA Blog is this up-to-the-minute post about Pratt SILS students on their way to the ALA Midwinter meeting in Boston. I am a Pratt SILS alum (class of 2000, though I completed coursework in Dec. 1999) and have fond memories of having my professors return from ALA meetings with suitcases full of swag to share with their students.

Now if only the divisions of ALA that I belong to, ACRL and (until recently) RUSA, would get their act together and launch blogs...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Computer tips for chat reference librarians

Among the many great training materials on the Anywhere, Anytime Answers web site, which offers an online tutorial for virtual reference, is this great set of computer tips for librarians working with chat reference software. Kudos to the staff at the Statewide Virtual Reference Project (WA) for sharing so much of their work.

QuestionPoint Transition Task Force

Are you a 24/7 Reference or QuestionPoint subscriber? Still waiting for information about what the merger between these two services will mean in practical terms (I am). You can submit your comments directly to the QuestionPoint Transition Task Force via this web page on the QuestionPoint web site.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Gmail invites give-away

I have six four no more Gmail invites to give away to the first six four people anyone who asks for them (one per person, please).