Using video to address an immediate research need

This is a video that I put together last week to address a complaint that a faculty member had with her students’ research. The students were finding one particular resource and overusing and over-citing it in their projects. To address her concern, I put together this video and posted it all over my Business Blog, Biz Wiki, and I even listed it in the course management system. I could tell via my blog hits and the stats on Blip.TV that the video was viewed by quite a few students after they got the message through the class email system. (I’m embedding YouTube here to avoid confusing the hit count, but I generally use Blip.TV as my primary method of distributing video.)

The video only took me about 30 minutes to put together, using my Flip Mino camera and Camstudio to record the screen. I wrote the script out the night before on the back of an envelope while waiting for a pizza to cook in the oven. The script was basically just an outline that explained what I wanted to talk about and in what order. The entire video is just 3 separate clips, all shot with one take for each clip. I trimmed and joined the 3 clips in Windows Movie Maker. The entire project was done before a 9 a.m., including uploading, encoding, and distributing to Blip.TV. I deleted junk email and made coffee while the video rendered on my computer, so I was able to do other things while working on the project. The video is not perfect, but I don’t think it has to be to get the job done. I also think the video is a bit more persuasive than if I had just sent all of the students an email.

What are your thoughts? Are you using video in a really cool way? I’d love to learn what others are doing.

The importance of visual literacy

Over the past couple of months I have received numerous calls about the Biz Wiki.  The callers,  emailers, and IMers all have something in common:  they all own a business or work at a business whose name or contact information is incorrect on the Biz Wiki.  I even got a call recently from some lady in Mississippi who kept getting calls at her home  because people thought she was in the recycling business.  All of these people said they got their information from the Biz Wiki.  Actually, the did get their information from a biz wiki, but it was not The Biz Wiki.  I don’t have information about individual companies in the Biz Wiki, as it is a site meant to promote useful business research sources.  The other wiki is a collection of company names, addresses, and other information.   (I’m not going to link to the other wiki here out of spite, as I don’t want to increase it’s page rankings.   Google it if you want to see it. The address has something like bizwiki and .com in it. 😉   )  While the idea of using a wiki as a company directory is a good one, it’s not so good if a lot of the content is just plain wrong.  Wrong information is irritating, as are the frequent phone calls requesting that I fix the inaccuracies.   Folks are even more irritated when I very politely tell them they’ve got the wrong wiki, but a little visual literacy could have saved them a phone call.

If we compare the two sites, they are not very similar at all, save for the words “biz” and “wiki.” I seriously wish I had trademarked the name.

The cheap Biz Wiki knockoff
The cheap Biz Wiki knockoff
The original Biz Wiki
The original Biz Wiki

Folks are likely finding me by searching for Biz Wiki, and then they see a guy named “Chad” with lots of different ways to contact him.  They’re good at Googling, or so they think, and they think they’ve found the root of all the misinformation about their company.  Unfortunately, their sleuthing isn’t good enough, as somehow they can’t figure out that the two sites (see screenshots above) are not similar at all.  A quick look at the two sites ought to alert them that something is different with my contact information page and the other web site.  A simple look at the address bar would tell folks that the sites are in two different locations, but perhaps they don’t know to look in the address bar.    The people are kind of miffed when I p0litely tell them that I’m not the guy responsible for that site and I cannot correct the information there.  Many of them ask who I should contact, but the contact information of the other site is very sparse (a email form with no contact info whatsoever).

These are basic skills that librarians teach in information literacy and library instruction sessions.  We teach our students how to look for authority in a website, how to look at the address (edu, gov, org, com, etc.) , look for the author information, and even to look at the design.  Hopefully the things we’re teaching them are sticking, so they’ll be a bit more saavy consumers of web information.  While the phone calls and email about the other biz wiki are a bit annoying,  they do lend evidence to the fact that librarians are still important in the education process.  My theory is that the folks who called me never had a library instruction class in college, or perhaps they’re the one’s who didn’t listen very well.  I know I’ll be a bit more deliberate in my libray instruction sessions from now on, and hopefully I’ll save some poor chap some phone calls down the road.

It’s a small world after all

Last night I got an IM question from a student while staffing our IM reference service.  She was in the stacks, but “was totally overwhelmed” with how many books we had and was very confused about how to actually find a book.  Since four floors separated us, I decided to send her my video on how to find a book in our library.  It’s a rather cheesy video that I made last summer with my Flip video camera.  As is typical, after sending the student the link to the video, I never heard back.

This morning, I taught a library session for a freshman English class.  About 45 minutes into the class, two girls mentioned how they had watched my video last night and found it really useful.  It turns out that the girls were the same patron that I sent the video to last night.  It was a very cool “small world” experience, and I was able to use the experience as a way to promote our Ask A Librarian service to the other students in the class.

I’m glad that the students found our IM transaction to be helpful, and that got me to thinking.  What if I had given them bad service last night?  What impact might that have had on their experience during this morning’s class?  How would it have impacted future library experiences?  What if they told their classmates that they were treated poorly?  We almost never get to meet or see the patrons that we help via IM, chat, or email.  With IM and chat, there is almost never a real name tied to the patron on the other end, so it can be easy to be less personal with the patron.  If you’re having a bad day, it can also be easier to be rude or short to a person who you cannot see, or whose name you do not know.   The girls this morning were extremely engaged, and worked very hard during the session.  They asked a lot of questions, and I think their overall impression of our library is very positive.  I wonder if we assumed we would meet each virtual patron the next day in person, how might that affect our interractions with our virtual patrons?  Likewise, how might our patrons’ perceptions of the library change?  It’s a small world, after all, and it’s only getting smaller.

Games, Research, and Hidden Evidence

This week I had the pleasure of finishing Syphon Filter:  Logan’s Shadow on my PSP.  I’ve had the game about a month, and with off-and-on play times, I was able to finish it relatively quickly.  It generally takes me forever to finish games, but the game had a pretty good story that I wanted to see through to the end.   A couple of days after the fact, I’m very pleased to have finished the game, and am longing for the next chapter of the game.  This is my second Syphon Filter game that I’ve completed on the PSP.  I’m already looking forward to the gameplay of the next Syphon Filter game, but I also want to see where the story goes next.   While ultimately fulfilled with the game and its challenges, I longed for a deeper understanding of the characters, their histories, and their futures.

My buddy Paul Waelchli writes extensively about the game’s narrative and how he was initially looking for more in the game’s story.   He and I agreed that there was a lot lacking in the story compared to previous Syphon Filter titles.  However, after investigating the game further, as any good gamer should, he discovered that much more of the game’s story was revealed in the hidden evidence files that he collected throughout the game.   Ultimately, after reading the hidden files, he’s come away from the game completely satisfied with the game’s resolution.  After reading his post, I’m looking forward to going home tonight and reading the hidden files myself so I, too, can dig a bit deeper into the story.

After some reflection, I’ve wondered why the game designers didn’t just put the entire narrative out there so that everyone could see it.  The answer to this relies in one of the core fundamentals of gameplay.  Playing games is all about choice. While Syphon Filter is a fairly linear game, the player can choose to play the game however he wants to.  He can fly through the levels, blasting everyone in his path and causing a huge ruckus, or he can try to sneak around and use stealth to complete a mission. The player can take time to explore every nook and cranny in the game to uncover hidden evidence files and other secrets, or he can simply stick to the well-defined path.  The player can choose which weapons to use and how to use them.  There are even incentives built into the game that encourage the player to play the game in different ways.  For example, as a player I get medals (which unlock more guns and other goodies) for using my knife more, for using the environment more, for using my sniper rifle more, and for simply surviving a level.  Basically the game rewards players for playing how they are most comfortable, while offering incentives to play the game in an entirely different way.  By offering the hidden evidence (which unlocks more story elements) and the medals (which unlocks more guns and additional game content), the game designers are encouraging gamers to not only play how they are comfortable, but to test themselves with new ways of play.   The player is rewarded for trying something new, for stepping outside of his comfort zone.

What’s important here is that the game didn’t force any of this down our throats.  As players in the game, Paul and I could choose how we wanted to play. We both finished the game within a day of each other, and we both really enjoyed our experiences.  However, we both likely played the game in very different ways.  He may have opted to use his knife more, I might have chosen to use my tazer gun more.  Nevertheless, after finishing the game, we both reached the same conclusion.  Also, since the game encourages replay with all of the unlockable content, we’re both very likely to return to the game in the future and try to play the game in differnt way (harder difficulties, with different weapons, more exploration, etc) in order to unlock more content.  We were rewarded for our mastery of the game,  the game will continue to reward us when we master the game at a new level.

So how can I take what I have learned about this game and about myself and apply it to my daily life as a librarian?  Here are a few initial thoughts:

1.  Recognize that research is a game.  The goal may be a dissertation, an address of a long-lost-friend, or a statistic for a speech.  Trial and error helps the researcher unlock the information that they need, and each researcher may approach the process differently.

2.  Recognize the need of the patron.  Like the game, we need to realize that not every single researcher wants spend enormous time to unlock every single nugget of content.  Sometimes they just want three articles.  And that’s it.

3.  Wait for users to drive the research process.  If after showing the patron how to find three articles, and he asks “how do I know which one is good?”, then you can show him how to evaluate the resources.  We should not expect that all users will want to master research in the same way.  Just like the example from Syphon Filter, if they are left wanting more, they’ll let you know if they need more hidden evidence.

4. Understand that it takes time to hold the controller correctly.  When I first picked up a PlayStation controller, it took me forever to figure out where all the buttons were.  For each game, the buttons are assigned to different purposes.  However, gamers eventually figure out which buttons do what.  Likewise, we need to understand that each interface (Google, OPAC, Ebsco, etc) are likely to have the same buttons, but perhaps slightly different functions.

5.  Encourage mastery.  This may be as simple as saying, “If you need more help or get stuck, come back and see me.”  As librarians, we hold the key to unlockable content that can help complete the researcher’s story.  It’s our job to let them know we are available to be their guide.

I’d like your help in teaching 160 business students this Friday

This Friday I am giving the sophomore business clusters and orientation to business research and resources, as I do at the beginning of every quarter.  Some of the research topics are easier than others for a librarian to teach.  In general, the larger the industry (automobile, airlines, retail, music) the easier it is to use business databases to find the necessary information.  Likewise, it’s generally easier to teach the students how to use the necessary databases if they have topics that will actually work with them.

This quarter, the first project is the social networking industry.  Needless to say, you can’t exactly find company financials for Facebook in Hoover’s since it is a private company, and the most appropriate NAICS classification for the industry is “Internet Content Providers.”  I’ve got a few ideas of places to go for articles, but I thought I would ask other experts in social networking (my fellow librarians) where they might look for information.  The project description is below, and I would love to show my students how librarians used a social software (this blog) to do research on the social networking industry.  Please leave a comment below if you’d like to help out.  This will also be cross-posted on my Business Blog.

Your team is to conduct extensive research on the history, current condition, and future of the social networking industry.  You are expected to make extensive use of library as well as internet resources for this study.  PLEASE REMEMBER:  It is always our expectation that you back up your findings with the data found in your research, and that you make EXPLICIT REFERENCE to numbers where necessary.

In particular, you will answer the following questions:

1.    How do social networking firms make money?
2.    Two of the main competitors in this field are facebook.com and myspace.com.  Which one stands the best chance of winning this competitive battle?
3.    Other than the threat they pose to each other, what is the biggest threat these two organizations face?

Each observation or recommendation you make must be substantiated by the research you conduct, with clear justifications provided in all cases.