While walking our the door to get coffee across the street, I overheard two students saying, “OMG it’s so hot in the library, let’s go study some place else.”
We have had unseasonably warm temperatures for a few days (65 degrees today), and the heat in the building is still on, leading to an uncomfortable environment in which to study. Simply reporting that to the appropriate channels to change things sometimes isn’t enough, but perhaps showing them the complaints via Twitter is.
It’s very easy to set up a search for your organization in TweetDeck to find out what your customers, patrons, and community are saying about your services, facilities, and resources. Getting others to listen to what they are saying might prove to be a bit more difficult.
In his book, Trust Agents, Chris Brogan describes how people can become experts by sharing their answers on the web with more people. I believe librarians should be doing this as often as they can in order to showcase their expertise, and it’s something I try to do whenever practical.
Brogan describes the process as follows (pp. 25-26):
Receive a question requiring your expertise via email.
Respond with an email but put answer in a blog post as well.
The answer is out of your email and on the web for others to learn.
Repeat this process many times.
Your answers are now in Google.
Now you’re an expert on the web.
A week ago I received an email from a student looking for market share and brand share information of the energy and sports drink market. I recognized that this would likely be a question others were interested in, so rather than simply replying via email, I put the answer on my Business Blog and sent him the link. He replied back a few hours later with his appreciation (which rarely happens, btw).
In a week’s time, my answer to the one patron has been viewed 103 times and currently sits as the #6 Google search result for “energy drink market share” and #7 result for “sports drink market share.” While all of the resources listed in my answer are from subscription databases (it’s impossible to get a good data on this topic without them) I do suggest that non-OHIO patrons check with their local libraries. Hopefully my post will send other libraries some business while also demonstrating librarian expertise and the value of libraries.
The past two days I received two very nice compliments via social media. Both of them made me feel especially valued and appreciated, even if the kind words came from people I have never met in person. I’m posting them here for those days where things aren’t quite so rosy.
The first comment came out of the blue from another librarian on Twitter. This really made my day, especially given that I am submitting a few proposals to speak again at the Computers in Libraries conference next spring.
The second comment came this morning from a random person on flickr. I can only assume that he found my pictures via one of the flickr groups that I’ve been posting to lately. I’ve become really interested in photography over the past year, and have been working to get better. It’s always nice when someone “favorites” or “likes” your pictures, but this fellow went out of his way to give me a very kind remark.
It really doesn’t take much to make somebody’s day better. Simply giving someone a compliment can be a huge boost to their confidence and can make them happier. I appreciate these two folks giving me a shout out, and now I’m very encouraged to pay it forward.
Web Worker Daily has a post where they ask “Are Blog Comments Worth It?” I often ask the same question, particularly with the comments I get on my Business Blog. The Business Blog is primarily aimed at the faculty and students that I work with, although I do believe most of the hits to the blog come through search engine traffic. While the blog has a modest 150+ subscribers (again, not likely my intended audience), I don’t get many comments from those readers. Instead, I typically get comments like the ones that appear in the image in this post. These comments get through the spam filter because they are submitted by a human. As you can see from the image, most commenters don’t have anything relevant to say but are simply looking for a link back to their own blogs. The page ranking for the Business Blog is pretty high, so others are simply trying to cash in on the high Google indexing. Since I moderate all comments on the Business Blog, these comments tend to sit until I get a chance to delete them all without approval. I suppose if the Business Blog received more comments that were actually relevant, this would be more of a pain to deal with. I do have a commenting policy, but have only recently linked it on the comment submission form. We’ll see if that fixes things a bit. I have also closed comments on the Business Blog for posts older than 60 days, and that seems to have reduced the quantity of these irrelevant replies.
Here at Library Voice, comments remain open and un-moderated. The Akismet spam filter for WordPress does a decent job at getting the really nasty stuff, and the comments with links get held for moderation automatically. This blog doesn’t get nearly the comments as other library/tech blogs (though comments are welcome! 😉 ), so I don’t have to worry so much about spam and trolls. I will say, too, that most of my traffic to this blog is not from the intended library/tech audience. The WordPress stats offer a ton of information that tells about how people found your blog, and from those stats I can tell that most visitors find the blog through Google searches. I have a healthy number of subscribers according to Feedburner, but those numbers don’t come close to matching the search engine hits.
Since the posts on the Business Blog tend to cover things like money, finance, company and industry analysis, etc, it gets a lot more people who are trying to link back to their own site. I guess spammers figure there’s not much money in linking off Library Voice, a blog of some dude who posts about libraries, video games, open source software, teaching, learning, and bike rides. I’ve never thought about turning the comments to the Business Blog off, but this has got me to thinking. I know some very well known bloggers don’t have comments enabled (Seth Godin, for example), but isn’t the purpose of a blog to share information with the potential of promoting conversation? Are not libraries in existence to share information, promote conversation, and foster learning? What messages would a library blog that did not allow comments send? If you’re not getting comments from your intended audience, is it okay to turn comments off, or should you re-evaluate who your audience is or should be? If you’ve got an answer, I’d love to hear it. Maybe post a comment. They’re allowed here. 😉
It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since I created the Biz Wiki. When I first wrote about using a wiki as a research guide, I had no idea where the wiki would go. For the four year anniversary, I think it’s important to address some of the things that I’ve learned over time.
1. Don’t be afraid to shake things up a bit
It was risky, initially, to drop my old static html research guides in favor of the wiki format. It took a lot of work porting the content over (and I use “port”, as I didn’t simply cut and paste the old content in the move to a new system). I had no idea how the new wiki would be received, or if it would even be used at all.
2. Experiment with new forms of media
In the process of trying something new, you get to experiment with new forms of media. One thing I learned in this process is the way a media is “intended” to be used may not necessarily be the way that you wind up actually using it. In the case of the Biz Wiki, I had originally set it up so that it would be a true wiki and that anyone could add or edit the content. I didn’t promote this that much initially, and I still probably could have done a better job of encouraging students and faculty to be active in the wiki’s content. However, four years later, I have a better understanding of where my faculty are and how busy they are. As an example, I recently emailed my faculty members a list of items that I was recommending to cut, as I have to cut $68,000 from my budget. Can you guess how many responses I got? About 3. Bearing that in mind, I think it’s unlikely that my faculty have the time or the interest to edit the Biz Wiki. They see that as my job (as is managing the library budget), and as long as I’m doing a good job, everybody’s happy. Many have questioned whether the Biz Wiki is actually a wiki at all, since I am the only one managing it. You can call it what you want, but for me, it’s a wiki, and it just works.
3. Keep it fresh
A wiki is designed so that you can add and edit content with ease. However, even a wiki with content as exciting as business research tools can get a little boring at times. (really, it can). There have been times that I have gotten really, really bored with the wiki, so that even editing the existing content can become a chore. It’s difficult to do, but I think it is really important to push through the doldrums and continue to manage the content. When I find that I’m doing as much as I should to manage the content, I try to make a habit of periodically picking a random page and trying to tweak it in some way. I’m also in the process of overhauling my Biz Wiki Screencasts page into something that is a little more user-friendly and easier to manage.
4. Steal ideas from others
In the process of keeping it fresh, sometimes you just run out of ideas. I became very tired with the old look of the Biz Wiki, so I went looking for a new one. As luck would have it, another popular wiki has a pretty good front page, so I borrowed the code, changed the colors, and made it my own. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I figure the more I can make the Biz Wiki look and feel like the Wikipedia, the easier it will be for my patrons to use.
Borrowing ideas from others is one of the best things you can do to make your content relevant to your users. I’m constantly on the lookout for examples of how others are using social media and tools. I look at other libraries, but I primarily like to look for other non-library examples. I feel that if I just look at how libraries are doing things, then I may not be seeing other really good examples of social media. As an example, take a look at how Larry Hyrb, the brand manager for Microsoft’s Xbox Live uses twitter, a blog, 12 seconds, video, and podcasts. I look at stuff like he’s using and try to think about how libraries can use these tools to sell our brand. We may not use them in the same way or get the same kind of feedback from our users, but we can still use the successfully to reach our patrons in different ways.
5. Listen to feedback
Now I’ll be honest here. I don’t have faculty members calling and telling me how great the Biz Wiki is or how great I am. However, I do have students tell me that they used the Biz Wiki because their professor told them to. That in itself is a huge compliment. Sometimes students whom I have never met or taught stop me in the library and tell me how much they appreciate the Biz Wiki and how much it helped them. One professor even tells his students that they have it easy, thanks to the work that I’ve put into the Biz Wiki. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but comments like that help to keep you motivated.
Constructive criticism is also helpful, although I’ve not received much about the Biz Wiki. However, the Business Blog was recently reviewed by a library school student, and it helped to hear an outsider’s perspective of that tool. I recently became a bit bored with the Business Blog as well, and I changed the template up a bit and used the student’s comments in the process.
Most of my feedback comes not from glowing reviews about the Biz Wiki or the Business Blog, but from listening to others. Students and colleagues often tell me they searched for a particular topic in the Biz Wiki and did not find what they needed. I take information like that, as well as the current projects students are working on, and use that for new or additional content for the wiki or the blog. Listening to your community’s needs is truly one of the best feedback mechanisms you can use, and it will help you keep your content and your services relevant. I’ve also found that looking at the hit counts for the Biz Wiki and Business Blog can show me what is being used and what is not. Obviously I try to create more content that is similar to the stuff that is being used.
6. Help people find your content
You can create the greatest site in the world, but if you don’t link to it anywhere, no one is going to use it. Yes, I am stating the obvious here, but some could use to hear that over and over. In the case of the Biz Wiki, I link to it in various places on our library website. You can find a link on our subject guides page, in the Company section of our database portal, in the industry section of our database portal, and listed twice in our Business section as well. I’m also blessed to teach several hundred students each quarter, and I am sure to promote the Biz Wiki there as well. It often helps to show them something they really need to get them to return to your site. As an example, if I have enough lead time, I may try to make a special guide just for that class. Just a hint, show them the guide at the end of class, not at the beginning. Otherwise it’s a little difficult to keep their attention.
7. Adding and maintaining content is hard, regardless of the technology
Whenever someone asks me about wikis, I try to tell them in some way that wikis are not for everyone. While a wiki makes it incredibly easy to add and update content from anywhere, it still takes time and effort to maintain the content. The bigger the Biz Wiki becomes, the more effort it takes to maintain. I’ve got quite a few pages that are in need of updating, and I even have a few pages that will need deleting. It takes time to do that work. A wiki makes it pretty easy to do the work, but it does not make time move slower. Other projects and priorities can distract me from the wiki, and occasionally I have to go in and knock the cobwebs off. A wiki is an awesome vehicle for disseminating library information, but it does not have an auto pilot.
8. If one tool doesn’t work, get another one
Sometimes thing just stop working. I used to use Pidgin to connect to all of my IM services and with Meebo, until one day the Meebo widget stopped displaying my status. I was disappointed, but I didn’t cry or freak out about it. When your hammer breaks pulling nails you go get another one. Likewise, when your widget won’t work, you find another tool that does. In my case, I found Digsby, and it works wonderfully for what I need it to do. In a similar fashion, I have begun using Blip.tv to host all new screencasts that I do. This tool allows for easy embedding of videos, and also gives me viewership stats. It’s easy to get attached to the tool that you’ve used for so long, and new tools may not have the same feel as that old hammer did. But new tools may eventually feel more comfortable and be more useful in the long run.
9. Don’t settle
With any web 2.0 or library 2.0 or other tech tool, it’s easy to try something, and if it works, continue doing the same thing or using the same tool. While it is comfortable to keep doing the same thing, even if it has proven successful, I don’t think this is good for librarian or their services in the long run. I’ve mentioned how bored I’ve grown with the Business Blog and the Biz Wiki over the years, and how that boredom drove me to some new ideas. I can only imagine how bored regular users of the sites must feel. To alleviate my boredom, to challenge me, and to offer my patrons new and improved content, I have started doing more with screencasts and web video. I look like a dork at times doing the videos, but at least I’m offering new and useful content to my patrons. I’m also learning something in the process, which means I’m growing as a librarian and hopefully enhancing the services that I offer as well.
If you’ve made it this far in the post, I thank you for sticking around. I’m also curious what other might have to say. What projects have you started and what was the most important thing you learned from them? How did you keep the projects fresh and growing? If the project died, why? What advice do you have for others who might be afraid of trying something new?
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 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.