The Elusive Search

I had a rather interesting reference encounter tonight in the Children’s Department. A couple came in needing information (for their child) about the Nile River and Chaitén, a volcano in Chile. The first topic search was pretty straightforward: I did a keyword search in our online catalog, VuFind, for “Nile River” and turned up plenty of books in two main Dewey sections, the 916s and 962s. The 916s is geography and travel of Africa, while the 962s represent general history of Africa: Egypt and Sudan. One of these days, I shall take a closer look at these books to see how the catalogers made the distinction.

The second topic gave me a lot of trouble. A keyword search for “Chaitén” didn’t yield any results, so I did a Google search to verify that the spelling was correct and that such a volcano existed! Yes, there is such a volcano and there were some information on the web via Wikipedia and such which the student was not allowed to use. Since nothing registered in the catalog under “Chaitén,” I went broader and searched for books under “volcanoes.” The parents and I looked through the indexes of these books and found only one that listed Chaitén (and only a paragraph of information at that). We also looked through books about Chile, also with no success. My next step was to check out our online databases, such as the encyclopedias and reference e-resources. I had no luck there, either. At this point, the children’s librarian jumped in to help. She came up with other possible search terms, such as Mt. Chaitén, that this particular geographic feature might be listed under. This was a search technique that I learned in my online searching class- coming up with alternative search terms that the topic may be listed under. Alas, we still came up empty. In the end, the librarian asked the parents to go downstairs to adult services to see if they could find anything in their resources, such as an atlas.

This was an interesting exercise in searching though all possible resources (or what seemed like it!) and still coming up empty! However, the internet was a useful resource in refining the search…which only shows that librarians should not hesitate to use Google (judiciously) if it helps them get what their patrons need.

To tag, or not to tag?

My final research paper for my final class in the SLIS program explored  the use of folksonomies–namely tagging–in libraries. Can tags be used to facilitate online searching by increasing the findability of online resources, and if so, how can this best be accomplished?

Folksonomies started out as a scheme for organizing content on the internet; they allow user groups to collaboratively classify and describe content as they see fit. The practice of tagging functions similarly to that of assigning subject headings in bibliographic records, but instead of a set of predefined, standardized terms (controlled vocabulary) from which to chose, users tag items making use of natural language (uncontrolled vocabulary), with an unlimited number of ways to classify content. Tags are created by users because they want to make it easier for themselves and others to find content, without the need to know formal library methods. Tagging has now become prevalent on interactive Web sites such as blogs, social bookmarks, Flickr, and YouTube. In response to user expectations, and recognizing that the needs of users and librarians are different, some libraries now emphasize keyword searching and have integrated built-in social tools into their OPACs.

The literature shows that folksonomies and controlled vocabularies have their strengths and drawbacks, and that one method is not necessarily the best approach. Controlled vocabularies such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) offer precision in terminology and therefore retrieval. However, subject headings can be limited and content can be interpreted differently.  Determining concepts in a resource can be a tricky business and findability is compounded by the fact that most library users are not familiar with controlled vocabularies such as LCSH. Folksonomies can help bridge this gap. The addition of social tagging in OPACs broadens the findability of resources by attaching more vocabulary to a bibliographic record, vocabulary that also happens to reflect the natural language of library users, not catalogers. For users accustomed to search engines, the ability to search by keywords or tags will make OPACs more relevant and intuitive. Integrating folksonomies into OPACs  can complement and supplement traditional library OPACs and follows the current trend of focusing on users and adapting library services to their needs.

However, the addition of folksonomies in OPACs can create new issues. The chaotic nature of folksonomies begs the question: should librarians be allowed to at least manipulate tags created by users? If misspellings or redundancies exist, correcting or eliminating these lapses would seem to right thing to do. However, what does that tell the tag creators whose tags were eliminated–that their tags were less valuable? Librarians can also chose to limit the freedom to choose a tag by guiding and restricting users to certain choices (e.g., text boxes for main character, drop down menu). Can this truly be called social tagging, then? Moreover, should users be able to manipulate tags created by themselves or others? Any plans to restrict the complete freedom of tagging must carefully consider the possibility that someone or something can be excluded.

The timing of this research paper could not be more opportune for me. The adult services department at YLPL have begun a tagging project in VuFind, our OPAC, to create booklists such as readalike and genre lists that can be searched by the staff. I think tagging is a fantastic tool that, when used by the reference staff, enables them to find relevant material quickly and more precisely. At this time, tags are not searchable by patrons but if a tag exists in a record, they can click on it to access the corresponding booklist. Patrons can create still tags, though, and some have already made use of the function. Our staff has created tags for categories such as Hunger Games readalike, French language films, culinary mystery, and gentle read. Check out the booklist that I compiled for an Asian literature tag. It’s possible to break this list down even further into Chinese, Korean, Indian, and so forth, literature…but that will be for another day!

In the End….or Is It a New Beginning?

Today was the last official day of my internship at the Katie Wheeler Library. My supervisor had asked me to write a brief report based on the holds data I had been collecting over the weeks. Namely, I was to briefly describe the quantitative results (adults vs.children, fiction vs. non-fiction, percentage of New books to all holds brought here, etc.) She also wanted me to describe subject areas which have come up most often in the holds. I was free to include any observations/conclusions on improving the Wheeler Adult Collection based on my analysis of the holds data. Below, I’ve listed some of these:

  • By a 3-2 margin, the library has a higher percentage of requests for fiction ton non-fiction, with newly-published books and best sellers always popular. The library does in fact own many of the fiction titles that patrons are requesting (44.4% compared to 27.5% of non-fiction titles), which emphasizes the point that Wheeler patrons are heavy readers of bestselling fiction.
  • Certain subject areas came up most often in requests, such as Psychology (namely motivational and self-actualization works), Marriage and parent-children relationships, Personal health and safety (namely nutrition and fitness), and Vegetarian and healthy cooking.
  • Audiobooks are an intriguing category. The percentage of requests is not high; however, the audiobook collection is very small. In light of the popularity of audiobooks in general, is this an area that should be strengthened to increase demand and interest? How are audiobooks at other Irvine branches circulating?

I had a great wrap-up session with my internship supervisor on this last day. We talked about what I might expect as far as librarian interviews go and she imparted some wisdom about the process that I greatly appreciated and have taken to heart. She also asked me how I would handle my first job as a librarian – what would my first steps be, how would I get to know the user community, etc. They were tough, practical questions, and honestly, I hadn’t given much thought to this area until now.

Do I feel prepared to take on the title of “librarian” at this moment? Yes and no! I realize that my internship only covers the tip of the iceberg of the many responsibilities that librarianship entails. But I’ve now gained some real-world experience to back up my education; participating in actual activities undertaken by librarians has allowed me to apply theoretical principles and academic knowledge, and adapt them as needed, in a work environment. I was very fortunate to have a mentor who was incredibly generous of her time and provided professional guidance and feedback throughout this invaluable experience. I feel all of my desired learning outcomes were successfully achieved. Most importantly, I’ve gained a great deal of confidence in providing reference assistance and performing collection development activities. There is still much to learn, though.

Now that my internship is behind me, it is time to seek new professional challenges!

e-Books and more

eReader Open House sign My internship continues to roll along…

Katie Wheeler Library held an e-Reader Open House on Tuesday, April 3rd, between noon and 2:00 pm. The children’s floor was used for this event since it would be quieter at that time of the day. There were sections set up for the iPad, Kindle, Kindle, Nook, and Android devices. Patrons could bring their own devices, or they could play with the demos the library had on hand in order to decide which one they would like to purchase. At the end of each training session, the goal was for each patron to walk away with an e-book successfully downloaded from the library’s digital library.

It was interesting to note that the iPad and Kindle sections had the most participants, and that many patrons had more than one kind of device (generally an iPad in combination with an e-reader). I really thought most people would be older, but there was a fairly wide range of people who came. I helped greet and direct traffic to the appropriate tables. Although my internship isn’t focused on programming, it was extremely informative to watch one being planned and set up, especially since it dealt with e-reader devices and instructing patrons on how to download library e-books. The key is to remain flexible and be prepared for anything! As the result of what I learned about e-readers from this event and from my internship supervisor, I created a video on how to download a library e-book to the Kindle that I used as an artifact in my e-portfolio:

I used the principles I learned from teaching ESL students back in the day, and from instructing patrons one-on-one, in order to make this video user-friendly for beginners. My internship supervisor forwarded this to OCPL’s information systems training coordinator and apparently she liked it enough to post it on their training site!

I asked my internship supervisor if she had a policy about facing out the books in the new book section. She said she only had a few “rules”:

  • display an assortment of genres in the fiction area or subjects in the non-fiction
  • promote titles that people may not immediately be interested in
  • try to vary the colors of the book covers (e.g.rather than displaying all blues or all reds)

I’ve also been working on selecting materials for purchase. Selection criteria is really important here. I’ve been keeping track of transfer requests coming into the library the entire time and the data has proved very useful. Although keeping track of the information on an Excel spreadsheet isn’t practical over the long run, it can be something that can be done for a short period of time (say a month) in order to gather data on what patrons are requesting, especially those materials that the library do not carry or does not have enough of. I’ve found this data to be very useful in the selection process. Since we are a county system, there are evaluators at headquarters who have already preselected a list of titles that they are purchasing for specific branches. Other individual branches have the opportunity to purchase copies from this list through headquarters from the money in their budgets. I was asked to select a few titles for purchase, and I based my decisions on the transfer requests data, price, circulation statistics for the subject heading (these titles are already cataloged, so I can check their subject headings and see how well titles under these subject headings circulate at the branch and throughout the county, as well as when they last circulated), whether there are any holds for that particular title (and for which branches), what I knew about the community, and Amazon reviews. The most important consideration appears to be what the public wants. This was also something that was stressed in my collection development class. If there are patron requests for titles not on the evaluators’ lists and not in the system, the library can ask the evaluators to consider them.

I found the selection exercises to be fun but particularly difficult since I am working off of someone else’s list. Also, how do you know when you have enough titles (for the time being) on a particular popular subject? For example, autism is a popular subject at my branch, and we have a good number of titles for our library’s size already in our collection. But since they circulate extremely well, most titles are not available for browsing at any given moment. Do you buy more on this subject, or do you try to balance the collection with other purchases? The money only buys so many! I guess you learn from experience. Baby steps!

Learning by Doing

I continue to work the reference desk for both Adults and Children’s Services, which is my primary focus, and I’m learning little “tricks” all the time. I’m finding that sometimes it’s best to go with intuition rather than formal knowledge—real life does not always adhere to rules!

I’m doing a much better job searching our computer system for titles in a particular subject.For example, in the past, I would just search the title or subject field. For the title field, I would only input actual titles or their close approximates, but now I’m learning that if a subject search does not turn up what the patron needs, I could input keywords in the title field and that could turn up relevant titles that I can then use to find appropriate subject headings. (Whew! That was a mouthful.) I’m learning not to be so rigid and to be more creative and experimental. I guess this is all part of becoming more comfortable on the job.

Headquarters has put out a directive about tracking the use of reference resources for two weeks. I believe they are trying to decide what to do with reference books county-wide. At some of the branches, reference books are intershelved with the general collection that circulates. It sounds like headquarters is trying to figure out which shelving system would promote a greater use of reference books. Anyways, my supervisor asked me to read the memo and think about how I would implement a way to track the use of reference books at our branch (we have a separate reference collection). I’m pleased to say that my idea was pretty much what she had in mind—to place a small cart by the reference with signage directing patrons to place reference books on the cart once they are done using them. What I didn’t think about were the reference books that would be left on the tables and circulating carts. So pages and other staff members would need to be informed of the procedure. Communication is key! It will be interesting to find out the results of the tracking county-wide. I would imagine that reference books that are shelved with the general non-fiction collection would get more use due to more patrons browsing the general collection, but we shall see.

I worked on weeding movie DVDs to make room for new ones. The general criteria were low circulation and a last check-out date of at least 3 months prior. I was amazed at how well movies circulated. Even titles that were really old and which I’ve never heard of circulated well and recently. Of course, discs that were terribly scratched were discarded. I also worked on adding and processing donations to our collection. I checked the computer to see if we have the title, and if we don’t, check other branches to see if the title is circulating well elsewhere. Of course, current best sellers get added no matter what because there is usually a long waiting list county-wide for them!

In my collection development class, we learned about merchandising books to promote their use. There isn’t a lot of space to do this at Katie Wheeler, but we make the space for new and rental books. Just like in retail (my previous career), merchandising books makes them fly off the shelf, no matter what the subject is. I am constantly replacing books to face out because patrons keep taking them. There was one business book that sat in the new shelf area for days. I decided to face it out and it was checked out that afternoon. Coincidence? Maybe not.

I have a couple of interesting projects coming up. One is the e-book reader open house next week. The other is a selection project for Chinese books. My supervisor has ask me to help select new Chinese books for our Chinese collection because I know a little Mandarin. We have a list of books that our regional library has selected for their collection and we will need to chose from that list. The description of the book is in Chinese, so that doesn’t help anyone at my library. More on these in the next post.