FULL MOON PATRONS?
My colleagues who work in public libraries are firm believers in astrology, or at least the part of it that says people get weirder during the full moon. They assure me that if they had been paying no attention to lunar phases at all, they could deduce them just from patron behavior.
My experience being in an academic library, where weird people tended to be weird year-round, rather than on a calendar basis -- and often, I suspect, as part of a studied academic pose -- I have never really believed in the full-moon theory. I have invited my friends to write an article on the subject, but it occurs to me that this is the kind of thing you don't want your own name and your library's name attached to; one hesitates to critiize one's customers in a public venue.
So, send me your true life adventures; try to convince me. I'll write the article.
GURU INTERVIEW: JESSAMYN WEST
Jessamyn West's useful daily web log can be viewed at http://www.librarian.net; from there you can get to some of her other equally interesting sites. E-mail her at jessamyn at eskimo.com
Marylaine: When did your involvement with the net begin, and how have you incorporated it into your daily life as a librarian?
Jessamyn: We had email at school when I was in high school [1985-ish] and though I only used it to send messages to my friends, I was aware that the more computer savvy people in my classes could send messages to people that weren't even at my high school. I always thought that was cool. There was better access to technology at my college and by grad school I was submitting papers in HTML. My Dad worked for a computer company most of my life [NOTE, he's the computer guy in Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New Machine] so we always had them around in one form or another.
I use technology a lot as a librarian. The Internet is generally my first choice to answer a basic reference question and definitely a good back-up in many circumstances. I work in a small community college so I often use the Internet to not only research answers to questions, but also to track down other copies of books we don't have, access foreign language information [even if I can't read it, my students often can!] and especially for breaking current event info that we may not have books or even magazines in our collection on yet. I also do freelance research as another job, and I use the internet almost exclusively to do business and market research.
Marylaine: I notice you've done internet training for other librarians. How do you find other librarians responding to the net? Do you see any reluctance to embrace it, or the machines that deliver it?
Jessamyn: Generally, people seem to be interested in getting access to technology, but the pace for improvements -- especially in larger library systems -- is often slow. While some librarians seem reluctant to view the Internet as a good reference source, they often balance well with the librarians who are more internet focused [like myself] and may not have as much of a grasp on the print resources, especially print indices and the like. One large problem seems to be lack of funding for good staff training on new technologies.
Librarians often seem to be forced to learn the new online catalog or Internet interface at the same time as the patrons, only they don't have as much free time to familiarize themselves with it. Additionally many grants for technological improvements to libraries are often hardware-heavy and don't include the means for staff training, including funding for trainers, time-off for librarians to learn the technology, or tech support to get people up to speed. This sort of "you'll learn it on the fly" approach seems to insinuate that computers and the Internet are very easy to learn and master, which is ludicrous. It also leads to what I call the Tiny Fiefdom approach, where the people that know and understand the technology are the ones continually called upon to deal with every technological issue, instead of the library system applying more resources towards systematic technology programs, such as hiring in-house tech supporters/trainers.
Marylaine: Your web log is one of the most interesting and useful resources I've seen. Why did you decide to do this? What kind of response do you get to it, and who is reading it?
Jessamyn: I tripped over the weblog phenomenon last year and have been reading a few technology oriented web logs such as http://camworld.com/, http://jjg.net and http://peterme.com/ for the last six months or so. I enjoy the sort of guided web surfing experience that they provide, especially if you find a good fit with a weblogger and your own tastes. I did find, however, that none of them overlapped with my specific web-interests, so I had been interested in doing something in a librarian vein. When I noticed that somehow the domain librarian.net was available, my decision was made for me. I started on April 20th and have watched the weblog community grow very rapidly in that time with niche weblogs [like my own] becoming more and more prevalent.
My reader base seems to be about 300-350 people per day, mostly repeat customers. I update daily and have a bi-weekly poll so there's value in checking in from time to time. My readers seem to be almost all librarians or information professionals and they mostly seem to check in from work [based on my log traffic reports].
Marylaine: You're involved in a number of social causes and civic good works. Has the net been useful for you in these activities, and how?
Jessamyn: The best thing for me about the Internet is that if you are a freaky person with fringe interests you can find someone else to share those interests with. Who would have known there was a tattooed librarian subculture? Most of the librarians who I share political interests with live nowhere near me. The internet allows us to keep in touch, share resources, plan to meet and swap stories which helps make the world of radical librarianship a little less lonely if there's no one in your immediate workplace to plan and organize with. [for example the anarchist librarians web: http://www.infoshop.org/librarians.html.]
In the non-librarian world, the Internet can allow you to organize around causes, send e-petitions, give people forms to fill out to lobby their elected officials, and learn what's going on in places with media blackouts via first person accounts. It has been a major force towards people being able to get the information they need and want, not just what media outlets want to give them. When politicians lie, they can now be recorded and rebutted in the time it takes to put up a web page, I think that's progress. You don't need to own your own TV station [for example http://www.freespeech.org].
Marylaine: How would you like to see more libraries using the net? Do you see untapped potential for increasing or improving service to our users?
Jessamyn: I'm a real fan of my local library, Seattle Public Library, in some ways. They offer 90 minutes a day of text-only dial up to the Internet where people can surf, check email, check out the freenet and check the catalog as well as a few online indices. They offer connectivity, not just access to resources in the library -- it's very egalitarian. Once you get in the library, you can use computers to surf, write papers, learn English -- or just learn to use computers, which is still what a lot of people need. They have classes in how to use the web and look for subject specific resources, as well as in the use of some software tools.
I'd like to see libraries working more on their web pages and becoming portals to good online sources of information. Every library has its own list of links, but very few aim for any kind of comprehensivity, like the LibraryLand index at http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/LibraryLand/index3.html. Also it seems that they could be working more with local service organizations to make sure people who are in need of certain services can figure out how to get them. Not necessarily to be duplicating other social service organizations' work, but more to be good pointers. Libraries seem to me to be in a unique place to be online starter points for non-advertiser supported community information and I'd love to see more of that.
Marylaine: And the question I ask everybody: How do you keep current? What do you read routinely, what sites do you visit, what listserves if any do you look in on, what conferences do you go to, etc.?
Jessamyn: I am a total spaz when it comes to researching my own site. These are the sources I rely on most often: