Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Blog Reflection #4 Print Vs. Electronic Resources

Our teacher has posed the question, "If you were given $5,000.00 to enhance a library reference collection, where would you spend the money? On print material or on electronic access?"

Hmmm. After giving it a little bit of thought, I don't think I would necessarily choose one over the other. I think I would divide the money, although I'm not sure if it would be equally. Our last homework assignment was interesting in this regard...  Go to a library and review specific reference material there. The library I chose to visit had all three reference books in question available, but one of them was only accessible on the web. I didn't have a problem with this, but the computerized library catalog I was using wasn't connected to the internet, and all of the internet computers were being used. That meant that I had to go home to access the material online even though I was already there at the library.

So, my first purchase would probably be more online access for patrons at the library itself. My second purchase would probably be online subscriptions, whether accessible at home or only at the library. Online subscriptions to valid information sources can get expensive, and to have them publicly accessible would be a wonderful draw to use the public library system more often (IMHO).

Of course, as a writer, I have found that my information needs can't always be fulfilled by the quick hits on the internet. And to sit down and enjoy a good book on a computer screen just doesn't work for me. Long term reading from the computer tires my eyes, personally. I would spend some money on fiction and bestsellers to fill my library shelves.

I think that quick ready reference is suitable for the internet. If I wanted to know what a train brakeman did (for example), I might first check out Wikipedia. But if I were to write about a character whose life was about working in a train yard during the Great Depression, then I would need far more information than the quick easy reference the internet provides. That's why investing in books and newspapers about that kind of detailed history would be important. 

I don't think print resources are becoming obsolete. I think they are being utilized more effectively because of the introduction of electronic resources. The internet and computers allow us to pinpoint the information we need faster. They allow us to find the right direction in seeking out our reference needs.  But I think that if we tried to cram all of the information that we have in books and periodicals onto the internet, the information would become abbreviated. We would lose a lot of the detail that we sometimes need, and that would be a sad loss. Again, IMHO. 

Friday, September 26, 2008

Colbert Report Touches on Class Discussions

Since we're discussing the internet and google as useful tools in our modern times, I found a recent episode of the Colbert Report both relevant and interesting - even if it is tongue in cheek. If anyone wants to check it out, just click on the link in my sidebar - The Colbert Report.

Then choose the episode on Thursday, Sept 25. - the interview with author Nick Carr. You can click on segments of the episode if you don't want to see the whole thing. The interview with Nick Carr is segment 3.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blog Reflection #3

This week's blog reflection is primarily about reference resources and how to use them effectively - not just one resource, but all tools and resources in conjunction with one another.

As our instructor has pointed out, today's generation is more apt to go straight to the internet - straight to Wikipedia, for all of their information needs. Wikipedia is a great information tool, right? So what's the problem? I'm going to quote a favorite political comedian of mine, Stephen Colbert, who coined a new word - "Wikiality." The concept of "wikiality" is that "any user can change an entry, and if enough users agree with them, it becomes true." (quote found at wikipedia.org - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/wikiality#wikipedia-references. Sept 18, 2008). This is just one problem with using the internet as a sole resource for information. Too many cooks can spoil the soup with their own versions of the facts.

Don't get me wrong. I think Wikipedia (and the internet in general) is a fantastic research tool. But Colbert's experiment with the idea of wikiality is an example where the information available might not be as reliable as we think.

Physical libraries, on the other hand pose different sets of barriers to accessing information - we might call it a language barrier of sorts. That language barrier involves knowing the right terminology (subject headings, call numbers, broad topics as opposed to narrow topics, etc.) to convey your research needs to the librarians - and to the computers that access the information.

I think that the research interview is essential to learn for both the librarian and the researcher/patron. The example I used in my project posted below - the search for information on chain letters - is perfect to point out here. As a patron, I couldn't find the specific information I was looking for - The chain letter in a historical context. The key words and subject headings I chose weren't pointing me in the direction I was looking for, and the librarian - who accessed worldcat.org did find some books on the material, but under a subject heading that didn't help me - mail fraud.

Here is an example where the tools available to me the researcher, failed individually, but succeeded when used together. My own search on worldcat.org supplied me with a narrower list of book choices, where I could find a title that I could look up at Amazon.com. But I couldn't access the book online. I could, however view relevant subject headings - occultism (not religion, but related), and I could see that the book itself could be accessed at the library whose catalog didn't recognize it from a key word. Now I don't have to buy the book. I can go back to the library and read the sections I wanted.

This is also an example of where a librarian's research interview initially failed. Not from a lack of trying. She did ask questions, and I supplied her with answers, but she didn't register specific information I had told her - that I was looking for chain letters in a historical or religious context. She pointed out the subject heading of the first entry found on her worldcat search - mail fraud. Then she handed me the printout for that particular book.

I guess, in conclusion, we need to recognize that language barriers come in many forms when it comes to the research process, and that patience and the access of ALL the tools and resources at are fingertips is the best way to navigate toward our answers.

Library 204 project 1 Reference Library review Cerritos Public Library

Project 1 - Week 5 - Lib 204

Task: Visit a library and review the reference services.

The library I chose to visit for this project was the Cerritos Public Library. It is aesthetically pleasing both inside and out, and its purpose is to serve the public at large. That means that it needs to be widely accessible and must have a broad range of material to meet general public needs. The library attempts to achieve this goal by offering books and media housed in separate sections for specific types of patrons.

The first floor has a room specific to children’s interests, a periodical area complete with easy chairs for comfortable reading, and a fiction and biography area with decor to appeal to teens and older students. The second floor is the reference area designed entirely around reference needs.

When you ride the escalator to the second floor, you are deposited right in front of the reference desk. Above it reads a sign: INFORMATION AND REFERENCE, and while I haven’t gone to the Cerritos Library often, I’ve gone often enough to note that the reference desk always has someone there. Of course, in keeping with my self proclaimed MO, I quickly surpassed the reference desk and looked for a computer - my preferred gateway to finding information I need.

The reference area is truly laid out with the computer savvy researcher in mind. There is a bank of approximately 100 computer stations available along one designated wall of the reference floor. There is a line of private rooms along another wall that you can reserve for group research or meetings. And there are actual reference and non-fiction books that you can page through as well.

Using the computers at the library allows you access to a number of online databases that you would have to pay for if you tried to access them from your home computer - or, if you are a library card holder, you can access them from home using your library ID. That privilege comes with an annual fee if you are not a Cerritos resident. The list of databases that you can access is admirable. Included is the Auto Repair Reference Center, Ancestry.com, a number of recognized general encyclopedias such as Brittanica and Grolier, and academic online databases like Newsbank, Opposing Viewpoints and SIRs Researcher.

The library has a special digital archive for local history, and it offers special services and equipment to benefit the disabled. “Access Plus” is an orientation class offered to disabled patrons to help them learn how to use the special equipment available to them. And there is a “Tech help” desk available during certain hours for any of us who are not internet savvy.

The online catalog system, e-catalog, is accessible at any of the computer stations in the reference area or throughout the library. After typing in a few searches, I was a little disappointed with my results though. The library uses LOC subject headings to categorize its resources, and while this isn’t a bad thing, I’m finding that this - and other libraries aren’t always as “keyword” friendly as I’ve become used to on the internet. I picked a topic to search - “Chain Letters.” and came up with nothing. But this library sort of compensates for the shortcomings of the ecatalog because it gives you access to www.worldcat.org, a database that searches for books and key words in libraries worldwide.

At this point I thought it a good idea to talk to a reference librarian directly. There was a separate bank of 6 computers that were reserved for research purposes only, so I asked the librarian what the difference was between those and the 100+ online computers. She said that they could only access the online reference services of the library, where the other computers could access both the library databases and the internet.

I thought that was odd, to have 6 computers with less capability than the 100+. But beyond that, I found the librarian to be friendly and helpful. I asked her about the narrow topic I was researching, and told her that I couldn’t find anything in their e-catalog. She made mention of subject headings. I told her I had no idea what subject heading to begin with, even after she gave me a list to refer to - one of the library’s handouts. She went to worldcat.org and pulled up a possible book that I could find in another library.

The librarian also gave me another handout - a list of the online databases the library had access to, with brief descriptions about each database. And I came to my ultimate conclusion about the Cerritos Public Library. It’s a beautiful library designed for the internet savvy patron. But if you’re not internet savvy, it may seem a little daunting to search here. I checked out a couple of online databases, and found them easy to use. I’m impressed with their choice of including Ancestry.com among their selections. This decision gives people the option to find information about their lineage without having to pay a monthly fee, among other benefits. I also utilized SIRs researcher in looking up the topic of chain letters. I didn’t get the results I was hoping for. If I had been smarter, I would have accessed worldcat.org while I was there. When I typed in the terms chain letter from home, and narrowed my search to books - it brought me to the exact kind of book I was looking for - and it was located at the Cerritos Publc Library.

So, having access to worldcat.org at the library you happen to be in is a tremendous asset. I haven’t noticed this as being the case at other libraries. Cerritos Public lists access to Worldcat as a feature. I’m not sure if other libraries with internet access promote Worldcat.org as a tool to utilizing their own libraries. They should.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Blog Reflection #2 for Lib 204

Barely three weeks have gone by, and it's time for another post to my blog. What to say, what to say...

I guess I'll start with commenting on Dena's points made on her blog - about the beneficial uses of it. She mentioned Amazon.com, or travel sites as an example of ways to benefit from the posts of other users. Book reviews and ratings from other people have been very useful to me on sites like Amazon. So, going back to those famous last words from my previous post, maybe this library class will prove me wrong...

I have to admit that in the past couple of weeks I have become a closet poster on a screenwriting site called Zhura.com. The site is for writers who are looking for feedback and words of advice on their writing endeavors. I am currently in writing limbo, having finished a draft of one script and not sure what to tackle for my next, so I've been alleviating the writer's block by reading other work and posting what I hope is constructive criticism.

The site has its benefits as a sort of new writers support group, but... There are enough opinionated and confrontational posts among members to remind me of my blogging reservations.

Anyway, I think I'm a little off topic. This post is supposed to reflect on the readings for the week, and our own experiences with reference librarians. I'm one of those people who has wandered the library for hours, digging for information longer than I think I should without the help of a reference librarian.  I'm not apt to readily seek out the help of a reference librarian for several reasons:
A - there's no one at the help desk.
B- there's people at a desk, but I'm not sure if it's the help desk.
C- the person at the help desk doesn't seem to see me.
D- I don't know how to explain the information I'm looking for.

I also think that some librarians see me using the online catalog somewhat efficiently (because I will go straight to the catalog if I can find it), and therefore assume I don't need help. To some degree, I understand this - helping the people who ask first may be a way to prioritize the work load. But, if I were a reference librarian, I think (hope) I might understand this aspect of patron frustration and therefore make myself more available.

I like the ideals of the reference interview, and hope one day that I would be able to put it into good practice.