From June 11 through June 20 this year, I had the pleasure of visiting Ukraine to tour libraries and meet with librarians. A generous grant and scholarship through Emporia State University paid for me and 12 of my classmates to participate in this opportunity to build international connections.
Because of its location and agricultural resources, Ukraine has been battered from all sides throughout history. We stayed primarily in the city of Kiev and unfortunately much of this ancient city has been destroyed as Ukraine was dominated by one force or another, including the Nazis and most recently the Soviets. Beautiful churches that look centuries old often turned out to actually be only a few decades as Ukraine tries to rebuild what was lost under the Soviet system. The beautifully bright and glowing (and mostly rebuilt) church of St. Michael stands in shining contrast to the heavy, grey, somber Soviet building next to it.
Under the Soviets, libraries did not flourish as areas of free intellectual activity. Instead, censorship, purging of records, and the retroactive changing of history were normal occurrences in Soviet libraries in the 20th century. Some material, like Ukrainian national poetry and songs, were simply destroyed while other precious works of art and literature were siphoned off by both Nazis and Soviets. Twenty years after gaining its independence, the country is still attempting to retrieve these treasures. They face impossible odds in attempting to recover these artifacts, but they are still trying.
After so many decades of secrets and restricted information, Ukrainian librarians take a tremendous amount of pride in their freedom of information policy. Most libraries are open to all Ukrainian citizens; they simply must apply for a reader card and occasionally pay a small fee to belong to the library. At that point, the reader may access any information housed in the library. For example, the parliamentary library keeps careful records of all governmental and legal decisions made by Ukrainian politicians, and these records are available for any of their readers to peruse. For a region of the world that spent so many recent years under oppressive and violent regimes, this freedom of information is miraculous.
Interestingly, with one notable exception, not a single library we visited had material that patrons could check out and take home. The exception to this was the wonderful children’s library in Kiev, which had a single room that housed books that the children could take home. A few libraries had a small collection of books that patrons could browse, but most libraries kept their books in vast depositories that were not open to the public. If a patron (or reader, as they are called in Ukraine) is interested in a particular book, he must fill out a request form with a librarian. The librarian will then fetch the book for the reader. This process, beginning when the reader fills out the request and ending when the book is in his hands, can take three to four hours. At the end of this slow process, the reader may take the book to a reading room for a period of time but he must return the book at the close of library hours. Few books (if any) ever leave the library.
Ukraine celebrated its twentieth anniversary of independence this August. Like the beautiful churches destroyed by outside forces that Ukraine is carefully and lovingly rebuilding, the care and pride Ukraine takes in its libraries show a strong, resilient spirit. The librarians and library students we visited during our time in Ukraine envision a bright future for their country’s libraries but most of all they embody an inspiring example of what free and open information exchange means to the freedom of all people.
Amy Campbell is a Reference Librarian at Marshall Public Library. A version of this article appeared previously in the Idaho State Journal.
In the Fall of 2008, the University of Idaho Library Reference Department began exploring opportunities for expanding reference services, which at the time consisted of in-person, phone, and e-mail reference. Librarians began researching emerging technologies and their application for reference, and the department decided to pursue adoption of instant messaging (IM) reference. We had several questions to answer before selecting a software and implementing the service.
Who is our audience? Our primary audience included traditional college students, used to online multi-tasking, but also non-traditional students and faculty and staff. In addition, more UI students were taking distance education classes in remote locations, and the department felt that IM reference would provide additional outreach to these students.
How are peer institutions implementing this service, or are they? A survey of peer institutions (land-grant universities) found that 66% offered chat or IM reference, either in-house or as part of a larger consortium service.
What are our objectives in adopting this service? Our objective was to provide synchronous reference assistance to users in a relatively easy, effective, and low-barrier way.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what potential barriers are there to beginning this service? Our department was lucky to have administrative support for the project, and librarians were generally positive and enthusiastic about implementing this service. Although cultural barriers were low, technical barriers still existed: software would need to be selected and installed, librarians would need to be trained on the new software, and the service would need to be marketed to patrons.
What features do we need in a software? The library wanted software we could install and maintain ourselves, with widget functionality to embed in our library website. The software also needed to be open-source; like most libraries, the department did not have funding to adopt a proprietary IM client. We also wanted our users to be able to add UILibrary to their “buddy list” or simply to ask a question anonymously through the library website. The open-access social networking company Meebo fit the bill with their product Meebo Messenger.
To implement the software, the department created an account within Meebo Messenger, and also created accounts on four popular IM clients: AOL, MSN, Yahoo, and Gmail. Syncing these clients with Meebo Messenger allows patrons to use their preferred platform to ask questions, which then feed into a central interface for librarians. Instruction on the software was also conducted for librarians, and included a group demonstration, one-on-one practice sessions, a “cheat sheet” at the reference desk, and a “soft launch” in the Summer of 2009 to prepare for the formal rollout in Fall 2009.
The Reference Department officially began offering IM reference in Fall 2009. That semester, IM questions accounted for 2.9% of all reference questions, while IM questions accounted for 5.5% of reference questions asked in Fall 2010. Informal assessment has indicated that the service is popular with users and librarians, and the department may need to investigate a more sophisticated IM client to accommodate the increase in use by patrons.
The launch of IM reference was so successful that the Reference Department wondered what other emerging technologies would lend themselves to innovative reference services, and agreed to explore the implementation of SMS (text) reference. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 18-24-year-olds send, on average, 109 texts per day: that demographic comprises the majority of our users, so why not leverage a technology students already use? Other motivations for exploring the service were the increasing presence of mobile technologies by users (and librarians), the need to keep up with technology trends in other academic institutions, and technological advances which opened the possibility for open-source SMS reference.
While exploring available technologies, the authors discovered a blog post from Ohio University librarian Chad Boeninger, in which several freely available technologies were used in conjunction to implement a text reference service. After some evaluation, the authors decided to try it out at the reference desk, limiting the service to their personal mobile devices. The three technologies ingeniously mimic a telephone–there is a receiver, a ringer and a cord to connect the two.
The “receiver” is Google Voice. Launched in 2009, Google Voice is a voice-over internet protocol (VOIP) tool which enables a user to maintain a telephone presence without purchasing a phone line from a traditional phone company. It also enables us to perform text reference from a web browser, rather than a dedicated mobile device. On signup for the service, Google registers a phone number that the user selects given the user’s location and the list of available numbers. For the reference desk, we selected a number with a 208 area code largely for symbolic purposes, since long distance is less of an issue than in the past. Before using it however, there are two very important settings to implement–call forwarding to the primary reference telephone number, and text forwarding to Google Mail (Gmail). Call forwarding permits the library to maintain its traditional phone number for reference services over phone, meaning the Google Voice service primarily is used for its text capacity. Gmail is used because of its natural integration with Google Voice.
Gmail functions as the “cord” to connect the receiver, Google Voice, to the ringer, Trillian. Because Google also has an instant message service, called Google Talk, which requires a Gmail account, we are able to connect Trillian–an instant messaging client–via Google Talk/Gmail to the texts received by Google Voice.
Trillian’s only purpose in this process is to notify the reference staff of a new text message. That is how it plays the role of “the ringer.” It produces an audio signal when it receives the message from Gmail. Without it, at our busy reference desk, notifications are often missed if they are not accompanied by an audio sound. And in general, we have found that one does not want to use commonly heard sounds for one’s reference environment.
Setting up the service required a fair amount of attention to detail, but once established, using the service functioned much the same way as IM. An audio sound notifies the reference desk, a librarian views the incoming message, and types a response—albeit one of 140 characters!
Text reference was implemented in Spring 2011, with a soft launch in Fall 2010. Training followed the same pattern as that of IM reference, featuring a demonstration, one-on-one training, and guidelines posted at the reference desk. Early assessment indicates that text reference is not being adopted by users at the same rate that IM reference was adopted (1% of reference questions), although text reference has only been offered for a semester and a half. There are several possible reasons behind the slow adoption: students may not be using their cell phones as anticipated; increasing adoption of smart phones and corollary internet access may have negated the need for text reference; patrons may not remember the text number, which is by necessity different than the pre-existing university-assigned phone number. The reference department plans to continue offering the service and reevaluate its effectiveness in Spring 2012.
Text reference served as an initial foray into providing reference services for a mobile environment, and so a natural next step for the library was to develop a mobile-specific interface for our website. The mobile website was designed to support the increasing number of library members using mobile devices for much of their communication, studying and learning. Many public services librarians at UI have remarked on the range of patrons who use their phones to record call numbers and other bibliographic information before asking for help at the desk. We felt it was appropriate to provide these and other users with more mobile-friendly interactivity.
Our chief task in design was making priorities of our website content. Not all content can be displayed well in the mobile environment, and frankly, not all content needs to be. We settled on three categories: contact information, library hours, and the library catalog. This philosophy of simplicity over comprehensiveness may be unusual to most librarians, but it was felt by the designers to be essential for creating an efficient but usable mobile interface.
Simplicity also allowed us to retain one of our primary goals: keeping the page “shallow.” This means that the website has a user move a maximum of three pages into the website before either reaching a page with no further sub-pages, or reaching a page which only contains links off of our website, e.g. to bibliographic databases. What this means is that users are never more than two clicks down from the homepage and this restriction forces the designer to keep the entire website simple and clear.
The first iteration of the mobile website was developed very quickly by a member of the library staff. This design was never intended to be permanent, simply an exercise in creating a mobile alternative to the library’s website as our existing website did not display well on mobile devices. The content was discussed briefly by the library’s Web Committee–which approves all major web-related changes–and approved to become publicly accessible. Over the next year, however, there was a sense that the mobile website neither exploited our resources fully nor provided a consistent experience together with the traditional library website. Specifically, there were three major problems: 1) user interface, 2) branding and 3) functionality.
First, our links were not spaced properly. For touch-screens, such as on the iPhone or Android devices, links need to have sufficient space around them to prevent a user from accidentally clicking on the wrong link using their fingers. Also, each page was exactly that, a separate page. This meant that to move from one page to another required a separate request to the server; a new page had to load. If network connectivity problems occurred for the mobile user, the request had the chance to fail and the new page would not load. Thus, fewer requests mean there is less chance of interruption.
Second, our website was only partially branded. For a university library, brand affiliation with the larger university is essential. It reminds users “where” they are on the Internet, who they are affiliated with, and provides a visual consistency that corresponds to their own identity, either as members of the University of Idaho community or as visitors from outside. The University of Idaho, like many other higher education institutions, maintains a brand and style guide governing the visual output of the institution’s various departments and units. While we did not have specific mobile guidelines, there were color and image specifications that were not consistent with our main website or the university’s.
Third, the mobile website failed to exploit all possible mobile-friendly resources or communication protocols of modern mobile devices. For example, a number of our databases had developed mobile versions, but had yet to be activated by us, or added to the website. Further, our contact page failed to access the text messaging functionality of a phone when a user clicked on the text reference number, or the telephone functionality when a user clicked on the phone number.
We also enhanced the visual style of the page using the jQuery Mobile design. Aside from widening the space around the links, providing cells around the links and “Back” and “Home” buttons, it also provided a simple opportunity to brand the colors according to the University of Idaho requirements. We added the gold and silver colors, as well as improving the logo, and the page took on a dramatically improved, appropriate and consistent tone.
Lastly, a thorough inventory of our databases was conducted and all mobile-friendly versions were added. EBSCO-based databases required activation by our local EBSCO administrator, and all database links were prefixed with the URL for the proxy server, thus requiring authentication by all users. This is especially important given that many users will be accessing the site from non-University networks, such as wireless carriers Verizon or AT&T, even if they are on-campus. Therefore, the database servers will not recognize their IP addresses. Finally, we gathered the appropriate URIs for different types of communication protocols and encoded the contact information with the correct ones, e.g. tel: for telephone numbers, mailto: for email addresses, and sms: for text message numbers. This important addition allows users to simply touch a phone number and automatically activate the calling function on their device, for example.
In all, these changes made the website much more clean, effective and useful for users. We are still updating the website as necessary, but are very happy with the most recent version.
The initiatives described above are presented as models for other libraries seeking to implement similar services on a budget. Each project was implemented using open-source software, which means no bills for either software or server space. Each initiative is relatively low-risk and takes a minimal amount of time to install or implement (budget several hours for each), although time spent planning, testing, and training librarians can often, and should often, take longer. In particular, the IM and text reference implementation was simple enough that any library, regardless of technical expertise, could replicate our experience, although creation of a mobile library website may require assistance from library IT personnel. The University of Idaho Library has been very pleased with these services, which have allowed us to expand and enrich our services to reach previously underserved users and take advantage of new and exciting technologies.
On May 17th, I ventured on a study abroad trip to Peru with the University of North Texas. Cusco and Machu Picchu have been on my proverbial “Bucket List,” and when this opportunity arose to study library science in Peru, I couldn’t pass up the experience. The 27 graduate students in my group were led by Toby Faber, Barbara Schultz-Jones, and Janet Hilbun. Yvette Corazoa and John Kurtenbach acted as liaisons to the three K-12 schools where we would assist in developing and modernizing their libraries.
Coincidentally, the adult reading program for the summer of 2011 was “Novel Destinations,” which fit perfectly with my mindset and mission of going to Peru. Fortunately the Meridian Library District graciously allowed me three weeks off to go on my adventure and offered 35 books in Spanish to donate to the schools.
Cusco is nestled in the Andes at approximately 11,200 feet and is a colonial city founded on Incan ruins. Half of the country speaks Spanish while the indigenous population speaks Quechua. I worked at Colegio Nacional del Cusco, an all-male public school that caters to the poorer population of Cusco. Their librarian, Pepe, has no budget for the library and has not allowed circulation of the materials due to theft.
Upon our arrival to Colegio, there was an antiquated computer and very old texts, with nothing purchased since 1978. So the suitcases full of books were a tremendous help as the school’s collection grew to approximately 1,000 books. The Peruvian equivalent of the PTA also donated seven computers when they observed that UNT was there working and assisting their school. News spread quickly through the Cusco region and television crews came to interview the professors and Pepe on several occasions. Hopefully, this notoriety will help the community support the continued effort to improve their school library.
Although I was there for only three weeks, it felt like three months. My days were packed with barcoding books, cataloging, translating circulation policies between Spanish and English, and organizing the library when the shelves arrived. I have been asked several times what my favorite part of the trip is, and I would say it was watching the boys enter the library and snatch up books off of the shelf!
Jill Mitchell is Adult Services/Personnel Manager for the Meridian Library District.
Tina Cherry was originally contracted by the Jerome Public Library to administer an emerging literary program for preschool aged children and their caregivers. Inspired by one of her teen daughter’s complaints that “the library has programs for everyone but teens,” she founded the teen version of that program in 2003. She researched similar programs and pitched the idea to then-library director, Susan Jacobson, who accepted her proposal.
Cherry was given permission to start her program and hand off the duties of the pre-school program to the children’s librarian. She conducted her research on library listservs and the Web, describing her findings as “a bunch of earnest libraries with poorly attended programs that were designed by librarians, and a few success stories with the common theme of the teens of the programs taking the lead.” So she set to model her program on the successful ones. When choosing teens for the committee, Cherry selected a “wildly popular teacher to hand-pick students and break the ice.” Lori Cottle, on staff at the Jerome Middle School, fit this description and was also a good friend of hers. Cottle helped by talking to past and present students and convinced them to attend the first meetings. Cottle gathered a mix of students who would be good for the new program and who were likely to benefit.
Cherry’s main responsibilities included building and maintaining a young adult section in the library and working with a board of teens known as the YAC to develop programs. During her first meeting with the original group of teens, Tina simply had what she termed a “paper agenda” designed to gather information from the teens about what they desired from their program. The most important detail about this agenda was that emphasis. Cherry did not run the program; she was purely the volunteer liaison, facilitator, and advocate between the teens, the community, and library board. During the first year, “some things went well and some, though they had great potential, bombed.” It all depended on what the teens saw as important enough to follow through with.
Cherry acted as a teen advocate and community educator regarding library and community teen services. She coordinated fundraising events and participated in writing grants to help fund the library and young adult section of the library. When she left the program after six years her title was “Digital Native Services Coordinator,” which is the equivalent of a young adult department head. Her most important partners in the program, she claims, were the teens. As a group, they were the ones that had the power over the success of a program.
According to Cherry’s observations, there are three aspects of the Jerome project that made the YAC program successful in the community. The first aspect was that the core group of teens that formed the YAC had the most sway with their peers. “The most brilliant programming might get no to low attendance if there are not teens telling their friends ‘I’m going, you should come too,’ no matter where and how you advertise the programs,” explained Tina. The second successful aspect was that the teens themselves decided what programs would be popular with their peers and most of the time, they either came up with the ideas completely on their own or modified ideas from national and regional groups. Third, the majority of the programs were not specifically book related. Tina justifies this with her philosophy that in order to attract the teen age group, they need to know that they are welcome patrons and valued for their presence. “I think that when libraries feel that they need to relate everything they do to literacy and education, they’re putting the cart before the horse. You’d be surprised at how many books I managed to push out of the library one on one!”
In regards to her role in the program versus the students of the YAC’s role, Tina once again explained how it is the teens that have the power. She acted at the preparator for the programs, but all the brain power was from the YAC group that specific year. Some groups were able to come up with a greater percentage of original ideas than others; she would fill in the gaps with researched and gathered ideas that they would work with. In the end though, the teens chose which programs were implemented and which ones were not. “As far as preparing programs, it depended on the content.” For instance, programs such as Survivor in a Day and Murder Mystery Dinner Parties had to be prepared without teen help, or the helpers could not participate. But programs such as creating a Banned Books Week display or the National Gaming Day at Your Library were almost all completely teen-run. “I met a lot of young people eager to help. They were full of ideas and ready to make them happen.” Overall she described her role versus the teen’s role for the program with humility. “In the whole scheme of things, the teen’s role in creating programming was to dream, do, teach me, and bring friends. My role was to listen, learn, work for teens, advocate, and protect their right to be there.”
The politics that surrounded encouraging the presence of teens in the library were part of the difficulties that Tina faced while working on the programs. “To be blunt, ignorant adults were a near-constant issue. There were Friends of the Library who said things such as ‘do we even want teens in the library?’ and ‘the teens are too noisy, kick them out.’ There are adults in libraries who do not understand teens and their actions….There were also a few teens who succeeded in rolling back hard won progressive policies, but really, the most difficult teens weren’t as difficult as some closed-minded adults.”
The directors she worked under made her job easier. Tina describes herself as “very lucky to have worked under two fantastic directors” (Susan Jacobson and Laura Burnett) while she was a part of the YAC programming. She also advises that “it isn’t an easy job. Teens need someone passionate about serving them in the library setting; someone who is willing to strive to learn about them and willing to fight for their rights to library services and programs that suit their developmental stages.”
The most rewarding part of Tina’s position for her was being able to provide a place that is “less structured than school or sports and safer than someplace without supervision” where teens could spend time with other teens. She is still in contact with many of the teens that were a part of her program, which she attributes to her role not as an authoritative figure but as a facilitator. From the beginnings of the program where everything teen-related was associated with the YAC, the program was able to gain more support and grow. With that program growth, Tina’s position as advisor for the YAC grew too. That is when she says her most rewarding experiences occurred. Some examples are when she was able to send home the “perfect book” for each reader by doing what she calls “booktalking.” She got to know a non-reading teen and found a book for him to try reading just for her and had him come back saying; “I (he) loved it! Is it a series?!” Finally, Tina said her favorite part was “giving troublemakers meaningful work in the library, instead of suspending them, and watching them take ownership and becoming leaders in modeling respectful behavior for their friends.”
When asked if given another opportunity to work with a YAC program she replied that she “would in a heartbeat. I miss watching teens grow and learn and become themselves.” In Tina’s last couple years of heading the program, the Jerome Library was “brimming with teens after school until five or six. The library was the place to be and I was the trusted adult who liked teens and had a good sense of what they might like to do while hanging at the library with their friends.” There were projects out on tables to work on with “How To” books as guides, literary scavenger hunts, and quiet study places available.
Her biggest piece of advice for someone who finds themselves working for a similar program focused on teens is “if you feed them, they will come. But after they come, make sure it is their program, not yours.”
Dara Lohnes is a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, studying humanities and fine arts with emphasis in museum and library science related coursework. She was born, raised and graduated high school in Jerome, Idaho and was one of the founding members of the YAC program under Tina Cherry.