Saturday, February 5, 2011

Where do you get your library news? Evaluating library channels

As I have remarked many times before, librarians are on pretty much every internet medium/channel you can think of. From old school mailing lists to newer social media tools like Ning, Wikis, Twitter, Facebook etc. I am a crazy infovore with a voracious appetite for information but even I have my limits and I'm getting overwhelmed so I have being recently thinking of evaluating the sources/channels which  prove useful to me.

For me there are essentially two aspects when evaluating whether to stay on a channel. Firstly, does it have a high signal to noise ratio. For example, I signed up for many mailing lists frequented by librarians, but I eventually unsubscribed from most of them because, the information there was often duplicated from what I got from Twitter or simply irrelevant to me.

Secondly, probably even more important is whether the audience on the channel tends to be helpful with queries. What do I mean by this? I tend to like to ask questions and compare notes with other librarians from other organizations so a channel where discussions occur easily is really important. This is obviously more likely the more people there are on a channel, but I find that other factors come into play as well.

What follows will be my evaluation of the various librarian channels/mediums I hangout at and my perception of their strengths and weakness. It goes without saying it's just my view so please take it all with a pinch of salt.

Twitter

Okay, I could write a dozen blog posts on this alone (one old post here), but suffice to say this is my primary information source on all things library. I follow about 500 twitter accounts, which are a mix of "big names" in libraryland everyone follows from the US, UK, Canada, Netherlands & Australia etc, library organizations and vendors (JSTOR, OCLC etc) and people I generally find interesting. I also follow some academic lecturers, researchers who tend to write about science publishing and research models (basically found via @mrgunn)

I try to follow librarians from non-english speaking countries who follow me, but if you do not tweet primary  in English, I really can't follow you. Sorry. Also even if you do Tweet in English, please don't take offense if I don't follow you back these days, because I have my limits to how many tweeple I can follow.

Twitter is almost unbeatable if you want fast real-time updates, particularly if combined with push notifications. The main weakness with Twitter is that it's limited if you want to ask questions on particular topics.

I have about 1,000 followers which is respectable for a junior librarian like myself, and I do get some responses when I tweet a question, but even with followers RTs, it seldom spreads enough. A typical Twitpoll I do gets maybe 16-20 votes. This is due mostly to the transitional nature of streams in Twitter, and the fact that my followers are very diverse internationally, which means that no one timezone is best for tweeting questions.

That said, I have had ad-hoc discussions about library advocacy, teaching of boolean operators etc in the past on Twitter with whoever was online at the time. Below shows part of a discussion I had on Twitter when I was just curious about what librarians in general thought about wikileaks.




Blogs

My own professional google reader account is almost neglected nowadays, I find it's almost pointless to subscribe to the big blogs that everyone reads (e.g Meredith Farkas), because the quality of posts from such blogs means that each new post will be inevitably retweeted anyway and you will read it from there, not to mention I follow their Twitter accounts anyway. That said, there are some gems in less read blog posts so I still look through the google reader sometimes when I'm free.

Of course, you generally can't use blogs to ask questions or start discussion, unless you are a A list library blogger with a wide audience, and in general I'm usually not very active in blog comment discussions either.


Mailing lists

Being a johnny come lately to the library world, I don't know much about the mailing lists everyone hangs out on, though I've heard they are popular with old-school librarians. I'm on a local mailing "Librarians-in-sg" but it's a bit quiet usually. I'm on tech/product specific mailing lists like the ones for Libraryh3lp (Google group), Innopac mailing lists etc, but I'm usually more of a passive reader then contributor.

Initially I also subscribed to a bunch of ALA mailing lists but unsubscribed to most. I'm still on ACRL Science & Technology Section Discussion , but frankly they are just filtered by gmail and I hardly read them.

I do find  ILI-L, the Information Literacy Instruction Discussion List and to some extent and COLLIB-L (the COLege LIBrarians List) , interesting.

There is some discussion of technology as applied to information literacy but what I find most interesting are librarians comparing notes on the diverse ways they conduct Information Literacy lessons. Currently I'm watching "library outreach--what works? what doesn't--and why?" , where librarians discuss the difficulties of getting lecturers/professors to allow librarians into the class and tactics that can be used. Another thread that sticks out in my mind last year is "example of wrong wikipedia entry for science/physics", where a librarian shares a story where a wrong citation in Wikipedia reference led to hundreds of students trying to get a old volume of Nature where instead the correct article was online. The resulting discussion (argument is too strong here) among librarians is interesting.

However thinking back, I can't remember even once responding to something much less starting a discussion. On reflection I can think of several reasons why.

Firstly, this is a ALA list, so I'm not quite sure if I'm supposed to chime in at all. Would what I have to say be relevant? This is as opposed to all the other channels mentioned in this post which are international (in theory).

Secondly, I suspect I'm intimated. Why? Because in mailing lists you can see the email signatures of everyone posting. So I see posts by "X, Associate University librarian of Ivy league University Y" or  "A, Head of Outreach and Information Literacy" and I'm thinking maybe I should keep quiet.

I know it's silly, since many of the people I correspond with on say Twitter or blogs etc are very senior and respected people as well, but somehow on Twitter or Facebook, it's easier to ignore such things. I have this experience of tweeting back and forth with someone, then I look the person up, (which by the way is not straight forward in Twitter, since many don't tend to put their position/rank in their Twitter profile preferring to say something like "A mom and a librarian who loves cats", so it means jumping to their blog and looking around) before I realize I just corresponded with someone vastly more experienced.

I'm starting to see what Mark Zerberg of Facebook meant when he said Teens and younger find Email way too formal.

That said, mailing lists are ideal for long discussions and discussions can span several days compared to Twitter. I suspect the audience here is quite different from the people I follow on Twitter who often tend to be system librarians/eresource librarians/emerging tech librarians as well as a healthy number of public, school and special librarians, so I can learn a lot from the academic librarians here if I start to participate actively.

I also subscribe to various LJ's lists and ALA Direct, OCLC Abstract etc, some specialised groups but those are more webzines or have very low traffic.


Friendfeed/ LSW (Library Society of the world)

When I first became active online in librarianship, I loved Friendfeed. But Friendfeed slowly became abandoned after it was purchased by Facebook, and I ignored it more and more. As a result until recently I totally forgot about LSW despite using it early on.

LSW currently has a respectable 622 subscribers and it's pretty active. While there are some news posted, it seems to exist for librarians to compare notes.

A typical post begins like this.. "I wonder how do you guys do X? In my institution we do it like this...." which is usually followed by a very active discussion by different librarians by different institutions.

I tested this out by asking a question about chat traffic statistics and got quite a good sample about 18 comments.



A similar question about WebScale discovery Layers got a similarly good response




LSW does seem to have a more "community" feeling , I get this sense there is this in-crowd of people who all know each other (complete with some insider jokes), but the few times I have posted questions, I have gotten very good responses, so it doesn't seem to matter really if you are not one of the "in" crowd. The crowd seems to be mostly US/Canadian similar to the ACRL mailing lists but with a mix of system and reference librarians?

I highly recommend LSW if you have questions to ask or want to compare notes, it's probably the only reason why I even use Friendfeed now.


Facebook


I was never a big fan of facebook but late 2010, I made a big change. First I started a Facebook group  for library staff (announcement here).



 
Currently it has over 400 members. It's moderately active, with users posting news which usually draws 1-3 comments, while the most active discussions draws about 20. As I started this group and advertised on Twitter and my blog, there's obviously going to be some overlap between my Twitter people, subscribers of my blog and the members of this Facebook group.

That said, many of the librarians in this group are not on Twitter, so some may just be subscribers of my blog and I seldom get to hear from them, and this Facebook group gives them the opportunity to post news that I can read and otherwise interact with them.

The group was formed mostly on a whim to experiment with the new facebook group so there was so plan whatever so ever, and anyone from anywhere who is working in library or library related organizations could join. As a result. it's fascinating to see how diverse the membership is.

Many are from Scandinavian and European countries due to the influence of the other 2 moderators of the group (Guus Van Den Brekel of Netherlands and Åke Nygren of Sweden).

Moreover many bring in their colleagues. So for example I added a ex-classmate of mine from Library School who is now a librarian in Indonesia and recently she brought in 9 Indonesian Librarians. There are also librarians from Latin & South America, my very own Singapore, and of course plenty of American, British and Australian Librarians.

All in all, the diversity of librarians in this Facebook group probably exceeds all the other channels I'm on and as a result, I sometimes see news posted that I did not see or is only much later posted on my Twitter stream (which is Anglo-Amercian centric).

Facebook groups are also pretty good for asking questions and I admit I often use it like my own personal think tank asking questions. I also asked the same question here, I asked at LSW, about chat traffic versus population size, hours and number of chat points, and I got results almost as good as LSW (about 20 comments) but with responses from librarians in France, Puerto Rico as well as Canada and United States.



The dominance of Facebook is amazing, if you want to connect with librarians across the world, I suspect its reach exceeds mailing lists  and twitter and all other channels combined. While LSW on Friendfeed is amazing, in the long run, Facebook groups may be where most of the conversation will be at, because everyone is on it and spends so much time on it, so for them to join is a lot easier compared to signing up for a brand new account.



Ning/Web forums

When I first started, I did duplicate posts to the Ning on Library 2.0. I still do, but it seems I joined towards the tail-end of its popularity, I still get some comments on blog posts, but the last I checked the forum isn't very active now, though there is still a stream of new members posting introductions and asking questions but the last I checked there were few answers.

Other library related Nings might be more active, but I never really checked those.

I'm also on Springshare Lounge due to my institution's subscription to Springshare products, it's not very active most of the time, but I read it occasionally to see what other users were having problems with and requests that I can support if I find them useful as well.



Others

I'm on many many mailing lists, social networks, web discussion groups but the main ones I use are listed already and there are many new ones coming up all the time like Quora which seems to be catching on among librarians based on the number of follows I'm getting (over 140 now!).

I can't prove it but I suspect, Twitter is by far the fastest at spreading information I want to know about. Everyday the library world produces maybe a maximum of 50 new pieces of news that I'm interested in and I follow sufficiently diverse number of sources that I tend to get them very quickly. Most of the time, when I read the other channels like mailing groups, I tend to see the same article, reports, blog posts or other piece of news posted that I already read on Twitter.

As Twitter is my main source of news, for the other channels to add value they have to be more discussions of news , or people asking questions and getting responses than just people posting news. But of course, not everyone is on Twitter so posting news on other channels does have value for other people, just not me.

But of course, this is just me, what channels do you use to get news? When you need to ask questions and get feedback that goes beyond your organization, which online channels do you use to ask questions? Are there any other good channels on library chatter I'm missing out on? Also what about non-library related channels?
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