Give the man a break!

Much has been made of President Barack Obama’s attachment to his BlackBerry. At the end of a long period of struggle and compromise, he is able to keep a portable device that will let him stay connected with friends and colleagues as well as news of interest (rumor has it -White Sox scores). This means that Obama has become the first president to use e-mail while in office. There are many restrictions imposed on the President and his use of the device, but at least he is able to maintain some measure of connectivity.

 

MSNBC recently carried a story that said, “Barack Obama is the first wired president, ready to exchange e-mail with close friends and advisers. When do the rest of us get to read them?”

 

Give the man a break already! He has been in office for just a few days and people are already trying to poke around in his presidential records? Beyond the natural nosiness of people, what reason is there for starting this discussion so early in his presidency? Read the Presidential Records Act and move on.

 

Reference: Yost, Pete. “Wired President: Obama creates an e-mail trail.” MSNBC. January 23, 2009. Available at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28816112/.

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No Subject Search! Say what?

Near the end of the Encore discussion, Dinah hit us with a fascinating tidbit of information. The University of Glasgow found that only 4% of their users were actually using subject searches because they didn’t know the terms. As a result, they finally removed subject searches from their OPAC.

 

Say what? No subject searches? Now that’s a bold move! And I don’t disagree with it. Congratulations to Glasgow for being brave enough to take such a radical step! Regardless of the system – OPAC, Wikipedia, Twitter, etc. – most users probably never use the full power of the given system. In fact studies repeatedly show that users are often overwhelmed by too many choices.

 

When I looked at their OPAC, I was able to get to a subject search through the “advanced search” link on a search results page. This link took me to the same old, complicated advanced search screen that we have in our own catalog, but if I’m one of the 4% who actually uses a subject search I’m probably already pretty comfortable with this.

 

So they took out subject searches. Big deal. To some people this does sound like a big deal, but is it really? I’m sure that the Glasgow folks aren’t advocating this for all OPACs. But they took a logical step of analyzing what their patrons actually use and then modifying their OPAC based on the results. Bravo!

Encore Panel

The IUG session closed with a discussion panel which highlighted some of the various implementation issues and considerations encountered by some of the libraries implementing Encore.

 

Encore on the Front Range: A Panel


Jefferson County Public Library

Encore is especially useful for the inexperienced user.

Encore is a more familiar interface to a younger audience.

The product was ready to go out of the box. They did some customization, but they had a fully functional product from the get-go.

During testing, they found that some of the staff didn’t really understand the differences between title searching and keyword searching. Staff thought that search results were different in Encore, but they were actually identical to the original OPAC.

The integration of Research Pro with Encore gives patrons access to databases and information they might not otherwise find.

Taking Advantage of Open-Access Digitized Books

I’m sitting in the Innovative Users Group meeting at ALA Midwinter.

The first speaker, Jeffrey Beall (Auraria Library, University of Colorado, Denver) did an interesting presentation on making freely-available open access e-books available through the OPAC. This project builds on the work done by the University of Michigan and Google by providing OPAC records linking to thousands of digitized books. This also draws on work done by the HathiTrust Digital Repository.

This project ultimately resulted in approximately 100,000 new records in the system. This represents potential online access to 100,000 additional full-text items.

Jeffrey pointed out some advantages and disadvantages of this project.

Advantages
Access to great content through the OPAC
Reap the benefits of years of UMich collection development
Collocated with other library resources
Fills gaps in the collection
Gives easier access to material in obsolete and unpopular formats (like microform)
Free

Disadvantages
Content controlled by others, may disappear
Poor metadata quality may make using catalog more difficult

A Big Question
What’s more important: access to great content with bad metadata, or access to fewer resources with good metadata?

Palm Pre – the Hype, the Hope, and the Wait

So . . . About a week ago Palm unveiled the Pre at CES. Their newest phone garnered a lot of press and blog space, and for the Palm faithful who desperately hoped that the company would knock one out of the park, it was a moment of dreams finally fulfilled. Well . . . almost. So far there is no firm delivery date. The price hasn’t even been set yet, so customers can’t even pre-order the device. Ha! Get it? Pre? They can’t PRE-order the Pre. Anywho . . .

What started off as a major event that turned a lot of heads has rapidly descended to a dull murmur, and that’s really too bad for Palm. I have only seen photos and videos of the device, but it looks good. Most reviewers have been genuinely enthusiastic, and some have raved about this new phone. With all that good press, it’s a shame that Palm doesn’t have a product ready to ship. I’m ready to give it a try. Of course we would all prefer a product that is as bug-free as possible, so I can certainly understand waiting until it’s actually ready, but I’m sure Palm would like to capitalize on all the positive buzz their unveiling generated.

Over the last month many articles have lauded Palm as the company that essentially built the handheld market. Their PDAs were mainstays for many years. Unfortunately, as other companies entered the market and pushed it forward with new innovations, Palm struggled to hold its place. The company lost ground as its own product lines stagnated – a fact highlighted by the emergence of RIM’s BlackBerry, Apple’s iPhone, and a plethora of Windows Mobile devices.

There is always room for competition in the marketplace. The iPhone, Blackberry, and Android products seems to be spurring each other along nicely. However, in the past Palm has contributed well-designed hardware and software, so another solid OS would be a good addition to the mix. Let’s hope Palm can get something to market before they are completely irrelevant.

Text, Don’t Talk!

I came across an interesting article on CNET: On Inauguration Day, will my cell phone work?

The gist of the article is that with the huge number of people expected in D.C. for the inauguration, the local cell networks will be saturated with users. The wireless congestion is expected to be so great that users may experience dropped calls, delayed text messages, and possibly a system so overwhelmed that they may not be able to make or receive calls. Add to this the number of smartphone users who may be trying to use data services for e-mail or web browsing and the problems multiply.

It’s an interesting problem to consider, but I think the thing that most interests me is the recommendation from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. The association is advising attendees, "Text, don’t talk." Text messages are easier on the network than voice calls and data-intensive applications, so the recommendation makes sense from a technological standpoint.

From a people perspective though, it just fuels a trend that is of increasing concern to me: the depersonalization of communication. Remember in the old days when we used to get letters? Remember how nice it was to hear some news from an old friend? E-mail, instant messaging, texting, and other forms of near-instant communication are convenient, but something is missing. When you read "This is amazing!" in a text message, it just doesn’t convey the emotion you would hear in someone’s voice. But the preference increasingly seems to be for electronic communication. I see it more and more in the workplace. People prefer to send an e-mail message rather than just talking to the person in the next cubicle. A generation of youth is growing up preferring to send text messages rather than actually speaking to their friends.

It reminds me of an old FAQ we received when a new voice mail system was implemented at our university. One of the points dealt with why some people are resistant to voice mail, and it highlighted the fact that some people used voice mail as a way to hide from direct communication with people trying to contact them. Increasingly I think people are using electronic communication in much the same way.

Perhaps it’s a pointless bias simply due to my generation, but I can’t help wondering why people don’t want to talk to each other anymore.

Notebooks Overtake Desktops

Reuters reports that for the first time worldwide notebook shipments were higher than desktop shipments. This 2008 3rd quarter shift has been a long time coming, and it will be interesting to see whether this is a temporary blip on the radar or the beginning of a sustained transition.

I have a lot of questions about why this is happening. Are businesses providing more notebooks/laptops to their employees? Some companies want their employees to be able to work from home and on the road, so perhaps the trend is partially business-driven. Are home users adding a second computer or are they replacing an older desktop with a laptop? Are more students choosing notebooks as the device that will best meet their needs?

Whatever the reason, notebooks mean mobility and mobility demands network access. Whether it’s WiFi, tethering to a cell phone, or some other means, users want to connect to the Internet. Everyone from Starbucks to McDonald’s has jumped on board with free Internet access, and it seems that more and more hotspots are popping up all the time.

Of course libraries have been offering free wireless Internet access for years, and with the shift to more mobile devices, demand can only increase. In addition to notebooks and netbooks, users are also carrying gaming devices and cell phones with built-in WiFi connectivity.

Our campus networking department recently advised us that we need to add at least three more access points to help distribute our wireless traffic. We’re currently wrapping up a major network reorganization which significantly reduces the number of publicly available wired connections in the building. While we were hesitant to do this, current network use patterns clearly revealed that we were spending a lot of time and effort to maintain wired connections that simply weren’t being used.

It will be interesting to watch the continuing evolution of user devices. As patrons access our resources and services with smaller devices, there will probably be more display options targeted to the smaller screens of these devices. There will definitely be more demand for network bandwidth and more devices on the network. And as easy as some devices are to connect, others are still not as user-friendly as one might wish. The preference for wireless access continues to affect the ways in which libraries approach in-building access as well as online services, and I’m looking forward to a new generation of applications running on these new devices.