Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Not quite at your fingertips

Spent yesterday at a conference with other library folks in the state, talking about ILL and libraries and how we can make things better. The first speaker was Nancy John, Digital Publishing Librarian and Associate Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She's working on a book that deals with how far libraries have come in the last number of years....but while we've come a long way, we still don't have the information we need at our fingertips.

Her talk was engaging and thought-provoking. I can't wait to read her book. A few salient points....

Other industries have techniques and tools that the library world should examine, to determine whether they could apply and be implemented. Many industries are customizing services and information for their customers. What can libraries learn (or borrow) from other industries to create library services and programs tailored to the individual? For example, grocery stores have customer cards that personalize shopping. Why not a library card?

It's about ME - It's about the user and not about the site. Individualization translates to either customization (how I impact your system and make it more Me) and/or personalization (how your system reacts to information it knows about Me.)

Customization in libraries would translate to: What books does the library own? Is a book I'm considering buying available at the library? What books do I have checked out? When is my ILL due?

Personalization in libraries would translate to: OPACs personalized to reflect My Favorite Sources, email notices or reminders, recommended books based on what I've read, and recommendations on what new books may be of interest to me.

The problem with all this? Privacy concerns mean libraries collect as little data as possible....and the data that makes all of this personalization possible is the very data we don't collect.

The Web is changing the privacy landscape. People are willing to "exchange" private information (name, address, etc.) for customized service. Nancy admonished the group not to let privacy concerns stop us from thinking about new library services. For instance, is there a software available (or one that could be developed) that would store personal information on the user's desktop, for retrieval and coordination with library services?

Nancy challenged us to think about which of our library services:
- Speak to convenience?
- Speak to social experiences and improved finding?
- Speak to the uniqueness of each user?

She also noted that a number of new services - like LibraryThing - wouldn't be possible or even exist without the groundwork that has been laid by librarians. The data, connectivity, and access points that drive these services were all created by librarians....and yet, we're not the ones who created those services. Why not?

Libraries should learn a lesson from NetFlix. We tend to throw away the data that forms the core of the NetFlix business plan. They have useful models for representing custom information - in queue, recommended by friends, rated by others who watch what you watch/like. How can we implement something like this for our library users?

Some personal wishes from Nancy:
- Library emails should include phone numbers that work with mobile phones - format the number so it can be immediately dialed from her phone/Blackberry/etc.
- Library emails should include hotlinks that will connect with library services, hotlinks to full-text articles, etc.

One final thought brought forward by an audience member....

Millenials have a view of privacy that seems to be very different from the Boomer generation. How will that impact the discussion?

Definitely food for thought.

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