Patron Notification System at Darien Library

This post is just a reminder to myself that I need to investigate further this interesting “patron notification system” that the Darien Library (CT) is putting together. I think that the Growl software is involved in some way. I’m guessing that it allows a patron to request help from any available librarian. I first heard about this last year from this annotation on an image on John Blyberg’s Flickr account:

Experimenting with using growl as a paging notification system for roving librarians. The patron can push a button on a touch-screen display on the service desk and a “growl” will be blasted out to all available librarians. Uses growl ( and growl for windows (

More recent images on Blyberg’s Flickr account offer a better glimpse at what they’ve been cooking up in Darien.

More on BEAM Model for Sources

I was honored to be asked back this week to the Adventures in Library Instruction podcast along with other guests from previous episodes. I learned about a number of interesting projects and ideas from the other guests. Chad Mairn makes use of PollEverywhere in his classes and workshops and finds it valuable for getting instant feedback from his students. He’s also got an interesting “Database Troubleshooting Guide” that helps walk patrons through issues they may be having when accessing library databases. Peter Larsen spoke about using Google Docs for his library’s credit course.

Chad and Peter had to leave after a half hour of recording, which left me to ramble on at the halfway mark with the show hosts about why I find Joseph Bizup’s model for teaching source types to students so powerful, a topic I recently blogged about here.

A Better System for Classifying Sources

Keri Bertino and Heather Sample at the Writing Center at Baruch College, with whom I have been working on a series of workshops for students working on undergraduate honors theses, have completely revolutionized the way that I think about sources. This summer, my colleagues recommended to me an article from 2008 by Joseph Bizup from Rhetoric Review (volume 27, number 1) titled “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing” (behind a paywall…sorry). Arguing convincingly that the traditional model of sources that we teach to students–primary, secondary, tertiary–is limiting and confusing, Bizup goes on to suggest that we instead teach students to think about the different way that we use sources in writing.

Specifically, he recommends divvying up source types into four categories:

  1. Background: sources in which you want to assert that something is a fact and which can contextualize your claims
  2. Exhibits: sources that you offer an analysis or interpretation of
  3. Arguments: sources that are part of the discourse about your topic
  4. Method: sources that you use to delineate the method of analysis you will use or the terminology you will employ

Put more succinctly, Bizup wants us to teach students that “[w]riters rely on background sources, interpret of analyze exhibits, engage arguments, and follow methods” (76). As a mnemonic aid, the system is referred to as the BEAM model. Not only is this model useful in getting students to think about how they will use their sources in their paper and whether they have the right number from each category, but is also useful in teaching students how to analyze a source critically. In his classes, Bizup asks his students to read a source and, following the BEAM modelm, to indicate to what use each source is put.

As a librarian, I can recognize immediately how this model will help me when I do workshops and teach my own 3-credit course in research. But I can also see how it might help me in reference interactions where I am hoping to widen the student’s sense of what might work as a source in their research projects. All too often, students assume that sources are to be used solely as support for the claims they are making and, relatedly, that those sources must be precisely on their narrow topic (e.g., “I need to find a source that talks about the role of mothers in this poem by Dickinson and this play by Brecht”). With this model in mind, I can work with students to look at what sources they have found and whether they have found enough from each category to make the claim they want to. In particular, I think I will be able to employ Bizup’s maxim about getting started with a research project, where he states that “[i]f  you start with an exhibit, look for argument sources to engage; if you start with argument sources, look for exhibits to interpret” (82).

I would recommend that any librarian who does reference work or who teaches in classrooms take a look at this article.

Greeters at the Library Entrance

Today is the first day of the fall semester here at Baruch College. From 9-10 this morning, I was scheduled to work as a greeter by the turnstiles at the entrance to the library. As students and faculty filed in, I greeted each one with, “Good morning! Welcome to the library.” I got lots of returned greetings, many smiles and nods of recognition, and nearly three dozen reference questions. I’m eager to hear from my colleagues who are doing the same thing throughout the day to see if they had the same good experience that I did.

When first asked to participate in this little project, I imagined it would mostly be an exercise in relationship building. I never imagined that I’d be helping the reference desk out by fielding so many questions.

Yahoo! Answers in the Wild

Yesterday, I got a chance to meet informally with the students who will be in my 3-credit course I’m teaching here in the library at Baruch College  (“Information Research for the Social Sciences and the Humanities”). When I was asking the students to tell me about kinds of research they have done that takes place outside of the classroom, a couple of the students mentioned using Yahoo! Answers to get advice about what cell phone or laptop to buy. Although they also mentioned using things like reviews on CNET, they preferred the personal commentary from question answerers to the more polished articles on tech and gadget sites.

When my class starts next Monday, I hope to probe more deeply into this issue and find out more about how they assess the credibility of those providing answers in Q&A sites. Not only will it be interesting to me as a reference librarian but also as an instructor trying to teach a semester-long course on how to find, evaluate, and use information to answer questions.

Trying Out Quora, a Social Q&A Service

For the past day, I’ve been trying out Quora, a social Q&A service, to see what it’s like to answer questions, pose questions, and vote on other people’s answers. There are a few other librarians already there on the service. I hope to write a longer post soon on social Q&A services and how they might work for library reference services. In the meanwhile, here are some links to the world of Q&A services:

My Presentation at ALA on Reference Tools

Last Friday, I was one of four presenters at a day-long preconference workshop sponsored by RUSA at ALA Annual. When I got the invitation, I was more than a bit nervous to be sharing the podium with others whose writings I’d not only been reading but urging others to read. The workshop was titled, “Reference Evolution: Envisioning the Future, Remembering the Past.”

We had nearly 60 attendees in a conference hotel ballroom that alternated between freezing and steamy all day (typical story for hotel meeting rooms). The workshop organizers (led by Sam Stormont and Ryan Shepard) and the speakers made a website in Google Sites for attendees to refer back to after the event was over and to share with their colleagues. Three of the four presenters’ slide presentations are available on the site (the fourth should be there soon).

First up was Joe Janes, who gave a great keynote presentation on what’s changed in reference and what’s stayed, often for not good reasons, the same as ever. I was particularly struck by a lovely black and white photo Janes shared of a reference desk from the early 1900s. He suggested that if you asked reference librarians if they’d like to work there, most would likely say yes. But, he asked us, what would surgeons say if you showed them a similarly old photo of an operating theater and asked if they’d like to work there.

Amy VanScoy spoke next about why librarians should be more reflective about their personal philosophy of reference. She also argued effectively for the need to act consciously on that philosophy while working reference and to share and discuss our reference philosophies.

I spoke next about the tools we use in reference. I mentioned in passing the tools that we set up so our patrons can send us questions (email, chat, IM, phone numbers for calls and text messages, etc.) and focused my talk more on the tools we use to respond to those questions and to enrich the interactions (screenshots, screencasts, page pushing, tutorials, subject guides, knowledgebases, FAQs, etc.) I don’t think I did as good a job as I had intended in making the case for the way that our communication tools and our interaction helper tools are increasingly becoming interconnected and integrated. The links for the tools are all on my speaker page on the workshop website. You view the slides on Slideshare (each slide has notes underneath it, which you can view in Slideshare or if you download the PowerPoint file).

The final speaker was Kathleen Kern, who talked about the need for reference to “refine the focus” by accepting the disintermediation that’s taken place as users have gotten used to searching on their own. She also suggested that we rethink how we can fit more into the “flow” of our users lives.

After lunch we had two separate breakout sessions. For the first session, attendees chose among three different discussion groups they could join: making reference data work harder; we lost ready ref, now what?; and research consultations/one-on-one appointments. Notes from those groups will be shared on the breakout sessions page the workshop site soon.

The second breakout session was a big hit. Students from Joe Janes’ reference class at the University of Washington iSchool had come up with the idea when they were prompted to design an assignment for next semester’s reference class. In this breakout session, attendees broke up into small groups (2-4 people) and tried to come up with a list of three websites that would be useful for helping the greatest number of people on the widest range of topics. The kicker of this assignment: you had to assume that Google and all search engines were shut down, as was Wikipedia. I won’t spoil the surprise of the winning answer, as Joe Janes will be writing about it in a forthcoming column that he does regularly for American Libraries.

We had a great mix of attendees at the workshop: not only did we have the expected crowds from public and academic libraries but also a fair number from special libraries. One of the attendees, Lucy M. Lockley, wrote up a nice post where she discusses the workshop.

I wish I could have stayed longer at ALA so I could have attended a long list of RUSA events that looked interesting. Maybe next year…

Getting More Mileage Out of Reference Interactions

A recent article in Reference & User Services Quarterly caught my eye today:

Finnell, Josh and Walt Fontane. “Reference Question Data Mining: A Systematic Approach to Library Outreach.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 49.3 (2010): 278-286. Web.

The authors describe a process developed at the library at McNeese State University in which reference statistics recorded at the desk included not just question type but also the subject of the question and the course (if any) connected to the question. Questions were later mapped to LC classification numbers, which then helped library staff to make collection development decisions. The data also led the librarians to refine their instructional offerings and to make new outreach efforts to specific departments.

My Other Library-Related Blog

I’ve started blogging again more often at Stephen Francoeur’s Stuff (a rather uninventive blog name, right?) Although it would be hugely convenient to me to post on all manner of library and info science related things here at Digital Reference, I’ve decided to keep a strict focus on this blog to reference services only. Everything else that catches my fancy, though, goes up on Stephen Francoeur’s Stuff. I hope you’ll drop by.