Friday, March 22, 2013

Narrating the OPAC presentation

So I completed my presentation at NCompass Live Tech Talk with Michael Sauers. Feedback from the show as well as from my oral presentation at my faculty got me thinking about the viability of using agent characters to help introduce users to content in the OPAC and guide them to even more useful content. Some of those ideas I will think about further as I prepare and refine my thoughts further for the presentation at Canadian Association for Information Science in June, 2013.

In the mean time, you can view the slide presentation here

Or alternately, you can watch the recording of my presentation here:

My latest discoveries on library chatbots: Pixel

This week, I learned through Michael Sauers from #NCompassLive Tech Talk about Pixel, the chatbot at the University of Nebraska– Lincoln Library. You can meet Pixel, the reference library chatbot at and/or view the YouTube presentation on Pixel:

While listening to the presentation, I learned a couple of new things myself. The presenter DeAnn Allison raises the point that chatbots can flatten one's website, and reduce users from having to navigate to get information. Instead, users can just ask a question and the chatbot could provide the information or even the hyperlink to enable the user to get where they want to go, without having to click through several links. Lorna Dawes, the co-presenter, also made the point that chatbots are very useful for library websites that are very dense. As she made this point, I immediately thought of the  Library of Congress website, which I believe is very dense, yet full of useful information. If there is any library that should get one, in my opinion it is the Library of Congress.

The presentation also gave me an opportunity to reacquaint myself with Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML), the language behind the open source chat bot movement. I also learned about Program-O (Open Source PHP MySQL AIML Chatbot software) as another open source software for creating one's chatbots.

Another thing that I discovered or realized during the presentation was the importance of taxonomies or ontologies in developing chatbots. This I realised as DeAnn Allison discussed how she used Library of Congress Subject headings to inform the AIML of a library chatbot. Allison (2012) also has an article on chatbots in the library if you want to check it out.

Allison, D.  (2012). Chatbots in the library: Is it time? Library Hi Tech, (30) 1: 95 - 107.

The Infographic as storytelling medium

I read an interesting article by Dylan C. Lathrop on Infographics as media for combining data visualisation with human narrative or storytelling. Lathrop is an insider in the infographics industry, and in his article, provides a history of the medium dating back to the 1920s to the present. Lathrop also discusses the affordances of infographic for narrative or storytelling, arguing that while companies want to tell the stories or narratives of traditional business documents with infographics, not all business narratives can be told with this medium. As I read his article, I couldn't help but appreciate this documentation of the medium and how its features constrain how one can tell a story.


Lathrop, D. C. (2013, March 19). We've reached peak Infographic, and we're no smarter for it. Harvard Business Review Blog Retrieved from:


Sunday, March 17, 2013

What should the library's primary priority be in this time of austerity and digital media?

Since December of 2012, there has been several feature articles in newspapers that have been reflecting on the question of the relevance of the presence of physical libraries in this era of digital media (Kaufman, 2013). Some of these highlight debates on the need for libraries ("Do we still need libraries"), others feature the extreme lengths at which libraries are going to maintain their viability (Doll, 2013; Fletcher, 2013; "Library turns to pole dancing"). In this post, I want to challenge my fellow professionals and upcoming neophytes to think about the question of what should the library's primary priority be in this time of austerity and digital media?

Libraries are indeed conducting experiments with what services should they offer, attempting to diversify their services so as to make more valid their perceived fickle existence that is dependent on the flow of resources from government and other institutions. Some of the extreme services that libraries are developing to get customers or users in are indeed to me appalling, including slaughtering of animals (Fletcher, 2013), the promotion of pole dancing among young adults and playing ping pong with books ("Library turns to pole dancing"). In my view, such libraries are selling their souls for worldly gain. Instead, I would recommend that libraries get entangled, not in recreational matters to sustain interest in our institutions, but like East Kazakhstan Oblast Pushkin, focus on helping young job-seekers find work or develop small businesses. As Hamilton (2013) writes "Libraries can power global development". For me, the priority of libraries in an era of market economies is to spur economic development. In fact, we owe it to our roots in the philanthropy of entrepreneurs, to ensure that we become spaces for creating further entrepreneurs or helping to educate the labour force to sustain innovation and continued economic growth.

At the job talk/lecture of Dr. Bill Irwin at my faculty (March 15, 2013),  Irwin made a number of observations and comments on the point of the priorities and purpose of libraries that I would love to raise here. Irwin mentioned that public library plays roles in the economy, community development and the development of creative culture among others. With such diversity of roles, Irwin raises the point that there seems to be a different sense of what a library is for, what a library is about and what is its purpose. Irwin is also developing a new framework for evaluating the impact of libraries: other than economic. His motivation for doing this: economists do not understand the value of libraries and their methods for evaluating the value of libraries do not capture all of a library's sociological value.

However, while I do agree about measuring the library's value sociologically, I am also confident that libraries can capture their economic value and present it in the language and terminologies that economists can understand and appreciate. After all, those who usually have the power and the funding to support libraries are usually quantitatively or economics minded. Further, libraries, if we apply organisational theory, are organisations that require resources outside of our control. We are dependent on other organisations: publishers to supply us with our information resources, government (or other administrators) to pay the salaries of our workers, and customers to give us our raison d'etre. Hence, our continuity and existence depends to a large extent on our ability to survive and continue depends on our ability to negotiate exchanges between these several others in our environment. Applying evolutionary biology to libraries as organisations or systems, we see that we need to create some variety and diversity, while changing or adapting in order to ensure that we can continue to exist in our dynamic environment.

However, I am convinced that the path that many libraries are taking is not in our own interest. Paths to making the library an institution that provide entertainment as our major service is in my opinion the wrong direction. Libraries should not continue to feed consumerism habits and users that are uncritical consumers of entertainment products. Leisure and recreation, while a part of our mission, should not be the primary mission or goal pursued.

Rather, our future existence will depend on a great extent on our ability to court the favour of the market economy and of neoliberals. This is best done, when we can help facilitate the development of new businesses and enterprise development. As such, our primary experiments should be in services and resources that will help us to help our users earn an income, start their own enterprises, gain employment or create jobs. In the past, it was the philanthropy of entrepreneurs such as Carnegie that helped establish public libraries. This continues in the present, will Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that also helps to fund public libraries. As it was in the past, so shall it be in the future, that our existence depends on how much entrepreneurs view us favorably and are willing to contribute their funds for corporate social responsibility to library services and programs.


Do we still need libraries? (2012, December 27). New York Times. Retrieved from:

Doll, J. (2013, January 8). Ask a librarian about the odd things happening at libraries. Atlantic Wire. Retrieved from:

Electronic Information for Libraries  [EIFL]. (2013, January). East Kazakhstan Oblast Pushkin library, Kazakhstan: Impact assessment results. Retrieved from:

Fletcher, O. (2013, January 7). Check these out at the library: Blacksmithing, bowling, butchering
to draw crowds, some facilities offer much more than books. The Wall Street Journal (U.S. ed.) Retrieved from:

Hamilton, S. (2013, March 12). Stamping out poverty as well as books? How libraries can support development. Guardian (UK ed.). Retrieved from:

Kaufman, L. (2013, January 22). Survey finds rising reliance on libraries as a gateway to the Web. New York Times. Retrieved from:

Library turns to pole dancing to entice new readers: Midlothian council staging free dance fitness class and 'booky table tennis' to encourage people to borrow more books  (2013, January 18). Guardian (UK ed.). Retrieved from

The social media job of a Virtual Public Services Librarian (VPSL)

I attended a session with the presenter Virtual Public Services Librarian (VPSL) for Essex County Libraries, Adam Craig. Adam presented on his position as a VPSL, and what his work involves. Essentially his work boils down to 5 major activities:
  • database selection
  • print reference
  • troubleshooting
  • programs
  • and social media
The above five activities are what Adam stated took up most of his time and are done either daily, weekly or monthly. For me, the aspects of his social media job that was the most fascinating involved:
  • tweeting (or writing tweets)
  • Facebook status updates
  • writing blog posts
  • checking statistics and social media accounts for interaction
  • managing the library's social media accounts
Adam also outlined some of the non-traditional skills that one could apply or use for the job, which involved making use of one's hobbies such as:
  • playing around social media
  • working with graphics software like PhotoShop
  • creating online videos
Adam also advises that one informs their use of social media with research, which includes
  • finding out what is going on and new developments
  • reading terms of service agreements
  • checking Tech blogs like Wired
Adam also uses or leverages his social media skills into actual programs such as running training programs for seniors in Facebook use as well as for small businesses (Facebook page management; Blogging and microblogging etc.).

By and large, the presentation validated my own experience as a Departmental Librarian,  in which I did similar things except for blogging and tweeting (Please note: I do not blog or tweet for any institution. My blogs are all hobbies and personal/professional interests that I pursue in my own time, with my own resources). While he was doing his presentation, I could relate to it. I was also impressed that he did do training programs for small businesses. I however also noted, that far from being a job that he could do at home, he spent much of time travelling and interacting face to face with customers/library users and others. Hence he is a virtual public services librarian that does most of his work in physical locations and with face to face interaction.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My first student 2 business networking conference & recommendations for the future

Flier from the conference


So I attended my first Student 2 Business networking conference at the London Convention Centre, March 6, 2013. The conference gave me the opportunity to network and speak about my research interest and listen to business professionals in ICT, Marketing & communication. Basically, from my conversation with a handful of business professionals in these industries, two research questions came up :
  1. how can one (a company) make money from social media? and 
  2. how can LinkedIn be better exploited as information source and tool for companies and businesses?
Another person even requested of me to send ideas about making an effective viral video that would effectively promote a message to a particular demographic. This is a challenge that I am yet to fully take up, though I am still pondering on some preliminary ideas.

I met no library students at the conference. Only business, computing, art and graphic design students. This was despite the fact that there are potential jobs in the industries represented for librarians.

Since it was the first time that I attended a networking conference, it was a unique learning experience. I learned about networking for jobs in Canada just by observing the Canadian students asking the professionals questions. I also tried my own approach, not really asking questions about the industry, but just sharing my interests to find out who or which company had similar interests.
However, I also received feedback from the business professionals on some of my ideas as well as to what they as outsiders saw as my key strengths: analysis and problem solving .


Based on my experience, I have three recommendations:

  1. I would like to see Caribbean universities also stage networking conferences for students to network and mingle with employers. I know we have career fairs and mock interviews, but I think we must also teach our students networking skills. I must note however that this student2business conference was not hosted by universities, but more so by an agent or institution of the London municipality. Despite that fact, I feel that universities must also consider the need to teach and give students the practice and the skill of networking, which is a most crucial skill required in today's global world. This is especially important considering the importance of social networks in helping one to get work done as well as to identify opportunities and create innovation.
  2. I would like to see separate networking conferences for graduate students from undergrad students. Networking conferences have the potential for being spaces where grad students can share their research /research interests via posters and get feedback from professionals, who could also indicate some of the research questions and problems that they would like answers to. Undergraduate students are primarily interested in getting jobs and/or getting advice about jobs and their fields of interest or industry. As such, when the two are hosted in the same conferences, employers are there primarily with the expectation of finding out who they can hire soon. However, practitioners could also benefit from hearing and networking with graduate researchers, as well as graduate researchers could also benefit from getting feedback about the feasibility of the application of their research in the real world. I think, as such, we need to create such connections that research and practice will converge, and a networking  conference seems to be a place for such connections to occur.
  3. LIS schools need to encourage their students to attend such networking conferences to get jobs in places they may not necessarily think about, as well as to promote the profession. It is not good for LIS students to only network among librarians and library employers, but we also need to mingle with businesses, nonprofits and government institutions, who are alternate employers to public and academic libraries. Especially in a time where libraries are facing severe financial and economic constraints, with threats of closure, LIS schools need to start enabling our students to think more about how we can apply our skills in other domains apart from libraries. In addition, LIS schools need to help students learn the same networking skills that business students learn and practice, which can help them get jobs in any field or industry. Hence, we can not afford to isolate our students to talking solely with library professionals, but must also push our students to share what they are learning in library school with persons in other sectors, and get feedback about how what they are learning may be transferrable to jobs outside of traditional librarian jobs.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Blogs in the library Catalogue? Feedback from conversations

So I showcased my poster on "Blogs in the library catalogue?" at the Technology in Education Symposium at Western University last Friday, March 8, 2012. The poster was the collaborative work of three of us in the Sociodigital research lab of which I am a lab member. The title of the presentation read: Blogs in the library catalogue? An investigation into the informational value of blogs for scholars and students

The abstract of which read:
We argue that blogs can be a valuable information source for library users. Blogs can be used to inform the research and academic work of scholars and students.  Despite their informational value, early views were skeptic towards the informational value of blogs because often librarians are more aware of blogs as tools for marketing their libraries or for promoting library resources and services. Currently some libraries have created what are known as catablogs – using blogs to store bibliographic information about their collection. With the exception of law librarians that have found blogs to be useful sources for accessing legal documentation, the current discourse on the value of blogs as information sources by academic librarians is limited and does not take advantage of the full potential that blogs have to offer as information sources. With the proliferation of blog creation by academic scholars and experts as well as institutions, we argue that there are countless reputable blogs that provide current and relevant information to students and scholars on their topic of interest that libraries could make accessible and promote on the library’s website and even its catalogue. We will discuss examples in our poster. Often blogs that are external to the library are not really considered and made accessible in the library’s general collection of resources. In fact, academic libraries should be able to find, acquire and point its academic users to relevant, reputable and credible blogs for information. After all, blogs are perhaps the most current information sources, continuously being updated with the views and interpretations of experts.

I have not included the full arguments here, but just want to reflect and post on the feedback to the idea as presented via poster at the symposium and based on my conversation with the few that engaged me on the topic.

In general, I only conversed about the poster with a handful of persons, but those who stopped by seemed receptive to the idea of blogs as valuable information sources that the library could direct library users to. In essence, I found I was able to defend the idea very well as persons raised their concerns. However, at least, the persons I conversed with all seem to value blogs as information sources, that they did not question its information value, but rather only wondered about the technical and other feasibilities of including blogs in the library catalogue.

  • One wanted to know if the catalogue is the appropriate place for them, especially given some of the ephemeral nature of some blogs. I suggested that libraries already have in their catalogue links to e-resources, and for blogs such as the APA Style blog, that already has a printed monograph, we could easily add another link to its blog via its monograph's catalogue entry. 
  • Another pondered about the lack of peer review and about quality control. I did discuss with him how librarians could phase in the inclusion of blogs in the catalogue that would take care of that issue. First we could start with the blogs that accompany established publications such as books, magazines and newspapers, and later include those bloggers cited in the literature or recommended by faculty.
  • One librarian stopped by and mentioned that she used a library blog for her students, but would think about the issue of recommending blogs to students.
  • Some persons also felt that blogs are so ephemeral that they perhaps did not belong, but I did talk about the fact that some magazines cease publication as well, and libraries have to deal with such serial publications already that may start up and disappear after a while.
If anything, I left more persuaded that I need to write a journal or magazine article defending the need for academic libraries to include blogs in their library catalogues.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Post comps report: Tips on how to take a take-home exam

So I am now done with the written comprehensive examination and have gotten a positive result. So I am now relieve and free to offer my take on the things that worked for me and some tips that I feel are useful for comprehensive reading examinations in particular and taking take-home exams in general:

1) Save the printing for your draft papers and not online journal articles.

Read the journal articles online and make notes in your note book. In retrospect, you do not know fully what you will actually use to answer the exam questions. Connections and things that you might see as being important while reading may actually not be relevant when you do your writing.

In addition, it is what you take away from the article in your mind that counts. Making jottings only help to aid that process of reminding yourself of what you read and discovered. So just save the money (although it might be consumed by purchasing more notebooks).

Plus when you are done, you have a bunch of marked up printed journal articles that you have to dispose of or recycle or store. (I'd rather keep the notebooks).

2) When you get the question, answer it in point form first, then go to the computer to have free-flow writing of what you think is relevant to the question.

I found this useful. However sometimes it also works the other way around. Sometimes you do not know what you want to say in response to the question and may have to free-flow first and then make sense of the jumbled ideas that you put down. Hence this process could be an iterative process.

You write, then outline, then rewrite, then outline
or outline, then write, outline then re-write

Further, if the question comes in parts, sometimes you do not have to answer all the parts the same day. Answer what you can immediately and leave the parts that you need to think about more for some other time.

3) Print out drafts as soon as you are complete.

This can help you to look it over and carry out the outline process to better organise your ideas and the flow. In addition, it can help you to spot errors freshly as well as things that you might need to do in order to improve the paper.

Printed drafts are also portable, so you can take it to the library and hunt down that book for a complete reference or page number (if not online via Google Books or through your library). You can also take it anywhere with you, including while you are having a snack or lunch, and can with a pen mark up and make notes on the document/paper.

4) Multi-task

It is better to finish all questions equally well (especially if failing one can cause you to fail the entire exam). DO NOT risk completing some questions before the deadline and have one/others incomplete or poorly done. It is better to submit barely pass work for all than to have some well done and some poorly done.

5) Finally, plan and manage your time and resources

Part of the hidden work of exams include making decisions and contemplating and executing strategy. One has to decide what source to include and which to exclude. One has to decide which question to work on first and which one to tackle last. One has to decide where to go to work, what resources to use etc. and make alternate plans in case things do not work out.

I recognise that I valued big flat Screen PCs for my writing to my little laptop screen. I found that I love to put my word documents on 200% zoom with large print to analyse. As such, I preferred to use the resources of a particular lab. This involved planning as sometimes the lab has classes. So one has to look at the schedule and plan one's work to coincide with the availability of the lab.

I also found that sometimes you have to make decisions on the spur of the moment and make changes to you plans. Like I wasn't planning to get up early 5:30 in the morning to walk through the snow in dark of early morning to go to the lab to get work done. However, after finding that in the early morning, (like now) I could not sleep, as my mind is just thinking about the work that is to be done, I found it useful to just act and do it. The results were excellent, as at that time of the morn, I found no one at school, so there was no distraction.

I also found that I bought resources before I needed them and even bought resources such as index cards, which I never needed or used. I also make sure to put a lot of money on my print account in preparation for the volume of printing that I planned to do. Hence, you will find that a lot of your time is not only spent reading and writing, but also spent thinking about how to get something done and what you need in order to execute.