Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Blogger.SG at Woodlands Regional Library: Singapore's first Blogger's conference

The official news is out at Tomorrow.sg. The event will be on:
Saturday, 16 July 2005
Woodlands Regional Library
The organisers have also partnered with SHINE. The time of the event will be confirmed by the organisers later. Check Tomorrow.sg for updates. Better yet, subscribe to their feed.

FYI - the library is working with the Tomorrow.sg organisers & another partner to provide free wireless access on the event day (currently there is wireless access in the library but users have to pay the 3rd party vendor).

The Woodlands RL auditorium can take up to about 300 people. Will we see more than that? I've also asked if the organisers would like to have a 'live' web-cast of the proceedings. Maybe can be broadcasted to other library sites.

Any other wishlist?


Watch a skit or listen to a story on the MRT

Tired of reading my posts on READ! Singapore? Sorry leh, I gotta support the hand that feeds me, right? I'm kidding. I make no apologies for something I believe in. : )

If you are in the Jurong East area this Thursday, 2 June 2005, you might want to check out this event:

There's a MRT ride from Jurong East station to Woodlands station, from 2.30pm to 3.30pm. On the train, a group of teens will perform a skit from one of the book in the READ! Singapore selection. The library hopes to sign up 80 teenagers/ adults for this particular ride.

To be honest with you, so far almost nobody has signed up... ...

Ok, even if you don't think you'll go for the ride, I'd appreciate if you can pass the word along.

If you are at IMM shopping this Thursday and going back north, your support would be most appreciated. Participants need to register at Jurong Regional Library before the event.


Parent's role in nurturing the child's reading habits

Parental involvement plays an important part in whether the children pick up the reading habit. I say this from personal experience. Both my wife and I are avid readers, and our parents have shaped our love for reading.

My wife said there was a point in time when her mother would take her on bus service 64 to the (now demolished) National Library at Stamford Road every Saturday. My wife also said she would rush to the counter to queue and return the books (those days before anyone dreamed of automated bookdrop). She reminded me how library users had to open the book to the right page to be stamped. If not, one would surely get scolded by the staff.

My wife remembers Pippi Longstocking (of the super red hair and jutty pigtails), Beverly Cleary's Ramona, Anne of Green Gables... (all the hardcover books, she says). And miscellaneous stuff. She would borrow 16 books at one go. By that weekend, she would have finished almost all the books. It would be, in my wife's words, a torturous wait for the week until the next library visit.

For me, I didn't discover libraries until much later, for my parents didn't bring us to libraries. Now that I think back, my parents nurtured my reading habit in a different way, particularly my father.

What my father did was to bring my siblings and I to the town center every other night after dinner. We would inevitably end up in the (now defunct) Oriental Department store.

I remember stopping by the small book corner and just reading and re-reading "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", "Rapunzel", "Jack and the Beanstalk". And there were Asian fairy tales and learnt how Redhill got it's name, about Moorthy the Mouse...

One time, when I was 10, my father bought a book titled "Model Essays and Compositions". He didn't make me read it, nor was he the type to vet my homework. He just left it on the table. I picked it up, read it, and learnt some tips on writing well. For inspiration, I continued to read Goldilocks and Jack I guess.

I only discovered about public libraries when some library staff came to my primary school. They brought a whole bunch of books for us to choose, made us library cards, and that's when I learnt I could borrow books for free (which is why I believe very strongly in outreach activities even today).

My wife discovered libraries much earlier than I did. But while libraries were important in sustaining our reading interests, I'd say it was our parents who laid the foundation.

At the end of my earlier post, I said that if parents were really serious about inculcating the reading habit in their kids, they should lead by example.

I would think leading by example doesn't always mean being voracious readers. As in my case, my parents didn't visit public libraries. But I would think they recognised the value that books played, and they did other things that helped influence me.

The NLB can build libraries, right up to people's doorsteps. But all would be moot if parents don't play their part, in all sense of the word.

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Monday, May 30, 2005

Outreach activity at National Family Week, 2005

Some people ask what librarians (in the Public Library Services) do as part of our job. Here's one example -- we conduct outreach activities to raise awareness of library services.

Today was the launch of National Family Week 2005 at the Singapore Expo. NLB was invited by the MCYS organisers to set up a booth.

For this particular event, my colleagues brought books down, where library members could borrow on the spot. Also some giveaways to people who answered some quiz questions relating to the library services.

National Family Week outreach2

The next picture shows my colleague from Children Services, Siew San, conducting a storytelling session.

National Family Week outreach1

I observed that the adults were as participative as the kids. Most fitting for "National Family Week". Siew San did an excellent job telling the story, eliciting chuckles from a grandma in the audience (not in the picture).

OK, here's the unglamorous part that most people don't realise. Public Libary staff have to spend time away from their own family on weekends like today. If it's not an event like this, then it's being rostered at the public library (each staff typically work a maximum of two Sundays per month).

Just stating the reality of what it means to be in the public library services.

But it's up to the individual. You need to have a passion for the job.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Cabbies participate in READ! Singapore

Correction: The author of 'XiNiEr' should be Mr. Chia Hwee Pheng and not Mr. Hwang Mengwen. My apologies for the error. (17 Aug 05)

28 May 2005. Saturday evening, 11pm to 12am. Ang Mo Kio Community Library (AMCL) hosted about 100 taxi drivers (yes, that many!). The book-talk session was the last leg of the READ! Singapore 12-hour marathon.

I have new-found respect for these cabbies. I shall call them Taxi Sifus ("Sifu" is cantonese for "teacher") from now on.

Supper was Teochew porridge. My colleagues expected maybe 30 Taxi Sifus at most, so the porridge quickly ran out some time before the start of the session at 11pm. Mr Wee Siew Kim (MP for AMK GRC) graced the session. I discovered later that the author, Singaporean Mr. Huang Mengwen Chia Hwee Pheng, was there as well (Xi Ni Er's his pen name).

taxi sifus1
AMCL Programme Zone. Supper before the session.

The session was conducted in Mandarin. Five Taxi Sifus (three men, two women) were in the panel, each sharing their thoughts on a chapter or two from the book, "Short Stories" by Xi Ni Er.
Short Stories_Xi Ni Er
NLB Call No.: SING XINE (Singapore Collection, Chinese)
Click here for item availability.

The Taxi Sifus in the panel took their task seriously. One took time during the day to write an essay. Another spiced his reading & sharing with dialect, much to the amusement of his fellow Cabbie Sifus. One of the women Sifu reflected on communication issues in marriages.

taxi sifus2
Five Taxi Sifus in the panel. The person standing is my colleague, Mr Peter Lee (programmes executive), acting as facilitator.

Most in the audience have not stepped into libraries for years. Some later registered as library members. Copies of the book was distributed during the session. It was heartening to see the cabbies flip to the chapters being discussed and reading the book.

I would have loved to see greater audience participation, as in questions or comments from the floor, but that might be asking too much. It was good enough to see them read the book, and stay till the end of the session.

taxi sifus5
Something you don't see often -- Taxi Drivers/ Cabbie Sifus reading in a group settting, and it's not their exams for the cab license.

Some of the cabbies took the initiative to get the author's autograph. It became an author signing as well! The author, Mr. Huang Mengwen Chia Hwee Pheng, said conversations with Taxi Sifus formed part of his inspiration and material for the book.

taxi sifus4
The author, Mr. Huang Mengwen Chia Hwee Pheng, is seated on the extreme right of picture.

Initially I thought the panelists might feel awkward but turned out they were highly enthusiastic and obviously spent effort preparing for it.

Ah! I forget -- most cabbies have no problem talking. Take a cab and you'll agree with me. I think what they need is opportunity.

taxi sifus2
The person standing is my colleague, Mr Peter Lee, Programmes Executive. He was facilitating the session.

I'm thinking, "How can the library create more of such opportunities in future?" And would all Taxi Sifus respond as they did like tonight's audience?

Probably not.

After the programme, one Taxi Sifu joked with me that it cost him $60 for the night to attend the session. Well, I won't deny that there are opportunity costs to such activities. Guess that's why there's a need to inculcate a habit of reading.

taxi sifus7
Library tour for Taxi after the session. The foyer of AMCL looks really grand from this angle.

In any case, it was a first for NLB to have so many Taxi Sifus in one sitting, attending a programme in a library setting. The book sharing ended at 12am, but the participants didn't leave until about 1am.


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Radio interview: Parenting Today 93.8 FM

This afternoon's 'live' radio interview was much more enjoyable than I thought, and my fears did not materialise. It's more accurate to call it a chat show rather than an interview. That's what we did -- we chatted.

12.35pm: Zubaidah, Juffri, Jaime & I meet the chat show host, Ms. Susan Ng, at the NewsRadio studio. Susan gives a quick sketch of what she would cover. We ask a few questions. The 'live' show is unrehearsed.

Susan gives me permission to take pictures. It's my first time in a radio recording studio. We're ushered into the studio and sit in comfortable chairs. There are mikes in front of us. The headphones are used if we take calls from listeners.


1:08pm: The "RED LIGHT" comes on (signalling that we're on air). Susan starts by making a traffic-watch announcement off a screen. Heavy traffic along the usual roads, I think.

Then came the show proper. Susan introduces Zubaidah (my colleagues who heads the Children Services), Juffri (he's from Programmes & Events Management), and myself (Susan reads my designation as "Manager & Librarian, Service Management, Public Library Services" -- Ok, technically correct, but I'm responsible for the Adult & Young People services only and not the entire Service Management department).

NewsRadio 93.8 website
The radio interview centers on the importance of reading, and what parents can do to get their children and/ or teenagers to read. I'm having too much fun to remember what we say exactly. Will have to listen to the recording later.

(A colleague listening to the chat show SMS me later, saying she heard every single word, and also my shameless plugs about our enquiry services, and my urging the listeners to talk to our librarians. Yeah, I might have been carried away).

1:30pm: We take a break. We return on air with NLB CE, Dr. N. Varaprasad. Susan gets him to share more about READ! Singapore. Dr. Prasad says READ! Singapore is not a campaign but an initiative. It's also not about using libraries per se, but making reading fun. The library wants to support the local booktrade by encouraging people to buy the books in the selection.

L-R: That's Susan in the foreground, followed by Juffri and Jaime (our Corporate Communications Executive).

Around 1:45pm: We take a call on air. The caller asks for clarification on the library's self-study rule. He asks if it was true that security guards "chased students out". I take the question. I say the library had spent much time & effort getting teens to come into libraries, so it didn't make sense for us to chase students away. But there has to be a balance.

(What I didn't add was that those who don't abide by the general rules, like making unacceptable levels of noise, would be asked to leave. More about self-studying in another post.)

2pm: Show ends. We are ushered out the studio. Susan remarks that we all said the right things, at the right time. Well, it's because you're a good host, Susan.

L-R: Dr N. Varaprasad (NLB Chief Executive), Zubaidah and myself (sharing a private joke).

Susan is a professional; a veteran in the radio business. She doesn't follow a script and sounds so smooth. She's a great supporter of reading & libraries, and she's promotes reading to her own children. I'm her new fan.

Before the end of the first segment, I closed off with this soundbite: "If parents are really serious about getting their teenage daughter or son to read, then lead by example."

Intuitively we know reading is a good thing, But we say we have no time to read. We have to catch up with our emails, watch TV, play computer games, look after kids...

There's no quick answers to this issue. I guess like many things in life, if we feel something is important enough, we'll have to find time to do it.


A job interview, from the perspective of the Interviewee (or Blogging is Storytelling epitomised)

Just read Roxanne's post on her recent job interview. She notes a disparity between what she was told about the company culture, and what she actually observed.

In NLB public libraries, one popular collection would be those relating to the "Job Interview" -- on the conduct, protocol, tips and techniques for interviewers and interviewees.

But I've not come across any books (or websites even) that offers a perspective like what Roxanne posted. It's not that she's pointing out something radically new (i.e. interviewees should also observe about the office environment when choosing a company). To me, it's the conversational tone that makes her point more stark.

Her observation was rather subtle actually. She didn't say, "Listen to what the interviewer say. If he mentions "Teamwork" as a buzzword, observe for yourself whether people greet each other in the office." This was what she wrote:
"When we get a project from the client, the whole team brainstorms together to get the concept out... we work very much together as a team."

A guy hurries from the door, with briefcase in hand, to what is presumably his own office desk. No "Good Morning" or "Hello" from him. Nobody deigns to turn their head to notice him either. Nobody talked to anybody for the whole time I was there.

Buzz. Team spirit. It's a lot of spin on words sometimes. But you recognize it when you see it.

This company is out.

She was reflecting on something she observed... very cluetrain-ish. It's posts like Roxanne's that makes me return to trawl the blogosphere for information. It's not just stating a fact or theory or concept.

She was telling us her story!
Blogging is Storytelling epitomised.

One more reason why librarians should blog.


Friday, May 27, 2005

Live radio interview on 93.8 FM tomorrow

Am scheduled with another colleague of mine for a 'live' radio interview tomorrow afternoon, with Ms. Susan Ng from Parenting Today, on NewsRadio 93.8 FM.

Susan, who's one of the Reading Ambassadors for READ! Singapore, will meet us for a chat before the show (which starts at 1.08 pm).

The talkshow is on the importance of inculcating a love for reading in children and teenagers. We'll be speaking for the first half of the show (22 minutes to be exact) after which my CE would come on air to talk specifically about READ! Singapore.

My colleague is Ms. Zubaidah Moshen. She heads the Children's Services while I manage the Adult & Young People Services (both of us are from the NLB Public Library Services division). Zubaidah is an expert in her area. I'll try my darnest to sound as if I know what I'm talking about.

Let's see, I am not a parent (unless I consider my smelly Max a teen. He's about the right age in dog years). I think I'll talk about my own experience as a teen where reading is concerned.

I've been interviewed by newspaper & TV reporters, and once for radio (over the telephone). But 'live' radio will be my first. I'll try not to put my foot where my mouth is on national radio. Must also remember to breathe during the interview...

Last minute tips, anyone?

BTW, if I do botch the radio interview, what's the worse that could happen to me? I'll become infamous (which is still some fame of sorts). I could blog a post about it on what NOT to say on 'live' radio. I could conduct workshops on how NOT to act on 'live' radio... ah, power of positive thinking.

Or is that delusion? Heh heh.


What happened at the Meetup on 24 May 05

Some people ask, "Why did you go to XXX for a holiday when there's nothing to see and do?". I say, "It's not where you go, but who you go with".

The same held true for the Bookcrossing Meetup Group on Tue, 24 May at TPCL.

SG Bookcrossing Meetup Group - Notice

My aim was to get 5 participants, with at least 3 staying for an hour. In the end, 14 turned up, with 12 staying all the way till 9pm. I think the boys and girls would have stayed a little longer had it not been for the library closing.

I can call them boys and girls because turned out I'm the oldster in the group. Ugh.

The average age hovered around 25, I think. I'm almost reaching mid-30s, and that made me THE old man. Preetam's almost my age, but he's way too cool to be Uncle-material. In fact, he impressed CarteNoir so much that CarteNoir calls Preetam a "demi-deity" in his blog post.

Bookcrossing Meetup
I got permission from the group (those willing to pose for it) to upload the picture, but I'm not sure if they all want to be named. Boys and girls, if you are reading this, put a comment and say who you are.

Mr. Preetam "Demi-Diety" Rai is the 3rd guy from the left (enjoying the food). I'm the tall bald one. Now you know how I look like -- harmless, stoned-looking, not too bright. And that was on a good day too. :)

Here's a snapshot of the discussion points we captured on the board:
SG Bookcrossing Meetup Group - What we discussed

There was only one real rule for the session: "You can leave anytime".

Call us a Bookcrossing group or Discussion/ Reading group... it doesn't really matter. Someone in the group said it was like playing "Calvinball" (where the rules are made up as we went along). Actually there was a system to it, i.e. the facilitation process. Very much like managing a meeting.

We started off chatting, asking about what we read. We talked about Science Fiction (which seemed to be the predominant theme), also veered to Romance, Time-travel, Death, Shakespeare... People talked about their impressions of the genre, of their favourite books, even snippets of their lives.

Selected items that participants talked about:
. Confessions of Max Tivoli (NLB item link)
. Flowers for Algernon (NLB item link)* HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by those who read it.
. The time traveler's wife (NLB item link)
. Snow crash (NLB item link)
. Cat's cradle (NLB item link)
. Shakespeare's sonnets (NLB item link)

Before we ended the session, I asked the group for suggestions on how to structure the next session. They said:
  1. Food -- deemed as important;
  2. Set a half-agenda. Half the time could be a discussion on an agreed "theme" (e.g. Love & War) while the other half could be a open-style sharing.
That could work. Thanks for the suggestions folks.

My previous post was about measuring value. In this case, I'm convinced there was value created. Some said they were encouraged to read the genres and titles discussed -- something they would otherwise not do so on their own. There were also networking going around.

I have one word to describe the session.


Meetup is confirmed on Tuesday, 24 May at Toa Payoh Community Library (posted 19 May 05)

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

University of Hong Kong Libraries subject blogs: Email interview

Around late Mar 05, the University of Hong Kong Libraries launched its Subject Blogs site (http://lib.hku.hk/cd/news.html). Here's an email interview with Ms. Gayle Chan, Collection Development Librarian about their blogs. It's an excellent endorsement for library blogs.

When did the HKU subject blogs first get started?
We started to explore the idea after I heard about library blogs at last summer's ALA Conference. At the same time, we were also exploring a better alternative than using the bulk e-mail system to announce our new e-resources, which does not target any specific groups and not preferred by many students and faculty members we talked to.

What made you implement the subject blogs?
Our Collection Development Department is quite young (formed July 2003) and we had launched our website for not very long. Adding blog content in subject web-pages to deliver news and subject resources to relevant departments was considered desirable and beneficial to promote outreach in different subject groups.

What were your impressions of blogging before you started, and how have they changed?
Some of us were concerned about the constant need to find news items for regular posting, but turned out much of information was readily available from vendors or just by keeping abreast with literature or research and development in their assigned areas.

How much has the subject blogs changed the way the same content was delivered?
Some of our traditional ways of delivering the same information include email, newsletter, posting on library web-site, presentations/seminars, and by posters/ exhibition, etc.

Blogs certainly offered a much quicker delivery that can easily be targeted to specific groups. Faculty members/ researchers appreciate very much the added-value in information about current research and development in their field, conference/events announcements, and enhancements of contents in existing resources.

Did you have any feedback from your staff maintaining the blogs, as well as your readers?
Staff found blogs relatively easy to maintain. Readers especially like the feature by subject areas, as it saves them hours of searching via the library catalog or navigating with search engines for relevant news/ web resources in their field.

Blogs are something they can read at their leisure time instead of being bombarded with it.

A comment from a faculty member: "very exciting direction, at least for the engineering link, is that Weblog provides links to some very frontier and rapidly developing fields of engineering, like fuel cells, nanomaterials, and micro-mechanical systems, so that teachers and students can quickly start to get the basic information, to get informed."

How do you measure the effectiveness of the service? How many users are there?
Usage so far looks positive, well over 7000 users in less than 2 months.

And what is this in terms of total campus population?
Total student population is 19000.

Apart from the access figures you quoted, do you know how many subscribers you have via RSS feeds or readers?
We cannot tell how many subscribers, but our access counts includes those read via readers.

How do you see the HKU subject blog developing?
It will be interesting to see if blogging will help to solicit more feedback from both students and faculty/researchers about their information needs, eg. One can submit recommendations on receiving publication announcements. Not sure that our subject blogs will become platform for interactive communication or discussion forum like some other blogs.

Did you have any problems during the development or implementation of the blogs?
Not much, but we could not figure out how to do multi-templates within same blog when we wanted to have different Science subjects.

Other than HKU, do you know if any libraries (public, academic etc) in HK that is doing the same via blogs? Would you say HKU is the first in HK?
I never did a survey and I don’t know that other libraries in HK has done the same. So I believe we are the first.

Would HKU be allowing public posting of comments in the near future? If yes, would you allow moderated or unmoderated posts?
No plans for this at the moment.

Any overall remarks?
Overall, (blogs are) a very effective means of delivering current information to a wider target audience, and enables faculty/ students/ researchers to keep abreast in their fields of study or research.

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The Value of Libraries (and blogs)

I must get my librarian colleagues to read this! The Value of Libraries: Impact, Normative Data, & Influencing Funders by Stephen Abram (via It's all good).

Some of my non-librarian friends are surprised that NLB libraries have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to achieve. The least informed of my friends thought that all libraries had to do was to stay open, then close at the end of the day, and that's it.

In brief, libraries also have to justify our existence. But instead of "profits" and "sales", our targets are "loans" and "visitors" (to name a few). And like sales target, our KPIs also increase year on year.

Just like how a profit-company cannot stay open for business if it does not have sales, libraries cannot be funded indefinitely if there is no demand. In the US, funding for libraries are often the first to be cut in hard times (their libraries are funded by local taxes). Between a new fire-engine and new books, some people choose a new fire-engine (I'm simplifying things, but in essence that's what happens).

The NLB libraries are funded differently from the US model, but in essence, we also have to show our relevance to users and society. Or else we might close libraries (so far it hasn't happened, but nothing is constant).

When I tell my librarian colleagues to watch the "cost-per-loan ratio" or attain a "penetration rate of 80%", I'm glad I no longer get glazed looks of blur-ness. Stressed looks, maybe. But we understand the need to think business-like.

But there's something else that's particularly hard to measure, and that is the actual impact that libraries have on users.

For instance, how do we measure the value of the library to someone who found a cure for their skin problem from a book? Or to someone who learnt some stress relieving techniques from a self-help book? Or to the couple who met and fell in love in the library?

Even if they can give us a dollar value, they might not tell us.

Educational institutions also face the same thing about measurement and value. But I think unlike libraries, they have a widely accepted benchmark of sorts. Tell someone, "I scored 8 As in my 'O' levels" or "I have a PhD" and they understand somewhat. Or at least they attach some value to it.

But say, "I enjoyed Tolkien's Lord of the Rings", and would your friend who don't read appreciate what you shared?

I'm writing a paper on librarians & blogging. The hard part is coming up with examples to show the value of blogs to libraries.

Same question I'd ask Bloggers -- how do you measure the value of conversations? Hmm... students taking the Masters in Information Studies Course at NTU (which, btw is the professional qualification for librarians in Singapore) could consider this as a dissertation topic.


Curious incident of the dog in the nightime - (READ! Singapore)

And Roxanne blogs about the book even before READ!Singapore was announced.

Let me know if you are blogging about this book, and I'll include your link here. Or post as a comment. Thanks!


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Launch of READ! Singapore

A press conference was held on 24 May 05 to announce the launch of READ! Singapore.

The idea behind READ! Singapore isn't unique. It's been successfully tried out in cities like Brisbane, Chicago, Houston and Seattle. Click here for more examples of the "One-Book" reading projects.

READ SG launch 240505-e
(Minister Tharman officiates the launch. Next to him is Mr Isa Kamari, author of "Satu Bumi".)

But one uniquely Singaporean aspect is that we have not one but 12 books -- three books in each of the four official languages. It's reflective of the multi-cultural aspect of our society.

READ SG launch 240505 - Performances
At the official launch today, at Woodlands Regional Library, we were treated to four individual performances inspired by excerpts from the books. Each performance was based on one book from each language, and performed in that respective language.

The English performance, the audience understood perfectly. The Chinese performance I could understand, as with those who speak Mandarin. The Malay and Tamil performance, I didn't understand the words but I understood the emotions being conveyed. The performances was brilliant and made me wish there were English translations of the books on hand.

The overall theme for this year's project is “Coming of Age”, meaning "any life experience that brings one to a deeper understanding of reality and ourselves".

Sitting there watching the performance, I thought Singapore has, in many ways, come of age. When Singapore achieved Independence in 1965, some 40 years ago, who would've imagined Singaporeans sitting through performances done in a language other than their own?

Were today's guests being polite? Or they had no choice because Minister of Education was seated at the front? I guess the answer depends on whether you are a cynic or not.

There are some people (even my own colleagues) who say READ! Singapore wouldn't work. "Singaporeans are too busy to find time", or "We just don't have a reading culture" or "It's another unimaginative government campaign"...

I suppose the answer depends on whether we see the glass half-full or half-empty.
READ SG launch 240505

This project may be NLB-initiated, but it's not FOR the NLB -- it's for Singapore.

Wah, sounds so noble and grandiose. But heck, I'm not afraid to admit it.

Personally, the project is more than promoting a culture of reading. It's about using books as a focus -- to connect people to different people/ ideas/ perspectives. One can read the same book and have different views. Or we share in similar thoughts.

To take part in this project, you can attend the public programmes, or gather your own friends to discuss the book (send me a picture to post in my blog, or post in your blog and send me the link).

If you are overseas, nothing to stop you from posting comments and sharing online. At least two of the English books should be accessible in overseas bookstores. I'd be happy to share more ideas with you via email.

READ! Singapore is a good "excuse" for strangers to talk to strangers.

Just like blogging.


Monday, May 23, 2005

How NOT to woo webloggers: Seattle Meetup example

This might be of interest to PR folks or Mass Comm students:

Here's an example (Apr 05) of how not to woo customers who are webloggers. Apparently, a Meetup.com employee was deemed to have insulted the Seattle Webloggers Meetup group by saying they were "belly aching", i.e. complaining about the fees.

Then someone discovered who that person was. So another meetup.com employee stepped in and managed to sooth things by participating in the conversation. The post ends with this quip, on what Meetup.com can learn from the experience:
Be open with your customers about what's going on. Speak with one voice. And never, ever insult your customers if they're webloggers.
The comments that follows the post are even more interesting. They are worth the time to read.

Rambling: In an earlier post I was grumbling about how Meetup.com was asking the group organiser to collect a fee or pay for it. Deadline was 15 May '05 for the payment.

The deadline came and went. The SG Bookcrossing meetup group is still there, except that the role of meetup organiser is defaulted to nobody. Now the message says:"This group is closed until someone steps up to be the Organizer."

The next person who wants to sign up as Organiser will have to pay a fee. Other than the Organiser, no one else can send out mass email alerts.

I don't know who will fork out USD $19 per month (SGD$31 per month) to sustain a bookgroup in Singapore, when there are free tools like Yahoogroups that offers similar features.

Bookgroups aren't really that hot in Singapore, unless maybe bloggers like mrBrown and XiaXue are organisers. Or maybe I would be proven wrong, that bookgroups are sustainable (I hope so). If you know of any, let me know.

I wonder how many meetup.com organisers pay the fee. Will Meetup.com still be around? In a situation where there's a good substitute for the "product", meetup.com pricing policy will only drive a large portion of its users to another competitor. This is a real-life case study in economics, business strategy, and Public Relations in an online environment.

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Neil Gaiman might appear at NLB library (or, another example why libraries need to be in touch with the Blogosphere)

Quite a few days ago, thanks to a lead in Tomorrow.sg (posted by ssf), I learnt that Neil Gaiman (of the Sandman fame) would be stopping by in Singapore in July '05. From there, I alerted my Adult & Young People Services librarian colleagues, and one of them took the initiative to check further.

She discovered that the British Council in Singapore was in planning his Singapore's itinerary , and I'm happy to say the library is following up on this. With any luck, Neil Gaiman fans would get to see their favourite author at the public library for a book-signing session.

BTW, the above isn't confirmed, but no harm just giving you a glimpse how public library programmes are planned and implemented by librarians. Librarians (in public libraries, especially) are also Event Organisers, if you will.


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Fingerprint scanners to replace library cards in NLB?

Naperville Public Library hit the news with its decision to install a login system using biometric technology on 130 of their public-access PCs. To login to the computer, instead of scanning their membership barcode, the user places their index finger on a scanner. The system converts the scan into a set of numbers. If those numbers match with the registered user record, access is granted.

This post is generating a conversation about the matter. The post from libraryplanet.com states briefly the pros and cons of biometric systems. Some people are concerned about privacy issue, implying that biometrics is a step closer towards a "Big-brother-is-watching" society. Some wonder about the costs for the system, like this post from librarian.net.

Personally, I'd like to see biometric technology being used in NLB libraries, either as an alternative or replacement of the barcode authentication. It would eliminate problematic cases of members losing their membership cards and finding that it's been misused. If there's no card, it won't be lost in the first place. And less likely for cases of unauthorised access. Seems that it offers greater privacy-protection that barcode technology.

Of course, like any systems, there are potential loopholes. These posts shows how biometric systems could be cracked: (1) How to fake fingerprints and (2) Gummi bears defeat fingerprint sensors (via Anil).

But in the library's context, I really don't see people going through all that trouble just to steal access to my library records and borrowing privileges. The biometric system makes it less easy for abuse compared to barcode technology (where the effort to duplicate the barcode is less than that in duplicating fingerprints).

What about children, or parents who wish to borrow on behalf of their children? Or people who wish to borrow on behalf of say, a bedridden friend who wish to get some books? What about people whose physical features prevent them from using biometic systems?

The above are not insurmountable, so long we provide alternatives. For instance, separate access cards could be issued by default for children, but authenticated against the parent's fingerprints. Those who wish to make their borrowing-rights transferrable could get a waiver (the trick is to not have too much red tape).

In the Singapore context, the greatest hurdle for biometric-tech applications (in libraries or otherwise) would be more of the cost, i.e. how much are we willing to pay for the added convenience.

Naperville PL is paying USD$40,646 to install the system for 130 PCs. That's about USD$313 per workstation, or SDG$520 (based on currency exchange rate of USD$1 = SGD$1.66). There's also the recurrent maintenance costs to pay the vendor.

Should NLB libraries implement biometric systems, we could offer an opt-in approach, i.e. you opt-in to use the biometric system. I wouldn't mind paying for a small one-time fee. I see more pros than cons. I'd imagine my wallet being a lot less bulky with one less card. And the data-privacy issues are no different from existing systems being used.


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Saturday, May 21, 2005

Developments in the SG Blogosphere: (1) School Blog competition & (2) Blog Meet

Two developments worth noting:

(1) First National Interschool Blogging Competition
The first ever National Interschool Blogging Competition in Singapore, co-organised by SingTel and the Ministry of Education (MOE), will be held from 1 June to 31 August 2005. Here's the press release (dated 20 May 05). The press release says the school blogs can be read here from 1 June 05.

I like this quote from Ms Tan Teng Wah, the Deputy Director of , MOE Education Technology Division:
This competition is a good way to highlight to schools the potential of blogging as a useful tool for teaching and learning. Students can potentially use blogging for activities such as writingjournals, creating online portfolios or group work dialogues.

Like many good ideas, they remain only as "potential" until they are being realised. Some ideas for teachers and students to consider (not for the contest though):
  1. Students can blog their compositions or essays, either finished works or work-in-progress. It's a good way to solicit comments, feedback, and in the latter case, a way to enhance the quality of one's writing.
  2. As a student, I could even blog about what's interesting (or not so interesting) that's taught in class. It's a kind of revision or sorts.
  3. Teachers could blog about key points covered in class. Maybe a particularly tough concept of idea (like math). Better yet, some quotable quotes from students. That'll be a way to get their students to pay attention.
I know our teachers are really bogged down with work, pressures from principals, students, parents... Not easy to find time to blog. And I'm sure the cynics would say, "How would blogging produce better results among students?".

I think that's like asking, "How would reading produce better results." It depends on what you read, and how you apply what you've read. Same with blogs. It's only a tool. The rest is up to how it's applied.

(2) Singapore Blog Meet
The event is shaping up nicely. Tomorrow.sg gives an update here, among other things. This quote from part of the email interview is worth noting:
Who actually spawned the idea for the site? ...
...the idea was floating around - call it synchronicity. But must credit James who actually went ahead and built the system.

Kudos to James but I congratulate the team of editors too. You need more than one person to sustain a good thing. It's clear the folks at Tomorrow.sg are doing what they love.

James explains why he does Tomorrow, and Mr Brown clarified his stand about the editors and editorial process. Here's more on how the suggestions are moderated. My suggestion to the editors is to post such information as an FAQ. And perhaps quite soon, they might want to think of how to co-opt or groom some more volunteers to act as editors. I'm sure they will not have problems with recruitment.

The SG Blogosphere is getting really interesting. And I don't think we're seeing a fad.

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Screenshots for OCLC xISBN bookmarklet for NLB

Many thanks to Mel who, after reading the previous post on the OCLC xISBN bookmarklet, has posted screenshots and step-by-step instuctions on installing the bookmarklet, and to using it. Her post is here.

Mel also points out the recent OCLC bookmarklet's advantage over some earlier versions:
"As a book is often published in various editions and this means different ISBNs, the lookup which makes use of the particular ISBN code from the choosen edition sometimes fails."

She also shows how to use the bookmarklet, so to those who are wondering "why use a bookmarklet?".

Thank you, Mel!

I lurve the Blogosphere.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Video tutorial on using UB school-wide blog system

Kevin "The Mac Guy" did a video tutorial on using the UB School of Informatics school-wide blog system. The video tutorial runs for almost 25 minutes but you can skip sections (try skipping to the 11th minute and the 20th minute, he talks about RSS).

Their system runs on Wordpress, so even if you are not a UB student, maybe you'll find it useful. Or if you want to match Kevin's face to his voice, run the video!

A few thoughts from watching the video:
  1. Video tutorial is something I have wanted to do for ages. To show people how to use the OPAC, even how to reserve books etc. Any volunteers?
  2. And why not do a "homemade" video-tour of the library? A-la Reality-TV style.
  3. Useful to have an index (with brief annotation) when I run the video. List the video in segments (like a DVD menu). If I want to skip to certain parts of the video, I can.
  4. Consider posting a picture of the speaker. It helps to place a face to the sound and video.
  5. Would be cool to have a Comments feature on the video page. I might want to type in comments while watching.
  6. Or how about an IM chat button?
  7. On using the mouse when doing demos -- have Minimal Movement for the Mouse. And move it slower. It's different when you are on control of the mouse and doing a word document. But the audience will follow the mouse movement. You go in circles, their eyes track in circles.
Great job, Kevin!


Meetup is confirmed on Tuesday, 24 May at Toa Payoh Community Library

Previously I'd planned for an early May meet-up for SG Bookcrossing (from SG meetup.com, not the Yahoogroup). It was pushed back and now I'm happy to say we've confirmed a meet-up on:
Tue, 24 May 2005
6.30pm to 8.30pm
Toa Payoh Community Library - Level 2 Multipurpose Room
(Go to your right once you come up from the main staircase)
Nothing like committing myself via the blog...

This message is really for those who are not in the meetup mailing list. If you are reading this, and you feel like attending the session, please drop by. Though it's a Bookcrossing group, we're not fixing any rules or agenda. No pressure at all.

It's a chance to meet up with people who share a love for reading. You can just show up and content yourself to just listening. You can also come in or leave anytime. Worse come to worse, if you pop in and don't like what you see, just pretend that you walked into the wrong room.

Roxanne and Preetam will be attending. Roxanne would be digging up some books to give away. I've met Preetam, so I'm curious about meeting Roxanne in person... oops, I hope this doesn't put undue pressure on her. Sorry Roxanne & Preetam, for this shameless marketing ploy to use your names. I figured you have more pull than I would.

Guys, I understand Roxanne is not attached... (ok, now she'll really get mad!)

Refreshments will be served, plus pastries & cakes. I'll be there anyway, even if nobody confirms. So if you decide to turn up at the last min, you'll see someone there.

The above sounds like I'm really desperate. Maybe I am. A little anxious, for sure. First time I'm organising a gathering of strangers (all met via online). Maybe some people might share similar anxieties too, about meeting strangers. Decide not to turn up at the last minute.

We shall see. My target is for at least two people to show up. I tell myself it's the quality of sharing, not the number of people who show up.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

OCLC xISBN bookmarklet for the National Library Board, Singapore

This is grassroots library activism at its best! Thanks to C. Callosum, and folks from OCLC Eric Childress and Jeff Young, you can now install the OCLC xISBN bookmarklet for the NLB, Singapore from here.

For details, read C.Callosum's post.

Not sure what a bookmarklet can do for you? Here's a related post from Preetam (using Ngee Ann Poly Library as an example. It works the same in principle).

Oh, I'd appreciate if someone could email me screen shots of how the NLB bookmarklet works for you. The PC I'm using isn't mine, so there are restrictions from installing the bookmarklet.


Game of Blogpoly or Blogopoly, anyone?

Game of Blogpoly or Blogopoly, anyone? (First learnt of this post from The Shifted Librarian).


More flickr images here and here.

The game of Monopoly was designed by Charles B. Darrow in 1934, at the height of the Depression. As the term implies, the whole objective of the game is to be the last (market) player left standing. But in the case of the Blogosphere, it's the reverse, isn't it?

Here's the history to the origin of Monopoly (the board game).


Monday, May 16, 2005

IBM's Blogging Guidelines

I understand that Microsoft's guidelines for their employees who blog is "Blog Smart" (please correct me if I'm wrong). Just learnt (via Scoble's post) that:
IBM today is publishing an announcement on its Intranet site encouraging all 320,000+ employees world wide to consider engaging actively in the practice of "blogging"
Source: James Snell, 16 May 3am

I got a bit confused how many points were there in the guidelines -- those listed in the Executive Summary or the Detailed Discussion. Nonetheless, if the guidelines applied to me, they make a lot of sense and clarifies my role as an IBM employee (if I was one).

This is what I can summarise in general (this is my interpretation, not IBM's stated guidelines):
  1. Know and follow the requirements and rules for employee conduct
  2. Don't hide behind anonymity when blogging about work -- but be savvy about protecting yourself and your privacy
  3. Establish your personal voice/ style
  4. Use a disclaimer -- that your views are not necessarily the views of the orgnisation
  5. The blog is not corporate communications
  6. Managers & executives should not use blogs to communicate organisation policies to employees
  7. Copyright rule applies
  8. Privacy rules apply
  9. Confidentiality rules apply
  10. Ask for permission when citing partners, suppliers, customers
  11. What you blog should add value to the business
  12. Don't pick fights, or start one
  13. Be the first to admit that you are wrong, or correct your mistakes
  14. Use your best judgement -- but ultimately you have sole responsibility for what you blog
  15. Don't let blogging interfere with your job
Read James Snell's post for the details.

The guidelines are a lot more detailed than what Karen Schneider suggested (see my previous post). I think 15 points aren't too bad for a set of guidelines.

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sunday afternoon essay: Observations about the AcidFlask-A*STAR incident

I've avoided posting about the recent AcidFlask-A*STAR episode until now, because (1) it had little to do with libraries & librarianship at the beginning, and (2) figuratively speaking, the whole issue was getting so murky that it was better to let the smoke clear.

But this afternoon, a serenditipious search brought me to the Singapore National Education (SNE) website that detailed the Maria Hertogh Riots (11 Dec 1950). That's when I drew parallels between the two events.

The way I see it, the Maria Hertogh case was essentially a child-custody case, albeit alleviated on a political/ religious pedestal. Back in 1950s, the environment was ripe for dissention to be created.

Fast-forward to the AcidFlask-A*STAR incident: The news first broke in the SG Blogosphere (not mainstream media) with a posting from AcidFlask that only alluded to some legal action being taken by no less than a government agency against him.

Like any community (online or physical), a perceived "attack" on one of its member is easily seen as an attack on the community as a whole. Same thing for the Maria Hertogh case, and same thing for AcidFlask-A*STAR.

In the 1950 riot, I could only guess that rumours and anger spread among the people by word-of-mouth. The masses did not have access to information to keep themselves informed. In the absence of information, emotions were easily stirred.

Same thing for the AcidFlask-A*STAR incident. The SG Blogosphere only had scanty information (from a blogger in their community), and none from A*STAR directly. It didn't help A*STAR that it's position was presented indirectly by the mainstream media, which was largely perceived (by SG bloggers) as the mainstream media not "getting it". More smoke to the fire.

In my opinion, the 1950 riot and the AcidFlask-A*STAR incidents have three commonalities:
  1. In essence, they concerned matters between private parties;
  2. There was imperfect/ indirect access to information;
  3. The results was a lose-lose situation for both sides.

You might have played this "game" before: A bunch of people standing in a straight row, one behind the other. The message is passed down the line one person at a time. End of the line, the message always gets distorted.

Frankly, I think A*STAR was the bigger loser (see this). If A*STAR had posted it's own position on its website, perhaps things might have turned out differently. The world media would have had direct access to what it has to say, rather than rely on indirect sources. AcidFlask had a direct voice to the SG Blogosphere. A*STAR didn't, and it was the mainstream media that carried the story. No surprises why there was a further "Them Vs. Us" divide.

What's my point to all this? And what has it got to do with libraries & librarianship? I refer to this statement from this webpage (last line of the page) reporting on a talk by an actual witness, Mr. George Seow (teacher, journalist, diplomat) to the 1050 riot (btw, read the whole article for the full context):
The message of his talk was clear - that we must preserve racial and religious harmony in a multiracial society. Food is a uniting factor among races.
So I wondered if information could have been a uniting factor among the parties involved -- namely the SG Blogosphere, individual bloggers, mainstream media, and foreign media. And libraries could be neutral platforms for rational public discourse and discussion.

Of course, having information and discussions might not guarantee "harmony". But we intuitively know that without either of them, misunderstandings and disunity would be a given.

Note: Here's a useful reference for a chronology of the AcidFlask-A*STAR episode (by Huichieh Loy), but by no means the only version.

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IM chat with Lansing PL Adult Ref librarian

Just before I submitted my earlier post, I was conversing with the Lansing PL librarian via their Instant Messenging (IM) reference service , over at their Adult Services blog. Chicago (of which Lansing PL is a suburb) is 9,372 miles (or 15,083 km) from Singapore.

This was my first experience with an IM reference service, and it left me with an excellent impression. My key take-aways:
  • IM does not mean instant answers, but users may expect that. Libraries offering such services should manage user's expectations accordingly. Could be as simple as informing the user how long they would get the answer they want.
  • IM reference offers strategic value to libraries. The logic as follows: Teens take to IM easily, more so (I suspect) than walk-in reference questions for the initial question. Offering IM is in effect cultivating future users and supporters of libraries.
  • I think generally only users familiar with IM itself would use the IM reference service (I speak for myself, and I'm confirming this as I learn more). Which is why adults are slower to use IM.So libraries trying to start IM reference either targets at Teens primarily, or offer User Education sessions to adults.

    I had the pleasure of conversing with Patty Higgins, the Head of Reference and the Assistant Director of Lansing PL. Here's the transcript of the chat session (posted with permission):
    ramblinglibrarian: Hi - just checking if anyone is there. I'm from Singapore.

    asklpladult: Sorry for the long delay in response.....I didn't notice the IM notice at first. I'm working the Reference Desk and doing a report on the computer and was too focused on what I was doing.
    [P.S. I'm thinking, "We're thousands of miles away... What delay?" ~ RamblingLibrarian]

    ramblinglibrarian: Hello there! No problem at all. I'm curious -- what day & time is it over there? It's... 11.31pm, Sat May 14 here (I'm at home right now).

    asklpladult: It is Saturday morning....about 10:30 a.m. at the moment.

    ramblinglibrarian: Hope I'm not distracting you from work or readers. If you can spare the time, would you mind answering a few questions?

    asklpladult: It is quiet and there are others at the desk to take care of the patrons. We are kind of new at the IM concept. What questions do you have?

    ramblinglibrarian: I've interviewed Kelli (via email) about the IM service. So since I'm talking to you (an actual "operator"), I thought it would be good to get your perspective, if that's ok.

    asklpladult: Ok. We only get a few messages a week at the adult reference desk. I understand it is busier in the Teen and Youth sections of the library.

    ramblinglibrarian: How do staff answering the IM service feel about it?

    asklpladult: It is still so new... I've had a couple of good exchanges with patrons, and then a few "crank" messages. The "I hate all of you--do you ever READ a book" kind of message. No response when I responded.

    ramblinglibrarian: What's your take then? Do you see it as a good thing to provide to your users?

    asklpladult: I think it is a good thing -- or it will be when it catches on more. As I said, the teens and youth seem to use it more. Adults seem a little slower to embrace new technology. The one extensive back-and-forth exchange I had with a patron was actually a teen. I think it will be a good service once it catches on.

    ramblinglibrarian: Here's a reference question -- What's the distance between Lansing PL and Singapore? (I'm asking partly to see how your IM ref works, as well as posting the info for my blog).

    asklpladult: Let me look that up....might take me a few minutes....

    ramblinglibrarian: ok, i'll wait.
    [About 5 minutes later]

    asklpladult: According to World Almanac, air miles between Chicago and Singapore is 9,372 miles (We are a suburb of Chicago). I try to name the source when I answer a question.

    ramblinglibrarian: Very cool! Now I'm hooked on IM reference... ... How do you market the IM ref service to adults?

    asklpladult: We market it on our website and with small brochures in the library. It's marketed heavily to the schools, especially the high school. It is easy to reach the students -- they are all in one place at school. With adults, it is trickier. We have also mentioned it in the newsletter that is mailed to every household in Lansing.

    ramblinglibrarian: I understand you service both the IM ref service and for walk-in users too. Isn't that distracting?

    asklpladult: It can be... today is fine because there are other staff here. One time I had two IMs coming in at the same time while I happened to be alone at the reference desk during a supper hour. One patron got kind of snotty about my response time with the IM. Turns out she doesn't even live in Lansing. She was from a town considerably outside out service area. From some of her comments I think she had other issues than just me not jumping fast enough for her. Other people are understanding that I have to respond to the LIVE, standing in front of my desk patrons first.

    ramblinglibrarian: Which brings to mind -- what kind of training do staff receive to handle such situations?

    asklpladult: It hasn't come up very often. I'm the only one who ran into the situation. We are all veteran staff, so I think we will handle it the same as we do when others get irate over the telephone or other situations. You do the best you can and explain as best you can. Most people are reasonable. We haven't done any special training.

    ramblinglibrarian: So you don't think IM ref is any different from "traditional" ref?

    asklpladult: Not really. I tend to be wordy, which will probably be a problem if people are in a situation where they prefer short, rapid answers.

    ramblinglibrarian: Just curious -- does your chat-handling software queue the IM chat requests?

    asklpladult: I don't know....the time I had two, both windows were open at the same time. I just juggled them as best I could. I don't think it indicates who was first.

    ramblinglibrarian: What about training to deal with the IM environment? Was this part of your preparation?

    asklpladult: It was pretty brief -- it isn't very complicated. It is more of a "getting used to it". I use IM in my personal life and at least one other staff member has used it, so we are fairly comfortable. I'm not sure about the others. I'll ask.....

    ramblinglibrarian: (aside -- how are you asking? IMing them?)

    asklpladult: No, very low tech. I turned around and ask the other two people on the desk with me. Neither of them have ever handled an IM question yet. Michael commented that a lot of what we do requires time, which doesn't lend itself to "instant" responses.

    ramblinglibrarian: LOL (I meant the low-tech bit). The statement about expectations about IM and the time taken to handle ref questions is very real. So how do you all manage user's expectations?

    asklpladult: It is hard to judge yet. There haven't been a lot of IM questions at this desk. The longest exchange I had was a student looking for several novels, and she had a question about a book she had been waiting for which was long overdue. She wanted to know what she could do about getting it from another library. It was sort of a text exchange of what could have just as easily been a telephone call.

    ramblinglibrarian: OK, last few questions... Where do you see your IM ref service heading or developing?

    asklpladult: I suppose as students become "adult" patrons or have more reference related questions instead of readers' advisory we will probably see more. I think this is going to be a "wait and see" situation.

    ramblinglibrarian: What's your advice/ suggestions for a library deciding to go for IM ref?

    asklpladult: I would suggest some mock situations where everyone gets a chance to try it to see how the interface works. Here I actually have two staff members who have never used the IM method. We have the software running, but there just hasn't been much traffic. I would suggest librarians treat it as just another way to interact with patrons. We do everything over the telephone if patrons call and this is no different (except spelling counts). I cringe when I realize I've sent a message with typos.

    ramblinglibrarian: What would you advise your users who want to use IM?

    asklpladult: I would suggest users just try it. We still have people who come in person and won't call on the telephone.

    ramblinglibrarian: OK, that's all my questions! You've been really helpful. May I know who I've had the pleasure of chatting?

    asklpladult: I'm Patty Higgins, the Head of Reference and the Assistant Director.

    Thanks again to Patty. BTW, I'd love to learn more from librarians or even users who've had experience with IM reference.

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    Saturday, May 14, 2005

    Lansing PL's IM Reference service

    I got to know Kelli Staley (Lansing Public Library) from writing about their blogs. We corresponded and I ended up asking her about the Instant Messenging (IM) feature in their library blogs. She has kindly shared this (via email 28 Apr 05):
    In a nutshell, how does your IM Reference Service work (from the user's point of view)?
    Users log onto their preferred messaging software and send us an IM. Staff then responds to the question, or conducts the typical reference interview to determine the appropriate response to the question.

    If the research involved will take a little while, I've instructed staff to ask for a phone number or email address to contact the patron, and to let the patron know they need a few minutes to research their question.

    Where did you learn about IM Reference?
    October 2004, I attended my first ILA (Illinois Library Association) Conference. While at the
    conference, I attended a session called "Top Technology Trends for Libraries 2004."

    Obviously the title caught my attention, but I also figured I'd gain some relevant insight since one of the presenters was Jenny Levine (TheShiftedLibrarian.com) of Metropolitan Library System (MLS). Our public library is a member of MLS. Jenny spoke of social software and tools such as, Flickr & Furl.

    She also talked about the milestone that Aaron Schmidt (walkingpaper.org) of another MLS member library (Thomas Ford Memorial Library) had just celebrated. In a short time,
    they had logged 100 IM transactions.

    A former America Online user, and current Yahoo Messenger user, I was already aware of issues interfering with an AOL user sending a message to a Yahoo user. Once I heard about Trillian and its ability to deal with multiple messenger brands, I thought ... If Aaron can do this, why can't we?

    I found the prospect of patrons connecting to OUR staff a real plus. The price can't be beat either!

    How did your IM Reference begin?
    Post-Conference, each of us that attended met to report back on what we had learned. Our Library Director has always liked being on the cutting-edge in offering services to our patrons. I told the group what I had learned, and got immediate approval to start IM Reference. It was at this point we decided on separate screen names for each department to help target the questions to the appropriate people.

    What kind of stats do you track?
    We use a low-tech method (a paper form) of tracking our reference questions. We revised the form to provide a column for them to check-off how the question was placed: in person, via email, via phone, or IM. The IM questions are counted with the other reference questions for the month.

    Do you measure the outcomes and effectiveness, like no. of enquiries or even loans?
    Not at this time.

    Does your library have any concerns about network vulnerability? How did you work around them?
    Our entire network is inside a firewall and we run Norton Internet Security on all our staff workstations.

    Any issues (systems or user) faced? And how it's resolved?
    I've found that the "away message" on Trillian expires after about an hour or two. Some staff forget to log out, and instead set the away message when the library closes for the day. I have the library screen names buddy listed on my personal messaging list, and if I see them logged on after hours, I log onto Trillian, which disconnects the library's connection, then I properly log out. (Improved staff training on this issue seems to be helping.)

    Can you share how your staff are scheduled to provide the IM service? A bit of your internal work process.
    Staff at our Reference Desks log on to Trillian as part of their daily routine. Our "official" statement on our website says "This service will be available during library hours when Reference staff members are available to answer questions."

    I have Trillian set up on each staff machine in the department, but we've learned only 1 machine can be logged on to the account at a time. (The last person to log on, receives all incoming messages for that particular screen name.)

    Each shift, staff decide amongst themselves who's going to log on and watch for incoming messages. Sometimes, other duties take staff away from the desk, and we log out until available to answer questions.

    Kelli is the Department Head of Information Technology at Lansing Public Library. She's also the library's Webmaster, and Designer & Editor of the Library's newsletter, Limited Edition. She received her BA in Graphic Design from Columbia College, Chicago.

    She also adds:
    I've worked at Lansing Public Library since June of 1990. I started as a shelver or "page" in 1990, then later moved on to Technical Services, then moved on to Adult Services (programming, reader's advisory, outreach and publicity) and as my job duties shifted, I became Head of IT in 2004.

    Lansing is a south suburb of Chicago, IL with a population of 28,332 people (just under 13,000 residences). Our annual circulation is 195,794.

    My thanks to Kelli. She has a blog at http://www.kellistaley.com/blog.htm

    BTW, as I'm posting this, I'm also IMing with the Lansing PL librarian manning the Adult Reference desk. It's Sat 14 May, 11.40pm as I type this at home, and I'm conversing with a librarian thousands of kilometers in the US (it's Sat 10.30am over at their end). I'll post the interview shortly. How cool is that?!

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    Friday, May 13, 2005

    Libraries as society's insurance against ignorance

    Olkgal relates this incident where she changed this guy's view from "I-have-Google-I-don't-need-librarians-and-libraries" to "Librarians-are-still-important-but-I'm-still-skeptical-of-Libraries".

    Good for her. She also asks what she could say to convince the guy of the need for libraries. Now I don't want to go into any debates about Google being a threat to libraries etc. This really seems like a perception issue, and maybe about the promotion of libraries.

    The value of libraries is not apparent until you need it. It's a lot like Insurance. Until you make a claim, you think the premiums are a hassle.

    Maybe like Insurance, the guy needs to make a "claim", i.e. use the library. Unlike Insurance, he doesn't need to get into any mishaps to benefit from that claim.

    Hmm... Libraries as society's insurance against ignorance and mediocrity?

    So how do I sell libraries like if I were to sell insurance? I need to think about this.

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    Wednesday, May 11, 2005

    Singapore CEO Blog: Mr. Tan Kin Lian

    In an earlier post, I asked if anyone knew of business blogs in Singapore. Thanks to Isaak, who referred me to the blog of NTUC Income CEO, Mr. Tan Kin Lian.

    Then the librarian in me wondered if it was a spoof (i.e. fake) blog. So I emailed Mr. Tan to be sure. He replied almost immediately (it was around midnight) so I asked if I could ask him a few questions about the blog.

    Here's the email interview (posted with permission, and unedited):
    When did you start blogging?
    March 2005

    What made you blog?
    I wanted to use this channel to communicate my views about insurance, finance and current affairs in Singapore.

    What were your impressions of blogging before you started, and how have they changed?
    It is a useful channel. I was quite surprised that it is easy to use.

    Do you see Blogging changing the business that you are in?
    I hope that many people will read my blog and get to know more about our insurance products,
    how we deliver our service and will like to do business with us.

    Do you see more insurance agents blogging?
    I hope to see more insurance agents use the blog to communicate with their customers.

    How do you see your blog developing?
    I will continue to post my views. I hope that more people will read it and give their comments. If there is interest, I will continue to use the blog. It does not take much time from me, as I have posted similar views in my organisation's intranet forum.

    Do you forsee an official NTUC blog (where customers and staff are exchanging comments and engaging in conversations on the blog)?
    We already operate a forum in the Big Trumpet portal that allows people to exchange their views. It has been operating for more than one year. Our Forum platform is for multi-channel communication and is easier to use than the conventional blog
    Mr. Tan's blog is the first Singapore business-related blog that I know of. Probably the first, and dare I say, the only one? I stand to be corrected.

    If I'm hired as his Blog Consultant, this is what I'd say:
    1. The blog ought to have an 'About Me' section, to explain a bit more why he's blogging and purpose for the site (usually I look for the very first post, if there's no 'About Me' section). After all, not all may know who or what NTUC Income does, or like me, wonder if it's a spoof site. I mean anyone can create a blog and name it after a company.
    2. But I feel it's perfectly Ok to use blogger if there are enough references or information to assure that it's legit.
    3. The blog did not come across as advertising the company's products and services, and it should keep it that way.
    4. Also a excellent move to have the CEO himself blog. Tells a lot about the company.
    5. Perhaps each post could start with a introduction or something, rather than just a blogpost citing the published letter. I've come to expect blogs to "speak to me", i.e. to "hear" a human voice rather than read it like a corporate brochure. While the letters carries his voice, I'd prefer not to read what seems to be like a letter.
    I've subscribed to his blog to see what he has to say. It's not everyday that we get to know how a business CEO thinks.

    Actually, libraries and Insurance have much in common, but that's a thought for another blog post.

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    Tuesday, May 10, 2005

    Art Therapy: SAMH Art exhibition @ Marine Parade Community Library

    There's an art exhibition, at the Marine Parade Community Library (MPCL), by the residents of the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH). The artworks are done as part of their treatment for social rehabilitation.

    What these pictures tell me is that you cannot judge a person's abilities by their disabilities.

    WARNING -- Ramble:
    When it comes to acceptance and discussion of mental health issues, the situation in Singapore is no different from other developing countries. It's always been taboo, or misunderstood. I'm sure acceptance and understanding has increased over the years but there's still much to be done.

    Not preaching. Just speaking from personal experience. I don't have mental health issues. At least none that I know of. But I think everyone has some form of mental health issues one time or other, and only in degrees. :)

    Anyway, I've encountered people who have mental health issues. One was this guy in my unit when I was serving my full-time National Service years ago. In one of our bantering sessions in the bunk, he told the few of us about his condition. We thought he was joking, but he wasn't. He said he was on medication and would always have to be.

    He was an OK guy (still is). You'd never guess he had "mental-problems". In fact, compared to my platoon sergeant, he's thousands of times more sane.

    I was forced to question my assumptions and stereotypes of mental health patients. I'd presumed they were in a different (read, negative) class on their own. But how different were they from say, people who have to take long-term medication for heart or kidney problems?

    Then I joined the Public Library Service. That's where I met more people who seem to have problems. Like one reader (gender withheld) who would regularly report to the staff on duty, in conspiratorial tones, about people behaving suspiciously at certain sections of the library. We always checked and of course there was nothing. But we just played along.

    So far, I've not encountered any who acted violently. There have been the odd case of staff being harassed but for those cases, I wonder if the culprit was really suffering from mental health issues, or just plain meaness disguised as having mental problems.

    Apparently SAMH offers more than psychiatric counseling. Their services for individuals or families include social or relationship problems. More about SAMH's services here.


    I was also told that the artists in this exhibition have no family support or are neglected by their families because of their illness. SAMH provides support to these people by housing them in their Homes, providing therapy, with the ultimate aim of preparing these patients for independent living.




    The art pieces are for sale. The exhibition started last Wednesday, and I'm told some of the art pieces were sold already.

    Last rambling thought:
    I think it's not a question of IF we would face mental health issues, but WHEN. Intuitively we know (at least I know) that mental health issues (like Dementia) increases with age. I don't know of any insurance policy that covers mental health problems. How to you guard against that?

    I'm glad the library is lending support organisations like SAMH. But I wonder how we can do more to get people to think further beyond what is presented.Or more important, to question their assumptions about what is seen, and what's not.

    Marine Parade Community Library is co-located with the Marine Parade Community Club and The Necessary Stage.

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