Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Blogging course: MICA Innovation Fiesta 2005

My colleague, Rajen, and I would be conducting a blogging-related course tomorrow, as part of the MICA Innovation Fiesta 2005. Two sessions actually. Participants will come from various MICA agencies.

The course title is "Blogging: New Tool of the E-Generation". I didn't come up with the course title. Maybe Rajen did. Guess he wanted the course to sound "sexy" :)

We've also started a training/ demonstration blog -

Rajen's the expert in content packaging and courseware development. He's also an excellent trainer, so while I'm there to conduct the hands-on session, I also hope to learn the finer points of being a trainer from him.

There's a full registration of 45 people. At the end of the course, we would like the participants to:
  1. Define, understand the types and uses of blogs
  2. Know basic terminologies associated with blogs and blogging
  3. Understand how blogs can be created
  4. Make an informed choice on blogs and blogging

The last point is important. I would think it's the crux of the whole course.

From my point of view, the aim of the course is not to encourage or discourage people from blogging. We tell them what it is, its applications and use; the potentials and pitfalls; opportunities and risks. They make their own choice as to what happens after the course.

From most non-bloggers I've spoken to, the popular perception is that it's something that the young & frivilous engage in. Their views are shaped by the local media, no doubt. I used to think that way about blogs too, until someone took issue with me.

I decided the person's indignation was valid, as I was then making a statement based on mere perception without bothering to find out what exactly what blogging was (unthinkable for a librarian!)

So I started a blog as an experiment. What better way than to try it out yourself, right? It was soon apparent to me that blogging was no different from having a personal website (like Yahoo! geocities). A blog is merely a tool. It's how you use it.

The other day, someone asked me if "blogging was dangerous (i.e. subversive)". I replied that it was as dangerous as you think books/ language/ ideas/ expression are dangerous. I also wondered if Gutenberg was asked that question.

I've been thinking of what to say as an introductory statement tomorrow. Think I'll qualify that I'm no Blog Evangelist.

I'm just doing what I believe a librarian should be doing -- which is to present information factually and efficiently, so that the users can make up their own minds on how innovative they want to be.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Did you know you could Ask A (public library) Librarian?

Updated: 29 Aug 05 - Children Services email

A few weeks ago while reading my RSS feeds, I came across GadgetDude's post where he asked for recommendations on XML resources. I suggested he ask a librarian (btw, he wasn't in Singapore but that wasn't a problem).

He took up my suggestion and emailed to the advisory & enquiry service manned by my public librarian colleagues. Judging from this post, I guess he found it useful.

GadgetDude is right about us needing to publicise it more.

My PLS colleagues & I plan to launch a publicity campaign for our advisory & enquiry service within the next 3 months. Not only do we want to raise public awareness of the existence of such a service, but also what questions they can ask, and we want people to be comfortable posing questions to librarians.

"Ok, what's so difficult about asking questions?", some may ask.

There's more to it really (otherwise librarians wouldn't be trained in Reference Interview Skills). There are many published articles on this aspect, so I won't blog a long post here.

Meantime, feel free to try out the public library advisory & enquiry services via these email addresses (or walk-up to the librarian on duty at the regional libraries):
  • (updated 29 Aug05: Sorry for the omission!)


I'll explain more on what the different email addresses handle in future posts. For now if you're in doubt of which email to use, just send to any one. UPDATE, Nov 2006: The NLB has consolidated those email addresses, that have been struck out, to one single email address - (only remains at time of this update)

Emails sent to the addresses above would be answered by librarians from the public libraries. We promise to reply within 3 days.

Btw, if you wish to ask the reference librarians at the National Library, i.e. Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, you can use their online enquiry form.

Feel free to pass the word around.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

IFLA 2005, Oslo: Day 8 (Goodbye, Norway)

Day 8: 19 Aug 05. Last day in Norway.

Final meeting of the Standing Committee (SC) - Libraries for Children & Young Adults. We went through the rest of the agenda items, more discussion on the proposed section programme for next year's IFLA, assignments for articles for the next issue of the newsletter, more administrative matters, discussion of the proposed project.

The IFLA closing ceremony was yesterday, which I missed. Which was a pity because our SC won the Best Newsletter award (I mentioned in a previous post that our SC received a nomination).

The Section of Libraries for Children and Young Adults issues a regular newsletter for members containing news of children's issues worldwide. There are also news of conferences and projects. Free to sections members.

Here's the PDF of the June 2005 issue (IFLA Best Newsletter 2005 Award). Our SC chairperson attributed the award largely to the efforts of my colleague (the outgoing member of the SC). What a grand way to end her term!

This increases the expectations on my part, now that I'm taking over the role of Editor for the newsletter. Some of the experienced SC members joked to me about it, but they were encouraging as well. I tell myself it's not the award that I should aim for, but for the newsletter to meet the needs of the section first.

There was another award for our SC. A german colleague won a "Best Poster" award. Congratulations, Ute! (name pronounced as "Oo - tay"). A write-up will certainly go into the next issue of the newsletter.

The meeting this day started at 8am, ended at 10.30am. And with that, it concluded my first IFLA conference, though the work has just begun.

This conference has been meaningful for me because of the involvement in the standing committee. Great bunch of colleagues. They made me feel welcome, even though total interaction time was about 10 hours or less.

Working in the SC has given me a greater sense of purpose and brings my understanding of what it means to be a librarian to a different level.

Olso2005 19Aug05 001 - On way to Airport

Goodbye, Norway.

I've experienced only a small part of you. I like what I've seen. You're expensive (really, really expensive!) But the weather has been wonderful, and the people equally so.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

IFLA 2005, Oslo: Day 7 (part 2)

Day 7: 18 Aug 05. Last library visit on the last day of the IFLA conference.

Bærum Public Library (pronounced as "Bar-room") was a 15min ride by bus from the conference venue (this was the main library we visited, if I got my facts right). About 50 people were invited for a visit by their Library Director, Torny Kjekstad.
Bærum PL

They have this big metal piece shaped like a book at the drive way. Cool or what? :)

We were told that the library has been concerned with cost reduction measures for the past year. Part of the cost-reduction measures included the promotion of self-help services like online reservations and using self-service kiosks. They have strong political support and an active community volunteer group. I was surprised to learn that library-volunteerism was a new concept in Norway.

This was the cafe area, which separated the library reading/ collection area and the auditorium. It was what you'd see when you step into the main entrance.

This was the entrance to the library proper.

A view of the Children section...
children area

... where they have this really quirky "Pacifier Tree"! It's a "tree" made up of pacifiers -- the kind for babies. Parents could exchange the pacifiers for some library gifts (as an introduction to library membership, apparently) and the pacifiers -- washed of course -- would be hung on the tree.
pacifier tree

I wonder if such an exchange scheme would work to wean smokers off cigarettes. Hmm...

They have one self-checkout machine.

We were also told that Bærum Public Library topped the statistics for book borrowing & also reading skills in Norway. Now that's a positive correlation between public lending services and reading skills!

They highlighted a Summer Reading programme, where completion of a reading book would entitle the participants to a library party (they had to hold four such parties recently because of its popularity).

Their library also organised reading groups for the mentally handicapped. They had to give up their book delivery service to the elderly because of cost-cuts though.

This library we visited was a single-floor building.
main aisle

I found these quite interesting: Study cubicles.
study cubicles
study cubicles2

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IFLA 2005, Oslo: Day 7 (part 1)

Day 7: 18 Aug 05. Last day of the IFLA conference.

Morning started with a guided tour of the National Library of Norway (NL Norway).
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The guide explained that the National Library opened only in 1999. Up until then, the national library functions were assigned to the Oslo University Library. So as a building, the National Library was relatively new. More facts here (in English).

The foyer:
National Library Norway 18Aug05_1

Inside the library, a landing area (the lift lobby, actually) ...
NL Norway2

... where you'd see this when you look down:
NL Norway3

For Singaporeans, this is where the terms "National Library" and "Public Library" get a bit confusing, as we use it interchangably.

Typically, a "national library" is distinct from a "public library" in terms of its function, collection and management. In Singapore, the management of the National Library and the public libraries are under the same body -- NLB (prior to NLB being formed in 1995 by an act of parliament, it was the then "National Library" that managed the national library and the public libraries). This arrangement is quite unique in the library world.

Hence, Singaporeans often refer to the public libraries as "national library" too. Strictly speaking, the "national library" is the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library (non-lending to general public; materials for reference only). The lending libraries are the public libraries...
get it?

... Ok, back to the NL of Norway.

The NL of Norway's premises was renovated and reopened on Monday 15 August 05. It's open to all and provides lending copies for selected items. Like most (or should I say, all) National Libraries, they have a legal deposit function. Something like up to 7 copies to be deposited (Singapore's requirement is 2 copies).

The guide brought us to the Music Department, where they house their National Music Collection. Main type is western music, and the most important collection being Norwegian mat erials & Norwegian folk music. I was told this was the music score for the National Anthem of Norway:
National Anthem of Norway

This one's really interesting -- the score itself has these dials, which the conductor would rotate so that there are different variations to the entire piece.

We were brought to another section and shown some rare materials (the guide explained they had 410 items at that moment). The oldest printed book in their collection was printed in 1466. Norway got its first printing press in 1643.

This one blew me away -- a book with a "Fore-edge painting". The edge looks normal enough but when folded like so...
Fore-edge Painting
... you see a painting! And the amazing this is that you turn it horizontally and there's a different picture. The title of the book is "The Epicurean, a tale" by Thomas Moore (published in 1827).

This is their smallest printed book.
Smallest Printed book in Norway

And there are bottles (of alcohol, presumably) hidden in this book:
hidden bottles in book

This is a shot of the area leading to the Norwegian-American history collection (many Norwegians migrated to the US).
NL Norway

This is a close-up of a card catalogue of the Norwegian-American collection.
Norwegian-American Collection
The catalogue was started by a librarian -- as a hobby it seems -- years ago, and subsequently it's been computerised. The card catalogues are still being used as reference.

Here are a few more selected pictures:

Reading area:
Reading Room2
Reading Room

Wall mural at the foyer staircase up to the second level:
wall mural

Exhibition hall:
exhibition hall

Microfilm section:
Microfilm section

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

IFLA 2005, Oslo: Day 6

Day 6: 17 Aug in Oslo.

Information Coordinators' Meeting in the morning (i.e. a briefing for all the folks appointed as Information Coordinators from the various Standing Committees). I had to miss a visit to a library because of this meeting... what do do? Duty calls.

I counted about 45 people in the room. Wow.

A question was asked: "How many of you are newly appointed Information Coordinators?" About 20 hands went up (including mine). OK, I don't feel so bad now.

Main agenda discussed was the role of IFLANET (the official IFLA website). The web administrator (a lady from France, if I'm not mistaken) explained about her role as web-master, which was to design & maintain all IFLA electronic services, maintain consistency across services, upload & archive documents.

[How does one get a job as IFLA web-master? Not that I'm qualified. Just curious.]

Other items briefed included the rationale for not decentralising the web-administration for the services, instructions & specs on sending materials for uploading.

There was a relatively long discussion on IFLA's mailing lists (listservs) for the various sections. I was actually going to ask whether each Standing Committee could start their blog. But a lady next to me beat me to the question by asking if IFLA planned to introduced RSS to the site (another lady quickly asked, "What's that?").

A RSS feature would have to be KIVed for now. There's only one web-master for the maintenance for the entire IFLANET. They are trying to recruit a bigger team I think... Nah, think I'll stick to my current job. :)

After the meeting, I spoke to the lady who made the point about RSS. Turns out she's a legal adviser working for an organisation in the Neatherlands (will update her organisation's url later; left her business card in the office).

She says she doesn't blog but knows someone who does. Nope, she doesn't know Sybilla.

We promised to keep in touch. Who knows, we might just start a blog for our own standing committees in the near future, with blessings from IFLA.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

IFLA 2005, Oslo: Day 5 (part 2)

Continues from previous post: Day 5 - 16 Aug in Oslo. From the session on "Libraries serving disadvantaged persons".

The second speaker shared her experience in using the IFLA checklist for disability services. Made a comment that implementation of services was still down to economic considerations, and that "changes occur very slowly."

What's interesting and inspiring for me was thatspeaker begun by saying she's deaf. Said she could only lip read, and noticed the conference room did not have emergency evacuation signs in text form, so would the audience help her to escape if there was a fire... :)

My own takeaways from this session:
The issues surrounding library services for people with disabilities have not changed much since my own literature review for my thesis in 2000. Progress in this area is slow.

However, discussion is still needed because otherwise it eliminates the possibility of future service provision. There has to be professional consciousness, I think.

Main reason for this slow progress is really down to economics, as the speaker said. And that's simply the fact. Not everyone is happy about it, but I think what's key is to acknowledge this, and deal with it.

IFLA has a Standing Committee for libraries serving people with disabilities. They've published a checklist developed checklist and guidelines. Would be put on IFLAnet after the conference.

Here's a thought: Which is cheaper in the long run? Retrofit a library to cater for selected groups of people with disabilities, or subsidise a home delivery and collection service?

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IFLA 2005, Oslo: Day 5 (part 1)

NOTE: I'm now back in Singapore, but posts are backdated. Thanks to those who mailed me to say they found the posts informative. I'll finish up the remainder of the posts over the next few days.

Day 5 - 16 Aug in Oslo. Attended the session on "Libraries serving disadvantaged persons".

First speaker was Mr. Mogens Wiederholt. He talked about Denmark's national strategy for library services to people with disabilities (I have to check the full paper to confirm if it's library services in general). He continued that the national policy came about because of efforts from the Equal Opportunities Center in Denmark.

Shared that the national strategy should contain the action plans for each library, standards for access (including Digital Library Services), education of staff & the formation of an Information Network, starting a company to develop products for people with disabilities (he mentioned more, but I only had time to note those points down).

He made a point that "equal opportunities" was defined as "everyone should have the same possibility to make use of services offered" or "an almost equal starting point". [Personally, I think the difficulty lies in agreeing with what is meant by "equal starting point" and whether this is subsidised, and by whom.]

Speaker also mentioned a danish study... (really got to read the paper).

He concluded by saying that there have been improvements since the 1998 study in Denmark, but still a long way to go in establishing full accessibility.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

IFLA 2005, Oslo: Day 4 (part 3)

15 Aug 05. After the presentation at about 1pm, my Standing Committee rushed off to Oslo Public Library for the launch of the Nordic Picture Books Exhibition.

What Oslo Public Library looks like from the outside. It's huge.
Olso2005 15Aug05 018 Oslo PL

The Children's Section.
Olso2005 15Aug05 019

The view from the third floor. It overlooks a wide expanse of space. People are just sitting on the grass with the shirts off (guys only lah, not the women).
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What you see when you go up their second floor.
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View of their 2nd level circulation area.
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We only had time to stay for about an hour before we all had to rush to another venue for an extra Standing Committee meeting. The extra section meeting ended around 4pm. Went back to hotel to change into something more comfortable as there was a special event in the evening -- the official opening of the National Library of Norway.

We took a train down to the National Library near a place called the Hydro Park (Drammensveien)...
Olso2005 15Aug05 036

... but we didn't actually go inside the library (for now). We were seated on a open area (some 2,000 delegates -- perhaps more)...
Olso2005 15Aug05 039

... and we watched the opening ceremony and event from a huge screen while seated on the grass. Kind of like "Woodstock" for librarians!
Olso2005 15Aug05 042

This is how the National Library looks from the outside.
Olso2005 15Aug05 045
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BTW, the sky looks bright but the time was already 7 or 8pm. The day just seems so long, really and I think that' s maybe why the pace of life don't seem to hectic -- at least for me, my perception was that it's still bright and there's plenty of time to do what you want.

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IFLA 2005, Oslo: Day 4 (part 2)

Mon 15 Aug. Attended the Children's & Young Adults session after the previous one on government documents. Incidentally, the Libraries for Children & Young Adults section celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, hence the presentation theme "A voyage in the past, present & future".

Big attendance. Must have been like 200 people in the room (the hall was huge though. Lots of room to spare)
Olso2005 15Aug05 010

Olso2005 15Aug05 003 SCCYPL presentation
The panelists -- colleagues from the Standing Committee for Libraries for Children and Young Adults.

First speaker gave an overview of the Norwegian Public Libraries (from historical view to present day services and activities). Highlights from the paper:
  • In 1970s the "silence" sign disappeared for good starting in the children's PL!
  • Norway has a national programme (2003 - 07) called "Make Room for Reading!" - a strategy to stimulate a love of reading & acquisition of knowledge.
  • They also have a national programme for arts & culture in education -- where Norwegian libraries & schools work together to promote Norwegian culture.
  • Mentioned a survey of the reading habits of Norweigian children & Young Adults (unfortunately, the study was done in Norweigian)
  • Made a point that libraries should provide "access to expression, not just information". Also suggests that digital production (by users) was a means to enable expression.
  • Suggests a need to clarify roles of Public Libraries and School Libraries.

The second paper was on best practices of Children's Library services from around the world (which is one of the section's ongoing project). Showed pictures of what various Children's Libraries activities, like this "Donkey mobile library":
Olso2005 15Aug05 012b Best Practices

Presented lots of pictures from Croatia, Norway, Africa, UK, italy, Columbia, Singapore. Speaker said the project was to "broaden our views & minds" and that "your practice could be the solution for someone else".

Final paper was on the history of the section & plans for the future. The section was established in 1955 and called "Library Work with children" (now it's called "Libraries for Children & Young Adults). The 1950s was a time when new insights was made into child's development and psychology, and there was the UN declaration of children's rights. So this contributed to the established and growth of Children's libraries and services. Looking ahead, key issues will be on aspects like literacy & partnership.

There was a pep talk speech at the end (by the president of the Norwegian Reading Association). He said getting children to read is not about "competition with Reality-TV" but about "class, race, gender". That "those who don't read will get doors in their face".

His preposition was that libraries and the work of librarians was about stemming against the tide of intellectual barbarianism (e.g. mindless TV programming). Interesting concept.

He wants librarians to say out loud to the world, "I am proud to be a librarian & you should support what I do".

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IFLA 2005, Oslo: Day 4 (part 1)

Monday, 15 Aug 05. Attended the session on "Government information and official publications". There were 5 speakers who came from Iran, the Carribeans, U.S. (two of them), Singapore (my colleague).

Speaker from Iran talked about the digitisation work of her organisation (the Management and Planning Organisation of Iran. Shared some challenges faced in the digitisation work. They are moving towards a "full digital library".

The one from the Carribeans spoke about e-government initiatives in the Carribeans (btw, I learnt that the Carribeans is made up of 15 countries).

US speaker introduced the work of the Government Printing Office (GPO), one of which was a project to start a registry of u.s. Government digitisation projects (I think Singapore ought to start something like this too). I learnt there was a "" proj ( It's a cross-agency gateway to selected U.S. government science & tech information. This gateway allows deep web-searching in to database records that would otherwise not be retrieved by search engines. Challenges faced included the wide scope & breath of audience -- which then affected taxonomy issues.

My colleague shared NLB's experience in being involved in the e-government initiatives (e.g. Information Literacy programmes). There was an overview of the Singpaore government's e-govt timeline, and what role the NLB played in supporting the national IT strategy.

Olso2005 15Aug05 002 Rajen
That's my colleague, Rajen, on the extreme right of the picture at the lecturn.

Last speaker talked about the challenges of a networked society. Mentioned that existing (institutional) structures of searching and presenting information are not evolving fast enough vis-a-vis globalisation, leading to "disintermediation" - i.e. libraries are bypassed for google. Suggests that as libraries put their collection online, they must also make available assistance online. Mentioned (GIO) and explained a framework of sorts called "EULEGIS".

Take-aways from the session:
Seems all governments in the world are moving towards "e-government". It might be easier to count the number of governments not doing so. The Internet is definitely firmly entrenched in government and society but a fully networked society cannot evolve by chance.

Effective e-government initiatives must include a national strategy for making its citizens "IT literate" and "Information Literate". That's might therefore be a key role for libraries to play, particularly public libraries.

BTW, as a response to a question during Q&A, the Carribean speaker made reference to a New South Wales study on the role of Public Libraries & E-government. Got to check up on that study.

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

IFLA 2005, Oslo: Day 3

Day 3 - 14 Aug 05, Sunday. Conference opening ceremony at Oslo Spektrum. Incidentally, this year is also Norway's 100th year of Independence, so it was quite appropriate to host IFLA here.
Olso2005 14Aug 001 Opening Ceremony

His Majesty King Harald V of Norway arrived at 10.45am sharp. I was seated way at the top of the indoor stadium and from my vantage point, the king was dressed in a simple business suit and looked like a typical business man.

Speeches were given...
Olso2005 14Aug 007 Minister Culture & Church Affairs Valgerd Svarstad
Minister of Culture & Church Affairs

There were performances...
Olso2005 14Aug 018 - Secret Garden

In one performance, the harpist was using electric guitar effects pedals like Reverb & Distortion. Never seen or heard that before for a harp!

Then the grand finale, where they paraded all the flags of the participating countries on stage. It's a packed stage.
Olso2005 14Aug 031

All very nice. Even the speeches were short and sweet. What I remember most from the ceremony was an annecdote from one of speaker, on the "Challenge of Change":
Einstein passed his assistant a set of exam questions for the year. His assistant asks, "Aren't these the same questions as last year?". And Einstein's reply: "Yes, but the answers have changed". Sort of sums up today's reality to some extent, doesn't it?

There's about 2500 participants. The reception hall was just packed with IFLA delegates.
Olso2005 14Aug 034

After the opening ceremony, I attended the session for Newcomers to IFLA. Seems there are a lot of newcomers, which certainly bodes well for IFLA. The speakers elaborated more on how IFLA is organised, what are the roles of the governing board, how decisions are made and encouraged participants to be involved in the various Standing Committees. IFLA has 8 divisions (called Sections) and 44 sub-sections (called Standing Committees).
Olso2005 14Aug 040

I'm beginning to see that it's the involvement in the committee work that differentiate IFLA from other conferences. The papers and presentations are organised and chaired by the respective Standing Committees (SC). Then there's the SC meetings that serve as platform for IFLA members (all volunteers for that section).

The way I see it, the papers and presentation serve as platform for intellectual discussions while the work at the SC level serve to carry out projects.

I don't have a full grasp of IFLA's structure yet -- its various sections and SCs, membership, voting rights. But I think I have enough information at this point to have a conceptual understanding of how my involvement in the Standing Committee ties in to IFLA and library work in general.

Later that evening, I went over to a place called "Stratos", where Jostein Gaarder (of Sophie's World) was one of the author speaking. I learnt that his name is pronounced as something like "Hoo-steen" (Jostein) "Gur-duur" (Gaarder).

The place was right at the rooftop where there's a magnificent view of Oslo.
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The author-talk was followed by a music performance, playing what seemed to me like a cross between jazz and new age ethereal music. Maybe it's unique Norwegian Jazz. Nice.
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