Some library tech notes: online catalogs, accessibility on mobile devices, tech vs info literacy, and digitized comics

September 13, 2010

Just a few quick links and thoughts about libraries and technology:

Online and mobile library accessibility
Fiona of A Work in Progress recently wrote about library catalogs and touched on how library catalogs online often don’t behave the way Google does in that if you don’t formulate your query exactly correctly, you may get zero results. Amazon and Google will correct misspellings or suggest alternate searches, but plenty of electronic library catalogs force you to figure it out yourself. Ross Singer’s super-long post at In the Library with the Lead Pipe from about a year ago examines some similar issues in user-friendliness and accessibility. Even I frequently Google a book title or look it up on Amazon if I’m not sure I know the author or if I’m not sure I’m spelling things right because using library catalogs can be such a hassle. I know that we’ve come so far from the cards-in-drawers model of a catalog (and the accessibility of records with that model), but as average users become more comfortable with computers and grow to expect search tools to behave like Google and Amazon, we need to be able to keep up.

One library that’s doing a great job with making the catalog (and the library in general) accessible and friendly is the San Jose Public Library, which recently launched its cross-platform mobile app. Sarah, the Librarian in Black, reports on the app’s features (including a smart search with predictive text, the ability to reserve and renew, access to magazines and newspapers, upcoming programming, and more!), reflects on working with Boopsie and the Apple Store, and emphasizes the importance of having a good mobile-friendly website above all else when it comes to mobile accessibility. What kinds of mobile access does your library offer? Do you have a mobile-friendly website? A mobile app? Do you offer reference via text? Notifications that holds are available via text? Access to periodicals and eBooks from users’ home computers? From their mobile devices? It’s hard to talk about what public libraries as a whole “should” do since there can be huge differences in the communities they serve, but for communities with patrons who are glued to their phones, mobile access is an important part of library access.

Technology literacy vs. information literacy
Last month one of Brian’s Reference Question of the Week posts at Swiss Army Librarian dealt with advanced Googling techniques. While Google is most people’s search engine of choice (they have about a 63% market share) and its suggested searches help correct mistakes like misspellings or adjust for alternate verb forms, there are still advanced tricks you can use to refine your searches. Search engines have come so far from their Boolean operator-bound roots (even I remember being taught how to use AltaVista in middle school!) and are a lot more user-friendly, but there’s still room for information and technology literacy skill instruction in using them. Google offers a cheat sheet that covers different operators, and their basic search help and more search help pages offer lengthier explanations of how to refine a search query. These can, of course, also be helpful for older users who may not be as comfortable with the Internet and need more assistance.

Brian links to a ReadWriteWeb report that claims that digital natives might not be as media-savvy as people think, citing a study that found that many students never went further than “it was the first result on Google” when assessing a website’s reliability. But it’s not all doom and gloom:

Another interesting finding from the study involved the use of Wikipedia. Perhaps because of teachers’ insistence over the years that the user-generated encyclopedia is not a credible source of information, only a third of the students used Wikipedia to search for answers when given particular tasks. This is a drop from earlier studies (like Raine & Tancer, 2007) which showed Wikipedia use at 46% among students.

Other popular trusted sources included SparkNotes (a study guide site), WedMD, Planned Parenthood, CNN, BBC, Microsoft (specifically Encarta and Office-related resources) and those sites with a .gov or .edu extension. Some students even thought that .org domain name meant a site was inherently trustworthy – they weren’t aware that the .org extension can be freely registered just like .com and is not for nonprofit use only, as may have originally been intended.

Technology literacy doesn’t automatically impart information literacy. Young people still need to be taught how to evaluate the veracity of a source–maybe even more than their parents did when they were growing up–and they are receptive to those lessons. Frank Wescott at Tech & Learning discusses using intentionally misleading websites (Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is my favorite!) to help students determine whether or not a website is a reliable source. Wikipedia’s recently published FAQ for librarians is also a good resource.

Digitized comics
And in more fun news (via Metafilter), the Digital Comic Museum is a collection of Golden Age comics that are now in the public domain and are free to download. Cool!

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1 Comment Leave a Comment

  • 1. Fiona  |  September 14, 2010 at 5:23 AM

    Thanks for the mention! Great post.

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