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Mulled Whine

Submitted by Tom Peters on December 28, 2005 - 5:34pm

Max the Dog Wakes Up in Blue SpringsFor the last few mornings during my pre-dawn walkabout with our dog Max I have been mulling over the Library 2.0 thing, especially the overview that Michael Stephens posted on this blog in November.

Some of the ideas jostling under the Library 2.0 rubric I have never even considered, which is great. Others are ideas I have been mulling over and whining about—primarily internally as a private whine—for years.

One of these old whines concerns the lack of benefit library systems and services glean from actual users and usage of these systems and services. I have been concerned about this since I first gazed in the late Eighties on transaction logs—printed on greenbar paper—from the OPAC at my library. People clearly wanted to comment on the search process, the collection, and the books they found and read, but the system provided no easy and convenient outlet. Librarians need to make the systems and services they create and offer to their user populations more participatory. By participatory, I do not mean adding a token user to some library advisory committee or going from an annual patron evaluation survey to a semi-annual one. I am thinking about systems that actually derive benefit from continuously analyzing how a system or service is used and that really encourage people to contribute something to an information system.

Librarians and users need information systems that facilitate input from users, such as a note in an OPAC record written by a user who makes an interesting connection between two books in the collection, or a user-supplied book review, or a typographical error spotted by a user, or—gasp!—tapping into the collective knowledge of the community of users of a library to help answer reference questions. One problem with this lovely vision of a new type of participatory library is what I call the Titch Thomas effect, in honor of the graffiti artist in the poem "Sunny Prestatyn" by Philip Larkin. (You will need to look that poem up and read it for yourself, or at least google "Titch Thomas." This is a family blog, after all.) The Titch Thomas effect, sanitized and whitewashed a bit, states:

  • Whenever you open up any information system to truly public participation, you also provide an outlet for certain baser human impulses, which may be just a different type of mulled whine. Wikis, for example, need to deal with the Titch Thomas effect on a regular basis. If I understand the Library 2.0 movement at all, it seems to me that one of the core values and beliefs underlying this movement is that, if we as librarians can develop systems and services that capitalize on all the positive benefits users and usage can bring to these same systems and services while deflecting or redirecting manifestations of the Titch Thomas effect, our library systems and services will better meet the information needs of users and build a stronger community of information seekers and users.
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Comments (2)

Another wonderful and witty

Another wonderful and witty post. I enjoyed the picture of your dog Max. Now I am very curious and I am going to have to go and look up the Titch Thomas effect - did you invent that or is it named after you. Thanks! :)

Note that there are some

Note that there are some library online systems that are starting to capture patron input on a regular basis. The Ann Arbor District Library catalog has a book reviews and blogs section (run on Drupal) which hosts librarian reviews with open comments by patrons, and which regularly gets dozens of comments on topics like new branch planning, snow shoveling near the bike parking, and new features and ideas for the online catalog.

I fear that the general pace of change of ILS vendors is slow enough that libraries who want to have meaningful discussions with their patrons will have to build a community discussion forum in front of their catalog, rather than being able to count on wedging patron comments right into catalog records.

One way of dealing with the graffiti effect is fairly simple - if you require that all comments and additions to the library system\\\\\\\'s comments be done only after the patron logs in with their library card, you at the very least have real names and accountability. That does a lot for behavior in discouraging the worst of anonymity online.