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May 29, 2009

New MINITEX Reference Services Webinar

MINITEX Reference Services is pleased to announce the following upcoming webinars.

Please register today before sessions become full!

To get more information and to register go to http://www.minitex.umn.edu/events/training/
Designing an Online Reference Service: One Size Does Not Fit All

Currently Offered Sessions

Thursday, June 04, 2009 - 1:30 pm - 2:30 pm (Central Time)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009 - 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm (Central Time)

Friday, June 12, 2009 - 10:00 am - 11:00 am (Central Time)

Thursday, June 18, 2009 - 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm (Central Time)

Are you thinking about setting up an online reference service for your library, perhaps reviewing the current system you have in place, or even adding to or supplementing a current service? There are many options available with online reference services, and it can be challenging to know what is out there and what may be a good fit for your library. There are many issues to consider such as size, training, funding, administration, and hours of operation. This hour-long webinar is designed to give librarians an overview of various online reference services, features of each type, what may work best for your library, and other issues such as staffing, scheduling, and training.

May 27, 2009

2.0 Tools in 2.0 Minutes: Yahoo!Pipes

The most recent addition to our ongoing series, "2.0 Tools in 2.0 Minutes," is now live. It provides an introduction to Yahoo!Pipes, which may help lessen your information load. Yahoo!Pipes can monitor multiple online sources automatically and will just deliver content from those sources according to filters that you set up ahead of time. This filtering functionality is just one of the many possibilities of Yahoo!Pipes. Check out several pipes that we've created here: http://pipes.yahoo.com/mlee or try a keyword search of the Pipes site for "library" for more examples.

What 2.0 tool do you use on a daily or weekly basis? How does it help you manage information or do your job more efficiently? Drop a note to tell your story and we may use your submission as our next "2.0 Tools in 2.0 Minutes" video.

May 22, 2009

How College Students Use Their Libraries

A new report from Primary Research Group (available for purchase here) looks at student use of academic library reference departments. Some findings recounted in the press release:

• 21.36% of the students in the sample say that they have sought assistance from a reference librarian within the past month. Students raised in cities were significantly more likely than others, especially those raised in suburbs, to have sought help from a reference librarian within the past month.
• 50% of students at research universities (most of which surely have subject specialists for most majors or concentrations) do not believe that their college library has a subject specialist for their chosen or planned major.
• Close to 19% of students in the fine or performing arts have ever asked reference questions via email, the highest percentage among all types of majors or concentrations.
• 9.87% of the students in the sample said that asking the reference librarian a question was a little embarrassing and that consequently they tried to figure it out for themselves and another 10.38% said that the reference librarians seem busy and that is seems that they would be pestering them by asking them for assistance.


For more on how students use academic libraries, view and download the free and highly detailed report Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester.

May 18, 2009

New Search Engine - WolframAlpha

wolfgram.jpg

The new WolframAlpha Search Engine was finally unveiled this weekend after many months of talk. From the creator of Mathematica, a computational software program used by thousands of engineers and mathematicians.

There has been a lot of talk about what the site has been claiming to do. No so much a replacement for current search engines out there such as Google, Yahoo, or Live.com, but a compliment to them. It is a computational search engine that is suppose to take your query and bring back an answer on a results page and then to make that data useable in one of many formats. TechCrunch provides some links to sites with reviews and descriptions.

So I have been trying it out this morning. At first I was using querries directly from real chat sessions to see how it compared to information provided from the librarians in the chat sessions. So far, Wolfram Alpha hasn't really provided anything useful, much less specific to information I was seeking. Take, for instance, the example above. I tried to find information about "floating docks" (the kind used on lakes and ponds). The phrase was not even recognizable. Neither was "dock" when I tried to search for that on its own. Another example was looking for information about the type of government for the country Tanzania. It was able to give me all types of information about Tanzania except about the government. The data components provided in the search results are a bit confusing at the moment as well. I'm going to need to read more one their capabilities and functions.

Right now, this is making me appreciate the other search engines more because of the multiple options they provide in their search results. As a librarian, I like having many options I can review, weigh and disseminate. My vote is not cast yet on Wolfram Alpha. This is just my initial reaction and attempts at playing around with it. I'll play some more!

May 14, 2009

Historical Newspapers from the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities have a joint venture that may be of interest to researchers and history enthusiasts. Chronicling America provides information on newspapers published since 1690 from across the U.S.

Use the Newspaper Directory to locate titles by location, date, or even ethnic or labor group focus. Once you've found one or more newspapers of interest, the site can help connect you with libraries in your area that own them. A search for Minnesota newspapers yielded some 3,000 title entries (though some entries were duplicates).

The site also includes digitized images of a set of newspapers, including the St. Paul Daily Globe from the late 1800s. Search for these on the Search Newspapers page.

This topic begs mention of several other resources. WorldCat, for instance, can help you locate and request newspapers via interlibrary loan. WorldCat is one of the ELM databases. Another excellent source is Minnesota Reflections. This site from the MN Digital Library provides online access to historical primary source materials including plat maps, diaries, letters, and photos.

May 12, 2009

Library of Congress' Digital Reference Section (DRS) conducts a free, one-hour orientation - This Wednesday!

Library of Congress has spaces available for tomorrow's session, so if you are interested,
please register. The price is right (free).

The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural
institution and the largest library in the world, with more than 134
million books, recordings, photographs and prints, maps, music items,
and manuscripts. Collected in more than 470 languages, the materials
range from rare cuneiform tablets to born digital materials. Through
its Web site (www.loc.gov), the Library makes available its resources,
services, and more than fifteen million of its items in American history
and culture.

How can you access the wealth of information available on the
Library’s Web site? What resources and services can assist you?
The Digital Reference Section (DRS) conducts a free, one-hour
orientation monthly, on the second Wednesday at 11 a.m. - noon, Eastern
time, via Web conference. Throughout the program, DRS staff provide
opportunities to ask questions, learn strategies for online access of
the materials, and sample the collections and resources provided to
facilitate your research.

The next session will be May 13, 11 a.m. - noon, Eastern time. To
register for the Orientation, use the Participant Registration Form,
available from http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/orientation_form.php.
Confirmation, log on instructions, and the handout will be sent via
email. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. For more
information or to request the Orientation for a group, contact the
Digital Reference Section via the Ask A Librarian form at
http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ask-digital.html.


Judith K. Graves
Digital Projects Coordinator
Digital Reference Section
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20540-4604

Email: jgrav [at] loc [dot] gov
(v)202/707-2562; [f]202/252-3116
Virtual Programs & Services: http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/
Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/

May 4, 2009

Will These New Search Tools Make Us Worse Searchers?

Internet search providers are doing some innovative things these days. Recently, two examples surfaced: Wolfram/Alpha, which returns answers rather than sources; and Netbase, which looks at the language surrounding a search term to expand on a topic's context.

Web Tool "as Important as Google" [Wolfram/Alpha], BBC News
A Smarter Search for What Ails You [Netbase], Technology Review

Many of these new search technologies promise to analyze the context of data and return specific answers to our questions, as opposed to current search engines that bring us to sources where we can find the answers. It's a fine point, but an important one. Current search technologies require us to know of or at least analyze the source for an answer. New tech does more of this legwork for us in terms of sifting through a source to find data. But what does this mean, besides allowing us to type in "population Rhode Island" and being shown a number, rather than the Census Bureau web page where that number comes from?

It means that the source is hidden or at least obfuscated, which begs a couple of questions: First, commercial vendors are presenting data rather than sources. Who says they have the principle of good information as a primary motive? Second, such services further remove searchers from the process of search and make us less responsible for checking the sources for found information. We'll potentially be more reliant on the search tool, and less reliant on our own critical thinking skills.

I'm not saying that the Internet should be a place that requires a higher education to use, but I do think a higher level of skepticism can't hurt. Some aspects of these technologies are easily lovable (quicker reference-type answers, making the Internet more practical for everyone, automatic relationship-building between topics) but some other aspects make me nervous. What do you think?