My Summer Class Did Start Yesterday

May 31, 2006

My summer class – ILS506 Information Analysis and Organization – began yesterday. I was able to successfully log in, get the syllabus and read the unit 1 lecture notes. For assignments this week, we are required to email the professor to let him know that we were able to log into the class, post an introduction to the class discussion and read several items. This week’s readings are Understanding MARC, the Preface to Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (2002 edition), the AARC table of contents, AARC general rules for description, chapter 1 and chapter 2 of AARC, chapter 1 from Lois Chan’s Cataloging and Classification: An Introduction (2nd edition, 1994) and the introduction, p. ix-xiv, and p.3-9 from Jerry Saye’s Manheimer’s Cataloging and Classification (4th edition, 2000). 

So far everything seems to be going fine. My biggest problem is that my copy of the Manheimer text has not arrived yet. I ordered it on May 17th – which was right after I registered for the class. Unfortunately, it did not ship until May27th – and I am now waiting not-so-patiently for it to arrive. Hopefully, I will see it by early next week. Yet again, getting textbooks is definitely the most stressful part of being in a distance education program. ARGH!!!!!

IT Klingon-Speak

May 31, 2006

One of my favorite recent posts about the divide between IT staff and non-techies is this post from A Wandering Eyre (I forgot to mention it in yesterday’s post about techies vs non-techies). Jane’s comment that “one group starts speaking Klingon and everything goes all to hell” made me laugh so hard. Sometimes it really does seem that way. I am more often on the side of the tech support staff than the user. But even so, I am often so astounded at how quickly dialog can totally break down. I think this is so typical of interactions between IT and users. There needs to be greater understanding on both sides of this divide and some common ground.

As for the whole “have you tried rebooting” question. It certainly is frustrating. Even when I have to call tech support from one of our many vendors, this is always the first question – despite the fact that the number I am calling is supposed to be for 2nd or 3rd tier support. I think this is just related to fact that quite often, 6 or 7 reboots will make one’s computer happier. Just keep shutting the sucker off and on until it works!!

Techies vs. Non-Techies in and around the Library

May 30, 2006

A post at LibrarianInBlack today, pointed me to a blog article by David Lee King discussing communication issues between Techies and Non-Techies. This is a subject that I grapple with on a daily basis. As such, I was incredibly interested in reading through all of the different articles and posts – and spent quite a bit of time doing so. One of my favorites was a link to an article entitled How to help someone use a computer by Phil Agre. This article has some great tips about helping people use computers that I think all techies should review often in order to maintain a good relationship with users. Being a techie (and a user) can be difficult – and there is a definite divide between those who understand computers and technology and those who do not. As the primary means of technical support for staff in my library, I am often painfully aware of this technological divide. I have worked hard – very hard to try and bridge that divide.

I think that this divide is the result of a natural tension between technical people and those users they support. Techies have a responsibility to maintain equipment, keep it running smoothly, minimize down time and maintain good security. And they need to do this in spite of users. For many IT people, this makes users a large part of the problem in maintaining equipment. Spyware, viruses and many other problems make maintaining desktops a tricky and difficult task. Users often mistakenly install spyware, open viruses, keep their passwords under their mouse pads and commit many other IT “sins.” As a result, many techs feel as if the end user is the greatest threat to security and to computers. However, it is vitally important to note that without users there would be no need for technical support. I constantly remind myself that just because I can spot a virus-infected email and because I can remove spyware myself doesn’t mean that this is common knowledge. I am expected to know these things in order to help my coworkers. It is important that users be able to spot viruses attachments and understand about spyware. But, it is my responsibility to give them that knowledge. If we have problems with these things, I can’t think of it as a problem with users. There is something else going on – and I need to find a positive way to deal with the situation that empowers users rather than denigrates them. Phil Agre’s article has some great tips to help with this.

One of the bizarre things about being a library tech is that I am often on both sides of this natural divide between techs and non-techs. In the library, I am without a doubt The Tech. However, this wasn’t always the way that people in the college’s IT department saw it. To them, I was another user – one with more requests and more problems than other users. They often did not respect the amount of technology nor the importance of the systems in the library. It took me a long time to convince the IT staff that I had decent technical knowledge, that I knew what I was talking about and that I alleviate some of their burden. I still have to remind them about how firewall changes, network changes etc. will affect our systems. I now regularly attend all IT meetings – and I even think that many of the guys think of me as an honorary IT member. It was a long hard battle to get to this point but I think that this battle has helped me understand the position of the end user a little bit better.

In the meantime, I think that I will put a copy of Phil Agre’s article on my bulletin board. I think reading it repeatedly could be a good thing – and help to make me a better tech support person.

Classes Start Tomorrow

May 29, 2006

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last several weeks without any school work. My summer class, ILS506 – Information Analysis and Organization, starts tomorrow. I plan to enjoy the rest of the day – and hopefully, I will be ready to start work again tomorrow!!!

Most Frustrating Part of Online Classes

May 29, 2006

All in all, taking classes has been a fairly easy experience. I’ve had very little trouble registering for classes, taking the classes via WebCT, submitting work online, etc.  Additonally, I have been suprised at the lack of technical difficulties. One thing that I did not anticipate having trouble with was getting the textbooks. I had assumed that this would be one of the easiest parts of the entire process – with so many ways to purchase books online. However, textbook lists are not always published far in advance – and sometimes they are never listed. Other items also play a part. For this summer session, I registered for a class. I waited for a long time to order the books, because I suspected that there was a possibility that the class would be cancelled. But, I did order the books. Then, the class was cancelled. I registered for another class. The books for the second class were not listed in book lists on the bookstore’s web site nor were they listed on the ILS department’s web site. I had to try and track down the books from other sources. At this point, one of the books is available at the library where I work, another one I was able to borrow from a library colleague and the third is still in the mail. I hope that it arrives soon given that classes start tomorrow – although I have been told that it may take two weeks (ARGH!!).

So far book issues have been without a doubt the most frustrating problem associated with getting a degree online. I hope that professors can become more sensitive to this issue in the future. Recently, one student in the online program from Europe recently sent an email appeal to people in the library program asking about textbooks for a class in the fall. Usually, it can take between 6-8 weeks to get textbooks delivered to this student’s location. I thought my trials with books were frustrating, but they can’t be anything in comparison. I certainly hope that people take notice of this issue. Understandably, it takes time for faculty to prepare their courses and to make textbooks selections. However, in an online program, these tasks need to take place at a fairly accerlerated pace as compared to these task in a traditional program.

A Pretty Double Rainbow

May 25, 2006

I started playing around with photos and flickr last weekend. I had some trouble getting everything set up correctly to post pictures to my blog. I’m hoping this works now!!

Library Users & the Catalog

May 25, 2006

Recently, Thomas Dowling posted a thought provoking piece entitled Forcing Users to Learn the Catalog on the TechEssence blog. There are some good comments on the post too. When attempting to overhaul library services, library web pages, web opacs, etc., the concern about “dumbing down the catalog” is always raised – and is a pretty big concern for people working in libraries. I don’t think that those who raise these concerns are unaware of or even unsympathetic to the current limitations inherent to library search mechanisms. Neither do I think they want to prevent users from finding information. However, whenever library employees try to openly discuss how to solve such large problems with the usability of their systems, I think they get bogged down by their own knowledge and familiarity of the systems (I know I often do). I have no problem finding what I need from library sites, search engines, catalogs, etc. It is perfectly clear to me how to find a full text article from a citation or how to locate a book. So, it almost automatically seems as if I would have to dumb down my library’s search mechanisms if the users don’t currently understand them or use them correctly. I have to remind myself that I am not an average patron – not even close and neither are any of the other people who work in the library. We are NOT our intended audience. So, how then do I remove myself and my knowledge base from the equation? Ultimately, I understand the absolute need to get feedback from actual users. But I think that those of us to design, create or tweak our library systems need to truly understand what our users frustrations are.

Often people suggest that our catalogs or other search mechanisms ought to be more like Google, Amazon or even Ebay. The reason behind this argument seems to be that patrons use these tools – and often in place of library tools. While I can understand this argument, Google, Amazon, etc are not the same things are library catalogs. Library collections are extensive, varied and often confusing to the end user. How do we combine our very different resources (books, movies, full-text journal articles online, paper items, reserve lists, archival collections, etc) so that a user can search them all at once and retrieve only pertinent information?  I’m not sure there is an easy solution. I know that in my library we are a long way off from being close to this point.

So, in the meantime, yes we force users to learn the catalog. We work hard to provide good aids and tips for users. Some patrons find it easier to use than others, some ask for help, some do get frustrated and walk away, but our catalog does get used. And usage statistics are up. Students borrow books, place holds, book study rooms, use our proxy server for off campus links and they search (mostly by subject). So, ultimately, library catalogs need to be better, more intuitive and easier to understand – and I think these debates are a step in the right direction. I have noticed that new services often provide an impetus for patrons to use other services offered by our catalog. Use of our proxy server has really made many students more aware of our catalog and of library services – and I often think that is three-quarters of the battle.