Archive for February, 2009

Dr. Martens encouraged me to build my public speaking skills by writing and presenting a paper at a conference.  After some exploration, I became interested in transformative works, such as fan fiction, and the library profession’s stance in relation to these works.  I had no experience and little knowledge of fan fiction, but as I conducted the research for my paper, I discovered that fan fiction is deeply ingrained in our culture and in some instances may represent a form of cultural commentary.  The history of literature is replete with the resurrection and recycling of literary characters.  Observing the interactive nature of today’s cultural products, from video games to social networking, I began to consider the value and the prevalence of interactive literature.  My research gave me the opportunity to wrestle with the balance between the ethics, values and foundational principles of the library profession and the legal framework within which libraries operate.  If fan fiction constitutes fair use, then libraries have a responsibility to provide their service communities with access to and information about fan fiction resources.  This assertion became the premise of my paper, “Fans of Democracy: Where Does Fan Fiction Fit in the Library?”

Dr. Martens recommended that I present my paper at the Southwest Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Conference, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  As I had not flown in an airplane since I was four years old, had never purchased a plane ticket, and had never presented a paper at a conference, I viewed this event with some trepidation.  Despite my anxieties and the sudden onslaught of a terrible head cold, I attended the conference and presented my paper, which generated much interest and several questions from the audience.  I am very happy that I took this opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and stretch my professional wings.

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In a discussion about Robert S. Taylor’s article “Question-Negotiation and Information Seeking in Libraries,” there was some uncertainty as to whether Taylor is describing information behavior or information seeking.  I think at the beginning of the article, when Taylor talks about the various actions a user may engage in before ever coming to the library (talking to colleagues, consulting personal files), I think that may embody information behavior.  But when the user comes to the library and engages in the reference interview, I think that’s information seeking.  Perhaps visceral and conscious information need are vague and undirected enough to consider actions related to them information behavior, but I think compromised information need is definitely information seeking.   


The key concepts of Taylor’s model include the four levels of information need and the five filters, but I found it interesting that when customers come to librarians with a compromised need, the librarians must work backwards toward the customer’s conscious need in order to get to the heart of the need and formulate the best search strategy. 


This model is unique in that it is modeled on information service interactions in the specific context of Special Libraries, in which the time frame is limited, but not as limited as it would be in a public library, or other venue.  This model emphasizes the importance of feedback, whereas some models, such as the Johnson Model, does not.  Taylor mentions that users may consult their personal files when seeking information, instead of or in addition to seeking information at the library.  James Krikelas’s model also notes that users may consult internal resources (such as memory and personal files) or external resources (such as people and recorded literature).


Now, applying Taylor’s model to an information service:


Information service designers must realize that users are likely to ask friends and acquaintances and consult their personal files before asking the info service staff for assistance directly.  To disseminate information about services, the info service staff may want to send out Public Service Announcements via the mass media (i.e.: TV, radio, newspapers).  Thus, even if a user doesn’t see or hear the advertisements, if they ask a friend who has seen them, that friend may be able to direct them to a useful information service.


Also, users are likely to go to the information service website and try searching for the information they want themselves before asking for help.  Thus the information service designers should make every effort to make their website as user friendly as possible: provide clear links to the most popular resources, anticipate user questions and provide an FAQ page.  And list contact information somewhere on every page, a hotline or email address, so that users don’t have to look too hard to find help.


If the information service staff can get the users to contact them with questions, then they can engage in the question-negotiation process to get to the root of what the user wants.  In actual practice, however, I fear that many information service providers must try to answer so many questions from so many people, they probably simply answer compromised (4th level) questions, rather than trying to get to the root of the need.  They probably just want to get people off the phone as quickly as possible, which is not likely to ensure the user’s satisfaction with the information source.

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