LSC 555 Blog Post #1

Reflections on Hirshon (2008) and Liu (2008)

Arnold Hirshon prefaced his 2008 environmental scan on trends and technologies in libraries as presenting bellwethers within the information environment. Five years on, an assessment of how loudly those bells actually rang can begin. I was most interested in privacy issues and how younger generations, namely Millennials, have a different perspective and expectation of privacy. This change in behavior is coupled with the change in the online market economy, where services like television and long distance phone calls that used to be paid are now freely available.

Both of these issues touch upon the idea that how people use and interact with the internet is fundamentally changing. Shu Lui (2008) study of academic libraries’ websites assists librarians with better understanding how students, who are Millennials, expect to gather and use information. Lui recommends five web site features (user focus, personalization, user engagement, online communities, and remixability). The first two, user focus and personalization are discussed below. This specific study on academic libraries and human-computer interaction, reminded me of a federal interagency group (Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program) that considers similar issues at a federal level.

The issues raised by Hirshon (2008) related to privacy (pg. 3) and “free information” (pg. 7) merge on the the fundamental change in expectations with regards to privacy. This is due in part to an information environment (i.e. “the Internet” writ large, but also the system itself where capacity and speed that information can be housed and sent) where things are actually more permanent (nothing’s ever lost online) and fluid (i.e. for better or worse, personal information can go viral).

On a related note, “Chris Anderson: Everything is Free,” concept reminded me of the [prefaced] quote that “if you aren’t paying for it, you’re the product.” The idea being that online companies, like Facebook, Google, and the like, can use and distribute the metadata of its users. Because corporate revenue has changed with the dawn of online social networking, video streaming, and voice over IP, so too has the fiduciary relationship between vendor and consumer. A similar, yet significantly different, conversation is currently occurring between the government and its citizens. See this article, as an American example of this issue, particularly as it relates to demographic differences in opinions.

In considering this same demographic, academic libraries – as Liu (2008) notes – are at a turning point with their students and how they use their website to communicate the library’s resources and services. The author’s recommendations with regards to library home pages was of particular interest since I have been commenting on the Catholic University of America’s Libraries’ website changes. In recalling the debates between the older and younger staff, was to reflect on Liu’s findings and five website features recommendations.

The overall sense I had in reading Liu’s article was the need for academic libraries to be flexible with their web content and respond to users’ reactions to how they can interact with the information being provided. And while all the components are in place to make the libraries web presence better, the hesitancy to change is strong (as was noted in Monday’s class). As I currently work in an academic library and interact on a regular basis with student patrons, I work between the tension of meeting patrons’ technical expectations and the library’s technical limitations.

A recent example of this was one patron’s interest in receiving auto-generated emails for due dates and loan pick ups on a different time frame than what is currently provided. I pointed the student to their online library account noting that they can track the status of loans from other schools in real-time and they could sign up for RSS feeds. Unfortunately, because our library is part of a consortium  there is no quick way to re-adjust when system-generated emails are sent out.

Ultimately, it is important to know how online interactions affect how we learn, speak, and interact with one another. To harness the many advantages that online applications and services provide, librarians must also understand how their core service groups interact and use these services. In addition, librarians are well placed to lead communities through current information policy debates. Particularly, those surrounding privacy and the growth of metadata being collected by online services. Thus while we, as librarians, want to use and gather more information about our patrons and their habits, this must be balanced by our traditional role as privacy rights protectors.

Hirshon, A. (2008). Environmental scan: A report on trends and technologies affecting libraries.

Liu, S. (2008). Engaging users: The future of academic library web sites. College & Research Libraries, 69, 6-27.

This blog post fulfills an assignment for a library school course and includes readings related to information systems.