Friday, 27 February 2009

John Dove talk

SINTO has had coverage in national professional journals this month with pieces (and photographs of yours truely) in both Library & Information Update March 2009 and Public Library Journal Spring 2009.

PLJ features an editorial by Liz Chapman about our equity and excellence debate with Bob Usherwood and John Pateman. It also contains an article that I co-wrote with Liz Chapman on overdue fines in public libraries which is based on the annual Fines & Charges in England and Wales survey carried out by Gilly Pearce and published by SINTO.

Update has an article by Jodie Walker and Ute Manecke from the Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, who attended the debate. Thanks to everyone who helped publicise our events. Its good to remind the profession at large that our region is a centre for professional debate.

But we have not been resting on our laurels. Yesterday SINTO hosted a talk by John Dove, President of Credo Reference. He began by stating his belief that his company was engaged in an enquiry involving three elements: librarians/libraries, users and content/technology. His talk was a part of this enquiry and he presented a list of topics and invited the audience to pick topics from the list for him to talk about.

Surprise me!
The first topic was "Surprise me!" and for this John mentioned a book he had been reading Reference services administration and management 1982. He explained that it was useful to go back to a book about reference services from a time before computers were used to extract some of the fundamental themes of providing a service.

Social media
Wikipedia could be seen as an example of the concept of the wisdom of crowds - the idea that a group of people working together can produce a better result than any one individual in that group can produce, as long as the group is organised by two principles: there should be an independence of diverse inputs and the summing up mechanism should be completely fair. Social media sites can work if there is a community of knowledgeable people (Condorcet's jury theorem) which is active in updating information. How does Wikipedia measure up to this? Many of the articles are good quality but there is a systematic anti-expert bias. Sometimes the expert contributers to Wikipedia give up in the face of opposition from others with fixed views. The summing up process is "last in, first out" which is horrible. Students at a certain level today are caught in an abyss between Wikipedia and the professional literature i.e the professional literature is too advanced but Wikipedia is not an authoritative source. Subject encyclopedia were used as an alternative in the past and on-line services such as Credo Reference are trying to fill that gap.

John played a clip of Terry Winograd who is on the Credo Advisory Board to the effect that the holy grail of search engines is a machine that doesn't just search but answers questions. To do this the engine needs to collect information about you. he then played a clip by a librarian pointing out that they can do this more effectively. Google says it want to remove the intermediary between the data and the user but this is a false ideal. Google is an intermediary but the librarian can be a better intermediary of more value to the user. When a students comes up to a librarian at the enquiry desk or via a library chat room, the librarian has a huge amount of context which search engines lack.

User behaviour
John mentioned the recent British Library research into the Google generation. Credo has a model of user behaviour around reference with four areas: fact finding, exploration, deep bibliographical research and games & diversions. Users like websites that send them items of information of general interest that draws them in to deeper study. A study got people to record any questions that occurred to them as they went about their business and estimate how much they would be prepared to pay to get an answer. Each person had on average four questions a day and it was estimated that in the US this could generate $7 trillion of research per year. Another study showed that people wanted information so that they would not look stupid in public and could get one over on other people. With fact finding behaviour people want to get back to what they were doing as soon as possible

This is just a taster of John's wide ranging talk. Not only did John provide us with an feast of ideas but he also sponsored the refreshments and provided a packet of Hershey's Bliss chocolates!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable talk!