Crowdsourcing at the library: editing Wikipedia

Recent decades have seen growing power of crowdsourcing. Wikipedia, which has been around for ten years now, is based in part on this notion: the combined research efforts of many people of varying backgrounds and opinions can provide better information than a single expert can find. That has proved problematical in practice. Libraries have become part of the solution to at least one problem, as Wikipedia has recently sponsored dozens of editing marathons (editathons) in libraries nationwide (and also more in Great Britain). Originally, crowdsourcing meant that Wikipedia and other similar organizations invited a broad spectrum of the general public … Continue reading

Library services for the unemployed

According to a 2010 study of perceptions of libraries, 37% of respondents said that they have used the library more often since the economy tanked. Another study revealed that 10% of the US population used library computers for some kind of job help. Libraries and librarians have therefore been among the first responders for people who have lost their jobs, offering vital unemployment services. Nowadays many people turn first to Google and other search engines for their information needs. That doesn’t mean that an Internet search can completely satisfy them. It can’t, for instance, help unemployed people identify personalize what … Continue reading

WorldCat: a librarians’ tool the public can use

Libraries of any size probably rely on the various services of a company called OCLC. No one else needs to know anything about most of them, but you may have seen a reference librarian look up something for you on WorldCat. That’s a tool you can use as easily as you use your own  library’s catalog. It’s free and available from your home as well as the library. WorldCat aspires to be a universal library catalog. It hasn’t made it yet, but it shows the holdings of about 27,000 different libraries in more than 170 different countries. Even though it … Continue reading

Online library catalogs: using them despite their imperfections

In this post, I will summarize the development of online library catalogs. Once I have pointed out the problems and the reasons for them, I will explain how you, the ordinary users, can make the most efficient use of them for finding the information (or entertainment) you want. No perfect technology for library catalogs has ever existed. The earliest catalogs were bound books. Every time the library got something new, a record of it had to be written in the catalog. With the card catalog, the library could update its holdings continuously without ever having to disturb previous entries. For … Continue reading

Helping the reference librarian help you

[ad name=”Google Adsense 468×60″] Do you need help answering a question? Ask a librarian. Specifically, ask a reference librarian. You’ll usually find at least one at the library’s reference desk. Now, some libraries are starting to do away with reference desks as a special service point. In some cases, at least, that means they have decided to have the librarians roam the library, or parts of it, looking for people who need  help. If you see a librarian at a desk who seems to be busy with paper work, go ask your question. You will not be interrupting anything important. … Continue reading