#23mobilethings – 3. Email


Emails are an important way of communicating with library clients. Our system emails loans receipts, changes to due dates, and due date reminders by default. We use email to communicate with students when holds become available.

The fact that smartphones are pretty ubiquitous means email is an instant form of communication. I’ve had situations where a student has come to the desk to pick up a hold, but when I go to retrieve it for them it’s not available on the hold shelf. I ask them when they got the email and they’ll say – “just now, a couple of seconds ago!” The item had been scanned in but not yet processed and placed on the shelf! I love it. So instant. We also send emails to students about things like lost property, if we can identify them as the owner. Sometimes they’re still on campus and they’ll come back right away.

One challenge at our library is that we communicate with students via student email, never a personal email address, and many don’t check their student email regularly. That’s why it’s important to encourage them to set up their student email to forward to an address that they do check regularly and that sends push notifications to their phone or tablet.



#23mobilethings – 2. Photos


Social media is very visual. Platforms like Snapchat and Instagram have a lot of potential, I don’t think the majority of libraries have taken them up yet. Even on “traditional” sites like twitter and facebook, photo posts get much more engagement (in terms of metrics – clicks, likes, shares). They can be a great way of communicating what’s going on in the library. Photos of events, displays, new arrivals, new services, can communicate a lot. There’s always the issue of getting permission from people to use their photo, but it’s as simple as getting them to sign a clearance form.

One thing I’ve seen libraries do is set up an interesting “selfie” opportunity as part of a display or exhibition and asking patrons to take tag their photo with a particular hashtag can build community too. And maybe running competitions where users can send in a photo?

#23mobilethings – 1. Twitter


Hey, so I’m doing 23 mobile things. In the mobile spirit I’m doing it all on my android, so apologies in advance for the typos.

First off the ranks is twitter. I opened a twitter account in 2009 but it’s only in the past year or so that I’ve tried to be active with it. I followed a bunch of other librarians and try to post interesting content (I know that sharing links and retweeting isn’t enough, but it’s so easy!) It’s a great way to keep up with interesting developments in libraryland, and take part in activities like #BlogJune and 23 (research data) Things #23RDThings which I did this year, and were largely spurred on by twitter.

Twitter also enhances the experience of attending conferences. I find it amazing to sit in an auditorium where the only voice you can hear is the speaker, but everyone has their devices out and twitter is positively abuzz with conversations. It’s like a parallel dimension. It really enriches the experience of attending a conference.


Google for research: If it’s wrong, why does it feel so right?

In the uni library world we encourage students to use the library’s discovery layers and database interfaces to search for information. We tell first-years over and over again not to use Google. Is this the right thing to do?

Here’s an information retrieval story from today when I was looking for journal articles on a certain topic:

  1. Used library discovery layer. Didn’t like my results.
  2. Used most recommended database #1, which is small but specialised. Simple 2-term search connected by AND. Some success, but not exactly a jackpot of relevant articles, but a few that were of interest.
  3. Added some synomyms to my search strategy to broaden. Results were the same.
  4. Used most recommended database #2. Large, but multidisciplinary. Had to add more terms to refine the search and experiment with my keywords a bit more. Not much success.
  5. Went back to discovery layer and fiddled with my keywords a bit more. Still not satisfied.
  6. Went to Google. Put in my 2 keywords, no syntax or synonyms or anything. Based on the nature of my search terms, suggestions from Google scholar appeared at the top of the results list. It suggested two articles that were basically my ~dream articles~ in terms of relevance, and highly cited.
  7. Clicked on them. Paywall.
  8. Copied and pasted the article titles into library search. There they were, in databases I hadn’t looked at in steps 3 or 5. Clicked through to full text, and downloaded the pdfs in all their glory.

Now, Google was by far the most helpful tool in terms of discovery (step 6). It was very simple. I didn’t even intentionally go to Google Scholar, just plain old Google. The Scholar results were presented right in my face, there was no effort on my part in doing this. But in terms of access, Google let me down (step 7). I happened to know there was a good chance that the library would have access, so I went looking there, once I had the article titles.

The databases and library search tool were not as good at discovery. It was trickier and more frustrating to find stuff,  I had to use some advanced search strategies, and common techniques like broadening my terms didn’t always work (steps 2-5). The few relevant results that I did get were not as good as what I later found on Google. Of course this is not always my experience.  It depends on the amount of literature available on your topic, how well your search terms match the vocabulary of the databases and the literature, and endless other factors. My topic happened to be a little bit niche on this occasion, which is the kind of situation when I think Google provides a better search experience. The real value in the library search and library-subscribed databases was the access itself (step 8).

I know this is just one anecdote. But c’mon, Google can be a life saver sometimes. Let’s not demonise it. Maybe next time a student is stuck in a rut not finding relevant information in databases, rather than complicate the search strategy, just use the Google workaround!