Posts Tagged 'library users'

Access to information and socio-economic status

In Online Information, Ebooks, and Moral Panic, Rick Anderson asks:

What percentage of poor children has access to a decent public library collection, as compared to the percentage that has access to the Internet?

It is a very important question and gets at the kind of information librarians need as we make decisions about how to provide the best possible access to information to the widest possible set of people.

Some time ago, I joked on twitter “Never ask a librarian a hypothetical question … you are likely to get a real answer … with citations.” I guess I should amend that to “Never ask a hypothetical question on a library blog … you’re likely to get a real answer …with data.”

So yes, let’s see if we can answer that question. First, we need to operationalize our concepts in ways that render them measurable. Easier said than done, it turns out; but let’s give it a go.

If the point of the question is to determine whether an ebook or other online information is more accessible to low-income patrons than print, then I think it is fair to operationalize “access to the Internet” as “access to the Internet at home”. In my opinion that is a rather conservative measure of access to the Internet, since many people (especially kids) in low-income families share computers, making it more difficult to read long-form information than for those who own their own computer or e-reader. But let’s go with “access to the Internet at home” as our measure of access to e-books and other online information.

According to a June 2013 report prepared by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Economics and Statistics Administration, and the US Department of Commerce: “Just under half (46 percent) of households with incomes of less than $25,000 access the Internet at home.”

Operationalizing “access to a decent public library collection” is even more difficult. In theory, everyone has access to public libraries, right? But meaningful access really means a library that can be accessed via a reasonable commute – preferably walking or safe, affordable public transportation. Good luck finding a measure of that. On the other hand, it seems safe to assume that visiting a public library indicates access to a public library. In fact, using “visited a public library” as a measure of access is likely to grossly underestimate access — surely we can agree that more people have access to a public library than actually visits one, right? But let’s play it safe and go with actually visiting a public library as our measure of “access to a public library”.

Since I couldn’t find any articles or reports containing statistics about public library access or use, I decided to use the SDA: Survey Documentation and Analysis site from UC Berkeley to do some quick and dirty analysis of the General Social Survey data. A quick cross-tab tells us that in 2008 65% of respondents in households with household incomes under $25,000/year visited a public library at least once in the past year. In 2012, 64% of such respondents visited a public library at least once. I used the VISLIB variable (asked in 2008 & 2012 only) and the INCOME variable, recoding them both into dichotomous variables for simplicity’s sake. Please feel free to do your own analysis.

“What percentage of poor children has access to a decent public library collection?”
At least 65%.
“…as compared to the percentage that has access to the Internet?”
No more than 46%.

Online information is less accessible than printed information in a public library to the 54% of poor kids who do not have home internet access. Sure, those kids can access online information at their public library, but unlike the printed books, they can’t check that online information out and take it home with them. Any assertion that online information is radically more accessible than print ignores the reality that online information is radically inaccessible to over half of our poorest citizens. Note also that only 57% of African-American households and 58% of Hispanic households have home internet access (pg. 26, Exploring the Digital Divide), so ebooks and other online information is pretty inaccessible to over 40% of African-Americans & Hispanics too.

Another question Anderson poses is “If you really want to get a book into the hands of a maximum-possible number of poor kids, is encoding it into a physical document (rather than, say, making it available via cellphone) really the best way to do it?”

Considering that even among low-income individuals who own a cell phone, only 55% of them use their phones to go online (Cell Internet Use 2013, from Pew), making information available via cellphone may not get that info into more poor kids’ hands than having it available in a public library (where 65% of low-income kids will visit in a year).

Another bit of data from the Pew Internet report on e-book reading is suggestive of whether print books or ebooks are more accessible to poor kids. According to the Pew data, 19% of people with household incomes below $30,000/year read at least 1 ebook in 2012, compared to 44% at the highest income levels. E-book reading is growing across all income categories, but at a much slower rate among low-income individuals than among higher-income readers.

The difference in reading between income levels shrinks considerably when you look at reading on all platforms (print and electronic), with 66% of those in the lowest income bracket reading at least 1 book, compared to 84% in the highest income bracket. Moreover, there is little difference between the mean number of books read by low-income readers (14), and the mean number read by high-income readers (15). Actual behavior would seem to indicate that being in a low-income household has a stronger negative impact on ebook reading than on reading across all platforms.

I long for the day when technology really does fulfill the promise of enabling equal access to all kinds of information for all kinds of people. But the data I can find sure seem to indicate that we simply are not there yet, and I believe that “solutions” that ignore that reality are likely to increase rather than mitigate current inequalities.

Final note: I would love to be wrong about this. If anyone has different data and/or does a more careful analysis of the GSS data and proves me wrong, bring it.

How much is enough?

How many times does a scholar have to browse the stacks for us to believe her when she says browsing is important to her? Is once a quarter enough? Once a month? Or must a scholar browse daily for us to believe her when she says being able to browse physical stacks is important to her research?

How many physical books does a scholar have to check out from the library for us to believer him when he says having books on campus matters to him?

How many in-person questions do our reference staff have to answer for us to consider staffing reference desks important?

How much content has to be deposited into our IRs for us to consider them a success?

How many times does a box of manuscripts have to be paged for us to consider it important enough to keep?

How many people have to use our Makerspaces to actually make something for us to consider it a good investment?

I’m not sure we (the royal we) have any fricking idea.

And yet I constantly hear some version of “scholars say ______ is important to them, but our data shows otherwise.”  And most of the time, the data is on frequency of some activity.  But frequency =/= importance.

I get it that we have hard decisions to make about priorities in the face of limited space and limited budgets, and we may well have to make decisions based on how often various services and resources actually get used.

But can we please stop saying something isn’t really important to scholars (even though they say it is, poor deluded souls) because they don’t do it often enough to meet our unspoken and shifting definition of what enough is? Pretty please?

“BOOM! Victory!” and other nice things they say about us

Steps of the Bing Wing. Photo by Kathryne Young.

Walking back from lunch yesterday I passed a couple of students sitting on the steps in front of the library, and overheard one of them say:

I looked it up in Google and nothing. So I asked a librarian and BOOM! Victory!

This immediately became my new favorite quote from a happy patron, barely beating out these past favorites:

The libraries are enormous magnets for prospective freshmen, graduate students and professors. Some from each have said that when they went into the stacks, their decision to come to Stanford was made.

The libraries are the heart of the institution and one of the very most important parts of my own satisfaction at Stanford. Librarians and library resources make what I do possible. The comprehensiveness of Stanford’s collections, the creativity in its special collections curating, and its broad accessibility have combined to make me marvel. I love what you all do. Please keep it up.

I especially want to thank you for introducing me to the wonders of the library. Seriously, I never realized ever in my life how satisfying and fun it could be to do research. I would look for one book and end up coming out with five every time I went to the library. Thanks for helping me develop the skills I need for research in the future.

But to be honest, my own personal all-time, never-to-be-topped favorite is this one from a student I helped find sources for a paper about heteronormativity in video gaming. In an email with Subject Line “My paper thanks you dearly and homosexually”, he wrote:

I don’t know how you work your mysterious librarian ways, but the resources you helped me find provided super useful information on the larger gaming community. I ended up writing about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of video games in promoting homosexual acceptance and understanding, analyzing Second Life, Sims 2, Fear Effect 2, among many others. Again, thank you for being an awesome librarian, but I’d have to say you’re more like a library fairy to the rescue.

One of these days I really am going to get that printed on some business cards:

Chris Bourg
Library Fairy to the Rescue

Awesome Library Website, Part 5: Continued improvement

Launching our awesome new library website 3 months ago was a huge milestone, which I have bragged about extensively.  But that certainly was not the end of the redesign project. I think it is safe to say that a decent website is never really “done”; and an awesome site like ours remains awesome through constant attention, improvement, and evolution.

In September, we* responded to early feedback about the need to increase the visibility of key content by highlighting ejournals and by using Top Hits and keywords to boost selected key content in the search results. We also improved the content creation process for library staff, and responded to over 200 feedback emails from patrons and staff. Consistent with our committment to transparency in every aspect of this project, we published a detailed list of our September accomplishments on our blog.

Screen shot of Integrated chat icons for reference and subject librarians

Integrated chat icons for reference and subject librarians

In October, we integrated the LibraryH3lp chat tool throughout the site, added an Events stream, created a staff directory page based on an automated feed from the Stanford directory, continued to improve the content creation experience, and formed a Web Steering Committee. Whew — busy month! Again, all of this is detailed on our blog.

Our branch libraries continue to work on moving their individual branch site content into the new environment (kudos to our Music Library for being the first branch to complete the transition) and subject specialists continue to create Topic and Course guides. In the coming months, our plans include enhancing our collections, research services, department, and news pages; continuing to migrate legacy content; and exploring mobile options.

* Note that by “we”, I mean the Rock Star team that has made all of this awesomeness happen; with special props to Stu Snydman, Jennifer Vine, Sarah Lester, Ray Heigemeir, Jon Lavigne, and the team at Chapter 3.

Library as icon

Stanford Band outside the Bing Wing of Green Library. Photo by Chris Bourg.

I love it when it becomes obvious that the library is a true campus icon and is central to the Stanford experience. That happened to us last week when the library was included in a Sonic Scavenger Hunt held during New Student Orientation week.

Last Friday afternoon, eight Stanford University freshmen from Larkin Hall trooped into the quiet-as-a-hush Lane Reading Room in Green Library on a quest – to find a book and slam it shut.

It was one of a dozen sound samples – and visual images – they had been instructed to collect around campus and record into MadPad, a mobile music app, during the first “Sonic Scavenger Hunt” held during New Student Orientation.
From Hunting and gathering on the Farm – sounds and images that is.

The library is also a frequent stop for the water polo team and the infamous Stanford Band when those groups do spirit runs around and through various campus hot-spots. And, of course, we play a crucial role in Big Game week every year.

Beat Cal banner at Meyer Library

Beat Cal banner at Meyer Library. Photo by Linda Cicero / Stanford News Service

Admittedly, book-slamming and hordes of Speedo-clad students rushing through the library can be momentarily disturbing to our otherwise studious patrons. To my mind, though, that is a small price to pay to remain a key campus icon, included in scavenger hunts, spirit runs, pranks, and even the occasional party.

Awesome Library Website, Part 4: Reviews are in!

If you are tired of hearing me brag about our Awesome Library Website, here is a sampling of what others are saying:

Lorcan Dempsey of OCLC does a fantastic job of describing 2 main goals of our site:

  1. Highlighting Library space as a service
  2. Providing “full library discovery

Thanks for the excellent and insightful review, Lorcan!

We have also been getting plenty of feedback via our Feedback link/email:

  • Kudos to the team. This is an enormous project and your dedication and diligence has produced a vastly superior site that all of us can be proud of and on which our patrons can find what they need.
  • New site looks great!
  • Subject: The new website… Tell us: …is great!
  • I think my first favorite feature of the new site is the single search box, and its common-sense display of results from a variety of sources.  Because I’m vain, I just searched some words from the title of my one-and-only academic publication, and loved seeing SearchWorks results alongside site-search results (from my Person page).  I can imagine an actual patron doing this with an actual search, and stumbling upon an actual subject specialist with common research interests.  Very cool!
  • I like it, although I haven’t put it to too much use yet. I look forward to becoming more familiar with its features.
  • i love your site
  • I actually love a lot about your site – kudos!

From Twitter:

  • @calfano27: Congrats to all who put together the awesome new Stanford libraries website :) Super shiny
  • @pantheon_drupal: That’s one fine lookin’ library site! Congratz to @chapter_three and SULAIR on an amazing launch – http://t.co/z0cwHMze
  • @miriamkp: Nice. Nothing extraneous. RT @StanfordLibs: Our new website is live today — check it out and send your feedback: http://t.co/3pGP2Uv8
  • @erikoomen: checking the new Stanford Universitiy Library website http://t.co/7EtqSk92 #nicework #goodpractice
  • @ccthompson: I love the Stanford University website. happily taking notes on the user interface! ‪http://library.stanford.edu
  • Plus loads of tweets and Re-Tweets linking to the new homepage and/or to specific pages within the new site, including tweets in Japanese, French, and Spanish.

From Facebook:

Here’s one of my favorite new links from the new website: Places to study – http://library.stanford.edu/using/study Brilliant idea to include this!

Awesome Library Website, Pt. 3: Lift-off!

rocket launch

Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Today we officially launched our new library website. The approximately 10,000 visitors to our old site are now being automatically redirected to our new site.
I fully expect that most of them will be thrilled with the updated look, clear navigation, improved searching, and richer content. I also expect that we will get a few emails from regular users who can’t find something in it’s new spot, but we should be able to handle those fairly quickly.

I have already bragged about how awesome our new site is in general, and specifically about our cool central ribbon feature.

There is so much more to brag about, I hardly know where to start — but let’s go with 2 pieces of functionality and content that grew directly out of our user feedback: hours and places to study. All of our interviews with patrons, our usability tests, and our guerilla testing indicated that patrons consistently ranked finding out when libraries are open, and where they could study (with a group, in a quiet area, with computers, near coffee, etc.) as top reasons they go to a library website.

Visitors to our new site can see today’s hours for all libraries on the homepage, this week’s hours for all libraries on the hours page, and can click on Show full calendar on any specific library page (for example, see our Biology Library page) to see hours for that library for the month.

Our Places to Study list includes awesome photos of study spaces across the libraries, and allows students to filter the list by commonly requested attributes (e.g. absolute quiet, coffee nearby, open late).

I can’t wait to start getting feedback and use statistics on the whole site, but especially these 2 features. I guess the only drawback might be that some of our previously “secret” study rooms could start to get pretty crowded.

Awesome new library website, Part 2: The multiple stakeholders challenge

One of the biggest challenges of a library website project (maybe any website project) seems to be figuring out what gets top billing. Top billing in this sense usually means front page.
Our library website has many different types of users and a seemingly endless number of stakeholders. One of the best and most common ways to account for multiple users/stakeholders is to develop personas, which we did early on in the project.

Developing the right personas is only half the battle, though. The real challenge is figuring out how to balance their sometimes conflicting needs. There is simply not enough room on a website (at least not on a well-designed one) to put all your users’ main needs on the front page.

Stanford University Libraries website

Screen shot of ribbon, with Collections panel highlighted

One really clever and elegant way our awesome design team came up with to meet this challenge is the central ribbon on our new site. Clicking on any of the central ribbon items does not take you away from the homepage – it simply changes the content on the bottom half of the homepage. It basically allows us to have multiple views of our homepage — 5 different views without scrolling, but we can add as many panels as we want after the scroll. I love it.

Of course, the real test will come once we go live and start to get actual user behavior and feedback, but I’m feeling very confident that our folks came up with a really smart solution to an often vexing web design challenge.

Our awesome new library website, Part 1

Screen shot of new site: August 21, 2012

There is so much awesome in our new library website, that I know it will take more than one blog post to talk about them all; so consider this installment 1.

We will be officially launching our new site next week, although it has been live as a “preview” for many months now. The official launch basically consists of redirecting almost all traffic from our old/current site to our new site (see the difference in awesomeness?).

First, all credit goes to the rock stars who made this all happen:

Libraries redesign websites all the time, so what’s so special about ours? Here is a quick run-down of awesome — off the top of my head and in no particular order:

  • Integrated search results from SearchWorks (our catalog), selected databases, and the website.  Some of my current favorite examples are: Herbert Matter, Feminist Studies, and Lost Books.
  • It has been based on massive amounts of user testing and feedback from the very beginning, and throughout the redesign process
  • We started out with some pretty straight-forward goals, and referred back to them throughout the project.
  • Although it is a top-down redesign, focused first on the homepage and lots of top-level content, we will eventually have over 100 staff members creating content and pages on the site. The end result is a delicate balance between standardized design and distributed authorship.
  • We tried from the start to place as much (or more) emphasis on content as we did on the technology. To that end, we are developing an extensive Content Creation Guide, covering topics such as writing for the web, providing image attribution information, capitalization of library names, and how to fill out your People Page.
  • Much of our progress and guidelines for web authors has been posted publicly on our Library Website Redesign Blog. We also have developed an internal Training for the Library Website site within CourseWork (Stanford’s course management system).

Bottom line, when asked to describe what is newsworthy about our site redesign, my off-the-cuff response was “Teaching, learning and research at Stanford will be easier now because our website rocks.”

Stay tuned for future posts about specific features of the site, including our Places to Study database, People Pages, Guides, Collections, and more.

Concierge Model for Librarians

At our annual leadership retreat yesterday (~50 department/unit managers), we kicked off our Concierge Model plan. I gave a Concierge for Librarians Presentation (w/ gratuitous cute doggie photo) to set the context.

Our Concierge concept has much in common with Corey Seeman’s Hospitality focus at the University of Michigan’s Kresge Business Administration Library, and I very much benefitted from his presentation and our conversations in Charleston (Yay for conferences and networking!).
In a nutshell, our Conciege approach consists of:

  • An explicit focus on exceptional customer service
  • A committment to providing a single point of contact (a “champion”) for scholars whose needs span several parts of the organization
  • A committment to providing a series of ongoing training events for our own staff to make sure we all stay informed of what services and resources are provided throughout our big, complex organization

After introducing the idea, we then asked folks (in groups) to do some improv skits of good and bad public service interactions. This turned out to be a great warm-up activity that allowed us to pull out some themes about what constitutes “exceptional customer service.”
After lunch, we had groups work on some Concierge Use Cases (PDF) and present them. Each group represented a cross-section of the organization, which meant that some Concierge cross-training began happening just in the small group discussions as staff had different levels of knowledge about services and resources related to their use case example. The discussion of the Use Cases really highlighted the value of the Concierge model and the need for staff training. A big challenge for us will be the growing list of topics folks added to the training agenda. Although, whenever staff are asking for more meetings, I figure we must have tapped into a real need.
I’ll certainly be sharing more as we implement, so stay tuned and wish us luck.


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