Archive for the 'library web' category

Reading Diary: Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design by Lisa Welchman

What is digital governance in the first place?
Digital governance is a discipline that focuses on establishing clear accountability for digital strategy, policy, and standards. A digital governance framework, when effectively designed and implemented, helps to streamline digital development and dampen debates around digital channel “ownership.”
-- From the Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design website.

Intellectual autonomy and stubbornness of staff
-- From the index, Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design, p. 229

Time to take a little medicine! All those digital projects, all those digital projects teams, all those digital projects strategies. Libraries, academic libraries, we know them well, don't we.

Chaos is a good word. Lots of stakeholders, limited resources, competing priorities. Governance is a good word too, for libraries, as it tends to imply less a top-down, less hierarchical, more collegial way of making decisions. And when it comes to deciding how an organization should make decisions about their digital presence, finding a way to makes those decisions more effectively is very important.

Which is exactly what Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design by Lisa Welchman is about -- how to set up internal structures that will help organizations make decisions about digital strategies, policies and standards. Note that the book isn't about what decisions to make or even really how to organize the decision-making process. It's about what structures can facilitate and inform and govern a decision-making process that results in strategies, policies and standards.

It's that twice-removed aspect that is both the book's greatest strength and the source of some frustrations as well.

It's a strength because it provides a level of abstraction between the content of the decisions and the process of deciding that can take a bit of heat out of the whole thing. Frustrating because the occasional lack of grounding in reality of all the talk of policies and whatnot make it hard to see how it all ties back to reality. The endless talk of process this and committee that is sometimes like grasping at smoke. There are fairly detailed case studies at the end, but perhaps some of that content should have been distributed a little better up front -- or at least some more real world examples.

Building a governance structure where none existed before or overlaying one on an existing chaotic situation are challenging tasks to say the least. Basically it requires defining the appropriate structures and then figuring out how to overlay those bureaucratic structures on an organization that needs it but may not realize or recognize it needs it.

And Welchman does a terrific job of going through how to define those processes and even how to talk about implementing them. She's very deliberate and patient, setting everything out in words and charts, step by step, how to figure out who defines, who has input, who has final authority. And the things we're talking about deciding about (see how circular and vague and smokey this gets...)?

Digital strategies, digital policies, digital standards. And not in any concrete way, of course, but as those higher-level abstractions that will be different for every industry or sector and which will be different for each organization within those industries.

And yes, higher education is one of the sectors that get a case study at the end. The example is a university's central web team in charge of managing and integrating the school's web presence across all the various units. (The case studies are anonymized versions of experiences in her own consulting practice.)

Governance can be a good word for higher education, of course. But the challenge in the modern higher education landscape is distinguishing between governance and "governance" or governance-washing. Setting up a digital governance strategy for institutions that are as decentralized and multi-faceted as universities is doubly challenging. What's being governed in digital strategy anyways? Just marketing and communication? Data and scholarship resources? MOOCs and online education? Faculty and departmental web-presences? To what degree is the marketing and communications tail wagging the educational and research mission dog? Someone has to keep an eye on what universities are really for -- teaching and research. And not marketing. We don't have universities so we can market them -- as the tail sometimes seems to think.

Welchman trods this fine line not always successfully in the higher ed case study. Too much emphasis on top down from the senior admin and provost and not enough grassroots bottom up from faculty, staff and -- yes -- students. For governance to be legitimate in a higher education environment, the decision-making needs to flow upward, not downward, as inconvenient and frustrating as that can seem sometimes on the inside. The digital part of the university serves the teaching and research mission of the university, not the other way around. Autonomy and stubbornness are virtues, not inconveniences to getting input on long, tortuous processes.

Overall, this is a very good book, if a little dry and disruption business web hallelujah jargony at times. The digital/web teams are perhaps too often portrayed as the misunderstood heroes of the various tales rather than part of complex organizational ecosystems where heroes and villains don't really exist. References to "disruption" and "digital natives" and "digital campus" don't necessarily inspire complete confidence, but there is also an incredible amount of wisdom here when it comes to creating collegial governance. Your mileage may vary, but it's hard to imagine that anyone involved in digital projects at any level won't find something here to help them navigate creating better processes at their institutions.

This book belongs in any library/information science, technology or business library collection in academia. Probably only quite large public library systems would find an audience for this book, but branches in technology hub neighbourhoods should probably put a copy in their window display. Also, buy a copy for everyone on your digital team, up and down the hierarchy all the way to the CIO.

Welchman, Lisa. Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media, 2015. 248pp. ISBN-13: 978-1933820880

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From the Archives: Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

Apr 03 2011 Published by under book review, librarianship, library web, science books

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become, is from May 2, 2008.


Ambient findability describes a fast emerging world where we can find anyone or anything from anywhere at anytime. We're not there yet, but we're headed in the right direction. Information is in the air, literally. And it changes our minds, physically. Most importantly, findability invests freedom in the individual. (p. 6-7)

This is a very good book. If you're interested in the way the web works, you would be hard pressed to find a better book to help you in your researches.

Peter Morville is perhaps best known as the co-author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, one of the true classics in the web design/development/architecture field. Morville is also a librarian and has great sympathy for libraries as institutions and the problems we face in adapting ourselves to a new information landscape.

So, what's this new book all about? It's basically about how to design your web presence so that people can find your stuff when they're looking for it, even if they didn't know it was your stuff they were looking for. Sound relevant for libraries? You betcha.

The opening chapters deal with definitional issues such as information literacy, wayfinding and information retrieval and interaction. The book goes on to discuss "interwingling" as an important concept -- the idea that everything is everywhere, all bunched up together. But how to find interwingled stuff? Push or pull? Maybe the semantic web has the answers? How do we make informed decisions in a complex, networked culture? What are our sources of inspiration? According to Morville, we will find the clues to these questions in an ambiently findable information landscape. But, interestingly enough, he's not really that fond of a totally miscellaneous world, being quite fond of classifications and controlled vocabularies to help make things more findable. (p. 129) Being one of the tribe, he also has a high regard for the work librarians do and for our efforts in promoting information literacy. (p. 172)

Morville is a great writer -- the writer of the kind of book that stops you in your tracks and makes you re-think

On attention:

We love our cell phones but not the disruption. We love our email but not the spam. Our enthusiasm for ubiquitous computing will undoubtedly be tempered by reality. Our future will be at least as messy as our present. (p. 97)

This book is a classic in the making. It's well worth reading and re-reading as the problems and issues it discusses are both eternal and of immediate and vital importance.

Morville, Peter. Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2005. 188pp. ISBN-13: 978-0596007652

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A techy librarian and an instruction librarian walk into a bar...

Ok, not a bar, more like an information literacy class.

I thought I'd bring to everyone's attention a presentation by two of my York University Libraries colleaques, web librarian William Denton and instruction librarian Adam Taves.

It was at Access in Winnipeg a week or so ago:

After Launching Search and Discovery, Who Is Mission Control?

Reference librarians are whiny and demanding.

Systems librarians are arrogant and rude.

Users are clueless and uninformed.

A new discovery layer means that they need to collaborate to build it and then -- the next step -- integrate it into teaching and learning. How should we (reference librarians, systems people, and users) work together to better exploit the possibilities of open source systems so we can focus on discovery and understanding instead of the mechanics of searching?

Bill and Adam basically wrote up their presentation as a play featuring "themselves" and did a dramatic reading of said play in front of the conference audience.

I've read the script but haven't had a chance to get into the audio or video yet.

It's both informative and amusing and best of all, amusingly informative. It definitely dramatizes the techy/instruction divide within the librarian community as well as the the techy vs. "humanist" divide within the culture as a whole.

There's lots of food for thought and a bunch of great laughs too.

An semi-random excerpt from the script:

[ACT 3: Information literacy]

Adam: Well, yes and no. I still need to be able to use sophisticated search techniques. If I wanted Google, I'd just use Google. But getting back to your average undergrad. They need to understand things like who wrote the book - what makes that person qualified to speak on the topic. Who published the book - is it --

Bill: Yeah, but that's really some bullshit, isn't it? I mean, come on. These loftier IL goals, isn't that all just basically stuff from a grade ten media studies course, with a bit of Neil Postman thrown in?

Adam: They had media studies back when you were in grade 10? I didn't want to make things too confusing for you. Getting back to "disciplinary discourse" - how do people in a particular subject area talk to one another?

Bill: I guess --
[Bill continues trying to interrupt]

Adam: How is publishing in high energy physics different than, say, publishing in ancient Greek history? How do psychologists communicate their research to the academic community? Or, and we hear this one all the time, why can't we just digitize all the damn books in the library and be done it with?

Bill: Well, that's because of copyright and intellectual property issues and --

Adam: Exactly. IL Standard 5, Performance Indicator 1, Section d. Wouldn't it be interesting if, when we linked to full-text, there was some little clue as to the conditions of access. Like - "No copyright", or "licensed access secured". Then the catalogue is directly supporting an IL competency. Or another issue, how do you learn from your mistakes? A particular approach is not working well, but may tell you something about how to improve it and how to look for information about a certain --

Bill: Well, I do that all the time. It's basic to systems development and programming when you're debugg--

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Raising your internal profile as an academic liaison librarian

By some strange coincidence given yesterday's post, this post on Raising your internal profile as an academic liaison librarian by Emma Woods came across my Twitter feed this morning.

As part of a task and finish group on internal marketing of academic liaison librarians at the University of Westminster, I posted a message to a couple of JISCmail lists to see what other librarians do in this respect. As ever, I was delighted by the number of responses I received and the amount of interest there is on this topic.

In the current financial climate where every penny counts, raising our internal profile has never been more vital. There are people making decisions on what jobs are vital to the institution's goals and they are not necessarily aware of what librarians contribute, making our posts vulnerable to redundancy. It has therefore never been more essential to make non-library colleagues sit up and take notice of the excellent work we do.

Twenty one replies were received. Below is a summary of the various activities librarians engage in to raise their profile.

Here's a selection. Go read the entire post!

Web 2.0

  • Yammer
  • Library blog.
  • Library on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Blogs based on faculties, which feed into a Twitter account.

One response so far

Joel, Mitch. Six pixels of separation: Everyone is connected. Connect your business to everyone. New York: Business Plus, 2009. 288pp.

I was chatting with a colleague during the long commute home the other day and he noticed I was reading this book. "What's it like?" he asked.

"Clay Shirky lite," I replied.

And that's about right. In Six Pixels of Separation, Mitch Joel comes to grips with the effects of social media on marketing, media, sales and promotions, he covers a lot of the same ground as in Clay Shirky's classic Here Comes Everybody (review). Glib, conversational, fast-paced bite-sized -- an easy read for sure -- Joel does a solid job of translating Shirky's more scholarly approach to a business audience.

Which is more or less the message I tried to convey to my commuting colleague above -- that Joel really doesn't cover much new ground for anybody that's more than passing familiar with the highways and byways of social media. If you even have a couple of vaguely similar books under your belt, most of the material in this one will be familiar.

But, that's not entirely the point here. While mostly not original, this book does a terrific job of bringing it all together in a readable, fun package, a package that really focused on concrete strategies and shorter-term tactics that can really make a difference in an entrepreneur's or organization's efforts to promote itself and it's message in the modern marketing context. And by organization or entrepreneur, I mean libraries and librarians too. While you have to be careful in translating strategies for the commercial world into the non-commercial, there's a lot here that's interesting and relevant.

On the down side, Joel doesn't quite manage to avoid the worst pitfalls of most business books -- relentless self-promotion, over-hyping or over-selling ideas and constant repetition of ideas in every chapter as if the author expects readers to only catch the occasional paragraph in between Tweets. Even though Joel emphasizes authenticity so much, there are a few places where he gets kind of carried away with congratulating himself and his friends for doing such a good job that he sounds a bit fake at times. These points are largely quibbles.

However, If you've read more than a couple social media books or if you follow a lot of blogs on the topic, this book might not be for you. As I said, it covers a lot of ground well and does a good job of bringing a lot of ideas together, but you might not find it original enough. For those that haven't dipped more than a toe or two into the social media world, this would be a good place to start.

As for library collections, this would fit well in any collection supporting a business or entrepreneurial community, be it an academic or public library. There's not enough technology content per se to make it that appropriate for scitech libraries, although it wouldn't be too out of place and may be interesting reading for the more IT oriented.

Joel, Mitch. Six pixels of separation: Everyone is connected. Connect your business to everyone. New York: Business Plus, 2009. 288pp.


Ok, now that the main part of the review is done, for those that are interested I'm going to list in point form a lot of the main ideas in the book. Think of this as notes for the My Job in 10 Years book that I'm sharing with you. And apologies for the great length.

  • In terms of using social media channels for self-promotion: "if I can do this, so can you" p11
  • Online channels focus most on self-actualization. p19
  • "how you build trust in your brand, your business, and yourself is going to be an important part of how your [organization] is going to adapt and evolve"
  • Participate to build your brand. p23 Patience is a virtue when building trust. p32
  • Add value to the conversation with an authentic voice. p39, 43
  • Ask why you really want to participate in the global, social conversation, what do you want to get out of it p50
  • 5 C's of online engagement: connecting/creating/conversations/community/commerce (er, ok, not so relevant)
  • Blogging (and being involved in a blogging community or community of bloggers, commenters and readers) is a great way to connect to customers, connect customers to each other (p77, 80, 84)
  • You don't control your brand. (p93)
  • Our job as organizers of online communities can be to facililtate real-world meet-ups (ch. 6)
  • Create your personal brand, your organization's brand (the library brand), create reputation both within the profession and within your organization. Building our personal brands as professionals within the library organization also builds the brand of the library organization. (p126, 132)
  • build a brand: give abundantly, help others, build relationships. (p135)
  • Online presense needs to evolve and add more aspects, evolution favours the content creator. Offer a holistic brand experience (p163-64)
  • Build community: be sincere, be helpful, be credible (p168-72)
  • Take advantage of the wisdom of the crowds of your patrons (p190-91)
  • We are going from mass media to "me" media. (ch 10)
  • Find your niche -- what do you do best. p194
  • Embrace the digital, there's no going back. (p200)
  • Strategies to embrace the digital (p208-): centralize all your information, there are multiple sides to every story, connecting in not engaging, be responsive and fast, let people steal your ideas, go out on the fringe
  • Engagement is almost as tough to create and nurture online as trust. (p210)
  • What works? Not advertising, but content. Content is everything. (p216-218, 232)
  • Everything is mobile now, we are digital nomads. The key thing is to deliver content and engagement, targeted, to mobile devices. Think how we need to be less intrusive in mobile marketing, not more so. New device = new rules. (p236-8, 249-52)
  • The only thing that we really know about the value of digital content is that it's not the same as traditional. Can't charge the same. (p256, 259)
  • "the problem is that all new business models look weird and act weird because they are weird" (p.260)
  • Pushing out the horizons, ten trends: personal brands rise, attention crash, micro social networks, levels of connections, analytics and research, content as media, consumer generated brands, virtual worlds, web and mobile connect, openness ...will make us very private. (p264-272)
  • "Six Pixels of Separation is not about how you can connect your [organization] more efficiently in these online channels to be successful. It's too late for that. In this world of interconnectedness, the bigger question is, how are you going to spread your story, connect, and add value to your life and the people whose lives you touch" (p273)

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Say "Hi" to @SteacieLibrary

Jan 12 2010 Published by under acad lib future, faculty liaison, library web, web 2.0

Or not. You can also feel free to subscribe. Or not.

Yes, my library has entered the Twitter age. I'll probably be the main tweeter but hopefully a couple of the other reference staff here will chip (chirp?) in from time to time.

It took me a while to decide whether or not it's worth it to join Twitter. When I do IL classes, I often poll the class informally to see who uses which of the various social networking software sites. Facebook is around 90%. Twitter is around 5-10%, although somewhat more than 50% seem to have at least heard of it. So, it's a fairly small percentage of students here that I could possibly reach -- although York is a very large school so 10% is 5,000 people. And that's why it's taken me a while to decide.

The thing is, quite a few internal York organizations and people are on Twitter and I think it's probably at least as interesting to reach out and connect to them, hopefully raising Steacie's profile on campus a bit.

Twitter also provides a very lightweight way to create an RSS news feed about the library which we could reuse on our web page, for example. A Twitter presence also makes a pretty good complement to our fairly active Facebook page. The two can feed into each other, which is nice. The Fb page has taken quite a while to gain interest, at least a year, so I expect Twitter to take as long or longer to grow into a comparable community.

What do we hope to tweet about?

In terms of promotion on campus, we'll probably put some signs around the library (it worked for Facebook!), RT stuff from other York twitter accounts, announce in my IL classes and just talk about it on campus. If we can work up to a few hundred followers, that would be great.

Like I said, I'm thinking that it'll take six months to a year to see how this turns out.

If you're a scitech library out there and you're on twitter, I'd love to follow you. I'd also love to hear how the twitter thing is going for you. In general, we'll be following back anyone with a York affiliation or any libraries, librarians, scientists, engineers and scientific institutions and publishers. We'll be blocking any obvious spam accounts.

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Q&A with NRC-CISTI about their new public-private partnership with Infotrieve

As I mentioned in my previous post, I did a little Q&A about the new outsourcing arrangement that CISTI has negotiated with Infotrieve.

Q1. What's the effect on jobs at CISTI from this move?

As you may know, NRC-CISTI is transforming itself to be well positioned to serve the needs of Canadian knowledge workers now and in the future. This transformation is a major undertaking for the organization and will require a significant transition for NRC-CISTI's workforce.

NRC is working to mitigate the effect on employees by seeking to place as many of the affected employees as possible within the new NRC-CISTI or elsewhere within the NRC or the federal government. The NRC is working closely with its bargaining agents throughout the process of transformation to ensure that employees are supported to the fullest extent possible.

Q2. What will happen with CISTI's physical collections? Are they staying in Canada?

The holdings of the NRC-CISTI will remain the property of the National Research Council. NRC-CISTI is home to the National Science Library Collection, with more than 50,000 serial titles, 800,000 books and conference proceedings and over 2 million technical reports and indexed journals.

Q3. What's the focus for CISTI in the future? Data curation, research support? Does CISTI have library & institutional partners for these activities?

This transformation will focus NRC-CISTI's activities on high-value information and services that advance research and innovation in the areas of science, technology and health. This will include new models for delivering services which may include partners for these activities, but the overall transformation will take time to implement and it is still too soon to speculate about future partners.

Q4. Where do you see CISTI in 5-10 years?

NRC-CISTI will continue to be Canada's national science library. Our mission continues to be to contribute to an innovative, knowledge-based economy by providing high-value information and services in STM. And, our core value of delivering quality STM information services remains unchanged.

As Canada's national science library, CISTI will continue to provide information discovery and access services to Canadians and researchers from around the world. And as the NRC library, will continue to offer licensed access to information content and in-depth information services to the NRC.

We will also be continuing with our national strategic initiatives, which are a part of our national science library, including building access vehicles to showcase Canada's scientific output, for example:

  • NPArC - also known as the NRC publications archive
    CISTI has built a searchable web-based gateway to NRC-authored publications that will increase access to NRC's research output, and serve as a valuable resource for NRC researchers, collaborators and the public.

    NRC researchers author about 3,700 peer-reviewed publications each year (articles, proceedings, books, book chapters) as well as technical reports. NRC has mandated that these NRC-authored publications be deposited on NPArC. NPArC is increasing the visibility and impact of NRC research and helping researchers collaborate and innovate. NPArC uses the CISTI digital repository as its technology platform. Publications are ingested, stored, indexed, preserved and made accessible from this platform.

    CISTI will also continue to partner with other organizations to fulfill its core role as part of Canada's national innovation infrastructure:

  • Research Data Canada

    This is a national initiative addressing issues surrounding the access and preservation of data arising from Canadian research and NRC-CISTI is playing a coordination role and has launched a gateway web site that provides access to Canadian scientific data sets and other important data repositories to support this initiative

  • PubMed Central Canada or PMC Canada

    A national digital repository of peer-reviewed health science research that will provide free and open access to CIHR-funded research. CIHR has passed an Open Access mandate requiring scientists to make research funded by CIHR freely available.

    NRC-CISTI, CIHR and the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) have completed the first step in the creation of PMC Canada - a three-way agreement to partner on creating the e-repository. CIHR is funding and CISTI is providing the technology platform and tools.

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STELLA! Science, Technology & Engineering Library Leaders in Action!

Oct 15 2009 Published by under acad lib future, academia, librarianship, library web

As has been buzzing around the scitech library mailing lists lately (thanks, Joe!), the great news is that the STELLA! Science, Technology & Engineering Library Leaders in Action unconference is coming up in Denver in January 2010.

What is the STELLA Unconference?

This meeting is for any librarian interested in scientific, technical and engineering resources. The acronym stands for Science, Technology & Engineering Library Leaders in Action!

What is the STELLA Unconference?

This meeting is for any librarian interested in scientific, technical and engineering resources. The acronym stands for Science, Technology & Engineering Library Leaders in Action!

When is the unconference?

At the moment, we are planning on hosting the meeting on January 8th and 9th (Friday-Saturday), 2010 at the University of Denver in the Driscoll Center.

Where is the unconference?

It will take place at the University of Denver in the Driscoll Center. See the Unconference Location page for more info.

Check out the, er, stellar attendee list and sessions ideas page.

Unfortunately, it's pretty unlikely I'll be there. The ScienceOnline 2010 conference is only a week later and time and funding will make two conferences in such a short period of time pretty tough to manage.

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More books and reports on the future of academic libraries

I haven't done one of these in a while, so there's quite a backlog to clear.



As usual, if you know of any reports or books that I might have missed, please let me know either at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

BTW, here's a list of all the related posts:

And yes, I have been (slowly) working on a master list of all the books and reports I've mentioned in those posts.

2 responses so far

From the Archives: & Globe and Mail Books: What can library websites learn

During my summer blogging break, I thought I'd repost of few of my "greatest hits" from my old blog, just so you all wouldn't miss me so much. This one is from January 13, 2009. It ended up being pretty popular and was the reason that ALA Editions initially contacted me about doing a book.


This was a hard post to title, in that I wanted it to be reasonably short yet pack in a lot of information. The real post title should be: What can library web sites learn from commercial book-related web sites such as and the brand new Globe and Mail Books site?

First of all, a brief note about where I'm coming from. This is a a thought experiment. It's a thought experiment about a very particular idea of what library websites could look like. There are lots of other possible thought experiments I could have engaged in about different ideas.

One thing about library web sites is that they tend to focus on concrete problem solving behaviours: find a book, find some data, find some articles. Some library web sites are good at facilitating those activities, some not so much. One thing we tend not to focus on is creating our own entertaining and engaging content or explicitly promoting specific content created or curated by some other organization. Again, some do do this, some well, some not so much.

As a result, library web presences can be a bit dry and static. How to spice things up a bit, content-wise? (Note for that the purposes of this thought experiment, I'm assuming that we do want to spice things up. In actual fact, I'm not entirely convinced of this but I think it's something that I explicitly want to explore.)

An interesting place to look is commercial web sites that are somewhat seriously intentioned but that are also engaging and entertaining. It would also be nice if the general topic of the site more-or-less maps to what we in libraries do. In other words, good old fashioned books. Now, a case can be made that we should follow the model of YouTube or Perez Hilton for creating our own engaging content, but this thought experiment is really driven by a couple of sites I've been following lately.

So, what can we learn from a couple of relatively new commercial sites that are about books. is the home page for the sffh book publisher Tor; in other words, they are ultimately trying to sell books.

I find it very interesting that this page actually has very little directly about Tor's products -- you have to follow the link to a different Tor Books page. I also find it very interesting that the home page for the publisher is a blog and that very few of the blog posts are directly about Tor's books but rather about the world of sffh in general. I presume they do this with the idea that if people go to the site a lot to read and interact with all this content and they get tons of pageviews, this will generate a certain brand awareness and product awareness that will translate into sales. Or more specifically, they will create a community (there are forums too) around their site and their content that will create brand loyalty in a way that merely publishing good books never could.

My take-away on this: As it happens, what I really find interesting and provocative is the idea of using a blog as your home page, the idea that you can leverage the content you create and put on the blog and direct it towards the "stealth" purpose. In Tor's case, that would be buying books. In the case of a library that would use a blog as it's home page, the stealth purpose would be to funnel students to our catalogue, online resources and various services.

Would this work? The first problem is finding enough interesting and engaging content to post on the blog that is even remotely related to the library mission. The second problem is to actually do the posting in a regular enough fashion to make the library a destination blog for the community. The third problem is actually getting students who dropped by the blog to read a cultural critique of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to actually follow through and use books and articles about Buffy (or biology). Or, having enjoyed the Buffy post, come back at some later time for information about biology or history or whatever. I'm not convinced that any of those three problems are easy to solve.

Globe and Mail Books

The Globe and Mail Books site is the newly launched hub for the G&M's book coverage; in other words, they are ultimately trying to use coverage of books and book-related topics to sell advertising. This site is more-or-less replacing a radically slimmed down print books section, which used to be separate but is now merged with the Focus section. Books sections have been easy cost-cutting targets at newspapers for quite a while now so I'm happy to see that the Globe has seen the trend as more than just an opportunity to cut costs but as an opportunity to build something that responds to the rise of book review culture on the web. Books may be old media and the web new media, but an awful lot of the web seems to be about books.

As I said, this site is very new so I imagine that they'll be tweeking it a bit over the next little while to adjust to the early reception. However, I have to say that I like the site quite a bit. It has multimedia, feature stories, exclusive daily reviews, blogs, author interviews as well as linking to book stories elsewhere on the web. It includes all the content of the vestigial print edition as well as adding a fair bit of new stuff. I find that the site does definitely draw me in and get me exploring and clicking.

The blogs could be better integrated into the site as a whole and the external posts could be better positioned as well, but they do seem to be somewhat stuck with a common Globe look and feel. The stuff that's not in the print edition (ie the blogs) really needs to be featured and highlighted. Overall the site seems to lack a really exciting visual pop -- a bit too staid even for a book site. I hope they add more bloggers and begin to seriously highlight the work of the larger books blogosphere. I also hope they surface the interaction that happens in the comments sections of the articles and blogs better. User-generated content in the form of reviews and other stuff might be interesting too, as well as a way to recruit a new generation of reviewers.

Of course, I really hope they improve their coverage of science and technology books (as well as non-mystery genres like sf, fantasy and horror), but for that only time will tell.

My take-aways from this: Even if the site is lacking a bit of pizazz, the thing that I do find interesting is that they're assuming that coverage of old media like books will generate new media pageviews and result in advertising, advertising that I guess was disappearing from the print edition.

The interesting thing for library websites here I think revolves around the kind of content we could create for the kind of bloggy site that the Tor example could lead to. The stuff on the G&M Books site is seriously intentioned but also interesting. It's multimedia and interactive in a way that draws people in rather than away.

A lack of pizazz is not usually a good thing, design-wise, but I do thing the overall approach is something that a content-oriented library website could learn from.


The bottom line? Maybe cool and interesting content can be used to engage students and faculty and draw them to the library web site. And once they're there, maybe they'll stick around and make use of our other collections and services that are more directly related to their tasks as scholars. Or maybe not. I guess I'm still stuck on what actual problem that our users have that that they're going to want our websites to help them solve. Is their problem that they don't have enough YouTube videos to watch? I don't think so.

Is this whole thought experiment really a case of a solution in search of a problem? Is the problem we're solving by making our websites more interesting and interactive really about improving our own self-image?

So, what can library websites learn? As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on this one.

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