Ask Scotland Development Day

The morning of Friday the 13th of November saw the Ask Scotland Development day at the Mitchell library. The day was a chance to outline the overall strategy of implementing the service and was also an opportunity for the first group of librarians involved in Ask Scotland to ask questions about it and give their own thoughts.

Elaine Fulton, Director of SLIC, started the day with a brief introduction to the day and the ideas behind Ask Scotland. Library services need to do more to keep themselves relevant in an age where increasingly the perception is that the first place to gather information is Google and Wikipedia. Library services need to align themselves more closely with the needs of a generation that tends to expect to receive information immediately and also not to discriminate between formats.

This introduced Senior Information Officer, Gillian Hanlon’s, presentation about the Ask Scotland service. Developments in the web (commonly described as “web 2.0”) allow people to access and discuss information in a variety of ways. People can share information via social networks or even contribute to the knowledge held online via a variety of services such as wikipedia or youtube. Furthermore this desire amongst people to contribute as well as consume can lead to the development of other services, such as the free to use Ask A Citizen service which allows volunteers to answer questions about their country.

This, to detractors, would seem to make libraries an anachronism. However, library services have much to offer to web users that goes beyond what they can find when making searches at online repositories or via online search engines. Scottish library services have much to offer even now; as a community they have great reserves of professional knowledge and also a great deal of esoteric knowledge which is less likely to turn up easily in a Google search.

Many people have an interest in, for example, genealogy or local history. Queries about these topics are where local library services can shine. Indeed, when it came to discussing the kinds of question that are frequently received at reference desks it seems clear that these kinds of query are frequently received by reference librarians. When one considers both those that have moved within Scotland and the wider Scottish diaspora, it would seem that the ability for anybody anywhere to make enquiries on Scottish matters is a positive step for Scottish libraries.

After the presentations the day moved on to a discussion amongst those that are already making use of Ask Scotland and what they have found so far and what they’d hope to see. Also considered were future developments of Ask Scotland (including frequently asked questions, how this can feed into ongoing digitisation projects, and the implementation of new services, such as online chat.)

Overall the day was a positive one and we hope to see Ask Scotland go from strength to strength! Thoughts or questions about the service and any ideas for improving it are always welcome, too.

Virtual reference around the world

As part of the IFLA Conference in Milan, a focus group meeting was held on Monday 24 Aug to discuss virtual reference projects and initiatives taking place in libraries across the world. The meeting was hosted by OCLC, who developed the QuestionPoint virtual reference system that powers our AskScotland service.

The AskScotland pilot service was launched in June during the CILIPS Conference at Peebles and we’re now preparing to move into the next phase. I attended the meeting with SLIC/CILIPS Director, Elaine Fulton, so that we could share our experiences with colleagues and learn about virtual reference implementations elsewhere.

A broad range of library services was represented, including many national collaborations similar to AskScotland; the national libraries of Sweden and the Czech Republic, for example, co-ordinate services involving both public and academic libraries.

A central focus of the meeting was the marketing and promotion of virtual reference services. We were particularly interested in this topic as effective marketing will important in bringing AskScotland to a wider audience.

A fantastic example of advertising came from the New Jersey public library service, where a commercial for the QandANJ service was broadcast during the MTV Music Awards 2007. They also made a subsequent video, both of which are now on YouTube.

Other examples ranged from the use of printed promotional material (newspaper adverts, posters, leaflets etc) to establishing a presence at book fairs or high profile cultural events. All of these methods are worth considering as part of the ongoing development of AskScotland; we are particularly interested in exploring the YouTube option, however, as it would be low cost and could have a high impact on exposure. Watch this space!

SLIC and CILIPS in 2009

This year looks set to be a busy time for the team at SLIC and CILIPS.  Here’s a round-up of the main projects we’ll be working on in the first half of the year:

  1. AskScotland – work is currently under way on the national service that will enable people all over the world to have Scottish history questions answered by a Scottish librarian.  The first phase of the project will include around one third of Scotland’s public library authorities, with the others being brought on board within three years.  AskScotland will be coordinated by SLIC and will form part of Scotland’sInformation.  The service is due to be launched at the CILIPS Annual Conference in June.
  2. SLAINTE – the SLIC information team (Penny and Gillian) has been working on a complete re-design of the SLIC and CILIPS website.  This has been a tricky process due to the sheer number of pages – 15,000! – and the fact that SLAINTE combines the web content of the two organisations. Our main concern has been that too much of the valuable content we host is buried within the current structure. In order to remedy this we’re introducing sector specific entry points on the homepage to enable users to reach relevant content quickly.  Some changes will be phased in over the coming weeks, with the fully re-structured site going live in the spring.  Any suggestions or feedback would be most welcome.
  3. FE Standards – a working party was established in the latter part of 2008 in order to develop a new set of standards for college libraries, in line with revised HMIe guidelines.  The group has produced a draft framework and the project is moving towards timely completion.  The whole working party will meet to discuss the draft tomorrow (Thu 29 Jan), with publication expected spring/summer 2009.
  4. CILPS CPD and Annual Conference – the spring CPD programme has now been agreed and full event details will be publicised shortly.  Check SLAINTE events for further details.  The CILIPS conference 2009, titled Inspiring Excellence: Your self, your service, our future, will take place 1-3 June at Peebles Hotel Hydro. The programme has yet to be finalised but the event will take a slightly different format this year.  More details will be published very soon.

Updates on these and other services will be available via SLAINTE or follow us on twitter.