Tuesday, October 30, 2007
I was recently at a meeting where a discussion of inclusion of 3rd party content in an information resource arose as a topic. The specific topic centered around 3rd party content hosted along side search results in a research database but this brings up and interesting disconnect that I have encountered here at my Library. That is: what responsibility do librarians have to the validity of 3rd party content?

One camp sits firmly in the "if it isn't properly vetted it doesn't belong anywhere near authoritative sources." I recently ran into this on a news feed I include on my library's webpage (homepage no less). I have an aggregator troll the web for news about my organization and use Feedigest to display the results. And, by web, I mean that whole, huge, messy thing called the World Wide Web. This content is hardly vetted! The concerns came when we recently had a news item involving the TV reality show Beauty and the Geek. Panic! There is non-technical, markedly non-relevant material right on the LIBRARY HOMEPAGE! *faint* This camp believes in information beauty - and beautiful information is authoritative, relevant, and (usually) paid for.

The other camp (of which I tend to spend a night or two) believes that information only has value when assessed by the reader and it can not be held back by the strictures of "relevance" or "authority." After all, one person's irrelevant is another person's eureka! moment. Information must be free! "You can't stop the signal!" ($5 if you can name that movie!). This camp is the Geek camp - maybe including, but not limited to, "millennials" that have grown up downloading free music and getting their news from blogs.

I think there is an important middle ground with valuable opportunities for Librarians. The "Beauty" camp is missing the forest for the trees - end-users are already going elsewhere to get their information! They are going to Google and Yahoo and The Onion. They are deciding for themselves what is relevant and authoritative. Are they doing this well? Perhaps not. But they ARE doing it. Ignoring that fact and being information "purists" is counterintuitive. The "Geeks" aren't getting it right either. One of the value-added services librarians provide are filtering of information noise and some level of validation of authority. This is not a role to be taken lightly in an ever pouring deluge of information assaulting our patrons.

Wherever shall the twain meet?

I think there are two ways that librarians can utilize 3rd party content without abandoning Beauty for the Geek.
  1. Notification of content types. There are several, evermore obvious ways to delineate your content. In my library we differentiate between subscribed and unsubscribed content and there are several ways to do this.
    1. Post a content policy on your page. Of course, like a EULA, no one will ever read it but at least it is there.
    2. On my library website we use a small icon to designate subscribed and non-subscribed content. This is minimally intrusive. On included RSS feeds the news service usually includes a "brought to you by..." branding.
    3. Another method is to separate content by chunking subscribed separate from unsubscribed content on a page or even on separate pages. I do not like this method because information is information to the patron - they don't care how we acquired it.
    4. The most intrusive method would be a middle-page that a patron hits before proceeding that informs them they are about to view a page that has not been reviewed. This method can be annoying from a usability perspective and I am not a fan of this. Ultimately it will depend on the sensitivity of the user community.
  2. Vetting the source. This is the most obvious one to me. If I have put it on our library webpage then I have vetted it to some extent. I might not be able to screen every news item but I do generally trust Yahoo! as a news source and I have created a search string that I believe will minimize noise and maximize relevance. For example, I have an included RSS feed on my Nanotechnology subject guide that searches Yahoo! news for the following string: Yahoo! News search results for [nanotechnology OR nano-technology OR Nano* -apple -ipod]. As far as I'm concerned this is a vetted resource. Using Feedigest I can also mash this news feed with news from nanotechnology.com and nanotech-now.com to create a single consolidated source for my patrons. If I one day get a news item about a reality show because one of the contestants once bombed a nanotech firm - then cest la vie! This is still less noise than my patron typing "nano" into Google.
So is it worth it?

I think that the benefits of this type of content are worthwhile. With integration of additional content your library site can be:
  • Be the one-stop information source for your patrons
  • Save them time in sorting their own results
  • Provide real-time, value-added information
So, Beauties don't throw out this juicy content! Geeks don't drown us in free information! Get together - hold hands - it is a beautiful geektastic thing.

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posted by Paige Lucas-Stannard at 8:19 AM | 0 comments
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