Internet Librarian 2010: Failcamp
Amy Buckland, Jan Dawson, Krista Godfrey, and Char Booth
Jan Dawson had to stay at her library but offered up a video presentation for us. AskON CALL VOIP chat software for reference services. The software they used for the pilot project did not work, but they decided to forge on anyway. They tried Skype then, and set up best practices for the 18 week pilot project. The staff forgot to fill out the operator survey, and the users weren’t filling out the exit survey. So they had to look at actual transcript data directly instead. Some of the fails: the visitor didn’t want to use/install Skype, the user was somewhere that Skype was not allowed to be installed, or the user didn’t have headphones/speakers available, etc. 100% reported positive feedback, that Skype improved the interaction. Switching between live chat and Skype was too cumbersome in the end. Lessons learned: younger generation staff was less comfortable with the immediacy of voice, while the older generation staff were more comfortable (perhaps due to phone interaction familiarity). For the future they’d like to see voice-to-text translation services to provide valuable transcripts to the user after the session. They’d also like to provide recording and video capabilities.
Krista Godfrey talked about failure in Second Life reference services at McMaster University. They offered reference in Second Life for about a year, going up as high as six volunteers for staffing the service. They were offering about 10 hours a week and discovered they didn’t have enough time to do IM reference, email reference, & Second Life reference. They encountered a number of technical issues with SL — the learning curve when you first start using it is rather high. They couldn’t update SL themselves, so they had to have IT do that regularly for them (another point of failure). Some of their users though Second Life was “for girls” since it wasn’t a fighting game (apparently that’s for boys). There just wasn’t enough promotion, and not enough pick-up of the service by their students. The anonymity of SL was also an issue, as they couldn’t readily identify if the people they were helping were actually McMaster students. They didn’t have a lot of distance programs at the U, so there wasn’t demand coming to them from that potential user group. “Not everybody’s failures are going to be your failure.” There are universities with strong SL presences: University of Texas, San Jose State University’s SLIS program. But for McMaster, it was a failure. If you don’t have the people already there and don’t do user research beforehand, you’re not going to be able to serve your users as well as you could.
Char Booth talked about a massive fail project involving video chat from her days at Ohio University. A lot of the discussion about failure and why it happens is really the narrative that you, the speaker, spins about it inside your own head. The internal narrative about how you perceive your own efforts and your own failures is important. If you’re trying to build fail-safes into your perceptions of your own work, that can help your final outcome. Instead of thinking about who caused a failure, think about how you’re going to mitigate it. What is your contingency plan. The video project at Ohio University that Char was a part of did not do well. A kiosk would be set-up at entry points to the library showing video chat of a librarian elsewhere in the library, to extend the presence and availability of the librarian’s services. There was a lot of blow-back from staff about the scheduling and not liking their disconnected heads being displayed on screens in the library. The kiosks were not being used for reference, but instead for basic public relations. Students were taking the web cams and making out in front of them, but the library tried to take some of those fail moments and putting a positive spin on the oddness. Being able to speak to lessons learned from all the thousands of small failures is more important than the big fails. Admit that you are vulnerable in certain professional situations, and fake it til you make it baby! Come at projects with the attitude that you can make it, and if you don’t you can gracefully admit just that!