Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Some Unrelated Thoughts & Responses

OPAChy reminds us in a post entitled Why we’ll never be as good at search as Google that the major problem in using Google’s page-ranking algorithms to compare with OPAC search ranking is that their page-ranking system is not necessarily applicable to our data. OPAChy writes that “PageRank presupposes that (a) there are lots of people “voting” by making links to given resources, and (b) the best resources are the most popular/linked-to.” The fact that the majority of our collection is not heavily used makes the use of relevancy ranking much more complicated. Just because an item hasn’t ever been used doesn’t mean that it isn’t highly relevant to a specific research topic. How does one convey this in terms of relevance? Obviously, academic, public and special libraries may have extremely different needs in terms of relevancy ranking. Since much of the recent criticism of OPACs relates to lack of relevancy ranking, I think we need to look closer at this issue in order to determine what we need for relevancy ranking. Our collections are very different from Google and even from Amazon and sometimes I think we forget this fact. Ultimately, I think this relates to the fact that Google provides users with many sources for a given topic, but that libraries are trying not to provide just sources, but the best sources available for a given topic. This is a critical distinction.

There was an interesting response to Steve’s 20 points on excellent library service (from Blog about Libraries) over at The Itinerant Librarian yesterday. Angel takes issue with two of Steve’s points. First, she points out that is difficult not to take extremely bad behavior from patrons personally - and that some behavior is inexcusable. I think that Angel has a point, but sometimes we need to remember that patrons who cause problems are generally in the minority - and the small minority - thank goodness. Despite this fact, we do have policies in place to deal with this type of behavior in order to protect ourselves and have had to bar patrons from using our facilities. Second, Angel disagrees about being flexible with policies. I can see both sides of this issue. Ultimately, I think the best way to handle this is to reevaluate policies often. If you find that you are often being lenient about certain policies, maybe they aren’t really necessary. Maybe fewer policies will help. Of course, I work in a library and I know that we often have to put policies in place so that we can point patrons to them when we have to speak to them about an issue. I would like to point out that this usually happens because students complain (loudly) about other’s behaviors. I admit that we have signs forbidding the use of cell phones - but this is because of the pervasive nature of their use. Students started a campaign to ban the use in the library because they found cell phone use distracting while studying. Ultimately, the library belongs to the students and they have the right to have input into our policies and procedures. Angel sums up her post nicely - “Now, someone will say, “oh, but you are just worried about covering your behind.” You bet I am. Another thing I learned in my years as a educator. Always cover your ass. In the litigious land we live in, not doing it is just foolish. Making some exceptions just opens you to all sorts of vulnerabilities that are better avoided. Why would you do that to yourself, or to your colleagues? So, very nice rules, very true, but take them with a grain of salt, as one should probably take a lot of things in life. And just use some common sense.” I think this is great advice - especially since I try to take everything with a grain of salt.

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