Predatory Reference – Librarians “Slam the Boards”


A few days ago, the Special Libraries Association (SLA) held a webinar where Elisabeth Leonard, Market Research Analyst at SAGE, presented findings from a survey of libraries about the current state of reference. This specific presentation focused on reference budgets and perceptions of reference services by various user groups – most of the library budgets for reference are shrinking and patrons have low level of awareness of library reference resources and services. This made me think about a group of librarians I studied last year – they are involved in a grassroots activity called “Slam the Boards”, and they visit social Q&A sites on the 10th of each month and answer as many questions as possible. Social Q&A sites, also called “question-answer sites” and “answer boards”, are becoming increasingly popular as an online source for people’s information needs. Users of these sites post questions that are then typically answered by fellow users. Examples of social Q&A sites include Yahoo! Answers, Quaro, Answerbag and WikiAnswers. The word “Boards” in “Slam the Boards” refer to answer boards, which is another name of Social Q&A sites. According to the founder of “Slam the Boards”, Bill Pardue, a public librarian in Illinois, the name originated from a sports term for going after a rebound in basketball or the puck in hockey, suggesting rushing into an environment and do something en masse. Through this activity, librarians hope to represent librarianship at a new venue, encounter users beyond the library, provide well-sourced, dependable answers to people’s questions, and make people aware that librarians and libraries can be valuable source not just for books, videos and other materials, but also for mediated answers to questions and referral to appropriate sources and organizations.

Last year, I conducted in-depth interviews with librarians from “Slam the Boards”, and learned that their participation in this activity was motivated by one major reason – they believe in the importance of marketing and promoting libraries, particularly in the age of shrinking budgets, and consider “Slam the Boards” an innovative outreach opportunity. I also inquired about their time commitment, choices of social Q&A sites and questions, perceived difference between social Q&A sites and library reference service, and benefits of the experience. Findings of my study were quite insightful, and I’ve been invited to publish the study in Internet Reference Services Quarterly.

At this day and age, as libraries are facing wide-spread budget cuts and doubtful voices of the long-term future of libraries, it becomes ever more important to engage in innovation and create positive and effective connections with the user community. I think, this “predatory” and “invasive” way of library outreach and advocacy via “Slam the Boards”, represents a concept of making librarians visible in places where they are not expected. Social Q&A sites happen to be the most obvious examples. There are a lot of other places where people ask for help in their information seeking process, such as Twitter/Facebook, or specialized online communities. Librarians’ presence in such places will make it clear that librarians stand to help people fulfill their information needs in any way they can. Hopefully we will see more and more of such innovative ideas and practices from our reference librarians.


Oct 18-19, Library 2.013 Conference

Since 2011, SLIS has been organizing an annual online conference that goes on for two full days (24/7) in October. This year, the conference is called Library 2.013 (it’s Library 2.011 and Library 2.012 in the previous two years). It is scheduled for October 18-19, 2013. Since it is to be held entirely online around the clock, the conference presentations are in multiple languages and time zones. Participating in the conference is completely free, and its goal is to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing among information professionals worldwide.

This year’s conference has eight themes (strands):

  • Digital Services, Preservation, and Access
  • Emerging Technologies and Trends
  • Learning Commons (for school libraries and/or academic libraries)
  • Management of Libraries and Information Centers in the 21st Century
  • User Centered Services and Models
  • Library and Information Professionals – Evolving Roles and Opportunities
  • Doctoral Student Research
  • Library and Information Center “Tours”

A total of 146 presentations will be delivered during the conference, covering a wide range of topics. I browsed the abstracts of these presentations and found some quite interesting ones – Librarians without borders: the International Librarians Network (ILN) experience, Build Curriculum for any Mobile Device – Build Once, Learn Anywhere, Army libraries from Kansas to Korea and all points in between, and Reducing suicide risks of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender library users in the library, especially adolescent and young adult patrons.

All of the conference presentations will be recorded and archived, and freely accessible to anyone. I think this is also a networking and professional development opportunity for librarians, and for students too. There’s much to learn from these presentations. I have discovered several presentations that I could potentially use in my classes. For example, “Using Gimlet to Impact Reference Communication in Your Library” might have useful information for my Reference and Information Service class.

Finally, my colleague Van and I are also presenting at this conference – we will be talking about the findings from our grant project on how to prepare public librarians for consumer health information service. Looking forward to it!

Conference trip to Mexico City

Last week I went to Mexico City to attend the AMIGOS conference, the bi-annual conference for the Network of Mexican Institutions for Library Cooperation (Red de Instituciones Mexicanas para la Cooperación Bibliotecaria). I was invited there to give a talk about my IMLS-funded research project about the best practices of providing reference service via texting. It was a great experience.

Interestingly, the library of Bank of Mexico is a member of the network, so they invited Greta Ober, a librarian from IMF as a guest speaker. Greta and I spent quite a bit of time together during the conference, and I got to know the various kinds of things that librarians do at the IMF library. The library at the US Embassy in Mexico is also a member of the network, so the director of that library was also there. We had a nice conversation over lunch and he told me about the wide range of services their library provides – believe it or not, there’s children’s story time at the Embassy library. My host, Teresa Myscich, Library Director at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Economicas, was originally from the US, but she has been working in Mexico for twenty years. Every time I talked to her, I thought to myself, Teresa would be a great guest lecturer for the international librarianship course at SLIS. 🙂

Meeting people from diverse library backgrounds was definitely a highlight of this trip. It made me think about how we can introduce our students to such career pathways – non-traditional library environments (e.g. international organization and embassy libraries, and libraries in other countries), and hopefully spark their interest in pursuing these careers.

Reference librarians and cloud computing

On Sunday, I will be leaving for the 5th International Conference on Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries (QQML) in Rome Italy. I’m very excited because it’s a great conference with cutting-edge research reported by participants from all over the world, and of course, it’s in Rome.


My presentation is about a study I recently conducted to examine reference librarians’ adoption of cloud computing technologies, particularly the general-purposed and consumer-oriented SaaS tools, including but not limited to cloud-based video services (e.g. YouTube), file sharing services (e.g. Dropbox), information collection services (e.g. Google Forms), calendar services (e.g. Google Calendar), custom social networking sites (e.g. Ning) and forums (e.g. VoiceThread). The study discovered that reference librarians were using these tools for a variety of different purposes, ranging from facilitating internal communication and collaborative work, to supporting information literacy instruction. In the meantime, librarians also discussed the advantages and disadvantages of using these tools. Overall, this was an interesting study. And I will be sure to share the results with my students in the Reference and Information Service class in the fall.  Maybe I will even ask them to each explore one of the tools so that they can better understand and reflect upon the study findings – hands-on experience is always an effective learning strategy.

Anyways, I very much look forward to QQML 2013 and will definitely dedicate a blog entry to this conference trip once I get back.

(photo from