Libraries offer online help

Web 2.0 is alive and well among the libraries of Yale — if students know where to find it.

Over the last decade, the Yale University Library has introduced new tools to keep up with the pace of technology, including Ask!live, cyber reference service, and profiles on the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. But though Internet-savvy Elis have access to a variety of digital facilities, students said they do not use many of them. Still, use of Ask!live, which allows students to text or instant message librarians, has increased by over half in the last year, and library administrators said other platforms have been gaining followers as well.

“Students aren’t coming into the libraries as much as they used to,” said Kelly Barrick, coordinator of the Ask!live program and a librarian at the Social Sciences Library. “We need to reach out to them online.”

After introducing Ask!live in 1999, the Yale University Library launched an updated version in 2002. Barrick said total use of the reference service has increased 54 percent from the last fiscal year, with a 29 percent increase in research-related inquiries. The text messaging service, which was added this past April, has received about 60 queries so far, which Barrick said was more than she anticipated because the feature has only been in use for three months of the academic year.

Though nine of 11 students interviewed said they had never used the service, they all said they think it could be a useful program.

“I never knew about it, but I would definitely use it,” said Elliy Peng ’12. “The library should do more to tell us about the resources that it has.”

But while some of the library’s efforts have grown in popularity among students, others have fallen by the wayside in the rapidly changing world of cyberspace. The operator of the Yale Science Libraries’ MySpace account has not signed in for more than a year. Many of the account’s 93 ‘friends’ are not actual people, but pages promoting such entities as a New Haven lounge and nightclub, an Oklahoma City society that investigates paranormal activity and a children’s book about an intergalactic vacuum cleaner.

Several of Yale’s libraries, including the Divinity, Music and Law School libraries, have opened Twitter accounts since 2008, allowing followers to receive short updates about anything from special exhibitions to University events to the location of the New Haven cupcake truck.

Joe Murphy, the coordinator of instruction and technology at Kline Science Library, manages the Yale Science Library Twitter account, which he created in November 2007 and which currently boasts more than 1,800 subscribers.

“It’s a constant battle to integrate the traditional library with the technology of today,” Murphy said. “As a normal person of this generation, though, I’m used to it.”

Murphy, who led a ‘Twitter session’ in Bass Library this month on the technology’s potential utility in the classroom, added that he spends several hours a week with Twitter-related work, including maintaining the network, providing content, raising awareness of the account and monitoring other users’ activities.

But students said though they think the library’s use of technology could be beneficial to the University, they largely do not use them. Joseph O’Rourke ’12, a Twitter user double majoring in physics and geology and geophysics, said he is not a follower of the Science Library account but that he thinks it could prove valuable for other members of the University scientific community.

Lukas Colberg ’12 said he thinks the library’s more traditional services are most important, though he said he admired the library’s efforts at innovation.

“Some of these tools are definitely good ideas,” he said. “But we should always be concentrating on the resources we already have in place.”

He added that he thinks services such as Ask!live are useful but that social networking platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are redundant because they largely provide the same information existing library Web sites.

The five librarians interviewed said they think the services provided online supplement the physical libraries but do not replace them.

“It seems to me that we’re adapting very slowly to the morphing information structure,” said Remi Castonguay, public services project librarian at the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library and manager of its Twitter account. “We need to remain relevant, but we still have a foot in the print world.”

Suzanne Lovejoy, the acting music librarian, said she does not think technology will render libraries obsolete because it requires human input and support.

“People often forget that behind these online collections and services are real institutions,” Lovejoy said.

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