Saturday, June 6, 2009

More Things on a Stick: Thing 34-Is this Our Competition? Online Answer Sites

What is the appeal of an online answer site?

The appeal of an online answer site is different for everyone. There's the anonymity factor-sometimes it's easier to ask questions about sensitive matters if the other person doesn't know who the asker is. There's also a time factor-if the person's doing a paper that's due the next day, s/he probably doesn't have the time to wait for the library to open (the procrastination is a completely different issue here :) ). There's also the collective wisdom factor-out of everyone a person knows, *someone* will know the answer, or at least where to look to find it; multiply that by all the people on the Internet at any given time, and an answer can be found.

What kind of questions did you see at the sites you looked at?

I think the better question is: What kinds of questions *didn't* I see? I went to all of the sites listed, and read through some of the questions. There were some asking opinions, & some asking for knowledge. All sorts of questions, all sorts of answers.

Are these the kinds of questions that can--or even should--be directed to a library? Why/why not?

Haven't been to my library, have you? Seems like pretty much any of the questions I saw on the answer sites are ones I could be asked. We don't have a dedicated ref desk, and we do get asked all variety of questions. That was one thing my boss really emphasized when I started working there-she told me people will tell me all sorts of things, and just to expect it. Yep. They do, almost like in a confessional. When I've trained new people, I make sure I stress that aspect of our job, and remind them that although we may know these people, so long as we're behind the desk and on the clock, we have no official opinion about anything, and that we're just the conduit for the information. It's a good, safe attitude, I think. :)

Do people use these sites because they don't know of other resources--like their library?

Maybe, maybe not. Some don't think of the library as a viable resource. Maybe they've had a bad experience with a librarian, or when they have asked a librarian, the answer was useless (it happens).

Of course, the converse is also true. People come into our library and ask us questions that could easily be answered by a fast Google search. So, just because the tool is there, doesn't mean it'll be used.

What do you think of the Slam the Boards events? Did you participate?

Everything I saw was dated 2007. Nope, I didn't participate.

Did you answer any of the questions on a site? Which site? What type of question?

Nope, didn't answer any, but I could've. With ease.

My first semester in the MLIS program, I took LIS 703-Reference. I know where to find lots of things, both in print and on the internet. I had a teacher who was more old school. I think her biggest pet peeve was Google, followed closely by Wikipedia. (I'm not saying Wikipedia is necessarily a great source, but it is a good starting point.) She was big on using PRINT sources, not so much electronic/Internet sources. It seemed a bit shortsighted to me. True, not everything is on the Internet. And even if it is, sometimes it's hard to find. I do not think that only Librarians (with or without a MLIS) are capable of finding an answer for a reference question. Somedays all I get asked is, "Where's the bathroom?", and that's OK too. I think the library world needs to learn from different models, and see what works and what doesn't. There's no need for an "us" v. "them" mentality.

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