Thursday, February 17, 2011

What does Watson's victory on Jeopardy mean for libraries?

Here are some of the early reactions to the victory of IBM's Watson on Jeopardy.

John Markoff in the NYTimes on 2/14/11 quotes John Seely Brown, “The essence of being human involves asking questions, not answering them,” In today's paper, Markoff writes, "Watson, specifically, is a “question answering machine” of a type that artificial intelligence researchers have struggled with for decades — a computer akin to the one on “Star Trek” that can understand questions posed in natural language and answer them." Markoff also reports on IBM's plans for Watson, the company, "plans to announce that it will collaborate with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to create a physician’s assistant service that will allow doctors to query a cybernetic assistant. The company also plans to work with Nuance Communications Inc. to add voice recognition to the physician’s assistant, possibly making the service available in as little as 18 months.
“I have been in medical education for 40 years and we’re still a very memory-based curriculum,” said Dr. Herbert Chase, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University who is working with I.B.M. on the physician’s assistant. “The power of Watson- like tools will cause us to reconsider what it is we want students to do.”
I.B.M. executives also said they are in discussions with a major consumer electronics retailer to develop a version of Watson, named after I.B.M.’s founder, Thomas J. Watson, that would be able to interact with consumers on a variety of subjects like buying decisions and technical support."

James Weinheimer, Director of Library and Information Services at the American University of Rome, wrote on 2/9/11, "the traditional reference questions termed "ready-reference" are probably already gone from the reference desk. But questions that demand more thought and require a deeper understanding will (I hope!) always be asked and I don't see how a computer can answer those."

To me the most interesting words here are from Chase, “the power of Watson- like tools will cause us to reconsider what it is we want students to do.” He is talking about medical education, but what would this mean in the liberal arts?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Quiet Space in the Library

As the library becomes even more popular for group study and as a place you can be sure to find your friends, we have to make sure we maintain space for quiet, contemplative study and relaxation. Some of our users made this clear to us when responding to the LibQual survey. The 3rd and 4th floors are designated as quiet study and we wanted to do something to make them even more attractive, so we took the window nooks on the 4th floor which had been furnished with built in window seats when the library opened in 1985 (puce formica and hessian -- very 70's) and replaced them with leather chairs (or love seats in the larger ones) and reading lamps.

 They are already proving popular as you can see from this photo of Wes enjoying wireless access and quiet contemplation.
There are three 'nooks' with love seats and four with chairs. Over the next couple of weeks we will be adding ottomans to the chairs and students in Josh Almond's 3 Dimensional Foundations class are creating unique end tables that will be added before the end of the semester.
So, thinking in terms of Oldenburg's Third Place, and Bennett's idea of libraries enacting the mission of the college, we have created varied, attractive, flexible, functional, spaces that students can use in ways that make sense to them, and that include elements growing directly from the curriculum (the end tables.) The 21st century college library in action!
Thanks to Lori Voorhees, Darcella Deschambault, and  Susan Montgomery for making this happen.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Usage Statistics for Summon

We just got access to the new analytics tool from Summon. There is a lot there to process, but here are some early points of interest.

We introduced Summon in September 2009, but only as a beta. It became the top search box on our website in January 2010. This images show visits and searches for the first partial academic year, September 2009 through May 2010.

You can see the jump when we made it the top box. We ended that year with a total of 8,998 visits and 45,759 searches, which is about 8% of total searches on library databases. Users did on average 5 searches every time they visited Summon.

 Of those 8,998 visits, only 65% came from Winter Park. The rest came from elsewhere in the US, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

We can also see what domains users are coming from. Only about 60% of users are coming from

When we compare visits and searches between January 2010 and January 2011. We see a rise from 774 visits and 4,220 searches in January 2010 to 1,282 visits and 5,709 in January 2011. A 65% increase in visits and 35% increase in searches. That is good news and interesting as well. The average number of searches per visit has dropped from 5.4 to 4.4. Does than mean Summon is getting better at delivering the right results or that users are leaving earlier unsatisfied. Isn't this always the way with data the more you get the more questions you have!