Stanford University is a world-class research institution, so it makes sense for the library system there to be equally top-notch. The libraries are divided into many branches based on subjects. Cecil H. Green Library is considered the main library, partly because it is centrally located and partly because it is the largest single library on campus. Meyer Library, which is across the road from Green Library’s main entrance, used to be called “UGLI” (and believe me, it really is) as an abbreviation for Undergraduate Library, now houses much of the East Asia Library and much of the IT services for the campus. Green has periodicals, Media and Microtext, Special Collections and University Archives, much of the humanities and social sciences books, and also has offices for high-level library administration. Though badly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it has since been renovated and re-opened in the joined wings known as Green East and the Bing Wing. I should perhaps mention that the Bing Wing occupies a special place in my affections, for I worked there in various capacities for more than four years.
Not only is Stanford a highly regarded research institution, it also happens to be in the very heart of Silicon Valley, and the campus is crawling with engineers and engineers-in-training. One would assume that SULAIR (Stanford University Academic & Information Resources) must have a truly spectacular, leading-edge kind of Web 2.0 presence.
The library website is undergoing a complete overhaul just now, and I’m going to take a moment to explore and compare. Admittedly, the old website looks a tad dated when compared to the new one. The old one is clearly based on a table layout, and offers several buttons and categories that offer many ways for a patron to find what is required. Though it looks quite full, it’s actually very useful and one of the most clearly written, logically designed websites that I’ve tried to navigate. The new website looks much snappier and has re-arranged things. Instead of each heading, such as Research Support, showing up with a list of sub-headings underneath it in the middle of the page, they now range along the top of the screen as a series of menus. Click on them, and you find something that is much more interesting to look at and far more helpful than the simple list. The online chat reference option now occupies a highly visible center-page location, an excellent means of enhancing its popularity. I look forward to seeing how this website progresses through the development stage. It should also be interesting to watch for comments as it replaces the current page.
Web 2.0 usage allowed me to find this preview page, which I would have known nothing about, otherwise. Specifically, I found it because Green Library has a Facebook page! The moderators of the Facebook page posted a link to the new website, inviting followers to view it and send in feedback. Some will be contacted to participate in a live study of the new page. I have followed Green on Facebook for some time now (at least a year, possibly more – I can’t remember) and I enjoy the posts. They don’t write frequently – once a week at most, but more like two or three times a month. So it doesn’t clutter the inbox, and each post is really worthwhile, which is a decided relief amongst the Facebook chaff. My favorite posts are when they share something that was overheard in the library or found on Twitter or Facebook about Green. This offers a charming and often funny view into how students interact with their library.
The Facebook page also has more “serious” posts – linking to news reports about book award winners, or new acquisitions by the library. A recent post led followers to a photo essay on the Occupy protests’ libraries, probably inspired by the one in New York that was summarily trashed by the police there. A post earlier this week announced that SULAIR joined a project called TRAIL (Technical Report Archive & Image Library), while one last week sent readers to a news article at Stanford about research on “status updates” in 17th-century France. This Facebook page is exactly what the service was always intended to be – interesting, useful, and helpful, without being inane or overwhelming. I may be a few years out of undergraduate life, but it seems appealing to all ages and it is both easy to find and easy to use. A search for “Green Library” on Facebook calls up the page, and the cycling “Did you know” questions on the SULAIR homepage also indicates the Facebook presence. An excellent use of Web 2.0 features.
So far, Green Library and SULAIR do not seem to have a Twitter presence (searches for various terms turned up links to Twitter feeds for various Stanford rowing teams, but no library), but some of the smaller departments do have blogs. These blogs do not seem to be intended for public consumption but rather for spreading information amongst library staff. The Special Collections blog tends to announce staff appointments and promotions, new acquisitions, and completed projects. It functions as a newsletter for the department rather than a publication for the outside world, and is thus nearly impossible to find if one is not part of the staff email lists. I do follow it because I worked there and the people involved are my friends as well as my colleagues, but if I had not been a part of that department I probably would not be interested.
The University Archives have a presence in Second Life. The set of collections available to that virtual world is not large, but it has some of the most popular and visually appealing, such as the 1906 Earthquake Collection and the R. Buckminster Fuller Collection. Users do have to join Second Life to use the Virtual Archives, but joining is free. Finding out about it requires going through a couple levels of pages from the main SULAIR page, however, and it might be worth posting it at a higher level if it is to grow in popularity. Currently, from the main home page, one has to go to the list of libraries, and go to the Special Collections home page before finding any reference to Second Life. Personally I find Second Life a wee bit creeptastic, so I don’t plan to use the Virtual Archives anytime soon. I can see its use, though, and I expect the experience is something of a novelty as well as being helpful for long-distance patrons. In the end, I believe that there is something lost when we fail to experience the physicality of archival resources, and thus the Virtual Archives are a portal but no substitute.
It may seem odd to some that Stanford’s libraries have not jumped on the microblogging bandwagon (Twitter) or public blogging overall, but it seems to me that these are not really necessary. The blogs that do exist serve distinct audiences and are hidden accordingly. In my admittedly biased opinion, the Stanford Library staff have examined the available options and decided what is most relevant, rather than simply taking on every new technology as it becomes available.
As a conclusion, it should be noted that there is an app available through Apple called iStanford that includes, amongst its many features, the ability to search Archives images and the main library catalog, including location, call number, and whether the item in question is available. I have what I like to call a moderately intelligent phone, not a smartphone, so I am unable to test the app for myself. I do know that it’s publicized widely in the libraries and that it seems to be relatively popular. Web 2.0 strikes again!
Stay tuned for my next post, which will explore the admittedly less snazzy but no less worthwhile library resources available at San Francisco State University. I know you’re on the edge of your seat, Internet.