As I hoped, the University of Pennsylvania has provided the major-key resolution upon which I hoped to end, though the resolution took a form that surprised me. Like most of the other universities I have explored for this assignment, Penn is a world-class research institution (if I understand correctly, SFSU has a stronger emphasis on teaching than research, though research is of course an important part of faculty life). Chronologically it falls in the middle of my timeline. Oxford is of course the oldest institution I examined, while Brandeis is the youngest. Penn was officially founded by evangelist George Whitefield in 1740, but went unfinished until Benjamin Franklin (yes, that Benjamin Franklin – it’s amazing the man ever slept) went on an education crusade later that decade. In terms of information technology, Penn holds the distinction of having developed ENIAC, the first large-scale computer.*
This gave me high hopes for the technological standing of its library system – surely the research libraries at the institution responsible for one of the world’s first computers will stay on the front edge of the trends.
It turns out that I am both right and wrong. While they lack a blog that I would describe as fitting the traditional definition, the library webpage has a frequently-updated list of news stories, all with links to the full article. I am not sure if it cycles or if it is updated especially often, but I have refreshed the page a few times to discover that the links shown change each time. There is also a RSS feed available for events, a handy little reminder for the interested library patron. Like Brandeis and Edinburgh, their Facebook presence is nearly nonexistent. The Penn Biomedical Library has a page, but the only information on there is that they joined Facebook, so either they joined within the last few days or nobody updates the page.
Unlike Brandeis and Edinburgh, there is a Twitter account. @upennlib covers all fifteen branches of Penn’s library system, and is updated at least a few times a week with links, announcements, and general news. The feed itself is useful, but it is not helpful that I had to search Twitter for it. The library website should have a readily accessible link to Twitter. This is not hard to do, and I have no idea why they have not done it. The link they do make obvious is their virtual reference – I strongly approve of what they have done here. There is a very clear, linked symbol in the upper right corner of the library page that shows two speech bubbles overlapping like a Venn Diagram, showing three ways for a patron to get reference digitally: instant message, text, or chat. IM and Chat should be synonymous, but the chat function also works as email when the librarians are offline. Click on the image and a popup window appears. Under the IM category, there are symbols showing the different chat programs supported. This is nice, since the patron can choose which they prefer, helping them to feel comfortable with an interaction that can get awkward.
All this is useful information, but Penn jumped out at me for two other reasons. The first goes along with the virtual reference, if the user clicks over to the “Ask Us/Get Help” tab. Unlike the other library websites I have explored, Penn makes a point of encouraging patrons to contact subject librarians directly. Most libraries I have seen have one email address for reference, and the person in charge forwards specialized requests to the appropriate person, but Penn offers a directory of subject librarians with contact information. Furthermore, Penn has a link in the same list that encourages patrons to give feedback on the collection by suggesting other items to purchase (though one needs a Penn ID to do so). I have offered suggestions for purchase at academic and public libraries, but I have always had to track down the appropriate librarian on my own initiative. Penn’s link to allow this interaction is something that other libraries should look into. It is an excellent way to get the patrons involved in the library.
Other universities have had smartphone apps that include a library section – search the catalogue, find hours and locations, and so forth. Penn has an app that is specifically for the libraries. Penn Libraries Mobile is an astonishing and rich resource for the smartphone user, containing everything from the basic search the catalogue to image searches, lists of new acquisitions, video clips, and many more. It is easy to find – on the main library homepage there are two links that lead to it. One is at the bottom of the page, tiny text that just indicates a mobile version of the page, while another larger link on the right side says “Libraries Mobile.” A wonderful use of new technology and Web 2.0 tools.
Penn’s Library 2.0 exemplifies the best of what Library 2.0 can be. They have taken the tools available, chosen what works for them, and taken it to a level that serves their population well (honestly, if the Penn population doesn’t like this, I don’t know what’s wrong with them.). Admittedly, there are one or two visibility issues to do with Twitter, but all things that would be solved by the simple addition of one or two links and a little publicity. I think they could make use of a Facebook page to combine their News links with the information supplied by Twitter, but the lack of Facebook in this case is by no means so frustrating as it was in other schools that had virtually no social web presence.
I must say, it is nice to end the assignment on a high note.
*This information comes from Penn’s own Heritage webpage.