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Meebo Bar for Libraries

A lot of libraries use widgets on their pages to answer virtual reference questions. They use things like Meebo, Digsby, AIM, and the very cool Library H3LP.  Yet recently Meebo co-founder Seth Sternberg, one of the pioneers of widgets on the web, pretty much said that widgets suck. His argument was that widgets can’t be easily updated (you have to copy and paste in an entirely new widget) and that they take up a significant amount of screen real estate.

Enter the Meebo Bar. It’s a piece of javascript code that’s sits as a layer on top of a website.  This allows it to be on multiple pages so your widget is not just on your “ask a librarian” page or your homepage; it’s everywhere without taking up a bunch or room. In addition, it’s fully customizable so you can include your library’s Facebook page, posts from your Twitter stream, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, and more. Users can get help from a librarian and also connect with them on social media all from a single bar on any of the library’s pages.

For possible downsides, because it is all hosted on Meebo’s server it could be changed at anytime. They might decide one day to include ads on all their bars. Though I think their current model of opting into ads for a small cut of the revenue is working for them. But other than that it seems like it could be the next generation of service for libraries providing virtual reference to their members. I made a quick screencast demoing an example of what a library Meebo Bar could look like. If you want to play with one yourself, you can visit their website or see it in action over at Slate.

Is anyone currently using this? Would this be something that could be useful at your library?

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The Three Spaces of Libraries

In prepping for a tour for RAs at our college last week I started thinking of libraries in terms of space and realized that libraries are a combination of three distinct spaces: community space, learning space, and virtual space. This was how I ended up framing the tour, and I thought it was pretty helpful.

Community Space

Libraries are places where people can go to be social and be a part of a community. Libraries hold events like gaming nights, book clubs and film screenings. It’s also a place where you can go and meet friends and relax or even study with a group.

Learning Space

In addition to their function as a community hub, libraries are also a space for learning. Whether public, academic or special, libraries function as refuges to those who want to learn.  They make information resources available to learners such as books, magazines, DVDs, and databases. They also provide other exploratory resources such as computers with internet access. Libraries also have trained people to assist learners along the way. These are people like librarians who can help searchers find relevant useful information and make sense of it, or people in writing centers who can help users write their papers. Libraries create environments that facilitate exploration and discovery.

Virtual Space

Finally, the library is not confined to a brick and mortar building. The library is also a space online. Through social media tools like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter it is possible to further that sense of community discussed above. Patrons can also continue their learning online. Library websites try to make it easy for users to find relevant useful information.