Finding the right resource to resolve a query at the enquiry desk can sometimes be a tricky affair, particularly if the methods for bookmarking aren’t exactly helpful. Members of staff who are faced with queries that require access to a specific website are often left to flounder as they root around various sub-folders amongst their Favourites bookmarks on Internet Explorer. For inexperienced members of staff, this can be an exasperating situation. However, there are a variety of tools that are available to efficiently direct members of staff to appropriate internet resources.
Perhaps the most widely used bookmarking tool is Delicious. For a long time, I was oblivious to what Delicious could actually do. I saw the links at the bottom of various pages, but had no idea as to the value of the tool itself. Eventually I decided to ‘take the plunge’ and see what it has to offer. There are certainly a number of advantages for using Delicious in the context of an enquiry desk. Firstly, there is the ability to tag links with subject headings. Provided the links are tagged properly (and that is the key), it can inform the user of exactly what information is contained on that link. This has a massive advantage over folders on your browser as, although they indicate what site they link to, they do not reveal what information these sites contain. From an enquiry desk perspective, this is invaluable. Staff are no longer required to plough through a variety of links before they find what they want, by clicking on an appropriate tag, they can find the information they want far quicker. This means better service delivery as the information is located faster, and the user doesn’t have to deal with an increasingly frustrated member of staff, desperately trying to find the right information.
An additional benefit to Delicious is the fact that links can be viewed on any computer. Should I see a link at home that I think might be valuable in an enquiry desk context, I can simply add it to my account and then visit the site at work should I have the appropriate query. Likewise, should I be at work and discover a useful website, I can then access it at home at a later date. In terms of public libraries, this is even more useful as different libraries across the same authority can add links that they find useful and thus share them with members of staff in other libraries. This also means that should members of staff have a particular expertise in one subject area (in terms of knowledge of useful internet resources), that expertise can be shared with people throughout the authority. A massive advantage to effective service delivery.
Although there are a number of benefits to this form of organising internet links, it is not without its problems. User tagging is a very useful tool, as long as everyone tagged links in the same way. What might be seen as an obvious tag for one member of staff, might not be so obvious for another. As a result, members of staff might overlook important resources that can deal with the query and will consequently be no better off than using the old-fashioned method of bookmarking. This is perhaps the biggest problem in allowing members of staff to add their own links and tag them as they see fit. Without some form of central control, there would be inconsistency which would lead to inefficiency. A hundred members of staff means a hundred different ways to tag one item. Take these two photos from FlickR, both of roughly the same subject:
The first photo is tagged as follows:
portugal holiday 2008 lisbon 25deAbrilBridge tagus suspension
The second is tagged:
25deAbrilBridge lisbon portugal suspensionbridge cristo-rei rivertagus almada franciscofrancodesousa antoniolino
As you can see, there are a number of subtle differences in how the two are tagged. The first one uses the tag ‘suspension’ whilst the second uses ‘suspensionbridge’. Clearly in the case of the first set of tags, care will need to be taken when searching. Someone looking for ‘suspension bridges’ will obviously not retrieve this image. Likewise, if someone was looking to find examples of work by Francisco Franco de Sousa, they would also miss the first image.
Taking all of this into account, imagine the problems that would occur if members of staff each tagged links themselves, the problems would be multiplied many times over. As a result, the utilisation of Delicious would lose its advantage over folders stored on the browser. That said, if it was used in a controlled manner, Delicious could be a very useful resource for public library enquiry desks and a welcome aid to those less-comfortable in dealing with internet based queries.