“As a reference librarian, I find it tremendously satisfying to help people find answers to their questions… If I discover a new environment where people are posing questions, it’s kind of in my blood to want to get in there and look stuff up!” -- SlamtheBoards’ Bill P
Today is #SlamtheBoards day, a monthly collaboration by librarians worldwide to answer questions outside their daily physical bricks and mortar domain. It’s the brainchild of Answers contributor Bill P and with Answers Knowledge Partners Enquire participating. Read our interview will Bill below…
Interview: Bill P from #Slamtheboards
Yahoo! Answers team: Hey Bill, can you tell me what #slamtheboards is, in essence?
Bill P: “Slam the Boards is an attempt to get reference librarians from around the US and the world to visit “answer board” sites like Yahoo! Answers and use our particular skills to help provide well-researched answers. Since Sept. 10, 2007, librarians are reminded to “slam” on the 10th of each month, although they’re welcome to participate at any time that’s convenient.”
“We let the users know that a librarian answered the question and also provide information on how to contact a library. We’re not trying to take users away from these services, but letting them know that working with a librarian is often a useful way to get authoritative information when you really need it.”
“Lately, we’ve started using the #slamtheboards hash tag on Twitter so we can follow each other’s activity. You can see more details on the supporting wiki.
Y!AT: When did it start and who started it?
Bill P: “The idea came from a discussion between me and Caleb Tucker-Raymond (a colleague from Oregon) at a librarians’ conference in Denver in August 2007. I suggested that there should be a concerted effort to get librarians to look for questions beyond the library environment, especially in the new online social sites that were appearing at that time. He suggested that there should be a single focus date and I chose September 10. In the course of the next month, I just did a lot of informal marketing and got a lot of messages out on professional mailing lists, had some interviews, etc. and created a bit of a buzz for it. You can see some of that in the 2007 entries.
Y!AT: Who participates, how often and where?
Bill P: “It’s practically impossible to know even approximately how many librarians are doing this at any given time.”
“We had a lot of reporting from the first slam in 2007 and saw librarians around the world participating–the US, Denmark, the UK, Australia. It was easy to build up a lot of support for a one-time event, and participation has clearly settled at a lower baseline level since then. However, there are clearly signs of life each month as a several of us answer questions. I’ve also been getting feedback about library school instructors having their graduate students participate as a way to understand new ways of finding questions that people ask beyond the library.”
Y!AT: What is the driving force behind #slamtheboards, the fundamental motivation?
Bill P : “There are two main motivations. First, as a reference librarian, I find it tremendously satisfying to help people find answers to their questions. It’s something I do dozens of times a day. If I discover a new environment where people are posing questions, it’s kind of in my blood to want to get in there and look stuff up!”
“Second, there’s a promotional aspect. We’re starting to realize that a lot of users don’t understand that a library is more than just a collection of books and DVDs in a building, that we’re actually an organization that provides services like helping you find answers to your questions, no matter what sources we need to use to do that. Having librarians show up on sites like Yahoo! Answers is a way to remind users that we’re actually quite good at this “answering questions thing” and that there are certain types of questions you might want to think about us for first!”
Y!AT: What questions do you personally answer and why?
Bill P: “Finding the right questions is really the biggest trick for us. So much of what goes on here is social and discussion (“What do you think of this musician?,” “Why should I vote for this politician?”), but I try to look for questions that are looking for some type of facts or details. They can be on almost any topic — I skip around a lot. However, being from the Chicago metropolitan area, I keep an eye out for questions specific to my town or the surrounding suburbs. Still, if you looked through my accumulated answers, you’d see quite a mix, which keeps it all very interesting to me.”
Slam the Boards all over the world…
Over the years Slam the Boards has had lots of different participants. Jaclyn McKewan from the Western New York Library Resource Council (WNYLRC) hosted a webinar around slamming and she’s not alone. Here’s a few testimonials from other people who got involved…
Enquire are an umbrella organisation for librarians and are one of UK & Ireland Answers’ most committed and diligent Knowledge Partners. They participate in #Slamtheboards too.
“Libraries are in dire straights, there is no two ways about it. However, an overriding passion in library reference services is that of information discovery and helping a user access information they couldn’t find before, or helping them navigate their way around the internet with guidance that allows them to help themselves better. It is what libraries do and that message is vitally important.
“For me personally it encompassed the sentiments above as well as feeling very proud of what Enquire has achieved, we have great information professionals working in increasingly hard environments and to still be able to maintain great customer service and provide high quality answers, then for me not to be involved and get stuck in would be plain wrong.”
– Joanne John, UK & Ireland Answers Knowledge Partner, Enquire
Professor Loriene Roy, U of T
Loriene Roy is professor in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin (and Past President of the American Library Association). Once a year she teaches a graduate course, “Introduction to Information Resources and Services,” AKA basic reference. One of the student assignments requires students to participate in Slam the Boards! and write a reflective essay about their experience.
Roy wrote an article about the experience that was published recently in “The Reference Librarian.” That included the following student experiences and reflections from participating on Yahoo! Answers:
“I loved seeing my answer chosen as the best one and getting some positive [comments] written from the asker. Even though finding a question to answer was stressful, the patron’s gratitude and my satisfaction at providing her with the information that she needed made me feel like the whole experience was worth it.”
“I was not quite prepared for the pride I felt when my questioner voted my response as the best… I was very satisfied that he/she thanked me for a “well thought out answer.”
If you contribute to Answers then you’ll have experienced that sense of pride too, just as Bill and Enquire do too. Here’s to many more SlamtheBoards in 2011!
– Yahoo! UK & Ireland Answers team