Greg Walsh

A blog since 2002

Evaluation of two online reference tools

Monday February 23, 2009


This is an evaluation I wrote for class. I needed to ask the same reference question to two different sources. I chose the Internet Public Library and AskUsNow! The AskUsNow folks were at the Enoch Pratt Library and did a great job answering my question and finding me sources all at a distance:

If you remember from my biography on the discussion board, my research interests are in using games for learning. My latest research project has been looking at using cooperative design to create an instructional video game. So far, the game that was designed has only come to life in the design team's drawings and models. Eventually, I will need to build a working prototype that can be played, so, I decided to use this assignment to learn about a programming language named Python and its use in three-dimensional games.

Because my subject deals with computers, I thought that using two computer-based reference tools would be best. I chose AsUsNow! and the Internet Public Library (IPL). The AskUsNow experience was synchronous and the IPL was asynchronous. I asked the same question to both resources and got extremely different answers. The question I asked both resources was: what resources can show me how to get started in programming games in 3D using Python?

I asked the IPL my question first. The interface was very simple and asked my question, what I wanted to do with the information, what references I had already searched through and a few other questions. The site said that it would take three or so days to get answer my question but I had the answer in 70 minutes on Friday afternoon.

After I submitted my question to the IPL, I went to AskUsNow and chose my local library system. I filled out the form to start a live chat session. The form asked similar questions as the IPL, but, I was connected with a reference librarian at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore instead of waiting for an e-mail. When the service starts, it lets you know that your question is being looked into. The person I communicated with gave me some sources to look into and offered to get a book that matched my needs via interlibrary loan.

Both services were relatively easy ways to find resources for me to learn about using Python for three-dimensional game development. Both services were timely: 70 minutes for the IPL and about 35 minutes of chat with the AskUsNow service. Both services provided links to web sites but only the live librarian found a book for me. Both services started their search with google, but the IPL told me what their search terms were without me asking. Neither one negotiated the question with me very much, and, although the live librarian responded to my follow-up questions, I felt like neither one was very interactive.

The results of the IPL's search was a bit of a let down. I'm not sure why, but, I think that they are judging themselves on quantity of answers as opposed to quality of answers. The IPL librarian, a volunteer according to the web site, sent three resources: a site with tutorials, the Python web site, and a second site with tutorials. I informed them when I submitted the question that I already knew two other computer languages and assumed they would approach my information need with that in mind. I also informed them that I wanted to build an instructional game, but, the resources returned to me did little to move me forward.

I was more impressed with the resources that the live librarian found me through the AskUsNow site. Although the librarian did little to negotiate the question beyond $Have you seen this?$ and what I asked, the resources found were pretty useful. This librarian seemed to understand that I had some prior knowledge and looked for resources that addressed my need. The first resource found was the Python site, then a site about Python in 3D, then she found an entry in a mailing list archive that listed three books. She then asked if any of the books looked interesting. I told her I was interested in one and she checked availability and ordered it via interlibrary loan to my local branch from Johns Hopkins University's library. After the session, the service sent me a transcript of the dialogue for my own reference.

I was most surprised that each librarian used Google as their first search for a reference. This surprised me because I thought they would have a lot more resources available to them in the library than I have at home. In fact, using Google and Worldcat, I was able to access the same availability information at the Enoch Pratt and surrounding libraries that the librarian did. I think the only difference was she could order the book via inter-library loan. I would use the AskUsNow service again because of the high quality results delivered by the Enoch Pratt reference librarians but would prefer an in-person experience.