Enjoy the Silence

Photo by SuvikoThere’s an opinion piece on the Christian Science Monitor website that’s been making the rounds on Twitter and various RSS feeds. A librarian in Texas by the name of William H. Wisner wrote an opinion piece called “Restore the noble purpose of libraries”. And if I read it correctly, the library needs to (1) restore the silence of the library by removing any technology that makes any noise, including ones carried by patrons; (2) remove any form of visual, audio, or interactive technology from the children’s section; (3) librarians need to learn books to the point of oral recitation, regardless of specialty; (4) comes to grips with the fact that libraries are popular because they are free despite our professional ethics which tout that we provide access to all regardless of their ability to provide supporting payment; and (5) that we stop being “information scientists” and start being scholars again through rote memorization of printed materials so we can once again love and defend our societal purpose.

Or, the funnier way of summarizing his article:

I need to stop prostituting myself, learn Middle English, write humorous non-existent interviews with celebrities who used to date while handing out beverages to make the library “personalized” again and restore the public trust.

Either way you look at it, it’s a strange theory.

To his credit, I will now grin like an idiot while I’m refilling the paper to the printer. While I whore myself to the paper beast, I will relish in the idea that the reason the printer is empty is that people decided to print out timely  and relevant information and take it with them. Quite frankly, that’s all the more reason to construct library based mobile applications so that people can reach the same information on their noisy cell phone or noisy laptop. Or more reason for me to teach classes so that people learn how to use all of the library sources from home so they can print on their own paper. Or just embrace a combined format approach that yields the best resource or information regardless of the medium. Or, heck, for that matter, I’ll give them whatever literature work they want in whatever format they want: print, large print, even audio!

By my own admission, I’m not much of a reader. So I will confess that all of these new audio, video, and interactive technologies for children make me pretty jealous. I really had to struggle with reading, not because I was bad at it or suffered a disability, but because it wasn’t as interesting compared to watching or hearing the work. Oh sure, we can dismiss decades worth of studies on the different learning habits of children and just stick with reading. My brain and character certainly aren’t much worse for it after all these years. But I’m not going to work at a library with that kind of children’s section. I’ll be over at the fun library with the games, the videos, and the noisy interaction and enjoy the more progressive learning models.

I’m sad to say that my library doesn’t offer free coffee. Sure, I could lament the fact that people love us because we are free and then proceed to give away something for free, but I’d rather not sully the incredible dividends that taxpayers get from their investment. Nor would I care to disparage all of the free adult and children programming offered that enriches the lives of the patrons who use it. Far be it from me to possibly heap any more disgrace on the dedicated professionals in the field who work longer hours with more responsibilities for stagnant or shrinking wages and benefits because of the love they hold for their patrons and profession. To be fair, I’m sure some of them also offer free coffee.

Mr. Wisner is certainly welcome to his opinion and the enjoyment that he gets from handing out coffee while building relationships by chatting about Proust or Picasso with students and faculty. As for me, you can find me in the future where information architecture and communication networks interact so as to provide seamless content delivery and global sharing of user derived content  while providing the highest level of patron interaction and satisfaction. Oh, there will be books there too. Print is not dead, just it’s business model.

(And if you too enjoyed his opinion piece, you can check out the preview of his book “Wither the postmodern library?” on Google Books. If irony was chocolate, this would be Godiva.

Saturday Night Deep Thoughts

Photo by YaniG The other night, I was checking out the ALA Read poster box set on the ALA site. When I was looking at the results of a Google Image Search for examples of posters (search times: "read poster”) I noticed one thing: all of the people in the posters were holding books. While that might not be a shock to the majority of people reading this post, for me it doesn’t properly represent the underlying concept that it is advocating. Where are the magazines? Where are the blogs? Where are the books on e-reader devices? I mean, I am not saying that someone should be posing with the back of cereal box, but a showcase of the various written formats might be more appropriate in this day and age.

If anyone out there was up for it and had access to the set, I’d gladly pose for a READ poster with my laptop featuring my favorite blog.

The Future of Ye Olde Library

Buffy Hamilton (The Unquiet Librarian) introduced me to Helene Blower’s blog Library Bytes the other night. As soon as I added it to my Google Reader, this little gem of a post popped out at me.

An open information bar? Or a theatre of knowledge? of something else? The question is "what is the library of the future in a networked world?"

With this video:

And I watched it again. And then a third time. You get the picture.

In regard to the questions poised, I think an open information bar is an ill-fitting metaphor. While the personalized dispensary aspects of the bar might be more apt to people’s requests for materials, it maintains the traditional patron-librarian-material chain of interaction that has fallen out of favor. Rather than linear, the aspects should represent points on a triangle with all members having equal access to each other. The metaphor’s presence of a barrier to access (i.e. a bar) that is keeping patrons from what they are seeking is unsettling for a future library vision. Although, it certainly does bring new meaning to the phrase “drunk on knowledge”.

I believe that the future of the library is more like a theatre of knowledge; specifically, an information renaissance faire. Whether it is to put on garb and take part in the experience (your serious library users, loyal patrons) or simply to come and enjoy the sights and sounds (casual users, “I have a report due on Monday” now-and-again patrons), patrons will be able to choose their level of interaction, collaboration, and participation in the library. The immersive experience will allow the patrons to dismiss their preconceived notions of the limits of knowledge and open their minds to the full potential of the information age. Just as a regular renaissance fair invokes a friendly form of make believe rooted in the modern age, the future library should seek to create a comfortable and safe environment for people to act upon their imagination, creativity, and curiosity.  This sense of familial connection is what will fuel collaborative intellectual exploration outside of the library through web and mobile applications. These standalone tools will serve as faithful companions, ever present for consultation in the evolving life of a patron. Even if the patron chooses to utilize the library remotely, the information renaissance faire will continue on, presenting and challenging people with a different way to consider the world around them.

Everywhere is here, indeed.

the search for the next big thing, ctd.

Yesterday, this article about the Top Provocative Tech Trends came across my Google Reader. The short short version of the article would sound like this: go mobile; embrace open source, open content, and user generated content. As to the first, the timing couldn’t possibly be better for my library system as we had been chosen for a text message marketing pilot program. This program has never been done in the United States and, needless to say, we are excited to be a part of it. It appeals to my science background as I get to approach it like a giant experiment. While we are certainly hoping it will work, even any mistakes we make are tiny victories for the learning process. We are aiming to roll this out on the first week of August. (Which, oddly enough, coincides with my week of vacation.) Today, I did an interview with a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer about the program; the article will appear in tomorrow’s New Jersey section.

Not to parrot the experts on the Tech panel, but mobile is only going to get bigger and better as the technology cycles churn. Libraries are need to start the steps of moving to where our patrons are and that future is web ready phones, PDAs, and other smart phones. I remember the reporter asking me if one of the goals of the program was to get people to come into the library. My reply was something like this: while we would love to see more people in the library, we’d also love for people to be able to use the library resources no matter where they are. I think this took her slightly aback, but it’s the truth: access counts. And I certainly hope that this program is a baby step into the larger mobile forum for the system. It’s a whole new ballgame, as they say, when you can connect people to the help, service, or materials they want with the ease of a text message.

Picture by Travelin' Librarian As to the last three points (since they interrelate), the malleable nature of open source and user generated content will be the fuel of future library experiences. We need the agility of these formats versus the static evolutions of vendor derived content. It’s really that simple. This is a real time information environment; and while I’m sure there is a vendor who can show me that they can do something like that, why even involve them in the first place? There will be no reason to maintain a service request chain that is patron-library-vendor when the best solution will be a locally implemented solution tailored to the problem and the library. It’s a paradigm shift that needs to happen and the sooner the better.

User generated content is where it is at, now and in the foreseeable future. The tools are so simple a child can make and share their creations (and they have). Each software cycle brings us better tools for better interactivity, stoking the collective creative furnaces of users. Just as the library community embraces collaboration across the profession, there is certainly room for our patrons to join this process. People always want more and we certainly should give it to them. As I said earlier, the tools are there. Let’s starting using them.

Class & Lunch

Today I taught a continuing education class for my fellow library professionals about blogs, microblogging, and RSS feeds. It went very well by my own estimation as I was able to finally use some of the knowledge gleaned from the Pres4Lib conference back in June. Specifically, I made sure I was prepared, relaxed, and tried to make certain I was addressing everyone in attendance. It was hard since I was positioned in the middle of the computer lab with people behind and in front of me. I had some stops and starts, but it happened when the internet was slow to load something or I skipped around on some of my major points or got ahead of what I wanted to say. There was probably more talking off the top of my head than should have been, but my experience with all the sites reminded me of all the ins and outs. The thing I would do next time is make certain I provide a recommendation for each site as it would relate to a patron reference question experience. I did for some sites but not for others, although it ended up getting cleared up at the end.

Tree, Clouds, Sky What made today really nice was lunch. I had stopped to get something to eat from Wawa and went to eat my lunch at our main branch where I was teaching the class. Today was so gorgeous that I decided to park over by the trees on the side of the parking lot. In a quick command decision, rather than sit in the car and listen to the radio while I ate or go inside, I went and sat under the trees. I’ve come to the realization that I may spend too much time “connected”; between Facebook, Twitter, Livejournal, various message boards, email, television, and radio, I am just bombarded with information most of the day. It is a matter of taking the time to shut off everything, to sit with my thoughts, and (as my anxiety counselor might put it), just be.

So there I sat on the grass, under the trees, with my back to the busy road that runs in front of my library, listening to the wind, watching the clouds, and slowly eating my sandwich. It was simply divine; and something I should do more often. And next time, maybe take a picture or two. Oddly enough, it reminded me of something I had heard today. The host of Tell Me More on NPR was chiding a guest who was speaking far over his time allotment and wanted more time with this quip:

"Time is a resource that they are not making any more of, and I am in charge of it.”

Something to think about next time when I am just be-ing.

Fight the Power 2.0: Young Turks edition

I’ve been following the ALA 2009 conference on Twitter for the last couple of days. It’s been interesting to pick up bits and pieces of people’s experience at the conference (as well as a ton of librarians to follow), but earlier today there was two tweets (here and here) from a librarian pal that grabbed my attention. (Based on the tweets around them on my timeline, I’m guessing they are regarding the ALA Council I session on Sunday morning. If I’m wrong, someone correct me in the comments.) While I was not there to listen to the remarks, I did retrieve the platform that (now) ALA President Camila Alire ran on. Here is the passage as it relates to advocacy:

The Advocacy Initiative will focus on “member-driven advocacy“ content and training – for librarians, library staff and supporters of all types of libraries. This complements ALA’s existing advocacy efforts focusing on local, state, and federal legislative advocacy. This front-line advocacy features a most critical emphasis on the competencies and content needed to advocate for the library and library needs within the library structure and within our respective communities — cities, counties, higher education environments, and schools/school districts. A Leadership Workgroup will be formed and will build out the vision, articulating both what it is and what it isn’t; identify target audiences to receive and deliver the message; and establish goals for the Initiative as well as outcomes for members. In addition, the Leadership Workgroup will create products, match delivery and content to target audiences and determine marketing and public relations to deliver content to target audiences.

There was also a mention of the formation of a “Young Turks” type of group within ALA so as to increase young librarian involvement in organization. My gut reaction to these ideas was pretty positive; to me the ALA is still an organization of mysterious purpose mentioned in passing by colleagues and friends. I’m not entirely sure what they do (the subject of debate in some library circles, so I hear), but the concept of reaching out to young librarians like myself and expanding the advocacy issue make it more appealing. In turning this over in my mind over the course of the day, the initial luster wore off. It could be my aversion to the political syntax of the passage, it could be that I somewhat uncertain as to what a “Leadership Workgroup” actually means (despite looking it up), but the passage as a whole feels a bit dated to me. I don’t presume that it excludes Web 2.0 and other technological products, but the steps listed appear to be rote marketing practices.

For me, I am still fascinated with the power of the grassroots as expressed in my first library advocacy post. The highly social and collaborative efforts of user generated content has undeniable appeal for putting current and accurate information into the hands of the end user. The virtual word of mouth was a powerful advocacy tool in organization lobbying efforts, rallies, and documenting everything from protesting patrons to signs of support. Personally, I leads me to believe that the librarians in the figurative trenches have a better gauge as to the points to emphasize in their respective debates and can tailor it to their patrons and audience. The initiative presented by ALA President Alire feels very “top down” when the library advocacy movement feels very grassroots at the present time.

However, I’m still curious enough to see how a Leadership Workgroup would take shape and what sort of proverbial seat at the table awaits my generation of librarians (in both advocacy and “Young Turks” groups). Personally, it does beg a larger question about future membership with the ALA and involvement; something that has been encouraged in the past but no attractive opportunity has arisen until now. As mentioned in “Fight the Power 2.0”, there needs to be a change in the dialogue; libraries need to be portrayed as an essential service for digital literacy in an information driven economy. Libraries are no longer a community luxury, but a population necessity.

In taking the macroscope view of library advocacy, I personally think that there is a fundamental societal flaw that needs to be addressed because it directly affects the underlying nature of our work. We need to confront the fact that we as a society in America are not serious about education. Our state and national priorities and spending habits betray us on this point, for we provide unequivocal support for education up to the point when we get the bill. I believe that we will not see widespread support for lifelong learning that the library provides if we can’t even bring ourselves to pay for the best education possible that we mandate for our children.

I will readily admit that the fixing of our educational system is far beyond me and the scope and purpose of the ALA, but more importantly I believe the cause for lifelong education is intrinsically linked with childhood/teen education. We can (and should) find allies in other national education oriented groups for the purpose of promoting this ideal. I believe we should start looking to our fellow educators and their respective organizations for alliances in the much larger picture. Surely, we cannot pretend that an effect on one education oriented institution does not have an effect on the other. Our common cause is our calling, our strength, and the requisite bond to speak as one voice in the name of education. Let us act accordingly.

To the Moon & Beyond

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

The first two sentences of this quotation by President Kennedy have been playing as a clip for some advertisement on television lately. I couldn’t care less as to what they were selling but it did compel me to go look up the full speech. In examining the full passage in which this snippet was taken, the broader motif of a rise to the challenges of the day emerges. It feels strange that the President’s words have come back to relevancy as plans are being made to go back to the Moon again.

I considered how this passage might equate to some of the challenges that are currently facing libraries, but it didn’t feel like it fit quite right within the broader sweeping vision. While the grassroots struggle to preserve public library funding is a true noble cause as it upholds the underlying principles of service and information access to all, there are questions that I still harbor about the evolution of the library. I feel the emotional currents that push the “library as a destination” community center concept. This notion is based around libraries being the last of the dwindling traditional town gathering places, a place with the familial feel of a Norman Rockwell painting. Perhaps not the temple of knowledge it was once perceived, but one where print and digital information and answers researched by a knowledgeable staff can be found. It is a teacher, it is an advisor, it is an entertainer, it is a friend; it is what the patron needs it to be. Yet we still find ourselves being defined by out of date perceptions and stereotypes as to what a library offers and stands for. We let these flourish as we choose to combat them when they arise rather than confronting them and redefining the conversation about the image of the library.

On the other hand, I can’t help but be influenced by the professional articles and conversations I’ve had about (literally) expanding the boundaries of the library into the surrounding community. The rise of Web 2.0 and mobile technology have pushed interpersonal connections and on demand information to unprecedented levels. Online resources in the form of databases and downloads have put previously inaccessible knowledge at the fingertips of the end user. Library automation, while imperfect, has released us from the most mundane aspects of collection management so as to concentrate on the customer experience. We are capable of breaking the tether of the library desk and extending our service reach into our immediate sphere of influence. Technology has freed the profession to take our services anywhere in the world, yet most still subscribe to the antiquated notion of being a passive presence, sitting and waiting to be chosen to answer like the shy smart kid in the classroom. 

So where does that leave us? How do we develop ourselves into a community destination? How do we extend beyond the confines of our buildings? How do we harness the innovations of Web 2.0 and beyond to guide and follow our patrons into the bold web future? How do we move to remain contemporary and relevant within these technology innovation cycles?

The questions presented are nothing truly new or revelatory, but are ones that we as librarians continue to struggle to address the issues they raise. Even as I write this, I wish I could offer any answers but I feel none quite suit. All I feel at this moment is a change in the direction of the wind indicating a new course to undertake. Like the space pioneers before us, it will take the combined effort of the library community to rise to the pressing challenge, to inaugurate a new phase of library evolution, and to work towards our shared information future. I will be bold and say that these concepts presented are the type that progressive librarians are working towards (and some libraries have reached in certain ways), but their much lauded success is tempered by the struggles of others. Only by lifting every library and every librarian to these lofty goals can we reach our own symbolic Moon and the universe that waits beyond. We hold within our grasp the methods and the means to make this so, to organize, to plan, and to proceed. I know there are others who hold similar thoughts in their hearts, who harbor the same desire in direction, and I urge you, “Now is the time to muster and act!” And think to yourself:

“When I look to the sky and see the future of the library in the stars, what do I see?”

I choose to work towards making the library a community destination. I choose to integrate Web 2.0 & social media and to embrace the revolution of user generated content. I choose to work towards erasing the lines of policy and perception that divide us from the people we seek to serve. That I choose these goals not because they are hard, but because they are necessary to continue mankind’s inquiry into themselves and the world around them.

I choose to go to the Moon.