Ever since I was introduced to TED talks, I’ve sought them out when a new batch is available. Last year I had the privilege of attending the TEDxNJLibraries at the Princeton Public Library. It was great to listen to a range of speakers on a wide range of topics and stories while also being able to talk with others about the presentations.
My attraction to these talks and the reason I am writing about them now is that I feel they are excellent perspectives from outside of the librarian echo chamber. Some have given me additional ideas for how to think and approach some of the issues that we as librarians face in the road ahead. I’ve linked some in my blog over the years but I wanted to highlight 5 TED talks that I think every librarian should watch.
So, without further ado. (I note the talk lengths in minutes, rounded up.)
1) Ken Robinson – Schools Kill Creativity (20m)
If you are going to watch any talk, make it this one. My takeaway from this talk is looking at how libraries as a whole approach their patrons. Are we nurturing the creativity of others? Are we looking at their interests and curiosities? Furthermore, are we creating our own hierarchy of literacies? Why do some treat book borrowers better than movie borrowers? Why does certain kind of internet use get more scrutiny than others (people on Facebook versus people writing school papers)?
For myself, I think about the idea of a dynamic intelligence and personal unique talents when I am conducting a reference interview. I work towards trying to figure out what is the best way that the person in front of me learns and try to match the materials to that style. It doesn’t always work, but I think it more effective than simply handing out a list of items without consideration to how they take in information.
2) William Kamkwamba: How I Harnessed the Wind (6m)
I know I’ve written about this one before, but I want to reiterate the lesson again: information access matters. In watching this presentation, William talks about how he made a windmill to provide electricity and pump water for his family in Malawi. He constructed it based on books he got from a school library which consisted of three sets of bookshelves. The ability for people to access information can make the difference in the inventions and innovations for the future. To me, it speaks also to the digital divide and the importance of narrowing that gap. Is the next great mind out there but lacking the resources to truly unlock their potential? My guess would be yes, but my thoughts are to work towards fixing that situation.
3) Malcolm Gladwell – What We Can Learn from Spaghetti Sauce (19m)
This talk is a great meditation that carries over to the user experience. As libraries have moved to emphasize our human interfaces and the face-to-face contact that we offer, there is still an undercurrent mindset of creating ‘one size fits all’ solutions to the customer experience. But, honestly, no one can say that every conversation that they’ve had with a patron (public, academic, school, otherwise) has been the same. But, in the same way that Malcolm describes grouping people’s preferences, we can look to group the kinds of interactions that we have and create experiences from them. It behooves us to think and move towards services and information solutions in the same manner. The world has shifted to the individual experience; libraries should look to provide the same wherever possible.
4) Mark Bezos – A Life Lesson from a Volunteer Firefighter (5m)
It’s very short but also to the point: don’t wait to get into the game. Everything counts. While librarians tend to gloss over interactions that don’t result in “real” librarian work (like placing books on hold or answering basic computer questions), these experiences do have an impact on the patron. It is not a life or death issue, but certainly a quality of life issue. While the cynical side to me says that someone will not be broken by not being able to put a reservation on the latest James Patterson or Nora Roberts (and would certainly they would not), it’s the small stuff that can have bearing on the larger picture. It’s important to the library because it is important to our patrons. It’s something to keep in mind.
5) JR – Use Art To Turn the World Inside Out (25m)
My reasons for including this are a bit more abstract than the other four talks, but I don’t think it is any less important. It is about perception, community, people, and of course art. For myself, it’s just about another way to look at the world. I found it moving and introspective in its range and scope for a French street artist to work towards creating bridges between communities that were in various states of conflict (either with others or their issues). I just think it’s an excellent not-to-be-missed TED talk.
Note: As I was putting this together, I realized there were a ton of other TED talks I wanted to include. I might just look to make this a blog series and I would encourage others to highlight videos (both from TED and other sources) that bring something new to the librarian world.