The Dutch Librarians’ Show

April 8, 2008

Day Two of the Computers in Libraries conference kicked off this morning with an enjoyable keynote speech* from three traveling Dutch librarians, Erik, Geert and Jaap. Well, keynote is a bit misleading. It was more like a improv talk show conducted in their living room.

I first learned about them and their project last year in the blogs and photostreams of my Flickr friends. I was very happy to see their show today and meet them later. The gist of their American story began last spring when they rented a motor home and traveled America making a very entertaining film about the future of libraries. From New York to North Carolina to Nebraska to California they interviewed people on the street and librarians in their workplaces about the profession, the challenges, and the future. Cleanly edited and mixed with music, the result is slick, insightful, and spiced with humor.

Moreover, it’s good storytelling. “If books go away, what will be left?” they asked at one point. Later, in what could have easily been an answer, they said a library’s “most important collection is the people.” It was fitting that people — not the books or the technology — made up the bulk of their film.

Another wonderful line from the film was uttered by Michael Stephens of Dominican University. Asked what libraries will do for people in the future, Michael said the library “will encourage my heart.” One of his students gave a description of library openness and access that is simply too long to transcribe here but (trust me) it was terrific.

Back on the stage between clips, Erik, Geert and Jaap hosted a few audience members on their couch, offered them cookies and water, and conducted live interviews to carry on the conversation from the film. Laptops; cameras; a fish bowl; assorted coffee table clutter. It was a very casual affair to say the least. Engaging. Fun. Participatory. In my mind, it was exactly what libraries of the future should be. I loved it.

BTW: There was plenty more to tell about the day, but that’s all the energy I’ve got tonight. More later…


Computers in Libraries – Day One

April 7, 2008

This was the first full day of the Computers in Libraries conference in Washington, DC, and I managed to sit in on five presentations. Here’s an encapsulated run-down on my favorite four. (I’m sorry for the lack of links here; their talks will surely be available on the conference site soon.)

Jenny LevineBlogger extraordinaire Jenny Levine [right] gave a great talk about delivering high tech & high touch for our patrons. She started out with a few images of gaming in libraries. At such events, she said, the focus isn’t the gaming, but the socializing going on around the gaming. How true! The gaming is just the opportunity, but the interaction is the draw. “It’s not the tech; it’s the touch,” she said. She continued with examples where technology is ineffective and where it is effective. Choosing the right tools, libraries can foster spaces for interaction and serendipity. The virtual world “spills over into real life.” Whether the interaction starts in Flickr or SecondLife or some other site, “these things can turn into real relationships.” Libraries “can’t keep thinking about connecting that one book to one person.” Instead, she argued, we can use tools to create opportunities for chance meetings between users and interests, provide serendipity, hi touch, and water cooler-like conversations that build relationships. (“You can’t have social networking without the social.”) Our advantage over Google is human contact, she said. “We should show the human.”

Jenny also touted Clay Shirky’s new book, Here Comes Everybody. She said she’s still reading it but had pulled several quotes from it already. I’m also reading it right now. I had it in my bag at my feet during the talk, in fact. I’ve been touting it, too! :)

Beth Gallaway spoke about digital convergence: widgets and the cross platform connections popping up everywhere. Libraries can embrace widgets: insert Meebo chat in library catalogs, provide Twitter applications so patrons can talk with us through their browsers and cell phones, and be available in instant messaging, direct messaging, and within virtual worlds. I most appreciated her answer to the question “Why?”: “Because one click is too many.” How true! Today’s patrons might not bother taking extra steps to reach the library.

In a very crowded room [below], Darlene Fichter and Frank Cervone [left] rushed through 24* new widgets, gadgets, and doodads that are either exciting or useful or both. Of those they described, I’m most interested in trying out PollDaddy, a free and easy survey application; Twhirl, a desktop Twitter app**; Browser Shots, a rendering of a website in several different browsers to test it’s cross-platform look; and Photoshop Express, an online photo editing tool. I’ve already tried a few others, including the Meebo Chat widget*** and MailBigFile.com. The two presenters also showed a lot of humor in their talk. Somehow how they made time for it in a very informative session.

Crowded room at CIL

Roy Tennant offered examples of libraries welcoming user-generated content. Whether users provide new data (e.g., images and reviews) or new descriptors (e.g., information and tags to enhance the content), more content and more access is better, he said. People browsing various sites (the Library of Congress’ Flickr page, for instance — please see my earlier post on that) have added corrections and new information unavailable otherwise. Imagine a collection of historical community photos opened to browsing and notes. Some residents would surely have details heretofore unknown to the library. Such interaction also fosters community. “Some of our systems are like fortified castles,” he said. Can we change that? Do we have the infrastructure to moderate user-generated content? These are good questions to ask. Libraries should get up to speed on how to foster engagement with their users.

* Twenty four by my count. I might be wrong.
** I just downloaded it, in fact.
*** Notice a trend? Four of the five presentations I attended today praised the Meebo chat widget!


The Pssst! Tab

April 1, 2008


I found this Pssst! tab in the Options menu pop up of some of our new office software (with Service Pack 4.1). That “Fix all PC problems” checkbox works like a charm. A few other settings are particularly tempting.  These tools are usually reserved for system administrators only, so it was probably distributed to a wider audience by mistake.  Oh well.

I made a short tutorial screencast for our staff but wanted to share at least this image with all of you.


Moving & Shaking

March 15, 2008

Ever since Library Journal began publishing an annual list of Movers and Shakers, it’s been a joy learning about the rock stars of the library world. Most of them have made huge contributions to the profession and — perhaps more significantly — influenced how the general public perceives libraries. All of them are achievers.

This year’s honorees have just been announced and they include David Lee King and Tim Spalding* — two people I’ve come to admire over the last year or more.** Congratulations David, Tim, and the rest of this year’s class. Considering that past winners include Helene Blowers, Meredith Farkas, Michael Stephens, Jessamyn West, etc., you’re in excellent company.

BTW: I’ve looked over the list but haven’t finished reading all the stories yet. The Library Journal site has the authoritative list, of course, but Jessamyn West’s annotated list is much easier to use: It includes real names!

* That’s Tim in the bottom right corner of the cover.
** On a personal note, I’ve been proud to know several of the movers and shakers from previous lists. They have each showed me nothing but friendliness, cooperation and service — just as they exemplified resourcefulness and innovation in their work. It’s no wonder they succeed.


Nominate Your Own Deadly Sins

March 11, 2008

You might find me advocating interactive social media morning ’til night, but even I realize you can take it too far.

NEWS ITEM: After warning against the Seven Deadly Sins for 1500 years, the Vatican announced Monday to append seven new deadly sins. Hmm.

Last night I read an online article in the Sydney Morning Herald. The accompanying interactive gadget (shown here) was just too much. I couldn’t keep a straight face. “Nominate your deadly sins”? Are we ready for wiki theology?


Practice by Any Other Name

March 8, 2008

There are several ways people learn, but few are both as effective AND reviled as role playing. Sure, you might find one or two people in any classroom willing to act out some improv in front of a group, but volunteers are usually hard to come by. That’s unfortunate because experiencing a scene first-hand lets the learner feel it inside. Her motor skills function and her brain processes subtle aspects of a concept she wouldn’t pick up reading or a listening to a lecture. Even an audience watching a role play learns more because it can identify with the colleagues on stage.

I was thinking about this Friday when I attended a crisis prevention class at the Renton Public Library (WA). The class, which I’ve taught many times myself, was this day led by Mary Ross and Kate Laughlin. Their interactive exercises fostered a lot of participation and follow-up discussion.

(The scenario shown above: Mario answered a cell phone call in the library and proceeded to speak much too loudly. Mary tried to get his attention, but Mario kept spinning away so she wouldn’t bother him. In this photo she had finally made eye contact. His finger phone and their circular dance were fun inventions they discovered together during the exercise. It was a bit of comedy for those of us watching, too!)

In my experience as a library trainer, there are a few strategies that tend to get good role play results whatever the topic might be.

1. Don’t call it a role play! Call it practice (as Ross and Laughlin did) or exercise or interaction, but mention the “role play” term and your students will immediately drop beneath their tables hoping you won’t see them. Fearing that you’ll recruit them, some might become too anxious to learn the lesson.

2. Involve everyone …or as many people as you can. It’s easier to engage everyone in a practice activity if they aren’t the only ones on stage. Have many stages at once, in fact. Break the class into small groups so everyone can participate in relaxed settings with fewer eyes watching them. It reduces the embarrassment factor.

3. Offer a realistic scenario. If you want a group to work through a scene, give them a setting and a situation that they can relate to. They will take more from the lesson and be more cooperative in the exercise if they see it in the context of their experience. That means they’ll connect with the material more deeply.

4. Make it fun. You’re giving them a realistic scenario. Great! Now be a stage director and tell them something juicy to give them motivation. Maybe you want them to show a certain emotion, imitate someone, or get a little melodramatic. A scene is just a scene, but an emotional hint breathes life into it. Most people, once they get into it, actually enjoy exploring a different character for a couple minutes. Sometimes practice can be packaged in the form of a game, too.

5. Keep it simple and short. Set up the scene in a few sentences. Target the lesson being taught and avoid complications. The actors will discover their own nuances and complications. End it before the fun wears off. Hopefully the lesson already started to sink it.

It’s usually good to follow up an exercise with a quick discussion, too. Each actor experienced the scene from a different perspective. Let them share what they saw from those angles.

Do you have other suggestions?


A Real Library Stream

March 7, 2008

I spent Friday in class at the Renton Public Library (WA). It’s a unique place — the only library I know built completely over a river. Windows span the upstream and downstream widths and the main entrance is mid-river on the east side. The all-day visit was enjoyable and the staff at Renton were terrific hosts.


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