White collar Halloween

October 31, 2007

I just had to share this:

Originally posted by piercecountylibrary.

Everyday John comes to work at the Lakewood Library wearing a white shirt and black slacks, but punctuates his look with a tie from what must be the greatest collection on earth. (He has funny ties, good ties, wood ties, …) Staff and patrons all know and like him. Today his coworkers came to work dressed up for Halloween as John: white shirt, tie and “John” printed on their lanyards. All except John, that is. He was told to leave his usual attire at home and wear something different for once. That’s him in the foreground: the only staff member without a tie.

Not only is John the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, but his coworkers put on a great (and pretty darn funny) tribute. I’m also glad they chose to post this photo on Flickr so the patrons (and you) can see the Lakewood Library dress up for Halloween.

Learn More: Avatars

October 29, 2007

[This is the first in a series of self-paced discovery exercises for library staff venturing into the social web.]

Let’s start our wandering with a little fun. Let’s create a few avatars.

We exist as flesh and blood in the real world, but we don’t transmit that way in the digital world of the Internet. It could get kinda messy. Instead, we can adopt a digital form better suited to an online environment and one that our friends will learn to recognize as us. That form is an avatar.

Avatar comes from a Sanskrit word. In Hindu philosophy, a supreme being normally exists in a form incomprehensible to us. When that being descends to earth, it appears as an avatar so we mortals can better relate. The concept is similar with us and our avatars of the cyberworld.

Avatars come in many styles. Some are simple cartoon-like drawings (like the Simpsons figure, left) that users of the social web place on their personal pages. Others are photographs (like abchick‘s buddy icon, right) or three dimensional animated figures within a virtual world or online game. Whatever the form, though, your avatar becomes “you”. When your friends see your avatar likeness, they’ll know it’s you. Even if you adopt a penguin as your avatar, people will become accustomed to thinking of you when they see the penguin. Why? Because that’s your avatar; that’s you…in this world.

The term “buddy icon” is often used interchangeably with avatar, by the way.

Meaning for libraries

The social web is populated by avatars. Many of your patrons likely use and see them regularly. Some – don’t laugh – may want to freshen up their online appearance as often as (or more often than) they change their real world look. That may mean posting a new or doctored photo. They might appreciate a photo editing tool on public workstations and simple file uploading abilities. If the library can’t provide such basic conveniences, they just might find another place to work, play, and interact. Ouch.

If your library is venturing into the social web, you might want a library avatar. Most of the library avatars I see on Flickr are logos or building photos. That’s advancing the brand. It’s also corporate. I’d like to see something more fun: something professional, of course, but maybe a bit more human. Anyone have ideas? Please share!

Learn more by participating

Let’s make a few avatars of the cartoon variety this week. (We’ll probably look at photo and virtual world avatars — as well as upload avatars to social sites — in the weeks to come.)

  • Set aside time (10-15 minutes might do the trick) on at least two different days this week.
  • On the first day, create an avatar from one of the sites listed below. This is just for play. You might need to print or do a screen capture if you want to save your creation.
  • On another day, make an avatar in a different style or mood. Experiment, design, play.

Do you like The Simpsons, South Park, or Harry Potter? Make yourself into a character from those series. Start with a basic body and click the onscreen tools to change hair, face, and clothes. Must your avatar resemble you? Not at all! Make it resemble what you feel like. Do a Google search and discover other avatar styles (e.g., anime).

If you already have a Yahoo! account, log in here and fiddle with even more avatar-generating tools. Yahoo! has gadgets that let you customize skin tone, wardrobe, accessories, and backgrounds with endless possibilities. Since it’s tied to a member account, it can also travel with you into other Yahoo! services.

Have fun!

A self-paced discovery series for the social web

October 25, 2007

A few goals were clear when I was mulling over the concept of this blog last month. One was to contribute to the discussion of training, social software, and library issues in general. Another goal appealed specifically to the trainer in me: provide a resource for library staff beginning their own exploration of the social web and its tools. I’ll start working on that second goal next Tuesday with a series of self-paced discovery entries that I’m calling “Learn More”.

Each week or so under the “Learn More” banner, I’ll post a short introduction to a different social website, tool, or concept. It might not be ground-breaking information to veteran readers of the blogosphere, but I hope each brief summary will act as a gentle nudge for the uninitiated on your staff. If they read the posting and join/browse the suggested site a few times during the week, they might find value in the various tools and online communities. Maybe they’ll find a niche and enjoy a particular site enough to set up camp there and explore indefinitely. Most of all, I hope experiencing the social web at their own pace might offer a better understanding of the needs of our patrons and the services a library can provide them.

I teach a social web literacy class for my library system. It’s a fast-paced four hour introduction to web 2.0. But the class also has an online component to encourage exploration and participation beyond the classroom. That’s what I hope to do here for anyone — whether they can come to a class or not. Must they do every activity, every week? Heavens, no. Not every site will be to their liking. This will be self-paced and self-motivated.

Most of my Library Stream blog posts will continue to be random observations, commentary, and sharing. But I hope the “Learn More” series will serve as an ongoing learning opportunity and resource.

Finally, I want to give a nod to Charlotte & Mecklenburg County who last year began 23 Things, a thriving curriculum for the social web. “Learn More” is intended neither to supplement nor compete with 23 Things, but I hope — like the PLCMC program — it excites library staff about the social web and new technologies.

A few thoughts before class

October 24, 2007

I’m heading off to a social web class (my favorite to teach) but have a half dozen things rattling around in my head.  Just a few to share:

  • I began reading the latest OCLC report last night and think it’s going to be interesting. It seems the Internet has become much more interactive (no surprise there!) but many (probably most) libraries haven’t quite caught on. My hunch is that some libraries may think they understand the new social networking environment that’s taking the world by storm but really don’t know the half of it. I’ll write a more complete post when I’m finished reading it. In the meantime, read the Free Range Librarian’s take on it.
  • David Lee King’s enthusiam should not be missed. Check out his “Social Digital Global Shift” video.
  • I’ll be starting an on-line series of introductions to the sites and tools of the social web next week. As a trainer, I’ve been excited to share this new world with our staff. Over the next few months, I hope this new series might be a resource to staff in other libraries interested in self-paced discovery. More on that tomorrow….
  • And lastly, to all of you going to next week’s Internet Librarian conference: Have fun. I wish I could join you. The program has an all-star line-up and there’s so much to be excited about right now. Bloggers: tell us everything. Flickr friends: take lots of pictures.

Digital information doesn’t need a shelf

October 21, 2007

Last week I responded to a video that Michael Wesch and his cultural anthropology students recently posted on YouTube. I also mentioned another video without much comment because I hadn’t quite digested it yet. Now that I have, I’d argue that it is more significant than the first.

Without spoken words, Information R/evolution examines the remarkable transformation that our whole notion of information is undergoing within today’s digital technology. Information is the foundation of libraries. A library is a place to access and interpret information. Always was. The perception of a library as a warehouse of books is — like it or not — false. It’s just that information was once stored almost exclusively in books. That’s not true any more. Information is now delivered in many ways, with digital formats growing exponentially. Libraries are adapting by providing digital online resources and portable devices.

But as we move to more digital formats, libraries must also be aware of even more dramatic changes taking place in the way information is organized. Three-dimensional objects (i.e., books) get cataloged and placed on a shelf in a specific place. Pure digital information, however, is fluid and finds itself at home anywhere. There’s no single specific place for it. There’s no shelf. And there is a declining reliance on a single rigid authority to decide “where” its homes might be. Future categorization will be a flexible collaborative activity.

This strikes at our basic concept of information. Libraries are in the information business; we should be prepared for this shift. Clay Shirky (“Ontology is Overrated”) and David Weinberger (“Everything is Miscellaneous”) — both of whom are mentioned in the video — told us about this trend in recent years. The power of organizing information with tags on social websites has made the trend obvious.

Dr. Wesch’s fast-paced video is about giving up the shelf. That is an extremely difficult concept for those of us whose brains were wired pre-Internet. But the fact is, our brains are naturally wired this way. Mentally, we put our thoughts not in one place but in multiple places. We carry ideas in our heads not on a shelf but connected to other ideas … and experiences … and hunches. It’s the nature of information to be miscellaneous, connected in countless ways, and always subject to review.

Watch the video. Whether the idea excites or frightens you, digital information doesn’t need a shelf.

Marketing a vibrant community place

October 18, 2007

First, a personal story; second, a library connection.

Although I’ve been using the photo-sharing website Flickr for nearly a year, September was the first month in which I posted a new picture every day. That’s not an achievement by Flickr standards, of course. There are some dedicated “365” folks who not only post photos every day for a year, but put themselves into the shots day in and day out. That’s got to be stressful.

My month went by with barely a glimpse of my own face. Instead, the 30 days of photographs (at right) document some of the people, places, and things I encountered along the way. In that regard, this compilation is quite astonishing to me — even though I lived it. I see some yard work; a published article; my daughter’s puppy; some hikes, bikes, and climbs; people I met; money I needed for a car; the car the money bought; and a spider I met face to face. That was my month — packed together on a calendar grid and posted a few weeks ago on Flickr.

Looking back at the grid — a diary of activity, in a way — I can’t help thinking:

We live life one day at a time, but don’t always see the quilt those daily patches make over time.

This calendar is a quilt showing me just that.

Now the library perspective…

Libraries are part of the communities they serve. They’re often a very active part — sometimes central to the daily life of community events, programming, and resources. So why not show that pulse? Why not display the vibrancy of daily life? One photo at a time might not mean too much, but look at the same sort of calendar quilt done for a library.

For nearly four months (until my schedule grew temporarily thick with other obligations) I posted daily photos to my library’s Flickr account. Seeing the calendar grid for just one of those months (May is shown here) we can reflect on programs, materials, the advent of summer reading, staff rolling bookcarts in a community parade, and a smattering of other scenes.

This is the library. This is a vibrant community place.

Collected and shared on a social site like Flickr (even if marketed in other ways*), photographs can demonstrate that. Libraries should show off their activities and share the evidence with the community. We should advertise the daily patches of life AND the whole quilt. Social sites and their tools can help us do both of those things.

*The lone Sunday image in May celebrated the publication of a newspaper article featuring a 6×6 block from our Flickr images.

Interaction is crucial

October 16, 2007

Libraries must become more participatory with their communities. Stored information is not enough. Interaction is crucial. That will be a recurring theme for me here, I’m sure. The societal trends are overwhelming.

In Chronicles of Bean today, Cindi referred to a short video by Michael Wesch* of Kansas State University that gives some interesting numbers from a college student’s world today. The data is radically different from what young people faced just 5 or 10 years ago.

The video segment that screamed loudest to me was the young woman who held a sign saying that she will read 8 books this year … but 2,300 web pages and 1,281 Facebook profiles.

My question: Do we want our library to provide her just the 8 books, or do we want to transform the meaning of a library into something she can interact with?

* Cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch, by the way, created another thought-provoking and visually interesting video last spring: Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us. His recent Information R/evolution is an excellent video, too.