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.

Panera Fridays

January 24, 2008

Michael Stephens posted a photo yesterday mentioning that he holds his Wednesday office hours at Panera Bread. It reminded me of an effort I made last year to encourage some of our reference librarians to set up a weekly shift at Panera (or Starbucks or Safeway). It seems like such a simple idea to get the library out in the community — visible in a place our patrons are.

  • Talk to the proprietor. I’m sure most would be happy to support a public library in such a simple way.
  • Buy a sandwich and coffee/tea.
  • Prop up a sign “Got a question? Get an answer! I’m a librarian.
  • Turn on your wireless laptop.

A librarian with access to the Internet and the library’s online collection of databases could surely answer most questions on the spot. Difficult puzzlers might be solved with a quick email or IM to the folks back at the branch. Answers could be sent to a portable printer or the patron’s email address.

Busy people might not think of the library in their daily routine. Let’s change that! A consistent reference shift (say, every Friday from 11-3) at a local wifi hotspot could make the friendly librarian at the next table much more visible than the big library building itself.

No one in our library has done this yet because, so I’ve been told, there’s not enough staff to spare and no overall vision for this to fit. (Sigh.) Does it need to be a big, planned project? Can’t we just try it and see how it’s received? Tell the staff you’re going to take a long lunch tomorrow … and do the field research while you’re at it.

My question to readers in LibraryLand: Is anyone doing a “Panera Friday”? Would anyone like to give it a try?

Networking with the 20s and 30s

January 3, 2008

Is your library interacting with Gen Y adults? If not, why not? A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study suggests they are the portion of the adult population most likely to visit a public library. They are also more tech savvy than any other group.

Here’s my suggestion: Use Facebook and MySpace to reach different age groups. During a recent email exchange with librarians talking about teens, I suggested that they aim their new Facebook page at an older demographic. Continue the flashy teen-related agenda on MySpace but change gears and go after the twenty- and thirty-somethings on Facebook. Don’t make the Facebook page a mere copy of MySpace.

“It need not exclude teens, but targeting Gen Y adults might help select more appropriate apps and give 20/30-somethings a place they feel more comfortable with.”

The initial response was hesitation: it would mean lost opportunities to publicize teen events. Besides, it was said, there aren’t many programs and events to highlight for 20/30’s anyway.

That was exactly my point! Let’s become more relevant to them though the social web.

While many 20s/30s are beyond the teen stuff, they aren’t always tied into any college networks or resources either. They are the people a public library might want to find and connect with using social networking. They need it! Job hunting, residence finding, reliable transportation, starting families, the new world of income tax, and money juggling are all issues to them. We have the resources.

I’m familiar with one library that has a marketing plan filled with programs geared toward kids, teens, and patrons over 55. There’s a huge gap there waiting to be explored. Dismal turnouts at past programs for adults usually discourages interest in considering them, but I’d be willing to bet social networking — available from home at personally convenient times — is the key to that group.

Let the library’s MySpace page cater to teens, but develop a Facebook presence that’s fun, attractive, and useful to that neglected decade of library patrons. Would any public library be willing to try it?

Perspective and Context

January 2, 2008

As much as I enjoy new technologies, I still appreciate the older stuff. If not for the creative energy of the people who came before us, we wouldn’t be as well off today. It’s like the old adage attributed to Isaac Newton: We see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Joseph Janes’ column in the new issue of American Libraries (January/February, 2008) prompted me along these lines today. He used the old National Union Catalog as an example. For twenty years, it was an invaluable resource. Does anyone use it now? I barely remember seeing it in the basement stacks when I was in college. It’s been replaced by WorldCat, a vast improvement. But each new tool builds on the concepts, if not the technology, of its predecessors.

In my online database classes I hold up an old green copy of the 1990 Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature before delving into the much more interactive sources available online today. It illustrates how far we’ve come in a very short time.

Janes offers two reasons to keep the old works in mind. I’d call them Perspective and Context.

  • Perspective is the humbling reminder that “everything ends.” The latest tool always looks great, but don’t expect it to last forever. Even the Next Great Thing will end someday, too.
  • Context. Here’s Janes speaking of the Union Catalog:

“Even though this behemoth had a comparatively brief run, it was useful and we learned from it and moved on. It represents a milestone on our path of innovation and development, which, in the end, is what matters.”

It’s context that motivates me to read history as often as I do. (I even enjoy the history of science – a discipline whose current theories almost always obliterate their predecessors.)

We have no idea where our current tools will lead us, but we may be certain that they  — like the behemoths of Library 1.0 — will become obsolete one day. “All tools end,” Janes says. “The path remains.” I think it’s the context that lets us know where to post the “You Are Here” signs on that path as we move forward with the Library 2.0 world.

Sharing the Bad

December 20, 2007

Meredith Farkas’s blog post a few days ago (Sharing the Bad Stuff, Learning from Failures) was a lot to take in. She was absolutely right: we need to share failures in the workplace. The library community needs to hear what doesn’t work in addition to what does. We need to learn from each other, good or bad.

Expressing the bad isn’t always easy, though. She wrote that “failure isn’t sexy. Disclosing problems isn’t good for your brand.” How true! Transparent libraries are still rare. If you speak on behalf of an organization, you have to watch your tongue. Even if you speak independently, you often feel obligated to err on the side of caution.

As a blogger, I share what interests me. It’s an added benefit if I happen to excite other people about things I’ve found or imagined. I usually write positive stuff because that’s what I want to think about. I’d rather discuss what’s possible than dwell on the negative or complain about office politics. But it is a bit misleading, to be sure. Life is never 100% good and 0% bad. Not everything is wonderful.

I’ve recently had difficulty in my workplace, for instance. A lot of difficulty. Should I share everything? Maybe for the good of the library community, I should. It would let others learn from the problems I’ve encountered. But at what price? I’m one of those “bottom-up upstarts who revolutionized the way things were done at their libraries” that Sarah Houghton-Jan mentioned this week (although I’m not so delusional to think she was referring to me). I championed a tremendous amount of positive change in recent years. In the last few months, however, I hit a wall. Oh, who am I kidding? The wall fell on me. Three times. Sharing the specifics on the Internet might only make things worse locally, but I’d be remiss not to admit there are problems, conflicts, and frustrations.

I still want to produce positive change within my organization. Recent events make that much more difficult, but I’m still hopeful. I like Alan Kirk Gray’s suggestion* of a Library Failures Wiki. It could be a valuable tool allowing us to share common problems. More people might contribute and more experiences might be exchanged if anonymity was part of the forum. Our objective wouldn’t be to embarrass our libraries, after all, but to help improve them. Getting publicly specific about failure isn’t always the best course when the culture in which you work is not yet transparent.

* which I first saw in Meredith’s post

Future of Bibliographic Control

December 13, 2007

A month ago I watched most of the video debut of the Report of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control and was disappointed by the group’s approach to control what clearly needs to be opened up a bit. Last night I read several responses to the report and was impressed by most of them. I was floored by them, actually. (The library world has such good writers!) If you can’t read all the reviews, at least start with Roy Tennant. His “descriptive enrichment” concept is the way to go. I considered including his closing paragraph here, but using such a short excerpt would be cheating you out of his whole, well-reasoned commentary.

“Speak up” is the new “Shhh…”

November 27, 2007

Interact. Change stereotypes.

The expanding, accessible library

November 3, 2007

Earlier this week, the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress turned 110 years old. I’ve been in awe of the L of C’s collection since I was a kid, but I’ve only had the chance to visit the Library twice — most recently during the ALA conference a few months ago.

The numbers. Always the numbers! Jefferson sold the Library about 6,000 of his own books as seed after the Capitol was burned. The collection reached 1 million volumes shortly after the turn of the 20th century. It now holds 30 million books and adds about 10,000 more each day.

Although these were impressive numbers, they were only numbers to me. As a kid, I knew the Library of Congress was a resource but it wasn’t my resource. It was of Congress, after all. As large as its holdings were, I couldn’t walk in, stroll the aisles, and pull astronomy books off the shelves to look at. I could do that in my little neighborhood library, though. My library was a resource because it was accessible. I knew Congress had a much bigger library, but I could only see its numbers.

Now, twenty years into the library world, I look at things a bit differently. I appreciate the Library of Congress even more as a resource for the ages. The collection is still unsurpassed in the book world and its preservation efforts are indispensable.

On the other hand, I still appreciate my other resources more. And for the same reason! I still can’t walk into the Library of Congress and pull books off the shelves. Even with a guide leading a group of visiting librarians this summer, we were limited in our movements. The guide himself had to get permission from someone else just to enter a reading room. Meanwhile, I can still enter my local library and use it. After all these years, it’s still got the L of C beat on accessibility.

I can also use countless online sources that are growing far more rapidly and much larger than the Thomas Jefferson Building’s holdings. 10,000 books per day? 10,000 libraries are included in OCLC’s WorldCat. Six million results come up in a Google search for “astronomy”. Over 60,000 blog posts are added daily on WordPress alone. A moment ago I checked Flickr and noted that users uploaded 3,533 photos in the last minute. Imagine the wealth of information tucked away in our reference databases.

I’m not saying all of these numbers (or the materials they represent) are equally relevant, but they illustrate how much our intellectual and cultural resources have expanded. And thanks to digital technology, expansive metadata, and collaborative software, the information is becoming ever more accessible at the same time it’s growing in volume and depth.

How many resources do you have at your fingertips for the boy asking about astronomy today?

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.

Expectations between colleagues

October 12, 2007

Just before teaching a class this morning, a librarian told me of a conversation he had with a new hire fresh from college. As they wrapped up their discussion, the younger librarian asked the other one what his MySpace page was. This of course prompted a good laugh from the second man because he had never seriously considered opening a MySpace account.

How often do you suppose this scene plays out every day? One librarian had worked an entire career without needing an online social network. The new hire is emerging from a college environment where it’s unthinkable NOT to participate in a network.

There’s clearly a broad cultural range, but it’s not just a generational difference. Depending on your exposure or experience, sites like MySpace and Facebook are either foreign countries or hometowns. You can see them becoming pieces of exchange just as business cards, phone numbers, and email addresses have been. In the meantime, though, expect the differences.

Snippets of PUG

October 6, 2007

Conferences dispense so many topics that it’s hard to pluck just one headline from the annual Polaris Users’ Group (PUG) Conference that wrapped up in Syracuse, NY today. I’ll mention a few snippets now and elaborate later.

Tim Spalding, founder of LibraryThing, delivered a good — often hilarious — keynote address yesterday urging libraries to make their catalogs more fun, and more willing to use data tools that discover book relationships not tied to standard subject headings. His Death Star metaphor for OCLC might be a tad over the top, but I’ll gladly follow him down the road of tags and tag clouds. He’s done amazing things with his database of nearly 25 million member-generated tags. (More on that in a future post.)

As a fan of social networking tools, my favorite news of the week came just after the keynote: Polaris programmers have written code exploring a connection with LibraryThing. About six months ago Tim started talking up the possibility of integrating catalogs with LibraryThing tag clouds and related books lists. (I remember this clearly because we tried to engrave our library’s name on his list the following day.) The Danbury Library has it working already. It’s pretty slick. In recent weeks, Polaris programmers were intrigued enough to start writing code to its ILS software to maximize all the bells and whistles that would come streaming in from LibraryThing. There’s no formal partnership between the two, mind you, and no certainty that the coding will go into a new release, but there’s enough written code that Polaris gave us a working demo. I’m a bit partial to the toolkit, mind you, but tag clouds and tag-generated book suggestions in the Polaris ILS looks fantastic. I’ll post screen shots in LibraryStream as soon as I get them.

I was also intrigued to learn more details about the Dewey-free Perry Branch in Maricopa County (AZ). They made news around the world earlier this year when they opened with a design modeled on contemporary bookstores. Materials are arranged by book industry labels (like “Pets” and “Cooking”) rather than Dewey Decimals (like 636 or 641). Cindy Kolaczynski, Maricopa’s Deputy Director, gave background and a progress report at PUG this morning. I’ve got my doubts about going entirely bookstore-based, but love the spirit of experimentation at Maricopa. If no one tries things like this, we’re all just flapping about theory. I’ll come back to this topic, too.

I gave a presentation at this year’s conference — “Training 2.0: How to expose and inspire your staff to the social web” — but I hope that this blog will give you the gist of that over time.

Finally, PUG reminded me the value of face-to-face, meet-in-the-hallway connections that happen so often at conferences. To the many new people I met in Syracuse: It’s a pleasure. To those I had met before: Our conversations seemed to simply pick up where we had left off. To those of you going to other conferences: Eat them up.

If you stumbled upon this blog…

October 2, 2007

Welcome. I’m not quite ready for regular postings yet, but you’re welcome to snoop around while I set up the site. After I return from the Polaris Users’ Group conference next week, I’ll launch this blog for good.

My plan is to use this blog to follow the course of social software in general and its value to libraries specifically. I’m the system trainer at a large public library system in the Pacific Northwest, a social web participant, and an avid reader. I hope I can marshall all those hats into an interesting blog. The two postings just below this one link to recent articles I’ve written elsewhere.

Why call it “Library Stream”? It has to do with the flow of ideas. I suppose there’s a kinship to Flickr’s “photostream” and technology’s “streaming” audio & video, too. But there’s one more thought the “Library Stream” name conjures up for me. It’s the idea that change has become so common in the modern library that — like a stream — you’ll never set foot in the same library twice.

Please visit again. I hope to swap stories with you in the future.

Building a social library

October 2, 2007

As I a warm-up lap for the long-distance effort of writing a library-related blog like this, it might be good to connect to a guest blog that I wrote for Michael Stephens earlier this summer: Building a Social Library.