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…

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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!