A Comic Catalog

October 1, 2008

Are kids and teens bored by your library catalog? Artists are transforming old classics into comic books and publishers roll out new graphic novels by the score. Why not add a similar visual punch to your public catalog?

comiccatalog4

During a mostly unrelated conversation* this morning, my mind wandered and I started imagining a library catalog that provided content as if it were a comic book. Why not? A person searching a catalog is engaged in a dialog. Why not illustrate that dialog in a fun way? The catalog would still do its search magic beneath the surface, but the interface — the Q & A — could be channeled through a random comic book scene.

Let’s say a teen opens the “Comic Catalog” to an illustrated scene featuring two characters. One character has a blank cartoon bubble overhead (or a bubble with prompting words like “Do you have …”). The teen types keywords into the bubble just as he would with a normal text box, but … he’s typing into a comic book! That’s the search box. Cool.

Then he presses ENTER and watches the other character respond with the catalog’s top entry. Other results can appear in a list below, or may be selected and scrolled up into the comic interface.

If you have several dozen images stashed in the catalog’s storage, comiccatalog the randomness of the comic scenes will keep it fresh. If a user wants to play a little, she can scroll through the scenes to find one she likes. Maybe the scenes could appear as upturned comic book pages that she can flip through.

Sure, this is a gimmick, but it’s visual, colorful, and fun. A whimsical interface option might spruce up the catalog. We’re a Polaris library, so I ran the idea by the good developers in Syracuse this afternoon. It’s a busy week for them — their annual user’s conference begins tomorrow — but they listened politely and passed it around their work group.

Sharon Ufer Lavell, our library’s collection services manager with whom I was talking when this idea arose, suggested customizing the user’s avatar or changing the background based on the call number of the top result. A kitchen background might appear, for example. Or a sport stadium. Or a zoo.

I pitched the idea to a school teacher, too. Would the kids gobbling up graphic novels use this? Her immediate answer: “I would use this!”

What do you think? Should we seek a Comic Catalog?

* Our original conversation: Is there an online database out there that provides full-content comic books? Well, is there?

NOTE ABOUT IMAGES: The examples shown here were produced quickly today using a few simple graphical cut-and-paste tools and using images from ComicStripGenerator.com.  Maybe a manga, anime, or classic comics-style illustrator could be hired to dash off a nice image collection for a Comic Catalog.

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There’s No Other Place to Be

April 15, 2008

Here’s a sample library promo video I made yesterday. It’s a draft and I’ll have to finish a little stronger next time but I hope I caught the spirit of an active library system. Whattya think?

[UPDATE (Apr 17): I’ve been told that the widget sometimes says the video is no longer available. I don’t know why this has been happening. If you have trouble accessing the YouTube version below, try this one.]


Slick Libraryman Video

April 12, 2008

Check out the slick promotional video Michael Porter (aka Libraryman) created with Animoto. In his blog today, he advocates that we do the same to get value from a Chumby and promote our libraries. Absolutely! And how cool would it be if we can manage something even half as good as this. Bravo, Michael!


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.


LibraryThing Local

March 3, 2008

LibraryThing’s been at it again. The social networking site for book lovers added another nice feature today. This one — LibraryThing Local — focuses on libraries, bookstores, and book festivals. As Tim Spalding explained in his blog, LibraryThing Local is:

“a gateway to thousands of local bookstores, libraries and book festivals—and to all the author readings, signings, discussions and other events they host. It is our attempt to accomplish what hasn’t happened yet—the effective linking of the online and offline book worlds.”

At the moment, any LibraryThing member* can add and edit their favorite locations. The entry form includes (or has the potential for) each venue’s address, phone, fax, email, and URL; a map to the place; amenities (like food and wifi); and RSS feeds for programs and events.

Retrieval is a snap. A user can simply enter a city and LibraryThing Local’s page will feed upcoming events to them. A clickable map [see the example above] populates all the nearby venues. Without checking a lot of different websites, readers can see what authors are in town and what’s happening at your library AND all the other book places nearby.

An independent book store owner I know had been wanting to share announcements of author events with other book stores and libraries. This makes the job much easier. An RSS feed might be all that’s needed. How do you suppose your library can benefit from this?

Great work, Tim. Again.


*I immediately added my county library branches, my university’s library, and three favorite bookstores. It’s easy. Check too see if your library is listed. If you’re a LT member, add your favorite book place.


Creative Commons in the Catalog

February 21, 2008

An interesting initative: Michael Sauers, the Travelin’ Librarian, is working on a project at the Nebraska Library Commission involving materials published under Creative Commons licenses.* They have begun incorporating CC works into the library catalog, and — in some cases when the license permitted it — created spiral bound hard copies of books. This is a wonderful idea. The materials are available, their authors are willing, the selectors chose them. Why not help patrons find them in their catalog searches? See Michael’s post in the NLC blog for more info.

* Creative Commons is a cooperative licensing plan developed in the last several years and heavily used throughout the social web.