Friday, September 23, 2005
Think building relationships and trust within your community is hard? Try doing it within your own library...
That was when I started calling myself an escaped librarian. And I stayed away for three years. Then I saw a job add for a Web Content Manager at my local and well-loved public library, and I jumped at it. So, now I've been back in the asylum for almost two years. This is in no way a knock on my current institution--(because, you know I wrote the organization's guidelines for personal blogging ; ) --but really, I think most libraries are relatively weird places to work (taking into consideration that I didn't think about the "back-side" of the library until I started grad school in '96--post Yahoo!) . Why are so many libraries not the relaxed, intellectual, literary salons our patrons think we work in? A few reasons:
1. Librarians are perfectionists that build their ethos on knowing all the answers and know everything about information. That's a hard row to hoe in a world that is changing as quickly as ours.
2. We care as much as teachers, but we don't get our own world to rule. Unlike teachers/faculty members, librarians do most of their work without the autonomy of a classroom. We care deeply about what we do and providing great service, but since we don't work in a vacuum, and because managers like to avoid the situation where patrons all ask for the same "good" librarian (good because he/she gives incredible service, or good because he/she lets patrons get away with anything...it's the same deal)...we are often hamstrung by piles and piles of procedures and rules about what we can't do for people. For people who want to serve, having a million rules about what we can't do for people sucks.
I could think of other reasons, but I don't want to rant about libraries as workplaces--I want to think about what I can do to improve trust and build relationships in this world. This is a big deal to me, because we're a library with 12 branches and one central library, and since I'm the Web Content Manager for the library's Web site as a whole, it matters to me what the staff in each branch think, how they use the Web page, and even more important, how they use the Web page when working with patrons. So, here's my goal over the next few months: Each week I'm going to invite a different staff member to lunch. It seems simple enough, but since I'm in middle management, I basically sit in meetings with the same 15-20 people, give or take a few. Some meetings are productive, some aren't, but they aren't a great place to get to know people, or learn about their ideas--and I'm certainly not getting to know the hundreds of people who actually work on the floor with patrons. So, each week, a different staff member, from different branches, holding different positions. Stay tuned.
Conversation is content, take two
Anyway, more on conversation and content. First of all, I think that saying that conversation is more important than content misses the boat with a very narrow definition of content (a slight indeed for such a wonderfully flexible word that can be so many things to all people, including a verb, a noun, or an adjective). Without expanding content to a point at which it becomes meaningless, conversation (particularly recorded or typed conversation) IS content...just because it's not peer-reviewed doesn't make it less worthy, compelling, or clever. While I agree with Jarvis in that, it is good to "help enable and be part of fluid networks of content" that is, in many ways, also creating content. Just like I'm creating content right now. So, while I'm all about finding ways to encourage conversations--that doesn't mean I'm not about content. (Although I'll admit that Web Conversation Manager is sort of an intriguing title as well.)
Conversation is content
It's All Good has a terrific post "Conversation, not Content?" reviewing Jeff Jarvis's discussion of "Who wants to own content?" Here's a snippet they plucked out, looking through the "library lens"... "Jarvis says, 'the value is no longer in maintaining an exclusive hold on things. The value is no longer in owning content or distribution. The value is in relationships. The value is in trust.' Why? Because 'There is no scarcity of good stuff. And when there is no scarcity, the value of owning a once-scarce commodity diminishes and then disappears....[I]n this new age, you don’t want to own the content or the pipe that delivers it. You want to participate in what people want to do on their own. You don’t want to extract value. You want to add value. You don’t want to build walls or fences or gardens to keep people from doing what they want to do without you. You want to enable them to do it. You want to join in.'"
I love this--partly because this is exactly what we want to do (not just try to do) on our library's Web site. Very experience-library. It's not just the cup of good coffee--it's the experience. The lessons learned by Starbucks and how libraries can build on them is one of the main reason I named my blog after another not-so-famous, but far more worthy character from Moby-Dick--because that's exactly what libraries should do--build on what private industry does, but make it better--more real, less expensive, more about community rather than commerce- And, you know, sometimes we should be first and let private industry build on what we do, too.
Also--In reviewing Jarvis's ideas, Alane from It's All Good asks, "A puzzlement to me--and something Jarvis doesn't address much--is how trust, relationships and conversation become monetized. In other words, libraries receive funding to be--for the most part--the content owners and the distribution pipes. How would they be funded for such ephemeralities as trust and conversation?"
Although I'm not sure is this is what Alane is getting at, I would say that we are funded for trust and conversation right now--this is why we hire people rather than simply stand as warehouses of books and databases. And we need to do better at encouraging the people of our organizations to get out and create relationships and therefore trust in the community, etc... as someone in a suburban library, I don't get out beyond my social circles much. My husband is a professor at JCCC, and almost all of our friends have Ph.D's or at least multiple advanced degrees. lHowever, I know the difference between swimming in certain social circles vs. really being involved in a community at large because I grew up in a small town. Librarians should act more like they are in a small town. Get out. Talk to people. Bring fliers promoting your library programs for adults, like poetry readings, out into the community, and hand them out at coffee shops. Hand out information on remote-access library databases at places with free Wi-Fi like Panera. Providing space (virtual or real) for community members is one thing--being part of that space is something else.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Getting kids off-line (at least sometimes...)
This is great article to remind us that what we do on the Web only matters if it is connected to how we live, and is governed by the values of our communities and concern for our enviroment. (A good reminder for adults as well as children...I say as I blog in the evening after working 12 hours online....and how does this relate to our discussion of irony? ; )
Of course, the Web can be a part of our lives and can even improve our lives. But this also speaks well to the idea that nothing on the Web matters if it's not tied to real people doing real work. In case you don't feel like reading the article, I've posted a few meaty quotes below for your pleasure.
Charlotte's Webpage: Why children shouldn't have the world at their fingertips
by Lowell Monke
Orion Sept/Oct. 2005
"Structured learning certainly has its place. But if it crowds out direct, unmediated engagement with the world, it undercuts a child's education. Children learn the fragility of flowers by touching their petals. They learn to cooperate by organizing their own games. The computer cannot simulate the physical and emotional nuances of resolving a dispute during kickball, or the creativity of inventing new rhymes to the rhythm of jumping rope. These full-bodied, often deeply heartfelt experiences educate not just the intellect but also the soul of the child. When children are free to practice on their own, they can test their inner perceptions against the world around them, develop the qualities of care, self-discipline, courage, compassion, generosity, and tolerance—and gradually figure out how to be part of both social and biological communities."
"As the computer has amplified our youths' ability to virtually "go anywhere, at any time," it has eroded their sense of belonging anywhere, at any time, to anybody, or for any reason. How does a child growing up in Kansas gain a sense of belonging when her school encourages virtual learning about Afghanistan more than firsthand learning about her hometown?"
Ok, Erica here again: Obviously our answer is that public library Web sites do help kids learn about their local neighborhoods and activities in their local neighborhoods. It's all about local content, baby.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
On experience: modeling thrills at the library
I've been in and out of the same book ever since KLA (Kansas Library Association conference) this last spring when we were fortunate to hear from the groovy folks at Cerritos Library--a glorious info-rich palace of a library that has relied heavily on Pine & Gilmore's ideas. I blogged my some of my notes from this presentation on a fledgling library staff blog, but one of the things that really struck me is that Cerritos is all about the experience AT the library--and well, while I'm interested in that too, I am personally more focused on the library experience outside the walls of the library. So ever since KLA, I've been thinking about how we should create the experience library online.
Dave has some fantastic ideas about how to do this, and one thing that I keep coming back to, thanks to another speaker at KLA (actually he was a storyteller) is the idea of modeling the thrill of discovery. The storyteller was actually talking about how we get people excited about reading--we don't just hand them some books and wish them luck. We model reading. We talk about what we've read to others. We let kids know we love reading. And, most importantly, we read to kids.
So, now shifting to one of my demons (forgive the hyperbole): online full-text databases of licensed content. Librarians sort of understand databases, but we don't love them. Patrons rarely understand what we even mean when we say "databases," and really the term is ridiciously vague. (We have to find some better way to refer to the information we provide online...)
We have really missed a great opportunity--or in a more positive light: we have a great opportunity before us--to not just pave the cow path and provide access to full-text books and articles, maps, and images, just like we provide access to these items in print in our libraries....but it seems like the online world could give us so, so much more with regard to creating connections between the ideas and concepts found within all that digital licensed content. And provide tools for us and our patrons to create those connections ourselves and share them with others.
So, back to the idea of modeling: what do we do with databases linked from library Web pages? We post the links and wish our patrons luck. So, what I've been thinking about over the last few months is this: how do we model the thrill of disovering new ideas and information and the jolt of connecting disperate concepts to find the fundamental patterns that make the world gloriously mysterious and completely understandable at once...and doesn't it seem like the thousands of dollars we're all throwing toward licensed (and poorly named) databases would be part of the solution? And, even if we don't have to reach toward the mysterious and glorious, couldn't we just make it a lot easier for patrons to find the answers to their casual information needs (home improvement, gardening, buying stuff, etc...)?
When I read Pine & Gilmore, I keep thinking that part of making the library experience richer, more thrilling, and more memorable, is just ensuring that basic library services and resources are way, way, way easier to find and use. I'm still working (as I have been for a year, on and off) on the revision/update to our Digital Community Inforamation Clearninghouse plan--this is the document that created my job and my team, but one of the most important points in the plan as to be this: work to improve what matters most to the patron. Which means, we have to not have so many crazy exceptions to all our procedures or have a thousand different rules for patrons to remember...think about this: what are the "rules" at Amazon or Starbucks? How many procedures or policies do you have to know to use their serices?
Then why do we have so many?