Saturday, September 03, 2005

On experience: modeling thrills at the library

Dave King ala Dave's blog has been talking about creating memorable experiences at the library all summer and has some great posts on the Pine & Gilmore's book The Experience Economy.

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?


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