Friday, December 28, 2007

TED and Charlie: Ideas worth watching and spreading

One of my absolute favorite sites:

Concise, freely accessible videos of thought-provoking talks given at TED conferences by the world's foremost thinkers and do-ers on anything and everything.

Presenters include: Steven Pinker, Malcom Gladwell, Jane Goodall, Steven Johnson, Bill Gates, Erin McKean (of the Oxford American Dictionary), Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Seth Godin, Lawrence Lessig, E.O. Wilson, Chris Anderson (of "long tail" fame), Richard Branson, Jimmy Wales, Steven Levitt, Will Wright, Nicholas Negroponte and on and on...

Talk themes include:
Global Issues

It seems most videos are somewhere between 3 to 20 minutes long and new videos are added every week. The length and content have made them a favorite distraction of mine while folding clothes.

For a more in-depth treatment of similar and other topics, check out the website for the Charlie Rose show on PBS - As far as I can tell, you can freely watch the entirety of every single segment Charlie Rose has ever done over the show's 13+ year run from the site! You name the thinker/doer/politician/entertainer of consequence and they have likely been on the Charlie Rose show.

Videos from the Googleplex at Google Video also offers some excellent, extended thought-provoking talks.

And some quick questions for discussion:
What is a library's role in highlighting these types of resources for users?
They are freely available to anyone with an Internet connection, but given that presumably most are unaware of their existence, would highlighting them as an institution fit with a 21st century definition of our traditional mission of "providing" resources to our users? (Since if we don't "provide" them by highlighting, the resources in a sense, will likely not exist for our users.)

And generally as "print people" (stereotype alert!), do we have to make a special effort to realize the value these non-print resources may have for our user population?

Enjoy viewing, and best wishes to all for a happy and healthy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Brainstorming Other Opposables

What other breakthrough solutions might be out there for libraries by staying in the opposable mindset?

Here's a quick brainstorm of another issue libraries might be facing and how the opposable mindset might help (and there are likely libraries out there doing this, but hopefully the exercise will be generative):

Issue: How late should the library be open? We don't have enough funding to keep it open as late as we would like.
Opposable mindset: The entire library does not have to operate like an ON/OFF switch - with all functions of the library being either operational or closed (in fact we already do not think this way with regard to our online presence).

Perhaps thinking of of library services on a transversable spectrum with all services being operational on one end and all services being shut down on the other would facilitate an opposable solution.

Are there other opposable solutions you can suggest to issues libraries are currently facing?
Could you share any opposable solutions you've come up with to address issues you are facing?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Opposable Mind

Just started reading Roger Martin's The Opposable Mind. Seems like a quick, insightful read about one brand of successful strategic thinking. Here's an attempt at a succinct summation of the premise:

"Human beings ... are distinguished from nearly every other creature by a physical feature known as the opposable thumb. Thanks to the tension we can create by opposing the thumb and the fingers, we can do marvelous things that no other creature can do - write, thread a needle, carve a diamond... All those actions would be impossible without the crucial tension between the thumb and fingers" (6).

Similarly, the creative tension generated by holding opposing or multiple viewpoints in mind, despite all the messiness it can entail, can create the conditions for breakthrough solutions.

OK, that's slightly abstract, but let me map that back into the library context and onto a conversation I had with my colleague Brian Shepard the other day at lunch at Jimmy John's.

We were talking about overdue fines. We know overdue fines are patrons/users #1 irritant related to using libraries, yet many libraries (especially public libraries, including my own) still charge them. Here's the evolution of the discussion:

We could get rid of fines, and go to some kind of system where users would not be allowed to take out additional items if they had an item overdue. That would please a lot of people, but there are still many others who don't mind paying a small fraction of dollar if it allows them to keep their items a few days longer and checkout a few additional items. Which system to go with - what to do?

Opposable mind breakthrough: Why don't we allow patrons to choose which system they want to partake in?

Most ILS systems should allow any library to create different patron categories that treat different sets of patrons in different ways. We could let some people do away with fines in favor of some other system, and we could let others choose to pay fines (or perhaps rebranded "extended use charges") to keep the items a little bit longer. And we could let them switch back and forth as often as they would like.

Admittedly there are potentially many other relevant factors that would inform an individual library's decisions related to whether or not they charged fines (revenue streams, overdue points, recall systems, no overdues at all!, details about what the alternative system would entail, etc), but hopefully the above example helps illuminate the concept of opposable thinking - a system characterized by "integrative" "and" thinking as opposed to "or" thinking, especially aided these days by all the opportunities technology can afford.

Incidently, does anyone offer their users the opportunity to choose whether or not they pay fines?

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

And we'd have a Gemeinschaft edge....

Lots of thoughts bouncing around at the moment, but here's a quick one:

A Jimmy John's sandwich shop just opened up in Arlington Heights and my colleague Brian Shepard and I went down there for lunch this past week. I've always been fascinated by corporate atmosphere and mojo, so when we walked into this buzzing place a little after noon, I was immediately struck by the fact that all 7 or 8 people behind the counter looked up from busily making sandwiches for a second to yell "Heeey!".

Not only did that do that every time someone walked in, but whenever someone walked out, the whole crew would yell some mixture of enthusiastic salutations that most customers reacted positively to by either raising a hand or at least nodding back.

Coming and going the whole crew felt like they meant it - they were happy to see you come in and they were wishing you the best going out. Very 3rd Placey.

Which made me wonder - wouldn't this be fun to try in a library? For the right setting, I think it could work.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Only wanting contact

A cursory search of some available resources didn't turn up the reference I was looking for, but I remember coming across several references to an older study that found that patrons who had received service from a reference librarian who managed to touch their hand during the interaction (while handing them a slip of paper perhaps) consistently rated the service they received as better than those in a control group who received the same service, but did not have their hand touched during the interaction.

When I've come across it, the results have been mentioned generically to highlight just how powerfully important touch is (usually in self-helpy type literature). I can't say I've ever seen mention of this in library literature.

So my question though is (if the results are not apocryphal), should/can we be explicitly incorporating what was learned from this study into the service we are providing at the library (after all the study was supposedly performed with reference librarians!).

More clearly, should we be making subtle, imperceptable efforts to make hand-to-hand contact (of course no grabbing etc) with those we are serving in the course of the reference interview where appropriate?

Can this be formulated as an organizational procedure - to touch hands where appropriate? Is that somehow too "dangerous" to make a directive? Or is this somehow only something those in the know could only do under the radar?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Crowdsource, "but verify"?

My colleague, Bill Pardue at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, along with Caleb Tucker-Raymond of Multnomah County Public Library have organized the ongoing Slam the Boards event on the 10th of every month.

On that day, Librarians swarm general answer boards like Yahoo Answers, Amazon's Askville and WikiPedia Reference Desk to provide quality, authoritative answers to the world's questions.

The success of Slam the Boards got me to thinking, could the general answer boards be a two-way street - is there also value in utilizing those boards to crowdsource the toughest Reference questions, but then verify the responses before passing an answer back along to patrons?

Now certainly there are listservs and outlets that can be used for the same function, but it seems to me the general answer boards have the widest possible audience (and thanks to Slam the Boards, that audience now includes trained Librarians), and thus the deepest, most diverse pool to draw an answer from - perhaps giving us our best chance to find someone with specialized or maybe even first-hand knowledge.

Or we could find ourselves wading through piles of raving drivel with lots of !!!!!!!!! ..... :-)
But I don't suppose we would know until we tried.

Any thoughts from the house on this one?

Sunday, November 18, 2007


I've been mulling over "customer-centeredness" lately, as it seems to be #2 these days behind "2.0" on the buzzword list for libraries. Specifically, I found myself thinking, what does it really mean to be "customer-centered"? If this is to be more than an empty phrase what does a "customer-centered" library do?

So with those things in mind I suggest for your comment, "You might be customer-centered if:"
1. You spend more time, on balance as an organization working with and thinking about customers as you do information or institutional adminsitration.

2. Your customers do not have to interrupt you reading through information or working at a computer to get assistance inside the library. Customer interaction is primary and respectfully sought after - inside and outside the library.

3. At conferences and internal meetings you spend more time discussing customers and their needs than you do resources, administration, internal procedures, or yes, the library profession.
(In fact, you may even use the words "customers"/"patrons"/"users" more often than you do "library" etc - as an indication of where your focus is. - This might even be worth counting at your next internal meeting or conference session to get an imprecise measure of where the focus is at.)

4. You devote resources to identifying and understanding your customers (their demographics etc), how they are using what you provide, and how your services and information fit into their lives, so you can better tailor your offerings to THEIR needs - as opposed to just counting how often the library and resources get used.

And interestingly here, when you start talking about customer demographics you begin to run into the traditional professional hangup with gathering any and all user information. Certainly, we would never, ever condone gathering information without consent, but in cases where patrons have been fully informed of the benefits and potential dangers of sharing information, it seems we should not be protecting users from themselves by not allowing them to share personal information with us.

In fact, given the contemporary information environment, if we don't give patrons the option to share their info with an eye towards providing better services, it probably seems to an outsider that we just don't want to make the effort.

In many cases high bars indeed, but something to aspire to. Any other "You might be customer-centered if:" thoughts you'd like to share?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Local History Mashups

Is anyone mashing their local history material with a cartographic application, like say Google Maps or even better Wikimapia, to geolocate local history material? Something like a geolocated for local material? While browsing local history photo's (even those with corresponding addresses) I often find myself wondering, "Now where the heck is that?"

Open-sourcing the content and inviting the community to submit their own local history via an application like Wikimapia could be even better. Local history could be captured with a depth and scope that otherwise would be impossible.

Imagine how much more could be captured and saved if the entire community was involved in sharing their own stories and connecting it to place. Stories from Grandpa's shop could be shared and connected to where it once stood. Ditto on stories from Grandma's college days.

You could even share the spot where your uncles faked finding a crash-landed Skylab by dousing a lawnmower engine with gasoline and lighting it on fire - perhaps linking it to the resulting media coverage (Yes, I have to admit I know some uncles who did that....)

Hmmm, how much more of the 99% of history could be saved by visually tying it to place and enlisting the community to share their most meaningful histories.....

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Accidental Creative

I always enjoy podcasts from the Accidental Creative - also available on ITunes. Great quote today from Todd Henry, "Chief Cat Herder" at Accidental Creative (also checkout their Facebook group):

"If you aren't failing, you aren't trying hard enough."

In other words, if you aren't failing, you're not only leaving potential unused, you're missing out on the richest opportunities to learn.

How many of us are denying ourselves the opportunity to fail?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sting, The Police and "Filter(s)"

It seems to me if you wanted to make the best case against Internet "filters" you would want to avoid using that term ("filter(s)") in relation to applications that supposedly "filter" objectionable Internet content. Why? The acceptance and use of the term itself implies comprehensive, accurate and beneficial "filtering" is going on.

1. Let's examine "beneficial". Think of filters in every other context, water filters, air filters, etc - they keep out the harmful stuff, leaving only the healthy stuff. Should the term "filter" be then applied to applications that block access to health care information?

Contrast the connotations of "filter" and "censor". Which implies their action will beneficial? What would the climate of the discussion be if we were talking about "electronic censors" as opposed to "filters"?

2. "Comprehensive and Accurate". Through the use of proxies and terms in languages other than English, getting around these applications is not difficult. So the case can be made that calling these applications "filters" - in so far as they imply the filtering is comprehensive and accurate, is misleading and counterproductive.

Gvien the above, it undermines the argument to say, "We oppose (mandated) filters" and then in the next breath say "Filters don't work". From this perspective, accepting and using the term "filter(s)" is like agreeing to let the other side cheat (in so far as they are allowed to inaccurately describe a central factor in the debate to the benefit of their argument, although perhaps not knowingly) - not to mention it is misleading to our users.

If you are going oppose these applications, couldn't you argue it would be more accurate and better inform the discussion to use language that accurately reflects what these things are, something like "faulty electronic censors" (maybe others can suggest better phrases or terms) as opposed to using language that implies these things are something they are not (comprehensive, accurate and beneficial) and then say they say in the next breath they are not those things?

So where do Sting and The Police come in you ask? Well, without getting too philosophical I have a vague recollection of a Police/Sting lyric which implies that you ought to be careful about the language you use because it creates your reality. I've got to run this morning, and I wasn't able to find it quickly in several lyric search engines, but it makes the point nonetheless.

(Please share if you know the lyric I'm grasping for....)

Monday, October 22, 2007

More on InfoCasting

Thanks to all who shared their thoughts on InfoCasting. Your comments suggested the following analogy:
InfoCasting could be to traditional play-by-play/commentary, what blogging/podcasting is to traditional major media journalism.

Agreed, good InfoCasting would require up-front work, and if we (libraries) were doing it, it would have to be fact-based (non-library InfoCasting would allow for more opinionated commentary), but I do think there is the potential to add value to all sorts of broadcasts - perhaps in unseen ways (think back to before blogging hit it big, who would have thought so many people had so many valuable things to say that weren't already being said through traditional outlets?).

I'm just brainstorming here, and some of this would simply be interesting for its own sake in true "Pop-up Video" fashion, but for American NFL broadcasts (and perhaps you would only do one InfoCast for the Super Bowl) you could cover things like:

Why the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester - officially listed as a wide receiver - is allowed to wear the number 23, even though wide receivers are only allowed to wear numbers 10-19 or 80-89? (Yes he used to be a Defensive Back, but the NFL is usually a stickler for these kinds of things... If anyone knows, please pass it along!)

Picture the "Pop-Up Video" bubble and bubble sound for this one:
That the NFL allows players to wear shirts with full length sleeves and short sleeves, but not three-quarters length sleeves.

And perhaps information about the referees - would you believe Mike Carey owns his own sports apparel company (we could provide a link) and is 57 years old!

An explanation of how "waivers" works.

But InfoCasting for sports is just one option. The key would be to InfoCast events you are knowledgeable and passionate about. As far as I know InfoCasting hasn't ever been done.
Anyone interested in being a pioneer?


Friday, October 19, 2007

InfoCasting via Twitter

Sunday afternoon in the fall in the U.S. means one thing to many people, professional football. And near Chicago, Illinois, that translates to the Chicago Bears.

So while working one Sunday a few weeks back the following went through my head:
Not many people will be here (at the library) between 12 and 3, because the Bears' game is on.
Next thought: Why don't we go to where they are, watching the game?

How could we do that? Perhaps by setting up some kind of contextual, value-added, strictly factual broadcast (an "InfoCast" if you will) to accompany ongoing events (could be any kind of event) we know many people are watching. (Hmm... InfoCasts could be done during popular TV shows, or and this could be dangerous territory, but perhaps, fact-checking from neutral, credible sources during political speeches....)

We would make our presence known, and make it clear that as Reference Librarians we are available 24/7 to answer questions related to the event or anything else. A kind of interactive, 2.0 Biblio-"Pop-up Video".

My initial thought was that this could be done via Twitter, but, and correct me if I am mistaken, those who would be receiving the InfoCast would either need to be continually refreshing to get new messages or if they were subscribed, checking their email for new messages. Not ideal, but I suppose a live vocal broadcast could also be done - although that would seem to require more effort and polish.

Sure, with NFL football games there may be some legal issues that would have to be, forgive me, "tackled" (that's terrible...), but in the abstract, I find the idea of doing an InfoCast intriguing and fun.

What do you think? Is anyone doing this? Other thoughts on InfoCast mediums? Or potential InfoCast events?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Magazine Subscriptions - for Patrons/Users

First, a big thank you to everyone who read and/or responded to the first post. This rookie blogger really appreciates it.

And thank you especially to Jenny Levine for mentioning the first post on her blog (see link at right). If you aren't already subscribed to theshiftedlibrarian be sure to do so, it's one of the best information science/library blogs out there.

A question for you - is anyone aware of any libraries providing subscription services to patrons on individual magazine titles? In other words, the patrons tell us they want to subscribe to a title, and then when a circulating copy is ready, it's automatically on hold for them.

Anyone aware of any ILS systems (maybe open-source systems like Koha or Evergreen) or other software solutions that could support this kind of activity?

If the logistical hurdles could be surmounted (and having enough copies of desired titles to stave off patron frustration could be one of them), offering this kind of service has always struck me as a win-win.

Patrons would love it, especially if it could be paired with some sort of home delivery (I wonder if libraries could mail at the discounted bulk rate for magazines....), and libraries would love it because it cements an ongoing usage relationship with patrons - the kind of thing businesses would kill for.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Google Proposition - Challenging our Identity, Furthering Our Mission?

Imagine this: Google, whose mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful", realizes it’s too expensive or just not worth it to fight the fight to scan and make copyrighted books available online. Instead they acquire one or more publishing houses (who perhaps can be had for a reasonable price because their major media parents are disappointed with their contributions to the corporate bottom line) with the intention of providing unlimited simultaneous, free access to texts online while "monetizing" that access via advertising in the same way they have very successfully monetized search results. 

Then being as resource rich as they are, Google attracts writers and book producers by offering better compensation in exchange for the right make their to-be-published works immediately and "universally accessible" online. In addition to monetizing book access, Google claims it is doing “good” by making this information "universally accessible and useful" free of charge to readers.

To see if this was fiscally possible, I checked Google's August 7, 2007 balance sheet as reported on Yahoo Finance. Google has a "capital surplus" (or cash) of over $12.50 billion and net tangible assets of over $17.50 billion.

Random House has been called “the world's largest English-language general trade book publisher" and perhaps the biggest publisher in the United States. In 1998, they were purchased by German media company Bertelsmann AG for $1.4 billion. 

Since then the asking price for Random House (if it were up for sale) could conceivably have quadrupled, quintupled or sextupled, but even if that were the case, Google theoretically would have enough cash to purchase Random House and with the resources leftover, purchase 2 more Youtube's at $2 billion a piece. (And let's not even get into discussing the fine line of credit they would be able to take out with any lender worth their salt...)

A more likely scenario would see Google purchasing a smaller publishing house. They could then follow the strategy outlined above: pulling best selling writers and book producers away from other publishing houses by offering better compensation in exchange for the right make their works immediately and "universally accessible" online - which could be attractive to writers and book producers. In time, Google, and other copycat competitors, buy up individual "legacy" publishing houses, gaining their backlist titles and negotiating the rights to make them freely and "universally accessible" online.

Eventually, the “immediately and universally accessible” model becomes the dominant publishing model, although perhaps initially only for adult books.

If this happened, how would libraries respond? and should we actually be lobbying Google and others to follow this path? 

There would be justifiable concern about Google (and other for-profit organizations) gatekeeping and controlling access to the world's published material (a significant concern!), but not withstanding the current digital divide, it is difficult to argue that the freely, immediately universally accessible model would not do more, faster, to give more people access to information than libraries ever could going forward.

Would we protest, perhaps out of a short-sighted desire to preserve ourselves as an institution as we have traditionally existed?


Would we embark on some kind of "transformational change" (as many before me have called it), satisfied our mission of providing freely available information is substantially (if not perfectly acheived - perhaps negotiating electronic and hard copy fail safes to maintain access in case Google and others become "evil") and reorient and redevote ourselves using freed up resources to address other community needs - hosting cultural and/or social centers, focusing on instructing and becoming "People's Universities", navigating the available information etc....

Harvey Hahn, my collegue at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, has suggested the same "freely available" publishing model could be applied to databases as well (those available throught Thomson, ProQuest, Gale etc). He suggests that making that information (journal articles, legal info, health info, dissertations, etc.) freely available, could have a greater beneficial impact.

Could a non-profit publisher thrive and sustain itself by using a freely and immediately available model right now? and should libraries be involved in that? My best guess is that it would be difficult, but so many Internet organizations (Wikipedia, Ebay, Craigslist etc...) seem to be able to sustain so many activities that seem unlikely on the face of them.

Discussing the "Google Proposition" as a real possibility gives us a better chance to proactively affect its potential unfolding. If we don't, we risk being caught flat-footed, perhaps reacting in some knee-jerk, but less influential way - akin to "shouting at the river", objecting to its course as it flows by us.

What do you think?