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?