Thoughts on Hyperlinked Communities

First of all, a brief word about being an ADHD librarian in a hyperlinked world.

Heaven!

But of course, also Hell! Because one must, eventually, and usually on deadline, stop acquiring information and begin content creation. One has deliverables to… well… deliver! We must close the chapter on research, and begin the chapter on writing. This is exceedingly difficult when the materials at hand are as fascinating as what we are studying here. The fact that all these materials are hyperlinked to one another, to other sources and resources, to your content and comments, and to this blog is extraordinary and mind-boggling. I read our recommended articles, the lecture slides, your blogs and comments, and watch many of the video materials on my cellphone, on my Kindle Fire, on my tablet, and sometimes on a laptop (remember those?). I read more than I respond, because I am still “old-school” and prefer not to type using my phone.

 

My favorite slide of the past two weeks said, “Hyperlinks are people too.” Why on earth is such a simple thing so easy to forget?

Here in my community, when I speak to others about the hyperlinked library their eyes glaze over, in much the same way as when I mention that I am a genealogist. To most people here, the term ‘hyperlinked’ is exclusively about the digital world. As implied by West (2014), this is a world where they do not play, and they become uncomfortable when faced with the idea that the future of libraries is all “technological.”  This simple thought, “hyperlinks are people too,” will help me begin to guide people toward exploring new ways of sharing information.

 

First, Find Out What They Want

Sure. That’s easy. As professionals, we know what they should have, or what they need, so we design a survey that will sell them on that transition. Right?  Well, no. We need to ask open-ended questions. Of course. However, “giving people a blank piece of paper and asking them to create new library services is unrealistic and unfair. Asking our communities the question, “What do you want from your library?” shifts the burden of design onto them. Creating meaningful and convenient library service shouldn’t be their responsibility. That’s our job.” (Schmidt, 2016).

If we can’t soft sell our own idea of what is right; and if we can’t just pointblank ask the community to make the decisions for us, how do we lunge together toward becoming a hyperlinked community? Schmidt suggests that we ask people specific questions about what they already do, how they already spend their time and/or money. Ask people to share ideas about what is missing in the community, and use that information to develop new concepts and ideas about library services and programs.

“Don’t wait for [people] to come to you with ideas; solicit them. Make sure there is an easy way… to submit feedback or suggestions. An administrator or director may not see herself as intimidating, but must still be sure to provide an open, welcoming way for [people] to provide input.” (Casey & Savastinuk, p 49). I substituted the word people for the word staff. We must provide ways for all people to engage with us. This includes staff, but also volunteers, current library patrons, instructors, visitors, and other guests. Providing open access to communication (at the library, online, and at remote locations) is probably the first major task in creating a hyperlinked library community.

 

Second, Give Them What They Ask For

Neiburger points out that if people need items to make their lives easier (tools, sewing machines, chainsaws), why not create a system that allows users to borrow these items. Neiburger also encourages us by suggesting other ways to engage ‘the long tail’ of people who don’t use libraries. Make sure the library is “the place with something to do… without commercials.” Make 21st century literacy fun for all ages using games and gamification. As an example, the Idea Box [Oakland] was a wonderful way to give people something they might not KNOW that they want. Freedom to express and create in a fun, stress-free, zone. Building community trust by making the library a fun destination with creative solutions to the problems people shared with us is the second major task in creating a hyperlinked library community. 

Third, Find Out What They Already Know

“Technology extends human reach but participation requires engaged participants who feel welcome, comfortable, and valued…. How will we open the door and invite everyone inside to participate?” (Stephens, 2016, loc 1682). At our library, we have already begun to talk about the wealth of information that people in our community hold inside their heads and hearts. This concept, that a library is also a ‘collection of local knowledge’ or a ‘collection of people who know things’ is gaining ground here. Why? Most folks apparently enjoy being asked to share information about topics of interest to them. Rather than force-feeding information we feel people in the community should have or know, we have turned the tables. We ask questions. We find out what people know about, what people are excited about, what subjects they are ‘experts’ in, and we invite them to talk with other people who are also interested. Finding out what they know already is a third major task in creating a hyperlinked library community.

Fourth, Bring the People Together

Godin postulates that people need a leader to bring them together, to make them feel wanted, to connect people to one another. “Create a movement around something that matters,” he tells us. Leading the library toward becoming a hyperlinked community is essentially the same as leading a tribe. Decisions are made for the good of the people. The leader must have an eye for what has not worked, but must ask the tribe WHY that has not worked. The leader must know when to shake the status quo, but must ask the tribe HOW to shake things up. The library leader must understand which people in the tribe are interested in the same types of information, but must know this because members of the tribe have shared this information. Never assume. Never presume. Always put the issues in front of the tribe and allow them to make decisions with you. Bringing people together to form natural affinity groups is the fourth major task in creating a hyperlinked library community.

Fifth, Upload the Hyperlinked Community

Bringing tech-reluctant people to the library so they can become digitally literate will not work. For one thing, our volunteers range from tech-phobic, through tech-averse, to tech-savvy. No matter how excited the tech-savvy instructors become, they cannot compel people to come for workshops. Furthermore, West points out that “Digital natives are being taught by… digital tourists and this is creating some weird etiquette schisms.”  Indeed! On a day-to-day basis, I watch tech-phobic volunteers fumble when asked by a guest about how to print using their own device, or how to log on to the internet when it hasn’t happened automatically. Absolute panic!

How to gently lead the reluctant toward tech appreciation? It begins with consistent demonstrations of what is available. Public showings of online content. One-on-one workshops to help people connect with other people online. Playing with applications to help them resolve problems they might encounter (introducing Goodreads as a website for helpful reader advisory, for example).  Tech training is much like training a horse. Start with an exercise that makes them comfortable, lead them forward step by step, stop when they balk, start again only when they are relaxed and ready. Realizing that people in our hyperlinked communities will leap toward technological hyperlinking only when they are ready [and recognizing that some people may never be ready for this step] is the final task in creating a hyperlinked library community.

 

Resources

Allan County Public Library. (24 Jan 2012). Conversation Series: Eli Neiburger. [Youtube video in three parts]. Accessed 20 September 2017 at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3MO_zbBgAI

Bergholz, K. (2012). IdeaBox. [Youtube video]. Accessed 21 September 2017 at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kltuaRTgjAE

Casey, M.E., and Savastinuk, L.C. (2007). Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc.

Schmidt, A. (4 May 2016). Asking the right questions: The user experience.  Accessed 20 September 2017 at: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2016/05/opinion/aaron-schmidt/asking-the-right-questions-the-user-experience/#_

Stephens, M. (2016). The Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful Change. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

TED. (2009 11 May). Seth Godin: The tribes we lead. [YouTube video]. Accessed 23 September 2017 at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQGYr9bnktw

West, J. (2014). 21st Century Digital Divide. Accessed 23 September 2017 at: http://www.librarian.net/talks/rlc14/

 

 

On Sideways Thinking, Messiness & Librarianship: Context Book Review

Book I  Think Sideways: a game-changing playbook for disruptive thinking

This gem of a little book teaches people how to undo years of societal training. All those things we learned in school: color inside the lines; follow directions; do what the others do; don’t show our feelings; learn to conform. Kleinberg’s premise is that those things were great for certain types of work in the past. But we have moved toward a new way of being, and those rigid boundaries of self-control are in our way, now! Let’s disrupt the social order, throw off inhibitions, dream up what we want, and take actions toward those dreams.

Section One attempts to define sideways thinking. “Life is full of sideways thinkers who have disrupted life-as-usual. You know who they are. They are usually labeled the rebels, the mavericks, the pioneers. They are all of these things and more.” (Kleinberg, loc 242). Here, she also briefly dispels some mythologies about creativity, such as funky glasses are required; or, creativity is hard work; or, creativity is about making an object of beauty for the world to see. Then, in Section Two she outlines the basic steps toward becoming a sideways thinker, which include:

  • Write a Manifesto
  • Eternal Optimism
  • Keep Your Antennas Up
  • Jump on Two
  • Don’t Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
  • Obsess
  • Follow Frustration
  • Believe You Can Defy the Odds
  • There are No Rules
  • Learn in Motion
  • Dream Crazy
  • Go in the Opposite Direction
  • Seize Change
  • Lean In
  • Create New Rules
  • Get Emotional

Finally, in Section Three she discusses why sideways thinking is important. “We’ve shifted from an information age built on sequential logic and information to a conceptual age built on empathy and emotion. People are naturally emotional. We seek to connect on an emotional level; we make decisions based on emotion.”  (Kleinberg, loc 1549). Sideways thinking, in her mind, teaches us to rely less upon logic and more upon emotion, upon intuition, upon radical insight.

She also addresses the increasingly fluid barriers surrounding ideas and intellectual property rights. Hiding ideas behind a copyright is a thing of the past. “The world has changed and the future belongs to those who embrace sharing and collaboration, not to those who hoard and hide. The New Economy of Ideas is built on a premise of abundance, not scarcity. In the old days, people felt that there weren’t enough ideas to go around. That is what led to the hoarding of ideas.” (Kleinberg, loc 2681).

I would take this one step further, perhaps. In a capitalistic society, ideas = money; which is why ideas have been protected under copyright. People attempt to copyright common words and phrases, just so they can make money from that. Unfortunately, capitalism as we have always known it, is completely unsustainable. There is a strong movement away from such rigidity of ownership, and toward a more fluid sharing of ideas and information. Increasingly, we are seeing collaboration among scholars, among business colleagues, among global communities. Truly, it takes sideways thinking to see outside the lines society has drawn around us!

 

Book II  Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives

Harford lays out for us the theory that ‘messiness is good.’ “Often, we are so seduced by the blandishments of tidiness that we fail to appreciate the virtues of the messy – the untidy, unquantified, uncoordinated, improvised, imperfect, incoherent, crude, cluttered, random, ambiguous, vague, difficult, diverse, or even dirty.” (Harford, p 4). He then systematically documents demonstrated ways that messiness has powerful and positive impact on our lives, in increased creativity, in improved collaboration, in our work productivity, in our ability to improvise, in our ability to succeed, and in our increased resilience.

In case study after case study, from artists, to scientists, to engineers, to businesses, Harford provides evidence that it is in the messy outcomes of unplanned moments that we make our greatest creative leaps. He writes about Benjamin Franklin, who craved order all his life, never succeeding, but making discovery after discovery in his chaos. “A messy desk isn’t nearly as chaotic as it at first seems. There’s a natural tendency toward a very pragmatic system of organization based simply on the fact that the useful stuff keeps on getting picked up and left on the top of the pile.” (Harford, p 236).  He writes about jazz great, Miles Davis, whose greatest recording he “kind of missed” what he was trying to do. And yet it is still acknowledged as his greatest work (Kind of Blue).

“Speed, economy, and flexibility: these three advantages should already be enough to convince us that the messy process of improvising has its advantages over tidy, scripted alternatives. But there’s something else that seems to happen during the process of improvisation, an almost magical creative spark that until recently has been elusive.” (Harford, p 98).

Spontaneity, lack of planning, leaping, can lead to great result. Scientists and sociologists have been attempting to evaluate these results in a quantifiable way. What do we find when we look at the brains of people who are improvising?  Brains scans suggest that “improvisers are suppressing their conscious control and letting go…. Improvising musicians shut down their inner critic. Improvisers stop filtering their ideas quite so assiduously, and allow the mess of new ideas to flow out.”

The takeaway?  “Real creativity, excitement, and humanity lie in the messy parts of life, not the tidy ones. And an appreciation of the virtues of mess in fulfilling our human potential is something we can encourage….”

 

 

Why These Two Books?

I must confess, I have two more books from the list already downloaded to my Kindle and added to my TBR list. But these two titles were of particular interest to me, because these titles validate my entire existence.

When I was 50 years old, I was diagnosed with ADHD. After testing, the doctor told me that, in fact, I am severely ADHD. As a person who has continually struggled to comply with rules, but failed to understand why rules are required; as a person who has struggled to do things “the normal way” or “the right way” and who has repeatedly failed; as a person who has learned to accept themselves as a failure, I was pleased to suddenly connect the flotilla of unconnected dots which are, under the umbrella term of ADHD, loosely considered to be “symptoms.”

Before my diagnosis, I felt that ADHD was a made-up disorder; that people could be taught to do things. Of course, they could! That I personally always failed in such attempts at learning seemed to me to be a personal failure. I was lazy [so untrue]. I was stubborn [probably true]. After diagnosis, I finally realized that even if I wanted to learn how to do any task “normally”, I would not be able to do it. My brain is different than 90% of the population, both in physiological configuration and in neurochemistry. Understanding this has changed my life.

Sideways Thinking is what I always do. I am practically incapable of seeing things through a so-called “normal” lens. Messy is an accurate description of the inside of my head. Thoughts, thousands of thoughts, are jumbled and piled, wiggling and squirming, demanding attention, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There is never NOT chaos in my brain.

 

I cannot convey the depth of my gratitude and relief at no longer having to struggle to be what I am physically incapable of ever being!  And my gratitude and relief at understanding that those mundane ways of being “broken” were the cause of my flashes of insight; my wacky sense of humor; my creativity; my mad ability to solve a problem quickly; my skills at bringing people together while helping them laugh and embrace their own creative selves.

I disagree that ADH is a disorder. I certainly would not trade my messy life for the tidy world of a person who colors inside lines. I admire those folks. I have envied them. But I would not want to be that. I did not want to be that. I never actually wanted to “see straight.” I always enjoyed looking at the world sideways. Or upside down.

I was that kid who hung upside down from a tree reading a book. Who turned cameras at weird angles to take pictures; or, who took pictures from strange angles below or above the subject.

I was that kid who, tired of the conflict over a messy room, cleaned my room on the last day of school one summer, and slept in a sleeping bag on the floor so I would not have to make the bed each day. I was that kid with a secret room outdoors, where I had hidden my favorite books and journals, so my “messy junk” would not offend my tidy mother.

I was that kid who could never follow directions. But who could always tell when someone was feeling badly. When someone needed help.

And yes, I was that kid who failed. Who failed spectacularly! But, who failed with brilliant results! Who failed by producing something unique. Who believed that the result of my explorations was more important to me than the result of following directions toward someone else’s already drawn conclusions.

As a librarian, I have the opportunity to open our doors wide to people who are neurologically different. I have the ability to share a learning experience with people who were born thinking sideways and who do not fit the “normal” or “tidy” worldviews. I enjoy meeting people who are off-kilter, either by choice or by birth. These are the interesting people. The deep thinkers. The innovators.

 

Messiness, Sideways Thinking, & Librarianship

Finally, how can these books help us become better at our practice of librarianship?

Radical librarianship begins by letting go of what librarianship has traditionally been. And the traditional librarian has staunchly demanded order, perfection, tidiness, and silence. The traditional librarian valued collection over people. The traditional librarian “ssshhed” people’s feelings, and even their own feelings. The traditional librarian craved regularity, but people are irregular, always. The traditional librarian stood on a pillar of virtue, and judged everyone who failed to meet the standard. But everyone DOES fail to meet the standard.

Now we have an opportunity to look at our organizations sideways, and encourage others to do so as well. Now we have an opportunity to allow a little messiness to enter our walls, with the goal in mind of finding those flashes of collaborative creativity, community celebration, and joy.

Isn’t that worth a little mess, a little noise?

 

 

 

 

PART II: Evolving Toward a More Transparent Library

Bring Back the People

Shifting toward a fully participatory library necessitates movement toward openness and transparency. We simply cannot have one without the other. Secret board meetings, hidden politics… these do not engender trust in the organization, and trust is the key element required for increased participation. “Libraries benefit in all sorts of ways when they’re trusted institutions. Trust breeds loyalty, and loyal library users are more likely to take advantage of the library. What’s more, loyal patrons will also be more likely to sing the praises of the library to neighbors and colleagues. For libraries, thinking about trust highlights the importance of recognizing members as individuals.”  Schmidt (2013).

 

Bring Back the Fun

“Libraries—all libraries—should be fun, even in difficult times.” Casey & Stephens (2014). Increasing transparency includes making the library a more human experience. In our library, this means bringing the fun back. Encouraging volunteers to burst spontaneously into song. Bringing in the so-called “junk reading” materials. Building the collections which are ‘not books.’ Creating programming based on what people in the community find fun and funny. Inviting people to hang out at the library and feel free to ‘laugh out loud.’

“Letting librarians’ personalities show makes it easier for individuals to relate to—and therefore trust—the library…. There are plenty of opportunities for this: displays, events, contributions in newsletters, emails, and on the web, among others. Have some fun, be yourself, and ensure that your library’s brand makes it apparent that it is an organization filled with people. Remember, being fun and engaging folks doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dumbing the library down. Only people who take themselves too seriously think that way!” Schmidt (2013).

Casey & Stephens propose that “The talking library has no secrets and gathers as much input as it can. The transparent library both listens and talks. The transparent library is connected, breeding the expectation for open conversation. The transparent library establishes ways for our users to talk to us and among themselves with tools like blogs and wikis, community open houses, outreach events, and surveys.” I confess. I do more oral interviews with people than written surveys. This summer during the Build-A-Better-World campaign, I included a flip chart for people to write on, and they loved this activity!  Since then, each month I flip the chart, ask a new question, and collect their responses.  This will be a great guide for us as we schedule future programs, consider new collections, and plan the future of this facility.

I have shifted away from sending a complicated email newsletter and will be producing a monthly blog on the library website beginning this month. The email will simply notify people that the site has been updated, and direct them to our site. Our site already includes links to all sorts of information that I know our visitors and guests need (built using Symbaloo). Directing everyone’s attention to the website with a monthly blog will hopefully encourage more use of the site.

[Remind me to blog about the challenges of technology in a space where nearly everyone is tech-averse…. They want to see the data, but they want it “old school.”  I do not have time to do that work, and would like to collect and present data using technology. However, apparently  only I am willing to learn how to use such technology. Urgh. But I digress. Again.]

 There is a terrific assessment tool [Project Outcome] that I will begin to implement this fall. And I will [gently and patiently] teach our board members and volunteers how to use this tool to gather, analyze, and present information that we need to document and assess our services.

Bring Back the Funding

How is it that people in our community were unwilling to use a free service, or participate in free training, at a community library? They did not trust the organization.

Our tiny library has been a non-profit organization since its inception in 1932. The library was started and boosted by private enterprise and private donations. However, the library follows ALA standards for public libraries, and has worked hard to establish strong relationships with educators, town leadership, and local businesses. What the library board failed to do was be fully transparent in its operations. The board meetings were not traditionally open to the public. Board membership was picked from within a select pool of volunteers. The library had never asked the town for money, and so the budget and finances were kept private. Only board members were privy to this information. Much of the confusion for local, year-round residents of this community would have been resolved if this information was made public.

In 2015, at the same time the library moved to hire a director for the first time, they also asked the town to participate in funding. Board members were shocked at how the library was viewed by the voters of the town:  a private club organization; a library for the rich visitors to town; an organization already rolling in money. These were a few of the locally accepted mythologies, and my challenge was to turn that thinking around. Increasing organizational transparency, and openly advocating for the library using real data embedded in real stories is the strategy we are using to solve this dilemma.

So far, we have changed the policy for selecting board members, and have deliberately instructed the nominating committee to search for willing partners who are not currently volunteers at the library. For the first time this November, our 2018 Budget will be posted on our website, along with infographics about how our money was handled in 2017. Information about our endowment fund (which is about 1/3 what is needed to fund our staffing) has been made public, and people were shocked to discover that the organization is not hoarding cash.

Hand in hand with this, is a steady campaign to ask, ask, ask people to remember us in planned giving. Larger gifts from planned giving are what build and sustain the endowment. But if people already believe you are wealthy, they are very reluctant to leave you a gift in their will.

Building A Vision of the Future

This library is in a region where internet infrastructure is lacking. The library is one spot where people of all ages can use computers, stream information, or learn new technologies. Kids in school are learning and using computers daily, but parents cannot keep up. Seniors range from exceedingly tech savvy to absolutely tech resistant. The library is a place where they can begin to discover how much knowledge is available to them outside of books. Give a family historian one taste of Ancestry.com [the full version, not the free library edition] and they begin to ask for more tech training. Look up one article for someone who has no idea how to do an internet search. When you turn up photos and articles about their friends or family members, remind them that if they care to learn, you are available to teach.

“The average library decision about implementing new technologies takes longer than the  average life cycle for new technologies.” Schneider (2006). Our board is very interested in technology overall, but when I suggest Promethean boards that we can use during normal business as events signage, they blanche. How would that work? Isn’t that expensive? Two board members and I want 3D printers at the library. Others would rather spend the money on collections. “No one will know how to use this technology,” they say. There are three 3-D printers at the elementary school which are unavailable nights, weekends, holidays, or vacations. We have users, but no way to serve them.

“The vision for the Hunt Library is ambitious in the extreme: to “create spaces that encourage collaboration, reflection, creativity, and awe” and “to be a place not of the past but of the future.”” Schwartz (2013). For the past two years, I have been advocating for building an addition to the library. I have called this “programming space,” and created a website for one of my classes to show my vision for how this space should be used. The ideas for the types of programming in this space come directly from two years’ of open-ended conversations with volunteers, visitors, guests, and library non-users. Yes, this is an ambitious plan for our town. At the same time, are we not tasked with the need to envision and build libraries that will carry us into the future, rather than anchor us in the past? Hopefully, our renovation/remodel will both honor the past and reinvigorate the future.

Resources

All images are hyperlinked to their source.

Anderson, C. (2006). In praise of radical transparency. The Long Tail [blog]. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2006/11/in_praise_of_ra.html

Casey, M. and Stephens, M. (2014). The Transparent Library.

Kenney, B. (2014). The user is (still) not broken. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/60780-the-user-is-still-not-broken.html

Schmidt, A. (2013). Earning trust: The user experience. Library Journal [online]. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/11/opinion/aaron-schmidt/earning-trust-the-user-experience/

Schneider, K.G. (2006). The user is not broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto. Free Range Librarian. Blog. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: http://freerangelibrarian.com/2006/06/03/the-user-is-not-broken-a-meme-masquerading-as-a-manifesto/

Schwartz, M. (2013). Tomorrow, Visualized: Library by design, Fall 2013. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/09/buildings/lbd/tomorrow-visualized-library-by-design-fall-2013/

PART I. Evolving Toward a Participatory Library Culture

While I had worked in libraries in the past, I entered librarianship trained as a business manager. I brought an entrepreneurial, problem-solving mindset. I brought for-profit and non-profit experience. I also arrived in this organization “in recovery” from a position in government… recovery from bureaucracy and rigid hierarchy. Because I am a genealogist, I came to this organization as a person who is naturally interested in hearing people’s stories. Here, I will share stories about my little public library as a potential template for how such shifts might be done on a larger scale. We are a microcosmic library laboratory, if you will.

So much of our conversation concerns shifting the intra-library organization toward development of a participatory culture. We must do this, certainly. The more hierarchical and rigid the organizational structure, the more difficult this culture shift will be.

However, the process of engaging with so-called “users” is not necessarily all sunshine and flowers. We need to be considering ways in which to build a participatory culture from within and from without, simultaneously. This is a rugged challenge!  As Kenney points out, we need to begin by “Meet[ing] People Where They Are—Not Where We Want Them to Be.” The thought continues: “Libraries are very good at organizing and presenting content in anticipation of users’ needs. From cataloging resources to creating booklists, to offering workshops and classes, we’re all about meeting people where we think they may be. The trouble is, not all individuals fit into our elaborate schema.” Kenney (2014) [Emphasis mine.]  Indeed, if declining “user” figures are indicative, libraries models of the past have not been meeting the needs of most people for the past decade or more. As a business model, this requires a radical shift in how we think and talk about service. And to shift perceptions and expectations of the “long tail” of people who have already been disenchanted is a gargantuan task.

The first recognition we need to make is that shifting cultures takes time. Be prepared to move slowly. When I took the position of Library Director two years ago, the library had never had any paid staff. I knew that to achieve any new vision for this library, I needed to earn the trust of ALL the volunteers, and all the patrons, and not just the library board. Many of them expected this “hot shot kid” to come in and slam them with new ideas and force them to learn entirely new ways of doing things. I surprised them.

“Genuinely friendly and helpful interactions lead people to accomplishing their goals, demonstrate respect, and tell people, “Yes, we really do care about you as a person.” Poor customer service usually diminishes even the most desirable services.” Schmidt (2013).  I spent two months in the library before I made any changes at all. Instead, I had intensive conversations with all the library volunteers. I asked them to teach me what I needed to know about their role in library operations. I asked them what was NOT working well in the library. I asked them about problems or questions that patrons brought to their attention.

I asked operational questions, certainly, but asking questions can be a slippery process. I asked many open-ended questions, then sat back to let them talk freely. These conversations were casual and completely open. There were not back-room or off-site meetings. Often, my initial questions were more about who the volunteer is and what the volunteer is interested in than how the library functions.

I knew as well, that “buy-in” for any new culture must come from the people who have been relatively happy with the library service. And so, I initiated conversation with everyone who entered the building. I asked questions about what their likes, dislikes, interests, and needs. I asked about their families, their roles in the library and in the community. I asked. I listened.

[SIDEBAR:  I really dislike the term “buy-in”.  The inference is that someone (the boss?) knows what is best for everyone in the company, and so they must spend time convincing others that this great idea was the people’s idea all along. 

No. No. No. This is upside-down thinking. This is emotional manipulation. Instead, a great organizational leader will learn what the staff needs and wants; learn what the customer needs and wants; and then, after reflection, will construct a vision which incorporates those needs and wants. No “buy-in” required.  But I digress….]

After two months, I fixed the one thing that all volunteers (and some visitors) had complained about. Slowly, volunteers and patrons began to see small shifts in operations, all of which reflected conversations we had shared early in the process. Some of the changes were operational: ensuring necessary supplies were ordered and on hand; clearing some cluttered areas; making forms and tools easier to find and use; creating a template for circulation desk operations. Some of the changes represent “catching up” on those community needs we were not meeting: a binder and online access to frequently needed social services; more access to interlibrary loan; more instruction about the digital library; adding e-readers and ensuring that those highly popular books or book discussion picks were available in multiple formats; adding more genre fiction to the collection [Seriously. This library was half literary fiction; half mystery. Practically zero romance, science fiction, fantasy! No wonder some folks never came in.]

Speaking of the folks who never came in… I also met with people off-site, and was particularly interested in meeting people who did NOT use the library. Yes. I would ask total strangers at the store, or in restaurants, if they ever used this library, and most importantly… WHY NOT?  Why not?  This had to be asked with humility rather than judgement. This had to be asked with a genuine concern for how this individual’s informational needs were not being met. This had to be asked with an understanding of the daily life challenges of local families.

In many cases, locals in the community believed the library existed mostly for visitors from away. They believed the library was about books [hello old branding!]. They had not visited the library since they were children. My job here was not to convince them they were wrong. It was to listen, and to return to the library with new ideas about how to be sure we had the information they needed, and that everyone in town would be informed (via town newsletter, via flyers sent home through the school system, via signage outside the library, and via word-of-mouth communication from all library volunteers). This was not a problem that would be solved instantly.

So. Two years in, we are fully participatory, right?  Well, no. It doesn’t work that way. But we are certainly leaning in the right direction. Because we are creating programming based upon direct feedback from guests and volunteers, our programs are well-attended. Our parking lot… and adjacent parking areas… are always full if we are open. The library is a community hub now, and more people come in who have not visited the building since they were children. They are curious about the ‘buzz.’

Part II of this blog concerns the transformation of organizations towards transparency.

 

Resources

All images are hyperlinked to their source.

Anderson, C. (2006). In praise of radical transparency. The Long Tail [blog]. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: http://www.longtail.com/the_long_tail/2006/11/in_praise_of_ra.html

Casey, M. and Stephens, M. (2014). The Transparent Library.

Kenney, B. (2014). The user is (still) not broken. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/60780-the-user-is-still-not-broken.html

Schmidt, A. (2013). Earning trust: The user experience. Library Journal [online]. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/11/opinion/aaron-schmidt/earning-trust-the-user-experience/

Schneider, K.G. (2006). The user is not broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto. Free Range Librarian. Blog. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: http://freerangelibrarian.com/2006/06/03/the-user-is-not-broken-a-meme-masquerading-as-a-manifesto/

Schwartz, M. (2013). Tomorrow, Visualized: Library by design, Fall 2013. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/09/buildings/lbd/tomorrow-visualized-library-by-design-fall-2013/

Thoughts on Boutique Librarianship: Foundational Readings

The Library of Babel (Borges) was fascinating and recalled many fiction favorites:  The Foundation novels, by Asimov leaped immediately to mind; also, Eco’s The Name of the Rose; and finally, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store, by Robin Sloan. Libraries are containers for mysteries, and librarians are mystics in pursuit of absolute knowledge. Or, perhaps of absolute classification of knowledge. Or, perhaps of infinite enjoyment of infinite unanswered mysteries which underlie all human knowledge. Either way, what bliss! Isn’t this a terrific metaphor for the hyperlinked library? One cubicle of information links us to another in endless fascination and discovery?

Buckland’s history of library evolution (paper library; automated library; electronic library) seems like a manifesto in search of a cause. In 1992, the author recognized that a hyperlinked library was probable (although the term is not used here), and that in the future most people will be able to locate information quickly by themselves. This paper reflects uncertainly about the future of libraries (book repositories) and librarianship (the keepers of the books) at the dawning of digital data accessibility.

By 2007, the shift from librarian-defined library toward a user-defined library is gaining ground. Casey & Savastinuk examine why people do NOT use libraries, and established guidelines for creating programming and/or collections to better serve those information communities. This is the beginning of moving libraries away from being “sacred institutions” and toward becoming community partners in education, social networking, and economic development. Like any savvy business person, librarians needed to think less about the “ideal” collection or program, and more about providing what the customers require.

Mathews brings entrepreneurship and librarianship face-to-face. All entrepreneurs embrace change. This is the nature of striking out on your own. Change happens every second of every day, whether or not we like it! Why not embrace that, and use that in our library operations. Evolution is natural and inevitable. Let’s divorce our thinking from the way it has always been done. Let’s hone our questioning and listening ability to hear what needs to be done and then do that!

All of these readings resonate strongly for me as a library director. Since I arrived at my little library, I have been practicing (and demonstrating for our volunteers) what I call “boutique librarianship.”  While I do written surveys (on paper and online) several times each year, I find it much more valuable to get to know our guests and make sure that the library provides what they require. For some, that is indeed great books. For many others, the library is a place for conversation, discourse, debate, and even light-hearted gossip about television shows or celebrities. For others, the library is the only reliable place to use the internet and stay connected with the people they love, or the services they require. This does not mean that we can always provide whatever they desire right away. It does mean that they leave our building knowing that their needs and wishes have been heard, and that action will be taken to fulfill those needs and wishes as resources become available. The end result of this type of service?  More resources ‘magically’ become available!

I teach our volunteers to greet everyone who enters the door as a guest. To ask if there is something in particular they would like to find or to do or to learn today. To ask questions, spark conversations, make introductions with other guests, make people feel that this is a warm and welcoming place with folks who really care.  When I go into the community, I am always advocating for the library. I always ask strangers if they use their local library, and if they do not, I ask why. When I assist someone with technology, I ask more questions. I invite them to visit again for personal instruction. I ask if they would enjoy a class or workshop on what they are investigating. I build programs around what people in the community find interesting. This is easy in our small community. Is boutique librarianship possible in large urban communities? I learned these skills working in a five-star hotel in a large urban community. Sure. It’s possible.

The thing is, you never know how any person could appreciate your personal interest. You never know how your kind interaction might come back to you and your organization in a positive way.

Beware. The inverse is also true, as all entrepreneurs know from harsh experience. Treat one person with lack of respect or with unkindness and you open the door to many recurring negative experiences. For example, I have several volunteers who are especially hung up on “how things look” or “how people look.” One day a woman entered the library. She was unkempt. She wore dirty, torn overalls and barn boots. Her hair was wild. Her manner of speaking was brusque. She entered with the loud announcement that she had often passed the library but never come in because the library was never open. My volunteer practically attacked her at the entry to the library and told her off. I was new to the library, but not to guest services. I came forward from where I was working and put myself between the volunteer and this guest. The volunteer retreated behind the circulation desk, as I invited the guest to tour the library with me, and as we walked, I asked many questions. After about 30 minutes, the guest was relaxed, impressed with our facilities, our collections, and our programming. Would she return? On that day, I did not know if my actions could overcome her first impression.

Why is all this important?  It turns out that this woman owns extensive ocean-front properties here, and in her hometown on Long Island. She is well-educated and well-connected. She also enjoys gardening.

Never, never, never judge people by the superficial. It will bite you in the ass. Every time.

And yes, she is a frequent guest in our library to this day.

 

Foundational Readings:

Borges, J.L. (1941). The library of Babel. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at: https://libraryofbabel.info/libraryofbabel.html

Buckland, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. American Library Association. Accessed via Berkeley Digital Library.

Casey, M.E., and Savastinuk, L.C. (2007). Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc.

Mathews, B. (2012). Think like a startup: A white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism. Accessed 09 Sep 2017 at:  https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/18649

A Favorite Quotation

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

T. H. White, The Once & Future King

INFO 287 Introduction

I started the MLIS program and my job in 2015. While I intended to graduate in December, life had other plans. I have slowed down my pace a bit, and will be taking two classes each semester. I will graduate in December 2018.

I have already posted a job description and blogged about the experience of being a public library director in a small town. Here are a few thoughts about what drives my passion as a community librarian.

Maine has the oldest population of the United States. Critically important to neurological health is the ability to build plasticity, and the best way to do that is to learn and master new things! Our library recognizes the importance of social gathering and community-building, and the power of socially-connected learning.

We live in an economically challenged, rural community. This is a beautiful place, where there is very little industry. Adults need help rebooting their skills while looking for new opportunities. Teens often drop out of school to work on a boat or in the woods, but then they struggle to make a living.

The library here MUST be more than a book repository. We need to be alert for opportunities to serve our community-at-large, and fill gaps that are not already being met by the school district, or state vocational training centers. With schools focused on Core Curriculum, the library is a great place to develop and practice skills required for 21st century success. The department of labor can provide a set training curriculum, but the library can provide a place for adult learners to practice those skills. Finally, the library in a rural area can be instrumental in jump-starting and encouraging entrepreneurial thinking for people of all ages. We are looking for ways to help new businesses incubate and hatch.

I am excited about this course because the possibilities of completely hyperlinked learning have fascinated me since 1980! At that time, I read Friday, by Robert A. Heinlein. In this book, the main character spends a period of her life learning and absorbing information via a computer console. She directed her own learning, was able to study social patterns, could dive as deeply as she liked into any topic, and access every library on the planet. Once the internet became widely available (I logged in for the first time in 1992), I have been so excited and happy to use the internet to pursue my own interests in just such a way!

I am always surprised at how much fear people have about using the internet. As a librarian, I look for ways to share my joy in searching and in learning with others. Gradually, a few people in our community are showing up to see and hear what is available when you look around in the virtual world instead of in a book.

I never want to ‘diss’ books. I love books. I have been reading since I was four years old. When I went into a university library for the first time, I sat on the floor in the 800s stacks and cried, because I could never in this lifetime read all those books. But, the ‘Hyperlinked Library’ is a university library to the nth degree. “To infinity and beyond.” I want to teach people how to joyfully search the internet and gather information that can transform their lives.

Here are a few photos of my world….

 

View from the library lawn.

 

Our house is in his backyard!

 

Winter

 

 

 

[Photos by twowildgeese.com]

Library Director: A Position Description

I am amazed by what people think when they learn I am a Library Director. Let me tell you about my work.

I am employed by a tiny library, in a very small town (population 1,700) divided into seven even tinier villages. The library windows look across Prospect Harbor toward the open Atlantic. I absolutely love it!

Until two years ago, the library was completely run by volunteers. They built a fantastic organization and our guests are astonished by what they find when they visit. Volunteers still contribute nearly 8,000 hours each year. We could not survive without them. They are the heart of our organization.

The library is a non-profit organization. We receive some funding from the town most years, but we are not considered a municipal library. The majority of our funding comes from generous patrons, community business partners, and grants.

I wear all the hats. Whenever I read a text that describes the many and varied tasks of the “IT Department” or “Collection Management Department” or “Programming Department” or “Marketing Department” or the “Budgeting and Finance Department”, I giggle. I wear all those hats! Basically, I look at what the big libraries do, and condense and boil those activities down to what works for us. In a large library, the library director would provide vision, guidance, policy, and direction for all of those departments.

Since I came on board at Dorcas, we have increased library programming substantially. I firmly believe in user-defined programming, rather than creating librarian-selected programs. It has taken about two years for people to understand what I have been doing, which is: ask key questions of other local librarians, our board members, volunteers, patrons, townspeople who do not use the library… and then shut up and listen to what they say! Listen, listen. listen. The people will tell you what they are interested in, what inspires them, what they enjoy reading or doing, how they are creative. Then create programming to reflect their interests.

During my paid work hours (20 hrs/wk), I primarily focus on our guests. Provide reader advisory, answer reference/tourism questions, conduct on-the-job training for volunteers, give library tours, provide social services referrals, provide personalized tech instruction (sometimes with devices I have never used myself, but take a moment to play with until I can help teach them how to solve the problem), play with children so parents can browse, chat with patrons of all ages about their lives and “goings-on.”

During open hours, I also facilitate programs (writing group, poetry group, genealogy workshops, civics discussion). The great secret to being a good facilitator is to be curious about everything, find great resources to share on the desired subject, and let the group discussion flow. Just get out of their way, and they will teach you!

I work as many hours as needed to get everything done. On my own time, I do most of the vision-building, advocacy, and administrative functions of a library director. I communicate and/or meet with the board of trustees, prepare reports, answer correspondence, analyze statistics, review and revise our website, work on fundraising campaigns, write thank you notes to donors, create flyers, update our Facebook page, schedule our visiting speakers, and about 10,000 other things.

I know that librarians in urban locations hate that rural librarians work so many hours without pay [believe me, they have told me so], but you should visit my reality before you judge. My work is exhilerating, exhausting, fulfilling and intentional. This is my community. These people are my tribe. And I am happy to provide them with a common ground for play and for learning.

First Day Reflections

Before I could name this blog, I needed to set my intention for learning during this course/this semester.

My personal mission is to create and/or facilitate experiences, which rekindle joy, spark imagination, inspire interest, and generate new human knowledge. Pretty big mission.

Our tiny, rural, library is stepping up to create a new library space, and my vision for the purpose of this space is very strong. I envision a community learning center, where multi-generational teaching and learning is the norm; where people feel free to explore and experiment; where the community gathers to define challenges and brainstorm solutions; where entrepreneurs dream and plan and prepare; where failure is applauded for pointing out new ways of thinking; where learning and laughter are never far from one another.

The notes I jotted in preparation for naming this site were:

  • Mindfulness
  • Playfulness
  • Creativity & Production
  • Less Passive – More Active
  • Heart/Soul Driven Learning
  • Feeding the Hunger
  • Nourish One Another

Many people in the world have been “disheartened” by divisive political rhetoric, by disenfranchising actions in our communities and our countries, and by a growing sense of distrust in our fellow human beings.

It seems to me that creating a common space for all people in our community to gather, play, laugh, learn, and create is one way to restore our collective community spirit.

Hearts In Action.

Skip to toolbar