I have an on-going group chat going on in iMessage with my partner and two of our best friends. One lives in Bellingham, WA where we all went to college, and the other is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua. Our chats mostly involve sharing photos of our lives, inside jokes, funny gifs and videos, or any other random thoughts that pop into our heads. Though I often talk to both of them on the phone or Skype, maintaining a constant stream of messages makes me feel like we’re all just hanging out.
These conversations with my friends made me think of the connections that can be forged by teaching library patrons how to use technology tools. Perhaps a parent wants to learn how to Skype with their adult child living overseas, or an elderly patron wants to finally set up a Facebook account to connect with classmates from years past.
I found myself nodding in agreement throughout Casey N. Cep’s article, “The Pointlessness of Unplugging.” As ubiquitous as tech is, so is tech anxiety. We’re afraid that using technology is somehow making us less human. This is odd, Cep writes, “because some of our closest friends and most significant professional connections are people we’ve only ever met on the Internet” and “because we not only love and socialize online but live and work there, too.”
As information professionals, we can’t shy away from embracing technologies that seem strange or intimidating to us. We have to be willing to explore and stay curious, because our mission is always to help people connect — with knowledge, information, and each other.
Over the course of the semester in the Hyperlinked Library, I learned so much about new and emerging technologies and their potential for library users. I explored diverse topics including online privacy, digital archiving tools, “book-free” libraries, and Bookface Friday. While these services do rely heavily on sophisticated and complex digital technology, at the heart of all of them is the library user. The technology only becomes useful when it can help people.
I used the site tagcrowd.com to create a word cloud of all the most used words in my blog. Predictably, it included words like technology, library, data, web, and digital. But what really stood out to me were the other frequently used words: service, community, access, shared, volunteer, learning, and, most importantly, connect.
This word cloud helped me see the big picture of what I’ve been learning and exploring in the Hyperlinked Library. Throughout our careers and information professionals we should always be considering how we can help people connect and learn and grow. Any technology we introduce or expand needs to be in service of those ideals, otherwise it’s pure techno-lust: technology for technology’s sake.
I know I will keep this in mind and take it to heart going forward, and it will be the lens through which I view any emerging technology in my personal and professional life.
As we lead increasingly digital-focused lives our photos, letters, and documents no longer exist in the physical realm. Hard drive crashes, data corruption, and disorganization are all too common and could be resolved with learning how best to store and backup digital materials. Furthermore, many of us find that we have personal artifacts that may only exist in fragile or inaccessible formats.
I propose creating a “memory lab” for personal digital archiving, where library patrons can use equipment to digitize photos, home movies, papers, and to provide resources for proper storage and maintenance of digital materials.
The Memory Lab at the Washington, D.C. Public Library provides a scanner, photo editing software, and equipment to digitize analog materials in different formats, including many video and audio tapes. Currently, the Memory Lab is moving to a new location but their model serves as inspiration for setting up a similar service.
I was watching an episode of the HBO comedy High Maintenance the other night and a scene stuck out to me. A couple characters’ elderly parents attend a class at a local library in New York City to learn how to use their new iPhones. While there are some humorous comments, the scene looked like exactly the kind of learning that is happening at public libraries across the country.
As someone who is comfortable and familiar with the digital world, I can take for granted that everyone can navigate their computers and smart phones. However, this is often not the case. Today, technological literacy is as essential as learning to read (Stephens, 2017). Access to new technologies and an opportunity to explore will help build tech literacy for library users of all walks of life.
A “book-free” library has already been open and thriving in San Antonio, TX for several years (Chant, 2014). Patrons have the chance to use e-readers, tablets, and utilize library staff as resources. After the holidays, for example, many community members visit the library for help with setting up their new digital gadgets.
In 2017, our smart devices have become an extension of ourselves. Libraries have a unique opportunity to fit into our lives right alongside our email, chat, and social media apps. We just have to be able to teach and learn.
A post shared by The New York Public Library (@nypl) on
As more and more folks of all ages own smart phones, libraries and other institutions are finding creative ways to engage with their customers via mobile applications. Libraries throughout the country have been utilizing Instagram, the massively popular photo-sharing app, to connect with their patrons. One example is the weekly hashtag #BookfaceFriday. For those unfamiliar, a Bookface “involves strategically lining up your face or another body part alongside a book cover that features a matching body part” so the cover looks like the person’s face or part of their body.
Needless to say, this inspires a tremendous amount of creativity from library staff, as well as getting patrons involved as an aspect of participatory culture. It’s a fun and unique way for libraries to connect with users on the platform they’re already hanging out on. Since nearly half of smart phone users’ time is spent on so-called “me time”, libraries have an opportunity to stand out in an entertaining way, as well as show off the creativity and personality of library staff. It’s also a great blend of traditional library services with modern mobile technology. This form of outreach makes libraries seem approachable and friendly, and can help younger users become more engaged with other library services.
From The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/aug/23/library-of-things-peak-stuff-sharing-economy-consumerism-uber
Creating a Library of Things
Though libraries will likely always be primarily associated with checking out books, a concept of loaning other items has started to gain popularity. Using a service known as the Library of Things (or LoT for short), community members can borrow household items, tools, appliances, bicycles, and more. Setting up a LoT is an example of participatory service that engages the community and brings more users to the library system.
Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service:
The LoT service gives users an environmentally-friendly alternative to buying and maintaining more stuff that is costly and bulky. Community members can also donate items they no longer need and prevent more things from ending up in landfills. It is an opportunity for providing community classes on building, gardening, bike repair, cooking, and more. Libraries can facilitate partnerships with community groups and non-profits to provide outreach to low-income individuals and families to be able to borrow items they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.
Description of Community you wish to engage:
Every member of the local community should be able to find something of interest at the LoT. Individuals who don’t want to spend money on a tool that they’ll only use once will be able to check it out from a tool library. A family hosting a cook-out can borrow dishes and other kitchen items. Community gardeners could get seeds from a seed library to plant some new crops. The LoT service would be aimed at fostering a do-it-yourself mentality among community members, and would aim for a broad reach across all groups.
Action Brief Statement:
Convince members of the local community that by borrowing “things” from the library they will save money, de-clutter their homes, and connect with their neighbors which will strengthen their engagement with library services because the library is a community resources for all.
Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service:
The Library of Things concept has been gaining momentum as more people explore alternatives to consumerism and looking to reduce their environmental impact. The libraries are widely used by community members and provide expanded services that users are excited about. Loaning items that are not traditional library materials helps increase users’ engagement with library services, strengthening the libraries’ ties to the communities they serve.
Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service:
The mission for establishing a Library of Things is to expand the library’s reach to engage all members of the community and provide free alternatives to often costly and bulky items. To establish guidelines and policies, the library should bring in existing community groups that already provide these services, as well as open meetings to the public in search of volunteers and donors. Guidelines for borrowing traditional library items (books, CDs, DVDs) can be transposed onto borrowing other items. Working with community members will help staff establish specific guidelines for the types of items borrowed. Good examples for developing policies are the City of Hillsboro’s Library of Things and the Sacramento Library of Things.
The LoT could implement specific late fees or cleaning fees for certain items, that could be tailored to correspond with the expense and time of maintaining the item. Additionally, in-kind contributions of items from the community could help to bolster the number of items available for loan. The library could send out a list of requested items and ask community for gently-used items or newly purchased items for donation to the library.
Action Steps & Timeline:
Start small! For example, here in Portland, OR there are several neighborhood-based tool libraries, which are volunteer run non-profits. Use community groups as a model or opportunity for partnership. That can be a prototype for setting up a LoT in a library space. Ask the public via email, social media, or in-person surveys what kind of items they would want available to borrow, providing different options to select from. Plan on creating a library of the top selected category. If the top category is unrealistic due to budget concerns or other issues, the second-most popular item/category can be used as Plan B.
Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service:
As a new service, it would require additional staff time to implement and set up the LoT. However, it could be a great opportunity to find volunteers in the community with knowledge and expertise to help manage the service. For example, a bike library would be a great volunteer opportunity for a cycling enthusiast. Reach out to local community groups for potential volunteers.
Training for this Technology or Service:
The LoT could primarily be volunteer staffed, so the library’s volunteer coordinator would take the lead on finding volunteers to train.
Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service:
To promote the LoT service, it would be shared from the earliest planning stage via intra-staff communications and during staff meetings. During the planning, the LoT service will be promoted via email lists, social media, and signage in the library. As mentioned before, users can vote on what items they want to be able to borrow, and the library can set up a social media campaign with “behind the scenes” updates as the opening date approaches. Also, reaching out to organizations in the community of hobbyists, members of the DIY (do-it-yourself) community, and organizations that work with low-income populations who could utilize the service.
The goals would be to increase the overall library usage, which could be evaluated alongside the number of members who check out items from the LoT. It should be relatively straightforward to see how many library members are checking out items from the LoT on a weekly or monthly basis, and plan on expanding accordingly. For example, if there’s a high demand for checking out sewing machines the library could put out a call asking for donations or allocate funds for purchase. The library should seek out community members to tell their stories about using the LoT to learn a new skill, or to utilize items they would otherwise not have been able to afford, or to put on a special event using borrowed items. There’s a substantial opportunity for member stories around community engagement and library access.
In a time when one in five Americans are online “almost constantly,” according to Andrew Perrin’s report about a recent Pew Research study, privacy is a major concern. As a technology user and citizen, I am nearly always thinking about what information about me is being shared across the web. I rely on Google for search and email, Facebook and Instagram for keeping in touch with friends, and apps like Waze and Lyft for getting around and navigating new cities. Even though I take more precautions than most, using a password manager and encrypting my data where possible, I know that I’m making a big trade off to use these services free of charge. After all, nothing is really free.
Most tech services use and share our activities and data to send us targeted advertisements. In the best case scenario, it’s pretty harmless, right? We’re all more or less used to being the target of high-paid marketing executives who attempt to sell us new TVs and soft drinks. What’s the big deal if Amazon shares our purchases with Facebook, who can then show us ads based on our past orders?
Well, it’s a pretty HUGE deal, if you ask most Americans. After Edward Snowden revealed the extent of data being collected by the U.S. government, privacy became a hot topic. Again, from Pew Research, about “93% of adults say that being in control of who can get information about them is important.” And based on what the podcast Note to Self found in their series called the Privacy Paradox, it turns out we don’t have a lot of control.
It isn’t hard to make the connection to libraries. There is a long history of the FBI seeking the activity and check-out records of citizens, and of librarians fighting back to protect their patrons’ right to privacy. The ALA has pretty clear guidelines about librarians’ responsibilities regarding privacy.
“In a library (physical or virtual), the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others.”
As more library services live in the digital world, it is more important than ever for information professionals to understand how digital information is collected and staying constantly updated on best practices for ensuring that everyone’s data is secure and protected.
“[T]he evolution of libraries and library service will include a pronounced shift from libraries as book warehouses to libraries as centers for discovery, learning, and creation via any number of platforms.”
The most common question I am asked when I tell someone I’m studying to become a librarian, is some variation of, “So, are you learning the Dewey Decimal System?” Though I realize they’re trying (unsuccessfully) to be funny, it does highlight the stereotypical and dated misconceptions of what libraries do. What my colleagues, friends, and family members don’t realize is just how much libraries have changed for the better to accommodate the needs of their communities.
Perhaps for young, middle-class professionals, the library doesn’t immediately hold a lot of appeal. That’s just were the books are, right? I can find any book that has ever been written and order it with a couple clicks from Amazon with free shipping. And I have Google for all the rest, right?
While that’s a pretty solid argument against the traditional use of libraries, it is very limited in its scope. Fortunately, libraries throughout the United States and the world are bringing in their users in innovate, engaging, and fun ways.
Libraries have morphed into spaces where folks can create and experiment, and the most innovative ideas have come directly from the library users themselves. I loved reading about The Mix in San Francisco, where the teen services coordinator reached out to teenagers in the community to help design the new space. The Mix has high tech tools for video production, music recording, as well as a “carpet garden” for a place to relax, read, or work on homework. The space was completely designed by the youth involved to meet their needs.
At the Rockwood branch of the Multnomah County Library, where I live, the staff set up a Makerspace to engage youth in the community. Rockwood is in an area of the county with a very diverse population, affected by poverty and gang activity. By presenting an empowering space for youth to create, the Makerspace has helped youth connect with library staff and their peers. Rockwood Makerspace has a 3-D Printer, laser woodcutter, sticker maker, and tools for designing video games.
“[T]he idea of connection is what is most important. We are here to help people find their place in the community, provide access to information and services, and help people connect through the stories they love.”
Like any “product,” libraries flourish best when they adapt to meet their users’ needs, rather than making assumptions about what services will work best. It is essential for institutions to be open and transparent about new initiatives, redesigns, or services to stay accountable to their users. Asking for feedback and suggestions every step of the way helps libraries establish and maintain trust from the public.
In this 2008 book, The Big Switch, Nicholas Carr provides an in-depth analysis of the development of cloud computing. Carr uses the history of how electricity came to be centralized as an antecedent to computing power being stored in the cloud. Much in the same way we plug an appliance into the electrical grid without much thought, the services we access through our web devices happen in some distant server farm. As Carr describes, this wasn’t always the case. During early industrial days, artisans had to generate their own power in order to run a mill or a small factory. It was only when electricity became a centralized utility that automation and the assembly line were possible. Similarly, office workers in the late 20th Century would need to connect to a company’s individual server to access files and software. Now, anyone with a web-enabled device can access and share their data via the cloud.
Nicholas Carr presents the history of cloud computing at a Google-hosted conference in 2008.
Carr calls this concept the “World Wide Computer.” The Web itself is a massive supercomputer we all have flexibility to tailor it to our specific needs.
“Our houses, like our workplaces, are all becoming part of the computing cloud. Each of us now has a supercomputer with a virtually unlimited store of data and software, at our beck and call.”
The dramatic shift to Web 2.0 means everyone has the ability to create and produce their own content and share it with others. Instead of using cumbersome software like Dreamweaver, anyone with an internet connection has the tools to build a sophisticated website or blog. A user can create a site on WordPress, post videos hosted on YouTube, photos from Flickr, etc.
“Many of the everyday interactions that used to have to take place in physical spaces — bank branches, business offices, schools, stores, libraries, theaters, even playgrounds — can now take place more efficiently in virtual spaces.”
To quote one of Dr. Stephens’ lectures, “the Web changed everything.” Just think of the daily activities you engage in online. How many of these things were impossible just a few years ago? This web-based MLIS degree would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. Yet we’re all able to communicate and engage with each other despite living all over the country.
Just as the web has changed computing for businesses and individuals, it has also expanded the possibilities for libraries. A few bullet points from Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service exemplify the framework for re-thinking library services in the 21st Century:
Library 2.0 is a model for constant and purposeful change.
Library 2.0 empowers library users through participatory, user-driven services.
Through the implementation of the first two elements, Library 2.0 seeks to improve services to current library users while also reaching out to potential library users.
Just as computers no longer need big hard drives, or to run software from a CD-ROM, libraries can become platforms that users can reach from wherever they are. I frequently use Overdrive and Hoopla for e-books, audiobooks, and music that I can access instantly from the library. A more “disruptive” (to use a tech buzzword) idea would be to rethink the library’s physical space. A branch doesn’t need to physically store every book or CD or DVD to be extremely useful. The library becomes a meeting room, or maker space, or Internet cafe.
Think of the physical media as being stored “in the library cloud.” I almost never browse the shelves at my local branch. Whenever I need a book, I reserve it beforehand and pick it up from the Reserves shelf a few days later when it’s available. What if libraries partnered with a service like Amazon Prime Now, where you could check out a book and have it delivered to your home or office in a couple hours?
Though published in 2008, Carr perfectly predicts the current state of cloud computing. As companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon bring their services into the A.I. (artificial intelligence) realm, there’s no telling what the future of information technology will be like. Fortunately, as information professionals, we’ll be ready to face the changes head-on.
Carr, Nicholas. (2008). The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service
As I began diving into the foundational readings and lectures, the phrase “the future of the library” kept coming to mind, which is perfectly summarized in this article on Slate. I am frequently asked by friends, family members, and colleagues why I am working on a master’s degree in library science. The question is a mix of curiosity and incredulity: Why invest so much work into becoming a librarian when libraries are outdated and old fashioned? After all, we now carry access to the entirety of the world’s knowledge and information in our pockets, right?
Spending some time with these readings has given me a better (or at least a longer) answer. I am working to be part of a new generation of information professionals who are redefining what libraries can be in the 21st Century. I love the quote from Brian Matthews that starts off this blog post. If a library is a platform, as opposed to a physical space or single website, it has a greater potential to serve the needs of all its users and to grow and innovate. As an employee at a tech startup, I am accustomed to the rapid change that is a necessity of staying competitive and meeting the ever-changing needs of our users. It is critical to always be looking ahead and being willing to try new things. If we release a new feature, we have to be prepared to hear from our users/customers/patrons and tailor it to their needs.
“If we remain steeped in nostalgia then I think we’re in trouble. At some point we have to take a leap into the future. Our focus can’t just be about adding features, but about redefining and realigning the role and identity of the academic library. We can’t map our value to outdated needs and practices, but instead, must intertwine ourselves with what’s needed next. It’s time to innovate.” – Brian Matthews
The library of the future is a lot like the Jedi Archives from Star Wars. Users have instantaneous access to any of the world (or galaxy’s) information in an electronic format. Though written in 1992, Buckland’s “Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto” perfectly predicts the changing form of libraries. Along with the traditional “paper” library, new automations and electronic resources have increased the efficiency of libraries to adapt to the changing needs of their users. In a way, libraries are the competition for tech services like Google, Amazon, and Netflix. The advantage is that libraries have a mandate to be free and accessible for all. I’m looking forward to exploring these concepts and ideas going forward, and delving deeper into the Hyperlinked Library.