The Power of Surprise

Before and after beginning my MLIS journey in the SJSU program, there were two questions that I was continually asked when I told people I was pursuing librarianship:

  • But what do librarians even do?
  • Isn’t that job going extinct?

–As I am starting this post, I feel like I am writing an intro that has been written by so many MLIS students before me. (I know I probably have already written a post for another class like this). I think most of us have experienced confusion and concern from family and friends (sometimes passing acquaintances) about our career path.

But bear with me because I had a somewhat exhausted epiphany today.

When people would ask me these questions, my answer was sometimes vague and rambling. Other times, I would have a direct answer that was short and concise. Recently, I had gotten into the habit of using the phrase “information mediator,” but this would require further explanation. I came to the realization that perhaps the reason that I had never had the same answer is because there wasn’t a clear direction. Current information professionals and aspiring librarians must start choosing one. The readings in this class have given me an idea of where I would like to see libraries expand.

As I was reading the material for the hyperlinked library model, I continually harkened back to the Mathews (2012) article, Think Like a Startup. First off, I just want to say that I loved the style of this article. The analogies were fantastic and helped me grasp an integral part of the library movement happening right now in the information profession. I particularly enjoyed the part about building a strategic culture in the profession by making adaptation inherent in the profession. Innovate and iterate is the mantra that I am taking away from Mathews.

The readings for the hyperlinked library model furthered these concepts, and ultimately led me to my epiphany, which is:

Libraries need surprise.

Much like the students at the beginning of the other Mathews (2010) article, Unquiet Library Has High-Schoolers Geeked, people need to be surprised and coaxed into recognizing the library. Using cell phone technology during learning activities allows students to interact with their classmates and the information they are learning. These surprising changes in the library can influence changes in the classroom.

Another way that libraries could use surprise is by surprising patrons with new, innovative library design. In the article titled DOK Delft, inspirational library concepts, five concepts about innovative libraries are enumerated. The author, Jasper Visser, describes previous experiences at a museum or a library as very quiet and hushed, but at DOK Delft the colorful design and the spacious, uncluttered environment encouraged the patrons to interact with each other. Before designing the space it is imperative to conduct user research in order to create spaces that will surprise patrons by fulfilling a need they would not associate with a library.

Finally, the article, Exploring Context: The User Experience, also encourages innovation in library design and programming. Just because an idea is unexpected or uncommon does not mean that the idea is illogical and should be completely disregarded. The example that the author, Schmidt, puts forward is the concept of a library providing showers to the public. As Schmidt explains, cultural and geographical context may provide a reason to include showers in the design of a library. While this is is unusual idea in our neck of the woods, this idea could be life-changing for patrons in a different part of the world. The heart of the article is insisting that all ideas are good ideas. Innovation occurs when creativity and practicality meet. By remaining open to all ideas, the library can continue to evolve.

Bottom line, surprise will get patrons in the door. What will keep them coming back? More surprises. More change. New and creative ways to learn and access information.

7 Thoughts.

    • @srhcrawford great to talk to you! It’s been a couple semesters since we’ve had a class together, I believe! Thank you! I think it was a fairly blatant point to make about libraries needing surprise, but for me it was a moment of clarity. Sometimes we can overthink or get too caught up fixing a problem that we forget to explore new projects.

  1. “Recently, I had gotten into the habit of using the phrase “information mediator,” but this would require further explanation.”

    I like this! I refer to myself as an ‘Informarian’. This was in part because my family likes to sing me the song from The Music Man… “Marian… Madame Librarian.” But truthfully, we are more than people who know about books. Truly, we must be the people who understand how to access, evaluate, analyze, and share access to information. All sorts. So the title change makes perfect sense.

    • @flane ‘Informarian’ is great! I love that! I’m totally going to start using that phrase 🙂

      The Music Man is a big movie in my family. My grandfather used to sing ‘Marian’ to me all the time (and he would sing ‘Till There Was You’ to my grandmother).

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