Monthly Archives: September 2019

Flipping community needs assessment on its head

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Aaron Schmidt made this enlightening observation: Asking patrons “what they want from the library” is like asking me (tuba player-turned-librarian/archivist) to “invent a new way to do banking.” He “agrees with the motivating sentiment,” but clarifies that it falls short. “After all, asking the question checks the ‘get input from users’ box, and as the responses are rarely shocking, the library can feel like it is doing an okay job” (Schmidt, 2016).

This pairs almost exactly with Pewhairangi’s “A Beautiful Obsession” article about establishing “customer intimacy” with the “Most Valuable Library Members” in your community; as well as the differences between being “customer-focused” and “customer-driven” demonstrated in the article “Design, Deliver, and Decisions” (2014).

A wonderfully illustrative case of this concept is shared in “Madison’s Library Takeover,” in which library staff invited proposals for self-managed programs from community members, selected three, then stepped into supporting roles while these community members ran the programs (Smith, 2017).

Having been at a university library for 18 years, where most of our collection and program development has been driven by accreditation and faculty request, this approach required some significant mental adjustment for me. It’s no actual surprise, given the community-focus of several classes at SJSU, but the tangible nature of these concepts and this illustration pushed me into a different level of thinking. It feels like a very healthy kind of mental growth for me. Though I’m having a harder time seeing how this might be encouraged at my own institution. I’ll be having conversations with our Public Services librarians, so hopefully I’ll be able to follow up.

On a totally different note… how have I not read danah boyd before?! I looked at some of her other writing and, unsurprisingly, Cory Doctorow has referred people to her work. I want to share one quote from her talk, “the diversity of people who are building and using these tools to imagine our future is extraordinarily narrow” (2015). When it comes to collection and program development, this should be a huge reminder that we can’t just rely on the data shared by the “Big Deal” package publishers. We need to, as the above authors all shared, know our communities personally, closely, sharing life with them and using our own expertise to discover the ways that we can uniquely meet their needs.


boyd, danah. 2015. “What World Are We Building?” Everett C Parker Lecture. Washington, DC, October 20.

Pewhairangi, S. (2014). A beautiful obsession. Retrieved from

Schmidt, A. (2016). Asking the right questions. Retrieved from

Smith, C. (2017). Madison’s library takeover. Retrieved from

Surprise! You don’t own your stuff. (Review of CONTENT by Cory Doctorow)

CONTENT: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future. By Cory Doctorow, 

It’s 2004, and sci-fi author Cory Doctorow has been invited to present to Microsoft’s Research Group about Digital Rights Management (DRM). This is this outline: “1. DRM systems don’t work; 2. DRM systems are bad for society; 3. DRM systems are bad for business; 4. DRM systems are bad for artists; 5. DRM is a bad business-move for Microsoft” (Doctorow, 2008). 

Included in this talk are various illustrations demonstrating that when content is purchased, the owner should never be locked to a proprietary player/viewer. This creates a situation in which perpetual access to purchased content is entirely dependent on the vendor’s ongoing support of the platform. Doctorow goes on to make the case that it is in the best interest of everyone – the artists, the users, and Microsoft – for Microsoft to move away from distributing content and players supporting DRM.  

Fast-forward 15 years to April 2, 2019.  

Announcement from Microsoft!  

“Starting April 2, 2019, the books category in Microsoft Store will be closing. Unfortunately, this means that starting July 2019 your ebooks will no longer be available to read, but you’ll get a full refund for all book purchases” (Microsoft, 2019). 

Granted, I don’t know anyone who was personally affected by this decision, but it is a case-in-point that DRM works against users, even if you choose to purchase from a company as well-established as Microsoft.  

Doctorow’s response to this announcement puts it best, “Microsoft once had an ebook store filled with ‘buy now’ buttons—today, Microsoft tells us that we never bought anything, that we merely conditionally licensed it” (quoted by Restar, 2019).  

Content is a collection of 28 essays that examine copyright, the Internet, and DRM from a variety of different angles. All of these essays come together as a very strong defense against DRM, which he contends was created by distributors – in the name of copyright – to give these distributors a way to retain ownership and control of the content that they were “selling.”   

Copyright was conceived as an incentive for creators, researchers, and visionaries to share their ideas and thus spur on the work of other like-minded people. All the while, this expression of their ideas was protected such that they would be able to benefit professionally and monetarily.  

This was relatively simple… BEFORE the Internet. But now, we have the capacity to distribute content in a way that was unimaginable to those who designed copyright law. Doctorow pinpoints the core issue. “Here are the two most important things to know about computers and the Internet: 1. A computer is a machine for rearranging bits; 2. The Internet is a machine for moving bits from one place to another very cheaply and quickly” (2008). 

Some observations specifically related to hyperlinked libraries and librarians:  

  • The DRM issue is core to librarianship. We are increasingly being pushed into situations where we are renting our content, and even “perpetual licenses” have strings attached.  
  • We should be informing our users about DRM, purchase agreements, and licensing agreements. Basically, if there is DRM, a purchase isn’t really a purchase. It is a perpetual license to be enjoyed so long as the vendor chooses. 
  • The argument that DRM is the modern solution to copyright (and the protection of creators’ rights) doesn’t hold up. There is increasing evidence that authors (like Doctorow) who make their works available online for free have INCREASED sales of the same works in print. 
  • Pay attention to Cory Doctorow! He continues to stay engaged in this discussion, and I have found him to be uniquely thoughtful, knowledgeable, and articulate. And funny. His books are available (many for free download) at, and he blogs at  

An additional observation related to our core reading. @michael wrote,  

OCLC’s study, ‘Perceptions of Libraries, 2010,’ reports that the number of people who associate the word library with books has risen to 75 percent—up from 69 percent in 2005. As Borders stores have closed around the country and e-reader popularity soars, we need to focus on what comes next in the evolution of our services. (Stephens, 2016) 

As we consider the “evolution of our services,” I’d like to share Doctorow’s comments about new media vs old media.  

“New media don’t succeed because they’re like the old media, only better: they succeed because they’re worse than the old media at the stuff the old media is good at, and better at the stuff the old media are bad at” (Doctorow, 2008).   

To boil it down: there are strengths and weaknesses to print books, e-books on e-readers, e-books read in-browser, and audiobooks. There are also strengths to print journals, e-journals, indexed microform, DVDs, VHS (maybe?), CDs, LPs, audiocassettes… ok I’ll stop. Therefore, when considering what comes next, we have to look at the needs of our users, the strengths and weaknesses of new media/old media (including access/DRM) and determine what can be implemented to best serve our communities. 


Doctorow, Cory. (2008). Content: selected essays on technology, creativity, copyright, and the future of the future. Retrieved from 

Microsoft. (2019). Books in Microsoft store FAQ. Retrieved from: 

Restar, Al. (2019). You will no longer be able to read ‘Ebooks’ you bought from ‘Microsoft.’ Retrieved from 

Stephens, Michael. (2016). The heart of librarianship. ALA Editions. Chicago. 

Reflection on Hyperlinked Library Model

I’d like to try and pull some seemingly disparate ideas together:

“The hyperlinked librarian understands… integrating the new built on a foundation of core ethics and values. … To fight growth, to rebuke learning, is the same as not updating that annual edition reference, book, or not inserting the revised legal codes into the law book” (Stephens, 2016).

“The ancient Library of Alexandria was a prototypical think tank” (Mattern, 2014).

“When evaluating new initiatives, we should consider the library less and our communities more. Without this sort of thinking, we’d have never realized libraries with popular materials, web access, and instructional classes, let alone cafés, gaming nights, and public health nurses” (Schmidt, 2014).

“The most powerful information services to date are probably found in the palm of everyone’s hand” (Stephens, 2016).

The common idea running through all of these is a focus on the community of users and the library, as a space, facilitating the things they need. The “core ethics and values” (Stephens, 2016) at issue are those of knowing and serving the community such that their information-related needs are met. If serving the community most effectively includes a sauna, as Schmidt mentions, figure it out.

As I consider the wide variety of ideas shared in these readings, I repeatedly go back to the reading in Library 2.0 and the description of the three teams – Investigation, Planning, and Review (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007). Imagining the interplay involved between these three teams when trying to launch new programs and services seems kinda awful to me. I prefer the model proposed in Think like a STARTUP “distill the concept into a raw form and then go with it.” and “build ‘failure’ or adjustment into the process. Seek to validate… and revise them along the way” (Mathews, 2012).

Libraries have always been a place to collect information and facilitate ideological exploration. We need to continue to follow this same principle, even as our information sources become increasingly varied. This variety requires flexibility from staff, facilities, and infrastructure. It’s complicated, but our communities need us more than ever.

Stephens, M. (2016). Chapter 1 “Hyperlinked Librarianship” in The Heart of Librarianship

Mattern, S. (2014). Library as Infrastructure

Schmidt, A. (2014). Exploring context. (PDF Here: UX Exploring_context)

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0 : a Guide to Participatory Library Service.

Mathews, B. (2012, April). Think like a startup [White paper].

…at what cost?

Library 2.0, as a consequence or outgrowth of Web 2.0, has been a necessary move. The principles put forth in Casey & Savastinuk’s book are solid. They recognized that the information world had changed and, if the library didn’t change with it, it would be left behind. This idea is also strongly defended in Buckland’s manifesto regarding electronic resources. 

I have a nagging concern, and much of it comes from seeing my kids’ relationships with information sources. We have instant access to practically unlimited information. We no longer have to exercise so many mental muscles – those of patience, lingering curiosity, persistence in hunting down an information source, and others. 

I know our job isn’t to complicate the research process just to make the patron work, but I think it’s necessary to try and really see what it is we are losing as we further automate access to high-quality, life-changing content. We’ve outsourced that mental effort, the same way I outsourced my physical effort when I bought a car even though I could bike the 7 miles to work. Yes, I save lots of time, but I’d be in better health without my car.

Again, I’m not suggesting that we avoid change because reading and/or research should be hard. I do think we should seek to somehow quantify the kinds of things that are lost when patrons (myself included) have instant access to content via their cell phones. Can digital content on mobile devices have the same transformative effect as physical items? Does instant access cheapen the experience for the patron?

I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I think those answers may be related to the problems we’re seeing with the public struggling with fake news (“well I read it online and it looked like a real website”).

Even more concerning, I suspect the absence of struggle in the process might be related to calls for censorship against controversial ideas. When answers to questions are one “hey Siri” away, we don’t encounter opposing viewpoints as frequently and conclusions aren’t… earned? I’m not sure that’s the right term. But when there has been no investment of time or energy into “knowing” something, and then you’re faced with an opposing view, you have no resilience. Without that resilience, this opposing view feels threatening, so something must be wrong. If, then, this idea is a threat, someone needs to shut it down.

I don’t know if these things are all connected, but I do think it’s worth looking into.

Maybe I’ll ask Siri…

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