Reflections on New Models

In previous courses, as well as in life experiences, I had started to draw together a loose thought of libraries as both incredibly enduring and highly dynamic. I don’t mean that in an organizational sense, but rather in a sense of what the word “library” fundamentally encompasses. Recent course readings draw me back to those thoughts.

The library is an enduring institution in that it is surely among the archetypes that have appeared throughout history – over many thousands of years – the most frequently. Some of the most famous civilizations are known for their libraries. Their preservation or sacking has marked historic moments of triumph or decline. Libraries have been known in centuries past as centers, not just of accumulated records, but of culture and learning.

Despite the fact that they have been so significant to humanity for millennia, there are also rapid, frequent and dynamic shifts in what libraries do and are, at least on the practical level. Concepts that have become mainstream, such as the library of things, would hardly have been recognized as being associated with the traditional library just fifty years ago. Today, academic articles on library technology or practice from just ten years ago can seem obsolete.

Lisa Page’s interview with Eric Klinenberg in Library Journal really underlines this. Klinenberg speaks of “social infrastructure” and the fact that libraries serve a vital community and social role now that goes beyond and is more encompassing than it may have been several decades ago. Yet this is in some ways a return to the idea of libraries as palatial centers of culture and learning – just democratized – reaching everyone! Our libraries are, as Klinenberg notes, essential to our well-being. That’s why he emphasizes that new models of serving the community through libraries must include everyone.

Emerging Technology Planning: E-Reader Training Program

Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service:

There are many breaking trends in the library technology field. It might be imagined that the most important are those that are the newest on the scene. However, certain recent experiences convinced me that a different subject was in order. I recently encountered two people in my personal life (not in a library setting) who remarked to me that they were confused and unsure of how to take advantage of the e-book offerings at our local library. One was my own grandmother!

E-books have been offered in one form or another through our local library system for several years, so the fact that there is still uncertainty in the community is an issue worth addressing urgently. Therefore this proposal concerns the implementation of e-reader training programs in our library as a regular feature.

Technological implementations will be of no value if our user communities are not able to make use of them.

This concept underlines a key principle of user engagement: technological implementations will be of no value if our user communities are not able to make use of them. This use must provide for equitable access – in this case making sure that age in no barrier. As Amy Gardner notes in the introduction to her report Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries “access to… digital literacy skills are essential for full participation in modern society.”

A 2013 article by K. T. Bradford in Digital Trends argued that “borrowing an e-book from your local library is still a difficult and confusing process that varies wildly depending on what kind of e-reader or device you own.” Unfortunately, six years later while improvements have been made, many patrons still find this description to hold some truth.

Description of Community you wish to engage:

The anecdotal evidence suggests that older adults may experience difficulty in adapting to new technology. Our local library recently switched software providers of e-book library services. They now use the Overdrive and Libby systems. These provide a useful app for users to read e-book materials on a variety of systems, and checkout can be integrated directly into those systems. While the features offered are great, the switch left some users unsure of how to fully access the technology. Training should be provided both in-person regularly as well as through easily-accessible self-tutorials. This second mode is important to meet user preference, as contrary to common assumptions, “self-training using text materials” was listed by Mitzner et. al as a common user desire in their study Older Adults’ Training Preferences for Learning to Use Technology.

Action Brief Statement:

  1. Convince older patrons that they will be able to successfully use e-book hardware and software after attending library-sponsored training sessions.
  2. Convince library staff that training patrons on e-book software is a critical part of the library mission and referring patrons to this training program will greatly benefit the patrons’ experience.

Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service:

A curated list of the resources I found most useful on this subject:

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service:

The library has historically participated in educational and training programs on a wide variety of subjects. The policies for these programs will be relevant to this project. In fact, the library may have participated in a one-off training on this subject some years ago. Example policies can be gained from these past programs. If the library wishes to offer e-readers as part of our library of things, the policies and guidelines relevant to other items in the library of things would be relevant.

Because this is a plan for the implementation of a training program, no new policies may be needed. However, an internal guideline should be created regarding the level of familiarity and expertise required to be an instructor. Of note: training is a special skill, and the ability to teach is needed in addition to subject expertise.

Training is a special skill, and the ability to teach is needed in addition to subject expertise.

I note that Raphael Heaggans from Niagara University has suggested the following in SRATE Journal as considerations for training seniors on technology-related processes: “larger screens, larger keyboards… learning styles inventory that assesses how seniors best learn, repetition of steps, discussion of how technology can improve seniors quality of life, and practical application.” These sensible ideas should be incorporated into the vision and training for this program

Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service:

There are two models to consider. First, a library assistant could be assigned to conduct these regular training programs. This would be a relatively minimal impact to the library budget, as this would be at most a few hours each week, and the library has a substantial staff presence. However, it may be that grant funding can be obtained, as training older adults is an important endeavor supported across many governmental organizations. Local community colleges also often participate in similar programs, so reaching out to partner with them on this project could reduce expenditure and increase awareness.

Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service:

As mentioned above, there is a second model that could be envisioned to mitigate staff time commitment. It is good to note that our library has a large number of volunteers from the community. It may be that library staff could, as a one-time time expenditure, create training materials for use as self-tutorials and assign willing and well-qualified volunteers to use that material in conducting trainings. Volunteers at the library already participate in homework help programs for students. They also lead occasion enrichment classes and book groups. Therefore they may be well-suited to participate in this e-reader training for older adults.

Action Steps & Timeline:

I propose developing the training materials and subsequently scheduling a series of classes with the use of a staff member. Then willing and well-trained volunteers can conduct programs. These sessions can then be compared to determine if the use of volunteer instructors is of equivalent quality and effective outcomes. That data can then inform whether to proceed with full-scale volunteer roll-out, or whether to return to staff-led training programs.

This will be subject to approval of the relevant assistant-director-level approvals, by the team responsible for program offerings.

Training for this Technology or Service:

As noted, initially the materials and plan will be developed by library staff who are highly-familiar with common e-book hardware and software. They will make use of training guides produced by the relevant companies. Then this material will be used by library staff and by volunteers to teach the classes. The training for volunteer instructors can be scheduled at a time that will accommodate them best within the library’s regular operating hours. The volunteer services team that manages volunteer on-boarding can surely participate in this scheduling process.

Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service:

After approval, advertising in the program catalog that is periodically produced will be appropriate, as will online advertisement. As a service particularly developed with older adults in mind, partnering with senior-oriented organizations such as the senior center and the city government’s recreation department is highly desirable.

Evaluation:

While quantitative data certainly has its place, a training program like this is most-appropriately evaluated by a review of user-responses – how did the patrons being trained find the training? Are they using their e-books more now? Is e-book circulation up at the library? As Michael Stephens noted with regard to library technology more generally in his article on Taming Technolust: “the return on investment for many of the emerging technologies will be proven with qualitative data such as positive stories from users.” This idea holds true as well for training effectively on our e-reader software and check-out programs.

Reflections on the Hyperlinked Environment

The report on the high use of libraries by millennials is a heartening signal of the continued importance of libraries. Libraries that choose to make the best use of the hyperlinked environment are surely the most likely to meet the needs of those high number of users. In trying to envision what thinking is needed moving forward, I found Jakob Guillois Laerkes’ article on his implementation of the “four space model” to be useful. These are ideas that can seem fairly simple, but using a simple framework for planning can help focus on what’s truly important.

The “four spaces” model is a great focusing tool for library progress!

Laerkes notes that the inspiration space folds in story-telling and artistry to make public libraries a space where experiences happen. The public library I frequent as a patron has some excellent experiences. I particularly appreciate the focus of participating in going “beyond your familiar choices.” This exposure to the new is a feature of the hyperlinked environment. The article also considers how learning goes beyond just reading-based learning, and includes play and artistic learning. In this age where an incredible and explosive amount of knowledge and learning is available, libraries are indeed becoming “houses of access” as one librarian remarked in a Pew Research study.

Hillsboro Public Library’s Collaboratory is an excellent space for making and creating!

Meeting spaces bring people together and performative spaces creative sharing. These four features do meld with my experience anecdotally of what patrons seek from the public library. Keeping a focus on these ways of moving forward will help us fulfill the mission noted by Marie Østergård in an article by Michael Stephens: “libraries for people, not books.”

Reflections on Contagious: Why Things Catch On

I was interested to read Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger. It’s the sort of book that I wouldn’t mind going back and reading a second time someday, as I thought a number of points were quite thoughtful. The book discusses the idea of why certain concepts and products spread widely while others do not. This is examined principally through the lens of a business and marketing researcher. However, there are a number of insights that are relevant to the exciting opportunities library institutions have to operate in our changing world. I note that since libraries are not businesses, not all the concepts are a good fit – but some of them can!

Author Jonah Berger provides a preview of the questions his book addresses.

In particular, assessing how libraries can communicate their value to the broader community is an essential project that this book can assist with. In a fascinating course with Professor Patrick Sweeney, we looked last term at how libraries advocate politically for their funding and continued growth. A major takeaway was that libraries can’t take for granted the community valuing them. There is always a competition for limited funds, and libraries must advocate for their share. Simple ideas such as the importance of emotion and triggers in communication from this book could be of use in that effort.

Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk’s Library 2.0 is an excellent treatise on the “what” and “how” of participatory libraries. The observations on libraries as a space of “constant change” (p. 22) are well-taken, as is the advice that “the willingness to change and be open to new ideas will directly impact the success of your library” (p. 36). But the need to effectively and constantly communicate these new offerings to the community is essential if participatory libraries are actually going to be used. In The Heart of Librarianship, Michael Stephens mentions “radical community engagement” (p. 10) as a way to look at the library’s relationship with the community it serves. That strikes me as a deeper connection than the marketing-style communication discussed in Contagious, but the tools from Contagious could be useful in starting that radical engagement.

Libraries seek to engage the community they serve.

First, I note the idea of the interaction of public and private consumption and engagement. Libraries are, and ought to be, strong guardians of personal privacy. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t use social engagement to generate excitement and awareness around their activities. Berger observes that “if people can’t see what others are choosing and doing, they can’t imitate them.” He goes on to note that “solving this requires making the public private” (p. 139-140). His concept here is that of increasing behavioral residue – an elaborate term for things that remind others of the activities we’ve been engaging in. Libraries can use this idea by providing physical artifacts of their service that circulate around the community and build awareness of the services provided.

Another quite simple concept that makes intuitive sense for use in the library space is practical value: “useful things are important” (p. 158). The author walks through diminished sensitivity, whereby winning $20 instead of $10 is more notable to us than winning $1,020 instead of $1,010 is, although the actual difference is the same. This works in favor of what libraries provide, but can remind us that trying to highlight all services may cause an overload that doesn’t allow the best to shine through. The practical value will stand out if the most surprising and valuable services offered are highlighted (e.g. how much is saved by checking out e-books as compared in financial terms to purchasing on a Kindle).

Berger recommends creating “behavioral residue.”

Another great idea for communicating the value of libraries comes in the natural idea of the importance of stories in creating contagious content. It’s not enough to create a memorable story though. In order to use stories effectively one must “make sure the information you want people to remember and transmit is critical to the narrative” (p. 201). Michael Stephens touches on this concept of how stories are important to libraries’ core mission, and it’s a natural idea to extend storytelling to the mission of sharing the library’s importance with the world.

In sum, Berger’s Contagious is a worthwhile read as a summary of consumer communication techniques. Libraries don’t have consumers, we have users and patrons. There is an important difference, and while some have advocated for viewing libraries in way more akin to a business, I am resistant to that concept. Our uniqueness is a strength. That said, the need to communicate and build awareness is something shared by libraries and for-profit businesses. Using the concepts in this book is appropriate in developing that effort.

Reflections on Participatory Service

An automated library check-out machine is a common example of library automation.

There were a number of quite interesting concepts in the suggested readings the past few weeks. One subject of special note was raised in an article by Claire Zulkey discussing the idea of automation and self-service in libraries. The future of libraries is such a source of fascination to many people, as technology has changed the mode of delivery – and perhaps influenced the mission – of libraries to a degree not experienced in decades past.

The increase of automation is something that has influenced conversations about all parts of society. There is even a current presidential candidate who has made responding to automation a central campaign purpose. In my community, our public library system has used automated book dispensers as mobile library stations to expand access. But since libraries without librarians tends to shock the sensibility, this article started to ponder the question: how can we use automation without fundamentally transforming the reference experience?

The article provides a pro-automation message, arguing that when used correctly, in a model that builds collaboration and trust, these tools can greatly expand access and satisfaction. One statement by a library administrator was particularly informative:

“That’s the danger that a lot of people fear with automation, that it will replace something better with something worse, but I think it can be really useful to think about it as a step toward something.”

We should all pay close attention in the coming years to see how library professionals can shape that “something” in a way that benefits our communities.

Reflections on the Hyperlinked Library

One of the questions I often am asked when discussing my graduate studies with those not in the LIS world is: “What exactly is library science?” That’s not the easiest question to answer because it can seem that the field is advancing so rapidly. Pondering on the answer to that question is one of the reasons I am excited to dig into some of the course readings on the hyperlinked library. One article by Steve Denning attempted to answer the question “Do We Need Libraries?”

I thought this article well-captured the reality of the changing landscape libraries exist in. There is a tension between what traditional users have expected and the need to meet the actual needs of the modern user. Denning notes that the answer is to “rethink what services are possible with the new technology” rather than merely try to provide the same services with more technology. There are obvious examples of this in most large libraries, such as Makerspaces and Libraries of Things. Denning provided good advice to go beyond asking how to do the things libraries have always done in a better manner, and instead ask “what needs could libraries meet that users haven’t yet even thought of?”

I also found myself intrigued by the remarks of Christian Lauersen in his article on inclusion and diversity in libraries. I happened upon this article when browsing the curated resources on diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion for librarians. Surprisingly (to me at least) I’ve noticed there is sometimes resistance to making needed changes to what have been traditional library norms, even when those changes are clearly needed to meet the needs of the community of users and better include historically-marginalized folks in that user community.

A quick-hitting summary of the need was found in Lauersen’s comment “Diversity is being invited to a party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” In our libraries we have to find both new ways to meet users’ current needs, as well as ways to break with the past given that not all potential users have been included as well as they ought to have been. Throughout this course I’d like to keep thinking about how to make sure inclusion is at the forefront of building the hyperlinked library.

Adventure

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” ―J.K. Rowling

Here I am at the Library of Congress last year… what a fun adventure that was!

One could fairly say that I chose this course because it seemed interesting and practical. But perhaps more poetically, one might say that I chose this course in order to enjoy the adventure. The world we live in is defined by the connections between people and organizations, and so much of that is housed online now. So learning about the hyperlinked institution seems like a way of better understanding the fundamentals of our hyperlinked world.

As for my personal background, I’ve been enjoying attending SJSU iSchool for a couple years now. I’ve been completing my MLIS part-time while working. In the past couple years, I’ve also been spending more and more time on a variety of political and community involvement, most recently in leadership roles. That has been incredibly rewarding, but certainly a major time commitment.

I look forward to learning alongside all of you!

Skip to toolbar