Choose Your Own Connections

I recall reading the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child. I needed to know all the possible outcomes, so ended up reading all of them. Digging through the Choose Your Own Adventure module of the Hyperlinked Library I couldn’t resist doing this again. This module offers a chance to evaluate how emerging technologies can impact different organizational settings where information professionals practice. 

Academic Libraries are places where the community consists of students, faculty, and staff. Trends for these spaces point to participatory and contributory models for genuinely engaging with the students by inviting them into spaces that will spark inquiry and creativity. With mobile technologies, students have the world of information in their hands. So what does the library have to offer them? Connections to people, experiences, and technologies provide the space for thinking, daydreaming, and collaborating. But these spaces also need to feel welcoming, safe, and accessible. 

The Hunt Library at NCSU is a truly inspirational space for what an academic library can deliver to its students. This is an amazing library!!! However, an academic library need not do radical reconstruction or deploy new technologies to meet the needs of their community. Simple yet meaningful services can be implemented by observing, asking, and listening to the students.

According to the College & University Food Bank Alliance, one in five college students experiences food insecurity. I love the idea of an academic library having a food pantry based upon the honor system, such as the one at Carroll University. Just last week, during my Sunday shift, I was approached by a student asking if we had one. The college does have a food pantry, but it is in the office of student life, which is only open during business hours. In contrast, our library is open earlier and later in the day and on the weekends. Placing this service in the library makes so much more sense if its purpose is to reach the community. Such is the case for the library at Keene State College who does this in partnership with the campus pantry, where pantry boxes can be checked out at the circulation desk. This could be a way of deploying such a service where staff may worry about community members raiding the pantry. 

Academic libraries can curate resources that inspire more meaningful research. The curiosity self-assessment tool used at OSU library is a simple yet helpful tool for provoking creative thinking.  I love this idea of asking students to illustrate the library as a vehicle. Libraries can survey the students by gamifying the process, as seen in this example where students pitch innovation proposals in a game show-like event. Exercises and events like these show the librarians and administration exactly where they can focus on improving the user’s experiences with the library’s information resources. 

Public libraries connect their communities to information, resources, and each other. In an IFLA post, Jakob Guillios Laerkes describes the Four Spaces of the Public Library model as areas that provide support experience, involvement, empowerment, and innovation. This model was central to the development of Denmark’s Dokk1 Library shows how the library best serves its community when it involves the community in its development. Our public libraries are central to creating these opportunities for our communities. Libraries empower mothers who rely on early literacy services for their children or those using public computers to apply for jobs, pay their bills, or keep in touch with loved ones. They create innovation for the entrepreneurs who can use the library to grow and develop their businesses. They create involvement to the patrons participating in classes, crafting, storytelling, and experiences for teens using makerspaces and studios to collaborate and learn.

Museums, Galleries, and Archives play a critical role in connecting the community to experiences. People may be invited into these institutions to see their own stories but often will be offered the opportunity to challenge or enhance their viewpoints. The way technologies contribute to our ability to participate in art, culture, music, and history paves the way for humans to grow closer to one another, even where languages and borders may keep us apart. The Global Guides at the Penn Museum opens opportunities for learning, pride, and empathy. Refugees can tell the stories of their cultural history and create connections within their new communities, but this also carves out a more significant meaning for the artifacts on display. Visitors gain a richer experience from these guided tours through the collection. Connecting to our past through volunteer projects such as transcribing for the National Archives or Smithsonian Institution provides excellent ways to preserve and refine skills, such as reading cursive and trace our roots that twist and overlap throughout time. By adopting emerging technologies, museums continue to remain relevant. The Met harnesses the power of the selfie and social media as a way of inviting visitors to experience their collections both in person and by proxy through digital human connections.  

featured image © 2021 Trilby VanDeusen

The User is the Sun

As I write this reflection on Participatory Service, Transparency, & Hyperlinked Communities I am sitting at work on a Sunday. Two things are on my mind. 1) Marketing and 2) The User is Not Broken. I work in the library at a large community college. For the first three weeks, not a single soul entered the building the entire day. In the last two weeks, as many as five people have entered the building on Sunday. It can feel pretty pointless and downright creepy to be in this massive building when it is so empty. During the last three semesters, the doors of the library were closed. College enrollment numbers dropped significantly over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic calendars as nearly all classes were moved online. So it could be easy to cast blame for this quiet Sunday schedule on to the pandemic. But this low door count number predates the pandemic. While it was not this quiet, our Sunday traffic was always significantly lower than the rest of the week. The complaint often found rattling around in my head was what a colossal waste of resources it is to be open.

Normally visitors only use the study rooms or computers. They do not visit the circulation desk to check out materials, nor they do not stop by the reference desk to consult with a librarian for help on a research question. As enrollment has continued to trend in decline over the course of the last five years, I often point to Sunday as a day to save money by closing the doors. I confess to bemoaning the people are not using the library. The Hyperlinked Library course readings have really helped me reframe my thinking about this. I now hang my head in shame for ever allowing myself to think in these terms.

What college students need most out of their libraries is space. Space to think, study, dream, or even take a nap.

Build it and they will come is not a mindset that is going to cut it in terms of library services. We need to always be connecting, engaging, and evolving.

Today is the first time in quite a while where I am working under a new mindset. We become transparent when we make visibility a priority. But we become invisible if we do not prioritize participatory practices. Frankly, I don’t think anyone knows we are open today.

Build it, and they will come" only works in the movies. Social Media is a "build it, nurture it, engage them, and they may come and stay. - Seth Godin

In Michael Casey’s post Revisiting participatory service in trying times, he makes a call for libraries to engage and integrate the needs of the community into the very structure of library services. Even though his post was written in response to a deluge of budget cuts impacting library services a decade ago, it paves the way for crisis preparedness. How libraries responded to the needs of their communities in the face of these budget crises, may have prepared them for how they were able to adapt and respond to the community’s needs during the pandemic. The libraries were forced to shut their doors, yet remain open and relevant to the community. Providing vital resources not only in the context of a website link to timely information but a mechanism for the communities to remain connected to each other while locked down in isolation. Libraries learned valuable lessons of how to respond and adapt to new technologies by providing remote programming and services. Some of these participatory services are now popular and libraries will need to make room for these services to remain. 

Every word of K. G. Schneider’s User is Not Broken (2006) meme/manifesto resonated with me. I have decided to use it as a personal manifesto for reframing my relationship with librarianship. Rather than focusing on what isn’t working, I am placing the user at the center of everything. I have a special interest in user experience in digital services, so I view the remainder of this post through that lens. And for me, that means marketing. Because a user can’t have the experience if they can’t find us.

Know your user. In Asking the Right Questions, Aaron Schmidt says “Our job is to figure out what problems our libraries can solve for our communities, and we can do this without asking them directly.” Asking people about their lives as Schmidt suggests, is far more impactful. Not only does this make them feel seen, it truly identifies their needs. Dwelling over circulation stats, door count numbers or Google Analytics is not going to inform us of what will serve the community. Look at what is happening outside of the library. What are people interested in, what do they do, where do they go? Use these questions to inform the services, programs, and collection development practices of the library.

Drop the jargon and the organizational structures. Make the user the sun, become obsessed with your community. Pewrainangi explains this most beautifully  “Community members don’t care about rebranding or whether your team is called ‘Collection Management’ or ‘Content Management’. Community members don’t even care whether a staff member has the right qualifications. All a community member cares about is: ‘How can you help me?’ I really identify with this issue. At my workplace, I am discouraged from answering reference questions. It always feels like a tremendous disservice to the customer when I have to redirect instead of helping them. 

Yes! I believe that library web teams (I speak from experience of having been on a few) are too focused on the search box and putting all the information a user might need access to directly on the homepage. In revisiting Schnieder’s manifesto, Bryan Kenny reminds us that library websites are marketing tools. Their role is to push programs and services to the community. I think library websites should take a lesson from current marketing trends and create a series of curated landing pages tailored to services and programs. It is all too common for library websites to be a confusing splash of information.

Users gravitate to that big search box because it is the most recognizable interface on a page. What if we flipped to the entry point to our websites from a link on a Facebook post or an Instagram story? Please don’t dump them onto your homepage. Let’s curate meaningful content relevant to the post that motivated the interaction in the first place. Ted Fons shares some great ideas for boosting library visibility on the web. We need to be playing by the web’s rules. Fons suggests making use of sponsored links and Google’s knowledge cards and maximizing the power of the semantic web. 

A.B.C. – Always be closing connecting – this is another marketing strategy that libraries need to prioritize. Casey mentions shortfalls in not making marketing a priority. That might come in the form of failing to update a blog or keeping the Facebook community active by failing to assign the duty. But it also means we must always be connecting.

Which likely means allocating some of our budgets and staff time to marketing. Imagine the impact on the community if the library is among the first in the search results in information seeking. Having already experienced resistance to a similar suggestion, my response is, how can we NOT AFFORD this?!? This is the key to relevant connections with our community. Our students can’t experience the library if they don’t know we are open.

A.B.C

Today marks the fifth Sunday of the fall semester. It is two hours until we close for the day and our first student just entered the building. They said they didn’t even know we were open on the weekend until their friend mentioned it to them earlier in the week. Well, there it is. We have just been waiting for them to come

My response, I am so happy you are here!

Context Book Review: Dear Data

Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi & Stefanie Posavec

Dear Data is so much more than a book. It is an experience, which I explored through three different platforms. First by reading the digital ebook on my iPad, which allowed me to zoom in on tiny details of each illustration. Then with the physical book, with each 8” X 11” page, the open book layout makes for a nice large format to pour over every subtle detail of the illustrations and data legends. I learned even more about this project by exploring the website. A note to new readers wishing to learn about this project, I suggest starting with the website, which offers the most detailed information. Lupi & Posavec share their notes and observations behind each of their postcards, week by week

Each week, and for a year, we collected and measured a particular type of data about our lives, used this data to make a drawing on a postcard-sized sheet of paper, and then dropped the postcard in an English “postbox” (Stefanie) or an American “mailbox” (Giorgia)! +

Beautifully illustrated, this book offers a new way of reading. Rather than exclusively drawing meaning through the written word, Lupi & Posavec give the reader a unique and intimate view of their lives, by reading the images and deciphering the data within. This unique presentation allows the reader to rethink their relationship with written communication. Analyzing the data graphs is unexpectedly intimate. At times, this can feel somewhat voyeuristic. The book is both inwardly and outwardly reflective. Reflective in that one can see themselves in the data and stories. But it also reveals human nature and the way people interact with themselves, their friends, their lives, at work, at home, in nature, when traveling. We can see ourselves, see the similarities and differences that link us.

At first, the book appears to be light in textual content, but each postcard is rich in media and symbol-based legends. Reading it is a very contemplative and analytical activity. Sometimes their cards are very similar, and others are very different. The legends reveal complexities in the writer’s thought process which evolves as the year of cards progresses. The creators note that some weeks feel too intense or personal for them to track and record. Yet, by doing so, the user gains insight into their coping mechanisms, emerging as a therapeutic process for the authors and the reader.

For example, I love the topic of privacy during week 51. Especially Stefanie’s version on p. 275, shown below. Here she uses black dots to conceal each data point, only letting the viewer see a hint of its meaning represented in the color-coded key on the legend. 

Front of postcard for week 51: A week of privacy
Back of postcard for week 51: A week of privacy

The postcards also introduce new ways of considering how to approach the public. Through the data visualization activities, the women learned more about themselves. These visualizations provoke the reader to see how seemingly unrelated things can link up. It shows how everything is connected, revealing the relationship between sounds, the city, time, significant others, food, choices, and decisions. Sometimes the postcards resemble musical scores, abstract art, scorecards, doodles, or cryptic messages written in a hieroglyphic language.

Lupi & Posavec purposefully avoided the use of technologies to track the data, except for a few times. Noting this was a refreshing break from constantly checking their devices to feel connected to the world. This activity demonstrates how one can be even more connected by unplugging from technology to make meaningful associations with real people. The cards show how we spend our time, providing valuable insight into human behavior. 

Everything can be mapped, counted, and measured. *

While reading through the book, I thought about how the authors plotted their weekly prompts onto their graphical illustrations as they went through the week, later creating the legend. However, the process is discussed at the end of the book, where I learned it was the opposite. Each card is carefully created throughout the week. On their website, you can learn more about the process. Stephanie and Giorgia share the methods they used to collect and record data, then carefully create an illustrative theme, and transfer the data to their visualizations.

Using Dear Data in the Hyperlinked Library

I’d like to think this book also introduces unique ways in which libraries and museums could evaluate the data that steers decision-making. Tracking circulation stats, or door count numbers, or the number of questions answered at the reference desk rarely paints a picture of how users are really interacting with the library. In reading Dear Data, I was flooded with ideas of how to make look at events that happen in libraries in a different way. I plotted many on this interactive dashboard and invite you to join me.

I invite you to participate with this interactive idea board.

Click on the image to visit the interactive content.

To draw is to remember. **

* quote from p.xi. Dear Data Lupi, Giorgia & Posavec, Stefanie. (2016)

** quote from p.284. Dear Data Lupi, Giorgia & Posavec, Stefanie. (2016)

Can the Hyperlinked Library break through complacency?

Retrieved from: memecreator.org

I started thinking about the Hyperlinked Library when Michael Stephens first mentioned it during a lecture in my INFO200 class. There were two things he said that piqued my interest. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was essentially referring to a point he makes in the Hyperlinked Library lecture and whitepaper, that: 

  1. The most powerful information services to data are probably in the palm of our hands.
  2. People’s information-seeking behaviors will travel the path of least resistance.

Current technologies allow us to simply ask the artificial intelligence that rests at the ready in our cell phones or smart speakers. 

  • “Hey Siri, what is a Library?” Siri reads me the definition as written in Wikipedia’s article about “Library“. 
  • “Hey, Google, what is the hyperlinked library?” This research question returns a series of links to Stephens’ lectures, the SJSU course, video clips, Tame the Web, etc. 

Now, what if libraries worked at inserting themselves right in these search results? This is where information-seeking is happening. Even inside the library! So libraries need to be there!

People are not searching for information in their library’s catalog. The library website is not the destination for information seeking. This interface mainly serves as a resource for internal stakeholders. Old habits and resistance to change keep libraries thinking this is a valuable resource. It is not. I have not found the OPACs very user-friendly. They tend to return a cascade of confusing results. Libraries are everywhere, so if this is the case, let’s put them front and center where people are looking for information. 

Variant of the “Be like Bill” meme for the #1Lib1Ref initiative

Wikipedia is one of the most visited sites in the world. But it is the only one that is entirely created by volunteers and managed by a non-profit. Fantastic! Richard Cooke of Wired Magazine, suggests that it is our global town square – is this a Hyperlinked Library? Its articles are often found in the top five results returned in a Google search. Libraries need to insert themselves into this place, where people are doing their information seeking. Projects such as the OCLC’s Wikipedia + Libraries lay the foundation to build upon, teaching libraries how to contribute Wikipedia. The #1Lib1Ref campaign and other Wikipedian groups such as art+feminism, or Black Lunch Table collaborate with libraries and museums to organize around adding new articles that are inclusive of underrepresented people. It is amazing that we can connect with people, on a global scale and exchange information and ideas. The Wikimedia Foundation’s framework is ripe for being a space for this to happen.

In a recent podcast, Zack McCune, the brand director for Wikimedia Foundation, mentioned that The WMF wants to develop methods for capturing people’s oral histories and adding them as articles on Wikipedia. This would create an opportunity for people to be contributors to the project even if they don’t have the skills or technologies on hand to edit Wikipedia articles. What an incredible opportunity this is for a Hyperlinked Library to facilitate something like this! 

Wikimedia has already beat libraries to the punch, recently solidifying their symbiotic relationship with Big Tech. But what is Wikimedia? The information within is merely the result of a small community of volunteers who commit to curating articles, images, sounds, or digital assets that are machine-readable and highly searchable via the world wide web. To me, this sounds an awful lot like a library. So accessible and surprisingly accurate enough that Big Tech links this data to the search function of their artificial intelligence systems we all carry in the palm of our hands. 

These are the type of ideas my mind runs with when I think of a Hyperlinked Library. Yet, I know first hand, there is an awful lot of institutional baggage weighing down the ability for something like this to take flight on a large scale. Several of the foundational readings make some poignant references to these internal barriers. 

  • The worst-case scenario
  • The resistance to change
  • Locking things down
  • Analysis paralysis
  • Libraries are warehouses for books. This is a public perception, but I also have witnessed this being an internal one as well

So much of the literature covered in our foundational readings and the Hyperlinked Library module describes a need to innovate, look forward, plan, be open to change, and meet people’s needs. I find all of this very inspirational and motivating. Yet, I often feel like the internal barriers are insurmountable. I feel powerless in a sea of complacency. 

We can’t hire a few creative and improvisational individuals and expect them to deliver new service models if the work culture is not ready for new service models. We can’t expect entrepreneurialism to flourish in a tradition-obsessed environment. We can’t just talk about change; it must be embedded in the actions of employees. Innovation is a team sport that has to be practiced regularly“. (Mathews, 2012, p.3)

The Hyperlinked Library module includes some fantastic examples of what libraries can do if they are entrepreneurial enough to take the risk.  A lot of them are public libraries. I wonder if public libraries are more responsive to the needs of their communities? Can an academic library be a Hyperlinked Library? There are an awful lot of institutional barriers in place. Tenure. Working semester to semester, faculty are unwilling to take on changes that can be resolved inside of an academic year. Let alone dig into work on a long-term plan. I hear “we’ll do that next year” or “I don’t have the bandwidth to do it now” or the dreaded “that’s not my job”.

I love the concept of this profession, helping people, connecting them with the information they need, connecting dots, wayfinding, introducing people to new ideas and technologies. Libraries are for people, not books!  The Hyperlinked Library describes exactly why I wanted to work in libraries. It is exactly what motivated me to pursue an MLIS. 

If we can teach our students about these new things, but they enter a workplace culture that doesn’t support transformation, their skills will go to waste. Thus, librarians should seek to encourage and facilitate learning of all kinds within our spaces” (Stephens, 2016, p.11)

This quote really resonated with me as an information science student. I am finding myself feeling cautious of what lies ahead. But, I also recognize my role in advocating for the changes I wish to see in LibraryLand. I am super pumped by the idea of working in the Hyperlinked Library. Where is it, and are they hiring??

References

Mathews, B. (2012). Think Like A Start Up

Stephens, M. (2016). The Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful Change

Featured image: The Untangling of Chaos

An Introduction to me…

Why this class?

I started at the iSchool in Fall 20, taking two classes at a time I plan to graduate in Fall 22. I knew I wanted to take this class the moment Professor Stephens mentioned it in the INFO200 lectures. Excellent marketing! His engaging and thought-provoking lectures were the highlight of that first semester for me. Originally I thought I would save this class to take alongside my eport in my final semester. However, the classes I have taken since INFO200 have left me craving some more energy and inspiration. For that class, I researched Wikipedians which introduced me to a very deep rabbit hole of interconnected global communities. I look forward to exploring more ways of linking people to information and information.

I currently work in a community college library doing a variety of projects that range from cataloging to web development. I originally enrolled in the MLIS program with the intent of earning the credentials to work as an academic librarian. But I have become increasingly frustrated with how slow long-established institutions like academia have been at embracing meaningful change. I thought the pandemic would force some of this, but I am personally witnessing pandemic fatigue as the new semester is getting underway. So many colleagues just want to go back to the way things were prior to 2020. 

A bit about me.

  • I live in Arizona. I moved here to live at Arcosanti, an unintentional community in the high desert. I was really attracted to the idea of living in a community that would be entirely free of automobiles. I stayed for nearly ten years, because I fell in love with the sky, particularly the fact you could see the Milky Way. As someone who grew up in a city (Philadelphia), I was totally awestruck by the vastness of everything.
  • I settled in Phoenix, Arizona which represents the antithesis of everything Arcosanti tried to teach me. But, the desert is my muse. I paint vibrant botanical folk art inspired by the alien-like plants of the Sonoran Desert. 
  • My husband and I are empty nesters. Our twin daughters just started their senior year of college, they go to the same school in Massachusetts.
  • In addition to full-time work and grad school, I am a mixed media artist. I mostly paint vibrant botanical folk art, but I’ve also worked with metals, ceramics, and fiber. Here is a photo of me standing in front of one of my paintings. 

I was so fortunate to work from home for 18+ months, and in that time I learned something very valuable about myself. I want to work from a virtual office, I prefer working in an environment where I can dig into detail-oriented projects with only my cats to distract me. I don’t want to be tied to the commute, or even the same location. I haven’t traveled enough. I want to connect to people and information in digital spaces and make connections that could transport me to new places and experiences. I am so pumped to dive into this class, I know it will push me beyond my comfort zone (if I let it).