If you’ve been to a conference of any kind, you’ve probably been in this session: The Tour. At The Tour, you see lots of photos and read plenty of lists off the screen. You may even see a video with a techno soundtrack as a miniature tour within The Tour.
I tend to check out of these sessions pretty quickly, if what they built isn’t something really new or unique. If I can understand what you’ve done by visiting your website for 10 minutes, I didn’t come for The Tour. I want to know how you built the thing you’re showing off. How did you get funding? How did you decide how to spend it? Do you have one-time or ongoing funding? How did you decide how to set your goals? How did you identify your audience?
To be fair, these are difficult questions, and they’re often pretty personal questions, too. But just because they’re local questions or issues doesn’t mean that they can’t be instructive to others. Sometimes these are the key questions others struggle to answer. All your funding came from one very generous family? I can’t replicate that, but maybe I will consider grants differently if I see that that’s funding my project in other cities. (That’s a good thing to mention to possible funding orgs, too.)
Like one of the speakers this morning said, I’d rather try and fail than not try at all. Similarly, I’d rather hear specifics that I might not be able to apply than get The Tour and walk away with nothing but pictures.
Jeffrey Phillips, VP of OVO Innovate on Purpose. Already sounds like one of the programs we’d have at the library, right? His talk was about innovation, not innoventing (which is a word made up by Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s character on “30 Rock”).
If the speaker’s title alone makes you want to striking a finger-gun pose, hey me too. And thinking about the range of libraries SWON represents, I want to shoot those finger-guns up in the air. Lots of our libraries don’t have an Executive/Middle Manager/Staff setup like a Fortune 500 company. So I don’t think there’s a direct translation for a lot of his ideas to libraries.
But I do think we need to build innovation in to what we do. That is, we need to create processes around innovation. How do we describe new ideas? What vocabulary goes with them? How can we allow ourselves to entertain questions that don’t match up with answers we have in place already? How do we discover new trends and look for ways to build off of them? Without processes, these activities will come as a surprise. We won’t be sure how to respond to them. And coming up with a way to respond will burn energy that should go into the idea process.
Building processes builds a culture that accepts and searches for innovation. If we create a way to talk about it, we create value for the process. And we need to talk about it. It’s great to see front-line staff on Twitter, talking about the new ways they’re engaged with patrons and technology (to barely begin a list).
We need library leaders, whatever their title, to be vocal about changes they see and changes they want to drive forward. This doesn’t need to take place on Twitter, but it needs to take place where people can see it. That is, not just in board meetings or private conversations. If you want this to be part of the mission of your library, show it by telling people about it.
The next session’s about to start. To quickly end, this process-building isn’t up to each of us individually. Let’s work this out together.
The K-M The Librarian blog comments on a recent discussion between a school librarian and student. Here’s how it begins:
“The other day I got into an ‘argument’ with a student about whether or not I was really a librarian. His position was that I wasn’t a librarian–I was actually a teacher who happened to have an office in the library.”
K-M says she thinks the student was trying to wind her up a bit, but librarians sure feel the friction of people who don’t really understand what librarians do. I don’t think librarians themselves are having a crisis of identity by a long shot, but I think public perceptions of librarianship are more important than ever.
I have a crazy friend who likes to tell me that libraries are on their way to extinction. He says it partly to wind me up, too, but I don’t think he’s kidding. To him, libraries and books are almost synonymous. As the importance of physical books declines, he argues, so do libraries. Ask a librarian for help? What could librarians offer him, a PhD candidate? He says this with a straight face.
Libraries are about a lot more than books on shelves. But let’s be honest, there are a lot of books on shelves. A lot-lot. It does take a fair amount of effort to keep all those books in the right order. But what can creep in is a perception that a library is like a stable, with books instead of horses. Librarians keep books well groomed and in the right stall, and now and then they let the books out to get some air and exercise on the condition that they’ll come back soon. But there’s also a lot of wheeling carts around.
This is nonsense. It’s turning a library into a hotel that’s run exclusively by housekeepers. Or a Starcraft match of teams that are only made up of workers. But it seems clear that people don’t really know what librarians do. Or they know some of what librarians do–some of what goes on in libraries–but not all, and certainly not how librarians really spend their times.
As our information continues its shift to digital, I think public misperceptions of librarianship have increasingly dire implications. Images of the shushing librarian aren’t positive, but images of an irrelevant librarian are much more damaging.
We do tell people what libraries are about. We need to do it a lot more. We have to give lots of examples. We have to share those stories everywhere, and we need those stories to be current. That probably means sharing work that isn’t as highly polished as we might like it to be, or work that’s a little more personal than we might prefer.
We can’t wait for people to ask us what we do (Hint: If they aren’t asking, they think they already know the answer). We have to tell them. We have to show them. And we can’t wait for the ALA or another nation-wide group to start a campaign. A librarian is a teacher? Absolutely, and lots more. Let’s keep writing the new definition of librarianship, but let’s do that where everyone can see.
The SWON 2012 Teen Reading Challenge is up and running. Right now we have over 180 participants. Since Wednesday, they’ve reported having read a combined 16,000 pages already. Not a bad start.
We’re expecting to collect several thousand Reading Reports from Challenge participants, so we had to interview several survey applicants before choosing one. In past Challenges, SWON used a SWON-built MySQL database to collect information on the books people read. In terms of the Challenge, it collected everything it needed: book information (including number of pages) and the reader’s rating of the book as a bonus.
When I sat down in front of that data, there seemed to be an opportunity to collect information that would improve its usefulness for Readers’ Advisory users. Adding their opinions about the book could help others discover books they’d like to read. So I wrote a short-list of questions and got some feedback from Actual Readers’ Advisory Librarians. I’m no DBA, though. Modifying the current MySQL database is more than I know how to do, and a short timeline meant I needed to find a different solution.
So I looked at a couple different survey tools. The first was Survey Monkey. We have a Basic (read “free”) account there. That only allows for 100 responses. There lots of situations where that limitation would be fine, but the Reading Challenge isn’t one of them.
Next I looked at Google Docs. You can build your own survey there, which is linked to a spreadsheet that you can use or download to Excel. I built a quick survey there, including a question about genres. It seems like genre is the king of subjectivity. Put a couple CDs into your computer and watch with horror the genre names that come up. (Sure internets, I have 40 CDs that match “Alt. Country/Folk”) To be useful info, people need to be able to select multiple matching genres. So that’s what I built in my Google Docs survey.
That’s what broke my Google Docs survey. When I added some sample data, which selected multiple genres, Google put all that data in one cell. For example, let’s say that I chose to enter a book with the genres Historical, Mystery, and Science Fiction. Google’s spreadsheet would record that in one cell as “Historical, Mystery, Science Fiction” under the column heading “Genre.” If I want to create a formula that counts how many books matched the genre “Mystery,” I’m going to have to write some fancy scripts to discover Mystery in the middle of a text string. I’d rather not.
It’s much easier if the spreadsheet creates a column for each genre. You end up with a lot more columns, but who cares. A very simple formula will tell you how many books matched the genre “Mystery.” It’s also easy to find how many books matched “Mystery” and “Historical,” or “Mystery” but not “Science Fiction.” I didn’t quickly see how to set up Google’s spreadsheet this way, so I moved on.
We have a paid account with Constant Contact, which includes a survey builder. A quick test build there confirmed that selecting multiple genres was no problem–each genre is given its own column. I’m not a huge fan of Constant Contact’s WYSIWYG tools, and that counts for the surveys as well as their emails. Look at the HTML they generate to see what a mess it is.
The formatting for the survey was screwy too, with lots of blank paragraphs making for long pages of blank space. When I emailed their tech support about it, their fix was to edit the survey questions in IE or Firefox 3. Uh, okay. There’s evidently no HTML editor for surveys as there is for emails. In IE, I had to edit each question twice. The first edit removed some paragraph breaks and added others; the second edit finished the job. Yikes.
Constant Contact won’t let me update the questions once a survey has been published. This makes sense in some ways, but it means I can’t update the list of teams in the survey, which is too bad. It’s up and running, though, and I’ve exported data from it to make sure it works (and get that 16,000 pages number). Are there other survey tools you’ve used that are worth considering?
In some ways, this is news like it’s news that Apple is working on an iPad 3 or Google is working on a new version of Android. Of course they’re working on new products; of course companies are working on color e-paper displays. The conversation really gets interesting when there are devices to look at.
Electronic Paper Display
I’m using e-paper as a generic term for display technologies that try to mimic the experience of reading a printed page. Generally this means they rely on natural ambient light instead of using a backlight. But beyond that similarity there are big differences between manufacturers.
E Ink’s Triton display
E Ink is the company that builds the displays in the black & white Kindle, Sony and Nook e-readers, among others. Look at all the devices using E Ink’s screen technologies in this table of e-readers (6″ devices especially). E Ink is practically running the table. This is usually what people mean when they talk about e-ink devices, since it’s what they’ve had direct experience with.
E Ink displays use microcapsules….just watch this video from E Ink that explains how they work (start at the 45-second mark if you just want to see the explanation).The screen flash that happens when you turn a page on a Kindle makes a lot more sense, seeing this. Those microcapsules have to rotate into place to display an image or page of text.
This is true of the display in the Kindle, and it’s true of E Ink’s new Triton color display. Here’s a demonstration on YouTube (skip the first 30 seconds) that shows that familiar flash. Video isn’t coming to displays that use microcapsule technology, but devices that use this tech are on the horizon. The ECTACO jetBook Color is set to ship in January 2012. $500 gets you this color 9.7″ touchscreen E Ink display.
Qualcomm’s Mirasol display
For a different approach, Qualcomm’s Mirasol display uses pixel tech more familiar from the LCD world. Watch their explanatory video here. Qualcomm creates tiny squares (tech folks call them sub-pixels) that reflect light of different colors: red, green, and blue, just like a laptop’s display. They’re so tiny that the combinations of red-blue-green (and black, when not electrified) appear to be a single color to the eye. A set of red, blue, and green sub-pixels is called a pixel.
This technology can refresh what’s on the display more quickly. There’s no flash. Their demo video makes it look more like a tablet, and it is in fact running Android. They boast that it can show 40 frames per second (DVDs show 30 frames per second), but watching a demo of the display being used (start at 1:15). The touchscreen does not look very responsive. It can play video, however (start at about 3:05), so I don’t know if the slow response is related to the display or the processor. Its price is about $300.
Either way, neither the Triton nor the Mirasol displays are iPad-fast by quite a stretch. The quality of their color displays also depend greatly on the ambient lighting conditions. The last Mirasol demo, for example, has a bright window behind the device. That’s just about the worst lighting you could choose, which is why the colors look so washed out.
So color e-paper is coming soon. If these are the technologies available for it, will people want it when it comes? I think it will take more than an illustration or two in a book to overcome the cost and limitations of these displays.