How Do You Do It?

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.


#CILDC Day 1 Keynote: Innoventing

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.


Pinterest and Podcasting

It’s always nice to see my last name spelled right, especially when it’s done by the AP. I was mentioned in a recent article about Pinterest, where I put in my shout out to libraries. You can read it at the Wall Street Journal, for one: “Interest spikes in Pinterest, notably from women.” Yes, you read that correctly. I got two sentences.

How did I get my freight train of a name mentioned? Twitter. The AP tech writer was asking on Twitter for Pinterest users to tell her their story. I’m not even sure who retweeted it in my feed, but when I saw it I sent her a quick message about libraries using Pinterest. That was an angle she hadn’t heard mentioned yet, it seemed. We set up a call about a week later and talked for twenty minutes or so.

My brief paragraph in the story mentions that Pinterest doesn’t require you to be friends with other users to see their pins. Add something to your board that others find appealing, and without even knowing who you are, they can re-pin and comment on the pictures you post. So without having cultivated a friends list on Facebook or a followers list on Twitter, you can reach the public eye. That’s pretty cool.

With “The Hunger Games” movie about to be released in theaters, that seems like a great opportunity for libraries to get people interested in the book (and the next book people might want to read after they’ve finished the series).

There’s also been a fair amount of concern about copyright issues with Pinterest. That’s actually one of the topics I’m covering in the March edition of SWONtech News. SWONtech News is a monthly, hour-long podcast that covers tech topics from the past month. I work hard to get past the press releases and share first-hand reports. So whether that’s Pinterest, the new iPad, or ebook publishers, I look for news that’s of interest to libraries. And if you’re a contributing member to SWON, this program is free. Register here.


Libraries, Google, and Space

At the Letters to a Young Librarian blog, Jessica posted today about the reason she’s not worried that Google is ringing the closing bell for libraries. To quickly summarize, she says that Google can’t compete with libraries because a library is a physical place. People get together there. You can’t get together at Google.com. Go read her post, and then come back.

Here’s why I’m not as comforted by this thought than I’d like to be: Google’s not a place, but it’s in other ways an every-place. Google is in the coffee shop or cafe or wherever community life is happening. Some people will accept the lesser information and assistance of Google if they can choose the place to use Google services. I think that’s a poor trade-off when it comes to doing good work, but I can understand why people might make that decision.

When I’m in coffee shops near campus, I always see students at work on their laptops with headphones plugged in. The coffee is part of the pull, but it’s not all of it. I chose coffee shops to work in myself, sometimes, to get away from the too-quiet of studying by myself at home or in the library. I wanted a hello and half-conversation with the barista. I wanted the opportunity to run into a classmate for a friendly interruption.

It’s not that libraries don’t offer this kind of community, but there are an awful lot of people walking past the front desk. A lot of times there may not be an interaction until the person has a question or is ready to check out–very late, compared to buying a coffee when you enter a cafe–assuming they aren’t using the self-check-out scanner. It’s a challenge to make personal connections, and I’m not sure those connections rank highly on library priority lists.

Community connections like this are vital to coffee shops. Without a vibrant community, a coffee shop will close. This happened in my neighborhood. Our corner coffee shop quickly became the central hub of the community. We’d see friends while walking to it, catch up with friends and meet new people when we were there. It was open early, but little parking made it difficult for the morning crowd, and it was never open late enough for the college crowd. Despite lots of traffic, volunteer workers, and love, it couldn’t stay open. It’s been closed a couple years now, and although people from the community still meet to try to reopen it, it still hasn’t happened.

It’s not that libraries aren’t under cost pressures. Certainly they are. But it doesn’t seem that they’re under the same month-to-month risk of running in the red and closing their doors for good. Libraries don’t have the same pressure to build community, or at least it seems that they don’t feel that their lives depend on it. Having a space isn’t enough.

Having an espresso bar isn’t enough either. But having open doors doesn’t mean that a community will adopt it as their space. I don’t think libraries should replace coffee shops as a Third Space, but I do think they’re often have the same audience. If it were vital to get college-age students into libraries, the coffee shop challenges would be familiar: what hours are the doors open, what events take place there, what room is available for interaction and study, what vibe does it have?

Libraries can take on Google any day of the week when it comes to useful information. But with Google available every place that has a WiFi network, libraries and Google aren’t just competing for ideas. They’re competing for space. And that puts libraries into competition with unlikely contenders.


You’re not really a librarian

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.


So I says to the survey

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?


SWON 2012 Teen Reading Challenge

SWON 2012 Teen Reading Challenge logoThis morning we lit the fuse on the SWON 2012 Teen Reading Challenge. We have 160 participants and counting this year, all reading young-adult-oriented books for fame and glory. Okay, the fame would be pretty local. The glory…. They’re doing it because they love to read, and we’re excited to host the Challenge again this year.

I’ll be writing some posts here about the Challenge. It’s about the reading, for the participants, but here at the blog is about the tech behind the Challenge. As I’m in touch with Challengers, and as data starts to roll in, I’ll share the view from SWON.

For example, I was included on an internal team email (nothing covert, it was their idea). The person who sent the email mentioned that she’s recording the books she’s reading this year on Pinterest. With several people on the team already using Pinterest, it will be pretty easy for them to see what other people on their team are reading. Plus, those book covers will pop up for other Pinterest users. It’s a pretty low-energy way to share what you’re reading. Shoot, it says you read books period. That’s no bad thing.

Anyway, more updates as events unfold.


Reader’s Advisory: Secrets Hurt

Last week, when SWON’s Readers’ Advisory special interest group met, I got to join them. The group was doing a run-down of their favorite books from 2011, and I did my best to live-tweet the meeting. That is, I wrote up book titles and author names and abbreviated comments. You can read these mini-write-ups at the SWONtech Twitter page.

In the two hours that the meeting lasted I wrote up over 40 books, and I missed a couple that flew by too quickly. The books ranged from young adult to sci-fi to non-fiction to mysteries and literary fiction. They covered a lot of ground, and I walked out of the room with a list of books I wanted to read. What happens to all these great recommendations? What happens to all this great information?

The 5(?!) librarians in the room aren’t keeping it a secret. They talk to patrons and to each other. That’s what this special interest group is about. And I’m sure that their in-person recommendations are way more helpful than the 12-word description I was able to type up. They get to ask questions and have a conversation. A one-on-one chat seems like the best way to give readers’ advisory advice. But I think the next best way is Every Other Way.

I’ll admit that I like to think about top-down approaches. I like to think about ways tech can help people find books to read. SWON’s Teen Reading Challenge is doing this. We’re challenging librarians to read as many young adult titles as they can between February 1 and April 30. Read the most pages and earn bragging rights among your peers and, more importantly, collect a lot of first-hand knowledge of YA titles.

The way participants show that they’ve read a book is to submit a “Reading Report.” This includes basic stats about a book but also collects the reader’s impressions of the book: what they liked and disliked about it, matching genres and audiences, and read-alike titles. I’d like to put this into a database they could easily search and use after the Challenge is over. Year over year, this could turn into a pretty hefty resource. But I can’t turn this into a GoodReads- or LibraryThing-scale project.

We’re a small team, and we have to think on a small scale. So the plan, at the moment at least, is to make the Reading Reports available in whatever ways we can. We don’t have the resources or visibility of a site like GoodReads. But if we’re willing to share information with lots of people, in lots of formats, we can still reach a broad audience by word of mouth or word of tweet or however the word spreads.

But being willing to share information isn’t enough. We may not want our recommendations to be kept secret, but if we only give them to people who walk up and ask us, that’s pretty close to a secret. People who walk into the library looking for a book who walk out empty-handed? That hurts. It hurts the case libraries are always making for their relevance and utility. This may not be the kind of hurt the cues slow-motion videos of teary-eyed children, but it still smarts.

I’m not giving up on the idea of a searchable database for our Reading Reports. In the meantime, I’m going to try to say yes to sharing that information in every other way. Make a flyer of books that received lots of positive reviews? Sure thing. Send out an email of boys-interest books? Yep. Blog about it, tweet about it, talk about it? All-three-yes. Let’s see what it’s like to say yes and invite people to use our information in their own inventive ways.


Color e-paper is coming

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.


Who speaks for your library?

This past Wednesday, I gave my first SWONtech News webinar. Log in for an hour and you’ll find news and research that relates to libraries. I’ll be blogging about some of the stories that I covered there, especially since the story topics (like e-readers and ebooks) will continue to develop for a long time to come.

One topic I discussed was social media use by libraries. We looked at screenshots of Twitter’s redesigned website. For new users, especially, it makes important features (@Replies and #Trends) more visible. I encouraged (pushed?) listeners to engage on Twitter in a professional capacity. By that I mean connecting to peers and patrons.

While I was speaking someone typed into the chat bar, “Our library doesn’t have a Twitter account.” Believe it or not, this may be good news. Publishing announcement-type posts to Facebook from the library as a whole might be done by several different people on staff. In that case, it’s the news that’s important, and not which person posts it. These announcements are important, but they aren’t very personal, and it’s not very surprising that they don’t receive many comments.

You can use Twitter to supplement announcement-type posts by tweeting as a human being. Use your picture in your profile, not a picture of your library. Follow other librarians. Follow news organizations. Retweet (share) the information you find, and be open to sharing some of your personal responses and activity. You represent your library, but you aren’t its official and only voice.

Who speaks for you library? Lots of people do. Libraries are part of communities of people, whatever type of library they happen to be. Twitter is an easy way you can speak for your library as an individual. If you’re willing to field comments and questions (whether directly or simply with links to current information), your 140-character tweets can accomplish a lot. They can also help patrons build relationships with libraries–with the people who work there and not just the building they visit.

Tweeting from your own account, instead of the library’s, is a great way to complement the communication efforts of your library. Yours isn’t the only voice speaking for your library, but it’s a voice that counts.