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Tag Archives: technology

1/ Experience Protyping for a Library to the Elderly

Recently a comment that was added to my Library Outpost entry that is worth expanding upon. A user posted a link to the Wiki from his service Design class, and it turns out one of the student projects is a new service model for a Library to the Elderly. The service itself is pretty great, here’s a summary for those who haven’t already clicked through:

In shorts terms the use of the service is a following. The users can access the service, when it is offered in their nearby area. They order the requested materials by filling out an ordering form. The user hand in the ordering form at the sub point and within a couple of days, the users can pick up their materials at the sub point. The library retrieves and packs the requested orders and make sure that they get delivered to the sub point. The delivery is taken care of by an elderly assistant, who is hired by the library. This elderly assistant goes to the nearest library or book bus stop, picks up the ordered materials and brings them to the sub point and distributes them When the users are returning the materials, they hand it in at the sub point for the elderly assistant to bring it back to the library.”

I think the thing that really got me excited about this page was the diagrams. They are absolutely beautiful, and they do such a great job communicating the service from different points of view. In service design they call this sort of storyboarding experience prototyping. Read a definition from servicedesign.org. As libraries worldwide reassess the way they distribute information and media in the 21st century, experience prototyping is a useful tool for determining what works and what doesn’t from the point of view of all the different stakeholders. Have a look at a diagram from the page:

2/ An Event This Week

Going on Tuesday with Maura the Librarian to hear Michael Gorman, James G. Neal & Maggie Jackson “The Book Is Dead! Long Live The Book!” at The New York Society Library. Psyched, this should be a good one, I’ll be sure to post some thoughts afterwards.

3/ Microfinancing as a model for collection development.

This is an idea that popped into my head this week that I’m pretty excited about, one that I started kicking around with the Playful Librarian, Panoplyculture, and my buddy Adam who is launching LittleShoot. What if a public library reconsidered collection development using a microloan model? Imagine a site that works similarly to Kiva, but instead of offering microloans to entrepreneurs in developing nations, you offered books and media locally to people who need them? Say a kid in Brooklyn really wants a new manga book or something, but its always checked out at the public library because its new and its hot. He could create a profile and a wish list on the site, and then potential donors could browse the site looking for the person they wanted to help out. The donor then finds this kid and his wish list and in a few clicks purchases the book through Amazon, it gets shipped to the kid, and then when the kid is done with the book it is returned to the library (if it hasn’t bee totally destroyed) to add to the collection. The whole transaction counts as a circ for the library, and in essence really takes building the collection back to the community on an indvidual basis. In my opinion, one of the reasons Kiva works so well is because psychologically donors want to feel like they really connected with an individual, one that they see and can understand through a profile and pictures. Its the personal connection that makes the difference. This NY Times article talks about tech with a social mission; earlier today library tech champion Linda Braun tweeted “Do you think libraries can learn anything from Mozilla and the Internet Archive” in reference to the article; perhaps building a platform like this for libraries to add to their existing collection development models would be a possibility?

4/ Everything else

Here’s all the other things that have been keeping the mental gears turning this week. This is the blog version of a run-on sentence. I’ve been meaning to talk about how awesome I think Aaron Schmidt’s Social database mockup is over at Walking Paper. C.C. Pugh over at This is Here offered me an interesting comment the other day that I believe relates nicely to Aaron’s concept.

“Is it possible to bridge the physical and digital information areas? The emphasis is that discussion is on building a personal data-set, and from all manner of miscellaneous procedures. It’s tools will be handy, but desire paths are specific and intentional. Libraries are object-centered social spaces, but their social objects aren’t books; they’re the links between books.”

(of course with Aaron’s mockup we are talking about articles, not books- but the point remains the same) Just to be clearer about what desire paths are, look to the Playful Librarian again:

“Desire path is a term used by landscape architects to describe those informal dirt walkways worn into lawns or fields by people finding the shortest distance between two points. This is such a wonderful phrase and like most wonderful phrases could be appropriated meaningfully into other contexts—like, for instance, information science, which counts among its primary mandates information pathfinding.”

Does Aaaron’s “FindBook” concept take us a step closer to observing, measuring, and learning from people’s information desire paths? I say yes it does. Take a look at his mockup:

Moving on from that, I’ve started digging into some social media marketing strategy stuff, since everything we do is only useful if we find the right way to put it out there and reach people with it. This is unfamiliar territory for me, but partly because I’m currently about to embark upon a redesign mission for a major website, and partly because “web 2.0″ is just plain the web at this point, its time to learn a thing or two. Have a look here at a fascinating post on Socialized that describes the difficult transition to this 2.0ness in the marketing field. I wonder how we could measure the effectiveness of something like Aaron’s FindBook if our mean of collecting usage data is antiquated and not relevant to the social web?

Finally, as we try to bridge the digital and the physical in creating services, I was really excited by the book Designing audiences, in which Katie Salen (video game designer) creates a physical avatar situation in meatspace with her Karaoke Ice project. Katie says that in creating the project “we asked ourselves, ‘How can we combine the notion of karaoke as a participatory medium and the notion of character-as-interface’”. The solution? This crazy mute squirrel character that drives around an ice cream truck and facilitates good-times karaoke on the go. Sadly the site I linked you to doesn’t do the idea justice, I suggest taking a look at the Designing audiences book, where she speaks with Erik Rodenbeck of Stamen, Stefan Bucher of Daily Monster, and Ze Frank of lotsa stuff.

One last thing: check out Matt Webb’s presentation and blog entry about Snap, which basically acts as a web interaction aggregator. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all. Til next time…

This is going to be slightly in broken English since its a new idea… but I think its worth developing. My earlier post, “Lets build a prototype” received some worthwhile criticism. But I think I have a new and improved idea…

Here’s the basic premise- like this Kuniavsky guy says, devices are service avatars.

  • phone > phone service
  • ipod > itunes store
  • kindle > amazon store

This train of thought is what originally led me to think we need to build a library device. But that is wrong. We already have a device, it just lacks embedded information processing power. Its the library card.

(actually many have information embedded already in a magnetic strip, it just needs to be expanded upon)

There’s no reason that content needs to be delivered and dispalyed on your device in a physical computing environment. Instead, your library card contains your profile, which has preferences (even information content- ebooks, mp3s, whatever) that are updated either manually or automatically every time you use it to access library content. This could mean that you offload your information profile and preferences- you keep it on you, physically on your library card- and then you reload it to the library system when you are using the library, in a library facility or remotely. You own your information shadow and keep it privacy protected, physically. You can display it or share it at will, when you are logged in via your card.

This of course requires building a social aspect into library OPACs, and integrating that w/ any database access. But its all doable.

Its time for the library card to evolve and have increased funtionality. Lets make it a worthy service avatar.

  1. update:
Just wanted to note that adding functionality to a library card doesn’t need to get all deep and social-networky and whatnot to be useful and important. What if the card could just function as a disk or flash drive, just so that patrons could store docs on it? If nothing else this increased functionality justifies taking the issuing of library cards a little more seriously. It even makes a library card desirable in a whole new way, perhaps the first step to creating library “service envy”?

Another update:
I was talking about library “cards” in this post, really just because of our familiarity with this object and its design mappings.  But it should be clear that when you change the function of an object, you change the form of the object.  If we add functionality to library “cards”, they no longer need to be card-shaped, right?  The “card” takes on another form, maybe a keychain, a flash drive, a bluetooth device, or some other library-specific, branded device or service avatar.

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into user experience and service ecologies at the public library lately. The very nature of what public libraries do necessitates a much more complex investigation than a normal “customer service” scenario would. Developing empathy-driven service for a population of stakeholders as diverse as the entire borough of Brooklyn is a daunting task! Anyways, I’ve been doing a lot of research/reading, so I think that for a little while my blog entries will speak mostly to this subject for a little while.

Marshall McLuhan speaks of technologies as extensions of the human body or mind that modify one or more of our physical or mental abilities. A telephone is an extension of the voice and the ear. A hammer is an extension of your arm and hand. A skateboard is an extension of your feet and thus your ambulatory abilities. McLuhan also points out that every extension also creates an amputation. I like to think of Newton’s 3rd law of motion here, paraphrased as every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This phrase that has been drilled into our heads since elementary school science class really does a nice job illustrating the effects of a technology on a larger information ecology. This is really the basis for ecology thinking in general: anything you add to one part of an ecology subtracts from another. Ecologies are always shifting to maintain equilibrium. Here are a few examples of amputation I pulled from someone’s website:

“An example of an amputation would be the loss of archery skills with the development of gunpowder and firearms. The need to be accurate with the new technology of guns made the continued practice of archery obsolete. The extension of a technology like the automobile “amputates” the need for a highly developed walking culture, which in turn causes cities and countries to develop in different ways. The telephone extends the voice, but also amputates the art of penmanship gained through regular correspondence.”

Reserving library materials online for localized pickup has been a huge tech-enabled access triumph for public libraries over the last 10 years. I feel pretty comfortable saying that the number of materials patrons access in this manner continues to climb every year at all public libraries, but if there are exceptions out there please tell me. I’ll add that I think this is great: anything libraries can do to make their collections more accessible is desirable. But if every action does have an equal and opposite reaction, if every technological extension has its amputative counterpart, then we need to be aware of and reactive to such a scenario.

A library website is very much a service extension for the institution, and any services made available via the web can also be regarded as extensions of “traditional” library service. Consider the amputations that run counter to the library’s extended presence on the web. Decreased foot traffic (which we then offset by creating a “push” to physical services from the website). Decreased foot traffic also means decreased physical browsing (we are trying to offset that amputation by creating browsable OPAC interfaces). It means less peer-to-peer interaction as well (we try to offset this one with 2.0 web tools). All of that said, if it becomes ubiquitous for people to reserve their books online, where in our carefully collected statistics will we see the amputation or decrease reflecting the extension or increase in that type of material circulation?

I am a strong advocate for responsibly implemented new technologies in public libraries, in fact I think our future relevance depends on it. A thorough analysis of our complex service ecologies, considering both quantitative and qualitative data is becoming increasingly urgent so that we can better understand the relationship between our extensions and amputations. Further, a thorough analysis is not enough: we need to be prepared to react to our findings and actually change based on the results. The Pew Internet project, which is more data gathering than a thorough service ecology analysis, found that 2/3 of all public library users come to the library for internet access. Great. Happy to hear it. Are we going to DO anything about it????

picture-1.jpg

Last Friday I went to Nextcity: The Art of the Possible, a Rhizome event at the New Museum. Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design, artist/designer/educator Christian Nold, and artist/architect J. Meejin Yoon of Howler & Yoon all spoke with Adam Greenfield of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. This was their agenda:

“Emergent digital technologies are rapidly changing both the face of our cities and our daily experience of them, whether invoked in the production of architectural form, the representation of urban space, or our interface to the locative and other services newly available there. Dynamic maps update in real time; garments and spaces deform in response to environmental, biological and even psychological conditions. We find our very emotions made visible, public, and persistently retrievable. Somewhere along the way, we find our notions of public space, participation, and what it means to be urban undergoing the most profound sort of change.”

Though I get pretty excited about emerging technologies, particularly when they are approached from a philosophical stance, I was most interested in how this panel would address public space. It seems clear that public space will be defined differently in the rapidly approaching era of ubiquitous computing. Adam spoke briefly of Starbuck’s business model being based on Ray Oldenberg’s concept of “Third Places”: places that are neither home nor work, but places where people can publicly interact. Christian came right out and said we don’t really have many true public spaces left at this point. I, the public librarian, sat in the audience, squirming in my seat when the conversation turned in this direction.

Public Libraries are the best examples of public space (or public place, if you want to get technical) in America that I can think of. Public libraries are places of information exchange, places where knowledge is created, shared and dispersed. Libraries are the front line, they are cultural centers where anyone can bring any query and they can be answered or directed appropriately. I find it fascinating to listen to developers of open source software and data visualization projects talk about the way their work makes publicly available information accessible, manipulable, and usable for anyone and everyone. Those developers really work with the same mission public libraries do, yet somehow they represent “the future” and libraries are stuck with this archaic image as book repositories. We really need to coordinate these efforts and work together. Previously, technologies have  challenged the public library as a relevant institution because it has been so costly to invest in the flavor-of-the-month. The dramatic shift away from the home PC, the move of processing power into portable units and the environment, and the shrinking costs of memory and connectivity suggests that public libraries are in a very good position to offer information access to more people in better ways than ever before. How does these changes redefine public space? How do our behavioral patterns associated with these technologies reshape public space?

I’m excited as hell to meet with Adam next week and to talk with him about where the urban public library fits into the Nextcity. I had a forward-thinking professor at Pratt institute, David Walczyk, who said at one point to a classroom full of soon-to-be librarians that if we don’t take a strong creative roles and define the direction in which our libraries are going to grow, then some consultant will get the job and you’ll just be stuck doing what you should have told the library to do years before. I’m convinced that librarians need to look outside their profession to find the future of their libraries. We need to get off our reference-desked asses. Lets take those creative roles and define the Nextlibrary. I’m not going to let a consultant do it*.

*parties interested in hiring me as a consultant feel free to email me with offers :)

I’m so excited to write about this particular project, one that has been in the works for a while.

I’ve been working with Situ Studio, a firm that utilizes emerging technologies at the intersection of architecture and a variety of other disciplines, to develop demographic mapping and data visualization solutions for public libraries. I cannot speak highly enough of the work these guys have done and are capable of doing.

Urban public libraries are not in the business of collecting demographic data; other agencies do the collecting. Our business is correctly interpreting the data in order to create a strategic plan and implement appropriate library service. Libraries need a clear, efficient means of displaying data for internal analysis. Further, they need a display format that serves as a simple means of communication with external parties, a visual tool within which they can frame arguments and demonstrate demographic shifts and trends. With training, a presenter using this tool can illustrate compelling, anecdotal, case-study style scenarios with facts, statistics and metrics.

Large sets of data are most easily interpreted when represented visually, rather than in a tabular or textual presentation. As a means of communication, information visualization has surpassed the archaic database and spreadsheet formats we are accustomed to. The screenshots below use a digitally rendered map of Brooklyn to display demographic data in a spatial context. The data fields represented are merely examples of what such a map can offer, and should be considered a foundation from which a more complex map can be built.

Below are a few teaser images that really only halfway describe the possibilities associated with the work we’ve accomplished so far.

libraryholdings_situ.jpg

The image above shows a bus map, library facilities in red with the diameter representing the size of the collection, and schools in green with the diameter representing the size of the student body.

redhook_situ.jpg

Above is a map showing Red Hook, displaying census data by tract as well as physical boundaries to library service (for example the BQE, in yellow).

demographic_situ.jpg

Another display of census data by tract.

Again, this is really just the beginning of something important, and I’m happy to share some sample images from the much more extensive animation sequences the crew at Situ put together. This represents a new way for libraries to communicate internally and externally. Stay tuned for further developments.

Alicia Gibb, an Urban Library Council Scholar spending a semester assisting me at Brooklyn Public Library, sent me this great article from Wired magazine about Luis von Ahn and his unique perspective on humans’ relationship with technology. At first it freaked me out because I thought I’d found an exception to one of McLuhan’s four laws of media (thanks to the Playful Librarian for pointing me to that page), then I realized it doesn’t illustrate an exception as much as a somewhat scary example of the law in action. Von Ahn, for the record, is a total badass. He is responsible for Captcha and more recently ReCaptcha, those squiggly weird little words that you have to type when you log into websites to verify that you are a person and not a spambot. Here is a paragraph from the article that explains, but you REALLY need to read the whole article:

Von Ahn talks about “’human computation,’ the art of using massive groups of networked human minds to solve problems that computers cannot. Ask a machine to point to a picture of a bird or pick out a particular voice in a crowd, and it usually fails. But even the most dim-witted human can do this easily. Von Ahn has realized that our normal view of the human-computer relationship can be inverted. Most of us assume computers make people smarter. He sees people as a way to make computers smarter.”

One of Marshall McLuhan’s four laws of media is the law of Extension and Enhancement. This law states that every technology extends or amplifies some organ or faculty of the user. So, when Von Ahn is using the visual literacy skills or voice recognition capabilities of humans to teach machines to do the same, the technology he creates attempts to extend or amplify collective human minds themselves. Yikes! That is when it hit me: from a media ecology perspective, social computing is really a group extension of human minds, with the goal being the creation of one massive networked human brain! Its one thing when McLuhan’s law speaks of a tool like a hammer being an extension of the arm, or a telephone being an extension of your voice and hearing. A new technology that exists as a collective extension of human minds is a powerful tool, and I don’t think it is too far out there in sci-fi land to say that success in this arena would drive evolution.

This post only touches on one tiny little part of what made this article so intriguing. I strongly recommend reading it.

Read on the Loose Wire blog:, who picked it up from Accenture:

“Today, home technology has outpaced enterprise technology, leaving employees frustrated by the inadequacy of the technology they use at work. As a result, employees are demanding more because of their ever-increasing familiarity and comfort level with technology. It’s an emerging phenomenon Accenture has called “user-determined computing.””

Are there ANY public librarians out there, even ONE, that aren’t experiencing this?

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