Skip navigation

Category Archives: public libraries

After reading and passing around Wendy Lukehart’s excellent article “What’s Our Story” published on ULC2020, I asked her if it would be OK to copy and paste it in my own blog, along with my vaguely relevant response.  I think Lukehart is really on to something here with this “mission envy” she is feeling.  Does the public library mission get confused and suffer from dilution because of emerging technologies and media formats?  If so, how can we clarify it?  Enjoy this:


What’s Our Story?

Published by Wendy Lukehart at 8:39 am CST under Focal Questions

What’s Our Story?

Following the thought-provoking ULC “Fast Forward” conference in Anaheim, I happened to be waiting for an elevator with Martín Gómez. When I commented on how intellectually stimulating the day had been, he thanked me and replied: “I keep coming back to the question we posed at the very beginning [of the Foresight 2020 project]: “_____ is to Public Libraries as Education is to Public Schools.” Indeed.

This analogy exercise that we all recognize from our standardized test days has so many possible answers that it would probably shut down the Princeton Review if they had to grade it. What word would you insert? “Learning?” “Information?” These concepts are accurate, certainly, but not big enough. We exist for recreation and story as well. “Fun?” Yes, but libraries are also places where we go for tax assistance. “Transformation?” That’s intriguing. Given the popularity of television shows where people improve or trade their spaces, bodies, children, and spouses, the idea would resonate with many, but it might not speak to all. “Connection?” That term has loomed large in our promotions for the last decade. People can connect to ideas or other people in libraries, virtually or physically (and I’m not referring to the teens behind the stairwell, but leave it to teens to create an interpretation we hadn’t intended). Even that doesn’t seem to say it all. Conference speaker Omar Wasow suggested that “curiosity is the coin of the realm.” We’re getting warmer. What if our mission were to arouse curiosity? What do you think? Is it really impossible to narrow the library’s mission to a single word, or are we too conflicted or hesitant to articulate it?

As I experience the free-floating anxiety permeating our professional literature about the future of libraries, bookstores, and publishing, I find myself drawn to organizational models that exude a strong sense of purpose and confidence, one might even say faith in their mission. What sets these institutions apart, other than a great deal of money? I’ve been following the back story of Washington D.C.’s latest museum—the Newseum—which opened this spring (on Pennsylvania Avenue, no less) to much acclaim. How did this organization move from a modest site in Rosslyn, Virginia into a $450 million piece of real estate with 14 interactive galleries and 15 theaters and studios on “America’s Main Street?” One thing is clear: it has a skilled leader with a passion for and clarity about his organization’s mission: to teach people about the First Amendment. The words are even etched into a 74’ marble slab on the façade—controversial as that decision has been. CEO Charles Overby dared to dream big, and yes he was able to procure the large-scale financing, but he also faced formidable obstacles. The Washington Post, 4/12/08  describes his savvy at building consensus and developing community advocates for his cause.

Overby functions collaboratively within the institution as well. Meeting daily for “story meetings” with his senior managers, the leader sees his role as “chief encouraging officer,” providing support in every sense of the word, ready to try something different when things go wrong. Visiting the Newseum is both an entertaining and informative experience. Even my jaded twelve-year-old wanted an annual pass, so she could return frequently. Exhibits include a page from the Gutenberg Bible; the charred, melted antenna from the World Trade Center; a 4-D film on the history of journalism; video clips from vintage SNL and Laugh-In programs; a “newsroom” where you can be filmed as a broadcaster and then link to the segment from home. You can step outside on the balcony and soak up the sun and the view of your political and cultural setting—the Capitol dome, the Smithsonian, the avenue that leads to 1600 Pennsylvania–or dine on Wolfgang Puck’s fabled cuisine. I was filled with mission envy—and fascination, as I explored this amalgam of archival documents and cutting edge multimedia experiences in a hospitable, inspiring environment.

Another visionary leader with a mission of great interest to libraries is publishing entrepreneur Lisa Holton, founder and CEO of the brand new Fourth Story Media. (Publishers Weekly, 6/18/08) Known for significant projects, i.e., Cheetah Girls, Baby Einstein, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–to name a few, Holton is creating “an innovative studio that brings a fresh perspective to the development of children’s properties.” While her enterprise has the obvious distinction of being a for-profit company, I urge you to look at her complex Venn diagram with its narrative core and overlapping hexagons labeled: social networking, interactivity, communicating, and games. Many of the concepts branching out from the shapes are functions with which libraries are involved, and this may well be a useful model for us to react to and see how our own diagram would compare and contrast. See Fourth Story Media.

Balance and Unity
The idea that particularly excites me about Holton’s vision is her ability to hold multiple formats in the balance. Her “studio” will thread story across books, web sites, games, DVDs, downloads, social networks, and surely whatever new media come along. Libraries have the capability of doing this type of thing as well—and more, plus we can offer the physical space. What can we learn from the balance and connection between formats as conceived by Fourth Story, while adding our value as a “Third Place,” so that our customers can engage with our materials and each other virtually—and then inside our doors? Whom do we need to hire, what do we need to do differently to present our content and services in such a dynamic, appealing, and unified manner? In addition to the obvious—drawing on the talents of graphic designers, information architects, and computer programmers within the context of a 2.0 world–and encouraging collaboration across departments/generations/ethnicities (Holton managed Harry Potter by making “everyone part of everything”), I would suggest that we need to start by overcoming one obstacle: our current attitude toward the book.

The B Word
The OCLC survey tells us that when people across the country think of libraries, they think of books. OCLC Report: Perceptions of Libraries. Titles recommended by Oprah, Nancy Pearl, and Al Rokker are in great demand, and NPR just hired six new book reviewers for their website. Aaron Swartz, the young man who helped write the RSS feed format at age 14, is now designing a free online book catalog called “Open Library,” because “wandering through the stacks of my local library, I noticed I kept coming across all sorts of fantastic books I’d never heard of.” (American Libraries, April 2008). The New York Public Library was a recent test site for the Espresso Book Machine, a print-on- demand service. Why? Presumably, because a lot of people like printed books. This is confirmed by the latest  Random House / Zogby Report: 82% of the respondents prefer the printed version to the electronic one.  A recent study by Scholastic found that 62% of kids of all ages “prefer to read books printed on paper rather than on a computer or handheld device.” A majority of kids “like to read books for fun” and they know it is important. What is their biggest hurdle? Finding books they like. Scholastic Reading Report 

This information is something we can all use, build on, respond to—and some of us already do. Yet, at “Fast Forward,” I was struck by the irony that it was the speakers (and especially the younger ones—a technology analyst and a game designer/critic) who were waxing enthusiastic about books and their availability–for free–at their local public libraries. My sense at this and other recent meetings with fellow library administrators is that we are embarrassed or ashamed of the public’s association of libraries with books and that only by downplaying them and uplifting technology will we….what? Be perceived as cutting edge, cool, valuable? When was the last time we celebrated the fact that we are the only game in town that offers free books—in lots of different formats, including print?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am really proud that my library, D.C. Public, was the first in the nation to offer downloadable books in an MP3 format. What could be more cool than offering books to listen to on iPods and cell phones? A book-on-CD kept my family of four riveted as we listened to Sherman Alexie, Jr. narrating The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Recorded Books, 2007) on our long journey to a family reunion over the weekend. That particular format allowed us to share an amazing experience in a way that would not have been possible with the printed version. I am equally thrilled, however, when I watch children’s eyes widen and bodies move closer to the source when seeing Robert Sabuda’s cyclone twirl and spin in his pop-up version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Simon and Schuster, 2000) at a library program. For so many of the children in our community, the library is the only place where they will experience the wonder and delight—and therefore the motivation to read—elicited by fabulous books, ones that are professionally designed and printed in living color on gorgeous paper. It is this type of experience that is endangered, if we forget to check our mission, chart our direction thoughtfully, and provide the infrastructure necessary for the balance.

Creating the Library Story
As we scan other business models for inspiration, what if we figured out how to not be a bookstore (although there are lessons about merchandising and customer service to be learned from the retail world), but how to be a really amazing library, with all the richness of our retrospective and current print and multimedia collections, our dazzling digital possibilities, and the threads that connect them—to each other and to the public, helping people of all ages find treasures and fellow treasure hunters. This is one of the points discussed at our conference table: what are the “white spaces of need” that only libraries can fill? Some of the answers are identified in the aforementioned studies; others will be found only in our communities. Once we identify the spaces, we will be able to better offer, in J. C. Herz’s words “a community connected to itself.” Maybe we will even be able to finish the analogy.

Wendy Lukehart
Youth Collections Coordinator
D.C. Public Library

This post was submitted by Wendy Lukehart.

One Response to “What’s Our Story?”
  1. # Nate Hillon Jul 13, 2008 at 12:06 pm CST

    I’m not sure that I can offer a one-word mission for the library, and I don’t know that I feel terribly guilty about that. There’s nothing wrong with being a complicated institution with many facets and goals, as long as we can still clearly market and advertise all of those facets and goals. McDonald’s (admittedly a repulsive example) is to hamburgers as the library is to books. Still, you can get an awful lot of stuff other than just hamburgers at McDonalds, and plenty of people do.

    Myself being a champion of public libraries promoting and providing not just traditional “book literacy” but new media literacy as well, I do feel like I can address your final paragraph “creating the library story” with some thoughts.

    Just to be clear, I don’t believe that media literacy is peripheral to the public library’s mission, I believe it is at its core. The whole point of reading and writing is to be able to communicate complex thoughts and ideas specifically and effectively with other humans. Reading and writing text is not sufficient in this capacity any more; media that leverages text, audio, video, and participatory literacies is so culturally embedded at this point that we need to incorporate that into public library programming through and through. A simple example: I spent some time not too long ago working the reference desk at the Education and Job Information Center at Brooklyn Public Library. The librarian’s job in that context is not just to help that person find a job using the appropriate resources; it is to teach that person how to help themselves to find a job using the appropriate resources. In 1975, that would have involved teaching the patron how to use the NY Times classifieds and a typewriter (for their resume). In 2008 it involves software, websites, databases. There are new skills involved, but they all build on some familiar skills.

    Different media literacies build upon themselves; they sort of “compost” their predecessors and mimic them until they find their own stride and identity. Think of the way that early television programming mimicked radio programming, or look at the way that an Amazon Kindle imitates a physical book. I pretty much use my computer as my home media center now, but that doesn’t mean I threw my television, radio, or shelves of books out the window. If it weren’t for my love affair with books, radio, and television I wonder how much sense my computer would make to me? The internet is a lot more fun if you know how to read, wouldn’t you agree? It is for this reason that Lukehart is absolutely right about the library being a place where children need to “experience the wonder and delight- and therefore the motivation to read- elicited by fabulous books, ones that are professionally designed and printed in living color on gorgeous paper. If the library is to champion new media literacy, books are the first place to start, especially in a developmental context, for children. Let’s be proud of that particular facet of our mission at public libraries, especially if the general public impression of libraries is that we are about books. Books can be our hamburgers, but maybe when people arrive they will select chicken sandwiches, pizza, whatever….

    All that said, I think we need to keep finding ways to leverage technologies to make books work harder and better for us. I like Lukehart’s examples of Aaron Swartz’s Open Library Project and the Espresso Book Machine as attempts at just that. I think you could add Sofie, a project at Institute for the Future of the Book to that list, and many others as well. There is a tremendous love of the book worldwide. Everyone and their brother and their brother’s cousin would like to aid the book’s transition into the digital era. I just picked up on another potential project that I’m particularly fond of because it preserves the book’s physical nature while augmenting it with digital information.

    Bob Logan of the Beal Institute of Strategic Creativity released his paper proposing the SmartBook on the Media Ecology Association listserv a few days ago. He is “proposing a book that has been “smart tagged” and as a result is readable, searchable and smart.” Basically, the idea is to “embed a “smart tag” into a standard printed codex or folio… that has the text of the book in a searchable format”.

    You can access the entire paper at, and you should.

    At the public library in the 21st century, we will have to work harder to inspire in children the wonder and delight Lukehart describes in the presentation of the pop-up Wizard of OZ book. Innovations like the one Logan proposes can help. The other day I left the Central Library at Brooklyn Public Library via the youth wing, and when I stepped out onto the sidewalk a mother was about to enter the building with her two young children. The eyes of one of those children lit up with excitement and he started jumping up and down. “I LOVE the computers! I LOVE the computers!”, he cried. No lie: I’m not making this up. Its going to be a tough job selling the Wizard of OZ pop-up to this kid, with other media formats as seductive and accessible as they are. Should that child learn to read on the computer? I don’t know- maybe- he was awfully jazzed about the interface…. perhaps we should respect that. Difficult questions like that keep me happy with the complexity of the public library mission and vision, but if I were forced to distill everything we do down into a few words I think I’d say:

    Cultural/Media Literacy is to Libraries as Education is to Schools.


I am SO HONORED to have been recognized as a “library leader” in ALA’s Emerging Leaders program thanks to Jenny Engstrom, the Public Technology Training Coordinator over at New York Public Library. Months ago she contacted me to do a brief interview and I’m really just sort of beside myself with pride as I see my name included on a long list of truly exceptional individuals in the library profession. Like Wayne and Garth, I do not feel worthy.

Watch a 10 minute Quicktime movie of me yapping away by clicking here. Try not to make fun of the way I constantly wave a pencil around; it’s immediately pretty clear that I’ve had no media training and that I am just winging it.

Thanks Jenny! Thanks ALA!

  A few days ago I was looking at my friend Jess’s blog and I ran into this:   


 That got me thinking.  What kind of color schemes do different public libraries use in their web designs, and what sort of “vibe” are they conveying by using the particular color palette they use?


There’s certainly a lot of literature out there about the psychology of colors in marketing and advertising.  I was reminded of a really fun old book on my shelf, one that I purchased mostly for the color palettes in the centerfold.  The book is “New Horizons in Color” from 1951.  They break down colors into two categories: “Decorative” and “Functional”.


 The scans below show those palettes, and I then sampled the colors used in the websites of a number of major public libraries.  I thought the results were pretty interesting, and they are perhaps somewhat telling of the way these libraries and library systems choose to articulate their mission and vision.


 Palettes that fell in the “decorative” category were Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Public Library, and Chicago Public Library.


 Palettes that fell in the “functional” category were New York Public Library, District of Columbia Public Library, Cuyahoga County Public Library, and the Ann Arbor District Library.


The images below are thumbnails, click on them for a better look.




Recently participatory culture and the philosophies pertaining to the FOSS / FLOSS movement have been making themselves impossible to ignore in both my reading and my plain old everyday life.  It seems everyone wants to model everything from architecture to beer production based on this.  My next few entries will be about all that, but I’ll start w/ something positive that is directly related to libraries and learning.

First, I want to mention this Clay Shirky article.   I haven’t read his book “Here Comes Everybody” yet, so I can’t speak to it.  This article does a good job describing the rise of participatory culture.  The basic argument is that the world has been faced with a great cognitive surplus in the 20th century since we’ve industrialized in a manner that saves us basically saves us time and headspace.  So we have a lot of free time, and we’ve chosen to fulfill our cognitive surplus by watching a ton of TV and becoming complacent read-only media consumers.  His argument, which I like, is that this was all a brief transitional phase and that we are well on our way out of this lump-like couch potato era.  Shirky says that via networked technologies individuals are already empowered to be great creators, remixers, and organizers.  It is no longer satisfying to just digest material, it becomes part of the norm to process and redistribute it.  While in the past media consumers have been “readers”, now they are “read/writers”.

As a creative person and as a person working in education (that’s librarianship, right?) I find this realization and transition encouraging, but I begin to wonder about the effectiveness of our educational tools.  I’m part of a generation steeped and brewed in books, radio, and television, all of which are read-only media.  Shirky tells a story at the end of his article about a four year old girl investigating the back side of a television for a mouse because she couldn’t even comprehend the idea of NOT interacting with media.  Frankly his story sounds like bullshit, but the point is ripe for the plucking.  So how do we engage and teach this child?  The interaction of recreational video games is seductive, and schools can make organic chemistry or environmental science just as seductive by employing gaming style learning systems in classrooms.  But what about engaging kids outside of the classroom, what about exploring knowledge, information and media in their free time?  That is where the public library comes into play.

It sounds to me like the people at Illinois Institute of Technology are addressing just this with the ThinkeringSpace project.  The best way to really understand the project aside from spending some time on the site and admiring their research, is to read the following posts from the Shifted Librarian blog in order.

The ThinkeringSpace project encourages content creation in the library, it exposes paths between information entities, it bridges the physical and digital worlds, it is portable, and all around awesome as far as I can see.  I think my only real issue with it as of thus far is that it is focused on using the physical library as “third place” and doesn’t consider bridging into digital “third place” by pushing content to mobile devices.  Much has been written about how mobile devices can be seen as extensions of space- for example if I start text messaging one friend while I’m at dinner with another, I am redefining my spatial parameters and orientation.  It seems inevitable at this point that the act of “checking out” library material in the future will involve some kind of device, most likely a phone.  When content becomes mobile it changes the definition of a “third place”.

After a few months off, I have decided that its time to come back to the blog.  It was easy to sit around and rant in February while the world outside was cold and dreary, but when spring sprung I found myself out in the park with a book or a frisbee or a beer at the times when I would have written.  I hope I still have a reader or two.

Where to begin?

I’m going to start by humbly eating some of my words.  Kind of.  I got really irked by a presentation a while back at the PLA conference called “Why we Borrow”, an adaptation of Envirosell/Paco Underhill’s “Why we Buy” book about tracking customer patterns in the retail environment.  The results of their study were undoubtedly pretty cool and totally useful (download the powerpoint here), but my gripe was that librarians really ought to be doing things like this themselves rather than hiring outside consultants.  Having begun to take a shot at such a thing myself, I believe I now understand why we depend on consultants for services like this.  First, it is difficult and time consuming and most libraries are understaffed.  Second, many public library systems are structured in such a manner that all of IT functions as a support service, completely divorced from the programmatic/public service side of the house.  Without departments devoted to user experience, digital services, or digital initiatives, public libraries will not really be able to build a staff that is empowered and expected to create tools and studies akin to Envirosell’s.  UNLESS: through collaboration we can all help eachother.

A couple of months ago, colleagues and I started scheming out a plan to do a building usage study for the Central Library at Brooklyn Public Library. The general idea is to borrow a lot of the methodology used for website usability studies and apply it to the physical architecture and overall service ecology of this particular library building.  By tracking library patrons’ paths and decisions through space and time, we figure we can establish metrics describing weaknesses and strengths in our various service interfaces.  If you ask 100 people in a study to locate “The Catcher in the Rye” and they all make similar mistakes or struggled next to the same sign, kiosk, library employee, or screen, then you can draw certain conclusions and make corrections based on them.  As of now the plan is to use Google SketchUp Pro to extrude a 3d model of the building from a CAD file and then to actually graph people’s “journeys” as they perform these tasks (I hope this is not overambitious).  The whole thing is really no different than the Envirosell project, the only real difference is that it takes advantage of free software. My suggestion is to sort of “open-source” the project development through a wiki so that other libraries and librarians can modify and improve the methodology. No, there’s nothing really that groundbreaking about that approach but at least it helps to empower a larger group of librarians as tool builders.

Now for the fun stuff…

In the meantime, while I’ve been trying to determine what I wanted to measure at the library and while discussing how to actually accomplish any of these goals, a few interesting and undoubtedly expensive services appeared in the news.  I look at these as potential upgrades or improvements upon the Envirosell videocamera heavy approach (they shot 350 hours of video in the San Jose libraries).  First is Path Intelligence and their product “FootPath, the only automated measurement technology that can continuously monitor the path that your shoppers or passengers take”.  These Orwellian guys monitor cellphone signals to do this same journey-tracking work in retail environments, and you have to figure they do it with incredible accuracy.  Then, fairly recently, I became aware of CitySense, a mobile app for the BlackBerry.  THIS RULES.  “Citysense shows the overall activity level of the city, top activity hotspots, and places with unexpectedly high activity, all in real-time. Then it links to Yelp and Google to show what venues are operating at those locations.” CitySense is similar to Stamen’s streaming visualization project “Cabspotting” which tracks the volume of cabs in San Francisco in real time, only it is far more powerful because it is available on a mobile device.  What if CitySense could be implemented on a smaller level, just in one public building? What if a teen is able to activate “LibrarySense” on his or her mobile phone and use it to determine where in the building other people with similar interests are congregating?  Wouldn’t this effectively turn every other patron in the building into a blip that you opt to have displayed on your mobile based on preferences and settings?  This would mean you can skip traditional “social networking” practices and infer characteristics of blips by observing their actual behaviors.  Think about that- that’s deep!  All of your Facebook and Myspace crap really is just a transition into a much richer social/digital/virtual world environment soon to come.


If any readers are actually interested in taking a crack at this building usage methodology, drop a comment and I’ll create a wiki for us to collaborate on.  I’m winging this, but I think there’s potential to do something here.  Thanks for reading, its good to be back, I’m gonna go watch some fireworks.

“Just as fat has replaced starvation as (the US’s) number one dietary concern, information overload has replaced information scarcity as an important new emotional, social, and political problem.”

Found this quote in Jonah Brucker-Cohen‘s presentation for an old Situated Technologies symposium. the quote is by David Shenk. Watch Jonah’s presentation.

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 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…

Taking a brief break from writing because I’ve got like 847656483 things to read.  If all I do is write and never read, I’ll become an awfully boring writer.  Before I take this break (which could be 2 days or could be 12 days, you never know), I want to leave you with a sentiment from Michael Bierut of Design Observer.  I picked up his book, 79 short essays on design (basically a best-of-the-blog), and in the first paragraph of the first essay he says:

Graphic Designers are lucky.  As the people who structure much of the world’s communications, we get to vicariously partake of as many fields of interest as we have clients.  In a single day, a designer talk about real estate with one client, cancer cures with another, and forklift trucks with a third. 

Librarians get to enjoy this same privledge, whether they are librarians designing service interfaces and creating pathfinders or they are organizing programs and working at reference desks.  It is our responsibility to be well-rounded.  There’s nothing worse than when a profession or subject matter gets too self-absorbed, too introspective.  I know that I’ve always been annoyed by art that is about art… the kind of stuff that you have to have a degree in art history and know the work of 4 other people just to relate to the piece.  Libraries and librarians with libro-centric tunnel vision should look to this attitude that Beirut is putting out there.  We’ll all be better at our jobs if we do this.

So, like I said, I’m going to read some other stuff for a while.  I’ll be back.

One other thing:

Just became aware that John Maeda will be doing the AIGA NY Fresh Dialogue 24.  That will be awesome.  Go to it.

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.

Imagine that your library has a group of non-users that you’d like to reach out to. Take for example a population of individuals ages 20-35, a typically underserved group at public libraries. How would you identify this group’s needs and serve them? Below is a simplified diagram that visually explains that the results and recommendations produced by a well-designed survey of your non-users overlapping with the results and recommendations of a survey of the “exceptions” (who actually use the library) will offer you a worthwhile course of action. Perhaps this is obvious, but when it is proposed visually rather than verbally I think the premise is revealing and perhaps a little provocative.

Of course the key is designing a good survey.

Enjoy the diagram.