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Here’s a few drawings I made not too long ago. I like to slap a piece of paper on the wall, usually something pretty good sized at head/chest level so that I feel like I’m confronting it, and then draw a diagram of my thoughts. Its really sketchbook type stuff, but for whatever reason when I’m confronted face-to-face with paper it transitions from simple thought diagram to simplified information landscape. I find it strangely satisfying to make these things.

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.

This is utter genius.  Thanks to my pal Jess over at bananasarebeautiful for pointing me to it.

This just in: HOLY CRAP.  Its not a joke.

“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…

This totem pole-style monstrosity of a chart you are looking at represents the perpetual beta state of good service design. I’ve snagged and manipulated Jesse James Garrett’s beautiful chart, The Elements of User Experience. Download the original pdf here and marvel that this was done in the year 2000. Garrett was clear that his picture is incomplete, that it does not “account for secondary considerations” and that it “does not describe a development process”. Just for thrills and in the crudest of ways I tried to add that dimension to his chart; the iterative development process is illustrated with repetition. Enjoy.

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.

In the study of decorative arts, furniture is often referred to as microarchitecture. Perhaps one of the most literal examples of furniture emulating an architectural style is the “skyscraper furniture” of Paul T. Frankl. I had the good fortune of buying a Frankl-attributed piece some years back, and sadly the time just came to pass on this amazing bookshelf to a new owner. Below I’ve posted a picture of this exceptional piece of microarchitecture (in order to publicly immortalize it before it becomes a treasure in someone else’s private collection), a scan from the cover of Frankl’s 1928 classic book “New Diemnsions”, and links to a few resources about Frankl.

1) Christopher Long’s book about Frankl from Yale University Press

2) A collection of images of Frankl’s work from Architonic

3) Search Abebooks for Frankl’s writing, New Dimensions (1928), Space for Living (1938), and Form and Reform (1930). Space for Living is a real treasure in terms of modernist graphic layout- this book is a piece of design history in and of itself.

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.