Category Archives: Ponder This!

Ten Hard Questions

Scott McLeod posted 10 Questions About Books, Libraries, Librarians, and Schools today on his blog Dangerously Irrelevant.  He has presented these questions at a few library conferences in the last month to varying reaction.

It seems that some have loved his comments, while others have scorned his questions saying he knows nothing about libraries and librarians. 

I recommend you click the link above and read the questions.  Here are my thoughts:

a) These are questions.  He’s playing devil’s advocate.  He’s pushing librarians and educators to move beyond their comfort zones and ask themselves hard questions. 

It seems to me that librarians approach the issue of technology and how it may or may not replace us in one of two ways.  The first is with “kid gloves”.  We approach the concept gently, not making eye contact, moving slowly.  We sit in committee meetings and we discuss and discuss and we shoot down progressive ideas that might make us increasingly relevant or, worse, we form a COMMITTEE that never sees the light of day again.  The second method of dealing with these tough questions is to get depressed, to go meetings and library conferences and sigh and say “Well, this is just the way it is” and whine. 

There is a group of young punks doing their best to push forward and get out of the box, but they face barriers.  Barriers including administrators, educators that just don’t understand or fellow librarians who don’t make an effort to help build on basic ideas and turn them into realities not just in one library, but in many.

b) One of the responses that Scott McLeod received said something about him not spending a lot of time with teacher librarians, because if he did, he would understand the profession more effectively.   To that I say, thank goodness he asked these questions.  Let’s assume Mr. McLeod doesn’t spend a lot of time with librarians and has only met one in his life and she was mean and had a bun in her hair and carried a yardstick.  If that’s the case, then these questions tell us that this is what our profession looks like to those on the outside.  This what educators think, this is what schools think, these are the questions parents are asking.

But even if Mr. McLeod was buddies with the Librarian of Congress and the President of YALSA and every information literacy instructor in the country, you have to admit he’s asking good questions.  Why?  Because he’s not a librarian.  He’s someone who, as an educator, interacts with librarians and uses the services they provide, but he asks good, hard, demanding questions that we either do not ask ourselves or do not ask ourselves in the right way or with the right perspective.

Read the questions.  Your gut reaction will probably be less than pleasant.  But then go back and read them again and don’t take it personally.  He’s not saying we’re talentless hacks, or being replaced by tech – he’s asking that if in the worst case scenario, how can librarians prove their value and work with old-school librarians to think in a more innovative way.


Should libraries take a clue from Ikea?

Saw this interesting tweet today: RT @ikeafans: haha! RT @Leask: Best Salon comment ever: “getting lost in the IKEA? … Christ, it’s more efficient than the library.”

So, that makes me think two things – the person who made the original comment just goes to a really crap library or maybe libraries should take a clue from Ikea about organization.

I hear you moaning now – geez Chris, first libraries want to become more like bookstores, now you’re saying libraries should be more like Ikea.  You’re killing us!  Killing us!

Calm yourself and read on.  I’m not advocating anything…I’m just pondering…

Now, I get lost in Ikea.  It drives me nuts sometimes – as crisp and supposedly efficient as the store is, I struggle to find things sometimes.  But, let’s play devil’s advocate and chat about what Ikea has that libraries should consider:

Food and Drink
Those  Ikea cafes rock and I’ve actually scheduled lunch and dinner appointments at Ikea.  Libraries are doing this of course, but I’m just saying.  (Having food, coffee and cafes I mean, not having lunch and dinner appointments at Ikea…)

Child Care
Attention public: Children’s librarians are NOT babysitters.  Nothing is worse than having people plunk their screaming child into the kids section and then wander off to go look at movies or something.  But what if libraries offered child care for adult patrons who want to attend a class at the library or pop in to use the computer?  I’m sure some library out there must have at least tried some sort of similar service at one point.

Signs, Signs, Signs
No one reads signs.  How often has your library put up signs and they just don’t work?  But Ikea puts up pretty large centralized signs – if you want to know where something is, you have to read down the list of arrows that point in many directions, thus providing a sense of layout and where things are.

Bright Colors and Lights
The lighting in Ikea is pretty good.  It’s bright and shows off the vibrant colors of the store.  It’s not so harsh though that it’s headache inducing – it makes you want to hang out and not leave until you’ve purchased hundreds of dollars worth of stuff. 

Yellow Shirts
You always know where the Ikea staff is.  Bright yellow shirts make them visible like a brightly lit buoy.  You can pick those folks out right away.  Are library staff members always so easily visible?  Some library people don’t even wear nametags – even if it says “Librarian” or “Circulation Clerk” then you’ve got something to show folks you work there!

Here’s a great example of how physical space increases purchases.  In order to get through Ikea, you have to walk through some areas to get to others.  You want to get to kitchen stuff, you have to walk through living room stuff.  You go in for a mixing bowl or a wok, but then you see a pretty pillow or picture frame and well, you may as well pick that up too, right? Oh Ikea, you vixen!  Same is true for libraries.  If you can get people to walk past certain collections to get to other collections, maybe they’ll see something they like, pick up one or two more things and bring those circ stats up, up, up!

At Ikea, you don’t often rely on a staff member to help you get your couch out of the warehouse.  They are very willing to help don’t get me wrong, but their model isn’t set up to help you with every little thing.  Unless you need a forklift, you and a buddy find the aisle, pick up the couch flat pack, load it, buy it, get it to the car.  Libraries are doing this more and more – letting patrons get their own holds and self scheduling for meeting rooms and such (shameless Evanced plug – we’ve got a room reservation software that will help patrons do that). 

Ikea is pretty whimsical and they aren’t afraid to build a community that expresses their whimsy.  They aren’t rude or silly, they’re just kind of sweet and fun loving.  Most libraries use their website, Facebook, blog, and Twitter accounts to provide very dry library information.  We are good at getting fans, making websites, and all that, but it’s okay to express the fun side of the culture of your library.  Featuring staff members on your website or giving library users an idea of the “back stage” of the library can be fun and interactive.

Mostly, libraries are doing the Ikea thing already, but I couldn’t help but write down my thoughts on it after reading that tweet.  140 characters can sure conjure up a lot of thoughts!


Hint Hint: Awesome Keynote Speaker

No, not me.  Though I am fahbulous. 

Mike Rowe from the show Dirty Jobs.  Apparently, he’s getting a lot of speaking jobs lately talking about “on the “changing face of the proletariat vis-à-vis the modern-day work ethic and the digital divide”, according to the New York Times and he has a website called Mike Rowe Works, which helps people find technical and trade jobs and education.

General Link:
Jobs Link:

It’s a well rounded site and like most truly funny people, Mike Rowe is an intelligent and thoughtful spokesperson for the cause of worker education and job seeking.  Well, from what I can tell from the article I’ve been reading.

Librarians help people find work, Mike Rowe helps people find work.  Librarians help provide training and tools for people to improve themselves with, so does Mike Rowe.  Mike Rowe is hot and really funny.  Librarians are…er…we’re sometimes hot and usually pretty funny.

Just my suggestion.  Please consider it if your state or national library organization needs a speaker.  There’s potential for great synergy I think.

I’m a Nicole Engard groupie

There.  I’ve said it.  I got a copy of “Library Mashups” and I can’t put it down.  Twenty minutes after I had it in my possession, I emailed her telling her I loved the book.  It rocks.

Engard contributes to and edits the work of 25 contributors in this great book that explores the ways libraries deliver data.  By exploring new tools and offering insight into old ones, Engrad and her colleagues really tread on new ground in relation to getting information out to the public.

I was particularly drawn to her information on effectively using Delicious and Youtube in libraries.  She is all about using the software when it is needed and is beneficial – not when it is just some clumsy add on to a website or creates no value at all.  I felt myself developing more concrete ideas about how these technologies are integrated into existing library webpages and for the first time understood why they can be so useful.  Prior to that, I just kind of thought “Oh, and there’s Delicious which is just website tagging that can get really crazy and messy and would be overwhelming to the public at times”.

The idea of externalizing the knowledge that librarians have also really intrigued me.  The concept that we should share what we know with our users so that they too can become effective users while also seeing the true value of librarians and librarianship totally rocked.  It’s like a peep show – we show the public how much we rock and we help them out by sharing what we know, and then they want more and keep coming back.  (I know, I have a dirty mind, but the analogy works…)

I’m still reading and there is so much this book has to offer.  For instance, I can’t wait to read about Yahoo! Pipes and ways that you can improve your OPAC.  Whether you’re a tech novice or a hard-core programmer type  this book will contribute to your knowledge.

Check out Nicole and “Library Mashups” on her website:  (It too is a peep show.  Of library stuff.  Not of Nicole.  Dirty blog reading people.  Sheesh.)

You say potato, I say zucchini…

potatoBut that doesn’t mean we get to fling vegetables at each other.  Today  I’m talking about gaps in vendor-librarian communications.  Let’s be honest, many librarians and vendors are not on the best of terms.

Librarians see vendors as money-seeking vulchers who take advantage of their altruistic public institutions by locking them into long term contracts that allow for price increases, all the while decreasing customer service.

Vendors cringe at the thought of going to conference, knowing they will have to cope with library staff people only visiting their booth for free swag and not making eye contact with them.  It’s like being a leper in a business suit.

I was a library director at one time.  Let me tell you my pet peeves:
 – getting calls while I’m on desk without the vendor asking “is this a good time?” or, “are you at your reference desk right now?  Do you need me to call back?”
 – launching into a long winded sales speech without pause for a breath so that I cannot take a moment to ask a question or make comment.
 – not being patient as I weigh the pros and cons of prices and features of products.  I once heard a vendor mumble with exasperation “Jee-sus” under her breath as I asked her to help me find different ways to manage a $5000 price increase in a database that my library absolutely had to have.  Ironically, it was a religious database, but I didn’t appreciate her tone one bit. 
 – assuming I’ve got a high level of technical expertise or none at all.  There’s got to be a polite way to ask a librarian what type of technology skills they have, so that neither party is frustrated.
 – dealing with vendors who stand in the aisles at conference practically pouncing on you as you walk by – I am not a mouse and you are not a cat…stand aside and if your booth is informative, I’ll be drawn to it and I’ll talk to you, trust me.
 – vendor websites that are hard to search, informational materials that aren’t informative at all, calling vendors when you want to buy their product and they don’t ever call back…oh the list goes on and on…

Now I work for a vendor – Evanced Solutions – and I can share with you that perspective as well:
– It’s really scary when you sell a library system software and then call the technical contact to check in and see how things are going and they have no idea what you’re talking about. 
– In keeping with that thought, I’ve got two words: project management.  There are libraries that excel at project management – they get software, form committees or training teams and two weeks later they’re using the software and rocking it out.  Then I’ve got libraries that I have to call and beg to use the product, but no one has taken the implementation lead, so software sits paid for but un-used.  In this economy, if you have the luxury of buying software and not using it then you are lucky.
– It’s my responsibility at Evanced to call our customers and check in to see how things are going.  There are times I get a very blunt “I don’t have time for this, goodbye”, even after I’ve made it clear that I just am checking in quickly.  Is saying “Thank you for your call, but I’m busy at the moment, can you call back later or email me?”
– Which brings me to this point: librarians sometimes treat vendors the way really awful patrons treat librarians.  You know the patrons who are especially rude to you, or call you with a question and then tell you that you’re taking to long to give them an answer though you’ve only be chatting for a few minutes?  Yeah, I’ve had librarians be terribly mean to me, practically bringing tears to my eyes.
– If a library does a call for proposals, and we don’t win the bid, please…please…please tell the vendor why they didn’t win.  We can’t become a better company and develop better products if we don’t know why you chose someone else over us.  We take the time to fill out the endless bid forms, please just take five minutes to write us an email telling us how we could have done better.
– And lastly, there’s the cost versus features debate.  Who doesn’t love really awesome software and databases?  I do, I do!  But the cost, oooh, the cost.  At Evanced we look at our product and we realize it’s not perfect.  It really rocks and does cool stuff, but it isn’t quite right for everyone, we know.  We’re working on some major changes to improve the software in drastic and freaking awesome ways.  But the catch is that we’re also trying to not raise our prices (We haven’t raised our prices in seven years for those of you keeping track…)  Recently someone mentioned to us that maybe our software isn’t as good as it could be because we have no competition and therefore have the market “locked”.  But that’s not true.  We haven’t been able to make all the changes we’ve wanted to because it would involve hiring more programmers and technical specialists.  And they have families.  That like to eat and have a home.  So we have to pay them.  And then we’d have to charge libraries for the price increase.  So, for us, it becomes a fight of “Do we make all the changes we’d like to make to our software to make everyone happy?’  or “Do we build and rebuild over time and then save our pennies to finally pay for some positive major changes that don’t drastically increase prices?”  In trying to help out libraries, we sometimes end up being told we’re the bad guys. 

If we’re doing something wrong or you’re mad at us, can you just tell us nicely please?  I know some vendors are rude to you (that’s a whole other post) but some of us are nice and want to help.  Just approach us with the issue and we’ll see what we can do.  And if you’re not happy with the way we’ve worked with you, then you can email me at cayar at evancedsolutions dot com.

**FYI – this is my personal opinion so don’t blame Evanced for what I wrote.  I’m just pointing out some things I’ve noticed and want to share.  Open discussion doesn’t hurt and librarians and vendors need to talk.  Maybe we should hire Dr. Phil….

Use those creative brains of yours…

I’m working on a great volunteer project called MyInfoquest.  It is a six month pilot project to get a librarian-staffed text message reference service off the ground.  People text a question, a MyInfoquest staff member responds!

The team thinks that “MyInfoQuest” is a great name, but it may require a bit of explanation.  To do that, we need to create a “tag line”  and would like your help. Here are some examples from other web-based help services:

Name:              Tag line:
AskAway:         Illinois Librarians Online
AskAway:         Reliable Answers Anytime/A Cooperative Service of Wisconsin Libraries
AskUs 24/7:     Chat with a Librarian
Know it Now    Answering your questions online, anytime

So, post your ideas as a comment by Noon on May 16!  The winner gets…my undying gratitude and that of the Infoquest Team!  Yay!

The definition of insanity…

So many moons ago when I was in the throes of an angsty phase, I was talking to my friend/therapist who calmly told me, “You know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result”.  I was flabbergasted by the thought at the time – it was a quasi-religious-no-shit-you’re-right moment.

I thought of that moment when I was sitting at a library not long ago just before closing time. The library had two doors at the front that during the day were both unlocked for patrons to come in and out of in either direction.  At about ten minutes to close, one set of doors was locked to help “manage incoming traffic” (whatever that means).  What this led to was a series of about 10-15 people all trying to use the locked door and the staff yelling out “that door is locked, use the other one”.  Because running into the locked door was not sufficient evidence to the poor patron.

I asked and apparently this is what they do every day

So every day about 15 people leave the library and the last experience they have is being embarrassed or frustrated for walking into a locked door and also having the mistake called out by a loud staff member.

Here’s a thought – a nice rope and sign to sling between the security/tattle tape gates just around closing time will have people bumping into a rope at worst – instead of a huge glass door.

Those fifteen people will walk out every day with that last moment at the library in their mind.  And while it might seem like a minor irritation and only slightly negative thing, it’s a part of the user experience.  You can get used to almost anything – and that is a crying shame. 

What policies or issues has your library staff gotten used to?  How is it harming patron-relations?  Don’t look at if from your point of view, look at it from theirs!