On the Virtues of Limitations

I spend a lot of time thinking about limitations. As creative people, limitations constantly chafe. They’re perpetual thorns in our sides. We think to ourselves, “If only I had more time, more money, better resources, I’d be free to truly explore my ideas and realize unfettered creativity!”

But I don’t think that’s true. In fact, I think quite the opposite. I think that limitations – when approached from the correct perspective – can be one of the most powerful tools in a creative person’s arsenal.

OK, let me back up. Start over and give some context for that statement…
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Showing My Age: An Ode to the Blue Screen of Death

Blue Screen of DeathThe other day, I was talking with some of my fellow librarians, and conversation turned to new technologies and digital information services. As it turns out, some of my fellow librarians are also fellow science fiction fans; naturally, we brought up the SF trope that someday our brains will be wired directly into our computer networks – no more external interfaces, the access and use of digital information will all happen through pure thought!

As is my habit whenever people discuss the concept of direct neural-computer interfaces, I offered my usual words of caution:

“Right, because I really want the blue screen of death IN MY HEAD!”

One of my fellow librarians didn’t get the reference. She’s in her early 20s, and she’s never seen a blue screen of death. She’s never even had a hard drive crash on her. She had no idea what I was talking about.

I should probably update my reference, but somehow, “Because I really want a network crash IN MY HEAD!” lacks the same punch.

Functionality vs. Style

In my previous job working for a non-profit (I’ve talked about it before) we used a few different CMS over the years to manage our online fundraising website. One in particular was absolutely awful and caused us major customer-service headaches! Horrible user-interface, bad data management, non-existent reporting capabilities… It was a nightmare.

The following year, we switched to a different CMS and our lives got much easier. 90% of the functionality of this new system was leaps-and-bounds better than the previous year’s. However, one of my coworkers hated the new site. She thought it was ugly, she thought it was primitive. She would see cool flash animations and interactive content on other websites and she wanted to do things like that on ours. But we couldn’t do those things on our site, the new CMS wasn’t configured to handle the type of coding that generates that kind of decorative bling, and so to her it meant that our site didn’t work well enough. She was hung up on looks and blind to essential functionality. She decided that the whole site was deficient just because we couldn’t pretty it up to her standards.
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JCLC 2012, KCPL & Library Marketing

Last night, the Kansas City Public Library hosted the opening reception for the Second National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color. I was honored to be a part of such a gathering! More than just an opportunity to show off our gorgeous Central Branch, it was a wonderful chance to mix and mingle with librarians from all over the country. I loved engaging so many people in passionate conversation about libraries!

Over the course of the evening, I noticed that there was one question that got asked by everyone I spoke to:

“Where did you get the money for all this?”

  • Our Central Branch building is a retrofitted bank. How were we able to get the building and convert it the way we did?
  • Where do we get the money to present 20-30 free-to-attend public events each month – ranging from scholarly presentations, to art and artifact exhibits, to movie screenings?
  • How can we afford to keep two full-time professional graphic designers on staff?
  • Where do we get the funding to maintain our dedicated business information center?
  • Etc.

Funding questions became the ongoing theme of my evening.
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Social Web Engagement Metrics

In the world of social web, the idea that page views and visit lengths on a library’s core website are still relevant metrics for measuring patron engagement is outmoded. Yes, there are some pieces of content that require a visitor to spend time on your main site. But increasingly, more of a library’s relevant content is available to people through multiple avenues of engagement, across multiple accounts on multiple platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc.

Many libraries, though, still determine their online strategy using page views and visit lengths on their core site as their main data input. There’s still substantial resistance to sending people away from the core library website. This is understandable – we librarians have a hang-up about all the unevaluated and uncurated data “in the wild” out there on the internet; what we present on our library website is known to be high quality and our impulse is to keep people there. Linking visitors to social media sites requires us to give up some control over the quality of their experience… and we don’t like doing that.
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Wearable Electronics

This could be very cool! The Age of Wearatronics (posted on medGadget, August 3, 2012)

Wearable electronics, Google glasses, augmented reality contacts, RFID chips and circuit boards embedded in our bodies… Kinda changes the scope of operations for a mobile digital library, doesn’t it?

Here’s the Bloomberg video that’s embedded in the medGadget article:

There’s a line in this video that bothers me. The interviewer, Sheila Dharmarajan, asks if having circuits that can monitor you installed in your skin isn’t all a bit Big Brother. The interviewee, John Rogers, an engineering professor at the University of Illinois, responds that most people realize that it’s really no different than carrying a Blackberry.

Yeah, except that I can put down my Blackberry and walk away from it anytime I want to.

Multiple Intelligence – Conclusion

This is the conclusion of my project to explore different examples of multiple intelligence that I’ve encountered and how these incidences affected my approach to everything from customer service to working with colleagues. Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three & Part Four.


So what have all these experiences taught me?

  1. Keep an open mind.
  2. Recognize the ways that other people are intelligent – and acknowledge that it may not be the way you’re intelligent. It may not even be a form of intelligence you easily recognize.
  3. Understand that someone else’s way of seeing things is no less valid than your own.
  4. Don’t expect anyone to speak to you in your language – it’s your responsibility to do your best to understand theirs.
  5. Never assume you know what someone means before they’ve finished talking. And always ask questions before responding to make sure you understand them as they intend.

Reading through this list, it occurs to me that I’m pretty much describing a good reference interview.
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