On the Perception of Librarians

ReadWriteWeb offers these 5 Commandments For Smartphone Owners. In particular, #2 (I will help people with my smartphone) and #3 (I will support my community with my smartphone) speak to me very powerfully. These are the reasons why I got into public service in the first place!

I recall an incident that occurred while I was still living in Chicago…

There was a homeless man standing on a street corner downtown, which wasn’t the least bit unusual or remarkable. He had a suitcase with all his possessions in it, and he had that lost and scared look endemic to the indigent. What made this homeless man different from the rest is that, unlike every other homeless person you pass on the streets of a big city, he wasn’t asking for money. He was asking everyone who walked by if they knew where the nearest homeless shelter was. He just wanted to get off the street and get help.
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How NOT to Handle Bad Press

This post appeared on the Facebook page for the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library today. Take a minute to read through it.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151169164137976&set=a.380087232975.161981.5530982975&type=1

It’s in response to this article:

Stolen Wallet Leads to Major Library Fines from Kansas First News

All I can say is – Shame on you, TSCPL!
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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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