Meditation on Makerspaces, Missions, and other Matters

Note: This post grew out of an email exchange with colleagues who voiced legitimate questions and concerns about whether makerspaces were an appropriate choice for their library system.   The following is my slightly edited (for grammar and clarity) response.

Colleagues,

Cover: Wired Magazine

The DIY Revolution Starts Now

I agree with you that having a “makerspace” (i.e. designating a specific space to be used only for maker programming) may not be a good choice for a library system, or for any individual branch, due to the great demands on available  space.  I also agree that it is likely that many current library users are not actively requesting a makerspace.

Putting the idea of makerspaces aside for a moment, I believe that the world is changing at a rapid pace, that the pace of change itself is accelerating, and that it is increasingly true that “what got us here, won’t get us there.”   Our core principles and values and mission don’t change, but the techniques and forms we use to bring life to our mission and principles can and must change if we are to be sustained as a funded and relevant organization in the future.

The world is changing, not only rapidly, but at an increasingly accelerated pace.   The only way for libraries — or any organizations — are going to remain relevant and sustainable is by developing a habit of continually asking and answering these questions:

  1. What world are we living in?
  2. What impact do we want to be having for our customers and community?
  3. What is most important — what should we be focusing our time, energy and resources on — today?

Another way of putting it is, how do we maximize our limited resources to engage our customers in ways that:

  1. Are aligned with our mission?
  2. Are meaningful and valuable to our customers?
  3. Build on and reinforce the value of libraries to customers and stakeholders?


Get The Mission Right

You’ll notice that the key here is being clear about what our mission is.  If we don’t know that, it’s difficult to align our energies and make decisions about resource allocations.   While it continues to be generally true that the brand of libraries, as perceived by our customers, is BOOKS, and to a lesser extent INFORMATION , I’d like to suggest that BOOKS is not our mission. INFORMATION is not our mission   And neither books nor information are hooks upon which we want to hang the hat of our future sustainability.  All of over the country libraries are finding themselves in battles — not just for funding, but for their very existence — precisely because organized opposition says, “What do we need libraries for anymore – we have kindles, we have amazon prime, we have netflix, we have wikipedia.”  Those messages resonate, and libraries are finding themselves caught by surprise, having their budgets slashed.  “What happened?” They’re asking themselves.  “People were coming in the doors.  They loved us.  They loved reading.  What happened?”

What happened is these libraries mistook their loyal book-loving customers as broad-based support.  (Side note – The 2008 OCLC “From Awareness to Funding” report strongly suggested that library use does not correlate with library support.)   What happened was these libraries thought – and even proclaimed — that their mission was books and information.  And the public believed them — and then defunded them because the community didn’t see a need for publicly funded books and information.

So it is important to me that we get the mission right, because the choices we make, and our ability to continue in the long term to make a positive impact in the lives of our customers is riding on it.  We’re in the process of having these conversations, and we’ll continue that process in the October GM2 meeting.

I’d offer that the mission of libraries is not books (which is a format, a form) or even information, but learning, self-directed exploration and growth, early literacy, stimulation of imagination and curiosity, strengthening of community and civic connections, job readiness and economic development.  Any given library might focus on any one of these elements more than others, and perhaps there are elements beyond the ones listed.

Now.  If our mission is about learning, literacy, and community connections, we can ask ourselves: In the world we live in today, 2015 (almost), how do we direct resources and align energies to best help people learn?  What does the best research say about how people learn?   What about literacy?  Literacy has traditionally focused on the printed word.  Should we be looking at technological literacy?  Literacy after all is a competency, and one that libraries support because traditionally it is the most important competency for people to be active participants in our democracy, and to be functional and productive members in our economy. Are there other competencies that are becoming more important in the 21st century?  Many suggest that collaboration, critical thinking, experimental mindset, and self-direction are the important competencies for the 21st century economy. If that’s true, how do we best support children and adults so they have the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed in the world and in the economy of 2015 and 2020 and beyond?

Having asked those questions, I invite you to read Buffy Hamilton’s blog post  “Makerspaces, Participatory Learning, and Libraries”.   Take some time to follow the links.  Read “How the Maker Movement is Transforming Education.”   Read In the Slate article, “Learning by Making”, in which  Dale Dougherty writes,

The maker movement has the opportunity to transform education by inviting students to be something other than consumers of education. They can become makers and creators of their own educational lives, moving from being directed to do something to becoming self-directed and independent learners. Increasingly, they can take advantage of new tools for creative expression and for exploring the real world around them. They can be active participants in constructing a new kind of education for the 21st-century, which will promote the creativity and critical thinking we say we value in people like Steve Jobs.

It’s Not Necessarily About “Makerspaces” It’s About Learning and Connection

I suggest that we not talk about “makerspaces” per se  — since space is at a premium, and it can be difficult to carve out too much space to be permanently used for maker activities.  But that’s a bit of a red herring.  Let’s talk about whether there is value in supporting the maker concept.  Is there value in the maker philosophy of learning through doing; of moving from a teaching philosophy that says, “we have buckets of information, we shall pour them into your passively waiting brain” to a learning philosophy that says, “Here is a platform to support your curiosity, your wonder, and your exploration. Here is a member of the community to mentor you.  Together we will explore, learn, and share, through trying, doing, failing, and creating.”  Is there value in the maker philosophy of bringing in community members, cross-demographic and cross-generational, to mentor and support each other?  Do these things align with our mission and values?  And if so, can we find ways of using our existing spaces more flexibly and adapt them to different needs at different times?  Should we find ways to fund maker activities, whether through reallocation of funds or identification of new funds through grants or partnerships?  I think we should.

We Need To Do More Than Respond to Customer Needs

One last point. Meeting our customer’s needs and being responsive to what they ask for is clearly important.  However, being responsive to requests is only part of the equation.  In my experience, whether or not a customer is asking for a specific service or product is not always a good indication of whether they will value it once it is offered.  Who was asking for an OPAC before we had one?  Who asked for networked computers?  Who asked for the Internet?   If we go back far enough we could probably ask, “Who asked for storytimes?”  In my nine years of programming continuing education classes for a multitype library cooperative, the most popular classes — the ones where registration filled within the first hour — were CONSISTENTLY the ones that no one asked for; classes on topics such as Twitter, social bookmarking, blogging, effective presentations, etc.   People asked for advanced excel classes, book repair, Reader’s Advisory, and these classes would get low to middling turnout.

I learned that what people ask for is constrained by the limits of their own imagination and expectations, and that while it was important for me to be responsive, it was often more valuable to my customers to pay attention to trends and anticipate the class/offering that they didn’t even think to ask for.

We Need To Shift Customer Expectations

I believe the same principle applies generally to library services.  Our customers have an expectation or a perception of what a library is and what we could or should be offering.  It is our responsibility to add value to their lives by anticipating things we could be doing, aligned with our mission, that will surprise and delight them.  Our job is to help shift their perceptions and expectations about what a library is or could be in their lives, and in the lives of their family and community.   And in shifting those perceptions we simultaneously deliver on the promise of our mission while also positioning the library as an indispensable presence in the community, and strengthening our position with our funders, and improving the long-term sustainability of the organization.

The importance of keeping the customer at the center

David Rothman has written* a beautiful, concise “Manifesto of Common Sense Librarianship”.   I’m not much for manifestos, but I dig this one not only for its content, but for the way it actually walks its own talk. It is clear, concise, and written in a simple yet engaging voice. It’s got style AND substance.  For example,

“If you can find something that your library is regarding as more important than user needs, something is very wrong.”

Bravo!   Head on over to David’s blog to read the rest: Common Sense Librarianship: An Ordered List Manifesto.

* David notes that the manifesto resulted “from conversations with really smart and insightful people like Amy Buckland, Kathryn Greenhill, Jenica Rogers, and Maurice Coleman.”  Tip o’ the hat to all y’all.

Be an agent for the customer: Hospitality Revisited

Originally posted to Library Garden

It’s been a while since I blogged about the difference between Agents and Gatekeepers, wherein I quoted one of my favorite passages from Danny Meyer’s book, Setting the Table (the book is also a favorite of the Darien Library, according to John Blyberg; Char Booth has also expressed her appreciation for Meyer’s ideas.)

An agent makes things happen for others. A gatekeeper sets up barriers to keep people out. We’re looking for agents, and our staff members are responsible for monitoring their own performance: In that transaction, did I present myself as an agent or a gatekeeper? In the world of hospitality, there’s rarely anything in between.

I was recently reminded of the power of the “agent” concept while reading an article by Dan Pink on theories of motivation.  The following quote caught my attention (It is from Maury Weinstein, founder of System Source, explaining to his sales staff why he did away with sales commissions):

We want you to be an agent for the customer rather than a salesperson.

Agent for the customer… Yes, yes, yes!  I love this concept! Meyer says that hospitality exists when the customer believes the employee is on their side.  He suggests that hospitality is present when something happens for you and is absent when something happens to you.  I’m sure we can all quickly think of experiences where we felt that the person helping us was on our side, (was doing for us), and we can reflect on how that translated directly into a positive customer experience for us– even if the the interaction began because of a problem…

HOME DEPOT: CUSTOMER SERVICE TURNAROUND

I’m coming to the end of an 18 month renovation to my house, which means I’ve spent an awful lot of time (and money) at The Home Depot over the past year and a half.  During the last few months I’ve noticed a marked improvement in the customer service at the store.  There are more employees available to help, there are always one or two greeters at the door, and employees who are just walking by smile and greet me.

 
The most noticeable (and appreciated) phenomena though is how Home Depot has handled some recent problems with a damaged sink, and the return of a few (expensive) items that we did not need.  On three different occasions, three different customer service agents took care of me, ensuring that the returns were taken, restocking fees were waived, and the stockroom was manually checked for a replacement part even though the computer said it wasn’t in stock (and the correct item was found saving me a trip to another store.)
 
This is some turnaround in customer service ethic for The Depot and apparently I’m not the only person who’s noticed.  I can sum up my recent experiences by saying that in each interaction I felt that the Home Depot representative was on my side.  They were friendly, patient (at times exceedingly patient), and consistent in their desire to meet my needs.  I was not quoted policy, I was offered apologies.  I was not told to wait in another line, I was brought over to the service desk where I could be more comfortable and given quicker service.  I was not asked for receipts, I was asked for my address so they could look up my account and review my purchases. In other words, I was consistently served by agents rather than gatekeepers.
 
As I make my transition back to the world of public libraries, I will strive to keep this experience, and the ideas of hospitality and agency –of being on the side of my customers (both internal and external) – uppermost in my mind.  Being on the side of the customer is a simple idea, but one that offers powerful guidance.  And, I hope, powerful results.

Learning and User Experience: Good UX=Good LX

Note: Originally published on ALALearning blog

Steven Bell (who writes often and well on the topic of usability and customer experience over at the Designing Better Libraries blog) recently turned me on to an thought-provoking video of Jesse James Garrett discussing his ideas on User Experience at the Adaptive Path UX Week 2009 Conference.  (Jump to the bottom of this post to see the video)

Garrett’s ideas are simple to understand and elegantly presented.  Since watching the video,  I find myself increasingly seeing the world through UX (user experience) eyes.  It’s occurred to me that Garrett’s ideas on user experience also lay out a simple roadmap for engaging learners. In fact, many teachers and trainers probably already use UX principles effectively, whether they do so consciously or not.

FOUR WAYS TO ENGAGE LEARNERS

Garrett suggests that there are four primary ways that we can engage users:

  1. Perception (Senses):  Engaging through sight, sound, smell, etc.
  2. Action (body/kinesthetic): Engaging through movement and physical action.
  3. Cognition (mind): Engaging through thought, reflection, logic, imagination.
  4. Emotion (heart): Engaging through emotion, feelings.

 

You’ll notice that two types of engagement (perception/action) involve direct engagement with the external world, while the other two types (cognition/emotion) are internal engagements.

Reflecting on my own experiences  I realized that the most successful, effective trainings I’ve been involved with, as both a learner and a trainer, offered a balanced engagement in all four areas.

I think there is an opportunity for trainers and teachers to bring their lessons to the next level by consciously designing learning experiences (LX) that engage learners in all four areas.  In other words, I believe that Good UX=Good LX.

USER EXPERIENCE: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

One example of what it looks like when it all comes together (i.e. when people are engaged, internally through emotion and cognition, as externally through their actions, and perceptions) is illustrated beautifully in this video, The Fun Theory in which researchers replace regular stairs with “piano key” stairs.  What do you think happens?  Click play to find out…

 

 

So how were the people in this video being engaged? I observed:

  1. Perception (sound, music, visual stimulation of piano key stairs)
  2. Action (jumping, stepping, climbing)
  3. Cognition (curiosity, decision-making; choosing between stairs/escalator; processing the cause/effect of walking on the stairs)
  4. Emotion (fun, fun, fun!  Joy of the unexpected.  Joy of seeing others having fun.  Sense of community, and sharing in a novel experience.)

Did you observe any other types of engagement?

Thinking about your own experiences,  can you recall ways in which you’ve successfully engaged your learners or been engaged as a learner? Share your suggestions and experiences in the comments section. And if you find these concepts useful in designing future learning experiences please drop a line and let us know!

(see the complete Garrett video on user experience–well worth a watch–below)

Jesse James Garrett on The State of User Experience, UX Week 2009

UX Week 2009 | Jesse James Garrett | The State Of User Experience from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

As the field of user experience grows and evolves, UX practitioners find themselves having to master new techniques to take on new challenges. Adaptive Path’s Jesse James Garrett takes a look at where user experience has been and where it’s going.

Its all about the experience

In July 2008, I posted on authenticity and what it means for libraries. Essentially explaining that we are in an experience economy and that we need to be aware of the expectations that exist regarding libraries, services and technology.

It is easy to find examples of other businesses trying to create an experience, from fitness instructors and personal trainers to pet spas and resorts. Keith Goodrum writes in his post, Are You Creating an Experience instead of a Transaction? about the delight he and his wife experienced after leaving their dog at a pet resort while they were on vacation. The experience wasn’t just about the novelty but about the way the pet resort made Keith and his wife feel.

Is this what libraries are doing? How do library users feel after being in the library or using their library’s website? Are they experiencing your library or are they merely conducting transactions?

My renewed interest and changed perspective on the experience economy is based on my new job as the Virtual Branch Manager at a public library. When looking for library websites to get ideas and inspiration for a website redesign or overhaul, I have to admit that in many places, that “experience” feel is missing. And its not just the libraries’ websites either; it is the vendors and databases libraries subscribe to or use, as well.

For example, there is no reason why any digital media download site should be convoluted. If you have to click more than 2 or 3 times to actually start a download, how frustrated are you getting? Now imagine a library patron, with a slower internet connection, who isn’t sure if they really want to use these digital resources and what will their response be? My money would be on a few quick clicks, then give up and move on to a place that literally takes one click to download, purchase, etc. (think iTunes or Amazon.com).

While there is a plethora of information out there about how to design an experience that will excite and satisfy library users, consider two great resources as a place to start:

    1. David Lee King, in his new book, Designing the Digital Experience and on his blog, discusses libraries, websites, marketing and emerging technologies. He has experience from which to draw (he is the Digital Branch and Services Manager at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library)and lots of great tips and insights to help get your started.

    2. Kathy Dempsey, blogger at the M-Word and author of The Accidental Library Marketer, talks about marketing your library (and its website) and making it more relevant. Her book mainly focuses on marketing and promotion of library services. However, she does say that most libraries, unfortunately, do not try to create an experience. Part of creating an experience is to find out what people want and need (all part of the marketing process) and then to give it to them.

 

In my authenticity post from a year ago I wrote: “It may take lots of work to make the vision and missions of our institutions match and exceed positive expectations that people have about libraries of all types.” This does not just relate to your physical building but also to your web presence and the resources and services you offer.


As libraries and librarians move towards creating experiences for users, it is important to remember that those experiences have to be true to the library’s mission and vision. Remember advice from authors James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II in Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want: “Be what you say you are by finding your very own original way for customers to experience your offering in the places you establish” (p.152).