Scan this post


Kevin Kelly’s NY Times Magazine article, Scan This Book, blew my mind. I read it straight through on Sunday and have re-read selected snippets a few times trying to wrap my mind around the implications. Here are a few selections that really jumped out at me (with my comments if I rally the brain cells to assist me.)

Kelly writes,

The link and the tag may be two of the most important inventions of the last 50 years. They get their initial wave of power when we first code them into bits of text, but their real transformative energies fire up as ordinary users click on them in the course of everyday Web surfing, unaware that each humdrum click “votes” on a link, elevating its rank of relevance. You may think you are just browsing, casually inspecting this paragraph or that page, but in fact you are anonymously marking up the Web with bread crumbs of attention. These bits of interest are gathered and analyzed by search engines in order to strengthen the relationship between the end points of every link and the connections suggested by each tag. This is a type of intelligence common on the Web, but previously foreign to the world of books.

Mind blow the first: Simply by clicking on a link we are affecting the order the of the web. What seems to be a “read” action, turns out to be more of a “read/write” action. The more we click on something, the more likely it becomes that someone else will find it and click on it.

Kelly writes,

Once digitized, books can be unraveled into single pages or be reduced further, into snippets of a page. These snippets will be remixed into reordered books and virtual bookshelves. Just as the music audience now juggles and reorders songs into new albums (or “playlists,” as they are called in iTunes), the universal library will encourage the creation of virtual “bookshelves” — a collection of texts, some as short as a paragraph, others as long as entire books, that form a library shelf’s worth of specialized information. And as with music playlists, once created, these “bookshelves” will be published and swapped in the public commons. Once snippets, articles and pages of books become ubiquitous, shuffle-able and transferable, users will earn prestige and perhaps income for curating an excellent collection.

Mind blow the second: Individual enthusiasts writing, selecting, “curating”, mashing, may soon be on an equal footing with the “experts.” I can already see this happening with wikis and blogs. The truth is, I now get almost zero useful information from our professional literature (It takes me about 10 minutes to read American Libraries and/or LJ.) But I get an immense amount of useful and stimulating information –information that is helping me do my job better– from a number of library and marketing blogs that I read regularly with the the help of RSS. (So how long before we hear, “Dude, have you heard my mashup of Federalist #51 and the new Neil Young album? Publius rocks!!)

And there’s more. A lot more.

  • The sorry state of our copyright law, and the black hole of out-of-print information it has created (sucking, sucking, sucking information away from the public domain.)
  • The fact that a large % of out-of-print info can’t be put back into print because, well, because no one even knows who owns the copyrights.
  • The possibility that Google can bring much of this “lost” information back into play by scanning and indexing it, thereby shifting the onus to copyright holders to exert claims (if they have them.)
  • The filtering power of hyperlinks and tags to bring items that exist out on the long tail to peoples’ attention. (think: If you like Ryan Adams, you may like the Jayhawks, and if you like the Jayhawks you may like, Uncle Tupelo, and if like Uncle Tupelo, you may like Calexico, and if you like Calexico you may like Giant Sand, and if you like Giant Sand, you may like their album Glum (and that’s about as long tail as it gets.)

I’ll be re-reading this piece, and reading other blogger’s thoughts on it, trying to flesh out and extrapolate what it all means for libraries. It occurs to me that the Overdrive audiobooks platform already allows us to add our own pdf and audio content to the collection. Will librarians soon be performing more local collection development of digital formats?

The possibilities (and challenges) of adding exponentially more community created content (like Atlantic City’s teen poetry slam, or flickr photo sets, or autobiographies) as permanent additions to the collection is intriguing!

Tip #4: Keep a "No" log. (aka Steal this post)

Practical Tip #4: Keep a “No” log. (Steal this post)

OK, I’ve been meaning to post this idea for over a week, so it serves me right that I got beaten to the proverbial punch by Stephen Abram, who appropriately titled his post, “an idea worth stealing.”

The idea? Keep a log at every service desk and note every time a customer is told “no”, or “we can’t do X”, or any other variation on the theme of denying the customer what they want or need.

Look at the logs on a regular basis and evaluate whether those ‘nos’ can be turned to ‘yesses’. I recommend reviewing the nos while keeping in mind Michael Stephens’ “Five Factors for User Centered Services

  1. Does it place a barrier between the user and the service?
  2. Is it librarian-centered or user-centered in conception, i.e. is it born from complaints from librarians about users?
  3. Does it add more rules to your bulging book of library rules, procedures and guidelines? The more rules you make the more quickly library users will turn you off.
  4. Does it make more work for the user or the librarian?
  5. Does it involve having to damage control before you even begin the service?

I’m not suggesting that every no be turned to a yes. But I am suggesting that your customer service will improve if you every ‘no’ is critically evaluated.

Customer Service Tip #3: Be a great place for teens

Practical Tip #3: Be a great place for teens.

Granted, many libraries already excel in this area, but it’s worth mentioning. In my first “test” post I joked that, “If we can get [baby ducks] to come in for quacky time when they’re still fuzzy, cute, and let’s face it a little impressionable, I think we’ll have them for life.” But seriously folks, if we give teens a positive, engaging, welcoming library experience, there’s a much greater chance that we will keep them for life (or at least through their first molting season.)

And I don’t think that a positive, engaging, and welcoming experience is at odds with the necessary boundary setting that has to happen with teens. I never felt more loved and welcomed than when Carol Kuhlthau was throwing me out of my high school library! (I had an inkling that defacing magazine covers by cutting out the noses and mouths and wearing them as masks was not appropriate behavior.) I appreciated that I had done something wrong and Carol always welcomed me and my friends back. I guess she realized that when we weren’t goofing around we were actually doing some reading.

So how do we make libraries welcoming and engaging for teens? There’s the basics: Smile at them. Treat them as you would other customers. Anticipate and meet their needs. What needs? Stephen Abram suggests letting teens bring their skateboards into the library:

“Why don’t we have a skateboard rack inside the library? Why would we have our patrons risk their independence if their skateboard is lost or stolen? How would they get to the library? We should support them. A skateboard box, Rubbermaid storage container or simply a towel bar by the service desk is a simple solution that provides a service instead of a negative interaction. It’s welcoming. Buy or get a second hand old skateboard and a few sticky letters that say WELCOME. Why wouldn’t we do this? It’s a cheap visible proof of welcoming attitudes.”

Aaron Schmidt suggests (gasp) letting them use the stapler (that generated a LOT of discussion across many blogs–worth following.) Back in a previous incarnation when I served as a YA librarian I set up a modest homework center with paper, scissors (double-gasp), hole punch, white out, pens, pencils, highlighters, paperback dictionaries and thesauri all located in a little 3 shelf bookcase–just for teens! If they’re asking us for it, why not provide it? (Please don’t say “money”: paper, pens and a few staplers a year–yes they walk occasionally–aren’t going to break the bank.)

Beyond the basics (smiling, scold-free service) there are so many good ideas out there for serving teens it’s hard to know where to start. So why not start here at the BIG IDEAS, NOW: teens @ your library conference that took place April 30-May 1, 2004, at Trinity College University of Toronto. There are a lot of goodies here so I’ll highlight a few:

  1. Keynote address by past YALSA President Michael Cart
  2. Notes from breakout session, Attracting Teens/Selling Teen Services to Staff and Administration
  3. Notes from breakout session, Adolescent Development and Libraries (good ideas on why teens come to the library and what we can do to meet their needs)
  4. Notes from breakout session, Librarians New to Working with Teens

Thanks Ontario Library Association for continuing to host such a valuable resource!

NJLA Program: Notes from: "How DO They Do It All? Tips from Effective Library Leaders"

A big thanks to Kathy Schalk-Greene, Mount Laurel Library for organizing this program, inviting me to be on it, moderating it, and sharing her great notes with us! -pete

Notes from: “How DO They Do It All? Tips from Effective Library Leaders”
NJLA Conference, April 25, 2006 Sponsored by the NJLA Member Services Committee
A 50 minute program…

Speakers:

Peter Bromberg (bromberg@sjrlc.org) is the Program Development Coordinator for the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative in Gibbsboro, NJ.

Leslie Burger (lburger@princetonlibrary.org) has directed the Princeton Public Library since 1999 and is the president-elect of the American Library Association.

Mary Martin (martin@bccls.org) is currently working as Assistant Director of Glen Rock Public Library, a small public library in Bergen County.

Kurt W. Wagner (WagnerK@wpunj.edu) coordinates Library Systems and web management at the David and Lorraine Cheng Library at William Paterson University.

Q1: Was there any decision you made or skill you learned early in your career that has served you well?

Leslie:

  • Don’t wear a skirt while working at a library with glass floors
  • Always ask why
  • Never take no for an answer
  • Continually challenge yourself
  • Be flexible

Mary:

  • Don’t let fear rule you
  • If you make a mistake, you don’t die
  • Don’t assume that everyone knows less that you do (It’s hard to ask for help if you think you’re perfect)
  • Thank people for what they do

Q2: What role does technology play in how you do what you do?

Kurt:

  • Help others to understand the interrelated nature of these systems in libraries
  • Always learn something new

Pete:

  • I use technology to control and manage my time
  • Not an early adopter … finally got a cell phone when I saw the benefit to me.
  • Five specific technologies that make my life better:
  1. GoToMyPC to access my desktop from anywhere
  2. Yahoo calendar and listservs
  3. RSS Feeds to scan headlines on 100+ blogs/sites (I use firefox live bookmarks and have just fallen in love with blogbridge.)
  4. FURL – great for project management, reading lists, general bookmarking and serendipitous discoveries!
  5. AIM Chat for online meetings .
  6. (Thought of this one late) Google Desktop–the lifesaving app for the perpetually disorganized. I love you Google Desktop. Don’t ever leave me.


Q3: Do you have a life outside your job? How do you find a balance between your personal and professional lives?

Mary:

  • You don’t find balance on the street like loose change
  • Most choices can be revisited later
  • Sometimes you can’t help being out of balance

Kurt:

  • Always have a sense of proportion
  • Have activities outside of work
  • Don’t worry about this too much

Q4: How do you foster good communication with your staff?

Pete

  • You have to model good communication and show a willingness to listen without judgment
  • Realize that all communication is good, even “negative” feedback … it’s always better to know.
  • Proper response to negative feedback … “Thank you” (props to Pat Wagner for that tip)
  • Ask for what you need
  • Be fact-based (rather than judgmental) in your speech to others
  • Provide options… “where do we go from here?”
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt. We’re all passionate and deeply concerned about the health of our libraries.

Leslie:

  • Send staff wide emails (even if you’re not sure they check it)
  • Communicate in many different ways
  • Library has an internal blog (encourage others to make this the default home page)
  • Lots of meetings (staff wide, department, librarians, task based)
  • Face book of pictures and names of all library staff, trustees, Friends, volunteers (on the blog, in a notebook in the staff room)
  • Write a personal blog (Leslie’s is de-mystifying the ALA presidency)

Q5: Do you ever feel overwhelmed? What do you when that happens?

Mary:

  • First, freak out
  • Afterwards, get a grip
  • Then, prioritize what needs to be done
  • And after that identify those things you can do while trying to avoid the things that need to get done

Pete:

  • I generally feel some amount of feeling overwhelmed. I go home more aware of everything that didn’t get done, but I’ve learned to manage this much better
  • Have other people in your life who can help keep things in perspective
  • Exercise regularly


Q6: What single piece of advice would you give to a librarian at the beginning of their career?

Kurt:

  • Learn to communicate well
  • Avoid energy vampires

Leslie:

  • Be open to new possibilities
  • Be willing to change your route
  • Conquer your fear, let it go
  • Never stop learning

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See more NJLA program summaries at the official NJLA blog: http://blog.njla.org

Little bits of what?

I just finished watching Scott Pelley’s interview of Starbucks President Howard Schultz on 60 minutes and I’m inspired to share something that I wrote a few weeks ago but then felt shy about posting.

Why the change of heart? It was something Schultz said early in the interview. He told Pelley that an employee had coined the phrase, ‘We’re not in the business of filling bellies. We’re in the business of filling souls.” Pelly’s cynical response was, “oh, c’mon you’re blowing smoke.” Maybe, but… Here’s the post that’s been sitting in my drafts folder:

My wife and I were recently reminiscing about our first date and she remarked, “Yeah, there we were on our first date talking about customer service. That’s part of the reason I fell in love with you.” Maybe that’s not the best reason to be passionate about customer service, but it’s nice icing on the cake. 🙂

I remember telling her that I loved working at the reference desk, just as I had loved working at Nordstrom, or at my college jobs working in a pizza place, and delivering prescriptions for a local pharmacy. My secret was this: People thought I was giving them little bits of information, or dress shirts, or slices of pizza, or drugs, but I was really giving them little bits of love.

My future wife’s reaction to this was, and I think I’m quoting exactly, “OK, now you’re starting to freak me out a little bit.” So I went on to explain in less freaky terms that what I enjoyed about providing customer service was the opportunity to connect with other people, if only briefly, and possibly make their day just a little brighter. Regardless of the specific transaction (reference, pizza, dress shirts, prescriptions), I was also (or primarily) giving them a little bit of myself, and that was my real job. If little ‘bits of love’ is too freaky, so be it. Little bits of fill-in-the-blank:  Kindness. Caring. Service.

So in light of my own freaky customer service inclinations I’m inclined to believe that Howard Schultz was not blowing steam up Pelley’s espresso. (Boy, I could sure go for a double tall skinny chocolate almond moo right now!)