Librarians going beyond Google

In a continuing series of engaging panel discussions hosted by American Libraries, AL Live, the episode presented last Thursday offered a rich mix of observations, insights, and big questions about how library staff–most particularly reference staff–out-Google Google’s popular reputation as the resource par excellance. Going Beyond Google  worked through such concerns as utilizing Google web crawling to reveal library contents for user discovery; recognizing reference staff’s shift from fact-finders to evaluation guides; teaching students the difference between the wisdom of crowds and authentic data; and, most especially, the seemingly irreplaceable role human interaction–conversational communication–plays in getting the person with the question to infomation that best responds to addressing it.

The live webcast itself epitomized the very values being named and addressed throughout it. Panelists engaged each other, through Dan Freeman’s fast paced hosting, rather than announcing positions held individually outside the influence of the ongoing conversation. Virtual participants added meaty remarks, with Dan turning to these text chatters frequently enough to keep the preset discussion questions fluid and evolved under the comments added extemporaneously.

Among the takeaways from this model reference engagement process was the citing of an ACRL document authored by Megan Oakleaf,  The Value of Academic Libraries, which provides–and importantly for public and other libraries beyond academic ones–replicable charting methods for displaying how libraries, and librarian-provided services, provide institutional value.

Other takeaways included the restatement of reference (and other library provisions) in a “Google world” as being one of fruitful addition, wayfinding, mentorship, and authoritative balance rather than an unfruitful competition between librarian and search engine. The incomparable worth of communication–between librarian and information seeker–was highlighted as the epitome of library added value to any knowledge search beyond the identification of simple fact. And to that end, the webcast itself was a model of communication among librarians about where and how to get beyond Google.

Big week for all (library) things net

The Electronic Frontier Foundation released yesterday  its 2014 report on Who Has Your Back –a quick, clean way to see which online company platforms protect user privacy to what degree. It’s essential reading and a good guiding document for discussing privacy issues, advocacy, concerns, and practices with your library community, including students, the general public, and library boards.

This week also saw the FCC hold hearings on how making regulatory changes that affect net neutrality might be received by stakeholders. Hey, you’re a stakeholder. You can review the hearings, the current outcome, and make a response by following the #NetNeutrality hashtag on Twitter. (That feed includes links to formal documents published by the FCC in the immediate wake of the hearings).

It’s also been just over a week since the Gates Foundation made its formal announcement that the long-standing program that gave many American, as well as worldwide, libraries their first internet connectivity possibility, the Global Libraries project, will wind to a close across the next three to five years. That’s another indication that we need to step up, as library service providers in the 21st century, to evaluate and advocate for what’s good for our communities and what our communities need to have assured as sacrosanct when it comes to online access, privacy, and best practices for government and for us.

Patrons? Customers? Users? Clients?

It’s only words and words are all [we] have
The Beegees

While school libraries, however otherwise beleaguered they may be (and definitely are!) can rest with relative ease on the habit of calling those who make use of them “students,” and sometimes “teachers” or other identifications that refer to the functional identity held beyond the library, public library staff have fiddled for over a century to find the most suitable term by which to call both those who use the library and, with the quick addition of “non-” or “potential,” those who don’t. My email brings daily suggestions that I enter online discussions in various professional and off-hours forums to discuss such topics as “losing patronage,” and “giving customers what they want.” The standard nomenclature applied to these members of the public vary among the four I question in the title here. It’s past time for us to define those we serve, and for whom we work in public libraries, according to who they are rather than according to what we need them to be for the library’s sense of commitment to them.

We work in a field where words are prioritized as our chief form of communication. We need to think about which ones we use, what they mean when heard, and whether they are as accurate as any we can choose. We do, in all but the worst cases, have patrons. Patrons sponsor, finance, contribute through backing or other benefit, and donate to the institution who “has” them. Customers, on the other hand, buys goods or services from a business, so when someone buys something like city-required garbage bags available through us, perhaps they are customers, and perhaps even when, at just a bit of stretch, when they pay for interlibrary loan requests. Users, as a functional identity, must match their activities to whatever it is that we are counting. And clients share particular attributes of customers in terms of presuming a monetized model, while at the same time being forced into activities that rely specifically on accessing professional services.

Each of these names focuses on us, the public library, and skips over why we do what we do from the standpoint of community service and resource. Fire departments indeed quell–or work to quell–fires and other emergency situations on a needs basis, and we don’t identify those who turn, or fail to turn, to the fire department when things that shouldn’t start to smell smoky patrons, customers, clients, or even users. They are, in any of the sets of circumstances in which they are being and doing fire fighter stuff (responding to emergencies, providing professional safety checks, organizing proactive safety awareness programs), working with and for members of the community.

Which is the same population with whom we be and do library stuff. Can we turn the floodlights off us and shine them where they need to be focused? I want my public library to focus on community members and figure out from there what that should and can entail.

3D printing: replication or innovation @ your library?

Yesterday I sat down with a colleague who works at a public library where there is a Central Library construction project well underway. In her role as the Emerging Technologies Manager she’s attending both to current community needs and library resources and the steep planning toward features of the new facilities and services on the horizon. She’s been amassing and working with staff around 3D printing equipment, of course. However, unlike the “maker” model we’ve both heard discussed in a large number of library programming contexts, innovation rather than replication is the primary value community access to 3D printing will target here. Library value to attach to replication opportunity isn’t neglected. However, the focus in that vein is on intellectual property knowledge capacity building in both library staff and 3D printing members of the public, not how to make replicated consumables.

Promotion of the equipment targets the small business community for now (with expandion, of course, to other communities of interest coming). Prototype building for something new, rather than repeating what already is lines up well with the evolving nature of how the public library supports what the community wants to achieve, rather than suggesting that library–and 3D printer–use is the end in itself.

My colleague and I then turned to discussing a book (hey, we are librarieans) that Maria Popova had featured in this past weekend’s Brain Pickings newsletter. Carol S. Dweck’s 2007 Mindset(Ballantine) discusses how the examination of twenty years of research suggests to Dr. Dweck that humans seem to develop, from earliest childhood, along one of two mindsets toward identity maintenace: those with a fixed mindset seek to demonstrate personal mastery by repeating efforts at which they know they have succeeded, while those with a growth mindset seek the same sense of wellbeing by trying new, yet unachieved efforts. The paradigm of 3D printing put to use for the purpose of replication and the alternative of its use for innovation took us even further in our musings.

According to Dr. Dweck’s analysis, those with a growth mindset not only aren’t personally interested in replicating what they have done successfully, they also have great difficulty understanding that the replication mode actually does authentically concern others, those with the fixed mindset. Of course, those with the fixed mindset might have just as little apprehension of the authentic focus on innovation suggested by those with the growth mindset. What might you be able to do with the knowledge if you were to evaluate not only which mindset is yours (by predilection, remember, not consciously chosen) but also which one moves members of your leadership team and your staff? Could a way forward be found for those battles between the “we’ve always done it this way” contingent and the “oh, let’s try this” faction? Might just acknowledging that people do tend toward one mindset or the other, as a starting point, shed some light on how change management needs to be undertaken locally? How can we experience the same information about what different resource can “do,” if we don’t first understand how differently we may be defining “do”?

The new Central Library is now slated to open in November 2014. I plan to return to see it in all its glory, of course, but I plan on using the 3D printing resources then as well. I’m working on an innovation in bridge-building, a way to get bridge footers planted on both sides of the mindset alternative, the better to offer a way for the replicators and innovators to understand each others mindsets well enough to work with both in the evolving institution we call “library.”

Opportunity and Tools for Discussing Diversity

When reading about a recent and unhappy event involving a library staff member’s response to the behavior of a library user with Down syndrome, which behavior was already being addressed by her acompanying mother , I recognized an excellent opportunity for library managers and leaders everywhere in the US to have a discussion with staff about aspects of diversity we sometimes neglect to discuss openly. Without making judgments about the events reported in the news story, the story itself provides a context for exploring how our professional understanding of collection diversity might inform our staff responses to user diversity.

In an auspicious bit of serendipity, later the same day of my own reading of the news story, I accidentally discovered a small and concise book which might help move local discussions forward. (Rangenathen’s rule concerning “every reader his book and every book it’s reader” expanded in the moment to “and every serendipitous browsing find its moment”).

Kieron Smith, who proves himself a capable and insightful public policy commentator, has taken on a topic that receives relatively little popular press: The Politics of Down Syndrome is among a series of brief books that examine how specific realities require us to reframe our unconsidered responses that have grown into habits.  Available in paper back for under $10 as well as on Kindle for a couple dollars more (WorldCat indicates it as available at a variety of American libraries as well), his book may help you to focus those necessary staff discussions.

In addition to showing how Anglo-American policies in health and education seem to follow a bias that does not take into account the past thirty years of Down syndrome research and discovery, Mr. Smith also gives an accessible overview of how our societal and personal attitudes toward viewing all matters as consumer-based and the human predisposition to seek the safety of communal identity even if that means objectifying those who differ from that community as Other, and lesser, can contribute to a maintenance of outmoded understanding when science offers more informed views.

Diversity is not in itself tricky, but what continues to be a stumbling block is a popular denial of the reality–or at least possibility–that a truly diverse society supports all of us, makes us better as humans. Books featuring characters of color aren’t just for readers of color. Understanding how to manage navigation in an unfamiliar place, if one is blind, isn’t just for those who are blind. Speech communication difficulties that arise when staff and library user don’t speak the same language isn’t the user’s “fault” or even her wholly owned concern.

And recognizing the role Down syndrome may play in someone’s life isn’t just for the “benefit” of those born with trisomomy 21. Those with Down syndrome  are not Other but among the us. Humanity is diverse. And it’s a good time to work with library staff to explore how diversity informs our work, just as do organizing principles and standards.