2014: the year of the loud librarian

librarian voice

It’s been some time since my last post, due to the holidays and the lovely response that the Maine library community has given to our technology petting zoo (YAY!). It’s gratifying to know that something we’re doing here at MSL is having an immediate impact on library staff and services. The next couple months are already filling up, and there are some interesting things to come in the next few months that I’ll be ever-so-happy to talk about.

But for the moment, let me make a statement that is half-prediction, half-hope: this year is going to be the year for our libraries to learn the intrinsic value of volume, in the form of speaking up and conveying the worth of libraries to your community and the world.

I say this after having observed it in action. At the Southwest Harbor Public Library, as mentioned in my earlier blog post, Kate Pickup-McMullin and Candy Emlen decided to make more of the petting zoo event they were planning, and did so by inviting their state legislators, town manager and board members to the event, along with Linda Lord and their local school librarian. Kate and Candy’s event made local and state news and were picked up by the ALA in Washington D. C. as an examplary way of underscoring the value of their library to their community. Kate and Candy would be the first to say that it didn’t take much effort to bring these people together, but no one doubts the impression that was made during that meeting.

Ellyssa Kroski, director of information technology at the New York Law Institute and speaker on the areas of technology and libraries, created a very insightful slideshow on the future of libraries. The most poignant slides begin at slide 51, where libraries that have “future-proofed” themselves are able to demonstrate their own ROI (return on investment). Most of the slides to follow hammer home the value of “being loud” in your community and letting everyone know how much value your library provides, while always on the lookout for adding value above and beyond what competitors can provide.

I like to think that the lions, laying vigilantly before the New York Public Library, are symbolic of this evolution; this could be the year that the iconic figure of austere silence, pursed lips sealed by a rigidly-vertical finger, will learn to roar.

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in vision

Games, gaming and gamification

Image of Go board

“Genius is play, and man’s capacity for achieving genius is infinite, and many may achieve genius only through play.”
― William Saroyan

(Please assume that the word “man” in the above quote refers to all humanity. Ladies are not excluded.)

We’re about two months away from International Games Day, so bringing attention to this ALA-sponsored event can’t happen too soon! But let’s assume that you are a librarian who doesn’t subscribe to the notion of games in libraries. Let’s start with the basics:

Why should libraries promote games or gaming? As addressed in the link, there are a few reasons. First: games attract people. We think of games as being purely for children, and bringing children into the library (and the attending parents / guardians) is never a bad thing. But it’s more than that: there are plenty of games (this last was said to be a favorite of Kennedy and Kissinger) that engage adults as well. Pew Internet studies have found that over half of adults play video games! The Wii has demonstrated a following with older adults, especially with games like bowling, tennis and exercise (Wii Fit). There really is no age at which people stop playing games. So games can be a way to appeal to anyone in your community.

Secondly, there is the aspect of learning and literacy. These are the days when it’s possible to teach yourself to play guitar or drums, even piano by playing games. Traditional literacy is also made more accessible with the right games. Digital literacy and the use of new technologies can occur even without any prior instruction. (Best part of that article: “… within five months, they had hacked Android.”) Games inspire learning and creativity, and are an essential piece to lifelong learning.

Something else to consider: toys and games can change behaviors for the better. For example, the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has a library with toys and games to assist in treatments for children with disabilities. Other games can help stroke victims with rehabilitation. Pew Internet has found that teens who play games with civic qualities (defined as “simulations of civic or political activities, helping others, and debating ethical issues”) are more likely to be engaged in real civic events and decisions. Games can be social, cooperative, educational, even cathartic.

Gamification is something that is being explored as a new way of improving not just education or knowledge, but even organizations. To gamify a process means to change the process so that it resembles a game, including elements like rules, competition, rewards, etc. Games can alter behaviors, stimulate and motivate learning and learners, and connect people, both locally and globally.  Ann Arbor Libraries have devised an extremely popular approach to teach how to use the library, as well as to encourage attendance at its summer programs. MIT is heavily invested in game theory and structure, especially as it pertains to new technologies. Businesses are benefiting from this idea. Maybe your library is next!

If you’re asking yourself why you should start adding games to your services, I’d ask: seeing all the potential benefits, why haven’t you already? And here are some resources to help you along that path!

The art and science of creation

Hands of God and Adam

So, yeah, makerspaces. It’s one of those neologisms that has become common library parlance over the past few years, though the notion itself is nothing all that revolutionary. Dedicating library resources (and for many libraries, actual physical space is extremely valuable) to the creation of new things? A bit scary. But also, perhaps, the start of something big.

Libraries comport themselves as institutions of education, but the traditional methods of a library (books) function only for a certain type of student: those able to self-educate by reading. Not everyone learns optimally by reading print on a page or screen, or even listening to audiobooks. Many learn best by doing. For someone whose interest and creativity are engaged by hands-on activities and do-it-yourself projects, aka “participatory learning,” a makerspace is the ideal approach to developing skills and knowledge.

A lot of attention is given to the idea of 3-D printers (and let’s face it, the technology has come down in price pretty significantly, and will continue to drop) but that isn’t the only approach to makerspaces out there. Find a tech-savvy volunteer or make a community partnership (kudos to Auburn Public Library!) to teach kids or adults real computer skills with old computers or parts from your local swap-shop. With Raspberry Pi devices at $35 a pop, creating an entire network of computers isn’t much more expensive than buying one of each title off of the New York Times’ bestseller list.

If not computers or technology, why not gardening? Sewing? Writing a sestina? (Dover Town Library incubated eggs, with each participating child given a specific egg to nurture.) The idea that makerspaces attempt to capture is that there is the opportunity to learn through experience, either with mentoring or without. Some libraries capture this knowledge in video form and share it like any part of their collection.

In any event, many believe that makerspaces and libraries make a very cute couple, and that it is not all HYPE. (Some even have excellent taste in WordPress templates.) Makerspace.com has gone through the trouble of making a playbook for schools or libraries interested in starting their own makerspace.

Does a makerspace fit into your library’s plans?

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in vision

Living on the LibraryEdge

LibraryEdge logo

March 2011 is when it began: an effort on the part of a number of organizations to create a set of technology-related benchmarks for libraries. This coalition and its efforts are known as the LibraryEdge. Several states have already participated in a “soft launch” of the LibraryEdge benchmarks, and in January 2014, the full suite of resources will be made available to all public libraries.

The obvious question is, why should I care? What impact does this have upon my library? Fortunately, the answer is a simple one: as much of an impact as you want. Let me be clear. This initiative is NOT intended to be applicable to any and every library, and it carries no weight with regard to the Maine Public Library Minimum Standards. It can be thought of as a structured set of goals, even ideals, that may be helpful when it comes to developing a long-term vision for your library’s technology, services and staff training.

Fortunately, this is not purely an intellectual exercise. When January hits, a number of tools will be made available, including instructional webinars, self-assessment tools, resource guides and more. TechSoup, one of the partners, maintains a LibraryEdge blog describing the Edge at work in public libraries. Libraries will be able to track their progress and compare other libraries within the state and nationally, not competitively but to see how other libraries are being successful in making technology and digital literacy a reality for their communities. There are already a couple case studies showing how libraries large and small (though not as small as many Maine libraries) have fared taking on the Edge Initiative.

As I said earlier, these benchmarks are definitely not meant to be held as the standard for all libraries. Instead, libraries may want to review them with an eye for thinking about the next small step to take in staff training, long-term goals around technology maintenance, or how to engage their community in new ways. When January 2014 is upon us, it will be interesting for libraries to self-assess and really begin to take advantage of the resources of this national effort.

How do you think your library measures up? What is your next technology-related goal?

Making the jump to lightspeed: E-rate 2.0


In the halcyon days of 1996, a few visionaries in our Congress (including our very own Olympia Snowe) shaped the law that would found the Universal Service Fund, enabling schools and libraries to receive broadband Internet access at reasonable rates for their areas. Soon after that, MSLN was created to network schools and libraries throughout Maine, and now makes high-speed Internet connectivity a reality for nearly 1000 schools and libraries.

These days, we’re presented with a challenge very similar to that of 1996. What “high-speed” meant back then is very different from what it means in 2013. Moreover, both the demand for data and the raw amount of data available have increased by orders of magnitude, making it increasingly difficult for schools and libraries to be able to operate off on a connection that would have been considered overkill nearly 20 years ago. Streaming HD video to a single classroom or having a few users downloading large files might consume almost all the available bandwidth for an entire school or library, reducing it to the equivalent of a dial-up connection by 1996 standards.

This is why the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation recently convened a hearing on E-rate 2.0 (begins at 33:44). During the hearing, several witnesses (again, with Maine leading the charge by way of Linda Lord, State Librarian on the witness panel) bore very compelling testimony to the committee for the desperate (and growing) need to revitalize E-rate. This implies a great deal more funding (seeing as the original funding cap has already been reached for basic telephone and internet service), and will likely include many other changes to the application process.

What does this mean for libraries? First, fiber. Fiberoptic connectivity is much faster, as it relies on pulses of light for communication rather than electrical conductivity along long copper wires. This means truly achieving “light-speed Internet”, on the order of gigabits instead of megabits. Even one gigabit per second may be enough for the next ten years. This means libraries will need to take a serious look at their own infrastructure, such as their network backbones, so that they could benefit from this capacity.

It will also mean a serious look at the wireless networks offered by libraries. To move high-quality video from the Internet to a smartphone user in a library, every step of the way must be able to handle that sort of volume. For many libraries, having a gigabit connection may be like having a fire hydrant with a hose the thickness of a straw. E-rate 2.0 will hopefully change to allow schools and libraries needing to upgrade their wireless access points and controllers to receive reimbursement with few hurdles, but it requires some thinking ahead to be ready if and when the E-rate program should be ready to deliver.

Also, high-speed Internet can mean an end to telephones as carried by copper; VoIP may well become the standard method for carrying and managing telephone calls. Now that the technology is widely-used and regarded as solid (certainly solid enough for most consumers), it may simply be a matter of time before libraries will need to seriously consider the question of converting to VoIP.

Is your library ready for E-rate 2.0?

The White House invited to a meeting at nation’s libraries

President Barack Obama visits a classroom at Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama visits a classroom at Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The Obama administration is moving forward on initiatives that naturally dovetail with the mission of libraries, and two are especially prominent over the past few weeks:

First, the ConnectED initiative. Here is a challenge and promise to the nation to make high-speed Internet access available almost ubiquitously within five years. Doing so will bring America into the 21st century (we currently rank 15th in broadband subscriptions per capita worldwide – Excel spreadsheet behind this link), opening doors for students and engaging them in a modern way of learning. President Obama’s speech singled out Mooresville Middle School in North Carolina as one of the schools embracing technology in the classroom. Due to their innovations, they rank number two in their state in performance, but are in the bottom 10 for the amount spent per student.

This approach does not pertain only to schools, but also to libraries. If libraries are going to adequately support their local students, they need to be adopting some of the same ideas and innovations. For Maine libraries, offering broadband access is pretty easy — Networkmaine has that part covered for most — but keeping pace will be harder. How many libraries are offering training on search skills, use of databases or Internet safety? (Hint: there are resources out there to help you.)

Secondly, at ALA this past weekend, President Obama thanked libraries and librarians in helping Americans enroll in the Affordable Care Act. He intends for libraries to act as gateways where citizens can walk in off the street, learn more about the Act and actually submit the necessary forms online right from the library, starting October 1st of this year. This is another opportunity for us to demonstrate our value to our communities, particularly the underserved, in making this process as effortless as we can.

Hopefully, we can recognize these as boons to promoting our value. Along with DigitalLearn, Connect2Compete and EveryoneOn, this is a time for libraries to truly shine. Do you think these national initiatives will make an impact in your library and community?

Recipe for a 21st-century library

swedish chef

21st-century libraries. It’s a term that’s been in vogue for some time now; in my mind, prepending just about anything with “21st-century” gives this notion of the brushed aluminum and sterile, white plastic veneer, with the transition to digital everything a time of distant memory and harboring nostalgia for the bygone era of print. Well, not so much. It turns out that we’re actually in the 21st century, no matter how much my date-writing skills prompt me to use “19–” every so often.

Maybe it’s time to get a fix on what is really going on in this idea of a 21st century library. While there are plenty of ideas of what the ingredients should be for 21st-century ideals in the library profession, I’m going to focus more on the message as it intersects with technology, as distilled from the Computers in Libraries 2013 conference (as a segue from last week’s blog post).

1) Enlist and energize your staff in technology.

Libraries large and small had this to say: change happens internally, and it happens best when everyone’s on board. This is especially pertinent for those who will be implementing or supporting the technology. It’s one thing to be versed in Facebook, but quite another if you’re an active Facebook user already. An example of this is the Douglas County Library system’s digital collection. Before this initiative was deployed, the library allowed its staff to try the e-readers for themselves, even giving them a small stipend with which to purchase material they’d personally enjoy. This was a far more effective form of staff training than any webinar, as many of the staff became evangelical in their promotion of the new service.

Providing stipends to staff isn’t an option for every library, certainly, but encouraging staff proficiency and training is a must. Also, depending on the nature of your library, partnering with other community resources and taking baby steps might be the answer. For example, if you found a volunteer to offer basic Facebook instruction (or even an online tutorial), arrange a time when your staff and volunteers can attend!

Resistance is almost a given wherever change is concerned, but change is easier if everyone can understand and agree with the new direction. When hiring new staff or recruiting volunteers, an eye should be cast toward technological savvy. Just the qualities of being willing and curious about technology may be all that are needed to building inertia for change in your library.

2) Push your library’s presence beyond its walls.

Social media was one of the lead actors at the conference, big surprise. Like the transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0, actively engaging your patrons and interacting with your community is today’s way of doing business. Online or text reference, a social media presence, downloadable content, and community partnerships are all gaining momentum. Wouldn’t you prefer a resource that you can access from your home or workplace, even a smartphone?

There are many services that libraries can (and likely do) offer via email, phone, even chat or text, without significantly changing how they do business. However, the other side of this coin is self-promotion. On our side of the desk, we are pointedly aware of everything we do. What about the person on the street walking past your library, visitors / tourists, local business owners, or town selectpeople? Do they know about your story hours, book discussions, financial literacy programs, basic computing classes, small business resourcesvideo game events, artist round table dates, or knitting gatherings? Libraries often have the advantage of being centrally-located in their communities, but the next step is to be centrally-located in the minds of those we serve.

Some libraries are sponsoring Little Free Libraries (or the high-tech alternative, LibraryBox) in high-traffic areas. Others have mastered social media (like the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library and its Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Youtube – including episodic fiction about zombie preparedness, among other things) or e-newsletters. Still others, like SUNY Cortland, are building a streaming video collection. This isn’t even mentioning some of the fantastic community collaborations going on in Maine.

Point being: don’t just get the word out, make it easy for people to learn what you do and what’s going on at your library. Promote your “always on” services and explore new ones. Be borderline shameless in promoting your library.

3) Become the technology center for your community.

The first two points were leading up to this one, and rightfully so; it’s hard to establish any claim to being the center of technology if you can’t support (by way of staff and volunteer training) or promote your services. Fortunately, many libraries can make a de facto claim to being the technology center by way of just being “the place to go when you want an answer” (and librarians being some of the smartest people around, naturally).

Many libraries are scheduling one-on-one sessions, classes, or designated times for patrons to bring in their devices. Others are offering up makerspaces (which any library can do, don’t let the terminology throw you) and hands-on or video skills training. Still others are following trends such as QR codes (though not everyone feels that QR codes are useful in libraries) or augmented reality applications.

It seems obvious that the first criterion is that you’re meeting a demand (though allegedly Henry Ford argued that people don’t always know what they might eventually come to demand). Still, the principle is sound, and librarians will often have a sense of what their patrons would like them to provide. Once you begin offering the service of technology training, the demand will begin to grow on its own. In effect, as your patrons begin to know what they don’t know, their ability to articulate what they want to learn grows. The patron who begins with basic instruction on email and a year later is asking for help with getting an Etsy storefront in place is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

The future of libraries may not be easy to reach, and there is no single path that will work for every library. Some may be content to remain in the 20th century, and that may work for their communities. For those that are finding that the future is catching up to them, I hope this is helpful advice.

Phew! Seems like I had quite a lot to get off my chest on the topic. How about you?

Amazon doesn’t let you play laser tag

Computers in Libraries 2013 logo

In April of this year, I took the opportunity to attend the annual Computers in Libraries conference (CIL 2013) held in Washington, D. C. Several hundred librarians, technicians and hybrids of the two were there, and it’s not hard to imagine the overall impression conveyed by the attendees: it’s an exciting time to be involved with libraries, particularly if you are something of a tech-geek. (Exhibit A: the first night’s event saw a few dozen librarians playing laser tag, painting with motion-sensing devices and steering small little motorized balls.)

laser tag

Not afraid to use it

Cleveland Public Library’s TechCentral, the Douglas County Library (CO) digital branch, or SUNY Cortland’s streaming video collection all had their moment in the spotlight, and are all taking steps toward their own vision of the 21st century library. The point has been made before, and most libraries are coming to terms with the role that technology will play in their future to one degree or another. That said, the conference wasn’t (purely) about cheerleading the wonders of the digital age in libraries, and many of the presentations were aimed at libraries struggling with first steps.

One interesting notion that was reinforced over several presentations is this: in a de facto sense, libraries are in direct competition with companies such as Amazon and Google or services such as iTunes and Netflix. Whether one agrees with this statement or not, it does bear some examination. I for one feel that it’s hard to argue that services such as immediate download have changed the face of the music, movie, television and publishing industries, creating a consumer that has come to expect instant gratification, something that is difficult for libraries to emulate without the resources of a corporation behind them.

However, it’s not purely about getting material into the hands of our patrons (or customers, if you prefer). It’s the experience that’s being provided, the nature of the transaction between vendor and consumer, that makes the real difference. Furthermore, transactional efficiency is not the only way to achieving consumer satisfaction. In fact, as it was argued at CIL2013, the human element is where libraries can easily outpace the corporations. In fact, as the ability to offer instant access to items (as with the Maine InfoNet Download Library) becomes easier to achieve, the more that libraries can establish parity and even superiority for the demands of our communities, simply because of the personal interface.

Libraries do seem to enjoy continued goodwill and relevance even while some few claim libraries to be outdated due to the power of search engines and the proliferation of Internet access. People gravitate to good experiences, and if libraries can provide similar results as corporations like Amazon but with the personal and friendly touch (or perhaps the long-distance “touch” of a friendly game of laser tag), there’s every reason to suppose that libraries can, in fact, compete with them and triumph. End soapbox.

In next week’s post, I’ll talk more about three key points for libraries tackling the challenge of technology that I distilled from CIL2013. In the meantime, do you agree that we’re in competition with big companies like Amazon? How do libraries remain relevant in the face of “two-day shipping” and streaming movies?

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in vision