Friday, June 06, 2014

Learning and public libraries

Image from IMLS
Last month when the Chicago Public Library won a National Medal for Museum and Library Service, something in the library's press release jumped out at me:

"Each day at our 80 branches across the City of Chicago we are fostering a passion for learning in our students and community members,” said Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon. “It is an honor to receive this award on behalf of the Chicago Public Library’s dedicated staff and volunteers".

The emphasis on learning is mine. I think it's significant because when a major metropolitan public library service (which previously has been recognized internationally ) gets awarded the highest honor in the country, and of all the many things they could choose from to include in their press release, they choose to put the focus on learning, and not information, literacy etc, there's something important there for all public libraries to ponder.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New Central Library for Christchurch

Library folks, this is a seriously exciting 'watch this space'...

New Zealand does public library services really well.

Christchurch does public library services, and public library buildings really, really, really well.

(I'm massively understating this - I think New Zealand are in some aspects, world-leaders when it comes to public libraries and spaces).

So it's very exciting to read this announcement:

Help us design your dream library

The city’s New Central Library (Ngā Kete Wānanga o Ōtautahi) will be built in Cathedral Square and the Christchurch City Council wants your input on the design. What exciting things do you want to do in our New Central Library? How should the building look and feel?

The Your Library, Your Voice campaign runs from Friday 21 March to Friday 2 May 2014. Take the opportunity to have your say about this exciting Council-led anchor project.

We’ll collect feedback through:

  • Ideas walls in libraries, schools, universities and at public events
  • Postcards
  • Online quick polls and discussion forums
  • User groups
  • Listening posts in suburban libraries
  • Our website:

I can't wait to see the results of this project - go Christchurch!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Creativity and permission to play

One afternoon last week I watched three of my staff brainstorm an idea.

The next afternoon, they showed me the finished product:

I am very proud of this, because it's taken a cultural change of about five years to allow something like this video to be produced.

How so?

Digital storytelling is relatively cheap and easy to do, using the tools that most people carry with them each day - tablets, digital cameras and smart phones. Encouraging staff to take time to play with those devices at work has taken a lot of encouragement and support. It was seen as something outside of the 'real job' and the idea of taking work time to play seemed a bit wrong.
The second part of the journey involves the wider organisation understanding the opportunities social media can offer, to engage with our community, and not just communicate one way, in a formal, corporate voice using media releases.

In a world where 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, the production of this video might not seem too significant, but for me, it represents the end of old ideas and methods, and the releasing of staff to embrace play and show creativity in their daily work.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Make Good Things | Make Things Good - Our Library rules for 3D Printing

Make Good Things

Make Things Good

Our library service has purchased a 3D printer and we're in the process of making it available to our community. We need some sort of rules / guidelines / policy / procedure to ensure the service is used safely and equitably. 

I've always been inspired by these kind of 'rules', which got a lot of press about 5 years ago. It looks like they originally came from the Library Loft teen space at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County;

 “Respect yourself, respect others, respect the space.” 

They've been repeated and adapted for many other similar spaces since. 

The rules are short and simple, but pack a punch when it comes to being able to manage a space/service in a flexible, kind and equal manner.

With this in mind, I've proposed the following rules for our 3D printing service.

Make Good Things
Make Things Good

What do you think these mean? Please comment below.

My unpacking of these rules are along these lines:
Make Good Things
  • this is about making designs, objects and things that are useful, constructive, helpful, creative, beneficial and rewarding. 
  • it indicates a discouragement to make things that could harm - both physical harm and emotional / intellectual harm
Make Things Good
  • this has two meanings
  • to 'make good' is to fix things up, to repair things, to adapt and change them so that they work better than before. 
  • as well as fixing physical objects, it's about fixing the designs and ideas behind objects to improve on them
  • the second meaning is reference to making things in a quality manner - spending time doing a quality job, taking some pride in the work that you do
Keen to hear your thoughts and any changes or adaptations you might make to these rules.

Monday, August 12, 2013

You're in the Right Place

Last night I read the excellent piece that the Chattanooga Times Free Press did on the staff and programs at the Chattanooga Public Library. Congratulations to the library staff, but even bigger congrats to the local press for such a detailed feature on the local library.

In late June I spent three days there with Nate Hill  and Justin Hoenke, plus other great staff that work throughout the library, especially on the 4th FloorA few days later I shared the stage with Corrine Hill, Nate and others on a panel about Gigabit Libraries, at the ALA Annual conference.

Everything I read in the article read true to my experiences. Chattanooga Library is an exciting place, with some wonderful people and amazing ideas. The 4th Floor is the single most exciting library space I have seen in my life. 

One thing troubled me though; the super-heroes pose photo at the top of the article. (Not the actual pose, I can forgive Nate for gazing off in the distance like that. Did you know he can actually see into the future when he looks like that?) No, what troubled me was the huge caption looming over the Chat Library heroes;

(thanks Meg for the pic)

That's a cool sentiment and all, but I'm here. Not there. I'm not in the right place. I should be there. Where all the great things are happening. Where all the library super heroes are.... 

Then I slept on it.

This morning brought fresh, more sensible thoughts of course. I am in the right place. I'm here. It's where I am that I can make the most difference. Not there, or there, or even way over there. But here.

Nowhere is perfect. I know Chattanooga Public Library isn't perfect. I was told many stories of things/services/programs that are broken. But that's the same story with every library, ever, everywhere. But the Chattanooga folks get the good press because they're getting on with it and making great things happen. I have a lot to be thankful for where I am, and am definitely reminded that I'm in the right place, right now.

A long time ago I read advice that a seasoned scientist gave a young researcher. It went something like this. When asked "Where can I study/research, in order to discover things that no-one else has found?", the old-hand replied "Start where you are, wherever you are, and look closely, more closely than anyone else has ever looked."  New things are right under our noses. Treasures wait to be unearthed, or crafted, wherever we are.

So, time to stop making excuses for myself. I'm in the right place. Let's get on with it!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A personal visit to The Urbana Free Library

Yesterday morning (Tues 17th June 2013) I found myself at the Urbana Free Library, which is the focus of a lot of attention in library land at the moment. I count it as a professional privilege to have spent two hours with some of the most inspirational public library staff I have ever met. Here I offer a few observations and opinions based on my visit to the library.

I’m travelling through the USA for the next two weeks on a VALA Travel Scholarship, investigating existing and planned projects where fibre-broadband rollouts affect libraries. The twin cities of Champaign and Urbana in Illinois were my first stop, and I met with lots of people from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois, The Champaign Public Library, the University’s library service, UC2B (the Champaign-Urbana broadband company) and The Urbana Free Library. It was a wonderful and inspirational two days.

That morning the local paper’s front page had a story about the library issue creating a lot of news and concern with some people. At the library, I toured the building and spent about an hour speaking with Joel Spencer and Amber Castens, both Adult & Teen Services Librarians. While touring the library, I acknowledged that I had read the news and was aware of the comments about the library. They didn't shy away from the issue, and it came up briefly several times during our discussion. I didn't press them on any details, because I was there for other reasons. So we had no in-depth discussion about details, people, decisions, and repercussions.

Two things stood out for me.
1) Joel and Amber are two of the most quietly committed, passionate, caring public library staff I have ever had the privilege to meet. I only spent two hours with them, but you know the feeling you get about people – it’s the way they talked about their jobs, their community, the people they served. You know these people are here for the love of the job, not the pay or conditions.

2) That afternoon as I skimmed some of the ‘news’ and opinions about the issue at Urbana Free Library, I quickly became concerned that some decisions, by some people, and the reactions and responses by some people involved in the library has tarred the whole library staff and service with a similar brush. 

We all know that issues are complicated, and it’s easy to oversimplify. It seems this issue has a way to run, so before taking up the pitchforks and racing to the barricades, please take a moment to consider that this is a real workplace, with real people. From my visit, some staff appear to me to be doing a wonderful job delivering some amazing library programs to a community with more than its fair share of challenges. It’s OK to make observations and constructive criticism, but please tread carefully and professionally. 

Joel and Amber; Rock on – you’re my new library heroes.


**Update, Tues 24th Sept 2013 - I've just come across this post by Martin Wolske about Urbana Free Library. The piece is a considered and mature reflection on the Urbana Free Library, and I'd encourage you to read it:
Martin is a Senior Research Scientist in Community Informatics at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois. I had the pleasure of speaking with Martin (via Skype) while I was visiting Champaign-Urbana. 

Friday, February 08, 2013

Experience Info Online

My work colleague Neal (@nealthorley) and I are trying something a little different at Information Online 2013.

As well as photographing, tweeting and hopefully blogging about our experiences and impressions of the conference, we will try to talk to as many people as possible and do mini video interviews.

Keep an eye on and make sure you come and say hi to us at the conference!