YOUR BEST IDEA RESOURCES
by Marylaine Block
I take it as a given that, as library users' personal and information-seeking habits change, libraries must change with them, fulfilling their original missions while still adapting to new expectations.
But libraries are not the only institutions that have been forced to adapt to radical change in their users' behavior and expectations. So have newspapers, network television, the movie industry, the music industry, publishers, bookstores, museums, opera companies, government agencies at all levels... The list goes on and on.
What that means is that there's an endless stream of interesting ideas out there, coming from all those agencies in the midst of change. And ideas that work for one agency may work for libraries as well. The trick is finding them.
Fortunately, although you may not have thought of them that way, you are chatting with your idea finders every working day. They are your librarians, library assistants, volunteers, and board members, all of whom have passions, hobbies, organizational affiliations and businesses that they know a great deal about and routinely read more about. Better yet, no two of them have the same interests, which means that when you combine their knowledge, you have access to an extraordinary range of ideas and solutions from other realms of endeavor.
Let's look for a moment at the idea resources just one person brings to the table: me. Among the things I read every weekday is Otis White's Urban Notebook, an online column in Governing Magazine <http://governing.com/notebook.htm> which constantly talks about good and bad ideas in local and state government. On July 31, 2006, White talked about a service called City Prowl, where architect Jennifer Coleman puts her strolls through historic neighborhoods in Cleveland, complete with commentary, onto iPods, downloadable from her web site <http://cityprowl.typepad.com/cityprowlcleveland/>. And I thought, that's something any library could do, perhaps working with the local historical society. We have the local history information, many of us have the skills to make it available digitally, and we have web sites where we can offer the downloads.
I read The Chronicle of Higher Education <http://chronicle.com/ every weekday morning, and a couple of times a week I read its Wired Campus blog <http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/>, so I'm very aware of technological innovations on college campuses that could just as well be applied in libraries. When I first read there about MIT's dSpace, I thought academic librarians were the obvious candidates for helping their institutions create similar scholarly repositories. Not only do they have the technical expertise for doing so, and the mission to share and preserve knowledge, but aiding a critical institutional mission would be a tremendous way for librarians to gain respect and visibility. And indeed, on many campuses, librarians are doing that very thing.
I'm a regular Amazon user, and when I looked at their catalog, I said, how come they did a better job of creating a catalog than the original catalogers did? (See my column, "Beat out by Amazon," at <http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib85.html>.) I look at every innovation on Amazon - reader-submitted reviews (with reviews of the reviewers), readers' top 10 lists, a recommendation system based on buyer behavior patterns, etc. - and say, Hey, libraries could be doing those things! And nowadays, many libraries are.
As a writer, I read a great deal about journalism, a profession that is having to redefine not only its delivery method but its product and its audience. When I look at the changes news organizations have instituted - lengthy multimedia background pieces for major ongoing stories, podcasts, blogs, online chats by their columnists and other interactive forums, I think, libraries could be doing that. And indeed, many libraries are.
(I should mention that journalism also presents one powerful negative example, a model of how NOT to treat young adults. Journalists are fully aware that their future depends on today's teens, and yet the only stories they write about teens are horror stories - teens on drugs, teen dropouts, teens' terrible test scores, teen obesity, teen sexual behavior, on and on ad nauseum. Sadly, I see parallels in some libraries where teens are treated more as problems than as library customers with the same rights as adult users.)
And after voluminous research for my forthcoming book on thriving libraries, I am perhaps the world's leading authority on nifty things being done in libraries all over America. When I see something special at any library - the University of Minnesota Libraries providing blog space for faculty and students <http://blog.lib.umn.edu/ways.html>, Denver Public Library's toolbar <http://www.denverlibrary.org/toolbar/index.html>, the Public Library of Charlotte Mecklenburg County's MySpace teen page <http://www.myspace.com/libraryloft>, and many other examples you can see in my "Change on the Cheap" presentation outline <http://marylaine.com/cheap.html> - I say, Wow! Other libraries could be doing that!
That's just one person's idiosyncratic collection of idea sources. Multiply that by the number of people on your staff, because each will have a different, equally idiosyncratic collection. Does somebody have a theatre background, or music, or art? What ideas are they picking up there that could improve your exhibits and events and library space? What kinds of things have your technical staff come across that might allow you to improve your services or offer interesting new ones? How about your business reference people? I bet they could give you some great ideas about marketing and fundraising!
What we know inside the library is valuable, but so is all the expertise we bring from our private lives. Wouldn't it be a good idea to do an inventory of staff knowledge? To ask everybody to keep a corner of their mind ready to say, Gee, we could do something like that in the library?
And to provide a place that welcomes those ideas and allows them to be shared, like in library blogs or brainstorm sessions?
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According to one map-making friend, creating walkshed maps... would be a relatively simple Google Maps “Mash Up.” Anyone know of such a tool? Anyone volunteer to do this project? I’d love to have a detailed map stowed in the “glove box” of our Burley of all 248 businesses in my home zone. Ideally, I would want a walking map or PDA application that shows me the whereabouts of public restrooms, water fountains, bike racks, curb cuts, bus stops, and benches."
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