Honda has put out a series of short videos (videos are Flash) about “dreaming the impossible.” The videos cover some interesting topics including failure (which I’ve posted on), dreams, robots, and mobility.
“Technology is part of the evolution of the human race. It’s neither divine nor diabolical. It’s up to us how we use it.” -Deepak Chopra
This quote was about robots, but it could be just as applicable in libraries. Often people get hung up on technology. They think the newest thing will be a “game changer” or will revolutionize the way things are done. Or they vilify it as something ruining culture or as just another fad. Chopra points out that technology is not good or evil, but that we should be thoughtful in how it is used and applied.
I’d recommend watching a couple of these 7-8 minute videos. They’re inspirational and they bring up a number of fascinating ideas. The videos got me thinking about how libraries can start dreaming the impossible. Instead of making statements like “we don’t do it that way” or “that can’t be done,” we should be asking questions like “how can I make this vision a reality” and “why not?”
We had an all campus retreat this week. It was all day and the chairs were uncomfortable, but there were periods of illumination and inspiration.
One of these periods was when someone at our table told of a moment of affirmation when a student was really in their shell while studying abroad. This staff member encouraged the student to seize the opportunity while he had it. He didn’t hear back from the student for a long time. When the student came back though, he came to the staff member’s office and told him that it was that conversation that helped him turn the corner and make the study abroad experience amazing.
This made me think about times like that in my own career – moments of affirmation that help you realize that you are making a difference. It’s like watching a meteor shower. You can get discouraged, but sometimes there are spectacular flashes that are utterly beautiful.
In my job I think of reference interviews where students start understanding how they’re going to start approaching their project, or when they get super excited about their topic. I also distinctly remember a class that I thought went OK, but a student saw me in the library later and told me how useful it was. It’s times like this that give me so much joy.
I know other people have had experiences like this. What’s your story? When was a moment that you realized, “hey, this is why I became a librarian?”
Google’s pretty powerful, right? It’s the most popular search engine, owns the second most popular search engine (Youtube), and there’s Gmail, Docs, etc. It’s a conglomeration of a lot of different services into a single massive company. Google can do a lot of amazing stuff because it’s so big and has so much capital.
But Google’s just one company. There is also strength in numbers. One of the main strengths of libraries are their numbers. There are more public libraries in the U.S. than McDonald’s. Libraries may be much smaller than a company like Google, but because of that they can be much more focused. Google is trying to “organize the world’s information.” Libraries aren’t trying to do that. We’re trying to organize and provide access for information that’s relevant to our users.
Because there are a lot of small libraries serving different communities, we can provide resources that’s relevant to them. The Fletcher Free Library here in Burlington lends out gardening tools. This is because they know that there’s a lot of interest in home gardening in this area. Because libraries are small and many we can know our specific communities and deliver value from that knowledge.
Knowing our users is one of our big competitive advantages, so don’t forget to make use of it. In things like implementing new technologies, figure out what YOUR users are using. Are there a lot of smart phones or regular phones? Do they communicate via email, IM, or Facebook. At Champlain College we’re a fairly small school, but I know that a high number of our students are on Twitter (as of today we’re in the top ten on CampusTweet). But this is not true everywhere. Twitter might not be right for every community.
It’s also necessary to continually learn about your users. Don’t always assume that you know them. Do traditional things like suggestion boxes, surveys and old fashioned talking to people. But also, simply be curious about your users. Wander around, observe them, glance at what they’re doing on your computers. Also listen to what users are saying online. I have a post about how to go about that. I find out some of the most interesting things through some of the alerts I have set up.
To succeed at what we’re trying to do we need to realize what our strengths are and leverage them. One of our biggest strengths of libraries is the fact that they are small, many, and know their users.