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Libraries = Learning and Fun


Two doors, one labeled business, one labeled pleasure

Photo from v.h.d. on Flickr

Libraries come down to two key concepts: learning and fun (in the context of information). We’ve known this for years. An example is our collection of both scholarly works  and more leisurely reading.

These two concepts are the reason why we collect content in varied forms. They are the reasons we host events for our users. They are the reason we provide access to the web. They’re the reason why there are librarians working at the library. Libraries are all about learning and fun.

We have books and ebooks so people can gain new ideas or enjoy a tale of adventure or suspense. We have videos and games so users can be entertained or educated. Events hosted by the library allow people to have fun as a community or arouse their curiosity together. People go to the library so they can interact with other folks who are learning and having fun, or they’re going to find a quiet place to learn or have fun by themselves. Use of the internet allows users to access a vast array of resources that can contribute to both fun and learning.

Moreover, fun and learning must not be too out of balance. If we became places that only had first person shooter games and romance novels, we’d quickly become obsolete. Humans need intellectual fulfillment.  Conversely if we only have scholarly tomes and documentaries, users will quickly become bored.

Libraries improve people’s lives through free access to information that contributes to their fun and learning. Keeping these two concepts in mind when delivering or improving services is key. “Did I help this patron learn or have fun?” “How does this new initiative contribute to patron fun or learning?”

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The Three Spaces of Libraries

In prepping for a tour for RAs at our college last week I started thinking of libraries in terms of space and realized that libraries are a combination of three distinct spaces: community space, learning space, and virtual space. This was how I ended up framing the tour, and I thought it was pretty helpful.

Community Space

Libraries are places where people can go to be social and be a part of a community. Libraries hold events like gaming nights, book clubs and film screenings. It’s also a place where you can go and meet friends and relax or even study with a group.

Learning Space

In addition to their function as a community hub, libraries are also a space for learning. Whether public, academic or special, libraries function as refuges to those who want to learn.  They make information resources available to learners such as books, magazines, DVDs, and databases. They also provide other exploratory resources such as computers with internet access. Libraries also have trained people to assist learners along the way. These are people like librarians who can help searchers find relevant useful information and make sense of it, or people in writing centers who can help users write their papers. Libraries create environments that facilitate exploration and discovery.

Virtual Space

Finally, the library is not confined to a brick and mortar building. The library is also a space online. Through social media tools like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter it is possible to further that sense of community discussed above. Patrons can also continue their learning online. Library websites try to make it easy for users to find relevant useful information.

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FBML and problem solving

Photo by Bryan Veloso on Flickr

Photo by Bryan Veloso on Flickr

I have risen to a new level of geekdom. The other day, as I was putting together a Facebook page for the library I ran into some problems, so I had to learn some FBML.

We recently switched from Meebo to Digsby for our IM reference widget. I wanted to put that same Digsby widget into our Facebook page so students would be able to connect with the library there as well. There is already a “Digsby widget” application  available in Facebook, but unfortunately when I tried adding it to the library page it kept failing and instead added itself to my personal profile.

Then, I decided I could just find an app that just allowed me to copy and paste the HTML to embed the Digsby widget, but none of those worked correctly either. Finally, as I was about to give up, I found an FBML app in this blog post. I googled FBML and found the Facebook developer’s wiki. It was easy enough to map FBML to the HTML that I already knew.  So I wrote a few lines of FBML including the location for the Digsby widget, and lo and behold it showed up there on my Facebook page.

This was one of those moments similar to when I first started writing HTML or CSS, when you just take a step back and say, “oh wow; I actually just created something.”  What amazes me is that is that I could actually understand enough about HTML to hack together something that worked in FBML, a totally new language to me. It is just a little over two years since I started learning HTML. Ever since then my curiosity and interest in technology in technology has been piqued.

I realized that there must be some solution to my problem, and kept trying different approaches to solve it.  That is the part I really love about technology. You are constantly learning and solving problems.  If something doesn’t work you have to keep trying until you find something that does. And with every problem you have to learn a little bit more.