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Creating Meaning for Library Users

Two weeks ago I attended an event for the kickoff of the Native Creative Consortium of Vermont. They brought in Nathan Shedroff, a pioneer in Experience Design. His talk was fascinating. He talked about how everything is an experience and that companies and organizations, whether consciously or not, are creating certain types of experiences for their users. Instead of thinking that you’re a shoe manufacturing company, or a computer company, or library, you should be thinking more deeply about what experiences and expecially what meaning you are creating for your users. Shedroff’s main point’s are well captured in this TED talk:

Shedroff discusses 15 core meanings that we have as humans. These meanings are:

  1. Accomplishment - Achieving goals and making something of oneself; a sense of satisfaction that can result from productivity, focus, talent, or status
  2. Beauty - The appreciation of qualities that give pleasure to the senses or spirit
  3. Community - A sense of unity with others around us and a general connection with other human beings
  4. Creation - The sense of having produced something new and original, and in so doing, to have made a lasting contribution
  5. Duty - The willing application of oneself to a responsibility
  6. Enlightenment - Clear understanding through logic or inspiration
  7. Freedom - The sense of living without unwanted constraints
  8. Harmony - The balanced and pleasing relationship of parts to a whole, whether in nature, society, or an individual
  9. Justice - The assurance of equitable and unbiased treatment
  10. Oneness - A sense of unity with everything around us
  11. Redemption - Atonement or deliverance from past failure or decline
  12. Security - The freedom from worry about loss
  13. Truth - A commitment to honesty and integrity
  14. Validation - The recognition of oneself as a valued individual worthy of respect
  15. Wonder - Awe in the presence of a creation beyond one’s understanding

Thinking in terms of meaning when creating resources and services can be a really helpful framework in libraries. At a more professionally focused school (like my institution), accomplishment is likely a meaning that would be important to many students. With this meaning perhaps services would be designed in such a way that students could learn on their own and there are a lot of ways they can Do It Yourself (DIY). Perhaps at liberal arts college, enlightenment would be a more relevant meaning. For these type of users you may want to design more around the “a-ha!” moment. Using this model, you need to examine your own community and tap into what is meaningful to them.

We are not simply delivering access to e-books or databases. We are not only conducting reference interviews or doing information literacy. We are doing something much more important than that.

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Sink Deep Into Your Mind

Sink deep into your mind, and all the answers you shall find.

A couple weeks ago when I was down in our stacks I noticed that someone had written the above message on one of the signs telling you which call numbered books are where. Apart from it being a cute little saying I read more into it. I took it as meaning that the real answers are not simply out there in a book or on the web. To get to the real answers you need to sink deep into your mind and reflect.

These real answers come when you actually reflect and think more deeply on bits of information you’ve found. How does this information connect to me personally and what I already know? What is the significance of this information? Does this look like anything else I’ve seen and can I connect it to another piece of information?

The web is great for getting answers. Who wrote Jenny (867-5309)? You can settle a bet at a bar. You can get information from the web, libraries, TV, friends, anywhere. But libraries in specific are good environments to get to those real answers, those deeper answers.

I was helping a student last week come up with a topic for how she could connect her major (business) to the constitution. We did a little searching online, but then we decided to go down to the stacks to the section on business ethics. There we thumbed through a few books. I asked some questions and suggested a number of different things topics or ideas that I found. We eventually hit on social responsibility and business and the student seemed pretty excited about it as a topic.

Librarians are good at connecting people not just to information, but information that has meaning to them. We provide guidance and another perspective. Going to the business ethics section was simply another approach to the problem. In addition, the library purposely creates a space where people can “seek deep into their mind” and be reflective.

Google is good at getting us facts. Libraries and librarians assist people in creating answers  from those facts that have personal meaning to them.