Top Ten Zero-tech Library 2.0 “no brainers” for Public Libraries

TopTen LogoWhen I wrote the “Top Ten no brainers” post a week or so ago, I broke one of the major tenets of Library 2.0 — the idea that it is not all about technology. I am absolutely proud that so many people appeared to find the list of “low tech” recommendations useful, but I also feel like I gave the idea that L2 is all about implementing collaborative technology.

Well, I thought I’d temper my technology message with a library 2.0 “no technology” message. I bet most librarians know these ten messages and can probably add more, but collaboration in a no-tech environment is important too! So here you go. Ten Library 2.0 things you can do that have little or no connection to technology. Feel free to add your own!

  • Pretend you are not a librarian and try one, many or all of your services

Why is it L2? One of the main goals of L2 is user-centeredness. If you are pretending you are a user (or a non-user) than you are that much closer to seeing things the user’s way.

Why would your users want it? The more you see things the user’s way, the more you are going to understand that “database,” or “OPAC,” or “circulation” means jack-squat to non-librarians. “Last week’s local news available online?” Now you are talking!

If you get really advanced at pretending to be a user you can even imagine specific scenarios like “I am a low-vision user who wants to email a friend” or “I am teenager who found out cute boys/girls hang out at the library.” Having that brief experience of walking in someone else’s shoes should help alleviate the “library jargon blues.”

  • Learn something then write a brief about it (and that means YOU, whatever level you are)

Why is it L2? If you can distill a whole bunch of reading into one page, then you are perhaps doing more for your colleagues than 50 wikipedia pages. This is a good way to achieve collaborative thinking without touching tech (of course, there are alot of tech options for sharing that brief).

Why will my users want it? Lets say you share a brief that provides the “5 things staff ought to know about internet safety.” That means seniors managers can create policy documents highlighting these 5 things. Middle managers can offer more effective training. Branch managers can remind staff of the mantra and all staff are more confident discussing the issue of internet safety on the whole. Better information and better confidence means more effective communication and better service to users.

More importantly, no one has had to face the “you should read this great 200 page report on open source” (aka: the never-read tree-killing report) pile-up on their desks. Get the message down on one page and you are going to open up L2 windows.

  • Volunteer in the Community

Why is it L2? Taking a few hours out of a weekend or weekday evening to do some community volunteering is the non-tech equivalent of starting a blog. In your casual conversations you can voice some ideas to people and — guess what — they can comment too! That information you share will get out there by word of mouth (and someone may even blog it)!

Why will my users want it? Being community involved will help you become aware of some of the big picture issues in the community, and help you speak to those issues more precisely at work. Let’s say you live where I live and know nothing about Hockey, but by volunteering to help raise money for the local soccer team you hear how great local kids think Sydney Crosby is. And it just turns out that he’s from Cole Harbour? Sounds like you ought to be feeling a little Crosby-ish in your library, eh?

  • Go to a Conference Presentation prepared with Questions

Why is it L2? A conference is a time to re-charge your library batteries. If you come to presentation prepared with lots of questions and ideas, you may be able to take those old L1 batteries and get the fully-charged L2 or L3 upgrade!

Why would my users want it? There are probably three kinds of presentation attenders: 1) the say-nothing kind, 2) the blow-hard kind (like me) and 3) the question askers.

If you say nothing, you basically get someone else’s take on a topic, generalized to a fairly ubiquitous audience, leaving the topic fairly un-implementable.

If you are the blow hard kind, you get yourself trying to take the topic and applying it to your own situation or mindset — and the presenter is probably just going to nod and smile at you.

If you are the question asker, you get a fresh look at a situation tailored to your own needs. That fresh look could bring you that much closer to your user.

  • Have a can of desk-repellent available for all staff at all levels.

Why is it L2? One thing that L2 is trying to say loud and clear is that “the desk has got to go!” The less we sit at our respective desks, the more we are bring the service to the user. That’s L2.

Why would my users want it? This is not anything new, but the desk is intimidating. The desk is the thing that is being made fun of in this library/librarian parody. People are not supposed to “boogey” on a desk, or laugh, or have fun anywhere near it. The desk says “I’m busy — leave me alone.” Desks have gavels on them for rash judgements. Leave the desk and all of the sudden you are not intimidating. Users will like not-intimidating.

I admit the desk is a habit, but how about applying desk repellent just one shift per week for starters? And as I said, that goes for everyone, not just front-line staff.

  • Use the Interview, Luke

Why is it L2? Well, it’s sort of not. Instead, it is an L1 thing at the centre of what makes L2 possible. The reference interview is the librarian’s light sabre. It deflects the barrage of red herrings that come from how difficult it is to voice an information need. It also slices through information overload. Use it and not only will you save the user from the dark side, you will win the user’s heart.

Why will my users want it? Used tactfully and effectively, the reference interview will show you are interested in what he/she is doing. You will learn more about the user (and yourself) and the user will be better able to solve his/her own problem. Some of the best interviews I ever had resulted in the user saying “hey! I think I know how to find this now for myself!” Yet another Jedi working to fight the dark side. Hurray!

Oh yeah. The reference interview is still relevant at the manager level too. The user may be slightly different, but the technique is still the same.

  • Do Problem Formulation

Why is it L2? No, creating problems is not L2, nor is it what I’m talking about. Never in life is there an occasion where we cannot do small things to make the world just a little bit better. But sometimes we do a really good job at implementing the wrong things. Sitting down and thinking about what you are *really* trying to do is a good way to begin the problem solving process. For instance, not having an RSS feed on your website is not a “problem” per se, but the fact that users don’t have up-to-date information about your programs and services _is_ a problem. Any implementation of a service, tech or otherwise ought to get at a problem if it is going to be L2. Otherwise, we are probably just doing something to boost our own egos.

Why Might My Users Want It? It’s fairly simple: the WTF? factor. Services that do not address user needs will have your users saying “What the Fuck?” (and, yes, they will swear while they are thinking it). WTF? is fine when you are doing your own thing (like creating an ugly MySpace page), but WTF on the user’s time and tax dollars is going to make people angry.

  • Learn about technology

Why is it L2? Technology and information go together and people expect you to know about it. Actually, a book is technology too. Could you imagine serving your users without knowing how to operate a book? Well, there are a lot of users who like to get information using technology. Learn about technology and you are thinking like that user just a bit more.

Why will My User Want It? Tell me you aren’t being asked technology-related questions at the desk. ‘Nuff said.

  • Use Creative Problem Solving Methods

Why is it L2? Creative problem solving is about finding new and/or unusual approaches to the same problems. Creativity is L2.

Why will My User Want it? Well, let me explain sort of how it works. Take a problem like “staff aren’t putting their litter in the garbage.” Then you pick 5 random things: aardvark, Chateau Frontenac, Harper’s magazine, cranberries & flesh.

The you provide 5 things that describe of each of the 5 things (eg. Aardvarks have long snouts, eat ants, are furry, live in South America and are featured in a famous Sesame Street song.)

Then you relate those descriptions to the problem: “dress the garbage can as an aardvark to demostrate how litter can lead to an ant problem.” The result is that you get unusual ideas that might be workable into something that can be implemented. Better to tame a wild idea than to make a dull idea interesting.

In the end, your “workable unusual ideas” will differentiate you from everyone else and make your library special. Users will like that their library is so unique.

  • Ask someone somewhere else something about something

Why is it L2? I know the heading for this sounds like a Dean Martin song, but the point is that there is a wide online community out there just dying to share information about everything. This may seem techie (because the easiest way to access these people is to email or IM them), but it really isn’t. The people talking about L2 (favorably or unfavorably) really want to collaborate with you and collaboration is L2.

Why will my Users Want it? “Think Globally, act Locally” is pretty much the story here. Getting global ideas and seeing how they can be applied to your local situation will make your user’s life just that much better.

That’s that. These ideas may not be as novel as the quick-and-dirty technology ideas I had, but I felt the need to share them anyway. The last thing on earth I could ever want is for people to think this Library 2.0 stuff is all about technology. Many non-tech L2 things have a tech connection (some of these ideas make for better tech implementation for instance) , and vice versa (some of these things — especially #10 — are very Web 2.0 conscious), but in the end it is all about collaboration, sharing ideas and thinking about what your user thinks.

And if all else fails, please somebody YouTube a flash piece where a reference interview is likened to a Jedi duel. That would be cool. 🙂

9 thoughts on “Top Ten Zero-tech Library 2.0 “no brainers” for Public Libraries

  1. Thanks Ryan..great post.

    I’m afraid I’m a “blow hard” kind of conference attendee too. Just the type I’d dread havingin my audience, but there you go. I think there’s a whole post to be found in that idea.

    I particualrly liked the idea that we volunteer in our community…go where your users are.


  2. Heh. I do not mean to be a “blow hard.” I just get excited about a topic and want to add my gold nugget’s worth.

    That said, I prefer blowhards to an absolutely unresponsive audience.

    But there are some people out there who — amidst all the blowhards — can really ask that one meaningful question that really cuts to the heart of the matter and makes both the presenter and the audience think hard. I like those people.


  3. Hi Ryan, thanks for this thoughtful post. I’m still thinking it through but stalling on the basic point that there can be Library 2.0 without the technology. Others before have noted that user focus and collaboration were around long before Library 2.0. Perhaps we can says that Library 2.0 is a re-imagining of users and collaboration for the present day. Does it sound like I am quibbling? I am a fan of Library 2.0 and want to see it flourish, but one of the signs of a mature movement is defining not just what it is, but what it is not. If we market Library 2.0 as all things good for libraries, I believe we risk displacing other good things that don’t fit well under the Library 2.0 label. I’ll keep thinking on it.


  4. If I were to be honest, I would say that I am using the L2 monker to draw attention to things that I think are important in librarianship today.

    Further, I think L2 is meaningless unless it addresses specific problems in the access of information. If we focus on what the problems are, L2 and slow library are probably very close. If we focus on how to deal with problems, yeah sure — L2 is probably more tech and SL is probably more elbow-grease.

    But, in the end, if we purport to have answers in a movement, we cannot separate them from the questions. In one sense, “42” and “fish” are two different things. But if, as in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we do not know the questions, one answer is just about as good as the other.

    I believe that movements happens in spite of our inability to define them accurately. The role of language, especially metaphoric language, is as a coordinator of people’s attention. My exploration here is not to find the “answers” but to figure out the questions. Calling my ideas “L2” as stated before, is just a way of saying “hey folks, what should we be trying to achieve here? Here are some thoughts — am I on the right track?”


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