In this incredible world of movement and change and the mind-stretching opportunities that new technology brings to us, we can often be left standing in the awe of too many choices; the wonder of what is coming next. Craving the new. Still, there is the steady world of libraries that continues to deepen and hold space for what is now, what is then, and what is to be. Libraries discover and describe our world–the historic world and the now, the present and the rare. When I lived and worked in Boulder, Colorado, I met so many academic librarians, many whom worked to acquire, protect and share rare volumes. Eye-and-mind opening. At the time I was doing so much work to update, reimagine and build contemporary approaches to service. This work is important, and still is. The work of securing historic volumes, art and realia of the years that came before us is important work as well. There is something settling (and often unsettling) at looking at pieces of the past. Libraries, like museums, keep us aware, giving our lives and times context. In this time of pandemic, these actions still hold true. It helps us to look forward as well as backward, for context and understanding. Libraries are still holding this charge. Visit the websites of small or large libraries and you’ll see this commitment still alive. Libraries remind us of who we were, who we are and who we can become. A rare, and valuable offering.
If you know me well at all, you have likely heard me talk about the “Two Ms” that I think are important to the work we do…I usually phrase this as “Maximize with Meaning.” The “maximizing” is often cause for much hard work and is likely to be more obvious: a higher door count, more program attendance, impressive stats. The “meaning” part is generally a bit more allusive…and still it goes deep. Today I had a long moment where I touched on the meaning, and in some way it had shifted and tugged at me and I stand in awe at the very nature of the work that libraries do and the depth we can reach. The short version of the story:
Last week a library user asked to have an appointment with me. I checked my calendar, we made the appointment and I thought that perhaps this was a community member wishing to discuss a concern or perhaps even a local vendor wanting to make sure the Public Library knew about her service. Instead, when I walked out into our administrative office area, I was greeted by a gentleman who wished to share a story of gratitude with me. I sat down beside him and he told me that his homeland is Iran and that he is Muslim. For many years he tried to gain his American citizenship unsuccesfully. He began coming to Boulder Public Library’s public program on citizenship as well as the Conversations in English programs that run throughout the week. He gained both knowledge, confidence and belief in himself. He reached into his small canvas briefcase and brought out a navy blue binder. It was slightly bent on the edges from wear. He opened the binder to show me his certification as an American Citizen. With joy and gratitude in his wise eyes he said “welcome” and “thank you” to me (me, who has been in this wonderful city for only a month). He continued to tell me that one of our strong and dedicated librarians (Laura) who had witnessed his long desire to become an American citizen had written a letter of recommendation for him to receive his citizenship. Our Outreach Librarian Ghada had helped arrange for him opportunities to strengthen his English. He pronounced the library as the very cause for the certificate of American citizenship he held in his hand. I stood in awe and mutual gratitude. This long moment touched on the meaning that we all seek to find in our work as we plow through the paperwork, troubleshoot the new technologies, rally the strong and faint at heart on a daily basis.
As this kind and gentle man put his beloved certificate back in his bag and stood to leave, I was speechless with my heart pounding. “I welcome you and thank this library,” he said. I stood in a moment of meaning so gloriously quiet and deep. This is why we do it.
The photo above is from Free Use Photos Group. Check it out. Join. Use.
While I was doing some research for an article I’m writing, I came across this popular quote by Marcel Proust:
The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
We talk about seeing with “fresh eyes” or “new eyes.” But how can we do that when we have been in the same field or location for some time? How can we freshen our perspectives?
Here are 4 ideas to get you started:
1. Walk through the front door of your building (not the employee entrance) at least once a week or so. This will let you know what your user/ customers / patrons are seeing when they first step into the building.
2. If your location offers services to children, you need to see things from a kids-eye-view! Don’t hesitate to lean down the height of a child every once in a while. You may see that all of those fun posters or the great book displays you’ve made are too high for a child to even see them.
3. Create a “makeshift reference desk” out of a table and a laptop. Situate yourself right in the middle of a study area or near the front door. Make a simple sign that says something like “Ask me for help” and tape it to the upturned top of your laptop.
4. If you have a couple of digital cameras or a flip video cam, ask a few of your users or new employees to snap images of 5-10 of the most interesting aspects of your location. How can you maximize those aspects (or what they represent)?
So, what are some other ways we can see with new eyes? How do you keep yourself awake, alive and refreshed each day?How about your users? So share.
Note: Marcel Proust is quite a quotable author. Other than that, I’m perfectly OK if you just use copies of his books as bookends.
This morning it snowed in Charlotte. As I was walking up the street to my office at Main Library, I snapped this picture of the ImaginOn sign on this cold January morning. You get the picture.
So, in the bigger picture, what does this bring to mind for me? Just like the weather, we have to be ready to revolve our presence, add a layer of newness, something meaningful (even if temporary) to our space, our brand, our philosophy. Think of it like the weather. It moves and shifts and–remember this–people repond to that.
Who do you want to see when you look at a new product, a new web site, a new community organization? You want to see you! And you want to see someone else. Someone with a name. A story. Seth Godin points to the frivolous but intoxicating site I’m In Like With You in his post “Learning From Flirting.”
What can we learn from this? It’s what the 2.0 movement has been saying for a while now: let the users speak! They want to! They love it! We love it. And ultimately…whether it looks pretty and is palatable in the old school sense or not…it is what is on the platter for the users we say we want to reach. Are you ready for it?
Are you tired of working harder and getting no feedback to help move you forward? Are you over the ladder-climbing mentality that was set by your predecessor? Ready to give your boomer-boss the bump? Then here is your holy grail. Penelope Trunk lays it on out in a fashion that few “personal success” books do in The Brazen Careerist: The New Rules For Success. It does not get any clearer than this. It’s the book that reads like a blog–and could likely have as much impact! Trunk reminds us that it IS about YOU and YOU do have the right to be successful and YOU can make positive waves while at the same time actually having a life that has meaning to YOU while contributing to the success of your company or organization. This is the book for a new breed of leaders and trail blazers.
Get this book. Read it. Just imagine that it is hardback laptop.
Quote to get you jumping:
“”…when you’re starting a trend, often you look less like a trendsetter and more like a freak.”
Ahhhh, she had me at freak.
Lately I have been thinking about how far we can get if we simply blend the “ingredients” of our daily lives, our work, our organizations. We’re all looking for new ways to do things. What if we think about all the things–the activities, the staff, the technology, the tools–we have and blend some of those existing things together to create something new. Familiar ingredients. New concoction.
This weekend I read an article in the Charlotte Observer with the tag “CMS mixes high-tech, old-fashioned in effort to get 10,000 kids up to speed on reading.” This article drove home the idea of blending. Old tech can support new tech. The Virtual can support the Real.
Have you blended lately?
This morning cnn.com ran a story about the 25th anniversary of the Commodore 64. More interesting than the anniversary, to me, is the information shared about all the people who still love this early model of personal computer. So much so that one fan has created C64.com, a Web site dedicated to preserving the games, demos, pictures, magazines and memories of the Commodore 64.
People love and care for the things that have meaning in their lives. The Public Library can reflect this. Don’t know where to start? Find out what your very own staff loves or is so dedicated to that they could or already have a web site or blog all about it. Our staff also reflects the heartbeat of what is going on in the larger community. Give them a voice and and outlet for what they love–and they’ll love you for it.
After spending half of a lunch hour searching through the “well merchandised” half acre of Barnes & Noble looking for a particular book (and never finding one staff person to assist or a self-serve computer terminal to search the inventory) I firmly say this: merchandising is not service. We’re confusing ourselves if we think so and tangle this up with the core of what we do. Merchandising is a very obvious thing to do and you can see the nice results. It’s not the answer to meeting needs of resource seekers.
Should we better merchandise our collections and resources? Yes–of course. Will it make a huge dent in customer service? No. It’s pretty. It makes the place look nice. It may increase circulation. But it is not service. People give service. This is what the big chains still don’t get. A user likely won’t remember that all the yellow books about travel were neatly stacked together on face-out shelves. She will remember a staff member who helped her search for what she needed or made her feel welcome or offered her an alternative. It’s the meaning behind the merchandise that is remarkable.