OED: Odd, Eccentric & Dynamic


As an undergraduate I was introduced to the magic of the Oxford English Dictionary. Some may question the use of the word “magic” to describe this tome, but for a class full of eager English majors, cracking the spine (well, spines–there are several volumes) of the OED and diving into the deep waters of word meanings and derivations was nothing short of a magical moment. Who knew that finding the first time the word “marshmallow” was ever printed in the English language could hold such fascination?

The OED quickly stepped into the arena of classic reference material soon after its first edition was finally printed in the 1920’s. Classics speak of tradition. And often tradition speaks of the formal or perhaps less-than-daring. What seldom peeks out from behind the covers of such a thing as the OED is the very intense, sometimes unbelievable, story of how it came to be in the first place.  In Charlotte Brewer’s book Treasure-House of the Language: The Living OED  the idea of what a mammoth undertaking it was to even consider compiling the OED in the first place comes to life . The product as well as the process molded many lives and created somewhat of a subculture along the way.

What drives the creation of such a thing as the OED–or any such large, almost unbelievable notion?  What occured to me is that such a project or product often really is driven by, well, another take on the O-E-D: the Odd, Eccentric and the Dynamic.  Think about it: how many of the incredible, deep and useful products or projects that change our lives had their early stirrings in odd moments? How many were driven by eccentric, passionate individuals who simply knew it would work and stood behind the idea? How about the dynamics that arise from deep conversations or shared actions? Yes, we’re talking innovation-in-action here.  (And so, proving that The Oxford English Dictionary has many types of magic).

Here is a small string of  O-E-D (Odd, Eccentric, Dynamic) products, programs and personalities off the top of my mind. File these under “inspiration” and/or “find out more”:

Cerritos LibraryMartha Graham, Playing For Others, Anythink Libraries, Gustafer Yellowgold, Timothy Ferris, Indievision, The Fun Theory

What’s on your OED list?


Standing Still (or Stuck?)

In her book Stuck: Why We Can’t (Or Won’t) Move on, author Anneli Rufus conjures up some provoking ideas about how individuals, groups or organizations can get in the rut that becomes “stuck.” Clearly no one sets out to get stuck. Certainly no organization wants to become a victim of the here-and-then approach to success, right? Alas, it happens all the time. Rufus suggests that there are some clear ways that we can get stuck, including focusing on the ideals of the past and grinding away at habits (even when we know they’re not moving us forward).

Within organizations, there is a clear call to innovate, move into the future and cut a new path. With the call so clear, how do we find ourselves stuck? There is a certain power to being aware of how where we come from, where we are now and where we want to go. Keep that blend of the time perspectives–essential to staying “unstuck.” Rufus writes:

We can’t airbrush the present. This ache right now, that whimpering child, this bill are all too real. Nor can the future be made to stop dwindling….Time is our worst enemy, and only in our visions of the past can we control time. Only in our visions of the past does time stand still. This is how we get stuck.

Find your way back…

This week we launched a project at Boulder Library that is best described as a reading-book-library-love campaign. It’s called “Find Your Way Back to Books” and we think you’ll be hearing (and seeing) much more about it . After months of planning and discussions about aliteracy, library promotions, and new program formats we are officially off and running. This project has a lot of heart and soul, research, partnership elements and flexibility for staff involvement and creativity. Yesterday, as a part of the kick-off week, we hosted Duncan Smith from Novelist who talked about what it takes to help a reader find that next best book.  Hearing Duncan talk about meeting the hopes of readers who come through the library’s doors each day fit perfectly with the aspirational tone of this project. Here’s to reading for the love of it and passing on that love of reading (and libraries) in new and exciting ways!

Subjectivity, Opinions, iPads

Many of us who work in libraries or other organizations that serve the public spend quite a bit of time considering, ruminating, talking or discovering how to make better, stronger or more impactful services, experiences and products for our communities. Often when a new product or innovative service emerges (even if it is in a field not directly related to what we do), our thinking can be inspired or refreshed. With the unveiling of the iPad this week, ears and eyes all over the globe were perked and peeled, ready for inspiration. Along with the applause there came some  notable criticism of this latest Apple offering that won’t be widely available for a couple of months. What can such an innovation or new product release teach us? An interesting post on 52 Weeks of UX, offers a suggestion: “what if the iPad simply isn’t for the people who are critiquing it?” The post goes on to remind us that our subjectivity can often lead us to believe that every new product (or experience?) needs to fit our own mold of what good means.  This is a good reminder. Needs and expectations differ. This is why we do usability testing, observations and seek feedback (from all users, not only experts). Resounding applause or thundering critique doesn’t necessarily mean that a new service or product is a failure from the get-go. Let the people who will use a product or service again and again do the deciding. We can learn and adjust from that.  The closing thought of the post is likely well worth the cost of a new iPad (maybe a little more):

Subjectivity, our inability to see as others do, can be a cruel master.

Partnerships: The Common & The Unique

One of the key ways to strengthen organizations is through partnerships. Not only does a strong partnership strengthen the capacity of each partner to do more and  deepen impact into the community, it can also help us re-imagine what success looks like. Bringing individuals and groups together can be hugely rewarding. It is seldom easy.  But you already knew that, right? It requires a commitment by parties that may not be used to working together. Imagination, dedication and focus are necessary to craft a great partnership. Recently, after meeting a new colleague who works in a field that I am not very familiar with, I asked myself what it would be like to craft a program or service together. How could I stretch my thinking to bring our worlds together? What are the commonalities in our missions?  Not long after, I  came across A Pocket Guide to Building Partnerships that was compiled by the World Health Organization in 2003. Reading through this guide, I was struck by how similar the language and ideas put forth by this organization sounded to many of the partnership planning sessions or workshops I’ve attended in the past several years. Inspiration truly can come both in the form of commonalities as well as in uniqueness. What agencies or organizations have you daydreamed about partnering with? Or, perhaps even more interesting: what organizations would be the biggest stretch to your partnering imagination?

Libraries & Holiday Sparkle

For several weeks I have been looking forward to a holiday trip back to North Carolina. Amid many visits with family, friends and library colleagues (and lots of appropriately chilly weather and many snowy scenes along the roadsides), I have done quite a bit of library visiting. In fact, I’ve had many more library holiday experiences than retail ones this holiday season. This has been satisfying on many levels. These past several days, what I have seen clearly in libraries large and small is a certain, unique sparkle libraries put on during the holidays. From book and media displays brimming with personality  to full-on decorations worthy of remark, the public libraries I have visited remind me of the simple genius and creativity libraries bring to communities. So what are the ingredients behind this special blend of library holiday magic? Here are three that I can easily identify:

1.  Heart. This can been seen in the personalized touches that staff bring to even the smallest of spaces created with depth, humor and the human touch.

2. Expertise. From  local history to customized reader’s advisory support, there is nothing like the library touch on information and service.

3. Hospitality. Bustling with activity from all ages, the public library welcomes, encourages its visitors to be a part of the experience while still offering a respite from the busy-ness of the season all at the same time.

…there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.

                     -Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Pulse Pointing!

I’m gearing up to head to Honolulu, Hawaii to present at the Hawaii Library Conference 2009. One of my sessions will be all about library experiences, particularly the slant that Boulder Public Library is taking on this broad and increasingly interesting arena through our Pulse Point initiative.

Those that are attending the session on Pulse Points will  get a lot of context for this image. What we know is that libraries and places of learning come alive when the people they are intended to to serve are engaged, intrigued or delighted in the process. By creating Pulse Points in your library or facility there is the opportunity to capture the imaginations and genius of both your customers and your staff.

With the Pulse Point  initiative, we are really undertaking a way of creating more interesting experiences while at the same time learning much about our capacity to explore curiosity, creativity and new ideas. Flexibility and discovery…all wrapped up in a great branded effort!

Bigger Circles, Tricycles & Library Success

Tricycle Fest Image.                                              For some time I have been advancing the idea of drawing bigger circles in the library community. One way that we can draw these bigger circles involves sharing our large initiatives and ideas from the inside out and working to replicate these in libraries that may or may not be in close by. The inspiration, ideas and learning through the success of one library can set a firm foundation for a successful program or initiative in another.  A terrific example of this idea is happening this very weekend at San Francisco Public Library when Tricycle Music Fest West rolls forward. Trike Fest West builds out of the enormously successful Tricycle Music Fest that started back in 2007 at PLCMC in Charlotte, NC. The idea of connecting the dots between literacy, libraries and great kindie rock music was a hit in Charlotte for 3 years. It is incredible to see it evolving in a city all the way on the other side of the country. I’m cheering for all the members of the audience who’ll be rocking out at the library as well as the incredible staff who take ideas and make them come to life (Christy, Jason, Angela!)! Are there ways that you or your library are working to draw bigger circles? I think that more of this kind of activity is not only beneficial, it really is one of the directions we need to go as a large library community showing us that we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel (especially with tricycles).

When worlds touch


I am still learning.

These words have been attributed to Michelangelo and they came to mind when I contemplated this photograph I snapped back in March. It is an image of my grandmother Carrie only a few weeks before her 101st birthday. Her hands had never held an iPod. On a whim I placed it in her hands and brought up the Koi Pond app. Suddenly she held an experience that she could hardly fathom. I realized quickly that this thing I carry in my pocket each day was a thing of wonder. Seeing my grandmother’s 101 year old eyes light up as her fingers splashed the touch screen pond was a delicious moment. My grandmother spends her days quietly in her chair by the window reading the books and magazines people bring her. Now here she was moving this digitized water and the fish were responding to her touch.  When I remember this moment a flood of ideas come to mind: how we take our little gadgets for granted, how the generations can find new territories for connection, and how the world quickly shifts for some but not all.

Only a few days ago I put this picture into a slidedeck for a presentation I’ll be doing soon.  ALA conference attendees who will be participating in the “Punch it up with Pictures” preconference will hear me talk about how a picture can open up a world of stories. As you can guess, this will be an image I’ll be using for sometime to illustrate that point.

No time for subtlety

Columbus Metropolitan Library is showing that important matters should not be hidden. By placing this very obvious, shocking screen right out front before you can access their Web page, there is no denying that this library wants you to know what they (and most Ohio libraries) are facing.  Is this an interruption to the library user? Absolutely. Does this speak volumes about the matter and how CML’s level of concern? Absolutely.  Libraries can often be subtle. Now is not the time for subtlety. This very unsubtle statement is well worth applauding.