Virtual Symposium: What Librarians Make

The Text:

The following poem was inspired by Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make” and was created as a both a tribute to librarians and libraries and a summary of sorts of what I have learned in Professor Michael Stephens’ HyperLinked Library Course from San Jose State.

Mali. Taylor. “What Teachers Make.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN: 1-­‐887012-­‐17-­‐6) Retrieved from

I was invited to dinner one night recently and during the meal one of the guests said in a tone meant to get my attention

… the problem with libraries and librarians is
What’s a person going to learn from someone who decided her best option in life was to become a librarian?
He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true what they say about librarians and libraries:
They are no longer necessary — after all we have Google.
I decide to bite my tongue instead of his and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests that it’s also true what they say about …

Well never mind, we’re eating, and this is polite conversation.

I mean, you’re a Librarian, Tracie. Be honest. What do you make?

And I wish he hadn’t done that— asked me to be honest—
because, you see, I have this policy about honesty and ass-­‐kicking: if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.
You want to know what I make?

I make information available to every member of our community regardless of their race, religion, academic or socio-economic level.

I can make a homeless man feel like he can read the paper as if he were John D Rockefeller and a PhD student weep with joy at finding that elusive resource.

I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could learning Coding and Robotics
What … what is that you 3-D printed? A prosthetic hand for your friend? Awesome.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of story telling in interactive bliss.
Never, once saying:
No you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
And they, Never once asking to go to the bathroom.

You want to know why?
Because in the library they are never bored.

I make barriers fall and dreams come true.
Sure you can use the books, the Internet, and the green-screen recording studio too.

I make users smile.
Welcome to the library, what can I help you find today?

And feel valued when I invite them to participate:
Hi. This is Ms. Landry calling from the library, I hope I haven’t called at a bad time.
We are redesigning the library and its services and  I just wanted to know what YOU thought.

I make users see the library for what it really is and what it can be.

So you still want to know what I make?

I make people wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make author’s share their stories and their processes.
And information consumers into information creators and curators.

I make them read, read, read.

I make them unlock their hidden talents.
I make them take risks.
What you’ve never butchered a pig before? Let me show you how it’s done.

And make them learn that failing is okay.
That did not turn out like you wanted it to. Here let’s try it again.

I make people connect
with stories
and each other
with their pasts
and their yet unrealized futures.

So, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Libraries and librarians make a difference! Now what about you?

Visit your library today!


Reflecting on Reflective Practice

What does it mean to be Mindful and Reflective?


Mistakes: “By not making mistakes, by not taking responsible risks, by waiting until someone else makes it perfect before we can adopt it, we miss an opportunity to benefit from any success of the project now.”

Interact: “Connect and interact as an individual with your patrons as a human being. Treat them as humans and not as members of an anonymous crowd. Share your knowledge and stories with them, join the conversation.”

Neat Things:  Try neat things and see if they stick.

Done: Find ways to overcome the “have always done it that way” attitude.

Failures: Show your successes, failures, and the road you took to get there.

Usable: Ask yourself – Is the Library usable?

Learn: Encourage people to learn and be curious, to show them how things work, and show them how to find their way.


Respond: Find the voice and the content it takes to get users to respond to and share your posts on social media.

Explore: Get students to explore, play, experiment, and figure things out for themselves.

F3 (Feasible, Flexible, and Focused): The institution’s vision should not be so farfetched that it appears unfeasible. The institution’s vision should be focused enough to provide a clear direction to work towards. The institution’s vision should be flexible enough to allow for the environment to change and the organization to adapt to it while remaining focused on the vision’s goals.

Laugh: Bring in speakers who will get your users to laugh at and learn from their talks.

Elevator Pitch:  It’s a good exercise for information professionals to consider what their elevator spiel might be.

Capital Stock: “To reflect is to look back on what has been done to extract the meanings which are the capital stock for dealing with further experience” (p. 108).

Thoughtful: Be thoughtful about the decisions you make.

Input: There are people in our community who use our libraries who are much better at certain things, and their input and observations on our library processes and trials can help build better services.

Viewpoints: Recognize and experiment with alternative viewpoints (p. 104).

Evangelize: This is a call to action for all staff to become evangelists for the library.

How libraries are helping prepare people for the Zombie Apocalypse

Or whatever other dystopic future you can conjure up.

Author Cory Doctorow, no stranger to the dystopic future, writes: “Public libraries have always been places where skilled information professionals assisted the general public with the eternal quest to understand the world.”

Well, imagine the world you wished you understood up and vanishes one day – alien invasion, plague, zombie apocalypse… Perhaps these all sound like the unhinged ravings of someone who has consumed too much YA SciFi or bing watched the new X-Files. You would probably be right. But, let’s just imagine that world for a moment and how the libraries of today are preparing you to cope with it.

With such a vast quantity of information still available in print even after the zombies arise, the aliens invade, or fill in your own apocalyptic storyline here, understanding how to find and select the “best” source is a skill you will hope you paid attention to when visiting the library. Be sure to take an interest in what appears to be that boring Dewey Decimal or LCC system. Knowing which aisle to pick a book on “how to cauterize a wound” or a US Road Atlas, not to mention a journal on edible plants of the Southwest, is going to be an invaluable skill.


For the young among us, those free early literacy classes are going to pay off big time. Once society is ravaged and the power grid breaks down, anything you want to know on how to do to survive is exclusively going to be through books. So, boy, are you going to be glad mum and dad took you to the library!

And those Punk Rock Aerobic classes offered at the library will keep you in shape. Unlike the slow walking zombies of your parents’ era, modern zombies are FAST and you are going to have to RUN to survive.

While “…in the automobile age, everyone was expected to know the fundamentals of how their cars worked” says Cory Doctorow, today, Maker Spaces and Creative Labs will help you learn tinkering skills to understand the “new” technology. You will be so happy you learned how solar cells work, can take apart and put back together simple computers, build your own surveillance drone, code, design, and print 3-D objects. What kinds of 3-D objects do you ask? Well, if you survived the loss of a limb in fleeing a zombie, printing a 3-D prosthetic limb is no longer beyond the realm of possibility.

There will eventually be a lack of processed food and, assuming zombie’s don’t like non-human flesh, an abundance of domesticated animals. Libraries today are offering instruction in butchering, gardening, and cooking – all skills that will be essential.

That magnetic poetry kit from the Idea Box at the Oak Park Library will be one of your most re-usable, weather resistant ways of communicating with other survivors. You will fondly remember how it seemed like such a whimsical idea before the dystopic future arrived.

Ignore the naysayers. Teaching users to encode information that results in a new 3-D printed solar-powered car is at the heart of what libraries should be doing. Libraries provide equal access to information tools. Wake-up! These tools don’t simply let you experiencing the imaginative worlds created by others, but actually let you bring your imagination to life. That solar powered 3-D printed car – a must. Those who believe Maker Space and 3-D printing are just fads have obviously never worked in a school or academic library that teach users ALL kinds of information literacy skills. And, helpfully, you no longer have to be wary of copyright infringement – in the new zombie era, all the lawyers and manufacturers will be gone.

Finally, the collaborative learning fostered by the Learning Commons will serve you well in the Zombie Apocalypse. Surviving will require the collective problem solving abilities of groups. You will able to transfer what you learn in your courses to … well, … survive, … and thrive. In today’s libraries “…you have tools, room to collaborate, equipment, advice, research options, and access to expert information.

Now it is up to you to build something worthwhile…”: the future of the new world!

The Future is Now: Augmented Reality in the Library (A Director’s Report)

Augmented Reality has the potential to bridge the gap between the print world and the digital world (Barnes and Brammer, 2013, p. 14) and put access to unique library content in the pocket of every smartphone user.

Three reasons to adopt AR:

  • Smartphones are ubiquitous in our community.
  • The main delivery mechanism for AR content is mobile devices.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) tools are easy to use.

By combining AR and smart devices, the library collection is poised to break out of its existing shell and pervade every aspect of the community. The time has come when physical objects such as buildings and books no longer need to remain the static, fixed, immutable objects they have been since their inception. The history of a building can magically appear on a user’s device – brought to life with archival prints and film footage from a library’s local collection. Printed books can easily be linked to author interviews, user reviews, fan fiction, or referenced online sources. Images in books can come alive by linking them to digital documentary footage, patron oral history interviews, simulations or demonstrations. We can provide just in time information to patrons on frequently asked questions or helpful information literacy tutorials.

The possibilities are limited only by our imagination.

The complete Director’s Report available here.

A few example of AR in use:

Book finding and collection awareness in AR:

These are just a few of the many uses for AR in our libraries.


Road to a New Library Service – Rocking the Stacks

Rock the Stacks:

A plan for bringing High School Students back into the Library.

Please click on the link below for the “flashy” presentation version.

Please read for more detail about the initiative.

The Service:

Rock the Stacks – Acoustic musical performances and brown bag lunch at the library every Friday.

 The Setting:

Upper school library in a K-12 international school situated in five buildings in an urban campus. The library sits on the fourth floor of the Upper School Building. Until this past year, both Middle School 6-8 and High School 9-12 classes were held in this building and many High School students stopped by during breaks and at lunch to work and/or relax. In September 2015, the High School moved all of its classes to a separate five story structure across the street. As a result of this move very few high school teachers or students visit the library anymore and circulation statistics have dropped sharply.

The Users:

  • 320 HS students
  • 60 faculty

Action Brief Statement:

To convince High School Students and Faculty that by enjoying the food, view, and music presented at the Rock the Stacks – Music and Lunch in the Library program, they will be re-energized, inspired, and re-engage in the many wonderful things the library has to offer which will enhance library visibility and promote shared community experiences because the library is a place for academic, social, creative and cultural experiences.

 Goals and Objectives:

The students have proposed lunchtime concerts in the library. The have also proposed creating book displays based on musical themes.

  • Engage High School students and faculty in services offered at the library
  • Promote collaboration and a positive relationship between the library and students/faculty and among the faculty and students
  • Promote collaboration with other student organizations (school newspaper, fund-raising groups).
  • Give users the opportunity to create and share experiences in the library
  • Reinforce Information Literacy standards related to content creation, promotion, and good digital citizenship.
  • Through themed book displays that accompany the performances promote the library collection

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Service:

The library’s mission is “Read, inquire, create to realize a world of personal change and global impact..” Rock the Stack’s main focus is on the library as a place where students come to create and share content.

The Rock the Stacks – Music and Lunch at the Library – is in line with Mathews views: “By offering a balanced array of academic, social, creative, and cultural experiences, the library can become a premier campus destination, rather than just a place that students have to go …”(Vilelle & Barber, 2013, pp. 94). Vilelle, L & Barber M. (2013) suggest that rock concerts and film screenings in the library are an important part of outreach: “they demonstrate to our users that the library is also place for engagement and recreation”(p. 94).

Policies and Guidelines:

Setting policies: Policies governing this service will be established by the Head Librarian, the High School and Middle School Librarians, the Dean of Students, and representatives from the Library Teen Trendsetters group.

Sample policies: Sample policies might be found by looking at policies governing the use of public or academic library spaces, but these all seem to be overly complex and better suited for much larger organizations.


  • The type of music that is suitable
  • The type of instruments that are suitable
  • The process for vetting performers
  • The expectations regarding food and beverages in the library
  • The expectations regarding start and ending times so that performances do not impact class attendance
  • How frequently the service will be offered
  • Need to consult Middle School schedule so as to not interfere with MS class visits
  • How long in advance facility set-up requests need to be made

Funding Considerations for the Rock the Stacks Service:

These are free performances.

The organizers are a volunteer group called the Library Teen Trendsetters group. The performers will be culled from the student body, faculty, and parent community.

Marketing will be done using free social media tools, the schools electronic bulletins, and student made promotional posters and videos.

Those attending the lunch time concerts will bring their own lunch and dispose of their trash in the recycle bins and trash cans provided in the library.

Action Steps & Timeline:

Prototyping: It is not really possible to prototype the service.

Timeline: The Trendsetter group hopes to host the first concert within a month.


  • Establish guidelines.
  • Secure permission from the Head Librarian, the Middle School Librarian, and the Dean of Students.
  • Line up performers two – three weeks ahead of time.
  • Submit request for facility set-up.
  • Prepare the promotional materials.
  • Begin promoting the launch of the service.

Planned alternatives: The group has already secured the needed permissions.

Staffing Considerations for the Rock the Stacks service:

The majority of the work is being completed by the Library Teen Trendsetter (LTT) group.

HS Library and Technology Integrationist:

  • Supervises the student LTT group setting up the service and helping them liaise with other adults in different parts of the school organization. Outreach is already part of the HS Librarian’s job. She helps support a variety of evolving initiatives suggested by the Trendsetter group.
  • Working with the students to choose books for the display. The HS librarian already has time in her schedule for creating displays. The only difference is the display themes and content selection will be guided by student choice.
  • Supervising the lunchtime event. The HS Librarian is always on duty during HS lunch.

Circulation Librarians:

  • Potential increased circulation: Two circulation librarians are on duty during lunch and so any checkouts generated by the increased number of students visiting the library for the concerts will be handled by them as part of their normal daily workload.

Facilities Crew:

  • There will be minimum set-up needed.

No additional library staffing is needed.

Promotion & Marketing the Rock the Stacks service:

  • Daily bulletin – shared during homeroom and on the school website
  • Library Facebook page
  • Library Twitter page
  • Student Designed Posters (by the Art and Graphic Design students) and a promotional video (by the Film Studies co-curricular students).
  • Word of mouth
  • Since the event is only open to school students there is no promotion of the service outside of school.
  • Once the first Rock the Stacks has occurred students can post images to our various social media channels to encourage greater attendance at the next event.

Evaluation of the Rock the Stacks service:

What benchmarks and performance metrics will you use to evaluate the service.

  • Attendance figures: 20% growth User library visits.
  • Social Media Traffic: 20% growth of traffic on Social Media channels.
  • Circulation statistics. 10% increase in circulation statistics. We need to be careful when pulling the statistics as there are a number of research projects that run second semester. We may need to pull daily circulation logs and compare those from the days of the performance with those of regular days being sure to note any other events that occurred on each day.
  • Positive perception of library. 10% increase in positive views of library as determined by customer satisfaction survey.

The stories we will tell:

Use Social Media (via Instagram, FB, or Twitter @ #ACSRocks) to:

  • Have students share their favorite event photos and thoughts
  • Do band-book interviews/podcasts where one of the questions is about the performer’s favorite, book and/or film.
  • Share stories about the book display for that performance.
  • Share stories about faculty student musical collaborations
  • Share the recorded the performances on the school’s Youtube channel

 Expand the service in the future:

  • Offering a longer and louder evening event after hours.
  • Adding slam poetry.
  • Asking various fundraising groups if they would like to sell food during the event.
  • Securing the necessary copyright license for showing movies in the library.
  • Screen booktrailers in a mini-film festival.
  • Brining in other local talent – alumni, students from the nearby universities.
  • Battle of the bands.
  • Offering a master class in music.

Evidence and Resources to support Rock the Stacks service:

Participatory Services:

Danforth, L. (2011). Finding the future. [Web log post]. Library Journal.

Annotation: Illustrates that libraries are not just places for research and study. About NYPL hosting an ARG (Alternate Reality Games) event.

Hartline, M. (2016). Youre a Librarian 24 Hours a Day: Interview with Heather Lowe of Dallas Public Library. [Web Log Post]. Library Lost and Found.

Annotation: Dallas library promoting open mic nights and Sunday concerts in the library.

Mathews, B. (2010). Unquiet Library Has High-Schoolers Geeked. American Libraries Magazine.

Annotation: Library hosts trivia contests, musical performances, poetry readings, gaming events.

Vilelle, L. & Barber, M. (2013). Looking outward: partnerships and outreach at Hollins University. In J. Hill & S.S. Steffen (Eds.). Excellence in the Stacks: Strategies, practices and reflections of award-winning libraries. (pp. 81 – 98). doi:10.1016/B978-1-84334-665-4.50006-X

Annotation: Various ways libraries can partner with other groups to help promote the library as a place of research, relaxation, and recreation.

Library and Community:

Loertscher, D. (2008). Flip this library: School libraries need a revolution. School Library Journal, 54(11), 46-48.

Annotation: Sees the library as the “hub of teaching and learning”. These events have the potential to foster improved relationships between the library and students/teachers and among teachers and students. Bring people together for a break during the day to enjoy good food, music, books, and conversation.

Stephens, M. (2013). Holding Us Back. Library Journal.

Annotation: Recommends “radical community engagement” and tapping the needs and interests of the community.

Promoting the services and engaging users through and with social media:

Stephens, M. (2010). The hyperlinked school library: engage, explore, celebrate [Web log post]. Tame The Web (TTW).

Annotation: The students can engage with a variety of social media tools – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube and technologies – audio/podcasting and video to celebrate their peers, share experiences, and promote this service.

Seven Statements on Libraries for the 21st Century

# 7 Libraries are not just about products – like books, or services – like information instruction, they are about experiences – like intuitive browsing and building geodesic domes.

# 6 Libraries are not just places where you come to find or consume content, they are places where you come to do, to learn, to play, and to create and share expertise and content.

# 5 Library designs need to fit a community’s needs not an architect’s vision of what a library should be.

# 4 Librarian’s competencies will increasingly include things like teamwork, creativity, innovation, flexibility, emotional maturity, compassion.

# 3 Libraries need to be continuously innovating – looking outside their own walls, seeking trends, and finding new experiences they can offer their users.

# 2 Libraries are embracing the sharing movement. Libraries are not just about sharing books, and Internet connections, they are about sharing tools, and bikes, cookware and seeds, technology and museums passes, prom dresses and local music, and sewing machines and community expertise, and just about anything else you can think of.

# 1 Most importantly: Libraries are about community. The library addresses the needs of the community; seeks the input of the community on everything from new programs and services to new building designs. Librarians go out into the community to service users needs; reach out to the community for funding partnerships, and to community experts to offer instruction in everything from butchering to 3-D printing.

Be wary the naysayers and cynics.

And remember Caitlin Moran‘s beautiful words:

“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate “need” for “stuff.” A mall–the shops–are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier. But a library is where the wealthy’s taxes pay for you to become a little more extraordinary, instead. A satisfying reversal. A balancing of the power.”

The many faces of participatory services

Participatory library services? Are those things like patrons making book recommendations and adding tags to the catalog or liking a library Facebook post? The answer would be yes. For some libraries this form of participatory services would be one face of participatory service. And as we shall soon see participatory services has many faces.
So many facesTrefflich, C. (June 21, 2013). Viele Gesichte. Retrieved February 15, 2016, from

Yes there are those participatory services which engage the users with the collection.

These participatory services are largely accomplished through a variety of Web 2.0 and Social Media tools or suggestion boxes available in the library.

A library that provides participatory services is one, which involves the users, which requires their input or contribution. No longer are services the sole creation of librarians nor is information flow in one direction. In a participatory library, librarians and users work together and information flows in both direction – from librarian to user and user back to librarians.

Participatory services have the potential of transforming libraries from mere providers of FREE COMMERCIAL CONTENT and transforming librarians from glorified INFORMATION FINDERS.

“Imagine a future where libraries gather, produce, and curate content in ways only beginning to be explored that bypass the traditional author to publisher to library to reader model we’ve worked with for decades.” – Michael Casey

So given the definition and predictions above, it appears we need to widen the lens beyond participatory services only meaning the use of social media tools that allow users to tag content, provide book reviews, or comment on library events … since libraries are no longer just about collections or even just about research skills.

When you think of it like this, participatory services broaden to involve users in:

  • Accessing and creating local content (such as DOK DELFT ClienTrix – which provides users access to Civic Archives (photos) and through the Heritage Table allows them to contribute own photos and stories.
  • Engaging with the collection in new and exciting ways like the NYPL ARG Game where users were tasked with tell the stories of 100 amazing objects from the NYPL collection.
  • Deciding what services the library should pursue. LA public libraries are asking users if they want makers spaces or spaces to create their own media – like book trailers etc.

If you really want to know the future of participatory services, you need look no further than the Hunt library at UNC. The library is the center of information – collecting it, making it findable, but also providing a dizzying array of tools and spaces for creating, interacting with, and visualizing information. These services were created to meet identified current user needs while trying to anticipate future needs. They include, to name a few, a blackbox theater, a whitebox Creativity Lab, maker spaces, 3-D printers, a game design lab, a tool that allows virtual browsing of the stacks, a service center and gadget bar, presentation practice rooms, video seminar room, media production studios, music production and recording rooms, usability labs and finally, the Emerging Issues Commons, “which features interactive exhibits created by the Institute for Emerging Issues” and the iPearl, which “showcases current events, library and university initiatives, and the work of NCS faculty and students.”

NCSU Hunt Library’s iPearl Immersion Theater Photo by CNS News Retrieved from

Two main challenges with participatory services seem to be keeping up with the rapidly changing technological environment. Michael Casey (2011) exclaimed Right now people are enamored of blogs and wikis and Facebook and this sort of thing. But that’s this year’s set of technology. Five years from now we’ll be talking about a whole different set of things. Well, here we are five years on and I personally think wikis are a quaint relic of a bygone era. If I need to use technology to communicate information, or flip literacy instruction, I might use Guide on the Side, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram (at least this week). If you are reading this blog post in 2021 you might consider all of these quaint relics. An “edgier” tool is SnapChat. However, whereas the other tools have adult users and audiences and have educational aspects to them – currently trying to instruct or inform through SnapChat seems a bit like trying to educate someone in the middle of a circus performance.

The second main challenge is the fickleness of the public. Although a certain technological tool might still function well – users have abandoned it in favor of the flavor of the month.

Despite these challenges participatory services seem to be the path that will ensure the success of libraries well into the future.

POKE THE BOX – Context Book Assignment

If your “institution” doesn’t have movement, then compared to the rest of the world, you’re actually moving backward.

Seth Godin – Poke the Box

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 5.32.26 PMAlthough Seth Godin was referring to projects in this quote, it still holds true when applied to institutions, and in particular, libraries. Some libraries hold onto their traditional brand – books, their traditional structure – hierarchical, their traditional outlook on change – conservative. They have not adapted well to the advent of the Internet, ubiquitous wifi and computing, ebooks, smartphones, maker-spaces or social media. If you are at one of those libraries that just ushered in e-books, put up their first blog post, opened a Facebook account and tried out a hesitant first tweet – I hate to say it – but you are not really innovating. You are not, as Seth Godin puts it, “Poking the box!” And if you had to ask your boss if it was alright to set-up the twitter account, and it then took three months to do a study of it, only to be kicked around in committee for another month – you are definitely not in an institution that has embraced the “Poke the Box!” mantra. And if you meekly come into work everyday, shelve the books, assist users, and otherwise keep you head down, you obviously haven’t yet read Seth Godin’s book – Poke the Box. (I can lend you a digital copy of mine.) So make a note to yourself – go check it out as soon as you are done reading this blog.

There definitely are libraries that are poking the box. There definitely are libraries that encourage poke the box type thinking and risk taking among their staff. Some are even asking their users to help them poke the box. They are transforming what libraries look like, how search and discovery tools work, how things are getting done, what services and products are offered, what users can do in the library … even the concept of what libraries are.

Before we go any further – lets take a look at what this “Poke the Box” concept is. Although it is a slim book and a quick read – there is a lot packed into it. The main argument revolves around our notions of risk taking, failure, and taking the initiative to innovate.


Godin contends that from very early on we have been conditioned to “avoid risk, avoid change, and most of all, avoid exploration and the new.” “We’ve been taught to shut up and keep our heads down.” “We’re trained to fit in, not to stand out, and the easiest way in the world to fit in is to never initiate.”

We avoid risk because there is a potential cost to speaking up, to initiating something – that cost is failure.


And just like we’ve been trained to avoid risk, we’ve been trained to avoid failure. Failure has many negative connotations associated with it. Godin spends pages and pages trying to disabuse us of the notion that failure is something negative. He tells us “the person who fails the most usually wins.” Preaches “fail, succeed, fail, fail, fail, succeed—you get the idea.”

Urges us to “talk to any successful person. He’ll be happy to fill you in on his long string of failures.” And reveals to us “Failure is an event … and with rare exceptions, is not fatal.” Nevertheless, we train so hard to never drop the ball and in the process we forget the more important skill – throwing!

Taking the initiative to innovate – aka Poke the Box

So now that we know it is okay to take a risk and fail, and fail, and fail, we need to start innovating. And here Godin has advice for us too: Don’t wait to be picked. Pick yourself. Take the initiative. But what is this thing called initiative that we should have or take? Godin again: “Initiative is a little like creativity in that both require curiosity. Not the search for the “right” answer, as much as an insatiable desire to understand how something works and how it might work better (My emphasis).  If you want a blueprint for how it works, a guide, a map – forget it. In Godin’s words “there is no map and besides, the reward goes to those who draw maps, not those who follow them.” Another thing: Unlike failure, which is AN event, starting something is not; it’s a series of events. You keep starting until you finish and deliver the product or the service to your users. One final important point from Godin: It is not enough to talk about poking the box, it is not enough to dream about it, in order for it to be even considered “poking the box” – the box has to realize it’s been poked.

Libraries that are “poking the box”

Now that we know what all this poking the box hullabaloo is, lets look at some librarians who have poked and are poking that box! Institutions that encourage box poking.

Unhappy with the fact that the text of its millions of handwritten historic documents were unsearchable, the Smithsonian took to the Internet to crowd source the herculean task of transcribing these documents. Not content to let Google gobble up (and potentially control) all the world’s information, over a 100 research institutions partnered in the HathiTrust and are committed to the long-term curation and availability of the cultural record. All documents are open to the HathiTrust’s members and many are freely available to the public. Meanwhile other institutions have taken the initiative to make more of their collections available digitally.  Harvard Law library has its Nuremberg project, and the NYPL has Biblion: World’s Fair.  If you have a love of medieval manuscripts you can invest the $16.99 to download the Book of Kells app produced by Trinity College Dublin.

Unwilling to be left behind or let the wave of the future crash down upon them librarians at both Harvard and MIT launched idea labs. A cool idea from Harvard is the Haystack program that gives users a very different look at the Harvard collection.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 5.39.12 PM

Haystack – Harvard Idea Lab Retrieved from

Libraries wanted to do more than offer better access to their collection. They wanted to find innovative ways to lure the users back into the library. NYPL reached out to game designer Jane McGonigal to create Find the Future – the NYPL at 100. I am so sorry I missed it!

Across the pond at the Transformation Lab were busy thinking of what services the library of tomorrow would offer. Innovators in Aarhus launched MindSpot – the Library as Universe and went on to open a new waterfront library. Public libraries are not the only ones building the library of tomorrow from the ground up. Academic libraries like the Hunt Library (more detail about its conception) at UNC have created amazing research and learning facilities for their students and faculty – incorporating cutting edge technology and a variety of spaces for learning and collaboration.

The Dutch have institutionalized the “poke in the box” mentality. Their libraries have been inculcated with a culture of innovation. In 2009, DOK Library Concept Center was considered the most modern public library in the world. The staff at DOK embody the “Poke the Box” philosophy – “What impressed me most about DOK was the ease and encouragement given to staff to try out, tweak, or toss ideas after providing some information about the initiative. With this freedom comes an acceptance by staff members that not every idea is going to work.”

Hog Butchering Retrieved from like The Edge in Queensland Australia, The Idea Store in the UK, and the library in Overland Park, Kansas are poking the box and offering their users much more than books, ebooks, and access to free wifi and magazines. The Edge provides co-working spaces, access to an incredible range of software, media labs, and access to tools like microscopes and sewing machines! All three institutions consider themselves more than just book repositories inviting users to attend courses and demonstrations – even seemingly unorthodox ones like Hog Butchering.

Some libraries have even gone so far as to redefine exactly what constitutes a “book.” Human libraries have sprung up in over 60 countries. Here is an article for one held in Rochester, N.Y. and a sample of some of the human books you can check out on Social Justice day in the U.K.

Human Library Catalog Retrieved from

Human Library Catalog Retrieved from

 Libraries might have been a little slow to embrace the “poke the box” philosophy, but we are on our way. Check out someone else who thinks so too – Who says libraries are dying? They are evolving into spaces for innovation and check out this relatively recent research from the Pew. You might just pick up a few ideas of what users might be looking for. Thinking this looks a little familiar – a little bit like Bryan Mathews Thinking like a Startup with his Innovators Wanted and Most Startups Fail: Learn from the Ones that Didn’t, Plant Many Seeds. Me too.

So now that you understand the concept – Take the initiative. Don’t worry about dropping the ball, work on your throwing. We are at a time in librarianship, when “the cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing.” and “When the cost of poking the box (ptb) is less than the cost of doing nothing (ø), then you should poke! [ptb<ø—> poke]

And since I am exhorting you to Poke the Box let me put myself out there too. My first “poke at the box” was designing two games to teach information literacy – Infomopoly teaches students how to evaluate sources in the sciences and The French Revolution – Should Louis XVI Be Executed looks at the reliability of sources when studying historical events. It is built on Scratch. It is clunky, and low tech, my first ever Scratch game. The next one will be better.

Now go Poke the Box!

Minority Report: Seeing the Future Before it Happens

Imagine walking into your library and the books fairly leap off the shelf telling you that they are there?

Or even better, when you retrieve a book it comes with so much more content than just the words on the pages. It includes a brief interview with the author, live newsreel footage of an event pictured in the book, a digital bibliography that leads you to other books by the same author, or on the same subject, or to the film adaptation of the book, or maybe it brings up articles in electronic databases. (A brief Prezi on just some of the things you can do with Augmented Reality.)

Imagine the academic library app that anticipates the user’s needs:

“Good Morning John, I see you have a psychology assignment due next week. Do you want to see the new resources the library has acquired? Or the databases that support this assignment? Would you like a quick interactive video on navigating the new PsychInfo database? The Psych libguide is waiting in your research folder. John, it looks like you struggled with the evaluation of sources in your last assignment. The evaluation app is queued to be downloaded onto your device. It will navigate you through the process of evaluating sources in the field of Psychology. Remember John, the Embedded Psychology librarian is online 24 hours a day to help you plot your course through the information search process and help you be successful on this assignment.”

In 1992, Michael Buckland had not quite imagined all of these possibilities, but he was incredibly prescient. With the evidence before him he was already able to foreshadow information tools like OneSearch (a federated search engine searching catalog and databases), WorldCat (that can locate the nearest library with the book you are seeking) and Google Scholar (especially its ability to identify other works that have cited the article you retrieved), and even LookInside or Listen (Amazon) and TitlePeek (Follett). I am not sure though that even he could imagine the world in which we currently live with ubiquitous connectivity and personal computing in the palm of your hand.

Buckland reminds us that the central purpose of libraries is to provide a service: access to information. And while Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk in Library 2.0 encourage us to know what our users and potential users want and to look at what other libraries are doing, even going so far as to offer examples of how to use Blogs and Wikis (which seem incredibly old school now). Brian Mathews in Think Like A StartUp disagrees. “Now is not the time to find new ways of doing the same old thing.”

But How to Usher in Change?

Casey and Savastinuk present a model of change based on community analysis, library trends, observation of what your competitors are doing, Mathews upends that thinking with maxims such as:

  • Don’t just copy & paste from other libraries: invent!
  • Grow your ideas: Build, Measure, Learn.
  • Iterate & Prototype.
  • Plant many seeds; nurture the ones that grow.

Relying on our users telling us what they want through surveys and comment boxes (both digital and paper), in an era of such unprecedented and rapid change is perhaps not the best, or only way, forward. Our users might not even be able to imagine what is possible. They may not even realize they had a need for a certain kind of service until you created the need for them.

The tools to revolutionize the library already exist. We need to provide services that our users and our competitors have not yet imagined. We need to take cutting edge technology and use it to help our users find and interact with information in new and exciting ways. I want my Library to allow me to do this:

Or a less clunky version of this:

Or access and interact with a variety of forms of information like this:

Don’t you?


Please allow me to introduce myself

On the site I go by the name the Red Queen – prizes if you can guess why. In real life people know me as Tracie.

I have four class left including this one and hope to graduate in December. I have been following courses in the Emerging Technologies track with some information literacy thrown in.

I currently work as the High School Library and Technology Integrationist and the Extended Essay Coordinator at an American international school in Beirut, Lebanon. I have worked overseas in international schools for a long long time now. Until three years ago, I taught International Baccalaureate History and Theory of Knowledge. I loved teaching research skills and was always an early adopter of technology – so when my current job was introduced three years ago – I decided to take my career in an entirely different direction. My job has allowed me to travel extensively and meet amazing people from all over the world. Beirut is my 7th international posting.

Why am I taking this course? There are so many reasons. I guess  one of the best ones is that my students are rarely unplugged. I want to find ways to push the library into the digital space they occupy to teach them better search skills, make them more aware of resources beyond Wikipedia, and search tools other than Google, and help them learn to be critical consumers of information.

I love in any order: reading, traveling, meeting new people, hiking, scuba diving.

Just because lots of people only have the view the news gives them of Beirut, I want to share a short film my husband made in early December that gives an idea of the amazing contrasts that exist in the city I currently call home.

Beirut Sunday

Enjoy and I look forward to learning with you.