LITACamp09 Keynote: Joan Frye Williams

“You guys have been doing information hookups. Don’t you feel cheap?”
–Joan Frye Williams

LITA Camp gets off to a good start with a introductory keynote for library futurist Joan Frye Williams. Technology always runs the risk of being alienating, and social media hopefully provides the opportunity to address this issue. But because this stuff is so easy to use, it can also call attention to the walls we create in the library meatspace.

A brilliant illustration of the power of the personal connection emerged from an exercise Williams led, of which you can see the video below:

Contrasting this exercise with our standard “read X resource for Y piece of information” transaction raises a number of questions. We call ourselves professionals, yet we’re reluctant to give out our names. (Would you go to a doctor who doesn’t give out their name?) We’re beholden to building up our numbers for reference transactions, but we don’t really have metrics for the relationships we build. How do we address this? Can we make all of our spaces more personal – and improve our profession in the process?

Williams certainly seems to think so. But to do so, we’ll have to go long. The recession gives us a unique opportunity to accomplish this, as it can make those who are more wary of change a little more receptive to new possibilities.

View Williams’ slides in PPT.
Notes after the jump. My commentary is in italics.

The Everywhere Library: Creating, Communicating, and especially Integrating
Joan Frye Williams

Tough times for libraries

Many who see technology as just “expensive stuff”

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
Crisis gives us cover – gives us opportunity to try new things.
The shock doctrine!

People who wouldn’t otherwise listen are generally afraid – you can capitalize on that fear, if you use the right words.

Beloit College – Mindset List

“The library world in particular is full of former a students. We’re all in touch with our inner know-it-all”

Are we providing what civilians want, or what we think they should want?
How niche can we get, given that there generally is no one demographic (aside from maybe carbon-based) shared by all our customers? Can we create new services acknowledging that certain things just aren’t for everyone?

Blending our thinking – offering different things by synthesizing multiple services and modes of information delivery

Quality and Convenience
Convenience shapes consumer behavior more than just about anything else right now.

Place and Ubiquity
Library is no longer a place for the stuff. It’s a place for the people.
Librarians like searching. Civilians like finding. Civilians like doing stuff with what they find even more.
When people tag information, they usually include tags about its use, not just what it is about – we can’t ignore that but we do.

Security and Openness
Secure or Open? Safe or Accessible? We act like these are mutually exclusive.
Much library security has been guaranteed by hiding.

Accuracy and Opinion
Professionals are supposedly regarded for their opinions. Why are we so afraid of injecting ourselves into the information we find?
By trying to provide accurate and neutral information, we strip the life out of it.

Equality and Customization
Misconception of fairness as providing the exact same thing for everybody.
Circulation policy as model for fairness – “what is the difference between 10 books for 3 weeks and 3 books for 10 weeks?”

Preservation and Innovation
Closing the innovation gap – the tools make it possible for anyone to create these changes – but the system isn’t necessarily conducive to that.
Also question of how to treat work in progress – how do we treat stuff that’s still incubating?

High Standards and Generosity
Library community is rife with perfectionists, which may impede the permanent beta process.
Are we perfectionists because we stand to lose out personally if someone finds a flaw?

Planning and Improvisation
“I am a futurist, not a psychic.” We have to reconcile the need to improvise when circumstances change without abandoning the planning process.
Train ourselves to say “I don’t know that.”

Confidentiality and Relationships
Relationship-based enterprise, not a transaction-based
You do not get trust out of a transaction. cf. Lankes, participatory
“You guys have been doing information hookups. Don’t you feel cheap?”
Would you go to a dentist/lawyer/professional who wouldn’t tell you his name?
Confidentiality and anonymity is not the same. C often squashes the personal side of what we do.

Advice to a new college student: Find a librarian. Get to know them personally. They will help you ace any class. Best BI advice ever.

Expertise and Community Focus
We can be experts – and get to know the civilians – without dumbing down.

New metrics
We think “to know us is to love us” – are we right?
Data can be manipulated so that it is separate from individuals information, but still useful and predictive.

We measure transactions, but we don’t pay attention to what people do.
“Each time we answer a directional question at the reference desk, it’s a tick mark for the failure of our wayfinding system.”

What if it really is hard?
Even if it is hard, I hope you try.

Exercise: 3 minutes. Partner up. Think of a favorite book, movie, play, poem, or piece of music.
What is it?
Why is it important to you?
How has that affected your life

After: How did the person sell the item? How animated did the person get? How important for the story teller was it that the other person was convinced on the story?
It’s about meaning. That is the business we are in.

Go long. This is work worth doing.

exploring the intersection of libraries, technology, and community

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