It’s about more than Free

This is a very very interesting article about the power of free from Mashable. I was reading it with an eye toward an open source twist – but as I finished reading I found that it can easily teach libraries and librarians a thing or two. We always ask why people pay for books or other items found at libraries versus getting them for free in the library – maybe it has to do with the steps required to get those free items from the library.

[T]he real analogy would be this: if you offer donuts for free, but anyone who wants it has to run three circles around the nearby building to get one, many people will simply pay, for example, $1 for the donut if it means they can just take it immediately.

An example that defies the notion that all digital content is going to be valued at zero dollars is Steam. You know why? You pay once, subscribe once, and then you just download games. For a lot of people, that fact that it actually costs money is overshadowed by the simplicity of the experience. Many gamers have told me: look, I used to pirate games and spend days looking for cracks and serials, but now I just use Steam. It’s so much better.

It makes me think of Jessamyn’s posts about her father trying to get a library card – and about my own experiences in libraries – or on library websites. I’m a librarian and promote libraries left and right, but I do not use my local public library. I use one that is 25 minutes away because it’s worth paying for the gas to get there because their services are just better.

I could go on and on – but won’t :) Read the article and think about what you can do to improve services in your library to make them more appealing – more than just ‘free.’

Win a copy of Library Mashups

Last week I was on the Library 2.0 Gang talking about mashups and and my upcoming book. There were some awesome mashup ideas talked about during the call. One that has stuck with me was a way to grab reading lists from all libraries in your area so you can see what books are best for your kid.

Another really awesome idea mentioned letting patrons geocode your library to create a map that patrons could use their cell phones to follow. Basically patrons go around the library and geocode different Dewey areas and then share it with the public. In the end anyone with a cell phone can use the GPS in it to find where books are in your library.

If you have an awesome mashup idea you can win a copy of Library Mashups! Just share your idea with the gang and we’ll vote.

Competition  This month’s show launches the Library 2.0 Gang Mashup Idea competition.  To enter you need to send in your idea for a library mashup.  It can be as simple or complex as you like.  The only restriction being that it must include library data or functionality somewhere within it.  The best three, as judged by Nicole Engard and myself, will each receive a copy of the Library Mashups book she has edited.  Closing date is August 31st, send your entries to

Libraries populate the Twitterverse

Librarian (and library) twitterers have been recognized by

Libraries are seizing on Twitter, the micro-blogging phenomenon, as a new way to reach out to users and to network with colleagues and the wider book trade.

An estimated 40-plus individual libraries and library services, including Manchester, Devon, Bradford, Edinburgh, Westminster and Leeds are now making use of the site. Many individual librarians are also choosing to register.

Very cool!

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MARC not living up to the times

Stuart Yeates is awesome :) Okay – so I don’t know him – but this post makes me think he’s awesome:

Card catalogs have a long tradition in librarianship, dating back, I’m told, to the book stock-take in the French revolution. Librarians understand card catalogs in a deep way that comes from generations of librarians having used them as a core professional tool all their professional lives.

It is natural, when faced with something new, to understand it in terms of what we already know and already understand. Unfortunately, understanding the new by analogy to the old can lead to form of the old being assumed in the new. It was true that when libraries digitized their card catalogs in the 1970s and 1980s, they were more or less exactly digital versions of the card catalog predecessors, because their content was limited to old data from the cards and new data from cataloging processes (which were unchanged from the card catalog era) and because librarians and users had come to equate a library catalog with a card catalog—it was what they expected.

MARC is a perfect example of this kind of thing. As a data format to directly replace a card catalog of printed books, it can hardly be faulted.

Unfortunately, digital metadata has capabilities undreamt of at the time of the French revolution, and card catalogs and MARC do a poor job of handling these capabilities.

The real question is why we’re still expecting an approach that didn’t solve the problems two hundred years ago to solve our problems now? Computers are not magic in this area they just seem to be helping us do the wrong things faster, more reliably and for larger collections.

Read the entire post at Open Source Exile.

Open Access Library News

I’m still catching up on emails from being away so I missed my invite to In the Library with the Lead Pipe until just now.

We are six librarians working in academic, public, and school libraries across the United States. In addition to essays by its founders, In the Library with the Lead Pipe will feature articles by guests representing special libraries and archives, as well as educators, administrators, library support staff, and community members. If you want to submit a guest post, see our submission guidelines.

In the Library with the Lead Pipe is intended to help improve our communities, our libraries, and our professional organizations. Our goal is to explore new ideas and start conversations; to document our concerns and argue for solutions. Each article is peer-reviewed by at least one external and one internal reviewer.

What a neat idea. I’ll be poking around as I have time.

Crowdsourcing and open source


I am reading an awesome book right now – Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business by Jeff Howe. I has read through bits of the book a few months back while waiting for my hubby to pick up a new RPG :) and liked what I saw.

Howe talks about the movement we’re seeing on the web these days – the movement from a few experts working in their field to thousands of amateurs working in many fields. The book itself is well worth reading cover to cover, but the part that I’m clinging to is the correlation between crowdsourcing and open source.

Crowdsourcing has it genesis in the open source movement in software. The development of the Linux operating system proved that a community of like-minded peers was capable of creating a better product than a corporate behemoth like Microsoft. Open source revealed a fundamental truth about humans that had gone largely unnoticed until the connectivity of the Internet brought it into high relief: labor can often be organized more efficiently in the context of a community than it can in the context of the corporation. The best person to do a job is the one who most wants to do that job; and the best people to evaluate heir performance are their friends and peers who, by the way, will enthusiastically pitch in to improve the final product, simply for the sheer pleasure of helping one another and creating something beautiful from which they all will benefit. (p.8)

There are many great passages like this throughout the book and that’s why I’m recommending it to those who attend my open source classes as a way to learn about open source without having to read the techie books (which are also great – but sometimes hard for librarians to wrap their heads around) like The Cathedral and the Bazaar. In addition to learning about the community and philosophy behind open source, readers will learn to understand the way people are interacting with information on the web – and the fact that librarians aren’t the only experts out there – we need to start tapping into the knowledge and skills that are locked up in our patrons.

LibraryThing for Libraries in Koha 3.2

Chris Catalfo has a post over at Thingology about the integration of Library Thing for Libraries in Koha 3.2.

The 3.2 version of Koha (which isn’t out yet) will include the improved integration for LTFL. If you are using Koha without a host, and run on the bleeding edge, you can try it now via Git.

What this does is enable and disable LTFL through the Koha Enhanced Content system preference page. Simply enter your LTFL account number (found on your LibraryThing for Libraries Account page), decide where you’d like LTFL content to display (in tabs or under other bibliographic details) and enable it. No need to edit Koha templates.

I have gotten to see it in action in my test system and it’s awesome!!!

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NJLA – Why we borrow

This morning started with Paco Underhill, Founder, CEO, and President of Envirosell, Inc., a global research and consulting firm. His keynote was amazing!! I just couldn’t stop writing and I hope I got all of the best points he made down. Paco started by explaining why his books exist = “13 years ago i fell in love with the wrong woman – a premier flutist – she worked every night and every weekend” – so he had to come up with something to do to stay out of trouble and that became writing books :)

Paco Underhill at NJLA

He started by listing a few issues that he saw affecting libraries.

The first issue is that our visual language is evolving faster than our written or our spoken word – one of the aspects of our lives is how we communicate visually at our point of contact – “I hate the dewey decimal system – it may have made a lot of sense 50 years ago but it makes a lot less sense today”. One of the visual problems we face is how do we respond to the audience that is walking into our door. As we age we start to see things differently, we have to be cognoscent of who we’re communicating with. We can not just put letters on our pallets – but we can add icons – we can have more fun now.

Next, we live in a world that is owned by men, designed by men, run by men and yet we expect women participate – it doesn’t make any sense. What makes a female friendly library? What makes a female friendly parking lot? All of those are usually painfully simple issues – it’s not about spending money – it’s about thinking through the process. We know that 60% of all books purchased across the board are by women, we know that women are more likely to visit the library. At big events – women take over all of the men’s rooms and re-brand them.

The third issue – is what is global and what is local? We are struggling with what is our local and state-wide identity. How can we recognize the constituent base that we serve. Example: he has just done work for the LA county library – and they have some markets where the immigrant population coming in the door is often more than 65% percent (they don’t speak English as a first language). One of the great things of the American library is that we’re an engine of social progress. We provide things that when people can’t have them at home they can have them in the library (computers, the internet, gaming systems, etc). One of the issues we face in our libraries is how can we be evangelical? Because not everyone knows what we are or how to use us. Being evangelical is understanding the ground you’re standing on and who we’re trying to reach out to.

The final issue is the issue of time. We live in a multi-tasking universe and for every occasion when someone walks in the door, willing to spend an hour or 2 hours or 3 hours in the institution – there is another time when someone is desperate to get in and out as quickly as possible. How do we organize the physical asset that we have to the multi-tasking audience.

It used to be that we thought that polite worked, but we ended up in a 20th-century bar fight – where everyone is fighting for the customer’s dollars and attention. The library is fighting with the movie theater, with book store – etc. When working with zoos what they say is that on animal planet you can’t touch the animals or smell the animals – what zoos offer is magic – the same goes for libraries.

Libraries have become a day care center for kids, elderly, the homeless – we have become a welcoming community like a church or a temple – Paco sees, this and he doesn’t know how to solve that problem except to recognize that it exists and build that into the plan for the future of the library.

Cherry Hill Public Library

Where does you library start? The less you do outside the more you have to do inside – there is a reason why the lions outside of the NY Public library are so popular (For me, Cherry Hill Public Library and Seattle Public Library were like this – pulled me right in with their amazing exteriors) – you want to increase your drive-by power – if someone drives by your library are they tantalized by something that they see? My public library is dull and far back from the road – in fact I drove past it once a week on the way to the grocery store for months before I knew it was there. We often have great spaces and locations – the problem is that we don’t do much with them. We’re not just a dry government building. Instead of a sign that just says ‘Library’ – maybe a sign that says ‘Twilight! It’s here!’ Paco then showed us images from libraries – some with lots of paint on the exterior, some that just have a bench (what he calls – long term parking). With so many libraries you’re dealing with inte-rgenerational families – so if you can park someone at the bench the primary shopper is happy.

Libraries used to be as dull as dishwater (I don’t know about that – even as a kid I was in awe of libraries – but then again I grew up to be a librarian) – for those who think you can get away with something like a pile of books on a book cart – keep dreaming. What do we have that HBO or PS2 doesn’t? We have people – we have things – we have ways of being able to cope in a recession – I don’t have to go to Blockbuster – I don’t have to pay for Tivo – I can get it all for free at the library – does the larger public understand that? Paco (and me) isn’t sure that they do.

We could learn from Wal-Mart and Amoeba Records (a place where they let you bring in your CDs and trade them). Wal-mart as an institution is dedicated to helping the single mother raising her kids and living on a budget. The library is about enriching it’s constituent base – not only in terms of culture, but in terms of money – you don’t have to buy it – you can borrow it – you don’t have to buy it – you can sample it – and you can do it legally!

In the end when we ask library patrons do they understand what the library means and what it’s constituent parts are – it is remarkable the number of people who walk in and don’t know that you lend CDs or DVDs for free. The typical patron who walks in the door only visits one part of the library. If I’m over 50 I go to the books – if I’m under 20 I go to the internet cafe. Our job is to broaden our the pieces of our offerings so that everyone can benefit from them.

Paco insists that librarians “Get our from behind your damn desk and get on the floor … Part of the joy of being a librarian should be the interaction with people – and in that interaction is part of the way that you control some of the abuse that may happen on your floor.” If you’re out there things that you don’t want to happen are less likely to happen because there is a presence on the floor saying ‘this is mine’ – not just a seat behind a desk.

Paco doesn’t want to turn a library into a shopping mall – he’s not telling us to add a Starbucks in our library – but he is saying that we need to secure some other kind of income – other than what our government gives us.

“I love books in the concept of my own home – and nothing is uglier than an empty shelf” — Paco. He has books in every room (so do I :) ) he thinks they look great (so do I :) )

How do we celebrate the literary life and the literary appeal – one thing that Paco has noticed and thanks us for – is getting rid of those hard uncomfortable chairs (which my library still has). He loves that there is a comfy place to sit now. He loves a book store in Austin Texas because they sell the books by making it home – in the cooking section there is an old stove. The bookstore is topical and modern – no dewey decimal system – you can set up a section and if it works you know it – and if it doesn’t work – you know it too. There is a section in his bookstore that has books on conspiracy theories. At Waldenbooks when they put self help next to children’s books they saw and increase in sales – we need to organize our libraries for groups – so that people can fan out – so parents can browse while keeping an eye on their kids.

Paco Underhill at NJLA

Think about your front desk – the desk in the front of the library drives the paths that patrons take through the library. A library without the desk at the front – has less diversity in their pathways. 80% of people are right handed – in a good store design you look for a counterclockwise shopping pattern. Usually people are carrying with their left hand and reaching with their right. Part of what you want to understand is the nature of sight lines – put things at a distance that tickle their curiosity – so that they’ll walk in and walk through.

Paco Underhill at NJLA

Hypothetical situation: I (Paco) live in Brooklyn and I commute to my job in Manhattan on the subway. 3 days a week I see the same woman get on the train at the stop after mine. I think she’s cute and I like what she’s reading on the train. What do you think the chances are that I’ll go up to and tell her I’m interested in her and she’ll respond positively? The chances are slim and none if I do that with nose to nose (my face to her face) interaction. So, how do I get to first base here. What I do is sit down next to her on the train and talk to her about something else that we can see from this angle. I haven’t confronted her – this is hip to hip interaction. You create a sense of intimacy. Then do this over and over a couple of mornings – and each time backing off instead of pushing the subject. By the third time you have formed a connection.

Examples of the hip to hip process can be seen all over these days – sales people not behind the desk anymore – at the Verizon Wireless store there are computers in the middle of the store where sales people can talk to customers side by side – when you go up the ‘info desk’ at Borders you’re actually on the same side of the desk – because it is much friendlier – the same is true at most Apple stores too.

Think about language too – what does a ‘circulation desk’ mean? Why not just call it “checkout”? Think about your communication strategy in the library – the simple act of changing the name of something makes the light bulb go off – makes it clear what is meant. Our desks are covered in signs – we think that if 3 signs work – then maybe 27 will be even better – our circ desks are too cluttered and often have out-of-date notifications up. People shut off with this much information in their face at once. You would rather have people learn 1 thing absolutely than 5 things possibly. And remember to speak the language of the people walking in the door.

If you put a sign on your door with 25 words on it – then it’s slightly more effective that putting that sign in your garage. Start to match the nature of the message to the nature of the opportunity. A sign on a desk where a patron is sitting is maybe more likely to be read if it’s longer – but a sign on the door or down the hallway isn’t going to be read if it’s too long. Also, we want our signs to catch people’s eyes – use shapes and a sense of movement – by having a little more fun we catch people’s eyes. This is a place where we can have fun doing what we want to – and whether it’s odd shapes and sizes or big stacks of books, we can have fun with our displays and our signs. Having fun is what makes our jobs enjoyable – cause we certainly aren’t doing it for the money!!

One of the ongoing problems we have we have to make people feel good at the end of their process at the library – and the checkout process is your chance to teach people to fish (instead of just giving them fish). We want them to make the trip to the public library part of their weekly routine. We want to start them as novice users and move them up the scale. We want them to use us for lectures, books DVDs, CDs, etc – because our future as a public library is in controlled by us being evangelical about what we offer. Often people don’t realize that we’re not just a place but we’re a system – if they can’t find it here we can check other places to get it for you – like you can in retail.


The level to which I understand the needs of my patrons corresponds to my success. The success of my library also depends on my architecture. And lastly the operating culture effects my success. Many of us have gotten very comfortable thinking sitting down – whether it’s around the conference table working out an idea – or staring at my computer with a spreadsheet open – the greatest ideas often fail because no one goes out on the floor to try them out – thinking standing up is a 20th century skill – it’s time to get our from behind our desks and out of our chairs and see the library the way our patrons do – on foot.

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Cataloging Marketplace Study

The Library of Congress has retained R2 Consulting, LLC to research and describe the US and Canadian “marketplace” for cataloging records and they have just posted a couple of surveys that need our input:

If you are a librarian: Click here to take the library survey Once you have begun this survey, you can easily move forward and backward through the survey using the [Prev] and [Next] buttons on the bottom of each page. Once you click the [Done] button on the last page, your responses will be finalized and recorded.

If you represent a MARC system, distributor, cataloging cooperative, or other MARC service provider: Click here to take the vendor survey With regard to this survey, participants will have continuing access so that if necessary, survey questions can be completed over the course of multiple days. If you wish to re-enter, just click again on the link and your responses will be presented for editing.

Join the Ning group to keep up with news about the research.