building the global library field

I spent the last several days in a room with the strategic advisor network of the global libraries program at the gates foundation. It’s exhilarating to have the time and the space to sit with the collective intelligence of a dozen or so library professionals who are managing global library associations, building the most innovative public libraries in the world, advancing scholarship and practice, developing local economies with the public libraries they lead or support. Exhilarating, honestly, feels like it doesn’t do any of this justice.

By the end of our time together, the group came up with three priority suggestions for the team on where to invest resources in order to “build the global library field” (in my own words):

– human capital and leadership networks

– measuring impact and communicating value

– shared solutions and infrastructure

Implicit in all of these was the notion of “articulating a vision for the future of libraries” and a strong emphasis on “community engagement” and “partnerships” in doing so.

I left the meeting with a renewed, and still profound, sense that this team is the best positioned organization in the world to advance the field globally. They’ll do it with their continued deep engagement with stakeholders (our group is just one small way they engage inside the field) and their commitment to working with others to get the job(s) done. I also felt extremely grateful for my time there. I am so lucky to know every individual in this group; and am changed myself by my interactions with them whenever we have the chance to meet and exchange. I also left the meeting feeling that there should be concerted, coordinated effort to articulate the future of libraries – in context with how content and learning is changing. It certainly wasn’t missed in the discussion, but I would have traded “human capital” investments for more focus there.

It’s hard to prioritize, and really, working in any of these critical areas will do much to energize the institutional change we need now. If you were personally tasked with “building the global library field” – and you had significant resources to apply to this challenge – what would you do?

socializing the social – aka, conform! it’s fun!

I’ve been pondering the meaning of the term “socialize” as I think about social activities, networking, and capital – and how online environments are similar to or differentiated from in-person ones. In trusty Clayton Wood (my new boss) fashion, I marched over to google and typed in “socialize” and retrieved the following definitions:

  • take part in social activities; interact with others; “The old man hates to socialize”
  • train for a social environment; “The children must be properly socialized”
  • prepare for social life; “Children have to be socialized in school”
  • make conform to socialist ideas and philosophies; “Health care should be socialized!”

I keep going back and forth about the manifesto-ness of my own messaging on this topic. Are we truly in the middle of a “movement” or “revolution” in libraries – where we must train, prepare or even ‘make conform’ in order to get by in the new environment? Or, are we simply taking part in activities – interacting with others – only doing it in new ways. In the case of the latter, we’re not really dealing with any sort of revolution, except that the tools are different than we’re used to. Right?
One way to think about this may be to say that it IS a revolution for us in libraries because we’re being called upon to make a fundamental shift in the way we deliver services: away from “pure” or “authoritative” data, information, and content, and being asked to deliver services that help people connect with each other as their source of content and information (though I’m not sure data). Is it a fundamental shift? Has there always been an important community-building aspect to information delivery (in physical space)? Are we ultimately doing much of the same work we always have? Ug. I guess I’m stuggling with the balance between our connection to work that we’ve always done in communities as library professionals, and the new work we’re being called upon to do, or at the very least, the new way we’re being called upon to do it. Which is it??

interview with Meredith Farkas

Well, it occurred to me today that one thing I can do on the blog without cutting into writing time too much is share excerpts. So, here’s another sidebar – an interview with Meredith on her work with Five Weeks. Thank you Meredith for your time on this! 🙂


Meredith is the Distance Learning Librarian at Norwich University in Northfield Vermont. In the spring of 2007, Meredith was also the Chair of Five Weeks to a Social Library, a free online course designed to teach social software to librarians who would otherwise not have access to this type of continuing education. You can follow Meredith’s Information Wants to be Free blog at

What do you think are the major challenges library staff face in their jobs in the coming year?
I think most librarians are incredibly busy. One major challenge we all have is making continuing education a priority. We have so many day-to-day responsibilities and wear so many hats; it’s often difficult to justify going to a conference or reading an article when there are so many other things to do. However, continuing education is absolutely vital to our providing the best possible services to our patrons; how else can we learn about the latest trends in libraries or technologies available to us?

Tell us about Five Weeks to a Social Library. Why did you decide to do it?
Five Weeks to a Social Library is an online course designed by six librarians who wanted to teach other librarians who would otherwise not have access to continuing education about social software and how to apply social technologies in their libraries. My goal when I originally conceived of the course was to show others that high-quality online education programs could be designed on the grass-roots level and without spending a lot of money. While there were some required components, a lot of the material and activities were optional, so participants could do as much or as little as they were able to. All of the course materials were available after the course so students could later read or watch things they didn’t have time for during the five weeks.I wanted to develop a sustainable model that others could replicate in the future to make online education more accessible to librarians. We designed the course to be an extremely rich and interactive experience, with participants not just listening to lectures and reading articles but blogging, chatting, and actually using social technologies. These active and reflective learning activities helped students really engage with the tools and consider how they could be used in their libraries. This is a course that could very easily be adapted for different groups, different subjects and different time-frames. With the exception of Web conferencing software, all of the tools used in the course were open source and therefore a cost-effective option for any institution.

How did you measure success for this project?
I think a course is successful if participants are able to take what they learned and apply it in their libraries. To evaluate the effectiveness of this course, we asked our participants to reflect on their learning experience (on their blogs in response to our questions), and their feedback was overwhelmingly positive. By simply reading our student blogs, we could also see that the majority of participants were really engaging with the course materials and tools, and were questioning how these technologies could be used in their libraries. A number of the individuals in the class have already implemented social software tools in their libraries, either during or right after the course. Three months after the course, I plan to send out a survey to participants to find out what they’ve accomplished, in terms of implementing social software tools at their library since the course ended.

What’s next for librarians who want to take an active role in their own professional development? Any predictions?
These days so many educational opportunities — blogs, webcasts, forums, and more — are now freely available online. At the same time, the technologies themselves have become more accessible. It’s so easy now for anyone (without tech-savvy) to start a blog, try a wiki, or play around with social bookmarking. The tools are all there for anyone to develop their own continuing education program; the only major barrier is finding the time. Fortunately, I think more and more libraries are looking at implementing in-house training programs, which will make continuing education more reasonable for library staff who are pressed for time, and this will help to build a real learning culture in the organization.


I believe that this interview fits best into our sustainability chapter, which also manages to deal with staying connected and relevant as library professionals. Comments?


Thanks to Kathleen for the info on libraries and their relationship to sustainability, particularly as it relates to the environment. I was speaking in my last post about institutional sustainability – but Kathleen’s post made me wonder: is it just a twist of familiar (and perhaps non-threatening) words that has us talking about accountability, particularly in terms of funding? If it were caged in business speak, would we be able to hear and participate? Is the conversation sustainability really more about pr or marketing? And, how much of what we do, or are willing to do, has to do with how we talk about it?

Are we more comfortable learning the process of “telling the library’s story” than we are with formalizing a marketing strategy? Are there ways in which this comfort zone becomes a box we can’t see outside of?

Back from New Mexico

I’m back from my family trip to New Mexico, but quite exhausted. My grandmother’s will requested a full day’s wake, then memorial service, then next day burial service. Following the white hearse the long ride from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, I felt spookily like I had been transported into an episode of six feet under (which is much more fabulous when it’s on tv). Her house and belongings now wait for hours of sorting, resorting, and distribution amongst her two children and ten grandchildren. While visiting her house the night before I came home, I learned that my grandmother had classified her personal collection by the DDC (seriously?), including a somewhat jumbled card catalog and check-out slips for each title. I brought home a few titles, and a stack of blank catalog cards. I’m finding that I can’t precisely shake the grief (when is that supposed to happen?), though I think I may be moving into acceptance rather soon.
Meanwhile, I write. I’m working now on the concept of sustainability and how it pertains to community building and library services. So far, I’ve been surprised to find that the only library orgs talking about “sustainability” (with this term) is WebJunction (Rural Library Sustainability Program) and ALA (Public Funding and Technology Access Study). Are there others that you know of? Pray tell.

Both of these projects are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who talks about sustainability a lot (no less than 18 of their 2002 library grants reference “sustainability” specifically). Cindi Hickey’s Building a Sustainable Future is the only blog I found dedicated to the topic for libraries; it was prompted by Kansas State Library’s participation in WebJunction’s rural program.
The Gates Foundation has certainly moved the conversation on public access computing away from hardware and software towards sustainability (of all of it: technology, training, programs, and support for the library) and I wonder if the lis-blogosphere will follow suit? When does technology become so integrated into library practice that it’s not really the focus of our conversations anymore? If we were to turn our attention to sustainability (instead of technology? alongside technology?), would we be better for it?

These (kinda new to me) ideas are related to the approach that Steven and I agreed upon for this book: community building is not about technology, though that’s where we come from (in general) as library professionals. We felt strongly that the community-building we’re both a part of through our tech-advocacy is in principle the same kind of activity that successful libraries have been practicing for years, even without flickr or you tube! Effective libraries are connecting with people, discovering and meeting needs, and consistently evaluating their own progress towards goals. What has this to do with technology? Not much except that sometimes we use technology to facilitate some or all of the above. What has this to do with sustainability? Seems like a lot.

what type of sound does “connect” make?

Seattle Times (my hometown paper) published an article today about how “quiet libraries” are shifting into “busy community hubs.”


Catching up on my LJ reading – I finally had time to read Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk on “Library 2.0”. Full of energy and enthusiasm, Casey and Savastinuk encourage library staff to focus on their users and communities – all of them – engaging patrons as participants and collaborators in the collections and services we offer. The key is not necessarily technology, they go on, but consistently planning, assessing, and adjusting our services – with constant input from and engagement with our users all the while. “If your organization combines … a framework for continual change and customer input integrated into other operations, it will be well on its way to becoming Library 2.0.”

I see the value in saying that something is “library 2.0” or a “next generation library.” It gives us a phrase for capturing ideas, energy, tools, and even a whole way of thinking about the changes or movements happening across the profession. This can be incredibly useful for gathering momentum around new initiatives, peaking curiosity, or simply gathering our thoughts – there’s always so much to take in professionally and sometimes it’s helpful to put things into containers. But something struck me as odd today when I re-read the headline: service for the next-generation library. What about services for libraries right now? Can you be next and now – at the same time?

Although I understand and appreciate the futurists in our professional circles as much as anyone, and I may sometimes be one myself, I wonder if there’s also something a bit condescending or smack-down-esque about the “next-gen” term. Does it conjure up a judgment or dismissal of our current colleagues who aren’t (for whatever reason) future-thinking? If we were all future-thinking could we open the doors, change the light bulbs, and run story-times? Maybe there are spaces or roles for some of us to be thinking about our traditions – and our current activities – in context with future trends or needs? Is there a way to balance it all? Take what’s valuable from each and pull it together into comprehensive, relevant services that bond library staff and patrons alike?

Maybe this is a given. Maybe I’m sensing something about next-gen-ism that really isn’t there for other folks. Let me be clear that I mean no disrespect to the great next-gen “tagged” materials out there. Like I said, a lot of this stuff has influenced my own thinking as I’ve come along in the profession. Part of my musing about this may be that I’m five years in now, and am not so next-gen myself (anymore) and so the term is bringing up questions I’ve never had before.

Is anyone else feeling like their next-gen-ism has flipped over into something else? Can you put whatever it has become to words? Would love your thoughts…

substantive stories for sustainability

Libraries often operate under the auspices of public good and public will. We’ve all heard the stories from local benefactors or library supporters that begin “As a young child, I took refuge in the stacks of my local neighborhood library…” and “The library was the only place where I fit in…” or “Without the library…” As powerful as stories and anecdotes can be to our partners, patrons, and holders of purse-strings, it’s not enough to simply argue that it’s “the right thing to do” to sustain them. In happy, bountiful times, when everyone’ feeling prosperous, even generous, perhaps “Libraries Change Lives” is good enough. Meanwhile, we’ve spent a lot of time counting – counting our resources, our processes, and our patrons’ use of the library. Take these last two points together. We take for granted that “Libraries Change Lives,” and believe, or perhaps hope, that the number of things we can count along the way will be enough to keep doors open when times are lean. We’re learning now: it won’t. We’ve got a long way to go before we “Prove it!”

In their book “How Libraries & Librarians Help,” Fisher and Durrance (thanks Patrick) identify an “urgent need to tell the library story more effectively.” Economic downturns, swings of the political pendulum, the clear need for vital services like police and emergency services, all call to question the services of the library, especially if we’ve not taken care to match them with community needs, or stayed in touch with our community about how we’re meeting them. Many libraries have found more robust “business reasoning” to be effective in determining and articulating value because it requires that we look at a bottom line and determine if what we’re doing makes sense based on needs, resources, and outcomes. The bottom line for libraries is not a financial profit, it’s sustainability.

But to get to sustainability, we have to know where we are, and where we have been. Telling our libraries stories, not only through traditional library metrics, but through measurement and analysis of the impacts or outcomes of our services and programs, is one way to help ensure that we get there. When our stories are more substantive, we’re getting closer to “proving it”.

How does your library tell its story? to patrons? decision-makers? supporters? partners? If you have a good example or contact of someone who’s actively accountable through regular evaluation AND doing a great job getting the word out about it – let us know – I’d love to chat with them.