Monday, June 20, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

This book is a steampunk alternate history western, which sounds suspect, but actually it worked pretty well. The book had a LOT going for it in terms of creativity. The premise was truly creative, and the interesting ideas kept going all the way through. The pacing was EXCELLENT - the world and the characters were slowly revealed throughout the book, so that the feeling of discovery continued through to the end - just like it should in good speculative fiction!

That said, this book wasn't really to my personal taste. The premise involved too much NASTINESS - the book is all about human failings, and the destructiveness of hate and fear, and about how even our best urges turn wrong....that's not what I'm looking for in a fiction book! I also wasn't impressed by the storytelling - either there's a sequel coming, or the story ends at a very odd point. Since I like to read for character and story, this book didn't rank high for me. But in terms of world-building and originality, it's sublime.

Note: I have since heard that there is in fact a sequel coming. Thanks to Erica, and to the library's wiki!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"The future of the library" - Seth Godin and more


I have a lot of enthusiasm for the vision of library-as-community gathering place, and I really love Seth's vision of the library. As a voracious lifelong learner, I love this image of the library as "The vibe of the best Brooklyn coffee shop combined with a passionate raconteur of information." Frankly, that's the kind of place I've been looking for all my life - the kind of place I've always wanted the library to be.

We should be a haven of geek-chic, a convergence of intelligence, a world where "knowledge is power" is a proven truth, not a catchy bookmark.

So where do we start? Sadly (for me), I don't think a catchy bookmark will do the trick. As much as I'd love to single-handedly save the library by creating great publications, I think we'll need a much wider approach. Here are my suggestions for the small steps we can take to start down this road.

  • Put the staff forward as hubs of book conversation. Encourage us to show our love, our enthusiasm, and our personality in our conversations about books.
  • Staff suggestions should be well-displayed; don't just throw them on a shelf or cart. Take a lesson from bookstores and do some MERCHANDISING.
  • Don't give up on Book Discussion Groups. This oft-maligned but perennial library standard is based on a good solid premise: that avid readers like intelligent discussion about books.
  • If you have any kind of Small-Business Center (our library does), offer some opportunities for networking. Try doing some workshops aimed at business owners, or having a business-to-business bulletin board, or a meet-and-greet. We should be positioning ourselves as the hub of a network of RELEVANT information.
  • Connect with existing groups that use the library already. For example: author groups. homeschooling groups, chess or bridge clubs, and artist's associations already use the library as a meeting place. Think about how you can create a symbiotic relationship that will benefit the group and the library.
Or we could just build a coffee shop right in the lobby. I'm being flip about it, but really....the idea has some merits.

(Thanks to "The 'M' Word" for directing me to the Seth Godin piece.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Top Ten Tips for Brochure Design

(for libraries or anyone else)

1. Figure out the main objective of the piece. Is it an advertising brochure, or an information brochure? It cannot do both equally - you need to decide what is the top priority.

2. Think about the "vibe" you want the piece to have. Should it be accessible and welcoming? Sleek and corporate? Hip and trendy? Don't just wing this - decide in advance. It will help you as you select fonts, colors and photos.

3. Word and Publisher templates are not your friends. They're the cutting edge of design from the 80's. Avoid.

4. Clip art is not your friend. Clip art tends to make a publication look amateur. Even if you are limited to black-and-white, try using graphic elements (like large blocks of ink, and bold fonts) rather than clip art.

5. Avoid aligning elements right on the fold. Folding is almost never an exact science, so graphic elements that need to be folded just-so are likely to end up looking bad. Instead, build a small folding buffer into the design.

6. Cut down your text. Cut it drastically. Cut it in half. The more text there is, the less likely people are to read it. (I know, I know, this is a horrible thing to say to information professionals. But you have to do it.)

7. In that vein, don't explain things that don't need explaining. Saying "Free Wi -fi" is enough - you don't need to write a paragraph about it.

8. A single large image is better than a collage of images. I know it's tempting to try to include lots of pictures, to advertise all your different services and appeal to all your varied users. Restrain this impulse and select a few striking images to illustrate your main point.

9. Limit your fonts. Don't use more than two - and they should both be very easy to read.

10. Skim-ability is important. Use headings, and make them meaningful. Separate chunks of information with color blocks. Use bullet points.

Have fun!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Long-term Planning for Library Programming

My former boss (actually, like 3 bosses ago) used to make everyone who wanted to suggest a library program fill out a form. This form asked why we suggested the program, how it helped fulfil the library's mission, and more stuff like that. At the time, I thought it was the DUMBEST FORM EVER. And maybe it was, but since then I've come to appreciate the impulse that went into that form: the idea that we ought to be thinking hard about every single program we plan.

Since right now we are trying to increase overall program attendance, it's easy to approach this by trying to schedule more programs. At times, it seems like this becomes rather haphazard. People contact us, and we schedule a program. We have an idea, so we go for it.

But this approach has serious problems. Here are some of the issues that can (and do) arise when we fail to create a long-term plan:

1. Events not spread equally between branches.
Some libraries in our system are larger than others. Some have nicer facilities, some are more centrally located, and some staff express more enthusiasm. It's easy for events to develop a drift; we get in the habit of putting our large events at one or two branches, or a particular manager is always clamoring for children's events, and before you know it, some branches are slammed with events while others are ignored.

2. Seasonal ebb and flow.
Summer is a crazy-busy time for our department, because of the Summer Reading Program. So here is how our year usually goes: We are crazy-busy in May and June, getting the summer straight. We're so exhausted from that effort that we plan very little for September. But in August/September, we bring out all our new ideas, and plan TONS OF STUFF for October and November. Then we get busy publicizing that stuff, so we don't plan anything for December and January, until we get busy with the Winter Reading Program and Black History Month. Enthused from our winter break, we go NUTS with the events for April and May. WE get so caught up in our April and May stuff that we don't plan for summer as early as we should, so May and June are crazy-busy...and it all begins again.

If we had a clear map of how many events should be held each month, and a sufficiently long-term calendar, we could create a nice spread of events, with something great happening every month.

3. Competition between events.
When we all just schedule whatever we feel like, it's easy to get into a situation where each person in the office has a pet project needing to be publicized in May. Then we end up in competition for budget and advertising. What event will be the newsletter cover story? What will be the first slide in the slide show? We could plan these things in advance, and we would not only market more effectively, we would reduce office tension.

4. Haphazard or slapdash array of program topics.
This is key. What percentage of our time and budget goes to children's programming as opposed to teen programming? How many of our programs are interactive instead of lecture-style? How much money are we spending each year on musical events vs. author events?

Not only do we need to know the answers to these questions, we need to know what we WANT the answers to be. We need to know if our behavior is in line with definite goals and guidelines. In short, we need a long-term plan.

Of course, a plan for distributing efforts across months, geography and genre is only a subgoal. The true issue, the true beginning of such a plan, is the role of events in the library's mission. But that's a topic for another day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A great article

Okay, this is a lame thing to post after such a long hiatus, but still:

The importance of interactivity cannot be stressed enough.

(Thanks to whoever posted this blog to our library's wiki!)