Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Old-fashioned Charm: Love it or lose it?

Where I work, we build very sleek, modern libraries. They are lovely - high ceilings, lots of light, open spaces, modern signage. They fit well with the image we're trying to create (to the extent that we think about our image at all.) We try to portray ourselves as a new library for a new age - we are modern, slick, efficient; we are cool and professional. We use Barnes & Noble as our model. We're seeking a place in the business world, we're emphasizing our role in health information literacy and financial literacy, we think of our librarians as consultants. Our publications should portray us as "a winner."

Are we going the wrong way?

One thing I've noticed is that when people speak of libraries with affection, they are almost always talking about an old-fashioned experience. They love the feeling of peace and quiet, or they love the nooks and crannies, they love the sense of mystery, and the wonder of being surrounded by books - for many people, the older the books, the better. I've heard people wax nostalgic about paper dust. They don't want the experience of a large chain bookstore. They want the old-fashioned charm of a library.

While I love the open, airy spaces of our new libraries, and paper dust makes me sneeze, I can identify with this other perspective. I love old-fashioned libraries. I love mysterious staircases and hidden corners and yes, I love old books. I once read a quote that said that the love people have for their library is inversely proportional to the size of the library - that small libraries would always be beloved, in a way that large libraries never would be.

I think that New York Public Library gives this the lie. Look at the recent reaction when they considered moving their stacks. Their reading room is beautiful and well-used, and they have a rich array of cultural programming. The lions that flank the entrance are so iconic that they had a children's television program named after them (PBS's Between the Lions). They are a huge library serving a huge population, and yet they are loved.

The simple fact is, old-fashioned libraries are an emotional brand with a lot of positive resonance. As we move our library into a sleek, almost corporate image, what will our emotional impact be? We've worked hard to get away from the old-fashioned nostalgia, but I'm worried that we've driven away the people who love us the most. How will we regain their love? How will our sleek professionalism gain anyone's love?

I'm not ready to give up on the modern library yet, but we're going to need to think hard about the way we brand ourselves. We want to be professional, but we need to stay human, need to be approachable - we need to be able to be loved.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tips to Encourage Creativty

Here are some of the ideas I gleaned from reading Imagine. I'm focusing these tips on group creativity - the kind that is more concerned with creative problem solving than with making pretty posters.So, what can you do at your library to encourage creativity?

1. Arrange for people who don't usually work together to run into each other. My library started making everyone conduct their staff meetings in the administrative offices. Now we see people from different branches on a regular basis, giving us the opportunity to share ideas.

2. Create teams that have some people who already know each another, and some who don't. This will help people feel comfortable enough to share freely, but still inject new ideas.

3. Go to conferences and retreats. They don't have to be very expensive or very far away. Getting away from your routine locations will also help you get away from routine thinking.

4. Keep conversations positive, but always encourage free debate. It's important to share ideas, and it's also important to discuss - talk about the pros and cons, talk about the flaws, talk about the failures as well as the successes. You're more likely to get the conversation you need to find a good idea, and to transform a good idea into a great one.

5. Share office space. I know, it's a pain - you can't hear on the phone, and you can't eat a king-sized bag of M&Ms without feeling judged. But people in shared space tend to talk, and it turns out that it really does help to bounce your ideas off someone else.

6. Make connections between people with different job functions. Don't just put all the librarians together on a team, and all the circulation staff together, and all the managers together. Again, this is a way to keep your brain open to new ideas - you have to hang around people with a different perspective.

7. Allow everyone some time to pursue new ideas and areas of interest. You'll drastically increase your idea pool, and you'll create some mental room for innovation.

To learn more about these ideas, read the book!