Michael Stephens: The Hyperlinked Library Program
Tuesday, March 10th I attended the Michael Stephens presentation (The Hyperlinked Library) held at Burton Barr in Phoenix. Knowing that I can post a review to Tech Talk for all of those who didn’t get to attend this great event, I’ve been pondering how to write this review for close to a week now. In between other work stuff and a new cat anyway. My general impressions of this talk were that Michael Stephens is a very lively and entertaining speaker who is passionate and excited about libraries and new technology. This shouldn’t be surprising considering his blog, teaching at Dominican and other speaking engagements. But it still surprised me. I had little doubt about his enthusiasm for his subject, but it’s hard for library people to translate that interest and energy into public speaking. We’re all mostly too reserved for that sort of thing. So, what’s so different about Michael?
Well, he definitely stays ahead of the curve on technology trends, but so do a lot of people in libraryland that I know. He’s willing to share his knowledge with others and put it out there in the public domain via Tame the Web. Again, not unusual to see library staffers sharing information and ideas with each other even in cyberspace. Information sharing is what we’re all about after all. Maybe it’s the hair? J
Okay, so in all seriousness Michael does have a great ability to put himself out there and let people get to know him and I think that’s key. Most libraries and in a way the staff as well are very set in a business professional atmosphere and way of communicating. Now, that’s not a bad thing, but it can be off putting to some people; especially younger people who are considered digital natives. I think many times the general public see staffers as boring or even unapproachable. Some of this comes from the abundance of signage, often harsh, in many libraries today (we saw many illustrative photos during the presentation). It also comes from the layouts of the buildings and desks. As Michael put it, we’re often ensconced in fortresses at our desks and seem unapproachable. There’s also the library lingo that we all use and most of the public don’t understand and the general timidity of library staff. None of us generally wants to put ourselves out there or change our way of thinking. It’s really hard to do that and can be downright tiring. However, I think that’s what Michael was saying we need to do. Evolve to survive.
According to the presentation and I believe Pew, only 1% of people start information seeking at the library web site. They go to other search engines, probably Google as we’re all aware. So, how do we keep ourselves relevant to the public and in turn keep them coming to us for service? We need to put ourselves out where they are and let them know we’re here and willing to help them. That means being willing to go out into the wilds cyberspace using tools like blogs, Facebook and MySpace. But we also need to make sure that our buildings are inviting and approachable as well. It doesn’t help to get them interested online just to turn them away at the door.
With the financial times the country is experiencing a lot of people are turning to the library for help, but it would be nice if we could provide a fun place for them as well. This would keep them coming even when the national economic shortfall swings back up. Now, financial hardships have hit libraries too, but with the abundance of free software online there are options for libraries to provide innovative, quality services. Staff just needs to be a little flexible and willing to experiment.
To me, these were the major takeaways from Michael’s presentation. Be excited and passionate about your work. Keep aware of trends, but be sure to ground them with your library’s mission. Do your best to be welcoming to the public, both in your online presence and at your buildings. If we’re going to stay alive in the new millennium we need to evolve with the times and the people around us or we’re going to be an old relic that no one comes to visit.
Now for those who would like to read a much more linear and clear review of what Michael went over, please check out the review that our fearless leader Anali penned over at her blog.