Let’s Make a List: Foursquare in Libraries

Back in June, I read a piece about how the Brooklyn Museum is using Foursquare to make connections among visitors to the facility. I wondered whether other institutions, particularly libraries, have done something similar–designated an entire web page to Foursquare activities.

So I tweeted a Google doc and asked how libraries are using Foursquare. The limited response suggests that either no one is reading my tweets, or not many libraries in my network are using Foursquare (or both). In any case, here are the replies I received:

  • My first introduction to Foursquare was through a webinar sponsored by the Connecting to Collections Initiative given by Nancie Ravenel of the Shelburne Museum in VT and blogger Colleen Dilenschneider.  Shelburne uses Foursquare, but to my knowledge, it is not incentivized.
  • Surprise giveaways: Via Twitter/Facebook, first five people to check in get an ebook
  • We give away a flash drive or other small techie prize to the first 10 people to check in.
  • Our public library gives prizes to people who check in on certain days or at events. We’ve gotten more people to show up for certain programs this way–giving away ebooks, signed book copies or other autographed materials to people who check in at author events or other programs.

  • You can give out things with library logo/slogan (shirts, iPad/iPod covers?, totes, pens/pencils, mousepads, mugs, calendars, etc.)

If these replies and the several tweets I received are any indication, awarding users with schwag appears to be the prominent use of Foursquare in libraries.

Care to add to the list? Have you found more creative ways to use Foursquare in the library or other institution? How successful have your programs proven? How have they failed? Please share.

Don’t Take My Vinyl Away

Just a few short years ago, I daily played more music on vinyl than on CD or MP3. Alas, a second child and an obstructing third bathroom largely put the kibosh on my record spinning and relegated my wife and I to the kitchen. That’s where the iPod is docked on the iHome radio, which the second child has now broken. Of course, I appreciate the fact that I can neatly tuck 160GB of music between the coffee maker and the bread box, but I’m a music snob. Not an audiophile, but a snob. And music snobs can be rather particular about format.

For many listeners, a great attraction to many vinyl albums is the fact that the albums are in the format for which they were recorded. A lot of audio purists and vinyl junkies would argue that music simply sounds best in its original format, despite the cleaner sound of subsequent remixed or digitized versions. They want to gently drop the needle and hear the calm crackle that precludes Track 1. It’s the preference of the listener–of the user. Call it audiophilia or nostalgia, but as far as the library is concerned, it’s all part of the user experience.

Hardly portable, shelved LPs measure a square foot. Skinny packaging is susceptible to acid and harsh wear and barely protects the fragile wax disc. The record itself is easily broken or gouged. Spinning under needlepoint, its integrity is easily compromised. 45s are a smaller version of the same problem child. Vinyl albums have been a fringe product for 25 years. Yet they don’t go away. People still seek old vinyl in droves. Meanwhile, demand for new vinyl has increased steadily for several years.

It’s notable that new vinyl sales posted a 14% gain in 2010 and that the National Association of Recording Merchandisers projects another huge growth in vinyl sales this year. The colossal rise of digital music outlets (iTunes, Amazon) and widespread access to shared and pirated music (BitTorrent, Mediafire) has forced many vinyl-selling independent music stores out of business. Vinyl distributors have had to seek new outlets and, somehow, it would appear they’ve succeeded. Yet, while new vinyl has found its way to nontraditional retail outlets like Urban Outfitters, I wonder how much of it has ended up in the library.

Music, perhaps more than any other product, occupies a tremendous portion of the long tail. Music stranded in dated formats is largely lost to each new generation of listeners and music seekers. Like magnetic tapes, vinyl records are a dated format–not an obsolete one. These materials should be collected, curated, and shared.

While it’s been the trend in public libraries to move or trash non-digital media, an increasing number of libraries, sensing the rising demand, have established collections of new vinyl. In January, the Grandview Heights Public Library, in Columbus, reintroduced new vinyl to their collection. Partnering with local record shops, they proceeded cautiously with a modest 30 titles and an interesting method of circulation.

With any collection, there are going to be dilemmas. Different perspectives and levels of expertise yield different results in a collection’s maintenance. But I think we should all agree that dated media should never be discounted as clutter, deaccessioned, and rocketed toward the sun. We’re all sensitive to issues of space, but we should also agree that it’s simply unacceptable that unappraised collections are quietly placed out back with the trash. In my silly world, these collections are either curated by the right AV librarian–one versed in dated formats and niche markets–or conveyed to another location via sale or gift. Librarians are not omnipotent. In a perfect world, we all have knowledgeable AV librarians making decisions regarding whether an album or VHS tape stays or goes. Unfortunately, the “accidental” AV librarian my not always be hep to the nuances of media preservation.

Most important to me about audio format is preservation, at least where libraries are concerned. If you haven’t seen this video, you might give it a look now. It features Brian Schottlaender, University Librarian at the University of California, San Diego, using some records from his personal collection to express his views on vinyl preservation.

There are countless films in special collections and storage facilities around the world that never made the digital leap. Many exist only on celluloid reels, hiding from acids in those gigantic film cans, never reproduced on VHS. In turn, many VHS films were never transferred to DVD, and most DVDs have yet to be streamed by the likes of Netflix, who, believe it or not, don’t have everything. In terms of preservation, how significant do those reels and VHS tapes look now? Sure, many of those materials are throwaway titles that met modest circulation at best. Yet even rare AV gems are left to collect dust for one reason or another, and many items have earned the longevity of a modern format. Some VHS and more rare celluloid reels are surely testaments to the arts of film and screenwriting. Whatever the case, that’s a lot of material left behind by evolving technologies.

Music formats have mutated in a similar pattern. Many vinyl records were never manufactured on cassette. Likewise, so many tapes, the format of choice for several generations of independent bands and musicians, never benefited from digitization and manufacture on CD, let alone downloadability. (Have you begun to see your next special media collection project?) But if we know nothing else at all about dated media formats, librarians who maintain media collections should be sensitive to this history, to the technological dead ends in media production, and apply it to their philosophies of collection maintenance and preservation.

Decay of Discovery

For all the accessibility, storage, and bells and whistles that come with eBooks and eReaders, there are also clear drawbacks. Among them is the loss of opportunity for discovery inherent in stack perusal. Whether casual browsing or focused searching, libraries and readers have always counted on accidental discovery to augment reading and enhance the user experience.

eBooks rather squelch discovery. The reader may be given suggested titles and authors, but how meaningful are those suggestions? After all, anyone who understands fundamental cataloguing and information management knows that books are organized on shelves according to method and explicit criteria. Volumes tend to be related in very specific ways. Can a for-profit digital bookstore account for that? A library’s digital catalog?

And what about children? Emergent readers and younger kids rely on their parents to purchase or download titles. Without shelf perusal, the experience of spontaneous discovery is completely lost to children. Jaime Hammond, a thoughtful librarian, Library Journal Mover & Shaker, and mother of actual (not virtual) children, tweets:

Thoughtful parents will fill the void left by digital books simply by bringing kids to the library; by letting them have their run of the children’s and YA departments. Kids love finding their own materials. They do it by themselves. How are educators addressing the issue? Are they? How are libraries accounting for the loss of discovery?

The Mansueto Library

I’m often curious to gauge the consensus feeling when something significant happens or, in this case, where a facility of consequence is erected. If you haven’t read about it, the University of Chicago has opened The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, with its colossal automated retrieval system. On first glance, it’s an impressive system, to say the least. (In fact, I think it’s pretty awesome.) Yet given the growth of digital materials collections and perceived print exodus, I would imagine the development of this system has sparked interest and criticism among people in and out of the library field.

I’m particularly curious to read others’ evaluations of the library’s creation–what people think about the establishment of the library and its retrieval system and the incredible investment that facilitated the project. Certainly, while many will praise the University of Chicago for its implementation, many others will deem the system a glorious waste of resources–an ultramodern warehouse for print materials.

The University of Chicago is among the country’s foremost academic research institutions. Is the Mansueto Library and its retrieval system a state-of-the-art testament to UC’s enduring commitment to libraries and academic excellence? Perhaps you feel differently? Please share.

Please Play

Since subscribing to comments on Will Manley’s blog post the other night, my phone has lit up more than the chainsmokers in a LaSalle, IL, tavern. That’s what happens pretty much every time Will posts something new. On this occasion, Will chimes in on the ALA READ campaign. I have two thoughts on the subject. Well, three, really. But I put one of them in the comments section of Will’s post. It had to do with my love of John Fante’s books and my willingness to appear as a Fante torchbearer.

Whether you noticed or not, I posted a piece recently in which I made some suggestions regarding the classic and very popular READ posters. Fortunately, Will suggested to me that he liked that piece, so I count myself out of  a certain crowd he mentions in his current post. Will writes, “It’s very fashionable among bloggers to dump on the American Library Association.  My guess is that if ALA didn’t exist, library bloggers would have to invent it in order to have something to write about.” It’s well said, for sure. And I’d like to read the ALA-critical literature that inspired Will to write his post. (Will, if you’re reading this, please slip me some links.) Will and the commenters make many points–some salient, some salient and funny, some eyebrow-raising. Do check it out and leave your remarks.

The only critique I’d make is regarding one of the words Will states he wouldn’t want to see on an ALA poster. He writes, “READ plays to our strength and the reason why we exist.  I hope ALA never succumbs to the temptation to put out posters that say PLAY; LISTEN; COMPUTE; SURF; or DOWNLOAD.” An editor and grammarian of sorts, I don’t particularly enjoy semantic arguments. But when you’re talking about a marketing plan based on, essentially, a face, a book, and a single capitalized word, semantic discussions are to be expected.

As I mentioned in that earlier post on the READ ads, I like word play as it relates to the missions of public, school, and academic libraries. “Play” has different meanings for different people and different age groups. If cognitive studies of gaming have shown us anything, it’s that the library style of play promotes learning and growth in very special ways. And that doesn’t even begin to tell what cognitive strengths are exercised by adult play or forms of play involving young people who simply aren’t into traditional gaming. People of all ages make their own play, just as they decide what types of literature most appeal to them. Another word for play is fun. We make our own fun, no matter what age, and more often than we realize, we learn something or strengthen specific cognitive skills each time we create and have fun, even if the activity’s initial appearance doesn’t immediately suggest its value as an educational or even constructive activity.

Libraries are about many things–among them, an amalgam of freedoms, including freedom to play. COMPUTE, SURF, and DOWNLOAD? Those are services that should be pushed, certainly, but never in a READ-type graphic. The READ graphics aren’t about services. They represent, as Will writes, “the reason why we exist.” They’re about the availability and importance of materials and freedoms that serve fundamental human desires: literacy, connectivity, knowledge, growth, and, yes, play.

Why Aren’t You Here?

In my travels this week, I noted that a certain north-suburban public library had not tweeted since June. Curious as to the reasons for the lapse, I decided I should contact the library and satisfy my professional curiosity. And I still might. Instead, I decided to blog about it.

It could be that the person who was tweeting took a position elsewhere and her position remains open. Perhaps delayed or slashed funds have left the library understaffed and short of time for social networking. Maybe the director has found that they simply have too few Tweeps to justify continual use of the network. Or maybe somebody decided the whole thing is just stupid.

Perhaps I should have my head examined, but I remain among those in LibraryLand who believe social networks are a great tool for not only contributing to professional discourse, but for seeking library ubiquity–for getting hyperlocal. Blah blah, yawn. I know. You’ve heard it all before. Still, one shouldn’t pooh-pooh the potential benefits of these simple cloud tools. They’re free. They’re fast. They’re reciprocal. They can be collaborative. They push programs, services, and your brand.

Yet many astute library professionals, particularly administrators, have yet to bring their libraries onboard the social media boat. Others have made brief appearances on social networks only to disappear soon after. Another suburban library, one whose director is notably proactive about marketing strategies, has no Facebook or other social network presence.

This is the part where I might write, Everybody else is already there, so shouldn’t your library be there too? But I know that everybody is not there. It may often seem like everybody is there, but the digital divide simply does not allow everybody that type of access. Many public libraries serve very small communities or communities comprised largely of poor and immigrant families who can’t afford daily computer and web access. Many of these people have little or no experience with computers or the Internet. Many others have no interest.

I’m not a library director. I don’t manage a staff of programming librarians, reference librarians, techies, clerks and pages. So I’m curious about the practical reasons why libraries don’t use social networks, particularly Twitter and Facebook.

Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Against Me! The Internet

In the last few weeks I’ve heard radio commercials for numerous “reputation management and privacy” companies. A man tells us in brief how fine and casual his work and social lives are. Then, the tense, spooky music. The man tells us how, suddenly, his friends ignore him on the street and that big promotion was given to someone else. He frets, Has the whole world turned against me? No, says ReputationDefender. Not the whole world. It’s the Internet!

You see, our friend has been so busy on Facebook, Twitter, and his other social networks that he forgot to manage the privacy settings. Now his public profile is revealing such unsavory photos and regrettable tweets that his social and professional lives are crumbling to ruin.

Can this type of thing really happen? Sure it can. It does happen. Companies like ReputationDefender exist to serve real concerns and capitalize on people willing to spend money to cleanse and protect their Internet profiles.

Do people really need to spend 100 dollars every year for this peace of mind? Well, no. They don’t. Every social network site allows some level of personalized privacy. Users simply don’t think about things like privacy when opening that free account. In time, every tweet, photo, status update, and random comment is available for the world to see and read. A potential employer can Google our friend’s name and get all she needs to know about him. Things were going so great with Brenda. Now she won’t return my calls. I just can’t understand it. D’oh!

Every information professional should be familiar with the ins and outs of Internet privacy. Librarians should be hep to Facebook and Twitter, the top two social networking sites, and how to manipulate their privacy settings. When librarians have this basic ability, they can share with Web-active patrons of all ages and help alleviate the anxiety and stigma that always follow social networking.

Schedule a program in your library, making available as many computers as possible. Begin the class by having users log out of any social network to which they belong. Then have them Google their names and analyze the results. The object of the class is to make search results disappear. Show users the privacy functions of their social network sites and how to personalize them as best they are allowed. Lastly, have them log out and Google their names again.

Neither the world, nor the Internet is against our friend in the radio ad. And, really, ReputationDefender only wants a C note every year. Yet, while the Internet and the library now share space, progressive librarians are looking for ways to make them play nice. Showing users how to protect their public profiles serves this goal and saves everybody money. And in cases like the poor guy in the radio spot, helping one user manage his personal information can be just as important as helping another locate public information.