Where are all the crazy ideas for libraries?

26 Oct

Picture of some stairs with 'insane' written on

I really like listening to Freakonomics Radio – it’s basically discussion of interesting ideas and how they apply to concepts. It’s quite seductive, because they’re generally left-field or crazy ideas, executed successfully by visionary people with a lot of capital behind them. I like to imagine how some of them might apply to libraries, and what I might do with limitless time and money to help the library cause…

A recent episode in particular really caught my ear. It’s worth listening to the whole thing, but here’s the bit that struck me. Peter Diamandis, of the X Prize Foundation, said: “If you want to cause a true break-through – the day before something is really a break-through, it’s a crazy idea. If it weren’t a crazy idea it wouldn’t be a break-through; it’d be an incremental improvement.”

So where are the crazy ideas for how to rescue libraries from their current plight? If you know of any, leave me a link in the comments. Or even better, if you HAVE a crazy idea you’d be happy sharing, tell us all about it here.

He goes on to say that at a really high level you can’t try crazy ideas because you end up being subject to a Congressional review or whatever, so it’s up to the small businesses and entrepreneurs to supply the real creativity because they’re the only ones who can. There are parallels with libraries here too – we can’t really expect the ALA, CILIP or the British Library to do something completely nuts just to try and ‘save’ libraries, they have too much responsibility. So maybe the ideas have to come from the little people, like us. Maybe if we have crazy ideas now, we’ll have the guts to try and implement some of them when we finally get our grubby mitts on some serious responsibility… who knows?

The host of the show, Stephen Dubner, goes on to say:

In the real world, there are real risks. You want winners? There’ll be losers too. You want a new solution, a new technology, a new education system? There’s going to be a whole lot of people – noisy, well-funded, entrenched people – whose only goal is to defend the status quo. So bring on the crazy ideas!

Makes you think, I reckon.

- thewikiman

p.s If you’re reading this in Google Reader or otherwise not on the original blog, click through and view the original! There are absolutely FABULOUS crazy ideas for libraries in the comments section, and that’s where the real value of this post lies.

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  • Andrew Walsh October 27, 2010 at 6:38 AM

    I’ve heard a few people talking about the future of libraries (particularly academic libraries) over the last year and been quite depressed by the lack of radical or crazy ideas – especially from new professionals.
    For academic libraries I worry that most of us are two different things – a book storeroom (which is a smaller proportion of our info resources each year) and rows of computers (that people largely socialise on). My crazy ideas would be around making academic libraries places for interacting and exploring information again – organised by proper info professionals of course.
    Quick idea: Get rid of most of the computers, use the space to do exciting interactice spaces. How about sticking a book or journal article on a surface that displays a visual representation of references / citations – allowing you to move backwards and forwards through them to explore the subject area? Could leap out of that into items with similar subject headings, or items linked by usage data? Technology is already there, and the kit would cost less than the rows of PCs taking up the same sort of space, but would make the space in libraries unique and useful again…

  • Andrew Walsh October 27, 2010 at 6:53 AM

    Crazy and probably unworkable idea for public libraries – have more paid services along with free aimed at middle class people who don’t use public libraries, but think they are a “good thing”. So make money from middle class guilt / lack of time to fund services for all.

    First class lounge areas? Priority reservations for new books? Special space for one-to-one homework search help by charged appointment (as opposed to the identical free help we’d offer anyway…). Who knows what we could offer that people with disposable income might pay for that they’d largely get for free anyway, as long as we made them feel “special” in some way.

    Most of the money could then be used for high quality, professsional staff that would serve everyone,,,

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 7:04 AM

    Wow I love the idea of the interactive actual journal! And it’s so true that a lot of technology exists which is easily fundable in the amount we spend on other things. Something that bridges the gap between library as service industry and library as educational tourism sort of thing (like the Science Museum but with useful references at the end!) could be absolutely mint.

    Regarding paid services – I know what you mean, you COULD exploit that guilt and the money could be fed back into a system which benefits everyone.. but I think the fuss it would cause – “IS NOTHING SACRED? OUR LIBRARIES ARE NO LONGER FREE – BENEFIT CHEATS BLAME ROYAL FAMILY, THIS WILL RUIN OUR COUNTRYSIDE” screams Daily Mail – might out weigh the benefit?

    But then, as I said above, I wanted crazy ideas, so maybe that’s a fuss worth causing…

  • ostephens October 27, 2010 at 7:34 AM

    @theREALwikiman not sure if they are ‘crazy’ but these ideas from public library in Denmark impressed me

  • theREALwikiman October 27, 2010 at 7:47 AM

    @ostephens Hey those are pretty ace, yes.

  • Katy W October 27, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    Move things around now and then like in supermarkets so people are confronted with new “lines” – I know it would be a big job but would stop people just going to same place on shelves every time they come in.

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    I like it.

  • Andrew Walsh October 27, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    I’ve seen libraries use “powerwalls” that they move stock on and off, really importantly displaying the covers rather than spines of books.

    The heaviest borrowed items in these libraries are always the ones on the powerwalls…

  • africker October 27, 2010 at 9:10 AM

    Crazy Public Library idea – don’t close branches – open more.

    The retail (partial) slump is leaving empty shops in popular locations.

    Offer to “look after these” ie provide security but at peppercorn rent.

    Select carefully to place things in areas of maximum footfall. Only open them at those times of max footfall (though with drop box for any time if possible). You wouldn’t want many of these but what about something that is open for 4 hours a day in a busy transport hub – 2 hours in each rush period?

    Go all out encouraging people to use the reserve online – pick up in convenient location model. IE Amazon without the cost or inconvenient missed deliveries. The store front would be one big advert for the service.

    Small off shoots are predominantly about pick up, drop off, quick random grabs.

    Advantages – cheap, flexible, encourage use by all parts of society, builds library habit again in those who have gone amazon only

    Disadvantages – cost

    At a push it could provide the physical venue for the new location tethered ebooks (ahem)

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    Alan I love it – it’s the exact opposite of the ‘victim’ mindset engulfing the sector.

  • meimaimaggio October 27, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    I wrote about my “crazy idea” here:

    I think public libraries should harness the power of immersive retail and create spaces that convey emotional messages. IKEA’s showrooms are excellent at doing this – they set up all the furnishings and props to create mini-homes that show customers how they could live with IKEA products. Libraries need to set up spaces to show people how to enjoy the library user lifestyle, to aspire to the lifestyle.

    Library space could be dressed like sets to evoke feelings of home, of time to do hobbies, of the village green, of cafes. Libraries need to be places to have conversations, to spark conversations and to encourage dreaming and thinking.

  • Gary Green October 27, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    meimaimaggio, I really like the idea of dressing the library up as a set. Relating to this, how about a massive map of the world on the floor, with the books on shelves in a spot relating to that particular location in the world eg. On a set of shelves over Spain you’d have all the books about Spain.

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    Meimaimaggio I’m with Gary, that’s definitely an ace idea. Great post too! “imagine the library as destination; a place that makes you linger” – yes.

  • Gary Green October 27, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    The common view of non-users is that the library has nothing to offer them. It would be great if library systems could target users even before they walked into a library via the internet. Even if it was a sponsored link at the top of a Google search page that highlighted/directed users to relevant resources in their local library based on their computer ISP or GPS on their mobile device.

  • Ginny Franklin October 27, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    Great post and comments. I think we need to be regularly reminded to think about this and not always get bogged done with day-to-day minutiae.
    Coincidentally, an article that relates to africker’s point has just popped up in my reader. See for an ordering / dispensing system outside the city hall.

  • Gary Green October 27, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    Re. My last comment (just in case it wasn’t clear) – basically I was talking about people running a search on Google and the sponsored link linking to relevant items in the local library.

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    Gary I agree, libraries need to be so much more AGGRESSIVE. Why not put ads up? Why not devote some revenue to creating interest, creating new customer bases, on the grounds that that will being in investment?

  • africker October 27, 2010 at 12:49 PM

    The article pointed out by Ginny Franklin is rather misleading – “New technologies dispense with librarians”. It is about the simple and sensible idea of using book vending, 24 hour automated pick up points and so on. Hardly replacing librarians or libraries. The latest Cilip gazette has some interesting thoughts on using RFID to allow imaginative management of stock.

  • Carolyn Starkey October 27, 2010 at 3:06 PM

    RT @theREALwikiman @LJSLJebookSummt Library people, I want your crazy game-changing ideas #tlchat #librarians

  • Phil Bradley October 27, 2010 at 4:04 PM

    I want a National Libraries Gaming Day. Get local Games Workshop, toy shops, wargames groups to run things. Get people to bring a wii or an xbox into the library for people to try out. Have the local chess club run something.

    I also want to look at the possibility of getting libraries involved with National Comic Day. Come to your local library for a comic, and check out the graphic novels!

    At ILI2010 I saw a really good presentation on the use of SMS and mobile texting in libraries, to keep people up to date with what’s going on.

    QR codes – have a QR code hunt around the local area.

    Bunches of stuff!

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 4:10 PM

    Phil you should talk to @JustinLibrarian, he loves that stuff!

  • Daniel Cooper Clark October 27, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    Eli Leiberman, at the recent LJ/SLJ eBook Summit, said public libraries should gradually phase out book (and ebook) circulation. Don’t fight it, it’s all over. Instead a public library should become a workshop/publisher/archive for local community-made documents, images, videos, music, etc. He said, take the old idea of the library bringing the world to the community, turn it around – the library brings the community to the world.

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    Oh wow. Now THAT is a crazy idea that people will be scared of, that could end up being tomorrow’s game-changer. Who knows?

  • Helen October 27, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    A national library book prize! I know we already have the ones for kids, but to be honest these aren’t promoted that much within libraries and it’s just a CILIP thing anyway. The library where I work has a book of the year event which nominates the most borrowed/reserved new releases of the last year and everyone votes on them. It would be great to see this as a national thing, maybe get some sponsorhsip involved too, publishers involved with freebies, etc, and promote libraries to the ‘literati’! It often feels like there is a great divide between libraries and publishers and although the reading agency has helped this, more could be done nationally rather than locally. Plus by allowing library users to vote, it gives real people something to relate to instead of the book prize or orange prize which often feels a bit pretentious for some people. (Perhaps this has already been done in the past and failed and in which case I’m an idiot! But could be possible.)

    And more IT people in libraries rather than good IT librarians going into IT! God knows we need them…

    BTW The article in the gazette about innovative uses of RFID really amazed me – imagine how handy it would be being able to pinpoint a book to it’s exact location? Books so often get lost simply because they’re put back in the wrong place and because of human error!

    Perhaps libraries could have themed rooms? A travel/geography room full of maps and globes! Sports room full of sports memorabilia. Libraries as spaces need to innovate and change.

    This shop in Bath offers ‘reading spa treatment’. Libraries could offer something similar, a private room with free drinks & cake where library users can chat to librarians about what books to read next. Often when a user asks you what book to read next you’re too busy and faffed to think of something good, but a dedicated book recommending room with trained staff could help this. It’s something unique that book shops can’t offer!

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 4:37 PM

    Check out this break-through idea from Tony Hirst’s blog, I absolutely love this:

    Helen, love the book spa idea! I’m really worked up now, I genuinely think all these ideas are fantastic.

  • Erin October 27, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    Think of the library as a business. Sometimes what makes money isn’t your primary offering.

    Sell print books, ebooks, ebook readers, journal articles, database access – sell new stuff. Be an information intermediary – we have the skills to negotiate contracts on behalf of individuals or businesses.

    Charge for services (like what Andrew Walsh wrote).

    Information needs are beyond print and digital. Collections can more accurately reflect real life needs – tools, people. Can I check out a cataloger for a day to help me with my business CMS? Can I check out your web design person for assistance with my website? Can I check out a tile cutter for help with my reno project? What about a tuxedo or a prom dress?

    Get over concept that advertising and sponsorship are bad. Want community support? Pay it forward, but be transparent and equitable.

    Library/hotel partnerships – offer materials to travelers (leisure and business) via local hotels. Charge flat rate to hotel to maintain collection (popular fiction, guidebooks, local authors, language resources), or fee to traveler.

    Move library card beyond library.

    What about all the new places where content exists? My Sony TV can access YouTube and Netflix, is there a place for libraries here? How about a partnership with Starbucks – think of their new digital platform. Lots of people work from Starbucks or other coffee shops or cowork facilities – can we generate revenue, offer great content and help entrepreneurs?

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 4:48 PM

    TaxonomyErin, I completely agree with the libraries as business idea. I’ve been saying for a while, I think we as an industry are still hung-over from the days of yore when libraries really could be run like a village hall or a charity shop. We are generally far too PASSIVE in everything that happens to us – we need to take ideas to the people.

    We need to be aggressive, and as you say we need to be transparent and equitable too.

    I was about to chime in and say ‘move the library card beyond the library – yes, it could give you local discounts on stuff’ but then I realised my local York library card already does that! Well done my local authority.

  • Owen Stephens October 27, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    When having one of those “what’s the point of libraries/do they have a future” debates with someone in a bar last year, they said to me something along the lines of: “I tell you what libraries should do – every single public library should have a 3D printer, with a huge library of designs that could be accessed by the public to ‘print’ out phyiscal objects. Librarians could help people find designs and create new ones”

    If you haven’t come across 3D printing it is used regularly in design prototyping – see, and is getting some buzz at the moment mainly because costs are coming down – at time of writing (27/10/10) this BBC programme is still available to listen to for UK people and covers it

    You can get a feel of the kind of thing you can make at (where you can also download the relevant files). Many of the items are quite simple, but I’ve seen designs for shoes, and this Gothic Cathedral model shows how detailed these things can be

    Finally one of the neat things about 3D printing is that you can actually print out most of the parts to make a 3D printer on a 3D printer! See

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 5:05 PM

    Wow Owen, that Cathedral is amazing. It looks like a big candle. (Probably best not to set fire to it though, after all that work.)

    I like the idea that we could rebrand libraries as somewhere to come and experiment, and just be creative. I suppose some people are already trying to do that, with the new names for libraries that traditionalists get so sniffy about.

  • Gary Green October 27, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    Re. QR code hunt. How about having randomly changing pieces of information on them? Every time you scan the same code a new bit of information pops up. Maybe this could be tied in with a borrowers account details ie system knows user has strong preference for a particular non-fiction subject, fiction genre or music taste and therefore recomends similar items or events relating to users preferences.
    In the library you could tie QR codes in with subject guiding in the library – maybe if you zap the QR code it comes up with the most popular book in that subject area at that time, or an interesting fact/video about that subject?
    It would be good to get creative with QR codes – some of the artwork people have created with QR codes has been very imaginative – would be nice to make them interesting, rather than just your standard QR codes, maybe with an info/book theme. Have a look at for some examples of what you can do. You could turn them into art as well as guiding!

  • Justin Hoenke October 27, 2010 at 5:23 PM

    Rock on Ned. I especially dug this quote:

    “at a really high level you can’t try crazy ideas because you end up being subject to a Congressional review or whatever, so it’s up to the small businesses and entrepreneurs to supply the real creativity because they’re the only ones who can”


    ALA has a National Gaming Day that is a great frame of reference for a project like you talk about. It has really been great at creating a community of gaming libraries and librarians.

    RE: Games Workshop. I started a program called Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game at my library 3 weeks ago. I partnered with a local writing organization for teens and we’ve been storyboarding and coming up with some pretty solid game ideas. You can read about the sessions here:

    I hope this helps you out!

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 5:25 PM

    Gary, love the idea of reccomendations – I still feel that Amazon is a more useful research tool than the average library catalogue, because it provides so much more related information.

    Justin thanks for commenting! The gaming in libraries thing seems to be much more entrenched in the culture in the US than it does here, or getting there anyway.

  • Library Web October 27, 2010 at 5:29 PM

    OK, hows about community libraries employ managers who are skilled as managers at strategic level. In recent years the trend has been to do away with the librarian in the community library, creating a library manager role, usually promoting a library assistant to the position, usually not having either library qualification or management either. As a result they see themselves as supervisory and building management.

    A strategic manager will clarify objectives, and I think it is fair to say that those objectives will include that he is payed to make a difference in the community. His management job is at a society level, not just supervisory. This is a very powerful concept for a community library. (Edward de Bono uses the simple word ‘steps’ to describe strategy. Van Riel et al ‘The reader-friendly library service’ also goes into what strategy is and in a more library context.)

    So the more highly experienced, as highly qualified as possible (preferably a librarian who has decided to specialise in management), with a proven proactive and creative track record, the better for the community :) And a community should aim to have one of these librarians in their library and to watch them very closely.

    At the moment libraries are facing the brunt of the cuts, largely because they are seen as leisure. This is a fallacy, they are very much in the social services sector, in the sector of the economy, not to mention education, etc. If we had library managers as I suggest above fighting their corner, then it would be a lot harder for administrators to close libraries. As it is at the moment and on the whole library managers are really only qualified and working at supervisory level.

    Such a library manager would also I am sure see the need for similarly highly skilled library assistants as being able to make the difference in a community, and make the argument for funding for this.


    Maybe our current library leaders should be put out to grass as soon as possible for letting the libraries deteriorate to the point where the purseholders see a library as no more than a warehouse operation for a public repository of books.

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 7:08 PM

    Gary (have I remembered that right? It only ever says LibraryWeb on your social media!) that’s really interesting, it chimes in with some other areas of my work and life. My initial reaction to the skilled managers rather than library people idea was that it would have a lot of pitfalls, becuase I’ve been close to people who have been managed by ‘managers’ per se, rather than people who know that field. So someone with management experience in the private sector coming into the public sector, at a high level, without having to work their way up and learn the system, is often a recipe for disaster.

    However, your arguments are pretty convincing… It’s that shift in mindset to ‘being paid to make a difference in the community’ that I like, society versus supervisory. I also like the fact that the manager would be better at making a business case to the funders about having highly skilled assistants versus volunteers – I think we’re still wont to forget about how important that side of things is, at all levels of libraries. One of the things we’re trying to do on the LIFE-SHARE Project which I work on, is create a toolkit to guide people through digitisation projects. And it doesn’t just say stuff like ‘if you’re digitising in-house, here is some information about SLR cameras versus scanners’ or whatever, it has information at a strategic level because that effects funding. If you can get buy-in from the management, and make a business case successfully, then that allows all the goals of the project to be reached more easily, and the whole thing becomes sustainable rather than a one-off.

    Generally as part of libraries businessaphobia, we don’t think enough in those terms. It comes back time and time again to this basic but frequently forgotten maxim – don’t just say how good you are, DEMONTRATE VALUE to the people you’re talking to.

  • anniemauger October 27, 2010 at 7:45 PM

    @theREALwikiman really impressed with the quality if the ideas, great stuff!

  • hmccormack October 27, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    Recent post by @theREALwikiman generated some truly inspirational ideas for re-conceiving 21st-century libraries 1/2

  • Heather McCormack October 27, 2010 at 9:14 PM

    First things first: great post, Potter, and great responses, all. You’ve got my head full of electricity.

    To the point: Stateside, I’m deeply invested in the ebooks question—that is, how do we come up with an ebook pricing/lending model that makes public libraries, publishers, and the public happy? Publishers ain’t saying diddly because they’re confused and freaked out. A goodly number of smart librarians think their profession is massively f’d in the a. The public, well…I’d wager to say a fair amount of Americans haven’t a clue they can get ebooks in U.S. public libraries for various reasons.

    To address this, I’d like to see a much more intimate collaboration between public libraries and book publishers. This might not seem revolutionary or crazy because the two are so obviously linked, but neither understands the other at all. One is a business, the other a public service. It’s not cool to crap on the latter, but publishers, on this side of The Pond anyways, are likely only viewing ebook sales to libraries as less than a maximum profit, even, yes, a liability because of piracy.

    And yet they desperately need each other. Publishers are trying to figure out how to identify and hook readers; libraries cater to diverse communities of book fiends, even nurturing them from childhood. Word of mouth, the holy grail of book publishing that’s credited as the reason behind best sellers, is not only sparked in libraries, but it’s a science carried out by readers advisory specialists.

    Digital rights management (DRM) prevents word of mouth from really taking off, in my view. Ebooks can only be checked out to one reader at a time. What if publishers sold more expensive DRM-free versions of ebooks to public libraries with the assumption that they will get “shared” and copied here and there, in the bloody hopes that they’ll get talked up? In turn, libraries, taking some of their cues from the library marketing departments of book publishers, put on “hot title” showcases with food and drink on a Friday night at their own institutions and at independent bookstores (another part of the reading ecosystem that needs help).

    People will buy good books if they know about them, even more so, I’d wager, if they read them for free initially. Publishers need to trust in the relationship libraries have with readers, and libraries will need to employ more RA staff with good people skills.

    Funk power over and out

  • theREALwikiman October 27, 2010 at 9:16 PM

    @anniemauger I know! People are really creative. We just need to get some of the ideas beyond the echo chamber…

  • Heather McCormack October 27, 2010 at 9:19 PM

    Meant to include this post I wrote for the Tools of Change blog. It delves into the idea of patrons as consumers, that is, why publishers should be courting libraries.

  • thewikiman October 27, 2010 at 9:20 PM

    Heather this is really interesting, and taps into a blog post I’ve had half-written in my mind for a while. I was just thinking about differing approaches, that different industries have, to having the rug pulled from under them. The internet has pulled the rug out from under basically all of us in one way or another, and some have handled it better than others. When things get out of your control, how well do you respond?

    The music industry, I think, responded pretty badly. They tried to LOCK IT DOWN! LOCK IT DOWN! and even talked about pursuing and prosecuting the 15 year olds who sit in their bedrooms and share the contents of their harddrive with others. They tried to continue to play the game by the same rules, even though the game had changed, and only now are they starting to accept that is no longer possble. Basically, stuff is going to be free on the net. It’s about how you leverage that in some way to ensure you can continue to afford to produce the content. Magazine publishing seems to have learnt from the music industries mistakes, and embraced the changes rather than feared them. So while everyone said the internet would kill magazines (why buy anything on paper?) they’ve adapted, particularly since the iPad arrived, and started producing apps. They’ve just moved medium, and rolled with the punches.

    (Incidentally, my favourite example of the music industry adapting to the new reality is the fact that, the other day, I uploaded a video to YouTube which had some of the music from American Beauty in the background. I got an email from Youtube, saying “Hey, we identied some of your content as copyright material. But don’t worry, it’s staying up – we’ve put an ad on it and link to itunes, though” or words to that effect. How much better is that than just taking the video down! It accepts that user-generated content is here to stay, that it can’t really be policed – or if it can, the time and effort outstrip the reward – and it finds a way to make money in the new reality.)

    So I think publishers need to go through a similar process, and accept that the old rules aren’t going to work anymore, and that by panicing and shutting it all down you’re only delaying the inevitble. The whole ‘you can have ads or you can pay a subscription’ model seems to be finally working across a load of different platforms, perhaps that could I apply to e-books too? And I completely agree with you that by the DRM shutting down the word-of-mouth, you are shooting yourself in the foot. This applies to anything you try and lock down – you’re preventing growth, and you’re preventing sharing! Sharing is the key to everything in a web 2 economy, is it not?

    Phil Bradley spoke at an event I helped organise recently, and one of things he said was something like “to work in libraries and build your reputation these days, you have to give as much of yourself away for free as possible” (aplogies if I mis-paraphrased, Phil..) – and it’s so, so true. No one ever built a business by putting up a wall. (Or rather, they did, but can no longer do so in the current landscape of information, enterprise, and consumers.) You have to be generous first, and then find a way to support a business model later (in Phil’s case, people like all that they read on his blogs and his advice pages for free, that they pay him to come and train them or speak at thier events). It seems to me that the Publishers are unwilling to embrace that, and it’s one of those concepts that will eventually wear you down and force you to accept its legitimacy; it’s just a case of whether you’re still holding on by the time that happens, or have gone under.

  • anniemauger October 27, 2010 at 9:42 PM

    @theREALwikiman brilliant! :)

  • Andy Woodworth October 28, 2010 at 4:26 AM

    RT @hmccormack: Recent post by @theREALwikiman generated some truly inspirational ideas for re-conceiving 21st-century libraries 1/2

  • Andy Woodworth October 28, 2010 at 5:26 AM

    Two quotes in support of the creativity here:

    “if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original”. – Sir Ken Robinson

    “The problem is that you can’t have good ideas unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones.” – Seth Godin

    I think librarians are the caretakers of creativity. We are surrounded by acts of creativity in all forms of expression: books, music, movies, prose, journalism, websites, databases. All full of acts of creativity.

    We shouldn’t be afraid to get a little creativity on ourselves. =D

  • Mylee Joseph October 28, 2010 at 7:24 AM

    RT @hmccormack: Recent post by @theREALwikiman generated some truly inspirational ideas for re-conceiving 21st-century libraries 1/2

  • Ned Potter October 28, 2010 at 7:43 AM

    Yesterday I asked for crazy ideas to help save libraries, 35 comments later there is a TRESURE TROVE, take a look:

  • CILIP October 28, 2010 at 8:44 AM

    Don't miss the latest @therealwikiman blog post (esp the comments): 'Where are all the crazy ideas for libraries?' –

  • thewikiman October 28, 2010 at 9:12 AM

    Andy, I completely agree. Part of what I like about the blogging community is the ability to bat these ideas around, including the bad ones, before things get as far as the front line. I just hope we can find a way to take the best ones past the realm of ‘creative idea’ and into the realm or a prototype, or a trial, or an experiement, or an actual break-through change.

  • Gary Green October 28, 2010 at 10:14 AM

    Reading a comment in response to a question I put on the CILIP e-hustings got me thinking about how non-users view libraries and librarians. I feel we need to have some kind of effective visible/visual respresentation outside of libraries in a place that non-users ((ho don’t own a phone/software that can read QR codes!) would see it and want to look at it/explore it. Something creative that makes the point that this is what the library looks like; this is what you as a user want; this is what we as libraries/trained library staff can give you. Even an advertising campaign that isn’t just dry facts, but is entertaining and relates libraries to specific users wants/desires. Maybe the advertising campaign could direct people to a more interactive/dynamic site with walkthroughs of all libraries in the UK – highlighting stock/services/events, etc in that library. The site could also map all the libraries in the UK, so users can easily see where their nearest library is, what it has to offer and which other libraries in the local authority area you can use your library card in.

  • Damyanti October 28, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    How about a bar like an apple store with shiny gadgets to play with linked to library resources and onluine multimedia, could have competitons to design stuff on the machines, perhaps using some of the library content – ie create your own tune etc.

  • thewikiman October 28, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    Gary I’d love to have an adertising campagin. Particularly one which could work on a cross-national platform (like youtube) as well as traditional TV type avenues – I think with all the creative minds in the industry it would be ace. I wish we could fund one.

    A lot of these ideas are genuinely things which could make a huge difference, if only we had the money. It’s a shame we can’t seem to attract philanthropists (read: people who like their names on stuff in exchange for their millions) to our industry as much as we’d like to.

    Damyanti, yes I love the idea of competitions, because poeple really invest in the resources and get to know the library through them. You should talk to Phil Bradley, I believe he is very much in favour of CILIP having a shiny-gadget bar so librarians can stay ahead of the technological game…

  • Annie Mauger October 28, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    love this blog from @therealwikiman

  • Karla Ivarson October 28, 2010 at 2:56 PM

    Though it’s been done before by other library systems, I’d really like to focus on outreach in a meaninful way, targeting people who don’t actually use the library. Instead of doing outreach at local fairs and just handing out program schedules and pencils with library logos, how much more meaningful would it be to have a laptop computer there and provide real reference service? Or providing reference service at the local mall?

  • CILIP Info & Advice October 28, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    RT @anniemauger Love this blog from @therealwikiman

  • Richard Hawkins October 28, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    This blog post is really great by the way, and the comments are even better.

    If I ever have a good enough idea I will be sure to add it to this list.

  • thewikiman October 28, 2010 at 4:03 PM

    Karla I completely agree – the whole Echo Chamber thing I’m obsessed with is all about actually reaching people don’t normally use the library, or know how good they are already.

    I think pencils with logos, generally, are a massive great big con by the pencil industry! I’d love to see some analysis of what they actually DO, for any industry.. same with pens. But you’re right, something interactive – something whereby you walk up to a stall with mild curiosity and leave with some of your information needs satisfied, is a really great idea.

    Richard, that’s kind of you to say but really the blog post wasn’t great – the responses are awesome, though! Best effort / reward ratio of anything I’ve ever posted, certainly.. :)

  • Katie Birkwood October 28, 2010 at 6:42 PM

    Just sat down to finally read @therealwikiman's crazy ideas post & there are 45 comments. Think I'm behind the game…

  • Girl in the Moon October 28, 2010 at 8:13 PM

    I haven’t managed to think of my own crazy idea (yet? There must be something I have to say about the future of special collections if only I could think of what), but I’ve just read this post over on the Shelf Check blog – – all about fostering social networks in the physical library, which I think fits the ‘crazy idea’ bill very well indeed. Go and read it!

  • thewikiman October 28, 2010 at 8:30 PM

    Katie I think that Shelf-Check post is ace, thanks very much for linking to it! (And thanks for linking to this from there, too – lots of traffic coming via that.)

    For those who don’t have time to click the link, it’s essentially a kind of interactive message board, with elements of Twitter meets FourSquare meets the bulletin board pinned to the wall, where patrons can interact with each other and start conversations, share stuff, in a way which they / we are usually too shy to do in person (but feel okay doing online). It’s a great idea.

  • Sarah Hammond October 28, 2010 at 8:40 PM

    The comment that mentioned Ikea got me thinking, public libraries don’t just need to go where patrons and potential patrons are virtually, they need to go to them physically. How about a presence in every Ikea? The footfall of those places must be huge, esp families with children. Go further than that, have a presence in every Starbucks. How that would work I don’t know but a sexy-looking bookshelf of gorgeous lush new books and an e-station to get e-books. This would necessitate OPACs that are far less crap in appearance and meet user-expectations. Partnership with Amazon to get their funky recommendation took.
    And for heaven’s sake, isn’t it about time all public libraries sang from the same song sheet?Split from local government and become an autonomous national body: how about BPL: The Great British Public Library, uniformity on service standards etc but plenty of scope for local variations too.
    People need to be able to make use of their public library without ever having to set foot in the actual building.
    On top of that recruit fewer para-professionals but recruit more professionals. Every community should have its own info pros on hand to fulfill all their info needs.
    Recruit from all info sectors, lets have more mobility across sectors in general. Cross-fertilisation of ideas to prevent hidebound organisational culture stymying every chance of real change that comes along.
    There, I’ve finished for now.

  • thewikiman October 28, 2010 at 9:14 PM

    Sarah, that’s why I wasn’t so horrified at the ‘libraries in pubs and supermarkets’ idea that came out of the DCMS’s rubbish and misleading review of libraries – I like the idea of taking the resources to where people already are, because that’s why some social media works so well (you’re already there, the information comes to you from many sources, rather than you having to go to it). If it was fundable it would be great.

    On the subject of the OPAC, WorldCat – – is the only catalogue I’ve seen that is half as good as Amazon, really.

    BPL sounds lovely. :)

    I must admit I’m not sure about the para-professionals bit – I think information needs are fulfilled by GOOD staff who actually care, regardless of their professional status. I’ve seen rubbbish professionals, rubbish para-professionals, ace professionals, and ace-paraprofessionals. What I’ve seen time and time again is bafflingly unsuitable people getting jobs in good libraries – why, interview panel, why!? I wish they were more careful in who they pick, because there are often loads of applicants so it’s not like they don’t have anyone good to choose from.

  • Adrienne Cooper October 28, 2010 at 9:48 PM

    Really enjoyed reading this thread. Wonderful ideas!

    It’s only small (and a bit goofy), but why hasn’t CILIP given David McCandless or the Guardian Datablog a prize yet? We shouldn’t only be associated with children’s fiction; we should also recognise and endorse those whose work makes information accessible, clear, fun and/or beautiful. During the Google Gen talk at the CILIP in London AGM, David Nicholas asked why we hadn’t awarded Google something for opening up information to a greater number of people.

    Not a huge cash prize, but something – such as being able to display our logo on their website. They may very well ignore it. But I think we could open up and show a bit more professional generosity as an Institute…

  • Ned Potter October 29, 2010 at 8:17 AM

    @anniemauger Check out @sphericalfruit's latest #cilip related comment on, by the way…

  • thewikiman October 29, 2010 at 9:16 AM

    SphericalFruit! Sorry, I know you find that tiresome.. Adrienne, thank you for your comment. Yes that’s a good point – the natural shyness of the library industry means we’re sometimes backward in coming forward – but why not confer status on more than just children’s literature, and perhaps in turn boost our own status?

    Annie, one to think about there. :)

  • africker October 29, 2010 at 9:22 AM – the power of pencils – a classic BMJ issue illustrating how pharma company reps influence prescribing decisions.

    Admittedly they give away lot better stuff than pencils!

  • thewikiman October 29, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    Ha! Thank you Alan, just goes to show I know nothing about marketing… (or pencils)

    New crazy idea: library-branded pencils as subliminal potential patron mind manipulation! :)

  • Ned Potter October 29, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    Have to plug this one more time: 55 comments of crazy library ideas goodness: Also @psychemedia's

  • Lauren October 29, 2010 at 3:40 PM


    In response to not being horrified about the idea of libraries in pubs and supermarkets – it’s not an issue of convenience (people generally thought about where they were going to locate public libraries – near shops and local amenities) in the first place, and a lot of people (the majority I speak to when I’m campaigning in Real Life) do still find them to be located in convenient places. For example, people with young children like the fact that they’re within walking distance, elderly folk like the fact that they’re near the village shop etc.

    The issue is ethical and philosophical, in part. One of the major strengths of public libraries is that they’re free and don’t try and sell anything to you (although some are introducing little shops…even the chaps who sell Ordnance Survey maps are trying to peddle globes and photo frames to libraries…) They’re a public space, which supermarkets and pubs aren’t. They’re not (supposed to be) commercial or biased. They’re (supposed to be) neutral spaces.

    It’s also an economic issue – a supermarket has little to gain from lending books for free if they’re trying to sell them. I don’t imagine there’d be higher visitors and sales in supermarkets because of co-location.

    I covered a bit about it in a blog post here:

    The main gist of this ramble (sorry!) is that libraries already are where people are – in communities – and in the centre of towns and cities.

  • Lauren October 29, 2010 at 3:43 PM

    I realise that’s not in the least productive, sorry! I promise to try and think of some good ideas…

  • thewikiman October 29, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    Lauren my point is that you have to go into a library which someone who doesn’t use libraries won’t do – putting library resources in places people who don’t normally go to libraries DO go into is a different thing.

    In the same way that following a library on Twitter, and getting a message in your stream which says “The Library will close early on Friday for refurbishment” is better than having to go to the library’s website and check if there’s any early-closing.

  • Thoughts from LIKE 19 « Organising Chaos October 29, 2010 at 6:24 PM

    [...] reminded me of a recent post over at thewikiman’s blog, about the need for “crazy ideas” for library services. I tweeted something to this [...]

  • Libary Web November 1, 2010 at 3:29 AM

    You know I’ve found myself saying the following in another comment:

    “Libraries if used intelligently and without short termism could save society the cost of a lot of the firefighting it currently has to do (the libraries’ values can do this).”

    Is this such a crazy idea?

  • Gary Green November 2, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    @juliancheal came up with a great demo for a library app. at the Huddersfield Mashed Libraries event. It made use of RFID enabled library cards. When a user walks into the library with their card, the RFID system would be triggered and would send relevant messages to their smartphones. This could be something like “Your reservation is now available” or “Your friends are also in the library.” Thinking about my idea above, it could be expanded to include recommendations based on what you’ve borrowed in the past, or things you’re interested in.

  • [...] play a game of chess, etc.) Folks in the comments there mentioned a related conversation at thewikiman, with more ideas in the [...]

  • carldjcross November 8, 2010 at 11:38 AM

    @Philbradley Wholeheartedly agree about a Nat. Gaming Day for libraries: and the campaign starts here:

  • Carl Cross November 8, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    Phil Bradley
    I want a National Libraries Gaming Day. Get local Games Workshop, toy shops, wargames groups to run things. Get people to bring a wii or an xbox into the library for people to try out. Have the local chess club run something.

    Me too and if you’ll excuse the plug this event (full disclosure, I’m running it) would be the perfect place to start:

    We currently have people from all over England attending and if similar events could be set in other parts of the UK we have the begginings of a grassroots movement.

    I would love to see a gaming component at a YLG national conference. And if anyone from YLG needs any help running it (waves hand enthusiastically) you know where I am.


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