A Library Christmas Carol

15 Dec

A christmassy looking lampost covered in snow

A mean-spirited, miserly old Librarian named Ebenezer Scrooge sits in his Library on Christmas Eve. His Assistant-Librarian, Bob Cratchit, sits inactive in the anteroom because Scrooge refuses to let him use social media to promote the library. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, pays his uncle a visit and invites him to a Christmas party; Scrooge reacts to this with bitterness and venom, also spitting out an angry “Bah! Humbug!” in response to his nephew’s suggestion that libraries need to change if they are to remain relevant in the digital age.

Later that evening, after returning to his chilly apartment, Scrooge receives a terrifying visitation from the ghost of his dead former Head Librarian, Jacob Marley. Marley, looking tired and ill, relates his unfortunate story. As punishment for his backwards-looking and pessimistic professional life, his spirit has been condemned to wander the Earth weighted down with all the physical journals he eschewed an online subscription to. Marley hopes to save Scrooge from sharing the same fate. Marley informs Scrooge that three spirits will visit him during the night, with the first at midnight. After the wraith disappears, Scrooge falls fast asleep and dreams of saying “Ssshhh!” to frightened minors.

He awakens in time for the arrival of the Ghost of Libraries Past, a strange Victorian-looking figure, candle-lit and very formal. The spirit escorts Scrooge on a journey into the past to previous Libraries from the ages, having promised to return him by half-past-twelve. Scrooge expects to be told that old-fashioned libraries were terrible and not respected in times gone by; in fact, invisible to those he watches, Scrooge sees how libraries have always served the information-needs of their communities, using the most appropriate platforms available for the written word. For much of history this has meant books and journals. Scrooge feels great nostalgia for the time when libraries were thought of as great intellectual institutions, where great minds were formed, and great ideas researched. He reflects how well he’d fit into the front-line staffing of Libraries Past. The spirit returns Scrooge to his apartment, and Scrooge notices that it is actually 12:35am. He tells the spirit that he will have to fine him for this late return, and that the spirit may be prevented from taking other curmudgeons out into different time-zones until the fines are paid in full. The spirit complains that this is grossly unfair and mumbles to himself that this is a typically cynical scheme to extract money from patrons, and Scrooge explains to him that the reason for the fines is not as a revenue stream but as a deterrent to keeping people for too long when other Ghosts may wish to borrow them, and anyway they’re called ‘customers’ now. After this the spirit evaporates, and Scrooge waits patiently for his next temporal adventure.

The Ghost of Libraries Present – a majestic giant with an iPad, on the back of which is written “I work here, how can I help?” – then takes Scrooge through London to unveil Libraries as they will happen that year. He is shown new, dynamic, fluid, innovative libraries – libraries catering brilliantly for extraordinarily diverse information needs. At first he is sceptical but soon he sees how well these libraries serve their communities – be they public, academic, business, health or any other community. He sees libraries introducing new technology, new collections, new classes, and new directions. He sees libraries training people, helping people find jobs, providing solace and a place to work, and being a hub around which networks and relationships can be built. He sees children being entertained and educated, adults crossing the digital divide, and great minds being fostered. But he also sees that libraries are being undermined by those with a powerful and loud public voice, and those who do not have libraries’ interests at heart. He sees libraries struggling against cuts, despite being needed now more than ever before. He sees many potential library members completely indifferent to the plight of the industry because they are unaware how libraries can be useful for them. They think libraries are still much the same as the ones Scrooge was shown by the Ghost of Libraries Past.

When Scrooge is finally delivered back home, he is abuzz with how many great things are going on, right now. But he is worried that not enough people know about them, and fears that society will not continue to benefit from libraries for much longer if things carry on as they are.

The Ghost of Libraries Yet to Come takes Scrooge by the hand. Scrooge half-expects to be shown desolate former library buildings being boarded up; unhappy former librarians trying to find new jobs; perhaps even to find himself in a churchyard, the spirit pointing to a grave, and Scrooge looking at the headstone and reading the name of the deceased: ‘Libraries. From Alexandria to Google – but not beyond.’ But he sees none of this. In fact, he sees nothing at all. Ahead of he and the spirit stretches a long, blank, vista of nothingness. “I do not understand, spirit,” says Scrooge. “Will you not show me the future of libraries?” The spirit shakes his head. “Can you not predict the future, spirit?” Again, the spirit shakes his head. And then the Spirit speaks.

“The only way to predict the future is to make it happen, Scrooge. The future of libraries has not already been determined; it is up to you and your colleagues in the library community to shape the future you wish to see. Battles are being lost but you can win the war – if you decide to do so. If you focus your efforts on such a goal. If you are willing to adapt, to change, to meet new needs, to promote, to advocate, and to work collaboratively with other Information Professionals and their institutions, all over the world. Can you do this, Scrooge? Can you step up to this collective challenge, or will you let others dictate your fate to you? Will you allow those who do not have libraries’ best interests at heart to shape this future narrative? Or will you take control of it yourselves?”

Scrooge realises that he and everyone else must assume responsibility for the future, and promises to do everything he can to make sure librarians are in control of their own destinies. He is then deposited at home, and the final wraith vanishes.

Overwhelmed with joy by the chance to redeem himself and grateful that he has been returned to Christmas Day, Scrooge rushes out onto the street hoping to share his new found optimism for the library profession. He sends an Amazon Kindle (3G version) to the Cratchit house and sets up a Twitter account for his library, to the stifled surprise of the twitterati. As the years go by, he holds true to his promise and writes his and his peers’ own future of their profession. Together, they make it happen…

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How to use Prezi really well

09 Dec

I’m loving using slides to disseminate stuff at the moment, so I’ve re-written and updated my Prezi FTW post and produced a new top ten tips on creating a great presentation with the online zooming software.

Also, I used it as an opportunity to really really hard with the slide-deck and experiment with a slightly different style.   (And put in a little bit of library pride on the final couple of slides.) :)

edit: since these slides were created, Prezi has improved some features and made some changes – including a Theme Editor. This means point 2, about choosing your colour scheme early and the fonts / colours not being mix-and-matchable, is no longer quite as true…

How to use prezi and WIN – feel free to share / use this.

View more presentations from Ned Potter.
For more in-depth information, including a Prezi guide in Prezi itself, see my ultimate guide to Prezi.

Prezi as grand canvas

Since the original Prezi FTW guide I’ve used Prezi in a new way. Rather than just creating a presentation on a blank background, I’ve started trying to use an image as the canvas, and superimposing all my text, graphics etc onto that image.

Here is the interactive library map I created for the New Professionals Information Days:

Everything you need to know about technology and working in libraries on Prezi

As you can see it’s designed to be used interactively by the viewer, rather than navigated through in linear fashion – everything highlightable is clickable. I think this makes more of the unique properties of Prezi versus PowerPoint – increasingly, I don’t think it’s worth using Prezi over really nice slides unless you exploit some of these types of capabilities.

In Edit view the Prezi looks  like this:

My Prezi as seen in edit view

All those blue boxes are Hidden Frames, and hidden frames are what makes each bit highlightable (and clickable on). It’s really easy to do.

I think this has loads of potential. You could do maps, plans, desks anything with a top down view really. Because Prezi writes directly and transparently on to whatever the surface of the canvas is (as opposed to having to create a text-box with a white or coloured background, for example) you can add text to anything which doesn’t already have text on it. So for example you could take the full size version of this picture (from

Some notes arranged on a desk

Note papers from stock.xchng – click to view the original

…and write text of varying sizes on all the little bits of note-paper, making full use of all the different angles, etc etc. You get a nice cohesive top-down view, and then you get to zoom in and read all the intriguing pieces of text individually. Or you could use an old fashioned painting as your canvas (imagine a 19th century oil-painting of a lake) and then zoom in with extreme close-up of some modern water-skiers on there, for some Banksy style anarchy (but subtler)!

So I’d encourage anyone to experiment with the Prezi as Grand Canvas idea. Good luck!

- thewikiman

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Everything you need to know about technology to work in libraries

06 Dec

I’ve given a couple of talks on technology in libraries recently. Here’s roughly what I said. (Or, more accurately, roughly what I intended to say, :) )

In modern librarianship you can do so many jobs, such a diverse array of roles which are salaried by the library; actually very few threads run through all of them. Over the course of the two New Professionals Information Days we’ve had more than 150 delegates through the door, and there’s very little in common between ALL the roles we do or aspire to do. Certainly not books.

‘Problem solving’ is probably a thread which runs through most roles, ‘people’ is another. But really technology is the only thing that unites pretty much all the jobs we Information Professionals do. So, it’s incredibly important to be comfortable with it. By technology I do mean hardware (PCs, scanners, iPads etc), but to a greater extent I mean software, platforms, social media, the internet and all that it entails.

Technology, when used well, is at the heart of the revolution libraries are currently under-going. Already well under way is the change from libraries as ‘book wharehouse’ to libraries as something much more dynamic and fluid, led by the information-seeking needs of our users. As New Professionals, we will soon become custodians of that change: we need to be ready.

If you think about a timeline of the world, and a timeline of libraries, the two have not been changing at the same rate. Libraries have been bobbing along in a very similar fashion for quite a long time, with not much in the way of drastic change between the library of Alexandria, and the libraries of 30 years ago. Suddenly, however, they’re changing more in the last 30 years than arguably in the whole of the rest of their history put together. And of course, that seismic shift has its heart in technology.

Let’s imagine a library has stood on this spot since the 1890s. Imagine a 30 year old man, like me, goes into this library in 1890 – he can expect a certain look, a certain feel, certain types of resource. If you took that man and forced him to travel though time, and placed him in the 1920s, he’d be all at sea. The world, and society, would be almost unrecognisably different. A World War would have been and gone, there’d be telephones revolutionising communication, cars all over the roads, JAZZ happening in clubs! Along with much else that would be almost unimaginable to our 1890s 30 year old. But this library – this library would probably look and feel much the same. Jump forward another 30 years – society has leaped again. The Roaring Twenties have been replaced by the Stepford Wives era, the straight-laced 50s. Technology has moved forward. Another World War has devastated much of Europe. Once again, our 30 year old’s head would spin with all the changes. But this library is mostly unchanged – the types of resources are much the same. Fast forward another 30 years, to the 1980s. Society is permissive and developed in a way which would shock our 30 year old. Technology has moved on so much that not only has man landed on the Moon, but he’s become indifferent to the idea of bothering to do so again. The Cold War hangs over the world. Computers are becoming common. A 30 year old from the 1950s would find the 80s a culture shock, to be sure. Yet he’d have little or no trouble using this library; the resources would look mostly familiar.

Finally, jump forward the final 30 years to now. Of course, the world is very different. But – and perhaps I’m being naive here – I think the 1980s 30 year old could slot into society without too much difficulty – it’s not a cosmic leap forward in many respects. Similarly, as 30 year old now I could slip back into 1980 and not be totally lost. But the library would be completely unrecognisable! Suddenly the flat line of library development has shot upwards and gone off the chart. Technology has moved on dramatically in all areas of society – but much of the day-to-day effects of this are to do with how we access information. With how much we value information. With how we live now in an information economy. The internet has changed everything, including the library. Technology rules the library, it has shoved books to one side. People have always needed to access information, and libraries have always strived to provide access – but now the vessels for that information are changing. Librarians are increasingly becoming early adopters of new tools, platforms, and skills. Public perception, however, has quite understandably been unable to keep up with this change. It lingers behind, envisaging the library much as it was in the 50s, the 20s, or the 1890s.

So it is our job as the information professionals to equip ourselves with as much knowledge of the new as we can, whilst respecting what our predecessors have achieved. Because we newer professionals may not have that long to wait until we start actively start shaping the future of the profession. In fact, it’s already happening.

It used to be said that what you learn in your Library Masters would last you five years before the information became outmoded. Now it’s said to be just two years; this profession changes fast. Similarly the technology is evolving all the time – all this presentation can do is provide a snapshot of what is used in 2010 (and how we use it). I spoke to loads of my peers to crowd-source the information contained in this presentation, and they all stressed how they go to conferences, read blogs, subscribe to mailing lists and read professional publications, in order to keep up with what is going on. No one ever reaches a plateau of technological know-how in libraries, that they can afford to remain at indefinitely. As glib as it sounds, professional development never really stops.

All roads lead to technology eventually. All ROLES need technology eventually. If the job you want next doesn’t require any technological expertise, chances are the one after that will. But even if your dream job doesn’t use technology, it’s actually very hard to get far enough up the pay-grades to get that job without going for some tech-related jobs. You can’t afford to lose out to other more tech-minded people, because so many of the new roles and positions that are being created in libraries relate to the research, implementation, evaluation and development of various technologies.

As I’ve said before, it’s more of a careers climbing wall than a careers ladder in this profession – there aren’t always hand-holds directly above you. Those sideways or diagonal excersions often involve technology. For example if you need management experience, a great way to get that is from a project. Projects are often externally funded. External funders love to invest in the newest, most exciting things. The newest, most exciting things often involve technology.

Another point my peers repeatedly stressed when I was researching this, was how important interpersonal skills are. So much of what libraries do is collaborative these days – you have to be able to get on, to get on. Raw technical skill is not enough on its own – you need to be able to communicate effectively too. The TV stereotype of the computer whizz-kid who sits in the basement of an organisation, anti-social and belligerent, but kept on because HE’S JUST SO DAMN GOOD, would never happen in the library. He’d get to the end of his 6 months probation and his line-manager would say, I’m sorry, you’re out. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if you can’t communicate them to your peers effectively.

A final word on technology. If you’re scared of people, it’ll be very difficult to sustain a career in libraries. You may be better off getting out now. If you’re scared of technology, that’s okay. We can help you! You need to immerse yourself in it – because the fear comes from unfamiliarity. Take away the unfamiliarity and you’ll take away the fear. Just use different types of library related technology all the time, until you become comfortable with it. Learn to use social media platforms or presentation software even if you don’t need to use it right now. Go on a course on one of the Office suite. Read the manual of your camera and start doing more sophisticated things with it. Just throw yourself into it.

Eventually, you get to a state where you’re comfortable enough with technology generally that you’re not afraid to take on ANYTHING new that might come up. And this is necessary because, as we’ve said, change happens fast in this industry. You need to get to a state where you’re unphased by the idea of taking on some new platform or direction. It’s all very well learning how to use one piece of kit – that’s like learning directions from here to the railway station. Much better than that would be to learn where the railway station is, then you can get to it from anywhere…


The above was from the last New Professionals Information Day for this year (and with MSU closing, who knows when there will be another one) so I can make my presentation materials properly available.

I used Prezi again, but in a different way this time. The canvas became an interactive map – I asked the delegates whereabouts in the library they’d like to work, then navigated to that part of the map and zoomed in on the desk in that ‘room’ to read all about the relevant technology. I designed it very much as an online object, able to stand-alone and be used without me wittering on in the background, so check it out below – just click on a part of the library you want to know about.

As ever, Prezis work better on full-screen. Feel free to embed this wherever you’d like – it’s available under Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike Creative Commons licences. And if you have any corrections or suggestions to make, let me have them!

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The famous comedian, the library, and the thoroughly modern echo chamber success story!

29 Nov

It’s not all bad news and problems in the world of the echo chamber, sometimes things work out really well. One such success story had escaped my notice until today (apologies if you already know about this and it’s old hat).

Frank Skinner is a comedian and broadcaster. He wrote an article for the Times entitled Sorry, the demise of the library is well overdue. I am militantly anti-the-Murdoch-empire, and the article is behind the Times paywall, so I don’t want to encourage anyone to give any funds to the evil cabal (who knows, they may well find their way into Fox News’s coffers) – so why not read this response to the article, in the Guardian, instead? Anyhow, the response in the library community was typified by Phil Bradley’s piece - sniffy of Skinner’s worth as a cultural commentator and dismissive of his views. I can understand that. My personal reaction was different, however – I really like Frank Skinner,and I listen to his Absolute Radio show (in podcast form) every week. Moreover, I know from having read both his books that he is a: extremely intelligent (I think people assume his qualifications are honourary ones bestowed on a famous person – but no, he did an MA in English Literature, he used to be a teacher, and his is very articulate) and b: a really, really good writer.

Like Seth Godin’s before him, Frank’s piece was worrying for two reasons – firstly the factual inaccuracies (he said books probably carry diseases – this is a column to order in the Times, remember..) and secondly the fact that his views were probably representative of many (libraries have no role in the modern world). It’s not enough just to say he’s wrong (which, regardless of my personal appreciation for him, I can see that he was) – we have to address the fact that he speaks for a lot of people.

I tried to do something about it, as an advocate of the #echolib approach to responding to attacks on libraries (ie don’t just talk to other librarians about how awful it is). My efforts were, admittedly, pretty lame, but I tried. I emailed Frank via the radio show and explained that his views of libraries were one-dimensional and out-of-touch with reality. I provided an analogy with people’s views of him – because he did laddish comedy in the 90s and wrote Three Lions, many people think he is a lad with only blokey, basic humour to offer. He can do that, but he’s got a lot more to him than many give him credit for. That, I said, is like libraries – we’re known for books, and we DO do books, but we also do a lot more than the causal observer would realise. With that parallel in mind, I said in the email, perhaps you could visit a library this week, see what they’re really like, and talk about it on air?

Anyhow, no doubt the show’s producers weeded out the email long before it ever reached Frank Skinner, as it’s hardly primte-time Saturday morning entertainment fare to read out on air. Elsewhere in the library world, someone did something a lot better – someone wrote Frank a letter. There’s some details here – a Westminster resident called Don Mackenzie wrote to Frank, explained why he thought Frank’s views on libraries were misinformed, and then invited him to Church Street Library to see for himself. And Frank accepted! This isn’t even a librarian taking action, it’s a library-user – library champions really are worth their weight in gold.

a pic of Frank Skinner in a library

Frank at the Library, linked from the Books & The City blog - click to view the original post

The best bit of this story is what happens next. Frank Skinner wrote another piece about libraries for the Times, this time entitled: Why I’m on a new page with local libraries – it was my ideas that were dog-eared, not the places themselves. #WIN! In the piece, Skinner describes his fears about accepting the invitation because he was worried he’d be proved wrong, and then his eagerness to actually BE proved wrong when he reached the library. He goes on to basically be converted to the cause. Here’s a quote:

The library had loads of computers. The general feel of the place was a cross between a clean, efficient secondary school and a cybercafé. No one was whispering. With the staff’s encouragement, I actually joined the library, and proceeded to choose a book. I wanted Tony Blair’s memoirs but that had already been stolen so I opted to reread Nineteen Eighty-Four. At last, George Orwell fans can reclaim the Big Brother franchise.

The smiling lady on the front desk pointed towards a machine on the wall. I put my newly issued card in a slot, scanned the book and got a slip showing the return date, which doubled as a perfect bookmark. I’m already seeing that date as a target. I work better with a deadline. Incidentally, I can return the book to any library in the borough and, you guessed it, renew it online.

I’d urge you to read the whole thing – and you can, because he’s put the whole thing on his website. Yes that’s right, it’s not exclusively behind the Times paywall. The original piece was, mind you, but the retraction was not. How cool is that? Not only has this achieved the key echo chamber escape (that eluded us with Godin, Newsnight, KPMG et al) of the same audience reading the good stuff about libraries which originally read the bad stuff, but a BIGGER audience has read the good stuff because Skinner thought it important enough to put in the News section of his own web-page. Not only that, but I think a converted library skeptic is actually better news for the profession, overall, than if he’d never written the original article!

I really can’t tell you how happy this whole thing has made me. :) Skinner has justified my faith in him, libraries have enjoyed a positive media narrative because of the whole incident, and many of our strategies for escaping the echo chamber have been shown to work wonderfully well!

w000000000t! That’s all I can say. This also relates to the point that I keep harping on about whenever I’m given a platform – all we need to do is ensure that people can make an informed decision as to whether or not to use their libary. Not everyone needs libraries, that’s fine. As long as people know what we do and can make up their own mind. Frank Skinner’s opinion was based on a lack of understanding of modern libraries – when he obtained that understanding, his opinion changed. We need to do this, again and again, with everyone.

The Echo Chamber problem IS one we can all solve!

- thewikiman

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