Wrapping up the #alphabet series

I made it all the way through to the end!

It’s been challenging & rewarding to have a focus to explore collections & customers, and it’s broadened my vocabulary as well. It has also opened up new conversations with people about their collections, their communities & their ideas. I’ve now got plenty of other tangents that I want to explore.

A few readers have asked me if I would publish this #alphabet series as an ebook or as a podcast, so I am going to investigate the logistics to make it happen, and I will keep you posted on developments. If anyone has any experience or advice to offer, then please do get in touch.

At the end of this series, I remain convinced by the need to continually engage with our communities to create customer focused collections. I am also adamant that we need to regularly review & question our professional practices, to ensure that we connect the dots in meaningful & imaginative ways for our communities.

For the remainder of July, I will be stepping back from an #alphabet post every two days to a weekly post, reflecting on my participation in the New Librarianship Master Class MOOC.


Be yodeling : celebrate what shouldn’t work


Sometimes the things you least expect to work do in fact exceed your expectations.

If I said “I’ve got tickets for tonight’s comedy folk act, want to join me?”, you might respond “not in a million years”.

Because, as Paul Horan wrote, “On paper, yodeling lesbian twins don’t really work.” And yet, the Topp Twins work (bet you wish you’d said yes to the show tickets now don’t you?). Another Kiwi folk duo, Flight of the Conchords, probably shouldn’t work either, but they do. Neither are what you would call mainstream acts, and that is possibly the reason why they do work. They aren’t aiming for middle-of-the-road, guaranteed-to-work shows. They are quirky and unexpected.

What if … you made a list of all the crazy “it’ll never work” ideas? Then ask ‘why not’. Are you comfortable the answers? Instead of focusing on why something shouldn’t work, why not just focus on why & how it could work? Then make it happen.

What if … you had a borrowable telescope? Ann Arbor District Library does.

What if … you checked out musical instruments? Lopez island Library does.

What if … you could check out a garden allotment? LibraryFarm exists.

What if … you could spark conversations & encouraging reminiscing amongst older members of your community? Ann Arbor District Library offers a range of different themed kits to do this.

What if … you offered programmes for 20-30 year olds? Sacramento Public Library does.

What if … you created a collaborative space for artists & librarians? Library as Incubator exists.

For more ideas & inspiration, check out the Pew Internet article on Innovative library services “in the wild”. Make sure you yodel while you read it.

Be x : find the treasure


Take a moment to picture a pirate’s treasure map.

Which letter is typically used to mark the spot of the buried treasure?


What if … you viewed your library as an X?

A treasured place. A space to hide treasure. A place to discover treasure. A space to create treasure. A place to learn about treasure. A space to share treasure. A place to leave treasure. A space to find treasure.

What if … you hid geocaches within your library?

What if … you re-configured your Reader’s Advisory approach as a discovery of treasures?

What if … you re-imagined your physical layout as a treasure map, leading the way to incalculable riches?

What if … your annual community day *always* featured a treasure hunt?

What if … you re-developed your membership pack to present a library card as a ticket to untold treasures? A Golden Ticket à la Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

What if … you re-named your recent returns to “customer recommendations” to allow others to discover the treasures?

What if … you asked “is this truly a treasure?” when weeding your collections?

What if … you randomly picked a digital collection item that would generate a winning “ticket” with a reward for the next customer?

What if … you started to believe in the magic of hidden treasure?

Be whimsical : celebrate the unusual things

WHaving a deep, quirky & content-rich collection is only useful if you give your customers access to it. We often talk about Reader’s Advisory, and what does it mean to us as librarians, and what *could* it mean for our customers. There’s lots of lazy & obvious ways to do Reader’s Advisory, but why not commit time & effort to meaningful Reader’s Advisory.

What if … next year, instead of only celebrating & creating displays for your usual annual events, you set aside the time & space to truly showcase the depth & breadth of your collection?

Brainstorm about the weird, wonderful & whimsical items that reside in your collection. Set staff a challenge to bring their favourite “strange” book/DVD/magazine to the next staff meeting and then talk about what topics could springboard from using that book as the centre-piece of a monthly display.

Uncover ways to connect the unusual things. Pick a random topic/word, write it up in the centre of a large piece of paper, and ask others (colleagues & customers) to write up other words that they associate with that word. Then find ways to connect the dots using your collection.

Draw up a list of dates that celebrate the strange. There’s always something being celebrated somewhere, so give staff a list of dates and ask them to find out what weird & wonderful things are associated with those dates. Can you build a display around it?

What if … you picked a colour as your theme for a month?

You *could* do the obvious display based on the prominent colour on the cover of the item. Or you could develop reading opportunities based on a single word response to the particular colour. What does Green mean? What does Orange mean? What does Red mean? Do these colours evoke emotional responses? Where does that journey take you?

What if … every morning you chose a quote (display it on your entrance way, on your website, on your social media stream) to set the tone for the day? Be whimsical, be unusual, be different. Give people something unexpected in their day.

What if … a weird & wonderful fact every morning with your customers & staff? Such as, in 1963, the most watched TV program in New Zealand was [insert name of said TV show here]. You could then direct customers to specific digital resource on your website, for example, NZ On Screen.

What if … you chose four famous speeches (and perhaps make those speeches related in some way, for example, political speeches by Churchill, Ghandi, Kennedy, Thatcher) and spent a month showcasing content related to those speeches?

What if … you found a way to digitally access the original articles that led up to the “discovery” of something scientifically significant? DNA. E=MC². Penicillin. Use those as your launchpad to uncover the links with future scientific discoveries.

Be valuable : determine what you are measured on

VSometimes we don’t always get a say in how our value as libraries is judged. It’s easy to measure the “countable” things – how many people came through the door, how many new books did we buy, how old is our collection, how many events did we hold in the month of May, how many times were our databases accessed?

Often it might feel like we are capturing data to meet a pre-determined criteria that might not accurately portray the value we add to our customers. It’s a tricky one, measuring the intangible value.

What if … you found a way to still be measured by the tangible things, but also told the story of the intangible value you add to your customers? It brings the faceless numbers into sharp perspective to hear the individual stories of how the library “facilitated the creation of knowledge in the community” (picking up on the mission statement for libraries from The Atlas of New Librarianship by RD Lankes).

Here’s some visual ways to showcase “storytelling” of value alongside the “countable” of value:

What if … your funding body, or CEO, or School Principal arrived in your office tomorrow and said “How would you like your performance measured next year?” Would you have an answer at the ready or would you just go with the existing status quo?

What if … you brainstormed the metrics against which you wanted to be measured? Don’t stop to think if it is possible to capture that data just yet. Let your imagination run free, and see what types of “data” you’d prefer to be measured on. Now, begin to explore what might actually be possible, and find out if it is actually possible to incorporate it into your metrics collection as well as all the tangible things.

What if … you re-read your organisation’s annual report and thought up new ways to show how your library & your collection adds value to the mission statement. How can you re-align your metrics to demonstrate to your funding body and your statekholders your true value measured against their statements?

Imagine choosing how and why you are measured. Imagine proactively changing the way in which your value is judged.