Category Archives: Kansas Library Association Conference

In Pursuit of Library Elegance (KLA version)

I enjoyed this session so much at Computers in Libraries when Erica gave the presentation in DC, I came back for more at KLA! (You might want to read those notes first; my notes here may not give a complete recap, as this was the second time I’ve heard the presentation).

Presentation was given by Erica Reynolds and Matt Sapp (Johnson County Library system).

The book is “In Pursuit of Elegance: Why The Best Ideas Have Something Missing” by Matthew E. May

Speaks so much to where libraries are at right now. We hope for change….

“Because without a new way of viewing the world we will most assuredly succumb to employing the same kinds of thinking that created so many of our problems in the first place….” — Matthew May

“Because by nature we tend to add when we should subtract, and act when we should stop and think.” –Matthew May

Four key points in the book:

  1. Symmetry
  2. Seduction
  3. Subtraction
  4. Sustainability

Real power in his book and ideas are how to all these ideas relate and what do they mean and how can we come up with solutions.

This presentation is one big book talk and readers’ advisory

1. Symmetry:

Simple rules create effective order:

in libraries: circ rules. Streamline guidelines. John Wooden, fewer and fewer rules and nice guidelines. Rules should be simple and concrete and work across the system. “Rule ourselves to death”

Jackson Pollack painting. Richard Taylor, physicist. Analyzed Pollack’s paintings and found they were fractals. Pollack was painting in 1955. Fractals were discovered in 1975. Somehow Pollack was able to observe nature and paint what nature is, before the pattern was even discovered. Maybe that’s why pollack’s paintings are so attractive and appealing. He is painting nature, very much like treebrances move in wind.

How can we mirror that in libraries? Equations. E=mc(squared).

Just because something is complex, doesn’t mean it’s not elegant. Simple rules.

2. Seduction: Curiosity. What makes us want to dig in and learn more?

Venus Rising from the sea–a deception painting.

Libraries strive to serve curiosity. Reader’s Advisory displays to attract curious readers, to whet appetite to make people want to read or research more.

Limiting information creates intrigue. May doesn’t just say be seductive, he talks about how to do it. Give patrons just enough information to make them come back for more. Not overload them with information, kill them with information.

3. Subtraction: restraint and removal can increase impact and value. Picture of the letter E that’s not completed.

Work of Dutch Traffic Engineer Hans Monderman: there’s no painted lines, no street signs, no signs. To make traffic flow better in a busy intersection, he took out all traffic control. 20,000 people go through intersection each day, including bicyclists, pedestrians, cars. Fatalities significantly dropped.

When you take away things that told you what to do, you have to engage your brain. Should you go? Hit someone? Have to think.

Build library spaces — what do we need to take away that magically adds value and impact? (Learning Commons, Signs, Weeding, Desks?)

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub,
It is the centre hole that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room,
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there,
Usefulness from what is not there.

-??, Chinese proverb (missed the name)

4. Sustainability. What works across multiple libraries? We can’t work all 70 hrs a week.

Limited resources spark creativity and innovation.

Mohammed Bah Abba’s Pot within a pot cooking system. Nigeria. Food quickly spoiled. Lots of waste. Trying to sell products, disease happening. Girls had no time to go to school. Unsafe to be walking to market. Financial hardship.

The answer is refrigeration. But in Nigeria, couldn’t afford refrigeration and didn’t have electricity.

Had to build solution that required no electricity and would be simple to use and used local materials.

He created pots within pots. Filled the outer pot with wet river sand and covered it with a cloth. It was so hot, the heat would pull the moisture into the inner pot and cool the food enough for it to stay safe for weeks.

Girls go to school now. Disease dropped.

Made with: Clay. Sand. Cloth. Water.

How can hard times situation make libraries even better?

The creative tension at the center of elegance: achieving the maximum effect with the minimum effort.

How do you get to an elegant solution? What is optimal.

XI + I = X (which is wrong)

X + I = XI

IX + I = X

or ???

Moving one stick makes it correct. But is this optimal?

Flip over XI + I = X and it becomes X = I + IX. Happened in Zero moves. Just had to change perspective.

Thinking outside the box. First thing after seeing a problem, is don’t act. Observe and figure out what’s optimal, not what’s doable.

So many times in libraries, we think about what’s doable, not what’s optimal.

Don’t ask: What should we do?

Ask: What’s possible? What’s optimal? [Library eBooks???]

The really brilliant solution looks obvious in retrospect, but to get to it is difficult.

Key is getting out and enjoying your lives. We’re not going to come up with great ideas if we constantly work and never take breaks (comment: I saw a friend comment last night on Facebook about having writer’s block, going to the gym, and having two major breakthroughs in her research!)

Ideas come when working in gardens or on a walk.

The path to elegance:

  • resist the urge to act or add.
  • Observe
  • Ensure a diversity of opinions and expertise are heard when you are considering what’s possible and how to get there.
  • Carve out time to think and time to not think.
  • Get away from your devices.
  • Get some sleep
  • Get outside

Path isn’t to add more signs to a library….

If you’re always on a device, not giving brain time to relax and rest.


  • Archimedes’ discovered volume displacement during a bath
  • Einstein’s theory of special relativity came to him while daydreaming
  • Philo Farnsworth: first television while plowing
  • Richard Feynman – throwing a plate, theory of quantum electrodynamics.
  • JK Rowling was traveling on a train when the character Harry potter flashed in her mind.

We have to do the research, we have to read and do the work, but we should also rest.

Sit and not do anything. Watch a waterfall. Jump in mud puddles.

Specific elegant examples from Matt now about what JoCo Library is doing.

Public Computers

Want the Public computers to just work. All the time. Locking down worked, but when new technology and software came out, computers didn’t work anymore. Tax season. Silverlight. Flash. Pushing out updates, weren’t working. So they asked, why lock them down then?

So they stopped locking down the computers. (LOVE THIS — our approach at NEKLS already to library computers; DeepFreeze ’em, but not many other security settings!)

Service Desks at the branches

Information Services, youth desks, Circulation desks were separate.

Now, consolidating desks together. information services staff now roam. Patrons happier having needs met, and less staff needed. Roaming reference with iPads. Staff interacting more with patrons, learning more. Are able to do more with less staff due to funding cuts.

Self-check rename

Self-check stations vs. checkout names rename. Patrons don’t want to do it themselves, just by changing the name they now do it themselves. Hide the circ clerk games. Ha!

IT help desk

Help desk tickets weren’t standardized. Now, everything has to be emailed. One path, so people don’t lose tickets or go on vacation. Emergencies can still be called (how do you enforce this? If someone calls, it’s not important, do you say politely, please email that to the help desk?)

Communication improvements

New phone system installed. Do we just replace the phones? Or make major improvements to everything. Single phone number for whole system now. Upset patrons at first, because they couldn’t call their local library. By centralizing everything, phone calls were better dealt with and branches could better deal with in-person patrons, not answering the phones. Still struggling with this situation — too many phone calls.

Backroom circulation efficiences

Every branch is currently different. Consolidating processes and finding symmetry in the processes. This is in process.

Kids PCs area

some adults/teens still use that space. make it obvious that it’s a children’s section (different types of chairs, colors, etc.)

Other Ideas/Comments from the audience

Darien Library: does have a brand-new building and lots of money.

  • Bought a Surface. No rules set. No instructions. Kids just figured it out.
  • Concierge Desk, not circulation desk.
  • Reference desk is a table with a computer. Both at the table together at same level.

informal RA on badges.

Signs get a due date for community postings.

iPhone came with no manual. People still used it.

Bookdrop was blank and library had weird hours. Library hours were sprayed onto the bookdrop.

Libraries undercut easy solutions.

Library Swaps like Trading Spaces or House Swap — maybe this needs to happen!

No meeting room available in one library. So the kids room had shelving on wheels, and it would be moved out of the room while the programming would go on.

Weeding makes shelves useable. No one wants to read old moldy books. You now know your collection.

Graphic novel collection wasn’t circulating at a college library. Swung couch around so the books could be seen at a different angle and the books were suddenly seen and flew off the shelves.

Library spaces. Right design for spaces not always seen. What people see and what they don’t see.

Better utilize space just by adding windows, and adding shelves. Home locations vs. floating collections

End comment: I’m starting to read the book this week. I highly recommend it already! Erica did a pretty good job of convincing both audiences in Topeka and DC to read the book. Anyone else read it, starting to read it, or going to read it? And Erica, you should do more booktalks :)

Silent Library: Using MTV as library outreach programing

Presentation is available online through Prezi.

Presented by Heidi Blackburn, K-State University at Salina Libraries

Silent Library TV Show (MTV game show)

Lessons Learned

The library used the Silent Library TV show concept to market the library during the orientation week to just meet the librarians and know where the library was. Purpose wasn’t to go over services or provide instruction classes. This can be used in public libraries, too.

  1. Venue: think about your space. Selling the idea: Look for ways to tie into game nights, summer reading, freshman orientation, standalone teen night. Tie into interdepartmental relationships, collaboration, etc. Use the words donations and volunteers.
  2. Volunteers: volunteers helped get the donations for the event. A letter was available to give to community businesses; the businesses really liked this. Hand-deliver the letter, don’t mail it. They like it when you come in person. The library targeted getting donations from businesses that their target audience would frequent (freshman: Sonic, BBQ, Target, banks). Silent Library was also explained to the volunteers, for those who didn’t know what the Silent Library TV show was and what activities were coming during the event. People will be more comfortable helping out if they know what they’re getting themselves into. Library targeted volunteers from key campus staff for the event: academic advising, career services. For the public library: get teachers from schools, community members who interact with the target audience. Heidi had a checklist to get everything done.
  3. Verbalize: Waiver and assumption of risk form for people participating. Peer pressure got a lot of people to sign and participate. To campus: flyers around campus that showed who sponsored the event, the name of the program, and tiny print that said you’ll need to sign a waiver (the waiver text is what people read the most); moving weekend, handed out the flyers; flyers in the cafeteria and in the library. Advertise all the places for students to notice the event.

It was all about bragging rights. Make sure you have the floors covered in plastic. People were bringing things to do from the back throughout the entire event.

30 people participate and 50 people were in the audience. Teams came in already formed. Librarians didn’t test the events, but everyone had input on what would work and what was over-the-top.

You might want a cellphone or camera clause as part of this event, to not allow it to be filmed or have stipulations for what can and cannot be filmed.

Prizes and drawings held at the end. Judging who kept the most quiet — microphones didn’t work quiet so well. Put the plastic in all directions, including shelving.

Talk to faculty and volunteers and make sure they show up if they said they’d volunteer.

12 total challenges during the event. No one knew what challenge they were doing until it happened. Need lots of people to help to rotate the activities.

Captive audience. As activities were introduced, different campus people introduced themselves and led the challenges, just like a commercial. Several of the students who came to event know Heidi’s name and come in and say hi. It’s all about getting them in the door and knowing the librarians that are in the building.

Cost: out-of-pocket expenses, under $50. All the other materials, people donated (Pickle juice, peanut butter, etc.). Donations for prizes. Time and effort were the biggest costs.

Assessing the benefit: 29 students showed up to participate and 50 students showed up in the audience, on a campus of 600. Success just for people coming through the door. Feedback came anecdotally that night and the day after. People were saying things in the hallway or in the parking lot about the event.

Those viewing didn’t have to sign a waiver. Two orientation events were going on the same night — didn’t seem to conflict. People still showed up!

Presentation is available online through Prezi.

Session Three: Tools for Transliteracy

Couple more things on Session 2:

Important to share what we’re all doing, so we learn from each other and find new ideas. LibGuide for Session 3 Tools for Transliteracy (wishing the entire Libraries & Transliteracy crew could be here, including Bobbi Newman & Brian Hulsey) Transliteracy term. Been around 20 years, but last 6-9 months lots of conversation around it. Librarian circles, language educators, especially.

  • “help our students learn multiple ways of reading and writing today’s world by acting as sponsors of transliteracy”
  • Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tool and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks (not just technology).
  • “a sponsor of literacy includes any agent who enables, supports, teaches, and models, as well as recruits, regulates, suppresses, or withholds it” –Deborah Brandt, Literacy in American Lives, ethnography story about literacy. Libraries were rarely mentioned in this study, surprisingly; study from 10 years ago)
  • “Literacy is the energy supply of the information age” –Deborah Brandt
  • Bobbi Newman sees key literacy in next few months as the literacy of privacy issues (Facebook; Google; other sites)
  • Danah Boyd & Clay Shirky have been also writing a lot about literacy topics the past several months
  • “as new and powerful forms of literacy emerge, they diminish the reach and possibilities of receding ones” –Deborah Brandt
  • Doug Johnson, “Blue-Skunk Blog”, “Are we moving toward a post-literate society?”
  • Are we helping students learn these new literacies? Are we bridging the digital divide gap?
  • Henry Jenkins
  • “The idea that literacy is only print materials is about to disappear”
  • “We’re on the cusp of profound changes in what counts as “text” and literacy”
  • “Helping patrons and stakeholders understand the expanding definition of literacy is a muddy but playful endeavor”
  • “We have to make sure schools and libraries invite critical and active uses of media that strengthen our democratic potential.” –Deborah Brandt
  • Example of night school class researching and writing persuasive essays about the 2008 presidential election. Primary sources? Candidates YouTube channels, Twitter stream. Students suddenly engaged & interested. Also had side conversations about are these sources unbiased, accurate?
  • Knight Foundation recommendation 6: integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state, and local education officials.” (Link is to the full report)
  • As sponsors of transliteracy, libraries can close the participation gap; we may be in a better place of introducing these tools

What does transliteracy look like in a school library?

  • Privilege and support multiple containers and pathways to information; can’t just have books. Don’t throw away the books, but what are other alternative containers for info. Doug Johnson “It’s the content, not the container”
    • eReaders
    • fight the filter to give access to other sources of info like YouTube
  • Teach students multiple and dynamic ways of connecting with real world experts to help answer their questions
  • Teach students collaborate tools for creating and sharing knowledge
    • Voicethreads used in research projects
    • Skype
    • Blogging
    • Wikis
    • Social Bookmarking
    • Diigo
    • Evernote
    • Student created netvibes portal — definitely exhibits a multitude of these literacies
    • This doesn’t replace text literacy, necessarily. But if it enhances learning, and especially engages students, it’s worth it. Those that struggle with traditional text, might shine with alternative literacies and representing their work and resource.
    • Differentiating instruction and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligencies
    • “Three Little Pigs” eBook iPhone app, written & illustrated by a 1st grader
    • Virginia and Her iPad (almost 100-year old woman reads again and publishes poems thanks to her iPad)
    • Using their phones to talk about books (Texting) — Wendy Stephens
    • Haiku poetry through Twitter (@AllieTweetTweet)
  • Instead of writing a reflection on a blog, record a vlog.
  • Tips for Writing an Email (and other things you assume students know)
  • Google has lots of pre-existing videos
  • Sue Thomas lecture on transliteracy video
  • Everyday Transliteracy video from Brian Hulsey
    • Blueberry smoothie recipe
    • Send info through email, share a link through Twitter, Facebook, write about experiencing the blueberry smoothie on a blog, call people about the recipe, telling someone in person, write it on a sticky note, print the recipe
    • Info was sent to multiple people through multiple tools.
  • Not saying we throw out traditional literacy, but there are multiple ways of interacting with information

Discussion comments

  • These new literacies, from touch devices to Facebook, it’s affecting all ages, from toddlers to the older folks
  • New research out on how the brain interacts with text
  • Chris Harris
  • Accessibility issues do come up. Assessment of using the tools.
  • Those who are reluctant learners might be more apt to read on a technology device (many tend to be gamers)
  • Gaming is becoming a new literacy “Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning Through Modern Board Games” new book from Chris Harris and Brian Mayer

KLA 2010: Day 1 (Presentations)

Day 1 of the annual Kansas Library Conference (KLA or KLC) is here. I’m presenting first thing this morning at 8am (ugh — am NOT a morning person, for those of you who don’t know me) with the wonderful Janelle Mercer from SWKLS. We’re leading a preconference on Social Media for Librarians. Check out the presentation resources; we’ve got slides, videos, and even a visit virtually through Skype by the wonderful Erin Downey Howerton from Johnson County Library.

I’ll present later this afternoon with Liz Rea (co-worker at NEKLS) and Diana Weaver (former NEKLS co-worker; current Atchison Library Director) on Googols of Uses: Collaborate and Communicate using Google Apps in your Library. We’ll be live note-taking the session here, starting at 4pm central time. Much more to come from this conference. I’ll also combo-tweet & blog sessions I attend.