In this episode, Steve and I talk about Shelf Check's origins, being visibly queer-friendly at the library, "heartwarming portraits of bus drivers," Creative People Must Be Stopped, Unshelved, and more.
"Why do you love your library?" is NOT Community Engagement: Better Questions to Ask During National Library Week
A few weeks ago, I blogged and tweeted about a participatory display--"Why Did You Come to the Library Today?"--that yielded a great response at my library. What I failed to include in the post was WHY I think it was successful, and as National Library Week 2014 approaches and I begin to see libraries gearing up for "Why do you love your library?" campaigns, it seems like a good time to follow up.
"Why do you love the library?", "Tell us why you love your library!", and "Why are you proud of your library?", wherever I've seen them, don't often generate diverse responses or engage diverse patrons. They're mainly answered by the same sorts of loyal library fans that like your library's every Facebook post, and like each other, too. Such "community engagement" prompts feel more like "We need pleasant quotes we can use in our annual report--help us out?" than "We're interested in you and this community, and in how the library helps and can better help you. We're proud of what you accomplish with the tools we provide."
They're also abstract, compared to the concreteness of "Why did you come to the library today?" The latter can be answered easily even by folks who don't necessarily love the library but came here anyway because they needed our services (which might be, sorry folks, quite a few public library patrons).
Cumulatively, the different responses to this concrete question raised patron (and staff) awareness of how our community uses the library and the varied ways in which the library provides value to the town--and also a more general awareness of what's going on in the community (who knew we had a "PONY CLUB" that unofficially meets here?) and the community's dreams ("get into MIT" "to learn how to help mamas give birth" "to get my 1st nursing job!") It painted a picture of our community, and got us enthused about what people are accomplishing in our building and with our tools.
So, a suggestion: when asking engagement questions during National Library Week (or any time), make the focus concrete, not abstract, and focus on the patrons, not the library—because that’s where the true stories lie. "Why did you come to the library today?" is an in-building question for physical displays. “What have you learned at your library?” works both in-building and online. Don't ask "Why are you proud of your library?" but "What are you proud of that the library helped you accomplish?" (in sentiment, not in those awkward words).
Chances are, you've seen artist Candy Chang's viral "Before I Die" participatory public art project before--either online or in real life (I think a version even turned up at PLA):
How about trying a wall or poster at the library (and a Facebook post) with, instead of the "Before I die I want to ____" prompt,
"This year, my library helped me _____________."
"This year, my library helped me to ____________."
I think the answers you receive will be a lot more varied, moving, inspiring, and useful than answers to "Why do you love your library?"
I've been tweeting bits from a current display at my library and receiving a lot of interest in it, so decided to blog it here, too. If you have a space for it, it's a simple way to raise awareness (both staff and patron) of the many different reasons people have for visiting your library, and the variety of library services they find valuable.
We have a 4' by 6' bulletin board in our lobby, currently covered with white paper, so patrons can write directly on it. At the top, I've prompted, "During the 69 hours we're open each week, people come to the Eden Prairie Library for countless different reasons. Pick up a pen and tell us...Why did you come to the library today?"
Below, some of the responses so far. We're keeping it up through the month of February. On Twitter, some have mentioned trying a version at their libraries as a week-long display for National Library Week, coming up in April. I think it'd be perfect for that (and now kind of wish we'd waited):
You can download the deck here:
[UPDATE: you can still use the below, but the generous Mike Hungerford has voluntarily redesigned the deck as a vectorized pdf for friendlier printing and cutting: zip here].
Cards Against Librarianship Answer Cards (371)
Cards Against Librarianship Question Cards (71)
Blank Answer Cards
Blank Question Cards
At the links, click on the "dot dot dot" and choose "Download as .zip"--then extract the files and print them as images. You'll get 9 cards per page if you print them as wallet-size photos (cardstock will help with longevity), for a total of ~50 pages. Shuffle before playing.
*Huge thanks to Thomas Maluck, Carl Hess, and various folks on Twitter and the ALATT Facebook group for contributing card suggestions.
*There are many different forms of librarianship, and while I tried to keep the deck mostly general, I have mainly worked on the public-facing side of public libraries and I'm certain that's reflected. I took card suggestions from folks with different experiences, but if, due to lack of niche knowledge and after a simple Google search, I couldn't understand why they were funny, I left them out. I highly welcome and will link to specialty "Expansion Packs"--for ex, "Archivists' Expansion Pack"--as long as the cards in them are phrased to be compatible with as many of the cards in this starter deck as possible. Blank cards are provided above; if you want them to match exactly (not necessary), import each blank into PicMonkey or something similar and type in Arial.
*Creating question and answer cards that are compatible in a maximum number of situations was more challenging than I expected. For this reason, a few of the cards included in the preview versions posted here earlier did not make the final deck. Suggestions in this arena are welcome, too, as well as feedback as to the playability and compatibility of the starter deck. Please send them to email@example.com with the subject line "Cards Against Librarianship" (I sometimes miss notifications of comments on this blog).
*If you make an especially hilarious combination that you want to share, please do so on Twitter with the hashtag #CardsAgainstLibrarianship (or in the comments below, if you're not on Twitter).
IMPORTANT INFO: Cards Against Librarianship is inspired by Cards Against Humanity, and, as in CAH, you will find cards in CAL that refer to sexuality and other topics generally considered taboo in the workplace. If you've never played CAH, you might take a peek at the content of their cards before deciding if CAL is a game you want to look at and play with colleagues (or even alone). As a general rule, CAL is tamer--I didn't go anywhere near CAH's infamous "Toni Morrison" and "Pac-Man" cards--but what I feel comfortable including and what you feel comfortable reading may certainly differ. Using the blank cards provided above, folks can swap in their own tamer cards or raunchier cards, depending on preference.
Cards Against Librarianship by Emily Lloyd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.