This morning, I thought of a reason patrons might come inside. A way to make a visit to the library full of potential for them every time they walk in the door. A "you never know what you might find" kind of a thing. A way to build community, foster local connections, empower our users to learn new things, and accomplish this all--perhaps most importantly, these days--on the cheap.
People love making online connections (Facebook, Twitter), but they want local connections, too--that's why we see Twitter apps to find local people to follow (and resulting tweet-ups), dating apps to let you know if someone single that might be a good match for you is in the same coffee shop as you right now, and to some degree, the success of Foursquare (where you can see who frequently visits the same physical spaces you do). But, while you can freely start chatting with someone local via Twitter, you don't usually feel as free to strike up a conversation with a stranger in physical space. We assume people are on social software sites/using social apps to be social, and it makes them easier to approach, especially if we see we have mutual interests. In person, we have no way of knowing if anyone else in the building is also a big China Mieville fan or also writes Modern Family fanfic or also wants to learn Tagalog, unless by some chance we both have the same phone, use the same apps, and are currently using those apps--and even then we have no way of knowing whether they'd like to talk to or work or study with someone else in person right now.
One of my library system's objectives is to serve as a gathering place. Our mission is to "nourish minds, change lives, and build community together." I know many libraries have similar missions. One way libraries strive to build community is by offering programs--lectures, YouTube viewing nights, open mic poetry readings. Folks come together and hang out with their neighbors with similar interests (if only passively, while listening to a lecture in the same room together). The thing with events, though, is that people have to a)hear about them, usually in advance b)remember to come to them (if they're still in the mood), etc. They also c)usually require a significant amount of planning on the part of library staff, and perhaps even some money.
What if (in addition to these events) there were neat, social, community-building opportunities for patrons to engage in whenever they happened to step foot in the library? That didn't require planning on the library's part, or remembering on the patrons' part? That were targeted to their own individual interests? That fostered connections between them and their neighbors? That made stopping by the library just to see what's up in the building worthwhile, as opposed to only using the digital branch? That helped people to learn and to better use our resources and our spaces?
Here's what I'm thinking: a living, updated-in-real-time site (somewhat like Twitter or Foursquare in the way it works--and it would need IM capabilities built in), ideally displayed prominently on a large screen in the lobby/entrance, but workable even if it was just on the web via a link on the library's home page (that automatically loads when you use the library computers, and that wireless users can choose to load). The page's content:
Who's Here? (and what are they doing?)
But, for cheapness, for budget-cut times, let's say it's just a site or page or "living bulletin board" or whatever would be the most apt word (it won't catch the eye of the dashers-in, but will still attract those who sit down and log in). In college libraries since way back when, there have been whiteboards or blackboards in the lobby where students can leave messages for their friends (I'm in study room A, 3rd floor). This digital page/board could also be a way to leave messages for friends, but, more importantly, it would provide a way to leave messages/invitations for strangers. Fellow patrons, but not necessarily even acquaintances yet.
Patrons can create user names and leave "statuses" if they're interested in connecting with other patrons in the library. You wouldn't log in if you didn't want to be bothered, or didn't want to let people to know you're in the library: you'd only use it if and when you wanted to.
I'm envisioning content like this:
right now: working quietly, but interested in practicing my Spanish conversation skills. Message me if you are, too, and we can have an informal conversation circle
right now: reading aloud to my kids in picture book area because we missed today's storytime. Here with your kids? Come on over and we can have our own spontaneous storytime--more the merrier!
right now: cramming 4 Moudry's chem midterm. If u r 2 and want a study buddy, holla
right now: anyone here have protractor and compass w/them that I could borrow for a few min? Msg me
right now: working on my blog about ham radio stuff. Feel free to contact if interested in blog/forming group
right now: chess in teen area, anyone?
right now: drafting biz plan for my potential new small business. would love to talk to anyone who's done this before or is a running a local small business, to share tips and strategies
right now: I bet I can beat you at Boggle
What excites me about this is that unlike, for ex., on Craigslist, you wouldn't have to look for someone to practice Spanish with, contact them, make an appointment and settle on a place, and then meet them there: you're already in the place--your library. Sure, there might not be anyone there that day that wants to practice Spanish. You might not find a connection every time. But some days there will be, or there might be someone who didn't know she wanted to practice her Spanish until she noticed that someone else in the library wanted to--the availability of the option might awaken the dormant or idle interest. Key words: spontaneity, serendipity, community.
I think this could work really well at academic libraries and busy publics, and it doesn't seem like it would be that hard to design and implement. What do you think? Has anyone heard of a library doing anything like this?