Computers in Libraries 2015: Telling Stories with Technology

By Kristl Chavez

Too often, libraries find themselves having to choose between seemingly contrasting extremes. More staff? More materials? More hours? More programs? More technology? More outreach?

The decisions we face every day can leave us frozen in an attempt to choose wisely and, by default, we fall behind. My conviction has always been that we ought to make an attempt at harmonizing conflicting forces for the best outcome, but is this practical in real library life?

This spring, from April 27-29, I attended the Computers in Libraries Conference in Washington, D.C. This year’s theme was “Sync Up: Technology & Libraries for Community Success” – a theme I could get behind.

The conference provided an entire spectrum of sessions that spoke to the idea that we all ought to just calm down, look at our resources, and determine – on an individual basis – if the resource serves the community and use all those that do. It does not need to be as difficult as we are making it.

In his opening keynote, Steve Denning spoke on continuous innovation and transformation. He took the concept of the ever-fleeting computer age and flipped it on its head. The computer age as we know it is not something we have to keep up with. Instead, we should be first changing the mindset through which we experience the computer age. Only then will it become apparent how best to work technology into all that we do, allowing us to maximize the most precious of our resources: our creativity. Denning asserts that our community’s best future is in the hands of a creative economy.

I also attended a handful of sessions about improving UX (the user experience). A simple and intuitive way to communicate to the customer that they are valuable is to make their UX delightful. Elaine Meyer of the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services talked about starting out with the basics for a solid foundation that leads to customer delight. As a “content wrangler,” Meyer focused on user surveys and the data mined from them. David Lee King of Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library advised that we put the stuff where it makes the most sense. He compared library websites to cars. There will be variations, but overall, any driver can figure them all out. Lastly, it was reiterated by many that staff are not our primary customers. Staff are trainable and should yield always to the true customer when it comes to good UX.

Another facet of this conference that sparked my interest was the topic of storytelling. In our society’s attempt to technologize everything, we are in danger of suffering the pitfall of forgetting that library service is all about stories. Customers come to us for diversion in the form of stories of the imagination and for help with advancing their own stories. In her session, “A Thousand Stories: The Power of Storytelling,” Diane Cordell of CyberSmart Education Company told of the greater, traditional concept of storytelling and then broke it up into a dozen smaller, more organic pieces that practically cry out for library programming. While the storytelling mountain is an intimidating one to climb, a drop-in community recipe swap seems extremely doable. The important thing is to keep the stories flowing.

I had the pleasure of speaking on web development in practice with Robert Laws of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar. Laws spoke on a very practical level about increasing facility in development and, in turn, in customer service and accessibility. I spoke about nourishing an environment that allows web development staff to remain flexible and responsive to the needs of the customer. Libraries must find their balance in providing both a UX that inspires and enlightens as well as one that offers a blank canvas with room for customers to tell their own stories.

Computers in Libraries is a vibrant conference buzzing with international professionals willing to challenge traditional ideas about what it means to be an information professional today. I recommend it to anyone hoping to embrace a new and creative approach to using technology to collaborate with and share stories with our communities.

I welcome any questions you have about this conference or any other professional matter.

Leave a Reply