Escape from the Library Echo Chamber

sculpture by Jeff Koons outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao

Image cc license from Flickr user Nicolas Nedialko Nojarof, some rights reserved: http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4100/5433459369_5a55c06b06_b.jpg

It has fewer explosions and fight scenes than Escape from New YorkSadly, it does not feature Steve McQueen, James Coburn, or James Garner. But the argument could be made that this escape is no less important than the adventures described in either film.

Sally Pewhairangi’s post “20 Everyday Ways to Escape the Library Echo Chamber” at Finding Heroes has some great ideas about how to escape the library echo chamber.  As had been discussed in a previous post here are Research Salad, there are dangers to being stuck inside an echo chamber, sharing ideas only with individuals of similar opinions and experiences. Instead of talking only to other librarians and information specialists about issues facing us and how they might be addressed, Ms. Pewhairangi suggests that much can be gained by looking outside our domain. The first step to escaping the library echo chamber, she asserts, is to take an interest in what is happening outside libraries.

The list’s recommendations are diverse and intriguing: watching TED talks on subjects with which you have little to no familiarity and examining interactions in retail settings, checking out signage in supermarkets and conversing with “the weirdest person” you know about what he or she is working on. Using what is learned and the responses received, policies can be better devised or revised and practices for serving library patrons improved.

One supplement to this list which I would recommend is to travel.  While leaving the region or country may not be a practical or everyday activity, adventuring outside the city in which you and your library are located is easy enough and can give you new and additional insights. As the list already includes going to a park and talking to fellow plane passengers about their library experiences, travel farther afield simply takes things one step further.  To illustrate this point, I will present three travel destinations to which I escaped from the library and a few insights I gained while there.

Reading, United Kingdom

It’s amazing where you can pick up new ideas. Waiting for a ride outside a hotel, I observed that bus shelters in Reading, UK, now have small devices with programmable QR code displays next to banners advertising movies and restaurants. These codes allow users to download videos, discount coupons, and special offers. While QR codes are nothing new, I had not seen these particular devices anywhere else before, and while there has been quite a bit of discussion about QR codes in libraries, it was refreshing to see how else the tool might be used.  At the least, this method seems to enable advertisers to direct users to additional content without requiring integration of codes into their visual promotional material. While the technology described is beyond my financial means, the idea of having the codes in innocuous and unexpected places gives me ideas of how I could use such tools for our library.

On the reverse side of my day-pass on the Reading buses, there were instructions on how to follow the company on Twitter and “like” the company on Facebook. Wondering what my bus might have to tweet about as we sped along, I checked out the Reading Buses Twitter feed;  as it turns out, my bus was not tweeting, but the company was, sharing information about delays, road hazards, and schedule changes. Such advertisement isn’t unusual — I’ve seen the same information on the back side of retail receipts, alongside information on return and exchange policies. However, this was the first time I’d noticed this information on the flimsy slip of paper which allowed me to use the public transportation.  At present, we do not have bookmarks or loan slips for our library, nor do we have Facebook or Twitter accounts; however, if such items are produced, it will be useful for us to consider whether it might be an ideal moment to establish and advertise presence on social media.

Bilbao, Spain

I like maps — maps of countries and roads, maps of cities and public transport, maps of art exhibits and museums. I appreciate the feeling of knowing where I am and how to get where I wish to go.  I consider myself fairly proficient at reading maps, which is why it was all the more frustrating that I couldn’t figure out how to find the bathroom or restaurant in the Guggenheim in Bilbao. According to the information at hand, these two facilities were indeed available, but it was decidedly more difficult to figure out how to access these places from where I stood. Signage is almost an art form — too much signage is as bad as too little and the wording and tone used can significantly affect a patron’s experience. Our library, being small in physical space as well as staff, has survived with minimal signage; however, the experience in the Guggenheim reminded me that problems can arise if a staff member is not on hand to provide verbal instructions on how to find or use materials.

A small town, France

Stepping into the pharmacy, I carefully scoot over to the right. I’m trying to find a place that I am out of the watchful eye of the little device over the doorway. If I don’t find just the right spot, this eye will spot me and the door will keep opening and closing incessantly until I  am finally called to the counter. However, this overly-welcoming door made me think — if a patron walks up to the Library door, thinking to take a casual peek, and the door opens, would the patron feel compelled to come inside and look further?  The answer obviously depends on a number of variables including the exterior temperature and how interested I am in seeing more; however, it does merit consideration that an open or opening door will do more to encourage visitors and patrons than a closed one.  This is one of the reasons that, whenever possible, we leave the doors to our library wide open — people are less hesitant to step in for just a quick look or a quick chat and sometimes both types of visitors are engaged enough by what they see to stay a bit longer.

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One Comment on “Escape from the Library Echo Chamber”

  1. John Masura says:

    These are excellent observations to use outside the library. We all have our “libraries” and we should get out of them once in a while. We see that she finds some good ideas concerning her workplace as she traverses her errands. Good story; I will put it to use.


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