Public Libraries Are Sexy

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It can sometimes feel as though public libraries are the whipping boys of the cultural sector. When we hear about library closures and cuts, the demise of the printed book and our impending obsolescence, as people seek out facts on Wikipedia and Google rather than at the public library, it’s hard not to feel a little unloved – dare I say it, unattractive?

But the fact is that public libraries, what they stand for and what they can achieve in communities, has never been more appealing to a certain portion of the population. Tech startups, particularly coding/gaming developers who are pushing the boundaries of narrative and experiential technologies, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE libraries.

Of course it can take them a little while to realise this. They read the same media reports as everyone else and they can have the same preconceptions as any member of the public who may not use libraries all the time –

Don’t you have to be quiet?

Aren’t libraries just for borrowing books?

I already know how to use a computer thanks.

I don’t have kids yet but I’ll keep you in mind.

But then you can remind them about what public libraries are really all about – emancipation, equality of opportunity for all, learning for the love of it, stumbling upon that thing you really love to do, the career you’d like to have or that amazing business idea. Including everyone in society – from homeless people to the comfortably off – a social setting where everyone is welcome. The ideals of open access and active participation in society run through libraries’ DNA – and guess what? They run through the DNA of many of the tech start ups that are sprouting up all over the country.

These people love you but they don’t know it yet. They want you but they just haven’t realised it. You’re that thing they’ve been looking for but didn’t know was out there. If you make it your job to go and find them and let them realise how much they love you you’ll be surprised at the results.

Because when they do realise it, they’ll do practically anything for you.

Loan you some cutting edge tech kit? Sure thing.

Volunteer to run some coding workshops? I thought you’d never ask.

Talk to young kids in the community about how to raise their aspirations and join this new tech revolution? Seriously! Is that even a question?

So get out there and go date some tech start ups – and remember, you’re sexy!

(Image: Library of Love, Nicola Jones)

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Why all library professionals should learn to code

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To be honest, the title of this post should really be “why everyone should learn to code”.

I know everyone is busy, everyone has their day job and it’s hard enough just getting all the things you have to do done, let alone setting yourself another seemingly impossible task. But the more I think about it, the more important it is.

Coding is the new literacy we all need to learn

Firstly, coding languages unlock the secrets of the digital age. Unless you can code, you can’t have a say in the way things look, the way they work or what they do. As a library professional, you can put down a specification in a tender document but how do you know if you will actually get what you want? And what if what you want changes before the app/library management system/website is finished, but you can’t do anything about it because it’s not in the tender specification?

And because you’re a service manager you’ve got a lot more control than the average member of the public, who just buys or consumes, or is given this stuff to use (for example, by their library service). This may seem like a relatively small problem now, but Universal Credit is moving all benefit recipients online, in the future there may be no actual Post Offices or banks you can go to – services may only exist online, and the gadgets we keep in our pockets, on our wrists, in our glasses or even contact lenses will frame and colour our world in ways we can’t even imagine now.

Are we really saying that we don’t want to have some control over that?

Data IS information

(Some) Library staff are often described as ‘information professionals’. But how can this continue to be the case if library staff can’t understand, organise and manipulate the big data that is the information which is increasingly used by commercial firms and governments to make decisions that affect us? The public need to be able to use this data too – and public libraries are the obvious place where this can be enabled.

If we are on top of it.

And to be on top of it we need to be able to code.

So what?

A lot of people say they ‘don’t do’ technology – and I get that I really do. It’s tempting to make it one person’s job and to just go and ask them slightly bemused questions or get cross with them when it doesn’t work. And I’ll be honest, I am really not the most natural technologist in the room. I like my Roberts Radio and my hob top kettle. I used to let my friends/partner/family tell me what tech I should buy because I really didn’t care. And I’m not very good at coding. But I’m learning. And I’m not even a library professional 🙂

Sue Lawson, from Manchester LIbraries, recommended https://dash.generalassemb.ly/ and I’ve completed the first two levels – it’s actually really fun! She also recently posted this link from Chattanooga Libraries on Linkedin http://www.nooga.com/166141/learning-to-code-all-it-takes-is-a-library-card/ which shows an exciting and simple way that libraries can help their staff and users get better at coding.

(Image: Highway Code, Beverley Goodwin)

4 ways you should use Meetup

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Meetup is a free online resource that allows people to publicise self-organised groups of any kind. You can find it at http://www.Meetup.com

There are lots of reasons that cultural organisations should be interested in Meetup – all kinds of people self-organise to meet and share interests, business ideas and to showcase new things. You can find out a lot about hidden communities in your local area by taking a look on Meetup.

I mainly use Meetup to find out about developer groups that are meeting all over London – particularly those who are interested in wearable tech (e.g. Google Glass, Oculus Rift), augmented reality (Star Wars Holodeck anyone?) and smart technologies (think fridges talking to your local supermarket when you’re out of milk).

Companies often showcase their new ideas to Meetup groups, host meetings and set developer challenges so it’s a great way to find out what might be round the corner. It’s also a wonderful way to make links with developer communities who are often more interested than you’d think in volunteering and partnering with libraries and cultural institutions.

But there are also meetup groups for knitters, DIYers, cooks, beer enthusiasts… you name it there’s a meetup group for it. A friend uses a meetup boot camp in a local park to get fit for free.

So here are 4 ways cultural organisations should use meetup:

1. Join some groups, meet some people, make contacts

2. Contact some groups, offer your space for meet ups

3. Start some meet up groups of your own

4. Help the public join and start their own groups

I have found that the time it takes to get involved in Meetup groups is really worth it – both in terms of the new ideas you find out about and in terms of the quality of contacts you can make.

One really easy way for libraries and cultural organisations to become part of the developer/maker movements in towns and cities around the country is to offer to host meetup groups who are often looking for a home. You can also use it as a really good online portal to publicise your own groups and boost attendance. Even if you decide not to do any of these things, you should be able to tell the public about meetup (and other similar online resources) so that they can join in and start their own groups if they want to. You’ll find that you’re the hub of hundreds of vibrant online/real world communities before you know it.