Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian at Temple University, delivered the Friday keynote address. From reading Against The Grain, he discovered that people at the Charleston Conference like to talk about collections. The commonality we all have with collections is that we want people to use them; otherwise there is no value to what we do. How can we create collisions with our collections so that people interact with them? It is important that they have an influence on the lives of users.
Temple is developing a campus master plan, which includes a new library. Faculty shared what they wanted to see in a library; every faculty member wanted the library to have books. They want students to be discovering new things in the library.
Can we design systems so serendipity happens? In 1754, a British aristocrat wrote a letter to his colleagues in which he postulates about the mysteries of good accidental discovery. How does this happen? Why? He wrote a fairy tale, The 3 Princes of Serendip, from which the term “serendipity” comes. Today, we have MIT social scientists doing experiments to engineer serendipity into the workplace. The more we can do to bring people and things into close proximity, the more likely we will have interactions. People who come into close contact learn about each other and sometimes work on projects together. For example:
- When Marissa Mayer become president of Yahoo!, she banned telecommuting because she wanted people to be in close proximity with each other.
- The General Assembly is a New York-based startup incubator with no offices. All companies work together in the same room. Good accidents are happening; people are learning from each other.
Have you ever accidentally discovered a book in the library stacks that became very important to you? Most Temple students when interviewed said no, but a few students did find something very interesting. What can we do to try to make those things happen, and what is happening that prevents it? We are caught in a difficult position; our user community wants different uses of our spaces. Circulation statistics are plummeting, and many academic libraries are removing books from their libraries and putting them into remote storage.
In higher education, there has been a decline in humanities majors which is exacerbating this trend. There is a movement to ask what is college for. Is it just to be able to get a job? Students question why they should go to a library and get books because they do not see what it has to do with career preparation. It is less likely that students will be in the stacks having collisions with the collection. Digital materials are becoming more prominent; how do you have a collision with something intangible?
Public libraries are putting books in places where people do not expect to see them, such as learning commons designed for serendipitous discovery. One Temple librarian created “curated stacks”, facsimiles of books that students discovered and wanted to share with others.
A public library created “blind date with a book”–books wrapped up to engage people to encourage people to have a collision with a book.
The alternate textbook project helps faculty create textbooks from content in the library: articles from databases and chapters from e-books. Students love this because they do not have to buy a textbook, and faculty members do not feel bad because they are making students buy expensive textbooks. Students are getting exposed to library content and are more amenable to having digital learning materials.
The Digital Public Library of America has created a “virtual book rack” for materials in remote storage or born digital. Ten years from now, it may be possible to have holographic books.
Many historic events were serendipitous; for example, the discovery of America by Columbus, discovery of penicillin, etc. Many other accidental discoveries have changed our lives. Some of them result from people going into a library and having a collision with the collection. We can change the world, but it will not happen if we do not do a better job if we do not design our libraries so people have collisions with our collections.
Don Hawkins blogs about conferences for Information Today and Against The Grain. He also maintains the Conference Calendar on the Information Today website and is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, published by Information Today in 2013, and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits, published by Information Today in 2016. He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and has worked in the information industry for over 45 years.