The Visitors

By Michael Stephens |

visitors.jpgMichael & the Shanachies, July 2009

Late one February evening in 2007, I found myself sitting in my Oak Park, Illinois living room with two visitors, sharing wine and talking about libraries. It was late, I had to teach the next day, but I couldn’t say goodnight. I met the he two fellows with me­--Jaap van de Geer and Erik Boekesteijn of the DOK Library Concept Center in Delft, Holland--in London the year before. And now they were visiting Chicago area libraries videotaping gaming initiatives and gaming librarians. The wine was good--it may have been Australian--and I’m a little cloudy about how the evening played out but the one thing stayed with me. Erik said the role of the 21st Century librarian is three-fold:

  • Keep Stories
  • Share Stories
  • Make Stories

I held that close to my heart and watched these visitors make their dream of collecting stories a reality by way of the Shanachie Tour in October 2007 and beyond.

Fast forward to ALA Annual and the LITA President’s Program. Erik, Jaap and the third Shanachie Geert van den Boogaard were back in the states to talk about innovations at their library. Jenny and I were on hand to respond and reply to their presentation. We never took the stage because the sharing was so incredible that it seemed wrong to stop it. The folks in the ballroom heard about their innovations. Take a look at Jenny’s incredible conference blogging here:

What did I take away?

For the longest time. we’ve designed spaces and services around control, limits and barriers. What these visitors brought to us was something else - a more user-inclusive focus on these concepts:

  • The potential for the commons/community space in libraries to be many things--fun, playful, engaging, useful. A totally red romance room, games available to all, a chance to view local history and add to it are all part of the space.
  • Delivering what people want to them when they want it and in a manner that fits their lives. Information and library data delivered directly to mobile phones via Bluetooth is just one example.
  • A caring, human-based service attitude that’s all about encouraging the heart. What story do you want to create today at the DOK library?
  • An emphasis on experience, curiosity and creativity.

We did get to ask a question of the group and their Skype’d in DOK director Eppo van Nispen. I wondered what they looked for in new hires. What should LIS education be doing to prepare folks for this kind of library.The mere fact that the DOK library has a position called “head of Innovation” is incredibly encouraging to me. 

The answers? Be an explorer. Be innovative. Look for connections. Be fearless. Be a problem-solver. Make change. Watch trends. Be curious.

I wanted to stand up and cheer.