Waving Hello: A Case Study and Interview with Darien Library's Sarah Ludwig

By Kate Sheehan |

Librarians are tough customers when it comes to technology. As a profession (like Mr. Whitman), we are large and contain multitudes. There are librarians who are not so technologically-inclined, those who are pragmatists, and those who are technology fetishists. I’m over-simplifying of course, but each new tech tool requires us to assess on multiple levels: How can I use this? Is it useful to me? What about librarians in general? What about my coworkers? My patrons? Which of my patrons?  The answer will be different for every librarian and every library and may change over time (not so long ago, Twitter was more useful for librarians than their organizations, but now that it’s reached a critical mass, libraries are using it successfully to connect with patrons).

Conventional wisdom is that librarians should try things personally or within the library before using a tool with the public. This often makes sense, though there are some notable exceptions – an internal blog requires a change in organizational communication, while a blog for the public can be maintained by incorporating a few extra tasks into staff workflow; a failed internal blog does not mean that blogs (and by extension, CMS) are a bad idea for communicating and connecting with the public. However, many of us used Facebook or Twitter as individuals before we created that fan page or library twitter account and found that our personal experimentation informed our professional presence online.

Often, the workplace turns out to be the best place to test out new tools and toys. Would Google Wave be useful in planning a surprise party? Sure, but not if you have to provide tech support to a relative who only just got the hang of email. A new project can be an opportunity to try out a new technology within a concrete framework. Not every tool is going to work for every librarian (there are plenty of fantastic bloggers who don’t have any interest in Twitter and Twitterati who see no need for a blog), but we certainly don’t suffer from a dearth of options. It can seem like an insurmountable task to check out every new website and service out there. Luckily, technological voyeurism can be as instructive as experimentation.

Google Wave debuted to much fanfare as what email would be if it were designed today. However, I have yet to find a place for it in my life, so when Sarah Ludwig, Head of Teen and Technology Services and Head of Knowledge and Learning Services at Darien Library, mentioned she was using Wave to brainstorm new ways of engaging teens in her library, I was intrigued. She graciously agreed to talk to me about how she’s using Wave to communicate and collaborate.

Kate Sheehan: What made you decide to use Google Wave instead of, say, email or chat?

SL: The Teen and Technology Department at Darien Library was starting a new initiative to encourage more teen-generated content and email wasn’t cutting it. The people who do the most work with teens right now are me and two part time staff members who are never in the building at the same time. We could all email, but it’s easy to lose track of ideas and it’s difficult to see the whole conversation. We started using Google Wave on this initiative and we liked it so much, we’re implementing it on other projects as well.

KS: What are you planning with Wave?

SL: We’re interested in getting teens engaged with the library in new ways. They’re attending programs and using the teen space, which is great, but we want the teen program at the library to be for, about and by them. We’re missing that last piece – we’re still creating most of the content and it’s mostly happening on the library’s turf – in the library or on the library’s website. We want teens to be writing, making videos, planning events, and talking about what they’re doing at the library on their own Facebook pages.

KS: Sounds like it would be great marketing for you.

SL: Yes, it would be viral marketing but more importantly, it would be a sign of engagement with the library and with the content connected with the library- a sense of ownership.

KS: That’s a tall order and much more complicated than letting the TAB write updates for your Facebook page. So (getting back to Wave), a sophisticated project benefits from a sophisticated planning tool?

SL: Wave is great for integrating both the brainstorming and the concrete planning. Since we’re not all in the same place at the same time, Wave serves as a giant thread of conversation we can all follow and participate in easily. I’m especially into the mind mapping tool (please note, I have edited out a long digression about how much we both love mind mapping tools. They’re terrific and we love them – KS). I use it to visually represent the big picture, but I also use it to divvy up tasks – I can ask Alex to look into one branch, and Heather can tackle another. It keeps us all on the same page.


KS: The times I’ve used it, I’ve found that watching people type is unsettling and I really don’t like the thought that they’re watching me type. Since you’re all working asynchronously, you’re avoiding some of that.

SL: It is strange to watch people type! We aren’t all in there at the same time, usually, so we don’t see that. Actually, since we are using it asynchronously, the threading really helps. It’s easy to see who said what and play back the conversation as it happened, unlike in a group document.  I’ve been getting into the gadgets lately too. The mindmap tool is a gadget and there’s a video chat gadget. I’m finding that even if our patrons aren’t using this exact tool, just having technology so integrated into my job helps me think about how to integrate technology into the library in ways that are useful for our patrons.

KS: Thanks for talking to me about how you’re using Wave (and your fantastic teen program). Since I haven’t used it much, I find it instructive to see a real-life use case that’s going so well. One last question: Do you think you’ll keep using Wave?

SL: I think we will (at least for now), since it’s working really well. We have a few different waves going for different projects. This is part of a larger two-year initiative on teens and Web 2.0 in Darien, so I’m excited to look back in two years and see the conversations we had and watch our thinking evolve as we learn and as technology changes.