Xanadu & Libraries. Seriously.

By Michael Stephens | I had the honor of giving my "Hyperlinked Library" talk at the prestigious New York Public Library last week. The question-and-answer session following was wonderful: questions about levels of service with technology, reaching out to the under-served who may not have access to newer types of tech and what working in a 2.0 world means to a large library system. I've heard that staff are given internal blogs to communicate, and there are some other wonderful digital projects on tap with the new Director of Digital Strategy and Scholarship, Josh Greenberg.

Another perk of the trip was staying an extra day to attend Friday night's performance of Xanadu at the Helen Hayes Theatre. You remember Xanadu, right? A 1980 movie musical that starred Gene Kelly, Olivia Newton John and Michael Beck concerning a muse who comes to earth to inspire two men to create their dream: A Roller Disco! I was 15 years old and was rather taken with the film and the soundtrack! (What was your guilty pleasure from the 80s?)

Anyway, the juxtaposition of the time spent with some fired up NYPL Librarians and a night spent watching a new take on one of my favorite soundtracks makes me realize that the library muse is alive and well and inspiring librarians all over the world to innovate and design their own “Xanadus.” Have you encountered the library muse? Does she roller skate?

picture of women dancing, from the movie Xanadu

"...bring all your dreams alive.."

Bear with me a bit longer -- I've written about dreaming here before and I think it's an important thing we should do as information professionals in an age of Google, MySpace and Starbucks. I think the muse strikes when we look at our services and wonder how we might extend them or augment them.

"Forget about the blues tonight
Sweet thing
Forget about the rules tonight
Sweet thing"

Maybe the muse speaks most clearly when we examine the policies and rules that have built up over time in some of our institutions. Maybe that makes it easier for the dreams and inspiration to come into focus. Recently, McMaster University Librarian Jeff Trzeciak posted about the elimination of food regulations in the campus library, and just this week announced the elimination of fees for the alumni card.

Maybe the incident at Harrison Public Library, noted by Janie Hermann at Library Garden, could have been avoided if more attention was paid to making human connections and remembering that everything that happens within the library's walls is part of that library's story. Although the library apologized for demanding the payment of a deceased woman's fines by her daughter, the last line of the news story sums up what may be most memorable about the story for the folks in that town: “In any event, she said, ‘I will never set foot in the Harrison library again.'

Got some dancin' to do
Got some dancin' to do

I think the muse inspired Brian Mathews and the folks at the Georgia Institute of Technology Library to create CeLIBration 2007, an introduction to the library for students featuring poker, speed-dating and dance dance revolution.

He articulates his insights at his blog and I hope other academic librarians take these words to heart:

It doesn't always have to be about the library. That's the key really. We're not blasting them with Boolean or databases or policies. We want to get freshmen in the door, showoff our space, and hopefully make them feel comfortable. Let them see that we are approachable and not stogy. We want to set the bar high and raise their expectations of what the library is or can be. We also want to tap into their minds early on—before they even step foot in the classroom—they all know where the library is now. We really need to do this type of thing (library branded entertainment activities) more often, I'd say at least twice a semester. If we can offer a mixture of fun and academic events geared toward freshmen throughout the first semester—I think it would pay off in the long run. Just a theory.

Who knew we'd be considering library-branded entertainment activities as part of our work?

Whenever you're away from me
Wherever you go
You're never far away from me
I want you to know

Steve Butzel from Nashua Public Library in Nashua, NH wrote to me this week about my article in the current issue of Computers in Libraries entitled Embedding a Librarian in Your Web Site Using Meebo. Pondering how easy it is to embed a librarian IM widget in a web page, Steve was surely muse-inspired when he emailed:

“I have been toying around with adding a Meebo widget to our reference department web page, and we are soon going to add it to our Teen Services page. I am also exploring the possibility of putting our Meebo widget on other sites in cyberspace, for example, on the town's City Hall web page, or the local newspaper webpage, etc. It certainly would be a way to reach beyond the walls of the library. Do you know of other libraries that have done this?”

Zing! Excellent idea, Steve. I haven't heard of any libraries doing this yet but the mere thought of it is inspiring -- has anyone done this? Are you going to give it a try now? I like the idea of finding an embedded librarian while I'm surfing the local animal shelter page or newspaper. Please, TechSource readers, if the library muse inspires you to try this, let me know.

Building your dream
Has to start now
There's no other road to take
You won't make a mistake
I'll be guiding you

From Meg 2.0 comes this note about the Transformation Lab at a library in Denmark that she calls "true inspiration." View the YouTube video of this fascinating and surely muse-inspired lab here:


Everybody all around the world
Gotta tell you what I just heard
Everybody walkin' down the street
I know a place where we all can meet

I was glad to see Stephen Abram post about the excellent MySpace creations from Hennepin and Charlotte Mecklenburg. These two libraries certainly have built some engaging spaces online for their teen users to experience. Abram, at his blog, notes about Hennepin's own Xanadu-style online space: “It has the OPAC on their main page (and paste it into your MySpace page)," "Music plays when you arrive," and “They'll share their secrets with you too.”

And now, open your eyes and see
What we have made is real
We are in Xanadu
A million lights are dancing
And there you are, a shooting star

picture of the poster for Xanadu the play

Kitschy? Maybe. But seriously - thanks for reading. I truly believe we are standing before a great opportunity. The profession is in a very unique position to dream and create some truly outstanding library services. If we let the muse speak to us. If we take down the barriers that might stand in our way. If we think about extending our services into realms we may have not yet considered - physically or virtually. If we open our eyes we might just see the dreams we can make very real.