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Same Old Library Building, Different Content

CityLab had an article on the changing role of libraries in communities which was based on a longer piece about the Columbus (OH) Metropolitan Library (CML).

As I have mentioned before, I frequent my local library so often that the staff anticipates my needs (or they are stalking me) so I am a big fan of the institutions already.

What caught my attention was the informal survey the Columbus library did asking people on Facebook “to share five words describing their childhood libraries and five words describing how they imagine libraries two decades from now.”

The word clouds that resulted from this survey appear in both articles. While books, reading, information, research and learning figure heavily in the childhood word cloud, community, technology, information, entertainment, access and meeting emerge for the libraries of the future. While some of the childhood words lose their prominence in the vision of 20 years hence, their weight is still on par with strongest future concepts.

The Facebook survey CML used seems like an interesting exercise to engage in for trying to discern how your community sees their relationship with your organization changing. Paper or in person surveying might be required if you don’t have the 36,000 Facebook likes and 800,000 card carrying members that CML has.

The CityLab article uses CML’s results to complement a report released by the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries. Among the findings that CityLab emphasizes are:

People: The library must “shift away from building collections to building human capital.” This not only refers to the users of the public library but also its librarians, who will act as curators of the library’s content.

Place: The public library of the future is both a physical and virtual place. While the latter gets emphasized—perhaps overly so—in discussions about the future, the physical structure of the public library will remain vital to its community. But its purpose will change: “The physical library will become less about citizens checking out books and more about citizens engaging in the business of making their personal and civic identities.”


Platform: America’s public libraries should become community learning platforms. They should serve as a jumping-off point for users to create, learn, and innovate…

If this language about staff acting as curators; the role of space and how it is used; and providing a jumping-off point for creativity, innovation and learning sounds familiar, it is probably because the same concepts have been bubbling around conversations in relation to the arts.

So it may bear paying attention to what libraries are doing these days and consider whether it is worth partnering closely with them to reach common goals.

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Everybody Gets To Learn From Their Mistakes

An underlying theme of many of my posts has been about the importance of acknowledging that failure and mistakes are part of the artistic development process. A recent post by Justin Brady on The Creativity Cultivator reminds us that the same allowances need to be made across the whole of an organization.

Brady likens the situation to a type of corporate helicopter parenting:

He hired some brilliant people, but brilliant people are the result of many years of learning through failure. These brilliant employees weren’t aloud to perform the very human trait that made them brilliant to begin with: Judgement free failure and the freedom to fix and learn from that failure. Jim’s a great guy, and we all have blind spots, but his constant monitoring and willingness to “swoop in” and fix everything was making a culture where trust is more scarce than my dog’s obedience training when a guest comes over.

Employees pick up on patterns like this and begin to not even trust themselves. Upon the first sign of frustration they will just let Jim fix the problem. This creates a very “busy” culture, where Jim is constantly being pulled in every direction putting out fires. It also causes great employee to begin to resent their leader and each other.

Whether the back office is staffed by “true believers” of your discipline or not, the tolerant, patient culture has to permeate all levels of the organization and not stop at the studio/rehearsal hall door.

Encouraging those identified as artists/creatives to experiment and not be afraid of failure and holding everyone else to regimented procedures creates two classes of employees. Certainly different groups within the organization need to be treated differently according to their function, but if you view some jobs as disposable functions that anyone can do, then the result is likely to be disposable.

As I write this, I realize that one of the problems we are currently facing with two people who have rotated into our building is probably that they view their function as interchangeable with colleagues in other parts of the university. In fact, we keep telling them that the function they serve for us is important and noticed.

When you are hiring new staff, regardless of the position, you need to know that you are looking for the right person for your organization and you need to make the new hire aware of that fact as well. (Presumably those qualifications aren’t entirely a willingness to do the work of five for the pay of three-quarters of a person.) Then you have to do as Brady suggests and give them the room to fail and make things right for the organization.

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All You Can Smile For Just $25!

When the entertainment tax in Spain skyrocketed, attendance at shows fell precipitously. To lure people back, one comedy theater company instituted a program where people would only pay if they laughed. According to an article on Springwise, the seats were outfitted with cameras and facial recognition software.

Every time you laughed, the account associated with your seat is charged 30 euro cents. So that people wouldn’t intentionally restrain themselves as the show progressed, the charge was capped at 80 laughs or 24 Euros.

They also instituted a season ticket where you bought “laughs” rather than performances. Since other theaters around Spain are adopting this system, I wonder if the laughter season tickets are redeemable at any participating venue.

The video accompanying the article suggests a pay per cry for tragedy and a pay per WTF! when attending an avant garde piece.

While those last suggestions are a little tongue in cheek, the system helped the theater raise their income by $28,000 Euros over what was normally taken.

Now certainly this specific system isn’t suitable for all genres of performance. It wouldn’t work for symphony concerts unless you were charging for all the time people weren’t fidgeting, coughing or consulting their cellphones. (Though penalizing people for pulling out their cellphones does have a certain appeal!)

However, the general concept does answer what is often a significant barrier to participation in an unfamiliar experience–“What if I don’t like it?”

I also like the idea that you could purchase “experiences” that might be transferable from venue to venue. That way a state arts council or tourism board could sell experiences redeemable at all the arts organizations around the state.

Then if you lived near a museum, you could go in on one day and visit a couple galleries and only be charged per gallery you entered or by each work you viewed for more than a few minutes. You could come back a week later and visit another gallery. By the time you are finished, you feel you have gotten your money’s worth on your own schedule and didn’t have to pay multiple times for re-entry. (I am specifically thinking of the recent complaints about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s voluntary admission fee.)

All this being said, I am not sure how best to accomplish this operationally. If there is going to be pay for reaction, I think it has to be more streamlined and elegant than attaching iPads to the back of theater seats as seen in the video. Though I do see the value in allowing people to see themselves reacting and share it on social media, I would be concerned about damage or theft.

What might be viable are some sort of disposable medical sensor placed on the face to determine when muscles formed a smile or heart rate changed or when someone stood up and started dancing.

The more I think about this, the smarter I think it is. If you cap out the cost at the price you would have normally charged, if people reach or exceed that cap, there is quantitative data to back up the fact they enjoyed themselves…or that they got a bargain and should have paid more for enjoying themselves as much as they did.

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Of Lab Mice and Men

I was listening to the radio yesterday when they mentioned the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. I was amazed to learn the researchers had gained some insight in to how we navigate the world around us. The whole concept seems too ineffable to be grasped. But indeed the researchers gained at least a toehold on it.

What really got me was that this development was based on a discovery one of the researchers made in 1971 and then bolstered by a discovery the other two award recipients made in 2005.

Now I am sure each has experienced many other developments in their research and that these discoveries informed other areas of research. But it left me pondering at the patience and belief involved in scientific research to wait over 30 years for some other piece of research that complements and validates your own. Then wait nearly a decade more for people to vet both pieces of research and recognize the significance.

Again I am not saying this is the only thing the researchers have accomplished in their careers and that they only received validation when they were awarded the Noble Prize.

I just feel somewhat humbled by the idea that research is being done with the faith that it may contribute to a profound discovery.

Scientists and artists pursue their vocations differently so it isn’t fair to try to compare the two directly. Still, how many of us in the arts, practitioners and funders alike, are instilled with a vision of what we want to accomplish that spans decades and have the patience to see it through?

Certainly the arts operate much more reactively than science as times and tastes change.

When you are worried about next year’s funding, it can be difficult to cleave to a long term vision of where you want to be.

I am not sure if scientists have a grand master vision either rather than focusing on progressing from one project to the next. My perception is that there is a greater acknowledgment that progress takes time and there is a greater willingness to accord them that time.

On the other hand, artists can be sustained by a similar thought that a performance given today may plant seeds that manifest into something of international note decades down the road.

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