I thought this blog had run its course. I’m mostly interested in writing about bikes and alternative transportation these days. But the sheer stupidity of SPL’s latest effiorts to balance (a teeny tiny part) of its budget by punishing users sort of pushed me over the edge.  So I’m back with a guest post or two on my old blog.

The Seattle Public Library system is in Budget Hell. Years ago, voters approved a massive plan to revamp the system’s infrastructure by re-building/remodeling virtually every branch. They did a beautiful job constructing fantastic buildings (see photo above) on time and on budget.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have thought about what would happen to the activities in all these great buildings if the city stopped funding the library at adequate levels (if, for example, something like a massive economic downturn was to occur).


So here we are today with lovely buildings, pressing patron needs (people absolutely flock to libraries when they are unemployed and have nothing to do all day), and not enough budget to go around.

Way back with in the Mayor Nichols days, SPL began instituting week-long closures summer and holiday closures. Combined with shaved branch hours, these measures reduced short-term costs and saved some money. But the budget kept sinking.

Part of the problem with cutting costs by cutting services is that the powers that be (the people, the city council, the citizens, whomever) decide that you can do with less. So instead of those being one-time cuts, they are part of the new budget paradigm. And if revenues decrease again, well, you need to keep those cuts and find out more places else to chop dollars.

It’s a vicious cycle that keeps going on for years and years until the remaining system either dies or shrivels into an unrecognizable shadow of itself.

netflix processing, by hackingnetflixIn the meantime, the entire library world has been wobbling off kilter. Google, Netflix, Amazon Kindle, etc — are all forces nibbling at the library pie. (This wobble isn’t anything new. It’s not like it popped up as an issue after the new buildings were constructed. These are just the latest players). Library professionals know that libraries and trained librarians can’t really be replaced by these corporate services, but we’ve all be slow to react.

There’s no doubt some of these commercial services are great right now, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be out there for us in the future. They aren’t taking the long view or considering the Long Now. Libraries serve the public. The can and should think about the future. Companies serve shareholders. They may think about the future, but it’s one fiscal quarter at a time.

photo credit: http://www.cultofmac.comBut citizens don’t understand this. Many see libraries as staid and out of place in today‘s connected world. Why, your neighbors ask, should they be funding a building full of books in 2010 when they’ve got their iTunes and Kindle for the iPhone? (Seattle is different in that we seem OK with funding buildings; we don’t like funding people to staff them).

Younger and/or visionary librarians realize that if we want those citizen/taxpayer/voters to understand how important libraries are to society,  we need to change much of how how the system works and how our users perceive it.

This is not rocket science. Libraries need to be offering services that both support their traditional role yet move solidly toward the future.

But in Seattle, we’re failing to do this. Faced with budge shortages, our library cuts hours. We cut staff. We penalize our patrons instead of reinventing ourselves.

In reality, the last thing in the world we should be doing is setting up barriers that drive people away from the library and to these commercial services. That behavior is as shortsighted as these corporate services.

We need to be thinking out of the box. What if revenues don’t increase? Will we let our libraries die a thousand cuts, or innovate our way into the future?

Let me just say this one more time to be clear. SPL cannot budget-cut its way to relevancy and sustainability.

Seriously folks. SHOW. ME. SOME. VISION. Because if we can’t be bold in book-and-library-loving Seattle, then we can’t be bold anywhere. And I don’t want consider the possibility that an entire nation of libraries is completely fucked.


We’re kind of trapped (in a good way) in a social networking track here at bar camp day 2. I combined sessions with Sam Wallin — he wanted to discuss general social networks and how they relate to libraries. I wanted to talk about Facebook (and other apps) and what adoption of it (and related, heavily architected tools) means to info professionals.

SamWallin at InfoCamp Social Networking Session

Like Kathleen noted, lots of questions and few answers. I proposed that Facebook might become the killer app and that people will then use Facebook as kind of homebase or main tool (in some cases taking the place of other tools — email, IM, etc — at least in some contexts.), In such a situation, how does the “generic” or architected nature of the site impact the work that info pros can do to expidite the flow of information.

Again, not a lot of answers but a lot of disagreement with me. Many people felt that they don’t see facebook as the killer app — for that to happen there needs to be some way to separate personal and work lives (and separate the networks you belong to in those cases). And if you do separate those parts of your life, then the would shut down the ubiquitous nature of Facebook.

To some degree I can relate to that idea. I agree that you don’t want to do work networking on a site where you post photos of your drunken new years eve episode. I’m not sure if the answer is more social networks. Maybe it’s more thoughtful use of a main network where you limit what you share to make it appropriate for a broader group of users and then belong to special networks (or have a specialized blog or web page or usenetgroup or whatever) for your “fringe” activities.

I liked Justin’s philosophy — he doles out little “tidbits” of information on Facebook. People can learn a little bit more about him based on the groups he belongs to and how he interacts with those however they don’t get a lot of detail from his profile alone.

For what it’s worth, I’m willing to say I might be wrong on one count (at least). Facebook might not kill Linkedin (one of the many inflammatory things I said today). In fact, Linkedin may get stronger because it fills one of those fringe area needs I discuss above. For example you may say you are an interaction designer on your facebook profile, but may not want to throw in your resume or client list up there. Instead, you can let your Linked-in profile fill that need.

I’m not sure what all this means for me…I’ve got some more thinking to do. How about you?

Nick Finck at Info Camp

That’s me blowing the dust off this blog after a summer hiatus (as well as time spent on my bike blog.

Today, Kathleen and I are at InfoCamp, a conference designed to “cross pollinate” the information ecosystem (think: Information architects, librarians, usability pros, and other UX minded folks). I’m sure we’ll have something to talk about.

Right now we’re getting a key note from Nick Finck from Blue Flavor talking (mostly) about the role info pros can play in the growing mobile space.

Stay tuned!