I wanna check you out… from the library

24 Aug

Or, a library has a great new program and I have terrible new jokes

Library by ellen forsyth

Photo credit to ellen forsyth

Most of the time when libraries are covered in new media circles, it’s because of stories like, “Library adds new computer wing” or “Local library creates Facebook page”.  I’ve seen them, I’m sure you’ve seen them; they’re a dime a dozen.  So, that’s why I was so surprised to see a library branching out in a new (non-tech) way – and getting coverage in social media for doing it.

PSFK is reporting that a Canadian library is now letting you check out “human books”, living experts on the topics that you seek to study.  The library will arrange for you to meet with an expert on the topic of your choice over coffee.  …And this is the place for a really bad joke about checking people out at the library.  Awkward pickup artists have just gotten an infusion of new material.  Get ready for “That looks like a good book, but I’d rather check you out.”

Library by pale side of insomnia

Photo credit to pale side of insomnia

But, apparently this program wasn’t created to increase library romance.

“‘What we’re aiming to do is bring the library to life for people,’ explains deputy chief librarian Melanie Houlden. ‘There are huge repositories of experience and knowledge in their own brains.’”

I think it’s a brilliant idea.  People learn in all different ways.  I’m a book person (obviously).  My sister can’t stand them.  Telling her to sit and read for an hour is like telling me to run for an hour; we’ll both give you this look that says, “You’ve got to be kidding.”  But, just because my sister doesn’t like books, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t like to learn.  She loves meeting new and interesting people and is the kind of person that can get someone to sit down and pour his heart out to her.  She connects with people the way that I connect with books.  For my sister the people person, for my cousin with dyslexia, and for many other people, this kind of program would be a great reason to go to the library.

Rethinking the library brand

Hermione Grainger raised hand

Somehow I didn't think this kind of behavior would indear me to my classmates.

Yesterday I had my first MBA class (so get ready for lots of references to, “today I learned…”).  I’m happy to report that I conducted myself like a grown-up and kept my inner Hermione Grainger firmly in check.  In class, the professor discussed branding and how some encyclopedia companies weren’t able to successfully adapt their business models to a digital world because they defined themselves as “book companies” rather than “knowledge companies”.

Library books by Jeffrey Beall

Photo credit to Jeffrey Beall

A lot of libraries have struggled with the same issue.  As the idea of what it means to be an informed person has gotten further and further away from excelling at “book learning”, some libraries have found themselves, and their missions, a little adrift; after all, for a long time libraries were “where the books live”.  (Now I’m not knocking libraries, I live near a great one and am there so much that the librarians go, “Did you get your hair cut?”)  I’ve seen libraries approach the digital transition in different ways.  Some have embraced the tech change to the point that you see more computers than books.  Others have old desktops with such draconian computer use policies that the only people using them are middle school kids desperate to finish their reports after their home computers crashed.  (Yep, I’ve been to that party.)

It’s about learning, not about books

Children using the library computers by San Jose Library

Photo credit to San Jose Library

The library behind this new“check you out” program is successfully navigating a change to their brand and their role in society.  They’re not clinging to the former glory of the stacks; instead they’re defining their mission as imparting knowledge and experience – and finding creative ways to put that mission into practice.

Obviously I want to get in on this project.  Sadly, I don’t live in Canada.  (They get healthcare and cool library programs?!  This is not fair.)  So, I’ll be hanging out at libraries in Ohio, hoping that someone tries to check me out – or at least asks me if I got my hair cut!

Questions of the day:  Would you sign up to be a “living book”?  (Cause I wanna check you out!)  What’s your Dewey Decimal Code?  (Such a better pick up line that “What’s your number?”)  Can you think of any more terrible library pickup lines?  Or have I covered them all?


MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole.  Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

6 Responses to “I wanna check you out… from the library”

  1. Lucy NT August 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    I will definitely sign up for the living book campaign if it is available in Atlanta Georgia. Let say that I were an economics professor, I would be qualified to be an “expert” and give some advice or to exchange some thoughts on a book. I dont know how the system set up because most of people who are entitled experts are so busy at their jobs. The program would require a certain degree of time commitment from those experts.

    • Maggie O'Toole August 25, 2011 at 11:38 am #

      Yeah, real experts probably are pretty busy people. But, I guess everyone’s an expert in something, right? Like you could check me out if you wanted information on internet based fan communities, how to use Facebook, Buffy episodes, or a bunch of other random and esoteric topics. (I could tell how you to make all different kinds of frosting. Would you check me out for baking lessons?) But, somehow I don’t think I’m the type of expert that they’re looking for…

  2. Paul Leroux August 25, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Your blog post made me think of the end of the movie “Fahrenheit 451”, where people mill about, each reciting a book they have been tasked to commit to memory. (This scene is not in Ray Bradbury’s original novel.)

    My fear is that it will be with human books as it is with the print kind. People will gravitate to the young and comely, and shun the old, yellowed and dog-eared. Pardon the clumsty metaphor, but you know what I mean. Most people prefer the best-seller to the classic, the Sparks Notes or Reader’s Digest condensed version to the unabridged original.

    • Paul Leroux August 25, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

      P.S. According to klout.com, for what it is worth, I am considered influential in movies, writing and poetry. For instance, on Twitter, I have a propensity for correcting misquoted lines from Shakespeare.

      • Maggie O'Toole August 25, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

        Klout doesn’t think I’m influential on anything, which is super annoying. However, my score keeps going up, and I qualified for my first Perk, so that’s awesome. It looks like they’re going to be adding WordPress soon, which would be great, for us anyway.

    • Maggie O'Toole August 25, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

      It made me think of Fahrenheit 451, too. I read the book in high school and really enjoyed it. I like to ask people which book they would memorize to save for the future. Me, I’d probably pick To Kill a Mockingbird, not a very original choice, but one of my favorites.

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