From a wonderful post on Flexknowlogy, I was introduced to the term in education technology of “creepy tree house.” From their article the definition is:
- n. A place, physical or virtual (e.g. online), built by adults with the intention of luring in kids.
- n. Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.
(see article for remaining uses)
The main concept is a sound argument and one with which libraries struggle to find a safe distance from which to communicate with their main audience, the students. It may be difficult to let go of the notion that we need to be at arm’s reach for the students at every point along their day. Blackboard, as mentioned in the article, is a prime example of this notion.
I remember first using it as a student and laughing at the collaborative features. After using them for about 10 minutes, I asked the rest of my group whether they wanted to use Google Docs and Skype, as they were much more efficient and less buggy. I applaud Blackboard for trying to bridge the digital gap between students and faculty, but the amount of time spent using “BB only” applications will most certainly cause some students to grow weary of the labor.
Library systems are slowly entering into this realm as well, especially if we start to look at where the next-gen catalogs are going. Catalogs are now featuring clustered search results, personal item lists, and user submitted comments. Library web sites are consistently offering Instant Messaging and, to a smaller extent, text messaging reference services. These types of service methods move closer to the concept of “creepy tree house” as they mimic communication methods not normally associated with research or academic endeavors. There is also a slowly growing number of library promotional videos that pop up on YouTube, trying to ride the viral marketing wave.
I am not saying that these things are a bad move by any means, but it is important to be aware of what these movements might mean in the eyes of the new students. Will they accept librarians in their social spaces or will our presence be seen as a nuisance? I hope that students will catch on but not tune out.
In a sense the “creepy treehouse” metaphor could also be applied to the generational divide that exists when librarians or educators attempt to adopt cultural cues taken from their younger audience. Be wary of using such references if they may have a very short shelf-life, or small target audience. Once used you may not be able to regain that “respectable” status of intellectual librarian. But then again, what’s the fun in being serious all the time…
(Continued thoughts from my post on the topic.)
The analogy– Google = “White bread,” means that Libraries = oh let’s say “Gluten-free whole grain with caraway seeds on top.”
If this analogy holds, why would someone choose the unhealthy, cheap, and nearly flavorless selection when they can have something baked fresh, flavorful, and which probably won’t make their stomach turn (the person analyzing their research will play the stomach here)?
Well, there may be several answers to that, which may include cost, accessibility, relative satisfaction, and most importantly familiarity. Why do I say familiarity is high on the list over things such as cost? Well when everyone seems to be using the same bread to make many types of sandwiches, it becomes second nature to expect that to feed your hunger. I mean if you were looking at a menu and someone said “white bread it” for nearly every selection, wouldn’t you sooner or later just start eating it all the time?
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Jessamyn West recently commented on the “Ultimate Debate” from the 2007 ALA conference, in which the question of whether or not libraries “innovate.” As she mentions countless other blogs jumped on this topic, and the subsequent conversations on the Web4lib mailing list became equally as thought provoking. So where do the issues lead us?
The discussions lead many to believe that though the individuals within libraries are themselves innovative and eager to try new things, the institutions they reside within are often not as eager to budget this innovation against their operating costs. One of the main problems may be the issues involved with communicating these new ideas. Communication begins with the exploration of the base concept. At this stage it is imperative to be attuned to the blogs, RSS feeds, mailing lists, and literature available on the topic in question. This may sound easy but not everyone takes the time to blog about the new concept for organizing their online journals or for a new reference advertising campaign on You Tube!. Even if you can’t find the time, or an appropriate journal, to write an in depth article on your experiment; there may be a blog, wiki, or group ready to converse on the projects value.
Now that the search is over on who has already tried it, how they did it, and why yours is different; you must talk to those the project will affect. The question was raised as to why a Systems Librarian should be spending time at the reference desk and not creating innovative services for the library. In truth, the small percentage of their time at the desk helps those focused more on PHP, understand what the larger portion of their position means to user services. Keeping everyone fenced off into their own domains, reminds me of the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant.
Getting input from others can be difficult if the presented project or topic is obfuscated in any way. The lesson to be learned is to know your audience and speak to them in their language. Tech services wants to know about server size and CSS styles, but the Dean of the libraries would rather hear about outreach and library communication.
Within that crafted presentation must also come a bit of showmanship. By this I don’t mean smoke and mirrors (although something with lasers and a lovely assistant dressed in sequins might help), but instead a bit of bravado. Don’t be afraid to take a leap or make a controversial stand, if it may positive result in developing new services.
Think big, talk big, and act big; but most importantly, talk to one another. In this Web 2.0 world finding and interacting with others who share you common interests/goals is much more attainable. Have a collaborative meeting with another library or brainstorm an idea on a Facebook wall. Start making the first steps to innovation in whatever you are doing. Though we may not all be Edisons many of us think about how beneficial a new form of lighting fixture would be.
What is the power of marketing? Well think about something bright red and bright yellow. Did your mind immediately think of McDonalds? What if I had said to think about a silhouetted figure dancing to music? Of course we would all think of IPods. For every ad you can remember there is either a succinct design behind it or an overabundance of repetition that has caused you to remember the ad at a moments notice. With this in mind, what is the value of marketing for libraries?
Marketing, or “branding” if you will, can often heated discussion in a library. Committing to a marketing campaign can often be as drawn out and detail oriented as negotiating vendor contracts for full-text access. Once committed though, a library can use tried and true techniques to push services, new and old, and maybe even catch the attention of a lax user. Creativity and originality are obviously keys to any campaigns success, but library-wide support must also play a large part in helping ideas stay strong.