Not Your Momma’s Library: neuroscience and libraries #internetlibrarian #il2014

Sonya True, Vanguard University

Using the Internet is changing our brains: filling up with stuff like Monty Python quotes.

The cortical resting state is the master key to powering up, recharging, restoring the brain.

When you’re cramming, using the Internet constantly, you don’t get that resting state. Need to rest and do something else.

Google is now our external hard drive. We don’t remember what we can look up easily.

Parts of the brain that are atrophying:

* The hippocampus forms memories.

* Mirror neurons, which generate empathy. People are taking selfies, photographing everything; we’re not present.

Douglas Coupland: “I miss my pre-Internet brain.”

Video: “Can we auto-correct humanity?” So many “i” devices, not enough “we.”

“I’m a digital native and I want it now!”

Dogs are similarly present and have similar empathy as humans.

Library functions and sensory experiences (Kornberg): smells, contemplative space, high ceilings.

The Free University Philology Library in Berlin was designed to look like a brain.

Trust factor: librarians most trusted after firefighters and nurses.

Private spaces at the library.

Westport Library has “humanoid robots” to help in makerspace.

Robots can read some emotions now.

Play is important to developing the brain.

“Neuromorphic receptive environments”: pressure-sensitive building. “Ada” (a robot?) can find you.

“Immersive neuromorphic digital environments”: artwork that reads your brain.

Younger people are fast visually, but they’re not necessarily absorbing information. You have to be fast and slow at the same time.

Older people think more linearly.

If linear teaching doesn’t work with some people, use active learning methods.

Edited to add links.


Keynote: Brendan Howley on libraries, networks, and culture #internetlibrarian

[Jane Dysart recommends Intertwingled by Peter Morville]

Internet Librarian keynote: Brendan Howley

investigative journalist, “data-driven brand storytelling solutions.”

I design stories that actually incite people to do things.

Hired to work for little Carnegie library in Stratford, Ont. Used to focus groups to have people talk about libraries.

* Hubs of participatory culture
* etc.

* Why stories work (KPIs that really matter)
* Why networks form (power that works)
* Why culture eats strategy for lunch (Peter Drucker)

The Internet means libraries are busting out of their walls.

Exchanging stories

* Stories relax people
* Stories start conversations
* Stories spark emotions
* Stories are about teachable moments

“Maybe stories are just data with a soul.”

Jaac Panksepp studies how stories affect the brain.

Libraries are about their communities.

Meaning: storytelling hinges on meaning.

Librarian’s stock-in-trade: librarians give meaning away, everyday, all the time,

Values: People want to know what you stand for and why.

People under 35 want librarians to do what they’ve always done: provide “the straight goods,” unbiased.

Share the why of the how of what you do.

Shared stories lead to people trusting you.

Got people to invest in a sheep’s milk cheese company by making it about changing the conversation about the politics of food in Ontario.

Networks: emotional connection, co-create value.

Finding “your people,” your “tribe,” online.

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, et al.

Patterns rule: understand the patterns in your community.

Libraries are cultural triggers that activate networks: media, literature, art, film local history, archives, databases.

In networks, weakness is strength. The weak ties are the strength of the network. Find the “bridge people,” the influencers.

M. Yunus looked for the entrepreneurial female in villages in Bangladesh and Kenya and handed her a mobile phone.

Making a scene: art scene, rebels, coffehouses, later moms with strollers. Culture makes it happen.

Libraries give context away. Libraries are in the cultural context business.

Improving the culture means improving the economy, etc. It’s a virtuous circle.

Hamilton Library (Ont.) promoting “open media.” People can go there and create their own media.

Eye beacons (Internet on the wall): they’re using it to give people messages on their phones as they head into a concert.

“Community mapping”: staff share their ideas in graphical form.

Scale up “open media” to a national level.

Library becomes a repository of local media.

Libraries as small business development engine. Women entrepreneurs share their stories.

Data into maps to improve tourism, public health, etc. Transform cities.

Mapping Detroit proved that there are some neighborhoods with a net increase in population.

“Thought leadership.”

A “big hairy audacious feedback loop” of data, etc.

“Culture eats strategy for lunch.” If you want to reach people, tell them stories that resonate with their cultures.

Why aren’t libraries local financial hubs (like post offices in some countries)?

Why can’t libraries become publishers of local culture?

Why aren’t libraries’ archives rented as unique media resources? (e.g., banks could get the history of houses for their customers)

Why aren’t libraries embracing community newsrooms?

Get your library to the place where story meets data meets culture.

Inspiration Architecture: the future of libraries, #il2013 keynote by Peter Morville

Internet Librarian, Oct. 28

Inspiration Architecture: The future of libraries

Peter Morville, author of Ambient Findability (also Info Architecture: polar bear book)

Fell in love with wife and internet: wife has only improved.

Lost our newspaper, largest bookstore, lost a lot privacy, more commercial.

Topics are “intertwingled.”

Information architecture isn’t enough, but it’s still important.

Arguing about what they do (hashtag #dtdt, defining the damned thing)

Jorge Arango: “nodes and links to present environments for understanding.”

Told LC that its web presence resembled the Winchester Mystery House: hundreds of web sites with different brands.  Users had no idea which to use.

Overall strategy, wireframes.  Faceted navigation with intelligent defaults (such as online items available outside the library).

Search is a complex, adaptive system with feedback loops.

Portals / Search / Objects

As web sites become more critical, people and politics become more important.

Structures and relationships more important than individual web pages.  Non-linear relationships require a visual language, systems thinking.  Planners, organizers, and bridge builders.  “Architects of understanding.”

Education too often isn’t aimed at understanding.  It’s based on industrialization, mass producing students.

Khan Academy, MOOCs are attempting to reform education.

We have technologists who don’t understand education and educators who don’t understand technology.

“Making Learning Whole.”  It’s like batting practice without knowing the whole game.  Why?

Flipping the classroom: lecture at home, homework in class.

Blackboard, Moodle.

Harvard: Hundreds of library databases.  Students are forced to guess which database has their answer before they start.  What do they do?  They go to Google.

Dangerous reliance on Google.  Students are going into the workplace without really knowing how to search.  They are missing things.

Libraries are trying to be more like Google: the single searchbox.

Federated search approach: “bento box” results page.

Another idea (Morville’s preferred approach): aggregated search with faceted navigation.  People get this, because this is how they shop.  Enter some keywords, get some results, but also a custom map suggesting some simple next steps.  Users, in effect, doing what we used to do as complex boolean queries.

 Single searchbox: if you build it, they will come.  Encourages students to dig deeper.

Course web page: embeddable search widget.

“The Corporate Culture Survival Guide” by Schein.

MOOCs might crack the single searchbox problem.

Information literacy gulch: makes income inequality, quality of life inequality worse.

We have more information, but not necessarily making better decisions.  In medicine, we have unnecessary operations.

Cultural blinders: people don’t want to believe things that conflict with their previous beliefs.

Calvin Mooers: people may not want information.

How do we effect change when information may not be enough?

“Nudge” – using architecture and environment to change people’s behavior.

Online: when results are sorted with “featured” items first.

“The Power of Habit” – willpower is the single more important “keystone habit.”  Exercise builds willpower.

Alcoa CEO improved safety by pushing for changing habits (after a worker died).

Keystone: term from architecture.  Keystone species in ecology.  The library is the keystone of culture.

National parks are about preserving what we already have.  The future of libraries is about creating something new.  We need not only information architects, but also “inspiration architects.”

Updated to add: slides available at

Cataloging inspiration

If you’re not a cataloger, you may want to avert your eyes.

Every year or so, I like to reread “Many Intricate and Difficult Problems that Torture the Mind”: Words of Wisdom for Art Catalogers in the Real World. It’s by Kathy Corcoran, who was then working in the library of the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Neb. It should be much better known than it is. Two other things you need to know:

  1. The quote comes from Sir Thomas Hyde, who worked to make a catalog for the Bodleian Library in the 17th century, and although Corcoran doesn’t believe cataloging is always easy, she doesn’t believe it should “torture the mind” either.
  2. This essay was apparently presented at an art librarians’ conference, but it’s not only for art librarians. Anyone who catalogs (or works with metadata in non-library settings) will find some wisdom in it

That said, I’ll just quote some of my favorite parts.

Remember that AACR2, OCLC, and MARC allow you to create minimal level records; these records are perfectly legal and acceptable and will get the books out there for your users. I have been very happy to see these minimal records on OCLC for example, not only for cataloging but also for interlibrary loan and verification.

Don’t let yourself agonize over your decisions. Just do something and let it go.


Your users don’t really expect you to do perfect cataloging but they probably expect to find library books in the catalog and on the shelf, and not in your office.


Reading Jesse Shera’s 2 Laws of Cataloging added to my relief. He said:

  1. No cataloger will accept the work of any other cataloger;
  2. No cataloger will accept his/her own work six months after the cataloging.


I was thrilled to come across this quote from Cutter’s Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalog: “The convenience of the public is always to be set before the ease of the cataloger.”



  1. “The degree of difficulty in cataloguing an item is inversely proportional to its relative importance in your collection;
  2. “The degree of difficulty in cataloging an item is inversely proportional to its size.”


I’m convinced that there are books for which it is simply not possible to assign call numbers or subject headings that precisely and accurately describe the content.


[M]aybe it’s time to just decide on something, anything, and move on.


To get “unstuck” you could:

  • Create a minimal level record.
  • Choose a broader classification number instead of a specific one.
  • Put it in the artist’s file.
  • Do the best you can with subject headings.
  • And keep the cataloging flow moving.


  • Be liberal with additional cross-references, especially for local usage.
  • Be generous with content notes.
  • Create local authority records at will.
  • Add subject headings and added entries of local interest.


Each of our libraries serves unique patrons, with its own unique collections, catalogs, rules, practices, and needs.


Thanks to the Internet you can visit other library catalogs to see how others have cataloged different types of material. … Then use what you’ve discovered to develop your own practices. Express your cataloging creativity; it’s “your” catalog, relax!

Update: Title of article corrected.

More on the EPA libraries

From OMB Watch:

Lack of Plan for EPA Libraries Threatens Access to Environmental Information

After more than three years of development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to complete a strategic plan for its library network or to inventory the network’s holdings, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The Bush administration controversially moved to close several agency libraries, but opposition from Congress and the public pushed EPA to reverse course and reopen the libraries. However, the GAO report makes clear that additional steps are needed to ensure the library network’s valuable holdings are genuinely accessible to the public.

More from OMB Watch

GAO: EPA Needs to Complete a Strategy for Its Library Network to Meet Users’ Needs

The Government Accountability Office says in a new report that the EPA Needs to Complete a Strategy for Its Library Network to Meet Users’ Needs. From the summary:

Although EPA has taken a number of steps to meet the needs of library users, it has not completed a plan identifying an overall strategy for its library network, with implementation goals and a timeline of what it intends to accomplish. Scheduled for completion in 2008, the strategic plan was to provide EPA staff and the public a detailed view of EPA’s library operations and future direction. The draft outline of the strategic plan, however, is largely a placeholder list of current and planned EPA activities. For example, while it emphasizes the central role to be played by electronic library resources, the draft outline does not contain goals or a timeline for completing an inventory of holdings or digitizing those holdings. The draft outline also does not set out details of how funding decisions are to be made. Given the current economic environment, without a completed strategic plan, including a detailed strategy for acquiring, deploying, and managing funding, EPA may find itself hard-pressed to ensure that the network can meet its users’ needs. The agency has reopened libraries closed during reorganization, although about half the network’s 10 regional libraries are operating with reduced hours. EPA has also developed standards for the regional and headquarters libraries’ use of space, on-site collections, staffing, and services. The agency has also hired a national library program manager to carry out day-to-day activities and bring focus and cohesion to the network. Working closely with EPA management and library staff, the national library program manager, who is responsible for library network strategic planning, has set in motion a number of actions meant to improve library network operation and communication, including working closely with internal and external advisory boards and creating a library policy and related procedures. EPA has resumed digitizing some of its libraries’ documents, although it has not inventoried the network’s holdings. The agency is digitizing documents in three phases. Phase 1 was completed in January 2007, phase 2 is scheduled for completion in December 2010, and planning has begun for phase 3. Because EPA has not taken a complete inventory of its library holdings, however, it cannot determine which documents, or how many, will need to be digitized and, consequently, cannot accurately estimate the total cost of digitization or how long it will take. Since we reported on the library network reorganization in 2008, EPA has taken steps to communicate with staff and other stakeholders about its library network, including providing information about the libraries and soliciting information from library users. EPA has also made improvements to the main Internet gateway to the network, making more documents available electronically and providing better access to electronic documents and services. Nevertheless, because EPA’s 2009 survey of the information needs and library use of its staff had methodological flaws–similar to those GAO identified in 2008–the agency is unlikely to obtain accurate information that would enable it to make appropriate decisions on the corrective actions that would best address library users’ needs. GAO recommends, among other actions, that EPA complete its strategic plan for the library network and ensure that survey methods provide reliable data on which to base decisions. With clarifications, EPA concurred with our recommendations.

Reasons not to have a blog

In the library world, especially the special library world, there’s a lot of talk about keeping up with social media, including blogging. It’s one of the reasons, I started this blog.

Meanwhile in the water world, the straight-shooting blog On the Public Record has posted There is no shame in not having a blog:

Here’s how you know if you do not want to blog:

  • You think your organization should have a blog, because all the cool organizations have a blog.
  • You want someone to be representing your side of the story.
  • It will increase your “web presence.”
  • You want to “market” yourself.

Wow, those reasons sound very similar to what I’ve heard people in the library world say are good reasons to have a blog.

OtPR also says, “You will only ever reach people who like blogs. No one else drops by.”

Don’t worry. It isn’t all anti-blog. OtPR also gives reasons you might want to have a blog and tells what kind of blogs the world needs and doesn’t need.

Food for thought, anyway. I recommend you read the whole post (warning for the squeamish: four-letter words).

Conference for water librarians

Saw this on the Geonet mailing list. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it, but if any of you do, please post a comment below. If I hear more about it, I will post it to this blog, too.

Greater Western Library Alliance/Center for Research Libraries Jointly Sponsored Presentation: “GRN Forum: Global Water – 2010 and Beyond”
Oct 21 2010 – Oct 22 2010
9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Location: Magnolia Hotel, Denver, Colorado, USA Event Contact: James Simon –

The issues surrounding the use, supply, and management of water are steadily gaining interest in the academic, policy, and business communities. Water issues are global in nature. Water demand already exceeds supply in many parts of the world, causing tensions and conflict within and between communities. Population growth, urbanization, and per-capita consumption are but a few of the human factors affecting water use, while climate change and ecosystem degradation impact availability of freshwater systems for human and nonhuman use.

The Global Resources Network (GRN) seeks to stimulate national and international interest in collecting, preserving, and providing access to documents that support research into water-related topics. Through this forum, the GRN will study the nature and sources of documentation on water issues; assess how scholars, policymakers, and nongovernmental organizations make use of such data; and propose a series of strategies, policies, and practices that libraries, archives, and other repositories can adopt to accommodate the realities of the field.

In partnership with the Greater Western Libraries Alliance (GWLA), the GRN Forum will feature GWLA’s Western Waters Digital Library as a “model for providing students and scholars with a web accessible archive of texts, images, audio/video files and data sets on water issues.”

The GRN Forum will feature keynote speaker Donald Worster, professor of U.S. History and Environmental Studies at the University of Kansas. A detailed agenda is also available.

The GRN Forum will be held at the Magnolia Hotel, 818 17th Street, Denver, Colorado. Conference registration is free for all members of CRL and GWLA. Nonmembers may register to attend the first day’s Program Session for a fee. Click here for registration details.