Checking Out Disagreements and Learning by Re-Viewing Our Landscape

March 26, 2014

One of the many inspiring and great learning moments to occur during recent community meetings sponsored by the Mendocino County Library with support from their Friends of the Library groups came during a discussion of recently-installed self-checkout machines at the Ukiah Library.

The issue was superficially clear cut. Some people in the community appreciate the convenience self-checkout machines provide. Others absolutely hate this introduction of technology in a setting they value for its person-to-person interactions.

Ukiah_LibraryThose appreciative of the service specifically mentioned that they like being to locate library materials online, visit the library to pick up those materials, and handle the checkout transactions quickly (without having to ask for staff assistance). Others mentioned that checking out materials without staff involvement might appeal to teens and others who don’t want others seeing what they are borrowing.

Opponents to the recently-installed machines expressed unhappiness with the appearance of the tall, upright machines for a variety of reasons—and it quickly became clear that more than anti-technology feelings were at the foundations of their objections. They said they didn’t like the fact that the machines, placed just inside the entrance (where those about to leave the library could complete their final checkout transactions just before they exit the building), were the first thing they saw; having the devices there made them feel as if staff were being replaced by machines (something that is not happening, particularly since a local ballot initiative to provide additional funding for library services passed in November 2013 and library administrators have been hiring more staff members to support increased hours system-wide). Further exploration of the feelings leading to their opposition revealed a sense that staff was becoming less accessible to them and that they were concerned they were losing what is extremely important to them: the person-to-person interactions that are a valuable part of their library experience.

Fort_Bragg_Library--2014-03-24

Mendocino County Library staff and users continuing conversation after meeting in Fort Bragg branch

The inspiring part of all of this was that although people attending the meeting and two others held in Fort Bragg and Willits—one element in the library’s current strategic planning process—offered a variety of (sometimes conflicting) opinions on several different issues, there was little overt animosity expressed between meeting attendees. By providing forums for discussion about the library’s future and how the library could even more actively be part of an effort to address community issues, library staff and users were able to document what is important to them, see issues from differing perspectives, and almost immediately begin looking for ways to address some of the less difficult challenges they face.

A few of us, in fact, continued the discussion after leaving the Ukiah meeting by using a technique employed by a colleague who helps library staff improve library users’ experiences: each of us walked into the Ukiah Library with the intention of looking at it as if we had never before seen it, and paying attention to what caught our attention.

Whereas I had, during my first visit one day earlier, quickly walked past the self-checkout machines and immediately looked for (and found) staff—easily spotted both at a desk almost directly in front of me (across the room) and at a service counter to my left after I passed the machines—I spent more time after the meeting looking at the self-checkout machines and how they did serve as a visual focal point to anyone entering the building and looking only at what was closest to the doors. (Wonderfully enough, a staff member approached me while I was looking at the machines and initiated a conversation.)

Conversations with library staff members produced at least a few options they plan to quickly explore for those who fear the loss of that person-to-person level of attention library staff strives to provide: rearranging the entrance in a way that makes the self-checkout machines less of a visual presence; incorporating a few visual changes that tone down the bright lights that are part of the machines themselves so they won’t, as one critical library user commented, look like “slot machines”); and determining whether volunteers (who were unhappy to have been moved out of public service areas and placed next to staff in crowded workspaces in the staff area) would be interested in sitting at a desk in the entrance area to greet library visitors and help first-time users familiarize themselves with the self-checkout machines—a nice solution to two different challenges (the introduction of the machines and unhappiness expressed by volunteers in search of more opportunities to support the library while interacting with other members of their communities).

It was impressive to see the library representatives react so quickly to the concerns expressed; even if whatever changes they propose and implement don’t please everyone, the changes will have come from a position of listening and learning by re-viewing familiar situations and settings. It was equally impressive to see how positively members of the community interacted even when there were clear disagreements that they recognized they, in collaboration with library staff, will have to work to resolve together. And it was wonderfully refreshing to contrast the visible and obvious levels of civility, respect, and collaboration with what we so often see elsewhere when people talk at rather than with each other until conversations sink into confrontation and an inability to address what is important within and to a community.


Patrick Timony: Technology, Communication, and Collaboration

July 14, 2010

It’s easy to see why Patrick Timony, Adaptive Technology Librarian for the DC Public Library, was among the five recipients of the 2010 Cafritz Foundation Awards for Distinguished D.C. Government Employees earlier this year.

Timony, according to an awards announcement issued by George Washington University in honor of the recipients, was at the time “the only Adaptive Technology librarian at a public library in the United States”; the award recipient, in a follow-up conversation, noted that Will Reed at Cleveland Public Library preceded him and that there currently are several other librarians across the country who focus on Adaptive Technologies. The announcement praises Timony for being “the technological master-mind behind the D.C. Public Library (DCPL) delivery system that continues to serve as a national model. He successfully built a unique and cutting-edge Adaptive Technology Program (ATP) for blind and print-disabled patrons of the library system…”

He has worked as a street musician; was a team leader and model maker for Z Corp 3D Printing, a business which has corporate offices in Massachusetts and Denmark and which continues to specialize in 3D technologies that “enable product designers, engineers and architects to create the right design the first time,” according to information posted on the company’s website; worked at the Library of Congress while earning his Master of Library Science degree from The Catholic University of America; then worked as Adaptive Technology Coordinator at DC Public’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library before accepting the post he now holds with the library system.

Visiting with Timony and San Francisco Public Library Access Services Manager Marti Goddard while attending the 2010 American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Washington, D.C. last month, I was struck by his enthusiasm and creativity in combining his interest in state-of-the-art technology with his obvious dedication to serving people with disabilities.

His own frustration at not being able to communicate face to face with others as well as he would like to has led him to explore and incorporate the use of technology as an avenue for those with disabilities, he said during our conversation. Using a combination of tools including a SMART Board interactive whiteboard—“it’s great for people with low vision,” he says; two laptops; a simple webcam strategically placed to provide a view of the library’s Adaptive Services Learning Lab; and two speakers, he has created the sort of space which connects onsite participants to those online who might otherwise not have access to the library’s Adaptive Services offerings, which include the Saturday Technology Training Sessions and other meetings sponsored by the library.

He is integrally involved in arranging for the next Accessibility Camp DC at DC Public; incorporates Skype and OPAL—Online Programs for All—into his work; expresses interest in Open Space Technology; and continues to dream of finding ways to effectively use virtual worlds such as Second Life to better serve his Adaptive Services clients—all with a goal of finding ways to bring more people to the table.

And as is often the case with those most adept at using technology, he seems to be creating the sort of meeting place where the tech tools quickly drop into the background so that business can be conducted and relationships can be nourished.

“Patrick has made a place in the community where people can come together and communicate. It’s another example of getting people from a community together and letting them speak for themselves,” Goddard observed.


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