Sunday, September 18, 2011

lessons from Clinton Street Video

Yesterday afternoon, I dropped our Netflix DVD service, mainly because we've stopped sending the discs back and forth. Now we use Netflix streaming and Amazon video via a Roku more and more frequently. But part of the decision was also an intention to get back to using our local video store, Clinton Street Video. Clinton Street is about six blocks away with a great selection of films and the expected indie-Portland vibe. Walking down there with the dog used to be a cherished ritual. When I drove by a shuttered Blockbuster on Powell & 39th a week or so ago, the urgency of helping keeping this place in business was apparent (though I'm sure that was a good short term burst for Clinton St.).

So last night, the wife, kid, dog and I headed down there with romantic notions of browsing the collection and being inspired by the presence of physical media (at least in my head). In the back of my mind was also a move that we're considering at the library: whether to put the media collection out in the stacks.

The walk down there was great. (Sometimes things get out of control with dog and kid, but things were unexpectedly peaceful.) When I got there however, I was reminded of all the reasons that on demand video is better. Clinton Street Video was its usual charming, hip self. But there the new release section was crowded and as the dog barked outside and a few whines came from the three year old, I pushed myself through the crowd and attempted to browse.

One of the first things I immediately missed was the inability to easily dig deeper when looking at a title--the information was limited to what showed up on the box, with no easy way to hop on the internet for reviews or a trailer. My Android was in my pocket so I had an impulse to pull it out but because of the time crunch, I resisted. Also, given the limited categories of materials in the store, I felt a lack of curation compared to Netflix's various recommendation services. Then there were the "checked out" labels on the boxes...this was always annoying, but now it just seemed completely unnecessary to have to wait for someone else to finish watching something so I could get to it.

Maybe if I'd had more time, I'd have experience things differently. I could have enjoyed a leisurely browsing of boxes on the shelves. I might have tapped the knowledge of the staff for recommendations. A serendipitous conversation might have ensued with a fellow customer about films

Some reinvention of the local video store will certainly be necessary for long term survival, as this article asserts. The broad trend is similar for libraries: spaces are now important for events and connection with people as much as housing material.

Eventually we made it out of there with a DVD for the kid. The wife and I ended up watching something on Netflix streaming and then later Amazon video.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Someone recently asked me about my vision for the college library of the future. Here goes.

I would want a library that:
  • is service-oriented and rock-solid reliable. This never goes out of style.
  • is agile. The information environment is in constant flux, and an academic library needs to be flexible enough to quickly accommodate new trends in scholarly communication and research and communicate those trends to their local community.
  • provide spaces conducive to creativity, knowledge sharing, and contemplation. The library space should retain traditional elements associated with access to printed materials and quiet contemplation and also more collaborative spaces that facilitate the transfer of tacit knowledge between people.
  • raises expectations for research conducted by students. By working closely with students and faculty and by strategically developing collections and services, the library should enable really strong student research.
  • has character. The library should generally have a friendly and interesting vibe as evidenced by the general feeling in the space and the attitude of the staff.
  • is a strategic asset for the parent institution. Rather than simply being a generic set of resources and services on par with peer institutions, the library should help distinguish the institution from its peers though unique collections, opportunities for student research, excellent service, etc.
  • involves students in a pervasive sort of way. Students should take part in all the cool things that go on at the library as patrons, researchers, employees, practicum participants, etc.
  • acts as a laboratory. Even in the electronic age, the library should be a place where creativity, experimentation, and discovery takes place through encountering sources, using technology, or bringing together people to co-create.
  • has a creative, motivated, staff dedicated to the library and the broader institution.
Hopefully that about covers it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

incentivizing great student research

A recent piece in Inside Higher Ed reports on an ethnographic study that investigated college student attitudes and practices as they pursue information research projects. The results indicate that many students are far from prepared to do good college-level research. The comments on the article toss out a few ways of changing the state of things: information literacy programming, required library research classes, closer cooperation with faculty, etc.

One step that we at Watzek Library introduced this year takes the approach of highlighting strong student research through an undergraduate student research award in our first year Exploration and Discovery seminar course, which requires a research project in the spring term. The award is a celebration of what we're about at the library: great student research. But its also a subtle way of encouraging students and faculty to set high expectations for research, which should in turn help information literacy overall. Finally, it provides a great opportunity for students to practice up for more opportunities for academic honors and awards later in their undergraduate and possibly graduate careers.

Congrats to Sara Miller and Devin Owen, winners of the first-ever Watzek Student Research award!