A 21st Century Library rivals a Starbucks

I visited a local library recently. It had been just re-opened after a major renovation that took seemingly ages to complete much to the consternation of the residents who felt inconvenienced by this disruption of a tax payer funded public service. Well,  it must have taken ages alright, because I felt like Rip Van Winkle when I stepped inside. What greeted me was a library of the new millennium.  A brief description of my surroundings on this occasion will suffice to make my point. Wireless throughout, person after person, seated at tables or very comfortable overstuffed chairs,  were clicking away at their various laptops, happy as can be.  Then, looking like a command center at NASA, I saw the rows of monitors, all in use, provided for those who came empty handed. There was the obligatory Youth and Children’s section, very inviting indeed, but in addition,  a whole separate room was designated “The Teen Room” with a life-size cut out of Captain Jack Sparrow of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame, guarding the entryway – and then I spied “The Lounge” which sported a refreshments counter – coffee anyone. The shelves were filled with audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, and yes, books.

This post is all about creating environment, this can be done in real spaces and in virtual spaces – think of a blog as a virtual space, for example. Environment, which is a cousin to climate can be thought of in this way: “constructed surroundings that provide the setting for human activity, ranging from the large-scale civic surroundings to the personal places.” (from Wikipedia)

Now with any endeavor, you want to strive to “construct” an environment appropriate to the activity, to encourage involvement. You want to generate the “I think I’ll hang out here awhile” feeling. Each application has its optimal set of environmental elements which need to be defined and applied . These are not just trappings, they are integral to the total experience of the moment, and upon their effectiveness often rests the viewer/listener/participant decision to stay or go.

Of the many consulting projects I have engaged in over the years, I sometimes have been involved in working with restaurant franchising enterprises from concept to prospectus, and this type of venture requires the “packaging”  (see previous relevant post re. “packaging” ) of a complete  “environment” which can be duplicated for each unit to be built. I always enlisted the assistance of a particular specialist in restaurant interior design who in my opinion was one of the best. Everything was tied into a theme. Everything worked to create a certain ambience that was unique to that venue; the totality of these environmental elements quite literally became the “signature” of that franchise. Even the acoustical properties of the space were taken into account. Turns out “building in” the sound of happy chatter – the more the better – has a positive impact on diners.

Back to the library. There are many lessons to be learned from my visit to the library. Go visit one, one that you are sure is “state of the art”; observe the library patrons around you,  and see for yourself. In the meantime I recommend a visit to the DaVinci Institute web site. The Institute is a non-profit futurist think tank based in Colorado. The web site features an excellent “discussion” of the future of libraries, delving into ten key trends that portend the library of the future – a number of the trends cited have  broader implications for communications in general as well.


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The Google “Street View” controversy

Nothing like a good controversy to help “clear the air” or in this case “the view”. Controversy, by definition involves a difference of opinion; in this case, most immediately, between Privacy International and Google, as regards Google’s quite remarkable – strictly technically speaking – imaging of the streets of, the United States, the United Kingdom…soon coming to a location near you. Google has stated that its ultimate goal is to provide street views of the entire world.

My purpose in this post is to heighten awareness of the issue in question, not to take a fixed position on the matter as at this point in the debate, I have lots of ambivalence.

To say this is a significant issue is to say very little. It is mega-significant as it revolves around some of the same public/private communication issues I have addressed in a previous post: https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/31/sexting-is-it-public-or-private-communication/

In a world which has the capacity through technology to “expose” just about anything to the light of day,  is it valid to do so; in other words just because it can be done, should it be done?

Google refers to its “Street View” imagery as “the product” . That’s the way they “view” it; as simply another “can of peas” in their voluminous online supermarket which apparently has garnered huge interest for a variety of reasons. What those reasons may be depend on the user – whether a realtor or a would be burgler.

Google has been responsive to a number of concerns raised over time. The United States Department of Homeland Security requested Google delay the release of some of its street views of the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area because some of the images might be of security sensitive areas. Google complied. The Pentagon has banned Google from publishing “Street View” content of U.S. Military bases and asked Google to remove  existing content of bases. Google complied.

More recently, residents of Broughton, in Buckinghamshire, England have balked at what to them is felt to be an invasion of privacy and threat to their security. As has been reported in newspapers around the world, they forced a “Google car” equipped with the sophisticated camera necessary for the purpose, to leave the neighborhood under – dare we say, surveillance.

I urge the readers of this blog to acquaint themselves with the varying perspectives attending this “global” issue. For starters visit these pertinent sites of the protagonists: http://maps.google.com/help/maps/streetview/faq.html http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.shtml?cmd[347]=x-347-564075

For a British Commonwealth point of view on the recent “Broughton” affair try: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/technology/villagers-block-google-street-view-20090405-9soi.html


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Communication technology, ancient style

So I’m driving in my car today and I turn on the radio to listen to one of my favorite radio offerings, NPR’s “All Things Considered”; I hear the last portion of a segment about the Grand Theater of Ephesus, also known as the Old Theatre of Ephesus, and for good reason, it was built some two thousand years ago. The segment featured the reporter at the theater itself, and the listener heard his breathy narration as he walked up the many rows of seats to the top of the 24,000 capacity amphitheater to demonstrate the remarkable acoustical properties of the edifice. Way down below you could clearly hear the banter of a group of children on the stage. I was impressed.

Yes, there are many performance venues which are known for their amazing acoustical characteristics. Places of which they say “you can hear a pin drop”. But for the most part, we think of these places as latter-day designs which came along as our knowledge base about such things grew. In fact there are a number of examples dating back to ancient times and the Grand Theater of Ephesus is one of them.

Now I’ve done a little research, and yes this is the same Ephesus associated with St. Paul  and the theater is where he is said to have preached – to the Ephesians of course. Besides theatrical performances, the theater was also used for meetings of the citizens, so the structure was communications central.

The Grand Theater of Ephesus is still in use today. At a point in time the likes of Sting and Elton John, according to some travelogues, graced its stage. Loudspeakers used for these types of performances did some damage so they are now apparently banned. Amplification is amply provided courtesy of the Greeks and Romans.

As communicators, we need to appreciate such ancient ingenuity. We need to recognize the long line of invention that has come before, study and learn, otherwise we just might re-invent the wheel. The Acoustical Society of America (established in 1929, the year of the Stock Market Crash no less) actually has members working in the relatively new field of  acoustical archaeology, so they get the idea.

George Santayana said (oft-misquoted): “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

For a transcript of the NPR “All Things Considered” segment go to: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102605469


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“Obituary” for the Chicago Sun-Times

I have read the words ten or more times today: “The Chicago Sun-Times this week filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.” I keep setting the article in my local paper aside, and then keep coming back to it. Somehow I think when I look again, the words might be gone, but what’s gone is the American journalistic institution, established in 1844, that was home at one time or another to such luminaries as: Mike Royko, Irv Kupcinet, Ann Landers, Roger Ebert, just to name a few.

The newspaper will still be published during the bankruptcy proceedings. The parent company Sun-Times Media Group, Inc. will be looking for a buyer. There is hope that the name will live on. But the paper hasn’t been the same as I remember it as a Chicago native for quite a while. The Rupert Murdoch era (starting in 1984) saw the paper turn to the sleazy and the sensational. Then the paper was turned over to Hollinger International, controlled indirectly by the infamous Conrad Black who is now behind bars for fraud and obstruction of justice.

Black left the legacy of a $608 million tax bill. More recently, the paper has tried to restore its working class roots, but alas, too little, too late.

Each newspaper in trouble has its own story, and a separate set of factors that may have brought each to their knees. For those on the “media death watch” there may be glee, for me, I’m still remembering being on the northbound commuter with the conveniently sized paper in my hands, turning pages.

For more on the “demise” of newspapers in general read my post:  https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/16/a-jurassic-park-kind-of-world/

For more about a once great newspaper read the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Sun-Times


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“The Journal of Irreproducible Results”

This is for real. No kidding. The Journal of Irreproducible Results has been around for a long time and is in its 48th year of publication. I always smile when I recall articles from it that I have read in the past. Virologist Alexander Kohn and physicist Harry J. Lipkin founded the journal in 1955 in Ness Ziona, Israel. The journal is dedicated to providing humor with a scientific bent. The Wikipedia entry characterizes the journal’s content as a “unique mix of jokes, satire of scientific practice, science cartoons, and discussion of funny but real research.”  JIR characterizes itself in this way: “JIR targets hypocrisy, arrogance, and ostentatious sesquipedalian circumlocution. We’re a friendly escape from the harsh and the hassle. JIR makes you feel good .” 🙂

If you want to feel good, go to:  http://www.jir.com/home.html

Happy April Fools’ (also known as All Fools’) Day!


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